28 February 2007

Games Even Your Mom Could Love

Maybe you begged mommy for a Game Boy when you were twelve (or twenty) and got one for your birthday. Isn't it time to give her something back?

Start off by buying one of those newfangled Nintendo Dual Screens (DS) in grey, black, pink, blue, or oh so heavenly white. Avoid action adventure games that will make her sweat and squirm. Avoid games that take hours to complete. Pick something that she can enjoy for fifteen minutes at a time while waiting in line at the grocery store, the doctor's office, or curbside ready to give you a ride home -- yes, she's still taking care of your errands and carting you around while waiting for you to "grow up."

We present five DS games that are sure to make mom appreciate and treasure video games -- and you by extension. All these titles are kid tested and mother appproved. Now all your phone calls from home will involve "So, I'm on Level Three, what do I do next?" It's a win-win all around.

1) Brain Age
Simple arithmetic, reading comprehension, and memorization mini-games are fun? Sure is, when the goal is to get better and faster at each of the education based mini-games. It's a game that's not a game -- those of you familiar with Kumon will groan but this is actually fun!

The idea behind the game is that by giving your brain daily exercise and repeatedly doing simple tasks, you'll make yourself healthy, wealthy, and wise. Mom won't burn out on the game since it limits itself to only a few minutes of play a day. Brain Age has taken the world by storm and there are now dozens of spin-offs but nothing beats the original.

2) Animal Crossing: Wild World
In Animal Crossing, an entire self-contained universe sprawls out before you as a young human who moves into a town filled with cutesy, and industrious, creatures. You are tasked with exploring the town and finding a way to make money to pay back your animal benefactor. You can do this by running errands for people, digging for gold, harvesting vegetables, and randomly dropping by to visit your kid at college. Just kidding about that last one.

Best of all, every task can vary depending on the time of day, the changing of the seasons, and the timing of major holidays. For example, shops close promptly at 11pm, fish are more plentiful in the early mornings, and there's a New Year's celebration on the real December 31st, Earth-time. Additional money you acquire can be used to buy a house, spruce up the place, and invest in rare decorations and knick-knacky treasures.

Sanrio plus the Sims equals a game any mother will love. Give them a world to over-invest in; one that's not yours.

3) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
It's "Murder, She Wrote" for the DS. The titular character, Phoenix Wright, is a lawyer fresh off passing the bar and is thrust into a series of capital murder cases. While it may seem grim and oh-so CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), the unique concept and anime-inspired graphics make the game a joy to play.

The goal is to find contradictions between the court submitted evidence and the testimonies of witnesses in order to uncover the truth. Searching for logic gaps and putting two and two together will remind your mom of the good old days when she caught you "studying at Melissa's house." The game even allows you to yell "Objection" into the microphone during heated moments in court. Every mom is a detective and lawyer at heart, she'll love this game.

And if she loves it and can't wait to do it again, there's the sequel, Phoenix Wright 2: Justice for All.

4) Bust-A-Move DS
When your mom kept stealing your Game Boy to play Tetris and ended up setting the household record for it, you were embarassed right? Admit it. Now here's a similarly addictive game for her to try out. It's a classic and beloved by gamers everywhere but your mom may not be hooked yet.

It's Bub and Bob -- rosy cheeked roly poly dragons who first co-starred in Bubble Bobble (flash version here) -- hard at work using a two-dragon slingshot to bust similarly colored bubbles. It's simple and quick to play and your mom will be addicited within five minutes. You can also challenge her to a multi-player match by sharing a single cartridge of the game; but you need to bring your own DS to the party.

5) Pokemon
By now, everyone in the world knows about the phenomenon that is Pokemon, even your totally unhip mom. She may not be clear about exactly what a Pokemon is but any of the games in the series will educate her immediately.

All the core Pokemon games are role playing games-lite and involve running around capturing Pokemon for your collection and for battle with other Poke-masters. "Pokemon" is a Japanese contraction for the words "pocket" and "monster". We recommend getting the as yet unreleased Diamond and Pearl versions (April 2007), which will have a brand new story and an all-new collection of critters to capture.

