Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Western Civilization survived...

Well, GTA IV launched, likely sold millions, and we're still here. No mass riots or violence against law enforcement. Well, not any more than what happens anyway.

The fact that I stole two cars, got into a fight on the street, went bowling on a legitimate date with a woman, and ran numerous red lights somehow didn't have any effect in the real world. According to Next-Gen, NPR apparently gave a pretty fair treatment to GTA IV's release, not the typical overblown media reaction. I'd also like to suggest that gamers are doing their part to stimulate the U.S. economy in this economic recession. The New York Times agrees.

I picked up the game yesterday after work and played for a few hours. The freedom within the game is pretty amazing, but I have to say so far I have been underwhelmed by the experience. Part of it is just me learning to control my character, learning to drive, and not knowing how the GTA universe "works," but I also haven't really been pulled in by the story yet. So far I've just been responding to phone calls from my loser cousin and getting him out of trouble. I would certainly live a boring criminal life.

At one point, the game's tutorial text (appearing early on to orient one to the controls, etc.) suggested I could watch T.V. in my cousin's apartment and I actually wanted to do that, looking for relief from the mean streets of Liberty City. As soon as I parked and got out of his car (I'm using his car, since I'm new in town) however, my cousin called with some crisis, so I was off again.

One thing I can say for sure is that there are definite consequences for your criminal activities within the game. My character started a fight on the street, mainly because I wanted to see what would happen and how all of the buttons worked in confrontations, and a police car happened to be nearby. In less than a minute of fighting, the police were after me, so of course I ran. I ran for a few blocks and could hear the police yelling at me to stop, giving me a chance to stop running before things went bad. I thought I lost them by going down an alley, and was hiding, but quickly there were 8 to 10 officers there telling me it was all over.

I suppose I could have surrendered and been arrested (I guess. I'll have to try it again and see what happens), but instead I chose to run past them. No surprise, I was brought down by a hail of bullets. Apparently you don't really "die" in the game, your character just wakes up outside of the hospital after having been charged (yes, your in-game money is reduced) to be treated.

I'm sure I'll learn how this whole world works and soon either get into the story or just go out exploring. No multiplayer yet, but I'm sure that will change by this weekend.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV releases today

Quite possibly the biggest-selling and most controversial game of the year hits store shelves today.

Metacritic, the site that aggregates reviews from across the tubes, shows a 99 out of 100 rating. I've only watched someone play one of the previous games in this series, so this will be the first time I've played a GTA game. I'm looking forward to trying it out, but the big draw for me is really the multiplayer aspects of the game -- 15 different modes. Just about all of my friends on Live will have it, plus with the enormous sales expected, this will become part of the gaming community's common experience.

The Xbox 360 version will have additional exclusive (read: not available on PS3) downloadable episodic content available later this fall.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Artie has returned

It was with relief that I learned Artie was back on the show today. When Artie resigned before the show went on vacation, I set up a Google News search with RSS feed so I could stay up to date with any news articles about him. That feed provided an article before I left for work that confirmed Artie's return.

He sounded good, like the Artie we all know, though it also sounded like he had come to a realization that he has to deal with some issues going on with himself. Someone on the show today said the blowout and resignation led to a "moment of clarity" for Artie. I hope so, and I hope he follows through with the "shrink," as Artie put it today, to whom he made a commitment to see for a series of appointments.

I'm disappointed that no longer allows a deep-link to a particular day's show summary, but check out the site anyway and just navigate to April 21, 2008 for some more details about Artie's return.

Welcome back, Artie.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Artie resigns from the Stern show

I thought I'd let this one sit for awhile before writing about it.

Artie has been my favorite individual contributor on the Howard Stern show since he started there in 2001. The amazing stories, incisive and hilarious commentary, unabashedly excessive eating both on and off the air, and most recently sleeping on the air -- he truly complemented the show.

