Monday, January 30, 2006

Ape Escape

Diary of Jack Driscoll

(Editor's Note - Jack Driscoll is the unfortunate playright hired to accompany the cast and crew to Skull Island where they have a run-in with a rather large monkey. Their story is told in a recent art house movie called King Kong. Perhaps you've heard of it. Said story is also told in a game called Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie , a game that takes about as long to play as it does to speak the title. This diary is a recollection of Jack's encounters while on Skull Island, as we see in the game. How we got it, I don't know. I tend not to ask too many questions as it only gets me into trouble when I have to take the stand.)

Day 1
Well here we are, beautiful Skull Island. The trip was OK, and mostly uneventful except for the part where I got nailed with a rock in the rowboat. Ouch. Head trauma aside, I'm not so sure about these people I'm traveling with. I don't know how to explain it, but when they talk, their mouths don't match up. I'm not speaking in metaphors here, their mouths literally don't move to match the words they're saying. Weird. Maybe that rock hit me harder than I thought. Plus, and I'm sure this is just me being picky, but I thought we were supposed to be in a glorious new age. If that's the case, nobody told these people because they look like shit. I'm sure I look fine, but without a mirror, it's hard to tell. My hands look wonderful, that much I can tell you.
5 minutes on the island and we've already been attacked by giant crabs. My traveling companions weren't much help. I hope they understand that I'm a playwrite, not the great white hunter. If I have to kill everything on this trip, it's going to be a short trip.
Our pilot can't land, which doesn't bode well for the trip. He's been able to drop supply crates everywhere, which is good, I guess. Man, they sure brought a lot of guns along on this trip. I'm beginning to think that answering that ad in the newspaper wasn't such a good idea. Limitless earning potential my ass.
Managed to burn some brush away to clear a path. Apparantly, I'm the only person here who can wield a burning spear as the other 3 just stood around barking orders at me like I'm their lapdog. Then, once we moved along and all got attacked by giant millipedes it was all "Jack save me!", "Jack where are you?" "Jack, it's eating my liver!" Jesus people, try to do something by yourself. When I get back home, the union is going to hear about this.
Man, Skull Island is dark! Most of the time I can barely see anything, and then, when I get bitten by something (which happens a lot), my vision goes all dark, things slow down and I hear angels. The music is nice, but when it gets dark like that, it makes it hard to hit whatever is trying to digest me. I can only assume this is a side affect of the blow to the head I took earlier. Sometimes, when things are really dark, everything gets a lot brighter, but washed out, as if some benevolent being somehow adjusted the world to be brighter. Not being an idiot, I use these time to figure out where the hell I'm going, but once I do, the affect mysteriously fades. I think I have a concussion or something.
For a portly guy, Denham can really move. This is doubly impressive because he's got that camera on his back. Once he sees where he wants to go, he's off like a shot. Ann too, and Hayes now that I think of it. Maybe they're all on something.
OK, now this is really weird. I was following a path that led into a valley. Ann was climbing the rocks to meet me there. I wasn't paying attention to what she was doing, because frankly she's very annoying, but I could hear her grunting away so I just assumed she was making progress. Well, I get to the valley and she's still grunting, grunting, grunting. I look up at the rocks to find her and she was climbing up into the sky. I'm serious. She was floating in the air. I looked away, and when I looked back, she was gone, but I could still hear her grunting. I found a ladder that would get me to the door lever, but I had a horrible rope climbing incident in PE as a child and ever since then, I can't climb ladders, ropes, really anything vertical. Just as I was standing there trying to figure out what the hell to do, I blacked out. When I came to, we were all standing there, Ann included as if I had never gone into the valley. This time I paid attention to Ann and shot a millipede that was trying to eat her. She then met me in the valley and opened the door for me. I think we're all being worked a little too hard to get things wrapped up for Denham's movie. I can't think of any other explanation.
More blackouts. Sometimes I really feel like I'm on Skull Island, like I'm a part of the whole thing, then I black out and I swear I see the word "Loading", whatever that means, and some other words that foreshadow what ends up happening. It tends to break the spell that Skull Island weaves. It's probably a tumor.

