The Ludlum Demonstrative

I was at the library the other day and realized that I still hadn’t seen The Bourne Identity. So I said to myself “Hey, I’ll just pick up the book instead.” Perusing the shelf of Robert Ludlum titles, I realized they all had these very stilted, cold war, nouny sort of names. The Osterman Weekend. The Holcroft Covenant, The Chancellor Manuscript. So I wrote a little script to autogenerate Ludlum titles for me, just in case I should ever need to ghost write a book for his kid. Read On →

The Camera Bag Problem

When I bought my first SLR film camera, I didn’t give much thought to bags. I needed a small bag to fit the body and two lenses that I had bought, so I went to the store and picked out the smallest Domke (the F-5) which seemed to be big enough. It could fit the camera ready to shoot and the extra lens, and it wasn’t that big. I could get the camera in and out without putting the bag down. Read On →

Margarita's New Toy

Early this week, Tea Leaves’ industrious panel of dedicated tasters converged on Mad Mex in Oakland to try a variety of wonderful tequilas. I’ll be writing about that in detail, in the next few weeks. In addition to discovering some new favorite tequilas, I got a peek at the best hand-held lime juicer I’ve ever seen. Half of a lemon or lime goes in, you give it a quick squeeze, and the juice just flies out in under a second. Read On →

NBA Street

I have a weakness for the NBA Street games. I like them because they do not try to simulate basketball, rather, they let you play a type of basketball that is completely ludicrous and unhealthy. I think the series peaked with NBA Street 2, which is still fun to play even today. Hoping to recapture some of that magic, I picked up a used copy of NBA Street: Homecourt at the Exchange the other day to see if it would make it through the Ebay Review System. Read On →

Put a Cork In It

Wine is a funny business. There are plenty of tangible resources that go into producing the bottle of wine that lands on your kitchen table: land, grapes, yeast, glass, and so on. And there are plenty of intangibles that go into making a good wine: knowledge, patience, and most importantly, process. But many people (or at least, many Americans) who buy wine are really trying to buy something else: romance. This puts the industry in the odd position of trying to protect the public from finding out what really makes great wine. Read On →

A Flash about Flash

Having buried myself in the Strobist for the last couple of weeks, I came up for air over the weekend and reflected on what I had learned. First, I learned that buying a lightstand and umbrella can be a bit stressful and complicated. But that’s not important or interesting. What is interesting to me is to compare the techniques at the Strobist with those in the excellent Bob Krist lighting book I read a few years ago. Read On →

The Only Reviewers Worse Than Game Reviewers...

are wine reviewers. Imagine if game reviewers wrote game reviews the way that thesaurus addled hack Robert Parker reviews wine: Shadow of the Colossus has a certain je ne sais quoi in its coding, a whiff of east-coast style that reveals that this Japanese game’s native terroir is really Bell Labs. The structure is simple, yet baroque, not unlike the original sed, or awk. Redolent of Gosling Emacs and perhaps even a note of Crowther Adventure, the color palette is subdued, yet puckish. Read On →

A Short Plea for Mercy

Dear NPR: It’s 18 months before the election. Only a true mental cripple would actually have more than a microscopic level of interest in what is going on in the Presidential “race”. And yet you find it necessary to waste literally hours of your expensive broadcast time “covering” this story which does not exist yet, analyzing events that have not happened, and “predicting” results that, given your complete lack of meaningful data, have no possible link to any future reality. Read On →

Rehabilitating Vermouth

I mentioned it as a one-off joke in an earlier article: “Oh, yes, there’s this little bar in Madrid just north of the Gran Via that specializes in Vermouth. They serve anchovies and olives as tapas – you really should go, dahling!” But here’s the thing: I wasn’t kidding. That bar really exists. You should go there and drink sweet vermouth. But if you can’t go there, you should drink sweet vermouth anyway. Read On →

Point and Shoot

This week I found the first photographic web site to pique my interest in a long time. For a while now I had been ignoring most of the photographic web because there just wasn’t any content at an appropriate level of maturity. What I mean by that is that most sites are either just a big shopping catalog or a collection of articles providing shallow tutorials on various subjects like how best to put the $5000 digital camera you just bought on a tripod. Read On →

Slowly Goes The Night

Due to circumstances beyond our control, updates will be slow this week. Coming soon: The Great Tequila Tasting. 4X: Reach for the Stars! And more. See you soon.

