Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On Nomadism and Thin Clients

Chris Brogan recently posted that we should all be prepared for digital nomadism - i.e. working from anywhere, anytime (although having watched my wife make this transition, I can say with some authority that "anytime" is really "all the time"). I don't disagree that we all need to prepare for the long trek from coffee shop to hotdesk to lunch meeting to bus stop, but I was surprised by the first section after the intro, entitled "Get a Smartphone." His first sentence, "Your regular cellphone won't cut it," strikes me as a bit dire.

It could be that I'm in the dark ages, or else overly concerned about the portability and pocket-friendliness of your average smart phone. It could be that I've had two phones that were irresistibly attracted to water (washing machine, lake, whatever), and don't really want to face the prospect of throwing $500 down the drain on one of my absent-minded moments. Perhaps it's like first class - once you've been there you can never go back. I would like to posit, however, that one can be perfectly nomadic without one. Before iPhone, when all of a sudden our phone really could do everything (bless you iPhone), there was not a single smart phone that held any allure for me whatsoever. It comes down to how I use the phone. I am always able to download a Gmail app for whatever phone I have. Similarly, most phones are able to sync with my computer to share calendar data and contacts. And they have all had longer battery life than the behemoths.

Really, what else do I need? When will the day come that I can't get to a terminal of some type to drop my crucial edits into crucial document X? And how much pleasure will I get out of trying to do that on a smart phone because I can? The point of all this modularity/portability/mobile access is to be able to utilize what amounts to a thin client to retrieve and manipulate centrally stored data. Yes, a smart phone can do! It! All!, but I'll go out on a limb and suggest that a phone is a phone (unless it's an iPhone). My wife checks her email (just like me) but if it's a detailed issue, she closes the email program and calls the person (just like me). Sure, she's become adept at buttonmashing quick replies out to people if needed (just like me), but on the whole the phone is a data device as needed and first and foremost a means of communicating via voce. Just like mine.

Just sayin', nomads travel light and make do with what they have. If you've got the killer tool, by all means. But I'll continue the voyage with an endless succession of little toy phones that end up, mysteriously, in the dishwasher.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Yay for continued Heroes! Maybe!

Nikki Finke reports that the two sides of the writer's strike have crossed a milestone and have the bones of a deal in place. She's quick to point out that nothing is confirmed.

As a writer who enjoys being paid, I'm happy to hear that the strike (and the blogging about the strike) has had an impact. As a consumer of Heroes, I say get back to your typewriters! Half a season of Heroes is about as bad as socks for Christmas.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bee blight

The Willamette Week has a review about a certain movie that mentioned that we are in the middle of a massive bee apocalypse. The movie is unsurprisingly disappointing (it is not the first time that Dreamworks has brought in top talent only to squander it), but I found the bee die-off to be rather stunning. Consider:

What's causing the carnage, however, is a total mystery; all that scientists have come up with so far is a new name for the phenomenon - Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) - and a list of symptoms.

In hives hit by CCD, adult workers simply fly away and disappear, leaving a small cluster of workers and the hive's young to fend for themselves. Adding to the mystery, nearby predators, such as the wax moth, are refraining from moving in to pilfer honey and other hive contents from the abandoned hives; in CCD-affected hives the honey remains untouched.

Emphasis mine. Now, far be it from me to be hysterical, but what is wrong with the honey? (By the way, if you want hysterics, I'd recommend reading the comments after the article - awesome.) If the pathogen is food-borne, how do the other insects know? Or is it more like when your dog growls at a stranger for no apparent reason and later you read that the same man mugged a grandmother and kicked a kitten - just some kind of bad bee mojo emanating from the vacant hive?

The CCD Working Group reported four months later that the culprit was likely viral. Just last month, Nature aired "The Silence of the Bees" (nice), an excerpt of which can be seen as a PBS podcast.

As a huge fan of honey and, of course, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I found this all extremely interesting. Then again, it is the weekend and I'm undercaffeinated. Your results may vary. Just...maybe buy local honey, yeah? Good for the allergies, anyway.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Two Tugs

Claire's third tooth in the lower row of incisors came out today, but not without help. There was already a tooth growing behind it, so its time had come, but it was clinging to life with the same ferocity that allowed it to survive an incident when she was three. This was when I was in law school, and I got a call (I think in class - can't actually remember now) from the Moss St. Center that Claire had fallen and smashed her face into the slide. I was prepared, I remember, for some blood, what I wasn't prepared for was the angle at which all of her lower teeth were sitting. Her lower jaw had slammed up and over her upper teeth, jamming all of her teeth forward and (we are now learning) breaking them off at the roots. The dentist sorta snicked them back into place as well as he could and then said "odds are they'll turn black and die, then you can come back and we'll pull them." Turns out they're feisty little chompers and have stayed around, crunching carrots, for all these years.

Now that the big teeth are coming up these scrappy bits of calcium have been jumping ship with abandon - and you can see the shears across the roots from the slide incident. (For the sake of brevity I'm skipping over the story from her Montessori school, six months later, when she got a clean bill of tooth health from the dentist on Tuesday and then smashed the same teeth in during a game of chase at recess. Oy.) And now we're to the third, the one that already has a big kid tooth behind it. It was disinclined to acquiesce to Claire's persistent wiggling, but this morning she crossed a threshold - it was pretty much just hanging out of her mouth.

So as you might suspect, tug one was me yanking a tooth out of someone's head for the first time. I can report that my daughter is crazy and that I have no tolerance for inflicting pain. She says it only hurt a little right at the end, but still. And the third tooth goes in the purple pouch, awaiting its dollar in change. Inflation, right? Poor kid can't even buy gum with less.

The second tug was the one that caught me by surprise. It was the cavalier way in which she marched into class upon arriving at school. This is a new school for her, a new experience of first grade and actual work and relating with older kids, peers, teachers, all that. It is a big kid school, requiring big kid teeth, and skin, and guts, and heart. It's been hard. But there she was, ready to launch, one tooth short but with all the confidence of someone who knows, somehow, its absence will not slow her down. Now nothing will slow her down. And there I am, standing at this other, bigger threshold, with one hand gripping a tiny, courageous tooth and one hand stretching out to this tiny, courageous girl, my role diminished, my new role unknown.

Two tugs. And all before coffee.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Social Networks - actually transformative?

There's no shortage of discussions about the value of social networks in contemporary society, ranging from "there is none" to "there's a lot." How's that for a summary? I tend to lean toward the "there is none" side, somewhere between "there's a middling amount" and "there's a teeny bit." But a Talk of the Town article in The New Yorker this week made me rethink. Particularly, this quote:

Hungry Upper East Siders were hovering over the table by the time Cohen returned to his themes of Middle Eastern youth: “You meet these young kids and you party with them, and they know the world has misperceptions of what they’re like. Every single young person is reachable. Ask them what dating is like in their country, ask them if they have a girlfriend, ask them what their type is. There’s nobody who’s too conservative to talk about that.”

The article is talking about Jared Cohen, a member of Condi Rice's Policy Planning Staff, who has had a lot of success with the new détente of going to raves with Iranians. Whether or not this is brilliant diplomacy, his comment raises interesting issues surrounding how Facebook, myspace, and the like could actually be positioned as tools for peace. For the first time, I looked at the growing universality of English as a common language as something other than a scourge - what if the younger generations could connect and create meaning within channels that their elders could never hope to understand?

People more connected than me will probably immediately say, "but it's happening! Look at blankthingie.com!" and bless them for knowing this, and having spent more time with the ramifications. There's more to say, clearly, and I'll try to say it as we move forward.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Do we need a Creative Commons Salon in Portland?

Creative Commons, as you probably already know, is an organization dedicated to digital rights management, the dismantling of data fiefdoms, and generally being awesome. (This last bit is not a stated goal of the organization, I don't think, but pretty much sums up my opinion of them.)

They have salons, a word which here means "opportunities for smart people to hang out and discuss cool stuff." Currently there's no salon in Portland. What do people think about having one? Comment here (ha! assumes there's anyone reading) or shoot me an email...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Making Game Design Pay

Emanuele Feronato has an interesting experiment running, where the goal is to make a bit of money on flash game design. The game page hosts Google Adwords and mochiAds in-game. The post has an interesting breakdown of effort vs. payoff, and the consensus from the comments appears to be that committing a week of time to make a polished, engaging game would probably yield the best results.

