Archive for December, 2005


I finally got around to using modern diary software. (We don’t use the “b” word around here. I hate it.)

What does this mean to you, the television viewer? It means silky, sumptuous rss; it means single-entry permalinks, for those reruns of all your old favourites; it substantially lowers the posting bar, so there’s a chance you’ll hear from me more than once a month.

I converted the two years of archives that were easy; the other four will arrive later. I think I’m going to need to write some perl.

George is in town this weekend (!), and I think we’re going candlepin bowling — a bizarre New England aberration — pretty soon.


smothered in club sauce

Mike’s showing us how it’s done

We went candlepin bowling after all; fun was had by many. It’s the first time I can remember being in a room with carpet on the walls since junior high.

Also: when did bowling alleys become the fun Saturday night for legions of cute women? I assume it’s just because they’re too young to drink legally — and at risk of falling into an infurating ageist stereotype, probably too annoying to carry on a conversation with — but I was surprised all the same.

Simon’s tuckered out from all that in-depth financial analysis

They finally started airing Arrested Development again tonight, which reminded me that I hadn’t joined the chorus of uninfluential voices lamenting its presumed demise. Much hay has been made about its all-but-official cancellation, but really, it had it coming. If it can’t hold its own against Monday Night Football in the face of prime-time schedule musical chairs, does it really deserve our adoration?

I’m assuming that the Fox executive responsible for its oversight was too busy swimming, Scrooge McDuck-style, down the hallway that connects his Mansion of Doom to the mothership where they keep the money-printing American Idol, NFL Football, 24, and Major League Baseball franchises to catch the presentation of any of AD’s six Emmys. Or maybe he was in the bathroom. Or perhaps this is how Rupert has his fun, by dangling fresh meat in the otherwise-sewage-filled American television market so he can snuff out the hopes of four million people after we’re hooked.

Mission Accomplished.


coming up roses

Jacob is excited to be in Toronto after pulling an all-nighter not driving

sigh. I was getting ready to have a bowl of CTC before my first meeting this morning, when I found — in the parlance of this incredible book about the Federal Reserve that I’m reading — another market signal. A trailing indicator of my idiocy, if you will.

I’m deeply concerned about this nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources, so in the interest of doing my share of self-sacrifice, I left the fridge door ajar all night. Maybe half an inch. Despite the fact that this barely qualifies as ajar at all — and I really want someone to explain this to me — the inside of the fridge was by far the warmest place in the house. Simon was camped out in there, sleeping on a wrapped slab of bacon. The milk was the temperature of really excellent bathwater. That’s how warm it was in there.

It (the milk) was spoiled of course, and I’m not speaking rhetorically about the fact that milk is disgusting and comes for all intents and purposes pre-spoiled directly from the grocery store, I mean it was actually straining against the plastic, threatening to vote or perhaps even run in the next local election. I bought this milk just yesterday, by the way.

I’m staring into the headlights of my mother’s 50th birthday, which was last Wednesday, so perhaps I’m actually staring into the reverse lights. You know how sometimes you forget someone’s special day, or you neglect to congratulate them on a recent win, and the longer it goes on, the harder it is to overcome? Like maybe you’ll just catch them next year? That’s where I’m at. I’m going to make it up to her, and at the same time provide much needed economic stimulus, by surprising her with large new kitchen appliances. Not just one. That’s how good a son I am. Tell your 21-to-34-year-old daughters. This one’s a keeper.

I bought a Nintendo DS while I was in Ohio for Thanksgiving. I don’t really have time to expound the way I’d like — I have an extremely important yet largely unfinished presentation looming over my head — but you go get yourself a copy of Mario Kart DS and Warioware Touched. Then we will speak, as men do.

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General, take us to TRAVELCON-2

A few months ago, after the novelty of forgetting my iPod cable or clean underpants wore off, I made a detailed pre-travel checklist, covering everything from packing my mobile phone charger to feeding Simon. Alas, like any good process, it has required review and revision from time to time, as it originally lacked:

  • a subsection specific to international travel
  • toiletries related to contact lens care
  • a reminder that if I change my pants, I have to start the process over from the beginning, because I probably took something important out of my pockets and forgot to put it back
  • confirmation of my actual flight time, as opposed to the one that I enter in my calendar that later turns out to be an hour early, or on the wrong day

Anyways, you get the idea, and it really works — getting ready to leave is now a no-stress, brainless activity, and at least I stopped making the same mistakes twice. If I said that this course of action was at least partially influenced by my company’s success with the TSP, then that would not be a lie. It would be the truth.

