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More bow practice: here’s hoping my words hit the mark near as much January 25, 2009

Posted by John Taylor in Uncategorized.

My first job: Groundskeeper, Horse Grave Digger January 24, 2009

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On Friday we were all atwitter about our first jobs. The demands at my current job were such that I couldn’t chip in until now (Get it? Current job? “Chip” in?).


Is that smile authentic or just "selling it"?

Is that smile authentic or just "selling it"?

My first job essentially was willed to me by my then-future brother in law who is about six years older. He was the groundskeeper for a well-off family we’ll call “The Barringtons.” And he was good at it. Plus he worked at Chilis (I thought that restaurant was SO cool in 1984. The tiled tabletop and quasi Mexican themes were exotic and exciting to me; the spicy food that my Kentucky-raised Mom never made.) AND he had some third job.






So, although I was perfectly contented to spend my 15 year old days on soccer tournaments and Doritos, the sheer work ethic chasm between three-job George vs. no-job me shamed me into accepting the rake-and-power tool scepter he offered.


The fun stuff:

          The food: Mrs. Barrington cooked a frozen pizza for you every day you worked and brought it to you with soda. It was so great of her I didn’t even complain when she brought supreme pizza.

          The truck: I got to drive around the grounds in their 1960s Ford pickup with a three speed manual on the steering column. I taught myself to drive this truck, and I’ve driven a manual for every truck and car I’ve owned since.

          The cars, U.K. style: Mrs. Barrington owned not one, but two 12-cyl Jaguar XJS convertibles. One in black, one in white. I don’t know why. But at 15, I was car crazy and this was a constant pleasant distraction.

          The daughters and the car, Detroit style: The Barrington daughters were all beautiful young women and at least as distracting when they would emerge from the house, but a few years and notches on the evolutionary scale out of my reach. One of them owned a baby blue 1969 Camaro SS with white racing stripes. So I spent my days working there surrounded by gleaming examples of precisely the kinds of Detroit and U.K. hardware that was the object of my desire.



The lows and the oddity:

          The intimidating power tools. I love a good power tool today (cue Tim Allen). But I only knew my way around a mower when I started at the Barrington’s. Honestly, like the truck, I learned how to use all these fancy, gas-powered tools on the job. And I wasn’t exactly a natural. On more than one occasion in the first month or so, Mr. Barrington emerged from the Tudor-accented home to re-acquaint me with such things as the choke, the throttle, and the proper angle for edging. At those moments of inadequacy, I’d picture George holding the edger with the confidence of Babe Ruth and his 34 inch Louisville Slugger.

          The amazing recuperative powers of watching some kid dig your grave. One day,  Mr. Barrington came to me out in the field and told me one of the horses was on its last leg. I looked across the grazing horses and cows and instantly spotted a forlorn looking, slow moving gelding. “I need you to dig a grave for him,” was his instruction. “Over here, under these oaks.” How big is a horse grave? Picture a Rubik’s cube. Now picture one 6 feet long, wide, and deep. Digging a grave like this would be impossible without a power shovel and rock breaker here in the limestone-rich Austin area. But in Florida, all I needed was a shovel and a couple of days and it was dug. It seemed to me that the old horse watched this process with more interest in me than he had ever displayed before. And you know what? That horse sure found a little extra zing in his step once that grave was complete, and he was still trotting about the farm several months later when I took a new job as Pool Boy and Chlorine Tank Operator.

If only I worked for Weekly World News January 23, 2009

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I could write real, reliable cutlines to photos. The brave truth. Such as:


Remorseless boy born with jawbone of TRex devours 3 year old as callous New Yorkers stand idly by. Photo courtesy of New York Museum of Natural History security guard Bernie Nubaum.

Remorseless boy born with jawbone of TRex devours 3 year old as callous New Yorkers stand idly by. Photo courtesy of New York Museum of Natural History security guard Bernie Nubaum.

Netflix “Watch Instantly” vs. Time Warner “On Demand” January 22, 2009

Posted by John Taylor in Netflix, Xbox 360.
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liberally interpreted, easier to understand scoring system. It leads to decisive victories as you will see.

JT Rex consulted with Al Franken on a liberally interpreted, easier to understand scoring system. It leads to decisive victories as you will see.

 “I like free stuff and I cannot lie.” – Sir Nicked A Lot

 Recent free things that fell in my lap:

  • Every month I get more graphics performance from AMD free driver updates (okay that was shameless).
  • Yesterday, when I put my dollar in the vending machine at AMD Lone Star B300 and punched the code for the large-size Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, the spiral candyholder turned but didn’t quite drop the candy, leaving it at the dangling edge. After an eternity, through the miracle of technology, some little sensor (made by my former client TI perhaps?) told the spiral to keep on turning for another full revolution…and then the best thing ever happens.

You not only get the candy you expected and momentarily feared you’d be denied (jes makes it sweeter), you get the candy BEHIND it too!

But the weird thing? Instead of another 3-pack large size Reece’s, I get a smaller two-pack size. Meaning, I spared some poor sucker from having to pay a full dollar for what was clearly going to be an 85 cent candy. Oh, and I ate all five PB cups but I’m sure I ran it off later…

The third free thing I got recently? All those Xb0x 360 updates including the new UI and the addition of Netflix Watch Instantly.

