Monday, December 25, 2006

Sunday, December 24, 2006

For some reason, The Areas of My Expertise is available for free download on iTunes. Get it while you can.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dr. Phil is such a tool:

Okay, Dr. Phil, you've booked the maker of Bumfights on your show. You've shown a 90-second promotional piece for his product, and in the heat of the moment, you have second thoughts, and kick the man off your show. You know what you do next? You don't air the interview! Jesus Christ, man, it's not that hard a concept to grasp. Of course, if you just had the man on to kick him off your show, to make yourself look good, that's another matter. But I don't know if you're that hypocritical. I mean, it's not like CBS uploaded this clip to YouTube themselves, to promote your show...oh, I see...

Notwithstanding the fact that the whole thing seems staged, with the Bumfights dude knowing his role and two security guards straight from central casting ready to escort the fellow off-stage in as camera-friendly a way as possible. I'm not a fan of Dr. Phil, but I must say I expected more of him than this.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mallard Fillmore's creator is a big stinking drunk. I'd make a joke, but if I've learned one thing from Fillmore's Ted Kennedy strips, that statement alone is always hilarious.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Yes, I know, I've been lazy about keeping this site updated. If I didn't pop in occasionally to tell you that someone died, you'd probably think I had. There's a few reasons why I haven't been around too much. There's school, for one. But primarily, I'd say my absence is due to two things. I've been sick for quite a few weeks, a really bad case of the flu over two days or so, and then a low-grade version I've had trouble shaking, and, probably related, a marked deterioration in my chronic insomnia (I'm lucky to fall asleep before 3:00 these days). The result of which is, I've accomplished very little recently. The second reason I've been lax in updating is that most of my time online has been spent nurturing my obsession with the Wii.

Which I now own. I got up a bit before 6:00 this morning, and was at the Target in Grossmont Center around 6:30 or so, where I found no line. I pulled into a space facing the first-floor entrance, where the line-ups for this sort of thing take place, and saw no one in line, which actually worried me a bit, but I saw people in the cars on either side of me, so I rolled down my window to ask one if they were there for the Wii, which of course they were. Then the guy on the other side of me says he was told they don't have the Wii. At first I thought he was trying to fake me out to get me to leave, but it was soon apparent he was telling the truth, but as I was assured they would have 40 or so units, I figured the loading docks guy was simply misinformed. I sat in my car for a few minutes, but apparently my arrival was the tipping point, as a line quickly began to form, with myself in the third position. There were probably ten or so groups in line when it first formed, and about thirty in line around 7:30, when the manager came out and confirmed that they had 42 units. He also confirmed that they had no extra controllers for sale. Which is fine, as I intend to wait for the release of Wii Play, which will come bundled with an extra controller. By 8:00, the line was fairly long, to the point that the people at the end probably went home empty-handed. But within about five minutes, I was walking out with a Wii. I didn't buy any games, as I've ordered Trauma Center and Zelda online, and intend to pick up Rayman Raving Rabbits on my way home from work. Wii Sports should be more than enough entertainment for a week or so, at least, and I do intend to get at least one game off the Virtual Console, just to try it out (probably Sonic the Hedgehog, or possibly Super Mario 64--I can think it over, since it's all moot until I get a wireless network set up).

It is a bit frustrating to wait in line for ninety minutes or so, get my coveted equipment, and then have to set it aside and go to work, but that's life. I'll have time this evening to explore my new best friend--to quote the great man, "Teacher, mother, secret lover." I actually have a little more time than I could normally expect, as we're closing early tonight for our holiday party. I was planning to go, but with the excitement of the Wii, the fact that I got less than three hours sleep (I actually feel quite alert, considering), and seeing as my recent illness would preclude much drinking, I'm skipping it. It's on a boat, which is nice, our last party on the boat was a lot of fun, but it means I can't just pop in for an hour or so, so I'm just skipping out entirely. I'm sure I'll have some Wii-flections for you all soon.

The question is, now that I own a Wii, can I stop pouring over the Wii search results on Google Blog Search, or will I just become even more obsessive and disturbed? I won't share all the articles I found, but I will point to this one, which might just be wishful thinking, but it is definately true that the Wii has the potential to revitalize the adventure genre. The article made me feel all warm and fuzzy just for reminding me of the existence of the Tex Murphy series. My impression is that Max Payne might follow at least in the tone of that series, but since I've never actually gotten around to playing it, I couldn't say for sure. As far as Space Quest is concerned, I loved it as an adolescent, but my revisitation to the series finds that they do not hold up as well as I hoped, at least as far as gameplay. A new iteration of the series could definately work, though.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dueling campaign commercials, courtesy of Rifftrax's Michael J. Nelson:

Perhaps at least one good thing will come from the existence of Justin Timberlake--Grey Kid is bringing Paxil back:
"Weird Al" Yankovic finally has an album in the top 10.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ken Jennings discusses his appearance on 1 vs. 100. He confirms my opinion, that the show is heavily weighted against the mob. I did see one contestant lose, because he confused the Jessica who fell down a well with the Jessica who mocked Iraqi's genitalia [UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that I had Jessica Lynch confused with Lynndie England. I regret the error. But the important thing to note is, neither of these women fell down a well]. Members of the mob won a whopping $750 or so a piece, while the more successful individual contestants had winnings in the six-figures. It doesn't pay to be part of the mob (they didn't even pay Jennings' travel expenses, apparently).
CNN weighs in on Aldomania.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Freddy Fender, dead at 69. I only had the opportunity to see him perform once, at a free concert at Golden Acorn Casino. Not a bad show, but I would have loved to see him as part of Texas Tornados.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Randy Newman was on The Colbert Report last night, performing "Political Science" after his interview. To the best of my knowledge, this was Colbert's first musical guest to perform a song (he's had musicians on, but not to perform, though Neil Young tried to sing "Let's Impeach the President," but was quickly cut off by Colbert). Newman carried himself fairly well, I thought. I was hoping he would perform his new song, "A Few Words in Defense of My Nation," which he's been doing in concert, but maybe he feels it's not ready for a national audience yet. Besides, "Politcal Science" could practically be Colbert's theme song, the musical embodiment of the arrogance the show parodies four nights a week. And Not to give away the punchline, but at the end of their interview, when Newman explains the concept of the unreliable narrator in his songs, and that in "My Life is Good," he's merely pretending to be an obnoxious rich guy, Colbert, in a very meta moment, chastizes him, explaining, "Nobody wants to listen to somebody pretend to be an obnoxious rich person, and not mean what they say, sir." To which Newman, thinking back on his recent studio album sales, no doubt, responds, "I'll say!"

Friday, October 06, 2006

I. Nelson Rose analyzes the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. Overall, my feeling that the law won't make a big difference is unchanged, but it still remains an open question as to how this will impact Neteller. It seems possible that government regulations developed in response to the new law could ban transactions with third-parties like Neteller as well as casinos, but time will tell. It is worth noting that the law changes nothing regarding the legality of placing on-line bets (the one breaking the law is the person taking the bet or facilitating the wagering, not the bettor). It is also worth noting that the bill was rushed through so quickly that at least one portion seems blatantly contradictory to the rest of the bill, and most likely is simply a typo, that, like the notion of corporations as people, shall now be the law of the land.
Joe Glazer, dead at 88.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

As I recently mentioned, my iPod was having issues, and had to be sent in under warranty. I'm pleased to say I got it back on Friday, and am even more pleased to report that Apple had some very good news for me: There was nothing wrong with it. According to the letter (which isn't in front of me, so I'm paraphrasing), either my iPod was found to be operating well within acceptable parameters, or otherwise did not require replacement hardware (the letter was deliberately vague, I presume, to avoid calling me an idiot or a liar). So apparently freezing up and not turning on are now features. I am trying to be optimistic, that perhaps in diagnosing the problem they took the iPod apart, and perhaps tightened up some loose part that was the cause of the problem. But I've noticed the iPod is a bit sluggish in opening menus or selecting songs, which makes me worry that nothing has changed. When I took the iPod out of the box, it wouldn't turn on, which I found quite amusing, considering the problems were supposedly in my head. I think they didn't complete the restore process, which requires the attachment of an external power source, because once I plugged it in to a charger it turned on (and I was able to verify that the battery was charged).

I must say the experience left me less than satisfied, and would make me less likely to consider an Apple computer in the future. Though to be fair, the experience was far more pleasant than my contact with Dell customer service, though ultimately neither was useful (but at least Dell acknowledged that my computer was non-functional). Of the two iPods I've owned, I should note my first iPod is still working fine, despite suffering several catastrophic-appearing drops (hard falls onto my concrete driveway, for instance). And even the troubles with my current iPod mostly have been only moderate, crashes repaired by simply resetting the iPod (though that was an inadequate solution for reparing the most recent crash). So while I am less confident in the long-term reliability of the iPod (in my opinion, the life cycle of a $350 piece of electronics should be at a bare minimum two years), I still see no better choice for large-capacity MP3 players.

