Monday, October 30, 2006

Make A Difference Day

Apparently this past Sunday, October 29th was Make a Difference Day, a day for anyone to carry out a volunteer project that helps others. I was completely oblivious to this fact, ironically because I was volunteering in my neighborhood. Now, I don't know if it made a difference - but I had a good time, and hope I helped a bunch of kids enjoy their halloween.

The locals here have an annual hallows celebration in a small park, about a block away from my house. This year they decided to team up with the Parks Department and have a bigger celebration in the bigger park, which is about 3 blocks away. It's right by the Hudson River, there's a nature center, natural woods, get the drift.


The Parks Department decided, last minute on Friday, to pull out. And reject the group's idea of having pony rides, because they didn't want horses in the park. And because of high winds, eliminate the giant slide and the inflatable "bounce house".

So what did that leave? An arts and crafts tent, face painting tables, and a field set aside for children's games.

Guess who was put in charge of overseeing the children's game field? Which now became the main attraction for the event?

Needless to say it was a challenge, trying to find ways to entertain all of these kids of varying ages, to their parents satisfaction. After all, if I'd brought my kids out in this chilly wind, someone had damn well better be trying to entertain them to the best of their ability!

Unfortunately, the game organizer hadn't planned on being the main showcase and didn't exactly have a full plate of games, so yours truly became an impromptu MC and games master for a few hours. I'd like to believe the kids had a lot of fun; I defintely tried my best with what I had, mot of it ad-libbed on the spot.

There was just something incredibly satisfying about entertaining these kids. Seeing them all dressed up in their costumes; the ninja mock-sword fighting with the pirate, the cowboy drawing his pistol against me and my flintlock. I would have liked to see more volunteers dressed up in costume, getting into the spirit; it is Halloween, after all.

But still. It was fun, and the look of happiness on those kids faces was worth the cold and wind.

Happy Halloween to all, and to all a spooky night!

But Will It Sell in Pakistan?

Just in time for that most-evil of holidays, Halloween, comes this little mp3 player from our friends in Russia: the Saint mp3 player.

Perfect for listening to those Catholic podcast sermons on, the Saint is, unfortunately, only a concept player. Still, every would-be Goth on the planet would die (pun intended) to get their hands on this little black-enameled beauty as the ideal wardrobe accessory.

Still, it only has a limited sales ability; once you get past the death-heads, the satantics, and (once the Pearly White model comes out) the're sort of stuck in terms of your market choices. Where do you go from here? Take a cue from McDonalds, who were smart enough to offer local cuisine choices on their international menus. Go global, religiously! The six-pointed Star of David is an ideal choice for that niche Israeli market, and a crescent moon shape will not only get you the Muslims, but you'll win over the wiccan/druid crowd as well!

Of course, the only real problem is that none of these models will ever be able to communicate with each other and share files.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Normal On Halloween? Perish the Thought!

Every so often, I run through Craigslist postings under activities and events, looking for something interesting to do. This time, however, my eye was caught by the following ad:
I’ve always found Halloween to be an overrated event, although I’ve done my share of dressing up and all that silly stuff. So, instead of going with my friends to parties or to the parade, I just want to do something normal, something ordinary, something un-halloween on Halloween night. How about just a nice dinner (sushi is perennial favorite), hanging out at a jazz club afterwards, or just relaxing at a cafĂ© and have a good chat. I wonder if there’s anyone else out there who share my sentiments.

I'd planned on ranting about my usual "Halloween is the Red Headed Stepchild" complaint, but this really got me boiling. Overrated? Why? Because the stick up your ass seems to get in the way of your partying? Silly stuff?

Here's the thing. If you don't like Halloween...fine. Stay home. Go out to eat. Or not. But do me a favor, would you? Shut the hell up, and let the rest of us have our fun. I'm not a Christian, but do you see me complaining about all the religous motifs during the winter Yule holidays? No!

Halloween has always been one of the big holidays for me, for as long as I can remember. As a child growing up, my grandparents would throw a halloween party for all of the grandkids, and then our aunts would take us trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. Growing up in the projects of the south Bronx, you'd think this would be a problem; it wasn't. If people chose not to open their doors and see our made-up happy faces, screw them - we'd keep on knocking until we found someone who did.

