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My Archives: April 2005

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dialogue of the Week
Posted by CKL @ 10:28 AM PST
From Kung Fu Monkey:
I give unto my friends the [Firefly DVD] boxed set, and they say, "Verily, this kicks ass, why is there not more of it?"

And I tell unto them "Because American television can barely find it's[sic] own ass with the help of Ass-detecting Assometers run by Assy Asserton, Asstronomer and Winner of the Ass-Centric Assembly's Golden Ass-Finding Trophy Three Years Running."

-- John Rogers, "FIREFLY - the movie"

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Belated Capsule Review: Out of Time
Posted by CKL @ 09:08 AM PST
Out of Time is a stupid, stupid movie which wants to be The Spanish Prisoner, but doesn't know enough about anything to be convincing. Most of the movie consists of Denzel Washington's character, small-town police chief Matthias Whitlock, hiding his involvement in a crime from an out-of-town homicide detective. No less than two-thirds of the film is spent watching Matthias running around, tampering with evidence and lying through his teeth to keep his house of cards from crashing down around him.

I mean, seriously, this plot was old when it showed up in 1950s sitcoms. The best thing in the film is John Billingsley-- who, as Dr. Phlox, also happens to be the best thing about Star Trek: Enterprise-- and for the entire second half of the movie, I was hoping for him to say, "Matthias, you got some 'splainin' to do!" I guess the story is supposed to be surprising, even shocking, but I never cared enough about any of the characters, and the mechanics of the plot are patently absurd.

I admit, I've never seen another movie which tried to generate tension by pitting a fax machine against Photoshop. Unfortunately, the scene in question only works if you know nothing about computers or telephones. In fact, so many of the contrivances in the film involve technology not working the way it actually does-- cell phones that have a menu option to turn off voicemail, PDAs with instant wireless access anywhere-- that it was impossible for me to suspend disbelief. Besides which, just about everyone in the movie was dumb as a post, which annoys me to no end. Given a choice, I'd rather not waste my time or money watching stupid people.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Quick Enterprise Rant
Posted by CKL @ 02:38 AM PST
Credible sources report that TNG's Riker and Troi will appear in the final episode of Enterprise. Who knows how or why. Really, at this point, who freaking cares?

This season's continuity porn notwithstanding, Enterprise has never paid attention to consistency, internal or otherwise. It was conceived as an anti-Trek show, and the producers only embarrassed themselves further when they tried to re-establish credibility by hiring longtime Trek novelists Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens as staff writers. I suppose Gar & Judy did well enough considering what they had to work with, but a beautiful sculpture made out of elephant dung still stinks.

Thankfully, on May 13th (a Friday, no less), it's all over. Good riddance.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Taking A Collection
Posted by CKL @ 02:58 AM PST
The Burninators ("Bern-N-Ader") have published the application details for their Game in July. It's interesting and thematic, but I wonder if they wouldn't mind getting some items which are in the same vein-- "antiquities of the future"-- but not explicitly listed. As a team, we like to inject our own brand of creativity; and as Game Control, we encourage other teams to do the same. Playing The Game can be just as creative an activity as making The Game.
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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Look ma, no cables!
Posted by CKL @ 10:03 AM PST
5.8GHz is better than 2.4GHz... for now.

For the past few years, we've been using a wireless video sender which transmits at 2.4GHz to watch TV in bed. It worked great in our previous and current houses-- we didn't have to run coaxial cable from the living room, where our TiVo is stationed, to the bedroom, which didn't have existing connectors (because we're renting, we're somewhat reluctant to punch lots of holes in the walls). The only major problem was interference.

Many of our other devices, including the 802.11b gateway and microwave oven, radiate in the 2.4GHz range. We also had to use a separate, even more finicky device to relay the infrared signals from the remote control. And recently, we started getting constant interference on the video signal, which appeared in the form of flickering horizontal lines and crackling noises. Not cool. I suspect one of our neighbors got a new Wi-Fi setup or cordless phone system. What to do?

