Natalie Zed: Defying Gravity

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

life is an icecube and I want my money back

I discovered a fascinating piece of information this morning: it is currently colder in Calgary (-30 to -39) that it is in Yellowknife in the Yukon Territories (-26 to -34).

I had been cold before I moved out here. I am Canadian, and therefore I own snowpants. But I'd been Ontario-cold before. Ontario-cold can be unpleasant, as it is a damp cold that no amount of performance fleece can properly keep at bay. It gets into your joints. It makes all your protective winter gear feel damp and chilly instead of toasty.

However, even at it's dampest and chillest, Ontario-cold is not FORTY DEGREES BELOW ZERO. Long underwear are no longer an option, but an absolute necessity to life if your life involves leaving the house. There is ice on the INSIDE of my windows in the kitchen and the office. There is ICE in the SHOWER. If my hair is not perfectly dry when I step outside, it freezes and I can hear it tinkling next to my ears as I walk the extra 10 blocks to work where the bus won't go. Few things make me more homicidally grumpy than my own frozen hair chiming in my ears.

Calgary is many things, and most of them good. Warm, however, is not among those things. It's during this time of the year that I begin to question, just a little, why I am here and not on the beach.

In other, less frigid news, Ed and I had dinner with Ed's sister, Lisa, brother-in-law, Vernon, and their three incredible kids: Devon, Megan and Lauren. Everytime I see them, I end up wondering aloud to Ed why we don't see them a heck of a lot more often. Lisa and Vernon's daughters are three perfect examples illustrating why I want to have kids myself. They're brilliant and positive and hilarious and say things that make me want to keep notes. They read voaciously and write their own stories and comic books and, in the case of the oldest, COMPOSE THEIR OWN MUSIC. When Ed and I visit, I always end up thinking 'if we can have kids like these, I can so do this procreation thing.'

We brought the Wii over, which had Vernon hooked at the moment he laid eyes on Zelda. Within an hour, Lisa, my very intelligent and rational sister-in-law, refused to give up the controller until she's properly thwomped all the available bunnies. We should be in Nintendo's payroll; Ed and I are excellent salespeople.

On this visit, I was also introduced to the hoagie. I had never before in my life experiences a hoagie. Like lamb, it was one of those things that was never served to me while I was growing up and, like lamb, my reaction upon trying one was "you people have kpet this from me ALL THIS TIME?!!" It does feature the Holy Triumvirate of Food (meat, cheese, and while bread), so that should have clued me in, but the butter and a sauteed onion took it from comfort food to something just a little sublime.

Lisa and Vernon invited us to have Christmas dinner with them and the girls, as we won't be going home foe the holidays this year. Another excuse to hang out with my cool in-laws and nieces? and Lisa is cooking? HECK YES.

While we aren't going home for Christmas, as I am going to be working like a maniac for the next month (yay overtime!), Ed is heading back to Ontario this week for a pre-Christmas visit. He's leaving late at night/very early in the morning Thursday/Friday, and will be gone until Monday the 11th. From the sound of it, he's already got quite a lot of Catan and drinking scheduled in there. I am sure he is going to have an awesome time not freezing to death. I am a little jealous. =)
Natalie Zed updated @ 9:25 a.m.!! 2 comments

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

We Wii? Oui!

This weekend marked an event that Ed and I have been waiting for since early May. You see, this May was the Last (though we didn;t know it at the time) E3 conference, the major expo of the gaming industry. At this event, during their brilliant press conference, Nintendo announced that their new console would be released on November 19th. Ed and I marked are calendars, saved our pennies, and obsessively emailed each other articles on the system and the games for months.

Then, this past Saturday, Wiimas Eve was finally upon us. Despite all the waiting it still seemed sudden; but we had a plan. We knew a nearby Bestbuy was going to recieve 90 units, would hand out tickets to everyone in line at 6am on launch day, and had a relatively sheltered parking lot. We brought deck chairs, sleeping bags, and our pair of DS Lites. This past Saturday, Ed and I camped out overnight to be among the first to own a Nintendo Wii console. The geek quotient in this household has now reached truly toxic proportions.

