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Having no internet = leaving the house

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The cable internet at my place has been spotty for about the past 10 days or so (Comcast FTL). The most recent outage was from Thursday morning through yesterday afternoon, enough to cause me to miss a couple WoW raids, which was rather infuriating. 

I guess it's a good thing in a way, as I've done some things this weekend I wouldn't normally have done if I had internet access. Like playing Settlers of Catan at my friends' place. Yes...a board game. This game is crazy fun though--why's it taken us so long to discover it!?!! I also read a book *GASP* Yes...I was so desperate for entertainment I actually read a book. OK it was just the Da Vinci Code, which hardly qualifies as literature in the minds of you popular fiction haters out there. But whatever, it was entertaining and kept me occupied for a few hours. I even got out of the house and watched X-Men in the theater. Now that was a pretty mediocre film, but it did get an extra brownie point for referencing "I'm da Jugganaut, b****!"

On the culinary side of things, my friends and I headed out to Napa (well, Yountville to be specific) yesterday to eat at my favoritest restaurant in the whole wide world. OK, I'm not that well traveled, but for it to be my favorite eatery in the SF Bay Area (and I have eaten at a few of the finer places around here) is still heady praise. For those of you who are visiting wine country anytime soon--you absolutely must eat at Bistro Jeanty.

Don't bother reading the menu. If the waiter tries to get you to order something else, like the coq au vin, do not listen. You want to order the tomato soup with puff pastry as an appetizer, and the "daube de boeuf" (beef stew) as your entree. It's quite simply, the most sublime beef stew you will ever eat in your life. The meat is so tender, just blowing on it causes it to fall apart. They serve the dish with a fork, but it's more properly eaten with a spoon. Mortal men should not be allowed to indulge their palates like this. Remember in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, when Johnny Depp's character says, upon finding the perfect puerco pibil, "It is so good that when I'm finished with it, I'll pay my check, walk straight into the kitchen and shoot the cook. Because that's what I do. I restore the balance to this country." Yeah. This beef stew is the same type of revelation, but I'd never walk up to Chef Philippe Jeanty and shoot him, because that man is a genius. So yea. Next time you're in California wine country, stop in Yountville. 

It's Memorial Day weekend, so allowing it to pass without a BBQ would simply be unAmerican. I'll be heading out to one shortly--hopefully there'll be some football and/or basketball being played. Then tonight it's off to another fine Bay Area restaurant, Town Hall, for a friend's birthday. Whew, all this time out of the house sure is fun, but expensive. If the 'net connection cooperates, I'll have to spend next weekend holed up at home playing some Alterac Valley matches in WoW.

Smartey man gaem designar cliffery b!

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If you've been on the net long enough to remember JeffK's Survivor series then you'll know that there are no typos in the subject line. Here's a pic of me and CliffyB from E3--taken just as the show ended, after the last Gears of War multiplayer session in the MS booth. OMG, maybe I bought a 360 b/c smartey man cliffery b brainwashed me!

Oh no I didn't! I bought a 360.

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I finally went out and got an Xbox 360 today. I picked up Oblivion with it--currently it's all still sitting there sealed, on the floor of my bedroom next to the piles and piles of laundry that need to be done, thanks in large part to E3. In case anyone in the Bay Area is still searching for a 360, I was able to pick up this premium unit at the Circuit City in Emeryville.

I'm not going to open any of this stuf just yet, so I leave open that slim possibility that I'll regain my sanity and return all of it to the store sometime this week. But who am I kidding? Now that it's all here within easy reach, it's only a matter of time before I tear these boxes open and start playing. If I do something really stupid and come home from work with copies of NBA 2K6, GRAW, and Fight Night from the GS library, I'm really done for.

So what prompted me to go out and get a 360 now, just days after E3 06? Part of it is what I saw down there in LA. I think deep down inside, I was waiting to see what Nintendo and Sony would show us before committing. While I was generally satisfied with what I saw out of the Wii, thinking about the technical issues with the remote is making me take a wait-and-see attitude about that console. Will Nintendo and the developers fix some of the sensor issues and gameplay design issues with the games before launch? If you asked me after day 1 of the show, I probably would have said that I would pre-order a Wii, along with Zelda, but now that I've had time to think about it some more, I'm not so certain I'm ready to just run out and pre-order one.

