Traveling the Bourbon Trail

Me, Ryan (right) and Mike (front)
Me, Ryan (right) and Mike (front)

I met Ryan 8 years ago at a wedding and we soon started getting together “virtually” for playing video games. At the wedding, we found that we had some similar interests in various kinds of games and have been playing together ever since. In many ways, it’s odd that one of my best friends is one that I’d only physically met a single time, but there are even more people that I’d met through Ryan that, until recently, I also knew very well yet had never actually met.

Last year, our little gaming group (which consists of around 8-10 people) had discussed trying to meet up somewhere.  We’ve got some people up in Minnesota, one in Alabama, one in Ohio, three closer to the East coast, and me here in Missouri.  At the time, the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky seemed like the logical place to try and meet up, though some other options had been tossed around.  We couldn’t pull it off for last year, but we made a bigger push to get something together this time.  We couldn’t get all of those people together, but 5 of us met up in Frankfort, KY last weekend to visit some distilleries.

Woodford Reserve
Woodford Reserve

I’ve been brewing beer for quite awhile, so I had a handle on what the basic process of distilling entails.  There were some interesting differences between the different distilleries we visited however, including their history, architecture, barrel placement, and so on.

One thing they’ll tell you at these distilleries is that “bourbon” is distinct from “whiskey” in that it must only be aged in new, charred oak barrels (there are a few other requirements, but it’s one of the things that sets “bourbon” apart from “Tennessee Whiskey” like Jack Daniels).

We stayed at an airbnb apartment in Frankfort very close to Buffalo Trace Distillery, which is one of the oldest continuously operating distilleries in the country.  Unlike many others, they still produced bourbon during Prohibition because they had a Federal license to produce spirits for “medicinal purposes.”  We took the regular tour and then a “ghost tour” that evening, learning a bit about various potential “spirits” that live amongst the other “spirits.”

The sour mash at Woodford Reserve
The sour mash at Woodford Reserve

Unfortunately, while we got to see all the barrel houses at Buffalo Trace, they shut down their distilling operation in July and August due to the heat.  We got to see a working distillery at Woodford Reserve, our next destination.  This place was quite a bit more “corporate” in feel, and though distilleries have been present on the property for quite awhile, the current product, Woodford Reserve, has only existed since the 1990s.  Still, bourbon is made in the traditional way and it’s a large operation that you can see in action.  This distillery was one of two locations where we saw the sour mash bubbling about, where yeast began the fermentation process.  This part of bourbon-making only takes a few days, after which it’s distilled down (read: boiled to the point where the water is separated from the alcohol) and then loaded into barrels.

So many barrels...
So many barrels…

Those barrels will hang out for a period of years.  At Buffalo Trace, some barrels are kept up in the top of their barrel houses, but they can only be kept there for up to 6 years because the heat ages the bourbon faster.  The 10-12 year (or older) product is kept within the first few floors, where aging takes longer and the flavor profile changes over that period.  Ultimately, this means that some bourbons are aged at the top, some are aged in the middle, and some are aged at the bottom.  Woodford Reserve, on the other hand, rotates their barrels from the top to the bottom so the flavor remains consistent between each bottle they make.

That first day, we also hit up Wild Turkey, but we couldn’t catch a tour in the time we had.  We did participate in a tasting, however.  I can’t say the portions were great, and it was probably my least favorite of the locations, but I’m still glad we stopped by.

From left to right: Paul, Ryan and Mike.

The next day, we went to Maker’s Mark and found them to be pretty similar to Woodford Reserve in terms of their history vs corporate balance.  They’re also a large operation and the tour was pretty cool, especially the part where they explain their trademark wax topping that they pull off for each bottle.  Apparently, a worker can dip something like 100 of those bottles a minute before they pass through a cooling box that solidifies the wax prior to packaging.

Maker’s Mark was a really nice facility, though their buildings are all mostly black and sheet metal instead of brick.  You can tell it’s a newer facility, and they’ve got a more “corporate” feel.  Incidentally, they only had one or two barrel aging buildings on that portion of the property and, as we left, a few miles away, we saw 10s of more buildings where they were aging bourbon.

From left to right: Ryan, Josh, Mike and Paul.
From left to right: Ryan, Josh, Mike and Paul.

