Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Video Games and Me: A Retrospective

My first video game system was the Atari 2600. I don't remember it too well. We had the racing game Pole Position, the arcade Mario Brothers, a space game, the basketball game Dr. J vs Larry Bird, and probably others.

One on One: Dr. J vs Larry Bird

However, it was soon traded in for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I remember my Dad coming home with the Nintendo, it was a great day. It came with a controller, a light gun, and the cartridge with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. This was probably around 1987. It seemed like every kid had a Nintendo, and a fair amount of our lives revolved around it. We would discuss Nintendo games on the playground, then come home after school and watch The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, and then play Nintendo as long as our parents would let us. The games I remember playing most were Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt (of course), Contra, Mike Tyson's Punch Out, Super Mario Bros. 2, Maniac Mansion, Bart vs The Space Mutants, Dr. Mario, Bayou Billy, Bases Loaded, Double Dragon, and the pinnacle of the Nintendo, Super Mario Bros. 3. I'm probably forgetting some games. When we got the Game Genie, which gave cheat codes for all games, we feigned illness and stayed home from school to replay all our games with cheats enabled.

Nintendo Entertainment System

As the 90's began, so began a new Nintendo era with the release of the Super Nintendo. Prior to its release, kids brought copies of Nintendo Power magazine to school with mock-ups of what the Super Nintendo would look like. To say we were excited is an understatement. The Super Nintendo came with ultimate Mario game, Super Mario World, perhaps the best 2-D platformer ever. I played the shit out of that game, and though I haven't touched it in years, I could probably pick it up and play through start to finish and find all the secrets. The other games I remember playing most on the system were Mario Kart, Street Fighter II, Gradius III, Donkey Kong Country, and F-Zero. It seemed like Street Fighter II owned the videogame world for a while in both the arcade and home console. Who doesn't know how to throw a fireball with Ken or Ryu?

Super Nint ... I lost my train of thought

With the release of Mortal Kombat, and Nintendo's decision to tone down the blood and violence, we decided we needed to get the Sega Genesis. Sega had no such restrictions. I remember purchasing Mortal Kombat for the Genesis at The Warehouse one Sunday after church, and though I was young, I enjoyed the irony of leaving church to buy one of the most realistically violent games of the time. Sega also had Sonic the Hedgehog, which was much faster than any Nintendo games. We had many Sonic games for the Genesis, including the original, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic and Knuckles, and Sonic Spinball. NBA Jam was aonther Genesis favorite. But my favorite game for the system may have been Aladdin. Aladdin looked like a cartoon and had great side-scrolling game play.

Aladdin on the Genesis

As I got older, and started learning to use a computer, I grew away from the video game consoles. The computer was much more interesting, and through shareware many games were free. Duke Nukem and Lemmings were two early favorites. And I spent a great deal of time playing SimCity 2000. Then my whole video game world changed when I played DOOM. It was my first game in 3-D from a first person perspective, which made it quite visceral. The weapons were what made it awesome though, with the chainsaw, the shotgun, and the BFG. DOOM also had great sound effects and an intense score. Soon almost every game would be in 3-D, and many of them would be DOOM clones.


I didn't play video games much in high school or college, though I recall playing the original Grand Theft Auto quite a bit in the dorms and the girls next door had a Nintendo, so we would occasionally bust out Contra. Mostly, however, I was into music and partying and didn't follow the video game trends.

I returned to the world of console gaming, when in my last few weeks of grad school I bought a used Xbox off some guy for cheap. He wanted to sell me all his games too, but I didn't want them. I bought the Xbox so my friend could mod it for use as a media center. The ability to play any movies or music on the home TV and sound system over the network from my computer was one of the greatest innovations ever. However, I soon learned the art of downloading Xbox games to the console's hard drive, and my devotion to gaming was reborn. With no costs associated with games, I tried all the top games. Halo and Project Gotham Racing were good, but two of my favorites didn't get talked about much; Psychonauts and Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. Stranger's Wrath has an old-west feel but on another planet, and many of the weapons are living creatures. In Psychonauts you play as a kid with psychological abilities, it's mostly a platformer, but each level takes place in someone's crazy head.

Xbox Media Center

I retuned to legitimate console gaming when one of my co-workers offered me the opportunity to buy the new Nintendo Wii at the midnight launch of the console. The Wii looked innovative and interesting with its entirely new control scheme. I had never been to the midnight launch of anything before and now that I was employed I could actually afford to buy a console at retail. So I bought the new Nintendo and it seemed that my video game life had come full circle as I excitedly hooked up the system.