I did look at some of the competition in the 60 gig+ MP3 player market, but really never seriously considered buying anything other than another iPod as a replacement. Especially when I realized there was an easy solution to the problem of my disillusionment with Apple technical support. I will purchase my next iPod at Costco, home of the 100% satisfaction guarantee, which will take almost anything back anytime. So if my next iPod acts up, I'll ignore Apple's warranty and simply return it for a full refund and buy the most recent iteration of the iPod, and simply continue to get free upgrades every time my iPod acts screwy, or I just fell like an upgrade. Love that Costco.

The situation did encourage me to take a look-see at the forthcoming Microsoft Zune. And I had to laugh when I learned that the Zune will not support "Plays for Sure." So for all the MP3 manufacturers and music stores who supported Microsoft's standards, Microsoft is rewarding you by engaging in direct competition with you, and undercutting the standard you adopted. I'm not a Microsoft fan, but I still expected better of them. If you don't buy an iPod, the most likely reason is the proprietary nature of their DRM. So why would you buy another manufacture's inferior product with an equally (or more) restrictive DRM (though unlike Apple, it does support a subscription service--though only their own)?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Okay, I know, I haven't really said anything in this space in some time, and now I'm back, and I'm making another post about Mary Worth. I'm sorry, but I can't help it. I probably spent about four hours today going through the comments to a single post at the Comics Curmudgeon, aptly titled Why, God, Why? I would venture to say that virtually every person under 60 who reads Mary Worth could be found their coming to terms with their grief. Some bizarre and amusing theories were floated to how Aldo might still be alive. A few even made video montages to express their pain:

(see also "The Wind Cries Mary Worth")

It was a bleak day. And the question that was on my mind, and many others, remains unanswered: Now that Aldo is gone, do I keep reading Mary Worth? Of course, it's been mentioned that there's no telling how long it will take Mary to overcome her grief and guilt for essentially killing this emotionally-disturbed man with her intervention-cum-ambush. But I imagine I'll stick with the strip for at least a little while longer.

Oh, and here's an article on "Aldomania", including an interview with writer Karen Moy, which confirms the resemblance to Captain Kangaroo was intentional.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Man, I've gotten lazy about this whole blogging thing. I had a nice little vacation, and have quite a bit to write about there (for now, I'll just say that the Museum of Jurassic Technology is freakin' awesome). But it always seems like there's something to keep me otherwise occupied. Most recently, it was some technical problems with iTunes, which I tried to fix using the brunt force method, which ultimately led to the loss of all my iTunes settings (playlists, song ratings, etc.), so I spent quite a bit of time tinkering with that and recreating my playlists as best I could. Only to have my iPod die this afternoon. Still under warranty, by just under a month, but I still have to pay $30 (!) shipping and handling. I could still have purchased an extended warranty for $70 rather than pay shipping for this repair, but I decided it wasn't worth it, as I have a feeling I'll be buying an iPod Video early next year, if the internet rumors are to be believed.

My iPod's death made me sad today, but what truly has me preoccupied is the death of Aldo Kelrast. By means of explanation, let me say that I have become a bit obsessed with the website Comics Curmudgeon. As a result, I have begun reading some comic strips I never paid attention to, like Apartment 3-G and They'll Do It Every Time (I'd never even heard of that one before). But the biggest shake-up in my comic-reading activity was the sudden interest I took to a little strip called Mary Worth. And while an interest in the meddling adventures of an elderly biddy was already percolating within my heart, it was this summer's series of strips, affectionately dubbed "Aldomania" by the internet community, which promoted Mary Worth from an ironic amusement to a full-blown obsession.

And it could be a painful obsession. I don't know if you've ever followed a soap opera comic strip, but with only three panels a day, stories take a long time to unfold. A week could pass just with Mary Worth ending her volunteer shift at the hospital. And the filler strips, intended to stall the story so that the shocking reveal could occur on a Sunday, those would really strain one's nerves, when one desperately needed to learn just how Toby's plan manifest itself. But this week, after I began to lose confidence in Aldomania, things took quite a turn.

I feel bad I didn't direct my the Comics Curmudgeon website months ago, so they too could bask in the glow of an elderly woman being stalked by Captain Kangaroo. But since I didn't, I'll simply direct you to some post from their archives, so that you can try to get caught up enough to understand what I'm feeling right now. Anyway, here we go:
It Begins.
Our first good look at Aldo.
Aldo's swarthy good looks accentuated.
Mary's whoring it up with Captain Kangaroo starts to bring shame upon her.
Is Aldo a murderer?
Aldo's magic mirror.
And we thought with this strip Aldomania was truly becomming awesome. We had no idea...
The reality of her situation begins to sink in for Mary.
Aldo contemplates the thrill of the hunt.
Is Mary asking for it?
Mary tears into Aldo! She says capisce!
Aldo has a drinking problem? No kidding.
Toby hatches a scheme.
What is the shocking reveal?
Christ, that's lame.

There are more posts about Aldomania to be found, if you peruse the Comics Curmudgeon archives, but those will give you the basic storyline of this Summer's Mary Worth. Things looked bleak after Labor Day, though, when the storyline seemed to be wrapping up with the lame intervention twist. But when the intervention ended, and Aldo promised to leave Mary Worth alone, things took another twist. The strip archives go back a few weeks, so you can read the most recent installments of Aldomania yourself. The Sunday strips aren't archived, so you'll have to read Sunday's strip at the Comics Curmudgeon.

Today's strip confirms the awful truth: Aldo Kelrast is dead. Aldo is dead. The feeling of loss is palpable. It's truly been a joyous summer watching Aldo desperately try to win the heart of Mary. I'll miss the little guy. The question is, where does Mary Worth go from here? I'm guessing someplace awesome. Unless that damn pompous chinbeard is involved.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sunday, August 27, 2006

I had a close call this evening, when I was almost made to look foolish (I've come to terms with being foolish, and now merely focus my efforts on keeping others from discovering my foolish nature). I went out to dinner with my mom after work, and forgot my keys. She went to talk to our neighbor for a minute when we got home, and I wasn't able to open the door. I didn't feel like talking to the neighbor, so I just decided to wait. Which was fine for a few minutes, but soon it became obvious they were going to have a long chat (she was apparently showing pictures of her daughter's wedding). But now too much time had passed for me to walk up and say I needed Mom's key, without looking like a fool (I faced a dilema similar to one faced by Sen. Larry Pressler after accidentally walking into a closet). And as more time passed, my dilemma deepened, as it became less and less an option to ask for Mom's key, yet it became more and more an inevitability that I would appear a fool when discovered waiting at the door (though just by one person, rather than two).

Fortunately, I was sent a savior, in the form of a neighborhood kitty who has recently taken a shine to me. I'd set the cat loose a couple times after being cornered by Tanner, so now we have some sort of bond, and in the last week or so, she's often looking for me when I get home. And after I'd been sitting outside the front door for about twenty minutes, my feline friend came by, giving me the perfect cover: I was sitting outside the door so that I could pet the kitty. I think Mom thought the scene didn't quite seem right, but I was not conclusively shown to be a fool, so I was happy.

I was also thinking that kitty needs a name. I think she's a girl (although the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, she doesn't seem to have male genitalia), so I decided on the name Sable. I actually came up with a good name while attending a Dave Alvin concert last night, but couldn't remember it in the morning (yes, I stand around thinking up names for kitties while attending concerts by rock 'n' roll combos--yet another window into my soul, courtesy of Blogger). But whatever name slipped into the ether, I do think the name Sable suits her, even if does sound a bit like a stripper.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Monday, August 21, 2006

My vacation is approaching, and I was thinking about how to spend my evening in Los Angeles, when inspiration struck. Sadly, an internet search revealed that the Naked Trucker (aka Dave "Gruber" Allen), whom I've been wanting to see live for some time), was performing the night before I'm in town, and the night after, but not that Thursday. But apparently he's taping a new series for Comedy Central, so I'll be able to see him in all his glory, eventually.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

David Brent in Microsoft training videos. Kind of long, and the best stuff tends to be near the end, but worth watching.
Vintage drug ads.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A movie version of Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp has been green-lit. Tim Burton seems a great choice to direct a film based on one of my favorite musicals, but I share Sondheim's reservations about Depp.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Meat Purveyors are splitting up, according to their MySpace blog. Very sad that I never had a chance to see them live. Their Oregon show almost coincides with my vacation, I'm tempted to go see that show, but I don't see how I can stretch my vacation that much. At least their new album was good, so they're leaving on a high note.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wondering why you can't buy a copy of a newpaper from a vending machine in Las Vegas? Turns out the porn industry is to blame. Though you probably already figured as much. This Question of the Day is only available today, August 9th, after which you'd need a Las Vegas Advisor subscription to access it (the coupon book is a good deal for many Vegas travellers, depending on your needs, but I wouldn't recommend signing up just to learn about the newspaper/vending machine/porn nexis).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I just had a conversation in which it was revealed that I had Steve Gutenberg and Judge Reinhold confused. Anyone have any idea how this might have happened? The two look nothing alike, and I'm not aware of any similar roles they played. The only thing I can think of is the names, Gutenberg Bible being what Judges might have sworn you in on at one time. Anyway, I felt a little foolish about that mix-up, especially since I realize I'd been confused on this matter for some time (how Reinhold's appearance on Arrested Development didn't set me straight, I don't know).