Day 2
Ann's gone. A big monkey took her. Yeah, I know. Looks like we won't be getting out of here any time soon.
Met up with Hayes. Man, he's bossy. The worst part about it, is he doesn't even pay attention. He's all like "Jack, you have to burn the bushes." So I do, the bushes are on fire and everything and again he's telling me to burn the bushes. So now the bushes are completely gone, and I'm walking up the path and he's telling me to burn the goddamned bushes. Jesus man, open your eyes! Denham isn't any better, in fact he's worse. I swear, I don't know what kind of cologne that guy uses but every creature on this island tries to eat that guy and it's up to me to keep them off of him. I knew I should have taken that job writing soap commercials.
Sorry I haven't written in a while but I've been pretty busy. Here's what I've been doing for the past few hours. Walk into a clearing, spear/shoot some dinosaurs, find some fire, burn some bushes, find a lever, open a door, walk to the next clearing. Occasionally I'll have to spear a grub or a big bug and throw it to get the swarming spider off of said lever. Good times. That Ann better be very appreciative of what I'm doing to rescue her, if you know what I mean. Very appreciative.
I blacked out again, and this time I dreamt that I was the monkey that took Ann. It was pretty cool to swing around and beat on other monsters, but just as I was getting into it, it was over. Based on our experiences, I don't think Denham should call his movie King Kong, I think he should call it "Spearing Monsters and Burning Bushes in a Very Dark Jungle". Catchy!
More monsters. More spearing. More burning bushes. Is it possible to be bored when one's life is constantly in danger? Allow me to answer. Yes, yes it is.
I don't think I've ever seen so many crates with so many sniper rifles. Next job I'm hired for, I'm going to ask how many sniper rifles they have laying about. If it's more than three, I ain't taking the job.
We found Jimmy. Man, that kid is annoying. All he does is whine. Of course, when we get on the rafts in the river, I'm stuck with him while Denham and Hayes are on the other raft. Once again, they're just bossing me around the whole time. Yes, Hayes, I know I have to burn the bridges. That's why they're on fire.
Had another blackout where I thought I was Kong. He fought some big V-Rex beast things. He seems to live the same repetetive life we're living at the moment. Beat up on some beasties, lift a pillar, break a door, wait for Ann to burn some brush, swing to the next clearing, beat up on some beasties, blah, blah, blah. He is a giant monkey, so I'm not sure what I'm expecting him to do, but Denham better hope that Kong does something other than this, because people won't stick around for it. I heard that Denham wants his movie to be 3 hours long. 3 hours long! A 3 hour King Kong movie? That's absurd!

Day 3
We got Ann back. Had another strange blackout. I got attacked by the V-Rex I was trying to distract while Ann opened the door, and when I came to, there was this horrible roaring in my ears that didn't subside even when I had another one of those weird Loading blackout thingies. This is starting to really bother me. I slept for a couple of hours and that seemed to fix it. As soon as we get back to civilization, I'm going to the doctor for my head and to the gym to learn how to climb a ladder. Let Ann distract the dinosaurs while I open the door. I mean, seriously.
Ann is gone. Again. We got trapped and she had to call Kong. Great idea except for the fact that he's not in love with the rest of us so he took her and just left us to die. Nice! Denham is gone too, which I'm OK with. His mouth movement were really starting to freak me out.
The pilot managed to land, which was good, except for the part where Jimmy got on the plane and they fucking left me here. Hayes was busy being eaten by something. Good riddance I say. Now it's up to me to find Ann and get back to the boat. Whatever. Next time a millipede wants to takes a chunk out of my leg, I may just let it. Hayes certainly looked happier.
We're leaving! Finally! After hooking up with Ann again and then losing her, I managed to make it down to the beach in time to see her and Kong come crashing through the trees. They gassed the crap out of him and he passed out. Denham wants to take him back to New York. Can you believe it? As if this whole trip wasn't bad enough, now we have to share the boat with a giant, stinking ape. Lovely. Dibbs on Hayes's suite. He won't be using it.

Two Weeks Later
Well, that was a disaster. Denham put up this big show, to unveil Kong and Kong managed to escape. He did a pretty good job of tearing up the joint, throwing cars and busting up stoplights. Eventually he grabbed Ann and climbed the Empire State Building where he was promptly shot down by planes. Oh well. I know I'm supposed to feel bad for Kong, but I didn't spend a lot of time with him. That was Ann's thing. Plus, after he dies, Denham said some sappy crap about it being beauty that killed the beast and his mouth didn't move at all. It just gaped open. Kind of hard to feel bad about a big dead monkey when a guy in tux and tails stands there, mouth agape, trying to wax philosophical. Frankly I'm just glad the whole trip is over. This is the last time I take a job based on the advice of someone who's high. Fucking Brits.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Parenting Lessons I've Learned

Now that I have a few years of parenting under my belt, I feel that I've learned a number of things that I'm now prepared to pass on to you. Those of you without children, but thinking of obtaining some can use these nuggets to prepare yourself for the ordeal, er, journey ahead. Those of you with children can hang your heads in shame because you know that you've done similar things but you're too afraid to share your knowledge. Be afraid no more!

Hand Lotion and Snow Globes Don't Mix
So there we were, the day before we were going to take Ben to a family party for his grand unveiling. Up until this time, Linda's parents were the only people in her family who had met Ben. Her parents were throwing a July 4th party in upstate NY for the family to meet Ben and my brother-in-law's soon to be wife and stepson. I'm against facial and head trauma on general principal, but even more so when you're meeting people for the first time. I've never had an introduction go well when one or more parties have gaping head wounds. Your experiences may vary.

So it's the day we're leaving and it's my turn to put Ben down for his nap. Given that it was a bath day, I decided to give him a bath before his nap, rather than before bed as we were flying up that day and I wanted him to be able to go right to bed that night should the traveling prove exhausting. As any good parent knows, you can't just bathe a child, you have to slather them with lotion, post-bath, lest you dry out their skin and they crumble into dust at the slightest breeze. This invariably makes your hands slippery for several hours. I once gave him a bath, put him down to bed and then used the bathroom, where I was trapped for 9 days because I couldn't open the doorknob. If this were a poorly made thriller, the camera would be lingering on my slippery hands for several shots, as if to tell you, the viewer, that something important was afoot.

