My XBox Live Gamer Card
Thursday, March 4. 2010
When I walked into the halls of Benson High School in the fall of 1977 after a miserable eight years of elementary school, I didn't know what to expect. I was hoping and longing for something better, but not had no idea whether I would be able to put the tormenting and bullying I had faced so far behind me. I was an individual who felt very little self-worth, the son of a father who loved me but didn't really know how to be a dad, lacking in positive male role models, I was somewhat adrift.
I'm not sure exactly when I met Coach Gray, most likely the first day of Freshman PE. I also didn't know what to think of him. He was sometimes profane, and sometimes vulgar, definitely not the kind of man I had interacted with on a daily basis before. I was tall, he was the coach of the basketball team, that may be the reason he took an initial interest in me, I don't know. All I do know is this, he took me under his wing, and very quickly learned that I was not basketball team material, however, upon making that discovery, he didn't abandon me, he encouraged me more, pushed me hard, spent time playing one-on-one basketball with me, was my tennis partner when we played tennis, encouraged me more, told me to stand up for myself when others bullied me, was a fair arbiter of disputes, and cheered for me when I did well.
This was a man who had coached players who went on to the NBA. A.C. Green was in my graduating class, and helped Coach Gray win a State Championship our senior year, yet Coach Gray still had time for me, time to encourage me, time to let me know I was a valuable human being, time to let me know that I had lots to offer the world even if I was not a basketball player.
I walked out of Benson High a better and more confidant person than I had entered. Dick Gray was in large part responsible for that.
I don't know if he ever knew the hugely positive impact that he had on my life in those four years.
Wednesday, October 14. 2009
Once the doors opened Travis and I headed for the the Microsoft booth to get in the 40-minute line up to play ODST. There were three stations of four seats each and they were allowing each group to play ten minutes of the game's Firefight mode (Now that the game is released, my longest games of Firefight have all been over an hour and I can see them going much longer than that as I improve). However, ten minutes was enough to give us a great taste of a very very fun game mode. Of course Travis was the high-scorer on our team, and he continues to be the high-scorer in every game I have played with him since.
While in line waiting to get our hands on ODST we got to watch several people try their hand at Forza 3. I loved Forza 2 and have been very impressed with what I have seen of Forza 3 so far. The setup they were using to demo the game involved three 360s and three monitors and a cockpit with pedals and steering wheel. It was very very impressive. One of the most interesting things about the Forza community is that it is divided into those who race cars and those who paint cars. I'm good at neither of those things yet this is still on my list of "must-buy" games this fall.
While in line for ODST I started noticing my head hurting, I was pleased it wasn't a migraine, I didn't want a migraine wrecking our second day of PAX.
We wandered the aisles of the Expo. We saw the demo of Ubisoft's new Splinter Cell game which looks like it may be a lot of fun. I bought the Monster Manual 2 a second Players Guide and a set of three hero figures at the Wizards of the Coast booth. We saw some amazing gaming tables at the Geek Chic booth I really think the Emissary table would go very well in my dining room.
While watching people playing D&D on the very cool furniture I started to realize the headache was getting pretty bad. Migraines are not any fun, but I know how to deal with them and what to expect. I have no coping ability when I have a bad headache that is not a migraine. My life simply runs downhill. We had some food and I ingested some of my drug of choice, caffeine in an attempt to stave the headache off but that didn't work. After lunch we visited the Harmonix booth and took in The Beatles: Rockband. They were giving away t-shirts to people who were willing to play on stage but I couldn't convince Travis to participate so we missed out on those shirts! We did stay and watch a few groups play and it was a lot of fun. The Beatles music is amazingly timeless, and I am often in awe of the things they were able to accomplish musically. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of the game sometime soon.
By now I was completely miserable, but I still thought I had the energy to sit through the Brink show and tell at the Bethesda Softworks booth. The game looks stunning, some of the RPG aspects of it look like a lot of fun. I couldn't help but compare it a bit to what I had seen of Borderlands. I wish now that I had felt better at the time and could have more fully enjoyed the presentation. The game is definitely on my watchlist.
After seeing Brink we went in search of Advil. Thankfully I found some.
The headache on the mend, we headed to the Unicorn Theater to see Stepto's (Stephen Toulouse) talk about XBox Live policy enforcement. As XBox Live's top cop he's the man in charge of making sure Travis and I don't have to put up with two many jerks, and that my younger boys have a relatively safe environment when they are on Live. I first ran into him when I was concerned about some of the clan tags I was seeing in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. He had a great presentation that was full of laughs and good information about the way live is run. You can find this video, a reading from the Book of Enforcement, at the presentation link but it is too good to pass up here:
Major Nelson was at Stepto's presentation and afterward I got to do something I've wanted to do for quite some time and that is thank him for the part that XBox Live played in allowing me to stay in touch with Travis during the time that Jennifer and I were separated. I got to talk to my son almost every night as we gamed together, and I firmly believe that to be a vitally important role in he and I having the quality relationship we currently have.
