Monday, June 25, 2007

360 review: Rayman Raving Rabbids (6/10)

Wow. I forgot to review this for the Wii. Maybe later.

Anyway, this is the Wii hit ported to the 360. It's a fun concept: in story mode, you play minigames to advance and unlock them in score mode, then you go back and play one to four players in score mode, unlocking other things.

The minigames are (mostly) fun, nice little tasks that are somewhat (or a lot) longer than, say, their Mario or Wario counterparts. On the Wii, they're given an added touch with the Wiimote (and occasionally the nunchuk). On the 360, well ... you can use the Live Vision camera, but I wouldn't recommend it except for the achievement.

Because the controls are different, there are a couple of minigames in the 360 version not in the Wii version and vice versa. Also, some of the 360 games (like the dancing ones) are easier to play, but some (like the bunny hunt) are harder.

Why would you not have an option to invert the cursor movement? Every shooter has this, and I mean every one. This makes no sense to me. Deduct one point for stupidity.

Also, the games take quite a while to load, which makes you wonder what's going on when you see their simplicity. Like the Wii version, the 360 version doesn't have a menu option to restart a challenge: you have to quit it, sit through the loading screen, pick it again, sit through the loading screen, click through the menus, and then sit through another (short) loading screen. Bor-ing.

Worst of all, if you "fail" a game by not getting a certain score, you get no credit for it in score mode. None. So then what's the point of giving us a score?

Also, despite the presence of Xbox Live, they insist on making us type in that stupid Web code to check leaderboards and stuff. Um, no. That's so last-generation.

The graphics are nicer, but really, what part of this is about the graphics? It's about getting rabbits to run into cacti over and over again.

Basically, it's like the Wii version, only without the novelty, and missing a couple of things that would have taken advantage of the 360's features. It's not a bad game if you have kids, but honestly, if you have kids, you should have a Wii anyway, so get it for that instead.

zlionsfan's rating: 6 floppy-eared bunnies out of 10.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Home again, home again

Calle's home now. Everything's going well, except that she's wearing one of those collars that prevents cats from getting at their stitches/staples.

For about an hour, that is. She lay down by the guitars, and as I was typing, I heard a papery kind of "pop" sound, and there was a cat with no collar. Oops. I quickly put it back on, but it makes me wonder if it'll stay on during the day. Hopefully, she'll keep it on during the day today, and then will be less tempted to try to remove it tomorrow.

I have a few meds to give her, two that she gets every 12 hours and one every 8 hours. We'll see how much stronger she is now than before: even when I was putting the collar back on her, she was resisting pretty well. I suspect that in two weeks, once the staples are out, she'll be running around at full speed again.

Josie's not quite sure what to make of this. I took away a quiet cat and brought back a noisy cat, one that rustles every time it moves. She's not so cool with this. She'll probably think better of it when she realizes that she'll get the bed to herself (no jumping, remember).

Once again, good news to this point ...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Looking good so far ...

For the first time in I don't know how long, I was 30 minutes early to work.

The appointment was very quick. The surgeon checked on Calle, talked a bit about what we would do and what the risks were (he was the fact-dispenser to match the oncologist's hope-dispensation), I left her with an assistant, and that was that. He said they'd call if there were problems prior to surgery (if chest X-rays showed stuff in the lungs or heart cavity), and if not, they'd call after surgery.

It's also been a long time since I wanted the phone not to ring. :)

10:53, right after my 10:30 ends, I get a call on my work phone. (Docs know this stuff - yeah, you say "cell phone, cell phone," but when was the last time your work phone was dead?) Everything's fine so far. She was very good during surgery (naturally), no visible signs of cancer other than the mass itself. They took it out, got her into recovery, and that's all for now. She'll stay over the weekend, and then I'll have a list of instructions on Monday or Tuesday.

There's a possibility that there could be more cancer that is too small to detect, and the oncologist will come up with a post-surgery plan, so there is another phase (short or long, hard to tell at this point), but for now, things seem to be going very, very well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Found money

Of course, it's never really found. It just comes from something you forgot.

Anyway, back before I bought my current car, I got rear-ended at a stoplight by a woman in an SUV who was paying attention to something other than, say, the car in front of her. (This is not a surprise. I've been in 15 or so accidents, probably 12 not my fault. Crash magnet.) Anyway, it was one of those smaller things, so I get out, we exchange information, I don't call the police (because it was minor), and we move on.

I get my car fixed, paying the deductible, of course, and I suppose I filled out all that other stuff. Anyway, I got it fixed at Penske Chevrolet. I bought my current car at Penske Honda.

I get an envelope in the mail from Penske today. Hmm, wonder what they want? Probably want me to come in for my 7500-mile checkup. (It's time.) Nope. It's from Penske Chevrolet.

It's my deductible.

Ha ha! I win again! (The last time, it was a lying ... um, can't use that word here. Anyway, it was a woman who ran a stoplight by about five seconds, sideswiped me, and then tried to claim that it was my fault, with her husband happily lying on her behalf. Fortunately, a witness saw the whole thing and came right up and said so - bless her heart - and I got my deductible back on that one too.)