The last place we went was Heaven Hill, a company I wasn’t really familiar with, but apparently they own Evan Williams (a bourbon I am familiar with).  By the time we got there, they weren’t holding tours, but they were having a Bourbon Connoisseur’s Tasting of sorts.  It was the most expensive of the tastings ($20…), but you got 4 healthy doses of different bourbons and you got more information about the barrels, the aging, the differences in how bourbons are produced (like, what grains you add to them), and so on.  For example, we tasted a “25-year-whiskey” that, normally, I’d assume would taste really good…but this was apparently an accidental batch that was forgotten for 10 years in the wrong part of the barrel aging house.  The distiller aged it a bit longer in a different barrel (one that wasn’t oak, so it didn’t count as “bourbon” anymore), but it was salvageable as a teaching tool.  It didn’t taste nearly as good as it should after that much aging, which just goes to show that “25 years” isn’t necessarily great.

Heaven Hill Distillery
Heaven Hill Distillery

Of the places we went, I think we were universal in our love for Buffalo Trace and for the tasting we had at Heaven Hill.  It isn’t that the other places were bad, but the corporate feel of Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve really showed.  As I told the guys, it reminded me of the Anheuser-Busch tour in St. Louis: the beer isn’t that great, but the tour is still fascinating just to see it all at scale.  It’s still valuable information, but perhaps didn’t have the “character” we were looking for.

We also heard great things about Jim Beam Distillery and their tour options, but unfortunately, we just couldn’t fit it in.  Next year!

Ultimately, we had a great time.  We fit some video games in at night and hit up some of the restaurants in the Frankfort area (Bourbon on Main was pretty good…great bourbon list, too…  Buddy’s Pizza was also quite good.)  Hopefully we can get together like this next year or the following year and get more folks to join us.

On Passing

Browsing podcasts via iTunes
Browsing podcasts via iTunes

I listen to a lot of podcasts.  A lot of podcasts.  I’m subscribed to over 20 different ones currently and am far, far behind on listening to many of them.  Though I tend to listen to NPR through this “time-shifted” mechanism, it’s also how I keep up on video games.  Incidentally, long before the concept of a “podcast” entered our collective consciousness, those involved in the tech industry saw these recordings as a great way to engage with their communities in a way that writing articles simply didn’t: put all of your authors in a room to talk about stuff that happened in that week, so if people want to listen to your content instead of read it, then they can.  As gamers tend to be technologically oriented, it makes sense that podcasts centered on video games sprung up like weeds long before any others did.

When I was first jumping back into video games, circa 2004-2005, Drunken Gamers Radio was one of the first ones I gravitated toward.  It was great listening to three best friends up in Minneapolis talking about games in a very “real” sense.  They weren’t people in the industry: they just had a hobby and wanted to record the stuff they talked about.  And it was hilarious.  Over the years as the three grew older, had families, and had less time to devote to gaming, the show branched out talking about cooking, brewing, movies, music, and more.  But it was always fun just listening to three friends talk about whatever they wanted to talk about.  You felt as if you had known them for years.  That you went to high school together and were just hanging out on their back patio.  They’ve been recording these podcasts for over 7 years now.

Another favorite is the Giant Bombcast, hosted by Giant  This one is more of a “traditional video game podcast” in that 5 video game journalists talk about what they played that week, recent news items, and answer e-mails from fans.  Their cast of characters changed from time to time, but the core group has stayed the same for over 380 episodes.  Again, similarly to DGR, listening to them for weeks (and years) on end makes it seem like you know them.  They aren’t just “putting on a show” for people to listen to, or playing a role for the microphone: this is them talking about their favorite hobbies.  The listener feels like they could be friends with any member of the cast.

2013 brought profound loss to both institutions.  In July, about a week after his wedding, Giant Bomb’s Ryan Davis died.  Though the cause of death was never officially explained to the fans, it is thought he lost his long-term battle with sleep apnea.  He was 34.  Then, in last October, Aaron Hilden from DGR died after complications from diabetes.  He was also in his mid-30s.  Both of them died suddenly and it was a great shock to both communities.

