March 2009 Archives

Too old to cry

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What a depressing day so far! Actually, it started out okay, as I played pretty well in goal this morning. My team lost, but the goals I gave up were mostly excellent shots and I faced alot of them.

But then I made the mistake of reading a little bit more of The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire. This chapter delves into the bowels of 2005 Congress ad explains just how corrupt and intractable the process has become. Virtually all the bills passed that year were "Rules" bills under an "emergency", which means that the general Congress is given only a couple of hours to examine a bill once it comes out of committee and even then doesn't have much power to change things. I wonder if things are better now, under a Democratic House and Senate?

Then I get an email from Netflix explaining that the surcharge for being able to add Blu-ray is going up to $4 a month. Given that I already pay $17 a month, that's nearly a 25% increase in price. Lately, I just haven't been watching that many DVDs, never mind wanting to pay an extra 25% to be able to add the occasional Blu-ray (I think only 1 of the 3 I currently have out is Blu-ray, and only a small percentage of those in my queue are). So I guess I'll have to remove Blu-ray.

Now I find out that Youtube has gone all crazy and suspended the James Randi Educational Foundation account, for reasons that remain mysterious. Youtube has a proven track record of removing any atheist video that crazed Christians might complain about, so I fear the worst. Their censorship is appalling and I really can't believe that Google is doing this. It is truly a black spot on their reputation and I refuse to post any more Youtube videos.

I need a drink.

WTF Snuggie

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The WTF Blanket (Snuggie Parody)

Dark Knight Begins

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So I finally watched a couple of the new Batman movies. I don't think I've seen any since the first Tim Burton / Michael Keaton affair oh so many years ago. In general, most superhero movies leave me cold. I'm not a comic book fan (there goes my geek cred right out the window) and all the efforts to "ground" the superhero's story in some sort of reality just leave me cold and bored.

But I had been hearing so many good things about The Dark Knight, and I had a "free" coupon (oh, that reminds me - I need to fill that out and get it in the mail!) for a movie so I figured I'd give The Dark Knight a try using OnDemand HD. Big sound, big picture, lots of action, figured it would work well.

And it did. The movie goes on for about 30 minutes too long - 152 minutes of crash/bang action is a little over the top. No, make that a lot over the top. And while the Nolan brothers did a good job of infusing some strains of seriousness into the proceedings, at times it got a little too ponderous for its own good.

But enough niggling, it was still pretty good, for a superhero movie. And the accolades for Heath Ledger's final performance were certainly deserved - he was simply amazing as The Joker, infusing the character with a barely restrained insanity that was mesmerizing to watch. Wow, what an acting job! Christian Bale was solid, or even stolid, as Batman, but Michael Caine is perfect as Alfred.

The picture and sound were pretty amazing. Good thing my home theater is way downstairs, as I'm sure I would have woken up someone otherwise. As it was, the floor was almost certainly shaking upstairs!

So an enjoyable if a bit lengthy evening, with perhaps the highest body count of any movie I have seen recently!

And my first DVD from LendAround was the Blu-ray version of Batman Begins, the movie just before The Dark Knight, also starring Christian Bale as the Batman. This one describes how Batman came to be, from a somewhat spoiled rich boy who was bent on destruction after witnessing the cold blooded murder of his parents, to his brutal training in the Himalayan Mountains at the hand of a mysterious ninja cult leader. He breaks from the cult in an explosive fashion, then tries to defend Gotham City from destruction by the cult.

Much less frenetic movie than The Dark Knight and the better for it. Still a little overlong at 140 minutes. And I'm not convinced the DVD I got was really Blu-ray, as it didn't say it on the DVD anywhere and the normal red/blue/yellow/green buttons on my remote didn't do anything. But picture and sound were solid nonetheless.

In some ways, I enjoyed it more than The Dark Knight. It was more of a movie and less of an event. Liam Neeson, however, is no match for Heath Ledger in the villan department, although he did lend the character a certain debonair charm.

Neither movie has caused me to rethink my natural antipathy towards superhero movies. They are good for a quick (please be shorter next time!) action fix, but nothing really sticks. I don't get that involved, as, in the end, it'll all work out. So a lukewarm thumbs up for both of them, which is actually pretty good coming from me!



The Baaa-Studs

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Book Review: So Many Books

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So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun book about Nelson's reading habits for a year. Her and I couldn't have more divergent tastes for books but it was still good to read about another read-aholic. Despite sounding slightly neurotic, she did a lovely job of explaining how books and life can get all intermingled. She writes a very honest, touching and heartfelt book.

She touched upon a few things that I want to talk about. The first was about sports. She has an 8 year old son who is just getting into sports like baseball and asks the reader if anyone has any good memories of sports, and comes to the conclusion (strangely enough for someone who admits to being pretty clueless about it) that no one does.

