Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I would so totally buy Sousaphone Player.

Monday, July 30, 2007

From The Onion archives: Suicide letter full of Simpsons references.
Ingmar Bergman, dead at 89.
Tom Snyder, dead at 71.
Viva Pinata coming to the Nintendo DS. Quite interesting, seeing as Rare, developer of Viva Pinata, is owned by Microsoft. Though as Microsoft is not yet in the handheld videogame market, partnering with Nintendo isn't too strange.

Viva Pinata was heavily influential in my decision to purchase an Xbox 360, as a game which proved there was more to the console than first-person shooters. I must admit, I haven't been playing Viva Pinata much, mostly because it's a very difficult game. I think I need to start my garden over, with more careful planning, and fencing to keep pinatas from fighting (good fences make good pinatas). But it is a very cute game, perhaps too difficult for the kids that make up the target demographic, but then little kids probably don't care if they get every variety of pinata, and will enjoy watching them fight. And who doesn't enjoy watching two Whirlms doin' it?

Spiderman meets Planned Parenthood. "Spider-Man's getting ready to give kids the real truth about birth control and chew bubble gum. And he's all out of bubble gum."
Hello Kitty, Goodbye Dignity. "Attracting the attention of the camera young priest in oneself you are not wrong the shank," indeed!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Well, my sister ruined Comic-Con, so I won't go into as much detail as I originally intended (angries up the blood), but I should just note a few of the highlights:

The Simpsons panel was just the best thing ev...oh, wait, I wasn't there. Thanks a hell of a lot, asshole houseguests! Oh there I go, getting myself in a snit. Back to happier news.

Futurama is back! Of course, I knew this, and knew they were coming to Comedy Central, but it was nice to get the details. Four direct-to-DVD movies, the first one, Bender's Big Score, to be released in November 2007. The movies will be sliced up into 16 TV episodes, to air on Comedy Central in 2008, along with the old episodes. The writers are all writers from the TV days, so that's a good sign, and all the voice actors returned (and all were at Comic-Con, including Katey Segal in her first Comic-Con appearance). The animation, in widescreen and HD, is supposed to be even better than the previous incarnation, while the budget constraints of basic cable means the show will no longer use a live orchestra for the sountrack, relying instead on synthesizers. The trailer was amusing, with lots of digs at their corporate overlords, railing against Twentieth Century Box for cancelling Planet Express' primetime delivery schedule. In a similar vein, a good portion of the panel consisted of the voice talent of Futurama reading a comic book that was distributed at Comic-Con, which followed the travails of the Planet Express team as they moved from Twentieth Century Box to the time loop that is the Carton Network (John Dimaggio's impression of Peter Griffith was freakin' sweet!), to their revival thanks to the unwashed nerds of Package-Con in Space Diego. This was followed by a Q&A session, which didn't reveal too many more facts, but led to a freewheeling discussion of the various voices on the show and their origins. I had to brave quite a crowd to get into this panel, but it was one of the most interesting panels I attended this year. But that may be because certain forces conspired to keep me from attending certain panels...jackasses...oops, there I go again.

The Boondocks panel was a lot of fun. The Boondocks is one of those shows I don't think I like, that I think is very much hit or miss, but then when I start talking about episodes I liked, I begin to realize there were some really genious episodes. And now that they have some experience, the new season should be even better. I don't want to spoil too much, I'll just say the panel opened with the trailer for a film parody, I would hate to ruin by discussing here. But the new season looks good, and the Q&A was hilarious; much like Bruce Campbell, the panelists were quite adept at slicing through the Comic-Con question bullshit and creating something hilarious. I'm eagerly awaiting the new season.

There were other bright spots at Comic-Con, but as I'm still steaming about this year's convention being spoiled for me by inconsiderate twits, I think I'll stop here. Maybe I'll put up some pictures later, but I don't think I photographed anything too earth-shattering. I just wish I hadn't pre-registered for next year already, because if my sister comes down next year, I'm going to Vegas.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Well, it's Wednesday night, preview night of Comic-Con 2007 has concluded, and I'm already exhausted. I think it's going to be a long week. The crowd tonight felt more like a Friday. I think the sold-out Saturday is going to be a harrowing experience. I gotta admit, going over the schedule, I'm not as excited as I've been in past years. But I said that last year, and once the Con was here, I perked up considerably.

So tonight, I took the trolley down to the convention center, arriving right around 6:00, and moments after I got in line, they opened the doors. The line was quite long, but as usual the Comic-Con crew was quite efficient, and within ten minutes I had my badge and was heading downstairs to the main exhibit hall. My plan for Wednesday was to hit the video game booths, hoping I'd have more of an opportunity to get some hands-on time with the demos. And this strategy worked out pretty well. I got to play Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix, an upcoming Loony Toons Xbox game (I would have much rather had a go at the DS version, which sounds awesome, but didn't see it around), Dewey's Adventure, Godzilla: Unleashed, and Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure.

Puzzle Fighter is a workmanlike remake of the original puzzle battle game, and I anxiously await its arrival on the Xbox Live Arcade (I was told it may be released next Wednesday). The AI opponent was ridiculously easy in early levels, but the difficulty can be adjusted. I do intend to represent at the Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix tournament Capcom is sponsoring.

The Loony Toons game for the Xbox 360 stunk. Looked okay, but I was bored within 30 seconds.

