Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Praise Be to the Football Gods

Praise be to the Football Gods, who, in Their divine wisdom, have smiled upon the Redskins thereby allowing the 'Skins a chance at the post season! Praise be!

I have been a Redskins fan since they beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. I can remember my 5th grade teacher giving us extended recess every time the 'Skins won a playoff game, culminating in a full day of recess after the Super Bowl win, and a party, complete with popcorn, to watch the homecoming parade. I can vividly remember watching TV as John Riggins barrelled down the sidelines, a Miami defender helplessly hanging on to his leg. Since that time I have enjoyed watching them win the Super Bowl twice more, and have suffered through many the losing season, these past 6 years being nigh unbearable, particularly because I was living in DC and unable to escape the endless coverage of their craptitude. The signing of Deion Sanders was a particularly low point in my life, and one that I look back on with scorn and derision.

Through it all, I have never once entertained the notion of liking another team. Sure I have shown interest in AFC teams due to certain members helping me to win FFL Super Bowls (Steve McNair comes to mind), but even when the Redskins were at their lowest point, I have never waivered in my devotion. Complained? Yes. Bitched and moaned? Certainly. But waivered? Never. I have also never missed wearing a jersey on game day since I started the tradition several years ago. My children now share in this tradition and I have told my wife that my kids can be whatever they want, gay, straight, whatever, but if they become Dallas fans, they're out of the will.

I believe in the Redskins. I also believe in the Football Gods, that mystic pantheon of deities that watch over football matches and grant their favor to those teams that show guts, patience and fortitude on the field. The Football Gods smile upon those teams that use the run to set up the pass. On those that go for it on 4th and 2. On those that aren't afraid to try for 2 to avoid overtime.

On many occasions, the Redskins have run afoul of the Football Gods. Having a phenomenal running back in Stephen Davis, and wasting him on some god-awful pass-heavy, Steve Spurrier offensive monstrosity incurred their wrath. Insisting on signing talented individuals who were concerned with nothing but their own stats, rather than the good of the team, cost them the favor of the Football Gods. Even this season, when their balanced attack and stalwart defense were pleasing to the Gods, they ran up the score against the hapless 49ers one week, and were rewarded with a full-on ass whupping at the hands of the Giants the next. Trifle not with the Football Gods, lest ye be punished.

So, as we entered these last few weeks of the season, and the Redskins faced down three divisional opponents in a row, a stretch of games the outcome of which would decide whether or not the Redskins made it to the playoffs, I turned to the Football Gods for help. As anyone who plays in Fantasy Football Leagues will tell you, the FFL playoffs and Super Bowl are all held in the weeks leading up to the end of the regular season, the idea being that the star players are all still playing well to get those coveted real life playoff spots. I was well on my way to making an appearance in my FFL's Super Bowl, and while money wasn't involved, a lot of effort is involved from week to week to not care about the outcome of the season.

With this in mind, I made a plea to the Football Gods on the day of the Dallas game. Take my FFL Team. Take my Vegas Odds Pick'em Score. Take them both, but smile upon the Redskins. For the Football Gods are the Old Gods, and the Old Gods demand sacrifice. The Redskins completely demolished the Cowboys, I moved into first place in the Vegas pool, and moved on to the FFL Super Bowl. While I was happy for the Redskins, I was concerned for it would appear that my sacrifice was not accepted. As it turns out, I was incorrect. Both of my running backs were injured, causing me to make last minute drafts. I entered the FFL Super Bowl unsure as to my prospects, but mindful of my promise.

Again, prior to the Giants game, I made the same promise. This time, the Football Gods took their payment. The Redskins beat the Giants, and I lost to my opponent in the FFL Super Bowl, by an amount that would have been easily surpassed had I started one of my original WR's. The full measure of the Football Gods' plan was then apparent to me. The sacrifice that I was making would be the hardest to make, only if it were the championship game, and only if it were such that I felt it was preventable. They are wise in their ways, the Football Gods are. Was I upset? Surely, for one doesn't play unless one expects to win, but my dissappointment in losing is nothing compared to my excitement that the Redskins are one win away from their first post-season appearance since 1999.

