Great Balls of Fire

Over the weekend, I went with my friend Joe down to San Mateo to check out some potential new digs for him. Afterwards, we went to a local Japanese restaurant for dinner.

Another friend had told us about this place because of a special item on the menu – takoyaki roulette! You get an order of six takoyaki (fried dough balls with octopus filling), except one of them is filled with hot sauce instead. I am a bit of a masochist so I was down for the challenge, and because of my usually terrible luck, Joe was also down. While we were there, I think about four orders were served, but we were the only group of two to play.

Our waitress set the plate down in between us, and it was arranged in a ring of five balls and one at the center. I resigned myself to my fiery fate and just took the one closest to me. I tried sniffing it a bit to see if there was anything that would give away the hot sauce, but I only smelled the sweet takoyaki sauce, and felt pretty safe.

Takoyaki Joe Takoyaki Dinh

The takoyaki was pretty good. The chef did not go crazy with the sauce(s)/mayo/bonito like some other places do. The dough was nicely fried – crispy on the outside, still soft on the inside. The tako (octopus) was a bit spare, but had a nice fresh snap. Round 1 was a success! Joe also passed, so we moved on to Round 2. This time, i picked the center ball. And passed again. Joe also got a normal ball, and we moved on to Round 3. At this point, Joe and I were both pretty surprised that I had not gotten the hot one yet. I think he actually was getting nervous.

Round 3 – Sudden Death. With 50/50 odds of losing, I just picked the ball closer to myself. Joe asked anxiously if I had won, to which I exuberantly replied, “No, you won!” You should see the emotions run through him… shock, depression, then confusion… “Wait, does that mean… ?” No, he got the lava ball on the very last pick. I could smell the hot sauce off his breath as soon as he bit into it. And then he promptly downed his beer, a new beer, and a couple of glasses of ice water.

Hot Sauce Dinh

Feeling a bit bad for Joe, as well as curious about the hotness of the takoyaki, I asked our waitress if I could get a single hot takoyaki, but she told me they could not do that. She did offer a small plate of just the hot sauce, though, so I took that and tried it. I would say it was comparable to the ghost pepper sauce from the wing challenge I did with my family in Minnesota a couple of years ago – it was a slow build to a tear-jerking top note which lasted about 10 minutes. I would like to think that I handled myself better than at the wing challenge. No milk was ordered, and there was less tearing.

We were able to have normal food after, and we discovered a fantastic new beer.

Ozeno

All in all, a good time was had by all. After we got ice cream to settle our stomachs, anyway. If I make this a regular thing, I should become immune to pepper spray. That’s how things work, right?

Bat-Pepper-Spray

Subversive Movement

Last night I went to another Nerd Nite event with my friend Chester.

Nerd Nite Feb 2014

This time, the topics were esports, staphylococcus aureus, and culture-jamming.

The first topic was pretty entertaining. It was about the rise of esports (professional video gaming) and the comparison to traditional (physical) sports. The speaker made the point that esports professionals want the same thing as traditional sports professionals, and work just as hard to “make it.” He started with this video clip:

Most people in the audience did not realize how impressive this was, so he broke it down for us. Because Daigo (Ken) starts the clip with such low health against Justin Wong (Chun Li), he plays somewhat cautiously and hits her just enough to fill up her Special bar. Then he baits her into using her special, which is a 17-move combo. The only way to take no damage from the attack is to perfect parry each hit of the combo, including that mid-air parry which leads into his combo that defeats her. Perfect parries require exact timing (only a few milliseconds of leeway). Much more impressive now, right?

The second topic was a bit scary. The speaker attempted to use a “warning bunny” to warn of upcoming graphic slides, but the system did not work very well, because more than half her slides were fairly gruesome. Luckily, the visual aids did not bother me. Rather, the information did. I had no idea that staph was so prevalent in our everyday lives. 20-30% of the US population are persistent (asymptomatic) carriers of staph, and another 30-50% are intermittent carriers. Staph is very commonly found on our skin, and only gets truly scary when it gets inside. But that could happen with any minor cut or abrasion!