For your mom, the hardest part of this game may be overcoming the misconception that this is a "game for children." If your mom is feeling uneasy about being seen playing a "kid's game", tell her to tell detractors that she's "using the game to bond with my grand-children." Then quickly give her a kiss and hug before she can ask you how that's possible when you're single, not dating, live at home, and are no closer to having grandchildren than she is to collecting each of the the hundreds of Pokemon available. It'll be a bonding experience, trust me.

BONUS) Trauma Center: Under the Knife
Went to school to become a doctor but came out with a sociology degree and a career in administration? Parents don't understand that your C+ in Orgo wasn't good enough to get you into a leading medical school? Tell them that it's not as easy as it looks and present them with Trauma Center.

You may never become a real surgeon, or live up to their expectations, but you can still save (virtual) lives together. Trama Center lets players wield the scalpel and repair all the (financial) damage that your six years of undergraduate study and three major changes have caused. The game might be a bit tough for all ages alike but as you now know, being a doctor ain't easy.

This concludes our look at six of the best DS games to get your mom involved in the digital age. This list also doubles as "Games A Wife (or Girlfriend) Will Love" if you're in a gift giving pinch. Got some other suggestions?

23 February 2007

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Indeed, a "fairy tale for adults." Don't bring your kids to watch this; it's no Labyrinth. This film has been touted as one of the best movies of the year and that's about right. I can't say I even had one complaint about it aside from maybe having more scenes in the fantasy realm. But it's hard to complain when everything works together so well.

I made a special effort to make sure I saw this on the big screen and I'm delighted I caught it. Watching it on a rinky dink television wouldn't have done it justice.
-Ripe Tomatoes-

22 February 2007

Another Bad Creation

A friend called me up this weekend to ask if I was somehow related to a Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese. The answer is "No" because any male cousins I have aren't on this side of the ocean, much less capable of and responsible for publishing a graphic novel about growing up Asian-American.

Gene's newest work, collected and colorized, was released in the Fall of 2006 and has since blown up big time. The comic is presented in three sections, the first of which focuses on the legend of the Monkey King. I'm a sucker for anything Monkey King related, I admit it.

I haven't fully read the entire book but the art is clean and serviceable and the moral of the story is one I'm always supportive of: "Yellow is right." Just kidding. The moral of the story is "Be Yourself." Or maybe there's no moral to the book at all; just a story.

I've seen American Born Chinese prominently featured at Borders, in the wait line aisle at Frye's Electronics, at little indie book stores, just about everywhere. It's even a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award (the first graphic novel to be awarded such an honor). Check out ABC when you get a chance, you won't regret it.

Bonus: New York Magazine presents "The Everything Guide to Chinatown".

20 February 2007

Life is Short

Here's a little life tip that I don't think enough people take enough advantage of. For the places where you eat often, always call and order ahead. I eat out a lot so I've got every restaurant's number programmed into my phone.

Sometimes I'll be staring at a long line but I'll call in my order from the back of the line -- and then I feel like a proper genius when they take my order immediately and have it ready by the time I get up to the front.

Other life tips I couldn't do without:
  • Set various clocks around you to different times. The clock in my car is set twenty-four minutes ahead, my alarm seven minutes ahead, my cell phone two minutes, etc. It's amazing how often you'll forget that your clocks are off and you'll rush someplace thinking you're late but then arrive early. Works like a charm.

  • Double up on your toiletries and pre-pack them in your travel bag. Nothing's more annoying than forgetting your toothpaste, eye solution, or deodorant. Buy two of everything and pack it in the bag for when you're ready to go. Same thing with a cell phone charger. Never be caught with one bar again.

  • Keep a log of significant facts about acquaintances and likeable near-friends. That way you can refresh your memory before you see them again. Significant facts include: name, siblings, where theyr'e from, what they do, what you talked about. Then stun them with your impressive memory of your last five-minute conversation. People will like you, promise.
  • 16 February 2007

    I Am Book, Hear Me Roar

    I listened to my first audio book the other day. I stumbled upon Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code on MP3; hidden among more than 80 gigs of music I recently acquired from a friend. I know a few people who are big fans of audiobooks so I thought I'd give it a shot. I plugged earphones in at midnight and started listening.

