Review: The Making of Prince of Persia

The Making of Prince of PersiaThe Making of Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this as part of a bundle – probably Storybundle as I’ve bought nearly all their video game bundles – and I had put it off in favor of other books because I don’t have a strong connection to Prince of Persia (POP henceforth). My family was working poor until I was getting into later elementary school, by which time a lot of computer game industry had lost its first “death” to the consoles. By the time I was playing computer games, it was mostly just RTSes hanging on and we weren’t anywhere near the Steam Renaissance that would make the PC the best place to play games again (except for bad ports).

But a couple months ago, I sat at my computer and took at look at my To Read list on Goodreads and the 400-odd unread ebooks in my Calibre database I’d bought because, “how could you not buy 15 books when they’re about $1 each?” So I made a plan to try and satisfy my need to read newer books with my need to read the books I’d purchased (or face my wife’s wrath at wasting money on books). So I basically sorted the books by date added to Calibre and selected (approximately) one book per bundle (or free release from Tor.com’s ebook club) and when I got to this bundle, I decided to take a look at these journals.

While I was never an Amiga gamer (see above), I’ve read plenty of how it was the superior machine in terms of what it could do at the time compared with Macs or IBM-Clones (what we now call PCs) and yet management ran it into the ground and we were left making up for progress all these decades. Likewise, BeOS was superior to Windows and Mac when it came out, but MS used their anti-trust strong-arming to keep it from taking off. So I’m already used to the idea that the best don’t always rise to the top. Nevertheless, it was frustrating to see how Mechner was thwarted and we almost lost this amazing contribution to video gaming.

Mechner had Broderbund as his publisher – one of the giants of computer gaming at the time. I remember everyone having Print Shop Pro. I remember playing Carmen Sandiego at school and eventually owning it when my family got a computer around the time I was 11. They merged with Sierra, maker of my favorite adventure games as a kid. But they didn’t know what to do with this action game. And they refused to give Mechner a promotional budget. I’m sitting here in 2017, knowing how great this series becomes – I played a bit of the Xbox version when my brothers had it one time when I came home from college. It is the spiritual ancestor of the Assassin’s Creed series. It ends up becoming a movie. Just goes to show it doesn’t matter if what you’re doing is brilliant if you don’t have the right support. (Spoiler: Eventually he gets the right support)

Who should read this book? Anyone who’s interested in the game development scene of the late 80s and early 90s. It was a time when one person could put together a great game and by allying himself with just a few others, produce an incredible game. Since these are his journals they’re very personal, not technical so I think you can enjoy it even if you’re not a technical person.

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Review: Big Pulp Fall 2011: On The Road From Galilee

Big Pulp Fall 2011: On The Road From GalileeBig Pulp Fall 2011: On The Road From Galilee by Michael D. Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun anthology that had more stories I liked than didn’t. As usual for an anthology, a collection of my status updates as the review:

“On the road from Gallilee” – time travel and it tackles the age-old question. But they deal with it in a very creative way.

“Built for the Kill” – a future Chicago in which the mob genetically alters their muscle to make them better at their jobs. The story’s about a job – told in a reminisce. Very fun.

“Nether-Air Ambush” – a poem about a steampunk air battle

“Luna Springs” – A reminder that sometimes we do not treat the elderly with the respect they deserve.

“My Dumb Summer Job” – last story for the SF section. A valley girl works at a refugee camp for aliens. Pretty funny and a nice little twist on the ending.

“Sensitive Ice” – a mix of romance and urban fantasy. It’s pretty neat and didn’t quite go where I thought it might.

“A Kiss and Makeup” – Very short story and very interesting ending.

“Struck by Lightning” – some urban fantasy, magical realism story. Not quite the ending I was expecting based on the setup.

“Misunderstood Identity” – Someone is stealing a mystery writer’s identity. I really enjoyed the ending on this one.

“Blood Tells” – Some Americans go to Ireland and encounter some spooky times.

“One Night in Manhattan” – A crazy stream of consciousness story about a writer experiencing an ever changing universe. I grew more confused with every sentence.

“What Happened while Don was watching the Game” – very fun and witty portrayal of what happens to things we lose and can’t find. And the ending was GREAT.

“Flight Risk” – I think this story would work better as a novella. I think it was just getting started when it was finishing. There are a few places I think it could have expanded and really freaked me out. That said, good story and nice mini-twists and plot fakeouts.

“Virus” – Great look at surburbia and dealing with your ideals clashing with reality. I thought it was great up until the last sentence. I think it should have ended about a paragraph earlier.

“Promises” – Maybe I’m just too biased due to my history with super hero stories and comics, but this was my favorite story. We always get the POV of the super hero because that’s exciting and fun to read. But what’s it like for the people who grew up with X-men to see their best friend suddenly constantly saving the world?

“Aboard the Lady Maria” – a ghost ship terrorizes a rich couple on a Yaht. Interesting narrative style – I enjoyed it.

“Virgin Sacrifice” – Some fun pokes at Buffy. What if there was another group fighting monsters – the kids in shop class? What if they kept doing it even after they graduated? Story isn’t a parody or satire, just another look at the same tropes. Wouldn’t mind more stories in this universe.

“Parker/Jesse” – That was …. disturbing.

“Paying for it” – 2nd best story in the volume. It’s only a page so I can’t say anything without ruining it.

“By Association” – the desperate lengths an artist will go to in order to become famous

“The Annual Scarecrow Festival” – strange little horror poem

“Lodger in the Ripper’s Room” – Another weird poem.