Ben used to have this John Lennon Imagine snow globe in his nursery.
Note the faux rocky base, as this too will be important. It matched the decor of his room and played a soothing lullaby rendition of "Imagine" when wound up. The usual routine was to put Ben in his crib, wind up the snow globe so that he could see it, place the globe on the dresser and then leave the room. This morning, for reasons unknown to me, I decided to give him a closer look at the globe after I wound it up. He got a closer look all right, as after I showed it to him, I lifted it up about 6 inches to remove it from the crib, it slipped out of my lotion-y hands and promptly proceeded to nail him in the forehead, faux rock base first. Ben looked at me stunned for a second, as if to say "did you just drop a snow globe on my head?" and then proceeded to scream his head off as if to say "YOU JUST DROPPED A FUCKING SNOW GLOBE ON MY HEAD!!!"

Now, accidentally injuring your child is bad enough, but showing said injury to the child's mother is about a million times worse. This is especially true if a) the child has never had anything of real size dropped on their head b) the child is going to be unveiled to a significant portion of the family soon and c) whatever fell on the child's head appeared to have left a permanent indentation in said child's skull in the form of faux rock. Linda was not pleased. Ben was not pleased. By extension, I was not pleased, especially at the notion of telling multiple family members that the reason my son's forehead has been cleft in twain is because I dropped an ornamental music piece on his head. Doubly so because this was my wife's family, and relations between them and I had been rocky in the past so bludgeoning the only grandchild would not endear me to them. After checking to make sure he didn't have a concussion, we iced and treated the wound and put him to bed. The rest of the day went by without incident. The trip was successful and when I told people what happened, they looked at me as if to say that by this time they expected me to have sold the baby for cd money, so this was a minor infraction. There was no permanent scarring, but to this day, when we play "Imagine", Ben drops to his knees and clutches his forehead.

Bath Time Is Not Fun Time When Blood Is Involved
If it's not apparent yet that I really have no business raising, caring for, or even being left alone, for even a minute, with children, allow me to spin another tale. Abby absolutely hates to have her face wiped, washed, or in any way subjected to moisture. Even the slightest wind on her face makes her scrunch up her features as if someone had just dropped a snow globe on it. Prior to a week or so ago, this behavior did not extend to the bath, which was odd, because water is one of the defining characteristic of a bath. We've tried bathing them in tubs of dirt and that seemed counterproductive.

Last week, as Linda was giving Abby a bath, I heard screaming from the bathroom the likes of which one would attribute to a child being savaged by wolverines. I checked the wolverine pen and they all were accounted for, even crazy ol' Zeke who likes to try and gnaw through the cage as he hungrily eyes your tasty neck flesh. Oh Zeke, you're a hoot. Anyways, after the bath I asked Linda what forest creature came and devoured the baby and she told me that a little water got on Abby's face and as a result she cried to the point where her head popped off and rolled around the bathroom floor like a little purple turnip. Being the attentive father that I am, I filed this info for future baths.

Fast forward a couple of days and it's my turn to give Abby a bath. Things are going smoothly enough, and I've been able to keep water off of her face by letting her play with a hair dryer as she splashes around. What? Oh, right. Don't worry, I put it on the "Cold" setting. Anyway, as I'm cleaning her, a single drop of water leaped angrily from the washcloth and proceeded to speed through her hair, over the crest of her skull and land on her face. Fearing that this was but a precursor to a Niagara Falls type deluge, she proceeded to scream. Loudly.

Now, I'm usually one to let my kids cry it out, because as children, they spend 95% of their time crying about something and frankly I can't be bothered to deal with ministrating to their various concerns. I paid for them to get here, I'm paying for them to go to college, the in between is mostly up to them. But, this being a bathtub, and she being a small squirmy baby, I figured that I should make some small effort to calm her down. This is when I always get into trouble.

I grabbed this plastic swimming dog thing to make it dance around and splash in the water to mollify her. I moved the dog forward, looking away for a second to pick up the washcloth, she moved her head forward at considerable speed and dog met baby skull with a force slightly more than what I would have intended. This time there was no pause before the screaming, but I think it's because she was screaming already. She did bring her volume level up to a point I've never heard before. I can assure you that her lungs and vocal cords work just fine. I quickly finished the bath and got her out of there, where she promptly calmed down and played with a brush, none the worse for wear except for three somewhat noticeable scratches on her forehead.

Again, the worst part about the ordeal was presenting the injured child to her mother. Why this woman stays married to me I have no idea. Guys, head trauma is not something your spouse will "get used to" so don't think that she'll just brush off the second busted baby skull as the same old, same old. I think she was actually more upset this time because Abby is a girl and Linda has to give Abby a bath next, so you know, good luck with that one. The next day I had to explain to the daycare coordinator what happened. Strangely enough, she looked quite concerned with my fitness as a parent until I told her about how I caved in my son's skull with a snow globe, then it seemed as if she thought that head trauma was just a parenting tool we utilized, like family beds or time outs. "Oh, the Cackowski-Schnell's? Yes, they hit their children about the head and neck. It works wonders!"