So you see, free money. Of course, I already paid it, so I'm just getting it back, but still ... I have the feeling I will need some extra cash soon.

A New Hope

Now I think I should have paid more attention when my relatives were going through this stuff. (I don't think any of them had intestinal cancer, though.)

We met with the oncologist Friday. Calle liked this office better: they have shag carpeting on the exam tables. In fact, she didn't want to go back in the carrier at first. He agreed that there was a mass, thought it might be intestinal, and wanted to get some cells from it. They kept her for the afternoon, took some samples and an ultrasound, and sent off the samples for analysis.

The ultrasound showed that the mass was in the intestinal area, but it's still not certain. We got results today, and it looks like it's intestinal adenocarcinoma. (Almost at the bottom of the page.)

So Calle has an appointment tomorrow morning. The surgeon is going to consult with us, examine her briefly, and then do a chest X-ray just to make sure it's not spread to the chest cavity. If it hasn't, then they'll put her under the knife. She'll probably be home Monday.

All things considered, there is definitely cause for optimism. I am hoping for the best.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Best Cat Ever

Except, of course, for your own. (With apologies to Cleveland Amory, from whom I shamelessly stole the line. There is, however, an old saw that suggests that the first time one steals a line, it's quoted directly; the second time, it's quoted indirectly; the third time, it's delivered as if one's own. If such is the case, I shall quote two more times so that we may proceed.)

Calle has cancer.

Someone with a greater insistence for accuracy might say that we think she has cancer, that it could be something else, that the outcome may still be in doubt, or any of the other things with which people in this situation usually comfort themselves. Although I've never been through this with a cat of my own (or more accurate, in my own house, because cats are never really one's own), I have been through it with people, and in such cases, it is always best to accept the truth internally and hope for the best externally.

We have an appointment with an oncologist next Friday. What we will discover is that the vet is correct, and that it is relatively advanced, and that at this point, we should allow Calle the feline equivalent of tidying up her affairs. (I shall not ask her to whom she wills her possessions. I expect she would rather see them thrown away than given to that cat, so we shall not ask, and Josie will have use of the ones she likes. Or, perhaps, she will not like any of them at all.)

On May 1 (or perhaps April 30), for no apparent reason, I suddenly realized that Calle was older than I'd thought. (Of course, I really hadn't thought much about it.) I went back through mentally – almost five years in the house, some time in the apartment, however long she'd lived with Kristen – and came up with 8 or so. I then checked my leases (oh yes, I had not cleaned them up yet) and found five years' worth. So she's 12 or 13, something like that. Not so bad, but not a youngish cat. A middle-aged cat. (This was a sudden thought, that's all.)

I visit college friends in the spring/summer, usually over Memorial Day weekend. When I returned, it seemed that the cats had been on a hunger strike. Purina had introduced a new flavor of Purina One, and since flavor A was so good, perhaps flavor B also would be good. Alas, it was not, so flavor A made its return.

Except that it really didn't. For some reason, not a lot of food was being eaten, and there was more meowing. Why? Of course, it's hard to tell. However, challenges had come and gone, and there were no other signs that I could see, so this too might pass.

There was also more sleeping (how can you tell? Well, it's hard – more a feeling than anything else). But it didn't really seem to be that big of a deal.

Then, Sunday night, I think, I was in the kitchen for some reason, and I saw that the food bowls were fairly full, and that, come to think of it, I hadn't filled them for a while. (Josie does not eat much. She's a small cat.) For no reason, I picked a kibble out of the bowl and tossed it toward Calle, who was by the refrigerator. She ate it awkwardly but greedily. Another kibble, same result.

Hmm. Not so good. Probably some tooth thing that I missed, or perhaps sores (she's allergic to something, and every now and then it appears; we take her in, get her a steroid shot, and it goes away). So I toss another one, and she kind of nibbles at it, but doesn't eat it.

I have treats in the cupboard. They're softer. I get a couple out and put them down. Gone in a flash. Not a good sign at all. So I feed her some treats, slowly, so as not to upset her stomach. (It didn't work, by the way.)

Well, she hasn't been eating, so we'll take her in to see the vet. Out of curiosity, I decide to weigh her. You know, additivity: weigh myself, weigh me and the cat, subtract me.

I step on the scale. 189. (Thankfully, it was evening and I was fairly well dressed. I still have weight to lose, but this is not my story.)

I pick up cat and step on the scale. 198.


Nine pounds. Calle's last recorded weight was 12 pounds. I know this like you know when your child was last sick enough to see the doctor. You do not need to be good at math to see a problem here.

Then, when I step off the scale, Calle suddenly lunges out of my hands, lands awkwardly, and runs off. Also not good signs. She landed much like I would land if I jumped down from a height of four feet or so, not at all catlike. Also, for some reason, when I hold a cat (always left hand under the front legs), my right hand doesn't support the legs, but rather lifts the cat to nestle in the crook of my elbow, perhaps supporting the cat's midsection.

