Spoils of Gears of War

So last year, Cameron and I went on a road trip for OXM with the folks from Nightmare Armor Studios. They create sci-fi armor out of sheer geek love, and they’d built the armor and weapons from Gears of War, so we arranged a surprise visit to Epic Games and documented the trip. It was a fun, surreal time and everybody went home happy. The article was a hit.

Friday I got an unexpected box in the mail. I opened it and couldn’t believe what I…saw. My very own Lancer!

Christina built it, and Sid painted it. And then Kat photographed it.

Obviously…I’m thrilled.

Naturally, Cliff has one too. I’m totally going to challenge him to a duel.

A Dorito Called Quest

Finally, someone has made snack food mysterious. Anybody who knows me and my puzzle nature will not be surprised to learn that I was thrilled to find a glossy black back of Doritos called QUEST in the grocery store last night. There was some sort of code embedded in the bag’s graphics — some of the triangles are colored, some are not. Some are inverted, some are not.

Cryptic chips? Oh hell yes. Sign me right the fuck up.

Sure enough, you start by guessing the flavor. Go to the website and you don’t even have to guess if you sit there long enough. The site starts giving you letters in the word, Hangman-style. Kat and I tried the chip (after reading the ingredients, which made it clear that there was something citrus involved) but didn’t even get a chance to figure it out before the site spoiled it.

After rolling our eyes at the answer, we got into Myst-style puzzles. I won’t spoil anything because it’s free to play and those of you out there who like puzzles the way I do will want to just have a go at them. But the bottom line is that it’s a treasure hunt contest with $100,000 at the end of it, and while I know I’ll never win, I love playing. Even when it’s just marketing.

Brain dump May 2008

Insanely busy lately. Like, working during the day, coming home and working at night, and then because there is no other option, working most or all of the weekend too. Lots of little things have happened that I wanted to blog about but didn’t have the time.

  • Devon started throwing up and smelling horrible this week so we took him to the vet for the first time. Still not sure what it is, but he’s on meds, and a drink of barium showed that he didn’t eat something that blocked his system — we really assumed he’d swallowed a bread twister or a marble or something like that. He’s not even two years old yet, but he’s got a great personality, he loves being around us as much as we love being around him, and we’re not taking any risks.
  • Southwest is a better airline than I remembered it being. Shit left on time. Shit took off on time. Occasionally someone cracked a joke. It was a lot better than my last five trips on United — combined.
  • I got something cool in the mail that requires photographic evidence. Watch this space.
  • Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection for Wii makes me very happy.
  • GTA IV is great. I just haven’t had time to play it.
  • I cursed a lot on the first episode of GamesRadar’s podcast, if you’d like to hear it.
  • This week I was in Chicago and Marin. Next week I’m in Vegas. After that I think I’d like to go to sleep.
  • We’re starting a second band, The Radio Waves. It’s Fast Times but not just 80s. The people are the same, the energy is the same, but now there’s a shitload of disco and funk and whatnot. Basically, a party band, and the answer to the question we get all the time at Fast Times shows: “Don’t you do anything other than 80s?” I am excited, sorta. I am seriously considering investing in a stage teleprompter, because this doubles the amount of songs I have to remember the words to, and I am notoriously bad at that.

You go, gay

Same sex marriage, good to go in California. It’s about time.

I still haven’t figured out what makes two people committing their lives to each other so dangerous, but it’s worth noting that I found out about the ruling from a political group’s press release — sent to me at work, for reasons I don’t understand — decrying it as “counterfeit” and “disregarding the sanctity of marriage and the will of the people.”

I had trouble concentrating on the press release because I was distracted by the loud, joyous celebrations in the streets. That’s the will of the people.

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Alive and kicking ass

One trip to Fry’s, one trip to Central Computers, and one lap around the office to get advice and spare parts put me in good shape for the rebuild. It didn’t take long, but it did take all the time between the last blog post and now, pretty much.