In the intervening months, Giant Bomb bounced back.  Though Ryan was very much the “soul” of that podcast, the other members held strong and moved forward.  It took them a few weeks to find their footing, and it still isn’t the same as it used to be, but the podcast lives and is still great.  DGR, on the other hand, just recently posted its most recent (and likely final) podcast.  This was a trio that began in college.  It wasn’t a work relationship: these guys were best friends.  The podcast always worked best when firing on all three cylinders, and the loss of one is crippling.  This is further complicated by the fact that Hilden ran the show, including audio recording, production and editing.  The other two can only do so much to replicate what Hilden did for them.

Hearing their most recent podcast has reminded me of my feelings after hearing the news.  Sure, both of these guys were “just podcasters” for a hobby that many don’t partake in (though many do…).  But you can’t help but share in their loss.  I could compare it to when Cory Monteith from “Glee” died suddenly earlier this year and how millions took his loss, but I view it differently.  Monteith played a character on television and that character is all I knew of him.  That is to say, it’s easier to mourn “Finn Hudson” than it is Cory Monteith.  I’m personally just too separated from the real person.

But Ryan Davis and Aaron Hilden?  That was them.  They were real people.  And I “knew” their friends and colleagues.  I read the outpouring of e-mails, posts and tweets after they passed and it was clear just how much they affected the lives of those around them.  I may as well have been at the funeral of someone I actually knew.

These are two gentlemen I will (and already do) miss.  I never met them and likely never would have.  But they touched a lot of lives in a way that I don’t think either of them fully appreciated.

Rest in peace, guys.

To SSD, or not to SSD?

Last year, my laptop died.  Rather than replace it, I opted for upgrading my desktop PC to make it gaming-capable, among other things, as it tends to be far cheaper and is much, much easier to upgrade when components go on sale.  At the time, I did the bulk of the upgrades, but I didn’t get new hard drives, as they were still functional and I didn’t think they were as important to spend extra cash on when I could put that money into a new processor or RAM.  So, since that time, I’ve been using a previous-generation hard drive on my next-generation motherboard.

The drive I was using was 160 GB, so not exactly a large capacity to work with.  As lots of stuff is moving toward cloud-based storage, and as we have a 400 GB external hard drive, 160 GB was still enough to do most things, though it felt “cramped” at times.  Hard drives are relatively cheap things to upgrade, where you can get a 1 terabyte hard drive (that’s 1000 GB) for about $100, and frequently cheaper.  However, that upgrade would give me all kinds of capacity, but not a huge jump in “speed.”

There are a variety of reasons for this, but part of it is that traditional hard drives actually have spinning parts, much like a record player.  As an illustration, in the image above, you can see the compact disc-looking thing, and what also looks like a needle.  Obviously, the drive’s operation is far more complicated than “it’s just like a compact disc,” but in many ways, that’s really all it’s doing.  Bigger and faster, but the same basic concept (well, and without lasers…).

Enter the “solid state drive,” or “SSD.”  Unlike a regular hard drive, this one has no moving parts.  In fact, it works much more similarly to the SD card you put in your camera.  For this reason, these guys tend to be fast in comparison with a traditional drive.  However, the cost is also far higher when in a “price per gigabyte” paradigm.  The highest volume SSD I can find sits at 960 GB, and is running $3,150 right now.

In order to run Windows and an array of programs (comfortably), you need over 100 GB, and then a second drive to store your pictures, videos, music, documents, and so on.  Thus, when this 120 GB drive from Mushkin hit $100, I was ready to take the plunge.  $100 for 120 GB was my “benchmark” price for such a thing, when it would be worth it to spend the cash on a low-capacity device when I could get 1 TB in a traditional drive for the same money.

After some hiccups concerning the cable I was using, I finally got the thing installed this past Sunday, up and running with Windows 7 Ultimate, a variety of games and “useful” programs, and a formatted 160 GB traditional hard drive (my old one) to be used exclusively for media storage.  In running a Windows-based test on my various components, where the old hard drive was definitely limiting in my overall performance, now my drive is the fastest thing in there, and my processor is what’s lagging (though not my much).  The computer boots up and is ready to use in about 20 sec, which is far faster than the minutes it used to take.

