Friday, May 30, 2008

Progress Report

Greetings, time for a progress report on the various things going on our lives. I have a post in mind about this whole Scott McClellan thing, but I think I'll wait for tomorrow for that.

On the daycare front, today was Abby's last day at her current school. They had agreed to let us keep her there until next week, but after her being home on Tuesday for biting, we came to the decision that it was just too stressful to have her someplace where she could come home every day and then we'd have to be pissed at her all day. This means that she'll have a week off between her past school and her new school, but it's better than paying for a week of school that she never attends.

To make sure that she had a proper send off today, Abby bit someone after two days on the biting wagon. To illustrate part of the reason why I think she still does this, I'll quote the "incident report" from her school in regards to the biting. Ahem.

"Abby bit one of her friends on the right hand because she didn't want them to touch a ruler on the teacher's desk. I told Abby that biting her friend is not ok. I also sent Abby to play at the Lego table to play by herself for a while until she calms down."

Ok, now again, I don't expect the school to raise my kid for me, but I do expect a little more punishment than being told to go play at the Lego table. I mean, even if she did have to play by herself, she's still playing! Had she bitten at home she would have been put in the corner for at least 3.5 minutes, probably longer. She wouldn't be playing, she'd most likely be crying. We're hoping that a week off will kind of reset her need to bite and that the next school will do more as a punishment than offering construction toys.

On the working out side, today marks two weeks of working out every day, save one day on the weekend. It is the single longest consecutive stretch of exercise I have ever undertaken. Linda has been doing it with me too, although she walked daily for a long while so she has a way to go before she breaks her record, and I am quite proud of both of us. I've been Wii Fitting it every night, alternating between strength training and yoga, and while I'm not sure that I'm seeing results quite yet, I think that I'm getting better at the poses. It's hard to tell at times. Tomorrow is my day off from working out so I'm going to use it as my weekly weigh in. I think I've lost some weight, but the exact amount won't be known until tomorrow. It's all very exciting, that is until I see no progress and I binge on pork ribs. Whatever the case may be, progress or pounds of pork fat, I'll update here so that you can share in my success or despair. Fun times.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gone Fitting

No real post today on account of Wii Fit encompassing my time. My review is due tomorrow and these exercises aren't going to unlock themselves.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pride, I No Has It

I cheated at Wii Fit today.

I didn't cheat on a yoga pose, or pretend to do more jackknifes than I actually did. Instead I cheated at a balance board game. Personally, I think that's worse as the game cares when I do my push-ups wrong, and gets quite snotty actually, but could care less at how poorly I do at the balance board games.

There's this one game where you use the board to direct your bubble encased Mii down a river, dodging bees and the riverbank at the same time. If you even brush up against the bank the bubble pops and presumably you drown. Time and time again I got to the same damn point, burst my bubble and sank into the icy deep. I got so frustrated that I got down on my hands and knees, offered a prayer of apology to the gaming gods and used my hands to navigate the treacherous waters. My reward was a journey under a rainbow, applause by the other Miis on my system and the ability to traverse the advanced course. Great. As if the easy course wasn't hard enough on my balance deficient ass.

I'm chalking up my subterfuge to the fact that I needed to win to see what happened for review purposes and not because I'm a cheating bastard that refuses to be beaten by a glorified bathroom scale. That's my story and it'll take more than several drowned Miis to change it, but you're welcome to try.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I can't believe that it was just a month or so ago when Linda and I went on vacation and got a chance to relax and get away from the stress of everything. While I'm glad we went, and got to do a lot of cool things and eat a lot of good food, from a stress perspective, I might as well just have stayed home. Sometimes life sucks that way.

The object of constant consternation in our home is my daughter who just got herself kicked out of daycare because she won't stop gnawing on her classmates. In all actuality, she wasn't kicked out of school, we removed her, for two reasons. First is that the school's way to treat the biting was to call us every time she bit so that we could come get her and take her home for the rest of the day. Seeing how she usually bites in the morning, we are essentially paying for her to be home all day long. The second reason we removed her was that perhaps a change of venue is what she needs to get it through her thick skull that she can't bite people.