We stopped and checked out the new BioWare game Mass Effect 2. I honestly expected more from that demo. I loved the original Mass Effect, despite it's flaws it was a remarkable game. The problem with the demo was two-fold, the area was too loud to hear the sound of the game, and the demo looked like exactly what it was an unfinished game. This was jarring to me given how much I had been reading about improvements to the game. Neither Travis or I was able to see those improvements in the portion of the game they were showing off.
I'm not quite sure how we ended up there, but we found ourselves in the Main Theater for the Rooster Teeth Productions panel. I've always enjoyed Red vs. Blue but I have never been a big enough fan to take the time to watch it all. The Rooster Teeth panel changed that. It was a lot of fun, and I made the decision right then that I needed to support their endeavours. These men are truly funny and truly a lot of fun, and they love gaming.
By now I was feeling 95% better and we headed off to Subway for dinner. After grabbing our sandwiches we headed back to the Rock Band freeplay stage and watched several bands do a really good job on their songs before the technical difficulties forced an end to the proceedings. Once that occured we moved back to the queue room to line up for the Saturday nigh concerts. We were both pleasantly surprised when the line started moving far sooner than we expected it to and once again we ended up with reasonably good standing spots, this time just in front of the sound board. Soon the lights went down and the big screens lit up with Rock Band graphics, the curtain opened and out came Gabe and Tycho's band, The Sex Generals. The screen mentioned something about The Rock Band Network and the band launched into their song "Are you really a woman?" It was incredibly cool seeing The Rock Band Network put to use for the first time (the audio gets better a few seconds in so be patient).
It was also incredibly cool seeing the Pip Boy puppets that had been part of the genesis for this entire father-son adventure into geekdom making a reappearance at the concerts this year. The owners of the puppets put on quite a show throughout all the events of the evening. They were quite fun to watch.
After the song Gabe and Tycho stayed on stage to introduce the final eight of the Omeganauts came out on stage, having been divided into two teams of four. The winners of this round would become the final-four contestants in the Omegathon. The competition for this round was going to be Beatles Rock Band. The song Twist and Shout. The first band out did wonderfully well. The second band, well not so well at all. It was a lot of fun watching The Beatles in animated form up on the big screen, and a lot of fun watching the two bands working for their place in the final four of the Omegathon.
When the curtains closed, Travis and I sat on the floor and waited for the opening act for the evening, Freezepop. My only familiarity with Freezepop was their music in Rock Band, but I thoroughly enjoyed their upbeat quirky music. Liz Enthusiasm, the front-woman for the band, is attractive, and knows she's attractive, and she played that up a whole lot with her mostly male audience, including getting down off the stage during one song to dance with the guys in the front row. Partway through their set, there was a pause and a couple who had won a raffle to appear on stage with the band were brought out. Only they weren't there because they had won a raffle, they were there so the guy could propose to his girl. She said "yes," which was a good thing because if she had said "no," it would have been awkward for everyone and severely diminished the good vibe the band had been generating up to that point.
Following Freezepop's very upbeat and fun set, we were told that we were fortunate enough to have an appearance by the Secretary of Geek Affairs, Wil Wheaton. Who appeared on stage to read the following proclamation:
I didn't know a thing about Paul and Storm prior to them coming on stage to receive the Secretary of Geek Affairs D20 award, but from the moment they launched into Opening Band I knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy the show. Their humour, their hawking their wares from the platform (Travis has a Dejected Arrr t-shirt and Jennifer has a lovely Minion t-shirt), and their talent as musicians made for a wonderfully enjoyable set that kept us both laughing throughout.
The last act of the night was Jonathon Coulton. My familiarity with him was limited to the fact that he wrote Still Alive, the song sung by GLaDOS at the end of the brilliant video game Portal. I knew he was something of a geek icon so I was very much looking forward to hearing the other things he has written. With Paul and Storm providing backing vocals for much of the set it was a lot of fun. Not as funny as the preceding set had been but still a lot of fun. In addition I got to hear the original songwriter singing Still Alive.
Once again it was a full day and once again, two very tired guys dragged into their hotel room just before 3:00am. Even though we were exhausted we were still looking forward to what the final day of PAX would hold for us.
