Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Very Merry Christmas Indeed

Christmas was just awesome this year. I was looking forward to it and I was not disappointed in any way.

This was my first Christmas having a girlfriend. That led to me driving around quite a bit, but it was all worth it. I really enjoy hanging out with her family, and we got to visit my family too. We even saw one of my closest cousins who has been living out-of-state for the last few years.

I hope I did as well in selecting gifts for my girlfriend as she did for me. She really gave me some nice things. But the best gift of all was having her with me.

I couldn't have asked for a nicer Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou, Quality?

Things just don't seem to be built to last anymore. Well, except perhaps Legos.

Last week my 3rd Xbox 360 broke as described in my last post. Two nights ago the foot pedal to my Rock Band drum broke. Even my car ('06 Honda Civic) has something broken such that my rear starboard window won't go down. I do consider myself lucky though, because all these things are under warrantee. It's just that all this is such a hassle!

I can understand that the Rock Band equipment has to be made inexpensively so that users can afford to buy the game. And for the most part it seems like they have done a good job. My guitar hasn't had troubles. My drum kit is great aside from the obvious. Those pedals have to be able to take a decent beating I'd think. But 3 next-gen consoles in a year? Car troubles so soon? It's just a little frustrating, that's all.

I guess I shouldn't complain. Really I'm lucky. I've got a great life with many wonderful blessings. I just gotta vent sometimes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Best Buy I Made

The other night I was happily playing Mass Effect on my XBox 360 when it froze up. No matter, I just reset it... only to have it freeze up again. And again. And then it happened. The red ring of death.

The red ring of death (coined after another lovely Microsoft failure state, the blue screen of death) sounds ominous and rightly so. It is a near-unavoidable sentence to brickdom.

But I knew what to do. The same thing that I had done the other two times that my XBox 360s died. I packed everything up and headed over to Best Buy where I bought it in the first place. Now, this would be a futile endeavor if not for the Product Replacement Plan (a sort of warrantee) which I had purchased when I bought my initial XBox 360 (may it rest in peace).

I have to give high praise to Best Buy on this. My experiences in replacing my XBrick 360s have been nothing short of amazing. The process is simple and painless. I don't get hassled by customer service people, rather they are very helpful. They let me keep my hard drive with all my saved games (although they warn me that the HDD could be the problem with my system. That hasn't been the case thus far). They process everything pretty quickly and in a matter of minutes I'm out the door with a new box. And this last time they even credited me the difference in price since the premium package has dropped in price since last year when I bought mine.

I haven't verified it for certain, but I think I got one of the new Falcon XBox 360s. I hope this will mean that I won't have to replace this one for a long time, if ever. But it is nice to know that I still have some 10 months of security through my replacement plan.

I'm sure that the $50 I spent on that replacement plan is the best console related purchase I've made... possibly ever. It's sad that the failure rate on the 360s are so bad to make that the case, but still I very much enjoy the XBox. I would highly recommend that anyone planning on getting an XBox 360 check out Best Buy for their purchase.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Let it snow!

It is snowing today. It makes me happy.

Some people complain about snow, especially when they have to drive in it. But I don't mind driving in the snow at all. It can be a bit annoying I suppose -- like when people go too slow or get into traffic-halting accidents. And it can be cold...

But overall I love the snow. I dislike the warm winters where everything is dead for months. A fresh blanket of snow makes everything pretty. Plus when it snows it reminds me of my youth. It always used to snow a lot in the winter when I was a lad.

And it never hurts to grab a blanket and cuddle up to your lover.

Snow falling to earth;
a freezing blanket descends
to cover the ground.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Happy Gamevember

This month has been a great month for gaming. Three games that I have been looking forward to for a while (see the PAX posts!) finally came out. I spent a pretty penny, but I'm really enjoying them.

Assassin's Creed
This game is just plain awesome. Some people complain about repetitiveness or the ending, but I really liked it. All of it. It's a beautiful game, and fun to play. I love climbing and fighting and scoping out the target. Not to say that the game was perfect... but the things that bugged me were few, far between, and minor.

Rock Band
Ever since I played the drums at PAX I've been looking forward to this game. And we've been really enjoying it. I say "we" because pretty much everyone who has been around lately has played and loved it. I was very excited to find that my girlfriend has fun playing the game! I don't expect her to like or wish to play most of my games. But it's fun to have some to share with her too. This is a solid, fun game.

Mass Effect
I didn't realize how badly I'd been needing a sci-fi fix until I started playing this game. I can tell this one is gonna take me a while to beat. And I'm really happy about that. It's a solid game with a fascinating universe set-up. And it's a role-playing game. The XBox 360 has been needing a good one for a while now.

So there you have it. And there are still some good games out there which I've yet to play.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Back to the Future

Here's another interesting free will idea. Consider the following scenario under the assumption that free will exists.

A man is in a room. The room is full of various things to do, perhaps there are foodstuffs, exercise equipment, and games. There are also cameras in the room so that the man can be observed from two monitoring rooms.

In one monitoring room, a woman enters and watches the man via the cameras. After an hour, she uses a time machine (conveniently placed in the room) to go back in time 70 minutes. She goes to the other monitoring room and watches the man do the same things she had seen him do before.

During that hour, are the actions of the man constrained by the knowledge of the traveler? Has he lost the ability to choose?


Recently I've been thinking about the concept of determinism. I guess the idea really first intrigued me back in a Computer Science class. But now I tend to find it more interesting in a philosophical context, specifically about the question of free will.

