Category Archives: Movies

Thoughts on films, directors, DVDs, theater experiences, Oscars and the occasional movie review.

Sidestepping the Magniloquence

I think it would be nice to say, “Hey look, I have a new post. It is well-researched, carefully edited and revised and thoughtfully written.” But you’d probably be like, “Where am I and what happened to ironSoap?” So in the interest of fulfilling your expectations… hastily written bullet points! Ahh…

  • Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. If you are part of a Super Tuesday state, I encourage you to vote. Now, I know that primary elections aren’t as significant as the general election in November so if you skate on this one, I’ll forgive you but only if you promise—and pinky-swear!—to vote later this year.
  • If you do vote tomorrow and can participate in the Republican election, would you please consider Ron Paul?
  • I know people like to say that voting for an underdog is like throwing your vote away but, well, tell that to New York Giants fans. Truth is, you never know.
  • And while I’m sorta on the subject, how weird was that Super Bowl? I mean it was the biggest snoozer of all time until the 4th quarter at which point it became a great game, seemingly out of nowhere. The telling statistic? There were three lead changes in the fourth quarter: A Super Bowl record. I listened to the end of the game on my commute home from work. When Manning tossed that pass for the TD late in the game, I LOL’d. Seriously.
  • You may have already gathered from the Twitter feed (had you been following along at home like I keep telling you), but I finally made my HD dreams come true last weekend. We picked up a Samsung 46″ LCD, got rid of the old 36″ Trinitron, wrangled some HD cable and iced the cake with a PS3/Blu-Ray, an HD-capable TiVo and a Logitech Harmony 550 universal remote. It was a lot of money… so much that I kind of freaked out about it for a little while, but then I caught my first Sharks game in HD and, well, I didn’t feel so bad about it after that. There is more to the story, of course, including a still-ongoing royal rumble with Comcast over the acquisition of a cable card for the TiVo, but I’ll spare you the details until I can provide the epilogue.
  • So… there’s this movie called ‘Sunshine.’ It’s deeply flawed but I think still worth watching. Either way, it basically did for Blu-Ray what The Matrix did for DVD: Sell the format.
  • I have, however, decided that I no longer have any interest in purchasing physical copies of movies. As such I won’t be “upgrading” my DVD collection to Blu-Ray. Aside from the general uncertainty of the format’s future, I just am sick of storing movies in my living space. First we had a pretty impressive collection of VHS tapes. Now we’ve finally gotten to where we have a lot of DVDs. I don’t care to go through the exercise again, so until we all figure out how too handle digital film storage, I’ll stick to rentals.
  • Of course, the PS3 came with Spider-Man 3 (ugh) and also included a 5-free Blu-Ray offer (which I felt obliged to take advantage of) so I will have at least six of the stupid things. But that’s it! I’m not paying for any more.
  • I am also fully aware my resolve has no bearing on the activities of my spouse, who loves to own her favorite movies and TV shows. I guess I better buy a new DVD rack.
  • You know what I think is tacky? That the Cheesecake Factory has ads in their menus.
  • However, TCF makes a mean meatloaf.
  • Nik and I saw Michael Clayton over the weekend. It’s a pretty great flick although I didn’t think so until the very end, and there is still a particular scene that I don’t quite understand once the “truth” is revealed. Or I guess considering what that truth does reveal. Either way, it left Nik and I scratching our heads. Also, it has to have the worst title of the year. Who wants to see a movie named after the fictional lead character? It’s not even some deeply memorable character nor a remarkable/memorable name like Forrest Gump. Michael Clayton sounds like the title of a biopic for some long-ago sports star no one remembers.
  • I would have gone with “The Fixer” or perhaps “The Settlement.” But that’s just me.
  • Snack Watch: So, if you like Sun Chips I implore you to find the “Garden Salsa” flavor, they are exquisite. However, you may also want to investigate Cinnamon Sun Chips (you read that right) which sound questionable but are in fact quite delicious (though more of a standalone snack than a lunch accompaniment). You may also be interested in knowing that the Black Cherry and Almond flavor of Clif bars are especially tasty if you need a mid-afternoon light meal. And I can say with confidence that the energy drink Nos is not suitable for human consumption.
  • On the flip side, has anyone tried Chocolate Chex yet? Nik is too chicken to try them and I’m hit or miss with Chex brand cereal, but I can see it being a fine addition to a batch of Chex mix. Anyone?
  • I’m committed to Lost for the long haul, but I’m terribly, terribly disappointed in the direction they’ve decided to take the show.
  • I have to give some respect to Netflix, a company which had such a terrible site back when I joined almost five years ago that I filed a bug report on it. Now they have one of the best designed, most user-friendly sites I frequent. As a simple example, I indicated to them that I was interested in getting Blu-Ray discs when available. Their system simply confirms that you know what you’re talking about and that you have the appropriate hardware and then it automagically goes in and replaces any movies in your queue with Blu-Ray versions. Brilliant.
  • I loved the book Freakonomics and since I finished it I’ve been following the Freakonomics blog, which often has funny, insightful or thought-provoking posts. Today they had one I found cynical and amusing in all the right ways: Choose a six word motto for the US. My favorite sarcastic suggestion: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy.” My favorite funny suggestion: “Just like Canada, with Better Bacon.”
  • As much as I love Rock Band, especially the multiplayer, Band World Tour mode is sadly flawed in a fairly fundamental way. And the fact that online co-op doesn’t allow BWT mode is kind of a criminal oversight. Still, I have faith in my Joey Big Hat bandmates to rise above the stupid game limitations.
  • It occurs to me that we need a band logo. And I think you can upload such files into the game and use them as tattoos for your avatar.
  • Excuse me, I have some Photoshopping to do.

The Occasional Taste

I’ve been sick for the last few days with a pretty hefty cold. I thought it was the flu at first because of the general sense of achy unpleasantness and chills, but after staying home on Wednesday and having it not manifest with the usual aches and fever I’m inclined to believe it’s merely an industrial-strength common cold.

I’m still recovering but I’ve been doing a lot of lying around and thinking so I have a few unconnected thoughts and anecdotes to share, in a familiar format.

  • For reasons that won’t make sense unless you’re a gamer who owns an Xbox 360 and an OCD-afflicted psychopath such as myself, I purchased a copy of Madden 06 for under $5 from my local game store and have been simulating thirty seasons worth of games. What’s significant about this is that, according to the software, the 49ers won’t win the Super Bowl again until the year 2033. Just something to look forward to.
  • I’m reading a wonderful book by Naomi Klein called “No Logo” about marketing, advertising and branding. There is a passage in the book that stuck with me:

    The people who line up for Starbukcs, writes CEO Howard Shultz, aren’t just there for the coffee. “It’s the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community people get in Starbucks stores.”

    I guess that’s why I dislike Starbucks. Here I thought they made bad coffee and served them in pretentious and ubiquitous locations. Turns out the make pretentious and ubiquitous locations in which to serve bad coffee.

  • Our band name (comprised of myself on “vocals,” Nik on guitar, HB on drums and Gin as a roadie/groupie, but soon she’ll play bass… I just don’t have another guitar-shaped controller) is “Joey Big Hat is a Bit Much.” It’s completely an inside joke and probably not a very funny one at that. However, it still cracks me up whenever I think about it.
  • The above bullet refers to Rock Band, which Nik bought me for my birthday.
  • However, I’ve decided that this year I will buy a new guitar (I’m thinking Fender Telecaster), Nik has indicated that she wants to take guitar lessons and Lister has indicated that once he returns from overseas he wants to get a bit more serious about forming a jam band so music is on people’s minds. There may one day be a real-life variant of JBHiaBM. We probably won’t cover Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” however.
  • My folks sent me a very kind gift for my birthday which was essentially funds to be converted into San Jose Sharks tickets. I did some digging around and found that you can actually buy unwanted season tickets for a single game through Ticketmaster which seems to be the only way to get lower-reserve seating. But I found that the price differs wildly depending on what team is visiting. For example, for about $60 a ticket I can get lower-reserve center ice tickets (row 25) and see the Sharks play the Columbus Blue Jackets. For those same seats I can see them play the Anaheim Ducks… for $300 each.
  • I’m probably going to see the Blue Jackets.
  • We went and saw Juno on New Year’s Eve. It’s an exceptional movie.
  • Just days before my birthday I went to the eye doctor as a sign of solidarity with Nik, who was going because she’s had terrible migraines for about a month now and her doctor suggested she may be having vision trouble (the actual doctorese-to-English translation of that is “I have no idea what’s wrong, so hows about a stab in the dark?”). I hadn’t had my eyes checked in a very long while so I went along, assuming my vision was still 20/20. It’s not. Now I need glasses. Strangely, Nik and I need practically the same prescription.
  • I have no delusions that people who meet me or pass me on the street are fooled into thinking I’m anything but a nerd. However, for those few who may have been blinded by the ruse, I think glasses ought to remove all doubt.
  • Truthfully, I’m okay with that. However, with my basketball-shaped noggin, hairless pate and the chunky Buddy Holly style glasses I went with, I fear I may end up resembling Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

I’d Say It’s Better

I don’t know if there is a gland that secretes some sort of hormone that facilitates writing. My grades in high school Anatomy were barely passing, partially because a huge chunk of our score was based on—I’m not making this up—coloring. It was presented under the guise of education and we were instructed to use colored pencils instead of crayons as a nod to our maturity, but you can slice it however you like, it was still coloring.

Anyway, I don’t ever remember coloring in a “writer’s gland,” but then I didn’t really color in a lot of those stupid sheets. I could have missed a few.