Wednesday, September 23. 2009
He did an excellent job of getting us exactly where we needed to go. We found parking in a parking garage that had far too low a clearance for my head, and made our way to the Queue Room at the convention center. The Queue Room is exactly what it sounds like a room set up with serpentine dividers to allow thousands of people to queue up in an orderly fashion. We hadn't been in this room for too long before we realized that not everyone had showered, was in clean clothes, or understood the concept of deodorant. It wasn't horrible but it was clear evidence that geeks and nerds still have some stereotypical traits to overcome.
Travis and I were obviously in the first four-thousand in the queue as we scored our wristbands for the concerts that night. Those wristbands were our first good score of the day. Usually queuing is a chore, a frustrating experience, but playing on the big screen in the queue room was some brilliant (at least if you're a geek or student of pop-culture) entertainment. Somewhat War Gamesish the computer kept "talking" to us and playing all sorts of entertaining interactive games. The games were made interactive via an SMS short-number and some entertaining uses of SMS messages. Voting for your favourite YouTube video. Solving puzzles via SMS. Creating a census of those in the queue. It was all handled really well and in a very fun and entertaining manner. In addition people played their hand held video games, read books or sat on the floor and played board games to pass the time. It was during queue time that the beach balls appeared. I can't tell you who sponsored the beach balls but I can tell you that the logo lent itself to "enhancement." and the Sharpies came out and most of the balls were "enhanced" by people who have spent far too much time watching the movie Superbad.
Once the doors opened we had a brief few minutes to wander the Expo floor before running upstairs to the first panel of the day for us, Game Development 101. It was a fascinating panel with some interesting people and there was some good insight into the insides of the development process. I was particularly interested in listening to the writer, and the producer. The writer because I love to write and believe that video game writing is just starting to come into its own, and the producer, well the producer because he has my dream job.
After the Game Design panel it was time to head back down to the Queue Room to Queue up for the Keynote speech. Travis held our place in line and I went in search of some food which we proceeded to eat sitting on the floor. We had great seats for the keynote, but there really weren't any bad seats in the room given the six large screens that gave everyone a great view. The keynote speaker was a gentleman who spent his formative years in La Grande, Oregon. He went on to fame designing games for LucasArts. You may have heard of Guybrush Threepwood and The Secret of Monkey Island. You may also know of Ron Gilbert the creator of The Secret of Monkey Island. Mr. Gilbert spoke of his history in game design and along the way helped show us the importance of games in our culture and games as art. It was a brilliant speech, quite moving, quite insightful, and definitely inspiring.
We stayed in our seats after the keynote for a Q&A session with Gabe and Tycho. Given that they are the reason for PAX the crowd was huge, and the Q&A quite fun. Gabe told the story that provided the impetus for the titles of these blog entries.
As the planning for PAX was underway contracts were entered into with many of the hotels near the conference center. As the time drew closer the PAX planners discovered that 37 rooms had gone missing at one of the hotels. When the PAX people called about the missing rooms they were told "Oh the Oakland Raiders are in town. We needed the rooms." They were told very politely that no one at PAX cared that the Oakland Raiders were in town and their attention was re-directed to the signed contract. The hotel told the Raiders that they would have to find lodging elsewhere. It was truly the reversal of roles for the geeks and the jocks.
There was one quite touching scene where the person at the microphone told his story about how Penny Arcade had helped keep his spirits up during some very dark and difficult times in his life. He was hoping he could shake Gabe and Tycho's hand, however, Tycho pre-empted that wish, hopped down off the stage and then gave the guy a huge hug.
From the Q&A with Gabe and Tycho we headed back upstairs to the Bungie panel, Prepare to Drop! They were in the biggest theater in the building and the line was quite long, I was worried we were not going to get seats. However, the Enforcers (PAX's volunteer security force) assured us that there would be room and there was. The panel was not what Travis or I were expecting, however, it proved to be an incredibly gratifying look behind the scenes at the creation of Halo: ODST. We heard from the Creative Director, the composer, the lead graphic designer, the producer, and several others. We saw some of the concept art. We heard how the game had taken shape, moving from something that should have been DLC to a full game. We heard some of the score (a complete departure from the typical Halo score but really impressive). We heard about weapon re-designs and why the Battle Rifle has no part in the game (something I'm still not sure I'm happy about). It was a great panel and lots of fun. Now that I've played the game I can say all their hard work was not in vain and that while it is completely different from its predecessors it is also a very good game in it's own right.
