OK, it was an orcish peon, and a virtual orcish peon at that, so I shouldn't feel too badly. You see, I canceled my World of Warcraft account. My reasons were three-fold - I didn't have any time, what time I did have I wanted to use to explore new games, and while I was in a half-dozen worlds with various friends, I never got to play at the same time, and they eventually all leveled past me, created new characters, and those new characters leveled past me.
And all for fifteen bucks a month. I hadn't been able to really get going with anything for three months, so I figured it was time.
But when you cancel your WoW account, they first recommend you call their toll-free number so a human being can try to convince you otherwise. I passed on that option, downloaded the latest patch (yeah, I PATCHED in order to drop the game), and went to the site to cancel. And met the weeping orcish peon there.
The peon was despondent, and would not let me leave without a reason why. It had a pull-down menu, and experimenting with a few of them, found that when you chose one, the weeping orc would pop up with another box, arguing with me about why I was wrong.
And interesting approach. Of the three reasons I just mentioned, I couldn't find one for "no time" or "friends much better than I am", so I finally settled on "leaving for another game". And the weeping orc, a spurned, jealous lover, wanted to know "what game?" and I put down Guild Wars (though LOTRO and the beta of a Korean game I keep calling Grando Espresso were also there). And it informed me that other games may have their "shiny baubles" but only WoW strive to presenting the best and most varied game experience.
Uh-HUH. You know, these guys charge 45 bucks every three months whether I play or not. Their dedication to my participation would be more sincere if it showed up before I decided to turn off the cash flow. So a couple button punches later, along the lines "but are you SURE?", this shows up:
"If you choose to deactivate your subscription‚ you will still be able to play until your currently paid for time expires on June XX, 2007 X:XX AM PDT. The peon is full-on weeping now. We hope you're happy. Are you positive you want to deactivate your subscription?"
Am I happy? Absolutely. I made virtual orc marketing peon cry. More people should take advantage of that opportunity.
So occasionally you hear an idea that just drops neatly into place and you say "Dayem! That makes sense!" And in this case the idea involves the ongoing huggamugga about the Seattle Sonics basketball team.
Now, I'm not a big Sonics fan, but I have friends here who are, and I'm good with the idea of keeping the Sonics in town. But the big problem is that I'm NOT a fan of looting the public funds to do so, and the various concepts that have been pitched have been along the lines of "This is the most expensive stadium in history AND if you don't pony up, we're moving to Oklahoma City". Its extortion that would ruffle the feathers even if the Sonics even if they, say, made it playoffs with any regularity.
But a lesser prob is that the locations that have been suggested have been ... suboptimal. You can revise Key Arena as much as you like, but it still involves getting off the Mercer Exit and shlepping overland through the new construction in South Union to get there. And the backup plan, down near the new mall in Renton, adds traffic load to an already stressed chunk of 405.
And then this idea balloon floats up. and I blink, and say "Dayem! etc....". It all makes a modicum of sense. If there is a more accessible location than the south end of Boeing Field, I'm not sure of it. The new Light Rail is coming through it. Major highway nearby - more importantly, major highway that isn't ALREADY a parking lot. Land that is undergoing a development change. It sounds like a plan. We have SoDo (South of Downtown). Now we can get SoBo (South of Boeing Field)
And if you can do it without cracking open the piggy bank, I say we go for it.
Oh, here's a fun fact that I forgot to mention earlier - I'm not radioactive.
I'm sure that's a relief to many, but the question of why it would be important that I declare it is a story that I have been witholding from the blogosphere at large.
Back in early November, I was in Germany working with Blue Byte on their game - The Settlers: Rise of an Empire (which is looking real cool, by the way). Flew into Heathrow, smaller plane to Dusseldorf, and then back. Partial story of the trip is here. But about the same time as I was jetting about, former KBG agent Alexander Litvenenko was poisoned by a massive dose of Polonium-210
Time passes, as does Litvenenko. I'm back in Seattle and it is early December, and I get an urgent email from Blue Byte to contact them. The Brits had found trace amounts of PO-210 on four planes, including the one I was on for the Dusseldorf/Heathrow hop. There was no immediate danger, but everyone on board was encouraged to see their physician, just in case. Now.
