Feb 282008

The whole day of adding value at the office (or actually, three offices – today was a busy day) felt slow, cough-y and vaguely distant.

Distant in a strange fashion, like there were an inch-thick insulating layer between the soles of my feet and reality.

Home, the truth emerged, it’s not my thick socks that are to blame for the floating feeling, but a nicely peaking bout of fever.

The cough has not ranked very high on the annoy-o-meter. Yet, at least.

Time to curl up on the sofa, eat a sizable apple-cinnamon muffin, spin a the last episodes of Torchwood‘s first season with “play all”, and settle for a boring weekend.

Feb 282008

#81:  Hard choiceThis week’s photo thursday challenge is hard choice.

My take on the subject is the attached image, of a boat heading into the mist just below the Niagara falls. It took about three seconds to make up our minds whether to go on such a cruise and experience the falls up close and personal.

The blue raincoats did help. A little. But the shoes were sloshing wet for the rest of the afternoon.

Feb 272008

ForumWarz LogoIf the prospect of a postmodern webgame that concentrates on the wrong side of the internet culture appeals to you at all, ForumWarz is heavily recommended.

ForumWarz is a beautifully realized implementation that emulates the whole internet in a single browser window – be it forums, instant messaging, misanthropic people, suspicious webstores or spam, it’s all here. And as a game it’s a great parody

Me, I’m a third level troll, on track to pwn as many forums as possible with tools such as spoiler generation and gratuitous ASCII art.

EDIT (16.3.2008): Andy Baio interviews the authors. It’s not your average interview:

We used to drink beer and go out for dinner at every meeting, but after a couple of months that got expensive and unproductive.

Feb 272008

Big frogAs frogs go, there’s nothing bigger than the newly discovered fossil Beelzebufo, the devil frog.

The attached image is just an imaginative artistic rendition of the critter, but its mere size means that this was one effective predator back in the day.

Feb 262008

Unsurprisingly the internet censorship discussion continues, sensuuri.info collects a lot of the relevant documentation, including the pitiful hit rate of the original list of censored pages: 9 out of 1047. Lehti adds nothing to the actual news, it is surreal enough to fit amongst their other content without any embellishments.

Feb 262008

Pihlajanorsu coverSaw an odd tagline for a new book recently:

PIHLAJANORSU – Ilmiö, jonka nähtyään on syytä viettää päihteetön loppuelämä.

Didn’t think much of it, apart from being reduced close to hysterics in public places several times while puzzling over the nearly flawless composition of the sentence.

Certainly didn’t think that such a creature (rowan elephant) actually existed.

Turns out that the joke was on me – the eponymous book is actually a variant of the almighty Meaning of Liff, where place names are given new meanings as everyday things and feelings. This book uses animals as the source, and a creature called pihlajanorsu does exist. Though sadly it’s not a rare domestic pachyderm species, but a big butterfly instead.

Feb 262008

Box office visualizationI’m a sucker for many things, and one of the elements on the long list is good visualization.

And when well-drawn imagery accompanies in an interesting subject, my interest is piqued even further.

New York Times’ recent interactive take on domestic box office take for more than two decades is enlightening. Movie runs have run much shorter recently – check out Lion King (1994) against the last summer’s Transformers – one stretched beyond six months, the other clocking in within thirty days. A hover-over ought to list the actual receipts and other tidbits, right now it’s just a link to the review.

A static, but still impressive show is available at the appropriately named movieposteraddict.com, the eighty Oscar winners for the best film.

Feb 262008

After the disappointing-ish Glasshouse I was wondering whether Charles Stross had over-extended himself with a very ambitious publication schedule. While the premise is intriguing, the pacing is off. The book feels padded, this reverse take of the Stepford Wives could easily have been told in with a much smaller page count.

The fears were premature indeed, as the Jennifer Morgue proves that the slip in quality was only momentary and not a permanent feature. The bubbling mixture of espionage, geekery, pop culture and Cthulhu is highly recommended, even if the second story in the book doesn’t have the space or the plot to reach the same heights. Inspired by Delta Green, I’m sure, and inspiring for the fans of the genre.

