June 2009 Archives

As we wrapped up our Origins trip, we had half an eye towards doing something fun on our way out of town. We were considering heading north to the famous Columbus Zoo (Jack Hannah's stomping grounds) when I flipped through the hotel's city tourism guide and found an ad for a temporary Egyptian exhibit at COSI, a nearby museum. With Clark still gripped by a fascination with King Tut, this became the Saturday trip.

There are actually a pair of Egypt exhibits in Columbus at the moment: this one and a pure artifacts show at an art museum. We figured that Clark would enjoy the kid-friendly angle of COSI more, although I'm sure he would have been entertained by any sizable collection of Egyptian treasures.

Not knowing what to expect from COSI, we were blown away by the expanse of the place. We've certainly been to smallish kids museums, and boringish adult museums, but this one is massive and family-focused.

And reasonably priced as well. It was around $40 for all three of us. They get you with the food, but more about that later.

The red pin wall was in the lobby (or, the free area) and one dad was brave enough to stick his face into it. He also did a few with his mouth open, and that was quite creepy to watch emerge on the other side.

Upon arrival we immediately scrambled for the Lost Egypt wing. Although it began with some clear mockups and interactive stations (drag the block to the pyramid! here's a simulated dig site!), we were happy to note that the back half of the exhibit was packed with genuine Egyptian mummies and treasures.

There was a camel.

Here's Clark looking at some fake animal bones. Not far away from this was a giant wall of skeletal mummy x-rays. When Clark noticed that, he dashed over to get a good look.

I had a picture of the x-rays, and also of a cat mummy (because, you know, cat mummy), but the roving security guard made me delete those photos. In my defense, the "No Pictures Past This Point" signs were really small.

This (not my picture) was the star of the show. A true multiple-centuries-old mummy, estimated to be a sixteen year old female. She was mummified, with her own sarcophagus, but her dressings and box contained no name... which, archaeologists say, is very unusual. So they named her Annie, which Clark thought was very unusual as it is our cat's name.

After reading all these King Tut books to him off and on, it was amazing to be able to show him the genuine article. Clark asked several times if the mummy was real. I held him up so he could see the painting on the mask and the delicate wrappings.

Among the many exhibits at COSI is a big walkthrough called Progress... where you begin in a charmingly crafted lifesize 1900s main street. Then you turn a corner and it's the same main street but set in the 1950s. Presumably you would go outside if you wanted to see what American life is like today.

There was also a crazily cool ocean exhibit. One half was all about exploring the ocean with subs and diving gear. The other half - connected via an underwater cave zone - was an Atlantean water fun zone, with water spurting out of the floor. Like, you could actually get wet and stuff. One of the interactive exhibits simply had water flowing out of a rock and you had to connect pipes to get it to a nearby bowl. And this isn't behind glass or safely ensconced within a wall; this is right out there where you could easily goose your grandma with a water enema of she wasn't watching. Very, very cool.

Camera battery died at that point, so I had to switch to the Sidekick.

There's an outside zone. This is Clark running through a typical Ohioan field. This area had one of those centrifugal force rides (at Hersheypark, this long defunct ride was called the Rotor), but why find reasons to vomit.

We braved the menu prices and stayed in for lunch. We got a large pizza for $20. Clark liked that the napkin dispensers were Egyptian.

COSI is huge. There's a big kids play area, with a neat water table toy at the end. There's even one built for babies, where they can sit in the middle and bat at sporadic water jets.

C-3PO peers into the play area. I guess this banner was leftover from an old Star Wars exhibit, and they kept it around to spy on the kids.

Clark's souvenir for the day was a pair of dig-it-yourself sand toys. We bought a coffin-shaped one (with plastic mummy parts inside) and a pyramid (with Egyptian treasure inside).

That mummy has a lot to be proud of.

Clark was very excited to work on these once we got home (we made him wait for Sunday as we got home late Saturday night.) He dug out the mummy parts and I had to hack away at the plaster pyramid. I won't say that was particularly easy.

Origins 2009, Part 3

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And now, the inevitable freebies and boughtbies picture:

Vapor's Gambit looms pretty large, doesn't it? Have I mentioned the embarrassingly trite slogan: "Screaming Hoverboard Racing"? Incidentally, during our final epic five-player Vapor's Gambit game of the con, I took the opportunity to investigate some of the backstory. Turns out that the hoverboard track is called the gambit and I believe the city (or country, or planet) is called Vapor. Thus, Vapor's Gambit. Probably more on this one later.

There were two Fluxx promo cards available this year. One was specifically for Monty Python Fluxx called "Sir Not Appearing in this Game." He's a Knight of the Round Table Keeper and that's about it. The second one is a Creeper - "The Traitor," which plugs their new game - for I presume any version of Fluxx, and it lets you win instead when another person wins, which is pretty insane. Even for Fluxx. Fluxx is Looney Labs' cash cow, and I am glad that they keep issuing expandable promo cards to keep it interesting. I mean, they got my money for Fluxx about five years ago and they still keep giving me free cards. That's pretty cool.

Scavenger Hunt card game... I'm pretty enamored of it, although when we played it Mike was supremely disappointed in the balance. Everybody plays as a different predator with different abilities, and Mike's Vulture seemed woefully outmatched compared to the others. Although he damn near won. More on this one later as well.

The big red-and-blue dice came from the kids activity room. At certain points of the day, they called names to win prizes and that was what Clark won. He likes them. In fact, he made a game with them already, which I should outline for you guys when I get a chance.

Clark's huge pile of free Naruto / Dragon Ball / Yu-Gi-Oh cards is right beside the dice. Really. All free. Naruto and DBZ cards are all fairly recent, straight from the Bandai booth. The Yu-Gi-Oh cards all came from an old expansion called Cyberdark Everclear Wingman or whatever. The booth that was clearing out their Vapor's Gambit overstock was handing out these Yu-Gi-Oh packs to any child with arm's reach. They also gave us a couple of free Spanish flag magnets, for which I am still struggling to find a purpose.

There's that $9 Cthulu stuffed animal. I did not notice until after I bought it, but it did not have a tag on it... so is it some kind of Cthulu bootleg? Can the Cthulu aftermarket really be so large as to encourage ripoff plushie manufacturing? Legit or not, it was identical to the $20 Cthulus over at one of the most overpriced booths of the con. So, win for us. The overpriced booth was also selling Cthulus that were a quarter of the size of ours for $10. And also these handmade jobbies:

Clark really liked this little hand-crocheted beanie Cthulu. Rhonda was going to get him one until she heard the price: $12. Not that they weren't cute, and not that crocheting doesn't take a ton of time... but $12 is right out. Maybe if I was super into Cthulu and intended to keep this li'l Elder God on a shelf, frozen in time. Maybe. But as something that Clark would probably unintentionally unravel during some madcap Lovecraftian playtime? No way.

Seeing that $12 guy completely cinched our purchase of the $9 mega-monster.

So farewell to Origins 2009! We posed by the Zombies!!! booth again for you.

One more thing. Here's the Clark Room:

The Columbus Convention Center has a labyrinth of meeting rooms all named after famous explorers and such. Columbus, get it?

We found out that next year, Gen Con is August 5-8. This year, it is a bit later, which would not work for Mike's back-to-school teaching schedule. Gen Con is in Indianapolis, which would mean about a nine to ten hour drive. Our early estimates suggest that Rhonda and Clark would not go, so then Mike and I could carpool... but we'll see. Already I like Gen Con better because it has a hearty, beefy exhibitor/sponsor list.

I'd also like to get to PAX Boston next year, which is in March.

But all that aside, even if Origins 2009 is the last time we head out there, it will always be fondly remembered as "That Time We All Got Vapor's Gambit."

"That's me right now."

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Back at the Columbus Hyatt, Clark saw this picture of himself on my first weblog entry about Origins 2009, and he said "That's me right now."


I have more photos to launch from our trip. Not much to say about Origins on Saturday since we left around 11am (I bought a red neoprene card playmat! I bought a red neoprene card playmat!)... but we did stumble onto an awesome find: an Egypt exhibit at COSI Columbus, a kid-friendly hands-on museum.

More about that soon. I'm on vacation, man.