Another embarassing item, I passed out at the blood bank on Monday. I've given blood quite a few times with no issues, so it was a bit surprising. But suddenly some nurse asked if I was okay, and I said I was fine, and gradually came to realize I was on the floor. I think it happened because I haven't slept well lately, and Monday was my first chance in awhile to sleep in, so I didn't get up until about 11:30, which means I didn't have breakfast, and I wasn't drinking water all morning. But in my fall, I apparently hurt my shoulder, which is still a bit sore this evening. I planned to go to the gym this evening and see if I could loosen it up, but decided on second chance I should take it easy a few days until I'm sure I'm back to normal. In any event, be assured that I will get up early the next time I give blood, have a big breakfast and drink lots of water.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Randy Newman kept an online journal from his recent European tour. I am excited to be seeing him this Wednesday at Humphrey's. Also excited to be seeing Ramblin' Jack Elliot tonight.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

For some months now, I have been meaning to plan a vacation to Las Vegas. I'm sure faithful readers of this blog have been very concerned for my mental health, taking notice of how long it's been since I've been to my true spiritual home. But I recently got word that my sister received four passes for a tour of the Charles M. Schultz Museum from her local PBS affiliate. The tickets are good until sometime next year, but I've been meaning to go there for some time, and now seemed as good as any time. So I've decided to scrap my Vegas vacation and go up to see her and the baby.

As driving up to San Jose would involve passing through Los Angeles, I thought of stopping off at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which I have badly wanted to visit since learning of its existence. But it doesn't open until noon on Friday, and looks like it requires a few hours to get the whole experience, seeing as they screen two one-hour films in addition to the museum. So I thought I might have to save the museum for another time, even though I really am anxious to experience this rather odd place. But then I remembered that I keep seeing advertisements on the TV in which George Lopez tells me and my fellow Southern Californians that we should take our vacations in Los Angeles, and I decided that George Lopez seems pretty on the ball, so I'll go ahead and make a day of it, and spent the night in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I'm planning on going right after Labor Day, and I've noticed several attractions (most notably the Huntington Library) I would like to attend have reduced hours in the post-Labor Day off-season. So seeing it all in one day will be a bit tricky (fortunately, the Museum of Jurassic Technology is open late). I'm considering spending two nights in Los Angeles, so I have a whole day with no travel time (except for the eternity it takes to get anywhere within Los Angeles), but since the room rates I've found for basic accomodations in neighborhoods I think are reasonably safe look to start at $99/night, if I can keep it to one night, that'd be good. I was also thinking about visiting the Hearst Castle on my way home from San Jose, and staying somewhere along the coast that night, rather than driving all the way home in one day. I haven't yet decided where I would like to stay, though, and as I was looking into the details of the Hearst Castle tours, it dawned on me that my plans would put me there on September 11, and I had to ask myself if it was appropriate to ogle the ostentatious wealth of a prototypical American fat cat on a date on which, while I mostly haven't done much to commemorate those who died, it seems fitting that I at least comport oneself in a subdued and contemplative manner.

Anyways, I spent most of this evening perusing various websites (AAA's, mostly) for ideas of things to see in Los Angeles (I'd planned to see Cash'd Out at the Casbah tonight, but I wasn't feeling very good, so I decided to stay in). I'm thinking maybe I'll go to the Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanical Garden first, as it's near the Huntington Library, and then head over to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I'd like to visit Will Rogers State Historical Park, but I don't think I'll have time, just as I know I won't have time for the Getty Center, unless I decide to add a day to my stay. Any suggestions of things to do in Los Angeles, or of a nice place to spend an evening on my way back from San Jose, are welcome.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I'm sure everyone has been eagerly awaiting my account of Comic-Con 2006. With this damn heat, I've been too lazy to type it up, preferring instead to spend my time staring vacantly into space. But today the heat wave seems to have broken a bit (though the humidity remains), and I was even able to venture to the gym (it actually occurred to me to go down there and go ice skating for the first time in my life, but neither Saturday session was well-timed for me, so I just ended up on a treadmill), so perhaps today is as good a time as any to type about my brief exploration of this years Comic-Con extravaganza.

I suppose I should start with Saturday, since I never got in the building, and it shouldn't take too long to explain why. Generally, I buy the four-day pass well in advance, at a substantial savings. Even if you miss a day, you still come out way ahead on the deal. But I kept putting off the purchase, and as I only planned on attending Friday and Saturday, I decided to just purchase day passes for those two days. So Thursday night, I registered for Friday online. I decided not to purchase a pass for Saturday at that time, so that if I saw everything on Friday, and decided I didn't want to go back on Saturday, I could back off. It seemed a sensible decision, as I hadn't been as excited about Comic-Con as I had in the past (though by Thursday, I was beginning to get Comic-Con Fever). So when I got home on Saturday, around 10:30 or so, I went to register for Saturday, only to find that online registration had been closed due to this year's increase in attendance. Registration on-site Saturday would be available, but not guaranteed.

That didn't sound good, but I decided I had to go try to get in, so I got up Saturday morning and took the trolley down to the convention center. I was expecting a long line, but not what awaited me. The line for on-site registration reached down behind the Hyatt hotel, down to Seaport Village. I gamely tried to find the end of the line for about ten minutes or so, but soon came to the realization that there was no way I would get inside the convention center; the fire marshall would cut off admission long before I got my turn to register (even if I did get inside, the panels I was most interested in were early in the day, when I would still be in line). So I hiked back to the trolley stop and headed home, with a heavy heart. I got a call just before 2:00 from a friend who got in line right at 10:00, who had just gotten inside, and about fifteen minutes later, I looked online and saw the announcement that on-site registration had been shut down. So there was no way I was getting inside; my decision to return home proved to be a wise one.

I think it was a good thing that online registration was closed, as the line to pick up preordered badges was itself horrendous, and I don't think I would have enjoyed waiting in that line (though I would have eventually gotten in), seeing as I had a pounding headache when I got home, and generally felt like crap all day due to, I believe, a touch of heat exhaustion. It is a credit to Comic-Con that they are responsible enough to shut down registration when the enrollment gets to be too great, rather than just selling more and more tickets for more and more people who will spend the bulk of their Comic-Con experience waiting in line in the stifling heat. My sister often complains about the Star Wars convention she goes to sometimes, which has no problems selling tickets without regard to maximum occupancy, so that the fire Marshall shuts them down, and ticket holders can't enter the convention hall. Comic-Con generally does a great job of managing all the logistics of hosting such a massive event, and deserve praise for their hard efforts.

So that's why I didn't get to go on Saturday. Now let me skip back a day, and tell you what I saw when I did get to go inside, on Friday. There wasn't really anything scheduled early in the day I wanted to see, so I took my time getting there, arriving a bit after 11:00. I hoped that the preregistration line might have died down a tad by then, and it had. I waited about ten minutes at the most to pick up my badge, and soon I was on the floor of the convention center. No sooner had I entered the hall and turned the corner then I was face to face with Lou Ferrigno, who was selling autographed polaroids for $20. It was tempting, but I passed. The Lollipop Kid, one of the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, was selling a very nice looking autographed picture for a bit more, $35, if memory serves. I considered purchasing one as a gift for my sister, but decided to buy it the next day, instead, as I planned on leaving earlier that day, and wouldn't have to carry it around as long. But that wasn't to be, of course. Billy West was also selling autographed pictures, head shots of himself along with some of the animated characters he voices, but as he signed the CD I purchased last year, I passed on that and just snapped a somewhat unflattering shot of him myself, while he told a story about meeting Jerry Lewis (recently, I believe, though I came late to the story).

