Sunday, April 30, 2006

Iced Tea

When it's cold outside I usually drink quite a bit more than my fair share of coffee, but after spring gets here my coffee consumption falls off a bit. I used to be a Coke-aholic, but over the years I've become more of a tea drinker. Tea is supposed to be good for you, full of anti-oxidents that slow the aging process. Any health benefits derived from tea though are offset by the large amounts of sugar and tap water I consume with it.

Here, in the south, we understand the way tea is meant to be consumed - iced and sweetened. There's nothing worse than trying to dissolve sugar in cold tea. You've got to add it while you're making it. Here's a basic recipe for making a gallon of sweet tea:

Ingredients: 8-12 tea bags, 1 1/2 cups sugar, water. Amounts of tea and sugar can be adjusted according to taste.

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. While it is still heating up, add sugar and tea. As soon as it all comes to a good rolling boil, turn off the heat and let it set for about 30 minutes. Pour the mixture (minus the tea bags) into a gallon pitcher and finish filling with water. Refridgerate and/or serve over ice.

If you leave the tea on the stove to cool too long, you might find that it is too bitter. Add a tiny pinch of baking soda to your pitcher of tea and shake well.

For a new taste sensation, add one tea bag of flavored tea to your stovetop mixture. Cinnamon and mint are the best.

I'm not too particular about brands of tea, but I try to avoid Luzianne. I don't know what it is about their brand, but it makes great tea if you drink it right away. If you leave it in the refridgerator for any length of time, it gets kind of funky-tasting. Or it may just be me. I don't know.

Sun tea is the best. Put all your ingredients, the tea, sugar and water, in a gallon-sized CLEAR GLASS jar. Set it outside in a sunny spot for about two hours. Go out and give it a good shaking from time to time to help dissolve the sugar. Fish the tea bags out and refridgerate and/or serve over ice.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Going Racing

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't been online much lately. Hopefully, I'll be back with you on a more regular basis soon. One thing I've noticed is that when I'm not online I have much more free time that I have to find ways to kill. During my latest hiatus I've wasted a lot of this free time playing video games, specifically one game - Need for Speed: Most Wanted.

I'm not much of a gamer, but I do get the bug from time to time. I don't care for many kinds of games. I'm not into shooter games, fighting games or sports games -- too many gamepad combinations to keep track of and I don't have the hand-eye coordination or the reflexes to pull them off. But I do enjoy a good racing game. And sometimes a good flying game -- which are usually just 3D versions of driving games.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a pretty cool little game. It's probably the most fun I've ever had with a video game. Most Wanted is the third NFS game I've had the pleasure to play. I've also played Hot Pursuit 2 and Underground 2. They're all pretty different. Hot Pursuit 2 has two race trees - one with cops, one without. When you win a race, you unlock the races below it on the tree. After you win the thirty races on both trees, you unlock bonus races. The cops are mostly just obstacles to get around in your quest to win races. Underground 2 has a little bit of a story. You arrive at the fictional city of Bayside, get a car and compete in street races. As the game progresses you pull into shops and fix up your car(s) to make it (them) more powerful and flashier. Finally, toward the end of the game, you start running into the top Bayside street racer. He's trying to get his gang to take you out in races because you're threatening his position. The final race is between you and him. All of the races take place at night. Most take place on city streets with varying levels of traffic. Only a few races are on closed tracks. There are also just random racers running around the city that you can challenge to a race. You come up behind one of these guys, challenge them, and you're off - dashing and darting through the city trying to lose them. There's not a cop to be found anywhere in Bayside.

Most Wanted has a real storyline. Really. At the beginning of the game, you pull into the fictional city of Rockport in your BMW M3. You win a few races, then challenge a punk called Razor. His gang sabotages your car, you get busted and go away for a little while. Razor then takes your car and uses it to move to the top of the Blacklist, a ranking of the baddest of the street racers. When you come back, you have to buy a new car and work your way through the Blacklist. Your ultimate goal is to dethrone Razor and become the most wanted street racer. You start with a stock Chevy Cobalt, Volkswagen Golf, Lexus IS 300, or Fiat Punto, then fix it up and win more cars to help you in your quest. It all takes place in the light of day on city streets with traffic and cops.

In Most Wanted, the cops are an integral part of the game. Not only do you have to win races, you also have to beat Pursuit Milestones to advance in the game. Basically, you have to get the cops to chase you, hit your milestones, then evade the pursuit. Pursuit Milestones might include a certain number of police cars you tag or trade paint with, a time limit (evading a pursuit before or after a certain amount of time has passed), or a certain number of roadblocks you have to go through. There are also cost of state and bounty levels to reach in a single pursuit. Cost of state is a dollar total of the amount of property damage you've caused. You collect bounty only through the amount of time spent in a pursuit or by disabling police cars. In the beginning, you have to have a pursuit in which you tag two police cars. You also have to have a pursuit that lasts at least two minutes and one that lasts less than four minutes. It's easy to get all of these milestones in a single pursuit. Before you can challenge Razor at the end of the game, you have to tag 35 cops and have a pursuit last more than thirteen minutes.

