About unnecessarytoughness

I'm a partially avid biker, hiker, runner, eater, cooker, gamer, etc.-er. I hope to help inform the partially interested with my partially informed opinions.

Formative Years: Gary Williams

I’m not really what you’d call a “sports guy”. Sure, I like to watch football, college basketball, and the occasional baseball game. When presented with the opportunity, I even like to play a bit of football and basketball; however, it’s not really my main fix. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to go watch a game. When I’m distracted by other goings-on in my life, I probably won’t even keep track of how my favorite teams are doing (although I always have time to be pissed at the Eagles). Yet, it was not always this way. There was once a time when I never wanted to miss a game and I knew every detail about the team I cared about. That time was college.

It’s no secret that when I got to college, I was miserable. The summer prior to starting college was the worst of my life. Being dropped off at the University of Maryland with no acquaintances, friends, or fellow sufferers in sight was hardly a good way to end it. And yet, despite my misery, I ended up living with a group of sophomores who showed me the ropes. As wary as I had been of not rooming with other freshman, I ended up having a large group of friends who already knew what to do at college. Hungry? Go to late night. Athlete’s foot? Where were your flip-flops. Bored? Let’s go to the game.

That's strange...I don't remember looking so stupid.

Sports quickly became the keystone activity of my weekends. Some of my first and finest memories at UMD involved going to football games. I still vividly remember cooking a Thanksgiving meal in a dorm kitchen and huddling in our room to watch us get trounced by Boston College shortly before Thanksgiving. They were simpler times.

Much simpler.

By the end of the fall, I was introduced to Maryland basketball. While football was a fun distraction, I was told that basketball was where UMD went really crazy. Multiples times a week we would head through the cold to the Comcast Center to watch DJ Strawberry, Greivis Vasquez, and the rest of the Terps square off. That year was particularly fantastic, including upsets of UNC and Duke. This was also when I learned of the legend of Gary Williams.

Gary Williams, for those who don’t know, is a fellow New Jersy-ian, Terps alum, and until last season, head coach of UMD Basketball. He is widely credited with single-handedly reviving Maryland basketball, is one of the winningest coaches is NCAA history, brought an NCAA-championship to UMD, and could bring the house down with a single fist pump. Like I said, the man is a legend.

I was taught by my roommates to hold the man in the highest regard. We once listened to the following song on loop for hours.

As college went on, we didn’t always have the best team, but it was hard to not care when Gary walked onto the court. Even in our worst seasons, it was always assumed that we could put up a fight as long as Gary was leading the troops.

My senior year brought some of the best and worst emotions I’ve ever had regarding the Terps. The freshmen who had joined the team when I first got to college were finally reaching the end of their careers. We upset Duke to win the ACC regular season. Things were good.

Finally, in the NCAA tournament, we had our big shot. Some of the highest seeds had been upset and the field was blown wide open. For the first time since I had cared, the Terps had an honest chance to get to the Final Four. A bunch of us gathered at Cornerstone to watch Gary lead the team against Michigan State. With the game winding down, Greivis nailed a last-second shot for what appeared to be a buzzer beater. And then, with seemingly no time left, Michigan State hit their own buzzer beater. Right when it seemed like we had pulled off an amazing upset, we were thrown to the ground and beaten to death. I still haven’t recovered from that moment.

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/7cc6uk

Neither has Greivis, apparently.

At the end of that year, I graduated. The following May, Gary retired. I haven’t thought about it much since, until tonight, when the court is being named after Gary. I seriously wanted to go, but returning to a little alley in Baltimore at 1AM is an immeasurably bad idea. Nonetheless, it’s an incredibly strange, nostalgic feeling. It’s bizarre to think how far all of those folks from freshman year have scattered at this point. While we once lived within 50 feet of each other, many of us couldn’t be further now. While we once watched Gary fist-pumping the crowd to life, we’ll never see him coach another game. Obviously life goes on, but it’s strange when you’re reminded that college is over and it’s never coming back. Oh well…here’s to the Glory Days.

Then again, when I feel this way, I like to remind myself of how awesome I am. Problem solved.