This week, I have nothing to give but my Vegas Odds score, which I will gladly give up for their favor. It is a small price to pay to see my beloved Redskins achive some semblance of the glory that they once held. Plus, I really fucking hate the Eagles.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Best of 2005 Awards

It's that time of year again, time to dig deep into ye olde memory sack and recognize the best moments of 2005. Rather than have some formal award categories I'm just going to bust some crazy freestyle shit on ya. Time to get crack-a-lackin'.

Best Trip
One would think that the trip we took to get our daughter would be best trip, but that trip was an excersise in pure fucking misery. Yes, the end result was great, but the trip itself was shit. No, this year, the Best Trip award goes to the trip that we took to Atlanta to buy our house. That trip had it's share of misery in it as well, but we did manage to have some good dinners out, we got to spend more time in Atlanta to be sure that we wanted to live here, and we ended up being in the right place at the right time to get our house, at about $40k less than what it should have been priced at. We also got to spend 2 days with a realtor who was spawned in the pits of Hell, which gave us plenty to talk about for months and months.

Best Movie I Saw In the Theater
It's rare for the missus and I to actually go to the movies, due to the fact that we have kids, and we have a theater in our basement that neither a) charges 20 bucks for movies, b) smells like popcorn and cat piss and c) has unruly teenagers who can barely control their hormonal responses. However there are a few movies that we will make the trek out to take in. This year, I distinctly remember "Star Wars Episode 3", "Fantastic Four" (I had a free ticket), "Batman Begins", "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and this year's hands down winner, "Serenity". Along with being just a kick-ass movie, Serenity was the extension of one of our most favorite TV shows ever, so the level of excitement was very high. Add to that the fact that it actually delivered, and I ditched work to see it, and you have a very hard film to beat. I know that some of you (Bones, I'm looking at you) will be shocked and dismayed to not see Batman Begins take this prize, but allow me to explain. There's a scene in "Saving Private Ryan", where Tom Hanks is talking about his wife working in the rose garden, and when he's prompted to talk more about it, he says something like "No. That one's for me." That's what Batman is. I have a great deal of emotion invested in that character to the point where no movie could ever live up to what I have in my head, nor would I want it to. To paraphrase, that one's for me.

Best Magazine That Makes Me Feel Like An Idiot
That would be The Economist. I started reading The Economist to get a more worldly view of things, as well as get a view of the US from outside of the States. The Economist fits the bill for both things nicely. Plus, it covers pretty much the entire planet, so it's guaranteed that every week I'll learn something new. For example, did you know that in Quebec, margarine has to be white? Yep. The dairy council doesn't want the citizens of Quebec to confuse margarine with butter so in order to sell margarine in Quebec, it has to be white. Never mind the fact that "Margarine" and "Butter" only share two letters, and that they aren't packaged in clear boxes and that my margerine comes in a big brown tub and my butter comes in a box with an indian on it. I guess when all of your country's citizens have health care and all consenting adults can be in legally recognized committed unions, all you have left is to worry about dairy. Ha! Actually Canada is in the midst of some fucked up shit, fucked up shit I learned about by reading The Economist. One word of warning, a lot happens in the world in one week, so if you do decide to subscribe, don't plan on being able to take an issue into the toilet and finish it up over your morning constitution, unless said constitution spans several days.

Best Sandwich
This one was pretty much locked up until this past weekend. There's a chain of delis here (Jason's Deli) that has a sandwich called the New York Yankee. It's about 3 pounds of corned beef, three pounds of pastrami and some swiss cheese all on rye bread. No condiments, no vegetables, just paper thin brisket mingling in spicy harmony. Combine it with their potato salad and you'd be hard pressed to beat it. Or so I thought. Enter Bobby G's a Chicago style eatery here in Alpharetta. They have a sandwich called The Superior Avenue Super Combo that is the Divine come to Earth and made sandwich. Imagine a hoagie roll, sliced open and filled with either hot or mild sausage. Now place tasty, simmered meatballs every place that there isn't sausage and lovingly drape Italian Beef over the whole thing. Cover all the meat with mozzerella and provelone and toast the sandiwich to melt the cheese and crisp up the bun. It is fucking amazing. And at 7 bucks a pop, you'll be in the ICU in no time.

