Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Books: Ranma 1/2


The very first manga I ever purchased was "Ranma 1/2" by Rumiko Takahashi. It's about a guy who turns into a girl when he's splashed with cold water, his tomboy fiance Akane, and all their crazy friends/enemies. "Ranma 1/2" is the sort of series that gives reviewers fits - at times it's about as slapstick and scattershot as they come, but every so often a Serious Moment intrudes on the action and Ranma and Akane seemingly get closer to declaring their love for each other...seemingly.


The art is often a bit repetitive, as are the plotlines, but the characters and their interactions are broad enough to sustain the silly premises thrust upon them. It's almost as if Ranma and Co. are so caricatured that they become amenable to almost any emotion and situation - kinda like real human beings. Kinda. In the end, the series does have lots of genuinely funny gags, and the martial arts action is rarely unimaginative, so it really appeals to everything a thirteen year-old boy could ask for.


If there's one thing Ms. Takahashi is terrible at, it's ending a series promptly. Ranma has literally dozens of 200-page volumes, and Inu-Yasha, Takahashi's current project, is going past 50 volumes. Whether it's milking a cash cow, giving fans more of what they want, or just simply exploring what Takahashi wants to explore, when you start reading one of these series, get ready for the long haul.

School: Getting blood from a stone

Well, I'm currently in brief-writing mode. I've written 5 or 6 good pages, but that means there's still another 5 pages minimum to put down. I'm having trouble finding good arguments to take up the vast array of empty space. I hope I don't have to resort to plopping in social science *shivers* to support my argument.

The problem is, of course, that I'm arguing for a rational basis test, which isn't really much of a test at all. Aside from the legitimate state interest + conceivably rationally related legislation, I'm drawing a blank of stuff to fill the void.

Miscellany: A survey of some Gainesville gaming stores

There are few places more insulated than the gaming hobby shop. You know the type of place - the walls are invariably stacked to the brim with Warhammer miniatures, D&D books, "Magic: The Gathering" cards, and Star Trek ship models. In more recent times you'll probably find a large selection of obscure manga and anime titles for sale, as well as specialty and European-style board games.



First up is Mega Comics and Games. This place certainly lives up to its name - the selection of European-style boardgames is fantastic (they have Power Grid, Tigris & Euphrates, umpteen different versions of Carcassonne, etc.), and the comics selection is also the largest I've seen in Gainesville. The pen-and-paper roleplaying selection is decent, though unimpressive. Unfortunately, though the selection is great here and the store is very clean and well laid-out, the service is decidedly poor.




Next up is "Level Up Gaming." This place is currently undergoing a move, so the inventory isn't as great as it could be. Still, they keep many Eurogames in stock, as well as a healthy supply of miniatures. The main draw here, though, is the large vacant room (complete with green felt-topped tables) that allow people to play games right there in the store. The community aspect of this place definitely makes up for the sometimes-spotty service and the helter-skelter layout.


Finally, there's the Florida Bookstore Volume II. This is probably one of the few places where you can buy law books, Eurogames, and RPG stuff all in the same place. The owner and staff are very friendly, and the service here is excellent. It's too bad the selection is kinda limited, but then again, you aren't buying Glannon at any other gaming store in Gainesville, either.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Music: "Bullet & A Target"

Some backstory is necessary here - I first saw this pretty funny trailer for the Degree-sponsored "CTU Rookie" webisodes.



The song featured is Citizen Cope's "Bullet & A Target," which is currently stuck in my head. Here's a live version.

News: Scorsese finally gets his


I didn't watch the Oscars, but as I understand it, Martin Scorsese and "The Departed" had a big night. Strangely enough, however, "The Departed" is a remake of the wildly successful Hong Kong film, Wú Jiàn Dào (AKA "Infernal Affairs"). Now, if you've seen "Infernal Affairs," it should probably be insulting that a mere retelling, albeit packed with Hollywood talent, can win Best Picture while the source material can't win Best Foreign Picture. Scorsese, as I understand it, was gracious and acknowledged the HK movie in his speech - very classy.

More noteworthy is the stunning blow Pixar suffered when "Cars" lost. It's not surprising, since the "Doc Hollywood"-esque story was uninspiring and not really executed that well. They also apparently gave Ennio Morricone a much-deserved honorary Oscar for his legendary film scores - whenever people think of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, they immediately start to whistle.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Guns: Something wicked this way comes...

H.R. 1022 is a proposed bill that would ban virtually every semiautomatic rifle and shotgun ever made, if its language is to be construed literally (and gunowners, as a whole, should be pretty leery of relying on good judicial interpretation to secure their rights). Ostensibly a "renewal" of the 1994 gun ban, it actually is more like the California ban on so-called "assault weapons" - a blanket ban on millions of guns with no actual deterring effect on crime (if you don't agree, spend some time in the seedier parts of Oakland and Los Angeles and tell me how much safer you are because of the ban).

The bill is certain to exit committee, and will probably even pass the House. The Senate could be a fight, and it's unclear whether Bush will veto it (I doubt it - Bush and his daddy have never been friends of gunowners). But just because the odds are against you doesn't mean you roll over.

If you're reading this blog and you care about the basic human right of self-defense, please call or e-mail your Congresscritters today!

School: Moot Court Final Four in Pictures






The Moot Court "Final Four" competition was held last Friday. It's a mock Supreme Court appeal, with each team of two arguing for their side. I snapped a lot of pictures - mostly because my law school orientation group leader, Jeff Hurcomb, was in the competition (he did a fine job, and I couldn't imagine a nicer guy to be in the running). The case was similar to the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus thing" I had posted about, so it was really easy for me to follow along.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Links: The 1Up Show

I'm not a huge fan of video gaming podcasts, but regular video features are another story. One of the best potpourri-style video game shows on the net is the 1Up Show, featuring the folks behind 1Up.com, the staff of EGM, and some other people from Ziff Davis media. They review and preview games, sure, but you also get Shane and Milky's heated VF5 rivalry, Crispin parading around on a scooter like a jackass, and other assorted tomfoolery. I can't believe people get paid to do this.

