Thursday, September 2, 2010

iPod Game Micro Reviews, Part I

A friend who is entering the world of iPod Touch soon asked me what games she should get. I decided to put together a list, and figured that, while I was at it, I might as well publish it. I'd love to do more micro-reviews of iPod games, as well as an analysis of my iPod usage (which is kind of obsessive regarding game deals), and a discussion of how Android completely sucks for games. Plus, I'm calling this "Part I" because I'm being optimistic and hoping to do more of them. :)

Keep in mind that patience can yield many of these apps for discount/free. I'll discuss my strategy for app hunting in a later post. The prices quoted are on Aug. 2nd, 2010. I'm not sure if some of them are on sale at the time, so they could end up higher.

(all scores are out of 10)

Classics: Ok, so it's hard to have a "classic" on such a young medium, but these are a few games that you really should pick up to be considered part of the iOS masses.

Flight Control - 7. Everyone's seen it, but this is the original, and it's still quite fun. They've added new layouts and a multiplayer mode I've yet to try, which adds some replay value to this $0.99 game. It's a simple high-score game, but it shows off the touch screen nicely and is easy to pick up and play.

Paper Toss - 8. Fabulous free game - almost good enough to not be worth upgrading to the "World Tour" version, which really doesn't offer a lot more content outside of new skins. The game is simple - toss paper into a trashcan while fighting the evil fan. It's great fun though, and easy to pick up and flick away for even just 30 seconds sometimes.

All-in-1 Gamebox - 8. Ok, it's not a "classic", but it's a great deal, and it wouldn't fit in any other category. Basically, it's 35 games (and counting) for $0.99. A lot of the games are crap, as you'd expect, but there are a few gems in there that I think easily make the entry price worth it. A great deal if you just want to check out a ton of cheap games. Perhaps some day I'll do 35 single-sentence nano-reviews of them, assigning each a value out of 10 cents. :)

Puzzlers: Puzzles are a great genre for the iDevice. They can often be played in short spurts and the touch interface is often perfect. I have a lot of puzzle games - here are some of my favorites.

Geared - 8. It starts out slow, but this $0.99 game is a great example of lots of content for a clever puzzle mechanic in a nice package. Once you get into it, it gets quite tricky! Nice interface, simple but effective graphics, and over 100 puzzles makes it a no-brainer. At least until you start playing. Ha!

Zen Bound - 9. Zen Bound is a very clever game that is an absolute joy to play. It's $2.99, but well worth it in my opinion for the fabulous graphics and style and the simple but compelling gameplay. Can get a little repetitive in the long run, but this is one of those games you can show to friends to show what your iDevice can do. I haven't played the sequel so I can't speak for it.

Bejeweled 2 - 9. It's crack. We all know it. But it doesn't matter, does it? This version includes the ultra-addictive Bejeweled Blitz, complete with Facebook integration. $2.99 is a lot cheaper than bag of cocaine, and just as addictive!

Theseus - 8. This one is for the real intellectuals out there. Or perhaps I'm just dim, I don't know, but these puzzles give me fits. Tons and tons of content for $1.99, this one will challenge you with it's simple rules but fiendish and complex mazes. Interface is slick, undoing is extremely intelligent, and just generally a high quality puzzler.

Hellsing's Fire - 8. A clever puzzle game with an entertaining pseudo-story and solid presentation, Hellsing's fire offers lots of maps with randomly-generated puzzles involving careful, ordered placement of exploding torches to vanquish foes. Graphics are strong and the overall experience is very good. However, some issues hold it back: random generation of puzzles lacks the cleverness of hand-crafted ones, and lack of a precision placing method can be frustrating. Still, a fun game and hard to argue for $0.99.

Physics Puzzles: See? I told you there are a lot of puzzles. So many that I had to split them up. Actually, on my iPod, I have them further divided into regular physics puzzles and "smash" physics puzzles!

Angry Birds - 10. This is quite possibly the best deal in iTunes. For $0.99, you get a great physics puzzle game with tons of content, loads of charm, great polish, and regular updates for more levels. Every iOS device should have this game. My only complaints are one - they should let you skip levels occasionally, some are quite hard and can get you stuck, and two - you should be told how many points are needed to get 3-stars. Nitpicks, to be sure.

Auditorium - 9. Yes, this is the same Auditorium that made waves in the indie PC world a year or two ago. Only here, you get the first chapter for free and pay a mere $2.97 to get the whole rest of the game. It is a beautiful, atmospheric, and clever game that everyone should play. So why only a 9/10? There's a subtle blip in the looping that drives me nuts and really hurts the experience for me. Some people might not notice (it's in the PC version too, so if you didn't notice there you'll be fine), but for me it's a significant flaw. Still, check it out!

Ragdoll Blaster 2 - 10. This one is right up there with Angry Birds in my book. It loses some value points for being more expensive ($2.99), but gains them back with fabulous style, solid physics, and some extremely clever and varied level designs (far surpassing Angry Birds in that regard). The levels do go by quickly, so even though there are 130 of them you can get through the game without too much time, but going back and trying to perfect your scores can add a lot of replay value. Definitely worth grabbing in my book.

Music Games: Come on - it's an iPod. Gotta have some music games!

