Quote of the Moment

"Beep Industries currently has no openings. This is a good thing. Any number of career paths are better than game development. Lots of jobs are more lucrative and far less work. We hear marketing and animal husbandry are filled with potential."

Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Here are three New Year's resolutions for me and this blog:

1. Blog more. Resolution #2 ought to help with that.

2. Get better material. Hopefully in 2008 I'll take up something that will furnish me with more material for the direction I want this aviation/video games/media blog to go in.

3. Stop stealing music by listening to my iPod. At least, that's what the RIAA thinks I do.

Oh, and in honor of #3, here's Weird Al's video for "Don't Download this Song".

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Christmas Salute

The wacky hijinks will be back soon, I promise. I've got the next two weeks off, and regular blogging ought to improve. For today, though, I'd just like to give a salute to my brother-in-law, Seth.

Now Seth and I haven't seen eye to eye on a lot of things. I married his big sister, moved her out of Iowa, there've been some ongoing family issues, etc. Let's just say we never quite got off on the right foot and leave it at that.

But, while I'm muttering about the Seattle rain as I make my mile and a quarter walk from my condo to my climate controlled office, where I'll stress about about my part in getting a video game into the hands of the clamoring masses, Seth is "enjoying" the hospitalities of a barracks, scanning for IEDs along the roadway, and spending Christmas thousands of miles from his girlfriend and his family.

So while we don't agree on everything, I'd just like to say thanks to my brother-in-law. It's men and women just like him, from all over the country, who are spending Christmas far from home in warm, sandy places, so that the rest of us can enjoy warm homes filled with our loved ones.

Hooah Private, come home safe.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Walking Oddities

One of the perks of walking to work (aside from my apparently lower risk of being hit by a moving car) is some of the occasional odd or funny things I see. I'm trying to remember to use my cell phone cam to actually get pictures of these from time to time.

Here's one I enjoyed today, parked in an apartment parking lot.

It's the South end of a North-bound Dodge Intrepid. Aside from the owner's poor choice in cars, the things I want to point out are the placards hanging from the rear window. On the left, is the ubiquitous and obnoxious "Baby on Board" sign that tells us we should be extra careful to not rear-end this car. On the right, however, is a somewhat less common placard, advising us "Wife in Trunk".

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Plaything of Murphy's Law

Some days, it's good not to be wound too tightly, and to have a well tuned ability to laugh at yourself.

Today was one of those days for me.

It started out well enough. Sure, it took The Boy all of thirty seconds to defeat the refrigerator lock I'd installed the night before when he got up an hour and a half before we wanted him to, but he went to sleep when we put him in the playpen, and at least the eggnog carton had its lid on tightly and didn't leak on the floor during the time it lay on its side, unnoticed.

I even got to eat breakfast at home today, rather than having to microwave some oatmeal at work and eat at my desk. I had time to peel a couple of kiwis and put them in my lunch pail, make a cup of coffee to go (so that I could enjoy a hot cup of my current starbucks blend brewed with my Toddy once I got to work) and since I was driving instead of walking, I got to use my big lunch pail which meant the kiwis would still be in their normal shape when I went to eat them later.

Even the rain, which had been pouring almost nonstop for the past couple of days, stopped an hour before I left, leaving me with patches of blue skies overhead.

I probably should have recognized this as a sign.

So off I went on my merry way. Light traffic on the surface streets, no flooding along my route, psychologist and insane caller on the AM talk radio. Hey, there's one of my co-workers walking. I'll stop at this crosswalk and see if he wants to ride the rest of the way. It's nice now, but it could start pouring any second, and this way he can be dry.

There's no traffic, so I come to a leisurely stop, roll down the window, and ask him if he wants a ride. He turns toward me, says something, and then I'm staring at a blurry, fuzzy version of my crossover SUV's roof trying to figure out what the crunching noise somewhere behind me was.

Things I learned today:

  • The rear crumple zone of a Saturn Vue can pwn the front crumple zone of a Honda Accord.
  • Wearing a C-Spine collar and being strapped to a backboard for an hour and a half is not comfortable.
  • Seatbelts are good things. So are normal CT Scan results.
  • When being rear-ended, it is possible for your glasses to launch off your face, bounce off the windshield, and land somewhere behind your seat.
  • You can run into fans of games you've worked on in the oddest places.
  • I'm glad I read AmbulanceDriver, MedicMarch, and BabsRN. Somehow, having read a fair number of EMT horror stories made me a little more comfortable with my first (and hopefully only) trip in the back.
  • It's difficult to keep track of where you are when all you can see is the sky or ceiling.
  • Going to the hospital is more fun when you're there for a childbirth and the wristband is merely for identification as the father.
  • And finally, my walking commute is apparently safer than my driving commute.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Low and Slow in a Big Airplane

Watching an expert airshow pilot do a controlled, slow pass in a small aircraft is an interesting thing. Watching an expert airshow pilot do a controlled, slow pass in a military jet fighter is loud and interesting. But watching an expert do a controlled, slow pass in an airliner? Well, it's very loud, and also extremely impressive.

I found this clip last night thanks to the AvWeb newsbrief, and thought I'd share it.

In other news, I should be back to a more frequent blogging schedule now that my side project has ended. Now I just have to figure out what topics I want to write about.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rockin' Review: Guitar Hero III (PS3)

Last weekend, I picked up Guitar Hero III for my PS3. It's the first GH game I've ever owned, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, I think this says it all about my response:

Face obscured to allow the victim some semblance of remaining dignity.

For those who are currently scratching their heads going "What's a Guitar Hero, and why is this grown man holding a child's toy guitar?", I'll give a bit of explanation. Basically, the Guitar Hero series is karaoke for people who'd rather play an instrument than sing, or Dance, Dance Revolution for those who would rather play an instrument than dance. The guitar has five buttons on the neck, plus a strum switch and whammy bar. Notes cascade down on the screen, and timing a button press on the neck with a flick of the strum switch does a pretty good approximation of playing a note or chord.

That's kind of a long-winded explanation, but here's a video example, courtesy of YouTube:

You'll have to imagine the person on the other end jamming on the guitar controller to get a near flawless playthrough there.

So that's the explanation, and for me, at least, it's a lot of fun. Really, one of the bigger difficulties I run into while playing is that I'll sometimes get a little too into the music, and miss some notes because I stop paying close attention to the note cascade.

In the interest
of full disclosure, I should point out that I have previously spent a little bit of time learning to play real guitars, and that I was, in fact, in a bad garage bad while in high-school.

The song list strikes me as being a good blend of old-school rock standbys from the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s, plus some grunge from the 90s, and modern rock groups like The Killers. Not having been raised on these particular brands of music, it's almost all new to me, and that's allowed me to discover some new favorites, Eric Johnson's White Cliffs of Dover in particular. On the other hand, it's caused me to wonder who enjoys some of this stuff and actually thinks it's music (I'm looking at you, Slayer and Sonic Youth).

The periodic boss battles are also somewhat frustrating, as they amp the difficulty way up, and for me, were little more than mostly un-fun progress blockers that kept me from enjoying my pretend guitar playing while I completed the very videogame task of defeating a specific boss. There also seems to be some problems with the PS3 online connections, where it takes about ten tries just to find one live match.

Still, the three boss battles, occasional dreadful song, and online weirdness aside, it's a game I'll be enjoying for quite a number of hours yet. While I doubt I'll ever be completing Through the Fire and Flames at 95% on Expert anytime this century, I'll still be having fun.

Bottom Line:
Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PC, Xbox 360, Wii
T for ages 13+. Some songs, Talk Dirty to Me for example, contain sexually suggestive lyrics that definitely aren't appropriate for children. Also, the avatars are dressed like, well, hard rock musicians. The women's outfit options are generally tight and revealing, while the men's outfits are also mostly tight and revealing, with a dash of hideously ugly to boot.
You'll Like it if: You've ever played air guitar to your favorite rock songs.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Five Airplanes

Ahab tagged me for a list of my five favorite airplanes, and aside from a lot of difficulty in picking only five, I'll give it my best shot, but I still had to include one honorable mention, making it a list of six.

Honorable Mention -- ViperJet

A high-school fantasy come to life, the ViperJet has the kind of profile I used to doodle in my school notebooks. Pay no attention to the fact that once you get an engine and avionics, this will still cost more than a million dollars, the fact remains that it is (at least in theory) a kit aircraft that can be purchased and built in your garage. As such, it's like a fantasy that's almost attainable: not the movie star you'll never meet in a million years, but the girl down the street with whom you might just have a shot if you could only make the football team.