The Wiimote

The game that came with the Wii, Wii Sports, was great and made excellent use of the new controller, however, no other games seemed use the controller as well. I soon grew bored with the Wii, playing it only when we had guests over, and then it was typically used solely for bowling or the occasional tennis game.

I was not willing to spend money for the Xbox 360, it was too expensive at $400, and definitely not the Playstation 3 at $600. Also, neither console was as thoroughly hacked as the original Xbox, and the idea of paying $60 for each game was unpalatable. Especially since I didn't pay for any of the games on the original Xbox, and the majority that I did play were not that good. But then Gears of War was released for the 360 and the game was good. Intense action, amazing graphics, violent game play, a gun with a built-in chainsaw that would tear enemies in half. Gears of War brought back the exctiement from the days of DOOM.

Gears of War

Which pretty much brings us to the present day. The only significant update is the game Rock Band, which is a great party game with the music and the group effort of tapping out rhythms on plastic toys, eyes tranfixed on the screen without blinking like Alex DeLarge.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Ahhh Gin, a spirit with the flavor of the juniper berry. Which is not a berry at all actually, but rather a seed cone. The cone has merged scales and is very fleshy, which leads to its berry like nature. The name Gin is derived from either the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever, both of which mean juniper. Juniper berries were used for both medication and flavor. The berries are a diuretic and were thought to be an appetite stimulant and a remedy for arthritis.

(Juniper Berries)

London Dry Gin is the most common form of Gin. It is a product of distilling fermented grain (usually wheat or rye) in a column still to produce a grain neutral spirit, then flavoring with juniper berries and other botanicals, and redistilling. A grain neutral spirit is a clear, colorless liquid fermented and distilled from grain that typically has an ethanol content between 85% and 95%. Everclear is an example of a grain neutral spirit. If the grain neutral spirit is flavored with juniper berries and not redistilled, then it is simply a flavored vodka.

Fun Fact: A good Gin is dry, meaning that it lacks a sweet taste.

Jenever is the original Dutch style of Gin, which was distilled in a pot still from a malted grain mash (similar to that used for whisky) to an ethanol content of 50%. Since the distilling techniques were not well refined, the liquid was unpalatable thus herbs were added to mask the flavor. Jenever is still popular today in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Gin, as we know it, evolved from this Dutch Jenever. Gin was developed during the 17th century in the Netherlands, and was intended as a medication. It was sold to treat medical problems such as kidney ailments, lower back pain, stomach ailments, gallstones, and the gout. Gin soon made its way to England through various state conflicts.

When the Dutch Protestant William of Orange and his English wife Mary became co-rulers of England after the "Glorious Revolution" drove James II from the throne, he moved to discourage the importation of brandy from the Catholic winemaking countries by setting high tariffs. As a replacement, he promoted the production of grain spirits by abolishing taxes and licensing fees for the manufacture of local products, such as Gin. This created a market for poor-quality grain that was unfit for brewing beer, and thousands of Gin-shops started production. All this led to very inexpensive, widely available Gin. By the 1720s, it was estimated that a quarter of the households in London were used for the production or sale of Gin. Mass drunkenness became a serious problem, as depicted in William Hogarth's Gin Lane.

(William Hogarth's Gin Lane, 18th Century England)

Gin & Tonic & the British East India Company: In tropical British colonies, quinine was taken as a protection against malaria. The quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to form a tonic water that was extremely bitter. Gin was used to mask the bitter flavor of quinine.

Gin grew in popularity in the US with the advent of Prohibition in 1920. Whiskies were dominant at the time, but required some aging in oak casks, and bootleggers were not in a position to store and age illegal whiskey. Gin, however, did not require any aging, and was relatively easy to make by mixing raw alcohol with juniper berry extract and other flavorings and spices in a large container, such as a bathtub. These Gins were generally of poor quality and taste, a fact that gave rise to the popularity of cocktails in which the mixers served to disguise the taste of the base Gin. Repeal of Prohibition at the end of 1933 ended the production of bootleg Gin, but Gin remained a part of the American culture. Gin was the dominant white spirit in the US until the rise of Vodka in the 1960s.