It's all pretty realistic. It looks like a real city. You start the game in the borough of Rosewood, which has a college, a hospital, a baseball field and a bus station to race and be pursued around and through. There's a freeway that encircles the entire borough. Later in the game you unlock the Ocean Hills borough. Here there's a touristy-looking beach town to race through. This section also has a tiny fishing village, a trailer park, a cannery, a prison, and a drive-in movie theater. Finally you open up the downtown Rockport section. It has it's own encirling freeway, a football stadium, an area that sort of looks like Times Square and a little park. Scattered throughout this fictional world are pursuit breakers that you can drive through. They blow up or drop on pursuing cops, allowing you to escape.The pursuits are fairly realistic too. You start out with one or two city cops on your tail. They're easy to lose and easy to disable. As the pursuit progresses, they call for backup. Then they begin blocking off the roads to try to contain you. At later stages, the state cops take over. Their cars are a little tougher to lose and knock out. Finally, the Federal Street Racing Task Force takes over. These are some pretty bad-ass dudes with fast Corvettes and helicopters. They'll pin you in in a heartbeat if you're not careful. There are just a couple or three things that are not very realistic. First, most racing games put you in a car that's basically a souped-up, ultra-fast tank. You can run over just about anything. You might flip the car but you're not going to do any serious damage to it. Racing games wouldn't be much fun if you totalled your car everytime you brushed a wall or ran into something. In Most Wanted, the cars are pretty indestructible. You can crash through a roadblock or some other obstacle with only scratches or broken windows as a result. Second, when you're busted in the game, you have to pay the fines on the violations you've incurred. These are pretty miniscule in comparison to the massive amounts of property damage. In real life, if you do hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage, you're going to have to make a lot more financial restitution than just a couple of thousand dollars in fines. The game is not anywhere near as violent as you might think from my description. It's a cartoon-type violence. No pedestrians out and about to run over, no blood, no serious injuries. If you drive through a gas station and blow up the pumps and drop the roof on top of the cops behind you there's an accounting of how much cost of state and bounty you've amassed for the manuever, but there's no body count. Run head-on into another car at 150 miles per hour and walk away. There's the old problem of video games glorifying this sort of thing without showing the consequences. Somewhere out there in America, there's probably a stupid kid who's pretty good at the game and might decide to try it in real life without thinking through the consequences. Lawsuits and other negative outcomes to follow.

But it IS a lot of fun. Where else are you going to get the opportunity to drive a Lamborghini through city streets at 150 miles per hour or drop a giant doughnut on cops that are chasing you. Soon I'll post a list of tips and tricks to help you win the game and maybe even a few ideas to make Most Wanted 2 even more fun.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Weekend Assignment - Your New Music

I've been incommunicado for a while now. My goal of getting back online hit a few snags. Hopefully, I'll be back at it on a regular basis again soon. I'm away from home for a couple of days where I have access to the Internet and Scalzi's latest writing assignment at By the Way struck my fancy. So here goes:

What are some of the most recent music albums you have bought? Name up to three.
Extra Credit: Did you buy these albums on CD, or did you get them online through iTunes or another music service?

Hmmm. It's going back a ways since I've actually bought a record album. I hate to sound like an old fogey, but new music really sucks. It all sounds formulaic. It's all hip hop and rap and pop that passes for country and rock bands that all sound the same. You finally hear a good song and buy the CD and the other 13 songs suck. And my musical tastes probably quit evolving back in my college days or shortly thereafter. Anyway, here are three of my more recent purchases:

Jars of Clay - Who We Are Instead - I'm not very religious, but I love this Contemporary Christian band. I've got almost all of their albums, even paid to join their fan club to get an special live album. They've got a clean, crisp sound and their songs are actually about something.

Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - I bought this to replace the album that I used to have. It's a classic from the Seventies, when most of the original band was still around.

Depeche Mode - The Singles - I bought both Singles albums. There is a single album and a double album that together cover their entire career. I've always been a Depeche Mode fan and have had the random album here and there, but these albums have got everything on them - all their biggest hits and a bunch more that should have been.

Extra Credit - I bought all these albums at the same time many months ago at a used CD store. I reached a point a few years back where I just finally stopped buying new CDs. The prices are just too damned high for not much entertainment. I may buy or borrow the occasional song online, but it just doesn't seem very cost effective to buy albums. If the record companies lowered the price a little and actually put out some goodstuff from time to time, I might reconsider.