Sunday, April 30, 2006


E3 is happening right now, well, it’s happening as I write this [actually, the dates are wrong – for a variety of reasons, this post has been backdated]. By the time I type it up and post it, E3 will be over and done with. Its repercussions will, however, still be . . . repurcussing. That’s what it’s for, after all.

E3 is the Electronic Entertainment Expo. It’s a videogame conference, or rather THE videogame conference, much like the Oscars is THE film awards show (except E3 happens before the games come out, not after, and the self-congratulatory backpatting is referred to as “marketing” instead of “awards”). This is where “electronic entertainment” companies wave their hands in the air, make fabulous promises (that many won’t keep, but which some will exceed), and in general try to woo the hearts, minds, and wallets of the gaming community. It is a time for big announcements. This one, in particular, has been much anticipated.

See, this is a nextgen year. The major console manufacturers have just put out their product (Microsoft’s Xbox360) or intend to do so before the year is up (Sony PS3, Nintendo Wii). This E3 has been our first real glimpse (as much as anything at E3 is ever “real”) at those last two. Both Sony and Nintendo are revealing secrets, abilities, and release details. Even Xbox, which has been out since November, had some new and exciting things to talk about.

Here are a few of the announcements that interested me:

Nintend Wii –Nintendo didn’t say as much as they could have (still no price and no specific release date), but what they did say was pretty cool. Here’s a quick link to their announcement, but my discussion of it will have to wait. This console deserves a post of its own for reasons even non-gamers may find personally relevant.
Why non-gamers should care: see future post

Halo 3 – If you don’t know what Halo is, I’m not going to be able to get you any more excited. For those of you who do know what I’m talking about: Bungie has produced the first teaser trailer for the final (yes, I said final) installment of the Halo series. The launch date has been revised from “probably in the future” to “2007.” That’s not very specific, but considering the studio was not willing to admit they were even working on the game until E3, it’s a good deal more specific than it has been.
Why non-gamers should care: The guys will be playing something new at beachweek next year.

World of Warcraft – The expansion race has been declared. I’m excited. People who are interested in the expansion pack are excited (and given WoW’s tremendous popularity, that’s a pretty big group), but that has very little relevance for non-gamers.
Why non-gamers should care: They probably shouldn’t care about that. But what might affect them are Blizzard’s plans to make a movie out of this universe. Non-gamers you may have to put up with that in the not too distant future (although they’re using the same studio that created Batman Begins, so here’s hoping they produce a piece of similar excellence).

PS3 – The 3rd generation of Playstation is going to cost way more than I’m willing to pay. While it’s not GOOD news, per se. It’s still relevant to me. One less console on my shelf.
Why non-gamers should care: this is not just a part of the console-wars, it’s also going to play a role in deciding the primary format for our next generation of DVD-players. Sony is using the PS3 as a way to get their chosen format (Blu-ray) out into the wild. In fact, the inclusion of a Blu-ray player in the PS3 is the very reason for the high price. This will affect you eventually in much the same way the betamax-VHS battles did.

There are, of course, many other announcements, booths, and exhibits going on throughout E3. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are just the current industry giants – the 800 pound gorillas.

If you have any interest in videogames, take a look at some of the links. I you don’t, well, wait a week and I’ll talk about something else.

How about cooking? I’ll talk about that. (Did you know the Wii is going to have a cooking game? You use the motion-controller to cut vegetables, sautee the. . .)

Friday, April 21, 2006


First, I think I have to start by defining the word "dork." My parents read this blog and, well, as I learned when I affectionately called my mother a dork, it had a very different meaning when they were growing up than it does now.

A dork is someone very like a nerd or a geek. What they share is a certain amount of social awkwardness and an interest in technical subjects. Dorks don't necessarily have the same proficiency as a geek or intelligence as a nerd, just the tendency to get far too excited about uncool topics (if that doesn't make sense now, it will in a moment). In my own personal use (and I hope that of my friends), it's an endearing term, dorks being considered essentially good-hearted but not quite with it. I'm starting to realize that this benevolent view of dorks is more prominent among engineers than other groups, but since I tend to run with engineers (word to my homies) that's okay with me.