Thumpies - 9. I really enjoy this game. I'm not sure if it's the creepy style or the slick original tunes, but the game is just plain fun. The interface is a little different and involves playing drums when eery floating heads fall onto them. Yeah, it's weird, but I love it, and for $2.99 I'd call it a solid deal.

Beat It! - 7. I like the concept of this game, but ultimately I feel that the execution could have gone a little smoother. The idea is that you train your ear to listen and pick out beats, and then key them in to a simple drum machine. Very clever, but somehow the execution feels somehow repetitive and a little uncompelling to me. That said, it's worth checking out the free version to see if it appeals to you. (Strangely, this appears to not be available in the US any more...did Michael Jackson's zombie sue??)

Rock Band - 9. A little pricey at $6.99 (haha, listen to's 10 times that on the consoles!), the game includes a large library of music and some solid gameplay as you'd expect. It's almost cliché, but for good reason. One major issue keeping it from getting a 10 - the lack of horizontal orientation support. Yes, I know it'd be harder to see in front of you, but I have fat thumbs, okay? It's a little narrow to be doing a two-thumbed rhumba with precision. Still, loads of fun to be had.

Leaf Trombone - 8. Ask my wife what the most annoying game ever is and she'll immediately point to this one. It's marvelous - I absolutely love it. For $0.99 you get a trombone simulator, complete with all of the intonation problems a beginner 'boner will have. Plus, it has a nasally reed sound, to make it extra annoying. Great fun, really! Only drawback is that all songs are user-created. There's some great stuff in the library, but it takes some looking, and the browsing system is pretty weak. Also, the multiplayer, while clever, ultimately bored me.

Melodica - 8. While it isn't a game, and isn't loaded with features, this extremely simple and intuitive music-creation app is mesmerizing and can be played by anyone, regardless of musical aptitude. I got it for free, but I imagine it's normally $0.99, which is worth it if you enjoy making trancey mixes.

Action Games: I'm using this as a sort of catch-all for a variety of games that I didn't want to make individual genres for. In general, expect timing and reflexes to be important here. And potentially big explosions.

Tilt to Live - 9. Perhaps the current champion of tilt-controlled gameplay, Tilt to Live feels more precise than you would expect. It's a simple "dodge all the stuff trying to kill you" game, but it has a fantastic style, good sense of humor, clever designs, and enough gameplay variety and achievements to justify its $2.99 price tag.

Impossible Game - 8. This little $0.99 game isn't going to win awards for depth of content, but its simple premise and good presentation make it a lot of fun. Plus, if you're obsessive, you can try to do insane things like beat the game without dying. Replay value is a little low, even for $0.99, but it's a fun ride while it lasts. If you're a gamer-masochist.

Defense: Those who know me well probably know about my tower defense fetish. It love these games, and there are a few gems in the iTunes store I'd like to share.

Pro Zombie Soccer - 9. Not a tower defense game, but defense none the less, Pro Zombie Soccer manages to combine clever level design, fun mechanics, and some excellent humor into a zombie game that actually doesn't feel derivative at all, which is saying something. Not cheap at $2.99, but a fun experience that stays compelling as you progress, even if replay value is somewhat limited.

Space Station: Frontier - 8. If you liked Harvest: Massive Encounter or The Space Game, you'll feel right at home with this one. It's almost a clone of The Space Game, though has an upgrade system that allows you to power up your various stats and weapons. It can be pretty difficult, but it has a nice interface, solid graphics, and is generally a fun experience for $1.99 if you enjoy the genre.

Besiegement - 8. I really want to give this one a 9 or a 10, but I can't shake the fact that, in general, the game is just a bit too easy. I lost on a few levels, but unless there's a hidden "hard" mode I haven't unlocked, this game is just weak compared to some more hardcore TDs. That said, at $0.99, the game is a blast. Presentation is a little amateur, but I can forgive it for the fun, polished TD experience. A variety of towers, lots of upgrades, accurate placement, speed up buttons, health bars - all the essentials are there and well done. It's not the best TD on the market, but it's solid, especially if you want a more casual experience than some of the other kick-your-ass TDs I'm about to discuss.

geoDefense and geoDefense Swarm - 9. these will get in and tear you to pieces. The Easy levels are generally doable, but expect to spend multiple attempts on the normal and hard levels, if you ever get through them. I really enjoy the Geometry Wars style and the simple but clear tower designs. Both games are $1.99, and the difference is just mazing (Swarm) vs. non-mazing (original). Pick your poison, or grab them both. Each offers 30+ challenging levels, plus downloadable content.

Save Sylva - 9. I've only had this one for a few days, but I'm really enjoying it, in a truly masochistic way. The game blatantly rips its style off of Pixeljunk Monsters, but fortunately it expands on the gameplay offering a number of new ideas (including moveable effect areas and clever upgrade paths for tower specialization). Maybe I'm just having a brain block so far, but the normal mode on even early levels is kicking me around, and I've only beaten one hard mode. I'm loving it for $1.99, but non-pain-loving gamers might be turned off by the difficulty.

And yikes...I kinda just kept going with these. I forced myself to stop after the tower defense games, though I'm only maybe halfway through the solid games I wanted to discuss. More genres and games to come later!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

I should probably start off my saying that before Inception, Christopher Nolan was already one of my favorite writer/directors. Having seen only four of his movies (the lesser-known but intriguing Following, the fantastic Memento, and of course his famed renditions of my favorite super hero, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), I was already enamored with his style and his storytelling. I'm thrilled to say that Inception has only solidified my adoration of Mr. Nolan.