From the ODST panel we headed back downstairs to the expo for a while. A trip that proved to be far shorter than we expected it to be as we discovered that Gearbox Software was going to do a panel on their upcoming title Borderlands. Borderlands is one of the games Travis and I are most looking forward to this fall, so we knew we had to see that. We quickly dashed to the Subway in the Convention Center to get some dinner and then headed for presentation. It turns out we hadn't needed to get dinner as the Gearbox gang had ordered pizza for everyone who came to their panel, something I thought was quite cool of them. Right from the beginning this panel felt completely different from the Bungie panel. Where Bungie were professional and polished the Gearbox guys were rough and tumble. I quite enjoyed it. They started their presentation with this hilarious video of Claptrap the Robot. Then discussed the evolution of their game prior to letting one of the audience members up on stage to play co-op against the other panel members while their exploits were narrated. My interest in the game was heightened by the panel so I'm quite sure they did what they set out to do.
We left the Borderlands presentation expecting to go down to the Expo again, but when we got there we discovered the Expo was closed. Hearing music we followed the sound until we discovered the source. The Rock Band freeplay stage. We sat and watched and listened as group after group tried their hand at Rock Band. Many of them were no better than I am which gave me some hope. Of course I will never be up to Travis's standard of being able to play anything and everything on expert guitar.
Finally it was time to line up for the Friday night concerts. As you know from my PAX Day 0 post it was events from the concerts a year earlier that triggered my desire to go this year. After waiting in line and watching the sometimes quite funny SMS Message Board on the big screen (People could text their messages to the system and have them displayed on the big screen). We got to head into the Main Theater for the concerts. Most of the seats had been removed and we got extraordinarily good standing spots quite close to the front. Unfortunately, the concerts started quite late so that was a bit of a drag.
First up was Anamanaguchi a chiptune band that composes on a hacked NES. Their music was upbeat and and a lot of fun and they had lots of energy. The visuals provided by Paris Treantafeles and outpt were eye-catching, entertaining, and very well done. It was fascinating seeing the two visual artists working on stage as the music was played.
The second band of the evening was Metroid Metal. Having not played the Metroid games, I was doubly at a loss when I didn't enjoy their metal interpretations of music I was unfamiliar with. The band was very good, very loud and fun to watch, but the music simply left me cold.
The headliner for the evening was MC Frontalot I'm not a huge rap or hip-hop fan, but I certainly enjoy quite a bit of it so I was really looking forward to seeing the man who made "nerdcore" a household word. The set got off to a great start when Wil Wheaton came out on stage with a Guitar Hero guitar and started playing, because Frontalot was going to be unavoidably delayed. It wasn't long until the MC came out and ripped into his set. Musically and visually it was a great set. The man is fabulous entertainer with a great shtick. The biggest downfall (and I'm going to sound like my parents here) was that I couldn't understand a word the man was rapping. Travis felt the same way, and that took us way out of the set. For those who actually knew what he was rapping about it had to be a great and very enjoyable set.
Once the concert was over two very tired guys headed to the car and the trip back to the hotel. It had been a great first day at our first ever PAX. We fell into our beds just before 3am both dreading and looking forward to the alarms the next morning.
Saturday, September 19. 2009
Just about a year ago while reading the gaming news I saw the video linked to in this blog post.. As I bemoaned in that post, I knew Travis and I should have been there. I vowed then and there to remedy that.
PAX is a three-day long convention for gamers that has been held in Seattle for the last six years. It is put on by the guys who created one of the most successful web-comics on the the net, Penny Arcade. While mostly thought of in the context of video games, it also is all about RPGs (e.g., Dungeons & Dragons) and board games. This year they had the entire convention center space, and sold close to 60,000 tickets.
The week passes for PAX 2009 went on sale I bought two, one for me and one for Travis. I then started to plot the most epic weekend for a father and son ever. Sometime in the early summer I was speaking with my boss and told him I was a bit worried, I built up this amazing picture in my head of just what kind of event it would be and I was becoming terrified that it couldn't possibly live up to my expectations. He told me not to look for trouble where there wasn't any. That was good advice.
Two weeks before the event I went online to look at the "deals" that were available for hotel rooms close to the convention center. I was appalled at how expensive they were and came to the conclusion that staying farther away and paying for the exorbitant parking at the convention center ($25/day) would be much cheaper than staying within walking distance. In addition I'd be able to afford a room with two beds, a definite plus. So I booked us into the Days Inn in Midtown Seattle, a location that was five miles north of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.
As far as I was concerned, the evening of Thursday, September 3rd, when Travanoid and rhacer would toss their gear into the back of the GTI and head north to Seattle could not come quickly enough.
