Monday, October 26, 2009

Hey You - Off My Cloud

If you were to buy a red car, you would perceive that most cars on the road are also red. I call this the Red Car Effect - or RCE for short. I made this up, so don't bother Googling - you'll just get this page, anyways. And this one, which I'd never seen until 30 seconds ago.

My point is, I recently had an RCE day. A day where I heard something in the morning that made me pay attention to something else in the afternoon, which led me to actually have an opinion about something in the evening.

In the morning: A friend of mine related an experience where he had found a forgotten copy of a video game in his house. Still pristine in its shrinkwrap, smelling of 9 year's worth of CD out-gassing - my friend loaded it onto his modern PC, happy with his unexpected windfall. Mind you, there were problems in combining these 2 pieces of technology that had been separated by epochs in tech-time, but it was an interesting story nonetheless and I couldn't help but hope some patching would fix his problems.

In the afternoon: I was driving around town running oh-so-bland errands and checking out a new podcast. A few of the disembodied voices started talking about direct-download video games. As the story goes, a bigwig executive from EA Games recently opined that the next decade would witness the demise of disc-based game media in favour of direct-download distribution. We'd all pay less (no media to distribute!) and the distributors would store our games somewhere in The Cloud.

In the evening: I thought about direct-download some more. It has some merit, I suppose. Steam has been working this model for awhile now and it works not too badly. But I'm super-skeptical. First off, The Cloud is a lovely buzzword in tech these days, and the chattering classes of tech have made it the current darling of the IT consulting business.

But the reality is that it's simply a collection of servers that are attached to the Internet - owned and operated by a company who wants your money. In this alone, there are mountains of issues to be solved before we see the demise of the CDROM or DVD gaming media: Cloud capacity, security, escrow guarantees, re-installing games on new/upgraded PCs, etc. etc and friggin' etc.

And that's just for starters. Buying a new game often has some social or synergistic aspect that direct-download can't satisfy. Need a guitar for Rock Band? You're going to a store. Want to dig through the clearance bin? It's better at a store. Want to kibbutz with the guy behind the counter or check-out the gamer-chick in the next aisle ? Well, you get the picture.

And what of my friend and his found treasure? In a world where The Cloud rules all, he would have been denied his eureka moment. And would The Cloud even bother to remember a 9 year-old game that had never been touched?

For me, direct-download isn't very attractive, at least for the big, expensive games. Spending $10 for a fun PopCap download doesn't feel very risky, but I'm not ready to trust The Cloud for Fallout 3. And, really, I love that new game smell under the shrinkwrap.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Evolution Doesn't Always Work, I Guess

When I was a young fellow of 7 or 8, I used to visit my older cousin from time to time. While he's only 3 or 4 years older than I, he didn't have much use for a little kid back then. So I'd usually spend my time there being half-ignored while my cousin would play with his friend.

But this story is not about that - it's about this.

My cousin had an electric football game, and I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. It was a table-top metal field painted to look like a real gridiron. A small motor underneath the surface would cause the field to vibrate - with the rate of vibration controlled by a tiny dial. Each contestant would arrange their little plastic football players in formation, with one team controlling a small, felt football. With the application of vibration effects, the plastic players would move around the field and, fate willing, someone might get a touchdown.

Being the little kid in the corner, I always had to watch as my cousin and his friend would play their football games. I loved to watch the players run their patterns and I'd wish just a little bit that I could play, too.

One day, it happened. My cousin was out for the day and my aunt, bless her, brought out the football set for me to play with. My hands almost shook as I set up the field and arranged the men. I flicked the switch and, with with the faint smell of ozone in the air, I watched the players come alive. Glory!

It only took me about 10 minutes to realize the whole affair was a sham - total bullshit. While my cousin would protest otherwise, there was no skill involved, no Great Oz behind a curtain. It was just little pieces of plastic moving in spastic, random circles on a sheet of vibrating steel. I wasn't disappointed. Rather, I was empowered with the knowledge that my cousin was too easily amused by what must have been the stupidest game ever manufactured.

For reasons I cannot remember, this story came up at the office a few days back. As is usually the case during these sorts of useless conversations, a co-worker and I Googled 'electric football' and discovered that, to our total surprise, electric football games still exist! Not much has changed by the looks of them. In this age of silicon chips and immersive gaming, one can still find a game that has not changed very much since its birth in 1947.

The only appreciable evolution of electric football seems to be in the plastic players, themselves. Instead of figures on a stationary base, the state-of-the art includes a settable dial in the player base that - allegedly - introduces a bias in the direction a player might travel under vibration.

