Monday, December 24, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Government Logic

Government steps in to ease flight delays
Fewer flights will be allowed in and out of New York's airports at the busiest times as part of a Bush administration plan to help reduce delays at airports across the United States.

So their plan to reduce inconvenient travel delays is to allow fewer flights? Do they not understand what the word "delay" means?
Delta's senior vice president of network and planning, Bob Cortelyou, said the caps in New York will "be great for our customers" because they will almost certainly ease delays at JFK, and thus lead to fewer disgruntled passengers, and fewer missed connections.

So they won't be disgruntled by not being able to book a flight at all? Or is it just that they'll be pissed off at the government for limiting flights, instead of being pissed off at Delta for being unable to accurately predict arrival times? Not really "fewer disgruntled passengers" so much as just shifting the source of the disgruntlement.

Look on my stapler, ye mighty, and despair!

My birthday present this year:

Milton Waddams: [talking on the phone] "And I said, I don't care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I'm, I'm quitting, I'm going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they've moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were married, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn't bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it's not okay because if they take my stapler then I'll set the building on fire..."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I'm Glad I'm Not On Their QC Team

A new patch for the online game "EVE Online" makes it impossible to boot Windows XP. Apparently, an extra backslash in the installer causes it to delete an essential system configuration file.

That QC team must be feeling embarrassed. I know I always hate it when I miss a subtle little bug like hosing the operating system.

I suspect that what happened here is that they tested the patch itself, but neglected to test the installer. And that probably happens more often than it should - perceptually, the installer isn't part of the "real" software you’re testing, so it's easy to overlook. The moral of the story: Don't forget to test installation scenarios.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Catching Up

As predicted, here's a pic of my Halloween costume from this year:

Also: Our pumpkin carving:

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Banality of Evil

Boot camp employees not guilty in boy’s death
The defense said Anderson's death was unavoidable because he had undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a usually harmless blood disorder that can hinder blood cells' ability to carry oxygen during physical stress.

Or, in other words:
Sam, there are very rigid parameters laid down to prevent such things happening. It wasn't my fault that Buttle's heart condition didn't appear on Tuttle's file.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Would You Like That Mild, "American Hot", or "Thai Hot"?

I want to eat here:
A Thai restaurant's spicy chilli sauce sparked fears of a chemical attack and led police to evacuate a busy London street.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Consider Your Argument Misinformed

If for some reason you haven't seen it yet, you may want to check out Zero Punctuation, a (relatively) new videogame review column in the form of short web-based videos. The snark is worth viewing, even if you don't actually play videogames. You also might want to start with the first two, which appeared on YouTube before the creator sold out.

Anyway, at the moment I want to highlight one particular quote from his review of the ultra-violent "Manhunt":

...then the media generally start drooling the usual uninformed questions as to whether wholesome, boyish pretend violence has any correlation with the real world.
Short answer: No.
Long answer: No, and go fuck yourselves, you ignorant, scaremongering cockbags.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Movie Night

Death Proof - I never made it out to the theater to see Grindhouse in its original form, so I can only evaluate this as a movie in itself. As such, I would say: Not bad. Certainly worth seeing, at least if you're a fan of the sort of cheesy '70s car-crash movies it pays tribute to. It's not without flaws: There's a section (apparently new to this version) in black and white for no good reason (I can't imagine even a bad theatrical print from 1971 suddenly losing color for a reel). And for a good chunk of what comes after that, it almost seems as if Tarantino forgot that he was trying to recreate the experience of watching a low-budget movie in a grimy theater in the '70s, because the picture just loses all the scratches and things he'd added to the earlier part and becomes a crystal-clear modern-looking film. There are also a few moments that felt like Tarantino just plain showing off his encyclopedic knowledge of pop-culture. Overall, though, certainly not Tarantino's best work, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Having mentioned some of this movie's flaws, I also feel obligated to point out something that isn't a flaw, but which others have called such: The dialogue scenes. Someone calling himself IndustryKiller! on Aint It Cool News put it most succinctly:
Also their conversations go on absolutely forever, especially that diner sequence, which brings the film to screeching halt when tarantino [sic] take 15 minutes to say what could easily take three to five.

