Bored and Lonely in Middle Ear^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Ferelden

I decided to quit playing Dragon Age today. Actually that’s not right. I really decided to stop playing on Sunday. After three fourths of a day at work, I had come home to unwind for a couple of hours and throw fireballs at creatures from the great below. I was in the Dwarf city of Moria… no wait, it was called something else. Anyway, having run across the map about a dozen times to talk to all the anonymous people with sketchy British accents that I had to talk to in order to actually trigger the opportunity for fireballing, I was making my way through the dungeon. Read On →

I Defer

I was going to write a snarky unfair assassination of Dragon Age where I would have cataloged the ways in which Madden 10 is better than Dragon Age. But, I had done that sort of thing before, and I wasn’t really feeling the creative flow. Then to my great amusement and delight, I found that I will not have to provide the snark here because I can let Zero Punctuation do it for me. Read On →

The Meta-Games People Play

Stricken by a mean stomach flu, I spent Sunday sprawled on the couch watching football. What I was hoping would be an enjoyable diversion while I was sick on the couch turned into a horrible psychological buzz-kill. First, the Cincinnati Bengals beat up the locally beloved Steelers, sweeping the season series for the first time in more than ten years. Then the Cowboys and the Packers played a mostly uninspired game, with the Cowboys being much more uninspired than the Packers. Read On →

Elise, a precocious aesthete of not inconsiderable passion, plummeted from a cliff on St. Swithin's Day

My friend Zarf (of interactive fiction, and Boodler fame1), recently released Mutagen, a small Javascript library for generating pseudorandom strings of text, according to a grammar. Because my entire purpose in life is to walk up to the huge forests Zarf plants and opine “Saaaaaay. That’s a really nice tree!” I of course immediately took his sample app and dropped it nearly unchanged as the ‘subtitle header’ of Tea Leaves. You’ll get a new one each time you visit. Read On →

Half Baked Shorts

I read a 700 page book about the NBA last week, and paradoxically it left me without the cranial capacity to write anything full length. So instead I have these thoughts that are not completely cooked yet. The Book of Basketball I first became aware of Bill Simmons in 2007 during the months leading up to the Helmet Catch ruining the best season of NFL football ever executed by the team of my youth. Read On →

Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before

I decided not to buy _Dragon Age: Origins _about 6 months ago, when I saw their teaser video on YouTube. It can only be described as, quite possibly, the dumbest piece of marketing ever created. It’s so sophomoric that even an actual sophomore would be embarassed to be seen watching it. Here, have a taste: Yes, apparently Dragon Age: Origins is “the new shit”, and I decided to take them at their word, because, really, with all these good games around, who needs to play with shit? Read On →

Excuse Our Dust - 2009 Edition

We’re upgrading the blog software here at Tea Leaves to clear out some lingering problems from old versions of Wordpress. All permalinks and comments should be working properly, but until we get ourselves back up to speed, you’ll notice that the layout is a bit different and some links (notably Amazon.com links) may be broken. We should be back to normal by this weekend.

In Which We Acknowledge Our Shortcomings

A couple of years ago, we two Petes collaborated on a brief parody of a certain video game reviewer’s writing style. We actually worked on it for quite some time. Many of this writer’s more obvious annoying habits - the fact that he always makes sure you know that he lives in Japan and is really popular with girls and his habit of analogizing every game to an obscure early 1980’s game that you’ve never played - were easy to imitate. Read On →

Rock Band Beatles Picoreview

Same pitch perfect Harmonix gameplay. But this is by far the best music collected into a Rock Band or Guitar Hero game. They will never make another fake guitar game with a higher hit ratio, because honestly, there is no better pop music than The Beatles. That is all.

Jumped the Shark

I like bookstores. Actually, it’s more general than that. I like libraries too. I like sitting next to bookshelves and just peering at them, memorizing everything that’s there. I like spending hours just browsing the stacks, running my finger down the spines of the books, pausing every once in a while to pick one out and leaf through its pages. In high school and college, I used to have entire sections of the school or university library memorized. Read On →

What Computers Do

Every once in a while someone who I don’t know will find out that I work with computers. Often when this happens they get a look on their face like they have just found a great free source of technical support. I try to quickly end any such misconceptions. I just program the things, after all, I don’t really know how to use them. At times though I do find myself daydreaming about the true nature of the computer as a device. Read On →

Look Sharp!