So I call my GP, was told that things were kinda full, explained to them that there was an outside chance of my being radioactive, and was given an immediate appointment. There was a general determinance of my good health (no surprise - in the mean time, the LB and I had the great Thanksgiving disaster, which resulted in us walking four miles uphill in the snow) and a recommendation that I see the staff radiologist. He was in turn interested (I was his first Litvenenko-related case), ran a radiation counter/tricorder/studfinder over me, and declared me OK.
Mind you, Polonium-210 is a heavy particle that can be stopped by clothing or skin. The only prob is if it is injested (which is how Litvinenko got it - through a teapot). Since I didn't lick the pull-down seat tray on that flight, I was pretty sure I was good. Plus the fact that if I had pulled up even a mild dose, I would have showed some definite signs (like keeling over dead) in the month between by fateful flight and the warning.
I was concerned, though, and took it with some gallows humor. And my co-workers were amused. One of them said "The symptoms of Polonium poisoning are similar to those of being stabbed through a curtain." That made me laugh. Even in our darkest hour - Shakespeare humor!
So that's my brush with international espionage. Why didn't I mention it sooner? Well, two days BEFORE I got the call to check myself for radiation poisoning, I was talking to my Mom on the phone, and she was worried (as Moms worried) that the Brits were checking flights and since I was on a flight in Europe, I was at risk. And of course I said that there were a lot of flights in Europe, and it was unlikely I was affected.
And of course I was wrong, but I didn't want to then CALL her back and make her worry, so I resolved to mention it in person when I was back in Pgh this past month, when I could demonstrate I was in good health and ... well, not dead.
And I've been mum on the blog as well, but the sudden meme-tagging made me realize that I haven't shared THIS particular fact. But now I have. So there you have it.
Here are the rules: Each person tagged blogs 7 random facts about themselves, as well as the rules of the game. You need to tag seven others and list their names on your blog. You have to leave those you plan on tagging a note in their comments so they know that they have been tagged and to read your blog.
(Now, this is interesting, since I tend to share a lot of what happens in my world, and while there is private stuff, I'm pretty much an open book. So here goes.)
Seven Random Facts about Jeff:
1) I sing in the car when I'm alone. 2) Unless I'm listening to the Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey books on tape. I just finished Letter of Marque. Next up is The Thirteen Gun Salute, followed by my all-time favorite name for a book: The Nutmeg of Consolation. 3) I was once stepped on by a bear. 4) One of my front teeth is false. I caught a hard-hat in the face during a caving expedition. 5) My favorite bands in college were Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and Jethro Tull. Be afraid. 6) My favorite performer when I was in high school was John Denver. Be very afraid. 7) The first time I voted in a presidential election, I voted for the Republican.
So chain-lettering this onward, I hearby tag the following poor souls (emails will be arriving separately).
- Last night I was working in the lower floor and heard what sounded like a large mouse thundering through the space above my head, between the floors. Due to the way the house is constructed (a tri-level with an additional fourth level added), sometimes wild things get into that space. I resigned myself to searching for obvious entrances and mayhaps investing in a trap.
- However, when I got up this morning, there was a dead mouse at the doorway to my office, presented by Harley and Vicky, who probably pummeled it to death (lacking front claws). The Iron Cats get full marks for presentation and plating, though I refused to judge them on taste.
- Yesterday went down to the Des Moines beach for very low tides, which meant a beach walk with the Sierra Club. Many of the usual suspects were unearthed (rock crabs and dungeoness, moon snails, sea stars and sea cucumbers), but saw some chitens and nudibranchs as well. Also a visit to the new fish ladder up the stream.
