Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Little Fishie

Yes, I freely admit that I have been lax in the blogging department. My job has a super-tight internet blocking policy, and being that I work in computers, I don't spend so much time on the computer at home. Therefore, I don't write on the old blog so much anymore. Most of my latest updates are on Facebook (and it's likely that many of my friends are reading this off the facebook feed anyway). Yes, our super-tight internet block allows me to be on facebook, but doesn't allow me to hit blogger. If you can think of a rational explanation for that, I would welcome it.

In any case, for the few people who do have this on their feed (or, heaven forfend, actually visit the blog), we're adding to the population. Yes, I have spawned, and the Little Fishie is due in early May.

So, to answer the questions:
1. We don't know the gender of the kid yet.
2. Everything seems pretty normal in the ultrasounds.
3. Heidi is doing OK. She has pretty much all the standard symptoms of pregnancy, except that she has yet to actually puke.
4. Heidi has yet to experience "the quickening" (which sounds like something science fictiony, but in actuality just means when Heidi can feel the squirt moving).
5. The government has been notified, and they'll be checking into registering his/her superpowers once the election is over.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

I quietly dreaded Kung Fu Panda for quite a while. Here was a pretty clever idea, done by DreamWorks animation. DreamWorks doesn’t have a very good track record with animated movies. They typically have big-name stars voicing their movies, a weak story with lazy/sloppy writing, and then market the movies based off the star power (I remember a couple trailers of movies that did this, actually showing the stars in the recording studio instead of showing clips from the movie). Don’t get me wrong, they do make some pretty good movies, but for every Shrek, there are a couple Antz or Shrek the Third's.

And the star power they got for this show pretty much spanned the spectrum of voice talent. Jack Black, good choice. James Hong, excellent without resorting to the A-List. But Lucy Liu as a rather friendly snake? Seth Rogan as a kung fu bug? Jackie Chan doing voice work? In English?

And then there was the Kung Fu Panda licensed game demo on Xbox360. Now, movie-licensed games are typically bad games. You can’t judge a movie based on the game, but you can get some flavor of the movie. And yes, as a game, Kung Fu Panda is pretty ho-hum. Except for the intro. The intro pulled straight from the movie. The movie that instilled more joy in me and pulled more laughter out of me than any movie I’ve seen this year.

Yes, Kung Fu Panda is freakin’ wonderful. I don’t really know where to start. The writing was probably the best part. As Pixar demonstrates over and over again, you have to start with a good script before you make a good movie. The script here has a good, if formulaic story, and the “believe in yourself” message is a bit heavy-handed (although I personally think that this message is one that bears multiple repetitions), but the dialogue is snappy and witty and the story just works. And the acting both by the animators and in the voices, was excellent. The story does have The Furious Five (five “star” fighters) as supporting cast, with the aforementioned Seth Rogan, Lucy Liu, and Jackie Chan among the voices. And other than David Cross, their voices don’t add much (Angelina Jolie was the fifth, but also not that notable). But even with the weak voice acting, it’s less noticeable because the animation acting is so subtle and “real.” And, adding to the excellent animation acting, Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, and yes, James Hong, shine. They more than make up for the mediocre voice work of other people in the cast.

I’m a big fan of kung fu movies, and was a little concerned about how an animated film was going to handle it. Yes, with the recent trend in over-the-top action that the kung fu genre has become, animation is the way to go with it, but I was still a little concerned that the action would appear stiff and contrived. And another no. The action was really on par with most recent movies of its ilk. It’s obvious the action wasn’t choreographed by Woo-ping Yuen, but it’s still a graceful and artistic ballet of violence, one in which it’s easy to forget that the characters are animated (even despite them being animals).