As for the PS3, well, let's just say at that price point, and with the lineup I saw, I'm about 99% certain I'm not going to pick one up this year. Yes, yes MGS 4 and FFXIII blahblahblah. Those are killer apps for some people, but I'm not one of those people. Those franchises peaked for me with the NES and SNES, respectively, and it's been all downhill from there. As far as I'm concerned, Assassin's Creed and Heavenly Sword were head and shoulders above all the big name franchises as far as PS3 games at the show went. But from what I've heard from developers behind the scenes about what a pain it is to program the machine and how expensive it is to get good results...it just doesn't seem to me that the PS3 is off to a good start for this generation. Then there's Sony's online implementation--doesn't seem to me that there's any semblance of a plan there, a true vision other than to mimic what everyone else is doing, sort of? Contrast that with the plan Microsoft envisioned during the press conference, with real XBL integration across 360, PC, and phone. It's like night and day.

But honestly, what really got me to drop 5 bills today on a 360 and a copy of Oblivion was the time I spent playing NCAA 07 for the 360 at E3. No, it wasn't some huge quantum leap in football or anything. But I just knew after being spoiled with that brief, 15 minute play session of college football with next-gen graphics, there was no way I was going to be satisfied playing the game on Xbox or PS2 this year. So you could say it was a college football game that prompted me to buy a 360 (even if my first game will in all likelihood, be Oblivion), much in the same way Mario 64 got me to buy an N64, and KOTOR got me to buy an Xbox, and Lumines and Meteos got me to buy PSP and DS.

Now it's going to be a long road ahead to catching the likes of Jeff, Ryan Davis, and Carrie in points :?

Wii think this name is wiitarded

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As Johnny Mac says, "You CANNOT BE SERIOUS!"

Wii? Imagine walking into a Best Buy this fall and asking the salesperson if they have any Wiis in stock. Actually, don't. Because when I did, my head started to hurt a lot. Or asking your buddy, "hey did you pick up a Wii yet?" "Yea, it's in my pants."

I've always marveled at Nintendo fanboys for being more blindly sheep-like and trusting than even Apple fanboys. If Miyamoto told them the sky was green like Link's clothes, half of them would believe it. But right now I have a hard time seeing even the hardcore Ninty faithful getting behind this one.

Revolution was a cool name. Wii is a joke.

You win, PERFECT - WoW edition

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My World of Warcraft guild transferred off of the Lightbringer PvE server and onto the Black Dragonflight PvP server last week. We were able to make the move because of a temporary offer from Blizzard that allowed folks from overcrowded PvE servers to migrate to a brand new PvP server on new hardware. Our guild jumped at the chance, as we were tired of the lag and poor performance of the Lightbringer server, which was one of the original 40 servers that the game launched with. We were also quite fed up with battleground queue times of up to four hours for Alterac Valley, and a couple hours for Arathi Basin or Warsong Gulch...if those were running at all. You see, with a population imbalance of 3-1 Alliance to Horde, the Horde on that server basically dictated when Battlegrounds would run. Some weeks they would run AB. Some they would do Alterac Valley. Being a hardcore Alliance player on "Lagbringer" as we not so affectionately dubbed the server, was painful.

Of course, moving servers was not an easy decision or an easy matter. There was a lot of uncertainty...we grew up on a "carebear" server where no world PvP existed. What if we got ganked while just trying to farm herbs or minerals? What if Horde tried to lock us out of instances before we raided? What if the server performance or battleground queues weren't any better? We took the chance anyway, with hopes of a better tomorrow.

The process of transferring characters over was, to put it mildly, a royal pain in the ass. The web interface used for the server transfer was just about always overloaded with login requests. Our guildies tried for hours to attempt a character transfer, only to run into "server is busy" error messages. The worst part is that character transfers were only available from 3AM to 3PM, so most of us had to try to do this from work or school. We all tried staying up until 3AM one night to do the transfer all at once, and the web interface was STILL BROKEN! Some of us made the transfer and for a few harrowing hours there, we had nightmares of the guild being split apart...some on the new server, and some stranded on Lightbringer. With some perseverence we were able to complete the move though, and no one got left behind. We even got all our alts across.

After a week of playing on Black Dragonflight, we couldn't be happier. The server performance has been almost flawless, with little noticeable lag or server hitching issues. Battlegrounds run nonstop, with Alliance queue times of 30 minutes to an hour for all game types, thanks party to an Alliance to Horde ratio of about 1.2 to 1, instead of nearly 3 to 1 like Lightbringer. Oh, Alliance players are still generally numbskulls who don't know what they're doing, so we still lose more BG matches than we win, unless we get a good number of elite-guild players in the game. Alterac Valley matches against the infamous Fires of Heaven Horde guild are especially challenging, as we almost always lose those. But it's fun to actually be able to play some battlegrounds without waiting four hours! The ganking issues have also been greatly overstated. I've been ambushed a couple of times, but it's not the constant, backstabbing bloodbath some people made it out to be. PvP just adds a layer of tension to being in contested zones. And besides, with my epic gear, I find that I can pretty much fend off 2 poorly equipped level 60s by myself, and most any solo ganker who makes the mistake of tangling with my warlock.

