Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Games of Life

I’ve played a lot of video games over the years.

The first were simple word-based games on the Commodore 64, like Oregon Trail; you oftentimes found yourself in a situation, like a haunted house, and had to assemble the clues to escape or merely survive. These games lived in the theatre of the mind.

Around the same time were the block-graphic games of the Atari 2600—game boxes with impressive artwork that never resembled the game within. My favorite was Adventure, where you guided a knight/block through a castle to discover treasure/block and fight a dragon/block. It was a game that lived up to its name, if you let it.

One of the first computer games was on the Atari ST. I remember playing The Bard’s Tale, one of the first Role-Playing Games. It captured my attention and I remember it fondly to this day. I also spent all night keying in the code to create a video game where a guy ran and jumped over a log. All night. It was so disappointing that I never again wanted to become a computer programmer. 

At the arcade, my friends and I poured quarter after quarter into Gauntlet and spent $5 beating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

In Junior High and into High School, Nintendo ruled the day. Contra, Mega Man and Icari Warriors were some of the best ever.

College brought Bill Walsh College Football ’92, where Hershel Walker ran over everything, and NBA Live ’95 dominated the Super Nintendo—where Latrell Sprewell and Chris Mullen shot the lights out. My roommate and I drafted our own teams and tracked our win/loss records over the course of a summer. It was epic and the greatest basketball game of all time.

Post college brought a rash of games for the Playstation, like Siphon Filter and MLB 2001—another game where a roommate and I held a draft and played each other non-stop all summer--and the Nintendo 64, with Goldeneye and Super Smash Bros. The Xbox brought epic games, like Gladius, and the greatest college football game ever—NCAA Football ’06, the year of the race for the Heisman.

Today, I mainly play the occasional game over an internet connection with my friend on my Xbox 360—gone are the limitless days with limitless free time; responsibility has muscled its way in. I still enjoy a good sports game, but the shoot ‘em up games are where it’s at—lots of excitement, lots of challenges, and lots of missteps to make me look like a N00b, despite my years of playing experience.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: It’s Your Ship, By Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

The Premise:
Former Navy Captain of the USS Benfold shares his “management techniques from the best damn ship in the Navy.”

The Good:
As a business book in an industry I’m unfamiliar with, the Navy, I found a lot of the stories entertaining and the first half of the book is quite poignant. The fact that Capt. Abrashoff found success in what is perceived to be a rigid structure makes his accomplishments seem all the more heroic (and I suspect lends legitimacy to his management techniques). Through personal anecdotes, the reader learns about the challenges Capt. Abrashoff faced and how he empowered his crew to think on their own and ultimately succeed. There are a lot of “yep, I’ve faced a similar situation” type moments throughout the book and it seems like a good book for managers who have become stagnant in their thinking. The book is also short enough to be read in a morning and could be used to jumpstart a discussion around the office.

The Bad:
The book becomes repetitive in the back half with plenty of “wait, didn’t I already hear that story” moments. It also lacks depth. Managers looking for actual how-to techniques need to read another book—I recommend 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.  Worst of all, Capt. Abrashoff doesn’t deliver on his promise to share his failures. He shares a few, but they’re more of the “my biggest fault is that I care too much” variety—successes disguised as failures. While he seems like a sincere and genuinely caring person, I couldn’t relate to the rampant belief that everyone is a diamond in the rough if given a chance—Hollywood is full of plenty of “actors” who can’t act. Also, on a side note, Capt. Abrashoff stresses that he worked hard to save taxpayers money—and I’m sure he did—but there were a lot of times when my hackles were raised at the rampant waste of dollars—burning tons of fuel to get to a destination is a major theme and the most egregious was using helicopters to fly taped recordings of college football games between ships.

The Verdict:
Borrow it. Skim it. And discuss it. There are some nice thoughts in the first half and it’s not a bad way to spend a morning, especially if it’s on the company dime.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean

The Premise:
A submarine is sent to the North Pole in a race against time to save a group of scientists trapped at Drift Ice Station Zebra!