Origins 2009, Part 2

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Usual fun junk today. I bought some random cheap stuff at a booth that always has great prices. The guys also bought a bunch more stuff. Alex participated in a Pokemon DS tourney.

Here's Clark at the Bandai booth going for the choose-a-card game again. We all played today and did not do extremely well... but they give you free cards regardless, so it's fun for Clark. He has a HUGE stack of cards this year. Dragon Ball, Naruto, Power Rangers, even some of that castoff Doomtown stock. Megan and Alex found a booth that was handing out free Yu-Gi-Oh boosters like water, and they shared the bounty with Clark, which he thought was fantastic.

We let Clark into the foam sword bloodsport arena again.

There's Chris hanging out while the Pokemon DS tourney waited to start. Alex got through two rounds and then lost. Single elimination. If I at all kept track of having a good fighting team, I would probably have joined him, but I just don't bother with raising guys up to level 100.

Vapor's Gambit. I'm revising my generous opinion on this one. It's junk. Hence being free. Chris actually wanted this turd and since I'm too much of a choad to give him my free copy, he bought something at the booth just so he could get the free Vapor's Gambit. (He bought the Blue Moon card game, which is actually pretty good.)

Then fifteen minutes later we walked into the gaming hall and found a Vapor's Gambit alone and unwanted. So between the group we now have three copies of this awful thing.

Here's Clark going through his new Yu-Gi-Oh cards, enjoying himself immensely because that's what the bigger kids were also doing.

Yup, that's us at Origins 2009.

I finally broke down and bought a Cthulu doll. We've been seeing them for years. I'm not saying that I am now part of the hipster doofus pseudo-ironic Cthulu sub-cult, just that I found a pretty sizable toy for $9. I also picked up Scavenger Hunt for $5 (I like it), a box of Monster Tykes for $1, and two Egyptian themed card games for $5 each. Had a coupon for $5 off the total, so that was a great bit o' shopping.

Some day I'll finally get to the Arkham Horror board game and that Cthulu will be super sweet.

Ended the day back in a gaming hall, playing random stuff. We did Settlers of Catan, which was my (and Chris's) first time ever playing the legend. Seriously, everybody plays that one. I just never got around to it. It's pretty cool, and I am interested in seeing what all the myriad expansions offer.

Only one day to go. We're leaving some time tomorrow.

Origins 2009, Part 1

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I'm wrapping up our first full day at Origins with a website update. I have to pay for WiFi, so I hope you appreciate the timeliness. I could have waited until we returned home or relied solely on my Twitter feed.

Clark was excellent for the drive. He played some DS, he watched some movies. He really likes the novelty of being able to watch stuff in the car. Here he is watching Bolt.

Bolt was the beginning of the trip. He also watched about half of the first Pokemon movie (the sweet one with Mewtwo) and four episodes of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. I let him choose the DVDs for the trip... in addition to those mentioned he selected one disk of TaleSpin episodes and the Final Fantasy Advent Children movie, neither of which he has ever seen. We also brought one of the Bach-based Baby Einstein disks to engage super calm down at night, and we definitely needed it. Clark has been wired.

We blew into Columbus around 9pm... slight confusion at the con pay-per-day parking lot, as the gates were simply raised and the ticket machines were not giving out tickets. You just drove on in. So we did.

That was Wednesday night; Thursday morning Clark and I walked out to try to figure out what we should do, and we had a pretty hilarious conversation with the ticket booth operator. He told me what I had to do, and I agreed, but I kept trying to point out a flaw in his plan... but I was not explaining myself very well so he just kept repeating the pay scheme. He told me I had to pay for yesterday and then I could get a ticket to park there for the rest of our stay. I wanted to know how he knew I had only arrived yesterday. I could have parked there six months ago and only now told him about it. I don't think he cared about my innate curiosity.

There's Clark in full convention gear this morning. In past years we've always enjoyed a room with a single king-size bed, but by the time we got in, the only kings available were on smoking floors. Which probably shouldn't even exist in the year 2009, but seeing as how those floors are already forever ruined by smoke, I suppose there's no need to force hotels to change.

This year we are joined by Mike, and Chris and two of his kids, Alex and Megan. Alex and I have already traded a couple pokemon back and forth. He has a pair of Arceus which of course still has no legal means of procurement here in the US. Nefarious schemes obviously presaged this.

Mike is playing Chu-lip in his spare time, by the way. How about that!

Here we are on the vendor hall, which is reason numero uno why I come here. We're all considering trying out Gen Con Indy next year instead of Origins. I need to do some research on that. We all have serious pros and cons on the issue.

At the Bandai booth, Clark got to play the Naruto card hunt guessing game, where you flip over facedown cards and the more Narutos you find, the more free boosters you score. Clark aced this one last year, finding like six without ever failing out by selecting a "bad" card. This year he was not naturally lucky and the booth lady kept jumping him to Naruto cards just so he could win. Very nice. Pays to be four and cute.

Not that Clark looks happy in the photo, but he definitely was.

And there's Chewbacca. I already have his autograph from somewhere and I'll be damned if I can figure out when I got it.

There's the Twilight Creations zombie booth again! The zombie was holding a box mockup of their new Deadlands board game, which they were not demoing (it's not ready for prime time). But I am psyched to hear more about it.

We had lunch at North Market, as always. That means aloo mutter for me.

Incidentally, a large portion of the Columbus Convention Center and adjoining Hyatt (where we're staying) is under construction. So it would be kind of a bummer to have our last Origins be this messed-up one, should we switch to Gen Con. There is a temporary walkway here that is truly tested by the hordes of gamers. It is the size of an airport gantry, and it sounds like the Death of Mufasa when you walk through it.

I've made the Death of Mufasa joke three times now, counting this one.

Here's Mike doing a very familiar activity: buying Magic cards for a quarter each. I think I take this picture every year. I should make a collage.

And all told, I doubt he's spent over five bucks.

When Rhonda took Clark up for a nap, I got in some good demos. Here is Chris and Alex at a new minis game that I have already forgotten. I'm all for it in concept: plastic minis with simplified rules and Clix-style icon-heavy bases. But I just don't need another unplayed miniatures game.

We also demoed:

  • Battle Spirits TCG, which we thought was pretty good. Chris and I thought it was pretty good anyway. I don't think Mike was much impressed. Everybody got a free starter. The game is out in stores this August.
  • Ninja vs Ninja board game. I didn't care for it, but that was largely due to a strange rule that we later figured out.
  • Go Duck Go... I think that's the name. It uses rubber ducks in a manner sort of like the Crimson Skies air combat game. You have ducks and you play cards with pre-determined paths to move them to the goal. The cool thing is that there are hundreds of special sculpted ducks (cowboy duck, bat-duck, hockey duck, vampire duck, etc) and you get six random ducks in the box. But if you buy the game at the con, they will let you open the box and swap ducks with their stock to build exactly the six ducks you want. The not-as-cool thing is that the game costs $32, and that's the convention sale price. Chris and I have been arguing about who is going to buy it.
  • Montego Bay, which is a very cool board game that we all liked... but sells for $60. Here's a great picture:

That picture should be in all the marketing materials for Montego Bay. "It's family fun in a dockside tropical paradise! Suitable for gamers from 8 to 88!"

You have guys you move around the table, loading barrels of an undisclosed substance (cocao? eels? bodily remains?) onto boats for points. It's a lot more fun than it sounds, and it's one of those games where everybody's turn is quick and involving... so nobody gets bored while waiting for their turn to come around again.

As far as things we actually bought... Mike picked up Backseat Drawing, which is one of those party games I always hate. He also got Living Labyrinth, which seems okay. Chris bought Rorschach, which is kind of an Apples to Apples clone. There was something else, but I forget what it was.

Mike also bought a cheap box of Doomtown, the Reaping of Souls expansion. He tore through it, keeping perhaps a third of the cards. Out of his leavings, I grabbed some (probably for no reason other than my irrational need to not throw things away) and Megan took the rest. She actually came close to building a couple of complete poker decks out of Mike's throwaways, which I thought was a pretty clever idea.

I bought Donkey Kong Jenga. I have never played Jenga in my life, but the Donkey Kong angle was enough to sell me. We opened it up back at the hotel room and I learned that Jenga is about taking the tower apart, not building it, which I did not know. The DK bit involves getting little Marios (Jumpmen!) to the top before the tower falls, which is cute. This is basically a collector's item that is a neat building block set for Clark.

