Suck it, Joe Scarborough!
Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
A great clip you need to watch, if you've somehow missed it in your review of the daily news. Zbigniew Brzezinski discusses the Israel/Hamas conflict, which in and of itself is worth watching, since I think a lot of Americans aren't as well informed on this as they need to be. The highlight, of course, that has everyone talking comes around the 7:30-8:00 mark, when Brzezinski tells blowhard Joe Scarbourough "You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you."

Ha! Ya burnt!!

I pulled this originally from the Huffington Post at this link

Also from the HuffPo - a fascinating article about the overwhelmingly white composition of the GOP.
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Revalk's L4D script and other nerd things
Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
First, allow me to share this awesome video made by one of my TF2 buddies, Revalk, from the AoC clan. He demonstrates some of the really amazing scripts he created for Left 4 Dead. If you've never gotten into scripting, you're missing out on some nifty things that you can do within games like L4D and TF2. I will update this post when he provides a link where you can download the scripts for yourself.

Update: L4D scripts can be found here

Now, in other news, I hope you all had a great Xmas (or whatever preferred holiday you choose). I've gone ahead and picked the January Book of the Month for the book club. I chose a theme of "mystery/thriller" for January. I hope you enjoy the book I selected. Here's a link to the book club forum (I'm still waiting for people to post their review of World War Z and/or Twilight, so if you read those, go ahead and join the discussion).
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NFL Regular Season breakdown
Monday, December 29, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Wow, what a great final week. I'm back from Hawaii, and while I didn't get a column out every single week like I had hoped, overall, I got some great responses from you readers out there on my NFL Weekly breakdown posts. I hope you enjoyed reading them.

A few final observations on the 2008 regular NFL season.

Year of the Turnaround. Anyone who tells you that they saw the Falcons, Dolphins and Ravens all making the playoffs at the beginning of the year is a liar. Just one franchise's success would have been dubbed a true Cinderella story. To have 3 franchises turn it around so quickly in a single season is remarkable.

What I liked about these teams is that they earned their playoff spots the hard way. The Falcons had a grueling schedule, plus a rookie QB to break in. They had to defeat the Bears, Packers, Panthers, Saints, Bucs and Vikings this season. Looking at what those teams bring to the table, you have to give Atlanta defense props for being able to handle the huge passing game of the Saints, as well as the rushing game of the Panthers and Vikings. You have to give the offense credit for standing tall in the face of the Carolina, Chicago and Tampa Bay defenses.

The Dolphins were a great story not only because of their turnaround as a team, but also because they were helmed by a QB who was writing his own Disney-esque Comeback Kid story. When you hear the phrase "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy", the "nicer guy" you should think of is Chad Pennington. His leadership and steady play were a big part of why the team was able to win so many close games. He's a seemingly nice guy, with a great work ethic and absolutely no sense of drama or entitlement about him. That was a perfect fit for the kind of team Parcells and Sparano were trying to put together. I watched the Jets-Dolphins game and was struck at what a nice quick release Pennington had, and how gorgeous his 2 TD passes were.

The Ravens defense was great as usual. For all the talk about Ray Lewis's antics off the field (true or not), I still can't help but admire the intensity and leadership he brings on the field. It's nice to see him and Ed Reed getting at least one more shot in their illustrious careers at the post-season (I'm not sure how many more years they've got left in their NFL career at this stage). But the real story here is that the Ravens finally have an offense (headed up by a rookie QB no less!) that's capable up putting up serious numbers. The Ravens have a trio of backs that are capable of pulling off the big run. Joe Flacco is looking more and more comfortable every week, and he's shown that he can put up some gaudy long throws, which should help keep defenses from completely stacking the box and blitzing him too much.

Year of the Epic Fail. As Don Banks astutely observed in his column, this was also a year of unprecedented second half implosions from teams that started hot.
The Bucs were 9-3, but became the first team since the 1993 Dolphins to have that record after 12 games and still miss the playoffs. The Jets were 8-3, won just once more and missed the postseason at 9-7. The Cowboys had their 1-3 December to doom their season, while the Broncos coughed up a historic three-game lead with three weeks remaining.

Buffalo was 5-1 and finished 7-9, and Washington wound up 8-8 after starting 6-2. And then there were the Cardinals, who collapsed but were still forced to make the playoffs out of the mild, mild NFC West.

When they say "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy", and they mean it in a totally sarcastic way, the "nicer guy" they mean is Jerry Jones and the rest of his merry band of 'boys. My apologies to the Dallas fans out there, but really, I laughed my butt off at the Eagles/Cowboys game. I find it ironic that the only time I really saw the Cowboys acting like a team was when they were managing to fail in such epic fashion. Because if ever there was a definition of team failure, this Sunday was it. The Cowboys were bad on all fronts - offense, defense and special teams. I also enjoyed how the team bonded together to throw offensive coordinator Jason Garrett under the bus, with perennial team player Terrell Owens and the beleaguered Tony Romo both intimating in post-game interviews that the problem wasn't the players, it was the system that failed.

The Cowboys and Jones need to learn that you don't win championships by collecting together individual stars. You win by creating a coherent team. The Dolphins didn't put up gaudy individual stats, but they still made the playoffs by coming together as a team. It doesn't matter if you catch 15 passes for 200+ yards (*cough cough* TO *cough cough*) it matters if you make 1 catch for 3 yards when it matters.

To quote another favorite phrase, "Offense wins games, defense wins championships." If you look at the favored contenders for the Super Bowl - Tennessee, Pittsburgh, New York, Carolina - you'll see that all 4 have defenses that have stepped up in a big way this year (along with Baltimore, of course). If you look at the teams that imploded, like the Broncos, Saints and Bucs, you'll see that the defenses collapsed. If you look at the teams that sucked all year long - the Chiefs, Lions and Rams - you'll again see a consistent pattern of poor defense.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the most epic of all fails, the Detroit Lions going 0-16. There's not much to say here - with the new announcement that the two men who aided Matt Millen in his failure as GM would be staying on in Detroit, it doesn't seem like this team has any hope of a Miami-like turnaround next year. It just looks like more of the same. They have a nice set of draft picks from Dallas via the Roy Williams trade, but will they just waste them all on WRs? They are also saddled with the #1 draft pick, which means they have several college players they can go ahead and overpay to underachieve. Fear not, players entering the draft (or thinking about it, and yes, I mean YOU, Sam Bradford) - Detroit has thus far proved themselves unable to draft wisely, so the better you are, the more unlikely you are to be drafted by the Lions.

Wild Ass Speculation update. In my Week 10 post, I posted the following 5 points of wild speculation:
  • The Atlanta Falcons will make the playoffs as a wild card and win their first playoff game.
  • The Dolphins will win the AFC East
  • The Titans will be the #1 seed in the AFC.
  • Young QB Matt Ryan will be rookie of the year
  • Old QB Kurt Warner will be league MVP
Not too bad, eh? While the second half of my prediction about the Falcons has yet to be proven, the fact that they've drawn the tanking Cardinals definitely puts them in a situation where they can win their first round playoff game. I'm fairly certain that Ryan will be rookie of the year at this point, though you never know what the voters will do in the end. The only prediction I seem to be off the mark on is Warner for MVP - the Cardinals downturn in the past 4 games makes that prediction now seem unlikely.

Here is some more wild speculation about the post-season:
  • Give it up for the wild cards. I predict that at least 3 of the 4 wildcards will win their first game, due to the relative weakness of certain divisions. The Falcons, Colts and Ravens are all in games that they can win for sure, and even the Eagles have to feel like they can compete with a Vikings team that only managed to squeak out a 10-9 victory even with multiple Giants starters on the sideline for most of the game.
  • The #1 and #2 seeds in both conferences should meet for the conference championships. The Giants, Steelers, Panthers and Titans just look too tough to go down to the other playoff teams.
  • Peyton Manning for MVP.
  • Panthers and Titans in the Super Bowl.
  • Tarvaris Jackson will not have a good post-season, and the Vikings will need to think about courting a guy like Matt Cassel.
  • Brett Favre will retire, and stayed retired this time.
As usual, feel free to make your own wild guesses for the post-season in the comments (or to ruthlessly mock my guesses).

