Cajun Bacon Salmon (Experimental Recipe)

This recipe is a variation on a similar recipe I found at Cooks.com

Ingredients
About 1lb of Sockeye Salmon filet
2tbs butter (soft)
2 medium onions, sliced
Cajun spice rub
Smoked sea salt (or kosher salt if not available)
Lemon juice (approx. the juice from a half lemon)
1cup sake
3 bacon slices

Procedure
Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil, crimping the edges if necessary to make the foil water-tight.
Place salmon filet on sheet.
Spread butter on the filet.
Sprinkle cajun rub over the filet, covering it in a thin layer of spice.
Sprinkle with a couple of pinches of the salt.
Add a layer of onions, covering the filet.
Sprinkle with a little more salt.
Pour over sake, and lemon juice.
Layer bacon across the filet.

Broil in the oven for approximately 25 minutes.

Serving suggestion
Serve with a mixed green salad, plus lemon/olive oil/black pepper dressing (you can use the rest of your lemon for this).

Post Game Report

Casualties:

  • One burned hand (on the cookie sheet while serving up the salmon)
  • Three strips of bacon. (They died for a tasty cause). I'm thinking of putting on the bacon only for the last 10 minutes or so in future.

Wins:

Yummy tasty goodness. Not sure if the sake actually added much to the flavor though to be honest. Everything else was freakin' awesome though. The smoked salt was very good, and I can highly recommend it. (Whole Foods is where I got mine). The bacon flavor offset the salmon quite nicely, and everything worked out pretty well.

Verdict:

Definitely making this again.

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#cooking, #bacon, #recipes
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Back to Writing...

Well, I'm writing again. Its been a while, but I figured that at this time I've got more than enough unfinished stories that are bleating at me to be told, that it's time to crack them out again, dust them off, and actually finish them.

It's really kind of weird, to be honest. The longer I leave a story, the less ideas for stories I have. If I finish a story, then another idea pops up in its place. It's like there's a queue of finite length. (Of course, there's not... it's probably my inner curmudgeon complaining that I can't get anything else done unless I finish at least something...)

So, in that vein, if we look at the unfinished stories I've got (and when I was working on them), they look something like this (note: yep, some of the descriptions are really really vague... that's deliberate... I still need to finish them some time :) )

The Chronos Theorem (1994)

A time travel story set in the near future. I got about 60 pages in, and then stopped writing it because I realized that I'd buggered up the timeline of the story. Time travel stories, apparently, take a bit of prep work. Especially if they loop in and around themselves.

Vampyre Dawn (1995)

Vampires. In Chicago (though I'll probably move it to Seattle now). A man loses the love of his life when he is turned, and is introduced to their society. Warring factions start a battle, and he's in the middle of it all while trying to fit in. First of a trilogy of stories.

Little Miss Litty (1995?)

A short horror story about a school teacher locked in an asylum for the criminally insane.

Fractures (1999)

A doctor who story

The Story Of Yin Yang Man (2000)

He fights the forces of good and evil. And his partner is Feng Shui Girl. Who solves crimes and puts the world to rights by moving furniture. Originally meant to be a graphic novel, it might work as a one-shot film. Hard to plot out simply because if he's fighting good and evil, well, is he good or evil? Neutral characters - while good gags - aren't necessarily compelling.

The Witnesses (2000)

A man has an accident, and discovers that he's compelled to watch events - but that's only the start of his powers. Secret societies. The end of the world. Epic battles. And sadly unfinished.

My Recession (2002)

An architect has been out of work for nearly a year. He spends his last night on earth in a bar, saying goodbye to his friends. The lines between reality and his mental musings blur as the night goes on, until it's hard to tell the difference. (Kind of almost synopsis form).

Dot Comedy (2002)

Two friends working for a dot com get laid off, and in their last two weeks there, use the equipment to fake up a bunch of money. Then they go to Vegas to spend it.

Unsealed (2003 - cowritten with Joseph DeLorenzo)

The script for this one actually got finished. It's about 45 minutes long. Which is all kinds of wrong for several reasons. So strictly speaking, I need to revisit it and make it much longer.

So ... er... what am I doing about this?

Well, I just started turning Little Miss Litty into a screenplay for a horror movie. It'll be a good test case. I'm 13 pages in so far, which actually works out to be about half of what I originally wrote. (You can see that here if you want).

The structure is changing a bit as the format shifts, and I'm fixing up some of the dialogue a little. Oh, and I'm un-Britishizing it as I go. (By the way, if you want to know what the insane asylum looks like, watch Terminator 2. That's what it is in my mind.)

