June 2008 Archives

Back to the Future Shoes in July

In Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly goes to the year 2015, and is given clothes by his time-traveling friend to masquerade as his own son, Marty Jr. His clothes include a self-drying jacket, a pair of Levis (with the pockets turned out), and self-lacing sneakers made by Nike. For year, fans have been petitioning Nike to produce these sneakers, and a campaign was started to persuade Nike to make these shoes by 2015. For BTTF geeks, the day has come -- Nike has decided to produce these sneakers (although sadly without the self-lacing mechanism), and will be marketing them as "Nike Hyperdunks" -- made with "Flywire", the latest in lightweight materials.

I can sort of understand why they wouldn't build the self-lacing mechanism; mechanical parts, waterproofing, liability, batteries -- it's just too high tech for Nike to deal with; though I do see a boutique business opportunity for those with the mechanical know how to produce aftermarket mods to the Hyperdunk.

Swords: An Artist's Devotion

My old Blizzard co-worker Ben Boos has his first book coming out this fall. Published by Candlewick Press, the book is entitled Swords: An Artist's Devotion, and features 96 pages of pictures and information about swords. The book is aimed at children, but as Ben worked on the user interface and background art for Diablo II, and I expect that those who enjoyed the game's artwork to also enjoy the illustrations of the book.

I greatly respected and admired Ben's work as an artist while working at Blizzard, and Ben's work had a major impact on the look and feel of the game. It's easy for me to say that without Ben Boos, the game just wouldn't have been the same. I was a bit sad when I heard that he had left the game industry, but was glad that he was continuing his career as an artist and illustrator.

World of Workcraft


It's an animation about WoW players playing work...

Diablo III Announced

When I left Blizzard in '03, Blizzard North had done quite a bit of pre-production work on Diablo III, as well as some protoyping on the 3d-game engine. Today at the Blizzard Invitational in Paris, they announced the release of Diablo III. Since much of the work we had done on Diablo III was concept and prototype work, seeing the development they've done over the last 5 years was very interesting; while some of the concepts we were developing definitely looks like it made it through to the version of the game they displayed, some of the design choices they appear to have made seem counter to the decisions the original Diablo team members would have made had they remained on development of the title -- the most apparent change that I can point to is the appearance of "floating numbers" as seen in the gameplay video -- this was a feature that Blizzard Irvine continually "suggested" during development on Diablo II, which Blizzard North refused to implement -- with development now located within Irvine, the decision to add floating numbers to the game isn't one which surprises me.

One of the design choices which again shows Blizzard Irvine's hand in the changes made is the re-appearance of the Barbarian character class -- the original design documents for Diablo III included a set of all new character classes, with no reappearance of old character classes (our reasons for this was simple -- since we were enhancing and improving the skill system, we didn't want to try and adapt old skills into a new system -- we'd rather create all new skills for the new character classes. The return of the Barbarian class feels like a change that was made after development of the title was moved to Irvine 3 years ago.

One of the reasons why the Barbarian return shocks me so much is that I always felt that the Barbarian character class was the most broken of the classes in Diablo II. The Barbarian's ability to Leap, for instance gave him advantage over other classes which had to walk around the barrier -- it is the showcasing of this skill in the video (during which a bridge crumbles away, leaving no way to cross the gap) which makes me wonder if they have an alternate way for other characters to cross the gap or if all the characters have Leap now.

Of course, going 3D means that a lot of the things that were hard to do with sprites (such as actual armor looks being reflected on the character) is much easier using polygons and textures, as well as real 3d lighting. The use of a physics engine (Havoc, according to the game specs) is also a nice touch.

While I have more or less given up on the PC as a gaming platform, I'm glad to see that Blizzard is still committed to releasing titles that aren't first-person shooters; such a shame that we won't be seeing this title on the shelves for another year or two at the earliest.