What was extra interesting about DK Jenga is that the store was also giving away a complete game with purchase. The free game in question was stacked to the ceiling, so they were clearly very eager to move this product out of the warehouse. The game is a "screaming hoverboard racing" board game called Vapor's Gambit.

We tried it, and it is not completely terrible. It's a simple racing game where you skate around a track and try to be the first to three laps, amid ramps and attacks and zip strips and banging into each other. I would never ever have bought it, but for free it's pretty good.

What a terrible title. Vapor's Gambit. Oy.

Back at the hotel room, we had some great Smash Brawl matches, some Bonsai Barbering, and even a little Super Mario Bros goin' on. Then Rhonda and Clark went to bed so the rest of us escaped back to the gaming halls to play Living Labyrinth, Rorschach, Monty Python Fluxx, and my own Fatal Frame.

Tomorrow will be more of the same brand of awesome. We'd like to demo Twilight Creations' Martians game, and Looney Labs' Are You The Traitor. There's some t-shirts I may buy (a Red Dwarf one for sure; maybe a Portal shirt.) There is a kids craft room that Clark enjoys. We'll do the Naruto free booster game again. And we may get Alex to do a Pokemon DS battle tournament, since he has a bunch of level 100s.

Being mainly a vendor fan, I feel the lack of big name companies. I noticed this bullet point on an official Origins ad board:

For me, that's kind of the problem. Not that I'm against the small press, just that the big names used to always bring the pomp and circumstance that made Origins seem more like an Event (capital E) and less like a garage sale.

And I'm not sure the number of demos available could count in the hundreds. At the minimum, that's 200 games, and I don't think that's the case. For purchase, absolutely, but available for pro demos?

A stress reduction tip.

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Now what I want you to do is look at the picture of the kittens in a barrel.

Look at them. They're having a whale of a time. They're all happy.

The one on the left's Phillip.

Look at Phillip's eyes.

Whenever you're feeling a bit angry, I want you to look at Phillip. Your anger will recede like an ocean.

That'll be 159 euros.

My 60gig PS3 was just too full - only around 12gig available - so I cracked under the pressure and ordered a 320gig drive through Amazon. It is amusing searching for 2.5" SATA laptop hard drives because most of the online store comments are from PS3 owners in various stages of satisfaction.

Here's the way the upgrade works: You back up your PS3's contents to some external drive. Then you remove the old HD and stick in the new HD. Then you plug that external drive back in and restore the contents.

Cutting in short: it worked. Although I had received plenty of warning from people who lost some files, or saves didn't copy over, or whatever... for me, the backup/restore process was clean and perfect. I did not have to re-download any purchased materials from the store, and I did not lose any files. I didn't even have to re-enter my PSN account name and password.

That's not to say I didn't have some stress along the way.

First issue, the backup drive. Now, the PS3 does compress the files somewhat when it creates a backup file... but who can say just how far down it can smoosh 48gigs? So I wanted at least 50gig of storage on whatever media I could find for the backup. I dived for Rhonda's 60gig iPod. It would only be for temporary storage; once my PS3 was back up, I'd clear out the iPod-as-backup and turn it back to normal.

Now, the PS3 only sees one disk format: FAT32, the classic Windows format, I gather. The iPod, naturally, is in HFS+... but it's nothing to wipe an iPod, right? You just sync it again and hey presto you're back in business. So I turned the iPod into a FAT32 format (warning: this makes the iPod non-functional as an iTunes-enabled media player). Unfortunately, the PS3 would not mount it. I know it was FAT32, I plugged it in via USB (where I know previous USB drives have worked), so I have no clue why the PS3 hated the iPod. I formatted the poor iPod again and again, but the PS3 simply would not cooperate with it.

I gave up and restored the iPod back to factory settings HFS+ whatever, and it came back resurrected as if nothing happened. But this left me with the question of where to find another storage drive.

So we bought one of those 320gig My Notebook portable USB drives. Which is sort of ironic since the SATA drive I bought for the PS3 was also 320gigs. They were both roughly the same price, in the $60-$80 range... but still, that makes this little project moderately pricy. The silver lining is that now I have a 320gig portable USB drive to use to stash some beloved iMac files that I have never, ever bothered to backup.

More good news... the My Notebook drive came out of the box already formatted to FAT32. I was a little worried about that since I'm not sure how I would have formatted it by myself. If my iMac couldn't get an iPod to a proper FAT32 (not that I know it was the iMac's fault that the PS3 wouldn't see the iPod), what would I have done? I guess I would have brought the USB drive in to work and formatted via a PC there. But this project was already languishing in time, so I'm glad I didn't have to lose another day to a PC format trip.

The PS3 popped up the Notebook drive right away, and the Backup Utility took about an hour to create a 35gig backup file. Not bad at all.

Then things took a turn. Literally.

I prepared for PS3 surgery, watched an online how-to video. I removed the 60gig original drive but had a hell of a time detaching the HD from the chassis. The four screws that needed to come out where tighter than shrunken Tupperware. I stripped at least one of the screws really badly and was convinced that I was holding my gaming future in my clumsy, unskilled hands. Rhonda pointed out that the screws were likely originally assembled by unfeeling robots. I did manage to get all four screws out, but it took at least half an hour. Seriously, I am terrible.

Aside from the actual screwing, swapping in the new drive was no problem.

The PS3 rebuilt itself; it restored the backup material in another hour. And it looks like everything came back just as I left it. All my downloaded games, demos and Rock Band songs. All my save files and unlocked LittleBigPlanet content. The 5gig mandatory install for Resident Evil 5 (boy, we're all happy about THAT). I didn't even have to re-login to the PlayStation Network; it remembered my account and password.

I haven't tried Home yet, but let's just assume that works as well as ever, eh?

Now that I have all this lovely space available, I might actually splurge on buying some movies or TV shows.

On items with wheels.

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After last weekend's moribund adventures, I was due for a full accomplishment reversal.

First up, the mower. After all this Troy-Bilt suffering, our next mower will be a Craftsman. Or maybe any man willing to come mow the lawn for me.

We went to Lowe's this morning, but of course I brought absolutely no critical mower information. I guess I just assumed there's one mower and all parts would fit. I've been through this before - during the three other times I've had to buy a new drive belt - so I don't know why I didn't prepare for this trip. The upshot is, we bought a 7 inch tire and an 8 inch tire, not knowing the proper inchage for our model. No matter; Lowe's will take anything on return. My mom once returned an unfinished door that sat in my basement for three years and had cat piss on it.

Turns out, BOTH tires were a no-go. I selected a brand with a wide, bulging center, too long for my mower's axle. So in the evening we went to a different Lowe's (less embarrassing that way), returned both tires and bought two 8 inch small centered ones. This time I remembered to bring the busted tire along as a muse. The new tires are metal, not plastic, so I expect them to last longer than the stock tires.

I also had to buy whatever they call the tool that removes the nut that holds the tires on, but I'm happy to say that I got that right the first time.

But now the awful, cursed mower has two new rear tires. We also bought another drive belt to restore the self-propelling functionality, but I can't bring myself to install it since I know it will just get chewed up again. It's like sending your son to the Russian front. At least tomorrow I'll be able to finish mowing the lawn. We've had a Two-Face lawn all week, with the left half nicely cropped and the right half stocked with three-foot-tall weeds.

Project number two, the in-car DVD player. Rhonda and I have been weighing this one for some time. In fact, having a TV in the car was Clark's number one request when we were shopping for a new vehicle, but sadly the CR-V did not come with such a thing. With the seven hour Origins trip upon us, this was the weekend to finally make the leap and buy one.

They're not particularly expensive, chiefly because the tech is old. I mean, it's a DVD player and a tiny cheap monitor, powered by a lighter adapter. We settled on a $150 Philips setup that hangs a 7 inch screen from each headrest. The DVD plays in one and is seen on both.

My big disappointment is that this model has no formal aux-in. The box showed an RCA adapter, so I figured that could be used for the iPod or games or whatever. But that RCA is intended for aux-OUT, which is just stupid. Why would you buy a DVD player with a built-in monitor (TWO of them!) and then run the signal out to another device?

