Monday, September 29, 2008

Who will win the November election?

I added a little poll to the right side of this page: who do you think will win the presidential election? Notice that I'm not asking who you think should win, but who you think will win. And if you're one of those, "YEAH! RON PAUL '08!! HE'S GOIN' ALL THE WAY TO THE WHITE HOUSE!" types then just don't even bother voting.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Things I just don't get

You know how sometimes there are pop culture phenomena that just don't make sense to you? I mean, I'm sure these make sense to SOME people, just not to me.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Star Wars: Outbound Flight

Star Wars: Outbound Flight Star Wars: Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Anoter run-of-the-mill Star Wars book, pumped out to appease the Star Wars masses (myself included). It's not that it's a bad book, it's just that it's not really good. Sure, it gives General Thrawn's origin story, and it fills in some of the blanks between Episodes I and II. But ultimately it's just that - filler.

Zahn is forced to work within the content already predetermined by the movies. As with any prequel material, the fate of the main characters is known. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are never in any real danger, since we both know they have to show up for the next movie. The other Jedi are completely expendable, since they'll either die now or die at the end of Episode III. And, of course, we know Thrawn will succeed since he's the star of Zahn's classic Thrawn trilogy of novels, which really set off the Expanded Universe in 1992.

I suppose the point of a book like this is not to know WHAT happens, but HOW it happens. Zahn is able to set up a few interesting scenarios, and he really shines when describing massive space-battle scenes. His description of the political machinations onboard Outbound Flight are interesting, if ultimately irrelevant to the central plot.

Overall, not a bad read, but I would only recommend it for the most hard-core and completist of Star Wars mythology fans.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The coolest guy I've ever met

I recently had the honor of meeting Gene Kranz, arguably the most famous flight director in NASA’s history. In case you don’t know who I’m talking about, he was played by Ed Harris in the movie Apollo 13.

Gene Kranz

Not Gene Kranz

For a NASA geek, meeting Gene Kranz is about as cool as it gets. This would be like meeting the Pope if you’re Catholic, or John Wayne if you’re my dad. Kranz was the guy in charge of mission control during the first Moon landing and during the Apollo 13 ordeal. He set the standard for how manned spaceflight mission control is done, and many of his philosophies are still being used today.

We’d gone to Cheddar’s for dinner and I saw him and his wife eating at a nearby table. I summoned up enough courage to go over and introduce myself. Despite the fact that I was interrupting his dinner, he was extremely friendly, shook my hand, and asked me about my work at NASA. We only talked for about 30 seconds, but I was impressed that a guy as famous as he is was willing to put down his fork to talk to a relative nobody for a few seconds.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A geek project

Someday, when I have all the money I could ever want to throw away, it'll be time to build my ultimate geek retro-gaming console cabinet. I'll collect all the consoles I've ever owned into one place, buy the best games I ever had on it, and spend some time reveling in the joys of old-time video gaming.

Starting at the bottom would be the Atari 2600 - what most people probably remember as their first console.

Everything about this console screams early-'80s cheese. I mean, faux-wood on a video game console?! That thing looks like my aunt's old station-wagon. I still remember when my dad brought this home for me when I was six years old. It had the horrific slider-switch in the back that allowed you to switch from the antenna input to the console input. Apparently there was a time when TV manufacturers didn't think TVs would ever need more than one input (I think my current TV has something like seven). I cut my teeth on the classic Atari game Combat, which looks ridiculously primitive by today's standards but was freaking awesome at the time. This was the console that ended up getting packed up and taken to Argentina, and thus was my only gaming console until we came back to the US when I was 13. Seven years on one console. My mom probably made me give it away to some poor kid, along with all my Star Wars toys. A single tear rolls down my cheek...

Must-have games: H.E.R.O. That's it - no other game would be required.

Next up in the retro-gaming cabinet would be, of course, the Nintendo Entertainment Console, or NES. This is what most people still think of when you say "Nintendo."