Next up, Clan Corporate, the third book in the series of at least six parts, and the mystery novel that crosses the border between real life and MMORPG, Halting State. But not back to back, definitely not back to back, there’s plenty of other recent fish caught.

Feb 252008

Macroday 24.2.2008:  PartThis week’s macroday challenge is part.

And what would be a better take on the subject but a lego brick – definitely a part of something bigger, but not of just a single something, but whatever the builder likes.

My trusty S3 is having a hard time in less than optimally lit macro scenes, definitely time to start thinking about something more advanced in this segment.

Feb 252008

Spent saturday evening enjoying some quality electronic entertainment in good company.

Amongst the pinball machines there was one change, Getaway had been replaced with World Cup Soccer, celebrating the 1994 cup played in the states. The game was very pleasant, spent perhaps 80% of the pinball time on it, and liked the flow of the board a lot. It took a while to get used to the field, and by then I had miraculously lost the ability to hit the television shot – which meant that high scores were not easy to grab. Ended up with a 748M high, inadequate for a replay.

Twilight Zone was its old tough self, even with the ballsaver enabled it’s a cruel game to play. No heroics on the board, apart from the game where the power was defeated thrice – like with World Cup had trouble with some of the shots and didn’t play many games.

Broke into the vault in Safecracker once, but failed to get a decent score on both the assault and regular modes.

The big new addition videogames-wise was Donkey Konga. Three drumkits on a table put up quite a cacophony, and neatly drowned the music. This is one of those rare games where watching the players is almost as fun as actually playing the game. All video clips of the hours spent on this have been incinerated to protect the innocent.

Had my first exposure to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and found it a very pleasant FPS to play. Only hacked through a couple of 4-way deathmatches, but that was enough to convince me that this game so needs buying. Once the current backlog subsides a little.

NHL08 and Virtua Tennis 3 proved that I still can’t play either. The games this time did resemble the actual sport more than on previous occasions, so at least some of the participants have been learning. Was almost held scoreless in four Pro Evolution Soccer games, but snagged an ugly goal off a corner in the last game. As with the previous duo, our football games are definitely improving with time.

Feb 252008

There Will Be Blood-PosterSaw P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood yesterday. The movie was pre-destined for success in the Academy Awards, but came away with more meager pickings than expected. My take on the film is pretty much the same – it wasn’t all it could be, but by no means a waste of time.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the protagonist starts off well, builds up to a crescendo of power that corrupts its wielder, and finally stumbles at the very last moments of the 160-minute stretch, reducing itself to an almost comic figure. There’s no denying that this was an Oscar-worthy performance, but it would have been so much closer to perfection if some restraing would have been applied in the last twenty-odd minutes.

The rest of the cast pales in comparison, almost to the point of not even recalling who the other actors actually were. But that is not the fault of the film, the character of Daniel Plainview is so dominating.

The cinematography is exquisite, with big skies and even bigger hills – the film sidesteps the industrialization neatly, so derricks and such can be counted in single figures. The most powerful scene, an inferno of the first well remains on screen for minutes, to be extinguished without an explanation.

And that may be one of the potential failures of the film. It does not explain, exposition-wise it relies on the watcher to fill in details, instead of giving pre-digested morsels to the watchers. That may be too hard for a big chunk of the audience. Especially when combined with slow pace and long duration. Those expecting action are going to be even more disappointed, this is a very placid film. Friends of sprawling dialogue will not find the film to their liking either, it simply is is not very talky at all, many scenes play themselves out with minimal dialogue.

The plot is not very complex, it has many elements from Citizen Kane and many other bildungsfilms, spiced with a good amount of conflict and plain insanity. It doesn’t even move with ease, the final chapter, set some twenty years past the vast majority of the film seems disjoint, and not only because of Day-Lewis antics in it.