But I did cobble together a trick... although the main screen has only that stupid aux-out, the secondary monitor does have an aux-in: the very aux-in that receives the signal from the DVD player. So it is possible to send the iPod signal to the second screen... of course this means that any iPod video will not be on both, however, which still kind of sucks.

I also found enough cabling in my supplies to run the iPod's audio to the car stereo, so we can get the video on the screens but the audio in the car... which is of much nicer quality than the speakers on the screens themselves.

Naturally, this makes quite a lot of spaghetti in the CR-V, and Rhonda is already kind of iffy on keeping this trinket, so the whole shootin' match may be returned to Target anyway. After the trip, of course.

My third project was the PS3 HD upgrade, which I'll get to shortly. Spoiler: it is finished.

The Week in Links

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The Mighty Boosh: Not About Quantity (Adult Swim)
2:30am I watch this episode, get to this clip, and laugh like an idiot at the criticism bit halfway through.

Incidentally, this Boosh clip almost exactly mirrors me and Mike in college, where I am Howard and Mike is Vince.

"The Transformers" Complete First Season: How Did a Show This Bad Launch a Franchise? (Toon Zone)
A review of the Transformers Season One boxed set brings out the serious snark. It's nice to read an assessment that isn't completely lost in rose-colored hindsight.

Hot Air (Michael Barrier)
Speaking of that, here's a review of Disney/Pixar's Up that is decidedly non-complimentary! I didn't think Americans were allowed to be non-affectionate towards Pixar films! Man, we really did vote for change last election.

AT&T investing millions in gaming projects (Joystiq)
Joystiq with a funny list of games that AT&T seems to have already made available, like "Imagine: Tethering" and "Professor Grant and the $30 monthly texting fee."

PETA wishes Obama hadn't swatted that fly (Yahoo News)
And nonsense like this washes away any viable public support for the actual good things PETA does.

Exclusive: The Future of Facebook Usernames (Anil Dash)
Great timeline of a fictional internet shitstorm surrounding the debut of Facebook's vanity URLs. (Yes, I grabbed one. http://www.facebook.com/fourhman)

Batman and Robin #1 - "Batman Reborn Part 1: Domino Effect" (Funnybook Babylon)
Annotations for the new Dick and Damian book. I do enjoy a good annotations writeup.

TLC: Jon & Kate announcing a major decision Monday (Yahoo News)
I predict they're pulling out of the show. I hope they're stopping the show, at any rate. Those kids need normalcy. Leading rumors say divorce, though.

Going Up (Mice Age)
Ha! That internet guy who dresses like Peter Pan as spotted at DisneyWorld. In purple.

If you go to the Origins gaming convention website right now, you'll see they have an image randomizer as the header. I'm always fascinated by how niche hobbies (gaming, comics, video games, etc) market themselves, because they almost always just end up speaking to the converted... even though they bluster and worry about expanding the audience beyond those of us who are already presold on the concept. "We've got to get more people interested in gaming! It's not just a hobby for self-loathing losers!" Nine times out ten, the whole thing just comes off as creepy to anybody on the outside looking in.

Take the image that loaded first for me tonight:

Nothing weird about that, right. Cute teen girl and dessicated corpse, perhaps the victim of a horrific car crash.

Now, I happen to know that's from the Twilight Creations booth, makers of the Zombies!!! board game. In fact, last year I tried to get Clark to pose with the dead body, but he would not go near it. But is that the kind of dopey image you'd want all by itself at the top of the page, without context? It speaks to con-going tabletop gamers, but anybody else would think they've wandered into a Dateline NBC expose.

Then I got this image, the Gamers in Prison POV:

Nothing says fun like a shot of people waiting in line!

For as long as we've been going to Origins (since 2000), they've had this weird problem with marketing the event like it's some kind of boring family reunion. My favorite was the year they sent out a direct mailer with pictures of the event organization team standing behind stacks of game boxes. As if a bunch of old white guys is going to rally people to sign up. They looked like they were awaiting execution.

OK, that's more like it. This is the Blue Ocean pic. Gaming's next generation.

Yeah, there is a TON of minis gaming at Origins. It's a big deal. Even as a non-minis gamer, I always walk around the extravagant arenas and cities and forests and castles, admiring the craftsmanship.

That said, without showing people standing around the table, it's impossible for a casual onlooker to determine what this is. Could just be some kind of art show, for all anybody knows.

THAT said, it is really hard to get decent pictures of dudes in a tabletop miniatures game. You either get incomprehensible closeups like this one, or you get faraway shots of fat dudes standing around a folding table with their hands in their pockets.

Hey, it's Andrew Looney of Looney Labs! This seems like a nice choice as it actually shows people who might be having fun, in the process of having it... not waiting in line to perhaps have it.

Underage. Underage. Underage. Again, sort of hard to defend without the proper "hey, it's a pop culture thing" context.

We saw these girls last year. Nice cosplay. Doesn't have crap-all to do with gaming, but nice cosplay.

Overall, this just isn't the kind of event you can sell to people without multiple, juxtaposed photos. Taken one at a time, it seems like you already have to be on the inside in order to understand what you're looking at.

I know I've issued this warning before about ceasing this annual trip, but our enjoyment of Origins has dropped off over the past few visits... mostly because the big name companies just do not seem to attend this con any more. WizKids went bankrupt. Wizards of the Coast has their own convention.

I don't even think there will be a Pokemon presence at this year's Origins, which will suck because that was a huge deal for Clark last year.

It always used to be that we would go to the con, do a ton of demos, get a lot of free junk, play a lot of games, and buy heaps of cool stuff. Lately, it seems like there simply is not as many demos or giveaways, and we only end up playing with the folks we came with. Which we could do anywhere.

I love the 24 hour convention atmosphere, I love walking around to see the kinds of games people enjoy, and I love that Columbus is a reasonable drive from home. But everything else just doesn't seem as robust as it used to be. I am sad.

So I receive an e-mail from Hyatt Hotels about our upcoming stay at their facility in Columbus for the Origins Gaming Convention That Seems To Be Getting Smaller Every Year. The e-mail mentions that I can check the details of our stay and make special requests via an online form. This is the first I have heard of such a thing, so I scurry to check it out.

OK, cool, they have our request for a single king bed... which almost guarantees us one of the hotel's swank corner rooms. The way the hotel is built, the corner rooms actually afford you three cool views of the city. The only downside is that the windows are covered in spiders. That, and the Columbus Hyatt does not have enough elevators.

But check out these only-in-America room service amenities I can pre-order. They sure do beat the Motel 6 wafer-on-the-pillow.

This one is top of the list. It's the one that's meant to soften you up. $8 for 750 ml of water. Don't be fooled by the European system; that's about 25 ounces. Which is about two cans of soda. Except that this is water.

Which I get in the room from the tap. And also, I have several bodily methods for actually creating water, to which I would go first before even considering spending $8 on two small bottles of bullshit.

I have no idea how this one measures up, having never bought a beer. That's $4.50 to $5.50 a bottle. Sounds reasonable?

Whoa, WTF. $25 for four cookies? I guess this is payback for all those decades of stealing extra shampoo, soap and pens. Oh wait, they got us on that score already by making the shampoo terrible, the soap ghastly, and filling the pens with only a centimeter of ink.

Also, those are not Black & Whites.

$24 for a "jar" of Jelly Bellies, three buckeyes (a local favorite), and four Fun Size Mars products. You know how big a Fun Size is, so that quartet MIGHT equal one real size candy bar. I usually don't even chew a Fun Size.

I'm going to need to see how big the jar of jellybeans is before I pass judgment. For all we know, the jar could be the size of the in-room ice pail. Let's dream.

Something is very wrong here. $23 for the buckeyes by themselves? That makes the previous candy order look like one hellacious deal. Of course, they're not saying how many buckeyes you get with this order. For $23, I'd expect several pounds worth.

By the way, that is not a picture of buckeye candy. That's just assorted fancy chocolates. Real buckeyes are far plainer looking. Nobody would pay $23 for a handful of buckeyes if they knew what they really looked like. By design, they look like a Reese's that is about to explode.

But I do like how this amenity gives you the recipe so you can avoid making such frivolous room service mistakes in the future.

Imported from where? Wegman's?