There's not much to say other than things got way out of hand on Thursday's show with behavior that ultimately led to Howard accepting Artie's resignation. Obviously there is more to what happened than a simple annoyance at having a passport copied. I hope Artie has been able to talk to family or friends since this happened and I hope he is able to work out or at least address whatever it is that has been going on.

The Stern show is on vacation all next week, so there may be no official word until the show returns on April 21. Robin Quivers is scheduled to appear on The View on Monday, 4/14, so maybe she will have something to say. Thursday's show has not been rerun in the usual replays on Howard 100 and there is no summary of Thursday's show on the official site.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles -- test drive

Last weekend I attended an open house at the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento. It was interesting to learn how hydrogen fuel cells work to power a vehicle and to see a working hydrogen fueling station up close, but the coolest opportunity was to actually drive a vehicle powered by hydrogen. None of the vehicles they had were commercially available, but all were fully functional and appeared to be pretty normal.

I drove the Mercedes A-Class car called the "F-Cell:"There are cars that actually combust liquid hydrogen, like the BMW Hydrogen 7, but all of the vehicles available for test driving last weekend were hybrid-electric, meaning the main drive engine was electric, which was powered by electricity from a hydrogen fuel cell where the hydrogen used is in the form of a gas. This is a hydrogen fuel cell that was in Ford's garage at the facility:Apparently there are hundreds of individual "cells" stacked inside of a unit like this. The simplest explanation of how electricity is produced by a hydrogen fuel cell is that the fuel cell has a negative electrode/catalyst plate inside of it that the hydrogen passes through, which strips off its electrons. The then positively-charged hydrogen passes through a membrane and interacts with a positive electrode/catalyst plate which combines the hydrogen with oxygen that is brought into the fuel cell, producing heat and water. The flow of the stripped electrons from the negative side to the positive side produces electricity.

The cars were virtually silent, though the Mercedes I drove had a distinct high-pitched sound associated with acceleration that the representative in the car said was an air compressor pumping extra air into the fuel cell, apparently to provide a bit more "juice." The transmission was continuous, meaning there were no gears or hesitations. I didn't really test out acceleration, but it seemed like just about any other car.

There are two sticking points to the widespread use of hydrogen to power vehicles on a large scale: 1) distribution infrastructure; and 2) efficiency. For infrastructure, there are currently only 24 working hydrogen fueling stations in the state of California. There are only two in the Sacramento area. Here's the one at the facility I toured:
For efficiency, I learned some new terms: "well-to-tank" efficiency, meaning how efficient the process is that produces the energy (here, hydrogen) and transports it to the individual vehicle's tank. Also, "tank-to-wheel" efficiency, meaning how efficiently the car converts that energy from its own tank to the wheels.

Currently hydrogen's "well-to-tank" efficiency is lower than that for gasoline (Toyota quotes 58% to 88%, respectively). Hydrogen's "tank-to-wheel" efficiency is greater than gasoline (38-50% versus 16-37%, respectively). Combining those measures, Toyota estimates that gasoline vehicles have a "well-to-wheel" overall efficiency of about 14%, a gas-powered hybrid like the Toyota Prius has an overall efficiency of about 32% and Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell vehicles range in overall efficiency from about 22 to 29%.

Undoubtedly these efficiencies for obtaining hydrogen and operating hydrogen fuel cells will improve and the fueling infrastructure will be built out, so at some point this will become a viable option for mainstream use.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Artie on Kimmel and Robin on Mike & Juliet

This Friday, April 4, Robin Quivers will appear on The Mike & Juliet Show, 11a Pacific time on NBC, and Artie Lange will appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 12:05a (ok, technically Saturday, but you know it's Friday night) Pacific time on ABC.

Robin will probably be promoting her new "Girls Night Out" charity and Artie will probably be his usual hilarious self. Kimmel is a great friend and fan of the Stern show, so there will certainly be good chemistry and discussion.

Please update your schedules accordingly.