Of course, autographs aren't the only thing to be had on the Comic-Con floor, and I spent about half the day covering approximately half of the booths. If you've attended in past years, there were no big surprises to be had. Mostly the same merchants selling the same stuff. A piece of Simpsons artwork caught my eye at the Van Eaton Galleries booth, with all the ancillary characters hanging out in Moe's Tavern, but though the price seemed quite reasonable, I decided to pass, as I have no place for it. The Peanuts booth had some nice T-shirts for sale, including two Snoopy Comic-Con exclusives. But they only had the one I wanted, with a more subdued image of my second-favorite beagle, in large, and they ran small, so I had to get the other one, with a glittery Snoopy that probably won't wear well (and even the extra-large was still quite snug and unflattering on me, so I'll have to slim down a bit before I wear that one in public), along with a T-shirt of Snoopy and Woodstock in a sixties motif. I bought one or two comic books, and contemplated some other purchased, which I planned to make on Saturday. I marveled at the detail in the Little Nemo in Slumberland anthology, which I actually held in my hand for the first time at the Bud Plant booth, but decided that was a luxury purchase I could not presently afford. And I ventured past the merchant booths into the center region, where the Hollywood studios and other big-wigs have their booths. I had to pick up some stormtrooper figures for my sister from the Star Wars booth, which only took fifteen minutes or so. Like the booths on the north end of the convention center, there weren't many huge surprises here, with the same companies promoting the sequels of things they promoted here last year. I did think that video games were more heavily represented. I watched some people try out an Eye Toy video game (I must remember to post here about my experience with the Eye Toy, which I purchased a month or so ago), and various other booths also had demo games available. Most elaborate was the Nintendo booth, which was heavily promoting the DS and its games (I didn't notice any reference to the forthcoming Wii). I unfortunately did not bring my DS, so I was unable to download any of the demos they were offering. In fact, that is my primary regret about not getting in on Saturday, as I brought my DS with me and was eager to download the demos of upcoming games.

The southern end of the convention floor included the booths of various independent publishers and some more comics-related booths. There were several booths in particular I was looking for, and I also was anxious to browse amongst the offerings, but by this point, the floor was getting quite crowded. It felt like a Saturday crowd, and it was getting a bit difficult to move. Not gridlock, just slow-going in getting from one point to another. So I decided to move upstairs to the panels, after grabbing lunch, and to save the south end for Saturday. So I can't tell you what was to be seen down there. I waited in line for twenty minutes to spend $11.25 on a (unappetizing) personal pizza and a Snapple, then took my seat for the panels.

One nice thing about how Friday's schedule worked out, almost everything I wanted to see that afternoon was in the same room. So while I was able to get a pretty good seat for the first panel, I was able to get a prime spot for the following panels (though I left to get some dinner and only had an okay seat for that evening's panel with Robert Smigel and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog).

The first panel was a conversation with low-budget filmmaking pioneer Roger Corman. It was fun to hear Corman talk about his experiences and the various filmmakers, and the discussion of Death Race 2000 was especially entertaining, but some of the discussion of his more recent work for the Sci-Fi channel bored me. He was also hurt a bit by the act following him: It's hard to take his B-movie work too seriously when you're waiting to hear from the cast of the first real A-grade sci-fi motion picture, Forbidden Planet. Richard Anderson, Warren Stevens, and Earl Holliman were in attendance, as was Robbie the Robot, or at least a replica of recent vintage. They were at the Con to promote the upcoming DVD release for the film's 50th anniversary. The discussion was not terribly informative, but they all shared their fondness for the film, and also spoke about their career in general (I was happy to hear Holliman menion his role in the very first episode of The Twilight Zone as a moment of his career he was most fond of. They had Robbie the Robot do his sassy robot schtick, which was cute at times, and fortunately they gave it a rest before it got too old. It was more exciting just to see this eight-foot robot up close (there was no one in this suit, they just wheeled it out on a platform). And they positioned it right in front of me, so I got some good shots of it, and of the cast posing with it. I will definately get the DVD when it comes out. I saw Forbidden Planet as a double-feature with 2001: A Space Oddysey some years back, and I thought that Planet was quite easily the better film.

I had dinner at Trophy's, and then came back for the Smigel panel. During Smigel's introduction, the emcee got interupted by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who got lots of laughs ripping on the various events at Comic-Con, explaining that these nerds don't need to sit through boring introductions, because these are "nerds with options". When he learned that this panel was next door to a presentation on "Klingon Lifestyles," he insisted on crashing that panel, and ran off, out of camera and microphone range. I can imagine Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at a Klingon Lifestyles Presentation would be something to see, but sadly, as the Smigel panel had started a bit late, the Klingons were already gone. So we got a little more of Triumph, then Smigel moved on to his T.V. Funhouse work for SNL, which is why he was at Comic-Con. I was concerned the panel would be little more then him showing clips from the DVD, but he actually showed a lot from his archives, including stuff I doubt the lawyers will let him put on the DVD. I especially enjoyed a Christmas T.V. Funhouse he did, using real audio from various preachers perverting the Christmas message, as Jesus looks on in the background, getting pissed off. Finally, Jesus is channel-surfing, disgusted by everything he sees, until he ends up watching Linus on A Charlie Brown Christmas, getting teary-eyed before dancing like Snoopy (I would assume this is available via the tubes of the internet, but I can't seem to find a link that works). He discussed how touching he finds the Peanuts special, adding that he wondered if the image of Jesus moved to tears by a cartoon would get a laugh, but explained that it never does, as most others feel the same about the special as he does. Then he noted that Jeannie Schultz, Charles' widow, was in the audience, and she got a nice round of applause. I was surprised she was attending this panel, and wondered what she thought of some of the more risque cartoons.

In addition to T.V. Funhouse, Smigel went into his archives, showing stuff from pilots he's worked on, and from The Dana Carvey Show, amongst other things. I tend to find Smigel's stuff somewhat hit-or-miss, but I got quite a few laughs from what he showed here, and was very excited to see Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in person.

I intended to attend a screening of some of the worst cartoons ever made, but Smigel ran a bit long, and the line to get in to that screening was quite long by the time I arrived, which meant that this screening would probably start late, and I'd get home quite late as well. I was rather wore out, so I decided not to try to get in to see the cartoons, and went home instead.

Overall, I had a pretty good time at Comic-Con this year, on Friday. Had I known it was the only day I would attend, I would have used my time a bit more wisely. But I saw most of what I wanted to see. As to the panels on Saturday, I regret missing out on the opportunity to see Art Clokey, creator of Gumby. I also was looking forward to confronting the current illustrator of The Family Circus, asking him how he sleeps at night. But there was nothing on Saturday I couldn't live without seeing. I just wish I had brought my Nintendo DS on Friday, so I could have gotten the demos from their download station.

I'll try to get my Comic-Con pictures up tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ken Jennings insists his snarky comments were actually a joke. It's rather amusing to read Jenning's original post and then the news coverage of the post. Apparently the ability to read, or rather to comprehend, is no longer a prerequisite to a career in journalism. Or maybe I'm just out of touch, and unaware that The Colbert Report is in fact deadly serious.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Top poker players suing the World Poker Tour over IP, anti-trust concerns. I think they might have a case on the anti-trust aspect, but it seems to me the image concerns are a stretch. The WPT might want to make a deal with these big players, since I'm sure their presence helps with the ratings, but it seems like the agreement they sign is pretty standard, and certainly less onerous than what you sign to be on American Idol and such shows (until I read the American Idol contract, I didn't realize that the phrase "in perpetuity throughout the universe" is actually a term found in legal documents).

Friday, July 21, 2006

I just wrote a nice long post about Comic-Con, and then my browser crashed (thanks again, Adobe Acrobat), so so much for that post. I won't try to recreate it, I was just discussing some of the things I'm most looking forward to seeing. So I suppose you'll have to hear about them after the fact. Anyway, should be an exciting couple of days. I'll be sure to put up a full report, eventually. Maybe even save it a time or two as I proceed (Blogger offers a handy "Recover Post" option that never seems to work).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Doctor and two nurses arrested for euthanizing patients in New Orlean's Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina. Some months back, NPR ran a facinating and disturbing story about the investigation. Are the arrested medical personnel guilty? I don't know. But what disturbed me about the NPR story was the fixation on whether a lethal cocktail of drugs was administered to the patients. The implication being, that abandoning these patients to die of "natural" causes in the evacuated hospital would have been perfectly legal and ethical. To quote from the NPR article:
According to court documents reviewed by NPR, a key discussion took place on Thursday, Sept. 1, during an incident-command meeting held on the hospital's emergency ramp. A nurse told LifeCare's pharmacy director that the hospital's seventh-floor LifeCare patients were critical and not expected to be evacuated with the rest of the hospital. According to statements given to an investigator in the attorney general's office, LifeCare's pharmacy director, the director of physical medicine and an assistant administrator say they were told that the evacuation plan for the seventh floor was to "not leave any living patients behind," and that "a lethal dose would be administered," according to their statements in court documents.
Now, as I understand this passage and the rest of the article, my understanding of the timeline seems to be that it was concluded, with evacuation efforts faltering, that the patients were to be abandoned, and then some staff members concluded that those to be abandoned should, out of human decency, be euthanized. If there is criminal conduct here, it is in abandoning these patients, not in giving them morphine. In discussing the difficulty of conducting forensic analysis on the deceased, the NPR piece notes that "the bodies were not retrieved from the hospital until two weeks after the storm and were in advanced stages of decomposition." So the patients were abandoned for two weeks without food or water, in a hospital with no electricity where temperatures were well above 100 degrees. Yeah, giving morphine to someone in that position is clearly immoral.

