May 312008
 

Canon EOS Digital strapUpgraded my photographic equipment today.

But no new images off the new gear, since I stupidly forgot to pick up an SD card.

Thankfully the shops will be open tomorrow.

A proper image of the new camera when it’s ready for action, this is just a teaser.

And nope, didn’t update the laptop. Gromit the MacBook is there just to provide an even matte background for the strap.

May 302008
 

I thought I was just imagining things when the sound level of the recently watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seemed uneven, with occasional periods of slightly lower volume.

But things more sinister than auditory hallucinations or bad sound equipment may be afoot: according to an article in boingboing, the lower quality is man-made.

The short periods of silence are added to deter and track piracy. Which is definitely a heavy-handed way to go about it.

The article has not been rebutted yet, but I hope this turns out to be a hoax. After all, when the ten euro movie ticket does not guarantee full use of 24-karat equipment in the theatres, I cannot but feel cheated.

May 292008
 

I reviewed Nintendo’s Wii Fit in Helsingin Sanomat last week. The review is sadly not available electronically (at least not without shelling money for the digital edition of said newspaper).

I quite liked the peripheral that resembles an overgrown scale more than anything else. It’s surprisingly accurate and stable. And while the Wii Fit exercises are nice, they’re not that good gaming-wise. Hence I ended my review with the hopefully expectant note – maybe the control device will be popular enough to warrant its use in future games.

Today, news on slashdot announced that Ubisoft will develop not one, but two games that make use of the balanceboard: Shaun White Snowboarding and Raving Rabbids TV Party. Nice. But I’m still pretty convinced that a good skateboarding game would do wonders on the device as well.

May 292008
 

#92:  Jo joutui armas aikaThis week’s photo thursday challenge starts with the first verse of a very traditional summer hymn (and also the song that pretty much defines the School’s Out moment). I’ve never run into a formal translation of the song, and won’t attempt it here either. Let’s just say that it celebrates the beginning of the summer in a very lurical fashion.

My take on the subject is the attached image, a lush lawn intersected by a looming shadow. Helsinki is right now enjoying my favorite season – the turning point from spring to summer. Everything is still green, the days are not reliably warm yet, and most important of all: we’re not yet jaded of the summer. In a couple of weeks the season is taken for granted, now there’s still some of the wonder left.

May 292008
 

Meh, Google did not yet release the Google Earth plugin for Mac yet.

And there’s no word on its future availability, either.

Same thing happened with Microsoft’s recent Worldwide Telescope, a Mac native version was not released concurrently with the Windows implementation.

Both seem very interesting, but not interesting enough to warrant experimentation with the likes of Bootcamp or VMWare Fusion. But these two definitely pile up in the scales already weighed down with Civilization 4.

May 272008
 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull PosterSaw the much-debated fourth installment of the aging franchise on sunday. While Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not as great as the best parts of the series, it is far from disaster (and absolutely not comparable to the travesty known as Phantom Menace).

Indeed, even though both Henry Jones Jr. and Harrison Ford are pushing seventy, the movie is hardly affected. Quite the reverse, aging is treated gracefully and its implications surface as a major plot element. Acting-wise the movie works well – Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark (yeah, the booze-swilling chick from Himalayas), Shia LeBouf continues to be thoroughly non-annoying (even though his fifties greaser had gigantic potential for failure).

The film begins with a sly wink to the watchers, but never descends into the realm of continuous in-jokes. References to previous movies and absent friends are mostly treated with care. Though I wonder why the role of Harold Oxley was crafted, when Abner Ravenwood would have been a perfect fit for the plot device.

Some of the scenes are criminally under-developed, there’s quite a bit of repetition in the script, and the Tarzan-moment is a very jarring interruption that just fails to work on any level. But the cool moments far outweigh any suboptimal design: rocket sled! army ants! 1950s setting! Cate Blanchett with a sabre! jungle chase! travel plotted on map! skulking through caves and ruins! And as an added bonus CGI imagery is pleasantly sparsely used. Though the ending has already been done by Spielberg much much better thirty years ago.