Here's a sample clip (a review of the fantastic "Elite Beat Agents" for the DS)



As for 1Up.com itself, I tend to trust Gamespot and IGN more when it comes to game reviews, but the 1Up guys put up wickedly funny features.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tech: flOw


In an era when games are getting more and more complex, it's nice to see simpler fare like "Geometry Wars" and "flOw" succeed. flOw isn't so much a game as it is an interactive plaything - think of it as a goldfish bowl or ant farm that you can control. In flOw, you play as a small, aquatic creature that gets larger by eating other creatures. As you get larger and larger, you descend into the depths of the ocean, and eventually face off in a final battle against...well, you'll see.

There's a nice ambient soundtrack and some really elegant graphics going on here - nothing awe-inspiring, but the entire package is calculated to inculcate a feeling of serenity in whomever's at the helm. One possible hangup - the red and blue pings at the edge of the screen seem a clumsy solution to the problem of designating where the entrances to the next level are.

The game isn't all that difficult, and it isn't all that long, either. I think the PS3 version looks fantastic, but the $8 price is pretty steep for a game that can essentially be finished, easily, in a half hour or so. There is no way to die in flOw, so the game lacks any kind of depth or challenge. But the totally-free Flash version linked above is well worth a run through.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Movies: Letters from Iwo Jima


Clint Eastwood is currently experiencing more success as a director than he ever did as "The Man With No Name" or "Dirty Harry." I must admit, though, that after watching "Letters from Iwo Jima," I wondered whether it really deserved the best picture nomination.


"Letters" tells the story of the harrowing Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective - it's the counterpart to "Flags of Our Fathers." Like any modern war movie, war is portrayed as a horrific, ugly thing, which is probably for the best in this case. The various Japanese soldiers are alternately pathetic and horrifying, with the most touching moment of the movie coming after they treat a wounded American prisoner. In real life, of course, the invasion of Iwo Jima was incredibly costly for both sides and in the end was of somewhat dubious necessity.


While the movie looks and sounds great, and the performances and story are fairly good, in the end, the movie is missing something. Eastwood leans heavily on the twin crutches of flashback and voiceover, which is always a sign something is rotten in Denmark. I wish I could put my figure on what "Letters" lacks, but it might be one of those things you have to see for yourself.


7/10

Miscellany: D&D musings

"Dungeons and Dragons" is the 800 lb. gorilla of fantasy pen-and-paper roleplaying, the granddaddy of them all. I suspect it's popularity has much to do with how well it represents (plagiarizes? appropriates?) the high fantasy tradition of Tolkien. To tell the truth, I haven't rolled a d20 since high school. I bought a Player's Handbook, version 3.5, just today, so here are some thoughts on D&D.

The hobby can be expensive. For something that ostensibly can be entered into for the price of a rulebook and a set of those funny-looking dice, Wizards of the Coast is milking this cow for all it's worth. For example, the Eberron campaign setting for the session I'm entering costs $40 - and that's in addition to the $30 Player's Handbook, the $30 DM Guide, and various other books - all retailing for $30 or more. Add in miniatures and custom DM screens and maps, and it can get even worse.

The reason people pay is because there's still nothing like face-to-face, dice-on-the-table, cold-pizza-in-the-fridge roleplaying. Technology tried to usurp this with games like "Neverwinter Nights" and "World of Warcraft," but there's a freedom of action and description here that computer and video games can never provide. Even if you stick to the base, by-the-book rules and settings in D&D, you have almost infinite adventures waiting for you.

An example might help illustrate: say you need to infiltrate a noble's guarded estate. Even open-ended video games like "Oblivion" will segment what you can do - maybe fight the guards, or sneak in through the back, or use a spell to teleport right in, etc. With a real-life RPG, the possibilities are limitless: you can do all of the above, plus bribe the guards, or flirt with the guards to distract them, or construct a makeshift battering ram, or dig a tunnel underneath the wall, or spray acid on the wall to dissolve it, or disguise yourself as a guest...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Guns: Remington 870 Express


There are some shotguns that are lovingly finished and impeccably crafted. The Remington "Express" version of their famous model 870 shotguns isn't one of them. The finish is a beadblasted blue that will rust and/or discolor if you don't soak the whole thing in some type of oil or lubricant after opening the box. The ugly painted hardwood stock is functional but unexciting, and the plastic trigger assembly and powder-formed internal parts won't inspire confidence, at least at first.

I had a couple of these shotguns, one in 20 gauge and one in 12 gauge. They were very reliable (well, as long as you didn't short-stroke them - you have to work that pump like you mean it), easy to clean, and inexpensive. Most importantly, they are available - in an area with harsh restrictions on private gun ownership, this might be the only home defense weapon you can get your hands on. If your local Wally World still carries guns, this will almost certainly be in the rack.

I sold both those 870s, and now I sort of regret it. I'll probably pick up a used 870 Police or Wingmaster next time around, if only to have some perspective on how good a value the Express is. Perhaps the best compliment I can give my 870s is this - for the price you pay, I can't imagine a shotgun doing a substantially better job for skeet, trap and home defense.

School: Bar application time

The Florida Bar is a creature of the Florida Supreme Court, and as such, if you wish to practice law in Florida, you need to apply to the bar. This is a lengthier process than most expect when entering the legal profession; the public already distrusts lawyers - no need to throw gasoline on the fire by accidentally letting felons and cheaters become attorneys.

Strangely enough, you get a huge discount for starting the bar application early (in my case, when I'm still attending first-year classes). Not quite certain why this is the case - if I had to hazard a guess, I think it might have something to do with reducing the paperwork crunch near 3L graduation time and with keeping people in FL law schools.

The application is pretty thorough - you must list, for example, every address you've lived at in the past three years and the last ten years' worth of employment.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Links: My Favorite Webcomics (Part 5)


If you look up NSFW in the dictionary, you'll get a VG Cats comic strip. VG Cats is never one to shy away from the disgusting and strange, so if you want a Mario/Toad lovefest (complete with Mario chest hair), FF chocobo inbreeding ("Wark!"), or a face full of alien wing-wong (yes, that facehugger is smoking a cigar), VG Cats is your one stop shop.


While this is one of the least frequently updated gaming webcomics that I'm a fan of, it's also the funniest and most accomplished. The artwork is simple but attractive, and the constant bickering and fighting between Aeris and Leo is a huge source of laughter.

Miscellany: Settlers of Catan


I don't have any studies to back it up, but it's pretty clear to me that American board games are in a funk. Aside from recent successes like Cranium, it's been awhile since family board games were anything more than an exercise forced on the kids in order to spend some "quality time" away from the computer and the TV. This is unfortunate, but help may be on the way in the form of European-style board games like Settlers of Catan (SoC for short).