I swear, all I could think as I read this was, "Goddamn, have you ever even seen a Corman-esque '70s action-horror movie at all? They were chock full of long, boring, pointless dialogue scenes. In fact, as I was putting the DVD in and started up the movie, I remember wondering how Tarantino was going to deal with/recreate the long stretches of downright boredom that tended to creep into the movies he was homage-ing. Thankfully, he dealt with it by putting in long stretches of Tarantino Dialogue™, which at least tends to be more interesting to watch than what actually ended up in most of the real '70s grindhouse movies.

I've seen several reviews complaining that '70s exploitation movies were short, and thus didn't have a lot of unnecessary stuff in them, but it's just not true. Movies today are edited much tighter and quicker than they used to be. George Lucas comments on this in one of the Star Wars DVD commentaries - that he tried to make the original as fast-paced as he could, but that by today's editing practices, it's downright flabby. That also tended to be true of the kind of movies Tarantino is referencing, and often doubly so.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not Quite Movie Reviews

Things I Learned from Hostel

  1. When running a thrill-kill-for-profit organization that involves kidnapping tourists, it is best to nab just one or two members of a group at a time, allowing their friends to get suspicious and spend a day or two investigating (and potentially talking to and frightening away some of the other guest/victims at your Hostel of Doom), rather than just grab all of them at once. This is true even when there is a steady flow of paying customers coming through, requiring a constant supply of victims.
  2. A sadist whose motivation is ostensibly his frustrated desire to be a surgeon nevertheless includes power tools as well as surgical tools in his torture repertoire. Nothing satisfies that urge to perform delicate surgery like ripping through someone's shoulder with a power drill.
  3. A chainsaw which has been dropped to the floor will cut entirely through a man's thigh underneath it, even though all the weight of the chainsaw is at the back where the motor is, not in the blade, leaving a good few inches between the blade and the floor when the saw is at rest.
  4. An enterprising sadist could actually make money by purchasing (non-American) victims through "Elite Hunting", harvesting all their transplantable organs, and re-selling them on the black market. According to this article, one kidney alone would fetch enough in Turkey to cover what this organization supposedly charges to let you kill a Russian. Anything you can get for his other organs is pure profit.
  5. Despite this, if you operate a business like "Elite Hunting", you should just have your cleaning crew incinerate the bodies, valuable organs and all, rather than attempting to extract all possible profit in return for the enormous risks you're taking.
  6. Eastern Europe is plagued by vicious gangs of small children, who will cheerfully beat several gun-wielding grown men to death in exchange for a sack full of chewing gum.
  7. The optic nerve is actually a tube containing some sort of disgusting yellow pus, which will squirt out when it is cut.
  8. In Slovakia, Asian women with half their face freshly burned off are apparently so common, they don't attract so much as a curious sideways glance from passers-by.

Things I Learned from Saw II

  1. Serial killers whose M.O. involves elaborate deathtraps might, just might, have some elaborate deathtraps in place protecting their lair. The police in this film learned this particular lesson the hard way. Apparently it hadn't occurred to them before entering the building to be watching out for that sort of thing.
  2. There exists a slow-acting nerve gas whose operation is so predictable, a timer can literally count down how much time remains to anyone breathing it. This gas also causes internal hemorrhaging, despite being clearly referred to as a nerve agent.
  3. If I should ever find myself with one arm stuck in a box with razor-sharp blade flaps arranged in a one-way door configuration, I will simply hold the razor flaps open with my other hand and pull my arm out, rather than inextricably trapping myself by sticking my other arm into the other one-way razor door in the box. Especially if I have already spilled the life-saving nerve gas antidote that was inside the box.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Discworld Map

Just for fun: Although it has been years since I've done any RPG-ing, I do still maintain a copy of the latest version of Campaign Cartographer, just because I love maps. Using the tools/instructions from an installment of their "Cartographer's Annual", I threw together this map of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, in a style inspired by the 16th century maps of Gerard Mercator (click for full-size):