Again, I really don't know what happend in that hospital, and I can't say for sure whether those arrested today are guilty. But to me, guilt or innocence should not come down to who gave morphine to whom. If the people arrested made the decision to abandon the patients (i.e., they concluded that euthanizing them would be easier than moving them), they deserve their present fate. But if they were merely responding to the failure of someone (the hospital? FEMA?) to evacuate the most vulnerable patients of Memorial Medical Center, then I believe a grave miscarriage of justice is in the works.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Home of the Groove discusses Fat Domino's cover of Randy Newman's "Have You Seen My Baby." I never realized Fats does not play piano on the Fats is Back album, let alone that Newman himself played on the album (I knew he arranged some material, but not that he performed).

Incidentally, if you enjoy the song posted on the blog above, you'll love Sweet Patootie, from Rhino Homemade, which includes material from Fats is Back and other ancillary recordings.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I saw Strangers With Candy this evening. The film drew a nice crowd out to the Ken Cinema to see it on a sweltering Friday night, and it got pretty hot in the auditorium. But I was laughing so hard I didn't realize I was sweating like a pig (a "pig newton," to quote the film) until the lights came up. I was really looking forward to this movie, as Strangers With Candy is easily in my top five favorite TV shows of all time. And the film pretty much gives fans of the TV show what they want. I must admit, compared to the TV show, the movie isn't as good as half the episodes. And the film recycles a fair number of jokes from the show--but at least they're funny jokes. Still, there's a lot to like here, for fans of the show. I'm not sure what those unfamiliar with the series will think. I think you can appreciate it, generally, but will always feel a few steps behind the movie. The movie is for fans of the series, and I for one really enjoyed it. Good times!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

House approves online gambling ban. They also put in an exemption for the domestic horseracing industry, exactly what led the WTO to declare the U.S.'s de facto ban illegal.

In any event, the ban seems mostly symbolic. As it is, domestic banks and credit cards will not process gambling transactions, leading to foreign firms like Neteller facilitating such transactions. So even if this bill becomes law, I doubt much will change, though it may encourage the Justice Department to continue going after media companies accepting online gambling ads, including some firms which have made clear their intention to defend themselves vigorously if charged.

Bush extends Geneva Convention protections to Guantanamo Bay prisoners. From the article:
A memo from U.S. deputy defence secretary Gordon England, released Tuesday, instructs U.S. defence officials to ensure all policies and practices comply with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. That section prohibits murder, violence, mutilation, torture and humiliating and degrading treatment. It also requires the military take care of sick and wounded prisoners and states everyone should have some judicial guarantees.
Gee, you're right, Alberto Gonzalez, when you actually sit down and read it, that dose sound "quaint"! What's next, are you going to say we can't reopen Saadam's Rape Rooms in Iraq?

Friday, July 07, 2006

It's been about a month since I purchased my Nintendo DS Lite, the latest handheld gaming system by the visionary company. I'd decided to pick up a DS some months back, but knowing that the improved Lite model would be coming out, I decided to wait. Which was a wise choice, as the new system costs the same as the old one, and the improved backlit screen makes quite a difference. Now that I've had it for awhile, I figured I'd look back and reflect on my experiences with the systems and its games.

The unit itself works great. The screen is very easy to see with the backlighting, and the touch screen also works well, and I rarely have problems executing even the most precise actions using the stylus. I must admit, when I heard that the replacement of the Game Boy would have two screens, one of them a touch screen, I thought it was a pretty stupid idea. But the system really is ingeneously designed, and allows lots of very innovative styles of game play. And at $129, it seems like a pretty good bargain. I really have no complaints; sometimes the small size of the unit makes long-term play uncomfortable, especially for games that utilize the standard controls rather than the touch screen. And even the more compact Lite unit won't fit easily in any but the largest pockets. But still, it's a great system, especially with the innovative games being made for it.

I picked up a fair number of games when I got the system, and found them all to have some merit. The game I play the most is probably Brain Age. This is a sort of mind-teaser game, which is based on a series of best-selling self-help books in Japan. Basically, the game quizzes you to determine the age of your brain, and then gives you brief exercises, mostly basic math or memorization, along with reading aloud, which will exercise your prefrontal cortex. It's the sort of thing that's perfect for the DS. The touch screen and microphone (for voice recognition) allow for lots of different simple exercises, as well as a bonus Sudoku feature (the best way I've ever seen to play Sudoku), and the game actively encourages you to play in very brief sessions, which is what you want with a portable game system. When you first start, it is actually frustrating how few features are unlocked. You get more exercises as you go along, but still, even after unlocking all the exercises, I could do them all easily in about ten minutes. But since you're encouraged to revisit the exercises every day, the replay value of the game is enormous. The handwriting recognition works very well for numbers, though it isn't completely perfect. Recognizing letters (which only comes up in one test) is more problematic, and the voice recognition is only so-so (it has a hell of a time recognizing the number eight when I say it--I had to resort to substituting "eat" instead, as that seems to work). But still, for $20 (cheaper at Costco), it's a fun game, and the sudoku as an added bonus makes it an even better value.

I also got Big Brain Academy, which is similar to Brain Age, in that it also has tests to measure your brain (weight instead of age, in this case), and various mind-teasers to exercise various aspects of your brain. Comparing it with Brain Age shows something curious: Big Brain Academy has a great deal more variety, with tests that are more complex and interesting, yet Brain Age is easily the superior game. The austerity of Brain Age, and the simplicity of the exercises, helps to give some degree of credence to its claim to be a self-help product. Big Brain Academy doesn't really claim to be a scientifically-rigorous psychological tool, but just a series of games, and the games really aren't that much fun. Like Brain Age, they're over quickly, but still I have the feeling of "Thank God that's over" far more often while playing Big Brain Academy. It's still a decent game for a bargain price, but Brain Age is definately the more engaging of the two.

New Super Mario Bros. is also a pretty cool game. Not too hard to beat, but there's still a lot to go back and discover (I finished the game and never made it to two levels). The best parts are the things that are most faithful to the original Super Mario Bros. Some of the more novel additions, like the mega mushroom which makes Mario huge, or the micro mushroom that shrinks him down, are fun the first time or two, but the novelty wears off quickly. Despite being a new game, nostalgia is what makes this game interesting, but that's fine. It's very well-implemented.

Those are the games I've played the most. I also enjoyed Trama Center: Under the Knife. The touch screen creates some great opportunities for game play in this surgery simulation game. But it's a very difficult game, and can get frustrating. Meteos is a pretty fun puzzle game, though it didn't quite live up to the great things I'd heard about it. Seems like luck comes into play a bit much, but maybe that's because I'm still learning about some of the more subtle aspects of the game. Bust-a-Move DS was a bit of a disappointment, but I have a feeling I might come back to it once I get bored with the games I play more often. And Metroid: Prime Hunters seems fun, but I just can't get the hang of the controls.

Perhaps one month isn't enough time to say for sure that the Nintendo DS was worth purchasing. But so far, I've gotten quite a bit of use out of it, and found some very good games to complement it. I was sceptical of the DS when it was first announced, but now I'm a believer.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

American V: A Hundred Highways, the latest Johnny Cash album, was released Tuesday. Circuit City is (was?) selling it for $8.99, which was the best deal I could find. If you don't have the CD, go buy it, now. I'll wait.

. . .

Okay, then. I went and got the CD Tuesday morning, and observed the birth of our nation by listening to the valedictory testament of one of our greatest musicians. From the advanced press the album had received, I thought it might be a bloody depressing way to spend one's holiday, and I envisioned myself shut up in a darkened room sobbing as the fireworks burst outside. But the album turned out to be a bit different than what I'd imagined. Reading early reviews, two key traits of the album had come into focus: The album is mired in songs about death, and Johnny Cash's voice at this point was wrecked by asthma and overall poor health, to the point that he could barely get through a song. But after listening to the album rather compulsively, I'd have to say that, if neither claim is completely false, they don't really capture the essense of what American V is.

Death is a theme in every song, whether explicitly about death or not. This is all but unavoidable in the context of a posthumous release, of songs recorded by Cash after the death of June Carter Cash as a form of therapy. But Cash had clearly made peace with his mortality, and as a result the album may be sad, but Cash's hope and peace mean it never gets to be truly depressing. Even a song like "On the Evening Train," a Hank Williams-penned dead-wife ballad, is made somewhat more bearable by Cash's strong and confident vocals.