I could go on, but it’s becoming a long post already. This is a must-purchase movie on my list. John’s recommendation: see it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wikipedia Challenge

Here’s a challenge that I think is fun for no reason other than I think it is. Start at the Wikipedia homepage. Hit Random Article, and whatever comes up, try to drill down to a page for the following:
One real person (alive or dead)
One organization
One fictional person
One location
One thing related to a hobby of yours

I’ve found that in order to be fun, you need to be very specific. Instead of Computer, choose RAM or Red Hat. Instead of Beer, choose Ethanol Fermentation or Dogfish Head. Instead of Italy, choose the Piazza della Repubblica or Bolognese sauce. Being obscure can be fun, too, but it could take a while. Here’s what I chose:

Peter Gabriel
Monty Python
Rogers Park
Liberty City (the city in which GTA IV is set)

And so goes the search:

1. Brodow->Germany->European Union->United Kingdom->British Music->Genesis->Peter Gabriel

2. Cuisine of Cameroon->European Cuisine->English Cuisine->Cheese->List of Cheeses->Cheese Shop Sketch->Monty Python’s Flying Circus->Monty Python

3. Sanoodi->Wales->BBC Wales->Television->South Park->Animation->Filmation->He-Man and the Masters of the Universe->Skeletor

4. Constant Velocity Joint->1927->Repeal of Prohibition->Prohibition in the united States->Al Capone->Chicago->Neighborhoods of Chicago->Rogers Park

5. Leo Burnett Building->Chicago->List of People from Chicago->Robin Williams->Video Game->Video Game Controversy->Grand Theft Auto Series->Liberty City

Don’t bother with the searches that don’t bear fruit (these last two were really difficult, with me abandoning nearly a dozen searches total), just the ones that lead to your goal. And if you don’t do all five, no worries, just do what works for you (although I did have a lot of fun with this).

And y’know what? I’m going to tag a few people, because I want to see their searches: Mattox, Zach, and Hunahpu. Go forth, discover, proclaim!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

And the band plays on

One might think from the title, this is a post about Rock Band. One might be incorrect in that assumption, although that post will probably come soon. This is another one about the continuing fracas surrounding Grand Theft Auto IV. It’s a long one, so read at your own peril.

Wow, this is the story that doesn’t die. It’s not the first videogame issue that’s come up, but it has been one of the most widely touted, at least in recent memory. And it’s all about protecting the children. Think of the children!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Take Two Interactive sued the CTA for breach of contract when the CTA pulled GTA IV ads. I noticed Friday that the bus stop outside the Aon building has a GTA ad. Hooray for capitalism!

The rest of this post is inspired by this article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. No, it’s not a paper I read regularly, but GamePolitics has been following the GTA thing extensively, and this was one of the articles they brought up. It’s a well-thought-through article, but wrong on a few points, and these are some points that have been bugging me for quite a while. And although the bulk of my regular readers have no real understanding of what I’m talking about, I’m still going to talk about it.

First, let me get this out of the way: this is a game kids should not play. Younger minds can be influenced by what they see and do, because they have yet to develop a thorough understanding of who they are, who they should be, and the difference between right and wrong. They have a less clearly defined separation between reality and fantasy. Which is why younger minds should not see R rated movies. This is why the term “adult themes” exists. And Grand Theft Auto IV, and many other quality games, are rated M, equivalent to an R rating in a movie.

But think of the children! You know they’re going to get their hands on it! Ask any 15 year old boy about whether his parents are the gatekeepers of their children’s play! And to that I agree, to some extent. In actuality, underage buyers of M-rated videogames have about a 20% success rate. Sounds like a lot, right? Not so much if you consider that an underage buyer can get an R-Rated DVD about 50% of the time, or get into an R-Rated movie 35% of the time. So in that sense, the videogame industry is clamping down pretty hard (at GameStop, the success rate is actually about 6%… makes me want to give them more business). And yes, parents sometime may get the game for their kids, not knowing about the content (that argument gets brought up all the time with games). Well then, I guess the parents are actually the gatekeepers of their children’s play. I could follow with a rant about good parenting, but I won’t.

But still, think of the children! They’re going to get their hands on it somehow! Think of the damage it can do to their fragile psyches! Yes, I agree, to some extent. And these children can also buy an R-Rated DVD, sneak into an R-Rated movie, look at things they shouldn’t on the internet, drink alcohol, smoke, possibly even get into drugs. I guess in the light of that, playing a videogame, even a very adult one like Grand Theft Auto IV, doesn’t seem as horrific. The idea that a game will influence them to do horrible things, when they have an almost limitless variety of other cultural influences, to say nothing of the influence of their peers, is foolish.