It's a useful experiment and y'all should stay tuned for the next two experiments.

PS - the game's pretty fun as well :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Reveal

We're back with Micheal Transbottom the Third, to reveal to our homeowners the transformations that have been wrought on their lives;

"Okay, Sub-Saharan Africa, we know that you've been through some rough times. AIDS, constant war, and famine can really wear a person down. So for your room we've decided to provide you with an in-home SPA!!!"

"New Orleans, San Diego, you guys worked really hard to recover from devastating acts of natural violence. We wanted to make sure you knew we had your back, so here's random support across the country for your sports teams!!!"

Etc. I don't mean to be down on Extreme Makeover, or any show that attempts to better the lives of others through community effort, but the shocking truth is that the poorest family in America is richer than some 90% of the world. As we click past Halloween and into the season of avaricious lusting after stuff, let's all consider doing something bigger than ourselves.

Places that can happen (local and otherwise):

Heifer International
Oregon Food Bank
CASA of Multnomah Co.

And of course you can test your mad vocabulary skillz and feed people at the same time - Free Rice, yo.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ignite was awesome.

Everybody knows this by now, but Ignite Portland was a smashing success. Good food, lovely beverages (although this didn't affect me, the alcoholic ones ran out), GREAT speeches. Some highlights:

Steve Morris' talk on pitching to investors was both relevant and engaging, although the slides were a little "slidey" for my taste - fairly dry, and often too full to successfully absorb in 15 seconds. The guy clearly knows his stuff, though, and was in the right room.

Adam Duvander's talk was great and provided me some solid reading. I met Adam at an open coffee last month and was glad to see him do so well.

Both the StepChange guys were great, but Kevin Tate's talk on emergence was absurdly revealing and packed to the gills with references to books that I should have read by now but haven't. I like unicycling as much as the next guy, but I think hands down one of the best presenters was KT.

Crystal Beasley's presentation had hands down the best slides in the first half. Visit I Hate Hummer for a peek at her latest project, which involves, well, hating Hummers.

The second half was substantially lighter, although hilarious. You just had to be there, or wait for the video, for a lot of these. Of particular note in the "awesome slides" category was Hideshi Hamaguchi, who presented on "thinking like the Japanese" and had beautiful slides.

The dog of the bunch was Keith Gerr's random assortment of comments about things. He was out of time with his slides, didn't really have a single "burning idea," and generally speaking was baffling to try to understand. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but this one was really quite weird.

That aside, it was great! Kudos to all sponsors, presenters, and

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is Apple the new [Insert Here]?

Jason Kottke suggests that the Apple = new Microsoft rhetoric is coming. I have no reason to disagree, but I like a different metaphor, and not only because it's October; is Apple the new Red Sox?

Lemme 'splain - I believe that the Red Sox will win the series. I believe it despite the removal of Wakefield from the roster, despite the Cinderella streak the Rockies are on, despite my general love of the NL. Having won two in the last four years, the question then becomes, "who are we kidding with this lovable underdog nonsense?" They're as big as the Yankees, their budget is as big as the Yankees. They're an 800 lb. gorilla. But the questions surrounding the public shift in consciousness about their massiveness are bigger and more varied than "are the Sox the new Yankees?" The human takes on popularity, mind and market share, and cultural shifts are interwoven.

So back to Apple. Yes, they're the Red Sox. They are flying high on devices that make all the spouting about portable tribes a reality. They have incredibly beautiful computers (well, they always did) that put the "you" in Unix, and can even run Windows if you must. They are an 800 lb. gorilla. The reaction one way or the other is going to depend more on the service culture they generate than anything else (though I concede that there are many, many anythings that will impact this). Apple is currently famous for cool, but one of the things I've always liked is that they're growing famous for service and support. They don't just design products that are (to me) intuitive, they help people who don't find them so intuitive. Just ask my mother, who started with an iMac (at my insistence) and now has a little MacBook for travel.

Red Sox won the Series, and Apple launched the iPod. The fans cheered and hooted and raved, and then there was a small moment of "omg, now what" among Red Sox/Apple Nation - we're not the underdog! The curse is broken! What the heck do we do with ourselves? What they did, by and large, is stay the course - Sox are awesome, and so is Apple. Win a second series/release the iPhone? You're still awesome, and the fan core still thinks so; it's the rest of the world that will swirl, the people who saw an iPod and said, "yeah, that's neat" or who read an article on the 0-3 comeback and thought, "those scrappy millionaires, look at them go." NOW you're, how you say, hegemonic. Now there's an outsider looking in, hoping for a shot at the big time, dreaming of wrestling the Badass Motherf*cker wallet from your iron grasp.

Microsoft, as you may have heard, plans to solve their own nipped heels problem by buying everything in sight. Apple probably won't do that - doesn't fit the model. They'll have to differentiate the old fashioned way - by earning the respect and trust of an ever-growing clientele. Shocking, I know. I wish they could just synergize some mindshares, or something. Sounds better, less "brick and mortar."

Friday, October 19, 2007

OBT Starts with a Bang.

The first program of Oregon Ballet Theatre's 2007-08 season has its last performance tomorrow, and having just been I strongly encourage you to beg, borrow or steal tickets and go see it. Christopher Stowell seems to have that great Director's knack of finding the right roles for the right people, and this program positively brims with promise of things to come. At one point I thought to myself that these dancers both understand and honor the burden of being the company for an entire state.

(That's not to say there's not other dance out there, but let's face it - you look to ballet as the harbinger of quality. These folks get that, and they mean business).

The program started with William Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude," new to OBT this year. The piece was something of a standby at SF Ballet, and so it's no surprise that Stowell would want to bring it here. Forsythe wasn't kidding when he said "exactitude" - this is a hard dance for all five dancers, and only Stephen Houser performed flawlessly - but the energy was there and the missteps were minor. It's a great dance and I hope Stowell keeps it close. With such a small season (four programs + Nutcracker) it's unlikely to see an immediate repeat, but every other year this is a great chance to give young dancers some serious work.

The juxtaposition of the big, spacious, shape-centric "Thrill" with "Mostly Mozart," a return performance from its 2006 premiere at OBT, was fascinating. The dancers, for the most part, remain within a hand's grasp of each other, and although there is a great deal of movement one can't help but think that you're watching a much smaller stage. That combined with the call-and-response, introductory motif and then silence during the dance, made for a haunting and physical performance. With breath cues and sliding feet clearly discernible, particularly during the trio dances, this was a heck of a spectacle. The pas de deux was absolutely amazing, and the re-introduction of music took the narrative force up a notch - or two, or three. Dazzlingly sensual, great fun, and an entirely different kind of thrill (but no less exact).

At that point I would have been fine even if Stowell had concocted some maudlin nonsense out of "Midsummer Night's Dream." He did not; he chose instead to bottle the wit and wisdom of the bard and pour it into dance. See, I'm the one concocting maudlin nonsense, but seriously, this was a delight. Stowell has created a place for the whole company, plus kids, to roll around in the leaves and enjoy. It's not worth recounting the story (you know it already), or dissecting the choreography (it's a comedy). Just go and see it, either tomorrow (today by the time you read this) or whenever it's on again. It's a flagship ballet for OBT, a stake in the ground, a triumph.

End dance geek moment. We now return to our regularly scheduled ephemera.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ignite Portland lineup is set!

Hey, hey, we have presenters! Sadly, none of them are me :P But I'll bang the drum again next quarter, and in the meantime the deadline really helped me develop the concept. I'm bout 7/8ths done with the speech and will have lots of time to make funny ha-ha slides.

Meanwhile, it's not too late to sponsor the inaugural Ignite Portland. I've been telling attorneys that this is a chance to show up amidst a flock of techies wearing a gigantic "I get it!" button, but so far no dice. Will follow up once this is posted.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A plug is a kind of item...

So in my perusing of the 2007 Interactive Fiction competition, I came across Inform 7. Inform is the language that Infocom used on all those awesome text adventures of our collective youth - Zork and whatnot. The 7th iteration is heavy mojo, because it's meant to be a natural language, object oriented narrative device. You use Inform 7 to tell a story about the story you want to tell. For example, if I wanted to make sure that the player in my text adventure could accuse people of crimes, I would tell Inform something like this:

Accusing is an action applying to one visible thing and one value. Understand "accuse [something] of [crime]" as accusing. A crime is a kind of value. Crimes are sabotage, murder, theft, blackmail, and arson.