Overall, I’m a believer.  Where people used to say “add some RAM to ‘pep up’ that old computer,” the SSD is, increasingly, what people are going to suggest.  For $100, you can improve your computer’s speed to a ridiculous degree, turning it into the speed demon it once was when you first bought it.



A Bit Conflicted

A few months ago, Amazon launched their own Appstore for Android phones, however it took me until a few weeks ago to actually get it.  Long story short, Android users have the Android Market pre-installed that allows them to download free and paid apps to their phones, and the Amazon Appstore is a separate entity that does the same thing: just through Amazon.  AT&T, in their infinite wisdom, denied users the ability to install apps that weren’t from the Android Market (including the Amazon Appstore), but they finally reversed course at the end of May and decided to start allowing such things.  However, it took over two months for the update to finally make through AT&T’s network to my phone that would allow the change.  I was in constant contact with AT&T and my phone’s manufacturer, HTC, trying to get this stupid update.  They even sent me a replacement phone, but no dice.

Finally, one day I checked, and I had the ability to install the Amazon Appstore.  All of the sudden.  Lovely.

Since that time, I have grabbed a few apps and checked out some others.  There are some apps that are exclusive to Amazon’s store, and others that are only available through Android Market.  The killer feature of the Amazon Appstore, however, is their “Free App of the Day,” where Amazon allows you to download one free (normally paid) app during that 24 hour period.  Sometimes it’s a productivity app (like, today, it’s “iCooking Barbeque,” which gives you recipes.  Normally, it’s $0.99).  This past Monday, however, the free app was a game called Guitar Hero 5, which normally sells for $8.

You can hopefully see why I was anxious to get this appstore.  Sure, there are frequently things I don’t want, but sometimes, something comes along that’s normally $8 that you can get for free.  You don’t even have to install it: you just have to “buy” it and Amazon will remember that you own it.  If anything, you can just get everything and never use any of it, and not even take up the virtual space on your phone.

I am, however, at odds with what Amazon is doing with their appstore.  Sure, as the consumer, I like free stuff.  It gets me to use their service and I end up purchasing more through them than I would otherwise.  This is Amazon’s strategy in doing this in the first place (and they are paving the way to release their own tablet at the end of this year, with full integration of their own appstore, effectively bypassing Google).

But what happens to the developers of these apps?  You know, the folks that actually made the app that Amazon is giving away for free for that day?

There are more than a few horror stories out there on the internet.  One company put their app up on the store and would get a few hits a day.  Amazon offered to host their app as a free app for the day, and they decided to go ahead and do it (so, yes, it’s voluntary).  Amazon tells the developer that “We have seen tremendous results from this promotion spot and believe it will bring you a great deal of positive reviews and traffic. It is an opportunity to build your brand especially in association with a brand like Amazon’s. The current price of this placement is at 0% rev share for that one day you are placed.So, basically, Amazon gives the app away, and neither Amazon nor the developer makes anything for it on that day.  And this is what happens:

This particular developer was making some money from a few sales a day, and then effectively gave away 100,000+ copies of their app.  Almost $55,000 of product, given away.  After that sales spike, the developer says the sales returned to the original levels.

And this developer is not alone, In another case, the developer ended up giving away 180,000 copies of their app, but they ran into a separate problem from the first example.  The Amazon Appstore apparently doesn’t discriminate between Android phones, so in some cases, a given application won’t be fully compatible with your phone…and Amazon may not tell you this.  If you download the app and it doesn’t work, you tend to review the application unfavorably.  This particular app didn’t work on a certain set of Motorola phones, which meant that anyone that downloaded it gave it a bad review.  All the sudden, these guys ended up with thousands of bad reviews for their application, on a product that shouldn’t have been on some phones in the first place.

So, am I happy I have the Amazon Appstore?  Absolutely.  However, I’m also conflicted about it.  I have heard folks on podcasts that watch the store for updates in order to hear about new products, and if a particular app comes up that they want, they wait until the next day and go ahead and purchase it in order to make sure some revenue makes it to the developer.  Amazon also offers a nifty “Test Drive” feature for many of the apps they host that allows you to actually try the app out for 30 min on your Windows PC before buying it.  Thus, you can try it out on the free day, and if you like it, choose to wait to buy it the next day.  Others will get the free app, and then if the developer makes another application, they will be sure to buy that one also (which is kinda the whole purpose of this model…you get a free app, decide you like it, and then go to the developer’s page and buy more apps from them.  Doesn’t always work, obviously…).