The Good:
Part Agatha Christie mystery, part Jack London tale of arctic survival--this story is just the sort of escapist entertainment a busy desk jockey needs to get out from under the day-to-day grind. It had well defined characters, descriptive well-written scenes, tension, life or death consequences and great pacing. And it didn't have any swearing or ooey-gooey romance, so it'd be a great adventure book for pre-teens or teens.

The Bad:
It's a thriller, so some of the characters are a bit over the top. It also takes place in the middle of the Cold War, which means younger readers may not get some of the references.

The Verdict:
Can you judge a book by its cover? I did when I picked it up for 50-cents at a thrift store and I didn't regret it a bit. Read it if you're looking for a nice palate cleanser. Apparently it was made into a movie starring Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine--the trailer doesn't do the book justice--which means that it was good enough for somebody, somewhere at some time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Seattle SuperKings?

A television set at a bar the other night was playing a classic match-up between the Houston Rockets and the Seattle Supersonics. It was a slow sports night, clearly. And I'll admit, I got a bit misty-eyed.

Sure, everyone remembers Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton--who could forget?! I even waited on Nate McMillian once*. But I'll always have a soft spot for the lesser known players: "Sleepy" Sam Perkins, Frank Brickowski, and, yes, even Ervin Johnson*.

But when the NBA ripped the team out of the city, they also tainted all of my memories from that era. Gone were the playoff games against Houston or the Finals in 1996 against Jordan. I've never gone back to watching the NBA.

And now I hear they want to uproot another franchise, ruin more memories and pretend that the "Kings" are now the "Sonics".


*Nice guy, good tipper.
**Not Magic

Friday, January 18, 2013

See you on the other side, Fringe.

J.J. Abrams does not make mediocre television. He and his teams set out to explore the biggest of life's themes--truth, reality, love and death--and his shows are admirable for their ambition and their failure.

ALIAS was a show about a woman who joined the CIA. It was gripping through its first two seasons, introduced some scene-chewing villains and then got a bit weird.

LOST was a show about a group of plane crash survivors on a tropical island. It was tense and exciting through many seasons, also introduced memorable villains and then got a bit weird.

But FRINGE started out weird--X-Files weird--and that's been its greatest strength. All of the themes the other two shows explored, but didn't always seem to fit within their initial premises, were able to live comfortably within the FRINGE universe. And, surprisingly, while it had memorable villains, they weren't as crucial to the show's appeal.

On FRINGE, anything, literally anything, was possible. If a herd of unicorns show up in tonight's series finale, I'll be surprised, but not put off by it. FRINGE was incredibly consistent throughout its first three seasons, started wandering in season four and took an interesting turn in this finale season. The different directions were partially due to a lack of network support (it has to be tough writing ambitious plots when your show could be canceled at any moment) and it would have been interesting to see where the show could have gone had it had a full season to explore its universe just a little bit more. So while I'm not recommending that you check out the thrilling two-part finale this evening, I do think it's a show worth watching some time in the future.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bad Aftertaste.

Apparently, it’s cookie season. Girl Scout Cookie season. I know this because the tortured pleas from desperate parents have been heard throughout the halls and the sign-up sheets have papered the walls en masse.

I was never a scout of either gender, but I have a great respect for both the Boy and/or Girl Scouts of America. Anything that teaches children to love the outdoors is a-okay with me.

But I seriously question the merits of the cookie program*.

First there’s the image problem.

When I think of the Boy Scouts, I think pinewood derby—good old-fashioned wood working, painting and hands-on craftsmanship. Bona fide skills. Of course I realize that there’s a good chance a majority of the cars are built by the dads, but at least it sends the right message.

When I think of the Girl Scouts, I think cookie sales. That would be all well and good if, like the pinewood derby, they made the cookies themselves—good old-fashioned baking, packing and distribution. That way they would learn exactly what ingredients are going into their cookies.

And I realize that it sounds sexist to say that boys should be in the woodshop and girls should be in the kitchen—it really doesn’t matter to me what the task is**—but the point is that the boys make something and the girls, as it stands, do not.