Moving to the new server has been a joy all around, and I've got a perfect Warsong Gulch scoreboard to prove it.

Vaelastrasz did not break our guild

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He almost did! But he didn't. Our progress in the Blackwing Lair end-game instance of World of Warcraft came to a screeching halt a couple months ago when our alliance of two mid-sized misfit guilds ran into Vaelastrasz. Vael, for short, is a notoriously difficult and tricky fight, and is notorious for breaking guilds that can't seem to beat him.

Well we've finally taken him down, so it won't be long before we're farming the entire instance for 1337 ep1x!!!11!! like we do with Molten Core, which we run from start to killing Ragnaros in 2.5 hours flat. It's not a moment too soon I guess. Our server, Lightbringer is about halfway to opening the gates of Ahn'Qiraj, so it'll only be a few weeks before that instance is available for us to peruse. Hopefully we'll have gotten at least close to Nefarion by then.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes...

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How do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee...

After seeing the film version of Rent tonight and enjoying it a lot, I've arrived at the conclusion that I can like musicals, but only when they're in movie format. It has something to do with me being really dense and having a hard time following the story when I see a musical in the theater. Granted, I don't have a whole lot of experience. The very first musical I ever saw was a performance of West Side Story that I went to with my parents when I was in junior high or early in high school. Wasn't too enthused. Then, when I was a senior in high school (or a just barely started college...don't quite remember), I took my then-girlfriend to see Rent at a theater in LA. I didn't like it at all. A lot of that had to do with me not being very sophisticated or mature at the time. I remember being disappointed that Neil Patrick Harris (AKA Doogie Howser MD), who was playing as Mark wasn't performing, and also wondering what kind of Laker tickets I could have gotten for the same price. I saw a couple other musicals--Miss Saigon on Broadway the year after college, for example...but none of them really grabbed my fancy. I did always like "classic" Disney movies like The Little Mermaid though, which are basically kiddy musicals in cartoon format. 

Fast forward to a few years ago. The girl I was dating at this point wanted to drag me out to see Chicago, which I was totally skittish about. The only real reason I got conned into seeing it is because it starred Catherine Zeta Jones, so I figured anything's worth enduring to see her on screen for two hours. As it turned out, I LOVED Chicago. It was a revelation for me because I never expected to enjoy it, but I really did. Something about the movie format makes following the storyline much easier for me, and the musical performances were great too. Who knew CZJ had such a set of pipes in her throat?

So I went to see Rent tonight, a musical I never enjoyed when I first saw it, and not surprisingly, I appreciated it a lot more the second time around, in movie format. It was admittedly weird for me to see Jesse L. Martin as anything other than tough-guy Detective Green from Law & Order, let alone an HIV-positive gay man with a drag queen as a boyfriend. And I wasn't totally sold on Rosario Dawson's performance as Mimi (though she does indeed, look like a cracked-out smack fiend). But I got over it. And Sarah Silverman also makes an amusing cameo as a sleazy executive in charge of the tabloid news show that hires Mark. Anyway, I now kinda wish I saw Wicked when it was playing in SF last fall. But maybe someone will make a movie version of that too!

I wonder how long it will be before someone makes a musical-edition of Karaoke Revolution. Imagine Rent, the video game. Do a duet of "Tango: Maureen" and if you pass, you see that clip of the film where Mark and Joanne tango. Hey, there have been dumber game concepts ;p If the game industry wants to make inroads to segments of the population that don't normally play games, I think this could be one way to do it. And if any of you ladies need a guy to sing Roger's part in "Light My Candle," I can totally do it!

Musings on accounts of Xbox 360 hardware failures

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I wonder how many of the people complaining about  their Xbox 360s suddenly failing on them actually have them sitting in an open, well-ventilated spot. And how many of them foolishly set their consoles on thick, shag carpet, or in an enclosed, unventilated entertainment center?

New hardware runs hot. Anyone who's owned and built their own PCs knows this. Let it breathe, people! Let it breathe!

Even my slimline PS2 overheated sitting on non-shag carpet when I brought it to my parents' house to play extended sessions of God of War during Christmas. And that thing probably doesn't generate a fifth of the heat that a 360 does.