"Will there be nothing left of him?" asked Kate.

We stood out behind the garage, trench-digger in hand. The ground was too hard to dig in, much, so I had poured much of the fish's "hospital" water onto the ground to make a hole, and the clay mud was quickly drying in the summer. The hole was one of a wide variety of shallow graves for all the birds, rodents, and now fish that I had buried behind the garage. A lot of wild animals die and leave corpses around that need disposing, and this was the animal cemetery.

"He's so small. If you dig around here, you might find bits of bone from the squirrels and rats, but there's hardly anything *to* this fish, so he'll be gone when the rains come and the bacteria do their work." I rested on the shovel handle.

She considered this.

"Everything ends up this way," I added, knowing it to be true in my heart.

She paused for thought. "I'll come back tomorrow," she said, and turned away.

We got some new cardinal fish last week to add to add to our guppies. At first it was like a middle school dance---the tiny blue cardinals schooling around on one side, and the bigger guppies hanging together on the other, studiously pretending not to notice the other.

It's gone downhill since then. For some reason, the guppies have decided to nip on each other out of nervousness. In what appears to be collateral damage or mistaken identity, a guppy bit off the delicate tail of a cardinal. We found him stuck to the filter intake, unable to swim strongly enough to get free.

After we freed our injured friend and put him in a separate bowl to recover, he appeared to get stronger. Over the course of the next day he weakened, twitching, always face down, unable to right himself without a tail.

Kate made a get-well card for the fish which read "Dear, [sic] Fishy, I Hope You Feel Better Soon, -Kate" in gold paint. She put it beneath the clear bowl so our poor inverted fish could read it.

There are some things the unconditional love of a 7-year-old can't solve.

I wasn't sure whether we should have just pulled the fish out of the bowl and let him die quickly, but I kept holding out hope he'd figure out how to swim straight, and at first he was eating. When we got back from the pool today, he was glassy-eyed and unmoving, and it was time to say goodbye.

Kate looked sad for just a minute when I broke the news, but then seemed to take it in stride, and decided backyard burial was appropriate. She came out and spoke with me as we buried the fish, and was soberly curious rather than sad. We had warned her repeatedly that the fish we're keeping are fragile and short-lived, and she seems to have internalized that.

Plus, she's Kate. She seems invincible, sometimes. I hope she is.

We've added some more fake plants and an improvised "castle" to the tank to break up the sightlines so the guppies and the cardinals have more places to be out of sight of one another, and the cardinals have learned to stay the hell out of the way. If anyone is a hardcore aquarian and can come up with a better plan, do tell.

Bustin' makes me feel good

I had heard, years ago, that the last act of Star Wars: A New Hope is heavily influenced by The Dam Busters", which re-enacts Operation Chastise with much lionization.

Then again, it was a pretty lionizing moment. Donald Gibson, the wing commander, was an amazing badass who had earned flying medals before he started this long-odds operation. The famous last act of "Dam Busters" is indeed quoted in Star Wars, although the dialog overlaps are fewer than I was expecting. (No one in a Lancaster, for example, locked his X-foil in attack position.)

Gibson's dog has a surprising name, although one doubts Gibson was really a practicing Klan member. It's a little jarring for Americans as everyone in the movie repeats this name endlessly, and eventually the dog becomes the center of an emotional beat.

However, what surprised me is how much I identified with the Barnes Wallis, the inventor who came up with the Upkeep bouncing bombs. Much of his time on screen is pitching his idea to an indifferent bureaucracy. I've pitched a lot of soon-to-be-rejected ideas to uncaring organizations. It's not a good feeling.

Once in a while, though, you end up showing the right demo to the right person and things go faster than you expect. There's some kind of metaphor, here, about delivering just the right payload at just the right time to create a...a flood of change. I can't think of it, though.

Press X to Get Tired Of This Crap

Several points:

  • A central plot device in "Heavy Rain" is a torture-porn serial-killer motif, where our sad-sack divorcee suffers bad shit under command of the killer. I'm vastly annoyed that I can't immediately go to the police. Given the players are the one making poor Sad-Sack suffer at the whims of the game designer, who is the torturer and the victim, here?