Note, if you're familiar with the official published Discworld Mapp, you'll see a few differences, based on the ostensible reason that the map was created by a cartographer in Ankh-Morpork. Therefore, Ankh-Morpork is near the top of the map (rather than toward the bottom, as in the official map), and the further away from Ankh-Morpork and the Circle Sea region you get, the less detailed and more inaccurate the map becomes. So most of the Circle Sea area is pretty close to "reality", other parts of the continent are fairly accurate (but not very detailed), the Counterweight Continent is pretty much right, but with a few errors, and the least-explored areas - XXXX and the Lost Continent of Ku - are wildly inaccurate.

Here's also a close-up of the Circle Sea region:

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Game Turn Indicator marker does not expend movement points, nor does it exert a Zone of Control.

Old-school wargaming has now disappeared up its own asshole: Decision Games has expanded & re-released "War in the Pacific". Seven maps. 9,000 counters. $420.00. And, and, their future games page indicates that Richard Berg is working on an updated re-release of "Campaign for North Africa", although it sounds like that one will be smaller, and much more affordable at $200.00.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

BoardGame Geek

Just for fun, I've added a widget to the sidebar on here that will show you five random games from my collection, as tracked at BoardGameGeek. I've decided I want to start getting back into games - there are some really interesting ones coming out these days - and having them pop up there may help motivate me.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Zappa Plays Zappa

First of all: You know you're in for a treat when any band comes out and opens with "Echidna's Arf (Of You)". I read in a local free left-wing paper that last year's ZPZ tour focused more on the Overnight Sensation/Apostrophe' period, but that for this year, Dweezil wanted to play more of FZ's more "serious" (for lack of a better word) music, and the set list certainly reflected that. They did do some of the expected stuff from those albums, but there was no sign of "Dinah-Moe Humm" at all. Instead, we got to hear a trilogy of "Son of Suzy Creamcheese/Brown Shoes Don't Make It/America Drinks and Goes Home" from Absolutely Free, "Cheepnis" and "Pygmy Twylite", as well as the aforementioned Echidna, from Roxy & Elsewhere, "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy", "Advance Romance", and "Muffin Man" from Bongo Fury, and even "G-Spot Tornado" from Jazz From Hell.

There were several songs that used video footage of Frank playing guitar solos, while the band on stage played the rest of the parts. This was used particularly effectively during the encore, when Dweezil traded solos with his father, in which they were both playing the same guitar. And I have to say: Dweezil has grown up into a damn fine guitar player. His soloing style is clearly heavily influenced by Frank, although it is subtly different. Perhaps more conventional, although that's not really a good description for playing that is still so FZ-esque. Great stuff, anyway. And a fine, satisfying concert overall.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Housewarming Party

Brenda & I are planning to open up our new house to anyone who’s willing & able to come by, this Saturday from 1 to 5. There’s still some unpacking left to do, but it’s pretty much a home at this point. We’d love to see any of you who are able to make it.

Please let me know if you plan to be there, if you have any drink preferences, or if you need directions or anything.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wisconsin Lawmakers Have Too Much Free Time

And hate dogs, apparently (though perhaps not as much as Mitt Romney). From the WSJ, via Reason:

A Wisconsin legislator wants state law to govern how divorced couples handle custody disputes -- over their pets.
"I wonder what it was that made someone think that they need to have a special statute for this?" asked Madison divorce attorney Steven Bach, who said he'd had only a handful of pet-custody cases in his 33-year career.
Nicky Symons of McFarland thinks she knows what unleashed Albers' legislation.

The legislator is married to Symons' ex-husband, Steven Anders.

In 2003, Symons and Anders divorce was finalized. The divorce included wrangling over who would have to care for and pay for their dog Sammi, short for Samantha. The dispute arose, she said, because neither she nor Anders, who married Albers this year, wanted the aging dog, but their three children did.
Albers' bill would prohibit judges from ordering couples to share the placement of a pet -- the arrangement the judge ordered for Sammi -- unless both sides agree to that. If they can't agree on what to do with the pet, the bill allows a judge to give the pet to one spouse or order it sent to the Humane Society.