Update: I guess I also need to add casual clothing to the list, because I had to go shopping in San Jose to avoid spending the entire weekend in dress slacks or pajamas.


it was printed right on the receipt

I was running a little late this morning, so I sent a quick email to the person I was meeting to let him know that I’d arrive closer to 9h than 8h30. It occurred to me while riding the elevator at 9h15 that pretty much the entire rest of the day would have, strictly speaking, qualified under that guidance.

Now I’m passing time in LAX, from which I haven’t ventured more than a mile in almost 36 hours.

Fuck. I just accidentally ate at a “restaurant” owned and operated by Delaware North. It was overpriced and not very good. That sounds about right.


it doesn’t feel like Christmas when it’s 70 degrees outside

Today we put up the Christmas tree at the Regan/Beard residence.

Fifteen seconds later, she pulled the tree down on top of herself.

Chris and I took Miranda to pick one out. She was largely nonplussed by both the process and the outcome, but we managed to find a tree that was almost without question more healthy and full than any I remember from my youth, despite the fact that it was pre-cut. The wreaths, on the other hand, were a sickly, disturbing bunch. And at some point in the last five years they stopped selling real stands made out of steel or some other metal; now they are made of plastic, disposable, like the rest of our gross national product.

I don’t think I’ve been in a house with a Christmas tree since the last time I actually spent Christmas with Chris and Patrice, four years ago. In retrospect, considering the prominent role that Christmas played as the essential holiday of my childhood, I find this very strange.

Miranda likes to dress Zibibbo in hats and other adornments of various colours and styles.

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a list of ways that I don’t spend my non-existent free time

The second half of 2005 has been a virtual bumper crop for distractions, none of which I’ve really had time to more than cursorily pursue. But they each — I think? — represent such a divine stride forward in this area of my interests that I feel compelled to share them with you nonetheless.

The first such offering, in all truth, was released more than two years ago — although the Mac followup (having matured in an aged sherry cask for a mere one year) was our first exposure to it. I may use some superlatives in the following paragraphs, so pregnant women and those with heart conditions or a family history of stroke may wish to come back tomorrow.

Before it gets ugly, I will say simply that Railroad Tycoon 3 is a solid accomplishment in an already distinguished series. It is very easy on the eyes, with relatively few sharp user-interface corners (although some aspects of track-laying are rescued only by the ability to undo; more on this later). It is rich not only in visual detail, but also in the detail of game play: commodities, stock markets, locomotives, cities, and people: these are the fundamental components of such a simulation, and each vibrates with the intensity required to produce lust in all but the non-living.

As an aside, if you peel back the delicate, flaky layers of the Intertron pastry, some users will reveal the dark secret that the game is prone to crash or lose its ability to make the sweet music which is otherwise a siren song worthy of any ancient tale; neither Jacob nor I experienced these ill effects, but I feel compelled to offer them as a sort of disclosure that may, in any event, fall short of full.

Where the game does not excel, however, can be summarized thusly:

Point the first: some additional explanation regarding the economic model would not be ill-received. Sometimes I think I understand it, and it makes perfect sense within my own synaptic maze. Then I connect two cities which should positively brim with commerce, the meniscus of profit straining both credibility and the physics of modern banking — only to have trains run nearly empty along this dejected avenue, little tumbleweeds rendered in exquisite detail behind the rusty caboose.

Point the second: while I applaud that nebulous market forces these past few years have awakened to the fact that we enjoy playing games with our other nerd friends on your vast internet, it is almost beyond belief how shoddily this can be executed in the year 2003, by which time we already had entire lifetimes of study devoted to this singular topic. Perhaps my social circle is somewhat unique; perhaps we are the only people who, before we finished dialing the complete contents of our respective little black books, would have harnessed enough networking intellect to reconstitute the very fabric of the medium from its component atoms. But whatever the reason, someone needs to figure out why I apparently know the only ten people on earth who can make networked applications that don’t crash or lose synchronization, can restore from a previous session, and did not shed features in the online transition as a snake sheds its dessicated skin, packed with nutrients. Put simply: the online play lacks critical behaviours found in the single player modes — oops, did you just mis-lay a $4.8 million bridge? too bad, because we couldn’t be fucked to implement undo; is slow beyond human comprehension — even the local UI grinds to a halt; and generally sucks in the same way that most other online games suck, in which you spend at least five times longer losing synchronization and not restoring saved games as you do actually playing — when you get to play at all.

Point the third: I spent so much time and psychic energy on that last point that I don’t remember anymore. Maybe it will return. I rue the day that I bought the Mac version. As I mentioned, we bought this version first, which in most cases would make it a veritable feat of idiocy to return to that particular well again for the Windows version, the kind of folly that usually climaxes in me making fun of you for having three copies of the same album. In this case, it merely underscores the implausible degree to which we enjoy simulations of a train-related nature. It is difficult to articulate, this far into the future, precisely what it was about the Mac version that was so disquieting. But I believe it was fundamentally slow, and not in a simple go buy a dual G5 and shut your cranky-hole way, but a way that felt innate and unsolvable. Go buy the Windows version. I just rued again.

