Diablo 3 Beta

Played just a bit of the Diablo 3 open beta this weekend.

It’s Diablo 2, except prettier and more interactive. I like it. I don’t really expect to play it much, because I’m too busy with Star Wars: The Old Republic. But if you liked Diablo 2, it’s worth a look.

Diablo 3 Beta

 

Top 7 of 2011

A quick recap of my highlights of 2011, in no particular order…

New Yard

We blew the big bucks from savings, tore up the weeds that had been pretending to be a lawn and had a landscaper (EWG Dirt Cheap) come in and create something native, environmentally responsible, and easier to take care of. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

  

 

Losing Weight

This is another case where the pics could speak for themselves, but I want to add that Gary Taubes Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It and Good Calories, Bad Calories were a huge inspiration to me, since they talked loud science over the chattering of all the weight-loss pundits trying to sell me cardboard shakes and awkward spring-loaded pulley machines.

 

I feel better and I find it easier to control what I eat. More, I learned to skip the health article headlines and dig deeper into the results to figure out what the latest scientific study is really trying to tell me.

Disney Anniversary Party

My wife, Natasha, celebrated her 20th anniversary of working for Disney this year. We’ve been to a few of the big anniversary parties over the years as guests of my parents, and they were lavish affairs with great food, but they always felt kind of big-company stodgy.

This year’s party seemed to be created entirely with us in mind. Apologies to the rest of you that had to attend our destiny. Held in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (nee Disney-MGM Studios), our “home” park over the years. The triumphant return of the blisteringly brilliant Adventurers Club cast (as well as the rest of the Pleasure Island cast). A massive fireworks show. Free drinks, colonel! It took me back to the heady, Eisnerized Disney Decade around the time we started.

 

Ultimately, Natasha had a wonderful time and I was happy to come along for the ride highlighting the best of our time there. I’m hoping for a similar experience when I turn 20 in mouse years next year.

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

I would have been excited about the reboot of the Star Wars ride at Disney regardless, but it came with so many bonus prizes! My buddy, Bree Starlighter, made it big as the intergalactic PR princess for the Star Tours company.

Star Wars Weekends, which I had been worrying would go the way of every Death Star, absolutely jumped to hyperspace this year.

Anthony Daniels performed a heartfelt one man/one droid show about the wonderful blessing it is to be See-Threepio.

James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan from The Clone Wars) rocked his own stage show that managed not only to show off his own incredible talent but to inspire the audience to find its own.

 

All that, and did I mention the attraction is awesome, too?

(Side note: if you’re not watching The Clone Wars and you say you’re a Star Wars fan, you’re not…really…)

Ships and Dip 4

You know it’s going to be an absolutely incredible cruise when you get back from the lifeboat drill and there are spaces in the front row of the sail-away concert just waiting for you.

It only got better when I got stopped by Mike Evin, who recognized me from my Facebook page and wanted to thank me for all the nice posts about him. (Seriously, if you’re not listening to Mike’s music, you’re missing out. And definitely get the chance to see a live show – Mike is an awesome performer whose musical passion just reaches out and grabs the audience.) If only I would have remembered to get my picture taken with him! I guess I was a little bit star-struck.

Now, when do I sign up for the next one?

Being Part-time

Back in August of 2010, after much personal deliberation and discussion with Natasha (which, for her part, was mostly, “Really, you need to do this”) I decided to go part-time at my “real” job and spend some time rediscovering bits and pieces of myself that had been missing for a while, subsumed by corporate culture and technology. I started work on a novel. I stopped working on said novel to struggle through a short story. I completed a draft of possibly the worst science fiction novel ever written during National Novel Writing Month. I rediscovered the joy of making things in my brain, and I keep learning every day about the things that hold me back and how to kick them to the curb. I am so lucky to be able to do this, and I am looking forward to my future.

Great wishes for all of you! Hope you have a wonderful 2012 and find all the things you’re looking for…

Dave and Buster’s

Natasha and I checked out the new Dave and Buster’s gaming restaurant last Saturday afternoon. If you’re looking for something air conditioned to do on a hot, steamy afternoon in Orlando (for about $25 a person or so) it’s not a bad stop.

Dave and Buster’s is basically the giant collision of a restaurant/bar, a video arcade, and the Jersey shore. The food there is about Chili’s level – not bad, not spectacular. I thought my build your own chicken tacos was pretty good; Natasha found her fried shrimp to be about equivalent to dive bar food. I haven’t sampled the specialty booze yet, but given the number of variations on the Long Island Iced Tea available, I will definitely be visiting during happy hour at some point. Service was fast and good.