OK, well, think of the adults! These husbands and fathers can’t be any good if they spend their free time fantasizing about shooting hookers or running down pedestrians! And to that I agree. If someone spends their time fantasizing about these things, they have some pretty serious issues. However, not so many actually bring that away from the game. It has been my firm belief for a long time, that all of life is experienced through your own personal lenses. You bring out of any media that which is already inside you. I’ve known people who saw Star Wars, and they brought any number of things with them: some wanted to study film, others science, others music, others martial arts. Some parents refuse to let their children watch or read Harry Potter in case it influences them to get into witchcraft. That is more than a little ridiculous, and so is the concern about adults playing videogames.

I have seen myself be influenced by video games. After playing Burnout: Revenge, I find myself having to be careful while driving. After playing Katamari Damacy, I find myself influenced to clean up around the house, and thinking about what would roll up well wherever I go. I have gone to sleep and dreamt about matching gems after playing some games, and had music from other games floating through my head for days after. And I play Grand Theft Auto. In the game, I have driven a bus the wrong way down an expressway, plowing down cars as I see fit. I have stolen cars, mugged people, driven through crowded pedestrian areas, have gotten falling-down drunk (and once tried to drive that way… boy that didn’t last long), driven off "stunt ramps" so my car could fly dozens of yards, and done donuts on a baseball diamond and a beach. Am I influenced to do anything I have tried in game? No. Why? Because it is so far removed from who I am in real life that it's not a draw. At all. It is a game, not one in which I'm acting out my violent fantasies, but one in which I'm either trying to accomplish a goal or taking the opportunity to experiment and explore. And that right there is the kicker: games are blamed for corrupting people (much in the same way movies and television and comic books and rock & roll and cartoons and alcohol have in the past), while the truth is people don't need the help. Videogames have been blamed for the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings. Some tried to pin the blame on games for the NIU shooting before any evidence was in, and it turned out that the guy hadn’t played a game for years. It is my belief that these people were seriously messed up to begin with, and would have gotten the desire to kill others and themselves had they watched TV, played videogames, listened to music, or read the newspaper. It wasn’t in the media, it was in them.

Video games are the nation's current hysteria. It seems every decade or so, something has to be demonized. The most extreme example is prohibition in the 1930's. Alcohol was the evil “flavor of the month”, and a constitutional amendment was passed (yes, they changed the Constitution of the United States for this) declaring that this evil must be abolished from society. Fewer than ten years later, people realized how silly they were being, and repealed the amendment. Videogames have been the most recent perpetrators of evil in our culture; as they have become more mainstream they have attracted more attention, and those that don’t understand the influence fear the change, just like television, rock music, and the Internet.

Children: don’t play the game. Parents: communicate with your kids. Society: relax.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Iron Man

I had absolutely no expectations for Iron Man before it came out. I had seen the preview once or twice; since we don’t get TV, we don’t really get the media saturation that goes on for some movies. What I did know is that any superhero movie can make a spectacular trailer. Ooooo, big effects! Oooo, the superhero using his superpowers! Ooooo, cinematography! Oooooo, look at the actors! The trailer is usually spectacular, the movie, not so much. Therefore my expectations were pretty much nonexistent. I have a lot of bad superhero movies buried deep in my Netflix queue, and if I get to them in a year or two, they’ll be lucky. I was going to see what Rotten Tomatoes had to say about it, and if it was good, then I’d see it. On Wednesday, Rotten Tomatoes had it rated at 90%. On Thursday, it slipped a bit to 86%. Friday was a busy day, so I only had a few moments to see, but it went up to 95%. So I didn’t really get excited for it until Wednesday, but when I did get excited for it, I got really excited. So we saw it on Saturday morning, when the prices are cheap, and damn!

First off, this isn’t Batman Begins. Its initial reaction is definitely positive, but not as much for the fancy action or climactic battle. What really sticks with me is that it’s actually a good character piece, particularly strong considering it’s a flashy superhero movie. I’m not saying it’s Citizen Kane, but we see Robert Downey Jr (who’s a really good actor, despite his checkered personal life) developing from a playboy, care-free, self-centered genius, to someone who recognizes value in people after an attack, capture, and subsequent escape from Afghan terrorists. There are believable human moments, and moments of real, but not forced or excessive, comedy (which is something that isn’t in enough superhero movies). The action is nice and fancy, but nothing special. I like the power armor concept, and am kind of surprised that I never got into Iron Man when I wore a younger man’s clothes, so I was able to overlook the fact that some of the action really isn’t all that exciting (please note that I did say “some”). The climactic battle at the end is actually a little awkward, but I was able to give in to the moment and accept it. But what made the movie for me, what makes me want to see it again, what makes me want to own the DVD, is the fact that I really like how Tony Stark is played, and I really like who he becomes, and I really like the relationships that develop.