All in all, despite the highly-cathartic vitriol, I deem it excellent. You should interpret this through whichever lens you feel is appropriate, given my instinctive longing for trains and other train-related program activities.

Second in our little roundup: Age of Empires III has really been overshadowed by the third in our series, below, and as a result I don’t have a very good feel for it yet. Nevertheless, I am compelled to include it by simple virtue of how thoroughly its coming has dominated my cognition this past year.

Fan of the genre or not, if human blood courses through your veins, you are obliged to agree that AOE2 was a giant among men, an opus among mere songs. Having spent years meditating on this fact, honing my love as one delicately hones a fine sword of folded steel, I was rent by this very love upon release of the deplorable Age of Mythology. As I do not acknowledge even the existence of this heretical installment, we will not speak of it again.

So keep in mind that, as far as I’m concerned, this series has been effectively stalled since 1999′s Age of Kings, a game which I’ve probably purchased no fewer than three times for a variety of platforms and people. It is for this reason that I am on the very brink of disappointment, doing my best to hold my crestfallen feelings at bay, having managed to convince myself that AOE3 is, in fact, awesome, I just haven’t played enough of it yet. Sadly, deep down inside (where I am soft, like a woman) I do not believe this.

I believe that another ten or twenty of your Earth hours worth of gameplay will show me that it is the very good-looking — but ultimately still reheated and glazed with preservatives — pressed sweepings of AOE2. So far, cards or no cards, I am not finding it anything more than Age of Kings in a slightly different setting, with better animations. If I’m not careful, I catch the darkest recesses of my mind, where even I dare not to trod, finding it less.

We will see if I ever discover these aforementioned hours, perhaps in some kind of temporal repository buried in the frozen earth of my quaint New England “lawn”. If so, I shall report on my overdue findings.

Last, but most certainly not least — indeed, carefully formulated to leave the reader on an upbeat Sunday trajectory — we come to Civilization IV. Click on that link, and read the powerful green box. Do you see? Universal acclaim.

And do not be confused by the univeral acclaim also heaped upon Civilization III, as so much garbage is heaped upon other… garbage. This is the real deal.

Permit me to set aside my typically flowery — some would say overwrought, but one assumes that those idiots are no longer reading — prose and be direct: the game is beautiful. I speak of breathtaking beauty, exceeding even that of the train game — which, to be fair, it should: it had two more years to slow-roast inside the patented self-basting bag that is Firaxis Studios, steaming in Sid Meier’s very juices. Although one must make a number of small cuts in the top of the bag to prevent it from exploding, I can assure you that this nod to kitchen physics compromised neither the succulent all-white breast meat, nor the more flavourful and tender dark meats in any way. I like to protect the delicate breast from burning by covering it with bacon until the final browning, a trick I learned from Beard. It is unclear whether this method was employed in the making of Civ 4, but I like to think that it was.

The gameplay has been precisely tuned, passed through a fine sieve to remove any distasteful elements left from the failed experiments of Civ 3. The in-game abortion that was pollution control has been stripped as if it had never been; automated workers dispense with their unsavoury chores in a manner that is very pleasing; the need for micromanagement of research and production has been substantially reduced by carrying extra points over to your next turn; and so on.

The online play appears to have taken a similar, if not greater, leap forward, first and foremost by actually being included with the product when it shipped, rather than sold as an add-on a year later. But more fundamental game mechanics, such as allowing everyone to play the turn simultaneously, a thoroughly delightful permanent-alliance / team structure, and worlds of breathtaking size, make online play a perfectly splendid experience.

However, in another of the infinite demonstrations that game developers never actually play their own games before they ship, it contains aggravating, obvious flaws: too many modal dialogs, during which you miss critical parts of the action, and can’t find the information you need to make the best decision; an overly-busy city management interface, which you can usually avoid via the aforementioned modal dialog, but not if you need to look something up before choosing; a civlopedia that, in lacking a coherent index, borders on uselessness; and as always, lest we find cause for celebration that the 21st century is indeed finally upon us, multiplayer games plagued by synchronization problems — although at least save and restore appear to work reliably. I also share Rob’s frustration with the barbarians, although I offer a diffrent compromise: an option that would preserve barbarian cities and units produced therein, but eliminate the random spawning of units in fog-of-war-hidden squares. The former are predictable game elements against which a strategy can be devised; the latter are just irritating.

All in all, it deserves each and every one of its accumulated superlatives, for which it will no doubt win some phantasmagoric number of awards.

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