  • No one in this whole story goes to a doctor when they are injured. I've spent hours doing the worlds' least-effective medical activity with the hot chick, and even the detective has bandaged people up, but, dude, has anyone heard of an emergency room? Their approach to medicine is rivaled only by their grasp of physics (if you're seeing visible blue arcs jumping several feet through dry air, DO NOT GO NEAR) and baby care (no sense, like, cleaning the baby while changing the diaper).

  • There's this veneer of America on the surface, but this is a European game. For example: They told me to go to room 201, so I went to the second floor. Psych, they meant the third floor, since Europeans count from 0 with floors. Lots of bits like that all through the game.

  • There are some weird moments of narrative voice. You start the scene controlling the hot chick, and then she leaves on some errand and you are in control of Sad-Sack. You think, hey, wait, who am I?

  • I finally got to something that qualified as gameplay, in some traditional sense. It felt fake and stagey, and I wasn't interested in mastering it.

The strengths of this game are, of course, graphical. The controls + this hyperrealistic style leads to work well with tiny actions that express a little bit of character, or drag you back into control of the scene a little. If they give you too much cutscene, you tend to sit back and trying to figure out how they rigged the faces, or why the extras have such weird walking paths.

Tonight was the first night where I was kind of meh about continuing. It's pretty, but the pretty is wearing off and the conceits of this 2-hours-of-plot-told-in-10-hours story are beginning to show. Sad-Sack is all wah-wah dork, and I'd rather be almost anyone else in the story. Even the Origami Killer himself.

Press X to Jason

I'm pretty sure I know who the Origami Killer is in "Heavy Rain". It's the creepy dark-haired woman wearing a POLICE poncho who can shift through time and space.

I got to the police station with my Casey Affleck-esque FBI profiler (how much does this game resemble "Mystic River"?). The station doesn't give you much to do. I didn't really feel like chasing down the collection of tiny interactions like getting coffee or quaffing a cup of water, so I started following the "stage music" characters. In particular, there was this Gallic policewoman who kept doing spline-y, LERP-y spirals around the office. I stalked her from map to coffee stand to office to coffee stand to map to whereever, with her eyes never quite focusing on anything and her head bobbing back and forth like she's hunting for clues.

Of course, she was searching for clues, since she was playing the same animation that she was at the crime scene.

Finally, I break down and follow the story, and then, eventually, we're back in the police station. As we question the guy who is acting guilty and weird...IN COMES CREEPY POLICE WOMAN! She's wearing her low-level-of-detail pixel-y textures, but she walks directly through the desk as if she's a ghost, and continues on through one of the detectives.

She's got to be the baddy. I know it. I'm watching you, poncho-clad killer.


Today we made 40lbs of strawberries into acres of jam.

I'd like to say that I did most of it, but in truth I cleaned up around the edges---chopped the odd strawberry, mopped up sticky red goo from the stove, tighten a jar lid here and there. Sara and L. did most of the work. The jam is sweet and sticky and good.

Kate and her friends played outside, stole a bag of plastic gold from "the king" (me, but I hired them as treasurers later), and built a fort of pillows where they counted the loot. Kate told me, apropos nothing, that "touching two necklaces means you look like a grownup", then danced off without explanation. As lunch drew near, the girls' mood plummeted, but they returned all to smiles after a sandwich and a glass of milk each. There's a lesson here for grownups, too, but I refuse to learn it.

I also finally knocked off the end of "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune".

It's been reviewed a lot, so I won't waste your time saying, "Oh, good shooting elements, but they get repetitive; such lovely shaders and outdoor rendering; cutscenes carry the game whenever it slows down." And, of course, it's hard not to be creeped out by the weird levity Nathan has after slaughtering 300+ mercenaries. Dude is Old Testament collector of the firstborns out there.

I'll say something else, instead: I found myself comparing this experience to the one you have playing a good side-scrolling platformer, say a free one that has a good design ("Don't Look Back", say, or "Cave Story")(Google both of these if you haven't played them). From an abstract perspective, they are nearly identical games, and, I would argue, contain about as much gameplay. Drake's Fortune takes a little longer, since there are noisy cutscenes and more sequences where you're just admiring the scenery, but an excellent downloadable sidescroller has tighter controls and no camera problems.

Either way, Drake's Fortune's gameplay tightly follows the platformer pattern: Teach the interface, tighten the noose of difficulty, forecast the puzzle solutions, and pepper each area with enemies that slow the player down a little . Drake's Fortune takes a hyperrealistic art style, but it is as artificial an experience as Cave Story.