So yes, his voice shows considerable wear on the album, and certainly certain tracks show this more than others. On "Rose of My Heart," for instance, or "If You Could Read My Mind," a shockingly powerful Gordon Lightfoot cover. But discussion of how his voice was gone at this point are wildly off-base, and seem to overlook that Cash was not that strong of a singer mechanically, as it is traditionally understood. And while Cash's struggle for breath (which Cash himself addresses in "Like the 309," the last song he ever wrote) lends a fraility to several tracks, it also serves as a counterweight to tracks on which Cash in is fine form. The album closes with "I'm Free From The Chain Gang Now," on which Cash's voice is probably the strongest you'll hear on this album. The lyrics may suggest the song is about literal freedom, but from the conviction in Cash's voice, I'm confident Cash is singing about freedom of a more spiritual sense.

I really don't know what else to say about this amazing album. It's a remarkable coda to an amazing musical career, and a fitting eulogy to a great man. You've got songs about death, about prison, about trains, about love, about God. And even in the last song he wrote, about his casket being transported (by train, of course), his understated wit comes through. How can this not be the best album of 2006?

Ken Lay, dead at 64. Lay was apparently living the traditional life of a convicted felon at the time of his death, experiencing the hard-knock life Aspen, Colorado is so famous for.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The L.A. Times profiles several "Senior Judges" in Nevada. Apparently, the Nevada Supreme Court invented the title without input from the legislature, and the position has become a refuge for disgraced and corrupt judges. Just one more example of what an exemplary judicial system gambling taxes can purchase.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

School is all but over, I'm happy to say. Instruction concluded, I just have to navigate a few finals, and then it's smooth sailing to summer. School's kept me busy the last two weeks or so, especially with some group projects for my information technology class. But that's history, and now I can move on to a nice relaxing summer. No summer school this year, but I do have some projects I've been working on, which I'll finally have the time to complete.

While school was in session, I of course tried to cut down on distractions that might hinder my studies. That's why I purchased Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero is basically a toy guitar that plugs into the Playstation 2, and lets you participate in an activity vaguely resembling "rocking out." I played an in-store demo and decided that this was something I needed to have. The irony was not lost on me that I could have purchased a real guitar at Target for almost the same price (though how good is a Target guitar on sale for $88 gonna be?). I haven't had a whole lot of time to play it, but it's pretty fun so far. Difficult, but not frustratingly hard, and decent song selection.

But that wasn't my biggest purchase of the week. I was reading Runner's World, and they were discussing websites like Bones in Motion and Motion Based, where you can upload GPS data you gather while running and trace your runs on a map and extract data to improve your training. Reading about these sites, it was obvious that GPS has evolved a bit since I last bought a GPS unit, the Timex Speed and Distance Monitor, a few years back. My system doesn't even store actual latitude/longitude data, so the whole mapping thing wouldn't work without an upgrade. The latest Timex system does track such data, but while the components are sold seperately, I would have still had to upgrade all my equipment save the heart rate monitor. Which meant it wasn't economically unfeasible to switch over to Garmin. Their Forerunner series is well-reviewed, especially the newest models. The main difficulty was in choosing a model, as the older models are still available, and the price difference between them is substantial. I ultimatly decided on the Forerunner 305, which is the most expensive of the models, but includes everything, and is rather compact. I've only used it once so far, but was very satisfied with the hardware. Found a signal on the first use in just about a minute, and had no signal problems. It does seem designed to be worn on the left arm, as much righties would, but I wear my watch on my right hand. But that's not a major problem, it just means I have to turn my wrist slightly to read the display (it also means the satelite antanna is pointed towards the ground, but it still seems to work fine). I was actually surprised, after looking at it online, when I went over to REI and actually saw just how small the unit is. Larger than a wristwatch, certainly, but not by all that much. Of course, the question remains how well the much cheaper 301 would have served me. But I've gotten burned quite a few times, buying the cheapest model just to have to upgrade to the deluxe model eventually anyways. So I decided to go for the best product currently available, and hope that will serve me well for years to come. And by purchasing a new fancy toy, it will encourage me to run more regularly (that's why I originally got a GPS distance monitor, and the plan worked that time).

As for the websites that help you track your data, Bones In Motion seems like the best choice. Only drawback (not a minor one): Bones In Motion doesn't collect data from your heart rate monitor. Motion Based does, but seems a little clunky overall, and doesn't offer much. Even some real basic features, like mile splits, are unavailable unless you subscribe. Which is aggravating both because the website is owned by Garmin, and after giving them over $300, they should be giving me this stuff for free. But I could get over that, if a subscription was priced reasonably, but $11/month is outrageous for what you get. I'll be sticking to Bones In Motion, and most likely just use the software that came with the GPS to track heart rate, though I might use the free options on Motion Based for that.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Antiguan lawyer excited by U.S. crackdown. It is beautiful to watch the U.S. try to snatch defeat from the arms of victory. The WTO's decision in the Antiguan online gambling case was really a victory for the U.S. The court ruled for Antigua, but only to the extent that U.S. law needed a tweak. An online gambling ban was upheld, as long as it was applied without regard to international borders. In other words, if it was necessary to block internet gambling for the public good, then laws couldn't permit online horse wagers from domestic operators. But rather than make the necessary adjustments (and kick the domestic track industry while they're already down), the U.S. is ignoring the WTO decision, showing again this administration's contempt for international law, and meanwhile indicting the operators of offshore businesses for running casinos outside its jurisdiction, for accepting wagers from the United States. It should be a simple matter to prove in court the U.S. has done literally nothing to move towards compliance with the WTO's decision.

The U.S. government certain has a right to outlaw internet gambling. They really shouldn't, due to the evident unenforcability of such a law, and the obvious demand for the services the casinos offer. But regulating gambling is certainly a valid role of government, just like regulating alcohol, tobacco, firearms, or anything else with potentially negative social costs. But the negative social cost of placing a bet on a horse with a intermediary based in Del Mar and one based in Antigua is the same. The only difference is the U.S. bears the social cost, while receiving no tax revenue or other positive effect. The choices are clear: Really outlaw internet gambling, domestic or foreign, or bring internet gambling on-shore. The present plan, showing contempt for international law while gambling on the web continues unabated, accomplishes nothing, neither for those pro or con. But the current plan in the Congress seems to be to ignore the WTO decision, and simply pass more draconian legeslation, that ignores the sole matter that makes the entire effort illegal. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: Democracy just doesn't work."

In a related story, well-to-do, well-educated young online gamblers entice U.S. casino operators. Among the claims of a new study,

Online gamblers are not the desperate or vulnerable loners they're often perceived to be. They tend to be younger, more affluent and better-educated than gamblers who frequent land-based casinos.
I'm offended. I'll have you know I am very much a desperate and vulnerable loner.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Yma Sumac has an official web page. I must admit, I stumbled upon this while verifying that she was still alive (I was pretty sure she was). But she seems in fine health, as the pictures from her recent trip to Peru verify. Hints a new album is not out of the question (but then again, Norma Desmond was ready to return to the silver screen any moment, too).

Friday, June 02, 2006

Busy week, with school and other stuff. And the election is only days away, so I decided it was time I decided who to vote for. I've been having trouble backing a horse in the gubernatorial primary (though apparently I'm not the only one), so I decided tonight was a good night to do some digging into the candidates. Wesley has chosen to attack Angelides primarily as being an anti-environmental land developer, so I decided to look into the veracity of those ads. After looking into those, the choice was a lot easier. Wesley's ads are completely misleading. The Sierra Club had endorsed both candidates, saying either candidate "would be the greenest governor California has ever had." (I'm sure Jerry Brown is offended...though I'm sure he'll feel better when he's our next attorney general) Yet even though the Sierra Club can't decide between the two, Wesley decided to run a series of ads claiming that only he cares about the environment. Angelides refutes all the smear ads on his web site, and while not all his explanations are completely convincing, once I learned that Phil Angelides real estate investment in a shady Tahoe deal was actually an 11-percent stake in a time share, whose developer got in some hot water, I had to conclude that Wesley is simply not being honest with the voters. (of course, this does raise a larger issue: Do we really want a governor who got conned into buying a timeshare? What'd they do, give him two free show tickets in Vegas? Could be a scandal; today's timeshare pusher is tomorrow's lobbyist) I also was concerned about comments of Wesley accusing Angelides of raising sales taxes. I am morally opposed to the regressive sales tax, and was uneasy with this claim (even though the substance of it, that sales tax would be applied to certain services, may actually shift a bit of the burden to the rich). No need to be anxious, though, as Angelides is not currently advocating such a tax increase. He did advocate it a few years ago, at the peak of the state's fiscal crisis. But as the Sacramento Bee observes, Wesley himself advocated expanding the sales tax at this time, to cover internet transactions, to which I am unalterably opposed.