#5 -- Piper Cherokee 140

It's not particularly pretty, and it's not particularly fast, but the old PA28 Cherokee 140 is on the list for one simple reason: it's the airplane that taught me to love flying. Back in my early teen years, my dad knew an airline pilot who owned one of these, and for two successive birthdays I went flying. After the second year, overflying the Southern California Poppy Reserve and seeing the most amazing carpet of orange, yellow, and purple rolling under my feet, then looking ahead and seeing the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas, I knew I would be a pilot someday.

#4 -- Corvair F-106 Delta Dart

It's really difficult for me to pick a favorite from the Cold War era jets. There's so many that I find fascinating, like the F-104, F-89, and the F-8 Crusader. But of them all, the Dart has to top the list. There's just something about that tailless delta shape. To see one of these in person is to imagine scenes of aircraft sitting on alert through cold, dark midwestern winters, their pilots shivering in the alert hut while drinking endless cups of coffee, waiting for an alert siren that could come at any time, sending them scrambling to their jets to ward off a massive wave of attacking Soviet bombers.

#3 -- Consolidated B-24

The forgotten bomber of World War 2, you really have to see one to really experience its power. The B-24 flew faster and dropped more bombs than her prettier sister the B-17, but where the B-17 is curved and delicate, the B-24 is all business. She's a big, slab sided box with wings, four huge round engines, and a massive tail. In flight, she makes a sound that has to be experienced to be understood.

On my nineteenth birthday, the one pictured above (the only flyable model still in existence) was at the local airport. My birthday treat to myself was to go visit. I tread carefully around a few gray-haired gentlemen, most there with their children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren, for whom this aircraft brought back memories of a time long ago, when they were little older than I was at the time. I peered at history standing before me, and imagined what it must have been like when aircraft like this formed a swarm a hundred strong or more.

#2 -- North American XB-70 Valkyrie

The supersonic bomber that never was. A contemporary of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the XB-70 was meant to be a bomber capable of Mach 3 high-altitude attacks into communist Russia. Canceled due to budget cuts and lack of suitability for the low-level flight, only two were ever built. Still, it's fascinating to look at this aircraft and wonder what might have been if she'd been built in numbers. Plus, just look at those lines. More even than the Blackbird, this is an airplane built for speed, but that looks pretty in the process.

#1 -- Northrop P-61 Black Widow

Ask most aviation buffs what their favorite WW2 warbird is, and they'll probably say the P-51. Some may throw in the P-38, or the P-47, maybe you'll even get a Zero, BF-109 or FW-190 thrown into the mix. I'd probably be the only one to mention the P-61. The Black Widow was a night fighter, and as sizes go, she was the biggest fighter the USA had during the war, almost the same size as the B-25 medium bomber. She carried a crew of two or three (pilot, navigator/radar operator, and rear gunner depending on model), had her own radar in that massive, bulbous nose, and was armed with four 20mm cannons in the belly, and in the A and C models, four .50 caliber machine guns in a dorsal turret.

They operated almost exclusively at night, hunting other night fighters and bombers in a time before GPS, when most navigation was still done with stopwatch, compass, and map. The C models also participated in ground attack raids, dropping bombs and strafing targets, for which their massive firepower was well suited.

In my early teens (funny how so many life-effecting experiences happened here) I was introduced to a gentleman who along with his wife, lived in the retirement community where my grandfather preached. He had been a P-61 pilot during WW2, and I was in awe of this quiet, older man who had once flown these big birds in combat. One of my most prized possessions is a lithograph he gave me called Symphony in Black and painted by Dan Kelly. Mr. Stewart was one of the five pilots who had signed the copy I have. That piece hung in my bedroom at home for years, and when I grew up, got married and got a job, it moved with me, to our first apartment. Now it hangs in my kids' room, and someday, I'll explain to them what it is, who signed it, and why it means so much.

Monday, November 5, 2007

More Proof the Squirrels are Gonna Get Us

Apparently the squirrels have now taken a page from the terrorist handbook in their attempts to kill the humans.

From the UK Register, we have an example of why the Fluffy-tailed menace and high-voltage powerlines don't mix:

Flaming kamikaze squirrel torches car

Sciurine death dive does for Toyota Camry

Published Wednesday 24th October 2007 09:55 GMT

A New Jersey woman's Toyota Camry last week suffered a sciurine kamikaze attack during which a flaming squirrel fell onto the vehicle, slid into the engine compartment and provoked an explosion which destroyed the parked vehicle, the Jersey Journal reports.

Lindsey Millar, 23, and bruv Tony, 22, were at home in Bayonne last Wednesday lunchtime when the incident occurred. The animal had apparently decided it was a really good move to chew through overhead powerlines directly above the motor, and was duly fried for its trouble.

Tony Millar explained: "The squirrel chewed through the wire, was set on fire, fell down directly to where the car was. The squirrel, on fire, slid into the engine compartment and blew up the car."

He added: "They're always coming around here, chewing through the garbage."

Ms Millar is apparently fully insured for incendiary squirrel strike, although her brother concluded: "It's something to laugh about once she has a new car. It's not funny yet."

As a rather poignant footnote, the Jersey Journal notes that the Millars' house is fully decked out in anticipation of Halloween, "complete with a tiny plastic tombstone on their front lawn". Tony Millar said the family "will consider dedicating the tombstone to the squirrel". ®

Seriously though, when I eventually buy an actual house, if we live somewhere it's an option to do so, I am buying a varmint gun to deal with these things. I do not want a flaming squirrel doing a dive-bomb into the convertible I'll hopefully own as well.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Late Once Again...

Apologies for the lack of recent blogging. I'm working on an undisclosable (but paying) side project right now that's taking up most of my blogging time right now.

One thing I will mention though, is that I've finally had the opportunity to read Terry Pratchett. After having seen other people rave about the joys of his Discworld saga for years, I finally checked out The Colour of Magic from my local library.

And proceeded to chew through it in the span of a day. If you've never read Pratchett, I'd compare his humor and wit to Douglas Adams, though he turns his more to fantasy than science fiction. I'm looking forward to reading the second book in the Discworld saga.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I Expect

That all of my brothers who take this quiz will get the same result I did.

You Are Destined to Rule the World

You have the makings of a very evil dictator...
Which is both kind of cool and kind of scary!
Will you rule the world? Maybe. Maybe not.
But at least you know that you could.

Seriously, I won't be terribly surprised if one of the se years, probably around Christmas time, we're all gathered together, enjoying a nice Merlot, when one of us says "Let's take over a small third-world country." Ahab will respond "You know, I think I know a guy who knows a guy who can get us some extra firepower." I chip in "Network sabotage isn't all that difficult if you know what you're doing..." Birdy mentions something about killer robots being pretty easy to make if you duct tape a few Xbox 360s together for processors, a few other comments fly by, vacation time is taken, and all of a sudden, the government of the Republic of Suriname or some other tiny country gets overthrown.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Law and Order: SVU Takes on Second Life

Hilarity ensues.

I don't normally watch legal or police drama shows. They're too serious for my tastes, and those that aren't busy focusing on grisly crimes are usually too into the soap opera side of interpersonal relationships. Suffice to say, I'm not a regular watcher of NBC's Law and Order: SVU.

I did, however, tune in for Tuesday night's episode. The premise, about a woman kidnapped because of her virtual world avatar, was too good to pass up. One of my general rules is that Serious Drama + Technologically Illiterate Writers = Unintentional Hilarity.

I was not disappointed. The plot, such as it was, centered around a woman who's "Another Youniverse" (standing in for real game Second Life) underage prostitute alter-ego is convincing enough to earn her a real-world stalker (and eventual kidnapper). The hilarity ensues when the "crack" SVU team led by Ice-T goes into action.

First off, for a crack investigation unit, these people are amazingly incompetent. They corner and interrogate two different suspects with the line of "We know you kidnapped the girl, where is she", before having to let them go because they were innocent. Meanwhile, their second arrest attempt tips off the real kidnapper, and the second half of the episode is spent trying to find evidence that perp #3 actually did it. But the evidence is where the humor really lies.

Apparently, the Another Youniverse developer gives their CEO a giant video screen wall to gaze upon his creation, granted him superuser access with the ability to pull billing records, and has a server farm 20 acres long just to store the screenshots they automatically log on every player's activities. Also, in the climatic moment, when they turn the game from night to day in order to determine the relative position of a critical evidence location, reveals that the CEO's uber video wall is located IN the 20 acre server farm, and that switching the game from night to day requires a power increase sufficient enough to create an audible hum as the servers power up to full throttle.