Personally, I believe in the existence of free will (or agency). It makes sense to me. Most people believe that they have choices, and I agree. Not to say that there are no deterministic events... I guess that makes me a compatibilist. For example, I find that computers and programming are very deterministic (although the systems are very complex and that can lead to apparent inconsistency).

A while back I read some interesting arguments against free will. They were mostly based on scientific studies about the brain. For example, science has found that the brain and body react to stimuli before we actively comprehend it, and arguably before we can make a true choice. Another interesting study involved stimulating the brain in such a way that it seemed the person controlling the stimuli could choose for that person which hand they would raise.

These people argue that we are "moist robots" to borrow Scott Adams' phrase. We are a complex system and we react in specific, deterministic ways. We don't really have any choice over what we do. I disagree with this.

I think that we do have free will but that agency can be compromised. We can limit our own agency or others can take it from us. For example, take the idea of being pricked with a pin. Science says we react to the pin before we have made a decision. This may be true. But this does not necessitate a lack of free will. Our bodies may react instinctually, but we can also condition ourselves. If we have conditioned ourselves for violence, perhaps we flail out at the sudden attack. If we have conditioned ourselves for peace, we may just move away from the pain.

I imagine that the brain stimuli experiment could be likened to addiction. We can be so influenced by certain stimuli such that we lose options. Our agency is restricted. A simple illustration would involve a man who has committed a crime and is now in jail. By committing the crime, the eventual consequence was that his agency was reduced. He can no longer choose to go outside, for he lacks the means to do so.

This leads into the idea of moral responsibility. I believe that people should be held responsible for their actions. Being a religious person, I believe that God will hold people responsible. There is right and wrong. There is good and evil.

In any case, these are just some of my thoughts on the subject. This post is not meant to be a detailed treatise on the subject -- I'm not really a philosopher! But it is interesting food for thought.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

iPhone Review

Well, I've had my iPhone for almost two months now. (Wow, it's been that long?!) The novelty of it has (mostly) worn off, so it's about time for me to review it.

First of all, a preface about my phone usage. Different people need and want different things from their phones, so I'll try to help you understand where I'm coming from. I don't talk much on my phone. Not much at all. Which is to say that I only have a handful of calls per day. I also avoid text messaging. I'm not the type of person who constantly has his phone out.

I'll start with the battery life. So far I have found it to be really good. But again, I'm not talking on it all the time. Nevertheless, I still do use it a decent amount each day (look at web pages, use the iPod part of it, calendar, etc.) and I typically only charge it every other day.

The screen is amazing. I still love the touch screen, although on occasion it can be slightly annoying. Usually because I accidentally tap something, or because I'm too impatient for web pages to load. Usually my issue is that I want to enlarge/shrink something via a 2-finger touch, but a tap gets registered. But this is not a very big deal.

As a phone, it's great. Contacts are neatly organized and easy to access. There are some nice touches there too. For example, if you enter a web page for a contact, you can just touch that to jump right to that page. If you put in an address, just touch it to bring up a Google Map! Also, the visual voicemail is awesome. Perfect even.

The email client is easy to set up. Although I don't send a ton of email from the iPhone directly, I really enjoy getting them on the phone. Email right to my pocket. That's convenient.

Safari is great. I really love to be able to pull up web pages on it. Mostly I browse when at home, so I am connected over my wi-fi. But sometimes it's nice to get a map or web page while on the go. I also enjoy browsing from my couch. No need to get up or turn on my computer. I can quickly access whatever I was thinking of and then go back to XBox or movie or girlfriend.

There are some issues with Safari though. One of the biggest is that there isn't a Flash player for it. So there are a lot of sites which can't be viewed, or at least parts of them. Having said that though, a lot of Flash out there on the web is annoying (like advertisements. Ugh). So it's not a complete disadvantage. I suspect that Adobe will eventually get a Flash player on the iPhone though. They've always had a pretty good relationship with Apple.

The iPod part of the iPhone is excellent. It's only got 8 GB unlike my 15 GB 3rd-generation iPod. So I don't have all my music on it. But that's okay for me since my old iPod lives in my car anyway. The screen is awesome for my They Might Be Giants videos which I put on.

Some of the apps are pretty convenient: weather, maps, calculator, and notes. I really like being able to jot down some notes.

Speaking of jotting down notes, the virtual keyboard is great. Once you get used to it, it's pretty easy to type. Not as fast as a standard, physical one of course, but still much better than most phones in my opinion. The spell check is pretty good too. Occasionally it fights with me because I wanted something it didn't know, but you can add to it's dictionary.

The calendar is one of the reasons I used to justify getting the iPhone. And it is good. I'm enjoying having a calendar on-hand which is easy to use. On my old phone I only ever used the calendar to see the layout of the days (i.e. the 5th is a Monday or something). But this one I use quite frequently.

I don't do much in the way of syncing data with my iPhone, but I imagine that once that was set up it would also be pretty convenient.

The camera takes pretty good pictures. It does a great job of sharpening up any blurry images, but you still have to try to hold it pretty still. It's really fun to flick through pictures.

If you do get an iPhone, make sure to spend some time to learn some of the little features and details. For example, how to turn on the "airplane mode". Or how to turn it off completely. Be careful of international travel and all that.

Another issue that I have with the iPhone is that the battery is not replaceable. Personally, for my use that's not an issue until the battery dies someday in the far future (knock on wood). But I can totally see how that could be a problem for some people.