John’s recommendation: see it.

Friday, May 02, 2008


Evidently, I plan to steal, kill, and destroy. I contribute to the end of all that is good and holy for our children. Look upon me, for I am the face of moral decline. I purchased Grand Theft Auto IV.

There has been a media circus regarding the release of this game. Admittedly, I follow news like this, but it seems that every day someone else (or several someone elses) have to put their two cents in about theage of darkness that will be ushered in by this game. One would think that the cover of this game is a little gate to hell, and opening it will unleash such evil that the western world will dissolve into anarchy.

This game has been called a murder simulator, a cop-killing trainingdevice, and pornography. And it’s a game. One that is played while sitting on the couch, looking at a TV. If this game had been a movie, nobody would have complained. If this game had been a book, nobody would have thought twice. But no, since it’s interactive, it will unravel the fabric of society.

This game is rated M by the ESRB, a rating that is equal to an R rating in a movie. And yes, it earns its rating, perhaps more so than any other videogame I have played. It is a game in which it is inevitable that you will be running from the police. It is a game in which it is very easy to run down pedestrians, and actually a little difficult to avoid it. It is a game in which your character has the option to do any number of illicit things, such as kill a cop, steal a car, pick up a hooker, drive drunk, or go to a strip club (and no, from what I understand, the naughty bits are not visible). It is also a game in which your character can go bowling, watch TV, buy clothes, play darts, or go to a comedy club (and yes, they actually have real comedians doing virtual performances). You have options, just like life.

I understand the concern of parents who don’t want their child exposed to the less virtuous aspects of the game. The language alone is pretty bad. However, several places (including the CTA) have pulled advertisements based off of the complaints of various concerned citizen groups. Is that going too far? To remove advertising because of the damage the product might do to someone that is not in its target audience? Will this advertising be replaced for ads for an R-rated movie? Alcohol? Is this media assault not giving the game tons of free advertising?

I’ve never been a parent, but I do know that if I don’t want my children exposed to something, one of the best ways to do so is to not bring it into my home. Yes, it would be naïve to think that children won’t get exposure to it outside the home, but I am led to believe that’s why parents are supposed to communicate with their children. I feel like the attacks on this game are reflected in the South Park movie. In that, the kids go see aCanadian movie that is far too adult for them, and it affects them negatively. The parents never asked what movie they were going to see, nor did they talk to their children about the effect it had on them. Instead, they chose to Blame Canada for their children’s new vocabulary.

This is a good game. It provides a hugely detailed city to explore, has adeep, engaging storyline, and gives you tons of leeway about how to live your new life in America (the main character is fresh-off-the-boat from Serbia). Yes, in my first few hours of playing I stole four cars (one of which I used to do donuts on the beach before I drove it into the river), ran from the police three times, beat up three people, and shot four more. I also went bowling on a date, ate a hotdog from a street vendor, and watched the sun come up while on a Coney-island-esque pier. Are kids going to buy this game? Not legally. Are kids going to play it? Yes, if their parents let them (through understanding of the kid, or through negligence).Would I let my young kids play it? Hell no. Will I play it? Hell yeah!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

20 More things for which John is thankful

OK, last post was good, but when I was writing it I kept thinking of man-made things for which I’m thankful. A handful of things that make me want to shake the hand of the person who first thought of them. Some of these are debatable that they are man-made instead of instituted by God; for the sake of argument, I’m attributing all these to mankind, even though I personally think a lot of them are God-given. Again, these are in no order whatsoever:

1. Varying languages
2. Varying cultures
3. Humor (and the subsequent laughter)
4. Food (please also note how this relates to #2 [and I mean the cultures thing, not poo])
5. Computers
6. The Internet (particularly Wikipedia)
7. Photography
8. Literacy
9. Dramatic structure (combine this with photography to make movies, literacy to make books)
10. The dividers that go between urinals in men’s bathrooms
11. Games
12. Music
13. Education
14. Denim
15. Automobiles
16. Beer
17. Wine
18. Toilets
19. Toilet Paper
20. Hugging

