Sunday, March 21, 2010


Hi! So, guess what? I don't have any overarching theme or anything to lecture you about today. Yay! So you don't have to worry about any righteous moralizing about motorcycling, or any overly self-obsessed navel-gazing. Frankly, I JUST DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THAT TODAY.

1) Birthday party for 20-year old twins (friends of the family) soon.
2) Humongous Cal-Duke game today in NCAA tourney.
3) Desire to finish Dragon Age: Origins so I can move on to Awakenings.
4) Need to start playing still-unfinished new Sims 3 expansion cuz they asked me for feedback.
5) Need to plow through more episodes of Breaking Bad season 2, since season 4 starts tonight.

Good god that is a lot to deal with on a Sunday!

First, just in case I run out of time here, and in case you don't follow me on Twitter, I need to repost a photo I took yesterday at the Berkeley Marina that I am extremely proud of. Maybe it's just me. You may think it's stupid. That's okay. It's still making me laugh. The Berkeley marina is a very popular place for kite flying, and with Spring now fully in effect, the kite fliers were out in force yesterday. Occasionally, you see folks manning these humongoid, balloon-type kites, which are awesome to look at even if there doesn't seem to be much point to them. Oh wait--the point is that they're awesome to look at. Right. Anyway. While rounding the bend along the marina walking path with my little dog, Mila, we came upon one of these humongoid balloon-type kites, which was essentially a giant, floating lookalike to Mila. So, quick-thinking chap that I am, I crouched down to dog level and snapped this shot:

My dog contemplates boarding the mothership.

I just like it. Sue me.

TV UPDATE: Breaking Bad
might just be the best show on TV right now. I'm LTTP myself--just catching up on Season 2 on Netflix now, as Season 3 starts tonight--but I am in love with it. Bryan Cranston is an acting powerhouse on this show--pathetic, sad, funny, desperate, angry, sarcastic, bitter, devious, scared--and if you know him only from Malcolm in the Middle, prepare to be blown away. The plot is like a darker version of Weeds : Milquetoast, browbeaten high-school chemistry teacher finds out he has incurable cancer, and, in attempt to earn money for his pregnant wife, and son (w/cerebral palsy), hooks up with a lowlife former student to become...a crystal meth dealer. It's as sad and depressing as that sounds, yes, but it is also very, very funny at times (the creator, Vince Gilligan, said in one interview I saw that you really could see the show as "a comedy"), and is also scary as HELL, quite often. The first few episodes of Season 2, in fact, is some of the most terrifying TV I've seen in years--truly. The wife and I watched every minute in edge-of-the-seat dread. Just the extent to what the writers put this poor guy through, and watching him try to extricate himself, is exhausting and agonizing but extremely entertaining, if you like that kind of thing. And I do. A lot. And on top of everything else, the cinematography of the show, which takes place in New Mexico, is just gorgeous, every episode. I highly recommend it if you haven't watched yet. Just be forewarned, there is some gruesome, awful stuff in this show, both in terms of physical *and* emotional violence. (Also still digging Damages, keeping my hopes up that Lost will deliver, and marveling at how damn funny Ugly Betty has been in its final *sob* episodes).

Books: Finished Kurt Eichenwald's The Informant, which was fascinating--though it's quite amazing how faithful Steven Soderbergh's movie was. I saw the movie first, and wanted to get more insight out of the book, but, actually, the movie covered it all well enough. Now I'm contemplating returning to Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, which has been the "it" book of the fantasy genre for awhile now--except I'm a tad fantasy'ed out right now, still. I have something like 30-40 unread books at home that I've bought (a horrible habit of mine--I just buy and buy), so I'm gonna sift through those to see if there's something that grabs me: LeCarre maybe? Not sure. I need something to keep me entertained during the long flight and back to PAX in Boston later this week.

Speaking of which: PAX East! Boston! I'm going to be there! Yay! I'm moderating one panel and speaking on two others, which, as far as I'm concerned, is a bit of overexposure, frankly, but what the heck. I will do my best to entertain, even if it means throwing in a little juggling or soft-shoe dancing. You can find the full schedule here if ya like--the one I'm moderating is the very first one listed. If you happen to be at the show, by all means say hi! I only bite Nazis.

Okay: the bday party beckons. I am off. Hope y'all are having a happy Sunday.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


It's "self-evaluation" time again at Electronic Arts, a formal process undertaken by all employees, no matter where you fall on the org chart, in which you must go over your responsibilities, goals, and effort of the past 12 months, and judge how well you feel you did. You also must solicit the opinion of a number of your peers as well, who will fill out a separate form and submit that as well. Eventually, I guess, the managers do something with all that information--and in the edge cases probably determine raises/promotions....and firings.