My girlfriend will occasionally smack my forehead (gently) and tell me I've earned my dork stamp - the suggestion being that she is marking the word "dork" in a prominent place so others will be warned. As if a sign were really necessary... I said "occasionally" above, but what I meant was "almost daily." The only reason it's not more often is that she has a high tolerance for goofiness (she'd kind of have to, wouldn't she?).

It's certainly a stamp I've earned, although it would probably be more efficient to just get the tattoo. Before you nod your heads and laugh at me, I should remind you, dear readers, that I've had your help for many of my more egregious offenses.

For those of you still feigning ignorance (and the entertainment of those who were not there), allow me to provide a few examples (with the appropriate nod to Jeff Foxworthy).

If you have ever made a joke about Discrete Math or Conic Sections... you might be a dork.

If you have ever repeated to another person your roommate's joke about Discrete Math or Conic sections ... you might be a dork.

If you count on your fingers ... in binary ... you might be a dork.

If you have camped out overnight for the opening of a) a new game system b) a Star Wars movie or c) a Lord of the Rings movie ... you might be a dork.

If you have ever participated in the making of an amateur film about Jedi... you might be a dork.

If the phrase "Imperial Troops sack Rome" in a history book brings to mind the image of Darth Vader and his stormtroopers running amuck through the Coliseum ... and you TOLD someone about this ... you might be a dork.

If you have ever edited a computer game so the characters look like your friends and speak with their voices ... you might be a dork.

If you have ever dressed up for halloween as a character from your favorite movie ... and no one recognized you ... you might be a dork.

If you have ever dressed up for halloween as a character from your favorite BOOK ... you might be a dork.

I think that covers just about everyone who reads this except my parents, and I will not make the mistake of calling them dorks again - I will say this, though, the apple does not fall far from the tree ;-)

Sunday, April 16, 2006


I haven't mentioned books in a while. It’s time to do so again. I came across two the other day that I did not mention in my earlier posts. I should have.

Both books are about talking animals and in that sense, both books are technically fantasy. One has swords, heroes, and other trappings of your more traditional fantasy (no dragons, but it does have a dragon substitute). The other book has no swords, but it does have an exodus of epic proportions.

The two books are:
Redwall, by Brian Jacques
Watership Down, by Richard Adams

The two books have many similarities and yet produce remarkably different stories.


Redwall is the tale of an abbey of peaceful woodland creatures (mice, squirrels, moles, and even a badger) who must defend themselves from an army of rats, stoats, and weasels.

That’s the traditional fantasy tale – young hero must fulfill the prophecy to save his loved ones. If you have issues with traditional fantasy or talking animals, you should probably skip this one. If you have no firm objections to such things, you should definitely read Redwall. This was the first full sized novel I read when I was young (300 pages!) and I loved it. The heroes are noble, the villains are dastardly, and the story is engaging. Like other books I have mentioned this one may be more enjoyable at age 7 than age 27, but I still love reading it.

If you enjoy it, you’ll be pleased to hear it’s the beginning of a long series of books set in the same world. Each book is a complete story unto itself (but do read them in order). Eventually they begin to suffer from the same defects the plague any world which lasts too long under the exclusive control of a single author (one of those things I should probably devote an entire entry to someday), but the early books are excellent.


The other book I’m discussing today has a very different tone. Watership Down is the first book I ever purchased. I bought it at a yard sale on someone else’s recommendation and then did not read it. When I finally got around to it, I kicked myself for waiting.

It is the tale of a group of rabbits fleeing the destruction of their home, seeking a new place to live. The English countryside is not a safe place for rabbits and they have a long ways to travel.

It is complex and well-told with a good deal more depth than one might expect from a tale about talking rabbits. It’s the kind of story in which the reader finds something new every time they read it. It has not lost anything, and indeed has gained much, as I have aged to appreciate its depth. I recommend this book for all ages (okay, so the five year olds might not be interested… so not ALL ages, but most of them).

Seek out these books – Watership Down for a rainy day when you want to sink your teeth into a solid story and Redwall for the warm summer evenings when you want something that feels like a warm summer evening.

And feel free to let me know what you think after you’ve had a chance to read them. The more feedback you give me, the easier it will be for me to make appropriate recommendations.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Nintendo recently announced the official name of their next generation of console. Up to this point, it has been known as “The Revolution.” That, however, was a codename only., a placeholder until they came up with the real name. That real name is “The Wii” (pronounced “we”).

As you might have guessed, this name has caused a lot of discussion and more than a little name calling. Actually, the word “discussions” implies civility, which is a concept the internet struggles with. So in the interest of keeping this PG, and not exposing my poor readers to language that would challenge a pirate, I’ll restrict my links to those few pockets of the internet that DO practice civility. Here’s someone who hates the name “Wii.” Here is someone who does not hate the name “Wii” (finding someone who admits to liking it is a little harder). Thanks to Slashdot for pointing me to these in the first place.

The official announcement, which I recommend you take a look at, shows a flash animation and is accompanied by text that describes what the name means.

One of the negative responses to that intro (which appears on the page I linked above) claims “anytime a company starts explaining their brand name, it’s a bad sign.” Other naysayers have similar comments.

Eh, that’s an easy argument to make, and it sounds good, but meaning that must be explained should not be so easily dismissed.

I should probably pause here and admit that I have no marketing experience or training so I’m not “professionally” qualified to comment on this. Fortunately for me, this is the internet and those sorts of “credentials” are not required here.

Nintendo is trying to turn Wii into a symbol, to use a simple form to express a complex concept. Unfortunately for them there is no symbol for "innovative social games that even nongamers will enjoy using a totally new kind of controller and please do not think of this in the same category as any other game system this is something completely different" which is what they are trying to convey. So they had to make their own symbol: The Wii. In order for a new symbol to become a symbol, it has to first be explained. How many people could have told you Nike was the Greek goddess of victory BEFORE the sneakers came out?

It’s kind of a hard name to like at first glance. It is, however, the name. No matter how much the internet whines, this machine IS going to be called The Wii. And Nintendo has its reasons, many of which they have told us (including the fact that it’s a name both Americans and Japanese can pronounce). I’m okay with those reasons. Eventually, I’m pretty sure the name won’t sound strange anymore. The system, from what I’ve heard so far, has enough appeal for me that I plan to get one no matter what they call it.

[Note: The actual announcement was the last week in April. This entry was added later and backdated – see 5/16 entry for the reasons]

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


DC has a pretty weak Winter, I've discussed this already. DC Summer is infamous for being muggy and unpleasant. It's no Houston, but it's no picnic either. The Fall is pretty good, but as with the Winter, growing up with the New England version makes it pretty hard to get excited about anything else.

Spring, however, well DC wins that one hands down. In terms of the weather, Spring is one of the few times DC is ever truly comfortable without mechanical assistance (the other being Fall). The days are warm and the nights are cool. It is an encouraging time to be outdoors.

The city itself seems designed with this in mind. Certainly, the current City Architect takes full advantage of the strength of a good DC Spring. There are flowers and flowering plants everywhere. Daffodils (my personal favorite), tulips, and pansies (there are plenty more, but that's close to the limit of my ability to identify particular species) are planted almost everywhere people can be convinced not to walk. Those are just the general flower beds. There are entire public gardens devoted to showing off different species of flowers.

Don't like flowers? There are sculpture gardens (at least two that I know of), memorials (of course), bike paths, hiking trails (yes, there is indeed a small forest in the middle of DC, it even has deer), picnic locations, ballparks, volley ball courts, sailing marinas, canoeing/kayak launches (yes, also in the middle of DC), and so on. You name a reason to be outdoors and DC probably has it (well, they do kind of frown on hunting).

Yes, DC shines in Spring.

And to kick it all off, they throw the Cherry Blossom Festival. This year, thanks to the wimpier-than-usual Winter, the festival started in March. My girlfriend and I went last Thursday, the day predicted to be the peak blooming day (although that was coincidence, we had been planning on going that day before we learned about that). On the list of good things I can say about my shift schedule, the top item is definitely the random weekdays off that allow us to go places and do things while everyone else is working (makes shopping easier, too). It made this year's trip to the festival much less crowded than last year's weekend excursion.

DC still has a long way to go before I forgive it for ruining all my snowboarding plans but the Cherry Blossom Festival is a good start.