Now Being Entertained

Mar 25, 2010

Now Listening

I’ve been listening Dave Matthews’ Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, jamming away in the truck while I travel to work and back again.  This album is their best work in quite a while.  “Shake Me Like a Monkey” is my favorite song of the past year or so and, one day, I’ll learn “You & Me” on the guitar.  I just have to. 

I also need to see them in concert, again.  That’s scheduled for the summer.

Now Playing

I’m playing a lot of God of War 3, which is as brutal and maybe predictable as you’d expect.  I don’t think I mean predictable in a bad way.  Kratos simply noticed that several heads are in need of removal.  I’m not surprised he’s the man for the job. 

I remain pretty happy with the formula, especially in a game that starts this fast and looks this incredible.  But the formula is incredibly obvious if you’ve ever touched one of these games before.  This is my fourth (I count the PSP game).  Next time I’ll be looking for something a little different.

Now Watching

The wife and I are watching a lot of American Idol and Survivor, the latter of which is aging better than the former.  I’m not exactly certain what’s wrong with American Idol.  It certainly has something to do with a weak lineup of contestants.  Maybe they’ve played with the format too much.  Maybe I’ve gotten too good at using my DVR.  Maybe I miss Paula.  No, it can’t be that last thing.  It can’t be that at all.

Survivor, however, remains a pretty good show where they eventually eat bugs or something similarly vomit inducing.  The villains and heroes thing feels contrived – after all, it is — but, somehow, the show remains entertaining.  Jerks and Rob will soon merge with the nice guys, however.  I’ll be happy when we get down to individuals.

I’ll be happier when I find more time to watch The Fringe.

Now Reading

I recently began the “Song of Fire and Ice” series of books penned by George R.R. Martin in an effort to fill a gaping hole in my fantasy library.  I know.  I can’t believe I waited so long either.  I’m sorry I waited, even as Mr. Martin does terrible things to characters he first made me love.  I’m well into “A Clash of Kings.”  I’ll finish reading the series, at least when George bothers to finish writing it.

I do have to say it’s been both a fantastic and terrible addition to my Kindle.  Getting the first two books for just over $6.  Awesome.  Not knowing I just purchased about 2000 pages of reading material.  What is this, Harry Potter?

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I’d like to start a user group about programming, but I have two problems:  I’m lazy and my ideas are a bit off the beaten path.  So far, it’s the first one that’s stopped me from trying.  I’m busy.  Most programmers are.  I’m happy to chat about the possibility and poll a couple of friends.  I’ll even make convincing gestures with my hands.  But actually organizing such a thing involves work, a very scary proposition indeed.  However, I’m now being nudged into action and suddenly wondering if my odd ideas are anything more than just that.

User groups have a couple of problems in my opinion, the biggest of which is that they are about something, something too specific.  That something is usually a programming language.  We build our forts out of Java or .NET sticks and don’t bother much to peek out the windows.

On paper at least, this is practical, even desired.  The compiler of a typical programmer rarely changes in a typical week, month, or occasional decade.  Why shouldn’t the user group match the contents of the hard drive?   But this insular focus on a particular technology or language first limits the potential audience for the group (in a way not unlike a binary search) and ignores something incredibly fundamental.  Most of us are doing a lot of very same things.

We’re searching the contents of a database.  We’re organizing a project that got much larger than originally expected.  We’re trying to make an interface better for our users, moving a widget here and changing a color there.  We’re dealing with a tangle of code written by someone else.  We’re wondering if we are doing this or that the right way or, in my case at least, the most interesting way.

These are the types of things I’d like to discuss and not only because my current job can lead me between database maintenance, a web application written in Java, multiple .NET platforms, and, lately, an Objective C application for the iPhone in a typical week.   I just enjoy discussing technology.  It’s what made me a geek.  There’s a ton of programming topics to discuss and debate, both common and uncommon alike, that don’t center around a single programming language.

The other problem is that user groups are boring, boring in both topic and presentation.  I don’t think I’m the only person that has stumbled into a group meeting after a long day at work and spent the next hour wishing I was home with my kids.

A narrow focus on a specific language often leads to equally narrow and specific topics.  Sit me down in an extended session about something I’ll never, ever use and I’ll show you someone more interested in their cell phone than the voice coming from front of the room.

In fact, sit me in an extended session about anything after the hour of six in the afternoon and yawns often result.  I need a kick start after work and I don’t mean pizza, even though it certainly helps.  A long form presentation is the very opposite.