If camera bodies and bags are the number 1 and 2 dork shopping obsessions related to photography, sharpness is probably a close third. It is probably the most popular purely technical aspect of actual pictures that makes it to the camera dork shopping list. People buy bigger cameras, more expensive lenses, sturdier enlargers (well, maybe not), and spill a lot of sweat and tears over sharpness and “picture quality.” Even my resolutely un-camera-dorky partner peterb got into the act when he described the Nikon D300 autofocus system as being one that could lead to “tack sharp” images. Read On →

What Comes Around

I used to play a lot of board games. This was back when I actually lived near my friends, and hung out with a critical mass of people who enjoyed the hobby as well. I have a small collection of games from back then that I don’t play much any more. The most valuable accessory, if you like board games, is a friend who is obsessed with them, because then you get to try all the games without spending money or, more importantly, storage space. Read On →

At Arm's Length

Some reviews of Panasonic’s answer to the Olympus EP-1 are starting to trickle out into the intertubes. I just noticed that the Luminous Landscape people are talking about their experience with the camera. The review is about what you would expect. The camera is quicker to focus and generally more usable but it does not have the sensor-based anti-shake. You can’t have everything. But here is a line from the review that confuses me: “Doing serious photography with a camera at arms length just isn’t my thing.” You hear this complaint over and over again from the people in the world who just can’t live without an eye-level viewfinder. Read On →

Halo Halo Halo Halo Halo Halo

It’s fall and it’s been two years since the last Halo game so it must be time for a new Halo game. And right on schedule, the nice UPS man showed up with my copy. This game slots in as a little piece on the side of what happens during Halo 2. From a gameplay perspective, the new gimmick is that you no longer play as an invincible super solider. Instead you are a slightly less invincible human solider engaging in street combat in various areas of the city of “New Mombasa”. Read On →

Why I Still Don't Like The G-20 Protestors

Well they certainly have lived up to their advanced billing. As these morons smash up Bloomfield, Shadyside, Lawrenceville and most recently, what appears to be much of Oakland, I think we can safely say that they are the gutless and intellectually bankrupt douchebags that we thought they would be. Good job enemies of Capitalism! Once again you’ve proven yourself to be utterly incompetent at making an impassioned and compelling case against your foes. Read On →

Next Next Gen

By my accounting I bought my original Xbox 360 about three years and a few months ago. At the time I thought it was a pretty dubious purchase, but what can you do if you have an irrational urge to experience a particular video game at a particular time. Well, as my experience with the current consoles shows, you should beat yourself with a bat until you come to your senses. Read On →

Why I Don't Like the G-20 Protesters

In response to my recent article on a joke I made about the G-20 protesters, one of the readers – in fact, an old friend – asked me “Do you think protesting the G-20 is entirely without merit?” That’s a complex question. It’s so complex that I am going to suspend, for this post, my self-imposed moratorium on cursing in writing on this weblog. If foul language offends you, you might want to stop reading now. Read On →

Bigmouth Strikes Again

When I was younger, I was something of a jerk. That’s not to say I’m never a jerk today, but I have definitely mellowed with age. A pretty common occurrence for me when I was in my 20s was to hear someone say: “Hey, I know this guy who is just like you – he’s a total jerk!” I don’t hear that too much anymore. But it was always kind of a downer. Read On →

Things Change

I have often been accused of an almost irrational affection for my standard hangouts, especially my favorite purveyors of various forms of material sustenance. If you are in Pittsburgh you get pizza at Piccolo Forno. You get Chinese food at Rose Tea. You get Thai food at the Green Mango. You get grilled meat and fish at DISH. You buy fish at the Penn Avenue Fish Market. You get fancy meals at Vivo. Read On →

Done and Done

I’ve been playing Madden a lot since it came out. Almost two full seasons worth. I play Madden on the PS3 to avoid the overwhelming jet-engine like drone of my Xbox. The other day I noted that Madden seemed to be running the PS3 hotter than it used to… kicking the fan up to a new level. This worried me a bit, and then I tossed a 80 yard screen pass to Randy Moss and forgot about it. Read On →

Too Much Camera. Way too Much.