Sometimes, a crime show can tackle a weird subject and get it right, or at least play it sufficiently humorous. CSI's episode about Furries is a perfect example. As for Law and Order: SVU, well, maybe they should hire someone who's actually PLAYED more than fifteen minutes of World of Warcraft before they do their next "Ripped from the Headlines" show.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

MLB PLayoff Preview and Predictions

October is here, and with it, and every sports fan is focused on one thing: The NFL, Major League Baseball's playoffs and the road to the World Series. Okay, fine, so there are probably more folks focused on Week 5 of the NFL than who's playing in the MLB Divisional Series, but for we baseball fans, it's still a big deal. Plus, this year has what promise to be some great matchups, and some great questions.

Will this be the year that A-Rod and the Yankees shake off their postseason woes?
Will the Cubs break the curse?
Who wins the battle of the ex-Seattle Mariner skippers? Lou Pinella, or the man who replaced him in Seattle, Bob Melvin?
Will the Red Sox and Yankees get another shot at each other for the American League Championship?

So for those keeping score at home, here's a quick preview of the Divisional series games, and my predictions for October Magic.

American League:
New York Yankees (94-68), AL Wild Card vs. Cleveland Indians (96-66), AL Central Champs

It's the best of the weakest division in the AL versus the Yankees. After starting the season at in the cellar and even being swept by the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays in May, the Yankees put together an impressive second half to win the wild card and make a serious run at the Red Sox for AL East champions. Cleveland, meanwhile, beat up on their weak division, but it's doubtful they can stop the Yankees.
Prediction: Yankees in 5.

Anaheim* Angels (94-68), AL West Champs vs. Boston Red Sox (96-66), AL East Champs

Probably the two strongest teams in baseball this year meet in the first round. Both have great starting pitching and solid offense. Though it'll bug Ahab no end though, I've got to give the edge to the Angels. I think their bullpen is a bit stronger, and they've got a bit more depth off the bench. Plus, I can't stand Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew from their Dodger days.
Prediction: Angels in 5.

National League:
Colorado Rockies (90-73), NL Wild Card vs. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73), NL East Champs

Two of the hottest teams of September meet in what ought to be a very exciting series. The Phillies looked dead midseason, but put together a massive run (helped by a total collapse by the Mets) to take the divisional title. They face the Rockies, who won 14 of their final 15 and went 13 innings on Monday night to pull out a 9-8 win at home during a 163rd tiebreaker game. This one's too close to call, but I've got to give the edge to the Rockies. They've got crazy momentum, and have proven time and again that anything can happen in Coors Field.
Prediction: Rockies in 5.

Chicago Cubs (85-77), NL Central Champs vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72), NL West Champs

The Cubs managed to be the best of the worst division in baseball, narrowly beating out the Milwaukee Brewers for the championship. Now they face a suprising Arizona Diamondbacks team, which put together a big second half to win the West, and look to be challengers in their division for several more years. I don't think this one will even be close. The Cubs might manage one win in Wrigley, but they look totally outclassed here.

An interesting side note for Seattle Mariners fans, though, will be the meeting of Lou Pinella, a Seattle hero from his days as the Mariners skipper, when Seattle made their only post-season appearances, and Bob Melvin, the man who replaced Lou in Seattle, and who was basically run out of town for being saddled with a bad team and not being Lou Pinella. Personally, I hope the Diamondbacks kick the Cubs collective asses.
Prediction: Diamondbacks in 4.

And that's the divisionals. Here are the rest, assuming my insane picks actually happen.

ALCS: Yankees vs. Angels. A-Rod and the Yankees choke again, giving some solace to frustrated Red Sox fans as the Angels win in 6.

NLCS: Rockies vs. Diamondbacks. The Rockies finally run out of gas against their NL West foes, but not before the highest scoring game in postseason history gets played at Coors Field. Diamondbacks in 7.

World Series: Diamondbacks vs. Angels. In a West Coast showdown, the Angels have more pitching, and more offense. Angels take it in 5.

Oh, and for those keeping score at home, the answers to the questions posed at the beginning of the post?
No, In their dreams, Bob Melvin, and Thank The Lord No.

*Yes, I know they're actually the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I just refuse to call them that because it's both cumbersome and stupid. There's only one baseball team in Los Angeles, and they don't play in Anaheim.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Driving Addiction: The Lure of Racing Games

I'm not much of a sports gamer. If you were to search through my decent sized game collection, you'd find precisely two sports games: old copies of NBA Jam and '94 Winter Olympics, both for the original Gameboy brick, and acquired back in the days when Ahab and I had far more time than money to buy new games. In short, I've neither bought nor had bought for me, a new sports game in some thirteen years and haven't played one outside of LAN parties or work during my QA days.

So why am I so addicted to Forza and Gran Turismo that my WoW and EVE time had dropped to almost zero? I think the key elements are that for me, racing games don't feel like sports games, and also that these types of racing games, in particular, integrate some of the character improvement aspects I enjoy in RPG (role-playing game) products.

Feel. When I say racing games don't feel like sports games to me, I'm referring to team sports games, such as the Madden franchise. These games are an exercise in frustration for me, where the lack of total control over all the players on my team makes me reliant on the sometimes flaky AI systems for my own success. In a racing game, it's all about my own skill. I may be racing against AI opponents, but my own skills, my knowledge of the track I'm driving, and the car I'm using, are the determining factors in victory, not whether the AI can properly navigate through a chicane.

Character Improvement. Gran Turismo probably started this trend in racing games, the idea that as you win more races you receive new cars, new upgrades for your cars, and races with tougher competition. In many ways, it's little different from the RPG systems of characters improving their skills, getting better gear, and going off to slay tougher monsters. It works well there, it stands to reason it should work well here too.

The real enjoyment for me, though, comes from success. While it's true that until cars come equipped with Xbox or Playstation controllers for steering, my success has no real world application, but there's a bit of pleasant satisfaction gained from turning a near perfect lap in a 650hp Corvette on a virtual representation of Laguna Seca or the Nuerburgring. Considering it's also a world where hitting a wall in said 'vette at 175mph only results in a bit of bother and a reset, there is something to be said for it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gamer's Corner: Fall Games

Here in Seattle, Fall has arrived, bringing with it cooler weather, overcast skies, and lots of rain. In short, perfect weather to stay inside and play video games without feelings of guilt at wasting a lovely day.

So, without further ado, here are the games I'll be purchasing this fall.

1. Guitar Hero III. No, I don't own any of the previous Guitar Hero games. However, I have played them enough to find them fun. Plus, with a wireless guitar, it's a great party game.

2. Half-Life 2 Orange Box. I own, and have played through, Half-Life 2 and Episode 1. The Orange Box is a no brainer. Half-Life Episode 2, Portal, and the sequel to the first online shooter I ever tried? Sign me up. Plus, I know that the engine will run on my four year-old computer.

3. Sam & Max Season 2. I loved Sam & Max's return to PC adventures in Season 1. No question at all, I'll be ordering another full season.

4. Condemned 2: Bloodshot. The first game really, really messed with my head. If I can finish this one and not end up sleeping in the living room with the lights on and clutching a baseball bat, I'll count it an accomplishment.

There are a lot of other games coming out. Halo 3, Tabula Rasa, Haze, Area 51: Blacksite, Rock Band, and another Age of Empires III expansion pack just to name a few. And honestly, I could triple or quadruple the list of games I'm going to buy just based on what I'd like to play. Rock Band in particular, I'd like to play, but really, who would I play it with? Maybe in a few years, when The Boy and The Girl are older, I'll pick up Rock Band 3 and we can have jam sessions. For now, though, if I can get through the four games mentioned above sometime before April 2008, I'll count myself blessed.

If you're looking forward to any particular games this fall, feel free to leave a comment, and, provided it's not Halo 3, I won't mock you mercilessly.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Four Favorite Fast-Food Burgers

Ahab decided to tag the entire interweb tube system with his fave burgers meme, so since it's Friday and I'm feeling silly, here goes with my five favorites, in order.

1. Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger, Carl's Jr. Yes, there are better quality burgers around, but this combination of beef, cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce, and onion rings is my absolute favorite. No trip passing through Oregon or Spokane (Eastern Washington) is complete without stopping at the first Carl's Jr. I see to get one.