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

20 things for which John is thankful

I've been kind of limited with the blogging thing as of late. There's a lot going on, but I have no desire to discuss it here.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about things for a few days. There are a lot of things that are in this world that are really cool, that make me feel all warm and squishy for no reason other than that they exist. I’ll make this list about what God has designed into the universe; nothing man-made will appear on this list (and yes, I understand the conundrum of how much is us and how much is Him in great works). This is just a list of things that make me happy, in no order whatsoever:
1. Magnets
2. Waves
3. Clouds
4. Stars (the Sun is included in this)
5. The moon
6. Thunderstorms
7. Trees
8. Mountains
9. Desert
10. Large expanses of water (such as oceans and huge lakes where you can’t see the other side)
11. Volcanic islands
12. Cats
13. Dogs (particularly big ones)
14. Wind
15. The sky
16. Day
17. Night
18. Fresh air
19. New fallen snow
20. Fire

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's a trap!

This one made me laugh out loud. I would be remiss if I didn't share.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The End of the Beginning

And so it goes, one of the inspirations of my youth has gone the way of all flesh. Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons, has died.

I'm not particularly moved. His influence changed the face of gaming; he introduced the concept of a role-playing game, and for that I will be forever grateful. A lot of concepts came from the tactical wargames from which they evolved, and these games became a cross between wargames and improvisational theatre. But still, gaming has moved on since his 1970's and early 80's influence. If he had not followed his muse, would something like role-playing games exist? It's a good question, and an interesting debate. Not sure if it matters, or if I would have missed it if it hadn't existed, but I'm glad it's a moot point.

In any case, I'm very glad Gygax lived, and in that sense he has achieved immortality. He had a good run. Pour a forty for him.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gone Baby Gone

We just saw Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck's directorial debut. He also cowrote the script, and really the best thing I can say about it is, "Go Ben!"

In it, Patrick Kenzie (palyed by Casey Affleck, yes, Ben's brother) is a private investigator charged with the task of looking into the abduction of a four year old girl. Yes, the police are working on the case as well, but the girl's aunt knows that some people won't talk to the police, which is why she hires Patrick. What follows is really heavy. There are a lot of obvious things that come to mind when the terms "child abduction" and "really heavy" are used to describe the same thing, and those things are obviously on a lot of people's minds during the film, but the movie doesn't go there, but to places I never expected.

It is a movie that explores the depth of humanity, not the depth of human depravity. Humanity is in a fallen state, and we see that clearly. Integrity has a price, and we see that clearly. This is ultimately a film about choices and the cost/benefit of them. It's a show in which morality is not particularly clear-cut, much like actual life.

I can't go into greater detail than that, other than to recommend the movie highly. This show is difficult to talk about without spoilers, and I would hate to spoil such a deep and powerful film. I will say that I can't recommend it very highly to parents. If I had children and watched this film, I wouldn't sleep well for a week. I still would have liked the movie, but it would havee left me much more uneasy than it already did. This is not a fun escapist movie; it is deep, it is powerful, it is disturbing, and it is freakin' wonderful.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mass Effect

Considering the media hooplah that's been going on lately with Mass Effect, I figured now was a good time to review it. My response to the media hooplah is moot. Other people have said it, and sometimes better. Fox News and other conservative publications are simply ridiculous, uninformed, insulting and wrong regarding this. Egad! Fox News distorting the truth for sensationalist purposes? Say it ain't so!

So anyway, Mass Effect. I've mentioned that Heavenly Sword had the best digital actors in any game to date, and after some thought, I'm reconsidering my opinion. I still am crazy impressed by Heavenly Sword, but the digital acting in Mass Effect is on equal footing, it's just that the characters aren't as over-the-top.

Let's start from the very beginning (it IS a very good place to start, isn't it?). When you start the game, you have the option to create your character from relative scratch, or choose one of the two default characters. All the advertising is based off the default male character, and that kind of confuses me. I created my own character, making him look vaguely like a badass version of myself. He had the acne scars, auburn hair, reddish unshaven look, big nose, that sort of thing. I remember going through the game as him. I see the advertising for the game with the default character and think, "Wait. That's not the same game I played. The guy is different. Who's this guy?" Then I get back to thinking that yes, I changed the default, and its someone else. It's akin to watching the TV show M*A*S*H for years, and then going back to the movie and wondering who this Elliot Gould guy is where Alan Alda should be. Or Michael Gambon as Dumbledore instead of Richard Harris. You get the picture.

