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Saturday, February 16, 2008

TV Watch: Lost, The Economist

This season continues to show that it can maintain a decent pace both on and off the island and in what is supposedly it's final season, we're being thankfully spared a lot of moon eyed nonsense surrounding certain characters (*cough* Kate *cough*). We even got some solid evidence that the island is out of sync timewise with the rest of the outside world (and as a plus, that Ben's bearing ... or at least some bearing ... is indeed the "safe route" into the island). That the "violet sky" event temporarily synced the island with the outside world fits in that a) the island could be "seen" at that point and b) it was that event that "unstuck" Desmond with the normal timeline.

Events in the flashforward continued to scope out the mysterious conflict we've seen the Others refer ... naming themselves as "the good guys", generating lists, etc. Interesting that people other than the "Oceanic Six" may be out in the world, so we might have to assume that more than six (or seven) people make their way off.

Sayid's role as an assassin reminds me of Locke's task to kill his father. Do we essentially have a global game of TAG with two competing lists? To be honest, we've only seen one side go around killing people.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the pace will result in a conclusion which offers enough of an explanation to satisfy. It is still frustrating to watch characters simply not ask questions which seem perfectly reasonable. What's with the payload, Dan? Why are you guys after Ben, Miles? What happened to Miles, Sayid? Who do you guys work for? Etc., etc.

For a bunch of people waving guns around - these guys don't seem to always get much done. So far this season is giving me some confidence and a reason to keep watching, but we'll have to wait for a while to see. With the WGA strike past us, we will get nearly a full season apparently. If we miss three episodes, however, that's a decent chunk of time cut off the plot. Last week long time CT bud Clamatius mentioned a rumor that there might be an extension for more seasons. I would kind of hope for a compromise - I'll be fine with this season ending with a cliffhanger if instead of new seasons, they wrap the whole thing up with some kind of off-season TV movie instead.

We'll just have to see.

Your homework: What exactly does that time gap mean for the Losties? How much time has gone on in the real world?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

PC Gaming In "Disarray"

Via Gaming Today:

I think people would rather make a game that sells 4.5 million copies than a million and “Gears” is at 4.5 million right now on the 360. I think the PC is just in disarray… what’s driving the PC right now is ‘Sims’-type games and ‘WoW‘ and a lot of stuff that’s in a web-based interface. You just click on it and play it. That’s the direction PC is evolving into So for me, the PC is kind of the secondary part of what we’re doing. It’s important for us, but right now making AAA games on consoles is where we’re at.
-- Cliffy B

Does this seem like an odd scenario? That the hardware-addicted PC market is getting so full of casual, simpler, and even web-based gaming that it would drive a major developer like Epic to the shores of ConsoleLand?

I think Microsoft has a lot to answer for here. They've completely botched the Vista launch and mostly just try to blackmail gamers to upgrade as opposed to offering PC owners a similar experience to what they can get, for less money, on the 360. Sure, it's still a win for Microsoft in the end - but they're cannibalizing their base in order to pull it off.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

City Life: RCN Goes All Digital ... Trouble Begins Already...

For RCN users in Chicago, soon you'll be able to have any kind of television you want ... as long as it is digital. Our condo association sent out notices about the change so we went ahead and ordered a couple converter boxes. One for the TV, one for the Mac Mini.

The last time I had digital cable was with Comcast and it was an absolute disaster. Channels would disappear, the quality was inconsistent and Comcast's final technical solution was "well, you could always just use the analog." At the time, it kinda annoyed me, but honestly didn't seem like that bad of a scenario when we got this place and couldn't get DirectTV.

Thing is, I'm an engineer and there's something about digital TV that bugs me. OK, there's something about converter boxes that bug, really, but here in the US that is one and the same. The converter box offers me nothing I really need. It solves no real problem that I had. Sure, it's nice to have a better looking picture ... but I wasn't really putting that in the "problem" category. Same goes for all the other features digital offers - VOD, channel guide, etc.

The problems it has already added, however, are pretty annoying. As I type this, for instance, I have no channels. I have a channel browser bar, which is sure nifty, but there's no actual corresponding image to go with that channel. Now an optimist would say that it is an impressively clear black, at least. I would say it just kind of sucks. My suspicion is that RCN, in their usual folksy low budget kind of way, has underestimated the level of demand that taking a major metro area into digital would have and that instead of taking the advertised ten minutes to download the needed feed - it might be a couple hours.

My other suspicion is that something went wacky with the activation. Can't really do anything about either one except look at a perfectly black screen and wait for. Six. Teen. Minutes.

The second annoyance is that the Mac Mini's main function lately is to serve as a DVR via Elgato's fine EyeTV product. Digital cable pretty much annihilates that because you can't change channels anymore without point the special remote control to the special converter box. That's the future for you - television in any room, stuck in a little box and let out when you ask it nicely. Perhaps in the far, far future we will have technology that will free television and allow a TV to access it easily. Perhaps we could call this space aged technology an antenna.

