Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's a Girl!

Because he probably won't have time to blog for a few days*, I'd like to announce that as of 6:57 AM PDT today, sometimes-contributor-to-this-blog "LC" is a new father:

Congratulations to him and his wife! D and I can't wait to find out what they name their new baby girl.

* or maybe the next 18 years, but who's counting?


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Live on Mars

If you watch CNN, you've already seen the first super badass awesome image of the Phoenix lander descending to the surface of Mars. Here's a followup:

That's another shot, also taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, of the Phoenix lander, this time falling about 12 miles in front of the 6-mile wide crater "Heimdall."

Why is this so cool? Well, aside from the fact that we landed a spacecraft on Mars, both of those objects were moving at ridiculous speeds when the photos were taken. You're basically looking at "a speeding bullet photographed by a speeding bullet."


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Caspian : Indiana :: Peter : ?

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have two things in common. First, their title characters' names both have the letters I-A-N in them. (But they're pronounced differently: "EE-un" vs. "ee-AN.") Also, they're the names of places in the real world. Uh, okay, make that three things. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!) Next, they're both sequels with really long, multi-part titles. Dammit! Four things!

The fourth and final commonality is that in both movies, the main story isn't really about the title character. (SPOILERS FOLLOW. AND THE COMFY CHAIR!) In Caspian, the one with the most significant story arc is Peter, the oldest of the Pevensie kids, who bites off more than he can chew and nearly loses his way. In Skull, the one driving the story is the Russian dame played by Cate Blanchett, and that kind of dulls the whole show. It's an enjoyable ride, but if the movie were a video game, you would be playing as Irina Spalko, and Indy et al. would be the NPCs that you have to wheedle to get the information you need to solve the puzzles.

I don't want this post to be excessively spoiler-rific, but I will say that the third act does go off the rails. A lot of the plot twists and obstacles were rather gratuitous, there's a chase scene that goes on way too long, and I had major issues with some of the cinematography toward the end: there's one shot which just makes no sense at all, story-wise. It's particularly disappointing because the opening sequence has some classic Spielberg cinematography, and I was expecting a lot more of it. He's really got to stop hanging out with that Lucas guy so much.*

Finally, I can't be the only one who was continually distracted by how much Caspian's Ben Barnes looks like Timothy Olyphant from Deadwood:

* An imaginary conversation:
"Let's do everything with green-screen!"
"And motion-capture!"
"Uh... You know, we actually did pay Harrison a lot of money to be in this picture. I mean, as himself. With his own face and all."
"We can make him look twenty years younger! It'll be a prequel!"
"Look, I don't want to have to stage another intervention for you, George."


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Netflix Living Up to Their Name

Earlier this week, the Netflix Player set-top box launched. The Roku hardware costs $100, and the minimum subscription plan that lets you stream content is $9 a month. This would have been awesome, except for three serious deficiencies:
  1. Limited selection - currently, only older movies and TV shows are available for streaming--less than 10% of Netflix's total catalog
  2. No HD output - highest resolution is 480p.
  3. As D says: "Streaming sucks."
Don't get me wrong. I think it's definitely a step in the right direction, and I'm glad to see Apple TV getting some competition, even if it's an orange. At least it's not a lemon. What's that about bad puns? I can't hear you, I've got a banana in my ear!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ken Levine's Summer Movie Previews

Instead of making my own jokes about upcoming movie releases, I'll let a professional do it this time.

Ken Levine "has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis." He's also a fan of sports, especially baseball, and American Idol, and none of those things appeals to me. So maybe you'll appreciate a different perspective. Maybe you'll start reading his blog instead of mine. Whatever. Do what you want. LIKE I CARE.

Anyway, here's Part One and Part Two of Ken's previews. Since he is a TV comedy writer, you may want to take some of the synopses with a grain of salt.

Two of my favorites are:
GET SMART – Adaptation of the 60s Don Adams/Barbara Feldon sitcom. Now with Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway. I’m sure it’s hilarious. Would you believe funny? Would you believe if you’ve had four tequila shooters it has its amusing moments? I know one of the writers so I’m hoping it’s the first.


There now, wasn't that enjoyable? If you still want my two cents, feel free to read on.