I was somewhat unimpressed with Godzilla: Unleashed for the Wii. But maybe I just didn't understand the controls, particularly the motion controls. The graphics looked acceptably good, though not spectacular. Overall, I think it would be a great bargain game, but at the $50 list price, I'll probably pass, and just wait for King of the Monsters to come out on the Virtual Console. Or take a look at the Xbox 360 version (the motion controls for the Wii felt tacked on).

I had no trouble getting time with both Zack and Wiki and Dewey's Adventure, most likely due to their appearance as kiddie games. Dewey's Adventure, I was surprised to find, was pretty fun, once I figured out the controls. What I played of it was a bit on the simple side, but made great use of the Wii's motion-sensing. I was planning on skipping that one, but now I think I'll give it a shot. I couldn't really form an opinion on Zack and Wiki, as the controls didn't seem to work; I couldn't even use the remote as a pointer reliably. I'm guessing the sensor bar wasn't working properly. The graphics really looked quite primitive, but the adventure game genre seems so well-suited for the Wii, and seeing as some of the game's fans are quite vocal, I certainly wouldn't dismiss it from my brief time with a flawed demo.

Beyond video games, I covered much of the floor, just getting the lay of the land. I did stop at the Peanuts booth, to purchase this year's Con-exclusive T-shirts. I got both designs (Pig-Pen and Cowboy Charlie Brown) in an XL, and when I got home and tried them on, they were comically snug on my belly and man-boobs. My mother laughed hysterically at the sight, to an extent that irked me. I'm suspicious that they accidentally sold me a women's shirt; I may stop by the booth tomorrow to look into the situation. Or maybe I'll just lose some weight (it would be good motivation; I really loved the cowboy design). Elsewhere, I bought a book dedicated to Ralph Wiggum, one of those impulse buys you see by the cash register at the bookstore; I bought it to give as a gift next week, so I'll have to read it quick.

Anyway, that's my report from preview night at Comic-Con. I will bring you breaking news from the Con as time permits, but as I'll be busy, tired, and have limited access to a computer (my brother-in-law will be sleeping on the floor in the computer room), there's a good chance I will maintain radio silence at least until Sunday. If you're at the Con, you can find me at the Gumby panel. The rest of the convention, I'll be wandering the halls, asking people how long until the Gumby panel starts. (I kid Gumby because I love, but in all seriousness, what I'm most excited about by this year's convention is the chance to get a sneak-peek at the new Futurama movie, Bender's Big Score)

Barry Bonds home-run scandal somehow becomes feel-good sports story of summer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Netflix's website seems to have just come back up, after being down since last night. Also, they've cut the prices of several plans by $1, which is nice, I suppose.

Monday, July 23, 2007

I've never played Pokemon in my life, but I did enjoy reading Penny Arcade's account of the recent Gamestop Pokemon tournament, and the response from a young tournament participant.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tammy Faye Messner, dead at 65.

As a tribute to most people, "Oops! There Comes a Smile" would be infuriatingly upbeat and glib, but since it seems to represent Tammy Faye's baseline attitude, through good times and bad, it seems a fine way of remembering her. And I'll be firing up my Eyes of Tammy Faye DVD tonight; I hope Tammy Faye was as grateful for that film as she should have been (I suspect she was; she's always been open about how thankful she was for the support of the gay community), as it really transformed how people thought of her. As did, of course, her appearance on The Surreal Life 2 (back before the Surreal Life franchise became unwatchable).

MSNBC has an even-handed commentary on Tammy Faye's faith and materialism.

I see I wrote about her book-signing appearance in San Diego here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tammy Faye Messner was on Larry King Live Thursday:

Obviously, she doesn't look good, but apparently she had gained five pounds since her last appearance on Larry King. She's obviously running down, but she's tenacious with a capital T. Very sad, though there was some comic relief (around 3:08 from the end, here), when Tammy Faye was asked who she wanted to meet in heaven, she said Billy Graham; Larry King had to remind her he's not dead.

Here's a picture of me with Tammy Faye, in happier times.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

As a rule, I don't shop at WalMart. There's probably a political reason for this; not so much concern for the Ma and Pa merchant, as for the most part I shop at chains or the internet, nor necessarily for the way they treat their workers, as I shop at Target, which arguably has a worse record on providing health care. Mainly, I boycott Wal-Mart because of the glee with which they work their evil, and their willingness to rub it in your face. They take out ads comparing anti-Wal-Mart forces with the Nazis. They funnel their charitable giving to advance their right-wing agenda, and, of course, devote an obscenely wasteful amount of time and money to defeating unionizing efforts, which I am convinced is a self-defeating strategy (compare this to CostCo's policy of discouraging unionizing by just treating their employees as human beings). But to be honest, the main reason I don't shop at WalMart isn't so much politics, but the fact that I just can't stand to be there. I used to shop there with some regularity, when it first showed up in my neck of the woods, mainly because several were open 24 hours, and I worked late and had chronic insomnia. At night, they were fine (I'm not sure that any local WalMarts are still open 24 hours). But today, when I go to a WalMart, or even drive by a WalMart to get somewhere else, I find it an incredibly unpleasant experience. Finding what I want is difficult, maneuvering the parking lot usually sends me into a blind rage, the staff is not helpful, and (here's where my left-coast elitism shines through) I always encounter the most disturbing people amongst my fellow shoppers.