In SoC, you place settlements and roads on a randomly generated board of hexagonal terrain tiles. As players roll dice, you collect resources using these settlements and gradually build up your civilization - first player to 10 Victory Points wins. Since you rarely have everything you need to build, and since there's no way to directly harm your competition, the game turns on your skills at trading, diplomacy, and settlement placement.

SoC is more than a decade old, but continues to draw in new players like myself. The rules are simple enough that the basics can be explained in ten minutes, the game has enough random chance involved to allow players of less skill to hang with (and beat) experienced competition, but there are enough wrinkles so that the game isn't turn-after-turn boring like Monopoly. It's definitely a "casual" game, as luck plays a pretty large role in determining the outcome, but it's heavier than something like "Sorry" or even "Backgammon."

SoC is just one of a huge series of innovative new board games, primarily from Germany but now being designed around the world. I plan to buy and play many more games like this in the future - look for the results on this site.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Links: My Favorite Webcomics (Part 4)


While I've talked about Queen of Wands before, I never mentioned the comic that crossed over with Kestrel's adventures - Something Positive. I suppose if you squinted, you could call it a "gaming" comic, but it would be just as fair to call it a "low-budget theatre comic" or a "sex hotline comic."


The cast of characters here is large and varied, and the storylines tend to meander in a nature generally corresponding to reality. Again, as in Day by Day, the artwork here might be the only real weakness - sometimes I wonder how many webcomics will ever follow in the tradition of beautifully drawn strips like "Calvin & Hobbes."

Movies: Pan's Labyrinth


I saw "Pan's Labyrinth" (AKA "El Laberinto del Fauno") over the weekend, and I have to say, I have mixed feelings about it. The movie concerns a young girl's descent into a fantasy world during the Spanish Civil War (well, the aftermath of it, anyway). Suffice it to say that there's a labyrinth, and a fawn, and to say more would be to kill most of the stuff to discover in the movie.

On the one hand, the production design is sumptuous, the overall performances are decent, and the direction of the film feels quite assured - this isn't a movie with major pacing problems or awkward camera angles. It's also nice to see a fantasy film that isn't afraid of violence - the movie is rated R (though I think it probably deserved only a PG-13) and the ending is certainly not the sugar-coated Disney version of fairy tales you might be sick of.

Unfortunately, "Pan's Labyrinth" is severely flawed. The plot is predictable - perhaps unavoidable in a fantasy film, but it makes for a somewhat boring viewing experience. Even more unsettling, though, is the fact that I started feeling sympathy for the supposed antagonist, the cold-blooded Captain Vidal.

SPOILERS

This is a guy who literally sews his sliced mouth back together with a fishhook. He shoots his 12 year-old stepdaughter after she collaborates with the rebels and steals his son. Perhaps most fascinating is his apolitical stance - in his mind, the only difference between his side and theirs is that his side won the war. Whereas in Del Toro's mind this kind of character portrayal reads as "monster," to Western eyes, it definitely starts looking like "badass."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Guns: Targets


The major gun story is Jim Zumbo's incredibly ignorant attack on semiauto rifles (Tam's critique of the post is awesome), but today I'd like to cover something a bit less contentious.


Nearly all shooters like shooting stuff that reacts when hit. Whether it's soda cans, Necco wafers, Ritz crackers, or plastic milk jugs, plinking stuff that jumps up when you hit it can be a wonderful way to spend an afternoon (great, now I'm hungry, too).


While this is all well and good, for serious training, I believe the old adage applies: "Paper never lies." Perhaps I should explain: you can miss a soda can by a good 12 inches on a 50-yard dirt berm and still send it flying. A proper paper bullseye, however, will always tell you where the bullet went with an straightforward, unapologetic hole. These holes let you evaluate your grip, sight picture, and trigger pull - the three basic elements of every shot.


I prefer simple 8-1/2" x 11" targets printed out from copy paper on a computer - simple to do, extremely cheap, and they can be used all the way up to 50 yards (starting around 100 yards, it's probably best to start moving up to larger targets, unless you have incredible vision and/or a scope with magnification). The popular shoot-n-see type targets are nice, but kinda expensive if you shoot a lot.


The best site I've seen for this sort of printable target is targetz.com. Yes, the name looks pretty ghetto, but the site is the real deal - lots of targets with no strings attached. I like the simple, plain black line bullseyes.

Links: My Favorite Webcomics (Part 3)


Digital Unrest is yet another video game webcomic. The kicker here, though, is that the author of the comic is very much a Nintendo fanboy. This means that you get comics and satire with a stronger focus - this strip, for example, means absolutely nothing if you've never played Brain Age.
I'll try to find some non-game related webcomic to wrap things up. It's difficult, since gaming provides such rich fodder for geek humor.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

News: It's cold

Really. Really. Really cold.

It was in the 20s last night - not cold by most people's standards, but cold for Florida. I actually had to turn on the heater to keep the place at an even 55 degrees Fahrenheit (hey, electricity costs money). There's nothing like putting on a jacket and a pair of socks when you head to bed...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Guns: Breaking in the holster

I remember the exact moment - I was browsing around in our local military surplus store, perusing the endless racks of Uncle Mike's nylon wonderland. Now, not to be down on any Uncle Mike's holster user, but I'm of the belief that one size does NOT fit all, at least when it comes to holsters. I decided to order my first custom holster - a leather IWB from HBE Leatherworks (Eric is probably swamped with orders, so turnaround time might be astronomical right now).

That holster didn't require any break-in - right from the box, it fit the gun snugly, but not too snugly. I think there is such a thing as too tight on a holster - if a natural, firm draw doesn't loose the gun from its recess, your holster is a liability, not a lifesaver. Kydex users are probably poo-pooing me right now, but I could never warm up to the stuff (leather can subtly conform to your body, after all).

Some holsters come very tight from the maker. The usual procedure is to carefully wrap the gun in either wax paper or a thin plastic bag and let it sit in the sun. After a couple of hours, the holster should be looser.

One caveat: GO SLOW. Use the thinnest wax paper or plastic you can find and don't overdo it. The holster can always be loosened more with more of the treatment or with repeated presentations, but it's extremely difficult to get a holster "tight" again. If in doubt, take it out.