I'm most looking forward to Pixar's Wall-E (June 27), which may also be the only bona fide science fiction film of the whole year--make me a liar, Fish.* Running a close second is The Dark Knight (July 18), followed by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22). And despite Mr. Levine's indifference, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11) just looks like a damn lot of fun.

I'm willing to give The Incredible Hulk (June 13) the benefit of a doubt (and how many times have we heard the Avengers say that?), and Get Smart (June 20)--to paraphrase my friend Tim--might be good if it doesn't SUCK.

Finally, I'm not entirely convinced that The Happening (June 13), Hancock (July 2), or The X-Files: I Want to Believe (July 25) are really even necessary. And I am nowhere near being the target audience for Sex and the City (May 30).

* Does anyone get that this is a quote from the movie Contact? No? Okay, just checking.


"Also, your mechanic is a pony."


Meta-comedy. I love it.


Friday, May 16, 2008

TV or Not TV?

That's a rhetorical question.

We've been on the road for a month now, with poor access to broadcast TV, and I started thinking about ditching cable/satellite altogether when we settle down in Portland and putting the money into faster broadband instead. (Kind of like what my friend steadof is doing.) It's easy enough to pipe video from my laptop to my HDTV, and why pay for a bloated channel package that subsidizes sports, country music, and shopping channels I'll never watch, when I can just order exactly the episodes I want?

But I've done some research, and there are two big problems with that plan:

1. Convenience. There's no single place to stream or buy TV online. Every network has its own crappy web site and its own crappy, DRM-crippled video player, both of which circumstances annoy me to no end. Hulu seems like a good idea, but their selection is spotty, and streaming is always problematic.

I'm willing to pay for my shows, but I'd still have to go to at least two different vendors for the content--iTunes and Amazon Unbox. It's annoying, and there's no good reason for it. I'd much rather deal with a single Season Pass list on one TiVo.

2. Speed. I'm glad the writer's strike is over, but I have to agree with Harlan Ellison on the final WGA deal. The new contract states that for 17 days after the initial broadcast of a TV program, the writers receive no residual payments for free, ad-supported online viewing. It's even worse for new shows--for the entire first season, the no-residual period is 24 days. (Page 32. No joke.)

And you know what? The networks tend to take down their streaming episodes after a few weeks. That's a long time to wait, and a pretty brief window of opportunity, to watch a new episode of a show you love. Of course, there's no such time restriction on electronic sell-through (EST), but then we're back to problem #1.

There's a saying: "Fast, cheap, good. Pick two." Well, in this case, it's pick one, and it can't be "good."

We packed up our DirecTivo (an HR10-250) when we moved out of the bay area, but since it won't receive the new MPEG-4 channels, we may just switch to cable (and a shiny new Series3 HD Tivo) when we settle down in Portland. It's pretty clear that unless we want to deprive ourselves of a lot of the entertainment to which we've become accustomed (Good Eats! MythBusters! The Daily Show!), we'll have to pony up for some kind of cable TV.

I can't wait for the day when I can subscribe and download all the TV I want to watch, whenever I want, on any device I like, without any hassles or commercials. But that day is not today.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Our Next Civil War

I'm not saying this just to be pessimistic, but today's big news from California--"State Supreme Court says same-sex couples have right to marry" is the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle--made me think about America's long-standing tension between federal jurisdiction and states' rights, which every now and then becomes focused around a divisive, polarizing issue. Today, the issue is same-sex marriage. In the mid-1800s, it was slavery, and debate eventually escalated to war.

I watched a few minutes of talking heads on CNN tonight (help me I am trapped in a hotel room without TiVo), and the opponent of today's ruling had his knickers in a twist over the fact that, unlike Massachusetts, California will not have a residency requirement for same-sex couples who want to tie the knot--so gays and lesbians from elsewhere in the nation can hop the border to the golden state, take their marriage certificate back, and use the document to challenge whatever local statutes prohibit their wedded bliss at home. He stopped short of using the word "contagious," but behind his plastic smile, in his narrowed eyes, it was clear exactly what he thought of those people.

For the record, I am ecstatic, and I love San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom a little bit more every time I hear him speak: "It's about human dignity. It's about civil rights. It's about time."