In other words, I hate shopping at WalMart, which makes staying away on some principle very easy. But I do believe in giving credit where credit is due, so I wish to tell you that I had a pleasant experience today at a WalMart, taking care of what is, for me, a rather unpleasant matter: getting my oil changed. I never know where to take my car, and wherever you go, you end up sitting through a sales pitch for all sorts of services and additives. They know I don't know much about cars, yet I do know just enough to know that much of what I'm told at those places is bullshit. Occasionally, I've found a place that's okay, but the turnover at those places is so high, the service received changes with every visit. I was going to my dealership, which actually had reasonable prices for oil changes, but apparently, they decided the business wasn't worth their time, and jacked up their price. I remembered Mom spoke well, after having problems with other stores, of the WalMart oil change experience, so I decided to go ahead into the belly of the beast.

For $25, I got an oil change and tire rotation, no fuss, no muss. It took an hour, and they don't have a waiting room, so I just wandered the WalMart, and the CostCo across the street, for an hour, and then picked up my car and was on my way. They keep the experience as low-key as possible; they informed me one tire had a bent rim, but didn't even ask if I wanted to replace it while I was there. And as all they handle are lube jobs and tires, they really don't have much to sell. As long as they keep the experience as hassle-free as it is now, I'll gladly give WalMart my oil change business. Even if it does mean wandering the store, and overhearing a mother tell her five-year-old daughter (with a disturbing glee) why her grandfather is going to hell.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Updates to some recent posts:

I went ahead and converted some Lord Buckley clips to MP3, to update my Lord Buckley playlist on Imeem, attached to this post. The conversion process didn't seem to harm the sound quality noticably. I just couldn't sleep at night knowing Marc Antony's funeral oration wasn't included in my Lord Buckley playlist. So what happens when I upload the files? Most stream fine, but "Marc Antony's Funeral Oration" is only available as a 30 second sample. Can't find any logic as to which files are or are not streamable, with parts of an album streaming fine while other selections from the same album don't stream at all. Fortunately, "Willie the Shake" has the same speech, though it's not my preferred version. I do enjoy his discussion with the interviewer afterwards; I intend to work the phrase "every fox has got his box" into my conversation as much as possible.

I just posted an installment of my patent-pending WJCNotW feature, so it's probably too early for another one, especially one that lacks Wii convergence. But I do feel the need to share this with you all: Omegathon, video game uber-challenge associated with the geekfest Penny Arcade Expo, will be kicking off not with the pre-announced Pac-Man, but with Jenga. Like, the physical blocks on a table. I just have to wonder how many spoiled online gamers will petulantly knock the table over in disgust at some point.

Cereal mascots guaranteed not to appeal to children. I would totally buy Klaus Kinski's Froot Loops.
British pagans not amused by giant Homer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another hands-on with Wii Fit.
If you had asked me who would give Andy Dick the beating he so richly deserves, I don't think I would have said Jon Lovitz. Good for him, though.
Welcome to the latest installment of Wii/Jenga Confluence News of the Week (WJCNotW):

Ars Technica asks: Is Jenga on the Wii as bad an idea as it sounds?

Excuse me? Did you say bad idea? I think you meant to say frickin' awesome idea! Jenga FTW! The bird mentioned in the article, however? Sounds pretty weak. And I agree with Ars that price will make or break this game. $20 is a bit too optimistic though. My prognostication skills tell me $30 will be the release price. But given their financial situation, they might go as low as $20, just to generate cash quickly, like a crack addict.

Oh, and Steven Spielberg? If you mention Jenga again in conjunction with your lame-ass new Wii game, I will seriously bitch-slap you. I think a first-person shooter based on On the Lot would have a better chance of success.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I added a few playlists to various posts, via Imeem. I had heard of the service, and seen it on other blogs, but after taking a peek at it, I didn't feel the need to sign up. But when I mentioned Sara Bareilles recently, I had the thought to post a playlist of her stuff and other artists mentioned in that post. And I found plenty of her music available for streaming from Imeem. In fact, she apparently has some sort of promotional deal with Imeem.

For those not familiar, Imeem is a service which offers the ability to post custom music playlists to your website. It actually offers other services as well; they're trying to be a combination of MySpace and some sort of media storage service. But the playlist feature looks to be their most useful feature. Though apparently it was more useful in the past, when you could pretty much upload whatever you want, and let people listen to it on your website. Then lawyers got involved, and now, you can only hear a 30 second sample, unless Imeem has the rights to stream the song (they have a deal giving them access to the Warner Brothers catalog). If you upload a song you own, you can stream it yourself regardless of whether Imeem has rights to the song, but other visitors listening to your playlist will only hear a sample.

Despite the limitations as to which songs can be streamed, Imeem seems like a good service, and offers a lot of freedom to use songs for which they have obtained the rights. You can stream entire albums if they have access. It is actually very similar to the streaming service offered by LaLa, but without requiring the installation of software. The service has a lot of potential, and I was eager to put it into action.

The first playlist I made, added to this post, turned out okay. Like I said, Sara Bareilles has some deal with Imeem, so she has lots of streaming music available. Of the other two artists mentioned, Rodrigo y Gabriela had the most music available, but not their entire album. The Greencards, on the other hand, only had one song available, and it wasn't from the album in question. So that was disappointing, but gave me a chance to try uploading music. So I uploaded the entire album, and added it to the playlist. Unfortunately, Imeem apparently doesn't have rights to the album, as none of the songs stream, save for a 30 second sample.

