Sep 282006

Clive Thompson writes about the myth of the 40 hour game in Wired. And uses the newest Tomb Raider game as the introduction.

Introduction to the growing gap between hardcore and casual gamers, and the inability of the latter to finish games. Despite games getting easier and shorter, they still represent a formidable hurdle for the truly casual gamers. Demanding dedication, learning and time. Especially time.

Unlike Mr. Thompson, I actually finished the newest installment of the Lara Croft franchise. The game was of an optimal size, and the individual levels interesting enough to warrant the fifteen hours it took to finish the adventure.

The first Tomb Raider game was pretty much the reason I bought the original Playstation back in 1996, but the series deteriorated quickly after that. Moving from sense-of-wonder- filled thrills to too common firefights and repetitive storylines. But this game brings the Indiana Jones back into the fold. Free-form exploration is coupled with massive set pieces involving physical puzzles and graceful acrobatics. The storyline, sadly, isn’t very good. But then again, I didn’t expect much better.

The game itself is pleasant to play, though it is slightly marred by the odd autosave system, which allows no easy restarts of individual levels. Got bitten twice – and ended up spending a lot more time within two major fights than I would’ve needed, had it been possible to rewind a bit and not waste first aid kits or ammo in lesser combats prior to a tough one.

Sep 282006

A swiss company has announced a camera with a “substantial resolution”, to use their wonderfully understated expression.

Seitz 6×17 packs 160 megapixels. 26 times more than my S3. Number of pixels is of course no guarantee for great art, but it sure isn’t a hindrance. The substantuial size of the camera (weighing in at 2.8 kilos) probably is, this isn’t a piece of equipment to be lugged around everywhere.

But if it was a must to travel with it, it’d probably be wise to pack it up with a gun.

Sep 282006

Shaun Alexander, the coverboy for Madden 07, is indefinitely out with a fractured foot.

As noted in a sidebar in ESPN, this is yet another case of the Madden Curse, which has struck invariably the cover subjects.

Terrell Owens, the pernnially troubled WR, now in his third team in four years, has hit the headlines again. While he hasn’t been the troublemaker everybody expected, he hasn’t exactly been a rainmaker for the Cowboys either.

Luck of the draft prevented Hakkapeliitat from getting Alexander, and I purposefully ranked Owens much lower than the unexpectedly high default rank. Got burned by the latter last year, and saw the damage wreaked by Alexander two years ago in the worst possible moment. The bowl.

Sep 262006

Looks like an interesting play is coming to a close in Tampere this week. It features two Neil Gaiman short stories – one that’s been a personal favorite for a long while (Snow, Glass, Apples) and one that’s not too hot (Troll Bridge).

Both based off old faery tales, and probably not very easily applied to stage. And probably not one that I’ll be able to catch, there being just two shows left.

Sep 262006

First loss, now at 2-1.

An easy shoulda would have been replacing the newly Seahawks-installed Deion Branch, with Steve Smith, walking off a nasty achilles heel injury.

An even better coulda would have been Eli Manning not throwing three interceptions, before putting in an impressive 27-point rally in the fourth quarter. Giants, as a whole, have been late to start, and this time they did not pull an upset like against the Eagles last week.

Sep 252006

Photo Thursday Challenge #18:  Icon - The Stockmann ClockAfter a brief pause (missed “memory” last week), here’s this week’s entry – an icon.

The Stockmann Clock is probably familiar to every finn, and thus fits the challenge.

Taken with a camera phone, and heavily cropped – so the original won’t be available.

Sep 242006

The last movie of the festival was Michael Winterbottom’s not exactly brand-new Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.

And quite a good movie it was, packed with quality english comedy actors. Steve Coogan was the star of the show, but adequately supplemented by the likes of Stephen Fry (in a criminally small role) and Mark Williams (one of the bespoke tailors from the Fast Show, for the uninitated). But it’s Dylan Moran who almost nicks the goodies as a modern doctor. Gillian Anderson’s screen-time in minutes is calculated in single digits.

But it’s the demented story that’s truly the star of the show. The original book is supposedly unfilmable, and the hardships of the crew attempting just that are documented here. If the narrative was occasionally hard to follow in Takeshis’, it’s utterly lost here. Amusingly so, the storyline never gets stuck, and the main ideas behind both the book and the movie are very adequately explained in the first fifteen minutes or so. The film clocks in at just over 90 minutes, and is enjoyable throughout.