That seemed "awfully draconian" to Brian Bushaw, a Madison attorney who sits on the State Bar of Wisconsin's family law committee.

"It doesn't sound fair to the dog, frankly," said Bushaw, who doesn't speak for the Bar.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I'm Moved In

I'm officially Moved In, and holy crap, am I tired. We're not unpacked yet, of course – the house is chock full o' boxes – but we have a functioning refrigerator, bed, and TV, so at least we have everything we need to survive while we unpack everything else. And Brenda has a job interview on Monday, at a place literally just down the street from the house.

I'm sure a house warming party will happen at some point. Give us a couple of weeks to get most of the boxes out of the way, and the living room furniture delivered, and then we'll send out invitations.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I Always Suspected This

A 42-year-old dishwasher in Sweden has had his love of heavy metal music officially declared a mental disability (thus entitling him to government disability benefits).

Pictures here, though you won’t be able to read that article unless you understand Swedish.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Artemy Lebedev Is My New Favorite Person

In addition to the infamous "Optimus" computer keyboard – the $1,500 keyboard where each key is a programmable display screen (and yes, I want one) – he’s got other stuff for sale. Like this awesome clock. And these plush emoticons. And this cool eraser.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More House Pics

Here's a Flickr album with all the pictures I have of my new home. Note that I haven't moved in yet, so the furniture in the pics is not mine...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'm Buying a House

I've accepted the seller's counteroffer on a beautiful 2-story house in Watertown. It looks like this on the outside:

It has this family room:

But that picture doesn't even show the gorgeous wood paneling on the wall in there. You can see a hint of that in this picture of the stairs down to the basement, but even that doesn't do it justice:

Four bedrooms, finished rec room in the basement, and a four-car garage. I'm going to be swimming in garage space.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

My Kingdom for a Cable Modem!

Until I can find more permanent living arrangements, I'm staying with my parents while I work the new job. Which means I'm stuck using their dial-up internet connection (at least at home - the office does have a faster connection, obviously, but for the first three weeks, I'm spending all day in a training class, so I never have more than a few minutes to do anything).

This, of course, creates a great incentive for me to find somewhere to move to, and quickly. Fortunately, I have already gotten pre-approval for a home loan, and we have been looking at several quite nice houses in the Watertown area. Life should be improving soon.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Scary/Exciting: Wisconsin Bound

It's official: I have been offered and have accepted a job at AQS, in Hartland, Wisconsin, and I start Monday. Yep, I'm relocating back to the Land of Cheese.

Brenda and I had kind of started talking about "someday" relocating up there in order to be closer to my parents. They're both still in great health, but they are getting older, and eventually they may need someone a little closer at hand to help out occasionally, and my situation seemed to be more flexible to do that than either of my brothers. Plus, we've both wanted to get away from this building we own down here in Dayton so we can stop being landlords, and we really need a lot more space than we have here. This has ended up happening a lot quicker than we had thought, but they've offered me almost $20,000 more than I made last year, which would be tough to turn down even if we hadn't already been contemplating an eventual move up there.

So, since I have to start right away, I'm going up there this weekend and stay, temporarily, with my parents, until I can find something more permanent for Brenda and I to move in to. The eventual goal is to find something somewhere between Hartland and Madison - ideally, I'd like to be within 25-30 minutes of Hartland, but a little west so that I'd be close enough to zip into Madison on the weekends now and then. Hit the farmer's market, meet up with folks for the occasional pint, that sort of thing.