Assuming there is a gland, mine is running fairly dry these days. Whatever that hormone is, literasium or something, I’m kinda tapped out at the moment. Here’s why: I responded to a Craigslist posting that was asking for video game writers. Anyone who has read ironSoap can attest that I write, at length, about a lot of things but very high on that list of subjects is video games. I’ve recently dedicated an entire site to that pursuit in an effort to spare you all the dissections of my game sessions.

By the way, you are welcome.

So I saw the listing and thought, “Yeah, okay.” They gave me a chance to do a two-week trial run based on, I’m only speculating here, the fact that I was the only response they received. I went ahead and worked on the site through the next couple of weeks and it seemed to go pretty well. As promised, they invited me to come on board full time and become a regular contributor.

I don’t have all the details just yet, but the long and short of it is that I contribute 15 articles per week (mostly video game-related news, but I’ve also posted a couple features). They have said they do pay, just not much; the loose wording of the original email was “about enough to cover a broadband internet connection” which I guess means anywhere from $25 to $50 a month.

This really isn’t about making stacks of cash, though. Instead it is a matter of presenting my writing in a more public forum and following the ancient adage of “write what you know.” It turns out I know video games pretty well. I can wait while you recover from the shock. I can’t say at this point what, if anything, will come of this. I do know that having a schedule of how much I need to write each day has been an adjustment. It’s not difficult necessarily; I have written far more than I’m required to often enough for my own various projects. But those are writings born from desire to express, not mandated by responsibility. I’m curious if this transition of writing from pastime to necessity will affect my view of it. So far it hasn’t become a chore, only tapped my reserves a bit, which is why my personal writing locations have fallen relatively silent.

I am picking back up some of the pace, but I have to be cautious and preserve my literasium supplies.

tail -n 4 /brain/var/log/messages

  • Nik and I were discussing our summer movie experiences the other day. We saw some pretty good ones including Stardust which has a very strong Princess Bride vibe (read that as a major compliment) and Ratatouille which Nik said was her favorite Pixar movie to date. We also just caught Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix in IMAX 3D. I hadn’t seen an IMAX or a 3D movie since some weird thing they were showing at the local amusement park (Great America, for those keeping track) back when I was probably 12, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was very good and did an admirable job with what must have been a beast of a scriptwriting task. The 3D stuff was pretty impressive for the most part, but I actually thought the sound system in the IMAX theater was the star of the show.
  • My co-worker kicked the power cord for my workstation the other day. It occurred to me as my laptop stayed on and was the only thing that wasn’t at risk of losing any unsaved work that there is no reason PC manufacturers can’t include a small 10-minute battery in every power supply. I know there are products that do this but for the most part they are aimed at server administrators, not consumers. I ask, why?
  • It’s wickedly hot here in California, which is normally not so bad since most places I frequent are air-conditioned, as my pale, nearly translucent skin will attest. The exception, naturally, is the room in I work within which contains too little space and far too many heat-generating electronic components. Many of my co-workers wear shorts to work to combat the problem, but as ragtag as I typically appear, I can’t bring myself to eschew actual pants when I arrive somewhere expecting compensation.
  • Perhaps I’ve discussed my Zuma addition previously, I can’t recall. The days when that game consumed my soul are dark and grim and my mind does not revisit them readily. As a defense mechanism this localized amnesia is then somewhat flawed because it allowed me to download the version on Xbox Live Arcade which is half price this weekend only via a special promotion. My thoughts weren’t even filled with pathetic delusional justifications like, “What could one time hurt?” or “I can quit anytime I like.” I simply did it, fool that I am, casting the shreds of my dignity back into that nameless void. The sale went into effect at midnight last night and the dark circles under my eyes today are a shameful testament to just how strong my will can be against this foe.

Commence Curmudgeon

It’s been an exceptionally trying several months. I’ll spare you the long version; if curiosity overwhelms you I can be coaxed to reveal the Cliff’s Notes version via email. But as is often the case, more mundane matters have remained active in my frontal lobes and these are the kinds of pointless and uninteresting things that fabricate the cornerstones of our virtual communication.

It occurs to me that I owe you an apology.

  • I’ve come across a glut of “geek shame” lately, manifest in faux book covers for the upcoming Harry Potter book, eye-rolling disdain from video gamers when confronted with the reality of some new downloadable games based on German-style classics like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, that sort of thing. What always strikes me as ironic about all of this is that we have people who are posting on Internet forums whose primary topics are video games, Linux operating systems, iPod hacking, HDTV specifications and the like. Judging others or fearing being judged at this stage in the game? Really? You don’t think it’s a little late in the game for that particular concern to be crossing your mind, forum-monkey?
  • The Mac mini that functions as our primary household computer is starting to really annoy me. I can’t quite figure out what the issue is but it runs at a glacial pace with frequent beach-ball pauses. It’s especially apparent when trying to deal with iTunes which happens to be one of the primary apps the machine was intended to run. In terms of clock speed the mini far outpaces my aging iBook but I’ve gone to great lengths to upgrade the RAM in the iBook as high as it will allow and it doesn’t have nearly the same level of problems, even running multiple memory-hungry apps simultaneously. I know people are going to start to wonder about me after my last iPhone rant and now this, but it frustrates me that Apple’s base configurations for new computers are comically lacking in RAM. I mean, a new 1.66 GHz mini with 512 MB of RAM? What are we, neanderthals? And it costs like $250 to upgrade to a reasonable (but still not what I’d call “upgrade level”) amount of 2GB. Comparable Dell machines come standard with 1GB and allow upgrades to 2GB for $100. Listen, I get the whole “Macs cost more” meme, I really do, but this is RAM we’re talking about here. You can find 256MB sticks lying discarded on most sidewalks, so I really don’t think getting a normal amount of it should cost half as much as my system… especially when minis really aren’t supposed to be upgraded by the consumer.
  • I happened to catch an episode of the World Series of Pop Culture yesterday and one of the categories involved the bad-movie awards show The Razzies. The very next category involved the film The Breakfast Club. The announcer, after having the contestants do really well with both remarked, “It seems you know your bad movies and your good ones.” Call me a heretic, but can someone explain to me the appeal of The Breakfast Club? Or John Hughes movies in general? Look, I missed out on those during the 80s when they were I guess influencing everyone else from my generation but I’ve since been subjected to nearly all of them and I just don’t get it. They aren’t that funny, they don’t really touch some chord that strikes at the inner workings of high school life (at least not any high school I ever saw) and they all feature really whiney characters that I want to slap rather than root for. Did I just have to be there at the time or what?
  • Which reminds me: The Goonies is a terrible movie. Sorry folks, it just is, and I think it’s time we acknowledged that fact. Listen, it’s cool: I used to think that Flight of the Navigator was totally radical but I came to my senses eventually. I’m not even saying you can’t still watch it and think about how good you used to believe it was, but stop trying to convince people that there was some cinematic magic going on there. I guarantee you that at some point in the future some kid is going to post on the Internet v4.5 a dissertation on how incredible and influential The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D was back in the halcyon days of 2005. I swear to you, that’s exactly how you sound right now.
  • It’s been like National Bad Service Month for Nik and I lately. Yesterday’s gems included a pair of Target employees who couldn’t answer the yes or no question of, “Do you guys have an Arts & Crafts section?” The reason? They were out (which I can only assume means off their shift or on a break) and, instead of answering, choose instead to take the time to explain that we needed to ask someone from Home and Garden. Also at a sandwich shop I tried to order a Diet Pepsi and had the girl who was manning the register grunt and gesture as she tried to decipher my incredibly complex order because, apparently, she had never before heard or heard of the English language. At one point she mentioned something about bananas. I drank what she gave me but I was very wary of it, fearing some sort of tropical fruit-related cola incident.

Or, as an Alternative, Your Movie is Garbage

I’ve talked about horror movies before and I even reacted to my viewing of the original Hostel with a heated rant. I didn’t mention the movie by name at the time, but that’s what I had just seen that prompted the post. And you know, since that time I haven’t watched a lot of the trash that’s being peddled as “horror” but which is just graphic torture and I’ve been much happier for it. I miss good horror movies (okay, that’s a strange phrase in itself but let’s not quibble over the limitations of language at the moment), but whatever. I can always catch monster pictures on Netflix or wherever.

So anyway, it’s no surprise that I had less than zero interest in the sequel to Hostel (cleverly titled Hostel: Part II). I literally loathed the first with its utter absence of subtlety or sense of humor, its moronic excuse for suspense and its urban-legend-like attempt to prey on American arrogance. Stand in line for a sequel? Not a chance.

Well it turns out the movie isn’t doing so well. So writer/director Eli Roth starts whining on his blog about piracy, the movie industry’s lack of support for the R-rated horror film and how he’s going to be all busy so his (ahem) fans should surge into theaters to see it so it gets the support he so obviously deserves while they still have a chance to experience his work.

I have a thought. Maybe—and I’m going out on a limb here—your movie just plain ol’ sucks? Ever consider that?

Now, I haven’t seen it (nor am I going to… I told you before, I’m done with this kind of horror movie) so I can’t really say one way or the other, but a lot of reviews have stated that the movie is basically a rehash of the first, which for once is in keeping with the tradition of horror movies. But whether it is or isn’t, I doubt they’d mix up the formula much. This is Hollywood, after all, and they aren’t known for breaking new ground very often and when it comes to a sequel their willingness to try something new is laughable… almost oxymoronic considering what a sequel really is. But I think we can safely assume that it’s at least similar.

Roth gripes that it’s all piracy that makes his movie unpopular because people are watching an unfinished cut online instead of paying to see it in the theaters. I find that highly unlikely, but let’s assume for a minute that there were hordes of people watching the film without any music or post-production effects: It stands to reason that if the movie were unfinished but really good, people who had enough interest in it to download it would think, “I gotta go see the final version!” Not to mention that he’s citing the same ol’ argument that people who pirate stuff are those who would have otherwise paid to see it which is difficult to prove at best. I submit that people who download stuff are those who would maybe, someday have spent money on it but are for the time being only really interested in getting a peek and seeing if it’s worth further investment.