I left this out of my 09/09/09 post, even though it was the other cool thing that happened that day. I thought maybe you all had suffered enough of with my constant rambling about cameras. But, after a lot of deliberation, I decided to pull the trigger on a D700. After only two days, I haven’t used it enough for to provide you with a in-depth and comprehensive review, Top Gear style. Read On →

A Grand Day Out

09/09/09 turned out to be a very cool day. Here are three cool things that happened: 1. The Leica M9 and Leica X1. Overpriced and underpowered, and I doubt I would ever buy one. But against all odds Leica has been able to engineer something that at least looks great in the modern age. I still wish they would fix the retarded “remove the bottom plate to change the SD card” dance. Read On →

A Photoshop Puzzle

Back when I used to print in the darkroom I had a little green notebook that I used to keep track of what I had done. If I made a worthy print of a given negative, I’d write down the roll the negative came from, the frame number on the roll, the paper I used, the contrast settings I used on the enlarger, and any particulars of how I dodged and burned the various areas of the picture to get the look “just right.” The theory was that if I needed to print the picture again I’d have a point at which to start working. Read On →

Earthbound

I’ve always liked Earthbound, a Japanese RPG game for the Super Nintendo system. [caption id=“attachment_2161” align=“alignright” width=“261” caption=“Earthbound”][/caption] I like the Charlie Brown art style. I like the writing, which is surreal and matter-of-fact at the same time. I like the patterned, elaborate backgrounds during combat that give the game a feeling of dynamism even though there’s hardly any animation at all. I like the lectures your father gives you in-game when you’ve been playing for too long. Read On →

To Sell, and to Shop

The natural cycle of things has been working its way through my life. Back in the day I was an enthusiastic shooter of black and white film and printer of black and white prints. I even had someone rebuild a bathroom in our house to use as a small darkroom where I cranked out what I think were credible prints of reasonably interesting pictures. Of course, I can’t show them to you unless you come over to my house, so you will never know. Read On →

The Battle of Tingi

I don’t often write so-called “After Action Reports”. There are people who are big fans of this, who write in the voice of their characters, making long, multi-part sagas outlining the rise and fall of their empires. It’s just not my thing. Today, however, I’m making it my thing, because I had a battle in a session of Rome: Total War last night that was so satisfying that it perfectly encapsulates what I like about the game. Read On →

The Camera You Need

If you hang around the Interweb forums related to photography long enough, you come to notice that the two most common questions are always first “what should I buy?” and second something like “what bag should I put it in?” or “I am going on a trip, what should I bring?” When you think about it, all of these questions stem from the same basic source of insecurity on the part of the photographer. Read On →

Total War

In the comments on my recent rant about overly complex strategy games, regular Tea Leaves reader Andy P sung the praises of the Total War series. It was a very short song, but very spirited. I’d heard of Total War but never really paid attention to the details. So, I decided to check them out. There are at this point, not counting expansions, 5 Total War games, with fairly self-descriptive names: Shogun and Medieval are hard to find (read: not on Steam), so I didn’t spend too much time thinking about them. Read On →

Dinner in Half, Well Really About an Hour

Today’s recipe takes a bit longer because there is more prep, but once you get through that you can play two full games of Madden while you wait for it to simmer. We’re making a pork stew with chili peppers and lime. This is based on a recipe that Karen found that is completely wrong, so I rewrote it. The last time I did this it turned out I had lamb instead of pork, and that’s not really the biggest change I made to the recipe. Read On →