I VERY specifically remember receiving this one. We'd been overseas for four years, and coming back to the US when I was 13 was like summer camp, a birthday party, and Christmas morning all rolled up into one. I'd told my parents that the two things I wanted to get when we got home were a skateboard and an NES. They got me both (trying to make up for giving all my stuff to poor kids, no doubt). The morning after we got back to the States, I opened this bad boy up and plugged it into my grandparents' television. I still recall the distinct joy of playing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt for the first time. I mean, the console shipped with a gun! How awesome was that?

Must-have games: Contra (duh) and Double Dragon, both received Christmas Eve 1989 at my grandparents' house.

Oh, and one more bit: I got my NES in the summer of 1989. It'd been released in the US in 1985. It's not entirely clear to me why this discrepancy wasn't evident at the time, although I suppose being isolated in South America for four years helped.

The NES was my gaming standard until I graduated from high school in 1994 and came back to the US for the final time. I'm not sure what happened to it, but I suspect some poor kid got it too. Anyway, the next console in my retro-gaming rack is a slight discrepancy in that I never actually owned one. During college, my sister had one as did my fiancee's roommate, so I spent a lot of time playing the Sega 16-bit Genesis:

It's too bad Sega got out of the console business after the Dreamcast, because the Genesis was AWESOME.

Must-have games: Aladdin and Biohazard Battle (which I now own emulated on the Wii).

After I graduated from college, I decided it was time for me to get a grownup console, so the next one in my rack would be the PS One:

To be honest, I didn't really play it all that much - I've always been more into PC games, and the Playstation has got to be the polar opposite of what I enjoy about gaming. It's more arcade-y, action-y, fighting games, and as I've aged I've developed a stronger taste in strategy oriented games. I kept the console for a few months and ended up re-selling it on eBay. One thing about the version that would go in my retro-gaming cabinet: it has to be the PS One version, pictured above, not the standard Playstation. Because look at that thing. It's sexy.

Must-have games: Masters of Teras Kasi. Widely considered one of the worst fighting games ever made, but I played it a ton, and you could play as Princess Leia in her steel bikini, so what's not to love?

The final entry in my retro-gaming cabinet would be my current console, the Nintendo Wii.

I won't make any final statements on what my must-have games for this console would be, but I suspect Force Unleashed might be on there.

To be fair, except for the Wii games, I could probably get every game on this list emulated for free on my PC. But the point is not to have the games themselves, the point is to have the consoles that I remember so fondly from the past 25 years. So one of these days, I'll place a few hundred dollars worth of bids on eBay, build a five-tiered cabinet, and reserve an entire weekend to relive the past.

PS: Mom, if you're reading this, I just thought of a great way for you to make up for having given away all my stuff to poor kids.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

MY translation

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal."
-Matthew 6:19-20, New American Standard Bible

Here's the Modern Electric Monk Translation version of the verse:
"You know all that junk you've got in your house? Yeah, well, there's a pretty decent chance that something like, oh I dunno, a hurricane could come through and mess it all up. Not that it's bad to have that stuff, just maybe don't put too much stock in it. Instead, think about putting your investments into a more secure portfolio, like one that NO ONE COULD EVER TAKE AWAY. Yeah, think about it."

Friday, September 12, 2008

You want me, Ike? Come and get me!

We're holed up at my in-laws in Sugar Land, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the monster known as Ike. My brother-in-law, his wife, and their baby are here, so the nine of us are spread out all over the house. We've already gone through a game of Ticket to Ride; next on the list is Puerto Rico. We've got enough food to feed a football team, and enough water to last us well into January. There's nothing left to do but wait.

Best part so far: we've started a pool to bet on when the power is gonna go out. I think it'll be two in the morning.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Spore unleased

I've looked forward to Spore, the new release from Will Wright, longer than any other game I can remember. It was originally announced more than three years ago and news has trickled out regularly ever since then. I finally got my copy on Sunday and, I gotta say, it's pretty stinkin' cool.