Thankfully the baby doesn't seem to have suffered any ill effects, which is important as she's walking now and we want her to be able to retain her balance. Thank the gods we're not having any more children. At this rate, I'd have to figure out how to drop a refridgerator on the third on.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On the Existence of Wooden Pots, Part 1

Greeting Science Squaddies! Welcome to the maiden voyage of the SuburbanJoe Science Squad, an intrepid group of knowledge seeking adventurers. Good to have you along. I should point out that while writing this post I'm watching my "Butch Walker Live in Budokan" DVD, thereby keeping to two of my resolutions at once. Impressive, I know. For the record, for those of you not morally opposed to rocking out at dangerous levels, you could do worse than buying Mr. Walker's DVD. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'. Do not be scared by the fact that it's from Sony. As far as I know, it has not installed any rootkit software on my DVD player, however if porn mysteriously shows up in said player, blame it on the hackers.

Today's scientific inquiry comes from a conversation me and the missus had many years ago. As I was cooking, and stirring something on the stove with a wooden spoon, Linda asked me why people use wooden spoons instead of metal spoons. I told her that some people think that metal imparts a bad taste to the food. She then uttered the classic question, "Then why don't people use wooden pans." That's my wife ladies and gentlemen.

As I was coming up with my first entry for these posts, she recommended I write about why people don't use wooden pans. The more I thought about it, disregarding the obvious reason of course, I thought that it was an excellent question, so today we tackle the question of the ages:

Why Don't People Use Wooden Pans?

One caveat before we get started. I'm not a scientist, I'm just a guy who likes finding things out. I say this because I don't want to give the impression that the answers I'm giving here are the end all and be all to the question at hand. It's just one explanation. The beauty of the sciences is that often times, there are multiple scientific explanations to things and if you extend your view of fields that the term "science" encompasses, you can find even more answers. So far, I've found that for every answer I find, I find 5 more questions, but that's a good thing. OK, caveat over. Let's roll.

The first thing to talk about is that heat will always go from a hot object to a cold object, provided that the system isn't so well insulated as to prevent the transfer of heat. This is why, when ice is placed in a cup of hot water, the ice melts (gets warmer) and the water gets a little cooler, rather than the ice getting colder and the water getting hotter. That would be some fucked up shit. Heat transfer is dependent upon the substance that is between the hot thing and the cold thing. In our example, it would be whatever the pan is made of. Every value has a constant called the thermal conductivity (k) that defines the rate that energy will transfer through a slab of material of a given size and thickness at room temperature. Bigger numbers mean that heat transfers more quickly, lower number means a slower transfer. For the record, this constant is also a good measure of electrical conductivity, with some exceptions, if that's how you roll.

For the sake of our discussion, we're going to assume that our non-wood cooking pan is made out of cast iron. I don't know how the various non-stick coatings would affect heat conductivity and such, so I'm going with cast iron which is a little more manageable. Wood is just, well wood. If you can find a tree out there that acts like metal, feel free to let me know and I'll specify a less conductive wood accordingly. Good luck.

OK, so, thermal conductivity. For cast iron, the thermal conductivity value is 55 (forgive me for not using units. Physics teachers everywhere are cringing.) In comparison, wood has a thermal conductivity that ranges from 0.04 for balsa to 0.35 to fir. As you can see, heat goes through cast iron like a hot knife through butter, and through wood like something less hot and less buttery. The difference in heat conductivity also explains why you can pick up a stick that's burning on one end and not have any adverse affects. Pick up an iron rod that's glowing on one end and most likely you won't be shaking hands with anyone for some time. Now, one thing to keep in mind is that you don't want too high of a thermal conductivity for your cooking surface, as you want to allow the heat to diffuse throughout the pan's surface as well as transfer to the food. Otherwise you'll only get heat right over the heat source, which leads to scorching and bad feelings.

It's not really fair to compare wood and cast iron in terms of thermal conductivity. Cast iron is a (mostly) pure solid with a crystalline structure that just begs to conduct heat. Start agitating the atoms and electrons at one end and those vibrations will move through the substance and heat up the whole thing. Wood on the other hand, is a paella of water, cellulose, lignin and other loosey-goosey compounds. That being said, here's your simple answer as to why there are no wooden pans, wood has a shitty thermal conductivity value, and therefore would not transmit heat from the heat source to the food effectively enough to cook well, if at all. Strangely enough, you'd be better off with a pan made of ice (k = 2.2). Chew on that one.

Also, people use wooden spoons so as to not conduct heat away from what's being cooked, which can happen with a metal spoon. That's not really a concern when making stew, but when making candy you can end up screwing up your crystallization. That's right, somewhere out there there's a guy at the 3 Musketeers factory stirring a big vat of nougat with a massive wooden spoon.

That's not to say that there aren't wooden pans out there. Go to any gourmet food stores and you'll see fancy-pants cedar planks for grilling. The idea is that you soak the plank overnight, fire up the grill, place your meat (usually salmon) on the plank and grill with the lid closed. As the meat cooks, the plank smokes and chars and adds some smokey goodness to the meat. You can then serve your meal on a smoking, charred hunk of wood, which then makes your guests smell like smoking, charred hunks of wood. Now, as the lid is closed in this case, it's the indirect hear circulating through the grill that cooks the meat, rather than heat being transferred from the heat source through the plank and to the meat. Given that this is the case, the pan in question is more like a baking sheet and less like a frying pan. If you want to go this route with your baked goods, more power to you, but forgive me if I skip the cookies.

