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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