2. Double-Double, In-n-Out. Of course this is on the list, and second only to CJ's as my favorite burger. For the money, I think it's the best pure hamburger you can get at a fast food joint. On Washington to California road trips, I'll have been hitting Carl's Jr's since Portland, so I'm ready for pure burger goodness once I start seeing those In-n-Out arrows.

3. Kingburger, Fatburger. I basically consider Fatburger to be an In-n-Out imitator, with the chief differences being that you can get a fried egg, bacon, and chili on top of your Fatburger patty, and Fatburger has locations within 20 minutes of my house, compared to 20 hours to the nearest In-n-Out. It's a decent, if somewhat expensive burger. My recommendation is to get it with everything: bacon, fried egg, cheese, and chili. It's why quadruple-bypass surgery was invented.

4. Sirloin Cheese Burger, Jack In The Box. I can here Ahab's laughter across eight state lines on this one, but seriously, it's a good burger. Probably the best I've had from a national fast-food chain with branches in Western Washington. Unlike most fast burgers, this one actually has a well seasoned and flavorful patty, and they know enough to let the meat's flavor speak for itself rather than load it down with a lot of unnecessary extras. A piece of Swiss cheese, some grilled onions, a crunchy pickle spear (not the usual awful pickle chips) and some good tomatoes make for an excellent flavor.

Honorable Mentions. My fifth pick was going to be the Jalapeno Melt from Wendy's, but it appears they don't offer it anymore. Sad. It was a pretty average burger overall, but the jalapenos gave it a nice kick. Also officially discontinued, but available at some locations where it's popular enough, would be the Rodeo Cheeseburger from Burger King. Basically a poorer imitation of my Carl's Jr. favorite, the Rodeo Cheeseburger was a beef patty, BBQ sauce, and an onion ring. On the plus side, it's cheap, and available in more locations. Still, I can't peg it as an official #5 due to its random availability, and the fact that it's just a weak imitation of a superior product. Oh well.

Sorry, Ahab, I couldn't quite come up with a full top 5 list. Such is the nature of being a picky burger eater.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I Have a New Favorite TV Show...

And it's Top Gear, which has finally come to the USA courtesy of BBC America. In my case, I'm watching it through Comcast's On Demand service, which BBC America seems quite willing to put most of their best shows on within a couple days of the episode's first showing.

Some of my readers may remember the Reliant Robin Rocket videos I linked to. Top Gear is the show that did that. For those who haven't seen the show, it can be best described as the unholy union of a Car & Driver road test show and Monster Garage, with a large dose of very British humor. Even my Lovely and Gracious Wife, who normally avoids car shows like the plague, enjoyed it.

Seriously, how many shows can you watch that feature a guy driving a pink convertible with a paper grocery sack over his head to hide his identity, compares minivans to STDs shortly before attempting to turn one into a convertible, crashes a Koenigsegg CCR, and sets fire to a car wash after attempting to drive the convertible minivan through it. And that just in the first hour-long episode shown in America.

If PBS had any brains at all, they'd import this and put it on some evening. It's probably quintuple their viewership during that hour.

If you have cable or satellite with BBC America, or can get it on demand, and you enjoy fast cars and/or Monster Garage, you've got to watch this. Like I said, my new favorite.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007



Never Forget.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Litter Snitch is Born

Washington has a litter snitch program. Probably as an offshoot of their carpool lane violator snitch program, they have a toll free number that anyone can call to report their neighbors, or drivers in traffic, for flicking cigarette butts out their car windows, or leaving beer bottles on the lawn.

They even have incredibly annoying commercials that convey a nice, nanny-state message of "We know you're an irresponsible littering pig, and only the threat of a half-dozen strangers turning you in is going to keep you in line". I positively loath them.

That said, thanks to the jackass who couldn't be bothered to trash or recycle his beer bottle and instead flung it somewhere in a street, I'll be dialing the snitch hotline as fast as my fingers can manage the next time I see some yucca-puck tossing something from his car. It's jerks like him who cost me an hour last night putting on the emergency spare tire after a tiny piece of glass lodged itself with critical hit precision in the right-rear tire of our Vue, and another hour this morning getting said tire fixed.

As a public service to other Saturn owners who haven't had the pleasure of locating the "jack flange" with jack points that are "clearly marked" with an inverted triangle on the underbody of the vehicle, the triangle is molded into the bodywork, and located in the indents on the underbody. Also, be prepared for tired arms, as the combination tire iron/jack lever is too long to rotate through more than 200 degrees while raising or lowering the jack.

However, I will say that Les Schwab Tires has me as a customer for life now. Doing the entire service for free was nice (although expected, since it was under warranty), and remounting the original tire was appreciated, but they went well beyond what I expected when they also put the spare back in the tire compartment, and put the floorboard coverings back on. I'd expected to waste at least five more minutes messing with that stuff later. The only complaint I would have for them was the questionable choice of TV channel on in the waiting area. Understandable, considering the number of soccer moms I saw getting their minivans and SUVs done, but still, how do people watch Regis and Kelly without their brains crawling out their ears and escaping to the Bahamas? Just having to listen to it while I tried to occupy myself with Final Fantasy III, I could feel brain cells crying out for mercy before committing suicide.

All's well that ends well, I guess, and at least I was able to do the tire change in a parking lot rather than on a freeway shoulder. Still, for costing me an hour of D&D game time last night, and an hour of sleep this morning, I've gone from annoyed by litter to ready and willing snitch. Hope the convenience of tossing your beer bottle in the street was worth it, you brainless, inconsiderate, ill-mannered twit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Crunch Time Initiations

It was October, 2001. After several fruitless months competing with laid off dot-commers for the entry level programming jobs available in the Seattle area, I'd finally taken a job as a game tester at An Unnamed Game Publisher (AUGP for short). The pay was lousy, but it was a foot in the door of my dream career. Besides, it's not like companies were in any kind of competition for my employment.

I oriented with a group of about fifteen other people. The actual training was short and simple. "This is a bug" they said, as they showed a video of a snowboarding game where the player's character was stuck flying through the sky, "write a legible bug report for anything you see that's wrong, and always, ALWAYS, keep your VCR running. If it's not on tape, it didn't happen." A couple of people in my group were let go within the first couple of days specifically for forgetting to have their VCR running.

I drew an easy assignment. Thrown on to add man-hours to a game that had already been released but was doing an additional SKU for Europe. No bugs, easy deal. After that it was on to another game, a racing game this time, that was in the final states of polish, where I once again did little more than add man-hours necessary to certify that the game could be shipped.

We worked a few hours of overtime for the racing game, but not much was necessary. When it went out the door, I was added to a new project that had just come in for testing: a fighting game! There were a lot of bugs, and the deadline was growing closer. To be on store shelves by Christmas, a game has to be approved and released for manufacturing no later than very early November, and October is preferable. Eight hour days quickly became ten hour days, then twelve, then twelve plus weekends. People periodically quit, done in by the hours (or merely the demands of having to be on time for the first time in their lives), or were fired (technically their contracts were "completed", but we all know it's the same functional thing) for incompetence. They were quickly replaced though, and the marathon testing wore on.

Finally we neared the end. "One last big push!" our test manager promised us. One catch though. We were up against the deadline, and the game had to play for a certain number of hours without a single crash. It all came down to a twenty-four hour marathon shift. "Come in at 2pm tomorrow. We'll go from there."

I showed up ready. I had my CD player, books, and an iron stomach capable of swilling tester-blend coffee black. But a few hours into the test, it was called off. "Build's broken. We'll go tomorrow."

The wait only psyched people out more. The next night, people in my row had cases of Red Bull, Ballz, and other unholy beverages of gamer's fuel. The marathon began. Before we were even a third of the way in, we were a man down. One of our testers had seriously overestimated her caffeine tolerance. Blowing chunks, even when you do make it to the toilet, tends to make your body not want to keep going any more.

We broke periodically for half-hour meal breaks, and fifteen minute relaxation or smoke breaks. By 5am, I was starting to lose it. Head bobbing up and down, characters on the screen slowly becoming blurry as I ran off a cliff for the 500th time. More coffee! Double Strong! The witty banter had all but ceased between test stations as we grimly focused on our TVs.

Slowly the witching hour passed, and with dawn came new energy. Or at least, a sugar buzz from donuts, danishes, and more coffee. We were in the home stretch, and we were going to beat this thing! And then, finally, it was over. twenty-four hours, and no game crashes. People perhaps, but the game could go out.