Check accusing:
if the noun is not a person, say "Reifying stuff isn't going to get you anywhere - try accusing a person." instead;

and so on. I'm actually trying to figure out how to ensure that the [crime] is limited to the "approved list" enumerated in the code. But that's not the point.

The point is that the wonderful world of IF authoring has taken a leap into the darkness that is natural language programming. I'm slightly surprised that this didn't generate more of a stir when it was released (although I may have just missed the buzz, and anyway, in the world of teeny communities the group of people who write and play interactive fiction is one of the teeniest). For someone who is used to thinking of IF as a series of stage notes, the freedom of the system is amazing.

It's also just enough rope to hang myself, of course. It's already quite apparent from my perusal of Usenet posts on the subject of Inform 7 that I need to be brave and work on learning Inform 6, which represents the heart and guts to Inform 7's brain. However, if one was mechanically unambitious and just wanted to write a good story, they could do it in Inform pretty dang easily.

Which makes one wonder why we can't create all sorts of relational databases this way...probably we can.

Compare Adrift and TADS, which appear to be the two other "easy" authoring systems. I have some experience with Adrift, which I was using to author a "print your LRW paper" law school adventure before my laptop, in a fit of irony, imploded. TADS I know nothing about, except that it's got more multimedia-style capacity (little embedded sound files, images, etc.).

Ignite Speech Kicks Local Man's Ass

So...taking a lot of time to get my shtick ready for Ignite Portland. There was a time that this would have been a piece o cake, but the format restrictions plus my natural state of repose/procrastination is making it hard to get any traction on the text.

This is one of those posts that might as well not exist, but I feel strongly that I shouldn't let my pokey puppy nature completely kill the blog. So, I'm alive, I gots stuff to say, yada yada. :P

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Taste of Mexico - viva upscale taquerias!

So I've seen this place on 21st a couple of times and we finally got a chance to get over there for lunch (it helps that it's in the same row o' goodness as Ken's Artisan Bakery and City Market NW). We were both pleased as pie with what came out of the kitchen, both in terms of presentation and in terms of actual, you know, eating.

Carmen had the flautas, which were quite tasty, while I went for boring and got a taco/enchilada combo. All the food was yummy, but as usual the portions were enough for two meals. I'm actually getting ready to bust out the leftovers for lunch today.

Anyway, go check it out. There's tons of options down there (and the great great coffee house next door) so even if not in the mood for Mexican, you can find some way to feed yourself. ;)

Now playing: Top8Magic.com - Mockvitational Part 4
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Casual Gameplay Design Competition 4!

The entries are starting to appear over at Jay Bibby's Casual Gameplay site. This competition is becoming quite the marquee event, with around 50 (!) entries this time around.

If you have some spare time or need an excuse to create some spare time, go check it out. I only had time to glance at the entries that have revealed so far, but they both seem like fun. Now if I just had the time to play them :)

Now playing: Richard Ashcroft - Money To Burn
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It's not easy being green.

Two games that were simply astonishing this past week both ended badly for Oregon teams. In the first, the Portland Timbers lost on penalties to a severely outclassed Atlanta team. The Silverbacks owe the goalposts of PGE Park the full salaries of their defensive line, as it was the goalposts and not the defense that kept the game scoreless. The loss is made somewhat less painful by the stellar season the Timbers had and by the recent announcement that rookie head coach Gavin Wilkinson was named Coach of the Year in the USL First Division.

And of course, today, we had a heartbreaker at Autzen, where it seemed as though the Ducks might be able to grind down what is arguably the best Cal team of the past decade. Alas, it was not to be, as the tying drive was stopped at the one. I'd link it but anyone who cares is probably watching College Football Final right now, like me :)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Alice Is Lost!

Things are heating up over at Alice Is Lost!, a puzzle adventure by Eric Harshbarger. If you're looking for a lot of puzzles (a la Valentine's Day Massacre) for a small cost, you might want to take a gander at the prologue and the FAQ.

In other puzzling news, I've finally got the full plotline for the first Bosephus Jones mystery. Now I just need to weave in some puzzling opportunities and I'll have a legitimate roadmap to writing the thing. Pretty exciting.

Written while waiting for the top 8 of a TPF Sealed PE to start on MTGO. :)

Friday, September 21, 2007

The geolinguistics of soda/pop.

So i was in an elevator recently (it happens), and I got into a conversation with my boxmate about La Croix sparkling water, a case of which I was holding in my hand. It's basically club soda with a twist in a can. What I told the guy (who had professed to love the beverage) was that we could give it to our daughter - and she could think it was a treat - without actually resorting to soda. He immediately and enthusiastically agreed (it was kind of a weird little moment, two devotee dads discussing sugar-free options for kids). Only he used the word "pop."

Now, I remember first hearing "pop" in the same way that I remember hearing the Southern universalism "coke" to refer to any carbonated beverage. But it got me to wondering about distributions - like, is it purely valley girl to say "pop?" Is anyone mapping this?

Thankfully, the internet is chock full of useless information.

Busy busy getting everything in order for the move. Come Thursday we'll be in la Civic. :)

Now playing: Silversun Pickups - Little Lover's So Polite
via FoxyTunes

Monday, September 17, 2007

Civic Duties

So we're moving to a new place, and the odds that I will be all that free to blog are slim and none. That said, I will definitely try to keep up.

In the meantime, I have an absurd amount of stuff to sell. Tiring. My mad craigslist skills have been pushed to the limit. ;)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Forest Park Guided Hikes for Kids

There's still time to drop your kids in the wilderness, assuming they're 10 or older (some of the hikes are for younger guys too, but most of them have come and gone). FFP.org is generally just a great place to learn more about Forest Park, its trails, and its troubles.

Found/remembered while looking for a decent day hike for the doodlebug today. Now if the sun would just burn off this overcast nonsense we'd be set.

Now playing: Franz Joseph Haydn - Adagio
via FoxyTunes


So, we're moving out of here to be closer to the middle of downtown/northwest. It doesn't hurt that it also brings us in walking distance of Claire's school, also. ;)

Anyone know any good places for rent?

Now playing: Franz Joseph Haydn - Andante (Theme And Variations)
via FoxyTunes

Friday, September 14, 2007

Activity at Ignite Portland

So the Constitution is up for Ignite Portland, which currently has no set date (late October is the idea). But if you want to micro-pitch a concept or just talk about something interesting, you should check out the background post to figure out what the heck I'm talking about and then consider subscribing to the site's RSS feed for future updates.

I have a hard time understanding how I lived without...

...FoxyTunes for this long. Thankfully that's been remedied.

My wild hair idea about solving the bloated, inefficient, and inelegant IT solutions that law firms currently suffer with will not go away. It seems to me that within ten years everyone should really just be building their own databases and screw Amicus/PCLaw/whatever nonsense you're using.

Listen: law practice is about relationships. Ergo, a relational database that allows you to consolidate client notes, drafts, and contact information, that has a timer for billable work and a search function that can serve as conflicts check and navigational front-end in one just seems to make the most sense ever. No more cludgy dBs that can't even sync with billing software. No more "compose email" buttons on crappy Windows systems. And particularly relevant to Federal practice, complete control of paperless filing information.

The revolution is not the billable hour. The revolution is freeing the billable hour from its current fetters and being as holistic about your IT solutions as you (hopefully) are about your client solutions. And I do not intend to wait for the current generation of dinosaurs to die. For one thing, most of them seem downright unwilling to depart. For another, my lord, how long must the wageslaves work with pure crap? You could do it all with one of those fancy Google pizza boxes.

At least I think you could. I intend to ask at the next Open Coffee.

Now playing: Regina Spektor - Better
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thank Yous

A la Hermux Tantamoq:

Thank you for change. For questions that shake precepts to the core. Thank you for good friends, and brisk walks in the drizzly autumn. Thank you for canutos de quinoa y maracuya. Thank you for stories, and the movement of stars in the firmament overhead as we tell them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Wave

So I just finished The Wave, by Walter Mosley. I've read a couple of the Easy Rawlins novels, and it seems like I've read quite a bit about Mosley without reading an awful lot of his work, but I'd known I wanted to get around to this novel eventually.