The finnish translation had some strokes of genius in it. Starting from the subtitle of the movie, which is neatly given as a sonninjoutava heijaritarina.

Haven’t read the book, but based on the strength of the movie, I’ll certainly look into picking this up at the first chance. Ought to be out in one of those cheap-o Classics-series.

Recommended. And probably worth a second viewing, there’s just too many snide inside jokes that get missed on the first trip through.

Sep 242006

Attended a friend’s birthday party, and the connected sports event: a darts competition organized already for the twelfth time.

Hadn’t thrown a single dart in almost a year, didn’t know the rules offhand (game’s called Kangaroo, and rules are indeed available).

Didn’t suck, totally, and managed to stay off the last place. Barely.

Hadn’t been to Manala in ages, and the place had been neatly renovated. The upper floors, on the other hand, were just as they’ve always been. As they should.

Sep 232006

Dropped in on a very brief visit to the annual Helsinki Comics Festival.

Missed out Warren Ellis completely (commitments are a burden), and didn’t feel like hanging around for long. The hall had both the stage and the salesfloor, and the effect was a bit too chaotic.

Bought a couple of albums, but was rather miffed that the publisher hadn’t brought a mock-up of the forthcoming Collected Carl Barks. At the cost, I’d sure have liked to see what the product actually looks like.

Sep 222006

The second movie of the evening continued the weird Japanese theme. Takeshis’ has Beat Takeshi in two leading roles, as well as handling the scriptwriter, director and editing duties.

It begins almost like a reality-movie, with Kitano playing himself and living the high life. Pretty soon the second character played by him (a lowly convenience store clerk) enters the picture, and things start to turn odd. Narration is broken into fragments, and several characters show up, expecting the viewers to know who they are and why they act the way they do.

Around the halfway point the film goes seriously Lynch, and reality and dreams are thrown into a blender for a surreal result.

Fun for a while, but gets old before the reels run out. And despite the quintuple duties this never feels like a vanity vehicle – just a weird art movie, with sporadic scenes that remind of Kitano’s older films.

Sep 222006

Had to select a few movies from the remaining three days of the festival, and the pickings were on the meager side.

First up was supposedly hilarious, yet worrisomely weird The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. Which turned out to be campy soft-core porn, with an improbable subplot concerning the cloned finger of George W. Bush.

Wasn’t horrible by any means, yet mercifully short. And an extra comet (or half a star) for the impressive rendition of Star-spangled Banner in japanese during the credits.

Sep 212006

It’s never a good sign when you’re able to read a whole book and watch the better half of a movie in the hours between 2am and sunrise.

Indeed, mr. Jetlag shooed mr. Sandman away, and had a very long night instead of restful sleep.

Surprisingly few slumber-induced calamities at work, and no broken glassware this time.

Yet, at least. Time to catch up an episode (or two) of Lost, and retire early.

Got half a booklet of tickets for the ongoing Rakkautta & Anarkiaa film festival. But was sure of nodding off in the middle of any movie, and decided to postpone first visit till tomorrow.

Sep 192006

2-0, after the second week. Seems that every guy on the team outplayed himself with regard to expectations. And Deion Branch got traded to Seattle, so that’s one fewer receiver to worry about.

Eli Manning was just scary in executing a comeback victory over the Eagles. But I certainly ought to pick up a second quarterback soon.

Sep 172006

Back. Eventless flights. With decent food (though I struggled with the dinner after the largish pizza in Logan). No sleep worth mentioning.

My 5’11″ height felt like made for the cattle wagons, compared to some of the travel companions on the last leg from Frankfurt. The finnish national basketball team returned from Luxembourg, and the guys were hurting in the miniscule leg room offered. I just hope Hanno Möttölä, at exactly a foot taller, got a seat in the business class. Or at least very understanding folks in the row behind him.

Luggage arrived without a hitch. Though the smaller suitcase did some extra rounds on the carousel – it was lying face down and I missed the bright orange tags completely.

Sep 172006

Had my first ever items confiscated by the TSA at Logan.