The aforementioned daycare strategy wasn't working, so we had little choice in the matter. To make matters worse, or better depending on your viewpoint, she doesn't do this at home, not with her brother, not with either of us, not when she has friends over for play dates. Given that she is three years of age, we've been told that we can't punish her after the fact because she won't associate the crime with the time, so given that it only happens at school, we can't punish her for it come 4:30 w. If we could, I guarantee that it would stop because girlfriend is well acquainted with the corner at home and that has nipped most things in the bud. We told her school that she needs a firm hand, due to her stubborn will, but to them that means they talk to her about how we don't bite our friends and then they release her back into the wild, visions of steak sauce drenched classmates dancing in her head.

The irony of the situation is that she's still not eating, so her classmates are pretty much the only things she will bite.

When daycare calls to tell us that she has bitten, one of us, usually Linda, goes and gets her, reads her the riot act, brings her home, has her sit in the corner for an hour and then, well, that's about all we can do. It isn't healthy or easy to be angry at your kid all day, and I don't know if it would do anything anyway. On Friday, I pretty much ignored her as she played while I worked, making sure that she wasn't getting into any trouble, and she was fairly happy, even with the restrictions I placed on where she could go and what she could do. All that has happened is that Abby has learned that if she bites, she gets to go home, endure some punishment and then is away from school, which she doesn't like in the first place.

Now, I'm not saying that it is the school's job to raise my kid, however at the same time, given that, at this age, the punishment has to be immediate, I'm a little irritated that their way of dealing with things up to this point has been to basically "talk it out" and then offload the problem entirely. I'm even more irritated that we've been paying for her to be at school only to have her come home at 9 in the morning. Our family and our pediatrician seem to think that there's something about the current school that she doesn't like, hence the biting and the going in her pants (she's fully potty trained at home too, by the way) which, while I may agree with, I also think that life is filled with instances of having to be somewhere you'd rather not and the solution isn't to then take a dump in your pants and bite someone. Obviously this logic has to be adjusted for the three year old which can't be reasoned with, but even so, my initial thought is to tell her to just get over it.

Hopefully the new school will either address the biting more directly or she just won't associate those kids with tasty treats and we can stop worrying about her being kicked out. Even with that, it'll still be a pain in the ass as her brother will be at the current daycare for two months, which means two different schools for pick up and drop-off every morning and every afternoon. Plus, her new school costs more and is open less, but given that Ben will be in public school, and treated to a boatload of vacation days, we'd probably have her home anyway when he is to make it easier on all parties involved. Given how poorly he reacted to his new school at the kindergarten registration process, I'm hoping that he doesn't think he can get out of going there by biting other kids because there is no other place to go. Once they leave daycare my days of paying for school are on hiatus until college.

So it's been a stressful time at home, and a time with no real answers. Maybe the new school will help things, maybe it won't. We have an appointment with a developmental pediatrician at the end of the month to see if she's just mean or bat shit crazy to boot, which hopefully we'll be able to cancel because being at the new school will fix things. I'm thinking it won't, and she still doesn't eat much, so even if we have to cancel that appointment, I'm sure having a tube put in her stomach is also down the line, leading to more stress and sleepless nights. On the plus side, it's just sixteen short years before she leaves the house. *sigh*

Add to this the fact that today I started my diet to lose these confounded pounds and you have one stressed and grumpy individual. Usually I'd eat to deal with my stress, but I can't do that, and I have no idea where to buy crack if I even wanted to go that route. Not to play into every psychotic gamer stereotype, but GTA IV helps somewhat. Stealing a motorcycle and practicing wheelies on the airport tarmac is oddly therapeutic, and I don't have to harm anyone in the process. Hooray for nonviolent theft!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wii Fit Impressions

Despite having picked Wii Fit up yesterday, I didn't get a chance to play with it and do a workout until today. After spending over an hour with the game, I have emerged from my man cave laden with knowledge and am prepared to let you take a bite of its luscious fruit.

First, some words about the hardware. It is surprisingly heavy and very sturdy. It would have to be given that it can support up to something like 300 pounds. The board comes with four feet extenders so that if you're playing in a room with carpet, and the carpet touches the bottom of the board you can raise it up. The top of the board is nice and grip-y, which, again, it would have to be as Nintendo recommends that you play the game barefoot. I'm kind of surprised that they tell you not to wear shoes as shoes traditionally worn while working out have enough tread to not send you careening into the walls. I mean, it's not a treadmill. It's a scale for frak's sake.

But I digress. As a scale, it's pretty damn accurate. I've been checking my weight regularly, against the recommendations of both Linda and Andy, and the balance board had my weight and Linda's weight correctly. My BMI is enough that I'm considered overweight, which came as no surprise, and for this, my Mii was rewarded with a little pot belly. Linda's BMI is normal so her Mii remained unchanged.

