January 31, 2005

Winter Wonderland

Last week was one for the books. After getting back from a weekend at Chattacon, Melissa took Matthew and Miho to Savannah for three days. So it was a quiet, lonely bachelor pad for a couple of nights.

"Boys Night Out" on Monday consisted of meeting up with Justin after work, eating at Moe's and catching "Elektra" at the theater. (Justin's Review) No beers were harmed in the course of the evening. Tuesday, I was home sick from work. The only thing I had energy to do was type up my weekend trip report, and only then when the stimulants from the Tylenol Sinus were in full effect. (This is why my writing may have seemed a bit off, and the HTML was a bit dodgy.)

I was better Wednesday, and went in to work, only to find that the client wanted me in New Jersey the next day at 8:00 AM (which means leaving tonight).

"Hi, Mel?"
"Heya honey. What's up?"
"Um, What time are you going to be back in town tonight?"
"Let's see, probably around 4:00. Why?"
"Good. Then I might actually see you before *I* have to leave."

I packed my bags for two nights in lovely Marlton, NJ. They arrived, brought in their suitcases, and I took mine back out. We had time to have dinner at Moe's before she dropped me at the MARTA station to the airport. It's the QUALITY time like this that I treasure.

12 degrees in Philly when we landed. Snow was on the ground, but it was safely plowed from the roads by this point. I wasn't taking chances with my rental car, though, I got it fully insured. It's been a while since I've driven in real winter conditions, and the client owes me that much at least.

I was there with Kevin, walking through a spreadsheet of incidents with 8 project managers, who debated over whose responsibility each one was. The meeting lasted from 8:30 AM until 8:00 PM, and I was able to contribute to about 45 minutes of it. Luckily, even the client manager saw that I was being under-utilized, and gave me leave to work my real issues in the downtime.

I arrived home on Friday night in time for a 6:30 dinner reservation at Dante's Down-the-Hatch. It's one of those restaurants that everyone in the city knows about, but people outside the perimeter never get around to going there. Well, we met Anya & Phil there, and I'm very glad that we did. What more can you ask from a restaurant than great food, eating inside a sailing ship and a 3-piece jazz band? Oh, did I mention the live gators? Phil's been working on the screenplay for a horror flick called "WitchBitch." Apparently, the producer loved it so much, he commissioned Phil for two more, making it a proper trilogy. Frankly, I can't WAIT to read it and see it on a screen.

We camped out at Mel's Parents house that night, and stayed out the ice storm the next day. It was nearly as bad as the MOVIE "The Ice Storm" that Melissa made me watch because it had Elijah Wood in it. Whose bright idea was it to green-light that piece of crap? Winter isn't depressing enough as it is, so let's add marital infidelity, kids having sex with a rubber Nixon mask on, and a freak accident that results in a minute-long shot of a dead body sliding down an icy road. Wow, Sounds like a winner to me!

But I digress... We spent the day watching anime in the original Japanese with English subtitles, for Miho's sake.

Today, it's cold as hell in this wing. We're leaving already next month, why do they have to cut our heat? Most men don't remember that they HAVE nipples until days like this.

January 25, 2005

Chattacon Trip Report

Melissa and I dropped Matthew at the Folks' place so she and I could go out and, well, act like children ourselves pretty much. We just returned from Chattanooga, TN, where we attended a small fan convention with our friends in Arms of Middle Earth [AoME], a Lord of the Rings fan group.

[Editor's note: Wait for it...wait for it... Scroll down. Shoot, why does it always do this?]

Miho arrived Tuesday night, Dustin flew in from Chicago Wednesday, Tonight, David (Sam) drove down from NC and Maddy & Gayle (The Balrog) drove up from Savannah. We all tagged along to Melissa's TaeKwonDo practice, which let out late, so Moe's was closed by the time we got there. We arrived at Cracker Barrel, a party of seven, half an hour before they closed. Yeah. They were REAL happy to see us.

Later that night, after watching some Anime (Spiral and Fruits Basket) we tried to turn in. The guys were sleeping in the living room, and the girls in the Master Bedroom. Being guys, we turned out the lights and tried to sleep. The girls had other plans. Something about putting women together in pajamas somehow divides their age by two. I was banging on my own wall for them to keep it down.
"This is Douchebag McDouchington with your Eye in the Sky Traffic..."
>Friday, 9:00 AM
We packed up my Taurus and Sam/s Alero with all of our gear, which was a feat in itself, since our baggage took up most of the living room floor. I credit this victory to my many years of playing Tetris. We met Anya, Liz, Rebecca, Shannon & Darla (from Tampa), "The Gorns" and Merry at the Cracker Barrel in Calhoun, GA.
3:00 PM
We've checked in. The hotel is screwing us all over with these rules. (1) No more than five people in a room at any time, (2) An unannounced $100 deposit on each room, (3) Guests are kicked out of the hotel if 2 noise complaints are filed.

After registration, we check out the ConSuite, where the refreshments are. It's done up in a festive "Lilo and Stitch" luau theme. Then I find out that in addition to free snacks and drinks, they have free BEER. Shiner Bock even. This will be the greatest Convention EVER!!!
4:20 PM
The Masquerade isn't until tomorrow night, but Dustin couldn't wait to put on his Aragorn costume. The rest tried to resist the peer pressure, but it was too much. They got dressed up into "light" versions of their hobbit and elf costumes (meaning without cloaks and hairy feet). Hanging out in the room for a bit, David tried to explain what was going on in the Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon. He Tried.
6:10 PM
The Gorns' room is full of hobbits. The hotel movie channel is showing the Return of the King Extended Edition DVD, but the guy running the player turned on the subtitles. David says "It takes all the coolness out of speaking the lines when all the subtitles are on."
7:20 PM
"Underhill, Party of 23" heads out for supper at the City Diner Cafe. (If there's a more ambiguous name for a restaurant, I've yet to hear it.) Clyde from Emerald Rose shows up with his wife, to the chaos of all. Amras put a dollar in the jukebox to play some REM. Dustin's Aragorn sits in the corner. Somehow, the "brooding Ranger" bit just doesn't have the same feel to it in the neon-lit cafe.
9:10 PM
The ConSuite was full, so the group claims one of the empty conference rooms for LotR boardgames. I join the game of LotR Monopoly after a quick stop for some Free Beer. Merry and Dustin reappear dressed as Duo (from Gundam Wing) and Solid Snake (from Metal Gear).