Studs of the year. There are so many great players here, I'm going to list them by position.

Quarterback. Though he fell short of Dan Marino's record, you have to admire not only the numbers Drew Brees put up (5069 yds, 34 TD, 65% completion pct), but also the intense competitiveness and leadership he brings to the Saints year after year. Matt Cassel (3693 yds, 21 TD, 60% completion pct) endured unbelievable pressure stepping in for the future hall of famer Tom Brady, and performed like a true champ. He's going to make a lot of money next year, and frankly, he deserves to. Don't overlook the fact that he also showed grit by running for 270 yds this year as well. I think Philip Rivers is sort of a dick, but it's a crime that a guy who passed for 4009 yds and 34 TD (passer rating 105.5) and resurrected his team's playoff chances after a disasterous start didn't make the Pro Bowl while Brett Favre did. He stumbled a bit at the end of the year, but also didn't have much of a running game to help him out, so I still have much love for Kurt Warner (4583 yds, 30 TD, 67.1% completion pct). I've decided that Peyton Manning (4002 yds, 27 TD, 66.8% completion pct) is a robot. Just look at his career stats, and realize that this guy has started EVERY regular season game, and has passed for over 4,000 yards in 9 out of his 11 seasons.

Running Back. Normally, I'd advocate more strongly for Matt Ryan as MVP, but Michael Turner (1699 yds, 17 TD) was an even bigger part of the Falcons' turnaround this season. If he had stayed healthy and the Redskins had played just a little better, Clinton Portis (1487 yds, 9 TD) would have been in the mix for league MVP this year. DeAngelo Williams (1515 yds, 18 TD) overcame a slow start and was a TD machine in the late part of the season. Though his fumbles are troubling, no one is more terrifying once he makes it past the first line of defense than the NFL rushing champ Adrian Peterson (1760 yds, 10 TD). Though the other two Giants backs are also key to the team's success, without Brandon Jacobs (1089 yds, 15 TD) in the game, the Giants just aren't as effective rushing the ball. Steve Slaton (1282 yds, 9 TD) had a stellar rookie year, and it looks like the Texans have finally solved their problems at the RB position. Another player who is in the mix for rookie of the year is the outstanding Chris Johnson (1228 yds, 9 TD).

Wide Receiver. The Texans were out of the playoff picture pretty early, so most of America is still tragically unaware of how spectacular Andre Johnson is at WR (115 rec, 1575 yds, 8 TD). Similarly, the nation was so focused on how bad the Lions were, that many overlooked the amazing season Calvin Johnson had (78 rec, 1331 yds, 12 TD), even with all the turmoil and poor play at the QB position. Larry Fitzgerald (96 rec, 1431 yds, 12 TD) justified the huge raise the Cardinals gave him by improving on his already stellar stats from last season. Now the Cards need to get smart, look at the how tough Anquan Boldin (89 rec, 1038 yds, 11 TD) played (didn't hold out even though he wasn't happy with his pay, gave 110%, and came back early from that savage hit that literally broke his face against the Jets) and give him the raise he earned this season too. At only 5'9", Steve Smith (78 rec, 1421 yds, 6 TD) still has the best hands in the game. When I talked above about making the catch when it truly matters in a game, no one embodies that concept more than Smith. Another little guy who plays like a man twice his size is Wes Welker (111 rec, 1165 yds, 3 TD) who had over 100 catches, many of them on difficult crossing routes where he knew he was going to take the big hit.

Duds of the year. The following players underperformed based on the amount of attention and/or money they demanded from their team: Braylon Edwards dropped a ton of passes (a lot of them crucial), and yet it was poor Derek Anderson who got the boot. Terrell Owens was kind enough to wait until his 3rd year with the Cowboys before returning to his divisive ways. I'm sure a lot of fantasy owners were thrilled when Roy Williams was traded to the Cowboys, but frankly, his stats were better when he was with the Lions. I know Javon Walker is a troubled man, but he was a bust considering the massive salary the Raiders paid him (though I blame Al Davis more than Walker for the way the season played out). Of course, maybe Walker's numbers would have been better if JaMarcus Russell could have been trusted to throw more thatn 368 times for the whole season. Shouldn't the #1 overall pick who's making ten of millions of guaranteed dollars be performing at a higher level by the end of his second season? Not only is Larry Johnson completely burned out as a viable starting RB, he's also apparently not a very nice person.

And of course, I need not explain why Plaxico Burress is the dud of the year.
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Announcing the Mad Typist Book Club forum!
Thursday, December 18, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist

A reminder that December's book are "World War Z" by Max Brooks and "Twilight" by Stephanie Meyer. We'll beposting reviews and having discussions at the end of the month and into next month.

Also, my awesome friend set up a forum for the book club, since it's going to be easier to discuss the books of the month in a forum than via blogs and blog comments. Go ahead and enjoy!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
According to Ars Technica, Pearl Jam's amazing album Ten is coming to Rock Band. That is SO exciting. That's on my top 3 list of "Albums That Changed My Life", so the ability to download and rock out to all the tracks on that album has me completely beside myself with anticipation.

The good folks at Harmonix have really been putting out some great downloadable content lately, having just released the full No Doubt Singles album a week ago. That's probably why I've given so much of my money...
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Jenga tragedy or hilarity?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Part of me is overwhelmed with abject horror. And part of me is rolling on the floor laughing. Watch for yourself (and make sure you have the sound on).

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Showrunners! How to Make Me Care About Your Serialized Drama
Sunday, December 14, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
From over at Televisionary (one of my new must-read-daily sites) comes a description of an intriguing new show from ABC called Flash Forward. Here's a brief description of the show:
What is Flash Forward about? In a nutshell, it's the chaos that ensues after everyone on the planet blacks out for two minutes and seventeen seconds. But that's not entirely true. First, about 40 million or so poor souls don't survive the global event; airplanes fall from the sky, cars collide, people fall down stairs, drown, etc. as they lose consciousness during whatever they're doing at that moment. Second, the effect isn't so much a blackout but a Lost-appropriate flash forward in time as each of the survivors experiences a snippet from their own future during that time loss. And not just any moment, but a very specific moment five months from then: 8 pm on April 20th, 2010.

Why do each of them witness that specific moment? That's one of the script's central mysteries, along with what caused the worldwide blackout, whether it was a natural event like an earthquake or whether it was a man-made, terrorist-style attack, and whether the future can be altered.
So far, so good. If you visit the link above, you'll get a semi-spoilery list of details about the pilot episode. It's got an interesting cast - Joseph Fiennes (a.k.a "the lesser Fiennes brother"), Sonya Walger (a.k.a "Penny, Desmond's true love, from Lost) , and John Cho (Harold, from Harold & Kumar). The pilot has some "Holy crap!" moments built in, and it seems like it could be a fascnating series.

However, the show like this requires a commitment from a viewer. It demands that you watch each and every episode, that you pay attention to clues doled out over the course of a season, in order to get the full impact of the storyline. And for this reason, I'm hesitant to get too excited about this show. I've already stopped watching Lost, Heroes and the Sarah Connor Chronicles, and though I'm watching Fringe, I don't think I care much one way or the other if it gets canceled after this season. Now, mind you - I'm a big fan of serial dramas when done right. I've loved (among others) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica, so I'm definitely the type of audience the networks want to target.

