January 2009

  • Non Sequitur: Fun Facts (Round 1)


    Recently, I spouted a series of “facts” about some of the folks I converse with on Twitter. In their original form, these all contained 140 characters or less. For ease of use today I have expanded the names of the Factees, so some individual facts may exceed the 140-character limit.

    BONUS QUEST: Savvy readers might be able to determine the impetus for this exercise in lunacy if they examine the list carefully.

    • FUN FACT: Sam Chupp has not one but two arms, each with a five-fingered hand at the end. Individually, the hands are incapable of clapping.
    • FUN FACT: Jared Axelrod can go from clean-shaven to a goatee in seven minutes flat if he concentrates.
    • FUN FACT: Chris Miller once stabbed a minor Internet celebrity in the face…WITH HIS EYES!
    • FUN FACT: J.C. Hutchins loses all his super powers if he sees the color chartreuse, but only if it is actually Pantone® 14-0445.
    • FUN FACT: Contrary to popular belief, Bob is not married to the daughter of a prominent Mafia Don…ANYMORE.
    • FUN FACT: Evo Terra would just as soon kill you as look at you, but in actuality HE DOES NOT WANT TO LOOK AT YOU.
    • FUN FACT: Kris Johnson had a triple-shot venti mocha from Starbucks after lunch, and now his BRAIN IS ON FIRE.
    • FUN FACT: Ken Newquist has never been within arm’s length of an extraterrestrial being, but only because he has RIDICULOUSLY SHORT ARMS.
    • FUN FACT: Ivan has a removable face, used to switch expressions and show emotion, but he never changes it because he is ALWAYS ANGRY.
    • FUN FACT: Mur Lafferty once wrote a romance novel under the pseudonym Karyn Van Heusen. The title: LOVE’S FORBIDDEN FILLING.
    • FUN FACT: As a master of several forms of martial arts, Jason Penney knows 114 ways to immobilize a man, seven of them using JUST HIS GILLS.

    SECRET BONUS QUEST: If you are extremely observant (and I suspect you are), you have already noticed that each of the names mentioned above is actually a hypertext link to another area of the Interwebs altogether. If I were to suggest that a CODED MESSAGE can be revealed by reading the fifth word of the most recent blog post (as of 18 January 2009) at or near each of these locations, I WOULD BE LYING. If I were to suggest that the first person to embark upon such a wild goose chase and comment here with the unscrambled message might win a prize of not-insignificant fabulosity, THAT WOULD ALSO BE A LIE. You should not do this. There is no message. There is no prize. Any effort you expend in attempting to glean such a message in order to attain such a prize would be UTTERLY WASTED. I am absolutely not kidding.

  • Non Sequitur: Sixteen Things


    Once again, I have been tagged to enumerate some random tidbits (factual, one presumes) about myself. The magic number here is sixteen and the tagger was none other than Chris Miller.

    Off we go.

    1. My most recent meal (as of this writing): four sliders and half an order of Not-So Fries at Yours Truly. This is just part of the reason I’ve found the weight I lost last summer.
    2. I play with my wedding ring a lot; it drives Laura nuts. On long trips (such as driving up to my parents’ house), I occasionally take the ring off and place it on the little joystick for adjusting the side mirrors. I often take it off or switch it to my pinkie finger when I’m typing.
    3. I still have my tonsils and they are ginormous, even more so when they’re infected (which seems to happen once or twice annually).
    4. The first Star Wars film I saw in the theater was Return of the Jedi at the Lode Theater in Houghton, MI. I was a little concerned that my eight-year-old brother, Adam, might not be able to keep up with the subtitling of Jabba the Hutt’s dialog, but I don’t think he had any problem with it. After the movie, we ate dinner at the Douglass House across the street. As we were leaving the restaurant, I realized I’d left my jacket in the theater, so went in to retrieve it. Luke and Leia were chasing scout troopers on speederbikes and I found my jacket with no trouble.
    5. I once lived in an apartment above a video store and still could not return a rented movie on time, even though I could have easily dropped the tapes through the hole in my bathroom floor directly into the video store.
    6. The last time I assembled one of these lists, my wife indicated that she could come up with seven weirder things about me than I had. She has yet to deliver.
    7. Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, No. 12
      I still remember the cover of the issue of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition my mother bought me the day I got my first pair of glasses, way back in elementary school. The feature that I remember most distinctly: Stilt-Man’s leg, which is the only part of the villain visible on the cover and extends up beyond the boundary of the image.
    8. I have smoked precisely one cigar in the thirty-five and a half years I’ve been on this planet. I do not intend to smoke another, no matter how many more years I remain here.
    9. I once stuck my tongue on a metal handrail in the middle of winter. I was at school and had snuck outside, so no one knew where I was. After a brief bit of panic, I tore my tongue loose, and the next several meals I ate were incredibly unpleasant. I didn’t tell anyone about it until years later.
    10. If I were compiling a list of United States I don’t feel compelled to visit, I would probably put Idaho at the very top, but only because I’ve already been to New Jersey.
    11. I spent two weeks trying to “hack” a broken copy of Hacker II: The Doomsday Papers for the Apple //GS before giving up and calling Activision Customer Support only to learn that the game was not supposed to boot to a command prompt after all. They sent me a replacement copy and I eventually beat the game.
    12. The only items of clothing I have purchased for myself since getting married are hats, gloves and winter boots. I will probably purchase a pair of gloves on the way home from work today.
    13. I always put my shopping cart in the corral; if there’s no corral, I’ll return it to the store. I do this simply out of a desire to feel morally superior to those people who leave their carts in the middle of the parking lot.
    14. The Rocketeer' class=
      I think The Rocketeer’s helmet is one of the coolest things ever. If I could have one accurate replica prop from a movie, that helmet would be it. If I could have the entire costume, I might never take it off.
    15. It was a list like this one that convinced Laura she needed to introduce herself to me more than fifteen years ago.
    16. I often clean my glasses in the morning with the underwear I am about to don. The cloth is clean, soft and apparently lint-free, so it’s pretty much perfect for the job. I’m well aware that this is probably something you neither needed or wanted to know, but that’s the risk you take when you read one of these lists. Let it be a lesson to you.

