Me, My iPod, and 15 Minutes Of Fame

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a lunch time walk to Chicago’s Millenium Park. As I often do for long walks, I had my iPod all hooked up and pumping out a mix of techno and Japanese anime tunes. Near the Tribune building I noticed a camera crew and took steps to avoid them, so as not to get in their shot. We’ll it turns out that they wanted to talk to me about my iPod, what I use it for, and why I bought it. I agreed, and if the footage is used, you can see me in all of my glory tonight at 10pm central time on WLS ABC news, channel 7 locally. Just look for the geeky Black guy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Andy Warhol said everyone would get 15 minutes of fame. Well actually, this would be my second 15 minutes since several years ago, during the tech boom, I was geek of the week in the Chicago Tribune careers section. I like to joke that I have a pretty high luck multiplier!


Virgin and the Rise of the DVD

After I left work yesterday, I walked over to the Virgin Megastore to see if I could find the new Inuyasha movie on DVD. This should have taken just a few minutes. Instead I was greeted by quite a jumbled mess as the entire DVD section had been relocated. Virgin employees were busily reorganizing the shelves. Unfortunately for me, the anime DVDs had not been reshelved, so I couldn’t find anything.

Later I gave some thought to the overall meaning of this relocation. The first thing to notice is that the new location is more prominent and spacious than the old. Indeed, previously DVDs and video games were in a smaller area off to the right of the escalator on the second level. They were almost there as an afterthought, not a main part of the business. When the store first opened, years ago, the music CD was king. But oh how times have changed. The rise of music downloads, video games, and the steep fall in the prices of DVD movies and DVD players has probably resulted in a flip flop reflected in the new arrangement of stock. Right now CDs still have more floor space at Virgin than DVDs and video games, but probably not for too much longer.

In the meantime though, Inuyasha is still nowhere to be found.


The Perfect Storm

Here in Chicago, the day after Labor Day means back to school time. This year that day was especially full of promise as my youngest daughter was entering Kindergarten. Oh what a beautiful day to begin school…then it hit…

Hair hair hair! Such was the cry of thunder as the perfect storm began to brew. Growing up, I was always considered to have the good hair. We African Americans tend to make a lot of hair, I think because there is so much variance among us. Some have nearly straight or wavy hair at one end of the spectrum, at the other end are tightly curled naps. I’m somewhere in the middle. My wife though is Chinese and has very fine hair with only a hint of waviness. So what do you get when you mix these together? Hmmm, for the boys it’s easy, they have wavy hair that is really easy to take care of. On the other hand the girls’ hair is more of a challenge. They have fine corkscrew hair that is actually very amenable to braiding. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up doing hair and my wife didn’t grow up dealing with this kind of hair either. So today was the perfect day to have the hair argument right at the school, oh joy! If only that were the end of it…

I’m not one to let things sit without a solution, so I resolved to learn to deal with this hair so that I wouldn’t have to take a sword to the chest (Hero reference) in order to make a point. That was the plan anyway. The call I got on the phone would say otherwise. It was the school calling me. At first I thought it was something with the youngest, instead the call was about my oldest son. All plans were dropped as I left work to pick him up. On arrival at the school I was not surprised to find that he had thrown up at lunch. Sickness calls from school always involve vomit. What did surprise me was the principal telling me that the rash on his chin was ringworm! I later joked with him that if he wanted a few more days of vacation, stomach flu and ringworm was overdoing it a bit!

Well maybe it wasn’t the perfect storm after all, but it was a rocky start to the school year. We capped the evening with a tussle over our differing pedagogical styles in helping our eldest daughter with her homework. Yeah, in all a perfect day in paradise!:-)


Blue Haired Chix

A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of seeing an honest to goodness blue haired woman on the streets of Chicago. She was a petite, attractive, Asian woman probably in her twenties. She hadn’t dyed all of hair blue, just half of the front bangs. Darn this civility! I really wanted to stare for a while, but that would not have been polite.