You Can't Go Back

A couple of months ago Kodak announced that they would stop manufacturing Kodachrome slide film. Given that this is a product that has been continually available for longer than most current photographers have been alive, you would think that this was a pretty big deal. But no. The end result of the digital vs. film battle was so predetermined that even that bastion of irrational nostalgia: the Leica Users Group mailing list barely made a peep about it. Read On →

The Madden Cycle

It’s August again, which in gaming terms means that the new Madden is out. My relationship with Madden is pretty simple. Every year the new one comes out. Every year I decide which one or sometimes two platforms to buy the game on. I buy the game and I play my Patriots for a few seasons of franchise until I figure out where all the money plays are. I win a couple of Super Bowls and I put the game away until next year. Read On →

Bookworm Adventures 2

He’s a bookworm who loves to spell. She’s a fictional bird who tells stories to children. Together, they fight crime! That’s the premise of Bookworm Adventures Volume 2, Popcap’s recent release which is, not to put too fine a point on it, almost exactly like the original Bookworm Adventures. This is not a criticism. This is a compliment. Bookworm Adventures 2, like its predecessor, is essentially Boggle: The RPG. Your character travels through a variety of fantasy worlds encountering strange creatures (scripted by Stephen Notley of Bob the Angry Flower fame). Read On →

Checkmated

Recently, my friend Nat issued a plaintive cry for help regarding his strategy game problem: he thinks he likes them, but whenever he plays them he finds them too hard to actually enjoy. I have this problem, too. Unlike Nat, though, I don’t really blame myself (at least, not in toto). I blame the games. I can say this because I think I’ve played more strategy games than Nat, with a bit more success, enough that I’ve thought about why I don’t enjoy some of these games. Read On →

Dinner in Half an Hour

Ok. It turned out to be more like 45 minutes or a little longer. But that was only because I messed up in the middle. But first, the background. I was annoyed this weekend to listen to an insufferably smug interview with Michael Pollan, who has written several enjoyable books about food and cooking. The interview was on NPR, and appeared to be a trial balloon for an upcoming book tour, since a longer version of his main thesis also appeared recently in the New York Times. Read On →

I'll Never Get Those Four Hours Back

Having returned from my recent trip to Paris, I ran my pictures through my semi-home grown web gallery generation scripts. No, you don’t want this code, trust me. Just use flickr. Anyway, I uploaded the pictures and put the links up for all to see. People were happy. I have generally been happy with my scheme for lo these many years except for the fact that the pictures are always a bit soft after the downscaling, and I don’t have a convenient way to sharpen them. Read On →

Live the Nightmare

Paris Shorts

No we don’t wear shorts in Paris. Our American in Paris inferiority complex forbids the use of shorts in the city, since even when we bring all our dressiest clothes and wear them, we still look like slobs. So we don’t usually go to Paris in the summer because it’s too crowded and too hot. But this time was different. We had arranged to meet friends and family, and see the last part of the Tour de France, so what choice did we have but to put up with the heat? Read On →

Pictures of Paris

I was standing behind the Gare St. Lazare last week looking around at the morning light in Paris. We were taking the train to Vernon to go to Giverny, where Monet had his house and famous gardens. There was a lot of construction around the train station, but I didn’t see anyone jumping over puddles. Even if I had, I probably would not have grabbed a picture of it. I have long thought that the famous Cartier-Bresson photograph of the man jumping into a puddle behind the train station has caused more people more confusion over the years than any single image. Read On →

Paris 66

Paris 66 is a nice alternative in a town which has had a shortage of crêperies. Located in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty district, near Kelly’s Bar, they have a nice variety of both savory and sweet crêpes, along with many other choices including sandwiches, soups, and salads. I enjoyed my carrot soup, and my co-diners’ sandwiches and salads all looked great. The prices are reasonable, ranging from $4 for simple sweet crêpes, up to around $9 for some of the more elaborate savory creations. Read On →

