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Heeeey. Wazza-mah-dah you!

I’m riding home in the dark tonight, all done up in lights like a rolling Christmas tree. A white Corolla passes on my left, then shortly after turns across my path to parallel park on the right side of the road.

On the approach, it was uncertain if he meant to make a Y-turn, which would involve turning across my path again. The driver wasn’t giving a turn signal at all.

Caution is a healthy habit for night riders, so I called a hearty, “On your left!” as I upshifted to zip around the stopped car. As I’m making a tight pass on the busy road, the driver’s head pops out the window like a Whack-A-Mole, shouting, “What. Waaaaaht!” with the most vivid Brooklyn inflection ever to reach these Pacifican ears.

I almost took the poor guy’s head off, and that would have been horrible in it’s own right. It would be additionally bad, since he probably misunderstood my ping for a heckle.

Anyhow, that voice that could have come straight from a gangster film kept me giggling all the way home.

Intersection Drama

I was idling in my pedals at the intersection of Fremont and Mary, when my wandering thoughts were interrupted by a loud blaring noise. Someone is sounding their horn in the car directly behind me.

My eyes shot up to the traffic signal, which was still red. There was the horn again — not a heavy lean or a polite tap, but a full-bodied honk. There was a moment of confusion, and then I realized my legal position in the bike lane was impeding him from making a right turn.

My knee-jerk reaction was less than obliging. It’s clearly not nice to blast your horn up someone’s butt, when they’re balancing on two wheels at very low speed. I could easily have fallen over and, as I’ve done that already this month, I know first hand that it’s kind of a bummer.

So I clipped out one foot and planted it on the pavement, steadfast in feigning ignorance of the driver’s incessant honking. It didn’t sound like, “Excuse me, Miss”. Because horns are such frequent weapons of abuse in my part of the world, it came off to me more like, “You don’t belong there!” And if that were so, my response is: Like hell I don’t.

Being as I am obeying applicable traffic law in standing here, I refuse to clip out of my vehicle and drag it to the side walk so you can shave 14 seconds off your wait at this intersection, the savings of which will likely be nullified at the next stop light. Besides that, you don’t even have a turn lane here, so you can just chill in your air-conditioned cabin and refrain from confusing the other motorists.

Moments later, I glided through the intersection on a much relieving green light.

I’m still a little troubled, because I doubt I could have done anything impressed upon him a better attitude towards cyclists. As a conspicuous Lycra-clad roadie, I try to be a conscientious rider and through my example earn respect for the cycling community as a whole. I think ignoring the driver just made me look arrogant, and perhaps I should have at least acknowledged him somehow. Maybe you could make a suggestion as to how I could handle that situation better, should it happen again?


I’ve spent the last two days in another city, playtesting one of the next generation products from Prism Enterprise.

I can’t share with you anything I saw, but I would recommend this gig to any gamer who has a couple hours in their day. You shut off your internal dialogue while the developers watch you imitate an amphetamine-driven bonobo, mercilessly picking nits off the game they’re trying to polish for release. They pay you for your feedback with pizza and free games.

If you’re the kind of gamer that bemoans bad level design, cheesy soundtrack, and how your character handles like a shopping cart, then being a play tester is your chance to tell the architects of your favorite franchise about your frustrations while there is still time to fix them. What could be sweeter?

If God Exists, So What?

I’m agnostic, meaning I fail to deny that God exists. Sorry, I just don’t have the same conviction as many of my friends and indeed most of my family. Just so you know that I’m not a completely useless fence-sitter, I admit I think religion is a cancerous blight on human potential.

After repeatedly banging by head against the inexorable wall of fundamentalists logic, I’m ready to prepare a second approach to the God question. Next time someone tries to convince me that God made the world, and therefore merits my unending devotion and prayer, I will blankly reply, “Yeah, and so what?”

God, as master and architect of the universe, is highly qualified to be my object of eternal devotion; however, as an agnostic, I cannot in good conscience verify his existence. In light of this blemish on his résumé, I regrettably rank him at the bottom of my list of candidates.

There are verifiably real entities that deserve real praise with their limited capacity. None of them have done anything so grand as shape a nebula or choreograph the stars, but they’re done much to affect my stupid little life in an undeniably positive way:

3. Steve Jobs
My universe in microcosm, Apple products and software pervade and greatly enhance my daily life. By and large, the creativity and ingenuity that goes into the products I enjoy is far greater than I can appreciate. If I’m going to be in wonder of something, I might as well pay due praise to the enterprise, and to the ringleader I may physically bump into on the street, or at least spot his creepy bar-coded Mercedes.

2. My Mother
God may have designed the universe, but I know for sure that my mother made me. She didn’t do it with a holy word, but by shaping me out of her own flesh. Her labors did not end with the actual labor, but in any case I’ve been a lot longer than 6 days in the making. To this day, she still makes some sacrifices for my well-being.