Requiem for the Latent Image

I have a drawer in my house. I call it my “photo junk” drawer. Eight or nine years ago, it started out as an empty hanging file drawer where I started to file away the PrintFile slide storage pages that I had been collecting since buying my first real camera. There are a few folders of slides in the drawer, but it is now mostly overrun with small piles of print envelopes and small accessories that I had no use for. Read On →

Gaming's Stillborn Conscience

I wrote a review in this month’s issue of PTD magazine that I’m sure is going to garner me much hate mail. I won’t reiterate the entire thing here, but to make a long story short, I panned Crackdown, a game where your objective, as a cop, is to murder as many immigrants as possible. I panned it specifically because of the game’s absolutely vile morals, and more specifically its vile politics. Read On →

Old Friends

For various reasons, we hadn’t been getting to the Strip as much as we used to. Maybe it was some stress at work. Maybe it was the worse than normal patented Pittsburgh early spring freeze. Maybe it was that when we did go things weren’t really the same. But the last two Saturdays, we finally made it down there again became reacquainted with some old friends. The main motivation for our trip last week was to check out the Penn Avenue Fish Company. Read On →

Two Quick Browser Games

Here are two games to play in your web browser and destroy your productivity: Desktop Tower Defense. Action! Guns! Squirt Towers! Recommended by Jeremy Zawodny. MathsNet Interactive Geometry. Three dimensional puzzles! Tip: Puzzle #1 is the hardest one by a mile. Recommended as retaliation for the earlier link by fpereira. Go play them! Just don’t blame me when you get fired.

Bigger, Faster, Stronger

Tonight a lesson in dork shopping. I bought a new Nikon D200 digital SLR last month. We are taking our first vacation in a while, and it seemed like a good excuse to upgrade the picture taking machine since you always take a lot of pictures on trips. After a lot of angst over whether the more expensive body was worth it (the D80 is not much of a downgrade feature-wise) I finally decided to spring for it. Read On →

Why Cooperation With RMS Is (Still) Impossible

It’s not just the free software song, but that every interaction with the man is like playing Simon Says with a malicious 6 year old. I remember once, many years ago, a friend of mine logged in to RMS’s account to show me some funny things (RMS used to be anti-password, and so when they forced him to use a password, he chose an easy one and told everyone about it, so I don’t think he’d view this as illicit). Read On →

Dead to Me: The A/V Receiver

I used to love my receiver. It gave me a sense of dork pride to know that sure, I had suffered great pains to get everything hooked up, but my reward was a rich stereo sound experience that the other losers in the audience were missing. No TV sound for me. Like most things though, as I got older, the inconvenience of dealing with the machine started to overtake the enjoyment of the result. Read On →

Fixing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

I’m an adult who, on occasion, enjoys drinking in moderation. Since I live in Pennsylvania I am forced to purchase liquor through what is charitably described as the very worst state-owned liquor monopoly in the entire universe. I’ve written about this in detail before: the painfully unhelpful staff at many stores, and that the system seems more interested in punishing you for wanting to buy liquor than in trying to sell it. Read On →

God of War 2

God of War 2 is God of War turned up to 11. That’s pretty much all you need to know. If you liked the first game you will like the second. If, like my wife, you thought the first game was juvenile and offensive, you will not think the second game is any different. Me, I liked the first game, but I also thought it was juvenile and offensive. I bought God of War 2 anyway because I was in the mood to run around in some huge levels and beat the crap out of a lot of faceless monsters. Read On →

Life Imitates Cerebus

“Keith Richards snorted his father? Who would imagine he’d be that crazy?” The answer, of course, is “Dave Sim”, whose model of Keith was apparently too conservative (click the image to enlarge for readability): See also here.

Quick Review: Cachaça

Cachaça, a foul-tasting sugarcane based spirit, may be the best reason yet to go to war with Brazil. I have had homemade moonshine made from cat barf that did less damage to my psyche (and liver).

Sam and Max 4: Good Script, Bad Game

Those of you who have been following my reviews know of my infatuation with Telltale’s Sam and Max adventure games. The thrilling thing to me about these games is that they have been consistently funny and playable games. The fourth episode of their “episodic series”, Abe Lincoln Must Die! has been released. It’s strongly written. It has clever writing, brilliant situations, and is funny enough that it had me, quite literally, crying tears of laughter. Read On →

Expose Yourself

The subject of exposure in photography is filled with confusion. On the one hand, automatic exposure systems have largely freed the general public from ever thinking about the problem except under dire circumstances. On the other hand, beginning photographers who aspire to become serious workers in the medium are usually overly obsessed with the technical aspects of “correct” exposure. Even the idea of correct exposure is hard to pin down. You could argue that you can’t know the correct exposure for a picture without knowing what the subject is. Read On →

