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Friday, May 01, 2009

Swine Flu hits Second Life, Virtual Panic Does Not Result

When I asked Ms. Chenaux if she was passing around swine flu, she only said sweetly, "Indeed I am." And teleported to my office, to give it to me too.

It appeared as a box in my inventory, helpfully called "Swine flu". I wore it on my avatar, and perhaps out of politeness, so did she. We waited for the influenza to take effect. And waited.
-- Alicia Chenaux Is Spreading Second Life Swine Flu

Click the link to see the symptoms of this nasty virtual nondemic.

Game Play: Killzone 2's Steel & Titanium Pack

Just as I start to wane on my Killzone 2 multiplayer addiction, they drop the first batch of DLC. The Steel & Titanium pack adds two new maps - Vekta Cruiser and Wasteland Bullet to the fold.

The good news is that both maps are rock solid. They're visually distinct and play extremely well. Clearly a lot of work went into the design of them and they add some great content to the fold.

I question whether $6 is a fair asking price for what amounts to a couple of new levels and trophies to prove you're playing them. Perhaps this is because I'm used to the PC world where companies like Epic would toss entire bonus packs to the community free of charge, and so spending over a fiver for gameplay which only takes a couple of hours to run through.

If you're a KZ2 fan, you've probably already bought it. I'd love to see some DLC which eventually adds new weapons or abilities, obviously. Some of this is because while the design of playing for unlockables is great, there's less desire to play when you've unlocked most of them.

Thumb sideways here.

Movie Watch: Dark City (Director's Cut)

Dark City is an odd movie. Something of a scifi noir, there are bits and pieces of a mystery and suspense novel tossed into a variety of new and old concepts which seem part cobbled from Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler.

It's difficult to talk much about the movie with unraveling the interesting plot for you and essentially spoiling the movie. The important portion of this post is that this Blu-Ray edition of the director's cut is the definitive way to see this movie. The original studio cut put a rather annoying and overly informative voice over at the beginning of the movie that puts the viewer in completely the wrong state to enjoy the early twists of the movie. Also, it's darn pretty.

And the early parts are easily the best, and in this cut do a better job of supporting the final acts of the movie. Written and directed by Alex Proyas, it includes all of his characteristic visuals. If similarities to The Matrix are seen, it isn't all accidental. Matrix would go on to reuse some of Dark City's sets.

Definitely recommended.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Playing The Swine Flu Market

Don't get me wrong, there's a serious angle to the whole thing. Obviously. Someone I'm working with on a project was quarantined at their house for getting back from Mexico. That's a first.

But what I'm not buying into is this crap:

Food and water. A three-day supply is good; a two-week supply is better. Think non-perishable, easily prepared items. In a severe pandemic, far worse than anything we are experiencing now, even grocery stores and utility companies could be closed or crippled, simply because too few people show up for work. But even in today's outbreak, one suddenly-sick child might keep your whole family homebound for a week. You won't want an empty pantry if that happens.
-- Your Health: What to consider in preparing for a pandemic

Pretty much any time someone recommends something that I would consider for a zombie apocalypse, I do a quick gut check on. You'll note the conditional phrase "far worse than anything we are experiencing now" shoved into the middle of that paragraph, even though the article as a whole seems to be written in a style of OMG THE CORNER STORE BURNING!

Well, not quite that bad - but it is still pretty blatant fear-mongering as journalism goes.

Instead of that, I say we play the swine flu market:

Five propositions are currently listed on the swine-flu stock exchange:

* How long will the flu outbreak last in the U.S.? As of 9 p.m. ET today, the priciest investment (and hence the highest probability) is that it will last beyond July 31 (73 cents, or 73 percent).

* How many U.S. states will have at least one confirmed swine-flu case by May 31? The favored choice, at 39 cents a share, is 31 to 40 states.

* What will be the level of the swine-flu mortality rate in the U.S. by July 31? The favored choice, at 48 cents a share, is 1 to 2.5 percent.

* How many countries will have swine-flu cases by July 31, as confirmed by the World Health Organization? The favored choice, at 68 cents a share, is 26 to 50 countries.

* How many U.S. swine-flu cases will be confirmed by the end of May 31? The favored choice, at 53 cents a share, is more than 1,100 cases.

The mortality rate is concerning, as your average flu outbreak doesn't break 0.25 usually. Course that article also predicts the pandemic mortality rate to be mild, lest it last past the summer and mutates into a deadlier form.

If I had a I kid in school, I'd probably be more worried. But as it stands, it just seems like the numbers are more or less in my favor. And I'm the guy who usually catches everything that goes around, but if the US has a 1,000 cases or so by Memorial Day - I stand a pretty good chance of not being one of them. And not being either an infant nor infirmed ... even if I was one of them, I'd likely not be one of the ten going sockeye over it.

If you were wondering if there was a Google Map of outbreaks - there indeed be one.

And also, this handy site to see if you have swine flu.

Also (more seriously), WebMD gives you good reasons not to be too worried.

For Sunday: Original Wonder Woman Pilot

Via the recently discovered (well, new to me at least) Topless Robot:

Like a bad sitcom rather than an early action serial...

TV Watch: Lost, The Variable

I've got mixed feelings about this Faraday outing, to be honest. Although, for a pleasant change from some seasons past - I don't feel like the episode was bad or in some way derailing the plot in general ... there was just some stuff I wasn't entirely sold on.