Links: My Favorite Webcomics (Part 2)


Dueling Analogs is a neat video game-centric webcomic. Perhaps the highlight of the strip is the steady delivery of the perennial Mega Man boss strips. I also appreciate the progress indicator and the fact that comics arrive twice a week, which is a lot better than some of the more sporadic strips like VG Cats.

The strip's artwork, as you can see, is pretty good and the colors are vivid and bright. In terms of humor, some of it is NSFW, but in a bright, cheerful way. Seeing Ms. Pacman cheat on her husband has got to be one of the most simultaneously funny and weird things you'll see on your computer.

Music: Eko Fresh - Konig Von Deutschland

German rapper of Turkish descent, Eko Fresh. 'Nuff said.




Ya-oh-ohhh!

Tech: Sequel-itis


In a way, it's understandable. With development costs skyrocketing into the millions for video and PC games, it's natural for software companies to re-use entire engines, interfaces, and even creative assets to churn out a sequel or port that isn't very different from what came before. Some companies, like EA, do this every year and even label the newest version - e.g. "Madden 2007" - because without the year on the box, it might be hard for people to tell the difference.

The popular name for this is a "more of the same" sequel. I'm not against them per se, but there is a right and a wrong way to do a MOTS sequel. The wrong way is to slop together an "all-new" story suspiciously using many of the same in-game graphics and sounds. Examples of this kind of sequel are abundant - Fallout 2, KOTOR 2, Soul Calibur 3, etc. Now, these aren't bad games, or even mediocre games (Fallout 2 is arguably one of the best computer RPGs ever made), but they don't feel different.

The right way, IMHO, when making a sequel that doesn't stray far from the beaten path is exemplified by games like "God of War 2" (pictured above) and "Virtua Fighter 5." Instead of trying to shoehorn a new experience onto a player (when the experience isn't new), I feel these kinds of sequels should embrace what made the initial game(s) successful, and refine those elements.

Moral of the story? If you're going to recycle a great game, at least give the people what they want.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Links: My Favorite Webcomics (Part 1)


Time to start another themed series of posts, this time focusing on some of the webcomics I read regularly. Most of the comics on the net seem to be technology or gaming-oriented (go figure), but today's entry is eminently political. Day by Day by Chris Muir is probably the purest form of political webcomic you can think of. There are four characters, covering all ranges of the political spectrum, and they tend to comment rather directly on the happenings of the time.

I've always respected Muir, who is obviously not as liberal as "Doonesbury" creator Gary Trudeau. While there surely exists a temptation to make the strip into a Democrat-bashing fest, Muir doesn't hesitate to criticize or lampoon the other side of the aisle when it's due (and it seems to be due quite a bit these days :-P ).

The main weakness of the strip is related to the format itself - to have a new DBD strip each day, and to keep the strip up-to-the-minute relevant, Muir often copies and pastes illustrations from panel to panel in the interests of economy, which is easier on the artist but sometimes leaves the strip visually dull ("South Park" sometimes suffers from the same malaise).

DBD has gotten so popular it's even being used by SIGarms in their official website. Take a gander.

Sports: Cheating, NASCAR and otherwise


The big story in racing, of course, is the firing of Waltrip's crew chief and team director. Now, I'm not a NASCAR fan or anything, but I do know the cars are fairly similar and they all have restrictor plates at Daytona, ostensibly so that the race is safer or more fair. I'm instantly reminded of Floyd Landis' tainted Tour de France win, and also the controversy swallowing up Barry Bonds. While the jury is still sorta-kinda-out in all three cases, it's safe to say not everything's up-and-up in the worlds of NASCAR, cycling, and baseball.

I sometimes wonder about what drives people to bend or break the rules. Is it that the money so grand, the stakes so high, that compels them to cheat? Or is it the same thing that made them competitive athletes in the first place - the need to win, to get that yellow jacket or that home run record, that does it?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day

Yeah, it's Valentine's Day - time for Hallmark & co. to make their quarterly earnings projections. :)

For gunnies, it's the day of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, committed with the Chicago Typewriter, the Thompson SMG.



Here's a documentary depicting the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Guns: A 9mm Ammunition




One of the advantages of shooting a 9mm as your primary defensive firearm is that 9mm costs a lot less than other pistol rounds. Since 9mm is the most widely used pistol cartridge in the world, it's basically a sure thing for ammo manufacturers (especially foreign manufacturers) to produce (somebody's gonna buy it) - classic economy of scale. A .45 ACP does not take twice the raw materials or even machinery to produce, but the fact that it's much less favored around the world serves to drive up the price to double that of 9mm.

Lately, though, ammo prices have been rising. Some of my go-to range ammo choices in the past - Winchester "White Box" USA 100-round value packs, Sellier & Bellot, Magtech, American, Blazer Brass, etc. - have become quite expensive. Whereas a year and a half ago you would be able to snag a case of quality ammo for maybe $110-$125, nowadays you might be paying $150-$170 for the exact same ammo. Ouch.

I took a chance on some new stuff - Sellier & Bellot copper-plated steel. The primary expense in a cartridge, of course, is the brass itself - copper is a valuable commodity, useful in many more applications than just ammo. By replacing it with steel or aluminum (or filling spent cases with new powder and bullets, AKA handloading), you stand to save a lot of money.

The problem is, though, that steel and aluminum act very differently from brass (different coefficient of friction, different hardness, etc.) and thus do not work consistently in some firearms. The copper-plating on my S&B ammo supposedly should serve to reduce those problems. I've shot about 400 rounds of the stuff so far, and aside from bright sparks issuing from the barrel (either copper flaking off, a quirk of the powder, or both), it seems to work well.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

News: Spring madness

There always seems to be a strange level of synchronicity in the multiple-murders these days. At a mall in Salt Lake City and an investors' meeting in Philly, two killers demonstrated their selfishness and cold-blooded brutality before eventually dying.

While police are still trying to puzzle out the motive of the mall shooter, the marketing-company murders were probably driven by plain old hatred, greed, and depression. I don't think I'll ever be able to understand these maniacs, much less comprehend the depth of grief suffered by those affected by the consequences of their senseless actions.

My somber condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.

Tech: The Great Wii Drought


While admittedly many are only now receiving their Nintendo Wiis (like my two cousins), for people who've had the console since launch, not much has been released worth parting 50 smackers for. Sure, there's WarioWare and Elebits, but both of these were slated to be launch titles anyway, and now, deep into February, we are finally starting to see the edge of a vast desert...of nothingness.