The bar has some rather innovative tables that have beer taps built in. You get to pay before you pump so you can set your limit. Seems party friendly, if you ask me.

The gaming area has a collection of the expected coin-op games, basketball hoop things, and skeeball mashed up with a lot of gambling-lite type things like coin drops and variations on roulette type things. The prices on the games vary, but our $12 each basically bought us about an hour of gaming. Other than the arcade games, most everything you play earns you tickets based on your success, which you can redeem for prizes.

I have fond memories of playing coin drops at my school carnival and the Jersey Shore. A lawyer friend of my grandmother taught me how to win at the quarter drops. (Yes, lawyers always know how to drain the most money out of anything.) He advised me that if you put the quarters in your mouth and got them nice and wet and sticky before you dropped them in the machine, they tended to stick better to the platform in the machine and the other coins and wouldn’t slide on top of the other coins quite as much. Gross, yes, but I ended up winning $50 (and putting most of it back) at the carnival. (My first gambling lesson learned.) Unfortunately, as an adult, I didn’t really feel comfortable putting Dave and Buster’s coins in my mouth. Damn maturity!

In the end, if you’re not into playing some games and getting rewarded with some candy or a wicker finger trap, D&B isn’t for you. But for a date night or some time out with the kids, it’s a fun stop.

What Greasy Eggs Can Teach You

Every day now, I make myself an omelet. Couple of free range eggs, with some ham, usually, and some cheese. Cooked in butter, because fat is good for you, despite what THEY say. Get the surface of the eggs a little golden brown in spots and it’s totally yummy. Today, being Mom’s Day, while I was making that omelet, I was also remembering how I learned to cook, thanks to my mom.

When I was a young pain in the ass, my mom used to cook eggs and bacon for breakfast a lot on weekends.  She would always cook up the bacon first, and it would leave this thick sludge of bacon grease in the pan. By that time, the delicious scent of the bacon would have carried me out of bed to the kitchen table, and I’d watch my mom crack a few eggs and toss them into the grease and scramble them for me.

I hated those brown, greasy, sort of lumpy eggs. One morning, I told my mom that as she set them in front of me.

“Can’t you clean the pan first? I hate eggs made in this gross bacon grease. I’m not going to eat these! They’re horrible. I mean look at them.”

I probably stuck my tongue out at them.

My mom said, “Fine! I’m not making you eggs anymore. I like my eggs this way. If you want them made differently, you can learn to do it yourself. You’re old enough.”

She probably should have added that I was being a stupid little snot. I don’t remember her saying that, but she should have. Because I was.

And that was the moment that started me off on one of my favorite hobbies – cooking.

I got my mom (and sometimes my dad) to show me how to make different things. I got to enjoy the light, fluffy eggs I really liked. I started making other things – cookies, hot dogs, burgers, tuna salad – exactly the way I liked it. I became a culinary artist, digging into the pantry and mixing up things with the maniacal verve of an evil scientist. And oddly enough, my mom liked my creations enough that eventually, I started helping with the cooking.

I’d find notes waiting for me when I got home from school.

“Keith, there’s some ground beef I put out to thaw. Can you mix it up the way you did the other night and start dinner around 4 or so? Thanks, Mom.”

I had developed a useful talent and a hobby I loved, thanks to my mom not putting up with me being a snot. So on this Mom’s Day, appreciate the lessons you learned because she wouldn’t put up with you. Sometimes you don’t appreciate the value of a good swift kick towards the edge of the nest.

More Thoughts on the Cataclysm Beta

EDIT: Lost my Picasa album when I reinstalled the WoW Cataclysm client, so the Picasa links won’t exactly work right.

Finally hit a point with the Worgen in Cataclysm where I find the story got interesting. It’s kind of hard to judge without the animated cut-scenes in place, but the early story really didn’t grab me. It was kind of hard to figure out who the Worgen were. Yeah, there were wolf-people all around Shadowfang Keep, and I knew that the boss mob there had something to do with them, but their story didn’t really come across for me. So…I got bitten…then I’m a Worgen, but not exactly. More sort of half-human Worgen, thingie…

Eventually, after the quest that was bugged earlier was fixed, you get the “so you see, Joe” scene where some handy druids show up to explain exactly what’s going on. Better. Still confusing. But at least I have motivation now. I’m half-human, half-Worgen, and the druids are helping all of us contain our bestial side so we can fight the bad guys smartly. Cue the theme from The Hulk.

The art style is kind of gothically kewl. Lots of fancy-dressing and top hats. Made me chuckle happily when one of the quests I did gave me a top hat. Totally worthless from a game perspective, but at least now I look like all the other citizens of Gilneas.