Half a star deducted because of the score – I found Jonny Greenwood’s atonals screechy and irritating. A fact compounded by the sound system in Maxim, where the sole volume setting seems to be eleven.

And I found the fact puzzling that the Sunday brothers are never shown together on screen (and even thought about them being the same individual) – whether this is intentional, remains to be heard in the inevitably wordy commentaries on the dvd releases.

There was some blood, but there was also rather large amounts of disappointment.

Feb 252008

Games Workshop did not waste too much time licensing out their non-book, non-miniature portfolio that they abandoned late last month.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t Green Ronin who licensed the games (here’s Chris Pramas’ thoughts), but a new arrival on the Warhammer scene, Fantasy Flight Games. Their press release, while very much on the positive side, does not state anything concrete about how the publication schedule will carry over, but it would’ve been unfair to expect that so early.

And there was much rejoicing, as shown in the relevant rpg.net thread.

I’ve been a happy FFG customer in the past (and will be, for any future Arkham Horror bits at least), so I’m not too concerned over the identity of the new marshall witchhunter in town.

Feb 252008

Oscar statueNot too bad, hit rate of 50%:

Leading actor – Daniel Day Lewis, check.

Supporting actor – Javier Bardem, check.

Leading actress – Marion Cotillard, nope.

Supporting actress – Tilda Swinton, nope, haven’t seen Michael Clayton, but she ought to be very good to beat Amy Ryan.

Animated feature – Ratatouille, check, easiest pick of the lot.

Directing – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, nope, while No Country for Old Men is good, it’s not this good.

Documentary feature – Taxi to the Dark Side, check, hunch #1 paid off.

Picture – There Will Be Blood, nope, the Coens’ movie beat this.

Visual effects – Transformers, nope, and the Golden Compass got this baby undeservedly.

Writing (original) – Juno, check, hunch #2 paid off.

Feb 252008

The warm glow of the bowl victory in the Yahoo’s fantasy football has now faded, and it’s time to take a look how the other instances of Haagan Hakkapeliitat are doing.

NHL LogoThe hockey team is doing all right (5th out of 12 teams). The season has been uneven, with a lot of stars falling by the wayside in various teams. Hence, it’s less of a surprise to see that Ryan Getzlaf is actually #5 in the whole league. Daniel Alfredsson has been hurt a couple of short stints, and that clearly downgrades his position in the statistics (though ninth in the entire NHL is nothing to scoff at).

Apart from the ever-reliable Marty Turco, the goalies have been a headache (neither Tim Thomas nor Peter Budaj have exactly carried their teams this season). And speaking of headaches, Simon Gagne didn’t recover from his concussion to allow any subsequent games this season, which was quite a loss. Gambled on Teemu Selänne, when the news of his return broke, and have been happy with the choice since – a 3+2 game would be a big break from anybody, but for a 37-year old veteran in his tenth game is unexpected indeed.

And the idea of having fewer defensemen as opposed to too many right wingers was obviously dead on arrival to anybody but me. I took third of a season to figure out that this is an unworkable tactic.

NBA LogoThe basketball team is not doing as well (6 or 12, but worrisomely below .500). Shawn Marion, the top draft choice has been in good form, though the new team in Miami certainly doesn’t have the backing talent he used to have in the Suns.

The team is very heavy on shooting guards / small forwards – with frequent crowding issues. But with the likes of Ray Allen, Kevin Martin, Vince Carter and Corey Maggette, I don’t mind too much. Though John Salmons seems to be an extra now that the Sacramento team is on the healthy side – his output during the shorthanded period were much much appreciated.

What the team lacks is a credible center, but then again, so do most of the teams in the real NBA.

Don’t worry, I won’t be as obsessively reporting about these teams as I did for the football team. Until the playoffs, that is.

Feb 242008

Thursday challenge 20.2.2008: WinterThis week’s thursday challenge is winter.

My take on the subject is the attached image, taken early on a sunday morning in Salem, Massachusetts, after a heavy snowfall the previous night. This is a scene from the suburbia, heavily cropped in the shown version (a nasty wastebin lurks in the background of the original). The semi-focused white blobs on the right side of the picture are clumps of snow falling from the tree.