Best Potato Chip
What's a sandwich without chips? Target sells these Archer Farms Parmesan Garlic potato chips that are like little crack snack chips. The fact that I'm at Target every week buying some movie or cd means that I can get my fix weekly. Alas, this will have to end with the new year as I'm starting to gain back all the weight I lost in Russia. I'm lovingly staring at a bag now, trying to figure out how to tell it that our illicit union can't continue.

Best Despoiled Starlet
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Some may think it's Britney Spears, but she was never unspoiled in my opinion. No, this year's award has to go to Katie Holmes. I got nothing against Tom Cruise. He's a good actor. I count many of his films as some of my favorites, but I think he's somewhat crazy. The fact that he's now pulled Katie Holmes into his web of lunacy and used her to sire his heir, kind or irritates me. Not that I ever had a chance with Ms. Holmes, but up until now, she was my go to actress in the event I had to pick someone from Hollywood to think of in naughty ways. No more. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. Obviously more so for me than for her.

Hottest Woman on TV
Man, was this a tough one. This year has just been overflowing with attractive women on tv. First we have the return of Alyson Hannigan on "How I Met Your Mother". She's always been a favorite of mine, but between being a lesbian, and channeling massive amounts of dark power on Buffy, I felt Willow to be a tad inaccessible. Her new character, Lily, is a cute, hard partying kindergarten teacher. The character plays well to Hannigan's strengths and is extremely well acted with the right touch of Willow innocence and American Pie lustiness. Then you have Cobie Smulders, who plays Robin on the same show. Wow. She reminds me very much of Jennifer Connelly which is like being reminded of sunshine and apple pie. The show itself is really funny, and the fact that there are two very attractive women on it don't hurt. We also have the return of Paula Marshall to tv, on "Out of Practice" also a very good sit-com on CBS. Charlize Theron was on "Arrested Development" for 5 episodes, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledell look better every year on "Gilmore Girls" and Emily Deschanel elevates the tank top to high art on "Bones". Hot, hot, hot, hot and hot. However, one woman, rose above all the others to take the award for this year. That would be Kristen Bell, who plays Veronica Mars on the series of the same name. A fantastic actress on a great show and she just happens to be drop-your-laundry, amazingly hot. Check her out in the movie "Spartan" or in the first season of "Deadwood" as half of a conniving brother-sister team. The only thing better than snarky Kristen Bell is angry, profanity spewing Kristen Bell.

Best Use of Carla Gugino's Assets
"Sin City". Wow. I mean, just, wow.

Best Slogan I Saw On A Church Messageboard
"Worry is the thief of joy." I liked this one because it wasn't preachy, it didn't rely on puns, but mostly because it was 100% correct. This was a big year of worries for us. We were worried about the move, then worried about me being unemployed, then worried about the adoption. All of it turned out ok, and in retrospect, our worries were unfounded. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but hopefully a year of worries that ended up being nothing will teach me that worrying does nothing but make you miss out on the life you're currently living.

Ugliest Chicken
Wow. That is one fucking ugly chicken.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Xbox 360 Initial Impressions

I finally got my 360 and it was not without drama. As I mentioned before, I didn't get one at launch, but I finally managed to snag one off of the mythical second shipment. Not sure how that happened. When I called the store on Tuesday I was told that they only got 2 units in, one was for a preorder and one was for someone who needed their busted unit replaced. 20 minutes later the store calls home and tells me (well, not me, my brother-in-law if you want the truth) that they had an "extra" one. Um, OK. No, I didn't ask where the extra one came from. My initial thought was that maybe they were going to give me the one that was being returned as defective, but all the parts were safely entombed in plastic upon opening the box, so I'm pretty sure that tampering was nonexistant. There's still some preorder credit business I have to work out with the manager, but I wasn't about to leave my console there over a measly 20 bucks.

Setup was uneventful. I think that Microsoft must have controlling interest in a plastic company as pretty much everything was nestled in it's own bag. I gave them to the baby to play with. In minutes she was sleeping, so mission accomplished. I kid! All the cables were plenty long enough to accomodate my setup, which was refreshing. Usually I need to move things all over the place to get it the way it needs to be.

The unit itself looks pretty nice, certainly better than the Xbox. I've heard the words "sleek" and "sexy" bandied about but personally, I think it's rubbish. A 350Z is sleek and my wife is sexy but their sleek-and-sexiness is important because neither one of them have been shoved in my entertainment cabinet where noone can see them. The PSP was sleek and it had shit for games. The iPod is sexy, but my Creative Zen player had more functionality and cost less, so let's not get too caught up in how the damn thing looks.

