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January 24, 2003

With no trace of irony

There is something indescribably cute about a Catholic church-sponsored spaghetti dinner fundraiser during which, at the end of the gym where the kiddie's dance floor is set up, a group of fifth-graders are dressed as the Village People and leading the other kids in "YMCA." In total innocence.

January 19, 2003

It's here! It's here!

Big Bowl at The Streets at Southpoint in Durham finally opened, after taunting us for months with boarded-up windows cheerfully promising that it was coming. Shannon and I ate there with her sister last night. Oh, blessed stir-fry bar and potstickers. Oh, blessed chocolate fudge brownie and ice cream as large as your head. It was just as good as we remembered from eating there with Jay, Jewel and Paul in Reston, VA.

You. Must. Eat. Here. Soon.

January 18, 2003


Patience, please, we're talking about online gaming here.

I'm one of the holdouts who still enjoys Tribes 2, a team-based "first-person-shooter" that has little of the gore of the Quake and Doom series -- instead there's plenty of complexity that rewards effective teamplay. That right there was one fatal blow against the game -- people with faith in human nature have never logged on to a public game server -- and the other blow was Sierra's repeated failure to stabilize the game. It would automatically download patch after patch, fixing bugs by introducing new ones. Penny Arcade illustrated it best. Almost two years later, the game is finally playable, and most of the antisocial players have gone to antagonize a fresher gaming community.

Most of them. I'm playing a game of Capture the Flag -- that's what all the FPS networked games are reduced to, really -- and find myself carrying the flag near our base. The other team has our flag, and I can't make a capture until our guys retrieve it. So my first impulse is to get the heaviest armor I can and hide in the basement.

Miss Manners would not approve. Such an act, I discovered, is called "turtling" in online gamer circles and is considered rather unsporting. One of my teammates yelled at me to get up there and fight, rather than hunker down and have the enemy pile on my location. I obeyed.

A few minutes later, still holding the flag, I run back into the base needing to change armors. As I wait in line for the inventory station, one of my teammates turns around and proceeds to ventilate me with his chaingun. He steps over my character's body, grabs the flag, and jets off.

Stunned, I chat to my teammates: (playername) just teamkilled me and took the flag. I call a vote to kick the player from the server as he replies: then next time dont turtle. He's kicked from the server. While he's carrying the other team's flag, which they recover. Needless to say, we do not win the game.

The problem with online gaming is that, sooner or later, you actually have to interact with other humans. The first videogame company that solves that problem will reap billions.

P.S. For an old audio dramatization of what online gaming is really like, performed as a send-up of overwrought Tribes fan fiction (yes, it apparently exists), click here for an MP3. It was written by my friend Mark Tebault, and amateurishly but amusingly rendered in audio by yours truly.

January 12, 2003

Oh Me, Oh My...

Well, this sucks. One of my two favorite bands, Newfoundlanders Great Big Sea, is losing their bassist, Darrell Power. He wasn't a frontman, but a true anchor with a powerful bass voice and he could blow the roof off a place with his acoustic bass guitar. At the end of their concerts, he'd usually wind up in the spotlight singing his trademark traditional song from their first CD, "Excursion Around the Bay:"

Well it was on this monday morning
And the day be calm and fine
A harbour grace excursion
With the boys who had the time
And just before the sailor
Took the gangway from the pier
I saw some fellow haul me wife
Aboard as a volunteer

Oh me, oh my, I heard me old wife cry
Oh me, oh my, I think I'm gonna die!
Oh me, oh my, I heard me old wife say,
"I wish I'd never taken this excursion around the bay"

He'll be missed.

(In case you were wondering, the other favorite band is rock-and-roll-with-pipes-and-fiddle powerhouse Seven Nations, who will be in Greensboro on February 1 and at Cat's Cradle on February 6. Four stars. Joe Bob says check them out.)