I do have one big issue with the iPhone however. Ringtones. I'm not happy about that. I want to be able to put anything I want as a ringtone. I don't want to pay for ringtones. Now perhaps I'm spoiled because my RAZR would take any mp3 or midi. Perhaps because my friend's Nokia will take any mp3. But I think the current way it works is retarded. I'm really hoping that Apple will loosen the grip on the whole ringtone issue. Just open it up, please! Besides not wanting to pay for it, I can't use iTunes to put on what I want right now anyway. The iTunes Music Store doesn't have any Bleach music. It doesn't even allow ringtones for some of the songs I bought from there. And a lot of my ringtones would be other non-music sounds anyway.

Oh well, that's my one issue and rant. But in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal. The ringtones which come with the phone are much better overall than ones I've heard on other phones, so I'm content with my Sonar. For now.

So in conclusion, I really like my iPhone. It's not for everybody, but it's great for me.

Dear Diary?

Recently I've been thinking about how my blog posting has been languishing, and how I'd like to pick up the pace again.

My intention in creating this blog was never to make it a journal. It was mostly a place to sharpen my writing skills and write about things that I felt like writing about. I've always been wary about putting personal information out there on the Internet. That's one reason why I avoid names on this blog. I try to be intentionally vague about personages, but details do seem to slip in there from time to time.

In any case, I still hold to my original desire. It's just that I find that some of the things I wish to write about are very journal-esque. I say this not by way of apology, but merely to inform my readers (real or imagined) so they can understand my intentions. In all actuality, I don't think that very many people read this blog. (And I've got the comments off, so you can't tell me if you have read it! Ha!) But I should circulate the word a bit more... yes. To friends and family.

So having said that, I now wish to continue by writing on a subject of a most personal nature. Of late my time has been occupied by a certain special someone.

My girlfriend.

She is the best. She's beautiful, kind, and thoughtful. She's intelligent and funny. Somehow she seems to remember every passing detail which I tell her of. She makes me so happy. I am content and peaceful whenever I am with her.

I love her.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ain't that swell?

A couple weeks ago, a few of my friends and I went down to the San Rafael Swell. We had a great time.

The trip started off a bit slowly as we had to wait for one of our boys to get off of work. And then we still had a couple errands to run, including getting some late lunch. But eventually we waved our belated goodbyes and headed out. We got down to our campsite just early enough to get set up before it got dark. We enjoyed a tasty meal complete with a peach cobbler and then hit the sack.

It was cold that night. I woke up over and over because my head was cold. Eventually I realized that I needed to close a tent flap! My tent-mate was quite startled when I was fumbling with the tent zipper right above his head!

In the morning we got up and it was still cold. We built a fire and I wandered around. There was a cool bridge there that I looked at. Eventually we were all up and we discussed which hike we could go on. I being an austere, stubborn man, demanded that we go on no hike which required getting wet. So eventually it was decided that we would go to Mexican Mountain (a supposedly non-wet hike to appease me).

We drove on a trail down to the start of the hike. The first part was really easy, relatively flat. There were interesting neo-cubist rocks all over the place. We followed a very clear trail for quite a ways. Then our resident wilderness expert told us that it was time we needed to cross the river.


River! What happened to not getting wet? I was not pleased. But we climbed down the bank to the river and I managed to jump across without getting terribly wet (although my boots did get caked with mud). My displeasure increased severely though when we found that we had to cross again! This time I got more wet, but my boots are pretty water-proof, so I wasn't soaked or anything. But I soon discovered (while two of them were taking an extremely long time...) that we didn't need to make those two crossings at all! We had not only gotten wet, but we had wasted a good chunk of time too!!! (Okay... truthfully it was not that bad, it was kinda fun.) It turned out that the river looped back on itself, and we could have just gone around the bend!

Eventually we got to the place where we did have to cross the river. While they waded through the deepest part yet, I was intrepid and found a way around. There were a bunch of big rocks down the river a ways, and I was able to cross on them without the invasive moisture. But I told them (at first) that it was a bridge that I had crossed.

By this time we were at the base of the mountain, and there was nowhere to go but up. We climbed up the boulders and rock slides and made our way up. We never quite made it to the top... took a wrong turn somewhere or something. But we did get pretty high, and we figured that we needed to be heading back anyway since it had gotten quite late. We had lunch on the side of the mountain. While up there a strange thing happened. A cell phone rang! My friends' phone was getting reception, so he talked to a couple people including his brother. Way to go T-mobile!

So we headed back down. The journey was perilous, which is to say that we could have gotten ourselves killed by falling off multiple parts of the mountain. But we made it safely down. My legs were quite upset, but we were at the flat part, so they managed. We crossed at my awesome rock crossing and headed back to the main trail.

By this time it was getting dark, but at least we had found the trail. This trail was, however, much longer than I had remembered. I got quite thirsty as we headed back, as I had drank all my water! It was very dark by the time we finally stumbled all the way back to the car. We drove back down the trail to our campsite, ignoring the desert wind dust ghosts on the way. When we got back everyone was so tired that we decided to forgo dinner and just go to bed.

It was cold again, but I slept much better the second night.

We got up in the morning and fixed a delicious dutch oven breakfast of cheesy potatoes and hamburger. Eventually we packed everything back up and headed back home. Good times were had by all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Out in the cold

Well, this is not the first time. Somehow I doubt it will be the last, unfortunately.

I'm standing at the front door of my work at 8:20 am and no one is here. The door is locked. I never got a key to this place although I know the security code. At first I didn't want one. If I had one then people would know that I could get in, and they would expect me to come in on Saturdays or something. But I am quickly changing my mind on this issue.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I am making today's post using my new iPhone! I bought it yesterday and I'm really loving it so far. After I've had it for a while I will write up a review of it.