I tried all of the workouts available to me from the beginning and man, I am horrible at most of them. The yoga ones are some of the hardest as I have zero balance. It doesn't help that I have low ceilings in the basement so some of the stretching is difficult. The trainer does a pretty good job of showing you how to do the exercises, so it's not to hard to follow along, as long as your legs aren't screaming in pain like mine were. The strength training is a bit of a mixed bag. The trainer does a good job of showing you how to do a push-up, however they don't show you what things will look like on the screen while you're doing the push-ups so you end up trying to watch the screen and do a push-up followed by a side plank at the same time. It's kind of difficult. Once you do enough of the strength training exercises you figure out how to listen for the whistle and do things, but until you see it a few times, you're going to tank on them. For the record, jackknifes suck.

The aerobic stuff is just ok. I am apparently the worst hula-hooper in the known universe as not only can I not swing my hips, but I can't catch hula hoops thrown to my by the other Mii's, including the one I made to represent our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. My lack of skills shamed the Son of God, so poor were my skills. The step class, or performance, was equally problematic as I couldn't get the rhythm or the steps down but eventually I got it. I think it just takes time. The running was silly, and, in my opinion, not particularly good for you as I would think running in place would be bad for your legs, but if you put the Wiimote in your pocket and ride an exercise bike, aside from some pacing issues, you'll do fine.

The balance games are fun, and the ski jump is a hoot, even if I have no idea what I'm doing. The best game though is the version of Marble Madness you play by using the balance board to navigate one or more marbles, emblazoned with the heads of your Mii's, into holes on the board within the time limit. It's a lot of fun and surprisingly hard. The slalom race if fun but it's not long enough. The tightrope is pretty tough and I have yet to make it across without plunging to my death.

At the end of my workout, I had gotten my heart rate good and up and my legs definitely were sore for the effort. I'm not a big fan of how an hour of total time only nets you about 30 minutes of credit towards unlocking other exercises, but at the same time, once you know how to do things you can skip all of the demos and go right to the exercises. I've unlocked something like three new exercises which I'm eager to try tomorrow, even if it means more accursed lunges.

As for whether or not the game will keep you working out, hell, I have no idea. Yoga and strength training can't be done while you're doing something else, for someone like me who hates exercising just to exercise, there's not a lot of extra to keep you doing those things. The cardio stuff and the balance board stuff definitely has enough extra to keep you occupied should you need that kind of thing. All in all, I'd say it's a good tool to get people started on the road to fitness and has the right balance of encouragement and shame to keep you going. The ability to add in any additional exercising you're doing every day is nice, even if the choices are limited and you can't add a lot of detail like miles ran or weights and reps. I'm just hoping that the game gives me credit for biking every day so that I don't have to have Jesus throw more hoops at me.

The balance board is an interesting enough peripheral that I think some really great games could be made for it. Personally, I would love a surfing game and I think they could pull it off to great effect with the board.

Is it worth 90 bucks? I don't know. Like any other piece of exercise equipment, and honestly you have to treat is at such until you know for certain what other games will be supported, it's only worth the money if you're going to spend the time with it and honestly push yourself. If you're not willing to do that, don't waste your money.

I've also started playing the Penny Arcade game, which is a hoot and a half, but I'll discuss that at another time. What I can tell you is that it makes a 30 minute workout go by in about ten seconds flat.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Suck it Chelsea

Edwin van der Sar's fantastic save on penalty kicks means that Manchester United are the kings of Europe! For the third time, no less!

Well played boys!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Scheduling Difficulties

Wii Fit drops tomorrow, much to the chagrin of everyone who thought it was coming out today, including various retailers. The Penny Arcade game also comes out tomorrow. As I'm reviewing both of them, my current plan is to play the PA game on my laptop, provided that the demo runs smoothly. I certainly don't want any hardware issues causing problems as I won't know if the issue is with my laptop or with the game itself. I like the idea of playing the PA game on the 360 as there are achievements and you can carry your character over to the next episode, but playing two console games at the same time may prove problematic. Luckily, one of these games is an exercise game, and I've recently started exercising in the morning, thereby giving me time to play.

