Axiom of Choice

I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on an iPod Shuffle. I was mostly seduced by the look of the item, but wasn’t sure how the screenless shuffle- only interface would really work out in practice. Surprisingly, the Shuffle is by far my favorite iPod device for day to day use. In particular, its shuffle play is much more enjoyable in the car than shuffling with the normal iPod. Read On →

Eggs a la Escoffier

I haven’t had much time to read lately, but the time I have had has been spent reading Gina Mallet’s superb book Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World. I hope to have a full review done next week, but for now I’ll just tantalize you with my interpretation of a recipe that she mentions in passing, one of Escoffier’s innumerable versions of scrambled eggs. Read On →

Shadow Hearts: Covenant

Lately I have been trying to figure out why I keep playing Shadow Hearts. It is a “role playing” game in the Final Fantasy mode, which means it offers up a mostly linear series of small dungeon-like areas (even the towns are like dungeons) where you run around, pick up items you can’t see (as in, they are not rendered on the screen, you only notice them because your clueless avatar gets a little “?” bubble when you pass one), meet monsters at random and generally just run from cut scene to cut scene while the various numerical attributes of your characters increase at random intervals. Read On →

Baroque Works

In the beginning was Ti Kan, who wrote a little CD player app for X windows called xmcd. Like some other players at the time, it had support for entering disc and track names, and remembering them later. Ti went a step further, though; he provided support in the application to submit track names to a central server, the CD Database, or CDDB. Users could download and install the entire CDDB on their hard drive, which would then allow them to magically get track and disc names for discs that anyone else had entered data for. Read On →

Call for Volunteers: Gli Amari

I really like a class of alcohol that many people don’t: Italian bitter aperitivs and digestifs, known in Italian as amari. Campari, Strega, Averna – I find they settle my stomach and soothe my soul. Often, I find that it’s almost impossible to describe the taste of these drinks to those that haven’t tried them. And, even with my travels, there are still many that I haven’t tried yet. So: I would like to call for volunteers to participate in a tasting panel whose purpose will be to taste, rate, and describe in detail a large number of these amari. Read On →

Easiest Roast Pork

This recipe is adapted from The Joy of Cooking. The main modification is that if you make it my way, it won’t be dry and overcooked. The main virtue of this recipe is its simplicity. The only way it could be easier is if it just read “pick up the phone and ask someone to make roast pork loin for you.” Get a 3 pound pork loin. Don’t cut the strings. Read On →

The Amber Spyglass

One nice thing about not paying close attention to the bestseller lists is that when books come out in a series, I often don’t even hear about them until all of them are out. That’s what happened this year when I picked up The Golden Compass, the first book in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials cycle. I’m naturally suspicious of any books that are part of a series, and this suspicion grows when that series is part of a marketing genre (such as sci-fi mystery, romance, and so on). Read On →

Xs and Os

Every year, like clockwork, the big gaming megacorps turn out this year’s model of their (American) football games. A little more glitz, a little more glamour, some new player statistics. Every year, like clockwork, the gaming press issues their boring roundups of the subtle differences between the nearly identical games. This one has better graphics, that one has a better running game. The commentary on this one sounds more realistic, that one has better stadiums. Read On →

Paris Things

My friend Eric asked me what to do in Paris. Since I live to serve here is a list of my favorite activities. In general, I am not much of a tourist. My idea of a good time on a trip is to eat a lot, walk around and stare at the natives, and take pictures of buildings when the light gets good. This list reflects this bias. No bus tours of the major monuments for me. Read On →

Patriots Dynasty

Three championships in four years. Two championships in Boston in the same year. It’s a good time to be a fan there right now. Too bad about the Celtics though. I guess I can finally forgive the Pats for that game against the Bears back in 1986.