Although I like how the keyboard works on my iPhone, it is much slower to type on than a physical one so I'll end my post here. (Although I can see how this could really work out for short blog posts while on the road.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

PAX: Day 3 - All Good Things...

This post is a bit late in coming. I'm now at home, we all got back safe and sound. I was going to use the amazing powers of the mobile Internet to post on the way back, but I drove until late and they were using the computer anyway. But I get ahead of myself.

Sunday morning we slept in after our late night of playing DOOM. We got up, dressed, packed up the car, and checked out of the motel. We crossed over the bridge hoping to make the best of our last day of PAX.

As with the other days, we headed up to the expo room first. We took some more pictures and wandered around. That's when I saw it. I don't know how I had missed it the first two days. They had the new Bleach fighting game for the Wii! So we jumped in line and checked it out! Personally I found it to be very fun. It has some complexity to it, but for the most part it is very simple and straightforward. I like that. It makes it really accessible. Hardcore fighting game lovers probably won't like this game for that reason, but personally that's why I like it more. Anyone can play that game. And although you can practice a lot and really master the game controls, a new player can still (even if accidentally) counter your attacks. And there's not really juggling in the game. Thank goodness.

Anyway, after playing the Bleach game a few times and talking to the guy there at the booth, I found my friends and we went back to try the DOOM board game again. I bowed out of the game to let another guy try it out. This was good because although the game is pretty fun, I just wasn't in the mood to play it. So instead I kicked back and relaxed for a while.

During this time, I went back to the car to get my backpack. When we parked the car David was saying how creepy it would be if the Mantis' Hymn from Metal Gear Solid were to play while we were in the indoor parking garage. So I cued it up. The payoff was pretty solid when we left later.

For a while I wandered around and really didn't do much. Eventually I ran across one of the BioWare guys. He was really nice and accessible. I asked him to compare Mass Effect with Knights of the Old Republic. He spent a while talking to me about that. Basically he said that since Mass Effect is their own IP, they can do a lot more with it. The storytellers have a lot more flexibility to create a gripping story.

Eventually the day was wrapping up, so we headed back to the Microsoft booth hoping to win the raffle for an XBox 360 Elite w/ Mass Effect faceplate, signed by the game developers. Sadly none of us won. But it was fun nonetheless.

Our final PAX event was watching the last part of the last round of the Omegathon. The final game was Halo 3. They got to play on new maps with new weapons. It looked pretty awesome. Then Gabe and Tycho duked it out for fun.

And thus ended our PAX '07 experience. With tears in our eyes we said goodbye to the convention center and got on the road for the long journey home.

David had two hilarious moments that just must be shared. Of course, you, dear reader, may not find them as funny as we did at the time.

  • During a bout of sleep-talking, David has this conversation with his brother (Chris was awake):
    "I'm so glad you didn't buy that StarCraft game."
    "Because the box is so *&#$@(# huge!"
    The StarCraft board game does indeed have a big box, but in his dream it was the size of a coffin.
  • At dinner I got a little bowl of Honey Mustard to go with my chicken. We had no sooner commented on what it was when David asked, "What is that?" Naturally we told him it was custard. He came so close to eating it. He said that if we had called it lemon pudding instead that he would have gobbled it right up.
    *Sigh* Missed opportunities.

The only really note-worthy event that happened on our way back was getting chased by a van full of psychotic murderers.


Okay, we don't really know if they were murderers, but they were certainly idiots. As I was driving along, we started a retarded game of leap-frog with this van. When I would pass it, it would blink its brights and would come up later to pass me. But then after passing me it would slow way down to obstruct my way. This happened over the space of some 30 minutes. We didn't constantly pass each other during this time, but it happened enough to get me frustrated.

Eventually I decided to risk being pulled over and pressed the pedal to the metal. Literally. I got up to just under 100 mph and put some distance between us. Then suddenly they were catching up. Not cool. So when the next opportunity came I made a last second exit from the freeway and they sped on by. We didn't see them again.

As a final note, I'd like to apologize to my companions for my crankiness when I got far too tired. And I forgive you for keeping me awake with the loud sounds of screaming music, BioShock, and How I Met Your Mother. =)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

PAX: Day 2 – The Long Haul

We stayed up too late. But it has been good day. We started off by re-visiting the expo hall. I had a chance today to talk with some of the guys working on/for Rock Band. I was curious about how the vocal (microphone) part works and some of the general game mechanics. They were happy to explain and it looks like it will be pretty solid. It actually made me kind of excited to try out the singing part – secretly on my own at first, of course.

There was an awesome live demo for Assassin’s Creed today too. The creative director for the game talked about it and played the demo. He had some interesting things to say about their vision and philosophies for making the game. They wanted to give the player a lot of freedom by binding you to “real world” rules instead of “game rules.” The best example of this is how you can climb around the city. They didn’t go around the levels adding special areas, anchor points, or certain textures you can climb on. Instead it was built into the engine and model design. So you can just look at things in the game. If they jut out you can climb on them to go virtually anywhere.

I looked at the Warhammer MMO booth for a while, but although people were playing the demo, it was hard to really get much detail. What I saw looked a lot like World of WarCraft in general terms, but the look was grittier. So how it will differ from WoW will depend a lot on details which I didn’t really have available.

(Image credit: Gamers First)

I spent a little while talking with the model at the Sword of the New World booth. I hope she was getting paid well, because she was on her feet for like 8 hours wearing a somewhat uncomfortable (albeit attractive) costume. Also, she’s a gamer and she won’t really get a chance to enjoy PAX. It was fun to talk to her though. It turns out she’s a lawyer’s assistant and just does this kind of thing for fun. She likes FFVII and most console RPGs. Even the booth babes like PAX!