Summer in Chicago is a wonderful time to be on the streets downtown. There are so many people of all shapes and sizes. And the ladies are mostly very nice to look at! Yes, I’m married, but not dead!๐Ÿ™‚

Again, modern civility forbids that one makes comments about the looks of a stranger, so I’ll do it here! So if you’re an attractive woman who’s been out and about at lunch time in on North Michigan in Chicago, you’re lookin sooo F-I-N-E! Ugh, that felt pretty good!

Now in the interest of full disclosure, my wife is pretty fine too, more so than most of the aforementioned ladies. And no, I’m not just saying that, though I’ll never be able to prove that here…


Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

We all get and pass around stories like this, but on occasion one comes around at just the right time. This came from my wife’s childhood piano teacher and for me at least puts my little efforts here on the web into perspective.


Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star>> Wishing to encourage her young son's progress on the piano,> a mother took her boy to a Paderewski (see foot note) concert. > After they were seated,> the mother spotted an old friend in the audience and walked down the > aisle to greet her. >> Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall,> the little boy rose and eventually explored his way through a door > marked "NO ADMITTANCE.">> When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin,> the mother returned to her seat and discovered that the child was > missing Suddenly,> the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway > on stage.>> In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, > innocently picking out "Twinkle,Twinkle Little Star.">> At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance,> quickly moved to the piano,> and whispered in the boy's ear, "Don't quit.""Keep playing." >> Then, leaning over,> Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass > part. > Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child,> and he added a running obbligato. >> Together, the old master and the young novice transformed what could > have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative > experience. >> The audience was so mesmerized that they couldn't recall what else the > great master played.>> Only the classic, " Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.">> Perhaps that's the way it is with God.>> What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy.>> We try our best, but the results aren't always graceful flowing music. > However, with the hand of the Master, our life's work can truly be > beautiful.>> The next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully. > You may hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, "Don't > quit." "Keep playing." >> May you feel His arms around you and know that His hands are there,> helping you turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces.>> Remember, God doesn't seem to call the equipped, rather, He equips the > 'called.'> Life is more accurately measured by the lives you touch than by the > things you acquire. > So touch someone by passing this little message along.>> May God bless you and be with you always! >   ***Paderewski, Ignace Jan

Born: Kurylowka, Poland, 1860Died: New York, 1941 aged 80

He composed his first piece at the age of 6, and at 12 entered the Warsaw Musical Institute, studying piano and theory, and graduating as a pianist in 1878. In 1881 he went to Germany to study counterpoint and orchestration, and from 1884 to 1887 he stayed in Vienna, studying piano and earning a living by teaching. In Paris in 1888 and in London in 1890 he was acclaimed as a great master of the piano; he travelled widely, and visited America. In 1899 he settled in Switzerland. From 1910 he took an interest in politics, becoming in time the epitome of Polish patriotism, and prime minister of Poland in 1919. He resigned a year later. He was a great philanthropist and was decorated by Poland, Great Britain, Belgium, France and Italy, and received a great number of honorary degrees.


Say Hello To StressGirl!

I’ve been wanting to update my Product Image Not Found image on the main site for a long time since the last redesign. So I’ve been doing a lot of sketches with an anime theme in mind and finally became inspired by some sketches I’d done based on my oldest daughter and the craziness of the Excel Saga.

So after a couple of days of on and off work going from a letter page sized sketch to scanning it in and finishing it off with Fireworks MX, I got an itty-bitty little image for the main site. Well, I really didn’t want to waste the full sized image having grown somewhat fond of it. So here she is! The StressGirl!


Big StressGirl

Small StressGirl

Games and Sports

Will Gran Turismo 4 Miss XMas?

When I received my weekly update from today, I was a bit disappointed to read that there are rumors that Gran Turismo 4 for the Playstation 2 may miss a Christmas 2004 release date in the United States. In the games industry, missing the biggest shopping season of the year is usually a sign that something catastrophic has happened in the development process. This tends to be supported by the observation that games that get pushed out the door in order to meet the holidays or a movie release date (cough!Matrix!cough!!), tend to be full of bugs.