I have to admit, it feels like a new 360, which I just like, and its integration with the Xbox actually got me to reactivate my Netflix membership which I had canceled in preference to Time Warner’s growing HD channel lineup and on-demand services.

I chose the $9.99/mo Netflix option which means I can have one DVD at a time in my possession, but I can “Watch Instantly” to my heart’s content. Compare that to $3.99 or $4.99 per 4:3 crappy quality movie on On-Demand, and $5.99 or $6.99 for HD on-demand.

Because I wasted so much of the start of this post on vending machine tech advancements, let’s get right to the tale of the tape:

Selection: Netflix Watch Instantly (NWI) is awarded this point. This is an easy one. I have all the full seasons of The Office and 30 Rock at my fingertips on NWI. In HD, no less. Time Warner On Demand (TWOD) usually has maybe 10-20 HD movies, some of which you’d never watch. On NWI, I can get any TV show seemingly in HD, and tons of interesting indi flicks, award winners, foreign films, you name it. The two clear advantages for TWOD are new releases (they have ’em, NWI really doesn’t) and the fact that you don;t need to use a laptop to find new movies. At some point, you need to go to netflix.com and find new movies that have been released for “Watch Instantly” in order to enjoy them on your 360. But I do this in batches of maybe 10, so it’s not really been a problem yet. And no, I haven’t watched but maybe 1/10th of what I’ve got sitting on NWI yet, so no calling me couch potato. 

Wait time: from TV, Set Top Box, and Home Theater Receiver all off to watching a movie takes 55 seconds on TWOD. From TV, console, and Home Theater Receiver all off to watching a movie takes 62 seconds on the Xbox 360/NWI. I’m calling this a tie
Editor’s Note: I played the first available movie for each. I was too cheap to actually buy  an on-demand movie from TWOD so I used the first title under “Free Movies on Demand.” Ironically, considering my posts of yesterday, this was a short video on kids staying active while playing video games. It also loaded far faster than any movie I’ve ever bought from TWOD. So I’m giving the Xbox a 7 second benefit of the doubt.
Price: Uh, NWI is $9.99/mo. UNLIMITED. You can’t watch two HD movies in 30 days on TWOD for that. Another point for NWI.
The winner: NWI with a total score of 2.5 points out of a maximum 3 points. (0.5 points are awarded to each competitor in the event of a tie). TWOD: 0.5 points. Now that’s decisive! 

First impressions: LOTR Conquest January 21, 2009

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My pre-order from Amazon of Pandemic’s LOTR Conquest finally arrived last night. Note to self: this is the second time you have pre-ordered from Amazon.com on a hot new Xbox 360 game, cheaped out on Super Saver Shipping, and gotten the game two weeks after it has been on shelves. Although I saved three dollars on the game ($56.99) vs. what Target has it for ($59.99), not sure the three dollars was worth having to tell my 8-yr old everyday for almost two weeks: “nope, it’s not here yet…maybe tomorrow (come on USPS, the thing only shipped from Dallas to Austin. I could have hand carried on foot many times over in that time).

So last night is my first time alone with the game, as my wife wants me to ensure it plays appropriate for our 8-yr old Henry I’ll be playing it with. (He’s 9 in a couple weeks, I’ll remind you.)

First, Henry and I LOVE playing Battlefront II for Xbox on our Xbox 360. There’s just something so cool about collaborating with your little guy in taking down a giant Spider walker on Geonosis, and bypassing all the heroes the game tries to award me so he can play as Mace Windu or Obiwan. Even though it is an Xbox game and we’re playing at below 720P resolution and the graphics re a little dated, we still love it. Best. Xbox. Game. Ever.

(Although I do remember much fun with my older boys Matt and Mitch playing Xbox Halo. No matter how much superior strategy I’d congratulate myself for during game play, their young minds having a perfect image for the whole battle map trumped me every time. Typical score would be Matt or Mitch: 25 kills. Dad (JTRex): 5.

So our expectations for LOTR Conquest were high as it is by Pandemic and the Battlefront guys.

After getting Henry to bed at about 8:45 (we reviewed the game manual together after dinner), I loaded up the disc.

First impressions:

·         Looks beautiful on my 720P Samsung DLP (yeah, I guess I’m already old-school HDTV, but I’m content). Sounds like the voiceover in the game is none other than Elrond as played by Hugo Weaving (haven’t confirmed this, but Elrond sure shows up in the Cinematic commanding those highly synchronized elf armies…).

·         Familiar options as Battlefront II: Single player campaign, Multiplayer, Split Screen, and Instant Action. I chose Single Player Campaign and go into Training.

·         Okay, Training is basically showing you how to fight as a few different classes. It’s way more complex than BFII though, which worries me for Henry’s sake. Example: your power move is X X X Y Y B. That’s six buttons while you’ve got an Orc slashing you. Other moves include RB + X + Y … maybe I didn’t realize there were all these power moves in BF II, but in LOTRC in seems you HAVE to know these power moves because even on the easy setting there are so many Orcs you can’t take them out one at a time.