It's hard to know where to begin. It echoes so true to both contemporary America and other popular narrative - Heroes springs to mind - that it's difficult to categorize is as science fiction. Even speculative fiction, a term I have to admit I like more, is a little on the not-quite-right side. It's more Jonathan Lethem than China Miéville, you know what I mean? More hard-boiled.

After a series of creepy late-night phone calls the protagonist goes to his father's grave, and discovers a young man in rags who claims to be his father. The boy (for truly, it's just a kid, maybe 20) knows things about his life with his son that only the father could have known. Whole pages of psycho-babble could be written at this point, but the hook is lightly set, so craftily that everyone (including the reader) simply falls into believing that this is somehow dad, back from the dead by mystical force.

"Dad" identifies himself as part of the "Wave," which the military has in turn identified as some sort of alien amoeba. Big surprise, they consider that a threat (again the Heroes echoes. Did I mention ever that there's only one story?). The Wave is old as earth itself, living in the core, in the midst of massive violence, heat, and danger. It has become an entity capable of undreamed-of feats, including assuming the form of those who have passed.

I won't spoil anything further, but it's a ripping good read. Mosley, as usual, is on the top of his game in terms of dialog.* His pacing is great, slowing down in deep, vibrant places only to bring thins to a head in a paragraph. It moves like a memoir, which it is meant to be. I'm not one to blithely tell people to read books but you could do worse than this one.

And if you have time you should check out Lethem and Miéville as well. And then read a bit of Neal Stephenson or (heaven help you) Mervyn Peake.

*This is not the first time and probably not the last that my British standard spelling gets in the way of the spellchecker. I don't care who you talk to, it's dialogue.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Conception Day in Russia.


I mean, apart from the fact that everyone has their own special "conception day," they set it for nine months before Constitution Day. They're giving prizes for women who give birth on June 12.

Standard gestation is 40 weeks, there, buddy.

Oh well. Politics trumps biology, amiright?

A plug for Laptop Lunches

A Google search for "kid's lunch ideas" revealed two things.

First, people don't know the first half of a snippet about how kids eat. Or at least how my kid eats. I'll grant that she's finicky, but when I can go through a list of recommendations and find one that would work if I removed four out of five ingredients and prepared it completely differently, then I think I can safely say that the list is not helpful. On the other hand, each kid is so different that it may be that such lists are never actually going to work out.

But! The second thing I found was this place, which has the cutest little bento sets ever. The one thing that I have found that works is to offer visible variety on plates - somehow all of a sudden lots more gets eaten. So this is awesome on a stick. And the containers, I suspect, would encourage people to be creative with recipes/combinations. After all, you have to fill all the little things!

Also suitable for grownups. :)

Oscar the (Hospice) Cat

Jason Kottke posted this today, and I can think of no better thing to talk about today, when the news is flooded with images of W looking distinctly uncomfortable about his legacy. I'd far rather look at this mug.

Oscar lives at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, RI. Since being adopted by the center as a kitten, he has sat with patients on the day of their deaths 25 times. The article talks about him essentially doing rounds, but the most poignant part of the whole thing might be this sentence: "His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families."

So, we ask ourselves, juxtaposing against the sudden and insane events of six years ago, what sort of warning do we want? Do we want to build an invisible shield in the sky? Blast the asteroid off course? Do we want a cat to act as harbinger, so that when our loved ones go we can be there? Do we want, in the classic words of a New College classmate of mine, to simply "be ready to go?" Why/how do we pretend that any day is more or less precious than the one before or the one that follows? This is not meant to deliminate one's approach to death into tidy categories, but simply to open the question.

I think, given that we all end up in the same place, we really ought to be better neighbors in the meantime. You can chalk this up to petty ecumenism or some sort of nihilistic "in the now" hokum, but people are in the foreground of every scene of tragedy and desperation over the past couple of centuries. Doesn't matter what you believe; gotta get together to find meaning, gotta find meaning to begin understanding, gotta understand for the madness to stop.

I personally hope I have an Oscar. Warm fuzzy good, and I'd like my peeps there to wail and lament at the passing of my great genius from this rock. And once the fetters of the flesh have cast off, I can finally teach myself to do a back flip.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"There was a time in Colombia that this would happen every week."

Petroleos Mexicanos had some issues with explosions this morning, when six bombs went off along three pipelines carrying crude, natural gas and propane. I don't know whether I'm more surprised at this attack, the fact that this is the third since July, or the quote from analyst David Shields at the bottom of the linked article. Seriously, every week? It's embarrassing that I claim to be a bit of an energy wonk and knew very little about this sort of sabotage.

EPR, the group that claimed responsibility for an earlier bombing, is quiet as of this blog entry.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


My parents attended Michigan for grad school, so moments like this are always a little awkward. Not that my mom cares (she would rather see college football replaced by competitive problem solving), but dad has a little pride in the Blue. He's also a Buffalo, so his teams and Oregon have developed a rich history ever since the Harrington era.

Anyway, I can't pretend to be all that huge a booster myself, but this is a nice bookend to Michigan's loss when they came to Autzen a while back.

"You can expect to live approximately another 18500 more days."

That's what the machine said, anyway. I don't know where they're pulling their data - actuarial tables are everywhere these days - but the risk factors that the program asks about are sorta the Top Ten.

Depressing but amazing how much difference you can make in your life expectancy with small changes to the sliders. I don't think I cheated that much, but the temptation is strong...

Friday, September 7, 2007

Stride - psychological masterstroke or really bad gum?

So I just got done reading Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink. I am therefore not unconvinced that a certain gum is not in fact attempting to hoodwink the gum chewing world into believing that the gum possesses unnaturally long lasting flavor simply by saying it over and over. It would not, according to Wansink, have been the first time that positive expectation leads to a wholly illusionary reaction to the product in question.

Stride is not, in fact, long lasting, unless the benchmark for flavor-lastingness is your average stick of Juicy Fruit. (I got the Fruit version, since I get my mint hookup from a much better gum to be linked later.) Also, it is not chewy. You know what I mean - it's a bit too close to the rubber side of the equation to be considered a pleasurable chewing experience. I actually got a slightly achy jaw after munching away. My current theory is that they attempted to subject the flavor bits to some sort of polymerization process, and that process A) made the gum the rough equivalent of an inner tube and B) didn't work. Because seriously, about the flavor? It degenerates in mere minutes. Perhaps it's easier to make a minty gum be minty longer, but whatever efforts they've made with the fruit version are a big fat nothing.

Compare with the mysteriously named 5, which not only has better ads but also lasts for freaking ever. My (unverified) suspicion is that it takes five hours to wear this gum out, ergo, "5." The lesson here is, I reckon, don't f*ck with Wrigley when it comes to gum. Stick with the peppermint, though - in my opinion the spearmint is a little grassy and cinnamon gum is an abomination. And if anyone has a lead on a sugarfree fruit gum that doesn't suck please let me know. So far Trident tropical splash is the closest.

Remember Blackjack? Good times. Turns out Cadbury-Adams is now too busy making Stride. What dopes.

I mention all of this because one of my "Mindless Margin" checklist items is to chew three pieces of gum a day and another at night. Why? Because if you're chewing a piece of gum you can't chew other things, and I have a little obsessive tic that tends toward chewing whatever is at hand. So I have returned to the land of my youth, the pack of gum (they're very cool now - perhaps to help smokers feel like they're opening a pack of cigs rather than minty freshness). Top five gums of the moment:

5 "Cobalt"
Orbit Mint Mojito
Trident Tropical Splash
Orbit Crystal Mint
Orbit White Spearmint

Chew on!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Living Room Theaters

Stop whatever you're doing and go here. Pick a movie. Arrange for some friends to meet you. You are in for one of the greatest experiences of your life.

Living Room Theaters is a concept movie house from the ground up, with roomy captain's chairs, club chairs with low tables, and ottomans scattered about. And those are just the theaters. Outside there's a bar with a happy hour that stretches to 6:30 (perfect for dinner-and-a-movie shenanigans) and a fun, loungey ambiance. The flat screens set within and around the bar area are mostly self-promoting, but there are rumors of morning-time newscasts, espresso, and so on. Free wifi, natch.