I Met the Maple Queen

For several years now I’ve had issues with the Meyersdale Maple Festival. Namely, I always intend to go but then always forget. Sometime in June I’ll ask my friends “Hey, when’s the maple festival? I want to meet the Maple Queen.” and they shout “March!” and I say “Oh, oops, maybe next year.” This year, the 60th year of the festival, I finally remembered to go. And I met the Maple Queen. Read On →

Some Monday Shorts

There was a break in the bleak weather and a small break in the workload at work, so we spent the weekend doing weekend things instead of surfing the web and finding some dork topic to spout off on. Instead, I have some short thoughts on things that are not worth a whole article. Yupcakes Recently, Pittsburgh has joined a socioeconomic and culinary trend that has been sweeping through the neighborhoods of the intellectually less gifted. Read On →

Telerama: Standing Eight Count

My internet provider of choice (and former employer) Telerama has been having a few problems lately. This has engendered some morbid conversations, Irish wake-style, among some folks about whether and when the business will completely give up the ghost. Regardless of what happens to Telerama – and I hope it’s around for a long time, and regains a solid financial footing – I think it brings some lessons that are of interest to anyone who wants to run a small business. Read On →

Eating Unique on Craig Street

Since our office moved closer to Oakland, Craig Street is the most convenient place to get a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. This is somewhat tragic, since Craig Street has always been covered with a miasma that makes food served in the area merely adequate. The best example of this is the Coffee Situation. Coffee on Craig St. is an unmitigated disaster. There’s Kiva Han, which for all its hip aura sells coffee so unremittingly and gruellingly terrible that I’ve actually poured it out after one sip. Read On →

In Between

For the last two months or so, I’ve been in the enviable position of not having to think about games. I’ve had a “one game” that I can just leave in the machine and fire up every time the urge hits. I hear that this is one of the reasons people are so happy about World of Warcraft. Sadly, all good things must reach the final Boss. And thus my run through Final Fantasy XII finally came to an end. Read On →


One bit of fallout from the Wii “Everybody Votes!” channel is that you’ll find yourself going along through your work day when suddenly you’re overcome with the inability to comprehend: who the hell are all these people who aren’t mad when they get stood up on dates? Or the people who don’t brush their teeth right before going to bed. You people sicken me.

They Just Don't Care

This weekend a story with horrifying implications came over the airwaves of the Internet Gaming Forums. This story is of such gravity and importance that I decided to delay my usual Monday morning semi-philosophical wanky gaming article for a day and inform you, our dear reader, of its existence so you can gird yourself for the impending doom to come. So, without further delay, here is the terrible news: Nintendo’s online service will continue to require separate friend codes for every different game. Read On →

Why No Real Post Tonight?

Because I have the plague. I blame psu.

God is In the House

To my way of thinking, every major genre of music has its quintessential forms. There is the three minute pop song sung by a group of three or four young freaks with long hair. There is the large scale Classical/Romantic Symphony. And in Jazz, there is the piano trio or quartet. With all due respect to the other instrumentalists, there is something about the piano trio that connects with the part of my brain that enjoys Jazz and just makes it tingle in a particular way that other records don’t. Read On →

Service With A Scream

Travelling to Europe ruined me in several ways. One, of course, is that I’m compelled to constantly demonstrate what an insufferable poseur I am by placedropping (“Oh, yes, there’s this little bar in Madrid just north of the Gran Via that specializes in Vermouth. They serve anchovies and olives as tapas — you really should go, dahling…“). The other is that I can’t enjoy a meal at a restaurant any more, because I can’t stand being interrupted while I eat. Read On →

The Deeds Make the Man

We have mentioned on occasion that the main reason that the Xbox 360 exists is to deliver the Xbox Live service to your TV. There is something in Xbox Live for everyone. For people who care to play games with others on the Internet, something that I don’t really understand anymore, the friend tracking and online matchmaking in Xbox Live puts all other such services to shame. For people who want to not have to buy the next Ubisoft shooter to find out that it’s crap, the Live service provides downloadable demos and other content that make this easy. Read On →

True Conversation

Me: “Hey, Nat, do you know what this ‘Azureus magnet link’ thing is?” Nat: “Oh, I think of that as ‘That thing that when I click on it, doesn’t work.” Me: “Hey, me too.”