    Six and a half hours later, to my astonishment, my (very old) iPod was still running and I was almost through the book. Of course, I listened only intermittently as I drifted in and out of sleep but what I heard was compelling. Right at 7:45 am, during the climatic last scenes, my battery gave out. I almost got out of bed to plug my iPod charger in, just to get to the end -- but I barely get out of bed for work, so I didn't budge.

    I think I like audiobooks, but only if I've read the book already. I get too impatient with the slow pace of the narrator and feel the need to constantly skip around. A book like Da Vinci Code can be breezed through in a few short hours on the couch; listening to the unabridged version could take a whole day. Suggested for a long road trip perhaps, but too infuriating when you want to get through a book quickly.

    I do find it kind of funny to think of the narrator having to impersonate various voices. For some reason I imagined that the job of the narrator would be just that, narrating. Possibly in an omniscient semi-monotone voice. Sort of like going to a dull poetry reading. In this particular book, the narrator, Paul Michael, had to mimic American, English, French, Scottish, and female accents and voices. I found it amusing.

    I'd love to see the requirement sheet for an audiobook hire. What if they suck at an English accent, can they still get the job if they're excellent at the other ones? The job of reading a book seems to be much harder than I would have originally thought.

    Actually, the entire process of books on tape seems to be too difficult to warrant my effort -- ironic since audiobooks are supposed to make reading easy. Hearing the words and scenes does give the book another dimension, but not one worth my time. I guess I've lived in the word of page-to-eyes too long and can't quite comprehend when things are told to me. I'm not an audio learner or processor. For proof, ask any of my friends or my mom. I tune things out with the best of'em.

    Audiobooks on MP3s is the way to go though. Having to carry and switch CDs around would be the pits. How technologically backward.

    14 February 2007

    American Idle

    It's Season Six of American Idol. That's astounding to me. Where was I before? While the show is endlessly copied and parodied, each season seems to get "better" than the last. It's all highly subjective of course, since it can be argued that Kelly Clarkson will be the biggest star to ever emerge from the show.

    If you saw the Grammys, two Idol alumni -- Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson -- took over the stage and were legit stars. Hudson has been Oscar-nominated for her role in Dreamgirls and Underwood won a Grammy on Sunday night (for Best Female Country Vocal Performance).

    Kelly Clarkson won two Gramophone Awards in 2006; previous Idol winners Fantasia Barrino and Ruben Studdard were both nominated in 2004. That's a lot of Grammy nominations for past participants of American Idol. Astute Grammy viewers will also note that the audience-selected girl who sang with Justin Timberlake, Robyn Troup, also tried out for this season's American Idol -- but was cut on last night's episode.

    The American Idol train just keeps on chugging along, gaining steam and getting bigger each and every year. I admittedly watched most of last season and was stunned that Taylor Hicks won over the far more talented (and bewitching) Katharine McPhee. The show just sucks you in man. Having it on as background noise eventually leads to a total inability to do anything else; I couldn't help it. I even attended an American Idol concert in San Jose a few months ago. These people can sing! You did good America. Golf claps all around.

    It's like I hate the show, but I love the show. Maybe not love, but tenderly tolerate. It's a phenomenon I'd rather not be a part of, but since it's around me all the time, I have to pay attention to who makes the cut each week and then put in my two cents about whether or not they deserved it. I'm still stunned that this is Season Six. Will this thing ever stop? How long can America want to keep picking Idols? American Idol Twenty? Thirty?

    I've decided that for women, American Idol is the cultural equivalent of the Super Bowl.

    12 February 2007

    Leave Nobody Behind

    I think there should be an add-on year of school. You go from kindergarten through high school, maybe go off to college, and then at the age of twenty five, you are required to attend one year of follow up education. During this year of follow up education, you are going to take all the classes you took before, but this time, faster and more in-depth.