The smart people packed up all of their stuff, for it was never quite certain that once a big push ended, if they would find you to be unnecessary head count and end your contract. It wasn't the end for me, but it was for some. It's funny though, that after six years, I can think back, and while I can't recall all the names, I can still remember the faces. For people trying to break into the games industry through a QA path, product test and contracted work are our trenches, and twenty-four hour crunches capping ninety-hour weeks are our air raids. The survivors come out stronger, tougher, and with a shared camaraderie helps fill higher positions later in careers. The fallen, well, we wonder about them sometimes. Did he end up as a truck driver? Maybe she's a bank teller now. Who knows? But when you're twenty-one and making video games, it's just the cap to an exciting day. Go home, call your fiancée, then crash. Get up and do it all again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Crunch Time

The limited blogging the past few weeks has been brought to you by Crunch Time. Yes, Crunch Time, when the work/home balance gets all skewed and all you can manage when you drag yourself home at the end of the day is to play with the kids for an hour or two before bed, then collapse yourself.

Fortunately, things look to be letting up for a while now, so tune in tonight or tomorrow for a good story about learning what crunch time really is. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll throw up from Red Bull overdoses.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Blogs on the List

A few new blogs have been added to the list on the left. These are mostly aviation related, but many of you may enjoy them.

  • Flight Level 390 is an active airline pilot. Read some of his posts and understand why people want to fly for a living.
  • Skywritings is an ex-airline pilot and now an LEO. She's got a great mix of aviation stories, gun stories, etc.
  • V1VrV2 is another airline pilot, with a great sense of photography.
I heartily endorse all of their blogs. I hope that when I finally get my wings, I can convey my experiences with a vividness and passion that approaches theirs.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sometimes it doesn't have to make fiscal sense

Rachel Lucas, a blogger whose work I rather enjoy (in spite of her having a mouth that could make some sailors blush) recently did a post explaining why she never wanted kids, and linking a lot of it to the financial horrors that crumb-crunchers wreck upon the wallets and fiscal stability of their parents.

To be honest, I can't argue with her that kids do terrible things to the budget. I do the books for my family, and I can say with certainty that we made more money before my lovely and gracious wife decided to be a stay at home mom when The Boy was born. I also can't deny that all of my favorite leisure activities have seen declines in the time spent on them, directly due to needing to watch/interact with children rather than settling in to read a good book or play the latest video game. She's got me there. My family is financially poorer and I have much less time for myself than before, all because of two small children whose combined weight is still under 100lbs.

But... If I didn't have my son, I'd never know the unconditional love that comes from getting home after a long day at work, opening the door, and hearing "Da-da!" as my boy jumps off the couch, sprints down the hallway and grabs my legs as a walk through the door. I'd never feel the peace that comes from my little daughter falling asleep snuggled up on my chest every night because that's where she feels safe and warm. I wouldn't have anyone I could just make silly faces and noises at and still be the funniest guy in the world, or someone I can sing goofy songs to without feeling self-conscious. And I'd never understand how much love my Heavenly Father has for me, if I didn't know how much love I have for my children, and that I'd do anything to protect them from harm.

Yes, they're expensive, and as a financial investment they're probably losing proposition unless one of them becomes the next Bill Gates. But my own life is far richer for them being in it than it would ever be otherwise, and no amount of entertainment or money could change that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Wish for Wings That Work

In news that will excite my entire family, at least, it's been officially announced that A Wish for Wings That Work, the Opus 'n Bill Christmas Special and perennial family favorite (yes, even more so than A Charlie Brown Christmas) will finally come out on DVD this November.

You can find the product listing and pre-order here:

This and White Christmas are the two Christmas movies I watch every year (and have since I was a kid), and I suspect that my brothers and I could quote virtually the entire dialog of Wings verbatim at this point.

But still I wonder: just where IS the Starboard-stabilizing ailertutter on a DC-3?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Olde Tyme Aviation

Since Ahab started it by talking about the Focker Eindecker ultralight, I thought he might be interested in the KC Dawn Patrol. They're not TOO far away from his current abode. Also, they have some nice plans for a gas powered machine gun.

Personally, I'm partial to the Nieuport 11 and 12 replicas. A couple of the single seat 11s flew into Arlington while while I was there earlier this summer, and aside from being tiny aircraft, they look great. Susceptible to errant gusts of wind, but that's the price you pay for being able to climb out of the cockpit, hoist the tail up on your shoulders, and tow your plane to its parking spot.

To be honest, if I had the garage space and a few extra thousand dollars lying around for tools and materials, there'd probably be a Nieuport 12 replica taking shape in the garage I don't have right now. I'm not sure what I'd do with it during the 10 months of the year when the VFR flying weather in the Pacific Northwest stinks, but it's be a great summer airplane.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New Toys

Is this a toy for me? I think it is!

The PS3 arrived in the middle of last week. Thanks to work commitments that have me pulling overtime for the next few weeks, it wasn't until Friday night that I was finally able to uncrate and set up the Deathstar of consoles, but as the above picture shows, The Girl had already taken possession. It's fortunate for me she can't talk yet. If she could, I'd likely give her whatever she wanted.

Since this is my first console of the current generation, I believe I'm now required to fulfill the following fanboy rant: "Xbox 360 suxx0rs! Wii is a total fad! PS3 r0xx0rs!

Okay, I'm back, minus the IQ points required for that bit of inane stupidity.

Saturday saw us acquiring a few necessary extras for the new toy: component A/V cables to get at least a slightly better picture, an actual PS3 game (Armored Core 4), and used copies of Kingdom Hearts and Gran Turismo 3 (to which The Boy gleefully screams "Car!" whenever one passes his father during a race). And while I have a hard time accepting the fact, if next year comes around and we haven't acquired a new high-powered gaming PC yet, then I know I'll still be able to play Fallout 3 even if it's not on the perfect system.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Next Generation Gamer Angst

I've finally gone and bought a new console game system. To be honest, it was one of the more difficult purchasing decisions I've had to make (then again, my wife and I haven't gone car shopping yet), but in the end, I hit submit on an order for a new 60 GB PS3 from the Sony store.

The PS3 will join the Gamecube, Xbox, and Super Nintendo serving to take up space on the top of our small entertainment centre.

So why a PS3? The co-workers I've told react with surprise when I tell them I've acquired a PS3 but not only don't own an Xbox 360, but don't plan to anytime soon. Well, honestly, there's two main reasons: first, I needed a current gen system. I'm a game developer, I work on titles that go on the latest and greatest consoles, so I ought to have one of them. Second, the PS3 works as kind of a hedge against future expenses. While I'm primarily a PC game player, the cost of a new game PC is in the $5000+ range, and I don't know if we'll be able to afford that in the next few years. At least this way I have something for the bulk of big name titles coming out in the next few years. Third and finally, the PS3 fills a gap in my game library that nothing else does. You may have noticed in the list of consoles we already own that there wasn't a PSOne or PS2. That's not a mistake. The PS3 is the first Sony manufactured console I'll have ever owned. Considering my predilection for Japanese RPGs in the Final Fantasy mold, and giant robot games in the Armored Core mold, I've got a good back-catalog to choose from.

Now I just have to convince my wife that what the kids are really going to need for Christmas is a new HDTV to play Blu-ray movies on.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Wow, and Thanks

Apparently, the way to blogging success is to amuse Ambulance Driver and get a link from him. That, and invoking the name of an oft-searched celebrity. For those of you just coming to this blog, welcome, I hope you'll come for the weird satire and stay for the random hodgepodge of reviews, musings, and wholesale weirdness that is my stock.

Also, a huge thanks to AD for the initial link. In 24 hours this little blog has doubled its total hit count. :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Real Truth About Lindsay Lohan's Latest Scrape

Apologies for the lack of recent posts, however, as you'll see, there was good reason. I was deep undercover to uncover the truth about what could become one of the greatest scandals of this decade, if not the century.

Lindsay Lohan was framed.

No, really, it's the truth. All she wanted was to be a hero. The real culprit behind her high-speed chase and DUI/drug bust afterwards, was none other than that arch-criminal mastermind, Sumdood! It was her claim that the pants she was wearing at the time of her arrest, which contained cocaine in one of the pockets, weren't hers that tipped me off. I had to investigate. And so, after a week long search that took me to the dark, seedy underground of Rodeo Drive, I can finally give the true story of what really happened to Miss Lohan that fateful evening in July.