The final speaker was very intriguing. He defined culture-jamming as “being cool” or “sticking it to the man” and could be anything, even something as simple as drawing a moustache on a poster. The thing was, back in the 1950s, the consequences for these “subversive” actions could be much more serious. This was the height of McCarthyism, and the “cool” folks could lose their jobs, property, or freedom for these little acts of rebellion. Keeping those risks in mind, the speaker focus on Jean Shepherd (of A Christmas Story fame) and his old radio show. One of the cooler projects he did was getting listeners to go into bookstores and request a fake book, I, Libertine. Back in those days, best-seller lists were ranked by demand as well as sales, so this non-book actually made it onto the New York Times Bestsellers!

All in all, we had fun and learned a little something new. I think we’re going to make this a regular thing.

End of Time

Time Sphere

When Batman was “killed” by Darkseid, he was actually trapped in time. Using his infinite preparedness, he went to the end of time and, among other plans, built a time machine for his allies to reach him.

Over the weekend, some friends and I played with a time machine as well! We went to Japantown and tried Real Escape Game’s Real Escape Room v.2 – Escape from the Time Travel Lab.

Time Travel Lab flyer

This game was in the Real Escape Room format, similar to the Mysterious Room game we did a while back. A single team of 11 people is locked into a physical room, and we were given free reign to tear the room apart to find tools and clues to solve the puzzles and escape the room before we were all lost in space and time.

Without giving too much away, since the game is still in progress, I will just let you know that once again, we did not escape, but we got excruciatingly close.

Time Travel Lab

We had a wrong answer on the very last puzzle… the key to escape and victory was literally within our grasp and we were not able to hang on to it.

That said, I think that we made progress as a team. We were better at communicating and did find and solve the puzzles better in general. I would say our biggest problem with this particular game was a lack of time-management/foresight. The way the game is set up, the entire team has to move together between the primary and secondary rooms, and we took too many trips back and forth, which wasted time.

We are pretty pumped to tackle the next game, Escape from the Moon Base, which will be coming up in April and will follow the traditional Real Escape Game format.

Batcomputer – Enhance

I mentioned a while back that I was not planning on upgrading my computer for a while. That day has now come. When my parents came to visit for Christmas, my dad mentioned that he was interested in my MacBook, so I started looking around for a new computer.

BatComputer

My usage patterns have changed a lot over the last few years. I have not even turned my Dell workstation on in over a year, using my MacBook exclusively. However, all that usage was still in my bedroom, it was only because of performance differences.

I knew I wanted to go back to PCs. The Mac was nice for work and web-browsing, but I wanted to be able to play games again. The real question was whether I wanted a laptop or a desktop. In the end, I went with a desktop. It would be more customize-able now and more upgrade-able later. Plus, in sticking with my goal of a more active life, having it stay in my room is probably a good thing. I also thought about putting together the computer myself, like I have in the past when I wanted higher-end rigs, but I decided to go with a custom builder just because of convenience.

I went with Digital Storm and they did a great job. I got the computer yesterday and am in the process of deleting my porn moving my files over from the MacBook so I can give it to my dad. I have not had a chance to take advantage of the hardware yet, but am looking forward to a gaming marathon this weekend. First in the queue – Batman: Arkham Asylum!

Better late than never, right?

Batman vs. Food

Batlogo Sushi

For my friend Chris’s birthday, a group of our friends went to a local sushi restaurant and attempted the sushi challenge.

Bruce's Challenge

I mean, it’s a challenge from a guy named Bruce, so I have to try, right? After reading the description of the challenge, I felt pretty good walking into the restaurant. It took a while for Bruce to make six challenge plates for us. He actually did not have enough large plates and had to cut some of our rolls in half so we had two 9″ rolls instead of one 18″ monster. After all the plates came out, he also brought out a small digital kitchen timer for us to stare at while we ate, and it was time to go!

Sushi Friends

We all dug in, some people trying to fit whole slices into their mouth at a time (they were easily at least 3″ in diameter and 1/2″ thick each), while I split each slice into quarters and tried to make it more manageable. Around the 30 minute mark, Bruce came back to our table to check up on us. He told a bunch of my friends straight up that they were not going to make it and they might as well quit now. But he did say that Chris and I still had a good chance, and encouraged us to keep going!