One of the great things about these Cons is the random strangers you meet. A few come across our group and join in. However, the guy joining the Trivial Pursuit game appears to be narcoleptic, and falls asleep between each turn. After the games were over, he was still out, so we turned off the lights and quietly made our escape. "Shh!" I told Anya, "The Connie is sleeping!"
"Don't sit on a couch in a house that's a trailer, and there's a bug zapper light INSIDE."
10:12 PM
I returned to the ConSuite for Free Beer, and at down next to a guy who was sitting alone. Usually, geeks sitting by themselves give off a subtle warning sign to stay away, but it's a different situation when you're at a geek-centric convention like this. We shot the breeze for a good twenty minutes and I found out he was part of a group called "H.A.M.S.T.E.R.", which, according to him, stands for "Huntsville... Area..Something something somethin'." The guy confessed that he'd been there drinking since he arrived at 5 PM
11:06 PM
We've found a loophole in the hotel's policy against room parties: It does not say anything about hallways. So six of us are holding court outside our room. Clyde from Emerald Rose, his wife Ashley, Jo and Anya join us, and talk about experiences at ORC - "The One Ring Convention" that just wrapped up in Pasadena. Ashley describes it: "Imagine, if you will... Waiting in long, long lines. And paying a lot of money to do that most of the day."

Before parting ways for the night, Jo's daughter Anna presents me with a pencil sketch she drew of "Bill the Pony" (my nickname on the boards), as a gift. Quite a good likeness, actually, save for the hooves and the tail.
A Bit of History:
David: "So Chris, how did you get the name 'Bill the Pony', if you don't mind me asking?"
Chris: "Last year, at Dragon*Con, Melissa was all dressed up like Frodo, you were Sam, and we met up with all the 'Arms of Middle Earth' people. Everyone was costumed like Lord of the Rings characters, and Mel suggested that I dress up as well. I'm not really into that. I like seeing others dressed up at the Cons, I like meeting the people and I like taking the pictures, but I don't like dressing up."
David: "Do you like the Lord of the Rings movies?"
Chris: "Sure, I love them. I just don't like CosPlaying. So I tell Melissa this, and she asks me if there isn't a character that I really identify with. I say, 'At the moment, the only one I identify with is Bill the Pony, Sam's pack horse.'
David: "Why is that?"
Chris: "Because everyone was in their costumes running around, and I had a big satchel, so everyone was giving me sh*t."
David: "Why were they giving you sh*t? I thought they were all nice to you?"
Chris: "No, No. They were giving me THEIR sh*t...to carry. So I was the designated pack horse for the Con, and the name just stuck."
>Saturday, 2:00 AM
Melissa's phone RINGS. (Caps because the theme from "Gundam Wing" at 420 decibels would wake the dead.) I shoot out of bed and answer it, but they hang up.
"Don't worry. You're dizzy...and you're coughing your face apart..."
10:00 AM
We meet Dustin downstairs in the Starbucks. Last night, he was walking around in half of his Solid Snake costume (looking more like a longshoreman at this point), when a hotel employee asked him how he got the gig working security. Without missing a beat, Dustin said "Well, you know, they call me at home, my dad and I have this family-run security thing..."

Eventually, the group huddles around the lone computer in the place, as if it were a fire on a cold evening, to make a cryptic status post to the message boards.
10:23 AM

The Narcoleptic lives! He just stumbled into view and is sitting, dazed as ever, at a table outside. He still isn't moving much. He slept sitting up for ten minutes before coming inside, passing us by, and sleeping behind a newspaper on the couch.
11:20 AM
In the Dealers Room, Miho met up with a guy who speaks Japanese. He was a missionary to Japan, and Miho was very excited to have someone to talk to.
The girls head off to the room to deposit the swag we bought, as I head off to the ConSuite for Free Beer. And where there's beer, there's usually hobbits. (The Elves drank Coke.)
12:30 PM
I gather the rest of the gang together back at our room, and we all head down to the ConSuite for snacks. You know that Toby Keith country song "Beer for my Horses"? Yeah, just one more. The stereo is blaring "You and Me and The Bottle Makes Three" by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which is very appropriate. On the way back through the lobby, I see this guy. He has been sitting in the lobby, illuminated by his laptop for the past two days, every time I've come through here. Maybe he's related to the Narcoleptic.
2:30 PM
The AoME meeting runs a bit long, but we got a lot of business conducted, including sponsoring two kids from the Make-a-Wish Foundation that want to come with us to Dragon*Con. On the way back, an unsteady-looking girl in a pirate costume stopped us, saying "I see hobbits! And Elves!" Then, turning to me, "..and one Mundane." Yes, with all the others in costume, and me in plain clothes, carrying around this bag, I felt like an entrenched reporter covering some foreign news story.
4:00 PM
The token Tolkien panel "Was Tolkien Good for SF?", was not well planned. Reportedly, the panel didn't stand a chance, while there was hot dogs in the ConSuite. The group headed out to an early dinner with ElfHelm, while I looked after Miho, who wasn't feeling well. I caught most of "The Day After Tomorrow" while she slept, which was enough. Man, those subtitles are annoying as hell.
6:00 PM
Everyone's getting dressed up a bit early for the costume Masquerade, because the group met up with a reporter for the Chattanooga Times. They're being interviewed and photographed down in Gayle's room.

Mel just handed me her shoes. She's taking that final step into obsessive detail for her costume: Hairifying her feet.
7:05 PM
After the reporter leaves, and the Balrog tested out her pneumatic wings, the group is off to the lobby for Photo-Ops. On the way up the stairs, a little girl became petrified with fear at the Balrog. Gayle eventually coaxed her into touching the fake claws and rubber mask, to see that it wasn't real. After that, the girl was visibly relieved.

Then the Balrog ate her.
7:27 PM
A little boy in a knight costume goes wide-eyed in wonder at Gayle's costume. His mother eventually prods him over to see the Rog. "You look just like the dragon on my shield!" he exclaims.

The Balrog smiled, then ate him as well.
7:50 PM
While the Hobbits attempt to get the Starbucks computer to work, Merry chugs a root beer and a DoubleShot espresso. Because honestly, she's just not peppy enough as it is.
8:10 PM
Since Miho and I didn't eat with the others, we need a bite. Since some people who ate at City Cafe Diner got sick, we braved the cold and ran five blocks to a little hole-in-the-wall bar called The Pickle Barrel. The place is built at the point of a triangular intersection. It has bare wood walls and tables, complete with years of carved initials and symbols. At what point does a joint like this cross over from being "a dive" to being "rustic" or have "personality"?
9:10 PM

The Fellowship goes off to pre-judging. The Gorns, dressed as Prof. Lockhart, Prof. Trelawney, and a Gryffindor girl, are not competing. One hotel guest, not knowing that there was a Convention going on (?) asked MommaGorn if she really told fortunes. "No, but I do," exclaimed PoppaGorn, grabbing the crystal ball. "I predict that... it will rain...somewhere. And in four more years, we'll have another president!"