So, if anyone knows of (A) a decent but inexpensive home for sale, or rent, say somewhere around Watertown or the like, or (B) anyone in that general area looking to hire an accountant or payroll specialist (since Brenda still needs to find work up there), we'd love to hear about them...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Michael Bay: Cinematic Genius

As I have said before, even in this very forum: Judged by his full-length films, Michael Bay appears to be a talentless hack. However, I believe he is a master of the short-short film - i.e., the television commercial. His "Aaron Burr"/"Got Milk?" commercial is darn good (if somewhat one-dimensional), but his Levi's "Elevator Fantasy" is, in my honest opinion, one of the Greatest Films Ever Made (assuming a broad enough definition of "film"). Yes, I am entirely serious about this. Now that it's available online (it wasn't when I made that earlier post), you can judge for yourself, if you never saw it or don't remember it:

There's also a high-res version viewable at Bay's official website.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Austrian-School Idol

Every year, American Idol has a couple of predictable "controversies", which people somehow manage to be surprised by, even though the same ones happen, as I said, every year. One of them is the mid-season or so ouster of one of the expected favorites (e.g., Jennifer Hudson), which we haven't quite reached yet in the current season. Another is the relatively untalented contestant who ends up lasting much longer than he/she deserves. This season, that is the infamous Sanjaya Malakar.

It occurs to me that this predictable pattern illustrates an argument, first proposed by Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, that socialism cannot work even in principle. The argument is known as the "calculation problem", and what it says is that in a socialist system, capital goods have no prices (since all transfers of such are simply internal transfers within the government-owned system of producers), and that in the absence of the information conveyed by price signals, it is impossible to rationally calculate the most efficient use of those capital goods. To oversimplify a bit: Without prices, one cannot know what goods really are the most in demand.

This is the problem with American Idol: Voting for contestants is virtually costless (there is only the negligible cost of time spent dialing the phone). It therefore conveys no real information about the preferences of consumers. If you really wanted to know which singer people preferred, what you should do is sell singles/mp3s of each contestant's performance every week, and kick off whoever sells the fewest copies of their song. Free votes are not (necessarily) going to translate into actual sales, once money enters the equation. Without a price, those votes tell us nothing about the actual demand for recordings of one singer versus another.

Extrapolating the implications of this line of reasoning as it applies to votes in a political democracy is left as an exercise for the reader. :-)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Apparently, I'm Climbing Everest Every Night

I went to the sleep clinic recently to get my sleep apnea (which I knew I had - it runs in the family) diagnosed and treated. The results: Apparently they consider anything over five episodes of breathing cessation per hour to be a diagnosis of "sleep apnea", and over 30 per hour is "severe". I averaged 130 per hour. That's one-hundred-and-thirty.

My O2 saturation levels were below 90 for 70% of the time I was asleep, and dropped to a low of 53 at one point. It seems to be typically about 80 for people staying at the main Base Camp on Mt. Everest, for crying out loud. I don't know why I haven't just suffocated to death in my sleep before now.

Friday, March 16, 2007

No Blood For Peanut Oil!

Q: What Are We Fighting For? A: Peanut Storage.

As Reason's Hit & Run describes it, the "pork-encrusted Iraq emergency funding bill" includes $74 million for peanut storage in Georgia, $25 million for spinach growers, $120 million for the shrimp and menhaden fishing industries, and various other junk, totalling $20 billion of the $124 billion spending bill.

One assumes these things don't actually have anything to do with Iraq, if only because the alternative is even more terrifying: That our Iraq strategy is somehow dependent on an adequate supply of peanuts, spinach, and shrimp. Perhaps we've decided that all we need for a stable Iraq is to get them hooked on Thai food.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Reviewin' Fool

Tideland - Terry Gilliam's latest movie: The one that about 75% of critics thought was atrociously awful, and the other 25% thought was a work of genius. Yes, it's somewhat divisive. In the opening scene, the main character of the film, a 9-year-old girl, cooks up a hit of heroin for her junkie father, and then helps untie his arm after he shoots up, and puts his cigarette out for him so he doesn't burn the house down as he sinks into a stupor. By the end of the film, she will have spent time nestled in the loving arms of his decomposing corpse, made friends with a strange woman with an uncomfortable obsession with taxidermy, and played kissing games with a brain-damaged adult male. Gilliam has described the film as "Alice In Wonderland meets Psycho", which seems appropriate. The film depicts a group of people who seem about one or two steps away from becoming The Texas Chain Saw Massacre family.