Here are some tips for showrunners who want to win my love for their serial drama:

Give me memorable characters with clear motivation. Within five minutes of meeting our two protagonists in the X-files, we instantly knew who they were, and what their motivation was. Mulder was the eccentric believer, Scully the scientifically-minded skeptic. Mulder had a focused quest (finding his sister) and a more open ended quest (proving all sorts of supernatural and extraterrestial things really existed) that fueled him and drove him forward. Scully's motivation was also clear: keep your job by fucking Mulder's groove up and playing the wet blanket to make the FBI bosses happy. Okay, great, you've got my attention and I understand why they're doing what they do. Contrast that with Fringe, the X-files' would-be successor, where after 10 full episodes, I still have no idea what the main character's motivation is. Why is Olivia there? What drives her, aside from some weird dreams about her maybe-dead boyfriend? What's special about her that makes Lance Reddick's character trust her to head up an investigation into The Pattern?

Know your end game. Do you know why the X-files imploded in their last few seasons? Because it was pretty freaking obvious after awhile that Chris Carter was just making shit up as he went along. If your show is going to have Big Questions as a part of its dramatic tension, then you'd better have your Big Answers ready to go when you start writing. While I've stopped watching Heroes, it's first season was pretty darn good. They had two major point plots (Save the Cheerleader, and Stopping the Exploding Man) that drove the first and second halves of the season. Every episode was dedicated to moving the characters into place so that those two plot events could take place. That meant a tightly plotted, fairly compelling first season. In the description above of Flash Forward, it's clear there's going to be some big questions about why the flash forward happened, what's going to be the fate of each individual in the main plot and so on. The showrunners better damn well know that up front. The most important thing driving the plot must be the explanation behind the flash forward - is it man-made, supernatural in nature, or something else? The Why and the How are key points that the showrunners need to know in advance to make the individual plotlines make sense.

The most extreme example of this would be the case of Babylon 5, where creator J. Michael Straczynski had an inspiration for a story that would go exactly 5 seasons - and he wrote the entire plot out (the major points anyway) in advance. There were lines of dialogue in season 1 that were written specifically because they were going to significant in season 5.

Respect continuity. Because serial dramas rely on multiple episode arcs, and each episode should (ideally) build on the ones that came before, it is critical that a show respect continuity. Nothing infuriates fans more than a lack of continuity. For example, the Sarah Connor Chronicles is responsible not only for "rules" and timelines they've established in their own show, they also must be accountable to the first 2 Terminator movies. After making such a huge deal about how only organic material could be transported through time (a rule that was established to answer the whole "Why not just send them back with crazy lazer guns?" question), the show commited a huge continuity error by showing a metal Terminator skull being sent back in time in an early episode of the show. It was at that moment that I, doing my best impression of an Iraqi journalist, threw my shoe at the TV.

This is particularly important when it comes to shows with a sci-fi or fantasy element. Once you establish particular "rules" for how things work in your fictional universe, it's paramount that you follow those rules. Nothing frustrates me more than thinking to myself, "Do these people even WATCH their own show?!"

Keep the cast size manageable. In long term serial dramas, particularly of the nature described for Fast Forward, there's a tendency to want to cram as many people as possible into the story. This can be a major mistake. One of the main complaints about Heroes is that the show just kept adding more and more characters to the mix, many of which were not well received. Lost started out with an intriguing premise - 47 castaways stranded on a mysterious island. We'd start by focusing on a dozen of so main characters, with the promise of other characters perhaps emerging as major players in future seasons. Well, that was fine, until they decided to add 8 more characters from the back of the plane, and then they decided to staff and stock a whole other population of Others, and THEN they decided that there would be another half dozen or so characters off the Island that were going to get back stories. So those other 32 castaways are still there, but only as set dressing, milling aimlessly in the background but never really engaging in the main plot, even if it's something that might really affect their lives.

Give me characters I can get behind. All those other points can be overlooked (hey, we all have a continuity error or two here or there), if you give me characters I can get invested in. I'm not saying they have to be "good guys" - Vic Mackey from The Shield, Glenn Close's Patty Hewes from Damages, and the great Tony Soprano are just a few examples of bad guys you can't help but root for. Ultimately I gave up on Lost, Heroes, Sarah Connor and others because I just didn't like the characters. I loathe (LOATHE!) Jack from Lost, along with 50% of the other castaways. The same holds true for Heroes - I just hated most of the characters, who were either too whiny (Peter), stupid (Mohinder, the lame twins from South America), or otherwise bland and uninteresting (Nikki and her 2 other incarnations, Micah). The Sarah Connor Chronicles made the mistake of thinking that portraying the future savior of mankind as a whiny petulant teenager would be compelling for the audience. Look, no one watches a show set in the Terminator universe because they want to see the riveting tale of how a boy navigates the perils of high school dating.

Look, you're asking your audience to spend around 22-24 hours per year with these fictional people. It's important that they ENJOY that time with them, because they like watching them. Having your audience spending most of their time screaming "Shut the hell up, [character x]!" is a sure way to get your ratings to plummet.
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Gifts for the Girl Geek in Your Life
Tuesday, December 09, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Per a friend's request, here's my list of things to get the girl geek in your life. What qualifies me to make this list, you may ask? Well, I'm a girl (#1), a geek (#2) and I like getting gifts (#3). I've started an store on my blog, which you can find by clicking the "Store!" link in the header above, or by clicking here. Support Cultural Cuisinart by buying through my store!

Okay, on to the gifts.

Comic books

If your girl is the type who loves comics, but rejects the over-saturated main stream market (a.k.a. Nothin' but Spidey, X-men and Batman books and spin offs), and perhaps enjoys seeing books where women are drawn with quasi-normal proportions (I mean, what does the size of Psylocke's bust have to do with her psychic abilities?), consider these titles:

Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore. Hands down, one of my favorite stories of all time (though the later volumes go a bit off the track). Moore's art is wonderful - the women are curvy and beautiful, without being wafer thin. There's romance, action, humor and more in this fantastic collection. Start with Volume 1, and go from there.
Whiteout by Greg Rucka. No super powers here, no wacky alternative world with dinosaurs or flying cars. This excellent thriller follows a U.S. Marshall living at one of the research stations in Antarctica, who must investigate a murder that occurs in her jurisdiction.
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn. What if every male mammal (including humans) on Earth dropped dead at once, save for one lone man and his monkey? Find out in this excellent graphic novel.
Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Bros. This sprawling 50 book collection is a treasure trove of quirky characters and gorgeous pop art. I recommend starting with either Love and Rockets: Volume 1, or Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories collection.
She-Hulk by Dan Slott. Remember what I said about non-busty women? Well, forget that, because She-Hulk is one stacked green mama. Still, this book is freaking hilarious and unlike any other book you'll read set in the Marvel Universe. Both embracing the (sometimes insane) continuity of the Marvel-verse, while simultaneously poking fun at it, this book follows the adventures of She-Hulk (nee Jen Walters) as she works as a lawyer specializing in super hero law. It's sort of like a comic book version of Boston Legal (only 100% less sucky). You don't need any prior She-Hulk knowledge to jump into this series - very newbie friendly.

Sci-fi goodies

Maybe your girl is more into sci-fi stuff. Here are some DVDs, books, and games she may like.

I recently discovered Iain M. Banks, and was an instant fan. A good chunk of his books are set in a futuristic techno utopia called The Culture, where humanity is so advanced, people can change their physical appearance (up and including gender) at a whim, can live practically forever, and have reached the stars, freely associated with a variety of alien races. Player of Games is a great jumping on point into The Culture for new readers. Awesome sci-fi.
Last year or so I also stumbled upon the works of James Tiptree Jr. Tiptree wrote fantastic fiction for years and had a loyal following - a following that was somewhat shocked to find out that Tiptree wasn't a man, but a housewife named Alice Sheldon. Whatever Tiptree's gender, both you and your lady will enjoy his/her short stories. "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" in the Her Smoke Rose Up Forever collection is particularly memorable.