It had started off so well. Miss Lohan was on her way to an AA meeting that met in the basement of a local church, after which she was scheduled to practice the hymn she would be singing at that same church on Sunday morning. Pre-occupied with her choice of hymns (Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross, or Beaulah Land?), her good judgment failed her when she stopped to render aid to a stranded motorist. Tragically for Miss Lohan, that motorist had been waiting for her.

As AD and Lawdog have shown, Sumdood is a master, both of disguise and deception. It took mere moments for him to place his drug-laden pants on Lindsay's body, and offer her a Jack Daniels flavored breath mint as thanks when his car started running again. Then he was off, and Miss Lohan none the wiser. Save that a few minutes later, she realized what had happened. It's likely she reached into her pants pocket to touch her pocket Gideon New Testament, only to revile in shock and horror when she found not the Word of God, but drugs, the Devil's Sugar. From someone, she must have learned of Sumdood, and surmised his involvement in her predicament. But what to do? The police wouldn't believe her, they'd just assume that she had fallen bak to her wicked ways. Her only recourse was to apprehend Sumdood herself.

She must have thought she'd spotted him in the back of the car she began chasing. Poor Lindsay. All she wanted was to be a heroine. By capturing Sumdood, she would have done what law enforcement has never been able to accomplish, and would lhave instantly put her name in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Lifetime Achievement Award Oscar. Countless of her Hollywood starlet sisters would have been saved from the ravages of Sumdood, for he is as much a predator in the mansions of Hollywood as he is in the trailer parks of Louisiana.

Alas, it was not to be. Like an ethereal spirit, Sumdood slipped away from the pursued car, leaving only a frazzled former assistant, her mother, and Lindsay Lohan to await the police.

And that, Gentle Readers, is the truth of what really happened to Lindsay Lohan.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Son the Magician

"Good Morning Dad! Wanna see my new magic trick?"

Kids are great. As Chris Taylor told me once, "Kids are great! You should have more kids!" He should know, he's got four of them.

The catch though, with toddlers, is that they like to surprise you. These aren't the "Here Dad, I made this for you!" kind of surprises either. These are the "I didn't know a 21-month old boy could pee high enough to hit the bathroom ceiling" kind of surprises.

About a month ago, the Lovely and Gracious Wife and I realized that The Boy had figured out how to take off his own diaper. This meant no more naps in just a diaper on hot days, and required him to be in at least a "onesy". (For those who haven't experienced the joys of baby clothing, a onesy is basically a shirt with snaps on the bottom that allows it to cover a diaper.) Actually, what happened was the Lovely and Gracious Wife found out that The Boy could remove his diaper and started putting him in a onesy, I had to learn by cleaning up soaked sheets after getting The Boy up from a nap.

This morning started like most mornings do, with me getting up The Boy and turning on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for him while the Lovely and Gracious Wife and The Girl sleep for a bit longer. It took me a while, but I happened to look over to see The Boy scratching himself, and thought that I'd seen something that shouldn't be possible. Mostly because there's supposed to be a diaper covering the area he was scratching. Picking him up, I realized just how grateful I am that he seems to be taking to potty-training and bladder control early, otherwise there could have been wet spots all over the living room. Sure enough, sometime after he woke up, The Boy had somehow removed his diaper from inside his onesy. Some talent.

Tonight he went to bed in a sort of 1-piece tank-top/short thing. If he's free-ballin' tomorrow morning, his night diapers are going to start getting help from Duct Tape.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Playing at McDonalds

Well, it's official. As of Sunday, my wife and I have officially become "those parents". I can't say I'm terribly proud of our decision, but truth be told, I doubt it will be the last time. When you've got an extremely active 21-month old little boy, and you live in a >900 square foot condo, he's got to play somewhere.

Here's the deal: we live in a small condo. It's what we could afford when we bought it, but we knew at the time it was only a starter home, not where we'd be living in the rest of our lives. Lord willing, we'll move into something larger, preferably with a yard, in a year or two, but for now, here we are. On the summer days when it's not raining, the Lovely and Gracious wife usually takes the kids to the park in the morning so that our son can run around and play. In the afternoons after everyone gets up from their naps, they usually go to one of the local malls that has an indoor free play area.

Unfortunately, naps ran late on Sunday. Since the mall closes earlier, we realized that we would only be there for maybe ten minutes before things started to close. This would have been somewhat less than optimal, since our son prefers to play around other kids, and our daughter needs lots of noise and people to hold her attention and keep her awake. The question was simple, really: where do we go at 7pm on Sunday that's open, has a play area, and most important, is free/very cheap.

Which is how we found ourselves in the play area of a local McDonalds, eating Chicken McNuggets and Chipotle Snack Wraps, and helping our son climb up into their large slide/gym thing.

Yup, despite our college degrees and my white collar job, I'm pretty sure we're even closer to being a redneck family than we've ever been before.

Still, I guess the important thing is that The Boy had fun and got a lot of exercise. He was sweating pretty good by the end, and slept well that night. Which, of course, only means that we'll be making more McDonalds trips when we need a cheap indoor play area in the future.

Ba-da-da-da-da... I'm lovin' it. I guess. Maybe

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Community Recharging

Apologies for the lack of bloggage Friday and Sunday. As previously mentioned, I had an off-site activity I needed to attend on Friday, and Sunday I was enjoying the last day of the Arlington EAA Fly-in.

I've attended the fly-in every year for the past three years, and in four of the six years I've lived in the Seattle area. One of the most useful things I've learned from these things is that for me at least, they're a useful and important part of keeping the fires of my enthusiasm stoked year round.

I've always enjoyed aviation. It's my biggest hobby, followed in no particular order by baseball, anime, and video games. It's not always easy to keep my enthusiasm for flying though. Winters in the Northwest are long and damp, I work in an office, and the money needed to actually start taking flying lessons seems so far away. It's easy sometimes to get discouraged, wonder why I'm dreaming this impossible dream, and start considering what other uses the small savings I've made towards flight school could be used for.

A few hours at an air show brings it all back. Sitting in the grass, the wing of an old Cessna providing shade while I watched pilots perform aerobatic maneuvers that shouldn't be aerodynamically possible. Hearing the deep rumble of a massive AD-1 Skyraider as she taxies in the parade of warbirds, then hearing that engine sound the way it was meant to be heard as she thunders overhead. Even just walking the flightline, seeing aircraft buzzing overhead, and looking at finished and unfinished projects reminds me that Yes! This can be done!

I think this encouragement of being around like-minded people is a built-in thing, inherent to our human nature. Even the "loners" of the world tend to find community and encouragement with other loners, often through MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, or through message boards. It's part of what we are, and I've got to believe, it's one of the big reasons why God knew we needed church, rather than just trying to go it alone.

Someday, I will have an airplane to work on. It will start as a pile of parts sitting in my basement, garage, or my parent's garage. I could build it alone. I'll have an instruction book and blueprints to tell me what to do, it can be done. It's also much more likely that after a couple years of turning lots of small parts into slightly bigger parts, I'll get tired. After another year or two of having half the garage taken over by dusty bits of aluminum, my lovely and gracious wife will suggest that I should think about doing something with said bits of aluminum. And finally, after another year or two of vacillation, I'll admit defeat and the whole mess will end up on E-Bay and in Trade-a-Plane, just like so many other partially completed kits.

That's where the go it alone route leads, and is why when I do get the kit, I'll be working with other people, and plugging in to my local EAA group for additional support. Because I want an airplane, one that's safe, flyable, and fun; not a pile of dusty metal in the garage.

If community is that important a factor for something like a project, how much more vital is it to things that really effect our lives?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Late Today

Sorry, Friday review will be up late tonight. I was to be somewhere this morning that wasn't conducive to blogging.

Monday, July 9, 2007

And the children shall lead us

When you have an extremely active 20 month old boy in the home, and your home is a sub-900 square foot condo with no private yard and a 10-foot communal patch of grass, you tend to go out a lot. To parks when it's sunny, and to indoor play areas when it isn't. Since we live in the Seattle area, we spend a lot of time at indoor play areas. For us, the closest (free) indoor play area is at the local mall.

The local mall has a pretty diverse population. A lot of Asian families, a fair number of black families, etc. What's really striking is to watch all the kids play together. It's a good reminder that little kids don't see skin color, just other kids to play with.

I think that's the way I grew up. Racism was, to me, an intellectual concept, one more entry in the list of stupid ideas that some people believe.

Then I went to college, and found out that not only do these idiots still exist, sometimes they go to college and become educated idiots.