My next step was to make a Porter Wagoner playlist. I had checked out the site in the past, when I wrote about Porter Wagoner, in the hopes of including a playlist, but only found one song, "The Carroll County Accident," and that only available as a sample. But now that I'd signed up for the site, I decided to upload some Wagoner myself and make a playlist. So I uploaded an old song or two, and the entire new album, and added a playlist to the Porter Wagoner post. Unfortunatley, as I suspected, were you to listen to this playlist, you would only be teased with sample clips. So that's unfortunate.

Making a Pink Martini playlist for this post worked out better, mostly. Most of their music is available on the site, listenable in full. So I made a playlist, with an emphasis on the new album, and enjoyed listening to it at work on Sunday. But while having it play as background music, I gradually noticed something was off. "Tea for Two" was playing, but Jimmy Scott never came in on vocals. It was apparently playing the full song, but it was only the first verse, looped repeatedly. Which was odd. I notice one or two other songs were the same way. Turns out someone uploaded the songs in that format, for some reason, but I was able to find all the songs in complete form elsewhere on the site, save "Tea for Two," which I uploaded myself. But now, my copy of "Tea for Two" only plays as a 30 second sample for other users. Which seems odd. They can play other Pink Martini songs, and they can play a defective version of "Tea for Two," but they can't play the "Tea for Two" I uploaded. My suspicion is that it takes time for Imeem to verify that they are able to play a particular song, so that all songs only play as 30 second samples at first (though subsequent experience would refute that idea). So I harbor a hope that, at some time in the future, "Tea for Two" will play in full on my Pink Martini playlist.

Wondering if all music uploaded is automatically limited to 30 second clips, at first, I decided Lord Buckley would be a good test (I somewhat doubt that Lord Buckley is in their filtering database). Only one work by Lord Buckley was already available on the service, but it was a big one, "The Naz." I went ahead and uploaded some of my Lord Buckley collection, and, sure enough, what I uploaded was immediately available for listening in full. Unfortunately, I encountered another limitation of the service: They only deal with MP3 files. The bulk of my collection is in AAC format (like many people, when I first started ripping my CD collection, I had no idea that iTunes was by default copying them in a non-MP3 format; once I found out, I soon realized AAC sounds better for the file size, and kept the default in place). So to upload my non-MP3 Lord Buckley material, I would have to convert it to MP3 format, resulting in decreased sound quality. Now, the sound quality on these files isn't great to begin with, but I'm not sure if the diminishment of quality wouldn't matter much, or if it would magnify the flaws. Truth be told, I'm too lazy to find out. So the lack of AAC support was disappointing, but I was able to add a decent Lord Buckley playlist to this post.

So, to summarize, I made four playlists, found on the following posts: various iTunes "Next Big Thing" artists I enjoyed, Porter Wagoner, Pink Martini, and Lord Buckley. My experience using Imeem to make those playlists shows that the service isn't flawless: As I mentioned above, a lot of music isn't available, and Imeem doesn't support the AAC format. Also the search function is clumsily implemented, and it would be nicer to be able to add music direct to a playlist from the search results screen, rather then having to navigate to each song's individual page. But, from my first experience with the service, I'm sure I'll be back. After all, they have a deal with Warner Brothers, which controls most of Randy Newman's music. I'd upload my Newman collection...too bad it's in AAC.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A look at nature singer Charles Kellogg, a man with an alleged 12 1/2 octave range, battler of flames with sound, and performer on the most annoying record ever created. An actual New York Times headline, inspired by Kellogg: "TUNING FORK SCREECH PUTS OUT 24-INCH FLAME; FUTURE FIREMEN TO STAY HOME, SAYS SCIENTIST."
Sara Bareilles a success story for variable pricing on iTunes. Coolfer observes one omission from the article: Her track "Love Song" was a free single of the week. I think I missed that one, though possibly I downloaded it and just never listened to it (I checked, it's on my iPod, so I guess, like most of the free stuff I download from iTunes, I just didn't bother to hear it). One other thing I would add to the coverage of iTunes "Next Big Thing" price cut: Variable prices for albums on iTunes is nothing new. The WSJ article certainly implies that the "standard $9.99" price for albums is nearly inviolable, yet as I kvetched about previously, iTunes has no problem jacking up the price of random albums (even those readily available on CD at or below the $9.99 price point), and they have been discounting albums featured through the "single of the week" program for some time. When labels talk variable pricing, they're talking singles, not albums. You know, the product they'd rather you didn't buy. If the labels are serious about protecting album sales, and moving people away from the singles purchasing model, they would use the price freedom iTunes apparently offers on album price more aggressively. I certainly understand the impulse to charge $12.99 or $14.99 for a hot new CD, but if you choose to do so, please stop complaining when people choose to buy the one hit single, instead. Because pricing that new hit at $1.99 won't make people buy the album instead of the single, it will make them download the song illegally. Now, at this stage in the game, I don't know how much album pricing versus singles pricing matters, as I think many of those whom have fallen into the habit of buying singles will continue to do so, regardless of album price. But I have a crazy hunch, if the record industry really does want to alter the singles/albums purchasing ratio, that the best way to do so would be to lower album pricing, not raise singles pricing. I don't even think the more consumer-friendly lower variable pricing on back catalog singles would matter much; once I'm looking at the album to buy the song, I'm probably going to buy it, whether its 99 cents or 49 cents; but if I were to see the album containing the single I'm looking at is $5.99 or so, I just might take a chance on the whole album.