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Review: The Machine God

The Machine God (The Drifting Isle Chronicles #3)The Machine God by MeiLin Miranda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this story functions quite well to continue the story from Black Mercury. We see the fates of many of the characters from the previous novel, but this really is quite a different story with a different focus. The series is going from mostly Steampunk to Steampunk Fantasy in this book while also exploring ideas of colonialism, fallen empires, and racism. (Also university and identity politics)

The characters were quite relatable and I actually found Adewalle to be some I liked a lot more than Cas in the previous book.

If you found the previous entry fun, I’d definitely continue on to this book. I actually stands alone very well. Like many Discworld books you’ll be poorer for not understanding more subtleties of the world, but it’s not required to know who Hildy or Cas are to enjoy the story here.

It’s a nice, measured pace and a good read. Check it out!

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Sam and Stella’s first visit to Coney Island

Earlier this year we took the twins to Coney Island for the first time. They were not amused.

Scarlett’s First Dance Recital

This year Scarlett concluded a season of ballet and tap with a recital. It was pretty neat to see it all come together after having seen it in bits throughout the season. Here are some of the photos I took. I think next year I’ll do the same thing the guy behind me did and rent some f2.8 glass so I can freeze the action a bit more and get less motion blur.

My First Brisket!

I had been wanting to do brisket for a very long time, but I couldn’t find anywhere convenient to buy a whole packer brisket. But right before I was convinced I was going to have to go to a butcher, Costco decided to carry them.

Brisket at Costco!

Yeah, it was 20 lbs, which is ridiculous for what was essentially going to be just 3 adults, but it was USDA Prime for only $3/lb! I had no choice. I put it in my shopping cart and resolved to deal with the consequences later.

After I got home I realized I had a problem, it was too long to fit in my 18″ Weber Smokey Mountain. So I had to cut off some of the flat. (I ended up using that to make some beef phở).

cutting off some of the flat

Then I had to trim the fat. There was a pretty good amount to take off.

trimming the fat off the brisket
trimming the fat off the brisket

I put on a Dalmatian rub and put it into the fridge to dry brine.

brisket dalmation rub

The next day I fired up the smoker and got to work on the Texas mop sauce.

ingredients for the Texas mop sauce
ingredients for the Texas mop sauce

Instead of vegetable oil, I rendered some of the brisket fat:

rendering brisket fat
rendering brisket fat

I should have cut it into smaller pieces to increase the rendered fat to fried fat ratio, but there’s a first time for everything. And here’s my completed mop sauce:

Texas mop sauce
Texas mop sauce

The taste reminded me a lot of my mom’s carne con papa sauce or a ragu. I think a bit over 20 hours later, the brisket was finally done smoking:

Smoked brisket
Smoked brisket

I used Kingsford coals with the minion method and some hickory as the wood. I always think it’s so funny the smoked food looks burnt until you cut into it and get that delicious food. But first I had to put it in the cooler for four hours.

waiting for the brisket to cool
waiting for the brisket to cool

and then finally was able to bring it inside:

ALMOST TIME!
ALMOST TIME!

then FIRST CUT!

Even the lean part was ridiculously moist. The whole thing was practically falling apart.

more brisket cutting shots!
more brisket cutting shots!

Here’s a look at the point where you can see muscle grains going in two different directions:

a cut from the point
a cut from the point

And here was my dinner that day:

Brisket dinner
Brisket dinner

A week later this is all that was left:

And after searching fo what else I could do with my brisket, I made brisket tacos!

Brisket tacos!
Brisket tacos!

So, what were my lessons learned from my first brisket? Basically, I was a little too focued on getting to 203 when I should have checked for probe tender at 195 and every few degrees after that. I ended up with an overcooked (although moist, not dry) brisket that just fell apart a little too much. Overall, it was good, but I also realized I’m just not that into brisket compared to other BBQ foods. I prefer ribs or chicken. I’ll make brisket again, but only if I’m cooking for a group so I don’t need to eat 10ish lbs of brisket over the course of a couple weeks.

Mother’s Day Prime Rib Roast

For the first time in a few years, my mom was going to be in town for Mother’s Day. We didn’t have a ton of events to attend or anything, so I asked her what she would like for dinner if she could have anything. She said she wanted prime rib, so I figured it was the perfect time for me to try out a prime rib roast on one of my BBQs. Meathead has lots of tips for eliminating most of the hassle of making a prime rib roast. First of all, remove the ribs – they only serve to block heat and keep the roast from cooking evenly. Second, use twine to make it into a cylinder so it cooks evenly from the outside to the inside.

Prime Rib deboned and tied up to be made cylindrical

I also decided to make some gravy to drizzle over it. Here’s what the stock looked like:

Gravy Stock
Gravy Stock

So I fired up the Weber Kettle to 225 F and threw on the meat.

Waiting for the BBQ to come up to temp

Meathead said it would take about a half an hour per inch and this 4 inch diameter roast took about 2 hours to get to the right temperature on the inside. Now it was time to sear the outside.

Searing the outside

And there she is, all cooked up:

Prime Rib roast done!!

and another shot with the gravy:

Prime Rib and the Gravy

Here’s the first piece cut off (money shot):

First Slice!

And this was dinner:

DINNER!

One more shot of the inside a few slices in:

Another money shot!

So, in the end, the flavor was great. The crust had a nice kick to it as did the gravy. Will I make it again? Probably not unless my mom’s back in town. My wife is all about the steak. This is too much meat without a sear for her. I thought it was better than I’d had at The Prime Rib in Baltimore, but I’m not going to make a whole roast just for myself. Still, it was a fun experience and something I was able to cross off my list.