Next week: On Wood and Melty Things

Sources: Fundamentals of Physics, Extended Edition, Halliday, Resnick & Walker
Wikipedia - Thermal Conductivity
Thermal Conductivity - Ulf Bolmstedt
The Physics Hypertextbook - Conduction, Glenn Elert

Monday, January 23, 2006

I Heart Shooting Nazis

The first time I played Call of Duty 2, Activision and Infinity Ward's WWII shooter for the Xbox 360, I got my ass handed to me. I was playing the game at a demo kiosk in Wal-Mart, marveling at the graphics as me and my squad mates were driven into a small African town that was infested with Nazis. Once we arrived, I jumped out of the truck, stood straight up, looked around and got shot about a dozen times. Once the game reloaded, I resisted the urge to stand up, followed my squad mates around a corner, hunkered down and got blown up by several grenades. This went on for about 20 minutes before I realized that I was being watched by a 10 year old. Not comfortable with him witnessing all that violence I left. He promptly picked up the controller and personally drove the Germans out of Africa with only a broken bottle and a book of matches.

Based on this experience, I assumed that CoD2 wasn't going to be my cup of tea and that the Allies would have to win this one without me. Oddly enough, a few months later, CoD2 became the first 360 game I played and finished once I finally got my hands on the console. All this despite the rather long list of things I hate about today's shooters, which I shall discuss at length. Welcome dear reader, to this week's gaming post.

By all accounts, I should have hated Call of Duty 2, and probably not even purchased it in the first place. Let us, as the kids say, break it down.

Storm Omaha Beach! Again! No, Really, It's Different This Time!
Based on the sheer number of WWII titles out there, you would think that the heavy hitters of the video game industry found a way to go back in time and start the Big One so they would have a wealth of material to mine for our digital entertainment needs. I usually shy away from WWII shooters as I played "Medal of Honor: Allied Assault" on the PC and truthfully, if you've shot one Nazi, you've shot them all. I'm sure for the WWII aficionados, there are subtle differences between Bombed Out French Town #43 and Bombed Out French Town #57 but it's all rubble to me. There are only so many variations on the "Noun of Noun" title theme to keep me interested so I found myself intrigued at my interest in CoD2. What CoD2 does, better than any other game yet, is make you feel as if you are right in the heart of the conflict. The 360 can have a frackin' huge number of things going on at the same time, so the level of immersion makes it feel as if you've never actually played a WWII game before. Plus, the fact that you play as three different soldiers, a Soviet, a Brit and an American, in three different points in the campaign, you see the war at various points, with very different goals and objectives. Staving off waves of Germans as you attempt to defend Stalingrad is very different from moving through the African desert as you take out anti-tank guns. It's all very different and it's all very well done.

Behold My Backpack! It's..big.
As shooters have evolved, designers seem to have equated more realism with more evolved, which has resulted in one of the more annoying aspects of today's shooters, namely the ability to only carry one or two weapons at a time. Shooters are there for us to shoot things, with as many weapons as possible. I understand the need to make things are realistic as possible but let's be honest here. The odds that a theoretical physicist can pick up an assault weapon and start taking out Delta Force commandos and black-ops ninja chicks in Half-Life are small enough to exist in a state unobservable to the naked eye. We do not suspend our disbelief when we play shooters, we fucking expel it. Our disbelief is in juvie for burning down its uncle's barn. Give us our weapons, let us carry as much as we want, and just be judicious with ammo if you don't want us rocket humping everything. Plus, I always thought it was annoying that in Halo you're a massive supersoldier in your two ton armor, but you can't carry more than two pistols? Yeah, OK. That being said, CoD2 only allows you to carry two weapons at a time. I think that the reason it didn't bother me is because you're constantly surrounded by your fellow soldiers in the game, and they're backpacks aren't bristling with a startling array of destructive power. Most shooters have you going solo, and rarely offer 3-way mirrors so that you can check out just where you're keeping that rocket launcher, so you never see how ridiculous it would look to carry a dozen firearms. With your squad mates, CoD2 offers you constant reminders of what you look like, so it'd be worse in this case, if they're all carrying one weapon and you have half of the Allied armaments in your knapsack.

Somebody Saaaaaaaveee Meeeeeeee!!!
Finally, CoD2 uses the checkpoint save system which I abhor. Technology has moved us forward to the point where you can comfortably fit enough storage space on a memory card to allow users to save whenever and wherever they want, the only limiting factor being the number of saves. To not allow this always smacks of laziness to me. Oh sure, you can say that you don't want the users constantly stopping and saving because it will ruin the flow of the game. By the same logic, we shouldn't have the ability to pause DVD's because we don't want the viewer ruining the flow of the movie by constantly pausing and going to the bathroom. Bottom line is that if I've paid 50 bucks, or in the case of CoD2, 60 bucks, for a game, the flow of the game is entrely up to me. Besides, I don't always have a full hour to devote to a game, so if the devs make the checkpoints too far apart, you're forcing me to play something other than your game, lest I make progress and then lose it. That hardly seems like a good design decision. CoD2 manages to place checkpoints early and often enough that on the "normal" level of difficulty, you rarely have to replay portions over and over. The highest compliment I can pay to the save system is that, with few exceptions, they saved for me right where I would have saved myself.