Speaking of totally worthless from a game perspective, there’s a lot of complaining in chat about the whole ability Worgen have to transform. You see, you get to choose your Worgen form, but not your human form, so you swap into this random human form selected for you when you hit the transform button. Being a roleplayer, I kind of like the rp aspects of this, but I’d rather see the transform have a purpose. Maybe not the, “Oh, no, I have to transform or they’ll attack me” kind of thing. But it might be fun to have some quests where you have to change form.

On the Goblin side of things, I tried to heal my first instance as a Shaman. Total disaster. Um….I have one healing spell. And I didn’t spec Restoration. Not that the six or so talent points I had when I tried to do it would have helped. I’m thinking next time I use the Dungeon Finder, I’ll only tick DPS.

For the Alliance…and Horde. ;P

Harry Potterland at Universal

Went to see Harry Potterland at Universal yesterday. (Okay, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter…really?) The detail that went into building the place is amazing! Take a look at the pics I posted to see. You definitely step into the world when you get to the land, which is something I’ve felt about most of the work done at Islands of Adventure.

I’ve seen very little of the attractions yet. The line for the Forbidden Journey ride was two hours long at 7PM, so I’ll skip that until the crowds get shorter. Ditto on the rather annoyingly small Ollivander’s Wand Shop show and the Honey Dukes/Zonko’s shop. I really don’t feel like waiting in long sweaty lines to shop. I’d feel different if I was a Potter fanboy, I’m sure. I did hear where they said J.K. Rowling insisted the shops be small to be more authentic. Really, J.K.? Have you NEVER been to a theme park in Florida? It’s hot. Blisteringly, annoyingly, pass out from the armpit smell hot. Air conditioned space is like a Patronus spell when you’re surrounded by starving Dementors. Those shops NEED to be bigger.

From Harry Potterland at Universal

We ate at the Three Broomsticks restaurant, which is really the re-themed Enchanted Oak, which used to be one of my favorite places at IoA. And here is my biggest beef. Enchanted Oak felt like an Inn in the Shire. It was kind of welcoming, with lots of little booths and a distinctly positive magical feel. The Three Broomsticks is kind of…dingy. It feels like a dungeon inside now. It’s much darker. Lots of antlers hang on the walls. It’s not really someplace I feel like slouching about for a nice meal. The food is pretty much the IoA cloned menu of ribs, chicken, or ribs and chicken, along with some British flavor. Natasha had the pasties and wasn’t enchanted. I had the ribs, which I’ve always thought were quite good. The Hog’s Head brew was quite good — nice, mild beer in a collectible mug. Butterbeer is suitably sweet, like cream soda with butterscotch in it. Ultimately though, Three Broomsticks just isn’t someplace I’d want to spend a lot of time. I mean, it’s kind of nasty in the movies, isn’t it? It’s one saving grace is that they back porch is covered in tables with umbrellas over them, and that same porch has a great view of the castle.

From Harry Potterland at Universal

Again, not a huge Potter fan, so you might feel differently about Three Broomsticks if you own a wand. =) Hey, I’ll admit it, if there was a Death Star restaurant, I’d eat there…lots…

There was a great choir of Hogwarts students performing with their singing frogs. Very catchy, upbeat, musical show. And you can get your pic taken with them afterwards.

From Harry Potterland at Universal

Ultimately, Potterland is amazing work. If you’re a Potter fan, get your time turner and get there yesterday. Or maybe find some way to travel into the future, when the lines are shorter.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm Beta

EDIT 09/12/2009 – When I reinstalled the WoW Cataclysm Client it messed up my syncing with my Picasa gallery, so I lost the pics that were up there. I’ve restarted posting pics up there.

So I’m lucky enough to be in the beta for the new World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclsym. So far, it’s been pretty fun. I’m running a Worgen Warrior and a Goblin Shaman. The Worgen currently have a bug preventing me from getting past level 10, so I switched over to playing the Goblin, which I’m finding waaaaay more fun. The Goblin quests really have the spark of humor that you find a lot in WoW. Admittedly, they’re less high fantasy and perhaps a bit too Gnome-like in terms of how the humor works, but being a fan of well-done pop culture references and anachronisms, I’m really enjoying it.

You can follow my progress at this Picasa album.

One of those Veggie Melt Days

Yesterday, I went to the cafeteria downstairs where I work to grab something for lunch at my desk. It was just one of those days, you know, where you give up and eat lunch at your desk.

I stopped at the display of food at the cafeteria entrance, trying to decide on something fake-healthy for lunch. You know, it’s not oats and fruit, but if most of the population saw you eating it, they’d say, “Oh, eating healthy, huh? Good for you!”