With crap like this, it is simply no wonder why people torrent stuff. Why wouldn't you? The only real downside is not getting to watch something when it airs. If you're willing to wait a day or so, though, you get a perfectly clear version of your show without commercial interruption. These days you can even grab in HD without much fuss except the extra time to download it.

And unlike digital cable ... torrents would actually fix a problem for me. That being my digital cable of course.

Now on the line with them. Apparently FCC rules forces them to use a security scenario more restrictive - and I do not exaggerate here - than my bank. Plus I had to spend about ten minutes reviewing my account information with them before even getting that point. This woman has an accent which is hard to place, but I would put it at something like southern screeching ... but it might be an eastern dialect.

I think Chicago offers a decent selection of over the air HD. That plasma is looking sweet yet.

OK, after reviewing my address (even though I'm calling about the cable box they just sent me) and asking if my cables were hooked up cables correctly (I asked her politely that if I had not hooked them up correctly if I could see the little channel bar ... ) and asking about my info channel (oh no, you said input channel) ... she finally just re-activated the converter and it mysteriously spurred to life minutes later.

This was exactly how my support calls with Comcast went. Deja vu all over again.

Update: ... all of my channels over 25? Gone. Just fscking gone. Hurrah for the future.

Movie Watch: The Golden Compass

Well, the set design is excellent.

Sadly everything else is an abridged and abrupt adaptation (hey, alliteration!) of an otherwise solid novel. The movie never stops to breath or enjoy itself and while it manages not to trip over itself too much (especially if you don't pay too much attention), it never fully delivers. A seriously lost opportunity on what could have been a great franchise. Somewhat enjoyable, sure, but in the end simply Hollywood average.

For Sunday: Puppy Versus Robot


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A PlayStation 3 Forecast

There's been some industry talk about whether the PS3 will manage to outpace or continue to struggle behind the 360 (nobody seems to doubt it will continue to be a distant horse to the Wii).

Pending some massively stupid move on Sony's part (and that's always possible) - I'd say their future looks bright. Firstly, HDTV adoption is cresting ahead as set prices continue to plummet. I'm currently researching a 50" 720P plasma that will hit just around a grand by the time I'm probably going to pull the trigger. That's not that much more expensive than my 36" was back in the day.

Secondly, Blu-Ray is becoming the decisive winner in the "what-its-already-over" format wars for high def. When Netflix tells you to take your ball home the ballgame can't have many innings left (although follow up rumors suggest Netflix might have a download strategy for consoles which could help the 360 immensely).

So the "finally" here should be - and the PlayStation 3 is getting better games. Well, we've had Drake's Fortune and some people have managed to port some 360 code over without completely mucking things up. However, Sony has yet to make good on their "Gaming 3.0" promise or even the "year of software" one.

So the clock is ticking on Sony - but even more so for Microsoft. That optional hard drive and lack of a decent high def player will seem less and less attractive as people gear up for the slowly inevitable march to HD. I've been saying for like a year here that Microsoft will likely just suck it up and make a 360 with specs similar to a PS3, despite all their ranting about how that's not what gamers want or need. And maybe they were right - back then.

In 2008, I'd think a "360 Ultimate" would be already on the table. If Microsoft had a console with Blu-Ray and a HD for a reasonable price, it would get my consideration. Right now, I'm just looking for something that will hop along with the HDTV - and that console begins with a P.

Monday, February 11, 2008

DVD Watch: Kaosu / Chaos

Chaos (or Kaosu ... there's a wealth of movies named Chaos out there it seems) is a Korean crime thriller packed with twists, non-linear storytelling and suspense. Definately falls into the "leaves you guessing" column of movies. In some ways it reminds me of the director's earlier Dark Water (which we saw over here remade with Jennifer Connelly) despite not having the same supernatural elements to it. Not really a must see, but I would recommend it if it happens your way.

DVD Watch: Pulse

Pulse is an odd bit of film. It's visually compelling in parts and surprisingly creepy at points, but the entire plot seems to wait until the last act to even start putting itself together. Up until that point, you get a mishmash of scenes thrown at you in an attempt to make some kind of spooky collage. Almost as if the filmmakers couldn't decide on any one creepy theme for more than twenty minutes at a time. By the end, the scope of the plot feels somewhat bold for the general Asian-to-American horror films (which are swiftly starting to outstay their welcome, sadly) - but also feels oddly out of place by the time you get there.

And sure, Kristen Bell is always a joy - but there are times when you think you're watching the zombie season of Veronica Mars.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

WGA Strike End May Be In Sight

If the members accept the contract it is possible that popular television shows from "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC), "CSI" (CBS) and "Heroes" (NBC) could go back into production and finish the television season with new episodes.

Describing the agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers as "neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve," Patric Verrone and Michael Winship, respectively the presidents of the Writers Guild West and East, said in a letter to members, "Continuing to strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks and that the time has come to accept this contract and settle this strike."

The agreement guarantees that writers will receive residuals for work that appears on the Internet or other new media such as cell phones. But if the Internet becomes the primary means for displaying what is now known as television, writers could make considerably less money when their work is replayed.
-- Striking Writers May Head Back To Work This Week