And sometimes, when I see my little son running around the play area, shrieking with delight and being chased by a little boy with skin of a different color, following a little girl of another ethnicity, I remember some of the conversations I had with the educated idiots I once shared a dorm room with. And I wonder how anyone can see skin color and think that it matters, if they've ever seen little children at play.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Weekend Aviation Fun: Inside the Cockpit with Bob Hoover

Oldie, but a goodie. Video clip from a BBC documentary inside the cockpit with Bob Hoover.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Video Game Review: Tomb Raider Legend

I knew the dame was trouble the moment she walked into my office. Dames with curves like that always are. But hey, what was I to do? I'd just set up the new office on Gametap Avenue, and a client is a client. Of course, if I'd known that talking to her was going to end with me free-climbing in the Peruvian mountains, swinging across pits of spikes hoping that the vine I'm clinging to won't break, and getting into more running gunfights than I'd care to count with the thugs that were after her, I might have have said something different when she plunked down on my desktop and said, with a British accent in her voice, "Hello, I'm Lara Croft, and I need your help." Then again, I'm a sucker for an accent, and like I said, the dame had it where counts.

She said that she was trying to locate some sword fragments. "Fair enough", I responded, "but archeology really ain't my shtick. Have you tried Dr. Jones down the hall?" It wasn't like that though. The sword fragments were connected to the Arthurian legend of Excalibur, along with more personal connections to the disappearance of her mother, and her father's research. How could I say no to that?

I've never been a huge Tomb Raider fan, to be honest. Yes, I've seen the movies staring Angelina Jolie, but the last TR game I played was the original, and it had a protracted argument with my PC's video card that resulted in a less than amicable split. But TR Legend is available on the free side of Gametap's all you can eat game service, so I figured I'd give it a shot. The game was released last year for every major console and the PC, and got decent reviews as well.

Overall, I enjoyed the game. I usually have some annoyances with the camera controls in 3rd-person perspective games, but the camera here was surprisingly trouble free. Combat was generally fun, and save for some scripted button pushing sequences that I thought were totally unnecessary, the game moved along pretty well. It took me about 10 hours to finish the single-player campaign, although there are a lot of unlockables that could double that play time if you wanted to play Barbie dress-up with Lara and all her outfits. Then again, I'm married with two kids, and well past the Jr. High days of being amused with "Look at Teh cartoon B00biez" by taking 10 hours to unlock a bikini to dress Lara in. (Spend an extra 10 hours for this? No thanks.)

The story, while not the best I've ever seen, worked for me. The voice acting was also good, and the game had some genuinely good emotional moments.

One irritant that I dealt with that I suspect most people won't (and haven't) was in controls. For some reason I couldn't save my custom control scheme. While I finally devised a workaround via my programmable gamepad, it was still a perpetual annoyance everytime I started the game. Of course, if you play on a console, or even the normal PC version, you likely won't have this problem.

Here's the final stats:
Genre: 3rd Person Action/Adventure
System: PC (also availabe on Xbox, Xbox 360, PS2, and Gamecube)
Rated: T (Ages 13 and up)
Appropriate for Ages: 13 and up. I guess the ESRB agreed with me, since they rated TR: Legend T for Teen. As previously noted, boys of a certain age will chuckle about Lara's "assets", but the game is worth playing regardless.
System Requirements: If you've bought a new computer in the past three years, you should be fine. Or, just play it on the console.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Fireworks and the Fourth

I've always enjoyed watching fireworks. The colors, the noise, the potential flirtation with danger, has always made an appealing combination for me. Growing up in the People's Republic of California, there were (are still) pretty severe restrictions on what can be legally purchased, so I didn't shoot a lot of big stuff. Still most years, the brothers and I would gather in the yard in the evening of the Fourth, arm ourselves with Supersoakers to extinguish any stray fires (we lived in the desert, and fireworks don't absolve you of responsibilities) and set off a few Piccolo Petes and wave sparklers around.

Of course, boys grow up, and sometimes they move to states with less restrictive regulations. The shot below is what we hope to be firing off this year.

Lots of fountains, mortars, Roman candles,
and a hundred pop-its.

There's a rich history of celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks, dating back to 1777. Before that, fireworks were so popular in Elizabethan England that they were mentioned in some of Shakespeare's plays. While they've certainly gotten fancier in the intervening centuries, I like to think that when we light off our Roman candles and mortars on the Fourth, we join in a tradition that connects us to the days of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and the rest of the great men who founded this nation.

It's interesting to realize that, when this tradition first started, America was still very much a untamed continent. Most boys learned to hunt, and if they weren't apprenticed to become tradesmen in a city, would likely become farmers. Losing a finger lighting or throwing the fireworks of the day was likely very far down on the danger list.

Now, of course, we strap our kids into special car seats and keep them there until they're 8. God forbid that they should ride their bikes without helmets, or play in the grass for five minutes without being slathered in mosquito repellent. It saddens me to say that I know multiple parents (okay, mothers) who forbid their kids from watching anything even remotely violent (awful fodder like Disney's Sleeping Beauty is right out), and ban toy guns and swords from their homes.

It was a big day for me when I was finally allowed to light something more dangerous than a sparkler on the Fourth. I just hope that when my son reaches that age, there'll still be something legal to light.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Weekend Aviation Fun: Jimmy Franklin's Jet Biplane

I remember seeing this act during one of my family's visits to Reno in the mid-90s. It's a biplane, with a jet engine. Enough said.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Review: Burn Notice Pilot

The Mrs. and I watched the pilot episode for Burn Notice last night on USA. I liked it enough to do an initial review on it. My plan for shows like this is that I'll do an initial review, then around the middle or end of the season, come back and revisit any issues that I brought up in the initial impression.

Show: Burn Notice
Genre: Action
Network/Timeslot: USA, 10pm Eastern & Pacific
Appropriate for: Probably 14-15 and up. I'd say most anyone who's up at 10pm on a school night.

Burn Notice is USA's latest "Quirky Character" show, following in the similar vein of Monk and Psych in this regard. In this case, the lead quirky character is a CIA freelancer named Michael Westin who receives a "burn notice" while on a mission in Nigeria. Apparently, in the Burn Notice world, spies, at least those who don't officially work for the government but are contracted unofficially, don't get fired, they get burned. Meaning that since you can't remove the knowledge of how to operate from a spy's head, you take away the tools he uses to do his job. No money, no supporting agents, etc.

It's a pretty good setup, but fortunately for our hero, he apparently graduated from the McGuyver school of spying, since his suddenly limited budget only makes him get more creative with his tools. In the pilot alone, we see him assemble a bug out of cell phones, a pipe bomb out of household implements, and convince a drug dealer to leave using duct tape, a stud finder, a coffee can, and a .45.

It also bears noting that one of the supporting cast members is none other than Mr. Bruce Campbell, playing a burned (and burnt out) friend of Michael's. Bruce "If Chin's could kill" Campbell apparently put on a few pounds for the role, but he still manages to steal pretty much every scene he's in.

It's not all rosy in this show though. One of my biggest complaints is that everything Michael does gets a voice-over explanation. I don't mind a little bit of this (it works well in Psych), but I swear, everything he does has to be explained in the manner of
"When you're a spy, you can't just go to the bathroom. You have to check the exits, make
sure there's no one with a gun lurking in one of the stalls, then pick a urinal with an easy path
to the exit just in case. Oh, and once you finish, don't forget to wash your hands."
The deadpan delivery isn't bad, but by the end of the episode, I really didn't want to hear any more explanations.

Still, I remember that Psych took a while to come into its own, and the premise here isn't bad. It's been a long time since we've had a good McGuyver type character on TV, and if the show sticks to the spy out of water and making do formula, preferably toning down on the voice-overs, I think they'll have another hit on their hands.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Aggressors in Odd Places

About a week ago, while trying to find something on TV to watch while I fed The Girl and rocked her to sleep, I came across Fire Birds on Comcast's free movies On Demand service. Since Monday night TV is a vast wasteland of drivel (at least until Ani-Monday comes on at 11), and I hadn't seen a decent aviation movie in a while, I figured I'd give it a go.

What I learned is that Fire Birds basically attempted to be Top Gun, only with Army AH-64 Apache helicopters instead of Navy F-14 Tomcats. Unfortunately, it does so in a way that makes the plot and dialog in Top Gun seem Oscar-caliber. Aside from Tommy Lee Jones, who basically plays the same grumpy old guy character that he plays in every movie, nobody seems to know what they're really doing. Still, just like in Top Gun, the actors aren't the real stars, the aircraft are. And if you're into lots of footage of Apaches doing Cool Things, this isn't a bad movie to watch.