There are encouraging signs, though. While the Wii is still getting a lot of hand-me-down PS2/PSP ports, that's still a lot better than the later stages of the GameCube's life, where the ports never appeared at all. I can live with a soupedup version of "The Godfather" or "Manhunt 2," if only to give me something to play in-between Mario and Metroid.

The worst offender here, of course, is Ubisoft. While "Rayman Raving Rabbids" has proven to be a solid WarioWare-esque title, "Red Steel," "Far Cry," and "GT Pro" have all...well...sucked. The upcoming Prince of Persia game is merely a port of "Two Thrones" with added Wiimote control. If all third-party companies start behaving like this, spending as little as possible on Wii development, Nintendo fans could be in for a bad time of it.

Food: Old Rasputin


Nothing warms the heart like a good stout, and no stout is quite as...well...stout-y as Russian Imperial Stout. I was lured into stouts by the worldwide standard-bearer, Guinness, but even a trip to the local ABC Liquor store was enough to unearth a fairly good RIS that beats the pants off the mass-produced Guinness Extra Stout.

Old Rasputin, a product of CA-based North Coast Brewing Company, is fairly reminiscent of Guinness Extra Stout. It's got more alcohol, as to be expected (roughly 9% ABV), and the coffee/espresso undertones that many stout drinkers prefer are here in spades. Still, by RIS standards, it's not really a heavy-hitter, so Old Rasputin is quite capable of being enjoyed every day (I can only take one bottle before I feel drunk).

The price is fair, IMHO, so give Old Rasputin a whirl next time you're in the mood for a nice middle-of-the-road RIS.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Miscellany: Abe Lincoln's Birthday


On this day, nearly 200 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was born. Lincoln has been written about and analyzed incessantly even shortly after his assassination, and in the end, people do forget that he was actually a pretty good lawyer, too.

In those days, of course, "law school" as we know it did not exist, and legal education in the U.S. was conducted very differently. Nowadays, "reading the law" (an extended apprenticeship under a judge or practicing attorney) is the exception, not the rule (only CA, VT, and WA allow admission to the bar without law school attendance). Most lawyers today come from a formal law school that grants a JD after three years of coursework.

Legend has it that Lincoln happened upon Blackstone's "Commentaries on the Law of England" and taught himself the law, like he did most everything else. In Lincoln's time, either a simple appeal to the court or an oral interview with a judge was enough to get admission to the bar. By all accounts Lincoln was a fine lawyer, though he quickly switched to politics. A longstanding personal opponent of slavery, he nevertheless was a shrewd politician, as the Emancipation Proclamation shows.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Guns: Bushmaster Superlight Carbine


This week features a blast from the past (well, back when I could afford cases and cases of XM193 and the two hour round-trip to the Lake City rifle range) - the Bushie Superlight. Mine was an A2 produced during the AWB, so it came complete with faux Bushmaster telestock and plain-jane non-flash-suppressed barrel.

She was a lively, quick-handling little carbine - if I could've shot her on a regular basis, I would've kept her. But that long drive, combined with rising gas and ammo prices, and the toil of law school, was just too much to justify what was essentially an expensive toy.

I could shoot 2" groups at 100 yards consistently (paper never lies, after all) - the rifle was probably more accurate, but with only sporadic practice and iron sights, it was hard to get better with it. I suppose I could have kept it for defense, but how can you trust your life to something you can only shoot once a month (maybe even less)?

That's not to say the gun never jammed, either. The gas key was improperly staked (gee, thanks, Bushmaster), so I had to tighten it back up and re-stake it. After that, it ran fine, but I never quite had the confidence that I had with my Romanian WASR AK. Then again, I couldn't hit crap at 100 yards with my AK, much less a 2" group, and the AK's safety and trigger were awful.

I've been thinking about getting another one, in case of another "Assault Weapons" ban. But that's only if Micanopy Shooting Sports gets it act together and puts in a backstop capable of taking rifle fire.

Music: A Carpenters Tribute

I got this idea from this post (err - warning - NSFW, female bits on display and all that).

The Carpenters showed the world that if you sing other people's songs, and do it better than everyone else, you can still be quite popular. And for a time, they were; the Carpenters practically owned the early 70s with hits like "(They Long to Be) Close to You" and "Rainy Days and Mondays." In the late 70s, though, with the popularity of disco and the personal problems plaguing the group (Richard Carpenter's famous addiction to quaaludes, Karen's eating disorders that eventually led to her death), the Carpenters struggled to produce songs.

Critics have derided their sedate, mid-tempo pop ballads, but those guys are too stuck-up. Sometimes you feel like listening to a Carpenters song. Maybe you just suffered through a break-up. Maybe your car is falling off a cliff and it's playing on the radio ("Top of the World" would be appropriate there, I suppose). Karen's voice is pretty much the most mellow thing you can listen to - it should come with a warning not to operate heavy machinery.

In this video, you'll note that Karen is doing the drumming. I never knew she could drum.



In this video, the Carpenters' last hurrah, "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft." Yeah. The song is really weird, and probably proves that no matter how funky the lyrics, the right voice can make it palatable (if you asked Karen to sing the phone book, she could probably make it sound good).

Also notice the hilarious late 70s video effects. I feel like I'm watching an episode of Doctor Who.

Sports: UF vs. Kentucky

Photo Credit: Ed Reinke/AP Photo


While I've done a few posts on the UF football team that shellacked OSU in the BCS championship game, I've never talked about the current champions here in Gainesville - the UF men's basketball team.

These guys are a very special bunch, mostly because they didn't have to be here. With the possible exception of Lee Humphrey (who is still a fabulous 3-point shooter and a good defender), four of the then-sophomore Gators could have exited for the NBA Draft. Especially for Corey Brewer, whose father is battling illness, the lure of money and fame must have been powerful.

These guys stayed on, however, and are now on track to repeat as champions. Tonight's game was a close one in Kentucky. With Noah and Horford, the two big men, out in foul trouble, the Gators struggled to find ways to score, with Green, Brewer, and Richards eventually chipping in enough to outlast the Wildcats.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Miscellany: Cue "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor

One of the problems with setting a definite goal for yourself is when you reach that goal. Some time ago, I had set a goal of getting fit enough to do some pull-ups. Well, over Christmas break, even after being bloated and out of shape, I easily cranked out some pull-ups on my uncle's home gym. Wow! This working out stuff really...errr...works out!