The perfect gift for the woman who appreciates great acting, sharp writing, and lots and lots of hot spaceship pilot bod. This is a show that gets better the more times you watch it. The DVDs are chock full of great commentary and other features. Either get yourself started with Season 1, or go hardcore and get the BSG set (S1-3, plus the Razor movie). If you've been a good sci-fi nerd and are up to date, go ahead and pre-order Season 4, where the shit really hits the fan.
You already know how I feel about Mass Effect. If she likes RPGs like Final Fantasy or Knights of the Old Republic, she's going to love this amazing game. I recommend the PC version, unless you have a crappy video card, in which case, go for the Xbox 360 version. Buy it here
Computer Stuff

For the avid tech geek in your life, the girl who already has everything (including a kickass gaming system she built herself), check this stuff out:

I am currently writing this post on my brand new netbook, the MSI Wind. It's got a 10" screen, 1 GB RAM, an 80% keyboard that's very easy to type on, and can be scored for $349 or less. You can read my full review here. If that doesn't float your boat, there are several other excellent netbooks on the market as well.

I hate purses and cannot offer advice on things made by Gucci or Prada. I can, however, suggest some excellent bags for your lady to pack her laptop, mp3 player, and PSP in for when she's tooling around town. I have a Timbuk2 (pictured on left), and it's a fantastic bag. To keep your laptop safe, consider picking up a laptop sleeve for extra padding. If you're looking for a laptop specific bag, you can try out the Belkin line of messenger bags.

Renn Fest and AD&D fans

Maybe your lady is the gothic type. Maybe she rolls natural 20s. If so, she'll probably enjoy some of these offerings.

Again, I'm not big on jewelry, but I absolutely LOVE the homemade jewelry available from Persphone Plus. Check out her store on etsy, where you can score amazing stuff like this bracelet (which I bought for myself). She also has beautiful custom made gothic dresses (for larger girls only) that would look amazing at the Renn Fest.

For fans of fantasy fiction, I cannot recommend George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire collection enough. It's one of my favorite series in any genre, to be honest. The first book in the series is A Game of Thrones. Get one copy for your lady and one copy for yourself.

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NFL Week 14 Breakdown
Monday, December 08, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Welcome to the Week 14 breakdown, a.k.a the Nothin' But Baked Good Metaphors Edition.

Fear the Bagel. Because the Detroit Lions are a bad team, and have been a bad team for some time now, they usually don't get much attention from people outside of Detroit. Thus, I think a lot of people were surprised when they tuned into the one and only NFL game airing at 1pm on Thanksgiving Day and witnessed just how BAD the Lions really are. I mean, you could almost see the secondary just pulling out their lawn chairs right on the field, so they could get a better look at the Tennessee running backs going right by them, untouched. I can't decide if it's worse to get blown out on most days, like the Tennessee game, or if games like this past week, where they put in an "almost good enough, but not quite" effort against the Vikings, hurt even more. The Lions blew a fourth quarter lead yet again, with the defense woefully unable to finish 60 minutes of decent football.

Let's take a moment to break down some stats, to get a real sense of how dedicated the Lions are to sucking on both sides of the ball. The other 3 teams in the NFC North currently have the following points for (PF)/points allowed (PA) stats:
  • Vikings (307/276)
  • Bears (304/278)
  • Packers (355/319)
The Lions, by comparison, have scored only 219 points on offense (almost 100 points less than the next closest competitor), and have allowed 413 points on defense (again, almost 100 more than the next closest team) - nearly a 200 point swing between the two stats. The only other team that's close to that are the St. Louis Rams, with (169/394) - not as good on offense, only marginally better on defense, BUT at least in possession of 2 wins (1 of which was against a legitimate contender).

Unlike the Dolphins from last year, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The Dolphins at least had a schedule that paired them against a simliarly struggling club late in the season, and they managed to squeak out the win over the Ravens. The Lions, on the other hand, are playing clubs (Colts, Saints and Packers) that are 1) much better than they are, and 2) have a lot to play for right now because they will all be taking a shot at a wildcard slot. All of this means that the Lions are on track to have the first winless season since the Tampa Bay Bucs of 1976. Having a bagel in the win column would just be the final demoralizing straw for this club. It makes me sad to think that a player with the potential greatness of Calvin Johnson has to be associated with this mess.

The Cake is a Lie. The following statements being floated by sports people over the past 2-3 weeks are, in fact, lies:
  • The Jets are the best team in the AFC. Sorry, no. They benefitted from a weak schedule, and from getting to play certain teams that hadn't hit their stride yet (Miami, New England) early in the season. They played well against the Titans, but that seemed more like the Titans finally having their long overdue week where they played poorly.
  • Tony Romo is 100% recovered from his finger injury. I watched that game last night, and he could NOT throw the ball to save his life. It was his first game without the splint, but it seemed like he had trouble getting his normal speed and accuracy on the ball. He was not helped, of course, by receivers who dogged their routes (TO) or who were otherwise completely out of sync with him (Witten, etc)
  • The Giants don't need Plaxico Burress. They certainly have other receivers who can help fill some of the void left by the superstar. Don't get me wrong - I have no sympathy for the guy, I'm just saying that he's not easily replaced. No one on that roster has the speed, strength and size to replace Plax completely. They don't need him to win a game, but they do need him to win games easily.
  • The Packers are bad because they miss Brett Favre. No, they're bad because their defense is playing poorly and is banged up. Aaron Rodgers is playing at the same level I assume Favre would have played at in the same situation.
  • Expanding the NFL into other countries is a good idea. Really? Because last time I checked, Los Angeles still doesn't have a franchise. Last time I checked, it's pretty grueling to play a game Sunday, get on a plane on Wednesday and travel thousands of miles to the UK, and then get ready for a game by Sunday. Also, the Bills playing a December game in Toronto is, to put it mildly, utter bullshit. It's insulting to loyal Buffalo fans to steal one of their favorite games of the year against hated rivals the Dolphins, and send it to a city that isn't that invested in the team. It's doubly insulting to then hold that game inside a dome, thus eliminating the weather advantage Buffalo traditionally enjoys when playing Miami late in the season. Booooo!
Life isn't always a cake walk for NFL players. Consider the case of Richard Collier, an almost forgotten story, even with all the Plaxico Burress hysteria going around right now. ESPN has an amazing article up about the night Collier was ambushed and shot 17 times and the aftermath of that incident. Collier is now paralyzed from the waist down and has had one of his legs amputated below the knee. His short football career is over.

It's interesting, because a lot of players, in response to the Burress incident, justify their own gun ownership by citing the Sean Taylor incident. To me, that's apples and oranges - Taylor was in his own home, and was the victim of a robbery. No one is saying don't have a gun in your home to protect yourself and your family. Burress was an idiot, and was apparently placing himself in situations (through his OWN choices) where he felt like he was at risk. The Collier incident seems like a much more apt comparison, in terms of potentially justifying carrying a weapon (save for the little detail that the nature of the ambush probably would have prevented Collier from saving himself, even if he HAD had a gun on him at the time). In any case, details are still unclear about what happened that night, but it's just a tragedy that a man that had everything good in front of him has been robbed of that chance.