When All Is Said and Done

I can officially stop reading Internet forums about PC games, because I found a single thread that contains every single line of thought ever covered in any post in any forum anywhere. Well, at least all the stupid ones. Here you go: http://www.quartertothree.com/game-talk/showthread.php?t=53606. All in five short pages we have: 1. PC gaming is byzantine and sucky! I give up! 2. If you can’t build your own PC from bare silicon you are a brainless loozer who doesn’t deserve to play games! Read On →

Review: Tales of Monkey Island

He sails the seas of the Caribbean like he was born on a schooner. He romances beautiful women, scandalizing those in the Governor’s Mansion. Every time he makes port, it seems that a piratey bar brawl starts. And he is locked in a seemingly endless conflict of swordplay and sorcery against an undead ghost pirate. What’s that? Captain Jack Sparrow, you say? Sorry, mate, never heard of him. I’m talking about the mightiest pirate of them all, Guybrush Threepwood! Read On →

Versus versus Versus

It’s Tour de France time again, and this year we pretend it’s 2005 all over again. Lance is back in the race and Versus has made it its singular mission to make sure that we don’t forget this. I watched the first couple of stages over the weekend, and noted a new twist in the action. You can watch the old fashioned way, over the TV cable. Or you can watch the same race at the Versus web site via streaming video. Read On →

Wine, Donuts, and Sex

Why won’t I be buying The Sims 3? Because, although I sometimes do act like a dog who returns to his vomit, I have finally come to peace with the fact that I no longer have any interest in playing games that require as much effort as my job. So, sorry, no Sims 3 for me. This was driven home to me recently when I foolishly started re-playing Animal Crossing after a hiatus of a few months. Read On →

Premises Aren't Books

The other week I made a mistake and read some things on the Internet. In particular, I was sucked in to following a contretemps (read: “flamewar”) with the nickname of “Racefail 2.0”. The premise of the flamewar is that a writer, Patricia Wrede, wrote a book called The Thirteenth Child which was an exemplar of racist writing. The book takes place in a 19th century-America (“Columbia”) where magic is real, where megafauna roam the plains, and where the First Peoples never crossed the land bridge from Asia. Read On →

More than Camera Enough

Someone finally did it, and I should have known it would be Olympus. Back in 1972, Olympus shook up the 35mm SLR world by introducing the OM-1. Here was an SLR camera that was not as big as a brick. It was small and cute, and came with small and cute lenses. Of course, Olympus has always tried to make small and cute things. The Pen cameras from the 60s, the OM cameras in the 70s and the Stylus point and shoots in the last glory days of 35mm film. Read On →

Male Pattern Dorkness

If I have any hobby that does not involve the gratuitous exchange of money for material goods, it is the observation of the dork in his natural habitat. It’s not just that I was educated by dorks at a school that was mostly dorky. Or that I work with dorks in an industry whose products are primarily concerned with parting dorks from their dork cash. The fact is that even without these advantages, I spend all 24 hours of every day in the head of a dork (mine), so there is nothing I know better than what drives the dork psychology. Read On →

The Illustrated Pot Sticker

We had folks over for one of our periodic Chinese dumpling parties. The food came out particularly well this time, and I managed to use my nifty Panasonic LX-3 to take pictures of some parts of the process. So here is an updated and hopefully slightly more useful version of the reference recipe. It’s best to have a good system for this. So I’ve broken the recipe up into stages. Dough, Stage 1 1. Read On →

Wallace and Gromit

Telltale has done it again. By “it”, of course, I mean “find a humorous property and turn it into a point- and-click adventure game,” and not necessarily “rolling around naked in fat sacks of cash,” although frankly I’m pretty sure they’re doing that as well. Their latest victory, as they trundle across the face of PC gaming like Germany crossing Belgium, is Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventure, a series of 4 games for Windows PCs and the Xbox 360. Read On →

Teaching the Less Important Lesson

Today over at The Online Photographer Mike Johnston wrote a post suggesting that spending a year using nothing but a Leica and shooting nothing but black and white film could teach you a lot. I think he’s right about one thing. It would teach you a lot, but about what? I think Johnston’s claim was that the exercise would teach you a lot about photography. I think it would teach you a lot about shooting black and white film with a Leica. Read On →