Educating the Next Generation of Game Developers

One of the problems that I've noticed in game education is that a lot more universities in the United States have been offering degrees in video game design; while some of these programs are in fact very good; my own opinion is that a good portfolio and experience is the best way for a graduate to get a job in the industry, as most of these specialist programs do a poor job of preparing students for the job market. Instead my advice has always been to encourage students to study more traditional fields such as computer science, art/architecture and apply that knowledge in creating games. Recently David Braben, the chairman of Frontier Developments and campaign spokesman for UK's "Game Up?", said: "The problem is compounded by the quality of so called specialist games degree courses; 95% of video gaming degrees are simply not fit for purpose. "Without some sort of common standard, like Skillset accreditation, these degrees are a waste of time for all concerned." Accreditation with Skillset, the sector skills council for creative media, is only offered at 4 of the 81 universities in the UK offering video gaming-related degrees,

Guardian: Video games degrees: 95% fail to hit skills target

What Do Your Robot Toys Really Look Like?


Timeline of Internet Memes

Here's a timeline of highly popularized internet memes, from 1993s to the present. To me, it really feels like it's missing quite a bit, especially in the earlier years, and is rickrolling really that major to warrant two entties?

Gasoline Prices

This evening, we were watching the Jurassic Park II: The Lost World, and in the "San Diego" portion of the movie, it's possible to see quite clearly the prices of gas at a gasoline station, which started at $1.09 for regular and went all the way up to 1.29 for premium. Lost World was released in 1997, which dates the gas prices to 1995 or 1996 when the principal shooting was done; the price of gasoline this week in the bay area was quickly approaching the $5 mark: ~4.59 for regular, which means that over the past 12 years, the price of gasoline has nearly quadrupled in price, with most of that price increase during the past two years.

Chris Jordan at TED

Photographer Chris Jordan talks about his work, which attempts to quantify human behavior in visual form:

On Little Details in Type

I just watched the movie Helvetica, and one of the typeface designers mentions that it's really hard to watch movies because he notices that the typeface doesn't match the time period, so I found it amusing that the Indiana Jones films suffers from this same problem in the scenes with the maps

June's Most Wanted: Wii Fit

About a month ago, the Wii Fit was released and quickly sold out; while I've been playing with the Wii Fit daily, it seems that like the Nintendo Wii console, the Wii Fit is still hard to find. On Amazon, the price for a Wii Fit from a third-party seller starts at around $180, or about twice the original retail price for the device. While I certainly enjoy working out on the Wii Fit, the Wii Fit plus the pack-in workout game is not worth $180.

The Nintendo Wii shortage seems ridiculous to me; the Wii is 18 months old at this point, and while I occasionally I see them at Target, and Circuit City sends me emails for Wii bundles it's still rather surprising that supply hasn't met demand yet. My only theory is that there is still plenty tied up in the gray market from people who bought a Wii in order to resell it.

I'm having a lot of fun with the Wii Fit as I use it daily; I won't be packing it on our trip to Comic-Con next month, as the Comic-Con itself provides much more physical activity.


DeYoung Museum: Chihuly

On Friday, I went to the members-only viewing of the Chihuly exhibit; while it was certainly more crowded than usual in the DeYoung, it's likely nothing compared to the crowds they were expecting this weekend for the exhibit; even more so since Target was offering to pay for the cost of admission on opening weekend.

Colorful glass scultures adorn the lower floor of the DeYoung in an retrospective of Seattle glassblower Chihuly's work. One of the more interesting piece in the exhibit is the Persian Ceiling, where colorful glass sculptures are laid above on a glass surface, invoking the feeling of being underneath the sea of glass.


IMG_0661.JPGIMG_0666.JPGChihuly's Persian Ceiling

Ba Zhang (Zhongzi)

For a while now, I've been craving some ba zhang (also called zhongzi in Mandarin).

Zhongzi is sweet rice with filling wrapped in a bamboo leaf, a sort of Chinese version of a tamale. The filling may include some or all of the following: pork, brine shrimp, Chinese sausage, egg , bamboo shoots, peanuts, chestnuts, mushrooms, and woodear.

Zhongzi are sometimes available as a part of restaurant's dimsum menu, but because the majority of their clientele is Chinese immigrants, the traditional recipe is used, which includes items in the filling that I dislike in my zhongzi.

Traditionally, this is the food that is eaten to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival (which just happened to fall this past weekend). As the old story goes, during the Warring States period in China, a poet by the name of Qu Yuan who lived in the Kingdom of Chu tried to warn his countrymen and king about the advances being made by their Qin neighbors; when the Qin took the capital of Chu, he penned his final poem, and threw himself into the river; according to legend, the villagers threw packets of rice into the water to prevent the fish from eating the poet's body; in another version of the story, the packets of rice are thrown to appease a dragon who lived in the river.