Roasting Almonds

It’s a simple problem, with a simple solution. The problem is that raw almonds are too sweet and unfocused to enjoy on their own, while most roasted almonds you can get at the store are dry and unenjoyable. Do not speak to me of the overpriced “Marcona” almonds sold to suckers at places like Whole Foods. They’re greasy and have all the character of frozen okra. What you want to do is roast your own. Read On →

Dear NPR Ethicist

I have a tricky question that has been bothering me for a while. Maybe I should ask NPR about it. In the video game “Halo”, the player is often accompanied by a squad of Marines that are driven by the computer and help the player out in combat situations. These marines are actually fairly intelligent. They will provide cover fire, take cover to keep from getting killed, and also provide a wide variety of commentary on what is going on in the game. Read On →

DV Dilettante Buyer's Guide

Jonathan writes: My brother has uttered his semi-annual wish that someone would just tell him what DV camera to buy. My reply is: I live to serve People use their DV cameras for producing different types of work. Since I don’t know what, exactly, your brother is interested in doing, I’m going to construct an ideal consumer and write my advice to him. My ideal consumer wants a DV camera because he wants to produce some body of work. Read On →

The Legend of Zelda: Groundhog Day

I have been playing Zelda: Wind Waker on my new Gamecube lately. Aside from some control issues, the game is a wonder of interesting and unique mechanics, enjoyable narrative, excellent game design, good music and great graphics. However, my experience the past few nights might make me give up on the game altogether, and this is sad. Here is my story. I have often referred to Pete’s savepoint rant in my own rantings about games. Read On →

Mediocrity Begins at Home

There’s no shame in bugs. Really. In consumer-grade software, there are bugs. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is so. I can’t think of a product I’ve used in the past 20 years that hasn’t had a bug or two. There are a few different reactions to finding out that your product has a bug. One of those reactions is to say nothing at all. While this often displeases the peanut gallery, sometimes it’s the wisest course. Read On →

Lazy Food

I like to cook but I am, by nature, a rather lazy person. This can be a problem at times, since good food is often labor intensive. Luckily, many of the best things you can make do not require your full attention during the making. So here are some easy recipes for great food that you can make while playing Halo. Rice Use a rice cooker. Set and forget. You can play Halo for 20 to 30 minutes while it cooks. Read On →


It’s been a while since the last top ten list. You know what that means. Today’s topic: famous quotations that are improved if you replace one of the nouns with the word “pants.” Some of the sources are obvious, some are a little more obscure. The tag of whoever suggested a particular twisted quote follows each quote in italics. Feel free to ask for attributions for the original quotes or contribute your own entries in the comments. Read On →

Quick Pick: Land of Legends

Land of Legends Indie Game Week may be over, but that doesn’t mean Tea Leaves won’t continue its coverage of independent games. Since yesterday’s article was about consoles that can only be used to play duly authorized corporate funded and developed megaprojects, let’s veer off today and look at a small, independently-produced game for Windows PCs: Tiny Hero Game Studio’s Land of Legends. As I’ve mentioned several times, I have a soft spot in my heart for turn- based tactical combat games. Read On →

Console Buying

Earlier I babbled at length about the three major consoles. Well, the result predicted in that piece has come to pass. I have come out of the other side of the Christmas season with a new GameCube and a new slim line PS2. GameCube You will recall that I came into this thinking that the Nintendo box would be the stronger of the two. This was mostly based on my experience with the GameBoy Advance, which is an excellent little box with a lot of excellent little games. Read On →

Unfinished Business

Yesterday, I finished The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It took me about 2 years or so to finish it. This isn’t because the game was particularly hard, but because about 18 months ago I reached the final dungeon, made it most of the way through, and then, dreading the inevitable endless boss battle, set the game aside. My game shelf is a study in unfinished business. Just glancing along it I can see numerous games that I’ve abandoned midway through. Read On →

Beef Braised in Two Buck Chuck

After mentioning this dish in passing in the “what to drink” article, I realized that it was worth sharing the recipe. It is based loosely on one of Mario Batali’s. My version is a little bolder, and about 350% cheaper. Start with 2 pounds of beef brisket (you can also use a large chuck roast or similar cut). Salt and pepper it, and brown it on all sides in a large stockpot with 6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Read On →