Just something important to keep in mind.  What’s free to us, as Consumers, isn’t free to the people that made it.  Someone is losing money when we are given things for free.


A Good Weekend

Jason and Stu at Jones Park

Stu has been meaning to come up and visit since we moved up here over a year ago, so now that he’s shifting jobs and moving in the next few weeks, he was able to get some extra time for the 4.5 hour trip from Columbia to Swisher.  We time this such that Meg was in Hannibal for last week with her grandparents, then Brooke went down Friday night to get her.  Needless to say, Stu and I got into only a little bit of trouble…

Mostly, the weekend was taken up by games, BBQ and frolfing.  Lots of frolfing.  I haven’t played this much in years.

Jason joined us for Saturday’s romp around Cedar Rapids.  We hit up Jones Park first, followed by Shaver Park.  Both were 18-hole courses, where the first (picture above) had a good number of open spaces, while Shaver Park was almost entirely in thick forest.  Thankfully, we played Shaver second, as it was getting rather sunny and hot out.  On Sunday afternoon, when it was infinitely more hot and humid out, we “only” played another 18-hole course, Legion Park.  I guess you could say that Legion offered the most variety of the three courses we played this weekend, but it was so disorganized that it was probably the worst experience we had the whole time.  The signs were few and far between and the holes didn’t seem to be organized in any logical order (i.e. we played through hole 6, couldn’t find hole 7, found hole 10 after doing holes 11-14, and play hole 17 and 18 before finding 15 and 16…ug…).

Regardless, my legs are pretty tired after all that.  Good times, though.

"What's for dinner?"

The weather held together pretty well the whole weekend.  We BBQed Friday night while the ladies were out of town, then again on Saturday night after they returned from Hannibal.  Brooke’s thus far unnamed chicken even came over to visit while we were sitting by the grill.  This is the first weekend we’d seen the chicken venture that far from the coop, but it was nice to see her out and about.

Margaret Jean Linsenbardt, circa 1932

Meg was mostly in good spirits, but she needed to “reset” her sleeping clock after a week with grandma.  She slept until around 6:15 am on Sunday morning, but made it until around 7:30 Monday morning, so it didn’t take too long to get her back on our usual schedule.  Now that she’s “toddling” much more effectively, she’s also getting in to things we don’t really want her to.  Case in point, she has discovered Brooke’s pots of dirt, and loves tossing them in the air and on herself.  I grabbed this picture above and Stu suggested a “sepia hue” to pull out the dust bowl aesthetic.  I think it worked pretty well.

Not sure how this makes her parents look, though…

There's a game controller beneath that tail...

Otherwise, much console gaming was had.  We really weren’t up all that late playing, which is probably just a testament to the fact we’re getting older…or the copious amounts of beer we were having…  We played through almost all of Killzone 3 in the co-op campaign, only to have the save file get corrupted at the second-to-last chapter of the game.  Grrrrr…  Otherwise, we played quite a bit of Mortal Kombat and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, so I think we did a good job scratching the “heavy game session” itch.

In all, a pretty spectacular weekend.  Thanks for visiting, buddy.

The Meaning of Efficiency

One of my favorite video game genres is the “Real Time Strategy” game, or “RTS.”  In such a game, you generate resources in order to build units that the allow you to conquer the other player.  Starcraft II is, perhaps, the most recent example of such a game, and one I’ve been playing a great deal of recently, however the Age of Empires series is, perhaps, best-suited for explaining more clearly.  In an RTS like Age of Empires, you start the game with a few units (Villagers) that harvests resources for you, like wood, food, stone and gold.  These four resources help you to produce other Villagers, but also Military units.  When you’re starting out in the Dark Ages, you primarily need food and wood for “Clubmen,” but as you advance toward “Swordsmen,” you need more diverse resources like gold.