According to the Girl Scout’s website, “When a Girl Scout sells you cookies, she's building a lifetime of skills and confidence. She learns goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics—aspects essential to leadership, to success, and to life.”

At one point in time, this statement was probably true. When I was growing up, you could actually go door-to-door to sell stuff. Back then, girls could certainly learn those skills through the process of selling. I don’t disagree with the statement or the sentiment. But what parent is going to let their daughter just wander off around the neighborhood talking to strangers these days? Not many. 

Instead, the program has become one where you get swarmed at the entrance to a grocery store or have parents tacking up sign-up sheets at their places of employment.

How does that build skills?

Second, the Girl Scouts promote what’s called the Healthy Living Campaign. Cookies and healthy living? Do I really need to explain this? Let’s move on from Let’s Move.

Third, there seems to be a whole slew of partners willing to hitch their star to this wagon, so is the all-out blitzkrieg fund raising even necessary at this point? And wouldn’t it be better to just donate to programs directly anyway?

In my opinion, it’s time for the Girl Scouts of America to retire the cookie program. It’s not longer feasible as a teaching tool and it sends a mixed message to the very girls it’s intended to support. If fund raising is truly needed, why not have the girls make sellable items with their own hands? Or put on musical productions for the elderly? Or create artwork instillations in public spaces that can be auctioned off?

If “goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics” are the lesson, surely there’s a better way to learn it than through box after box of cookies.

*Yes, I realize I’m not the first and won’t be the last.
**They could both make ashtrays for all I care

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Bill of Contradictions, right?

Can you really be a supporter of the First Amendment if you block your Facebook friends? Even the crazy zealot-y ones who make no sense?

Can you be against the Second Amendment, but still root for the kid in Christmas Story to get his Red Rider BB gun at the end?

Can you call yourself an American if you’ve forgotten what the Third Amendment is? Seriously, who knows this one?

Do you give up your Fourth Amendment rights if you join a social network? Did I miss the memo/tweet/posting that nullified it?

Is drunk texting covered under the Fifth Amendment? It’s silent, right?

Can you really expect the Sixth Amendment to be enforced by a government that can’t even figure out its budget from month to month?

Is it hypocritical to demand your Seventh Amendment rights, but skip out on Jury Duty? What if you really hate boring trials?

Can you support the Eighth Amendment, but still force your friends to come to your poetry reading?

Could the Ninth Amendment be our greatest right, even if we don’t understand what it means?

Can you be a supporter of the Tenth Amendment if you don’t live in Washington or Colorado? What about in your grandma’s brownie recipe?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Random notes to self

“Sometimes you just have to walk outside to know if it’s raining.”

At some time and place, I found that statement to be of great importance. Profound even. I went through the effort of typing it into my phone where it rested between, “Work, a.k.a. the free headache clinic”—a thought I found humorous after a tough week at The Job—and “Exterior porch is polar bear. Interior is shaded hammock”—the respective shades of white paint I used … well, I’ll let you play detective on that one.

But back to the phrase of the moment. I distinctly remember thinking the thought after a blurry-eyed version of myself stood over my phone and poked and prodded the fake virtual weather button while the insipid wheel thing spun and spun. Technology is never as bright and shiny and perfect as they make it out to be on TV. Sometimes it wakes up groggy and cranky and in need of coffee, too. So I walked outside to see if it was raining. It was.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Getting Loopy

If you haven’t seen the movie Looper yet, stop reading now. Or rather SPOILER ALERT!!!

We good? Good.

As a refresher: the movie’s premise is that in the future, the mob controls time travel. The main character works as a hit man for them—people are sent back in time and he whacks them with a gun. He is what is known as a “Looper”. Eventually he knows that his future self will be sent back and it is his responsibility to kill future him—thus closing the loop*.

Time travel isn’t the point of the movie. There is even a scene in the movie that admits that the whole time travel thing is a bit wishy-washy. So what I’m about to say isn’t a critique of the film or the filmmakers—I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.