- In addition, I got back to the Black River a few weeks back to check on the herons, first mentioned in the journal way back here. It was after the peak of the season, and the trees were starting to come it, but while there are still nests present, the colony is not as large as it was previous years. This may be due to the bone-headed development Renton allowed to be installed right next door, or it may be due to a pair of bald eagles setting up shop at the far end of the lake. That's the problem with nature - never gives you the easy answer.
- And speaking of eagles, we have one up on Panther Lake as well now. Neighbor across the street has a nest in his fir trees. On one hand I'm pleased to see the noble birds make a comeback from the 70s, when there was a risk of losing them entirely in the lower 48. On the other hand, they are getting to be almost a bit TOO common up here. Look for news reports on missing pets in the near future.
- And you've heard about the bee hive crash, likely - honeybees leaving home and not coming back, with potentially dire consequences. The thing that actually worries me is a sudden lack of ducklings and goslings at my place of work. Last year this time we were hip-deep in them, such that warning signs were posted at the buildings. This year, a definite reduction in population. I guess we could blame this on bald eagles as well, but it seems a little .... sinister.
UPDATE: Add to the other stories the sudden appearance of a barred owl outside our office. Like right outside, perched in one of the fir trees, eating a baby bunny. Barred owls are mostly nocturnal but can be found active during the day, particularly if they are feeding fledgelings.
So I'm back from a week in Pittsburgh. My family is good, my father celebrated his 80th birthday, and springtime in the Steel City is much, much more appealing then at Thanksgiving. The trees are coming into leaf, the week was without rain, we actually got to see the city, and it was just verging on the summer humidity.
So the only real stories I have to tell are about the trip itself, and both of them stem from the current diminished state of the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.
For many years, Greater Pittsburgh was the home of first Allegheny Airlines, then US Air, and had a lot of hometown pride for both. Trouble is, US Air started to drift away, its corporate offices first moving to North Carolina, then to Arizona. As a result, there were more and more demands on Greater Pitt, combined with reduced services. The city dropped from a Hub city to a Featured city to "City we go when we feel like it". Most recently, they even dropped the overpriced red-eyes from the West Coast.
So the airport is built for a nice mid-sized airline without a mid-sized airline being present, and its facilities are a little empty (want to film a movie in an airport? This is the place! Dogma did it). So we have to bounce through other hub cities to get to Pgh, and parts of those legs are on smaller craft belonging to the "commuter partners" of the big airlines. But the other services are reduced as well as a result of the lack of a hub.
Case in point, rental cars. Made arrangements with Hertz for an intermediate-sized car. Got there are there were (surprise!) no intermediate sizes (because, you know, why would they have a lot of cars at a secondary airport?). They were willing to bump us up to the next level. An SUV.
And we said no thanks. I've done that drill before, and found it a little boxy expensive and frustrating, particularly when I have a pair of hybrids at home. And the Terrifying Presence behind the counter (you know the one, the clerk that tells you that if you get a scratch on the car, they will have to rebuild it and charge you twice the value of the vehicle AND have to kill your children), informed us that we could spend more money for an even larger vehicle. Or we could take the SUV. And we said no, we asked for a mid-sized, we'd like one. And the Terrifying Presence suddenly seized up, unable to understand why we would not want to drive a Mammoth. And there was much glowering at each other, and the Lovely Bride suggested "Can you downgrade us?"
And the Terrifying Presence blinked and said, "Yes. Yes, I think we can". And we ended up with a perfectly acceptable economy (A cobalt-colored Cobalt). But if the LB had not spoken up, we would STILL be there.
The other travel story also stems from Greater Pitt's fallen status. Because it is no longer a hub, planes have to fly into Pittsburgh before catching an outbound route. As a result, the airport is dependent on getting those planes IN in the first place.
On the day we're leaving, we get to the airport two hours early. We have to catch a flight to Chicago, and from there on to Seattle. I notice that the plane that is supposed to come into our gate is delayed in Chicago. I do the mental math, figure we're OK, and sit down. An hour passes. A second hour. The plane is still on the ground on Chicago. More mental math. We're now just at the edge of "We're going to have to run through the United Terminal to make our connection" status, and the plane we need is STILL in Chicago.