 

 

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Musings: Too much gaming, Harry Potter, and Thanksgiving

Oh blog, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve paid you a visit. I
know that it hasn’t been fair and that we were supposed to spend extra
time together now that I live in Baltimore; however, I’ve been busy.
Really, really busy. You see, Battlefield 3 came out on October 25th.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim came out on November 11th. I JUST CAN’T
JUGGLE ALL OF THESE THINGS AT ONCE.

Neither could Ned.

Without elaborating too much at this time, the Battlefield series is
my favorite set of multiplayer games ever. The Elder Scrolls series is
my favorite set of single-player games ever. By some cruel coincidence
of fate, their newest entries that I have waited 5 years to play
released mere weeks apart and it has ravaged my productivity.

CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT I AM BUSY?!

Each of the games includes a leveling system, which promotes putting
time into them. For Skyrim, more time means more skills, greater
abilities, etc. In BF3, more times means higher ranks and more
unlocks. More than anything, it’s a competition thing, and we all know
how am I about competition. I’m embarrassed to say how many hours I’ve
played of the two games so far, but I honestly think it’s been longer
than I’ve spent sleeping.

My character, on the other hand, looks remarkably well-rested.

Aside from gaming, I’ve just been going to the gym a lot and eating
like a hobo, trying to plug away some extra savings.  This past
weekend, the three best friends got together to have a
mini-Thanksgiving/Harry Potter feast and watch as many HP’s as we
could. Despite getting a late start, we successfully plowed through
about 4 movies and had a nice meal of turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed
potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pasties. It was really quite nice (if
not a reminder that I need to work out a lot over the next week).

Yup.

Even more exciting is the fact that Thanksgiving is this week! I plan
on taking a short day tomorrow, leaving after lunch, and getting a
nice head start on a 5-day weekend. There are lots of meals, bike
rides, runs, and games in my next few days. I CANNOT WAIT. I hope
everyone has an enjoyable holiday! Don’t get trampled at Walmart.

Musings: Calm Mornings

Thank god for calm mornings. The next 48 hours are going to be pretty intense; Jenny and I have to pick up a moving truck after work, load it, drive it to New Jersey, unload it, and return it tonight. Then we have to get up around 5:00 AM tomorrow to take a bus to NYC to apartment hunt all day, before catching a bus back to Baltimore. Exciting for sure, but taxing.

With that said, this morning was beautiful. Crisp, clear, and I was immediately bombarded with the sunrise when I walked into the lab.

A wonderful reminder that life exists outside of the lab, and thus, I shouldn't work too hard in the morning.

Add that to the quiet calm of the empty lab first thing in the morning and you’ve got yourself a nice cup of solace in a storm of exhaustion. Wish us luck this weekend!

Fitness vs. Fatness: Short Ribs and (Watching) the Marathon

Man…life has been hectic lately. Obviously, this has made me increasingly inconsistent with this blog. Actually, to be more accurate, things have been pretty unexciting (so that I have nothing to write about), punctuated by moments of craziness (so that I can’t gather my thoughts to write). This weekend was the pinnacle of the insanity.

Oh, right....

For some reason, long stretches of boredom are always juxtaposed with extremely concentrated mayhem. The past few weeks of relative monotony were suddenly ripped wide open during the latter half of last week and this weekend. Jenny was offered and accepted a job in New York City (congrats!), my dad came to Baltimore for a conference this weekend, Jenny ran the half-marathon in Baltimore on Saturday morning, and Maryland’s homecoming game against No. 8 Clemson was Saturday evening. As someone with a very hard time making decisions, this presented a number of quandaries. As usual, I tried to deal with this by planning to do absolutely everything. It was only as the weekend unraveled that practical sensibilities kicked in and I resolved to get a little taste of everything, if not snag every experience.

I did not.

After work on Friday, I showered up and met my dad in his hotel downtown. Jenny was taking the train into Inner Harbor, so I hung out in the lobby and chatted with him until she was approaching Baltimore, then hustled down to the station to meet her. We picked up her race packet for the marathon down in that area and then grabbed a bus up to my apartment. After a mad dash to get dressed and ready for dinner, we strolled around the corner to meet my dad and his 3 colleagues at the Brewers Art.