Studs of the week. With Deuce McAllister facing suspension, Pierre Thomas (102 yds rushing, 1 TD, 1 receiving TD) stepped up and made the Falcons defenders his bitches, giving the Saints a critical divisional win and keeping their playoff hopes alive. A healthy Brian Westbrook (131 yds rushing, 1 TD, 72 yds receiving, 1 TD) is a force to be reckoned with. Ed Reed is a defensive TD machine. He's scored 11 TDs in his career, and had another dozen INTs or fumble recoveries that were close to being scores. The Falcons may have lost, but they're still in it, and they have GOT to feel great about how Roddy White (10 catches, 164 yds) and Matt Ryan (24/33, 315 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) are gelling as a team. Lastly, even though he isn't playing in the league anymore, former QB Trent Dilfer has been doing a magnificant job breaking down plays as part of the MNF Countdown show. Props to him for delivering some fascinating discussions on game film. Tonight's was particuarly awesome, as he illustrated why Tony Romo made some seemingly inexplicable throws last night.

Teams I like this week. No one had a harder schedule this year than the Pittsburgh Steelers. They haven't always won pretty, but they're playing great football right now. December weather favors the smashmouth Steelers. I also like the Titans, who are back on track and need only 1 more win to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I love the way the Baltimore Ravens play defense - they hit so hard, I swear MY teeth rattle when I watch. And, in a welcome change from years past, the offense is finally (FINALLY!) pulling their part of the load, racking up some impressive drives the past few weeks. Lastly, congratulations to the Arizona Cardinals for finally (FINALLY!) winning their division and making the playoffs.

Teams I don't like this week. The Dallas Cowboys looked awful on offense, and it wasn't just Romo and the WRs that were the problem, as Trent Dilfer illustrated why line breakdowns contributed to the meltdown at the end of the game. Both the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins are looking more and more like early season frauds.
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This Video Fails Its Saving Throw
Friday, December 05, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Wow. This is amazing. Dungeons and Dragons + corny music = one hilarious video

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LadyK's Left 4 Dead Zombie Guide
Wednesday, December 03, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist

I've been playing Valve's latest game Left 4 Dead, and am loving it. I decided not to do a review, as it has already been covered well in other sources, like, which did a review here, and Ars Technica (read!). I do agree that it's not for people who just want to do a single-player campaign - wait till the game goes on sale in a few months. But if you like online gaming with friends, the Versus mode with 7 of your closest buddies is a total blast.

My friend Mark has a great post up with tips on how to play as a survivor. It's chock full of goodness, so check it out.

As sort of a counterpoint to that post, here's some tips for players who are doing the Versus mode and playing as a zombie character. I've invited a very special guest to write this section of the post. So, without further ado....

A Zombie Dining Guide
by Tank the Zombie

Hi folks! Tank here. I know, I know... those of you who have met me (or better yet, met the slab of rock I threw at your head) are probably surprised to know that I have other interests aside from smashing puny humans. I also enjoy swimming, archery and blogging. Anyway, Ladykiller (that's the mad_typist's Steam handle) invited me on this blog to give a few tips to you aspiring young zombies out there.

  • Your tongue can reach waaaaay across the map, so don't feel like you need to get too close to those nasty survivors with their automatic weapons.
  • Use height to your advantage. It makes it harder for the survivors to kill you, plus, it adds confusion to the situation, as they'll be looking for their trapped teammate at ground level, while you'll have him or her suspended 10 feet above them.
  • Look to get behind the survivors and snatch the straggler at the back of the group. They'll be pushing forward and may forget to come back for their delicious friend.
  • Survivors that are spread out are your best target.
  • First of all, you are nasty and bloated. You smell and move slow. But enough compliments. Sadly, those traits also make it easy for survivors to detect your presence. You can be killed quickly at a distance. You need the element of surprise the most of all the classes in order to be effective. Use trees and train cars as cover if you need to run up on survivors from a distance. Attacking through the gap between cars is a great tactic that will keep you safe.
  • Try to spawn in front of the survivors, as you are slow and it's hard to catch them from behind.
  • You are very fragile, so if you fall off a roof, that's it. You're dead. However, when you explode, you release a cloud of funk that will coat any survivors in the area. Don't be afraid to kamikaze off a roof onto a tightly clustered group of survivors.
  • In general, groups of survivors that are close together are a great target. If you can sneak up on them and get close before they kill you, that's perfect.
  • Don't be stupid like LadyK and forget to hit the crouch key before you M1 to jump.
  • Practice your jumps and learn what distance you need to be at to land on a survivor. There's nothing more embarrassing than leaping out into battle, only to fall 5 feet short of your target (who then shotguns you to death).
  • Survivors who are spread out are your main target. Like the smoker, you want time to do lots of damage to your victim before their buddies can come rescue them.
  • Being able to blend in with a horde of other zombies can provide cover, plus give you extra help ravaging your victim once you have them pinned.
General Tips
  • Everything tastes better with salsa. That includes yummy survivors.
  • Zoey is stringy and doesn't have much meat. She also says hilarious things in game. Kill her last.
  • Bill tastes like an old shoe.
  • Francis is like the in-game equivalent of a turkey. Succulent, flavorful and moist! Eat him first. Or better yet, stuff Louis inside him, and then eat both of them, like a turducken
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Announcing The Book Club Selection for the Month
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
First things first. Go here to vote for the Amazon deals for the holidays. Seriously, you can get the chance to get a PS3 bundle with Little Big Planet and a blu-ray version of Pirates of the Carribean for $199. Yeah. I'm so there.

Now, on to other matters. I'm starting a little online book club. We'll read one book a month, with the option to add a second bonus book for you prolific readers. Each person will write up a little blog post about how they liked the book.

Rules of Engagement
  • If you are joining the book club, post in the comments here (and put a link to your blog).
  • There will be a suggested format for posting your review, though feel free to add sections on your own
  • One book per month, please put your review up on the last Friday of the month.
  • Link to other book club members reviews in your own review
  • There will be a bonus book each month as well.
  • This is my book club, so I'll pick the book. I'm happy to hear suggestions though.
December's book will be: World War Z by Max Brooks. Run over to Amazon and buy yourself a copy.

December's bonus book will be: continuing our theme of zombies and other supernatural things, I'm going to go ahead and pick Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Now, I know this book will probably suck, but on the other hand, it could be good pulpy fun. Plus, I can't really mock it if I haven't attempted to give it a chance. So, go to your local library and get yourself a copy (I refuse to pay for it).

Suggested format of review
Here's how I recommend we structure our review:
  1. Did I like the story?
  2. Is the writing good?
  3. What was my favorite part?
  4. What was my least favorite part?
  5. General observations
  6. Would I recommend this book, and to whom?
  7. Overall grade (scale of 1-10)
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NFL Week 12 breakdown
Monday, November 24, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
We're at a very exciting time of the year because the playoff picture is starting to get a lot more clear. This is the time of the year to separate the wheat from the chaff, because there's a lot of teams in contention, and each team still has the chance to control their own destiny. Play well, and you can put yourself in the running for a divisional title or wildcard slot. Play poorly, and end up trying to figure out how you're going to spend your time off this winter, watching other people play for the coveted Lombardi trophy.

Teams That Helped Themselves Out. The Jets have a super easy schedule for this year, but this week's game against the 10-0 Titans was one of the last true tests they were going to have before the postseason. They passed with flying colors. And what was great about the win was that they were balanced on all sides of the ball. It wasn't just Brett Favre doing insane things to win the game by himself. The defense played great and shut down the Titans fearsome run game. The run game exploded when it had to (side note: play Leon Washington MORE, Mangini). And yes, Favre did his part, spreading the ball around and continuing to bring a sense of "Yes, We Can" to the huddle. The Jets are now in great position to win the AFC East and guarantee themselves at least one home game in the post season. As for the Titans, they're still in fine position to win their division, and truthfully, they may be better off taking a loss and nipping all the "perfect season!" talk in the bud, so they can focus on what it's going to take to win in the playoffs.

