Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why First Person Shooters Are Good For Us

For every nutjob who gets in the news because he went on a shooting spree and it turns out he loved violent video games, there are thousands upon thousands of us who use games like Call of Duty: Black Op II or Killzone Shadow Fall as a non-violent way to work out our frustrations.  That's just one of the interesting points made in this New Yorker article delving into the appeal that first person shooters (like the two games mentioned above) hold for many of us. 

I definitely experience the immersive quality the author talks about, as video games are one of the best examples, for me, of "getting in the zone," as we used to call it at work.  And I can see how the control aspect applies, as well: in a first person shooter, especially a highly-competitive multiplayer match, everything happens so incredibly fast that you're constantly making split second decisions and choices that have the feeling of being life-and-death.  It's an illusion, of course, because 'death' in that environment usually only lasts a few seconds, but somehow it always feels slightly more real than that.

It's a great article that should be of particular interest to those who don't play first person shooters and can't understand why the rest of us do.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Deadly To Pets

Thanks to our friend Sue, I now have a handy visual reminder of what foods to keep away from dogs and cats:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Big Change In U.S. College Football

I'm not a big fan of NCAA football, in general, but during the TV wasteland period that comes at the end of every calendar year, Vicki and I typically enjoy a few bowl games.  What's always bugged me about the format of college football 'playoffs' in the States has been the fact that there's never really been a playoff.  It used to be just a bunch of bowl games and then voting took place afterward to decide who the best team was... no, I'm not kidding!  The introduction of the Bowl Championship Series several years ago improved things incrementally, as at least with that change you'd get the # 1 ranked team playing the # 2 ranked team for the title of champion.  However, the flaw in that structure was the subjective ranking involved.  More than once I've seen an unbeaten school get ranked 3rd or 4th, meaning that they went the entire year without losing and yet didn't get a chance to play for the title.  Whenever that's happened, there's been a lot of controversy, as there should be.

Starting next year, however, the chances of an undefeated team missing out like that are at least going to be reduced significantly.  Starting in 2014, there will be two semi-final games, involving the top four ranked teams, with the two winners meeting in the championship game (presumably a week later).  What this means is that a team would have to be ranked 5th or lower in order to excluded from the chance to contend for the championship, which seems much, much fairer to me.  Even if you're ranked 3rd or 4th and think you should've been put at the top, you'll still have the opportunity to win a pair of playoff games to prove that you deserve the title.  In a league where positions are determined by votes, that's probably the best you could possibly hope for.

I can't wait for this to be implemented, a little over a year from now.  It should make the end of the U.S. college football season a whole lot more interesting, exciting and satisfying than it's ever been before.

Another Biking Season Draws To A Close

I biked downtown to get comics today, and it was a beautiful late-fall day for a ride.  I think the temperature was around 4 or 5 degrees, though the windchill made it feel closer to 0, according to the Weather Network site.  Most importantly, the roads and bike paths were clear and the sun was shining.

Unfortunately, snow is in the forecast and I think today may have been my last ride of the year.  It's certainly one of the final trips I'll be able to make in 2013, as late November is usually as long into the season as I can go before the snow and ice arrives.  My days of long biking streaks or simply saying "Screw it" and biking in the snow are over, I think.  There's something about entering my 50s that's just made that sort of thing seem impractical now.  But even so, I'm proud to have stretched the biking season to (at least) November 20th this year, as that's nothing to sneeze at.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Other Christmas Connection Yesterday

Not only was yesterday Christmas for gamers, thanks to the long-awaited release of the PS4, but Vicki and I (and Tammy, in absentia) also got to play a small part in some Christmas goodness.  A comic store owner in Windsor, Shawn Cousineau of Rogues Gallery Comics, has made an annual habit of getting comics into the hands of underprivileged kids every Christmas.  It's something he started several years ago, inspired by the fact that he and his single mother had benefited from similar acts of generosity when he was a child.  I heard about his campaign to get 6000 comics donated to the cause and remembered that Tammy had given me several boxes of her old comics, asking me to find a new home for them.  She'd brought them here before leaving for Australia in 2011, but I hadn't gotten around to doing anything with them yet.

The combination of the PS4 arriving and our planned trip to Windsor yesterday got ugly around 10:30 when the street crews began setting up to finish the paving of our crescent that had begun over a month ago.  They'd put one layer down back in September or early October, and then they disappeared for about six to eight weeks, only to pick Nov 15th, of all dates, to complete the job!  As it started to look like they'd be closing the street and my PS4 hadn't yet made an appearance, we gave up on waiting for it.  I figured the mail truck would never be able to get on the street once the paving started anyway, so why bother waiting?  We loaded the car up with the four boxes of comics but had to take the long way around the crescent as the usual exit was blocked by trucks filled with asphalt.  We got halfway around the crescent when I saw a Canada Post truck parked in a driveway, so I stopped the car and jumped out.  I approached the truck, saw that the driver was our regular mailman, and was about to ask him if he happened to have a package for me when he hopped out and handed it to me!  I couldn't believe how lucky I was, or how close I'd come to missing it!

After thanking the postman profusely, we packed the box into the trunk with the other cargo, and headed to Windsor.  Once we got there, we spent about an hour in Rogues Gallery Comics, getting to know Shaun, and discovering just what a nice, friendly guy he is!  He couldn't have been more grateful for the donation, and was just a joy to talk to.  He's one of the nicest comic store guys I've ever met, and I've encountered a lot of them.