One thing that amazes me is the number of critics who completely missed the point. This is amazing because, before the movie begins, Gilliam himself appears onscreen and speaks directly to the audience (warning them that "many of you will hate this movie"), and he explicitly states the point he was trying to make, which is that children are more resilient than most people nowadays give them credit for. "They're designed to survive," he says, "and when you drop them, they usually bounce." Where many of Gilliam's other films deal with the tension between fantasy and reality, sanity and insanity, this one is about the tension between childhood innocence and adulthood. As such, there are things in it that are horrifying when seen with an adult's perspective, that are... well, let's just say "less horrifying" when viewed by an innocent child.

Personally, I would rank it somewhere between awful and genius. It's not Gilliam's best film (that would be a toss-up between Brazil and Twelve Monkeys), but it's less disappointing than his previous movie, The Brothers Grimm, and I'm frankly mystified by the extreme level of animosity some critics seemed to have toward it.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Heck, I'll Review Anything

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened - Not bad at all. First of all: It's a traditional adventure game (albeit with a 3D, GK3-esque interface, rather than 2D point-and-click) featuring Sherlock Holmes investigating a global conspiracy of Cthulhu cultists. How could I not play this game? Better yet: Despite being essentially a Cthulhu by Gaslight adventure, it also remains true to the authentic Holmes stories by not including anything that is unequivocally supernatural. The story ultimately leaves it ambiguous whether the cultists' activities would actually have awakened Cthulhu and destroyed the world, or if they were merely insane. Furthermore, this game is blessedly free of anything like the obnoxious timed stealth puzzle that intruded into the previous game in the series. The graphics are at times breathtaking, with lovely animated reflective water, bump-mapped surfaces, lovingly modeled gory, dismembered victims... Voice acting is consistently above-average for computer game voice work. I didn't encounter any game-crashing glitches. All in all, a solid game for adventure fans, Holmes fans, and Cthulhu fans. And you don't even need to leave the house to play it - it can be purchased by direct download.

However, I will say, "The Awakened" is sort of an uninspired title. I sort of prefer the original French title, La Nuit des Sacrifiés. Also, in a peculiar affectation, many of the characters in the game appear to be named after various personalities from the early history of pen-and-paper RPGs: There's a Dr. Gygax, a man named Arneson, and a couple of books authored by E. Otus and D. Niles, although they seem to have left out the obvious Petersen.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Now that the NDA has been lifted...

Here you can see a man of Gondor looking over the town of Combe (described in Robert Foster's Complete Guide to Middle-Earth as a "village in a valley in the eastern Bree-land.")

This is, of course, a screenshot from the beta test of Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. So far, I'm generally pleased. There are some Tolkien purists who object to the liberties being taken*, but so far I haven't seen anything that completely breaks it for me. I may change my mind if the "Lore-master" character class starts tossing explosive fireballs around at higher levels.

Much (ok, all) of the gameplay is virtually identical to World of Warcraft. Many people are disappointed by this. I'm not sure I am - WoW does so much right that just lifting essentially the same gameplay out of the generic-fantasy setting of WoW and plonking it down into Middle-Earth, with a less cartoonish graphic style... I can't complain very hard about that.

There are some clever and surprising touches, as well. For example, like other MMORPGs, this has a "newbie" area for new players/characters to get their feet wet without facing anything too deadly. For men and hobbits, this transitions seamlessly into the main game, but for elves and dwarves, those newbie quests take place years earlier. Actually, in the case of elves, I think it may be centuries earlier. As a dwarf, you get to start out in the Blue Mountains just as Thorin and Company are preparing to set out on their quest to the Lonely Mountain. Elves are present during an attack on the elven Refuge of Edhelion (not listed in Foster, unfortunately) by a group of corrupted dwarves, and then "return" to its ruins centuries later for the main game.

Basically, I like it well enough that I've already pre-ordered it. I'm contemplating whether I want to go all out and pay the $199 for a "lifetime membership", instead of the monthly fee - if I stay on it for 2 years, it'd be worth it, and I think I may do that. If you're interested (and have a fairly hefty computer...), they're doing an open stress test next weekend that you can sign up for at Gamespot.

