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Archive for July, 2010

I’ve made no attempt to hide the fact that I like to play video games.  Actually I’ve said just the opposite.  I like them.  They’re fun, they let you interact with another world, and, if they’re good, they either engage you with a well-told story, or let you make your own.   One other relatively new thing that many of them offer is the freedom of choice.  Good or Evil.

It’s been popular for a few years now to work this concept into video games, the freedom to impose your will on the game world.  No longer do you have to be the honorable hero, now you can be as utterly dishonorable and reprehensible as you want.  If granny comes up to you asking for help with a burglar, sure you could help, or you could turn your back and walk away, or you could rob her blind yourself.   If the concept is implemented correctly, however,  your choice will affect the game world, the ending, and how the other characters treat you.    It also might cause the virtual cops to show up and gun you down, but that’s just the price you have to be willing to pay if you want to go on a virtual murderous rampage.

The first time I play any game involving moral choices I’m compelled to play the good guy.  What can I say, I like being the hero.  I don’t want to stroll into a town for the first time and have everyone be frightened of me, I want them to be in awe of me.  This probably stems from some sort of adolescent insecurities of some sort, but that’s not important.  What is important is the new game I’m playing.

Dragon Age: Origins.

It’s a fantasy role-playing game.  You know how it works:  make your character, grab your sword, and go kill some monsters.  The problem is I don’t know how to be a good guy! The choices are so morally ambiguous there is no way to tell a so called ‘good’ choice from an ‘evil’ choice.  Here’s a situation.  I’ve just saved a town from what was basically a zombie attack.  The source of the zombies was the big castle on the hill where the ruler lives.  We travel to the castle, fight our way in, and confront the source.  It’s a child who is possessed by a demon.  What do you do about a child possessed by a demon, raining death down on innocent villagers?  Well, here are your options:  kill the kid and the demon with it, allow an outlaw wizard to use forbidden magic involving the human sacrifice of the mother (who is willing to participate) to send your wizard alone into dream-world to fight just the demon, sparing the child’s life, or travel two days round trip to find legal mages to use legal magic that doesn’t involve anyone dying to do the same thing, but the delay will probably mean the death and destruction of the village and all of it’s inhabitants you fought to save.   What did I do?

I saved the game and went to bed.  I was totally paralyzed by indecision.

There was a time when playing a video game meant running right and shooting everything that moved.

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And the subject of our next installment of the Random Wikipedia Article of the Week is:

The Antineutron.

I try and explain the idea of antimatter to my Physics students every year, this concept that all particles have a corresponding antiparticle, and they stare at me with blatant skepticism.  I exert a lot of effort into trying to convince them that particle Physics is a legit field of study and not the product of a few humorous scientists having a joke on the world.  I’m not entirely successful.

It would probably help if I understood it better myself.

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They’re making an Avengers movie.   Of course you probably already know that if you pay any attention at all to nerdy stuff.  It’s pretty big news in that community.  I really don’t know how they’re going to pull it off.  A cast that big and with that many major characters and actors is going to be hard to deal with in terms of giving each character enough to do to justify their being in the movie.  One of the pretty brilliant ways that Marvel Studios is getting around that, I suppose, is by having most of these characters get their own movie before the Avengers comes out.  That way they can deal with a lot of origins and characterization beforehand.   It’s amazing that they’ll have put out two Iron Man movies, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, and that they’ve made them all build towards this Avengers movie, yet still stand on their own.

Joss Whedon is directing.  Lots of people swear by his Buffy the Vampire Slayer.   I’ve never actually seen an episode of it, but I love Firefly and Serenity.  He also had a really great run on Astonishing X-men, so at least he has experience dealing with superhero teams.   He’s probably as good a choice as any to pull this off, and better than most.  I do wish they could have brought Ed Norton back as Bruce Banner.

I apologize if you saw the post title and were excited for news of a revival of the 60’s television show The Avengers.  They tried that a few years ago.   It sucked.

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For the last few days I have been filling out my TV viewing diary for the Nielsen Company.   Yeah that’s right; the ratings people.  I’m going to play a part in determining what shows stay on TV and what don’t.  A very, very small part, but more of a part than the people who aren’t filling out a TV viewing diary.

I’ve noticed a couple of things over the past few days.

1.) I don’t watch much TV in the summer.  Mostly I watch movies, and Nielsen doesn’t care what I get from Netflix.  But, I do get caught up on the few shows I recorded on the DVR and never watched in the spring, and I get to count those.

2.)This is the worst time to get chosen by Nielsen.  Everything worth watching is on hiatus until fall.  I watch Sesame Street with Gabe during the week.  Then if I watch anything else it’s usually a little bit here and there on my satellite channels, but nothing that I sit and watch regularly.

Maybe, since my vote technically counts, but doesn’t really matter, I should just start filling out random stuff.  I could put that my one year old watches One Life to Live every day.   Or that I once spent 30 straight hours watching QVC.   I could get the Nielsen people to believe that my wife is a huge fan of old Sanford and Son reruns, and doesn’t watch anything else.

That diary doesn’t have to go back mostly empty.