We bought Miho a costume, so she could join in the fun. Since Maddy was officially playing another hobbit, she loaned her cloak to Miho and made her "Rosie Cotton."
10:10 PM
The Masquerade starts, and the announcer sets a bottle of Wild Turkey on the podium in front of him. "For each mistake I make, I'll take a drink," he promises. He proceeds to make two mistakes at each round. The fellowship is cued and they run across the stage, pursued by the Balrog. Unfortunately, since no flash pictures are allowed, All I get on camera are some hobbit- and Balrog-shaped blurs.
11:05 PM
While the judges are conferring, they left us in the hands of a young magician. He's all right, but it's been 40 minutes and half of the crowd has left. The remainder are talking so loudly amongst themselves that we can't hear the magician anymore. Poor guy. It's a tough enough crowd to begin with, and it's a no-brainer decision between him and Free Beer two rooms away. (For once, I didn't indulge in said Free Beer, out of respect for the guy.)
Eventually, the awards are announced: The Fellowship won Audience Favorite, And Anya and Quimbie won for their respective categories.
"I've always been the girl to fall for that whole 'Hey, wanna see my van?' line. And of course, I was a gymnast at the time..."
>Sunday, 1:00 AM
Most of the AoME group is in our room, along with the brothers that sell prosthetic ears to the hobbits. We've watched some Anime and devoured the three pizzas we ordered. What the heck is this "Super Milk Chan" show? It annoyed the bejesus out of me after 10 seconds of the commercial.
"What is this 'Filking' that I'm hearing about?"
"It's Singing. Fans singing sort of folk songs."
"Oh, I'd imagined something much dirtier than that."
1:20 AM
I've had food, so... "Hey Mel, why is this the best con ever?"
"Free Beer?"
"Free Beer. Bye."
Down in the Con Suite, the Karaoke was in full swing. One drunk did such a horrible rendition of "Our House" by Madness, that a bouncer took him out the back door in a fireman's carry. The crowd cheered. Later, the Masquerade host (who looked like he finished that bottle of Wild Turkey), upstaged the Elvis impersonator waiting behind him by performing a moving rendition of "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You." In between stanzas, he drank some bluish liquor that looked like Windex from a clear plastic flask:

"Wiiiise meeeeen saaaaayyy..(gulp) only fooooools ruuuu-shinnnnnn (gulp)..."
2:25 AM
Back at the room, Neume mentioned that she had a bottle of mead in her trunk, but she needed someone to help her find the car.
"Bill the Pony will help you" offered Mel.
"Hmm? Raggy? Wha?" I said.
Alcohol was involved, so I was happy to help, as was the Ear Dealer that she was sitting with. After returning with the bottle, I took my "Finder's Fee" in a plastic cup.

We threw everybody out at 3:30.
"What took you so long in the bathroom?"
"Sorry, This dress... I swear, Arwen must have had a Pee Maiden."
10:43 AM
The group meets in the Con Suite for brunch. It's stocked with Little Debbie snack cakes, donuts, Juice, pastries and sugar cereals. All the stuff that we told our parents we'd eat for breakfast when we grew up. Quite appropriate for a bunch of adults who never did.

But what is Chris' favorite part of the Con? Free Beer for Breakfast!!
12:30 PM
Checkout Time. Bags, hugs and a few tears in the motor lobby as we say our farewells. This was all done quickly because it was 20 degrees outside and the door was stuck open.
"I just can't watch much football. What it stands for just goes against my beliefs."
"What, physical activity?"
2:20 PM
Driving back in David's car, we put in a mix CD he burned. Foo Fighters' "Next Year" came on:
I'm in the sky tonight / There I can keep by your side

Watching the whole world wind, Around and round
I'll be coming home next year.
"This was my farewell song from Dragon*Con last fall," said David. "Home for me is at the 'Con, when the group is all together."

I know many of us feel the same way. Home is traditionally where your family lives. But in today's society, where families are spread across the states, the circle of friends has become a surrogate family. Friends provide support and comfort, even food and shelter when needed, and generally look out for us and our well-being. So by that new definition, wherever your friends are becomes your home.

I myself cannot wait until we are HOME with the group again.


The caravan arrived back in Flowery Branch around 4 PM. Maddy and Gayle had to pack up the Mini and continue on to Savannah, and Dustin had a flight to catch back to Chicago. Matthew, our little guy who turns three next month, arrived soon afterwards. He recognized Maddy and David, hugging their legs and saying hello. "And who is this?" Melissa asked him, pointing to Gayle. His face lit up and he shouted "Rrrraaaaaaaaarrr! Is 'Rog!!"

Eventually, I had to take Dustin to the airport. I told Matthew "Say Goodbye to Dustin," and he refused. He'd become quite attached to Dustin in the few days prior to the Convention. "No," said Matthew, pulling Dustin away from the door, "No leave yet."

That just pushed me over the edge. He'd never said that before. Matthew is behind in his speaking because of frequent ear infections, so spontaneously stringing together a three-word sentence is an amazing feat for him. Matthew has known Dustin for three days, and the others not much longer, and he would not let any of them leave. All of us lost it, hearing what we all felt expressed in those three little words.

[View all the pictures]

January 20, 2005

LinkNews Digest [01/20/2005]

They Call Me... "Darth Tater"

PAWTUCKET, Rhode Island (AP) -- "A spud on the dark side." That's how toy maker Hasbro Inc. is promoting its latest Mr. Potato Head figure, Darth Tater. The toy spud will be available next month, ahead of the May release of "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," the latest installment in that film series.

Darth Tater will come with a light saber, cape and helmet, in addition to the regular Mr. Potato Head accessories such as eyes, mouth and nose. The Pawtucket-based toy maker says children will be able to "have all kinds of mix n' match, Mr. Potato Head fun with this wacky spud dressed as the infamous `Star Wars' villain, Darth Vader." The toy will retail in the United States for $7.99.

The Pope Gets His Ferarri

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher and the rest of the Ferrari team met the Pope in the Vatican's frescoed Clementina Hall to give him the 1:5 scale model of the car that won both the championship and constructor titles in 2004.