So I decided to base my vote for governor on the fairness of Wesley's campaign ads, and that's why it's easy for me to say now that I heartily endore Phil Angelides. I was leaning slightly in that direction anyways, given that Wesley seems to fall into the category of candidates trying to buy the governorship, which isn't entirely fair, as he does have political experience, but which nevertheless made me nervous. Truth be told, I think either candidate will be a great governor, but I really hope Angelides wins out on Tuesday.

I was surprised by the rigorous debate going on over the various judgeships up for election. One poor judge is facing an election challenge from someone she ruled against in a child custody dispute. Don't worry, Judge Trapp, I don't think you have much to worry about. The other two judgeships are much more competitive, though I'd say Rod Shelton's an easy choice. The tough one is the Pfingst/Rubin race. I thought Pfingst got a bad rap when he got drummed out of the district attorney's office, and that Dumanis' campaign threw some low punches. And I think he'd be a good judge, but so would Rubin. It looks like a toss-up to me, I'm not sure who I'm voting for.

I am voting for Cruz Bustamante, even if I was stunned by the highly unflattering photo of himself on his campaign webpage. Turns out it's not a campaign webpage, but rather a chronicle of his weight-loss attempts. Apparently he wants to be the next Huckabee. Good luck, Cruz.

As for the propositions, it looks like "yes" votes across the board, almost the opposite of last election (thanks again for that one, Arnold).

To conclude, my endorsements for Tuesday:

California Governor
Phil Angelides
Secretary of State
Debra Bowen
Joe Dunn
Bill Lockyer
Attorney General
Jerry Brown
Insurance Commissioner
Cruz Bustamante
State Senate, 36th district
Mark Hanson
Superior Court Judge, Office No. 16
Randa Trapp
Superior Court Judge, Office No. 36
Rod Shelton
County Assessor
Gregory Smith
Proposition 81
Proposition 82
Proposition A
Proposition G

Sunday, May 28, 2006

At Beware of the Blog, you can listen to an episode of The Simpsons described for the blind. I was aware of the technology, but was surprised how well the sight gags of a Simpsons episode can be rendered audibly.
Washed up at 27: Life of a Las Vegas cocktail waitress. I found it interesting to read that properties bypass Culinary Union rules by subcontracting out to nightclub operators, whose arrangements with the union allow them to hire based on appearances. The Union doesn't have a problem with the arrangement:
Casino attorneys say the Culinary Union won't balk when older workers don't get the new, lucrative serving jobs. It's the sacrifice for bringing more tourists to town - and keeping the vast majority of the union's 60,000 members happily employed making beds and washing dishes. Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said the union has prevented casinos from firing older workers, who can work as servers as long as they are able. And the union has at least gotten management to allow servers to wear lower heels and offer maternity uniforms for pregnant servers.
So the next time you're served a highball at your favorite Las Vegas nightspot by a sexy little thing in a maternity thong, be sure to look for the union label.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Orphan Works Copyright bill introduced in congress. Seems like a reasonable compromise to allow the 98% of copyrighted material not commercially available to be put to some use.
Another highly addictive internet time-waster. Visual instead of audio, this time.

It seems like there are all sorts of odd things on the internet that are as addictive as crack cocaine, which reminds me of something I only just this week noticed, reading Wil Weaton's account of E3. Wil Wheaton writes about many things, but video games are a major beat of his. And I thought it odd that he played Wesley Crusher, who in one canonical episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, saved the crew of the Enterprise after they had all been brainwashed by a high-tech futuristic video game (which actually looks primitive compared to the latest XBox 360 games). Could it be that the episode was not, in fact, fiction, but that Crusher actually succomed to the addictive Tetrisesque video game, was sent back in time, and now is trying to soften us up for the inevitable invasion by reminding us how fun Root Beer Tapper was to play as a kid? Don't say I didn't warn you.

And given that neither Wil Wheaton nor Star Trek has much of a web presence, I'm sure I'm the first person ever to think about this.

Oh, and I never did mention E3. I'm sure those who are interested in such things read the news coverage and don't need me pointing it out. I'll just say I was very excited to see Nintendo do so well and Sony so poorly. I will be buying a Wii, and definately not buying a P3. I am pseudo-boycotting Sony (I did buy the Dixie Chicks new album--not bad--and will be picking up the new Johnny Cash collection soon, I'm sure), so it is nice that they made such a mediocre product at such a ridiculously high price. I'm actually half-tempted to get an XBox 360, just because the online stuff looks tempting, but I'll wait to see what the Wii's online library will be like. And I really can't justify spending that kind of money. I'm hoping the Wii is $199, but if it does come in at $249, I could just barely justify that, but I couldn't justify that and another game system. Anyway, kudos to Nintendo for putting on a good show, and I hope their success carries over to the marketplace.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lloyd Bentsen, dead at 85.
Johnny Cash's new album, "Personal File," can be heard in its entirety on AOL. You might want to move fast, as I don't know how long it'll be up; T-Bone Burnett's album was up this weekend, but when I went to listen to it on Monday, it was gone.

Cash's new album sounds pretty okay. Nothing too spectacular. I was looking forward to hearing his version of "Paradise," but I like John Prine's better (Cash would have been better off covering "Sam Stone"). I'll probably pick it up eventually, even though I hate giving money to Sony. But I'm much more excited for the new American Recordings album, due out July 4th.

How best to warn future generations not to poke around our nuclear waste dumps?
The Scandanavians know how to make some catchy tunes. In Norway, the soundtrack to a frozen pizza commercial went on to top the pop charts for eight weeks. It's not hard to hear why; they really manage to put those deligtful Fanta girls to shame.

In Finnland, meanwhile, a group called Loituma had a hit with Ievan Polkka, which is deligtful on it's own, but became the internet equivalent of crack cocaine when 24 seconds of the intermezzo was paired with a few seconds of anime to create whatever the hell this is. After a few hours of watching this, I started thinking the leek-twirling girl was telling me to burn things.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Detailed presidential itinerary retrieved from garbage. I guess they're too busy monitoring my phone calls to bother keeping the whereabouts of the nuclear football secret.

And with regards to yesterday's post about the BBC mix-up, it turns out the guy wasn't a cabbie, but was there for a job interview that took a bizarre turn. I had started to wonder why a cabbie was dressed so well. It's still hilarious, though.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I attended the Padres game against the Brewers last Wednesday, as a guest of Valley View Casino. This was the second year they extended an invitation to watch a game from their deluxe skybox, and again I had a very good time. I'm not a big sports fan, but baseball is one of the few sports in which I do have at least a passing interest, so an opportunity to see a game in person, from one of the absolutely best seats in the house, with free food and booze, is one opportunity I won't miss.

I almost did miss out, though, because unlike last year, and other events I have attended at Valley View, they never called to confirm my attendance. So the day prior, I gave them a call to double-check that I was on the list, and I was not. After checking a few other dates (apparently this isn't computerized) and not finding me, they said there were a few tickets left, and I could still attend. So I went up the night before and picked up the tickets, and had the buffet and gambled. Their buffet is always a favorite of mine, but this time, in particular, it really shined. One of the first things to catch my eye was at the dessert counter, where they had added bananas foster (in a tray, not made-to-order, but that's fine). I tried the fried catfish, and was really impressed. There actually were quite a few good entrees, so for once I actually ate a fair amount of real food, rather then filling up on dessert. The bananas foster was pretty good, though they went a bit nuts with the cinnamon (there were whole sticks of the stuff thrown in the vat). I had some sort of amaretto cake dessert, which I just expected to taste like caramel, but actually had a very distinct amaretto taste (if that's a good thing or bad thing I'll leave to your judgment). And my old favorite, the various berries and cream, made me very happy, and the berries tasted particularly fresh (some of the best raspberries I've ever had). I've always liked the buffet, but it's always nice when it can go above and beyond enough that you get to rediscover just what a fantastic find it truly is.

While I'm on the topic of food, I should probably discuss the food at the skybox now, rather than later. The buffet at Valley View was better then the spread at the game. Not that it was bad. But it wasn't really that amazingly great. It seemed like they kept things slightly simpler than last year, with things like hot dogs and chicken strips and seven-layer dip. I actually forgot to have any dip, which is a shame because I remember from last year it was pretty good. I had a hot dog and some chicken strips; the hot dog was fine, the chicken strips were underwhelming. They had bags of Cracker Jacks, always a good thing. The presents have gotten chintzy; it was just some paper thing you unfolded to find out who the person pictured grew up to be (it looked like the little girl in the picture grew up to be Benjamin Franklin, but apparently it was supposed to be Susan B. Anthony). The desserts were good: Haagan-Daaz bars and some really good brownies. Overall, I certainly don't mean to complain about the food. It was good, and by ballpark prices, I easily consumed at least $50 worth (and we're not even talking about alcohol yet).