I go to the podium, silent up to now on the matter, to find out what's going on. The airline folk are cordial, friendly, and frustrated. The plane they need is in Chicago (reasons unrevealed - mechanical, thunderstorms, pilot whacked out on mojoritas, I don't know). We're going to miss the flight out. They start checking other ways into Seattle. Anything else out of Chicago (no). Anything out of Dulles (no). Minneapolis (no). The young woman's fingers are flying over the keyboard looking for a solution to the problem. About this time they announce that the flight is going to be horribly, horribly late, and a line starts to back up behind me as this young woman valiantly tries to come up with the answer.
And the answer is - Delta, through Cinncinati, with a half-hour window for the change. And it will be leaving at three in the afternoon, which means we had a seven-hour delay in the Pittsburgh airport.
But (and this is the good thing) it all worked. Delta has a corporate image of "Git-er-done", and we were seated at the front of the commuter flight to get us OFF the airplane as quickly as possible, made the final flight with all of ten minutes to spar, and finally, after about 15 hours, got back to the house.
And I will say that there are worse places to be trapped for seven hours than in the Pittsburgh Airport. Free wi-fi. Comfortable chairs in larger-than-normal waiting areas. Classical music playing in the background. Short lines at the vendors. All signs of a place that once had seen a lot more traffic, and, if there is any justice, should see a real airline come in and make it a hub again.
Preferably an airline with direct flights to Seattle.
So the Lovely Bride and I went to see Spider-Man 3 last night, and it was OK. The LB liked it more than I did, but it still worked on a lot of levels, and was the good, easy-going, action-packed summer blockbuster that media moguls dream of. There are few things I've noted, and I'll warn you about the big freaking SPOILERS right now.
1) Old People are Fonts of Wisdom: Every elder in this movie says the absolutely right thing at the right time, from Aunt May to Uncle Ben's flashback to Peter's landlord to Stan Lee to the Osborne's butler, for god's sake. All of them, wise sages with the perfect advice. Yes, the voice of the elder Osborn is evil and JJJameson is a fool, but while adults they are not in the elder category. With all that good advice on the loose, can NYC be anything less than heaven?
2) And this New York is New York of the sixties. Yeah, I know, they have cell phones and I-Pods, but the way everyone dresses and the demure nature of Times' Square and even Peter's scooter just screams the imaginary NY of 1967. It is the New York of "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Bridget Loves Bernie", and "That Girl". I mean, I'm expecting to see Marlo Thomas as one of MJ's rivals, not Gwen Stacie.
3) There are a lot of weird time losses in the movie. The alien symbiote is grabs onto Peter's scooter and sneaks into his apartment in the first reel (to use the archaic phrase) then apparently hangs out, living off of cockroaches and old ritz crackers, before joining up with the body of Peter deep into the second act. Similarly, Peter and young Harry have a battle that wrecks Harry's appartment, and, despite having a BUTLER, nobody cleans up for a couple weeks as young Harry heals. At the time, you don't notice the long time jumps, but looking back, you say whathehey?
4) Peter was being a jerk BEFORE he got hooked up with the symbiote. Please note that. Really wrapped up with himself, to the point that he's not even paying attention to MJ's troubles. At the point where reunion is offered, and they reach out for each other, I want to shout "Run, woman, RUN! He's dangerous even when he isn't posessed!"
5) On the other hand, I want to use the alien symbiote excuse the next time the LB catches me eating chocolate ice cream from the container with my fingers.
6) And what's with this letting Sandman go because he didn't MEAN to kill the person he killed? The guy not only pounded the crud out of you, Spidey, and also kept all of NYC at bay while your girlfriend was threatened. I mean, you COULD have forgiven him AND brought him in for his crimes. Even if it is not murder one (and I think the case could have been made, happening as it did during commission of a crime), it WAS manslaughter.