Hurm, I don't know if they have Wegman's in Ohio. So, Meijer?

An eight-inch cake for $45 that takes three days to make! Here's how I want it decorated: "Good Luck Getting Somebody To Buy This Fucking Cake." If I order it tonight, that should give them plenty of time to make it and deliver it to the front desk.

So that's the kind of opulence the Fourhmans can expect from our gaming pilgrimage next week. Judging from the list, I'm guessing the Hyatt still have the archaic Pay $10 For 24 Hours of WiFi Internet policy as well. Hell, maybe they made the internet better and therefore raised the price.

I finished off the final (of three) campaign tonight, to the tune of over five hours of single player gameplay. This was some seriously fun stuff.

I was very happy to see that not only did the levels get more challenging as you go through the campaigns, but they also change things up just to screw with you. Under the barest of storyline threads, several of the final missions take away some of your chosen faction's troops and replace them with borrowed units from another faction... forcing you to reconsider your strategies.

Those last levels can be endurance tests, though. Sometimes your progress in Swords & Soldiers is measured in millimeters. I know I had at least one level go on for over 40 minutes, which is a lot of pointing and clicking.

Beyond the campaign stuff, there's regular ol' skirmish mode (where you select your faction, the AI faction, and the AI difficulty) and some sidebar minigames. The best minigame is one where you have to watch a boulder plough through the armies, hitting the A button to hop it over your own troops. That one is plain maddening to try to perfect.

I haven't even attempted the splitscreen multiplayer yet. I plan to rectify that by taking the Wii along to Origins and showing the game to Mike. This reverses a long held policy that the Wii would see no more trips, but that was mainly during the Wii's scarce days and I was afraid of breaking it without being able to find an easy replacement.

Swords & Soldiers has 25 achievements (that's what they called them) of which I have unlocked about six of them. Not many. If you get all 25, you get a secret code that will supposedly earn you a free goodie bag from the developer! I have no chance of accomplishing this.

I would love to see some kind of S&S expansion with new maps, new factions, new units, etc. Plus online play with Wii Speak support, but wouldn't that be pure fantasy. It's a shame that features we now take as rote on PS3 - like upload-to-YouTube - can never happen for WiiWare games.

This is easily the best WiiWare I've ever experienced. This would be a great DS game as well.

We had ups; we had downs.

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We enjoyed a longish weekend, but some strange stuff happened and as usual I feel like I didn't get everything done I wanted to accomplish.

I had more epic battles with our lawn mower today. At the end of last summer, it literally broke into two halves, thanks to an unbalanced blade, and we had written it off until Rhonda found somebody who fixes such things. So we got it repaired and it worked fine this year until last weekend when something else went wrong, unrelated to the repair. The self-propelling belt slipped off. This happened last week and I was lucky enough to notice the self-propelling had ceased to self-propel... so I could turn it off before the belt was chewed up. Today I reattached it, but I could not get the tensioner properly tightened. So after two passes, the belt slipped again. And this time, I had no warning. Just chunks of a $15 belt flying out the side of the mower.

So I had to do all the propelling myself. I got about 75% done with the yard when the left rear tire fell off. The plastic interior of the tire had worn away enough that the damn thing just slipped over the bolt as I was doing back-and-forths by the edge of our ditch.

After fighting with this thing for so long, I think we're giving up and going to buy a new one. Apparently $300 (the approximate price of this pig) just isn't enough to get you a mower that will last more than two years. I suppose I'll have to specify that our new mower is suited for rough terrain and a generally pissed-off owner.

Then I get a call from the mechanic... my Dodge Neon that we dropped off for a routine oil change was discovered to have a bad control arm bushing. I have no idea what that is, but it amounts to a $500 repair job. I called my father in on this one and he suggested I deny the repair until he looks at it, because apparently that isn't the sort of thing that usually goes wrong on cars under four years old. So we'll see. Maybe it did go south and I'll end up having to choke the bill anyway.

We also had some kind of crazy financing problem on Rhonda's new Honda CR-V. Because we didn't really care, during the purchase we put her name first on the financing... but then the bank rejected it because it turns out my name is first on our accounts. So we had to actually create a new account for Rhon to cover the car billing. And now we have to stop by the bank to see if they can find some way to combine the accounts back into one. Stupid.

And by the way, Clark wasn't feeling well today. He woke up and threw up right away... although not the typical meaty, foodstuffed vomit; this was entirely phlegm-based. He must have a summer allergy or something, and mucus was likely heading into his stomach all night. Come to think of it, I'd wager that the overwhelming majority of Clark's vomit to date has been due to phlegm accumulation. He just hasn't had to seriously throw up that often in his life.

So that was all the bad news... the good stuff was that we finally found some cheap new shirts for me and new sneakers for Clark. I've been feeling a little wardrobe-anemic lately, and Clark's newest sneaks lost their velcro snap some weeks back after a terrible peeing accident. So that fixed that.

And we rampaged through some PS3 Trophies. I've been after Rhonda to get me the 100% Vocal Expert trophy in Rock Band... Rhon can get through just about any song, singing on expert, but the 100% eluded her until this weekend. After asking around, we found out that "So Whatchu Want" by the Beastie Boys is a terribly easy song to 100%, as there is no pitch to it whatsoever. Being a truly awful song, there's no way I would have selected that on my own. But for the good of the trophy, we played it and of course Rhonda nailed it on the first try. And then we did "My Sharona" and she 100%ed that one on expert without even realizing it! So the shame of "So Whatchu Want" will forever haunt us. It would be awesome if Rock Band had a return/exchange program, where you could delete songs from your system for some kind of prorated store credit.

Rhonda playing on expert has also jacked up our fan numbers. We reached the 1 million fan mark (trophy!) and the hit 2 million like a day later. I should have her do a bunch of solo Challenges on expert to try to nab the various trophies you get for that.

I still mostly play medium guitar because I'm a shlub. I have been moving into hard, but only on bass. Double-shlub! It's not that I fail out on hard guitar, it's that I hate missing any notes at all. I'd rather play on medium and know I'll only miss a bit of the song than step up to hard and end up not hearing the music the way it was intended.

Also did a lot of Burnout Paradise over the last four days thanks to the Big Surf Island expansion. Kinda pricy at $13, but it has netted at least ten additional Trophies so I won't complain. On Friday night I played some online with a young friend and we went through all the online challenges. By Monday night I had found all the smash gates and billboards (although I'm still missing two mega-jumps). Big Surf comes with toy versions of the Legendary TV/Movie Lookalike Ripoff Cars, so that's pretty cool. I just spent a few hours tooling around inside a toy version of the Ghostbusters' Ecto-1. And being toy cars, you can go back and get two of the special toy car Trophies even if you didn't buy the toy car set. I was even motivated enough to finish off my motorcycle license!

A couple things really bug me about Burnout Paradise these days... first, I have no desire to finish all the Burning Routes because they are all car-specific and switching cars is a mystifying pain in the ass. I'm really over having to drive all the way around town to the nearest Junk Yard just to switch cars. How about putting car selection on the pause menu, for christ's sake. Also, I totally suck at the Stunt Runs. Just can't do them. I got my Burnout License some time ago, but I need over a hundred more wins to get an Elite License... and if that means I have to do Stunt Runs and Burning Routes, well, the game can blow me.

Oh, and I'm reading the Michael Palin Diaries, which I am thoroughly enjoying.

The Week in Links

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AAA-Ep5: Alfredo's Crushing Curiosity (YouTube)
We had a disk full of the Alfredo adventures back in the Apple // days. Were these the first CG cutscenes rendered in real time?

Shattering The Meat Myth: Humans Are Natural Vegetarians (Huffington Post)
Vegetarianism vindicated through common sense entry-level biology and anthropology!

Fans rally to forge Wii patch that would translate Fatal Frame IV on the fly (Aeropause / Beyond the Camera's Lens)
This would be a pretty mean feat if they can get it to work: an SD card app that unlocks and translates a Japanese edition of Fatal Frame IV as you're playing. Fingers crossed! (The Aeropause article - one of mine, of course - made it to Dubious Quality, one of my weblogging heroes!)

Mo. family Christmas photo turns up in Czech ad (Yahoo News)
The internet truly does make the world a smaller place.