We did a drive by in the early afternoon and said hi to the one guy who had been their since Friday afternoon. He had the first spot in line and was welcome to it. We did another driveby just before we were going to the bill bissett event at the Big Secret Theatre, around 7pm. This time, there were between 15-20 people in line. We decided that the time to strike was upon us, and Ed set up his deck chair while Tara and I went on to the reading.

The reading was incredible. The Spoken Word folks did an excellent job of organizing and realizing the event. All of the readers were on, the videos were hilarious and well integrated, and bill himself was both brilliant and adorable. Definitely one of the best events I went to this year. Tara and I sat next to Fiddy, and the three of us commisserated during intermission about our campout plans. Tara was firmly in the "you guys are nuts but I'll be over tomorrow to play it" camp. Ryan decided to join us in line.

After stopping at Ryan's place to acquire supplies and my brother, we returned to BestBuy to find Ed cold and the line much longer.

Ed had saved us spots, so we took out positions. It was 11pm. Only 9 hours to go.

My brother took Ed home so he could refill his tea mug, put on some more longjohns and acqiire extra socks.

The guys sitting next to us were very nice, even after Ed shamelessly demolished them at tetris.

It wasn't long before it became apparent that, had we not nabbed the prime line spot we did when we did, we might have been out of luck. The line was very soon epic in its proportions. It stretched across the fromt of the store, into the loading dock and back out again. Nothing compared to the Times Square and LA launches, but pretty damn impressive for Calgary.

Ours was a friendly line, full of people launching, playing soccer to keep warm, and blaring the Victrory theme from the Legend of Zelda out their car speakers. Everyone seemed happy and congenial, ready to chat or get some multiplayer DS action going on or break into an impromptu Wii dance. There was a count down at midnight and a cheer that went up at the moment it was officially Launch Day. I wished everyone a happy Wiimas.

Around 2am, I set up the cot Tara had generously lent to us, crawled inside a sleeping bag, and tried to sleep. I didn't succeed, thanks to one drunk guy who screamed for a good hour and a half before throwing up and passing out, and the cold. And it was COLD. It could have beena lot worse, but -15 at 3am is pleasant for no one, despite the long underwear and subzero sleeping bag. But we were dedicated. Well, stubborn at least. It was during the worst part of the night that we heard people being turned away. The line was officially full, all units accounted for. Poor saps showing up hours before the launch were, in fact, too late. Their misfortune gave un strength, and we lasted all night.

At 6am, Ed poked me. They were going to be hanmding out tickets Sometime Soon. Also, security had unlocked th emall, which was a) heated and b) contained a bathroom. While the line was still outside, we could at least take turns running in to empty our bladders and regain feeling in our extremities.

Finally, a little after 7am, some Best Buy emplyees appeared. We'd gotten a little nervous, as a last batch of latecomers and come ed-of-the-liners had mobbed the door in a desperate clump. However, the manager appeared and told everyone very directly that if they wanted a ticket, they wer to line up in single file BY THEIR STUFF. Thus the linejumpers were defeated.

I have to really hand it to Best Buy. They were friendly and organized and kept a great handle on the situation. They even gave us toques the night before. And when the glorious moment came, they gave everyone stupid/brave enough to stay the night a ticket guaranteeing them a Wii that very morning.

We were then told we could LEAVE the LINE and get some breakfast before opening at 8am. That breakfast sandwich and hot chocolate from Tim Hortims might be the most glorious meal in memory. I am sure the taste was improved by the GOLDEN TICKET I was clutching in my hand.

They served ticket holders in small batches, excorting everyone to games and accessories tables, and finally handing us our very own Wii. I coudln't stop grinning. Neither could Ed. I held the box on my lap, like Britney Spears cradling her child, all the way home.