The Martini: A cocktail made with Gin and dry white Vermouth, shaken with ice, and garnished with an olive. The ratio of Gin to vermouth started out at about 2 to 1, and it has been getting drier ever since. Ernest Hemingway liked to order a "Montgomery,” which was a martini mixed at a 15:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio (these supposedly being the odds Field Marshal Montgomery wanted to have before going into battle). Lyndon Johnson favored the "in-and-out martini,” in which the glass is poured with vermouth, emptied, and then filled with ginWinston Churchill chose to forgo vermouth completely, saying that the perfect martini involved pouring a glass full of cold gin and looking at a bottle of vermouth. While General Patton suggested simply pointing the gin bottle in the general direction of Italy. 

(Thanks to Wikipedia and Tastings.com)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Home Theatre

HDTV: Westinghouse LVM-42W2, 42" - Purchased during Labor Day sale in 2006
Receiver: Technics SA-DX940 - Purchased from a pawnshop in Reno in 2001
Phonograph: Pro-Ject Audio Systems Debut III - Christmas gift in 2007
HD-DVR: Scientific Atlanta 8300HD - Cable provider Astound
Xbox: Modded with XBMC, 120 GB - Purchased used and modded by friend in 2004
Xbox 360: 20 GB - Purchased for Gears of War in 2007
Wii: Most played game by far is Bowling - Purchased at midnight launch in 2006
TV Top: Phillips 27PT6441/37, 27"- Birthday gift in 2005
TV Bottom: RCA G27373CP, 27" - Purchased from estate sale in 2004
R/L Speakers: Canton CT-220 - Birthday gift in 2001
Center Speaker: Yamaha - Birthday gift in 2006
Rear Speakers: Sony SS-SR350 - Purchased in 2006
Subwoofer: Klipsch - Purchased at Costco in 2006
PC: Windows XP Media Center, Home built, Parts purchased from Fry's in 2007
Remote Control: Logitech Harmony Xbox 360 Remote, Purchased from Amazon in 2008
TV Stand: Purchased at Good Guys going out of business clearance sale in 2006

System Schematic

(Click to embiggen.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

But it doesn't matter, because it's just a ride

The world is like a ride at an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it, you think it's real, because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round and it has thrills and chills and it's very brightly colored and it's very loud. And it's fun, for a while.

Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: 'Is this real? Or is this just a ride?' And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and they say 'Hey! Don't worry, don't be afraid - ever - because... this is just a ride.' And we kill those people.

'Shut him up! We have a lot invested in this ride! Shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry; look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.'

It's just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that - ever notice that? - and we let the demons run amok. But it doesn't matter, because... it's just a ride, and we can change it any time we want. It's only a choice. No effort. No worry. No job. No savings and money. Just a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy bigger guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one.

Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, into a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defense each year and, instead, spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would do many times over - not one human being excluded - and we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever. In peace. -Bill Hicks

Monday, July 7, 2008

An Album from Each Year of My Life

Pick a favorite album realease for each year you’ve been alive. You can pick a record based on what you like now, or what you would have picked that year.
I tried to base my selctions on what I have listened to the most. I found the '90's to be easy picks. The '80's took some searching. The aughts seem a bit mediocre, except for Man Man of course.

1980 - Bob Marley and The Wailers: Uprising
1981 - The Rolling Stones: Tattoo You
1982 - Michael Jackson: Thriller
1983 - U2: War
1984 - Bruce Springsteen: Born in the U.S.A.
1985 - John Fogerty: Centerfield
1986 - Paul Simon: Graceland
1987 - U2: The Joshua Tree
1988 - Jane’s Addiction: Nothing’s Shocking
1989 - Neil Young: Freedom
1990 - The Black Crowes: Shake Your Money Maker
1991 - Guns N' Roses: Use Your Illusion II
1992 - Sublime: 40 Oz. to Freedom
1993 - Snoop Doggy Dogg: Doggystyle
1994 - Tom Petty: Wildflowers
1995 - Blind Melon: Soup
1996 - Tool: Ænima
1997 - Radiohead: OK Computer
1998 - Jay-Z: Vol. 2 . . . Hard Knock Life
1999 - Eminem: The Slim Shady LP
2000 - OutKast: Stankonia
2001 - The Coup: Party Music
2002 - Norah Jones: Come Away With Me
2003 - Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium
2004 - The Killers: Hot Fuss
2005 - System of a Down: Mezmerize
2006 - Man Man: Six Demon Bag
2007 - Lily Allen: Alright, Still
2008 - ??? So far I've listened to Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III twice, making it the album released this year that I have listened to most.

(This list is subject to change as my memories of year past slowly return to me.)