As I got older, I evolved from candy-begging treater to chaperone, taking out my younger sisters and cousins on the same routes I'd walked each year, pointing out the dangers and things to avoid, what candies to throw away and which were safe to eat. I'd show them which stores in the neighborhood were the most generous, which gave old candy and which handed out silver coins that jingled in our bags with every bouncing step we took.

Halloween was fun, it was one of three times a year when a kid could be allowed to be as childish as they wanted to be: their birthday, Christmas...and Halloween.

As I got even older, I never lost that feeling of excitement as the holiday approached. It became a time when, as an adult, you could once again experience the innocent glee of being a kid again. You could shrug off the mantle of reponsibility, adulthood, of your job and problems and bills and whatever else hung heavy on your shoulders - and have fun. You could put on a mask and suddenly you were transformed, changed into anything imaginable! You could be the princess, the knight in shining armor, the superhero, the scary monster, the fireman! Your passive, shy personality could be hidden behind a gaudy, sparkle-encrusted mask and for one day - one day in an entire year - you could be the life of the party, the center of attention, the one everyone laughs with and has a good time talking to.

It's Halloween! You can be sexy, nerdy, scary, dashing, kooky, creepy, sultry, childish, adventurous...your only limits are your own imagination. This is a night for masks, but it's also a night to let that inner child out to play. It's a night of transformation, of metamorphasis; it's a chance to be something you've always dreamed of being, but never had the courage. Or the opportunity.

One night a year, and you can be anything you want to be.

Why, pray tell, would I choose to be normal on a night like this?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Madden Curse

I'm not what you call a fan of the urban legend - those stories of potential doom or luck that inevitably find their way into my mailbox, often forwarded by well-intentioned but misguided and gullible friends.

However, every so often something comes along that just makes you sit back and go "hmmm..."

The Madden Curse, for those of you among the uninitiated, is an urban legend based on the popular line of sports video games put out by EA Sports, Madden Football, named after former Oakland Raiders head coach and current TV football analyst John Madden. First produced in 1989 as John Madden Football, the video game has been known as Madden NFL since its developers signed a licensing deal with the NFL in 1993, and new versions are released annually to incorporate new and improved features and rosters based on current NFL players. For the first eleven years the game's packaging featured the smiling visage of John Madden; starting with the 2001 version and continuing for the last seven years, the box front has presented an action graphic of a selected NFL star. Each version of the game is dated according to the year-to-come; Madden NFL 2007, for example, comes out in 2006 for the '06-'07 season.

According to a superstition based upon a pattern occurring over the last several years, whichever player signs a deal to appear on the cover of the next version of Madden NFL will suffer a serious injury (or some other stroke of bad luck), resulting in a disappointing performance during the forthcoming NFL season.

Now, I know you're all ready to call total bullshit on this one; so was I. Then I did some reading, and the facts are spooky:

2000: The 2000 edition of Madden NFL was a gentle easing-in to the curse. This was the last edition of the game to feature a photograph of John Madden on the front of the box (as all previous editions had done), but it also included a background picture of the Detroit Lions' star running back (and future NFL Hall of Famer) Barry Sanders. As events turned out, Sanders didn't play a single down during the 1999-2000 season (or ever again), shocking the Lions by abruptly announcing his retirement and ending his ten-year career just before the start of training camp that summer.

Since Barry Sanders quit well before the start of the 1999 regular season, EA Sports had enough time to substitute a different graphic on the packaging of later shipments of Madden NFL 2000. The newer covers replaced the Madden/Sanders combination with a picture of Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levens, who spearheaded a Packers team that had just played in three straight NFC Championship Games and back-to-back Super Bowls. Although Levens performed reasonably well in 1999, he was bothered by a bad knee that he had re-injured the previous year, and Green Bay finished out of the playoff picture with a so-so 8-8 record. Levens was used only in a reserve role after that, and the Packers released him at the end of the 2001 season.

2001: The 2001 cover of Madden NFL featured Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, who the previous year had led his team to the Super Bowl (where they came up just short against the St. Louis Rams). Although George enjoyed his best season ever (in terms of yards gained rushing and touchdowns scored) in 2000, he bobbled a pass (that was subsequently intercepted and returned for a touchdown) in the Titans' season-ending Divisional Playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and the following season, hampered by injuries, he saw his rushing average sink to an all-time low.

2002: The 2002 cover of Madden NFL featured Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who the previous year had made an impressive NFL debut in taking his team to the NFC Championship Game (which they lost to the New York Giants). In 2001, however, the Vikings struggled to a disappointing 4-7 record before Culpepper suffered a knee injury and missed the last five games of the year (while Minnesota finished the season a dismal 5-11).