I have to admit that when I bought CoD2, I was concerned that I was buying it simply to fill the void that my still absent 360 wasn't filling. I had gone to Target, watched someone who wasn't retarded play CoD2 and then, using what I had seen, managed to get through the African level without getting blown up. It seemed like fun, but would it be enough fun to last for the entire game, or was I just looking to bring home anything for the 360, to get me through those long, cold nights? I'm certainly glad I purchased the game, and might actually go back and attempt the levels at harder difficulty levels to unlock additional achievements, which would be yet another thing about this game that I normally don't do with other games. I don't think it's going to get me to play additional WW2 shooters, but it's a fair testament to the idea that a good gameplay can get people to play games that they normally wouldn't, and forgive faults not forgiven in lesser titles.

Next week: Monkey Lovin' or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kong

Friday, January 20, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

Well here we are, with the first on-schedule post. Woo-hoo! We've got a 100% success rate. Maybe I should quit after this post and go out on top, before the crushing weight of failure snuffs my spirit from existance. Out, our brief candle! Thou art brief. And, um, candle-y.

I know it's late for resolutions for the new year, but I've been very busy shooting Nazis in Call of Duty 2 and now I'm trying to liberate Earth from the Combine in Half-Life 2 so excuse me if I put aside my own personal betterment for the sake of freedom. Yeah, I thought so.

As a rule, I don't do resolutions so these may not be your traditional "I'm going to stop beating my kids" resolutions. For the record, I have no intentions of stopping the beatings. It's the only thing keeping those monsters in line.

Stop Being So Goddamned Awesome
I am just a supremely amazing human being and sometimes it's offputting for those that are just meeting me. They don't come right out and say it, but I can tell that the sheer brilliance of my personality only lengthens the shadow of their own inferiority. I try, I really do, to make them feel as if they have some sort of chance to achieve the level of superawesomeness that I've achieved, but truthfully, I think they see it for the fallacy that it really is. It's not my fault I'm so neato keen. Just the luck of the draw, I guess. But, I'm tired of people avoiding me, presumably because I rock so hard, so I'm going to try and tone it down a notch and be more like those that should be groveling at my feet as I claim my rightful seat of Lord and Master of All Creation.

Smoke More
No, not weed you stoner bastard, although I haven't rolled in a fatty in well, never. Anyways, I hold smoked meat on a pedestal that is usually reserved for revered dieties. The process of smoking meat is one of science and art, careful monitoring of temperatures, liberal amounts of spices and slathers, copious amounts of malt beverages. It is truly the hobby of the blessed. It is also a hobby for those with lots of time on their hands as a pork butt doesn't turn into deliciously tender pulled pork with a wave of one's hand. Since moving to GA, I've smoked twice. Once I did a brisket that was pretty damn good and recently I did some pork butts that were so good, I question the sanity of the individual who does not eat precious little piggly-wigglies. I also have not been grilling, which is a shame, because my mad culinary skillz shine brightest in front of the Weber Genesis Silver B. My meat wrapped in meat recipe is one for the ages. So, with these shortcomings in mind, I resolve to smoke once at least once a month. Be it ribs, chicken, meatloaf, pulled pork, brisket, hell even a bucket of peanuts, they shall all fall to the smoke and flame. I'm also going to try and grill more and reclaim my throne as Lord of the Flames.

Obtain Super Powers
I have wanted super powers since I was a wee lad, and now that we're going on close to 26 years in this quest, it's become a tad ridiculous. I mean, come on people, how hard is it to bestow me with powers beyond those of mortal men? I've tried dousing myself with chemicals in hope that an errant lightning bolt will merge me with the Speed Force, but all that's happened is that I've grown 5 extra nipples. Actually, I had grown six, but the irradiated spider bite took care of one of them. In my quest for powers I have decided that I have to be a little more picky with my abilities. As a child, I wanted to be Spider-Man, however now that I live in the suburbs, web slinging is an impractical mode of transportation. Being the Human Torch would be cool. There are countless times when, sitting in a boring meeting, I've wanted to say "You know what? Fuck this. FLAME ON!!", burst into flame, burned through the window and took off, soaring into the sky, cackling with glee. However, without the proper flame retardant suit, those powers could be potentially embarassing for someone as out of shape as myself. Plus, and here's the important thing, any power that brings the watchful eye of our government on me will most likely result in me being stuck in some eastern European prison as they try to harvest my DNA to create super-soldiers. So crime fighting is definitely out. Adamantium claws would be cool, but other than opening cans, probably not all that useful. I think I'd like either mind control, so that I could convince my boss that I actually did show up for work or the ability to stop time so that I could boost shit from stores. Noble goals, I know.