But okay, let’s ignore the reviews and let’s grant Roth that his movie is suffering because of (sigh) piracy on the Internet. Let’s say he has the very best torture-horror movie ever. Isn’t it possible that there are a lot of people like me—people who might even describe themselves as fans of horror movies—who saw the first one (it did make a good amount of money) but decided, based on that movie, that either a) They weren’t into that kind of thing or b) Roth himself isn’t the gift to splatter pictures that he thinks he is? Wouldn’t that explain the lackluster box office numbers just as well as these Internet rogues with their copies of Bittorrent?

And I’m sorry but the whole “movie industry hates R-rated horror movies” is such junk that I’m surprised it isn’t a scene in one of Roth’s illustrious films. Listen to me carefully, those who perceive Hollywood persecution of your favored style or subgenre: Hollywood doesn’t care one iota about your label. You know what Hollywood cares about? Money. That’s it. It’s not a secret, it’s not some cabal of overlords ruling against some subset of motion pictures or another in secret entertainment tribunals, it’s just the bottom line. So—stay with me here, Mr. Roth, this is going to be important for your career—when the people don’t like something (and by people I mean the movie-going public; the audience), Hollywood doesn’t like something.

Fortunately! There is a remedy, and it’s remarkably simple.

Don’t make crappy movies.

Or, I guess in this case, don’t make crappy movies more than once. People are weird, you know? They’ll see something different or new just to be a part of the water cooler conversation. I’m guessing that’s all Hostel was: Water cooler conversation. Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Roth, did you believe your own hype, that you had made some kind of dawn-of-a-new-era cinematic masterpiece? No, I think you made something that surprised some people and got them talking. But then a second went by and their collective attention span turned to American Idol or Brangelina or the new Spider-Man movie or whatever. So you came back to a collective “meh?”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

We Know Everything Was Built to Expire

Engage random mode.

  • I’m not entirely sure what Buccigross is babbling about for much of his column, but the Mailbag section has a “Jeremy” from “Dallas” complaining about the dark jerseys being worn in NHL home games. Buccigross says Reebok’s new uniforms next year will reinstate the light home jerseys. Noo! I’d much rather see the superior dark jerseys when I get a chance to go to a game. In fact, I think all sports should have dark unis at home, light on the road.
  • Speaking of hockey, the Sharks went up 2-1 with a fitting 2-1 victory on Monday. They looked a little better. Not a lot better, but a little. I still think we should be winning these games by two or more goals and not from empty-netters, either. Detroit just ain’t that good. Buccigross has a point when he says the Sharks need to play with more fire because the talent is there, I’m just a little worried about how much they want it.
  • Last hockey notes regarding other series this round: The Ducks pulled off the comeback upset to go up 3-1; I didn’t see the comeback but the Sharks had better learn from Vancouver’s mistakes here because I see a lot of similarities between Vancouver and San Jose… the Sharks just have a little better luck. That will run out eventually. Luongo is really good but he can’t win alone and the Canucks have to figure out how to make the Ducks pay when they take penalties or there will be no reason for Chris “Cheap Shot” Pronger to not play his miserable brand of hockey all day long. Meanwhile, the Rangers tied up the series with another controversial video replay. I totally think the right call was made from the replay but I would have liked to see a better call on the ice and is it just me or did that whole sequence show that the overhead cameras above the goals need to be of much better quality? Two more frames in there or a better center-ice camera zoom and that’s a goal. It’s gotta be frustrating as heck to essentially lose a game due to technological limitations. At least the Sabres are heading back to home ice. I really want them to advance: They play hard and that ought to be rewarded.
  • Dr. Mac turned me on to Goozex, which has the dumbest name in history but is a really cool video game trading service.
  • On one hand, I felt like the time travel episode of Heroes did all the things I hate about SciFi time travel stories: Had no internal consistency, overlooked obvious paradoxes, muddled the story unnecessarily and introduced scenarios that had no logical explanation. On the other hand, the intent of the device was so compelling and—mind-bending anti-logic aside—so well executed that for once I found myself not really caring. One thing that Heroes has done better than any show I can think of is really make me trust the writers to come up with something awesome. I watched and do watch other serialized shows with a lot of apprehension that at some point they’ll drop the ball and just go off on a really dumb tangent (I fought this fear with the X-Files for six seasons before it became clear that the mythology had done exactly that; I continue to fight with Lost on this matter) forcing me to lose interest. There are three episodes of Heroes left and I have no doubt that they’ll be awesome. I’m even done questioning Niki because so far even things that are slower to develop (like Future Hiro) turn out to be really cool. </fanboy>
  • I watched The Last King of Scotland thinking it would be really good because I like Forest Whitaker as an actor and a lot of critics I tend to agree with really loved it. Whitaker’s performance was good but the movie itself was stupid. I think part of it was that I had no sympathy for the main character (who is not the Forest Whitaker character) and sort of wished he would go away. It’s hard to be repulsed by a villainous character when the protagonist is reprehensible himself: There is no contrast. Also, it gets really graphically violent at the end but is handled in a sort of schlocky, gratuitous manner. Dumb.
  • On the flip side, Nik and I went and saw Hot Fuzz, which was great. Even better than Shaun of the Dead, I thought, and I really liked Shaun. Word of warning though: Hot Fuzz is also over-the-top graphically violent (but the schlock works here because the whole movie is silly/serious like that) so don’t be surprised like Nik was.
  • I’m totally digging the new Modest Mouse album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Most people would probably listen to it and go, “uh, what?” But I love it. Brilliantly weird.
  • We have actual cable-box-based Comcast now (versus the straight-from-the-wall boxless variety) and cable internet instead of DSL. For one thing, I know it may be anecdotal but I’ve always had much, much better speeds from cable than DSL. So it’s nice to have our broadband actually feel like broadband again. But since it’s been three years since we had a cable box, there are a couple of really cool things they have going now. One is the serial cable from the TiVo actually works now so I don’t have to use the stupid flaky IR solution which basically makes the TiVo have to try to change the channel as if it were pressing buttons on a remote control. Predictably it failed a number of times when we had to do it before, usually right before key programs like season finales were about to air. The other is Comcast’s On Demand service which I was skeptical about but I find to be very cool. I make the analogy that it’s kind of like watching someone else’s TiVo. You don’t necessarily have exactly what you want, but there is probably something in there worth your while. I just wish I didn’t have to pay $14.99 if I want to get FSN Plus. True, it doesn’t matter much now because all the NHL games are either on the main channel or nationally broadcast, but during the regular season I found it exceptionally annoying that a game was televised but I couldn’t watch it because I didn’t get the stupid channel.

A Final Story

I’ve got only two computers any longer: My trusty iBook G4 which is sadly having some display issues but still runs like a champ for the most part and a first generation Mac Mini which serves as our “household” computer and is shared by Nik and I. The Mini has all our iTunes stuff and we use it for general web surfing, email and pretty much anything that doesn’t get too geeky.

Since we purchased the Mini, it has been connected to an old 17″ Viewsonic CRT that was probably on its last legs a year before I hooked it to the Mini and has a horrible lack of brightness and a gargantuan footprint. When we moved to the new place we bought a new desk to replace the monstrosity I bought back when I had about twelve computers running at any given point in time (and another half dozen in various states of disuse or disrepair). The old desk was an official computer desk with all kinds of nooks and cubby holes for software, instruction manuals, CPU towers and so forth. It was, with the introduction of the Mini and the consolidation of the operating computers, grossly overwrought for its intended function.

So we got a nice, normal desk and put the beast in the garage to serve as a workbench. Of course the problem with the new desk was that without all the extraneous compartments we really needed a monitor that didn’t monopolize the whole thing. So I found a great deal online for a 19″ widescreen LCD monitor from Staples: $150 including shipping for a brand-name model. That was, I found, a good $25 cheaper than any other comparable deal—before tax and shipping. Sold. I got my order confirmation from Staples a few hours after I placed the order and was happy to know it would be delivered the next day so I could get it set up right away. After all, we’d been sharing my flaky-screened iBook for a week or more and it was about time to get things set up again.

The day of the delivery I used UPS’s website to track the order. It said it was scanned into the shipping center in Sacramento sometime Tuesday morning (the 24th) and would be shipped sometime that day. I got home from work around 11 in the morning and waited around for the guy to show. Sometime around four thirty I started to get concerned so I called UPS directly and asked what would happen if they didn’t get it to me by five o’clock. The operator told me their business day ended at 7:30 pm, so there was actually plenty of time left for it to arrive. I accepted that and went back to waiting.

7:30 on Tuesday came and went and eventually I got some sleep and woke up later that evening to go to work. I didn’t get a lot of sleep so I dragged through Wednesday morning’s shift and came home hoping to see a “Sorry we missed you!” note on the door. It wasn’t there, but I was too tired to care. I collapsed into bed and slept until Nik got home. Still no monitor. There wasn’t much to do about it at that point so I put it out of my mind and decided to worry about it the next day.

The next morning I woke up fairly early with a list of things to do. I started unpacking some of the millions of boxes that were still around from the move while I listened for the doorbell that would indicate the monitor had finally arrived. By one in the afternoon my unpacking was making progress, but my patience was wearing thin. I checked the UPS website for tracking again and noted with some confusion that a new entry was listed: Sometime the day before the package was scanned into the distribution center in Las Vegas, Nevada. I picked up the phone and talked to an operator who was less than helpful. She offered to send a message to the Las Vegas center and have someone there call me back within an hour. I told her that their promises to do something within a certain timeframe was in question so I didn’t want to hang up and waste another hour. Was there someone else I could talk to? The Las Vegas rep, for example.

