Sony PSP

My friend Seppo from work bought a PSP this morning, and I went to check it out. Even though I should’ve known my “just checking out” a shiny new piece of personal electronics would be like Robert Downey Jr. “just taking one hit” off a crack pipe. I became like a man possessed.

I finally found one at the Best Buy in Palo Alto. I had to get the bundle, which is what I’d been trying to avoid, but in the end I don’t think I got screwed too badly. I would’ve bought a game anyway (I got Tony Hawk Underground), and I figure paying too much for useless pieces of plastic in the form of a screen guard and a clunky cover is just a fine for my having no patience. The whole escapade took two hours, so I had to stay late at work, but it was worth it.

After using it for a few minutes, I was like Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona. “I love this thing so mu-u-u-u-ch.” The screen is what sells it; it’s just astounding. And the whole thing is just slick and, for lack of a better word, futuristic. They tried to go for the whole “We are Sony. Welcome to the 21st Century.” thing with the PS2 front-end, but it really works on the PSP. It feels like using a tricorder, but without all the nerdy connotations. It’s just damn cool.

They include Spider-Man 2 with it, which was a nice touch because I would’ve written off its potential as a movie player otherwise. Again, the screen is what makes it worthwhile. The picture is remarkably clear, and it’s as easy to navigate as a DVD player. I might even build up a little UMD movie collection, although it’ll never be more than a novelty.

I really hope that Sony’s not serious about its being a “Walkman for the 21st Century,” because its potential as a media center has all kinds of problems. It’ll never take the place of the iPod, because it doesn’t have a hard drive and you can’t fit that much data on a memory stick. It’s too large and heavy to replace a Flash-based MP3 player, so the iPod Shuffle is safe there. Movies are fine, but again, UMDs are never going to replace DVDs. And I thought at least I’d be able to pop pictures from my Sony camera onto my Sony PSP as a little novelty, but I can’t even do that because the memory stick format is completely incompatible. That was a spectacularly boneheaded move on Sony’s part.

So it’s a game machine, and that’s fine, because the games are already the best available for a handheld, ever. The other game I got is Lumines, a Rez-meets-Tetris game which is so good at showing off the PSP that it should come standard. It’s just a fairly simple 2D puzzle game, but it’s insidiously addictive and presented extremely well — music and visuals and multiplayer capability and it’s aimed right at their target market.

And speaking of Lumines, the song they use on the first level sounds a lot like “Star Guitar” by the Chemical Brothers. The video of that song happens to be by Michel Gondry, I found out, because I bought a DVD of his videos the other night. I think it’s overtaken “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim/Spike Jonez as my favorite video ever, partly because I have no idea how it was made. Watching the rest of the videos on that DVD was neat but a little depressing, because I couldn’t stop thinking, “I will never ever have that much imagination.”

Beard Status: Guy Who Got Voted Off “Survivor” Around Week 3 But Has No Regrets Because He Played A Good Game And Really Challenged Himself In Ways He Never Thought Possible

The Game Developers Conference is going on in San Francisco this week, and what with the weather all nice and the deadline at work looming at end of day today, I’m feeling like the kid stuck inside with violin practice watching all the other kids outside playing. Thanks to action man Bret and his surfeit of passes, I did get to go to the Sony party at the Metreon last night, and that was a hoot and a half. I got to see a bunch of people I haven’t seen in months or even years. It sounds like the game “industry” is going through another expansion phase as people get fed up with (or fired from) the big companies and starting their own, so there was a lot of “let’s get the band back together.”

But then again, I’ve got an etrade account. And it turns out I can put a price on job satisfaction and creative fulfillment, and that price, apparently, is $70 per share.

Beard Status: Patchy and Gray

Finally some good weather this weekend. I was starting to get the Seattle Depression. I went to Fort Point and took some pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge before my camera battery went dead. The old Chuck would’ve planned a big page of San Francisco pictures for this website, but I’m more mature now and won’t show such hubris. Still a good weekend, although it went by way too fast.

I finished Half-Life 2 a few nights ago, and I still say it’s just about the best videogame ever made. I’ve been waiting for when we could talk about games in terms of story and setting and plot instead of just filtering and antialiasing and how much stuff you get to blow up. This game does it for me; it’s one of the few games I’ve ever seen (the You Don’t Know Jack series is the only other one that comes to mind immediately) that just assumes you’re intelligent and that you’ll “get it.” Now that I’ve finished, though, I’ve just got to find another game to fill the void.

At least World of Warcraft will never leave me.