And boy, it sure is pretty, ain't it?

* A particularly obtuse example: A group of characters working together in this game is, naturally, labeled a "Fellowship" (in WoW, they're called a Party. It's just "flavor" text). In this post, someone actually says, "I still am wondering why in Eru’s name a Fellowship does not consist of nine players". In other words, because the "Fellowship of the Ring" consisted of nine people, he believes that all "Fellowships" should always and exclusively consist of exactly nine people. Gaaah.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

This is pretty awesome.

Technology in the year 2000, as predicted in a 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics.

I particularly like the amusing image of businessmen with documents "held up for examination" over their video phones. And yet, in the very same article, they talk about 5-cent facsimile document transmission over "telegraph" lines. I guess it didn't occur to them to link those two concepts: Even in the world they describe in the article, I'd pay the nickel to send the actual document around to my videoconference colleagues, just to avoid putting myself in the ridiculous position of holding paperwork up to a video camera for them to read.

And forget the personal helicopter (I've seen how people drive on the ground): What I want is the $5000 house, where I can clean the living room just by hosing it down.

More Movies

The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch - Not as good as the original. This is mostly some new interview footage interspersed with outtakes from the first movie. There are a few good bits in the interviews, particularly with Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and Bonnie Raitt. Unfortunately, there's also a tiresome running gag that's basically an inferior retread of an old Python bit, with Jimmy Fallon as a rival documentarian stealing Idle's microphone. Recommended for serious fans only.

The Notorious Bettie Page - Very nice. Gretchen Mol does a simply amazing job of recreating the innocent playfulness of Page's modeling and film-loop work. The look of the film is great - it's in both black & white and color at various times and places, but the color scenes were shot on old film stock, so it looks like the sort of Technicolor/Kodachrome color film available in the period (while watching, I had assumed they'd just created that look digitally during the color-balancing stage, but apparently they actually shot on old color film stock).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Creativity On Parade

"Teri Polo is set to reprise her role as Ben Stiller's wife in "Meet the Little Focker," the third installment of the movie franchise."

Boy, we sure weren't expecting that, were we?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

NCR Invents Time Travel

NCR earnings up 16 percent after restructuring
The global restructuring of its manufacturing resources and market adoption of enhanced payment systems in ATM technology are among the reasons that NCR Corp. today announced a 5 percent increase in 2005 fourth quarter earnings and expects to generate 2 percent to 3 percent year-over-year growth in 2007.

Amazing how that "global restructuring of its manufacturing resources", which NCR only just announced on Jan. 11, and which hasn't actually, physically happened yet, managed to increase revenues in the 4th quarter of last year.

I should perhaps mention here that there doesn't seem to be anything in NCR's actual earnings statement or press release that attributes this past increase to the upcoming restructuring; that appears to be entirely the fantasy of the Dayton Daily News staff writer who wrote the news story.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Big Pile of Movies

Recently viewed:

Pan's Labyrinth - I'm put into a peculiar position with regard to this film. It's a good movie, but I'm forced to say I was disappointed by it, because I had read several reviews which had led me to expect it to be spectacularly wonderful, so I was disappointed when it was merely good. When someone says something like, "For several minutes after seeing the movie, the only thing I could think of to say was, “Wow!”", I'm looking for something on the level of 12 Monkeys, Amélie, or A Very Long Engagement. Pan's Labyrinth is not on that level. Yet, it is a good movie, and it was worth seeing.

Dreamgirls - Pretty impressive. I've occasionally been in movies before where the audience applauded at the end. I think this may have been the first movie I've ever been in where a performance brought about an ovation in the middle of the film. I'm speaking, of course, of Jennifer Hudson's big number, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going". What I found impressive about that, specifically, is that it would have been very easy for Hudson to let the song do all the emoting in the scene for her, but she doesn't: She acts, through the song, and she's playing simultaneous anger, betrayal, heartbreak... Yeah: She earned that Golden Globe. Eddie Murphy is also amazing, and boy, they sure didn't shy away from Beyonce's character being "loosely based on" Diana Ross, did they? There are some really recognizable hairdos and outfits in there.

