Monday, January 26, 2009

Books for the cruise

Ann and I are going on a cruise in two weeks, sans kids (this is a vacation, not a family trip). During our last cruise, I managed to read three books cover-to-cover in seven days, so I figure that on this five-dayer I should be able to get through two pretty easily. Here's what I'm considering:
  • Joel Olsteen's Your Best Life Now. I know, I know - but here's the deal. People bag on this guy CONSTANTLY, and admittedly I do too. But to be honest, I don't really know what the guy's preaching, and it'd be interesting to know what the message is straight from his mouth. The only problem is I think I would be embarassed to be caught reading this by the pool.
  • Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. Again, I know... but the fact of the matter is that this guy is going to be president for four to eight more years and I want to know where he's coming from without the filters of biased journalism.
  • The Last Colony. This is the third book in John Scalzi's sci-fi series, the first book of which I read on the last cruise and absolutely LOVED.

So besides these three, I'm at a loss. Any suggestions?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

16 Things About Me

Last week, T tagged me to come up with sixteen things about myself. After putting it off, here's my list:

1. I consider Raiders of the Lost Ark to be the greatest example of cinematic art ever created.
2. I have dived to 120 ft deep and climbed to the top of Mount Fuji, but otherwise I’m not really much of an outdoorsy person.
3. My favorite hobby is PC gaming, one I've enjoyed pretty much non-stop since we got our first computer in 1986.
4. If I could wear shorts every day of my life, I totally would.
5. I am married to the single most patient and understanding person on the planet.
6. I never believed the idea that kids were all that different, until I had two kids of my own who are totally and completely different.
7. I love to read. Lately I've been on a kick about polar and naval exploration and food history, although I always enjoy a good sci-fi. Unlike T, I can't handle reading more than one book at a time.
8. I am fortunate enough to work at a job that I consider to be just about the coolest in existence.
9. I will eat anything at least once.
10. I love sipping a good wine (I'm a horrible Baptist), although I probably wouldn't know a good wine from rotten grape juice if I were tested on it.
11. My idea of the perfect date: takeout Freebirds and a movie rental. Fortunately, Ann thinks that's a pretty good date too.
12. If I could choose how to die, I want to be hit by a meteor.
13. I can juggle three balls really well and three pins so-so.
14. I can't play a single musical instrument, although I'm a decent tenor.
15. I consider Lost to be the greatest television show ever made.
16. It's really hard for me to come up with 16 things about myself that anyone else is likely to find interesting.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How not to design electronics

I'm sitting here on a phone conference with some people in Japan, using my home cordless phone connected to a headset. I'm at a desk, near a charging station, and the battery on the phone is showing low power levels. I'm not moving around and don't plan to, so I figured I'd drop the phone on the charger to make sure the battery doesn't die while I'm talking.

You totally know where this is going, don't you? As soon as I place the phone on the charger it disconnects the call. The call with about eight other people, most of whom are in Japan. What kind of electronics design prevents me from using a phone at the same time that I recharge it?! Come to think of it, I can't think of any other piece of gadgetry I own that doesn't allow me to operate it while it's being charged. This is also the same phone system that doesn't let me use two handsets on the same call (which my last cordless system did let me do). So if I'm in a call and the battery is running low, there doesn't appear to be either a way to swap to another phone or to charge the one I'm using.

AT&T E1813B user rating: 5 Stars of Sucking out of a possible 5.

Oh, yeah, and they're ugly as sin.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Christmas conundrum

Ann and I have never made a huge deal about Santa Claus. When I was a kid, my parents told me the truth about Santa when I was about six, and I recall thinking that I kind of already knew it was all a big myth. I want my kids to have enough fun with it to not ruin it for the other kids, but I also don't want them to ever have reason to question the REAL Christmas story.

A couple weeks before Christmas the Monkey and I had the following conversation:

Me: "Hey, buddy, you know Santa Claus isn't REALLY real, right?"

Him: "Yeah." (Long pause). "But if that's true, then who leaves the presents under the tree?"

Me: "Well, Mommy and I do."

Him: "But then who leaves the presents for you and Mommy?"

Me: "Mommy and I leave those presents too."

Him, after another long pause: "But then you know what the presents are."

Me: "Yeah, that's right."

At this point I made a critical error. I blinked. I imagined his confused little mind, and somehow thought I would make it better by blurting out:

"Unless Santa really does it."

Him: "Daddy, you're making this ALL up."