Now, the Brewers Art is a very popular little spot, known mainly for its wide selection of beers, including local micro-brews. As with any beer-centric restaurant, this means that businessmen and hipsters alike are drawn there in droves for their shared pretension. Still, I’ve only ever heard good things, its extremely close to my apartment, and the pictures I saw of the interior looked quite nice.

Right?

When Jenny and I first walked in to meet my dad at the bar, I was immediately sure that I had picked the wrong place for this type of dinner. The place was extremely loud and full of youngins, not the middle-aged business demographic that I was hoping for at 7:45 on a Friday.

!@#$

Already in too deep, we greeted everyone and went to the table. I breathed a major sigh of relief when we were escorted to the back of the restaurant, into the nice dining room, and the noise levels dropped precipitously. The sports coat demographic increased exponentially and I was put at ease. Now it was time to get down to business with their small but promising seasonal menu.

After some perusing of the menu, I decided to try a Resurrection Ale (supposedly a local favorite), the Chestnut bisque (not as pretentious as it sounds), and the Korean Short Rib (is anyone really surprised?). For dessert I had the bread pudding. To save you all some time, allow me to summarize my opinions on the meal.

  1. Ale- I’m not really into beer, but it was actually quite good. Had some floral notes or something…not as dark and gross as a lot of that stuff can be.
  2. Bisque- Good god, this stuff was awesome. I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten a chestnut, so I’m not sure if it tasted like them, but it was creamy and great.
  3. Short rib (with Kimchi and Lo Mein)- This was also astoundingly good. The rib was HUGE, marinated very nicely, and tender as hell. The lo mein was good and standard. The Kimchi was stylized but tasty.
  4. Bread Pudding- Like all bread puddings, this was really good; however, I was so unbelievably full at this point, that I couldn’t appreciate it 100%.

On Saturday morning, we woke up early, had some oatmeal, and walked down to the Inner Harbor to the starting line for the race. I watched Jenny start, snapped some pictures, and walked back to my apartment for a bit. I watched the marathon on TV for a few minutes, then walked over to meet her at the 12-mile mark. She arrived much quicker than anticipated (hooray!) and I jogged along next to her for the last mile to take some more pictures. By an act of god, we found each other in the finish line mayhem and strolled back to my place.

Thank god for the silver blanket.

After a quick freshening up, we drove to College Park for the homecoming tailgate. We went with our friends to campus, found a parking spot, ate up a storm, played some tailgate toss, and then moved their car back to the metro garage. Originally, we were going to drive back to Baltimore for a reception at the science center and another dinner. Unfortunately, we also had to contend with the option of going to the game or going back to Rockville. In the end, we settled on going back and relaxing a bit; we had gotten to at least dabble in everything we wanted to do, and it had been a seriously exhausting day. Of course, we also wanted to have one last day to chill in Jenny’s apartment before she moves out this weekend. Missions accomplished.

Fitness vs. Fatness: Stereotyping your way to a good run

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Baltimore is a terrible place to be a runner. At any given location in the city, you’ll probably end up in dangerous territory if you try to run in 3 out of 4 directions. Of the single remaining direction that probably is safe to run, you still cannot go much further than 3 miles. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that in downtown Baltimore, you’re forced to stop running every block to wait for traffic lights to change. As someone who dabbles in distance running, and is also new to the city, these issues present an obvious problem.

Rumor has it that "The Tell Tale Heart" was somehow based on Poe's terrible cardiovascular fitness.

Shortly after moving to Baltimore, I decided to recommit myself to my fitness. With so much extra time on my hands, I would feel guilty if I didn’t. Although I didn’t really know my way around the city too well, I was well aware of how to get to the Inner Harbor. If nothing else, tourist traps are visible.

Historically uninteresting, but nice for a run.

Thankfully, my neighborhood more or less borders the Inner Harbor, aside from a brief section of downtown that is definitely safe until after rush hour. With a little input from coworkers, I was also able to locate Harbor East, a newly developed, upscale neighborhood adjacent to Inner Harbor. With the discovery of these contiguous neighborhoods, I was able to quickly put together a nice little 5.5 mile route to compliment my daily routine of short-and-fast cardio and lifting.