So let's see.. Horror movies tend to be between 90 minutes and 115 or so. So I figure I've got about 13 pages until I hit new material in the story where I have to really start working hard, and then I've got about 74 minutes of fresh material to write. That's not too bad. A pretty reasonable goal.

If I write about 10 pages a week (say, reserve one night a week for it), then in about 8 weeks time, I should have a script ready to break apart and edit the crap out of.

Will it be any good? Will it be sellable? Will it make it?

Who knows.

Will I have fun doing it? Ya sure, ya betcha.

I don't think I want to direct this one. Too much CG to do it on a small budget... better leave that to someone else.

More news as I have it.

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Game Design and The Fallacy of Focus Testing

Let's face it. You don't know what people are going to like, what fad trend they're going to follow next, or what makes a killer idea that people are going to pick up in droves.

The trick is, to be honest, neither do those people. They think they do - and they'll tell you what they want to see - but it doesn't necessarily actually match what they'll really buy. Or what the masses will latch onto.

This is why focus testing is a little on the dangerous side. Peoples' preferences tend to be a totally subconscious thing - read Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink! for more on this. In fact (as you'll find out if you read the book), if someone is asked to explain their decisions, typically it can cause them to rationalize with random reasons, or just generally feel uncomfortable.

So, I ask you, why settle for watered down ideas that have been strained through a focus testing filter? Strong memes catch attention, and attention sells by itself - it's the buzz that people talk about. Provided that the execution on the meme is good enough to sustain the concept, and the vision is strong and doesn't get too diluted by committee or targeted and demographically focus tested to death (see: any of the Tycoon games, pretty much anygame that Microsoft made for the PC between 1995 and 2004), it'll typically come through the process well, and you'll end up with a strong game, with unique vision, that will capture the imagination.

It's one of the reasons why I'm wary of focus testing. People will buy games that they discover are fun to play (this is why demos are important), that their friends like to play (the power of personal recommendation), and that they're told to play by others (reviews). Focus testing short circuits this kind of community driven network by taking a bunch of people at random and saying "hey, so, do you think this looks good" - without the rest of the feedback mechanism in place. You can't play a focus test concept. Your friends can't advise you. You're left with nothing to go on but your prior experience - and anything that reminds you of the fun you've had in the past will get a big thumbs up. Anything unfamiliar or too complicated to understand within that limited framework of a paper description is likely to get a big thumbs down.

Not that this information isn't useful, but it's something to be taken with a little salt.

You see, you've not actually tested the game idea. You've tested their memories and preconceptions about what a fun game will be - which means they'll be wracking their brains for all the fun little moments they had in the most recent games they got sucked into. If you listen too hard, you'll just end with a watered down pastiche of the current AAA games on the market - and by doing so, you risk become yet another also-ran that doesn't actually nail what they did. Think of it as either Xeroxing the market leaders (never a good way to break out) or as cargo-cult game design.

Ask yourself: Are you making this game to stand out and sell, or is it for you own personal sense of achievement?"

The right answer, of course, is both. The thing is, it's better to make the game for yourself. Who cares if anyone else wants to buy it? It'll be fun, it'll have a strong vision, and it'll be incredibly unique.

Too unique for your audience? Will it not click with them?

Most people aren't - contrary to popular belief - unique and beautiful snowflakes. Something that a quick search on the internet for any idea you can come up with will tell you is that there are lots of people out there who think just like you. We're a product of our environments, and as much as we creative people hate to believe it, everything has been done before, every idea has been already had, and every story has already been told. There will be other people out there that the idea appeals to, because the very firmament you're dragging it from is the popular culture around you. The group mind, if you will. The only difference is, you're going to write and finish your game - and a million other people won't even get as far as putting chicken scratch on paper.

(In fact, the only person I can think of who contravenes this on a regular basis is Charlie Kaufmann - whose film ideas are so rich, unique and groundbreaking, that I'm not entirely sure he's human. I'm willing to put money on it that he's from the planet Glarg, and somehow through parallel evolution, they have a language just like English for him to write in. I still love his work, and I'd love to shake him by the pseudopod and thank him for it).

The way that ideas flow is important. Strong ideas first grab people they directly appeal to, then ripple outward. Or they terminate and die away, because the strong idea is too incongruous for others to take on board. The trick is to soften the idea just enough that people who aren't uniquely interested in them have enough to hold onto so that it can ripple to them, instead of just the specialist early adopters.