Without any other information, I can only speculate that further delays in Gran Turismo 4 are due to performance issues related to online network play. Why? Because network play is the biggest thing to be added to the next iteration of the series and easily the most complex. Players have come to expect a lot of what is arguably the greatest driving game ever. If the framerate drops to 20fps when you hook up with your buddies to race online, that will be big trouble! High resolution graphics, detailed models, and online play may not get along too well on the PS2. If that is the case, Polyphony’s engineers may be madly rebuilding and tweaking the car models even as we speak in order to get acceptable performance. Don’t be too surprised if the maximum number of players able to race online drops from 6 to 4. The upcoming NASCAR 2005 from EA only supports 4 online players on Xbox and PS2 and the car models and environments probably are not nearly as complex as Gran Turismo is reported to be. The Xbox can probably support more online players, but they likely develop from a shared code base which means having to meet the lowest common denominator. That is, the PS2 may not have the horses to support more than 4 online racers.

I might further speculate that development of Gran Turismo 4 for the Playstation Portable (PSP) due out in Japan next Spring, could be interfering as well. It has been reported that GT for PSP will be nearly a straight port of the PS2 version. Assuming the same team is working on both versions, the need to port to the PSP may place constraints on available solutions to other development problems. The bottom line is that it all takes more time, and the feature set may be reduced in order to get the thing out.

This is of course all speculative and could be completely wrong. It doesn’t really matter though because whenever it comes out GT4 will be a huge hit and it will be good. It has to be.


Gundam Seed Sooner Than You Think!

It’s funny how life can often imitate art, and sometimes it’s scary too. Gundam Seed is a popular Japanese anime series currently airing in the United States on Cartoon Network. The series is an alternate universe retelling of Mobile Suit Gundam, except that this time genetically enhanced humans, known as Coordinators, who live in giant space colonies, are at war with unenhanced humans, Naturals, who live on Earth. The war was apparently started by an Earth alliance nuclear attack on a Coordinator space colony. Beyond that, the heart of the conflict is the fear that the Naturals have for the Coordinators who have enhanced mental and physical capabilities. Many Naturals feel that manipulating human genetics for nontherapeutic purposes is immoral, while many Coordinators feel that conscious human enhancement is the next step in human evolution and a way to a better life. They are faster, stronger, and smarter than the Naturals.

That all sounds nice and science-fictiony doesn’t it? Well, this morning’s New York Times has an op-ed article on the subject of genetic enhancement that is all too real. Here’s a bit of it.

"Belgian Blues are unlike any cows you’ve ever seen. They have a genetic
mutation that means they do not have effective myostatin, a substance
that curbs muscle growth. A result is that Belgian Blues are all
bulging muscles without a spot of fat, like bovine caricatures of
Arnold Schwarzenegger."

The article goes on to describe gene therapies being developed to inhibit myostatin to cure or prevent diseases like muscular dystrophy, and how these same therapies might be used to enhance athletic performance. The article lists a few exceptional athletes who have been found to have naturally occuring genetic mutations that in turn lead to their exceptional abilities. Hmmm, to anyone who has seen Gundam Seed (or the Star Trek episode Space Seed) this sounds all too familiar! So it would seem that questions of just what it means to be human are going to become relevant sooner than we think. The past doesn’t hold much hope for a peaceful discussion of this, as not too long ago (in the history of humankind) my people were not even considered to be human which was very convenient for those in the slave trade.

What do I think of all this? Well first, I don’t believe that genetically enhancing humans is immoral. Our creator has allowed us to enhance ourselves in many ways to suit our cultural tastes and personalities and to learn more about what it means to be human. But I do think that genetic manipulations will be very dangerous with an initially high failure rate. I don’t think there is an ethical way to do this kind of research. We are only understanding little pieces of a large and complex puzzle which means that changing one little thing may appear okay at first, but could have consequences that won’t manifest themselves for some time. There is also the danger of unleashing dangerous organisms that natural systems won’t be able to adapt to in time to counterbalance them. Should this stop us? I don’t know, because someone, somewhere will always have the motivation to go where no one has gone before. So I think it would behoove us all to be fully prepared to deal with whatever fruit comes of genetic research and the consequences.

Games and Sports

New From Hong Kong! A Virtual Girlfriend!