Unfortunately, this route was bound to prove unfulfilling after a prolonged period of time. For one, I’m an adventurer; I thrive on discovering new paths and exploring. This method frequently helps me to run much farther distances with less distress. Furthermore, my strict workout regime has rendered 5.5 miles too short fulfill my distance running needs, even at an increased pace. I know, I live a hard life.

This brings me to today. With today’s absolutely gorgeous weather (who knew that Fall weather still existed? It was looking like it was Winter, Summer, or bust) I was really hankering for a long run. After work I had a quick snack, changed into my cutoff, and headed out the door.

As I was on my way to Inner Harbor, I began to get incredibly frustrated with the constant stop-and-go of the traffic lights. I run outside in large part to feel free, not to sit in bipedal traffic. I was feeling extra good today too, which meant that the breaks were not only unneeded, but were actively ruining my pace.

By the time I reached the end of my little Inner Harbor loop, I knew that I wanted to run farther than usual today. Part of it was weather, part of it was fitness, and part of it was not wanting to get entangled in the downtown traffic scene again just yet. This is where stereotyping comes into the story.

Let me say upfront that stereotyping can be ugly business. Even if a given stereotype is true 99% of the time, it’s really horrible for the 1% for whom it is inaccurate. With that said, it can be very useful in specific situations, especially when you’re new to a city. For example, if you want really good ethnic cuisine, don’t follow rich white people. They’re more likely to land you at P.F. Chang’s than an authentic Chinese restaurant.

By the same logic, if you want to find a good running route, always follow the rich white people. I don’t know what it is, but rich white people absolutely love running. So, as I was saying, I decided somewhere in Inner Harbor that I wanted to run a bit farther today. I suddenly noticed a bunch of people running around a corner, like ants to an old piece of sweet and sour chicken that’s rolled under a desk. It was right at the point where I normally turn around and head to Harbor East, so I decided to follow them.

Suddenly, I was in an entirely new neighborhood. It was pretty uninteresting, in the way that newly developed rich neighborhoods in the city usually are, but it had the smell of fresh water that reminds me of growing up and was nicely paved. By following this little path, and my bit of stereotyping, I was able to expand my current route by another mile and a half and see yet another side of the city. All in all, not a bad way to get a workout. In the coming weeks, especially if the weather stays like this, I plan on using this methodology to find even more interesting places to run. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Musings: The Loss of Features (IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT)

As of this past Tuesday, the open beta for Battlefield 3 has been available to the masses for some hands-on time with the first major Battlefield release since 2005. The game itself doesn’t come out until October 25th, but the beta has the dual purpose of letting the developer sort out remaining issues with the game, while allowing diehard fans an early look at what they can expect. As I have frequently alluded to in the past, Battlefield 1942 is my favorite multiplayer game of all time and has only ever been rivaled by its sequel, Battlefield 2. Needless to say, I have been very pumped for everything concerning Battlefield 3.

Now that I have had some time to play the map that is available in beta many times, I can happily say that there are a lot of amazing things about the new game. For instance, it looks amazing, the gameplay has a much heavier, visceral feel than it’s elder cousin, Bad Company 2, and DICE has thankfully returned some game-changing features, such as jets and the ability to go prone.

With all of that said, some choices they’ve made just don’t make sense, like forcing players to load games through a web-browser, instead of in-game like every other game ever made. More importantly, and what I would like to discuss today, is the ways in which it has taken some steps back from previous games, and on a larger scale, how some of my other favorite series have similarly left features behind for no apparent reason.

First on my list for the Battlefield series is the downscaling of interactive vehicles. In Battlefield 1942, for example, you could essentially control everything. Landing craft? Sure thing, but you’ll have to manually lower it from the ship first. Aircraft carrier? Take it around the island to make it less susceptible to attack. Submarines? Of course, how the hell else will you take out that newly hidden aircraft carrier.

LET'S ROLL BABY.

In the more recent Battlefield titles, this type of total immersion has been stripped away. Although the battles are still large scale, the available vehicles consist mainly of some sort of jeep, two types of helicopter, a small boat, and a tank. If there is an aircraft carrier, you sure as hell won’t be driving it. As I will repeat many times, if it was possible to do in 2002, why would you suddenly stop doing it in 2005 or 2011? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Next on my list is the map situation. Although this may change from beta to full release, it looks like in BF3, there is no option to view a full game map while playing. By contrast, BF1942 not only had a nice full map, but also had a scalable mini-map that made planning your next move on the fly a cinch.