7) Oh yeah, the biggest supervillain? The runaway crane. Out in Bellevue, cranes just fall down ONCE. Here, they whip around, taking huge gashes out of office buildings. Apparently construction cranes really, really, REALLY hate copying machines. (And I got lost in all the confusion and special effects - did Spider-Man ever rescue the Crane Operator in all that?)
8) And you know what I think? I think that May's old engagement ring is cursed. And she knows it. THAT'S the reason she wants to fob it off on Peter and not take it back. And indeed, in the movie, everything goes south for him as soon as he takes the ring.
So the movie has made metric tons of money, so they are going to keep going. The Spider-man villains' gallery has good but not unlimited depth, and with the resolution of the Green Goblin situation, there are still some options before you get to Rocket Racer and the Grizzley. Me, I would like to see JJJ get into his active phase against Spidey - Spider-slayers, creating the Scorpion as a competing hero, and the Jackal (complete with .... dare I say it? ... clones).
No, my keyboard has not thrown up - it just is the chance to talk about the care and feeding of a comic-book universe again. Previously I've talked about the Marvel Universe's recent Civil War. Quick Digression on that - is there ANY Marvel book that shows that the CW and the Initiative that followed it is a GOOD thing? The books that you'd think of as the pro-Initiative books show those in charge of the Initiative as Jerks, while those that would be anti-initiative books, well, they show those in charge to be Jerks, too. But, that's a digression - here's the past year of the DC Universe to look at.
When last we tuned into the DC Universe, its Infinity Crisis was screwing things up. In a nutshell, the original Superboy was pounding on the walls of reality, messing up the backstory of a lot of books and reminding us old-timers that it has been twenty years since the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Following that, the next month's books were supposed to suddenly make the jump a year in the future (OYL = One Year Later), to allow things to shake up. Superman depowered! Batman abandons Gotham for a year! Wonder Woman, well, I got no clue, since her own book was criminally screwed up following the relaunched.
Filling in the "missing year" was a weekly comic books series called 52 (take THAT, 24!) which dealt with a lot of lesser lights in the DC Universe (The Question, Booster Gold, Black Adam from the Captain Marvel stories, the Elongated Man, The Metal Men, etc ...). That one wrapped up with World War III (WWIII), in which Black Adam went on a super-hero rampage for about a week, killing everyone in the super-villian country of Bialya and threatened to do the same in China.
So working backwards, WWIII was a wet squib, four issues for a Giant-size story which was torn in two directions - one to resolve the Black Adam arc from 52, and the other to explain all the "strange happenings" that OYL came in with. And in the process it reveals not only that most of these changes were not that major, but that they have pretty much been plowed under in the year since OYL. Internal comic-book history is a plastic thing at best, what with dead characters bouncing back to life regularly, but most of the big changes have been undone. Supes got his powers back, Bats returned to Gotham, and Wondey is still wrestling to escape horrible stories (case in point, the just-launched Amazons Attack book, where the Amazons, removed from continuity in Infinity Crisis, suddenly come back and, um, attack. Washington DC, to be exact, But its Black Adam who gets the WWIII monicker. Hrumph!
That's not to say that OYL was bad - there have been some really nice stories in the past year - Paul Dini's work on Detective Comics have been a string of nice done-in-one books that tour through the Batman's villain pantheon. But did we really need a year-long break of continuity to tell these tales? Superman regaining his powers - he had to be gone for a year (yeah, and the "lead-in" from missing year doesn't quite match the story at the beginning of the tale, but that's part of working in a dynamic universe). As attention-getter, OYL was OK, as story-telling mechanism, it wasn't taken advantage of.
The weekly comic 52 was also plagued by being pulled in multiple directions. I could not cover effectively things happening in books-as-yet unwritten, so the Big Three had a problem with representation. But also, the tales of the characters grew in the telling, such that Black Adam had to be exported out of the book wholesale for his own limited series. In the end, it gave more change that the OYL itself - a new Question, Elongated Man slain and reunited with his late wife (killed way back in Identity Crisis) as ghost detectives (moving from Thin Man to Topper), there's a new Batwoman, an alchemical reformulation of the Metal Men, and a lot of semi-interesting characters who were created only to be killed, but will come back now that they are part of the continuity.