Unfortunately, I let nearly two months slip by after that without doing any strength training. So, feeling a bit lethargic, I hauled my butt over to Sears and got a proper weight training bench and 4 more 10 lb. plates. After an hour of weight training, it became painfully clear my muscles had atrophied in the interim - I can only do about 60%-70% of my peak. Yipes.

But, if you ever find yourself in this position, remember that if you could do it once, there's every chance you can do it again.




And if someone doesn't get the reference, here's Rocky III's famous "Rocky's-getting-soft" montage.

TV: Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction

TV sci-fi anthology shows have a long and rich tradition. While the two 800 lb. gorillas, "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits," continue to be re-made and followed by loyal fans, for every huge success, there are failures like "Night Gallery" and, in today's post, "Beyond Belief."




Yes, that's Commander Riker, AKA Jonathan Frakes. While he wasn't the host of the first season, from season two onwards, he introduced every segment. And yes, that's Mr. Movie Voice himself, Don LaFontaine, doing the intro. Part of the fun of the show was seeing in each season how much weight Mr. Frakes had put on or lost in the interim.

The segments were only ten minutes long, so the stories were incredibly basic and to the point, with only three or four main characters per segment.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Guns: NAA .22 Mini-Revolver Review

One of the pleasures of shooting as a hobby is owning guns that you don't have a "use" for. The NAA .22 LR mini-revolver I acquired last week (used, for $100) is a prime example of such a firearm. Mine is the 1-1/8" barrel version. It's easily the smallest gun I've ever fired, and it's probably the smallest gun commonly available on store shelves.


In truth, it ain't much bigger than a playing card. It weighs around 4 oz., making even a Kel-Tec P32 or the average folding knife look hefty. The revolver is single action only and features a safety cylinder that you can lower the hammer into, meaning a full five round capacity. That's all well and good, but how does it shoot?


Okay - it isn't a target pistol. This group was fired at 3.5 yards - certainly accurate enough to be fun, but the tiny grip, awkward trigger, and rudimentary sight (yes, singular - it only has a front sight blade) make for an incredible challenge to shoot accurately. Surprisingly, I shoot this sucker better with one hand than with both hands.



Here's a group at 7 yards. Yowch. For comparison, basically any decent service 9mm of any make will make one ragged hole at this distance.

NAA revolvers are made in the U.S.A. using quality stainless steel. I shot about three or four hundred rounds of .22 and the darn thing didn't miss a beat (well, except for some crappy Remington ammo - man, that Golden Bullet stuff has gotten worse over the years). Here's mine resting in a pocket holster. The whole package is literally smaller than my wallet.


Yeah, it's got storage for five .22 rounds. This is mostly for weight to keep the holster upright, I guess, because there's not a chance in hell you could ever reload this thing fast enough in a fight. Speaking of fights, don't ever use this gun for defense unless you've already shot two guns dry - and even then running away might be a better option.

Tech: Game Politics and the Big Three Gaming Blogs

If you're into video or PC gaming, you probably already read Kotaku, Joystiq, or Destructoid. These are big blogs with literally thousands of readers, so you get new posts by the hour. They can also cover, by their very nature, video game related news that the commercial sites like GameSpot and IGN won't touch with a ten-foot pole.

Most notably, almsot every gaming blog approves of the total lambasting of one Jack Thompson, perhaps America's most visible private critic of violence and sex in video games. Let's face it - most of the gamers out there played so-called "mature" games like Doom and Grand Theft Auto way before they were 17 years old, just like most of those gamers probably saw "Terminator 2" or "Speed" before they were 17, too. And it's not just violence - I'd wager a good portion of teenage males have caught sight of the b00bage out there on the Web.

With that being said, Thompson (who might be disciplined by the Florida Bar) is important because he keeps gamers aware that there are other, more insidious, less stupid people who will try to put harsher limits on games than there are on movies. The specter of Thompson, who unites gamers from all corners of the hobby, can thus only be a good thing IMHO.

Miscellany: Biking weather

It's been fairly cool in the mornings for the better part of a week. While 35 degrees Fahrenheit isn't unreasonably cold to most people, it can be murder when you factor in the wind chill when riding a bike. There's some steps you can take to mitigate the effect the wind has on your extremities - here's some stuff I've tried:


Turtle Fur headband - warm, but not ideal for this type of work. It fits well enough under a bike helmet, but it is basically just spun acrylics - so the wind can pierce right through. It's better than nothing, though.
Balacava - I prefer a homemade one using a simple T-shirt, but you can spend the money on the fancy ones if you like. Pretty much required when the temperature dips too far below freezing.






Today, though, the weather's looking great. Yes, I realize there are some people who bike in the snow, but I'm a wuss.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Books: Maison Ikkoku


Maison Ikkoku is a manga that originally ran in Big Comic Spirits during the 80s. Concerning the day-to-day life of college student Yusaku Godai and his quest for the affections of a young widow, the series was the first major success of famous manga author Rumiko Takahashi - the creator of Ranma 1/2 and the wildly popular InuYasha.
I got addicted to Maison Ikkoku at an odd time in my life. I was floating around with a serious case of senior-itis, that general malaise that sometimes affects people who are about to graduate and know that there's not much reaosn to get worked up about school any more. I was familiar with both Ranma and InuYasha, but both of those series rely more on madcap action and supernatural events - Maison Ikkoku is a totally different animal.
I managed to borrow the first few books in the library, but after I read those, I still had a nagging desire to finish the story. Does Yusaku finally get the girl of his dreams? Will he ever find a job he's good at? Maison Ikkoku, though probably not a "guy's comic," seems to play on the hopes and pitfalls of every young man. The end scenes, as one reviewer characterized them, are satisfying and cathartic, and I recommend giving the series a try.

News: That astronaut thing


There's a lesson to be learned, here, and it's probably not what NASA thinks it is. How can a 43 year-old mother, who just flew a shuttle mission less than a year ago, allegedly flip out like this? Does NASA need to revise its screening procedures? Do they need regular psych evals on all their personnel, now?

A family statement said Nowak had recently separated from her husband of 19 years, who works at NASA Mission Control. They have a teenage son and young twin daughters.