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo told the Pope Ferrari drivers, mechanics and management wanted to honor him because his courage and defense of human rights had put him "for the past 26 years in the pole position of the roads of humanity."
But Wait!! The clever word-smithing allusions don't stop there! Continue, gentle readers...
"It is the first time that one of our cars -- even though it is a model -- has entered the Vatican," Montezemolo told the Pope. "We consider this the most prestigious finishing line for us. We feel like you are one of us and we thank you for the example you have given."
And now, a bit of Journalistic license:
There was a poignant contrast between the speed represented by the model car whose real version can reach 350 kph (218 mph) and the slow movement of the 84-year-old Pope, who no longer walks and was wheeled into the room on a special chair.

From the "Bad Timing" File

Scant weeks before December's Tsunami disaster, a new band was making the rounds, with the unfortunat name of "50 Foot Wave". The band is finding themselves facing closed doors. It hearkens back to 2001, when new band Drowning Pool's song "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" was dropped from alt-rock stations because it was released a few weeks prior to the 9/11 disaster.

Why I Don't Have a Tattoo

Because I'd end up with something like This. I pondered getting a tattoo once, when I was 18. It would have been a claymore sword piercing a green hill, with the hill bleeding, and a scroll banner across the bottom that said "Chivalry". Needless to say that I'm thankful EVERY DAY that I did not get this done. (Link) (Ha! Get it? "Link"?)

WD-40 To Curb Cocaine Use

LONDON (Reuters) - The makers of the handy spray lubricant WD-40 proudly list 2,000 uses for their product, from unsticking rusty screws or squeaky bicycle chains to polishing frying pans. But British police have found another -- keeping the public from snorting cocaine off toilet lids in bars.

Police in the English city of Bristol said Tuesday they have been advising pub and nightclub owners to spray the colorless lubricant on toilet seats and other flat surfaces in the lavatory that customers often use to snort drugs.

Apparently, cocaine and spray lube don't mix. "A chemical reaction takes place with the cocaine that causes it to congeal and become a mess so it's unusable," a police spokesman said. "It's one very small, very cheap way in which you can very seriously restrict the amount of drug use in your premises."

January 19, 2005

Clear and Present Danger

Miho was coming in from Japan last night, set to arrive at 7 PM. To make that Time, I back-tracked: So to pick her up, we have to leave Flowery Branch at about 5, so I have to be home about 4:30, which means leaving work in Alpharetta about 3:30. All this worked according to plan until the ticket agent told us that she missed the connecting flight out of Dallas. She was booked on the next flight to Atlanta, set to arrive at 10:45 PM.

So, here we are, at the south end of Atlanta, with four hours to kill, with a three year-old. We opted for a long, leisurely dinner at a joint Melissa liked near Jonesboro. After said dinner, and the biggest slice of carrot cake ever cut by human hands, we stopped by Kohl's to upgrade my wardrobe. My shirts have lately been straying a bit too far towards the "L.L. Bean" side for both of our tastes, so Mel picked out a couple of stylish casual shirts for me. I picked a brown t-shirt with Zelda's Link on it that read "Olde School"

Back to the airport. The Continental Reps were letting us meet her at the gate, since she has some trouble with English (though not nearly as much as we implied.) Matthew was carrying the "Winnie the Pooh" balloon that Melissa bought for Miho. It was 10:30, so the place was almost empty. We go to the pre-screening area and show the lady our gate passes. Then I realize that I have a penknife on my keychain. Nothing serious, just a nailfile, a 1" dull blade and a miniature pair of scissors. It was only a threat to drinking straws or CD wrappers, but you know how it is today.

"Oh, you can't go through with that," says the man in the green blazer, squinting at me lazily through smoky glasses.
"Yes, I know that."
"If you even go up there with that, they'll throw you in jail. What is it here, the Fulton County Jail? IS it Fulton here, or...where...what city is this, technically?"

Put in jail for forgetting you have a metal toothpick on your keyring? I thought that this was absurd, but then I remembered that Atlanta was the airport that shut down for 9 hours because a man ran the wrong direction on an escalator.

"Thanks, I know. I'd like to stick with my party. Can't I put this in a locker or something and come back for it later?"
"You can throw it in the trash, I guess," said the man, helpfully.
"But that would not help me get it back," I said through gritted teeth.

The lady eventually agreed to hold it at her station for me until I came back. We laughed about that all the way up to the screening area. We put our jackets, shoes and Mel's bag on the X-Ray machine, and Melissa and Matthew pass through without incident. Then the TSA agent says to me: "Sir, you'll have to put that through the machine."

A quick check of my person showed no jacket, no shoes, no bag. "The balloon, sir," she said. "You'll have to put it through the X-Ray machine."

For a moment, I just blinked at her. Then regarded the balloon, trying to conceive of what possible threat a mylar balloon could pose. A normal sized balloon has only enough lift to counteract little more than it's own weight, so I couldn't hide anything in the balloon that weighs more than an ounce or two. Anything more than a plastic picnic knife would weigh it down. It was tied by a length of ribbon to a plastic star, to keep it from floating away. I tied the ribbon around a tray and sent it through the machine.

On the tram ride to the terminal, I thought some more about the possible dangers of a Winnie the Pooh mylar balloon. Forget reason, think about an action movie where the villain goes into a secure area looking to do some evil deed, and he carries in a balloon. Here's what I came up with:

  • The balloon may be filled with Hydrogen instead of Helium. Since hydrogen is extremely flammable (think Hindenberg), the balloon could be lit, causing a flash, a brief popping sound. Villains could use this as a diversion and take a hostage. (However, it would only startle geriatrics with their hearing aids turned up to eleven.)
  • Alternatively, it might be filled with knockout gas. Just act like a curious small-plane pilot and ask to see the cockpit. Then pop the balloon with a safety pin. The X-ray machine can't determine the chemical makeup of the gas inside the balloon, so this is a possibility. (However, one balloon can only carry half the gas needed to make one person slightly woozy. You'd have to be carrying about ten large balloons to do the job, and that might be a little suspicious looking.)
  • The ribbon could be used to strangle a security guard. However, given the tensile strength of balloon ribbons, you'd have to double it up twice, which reduces the effective circumference to make this impossible.
  • The yellow plastic star anchoring the balloon down could have sharp edges. If the man were a skilled ninja, this could become a throwing star and possibly raise a welt on a hapless victim.