Sadly, Chris and I could not carry the hopes of friends. We both ended up defeated as well.

Dishonor!

As a consolation prize, though, we all did get some ice cream on the house. We were all just talking about how full we were, but there is always room for ice cream! And Chris got tempura ice cream because it was his birthday.

Ice Cream

As we were leaving, we all talked about why we failed. Obviously, the main problem was volume. The description read four pounds, but we all felt like it was more than four when we had to take our “before” pictures with our full rolls. TJ weighed his leftovers the next day (he conveniently stopped at the halfway point), and we found that our rolls were closer to six pounds each!

Testing the leftovers

And while you may be thinking that we were ahead for two extra pounds of food, let me tell you now, that extra weight was pure sushi rice. Bruce packed the rice in hard, it was brick-like fresh, and you do not want to know what it was like after sitting in the fridge overnight. Also, they ran out of sushi rice in the middle of making our challenge rolls, so new rice was made, and it had extra rice vinegar, making each bite just a bit harder to swallow.

Not that Batman would ever make excuses, though. We all plan on going back and beating that challenge!

Enemy Action

James Bond/Batman

Ian Fleming wrote,

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”

So we were eager to tackle the next Real Escape Game and prove that our two-game winning streak was not just a coincidence. Sadly, Rachel could not make it to this one, and our streak had started when she joined the team. Regardless, we pushed on without her to REG v.6 – Escape from the Bank!

Escape from the Bank

This one was back to the regular Real Escape game format – teams of six around a table solving puzzles mostly in place, but also with some exploration about the room and as you can guess, the theme this time was a bank. The story is that we are a team of thieves trying to steal a secret document from a safety deposit box inside the bank vault. There was even a room to the side of the hall marked up like a vault that we had to get into!

Our team was able to figure out the route to the vault that bypasses all of the security teams. However, for some reason, we could not figure out the escape route, and ended up failing the game. The final puzzle was one where we had to eliminate extraneous letters from an encoded message to find the hidden one, but some combination of poor communication, misunderstanding the clues, and just pure frustration got in the way of our success. We were so bothered by the game that we left without taking a losers picture, which we always did in the past.

Hopefully we will do better at the next one. And I am going to do my best to rope Rachel back in, since she seems to be our key to victory.

3-D Maneuver Gear

If you have not seen/read Attack on Titan, you should check it out. It was the breakout anime series of 2013 and I would best describe it as medieval German knights using 3-D Maneuver Gear (dual waist grapnels) to fight Spider-man-style against Evangelion-ish giant baddies. Plus everyone gets hyped up on the opening theme song:

Back in September, I went with some friends to the Treetop Adventure Park at Granlibakken Resort at Lake Tahoe.

Flying Squirrels

After putting on our gear, which consisted of a a climbing helmet and a safety harness with two “lobster claw” attachment hooks, we were led to the training area.

After learning how to get around safely, the instructors set us loose, and my group ran over to the Biek Ride course first. It is so named because one obstacle is riding a bike across a tightrope between trees! I’ve including video of Linh running through the course for a better perspective of the various obstacles followed by a video of my run through it.

After that, we did the Windchimes course, where the highlight obstacle is a series of unconnected suspended logs that decrease in size, so it looks like you are running over the top of a windchime.

In order to catch up with my friends (I got caught behind small children on both Bike Ride and Windchimes), I skipped the second half of Windchimes, which had some more great obstacles like stepping through a series of gymnast rings.

The final course we did was Spiral, which is named after its overall layout. The highlight obstacle on this one was riding a cargo net suspended on a zip-line.

My batteries ran out just before the end of this last course, but after I climb up the metal ladder, I had to run across a zig-zag bridge and then zip-line down.

All in all, it was blast! The obstacles were fun but challenging (you can hear my heartbeat through the chest-mounted camera) and see me take a couple of breaks. It was definitely a full-body workout and I was sore all over the next day. I am looking forward to going back and doing better on these courses as well as tackling the one I missed, Twin Pines.