'Can you see everything? Yeah, me too. WE MUST DESTROY IT.'

Furthermore, BF2 had a really nice, semi-3D map that you could zoom in on during the game. Again, if you’ve done it all those times before, it’s not like it’s technically impossible. So why screw us all? WHY? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Speaking of BF2, the last full Battlefield installment implemented squads, squad leaders, and a team commander. In that game, squad members could spawn on a squad leader and the leader could also give commands to his squad. This has partially been implemented in BF3, with leaders still issuing commands, but squad members being able to spawn on any squad member, not just the leader. This much makes sense to me from a gameplay perspective, even if I sort of liked the old way better.

What I don’t understand is why DICE has gone with the Bad Company 2 way of things and capped squads at 4 members, whereas BF2 allowed 8 person squads. For those of us in clans, it is a sincere pain in the ass to join a server with 5 people and have to either leave one man alone or have two squads not at full strength. It never created any huge balance issues in BF2, so I don’t see what the big difference is here. Why would they do it? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Moving along in their quest to irritate me for no reason, BF3 also decided to leave out the team commander role that they had added into BF2. In that game, the commander was in charge of dropping supplies, calling artillery strikes, and directing the overarching movements of their team. I understand that the first two of those features are now covered by assault and recon players respectively. Still, for organized team play, it was an invaluable help to have a single person watching and orchestrating the greater strategy of their entire team. I know why they left it out of the console-friendly BC2, but why leave it out of the next real Battlefield game? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Lest you start to believe that I’m just easily irritated by changes to the Battlefield series, I’ve stocked some other examples of this phenomenon in other series that I enjoy. In Mass Effect for example, Bioware took a reasonably deep RPG mechanic that involved customizing armor and weapons, and replaced it with an incredibly dumbed down system with preset options. I’m pretty sure it was done to make the game more approachable to casual audiences or to remove clutter, but I honestly could not care less.

Thank god for these presets options. I HATE picking what I actually want.

Go ahead and make a “simple” option for the casual, but why screw over existing fans who enjoy the wonderful system you’ve already made? Why just throw that away? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Finally, the Elder Scrolls series really dropped the ball in this regard in the transition from Morrowind to Oblivion. Morrowind, another contender for my favorite game ever, was a huge, quarky, intimidating game. If you wondered into the wrong place, you’d get your ass clobbered instantly. There was no fast traveling, so you’d often stumble upon wonderful things while getting lost in your attempts to follow crappy street signs (hey, like Baltimore!). There were so many individual pieces of armor, classes of armor, and weapon types that you could deck out your character in a million different ways. You could go Moonwalker if you wanted and wear a single glove. You could mismatch your pauldrons. YOU HAD THE OPTION OF MEDIUM ARMOR, NOT JUST LIGHT AND HEAVY. YOU COULD USE SPEARS. AHHHHHHH. IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Just think, an entire class of armor wiped off the face of the Earth forever. Sounds like genocide to me.

It actually sort of makes sense for all of these games, but it drives me freaking crazy. As far as I can tell, once a studio has a big hit, they’re determined to make it bigger and better. Except “bigger” doesn’t mean keeping all the awesome features from before and adding to them. It means thinking up new mechanics and throwing out what they don’t see as absolutely necessary. Squad commander? Meh, not too many people will get pissed. Medium armor? Eh, split the difference, not too many people used it. In their determination to make a masterpiece that appeals to the masses, they try to streamline the experience, cutting many of the little things that diehard fans loved. The worst part is that I don’t see it changing anytime soon. As annoyed as I am about these lost features, I will still buy Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, and Skyrim. Why? Because I love the overall experience enough to justify a purchase, even if I am far from 100% satisfied. For the studios, the sales numbers speak loudest, so if they added a ton of casual fans and the diehards still buy (which we always do), they’ll keep doing it. Unfortunately, with every unnecessary downgrade, I become more annoyed and less accepting. It’s an awful feeling too, somewhere between being ecstatic about a new release and the bitter disappointment of a million little losses. And you know what? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.