I have many memories of eating these growing up, and I attempted for the first time to make my own. Because of the time involved in making these, one usually makes a large batch of zhongzi; after they are cooked, zhongzi can be frozen and kept for years -- the oldest zhongzi ever found is about 700 years old; mine won't last nearly that long (I suspect they'll be gone by the end of the week).


Instructions for preparing this dish are in the extended.

WWDC Announcements: MobileMe and iPhone 3G

Apple today announced two major things: MobileMe, their new service that replaces the old .Mac service, and the iPhone 3G.

As a replacement for .Mac, MobileMe offers enterprise features for the average user, with ability to push and sync content from their home pc to their iPod touch and iPhones. Also included is 20GB of online storage space. MobileMe keeps the same price as .Mac (at $99 a year) and will be available in July.

Available on July 11th, the 3G iPhone promises 3G speeds, (about 3x as fast as EDGE), GPS, and a lower price tag, starting at $199 for the 8GB version, and $299 for the 16GB version. The 16GB version is available in both black or white; with the 8GB version only available in black.

I find Apple's release of the iPhone at these price points interesting, as well as the timing of the release of the phone; while many were hopeful that today would be day, it seems that Apple instead chose to release it on a Friday past the 30 day return policy of the Apple Store and most cellphone contracts; this move seems to be aimed at attempting to avoid the customer service hassles which occurred when the original iPhone dropped in price 3 months after its initial release; those who have bought an iPhone within the last 30 days should return them now if they plan on upgrading.

The interesting thing about the price point is that given how cheap the new 3G iPhone is, it effectively destroys the market for the iPod touch, and those who will purchase the touch are those who don't want to deal with having a cellphone contract; at $199 for an 8GB and $299 for the 16GB iPhone, the 3G iPhone undercuts the hardware price of the 8GB and 16GB iPod touch by $100 dollars. Taken in a longer term view, with the $20 a month iPhone plan, an iPod touch user saves $380 over the lifetime of an iPhone user's contract, provided they do not care about being able to use Internet features on 3G.

At the $199 and $299 price points, I can see this new device dominating the higher-end cellphone market; the iPhone loses premium pricing to be competitive with the smartphones like the Sidekick, Blackberry, and Treo; whereas before the iPhone was clearly the most expensive smartphone available (at $399 and $499), there are now all sorts of options that are more expensive. The iPhone 3G isn't free, but the price cut is drastic enough to hurt the resale value of the current iPhone, it will be the gray market that reaps the most benefit from this move; in countries where unlocked iPhones are used, where EDGE and 3G doesn't matter, and where Apple doesn't have a carrier, the original iPhone will still fetch a premium.

Isabella's Restaurant

Located in a non-decrepit shopping plaza on Winchester Blvd is Isabella's restaurant, a Peruvian restaurant with a fresh colorful, modern interior. Offering a full menu of choices, I opted for the Seafood Ceviche, which contained mussels, shrimp, fish and octopus, splashed with peppers, lime juice and onions. Peruvian corn nuts are used in place of tortilla chips, which is larger, a tad less crunchy and has a plainer flavor than the flavored variety sold in grocery stores.

Several Peruvian drinks are offered, including Inca Gold, a sweet carbonated beverage which is a radioactive yellow.


Review: Jin Sho Palo Alto

Today I was walking along California Avenue when I spotted a new Japanese restaurant on the street called Jin Sho. Now, I've eaten at a lot of Japanese restaurants, and one might even say that I pride myself on just the sheer number of them I've been to on the Peninsula. I am however, not one to try Japanese restaurants blindly, as the consequences of a bad Japanese restaurant range from being completely devoid of Japanese people to having a bad case of food poisoning.

Looking at the menu, I quickly surmised that Jin Sho is not a traditional Japanese restaurant, but it isn't quite just a sushi restaurant. With exotic fish on the menu such as Aojima and Live Eel, Jin Sho aims to be one of the higher-end sushi restaurants in the area. Jin Sho touts their two chefs from New York's famed Nobu, Noriomi Kaneko and Ichiro Takahashi as part of the staff, and indeed, both Kaneko and Takahashi worked the sushi bar in front of me during my meal there.