I've always enjoyed Wright's games. I played the first version of SimCity on our PC when I was a kid, and I stuck with the series even through the almost impossible SimCity 4. I was hooked on The Sims for quite a while, and it still is the only PC game I've ever gotten Ann to play. I still remember the Christmas break (long before children came along) when we would take turns: one of us would work on house projects while the other would play The Sims. After an hour, a timer would go off and we'd switch places.

Spore is definitely a wide game - spanning the evolution of a lifeform from single-celled organism to galactic dominator - but it doesn't seem to have the depth of something like SimCity. To call it a strategy game, thus putting it in the same category as something like Civilization or Sins of a Solar Empire would be a gross mislabeling. The creation tools are astoundingly complex while still being easy to use. It remains to be seen whether this game will have the longevity of Wright's other works. Will I still be playing it in two months, or six months, from now? Will the user-created content provide enough incentive to keep coming back for more? Will I drop 30 bucks every few months for the expansion packs? It's hard to say. But what I can say is that I wish I could ditch work and go home to play right now!

One editorial comment: there's been a lot of badmouthing of this game because of its DRM process. I hate DRM as much as the next guy. I've never bought a song off iTunes because I felt their process was far too heavy-handed. But knocking this game in general, and specifically the tactic of flooding Amazon's ratings board with negative reviews, is completely uncalled-for. I guarantee you that most of the people who gave it negative ratings never even played the game - they were basing their judgment solely on the presence of DRM. And I would guess that the vast majority of people who buy and play the game legitimately will never encounter the DRM block as an issue. This is another case of the Internet getting people all riled up over nothing.

More details on my creations are forthcoming, but for now, enjoy this little widget showing my first character, the Vengari.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Watchmen Watchmen by Alan Moore

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anyone who doesn’t think comic books can be “art” needs to read Watchmen. This is one of the highest-quality, most well-crafted books I’ve read in a very long time.

The art style is incredibly elaborate and carefully crafted. The style and quality is consistent throughout the very long book, and the amount of detail in each frame is at times overwhelming. I expect I’ll read this at least once more to try to catch the intricacies and nuances hidden in each panel.

The storyline is very elaborate. It’s brought together by a combination of the pictures themselves, dialogue, and snippets from newspaper articles, biographies, and even a comic-within-a-comic. Details of the characters and the story itself are slowly drawn out over the length of the book – a reference made in chapter two might not be explained until chapter five. As a result, the reader is forced to pay very close attention to what is happening, what each character is doing, and how these references are pulled together. As opposed to most comic book storylines which can be drawn out indefinitely, this is a completely self-contained story, written in twelve distinct chapters.

I highly recommend this to anyone who’s been disappointed by poor comics in the past. The art, characters, story, and unexpected ending all come together to create a well-above-average comic experience.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Star Wars: The Force Unleashed by Haden Blackman

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
I’ve fallen out of touch a little with the Star Wars lore ever since the release of Episode III. I never really kept up too much with the post-ROTJ stuff to begin with; I read some of the books, but could never keep up with the frequent release schedule and, to be honest, what I did read wasn’t all that good. I’ve heard some positive stuff about the New Jedi Order series, but I’m hardly likely to start off on a 13-book series right now.

LucasArts has done a good job of getting me back on board with Force Unleashed. They’re selling it as completely canonical and tying together a book, graphic novel, and videogame definitely appeals to my completionist side. I decided to spoil the videogame storyline by reading the graphic novel first.

I gotta say, as graphic novels go, it wasn’t all that great. To be fair, I haven’t read all that many, but this mainly felt like a sixteen-dollar advertisement for the game which is, of course, precisely what it is. The story is not fleshed out nearly as much as I would like, the book is far too short, and the art is so-so. The action scenes are written almost as fill-in material, and it’s not always clear what’s happening on the page.

As I said before, I may end up reading the book as well, but hopefully the videogame will be a little more fulfilling.

View all my reviews.

This is as cute as it gets.

I think Vanilla Bean may have peaked in cuteness. I can't imagine her getting any cuter without swallowing a puppy or something.

Vanilla Bean talking from Electric Monk on Vimeo.