I do want to say that I think people need to go into the movie with the right expectations. I do not consider this movie to be primarily a philosophical movie - while it deals with some philosophy elements, I much prefer to think of it as a psychological action thriller. It has a really cool plot, a clever and mostly-believable mythology, some great acting, and a few really cool characters. Many of the critiques I've seen are that the philosophy isn't all that great - and as long as you're not expecting it to be then it won't be a problem.

Is the movie perfect? Not at all. There are a few major plot holes and occasionally characters act kinda dumb. There's too much gun-fighting that feels out of place and unneeded. Perhaps most annoying, at least to those of us who notice, for a movie so obsessed with timing there are cases where it falls into the stereotypical "let's have 10 seconds take 60 seconds of screen time" thing that irks me.

All that said, I was enthralled throughout the entire movie. While not earth-shattering philosophy, it does engage your mind throughout and feels much more interactive than most movies just because of how twisted and deep the mythology is. It's a sci-fi movie that isn't entirely believable, but it just doesn't matter - it's pretty to look at, has a great plot, and is beautifully executed.

Also, I have to say, I have tremendous respect for Leonardo DiCaprio, who turned himself from teen pop idol doing bad movies to a consistently excellent actor in his adult years. Ellen Page is also one of my favorite young actors of today and she does a fine job in this movie as well, as does the rest of the cast.

This might sound like a very vague review that says almost nothing about the movie, and that's very intentional - I don't want to give anything away. I managed to walk into the movie knowing almost nothing about the plot (a feat I also pulled off with The Matrix) and I'm much happier for it. So, if you like cerebral action movies, or Christopher Nolan, or really just movies in general, go see it. Go into it expecting a fun, intriguing story that isn't a dissertation on existentialism and I think you'll really enjoy it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

CellCraft is Out!

Just a quick announcement for my 10s of readers, about 3 of which won't have heard this from the other social sites I've posted this to, but...

CellCraft is out! W00t!

You can play it online at Kongregate, or you can go to the Official CellCraft Website to download a free copy for yourself or to host at your own website.

Even more amazing, the game has been ridonkulously well received, going toe-to-toe with some incredibly good, non-educational games on these gaming websites. It's so exciting to see everyone's reactions to it!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Some initial thoughts on the iPod Touch

Oi...February? Really? That was my last post? How sad. Well, I just got back from an amazing vacation in the Dominican Republic, and I've started up a more professional blog (Pec's Games), plus we've finished CellCraft (awaiting sponsorship terms before release) and I'm looking at a new, unannounced game project. So, lots going on.

Oh, I also got an iPod Touch in March, and wanted to do a little ranting and raving.

First off, this is a slick piece of hardware. It runs very smoothly, the touch screen is beautiful and responsive, and in terms of a portable media device it works absolutely fantastically. The games are surprisingly good (I'm rarely picking up my DS these days) and have nailed a pricing scheme that has caused me to spend more on games than I had originally intended. Had all games been in the $5 - $10 range, I probably would have bought 1 or 2. But at $1 - $2 (with tons of free ones if you're diligent), well, let's just say I think I have a problem.

Which brings me to...

Rant number one: Limits to pages of apps. Why do we need an arbitrary maximum, especially one as small as 11 pages (meaning only 176 apps, including the default ones, plus 4 at the bottom for 180 total)? I hit this maximum within a few weeks of owning the iPod. I suppose some readers will point out that this isn't really reasonable, and that I clearly have a problem if I hit 11 pages that quickly. To be fair, they weren't full - I was using pages to sort types of apps and genres of games. Which leads into...

Rant number two: Lack of ability to organize apps on the iPod. Even with the limit of 180 apps, you have no way to categorize, label, or do any legitimate sorting of apps. I attempted to use the pages as a sort method, but this cut down on the number of apps I could use. Admittedly, this will be somewhat fixed with the next version of iOS, which will allow you to put apps, up to 16 at a time, into folders. This will certainly help, and will drastically increase the maximum number of apps to over 2000, but would it really kill them to just add a vertical scroll to pages so we're not constrained to 16 each?

Rant number three: Lack of ability to organize apps in iTunes. As much as rant number two annoys me, this one really kills me. I don't have much of a problem trading apps in and out of my active rotation on my device, as long as I have a good way to track which games I want to put back in. But no - iTunes somehow gives you even fewer sorting options than the iPod itself. In fact, all you can do is change the sort order of the giant list, or search by name. No categories, folders, labels...nothing. I can (somewhat) understand limited options on the device, but in iTunes, a full-fledged OSX app with all the bells and whistles? It's just ridiculous.

Rant number four: The iTunes store is just plain stupid. I can't help but feel that no one at Apple has ever made a purchase from in their life. Because surely if they had, they would understand the benefits of labels, recommendations, flexible searches, and, above everything else, user scores. Yes yes, they have user scores, but they're hidden, especially in the iTunes version of the store. For reasons beyond my understanding, you can't view any user scores when browsing the app store in iTunes (but even more inexplicably you can when browsing with the iPod app store). The "most popular" lists are useless, and there's no way to sort by highest user rating (which is the single most common sort I use when shopping online for things). It is embarrassingly bad design and functionality from a company who prides itself on those two things above everything else.