It also, and this brings me to my real point, used the Saab J-35 Drakken, one of my favorite aircraft of all time, as the Bad Guy "aggressor" fighters.

I've always been a fan of Sweden's Saab jet fighters. Most countries Sweden's size long ago abandoned any home-grown military fighter development in favor of buying other countries' designs, but Sweden keeps on going, creating enormously capable aircraft that are designed to operate off roadways all over their country, and that can keep up with the current fighter generation.

The Drakken is one of those jets that looks fast sitting on the ground. I know there are a few in private hands here in the USA (imagine if they went after warbird owners the way they go after gun owners!) and if I had the money, this is definitely the ex-military bird I'd buy. (Anyone got a few million bucks around they'd like to donate to me?) Just watch the video below, and you'll understand.

Oh, and for a bonus, here's the Drakken's successor, the Viggen, doing a maneuver I'm pretty sure makes F-16 drivers green with envy.

Watching something like that, their "Born from Jets" car slogan actually does makes me want to buy one.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rocket Hijinks with Top Gear

I was going to do a Friday review post for kids shows today, but it'll have to wait until next week. Sesame Street, the Wiggles, et all will still be doing their thing then, I'm sure.

However, after the last post and the discussion on model rocketry, I have to direct your attention to these videos. Courtesy of The Highly Official Weblog of Phillip A.V. McCarthy, I give you

Rocket Robins

In the words of Calvin: "Why can't my successes be as spectacular as my failures?"

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Father's Day 2007

Sunday was my second Father's Day where I wasn't just giving attention to my Father, but also a dad myself. I think most of my Father's day present to my dad was providing tech support for their computer (Office 2003 suddenly decided it wanted to be installed again), but I got a couple of great gifts.

First off, my kids (as directed by my lovely and gracious wife, since the kids are still much too little to make these kinds of decisions) purchased a ticket to a Mariners - Indians doubleheader in September. I think I've made my abundant love of the American National Pastime clear, and while I'd still rather watch a National League game, spending the day at the ballpark and taking in a pair of games is something I've wanted to do for a long time.

The second gift was The Dangerous Book for Boys. Just skimming though it, I think it's an absolutely phenomenal tome. When I was a certain age (about 8 to 13) this kind of book, with its wide range of subjects from great historical battles to instructions on the proper hunting, skinning, and cooking of rabbits; would have been poured over countless times. I look forward to sharing much of the knowledge contained therein with my son.

After all, looking back on my childhood, what do my brothers and I reminisce about? It isn't the time we spent all day sitting on the couch watching TV, it's the time we chased one of Birdy's (my second brother) rockets down the street after it underwent a somewhat less than optimally successful launch.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Stupid Aviation Tricks: Citation II Roll

Far too many aviation accidents have started with words to the extend of "Hey guys, watch this!"

Friday, June 15, 2007

Food is not that expensive!

Courtesy of Ahab's blog commentary on fat folks, I linked over to this wonderful post by Zuska on the trials of being a person of larger than socially acceptable size.

Other than to say that Ahab and I are pretty much in agreement, I won't say much about the fattism (is that really a word? I weep for the English language) debate in and of itself. However, one of Zuska's comments really rankled me because I've heard the argument before and it's demonstrably untrue.

Here's the quote from Zuska's post that really knotted my knickers (bolding added by me for emphasis)
"I do not, however, hold any bitterness toward the person who is working from 8-5 and rushing to pick up her kids from day care and who potentially can't afford to shop at Whole Foods, and who does stop at the drive through window at McDonald's because a Happy Meal costs $1.99 (or whatever they cost these days) while cooking a decent meal costs at least $30 ..."

$30 for a "decent" meal? If that was the case, my family would starve, since we're blessed if we can spend $50 a week on groceries. Seriously here, a "decent" meal for a family of 4 (what we have) can be easily done on $10 or less, and still leave leftovers for lunches the next day. For example, here's a common dinner at the Caster residence: Spaghetti ($.99 for a box), spaghetti sauce ($3.50 for a jar), 1/2 a bag of frozen veggies ($1.99), and juice (from concentrate, $1.25 for a can).

I get seriously irritated when I hear the argument about how much home meals cost. A loaf of wheat bread is 99 cents. A jar of natural peanut butter that'll make 20+ sandwiches is 4 bucks. Apples range from $.99 to $1.5 per pound. A big sack of flour, from which you can base tons of meals, costs $5.

Do you know what's expensive at the supermarket? Twinkies. Ding dongs. Ice cream. Convenience foods like Pop-Tarts, Hot Pockets, and frozen pizzas. Basic staple foods are not expensive, and the people who claim that they are obviously haven't spent any time in the grocery store buying them.

Book Review: Ten Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships

Author: Dr. Laura C. Schlessinger
Genre: Self Help / Relationships
Appropriate for: Probably 15 and up.

First off, I have a confession to make: my wife and I received this book as a wedding gift more than five years ago. To whomever gave it to us, and took the time to get it autographed and personalized, I'm sorry it took me this long to read it. Had I done so sooner, perhaps my wife and I would have had a bit less Stupid Pain.

This is a book for anyone who's in a relationship, or looking to be in one. Basically, if you're fifteen or older, and not a priest or cloistered monk, this should be a must read. It's sprinkled heavily with anecdotes of callers and e-mailers from Dr. Laura's radio show, which typically are either examples of what not to do, or examples of people who "get" it, and have fixed whatever the problem was.

Inside, the book breaks down the ten stupid things by chapter. While I, fortunately, haven't been guilty of all ten, I do have to admit that at one time or another, I've been guilty of at least five of them, and recognized certain thoughts or tendencies of mine in some of the others. For me in particular, Stupid Secrets, Stupid Priorities, and Stupid Happiness were all things I saw to work on, and in a funny way, the sections on Stupid Mismatch and Stupid Breakup actually served as a validation of sorts, that I really am married to exactly the right woman and not guilty of these particular stupid things.

To me, a marriage is kind of like a car: preventative maintenance is a lot cheaper and less painful than fixing something when it breaks. You change the oil in your car regularly because it's cheaper than sitting by the side of the freeway waiting for the tow truck after your engine seizes. Likewise in a marriage, where stopping problems when their small can prevent them from growing bigger. My wife and I have always had a good marriage, but with two kids and the pressures they bring, it's easy to get a little out of focus sometimes. This book helped me get back on track, and I think my wife's been happier because of it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Squirrel Wounds Three.

Okay, this is why we need more people keeping the local squirrel pest population in line with .22 caliber justice. Sure they're just in Germany now, but how soon will the Squirrel Commandos arrive on our shores? No park will be safe! Dogs will cower in terror! Be prepared. Buy a varmint gun today, or suffer the wrath of our Para-squirrel commando overlords tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

New Update Schedule

Okay, I give in. Unlike Ahab, who's able to string together amusing and thought provoking posts on a daily basis, I can't seem to do quality posts quite so frequently. I blame my two kids, and the fact that Ahab's always been one of the few people who can make me seem taciturn.

So it's time to shoot for a new, and hopefully more workable update schedule, with posts every Tuesday and Friday, plus stupid aviation tricks every weekend. If I have something really interesting to say I'll do an additional post, but for sure content on those three days.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Entertaining Updates

No update yesterday was caused mostly by needing a day to recuperate from the weekend with friends. While I realize that just hanging out, playing CCG and board games and watching movies is pretty boring fair, it was fun and relaxing for all of us.

You may notice that I've updated the Now Reading/Playing/Watching sidebars. Having finished the 10 Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships (review coming Friday), I'm off to lighter fare, namely burning through the first volume of Full Metal Panic. It's manga, it's funny, and one of the trigger-happy main characters alternately reminds me of Ahab and the prototypical mall-ninja.

Sam & Max is done for the season, so I'm experimenting with the free side of Gametap's service and trying out Tomb Raider Legends. I don't play many 3rd-Person action titles, so I'm having a fair amount of fun with this one, despite irritating little details like the game not saving my custom control scheme after each session. Still, it runs well and looks good on my 3.5 year old PC, and it was free, so I can't complain too much.

Finally, with Shin-Chan in re-runs on Cartoon Network for the next few months (but showing at 11:30 on Saturdays now) I've dropped it from my watch list. It'll go back on when (if) they start airing new episodes again.