Originally I had very mixed feelings about this movie. On one hand it was thrilling to see the original team get back to action nineteen years after the previous film. On the other I was dreading the Star Trek effect – it’s not farfetched to think that only odd-numbered Indy films are good, and the others merely fillers. But the fears were proven wrong – despite some missteps this is a good film that may very well service as the capstone for the entire saga. Or it may not, as the box office receipts have been strong. If it isn’t, the fifth part will not be nineteen years off from today.

And I seriously hope that the guy sitting one row back buys soft candy the next time he sees a movie. The mind-shattering crunch of innocent potato chips continued throughout the film, and managed to distract during the few lulls in the action.

May 252008
 

Unlike the glory days of 2006, hard rock did not service us well in the finals.

After all, this time the song was not a carbon copy of Desmond Child’s finest, but a weakish pick from a limp album.

Brother Firetribe in 2009. Hair metal, upbeat choruses, Jan Hammer-inspired intro, Anette Olzon on the backing vocals – all in all back to the good old mid-eighties. What’s wrong with this scenario?

And speaking of losing – Teräsbetoni’s lowly rank means that I owe five pints. Of Newcastle Brown Ale if I dare to guess the recipient’s wishes.

May 242008
 

Well, the Superbowl Experiment went well in february, so it’s time for another evening-long liveblog extravaganza. Don’t count on timely updates or expert analysis.

21:57: Laptop charged, beer chilled, salsa poured into a bowl, sofa cleaned of distractions – we’re ready to roll.
22:01: Nice fluid logo. I guess it’s all downhill from here, aesthetics-wise.
22:02: Missed the previous contest (was at the Red Hat Summit last year), so I’m only guessing this androgynous figure is the previous year’s winner.
22:05: OK, OK – I gave the warning of declining aesthetics already, but these underwear-clad robobabes are kind of low blows this early in the show.
22:08: Go #8!
22:10: Romania gets the show on the road with a limp duetto. Utterly mediocre, and devoid of hooks.
22:14: UK. Soul by the numbers. Not bad. And a real improvement on the previous.
22:16: Nope. Even the pyro doesn’t save the british effort.
22:19: I think this is the very first albanian pop song I’ve ever heard. Like so many ex-commieseast european countries, they put their faith in a babe on stage. Though this time the clothes are not scanty at all, and the high-powered fan is the only special effect. Too bad there’s nothing to say of the powerballad itself.
22:22: Dreigroschenspicegirls. In frocks picked up from H&M.
22:26: Armenia’s is the first song with any energy on stage. Head of the line, please, miss.
22:29: OK, OK, let’s get the Jack Sparrow-clone and the over the hill brides off the stage. Like, right now!
22:35: Even the surprise appearance of a polka-dotted chick wouldn’t save the Israeli song as happened to the Bosnians.
22:38: Here we go. Teräsbetoni on stage. Bonus points for the Judas Priest-inspired synchrony. But who are the spare drummer boys along the sides, and more importantly, why?
22:40: At least the pyrotechnics guys had a good workout.
22:43: Croatia fields a nice smörgåsbord. – flamenco dancers, elderly gentlemen, really big bass, mysterious bottles hung from a rack. And not a bad song. But not that good either.
22:46: Cleavage at two o’clock. Poles play to the cliches. The song has the disctinction of being the most celinedionesque thus far. And that, to state the obvious, is not a compliment.
22:50: Hey, Thor and Freya – Dr. Alban and Haddaway called, they want their chords back.
22:55: Biggest surprise thus far, the entry from Turkey is actually decent. Very decent. And the band actually looks like they’re playing their instruments.
23:00: If I remember correctly, Portugal is the only long-attending country without a victory these days. And though this one won’t win either, they’ve got a good grip on the pomposity-award.
23:04: MORE pirates? This has the potential of being the most annoying song of the summer. So let’s be careful with the votes out there, ‘mmmkay?
23:09: Can I repeat the warning about precision-casting your votes to avoid disappointments throughout the summer?
I can? Excellent. Just say no to Sweden as well.
23:12: What is it with potentially dangerous songs played back to back? If the danes win, the no beer-addled evening will be safe from this simply-worded monster. Muscially, it’s head and shoulders above the norm, but that’s not that big a consolation.
23:20: The simple beat, skimpy clothes and east european solidarity mean that Ukraine is one of the toughest efforts to beat.
23:24: If there was a prize for the most annoying background chorus, the french guy would the winner, no questions asked.
23:30: Screaming angels, preaching demons – I thought I’d seen it all.
23:32: And as catchy bits go, Greece does well.
23:37: Most flesh on stage on the spanish song. If this was the BEST of the humorus entries, I can thank various deities that I was never exposed to the ones that didn’t qualify.
23:45: I was warned of the Russian entry, but it’s much much worse than what was claimed. Falsetto, pretentious skating on ice, piercing violin. Just say “NO”.
23:48: Looks like Norwegians field a generic female artist. Just like we did for so many years. Without any success. I bet on Dimmu Borgir or Emperor in 2010, by then cod-eaters ought to have figured out the finnish secret.
23:50: And so the voting begins.

