Thursday, December 27, 2012

Final Post of the Year

Hello, everyone. I hope the Holiday season has not left you too exhausted. Here at Chrontendo HQ, we've been pretty busy -- not only with Christmas stuff, but also Chrontendo 46.

A few quick updates today: Once the excitement of obtaining the Westvlateren 12 passed, I got around to actually drinking a bottle. And it's quite good! I planning on aging a couple bottles (note to non-beer geeks: much high quality beer improves with age, just like wine.), though at some point in the future, I hope to do some sort of Westvlateren/St. Bernardus comparison. That will be a very special episode of Beertendo.

I was surprised to spot an appearance of the elusive Chronogamer in the comments recently! His own attempt on chrongaming was the original inspiration for the Chrontendo project. I hope the dude will get back in the game soon, though currently he appears to be writing about Star Trek.

So.... on top of everything else currently going on, I've had this little distraction called Skyrim. Yes, it is sucking up time that should be devoted to Chrontendo. But can you really blame me for wanting to play Skyrim over Tenkaichi Bushi Keru Nagūru?

Seriously, just look at this crap.
To make matters worse, I've started exploring the surprisingly deep world of Skyrim mods. It's been a while since I been actively involved in PC gaming. The few big PC blockbuster titles I've played in recent years have been on consoles. So, I was a little surprised at the sheer number of impressive mods for Skyrim. And there are even a few that don't involve adding naked ladies to the game! There are plenty of those, of course; in fact the second most popular mod on the main Skyrim mod site, Nexus, is something called a "female body mod - big bottom edition."  But there tons of things like high-res re-textures for the environment, improvements to the UI, some amazing lighting mods, and tons of very specific alterations such as adding insects and birds to the game world. The overall philosophy of the Skyrim modding community is pretty amusing: "We love this game! Now let's change absolutely everything about it!" Anyway, it's possible to get totally lost in this stuff, so I apologize for being so distracted this month.

To make matters even worse, I received my end-of-year bonus last week, and decided to use a little bit of those surplus funds to pick up a new graphics card.  My current system has a decent mid-range card, but it's nowhere near cutting edge. I decided to upgrade to a Radeon 7950. I currently have an AMD card, and it was a tough choice between sticking with AMD or trying out a GeForce. It's amazing how fired up people get over their choice of graphics cards manufacturers. There are some serious AMD/GeForce partisans out there who have very strong feelings about the superiority of their brand. This reminds me of Nintendo/Sega back in the day.

In the meantime, Chrontendo 46 continues to putter along. It's actually a pretty strong lineup of games this time.  We have a few lesser known, culty games that received US releases. One standout among them is Human/Bandai's horrific platfomer, Monster Party. This must be one of the weirdest damned games released for the NES. If you've never played it, expected to be a little shocked once you see some of the creepy stuff in this game.

What a cheery fellow!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

For Beer Fans, the Greatest Day

Today, something has occurred that I assumed would never happen. I actually have, in my possession, six bottles of perhaps the world's most legendary beer, Westvleteren 12. The beer went on sale this morning in the US for the first and probably last time.

If you don't know much about the world of beer,  here's the explanation of why this is a big deal: Belgium is the Mecca of the beer-producing world. It is to beer what Bordeaux is to wine. Many, many styles of beer come out of Belgium, but one certain type is held in particularly high regard. This is the ale made by Trappist monks. Belgium has six Trappist breweries, and there is another in the Netherlands. Trappist beers are some of the finest produced, and in general are not very hard to find. The largest Trappist brewery, Chimay, makes ales that are available just about anywhere that sells beer. Every Trader Joe's around here stocks it all the time. As for the others: any really decent beer shop should sell them. If I decided right now that I wanted an Orval, Westmalle or Rochefort, I could hop in my car and have a bottle in my hand within 20 minutes.

The joker in the pack of Trappist beers is Westvleteren. It is the most sought after Trappist beer, but has no official distribution in the US, or anywhere, for that matter. The only place that legally sells it is the actual monastery - or rather the brewery's visitor center. In order to obtain a Westvleteren, you would need to perform the following steps.

Go to Belgium. Proceed to the town of Vleteren.
Dial a special phone number to order a case of beer.
Drive to the visitor center to pick up the beer.
Keep in mind that the brewery is very small, and the demand for the beer is far greater than the supply, and it may take many, many phone calls before you are able to get a case. As the brewery's website wryly notes, it will take a "lot of luck" to reserve a case.

The brewery makes three styles, but the most desirable is the Westvleteren 12, the strongest of the three. The very high quality of the 12, combined with its lack of availability, gives it a certain mystique. It has been voted the best beer in the world on several occasions. Voters on the popular beer ratings sites, RateBeer and BeerAdvocate have placed it in the first and second spots, respectively, in their beer rankings.

