Tuesday, July 21, 2009

San Diego bound

Just a quick post to inform you, The People, that I am off to San Diego for a not-Comic Con EA event, happening a day before Comic Con, to which I am not going. I say this with only a mild amount of bitterness. Following the not-Comic Con event, I will then be joining a sizeable chunk of my family for an annual family reunion, also in San Diego. None of us are actually from there, since, as I recently said to my co-workers, Jews aren't legally allowed to settle there. But we are allowed to visit and spend money.

Anyhoo: There could be bloggage from San Diego. There could not be. Only the Heavens know for sure. Meanwhile, I have just been informed that the EA Podcast Episode 4 is now up on ye olde Internet, for your infotainment pleasure! Yay! This one features Ben Bell, the executive producer of The Sims 3, and he was a great sport throughout.

So go listen. Lemme know what you think. I'm happier with this one, personally, but don't let me influence your opinion. Feel free to tell me it blows.

Oh yeah, links for the podcast here and on iTunes

Over and out!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Motorcycle Diaries, Part 1

There are many reasons people will give for why they ride motorcycles. But there is only one honest one: Because it is fun. It's really as simple as that. It's the exact same kind of addicting thrill and satisfaction that others get from skiing, surfing, scuba diving, or any similar pastime that never gets old to those who get sucked in.

Yes, you can cite tons of practical reasons why motorcycling can be a good thing. I do all the time. For me, personally, it's the only way I could even imagine working at my current job. my commute to Electronic Arts in Redwood City from my home in Berkeley is 35 miles each way, on some of the most notoriously congested freeway in the entire country. Riding my motorcycle means not only do I save tons of money on gas, and get to cross the bridge without paying toll in the carpool lane, but because it's legal to lanesplit in California, I am essentially immune to the daily traffic mess. I have to ride much slower, yes (the accepted lanesplitting wisdom is to never go faster than 10 mph faster than the flow of traffic), but at least I can keep moving, unlike all the poor saps trapped forever in their cars. My commute takes me about 45 minutes on average on my bike. On those occasions when I'm forced to drive, it takes twice as long, each way. That's 3 hours of commuting a day--and, frankly, I would just go fucking insane if I had to do that every day.

So, see? I can make a good, logical case for it. It's fast, it's cheap, it saves me a huge amount of time that I can otherwise devote to my family and my work. But all of that wouldn't mean a dang thing if the greater truth didn't exist: That I still get a palpable thrill every single time I hop on the bike and ride.

Some people, I think, are just two-wheel types. Before motorcycles--and before I got too lazy--I used to ride my bike all the time. (And, man, I really need to get back into it.) That was, by far, my preferred form of exercise, and my wife and I would ride in Berkeley whenever and wherever we could, rather than take the car. We also used to be pretty good at it--riding way up into the Berkeley and Oakland hills, on inclines that now make me tired just to look at.

Conversely, I've never been a car guy at all. I really just kinda hate cars, and I hate driving them. It's just not me. And it's not because I'm a motorcyclist. My hatred of driving predates my motorcycle riding. I don't know what it is, honestly, but I just find sitting behind the wheel of a car an utter burden. I'd rather walk, or ride a pack mule, or just sit in the dirt and go nowhere. I get tense and frustrated in cars. I get impatient. It brings out a lame side of me: Yelling at other drivers, aggressively passing people who annoy me. George Carlin had a great line about driving: "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac? " That's how I get. It's just too much stress for me.

Maybe it's about control, at least a little bit. On the bike, I feel completely in charge of my own destiny. Barring a total roadblock by emergency vehicles or something, there's nothing I can't get around, there's no way to get stuck on the motorcycle. Whereas in a car, if you're stuck, you're stuck. That's part of it.

But I think the bigger truth is that it's just a particular frame of mind, and state of being, that being on a motorcycle puts you in. Again, it's like skiing. On a motorcycle, you are completely in the moment, always. There is simply no way to ride and not be 100 percent focused on the riding, every moment of the experience. It's all about the journey, in this case--not the destination. Riding requires intense concentration, and thus requires you, for the most part, to bleach your mind of any extraneous noise. This doesn't mean that those thoughts won't invade your mind--because they can't help it. It's like meditation that way. You have to acknowledge they're there, but then gently push them aside and get back to the business of riding. For me, those 70 miles a day are actually a form of meditation. It's 90 minutes out of my day in which what I am doing is riding a motorcycle, and not preoccupying myself with anything else. It's a form of rejuvenation, and even, at times, as ridiculous as it may seem to some, of spiritual uplift.