1. Stars
The energy stored in everything I consume, and everything my mother consumed while carrying me is nothing more than concentrated starlight. Whether it come from fossil or nuclear fuels, or whether it comes from more direct photovoltaic sources, the electricity which powers my laptop comes traceably from stars. Hydroelectric power does not depend on starlight, but you can bet your entire fleet of freighters that building the dam did, as well as the very molecules that push the turbines therein.

I can individually verify that these entities not only exist, but are responsible for their respective effects on my existence. However Mom, Steve, and the cosmic firmament couldn’t give a flip if I kept a special wardrobe for entering a building consecrated to pondering their revelations. I’m sure Mom and Steve would find it outright creepy.

On the other hand, we might have had a better world on the whole, if only we took the time normally devoted the invisible man in the sky and simply listened to our mothers more. I suppose you might call me a “mater-ialist”.

Based on what I observe in the attitudes of the observable architects of my existence, I would take an intuitive stretch to assert that God would not have a positive response to my spiritual devotion either. If he ever appreciated any prayer offered by a man, he certainly does not care at present. I observe that religious people, overall, are as happy in their life as a godless heathen like me. I’ll still be up early Sunday morning, but probably because I keep programmer hours.

On the Way Home

I love clicking into the big gear, that gigantic 50-tooth crank gear that makes me go faster than most people ever see bikes go. That is, most people living anywhere but the Bay Area, where you can’t stand in a grocery line without sharing it with a Lycra-clad road warrior with an economy sized box of Fig Newtons tucked under his arm.

Comparatively speaking, I’m neither fast nor strong. I know there are plenty of riders around here who can cruise half again as fast as I do. But I find with daily practice that I upshift more often into that magical range of high gear ratios that makes my thoroughbred carbon frame hum with self-fulfillment.

By this time, I’ve spent almost eight hours on my new Trek Pilot 5.0 road bike. By this time, I’m coming to realize the bike is, by several orders of magnitude, better than I am; however, I’m completely happy with my purchase, as it’s everything I want at a 20% discount. My only reservation is that I feel considerably too soft and slow to be seen on a $2400 bike.

On the other hand, 20 daily miles has a way of melting excess fat and building strength at fast rate. I should approach riding my fancy bike like a frugal mother gives her child a sweater that’s a size too big – I will grow into it. At least I probably wont ever have to worry about my own equipment holding me back.

In eight hours, I’ve done various tweaks to the fit of the bike, so much that I no longer feel as though I’m driving a dead frame. It feels very much alive, an extension of myself, and I move with a certain grace.

On the way home, I sailed along in high gear, and my last right turn of the day gives the green light. As there are no crossing pedestrians to spoil my momentum, I tapped the brakes till I was running a little over 20 mph, started wide and swung aggressively through the turn. The entire frame bowed down towards the pavement at some astonishingly acute angle while my body remained high over it, straddling the frame as it was, rounding the corner by less than two feet. At the top of the centrifugal curve, I let loose a very audible, “Wheeeeeeee!”

As I gently pull my frame upright, brightly-colored jerseys zip past my periphery in the cross-traffic. Were they smiling? I don’t see how they couldn’t be.


I fell down during my ride today. It wasn’t really a bad fall, just the kind of low-speed spill inevitably taken by every clipless pedal user:

I was slowing down behind a car waiting for a left turn in an intersection. In order to avoid freeing my feet from their bindings, I tried to stagger my speed so that I could continue standing in my pedals until my signal. I am normally able to stay balanced from almost a dead stop, but this time I lost control. The bike tipped over with myself helplessly bound to it, resulting in what was probably the slowest bicycle crash possible.

Woman and machine separated when the shoes snapped free on impact. I tumbled and I was on my back in the street. I lay there for about five seconds, willfully scanning myself for vital damage. My left knees had wenched. The signal turned green and I kicked one of  my aching legs over the bike, and I limped through the left turn to the opposite street corner.

I stopped and turned over the bike, looking for frame damage when a woman approached and told me she saw me fall. She offered her first aid kit, and only then did I notice the broad red ribbon extending from my left knee down to my expensive specialty sock. There was also young boy, whom the woman had sent sprinting to fetch bottle of cold, clean water.

They watched me wash and bandage my knee. After finding no obvious damage to my bike, I assured them that I could continue my own. I am lastingly amazed at the depth of kindness these people had.

Got a Bike!

As you know, my road bike was stolen this week. It has been miserable being confined to a walking radius from my house, especially since I hate buses. I had to find another bike, before I went stir crazy. Something smooth, fast, shiny, and totally fun to ride.

I recognize many people’s excellent advice to seek a match on Craigslist. Buying a used bike would certainly be a gentle blow to my wallet, and I might find something really nice.

Who knows? As one roadie on the train pointed out, there are plenty of yuppies (such as himself) who buy a superb machine, and are ready to sell it in two months for a number of decadent reasons. It certainly is worth a try.