Behold the new rig, nearly all of which was the direct recommendation of folks from PC Gamer and Maximum PC, after they found out I wanted to build a Swiss Army knife rather than a hot rod:

For the nerds, that’s…

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 (Penryn quad-core, baby!)
  • ASUS P5E motherboard (X38 chipset)
  • ATI Radeon 3870 512MB video card (courtesy of Norman Chan)
  • Antec TruPower 850 (with yellow racing stripes!)
  • 4GB Corsair Dominator 800 MHz RAM (nom nom nom!)
  • 500GB Seagate Barracuda hard drive (take that old drive!)
  • Nzxt Tempest case (courtesy of Dave Murphy)

…and yes, it glows blue when the camera’s flash is off. And even though it has six fans in it (!), they’re all large and therefore turn slowly, so the unit is surprisingly quiet. It’s also a mid-tower that thinks it’s a full tower, and it’s a heavy steel beast. But I’ve always had problems with overheating and needing to take the side off the case, so maybe this is the answer. I also paid attention to cable routing and kept everything as neat and short as I possibly could, so as to further help the airflow. And I only broke one part! I snapped off part of the case bezel but you can’t see it. At least I didn’t mess up the CPU installation — I always get nervous.

I’ve moved over my old DVD writers, the 250GB drive that didn’t crash, the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro sound card, mouse and keyboard, and the speakers and monitor stay put. And the naughty drive is being given a second chance as an external/backup drive in an eSATA/USB enclosure.

Bottom line: I’m way overpowered for WoW now (I cannot wait to see the draw distance and frame rate), I will actually be able to run Crysis and Hellgate, and I’m set for a few more years, I hope. I’m glad the band’s done well lately or I wouldn’t have been able to spring for all the parts all at once.

I haven’t figured out what to name it, but I feel it needs a name this time. Kat always calls my PC “the other woman.” I thought maybe “Lisa” in honor of Weird Science, but the blue LEDs give it a Tron feel. I’m up for your suggestions.

Comedy of errors: May edition

Every so often, life gets weird. There are just stretches of days here and there that you look back on and go, “WTF?”

Kat’s birthday was Wednesday, May 7. I had to travel for work that day, and I felt bad, but I’d given her her gift early, and I said I’d take off the next day to spend with her as a make-good. And better still, her brother was supposed to fly out from New York and spend a day or two with her. It was going to be a cool day to hang out.

Her brother canceled Tuesday due to an unforeseen conflict, so I said, hey, we’ll do our thing Thursday anyway. Whatever you want.

I woke up Wednesday from a very long, intense, action-movie dream about the zombie apocalypse ready to catch my flight only to find it was canceled, but the airline was nice enough to call and tell me I was rescheduled on the next flight out. Cool. As I was surfing the web doing a little last minute research, my hard drive crashed. Might as well say my kidney failed — it’s brutal to know that, when you get back from a 12-hour day, you’re going to have to put the pieces of your computer back together.

So I go to the airport, and I find that my flight — the new one, not the canceled one — has been delayed. I’m cutting it closer and closer to the time I’m supposed to be in Los Angeles. Ten minutes before the plane is to arrive, we’re told that the pilot missed his approach and was “in the vicinity.” Basically, he missed the off-ramp. So that pushed our time back even further.

I take my cramped seat between two other passengers on the full, late flight and start reading a magazine when a hand appears over the page. “Hi, nice to meet you, it’s a pleasure to be flying with you today.”

It’s President Jimmy Carter.

I blink twice and give his hand a firm shake. “Thank you, sir,” I stammer. I’d heard someone say something about Carter being in the airport earlier in the day but I was too preoccupied to even consider that, out of the hundreds of flights boarding and departing that day, he might be on my delayed shuttle hop to LA. But there he was, with several Secret Service agents, greeting everyone on the plane personally. That way, I guess nobody will come bother him during the flight. It’s probably easier for security if they don’t try to hide the guy. (I later learned he had done a book signing in San Francisco the day before so he was probably en route to the next appearance.)

The flight lands. I meet my friend who landed on another flight from another airline that doesn’t rhyme with Screwnited and we jump in a cab. We’re still an hour late and everybody else is standing outside waiting for us. We climb in the waiting van and try to leave the parking lot…but there’s a fee of $8 and the driver has no cash and the attendant doesn’t take credit cards. “We take checks,” she offers. “Why would I be carrying checks?” asks our driver, and before I can ask him “Why wouldn’t you be carrying cash?” I offer him the money. “Just gimme the receipt, that’s all I ask,” I say.

We get to our destination and immediately head out to lunch. While there, the radio plays only songs I know, even when they change the station.

I return to the airport, hoping to catch an earlier flight back, and I’m there in plenty of time…to find that my actual flight is cancelled. The airline that rhymes with Fuckyounited has five SFO flights slated for the rest of the day. Three are cancelled, one is delayed, and the other one has 25 people on standby. I’m grateful I’ve been automatically moved to the only remaining on-time departure and sit down to write my story based on the day’s events.

I squeeze between the oversized lady on my right and the drooling sleeper on my left. No heads of state greet me, and my magazine is gone.

When I finally get home, Kat is still out with friends, so I tackle the crashed computer with renewed vigor. No luck. I try several other things the following day — I’ve taken the day off to spend with Kat for her belated birthday. The hard drive looks like it’s damaged when I look at it with one program, but not the other. I can’t rescue data because the registry is toast; any time I try to copy anything from what used to be my desktop, I get a system-halting blue screen error.

(Fair warning — it gets geeky from here.)

I bite the bullet and accept that I will have to reinstall Windows and deal with any data loss — emails, bookmarks, small applications like Microsoft Word. The important stuff — music, pornography, and porn soundtracks — is on other drives…well, other partitions, anyway. But all I have to do is reinstall Windows and move forward.

Hmm. Windows won’t install. It must be a bad drive after all. Kat and I go to Best Buy, where I get her a lovely DS case for her birthday and I get myself a 500GB SATA drive. I’ll show you, computer.

I hook it up. Windows still won’t install. Hmm, maybe the optical drive is the culprit; maybe the laser is misaligned or something. I do use it a lot and they only work for so long before dying. I try from my second optical drive, even though the tray tends to stick whenever I eject a disc. Probably should have picked up one of those, too.

Windows still won’t install. And when I eject the disc, the force of the stubborn tray pops the XP install disc into the air and it jams as it’s ejecting, leaving a cenitmeter-wide scrrrratch so deep that I can see light through the CD. My XP installer disc is irreparably damaged.

I have a backup. I have several computers and have several legitimate copies of XP lying around. I also have a backup optical drive — two, it turns out, when I go looking in the closet of Spare Computer Parts. I quickly install it in the evil drive’s place, pop in the second XP installer disc, and try again.

Windows won’t install. “Maybe your XP install disc is damaged,” offers the setup error message helpfully. Um, no, we’ve ruled that one out.

So now I’ve replaced the hard drive, the optical drive, and the copy of XP. There’s nothing else it can be…except the computer itself. David Murphy at Maximum PC suggests that it sounds like the motherboard itself must be the culprit, since I’ve tried everything else.

I built my PC three years ago. It’s got an Athlon 64 CPU (Socket 754, how quaint!) and an AGP video card. I built it to run Doom 3, which was coming out in six months. It’s an antique that served me well. I knew this day was coming sometime this year and I was hoping to plan for it. But a new motherboard means a new CPU. And new RAM to match. And a new video card now that PCI Express is, you know, the standard. And a new power supply that delivers about twice as much as the one I have now. Maybe a new case. And, um, I just bought a new hard drive this morning. So…I get to keep my two optical drives and my sound card, and that’s about it. Operation Reboot starts Saturday at 11am.

That said, I made Kat pancakes, she got to play WoW for several hours (I played on my laptop while trying to fix the desktop), enjoyed a steak dinner and a delicious birthday cake, and is beyond thrilled with her Kindle. For her, life is not currently weird.


There goes my hard drive. I’m posting this from one of the other 63 computers in the house, but my boot partition just went tits up. It went without warning, while surfing the web. I tried to rescue the data but I kept getting blue screens of death during copying. I have reformatted it and SpinRite says it’s absolutely fine, but Windows refuses to copy to the thing, and I’m getting bad cluster reports from Bart PE. Norton is officially useless. I suspect it’s the drive’s controller, which means, new drive. And get the other two partitions off there — that’s music and games.

I took today off to make up for the fact that I was going to be on the road on Kat’s birthday. We are spending the day together doing whatever she wants. I’m hoping she wants to buy a hard drive and reinstall Windows.