    Do I even know sixteen people to tag? Let’s try Jason Penney, Rachel Ross, Eric Feldhusen, Rae Lamond, Eric Bork, Sam Chupp, David Moore, The Bearded Goose, Sudrin, Jude, Not Andrei, The Cynical Optimist, Wesley, Jaxvor, Slowhand and Laura Johnson. Yes! Laura Johnson, who does not have a blog. Get one! Your husband can help!

  • Gamestuff: The Next Generation


    My Xbox AvatarIn reality, the “next generation” of gaming consoles is whatever the folks at Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and Infinium Labs 1That’s a joke. Infinium Labs, now Phantom Entertainment, announced what promised to be the end-all, be-all of video game consoles way back in 2002. Many were skeptical of the rather bold claims … Continue reading have up their sleeves for 2010 (or maybe 2011). Despite the fact that the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii have both been on the market for two years and the Xbox 360 had its third birthday over a month ago, the phrase “next-gen console” still gets bandied about in relation to all three systems. Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be, then fine: The next generation of console video games has arrived at the International House of Johnson.

    That’s right, my final Christmas gift—acquired on 02 January 2009—was an Xbox 360. That handsome fellow to the right (or above left, if you’re reading this in an RSS aggregator) is my Xbox avatar, the closest I could approximate how I look when I arrive home after a grueling day at work, 2Understand that I am using a very generous definition of the word “grueling” here. ready to kick back and play some LEGO Indiana Jones with my young apprentice. 3Kyle originally called the game “cowboy hat Star Wars”, as his favorite game on the Xbox classic was LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.

    Xbox 360My budget allowed for the Xbox Pro console, an extra wireless controller and a 12-month Xbox LIVE Gold membership, but there wasn’t much left over for games, which typically cost $50-60 new. Thankfully, both the console and the extra controller came with games, roughly 40 of my Classix Xbox games are compatible with the 360, and I have some very generous friends with some fairly extensive Xbox 360 game collections. As a result, here is what I’ve been playing for the past week:

    • LEGO Indiana JonesLEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures. Included with the console, this title has definitely gotten the most play. Kyle and I both loved the LEGO Star Wars games, so making the jump to Dr. Jones was a no-brainer. The “Original” part of the title means that there’s no Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I’m okay with that.
    • Kung Fu PandaKung Fu Panda. The second game included with the console is surprisingly enjoyable given that it’s a movie tie-in. I think I’m a little less than halfway through this one and I’m having a lot of fun with it. Unfortunately, it’s only a single-player game and a little complex for Kyle to handle on his own.
    • Hexic HDHexic HD. The final game included with the console was pre-loaded on the hard drive. Hexic HD (I assume HD stands for “high-definition”, though my television is incapable of confirming this) is a puzzle game similar to the insanely popular Bejeweled. Simple, fun and very, very addictive.
    • Viva Piñata: Party AnimalsViva Piñata: Party Animals. This one was included with my second wireless controller. It’s bright and colorful and Kyle likes the way it looks on the screen, but the gameplay is a bit out of his reach right now. Like most party games I’ve played (Fusion Frenzy, Kung Fu Chaos), Party Animals features a variety of short, fast-paced games, ideal for a quick pick-up game with a group of friends.
    • CarcassonneCarcassonne. The one game I did purchase separately cost me 800 Microsoft points ($10 US) on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. It’s an adaptation of a tile-laying game by the same name that Laura and I both enjoy. We’ve only played one game together, but I’m hoping for many, many more. Why play this on a console instead of a tabletop? One word: scoring. Having the computer handle the final scoring is much simpler than tallying it up by hand.
    • Gears of WarGears of War. Until the sequel was released last year, this was one of the must-have first-person shooters for the Xbox 360. I don’t mind being a version behind, because this game is so blasted cool and the graphics are like nothing my Xbox Classic could ever dream of achieving. Gears of War is on loan to the International House of Johnson from Miscellaneous G™.
    • Assassin's CreedAssassin’s Creed. Another title courtesy of Miscellaneous G™, Assassin’s Creed is a third-person, over-the-shoulder action game featuring lots of sneaking around and parkour. I’ve heard that the game can get rather repetetive, but I’m still in the “Holy crap, that looks so awesome!” and “I can’t believe I just did that!” phase of our relationship.
    • Call of JuarezCall of Juarez. The third title brought to me by Miscellaneous G™ is a Wild West shooter. My first impression of this game isn’t terribly favorable. I wanted it to be like Gun or Red Dead Revolver, or even Dead Man’s Hand, but the interface feels clunky and there are visual elements that make the game feel like it was rushed to market. I’m going to give the game another shot before I declare it a dud, but it had best turn around quickly, or we’re never going to get out of the “Holy crap, that looks so not-awesome!” and “I can’t believe I had to do that!” phase of our relationship.
    • Duke Nukem 3DDuke Nukem 3D. The classic first-person shooter and predecessor to the long, long, long awaited Duke Nukem Forever 4Any day now. has not been updated to take advantage of the exponential improvements in gaming technology. At all. And yet, it’s still a heck of a lot of fun to play. This one is courtesy of a free download code, provided by one of the hosts of The Video Game Show.
    • Aegis WingAegis Wing. An action-shooter in the same vein as the classics R-Type and Silpheed. Aegis Wing was a free download from Xbox LIVE. It’s really meant to be played with multiple people, with Voltron-style hook-up action, and the single player missions (sans up-hooking) are rather difficult.
    • Dash for DestructionDash for Destruction. I feel a little guilty that I racked up 190 Achievement points 5More on Achievements in a later post. playing what is blatantly an interactive advertisement for Doritos, but there you have it. Dinosaurs chase Doritos delivery trucks; play as the dinosaur or the truck. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

    I’ve also been taking advantage of my Xbox LIVE membership to play a boatload of game demos, including Braid (which has an excellent soundtrack), Rocketmen: Axis of Evil (the title is far cooler than the game itself), LEGO Batman (want!), and UNO (also want!).

    Because the Xbox is connected to the Intertubes during play, anyone with a little know-how can find out what I’ve been playing recently. My Gamertag badge displays my current Gamerscore and the five games I played most recently, while 360voice uses the very same information to create a daily blog for my Xbox 360. A recently-added feature allows me to log in to my Xbox account from anywhere and queue up downloads of free content or even purchase games on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, which will automatically be downloaded the next time my console connects. Pretty slick.

    Yeah, I’m gushing a bit, and about two years too late, but that’s the way it goes around here sometimes. Tomorrow, Microsoft will announce the Xbox 720 and a year and a half from now I’ll be the only person I know still slumming it with the 360, but it should be a pretty cool year and a half—until the inevitable Red Ring of Death, that is.

    1 That’s a joke. Infinium Labs, now Phantom Entertainment, announced what promised to be the end-all, be-all of video game consoles way back in 2002. Many were skeptical of the rather bold claims made by Infinium, especially given that technical detail was entirely non-existent and the only “prototype” of the console appeared to be a computer-generated mockup. It came as a shock to almost no one when Infinium missed their announced launch date of January 2005, and the aptly-named Phantom console never appeared.
    2 Understand that I am using a very generous definition of the word “grueling” here.
    3 Kyle originally called the game “cowboy hat Star Wars”, as his favorite game on the Xbox classic was LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.
    4 Any day now.
    5 More on Achievements in a later post.
  • TVstuff: The Time-Warner Bundle of Joy


    Today, a week and a half after initial installation, all Time-Warner systems appear to be go. Here’s the timeline as best I can recall it:

    1. Monday, 29 December. The technician arrives at precisely 10:30am, slightly outside of the 8-10am appointment window. On the bright side, he is able to use one of the existing DirecTV coaxial cables I ran when I set up our entertainment closet. 1As a bonus, we’ve still got the DirecTV receiver connected to a single tuner, which gives us DirecTV service until 21 January, and there’s a free HBO weekend beginning on the 18th. This means no additional holes in the house and a very rapid hookup; he’s in and out in roughly half an hour.
    2. Wednesday, 31 December. The Time-Warner/Viacom debacle comes to light and I call Time-Warner Northeast Ohio to let them know that I am not at all happy about it. Thankfully, the two companies decided to play nice at the last minute.
    3. Thursday, 01 January. I notice that several channels, including most of the local Cleveland channels have video but no audio. I plan to call Time-Warner for service, but forget. I am also not thrilled to discover that our cable package does not include Noggin, BBC America, or most of the OnDemand features that the customer service representative pitched me when I made the initial installation appointment. Apparently in her eagerness to save me a few bucks on the television/digital phone/high-speed Internet bundle she eliminated the “Digital Basic” tier that includes the aforementioned features and channels.
    4. Tuesday, 06 January. The technician arrives a few minutes before 9:00am, well within the 8-10am appointment window. Unfortunately, he spends over an hour trying to get the phone jack in my office (which was there when we took ownership of the International House of Johnson, but never worked) connected to the rest of the house. Eventually, he installs a new jack and gets the phones up and running. While observing the technician’s frustration, determination and ultimate triumph, I completely forget to mention the audio issue on the television.
    5. Tuesday, 06 January. Twenty minutes after the technician leaves, I’m on the phone with Time-Warner Cable technical support. My attempts to set up voice mail are unsuccessful, as following the instructions left by the technician results in only a busy signal. 2Apparently, despite the advent of call waiting and voice mail, there is still such a thing as a busy signal. I almost didn’t recognize it at first. While on hold, I remember that I also need to get the audio issue resolved, so I cycle through the first 100 or so channels on the television and find that seven channels have no audio and in one case the audio is severely distorted. The person I eventually talk to resets both the voice mail service and the cable box, but only the voice mail issue is resolved. I make an appointment for Thursday morning to have a technician check the audio problem locally.
    6. Tuesday, 06 January. While verifying that we have long-distance service, I discover that dialing a “1” before the area code does not seem to work. I can hear the phone dialing, but I do not hear it ring or connect. Omitting the “1” before dialing long distance appears to  resolve the issue, so I don’t take it up with Time-Warner. I later learn that the calls dialed with the leading “1” were actually going through, but there was apparently no sound for either party.
    7. Tuesday, 06 January. Laura calls me at work in the afternoon to let me know that outgoing calls are working fine, but incoming calls have sound problems. By the time I get home from work in the evening, both this issue and the strange long distance issue appear to have resolved themselves.
    8. Wednesday, 07 January. Caller ID appears on our television when we receive a phone call. This feature, which takes approximately 24 hours from the time of digital phone service installation to be activated, may be the first thing that has worked correctly exactly when I was told it would, exactly as I expected it.
    9. Thursday, 08 January. Two Time-Warner vans converge on the International House of Johnson shortly after 10am, right on time for the 10am-12pm appointment window. After I explain the problem, both technicians immediately sieze upon the fact that SAP 3Secondary Audio Program. This feature allows television networks to broadcast in multiple languages simultaneously. In my experience, the Secondary Audio Program is typically in Spanish and … Continue reading is enabled on the cable box. Once SAP is disabled, the audio issue is resolved. 4Apparently several stations simulcast absolute silence on the auxiliary audio channel, while WEWS in Cleveland broadcasts a heavily-distorted version of their primary audio. The second technician indicates that occasionally a software update on the cable box will cause SAP to be enabled.

    My initial impression of the services is as follows:

    • Internet. Nothing has changed here. We’ve been very happy with our 7-megabit connection, and I think Laura would rather be set upon by wolves than lose it. When she reviewed the promotional material for AT&T’s U-Verse, she determined that we would have to downgrade our Internet speed and immediately ruled it out.
    • Digital Phone. It’s a telephone and it seems to be working like a telephone should (apart from the inital glitches, all of which have been resolved). I’m glad this service required a new cable modem, as the power connection on the old one was a bit dodgy.
    • Television. The downside: DVR storage capacity and time-shift window are both significantly less than what we’re used to. The former is 50 hours vs. 100, the latter is 30 minutes vs. 90. We’ve also lost some channels, but that can be solved with a $5/month upgrade if we so desire. The user interface on the DVR is a bit weird, too. On the plus side, the response time between remote control and DVR seems much better than the DirecTV unit.

    1 As a bonus, we’ve still got the DirecTV receiver connected to a single tuner, which gives us DirecTV service until 21 January, and there’s a free HBO weekend beginning on the 18th.
    2 Apparently, despite the advent of call waiting and voice mail, there is still such a thing as a busy signal. I almost didn’t recognize it at first.
    3 Secondary Audio Program. This feature allows television networks to broadcast in multiple languages simultaneously. In my experience, the Secondary Audio Program is typically in Spanish and accompanied by a “Simulcast en Español” banner at the beginning of a show.
    4 Apparently several stations simulcast absolute silence on the auxiliary audio channel, while WEWS in Cleveland broadcasts a heavily-distorted version of their primary audio.