Wow that kid’s got a huge head!

The first line I ever waited in to buy a game was at a midnight event much like the one I attended last night for the PS2 launch. Now, this first line I was in wasn’t for anything like Street Fighter (I convinced an employee at the Good Guys to break street date and sell me a copy a day early — hehe), but was instead for the much more recent release of Final Fantasy VII. What makes the story funny (maybe not funny haha, but what can you do?) is that it wasn’t really supposed to be a midnight vigil for the game, but was instead just a story of the hardcore that got way out of hand. You see, Final Fantasy VII was due out, yet the EB by my house had not gotten it yet (I was still a halfway broke college graduate at the time). So, like any dedicated gamer I called routinely every hour, and then — just because miracles could happen — I decided to show up every 3 or 4 hours to see if maybe the guy on the phone was mistaken.

Unfortunately, by nine o’clock when the mall closed the store had still not gotten the game (despite their claims that it would be there) and there was a rather large crowd of anxious gamers gathered waiting. At this point, the EB manager decided that he would stay open until the game arrived, since the Santa Monica store had reported that it had just gotten its shipment and the games would be on their way soon. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly the crowd of 10 or so gamers morphed into a horde of over 100 people anxious to get their hands on what Sony promised as the greatest thing ever. Unfortunately, time passed and the game still didn’t arrive, and now the mall was closed and the security guards couldn’t let people stand in the walkways.

The EB manager did the only thing he could do at that point — he had everybody come into his very, very small store (it was one of those hole-in-the-wall sized ones). It was over two hours from that point before the game actually did show up, and by that time the entire crowd had bonded. Despite the fact that we were too hot, tired and generally frustrated, our love of games gave us all the common ground we needed. We talked Goldeneye, we talked game magazines — and some dumb sap was even trying to describe the Japanese version of the game he had muddled through (we didn’t want to hear anything about it though). The strangest thing I saw was a mother who was actually waiting in line to get the game for her son who was at home sleeping. (Note: while I think that’s cool, I know in my heart that I will never be that kind of parent — or, if I am, the game will be for me and my child will have to play something else until I’m done.)

So, while some people here at work think I’m crazy for standing in line 18 hours for a PS2, I’m kinda into hanging out with similarly minded hard-core fans and getting my new system. Of course, now I have one, so the moral of this story is that if you really want something, waiting is the best answer. Anyway, I guess I should do something on this week’s game, which, no surprise, is Final Fantasy VII. While I obviously didn’t pick this one up in the bargain bin, I’ve seen it around a lot and the price is just right.

Sometimes a game comes along that redefines your perception of a genre. For the PSX, FFVII was that game because it took the standard 16-bit RPG and finally updated it to the 32-bit era. Now, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t already some excellent RPG’s (Suikoden being one of them), but that FFVII was such a radical departure (technology-wise at least) from the norm that it changed the face of RPGs forever.

How did it change things? Mostly, it was in presentation. The cinematics in the game were a notch above anything else at the time, with a majesty and beauty to them that stood way above the pack. When combined with the impressive (at the time) 3D backdrops and characters and spectacular spell effects it was a tour de force that blew everything else away. The graphics may not be as state-of-the-art today, but they still hold up surprisingly well, since they’re quite cartoony and the pre-rendered backgrounds (as in RE) cover up most of the polygon deficiencies in the original PlayStation. Pop this sucker into your PS2 with the texture smoothing on and you should still be happy with the way this game looks. What blew most of us away at the time were the huge summoning spell effects that you earn throughout the game. Unfortunately, while they looked great, the reality of these “guardian forces” was that they were non-interruptible, so you had to watch through the entire thing every time you cast one. And, trust me, some of them are really, really long.

Of course, storyline is the most key element in the RPG experience, and FFVII holds up here too. As Cloud, you join a member of a terrorist organization trying to save the planet from an evil corporation. Of course, what starts as a single mission soon becomes more and more involving, until you’re fighting it out for the fate of the planet. Along the way you’ll meet and join up with some great characters (and one badly translated one named Barret), view some incredible spectacles and take part in some amazing story twists. While there’s not a whole lot here that hasn’t been done before in one way or another, it’s all blended together beautifully into an exciting and highly playable adventure.

So, if you just blew all you cash on a PS2 or you’re just looking for a way to kill 30 to 40 hours, spend the $10-$15 to check out a timeless classic. Now, I need to sleep. Badly.

From the Trenches: Whither Innovation?

The clock can still be heard striking seven as William Ambrose De Geeke bursts from his bedroom and charges downstairs, seven-year-old eyes aglow with the gift-laden promise of another Christmas morning. A frantic blur of tangled feet and garish yellow Poke-sleepwear, he charges past his still groggy parents and into the warm glow of the De Geeke living room.

Ignoring his mother’s belated proffering of a hearty breakfast, Billy heads directly for the gigantic gaudy pile of presents nestled beneath the well-worn family tree. Eyes wide and fingers twitching, Billy dives into the pile like a thing possessed, his frenzied searching sending gifts of all shapes and sizes hurtling around the room like so many plastic balls on senior bingo night.

“Not this one… nah, that’s not it… this one’s too small… wait a second… YES!”

Billy throws an enormous package to the floor, attacking it with the focused destructive intensity of a starving cannibal army. Torn strips of red and green wrapping rise from the package in a festive fountain, each ornate strip a barrier between Billy and the object of his frenzied desire. Finally, the toy is pulled free of its festive shackles and thrust triumphantly into the air.


Mr. De Geeke enters the room, gazing on in bemusement as his son runs hyperactive circles around the room, favorite new toy held proudly aloft.

“Hey, isn’t this the same thing that we got you last year?”

“No way dad, it’s totally different. The eyes glow blue now, not red, and the gun shoots Digi-pellets, not those dumb old Poke-ones.”

Shaking his head, Mr. De Geeke returns to the kitchen, muttering something about 75 lousy dollars.

Any gamer who has returned home from the software store, brand-new game clutched tight in his or her sweaty little hands, is likely to have been in a situation remarkably similar to that of Billy’s paterfamilias. Far too often, that aforementioned hot new game turns out to be little more than a retread of a remake of a classic idea, a few shiny new baubles grafted onto its unavoidably stale surface.

Videogame innovation is rapidly descending to an all-time low, with each successful title spawning countless imitators, sequels and spin-offs in less time than it takes to microwave a copy of Vampire Hunter D. In a situation remarkably similar to the videogame glut of ’83-’84, store shelves are being flooded with generic crap at an alarming rate, drowning the few inventive titles in a deluge of complete and utter mediocrity.

While this “remake, remodel” school of design is nothing new, never has it been more inexcusable than in today’s age of 128-bit wonder machines. Developers now have access to technology capable of pushing more polygons, performing more complex calculation and generally kicking more ass than ever before. Yet, for the most part these incredibly powerful tools are being used in the most unimaginative way possible, producing more of the same crap in a new, high-poly package.

It’s almost as if most developers are afraid of innovation, scared that producing something new will drive away their game-hungry public. Why is this? What are the factors that keep these developers from producing something new and different each and every time? Well, after extended discussion with some of our more respected forum elders, I believe that we at Trenches may be able to answer that most pointed of questions.

The first, and perhaps largest, problem is that innovative games tend to not sell nearly as well as their more mainstream competitors. Sad as it is to say, unless a “non-standard” game can be linked to a well-known design entity, such as Miyamoto or Kojima, it’s unlikely to shift all that many units. The inarguably brilliant Silent Hill is a perfect example of this conundrum — while Konami’s unique horror title sold respectably, many far less innovative titles, most notably Resident Evil: Nemesis, eclipsed it financially.

There are multiple reasons for this: PR hacks that don’t know how to hype something they don’t understand [Ed Note: See ad campaign for Fear Effect 2, “It has boobies!”], publishers who would rather bet their budgets on a known quantity and, biggest of all, the fact that videogames are an expensive investment for the end user. Simply put, most gamers felt far safer going with a known brand than risking their hard-earned dollars on something new and different. Consequently, just as we will continue to see derivative crap like Save the Last Dance or Gone in 60 Seconds rocket to the top of the box office, tried and true videogame concepts will continue to outsell their more innovative competition on a daily basis.

This, in turn, brings us to our next problem — the ever-increasing cost of game development. As technology advances, the required resources for videogame production increase exponentially while sales remain roughly unchanged. Faced with drastically reduced profit margins, developers are left with two equally unpleasant options: innovate and risk going bust, or churn out mainstream pap until the next big thing comes along.

Of course, it would be somewhat myopic of me to blame the dearth of originality in the videogame market entirely on either gun-shy consumers or the Hugo Boss suited executives they support. Shockingly enough, those long-suffering game developers must also bear their fair share of responsibility for this sad state of affairs. For, alongside those hordes of dev-hacks perfectly willing to produce knockoffs at the lowest possible price, there sits a group of developers undermining the cause of innovation through the sheer fact of their own incompetence.

These are the second stringers who, while on their perennial quest for radical new paradigms,” have managed to confuse being different with, well, being good. For every Art Dink or Sega, successful innovators whose games remain fun no matter how different they are, there are a hundred “wacky” developers who couldn’t manage to produce a good game if Shigeru Miyamoto himself descended from the heavens and bestowed it upon them.

Consequently, innovation-seeking gamers get sick of blowing 50 bucks on the latest “innovative” failure and instead decide to invest their hard-earned money in the latest dependably semi-competent Tomb Raider sequel. By flooding the market with these half-baked ideas made silicon, such developers are doing far more harm than good to the innovation cause.

In the end, however, the future of gaming innovation rests firmly on our Dual Shock hardened shoulders. So, next time you find yourself with 50 spare dollars and the urge to game, do a little research before heading out to your local Software Etc. Read a magazine, talk to your friends, go online and try to find out what enjoyable alternatives there are to the latest Resident Evil sequel. After all, if enough of us start buying original titles, innovation itself might become the “next big thing.”

Now, head on over to the Forums and tell us what you think…

Mathematics and sex are deeply intertwined

I am the mathematician who’s going to get you so laid. And to begin I need you to stare at this equation. I mean, there’s your first orgasm right there, I know it. But these are very sophisticated equations that model a successful marriage. And they’re ground breaking equations because it was the first time that truly sophisticated mathematics was used in the field of romance. And they predict with 95% accuracy rate whether newlyweds will be together in six years time. And you can see there’s the W for wife and the H for husband. So, they modeled newlyweds talking about areas of contention like the in-laws or money. And then they modeled the responses according to how each partner was responding to the other. Body language as well.

And what came out was this interesting influence factor at the end there, which actually revealed that couples that responded the least to each other had a better chance of a successful marriage. So that means — I see some people are like, We knew that. So, couples that compromised the least ended up being together the most. This was very interesting because a lot of therapy has been based on empathy. And you laughed before, so maybe you don’t say when you partner comes home, Yes darling, I know. Let me rub your feet and fix you a martini. Because what they’ve actually found is that might not be the best way forward. Maybe the best way, or the mathematics revealed, that having high standards and finding ways to reach for those standards is in fact the way to go.

So mathematics is the study of patterns. All the symbols that you see are in fact patterns. You know, encapsulating patterns. And we’re very used to seeing mathematics being used in physics and engineering. That’s just because it’s been there the most. You know, E equals mc squared. That’s so early 1900’s. There’s actually been an evolution. Since the 80’s we’ve seen mathematics venture into stock market analysis, risk analysis that was new. And then since the 1990’s or 2000’s even we’re seeing mathematics enter into the sometimes called Softer Sciences like psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology. New mathematics appears every day.

I brought in a few just to remind you of how that works. Here’s some latest research. This is looking at antibiotic use and how to implement antibiotics for tuberculosis while getting the patient healthy, but making sure that we avoid antibiotic resistance. That came out a couple of weeks ago. And this is looking at how an opinion spreads through a population. And when will you have the coexistence of several opinions, or one big consensus. One of my favorites, it’s older but I couldn’t resist. This one’s from 2009 and this is how to create the perfect chocolate. One that melts in your mouth but not in your hand. And yes, these are very sexy equations, I’m sure you’ll agree. Mathematics is absolutely everywhere these days; it’s being used everywhere. It really is no surprise that now we’re seeing the equations for love. Now, love sucks. I know you all know that.

Because, yes, you’re excited at first. But then you’re scared. Oh, my god. I haven’t eaten. You’re sitting looking at your phone, Please ring! Then they send you a two-word text. And you’re like, Whoo-hoo! It’s on like Donkey Kong. And so these equations look at which personality traits are more likely to come together to have a more stable companionship type love because some people they just end up being up and down continuously. Imagine being in a relationship with Charlie Sheen. That would be like well, unlike Donkey Kong and also like this. It gets a bit out of control — mathematically quite fast. So just to tell you, it’s about one thing to look out for is if your partner — if you overestimate your partner’s qualities. So with partners we can behave a bit like proud parents.

He’s so smart. He’s so sexy. Everyone’s just staring at this guy like Anyway, here’s some more mathematics. Now, men report, on average, having had sex with two to four times as many women than women do men. And this does not make sense. It doesn’t. I know you’re all thinking, But what about prostitutes? But what about my ex? He’s slept with everybody. No, every time a man has sex with a woman — there are averages for other things — But in a large enough sample space it’s going to be about the same, not off like this. So here’s an example. Here’s Charlie Sheen. He’s had sex with everyone.

Then the next guy, only one. One, one, one. And that forces, you see, the outcome for the women. The first one’s had one. The others have had 2 partners each. And 2, 4, 6, 8, 9. 9 divided by 5 and on the right 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 9 divided by 5. Every time a man has sex with a woman it’s adding to the general tally of both sides. Now, why is this discrepancy? Because the surveys are confidential and non-identifying, it turns out, if you ask about kinky things, people are very honest. What we’ve turned to is we think it’s counting strategy. Because if you enumerate you’ll be prone to an underestimation. If you approximate you’ll be prone to an overestimation. So it seems women are going, Justin, Brad, the guy with the sexy biceps. The end.

And men are going, 20 a year for the last 5 years. You know. My favorite clue in all the data was that 80% of men’s results were divisible by 5. So, of course the mathematicians are like, Yeah, no, you’re lying. Back to some more waves. Of course, there are waves in women’s hormones. And these equations look at what kind of mechanism is in a woman’s body — how does your body know 28 days have gone by? And it’s based on understanding why women have all their immature eggs at birth ready to go. We hear so much about women’s hormones, so I’ve brought in men’s as well. These are — These are real. I’m not making them up.

These model the relationship between the brain and the testes as the fluctuation happens during the day. I promise these are real. Testosterone, for example, has a peak in the morning. And a slump in the evening. But there’s actually a mini testosterone peak every 2 to 2.5 hours in between. So, you know what that means. Especially women. If you ask a guy a favor and he’s not responding just wait half an hour and ask again, just try and — just try and get that slump moment. It’s got its purposes. Though the peak has another purpose as well. Yes, this is all great fun and I could carry on with fun maths and sex problems for hours. But ultimately, what I’m about is our amazing brain and the impact of abstract thinking and the power of abstract thinking.

And so let me turn things a little bit around on you and say, What do you think happens if you think about sex before doing mathematics? Because it’s actually not super distracting. You’ll actually become better at doing certain types of brain processes. It turns out there’s two fundamental types of brain processes. You either think globally or locally. Forest or trees. And when you’re solving a problem, you often start with the global kind of analysis and then you have to dig in deep and follow leads to solutions. It turns out that we’re now seeing with the latest research that this is linked to creative versus analytical thinking. And more than that we’re finding that it’s actually very easily manipulated. So, if you get people to think about love and then solve problems they’ll be better at the globalization, the beginning, the creative part. And if you get people to think about sex they get better at the process part of the problem solving. Easy as that. And here’s the bigger question that interests me.

What is this thing called mathematics that’s only been going for about 2,000 years that popped up independently across the world that so many people swear they can’t do? See, there’s something that’s not quite reconciling there. You can’t have something that’s developed so recently with some people just having an extra brain bit. No, that doesn’t make sense. It’s about finding those right triggers. Here’s a school report card of mine in French. My parents are these wild, wild travelers always looking for wild parties. I’m actually the conservative offspring of some crazy wild people. As you see, we lived in Cannes, whatever. Great parties there. But more importantly, you can see two out of 20 for mathematics. And my best result was 15 for Travaux Manuels et Technique. which is woodwork.

So it’s very clear to me what life is like without mathematics. Once I found mathematics at 18 when I came to Australia, it was the first time that I was connecting to something pure, to something that was so amazing. You see, pattern recognition is right at the core of the animal kingdom. You see, even reptiles recognize whether it’s something to eat, fight or have sex with. Even a jellyfish knows which way is up and which way is down. Now the seeds of the number concept are also very much part of the animal kingdom. A pack of animals will recognize whether another pack is greater than theirs. And you can actually teach a rat to press a lever an approximate number of times to get food. Now, you see how I the word approximate. That’s because the rat doesn’t have self-awareness or a linguistic ability to capture, tame those innate sensations.

So if the rat is just tapping three times 1, 2, 3 — it will kind of get it right. But once it gets to 16, the poor little rat is tapping away it doesn’t know where it’s reaching. And it’s the same with us. If you do an experiment where we can’t count out we’ll make exactly the same mistakes as the rat. We went further. We went to things like 2 + 5 = 5 + 2. I can swap the order of things and still reach the same result. We went further still. A + B = B + A I can substitute any of the infinite number of numbers that I’m now aware of in that formula and it means the same thing. You see, language is more than just naming things. With it, we also got cause and effect and temporal reasoning. Mathematics is our most precise use of this syntactical understanding.

Because with mathematics at each step that you’re creating the pattern linking discovery, there’s no ambiguity. It is very precise what you’re doing at each step, what is in each classification. True or false. That’s it. In the box or outside the box. It’s very clear, ultimate precision. And that is why mathematics is so powerful and being used more often right through to sex. And that’s why it’s so hard because you’re using the limits of our evolution right to their extreme. We’re using, we’re taming those innate sensations with the most ultimate precision we can. Mathematics as you can see, it’s just — what’s so breath taking is that it emerged independently across the globe. And when people came together in peace or war they may have clashed when it came to religion, cultures, languages, but their mathematics, or pure pattern recognition just meshed. You see, mathematics lies right at the roots of humanity. Like sex, it transcends human culture. And now that I’ve shared that with you, you are the sexiest ladies in town

Retiring at 20 Is it Possible

This is a list I made when I was 10. “How to Retire Before you’re 20”. Babysitting, yard sale, walk dogs, and you’ll see I get to number 12, “buy stocks,” and I stop. I figured, “That’s it! I don’t need to do anything else!”. Must have thought the stock market was a sure thing … And we can’t ignore my starred note on the bottom left: “In every transaction, I have to have a calculator.” As you can see, I wasn’t the typical 10 year old. Most girls my age played with Barbies — and yeah, I did that, too — but when given the choice, I wanted to learn about the way things worked, about the people around me, and I was particularly interested in making money.

I drew this when I was 5: “Kristen is a waitress.” Well, it didn’t take me long to realize I could just skip this step altogether and start a restaurant, “Steak and Shake.” Where we didn’t have steak or milkshakes, we did have pork chops, all-you-can-eat chicken and ribs, and our most popular dish: carrots and dip. When I was in first grade, I was fascinated with Elmer’s Glue. I found that if I put a tiny drop in my desk at school, when I came back in the morning, I could peel it off and stick it on my nail. What do you know? Fake nails. I sold fake nails from my desk every morning. And I remember it like it was yesterday: walked into my classroom, early like usual, only to find that my teacher had completely rearranged all the seats.

I watched my classmate walk right into my fortune. She sold everything that day. But don’t feel bad for me, because after school, I went and bought glitter glue, which happened to be much more popular than the plain white kind, and it put her right out of business. When I was six, I always wanted to be a babysitter — “Babysitter’s Club.” I don’t know what about this flyer doesn’t say: “Hi! You can trust me. I have a lot of experience, and I am definitely qualified to watch your child!” Or how about “The Girls’ Club”? Not only did you have to pay to be in it, but you also had to follow my 13 rules. Yeah, I started out OK: keep your hands to yourself, don’t say bad things to other people. I got a little bit bossier: be obedient, raise your hand if you need to say something. And then, I become a dictator. When you sign something with “Thanks, Your Leader, Kristen” … the only person that’s going to join your club is your little sister, and it’s because she doesn’t know how to read yet.

I got bored the summer before third grade, so I started a lemonade stand. I made this sales web — you know — because lemonade is such a complicated business. And my favorite part is: “Have your customers pick the price, you’ll get more money.” Smart cookie! I realized early on that people buy “cute.” So, I set my prices low, but told my customers if they wanted to pay a little extra that was certainly OK. And they did. People paid five dollars for a four-ounce drop of lemonade. “You pick the price” worked like a charm. But lemonade got boring, and I wanted to go into retail. So, I picked my little sister, Lauren, to be my victim, really, my partner, but … poor Lauren. We called it “LK Variety Store,” L for her name, K for mine. My dad built us a wooden stand, we painted it, and we sold various household items on our street corner every weekend. Actually, Lauren sold various household items, in the heat, while I sat in the A/C and collected the money.

This got old after a while, so she resigned. You’ll see my friend Ashley in this picture. Little did she know that when I invited her over to “play store,” I was being serious. I also forgot to mention that these household items belonged to my parents, who didn’t know that we were selling them. So, when my Mom eventually caught on, let’s just say she was very quick to shut us down. As you can see, I had an insatiable curiosity as a kid. And as I got older, the projects continued, but they became more meaningful. When I was 15, a teacher of mine, who taught me for six consecutive years in the field of science, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had to get a double mastectomy, but even with that, the outcome did not look very good. Myself, along with 5 other friends, who were also her students, gathered together to start Project Pink.

We decided to remain anonymous, but we worked behind the scenes to get our entire school to wear pink on Tuesdays — the day that she went in for chemotherapy treatments after class. It was pretty incredible, but our pink initiative spread throughout the community. You’d go to the grocery store on a Tuesday and you’d see people wearing pink. We were only kids, but we thought that if we could show her that the entire community supported her, maybe it would keep her strong. Months passed by, and we learned that she’d beat her cancer. So, we decided it was time to show her that we were the ones behind Project Pink. We got our school band to come into her classroom, where we revealed our identity, and presented her with a quilt we made of all our memories throughout the years. The band trickled from her classroom into the courtyard, and the entire school watched as she told us that we saved her life.

It was absolutely amazing. This was the first time in my life, where I felt a powerful — and I mean powerful — emotion overcome me. At 15, I didn’t know what it was or where it came from, but man, was it incredible. And I made a promise to myself that I would only work on things in my life that gave me this feeling. And now, when I look back, I realize it was passion. When I came to college at the University of Florida, I wanted a pair of very expensive blue jeans. I asked my parents to buy them for me; they said, “No way, get a job,” and instead of applying for one, I put an ad on Craigslist to clean houses for pocket money. I never minded cleaning as a kid because I thought I was getting paid well for it. But now when I look back, my parents ran a sweat shop! I worked on this day for four hours for $10!

Anyway — Mom and Dad — I know — I cleaned houses by myself for a while, and then I decided to turn it into a real business; hired some friends, and things slowly grew. When it came time for college graduation, I was offered a job in finance, in a company with a very well-known, popular brand. It was a dream job during a time in 2010 when they didn’t exist. And I immediately turned it down. Because there was one thing missing: That feeling that I promised myself I would always follow. I didn’t have it when I thought about finance. You see, I was passionate about my house-cleaning business — as silly as that may sound — and trust me, many people didn’t understand why I turned down a dream job to stick with it. But it just felt right. Fast forward to today, two years after my college graduation. I own a company called Student Maid. We’re the largest cleaning and concierge service in Gainesville. We employed 300 students last year. And I know what you’re thinking: “Her parents must have owned several businesses for her to turn out this way.” Not true.

My dad is a lawyer, and my mom ran a preschool before she left her job to become a stay-at-home mom. I just lived in a home where my curiosity was nurtured. I remember, when I was this big, that when my parents would get a new appliance, my dad would take the big cardboard box it came in, and he would stick it right on our living room floor. He would leave it up for weeks at a time, my sister and I would play with it … Yeah, it’s just a box, but when you’re 4, it’s a castle, and you can be the princess. It teaches you to use your imagination. And they encouraged us to play pretend. You’ll see here myself, my sister and our friend playing dentist with my dad. He wasn’t flossing. And when it came to homework, forget about it, they never gave me the answers. But it gave me the confidence to solve any problem on my own, no matter how big or small.

They weren’t afraid to see me fail, like when I wanted to run for fourth-grade president, there was a lot of competition, a very big chance I might lose, but they encouraged me to run. And that’s because in failure lies some of the most important lessons of all. Like, how to get back up and try again. So, when I did lose in fourth grade, I wasn’t afraid to try again in fifth. And I won. But most importantly, my parents walked their talk. There wasn’t one thing they told my sister and I to do that they didn’t do themselves. They said to always follow our curiosity and passion. I watched my dad turn down cases because they didn’t interest him.

And I watched my mom leave her job when she wasn’t passionate about it anymore. There is no doubt in my mind that the only reason I am standing where I am today is because I lived in a home where creativity and curiosity were valued more than anything else. So why is it, then, that curiosity has such a bad rep? We all know the story of Pandora’s Box, right? It’s given to this chick named Pandora, it contained all the evils in the world — “Don’t open it!” — she did. I don’t blame her though, because I wouldn’t want it in my house either, would you? Or how about “curiosity killed the cat”? Awful quote. No wonder why we’re trained to think that curiosity is a bad thing. People have mistakenly, for generations, only used a part of the quote. The full quote actually is: “Curiosity killed the cat, and satisfaction brought it back.” So, curiosity isn’t a bad thing, it actually brings us to life. And I’m not the only one that’s jumping on this curiosity bandwagon.

NASA recently launched a $2.5-billion rover to Mars, and what do you think they named it? Curiosity. Or how about “Curious George,” the famous cartoon? “Curious George” also goes by “Very Rich George,” right? And look at Columbus and Magellan — sure, they were motivated by a more efficient trade route, blah, blah, blah — I’m sure it was curiosity that was really, really, behind their voyage. I challenge you to ask yourself, are you curious? Do you allow yourself to pursue the things that make you excited? Do you allow yourself to dream? And I mean really, really dream? Or are you convinced that this is the best it’s going to get? You’re going to stay in a job that you’re unhappy in because it’s too late in your life to make a change, or because you’re afraid of what others might think.

You don’t find yourself dreaming anymore, and you don’t really know what your true passion is, and you don’t care to find it. If you don’t find yourself curious anymore, it’s time to give your inner child a wake-up call. And here’s why: I believe that the more curious you are, the more creative you will be. With greater curiosity come new experiences. Creative people don’t invent something new, they just take what they’ve learned from two unrelated experiences, and they put them together. The more curiosity you have, the greater chance you have at connecting the unusual dots. That means the greater chance you have at creating an idea that could completely change the world.

We were most human when we were kids. We worked on our art for hours without taking breaks because there was nothing getting in the way of our creative spirit. And the fact is, that same spirit is still there, it hasn’t gone anywhere, you just might forget what it feels like. And whether you’re 23 or you’re 83, it’s never, ever, ever, too late to wake it up. I challenge you to stop worrying about the past and the future, the two things that you absolutely can’t change. And just focus on this very moment. Expose yourself to different people, places and things, and the easier it will become. Read more, ask more questions, be open to new experiences. But most importantly, follow your inner child.

It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going. You just have to trust that feeling, because it knows where you’re headed. And you’ll start to see the pieces come together, but for now, you can just trust that there’s always a bigger picture. I can see the pieces clearly for myself. Looking back, I now realize I was destined to own a business, and I can see a piece of each childhood enterprise incorporated into my company today. More importantly, I learned from Project Pink that my true passion is doing something good for other people, which is why we clean free for cancer patients, and why our employees have donated 4,000 hours of community service in the past 2 years. A meaningful life is never about the end result, it’s always about the journey.

If you can honestly surrender yourself to your inner child — and I mean really surrender to it — it will take you places beyond your wildest dreams. And that’s my promise. And then, before you least expect it, you will find your passion, and you will be doing things that you never thought were possible. I want to close with the same list, “How to Retire Before You’re 20,” and I want you to look at number six, “house cleaning.” When I wrote this at 10 years old, I had no idea I would be standing here, on this stage, 13 years later, saying that I own a cleaning service. And it’s pretty incredible, but I think that my inner child has always known what’s in store for me, and I think yours does, too

Iron Chef Flick, Basic Instinct 2 – The Theme Ingredient Is: Feature Film!

We have no idea how the producers plan to pull it off, but according to Coming Attractions, Columbia Pictures is planning to make a big-screen version of the Food Network’s imported cooking contest Iron Chef. The movie will reportedly center on a lowly short-order cook who gets a chance to compete against one of the Japanese culinary masters. In order to make the concept work, we’re assuming all the Kitchen Stadium regulars — Iron Chef’s Masaharu Morimoto, Hiroyuki Sakai, Masahiko Kobe, as well as chairman Takeshi Kaga, will all at least have cameos in the film. (For culinary drama’s sake, we also hope a giant octopus or other slimy key ingredient makes a cameo.)