Interlude:

My top-3:
1. Finland (sheesh, did you relly doubt this)
2. Turkey.
3. Bosnia-Hertzegovina.

Guess how the rest of Europe votes:
1. Greece.
2. Ukraine.
3. Serbia.
And Teräsbetoni ends up just off the medals, fourth.

But I dread the east european block whose power to elevate Russia cannot be underestimated.

0:08: More beer. That’s the only way to survive the orchestra on stage. Props to the guy with the Macedonian flag who manages to block the view occasionally.
0:19: Somebody PLEASE hack into the EBU server and provide the scoring data – the dance through 43 countries is so going to take a long time.
0:20: @1/43: Finland: 0 points, Greece leads.
0:24: @5/43: Finland: 10 points (thanks, Estonia), Russia leads.
0:30: @10/43: Finland: 11 points (ahead of Sweden, at least), Greece leads.
0:36: @16/43: Finland: 18 points, Greece leads.
0:46: This is not really going how it’s supposed to. Power metal seems not to be the dish of the day.
0:50: @28/43: Finland: 28 points, Russia leads, Armenia has been mounting a great assault on the votes from the last few countries.
0:53: Sweden just passed us by – thanks to a surprise full pot from Malta.
0:59: What have the finnish voters been ingesting? 8 points to Israel, full 12 to Norway? The russian 10 was only to be expected.
1:01: Seven points from Sweden, still stuck behind them, but only by three points.
1:02: Russia wins. And we’re 22nd, as four countries remain unannounced.

EDIT 26.5.: Fixed a couple of typos. Didn’t alter the predictions in any way.

May 242008
 

Today will prove whether heavy metal is indeed the way to succeed in the Eurovision song contest.

Finland’s Teräsbetoni attempts to follow in the footsteps of the 2006 winner, Lordi, and bring home the trophy.

Too bad the lightweight Manowar-impersonators’ song is not amongst their finest, and the novelty-factor of the band is far lower than two years ago.

Then again, I’m pretty sure that Europe is packed with viewers overwhelmed with uncountable schlagers and scantily clad bubblegum bands – so the inevitable protest votes might pave an easy way to success.

The contest is on in twenty-odd minutes – let’s see if the recipe works this time as well.

May 242008
 

Managed to get some real pinball therapy (following the less than well-played tournament yesterday).

Walked past an unoccupied new Indiana Jones machine in Kinopalatsi, and just had to give it a go.

The game is obviously new, and the machinery very responsive. Thus the play was as smooth as possible. The game is rather forgiving, and especially the center post between flippers will cause long ball times. It took a while to get used to the presence of the post, and managed to fumble two balls in the first game partially on its account.