But the time travel is a bit wishy-washy.

For the purposes of this movie, let’s assume that time is linear**. I don’t have a problem with the time travel, but in how it’s done.

Here’s why: Energy cannot be destroyed; it can only be redistributed. That redistribution usually happens in one of two ways—slowly through degradation over time, like a decaying body, or violently through a sudden release, like an explosion. It doesn’t just disappear suddenly.

Therefore, if the mob sends a person—a mass of energy—backwards on the timeline, then they need to send an equivalent mass forward into the future***. That way the energy is balanced on the timeline and therefore you and your future self could exist in and at the same time—just like the mass sent into the future, let’s say a sack of potatoes, would co-exist with its future self (if it still existed). However, since your two selves now exist at the same time as individuals, the actions you take on yourself would unlikely have a bearing on your future self.

So the ending, to me, is a bit wishy-washy. Or maybe it’s this blog post that’s wishy-washy****?

*Got all that? Of course you did. You watched the movie or else you wouldn’t be reading this far.
**Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
***The movie doesn’t seem to have this mechanic in place, as far as I can tell.
****In the future, I will probably wish I could go back in time and change this post.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pint-Size Endorsement

TKD + Equestrian = Kick Ass
I don't usually shill for local businesses*, but I found the savory scones at a new, somewhat undiscovered joint, called the Pint-Size Bakery, rather delicious and, um, savory. The name refers to the size of the establishment--eat there too often and you won't fit into the teeny-tiny entry way. The coffee is fine, Kaldi's, and the staff was friendly. Also, they actually have the trophy (left) on display. Open Tuesday thru Saturday (no Sunday???), so go there and knock a few delicious years off your life.

*My stomach, however, shills like a social media guru with 500 followers on Twitter.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Found this on the Beach

I've always dismissed the Beach Boys as a sort of golly-gee-whiz band that did a nice job of evoking a certain timeless sense of summer. And I would still think that way if I hadn't stumbled across this song that was part of a Greatest Hits CD I won a few years ago at a scavenger hunt and/or trivia night. I can't really bring myself to remember. Point is: I dig it, man.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Consenual Cops?

Some friends and I went on a bike ride to a park and stopped to rest. As we were chatting, we heard a rustling in the bushes and suddenly, from our right, two park rangers emerged and a few moments later a ranger from our left. They were in full action-mode and we probably made their night—thinking there were prowlers about. We exchanged cordial greetings, but, unfortunately for them, we were just having a couple of alcoholic beverages—not enough to impair our operation of said spoke-based transportation, but enough to give our insides an invigorating rubdown. Or as the lead ranger said, “There’s no need to hide your beverages; you guys are just having what is classified as a ‘picnic’.” They wandered off and we resumed our chat and eventually our ride.  

What’s interesting is that Slate Magazine has a new crime blog. On it, they discuss “consensual” police encounters. Based on the article's advice, we should have probably said, “No, officers, we are not talking to you”, but it didn’t seem necessary since we weren’t doing anything illegal and they seemed like guys just doing their jobs on a really cold night. It’s an interesting Catch-22 though. Do you talk like a normal human and potentially get entrapped or do you refuse to participate and raise suspicions that could derail your night?

The articles:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Like a Hawk

On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Washington Redskins, giving legitimacy to a rather unorthodox year. Which got me thinking: What organizational lessons can we learn from this team?

