Saturday, July 30, 2005

RetroBlog: Two Angry Men

Last night, D and I saw Lewis Black at Mountain Winery. His opening act was John Bowman, who noted that another driver had flipped him off in the parking lot before the show. He then located the driver in the audience, had a brief, playfully insulting conversation with him and his wife, and then ran up the bleachers to give him a not-completely-ironic hug. For an opening act, Bowman was pretty damn good.

More than anything, Lewis Black reminds me of Howard Beale from Network-- you remember, the news anchor who was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! I'm sure that was the inspiration for his "Back in Black" segments on The Daily Show. On stage, he used "fuck" as a phrase modifier quite liberally. Not the degenerate gerundive construction: instead of "out of fucking control", he would say "out of fuck control". Grammarians may debate which usage is the lesser of two evils.

And, when he finally got around to talking about Dubya, someone near the front of the audience booed, and Lewis actually walked down into the audience to verbally smite the then-cowering heckler at point-blank range. If it was staged, it was brilliant. There's just something fundamentally amusing about an old Jewish man going apoplectic with rage.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Get Lost

That's "get" as in "understand", mind you.'s Chris Rywalt explains:

"All of the characters in Lost are in Zork. The whole show is one giant text adventure game. Think about it..."

Brilliant! I'm going to have a whole new perspective on the second season now.

And I can't wait for some intrepid slashdotter to actually whip up a LOST Frobnitz file. Think it can't be done? Go play Hamlet - The Text Adventure for a few hours, and then we'll talk.

Blink and you'll miss me

Yup, there I am, visible for a split second on the new Serenity promotional DVD (available in specially marked packages of BSG-S1-UK at Best Buy), sporting a stylish brown coat as I go past the ticket-taker on my way into the May 5th fan screening in San Francisco.

My evil plan for subliminal world domination proceeds! Say it with me, now: "Excellent." No, you're supposed to say it like Mr. Burns, not Bill & Ted. No! Dude, you're doing it all wrong! Look, just-- forget it. Never mind.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

To the Moon, Alice!

Google Moon, that is-- released today to commemorate the Apollo 11 landing in 1969.

Here's my favorite part, from the FAQ:
What happens if I try to zoom too close?
Well, you'll have to go and find out, won't you?

I love this company.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

HDTV: Wait for it.

Now that I have a shiny new HDTV-ready, 50" DLP monitor, I've been investigating my options for getting actual HDTV programming. The short answer is, I have no good options right now. Looks like I'm stuck with 480p from my DVD player and up to 1080i from my Xbox-- both analog, though I am thinking about upgrading the former to an Oppo OPDV971H (DVI output at 720p via Faroudja DCDi).

If you don't know or care what I'm talking about, you can stop reading now. Go gawk at Yahoo News' most emailed photos or something.

The long answer is, it looks like my best bet is to wait for Dish Network to get their shit together. They have a well-reviewed DVR out now, the 942, but their plan to broadcast local HDTV channels nationwide depends on transmitting those new channels in the more compressible MPEG-4 format, which won't happen until next year at the earliest. All their current hardware only does MPEG-2, and subscribers will have to upgrade to new equipment to receive the new channels when they become available.

The DirecTV situation is even more heartbreaking, because they've got a nice HD DVR, the H10-250, with TiVo's software, but the two companies are on the outs because DirecTV wants to push their own DVR technology. It's a shame because I love our current, standalone Tivo Series2, and the H10 can be hacked to use all the Tivoweb goodies. But the H10 is also MPEG-2 only, and like Dish, DirecTV is upgrading to MPEG-4 Real Soon Now.

The biggest problem with both of those satellite options is that I wouldn't be able to get my local HDTV stations, including the broadcast networks-- ABC, NBC, FOX, UPN, etc.-- unless I use an OTA antenna, which I am loath to do. Why should I have to mess with an unsightly cactus from the 1950s on my roof? Both Dish and DirecTV plan to offer "local into local" (LIL) HDTV service via their new MPEG-4 birds, but neither has announced an actual timeline, and the Congressional quagmires around the broadcast flag and an analog TV shutoff date are only making things worse.

As I keep saying: It should not be this hard to watch TV.

Anyway, after having ruled out both satellite options, I reluctantly turned to my local cable TV monopoly provider, Comcast. I'd heard some co-workers raving about getting HDTV over cable with the new, dual-tuner Motorola box, but Comcast's web site wasn't giving me good information about which channels were actually available in HD at my specific address in Mountain View. So I emailed customer service with my address, and got this response:
At this time, the only local channel I'm showing that is being broadcast in HD format in your area is 702 KTVU - (Fox).

Comcast is committed to deploying HDTV service. We are working to provide as many high definition channel broadcasters as possible. Here are some of the factors involved with expanding our high definition lineup:

-the negotiation and contract process required to obtain the rights to carry a specific high definition broadcast, such as TNT-HD and HD-Net.

-the increased bandwidth resources which are required

-the relatively low number of subscribers (currently only a small minority of customers have high definition compatible television sets)

We will continue to explore additional HD programming opportunities as more content providers make plans to offer their programming in HD format.

We appreciate the fact that you took the time to let us know what is important to you. We hope to expand our high definition channel lineup as fast as we can. Unfortunately we are unable to provide specific details regarding the launch of new channels at this time...

That's great. Thanks for nothing.