Drake's Fortune, frankly, is a hell of a lot easier than Cave Story. Mass market audience and all that.

Also, I missed Euphoria. Just three years after release, Drake's poppy transitions and non-physics-based jumping feel old school, like an updated Dreamcast game. GTA IV's crazy human accident physics, and even the way Nico Bellic skitters down stairs, are such an improvement over how Drake moves. How quickly we are spoiled.

Still, this is one of those games I found myself looking forward to every night, and I hummed the theme music while I canned strawberries. You can't ask for too much more.

As a final note, I was completely smitten by camera- and gun-toting Elena in her slowly-dirtying yoga top and cargo pants. If you're going to take a hottie reporter with you on your pulp serial adventure, she's a wonderful one.

Farmville, but in real life

The soil in this part of the Peninsula is called "clay soil"; that actually means just "clay". It's hard as a rock by mid-summer, and even now with the spring rains just finished, it still takes a steel shovel and all my weight for every spadeful.

Kate wants a garden, and we are providing.

Kate didn't really focus on one crop, so we have strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, carrots, and broccoli, along with some California poppies for color. Sara and I call it our "plant murdering project", since the chances that all of these will grow well are zero, and we're lousy gardeners.

The whole project was too slow for a 6-year-old. After we hacked back the hedera vines (the NoCal equivalent of kudzu) to clear off the sprinklers that would provide the water, Kate declared she was on "break" and climbed our fig tree. Hooray. However, she refocused once it was time to put the seeds and plants in, and put together the seedling dishes for our indoor plants. (Note: We are starting seedlings indoors so we can murder them at a slightly later date than the ones that will die outside this week.)

We set the outdoor plants along the back fence, an area so sunny it's baked to death other attempts at ground cover. However, they get water there, and the seed packets and web advice recommend full sun for all of these plants, so, have some INCREDIBLY FULL SUN.

It's 90 days to harvest our first watermelon. Let's see what happens.

(no subject)

I spent many hours today beating the hell out of Japanese gangsters. Kate had a birthday party and then that morphed into a playdate, and Sara was at a concert, so it was just me and "Yakuza 3".

I have this faint impression one could implement everything but the fight engine in 2D 8-bit style and almost nothing about the design of the game would change. At some fundamental level, this is the same game we've been playing since the first Zelda. There's no emergent gameplay here, or complicated physics, or deep dependency on tech. It's an old-fashioned game that happens to run on new hardware.
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Who knew?

This is the response (as of 2005) of the C&H sugar company to the question of whether they used bone ash to whiten their sugar....

Thank you for taking the time to contact C & H Sugar regarding our use
of carbonized bone charcoal. There are no animal products in the sugar
itself, which is certified kosher. Bone char is made from cattle bones
only, never from those of other animals. The function of the bone char
is to remove impurities from raw sugar.

The bones used are not the byproducts of the meat packing industries,
but are from cattle that have died naturally, in places like India,
Pakistan and Nigeria. The principal use for such bone material is for
gelatin production, and charcoal manufacture is a by-product of this
industry. In Scotland, they are burned in an enclosed atmosphere, at
1200º centigrade, to create activated charcoal. This bone charcoal is
used to remove color, impurities, and certain naturally occurring
minerals that could result in cloudiness when the sugar is dissolved.
The bone char is not "in" the sugar, but is used only as a filter,
similar to a coffee filter. Its use is a very common practice in sugar
refining, and is currently the best available. Vegetable charcoal does
not remove ash, so sugar produced using this type of carbon as an
alternative is likely to be of somewhat lower quality. C&H Sugar is
looking for alternatives. If a consumer finds the use of this bone
charcoal objectionable, an alternative would be a specialty sugar. C&H
Hawaiian Washed Raw is processed in the Hawaiian Islands, where lime
(calcium carbonate) is used a s a clarifying agent, rather than
carbonized bone char. It is then transported to our Mainland refinery,
where it is dried and packaged. It should be available in markets that
carry C&H Sugar.

Personally, I'm not aghast about it (I wear leather, use dead trees to hold up my house, etc.) but I had no idea that you used bones to filter sugar. The more you know!

Also: C&H sugar is one of the only sugars that guarantees it does not use cornstarch to prevent caking. Hooray!