I settled on the Veggie Melt Ciabatta. Nice mushrooms and peppers and herbs, which by themselves are mostly healthy, along with some melty cheese and oil and some big fat bread so my subconscious would be fooled into thinking it was something more akin to a Whopper.

So I go to the deli counter, and ordered the Veggie Melt, gesturing to the sign.

“The what?”

This is not the first time I have had this experience. I did a little Vanna White action at the sign. “The veggie melt?”

“The what?”

Fine. I pointed.

The guy turned the sign around and pondered it a bit. “Wow…veggie melt?”

Then, accepting the quest on the sign, he leaped into action. He read each line of the description, carefully adding each item to the sandwich. On at least two occasions, he goes off on a quest to find the ingredient. When he came back with the bowl of mushrooms, I silently hoped that he didn’t find them growing back behind the building.

Finally, he handed me my sandwich, which actually looked quite a bit like the display one by the entrance…except…it’s a veggie melt…and it’s not actually melted.

“Thanks,” I say. It was just that kind of day.

At least the sandwich was good.

Two Ends of the Animated Spectrum: The Avatar and the Frog

Over the last two weekends, I did something I hardly ever do nowadays. I went to the movies.

I don’t have kids, and generally I have time to go. For me, not going to the theater is all about the quality of the experience. Netflix and a reasonably nice TV trumps a crappy quality version of the film (you know, with all that schmutz flying by on the FILM!), sitting behind talking people and being charged 3000 times more than the bucket of popcorn is worth. So, if I go, I tend to be critical. I want the experience to blow me away.

So what did I see? Two ends of the animated spectrum: The Princess and the Frog and Avatar.

Have to say, neither one of them really engaged me much. Both were absolutely beautiful films. I liked the story of Frog better, mostly because I liked the characters more. Disney (the company whose theme parks I work for) did a nice job reinventing the classic princess story. I respected Tiana and her belief that hard work was way better than any magical spell. And I really like contrast they set up between her and Charlotte, who happens to be exactly the spoiled, cliched princess the movie is aimed at skewering. Charlotte is one-dimensional and yet not painted as worthless or evil. That’s tricky to pull off.

What’s regrettable is that the music in Frog is so … meh. I can’t say I remember any of it. No “Be our guest, be our guest…” here. Despite a nice number for the villain, and the swinging zydeco bit for the HSAs (happy, singing animals). Randy Newman’s effort just doesn’t cut it here, which is a shame considering the movie is set in New Orleans, which is really a paradise of music. (If you’ve never been there, and you like music, why not?) There’s just something too Disney and not authentic enough in this soundtrack.

Overall, Frog was enjoyable. A good movie, just not a great one. That left me especially sad, because I really wanted this movie to prove that the difference between success and failure in animation has nothing to do with traditional 2D versus shiny round 3D. Frog is a gorgeous movie. It deserved to be richer in story and song.
Avatar. Hrm. $300 million for that movie confuses me. Let me start by saying, I am firmly in the “3D is a gimmick” camp. After about 15 minutes wearing the glasses annoyed me. This may be partly because I have had 20/15 vision most of my life, and wearing the glasses feels like an imposition. But I also feel like 3D depth in a movie is mostly wasted on me. If it’s not John Candy’s old cheap 3D tricks from SCTV, I don’t really see the point.

Part way through the movie, I got tired and tilted my head and half the screen went blurry. Yeah, call me when you don’t need glasses.

Avatar’s a TREMENDOUS achievement in terms of special effects. There are some shots that are just amazing mixes of the real and the virtual. And there’s also some stuff that reminded me a lot of the old video games that had full motion video in them. It had that, “shot in the same warehouse” feel that those did. Maybe it was the 3D, but some of it just looked sort of cheesy.

Reading the WIRED article about how Cameron was reinventing effects made me hope we might now have a cheaper way of making movies of the “unfilmable” fantasy novels out there. Watching the densest credits ever roll by at the end, I realized this movie was great because they spent a TREMENDOUS amount of time, effort, and money on it, so I don’t know how much of an improvement it will be for people who can’t command the incredible budgets Cameron can.

Story? There’s a document making its rounds on the net that satirizes the fact that Avatar is basically Disney’s Pocahontas. That pretty much speaks to it for me. The sci-fi elements were unique, but they weren’t particularly challenging or thought-provoking. The characters were pretty thin and cliched too, which made it really hard to want to identify with anyone strongly.

So I’m back to my monastic Netflix existence until the next big event pictures come out.