Soft ideas on the other hand (targeted at the broad spectrum of gamer) generally don't develop as much momentum - they end up relying almost solely on publicity, marketing, sales tricks and community memory. An example of this today would be GTA4- it's a soft idea. It's old hat. Its pretty much all been done. There's nothing new there. It's evolutionary, not revolutionary in nature. But when you see the advert for it, the community memory says "go buy this game - you'll enjoy it - you did last time!" ... and you might try other games as well that are similar in the hope of recreating that experience.

Either way can work and can sell in large numbers, but unless you're leveraging a franchise, it doesn't hurt to have a concept that makes people stand up and notice from the get go - whether executed through story, innovative gameplay, addictive gameplay, or whatever. Heck, if you want to, go ahead and pull a Hot Coffee, and use shock value and generate your buzz that way. Its worked for talk radio DJs for years.

Besides, why put so much energy into creating something you're not passionate about?

If you're going to spend years of your life creating something, then maybe tailoring it to the whims of an ultimately fickle audience is not the best thing to do. You'll do just as well - perhaps even better - if you just trust your instincts, and create the game you want to make. Because, guess what folks? You're one of them. You're not creating a tool or a machine that people unlike you will have to use - you're creating a space in which people can play. And people learn to play before they get bogged down in any of the rest of this crap. We're all the same when we're running around in our Superman underroos.

I've always said that art without an audience is masturbation - but that doesn't mean you have to cater directly to that audience and give them fast food. Go gourmet instead.

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#Game design, #marketing, #focus testing
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CSS Sucks (for layout)

I'm often amazed by people who defend CSS as an amazing technology for layout. I get where they're coming from - I mean it is a pretty reasonable way to handle styles (font stuff, mainly), and it has a laudable goal - namely to separate content from the layout. But as a technology for marking up layout? It's about the lousiest thing I can think of. It's painful. it's a chore.

CSS3.0 is starting to address some of these issues (border layout handling, for example, is something that we should have had since the start - and by start, I mean since Netscape 1.0), but it still needs to be backwards compatible with the older CSS functionality, which sucks.

But don't take my word for it. John Nagle doesn't like them either. (And yes, that's right, that's John Nagle. As in Nagle Algorithm). Here's a post I found from him on this blog:

You’re absolutely right.With Dreamweaver 3 and tables, it wasn’t necessary to look at HTML to lay out a page. With Dreamweaver 8 and CSS, the page designer must understand CSS, HTML, and probably Javascript. That’s was a big step backwards.

The CSS system is just too programmer-oriented. And I’m a programmer. (Programmer as in MSCS from Stanford, the Nagle algorithm in TCP, inventor of ragdoll technology, real-time robot vehicle control, not programmer as in “writes some Perl”. And my first web site went up in 1995.) It’s not that CSS is hard; it’s that CSS is bad.

CSS is, simply, a badly designed layout system. Even the rather simple system in Tk which lays out dialog boxes and windows is better. Tk is a nested-box system, but both “pack” (like CSS “float”) and “grid” (like tables) layouts are available in the same system. This is enough to handle most cases. Which “float” and “clear” are not. Page layout is forced to fall back on absolute positioning far too often.

The clever way to do layout would have been with a constraint system. Each box has four edges and four corners, and it would be possible to bind corners and edges to create any desired relationship between boxes. This is something one could express easily in a click and drag graphical tool. Want three columns the same height? Tie their adjacent bottom corners together.

Want to fill the page? Tie the outside corners to a page edge. Ten minutes to explain to an artist. Advanced use would involve priorities on constraints, so if something had to give in “fluid design” as the page size or type size changed, you could pick what gave first. (This could be extended to allow curved boundaries, even splines, but that might be overdoing it.)

The browser would have to have a constraint engine to resolve all the constraints, but there are known solutions to that problem.

Too many people drank the Kool-Aid on CSS. It’s just not that good a technology.

...

The worst problem with DIV-based layout is that the layout system is too weak. There’s no form of “grid” layout. There’s no way to relate a DIV to anything but its predecessor, its parent, or an absolute position. The system is just too dumb. That’s why people have to stand on their head just to get three columns to work.Tables actually are a better designed layout system. Table layouts allow table cells which span multiple rows and columns. If all tables could do were simple grids of cells, the CSS approach might make sense, but tables are more general than that. And they’re well supported in Dreamweaver.

The fundamental limitations of DIV-based layour are obscured by an excessive number of attributes and the occasional use of Javascript when the attributes aren’t enough. But underneath, the fundamental approach is just too weak.

If CSS had a grid capability, it wouldn’t be so bad. But it doesn’t.

So there you have it. CSS sucks.

I'm thinking about an alternative solution for some of the problems... If I get time I'll post it up.

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