Delicious Library

This is kind of neat. There’s a really slick app for the Mac OS X called Delicious Library that catalogs your books, DVDs, CDs, and videogames. You can use a webcam (like the iSight) to scan in the UPC codes from your collection, it’ll look up the info for it on Amazon, and file it all away. It’s a boon for anal-retentive people like myself, and I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s kind of fun to scan all the stuff in, just for the nerdy “gee-whiz” element of it.

Of course, it’s pretty useless as is; once you’ve scanned everything in, it starts to sink in that you’ve just got a list of all your books and movies and not much to do with it. (It has gimmicky features like a lender check-out that syncs up with your Address Book in case you’re always lending stuff out to friends, and it’ll download the info to your iPod, which would be useful if I carried my iPod with me everywhere.)

Well, somebody finally wrote a somewhat useful add-on for it, the DeliciousExporter, which takes your library info and outputs it to half slick, half cheesy HTML format. So now everyone can take a look at my collection. (Disclaimer: I’ve only scanned in my bedside bookshelf so far, where I keep all the comic books and cheesy science fiction. I swear I do own real books and will enter them at some point.)

Beard Status: Dissheveled

Still nothing interesting for a website update. This has been about as uneventful a Saturday as I can remember. But that’s not a bad thing. Woke up around noon with a hangover from hanging out with Alex & his Australian visitors last night; that was pretty fun, they’re good people, and I managed to get pleasantly drunk instead of obscenely drunk. Went to Amoeba and picked up some CDs, made plans to do a lot more stuff and then just came back to the apartment and took a nap. I made some progress in Half-Life 2, so I guess I can count that as an accomplishment. The World of Warcraft servers were down, so I couldn’t use that as a time-waster. All my Sims 2 families are settling down into gay and straight marriages or having babies, and I didn’t really feel like being that domestic.

Would’ve been a perfect day to actually update this website, but laziness wins again. In a quest for True Ultimate Boredom, though, I’ve decided to post regular photographic updates of the status of my beard, on the about page. (Taking photos of paint drying would actually require me to paint something, which sounds like too much work).

Oh, are you still there?

Apparently I only update the whole weblog thing when things are going lousy. Just as well; seeing as how my past year in turmoil turned out to be pretty dull reading, I can’t imagine how mind-numbingly boring it’d be to hear about my life now.

Because everything’s going great. And I mean everything. Work is busy but manageable and I actually like what I’m doing now. Personal life’s going swimmingly. I’ve got free time at home. Bills are paid, car’s running fine. I look forward to seeing movies and I see them and they’re actually really good. My friends all seem to be happy or at least chugging along. Family’s good. I’m back into enjoying videogames, and even have time to keep up a World of Warcraft character.

I still haven’t done any work on the website, as the broken links at the top of the page indicate. And I’m wracked with guilt about the whole thing. Except inasmuch as I’m not at all. I did put a goofy picture of myself on the about page, so that’s progress.

Uh. Well, Bush is still president. I guess I could complain about that. And there’s a war and all. Lots of civil rights violations all over the place. Unfathomably horrible devastation from the tsunami. But I voted, and protested, and donated, and there’s not a whole lot more I can do. Except be happy.

This is weird.

Neat

So this has been about as good a four-day weekend as anybody can hope to have. Caught up with friends, played some videogames, watched some movies, had a generally awesome Saturday and a pleasant Sunday. I’m going to work tomorrow and I’m actually looking forward to it; how the hell did that happen?

Things are going so well, in fact, that I’m expecting to be killed by a falling piece of masonry, Edward Gorey-style, at any moment. So if anybody’s reading this: it’s been nice knowing you, remember me fondly, and be sure you play “Beyond the Sea” and “Sweet Thing” at the funeral.

Unmitigated

Well, this has been kind of a bummer of a Thanksgiving week. I flew home to Georgia Sunday night, had a plate of fried chicken and potatoes waiting for me when I got home, finished Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while I waited to get tired and fall asleep, and then started having dull pains in my back and stomach.

At first I thought it was just indigestion, and then I thought I’d just gotten too upset from the movie (I was crying like a mafia widow, as Rain would put it), and then around 6 AM I started to realize that something was seriously wrong. The pain kept getting worse and worse, until it was like the sharpest part of a cramp, but non-stop. And then I started throwing up, and instead of making everything better, it just made the pain worse each time. I’ve had attacks like this twice before, around five years ago and then five years before that, but they weren’t nearly as intense and always got better once I either threw up or just forced myself to go to sleep. There was no sleeping through this one.