Anyway, I'm sure the music industry really cares what I think about variable pricing; I just wanted to mention it, as an excuse to mention that the Greencards' new album is available as part of the "Next Big Thing" promotion, at $5.99. Almost as good a deal as eMusic (though you're stuck with DRM at iTunes). Rodrigo y Gabriela's eponymous debut is also available, at $6.99 (I've seen the album on sale at Best Buy pretty consistently at $7.99, and now it, too, is available at eMusic). Hard to go wrong with either of these, wherever you buy them.

UPDATE: I've added a playlist of the artists mentioned in this post via iMeem. First time I've written about artists available for streaming through their service. Lots of Sara Bareilles, less Rodrigo y Gabriela, and nothing from the Greencards' latest album, so I through in their only song available from iMeem, "Time." I'll look into the whole uploading thing later, and see if I can update the list with more of their stuff.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Don't miss the great snatch. Boy, that preacher man really loves him the snatch. I have to imagine there was some heathen working the soundboard at the recording studio, wondering if he should explain to the man that when most people hear "I happen to prefer the snatch," they're not thinking about the rapture.

In addition to samples from the album, and the whole thing (which I didn't bother to download), the blog features a remix by the Evolution Control Committee (of "Rocked by Rape" fame).

While you're at Dinosaur Gardens, check out these mp3s by The Poets.

The Avalanches' "Frontier Psychiatrist:"

I saw this for the first time not that long ago, but as much as I loved it, didn't bother to post it here (guess I figured I was late to the party). But I will rectify the situation now, while also sharing the Wayne and Shuster comedy sketch that was liberally sampled in the song.

Friday, July 13, 2007

So, I reported that rumors of a discontinued $499 PS3 were swiftly debunked. Now, I have no idea what the hell's going on. Other than the fact that Sony's head is still up their ass.
A hands-on with the Simpsons video game. If I'm not too excited about the movie, I am anxiously awaiting the game. Looks like a first-rate effort.
A toes-on look at Wii Fit. Apparently, the official spelling is two words, now WiiFit, as I've been referring to it. In any event, Joystiq's reaction makes me hopeful. They didn't seem too impressed, but they seem to be reviewing it as a game, not a lifestyle tool, or whatever you want to call it. But they do acknowledge this, adding that, "like Brain Age, it's likely a title we'll never really love but still play it over a year after its release."

Now, I played Brain Age yesterday for the first time in awhile, and Dr. Kawashima's head pretended not to know who I was. That hurt. But I do think Wii Fit is something I would use with regularity. I managed to keep up with EyeToy: Kinetic for about two solid months, and that thing simply didn't work: I had to light myself up like a Christmas tree for the camera to see me (every light on in the living room, plus three halogen lamps pointed directly at me), kept bumping into the ceiling fan because I needed every inch of the room to play, and still the camera missed half my gestures, so I always got bad scores. And most of the non-aerobic exercises were just a glorified fitness video, offering no feedback. So what I noticed most in this early evaluation of Wii Fit was a lack of comments about things not working. So I am very excited about this product. If only they could pull off a holiday release, but given their now-baffling inability, eight months in, to make enough Wiis, I'm relatively sure Nintendo couldn't pull that off.

Sony's PS3 price cut a sham. They are phasing out the 60 GB hard drive models, and soon only the $600 80 GB models will be available. So you'll still be paying (or not paying) $600, but you'll get a slightly larger hard drive. $100 for 20 GB isn't a good deal, especially when you can upgrade the PS3 with third-party hard drives (unlike the Xbox 360). And, for the extra $100, you are rewarded with less backward-compatibility with PS2 software, as the new models use software emulation, and Sony has been clear they don't plan to make backwards-compatibility a priority. So way to go, Sony: It looked for a second that you might have a chance, but glad to see your arrogance remains unchecked. Enjoy third place.

UPDATE: Sony denies that it is phasing out the 60 GB PS3. So apparently their executives just make things up.

The Velaslavaskay Panorama in Los Angeles will be unveiling their new panoramic work, The Effulgence of the North, at a reception July 21.

I had no idea such a place existed in Los Angeles, until receiving notice of this event. But it sounds like a wonderful place, and a great use of their location, the historic Union Theatre. I do encounter references to panoramas and moving panoramas from time to time; I read an article awhile back about the restoration of the Gettysburg Cyclorama, and Paul Collins opens his book, Banvard's Folly, with a discussion of John Banvard, creator of a moving panorama depicting the Mississippi River, who rose to international super-stardom and great wealth through the art form (that a man so world-renowned could so quickly become virtually unknown is an adequate thumbnail of Collins' point in his book).

The phenomenon of these panoramas is hard for me to fathom, from my modern perspective; a forerunner to motion pictures, these panoramic displays served a similar role, a century earlier, to that of the cinema, yet they seem so different, the panoramic paintings conveying their narrative by capturing a single moment. The experience seems more like a trip to the museum, yet the impression I get is that it was much more like going to a show. Like the artifacts of early cinema--silent films and historic theatres--the panoramas have by and large not survived. And this art form seems like something that really needs to be appreciated in person, to understand the scale of the spectacle. So I am excited to learn that there is one (albeit of modern provenance) on display not far away. And if seeing a panorama up-close doesn't help me understand how a 19th-century audience approached such works, perhaps a presentation at the grand unveiling regarding Albert Smith's moving panorama "Ascent of Mont Blanc" will assist. There will also be Bavarian refreshments, alpenhorns and yodeling, so truly something for everyone. I am very excitedly awaiting July 21st.