Set up took minutes. We only had about 45 minutes at home before we had to run to EB Games to pick up the rest of the stuff I preordered, and in that time we not only got the system set up and online, but we updated and software and even played a few rounds of tennis.

By the time we returned from EB, Ryan was waiting for us in our living room, controller in hand, demanding we throw down in some Wii sports. He set up his Mii, imported in from his controller (a very cool feature I didn't know of beforehand), and we played some tennis and bowling and boxing before Tara arrived. Soon, she was cursing our names and admitting she would seriously consider getting a Wii in the future.

The rest of the weekend was a blur of napping and playing and generally enjoying out fattest of loots. In the end, Ed and I wound up with a Wii console (which comes with a set of controllers [wiimote and nunchuck] and Wii Sports), and extra set of controllers, 3 games: Zelda: Twilight Princess, Call of Duty 3, and Rayman: Raving Rabbids; a 2000 points card, 2 1 gig memory sticks, and Elite Beat Agents for the DS (an excellent impulse purchase). With all that, we're still a case of beer and a pizza away from the cost of a single PS3 console. And our line was friendly. I think we came out ahead.

So was it worth it? The cold, the lack of sleep, the drunk guy puking in his sleeping bag the next morning and causing me to dry heave in sympathy? Yes. It was all worth ot for one single moment: in the very first game that Ed played in Rayman, a nunchuck in one hand and wiimote in the other, while frantically pumping the controllers in the air to make Rayman run, Ed giggled like a child. That moment of pure fun was worth all 13 hours to me.

But there have been hundreds of moments like that already. This thing is stupidly fun. Take tennis, for example. You swing the wiimote to hit the ball, and the little mii on the screen swings his racket. the wiimote can tell the difference between a forehand and a backhand, an overhand or underhand serve. From the speaker in the controller, you hear the wiimote/racket woosh trhough the air and hit the ball. The harder you swing, the harder you hit the ball. You hit at a funky angle, the ball responds accordingly. It has every adult who has passed trhough my living room jumping around and creaming at the tv. It's immersive and intense and STUPIDLY FUN.

When the nunchuck is involved, it gets even better. It's motion sensitive as well, so sometimes you're using the joystick to steer, and sometimes your shaking or jerking or flicking it too. It's complex and very different, but natural too. It's as though Nintendo researchers watched all the involuntary motions gamers make, like twisting the controller in the vain hope it'll help you nail a turn, or jerking it upwards to make your little man jump higher, and then incorporated that into the gameplay. We wanted to move, so Nintendo let us.

I am playing Rayman the most right now. The minigames are spectacular and violent and STUPIDLY FUN, and is teaching me to use the system with steadily more complex controls. I have dabbled a little in Zelda, but I have a feeling that I really want to play that game with my brother, just like we went through Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time: sitting next to each other, passing the controller back and forth, yelling things like "send your hawk to steal the cxradle from that monkey!" and "shoot the pig statue in the eye with your bow!" So far, it's beautiful. And fishing is amazing. And swinging the sword, preprogrammed animations and all? HELL YES.

Call of Duty is, so far, really hard. Ed and I keep blowing up. Damn live granades. but trying to fling the grenade away, in a panic, and actually flinging it, is pretty great.

So far, I am in love. Our Wii is so pretty and shiny and quiet, all unobtrusive next to our crap tv. The Wiimotes sit on the coffee table, begging to be picked up, their weight perfect and comfortable in my hands, a natural extension. The bunnies call to me, asking if wouldn't I like to shoot them with a plunger or smack them upside the head when they sing out of tune just once more?

Too bad the graphics aren't all that great .
Natalie Zed updated @ 10:34 a.m.!! 2 comments

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Happy Halloween from Mr. Stabby

Oh, the entries I could write. I have a full month of backlog to account for (shameful!). But first, a little love letter.