So I'm doing mine now--on the last day they're due, of course--and it's an odd one for me. Because in the past 12 months, the first 8 of those were still with The Sims group; only the last 4 have been as editor-in-chief of The oddness comes from the fact that it seems like a lot longer than that. Two-thirds of the year in which I'm self-evaluating come from a job I'm no longer at, doing something I no longer do, and am quite likely never to do again. And because this form only really is only for my current manager, those 8 months aren't all that relevant to him either (and that's not just my speculation about the matter--he told me as much.) But, then, if I really only have to consider the previous 4 months....well...that's not a lot to go on. And I'm not sure how thrilled I am with my performance. Yet.

One thing I can say: It's been a tough transition for me out of the press and into this side of the biz. On the whole, I have learned a *ton*, and for that alone this has been an amazing life experience. And I've met all sorts of great people, both in The Sims group and in my new job, that have helped make me feel "at home" in what for me is a totally different world than the one I spent my 20s and 30s (and, heck, over half of my 40s) in. Even though I decided that it wasn't quite working for me with The Sims group, I did have moments of great creative challenge and satisfaction: working on the initial design of SimAnimals Africa, writing up sample puzzles, writing dialog and text for MySims Agents, collaborating with artists and engineers on gameplay features.

All of this and more was fascinating and rewarding in and of itself--it was just that in the grand scheme of things, I felt it was just going to take far, far too long for me to "prove" myself with this group, and to have the self-confidence on my own, to get the kind of responsibility I was hoping for in my head, before I took the job. It was no one's fault, and there are no hard feelings, which is why I'm still pals with the folks in that group. It's just probably something I should have thought of doing 20 years ago. As it was, it wasn't really benefiting anyone--not me, not the Sims group, not EA, not gamers--that I was essentially discarding 17 years of journalism experience to become a junior apprentice designer/producer (and one with no technical training, besides).

I've written about my transition to before, so there's no real need to rehash it here, other than to say: I pitched this job. It was born of my desire to apply the skills, experience, and talent I had from my days at CGW/GFW/1up to something new at EA, something that made sense for all of us. As soon as it crossed my mind that I could do this stuff for EA--host a podcast, write articles, dream up other content around EA games that the community might dig to read, watch, and listen to--I knew it was the right move, and I was thrilled to make the transition.

I still am. The thing is, it's just hard. Making this transition, and doing this job for the past four months, has turned out not to be the great deus ex machina for me, or The Answer To Everything...but simply another beginning. Doing this self-evaluation now, I realize I have a long, long way to go before I will feel like I've accomplished what I envisioned in my mind. I've put a couple pieces into play now--the EA Podcast, the Mailbag, a "voice" on blogs and Twitter and elsewhere--but this is so just the tip of the iceberg that it's both personally frustrating and disappointing to me that this is all I've done. I know, it's only four months. In the grand scheme of things, that's not a long time. It's just that I can see in my head where I want it to be, and it's just not remotely close yet. (I should be clear, here, I suppose, that I'm not looking for either validation or pity. I'm just putting my feelings into this blog post as a way of coming around to this dang evaluation form I gotta turn in soon. You are drive-by witnesses to my self-reflection.) I'd like to write a sterling evaluation of myself, but all I can see is what I haven't done yet. On the other hand, I *do* know what I *want* to do, and feel confident in my ability to do it. So I'm going to let that count for something.

Honestly, I'm enjoying the challenge of kinda "forging new ground," both for myself and EA, but it's certainly weird ground, too. At the Game Developer's Conference this week, I realized just kind of how in my own No Man's Land I really am. I weaseled my way into getting a press pass, but, that's the thing--I had to weasel my way into getting one. I'm not press anymore. But I'm not a "game maker" anymore, either. Nor am I in PR or marketing, though I suppose those are closer to what I'm doing. But not actually being part of those departments means I'm not part of *that* community either. I have an awesome partner in managing editor and podcast cohost Samantha LaPerre--thank god, or I'd be going insane by now--but it still feels a little like we're in a rowboat, in the middle of the ocean, with nothing but a Bic lighter to help illuminate the way ahead.

But: Forge ahead we shall! I just hope in the year ahead that I can make, and my job there, somehow equal to the ideas in my head, and worthy of folks' (and EA's) time and attention.