My best guess is that the app store popularity took Apple entirely by surprise. It seems like many of their tools were written expecting to have maybe 1000 apps available. Instead, we have many times more than that and tools that seem entirely incapable of helping the user sift through the crap to find the gems. I have to rely on external game review sites (of which there are surprisingly few decent ones - SlideToPlay being the only one I really use much thanks to their excellent genre sort/filter options). But this would only explain an initial oversight - why updates haven't been made since then I don't know. Perhaps they can't climb over the mountains of money in their offices to get to the keyboard to make some changes.

In any case, I do love my iPod Touch - it is an amazing device with a fantastic collection of software. I just wish they could make a few simple, and entirely reasonable, adjustments to really make the experience much better.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do I get a discount if he's colicky?

I feel that this one is self-explanatory:

Not only did I get a double take at the announcement of a sale of babies, but reading on there's actually no clarification to contradict my first interpretation. Their entire stock of babies is up to 50% off!? Well, gosh - I think I'll just get two then!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Movie Review: Ink

Recently, my wife and I settled down for a movie night. Not wanting to head out, we booted up the 360 and loaded Netflix to see what I had in the queue. This one movie, Ink, stood out as an unknown but fairly highly rated film (with a surprising consistency of 3.4 / 5.0 on Netflix and 6.8 / 10.0 on It wasn't rated on Metacritic since the movie was never actually released by a publisher. Apparently no one wanted the script, but the director decided to go for it anyway. With glowing written reviews, we decided to brave the unknown and check it out.

Sadly, I now worry that my wife won't trust me to pick out movies she hasn't heard of any more.

First off, it's excruciatingly, painfully obvious that this was a low-budget movie. Most of this comes from terrible cinematography and some extremely weak acting. There were a few genuinely good special effects and character designs (mostly with the villains in the movie - the heroes seemed to wear whatever they had in their closets at home), but these were often obscured immediately by shoddy work elsewhere. This was all slightly surprising since the opening of the movie was rather solid, with an excellent opening 2 minutes and a perfectly reasonable plot setup following. But then things went downhill very quickly.

The general idea behind the movie is that there are two factions of beings who provide dreams to people - the Storytellers (good dreams) and the Incubi (nightmares). They are apparently at odds with eachother, rather than working in any sort of symbiosis. There are also other beings who are part of neither side, and the titular character is one of these. He steals the...soul, I guess...of a girl in her sleep in order to try to become an Incubus. The plot then follows Ink as he attempts to reach his final goal, all the while the Storytellers track him down and try to stop him.

There's an additional side plot about the girl's father, who has become a workaholic and isn't really a part of her life any more. It's some nice family drama to add to the story I suppose, though isn't necessarily all that believable. Which brings us to the truly damning quality of this movie: the writing is weak.

When you're going to tout your movie as the great screenplay that no one was willing to pick up but you decided to make anyway, you had better have some great dialog and a truly compelling and original plot. Instead, the dialog is often silly, characters are shallow and at times completely undeveloped, and the plot left neither my wife nor I surprised, or even really guessing (confused, but obscurity doesn't substitute for clever plot development). For a film with extremely low production values, the entire experience rests on acting and writing, and sadly those just aren't solid here either.

A quick bit of credit does go to the blind Pathfinder character. While his introduction was over-acted and poorly written (with the actor sounding like he was being naughty by saying a few swear words), the character himself had a few funny lines and was genuinely fairly interesting. Also, I recall the music being decent throughout, so good job to the composer.

In any case, it's clear that the writer wanted to have the next Matrix movie (complete with alternate dimensions, a modern good/evil mythology, lots of special effects, multiple fight scenes, etc.), but unfortunately it really doesn't get even close. I've been going back and re-reading reviews written of the movie trying to figure out what people saw in this movie, and I still don't understand it. If anyone has seen it and would like to leave a comment explaining why I'm wrong, please do. But as it stands, I can't give it better than a 4/10. If you like low-budget cult-classic movies, you can download it (apparently it's big on the torrents and the film-makers are cool with it) or stream it if you want, but definitely don't spend money on this movie.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The LHC has nothing in WinXP

I just saw this confirmation message while using Windows XP:

I fear that if I hit "yes" the universe will implode.

This came as a result of accidentally dragging my recycling bin icon to the quick-launch bar. Attempting to remove the link yielded this window. I suppose it makes sense, but the lack of any indication that the first one is a link is rather confusing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Enemy, mine?

If you talk to anyone who really knows me, most of them will tell you, and probably everyone would agree with the fact, that I am honest, kind, and trusting almost to a fault. I tell the truth when I shouldn't, I help people out when I can, and I actually wrote "gullible" on a ceiling in a college class room just so once in a while it'd be true when I looked up.

So it is absolutely shocking to me that I apparently have someone who hates my guts. My neighbor for some reason has decided that my wife and I are evil, and I'm really not sure why. I'm aware of one incident where she thinks our dog pooped in her garden - something she'd rightfully be upset about, although we're rather certain it didn't happen. (For the record, the dog did indeed run into the yard, my wife yelled at the dog to come back, and the dog cowered and trembled slightly, which very feasibly looked to an outside observer like she was fertilizing the garden) Even if it did happen, it was absolutely not intentional and is not something we let happen in other people's yards, especially in something like her cute little garden.