I once heard a radio announcer scream "Brett Favre is magic!" as Favre threw a huge bomb to win a game against the Broncos in OT last season. And it's true - Favre is a magician, making the seemingly impossible happen, defying odds and sometimes (it seems) even the laws of physics to pull off the big win. But if that's the case, then consider Favre's peer Peyton Manning, who can only be described as the anti-Favre. If Favre is a magician, then Manning is a scientist - he specializes in the art of the possible, the harnessing of physics and probability to find a way to win. He can effortlessly scan a defense, figure out which one it likely is, and then change the play at the line to one that gives his team the best chance of exploiting that defense. And he is unselfish - if the defense is stacked against the pass, he'll gladly call a run play and let his RB charge in for the TD. All he cares about is winning. When the Chargers drove down the field and kicked a field goal to tie, but left 1:30 on the clock, I knew the game was over. "Too much time," I muttered to myself. Why? Because no one runs the 2 minute drill better than Peyton Manning. With only 27 seconds left with 4th-and-inches, and out of field goal range, the logical call would have been to have Manning run the QB sneak to get a new set of downs. But Peyton and his coaches knew that the Chargers knew that, and would be anticipating the sneak, so they did the ballsy thing, and called for a 14 yard pass to Marvin Harrison. They were successful and that set up the game winning field goal with 2 seconds remaining. The Colts are unlikely to catch the Titans at this stage of the game (barring an epic meltdown by the Titans in the next month), but they are well-positioned to take one of the AFC wildcard slots. They have a ridiculously easy schedule coming up - Browns, Bengals, Lions, Jags and then the Titans (in Week 17, when the Titans will possibly be resting their starters).

Also in great place in the AFC wildcard hunt are the surprising Patriots, who rode a second straight 400+ yard performance by Matt Cassel to victory over the rival Miami Dolphins. I still question whether their defense and run game is good enough to carry them deep into the postseason, but for now, the Patriots are masters of their own destiny.

The Baltimore Ravens still have a great shot at the divisional title after their utter destruction of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a savage schedule ahead of them, and must win at least 75% of their games to clinch. The week 15 matchup between these two will likely determine who wins the division.

Let's talk about the Atlanta Falcons, who rebounded from their loss last week and put on a show against division rivals the Carolina Panthers. This was a huge win for the team and puts them only 1 game out of first place. More importantly, the series between the two teams is now 1-1, so Atlanta can possibly pull off the upset and take the division, if they keep playing great football (and Carolina continues playing mediocre football). Michael Turner is looking like the steal of the century for this club. Even if they don't win the division, the Dirrty Birds can still make the playoffs as a wild card.

Teams That Shot Themselves in the Foot. It doesn't look good for the Chargers, who really needed a win to take advantage of Denver's inexplicable loss to the Oakland Raiders. As it stands now, they're 2 games down with 5 games left. Denver techinically has the more difficult schedule ahead, but the Chargers need help if they're going to catch up in the division. A wild card slot is out of the question practically. Meanwhile, Denver looks like it's striving to win the division while having a sub-.500 record.

The Panthers have not been playing great ball and it caught up to them this week. The defense had no answer for the Falcons' offense. They are now tied with Tampa Bay for the divisional title.

Philly has all but crushed their playoff hopes by getting embarrassed by the Ravens. I don't know why Andy Reid decided that the Ravens defense (practically frothing at the mouth to destroy anyone in their path just to erase the taste of defeat from last week's ownage by the Giants) would be the best defense to throw an untested QB against. I know Donovan McNabb hasn't been playing great ball, but surprising Kevin Kolb by throwing him to Ray Lewis and the rest of the wolves was cruel.

Studs of the week. Matt Cassel (30/43, 415 yds, 3 TD, 1 rushing TD) is going to make a LOT of money next year. Michael Turner (117 yds, 4 TD) is awesome. Terrell Owens is NOT awesome, but his douchey-ness cannot override the fact that he had a huge day (213 yds, 1 TD). I'd wager Randy Moss still misses Tom Brady, but yesterday's game probably made him feel better than he has in a long time (125 yds, 3 TD). Ed Reed broke his own INT return for a TD record (107 yards) by intercepting Kolb in the back of the end zone and streaking 108 yards the other direction for the score. A bad day for Kurt Warner looks like this: 32/52, 351 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT. If only he had a running game to take some of the heat off.

Teams I like this week. I like the Atlanta Falcons, who continue to be a pleasant surprise, as well as the Indianapolis Colts, who aren't ready for us to write their postseason obituary just yet it seems. The Jets are starting to make a believer out of me. Right now, the Giants are just SCARY. The thought of a NY versus NY battle is starting to sound less and less crazy. The Raiders aren't a good team, but that was an honest win.

Teams I don't like this week. I don't like Arizona failing to get a run game working. I also don't like the Titans this week. The game was close going into the 4th quarter, but even then, the Titans squandered too many opportunities on offense. Kerry Collins - that wasn't your fault. Collins started 2/10 passing, but there were 5 drops during that time. I saw most of them, and those were catches they simply HAD to make - no excuse. Also, I know the Jets are good at stopping the run, but I think the Titans gave up on the run too quickly. You aren't going to win with Chris Johnson only getting 10 carries for the game. They say that offense wins games and defense wins championships. That line goes through my head a lot when I watch the Denver Broncos. I think their offense will perform just well enough for them to make the playoffs, and their defense will perform just poorly enough to ensure that they go nowhere once they make it. Lastly, I think the Eagles are going to feel like they're on the road at Dallas this Thursday when they hear the vitriol that comes out of the stands at home at Lincoln Field.
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Football, Zombies, and a Pox on the house of ABC Broadcasting
Friday, November 21, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Da Foozball Stuff

ESPN has a great in-depth article up about Matt Ryan that I know several of you readers out there would enjoy. He seems like a really nice kid, so I hope that he and his team have continued success in the future.

You know which rookie WON'T be having success this season? Felix Jones, who just got put on IR by the Cowboys, ending his season. Dammit. I've been holding on to him all season, waiting for him to get back in, taking up a valuable roster slot on my bench, and it's all for nothing. Grrrr. I hope that ESPN's The Talented Mr. Roto is right about Steve Smith and Peyton Hillis this week.

I didn't watch much of the Steelers game last night, as I was busy watching NBC's Thursday lineup while Ugly Betty was recording on the other channel. A girl's got to have her priorities straight. I'm pretty irritated that the NFL is insisting on pushing forward with these Thursday night games. One, it screws up fantasy football, because it forces you to make lineup decisions early in the week before full injury reports are available. Second (and more importantly), it's not fair to the viewers. Thursday is a busy night for TV fans, with the blockbuster shows like CSI and Grey's Anatomy airing, plus the less-watched but even more worthy 30 Rock and The Office. It sucks to have to choose whether to watch your favorite show or to tune into the game. That assumes, of course, that you even GET the NFL Network, which isn't available in a lot of cities. Again.. not very fair to the fans, if you ask me.

Game to watch on Sunday 1pm: Jets vs Titans
Game to flip to during commercials: Dolphins vs Patriots
Game to watch at 4pm: Panthers vs Falcons
Game to flip to during commercials: none - take a bathroom break and get yourself a snack

TV Stuff

I'm very disappointed to see that ABC execs have canceled Dirty Sexy Money and Pushing Daisies. While DSM was good soapy fun, and Donald Sutherland was particularly magnificant in the role as patriarch Tripp Darling, I could possibly live without this show. However, the cancellation of the magical, wonderful Pushing Daisies is simply inexcusable. It's rare that you see a show that's truly fresh and original, and it's sad to know the Pie Hole's doors will soon be closing forever. Meanwhile, shows like Private Practice are still on the air.

