Monthly Archives: March 2012

The First Pitch

Baseball season starts in two days and I’m pretty excited.

I’ve watched some Spring Training games. I’ve watched a few games from last year. I’ve watched (basically) a highlight reel from the 2004 World Series. I’ve read baseball books, baseball articles, baseball magazines. I’ve watched press clippings from Valentine and interviews with the players.

I’ve basically done everything I can to get ready for this season and now it’s almost here.

Pretty soon, they’re going to set everything in motion. The games are going to be real and immediate, as opposed to the old ones from years ago. They’re going to matter in the long run, unlike the Spring Training games.

And I’m excited for it to start and I’m ready.

Baseball!

Dylan Charles

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App Review: Angry Birds Space

I used to play a lot of Angry Birds, just like every other human being on the planet. After a while, though, it got tiring. There’s only so many times you can hurl a bird into a pig and remain satisfied. They tried to mix things up with themed levels (birthday parties and Halloween, frinstance) and the (very) occasional new bird (orange bird), but nothing that really added much to the core fundamentals of the game.

But Rovio is back with a brand spanking new sequel called Angry Birds Space that manages to bring some new things to the table and breathes some more life into the franchise. By adding gravity that varies wildly across the map (or completely taking the gravity away), they’ve added a new dimension to the strategy. It’s no longer a straight shot from point A to Point B. Now it’s: Fire the red bird just past the small planetoid so it curves his trajectory enough the he enters into a decaying orbit around planetoid B, eventually slamming into the pig.

There is one new bird and a modified version of the Yellow Bird, called the Lazer Bird. The new bird is best used in conjunction with the Blue Birds. He can ice up a part of the pig’s base and allow the Blue Birds to tear through previously difficult to destroy materials. The Lazer Bird is kind of a combination of the Boomerang Bird and the Yellow Bird, in that you use the Lazer Bird in both capacities. After launching the Lazer Bird,  you tap the screen to send it in any direction, giving you a much more versatile bird.

They’ve also added actual bosses. Now the King Pig is an actual menace that can’t be killed by a direct hit from a bird, rather than just another pig on the map. Now the last levels play a little differently from the rest of the game, though I don’t know if everyone is going to be a huge fan of that.

The game also feels less smooth than the previous incarnations. There have been a number of times where my aim has jittered after I’ve released the bird, sending him higher or lower than I aimed. There were also a fair number of game crashing bugs during the two hours I played. And there are only two hours of gameplay. I beat the first set of levels with mostly three stars in less than an hour and then rushed through the second set. The difficulty curve seems lower than in the previous games, perhaps to ease people into the new mechanics.

There is another set of levels available at time of launch, but you’ll need to plunk down another 99 cents for those. They’re supposed to be more difficult, but I haven’t tackled them yet.

Angry Birds Space is worth the 99 cents and with the new physics rules, it’s definitely fun, but there was also less content than I expected there to be. I’m assuming they’ll be releasing more content over the next few months, but even for an iPod app, it was a short affair.

I give this game Two Beers and a Pot Roast.

Dylan Charles

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Restaurant Review: Hungry Mother

Emily and I have gone to a few restaurants in the area now and I think we have a good bead on what’s good in Boston/Cambridge.

For us, the best restaurant we’ve gone to, either here or elsewhere, is Hungry Mother. We’ve only been there twice, because that’s as often as we can afford to go there, but both times we’ve been there, it’s been great every step of the way.

The food is always excellent and they make use of locally grown produce whenever possible. Since they advertise as a Southern style restaurant, they do have to dip into Appalachia for some of their ingredients.

Last night, we ordered the Smoked Beef Tongue ‘Au Jus’ and the Carolina BBQ Pork Biscuits to start. Emily got the Braised Beef Cheek ‘Parmentier’ and I got the Cast Iron Chicken.

Both the beef tongue and the pork biscuits were the right size for appetizers, so we were both still hungry when the main course came. And they were a great blend of flavors: The smokiness of the tongue mixed well with a horseradish and swiss cheese. And no offense to my home state, but that was some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had and I’m angry it was in such small amounts.

My chicken was phenomenal and was probably the best chicken I’ve ever had. Rather than masking the chicken in a bunch of spices and sauces, they used the flavor of the chicken, accenting it with this green sauce stuff. It was the right balance of taste and some of the most tender chicken I’ve had.

The last time I was there, I had their Catfish Pecan ‘Meuniere’, which I can still vividly picture. I miss that catfish.

Emily’s beef cheek was also amazing. Very tender meat. Great mixture of textures and spices.

After dinner, we ordered the seven layer cake, which was everything I’ve wanted out of a restaurant’s dessert. Usually, it seems like they try and overwhelm you with some kind of overly-chocolatey death by fudge concoction. The seven layer cake went the opposite route by being light and airy without being oversweet. It was the perfect way to end the dinner.

Hungry Mother has a good selection of drinks. I tried their hefe weissbier (Weihenstephaner) and a whiskey (Redbreast 12yr.), both good.

Their waitstaff was always on hand and helpful. When our original selection for dessert was sold out, they even gave us a free scoop of their ice cream, which was also the best ice cream I’ve ever had. They were never intrusive and always managed to arrive right when we needed them. Duane, our water for most of the night, was also knowledgeable about the mixed drinks.