Pokemon sprites (Kenmat)
I think I traced this one back to its source... from Kotaku through four other websites all linking to it and citing each other. It's a collection of pixel imagery from the Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, I believe.

"Man Reversible The" Moore's Alan (Again With the Comics)
Scans of an early Alan Moore comic about a man living his life backwards. Reminds me of Rimmer's speech from the "Backwards" episode of Red Dwarf, about how much nicer it is to live in a backwards world.

Last week's new episode of Batman: Brave and the Bold was kind of a tough one for Clark.

In it, Red Tornado decides to create another robot, the Tornado Champion. Champion is made to look like a boy robot, so for a while there's some cute father/son scenes as the two fight crime and save people from fires.

Clark naturally liked seeing a boy robot. But being the student of DC history that I am, I knew that a character named "Tornado Champion" was likely to meet a bad end.

And indeed he does. When a lightning attack from Major Disaster (in his old purple hoodie costume! Fan service!) activates Champion's emotion engine, he slowly turns bad and recasts himself as the Tornado Tyrant.

Red Tornado, for his part, doesn't really help matters. The two have a brief philosophical discussion about why mankind is capable of great evil, and when Champion asks why human kindness is preferable to human cruelty, all Reddy can say is "Because." That's a shitty answer, even for a robot.

So yeah, Champion kinda goes nutso on Disaster at one point, shouting about getting revenge, and Batman has to take Champion down with a batarang to the chest.

Then Batman, ever the pragmatist, tells Red that he needs to shut Champion down permanently. I don't think Batman even once in the entire episode considered Tornado Champion as anything more than a robot. Batman came off pretty cold in this one.

But of course Champion outwits the duo, upgrades himself to Tyrant status, and then goes full-out evil with a plan to attack all humans in Coast City. Red Tornado has to perform the killstroke and the episode ends with the unbelievably maudlin act of Red melting the leftover parts of Champion/Tyrant's body.

Clark didn't say as much, but for a while I'm sure he was self-identifying with the boy robot. After the episode was over, he wanted to understand why Champion went bad. Why would a cute, fun, super hero robot become a bad guy? The real answer here is probably that Red Tornado isn't qualified to build a robot with a fully-human emotional system (duh... that's what Dr. Will Magnus does), and that when confronted with high-level ethical dilemmas, Tornado Champion simply wasn't programmed to value life. But like Red's "Because," I don't think such a response would answer Clark's question.

The good news is that when Champion turns himself into the Tornado Tyrant, he forges an entirely new and obviously "bad guy" form, so there is a physical disconnect between the evil Tyrant and the cute-but-confused Champion.

I pretty much pinned it all on Major Disaster's lightning bolt attack, which made something go wrong with Champion's robot innards. I pointed out that Champion didn't seem to understand why people would be afraid of him (the people he saves from the fire are scared of him, and truth be told, I don't know why they would be either... they must be new to the DCU), and that instead of trying to be friends, Champion chose to be angry about it.

Unfortunately, that still leaves Clark with one hell of a punishment for being angry - getting exploded by your father and then melted down to scrap - so I don't know if I satisfied him on this one. We caught the Wednesday night rerun and Clark seemed more cognizant of Champion's story arc ("You missed it, Mommy, the boy robot is bad."), so maybe he is adding layers of meaning on his own.

Tonight's episode features Jonah Hex and Mongul. I'm stoked to see more animated Hex, and Clark knows Mongul from our bedtime renditions of "For the Man Who Has Everything," so it should be a good one. Hopefully we can avoid any potential existential crises?

The Hands-On House is a kids museum with several rooms of interactive exhibits, nicely scaled so little kids can play with junk while slightly older kids could actually learn stuff.

The exhibits range from pretty low-fi areas like this plastic-bugs-and-microscope light table...

...to a full-blown kid-size grocery store. This was probably Clark's favorite area. You could pick up a basket and a list and then try to find the items on your list... then go pretend to check them out. While a good portion of the fruits, vegetables, meat, baked goods and seafood were plastic... we noted that all of the canned foods were actual unopened real cans. There's something kind of off about picking up an old can of peas and knowing that it has been sloshed and bounced around like a toy all day long for years.

This giant lighted board is sort of like a Lite Brite.

But it really loses the effect without proper usage of the solid black pegs. Twice I devoted some time to refilling the board with the light-blocking black pegs, but kids would tear them all out five minutes later.

There is a nifty assembly line factory zone, presumably set up so kids can get some early experience in the dull soul-crushing existence of factory life.

There's about five parts that you have to gather and properly assemble as you travel down line. I bet this area is a hoot to watch during a class field trip, where you could genuinely position kids at each station.

At the end of the plant you have to recycle the parts into separate slots so that the next round of kids can assemble the very same materials. It's an American microcosm of manufacture-destroy-reuse, except we rarely get the "reuse" part right.

This part should have been awesome but wasn't. You're supposed to build wooden cars, then race them down the hill to see which wins... perhaps learning WHY one car was faster than another as you go.

Except building the cars was completely impossible:

And not just because these poor cars have been through the Children's Crusade and have little bits bent or broken... even if this set was brand new you'd have a hell of a time making cars with it. Every one of those colored connectors you see is a unique plug. So you need to match it up by color. Which doesn't sound too hard until you realize that you're not just matching up same-colored wooden car sections, you also need to find the same color connector to actually get the parts to stick together. It was nuts.

Clark had a great time. We were there for over two hours, which encompassed at least two full laps of the entire place. Clark would have stayed longer!

This was Clark's first day of summer vacation (our daycare closes for the summer) so we think we made a great start.

Our extra cats.

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As soon as we moved here, we noticed a few roaming neighborhood cats, but this year a pair of them have started staking their claim to our yard.

We call this one Smoky. He/she looks a lot like our Annie, to the point where I once saw this one sleeping on our driveway and thought Annie had somehow escaped our air conditioned rubber sealed airlock biodome of a home.

Smoky will not let us near him/her. We're actually not even sure this is the original Smoky, because a few months back a similarly colored cat was seen along the side of the road not far from our development. Somehow, a Smoky endures. This picture of him/her sleeping on our porch chair is from last week.

This one we call Orange Cat, or occasionally Pumpkin. We're pretty sure he (HE. Balls.) belongs to the neighbors directly behind us, and since we know he has family we always worry about him getting home safely when it starts storming like crazy.

Orange Cat sits right on our back doorstep, just as you see. About every night. He drives Annie and Zoe crazy. Annie will let him sit there for a few minutes, and then suddenly she'll leap for the door in a spectacular show of force. Zoe will often do that stupid cat trick where they push their faces into the window and bat at nothing with the right paw. Because she thinks she can somehow bridge the glass.

Orange Cat, for his part, just sits and yawns. We've fed him a couple times - the dry stuff that our girls tend not to like - so he's a beggar of our own making. It's very amusing to see his peering face at midnight, if a little sad. Go home!

We get a lot of scenes like this one, with Orange Cat at the door and our cats on High Alert.

Bonus pic: Zoe at ease in Clark's playroom mess:

The Jesus Penis Vintage Light Switch Cover?

Because if you haven't, I think it's vitally important that you do.

I think my biggest problem with it is the arbitrary Commandment, "Honor Thy Father and Mother." I suppose that's just there because kids ALWAYS need a stern reminder of that one. Stern like an erection.

(Seen on Post Modern Barney!)

We had a really great day yesterday. We're starting to experiment with weaning Clark off his afternoon nap, and some weekends are naturally better than others. Yesterday was one of the good ones.

He slept in, which is a good sign that we'll be able to pull off a napless day. We had a coupon for a largely unfamiliar local comic store. Comix Connection is not our usual comic shop, but since we moved a little northward it's now within our shopping sphere. We breezed through there back on Free Comic Book Day when they were giving out 20% off coupons. So Clark and I performed a sortie through the store eager to use the coupon.

They have a sweet life-size Silver Surfer statue in the back of the store, of which we were instantly enamored. I don't know why we didn't take a picture of it. Comix Connection isn't as good with the gaming stock as Comic Store West (not even close), but they have a spiffier website.

We walked out of there with a Teen Titans manga-sized trade and an issue of CN Action Pack for Clark, while I picked up volume 3 of Showcase Presents Justice League (yay stupid Silver Age!) and a Minimate two-pack of Deadman and the Spectre that was half off before we used the coupon.