Shows you need to catch up on, if you aren't watching them already: run out and buy the DVD sets of these shows so you can catch up and see what all the fuss is about
  • Mad Men
  • True Blood (first season is just ending, so you may be able to see it on HBO on-demand)
  • Pushing Daisies
  • 30 Rock
  • Battlestar Galactica (seriously, if you're not watching this show, I'm going to drive to your house and punch you in the face)

Video Game Goodness

I am very excited because last night I finally got around to downloading the new Valve game Left 4 Dead. I'll post a review of it sometime next week, but I'm very excited to get down to playing it. I've played Resident Evil before, so it's not like it's my first foray into zombie killing, but what intrigues me the most is the 4 player co-op mode, where you and 3 friends team up to slaughter the zombie horde (or, you can choose to be a team of zombies attempting to kill another 4 man team playing as survivors). Feedback from my Team Fortress 2 clan mates has been very good, and Valve has done a genius job with multi-player fun in the past, so I have high hopes. If you want to get together with me and play (PC guys only), my Steam ID is mad_typist - just shoot me a friend request and then we can play together (or post your Steam ID in the comments).

I'll finish this post off with a gameplay video from my friend, Mr. Snuts!*, who is just an insane sniper in Team Fortress 2. Seriously, this is sick stuff:

Untitled from Jeremy Harris on Vimeo.
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Tech Talk: the Zune, MSi netbook and Xbox 360 dashboard update
Thursday, November 20, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
I've long been flirting with the idea of upgrading my mp3 player to the Microsoft Zune player. I currently have an 8 GB Sansa mp3 player, which is fine for quick trips to the gym or for a walk around town, but I've been craving something with more storage space that can also play videos for my longer trips (e.g. the upcoming 11 hour flight to Hawaii I've got coming this December).

Anyhoo, the Zune has long intrigued me. The Zune 2.0 with its weird little squircle navigation device seemed like it worked well when I played with it in the store. The idea that the Zune might someday support games developed via the Microsoft XNA Creator Studio also intrigued me. The Zune software, at first a disaster, got a face lift and some new stuff under the hood that got good reviews. Still, I waited.

However, I think I may finally have the motivation to switch over to the Zune. Not only is it available in a 120GB model with snazzy custom designs available for just $249, Microsoft has just announced that customers of their Zune Pass service will get 10 free tracks each month as part of their $14.99. That's big news. According to the press release, these free tracks should be available (most of the time) in lovely DRM-free MP3 format.

Some background on how services like Zune Pass work. Right now I'm using Rhapsody to manage my music on my Sansa player. I have a Rhapsody To Go account, which for $14.99 a month allows me to listen to any song in the Rhapsody library in its entirety, as well as download those tracks to my Sansa (most of them - 95% of the catalog seems able to do Rhapsody to Go). Rhapsody allows me to use this functionality on up to 2 portable devices (there are several players that work with the service) and 4 computers. Zune Pass works in mostly the same fashion. At first I had scoffed at the idea of paying a monthly fee to access music, but now that I have it, I'm completely hooked. It's like having on-demand radio at your fingertips. If you buy an average of 1 album a month, then the service sort of pays for itself (particularly now with the ability to save 10 tracks forever in your collection).

Speaking of Microsoft and media on-demand, Xbox 360 users finally received their long anticipated Xbox Dashboard update yesterday. I ran home and got mine set up quickly. I won't go into major details (you can get screenshots, descriptions and more over at, but here's the thing I love the most: free on-demand video streaming from my Netflix "Watch Instantly" list through my Xbox right onto my TV. We tried it out last night and after about a 5 minute setup (there's a small download for your Xbox, and you need to go online on a computer to enter an activation code) we were ready to rock. All the available titles were there in a visual list of DVD cover pictures. We pulled up an episode of The Office season 4, and voila! - we were watching a DVD quality video of the "Fun Run" episode.

Awesome. It further validates my decision to go with the Xbox over the PS3. For those of you looking to buy a next gen console, I can heartily recommend the 360, and with the holidays coming up you can now get your very own 360 for a great price (Costco is selling an amazing bundle - a 60 GB Xbox 360 with 2 games, PLUS Guitar Hero III with guitar controller for $349).

Lastly, I recently decided to treat myself to one of the those adorable netbooks that I've been coveting for some time now. At first I had been attracted to the Eee PC netbook, because it was tiny and cute (8 inch screen). However, after playing with it in the store, I realized the keyboard was impossible to type-touch on, and then Eee went and released a zillion iterations of their notebook series that really diluted their brand. I ended up buying the MSI Wind netbook instead, and I absolutely LOVE it. It weighs in at a svelte 2 pounds, has a 10 inch screen that can handle 1024x768 resolution, and has a built-in wireless modem and webcam. I can touch-type pretty well on it, even when in a fast-paced chat session. My only gripe is that the period and comma buttons are half-sized, so I ended up screwing up my punctuation if I go too fast. Also, the function key is where the CTRL key normally is, so sometimes I get weird stuff when I try to copy+paste things.

Overall, though, the machine is peppy and really great for basic web-surfing, etc. Right now I'm running Chrome, which seems to run pretty fast. I also installed OpenOffice on it, and that runs fast as well. I tossed it in my messenger bag and walked around - the size and weight are lovely. The battery life is so-so, but the power pack isn't too big if you want to carry it with you, and for just a few hours of word processing and/or web surfing, it's more than enough. I used it at my local coffee shop and was fine for over an hour, even running several apps at a time.

Obviously, I'd still love to have something like a ThinkPad X300, but since the Wind is literally 10 times cheaper, I'm really quite pleased with the little bugger.

p.s. - I've rejected the iPod for many reasons - at first, I hated the DRM and the fact that any tracks purchased through iTunes was in a format that could only be played on Apple products. I also loathe a product with such a crappy battery that after a year it requires a $99 investment to fix. Now I reject the idea of paying $100 more for the equivalent amount of space just to have a slightly better UI for my mp3 player. The point is: stay away from my comments section, Apple-zealots, because I'm not looking to get sold on the idea of getting an iPod, until they perhaps make the iTouch over 80GB and under $250.

update: two items I forgot to mention the first time around. First, there's a new version of the Zune firmware (3.1) out now, and they're giving away free games like Texas Hold 'Em poker and Sudoku with it. Second, some of the newer titles on the Netflix Watch It Instantly library are available in HD. I know for example that Heroes can be watched in HD (you can't tell via the interface, which is annoying)
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Basketball Dribbling 5 Year Old Phenom
Wednesday, November 19, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Courtesy of one of the Yahoo! sports blogs, here's an insane YouTube video of Milan Simone Tuttle, a 5 year old little girl, showing off her mad ball handling abilities. Mind you, as a senior on my high school varsity basketball team, I could not dribble this well.

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Lieberman punches Dems in balls, Dems say "Thank you, may I have another"
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Lieberman to keep his Homeland Security chairmanship. Really? After what that bastard did? Welcome to the same old politics as usual.

I am not shocked, just really disappointed in this. After all the mud-slinging Lieberman did on behalf of John McCain, after putting our country at risk by supporting a ticket with a dangerous woman in the VP slot, after implying that Democrats are weak on terror.... they let him keep his position. Why? Are they just betting that Connecticut voters are going to give him the boot in 2012 anyway?
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NFL Week 11 breakdown
Monday, November 17, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
There some exciting games this week, there were some dull as-expected affairs and there was one bizarre tie game.