The bottom line is that both games will get played, both games will get my full attention and both games will get reviewed. It's just a matter of which platforms they end up getting played on. I'm interested in seeing how both games turn out as I think that both have the potential for going either way. Between the two, if one is going to tank, I'd rather it be the PA game as I'm only paying 20 bucks for that one, as opposed to 90 for Wii Fit. Dollar dollar bill, y'all. Here's hoping neither one sucks and my 110 bucks buys me fits of eternal bliss.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Third Day of the Rest of Your (Exercise) Life

Today was the third day of working out with my spiffy, new exercise bike, but the first day of waking up early to do so. Mr. Andrew Smith, my personal trainer, turned me on to something called Bonk Training whereby you get up at the crack of dawn, pound some black coffee or caffeine pills, bike for 20 - 90 minutes at about 60% of your max heart rate and then don't eat for about 30 minutes while your stomach starts to digest your liver.

The idea is that your metabolism gets a kick-start from the caffeine and then starts eating all of those tasty, tasty fat cells while you work out. Work out too hard and your body starts looking to your muscle cells for energy, don't work out hard enough and your just sweaty, tired and with a serious case of the jitters. By not eating, you keep the fat burning until you can replenish it with real food.

So far I've learned a few things. First, I can't do black coffee on an empty stomach. It makes me somewhat queasy. This is ok as I'm not planning on getting up early enough for the caffeine to kick in any way and I'm so used to being up at that time, that I don't need the extra jolt. My metabolism will just have to get motivated like the rest of me, through boundless amounts of shame. The second thing I've learned is that when you work out in this manner, you are ravenously hungry all day long. I've been doing the small meal thing throughout the day to keep the metabolic fires going, but man, I am starving all of the time. I've been eating a little less to help things along, which doesn't help matters, but I wouldn't think it would make me this hungry. I can only hope that the burning hunger means that my metabolism is going, even when I'm not. If so, then feast my hungry metabolism! Feast on fat until you are sated!

My goal is to get down to 175, which was my weight when we moved here. That means a loss of about 16 pounds, a tall order indeed, but one I think I can attain. I have a room full of movies I've never watched, a comfy bike to ride and an insatiable hunger to harness. How can I fail?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Iron Man review up

On the same day that GameFly receives my returned copy of Iron Man for the PSP the review shows up on GameShark. Coincidence? You decide!

One of my favorite things about working for GameShark, other than my editor continually firing me, is that they allow me to use phrases like "the heady stink of frustration". Creative freedom at it's finest, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Games

I got a bevy of games for my birthday, including Grand Theft Auto IV, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, Okami on the Wii, and my new personal favorite, Boom Blox. I've been spending most of my time with GTA IV and Boom Blox and I'm here to chat a little about both.

They kind or represent both ends of the gaming spectrum right now, both in terms of the types of experiences that they provide, and the systems that they're on. On the one hand you have which has an absolutely huge, seamless world in it, filled with emotional characters, plenty of chaos causing fun and requires an absolute beast of a machine to run. On the other hand you have Boom Blox, which is a very simple concept, requires no real emotional investment and could only be done on the Wii. Both are incredibly different and speak to different user bases, but both are a lot of fun to play.

I played GTA III and got to a point where I just didn't care about the main character any more. Wreaking mayhem was fun, but eventually got boring and the various control issues meant that I couldn't progress. It didn't help that there was so much to do, that I couldn't figure out what I wanted to spend my time doing. In GTA IV, you care about Niko Bellic from the beginning. He's just a guy who comes to Liberty City based on the boasts of his cousins, only to find out that his cousin is full of shit. Niko just wants to leave his old life behind and make a new one, only to find out that his new life is just as bad as the old one. You feel for the guy, and while his missions usually involve some sort of criminal undertaking, it doesn't feel like the wanton blood letting of previous installments. The game also has a much better learning curve this time, slowly bringing you into the thick of things before stuff gets too hairy.

The dating and various friends you can build relationships have the potential to get annoying, but at the same time, it's nice to take time in between missions and just tool around with a pretty girl on your arm. My time spent getting achievements have reined in my OCD somewhat so that I can focus on the various collection and racing and assassination missions all at one time, rather than get sidetracked by the various activities open to me. The driving is still annoying, however I've already learned how to weave through the streets without causing too much damage which helps when I need to make a fast exit. The GPS is genius, and makes a huge difference, as does the new wanted system. I don't know if the game is worth 10 out of 10, but so far I'm enjoying myself and when my phone rings, I look forward to whatever act of villainy I get to partake in.