First, the good. The show continues to mine the DHARMA material for gold. I feel like we've got our island back, and it is mysterious and spooky and good like it was always supposed to be before the writers kept filling it with a bunch of twisted lack of answers and meaningless back stories. DHARMA, Widmore, the Others - all feel like real portions of a tangible storyline which is actually going somewhere.

And the portions of this episode that really worked for me are the parts that spoke directly to that. Daniel's many connections to the island, to Widmore, etc., fleshed out his character and aspects of the island's story as well. Even his matter of fact explanation of more or less the entire plot of the show so far seemed real.

What I'm not totally buying is this sudden concept that people can, in fact, change the future. That the past was a fixed object was a very powerful narrative rule. The recent episode about Ben worked off this premise quite well and was one of the reasons it worked for me.

Now Faraday says that the Losties are variables, not constants and that they can change the future. Yet Jack seemed pretty determined to try and change Ben's future, only to be foiled because (we thought) it was his destiny to fail. It was a pretty clever play on free will and fate.

Daniels' explanation that the Losties are beyond the laws of relativistic physics didn't really fly with me because I didn't really hear an explanation. It was like the worst suspension of disbelief moment ever. I'm supposed to believe that this rule which has been talked about to some length is possibly tossed aside simply because Daniel says that's the way it is.

Also, I'm supposed to buy that exploding a hydrogen bomb to stop the future is a good idea. Because Dan said so.

It's a lot to swallow, but of course Jack's character seems to have devolved into being the bitch of whatever theory gets put in front of him, apparently is buying into it wholesale. Course, wasn't it Jack who decided it was time to stop pushing the button in the first place? And if Daniel is right, mistakenly dragged everyone back to the island? Does this guy ever get tired of being really, really wrong?

(Because of course, it is very possible that Dan is wrong here)

Probably not, and I'm guessing this season will end with highlights which will feel very similar to the button pushing violent sky finale from days of old.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beer Drink: Lazy Mutt Farmhouse Ale

This is a new section for Cathode. Since the blog keeps evolving more and more into a description of habitual escapes, I'm not sure why beer wouldn't be on the list.

The first thing you'll note about Lazy Mutt is the marketing gimmick. The beer comes in eight packs with a big note on the end reminding that there are "two more in this one". What this really comes down to is that the beer is really cheap as the price is still comparative to your average six pack.

Taste wise, the beer is pretty average as well. Beer snobs will note that it does not really meet the standards of a farmhouse. There's a hint, maybe, of apple or other fruit flavors, but the beer taste a lot more like a red to me than anything else. It's got a low weight and not a lot of body.

So in the end, it's an average beer at a better than average price. It is, if anything else, aptly named as it seems best for people who may not want to run to the store quite as often.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu A Bit Of A Misnomer

I don't usually comment on health issues (as it doesn't fall into the "describing geeky things that happened last night" camp), nor do I generally link from Boing Boing (as it would be unlikely for most people to see a BB article here first, statistically speaking).

But this - this I found interesting:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, people in the U.S. infected with the virus have either traveled to Mexico recently or have been exposed to someone returning from the country. The CDC originally thought the virus was a straightforward swine flu virus. However after closer analysis determined it is a new virus containing a mixture of swine, human and avian viruses.
-- Swine Influenza Update from a Nurse: Virus, Panic, Precautions, and End of the World Websites.

Which is pretty creepy considering this thing's special trick seems to be hopping from species to species. I don't know how likely it is for a bug to go from say, swine to human and then human to human and then, uh, human to turtle - but it sure sounds like a great House episode if there ever was one.

Course, others don't agree:

Meanwhile, the UNRELIABLE sources are in full bloom. Rightwing and survivalist commentary ranges from decrying the swine flu as a bio-terror attack (Terror Pigs?) to celebrating this as the beginning of the Rapture.

Apocalypse swine.

This is the way the world ends, people. Not with a bang.

But a snort.

Update: Apparently the "cross-gene" theory is being disputed, and the swine flu may be all swine after all.


Gadget Use: Roku Netflix Player

Getting The Girl a Roku for her birthday comes from the multiple times I've stumbled into the living room to watch her relaxing to some afternoon Comedy Central matinee. If you're lucky in such a situation, it's Half Baked playing for the 100th time and if you are aren't, it may be some odd amalgamation of B-List actors who, at as we suspect, got stuck in a coffee shop together one day and decided to make a movie for fifty bucks and a pizza.

It's not that she doesn't have good taste, it's just that she isn't normally allowed access to the kinds of movies and TV she likes and I could honestly skip. Roku solves that by giving us direct access into her Netflix Instant Watch queue (and Amazon On Demand as well).

Setup is about as easy as it could possibly be - plug it in, follow the wizard and enter the Roku code into your Netflix account. Voila, your list appears. You still need to manage your list online, but it isn't much of a bother. When we first played it, we couldn't seem to get more than two out of four dots of quality. Which when you're watching Tango and Cash, isn't really all that bad.

Eventually, though, the quality seemed to magically fix itself and soon she was watching her Irish soap opera at pretty much DVD quality. Since then, we've only had a couple of hangups. One - a later disc of said Irish soap opera seems to have been poorly encoded by Netflix and the audio is completely off. We reported it via Netflix and I'll be interested to see what the turnaround is for getting it fixed.

Then, we were watching Vantage Point and at one spot the player kept insisting it needed to download more, and then play a bit, and then start downloading again. Bit like a skipping record. Pretty easily fixed, though, we just bounced out of the film and back in - and the rest was fine.

So pretty high marks all in all. There are always going to be foibles with online delivery, but so far the Roku belongs way up there (and certainly deserves its own niche in the recent "Your TV Watching Options" post).