What I Think I Like

I love strategy games. At least that’s what I tell myself. One of the first games I was ever seriously addicted to was this FORTRAN monstrosity called EMPIRE that ran on a VT100 terminal on your neighborhood Vax in the late 70s. I remember wasting away many afternoons in the terminal room conquering the world with my armies and boats and aircraft. This game was classic turn-based strategy. You give orders to your dozens of units. Read On →

PTD Magazine #303

The latest edition of PTD is out! In this month’s free digest you’ll find my review of one of the most revered games of all time, X-Com: UFO Defense, a review of indie entry Arctic Stud Poker Run. You’ll also find the record of how I utterly dominated Lorien at Sid Meier’s Railroads!, and an editorial in which I urge game designers to avoid 3D just for the sake of 3D (I’m not holding my breath on that one). Read On →

Praise the Lord and Pass The Ammunition

When you live in a place for a while, your mental map of that place starts getting annotations. Specifically, I find that I start coming up with names for places that are better than their actual names. On Fifth Avenue, across the street from WQED, is a church; its given, wrong, name is “Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church.” I used to walk past this building every day on the way to class. Read On →

The Stupid Rich Parents Pages

The decline and fall of civil society is not the sort of thing that will be immediately obvious to someone observing the process on a day to day basis. It happens in a series of small steps, none of which seem all that fatal on their own. In these “new media” days, one of these small steps is the slow decay of the American Newspaper in the face of new forms of information delivery that cater to those with the attention span of a small house fly. Read On →

Status: Bitter

…because my ancient laptop, through an unfortunate misadventure involving a Senegalese circus troupe, now has a cracked LCD. My plan is to spend the rest of the weekend obsessing over whether I should try and fix this thing myself, or just give up and buy a new machine.

Thoughts on Digital Cameras, 2007

A few years back one of the first things I wrote and “published” online was a thought piece on the state of digital cameras at the time. I had just started using the things heavily, and being pegged as a photo dork, people kept asking me for shopping advice. Recently I rolled the page out to my dad when he asked me some questions and it occured to me that in these modern times of short product cycles one must constantly update and reorganize this sort of thing. Read On →

4X: Galactic Civilizations II

This is the fourth in a series of articles about 4X space games. Read the introduction here and the previous article here. Stardock’s Galactic Civilizations II is a great game. I can’t stand it. It appeals to a lot of players, has simple game mechanics, an acceptable UI, and a very high degree of polish. There are many people whose opinions I respect who enjoy it immensely, and you might be one of them. Read On →

How to Own the Universe and Then Give it Away

Back in the ancient times (you know, 2001), there was an entertainment company that owned the video game universe. Their lock was so tight that even people who were not originally impressed with the technical prowess of their hardware or the aesthetics of their games were still compelled through sheer force of will to buy the system. This is a story about how a company can own the universe and give it away. Read On →

4X: Master Of Orion

This is the third in a series of articles about 4X games. Read the introduction here and the previous article here. Perhaps the most well-known of the early era 4X games was Master of Orion. Master of Orion was developed by Simtex, who engendered a cult following with their overrated game Master of Magic. Orion was published by Microprose in 1993. This meant that it had real marketing muscle–Microprose was one of the giants in its day. Read On →

4X: Spaceward Ho!

This is the second in a series of articles about 4X games. Read the introduction, here. “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It’s a principle that, in games, is more honored in the breach than in the observance. I’ve written before about how user interface is critical to a game’s playability. But beyond UI is a principle that many developers don’t seem to be able to grasp: Have me make decisions about things that are important. Read On →

First Impressions

Pete used his Gamefly account to get me a copy of F.E.A.R. for the 360. This is a shooter of relatively high reputation, mostly on the strength of its special rendering effects and yet another implementation of “bullet time” slow-motion massacre technology. Unfortunately, I am not feeling very motivated to continue with the game after my first impression. I know this is shallow of me, but I have a lot of games and little time, so if a game is not good immediately, there is little point in going on. Read On →

Pigs In Space

This week, I’ll be surveying a number of space strategy games, from old classics to recent entries in the field. Often known as “3X” or “4X” games (for “Explore, Expand, Exploit”, and sometimes “Exterminate”), this is a genre that has been around for years, and has remained popular. Up for consideration this week are Delta Tao’s Spaceward Ho!, various iterations of Master of Orion, Stardock’s Galactic Civilizations 2, Reach For the Stars! Read On →

A Few Food Shorts

Tonight a few recent discoveries, none all that long, but each very pleasing. The Vacuum Insulated Thermos These have changed the nature of our domestic hot drink management. After the initial purchase we went on to obtain three more of various different sizes. Combined with a nice electric pot for boiling water, these things will keep you in hot tea and coffee all day without a lot of sweat and bother. Read On →

It Ain't Just Alabama

I want to go on record saying, publically, that season 9, episode 3 of Top Gear might be the finest thing ever shown on television since the medium was invented. And not just because of this segment. Well, OK. Mostly because of that segment. But the political commentary about New Orleans is spot on as well. I’m sure many of my urban liberal friends will think “This is unfair. It’s Alabama.” But the truth is that I can drive 30 minutes outside of Pittsburgh and find towns which would have given the Top Gear boys the exact same reception.