Boom Blox is a casual gamer's dream. It's brightly lit, with lots of cute, domino shaped characters and has a very simple mechanic. Each stage starts with a tower or some other structure. There may be point blox or bomb blox, or chemical blox that blow up when they touch another chemical blox. By using the Wiimote to place the targeting reticle on a block and swinging the remote you launch a ball at the blox and try and knock down the tower. Some stages may require simply finding the weakest point and throwing with all of your might, while others may require a softer touch to knock some blox out of the way while not disturbing blox that take points away. Later stages have a Jenga feel to it where you use the Wiimote to pull blox out of the structure, or even more fun, pick a block up and swing it around as if it's connected to a rubber band, wrecking everything in sight.

Each stage has Bronze, Silver and Gold medals and they're usually based on either getting a certain point score with the limited number of balls you have to throw, or knocking down the entire structure with as few throws as possible. Holding down the B button allows you to move the camera around so that you can see the structure from all angles, however the lack of a zoom button can make it harder than it needs to be. For the most part though, it works really well.

Throwing the balls is a blast, and the game is pretty damn responsive when you have to change up your throwing speed to simply nudge a block, rather than knock it out of the park. My only complaint is that the physics can be a bit of a crap shoot some times. When you knock a tower down, you may have point blox or gem blox that fall onto the rubble, rather than the ground and don't get counted towards your score, so even though you may have knocked the whole thing down with one shot, you don't get the gold. Even when this happens, it's still fun to knock it down again, or tweak your initial strategy so that it blasts the whole thing to hell, so it's not that big of a deal.

Boom Blox is a game that you can pick up and play for 15 minutes and have a great time, but at the same time, the puzzles suck you in so that you can easily lose more time than that. GTA IV requires a much more substantial time sink unless you just want to drive around running people over, which gets boring pretty quickly. I don't know if you could play Boom Blox for hours at a time, like you could GTA IV, but who cares if you can't? Pick it up for 30 minutes, drop some towers, throw some bowling balls at rectangular sheep and call it a day. Then switch over to GTA IV, go out on a date, beat up some loansharks, do some stunt jumps and then watch some tv back at your apartment. Between the two of them, you'll have plenty of fun, and lots of different types of fun gaming moments. It's hard to go wrong with either one.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Cold, Hard Truth

So I've been dieting this week as I need to lose almost 20 pounds and I've come to the realization that I absolutely hate dieting. I'm not sure anyone loves dieting, but to not be able to eat what I want sucks. Hard. Up until this week, I thought that dieting was my only option as I hate exercising too, however what this week has taught me is that my hatred for exercise is nothing compared to my hatred for watching what I eat.

As a result, it's time to put my exercise plan into motion. As we all know, I hate exercising because it's boring and with the limited free time I have, I don't want to spend it out playing the few sports I do enjoy like tennis or racquetball. Given that I like spending my free time playing video games, what if there were a way for me to exercise while playing games and not just Wii Fit? Enter the recumbent exercise bike.

I have room in my basement to put a recumbent bike in so that I can ride it while playing video games. Given that it's in the basement, it'll be out of the way so that I don't have to move it around unless Linda and I want to watch a movie. With a heart rate monitor to make sure I'm spending as much time pedaling as I do playing, there's no reason I can't bike for 45 minutes or so every evening. Looking up things on the laptop while playing will be a problem, but with the proper planning, I'm sure I can even mitigate those issues to a certain degree. I've already tested my plan out on various exercise bikes, and they all have wide enough seats to be able to sit, pedal and play without fear of falling out and injuring yourself.

Now, I'm not saying that with this plan I'll be able to eat what I want, as I've gotten into plenty of bad eating habits of late that have to stop, but hopefully spending more time exercising will mean less time counting calories. The only problem will be when I'm playing or have to review Wii games, as if there are any motion controls, I'll probably wipe out and break something. I'll have to figure something out for those times as I plan on playing Okami at some point and I don't want to explain to the emergency room doctor why I was waggling and driving at the same time.

I'll do my best to keep you up to date on my fitness progress, unless a) I don't stick with it or b) I exercise my ass off and don't lose weight. Then I'll just hide in shame.