The films are the kinds of films you would expect at an art house. We saw Broken English, which was quite charming, and saw previews for two other films (Black Book and Other People's Lives) which we knew we would come back to see. I cannot express how astonishingly cool the place is, so instead I simply urge you to go there yourself. Myself, I'm going to figure out a time to see Paprika (no amount of cool is going to get Carmen to accompany me to that), and keep a weather eye out for splendid celluloid things on the horizon.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Best. Toy store. Ever.

And considering that I live ten blocks from Finnegan's, that's saying something:

Fat Brain Toys.

Luminous Arc, yo.

So if this "good" game is anything like the last good game from the same publisher, I should have grabbed a copy already. As it is I've been having a devil of a time completing Etrian Odyssey, let alone getting the next epic saga.

Unlike various Fire Emblem titles, which I have never quite managed to care about enough to finish, I suspect that Luminous Arc will pull me inexorably to the denouement, like a lamb to...some place that lambs go. 4H, perhaps. So long as I get to level my archers into super mojo flingers of some type, I'm good.

Speaking of Etrian, I know that the Odyssey has gone undocumented recently. You can partially blame NYT Crosswords, which has taken over my DS time recently (despite the persnickety refusal to recognize my "Y" unless I treat it like a math equation - less than and then a straight line beneath). But you can also blame the eventual burn out that comes with the post-story "bonus levels." I mean, is there another mystery to solve? I'm just killing mega-badass frogs and whatnot. Plus, the levels cap at 70, somewhat disappointing. Of course, from a replay standpoint, it establishes the limit. The vertiginous thrill of exactitude ain't just a ballet - it's the small pleasure that comes from plotting every skill point over the course of your Landsknecht's life span.

Of course, as I promised myself, I'm going for all-Alchemist for the second run through the labyrinth. Expect serial lamentations as I try to keep the little goofballs alive.

Y'know, it just occurred to me that there's only four pieces of character art for each of the classes. I wonder if I can duplicate, or if the guild simply won't admit more than four of a class type. If that's the case it will be the 80% Alchemist run, probably with a Protector (whatever - the shieldy types) in the middle of the front row.

This is what I think about, btw. That and the sorts of puzzles you could reasonably expect bunnies to solve...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Oh thank the heavens, school starts tomorrow. Summer was quite the adventure, and at the end of the day I wouldn't have missed a bit of it, but it's time for the crazy monkey to learn, like, stuff. And things. We're all out of enrichment. I gotta tell ya, teaching a gifted kid ain't easy.

Anyhoo. School!!!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Fantasy Roster, 2007

So, my MTGO clan is running a fantasy league again, and this looks pretty good:

D. McNabb
M. Hasselbeck

Steve Smith
Donald Driver
Plaxico Burress
Terry Glenn
Chris Chambers

Larry Johnson
Deuce McAllister
Ronnie Brown

Alge Crumpler
Tony Gonzalez

Nate Kaeding

Defenses are Pittsburgh and Seattle. Meh, but not so bad. Anyway, off to the races!

TV, accelerated

So all the furor over the Heroes DVDs obscured another blessed event, which has been a long freaking time in coming. Suffice it to say my queue runneth over with quality television at the moment.

When you have a kid, the odds that you can follow shows are nearly nonexistent (unless we're talking about the Suite Life of Zach and Cody...). But thanks to the miracle of TiVo/Netflix/Blockbuster, we can plug the doodle into a DVD of her own and then watch several hours of network television in roughly two thirds the time. And until I either get a media edition PC or a DVR that doesn't require a subscription, I'll be taking the "mail me lots of DVDs, please."

Blockbuster's "endless exchanges at the store" tap did just tighten up a bit. I was informed last week that I would only get 5 per month anymore, unless I wanted to pony up another four or five dollars. I'm actually fine with the limit (they were very much in danger of the online business eating the brick and mortars alive), and will probably stick with the modified plan. We were probably at about that level anyway.

No one tell me what happened last year on House, mmmkay?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jam Sessions

Not much can be said about this title that hasn't already been said, but whoa nelly, is this exciting. It even sounds reasonably like an acoustic guitar. I have my doubts about calling it a "guitar," when clearly its primary function is more reminiscent of an auto-harp. that said, I'm obviously going to go get one immediately. It solves two problems - first, that I have no guitar, and second, that Claire would really like to learn some guitar but has itty bitty hands.

Probably the most absurd thing I saw was the guy from Vietnam recording a rhythm loop and then accompanying his DS on electric guitar. That doesn't suck. I'd also be interested to see whether or not the effects package allows you to do some kind of pre-gain adjustments, because some of the sample videos feel a little brassy. Like the attack that you get from the stylus is too strong for whatever compression they're using (the Slightly Stoopid guy was just using his thumbnail, and seemed to be getting better strums). Again, I'm complaining about a bona fide guitar sim on my personal favorite handheld, so my life is pretty good.

Somebody with waaay more Garage Band street cred than I should figure out how to use Jam Sessions as a midi controller for software instruments. I mean, I think it can be a line input with the current guitar voice, which isn't bad. But if I could use it to, say, control some sort of gamelan, or less esoterically, control one of the GB guitars, I'd be a happy camper. Get right on that, will you?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Where to begin

So, the puzzle questing has been taking up a fair amount of time, not to mention job hunting and other silliness. So there's a great deal to talk about.

I'm in the process of completing my application for Write Around Portland (see website here) so that I can do facilitator training the next time around. It feels like a really good way to use my MFA and hopefully will also get me into the scene around here. It's hard to feel so very disconnected from the writing community, and for so very long (really the last illusion of a scene I was even participating in was New College, so very long ago) and still get up the energy to write things. So this should be exciting.

Speaking of exiting writing, I found Barrelhouse to be a pleasant surprise when I picked it up at Powell's the other day. I can recommend it pretty highly. I'm also so out of the journal/zine scene that it's almost embarrassing to even be mentioning a mag at all, but you gotta start somewhere.

Current projects: Slacker's Guide to Law School and Bosephus Jones and the Missing Malamute. One of them is a kid's book (I leave it to you to guess which). Also getting back into the poem-a-day habit, though that's a tough road.

Anyhoo, many many other things, but I'll have to stack them in a queue and actually, y'know, post.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Potter redux

It's sad. People pass on, but are remembered. The living struggle to finish the greatest evil in recent history. Why is it that we must constantly struggle to demolish the most recent evil? Rowling doesn't say. She has written a Bourne Identity for book 7, a sprawling travelogue of pain and danger, love and redemption. Friendship.

Plus, Mrs. Weasley is a badass. Not that that's any freaking surprise.

What was possibly more interesting than the book (which is pretty damned interesting) was the line at the Powell's mothership here in Portland. We woke Claire up and wandered out into the night waaaaay too late. Both in the sense that it was, y'know, late, and in the sense that really, one of us should've been in the line starting at 6:00 pm. Long story short, I remained in the line and the ladies went home for bed. I was in line behind the Chudley Cannons. With, like jerseys and all. It was fairly nifty. Since I can't find Quidditch jerseys online, I'm assuming they had them custom printed, which is even more impressive.

Anyway, more to say once we're out of the spoiler zone. Y'all have a week.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The joys of walkups

So Carmen and I are in the NW neighborhood today, working at an amazing coffee shop on 21st (Coffee Time), and generally being pleased at the cutie patootieness of the whole place.

As I see it, the tradeoffs (vs. the Plaza) are as follows:

Parking - not guaranteed an actual lot, and street parking can be a challenge down here. Associated issue is parking for visitors - in the Plaza there's usually a spot free for folks coming to dinner, etc.

Access - the Plaza is sooo very central, but by and large the key thing about the Plaza is four blocks from the 5, both north and south. Less so NW, where my guess is you have about 15 minutes worth of puttering along before you get to a road that will take you to the freeway at more than 20 mph. So that's definitely a consideration.

Cost - obviously this is in NW's favor. When you have no view (or more specifically, no skyline-style view), you're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars off for the same space.

Amenities - Plaza wins. Still the best value in terms of perks of any condo building in Portland.