I still think it's all bullshit, but obviously others do not. The game has persisted in the market a very long time (although I have never noticed it on a shelf at any store I frequent). These days, one can purchase teams that are painted in authentic NFL uniforms or, if so inclined, purchase unpainted players and paints for a more custom job. There are even websites devoted to customizing the field, itself.

Thanks to the Internet, there are chat boards and fan sites devoted to this game-come-hobby. And there are leagues - electric football leagues. This, I find, a most astonishing thing that people would devote that much psychic effort into what is, essentially, the worst game ever made.

Makes me wonder what my cousin is up to these days. But I probably don't want to know.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Go Ask Your Mom - Just Not Me

Not unexpectedly, I didn't make the cut to be a 2010 Disney Mom. The lovely email from the Disney folks let me down easy. They know how hectic it is to raise a family and they appreciate the I effort I put into my application. The know I completely understand how hard it was for Disney to narrow down the field out of the thousands of applicants. And while I was not selected, they are grateful that I took the time to just apply.

And you know, since I was among the earliest applicants for a coveted spot on the Disney Moms panel, they've made me a member of the exclusive Mickey Moms Club - created for all the Disney Moms and Dads that didn't make the cut.

So while I didn't expect to spend the next 12 months helping folks plan their Disney vacations, there was still a little bit of 'dammit all' after getting the Dear Mom email. My family, of course, is completely devastated. We anticipate months of counselling followed by a low-dose lithium regimen before we can subject the kids to the sight of mouse-ears. But - Walt willing - we'll get there. We'll get there together.

And, you know, there's always next year.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Freeps story on October 9, 2009.

Crazylegs story on June 15, 2009.

Another victory for the electron-stained wretches, Blogger Brown!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Just Nod And Agree

We ventured into Wortley Village today to buy catfood. There's a little petshop where kittens run down the aisles or sleep curled up on the counter. We go there because they stock 'healthy' brands of catfood with exotic labels. Our cat seems to prefer them (read: Mika will eat them) and the prices are actually in line with grocery-store faire.

That's where I heard the weirdest conversation of the week (even by Wortley Village standards):

Dee: Do you have any more Tiki Cat in stock?

Pet Store Lady: No. We just can't get any right now. Maybe in the future, but not right now. Our supplier used to get it straight from Thailand, but now they have to get it from the U.S. and the Feds won't let the stuff across the border for some reason.

Dee: Oh....Thailand?

Pet Store Lady: You might like Snappy Tom brand!

Dee: Okay.... Thailand?

For the record, I do not own a Tilley hat and yet, somehow, I can get into Wortley Village.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Please Don't Screw This Up

Us Reboot fanboys have taken a beating over the years. Promises have been made and broken.

Rinse. Repeat.

And then more audacious promises of a movie trilogy beginning in 2010.

And now I'm getting feverishly moist over what is possibly the worst teaser trailer ever.

But still....

Sunday, October 04, 2009

And now...

... back to our regular scheduled programming, already in progress. As Aunt Bea used to say, "Holy Jeebus, Andy, but it's been a biatch of a week!". And it really was.

It started with my In-laws driving down from The Big Nickel for their annual Autumn stay here in All Mixed Up Land. That, in itself, throws a wrench into the ebb and flow of the household schedule, what with having to make sure there's ample provisions and clean blankets on hand.

On top of that:

We had our first 'university information night' for BandGeek - two-and-a-half hours of infomercial blandness punctuated by dollars threatening to fly out of the bank account.

JediBoy had an overnighter school trip requiring taxi service and packing assistance. The lesson: teenagers need access to a shower every day.

Your Scribe (that's me) spent quality time with his father-in-law installing new flooring for his sister-in-law. He also got bit by a small dog in the rain when all he was trying to do was coax the wee mutt through a broken fence back into his own yard. The fence will be fixed post-haste.

A family reunion of sorts meant that Dee and I were unable to check out Roller Girls as we had planned.

But the one thing that sticks out this week was a fundraiser concert. One of JediBoy's classmates from Grade 8 last year was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer this past Spring. The backstory is long and sad, of course. But some very hardworking folks in the community (including JediBoy and BandGeek) put together a school concert to raise funds for the family - a bit of help as they cope with all the necessities of living through their extraordinary experience. It was a pretty emotional evening - hundreds of people gathering to offer whatever they could.

But to be sitting there a few nights ago, watching Alex wheel up on stage, after 4 rounds of chemo, and belt out a kick-ass, old school, country song - well, not too many dry eyes, I'm afraid. Even the folks covering the event for A-Channel had to pause a bit. It's trite and altogether hackneyed to suggest that a 14 year-old girl fighting cancer can put the world into perspective, but that she did.

I think there were hidden messages embroidered into this week. Things never stay the same for very long, so don't miss the scenery while you're enjoying the ride.