I considered running coax from the living room to the bedroom. We would have had to get a new wall plate for the living room, and punch a hole into the bedroom. Since I'm lazy, I actually considered measuring the temperature in our central air ducts (there's a vent that connects the two rooms) and stringing cable through there if it wouldn't get too hot. I even thought about getting a second TiVo, which we could network wirelessly, but since we don't have a TV antenna in the bedroom (and thus couldn't actually record anything there), I would have been paying for a very expensive repeater. Not cost-effective.

But then I did some research and found that there are now wireless video senders that transmit at 5.8GHz, and they're advertised as being resistant to interference from 2.4GHz devices. I was a bit skeptical because I couldn't find many product reviews or stories from actual users. A few people said the effective range was short and didn't penetrate walls very well. But there was no way to find out how it would perform in our environment without actually testing it, so I just bit the bullet and ordered the RF Link AVS-5811 from X10.com (hate their pop-up ads, but can't beat their price: $123 shipped).

The package arrived yesterday. I set it up last night, and it works flawlessly. No interference at all, and the picture and sound were clear even when I fired up the microwave oven, the worst disruptor in the 2.4GHz spectrum. My tradition of watching The Daily Show in bed before going to sleep can now continue. Huzzah!

Of course, this won't last forever. As more 5.8GHz devices are produced, that frequency range will get more crowded, and we'll run into the interference problem again. But hopefully, by then, the whole HDTV and networked-media-center market will be less muddled, and we'll have better options for setting up a whole-house entertainment system that transmits digitally. And a bigger house, since a two-bedroom cottage isn't big enough to justify (or hold) all that equipment.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

TV sucks. I love TV.
Posted by CKL @ 09:18 AM PST
"The TV industry as a whole produces over 31 million hours of programming each year, but most people only have access to 3-4% of the total, and finding what you like even among that smaller number is difficult. There's also the weird way most TV shows are shown once and then never seen again...

"If you could digitize and make available all 31 million hours of video produced each year, and had a sophisticated search mechanism, people could find all the niche programming they want and love...

"I can't wait to see where the world of TV is in five years. I suspect I'll be picking shows I want to see off a website, buying copies for a small charge, and downloading them for[sic] to my home theater by then."

-- Matt Haughey, PVRblog

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

storytellers are the best liars
Posted by CKL @ 11:17 AM PST
"Narrative is one of the key components of entertainment. The last time you cried at the movies, you cried because bad things (or even good things) happened to someone you were made to care about. It was the narrative that made you cry, because you understood the stakes. Sophie's choice is only terrible when you internalize it, when it becomes your choice. You root for the hero because, in a real way, you have gone through what he has gone through. Video games take that identification one step further; I think that's one reason for their popularity.

"So the Terri Schiavo case was entertainment, only with real people. So it was information and entertainment. But it was also conducted at a highly abstract level, which tended to obscure the specific reality of the people. Thus, disinfotainment."

-- Jon Carroll in the SF Chronicle

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Friday, April 8, 2005

Through with Tru
Posted by CKL @ 09:10 PM PST
I'm done with Tru Calling. I wanted to like the show, not just because Buffy alums are on the cast and crew, but because it was a decent premise. Sadly, it went nowhere in its first year, and is now really going downhill.

DeeAnn dropped it after we watched the second season premiere last week, but I decided to watch the first bit of the next episode tonight. And though they did address one loose end from last season-- the fact that Jack, the "evil leaper" (to use Quantum Leap parlance), caused a different person to die than was supposed to die in one episode-- it was only in a throwaway line. And the whole Jack thing is problematic, to say the least.

If you're not familiar with the show: Tru works in the city morgue, and is gifted (or cursed) with the ability to hear dead people ask her for help. When that happens, she goes back in time, and the day starts over. She now has knowledge of things that will happen during the day, and can act to prevent the person from dying.

Jack, who was introduced in the middle of last season, is Tru's opposite. He also goes back in time when she does, but his purpose is to make sure that the person in question dies as they originally did. He takes the view that he's not killing them-- since they were fated to die anyway, he's just preserving the natural order.

Since Jack was introduced, most episodes are some combination of Tru doing her best Fletch impersonation, bumbling around and trying to get close to the person she's trying to save, and Jack beating her to the punch to make sure they die. And he usually does stay one step ahead of her until the very end. I mean, they gotta fill an hour somehow.