Cutie Patootieness - This has to go to NW. The shops, the restaurants, the same accessibility to the Pearl and downtown (i.e. you lose nothing that you had at the Plaza), and the streetcar access all make this a pretty good bet for adorable heart-of-the-city living. Plus, non-corporate coffee.

Anyway, it's not like we're moving, but any conversation about moving is dangerous for us. Our record to date is (I believe) 32 months. Poor Claire.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Slacker's Guide to Law School

So it's been nearly a month (dear lord) but I have an excuse - between job hunting and working up the first chapter of the above-titled how-to book, I've been all writinged out.

Speaking of the wise and magnificent tome that is the Slacker's Guide, if any alums (and who else reads this, really) have any awesome stories to share about the LSAT, I would love to hear them. That's the first chapter (obviously) and what I need to complete in order to start sending out queries to publishers. Full attribution and maybe a beer would be included.

I haven't had time to fully digest Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but it is my opinion that the film follows the trend of doing better and better with the spirit of the books as time goes on. Chris Columbus should be pilloried for making kid's films out of the first two, but I suppose I can understand the pressure. Now they're gritty, the effects are much more seamlessly woven into the work, and they do not skimp on story.

More on that and Ratatouille soon, promise. In the meantime, study your fallacies!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Halo 3 ARG is up and at 'em

Fresh from Penny Arcade today, the Halo 3 alternate reality game is beginning its nefarious crawl through the web-o-sphere.

I have to say that I remain a devout fan of Perplex City, even though there is literally no chance in heck that I'm going to be able to complete it. If only there was one that you could get into on the ground floor - and I mean literally, like as in "build it yourself and make a mint." I have great respect for whoever puts together the Halo games - good stuff.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Back to the unabated ramblings about Etrian Odyssey. It really is a joy to use the mapping feature, but at level 14 (and not to give too much of a spoiler) I ran out of memo tags. My guess is maximum 20 per level, though it may be a bit more.

The reason I needed so many darn tags was that it was not immediately apparent how to map the level. However, you'll discover when you get there that the big picture makes all things clear as a lily. So to speak. Just get to the level, all right?

Huge boss on 15, therefore level 13 must (hopefully) contain the closure of the mission from the Radha. Otherwise it's another two nights of slog 'n' blog. :)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Morons in the news!

We're gonna build a gigantic missile shield in Europe! Wheedly do! Despite persistent reports to the contrary, our esteemed leaders are pushing forward with the porkiest project ever.

This is a demand-side nonproliferation advocate's worst nightmare. "Heh, what do we care? We can shoot the missiles out of the sky!! Except you can't. The most recent test involved no countermeasures, and resulted in General Obering thinking there was a "good chance" that we could hit a missile launched from North Korea or some other hotspot. This would be laughable if it wasn't so insanely expensive, both in monetary terms and in diplomatic ones (alas, ABM Treaty, we hardly knew ye).

Anyway, this is old news at this point. It's depressing that the same rhetoric not only carries force but is gaining momentum now that they can, y'know, kinda intercept something. I'd also like to see our fancy missile shield stop, say, an airplane. Or a suitcase bomb. Or all of the things resentful and creative people dream up in lieu of purchasing a missile at the local weapons mart.

Les Poissons

So I've been fiddling with a UW aggro deck in standard that has led to a great deal of trading and re-assorting of my collection to get the requisite lands, etc. It is relatively quick, taking advantage of Infiltrator il-Kor and Glorious Anthems. It's a "fish" deck only in the sense that it has inexpensive disruption tricks and wants to beat down as quickly as possible. In this context it does its job pretty well. Don't know if it does it well enough to deal with Dragonstorm though.

The card that inspired the deck - Delay - seems a natural and useful answer to D-Storm (hit them in the middle of the mana ramping and give them RRRRR in their mana pool in some random upkeep). It's become apparent, however, that Grand Arbiter Augustin IV might actually do more in the storm matchups than counterspells in the traditional sense. The only problem is the speed with which I can get him down - I'm running a slim 22 lands and no Karoos. So, Trickbind stops the worst part of the Storm spells. I'm running two and two, maindeck sideboard.

Two more spots main/side deal with the other very problematic deck, dredge. There are currently two Jotun Grunts main with two buddies in the sideboard. I'm of the opinion that this is not enough, but with Trickbind countering activations (and Azorius Guildmage potentially doing so as well), I think the initial matchup is not so horrible. Alas, this is completely untested, as I don't have any clannies who are interested in playing dredge.

Anyhoo, I think it's a pretty fun deck and it can certainly race control. The combo matchups are not abysmal thanks to the available tools, and generally I think there's hope. I'm going to do a bit more tuning and then march it into some queues to see if I'm even close to right...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Off Topic: Dude, where's my President?

I'm required to note that this post has zero to do with the land of Etria, or my travels therein. Sorry, I know that has been awesome for all of us.

It has come time to address the looming presidential hootenanny in some way that is more engaged than "meh." I mention this because, believe it or not, the primaries are (in electoral terms) mere minutes away. I don't know where the time went, but I have gone from smirking at the earliness of it all to thinking that I ought to make a valid choice, and quick like.

So, my top five. Have answers to these and you get my vote:

1) Weapons Proliferation. I mean small arms, chemical, nukes, domestic (i.e. Brady Bill) and foreign (e.g. NPT, CTBT, the continued absurd discussion about missile defense). I mean tools of violence getting into the hands of millions. It's gotta stop, and we must lead by example if we have any hope of it stopping.

2) Retirement Boom. This is purely an "our backyard" issue, but man there are a lot of old/aging people out there. They all need health care, most will need long-term care, and many of them plan to tap the gummit for retirement money. Sort it out.

3) Kyoto/sustainability. This has become so much the buzz word that it almost makes me throw up a little. Nevertheless, it remains true that the deadline is now for articulate, inclusive, policy on the environment.

4) France. Seriously, they're going to create a giant sucking sound where once there was a European Union. Sort that nonsense out.

5) China. Okay, perhaps France was a joke. China is not. Taiwan is an issue, globalization is a bigger issue, and human rights/impoverishment of body and spirit are colossal issues. Engage.

I'll report back. Y'know, between trips into the Labyrinth.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Stratum 2 Boss Handled

So the good news - I took out the demon. The bad news, only my back line survived - so the Alchemist and the Medic got a juicy 4000 XP. Counter is a gnarly, gnarly ability, and might be a reason to have a Protector (assuming it can gain that ability via mad Shield skillz).

Anyway. I'm a big dork.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Etrian Actuarial Services

Odds of getting trampled by a big red elephant: high. The only way you survive these encounters is willpower - I will not, after all I have done, die at the feet of a big dumb cartoony elephant. That and Disable will get you a long way (ditto Moas, although they're obviously far less scary).

It's obvious (or at least heavily foreshadowed) that there will come a time that the Labyrinth will be populated by sentient creatures, instead of merely big dumb beasts. There are, for example, curses to be avoided, and I can't even create two of the character classes, indicating at least more NPCs and likely whole concertos involving human or sub-human foes. I alternate between thinking that I'm ready for these showdowns (especially after the "Explorer's Guild" quest - five days on level 8. Pff. Was that supposed to be difficult? I got so bored running into random monsters that I spent the last two days just pacing by the fountain. Clearly I was too high powered, at that point?) and remembering with deadly clarity the first run-in with aforementioned elephants. This is not a game where small britches are helpful. It will get you killed.

Anyhoo, I have some cleanup to do on the white crystal walk of death in Stratum 1. Now that I know that it's only extremely likely that I'll die to a big dumb elephant (as opposed to, you know, inevitable), I will probably go mop up there before taking on Stratum 2's boss. He's named after a god! Ooooh...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Etrian Odyssey - are you sick of this yet?

So I have to share the essential truth:


Yes, it's a little bit cheaty. But imagine you're unlocking crystal key areas and you accidentally get stuck in the Land of Endless Bosses. Wouldn't you feel silly if 6+ levels and a ton of loot was wiped out in one stroke? And all because you've been eschewing the Warp Wire? And wouldn't you feel even worse if you leveled your Alchemist, gave him Warp, and then needed to mise one lousy TP from anywhere to use it? Whilst being pursued by a big red elephant?

I'm just saying. Warp wire. Your little 100 en. friend.