Sticks and Stones

B1 Bomber (click to enlarge) The second most tiresome thing about the “there’s too much violence in these newfangled videogames” discussion is that violence has always been a part of games. The argument is made, usually poorly, that today’s violence is “worse” because graphics today are so much more vivid than they were in the past. This is twaddle. More accessible, perhaps, but not necessarily worse. One need only to look to Thomas Pynchon’s V for an example of how the written word can depict more vividly than image. Read On →

What To Drink (Booze Edition)

Since psu covered cooking equipment yesterday, I wanted to talk a little about ingredients. In particular, alcohol. The typical home bar – and I use the term “bar” loosely, in my house it’s just The Cupboard With The Booze In It – is stocked more by happenstance than by planning. If, as is common, you buy your alcohol on an as-needed basis (“Oh, I need two ounces of Jasper’s Honeydew-and-Prosciutto Liqueur for these cookies…“) and don’t drink a lot yourself, then you end up with large quantities of comparatively expensive bottles that neither you nor anyone else will ever drink taking up lots of space. Read On →

Stuff you need for cooking

Hobbyist cooks are almost by definition equipment and gadget freaks. This is one endeavor where the latent object has great power. Therefore, as a public service, I’m here to tell you what I think you really need, and what is just stuff that’s nice to have. You really need one good knife. I suggest a 8-10 inch chef’s knife depending on how big your hands are. I have a soft spot for my mom’s old chinese cleaver, but I never use it. Read On →

X11, Part Deux: Why It Blows

In a recent flame war about X11, a comment suggested that using Emacs under X11 and then saying that X11 was “primitive” was like judging modern Windows by using Windows 3.1. It’s interesting that they bring up Windows 3.1, since the evidence will show that Windows 3.1, for the majority of actual users, was already years ahead of X11 and its ilk even back in 1992. Ultimately the roots of why X11 blows come back to the community that designed it and the community for which it was designed. Read On →

San Francisco

Although I’ve documented how I hate California, I make something of an exception for San Francisco. My wife and I have travelled there periodically for the last fifteen years, and now it’s become a pleasure to go and visit old haunts and eat in our favorite places. So here is a guide to what we do and where we stay in the city. Monticello Inn This hotel is near the main cable car stop at Market and Powell. Read On →

It's 2005. X11 Still Sucks

Copy and paste in X? That’s easy! Just highlight the text you want to copy, and choose “copy” from the menu, then paste it into whatever application you want to paste it into, assuming that application supports clipboard copy and paste. If it doesn’t, then just highlight the text you want to copy, and then click the middle mouse button, thus copying the primary selection. It’s also an important part of the X Window Experience to make sure that you always forget which buffer it is that you’re trying to paste, and so accidentally paste the “wrong” one, thus making any copy and paste operation take twice as long. Read On →

10 Little Balls of Hate

Well, the Holiday Season is over, so let’s get back to reality. Last week I gave you a sickeningly positive look at things that make my life bright. Here is the flip side. My Car Radio The car radio in the Chrysler Town and Country Limited is the single worst piece of human/machine interaction design that I have personally been subjected to in the last ten years. This is saying something, because I’ve used HP/UX in the last ten years. Read On →

iPod Shuffle Summary

…courtesy of Dave Rochberg: THOSE LIARS. They say “240 songs. A million different ways.” But they clearly mean “240 songs, 40678853636470581204935759214868853 10172051259182827146069755969081486918925585104009100729728 52292382089024587009865914715605190573256314738159909845924475348 246302768811570537170462828632662123845654330726760861254 3777966913875945176039596821742361795433073703416459649696398651683 817722252221059768080852489940995605579171999666916004042 3896799800598079985264195119506681577622056215044851618236292196529 36960000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 different ways.” Although it could be that their PRNG is entropy limited.