·         I complete training, which has me learning the basics of a swordsman, an archer, a scout, and then a hero (Isildur – man he looks great for being a few thousand years old). Isildur has his own complex moves, or it seems that way at first.

·         Having completed training, I’m a little intimidated and deflated. I’m a hand-eye coordination type game player. I’m not a remember-six-buttons-to-push-in-sequence-and-fire-comes-out-your-sword type. Neither is Henry. We don’t play enough to memorize all this stuff.

·         So I move on to the first battle in the single player campaign – Helm’s Deep. I love Helm’s Deep. This is going to rock. Graphics look great. Ah, but there it is, that feeling of lack-of-confidence with my ability to master all these moves. Not the feeling you want going into battle, ya know?

·         Yup, I tried three times to defend the wall where all the orcs are landing on their siege ladders. I only get to the next round once, and I do that as an archer shooing multi-arrows and poison arrows (more multi-button combinations). It seems as though if I can’t master complex moves (what’s wrong with the left and right triggers and combat strategy, Pandemic?), you’re dead. Scout orcs will sneak up behind you and kill you in one blow. Then eat you, if I remember my Tolkien.

Here’s hoping it’s downhill from here. I’ll share Henry’s experience next.

Henry’s Take on LOTR Conquest…also known as 1st impressions are overrated January 21, 2009

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So tonight, it was nearly nine Henry’s turn. I had shared with him when I got home from work my experience from the night before, and the things that worried me for his sake:

  • complex moves
  • even on easy it was hard to advance

Before I get to Henry’s thoughts, a disclaimer: yes, LOTR Conquest is rated Teen. This is why I checked the game out beforehand (I selflessly took no pleasure from it, naturally) last night. Yes there was sword play and bows and arrows, but there was no blood, no gore, no unsightly carcasses. But what’s more, we have two creative properties in this house that circumvent the “Pre-teens shall play no T for Teen games nor view PG-13 movies.” Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

Somehow I’m able to justify these handful of teen titles because of the themes and what they meant to me as a kid: I saw Star Wars when I was 8 after my Dad encouraged my mom to take us. He described it as “Cowboys in Space.” And I read the LOTR trilogy many times and had dog-eared versions of those blue, green and red paperbacks. In truth, none of the games ever really assault my senses or make me question this. Star Wars Episode III did unnerve me, though, with that very dark sequence as Anakin went to the dark side and took a number of souls and not all of his limbs, hair and skin with him.

So what did Henry think?

  • “Oh Dad, this is so awesome!”
  • “Dad, this isn’t hard at all!”
  • “See it’s RB, X, X, Y if you want to do…THIS (explosion of flame and limp orcs)

Henry and I went on to play multiscreen together, and the magic from Battlefront II was back. We made short work of the entire Helm’s Deep battle that had whipped me the night before. I was an archer, he a swordsmen. We instantly fell into some of our BFII routines with him fighting it out on the ground and me protecting him from a distance.

I think I even know how to shoot a fire arrow now. RB X Y or maybe it’s LT Y B? 

Either way,  first impressions aren’t always worth an Orc grunt’s bucket of warm spit.

A weird, noseless orc. If getting rid of these things is wrong, I dont want to be right.

A weird, noseless orc. If getting rid of these things is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Now if only they tracked your battle stats like BFII…

My 40 one-worders, sort of January 21, 2009

Posted by John Taylor in Uncategorized.

@legin tagged me to do ‘40 one-worders’. Harder than it looks. Bear in mind I like to create new compound words. Or compoundwords. The mystery around missing question #15 deepens:

1. Where is your cell phone? Jeanspocket

2. Your significant other? SteelAzalea

3. Your hair? nostyle

4. Your mother? communityorganizer

5. Your father? writing

6. Your favorite thing? GulfofMexico

7. Your dream last night? analog

8. Your favorite drink? Tito’sandtonic

9. Your dream/goal? oldandfit

10. What room you are in? cubewithview

11. Your hobby? nightrunning

12. Your fear? insignificance

13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Floribama

14. Where were you last night? Xbox360

16. Muffins? cranberry

17. Wish list item? compoundbow

18. Where you grew up? Tampa

19. Last thing you did? bosscall

20. What are you wearing? oxfordnjeans

21. Your TV? natureinHD

22. Your pets? GandalfandScully

23. Friends? awesomeandmany

24. Your life? funnerbytheday

25. Your mood? creativejuice

26. Missing someone? MattandMitch

27. Car? RSX

28. Something you’re not wearing? cargoshorts

29. Your favorite store? Newegg.com

30. Your summer? NY+SF

31. Like someone? strong

32. Your favorite color? oakleafgreen

33. When is the last time you laughed? Office

34. Last time you cried? Bucs’last4games

35. Who will resend this? @sclovelace,  @teresa_o, @mattmcginnis, @rkeosheyan, @SaraChap10, @seanmills

36. One place that I go to over and over? SF

37. One person who emails me regularly? Bonezilla

38. My favorite place to eat? Tokyosushi

39. Why you participated in this survey? @legin

40. What are you doing tonight? runninghard