    I hope that this serves as a warning to fellow travelers. In hindsight, I can't believe that the TSA Agent let me take this dangerous device into the terminal! And if any of you see someone bring one of these potentially lethal devices into the airport terminal, I advise you to seize it immediately and pop it with a safety pin. Oh, I forgot, your safety pin was confiscated at the screening area. Nevermind.
  • "Scroll Button and the Lappy..."

    I needed to shake off the post-lunch coma I was slipping into. So I went to check the weekly Strong Bad Email for a pick-me-up. Two seconds into playing it, there was a knock on my cube wall. It was Kelly, my Resource Manager. Busted.

    She waved as I slipped off my headphones. "Hey, just wanting to stop by and say hello. Oh, what's that?" (pointing to the screen).
    "Oh, just some flash animation site" I was starting to sweat. It wasn't looking at pr0n or anything, and the internet usage policy wisely allows some internet usage as long as it doesn't interfere with your work, but I was still caught.
    "Yeah, but I recognize it, what's it's name?"
    "Um.. 'Strong Bad E-Mail'."
    "Yeah, That's it! My daughter just LOVES that site. She's 18. And she does the funny voice and all, but I just don't get it."
    "Well, it's got a lot of cryptic pop-culture references and stuff, and I'm a kind of pop culture junkie..."

    I said those words, the teleprompter in my head displayed the next phrase: "Don't feel bad, I never understood 'Laugh-In' or 'Benny Hill'." Luckily my Foot-In-Mouth Avoidance Warning System kicked in, and I was able to abort this sentence before I said it. I was intending to be sympathetic, grasping for something that a previous generation 'got' that I didn't understand. But in order to do that, I had to go back pretty far, and she was not nearly that old.

    So today, I keep my job!

    January 17, 2005

    Our House, In the Middle of Our Street

    I work for a software company that deals exclusively with banks. Bank employees are off today for MLK Day. We, however, have to come in, with nothing to do but fill up the client's Inboxes with enough e-mail to make their morning a living hell when they return tomorrow. Now, a cleansing breath...ahhhh...and that's out of my system. On to your regularly scheduled blog.

    Life is about to get (more) hectic (than usual) in the Kern household. Our friend Miho arrives tomorrow from Japan for her annual visit. Her English is pretty good, but conversation is the hardest language skill to master. She works at Tokyo Disneyland, and wants to transfer to Walt Disney World in Orlando, to work at Epcot, and in order to do so, her English needs to improve. To this end, we are to speak normally to her, and not fall into the oh-so-useful tactic of speaking LOUDER and SLOWER.

    Usually her visit has us taking her on a tour of Southern culture, but she is most fascinated with how Americans eat. Wherever we take her out, she snaps a picture of her food, with her hand next to the plate for size comparison. Coming from Japan, I can imagine how huge the average American dinner portions are. Her favorite restaurant is Joe's Crab Shack, since it's so loud and gaudy, and the wait staff occasionally dance to "Cotton Eyed Joe". Then there's the Cheesecake Factory. She loves cheesecake, so when we told her that in America, there's a restaurant that serves about 20 varieties, her head nearly exploded.

    This year, however, will be different. In September, Melissa and I went to Dragon*Con and hooked up with a Lord of the Rings fan group called "Arms of Middle Earth".
    These people love dressing up as the characters and going to conventions, and who could blame them. (Costuming as characters and role-playing as them is called "CosPlay") As fate would have it, the next convention is "ChattaCon" in (where else) Chattanooga, TN, January 21-23, and Miho is tagging along. To fit in, she's bought herself an "Arwen" costume (Children's size, since she's a 5-foot-nothing Size Zero). Of course the Japanese are no strangers to CosPlay.

    But in addition to attending the Convention, Mel and I will be hosting a number of the denizens of Middle Earth in the days leading up to it. So here's the schedule:

  • Tuesday - Miho Arrives from Japan. Traditional huge dinner at Cracker Barrel to follow.
  • Wednesday - Dustin ("Aragorn") arrives from Chicago. He's dating Merry ("Merry"), who lives near Six Flags.
  • Thursday - David ("Samwise Gamgee") arrives from North Carolina. (Versus games of Dance Dance Revolution to follow.) Maddy ("Rosie Cotton") and Gayle ("The Balrog") drive up from Savannah in the blue Mini.
  • Friday - We drop Matthew at the Grandparents for the weekend and all of us caravan up to Chattanooga.

    Miho gets the futon in the den, not only because she's our primary guest, but also because she will likely require a place to retreat when things get too crazy with the Hobbit-folk. So Thursday night, we will have Miho on the futon, Matthew in his bed (staying up too late because he loves guests), Mel, Maddy and Gayle in the bedroom, and David, Dustin and I on the couches in the living room. Sounds like a sitcom waiting to happen. (Suggestions so far: "Just the Seven of Us", "Me, My Elf, and I", and "Hard Hobbit to Break")
  • January 14, 2005

    LinkNews Digest [01/14/2005]

    "Charlie, Harry, Stop Bogarting The Dwarves!" Says Doctor Who

    FILMING of the new Doctor Who series has been hit by a shortage of midget actors.

    Bosses wanted them to play tiny blue aliens - but most have been snapped up for the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie and to play Gringotts Bank staff in the new Harry Potter film.

    Dr Who executive producer Russell T Davies said: "It's very difficult to employ persons of restricted growth when, as our producer Phil Collinson says, `Bloody Gringotts and the Chocolate Factory are filming at the same time'."

    Insiders on the BBC1 sci-fi drama admit it has proved a headache during shooting of the 13-part series, due to be wrapped up next month. One said: "The two big movies have snapped up the talent. It's been hard to find who we want."

    Ali G Narrowly Escapes Lynching

    LONDON (Reuters) - British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen escaped a near-riot at an American rodeo while filming his satirical "Da Ali G Show."

    According to a report in the Roanoke (North Carolina) Times, a man who was introduced as Boraq Sagdiyev from Kazakhstan -- in reality a Cohen character named Borat -- appeared at the rodeo over the weekend after organizers agreed to have him sing the national anthem.

    After telling the crowd he supported America's war on terrorism, he said, "I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq (news - web sites), down to the lizards ... And may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq." He then sang a garbled version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

    The Roanoke Times reported that the crowd turned "downright nasty." One observer said "If he had been out there a minute longer, I think somebody would have shot him." Cohen and his film crew were escorted out of the Salem Civic Center and told to leave the premises. "Had we not gotten them out of there, there would have been a riot," rodeo producer Bobby Rowe told the paper. "They loaded up the van and they screeched out of there."

