Monday, May 28, 2007

Cast Iron Forum

As a video game nerd, I often read various web sites devoted to games. You have to have a pretty strong stomach sometimes if you're reading these sort of sites. The writing quality is usually terrible, and the actual content, when you manage to dig through the noise, is along the lines of, "Nintendo releases exciting news that they have no news!" In part, I blame myself, since I used to write articles for such web sites. This is how deep the rabbit hole goes.

What's worse are the various public web forums. While the forums on may win the award (or at least be in the running) for most useless, immature drivel online, game-related forums aren't much better. They're usually populated by angry video game nerds, just waiting for someone to bad-mouth their favorite title.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised, or at least amused, to recently find a thread on a gaming web forum I visit titled: Cast Iron Skillets. Some gamer nerd was asking his fellow nerds about what to do with a cast iron skillet he recently acquired. He asked:

"I have a filthy skillet and not sure what to do with it. I mean, its FILTHY."

The response on the forum was immediate. I was amazed at how knowledgeable (and passionate) some of these gaming nerds were about cast iron cookware. An example response:

"You IDIOT. The best thing about a skillet is that it gets better with each meal you cook. The skillet absorbs the flavors and powers of the food cooked within, and becomes something more. Something better. I own a skillet that's been passed down the family line since my great grandmother's time. It radiates with the flavor of a thousand dishes. It is one of my most prized possessions. A skillet should not be thrown out. A skillet should last forever. A skillet should be passed to your children."

Following the thread, the original poster decided to provide a picture of said "filthy" skillet. The rest of the forum posters were encouraging, in their own way:

"(Expletive deleted) YEAH that skillet is salvageable. Follow the cleaning instructions in this thread, get some damn Crisco, and fry some
(expletive deleted) chicken."

The thread actually went on for pages and pages, so I won't go into more details. But the entire experience opened my eyes to both the secret interests/knowledge of the angry video game forum poster, and, of course, the power of the cast iron skillet. So, the next time you find yourself holding a cast iron skillet and wondering what to make for dinner, remember the sage advice of the angry video game nerds -- warm up the oven, turn on the burner, and fry some (expletive deleted) chicken. And for God's sake, do not try and scrub it clean afterwards with soap!

Monday, May 21, 2007

When I was a teenager, I once visited an arcade (I think this might have been near Indiana University, of all places) that had a coin-op arcade machine called Marble Madness. The objective was simple -- roll a marble through a pseudo-3D maze using a large track-ball interface. It was great, and reminded me of the various pinball-like animations done for the Electric Company TV show years ago.

Later, I acquired the PC version (some would call this a "port", except it came out years later) of the same named game. It didn't have quite the same appeal on my Dad's monochrome Hercules graphics card PC-XT. The keyboard was the primary interface to control the rolling marble, which was hardly ideal. Nonetheless, I managed to find enjoyment in this. Exhibit A: Young Nerd with no life to speak of.

I accidentally stumbled across a secret level in the game, which according to Wikipedia is traditionally known as the "Water Maze", and was not available in the coin-op arcade version. It really was a strange accident. To uncover this level, you had to have the marble sitting in a particular location at a specific time. When this occured, part of the ground would slowly drop down, taking your marble to the fabled Water Maze. When I first witnessed this happen, I think I may have freaked out a little.

I could never beat the Water Maze, however. It was quite unforgiving. Any sort of mistake would immediately end the game, rather than the usual replacement of your lost marble with another. There's an archived write-up of the level here, complete with screenshots.

The write-up isn't entirely accurate, however. Based on my experiences, it is technically possible to get past the first screen without two players, at least on the PC version. If you rolled your marble onto the correct lily just so, it would take you to the entrance to the next part. I do admit, however, that once I got that far, I was stuck. I could never successfully take my marble down the elevator without instantly ending the game.

Apparently nothing particularly interesting happens if you did manage to finish the Water Maze, however, so I guess I didn't really miss out.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Will Work for Free Vest

Long ago, at a company I used to work for, the head of Sales dropped by my cubicle one day, looking like he wanted a favor.

"Dan, I need a favor," he said.
"I need you to come with me to a client site and give a presentation."

I didn't work for sales, and it's not like I had nothing to do already, so I was hesitant. He detected this, and added:

"If you do it, I'll give you a free vest."

He then produced a sample vest. It was one of those blue, fleece things similar to something you'd find at REI or Lands End, except it had our company logo on it.

"It looks a little large," was my first response.
"We've got all sizes. What size do you want?"
"Medium," I said, assuming that, like most corporate clothing swag, the only available sizes were Large and Extra Large.
"No problem. So I'll tell Julie to set up your plane tickets," he said.

I then realized, to my annoyance, that my acceptance of the vest meant that I had agreed to do the favor. Those sales people are rather tricky.

Fortunately, the actual client in this case was Nintendo. More specifically, Nintendo's offices in the US, also known as Nintendo of America, which is currently located in Redmond, Seattle (but possibly moving in the near future).

I remember being somewhat disappointed with the actual Nintendo office building. It was a fairly non-descript white 4-or-so story building with the Nintendo logo. It was nestled in the middle of a business district in not-so-exciting Redmond. You could probably drive by it and not even realize it was Nintendo.

When we entered the building, I was not greeted by an underpaid teenager dressed in a Mario costume. Instead, I was greeted by a stark white entry room with a surly looking security guard behind what appeared to be bullet-proof glass. We went through the usual song-and-dance of signing papers indicating that we would never tell anyone about our visit, etc., given visitor badges, and then ushered in by a second security guard.

The Sales guy at this point decided to ditch me to hang out with more entertaining people, so I was instructed to follow the guard to the meeting room where I'd be doing the presentation. As I followed the guard, I noticed several things:

  1. The guard was actually armed with a large handgun
  2. The interior offices were just as non-descript as the exterior. Mostly beige cubicles, with the occasional Mario-themed decoration on a per-cubicle basis.
  3. At the intersections of pseudo-hallways between blocks of cubicles, there were these strange faux street signs. I looked closer and noticed that they displayed Nintendo-themed street names, like "Mario Way", or "Peach Alley". I'm making those up, by the way.

When we got to a certain point, I was handed off to another armed security guard. We clearly had passed through some sort of internal check point. I'm not sure if I remembered to save. We finally got to the meeting room, where I sat, laptop at the ready, for about 10 minutes until three (count-em!) Nintendo employees showed up. I gave my roughly one hour long presentation, was thanked, and then escorted back to the outside world by more armed escorts.

I've learned since this visit many years ago that the Nintendo offices actually have a separate "visitor" section which is a little more lively. You can read more about it here. Suffice to say, I did not get to see this section at all.

After we were done, I learned that I also needed to give a last-minute presentation at Digipen Institute (which was practically next door). The sales guy was lucky I was feeling generous that day. The Digipen presentation (fodder, perhaps, for another blog entry in the future) went well enough, but left me feeling rather drained as we drove back to the airport.

Back in the San Francisco bay area, when I got back to my desk the next morning, there was a blue vest on my chair. It was, of course, size Large. I gave it to my Dad, who tells me it's very comfortable.