New Top Ten List

It's been two weeks since GameShark's latest Top Ten list, and this time it's my turn. I return to fine form with the Top Ten Non-Shooter Shooters. Flame on!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Buying my Childhood Ten Dollars at a Time

The new Indiana Jones toys are out and while I hadn't planned on getting any of them, once I saw the set where Indy is trying to steal the idol from the beginning of Raiders, I couldn't resist.

While not canonical in that removing the idol didn't cause a bear trip to spear Indy's genitals, it is still a fun little toy. Pulling out the idol causes the "jaws" to spring shut, unless the bottom portion of the pedestal is rotated until it makes a clicking noise. If only Indy knew about this ahead of time, he could have saved himself a bunch of time and all that rock dodging.

The other toy in the line I'm interested is the Adventure Heroes set containing Belloq and a ghost from the Arc of the Covenant.

I find it hilarious that Belloq is so happy, what with the cheery ghost next to him is about to make his head explode. I guess if you haven't seen the movie, you'll think that they're about to shake their massive hands together and then go get a cream soda. Of course, if I buy it and then explain to people why I have it, I'll get more of the strange looks I've grown so accustomed to, so perhaps I'll skip it and just giggle in the toy aisle.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The World Ends With You

My review of The World Ends With You is up an this is a game that really has to be played for you to appreciate just how fantastic it is. If you read Penny Arcade, you'll know that Tycho is as in love with it as I am, and his posts go a long way towards explaining all the fun little quirks, more so than I could do in a review. You can check his take on it here and here.

On the one hand, I probably wouldn't have played it if I didn't have to review it, so I'm glad for the review, but on the other hand, having to rush through a game like this really does it a disservice. It should be explored and savored to really be enjoyed. Thankfully I still have tons of pins to evolve and items to buy and Noise to take out, so there's still a lot of enjoyment to be had.

Just to give you an idea of how much this game has seeped into my every day existence, today I read about how Nintendo just released a new channel for the Wii that will allow you to download game demos to your DS. As one of the ways to level up pins in TWEWY is to put the game in Mingle Mode and find another, any other, DS wireless signal, my immediate thought what that I can use my Wii to level up my pins. Demos? Fuck demos. I'm all about the pins baby.

All about the pins.

I'm on a roll, so I might as well just wrap up today's post now so that I have more time to play the mediocre slice of blasé pie that is Iron Man for the PSP. Yesterday my toy hunting was rewarded with both a Salvage and a Stealth Bumblebee. Stealth Bumblebee is a glorious toy. It's the new Camaro version, so it's a very stylish mold, and not so danged foot heavy as the beater Camaro version. The stealth version is yellow on black though, and with the translucent blue windows and the electric blue paint apps and the new head sculpt, it is one extremely pretty toy. He rocks he box with First Strike Optimus on the speaker in my home theatre room. Peep the gallery at until I can get some pics up.

Salvage is interesting not only because he's a very nice repaint of Dropkick, one of my favorite new toys, but because of his character biography. Basically, he was a salvage truck until he was brought to life by the Allspark and now even though he's an Autobot and he's all for good and shit, he really just wants to go back to being a truck. I find that very interesting and very depressing at the same time. Assuming that he wasn't a sentient truck before being turned into a Transformer, he had no life at all, and then, once given life, he's immediately drawn into this conflict. That made me wonder if there is a class war of some sort between the Transformers from Cybertron that were Transformers pretty much from the start and the ones newly created on Earth. I mean, if my coffee table suddenly became sentient, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't give it equal say in various family matters. That got me thinking to how the new Transformers would pick sides once they became Transformers. On the face of things, the Decepticons turn into much more powerful vehicles, so they'd seem to have the advantage. And if you were, say a Ford Escort your whole life, and your owner treated you like shit, maybe you'd be pretty pissed and wouldn't want to save them from a life of enslavement. On the other hand, maybe you just like humans? That seems like the weaker of the two arguments. I don't know. All I do know is that if the 200 word character biography on the back of a toy can get me thinking that much, it's worth a purchase. I also know that I need to get out more and that I need to do some maintenance on my push mower because I've neglected that thing so much that if it comes alive it'll be looking to mulch my face off.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

5th Adoption Day

Today marks the 5th anniversary of us adopting our son Ben. As per the usual, we went out for Orange Chicken at Panda Express and then got ice cream. What can I say? The boy loves his Orange Chicken.