Since then, I've had numerous other, completely false, accusations thrown my way. Apparently we've been scratching her car door (she parks next to us, but to my knowledge I've never bumped her car) and are making our car alarm beep (which it does beep annoying sometimes when we lock it - we can't control this though) just to show off our security system. On top of that, one evening I noticed her gas door was open on her car and I closed it. Apparently she was watching me from her doorway at the time (this was around midnight, by the way) and stepped outside angrily telling me to never touch her car. I explained that the gas door was open and she called me a liar. Great.

Now she regularly stands in her doorway, watching me. Even just tonight, I got back from the grocery story at 11:30pm, and when I got out of my car her door opened up and she stood there, watching me - which was what lead me to come inside and write this post.

At this point, I don't know what to do. I'd love to sit down and talk with her, but it seems like she has no interest in listening. I thought of leaving flowers on her door one day, but figured she'd probably just hate me more for it. I tried smiling and waiving to her for months and was rewarded with silent scowls. The thought of someone thinking I'm some evil villain haunts me and deeply disturbs me, but I have no idea how to fix it.

Sometimes I try telling myself she's crazy, but she seems so normal and interacts with other neighbors perfectly fine. She has a cute dog and a nice garden and even was the first person we talked with when we were considering moving into the neighborhood (at which time she was very helpful and cordial). Could this one dog-poo-related misunderstanding really set off such a huge hate-fest? Should I try to mend things, or just continue ignoring it and feeling sad and guilty every single time I walk by her door, despite having done nothing wrong? I know I probably need to just not care what people think of me, at least in some cases, but it's hard when you're confronted with it on a near daily basis. Perhaps I've just lead a sheltered life. Perhaps being nice to everyone for so long has left me defenseless against such focused anger towards me. If nothing else, I hope that writing this down and putting it out there will at least be therapeutic, for a little while.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Sketchiest Beverage Cooler Ever

Two posts in one day? No way!! Apologies for being a little juvenile in this one, but it's just far too funny to ignore and not share with the world.

My wife and I were looking for a way to spend our points we've accumulated from Wachovia before closing our account there (for reasons previously mentioned) when we came across Igloo's "Pink Ribbon Chillywrap Beverage Cooler":

I'm not sure what part of this is the funniest. How could no one involved in the marketing of this product realize how much this looks like a sex toy?! From the "dome cap" to the "finger grips for easy handling", it's almost impossible to believe this isn't some Photoshopped image. Yet, a quick search turns up the Amazon purchase page for the item. I'm sad to admit that this still makes me chuckle when I look at it. Seriously, Igloo? Seriously?

In other news, older readers may have noticed that my layout is now wider. I finally got tired of not being able to put decent-sized images in the blog, so I widened things up a bit. We'll see how that goes. Any thoughts on the new size?

Body image, obesity, and friendship in America

I believe this is my first "pickle" (how long can these horrible puns keep up?!), and possibly the first of some more serious blog posts on philosophy, theology, politics, etc. Not that I want the blog to lose some of its lighter tone, but I think some deeper posts might be interesting too.

So, this is a short exploratory essay on body image, obesity, and friendship in America. I'm not familiar with cultural perceptions outside of the US, but would certainly welcome international readers to chime in on the comments section.

This post starts out with a question: "As a friend/family member, if you notice that someone close to you is getting dangerously over-weight, should you talk to them about it, or let them be?"

Part of me wants to make sure that the person is aware of it, that they're not slowly gaining weight and not realizing just how much of a difference it is. Another part of me has been taught that it is a personal issue and one that, from a societal perspective, is fairly taboo to talk about (especially if your friend is a woman). But if you have a friend who smokes a lot, or drinks excessively, or is otherwise reckless with their lives, should you not try to help them? Why should obesity be any different?

Also, to be clear, I'm not talking about aesthetics here - I'm talking about real, dangerous, kills more people than cancer, obesity. Which brings me to my next point. Women in America are under incredible societal pressure to be absurdly thin. Between marketing and media, the Barbie-shape has been portrayed as an ideal for decades.

Even worse, if you go back and look at the "ideal body" of the 60s, Marilyn Monroe, she's a bit heavier than modern models. Her classic 36-24-36 numbers are too big for the British Association of Model Agents' current stated target of 34-24-34 (yes, taken from Wikipedia, but also cited within Wikipedia). So not only are we portraying thin women as ideal, it's getting even more severe with time.

This has lead to efforts to push acceptance of realistic body image among girls and women in America. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty comes to mind as an initiative to help girls be happy with who they are. This is a fantastic idea and in no way am I challenging that such efforts are important and even necessary in our society.

But have we taken it too far? Being happy with yourself for confidence, self-esteem, and aesthetic reasons is great. But there is a clear point past which you are no longer healthy and you should be unhappy with your body - preferably in such a way as to motivate yourself to get into better shape. To tell someone who has a BMI of 35+ that they should find themselves beautiful and be happy with their body is no different than telling someone who smokes that yellow teeth and smokey breath are attractive qualities. You might be trying to make them feel better, but really are creating a poisonous thought process that will ultimately lead to an early death.

The problem is that it is a fine line to walk. You don't want every over-weight person hating themselves and being embarrassed to go in public. And some people genuinely can't lose the weight for medical reasons - though they are rare exceptions. The problem is one of moderation - we should be scorning the excessively thin and fat and helping everyone move towards a healthy, medium body weight.