Anyway. I don't think it's likely that the culture war is going to turn into a shooting war, but it's interesting to contemplate. Orson Scott Card used this premise for his book, Empire, which I haven't read (and for which D's one-word review is "meh"), but I understand from reviews that his story doesn't involve a full-blown "brother against brother" conflict. (Though it does, apparently, involve battlemechs. Go figure.)

How would an underground railroad for homosexuals operate? What is the gay equivalent of a Star of David? (A pink triangle?) And at what point would bleeding heart liberals who are eager to donate their money but stingy with their time actually lift a finger to do something to upset their upper-middle-class status quo?

I don't know if there's a story in here, but I'm adding it to my notes.

By the way, is it just me, or is this Los Angeles Times sidebar the Worst. Graphic. EVER? Seriously, they couldn't have picked colors from a few different places on the wheel? Used some cross-hatching or other distinctive shading patterns?


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Iron and Weed

The last two movies D and I saw in theatres were Iron Man (two weeks ago) and Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (last night). We had low expectations for both films, for different reasons, but ended up enjoying both of them quite a bit.

To its credit, Iron Man is much more grounded in reality than many other comic book adaptations. If you didn't know it was a Marvel property, you might actually think it was a pretty good science fiction movie--more RoboCop than Back to the Future, but with elements of both.

If you stay through the end credits, you'll see a somewhat gratuitous clip that sets up a sequel. Actually (spoiler alert), I have it on good authority that there is an actual Iron Man cameo in the upcoming Incredible Hulk movie. There have been in-jokes or name-checks in other live-action superhero movies, but this would be the first time that one character has actually appeared in another's movie. Call me a fanboy, but I love it when fictional worlds actually intersect.

On the other hand, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay has virtually no basis in reality. It's quite entertaining for what it is, even if they repeated a few redneck gags from the first film and went way overboard with the political satire. If the first movie was Harold's show, this one was all about Kumar. A sequel seems inevitable, and while I have a hard time imagining where they go from here, I'm sure it will involve Neil Patrick Harris.

Coming up next: Indiana Jones, obviously. I have very little desire to see Speed Racer, which the Flick Filosopher describes thusly:
Imagine if the pod race in Star Wars Episode I was as bad as everyone said it was, and took itself twice as seriously, and went on for more than two hours. And then add a wiseass monkey and his sidekick, an obnoxious kid, on top. Stir, and scream. The Wachowski Brothers have taken the genius of their Matrix series, its ability to defy physics and make it work, and turned it into something it would be an insult to cartoons to call cartoonish.

I guess I already knew that from the awful trailers, but it's nice to have it confirmed.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Dr. HotSync or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Outlook

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I was disappointed a few days ago by the lack of non-sucky ways for my to sync my PalmPilot's calendar with my Google Calendar. You'll be happy, I'm sure, to know that I've found a solution. It's a bit kludgey, and has so far cost me $50 and a few hours to install and configure, but it works.

Short answer: I bought Chapura's PocketMirror Professional, which converts between Outlook's and Palm's data formats during a HotSync, and then re-installed Palm Desktop and configured it to sync my handheld with Outlook instead.

Long answer: As a bonus, I was also able to add a couple of Internet Calendars (RSS feeds from Google Calendar) to Outlook, so I can now view those on my handheld as well. That feature is what convinced me to switch to Outlook and shell out for PocketMirror Professional, instead of the Standard version which can only sync with a single, default Outlook calendar.

There's only one catch--well, two. The first is that PocketMirror Pro allows me to mark those other calendars from Outlook with different categories when I import them into my PalmPilot, so I can tell which calendar each event came from. Unfortunately, the default Palm Datebook application on my antique Sony CLIE (vintage 2003) doesn't support categories. It'll show me all the events, but I can't view or edit categories.

Now, PocketMirror did create their own Calendar app for Palm, but it's very bare-bones (and even older than Sony's app--made in 2001). I think they just took the original reference code and added a single pull-down menu to switch between categories. Honestly? It's pretty naff.

So now I'm trying out DateBk6, and even though the full array of options is somewhat dizzying, it is nice. I like being able to assign icons to each datebook category, so I can see at a glance which events came from which online calendar, and if I end up getting addicted to some of its other features, I may just shell out the $28 to buy it.