I was told that UPS uses a messaging-based system and could not directly transfer the call to Las Vegas. I suggested they might want to consider upgrading their system beyond that of the Pony Express and she offered to let me talk to a manager. I agreed.

The manager, Amy, was like most customer service managers: Practiced in her courtesy but nothing remotely resembling sincere. She apologized and I told her I didn’t really care if she was sorry, I only cared if she could get me my monitor. She said there was nothing more she could do but if I hung in there, it would arrive the following day for sure. She also offered to reimburse the shipping fees. I sighed and thanked her for her help, but I asked for and got her direct phone number. Just in case.

When I hung up I called Staples. I knew they had done their part, but I wanted to know how much the shipping fees had cost. The nice lady at Staples told me that the cost to me for shipping was nothing: All orders for more than $50 came with complimentary next-day shipping paid for by Staples out of their UPS account. I verified that when UPS refunded the cash, it would go to Staples and not me. I was told this was correct. For her part she offered me a coupon even though her company was blameless in the whole thing, and I thanked her. She told me if I continued to have problems to call back and they would see what they could do to help.

The next day I waited somewhat less patiently until sometime before noon, than I called again. I was quickly run up the chain until I spoke to some supervisor (not Amy) who told me that they weren’t, in fact, sure what had happened or even where my package was at the moment. I asked with some confusion how they were going to get me the monitor that day if they didn’t know where it was. The supervisor then told me there was no way it would come to me Friday. The best I could do was to contact the shipper (Staples) and have them institute a “trace” which was a formal investigation into the whereabouts of a lost package. I asked what that would do for me and was told it “might find my package.” I indicated that was not acceptable.

She said she understood my frustration and I—well, I didn’t exactly lose it but any calm, understanding demeanor I might have had vanished. I told her my frustration was not to be understood, it was to be expected at that point and I demanded to know what she planned to do to make good on their blunder. She said, “Nothing.” I informed her that it hadn’t even been close to pleasure doing business with her and hung up. I had nothing more to say. If she wasn’t going to help me, then I didn’t care. I called Staples.

For their part, Staples was exemplary in the whole mess. As soon as I explained what had just happened, they offered to ship me a new monitor at no charge. When I hung up and realized after talking to Nik that it would be much smarter to have it delivered to her work instead of our home, I called back and they cheerfully updated my shipping information. The only unfortunate part was that they don’t ship on the weekends so it wouldn’t be until Monday when the replacement order got out of the warehouse.

I never heard from UPS again.

Yesterday, nine days since my “next day” package was supposed to arrive, I picked up the monitor from Nik’s office.

On the up side, the monitor is beautiful and has a tiny, insignificant footprint which makes for lots of extra room on the desk. I brought the old CRT from the apartment, just in case, and it’s sitting in the garage. When I do my next round of unpacking I’ll toss it away. Good riddance.

On the down side I feel like UPS has really got a racket going on. The problem is that my default threat of taking my business elsewhere isn’t practical with UPS because so often when you order something to be shipped to you, you don’t have the choice of how that shipment takes place., for instance, will continue to use UPS whether I want to pay for UPS service or not. My alternative is to simply not take advantage of online shopping and that’s almost more of a punishment for me than it would be for UPS, not to mention the small online stores I would in turn be refusing to support.

I wonder what the correct way to handle this is? Let it go? Better Business Bureau? Buy FedEx stock? It’s annoying how callous UPS can not only have the audacity to be but can afford to be. What is their motivation for trying to make me happy? It’s not like they will realistically lose my business nor would it matter to them if they did. As far as they’re concerned they ate the cost of the shipping so their conscience is clear, but that leaves me stranded either trying to get additional restitution from a company that did no wrong (Staples) or forced to simply eat crow.

By the by, I hate crow.

So the best I can do is say any time you have a choice, I encourage you to use someone other than UPS. Trust me, it’s not worth the hassle.

Over/Under (-rated)

One Jeffery M. Anderson over at Cinematical has posted an article listing his list of seven most overrated actors. Lists like these are basically meant to be conversation-starters at best and fluffy post-quota fodder at worst but in this case it stood out to me because it seems that Mr. Anderson has gone out of his way to pick on some admired actors just for the sake of being controversial.

I suppose part of the problem is in the basic premise: When one says an actor is overrated, whom are we to assume are rating them too highly? Casting directors? The entertainment media? Moviegoers? It is never made clear whose appreciation of these seven individuals is worthy of disdain, but from the context of the article it seems like it’s kind of a combination of all. Basically Mr. Anderson sounds like he’s saying that these actors get too much general recognition to continue to get work (high profile actors need to have some sort of intrinsic box office draw in order to command their heightened salaries I suppose).

Without exposition, here is Mr. Anderson’s list (why do I always hear/read that name with an Agent Smith inflection?):

  1. Ben Kingsley
  2. Matthew McConaughey
  3. Kate Hudson
  4. Heath Ledger
  5. Ben Stiller
  6. Tom Hanks
  7. Catherine Zeta-Jones

Now some of these are legitimately overrated actors. At the very least some of Mr. Anderson’s gripes are well founded. I haven’t seen Ben Kingsley in Ghandi which I gather was kind of his breakout role, but he does ham it up in most of the recent movies I’ve seen him in. He also seems to pick very odd projects to work on including what seems like a lot of low-rent B-grade Sci Fi pictures.

I more or less agree completely with Anderson’s evaluation of Ben Stiller who has always bugged me because, primarily, he isn’t funny and he isn’t a good straight man either. But some of these others… I wonder about.

In the case of Kate Hudson, Heath Ledger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, I question whether their star power is even sufficient to be overrated. Hudson has been in a string of forgettable and/or fairly unsuccessful romantic comedies in the last few years but other than “Skeleton Key” which was bland until the final fifteen minutes hasn’t made much of a splash since “Almost Famous.” I guess I can see Mr. Anderson’s point about that film (although I liked it pretty well, and it did decent business) but one good role that is just enough to get you a few more years worth of work isn’t the same as being overrated. Heath Ledger is likewise with the difference being that his big role was more recent (I haven’t seen and don’t plan to see “Brokeback Mountain,” but regardless of the specifics of that film, it’s impact at least on Ledger’s career ought to carry for a few more years). In any case I don’t know that he’s even done enough work yet to be considered overrated.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is an even better example of this because as far as I can tell she is a passable actor who has mostly gotten roles for her looks. Unlike Ledger or Hudson who’ve at least had one role that had people buzzing “Oscar,” I’ve never heard anything like praise about her acting chops, all I hear is how hot she is or was. Which is maybe not a quality that smacks of a great actress but clearly physical attributes are often sufficient to land a spot in a movie or two (look, Cindy Crawford got top billing in a movie, okay?). Are we really going to qualify that as overrated?

Matthew McConaughey is exactly the same as Zeta-Jones. His inherent goofy charm is enough to get him through a popcorn flick like “Sahara” or “A Time To Kill” and women seem to be forgiving enough of his acting in favor of his appearance for tripe like “Failure to Launch” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” I’d say he more or less has the Keanu Reeves effect going for him: He’s not too good but the ladies like the look of him and for the most part he’s smart enough to stay out of the way in movies that are otherwise very good (see “Contact,” “The Matrix”).

What kills me is that Mr. Anderson throws Tom Hanks on the list. And as near as I can tell, he’s only there to rile people up. I’m not some big Tom Hanks apologist: As far as I’m concerned he’s a good actor who has managed and navigated his career exceptionally well. Plus he connects with audiences and seems like a legitimately decent guy offscreen which gives the general moviegoing crowd a sense that they can root for this guy without feeling bad about it. It’s okay that he’s nominated for a lot of Oscars because (true or not) he gives the sense that he won’t really let it go to his head.

But for Mr. Anderson to pick on him for not sticking with his comedic roots is absurd. Now, I freely admit that I’m no great fan of movie comedies. I’m such a stickler for stories that I feel like feature length comedies are constantly at odds with the format: In order for it to be really funny it has to be gag-a-minute, but that comes at the expense of plot and I cannot abide a movie—of any genre—that is bereft of plot. Call me what you will, I think scripted comedies work far better in shorter formats like TV. Or, I much prefer a subtler form of cinematic comedy like “Shaun of the Dead,” “Best in Show” and “Wag the Dog.” But back to Tom Hanks, suggesting that utter crap like “Splash” or “Bachelor Party” can hold a candle to “Forrest Gump” or even “Toy Story” is like admitting to a mental illness. Please.

The irony is the article ran next to an advertisement for the upcoming movie “Next” starring…

Nicholas Cage and Julianne Moore.

I’m just sayin’. Ironic.