Oh, and instead of Superboy punching reality to change the past, the Captain Marvel villain Mr. Mind goes from catepillar to dimension-eating moth to destroy universes, and we end up with 52 DC Earths, a supposedly manageable number.
Yeah, but it reminds me that one of the reasons that we had Crisis on Infinite Earths in the first place was the fact that there was a Superman on Earth One and a Superman on Earth two, and people couldn't keep the JLA (E-1) and JSA (E-2). Now we have a JSA on E-1 AND a slightly-different JSA on Earth-2, which will make for even more confusion. AND as the Marvel Universe has so aptly pointed out, once you open the door, you end up with "Large-But-Finite" number of earths, as everyone creates their own revised realities for their stories.
So the end result? Multiple earths are back, but both probably more limited and more confusing. Some really nice playing with the minor characters in 52. WWIII will be forgotten as the shortest war in history, up there with the Pig War of 1859. Amazons Attack is dead out of the gate, coming hard on the heels of WWIII. Explanations of why something doesn't line up with history are now blamed on Mr Mind-Moth, not Superboy. And the wheel turns to the Next Big Thing, in this case a weekly book called "Countdown" which leads inevitably to the next big crisis.
So I went down to LA again, This time for the voice recordings for our new game. I went with Sound Guru Robert and Other Writer Ree. Both I referred to numerous times as "the Thin People", for whom a cheese danish is a hearty breakfast and the two miles between the recording studio and the hotel is amusingly called "walking distance".
Robert is along as a second set of ears, a more professional set attuned to the popping, gurgling, smacking, and growling that the human body is inadvertently capable of when it is placed near a microphone. Ree is the other game-designer-who-writes at the company, and she is along so that when SHE has to do this for her project, it is not like we're throwing her into the deep end of the pool in a burlap sack.
The taping went very, very well - there is a lot to be said for bringing together a crue of well-prepared professionals. Now Robert gets the odious talks of stitching it all together and seeing if we really made conversations out of everything we wrote.
These trips to LA have been surprisingly painless. Car to SeaTac to LAX to Hotel, the last by horribly expensive but generally capable cab. The hotel this time was the Sportsman's Lodge, a long-time fixture in Studio City because it kept most of its land while the rest of the area has been developed. Once the site of two man-made trout ponds, where Clark Gable fished off the back porch, it now is a nice hotel with a huge pool adjacent to a massive reception complex dedicated to weddings and reunions. The mattresses were firm, the walls solid, the hallway traffic light, and the showers adequate. No idea on the breakfast, because, as you know, I was traveling with the Thin People.
This time I DID manage to get to an above-average restaurant - the Marrakesh on Ventura. Moroccan food, which in our case meant quail, rabbit, lamb, and a chicken pastry wrapped in filo and topped with powdered sugar. Baklava, low tables, and belly dancers. The company may bridle at the cost, but it was worth it.
But I've been down to LA five times now in the past year, and have not given myself the chance to see friends or get to the Getty Museum. The last is a bit of a Holy Grail at this point. many years ago the Lovely Bride and I wanted to see it, but the region was hit by flooding and itw as closed. And each time since, my days have been filled with keeping my head down over the script and listening Very Very hard to the actors. Perhaps next time I will make the time for the pilgrimage. Or perhaps not.
So regardless of where you live, Spring is probably the nicest season, and the Puget Sound region is no different than the rest and better than most. It has taken a little longer than normal for spring to have sprunge, but the trees are now budding with a fresh, vibrant green that stands out against the darker evergreens that have been standing guard through the winter. The rhodeys are in bloom in the lowlands in a cascade of reds, pinks, whites and yellows against this background. And we have soft rain in the evenings and scattered cloudscapes during the days and the occasional rainbow.
And I've seen otters in the canal behind the building and a bald eagle on the campus. The geese are just starting to come back, and there are no chicks yet, but it is very, very nice.