    It's ridiculous how much people don't know about the world around them. I often sit around and follow wikipedia to the ends of the Earth and depending on the day, I explore history, art, psychology, whatever catches my fancy. I consider myself halfway educated but if pressed for answers, I couldn't really tell you who was involved in World War I or even when it occured (1914-1918).

    The only Ottoman I can reference is the chair accessory -- which is sort of funny seeing as how the empire was trampled on during World War I. Most of my geographic knowledge comes from playing lots of Risk -- or Axis and Allies -- if it's not on a Risk board, I don't know where it is.

    This same sort of unknowledge applies to me (and many of my peers, I'd assume) for just about everything. What is socialism? Who was Paul Gauguin? Where is Oklahoma? What's an isoceles triangle? Who wrote "All Quiet on the Western Front?" Explain the principles of existentism. Who were our first five presidents? Spell something longer than "c-a-t." Watch something other than reality tv.

    We need some educated adults. Forget adult education, people don't have the time or the money to stop in the middle of their twenties to get some general education -- but we need it. If I were president, I'd institute one year of learning for all twenty-five year olds. Math, history, foreign language, science, English, art, film, recess, physical education; let's bring it on (again)!

    One of my friends was taking the substitute teacher's test and a whole bunch of us were looking over his materials. We would have failed miserably. I'd hope that as adults we'd appreciate this extra year of knowledge and become more open to actually learning and absorbing everything; because as kids, you just want to get out of school and get through the day.

    As an adult, you don't want to be dumb, do you?

    11 February 2007

    Talk to Her

    "The truth is women love to compete with other women. Women want to win men over. They want to be chosen by a man who could have any girl he wants. No woman of caliber wants to win a man by default. She wants her man to be a prize, a good catch, someone she can be proud of.

    When you tell a woman that her significant other is handsome or intelligent, she'll likely beam with self satisfaction. In complimenting her man, you've complimented her. You have told her, in so many words, that she is capable of attracting a quality mate. The women who rail against this usually have a low self esteem and thus avoid competition because they fear they'll always fail....or they're ugly. You pick."
    -Violent Acres-

    09 February 2007

    Five things I now know...

    ...after re-watching and web-stalking "The Sound of Music"
    (1) Edelweiss is not a traditional Austrian song, or even popular there. The song was written for the musical. This is crushing news, as if learning that "America the Beautiful" was really done as a 1870's French rock song.

    (2) The musical is loosely based on the real Von Trapp Family Singers. There was a real Maria von Trapp?! Yes, there was. And she wrote a whole damn book about it -- plus had two movies done about her story previous to this film. This website gives the real backstory of the von Trapps.

    (3) Who can forget the stunning blue eyes of Charmian Carr as Liesl? I'd read somewhere that her eyes really are that blue but re-watching the movie, that hue seems unearthly.

    Charmian pretty much stepped away from films after the Sound of Music -- she too has written a book about her experiences. She became a close friend and interior designer to Michael Jackson -- designing for him a "mannequin room." Yeah, don't ask.

    (4) "During the Cold War, in the event of a nuclear strike on the United Kingdom, the BBC planned to broadcast The Sound of Music on radio as part of an emergency timetable of programmes designed to 'reassure' the public in the aftermath of the attack."

    I wonder what the United States has/had planned, "It's A Wonderful Life?" Or that other American classic, "The Day the Earth Caught Fire?"

    (5) The entire musical has about five songs played on loop. I thought I just happened to remember all the classics because they were the classics; overlooking the other songs from the film. But no, I remember those five songs because they were driven into my head from repeated exposure. Not that I minded this, but I didn't realize how many times "Do-Re-Mi" or "My Favorite Things" was played throughout the movie. No wonder the thing ran three hours.

    Apparently, a cinema in Hong Kong had thought the movie was too long and cut out all the musical numbers. Just "The Sound" was enough for the Chinese.
    It's a gift, to be able to watch these seminal films with fresh eyes -- not a gift I was given however. Not many people I know have never seen Star Wars, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, etc. as a kid. I like sharing these movies with them to see their responses. Is the experience still magical? Or merely good?