1.     Don’t be afraid to make the right decision, especially if it’s unpopular. In the off-season, the Hawks signed Matt Flynn, a semi-experienced back-up QB, to a sizable contract. They also drafted an undersized QB, named Russell Wilson, in the third round. Against all odds, the rookie got the job.  
2.     Develop systems to discover talent. The Seahawks could have just named Flynn the starter and be done with it. They could have assumed that his “job title” brought with him the requisite skills to succeed. But by giving them both the same assignment, it allowed the coaching staff to evaluate them fairly and without bias.
3.     Just because a client has the money, doesn’t mean they know how to do your job. There must have been tremendous pressure within the organization to start Flynn, but the coaching staff was given the all-important final say.
4.     Sometimes bad things have a way of working themselves out. At the end of the game against Green Bay, the officials botched the call. Should the Seahawks have intentionally missed the extra point to resolve the game in overtime? Yes. But they didn’t. What’s my point? Both teams moved on from the incident, took care of the games they needed to and are now in the playoffs with a chance to play again.
5.     Defense is just as important as offense. While the star QBs tend to get the headlines, it’s important to remember they can’t do it alone. A strong support staff—accountants, lawyers, proofreaders, linebackers—are just as valuable to a team’s success, both on and off the field.  
6.     Don’t count on Washington to get it done. Cheap shot at our current government? You betcha. But it’s a healthy reminder to always have a strong backup (plan) in case the worst-case scenario happens.
7.     When all else fails … run. As fast as you can! Ideally with blockers.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Function 1. Fashion 0.

In my quest to ride 2013 miles on my bike this year, I knew that I would have to sacrifice some comfort. Mainly because it’s freezing cold outside. And when you ride a bike, the temperature drops even further because the wind flenses the heat right off your skin.

But what I didn’t realize was that I would be dressing like a lost and found bin on my rides. In the summer, I look sleek and stylish compared to the clown outfit I assembled for my Friday night and Sunday morning rides.

An inventory:
Running shoes with bright green laces
Stripped blue socks
Long underwear, exposed on the right leg
Blue jeans, rolled up on the right leg (so as to not get caught in the chain)
Long underwear top
Light, thermal-lined running jacket
Thermal-lined ski jacket
Thermal gloves
Knit cap
Bicycle helmet

Notice fashion sense and pride aren’t on the list? That’s because those are heavy and expensive.

So if you see a rumpled pile of laundry rolling down the street, chances are good it’s me, so feel free to honk or wave “hello”.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Think you can out birthday the birthday song with an original and royalty free version?

Submit your entry here:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Series Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Includes: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay

The Premise:
In an unspecified future and a land known now as Panem, 12 Districts rose up in defiance of The Capitol. The Districts lost. As an annual reminder of its dominance, The Capitol forces each District to offer up two “tributes”, a teenage boy and girl for a total of 24, to participate in a battle to the death, live and televised, in a spectacle known as, “The Hunger Games”. But the selection of one girl, Katniss Everdeen from lowly District 12, sets off a series of events that know one could see coming.

Also, full disclosure, I didn’t read the first book; I only watched the movie, but I was assured that it follows the book pretty closely.

The Good:
The land of Panem is richly imagined, the stakes are life and death and the action moves along at a ripping page turning pace. Each character is well realized and stays true to their nature—teenagers act as teenagers and adults as adults. Mrs. Collins creates rules to this world and follows them wherever they need to go. And, for youth oriented fiction, she explores some pretty heady themes without bogging down the action or getting too preachy.

The Bad:
While the plot is robust and the action vivid, the language is a bit … simplistic. Granted, I don’t read a lot of fiction aimed at teenagers, but I do remember the Harry Potter series having some more interesting turns of phrase. There is nothing wrong with the language, it could just be a bit more fulfilling.

The Verdict:
Buy them. Read them. Share them. These are perfect books for a lazy weekend or a long flight. And the movie adaptation seems strong, too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Embracing Intermediacy

While I still enjoy blogging, I’m going to try a less regimented model in 2013 than the daily one you and I have grown to accept as routine. So don’t be surprised or disappointed if my posts do not occur every single day. They still may; this is new to me as well.

Why the change? Two reasons.

1. After a year and a half, I feel like the daily demand produced a certain type of post. By giving myself more time, I hope to dive deeper into topics. Or I might just get lazy and eventually fade into the sunset. Time will tell.

2. I want to allocate my time differently. There are only so many hours in a day and I’ve put a few other projects on hold in honor of the daily post. Plus, I’ve committed to a fun run in a few months, as well as riding over 2000 miles this year—things that are hard to do while typing (and vice versa).

As always, thanks for reading!