The AP reported that there had been signs of problems before Nowak's arrest. In November, police were called to Nowak's home near the Johnson Space Center after a neighbor reported hearing the sounds of dishes being thrown inside, AP reported.

My take on it is that the human mind, and worse, the human heart, is a frail thing. That whole "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" saying didn't just spring out of thin air - some people will take a breakup worse than others, but for most anyone, a breakup of a longstanding marriage is a traumatic event. We'll see what the details are as they emerge...hopefully we can get some more space exploration funding out of this whole kind-of-a-tragedy-but-really-not-since-no-one-died deal.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Guns: How to start shooting (long post)

Overview



More so than most pastimes, getting into shooting can be expensive if you don't have any information. Unlike other activities like tennis, where even a fancy, expensive racket can be used by a novice, with guns, if you get the "wrong" firearms, your initial experience will be unpleasant and perhaps even negative.

If all someone reads are the gun rags at the book store, he or she will be convinced that the only way to properly defend yourself is a high-dollar custom 1911, or a new-fangled scandium revolver, or a tricked-out AR-15. He or she might also be under the impression that the best way to hunt is with a beautiful magnum rifle in a caliber no one's ever heard of, or that the best way to shoot skeet is with a $1000 "entry-level" over-under.

In truth, I recommend the course of action proposed by John Ross, author of the historically accurate if corny and super-illogical Unintended Consequences (I'll get around to doing a book review later). The first gun anyone should buy or receive is a .22 LR firearm in good condition and from a reputable company (handgun or rifle, it doesn't matter), the second thing that person should get is a good set of eye and ear protection, and the third thing is about a half-dozen or so boxes of bulk .22 ammo (all different kinds, preferably, but my guns seem to like the Federal stuff).



Picking That First .22



There's a number of .22 firearms out there. Here's some of my value picks:



Romanian .22 trainer
These used to be plentiful - not so much now, I guess. I actually picked up two of these suckers - it's a good idea, as the magazines can often be loopy and the extraction in most examples is hit and miss. The upside of these rifles? They are (or at least were) inexpensive, they're definitely accurate enough to have some serious range time, and they have a nice feel to them IMHO.


Marlin 795SS

This was the first gun I ever bought, and the first gun I ever shot. I'll do a separate post on it one of these days, but suffice it to say that the Marlin Model 60 and its derivatives are about as accurate, reliable, and fun to shoot as any .22 out there. The Ruger 10/22 might get all the gaudy Butler Creek extended mags, but in my experience, the Marlin is more reliable.


.22 conversion kit


Various companies (Ciener, Marvel, etc.) make conversion slides for popular pistol models like 1911s and GLOCKs. These are excellent purchases - you can get time with your carry gun's trigger and ergonomics while shooting for literally pennies a shot. I have a CZ Kadet that has run flawlessly - great fun.



The Importance of Eyes & Ears

From my own experiences with teaching new shooters, the number one thing that causes flinching is the report of the firearm, followed by the recoil, and then the blast (unless the recoil is fairly high, as with .44 Mag and up or .30-06 and up). My theory is that the human ear was not meant to listen to loud noises - nothing as loud as a firearm is commonly encountered in nature, and even with full ear protection (plugs and muffs), it's not a good idea to be exposed to gunfire for extended periods of time, especially on an indoor range.

Eye protection is also a good idea for a number of reasons. The bulk .22 ammo, first of all, is quite dirty by modern standards, and the resulting smoke and debris that might potentially fly into someone's face would do little to improve their shooting. More importantly, having a physical barrier between the eyes and the pressure/blast issuing from the muzzle definitely helps calm the hands of a nervous first-timer.
Final Thoughts
I urge most shooters to think of a .22 as an investment. Much like a 20 gauge shotgun, a .22 is sometimes viewed as a beginner's pick - sort of like a kid's show you're supposed to outgrow. But a well-made .22 will be something you can shoot for a lifetime, and that you can teach your kids to shoot - as long as they don't ban it. :P

Tech: An R-Type Retrospective


In the vast universe of shoot-em-up video games (the ones where you pilot a ship and blow away everything on the screen), the R-Type series has always been in a class of its own. Unlike most shooters that test how well you can dodge a hail of enemy fire, the main threat in R-Type is usually the level itself - the screen scrolls leisurely, but at every turn there's some new wall or obstacle that must be circumnavigated. The series also doesn't shy away from throwing enemies at you from all directions.

You're never really outgunned in R-Type, either. By default, you have an automatic laser cannon that you can charge up for powerful shots than can rip through multiple enemies. Unlike most shmups, where it takes a while to power your ship up, your first power-up in R-Type gives you a Force - an indestructible shield that can both absorb enemy fire and damage enemies by colliding with them. This is R-Type's most unique feature, and it adds a considerable amount of strategy to the game: Do you attach it to the front of your ship or to the rear? Do you even attach it at all? Should you use the Force special weapon or simply charge up your main cannon?

It's amazing an arcade game in the late 80s could hit it out of the park like this. So here's a short look at the R-Type games:

R-Type (pictured above): The granddaddy of them all, and still a fantastic game. When people fought the gigantic warship that takes up all of Level 3, you could hear the jaws drop on the floor.

R-Type II: I only played the mangled SNES port, but the original arcade game was similar. More of the same gameplay, somewhat drab levels - everything looks brown.

R-Type III: Exclusive to the SNES. This game is one of the best, if not THE best, in the series. It introduced three different types of Force powerups, effectively tripling the gameplay. The levels are colorful, and dense with enemies. Here's a shot of level 2, the "organic" level featuring dangerous acid dropping from the ceiling.

R-Type Delta: Another candidate for best in the series. Again, you have multiple Force types, thus giving you three distinct ways to play the game. The most important contribution, however, is a super-powerful, screen-clearing attack that you charge up by ramming your Force into enemies, setting up an interesting risk/reward system.

R-Type Final: The last R-Type game. There are literally more than a dozen different Force types, including old favorites from Delta and III, along with 100 different ships to fly. Unfortunately, the game's levels are less claustrophobic than the rest of the series, and several levels are a chore to play (the slowdown-filled warship fight in Level 3, the crappy, pixelated hyperspace Level 5).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

TV: Under the Umbrella Tree

I believe most human/puppet endeavors fall into one of three categories:

1. Sedate but whimsical shows that are slower-paced. (the Make-Believe segments in "Mister Rogers' Neigborhood," the movie "Labyrinth")
2. Wild and crazy stuff that has lots of frenetic energy. ("The Muppet Show")
3. Gentle, easy-to-digest kids' shows that feature decent amounts of humor. ("Lamb Chop's Play-a-Long," "Sesame Street")

"Under the Umbrella Tree," a show starring Holly Larocque, falls into category #3. Featuring an easygoing, Pam Dawber-from-Mork-and-Mindy-esque leading lady and several puppet friends, each show was short, fun to watch, and usually told a simple story.