Dear Shitcock Who Slashed Our Tires,

I hope your All Hallow's Eve was delightful. I can just picture you, caught up in the energy and impetuousness of youth, cruising our very nice and quiet neighbourhood in the wee hours, snickering with your friends, a bottle of Two Buck Chuck smuggled from your parents' liquor cabinet under a down jacket reeking of corn nuts. I am sure you saw our humble, maroon Corrolla parked out from the modest bungalow we rent a suite in, and your beady little eyes lit up. "THIS, noble friends," (I image you sawing to your compatriots,) "THIS car is the PERFECT receptacle for our adolescent frustration. LET THE ORGY OF VIOLENCE BEGIN."

So, chuckling with glee, you slashed our front and rear right tire, then scuttled off into the night. Did you quiver with delight as the rubber gave way? Was it ORGASMIC? Did it make this year the BEST HALLOWEEN EVER?

I sure fucking hope so.

I am sure you are young, and therefore temporarily retarded. I am positive you will never read this. But I would like you to know that we are UNIMPRESSED. You are not cool. You are not dangerous. You are an ignorant vandal. I hope you're ashamed of yourself.

Why, might you ask, should you be ashamed of an anonymous act of destructuve fun? Because that car belongs to a systems analyst and a graduate-student-cum-cheesemonger, a young couple with 1.5 modest salaries between them. Because we'll have been without a car for a week because every tire place in the city is booked solid forever as EVERYONE ON EARTH picked RIGHT NOW to winterize their cars. Because it will cost us as much as our rent is to get new tires (and they do need to be replaced -- you did pooch them good, didn't you?), and we'll ahve to take it out of our savings account. A savings account that is supposed to be for our honeymoon, which we still haven't taken nearly a year and a half into our marriage. because it took me 3 and a half hours yesterday to go grocery shopping. Because cases of water are heavy and I am 5'2".

Happy Halloween, asshole.

* * *

You know, I do feel a little better.

In considerably more cheerful news, Neil visited us this month. It was so good too see him again. We'd spent so much time together in the months leading up to his departure for Vancouver that suddenly not having him here, smoking on my back porch, has been very hard. I miss him. I miss just hvaing him near by. He's a friend I can just be around, work around, not necessarily entertain but just enjoy the presence of, and it was great to have that again for a few days. I am terribly excited for his next visit in December. I want to see him swing a Wii controller. I want to play Twilight Princess with him. I was to hear him giggle.

Shortly after Neil left, Shay arrived. Shay has achieved, in her still-newish carreer, a level of success that seems almost mythic to me. Still in her 20s, she's quite high up in the HR chain of command for a major hotel chain, and is based in New York. Visiting us, for her, was a great chance to relax, to play Catan and drink and put her feet up, and it was a great deal of fun to accomodate. We had a great steak dinner and drank too much. She was an awesome houseguest, and I hope and pray we are able to afford to go out and visit her this spring before another promotion sends her off to the West Coast. Although knowing more people in California isn't a terrible proposition either.

October has been a good month. A nearly completely unproductive month, but a very good, fun, positive month. It somehow transformed from Vaguely Autumnal to Profoundly Wintry in the middle of the month, which instead of sending me into a black depression actually got me EXCITED about hot chocolate and mittens. Not having the Winter Hysterics was certainly a welcome change.

Now, easing into November, it's time to get back to work. And I am cheerful about it. Things are picking up in the World of Cheese as all of retail and the food insustry braces itself for Christmas. I have started waking up in the morning with Ideas again. It feels solid and productive and good.

The beginning of Novmeber is also awesome for one more reason: my dad's birthday. Yesterday, he and my mom spent his 59th Birthday in Niagara falls. It was a long drive and they took and long walk and ate dinner at the Keg. By all reports, it sounds like a perfect dad kind of day. I wished I could have hugged him, and told him in person how awesome he is again, but hearing his voice will have to do for a few more months. Next year, we're planning for my parents to spend his sixtieth here with Mike and I. I am already getting just a little excited about everything I want to show him.

Things are good. Despite the tires, my mood will not be flattened. Put a hole in THAT, vandals.
Natalie Zed updated @ 11:03 a.m.!! 2 comments