Hyperball In the 1980’s pinball manufacturers searched desperately for ways to stay relevant to a public that increasingly chose videogames over their mechanical cousins. After bankruptcies and consolidation, the industry settled on licensing movie and TV show trademarks as their path forward. But in the early ‘80s, they were still trying to be creative. _I’m back at my cliff still throwing things off_ In 1982, Williams introduced perhaps one of the most ill-advised pinball machines ever made: Hyperball. Read On →

Game Geek Quiz Answers

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for the answers to the Game Geek Quiz. If you haven’t tried the quiz yet, click here if you want to see the questions without spoilers. Otherwise, read on! The original questions have been included in italics. The “official” right answer is in boldface. I’ve tried to provide context for every answer. 1. What was “Contra-Dextra Avenue”? In Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, the first game in the series, you saw the message “Contra-Dextra Avenue” when you took your first step on the very bottom level of the dungeon. Read On →

Great Moments in Cooking, #47

I actually did this a few months ago. I think of it every time I cook now. I turned on the oven. I put a cast iron skillet in the oven to heat up. When the skillet was hot, I carefully put a hot mitt on my left hand. I opened the oven and firmly grasped the handle of the skillet with my right hand. Thankfully, there was no permanent damage. Read On →

Metapost: Minor cleanup

Many of my articles have small captioned images that show up, when you visit the site, offset next to a paragraph, nicely formatted. I just realized, however, that since the RSS feeds don’t really support stylesheets, these look completely wrong to anyone who is reading the site via a newsreader. So I’m fixing them, which may make a number of old posts appear to be marked as new. Sorry. Also, although I’ve got I format that seems to work well in most RSS aggregators, the images still look wrong on bloglines. Read On →

The Game Geek Quiz

Googling for the answers is cheating. Some questions are easy. Others are harder. I don’t believe any are impossible. If you answer them all right, you win nothing but the pride (or the shame, depending on how you want to view it) of spending such a large percentage of your brain cells on videogame and computer trivia. Feel free to contribute guesses in the comments. 1. What was “Contra-Dextra Avenue”? 2. Read On →

Reveries on Reveilles

Arcade games used to make noise. They don’t, anymore. Not really. I’m not talking about videogames, of course, but arcade games. Being of a certain age means that I’ve actually played non-video arcade games, other than pinball, something that I suspect most people under 30 haven’t done. Upper Deck My favorites were the shooting gallery games. The mechanism in the era in which I was playing was light-based; the games had a small light bulb in the gun that flashed when you pulled the trigger, and light sensors on the targets. Read On →

Dinnertime Disasters

From a culinary standpoint, I was having a good weekend. I had a guest who had some dietary restrictions; to wit, no saturated fats at all, minimal unsaturated fats, low cholesterol foods only. Since I, typically, am someone who starts nearly every recipe with “Take a cup of heavy cream and…” I had to do a little more planning to get the weekend’s meals ready. I settled on primarily Japanese cuisine, on the theory that I could get the needed ingredients, and had a variety of dishes that met the low-fat requirements. Read On →


I started this weblog last January. Originally, it was just meant to be a place for me to keep my notes on my Final Cut Pro projects. My “real writing” was meant to go on the (now defunct) Tea Leaves project of the Danampersanderic art collective. But that project somehow didn’t take off, and I found myself putting more and more content here. Before I knew it there were actually readers. Read On →

10 Things I Like

I have a reputation, perhaps deserved, of being generally grumpy and hateful. In the spirit of the Holiday Season, I thought I would try and dispel this notion by listing many things that I like, in no particular order. Solis Maestro I had a cheap Pavoni burr grinder that I had used for the last 5 or 6 years for my home coffee needs. I don’t need much from a coffee grinder. Read On →

Grand Bereft Auto

Here are some things I hate about the Grand Theft Auto games, in no particular order. The stupid hip-sway on all the female models makes me embarassed to be seen playing the game. It’s like the graphical assets were created by a 12 year old British public school boy who had never actually seen a female. The most basic grounding in anatomy would tell you that if a hip moves like that, it must have been broken. Read On →

Thurston Searfoss Interview

Thurston Searfoss and Devoted Fan Excerpts from an interview with Thurston Searfoss, author of The Lost Admiral Returns. We recently published a comprehensive review of the game. peterb: “How long was the development cycle for the game?” Thurston: “It’s been about 4 years, part time. I do a number of other different jobs. So a lot longer than I would have liked. I’m a part time developer, marketer – the whole works, for good or bad – so I have to switch to alternative tasks, and then I get very frustrated at how long it takes to do anything” What development environment and tools did you use to create the game? Read On →