I used to watch this all the time on Disney Channel as a kid. Alas, the world has moved on to "Lizzy Maguire" and other brash forms of entertainment, but it's nice to look back at a time when puppet shows were all about a story and perhaps a song.

Here's a clip from the show (low-quality alert):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lM4tOzwlFM

Monday, February 05, 2007

News: Super Bowl ad review

It's no secret that some of the most important action on Super Bowl Sunday isn't on the field; it's in the commercials. While advertising experts declared this year's crop of ads disappointing (and I tend to agree), there were some neat and weird ads that aired yesterday.


Robert Goulet as a supernatural predator? While many younger viewers had no idea who Robert Goulet was, this one certainly made me chuckle.



This is an ad created from a fan idea - great way to save money if you're Frito-Lay. Kind of a stupid idea, but the actors play their parts with relish.



My sister's personal favorite - "the fist bump is out." She was laughing like a banshee during this one.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Guns: A 1911 Magazine Analysis


Candiru, a member on THR, has put up an amazing article testing various 1911 magazines.

The magazine is the heart of a repeating firearm. Even trustworthy designs like the Mauser 98 and the AK will choke when mag springs/followers/etc. are awry. While I have relatively limited experience with 1911s, it doesn't take a genius to know that they aren't immune to this problem, either.

Candiru's article is extensive, and hearing about all those potential feeding problems is enough to make you want to go out and buy a revolver. Highly recommended read.

Sports: A Super Bowl Story


Most unaffiliated football fans here in Gainesville are rooting for the Bears, I think. Rex Grossman, a former UF quarterback, is about to have the most important game of his career, and it'll be fascinating to see which Grossman the Bears get - "NFC Offensive Player of the Month"-Grossman or "Passer Rating Zero"-Grossman.

A better story might be the odyssey of Tank Johnson (pictured above), the Bears DT who has been convicted of multiple gun possession charges in Chicago. He had to apply to a judge to travel to Miami to play in Super Bowl XLI. Say what you want about him, his perhaps-preferential treatment, or his upbringing - he definitely values his self-defense to a degree that he's willing to face criminal charges for breaking the law.

Not that I agree with those laws, of course. Mention Cook County to a gun owner and you'll get vehement vituperation - Illinois in general, and the Chicago area in specific, have some of the most stupidly restrictive gun laws in the country. It's always been fascinating to me that right across the way, just a few miles through Lake Michigan, you come upon Indiana, a state with a Brady "D" rating and a concealed carry program that's only slightly more restrictive than Vermont-style carry. I wonder which city has the lower homicide rate, Chicago or Indianapolis? Well, I suppose you can guess the answer...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Food: Kay's Coffee

With Starbucks franchises literally popping up everywhere (including the airport, the mall, and in your garage), it must be intimidating to open up an independent coffee shop. It must be even more intimidating in a college town where one of the biggest stories last week was how the Starbucks on 13th and University was closing.

I've found a nice little out-of-the-way place, though, where there are no green and white signs to be found, and where the coffee is still strong. Kay's Coffee is a new place that is nestled in a building along with a Crispers restaurant; the whole affair is near a decidedly non-trendy strip mall. They're going head-to-head with their competition, that's for sure - there's a Starbucks literally 200 yards away.

Kay's distinguishing feature is its excellent Internet cafe capability - power outlets and power strips abound, and the main seating area is pleasingly lit and ideal for hammering out a late-night paper. I'm searching U.S. Supreme Court cases right now, and the combination of fellow students working around me, soft pop playing over the speakers, and a very stiff mocha latte in my hand is almost perfect. They also have some bubble tea which I didn't try.

The downsides: the coffee is still rather expensive and the place isn't open late enough (closes at midnight, when many college students are getting out of bed).

2/4 stars

Books: Penny Arcade


Penny Arcade, at least to the video and PC gaming community (and I ain't talking gambling), is pretty much the most popular webcomic around. They've actually gone on to release several collections of their work; the latest book just hit stores.

Unlike a lot of webcomics, PA is completely, truly, and utterly about gamers and geeky fandom. If you're the kind of guy who can appreciate that Klingon has no word for "hello," or the kind of gal who knows how to get to the Minus World in Super Mario Bros., or just the kind of person who wishes Wizards of the Coast didn't try to milk people for all they were worth (D&D Edition 3.5 - AKA we think you guys will pay $20 for the same content).

If that last paragraph didn't make any sense at all, kindly disregard this whole post. :-)


My favorite PA series of strips is their parody of "Dead Rising"/"Dawn of the Dead," entitled "Armadeaddon." Here's the beginning of that epic tale:


Friday, February 02, 2007

Tech: My First 3D Accelerator


Back in the day, many video cards didn't have integrated 3D acceleration, and if you wanted high-end gaming performance in your rig, you'd have to buy and install a separate, 3D-only card that hooked up to your old mostly-2D video card. The first (and only) one of these I ever purchased was the Diamond Monster 3D II.

It was, like many of these types of video cards, pretty close to the original 3Dfx VooDoo II reference board. I bought the 90 MHz, 12 MB version, which, at the time, was the pinnacle of 3D performance (nowadays, of course, the Monster 3D II is many times slower than even an integrated video solution). The kicker, though, were the included games - the incredible Battlezone, the pretty-looking Incoming (also released for the Dreamcast), and some others that were more forgettable.

Using my outdated 266 MHz Pentium II, the Monster 3D II made stuff like the original Half-Life and FFVII leap off the screen. It was a great card, but it was finally retired when I obtained a TNT2, and later, a GeForce2. It never broke down, it never glitched up, it just glided along (forgive the pun).

(Note: the current king of the hill is the GeForce 8800 GTX, using DirectX 10, with a core clock of 575 MHz. It uses up as much power as a freaking XBox 360, but it runs F.E.A.R. at 1600x1200 at 127 fps. w00t.)

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