I was beginning to think that all the "OMG, so hard" talk was just people failing to pay their dues at the outset. It's now apparent that every time there's a significant power creep in favor of characters, the game is just about ready to open a serious can of whup-ass.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Still More Etrian Odyssey

So I battled down to level 3 only to discover that the FOEs that inhabit the first rooms are far and away too tough for anything below, I'm guessing, level 17. I think it's possible that I could take them out earlier, so long as I had a preemptive turn and could also double-hit with both of my landsknechts. But I'm just saying, at the moment there is no freaking way I'm doing anything but running the edges of the rooms (the good news is that they've got short-term memory issues, so you can maneuver them out of your way and then carry on). That leads me to suspect that I should work to complete the Wolf King (Fenrir, nice touch on the name) quest first, see where I'm at, then consider beating down on the slayers. Of course, it will be extremely gratifying to add their stats to the Pokedex...er...I mean, Monstrous Codex.

These (and other) comparisons are obvious but one relevant point is that there is absolutely no freaking comparison in depth of play, or maturity of title. Having slogged through my share of precious gems, I find myself totally uninterested in Diamond/Pearl, despite having picked the game up like all the other good little DS'ers in the world. But Atlus has it beat by a looong way with Etrian Odyssey.

I should say, "for gamer dorks like me who remember interactive fiction and whatnot, Atlus has Pokemon kold." I'm pleasantly surprised to discover the reviews being kind to the game even though it's clear that this title will actually excite an extremely narrow segment of the DS audience. But those mesozoic denizens will be so happy over the next month that they wouldn't care if the reviews were uniformly horrible. Heck, I played "Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder" on GBA, if you want to discuss bad titles...

Just remember to run from the Slayers. Seriously. Like 95 points per hit.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


So, in Etrian Odyssey, there's like a home base on top of the Labyrinth, right? And you can manage characters in your party, buy stuff, sell loot, whatever. Sometimes when you sell loot it enables the shopkeeper to make new items that were previously unavailable. There's odd jobs to be had at the tavern and plot-line quests at the castle. So you get your marching orders, head in, mapping your merry way through the maze, and grab loot from random encounters and side quests. Then you dash back to the surface and regroup. The myth is that no one's ever been to the bottom of the Labyrinth...

In other words, it's a roguelike, but pretty, and with a more robust skill tree than ever before attempted in, say, Nethack (but maybe ADOM, which everyone says is awesome but which I cannot for the life of me bring myself to play, has more depth in that area?). And like all roguelikes, it's crack - at least to that very odd subset of people who like getting all the way down to the bottom of a massively multi-level dungeon.

This game will afford you hours of entertainment in the same way that Random, the Evil Human Tourist, afforded me months of entertainment in Nethack. Then he got sandwiched between a passel of orcs and a tea party of jellies, alas. At least in Etrian Odyssey there's no guilt associated with returning to a save point...

I have not yet investigated what happens if you try to solo. If the game adjusts to the number of PCs then you can probably go old-school. If not, you'll likely just die a lot with the more interesting classes. One of the hack-n-slashers could probably do it, though...

New Media Matters

Just a heads up that a pretty smart blog on narrative in all forms can be found here. Authored by Chris Kubasik, it explores narrative across media and begins the difficult work of investigating hybrid narratives, told cross-platform and/or poached and/or ported into different platforms. Haven't read enough, but like what I see to date.

Friday, May 18, 2007

DM of the Rings

Too funny. This guy nails a lot of the perils of pencil paper pillage, as well - I believe one might refer to that as value-added.

If only I could be clever and wield a pen! Alas...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Generating Buzz

All right, I couldn't help it. After all, it's not every day a comedy legend jumps off a roof at Cannes. I will say that "Bee Movie" is the first Dreamworks animated film that I will not immediately sneer at. I find the prospect of any animated film authored by Jerry Seinfeld to be enormously promising.

So I have eschewed my Puzzle Questing for the sake of a run at Touch Detective. Never mind that I'm horribly behind the times on this one - it was in the interest of finding a Scooby-Doo-esque title for the pumpkin. Turns out it is a bit to text-heavy to properly share with the little bug but it's amusing for her to manipulate the objects once they've been found. Also, dude, it's a tiny little Polyanna detective with saucer-eyes and a butler. What's not to love? I thus far have found the puzzles (especially post-intro/tutorial/whatever) to be legitimately challenging, if somewhat burdened by Holmes' maxim that, after all other avenues have been tried, what remains, however improbable, is the solution. It seems to defy credulity, for example, that you use your sentient mushroom pet's spores to jam the planetarium's central apparatus. (Man, that sentence should win an award.) Similar examples abound. That said, I think it's pretty adorable.

It's been a pleasant intro into Atlus, as well, considering that I'm growing increasingly needful of Etrian Odyssey despite having absolutely no time for another diversion...ah, the perils of gaming.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Then I can get that +5 Skull...

Being something of a slave to the RPG, and having managed to catch the second wave of copies flooding into stores, I am now happily enmeshed in Puzzle Quest. The idea that Bejeweled + Progress Bar is enough to make me engage in high level spatial reasoning in the name of mana development is, I think, some comment on my desperate wish to be considered clever by machines that do not consider me one way or the other. My humble DS can, of course, parse the ramifications of a specific rearranging of the game grid far faster than I can, and seems to smirk at me as I miss the obvious Four of a Kind that I could have done in advance of the cool thing that distracted me.

Until I got the Ultimate Troll Ring or whatever it is, that regenerates three points per turn so long as my blue mana pool is at some level (15?), I was getting schooled. I firmly believe that I was spending waaay too much money on my citadel in the early game, and not enough on bling. This is perhaps a function of not reading the manual, yet. I mean, how hard can it be, right?! On the other hand, much of the Shop is level-locked, so I don’t quite characterize it as misuse of funds, really. Suffice it to say that with the ring my little wizard is rocking the kazbah. Need a new burn spell, though. Fire Bolt is weak sauce.

Anyway, the point is that having acquired an “RPG” which promises dual-dialogue cut scenes aplenty, I was aghast and agog to discover that a bona fide contender in the RPG genre was released today for the DS. Looking a little like the prettiest Hunt the Wumpus you ever did see, Etrian Odyssey has a lot going for it on paper – a mapping subtheme that allows you to remember your own damn way out of the Labyrinth, rich graphics, and spritely anime heroes to level up to your heart’s content. I was a little bummed to see that the dialogue and menu options appear to still require the use of the direction pad and A spamming (as opposed to the immensely more gratifying tap-spamming) but all in all it looks like a pretty darn good game, and a no-brainer for people like me who just can’t wait to spend skill points like a mad fiend…

In other news, I also picked up Touch Detective today, in the hopes that it would be appropriate for the boo boo to play along. She is a fiend for the mysteries. I’m beginning to think that I’m just going to have to design a scenario-based tabletop detective game for her - a la 221B Baker Street, but in this case more like 221B Sesame Street.

Has anyone come up with a workable solution to the “tiny chip, gigantic box” problem with DS games? I’ve seen some tacky little folios that solve the “where’s my game” problem, but I have no idea where to stick the cases…might be time for a purge.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

For those special times when you're waaaaay on edge...

Just be happy that you're not as crazy as this guy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Hershey Plant to close in California

I'm torn between feeling some remorse for a hallowed American institution (and in particular, its workers) and thinking that Hershey was due. The product line is not exactly winning the hearts and minds of the newly health conscious America.

One wonders how big that demographic actually is, though. After all, we're fatter than ever.

I suppose the other hit to Hershey is the discovery of real chocolate - and on these very shores, no less. Now that all the snobby gourmands can get actual chocolate, why ever go back? I certainly don't know, although I do enjoy the occasional caramel Kiss. Yummy.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More McCain - the IED

So there continues to be some blowback related to McCain's gift of ordinance to John Stewart.

The whole thing is a little like W telling Gary Trudeau to "tread lightly" during Daddy's term in office. People who can't take a joke should acknowledge that before engaging in criticism of people who make jokes. It's grim humor, but humor just the same, and I would point out (briefly - late for lunch) that the message is not a light one - he's not making fun of death, he's making it a reality for people at home. This just doesn't seem like poor taste to me at all.

And before I start to sound like a McCainophile, I disagree with nearly everything he says about Iraq (and Iran, and probably health care). But the dude's got spirit.