The second game went much better, got a couple of multiballs going (including the eight ball Grail mode) and scored enough for a replay. The shots on the game seemed to be rather forgiving, and for a player who consistently struggles with the mode selection on the 1993-vintage Indy, this is a very welcome change indeed.

Needless to say, I liked the game a lot, and will definitely head back for the game, and will consider participating in the Pelika-organized contest to be held next weekend.

May 242008
 

Good news everyone.

That is, everyone who has fondness for capsaicin.

Ran into a good supply of Pain Is Good products in the big K-store in Kamppi.

Hot sauces and salsas were available, but sadly the very smoothly spiced ready-to-nuke popcorn packs were not. Time to contact the importer and ask pointed questions. You never know, there might be an actual reason (like a fearsome amount of included additives) that necessitates their omission from the portfolio.

Anyway, the jar of apricot salsa ought to go down well with nachos during the Eurovision song contest later today.

Pain is Good #218

May 242008
 

Participated in the Sörkka Pinball Open contest yesterday evening, and have absolutely no illusions whether I’ll make it to the finals today. Managed to suck so bad at the tables, that a decent ranking would be nothing would be downright insulting.

The setting of the qualification part of the tournament was simple – score well on six tables, half of them old, half of them new – the watershed being the year 1988.

Started the effort with the oldest game of the bunch: Surf Champ, and managed to get a respectable score (meaning that it beat at least the two guys who’d been playing before me). But the old table never felt comfortable, and I wasn’t looking forward to the other two old pins at all.

I’ve never got Indiana Jones figured out, and this time the goings on were further complicated by the very fickle mode-starting cup – out of five hits four bounced out, and the lone completed mode (path of adventure) didn’t really rack up the score. The new Indiana Jones pinball (to celebrate the arrival of the fourth movie) was no longer news to anybody but me – I’d completely missed out its delivery to the two multiplex theatres in Helsinki. Definitely something to check out later today.

My turn at Cirqus Voltaire turned out even worse. I’ve never played so bad on that table – managed no ringmaster defeats at all, and I can’t even remember the resulting score. No explanation, just managed to blow through the game without achievements – which is uncharacteristic, this is a game I actually like, and have played quite a bit. At this point it was pretty clear that the final sixteen would require comprehensively serious heroics on the remaining three tables.

And the fourth game wasn’t too bad. Despite initial misgivings (and two very nasty side-drains) on Fireball, the last few balls gathered a positive outcome from the old table. Too bad the game broke under heavy use, and the scores were disqualified in the ranking.

Next to Fireball stood Mr. and Mrs. Pacman, a game I’d never seen before. And the first encounter wasn’t really positive as I managed to get the three balls drained in record time (no ball-saver was obviously employed). This ranked as the lowest point of the evening, and I spent the singular replay on the video-game inspired table. To an even lower score, and probably a position in the very lowest group on this table.

The last qualification game I played was Junkyard, and despite a low score, this was by far the most enjoyable of the six.

The tournament tourned out to be a bust, that was certain at this point, but the rest of the collection was available for casual play. The biggest new entries in my playbook were Popeye and No Good Gofers.

The former was a pleasure to play, and despite the largish upper playing field blocking sight on the top half, I didn’t feel it was too much of an impediment – the lack of information provided for the shooting gallery and search for sweetpea, on the other hand were quite distracting.

The latter was yet another Pat Lawlor game I hadn’t tried out before, and I was quite impressed by it. Definitely not in the league of Twilight Zone or Addams Family, but then again, few games are. The slam ramp (for quick hole in one-shots) didn’t get exercised enough, but all in all there was enough variety in the game to keep the interest up.

Next to the Gofers stood Banzai Run, and early Lawlor design, which I’d only seen powered-off before. This is the only pinball that has additional flippers on the backboard. Unexpectedly I found the game rather tedious – and especially the vertical playing field felt like a tacked-on gimmick. A view which I’m more than prepared to change upon repeated exposure, the first few tries just weren’t that convincing.