    07 February 2007

    Cover Art

    "Today, the art of the magazine cover has been vanquished by celebrity worship and bad taste. Designers are simply fulfilling the dictates of their industry, not unlike the paint person on an auto assembly line.

    Innovation, creative expression, or even cleverness has been mostly abandoned. Artistic considerations are limited to how much retouching the celebrity headshot requires in Photoshop and how many headlines can be crammed in before the cover looks too 'busy.'

    The result: A world in which it's difficult to tell the difference between Playboy and Harper's Bazaar without cracking them open."
    -The Decline of Western Magazine Design-

    06 February 2007

    Oh, The Places You'll Go

    I've been trying to organize and start up a book swap for months. I decided to harness the power of craigslist to gather my fellow book readers. I put up an ad for the South Bay area and got enough responses to know that this was a good idea. However, I needed to kick things up a notch and so joined meetup.com for the express purpose of organizing a book swap focused on my area (Fremont, CA).

    Worked like a charm. Organizing the meetup was easy, getting people interested was easy, and we were on our way. But wait. The first meeting, scheduled for December, fell through due to holiday scheduling. Then the backup date, in January, didn't work out because I went to Los Angeles.

    I had one meetup member quit the "group." It hurt like losing a teammate in Survivor. Despite never having met these people (or even knowing what they looked like), I had become quite attached to the usernames that populated my group. When I lost that member I thought my leadership skills were being questioned and that I would soon be sent into the Gauntlet. Okay, not that dramatic, but close.

    I finally got an honest to goodness meetup planned and committed to and last Saturday, it happened. And it was magical, just like the anti-prom! But more on that later.

    First, why a book swap and not a book club? Book clubs are a long and messy affair. It takes a long time to find the optimum group of people. In San Diego, I had a great book club, but it took two years or more to distill to the proper taste. A book swap is designed for easy in, easy out. People show up, swap stories, swap suggestions, swap books. Done. Finito.

    It's more personable than a library and you get to talk to nice, interesting people. Plus, who doesn't like to see what people would select with a "first round draft pick?" Does he go for "DaVinci Code" or the lesser known but highly recommended "High Fidelity?" See what I mean? It's fun, literary style.

    The February book swap was a smashing success and despite not enough participants to actually conduct an organized swap, it was two hours worth of good conversation and exciting people. I loved it. So, more next month and we'll see if we can't get this book swap not only off the ground but perhaps transformed into a book club!

    04 February 2007

    Movie Machine

    "What Goldman was saying was a version of something that has long been argued about art: that there is no way of getting beyond one's own impressions to arrive at some larger, objective truth. There are no rules to art, only the infinite variety of subjective experience. 'Beauty is no quality in things themselves,' the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote. 'It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.' Hume might as well have said that nobody knows anything.

    But Hume had a Scottish counterpart, Lord Kames, and Lord Kames was equally convinced that traits like beauty, sublimity, and grandeur were indeed reducible to a rational system of rules and precepts. He devised principles of congruity, propriety, and perspicuity: an elevated subject, for instance, must be expressed in elevated language; sound and signification should be in concordance; a woman was most attractive when in distress; depicted misfortunes must never occur by chance.

    He genuinely thought that the superiority of Virgil's hexameters to Horace's could be demonstrated with Euclidean precision, and for every Hume, it seems, there has always been a Kames -- someone arguing that if nobody knows anything it is only because nobody's looking hard enough."
    -Malcolm Gladwell, The Formula-

    03 February 2007

    The Bloggies

    The nominations for the 2007 Bloggies, the Academy Awards of the blogosphere, have been unveiled! This is the seventh year the Bloggies will be handing out cash prizes (sometimes up to $25 or more) and bestowing recognition upon the worthy. This is a great place to find blogs that have already been reader-tested and fan-approved. Go there to vote for the coveted "Weblog of the Year" and make your voice heard.

    Only you can prevent forest fires!