Want to Catch You Awake

A few thoughts:

  • I mentioned yesterday that NBC would be re-airing all the non-Pilot episodes of Heroes in case you missed them. That’s happening Sunday, October 22 or this coming Sunday evening at 8/7c.
  • I’ve had a chance to play with the iPod adapter interface for the new head unit on Nikki’s car stereo. I have to say, this is the way to listen to an iPod in a car. It sure beats the heck out of the clunky cassette adapter interfaces and FM transmitters. Very much the way to go as far as that kind of thing is concerned.
  • This is sweet as those LightScribe devices are something I’ve been interested in for a while now. Nik and I have been burning a lot of CDs lately since I’m much more comfortable having a CD folder crammed full of 100 burned disc copies than I am having 100 of my $15 CDs sitting around in a car and it’s nice to be able to make minor adjustments to certain discs (leaving off songs you don’t care for, etc).
  • Of course with the Sirius radio and iPod connection, CDs seem a bit less useful than they may have been previously. The one instance where they are useful is with specific mixes because both Nikki’s Nano and even my 20GB iPod are too small to hold our entire collection so we have to update via playlist which prohibits having multiple playlists on the iPod itself (which is not a limitation when your iTunes Library is smaller than the capacity of the iPod). I haven’t really paid close attention to the latest iPod models but it looks like I could get an 80GB model for about what I paid for my 20GB 4G. Unfortunately as is fairly common with Apple their options aren’t really ideal for what I’m looking for. 80GB is excessive, but 30GB is a bit too small (my Library is running around 26GB at the moment) and the price differential between the two is kind of baffling. $249 for the 30GB and $349 for the 80GB? Especially when the 8GB Nano is also $249? Huh? In my mind the pricing would be $79/1GB Shuffle; $99/2GB Nano; $149/4GB Nano; $199/8GB Nano; $249/30GB; $299/50GB (what I would consider, if it existed); $349/80GB. That leaves the bottom and top end models at exactly the same price and doesn’t have any crossover from one model or price point to the next. It does make the jump from Nano to regular iPod pretty hefty in terms of price-per-gig but at least it makes more sense than offering 8GB and 30GB for the exact same price. Good grief.
  • While I was sick I watched a lot of ESPN because it is a heck of a lot more interesting in the middle of the day than any other channel. What drives me nuts about ESPN is their obvious sports bias: This is ostensibly a channel devoted to 24/7 coverage of the world of sports and yet they run about seven and a half hours of repeats per day, of which the breakdown by sport is something like 75% NFL, 15% MLB, 5% NBA, 3% NASCAR, 2% Golf and the remaining 1% being split equally among the NHL and any other sport they can come up with which happens to have a “newsworthy” highlight that particular day, including horse racing, ping pong, professional bowling, poker and that Scottish sport where they throw the telephone pole straight up in the air in an attempt to… uh, not get conked on the head by it when it inevitably lands and tips directly back toward the tosser as though he were some sort of cartoon lumberjack. I fully understand that part of the problem is the American sports audience who would rather watch NFL press conferences than see potentially exciting Soccer highlights or definitely exciting hockey recaps but to a certain extent I wonder exactly how much analysis people are really clamoring for at the expense of decent sports news. Especially when they seem to struggle as Sunday fades and it gets to be Wednesday, Thursday, etc to come up with new stuff to talk about. Football teams only play once per week so there’s really only so much to say. At some point the news itself starts to create stories just to have something to talk about (“T.O. brushes his teeth left handed and Parcells tells him he’s jeopardizing the team’s unity!”) which is something that simply wouldn’t stand in any other type of journalism. I just wonder if it would really be so bad for ESPN to go ahead and do nothing but highlights and cover all kinds of sports from all over the world. I certainly wouldn’t mind being kept aprised of the English Soccer leagues (or, heaven forbid, the MLS) and amateur gymnastics or track and field events in non-Olympic years. It sure beats listening to John Clayton babble about how important Shaun Alexander is to the Seahawks for the sixth day in a row.
  • They decided to install a new application to manage all of Support at work. This is both a blessing and a curse: The old application had some very specific quirks that made it something of a pain to work with and it was also based off of old versions of our products so it was kind of embarassing for us to be so far behind our own customers in a lot of cases (especially since we spend so much of our time trying to get people to upgrade). Also the server that was central to our day-to-day work was very much showing its age and had started to become a serious liability for us. So the new application addressed a lot of those problems, which is a good thing. But the old application had been around long enough for several user-created interfaces to pop up that were designed by Support people which meant they did what we wanted/needed them to do. Now those interfaces have to be re-done to accomodate the new systems and most of them haven’t been updated yet. As a result my return to work has alternated from mild to severe pain as I’m forced to work with clunky, IT-designed interfaces that don’t work they way they should and in a lot of ways severely hamper my ability to do my job. Of course being out for almost two weeks means I’m behind as it is and this certainly isn’t helping me get caught up.
  • My dad posted a bunch of old movies for me to check out that I added to my Netflix queue this morning. If anyone else has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

Land of the Living


It’s good to be back. Typically when I’m sick I spend a lot of time doing the kinds of things I like to do even when I’m not sick like playing video games and reading, that sort of thing. Then when I end up feeling well enough to go back to work, I kind of miss the free time to do whatever, you know?

Not this time. I had possibly the worst sick week (plus) ever this time around and it was nothing even close to fun. In fact I felt so bad the whole time that it was actually a pain to watch TV or movies, although that’s pretty much all I did. Even with the TiVo and Nikki constantly making runs to Hollywood Video to pick up movies for me to watch (eventually she just rented a whole season of 24 for me to watch which shut me up for a good four days) I was still scraping the bottom of the entertainment barrel quite a bit. I guess that’s what happens when you’re at home sick for 10 days straight, but it left me with a new appreciation for the time I have to do other, more interesting things.

As a matter of fact I got a new perspective and appreciation for pretty much everything in my life while I was sick. Being too miserable to sleep or eat or do much of anything for that long leaves a lot of time for thought and I kind of started realizing how much of my life I spend being grumpy about really pointless things. I came to a lot of other conclusions about some of the unfortunate choices I’ve been making lately mostly in terms of my attitude toward things that are either not worth the bother or indifferent attitudes toward things that actually do matter and hopefully I’ll try to be better about that. I suppose the only positive thing that came from being sick is that I got (hopefully) an improved perspective on my life. Something about absence making the heart grow fonder would probably be aproppriate here, if not tiresomely clichéd.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot of time or anything since I’m still trying to play catch up from all that time I missed out on, but I did have a few things I wanted to say today before I forget:

  • One of the many movies I watched last week was Double Indemnity, an old 1944 black and white noir picture starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. It’s really quite good (although I liked The Big Sleep better) as many of the old pictures I’ve been watching have been. Unfortunately, I’m starting to run out of ideas for old movies to watch. I fully confess that this is due to ignorance and not a lack of quality material to check out; the next couple I have coming from Netflix are From Here to Eternity, All About Eve, The Guns of Navarone, Suspicion, M, Touch of Evil and The 39 Steps. Anyone know some others I should check out?
  • I watched season four of 24 like I mentioned above and it was much better than the season that stopped me from following it every year (the piteous season three), but the show still drives me insane. Mainly what makes me nuts is two things: One is why everything has to revolve around LA. I mean, I know the show is set there but c’mon: There should be enough time to make the travel realistic (how anyone gets all over LA in less than 20 minutes is beyond even the most forgiving critic) by spreading the love a little bit to different CTU branches and making things more plausibly spread out. Related to this quibble is why everything is handled by CTU. Aren’t there any other governmental agencies that can do some of this stuff like, say, the military? It makes no sense, especially when they spend twenty minutes of each episode griping about how “stretched thin” they all are. Well, delegate, people! Problem solved. My other beef is that they’re constantly sending like three people to go pick up these potentially well-armed suspects and then they act all surprised when only the main character survives the assault and they have to be rescued by someone else. I’m thinking if I need to bring in a suspect for questioning because they are the only person in the world who might be able to reveal the location of the bomb/terrorist leader/plane/kidnap victim/whatever, I’m sending in a freaking army to get them. I think the CTU people kind of cause more of their own problems than they seem to realize.
  • One show that I don’t have a lot of complaints with right now is Heroes. Man, I love that show. Last night’s episode was superb, yet again. The only thing that really bugs me about the show right now are the naysayers. Yes, it is very much like the X-Men. So what? The X-Men are cool, and this gives us a chance to see an X-Men-like story with new characters (so we aren’t bored with the origin stuff if we’ve read the comics already) and a re-imagined take on the whole superheroes concept. I think it’s working very well and the pacing seems to be just about perfect: I’m always left wanting more but they aren’t killing me slowly with the glacial pace of the plot like Lost. One of the great Lost debates is the Characters-vs-Story discussion where some people say they are more interested in the character development and therefore don’t mind the so-slow pace of the Island Mysteries aspect but others (like me) think the characters should really be there to move the story along so the development of the characters becomes almost meaningless since it takes over the whole show leaving the plot to flounder. With Heroes they got it all right by developing the characters at a nice clip but letting those developments also push the plot forward. Very well done and I was quite pleased to hear that the show got picked up for the rest of the season. If you haven’t already started watching this show, I can’t recommend it enough and I’ve heard they plan to run a brief marathon of the last three episodes (not including the Pilot) sometime in the next week so if you haven’t seen it yet, keep an eye out for that to help you catch up.
  • So the final consensus on the new Decemberists album is that it may surpass Picaresque in terms of total quality and has quickly shot to near the top of my all-time favorite albums list. Love it. On the other hand, the new Evanescence album, The Open Door is bland and uninspired and quite a disappointment. Nik also picked up AFI’s Decemberunderground album from iTunes on the strength of a couple of singles she heard on the radio. It’s not too bad, really although I need to give it a few more listens. AFI is kind of a more intense Green Day but they have some catchy riffs and some nice melodies going on, so I think it could get some decent playtime.
  • I had a bit of a chance to listen to some of Sirius satellite radio driving around to doctor’s appointments and stuff in Nik’s car while I was sick. It’s a pretty cool thing and the lack of commercials on the music channels is really, really nice. There’s a lot of selection available as well which means it usually isn’t hard at all to find some station playing something you like. My only complaint so far probably has more to do with the head unit than Sirius itself, but I’m having a really hard time finding the non-music channels. There is supposed to be a way to choose a channel via category but I can’t seem to make it work the way the manual describes which means a lot of the NPR, comedy and sports stations are ostensibly there but not accessible. This is going to become a problem pretty quickly when I want to start listening to Sharks games on the way home from work and can’t even get to the stations.
  • Speaking of the Sharks, I got better just in time since Nikki bought me a three-pack of Sharks tickets for our anniversary and the first game is tonight versus the Dallas Stars. I’m heading out after work to pick HB from work and then heading on to the tank so hopefully my body will cooperate and I’ll be able to enjoy myself. I’m kind of counting on excitement to push me through some of the weariness I still feel, but it should be a really good time.