So anyway, I went through the game with badass-me as the main character. And we start, and I'm already blown away. It's a movie, complete with recognizeable actors, but you're able to interact with the story. There is actual cinematography, actual acting in an interactive sequence. For those who are not as exposed to gaming, this is unusual. Yes, games have been getting more and more artistic as of late, but this raises the bar dramatically. These conversation sequences play to the viewer's emotions, unfolding according to how you respond, but portrayed in a very watchable style (there's even a rack-focus in one of the tense scenes). There were times when I was watching the story unfold in conversation sequence, and I thought, "Meh, I've seen movies like this before." And that's the thing. Games are still a relatively young art form, not nearly as advanced as film. And yet, I was comparing this game to a movie and favorably.

The story is moderately straightforward, but difficult to summarize. For that, I'll pull straight off the website:
The galaxy is trapped in an endless cycle of extinction. Every 50,000 years, an
ancient machine race invades the galaxy. With ruthless efficiency, the machines
wipe out all advanced organic civilization. They leave behind only the scattered
ruins of technology, destroying all evidence of their own existence. Few believe
this ancient legend. You, however, know it to be true. The fight to stop this
extinction event has become the most important mission in the galaxy. As
Commander Shepard of the SS Normandy, you will take your elite recon squad
across a galaxy in turmoil, in a desperate race to stop the return of an enemy
without mercy. To stop this enemy, you must act without remorse, without
hesitation, and outside the limits of the law. Your only imperative is to
preserve the safety of civilized life in the galaxy - at any cost. You must
become the tip of the spear of humanity, for you alone know the full extent of
what is at stake if you should fail.

Yes, it's something similar to what I've seen before: Ancient big nasty thing wants to destroy everything in your world, and you have to stop it (Babylon 5, anyone?). But the way it is told is what makes it magnificent.

The gameplay varies, depending on the style. In conversation sequences, as noted above, it's freakin wonderful. Each choice you make changes your path in the story. You can be a tough-but-good guy, or you can be a heartless bastard. It's all up to you. I understand that this changes how the story unfolds, but I have only played the game once. The action side of it, not as good. It works, and you learn it as you go, but in order to be proficient in combat, you really have to stop the action periodically so you can queue up your next ability. Not such a big fan of that. Ultimately, it didn't leave a bad taste in my mouth, but it did bring me out of the story.

This is a great game, and I recommend it highly. And yes, as the big hulabaloo is all about, there is a sex scene, if you choose to develop your relationships well. However, this game is rated M, and therefore has restrictions for sale placed on it, just like an R rated movie. The fact that the sex scene is about as tame as that which you would see in a PG-13 movie, or on TV after 9:00 doesn't seem to enter critics' minds, but it seems as though reporting impartially and factually doesn't either.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Red Ring of Death

It was really just a matter of time. I knew the Red Fairy would eventually visit me and lay waste to the Xbox, as she has done for so many others. I could blame Microsoft for it, but the thing has served me very well for 21 months, and they would fix it for free. And besides, it's no fun to kick even the bully when he's (kind of) down.

So anyway, the ring of death manifests in several forms, almost always three lights around the power button. The one that is off signifies the actual error. Mine is the top right quadrant (like the one in the picture), which means a "general hardware fault," or "call Microsoft and they'll pay to have it shipped back to them, fixed in 3-4 weeks, and sent back to you."

As it happens, I got the Best Buy extended warrantee thing (which could inspire my "always buy the extended warrantee" speech, but I'll spare you that), and about ten minutes of chatting to some of the friendlier-than-Microsoft Best Buy customer service team leads me to be able to bring my Xbox back to Best Buy and get a gift card for the price I paid plus tax.

Now, I happen to have a few other Besy Buy gift cards, and I know they've dropped the price a bit since I made the original purchase, so maybe I can get something newer and prettier. I was thinking of using the cards for something else (like maybe a Wii), but really, I have a lot invested in the Xbox already, so I might as well stick with what I know.

So Best Buy made things easy, Microsoft met my moderately low expectations. Yay Best Buy! Meh Microsoft!