I realize I’m using the word “best” and “perfect” a lot here, but really, there’s no other way to describe Hungry Mother. Everything has either met or exceeded expectation threefold both times we went there. The atmosphere is relaxed, the food is delicious and the staff are among the best (there’s that word again).

I can’t recommend them enough. If you’re willing to spend the money for it, it’s the best dining experience I’ve had.

Dylan Charles

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The Motion

I got caught up watching a soccer game while I was buying my nightly 24 case of beer and immediately felt at home. After watching the World Cup, I became very familiar with how a soccer game moves. It’s a tidal movement. The players flow from one end of the field, then recede to the other end of the field as the ball changes hands. Or…feet, I guess.

As the game moves from one end to the other, emotions build. There’s the tension as they get closer to the goal. And then it either dwindles, fades away, if they miss and the ball makes it way toward the other side, where the tension begins to mount again. Or there’s an explosion, a release from all that emotional build-up as your team makes it.

Basketball has a similar rhythm, but much more kinetic and frantic. Since the court is a much smaller space than than the soccer field, the energy rollercoasters back and forth. There’s no real build-up, it’s just a constant high run of emotional feeling. If the two teams are relatively evenly matched and the scores stay neck and neck that it.

Baseball is different. It’s a sport of circles, long, slow loops over the top and then a sudden swift swing around the bottom. There’s the steady climb, where there’s no-one on base and it’s the first inning and the pitchers are fresh and no-one reaches base. It’s the wait, that calm, low period where everyone is watching for the moment.

Then there’s a full count and there are two outs. He needs to hit to stay alive or the pitcher needs to fail. There’s a pause in breath.  And then the pitch. Still , the audience waits, perched at the top of the loop, waiting for the moment. He hits it, it goes out to center field and the center fielder has it in his sights and everyone knows he has to catch it, an easy pop fly and he…bobbles it! The crowd lets out a roar, it’s the pent-up breath of 30,000 fans being let out.

It’s the languid stretches followed by the sweet, bursts of looping speed that make it worth watching. It’s those pivoting moments where a thousand earlier pivots come together. It’s a circle, a loop-d-loop of emotional release.

I might be turning into an fan, this, the pivotal moment where two months of book work turn into actual, emotional payoff.

Dylan Charles

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Zombies, Run!: Conclusion

This will be the last Zombies, Run! entry for a long, long while. Promise.

After completing the first three missions and starting the third, I think I’m ready to bring in my final verdict on Zombies, Run!

There are a couple of things that I wish they’d add:

-I’d really like to know how much I’ve run in terms of miles, rather than in the vague and ambiguous steps. Some of us aren’t blessed with iPhones or iPods equipped with a GPS.

-In line with the previous, I’d really like to be pursued by zombie mobs at some point. I dunno if that’s really possible with the accelerometer and I’m not going to stop using the program because it’s not there. I’ll just be bummed.

-Something explaining why I want to level up all these buildings. What’s the difference between having a level 1 armory and a level 2 armory? I know that higher level buildings will give access to more missions, but I don’t know which buildings to level up to unlock, say, Mission Four.

Aside from these issues, Zombies, Run! is a great app. It’s gotten me running again and I actually look forward to running. If it keeps me running for, say, a month, that’ll make it more awesome than my own, not-so-great willpower. The second and third missions don’t have the lengthy opening narration either, so feel free to run right out the gate without worrying about extended helicopter sequences ruining the illusion that you’re running from zombies. A small aside, I’m glad that they’re not avoiding using the word zombies. It’s kind of refreshing for someone to break that rule, for once (Don’t say the Zed word!).

I also like how the game has started to introduce other elements. At one point, your character picks up a newspaper clipping, which has a reference to a twitter account. And, lo and behold, you can follow the account. Considering that the game is an alternate reality game, it’s nice to see that they’re not just limiting it to the running itself. I’m interested to see just how much further they’ll take it.

So, buy the app if you’re interested in making running fun. Don’t buy it for the iPod if you want the random zombie encounters. And the length of the missions depends on the length of the songs you play while you run.

To see the first two parts of my review go here:

Zombies, Run!: First Impressions

Zombies, Run!: First Mission Review

Dylan Charles

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Flashback to Go Forward

For the first time ever, I’m watching a Red Sox game. Granted, it’s a Red Sox game from April 1st, 2011, but it’s still an actual, for really real, major league baseball game.

After months of reading and watching clips of past games, this is extremely refreshing. I’m finally able to put my (still somewhat limited) knowledge to use. I understand what most of the stats mean. I understand why Pedroia attempted to bunt while Ellsbury was on first with no outs. And I even understand why George W. was in the stands wearing a Rangers cap.

There are still some areas where I’m confused. I don’t get why Napoli was out after being hit with the ball while he was running inside the baseline. And the sheer number of unfamiliar names are almost overwhelming.

But I’m starting to hold onto them and starting to recognize people as they  come up to the plate. Ellsbury, Pedroia and Youkilis. Crawford, Ortiz and Cameron. They’re becoming fixed. This might be a problem, cause I don’t know how many of them are still on the team now, but that doesn’t matter so much at the moment.

My biggest worry when I start the 2012 season is that I won’t have any idea what’s going on or who anyone is. And I’ve managed to settle my fears a bit.

I think I’m going to be ok.

Dylan Charles

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