I made a cursory scan of the classifieds, in case something was ready to fall in my lap. Besides the fact that no such luck graced me, I really didn’t want a used bike. This is retail therapy.

Around this time of year, the factories have already produced all the ’08 models there will ever be, and they’re all mostly bought up. Therefore, I had no luck finding a suitable bike within my original price range ($1000-$1400), which incidentally is about as much as a lot of fledgling roadies are willing to pay. There were simply no frames in my size.

So I scraped my resources together and looked to the elite models, where the demographic is mostly men, thereby increasing my chances of finding a suitably sized frame. This is how I came across this:

It’s a 2008 Trek Pilot 5.0. It’s not specifically a women’s bike, but it fits me nicely.

You could look up the specs on the Trek Official Website, if you’re interested in that.

I am going to enjoy getting comfortable on this amazing bike. I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.

Spore Creature Editor

I’ve been waiting for Spore to launch for three years. Last week, EA released a demo of the Creature Creator, and I find it to be totally sublime.

It’s like Baby’s First Maya, as it makes it trivially easy to shape, texturize, and animate original creatures. You start with a blob of flesh with a spine, at which point you come up with the basic silhouette by dragging the individual vertebra into position.

A drop menu treats the user to dozens of creature appendages, maws, claws, and incidentals to choose from, each contributes a statistical value to how that creature will survive in the world.

The editor makes intelligent guesses as you build your creature by aiding with symmetry. When painting the skin of your creation, the editor provides harmonious gradients to the base colors you’ve selected before. In effect, the editor helped me do a better job than I thought I could.

By far the most impressive feature is the “Test Drive” mode, in which your creature springs to full animation. You can there induce it to move around, display emotions, and do a little dance. Unless you took the design to an outrageous extreme, it all moves naturally and expressively. Ears fold back with anger and perk with interest. Eyes squint and flutter coyly.


N3: Ninety Nine Nights

I’m not really a fan of real-time battle strategy, primarily because I suck at them. The reason why I opted to try N3 is because Q Entertainment was involved. The producer who gave us visual beauties like Rez and Lumines also put a direct hand in Ninety Nine Nights, and I’m willing to step outside my preferred genre for a pretty game.

It is indeed very pretty. I cooed and gasped at the gorgeous opening sequence. I dutifully waded through the brief tutorial, during which I wondered at the console’s power to individually animate hundreds of armored infantry, especially when my ludicrously powerful character swept them away like dry leaves. All this happens without a single perceptible hitch.

You get to bring a couple platoons with you into battle, but it might as well be your lone character against an army – he/she is certainly capable of it. The power balance is so out of control, that after singlehandedly defeating several battalions upfield, I return to the main fray only to find my own troops struggling with a paltry handful of denizens. I’m then forced to stupidly sift them out so I can get on with the bloody mission.

And while I’m on the subject of unreal balance issues, I’ll throw in my opinion about N3’s ability to immerse the player in the frenzy – It’s absolutely non-existant. Even though the game has great success in creating a graphically rich and fluid world, the overall immersion factor tanks on account of several glaring flaws.

First comes the scripting and voice acting. Imphyy sounds like she’s voiced by a twelve year-old girl, and the most uninspiring front-line speech possible compounds on a bad performance. The multi-faceted plot is as thin as sweat soup.

The next turn-off is the lack of diverse units to command. You get a choice between three types of melee soldiers and a platoon of archers. Because many of the levels demand that you constantly advance your troops to a rendezvous, the archery unit is mostly useless.

Not that it really matters that your archers shoot into a mass of mixed soldiers, because friendly fire is always disabled. Your powerful avatar du jour may sweep his weapon through the fray in graceful Wushu-inspired twirls and nuke his foes to his heart’s content, and never think twice as to whether his own men are in the way, because they never are.

With other RTS games, you have to invoke your higher functions a bit in order to manage structured bases, economic dynamics, and to organize and deploy forces according to clear objectives. However, for the implicitly protracted war called “Battle of Ninety-Nine Nights”, you simply aim for center mass, hack, slash, nuke, repeat.

Well, that was an enlightening little jaunt. Now I’m going to play Lumines on Challenge Mode until my eyeballs melt.

Peace Plaza, Japantown

I was wandering around Japantown today, and I saw an old man playing with his dogs in Peace Plaza. In bad Japanese, I asked him for permission to photograph the dogs.

He nods, “Douzo”, and bounces a blue racquetball towards the big concrete Stupa across the square. The little brown dog darts after it.

Meanwhile, a crowd is gathering. My camera work has drawn the attention of about a dozen students. At least, I thought they came to find out what I was photographing. It turned this was the cause for the commotion:

I felt bad for the other dog. Amid the cacophony of girlish cooeing and “Kawaaaiii!”, the panting brown dog rests quietly by his master completely ignored:

You know you want to see the puppy again, don’t you? Well okay, here’s one more: