Monday, May 29, 2006

Anza-Borrego Adventure Pt. 1 - Hellhole Canyon

I spent the greater portion of the Memorial Day weekend on a two-day camping and hiking expedition to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a place I'd wanted to check out since 'round February but hadn't made it to, yet. It's about a three hour drive from L.A., which isn't terribly far for a day hike, but seeing as the park was so freakin' huge, I wanted to make sure I could get in as many hikes as possible while I was down there ... and as it would be the first hike for me since before E3, I was hurtin' for a big trip.

Thankfully, I was able to convince my buddy Will from Attack of the Show and his friend Renee to come along with me. Solo hiking is great, don't get me wrong, but when you're wandering the desert for a few days, it's nice to have company. Especially company that's as excited about running around outside as you are.

I'll try to divide this excursion into blog-digestible bits for ya.

I picked up Will and Renee around 6:30AM on Saturday and started the drive down in the pre-vacactioner open freeways. The drive was pretty uneventful, but man - no matter how many times I drive through California, I'm always surprised with just how incredibly rural it gets when you start leaving the cities. Not even 90 minutes outside of Los Angeles, you start hitting towns under 10,000 people. Closer to the park, even less - we passed through a few towns and unincorporated villages with less than 200 people ... one such town's city limit sign read "population: 197 friendly people, 2 or 3 grouches."

We eventually arrived at the park's entrance and descended from the lush coastal ranges down into the desert, taking some time to visit the visitor center to bug some of the rangers with questions ... like what trails are the least crowded, and which of the dirt roads wouldn't destroy my Honda Accord.

We also found out from the rangers that Anza-Borrego has what is probably the most liberal set of park rules anywhere. Hiking off trail is permitted, there are no entrance fees, camping at primitive campgrounds is also free, and if that doesn't work, you're allowed to camp anywhere in the park as long as your car is a full length off the road. All they want you to do is keep your fires in metal containers, and that's pretty much it.

So we got information on the invitingly-named Hellhole Canyon, went outside, and promptly took off in the wrong direction. Hey, the desert is confusing sometimes. We made the best of it and scrambled up a short "warm-up trail" to a low peak before heading back to the car to get to the trailhead.

The first section of the trail wound its way through your standard low desert scrubland. Not necessarily much to look at, although we were treated to a few scattered blooming yucca plants and ocotillo cacti. That's one of the things I really like most about the desert - there is actually a lot of color and diversity going on, you just have to keep your eyes open for it.

As the canyon walls closed in on us from either side, the trail started following a shallow, broad wash imprinted in the sand. The boulders that washed down from previous rainstorms let us break up the monotony with some light scrambling, and we eventually reached the first oasis. Basically a small group of two or three short palm trees and some brush, it merely encouraged us to keep hiking further into the canyon.

We started seeing a small trickle of water in the wash before the second oasis, and the plant and wildlife increased dramatically. Thicker palms, ferns and vines huddled around both sides of the stream, just a few feet away from the crackling desert. I spotted a kingsnake under some rocks we were hiking across, and we let it pass undisturbed.

Further in the second oasis, we found a small trickle of water slipping through a crack in a boulder. The water was cool and the shade was a nice relief, so we took a few minutes to stand beneath the stream. I accidentally stepped in the pool, but my soaked boot dried out in less than a minute. That dry air sucks the moisture out of anything.

As we climbed up onto a larger boulder to continue the trail, we ran into a middle-aged man sitting next to a sizable radio/GPS unit. He asked if we'd seen the bighorn sheep on the ridge but, unfortunately, we did not. He gave us a few tips for the trail, and seemed to know every step by heart. When Will asked how many times he'd done the trail, he casually replied "oh, probably a few hundred times."

Turns out he was a wandering naturalist studying the bighorn sheep in the canyons nearby, but as soon as I heard the phrase "wandering naturalist," I was sold. We sat and talked for a little while, talking about the park's sheep and the hidden waterfall in Hellhole Canyon. As you know, I'm a sucker for history on my hikes, but it turns out a biology/geology combo works just fine, too.

So we got our learn on and continued a short hike up the trail to the waterfall and third oasis. The tree cover here was lush, and provided lots of great cool shade. The water sprinkled in a steady stream into a shallow pool, and the canyon walls were covered with moss and vines.

While we were only a few hundred yards from the desert, this tiny oasis felt like a world away. It definitely reminded me more of hikes in the Oregon forests than any of the other desert trails I've done. We took advantage of the scene, removed off our shoes and relaxed, listening to the gentle sounds of the falling water, gently puncturing the desert silence.

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that one guy you know, 8:34 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 3 comments |

Thursday, May 25, 2006


In regards to the previous post ...

Another way to get lower gas prices is to artificially deflate them. General Motors has announced a plan to cap gas prices at $1.99/gallon for customers who buy or lease one of a selected model of GM car - most of which are low-mileage SUVs. GM would give customers rebates for their first year of ownership, calculating against the average price of gas enough so that your average gas price was $1.99. After the first year, the program ends, and you have to subscribe to OnStar for $17 a month.

So ... make gas cheaper for cars that use more of it. Those drivers no longer feel the economic pressure to reduce driving distances or improve mileage, and once the program is over, they quit cold turkey ... almost definitely with gas prices higher than they are right now. Due in any part to an increased demand? Like, from a certain car manufacturer's rebate program?

Short-term benefits, long-term consequences.
that one guy you know, 2:24 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 2 comments |

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Powerlines and Parks

I read this article on the L.A. Times today (free registration required), which was pretty depressing.

In case you don't feel like registering, the gist of it is this - the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management are getting a hard push from Congress to approve paths for new oil and gas pipelines and high-tension powerlines. Oh, and they want to cut through National Forests, Reserves, and Parks. Oh, and they also don't want to go through that whole "impact study" process. They just want it done ASAP.

Now, I understand the Southwest is a booming population area and all, and new utility infrastructure is inevitable. But to try to rush these developments through without the standard impact study is pretty irresponsible - that's when most local citizens first find out about the projects, and when the builders learn where they can build with the lightest footprint.

Say nothing of the aesthetic impact of such construction. According to a map of potential routes, the Angeles National Forest and Santa Monica Mountains are absolutely scarred with lines. Energy companies are proposing developing swaths of land five miles wide in some places.

Of course, this is a complicated issue in general. Look at the furor over the proposed wind farms on Cape Cod - yes, views will be partially obstructed for local residents, but it will also greatly reduce dependance on fossil fuels, and potentially provide enough electricity to shut down more polluting plants elsewhere.

Thankfully we forward-thinking Californians have other potential options...

Like the green tax shift enough people petitioned to get on the California November ballot, which would basically tax oil and gas companies in order to fund further construction of renewable energy and green research. It's not perfect, but it's a large step in the right direction. Of course, this will probably get sensationalized into "Sacramento Politicians want to raise your gas prices." I look forward to whatever action film analogy Arnold comes up with for this one.

I guess it's the age old problem - how do you sell people on dealing with short-term negatives to reap the benefits of long-term positives?

Damned if I know. I'm no politician. But I'm hoping this is the start of some serious alternative energy planning here in California. Then maybe we won't need all those oil pipelines across my favorite hiking trails.
that one guy you know, 9:43 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 1 comments |

Clive Clemmons' Inappropriate Repsonse Channel

This is, hands-down, one of the funniest things I have ever seen. When it first aired, I remember watching it late at night on the first floor of my family's house. I laughed so hard I woke people up.

This, in the days before TiVo, was lost to the monsters of Time and oddly, I could never find any video of this bit online. Occasionally a still would pop up, or it would be mentioned in some message board ... but that's it.

Today, on a whim, I searched on YouTube. This video was posted only 2 days ago ... meaning for all intents and purposes, this did not exist on the internet until then. And it's freakin' old.

Anyway, enjoy. The sound-sync is off, but you'll get the idea. Or you won't get it at all. Whatevs. Still makes me LOL.


that one guy you know, 8:49 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 0 comments |

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I Have Entered the Modern Age

And purchased a cell phone that can do all the fancy things everyone else's phones could do two years ago.


Who knows where I can get a decent, free MP3-to-ringtone program?

I have waited years to be able to hear "Picture Book" when someone calls me.
that one guy you know, 9:22 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 1 comments |

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mission of San Juan Capistrano

I had stopped in the town of San Juan Capistrano for gas and coffee on the way back from San Diego back in April. I'd read a little bit about the California Mission System, but never seen any actual Mission buildings yet.

The town of San Juan Capistrano is pretty small - the population's only a bit larger than my hometown in Connecticut - and like any good tourist town, everything had to do with the Mission. The Mission grounds were surrounded by walls, but all I had to see was the top of the ruined stone church and the sign saying, "founded November 1st, 1776" to know I wanted to come back.

So after a great weekend celebrating with some of my friends from work and helping out Aimee and Laurel with their MayDay film, I woke up early on my birthday and drove south under a cloudy sky for my first Mission experience, with the plan to hike in the Cleveland National Forest later on in the day.

Unfortunately, the clouds didn't burn off, but the Mission grounds were still beautiful. The entrance was surrounded by flowering native plants of all kinds, most of which were in full bloom. Unfortunately, they weren't running any docent tours that day, but the self-guided tour and plaques were very informative.

As I literally knew almost nothing about the California Missions, I was able to learn a lot on this trip - which is always a plus for me. For instance, the Mission of San Juan Capistrano was the site of the first iron works in California, as well as the first winery. Both the brick foundations of the furnaces and the grape-stomping and fermentation tanks are still visible and very well-preserved ... although it was pretty apparent that other parts of the Mission were falling into disrepair, either from lack of funding or parents not being able to ask their children to kindly NOT scramble over the 18th century adobe.

That said, despite the crowds, the Mission was one of the most peaceful places I've been to out here. The sense of history was phenomenal, especially considering that a large portion of the original archetecture and artifacts have been preserved. It's also a great way to see first-hand some of the interactions between the early Spanish settlers and the Native Americans already there. You know, the less gruesome parts. Like comparing icon designs!

This is an image of an icon carved by a Spanish soldier (on the right), and a native-carved statue of Saint Ann - both some of the oldest religious statues in California. The native icon on the left is a very simple design that's echoed in Native American dolls and clothing pretty much throughout the Americas ... and here it is being used in a religion that's entirely foreign to them. Was it an example of the Natives adopting symbols of the West, or the friars of the Mission using symbols of the New World to introduce Old World ideas?

Interesting, either way.

If that's not enough for ya, they also imported a gorgeous 400 year-old altar from Barcelona for the Serra Church.

And yes, if you don't know me by now, this is indeed what I spend my free time thinking about.

Unfortunately, the clouds got thicker as the day went on, and rain started to fall as I made my way up into the mountains. So I took a literal rain check on the birthday hiking, and instead came back to L.A. for some fancy gourmet cupcakes with the roommates.

In case I didn't mention it to you already, thank you to all my friends who called, emailed, text messaged, MySpaced, or any of the other billions of ways we Modern People keep in touch. It means a lot to me, and I really appreciate it.

As always, more pictures are up at Flickr. Imagine them with a brilliant blue sky, and they'll be a lot nicer.


that one guy you know, 5:44 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 1 comments |

Friday, May 19, 2006

Reason # 72 Why Super Smash Brothers: Brawl Will Kick Ass

I have written previously about the jaw-dropping, arms-flailing, nerdgasm inducing teaser trailer Nintendo released for their Smash Brothers update for the Wii.

So, as I was reading up the actual announcement, I noticed they mentioned they'd be launching a new site devoted to the game, with updates about its development, features, and story from the creator himself.

Well now, Smash Brothers Dojo is up and running. There's not much on it yet, but they will be adding more as they get closer to the launch date.

Right now, there's a nice foreword from Masahiro Sakurai, and a translated story of how he was asked back to direct the new installment by Nintendo. It's in slightly-broken English, but it gives a great insight into how games are designed and produced by the Big N, and how far away it is from the corporate American businessworld that dictcates so many products on this side of the Pacific.

It's also got some great screenshots, a few descriptions of a few of the new characters and - most importantly - the opening music from the game.

It is incredible.

Full orchestra, solo vocalists, giant choir - all at a bombastic two minutes. The web site describes it as a "deluxe chorus complete with lyrics in Latin." You can also download a copy in MP3, and rock out to it on your iPod. You know, as much as you can rock out to a melodramatic orchestral video game theme.

And if that's not enough to get you psyched, take a look at the Nintendog power up, which obscures the action on the screen with heart-melting adorableness.

I heart Nintendo.
that one guy you know, 4:44 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 1 comments |

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Booths Without Borders

Here's another skit I produced for E3 2006 - the concept is it's a nonprofit organization that helps out-of-work booth babes, what with all the new family-friendly restrictions on E3.

This was one of the most fun times I've had on a shoot. Great crew, great coordinator, great editors, and the 'babes' were all having a great time, too.

Hope you dig it.

Also, look how tan I am! Huzzah for hiking!
that one guy you know, 8:11 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 5 comments |

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Texas Ranch House

Why didn't anyone tell me this was on?!?

Now I'm gonna have to buy the DVD set.

I blame you, Internet.
that one guy you know, 10:32 AM | | | | | | | | | | link | 4 comments |

E3 Through History


I found a roundabout way to link to videos via the G4 web site. Is it a pain in the ass? Yes. Does it work? Yes. So whatev.

Anyway, here are three of the five skits I did for E3. Basically a 50-50 mix of video game nerd and history nerd jokes. So, essentially, they were written for my amusement only.

But you might like 'em too.

Check 'em out.
that one guy you know, 7:18 AM | | | | | | | | | | link | 0 comments |

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Birthday Survey

What do do on BD #25?

Mission San Juan Capistrano, for history


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, for nature?
that one guy you know, 8:29 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 5 comments |

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Wii / E3 is Over


But it was a lot of fun this year, and I was able to get a tiny bit more time to run around the Convention and see some choice games.

I met up with some members of Team Cinematech in the early morning on Friday to line up outside the Convention doors, with the idea of bolting to the Nintendo booth to get in to play the Wii. We'd tried earlier in the week to use our magic Press Badges, but they said they weren't letting people in that way this year. Bastards.

So when the doors opened at 9AM, E3 devolved into an honest-to-God mob scene. People rushed the entrances. We were at the front of the line, but were not moving on our own accord. We were being moved by the crowd.

On the Nintendo site, one of the Nintendo of America reps had the foresight to record this stampede. It's a cell phone video, so it's pretty blurry, but I looked and yes - I am in there.

That's me, using my strong hiking legs to blow past my fellow nerds. Jeremy's in there, too. He runs by a few seconds earlier, with his arms raised and cheering wildly.

The best kind of nerd is an unashamed nerd.

Once inside, people scattered in every direction, trying to find the fastest path to the Wii line ... but due to Exhibitors already being in line and confusing directions from the Nintendo staff, we ended up getting screwed. Fortunately for us, our Media Badges (and Jeremy's +10 Charisma bonus) got us into the secretive Wii chamber.

Let me sum it up thusly: it is amazing.

The control schemes and gameplay opportunities this new system open up are nearly limitless. We saw a demo of a drum set simulator and a symphony-conducting game that used drastically different controls, yet were equally simple and intuitive.

I, myself, personally played WarioWare, Red Steel, and the new Zelda with the Wii Controllers. All of the games were very, very easy to pick up, and were accurately controllable with the Wii-mote. Of course, the Wii opens up the WarioWare series to get even weirder than it already is ... and controlling Link in "Twilight Princess" was an incredibly fluid experience. My friends checked out Mario Galaxy, Excite Truck, and some of the Wii sports games like Tennis and Baseball and gave them all great reviews, too.

The controller itself is much lighter than I expected, and the built-in speaker and rumble packs worked flawlessly. The Wii is a win. A giant win. The Nintendo site's got a bunch of gameplay and controller videos, which will help you get a better idea of what this thing is capable of.

Everyone at E3 couldn't stop talking about the new system, and people were willing to wait in four hour lines to get the chance to get in and play with it for themselves. Sony's booth was relatively empty, and you could literally walk right up and into their exclusive PS3 area. Microsoft, I don't know ... 'cause honestly the only thing I want to play on the 360 is Splinter Cell: Double Agent ... and the Ubisoft Booth was nicer. (Did I mention the demo of Splinter Cell had you swimming beneath a glacier, pulling a guard through the ice and into the water, and stabbing him? That's why that game is fucking awesome, BTW.)

Oh, and all I saw of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed was a video, but that was enough to get me excited for that game, too. Stealth gameplay and interactive environments aside, they had me at "historically-accurate Crusdader State cities."

I'll try to get our web team to post videos of my E3 skits soon ... or see if they pop up on YouTube. 'Til then, pre-order your Wii.
that one guy you know, 6:17 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 2 comments |

Thursday, May 11, 2006


So far, I have only been able to make a short 30 minute run through E3. In that 30 minutes, I have decided that I want all three next-gen consoles.

The Wii, I already knew I wanted. Once I got my hands around the new DS Lite, I added that to my list, too.

Walking through the Sony booth, I could see some of the most beautiful video games I've ever seen running on the PS3, and the walk-through demo of the new Splinter Cell on the 360 was a brilliant and exciting departure from the series' standard.

Then, we all saw this:

When that game is released, my life is over.

Hopefully, I'll be able to walk around a bit more tomorrow, and maybe even get some substantial play time with some of the games. 'Til then, back to work!
that one guy you know, 9:33 PM | | | | | | | | | | link | 2 comments |

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

E3: 1695

What happens when they assign the concept of "E3 standups throughout history" to a self-described history nerd from New England to produce?


Notable in that it is probably the very first segment in our neighborhood of digital cable to make an Increase Mather joke. 'Cause that's how I roll.

I gotta bug our web team to find out how to direct link to our videos now, but in the meantime, you can check out this and some of the other videos from E3 here.

And keep watchin. There'll be more E3 history skits throughout the week, as well as a bunch of other stuff. More goodies later on.
that one guy you know, 7:25 AM | | | | | | | | | | link | 3 comments |