Anyway, Tammy can be proud of herself, as her former collection (minus a handful of comics that we knew she'd like to hold onto) will brighten Christmas morning for several hundred needy children in the Windsor/Essex County area.  What a great role for a few boxes of comics to play!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Christmas For Gamers

Today marks the launch of the PlayStation4 (PS4), making it the equivalent of Christmas Day for most serious gamers.  One of the first recurring topics introduced on this blog, way back in the fall of 2006, was my pursuit of a PS3, as I struggled to find one amid the hysteria following its launch.  Here we are, seven years later, and I've learned my lesson: I pre-ordered my new toy this time around, and it's on its way to the house right now.  I've tracked it from Mississauga (where it left the Best Buy warehouse late last night) and can see that it's now out for delivery here in London, which means I'll hopefully have it within the next few hours.  I already have my first game to play on it - Killzone: Shadow Fall, which was released ahead of the console, as strange as that seems - and can't wait to check that out, see what the console's UI looks like, discover all of its cool new features as well as whatever else I may find.

Of course, this doesn't mean I'll be completely abandoning Boneman and Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer on the PS3.  I'll continue to slum it when I have to, until that glorious day when he, too, joins me in this magical land of the future...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Poor Man's Meal Planner

For reasons I wrote about almost a year ago, I stopped supporting the various Java/Database applications that I'd written over the past fifteen years or so.  I've found the absence of cataloging each new comic I buy to be liberating, after nearly 40 years of recording every addition to the collection.  Vicki hasn't said much, one way or the other, about losing her book inventory system, so I don't know how much of an impact that's had, if any.  But the one area that finally 'hurt' a little was the loss of the Meal Planner application.

Initially, I wasn't worried about the Meal Planner because Vicki had stopped using it anyway before I even made my decision to abandon the applications.  She said she was just taking a break, but that hiatus has gone on quite a while by that time.  However, several months ago Vicki began asking the old age question again: "What sounds good for supper tonight?"  It was that same daily routine that had prompted me to create the Meal Planner in the first place, so that got me thinking about a simpler solution.

The result was a spreadsheet, the printout of which looks like this:

The idea is that you put this sheet up on the fridge.  On it, you get 3 weeks worth of daily spots into which you can write a dinner, along with 3 pre-filled columns of possible choices.  The first column contains the most frequent/beloved meals, followed by a second column of slightly-less desirable options, and a final column that has the rarest/blech-est of the possibilities.  As you select a dinner choice from Columns A, B, or C, you write it into the slot for that day, and cross it off whichever list you got it from.  Throughout the course of the 3 weeks, the days fill up with meals and then, when you're done, you print off a new copy for the next 3 weeks.  Crossed off items can be picked again in the same period, of course... but by virtue of being crossed off, they're less likely to be selected, which is what you want if you're looking for variety (as we are).

It's not anywhere nearly as sophisticated or automated as the old Java version, but it seems to be working.  We're on our 5th or 6th iteration of it now, and I'm happy to report that Vicki rarely asks me what I want for dinner anymore.  And that's exactly what success tastes like, for me!

Scary Article About The Realities Of Cycling

I mean, the title says it all: Is it OK to kill cyclists?  You should definitely give it a read, whether you're a cyclist or not, but especially if you're a driver who resents cyclists.

Thanks to the Man from Mars for the link.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Neil Gaiman, Class Act

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan.  The first issue of his new Sandman prequel series, Sandman Overture, which came out last week, absolutely blew me away.  I'm waiting to do a second reading of it before posting anything about it here, but it's... just... amazing.  This is one of those rare cases where someone revisits a masterpiece of theirs from the past and manages to produce new work of the same, if not maybe even better, quality.

Anyway, today I was reading an interview with the artist of that series, J. H. Williams III, and got to the end only to see this quote from Williams about working with Neil:
I wanted to see if [Neil] was open to me approaching it the way I've approached many of my other projects, where I take what's there, and if I see, "Oh, these two pages work in a more interesting way if they're turned into a double-page spread, with some sort of design that encompasses the whole thing." How would he feel about me altering the pace in that way? And he gave me the most perfect, humbling compliment. He said, "It's you. We asked for you. Do what you do, I trust you."
That's Neil Gaiman, in a nutshell.  Total class act.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Money Well Spent

This is the final weekend before Call of Duty: Ghosts arrives, and so that means I'm just about done playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the previous CoD title that came out just under a year ago.  I'm pretty confident that I spent more hours playing BOII than any prior CoD release, to the point where I prestiged in it 6 times!  I inched my kill-to-death ratio up to previously-unseen heights, finishing tonight at 1.75.  I doubt I would have believed, last November when the game arrived in my mail slot, that I'd get anywhere nearly that high a KTD or that I'd prestige more than once, let alone do a half dozen of them.

The main driver for all those hundreds of hours online, without a question, was the presence of Boneman right there beside me (virtually speaking) over the last twelve months.  Having someone to partner up with makes a huge difference in terms of not getting bored with the same old maps, and he and I had some amazing adventures playing Team Deathmatch together on Nuketown 2025, Express, Slums, Standoff, Hijacked, Carrier, Aftermath, Meltdown, Turbine, Overflow and, yes, even Yemen. 

Now, though, my attention is ready to turn to Ghosts, where I'll no doubt suffer for at least a week or two with a subpar KTD while I learn the weapons, perks and maps.  I can't imagine I'll end up spending as much time in this game as the last one, but you never know.  You're only a kid once, after all!