And that was the end of that conversation. He'd determined that I had no idea what I was talking about. About a week later, out of nowhere, he asked, "Daddy, who really leaves the presents under the tree? For real?" I said, "Mommy and I do." I guess he decided that I'd told him the truth this time, because he said "Okay," and that was that.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops

Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops by James Robert Parish

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
An interesting, if somewhat dry, look into the decisions that resulted in some of the biggest movie flops in history. It's amazing how often people can see a major disaster coming and for whatever reason choose not to cut their losses while they can. Of course, this is a problem not relegated to the movie industry and I found myself trying to apply the lessons-learned from this book to my own projects. What am I working on today that I might someday look back on as being an obviously bad idea? Am I being blinded by pride or overcommitment or desire, so much so that I walk off a very evident cliff?

Parish's writing style tends to be a little dry with several sections of the book feeling like filler. He also has a very strange tendency to (over)use parentheticals - just like I did there. I can't tell whether it's a bad technique, but it tends to be distracting. And it'll be even MORE distracting now that I've pointed it out.

Also, Warren Beatty sounds like a real jerk. I'm just saying.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Random question

What mythical creature would you most like to eat? Here are a few options:
  • Unicorn. I suppose it would taste a lot like horse.
  • Dragon. Crunchy on the outside, gamey on the inside.
  • Chinese dragon: The same, but with more MSG.
  • Mermaid. Particularly good when prepared as sushi.
  • Yeti: More hair than meat.
  • Leprechaun. Best when served with a side of Lucky Charms.

Feel free to come up with your own.

Videogames as art

In the videogaming community, there's an ongoing debate as to whether games should be classified as art. Unfortunately the discussion usually comes up as a way to protect particularly graphic games, such as Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto franchise. The argument goes that since games are inherently art, they are protected by the First Amendment and thus their creation or distribution should not be limited by the government.

The idea that all games can be classified, and thus protected, as art is clearly ridiculous. Obviously, some photography is clearly art. Hardly anyone would argue that Ansel Adams' photos of the American West are anything less than artistic beauty. This picture, on the other hand, is not art:

That's a picture of my left foot that I just took. Movies provide a similar example: classics like Casablanca, high-quality animated films like Beauty and the Beast or just about anything created by Pixar would all qualify as art in my mind. Caddyshack, on the other hand - not so much. Although it is a phenomenally funny movie.

All this is to say that I recently completed a video game that I do think qualifies as art. Bioshock has been out for about a year and a half but, due to limitations with my computer, I didn't start playing it until about two months ago. Everything about this game is a testament to what games can be when they are crafted carefully and skillfully. It takes place in an underwater dystopia with an art deco/Ayn Rand-ian motif. (All screenshots come from

The art decoration is simply stunning - a world is created that is both fantastic and believable, with distinctly separate but consistent environments.

Keep in mind that the above screenshot comes from inside the game engine. This is what the game actually looks like when you play it.

I won't get into the storyline, but it should suffice to say that it is one of the best I've ever seen in a game, and rivals anything I've seen in a movie or even in most books. The mid-game twist was the best experience I've had in a game since Knights of the Old Republic.

Even the characters in the game are carefully scripted and created. The primary enemy boss, called a "Big Daddy," is amazingly realized as an overpowered drone in a deep-sea diving suit.

The world is populated by the standard shooter game cannon fodder, but also has unique personalities that you encounter and interact with that will leave you thinking about them for a long, long time.

From a technical standpoint, the game still holds up startlingly well even 17 months after it was released. The water effects are easily the best I've ever seen in a PC game, the lighting is well constructed and well utilized, and the scope of the environments is staggering.

All this is to say that Bioshock stands as a rare example of a game that clearly can stand as a work of art. Games in and of themselves are not intrinsically art, but this one truly exemplifies that careful crafting can result in a product that is far more than the sum of its parts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The rough days are coming...

Yesterday Ann came in to the kitchen and found Vanilla Bean looking like this:

Sure, I guess it's cute now, but in another ten years she's gonna want to be doing this for real. And Daddy won't be very happy about it...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Another smiley video...

I know there's nothing worse than a blog that doesn't actually generate any NEW content, but merely posts links to other stuff on the Internet. That being said, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to show this video. The creator, Matt Harding, was sponsored by Stride gum to travel around the world and video himself doing this goofy dance - and then see if he could get other people to do it as well. The result is a strange but uplifting little video that showcases what sort of bizarre stuff the Internet can spawn. If you're not grinning fifteen seconds into the video, then you need to figure out where you left your soul.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Tea blends

I recently created a tea-blend on Adagio - Earl Grey with a hint of vanilla. I've got it on order and it should arrive early next week. You can check it out here. I also ordered a blend called "Pirate's Spice," which combines vanilla oolong, pumpkin, and rum. If this goes well, I may try some other blends as well.