2003: The 2003 cover of Madden NFL featured St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, whose rushing and receiving prowess had led his team to the Super Bowl twice in the previous three years. But Faulk was plagued by an injured ankle during the 2002 season, his yards gained rushing total dropped under the 1,000 mark (after four straight seasons of 1300+ yards), and the Rams missed the playoffs with a disappointing 7-9 record.

2004: The 2004 cover of Madden NFL featured Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who in 2002 (his first season as a starter) took a team with a dismal 16-32 record over the previous three years and led them to a respectable 9-6-1 finish and a spot in the NFL playoffs as a Wild Card entry. In 2003, though, Vick suffered a fractured right fibula in a pre-season game one day after Madden NFL 2004 hit store shelves; he played in only five games that year as the Falcons sank to a lowly 5-11 record.

2005: The 2005 cover of Madden NFL featured Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who had recorded a career-high six interceptions in 2003 as his team reached the post-season for the third time in four years. But in 2004, Lewis failed (for the only time in his NFL career) to record even a single interception and sat out the final game of the season with an injury as the Ravens just missed qualifying for the playoffs at 9-7, and in 2005 he suffered a torn right hamstring in Baltimore's sixth game and missed the rest of the season as the Ravens dropped to 6-10.

2006: The 2006 cover of Madden NFL featured Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, under whom the Eagles had amassed a superb 59-21 regular season record and made five straight playoff appearances in the previous five years, the last of which culminated in an NFC Championship and a Super Bowl match-up against the New England Patriots (which Philadelphia lost by three points). After he was selected for the 2006 Madden NFL cover, McNabb flouted the curse by saying that the injuries associated with it "might be a trend, but I don't believe in the curse at all." True to form, McNabb suffered a sports hernia in the first game of the 2005 season. He played on for another eight games despite the painful injury, but after being re-injured in a contest against the Dallas Cowboys, he finally opted for surgery and missed the final seven games of the season as the Eagles finished last in the NFC East.

2007: The 2007 cover of Madden NFL featured the Seattle Seahawks' star running back Shaun Alexander, whose 5.1 yards per carry rushing average in 2005 spurred the Seahawks to their best season ever and their first Super Bowl appearance. Three weeks into the 2006 season, Alexander broke his left foot in a game against the New York Giants.

Now, I'm not saying you should believe this stuff...but if I were you, I wouldn't start signing any merchandising contracts with EA Sports any time soon. 'Knamean?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Would It Cost To Bathe In It?

We GOTS to get our H2O on, baby!

Yes, true believers, seeing is in fact believing. This is good old fashioned Aqua. With bling.

Bling H2O comes in 750ml frosted bottles studded with sparkling Swarovski crystals. The bling water was earlier meant just for Hollywood celebs and hi-fi socialite circle, but now you can gulp it down all for £30. That's $56 dollars US, for us rubes living on The Continent. A friggin' fiddy-dollar bottle of water; and you thought Perrier was expensive, back in the day?

And to those of you who think, "oh, I'd spring the cash just to try it!" - first, hold on while I get the smelly fish I'm going to slap you silly with. Second: you'd still be just a poser, unless you had the ducats like Paris Hilton does. Cuz money to her is so secondary, the beeyotch poured a glass of this stuff in her dog's drinking bowl. Yeah, that's right - her dog.

It's so sad. You're paying for the bottle, not even for the water.

Which means it might pay off working as a busboy at the next celeb-filled gala. Suddenly recycling used bottles becomes a lucrative business.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Is That a Joystick In Your Pants, Or...

Yes, true believers, the ultimate fantasy has come true. Underwear that will let men finally have complete and utter (udder?) control (hah!) over that one portion of the female anatomy that most guys (yours truly excepted, of course) seem to have problems understanding.

Nintendo panties, with a built in controller. Talk about learning to push all the right buttons! I can hear her know. "More to the the RIGHT-RIGHT-LEFT-LEFT-circle-circle-circle!!!"

On the positive side, fellahs, when you need to take a break you can just hit that pause button, go grab yourself something to eat, take a nap, and come back fully refreshed!

Be careful, however, if you're one of those "button mashers" who don't know what they're doing and just keep hitting buttons until something works. They might bruise easily.

Don't forget those nights when she's "got a headache". A quick press of the start button and it's Game On, baby!