I see any decent user group as a great opportunity for discussion and debate.  Let’s talk about something.  Let’s experiment with presentation styles created by people as bored as I and make something worth the attention and feedback of the folks still seated in the room.  Let’s argue about religious topics and foster participation.  Folks willing to spend their free time in a user group are often quite passionate about what they do.  I want to hear some of it.

In a lot of ways, I just want to chat.  About stuff.  Programming stuff.

I might just be interested enough to attend such a chat after work.  Add pizza to the mix and we are golden.

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Dad Can Wait

Jan 24, 2009

The whole point of Fallout 3 is to find your dad.  See what he’s up to.  Discover why he left you behind.  Unravel a mystery that only begins with your father taking off without you and leaving no answers to exactly why.  I’m missing the point.

What to do next?It’s not that I’m not interested.  At some point I’ll find the time and energy to pick up his trail through the vast and desolate post apocalyptic world that make up my not so welcome home.  The mutants and nasty moles between him and I aren’t to blame.  I find them everywhere.  Another 1 or 20 don’t serve as much of a deterrent.

It’s just that my dad isn’t the sole story worth exploring.  I need to help a woman write a book, nearly sacrificing myself in the process.  I have to help a lady send a message to her family, discovering things she’d rather not.  Hell, a little boy just asked my help to find his father.  How can I refuse?

And each of these stories don’t end simple or even easily.  Many can be considered adventures all by themselves, both in scope and in the hours lost while following their twists and turns.  A simple bit of playing messenger ends in a murder mystery and the discovery of a cult whose methods and message are very mixed.  An attempt to bring light to a traitor ends badly for those I wanted to help.

These stories frame the world.  They make Fallout what it is, something beyond the rubble and depression, something very eager to tell you its story.

Rather that story really involves my dad, I can’t tell, at least not yet.  I assume it must.  I won’t know for a while. First, I want to explore that abandoned school over there.  And see what I can do about that nuclear bomb.  And see about delivering this bit of naughty nightwear. And…

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Jan 21, 2009


A six year old worked on this.  He never considered his use of color.

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Short Stuff

Jan 11, 2009

“I’m 4 years old and ready to get hair under my arms,” Chase stated proudly to his mom while putting on his pajamas this evening.

Mom hesitated.  “Who has hair under their arms?”

“Daddy.”  He paused. “And you.”

More than a few chuckles came from the computer room, quite possibly indicating some type of knowledge regarding the current miscommunication.

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My son’s elementary school, located in a bustling small town of around 4000 found squarely within the big battleground state of Pennsylvania, voted Barack Obama into office today.  I believe that settles it, far ahead of schedule.  I hope that CNN doesn’t get too upset that I’ve broken the news so early.  At least everyone can get to bed early tonight, my son in particular.  He voted for McCain.

I wonder if he had to wait in line.  His mother and father did.  My 50 minute wait to vote was an extended finale to weeks of politics overload.  Pennsylvania is a swing state and you can feel it.  The constant phone calls don’t allow you to forget.   The mailbox is filled with pamphlets.  My doorbell often signaled that another chat about our future president was about to begin.

As a long time Maryland resident and registered Republican, this pleases me greatly.  Concrete statistics aside, it’s nice to feel that your vote matters.  It’s nice to live in a state that doesn’t hand out its electoral votes almost as a celebration of a singular mind set.  It’s fascinating to live within easy driving distance of a place where a presidential candidate actually makes an appearance.  It’s nice to be loved or, at least, have your vote loved like it matters.  I’d tell you that it is not all sour grapes brought upon by my political affiliation but, I’d mostly be lying.

So, I guess you might say, I didn’t take voting lightly.  This one mattered.  I watched every one of the debates.  I read up on the issues.  I took a look at my vote from 2004 and reexamined why.  I wondered who’d I’d trust to shore up the economy and spend wisely.  I read about health care plans and considered their feasibility.  I looked for things to love with regards to education.  I weighted tax plans against simple macroeconomics.  I paid attention when campaigns shifted from the issues to name calling and accusations.  And then I did something interesting.  Something that may be interesting only because it marked my first such vote in my relatively short voting history.

I voted for a Democrat for the highest office in our country.

Good luck Senator Obama.  You have a bunch of little kids voting for you.  I’m just one of them.