Later I crashed as my friends played the upcoming 4th edition of Talisman. It looked like fun, but I just couldn’t keep awake. But after napping I did try out the DOOM board game. It reminded me a lot of Space Hulk, but it definitely has it’s own feel and gameplay.

Finally we packed up everything and made our way back to the motel. Tomorrow we’ll finish off our time at PAX and start on our way home.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

PAX: Day 1 – First Impressions

Today the glory that is PAX began. We woke up bright and early… which is to say that it was light outside by the time we got up. We found some food and made our way to the Seattle Convention Center. The roads were familiar. It turns out that while getting lost on Thursday, I had accidentally taken us right past the building where PAX would be the next day!

Parking turned out to be easy. We parked in a big lot right under the convention center. And we hardly had to wait in line at all to buy our passes. So all that was left was to wait in line for the expo to start. And thus began our adventures of waiting in lines.

There were a lot of people waiting in line. Quite a lot. There were two big lobby rooms through which our line snaked. We discovered that the Nintendo DS was the handheld of choice – practically everyone had them. We waited for several hours while we talked to people and looked through the bags of swag we received. We even enjoyed a bottle of Bawls guarana, complements of the PAX Enforcers.

Finally 2:00 rolled around and we were herded up to the exposition hall. To make a long story short, I’ll summarize some of the things I saw:

  • Castle Crashers - Totally awesome. We got to play a demo level. The controls feel pretty tight. There’s a lot of polish on this game. I’ll be buying this when it hits the XBLA.

  • Mass Effect - The BioWare guys (and the smart, cute girl on the controller) showed us a demo of the first section of the game. I was totally impressed seeing it live. It’s a very sharp looking game. I can’t wait to play this. I’ve been excited for a while, but this confirmed to me that this is the #1 title on my list to play this Gamevember.

    Oh, and we got free Mass Effect t-shirts. Sweet.

  • Rock Band - Today I got a first-hand chance to find out about one aspect I’d been wondering about for some time: the drums. They are really cool. I got to play a song (I forgot which already) and it was a lot of fun. I felt like the first time I played GH1… fumbling around trying to figure out how to play. But I caught on pretty quick (I only played on medium) and I can tell that it will be something I’ll really enjoy once the game comes out.

    The drums are also pretty durable. One of them was having a little trouble registering the yellow hits, but they withstood quite a beating from all the players crowded around to play. While I was watching, somebody broke one of the drumsticks! The tip flew back toward me, so I grabbed it and pocketed it. The drums were more solid than the wooden stick at least.

  • Warhammer MMO - There was a booth with some 15-20 computers all set up to play this game. I only glanced at it today, but it looks pretty good. I’m not too interested in it personally, but one of my friends is, so I’ll check it out more tomorrow.

  • Wii - I saw some people playing the new Metroid Prime for the Wii. There was also some other RPG which I don’t know the name of, but it looked pretty interesting.

After hitting the expo hall, I caught most of a keynote talk given by Wil Wheaton (a.k.a. Wesley Crusher from The Next Generation). He was funny, witty, and clever. He told some awesome stories about his experiences playing games while growing up. And then he talked about how really gamers are not evil, violent, anti-social freaks. For the most part we are normal people leading normal lives and trying to have some fun along the way.

There are a few other things we saw which I should mention:

  • StarCraft board game – Looks complex and takes a long time to play. But the design looks cool and a lot of the units from the RTS made it into the game.
  • Ninja Burger – A Steve Jackson game. It was pretty funny. Easier and quicker than Munchkin, once you get the hang of it. But very similar in spirit.
  • Costumes – Besides the sweet Master Chief and the pirate booth babe which were a paid part of the expo, there were some other… interesting costumes. We saw the Black Mage from last year, a blue Link, 2 guys dressed as NOD officers (from C&C), and a guy with a robot head. But the one that takes the cake would be he whom I call Prince Peach. That’s right, a Princess Peach (i.e. Smash Brothers) costume. Worn by a man.
  • Bungie Store – They sold some cool Halo 3 stuff, but we most liked the little UNSC satchel.
  • FFVII on GH2?! – I discovered a modded PS2 in the console free-play area which had a lot of special downloaded songs, not the least of which was the boss fight song from Final Fantasy VII.
  • Pet Smuggling – As I was walking around the expo hall, some guy asked me to get him a “mini pet” or something like that from a nearby booth. I think it was for Guild Wars. Anyway, they were only giving out 1 per attendee. They marked my PAX pass, I gave the guy the little paper, and he gave me $5 for my trouble.

I also met up with a few of my old Squirrel Legion guildmates: Kapoc, Lactose, and Notricks. Good times.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to score a Sam & Max button. I’ll also be on the lookout for a Hidden Sandwich card from the Spoils TCG.

Friday, August 24, 2007

PAX: T-minus 1

I woke up this morning to find us traveling through some beautiful green canyons. I must have fallen asleep after they stopped playing such scream-tastic music. Bleary-eyed and half asleep we wandered into an IHOP and had breakfast.

Somehow I remembered a lot of the street signs and locations as we came into Bellevue, so we managed to make it to the mall where we visited the LEGO shop, and I easily found our hotel. We checked in, set up an XBox 360, and then I managed to fall asleep despite the sound of people playing BioShock.