It focuses my mind and reduces things to one essential, primal goal: Stay alive.

Next time: What I ride, and why.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Motorcycle Diaries: Prologue

True Fact #1: Riding a motorcycle does not make you cool. But it might make you a bit of a moron.

Forget what anyone tells you, whether they ride or not. Motorcycle riding is an inherently stupid and dangerous activity. And I love it, passionately.

In the past decade of motorcycle riding, let's figure, roughly, that I rode about 325 days out of each year. This accounts for vacation time and rainy days. Every other day, I'd be on the bike. This means that I've had roughly 3,250 close calls, any one of which could have seriously injured me, or worse. It never stops, and it doesn't matter how good and cautious of a rider I am (or you are). Most people are terrible drivers, or at least distracted ones, and even if you're reading this and think you're one of the good ones, I can probably guarantee you that you've narrowly missed motorcycles--because of reaching for your radio dial, or talking on your phone, or chatting with others in the car, or simply from having one half-second of not seeing a bike in a blind spot--more than you realize.

That's okay, though. Because it's the motorcyclist's job to know this about you, and to be constantly, ever vigilant. It also doesn't matter how great a motorcyclist you think you are, either. Yeah, you may have excellent skills, awesome intuition and reflexes, and a healthy dose of cautionary and defensive techniques, and that may all make you relatively safer than your average Darwin-challenged squid, but every single one of us has tales of that unexpected split second where there was simply nothing that could have been done, no matter what. And if you don't have one yet, don't worry--you will.

Squid(n): Motorcyclist lingo for a rider who wears little to no protective gear, rides outside his/her own abilities, and generally makes all the rest of us look bad by being an obnoxious, irresponsible douche.

I've been relatively lucky, overall. Despite all the near misses, I've actually only been hit once. In 2004, I was riding home from my job at CGW in San Francisco, and was just getting off the Bay Bridge. As always, I was constantly scanning ahead for potential problems/hazards/assholes. And I saw one: A guy in a red sports car, blabbing on his cell phone, one lane to the right of me. Knowing I didn't want to be anywhere near the guy, I accelerated to pass him. But just as I was almost clear of him, he did what I was dreading and trying to prevent: He merged into my lane without looking. Because I was almost clear of him, and because I was almost half-expecting it, I actually didn't fall down. I felt the impact of the car (I still remember the metal hitting my leg) as he conked me sideways, but I remained upright. Adrenaline kicked in, which was a good thing, because the guy immediately tried to get away, but because he had almost completely stopped I was able to swerve the bike in front of him and cut him off so he couldn't get away.

The rest is a long, boring tale of insurance companies, but the end result is that my bike was considered totaled, and Red Sportcar Boy ended up buying me a better, cooler bike. Because even though I was spooked and shaken and actually did quit for a month or two afterward, I simply had to get back on a bike. I missed it too damn much.

All of which is just to establish, before I spend some time over the course of future posts rhapsodizing about motorcycle riding, that I am not necessarily recommending it or claiming that doing it makes me cool. If you think it's an idiotic and dangerous pastime, know that I'm right there with you. It's just the idiotic and dangerous pastime that I've chosen to be mine.

Next time: Why I Ride: The Good Stuff

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Hi kids! So I'm back from the UK, back at work, back in ye olde Regular Life. Here's to that.

The UK trip was a ton of fun, though quite exhausting, and, I gotta say, a bit disappointing if what I was expecting was "a trip to England." Because, really, I could have been anywhere in the world, for all I actually saw or experienced. I went, quite literally, from Heathrow Airport to the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire and then back to the airport, with not one foot set outside of either the entire time. It wasn't for lack of trying, either---but my Lords and Masters at EA UK had me scheduled pretty much the entire time, except for a couple hours here and there when I crawled back to my room for a much needed, jet-lag inspired nap. And anyway, had I wanted to go anywhere, even, as I originally hoped, to a pub--because at the very least I thought I'd at least grab a fine English brew or 10--there was nowhere to go, as the hotel was surrounded by farmland for as far as you could see. We were in the middle of nowhere. A beautiful English countryside version of nowhere, but, still, nowhere. And lest it appear like I am totally complaining, here is a photo of where I was staying:

Yeah. So, ya know: worse places to be "stuck" for three days. Still, you'd think for such a fine establishment, they would at least have some of that aforementioned fine English beer I was craving. But what were my choices? Heineken, Stella, and Corona. WTF?