I took my mom this year; she had fun when I took her to the football game at Qualcomm Stadium, and had never been to the new Petco Park. Her arthritis has been bothering her, so she was very concerned about how to get there, and how much walking would be involved. I told her we'd take the trolley, and told her where it let off, but she was fretting that it would all be too much for her. A friend said you could buy parking spots online, so I just went ahead and bought a spot right by the stadium, so she could stop worrying. The tickets were free, so why not pay a bit to park? I ended up paying $27.50 for parking, including service fees for paying online (which is actually a bargain, considering that a basic parking spot at Qualcomm next football season will set you back $20). We parked in the Padres Parkade, which looked to be the closest on the map, but once we got down there, it looked like the tailgating lot is probably the best bet (at the same price). And I was able to show Mom how conveniently located the trolley is. We probably walked a bit more then we would have had we taken the trolley. But anyways, we were there, and after a few wrong turns found the suite and settled in to wait for the game. I fixed a plate of food and then found the liquor, where I was disappointed to learn they'd switched brands of vodka from Skyy to Absolute. I'm not picky, but Absolute is the one brand of vodka I really don't like. But I made do, and had a few screwdrivers, along with one of those Jack Daniel's brand bottled malt beverages (the fruit punch flavor), which was pretty good (though I'm rather partial to the watermelon flavor). Later, when it was time for dessert, I moved on to Bailey's, served on the rocks along with a couple of packets of half & half from the coffee area. I didn't get wasted or anything, but I rarely drink anymore, so it was a nice change to get a little buzz going while enjoying a sporting event.

The game was a good one. I'd like to tell you all about it, but the back of my ticket clearly states the following:

Holder agrees not to transmit or aid in transmitting any description, account, picture, reproduction, or other depiction in any media now or hereafter existing, of all or any part of the baseball game or related events to which this ticket admits the holder. Breach of the foregoing may result in legal action against the holder.
So I will refrain from commenting on the game. I hope my getting drunk is not considered a "related event," or I could already be in hot water for mentioning that.

Anyway, it was a good game, one team emerged triumphant, and all was well. We slipped out in the eighth inning to beat the traffic, and were home in no time. I'm a bit of a Valley View booster, and events like this are exactly the reason why. Now obviously, I wagered quite a bit to get invited to such events, but we're not talking millions or anything. I can assure you, from personal experience, that giving pretty much any other local casino twice the action I've given Valley View wouldn't get you nearly the comps they have given me over the years. I just wish their table games were better (lose the 6:5 single deck and put in real double deck blackjack!), and there was a bit more room to move around. Hopefully, after their expansion, those dreams may come true. Huzzah and kudos, Valley View, for treating players right in San Diego.

BBC accidentally interviews cabbie instead of computer expert. It's funny as a wacky mix-up, but it's especially funny in that the interview goes so well. In fact, his answer to the first question is basically to explain that there's a mix-up, that this isn't what he thought he was there for, but she just lets it slide, and later their man on the street reporter says he made a good point. Hilarious stuff, and the look on his face when they identify him at the beginning of the clip is priceless.
A heart-warming tale of triumph over addiction. I don't know why this made me laugh so hard.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Stephin Merritt: racist? In case you're wondering, the answer is no. But the reaction to his mentioning "Zip-a-dee-do-dah" does not bode well for "Song of the South" coming to DVD anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Last Sunday, I saw Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan in concert. The Hot Jazz Caravan emerged from the ruins of the Hot Club of Cowtown, one of my all-time favorite groups, so I was eager to hear how they stacked up to their predecessor. I saw Elana James and the Continental Two a few months ago, and was very impressed, so I was also curious how Smith's new project would measure up to her.

The concert was put on by Dark Thirty Productions, a series of house concerts in Lakeside. The house wasn't huge, but had a large open living room, so that the crowd of 80 or so could just barely be accomodated. A bit cramped, but not terribly bad. The $20 admission included a pretty good food spread, and beer and wine. Parking was a bit tight, and I was parked in, and concerned how long it would take me to leave. But the person parking me in was the first to leave, so I was also one of the first out. I'd certainly go see a concert there again.

Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan took the stage (such that it was) prompty at 7:30, and did two sets. A lot of familiar stuff, either from the Hot Club of Cowtown days or off their iTunes LP, with just enough new covers to fill the evening (I think they performed every song they knew...and a few they didn't). They sounded great throughout, and had a lot of energy and charisma. They weren't up to the level of the Hot Club of Cowtown, but they're still getting their bearings as a band. It was hard not to compare them with Elana James' new band, which is unfair, but I gave up on that soon enough, as they both have their own style. Whit Smith's voice is more instantly appealing, while Elana James' vocals are not quite as strong as her fiddling skills (though she certainly has grown on me over the years as a vocalist). And both have kept their songs from the Hot Club of Cowtown days, so while James sings songs like "Forget-me-nots" and "You Took Advantage of Me," Smith can sing songs like "It Stops With Me." I would say that Elana James and the Continental Two move more seemlessly from western swing to hot jazz, while the Hot Jazz Caravan seems more comfortable in the cowtown setting (though they did an admirable job with some Hot Club of France material).

Do I have a favorite? Yeah, probably Elana James and the Continental Two. But luckily, I don't have to choose. If there is a silver lining to the Hot Club of Cowtown's break-up, now the talent of the group has been dissipated a bit, into at least two touring acts, and maybe some of the Hot Club of Cowtown magic will make it to town twice as often.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Apple Computers wins trademark challenge from Apple Corps. I must admit I'm surprised, I thought the Beatles had a strong case. Apparently, it all comes down to the use of the phrase "physical media" in their previous settlement. And Apple Corps argument that iTunes is functioning as a full-fledged music label seems a bit of a stretch.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I had some lousy luck Friday playing poker online, after a good week, but the good people at Paradise Poker gave me some relief, informing me that I was one of the top 500 players on their point board for their World Series of Poker promotion, and was entered into a tournament to win a World Series of Poker seat. A one-in-500 chance to make an ass of yourself on ESPN is pretty exciting, and I'd love to tell you how the tournament went. But Paradise Poker e-mailed me around 1:00 for a tournament that started at 2:00. And I'm at work, so even though I got the e-mail in time, there was nothing I could have done about it. Their software doesn't work on Macs, and in any event, I think my employer would frown on me installing gambling software on my work computer. I already qualified for another tournament next Sunday, with 5000 players and two seats up for grabs. There's also some minor prize money for the three runners-up. Not a bad deal for free, but not worth taking the day off work, when I've already got Wednesday off. So it looks like the actual odds for that tournament will be around 2-4999.
I saw Wendy Waldman in concert, with Stacy Earle and Mark Stuart. Good show all-around, with Waldman doing a strong hour-long set, and the Earle/Stuart performance being a nice bonus. Couldn't quite decide if I found Earle annoying or endearing, it went back and forth, but overall I enjoyed their set.

When I came out, my car wouldn't start. Had to call AAA, and didn't get home until midnight, and had planned to do some schoolwork that evening. So that was annoying. Especially so considering I had borrowed my mom's car, as mine is way past due for an oil change, and I figured the Camry would be more reliable. But I think, being unfamiliar with it, I must have bumped something, and left the lights on. In any event, it's working fine now, but I'm driving my own car at the moment, as I'm going to a house concert in Lakeside, and would rather not break down in a neighborhood where I'm advised to bring a flashlight just to walk to and from my car.

Free concerts in El Cajon this summer. Johnny Cash cover band Cash'd Out and The Farmers look to be the most promising acts.

There was a Buddy Blue fundraiser at the Belly-Up Thursday. I wanted to go, but couldn't. Another concert is scheduled for June 18th at the Casbah.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

I'm listening to songs on Napster again, and realized in my previous post, I forgot to mention the sound quality. Rapsody has much higher-quality music, while free Napster users only hear a 32kbps stream. The difference is definately noticable. But again, it's free, so why bitch about it?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I've been holding off on buying a Nintendo DS, waiting for the announcement of the U.S. release of the Nintendo DS Lite. That announcement is here, and it seems waiting was the wise move, as the DS Lite will be the same price as the original DS, $129. The release date is June 11.

Of course, the question remains, do I need a DS? I hardly play my Game Boy now, and after breaking down and replacing my GameCube, I haven't really gotten much use out of it (I still play Animal Crossing on occasion, but the novelty has worn off). The nice thing about the wait for the Lite to arrive is, it's given me a chance to reflect on whether I need this. But I'll probably buy it when the Lite comes out; games like Meteos and Brain Age seem like things I would play, and then there's the odd games from Japan that make it here, like Feel the Magic, Trauma Center: Under the Knife and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. One reason why my interest in the system may have waned a bit is, the game I was most interested in, the continuation of the wonderful WarioWare series, is supposed to be pretty bad. But there's plenty of good games to counter any one dud.