After sleeping the afternoon away, we eventually got up to go eat and catch a movie. (I know we could have seen a movie at home, but hey it’s our vacation and we’ll do what we want!) My luck in driving took a turn for the worse however, as we found ourselves lost in Bellevue and then traveling over some really long bridges. But the scenery was neat and we eventually found our way back around to I-90. Then I almost got lost again, but somehow some tall buildings appeared magically from behind some trees and we were there.

But probably the best moment of the whole day was when David asked Chris if he would touch his buns. Chris kept saying no, and David kept asking louder and louder. Apparently he had one hot and one cold hamburger bun.

Tomorrow will be the first day of PAX. I'm pretty excited.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

PAX: T-minus 2

Tonight’s blog entry comes via the magic of technology. I’m writing this on my friend’s laptop as I ride in the back seat of my own car for the first time. Using his cell phone we have Internet connectivity. How cool is that? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s plain awesome.

Speaking of riding in the back of my car… I bought my car new last year (an ’06 Honda Civic) and so far only 3 people have driven it since. The first was me, obviously. The second was my brother-in-law. And the 3rd is my friend who is currently driving. At least I think that’s the case, I can’t remember ever letting anyone else drive it. But I’ve always sort of wondered how the back seat is in this little sedan… so far so good. I’ve also always thought about being the passenger and looking out the moon roof.

Anyway, there are 4 of us here in the car on our way to PAX. And since I have the capability, I intend to make a few posts to describe our journey. We are all really excited about the trip. I went to PAX last year and really enjoyed myself. I’m looking forward to this year’s bigger and better version.

The trip so far has consisted of about 6 hours of me driving and listening to my music. I’m pretty tired now, but we’ve made good progress. I doubt (and rather hope) that there will be anything worth posting about until tomorrow, so until then I’ll leave you riveted on the edge of your seat waiting for more.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sharing is Caring

My brother is coming home this Wednesday. I am very excited. I haven't seen him in 2 years. I'm so used to having him gone that it will be strange to have him home. A lot has changed in the last two years:

  • Mom is working basically full time at the bookstore.
  • Dad has been working evenings and thus has a strange schedule.
  • My sister is married.
  • I graduated, got a full-time job, bought a car, and bought a townhouse.
  • We fixed up the house (my parents' house): painted and re-carpeted the basement, bought some new furniture, and made an upstairs room into a library.

I'm sure he'll be able to identify many other changes, but those are the big ones that I could think of.

My brother and I have a lot of interests in common, so I'm looking forward to sharing many things with him once he gets home. There are movies, shows, games, and other stuff that I'm excited to share with him. At the top of my list is to watch Bleach with him.

I've been thinking lately about how important sharing time and interests are with people you care about. I noticed recently that people tend to mostly talk about a few subjects:

  • Friends and family
  • Work
  • Recent personal events
  • Interests

I noticed this due to the abnormal amount of time I've been spending dating lately (i.e. I've actually been dating recently instead of my normal anti-social behavior). I'm not a great conversationalist, so I'd try to think of good conversation topics. In that mindset I noticed that the above topics came up over and over -- not just in dating, but in most conversations.

Anyway, I guess the point is that I'm excited to spend time with my brother and share my interests with him. And I'm looking forward to what he will share with me.

(I'm also looking forward to sharing time and interests with a woman, but that's a whole other story.)

Monday, August 6, 2007

Mood Ring

Isn't it strange how a person can get in a mood where they just don't know what to do? When I'm at work sometimes I feel like all I want to do is hurry home to be free. But often when I get home I don't know what I should do with my free time. After giving it some thought, I feel that for me the important factors seem to be mood (i.e. emotion) and interaction with people.

When I'm in a bad mood or feeling lonely it seems harder to find something fun to do. But when I'm in a good mood everything seems fun! Or when I'm with friends the time passes by and I have fun regardless of what we do (which often is just sitting around talking or watching some show). And actually when I'm in the proper mood I throughly enjoy being at work! Of course, that has not a little to do with loving what I do...

It is almost disturbing how powerfully women affect my mood. They have the uncanny ability to push my emotions into extreme states such as irrepressible giddiness, abyssal melancholy, or unholy wrath. I find myself happy to do almost anything for a girl if I think she might like me even a little.

Apparently there is a way to harness this power. They call it marriage. Unfortunately it surpasses my understanding. But I hope that someday I will find someone who will help me to really enjoy every day of my life.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chasin' Waterfalls

On Friday I attended my cousin's wedding where I got to visit the gardens up at Thanksgiving Point. I had never been up there and was impressed by the beauty of the gardens and landscaping. But my favorite part was watching the waterfalls.

I don't know what it is about flowing water, but sometimes I feel like I could watch it all day. I love to sit by the side of a river and watch it flow by. Hear the sound of the rushing water. See the water foam as it breaks on the rocks. See where the water is crystal clear. And waterfalls are particularly mesmerizing. I especially love it when you can feel the mist on a breeze.

Some day I intend to have a rather large yard. I will landscape it myself, and one of the most important features to include will be a little stream.

I remember when I was a kid my best friend and I would make rivers in the sandbox at his house on hot summer days. We'd get the hose, attach it to the slide of the swing-set, and dig channels for the water to flow.

I think that sometimes life is like a rushing river. There is so much going on and time flies by. But sometimes we need to take a step back, sit on the banks, and enjoy the subtle beauty of it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Taking on freelance jobs can be awesome. It gives you a chance to do some work separate from your regular job. For me it is usually simple stuff like making web pages or the like. And you make some extra money. If you are smart about it (and skilled in your trade, of course) you can make a tidy little bundle for a project.