I got Skip and Daddy to drive me to the doctor’s office, where they made me fill out a lot of forms, took a blood sample, wait what seemed like an eternity (but I was able to keep going to the bathroom and throwing up to pass the time), took some X-rays, gave me a shot of some anti-nausea drug (after which I threw up again), and told me that it was probably a gall bladder infection. The doctor prescribed some antibiotic and said that if it weren’t better in four or five hours I’d have to go to the Emergency Room, have some more tests run, and might have to have surgery.

Through the whole doctor’s visit I wasn’t able to even think straight because of the pain and lack of sleep, but whatever they shot me with and prescribed must’ve worked. I was almost asleep by the time I got home, my stomach settled down, and the pain pills they gave me are just awesome. They don’t make me high or anything, just completely pain free. I don’t think I’m ever completely pain free. It’s going to be tough to give those up. At any rate, apprently the doctor knows his medicines, because I haven’t had any more flare-ups, the pain has died down, and I made it through Thanksgiving dinner (but smaller portions) without incident. I’m just going to avoid the chili peppers for a good while, I think.

Other interesting things I learned from the whole incident: according to the scale at the office, I now weigh 171 pounds. Which means that over the last 8 months or so, I’ve lost about 35-40 pounds. I didn’t mean to do this; I’ve just had my mind on work and other things besides eating. The other bit is that gall bladder conditions are brought on by overdrinking (okay, I’m guilty of that) and stress (which if you ask me, leads to the former). So from that I conclude that my job is now literally killing me. I’m taking the whole thing as a sign that some changes are in order.

Half Life 2

I really didn’t think it were possible for me to get this much into a videogame again. Sure, I had a good and unhealthy obsession going with The Sims 2 when it came out, but it’s always been and is always going to be more about the potential of what you can create out of it than just being an “experience.”

And the whole “Steam” copy protection/installation nonsense for Half Life 2 sucks ass. It’s intrusive, it’s annoying, it’s slow, and it’s even offensive in its Big Brother-ness. As my friend Cory would say: F MINUS. In fact, the whole installation process pissed me off so much that I was all set to hate the game. I spent the first fifteen minutes or so thinking, “Big deal. Textures aren’t all that impressive. Whole setting is boring. Nothing I haven’t seen before. And they got the havok engine. Whoop-de-shit. Great. A big physics engine demo. With a see saw and some cinder blocks. Bravo, Valve. What else you got?”

Then, I’m in an apartment building and the shit hits the fan. All of a sudden noise is going on all around me and people are yelling at me to get to the roof. And all of a sudden, I’m no longer thinking about level design and triggered events and texture maps and enemy spawn points, I’m just thinking I’ve got to get up to the roof. Running through hallways, not even bothering to stop and look, oh crap there’s another bad guy!, where the hell did he come from?, out the window, up to the roof, getting shot at, not looking back to see who or what is shooting at me, until I finally get to safety. And when it was over, I just stopped and though, “Okay, now that’s the way you make a videogame.”

Sure, I’ve still got issues with it. It’s not really a big virtual world; you can tell that there’s a single path through the levels and a solution to every puzzle, even though they’ve attempted to integrate that into the story. There are jumping puzzles and a whole Mario-esque sequence I still think was too “gamey.” And they rely on some of their gimmicks, especially the physics engine, a little too much to where it knocks you out of the story.

But then, I’m riding in a speedboat, jumping over dunes, turning tight corners, running down evil guards and hearing the beep of their communications failing fade off behind me into the distance, knocking down scaffolding to kill other evil guards, being chased by a helicopter shooting at me and dropping mines to slalom around, narrowly avoiding a burning car to smash through a barrier and jump over a big wall of fire made from more exploding cars, and tears of joy are just streaming down my face. It’s just bad ass; there’s no better way to explain it.

I’m going to have to take a week off for Thanksgiving, and I’m already missing it. Is this going to mean I’m actually going to like playing videogames again?

Ruby Tuesday

Another night of web-browsing trying to get to sleep led me once again to Grandpa and Drella’s family pictures. And I’m struck once again with, although I don’t see them that often, how beautiful a person Ruby’s turning out to be.

Frequently I find myself dispensing advice (although I clearly don’t have all the answers), and it always come down to the same thing — you have to put up with the bad to be able to recognize not just the good, but the wonderful. And I wonder if it’s easier for me, as an outsider who doesn’t have to put up with tantrums and the day-to-day existence of getting a new person ready for the world, to recognize how wonderful it is to be able to see the world through a new person’s eyes and re-discover everything along with them.

And I think that maybe that’s what it’s all about. Maybe your reward for just being two awesome people, is that you get to bring somebody new along for the ride and show her how the world works. And that gives me the reassurance that maybe there’s hope for someone like me in this post-11/2 world.