Then we went to Target, where I again caved to unseen pressure and bought another discount Pirates box for $4. I cannot say no to those, even though I keep buying the same one over and over again. After taking stock at home, I realized that I have bought the Fire and Steel boxed set that comes with the HMS Resolution a stunning four times since the $4 fire sale went into effect.

I keep buying Fire and Steel because I'm chasing those cool rare ships with the switchblade pincers and the other cool rare ships with the huge flaming cannonball launchers. Li'l Spectre says I should know better.

After the Target trip, Rhonda and I gauged if Clark could handle skipping nap. He was very well behaved so far, so we ventured east to a mall we rarely get to, the Harrisburg Mall. Clark likes escalators and elevators, so this two-story mall was an easy sell for him.

The other interesting bit about this mall is that it has a massive Bass Pro Shops that has engulfed one entire end of the mall.

I don't know if you have one of these near you, but they are monstrous. Being non-hunting vegetarians, this isn't exactly the place for us (although we have been there for general camping supplies). But we knew Clark would be fascinated by the taxidermy tableaus and the aquariums. There's a deer versus bear diorama inside the mall with a very male deer in it, showcasing what is probably the most photographed furry testicles in the south central Pennsylvania region.

You have to give Bass Pro points for theming. Even being sort of morally affronted by what they traffic in (hey, now I know where to go to buy a crossbow), I'm impressed by the almost-Disney-level of decor. Seriously, this place has more stuffed bears in it than employees. And it has a huge light gun shooting gallery.

If every Bass Pro Shop nationwide is as full of dead bears as this one, that's a lot of dead bears.

We happened to stumble in on some kind of free family fishing/hunting/camping/killing festival, where they had kiddie activity stations set up around the store. Over in the gigantic boat sales arena, they were letting kids "fish" with a kids' rod and reel. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that I have no idea how to fish, much less Clark. The store was letting kids onto one of the showroom boats to toss the line over the side into a bucket that was painted as part of a big fish. I guess, a bass.

Clark stepped right up and listened to the instructions on how to use the pink plastic fishing rod, and with Rhonda's help, he swung the bait into the bucket. There was some kind of button holding the line back, and you had to let go of the button at the right point in the swing to get the bait to sail... Rhonda was helping with the swing (underhand, we're in a store aiming across maybe six feet), but Clark was in charge of the button! For his success, he got to spin a wheel and pick a prize. He chose a little blue dinosaur that reminds me of Gon.

Then we hit a nearby Toys R Us, which happens to be directly beside a prison.

This one is quickly becoming a TRU that time forgot. It still opens with the old switchback entrance, where you walk through the vestibule, end up at the customer service counter, and then have to make a sharp left through more doors to actually enter the store. It also still has a Kids R Us clothing section... and absolutely no R'Zone. Yes, the video games are still all sold via flip-tags! This was like a museum piece of what our York store looked like during the PS1 to PS2 eras.

By the time we got home, it was time to eat, and nap had been successfully skipped.

The Week in Links

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Aeropause's Joe Haygood - Windows Gaming at E3 (YouTube)
Joe Haygood, lead dude on the Aeropodcast, was tapped to talk about Windows 7 at an E2 gig! I want to remix this to ABBA for him.

Excerpts From the Diary of an App Store Reviewer (Daring Fireball)
Hilarious fictional explanation of the nonsense going on behind the scenes with all these iPhone app approval problems. Apple is getting a right nice black eye over this, not that anybody outside the tech sector has ever heard of this.

"American Idol" fans scream as Kris Allen visits Disney's Hollywood Studios (Jim Hill Media)
Kris Allen makes a contractually obligated appearance at the new American Idol attraction at DisneyWorld.

Michael Madsen Discusses Voicing Kilowog in "Green Lantern: First Flight" (Toon Zone)
"Everyone forgets that I was the father in Free Willy - they only like to remember that I cut off a policeman's ear in Reservoir Dogs."

80's Pop Show! (Autumn Society)
An art show in Philly with some very cool 1980s pop culture works. I probably should have gone to this.

Pokemon cards at Burger King again (Club BK)
I love that Burger King is again giving out actual Pokemon TCG cards in their kids meals! They did this last year and Clark and I would stop by several times a week on the way home from his day with the grandparents.

So, Which E3 Announcements Generated The Most Buzz? (Kotaku)
An internet scanning service counted up all the times E3 topics appeared on weblogs, Twitter, etc, and came up with a nice list of what games generated the most buzz. Microsoft's Project Natal came waaaaay in first, and the two stupid DJ games forever locked in combat came in waaaay at the bottom. If I were in charge of any of the following properties right now, based on this list I would be very concerned: Perfect Dark, Scribblenauts, Ghostbusters, Afrika, and Soul Calibur.

I'm figuring on writing up some general E3 thoughts soon enough. One thing everybody agrees on is that this year's show was far and away better than last year.

I'm on the 30 Day Challenge.

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active-greene.jpgI know I was going back and forth on this one, but we did end up buying EA Sports Active last weekend. As you might expect, I had boku Toys R Us cards to cash in. I think the actual cost of the $60 game was around $30.

First of all, Bob Greene is a colossal douche. I guess he's on Oprah a lot? Thankfully, you don't see much of him during the game. Just at the beginning speech and during little inspirational bits every few days. He is ingratiating and fake. Exactly what I hate about motivationists in general.

But I wanted a workout game, right? And preferably one with reviews somewhere outside of the toilet. EA Active was the one.

Note that the early releases on this game stated it would come with TWO leg straps (which is the bit that holds the Nunchuk to your thigh on exercises where the game wants to spot your leg motion). However the game only comes with one strap, so guess what you have to go buy separately if you want multiplayer exercising... at $20 a pop. There is also a chintzy resistance band that I'm convinced I'm going to snap.

Anyway, EA Active does succeed where Wii Fit fails in that you actually get 20-30 minute continuous routines. None of that stopping and starting like in Wii Fit. (Although Wii Fit Plus, due this fall, may address that...) Although Active does have its own epic fails, which I'll get to shortly, not the least of which is a complete lack of personality (which is about the only bit that made Wii Fit interesting).

Active's big claim is the 30 Day Challenge, where it offers up a month of workouts and tracks your progress. I started my 30 Days last Sunday, which would take me through our Origins vacation... which you'd think would mean an instant fail since I don't plan on taking the Wii along on the trip (maybe I should!) But interestingly, Active has a "rest" day built into the calendar after every two days of workouts. So if I skip the rests and just jump to the next scheduled workout, I'll do the 30 Day Challenge in merely 20.

I'm doing a medium-level workout with occasional Balance Board exercises. The game doesn't absolutely need the Balance Board, but there are a few Board-specific exercises and a handful of exercises that can also be played in a Balance Board enhanced version. In the Challenge, it only brings up the Balance Board every other day or so.

So far, I'm a little annoyed that the "20 minute workout" that the game promises appears to be mythical. I've done five days straight and have yet to do a workout that is under 20 minutes. Part of that is due to training videos that add to the time, but even when I skip through them I'm over the 20. You can create your own routines... so once I'm done with the big Challenge maybe I'll put together a workout of the exercises I like and keep that to 20. For whatever reason, there's a huge mental difference between "20 minute workout" and "half hour workout."

But it is a workout. Day 1 was pretty easy. But Day 2 was a killer. Day 3 introduced jumping exercises, which I absolutely hate. At the beginning of the week, I was in complete pain for a few days, especially in my legs from all the lunges and whatnot. By Day 5, I was adjusted and no longer limping around afterward in agony. It is still a sweatfest though.

Rhonda and I have both run up against moments where the game doesn't quite sense your movements properly. That can be frustrating because then the virtual trainer people start chiding you. I also think the sensing is too slow. Plenty of exercises seem to drag out when the motion should be faster. For example, there's four parts to each Toe Touch Side Lunge. You lunge to one side, then hands down to touch your toes with the Remote, the hands up, then back to standing. You're supposed to wait for the game to chime between each step, theoretically to set a good rhythm. I find that the pauses while you're waiting for the chime are completely random, which I surmise is because the game is sensing the position of the Remote and Nunchuk and recalibrating itself for the next motion. As a result, I get no rhythm at all, and end up holding a lot of painful poses for longer than I suspect is necessary.