So it looks like I'm sticking with SD TV for now, which is fine-- I can count on one hand the number of programs I watch on the broadcast networks which would be available in HD anyway. My favorite shows are on cable, and those channels are in no hurry to switch over to HD. ("Dear Comedy Central: I demand that you broadcast The Daily Show in HDTV or I'm going to stop watching!")

Sure, it would have been nice to see the new fall shows in HD, but the bottom line is-- for me, anyway-- it's still all about the content, not the presentation. I don't really have any desire to sit in front of the TV for hours, gaping at HDnet just because it's showing pretty pictures. Yes, I'd like to watch Gilmore Girls in HD, but is it necessary? No. Is it worth all the hassle and expense? Hell no.

I love TV, but I don't love it that much.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

All About Mal

The Sci Fi Channel has finally created a site for Firefly, which they will air every Friday starting on July 22nd. Shiny!

A Brand New Car!

Yup, that's a new 2005 Toyota Prius. We bought it yesterday from Toyota 101 in Redwood City and had a good, relatively hassle-free experience. We splurged for the GPS navigation system, because we love gadgets and hate getting lost.*

In the second photo, that's a Snout magnet (design inspired by Serenity); there's one on either flank. I made a bunch of these via for use during The Game (decorating our van, tagging other teams'), and they look quite smart. I plan to order more, and adhere them wherever possible.

* Tellme is good for many things, but giving driving directions is not one of them. It's slow, usually can't understand what I'm saying, and wait, I have to know what city I'm in? I'm lost! That's why I'm calling for directions!

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Game has ended. When does The Game start?

Team Snout played The McGuffin Game this past weekend, a very ambitious, challenging, and mostly well-engineered first effort from the Burninators. They had serious problems with timing, since most teams took longer than they had expected on many clues-- one team spent a ridiculous seven hours figuring out "semiphore" at the Chabot Space and Science Center. Not cool, especially since the followup/payoff clue which would have re-used that novel coding system had to be cut for timing reasons.

The puzzles were very clever in design-- sometimes, honestly, too clever for their own good-- but we were disappointed that GC didn't utilize the theme or the locations much in the clues themselves. Eleven out of the fourteen clues we saw could have been dropped at any other location, none of the clues had anything to do with the ostensible antiquities/museum theme, and there were no activity or interaction clues. The last property may have been part of the design to facilitate skipping, but it really broke the fourth wall for us. We enjoy Games with strong theme integration, and it just wasn't there in this case.

The preponderance of three-hour clues had us seriously beat down by midday on Sunday, when one of our team had to go home because he was having bad back pains, and it wasn't until he had gotten on a bus and gone halfway across San Francisco that we realized he still had the keys to the van. On the bright side, since we'd solved the word search clue by then, it did force us to take a break for a few minutes and enjoy the view from Inspiration Point.

Overall, we did have fun, and the phone system with automated hint callbacks was nice. I feel bad for GC having to skip or drop a lot of clues toward the end (including the meta-puzzle) and not having enough time to use our application materials in a clue, as they had originally intended. But I also think they didn't quite grasp the holistic view of what an event like The Game should be-- as I always say, if you just want to solve puzzles, you can do that at home, in your underwear. The Game should be more than just a bunch of puzzles, no matter how great they may be. And though automation may help GC manage everything, eliminating human contact really diminishes the essential magic of The Game.

We're now looking forward to The Mooncurser's Handbook Game in Seattle next month-- Snout's first Game outside of the bay area. It should be interesting, and hopefully in a good way. Note to self: make sure to bring graph paper, transparencies, erasable markers, lots of pencils, and a good pencil sharpener!

Friday, July 08, 2005

You call this archaeology?

So I'm making my way through the first season of Alias on DVD, and I get to the part about the Rambaldi prophecy and okay, whatever. Then James Bond Roger Moore tricks Arvin Sloane into assassinating someone. Yeah. This, I'm not sure I can deal with.

Sure, I'm willing to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but if nothing else, I expect spies to be smart. And how bright can you be, if the guy from Moonraker can dupe you with Photoshop and Excel? I'm having a really hard time believing that Sloane could be that gullible and sloppy. I mean, hello, independent corroboration? Is you a spymaster or ain't you?

(Aside: does J.J. Abrams love the clip shows, or what? It's episode 17 of Alias, episode 21 of Lost, and the final episode of Felicity. Shave that budget! SHAVE IT!)

It's kind of strange that, for a show which is ostensibly about espionage, the actual espionage elements are the weakest parts of the story-- sometimes, it feels like the SD-6 stuff is just the "B" plot for all the touchy-feely relationship through lines: Sidney's non-spy friends, her estranged father, her missing mother, her crappy love life, etc. And there's nothing wrong with all that; I'm just saying, I'd like to see a real spy show someday, a hardware show. But maybe there's no audience for it.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Meanwhile, across the pond...

'Not posting any of that "Today we're all Londoners" crap. No. We're not. We're not pacing fruitlessly in front of the television, waiting for updates. We're not trying to reach loved ones on a shut-down cell phone system, not hearing sirens, not catching sight of something awful because we rounded the wrong corner.

'London's been bombed flat during the Blitz, suffered riots, more bombings during the Troubles, and now this. And all the while, as Warren [Ellis] points out, without losing their bottle. I wouldn't presume to claim the stones to be a Londoner.'

-- John Rogers