Angstily yours,

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Motorcycle Diaries, Pt III: Lanesplitting

In honor of the great big orange ball in the sky, which finally made an appearance again this week after being stuck behind rainclouds for what feels like months (and, yes I know, I'm in California and have no right to complain about the weather, let's just move on), I am focusing my steely-eyed (okay, no, actually extremely nearsighted) gaze today on the subject of motorcycling.

This is not me, nor my bike, but I kinda wish it was.

Not that I haven't been riding, even given the crappy weather. Because we only have one car, and because my job is 35 miles from my home, and because the public transportation system does not easily accommodate my particular commute, I take the motorcycle pretty much every day, unless the rain is just *so* bad that to do so would just be insane. But I have ridden in the rain quite a bit this winter. As an experience I would rate it someplace on the scale between Pretty Shitty and Remarkably Unpleasant. I mean, even with raingear on, it's just not fun. The roads are slick, I'm even *less* visible than in normal weather, and, ya know, there's no windshield wipers on motorcycle helmets. So the choice, regarding the latter problem, is to either constantly wipe the water away with one of my gloved hands, or to keep the helmet partially open--which then leaves my face exposed to the rain. Overall, though some folks claim to love riding in the rain, I think the sealed metal cage/heater/car stereo of a good ol' car really just trumps the motorcycle in inclement weather. Sorry, hardcore biker dudes! But, hey, I *do* ride in it. In fact, on most rainy days, my bike is guaranteed to be one of the only ones in the EA lot. Everyone else is either a lot smarter, or just has that spare car to use.

But here's how I meant to start off this blog. I just remembered. I was going to start off with this question:

"Are you one of those crazy motorcyclists who zip in and out between lanes all the time? Because that just makes me so mad and seems so dangerous!"

This question, and variations of it, might be the number one question I get when I tell people I ride. And the answer is that, yes, yes I am one of those crazy motorcyclists who do that. Because, really, if you're not doing that, you're missing half the glory (well, when we're talking about urban commutes, anyway) of riding in the first place. We don't have to be stuck in traffic.

CalTrans put these signs up recently. Lanesplitting bikers rejoiced heartily!

The first thing to know about lanesplitting (or lanesharing, which is the now more politically correct term to use, for motorcyclists who are trying to educate the non-riding public on the practice), is that it is perfectly legal in California. This doesn't really matter a whole lot when it comes to the safety issues, which I'll get to in a minute, but it is still important to note, since many drivers just assume that motorcyclists are doing something "wrong" when they're doing it. (In fact, just last night, I lanesplitted right behind a motorcycle cop for about 10 miles). It may annoy you, and seem "unfair" somehow, when you're stuck in gridlock or stop-and-go traffic, and you see a motorcycle coming up between two lanes, but, legally, it's pretty much a Tough Shit situation for ya, my friend. You can get a bike yourself if you want to avoid the traffic.

This is why it makes me laugh whenever I see a car or truck decide, for some idiotic reason, that they want to "block" me as they see me coming from behind between lanes--moving over so I can't pass. I assume that it's some kind of misguided righteousness: "He can wait his turn, like me!" Whatever the reason, that person is in the wrong. And, of course, they're going to lose that battle anyway, because all I have to do is go around the other way, which I do every single time, losing not even 2 seconds in the process.

You may wonder why this motorcycle practice is legal. In fact, the reason is not only sound, but I am grateful for it every day---and yes, from a safety standpoint, not just for the convenience of it. The main reason, as I understand it, is that the California Highway Patrol simply wishes that motorcycles keep moving when on the highway. Think about it. In a crawling, stop-and-go, or completely stopped traffic situation, the chances of rear-end collisions, fender-benders, etc always goes up. And who is going to get it the worst if one occurs? The unprotected sitting duck on the motorized bike, that's who. We are allowed to keep moving so that we don't get hit. It's really as simple as that.

I'll acknowledge what some of you are thinking: There are tons of terrible, assholish, irresponsible lanesplitters on the road. Just as there are with automobile drivers, there are motorcyclists who are just far too aggressive and thoughtless, putting both themselves and everyone else around them on the road in danger. Believe me, I get it. A few of those dudes pass me every day too. (I just move to the inside of the lane and wave them on to pass me). They lanesplit too fast and they cut it too close. When I see these guys (and inevitably, it's guys), all I can think is, "your time will come."

Here's me on my normal daily commute!