Not that that stops the chirpy trainer girl from complimenting me on how I'm setting a great pace.

Here's an epic fail for you... no outside music. You can choose music from several genres - all instrumental background music kind of junk - but no playing your own songs off an SD card. How can Wii launch title Excite Freaking Truck have custom soundtracks, but a bloody EA exercise game can't? Even Endless Ocean had custom soundtracks, sort of.

Active does not weigh you, which I find staggeringly amazing. I'm sure Bob Greene has some kind of douchey explanation as to why weight is a poor metric of fitness, but pretending to estimate my burned calories is. Instead of graphing weight over time, EA Active tracks such useful indicators as "How many glasses of sugary drinks you've had" and "How you have self-identified your stress level." Just weigh me, dammit. Every day at work I'm stressed and going through cans of Diet Coke, you happy?

Another missed opportunity is that the game never once uses the Remote speaker. Those stupid chimes that tell me "Joe, you can stop dying on that reverse lunge" ought to come out of the Remote, not the TV.

And this one is the worst: the game steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the d-pad as an input source. Even though the game has screen after screen to page through, or giant blocks of text to scroll down, you can't simply use the d-pad to arrow around. You have to point at the screen. WTF.

As I mentioned, the game is bland as dry toast. The avatars are terrible sub-PS2 level designs. Worse than PlayStation Home, even. There's precious few environments and not enough background music. Were it not for the example videos and physical accessories, I'd imagine Active could fit as a WiiWare app. Which would probably be genius, now that I think about it.

But as far as workouts go, I guess I'm happy enough. There's obvious room for improvement, from lessons unlearned from Wii Fit and the game's own dopey mistakes. Nevertheless I'm working up a sweat, as they say, and looking forward to seeing if I notice any difference in health, shape, or endurance at the end of the 30 days. Or 20.

The Apple car from Cars

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You Mac folks will dig this.

During the opening race in Disney/Pixar Cars, there's a quick in-joke glimpse of a white car branded with a big gray Apple apple. If you want a closer look at the car, the blu-ray release will deliver...

Nice number.

The blu-ray Cars has a nifty game mode called Car Finder, where you have to find cars on cue, Where's Waldo style. I know the phrase "DVD game" sets eyes rolling, but some newer blu-rays have upped the ante and actually contain playable bonus games.

Car Finder is particularly cool because you get to play it while you watch the regular movie (with minimal interruptions). A lot of those old dopey DVD games were mainly hacked up film clips divided by ample load times.

To begin, you have five car icons at the bottom of the screen and you click on them when you see the match. If you miss one, the icon disappears and a new car shows up. The game keeps track of how many cars you have missed, along with a running score. Your score flops down every time you click when there is no onscreen match.

Once you match a car, you unlock it in a gallery... which provides cute bonus material such as what is seen above.

And yeah, you can save your game and come back to it later. Very cool.

I'm not this type of parent (I'll pretty much watch whatever Clark wants, no matter how many times he wants to see it), but I could imagine something like this taking the edge off of parents having to view Cars ten times in a row. However, I'm sure most people aren't even aware a bonus feature like this exists.

DC Source dropped some preview pages of Justice League: Cry for Justice. I love the art... a unique sketchy paint style by a virtually unknown Mauro Cascioli. Looks a lot like a guy they would normally only ask to do covers. Six issue miniseries starting this July. It's already out of place in current DC continuity, as a Justice League issue from two months ago referenced it as if it had already happened. Oy.

I am unsure about the motivations at work here. Cry for Justice takes place after Martian Manhunter and Batman have died, and Green Lantern is pissed off about it. So he creates a League splinter group to take the fight directly to the villains. He takes with him Green Arrow, Ray Palmer, Supergirl, the blue Starman, the new Shazam, and for fan-service reasons, Congorilla.

The preview pages show Hal getting in Superman's face about the League not being proactive. Hal sounds kind of vengeful, which is the kind of thing the GL Corps specifically forbids, by the way. At least, they used to. Maybe "Act Like An Ass" is one of the new top secret rules the Guardians keep adding to the Book of Oa.

First of all, where does Hal find the time for this sort of thing? I gather that Cry for Justice will not connect to Blackest Night this summer, but still. Unless we're talking about a Flash, I've never been a fan of the highly active heroes being tossed into multiple teams and multiple books. It's one thing to have John Stewart in the League, because he does not appear that often in the Lantern books... but Hal? He's the chosen one.

And I just don't know if that dialogue sounds like Hal Jordan. The comic references this when Diana says "This doesn't sound like you." She's right. It doesn't. It sounds more like the fabled darkening of Hal right around the time of Emerald Twilight or whatever that Parallax story was called. I wish they'd retcon that right out of existence, because I'm tired of people bringing it up whenever Hal gets angry. It's like the entire DCU is trying to help Hal stay off the cigs, except the cigs in this case are a giant metaphysical yellow space bug.

But where have we heard this before? Oh yes, back in 1995...

When it was Captain Atom giving the same speech. Probably also to Superman. I have the complete mid-90s 19 issue run of Extreme Justice, but I can't be bothered to go research this further.

I mean, look at Booster Gold on that cover! He's the Armored Linebacker!

And poor Blue Beetle is so dark and gritty in this incarnation that they couldn't even draw his face. Never mind that this book was literally weeks after Ted Kord had informally retired and had a huge beer gut.

So, we're rehashing a very poorly remembered League story beat - the League Goes Postal - at a time when neither the League nor Green Lantern really need it. Hal will be busy enough this summer and the League could certainly run an arc like this within the core series. And it's not like Martian Manhunter and Batman are going to stay dead - hell, both will probably miraculously return to life before all six issues of Cry for Justice ship - so Hal's impetus here is suspect.

Even though I like the art and the writer (James Robinson, who I'll always remember for his spectacular The Golden Age mini), I'm on the fence for this one. For completionist sake, I'll probably have to get it... but I'll think long and hard about whether it's the miniseries or the trade.

I guess it's kind of nothing more than pure Trophy mining, going back to Eye of Judgment. But I did it. And the game is still fun, and it is still a challenge to beat the CPU decks. Wringing another dozen or so Trophies out of EoJ crested me over the 300 threshold.

Almost all of EoJ's Trophies are based on CPU play. As was suggested on our latest Aeropodcast (#84), that's probably because no one is still playing Eye of Judgment online. The game delivers a Trophy for beating each prebuilt CPU deck (what, 18 of those maybe?) and then another set of Trophies for beating each deck under some insane condition. The easier conditions are workable stuff like "beat CPU without playing spell cards." Some of them are crazy like "don't let any of your creatures die."

One of them - "don't kill any opposing creatures" - actually opened my eyes to a new strategy: the "Don't Kill Any Opposing Creatures" gambit. Whenever you kill an enemy, as a balancing rule, the opponent gets one free mana. The usual way I play, I try to kill all comers, which ends up granting a lot of mana to the CPU. Playing under the pacifist role sort of crippled the CPU from getting his big cost creatures to the table.

So a round of wins from EoJ got me up to 304 Trophies... and then I scrounged some leftovers from Flower ("Wait ten minutes before playing again"), LittleBigPlanet ("Play online with three people not on your friend list"), and new-to-Trophies The Last Guy.

Last Guy sucks for Trophies. There's a nice pile but they're all secret. Who thinks 100% secret Trophies is a good idea? So far I have picked up about three of them... beat level 1.1, beat level 1.4, save over 10,000 people.

Not to mention that you have to restart your game to get the Trophies. Bleah. At least the Trophy patch (and some new bonus levels) was free.

Last Guy is exceptionally frustrating thanks to an arbitrary time limit and a once-and-done one life per level structure. My man Mike got really good at it (and he doesn't even own a PS3) so next time he's up I'm going to make him play it and get me Trophies.

Incidentally, what's up with EU getting a different Buzz Jr PSN game that happens to include Trophies? Europe received Buzz Jr Robot something-or-other, with Trophies, and we got Buzz Jr Jungle Party. Jungle Party is OK, but it came with zero Trophies even though it was released after January 2009 (Sony's mandated Trophy deadline).

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