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Hog Heaven

For lunch today my wife and I decided to try the new local barbecue joint, Hog Heaven BBQ.  Beebe already has one place for great bbq, a little portable log cabin deal called Road Hog BBQ, but it’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays.  This new place was kind of exciting because it was a normal sit down restaurant open all week, and on the whole we’re a little short on normal, sit down restaurants.  The problem is, this isn’t the first time barbecue has been served at this location.  The first was a branch of Craig’s BBQ from De Valls Bluff, a place supposedly famous for the BBQ.  I’ve never been to the original, but the one here was pretty terrible.  The first sign that it wasn’t going to be world-class barbecue was the lack of a smoker anywhere around the restaurant.  Then we got the food.  The pulled pork had a weird texture, and the sauce was some bright orange, runny concoction that tasted more like a vinegar and pepper sauce than anything I consider real barbecue sauce.  Come to find out, they had all their meat cooked at De Valls Bluff and shipped in.

It did not travel well.

When it came to today’s lunch, we were trying to decide between Road Hog, which we know is great, or this new, unknown Hog Heaven.  I still wasn’t sure which I would choose as I drove through town, but I came to Hog Heaven first and pulled in.   The choice, I decided, would come down to one factor.  Did Hog Heaven have a smoker on the premises.  So before I even stopped the car, I drove all the way around the restaurant to check.  Sure enough, there in the back was a big, shiny smoker puffing away.  So that was it, we would try Hog Heaven.  When I opened the door and stepped in, I knew immediately that it would be better than the former occupants.  The whole place was filled with the smell of smoked meat, and man did it make my mouth water.  You order at the counter before you sit down, they call your number, and you pick up your food.  No wait staff to speak of.  I ordered the two meat platter with pork ribs and sausage, and I got my wife the pulled pork sandwich, all to go.  They seemed a little understaffed – there was only one person outside of the kitchen and she was taking orders and dealing with any problems – but any hitches could be blamed on the fact that they are still in the early stages of business.  I’m sure, given a month or two, that it’ll smooth out.

But the food, oh man, the food is delicious.  The ribs were fairly meaty and very, very tender.  The sausage had a perfectly crisp skin and the meat in the middle was succulent and tender.  It never really occurred to me that smoked sausage had degrees of tenderness until today.   My wife’s sandwich was the smaller size, but it was it was still plenty big enough.  It was piled high with pulled pork, and the barbecue sauce came on the side so you could dress it yourself (coleslaw on the side as well, but that’s only because neither of us like coleslaw, and we planned on letting Gabe eat that).  Everything had a nice smoky flavor that you expect, but none of it so smoky that it overpowered the taste of the meat.  The barbecue sauce was that perfect deep red (I only got mild for my wife’s sake, but in the restaurant itself they have squeeze bottles with all of the different varieties at the tables.  It looked like at least four types.) and thinner than bottled sauce, but not runny at all – more like what I see in Memphis.  The baked beans were delicious.  My only disappointment was fries.  They didn’t have any, even though they were on the menu.  My hope is that they were just out today.  It is my belief that more barbecue places should serve fries instead of just chips (although Road Hog has some cheesy potatoes with their dry rub sprinkled on top that are a delicious alternative).

It was a great meal.  I’m afraid Road Hog might have some competition.

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I remember when Total Recall came out, all anyone really talked about was how violent it was.  Now violence was nothing new to Arnold Schwarzenegger movies;  it was his medium of choice.   But this movie was supposed to be violent.   Of course with the progress that has been made over the years with special effects and the way movie ratings seem to allow more and more, is a Schwarzenegger sci-fi action flick from 1990 really going to seem that violent by today’s standards?   Well, yeah it’s still pretty bloody.   Some of it looks a little goofy now, like when Arnold is a bad guy’s severed hands after a mishap with an elevator, but I was surprised at how violent it still seemed.  I kind of expected it to be much more tame.

But does the movie hold up?

I’ll say this – it’s still fun to watch.  The villains don’t do much but kill and sneer and Arnold is, well, Arnold.  His job is to look confused and kill a lot of people.  Also, to roar with pain anytime something happens to him, like when he’s pulling a rather large tracking device through his nostril or finds himself exposed to the hostile atmosphere of Mars.   This is, however, the most cerebral of all of his movies, and the story is still fantastic.  It’s a mind-bending sci-fi yarn full of erased/implanted memories, mutants, alien technology, and a revolution against the oppressive corporation running Mars.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this movie would have been a masterpiece of science fiction if it had chucked the 80’s action movie vibe and adopted a little more serious tone.

Also, there’s something endearing about practical effects that we’ve lost in the era of CGI.  I like a lot of the Mars stuff.  I like that they did it with models.  Some of it doesn’t look all that great anymore, but it’s not too bad.  The guy with a little gnarly monster on his torso actually looked alright.  I expected that to be kind of ridiculous.

It’s a fun movie with a story much better than most, and that elevates it above most of Schwarzenegger’s action fare.  Don’t watch it expected to be awed by powerful performances and you’ll be fine.

Also, it just occurred to me that I could imbed the trailers for these movies.  So here you go.  Total Recall.

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I spent six hours today in a workshop learning to use Promethean boards.  They’re a pretty cool little piece of technology; think of it as a giant computer monitor that you can write on.   Most of this actually revolved around learning about the software.  As with most technology workshops, I could have been out of there in ten minutes if the presenter had just said at the beginning “It works like every other piece of Windows software”.  I do realize that wouldn’t work for most people.  I’ve been blessed throughout life with easy access to computers and the freedom to learn by experience, from the Apple ][ we had when I was little (we actually had a Commodore 64 at some point before that, but I can barely remember it), all the way up to my current self-constructed PC.  Figuring out software is pretty second nature for me, so I find it hard to be patient during technology professional development.

Still it was good to get my hands on the Promethean software to play with and learn.  Setting aside a whole day is better in the long run than figuring things out as I go.

Of course it won’t do any good if I don’t have a Promethean board.

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