I do not know exactly what the law is, if any, regarding the speed that lanesplitters may travel, but I do know that, unofficially, the accepted wisdom is that you go no more than 10-15 mph at most above the current flow of traffic. That means if it's at a dead stop on the freeway, you should be lanesplitting at about 10 MPH. Why? It's obvious. You need enough reaction time when (forget "if") a car in either of the lanes you're splitting doesn't see you and tries to change lanes right into you. How often will something like this happen? Try every day. My bike is big enough and loud enough (with the standard pipes) that most drivers can hear me coming, but that's not even remotely a guarantee of safety. Every day someone will change lanes while I'm splitting, because they don't see me.

Here's the thing though, and this is the key to all successful motorcycle riding: We see you. That's all that a motorcyclist (well, a smart one, anyway) is doing on the road: watching and reacting. When I took the Motorcycle Safety Class way back, we were preached the gospel of the SIPDE system: Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, Engage. This is what we're doing over and over, every second, while riding. Every second I'm on the bike is spent doing everything I can to stay alive. And to lanesplit without getting bashed means that you have to be going slow enough to be able to hit those brakes if someone a car length ahead starts moving into the lane.

It's not foolproof, of course. The one accident I've had so far, years ago, on a different bike, was for this very thing: A guy (on his cellphone) merging right into me from the right. I had done everything I could in advance. I was in full-on SIPDE mode, too. In Scanning and Identifying, I'd seen the guy on his phone ahead of me. Person on cellphone always = "get away from this person." The Predict phase is, "this asshole won't see me because he's yapping on the phone, and will therefore merge into me." So, that night, at that instant, I Decided and Engaged my split-second decision: Hit the accelerator and get past him, quickly. But I wasn't quick enough. He did, in fact, merge without looking, and his left front bumper hit my right wheel--I'd almost made it. Miraculously, I didn't get hurt or even fall over, but the bike itself was totaled. (And after I got a new bike, I was scared off of lanesplitting for awhile, until I couldn't take it anymore.)

The fact is, if you are on a motorcycle, it is just a glorious thing to be able to do. I save myself an insane amount of time every day by doing it. As I zip through the lanes, past the crawling parking lot of frustrated drivers, I thank Xanthor every day that I have this way out. Even when traffic is moving, the ability to lanesplit will allow me to get past incredibly annoying situations, like, most often, the selfish or obtuse dillweeds going too slow in the fast lane, not moving over to the right, and thereby backing up the highway for miles. This is something else I see nearly every day. I'll be lanesplitting through crawling traffic, wondering if there's an accident ahead, or if it's just a bad, crowded day, only to get to the head of the clump of cars and see a completely open highway, but no one able to go fast because some moron is going 50 in the fast lane. Thankfully, I can zip right around him--but I sure feel sorry for all the drivers stuck behind him. (And it makes me think, every single time, that the CHP oughta ticket those folks sometimes for impeding the flow of traffic.) On the autobahn in Germany, those people would seriously just get run off the road. If there's one thing the Europeans definitely have over Americans, it's the fundamental understanding that the left lane is for passing . And if someone comes up on your ass behind you in that lane, you don't be a dick or righteous Keeper of the Speed Limit---you just move the fuck over.

Fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn

So: I love lanesplitting. To keep myself honest and aware of the dangers, though, I've made myself watch some scary, nasty videos. And I make myself read every single news article when yet another rider goes down, often when they were lanesplitting. It's a constant reality check. Another thing I do, which I got inspired from doing on a motorcycle forum I hang out at, is I imagine that there are photos of my wife and kid on my handlebars. This has stopped me more times than I can count from taking that chance, and just being patient instead. Because the temptation is constant. "Can I squeeze between those two trucks? Because if I do, it'll be clear sailing, I can see it.") It's just not worth it. If I just sit back and relax, a better moment will come. There's simply no place for impatience on a motorcycle. I've had it, believe me, and I usually end up regretting it every time. Not because I've hurt myself, or hit anything, or anything physically bad whatsoever, but just because, in the end, I know I've saved myself, what, a couple seconds? But had it not gone my way, well, who knows what horrible consequence could have happened? I'm making literally hundreds of split-second decisions every single time I ride. I'm not happy with every one of them every time, but I do my best to keep in mind that, in the end, getting to where I'm going alive is the one thing that matters most.

Does all this seem stressful to you? It is, but it isn't. Think of it like skiing, if you've done that. 99% of the time you are just having a kickass great time. It's fun, it's a thrill, it makes you happy. At the same time, you are concentrating intently on getting down that mountain without breaking your head open. Even if you're a veteran and it's all second nature to you and you aren't consciously thinking about it, your every microsecond is also spent--while having a grand ol' time--making one decision after another with your body. It's the same thing on a motorcycle. For me, for those who ride, it is just a constant thrill and source of happiness. But with great power....well, you know the rest.

Ride safe,