Five years ago we went to court in Russia and told the judge that we were so concerned about the dry skin on my son's cheek that it warranted immediate medical attention. Yeah. Some situations call for exaggeration and this was one of them. It was either that or spend two weeks in Russia waiting for all of the paperwork to go through. You'd be surprised at what you'll say in court when facing the threat of spending another two weeks eating nothing but granola bars and rationing the bottled water for teeth brushing so that you don't get dysentery.

After we went to court, we were supposed to go back to the hotel, get some sleep and then pick Ben up the next day and go back to Moscow but instead they decided that we'd pick him right up and drive back to Moscow. Just to set the stage for this trip, driving in rural Russia is one of the scariest driving situations you'll be in. The roads are atrocious, and thin. Everyone drives about a billion miles an hour, and if there's a large truck on the road, your driver has no problem swinging out into the opposing lane, even if another truck in said lane is about to paste your ass. Driving in these conditions when it's just you is one thing, but driving in these conditions holding on to your new, seven month old son is something else entirely. I thought we were all going to die, and worse, that I just spent a boatload of money adopting a kid that was going to die with us. At one point I went in the back of the van to mix up Ben's bottle, our driver hit a pothole at Mach 5 and the formula literally exploded all over me. Nice. It's a good thing our driver couldn't speak English as he would have learned a new English word, that word being "fuckstick".

Once we got back to the hotel they dropped us off and left. Linda and I had discussed this in the past, and I had said that there was no way they would take two people who have never had a kid, give them an infant and just leave. Not only would they do that, but they did just that. While in the room, everyone was all smiles, including Ben but once we said goodbye to our coordinator and that door shut, Ben erupted. E-rupted. It didn't help that we forgot one of the basic ideas of feeding a baby, namely that cold formula doesn't cut it. Unfortunately we didn't rectify that little mental error until the next morning, so we were stuck trying to pacify a baby who had been perfect up until that point. Somehow we managed to get him calmed down, get him fed and cleaned up his incredibly stanky person.

Then we rode in an elevator with a prostitute.

I'm not kidding about that last part. All of the adoption books we read about adopting from Russia mentioned that the hotel we were staying at had lots and lots of prostitutes that hung out in the hotel lounge in the evening. True enough, this place was packed with hookers. We decided to take Ben for a walk down in the lobby, forgetting this fact, and rode down with a hooker and her john. I'm assuming he was a john, because if he wasn't, girlfriend had a fetish for the dentally impaired. While we're going down in the elevator, the hooker kept talking to Ben in Russian. It was all very odd. I'm sure she was a very nice person, but I'd just as soon not have a hooker be one of the first people our son hangs out with upon being adopted. I'm kind of old fashioned that way.

There are other stories to tell, but those can wait for another time. For now, I'm happy he joined our family and glad that I never have to go back to Russia. Four times was enough, thank you very much. As far as I know, I've never ridden in an elevator with another prostitute, however I'm not in the habit of asking that of those I'm riding with. I may not know a lot, but I know that much.

One Year of Binky

Hard to believe that I've been working for GameShark for over a year now, but it's true. To commemorate this glorious anniversary, today's Mr. Binky column makes fun of everything about being a game reviewer. Enjoy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What I Learned on Summer Vacation