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Sep 23, 2008

My heart leapt as I watched and listened to my son puzzle out the words on the page. I watched his face twist as he found the words. I saw his little fingers trace the letters, first above and then below. I listened as short ‘O’s became long ‘O’s and vice versa. He listened as I tried to shake a few common rules out of the English language.

I didn’t expect to be so excited about red fish and blue fish. Certainly, I’ve read it before. There are sad fish and glad fish. I know how it goes. I have an idea how it ends.

Reading is something that comes out in fits and starts. It’s a true learned skill, something that the five year old rarely has to wrestle. Books are often met with interest and enthusiasm. Reading, however, has its moments of victory and frustration. It doesn’t come easy or, at least, it doesn’t come without trials. Luckily, I’m a parent of little boy who isn’t about to give up, a little boy who senses that he’s getting it, and a little boy who couldn’t be more proud to read to his little brother.

As I sat down on the floor today with my two boys on my lap and a book in my hands, my heart leapt on a little on each word. It wanted to force each word from his lips. I hoped it would stay in my chest.

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Daddy’s Day

Jun 15, 2008

Two quick notes:

Bill Harris, the author of one my favorite blogs, has a great post over at Level Up called A Father and Son’s Shared Reflections on the Lessons of Play.  I’d say I’d liked I it because, well, I did.  But that doesn’t quite capture my thoughts.  It might be better to say that, as a dad, I appreciate it.

Didn't I tell you to not to play on the furniture?

This morning, two sweet little boys came bursting into the bedroom shouting salutations and toting along gifts.  That wasn’t quite the best part of Father’s Day, even though it was close.  That would be carrying the sleepy bodies of my boys to and from the car last evening.  There’s nothing quite like a drowsy hug — provided just so that a little head might lay on your shoulder — to remind you that you are very much a dad.

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May 20, 2008

When I play Peggle, I can’t help but think about Bob Barker.  In PopCap’s alternative universe, Bob has been replaced by a unicorn, not Drew Carey.  Instead of models, we get animal life, like a rabbit with a helpful little magic hat.  It’s all still colorful and wonderful but here you play Plinko, not some person that has no business jumping up and down like that.

Ok, Peggle isn’t exactly like Plinko.  You don’t drop disks from above.  Instead, they are fired from a tiny cannon.  In addition to being the obstacle, pegs are actually targets.  Aim, press the trigger, and watch the ball dance along, bouncing to and fro, clearing the way as it works its way below.  It’s captivating, addicting, and proof that PopCap has this casual game thing mastered. It’s also much better than its inspiration; something that the new Price is Right is unlikely to be.

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I came into March unexcited about Nintendo’s big release for the month, Super Smash Bros. Brawl.  The concept — use one Nintendo character to knock another Nintendo character senseless — is sound and simple enough.  I like Metroid.  Mario is a close buddy of mine.  Make them the main characters in Rock’em Sock’em robots.  Surely, that’s a game that  I should enjoy.  But I wondered about a lot of things.  Almost all of these things were bad. 

I wondered if Nintendo’s attempt at an online service and arcane rules meant to “protect the children” would serve as too much of barrier to online play.   I wondered if I could find suitable opponents in a world where the gap between button mashing (my young kids) and jedi master (the rest of the Internet) often appears nonexistent.  I wondered if a lonesome guy like myself could find something on the disk to play when my far away friends couldn’t visit. 

Maybe I was rationalizing in the hope that I wouldn’t do the inevitable.  Maybe I hoped that I wouldn’t purchase another Nintendo branded product for my little white console that’s simply starving for decent games.  I’m not surprised that I could ignore these rationalizations at the checkout counter.  I am, however, a little surprised that I was so right to wonder.

Right now, I’m wondering why I bought it.

Calling Nintendo’s online service an attempt sounds charitable in retrospect.  It’s simply broken.  Public matchmaking doesn’t appear to work.  In a scene that is perhaps symbolic, it’s an exercise that consists of petering about in an empty room alongside a lonely white punching bag waiting and hoping someone swings by to visit.

Private matches, which requires the exchange of a 12 character code to merely begin the convoluted process, have their own set of problems.  The ability to play games with friends is segregated into its own little corner of the menu.  It’s difficult to determine who is online right now, much less coordinate a match without any real form of communication.  This is a system that damn near requires an actual telephone to work. 

What Nintendo has is a game that demonstrates that they barely understand what this whole online gaming thing is about.  Adequate would be a step up.  I’d settle for functional. 

What I have is something that is surely a great party game without the party.  I should have seen this coming. 

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