Didn’t think that a jar of mustard would qualify as a liquid or creme, and thus neglected to pack it in the checked luggage.

And despite me providing a better answer to the officer’s question of “sir, did you pack a candle?” than “not that I know of”, the jar was a goner. Too bad, would have been interesting to find out what mustard made of maple syrup would have tasted like.

And sadly, there are no equivalent condiments available this side of the security.

Sep 162006

Jellyfish in New England AquariumVisited the New England Aquarium on the wharves of Boston. This was actually my second time in the building, enjoyed the first visit some eighteen months ago a lot, and wanted to check out whether the facility had evolved in the meantime.

Not much, it seems. The special exhibition was still about jellyfish, and they were as photogenic as ever – gliding luminously through their empty tanks. Got better pictures than last time, clearly there’s been positive developments between G3 and S3.

As it was a saturday, and a nice one at that, the place was full of kids. Mostly well-behaved, though.

Sidewalk outside the New England AquariumArrived just in time to see the feeding of the penguins. Who, like the kids, were behaving oddly well. The divers supplying them with small fish were actually able to feed them one bird at a time.

The central tank, 40 feet wide and 23 feet deep was the biggest attraction, and the sharks and big turtles (sadly without the surfer dude-voices from Nemo) within evoked the biggest oohs and aahs from the crowds. I slinked around the edges of the building, looking at the smaller tanks.

In comparison to the rather unkempt National Aquarium in D.C., the New England Aquarium’s fishy abodes were in excellent shape. I think there were more freshwater displays last time, and the seashore tank (where small crabs and seastars were up for a feel) was definitely new.

An ornate fishHad a slow lunch in the McCormick & Schmick in Faneuil Hall. Watching Notre Dame getting maimed at the hands of Michigan over boat-fresh calamari and a pint of Sam Adams’ finest sure was an enjoyable way to spend a good chunk of a lazy afternoon.

After browsing the nearby marketplace for gifts – mainly chocolate and tea, witnessed the greatest display of breakdancing like, ever. Five guys twisting and turning to an old beat was an unexpected show – I’d thought breakdancers were an extinct species. Completely forgot I was packing a camera, hence the lack of evidence from the bout.

Sep 162006

A bicycle for five personsVisited Harvard, the usual location of accommodation on trips to Boston.

Harvard Bookstore had stocked up on Moleskine products. Which was nice, as I’m pretty close to filling out the last pages on the work notebook. Bought two new ones. The material seems as sturdy as it has been.

Tower Records, the ever-reliable supplier of musical goods, did not fail on this visit either. They had the cheapest entry on the “new Mars Volta”-competition, but, like all the others, were utterly sold out of Prison Break. Did the Fox’s dvd division sell it short, or what’s the cause for the lack of availability?

Had a brief stop at MIT before getting back to the hotel to check out. Had forgotten the camera, so didn’t really bother walking around (and besides, after the Stata Center, the others do not really make much of an impression).

Acquired rights for a late checkout, which was nice. But there’s still almost half a day to kill before the flight. Off to the waterfront…

Sep 162006

Random evening sceneHad an excellent steak dinner at Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse.

It’s one of those high-end restaurants, where everything is ordered specifically – the steak is just a steak, and picking the potatoes and other garnish is up to each diner. Had a just-right cajun seared ribeye, of an optimal size – wasn’t left hungry, nor had to roll down the street to get back to the hotel.

The split pea soup for appetizer and the key lime tart for dessert played nice second fiddle to the entree, both had taste of their own, but not powerful enough to distract from the main event.

Definitely recommended, and easily places within the top three steaks I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy. (The coveted #1 spot still belongs to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Parsippany, New Jersey.)

Sep 152006

Duck busCambridgeside Galleria seemed like a nice fit for the shopping needs: nano for me and a Canon S3 for Mr. T.

Killed time waiting by visiting the reliably excellent MIT Press bookstore next to Kendall Square T-station. I’ve never been successful exiting the shop without spending money. Though this time got off easy: just two books and the newest issue of Technology Review.

The shuttle to the Galleria was way more convenient than expected, and we had two hours to take care of. Ended up with a persistently beeping backpack, and the security guys were not able to tell what was the cause. Figured that the visit is more pleasant not setting off every security gate passed, and gave up after a couple of shops.