These games are generally part of a larger game mechanic called “resource management.”  Basically, you begin a given game with a finite amount of resources and you choose how to spend those resources.  Some of them should go to more resource-generating (e.g. investments), while other resources should go toward the ultimate goal of the game.  It’s up to the player to decide to what degree they go in either direction.  If you want to win quickly, then you pour more resources into building military units so you can take out the other player.  If you want to “tech up” to a more stable position, but take longer doing it, you pour those resources into investments.

As I said, I’ve always liked this kind of game.  But I’ve never been terribly good at it in real life.

Brooke and I have never made huge amount of money, but the move to Iowa cost us a great deal.  Brooke was unemployed for the first 3 months of living here, and she’s still only been able to get work part-time (but that’s going to steadily increase).  That combined with the fact that we have a baby now means that our collective (limited) resources have been directed in other avenues than what we are used to.  Child care alone is a ridiculous, but necessary, cost.  Therefore, we’ve been doing our best to maximize our available resources as best as possible.  With various payments that one has to car loans, student loans, life/auto insurance, etc., that only leaves a relatively small percentage of cash that you can adjust for whatever purpose is required.

A few summers ago, we started with helping limit our energy costs by getting a single-room A/C unit for our bedroom.  That helped save us $100 in a single summer, paying for the A/C unit itself.  We’ve been using it in our house in Iowa now, helping to limit the excess cost of cooling a much larger space than we were dealing with in St. Louis by only cooling our bedroom(s) at night, as opposed to having our central A/C running too heavily.  Thankfully, Iowa summers are substantially cooler than St. Louis summers, and the house is in the shade enough that it rarely heats up to a significant degree.  We’re already talking about ways to limit the amount of propane we’ll use in the relatively harsh Iowa winters, trying to defend against the northwest wind by insulating specific windows.  We’ll probably spend more time upstairs, as the heat will collect there.  We’ll probably try keeping the house cooler than we had it in St. Louis, as well.

We’re also trying to limit travel to some extent.  When we can take Brooke’s Scion xA on longer trips, we’ll take it (37 mpg), but when we need a larger vehicle, we’ll have to use the Sportage (27 mpg).  I’m driving the Sportage to and from work every day and, on those trips, I’m doing my best to stay around 65 mph, as an engine runs most efficiently within that range.  Doing so, I’ve been able to help limit my gas costs to a reasonable degree.  I’ve also started getting up earlier, getting to work around 7:00 am and leaving around 4:00 pm, thereby allowing me to miss the traffic that frequently causes me to speed around people.

Brooke has done an excellent job over the summer growing vegetables and canning them for later months.  We’ve been able to save a pretty decent amount of money on food already, but those savings will continue on into the winter months.  So far, Brooke hasn’t had to buy much solid food for Meg, either, as the carrots and squash she’s been eating were grown in our garden.  Brooke froze down more of it so she can make more in the next few weeks.  As Brooke already posted about the cloth diapers, we’ve already saved a pretty large amount of money over disposables.  Otherwise, we still shop at Aldi, as always, but are making a more concerted effort to limit the “extras” (although, Brooke has already demanded that her ice cream allotment not be limited).

Our entertainment costs have dropped dramatically, as we don’t have cable anymore and our internet connection is fast enough that we can Netflix or stream everything we want.  I’ve seen one movie in theaters this summer and have decreased the number of games I’ve purchased, as well.  We also aren’t going out to eat as often, partially because we have to hold Meg and would rather have her in a high chair or something (which she isn’t…quite…ready…for…).

We’re still looking for improvements, but I think this is a helpful, albeit stressful, experience.  As in RTS games, if you build up your resource-generating units early on, you get a strong economy that can then provide you with better military units later in the game, allowing you to conquer and win.  It takes keen resource management to do this, as you have to be very, very efficient with the military units you do build early in the game, while instead putting those resources into things that can help you later on.

Let’s hope we learn something now, so that we’re prepared for later stages of the game.

The Next Big Thing

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was held last week in Los Angeles. It is always interesting for me to watch the coverage in the gaming media during that week, looking at live blogs about the different press conferences (Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, primarily), and gathering everyone’s opinions about the proverbial “future of gaming.” Essentially, E3 is the time where most consumers hear about what games or platforms will be available for the holidays, or shortly thereafter. All the major media outlets tend to cover it in order to tell their viewers what they’ll be buying for themselves or their kids this Christmas.