Eragon - Enh. This felt like it was written by a 17-year-old D&D geek. Oh, right, it actually was... A particular favorite moment of mine was when the Good Guys are all waiting in their fortress for the Bad Guys to come and get them, and they basically just sit there waiting while the Bad Guys break through the stone wall surrounding the Good Guys' fortress. Um, guys? Why aren't you up on top of that wall, throwing rocks down on the Bad Guys who are breaking through it? You've been taking strategy and tactics lessons from those RPG nerds who played the "Siege of Minas Tirith" at Gen Con years ago, who immediately marched the entire vastly outnumbered Gondorian army outside the walls of the city and into the fields to meet the enemy (who promptly slaughtered them), haven't you? By the way, if you value your sanity, don't read that IMDB discussion thread, "Paolini or Tolkien?", wherein fans "debate" which one is the better writer.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - Pretty good, despite its obvious anti-corporate, anti-capitalist bias. Early on, the narrator poses a question that goes something like, "Was this just a few unprincipled men? Or was it the dark side of the American Dream?" Well, personally, my answer is the former. I am sick and tired of people pointing to things done by individuals and blaming the entire capitalist economic structure. This wasn't a failure of "capitalism", it was that guy. Theft and fraud are not inherent to capitalist economy - they're aberrations, and these people would have found some unscrupulous way to make themselves rich at others' expense under any economic system, and I would argue that under any system other than capitalism, they would have had a much easier time of it, and would probably never have been caught. Still, the anti-corporate bias of this documentary was not quite as bad as I feared/expected, and it isn't hard to look past if you already know at least a little bit about California's energy "deregulation" and the crisis it caused.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

That Ain't Half Ominous, Is It?

As you may know, the company I worked for recently announced some pretty significant layoffs, though ones which do not affect me directly. This also came shortly after the company split off a major division into a separate company.

Given this context, can you blame me for being a bit concerned about the fact that my boss just sent out a meeting notice for next Wednesday, to everyone who works for him, with the vague subject heading of "Department Meeting", and a completely blank message body?

(I have since been assured that, at least, this is not anything dramatically bad. No mass firings or the like. Still, in the current environment, he couldn't have produce any more of a feeling of looming dread if he had left black cards with our names printed in white on each of our desks...).

Friday, January 05, 2007

Big Pile of Christmas (Part Three)

This year's highlights:

  • A bunch of pants, some shirts, and a couple of pairs of shoes. Don't scoff, I did really need them.

  • Heroscape, plus a couple of expansion sets - a really cool-looking boardgame, with the added advantage that it should work well as a 2-player game, so Brenda & I can play it without having to find any other people willing to play a "children's game". It seems to be sort of a strategy-game equivalent of the old simplified-RPG-type game Heroquest (and I think it's by the same designer). I actually got two copies of the basic game set, and I was sorely tempted to keep them both, but ended up giving one to my nephew. Perhaps I'll ask for another copy next year... The primary online community for the game offers home-brewed scenarios that require up to five copies of the basic set.

  • Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy for the PS2 - Very nice. I had the first one, and it was plenty o' fun, even being based on the crappy prequels. Therefore, being essentially the same game but based on the Good Ones, I would logically expect this one to be even better.

  • Only One Place of Redress - a book about how African-Americans have been harmed by government labor regulations (including minimum wage laws) through the years.

  • A copy of the V for Vendetta DVD, complete with a Guy Fawkes mask. Now I know what I'm wearing for Halloween this year.
  • Thursday, January 04, 2007

    Overheard on Penn's Radio Show

    Sexual-Political Identity
    Republicans: Don't put anything up your ass.
    Democrats: You can put things in your ass, but it must be approved, regulated, and taxed by a federal agency.
    Libertarians: Put anything you want up your ass, just don't call me to take it out when it gets stuck.