But freelance jobs also suck. They take up all my valuable free time! I get home from work and already have too much to do to keep up the house, do laundry, unwind from the day's work, and eventually get some sleep. I already know that I need to organize my time better and discipline myself, but adding this extra work can be a pain.

This leads me to think about how valuable my free time really is. I know I waste a lot of it. But on the other hand, if I don't have a break from work I get burned out. There never seems to be enough time to do the things I want to do, and yet when I find myself having a lot of free time I don't know what to do with it!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Play Me a Song, Piano Man

I think that the piano just may be my favorite instrument. It can be loud or soft; fast or slow; gentle or pounding. It can cover so many moods. It has quite a range. It is awesome by itself or as accompaniment.

Personally, I find the piano able to produce the most peaceful music I know. I think my favorite piece of piano music is Ashitaka and San by Joe Hisaishi in the Mononoke Hime soundtrack. Other good ones include Enya's Watermark or the piece entitled Passage Terminated written for Deep Space 9. And it would be practically a sin not to mention the many, many beautiful hymns played on said instrument.

The piano can also be really upbeat and exciting! I love the piano part in the 3rd Bleach closer. Or Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by The Police. I love the tempo of Coldplay's Clocks.

I am, of course, a fan of many other instruments as well. The guitar (acoustic and electric), drums, trumpets, and others. The violin is another favorite of mine. I love how it is used in some of the tracks in Independence Day — the violinists played on the other side of the bridge to get that creepy squeaky sound.

But to me, the piano is the best. I realized this the other day when I was listening to a particularly well-played hymn at church. It makes me wish that I knew how to play it properly. Perhaps someday I will spend the time needed to really learn it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What Games Are All About

I just read two of Gabe's posts for today on the Penny Arcade site talking about Pokemon. I think sometimes I take games far too seriously.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


See this movie. I think that pretty much sums it up. Pixar once again shows how a simple, well-written story can be a fabulous movie. Personally, I believe Brad Bird to be directly responsible!

From the time I saw the first previews until the time the movie started, I honestly didn't really feel very compelled to see it. It just didn't seem like the kind of movie I would enjoy... and yet I knew that it was a Pixar film, so it must be good. But it was better than good. It exceeded all of my expectations.

See Ratatouille!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Seeing In Color

I took this picture one day when I was just wandering about my neighborhood. The color of the sky caught my attention. I really like the mix of blue and yellow.

It is amazing how much color can be seen in the world. My phone camera wasn't really able to capture the nuance of color that I saw in the sky that day. And that leads me into something that I've been thinking about for a while: how I evaluate the world around me.

Like the sky of that day, or even the picture I took, our everyday experiences have a wealth of color. But it is all to easy to sum them up as a whole into likes and dislikes. Sometimes we gloss over things making a sort of grayscale out of it. Judgments of black and white are made. The world is tinted by the color of glasses we wear.

As an example of what I mean, let's take movies. I have thought quite a bit in the last few months how I judge movies. Everyone is biased in their evaluations of movies. There are lots of factors that can influence how we feel about a movie. I think we can safely say that everyone wears their colored glasses. But sometimes I wonder if mine are shaded too darkly.

It is not uncommon for discussions of movies to come up at my work. And it is also not uncommon for two of my co-workers to bring up a certain movie that they like: Fantastic Four. When this happens I fear my contacts will get displaced somewhere up in my head because I roll my eyes so far back. I very much dislike that movie. The story (I won't be as generous as to say it has a plot) is about as complex as what you'd find in a coloring book. And there are some scenes that are so ridiculous, pointless, and bizarre (read: the bridge scene) that it makes me wonder if the people writing and producing the movie had any cognitive functions at all.

But I wonder how I came to this very colored opinion. There are many things that have influenced it, so lets start at the beginning. I've seen that movie only once, and that was on a date. I remember being asked by my date as we walked out of the theater whether I liked it, and I said it was "okay." I was definitely couching my answer because I didn't know what she was going to say. My opinion was already being influenced! She said she liked it. I wanted her to like me, so I was again influenced! I managed to find some things to say about it that I thought she would agree with. And later on in the school semester when I realized that she and I were not going to have a relationship, I was influenced again!

This movie was also painted heavily by the buckets of colored paint dumped on it by my friends. One of my good friends described his experience of watching this movie by saying that it "made [his] eyes bleed." I think I got some red on my opinion of the movie. Yes, from the eye blood.

Although I have also been influenced somewhat by the opinions of my co-workers, I've stood firm in disliking that movie. I have staunchly disagreed with the idea they presented to me that if I would just watch it more I would like it better. Actually, I think they might be right. But somehow I don't think that assaulting my brain with more IQ-dropping video would be prudent.

Of late I have used some the following criteria to judge my movies (this list is not quite comprehensive; just the main points are presented):

  • Plot - Does the story make sense? What sort of holes are there, and how big are they?
  • Character Development - Do the characters have depth, or are they very two-dimensional? Can you relate to them?
  • Writing - How good is the writing of this movie? Does the dialog suck me into the movie, or does it prevent my suspension of disbelief?
  • Acting - Do I see a guy acting, or has that character become "real" to me?

Other factors such as special effects, attractive women, or famous actors hold precious little sway with me in my overall movie judgement. I think that's why I like so many older movies so much. They may not have a couple million dollars worth of explosions or fancy CGI, yet they are not lacking in quality. But one factor that I find myself considering more and more these days is that of general entertainment. Did I have a good time watching the show? Even if it was stupid?