We don’t know how Columbia kept this a secret for so long. Apparently the studio picked up the rights for the cult show a couple of years ago and hired screenwriter Jeff Eastin (who helped out James Cameron with the script for the upcoming True Lies 2), along with Craig Mazin (who directed the faux superhero flick The Specials) and producer George Doty to come up with a workable concept.

If nearly every wrestler in the WWF can become a big movie star, we have no problem with these guys getting a little screen time. We’re hoping the cheese factor doesn’t stray into the realm of Jerry Springer’s Ring Master — but a little bit of bad lip sync in the mode of Godzilla never hurt anyone.

Instead of journeying to the dark side of cinema with director David Cronenberg, it looks like Basic Instinct 2 is shaping up to be more of a standard action-adventure. According to the New York Daily News, Die Hard’s John McTiernan will be taking over the directing duties on the sequel when shooting gets underway in New York City this March.

As you’ve probably heard, this flick has had its fair share of production problems and delays. MGM finally convinced (read: threw enough dough at) Sharon Stone to reprise her role, but then it seemed the possibility of finding a suitable male co-star was cursed. When original co-star Michael Douglas flat-out refused to even consider coming back for the sequel, a long line of actors reportedly also turned down the role. The producers thought they had it all made when they nabbed the recently sprung Robert Downey Jr. However, since his alleged drug relapse and potential new jail sentence, the studio decided to recast. Word is now Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days, Double Jeopardy) will have the dubious honor of being Stone’s co-star.

Power of Seduction – The Truth about it

I started my talk with a seductive dance because I want you to first feel the seduction, to get you — kind of — to gut level. I’m fascinated with seduction, but not just with the dance and the movements, but also with how you can bring it in a practical way into day-to-day life. Since 2005, I’ve been travelling back and forth to Cuba in order to train with the best professional dancers. This is when I first started seeing seduction as a valuable life skill. I’m so fascinated with seduction, but mostly because it’s such a playful fun thing. I truly believe that everyone has the power to seduce in them, we just need to unleash it. And I also believe that we need to develop this skill from a very young age, so it can help us become a lot more successful in life. So let’s examine seduction for a second, and let’s take a look at our perception of seduction, what it all means.

When we first hear the word “seduction”, we have a lot of misconceptions. The word has been sexualized so many times that we can’t even imagine it as a positive skillset. We typically associate seduction with something negative, because we consider it the less honest or acceptable form of influence. People who are easily seduced to some degree feel manipulated into the situation. When we think of gender roles, it’s not even a question that men are permitted a lot more freedom than women to seduce. And when we think of work and seduction, we merely go to sleeping your way to the top and being unprofessional.

You know how people say, some people say that money’s bad, but the money itself is not bad, right? It comes down to money gives you power, and power can be used for good and for bad; it comes down to who you are inside. Seduction is exactly the same, it comes down to your DNA and what you choose to do with it. I choose to make seduction classy, and to add to it my sense of loyalty and integrity. Seduction is really about your untapped power that you’re not using, that you want to unleash. Would we tell superman not to stop a bullet? Or a doctor not to save a life? But, of course, not. Seduction is about charm, connection, vulnerability, pride, self-confidence and appeal. I’m one of those lucky ones, that gets to go to Cuba all the time. And I’ve been observing this culture for a very long time, seeing how aware they seem to be of their seductive powers.

You can say that in many ways, Cuba has been like a seduction laboratory for me, where I get to study seduction and understand how they use it better. But it’s not like Cubans are the only people in the world that understand how to use seduction, right? You can experience it in other countries in the world: in Israel, in Brazil and the Dominicans and many other countries. And yet in Cuba I found a combination of things, a very unique combination of things, that I haven’t found yet anywhere else in the world, and I’ll speak about some of them today. And you’ll probably agree with me when I say that the chances of finding this kind of seduction out in the open in North America is pretty close to slim, right? I truly believe that we can learn a valuable life lesson from Cubans about life and seduction. And having said that, if we were to try and take seduction and break it into some kind of a formula, what would that look like? One: desire — start taking notes! Desire means knowing what you want and then having the willingness to go after it. In Cuba, rumba is the game of seduction between the man and the woman.

The woman is the flirty hen and the guy is the seductive rooster. The woman uses her body to seduce the men to say, “Want it? Come and get it.” The guy on the other hand will use his body to demonstrate his masculinity. He’ll try to decoy her. Boom! Launching an attack. (Laughter) He’s trying to pecker her and get her pregnant. She’ll notice the attack, she’ll block it, she’ll mock him for not succeeding, and she’ll go, “Didn’t make it. Try again.” Cubans interact on the streets everyday, as if they’re playing the game of rumba. They keep a tension, a sexy tension, always alive. It’s like, you could almost have it, but not. But if you only tried, then maybe. (Laughter) Keeping the “maybe” alive is the skill of presenting potential possibilities and then fuelling them with desire. It’s about learning where the emotional buttons are, and then triggering them. When there is real desire, even if it’s hidden, it’s possible to lure it out. But you really got to get what the other person is missing, and then give it to them.

And when it’s done right, it’s virtually impossible to say “no” to. Number two: confidence. Strong self-confidence is essential for seduction; without it you can’t go after what you want. Our self-image is formed at a very young age and is deeply affected by our environment. Cubans praise their kids from a very young age to feel confident and stunning in their own bodies, because they recognize this is a very valuable life skill. You’ll see them at the pool at the hotel, the music is like blasting, they’re grinding to the music, and the little ones are grinding right beside them, and they’ll turn to them and say, “Que lindo!” or “Que linda eres!” — “You’re so beautiful!” Add to this that in Cuba there is no advertising, because it’s a communist country, so there’s nothing that distorts the body image. Cubans, not like us, are not affected by the media to try and think that they need a perfect body. Instead their self-image is formed out of how stunning the environment makes them feel, and how much love they get at home. As a result of all of this, Cubans grow up feeling intense pride and self-confidence, no matter what body type or shape they might have. And it’s this kind of self-confidence that leads later on to how you present yourself in all areas of your life and how you succeed. Body language.