Yet moderation is not a strength of our society, so we end up with things like Mo'Nique's F.A.T. (Fabulous and Thick) Chance - a reality TV show about a plus-size beauty pageant. While I understand that it's an attempt to promote positive body image, I think the idea of rewarding people for destroying their bodies is foolish and dangerous. One amateur reviewer (grobertson-2 from quipped of the show: "What's next, the Miss D.R.U.N.K. or Miss M.E.T.H. pageant?" While a bit extreme, I don't think s/he was far off.

So where does that leave us? Should a friend talk to a friend who is getting dangerously overweight? I myself have struggled with my own weight (despite screwing up my schedule and not exercising for a few months I'm still about 192, which is great that I've maintained weight, but I still have a way to go before I get out of the overweight BMI category), and yet outside of a few close family members (parents and wife), no one talks to me about it unless it's a complement about lost weight. Positive reinforcement is there and is important, but no one was challenging me when I was much more overweight (I've been as high as 215 or so) to try to lose some of it. And to be honest, I'm not sure that I would have taken such challenges well - but I'd like to think I would have respected the person for being willing to try.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What's That URL?

Google's ads and news clips that appear above Gmail are often rather compelling to read or click on. However, occasionally they're funny, and in this case it was primarily due to a poor choice of URL.

I honestly nearly clicked on this link hoping to see a great website about why kids are scary. It's not quite (a really great website, btw) or Lake Tahoe's promotional, but it still struck me as pretty funny.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Game Review: Uncharted 2

I had a great idea for a blog post yesterday. I can't for the life of me remember it now. Wish I had written it down. Oh well, perhaps later it'll hit me.

Anyway, in an attempt to not completely neglect this blog, I decided to write something. So I'm going to do a quick rave about Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

I do not own a PS3. I have a 360 and have enjoyed it very much, though I've been a Sony fanboy since 1995 (PS1 release). I'm not fanatical about either system at this point. However, I will say this: Sony managed to nail the single most impressive game I've ever seen as an exclusive to their console.

I realize I'm behind the times on this. The game's been out for quite a while, and it even won game of the year in December's VGAs (Video Game Awards). So this is not exactly news. However, a friend of mine got it a couple months ago and, after playing it through entirely in one weekend on his own, invited me over so he could watch me play through it entirely again.

I can't remember the last time I've been this impressed by a game. I think it'd have to be Final Fantasy VII, which completely redefined presentation and story telling in RPGs (with amazing CG cutscenes, 3D graphics, beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds - it was a feast for the eyes at the time). In the over 12 years since I first booted up FF7 in December of 1997 I haven't been this jaw-droppingly-impressed by any game. Yes, there have been some awesome games since then. Metal Gear Solid (1 and 2), Final Fantasy X and XII, and Gears of War have all had amazing art direction and presentation. I might give God of War credit for truly filling the gap from Final Fantasy VII to Uncharted 2, but that's it.

Uncharted 2 sets an entirely new standard for games - one that no other game seems to even approach. I'm actually fairly angry at the game: so often now, I play something and can't help but think, "Man, this is cool, but nothing compared to Uncharted 2." The best games of this past year (Arkham Asylum, Modern Warfare 2, and Assassin's Creed II) can't hold a candle to Uncharted 2's presentation. Truly, there has never been a game this close to a real action movie. Sony runs an awesome ad where a guy complains that his girlfriend watches him play Uncharted 2 because she thinks it's a movie. That is truth in advertising folks - I've seen it happen with wives and even parents. It's really that good.

What makes the game that amazing? Honestly, the mechanics of the general game aren't all that astounding. The cover-and-shoot gunplay is fine, but not as good as Gears of War. The hand-to-hand combat is super simple and looks like Final Fight next to Arkham Asylum. The climbing segments are nice, but not nearly as smooth as Assassin's Creed II. The puzzles are...well, kinda crap, and definitely don't compare to the good puzzle games like Ico or Braid. Even the pacing is a little odd, bouncing back and forth from crazy gunplay to long, drawn-out climbing segments. So what's so great about this game that I'm just rabidly raving?

Simply put, it's the presentation. Never has a game had voice acting, animation, mocap, set design, cinematic gameplay, or just plain scenery as amazing as this game. It truly feels like a big budget Hollywood film. There are incredible action sequences that had me laughing giddily. There is a decent, if somewhat convoluted, plot that is played out by professional actors with strong writing behind them. The game is wildly entertaining, from snarky quips to crazy explosions to drop-dead gorgeous set pieces. I was at one point climbing along a speeding train with bullets whizzing by my head, and I got distracted looking at a mountain off in the distance.

Truly, no other game has gotten me as excited about the future of this industry as this one. The budget for it was probably astronomical (the credits list looks like a Peter Jackson film), and we'll likely only be treated to a game or two of this caliber a year given recent sticking points in the industry with pricing and financial models. But if we can get even one Uncharted 2 every few years we will be very lucky indeed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ambiguous Language 101

George Carlin liked to look at language and point out amusing inconsistencies. In one routine, he mused (slightly paraphrased and edited for our younger readers):

"'Get on the plane,' the attendant said. 'Get on the plane?' I replied. 'Screw you, I'm getting in the plane!'"