We got off to a slightly later start than I had hoped, but the GTI did very well on it's first trip of any real length, with a quick stop at our new favourite fast food joint, Jack in the Box, and four CDs full of MP3s in the CD changer, we made excellent time and were in our motel room before 10:00pm.
The room was much bigger than we would have expected, and included a small sitting area. The queen beds were comfortable, and while the TV was crappy, it was good enough to keep us entertained with some silliness on MTV before we turned the lights out at an early for us 11:00pm.
Neither Travis nor I are what could be called "morning people" but we knew we needed to be early enough the next day to be amongst the first 4,000 in line as those were the people who would be given wristbands that guaranteed them a spot at the Friday night concerts. The doors would open at 8:00am and the expo proper would open at 10:00am. We wanted to be their closer to the 8:00am mark, hence the early bedtime.
Wednesday, August 19. 2009
Back at the end of June, Travis rented [Prototype] from our friendly neighbourhood Blockbuster. He liked it well enough that he kept it beyond the week, and Jennifer returned it a week or so late.
Yesterday while I was reviewing bank statements I discovered a charge for $59.99 on my credit card on July 1st. Having no idea what it was I called Blockbuster and asked. They were more than happy to tell me it was for the unreturned copy of [Prototype]. Knowing very well that Jennifer had returned the game I asked what could be done and was told I would need to call back when the manager was on duty. This morning I called back and talked to the manager. I told him the story, he asked me a few questions, and while not happy about doing so, he credited my account for the $59.99.
I had no proof that Jennifer had returned the game. I know she did but could not prove that. In addition it had been a long time since the charge was placed on my credit card. Note to self: pay closer attention to your credit card statements. Despite those things the manager chose to do the right thing. In a world where the customer is very rarely looked out for, I appreciate it very much when people do look out for their customers and do the right thing.
Wednesday, August 5. 2009
The oils in my hands seem to be naturally acidic. This came into play on my old PowerBook G4 where whatever it is my skin secretes ate away the the brushed aluminum finish and turned the wrist rests into a pitted black mess. I decided I wouldn't go through that again with my MacBook Pro, so I did some investigation and came up with Marware's solution to the problem. It looked like exactly what I needed to prevent my lovely aluminum finish being destroyed. When I got it I asked Jennifer, who is far more skilled at such things than I am, to apply all the appropriate sticky bits to all the appropriate places (both wrist rests and the trackpad). I was greatly pleased. The "feel" took a bit of getting used too, but I was very pleased with the quality and the look (the look is definitely not enhanced, but it not as horrible a blemish as it might have been).
I used everything quite happily for a couple of weeks and then it happened. The film over the track pad wrinkled just a tiny bit on the edge closest to the screen. I took my credit card and re-stuck it down, but within an hour or so it was back to being wrinkled, I decided I was going to have to live with it, but over the course of a few days three more little wrinkles appeared across the top edge, and finally I couldn't stand it any more and I peeled the entire film off. I sent an email to the support address at Marware telling them how happy I was with the wrist protectors, but also letting them know about my problem with the trackpad film. I didn't ask for a replacement, I didn't ask for a refund, I just let them know what had happened. Within 24 hours I had a response from Marware, saying "That shouldn't have happened, we'll get a replacement to you immediately." They didn't even ask for my address as they were competent enough to look up my mailing address based on my email address. Within a few days I had a replacement trackpad film in my mail box. I consider that to be exceptional customer service and I am more than happy to tell anyone who will listen about that experience.
Shortly after my father died in April I was shocked to discover that there was a bit of life insurance and a couple of small annuities of which I was one of the beneficiaries. I got some forms I was supposed to fill out, but had no information whatsoever about the amounts of money involved, or the time periods over which the annuities would pay out or the tax status of those annuities. Without that information I had no good way of filling out the forms I had been provided. Attached to the forms was Marci's business card from a company called Bankers, it included all the required contact information so I thought getting the information I needed would be quite easy.
Most of you who know me know that I hate the telephone. I would rather email than phone, I would rather text message than phone I would rather send smoke signals than use the phone. I sent Marci an email and then waited, I didn't hear back so sent another email the next day. I didn't hear back so sent yet another email for days later. I didn't hear back. Then I went and checked my spam folder. I use SpamSieve, and it works very well, however it had flagged Marci's response to me as spam and I was mortified to discover that the increasingly irate tone of my email had been completely undeserved. I sent an email of apology and we started over. I got the information I needed, delivered the forms to her office, and waited and waited. I wasn't too concerned about the money until Jennifer lost her job, then it became a bit more important.