As I mentioned before, I was planning on writing this multi-day post talking all about our trip when I mentioned it to Linda and her response was to ask me if anyone cared that much. I'm thinking probably not, as if my own wife, who was there, doesn't care, then you probably won't either. Instead, I'll summarize our trip in today's post, bullet point style. Shazam! So, without further ado, here's what I learned on my summer vacation.
  • The Texas landscape is like nothing I've ever seen. You'll be driving along and it's all flat, but it's not farm land, it's just grass, with occasional lines of trees. There's land every where that appears to not being used for anything. Maybe cows graze there, but there aren't any crops. Then you get to Austin and suddenly there are huge hills with houses built into them. What the hell? Where the hills came from, I have no idea. Suddenly they were just there.
  • Texas highways are similarly weird. You'll have a long stretch of interstate with nothing on both sides but the aforementioned crazy land. Then one or two lanes will appear, as if from nowhere, on both sides of the interstate, running parallel to the highway, populated with strip malls, restaurants and various big box stores. Then, just as quickly as they arrived, the lanes are gone. Most highways I've driven on, you can see the stores from the highway, but you still have to pull off of the highway and drive a little to get there. Not so in Texas.
  • The County Line, of Austin BBQ fame, has good brisket, but my brisket is better. I'm not saying, I'm just saying. Their smoked sausage, on the other hand, single handedly provides a reason for pigs to live. It was the best smoked sausage I've ever had. Their pecan pie is a work of genius as well. It's a deep dish pie with just the right amount of sweetness to it and a crust so light and buttery you'd think it was made from buttered photons. Were I able to go back in time, I'd get the smoked sausage platter and two slices of pie.
  • Texas pecans are wonderful. I couldn't eat enough of them. Texas pecans combined with caramel until they're the size of a baby's fist and then covered in chocolate cures all that ails you, unless what ails you is an allergy to chocolate and nuts, at which point they'll probably kill you.
  • The Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa is a fantastic place to stay with beautiful grounds and impeccable service. Every person you come across at this place is super nice and very cheerful. Plus, the place has an adult only pool, so after spending some time lazily drifting down the "river" that cuts through the pools you can retire to the adult pool and get away from the kids that no doubt, annoyed the crap out of you while you were drifting. Plus, they have s'mores every night from 7 - 9 so after a day of walking around the trails and avoiding snakes and poison ivy, you can gorge yourself on more chocolate.
  • San Antonio is kind of gross. The River Walk is nice, but once you've done it, there's no reason to stick around. Well, there wasn't any reason for us. Frankly, I was a little scared.
  • Austin is nicer than San Antonio, but it seems that Austin is a better city at night, what with all of the clubs. The green space along the river is nice, but there's a lot of construction going on at the moment, so it kind of ruins the mood. The state capitol is nice, until you get to the huge statue celebrating those that died fighting for the Confederacy, I'm sorry for "state's rights". I'm all for state's rights, until it's the right to own another human being as a piece of property. Then I think you can shove your statue up your ass.
  • There is an Irish pub in Austin called Fadó, which, unbeknownst to us, is a chain restaurant. Whatever. They poured a perfect Guinness and my fish and chips was off the chain. After walking in the hot Austin sun for a couple of hours, the Guinness went down smooth as silk.
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall is way funny.
  • Central time is somewhat offputting. I don't know how people in that time zone watched TV prior to VCR's or DVR's. Getting everything done by 7 so that you can watch prime time is a bit of a pain in the ass. When do they play video games?
  • If you eat so much over your trip so that you're never hungry, you tend to not appreciate your meals as much, however you appreciate your snacks more. Odd.
  • If you've been driving with a GPS for the past year, you lose all ability to read a map. At this point, paying 50 bucks to get a GPS in the rental is better than continually getting lost, possibly leading to fights with your spouse. Just buck up, admit that you have no idea where you're going, and rent the damn GPS.
That's all I can remember at the moment. I'll cover the Atlanta part of the trip as well as the Springsteen concert later on this week. All in all, we had a great time. It was very relaxing and wonderful to eat when we wanted to, not be back at any special time and generally just relax. It was tough to come home, but I think I'm all adjusted by now. If I could just get more of those pecans, I'd be perfect.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

I Almost Forgot

It's the first of May. We all know what that means.

The Things That Carried Him

Esquire magazine has an excellent piece up called "The Things That Carried Him" about a fallen soldier's final trip home from Iraq.

It is a very well reported and well written piece however it is also gut wrenching to read and I came to tears several times while reading it. It has stuck with me all day today and at times, I well up just thinking about it. That being said, it absolutely deserves your attention. Regardless of your position on the war, the fact remains that there are plenty of people responsible for ensuring that our fallen military members make it home with dignity and respect, and the burden that these people take on, willingly in many cases, to try and lessen the grief of others is commendable. Obviously, I'd love for every one of those people to not have these kind of jobs to do, but sadly, they have plenty of work, and I'm sure that every family member left behind appreciates their efforts. I know that I do.

It's easy, as you go about your day and the coffee machine is on the fritz, or you have some bullshit meeting to attend, to be up in arms about your situation. We all have off days, Lord knows I've had more than my fair share, however when I read something like this it helps put things in perspective. I mean, we're all allowed to have crappy days, but my crappy day would be nothing compared to what some of these people see on an hourly basis. Similarly, it's hard to not feel anything but grief for the family left behind by the soldier at the focus of the article. Sure, my kids bug the crap out of me at time, but I still have them, can still hug them and love them and be bugged by them. To imagine that loss is harrowing.

Any way, it's a tough piece to read, but it's well worth it, if only to get an understanding of the many men and women who are there for the members of our military, and their families, should a soldier fall.