Lame (I mean "game") of the week. What was up with the Philadelphia Eagles being unable to put away the lowly Cincinnati Bengals? Why can't the Eagles run all of a sudden? Donovan McNabb threw 3 INTs to help seal the non-victory, completing less than 50% of his passes for the day. Andy Reid seems completely fearful of running the ball, and called passing plays on all 18 of the Eagles 3rd down plays. That's unbelievable. I know we gave him crap about running 3 times in a row on goal line stances, but come on! You have to let one of the league's most dynamic runners get at least ONE shot during the game to make something happen. McNabb should NEVER be in the position of throwing the ball a whopping 58 times in one game. That's how you wear down a QB's arm, and that's how you show your run game you have no confidence in it. It's frustrating watching Reid's play-calling this year on offense. I don't have much to say about the Bengals - they played exactly like they've been playing all year, with flashes of competance as the anomolies in a showcase of mental mistakes and poor execution. The Bengals kicker missed a game winning 47 yard field goal that would have won the game in OT. Overall, a totally dull affair that was painful to watch (unless you really love watching punts, of which there were 21 in the game).

Oh baby, you look SO fine. Man, could there be two teams more alike than the Tennessee Titans and the New York Giants? Both have a dynamic, smash-your-face-in defense, both have a QB with a big arm that's normally asked to be a careful game manager, both have a RB tandem that defines "thunder and lightning". Both teams are playing just absolutely great football right now. At this point, if these two DON'T face each other in the Super Bowl, I'm going to feel cheated (after I wrote this, I went over to my favorite columnist Peter King, and saw to my delight that he feels the same way)

I can only imagine how much Kerry Collins must laugh to himself when he sees teams stacking the box to shut down the Tennessee run game. They seem to forget that Collins is 14th on the all-time passing yards list, that he's always thrown a mean long ball, and that while guys like Justin Gage aren't top tier WRs, they can still burn you if you fall asleep in one-on-one coverage. If he were able to hear the TV commentary I'm sure Collins would laugh to hear the announcers fret "How can Tennessee possibly come back from *gasp!* 14 points down in the first half!" I love watching Jeff Fisher prowling the sidelines for this team, because you can see the intensity burning in his eyes, and you can see how that translates into the way the team plays for him. Only Vince Lombardi has a better record when it comes to a coach whose team knows how to "finish" the game - in other words, the win-loss record when a team is leading going into the 4th quarter. I also loved seeing Vince Young shouting with joy over the go-ahead TD pass, running out on the field to chest bump with Kerry Collins. He may not feel like it now, but Young is gaining huge experience just being able to watch and learn from a guy like Collins, whose career path is actually quite similar to Young's own.

The Giants running game absolutely dismantled the normally stout run defense of the Baltimore Ravens. By the end of the first quarter, you could already see the confusion on the Ravens' faces, as they just were completely at a loss as to how to stop Brandon Jacobs. Coming into the game, the Ravens were only allowing an average of 65.4 rushing yards per game. Jacobs had 70 yards in the first quarter alone. Ahmad Bradshaw got 77 yards on a single rush in the 4th quarter. The Giants are really hitting their stride right now, though they may want to start resting Jacobs even more, since he got a little banged up this week. They'll need him in order to have post-season success.

An ugly win is still a win. There's no such thing as a perfect team - every team, no matter how great they are, is going to have an off-week against a "bad" opponent. What makes them great, though, is that they find a way to win, even when they're not playing great, or when the game is closer than it should be.

The Miami Dolphins are playing tough football week after week. Barring that one punt return for a TD, the game against the Raiders wasn't that close. Still, the Dolphins found themselves in need of a score to win late in the 4th quarter, and found themselves yet again thanking the football gods for the Favre trade to the Jets, since Chad Pennington's experience and calm demeanor was key to their final drive. He converted a critical fourth-and-5 play to keep the Dolphins moving. They needed this win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and will need to ride their emotional high from this game into next week (a critical matchup against divisional rival New England). Now, the Dolphins can't bank on a close-win every week, and probably need a good blowout to restore their luster a bit, so we'll see if they have what it takes to win when it REALLY matters.

The Cardinals kept it close in their win over Seattle, but their amazing offense continues to rack up the points and stats as it just rolls along. In their defense, Seattle was finally semi-healthy for the first time this season and they're a tough team to play at home. And again, a win is a win, particularly when it's a divisonal win that almost locks down the division for the Cards.

The Cowboys didn't look great against the Redskins, but they were good enough to get the job done in the late game. Romo clearly provided an emotional spark for the team, and with an easy couple of games in front of them, the Cowboys are in a good position to still make a playoff run. There were some signs that Romo's pinky is still bothering him (he threw a HORRIBLE pass that was picked off early in the game), so that's something to keep an eye on. The defense held when it needed to (though watching the game, they were aided by the fact that the Redskins' offense was just terribly out-of-sync for some reason for most of the game), and Marion Barber continues to justify the decision to release Julius Jones in the offseason. The Redskins were only down by 4 points with 6:40 left in the game. All they had to do was stop the Cowboys to get the ball back. Instead, Marion Barber touched the ball on literally every single play that drive and ground the ball down the field until the Cowboys could kneel on the final 2 plays to win the game.

Studs of the week. Lot of game balls to give this week. Give it up for my leading MVP candidate, Kurt Warner, who had his fourth 300+ yard game in a row this week (32/44, 395 yds, 1 TD). Kudos also to his WR tandem Anquan Boldin (13 catches, 186 yds) and Larry Fitzgerald (10 catches, 155 yds). Cards, you want to keep winning next year? Pay Boldin his damn money. Show him the money! (I normally hate this quote, but seeing as how the character in Jerry Maguire was an Arizona Cardinal WR, I feel it's appropriate in this case). Speaking of unbeatable tandems, no one cares how bad Jake Delhomme is playing when you've got DeAngelo Williams (120 yds, 2 TD) and Jonathan Stewart (130 yds, 1 TD) running the ball. Marion Barber is a stud for the reasons stated above. Troy Polamalu made a highlight reel interception and then should have had a fumble recovery for TD to end the game. Ryan Grant (145 yds, 1 TD) is finally healthy, and is the key that the Packers were missing earlier in the season. His continued success is paramount if they want to make a playoff run. No run, no problem for the Titans, as Justin Gage (147 yds, 2 TD) stepped up big. Last, but not least, Matt Cassel (30/51, 400 yds, 3 TD, 61 yds rushing) broke an NFL record by being the first player to pass for 400 yards and run for over 50 yards in a single game. His agent must be salivating at the deal this kid is going to pick up if he continues to grow like this.

Teams I like this week. I can't say enough good things about the Giants and the Titans. I also like the Green Bay Packers, who might be getting healthy just in time. They stomped the Bears in a critical game for their playoff prospects. I'm not 100% sold on the NY Jets, because they've had such a weak schedule, but this week I like the way they played the Pats and won when they had to. Favre looked great on that final drive. I love the way Peyton Manning (who would have gotten a Stud of the Week award had the field not been so crowded already) has the Indianapolis Colts playing this past few weeks. They're starting to look good again, and have a legitimate shot at one of the wildcard spots. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers seem determined to set the standard for ugly wins. And guess what? They've got 8 of them and are at the top of their competitive division.

Teams I don't like this week. The St. Louis Rams are back to their pathetic ways, giving up over 30 points AGAIN in the first half. Heads will roll in that city soon enough, and not just at the coaching position. I hated seeing the Washington Redskins take a penalty for too many players in the huddle because they didn't know what play they wanted to call. THEN they compounded the problem by still needing a time out after the penalty had been called, and THEN they still lost yardage on the play they call after the time out. I also hated them looking to throw the direct out, when they hadn't bothered establishing the deep pass or really getting the run game going. They needed this win and they dropped the ball, bad. In other news, the San Diego Chargers aren't the same team without a healthy LT. It's got to hurt seeing Michael Turner tearing it up, and knowing they could have that as a fall back option. Lastly, I'm convinced that the Chicago Bears were better off leaving Devin Hester just on special teams. He doesn't add much as a WR, and I think running all those routes during the game is wearing him down and making him less effective in the one arena where he really shines: the return game.

bonus feature: come back later this week, when I break down the playoff picture for all 8 divisions.
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