Any time I call the office at Bankers and dial Marci's extension I get voice mail, given the number of calls, I would have expected her to pick up her office phone at least once. When I dial 0 to get the receptionist I once again get voice mail, only this time it's a general mail box. I was trying for several days to get her, but before we were able to connect I received some checks in the mail. I thought "Great! everything is resolved!" but then noticed that I still hadn't received a check for the life insurance. So I continued to call, and finally I got a call back. "There's a problem," she said "You need to fill out this other form and sign it." She faxed it to me and I faxed it back. Everything should have been good, but more weeks went by and still no check.
Once again I tried the phone calls, once again, no one in the Bankers office would pick up the phone, once again I left messages. Finally she called back. "Ohh I'll check on that for you." Miracle of miracles, I actually got a call back, it was on Friday the 24th of July. She said the check had been cut. It would be mailed to her office and would be available likely by Wednesday of the next week. She also told me she would call me to tell me when it came in.
On Wednesday of the next week I went on vacation for a week. I didn't get a phone call while I was gone. I didn't get a check while I was gone. I called this morning, as usual she didn't answer her phone. I left a message asking her to call me. I wonder how long that will take.
Just as I can't recommend Marware highly enough, I can't say enough bad things about Marci and Bankers. Bankers is a company that sells products that put them in close contact with the bereaved on a daily basis, people who need their hands held, and shoulders to cry on and understanding and care, not the thoughtless, careless and callous treatment that I have seen in the three months I have been dealing with them.
So if you're looking for life insurance or annuities I can't suggest strongly enough that you steer clear of Bankers. If you already, do business with them then please steer clear of Marci in the NE Portland Office.
Friday, July 24. 2009
Well I've been making lots of potato and pasta salad this summer experimenting with several variations. However, I've gotten a bit tired of that and wanted to do something different last weekend. When I got in the car to head to the grocery I had no idea what I wanted to do by the time I made it to the grocery I had a pretty good plan. I just didn't know if it would work. It worked very well, and my wife liked the salad more than the main course. Here is a broad outline of the recipe used. I didn't pay attention to how much of some things I put in, so they're best guesses.
* 2 Large tins of chicken in water
* 1 Mango diced
* 1 Cup Mayonnaise
* 1 Handful of Golden Raisins
* 1/4 Cup Sliced Almonds
* 1/8 Cup Shelled Sunflower Seeds
* 3 tsp Curry powder
* 1/2 tsp Cumin
* 1/2 tsp Garlic Salt
The most painful part of this is dicing the mango!
Mix in a bowl, chill and serve.
Next time I will likely grill chicken breasts and cube them instead of using the tinned chicken. I'm also contemplating using whole cashews or those crispy oriental noodles.
Just made this for the second time I grilled three chicken breasts and cubed them in place of the tinned chicken. It turned out far better than expected.
Wednesday, May 27. 2009
I love Star Trek I loved the original series, I loved The Next Generation, loved it when they changed things up with Deep Space Nine, enjoyed Voyager, and paid no attention whatsoever to Enterprise. The films were a mixed bag, from brilliant science fiction to abysmal efforts created solely for the purpose of extracting money from die-hard Trek fans. This film is definitely not the latter.
With each Trek film I looked forward to it with fear and trepidation. We knew long ago that this was going to take the characters we love and give us a prequel to the series, but how do you successfully replace William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig? If you're J.J. Abrams you hire Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Anton Yelchin. These newcomers slip into their predecessor's roles almost seamlessly. In some cases the resemblances are uncanny.
The new film gets us off to a very emotional start as we see James T. Kirk's father saving the lives of many hundreds of his crew mates at the very same moment that the baby James is being born. The young Kirk turns into a rough and ready rebel, drinking hard, playing hard and fighting hard. We see a young Spock on Vulcan being tormented by his school mates for being half human. This eventually leads to the most inventive use of "Live long and prosper" ever captured on film or video tape.
Bruce Greenwood, far too often cast as a heavy, plays Christopher Pike the commanding officer of the Enterprise. He meet with the young Kirk and encourages him to follow in his father's footsteps which eventually he does, taking his hell-raising ways to Starfleet Academy, and setting up the all the required meetings to get The Crew together.
The action is fast and exciting, the story much better than recent Trek films, but also with some glaring plot problems that, if they had been conquered, would have pushed this into Wrath of Khan quality territory. Unfortunately while it is quite possible to suspend disbelief for the duration of the film, mostly due to it's fast and furious pace, those plot problems come back to haunt you when reflecting on the movie.
The performances are really quite brilliant all around. Zachary Quinto is Spock, there is never any question. Chris Pine does well with his portrayal of Kirk, resurrecting many of the mannerisms, but discarding the delivery. Karl Urban looks so much like a young Dr. McCoy that you might have trouble distinguishing the two. The backstory of why he has joined Starfleet is quite entertaining. Everyone else does very well.