McCain says Gonzales should resign...

The Chronicle has an AP blurb about Senator McCain's opinion of Alberto Gonzales' current difficulty with those pesky Democratic attorneys that the DOJ sacked last year. It's the first move regarding the current Administration debacle and a smart one on McCain's part, methinks. He again is positioning himself in the "partisanship is stupid" camp without sacrificing principles. One need only look at his most recent showdown with John Stewart on The Daily Show to realize that this guy does not relent, will not soft-pedal, and generally speaking comports himself with more dignity than many of the buffoons in the capital.

One wonders whether that is enough. After all, straight shooting didn't exactly get him anywhere in 2000, when he had substantially more chance of appearing to relate to younger generations. Still, it is a rare day when one gets to use the word statesman without cynicism.

Meanwhile, Barak Obama and Hil are getting ready for their first debate. Hmm? SIX others? Who are these people? Oh, right, VP contenders. ;)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Millions Spent, A-Rod aflame, and yet...

This is not a frequent occurence, but a quick (like, in the next day or so) peek at that link will reveal the Yankees in dead last in the AL East. Yes, that's behind the Devil Rays. Bad beats.

Mr. Rodriguez appears to have settled into a New York state of mind, slapping homers this way and that with the sort of grace that one attributes to Tiger's swing or the subtle bend of a reed in the wind. And YET. They struggle. Their closer inexplicably becomes useless. They get swept by the Sox.

All of this, of course, fills me with a quiet glee. It is not a sovereign specific for the abysmal start of the Giants, but it is some consolation.

Meanwhile, across the pond, another clash of the Titans is coming down to the final blows. England's version of Yankees v. Red Sox has been incredible to watch, and culminates with a match between the two sides on May 9. Man Utd has the much easier way out, though, and barring some calamity should hold on. More's the pity.

Okay, enough sports.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Coda - "One Window Web Development"

A new Mac OS X app called Coda may or may not be a godsend for people who aren't particularly super-skilled when it comes to web design. It seems to me to be a pretty robust web development tool that has a lot of bells and whistles, but not enough to baffle (power users, of course, will suggest that it doesn't have enough bells and whistles, but to have everything in one place seems pretty cool).

I'm going to download it and report back, but this seems good for folks like me who know enough code to get in trouble but not enough to fix it without reference to a manual. Being able to monitor the effects of your code at the same time is handy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Nitwit - Cross-platform microblogging tool

Compatible with Jaiku, Twitter, IRC, and probably other stuff. I'd download it but putting it on my work machine seems like a recipe for disaster:


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Montessori Bound

So it looks like the monkey is going to Childpeace Montessori. The switch is halfway to do with the challenges of skipping a grade in the International School, and halfway to do with our belief that Montessori method is one of the better ways to go with a gifted child. Finally, the ACCESS school (Portland's answer for exceptionally gifted kids) is stuffed to the gills, so she's waitlisted.

This has been one heck of a struggle, but at least we're settling on an option.

Friday, April 20, 2007

More Medicaid Musings

So having had a chance to read the methodology of the Public Citizen study on Medicaid, and take a closer look at the rankings, I have this to say:

The good news is that Oregon missed top 10 by a tiny amount. There was a small cluster at 8-12 that was separated by something like 10 points (out of a 1000 point scale). Hawai'i and Oregon are 11th and 12th by a hair's breadth.

The bad news is that, even if we had made the top 10 - indeed, even if we had ended up first - the top 10 is an accolade only to the extent that it indicates that those states are markedly less broken than the states in the rest of the rankings. No one reached 700 out of 1000 points. 30 states ended up in the bottom 10 in one of the statistical categories (Oregon did not - it was 31st in one, but that's as low as it went). Generally speaking, the states are not doing the job.

Across the board, the hands-down biggest problem for most states is quality of care. Actually, no one knows if that's the problem because very few people are actually attempting to measure it. Problem number one. Problem number two can be found in the lack of standards within state Medicaid programs for quality of care. In short, no one pays any attention to the problem, and even if they did, they would not currently know what to do with the data. Surely there are benchmarks for this sort of thing? Maybe the gummit is on the case? (Not exactly - it's much more about communication to served populations, but it's a start.) Actually, the AHRQ has quite the clearinghouse for information on quality standards. Oregon specifically is falling down pretty hard here, so a bit of light reading might be in order.

It's not apparent that states care much at the moment about improving their measurements of quality, let alone actually improving quality of care. But they'd better start, because the boomers are entering Medicare and Medicaid years. And ignoring the strain on the system, our elders deserve better.

PS - If you're old, impoverished, pregnant, or some combination of same, and you live in Mississippi, move.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

OHP ranks 12th in the nation in Medicaid study.

Public Citizen has just released "Unsettling Scores: A Ranking of State Medicaid Programs," and Oregon came in 12th. The report notes that the state would have placed substantially higher were it not for a ranking of 31st in the "Quality of Care" area. Two things within that category dragged us down: nursing homes and percentage of youth immunizations.

Oregon actually got negative points for "Deficiencies in quality of care," and zero points for immunization percentages, which effectively tanked the overall point values. I haven't looked at the kind of stuff that allows them to award less than zero, but if I were a legislator (which I ain't) I would take a long hard look at whatever it was that was causing that particular statistical beatdown.

I also wonder what sort of impact Oregon's home health care industry has on a study like this. Like many states, home health appears to be thriving. I'd be interested to see how, if at all, that impacts the overall quality of nursing homes (fewer nurses available to staff the homes, stronger competition for dollars in the home health area, whatever).

Still and all, twelfth is pretty good. Despite repeated claims that the Oregon Health Plan is broken, it remains one of the most robust and innovative plans in the nation.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215

As always, I'm late to this party, but I've really been enjoying Hotel Dusk. It's probably too much to ask that the puzzles be a bit more difficult, since I'm only about a third of the way through the game and (one hopes) there is likely an increasing level of difficulty.

Many people (notably, Penny Arcade) have commented on the "interactive novel" aspect of this game, as well as titles like Phoenix Wright. I have to agree that the game deserves high praise for presentation and innovation in "escape the room" style puzzling out of things. But, and here's the rub, I think the dialogue drags the game down. In the same way that I sorta abhor the meaningless cut scenes in the Phoenix Wright games (and yes, I know these are meant to be enriching - but c'mon, what are we doning in the name of flavor?), I find a lot of the Chatty Kathyness of Hotel Dusk to be a little bit of a drag. Also, from my preliminary peeks into reviews of the game, it's apparent that there will be times where I'll have to backtrack, like, a long way because I chose the "be a jerk" option in a conversation at the beginning of a chapter.

I mean, am I the only one who enjoyed The 7th Guest? Can someone do that for DS, please? More puzzles, enough story to be getting on with, and then some more puzzles? Should probably go buy this title and shut up, eh?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Resisting xenophobia

My heart sank this morning when I saw that the shooter at Va Tech was one Cho Seung-Hui, a South Korean native who has lived in the U.S. since 1992. I'm not the only one whose first thought was what was going to happen to the rest of the Asian population on campus and in Blacksburg. So today, a moment of silence for race relations, if you please.

Preliminary reports indicate that Cho was a cipher, one of those students who disappears into a public school like VT and emerges either broken or not, depending on luck and personal capacity. At least the creative writing dept. was sensible enough to refer him to counseling, but somewhere and somehow he slipped through the cracks. This is not the fault of the school, of course. Even at their best, colleges and universities are too large to connect personally with every kid on campus. And it sounds as though he was not plugged into to the South Korean community all that much, so one potential source of community was not there.

Anyway, let's focus on the fact that he was crazy and not on the fact that he was from Some Other Country.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dark day for VA Tech

By now everyone will have heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech. The BBC has a decent rundown of the goings on, while the school has two podcasts of statements from President Steiger regarding the shootings.

This is without question the worst single episode of campus violence in recent memory, and may be the worst ever on US soil. There are no words to express the sorrow and outrage inherent in such an event, and my heart goes out to all families and students of the college, past, present and future.

I'm sure we'll learn more over the coming weeks as the media invites us into the grotesquerie, but in the meantime (and perhaps instead of?), give a moment of silence to the Hokies. Ut prosim, I will stay on top of the story for ways to provide support.