The controller isn't something I think about, which is probably the biggest compliment I can give a controller. The original Xbox controller was a painful exercise in anti-ergonomics. The 360 controller is very much like the WaveBird (big surprise there) in that it's small, it's wireless and all of the buttons are very easy to find. I do like that I can press the Guide button and turn the unit on from the seat, but seeing how 9 times out of 10 I'd have to get up to put a game in, it isn't as useful as the remote for your TV.

They've done some really cool things with how all of the different parts of the 360 work together. I haven't spent much time with the media streaming functionality as I'm usually playing games that require me to pay attention to the ingame sounds, but should I ever get my hands on a racing game, I'll definitely be looking into how to stream music off of my iPod. The ability to pause your game and interact with the dashboard is very cool, although it's not as robust as I had imagined. There are still a fair number of things that will end your game session, but I guess that's to be expected. Not having read too much about it ahead of time, I expected a lot more. Curse my foul ignorance!

Games look good. Call of Duty 2 is pretty damn good looking and has a ton going on at once. Those pesky Germans are at it again, and it's up to you to recreate some of WWII's hairiest battles and lead the allies to victory. Or something. Perfect Dark Zero looks kind of plastic-y, like the special effects in the Star Wars prequels, and the movement speed is slow to the point of being distracting. Condemned has some nice menus but I haven't touched a lick of gameplay. The games aren't anything I would expect from a Next Generation system however they're exactly what I'd expect at launch, if that makes any sense. 6 - 12 months from now, the games that will be coming out for this thing will be probably be nothing less than staggering.

The Xbox Live Marketplace is where this thing really shines. On Monday, the trailer for X3 was available online. I watched it on my laptop and thought it was pretty cool, despite Dr. Frasier Crane being cast as Beast. By Thursday I could download the trailer to the 360 and watch the trailer in glorious Hi-Def on my 92" movie screen. That's cool. There's a ton of game related content to purchase as well, including themes for your 360 and pictures for your Gamercard. There are also demos of classic arcade games like Joust and Smash TV as well as new games such as Bankshot Billiards and other more puzzle-type games. I think that Bankshot Billiards is the most expensive at 1200 points (around 15 bucks). Given that it's a full blown billiards simulator that allows you to play online with other people, it's an incredible bargain for 15 dollars. I know it seems silly to pay 400 bucks for the console, just so you can play pool, but these kinds of games are games that the casual gamer can play, which is always a good thing. Also, it provides a distribution model for developers that create simpler, non-multibillion sellers. Basically it allows independent developers to bypass the retail chain altogether and get their games in front of folks that usually wouldn't look at them. The fact that you can download free demos of the games is brilliant too. This, and the ability to offer gamers things like new content, or just theme packs for them to customize their 360's, is what will really set the 360 apart from the other consoles.

It's too early to say whether or not the wait was worth it, but so far things look promising. The games that come out in another few months, once the original launch games have been exhausted will really tell the tale. In the meantime, who's up for some 8-ball?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Stop Me Before I Prune Again

It has come to my attention that we face a grave crisis in this country. The ease with which clumsy, incompetent yard-oafs such as myself can obtain deadly weapons is staggering. No, I'm not talking about your conventional weapons like pistols, shotguns or tactical nuclear missles, I'm talking about that subset of devices used to tame the most overrun of yards and bushes. Since moving here, I have obtained a number of these items with nary a backround check or even the most rudimentary investigations into my sanity or mental condition. In the hands of someone slightly more unhinged than I, these items could weave a tapesty of destruction across this land. Bear witness to my horticultural arsenal.

The Pruner
Imagine, if you can, a 9 foot long flexible shaft, capable of extending to 14 feet. Take said shaft and attach a 13 inch saw blade on the end of it, right above the hook that hides a springloaded blade capable of taking off a man's finger. Now add a 12 foot long length of cord that's anchored by a half pound piece of wood and you have 14' Compound Action Tree Pruner.