The second catch is that PocketMirror won't synchronize some multi-day appointments from Outlook. Note that I said won't, not can't: Chapura makes another product called KeySuite which has additional features and support for more types of Palm data, including email. Right now, I'm just getting a few HotSync error messages for old events because they were repeating appointments which spanned multiple days. It's not really a big deal, but if I end up using my calendar more because it's, well, usable again, I may just pay for the damn upgrade.

Bottom line: I probably should have taken the time to sort this out months ago. And, as usual, trying to save a little money and not choosing the most deluxe option is probably going to end up annoying me. We'll see. At the moment, $100 feels like a lot to spend just to fix something that shouldn't be broken in the first place, but 28 days later, I may be singing a different tune.

And you know, Outlook isn't all bad. I used it for a good four years when I was at AT&T Labs, because nothing else would talk to the Exchange mail server (which was actually pure evil). At least Microsoft didn't go completely extreme makeover apeshit on the Outlook UI in Office 2007, like they did for Word and Excel. I'm getting used to the crazy blue panels and hidden sub-menus, but I can't say I like it.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Ghost Patrol, apparently, to avoid any copyright issues.

Appropriately enough for an east bay-based Game Control (Lowkey and Desert Taxi), this Game is starting in Emeryville--at the Woodfin Suites Hotel, which Team Snout considered for the start of our egregiously-trademark-infringing Hogwarts Game, but decided against because of cost issues.

FUNNY STORY. We went with a nearby movie theatre instead, but the guy who was supposed to open the doors was over an hour late, and we ended up doing our start activity outside, on the sidewalk, with a tiny MacBook screen and dinky portable speakers. The flash-bang gag didn't work either, but that's another story.

(The problem was that we'd rented the theatre through a national rental program which sub-contracts out to local exhibitors, so we didn't actually have a local contact number and had to depend on the middleman for all communications that morning. It was not efficient or effective.)


Monday, May 05, 2008

Go Stanford, Go Scales!

So there's a picture of me in the current issue of Stanford Magazine, accompanying a sidebar about The Richter Scales. Speaking of the Scales, they recently won a Webby Award for the viral music video "Here Comes Another Bubble," and they're performing a free concert in Palo Alto this Thursday night. If you're around, you should go check it out.

Do I miss being in the group? Sure. But I miss a lot of things about the bay area. I'm still adjusting to the whole on-the-road thing, but so far it's been a lot of fun. I just need to find some new routines to keep me grounded.


Thursday, May 01, 2008


So I was all excited earlier this year when I heard about Google Calendar Sync, which would not only export my calendar data, but actually sync it with another application. Unfortunately, it only syncs with Microsoft Outlook, and I use Palm Desktop (with my Sony CLIE PEG-NX70V. Long story. Don't get me started).

Surely, I thought, there must be a better solution! I knew lots of companies make third-party conduits for syncing various data sources with Palm OS devices, so I finally went looking tonight, and sure enough, CompanionLink makes a product to sync directly between Google Calendar and Palm Desktop. I immediately downloaded the 14-day trial, and while waiting for the file, read their setup guide. It all seemed pretty standard until this part:
For Password, fill in your password. (NOTE: This must contain only alphanumeric (A through z and 0 through 9) characters. If it contains anything else, then you will not be able to use CompanionLink for Google Calendar at this time.)
What. The. FUCK.

I'm not giving anything away when I tell you that I include punctuation in my passwords. You're telling me that in order for me to use your product, I have to change my password? And not only that, I have to change my password to something less secure? Are you out of your mind?

I really can't think of a single good reason why they couldn't support non-alphanumeric characters in passwords. It can't be a transmission issue; hell, HTML includes escape codes for any damn character you want, and a whole bunch more you probably don't. Are they lazy? Incompetent? Or just uncaring? In any case, I'm not wasting my time or money on them.

So I'm still looking for a good way to sync my Google Calendar with my PalmPilot (yes, I still call it that, and yes, I'm going to keep using it until it dies). I may just break down and use the Google utility to sync to Outlook, then buy PocketMirror or Intellisync to sync Outlook with Palm Desktop. It'll be kludgey, but still less offensive than the alternative.


First of May

Time to celebrate spring! But first:

I'm serious. Do NOT click the "play" button below unless you're prepared to see and hear graphic depictions of adult situations. Yes, it is just WoW machinima, but it's quite explicit. You have been warned.

Music and lyrics by Jonathan Coulton, video by Mike Spiff Booth.