Turn Me Back Into the Pet That I Was When We Met

An undilluted flurry of silly linkage.

Star Drek

Slashdot is carrying a story about the new JJ Abrams-directed Star Trek movie casting Matt Damon as a young Captian James T. Kirk.

Now, I’m not a huge Trekkie. I do like Star Trek—as a card-carrying geek it’s part of the bylaws—but I don’t obsess on it the way some folks do. Still, I like the original series (campy old SF TV gets the thumbs up) and The Next Generation was often very good and occasionally awesome. Deep Space Nine was intriguing but I sort of drifted away from it during the initial run and I haven’t made time to go back and watch it on DVD yet. Voyager and Enterprise somehow inspired no interest from me and I haven’t see a movie since Generations, probably because it wasn’t very good and didn’t bode well for the direction they were taking the series. Honestly if you think about it most of what Rick Berman has done to the series has made me like it a lot less than I might have otherwise. Roddenberry knew what he was doing. Berman’s a hack. And that ain’t opinion, baby.

Anyway the point is that JJ Abrams directing a Star Trek movie is intriguing although I fear that Abrams is becoming the new go-to pseudo geek that people tap because of his success with Lost to do stuff that is really wild but popular. The thing is I don’t know that he’s really that guy because what he has done is come up with two very interesting shows with some memorable characters. He’s a start-up guy: He has the good high-concept ideas that get other people’s creative juices flowing. That’s a good thing, entertainment needs people like that.

But what he hasn’t shown any indication of is that he can take existing properties or ideas (including his own) and come up with some way to move them forward past the initial idea point. Alias, anyone? Mission Impossibe 3 (which I haven’t seen but was a huge disappointment in the box office)? I’m not sure that handing the reins to him and saying, “Save our franchise, Mr. Abrams!” is really the correct path to take here.

Especially since they’re talking about doing the flashback thing.

Here’s something funny about SF: It really needs to go forward, as in, toward the future. It sounds strange since most SF is futuristic anyway, but there is more than just this one example of SF universes that have a hard time moving past their own initially fabricated realities. Pushing foward and making up new things to happen to a cast of characters is something that should be obvious in SF but frustratingly often isn’t. Star Wars prequels anyone? The problem lies in the fact that once you start flashing back and doing prequel-type stories you run into the problem of the anticlimax: Since we started with these characters (or this universe or whatever) at some point in the future, some of the dramatic license is sucked out of the stories from the relative past because to a certain extent, we know how it ends.

I once had an English/writing teacher tell me that flashbacks are only useful as tools which shed new light on events happening in the current setting. If they exist solely to flesh out a story that can otherwise be alluded to, better the allusion than the full on exposition in flashback form. What happens with all these Episode Ones and Temple of Dooms and Animatrixes is that things we don’t need to be told in gritty detail are fully fleshed out to the point where we physically can’t form a sense of suspense because we know how it ends. How can you fear for Indiana Jones’ life if you know he lived to experience the events in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Did anyone really need to know for sure that Anakin Skywalker lost most of his limbs and was put into the Darth Vader suit because of lava burning off his limbs? We could have lived our whole lives and never needed to know that particular tidbit, but it was supposed to be the ultimate climax of six hours worth of films.

In the end I don’t care if they cast Matt Damon or Tommy Lee Jones as a young James Kirk: I don’t want them to have to cast a young James Kirk at all. Move on, people. Let’s get on with the story: There are plenty to tell that don’t involve re-visiting characters that have practically been cast as 24/7 reality show stars as much screen time as they’ve had. Isn’t it maybe time for a new group of characters? Why can’t we have the next Next Generation?

(Testing) The Passion of the Viewer

I finally got around to watching The Passion of the Christ over the weekend. It has taken me a couple of days to sort out my opinions about the movie, but I think I’ve finally reached a consensus.

The movie failed.

Let me explain.

I knew what watching The Passion was going to bring. I know the story like I know the ABCs. I knew about the controversy surrounding the supposed anti-semetic depiction of the Jewish players in the tale. I was aware of the hype with the all-subtitled dialogue and the brutal depictions of Jesus’ crucifixion. I knew going in what the movie was like, but what I didn’t know was what it was about.

One might expect a movie about Jesus made by a devout believer to be, ultimately, about His message and the hope He represents. Perhaps that’s what Mel Gibson intended. I honestly hope that’s what he intended, because what he actually made was a period horror film.

Let me explain.

Imagine you took the whole Biblical angle out of the equation (it is difficult, but try). Taking this movie at face value with no preconceptions about what it means or what it is trying to say and you have the following: A story full of torture, suicide, betrayal, death and peppered with frightening images of an androgynous specter who tormets the main character before finally being defeated in a symbolic way and in the twist ending, the tortured hero returns to life. Devoid of the historical context, the movie played out like a sort of noir setpiece with spiritual overtones (not unlike The Omen perhaps) and ferocious, unrelenting violence. The inclusion of Satan and the lingering sideplot involving Judas complete with frightening hallucinations and ending in graphic suicide only punctuated how grim this movie made the subject.

The excesses of violence are not what made me dislike the movie. What made me dislike it was that the violence upstaged the good parts of the movie: The flashbacks. Jim Caveziel played a pretty terrific Jesus when he got the chance to utter a few more actual lines besides “Ugh!” and “Auugh!” The scenes of Jesus saving Mary Magdalene and the Last Supper were actually really well done and effective at showing a Jesus that was not just some somber sage spouting cryptic wisdom but made him human and supplied a charisma that you could actually imagine people dropping their lives to follow. The scene of Jesus as a youngish carpenter talking to his mother, Mary, was especially effective at making Jesus seem human without taking away the sense of divinity. Had the whole movie focused on that and then also just included a couple of intense segments of the crucixion the movie would have been twenty times better. Fifty.

Instead Gibson focuses lovingly on Jesus’ flesh getting ripped from His body. He lingers on the placement of the crown of thorns and practically delights in showing Him stumble trying to carry the cross (which is inexplicably constructed differently than the crosses borne by the two criminals crucified on either side of him) again and again and again.

The most effective scene in the whole movie by far was the forgiveness Jesus grants to the repentant criminal while they both hang on their crosses. Again the depiction of the humanity of Jesus and the explicit example of how He offered hope where there probably should have been none worked marvelously. But the moment is fleeting and soon enough we’re back to self-congratulatory shots of the make-up team’s work until a sense of hope is replaced entirely by a sense of revulsion.

The difficult thing is that I know it is important that Jesus not just died but suffered and died. That’s one of the key tenants here is that the only perfect man chose to be brutalized in such a way for our sake. It has to be pointless and harsh and it should fill any person with shame to witness. But the problem is that importance is something separate from the point. The point isn’t that He was tortured, the point is that He did it for a purpose. It is the purpose, the message, that is lost in the translation to this film. With the reason for the events glossed over or assumed here except in a few fleeting and infrequent moments that don’t amount to enough, what is left is a picture that cares as much about the implements used to inflict the suffering as the cause for the suffering. And that’s pure horror movie territory.

As an uplifting telling of Jesus final hours: One star. As a technically sound terror-flick: Three stars. Net rating: Two out of five stars.

Focus on Fear

I am not a brave person. Although at the time I didn’t particularly see myself as such, I reflect on my childhood as being full of jittery, frightened moments. I was a small and rather timid child, slight in stature and composition and also courage. I didn’t particularly care for most creepy crawly things that boys are often associated with and while I had a pretty big mouth (good for getting oneself into frightening situations) I had no spine to back it up with and spent a lot of time fleeing moments that looked like they may come out badly.

The first moment I recall experiencing genuine fear was as a small child in the first home I remember: A little three bedroom number in San Leandro right underneath the BART tracks. It had a detached garage that sat near the back of the property so we had a fairly long driveway that was open to the neighbor’s identical driveway. I don’t recall my parents spending a lot of time talking to the neighbors… my memory pegs them as vaguely white trash in disposition, but they had a young son whom I remember playing with on occasion in our practically shared driveways.

I can’t say how old he was at the time, I must have been four or five so I’m guessing he was maybe ten. He was older and I dimly recall thinking of him as a friend for some time although later I would think of him only in terms of what a ruthlessly cruel tormentor he became. He decided one day to scare me by donning a mask and poking his head over his back fence (which looked out over the driveways where we had been playing). The mask wasn’t particularly scary, but he just stood there, staring at me. At first I was nonplussed but unconcerned, and I implored him to quit clowning and get back to the game. But he remained still, coldly watching and making phony but eerily muffled growling noises. After a few moments of this he disappeared behind the fence once again.

It took me a few minutes to puzzle out that it was possible that the creature over the fence wasn’t my neighbor (Shannon) at all, but in fact someone or something else entirely. I fled into my backyard through the open fence gate and all the way to the other side of the house where I crouched in the side yard for a few minutes, peeking out just enough to see past our gate and to the neighbor’s fence. Eventually the monster reappeared, this time looking around. For me.

I waited it out for a while until the monster disappeared and I heard Shannon emerge from his house again. I ran back out to see what was up. He acted like he had no clue what I was talking about. I tried to convince him for a while and eventually he said he’d go see what was up. He went back into the house and a few moments later the monster appeared over the fence. At this time I was no longer sure it was some person in a goofy Halloween mask, it was clearly some malevolent being who had some sort of interest in me personally. Clearly this interest could lead to no good, so I did what any other mostly chicken five year old would do when presented with this new and frightening development: I ran inside to tell mommy.