Well, over the past 2 weeks I ran a plane-language (ha, ha ha...) poll and got a whopping 13 votes (which would be almost all of my readers!). The question was:

"You're getting on a bus or a plane. There are two seats on one side of the aisle. The person you're with says she wants to sit on the outside. What seat does she want?"

The possible answers are aisle or window. Much to my surprise, I was significantly out-voted on this one 9 - 4 (or, well, 9 - 3 if you don't count my own vote!) in favor of the aisle. This is not something I look forward to admitting to my wife, who insisted that she clearly wanted the aisle seat when she said she wanted to sit on the outside.

I've conducted this survey with a number of people in person, and it seemed to almost be a male/female split in responses. May have just been a coincidence at the time, but it's certainly an interesting question to ask a group of people, if for no other reason that you're almost sure to get different replies and yet have everyone be rather certain that they're right. Of course, it's purely a question of perspective - are we talking about the outside of the seating arrangement (where one seat is against a wall and the other free to move), or the outside of the plane?

I'm going to put up another poll today and run it for a week - will be interesting to see how this one goes too. :)

Poll Results:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

You Need A Minty-fresh Budget

So, this article is one of the first articles I wanted to do when I started up my blog, but it seemed like a waste when no one was reading it. Now, with a double-digit number of readers, I think it's finally time to do a legit, useful advice column! Also, as a preface, none of the links given in here are referral links and I make nothing off of people signing up - this is purely a personal, honest recommendation from a user of this software.

About a year ago, I realized that I had no idea what my money was doing. I maintained a positive balance in my bank and paid my bills, so things were doing fine, but I had no idea why they were fine. I couldn't tell you how much I was spending on food or what I had set aside to buy video games with. It was entirely fly-by-your-seat-and-hope-for-the-best money management. Frankly, this was fine in college. By the time I got a wife and a house though, it became apparent that we could be on the brink of bankruptcy and I'd have no idea.

I set out on a quest to figure out how to deal with my money. In this process, I went through a lot of financial software, both free and paid, and read a lot of reviews, attempting to figure out the best way that I could manage my personal money (I would not recommend this to businesses). In the end, I discovered a two-pronged approach that is absolutely perfect for me.

The first tine of my fork of budget-management (not really sure where I was going with that metaphor...) is, an entirely free online financial aggregator. If you only have one bank account and no other assets or debts, and never use a credit card, then isn't really needed. However, I had a number of bank accounts (joined with my wife's personal ones) as well as a mortgage, a Paypal account, and a credit card. very slickly combines all of this financial data into a single webpage.

It's quite brilliant, really. You just give login credentials to their (secure) server, it checks for recent activity automatically, and always keeps all of your accounts up to date. It has excellent charts and graphs and combines your spending trends across all accounts, making it much easier to see where your money has gone. In case you're worried about security, this is a venture-backed, industry-reviewed, recently-acquired-by-Intuit company. If nothing else, if things go wrong there are big companies with lots of money that you can sue. :) One quick word of warning - some banks apparently charge a fee for "electronic access" to account info. I mentioned this in a previous blog post, but Wachovia charges me $6 a month for to check the data. Suntrust on the other hand doesn't charge a dime. Just make sure you keep an eye on it.

However, as great as is as collecting all of my data (and insisting that I'm worth less than nothing since it deducts my mortgage from my net worth...sigh...), it doesn't help me much with budgeting. Basically, it's great at looking backward, but very weak at looking forward. (I'm sure users/employees will point out that there is a budgeting widget in, but I'll respond that it is woefully inadequate, especially compared to what I'm about to discuss).

So, you need a budget. No, seriously, You Need A Budget, also known as YNAB for short. In my search for a budget, I kept coming across YNAB being mentioned here and there, with really good reviews. I checked out their website and, honestly, it looked like a cheap scam. So I ignored it for a while. But it kept coming up, including an incredible, glowing consensus review on (please note, I give that link only to show the reviews - that is the old version and no longer sold). I bit the bullet and downloaded the demo. Turns out it wasn't a cheap scam, just a victim of bad website design (an ailment that has been recently fixed, or at least improved). I was immediately hooked.

First off, this is not free software. The new version, YNAB 3, retails for $59.95, and is currently in beta. I've already purchased my copy and am in the beta stage with it, and it's a fantastic piece of software. Secondly, if you're a spreadsheet wizard, you can do most of what is offered here (in fact, the original version was sold as an Excel Spreadsheet file). Not all of it, but by and large most. That said, this is a very slick piece of software that pushes you into good spending/saving habits and makes you adjust yourself when you miss your targets. It is simple, easy to use, and very effective. There's also a large and helpful forum of users that the YNAB creator is surprisingly active in.

The basic idea, like most budget software, is to use a modified "envelope system", where all of your money each month is put into a labeled envelope for a particular purpose. Thanks to this setup, I can now tell you exactly how much I budget for eating out, groceries, fun money, clothing, vacations, internet, water, etc. every month. I know where my money is going, and that is incredibly liberating. It lets me spend my "fun money" without feeling guilty or worried that it might cause me to not be able to eat one day, because the money is already allocated for that purpose.

The new version of YNAB is quite cool, with a few significant improvements over the previous edition. The biggest for me is the move to Adobe Air, which means it is OSX-compatible now (no more booting into Parallels to do my budget - whoo!). Beyond that, it has a nicer interface and much better reporting tools. There are a few other improvements too, including some nice tools for splitting transactions and dealing with reimbursements, but either way it looks solid (with a few minor bugs here and there, but heck, it's still in beta).