Feb 242008

#80:  The buck stops hereThis week’s photo thursday challenge is joku raja. As an expression that doesn’t translate too well, and my take in the title does require a certain amount of linguistic gymnastics.

Originally I planned to include an image of the zero meridian in Greenwich, but cannot locate the original. And as a mere thumbnail, it’s not that good a photograph. Hence, my choice falls on a badly graffitied train in Brussels. I’m pretty sure that the gity officials would indeed like to apply the same method to the spraycan-wielders as the pink blob is subjected to. (Yeah, the image is quite close to what Juha put up, but I had thought of this before I laid eyes on his…

As usual, the full-size image is available by clicking the photograph, and (drum roll) the archives have not been cleaned out.

Feb 242008

No Country for Old Men PosterSaw the Coen Brothers’ latest movie, No Country for Old Men, and quite liked it, and was quite perplexed by it.

This is a movie that resembles a western in all but the era, set in the early eighties, it gives convenient access to the war in Vietnam and old relatives reminiscing about the true frontier days.

Plotwise the movie resembles Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan a lot, “finders keepers” does not guarantee happiness when dirty money is concerned.

Javier Bardem’s psychotic killer is worth all the accolades he has been receiving – the character’s monomanic attention to the task at hand is at times scary indeed. The other highlight is the introduction of Kelly MacDonald, at times I was pretty sure I was watching a younger clone of Kate Winslet’s on screen, and that is never a bad thing.

The film starts out well, and moves towards the plot’s inevitable conclusion. The last twenty or so minutes are downright odd, and will raise a lot of questions. The expectation that the runaway train would jump back to the tracks of Hollywood convention is never fulfilled, and the lack of any explanations will mystify viewers. I haven’t read the original novel, and thus cannot comment on whether serious artistic liberties were taken with the plot. As it stands, the finale fizzles out and leaves a sour taste in the mouths of the audience.

But it’s far from an unpleasant aftertaste, just unexpected. And when counting in the half a dozen other actors who nail their roles exactly and the breathtaking cinametography, there’s really not much to complain about.

Recommended, but not the masterpiece that Fargo was, back in the day.

Feb 242008

Haven’t seen but a tiny fraction of the nominees, so the next list is bound to have gaping holes in its logic:

Leading actor
Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in There will be Blood has been raved so widely, that this is an easy pick.
Supporting actor
Javier Bardem. On account of his worrisomely manic killer in No Country for Old Men.
Leading actress
Julie Christie. Actors portraying damaged people tend to be rewarded. Ellen Page would be a nice shock to the system, but that’s a long shot if I ever saw one.
Supporting actress
Amy Ryan. Her white trash mom distilled the quintessential parts of what’s wrong with 21st century america into a worthy potion.
Animated feature
Ratatouille. The gourmet rats would dominate the penguins of Surf’s Up with one paw tied behind their backs. Persepolis is again too long a shot for a mainstream award.
P.T. Anderson for There will be Blood, mainly on account of the occasional weakness of Coen brothers’ offering. Haven’t seen the other nominees.
Documentary feature
Taxi to the Dark Side. Just a hunch. And Michael Moore’s too controversial, and Sicko not good enough for the award.
There will be Blood.
Visual effects
Transformers. Let’s face it, Golden Compass had nothing to it beyond the scenes in the trailer, whereas the robot movie outdid pretty much anything thus far in the complexity of the car-sized droids, and the third Pirates movie didn’t really add anything new – the ugliest face in the book (Bill Nighy’s, that is) had already been seen a year ago.
Writing (original)
Juno. Again, just a hunch.

Yeah, I brazenly omitted the categories in which I have no opinion or prejudice.

And I expect the host, the almighty Jon Stewart, to bring down the house in disrespecting the elders, the young, and the politically aligned in every which way.

Looks like Lindsay Lohan almost singlehandedly cleaned out this years razzies.