A Smithsonian article on the Velaslavaskay Panorama getting the boot from their old digs.

An L.A. Voice profile of the Panorama in its new location (photos at the bottom, though not of the painting itself).

You can get a glimpse of their previous mural, from their old location, here.

Thanks to the Museum of Jurassic Technology for bringing this to my attention.

And if I may leave you with a quote from the event invitation: In this glorious Year of the Fire Pig, may you and those around you burn brightly with the gladsome light of contentment.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Welcome to another installment of Wii/Jenga Confluence News of the Week (WJCNotW):

Kotaku's hands-on preview of Jenga is not flattering.

IGN takes a more wait-and-see approach. Apparently, you can toggle a visual mode on and off, which highlights the weak blocks that can be easily moved. This sucks; if force-feedback to discover weak bricks isn't practical, they at least need to make you click on the bricks one at a time, to remain faithful to the physical game's characteristics.

For now, I will remain a believer. Assuming Atari doesn't do something stupid like retail this at $50, this could be a good game.

The decline and fall of The Simpsons. Hard to argue with, though I would object to the claim that a single episode (Skinner-as-fraud) can mark the corruption of the series. I didn't mind that episode, in itself; the problem was, they'd been throwing that kind of crap at us for some time, and now they expect us to laugh good-naturedly when they crank the stupidity up to eleven. I don't have too much of a problem, in principle, with the various "concept episodes" (I actually thought the Seven-Up documentary parody was pretty good), but with the fact that now every episode is such. Looking over the last two seasons, I only see three episodes each season that were okay. To be fair, only three episodes between the two seasons would I describe as heinous, so that's an improvement over some seasons (there were actually five episodes I didn't see, which is quite telling--there was a time when that would not stand). Anyway, the point is, I'm cautiously excited to see the movie, but judging from the trailer, I don't necessarily think this excitement is warranted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I'm getting more and more excited about WiiFit. Too bad it looks like I'll have to wait for 2008 to pick it up (and it will come at a premium price, apparently, which is fair).

Here's the E3 trailer for your fitness edification:

Lady Bird Johnson, dead at 94.
E3, the big (though scaled-down this year) video game convention, is this week, and by now Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have all had their keynote addresses. Nothing of note announced by Sony, that I can tell (PSP slim, Home can run on a mobile phone). But I paid more attention to Microsoft and Nintendo, since I own their platforms.

Microsoft didn't announce anything too earth-shattering (nor did Nintendo...it was all rather underwhelming). The Halo-themed Xbox 360 looks like ass. Scene-It is coming to the console, which is being met mostly with jokes about the bundled controllers. I think it actually looks interesting, especially if the controllers are utilized with other trivia games (You Don't Know Jack for the Live Arcade, anyone?). But their biggest announcement was probably the arrival of Disney movies to the Live Marketplace, in HD. I have yet to rent a movie via the download service. I'll probably try it out sometime (I noticed today that The Fountain is available in HD, though other movies I'd really like to see in HD, like Pan's Labyrinth, are only available in standard-definition), but the service strikes me as a questionable value proposition. $6 to rent a HD movie is a tad steep, methinks. I'll stick to Netflix and standard-definition DVDs on my upscaling DVD player. HD is nice, but as long as its widescreen, I don't see the reason to pay $6/movie, when I'm not paying Netflix much more for a month's worth of unlimited (essentially) movies (albeit without instant gratification).

Nintendo's press conference also wasn't earth-shattering, though they did announce Mario Kart Wii, and confirmed release dates in 2007 for the big three (Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3, and Super Smash Brothers Brawl). They finally revealed the Wii Zapper, but I'll have to learn more about how it's utilized before I make the plunge (I'm not buying it unless it lets me shoot that snickering Duck Hunt dog). But the big announcement on the Nintendo front was regarding Wii Health Pack, now called WiiFit. It will apparently come bundled with a pressure-sensitive pad that can measure your weight, center of gravity, and movement, while putting you through a series of exercises. I think this is absolutely awesome. I loved the concept of EyeToy: Kinetic, a PlayStation 2 exercise game which used a camera attachment to put you in the game, but ridiculous lighting requirements and other limitations of the camera made it an exercise in futility (hee-hee). So it remains to be seen if WiiFit works well, but I have very high hopes for this game.

So that's my summary of what looked to me like the big news of E3. Nothing major, but just enough to make me feel like I'm getting my money's worth from both the Wii and Xbox 360. I do intend to write a review of my Xbox 360, now that I've had it a few months, but that will wait for another day.

Charges filed in collar-bomb bank robbery; victim in on the scheme, to some extent. I saw this case profiled on America's Most Wanted, and got the impression that the likely mastermind of the robbery died of cancer, but the woman charged in the case (currently incarcerated for murder) is quite a piece of work herself. The whole scheme seemed poorly planed, though, if the motive was greed; Wells was forced to follow a ridiculously circuitous path that almost guaranteed he would be intercepted by the police, and killed. Very strange story.
U.K. doctor stood out for his humorous approach to terror.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Doug Marlette, Kudzu cartoonist, dead at 57.
Last.fm makes deal with Sony BMG to stream their catalog. In light of this news, some in the internet radio industry are asking, is the whole point of the new internet royalty rates to kill compulsory licensing and force companies to make deals with the major labels?