Eventually I wandered, timidly, back outside and found Shannon there, wondering where I was. I asked him what had happened and he made up some story about scaring off some other kid by hitting him in the head with a rock. I accepted the story for the most part, but I kept a close eye on that fence from then until really the day we moved.

After that time there were at least two other incidents where someone—undoubtedly Shannon—would wait until I was outside and then don some sort of mask or another and poke his head through the window or push aside the curtains to frighten me.

And it worked. I specifically remember being shocked by a skeletal mask at one point and storming into the house in tears telling my parents that I wanted to move. Their response was typical of an adult who is weary of dealing with a skittish kid who has nothing better to be frightened of than a stupid rubber mask: Shut up and stop being a baby.

We moved out of that house when I was nine years old. In the time between the mask incident with Shannon and our move, two other events conspired to make sleep a difficult task: For one, I saw Cloak and Dagger in the movie theater (strangely I recall this being a double feature with The Jungle Book). The movie isn’t scary, so don’t misunderstand. It’s not like my parents took me to see Poltergeist or anything: Cloak and Dagger was kind of like WarGames or Tron only with spies and detectives instead of crazy computers or living video games. But what got me was that near the beginning a man is pushed to his death over a stairwell. He falls and naturally dies. There is some complication shortly thereafter where the body is not found or the man who supposedly dies is seen walking back up the stairs—it was too much for my young mind to comprehend. But I do recall the plummet of that man to his death as being the most intensely frightening thing I could think of.

Another thing I saw was a few short seconds of the television miniseries V. Of course the part I saw included one of the lizard-like aliens with half his human disguise ripped off in long ribbons of pseudo flesh with the green scaly true face poking out from beneath. I wasn’t allowed to watch the show but a mis-timed request for water or a poorly thought out sense of curiosity had lasting impressions.

To my parents credit they were pretty patient with me. As a six or seven year old with nightmares, sleep was not high on my priority list and they tried their best to console me and be understanding when possible. I recall that it finally got out of hand, keeping my father up or waking him up probably for the 20th time in the same night and I recall him clearly warning me that it was all fine and I was safe and nothing was going to happen to me but if I woke him up again he would not come to my “rescue”, my only recourse was to try and be brave. I was hurt by this but it finally sunk in that my fear was something that should not be shared with anyone. Since bravery was not my strong suit, my actual recourse was unpleasant sleeplessness for many, many nights.

I bring all this up because of a thread over on Fark discussing early childhood terrors (specifically due to movies or TV shows) that would be silly when watched now. I want to point out how strange it was that some of the things that seem to be quite commonly disturbing to children, such as The Wizard of Oz (the flying monkeys seem to do it for most people) or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, really bothered me that much. The tunnel scene in Wonka was a bit grotesque but not frightening by any stretch and I don’t remember having much of a problem with Oz at all except maybe staying awake through the whole thing.

But you also have to understand that my timidness as a child was so pervasive that my parents had to strictly monitor what I could watch on TV. Anything that smacked of monsters or creep-outs was a big no-no (due I’m sure to my previous penchant for keeping them awake all night anytime I got the slightest bit spooked) and since they weren’t particularly interested in scary movies, I didn’t watch a lot of these movies as a kid.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t find other stuff to be afraid of. One of my favorite cartoons as a kid was G.I. Joe. Despite the fact that it was a military cartoon and everyone carried around guns all the time, no one really ever got hurt (how’s that for teaching the “fun” of war to little kids?). For the most part it was fine, but there was one two-part episode that originally aired in 1985 called There’s No Place Like Springfield that was this surreal, Twilight Zone-style mind trip (for an 11 year old, at least). I remember it being not exactly scary but more unnerving.

At one point I came in halfway through Something Wicked This Way Comes and witnessed little more than the film’s antagonist, Mr. Dark, opening his palm to reveal a demonic symbol etched/tattooed into it (perhaps a pentagram… I can’t truly recall). It scared me quite a bit and I can recall several nightmares springing forth from that image which included an identical or very similar scene where a sinister man’s palm revealed his true nature. I have honestly never actually seen the full movie of Something Wicked to this day.

I remember watching an episode of Unsolved Mysteries one night. The show was pretty creepy in general but this was a bit later, around late Junior High I believe, so I was more or less over the standard ghost stories and alien abduction tales as sources for real nighttime fear. But this episode featured a re-enactment of a satanic cult meeting where they were sacrificing dogs and killing babies or something along those lines. It totally weirded me out to the point where I spent most of another night somewhere between sleepless and plunged into nightmare.

The point of all this is that I spent quite a large chunk of childhood being afraid of the dark, trying to cope with vivid nightmares and having a lot of sharply unpleasant experiences with fear. Strange then that I decided to start reading Stephen King novels.

Actually it started before then. In about sixth grade I picked up a book by John Bellairs called The House With a Clock in Its Walls which I’ve since gone back and read and found to be rather… mundane. But at the time it was seriously creepy and atmospheric and left me crowding myself under the covers for several weeks.

I’m not sure why I kept reading, why I continued to put myself into a state of trembling paranoia with these stories. Gallons of ink have been spilled trying to decipher the human tendency to seek out certain types of fear, to embrace it in some ways. Not everyone is like this, mind. Nikki steadfastly refuses to read or watch or play part in activities that lead to terror. But perhaps it isn’t so completely out of character for me. After all, I’m the kid who practically broke down in tears as a little squirt because I was too short to go on the scariest, twistiest ride in the amusement park near our house. And from the moment I was finally able to just push up on my tiptoes enough to cross a few straggling, cowlicked hair strands above the cursed line marking who could and could not ride, I felt the exhilarating rush of the steep drop into the double loops and the whizzing turns that led to the heart-stopping corkscrew and I loved every second of it.

In spite of my general timidness, there was always something about me that made me hate the fear, made me want to face it instead of running and hiding. Some twenty-five years later, I’m more or less over the mask-over-the-fence incident, but for a long while I looked back on my flight and cowardice as hideously shameful acts, taunting in their remembered humiliation. I had been tricked by a cruel neighbor kid and had not been able to shake that fear for many, many years.

Perhaps in a way I started reading scary stories and watching scary movies as a way of facing that kid in the mask via proxy. If I could watch the horror show and sleep soundly that night, maybe it would mean that Shannon wasn’t still haunting me with his pale, hollow mask and uncreative grunting growls. If I made it through The Shining, it might mean I wasn’t a sissy after all. In doing so, in facing the fear, I found something strange. It was fun, kind of like a roller coaster. If you let yourself believe just a little bit and you stretched your imagination some, you could get those nervous chills and the heart-jumping frights but as soon as the book cover closed or the house lights came up, it seemed silly and unimportant. Like stepping off a ride. Fear was replaced with calm reason and a tiny bit of regret. It was over, maybe a little too soon.

I’m still not brave. I have yet to overcome my biggest fear (a completely irrational one I’ve discussed before which can’t be combated in the same way as regular chills because there is no “reality” to step back into when it’s over… the reality is there when the fear is triggered) which is not a surge of adrenaline but a direct evokation of the fight or flight response. But these days the scary movies and creep-out books and survival horror video games are some of my favorites. Excepting the dreams where I’m underwater, I actually enjoy the rare nightmare I have to a certain degree. The imaginative ones, like where zombies are chasing me through my apartment complex which suddenly becomes a particular street corner in San Francisco and the crazy guy who hides behind a broken tree branch outside of Joe’s Crab Shack and scares passerby walks up to me and offers a fistful of thumbtacks as my only defense against the crushing hordes of the undead: Those I like. They’re fun in a “I’m starring in a movie in my head” kind of way. Once you wake up, of course.

These days there isn’t much that really scares me when it comes to entertainment. Modern horror movies go more for the gross out than the real scare. The Sixth Sense was good because it was actually a nerve-wracking experience. More movies should be like that. I like watching old black and white horror movies now more than the modern ones: They aren’t really scary to me either but at least they have a sense of fun about them. Few books I’ve read lately have had much impact. Maybe I’m getting so old that I’m just over the idea of monsters in the closet. For as much as my formative years were spent being afraid of the dark, I needed only step into a bit and realize it was not so bad. It could, in fact, be kind of fun.

Update: The text of this article has changed from the original to better reflect the facts of my childhood nightmares. See the comments section for a complete explanation.

So what about you? What scared you as a kid? Did you get over it? Leave a comment or drop me a note.

Take a Spin With Me

I have writings in the works. But they aren’t done. As an appetizer, enjoy these links.

