Friday, July 25, 2008

Comic-Con 2008 is in full swing. Crazy, crazy, crazy. I'll recap things once it's all over, but for now, let me just say, I'm getting old. By the end of preview night Wednesday, I was already exhausted. And tonight I'm feeling quite drained. I went out back at one point to eat lunch, and decided to read a book for an hour or so, rather than go back out on the exhibit floor. And I've decided to sleep in tomorrow, and head out after lunch (no panels I want to attend until 3, so no big hurry). Still having fun, but the place is packed. The line for preview night stretched across the front of the convention center, serpentined through an adjacent part, and then stretched back behind the convention center onto the embarcadero. Still, once the line started moving, I was inside within about a half-hour. Considering the crowds, Comic-Con is very well-run.

The book I chose to read, incidentally, was A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon, which was almost as good as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is high praise indeed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Estelle Getty, dead at 84. I must admit, if you had told me when I was in elementary school, watching The Golden Girls in it's initial network run, that the first Golden Girl would not die for another 20 years, I would have called you a liar.

Monday, July 21, 2008

At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper looks to be on its last legs. A shame, though I pretty much stopped caring once neither Siskel nor Ebert were still on the show.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Oscar Pistorius fails to qualify for the Olympics in his final attempt. He was gracious in failure, justifiably proud of his personal-best results. Then he became a whiny baby, threatening to sue after a senior track and field official expressed his opinion that Pistorius shouldn't be on the South African relay team. The guy has every right to his opinions, which seem reasonable to me, a Pistorius supporter. It's certainly worth considering the safety aspect; I'd be interested in hearing more about Pistorius' past relay experience. I'd hate to think he was taking a spot away from a talented relayer just because his story was more media-friendly.

In other sports news, the Badwater Ultramarathon was earlier this week. 135 miles, through Death Valley and to the trailhead to the peak of Mt. Whitney. I used to see it on TV occasionally, Wide World of Sports or something like that, but I haven't been able to find anything about it being televised this year. The webcast is archived, though.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Final Fantasy XIII coming to Xbox 360. My god. This is the best news ever. This saves me close to $500. Well, no, I guess it only saves me the $400 I would have paid for a PS3, since I still need to pay for the game itself, regardless of system. But yes, I would have bought a PS3 just to play Final Fantasy. Just like I got my first Sony system, the original Playstation, just to play Final Fantasy. And just like I got a PS2 just to play Final Fantasy. And if I hadn't already had one, I would have bought a DS to play the Final Fantasy remakes. So this is great news to me. No need to overcome my strong desire for Sony to fail and buy a PS3 (Sony called the Wii an expensive niche product today, even though it's sold more units and costs less than the PS3. Now that they don't even have a Final Fantasy exclusive, what is the PS3? Expensive without a niche?)

And as reports come in, it looks like the release will be day-and-date with the PS3 release. Holy fuckin' shit, indeed. Honestly, did this leak out at all? I hadn't heard any Final Fantasy XIII port rumors in a long time, am I just not following the video game blogs as obsessively as I should? Or did my inattention actually make this happen?

Other than that, nothing too groundbreaking, but some cool stuff still came out from Microsoft's E3 presentation. Portal: Still Alive coming to the Xbox arcade, pretty much a port of the original Portal, with a few extra levels. This would have been exciting at launch, had it spared me purchasing the Orange Box just to get Portal, but too late for that now. I'll probably buy it again, though, as long as they add a reasonable amount of new content to the single-player mode (new online modes don't interest me). A massively-multiplayer online version of 1 Vs. 100 has the potential to be awesome, especially with real prizes on the line. And at last the Netflix partnership we all knew was in place is official; I'd be more excited if I wasn't already streaming Netflix Watch Instantly to my Xbox with an unofficial plugin, but it will be nice to have an official solution that actually works well (vmcNetflix is great, but freezes up a lot).

But, yeah. Final Fantasy XIII. Wow. I've been getting bored with these big new product presentations, like the last couple Apple announcements, because there's no surprises. And then, bam, Final Fantasy XIII goes multi-platform. Amazing. I recently started playing the original Final Fantasy, with the intention of playing through the entire series. Now that will be a lot cheaper to pull off.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Friday, July 11, 2008

iPhone 3G launch a mess; Apple's phone activation system crashes. Apparently lots of people tried to activate their phone at 8 AM this morning; who could have expected that? Apparently some stores are letting people activate the phone at home, which means that's still possible (though the article mentions that didn't work, either).

I browsed the iPhone app store last night, downloaded some free programs that I can load on my iPhone when I get home tonight and upgrade the firmware, which was released this morning. Streaming Pandora on my iPhone sounds pretty sweet. Some nice-looking paid programs available, too, I'm sure I'll be sporting crosswords and sudoku on the phone soon.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Star Trek: The Experience to close. A real shame, I really enjoyed it. The original motion ride was a lot of fun, especially since (I suppose I can include a spoiler now) at the end you are transported to "modern" Las Vegas, which still included the Desert Inn and many other casinos that have since bit the dust. The newer Borg attraction was more elaborate, but probably not as accessible for people unfamiliar with the show. I didn't care for the museum, but the rides were well worth the admission cost, considering half-off tickets were readily available. See it before it closes, if you can.
The New York Times Magazine looks at impulsive suicides. Apparently, just creating small obstacles to suicide can produce dividends; In Britain in the 1970s, they switched from coal gas to natural gas, which has very little carbon monoxide, and suicides fell by 1/3. The article's purpose seems to be to refute the "they'll just find another way" opposition to suicide barricades on bridges. They also suggest that keeping guns locked up, with ammunition in another room, may give a suicidal person just enough cooling off time, though this is undermined by the fact that the suicide survivor quoted in the article had to go out and purchase the gun she used.