Watch More Movies That I Own
At last count, I have 160 DVD's, not counting tv shows on DVD. This is just movies and concerts. Since bringing them into my home, I've watched 100 of them. That means that there are 60 DVD's (more when you factor in the TV shows) that have been purchased, opened and put on the shelf without even visiting the player. Oh sure, I've seen Bring it On and About A Boy at least a half dozen times each, but perhaps I should spend some time with some of the other movies. So, I'm going to start watching movies, or TV shows when I usually play games. Not too much, maybe a movie a week, but enough to use my kick ass home theater for something other than Geometry Wars.

Post More
Hopefully the schedule will take care of this one. If not, then I'll have to turn this blog into the premiere repository of hamster porn. Rowr!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Scheduled Appearances

We have a lot to cover, so let's get right to it.

First of all, much props to the Football Gods. Yes we lost, but not for lack of opportunities. I mean, they gave the NFL MVP a concussion, thereby eliminating him and his wily running ways and we do nothing with it. Such is life with only 2 receivers, one of which isn't even a wide receiver. I think that if we get a good complement to Moss we'll be doing well next year. For now, I'm less excited about the post season now that the Colts and the Pats are out of it, but the Super Bowl still holds its usual junk-food and summer movie commercial filled allure so I'll be there regardless of the combatants. And by God, there will be Poppers.

As you are all well aware now, this site has not become synonymous with regular content. Oh sure, every week or so I drop by to blather on about things, but were there some sort of time keeping device that measured weeks, rather than seconds, I would not suggest you use this site to synchronize said device lest you end up with a horribly unsynchronized situation.

I am making moves to rectify this, but first, an explanation. I'd like to spin a tale now about personal woe and how after volunteering at the animal shelter and the retirement home, I barely have enough time to rehabilitate injured seabirds, but the fact is that I am a supremely lazy human being. I actually have reams and reams of ideas to write about, but the effort involved is something I can't be bothered with. That's not entirely true. I enjoy writing and knowing that the half-dozen of you actually read it, but I always find something else to do, something else being video games. Seeing as I have no plans to give up playing video games, I've decided to implement a schedule here at the homestead. Behold the majiks of the calendar!

I know that many bloggers, although I am loathe to call myself one of those, hate schedules because they like to update when the mood hits them. Well, at 33, I'm well aware of my failings, and being unable to do most things without at least a smidge of prodding is one of them. The schedule shall be that smidge. This will also give you, dear reader, assurances that when you come here on key days, there will be new content, glistening like a newborn, just without all the snot and horribly swollen genitalia.

This brings me to my next topic, which is what shall we be writing about? As you know, we cover a bunch of topics here, but my interests lie mainly with video games, and every other thing in my life that isn't video games. To that end, I'll have one post a week that focuses on video games, and one that doesn't. For those of you that don't care about video games, please don't take this as an excuse to not read my ramblings, because I can assure you that my posts about gaming will be filled with the same fluffy goodness as my other posts. That's like, a fuckload of fluffy goodness.

Finally, and this is what I'm actually most excited about, is that I'm going to do a weekly column about science. Yes, science. I have a degree in Physics, and presently all it does is annoy my father with its spent promises of scientific glory and its massive higher educational pricetag. Well, that ends now. I read few blogs every day, but John Scalzi's Whatever is one of them. In this stirring post, he talks about his unmet life goals. One of them was to evangalize science. When I read that I was like, "Hell yes". I love science, and all of it's scientific goodness, and it pains me to see folks not be as excited about the underpinnings of their universe as I am. To that end, I'm planning on writing a post every week that takes something scientific and breaks it down in readable, hopefully humorous English. This will take research on my part, which means I get to learn things too, so it's a win-win. I would also like to open this part of the site up to you, dear reader. Through the comments, or by emailing me at suburbanjoe at gmail dot com, send me any scientific questions and I will endeavor to answer them.

That being said, I'm not going to write your goddamned thesis, neither will I do your book report on Madame Curie. Goddammit Timmy, you've had that assignment for weeks, just sit down and do it. I am also not going to limit myself to the hard sciences like physics, chemistry, coke and heroin. I'll also do columns on the soft sciences like psychology, anthropology, weed and whippets. Heh-heh, whippets.

So, my little calandar monkeys, the schedule looks like this. Monday is gaming day, as I'll be fresh off of a weekend of digital tomfoolery. Wednesday is science day, for those of you that need a healthy dollop of fancy book learnin' to get them over the hump, and Friday will be freestyle day. Freestyle Fridays, if you will. Yes, I will. I will indeed. I'll still drop knowledge on you on unscheduled days, to ensure things stay unpredictiable, so make sure you come back daily. Hourly is preferable. Hopefully this will keep me writing, keep you reading and we'll all learn something. Well, mostly you, because I'm like, wicked smart.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Football Gods Kick Massive Ass

First of all, please let me apologize for football having hijacked this site for the past few weeks. It's an exciting time for the Redskins, and as long as they keep winning, I'll keep praising the Football Gods. Personally, I hope it never ends.