So I get a little more food into Calle and resolve to call the vet tomorrow morning.

Happily, they have an afternoon appointment. (Strangely, I work about 5 minutes from the vet, but 25-30 from home, so I have a 60-minute round trip to get the cat.) Cleverly, I close the bedroom door: Calle predictably makes a break when she sees me home during the day, realizes her best hiding places are unavailable, turns and jogs back into the living room, only to remember it looks roughly like a sports bar on a Wednesday afternoon. I pick her up, put her into the crate (thanks to Paul for suggesting the top-of-the-crate-removal trick - record time for cat insertion), and off we go.

There's not much meowing in the car or at the vet.

They can see us right away. I'm running about 3 minutes late. Not bad for a 60-minute trip with cat retrieval included.

Naturally, the first thing we do is weigh the cat. (You know the drill.)

7 pounds.

Not 7.9 pounds, or even 7.4 pounds.

7 pounds.

I am an intelligent man, and I have seen bad things before. I do not know much about cats other than as a faithful companion, but I know enough to recognize that when a cat loses almost 50% of its body weight in any period of time, something is wrong, and it is not a tooth problem.

The vet tech and I trade pleasantries and hedge upward: even though I know, and she must know (because she's looking at Calle's chart, because Calle has been there for every vet trip since I took care of her), we decide her last measured weight was 11 pounds, even though it's not.

So the vet comes in and is given this news, and the symptoms (not eating much, peeing less often, pooping less often, no visible diarrhea, no other visible symptoms), and of course he does the correct vet thing and checks into it himself, even though he suspects that he will have to explain something rather soon.

Blood tests to come. They shave a patch of her fur (bless her heart, she still has thick fur, even if it's short) and draw blood (I look away). Temperature, normal. He examines her. Head, no problems. Belly.

"I don't like that." Something in the abdomen. X-rays to come.

So it can be a number of things: you know, or possibly a kidney problem, or something else. The X-rays may or may not tell us.

The X-rays come back. It is not a kidney problem, not unless your kidneys hide behind your ribcage. Her kidneys are clearly not where this mass is, nor is her spleen there. Where it is is where no mass has any business being in a healthy cat.

So. It looks like intestinal lymphoma. If you don't know what that is, it is not difficult to explain. Like in humans, the lymphatic system in cats is pretty much everywhere: therefore, if you have cancer in your lymphatic system, it did not just knock on your door and offer to sell you a nice magazine subscription. It has made itself at home, and has invited some of its friends, and it has eaten your favorite ice cream and forgotten to set the DVR for MythBusters.

Of course, it is not always like that. There are degrees of malignancy in cats as there are in humans, but a low-grade tumor does not cause a cat to lose five pounds. Not this cat, the one who would eat Pop-Tart pieces, or lettuce, or, well, anything not too spicy that happened to fall on the floor, or on a napkin, or onto your plate, even if it hadn't fallen quite yet, but could have if she weren't watching it so closely for you.

To the vet's credit (and I expected no less from him; he has always done well by my cats and has always told me exactly what's going on), there was no hedging. I asked a couple of questions and he confirmed them.

So we will see the oncologist next Friday, and he will tell me that it is a high-grade tumor, and we will discuss options to improve her quality of living, and I will probably thank him for all of his help, and go back to the vet, and schedule Calle for some periodic steroid shots (this seems to help with the symptoms), every week or two, or something like that, and then, you know, it will be time.

Calle has been the best cat I have ever had, in nearly four decades of cat companionship, and I have treasured every moment we have shared together. I could not ask for anything more than for her last days to be as good for her as the other days have been for me.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

XBLA review: Aegis Wing (4/10)

Look, Microsoft's giving away something free! That must mean it sucks, right?

Well ... Texas Hold 'Em was tolerable, and it was free for a while. In much the same way, Aegis Wing is tolerable.

Think of it as a poor man's Gradius: a side-scroller where you can collect various power-ups and defeat bosses at the end of some of the stages. But ...
  • You can't customize your ship.
  • You can't build up the power-ups: each has only one level. (in single-player, that is)
  • You can't even have more than one at once.
  • You start each wave with four lives and no power-ups. (I don't know what happens if you complete a level without dying, I think.)
  • The shield doesn't protect you from collisions.
  • Not every level ends with a boss.

So yeah, it's a really poor man's Gradius. It's all right to play, but really, that's about it. I really don't have the desire to sit through more than one game at a time. Basically, you hold down the primary fire button the entire game. Secondary weapons come in handy from time to time, but that's about it. (Of course, later in the game, if you don't have one, you're screwed, and naturally they don't show up when you need them.)

In multiplayer, power-ups have more value if more people are playing (kind of like treasures in Gauntlet), and you can join ships together so that everyone can share powers (one person flies and the others become turrets). Of course, the single-player mode isn't that exciting, so I'm not really sure I can talk my friends into trying multiplayer.

For free, it's a decent game – it's less likely you'll complain about what it doesn't have. Nice work, interns. Next time, give us a full game.

zlionsfan's rating: 4 wings out of 10.