Well, I beg to differ. While certainly no All Star, or even a starter in some sports, I have very good memories of sports, from my earliest days playing soccer to my current days coaching my girls in it. From my days as a basketball scrub to being the goalie for a tournament winning hockey team just a few years ago, sports have always been fun and a big part of my life. I enjoy the camaraderie of the team sports and the challenges of the solo ones. I enjoy a good "real life" sports book, although I can't say as I've come across too many fictional ones.

She also surprised me by claiming many of her friends will actually read a book's ending and/or middle before (or instead of) reading it through. While she admits she never does that, it is still crazytalk! I had a high school English teacher who claimed you had to read the ending of a book first, and then read it through to see how well the writer did in getting to that point, especially with a mystery. But I'm not sure if he was just being his usual contrary self. That's just to bizarre a thing to even think about!

Ms. Nelson had a great idea that I am going to try and implement on a wider scale here. She read a book (Charlotte's Web) at the same time as her son (not aloud) and then talked about it together. I'd like to get my whole family to do that. A8.6 is reading Peter Pan and I think that would be a fun book to have the four of us read.

I also liked her very frank discussion of what book to bring out in public. While I like to think of myself as nearly immune to anything of the sort, I also find myself thinking about how I would look carrying around certain books. Like if I am going to read something while the girls are at basketball practice, I don't want to get too geeky by reading a programming book, or too cerebral by hauling out my War and Peace, so I try to find some middle ground.

I can't say as I have read too many of the books in her 2002 reading list and,for that matter, are not interested in reading too many of them. She's a huge Philip Roth fan, but I can't say as I've read any of his. She did like Disgrace by J. M. Coetze, but I wasn't too keen on it. It is kind of strange that the list in the back of the book doesn't really seem to coincide with the books she talks about *in* the book.

A few books did seem pretty interesting, and that I've added to my To-Read list. Heartburn by Nora Ephron sounds like bitter fun, while Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott sounds like it might be just the thing for a procrastinator like myself. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber sounds like an interesting historical novel. But despite our divergent tastes in books, I thoroughly enjoyed her description of a reading year.

View all my reviews.


Friday Random Ten

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Friday Random Ten

  1. Love Lives Here - Faces
  2. Angel - Massive Attack
  3. Hey Baby - J.J. Cale
  4. 1,000,000 - Nine Inch Nails
  5. Dark Eyed Kid - William Orbit
  6. Tralala - Lush
  7. Spring And By Summer Fall - Blonde Redhead
  8. baby steps - General Fuzz
  9. Bottom of the Lake - The Builders and the Butchers
  10. The Loser in the End - Queen


Free Music Wednesday!

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I've just spent some time downloading a bunch of free samplers from Amazon MP3. I should be all set for music listening today! I just have to make sure I rate as many of these as I can.


   
    Worn & Grazed: A Park the Van Sampler
 
 
   

    Chess Records Black History Month
 
 
   
    Ioda Sxsw Opening Day Bash Sampler 2009
 
 
   
    R&S Re-Visited Sampler 1
 
 
   
    Green Hill Celtic Sampler March 2009
 
 
   
    Badman, Has It Really Been 10 Years?
 
 
   
    Open Remix (of the song "Wake Up - It's Africa Calling") to benefit IntraHealth OPEN initiative
 
 
   
    Alive Records 2009 Sampler
 

Twittersphere

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Okay, this is a little over the top, and there's more to Twitter than blabbering about What Are You Doing? (despite the Twitter prompt), but it is still pretty funny. Especially when the Fail Whale shows up:



Severance Package

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Severance Package
Duane Swierczynski

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

My review

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Severance Package and would definitely agree with the back cover blurb - it would be great to see Tarantino direct a movie version. That being said, it didn't quite grip like his previous two, The Wheelman and The Blonde.

This books tells the story of a Saturday meeting at the office - a Saturday meeting from hell. The boss reveals (to the surprise of some) a secret about the company they are working for and a terrible future planned for them all. And now it is every man and woman for themselves, as each claws their way out of the mess.

It was a little hard, for some reason, to keep the characters straight. I mean, there were only something like 8 or 9 of them. And Swierczynski was never completely clear when or if certain ones were dead, and it felt like he was purposefully withholding info, which was a little annoying. But it had the usual crackling dialog and frenetic pace, so it was another great read.
 
View all my Goodread reviews.


Absinthe Rantings

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antique absinthe print

Originally uploaded by gregoreverb


Well, not rantings, per se. For quick little tweets about Absinthe, follow us at In Absinthia on Twitter.