    Korea Launches Surprise Attack on Long Hair

    A campaign exhorting men to get a proper short-back-and-sides has been aired by state-run Pyongyang television. The series is entitled Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle.

    It stressed the "negative effects" of long hair on "human intelligence development", noting that long hair "consumes a great deal of nutrition" and could thus rob the brain of energy.
    LINK [One reader found it ironic, since their leader sports a full-on Bouffant]

    Fragging for Septagenarians

    SimPC, an "idiot-proof" PC is set to debut in May of this year. It seems like a step towards a thin-client world, though it is aimed primarily at the elderly. For about $400 for the box and a $13-per-month subscription, users get a box with a propietary OS and software preinstalled for online banking, spam filtering, virus detection and online storage. What users don't get is the ability to install software, burn CDs or download large files. Initial release is only for the Netherlands and Belgium."

    Hacker Watches Secret Service Watching Him

    The Secret Service has been investigating various computer crimes lately, and one of the people they were going after was simultaneously tracking them back by accessing an agent's T-Mobile Sidekick account. The details are fairly complex, but basically, this hacker got his hands on the entire T-Mobile user database, including passwords and other private info, allowing him to access anyone's web-based Sidekick account. It just so happens that one of the Secret Service agents working on the case uses a Sidekick, and the hacker got various Secret Service documents by logging into that agent's account.
    LINK (via TechDirt)

    Welcome to Scenic Butthead Lake

    LAKE STEVENS, Wash. - Someone in the Census Bureau (news - web sites) may be watching a little too much MTV. Bevis Lake, a 5.7-acre body of water in a forested area about 25 miles northeast of Seattle, is now appearing in Bureau records with a different name: Butthead Lake.

    Those two names — Bevis and Butthead — are almost identical to the 1990s MTV cartoon show "Beavis and Butt-head," which featured a pair of slacker teenagers who watch music videos and make bad jokes.

    Someone at the Census Bureau must have gotten bored and made a joke out of naming the lake, said Ken Brown, a land surveyor with the state Department of Natural Resources. "It's got to be," he said.

    January 13, 2005

    The Most Non-Offensive Winter Seasonal Celebration Ever

    My wife and I were having dinner with Kristina and Jim, friends of mine from high school, when I realized that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of "South Park", were actually prophets.

    Kristina is an elementary school music teacher, and she was recounting the trials of creating a seasonal concert for today's ultra-sensitive PC society. Last year, some of the Christmas songs in the program offended the handful of non-Christian parents. So this year, the verdict came down: No songs dealing with the birth of Jesus.

    "Silent Night" or "We Three Kings" are out. However, she could have songs that mention Christmas in general, which means that the line "It's Christmas time in the city" in "Silver Bells" was deemed only marginally offensive in declaring the general season of a holiday. Likewise, "Jingle Bells" was acceptable, referring only to the season of winter. Because there were a few Jewish children in the class, she included one Hanukkah song.

    The parents were not satisfied, however. A Jewish mother broke into tears when she saw a poster with a Christmas tree on it in the foyer. Likewise, one "Christian" parent pointed to a Menorah decoration and shouted "What the f*** is THAT doing up on the wall?" After the concert, the parents were complaining in the school office again, even more offended than the year before.

    The Christian parents were angry that Christmas songs were banned, but Hanukkah songs were not. Both were religious holidays, so both should have equal treatment. But in these protest-happy days, that doesn't mean tolerating the presence of both religions' holidays and respecting them. No, "Equal Treatment" today just means banning everything across the board. Acknowledging more than one way of life might send the wrong signal to the kids, leading them prepared to deal with (*gasp*) Multiculturalism.

    The principal's solution for next year: A holiday concert, with no songs about Christmas or Hanukkah. They can't even call it a "holiday" concert, because it indicates a Holy day, meaning something religious. Santa Claus is also taboo, since he was originally "Saint Nicholas," a Christian Bishop that was known for his generosity to the public. We can't have any of that. This whitewashing of the season will be handled across the board, with no religious-themed decorations being allowed in the school.

    Can you imagine an elementary school in December without any holiday decorations? No construction paper Rudolphs on the wall, no fold-and-cut Christmas trees, no coloring book pages with Santa on his sleigh, not even a present with a bow on top. So I ask the question: "What's Left?"

    My friend now has the unenviable task of putting together the most non-offensive "seasonal" concert possible, and it will now take place in mid-January. As she spoke this, I had a sense of "Deja Vu", since her experience mirrors the events of the most (in)famous episodes of "South Park" ever, which involves a [nutty] character called "Mr. Hanky".

    In the episode, a Jewish mother is offended that the Nativity is included in the school holiday play, so she complains to the mayor. After all the activist groups have their say about what offends them, (mistletoe included), there is nothing left to put in the play, so they have to create a new non-specific holiday--um, SEASONAL tradition. In the end, the only equality that results is that absolutely everyone is unsatisfied and repressed.

    When I first saw this, I laughed at its absurdity. Now, I'm not laughing, because we've reached that insane level of political correctness today. Who knew that "South Park" would prove to be a prophecy of things to come? Now I'm afraid that other episodes will come true, and worry about a 50-story "Mecha-Streisand" terrorizing the downtown area.

    The world is filled with thousands of cultural and religious traditions that have given our lives comfort and meaning. What makes people think that by abolishing everything that people hold dear, we will be somehow unified and happy? How can we teach tolerance for other cultures in school and then abolish all cultural expressions? The only thing this will accomplish is the demonizing any religious or cultural act. If we keep along this path, where will it end? Can a person put up holiday decorations on his house, if it's viewable on public roads?

    We should recognize each culture by population in the community. Put up the Christmas decorations, but if there are people who celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, have a Menorah or a Kinara up as well. This practice was successful until the post-wardrobe-malfunction culture of offense that has evolved over the past few years.

    If we can learn anything from "South Park" and my friend's non-offensive seasonal concert, it is this: Equality should be everyone having the same rights, not everyone suffering equally.

    January 12, 2005

    Management Anecdotes

    Stupid Business Quote of the Day:

    Members of the team are committed to the success of their assigned projects. Take the story of the chicken & the pig and a little project called breakfast. When it comes to making bacon & eggs for breakfast, the chicken is involved -- the pig is committed!