You may have read in the news about Microsoft’s Kinect, or Sony’s Move. Both of these systems are attempts at cashing in on some of Nintendo’s motion control success that the Wii had. Microsoft focused a bit too much on Kinect, while Sony did a little better job of showing some games that the wider audience would want to play. No pricing has been announced for Kinect, but $150 seems to be the prevailing wisdom, plus the cost of the console. The Move will cost $120 or so to get started, but an additional $60 per person in order to get the “full motion control effect.”

While Microsoft and Sony were duking it out over motion control, Nintendo went a different direction: the Nintendo 3DS. I kinda wanted to post something about it last week, but I wanted to hear more analysis from the weekly podcasts I frequent, as they were able to get some “hands on” experience with it. To quote Jeremy Parish over at 1up:

Then I actually got to use the 3DS, and… wow. It works. It doesn’t strain my eyes at all, yet I can absolutely see the depth. I’m not exaggerating that the realization that my poor eyesight won’t shut me out of the next generation of portable gaming was the single happiest moment I’ve ever had at a gaming industry event.

To get a sense of what the 3DS can do, check out this YouTube video. This video does NOT take place on a 3DS, but demonstrates the kind of visuals and gameplay it should be able to handle when it comes out in 2011.

Nintendo will have a tough time demonstrating the 3D technology in TV commercials as very few TVs actually display 3D images. The tech is rumored to work by having two LCD screens overlapping, where the top one is shifted slightly such that one eye sees the top one and the other eye sees the bottom, allowing for stereoscopic 3D without the need for glasses.

That last bit is why this technology will be the new hottness next year, and why this thing will sell like hotcakes. You don’t need 3D glasses. And it’ll probably sell for close to $200, making it affordable 3D, as opposed to needing a multi-$1000 TV and 3D shutter glasses that sell for a few hundred dollars each (like Sony was demonstrating). This product marks the first time real, working, 3D images will be available to consumers (no, the Virtual Boy doesn’t count).

The Nintendo 3DS even has two cameras on the outside, allowing you to take 3D pictures.

Also, Nintendo was demonstrating some 3D movie trailers on the 3DS as well, suggesting that the device will have the ability to play movies. So, your kids that loved “How To Train A Dragon” or “Shrek 3D”…they’ll be able to watch it in 3D, and you won’t have to spend that much money to make it happen.

So, for the average consumer, the 3DS is a pretty big deal. The Nintendo DS has sold 130 million units, making it the most successful console ever. Parents buy them for their kids for Christmas without even thinking about it. It’s a way to entertain the kids at home and in the car without requiring you to give up your TV. If it sells for less than $200, it will still be a no-brainer. But, the fact that it has true 3D without the need for glasses will get the average consumer that doesn’t have kids to sit up and take notice.

I’ll be first in line when it releases in Spring 2011 (projected release time frame).

Today’s Two Videos…

This _should_ come out in time for Thanksgiving…which would be awesome, ’cause I can only imagine the Thanksgiving crowd at Brooke’s ‘rents house doing some four-player New Super Mario Bros. This is the perfect game (next to Mario Kart) for putting a controller in someone’s hands and letting them have some old-school Mario fun…and all at the same time, rather than taking turns.

This one is another healthcare-related video, this time featuring Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) telling off some chick that was asking why he supported Obama’s Nazi policies. She apparently didn’t realize what she was getting into, especially in that Frank is not only quite liberal and out-spoken, but also Jewish…and he doesn’t take these types of “Nazi” comments lightly (nor should he…or anyone…). Anyway, it’s only a little over a minute long, but at the very least, watch the last 15 seconds when he says, quite possibly, the funniest thing I’ve ever heard come out of a congressperson’s mouth.

So, so true…

A Digital Brave New World

I was listening to my NPR Science Friday podcast yesterday discussing the topic of who owns your digital data, broadcast on July 31st. The discussion covered a variety of different issues, including recent attempts by Facebook to retain rights to anything you post there, how Google plans on archiving all information digitally (it’ll take 300 years), and the ability of Apple to remove content from your iPhone any time it wants to.