Jin Sho has a unassuming exterior, and the English menus are simply laminated, but upon passing through the worn glass doors, one is treated to a very sleek and modern setting, with dark wooden tables and matching chairs. A 10-person sushi-bar with an open kitchen shows off the skills of the staff as they prepare the food for the patrons of the restaurant. The display case shows the fresh fish of the day, with everything from Aji to Unagi, and everything in between.

Jin Sho is definitely in the higher echelon of Japanese dining on the Peninsula, and their prices are a little bit higher than what one might expect at first blush; but the prices for their lunch set meals and price fixe menu are quite reasonable, ranging from the $17 one item meal to the $45 omakase (chef's choice).

Feeling a bit indulgent, I decided on the $45 omakase, which at twice the price for a normal set meal, easily amounted to twice as much food, enough to feed two people. Omakase means 'trust', and in the context of Japanese dining means that one is putting their trust in the chef; at Jin Sho the server asked if there was anything that I did not eat, and noted it down. I like omakase, because what comes out is a surprise, and it may be things that I might not ordinarily order.

The omakase began with the Hamachi Toro Tartar with a Soy Wasabi sauce, which was served on ice, and topped with green onions and caviar. A mixture of the buttery toro and the spicy-salty flavors of the sauce, it was accompanied by a Yamamomo, a small red berry to cleanse the palate after eating the tartar.

Next to arrive was the Black Pepper Seared Tuna with Miso, which arrived on a bed of Romaine lettuce. With the coarsely ground pepper and the miso, the tuna was a blending of traditional western and eastern flavors.

Almost immediately after the Tuna was the White Shrimp Salad, which also came on a bed with lettuce; normally, the shrimp used is rock shrimp, but the chef made the substitution, as they were out of rock shrimp today. The shrimp is battered and deep fried, and then tossed with a spicy mayonnaise and yuzu sauce; there are some pieces of juicy shitake mushroom scattered about the shrimp and sauce.

The next surprise was the signature dish at Jin Sho: the Grilled Marinated Black Cod with Miso. Moist and tender, the flaky cod was flavored with the sweet miso, and juices from the marinade flowed with each bite.


I had thought the meal was done at this point, but more was on the way; a small set of sushi with tuna, salmon, and yellowtail appeared in front of me, along with a bowl of hot miso soup; when I finished these two items, I felt stuffed.


The server came by and asked me which type of ice cream I would prefer for my dessert: green tea or sesame. The sesame ice cream arrived a few minutes later, along with a small bamboo cup containing panna cotta, and topped with a whipped strawberry sauce; the strawberry sauce was not as strong or as flavorful as some of the other dishes here; and being in the midst of strawberry season, I felt disappointed that the strawberry sauce was not sweeter.

The food and service at Jin Sho was excellent and I look forward to the next time I can try their dishes; when the receipt came, I saw that they had written down my dislike of beef; the server explained that the Black Cod was a substitute for the Beef dish they would have served; as usual my dining selections attracted the attention of the patrons around me, with many asking the server what it was I was eating.

While some may complain about the price of the food at Jin Sho, I found the food quite pleasurable; lunch is probably a better bargain than dinner (which starts at $60 instead of $45 for an omakase), the service was top-notch, with the servers attentive and friendly. I suspect that as this restaurant gains more renown for their wonderful cuisine that walking in will become harder, which would be a shame, as part of the fun of Jin Sho definitely lies in their ability to surprise and delight with their creative dishes.



RainDance at Santana Row

I was in Santana Row yesterday, when I came upon an odd structure sitting next to the giant chess pieces; three tall poles painted red, white and blue, the sign said I should ask for a umbrella from the concierge, and I returned to walk under the showers of water.


Yesterday morning, there weren't many people trying this exhibit; save for me, the exhibit was empty, and the other patrons of Santana Row were too busy scurrying from shop to shop to pay much attention.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I walked under the streams of water; but what happened next was music. When I walked under the stream of water, the water would hit the umbrella and trigger what sounded to me to be an electronic music box, and I suddenly became the center of attention. People in their sunglasses and shopping bags stopped and stared as walked under the rain; and I was asked by more than one person where the umbrellas for the exhibit came from.

Here's a video as I walked through the exhibit:

Noble Gases at a Chemical Party...