While, upon further review, the story fails, I still would place this film high on the list of Trek films. Because of the ingenious manner of resetting the story, it is possible that we will see some very good films in the future. Of course, it's also possible that this will be viewed as an excuse to regularly milk money from the new generation of Trek fans.
I hope that the next installment is of the quality of Khan. That would be totally awesome.
Tuesday, May 19. 2009
I'm not much of a cook, but recently have done a bit of it. This last Sunday I wanted to try my hand at potato salad. I'm not good with recipes. Usually when I try a recipe I mess it up and get discouraged and then won't try again. Since I've been enjoying doing some cooking I just decided to do it recipe-less and see what happens. William happened to be home with me and the two of us came up with some pretty darn brilliant potato salad, and in a somewhat ironic twist, I thought I would post the recipe.
* 3# potatoes
* 6 hard boiled eggs
* 6 - 8 strips of bacon
* 1/4 cup chopped red onion
* 3/4 cup Mayonnaise
* 1/4 cup Miracle Whip
* A tiny bit of yellow mustard
* 1/8 tsp curry powder
* 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
* salt to taste
* Boil the potatoes in their skins and then cube
* Boil the eggs then dice
* Fry the bacon then dice
* Mix everything in a large bowl
Tuesday, May 5. 2009
Last night I finally finished Fallout 3. I had enjoyed many many hours of playing this excellent game. A world full of interesting characters, interesting questions, and interesting places. Sure I was disappointed at the level cap (one of the reasons the game fell to the wayside of my gaming), but I understand that it was part of the price we paid for not having auto-leveling bad-guys in the game (like we did in Oblivion). On the whole my experience as I wandered through the Capital Wasteland was one of awe and deep enjoyment. There were so many little touches that made it possible to completely lose yourself in the world these incredibly talented developers had created.
And then we got to the finale, and instead of putting the capstone on this incredible piece of work, the game came to an Epic Failure. Not just a small gaffe, not a tiny distraction, but an Epic Failure. I won't go into to details as I hate spoilers as much as the next person, but the ending tossed out everything we might have expected for this game based on how things were handled at the end of Oblivion, based on what we had learned about our avatar as we wandered through the beautiful Capital Wasteland, based on the skills and items I had picked up in my wandering. It all came crashing down in a nonsensical jumble that left me incredibly disheartened and wondering whether I will be investing in the DLC Bethesda have made available for the game.
I don't understand how something so beautiful could end up so disappointing.
Monday, April 20. 2009
Last Thursday night David (our DM), Joe, Scott and I made two major decisions. The first was to roll up 4th Edition characters, the second was to get Travis involved in our game. I've been pestering Travis for a while about it, but rolling up new characters made it just too good an occasion for him not to join in. So he did.
Rolling up characters is a bit of a misnomer for 4th Edition as rolling the dice to generate characters under the new rules is frowned upon. But he had a lot of fun creating a new group of characters (I used the Players Guide 2 and created a Longtooth Shifter Warden). Originally I was going to be a Halfling Rogue but Joe wanted to play a Halfling so I used the opportunity to try something completely different.
We still have lots of questions about the new rules and how powers and feats and everything else all work together. We spent a lot of time looking at the Players Guides and trying to decipher exactly what some of the things meant, but in general it seemed to work out quite well.
I'm looking forward to our gaming session this Thursday night.
Wednesday, April 8. 2009
Today I wore tartan in honour of my father who departed this life somewhere near 4:00am Pacific Daylight Time. I'm still trying to come to grips with how to respond, my Grant tartan tie is just a small way for me to show some level of respect at his passing. I struggled with my relationship with my father. I'm struggling with his passing. I was fortunate enough that my wife insisted I go to the hospital on Sunday to visit him. The last time I saw him in the hospital he picked a fight with me from his hospital bed. This time I don't know if he even recognized me. None of the things that could have been (possibly needed to be) said were said. Hopefully my holding the hand of this frail old man was enough to convey that I loved him.
I loved my dad. We couldn't be in the same room, but I still loved him. I've never understood why he chose to become who he became, or act in the ways he chose to act. Actually, that's a lie, I know all too well what happened. I don't know why he made the choices he did, but I know what happened.
William Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkien (or perhaps it was Peter Jackson's take on Tolkien) provide the best pictures. The Bard gave us Othello in which the good and noble man falls prey to the whisperings of Iago, destroying not only those around him but himself. Jackson paints a portrait in his film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. His brush gives us Théoden, a good and wise monarch who has fallen under the spell of Gríma Wormtongue, becoming completely ineffectual as a leader, unable to think or act for himself. In both cases a strong and good man is brought low by not the weapons, but the words of others.
So now I have a choice. I can choose to remember the man I knew as a boy, into my teens, twenties, and early thirties, the huge, tall man with the booming voice. The man who fought a war as part of the Greatest Generation. The man who taught me to drive, and then allowed me to drive him thousands of miles around the Northwest as he traveled from one small town to another to minister in their churches. The man who shared season tickets with me to the Portland Pride. The man who would road trip with me to Seattle to watch the Timbers or the Pride or the Pythons. The man who attended a Blazers game with me on Christmas Night when I was just a pup. The man who didn't appreciate the music I listened to, but never told me to turn it off. The man who shared Monty Python with me. The man who taught me to drive a standard transmission while traveling to England, then let me let it rip when we hit the Autobahns in Germany. The man with whom I saw Shindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. The man who never missed a Blazers game on the radio and would often sit with me in the car not wanting to get out so we could hear the end of the game before going on about whatever it was we needed to do. The man, who for a Christmas when I was just a lad, completely disassembled, painted by hand, and rebuilt a bicycle in secret so it would be waiting under the tree for me. The man who introduced me to Alistair MacLean and C. S. Forrester. The man who I am now shedding tears over losing.
Or I can remember what he became due to the influence of others.
I think I will choose the former.
I love you Dad.
Wednesday, February 18. 2009
Several months ago, my wife asked me if I were to buy a car, what kind of car I would buy. I had an immediate answer to that question: Mini Cooper S or Volkswagen GTI. The very next day, my neighbour's son came for a visit and he was in a brand new 09 GTI. I admired it, I got to go for a ride in it. I lusted after it, but I just couldn't afford one. I kept my eye on Craigslist, and Auto Trader, and eBay looking for something affordable, but nothing really showed up.
I test drove one that was affordable, but the car was way too beat up and the guy selling it couldn't answer any questions about why it was so beat up, so I took a pass and kept looking.
A couple of weeks ago, the chain on my motorcycle broke on my way home from the office. Thankfully I was not on the freeway, and was able to keep the bike upright (but just barely). I was incredibly frustrated it was a pretty new chain and this type of thing shouldn't have happened. Beyond the frustration though was a sense of mortality. Anyone who knows me knows I've been down while riding more than once. Every time I just got right back up on the bike and rode. I'm not sure I could go down again and get back on the bike. Maybe I'm too old for the pain. Maybe I have new senses of responsibility. I just don't know. This gave me the impetus to re-double my efforts in getting a vehicle.
Finally I decided on this little beauty. It had relatively high miles (54K) but I'd been reading about people with many more than that who were quite happy with their vehicles and had little to no trouble. I had a friend who's a dealer run the VIN, and it came up clean, so last weekend while my wife was at the coast I went and bought my first car in a long long time.
The best part about it is that I can't keep the grin off my face while driving. I didn't think that kind of feeling was possible off the bike.
Friday, January 23. 2009
Today I read the news report that Vic Crowe, the original head coach of the Portland Timbers had died.
Those early NASL teams put Portland on the map with regard to soccer in the USA. Many of those players still live and work and coach here, and the University of Portland is one of the great powerhouses in college soccer in this country, due in part to Clive Charles, who played for Vic.
Vic Crowe and his teams were my introduction to soccer, and what a wonderful and amazing it game it is. I was a little stunned at just how hard the news hit me when I read it.
So the 12 year-old boy in me says "Thank you Vic for all the excitement you helped provide me when I was growing up."
The 45 year-old man in me says "Thank you Vic for helping instill in me a life long love of soccer."
Tuesday, January 6. 2009
I'm trying to sell some things on craigslist. I got a response last night from firstname.lastname@example.org who asked if I still had the bed I'm selling. I responded with yes, to which they sent the following:
Thanks for the prompt response and i will love to make an instant
purchase,so pls do withdraw the advert from Craigslist,i don't mind
adding an extra $50 for you to take the advert down from craigslist
so that i can be rest assured that am in hand of the item. I will
also like you to know that i will be paying via check,and it will be
over night payment due to the distance .You don't need to bother your
self with the shipment ,i will take care of that.So i will need you to
provide me with the following information to facilitate the mailing of
the check. 1.Your full name 2.Your mailing address be it residential
or postal address 3.Your phone number.i wishes you a happy new Year
I was blown away that apparently he expected me to ship my bed with no money up front and then wait for a check.
A check that likely would never come.
I responded with "Sorry, cash only."
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