  • I don’t know that one other person agreeing with me counts as true validation, but Curmudgeon Gamer agrees with me about how the PS3 shortage will shake out in terms of the XBox 360.
  • Nintendo fanboy site Infendo waxes critical on the strength of the Wii as a legitimate next-gen contender. I totally understand what they’re saying: The Wii is so goofy that it might as well be called GameCube2. The GameCube was a nice little bit of hardware and it had some of the best individual games of any system in the current gen. The sorry part was that nearly all of those games were first party (or based on first party licenses) and there were vast, sprawling expanses of time between those games when there was just nothing to do with the GC except watch it collect dust or play Wind Waker for the 12th time. I hate to say it but I don’t see third party developers jumping all over themselves to build games specific to one company’s crazed idea about what makes a fun game. None of which necessarily erases the appeal of the Wii as a purchase for gamers, but I thought the whole point was to get new gamers excited or convince non-gamers to give it a shot. I keep thinking of people like my parents who really like games in general and have even had some fun playing video games in the past as the people Nintendo is talking about attracting with this new system. Then I watch videos from E3 of people playing Wii games and I just can’t imagine my folks going out and buying one of these systems. And what really has me sighing and shaking my head is that what no one seems to be realizing is that the key point at the top of the sheet with 48-point bold font that should be selling the Wii is the Virtual Console and GameCube backwards compatibility. Every Nintendo game for every Nintendo system in one box. Yes, please.
  • It’s been hard to admit that I once really thought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were cool. I could have coped with the cheesy cartoon show (which I didn’t think was too bad after all) and the original Turtles live-action(ish) movie was actually pretty good (having been lifted almost exactly from the original comic book). But the sequels to the movie were repugnant as they tried to blend the worst aspects of the cartoon with the lamest parts of the original movie. I’m not saying I’m ready to wave the TMNT-geek flag again just yet, but this 3D preview clip shows some real promise.
  • Don’t ask how I stumbled across this article, but I have to ask a couple of questions about the Ms. Wheelchair pageant and the ensuing scandal that rippled through its hallowed, storied legacy. First of all, they have a Ms. Wheelchair pageant? Call me insensitive but I thought the whole point of the handi-capable thing and all the surrounding Amercians with Disabilities brouhaha was supposed to get us all to believe that people in wheelchairs were just like everyone else and they could do whatever anyone else could. Assuming I’m not wrong, doesn’t it seem a bit contrary to that message to have to hold a separate pageant just for people with that particular condition? Also, there were only five contestants. And after all the protests and title-strippings, the third place girl won. Talk about your hollow victories: “Congratulations! You beat two other women to be crowned…!”

Doggedly Updating

I have much that I want to write about but I’ve been really tired the last week or so. The best I can muster is a few bullet points for now, begging your pardon.

  • So according to my poll (a new one is now up) I have (drumroll please…) eleven readers. Discounting those who are related to me and therefore read out of a sense of obligation, that means that I have attracted the attention of four whole people. Look out, syndicated columnists! Your time is nigh!
  • I went up to Seattle for a few days last week to hang out a bit with Fast Track. Seattle is a really cool place and I had a great time. A little advice for you, though: In Seattle, wait by the curb for a cab because those guys won’t call when they get to your place if they don’t see you standing around out there. I’m not sure why that is.
  • There is an interesting article on about not forcing players into your plots. It was eye-opening because I know that as a GM I tend to really work hard to get a super sweet story rolling when I finally sit down to design and build a campaign or adventure. I don’t want players to miss out on the totally rad scenarios I have cooked up so when they start misinterpreting clues or roughing up characters that were supposed to be allies, it is really easy for me to get frustrated and try to start the railroading process. My most recent foray into GMing was a good example because as the players went a bit off-track my descriptions started getting more and more vague until they followed the breadcrumbs back to the path where I could read from my pre-written exposition again. For me part of the problem is that I love to tell stories but I’m really very lazy so designing a role-playing game is a good way to tell stories like that because I only need to do the fun stuff which is come up with the general plot and a few key characters and then I get to both tell the story and get other people to help me with the details (the hard part) at the same time. But I like what the article has to say so for my upcoming Shadowrun 4th Edition campaign I’m going to try and make a conscious effort to roll with it a little more and be less tunnel-visioned when it comes to keeping the players on the rails.
  • Nik and I have been playing an obscene amount of Catan Card Game, specifically the tournament-style game from the Expansion Set. In a way the game plays like Magic-lite because you need two full copies of the game and the expansion so that each player builds their own custom 33-card deck. There are combos, strategies and all sorts of unique things to try in this variant and I like it quite a bit. The game’s mechanics are pretty well balanced to begin with (nevermind the 5th Settlement naysayers, we’ve had games recently that demonstrate this is not true including me winning soundly with only one additional settlement and Nik winning after falling behind 6:3 settlement-wise) and having to come up with clever ways to work the cards you have in your deck to your advantage works in some cases even better than Magic. I’ve always thought Magic worked best in closed-system style games (hence my propensity for Type-P or sealed deck style games of Magic) and since Catan is a closed-system, it’s neatly sidesteps a lot of the potential balance issues Magic runs into regularly. Of course Nik and I are only able to play this way because we borrowed Lister and Whimsy‘s copies of the game sets and we need to give those back at some point so we’re probably going to have to buy new copies of the game and expansion… I don’t see going back to the old style very often now that we’ve experienced the wonder of tournament style.
  • There is a pretty interesting article over on the Wall Street Journal about abundance paradox with Netflix movies. I’ve noticed this myself because Netflix gives me a greater chance to watch movies that I might otherwise only see if they A) happened to be on TV or B) someone else sat me down to watch. The article’s mention of weightier fare being common bottlenecks in queues is absolutely true: I see lots of the movies I put on my list because they earned high praise from a lot of critics or because they were nominated for awards (stuff like “The Constant Gardener” and “Millions”). But when it comes to seeing movies in the theater I tend to stick to mainstream stuff, mostly action and Science Fiction (at least when it’s up to me). But watching movies that are designed to make you think or that are more artistic for art’s sake requires a certain frame of mind: One that I don’t necessarily attain all that readily when I get home from work. The only thing I’ve been able to do is finally decide that I’ll give a movie two chances: If I fall asleep twice or if I just can’t make myself sit through it after a couple of attempts, I’ll send it back. I may re-queue it for later, but I’d rather try something else (considering there is essentially no drawback to returning it unwatched and in fact it is less economical to hang on to something you aren’t watching—an interesting reversal from the regular video store) now and see if I’m not more in the mood at a later date. This works pretty well but doesn’t address the real problem which is trying to get two people to find the right frame of mind concurrently to allow them to watch a movie they both want to see. Oddly enough Netflix works best as a solo venture and Nik and I have a lot better luck finding stuff to watch together when we hit the video store and can take advantage of the instant gratification factor.
  • So it sounds like my brother didn’t care for a lot of the music I sent him. It’s not a big deal, but it kind of surprised me how opinionated he was with some of the stuff. Back in high school he’d pretty much listen to whatever I handed to him and nod along thoughtfully without really saying much about it one way or the other. The only way I knew he actually liked anything was if he actively listened to it on his own accord. To hear him go out of his way to bash on Interpol and Wilco was somewhat unexpected not because the bands are that wonderful (though I happen to like them both quite a bit) but because it seemed somewhat out of character for Scott. I suppose this just means he’s got a bit of a curmudgeonly streak in him as well (not nearly as wide or as thick as my own of course). In his comments to me about the music he noted that he missed some of the rocking that indie bands aren’t necessarily as prone to do as mainstream rock acts; I realized that I missed the boat by passing over Muse as a possibility. Those guys totally know how to rock and do it all the time. He might have dug them even more than The Decemberists.
  • Speaking of music, I was on a roll there for a while keeping my library of songs growing at a steady but manageable clip. Then I ran across a co-worker who hooked me up with a veritable bounty of new stuff and it steamrolled my playlists with new and unfamiliar tracks. I’ve finally gotten to where I recognize a lot of what he gave me when it pops up on shuffle but I haven’t gotten back to expanding and exploring again. Sad, too, since Thom Yorke just put out a solo album I have yet to pick up and the List of Bands to Check Out When I Have Time that sits on my Netvibes home page has swollen to somewhere in the neighborhood of 22. I’m thinking of re-titling it “List of Bands to Check Out Many Years From Now When They’ve All Broken Up and I Don’t Have to Worry About Them Putting Out New Albums.” Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue so well.
  • There has been a lot of talk about TVs lately. This stems primarily from a new HD LCD set purchased by my friend Foster and the subsequent contemplation it initiated in HB about his own television situation. Then I went to visit Fast-Track and noted his jamma wall-mounted HD plasma TV and felt the twinge of jealousy begin to grow within myself. The problem with a new TV purchase at the moment was well summarized by HB last night when he noted that the real problem is that the technology is advancing at a rate comparable to that of regular PCs so that anything you buy now is going to seem positively ancient in three or four years. And the real rub is that for all the sweet potential of a snazzy new HD flatscreen, it isn’t just the cost of the device you have to consider it also has a lot to do with your signal inputs since without an HD signal to take advantage of the monitor’s capability, you might as well not even bother. The cable situation in our apartment is so abysmal that it hardly seems worth the effort to try and get anything fancier than what we already have. Then again, raw real estate would be an unparalleled delight since I’ve been tolerating a mere 30″ screen (at most!) for the last six years or so.
  • I fiddled ever so briefly with Fast-Track’s PC playing Battlefield 2… I should know better by now than to mess with gaming PCs. Every time I do so I start getting all these wild machinations about being able to play PC games (Half-Life 2 beckons…) which is probably not so great considering my specs for a gaming PC tend to run in the range of $900+. I did see an ad in Electronic Gaming Monthly that I picked up at the airport to flip through while I was waiting for my flight to board that had a pre-built machine of reasonable specs for about $400. The problem with that is the price there is identical to that of an XBox 360. I keep telling myself I’m going to hold out on any more consoles until the price drops but if I was willing to spend $400 for a PC, how much more of a stretch is it for the 360? Granted there could be (potentially) other uses for the PC besides just gaming where the 360 would be little more than another bit of clutter in the ol’ entertainment center, but you have to understand that logic such as this plays no part in my decision-making processes. I fear that at some point it may come down to “$400 for a PC, $400 for an XBox or horde the $400 away like a squirrel collecting acorns?” Those are the kinds of decisions that usually lead to buyer’s remorse because I have very little in common with squirrels.
  • Except cheek capacity. I can hold a surprising amount of matter (typically food) in my cheeks. I don’t usually use this ability as a storage mechanism, but I could.