I tend to think the new rates are simply the result of blind greed, but at the very least, giving more power to major labels to control their digital destiny may be an unintended by-product. Of course, another unintended by-product might be to strengthen indie labels' position, as I am skeptical of the claim that this new situation will force indies to give up on licensing and give internet radio blanket waivers of royalties. Indies will just be forced to join together to form groups to manage such licensing issues, just as I believe quite a few do now. It'd be a natural outgrowth of CD Baby's business, for instance. And I assume in the indie business plan, the artists will see a chunk of that money; the disparity in such deals from major to indie might make more big names wonder just what the hell a record label does for them.

In any event, if the end result is to cut SoundExchange out of the equation, it almost seems worth it. And as for concerns of lower royalties in exchange for airplay as a form of payola, I don't think the market would stand it, and I also think lots of people would come running to the various attorneys general who are still wrapping up the last payola investigation.

Monday, July 09, 2007

In Seattle, you can use your Nintendo DS to get stats, watch replays, and order food at the Mariner's Safeco Field. Pretty neat idea. And the way the major leagues crap all over their fans, the $5/game fee doesn't seem that bad.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

In what will no doubt be a semi-regular feature of this blog, I bring you the Wii/Jenga Confluence News of the Week (WJCNotW):

Yes, the rumors are true, Jenga is coming to the Wii (and the DS).

Also, the first details of Stephen Spielberg's video game projects are emerging, and apparently his Wii game will be a cross between Saturday morning cartoons and, um, Jenga. Sounds like a bad mix to me; once I've watched Pee-Wee's Playhouse and consumed six bowls of Cookie Crisp cereal, my hands are far too jittery for Jenga.

So, yeah, Jenga as a video game concept? I'm not so sure. Unless they can really master the subtleties of the tactile experience via force feedback, so you can tell by touch which pieces can safely be moved, I don't think the experience will be the same. That said, I would buy two Playstation 3s (one to serve as emergency Jenga backup) if it allowed me to play virtual Jenga. The whole concept is just so wrong, and yet so right.

As for Spielberg's invocation of Jenga, I think he is just trying to take the wind out of the sails of Atari's announced Jenga game, no doubt as an act of revenge against the company for the E.T. debacle.

Lord Buckley on You Bet Your Life:
This is included in one of the You Bet Your Life best-of DVDs, which I heartily recommend. They really hold up well, due both to Groucho's quick wit (though the shows were actually quite tightly-scripted), and the wide range of contestants, famous and not.

As for Lord Buckley, this and other clips can be found here. A biography, or more properly an oral history, was published under the title Dig Infinity! It is OOP, but a well-stocked local library should have a copy of the book, and more importantly the accompanying CD, with performances and interviews. An album is also available on eMusic. Good stuff, all around.

And finally, Lord Buckley on The Beany & Cecil Show.

UPDATE: I've created a Lord Buckley playlist on iMeem. So far, only one song, but I intend to upload more of his stuff soon.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Xbox 360's warranty extended for three years in cases of "red ring of death." Reliability issues were one of the reasons I was slow to purchase a unit, and I'm still a bit leery that my system could crash at any moment, but knowing my warranty now extends to 2010 gives me peace of mind.

In other video game news, word has leaked out that the Playstation 3 will be getting a price cut to be announced in scant weeks. Not that I'll be getting one, but I'm sure some people will be happy.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Comics Curmudgeon calls out an outstanding new blog, which reimagines the children's comic strip Slylock Fox as hard-boiled pulp fiction. I've noticed the bulk of this blog's readership recently has came from people searching from some iteration of the phrase "Cassandra Cat," so I assume this will be of interest. Even if you haven't yet discovered the simple joys of Slylock Fox, you should enjoy Reynard Noir.

Incidentally, Cassandra Cat was back in last Sunday's Slylock Fox. Apparently, some PTA groups or something, no doubt from the deep South, have written in to their local newspapers, complaining about Cassandra Cat's sexiness, so she can now only be presented standing behind a building. But us fans will have to take what we can get. But this appearance led me to review the Comics Curmudgeon archives, where I saw that the link to Cassandra Cat porn (which I didn't share here out of basic human decency--though I should say, lest I sound holier-than-thou, that I did offer a suggestion which was incorporated in the final product) had been removed at the request of the strip's artist. Can't say I blame him, seeing as the strip is aimed at toddlers and all. So if you're searching for Cassandra Cat porn (and I know a goodly percentage of my readers are), I can't help you. I didn't have the presence of mind to download it while I could. I just don't want that sort of thing on my computer. You have friends over, they're snooping on your computer, "Let's see if Mike has any porn, that'll be good for a laugh," then they find that, and suddenly the fun's over. "I don't know if I feel comfortable being in the same room with him anymore," and all that. Actually, something very similar happened when I snooped on my college roommate's computer, but let's not go into that.

Anyway, I digress, but I did want to mention one other thing pointed out in the same post at the Comics Curmudgeon, though it might not amuse you as much if you didn't follow the recent storyline in For Better or for Worse where special-needs student Shannon Lake gives an impassioned speech in the school cafeteria. But someone has revised the strip, to reflect reality. Which I was glad to see, as I found the original strips revolting. Offensively condescending, and hopelessly out of touch with actual teen dynamics. As one of the revised strips puts it, "You do have a personality, Shannon! You talk funny an' I patronize you!" Anyways, the new versions really made me laugh, especially the first strip for some reason.