    Let's dissect this assinine anecdote, shall we? Essentially, what they're saying is that it's not enough to give up your children, whom you and your rooster looked forward to raising into the next generation of flightless fowl. It goes without saying that management (personified by the implied farmer) is entitled to your unborn children, simply from the fact that it provides the chicken-feed. But even that is not enough for this blood-thirsty farmer. They also want a pound of your flesh. You have to be devoted to the farmer, satisfying his constant hunger with self-mutilation and ultimately your life. What a wonderfully motivating story!

    January 11, 2005

    A Qualified Statement

    One of my compatriots had some opinions about Abu Gharib that I had to share. The party shall remain nameless.
    Incidentally, I have to point out something personally felt by moi. I feel that tying a man up, not allowing him regular sleep patterns and having a Western woman rub provocatively against him is not torture. In another context, it might be considered Buckhead. ...With very few exceptions, the stuff at Abu Ghraib has been no more dangerous to the prisoners than would be pledging a new fraternity. Hazing's a bitch, y'know? Make these guys do the elephant walk for ten hours, then tell me what you think torture is.

    Let's Hear It For Unsecured Webcams!

    It was discovered last week that you could enter a Google search for unsecured WebCams, and pop up thousands of them. Now, one clever developer took all the work out of random voyeurism, and Shows the working Cams!

    In a related Link, another developer has created a "Montage-A-Google", which searches google for images that match your search, and automatically creates a montage. Go ahead and see what comes up for lovely words like "Shoggoth", create an artist portfolio by entering "Edvard Munch", or just collect wallpaper fodder with my favorite, "Rachel Weisz". Hours of Internet Fun!

    January 10, 2005

    LinkNews Digest [01/10/2005]

    John Stewart - Mission accomplished!

    NEW YORK - CNN said goodbye to pundit Tucker Carlson on Wednesday, and with him likely the "Crossfire" program that has been the granddaddy of high-volume political debate shows on cable television.

    CNN will probably fold "Crossfire" into its other programming, perhaps as an occasional segment on the daytime show "Inside Politics," said Jonathan Klein, who was appointed in late November as chief executive of CNN's U.S. network.

    Klein on Wednesday told Carlson, one of the four "Crossfire" hosts, that CNN would not be offering him a new contract. Carlson has reportedly been talking with MSNBC about a prime-time opening replacing Deborah Norville. The bow-tied wearing conservative pundit got into a public tussle last fall with comic Jon Stewart, who has been critical of cable political programs that devolve into shoutfests.

    "I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," Klein told The Associated Press. He said all of the cable networks, including CNN, have overdosed on programming devoted to arguing over issues. Klein said he wants more substantive programming that is still compelling.

    "I doubt that when the president sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues," he said. "I don't know why we don't treat the audience with the same respect."

    Mexican Gov't Distributes Border Crossing How-To Comic

    MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) -- The Mexican government is distributing a comic-book guide that warns would-be migrants about the perils of crossing illegally into the United States and offers tips to stay safe -- enraging some advocates of stricter immigration policies in the United States who argue the booklet encourages illegal migration.

    The booklet, which officials began distributing last month, explains the safest way to enter the United States is with a U.S. visa and a Mexican passport. But it also offers tips on avoiding serious injury or death to those who have decided to cross illegally.

    On one page appears a colorful drawing of people walking in the desert near power lines, with the hint that, "If you get lost, guide yourself with light poles, train tracks or dirt roads." Also, "Crossing a river can be very risky, especially if you cross alone and at night," the booklet warns. "Heavy clothing becomes heavier when wet, and this makes swimming or floating difficult."

    Critics argue the tips serve more as instructions on how to cross illegally than as a deterrent to would-be migrants."With this document the Mexican government not only has not instructed its citizens to obey immigration law but, in rich detail, it has supplied a manual on how to circumvent U.S. immigration law," said John Keeley, director of communication for the U.S.-based Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors stricter immigration policies. "It's very, very troubling."
    LINK (CNN)

    Bush Admin. Approves Creationist Theory of Grand Canyon

    Washington, DC — The Bush Administration has decided that it will stand by its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood rather than by geologic forces, according to internal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

    Despite telling members of Congress and the public that the legality and appropriateness of the National Park Service offering a creationist book for sale at Grand Canyon museums and bookstores was “under review at the national level by several offices,” no such review took place, according to materials obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act. Instead, the real agency position was expressed by NPS spokesperson Elaine Sevy as quoted in the Baptist Press News: “Now that the book has become quite popular, we don’t want to remove it.”

    Actual quote from the book: "The mile-deep canyon itself which could never have been carved out of the waters of the present river, tells of a time when a great dammed-up lake full of water from (Noah's) Flood suddenly broke...digging deeply into the path it had chosen."

    Penguins Can Be Gay, say Researchers

    TOKYO (AFP) - Researchers have found a number of same-sex pairs of penguins at aquariums in Japan, with an imbalance between the numbers of male and female birds suspected to be the cause, a report said.

    A research group led by Keisuke Ueda, professor of behavioral ecology at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, found about 20 same-sex pairs at 16 major aquariums and zoos, Kyodo news agency said.

    Penguins in captivity "may be more likely to form same-sex pairs" due to the difficulty of finding partners of the opposite sex because breeding facilities in Japan only have an average of 20 birds, the agency quoted Ueda as saying.

    It is not known if the frequency of homosexuality is higher than in the wild, where telling the sexes apart is tough, he said.

    Elvis' Backwash Sold on Ebay

    MIAMI (Reuters) - Wade Jones of North Carolina says he snared a plastic cup from which Elvis Presley drank at a concert in 1977 and kept the cup and the water for 27 years before selling the remaining few tablespoons of water on eBay.

    The winning bid for the water was $455. He says he won't sell the cup.

    A 40-year-old resident of Belmont, North Carolina, Jones said he was 13 when he attended a Presley concert at the Charlotte Coliseum in February, 1977, six months before the death of the rock 'n roll icon. After the concert, Jones went to the stage looking for a souvenir. A policeman gave him the plastic foam cup, from which he had seen Elvis drinking earlier, he said.

    "I've been selling on eBay since 2000. People said you ought to sell that Elvis cup," Jones said. "When I heard the recent news ... about the (Virgin Mary) grilled cheese sandwich, I kind of thought about it. "I didn't get $28,000, it's true," he said of the winning bid on the 3-4 tablespoons of water. "But I'm happy."

    January 05, 2005

    Christmas Wrap-Up

    I disassemble the tree two nights ago, and took down everything but the outdoor lights. Christmas ornaments, I found are the exact opposite of socks in a dryer: When you go to put them away, there always seem to be a few more of them since you started.