I’m not making this up! In what might appear to be a effort to one up the Japanese in the all important dating sim market, Hong Kong based Artificial Life, Inc. will soon release a virtual girlfriend game for 3G cell phones. I first heard about this on Slashdot and here’s the link to the BBC News story.

This is all very interesting because it sounds like aย  tamagotchi pet for men, an expensive one at that. According to the BBC story, the player will have to keep his girlfriend’s affections by buying her gifts and flowers. On top of the subscription fee, these additional gifts incur additional fees. At some point, one has to wonder if the cyber girlfriend is more expensive than a real one would be! And the cynical might further wonder just who is being played! Despite these questions, I suspect that the game will be a big hit which will only spawn numerous imitators. It might even make it to the U.S. considering that Artificial Life, whose global HQ is in Hong Kong, is also incorporated in the United States.

I’m also rather interested in the technology behind the game. Is there real AI technology in play here? In any case, the heavy processing would be done on remote servers. The real trick in the handset will be handling the graphics, essential for a game like this. The clips on the Artificial Life web site also have a very Final Fantasy-esque look to them. Those are cut scenes I would guess, but they probably do define the game’s overall esthetic and may again indicate the market being pursued. The game play described in the company’s press release is also very reminiscent of Shenmue in that the virtual girlfriend has her own virtual daily routine so she’s doing different things in different places throughout the day.

And since the virtual girlfriend looks the same for every player, if the game proves a success, a new star will be born with product endorsements to follow!:) The ladies need not feel left out, as virtual boyfriend is scheduled for a February 2005 release.

Games and Sports

Camp Astro Boy — Kyampu Tetsuwan Atom

Oh the wonder of summer camp! My two oldest are away at camp until Friday, leaving us the two youngest and me with a little more time for gaming! Today I’m hoping to pick up Astro Boy Omega Factor for GBA. All of the reviews I’ve read on this have been good, and with my oldest son away in the woods, I might get a chance to play it through myself! Oh joy of joys!

Nintendo has a nice Quicktime movie of the action right here. And here’s a review on I haven’t seen the original Astro Boy anime or read the manga yet (saw a couple of eps of the new series), but I became quite enamored with Osamu Tezuka’s artistic style as reflected in Android Kikaider and Cyborg 009. So I’m adding Astro Boy to my growing list of manga and anime interests.


Will Windows XP SP2 Drive The Market?

As most tech interested people (i.e. geeks) already knows, Windows XP SP2 made its oft delayed debut last week. I resisted any urge to immediately deploy it at work and waited a couple of days before installing it on my home PC. The installation went without a flaw and I think I may have seen a speed increase. My hope was that installing it on my wife’s computer would result inย  a similar speed increase.

Alas, it was not to be. My wife’s PC didn’t have enough disk space for the service pack to install. And since I’d already done the ol’ file shuffle, it furnished the perfect excuse to buy a new hard drive. Afterall, SP2 is essentially a must have upgrade for Windows XP users and my wife’s PC was definitely hobbled by a lack of disk space.

So the shopping began. A coworker pointed me to Circuit City which had a great rebate deal on what turned out to be a 120GB Western Digital HD. I had to go to two CCs before finding one in stock. So it occured to me that SP2 might actually be spurring some hardware sales (along with Doom 3 of course). So I guess one could say that the good folks in Redmond are doing their part to aid the alleged economic recovery! ๐Ÿ™‚

Final word on this, I installed the 120GB drive in my computer and plan to move the old 40GB to my wife’s. The upgrade was not at all easy until I used the partition copy function of Partition Magic 8 instead of the Data Lifeguard 11 tools. So my advice is to use something like Partition Magic or DiskCopy if you need to move your XP installation to a new disk. If I’d thought of this earlier, it would have saved me a day of work!

Games and Sports

Cheating On Kana!

Okay, I admit it! I’m a bit of a fan of what are often referred to as "Japanese dating sims". But simulation is really too strong a term. In English, at least, they might be best referred to as computerized trashy romance novels for young men. That said, I’ve been spending a lot of game time working through "Kana – little sister". In short, you take on the role of devoted big brother to frail sick little sister Kana. Perhaps too devoted!