Real-Time Boredom

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Here's a post I wrote for a now defunct gaming web site (R.I.P. The Game Chair). I still think about it, as I still don't like Real Time Strategy games. So for posterity sake, I thought I would post it here, before it slides off the Internet Wayback Machine:



I usually don’t dive into a computer game and play it through to the bitter end.  In order for that to happen, a game must be a chameleon, constantly changing and offering me new and challenging game play.  And Dune II had that in spades.  I still recall with great fondness the time I first started playing it.  This wonderful game mechanic called “real-time strategy” was a fascinating new genre for computer games, and it kept my officemate and I engrossed way beyond our normal lunch hour.  What a grand feeling of accomplishment we had when we finally finished the last storyline of the third house (Dune II let you play three of the factions found in the book - Houses Atreides, Harkonnen and Ordos)!

Dune II was probably the only game to both create a genre and exhaust its possibilities.  It had every archetype for your prototypical RTS game:


  • Resource gathering (harvest that spice, boys!)
  • Tech trees
  • Base and unit construction
  • Special mouse UI for selecting and grouping units

It also laid the groundwork for your basic RTS strategy:


  • Gather as many resources as you can
  • Build up some defense to fend off the opponent’s early excursions into your territory
  • Research as fast as you can, to…
  • Build units as fast as you can, to…
  • Amass a grand army to send a tidal wave of force against your hopelessly outgunned opponent

And we played it through, puzzling out each unit, trying to find the optimal spot for defensive emplacements, and how to concentrate our forces.  It was a breath of fresh air in computer gaming.

And there it should have stopped, as Dune II, in 1992, created, defined, and exhausted an entire computer gaming niche.  Instead, the real-time “strategy” genre exploded into the behemoth it still is today.  Four of the top 15 games on Gamespot’s PC Top Rated Games from the last six months are real-time “strategy” games - Star Wars: Empire at War, Rome: Total War Alexander, Take Command: 2nd Manssas, and The Lord Of The Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II.  And I simply do not understand it.

I just spent the past couple of days trying out some of the more highly rated RTS games from the past few years, just to see if things really have changed.  I played some Age of Empires, Rise of Nations, Act Of War, and even Warzone 2100, only to find the game play as stale as it ever was in other classics of the genre I’ve tried like Warcraft, Starcraft, and Command and Conquer.  You still have pretty much the same game structure, followed by pretty much the same strategy as you had in the first RTS.  They look a lot prettier, and have some advanced UI components (like grouping, waypoints and the like), but still in the end, it all boils down to building up a huge army to crush your hapless computer (or human) opponent. Been there, done that, have already thrown away the t-shirt.


There’s only been a few interesting twists on the formula that I have run across in the fifteen years since I first played Dune II, but even those haven’t been strong enough to overcome the feeling of déjà vu all over again.


* Battlezone put you in the thick of the action, and really made it feel more like you were an involved commander rather than some god-like figure telling your loyal subjects where to go and what to do.  It was fun driving the various vehicles and the UI was easy and yes, even realistic.  And so I made it  about halfway through the game before the RTS ennui set in and I gave up.

* Dungeon Keeper did for RTS games what Wizardy 4: Return of Werdna did for that seminal RPG series - put you in the shoes of the evil side. It also added cool traps to put down and the ability to play as one of your loyal subjects. This was fun for about 1/3 of the game and then the “Oh yeah, this is an RTS after all” feeling set in and I moved on.

I’ll give Act of War some points for feeling different, but maybe that is only because I haven’t really played any other of the realistic ones set in the current time.  It seemed to tell a pretty interesting story, but by the time I got to the fifth or sixth mission, any new joy I got from it was washed away in the tidal wave of stale gameplay.

I love how reviewers of these games stretch to find new stuff to applaud, yet in the end even the most rapturous of reviews admits the main strategy is to amass a honkin’ big army and squash the opponent, clicking as fast as you can to build up resources and troops.  How many different ways can you do that?

My advice is to pick one of the RTS games, play it for awhile and then just move on from the genre.  The whole set of RTS games reeks of the worst kind of “me-too”ism, copy cats of a game written before many of these designers stopped playing Candyland.  I guess I can understand the jaded music reviewer, who hears the same rhythms a million times and writes a lone cry in the wilderness against it, realizing that new ears think it is the greatest thing since ABBA  As for me, it will take a few years before I can get over the icky feeling of playing the same game for fifteen years and try out the latest RTS star, only to run away in horror yet again.

The End quote

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The End is a really nicely written, incredibly dense novel that I'm working through. There have been some excellent quotes:


She came from Lazio; however, her enunciation of the Italian language was barren of regional influence and pitiless, as though each word were a butterfly she was shooting out of the air with a pistol

and

There was a rumor that she earned other income from an illicit source, but Rocco didn't need to believe it. Wasn't the magic of compound interest illicit enough?

And I'm only on page 22!

The End: A novel
Salvatore Scibona

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