When you walk on the streets of Havana, guys and girls check each other out, in the open, all the time. They’re not trying to hide it. And guys call after women with “Linda!”, “Preciosa!” And women respond with how they hold their bodies, and how they accentuate their curves when they walk, because they know they’re being noticed and admired, and they like it. It makes it really easy to seduce and be seduced, because you know what the other person is feeling. Seduction also shows up in the tone of your voice, the kind of look you give, what you say and how you say it, and at times, even adding a little touch. Body language is very important for seduction because it communicates to the other person what you want. Number four: arousal.

To effectively seduce someone there has to be an activation of the arousal, waking up in them the desire to give you what you want and luring it out. But first, you have to connect and interact with the other person, if not, then how will you get to their heart? And for seduction to really work, you have to give it your undivided attention, in a moment. One of the most charming things that I’ve noticed about Cuban men, is how they to go after what they want completely fearless of the consequences of getting hurt or getting rejected. They will seduce a woman over and over, making her feel desired and special, even after she said “no” a couple of times, slowly sneaking into her heart and waking up that desire. In a “no” there was a “maybe” turns into a “yes”.

That’s damn sexy. This fearlessness of failure is a profoundly powerful capability that I’ve noticed in some of the most seductive people that I’ve ever met. But they can do this because they’ve developed their intuitions so much, that they can easily distinguish between a “no” that means a “no”, and a “no” that means “maybe”, because the last thing you want to do is not accept a “no” that means a “no”. So what I really want you to get is that everyone has the power to seduce in them. The trick is to learn how to use it and when. Seduction is a skill no matter how you look at it. You can call it: wooing, persuading, winning someone over, charming, it doesn’t really matter. But what it is, is really about using all of the elements that I talked about here in the talk, which is one: desire, two: confidence, three: body language, four: arousal, to build the connection that gets you what you want. It’s also important to remember that seduction is not a science, but an art, and that’s the beauty of it, it comes from the heart.

And like any art, it can definitely be taught. But to fully gain self-expression in it, you have to take the time to master it, and make it your own. My hope is that you will see seduction as a valuable life skill, as I’ve learned to. Because so many people lose that childlike attitude as they grow into adulthood, and something’s missing. And wouldn’t the world be a better place if we didn’t. I really believe that seduction leads to self-confidence, and self-confidence leads to success in all areas of your life. Master seduction and you can have anything that you want in life.

Poy Poy – A Sega Lookback

In the early ’90s, when Sega did what Nintendidn’t and NEC’s quirky Turbografix 16 was quickly becoming the cult console of choice, a little game by the name of Bomberman rose from NES semi-obscurity to become the geek-party game of choice. From the moment you popped that wafer-thin Bomberman hu-card into your humble TG-16, sleep was no longer an option. It wasn’t unusual for hopelessly addicted gamers to collapse from exhaustion after a hard night of explosive multiplayer action, wake up several hours later and pick up exactly where they left off. Forget Samba De Amigo, forget SSX — the original Turbografix version of Bomberman was pure addiction in digital form.

As the years rolled on and Bomberman grew from cult status to assuming the mantle of a full-on gaming culture phenomenon, the design gurus over at Hudson unwisely decided to fix what wasn’t broken. Subsequent updates of the classic title managed to transform the original’s near-perfect gameplay into a shallow, diluted mockery of itself. While a few dedicated gamers hung on out of sheer brand loyalty, most were driven away by Hudson’s meddling, leaving the once proud franchise floundering in a sea of poor sales and lackluster response from the gaming public. While many titles attempted to pick up where Bomberman left off, few have succeeded in coming anywhere near the sheer addictive simplicity of the original.

Few, that is, except for an obscure second-generation PSOne title from Konami, one that went by the rather unusual name of Poy Poy. While this quirky little game was conceptually quite divergent from the Bomberman tradition, its frenzied multiplayer action tapped into the same vein of sheer addiction that made Hudson’s classic so eternally beloved. Once again, socially active console gamers had something to feed their obsession, a game that would keep them awake for nights on end, hands fused to the joypad as they screamed obscenities at their equally obsessed co-conspirators.

At the most basic level, Poy Poy is little more than a gloriously cartoonish re-imagination of that age-old schoolyard tradition — the snowball fight. Up to four bizarrely deformed combatants are thrown into an equally surreal arena, packed with a seemingly endless selection of gigantic objects just ripe for the hurling. The resultant gameplay is frenetic beyond belief; players scramble frantically across the bird’s-eye-view gamescape, barely dodging a seemingly endless stream of lightning-quick projectiles while searching for the one precariously placed powerup that will gain them victory.

This is the sort of gameplay that the multitap was designed for, allowing four eager participants to go at it with a minimum of fuss and an almost nonexistent learning curve. By wrapping a somewhat innovative design in a familiar, almost Robotron-esque package, Konami ensured that Poy Poy was as accessible as it was unusual. Which in turn answers the question I was struggling to answer back in that greasy Los Angeles coffee house: What is different? What is innovation?

Innovation is the different wrapped in the familiar, allowing the user to take baby steps towards a bold new era of game design. Revolution is all well and good, but I’d be more than happy to settle for games like Thrust and Poy Poy until it comes along.

Special Thanks to 989Fanboy, Arch Storm, BigSky, ddaryl, Duplicity, Janus12k, JayTheFF, Kevs, keyth, LaRosa, Lunchlady Doris, Luthien, muntedman, OomPa, Psikoalpha, Morpheus, quarterstaff, $oNega Gaiden, Squiggs, The_Enigma and Zuppy for helping inspire this article.