A good example of this is the new Transformers movie. When I was watching it in the theater I really did enjoy myself. And yet I agreed with pretty much every point that my friends have brought up in argument against it. There were plot holes one could drive a semi through (heh heh). I can only imagine how awesome it could have been if the makers didn't decide to regurgitate all over the second half of it. And yet... I enjoyed it. Overall I liked it.

There are many aspects of movies that I really cannot detect when watching them. But these things affect other people's perception of movies. A lot of technical aspects fall into this category for me. Lighting, framing a shot, what lens was used, and other such elements are usually hard for me to see if I'm not actively looking for them.

So how darkly shaded or lightly tinted are my glasses? I'm not sure if there is really a way to know for certain. In recent months I've tried to not be too snobbish about movies while not giving in to peer-pressure about ones I dislike either.

Movies are, of course, only one example of how my life is colored. I've also given this subject thought in context of relationships, games, books, food, and other things. I just hope that I'm not missing out on some of the most vibrant and amazing colors that are out there.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Multi-player Games

Today I read an interesting article linked from the Penny-Arcade site. It basically says that single-player games are an anomaly which will go away over time. The article is full of logical holes and the authors own bias, but the stance he took is still intriguing.

My first instinct was to disagree with the author. After all, there are some really great single-player games. Most RPGs fall into that category, and they are still coming strong with upcoming games like Mass Effect. But it begs the question, "Would these games be better if they were multi-player, or at least had multi-player aspects?"

As we consider this idea, it is useful to throw out certain counter-arguments which are either beside the point or will become defunct over time. So let us run with the following assumptions:

  • Technology will improve to better accommodate (or even effectively eliminate) issues such as frame-rates, network connectivity / latency, memory, etc.
  • Just because we are adding multi-player to these games, that doesn't mean we are getting rid of single-player entirely. I seriously doubt that single-player games will ever disappear entirely.

So with that said, the first big problem I see is how to make a good multi-player RPG. And by this I mean a game like Final Fantasy. Let's take a look at some examples of RPGs that have multi-player aspects. In some games like Secret of Mana, additional players can take control of party members not in control by the primary player. This can be fun, but really the other players have little control. The party is always stuck together and typically the primary player makes all the important story decisions.

Another example would be World of WarCraft. Every player gets to control their own character. They can login, logout, and play independently. But in this case story is sacrificed. Yes, there are a lot of story elements that you can read and even some to participate in, but the player is rarely ever the main participant. The world is not changed by your actions. You may have killed the evil overlord... but he'll be back next week when the servers reset. The player must actively seek out most of the role-playing story elements in this game.

So how do you make a multi-player RPG? Something that has a gripping (or I'd settle for decent!) story and can be accessed by at least two players independently (even if they must play at the same time) without having to repeat content? I imagine the complexity of such a game would be a developer's nightmare. Even in a traditional pencil-and-paper game of Dungeons and Dragons this would be difficult. In that case you have a human GM to weave a story together and handle the unexpected choices of players. But even then, a good GM will typically restrict characters in various ways to keep them together and on track.

Someone will make a big pile of money if they can figure out how to make a game like that.

Putting aside the problem of RPGs, what of other games? What if we added multi-player to a game like Ninja Gaiden? The first obvious idea is to add a head-to-head mode where player ninjas fight each other. That's fine and all, but that's really not the same game as the single-player. Many games turn out this way, like Ghost Recon (G.R.A.W.) or Halo. Not to say the multi-player in games like these is bad... it's just different. So you basically have two separate games, and thus you arguably haven't really added multi-player at all!

So how about co-op? Going back to Ninja Gaiden for the example, how do you modify the game to add a cooperative mode? When this is done in most games the multi-player follows the same path as the single-player. For some games, like Gears of War this works very well. (In fact, I think the campaign mode of that game was tailored for co-op rather than single play.) But does this make the game better? Personally, I think it does. You can always play single-player if that suits your fancy, and the option is there to play with someone else.

I've barely scratched the surface of my question, but my rambling thoughts seem to be heading into a few main directions:

1) Many games could benefit from adding some sort of multi-player mode.
2) There are lots of games where multi-player cannot be added without fundamentally changing the game.
3) Adding multi-player to some games (especially RPGs) would be almost too complex to handle.

This topic will obviously require more thought, but I'll leave it at this for now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Wind: A Haiku

A cool, gentle breeze
bends blades of grass, leaves of trees.
Whispers in the dark.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Why You Shouldn't Comment Here

For many years I've had a desire floating around in my brain urging me to make a website. The problem is that I've never had anything that I really cared about enough to warrant the creation of web pages. Not to mention the time commitment. Being a computer programmer is a gift and a curse. Which is to say that I would get lost in lines of PHP, HTML, and CSS code until that spark of desire to post on the Internet would be drown out.

Then yesterday I visited my good friend Expavesco. After seeing his blog and later reading his brother's, I knew that I had to play too. And that's when I realized what to do. I will fill these virtual pages with random things that I feel to write about. An outlet for my creativity in word-smithing. A place where my friends and family can read my writings. And perhaps random people will, through means unknown, find this place in the ether and enjoy their read.

So that brings me to the title of this post. Although I would like some feedback about my posts (especially concerning spelling, grammar, and the like -- oh how the Internet is slowly killing the English language!), I cringe at the thought of constantly returning to my comments screens just to see what people felt compelled to write in reply to my posts. I'm wanting an outlet, not another place to get involved with other citizens of the Internet. This is not meant to be a forum for anyone but myself.

So for the time being just sit back and relax. Perhaps someday I'll change my mind about comments on my blog. But until then, I'm sure you'll be able to find some other place to express your opinions if you really can't keep them to yourself.