UPDATE: The Shannon parody was removed, by threat of lawsuit. Fuck you, Lynn Johnson.

7-Elevens transformed into Kwik-E-Marts. We didn't get any here in town, but there are some in L.A. and in Vegas, so I'll probably get a chance to make it to one or the other. It seems odd, when they're having this promotion in July, month of Comic-Con, that they wouldn't convert a store in San Diego.

But I was able to visit a local 7-Eleven, and even the ones not transformed have special Simpsons-themed merchandise. I got a squishee and an official pink movie donut, as well as a Radioactive Man comic book, box of KrustyO's cereal, and a six-pack of Buzz Cola. Not the most exciting thing ever, but as promotional gimmicks go, it's well-conceived. And considering most of the jokes on the show involve how criminally-overpriced the Kwik-E-Mart is, I considered the prices charged to be reasonable, considering nerds like me would have paid whatever they asked. Yet in keeping with the spirit of the show, the penny candy was surprisingly expensive.

Monday, July 02, 2007

After a 24-year absence, Porter Wagoner is back on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart with Wagonmaster. This gives Wagoner a chart span of over 43 years, the longest possible span, as he was on the very first country album chart (including singles, Wagoner has been on the charts since 1954).

And Wagonmaster is a great album. The centerpiece is "Committed to Parkview," written by Johnny Cash for Wagoner after learning they had both been patients at Parkview Psychiatric Hospital. Wagoner never recorded it before now, but Cash eventually sang it with Willie Nelson on the first Highwaymen album. Cash's version is okay, but feels a bit voyeuristic, a tad tawdry, perhaps. Wagoner's rendition has a much more personal feel, with him speaking as both an observer and a participant, and the final verse, with a resigned desperation seeping through his weathered voice, gives me chills.

You can download an MP3 of "Committed to Parkview" as well as the "Parkview" music video from Wagoner's Anti- website. And the album is available from eMusic. Solid effort all-around, and well worth purchasing. Reminiscent, surely, of Cash's first American recording, but not quite as spare. A nice mix of traditional honky-tonk, a touch of countrypolitan, and more simple arrangements like that heard on "Parkview."

As far as being a career-redeeming effort, like Cash's American Recordings, Wagoner was probably much more in need of an image makeover (as recently noted by Big Rock Candy Mountain). I know I'd mostly thought of him as the man who tried to hold back Dolly, and as the creators of a lot of '70s tripe, though his recording of "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" certainly encouraged me not to close the book on him too hastily (and that was before I'd seen the very special album cover that accompanied the song). So it's nice that Wagoner had the opportunity to put out this album, and regain a bit of the respect he deserved. But before this album came out, a new compilation CD, The Rubber Room, was already offering up evidence to support Wagoner's position as an artist "often ahead of his time who has always appeared hopelessly behind the times." Featuring songs like "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" and the titular track, another madhouse song, the album digs into some of his darker material, while honestly representing his career at it's peak. I haven't picked this one up yet, but from the tracks I'm familiar with, it seems like a solid compilation, well worth a purchase.

UPDATE: I've created a Porter Wagoner playlist on Imeem, focusing on the new album. I belive you will only hear 30-second previews, but that may change in the future.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Universal reportedly not renewing its contract with Apple to sell its music in iTunes. Time will tell if this rumor is true, and just what it means if it is true, but I have to wonder what Universal is thinking. Picking a fight with a powerful adversary when their business model is in the toilet should just serve to remind everyone of just how impotent they are. iTunes is responsible for approximately 15% of Universal Music Group's revenues. And iTunes has little incentive not to let Universal walk away, as the profits from iTunes pales in comparison to their profit from the iPod. They want their customers to be happy, and have access to as much music as possible in iTunes, but they also know that if they reach an impasse with Universal, Universal will get the blame.

So, yes, I think this will most likely blow up in Universal's face, depending on how this purported showdown goes down. But I'll keep an open mind. For one, we don't know what will be the length of any short-term purchasing agreement between the two parties. The Wall Street Journal suggests that "short-term" means under one year. So, if they reach a six-month agreement, it may postpone an ugly stand-off long enough that Universal may, down the road, find themselves in a better bargaining position. And perhaps Universal is ready to imminently announce their abandonment of DRM, which they have been rumored to be considering. This would take the sting out of their departure from iTunes for iPod users, who would then be able to buy iPod-compatible files from other sources. Really, removing DRM is such a transparent means of combating Steve Job's influence on digital music distribution, it really baffles me why the labels are so slow to accept that losing DRM is vital for their survival. It would certainly be a smarter move then pouting and threatening to take their toys and go home.

Let me just remind Universal of one thing: People don't mind stealing from you. It's wrong, yes, I truly believe that stealing music is wrong. But I believe that gambling and drinking are wrong, too, and, well, I've been known to partake in a snifter of brandy after an evening of penny-stakes bridge. Or something like that. My point is, many people who buy music think stealing is wrong, but will gladly do so anyways if they can somehow justify it to themselves. The argument that, because Universal stopped selling on iTunes, I'm now justified to steal from them with impunity, is of course faulty. But it's an argument I would nonetheless embrace, and gladly pilfer Universal music with little compunction. So just don't do it, Universal; don't give me an excuse to do bad.