Did get the nano. The eight gig model is available in the same color configurations as the original T-model Ford, which shattered my wishes of owning a purplish pink player. The packaging has shrunk a lot since the last purchase – the size does not bode well for a proper charger.

Prison Break was still consistently sold out in every dvd outlet. Bought the first season of Soap, just to check out whether it’s as good as I remembered (and the folder was plenty cheap).

Sep 152006

Visited the Prudential and Copley Place malls, looking for three things: something to eat, something to drink and something to buy.

The last item was easily fulfilled. Located the second season of Deadwood and parted from more than a single per-diem to purchase it – the R2 version is vanilla, this one packs a full disc of extras. Prison Break was sold out. In all shops visited. Lost, on the other hand, was easily available.

Discovered a neat version of Hamlet, with which I had such trouble last winter. A double-paged version where the odd pages contain the original text, and the even pages (like, facing the odd) have a modern translation. Would have made reading less chore-some. And the bigger font would have helped as well.

No camera shops in either mall, nor any place to check out the new iPods. Meaning that we’re “forced” to cross the river tomorrow for even more shopping.

Ended up having dinner at the food court. It was raining outside, the Cheesecake Factory was packed to the gills and the collective energy levels were hovering near zero after bad sleep and four days of sitting down. The lobster roll surpassed all expectations, this was easily a restaurant-quality meal.

Low enough to skip the traditional post-event visit to a pub. Then again, there’s college football on television – and I’m pretty stuffed from the roll anyway.

Sep 142006

Collected booty from the conferenceLast day in the conference went pretty much as the previous. Listening to presentations of variable quality, and walking in the expo floor in the meantime.

Today’s lunch was of buffet kind, which was a rather severe disappointment after the properly waitressed ones of previous days.

Listened to a pointful ENUM-presentation. And learned that the OSI-model of ISO is missing some layers: economic, political and religious.

Video ringtones (and ringback tones) seemed unnecessarily bling, which likely means that they’ll be all the rage in a year or so.

Took 28 pages of notes. Ended up with a copious amount of loot. The hardest thing to transport will be the basketball. Those babies do not compress well.

One more meeting, and that’ll be tomorrow.

Time to meet a colleague enjoying a different conference, compare notes and obtain some retail therapy.

Sep 142006

Herding Cats on stage in the RoxySpent the evening in the official conference party.

Held in Roxy, very conveniently almost next door to Radisson.

Roxy is a multi-floored mid-profile club, which was not uncomfortably full when I got in (fashionably late, obviously). No coat check, which meant lugging a jacket in a warm environment a necessity.

The band of the evening was Herding Cats, definitely a quality cover-band from Seattle. Played three (if not four) extended and enthusiastic sets with very varied content: ranging from Jamiroquai to AC/DC via Elton John and Blink 182.

The band was loud, as were the DJs who seamlessly segued in after the band went on their breaks. Discussion in the main club was pretty much impossible.

Missed most of the food due to late arrival (mental note: these things seem to start on time), but plates of appetizers were carried around for a while by waiters, which eased up the situation slightly. The buffet tables were in the darkest areas of the club, and thoroughly raided already.

Thought the visit would be much shorter, but enjoyed the band’s versatility and stayed till they finished.

Sep 142006

Whoopsie. My bag of laundry had not arrived. Upon wondering “why”, I noted that I’d given a wrong room number for housekeeping. Whoopsie, indeed.

Luckily the bag full of clean laundry was located, and the bell captain sure earned the five dollar tip.

So let this serve as a further warning: jetlag-induced stupidities may be incurred rather late into the trip…

Sep 142006

Apple launched several new products in Steve Jobs’ It’s Showtime-keynote.

The item of most immediate interest is the new nano. Now with rounded corners, an even better battery and 8GB capacity. My old fourth generation iPod is showing its age, and considering that the eight gigabytes are available for 250$, it might be time to upgradesupplement… Let’s see if the local apple store has them in stock on friday.

The iTV (this time Apple had a “one more thing”-moment) sounds interesting as well, and I’m sure the spin machines will start to go into overdrive before the product is actually launched in Q1/07.