One thing brought up in the discussion, however, was the idea of purchasing content. When you buy an album through iTunes, for example, you can burn that to a CD, putting it in a form that you can then access anywhere or anyhow you want. Music is one space where this kind of transaction has been pioneered and largely works well. In the software space, however, it isn’t really like that. If I buy a game through Steam, for example, I’m given a limited number of installs, otherwise I have to purchase it again [you can burn a backup, though, in that particular case]. More to the point, if I purchase a game on my PS3 or Wii digitally (i.e. PSN or WiiWare), I can only play it on that machine. What happens when the PS4 or Wii 2 comes out? Can I still play those games? Will they still work?

There are some forms of Digital Rights Management, used by the game company Electronic Arts (EA), that actually limit the number of times you can install the software. For the game, Spore, you would buy your DVD and then could install it 3 times. That’s it. So, if you reformatted your computer and needed to reinstall it, you’d lose one of your turns and have to do it again. EA had to intervene and remove that DRM because people got so pissed about it.

As another example, Brooke bought Bejeweled for her cell phone awhile back, then got a new one. So far as we can well, we can’t transfer that game to her new phone. So, did we ever really “own” the game? Because, if I “owned” it, I should be able to move it onto a new phone, just like if I bought a new stereo, I could put that same CD into it. Or a new TV, I could still watch the same DVD on it.

So yeah, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this as more things go from physical media to digital media. Movies, likely, are going to go that way where you won’t buy a DVD anymore: you’ll have a digital copy of the movie. And while that digital copy will work for awhile, what happens when the new hot tech toy comes out that can’t play that old file anymore? I’ll have to buy it again.

I guess we’ve gotten used to physical media over the years, where I could take that movie on VHS and copy it over to DVD. Sure, it wouldn’t look as good, but at least I wouldn’t have to buy it again. It just seems like some of these efforts by corporations trying to “protect their property” are going so far as to turn what you think you own into something more like a rental. And, personally, if I think I’m “renting” something, I don’t think I should be paying so much to use it.

This isn’t something that worries me tremendously: it’s just something to think about.


So, once Brooke got her netbook, I promptly installed Plants vs Zombies for her to play on it, a game developed by Popcap that involves defending your house against an onslaught of zombies. You use plants (like “peashooters”…that shoot peas at the oncoming zombies…or “wallnuts”…that are just giant wallnuts that serve as walls to help…just watch the video to get an idea, eh?) as defensive measures to prevent the zombie horde from eating your brains. Brooke has been addicted to it since I installed it on her netbook, so after she completes it, I’ve been trying to think of the next thing to keep her occupied.

Well, this week was E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles, where all of the upcoming gaming announcements come out for the coming year…or, at least, damn near all of them… One game that came out of it is for the Nintendo DS, called Scribblenauts. Joystiq had a blurb about their hands-on with the game and the thing sounds absolutely awesome. Basically, you play the game as Maxwell and you have to get him from point A to point B, depending on how each of 220 levels is set up. As their article describes, you could have Maxwell in a desert and you need to get his thirst quenched, or you could get him across a shark-infested pool to the other side. The catch is that you have to write things down on the DS touch screen to help him out. So, as Joystiq describes, in the case of the desert, you could write water and some water will appear. Or, to be more creative, you could give him an oasis.


This is one snippet from Joystiq’s description of their time with the game:

“Ludwig was tasked with navigating [Maxwell] through a zombie apocalypse to reach a helicopter with his brains in tact. He attempted to hold the undead off with a wall, but he couldn’t get build it fast enough to hold off the horde. He whipped out a shotgun, but their numbers were too large to dispatch with a firearm. Naturally, his next instinct was to craft a time machine, which took him into the prehistoric ages. Of course, he was surrounded by unfriendly dinos, so he made a robot dinosaur, which he then mounted and used to destroy his scaly adversaries.”

Apparently, nearly everyone at the show was trying to “break the game” by coming up with as crazy a noun as they could, only to find that the game had a seemingly limitless dictionary.

So yeah, maybe this will fit the bill? Sounds pretty creative to me, certainly…

Edit: Joystiq posted another article with ten words they put in and what the responses from the game were. The only one that wasn’t recognized was “plumbob,” while others like “stanchion” and “lutefisk” came up fine. Craziness!!