Thanks be to the Football Gods, who, in their infinite wisdom, used the Redskins as their instrument to show how offense wins games, but defense wins championships. Granted, we haven't won the championship yet, but with only 120 yards in offense last Saturday, only our defense, or a spectacular miracle were going to let us win that game. I think we got a little of both, as luck was definitely on our side. Now we head to Seattle and face a well rested and pumped up Seattle team. The odds are stacked against us, but I know that the Football Gods will smile upon us and provide ample opportunities to take control. We just have to make the most of those opportunities.

Now that I've given the appropriate thanks and praise to the Football Gods (praise be!), I would like to take this time to address the team. Gather round gentlemen.

I know it's been a long season, and many of you are banged up, tired and running on fumes. Well, I feel for you, I really do, but we're not done yet. In a few weeks you'll have months and months to relax, get healthy again and get your energy back. For now, however, we still have a job to do, and we need to do it better than we've ever done it before.

I don't need to tell you that 120 yards of offense will going to cut it against the Seahawks, but I'm going to anyway. 120 yards will not cut it against the Seahawks. No way, no how. You are on the road, 3000 miles from home, against a team that is well rested, motivated, undefeated at home, and eager to break a twenty-two year long string of lost playoff appearances. If you don't think that string of losses is the biggest motivation for them this week, then you're fooling yourselves. Shaun Alexander is very pround of his MVP award, I"m sure, but I would bet hard cash that he'd give it up in a second to be remembered as the focal point of the offense that broke the post-season losing streak. Do not underestimate their motivation. Add to this a city that gets behind, in full force, whichever pro team of their's is in the playoffs and you face a daunting challenge.

But, just as history is working to keep the Seahawks from advancing, I believe that your history is working to help you advance. There are plenty of players on your squad, and on the Seahawks team, that will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but you have the advantage of having one man on your squad who already is in the Hall of Fame. That man is Joe Gibbs. Just as you can not underestimate the motivation of the Seahawks, do not underestimate the intangibles that Gibbs brings to your game. I don't have to tell you about how this season has progressed. You lived it. I can tell you that the coaches in the NFL today that could have turned his team around in the manner that Gibbs has done are few and far between. One, Jon Gruden, you beat last week. The other stands on your sidelines every week. Take advantage of his presence and his experience.

I am not going to give the speech that points out how proud you should be despite the outcome. I don't want to give it, and you don't want to hear it. You know, just as I do, that there is only one outcome to this game. Winning. There are no other options, and we will accept no other outcome. Winning truly is the only thing. I will say, however, that you should know how incredibly exciting and fun it has been to be a Redskins fan these past 6 weeks. I'll admit, that, like many fans I'm sure, I was ready to give up on this team once we had gone 5-6. "I"m not wearing their jerseys anymore", I told my friend Mark. I was disgusted and downtrodden, as I'm sure you were. Despite my statements, come Sunday I found I was unable to make good on my promise and I wore the traditional burgundy and gold. Then you won, and won, and kept winning until you brought us here. In looking back, I'm glad I kept my faith, as I know that it wasn't misguided. I'm glad that you kept it too, because without it, we wouldn't be here. Know that we are behind you, the tens of thousands of fans who have waited years to see a team as talented as this one, compete in these games, at this time of year. On Saturday, if the game seems out of your reach, look to your teammates, look to your coaches, look to yourself, your faith, your training, and look to the stands, because even though they may be hard to see, the familiar colors will be there, specks of burgundy and gold in a sea of blue. They are there for you, to support you and revel with you in what we've done this year.

As I said, we're not done yet, not by a long shot. Let's get out there, stick to the plan, execute, tackle and keep these bastards from getting any farther. This is your game. Take it.

Redskins on 3.



Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Football Gods are Generous and Benevolent

Praise be to the Football Gods, for they have delivered us victory over our accursed foes, the Eagles of Philadelphia. Praise be!

Man, what a game that was. I've never been so sick about a game in all of my years of watching football. The first half was torturous to watch, especially considering the fact that Keg and I had a bet, a bet he ultimately lost. On the subject of the bet, I have to give Keg a lot of credit. Many people would hem and haw about having to pay the piper and he held up his end of the bargain with flying colors. Keg, I got yer back brother, and that's for damn sure.

When I was watching the game, I was disgusted to see that Clinton Portis's mother had to be escorted from the stand because some Philly fan was throwing stuff at her. Then I read that she punched said Philly fan in the nose and I laughed and laughed. Now, I'm not one to advocate violence, especially at sporting events when everyone has paid good money to watch the game, support their team and have a good time, but I bet when that Philly fan woke up Sunday morning, the last thing she expected to end the day with was a knuckle sandwich from Clinton Portis's mom.

Now that the dust has settled, we set our sights on Tampa. Ah, Tampa, the site of our last playoff appearance, back when Brad Johnson was throwing the ball for us and we were giddy with playoff fever. Let's hope this game turns out better. Whatever happens, it should be a good game. I'll just have to make sure I keep my mouth shut, as the kids learned a few choice words as they lay snuggled in their beds during the Eagles games. Personally, I think Ben learned to say "What the hell are you doing?", "Goddamn it!" and "Stop fucking committing fucking offside fucking penalties! Fuck! Fuck! Fuckheimer Fuckenstein McFuckyFuck!" from the Wiggles.

Oh, and I won my Vegas Odds Pick'em pool. The Football Gods truly are generous.