This particular piece of lawn equipment looks less like something you use to trim trees and more like something you get when you face down a mini-boss in your AD&D campaign. In fact, were I to come up with a name and a mythical backstory for my Tree Pruner, it would look something like this:

Three Brothers
Horuk, Chakti and Kural were simple farmers who wanted nothing of battle until an evil overlord invaded their lands and demanded that all who lived there swore fealty. Wishing nothing more than to be left alone, the brothers tried to avoid conflict until the overlord raided their village, killing all but the three brothers. Realizing that they were unable to defeat their foe on their own, the brothers prayed to their gods for the power to deliver their lands from oppression. This power came in the form of an idea, that separate they were but simple farmers, but together they were a force to be reckoned with. They challenged the overlord to battle, and the overlord, foolishly thinking he was no match for 3 peasants agreed. If he were to lose, his forces would withdraw forever, if he were to win, the brothers sacrificed their lives. As the battle started, the brothers circled their foe. With a quick strike from Horuk's staff the overlord was caught off balance and forced to focus his attention on Horuk, allowing Chakti to ensnare the overlord with his chain and pull him onto Kural's saw. In a moment the battle was over, the overlord was defeated and nothing remained but repayment to the gods. In a flash of lightning, the brothers were gone, called to the gods they prayed to, but this weapon remained, a testament to the power men can wield when working together.
+3 to hit
1d10 blunt damage
2d4 slashing damage
25% chance of casting Entanglement on successful hit

See! That's some serious shit! At the very least I feel like some sort of mythical warrior as I teach my holly trees just who is boss. At night I can hear their fevered whisperings, as they wonder who will be trimmed on the morrow.

The Blower
Technically this is a blower and a leaf vacuum, however there's not a lot that's dangerous about a leaf vacuum unless you decide to try and simulate some hickeys and end up pulling your jugular out of your neck. The blower, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with.

As we were researching blowers, it would appear that the number one factor into how well your blower can clear yard debris is the speed in which the air will come roaring out of your blower. 240MPH!!!! the boxes all scream. Their leaves must be heavier than my leaves. Perhaps they have cement trees or bedrock bushes, but to clear my leaves you need to go 40, maybe 50 tops. 240 MPH seems a bit excessive. Now, leaves, by themselves won't cause too much of a problem as long as they stay under light speed, but what can cause problems are these spiky horse chestnut things that drop from the trees and promptly harden up to the consistancy of diamond. If given a choice between carrying an M-16 into battle and carrying a 240MPH leaf blower and a bag of death chestnuts, I'll take the deathnuts any time. One shot from my Deathnuts and you'll have a hole in your chest bigh enough to store a loaf of bread in. Granted I need an outlet to keep my blower powered up, but I'm sure there's some sort of backpack generator that the military has come up with. They're smart fellows over there.

The Hedger
A hedger by itself is kind of scary. This one has a battery pack so that I can run rampant over the entire neighborhood for a horrifying 40 minutes before having to recharge for roughly 17 days. This thing is loud, like loud enough to cause startled expressions on small children and it can cut through a 1/4 inch branch like no one's business. What makes this particular hedger even scarier is the person who wields it. Consider these facts. Fact 1: Upon using my super-sharp Santoku blade for the first time, I ran my finger along the blade to remove the chopped carrots, almost removing my finger in the process. Fact 2: I have, on several occasions, cut my leg with the same knife because I wiped it clean on my pants, forgetting the fact that I was wearing shorts instead of pants. Fact 3: I have very little feeling in the tip of my left thumb, the hand that is used to hold whatever I'm chopping, due to the fact that I've repeatedly sliced, chopped and otherwise let blood from it. In fact, now, unless I get a good 1/4 inch cut there, it doesn't even bleed. Take a set of moving, clattering death blades and putting them in my hands is the very definition of lunacy.

You may have noticed that all of these tools are either red, or bright orange as if to unleash primal feelings of rage as I tend to my bushes. The very fact that I have to tend to my bushes gets me angry enough. You throw a screaming orange blower in my hand and I'm going to be looking to tear shit up.

I have mentioned, on many occasions, my concerns regarding my imminent delimbification when pruning to my wife, in the hopes that she would see that I am uniquely unqualified to wield these weapons of mass deforestation but she is singularly unrelenting. Once my Accidental Death and Dismemberment plan comes through, I may have to see what the going price is for losing a finger. That'll teach her a lesson. A five thousand dollar lesson. Cha-ching.