Here's the problem: HOW DOES JACK KNOW WHO'S GOING TO DIE? Tru knows because the person was rolled into the morgue and literally asked for her help. But Jack's not in the morgue. Presumably his day is interrupted and rewound at the time Tru's is, but he can't know anything about the victim. Unless he's getting it from some other, supernatural force, and that would (in the absence of any explicit theology) imply that he's in the right and Tru's actually the bad guy. Which would be an interesting twist, but somehow I don't think the producers are willing to go that dark at 8:00 PM on Thursday.

Anyway. No more Tru Calling for me. I'm willing to accept mystical mumbo jumbo-- hey, it was a staple on Buffy-- but I need some kind of explanation. You can't use magic without establishing some rules, and the rules really should make sense.

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news abstract of the week
Posted by CKL @ 02:42 PM PST
"Albania's most wanted man fought off special police and eluded capture for years only to blow himself up while fishing with dynamite."
-- Yahoo! News
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Wednesday, April 6, 2005

I just want to watch TV, dammit
Posted by CKL @ 10:07 AM PST
Today, PVRblog.com talks about DirecTV's HD problem: to wit, the impending obsolescence of current HD DirecTiVos and the inability (due to an FCC ruling) to receive HDTV signals from your local stations anyway.

It really should not be this difficult to watch TV. The only reason for the current morass of crippleware is media companies' short-sighted, reactionary paranoia about new technology. Lawsuits have never prevented progress.

The best thing about the current entertainment revolution is the increasing availability of TV shows on DVD-- often, complete seasons are released mere months after they first air. I was just talking to some co-workers at lunch yesterday, one of whom is now hooked on Arrested Development through NetFlix. I'm still working on the first season of Alias, myself, and we've been accumulating past seasons of Gilmore Girls at home.

At some point, this distribution channel may even eclipse TiVo for convenience: wait to see if a new TV show is any good, based on critical and popular response, then rent an entire season at once so you can watch at your leisure, without having to skip sit through commercials or wait a week or more between episodes. For example, I have a friend who's certain she'll like Lost, but is just waiting to watch it on DVD.

On that note: You may not remember Murder One, the 1995 ABC drama that tried to do a single, coherent, season-long story arc. It wasn't just a continuous, soapy serial, but a "novel for television," as the producers called it. It was ahead of its time and infinitely better than 24. It's now available on DVD. Check it out.

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Friday, April 1, 2005

Game On
Posted by CKL @ 02:19 PM PST
Ah, spring... when a young Game Control's fancy turns to thoughts of making pre-clues.

Here's the text of the invitation letter I retrieved from my PO box today. The envelope was postmarked 23 Mar 2005:

[GRIFFITHS COLLECTION letterhead]

March 21, 2005

Dear Colleague,

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the Griffiths Collection will be hosting a unique and exciting new exhibition starting Sunday, July 10. Made possible through a bequest from our dear friend and longtime supporter Cecily Madsen, we're thrilled to be hosting the first-ever showing of the mysterious McGuffin Diamond and its companion, the fascinating McGuffin Journal.

These curious rarities have been held in private hands since the time of Francis McGuffin himself, and the Griffiths is honored to be the first institution to present this special public exhibition.

It is events like this that highlight the Collection's growing prominence and underscore the need for a permanent facility. As I'm sure you're aware, the Griffiths Collection is in the midst of a campaign to raise funds for our first building, to be located in San Francisco. This space will allow us to bring many of the Collection's beautiful and historically significant items out of storage and put them on permanent display, as well as host a variety of cultural and educational programs. We're on track to break ground in October, but we can still use your support!

We will be hosting a special pre-exhibition brunch on Saturday, July 9 as a special thank-you to our generous donors. Space for this event will be extremely limited, but those attending will be the very first to see the fabulous McGuffin Diamond and Journal! Please visit our website at griffithscollection.org for more information on this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Sincerely,

[signature]

Bernard N. Ader
Executive Director

A preliminary examination reveals nothing special about or hidden in the physical material-- paper, envelope, ink, etc. Full page scans coming soon.
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