Signal To Noise

Today, I cancelled my satellite TV service. I have no more broadcast or cable TV. I hate saying that, since I’ve met so many people who get so in-your-face about not watching TV. You know the type. All you have to do is mention that, say, you saw the football game last night, and wasn’t that a great interception, and these people will literally pounce from half a room away, rushing over to inform you, for the eighty-sixth goddamn time, they they wouldn’t know, because they don’t watch TV. Read On →

A Very Retro Christmas

The wonderful gift of the Atari Anthology (more on that tomorrow) inspired my relatives and I to talk about (and play) some other retro games on various emulators. When I fired up Richard Bannister’s Mugrat, I got the following splash screen… …complete with animated snowflakes and “Winter Wonderland” playing in the background. Since I don’t think the Colecovision actually had a clock and battery, I can only assume this was Richard’s easter egg, specifically for mugrat. Read On →

The Long Dark Hallway

As I mentioned earlier I bought Half-Life 2 last week. Here is a short meditation on why the game is perhaps the perfect shooter. First Person Shooters are characterized by fairly simple gameplay: 1. Enter area. 2. Kill everything that moves before you die. 3. Exit area. Ultimately, no matter how dressed up a shooter is with narrative, cut scenes and interactive non player characters, the key to the game’s success is how well it delivers on this core mechanic. Read On →

Part of the Problem

This week Salon published an especially depressing The Year in Games article, full of various commentators saying obvious and, for the most part, untrue things. My favorite had to be the “he’s usually smarter than that” Greg Costikyan talking about how there’s “no indie games industry.” I’d be willing to bet that any random game by Ambrosia software has sold more copies, than, say, any Nokia N-Gage game. Would it be accurate, therefore, for me to say “there’s no mobile gaming industry?” Or is the metric for whether an industry exists not whether you book any revenue, but just whether a company is spending money? Read On →

Christmas Update

For those of you taking off for the holiday, have a great time doing whatever it is you’ll be doing. I plan on continuing to try to update regularly through to the New Year. If you’re travelling, drive safely, and please remember to drink only homemade egg nog, never the store-bought stuff. You have my permission to use pasteurized eggs, if you worry about that sort of thing.

Ask the Game Geek, Part 2

Here’s another game that I vividly remember playing, but could not recall the name of. A little research has helped me figure it out, however. (Yes, I’ve updated this article since last night, when I still didn’t know the name and was bemoaning my fate). AWACS (Click to enlarge) It was an Apple ][ game. My memory of it was as follows: The game was played on a map of Europe, with the Soviet Union on the east and West Germany and environs on the west. Read On →

The Lost Admiral Returns

The Lost Admiral Returns The best game I’ve played in my recent spate of reviewing is, without question, The Lost Admiral Returns. You’ve heard the cliches applied to other games: easy to learn, hard to master. This time it’s true. Some purists divide games into two camps: those that involve random chance (typically through rolling dice), and those that don’t. The latter type are sometimes called “pure” games. In my experience, people who are better at games prefer purer games, because their gigantic brains help guarantee them the win. Read On →

2 Risky Games

One of the mainstays of computer gaming over the years has been translating board games to videogame form. Boardgames are a popular pasttime in their own right, and their constrained playspace and (hopefully) unambiguous rules are a nice change for the developer: there’s a whole class of game design and balance issues that you just don’t have to worry about. It’s all about implementation. One of the more popular games for translation is the simple and addictive wargame Risk. Read On →

Game Stores

I went to buy Half-life 2 this afternoon. Up the hill from where I work, there is a huge EB Games. What I forgot is that every time I go in that store I have a crappy experience. So I ended up getting the game at a smaller local chain store across the street called The Exchange. Since this is Indie game week, here are some thoughts on why EB Games blows. Read On →

The Witch's Yarn

I’m a huge fan of text adventures – the name “interactive fiction”, it seems to me, is way too general, since it could cover any number of similar-but- different media – but they are possibly the most unapproachable genre in the world of computer games. There’s a lot of really interesting work being done with the medium, but it’s pretty much impossible to get anyone who does not already accept the strictures of the form to try them more than once. Read On →