Let's just hope the first game you play isn't in the Mushroom Kingdom, kneamean?!

And no, Virginia, the buttons don't really work. Sheesh.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Like Little Kids The Week Before Xmas

Boy, some of you RL people are way too over anxious hahah! I've gotten a few comments wondering what, exactly, my costume is going to be this year. I don't think it's a big deal, although in years past I have gone over the top. Except last year, I was lazy :)

But, since friends are asking - who am I to dissuade their curiosity. So, in the interest of friendship, here's a clue:

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hallowed Ground

It's that time of the year again. Time to pull out those dusty old rubber bats to hang from the ceiling, the black tapered candles, the coffin for display in the living room.

Of course, for ME it's been that time of year about...4 months ago. You can never start celebrating too early, I say.

Really, my Halloween celebrations come down to three things: (1) the costume, (2) the venue, and (3) who I spend it with.

I love my friends, each and every one, but there's been a long, hard struggle over the years trying to get them to feel the same joy of Samhain that I do. And it's been a somewhat losing battle, with moments of success here and there.

For me, I think it's because I have such great childhood family memories of Halloween. My grandparents would throw a party at their home every year for all the grandkids, and there were a number of us. We'd have all the traditional stuff - bobbing for apples, a costume contest, music. We'd go trick or treating, and in our neighborhood trick or treating required skill and cunning. We lived in an 11-story project building, so of course we'd hit all the apartments. Then you'd go out to the corner bodegas and collect a few coins, some penny candy - whatever they felt like giving out.'d venture out. This is when it got dangerous. We had a shopping area nearby, about...5 blocks away. Third Avenue, in the Bronx, at 149th street. Big shopping strip that stretched from 149th up to 155th. The important part here, you need to understand, is that the stores along this strip would also give out goodies.

The dangerous part? Raiders. I shit you not, there were packs of OLDER kids roaming around who, themselves "too old" to demean themselves by donning a costume and begging for treats, would instead prey on us kidlings and raid our goodie bags. It became a matter of skill to spot these predators and circumnavigate them, yet still make your way to the stores to collect your just rewards.

It was sort of like being Jerry going after the cheese in the fridge, even though Tom was sleeping right outside the door.

Back to the present. I ordered my main costume pieces a few weeks ago - I found a woman who custom made the parts I needed, and I can make the rest myself. So the first part of my Hallowed plans are nearly complete.

Now I just need to find a venue. I'm considering traveling up to Sleepy Hollow, because there is just something awesomely poetic about that, but I also don't intend to be bored of my gourd. It's 3 weeks away, so I've got time.

Once I decide on a venue...well. That would just leave the companions, wouldn't it?

So what're YOU doing for All Hallow's Eve?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Let the Games Begin

What is a game designer?

You ask someone today about it, and they'll invariably lean towards video games. You call yourself a game designer, and people will wonder what console you've designed for.

But ultimately, what is a game designer but someone who, well...designs games? Who outlines the concept, rule book, and game mechanics for a game of any kind?

Board games. Role-playing. Video Games. Live activity games. Card games. Sports games.

Do you think the man who invented baseball would consider himself a game designer? Or the person who invented hopscotch? Marbles?

When I was younger, I'd babysit my sisters and cousins. I'd have to find ways to entertain them, and back then cable wasn't an option. I'd do things like tie bed sheets togther between dressers and bedposts, and make a maze out of it. I'd make scavenger hunts for them, devise traps; I'd invent new things for them to play, together.

When I was older and discovered Dungeons & Dragons (shh!), I couldn't help but wonder to myself: can I make this any better? If I changed these rules, and added does it change the game?

How can I make a game similar, but using an entirely different mechanic?

I've designed video games, on my old Tandy Coco3 (published in Rainbow Magazine!) back in the mid 80s. I've conceptualized role play/dice systems, new video games, online rpgs...

And now here I am, doing it again. I was talking with a friend about my escapades in StreetWars and, of course, found myself thinking:

How can I make this better?

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

I've already written up half of the game rules, and conceptualized the mechanics. And even at this halfway point, I think it's much more involved than the "other guys". It's definitely friendlier. And unquestionably, it'll keep players in the game for most, if not all, the length of the tournament.

I've even written to a particular manufacturer about a tie-in, and I've plans to speak to local businesses about...

Well. Let's not give the farm away, shall we?

The Spy Game. Look for it, in cities near you. If you happen to live near New York City, that is.