    It's always a bit sad to take down the tree, though. James Lileks (lileks.com) put it well:

    "I finished taking down the Christmas decorations. It?s a bittersweet and necessary thing; it feels like you?re taking down the bunting from a victory party for a candidate who lost. That?s the odd thing about Christmas; it always wins and immediately concedes."
    Matthew keeps asking "Christ-Lights Off?" and we keep trying to explain that it's actually over, and he has to wait until next year for Santa to come again. Ever hopeful, however, he insists that all decorative lights on buildings are "Christ-Lights" and points them all out to us.

    Screwed by SquareSoft

    Late last night, I had a gaming revelation. There I was, playing Final Fantasy X on my PS2, just like I had been for the past couple of months, when it hit me. I wasn't really enjoying myself. What I was doing wasn't fun at all, and worst of all, the drudgery was absolutely essential to completing the game! The worst part of this was that I had been similarly tricked before. There are two disturbing trends in RPGs today that are absolutely killing the gameplay experience.

    First, let's look at "Side Quests." These were originally introduced to reward players for extra time spent in the game. (Complete the game in X number of minutes to dress your character in a bikini, collect all the hidden idols for a cash bonus, destroy the enemy hoard with just the crowbar to unlock the BFG 9000, etc.) If you really loved a game, and think an amusing weapon or costume is worth some tedious searching, they can be great. The gameplay experience is extended with very little coding effort from developers, and everybody's happy.

    However, we are fast approaching the day where the time spent on "Side Quests" is almost surpassing the time spent on the core gameplay. If you're REALLY into a game, it can be a good thing, but some RPGs are crossing the line. You want the really kick-ass weapons in FFX? You'll basically have to play the game all over again. To unlock just one of your seven character's final weapons, you have to collect one of every...single...monster in the game. There I was, this death-dealing high-level warrior, back on level 2, walking in circles for hours and hoping to catch a rare 20-HP creature in a random encounter. Wheeeeeeeee.

    After giving up on this, I decided to forget the rest of these side quests and move on to the final battle. Imagine my surprise when I was instantly killed by the warm-up monsters. I found out that it's nearly impossible to defeat the final boss without the ultimate weapons, making these so-called "Side Quests" actually required to complete the game. Additionally, my characters were leveled up to only half their potential. This is the second disturbing trend in RPG's, which I call "Not Ready For Prime Time" Syndrome.

    The usual pacing of a game levels up your characters so that they can progress through the levels right to the final showdown. If you have trouble with the boss, go back and level up a bit more, then try again. But I've found more and more games require you to almost DOUBLE your stats before you stand a snowball's chance on the final showdown. Of course, there are no new levels to go through to accomplish this, so you just have to tediously repeat the same levels, kill the same monsters over and over, accomplishing nothing but incremental digits on a sub-screen.

    This, my friends, is the cheapest of programming tricks, and the most infuriating discovery that you can make about a game you have enjoyed up until that point. It caused me to abandon Dark Cloud 2, and now, FFX. Until today, I have never walked away from a Final Fantasy game before I completed it. It pains me to do so, but I refuse to spend the next month dodging lightning bolts and playing "Red Light, Green Light" with Cactaurs just to be able to finish the game normally. Judging from some other user's comments, I'm not the only who has made this stand.

    How can the developers get away with this? First they sell us on the " X hours of Gameplay" concept. (Note that it doesn't say "Meaningful Gameplay".) Next, the guides and walk-throughs make tasks sound easy. Short sentances like "Collect 80 Supreme Gems to add X to your weapon" can translate to 10 hours of crossing your fingers for rare random encounters. Finally, by putting all the fluff at the end of the game, you've already sunk so much time and effort into it that most people will soldier on through instead of admitting defeat. And if you do give up at the end, it's too late to return the game and recommending against the game is futile, since 90% of the units are sold by then.

    That, if you were wondering, is why I picked this game up two years after it's release. (I had to switch to PS2 after the hardware curve for PC games became too expensive to keep up with.) I wait until a game has played out, when all the user reviews and "Year's Best" lists have been made up, until I choose a game. As a working parent, I have only a few hours a night to spend with my mistress PS2, and I don't like wasting time on sub-par software. FFX came highly recommended, even called the best Final Fantasy of the series, so I took the bait. You can imagine my disappointment to have to put it down before the end. It's sad that SquareSoft dropped the BlitzBall on this title.

    January 03, 2005

    FFX and the Tsunami

    I was reading news about the terrible Tsunami in Sumatra, and I was reminded of a scene in a PlayStation game called "Final Fantasy X" that I am playing. It might seem trivial and silly to compare the two, but this is how I am subconsciously dealing with the tragedy. Early in the game, a huge monster called Sin causes a tidal wave and devistates a small country called Kilika. After coming ashore, your character walks through the demolished huts and talk to the survivors. Then, Yuna, another member of the party, performs a "Sending" of the dead, so their spirits pass on to "The Farplane."

    Call it juvenile, but to truly comprehend world events, stories are sometimes needed. The human mind cannot wrap itself around the idea of 120,000+ people dead, whole generations and even cultures lost to the sea. So you have to think smaller scale, and work your way back up.

    The largest tragedy that I've dealt with in my lifetime is 9/11, with around 3,400 dead, and it took quite a lot to fully comprehend that number. 35 times that number died in the wake of this Tsunami. Looking for a comparable number, I go back to World War II. 19,000 Americans died in the Battle of the Bulge. Six times that number died in this disaster.

    Along with the sheer number of casualties, most of us just can't imagine desruction on such a large scale. So subconsciously, I think about this part of my game. Once I have this in my mind, I push the image further. I see the sterilized representation of disaster that is shown in the game, and I look past it.

    Instead of five screens of thatched huts with storm damage, I see whole villages pulvarized by the waves and half-dragged out to sea. Instead of the lingering spirits of the victims floating like fireflies, I see the scores of bodies stacked in the street, under tarps, and bloated corpses clogging the rivers and inlets. I think of the cruel irony that while people are wading knee-deep through the flooded remains of their towns, that drinkable water is dangerously scarce. Today health concerns were raised about eating the fish, pretty much the only plentiful food source left, since the fish may have fed on the rotted flesh of the dead.

    This is how I arrive at as near full-comprehension as I can muster. So don't call it trite or trivializing. People need to connect with the tragedy to even get past the sheer numbers and pictures, and I consider this less shallow than making the rescue of a Czech Supermodel or a couple of dolphins headline news.