Anyhoo, my luxurious accommodations continued even after I left the hotel, as I found myself randomly upgraded, in a complete lucky fluke, to business class on British Airways. And oh my god was that a revelation. Seriously, this isn't just a *little* better of a way to fly--it's like an entirely different world. I'm spoiled for life now, especially for a transcontinental flight. Better food, better service, a full open bar and kitchen for the whole flight, and, of course, the leg room. On this airline, anyway, you get a full 6-foot "pod" that is entirely yours, complete with a drawer to put yer stuff in, and a seat that reclines out all the way down to a bed, which they delightfully accompany with a real pillow and blanket. Here's a shot I took on my iphone while reclining:

It doesn't fully do it justice. Let's just say that I practically didn't even want to get off the plane after we landed. I contemplated just staying on, and telling my wife and kid that this plane was now my new address. Of course, being a righteous Berkeley type, I also was filled with indignation, having seen this stuff, and just how crappy people are treated back in Economy, knowing that they *could* get this kind of treatment. Or even 1/4 of this kind of treatment. Rather than being treated like livestock. But, hey, at least I got to live it up once, and laugh and scoff at the lower class losers stuck in steerage! Eat it, peasants!

But perhaps the highlight of the trip is what's referred to in this blog title: The movie that I watched on the plane. I have seen many rock documentaries over the years. Some are okay, some are great (like "Dig"), and some are amazing. Into that latter category I would put, off the top of my head, "Stop Making Sense," "Don't Look Back", and, though it is entirely fictional "This is Spinal Tap." But I now have to add "Anvil: The Story of Anvil", which isn't just a great rock and roll movie, it's a great movie period--one of the finest documentaries I've ever seen and easily one of the best movies I've seen in the past year.

Chronicling the sad fate of 80s Canadian heavy metal band Anvil--a band that I, like most people, probably never heard of---it is truly the "real life Spinal Tap", as others have noted: An un-ironic, true-life tale of a bunch of guys now in their 50s trying to cling on to and recapture their brief fling with rock-and-roll glory. It doesn't matter if you don't like this kind of music, or rock documentaries in general. The beauty of this movie (along with the Spinal Tapian moments of unintentional humor) is the human story: The meditation on aging and ambition and doing what you are passionate about in life--and what happens when things don't entirely go your way. It's inspiring in the most humble and innocent way. For every moment that you may feel, "Wow, these guys are a bit ridiculous and sad," there are two more that will have you cheering them on, or at least admiring them for being so devoted to their passion, and to each other. It's a love story, really, and it's an incredible one. Do yourself a favor and rent it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Greetings from England + EA Podcast EP 2!

Allo mates! So, go ahead and ignore all the previous post's stuff about Guildford. It would appear that I am going to be nowhere near that town, nor any other town. In fact, my entire visit to "England" will be within the confines of the Four Seasons Hotel, which means that I really could just be in, say, Missouri, with a bunch of folks with cool accents. Actually, this is quite a nice hotel within a beautiful English countryside setting, so far be it from me to actually grumble. And let's keep things in perspective: It beats sitting in my cubicle.

So I am about one hour away from The Big Show, in which I along with other producers from around EA and its various partners will be demoing our games for "key UK retailers." I ran into the Valve dudes last night, and rumors abound that the Bioware doctors are here too, though I have yet to spot them. Tonight, apparently, is a big "battle of the bands" contest with Rock Band Beatles, and since I was probably the only one alive when the Beatles were still together, look for me to win the whole damn thing. Expect ladies to swoon during my heartbreaking rendition of "I Am the Walrus" (based on my recent experiences with EA Active).

Okay, so anyway: I should head to this thing. I was told to wear "developer chic", which frightened me at first until I received clarification that that just meant jeans and a nice shirt. Anyway, I'm an American. I could probably show up in bermuda shorts, flip flops, and a "BEER: IT'S WHAT'S FOR BREAKFAST" tshirt and no one would think twice.

And now for a commercial! The second EA Podcast is now available. You may grab it here from the RSS feed, or check the iTunes link in my previous post. Apologies in advance for the sound level on my mic--not sure what happened there. Everyone else sounds fine, though, and probably at least 2/3 of what I said was nonsense, so maybe humanity is better off this way. But please, if you're so inspired, leave feedback on iTunes, because The Man is paying attention.

Alright. Time to go do my thing on stage. Here's hoping for a minimum of flop sweating and projectile vomiting. That's all I ask.