The one downside to YNAB 3 is that it isn't It doesn't automatically grab all of your financial transactions and enter them into the register. It can import summary files from your financial institutions if you wish, but I actually prefer entering them by hand anyway - it's my version of balancing my checkbook and making sure there aren't any surprising charges. This is where my title comes from - and YNAB play along very well. I pull up, go through the transactions, and enter them into YNAB. It's a therapeutic experience for me - I spend a few hours a month, go through all the numbers, balance everything out, and see how we did. I'll admit, it wouldn't be as much fun if you were having financial difficulty, but it'd be all the more important.

Using these two tools, for a grand total of a one-time $60 fee, I'm able to know exactly where my money is, what I have saved up, and what I can spend on everything. I have much greater control over my finances and would heartily recommend this solution to anyone. Please leave comments if you have any questions - I'd be happy to help!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google HAXORZ!11!!

I wonder how many people have done a double-take at this headline:

Hmm, I've got to figure out how to format this blog to be a little wider... Anyway, the full title reads "Google Hackers Targeted Source Code of More Than 30 Companies".

"Google is hacking other companies?!" No, the hackers that hacked Google also hit other companies. But this title really crosses the line from ambiguous to misleading. I can't believe a Wired editor didn't notice that one - even the second comment on the page has already mentioned the goof.

In any case, the real story is actually rather interesting - Google is making some bold, high-integrity moves. Check it out on the Google blog post.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My first Flash game release (no, not CellCraft)

So, after sitting on this game for, sheesh, months I guess, I finally decided just to put it out there and see what happens. Right now it is only released on, though I intend to push it out to a number of other big portals to see what happens.

The game itself was primarily an experiment, written over a few weekends to become more familiar with AS3. I don't have high hopes for it - the game is pretty shallow and won't hold interest for more than a few minutes for most users. But heck - it doesn't bring any entertainment to anyone just sitting on my harddrive, so I published it. Also, I've implemented Mochi's APIs so I can learn about how they work and what kind of tools, stats, and CPM I can gain with Mochi's services.

Anyway, if anyone wants to check it out, it's currently up here: I decided to make a new account called PecProductions, rather than unfairly leveraging my Phoenix00017 account on Kongregate. Check it out, give it a 2/5 as it probably deserves, and leave a comment. :) Also, thank you to FuzzyBacon for helping with alpha/beta testing on it!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Personal insults from the banking industry

So yeah - I'm working on doing my budget (I'll be doing a blog post about that soon with some recommendations on financial software) and I just entered the interest that we earned on our checking account. After seeing the number, and doing a quick bit of division, I decided I needed to blog about it. Yes, it was that bad.

I understand that times are tough and interest rates are down. Fine. However, let me give some background on this account. We have a mortgage through Suntrust on our townhouse. In exchange for owning our soul, they offered us a premier, "interest-bearing" checking account as a sort of consolation gift / we-want-more-of-your-soul gesture. I happily accepted their offer, figuring that moving all of our money into an interest-bearing checking account instead of my current non-interest-bearing account was a clear win. Instead, it turned out to be an insulting smack in the face.

How can giving me free money be insulting? In the same way that leaving a one-penny tip for a waiter is insulting. If the amount is small enough, it is an attack on my intelligence to call it interest. I calculated my monthly interest rate to be roughly 0.002%, or annually about 0.024%. So, if I had $10,000 in my "interest-bearing" account, I would receive about $0.20 a month, for a whopping $2.40 a year in interest. Carry that out a few more decimals, and a million dollars nets you only $240 a year in interest. That's just...amazing.

On a similar note, this is the same company that, after taking out a mortgage for the full price of a house, sent me a dollar bill to convince me to fill out a survey for them. A freaking dollar. Wow, geez - I just signed away tens of thousands of dollars to you guys, and you want to bribe me with a dollar to fill out a little survey? How 'bout you keep your lousy dollar and put it towards my principle? Seriously, does that type of thing actually sway people to fill out surveys? $10, sure. $5, maybe. But $1? It actually put me in a worse mood while looking at the survey. I wonder if their average survey response would increase if they didn't offer an insultingly-low bribe with it?

Anyway, I was ticked off and wanted to rant, which is the primary reason I got this blog. That, and apparently to neglect it - thank you to the few readers who have prodded me to write more articles. Hopefully I'll get a bit more regular about it in the future. :)

I'll say this for Suntrust though: they're not nearly as bad as Wachovia, who decided that they were going to charge me $6 a month to check my account status with a website. Yes, in order to get a few kilobytes downloaded on the web I have to fork over a $6 electronic access fee, per month. I can get...Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping for the same price. Holy crap - that's ridiculous. Get with the...90's, Wachovia. Seriously, that's just sad - I'll be closing my account with you guys very soon.

Also, just a few days ago my wife hit me and informed me that it was for something I did in October. I had no idea what was going on. She just now clued me in that apparently it was from my October 13 blog post where I said she was "kinda" a person/follower. Yeah, a smack from 3 months ago. That's entirely reasonable...

I've also added my first poll to the blog. Check it out on the right side near the top. I'm quite curious to see how it goes. :)