The most interesting thing I found in the discussion about the difference between impulsive and planned suicides, is that those whose suicide is preceded by well-documented mental illness and multiple warning signs choose hands-on methods, like pills and slitting wrists, while the impulsive choose to jump from great heights or use a gun. Yet it is the impulsive methods that are most successful; "The natural inference, then, is that the person who best fits the classic definition of 'being suicidal' might actually be safer than one acting in the heat of the moment — at least 40 times safer in the case of someone opting for an overdose of pills over shooting himself."

I, personally, was of the "they'll just find another way" mindset on bridge barricades, but it makes sense that one might impulsively jump to one's death. I am not in a habit of randomly falling over in my day to day life, but I'm always convinced, when I find myself near a railing, I'm somehow going to accidentally clear the jump and plummet to my death. I have dreams where I'm up at a great hight and resort to crawling on all fours to avoid falling, and I still manage to take a fall. More a fear of heights than suicidal impulse, but it still helps me understand how such things happen.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Yes, that is the greatest thing you have ever seen or ever will see. But the upcoming documentary about the Rock-afire Explosion looks pretty sweet, too:

I've never been to Showbiz Pizza Place, I don't think; it was all about Chuck E. Cheese around these parts. But they had a similar act, and I did have a huge crush as a child on the purple Hippo, who was based I believe on Dolly Parton. She sang "Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," and I just thought that was hilarious, because you wash shampoo out of your hair, not a man. Silly hippo. I'd watch her over and over again. So I wish it was her instead of the Rock-afire Explosion that was enjoying a Renaissance, but I'll take what I can get.

Anyway, I did some internet research, and my first true love was named Dolli Dimples, and while the name obviously came from Mrs. Parton, she's more cabaret than country:

All of which just goes to show, sometimes you think there's no reason to get out of bed in the morning, but then, bam, you find something that makes life worth living.

Jesse Helms, dead at 86. Yet again, we see that only the good die young.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Unshelved Book Club last week featured Sharp Teeth, the first time a text of recent origins was featured which I had already read. Made me feel all hip and ahead-of-the-curve. I recommend it, even if the ending was rather anti-climactic.
Oscar Pistorius falls short of Olympic qualifying time. He has three more chances, but Pistorius himself seems pessimistic: "I let myself down. I’ve got to be realistic. I’m chasing something that may be unattainable. It’s starting to look impossible."

Failure, here, would actually be a form of vindication. His opponents argued that allowing him into the Olympics was tantamount to permitting the use of jet packs. If his prothesis is such an advantage, how come he can't qualify? It's almost as though there might somehow be some disadvantages for a runner to have only one leg. Who would've thought?

Still, though, I hope he does manage to qualify. I understand that, even should he not qualify, he might compete in a relay event; I'm not sure if his awkward starts are more or less of a disadvantage in a relay setting, but I would assume he's not particularly well-suited to the format. But in any case, good luck, Oscar.

Ticket to Ride vs. Ticket to Ride vs. Ticket to Ride. Once the novelty of Grand Theft Auto IV wore off, I've found myself getting my video game fix playing Catan virtually exclusively. But with the release of Ticket to Ride, that's where most of my video game time is now being channeled. I think long-term I'll stick with Catan, but Ticket to Ride is certainly addictive. Especially the neat little train graphic that reveals your final score. Unlike Catan, I've never played Ticket to Ride in its original board game format, but I imagine scoring might be a minor nuisance (not as bad as Carcassonne, I'm sure). But since it's release last week, a day has not passed when I did not play multiple games of Ticket to Ride (I've gotten in a few rounds of Catan, too). It helps that a game is relatively short, 15 minutes or so playing off-line. I'm sure online play probably doubles the time needed; I haven't played yet online, I wanted to get the basics down pat, first.

One complaint I have, is I have lost multiple games because I got colors confused. Nothing's worse than saving up red cards and suddenly realize you're trying to build an orange line. Ditto purple and blue. I notice they mention this at the above-linked review, so it might be an issue above and beyond my color-blindness. Early on, I also made some mistakes about city locations; the name of the city would appear right above a dot, and I wouldn't realize until it was too late that the label actually applied to the dot towards the left. But I soon got that figured out, and even the color issues aren't as bad now that I'm aware of the problem, and since the colors are static, I've pretty much memorized the more troublesome routes. Catan, to its credit, has a color-blind mode, optional offline and standard to ranked online matches, which helps me out.

But yeah, if you have an Xbox 360, check out both games, if you haven't already. I always feel a little silly, having bought an expensive video game console, only to spend most of my time playing simple board games on it. But they're hella fun, and Catan in particular is brilliantly executed, and the computer AI makes for a skilled opponent, mostly.

Game & Watch, a retrospective. Hard to imagine that those things cost $53 when they first came out. I don't think I ever owned one myself; I held off on joining the hand-held gaming revolution until the Game Boy Advanced. But had this super-keen ad ran in the States, I just might have taken the plunge:

UPDATE: You can enjoy some Java-based classic Game & Watch gameplay here.