Like most games of this genre, it features sex and adult situations. This one in particular also has a bit of taboo and forbidden love. Yadda, yadda, yadda. So how did this title catch my eye? Well actually it caught my ear first. There was a link to the opening theme song, Shiroi Kisetsu: White Season, on J-List where I usually buy these games. I downloaded the song and was totally blown away by how beautiful it was. So I bought the game and was pleased to find that it also featured two additional full length songs of comparable beauty to the first. Oh, and the game is pretty good too!

I managed to get the first 4 of 6 endings completely on my own. But after spending over a week trying to get endings 1 and 5, I finally decided to cheat. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that there is one ending in which Kana can be saved. I had seen everything but that and in playing over and over again, I’d also become rather fond of the characters and really wanted to see the happier ending. After reading a walk-through, I was pleased to find that on a couple of occasions I was really close to the best ending. So my guilt was lessoned, and yes, the ending was worth it! So you could say that in the end I paid my dues, mostly, and got my money’s worth. But more than anything else, the 3 beautiful songs I added to my iPod were well worth the effort!:-)


Obama Obama Obama!

Last night’s keynote address at the Democratic National Convention by Barack Obama was something that many of us in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood have been waiting for for a long time. For a number of years now, we’ve known how good Barack is, and that he was someone who was going places, and we’ve wanted to share that. Well now the cat is out of the bag and there’s no going back!

The thing about Barack is that he’s the real deal. He didn’t just make up all of that stuff in last night’s address in order to turn a clever phrase or two. He believes in what he is saying and acts on it and inspires others to act as well. And now it’s fair to say that the whole world knows that there’s a new star rising on the horizon! Go Barack! Go!

Game Development

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo, and Online Games

I just read an article on in which the Nintendo’s president, Satoru Iwata basically says that most gamers don’t want online games. He provides what he considers to be proof of this and so on. He may be right, the majority of gamers may not think online is important, but I don’t know. I can’t help but be reminded of what happened as Nintendo steadfastly stuck to the expensive cartridge format as the rest of the games industry moved to the much cheaper CDs. If the relative success of various Playstation 2 titles and Xbox Live are any indication, Nintendo is again in danger of leaving money on the table.

I think the key for Nintendo is Game Design God, Shigeru Miyamoto (you know Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, most of the good stuff…) and whether or not he is ready for online games. In an interview a couple of years back, he did not have much use for online games. He made valid points about the ease of use for the gamer and the added expense. But with two years behind us and a vibrant console based online gaming community on not one but two consoles, has he rethought online games yet? My guess is yes, but he doesn’t have a game design ready yet. And that is what is holding Nintendo back. When Miyamoto-san is ready, so will Nintendo.

And gamers can rest assured that an online game from Shigeru Miyamoto will be something different. So don’t expect anything like Mario meets Halo, meets Final Fantasy XI. This can only be a good thing for gamers everywhere and of course Nintendo, which is in many ways the house that Miyamoto built.

Games and Sports

Open Wheel XBox Racing On A Budget

While perusing the Virgin Megastore on Friday, I ran across the recently released IndyCar Series 2005 for XBox by CodeMasters. I’m primarily a NASCAR fan, but I appreciate open wheel too. And the IndyCar Series is arguably the more competitive of the major open wheel series. I mean really, I love the courses and glamour of F1, but the same guy wins every week, which for me takes the fun out of it.

Anyway, what caught my eye was the $19.99 price tag. A price tag like that is usually reserved by either best sellers, or cellar dwellers. So I resisted the urge to buy until I could read some reviews. The reviews are mixed to just okay. The most frequent criticism concerned the quality and variety of the graphics. Despite that, I’ll probably add this one to my collection eventually because I love racing titles, especially those with online support.

Many wonder what’s the excitement of driving fast and turning left for hundreds of laps?ย  Racing is so much more than that though. The best racing titles recreate the chess game that is auto racing by giving the player control over everything from car setup to team and sponsor management. And when you can take all of that and go up against real live humans online, that’s racing Nirvana!