RIO 600 Review

With so many portable digital music players to choose from these days, it’s comforting to know you can always count on a trusted name, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, while it’s considerably cheaper than its rivals, the latest Rio MP3 pocket player is a major disappointment. The Rio 600 is the third-generation digital music walkman from veterans SONICblue (formerly S3, and before that, Diamond Multimedia). Its sub-$170 price tag is due to the fact the player ships with only 32MB of hardwired memory, yielding roughly thirty minutes of MP3 audio (at a good bit rate of 160 or higher) or close to an hour of music if converted into Microsoft’s proprietary Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. Future codecs — such as AAC and Audible — are allegedly supported, as well.

Call me spoiled, but 30 minutes of MP3 music is pointless for a “portable” player, and to make matters worse, the Rio 600 is difficult to upgrade due to its “revolutionary new memory expansion system,” as its press release so positively boasts. Therefore, for those who have purchased smart discs in the past or the slightly larger SanDisk MultiMediaCards (also used in most digital cameras), you’re S.O.L.; to expand the memory beyond 32MB, buyers must purchase a “Backpack” add-on upgrade, currently only sold online by SONICblue. Currently, a flash-based 32MB Backpack sells for $100 at the company’s website, but future memory support is promised, including a strategic partnership with IBM with its Microdrive Backpack and the promising DataPlay.

The Rio 600 itself is a sleek-looking player, abandoning its former rectangular, boring silver body for a more fashionable look, complete with interchangeable faceplates (to accessorize?). If you’re like me, a guy who uses digital music players to listen to when jogging or roller blading, you’ll have to use the optional carry case for its belt clip. Too bad it’s not on the player itself.

On a positive note, the large buttons are well laid out, the earphones are comfy and all the other features you’d expect from these guys are present: USB connectivity, preset equalizer settings, a crisp LCD display with backlight, Macintosh support and long battery life (on a single AA battery). And this sucker is light — at only 2.4 ounces.

Lastly, while the Rio Audio Manager 3.3 software isn’t horrible, it’s noticeably inferior to other software packages such as Creative Labs’ PlayCenter 2 (in terms of both functionality and navigation). Perhaps that’s subject to opinion, but I’ve reviewed at least 20 portable digital players over the past year alone, so ya gotta trust me on this.

Hey, if you’re really short on cash and are dying to snag a portable MP3 player, I’d recommend the $87 MPTrip, a portable CD player that spins regular CDs as well as burned CD-Rs and CD-RWs. At least you’re getting close to 180 songs per disc instead of only eight songs with the Rio 600 and its 32MB of memory. Alternatively, look for the credit card-sized D’music SM-320V — it also ships with only 32MB of onboard memory, but accepts flash cards and is $20 cheaper than the Rio 600.

Sorry, SONICblue, we love your Nike PSA Play 120 and your Rio 800 looks promising, but we’ll take a pass on the 600 in case this “revolutionary new memory” backpack scheme doesn’t fly. And it’s my bet it won’t…

Gameplay, Joypads – What’s the Difference?

Even in its mid-’80s heyday, Budget software remained an almost exclusively European phenomenon, gaudily packaged titles that sold at newsstands and software stores alike for little more than three bucks apiece, including tax and a candy bar or two. Unfortunately, while these games were considered something of a godsend for the cash-strapped geek-in-training, they were also almost unanimously awful in their content.

As the ’80s drew to a close, with technology and development costs increasing at almost every turn, the cheap and cheerful lures of budget software fell out of favor with the gaming public. Once prosperous labels such as Mastertronic, Codemasters and Budgie disappeared or rethought their focus, leaving behind a legacy of low-impact titles soon forgotten by the ever-hungry gaming masses.

Despite the low-budget, low-class origins of most of these titles, there were one or two games that managed to rise above their bargain-basement origins and become cult classics in their own right. Of all the quality budget titles that have earned a place in the hearts of penniless gamers everywhere, from BMX Simulator to Zybex to Dizzy, no game is more fondly remembered than the vaguely Gravitar-inspired Thrust, one of the most unique and frustratingly addictive games ever to grace a home computer.

As with all classics, Thrust is at heart an a incredibly simple game — players must steer their generic triangular spaceship deep into a series of gun-turret infested enemy caverns, snag a weighty fuel pod with their tractor beam and then lug the damn thing back to the welcoming expanse of the planetary surface. While this may all seem well and good, Thrust’s devilish designers threw a hefty monkey wrench into these otherwise quite simplistic works in the form of a remarkably detailed physics system.

Simply put, players must not only battle the enemy, but also the inexorable forces of gravity. Gamers point their wedge-shaped craft in a chosen direction, take a deep breath, and then gingerly apply just enough of the titular thrust to set the damn thing in motion. Given that much of the level design is both painstakingly intricate and heartlessly unforgiving, gamers are likely to spend about as much time being sent plummeting into cavern walls by the dead hand of Isaac Newton as they are doing battle with the ever-encroaching enemy forces.

Things get even more sadistic, however, when players finally bust their way through the level’s cavernous environs to grab hold of the aforementioned fuel pod. This dastardly device acts like Satan’s own pendulum, swinging in opposition to players’ every movement and slamming their fragile little space-wedge into the jagged walls without a moment’s notice. Needless to say, the return trip to the cavern entrance is by far one of the most harrowing gameplay experiences this side of Super Mario Bros’ ice world.

Despite being more aggravating than a whole basketful of Rubik’s Cubes, Thrust has managed to develop an obsessive cult following that lives on to this day. Its influence can be felt everywhere, from the classic inertia-dependent gameplay of FTL’s equally memorable Oids to the indoor shenanigans of Forsaken and the Descent series. In fact, one enterprisingly fanatical home developer recently produced a version of the game for Atari’s venerable 2600 console, bringing the title full circle and back to its eight-bit gaming roots.

While Thrust is definitely not for everyone, quick-witted gamers with a high tolerance for frustration and a desire to play something different should most definitely track down one of the many versions out there on the ‘net. You may be driven insane, leaving a trail of broken joypads and torn out clumps of hair in your wake, but you certainly won’t be disappointed.