So Westvleteren 12 has been sort of the "holy grail" of beers. Thus it was quite surprising that the monastery had cut a deal with EU and US distributors to sell a limited number of "gift packs," each containing 6 bottles of Westie 12 and two glasses. The monastery is not supposed to make a profit on the beer; the only reason they are allowing outside distribution is that their building needs a new roof. The US distribution deal was announced last year, but the release date had been pushed back couple times  - until now. Today, on 12/12/12, a select number of liquor stores in 26 states put the gift packs on sale. This momentous event was big enough to get mentions in mainstream media sources. I knew of a few local outlets that would be carrying this, so I headed out this morning to arrive before opening time.

Not pictured: the tears of joy running down my face.
There are a few nice things (but very few) about living in a large, yet uncultured town like I do. I didn't have to face down any huge lines this morning. There was a steady flow of people arriving to buy the gift packs, but no one was camping out in front of the store.  In Chicago there were reports of lines starting at 4 AM, in Philadelphia, lines "around the block," and so on. A large location in Toronto sold out in 4 minutes. Checking Ebay, I see bids already passing the $400 mark on these gift sets. Also -- sons of bitches are trying to sell the empty gift boxes. Considering that only around 15000 of these packs were available in the US, its not surprising to see that kind of price inflation.

I suppose later tonight I'll actually open up a bottle and try it. Undoubtedly the experience will be a bit anti-climatic. No beer can really live up the title of "best beer in the world." Still, as a beer fanatic, a major gap in my beer-drinking experience will have been filled.

By the way, if you are curious about this beer but don't want to spend $400, here's a little secret that beer lovers know.  There is a very close approximation of Westie 12 that is easily obtainable: St Bernardus Abt 12. The monks from Westvleteren gave their recipe to the monks at the nearby Abbey of St Bernardus. The two beers are often considered to taste very similar, though Westie 12 is usually thought to be a bit better.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dr. Sparkle: Lootstealer

Now that the Chronsega 8 madness is over, it's time to get back to work on Chrontendo. This episode should come out in a sometime timely fashion, barring certain "delays" (more about this at the end of the post.)

For the time being however, I'd like to point out this rare intersection of two interests of mine: video games and linguistics. Recently, the fast-talking videogame personality Ben Croshaw/Yahtzee did one of his Zero Punctuation videos on EA's Medal of Honor: Warfighter. I really have no idea whether or not MOH:Warfighter is a good game. Croshaw didn't like it, but the odd thing about his review is that he spends the first couple minutes ranting about the name; or rather, the word "warfighter." Croshaw finds something inherently ridiculous about the structure of the word, comparing it to saying "numbers accountant," and claiming that it causes fits of laughter whenever he utters it.

I just hope he doesn't wear that hat in real lif-- ....   Oh.
This review managed to draw the attention of the popular linguistics blog, Language Log, which is run by Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania and Geoff Pullum of the University of Edinburgh. LL often posts about notable language issues in pop culture. Liberman points out that "warfighter," rather than being a word made up by EA, is a standard term for members of the US military and has been used by the DOD since at least the 1980s. It turns up quite frequently in government documents related to military matters. The US military needs to have a general term for members of the Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy who are engaged in combat activities. Currently, the preferred term is warfighter. These kinds of games love putting military jargon into their names, so "warfighter" does not sound at all out of place.

I suppose Croshaw can be excused for not being familiar with the word, since appears to be British (or perhaps a very pretentious American.) But his insistence that the word is somehow internally redundant is a little weird. After all, you can do of things with war other than fight it: warmonger, war profiteer, etc. Likewise, people engage in all sorts of fighting; there are firefighters and prizefighters. Some people even do their fighting in the streets. Perhaps Croshaw has heard of these street fighters?  And, as one commenter on LL pointed out, other games have already used the term, such as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter.

Also: Saint's Row: Whorefighter
Croshaw's remarks fall into the larger category of a language peeve: a word, phrase or usage that upsets certain people. Often, there is a cultural, national or class bias behind these peeves. Older people get upset when new words are introduced into the language or the meanings of existing words change.  Folks who consider themselves educated (or better yet, "cultured") dislike certain popular or casual English words/phrases. Grammar Nazis haunt internet forums, trying to impose imaginary grammar rules (like "split infinitives.") Some people can't abide foreign words entering the English language -- I recall some years ago a reader's letter in my local newspaper complaining about the use of the word "tsunami." I myself peeve at times. I violently disagree with 1Up's Bob Mackey's use of "oral history" in this series (Dr. Sparkle contributed a brief and terrible entry in this article.). And if you EVER confuse "jealousy" with "envy," I WILL curb stomp you.

BTW: Language Log has a number of entertaining and informative articles on language peeves here.

In other sad news, I'm sure you are all aware that Nintendo Power has released its final issue. The cover is a nice call back to the very first Nintendo Power.

And, it yet more sad news for Chrontendo fans, a major distraction has been occupying my attention lately.  After months of letting the graphics card on my computer sit idly, I have finally broken down and bought Skyrim. Don't blame me! It was $25 on Amazon! I couldn't resist. Don't worry, I will be working on Chrontendo between sessions of slaying dragons and rooting through people's dressers and nightstands. And seriously, why does everyone is this game leave food lying around everywhere? Who keeps an apple pie on the end table next to their bed?