Archive for March 2008

 
 

Flash Game of the Day

The World’s Hardest Game: Move the red box, avoid the blue circles, pick up the yellow circles, return to green blocks.  Arrow keys are your controllers.  I died 54 times in the first six levels.  It’s insane, but it also gives you a great feeling of accomplishment every time you pass a level.

New DVD Releases for 01 April 2008

As an experiment, I’m going to move the DVD shipping list to Mondays instead of Tuesdays for the next few weeks. Let’s see how this goes.

Not much to talk about this week, though.

  • Alvin and the Chipmunks

“Alviiiiin!” There. I got it out of my system. This is really the kind of movie only a five year old could love, isn’t it? Sure enough, those five year olds flocked to the box office and made this thing a hit. Like the Garfield movie, expect a sequel any day now. If it helps them cash in even sooner, expect a direct-to-DVD movie. Whatever works.

You can also buy some of the classic 80s series on DVD today, too.

  • Sweeney Todd

Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, and a barber who likes to slice throats and sing a lot. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Becker: The First Season

Ted Danson plays a grumpy doctor, co-starring Jadzia Dax.

  • John from Cincinnati: The Complete Series

Long time VandS readers know what “The Complete Series” is code for: Canceled. Never saw it, but I know it had its loyal and vocal fans.

Next week: Hell’s Kitchen, Season One!

Round Edge Castle


Round Edge, originally uploaded by AugieDB.

The story behind this picture will come later this week. . .

Perl of wisdom

I love it when programmers get snarky:

“I’d really like to know which features of Python move the language out of the “just a scripting language” ghetto into the idyllic Elysian Fields of Real System Programming For Real God-like Men, ‘cuz enforced indentation just ain’t it.”

Link File: Victor Borge

Victor Borge rulesIt all started with this Metafile post.

First, the necessary background comes from Wikipedia. To put it simply, Victor Borge was a musical genius with a wicked comedy streak running through him. He combined the two to give us some of the funniest comedy routines of the 20th century.

Need proof? The all-time classic is “Inflationary Language.” The next time you refer to someone as having a “fivehead,” think back to this routine for the natural evolution of such tomfoolery.

It’s “Phonetic Punctuation,” though, that’s often the best remembered, as Borge explains his system to say punctuation marks out loud. When he reads the story using this system, it leaves the audience in hysterics.

You can find both of those routines and a lot more on the “Victor Borge Live!” album. It’s available for immediate download via iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 music store (both for just under $6).

The Victor Borge Birthday Gala DVD is also in stock today if you want to see the genius.

There is, of course, VictorBorge.com. It looks like a fan site that was run for about two days before the curator got bored and moved on.

And here’s something even I didn’t know about the man: 60-MINUTE GOURMET – New York Times

I was fascinated to read recently how Cornish hens were popularized in this country. In the 1950′s, Victor Borge, the pianist and comedian, raised the birds on a farm he owned in Connecticut and sold them dressed and ready for the oven. They are a cross between an American fowl, the Plymouth Rock hen, and a Cornish or Bantam rooster or small gamecock.

Borge was a genius in so many ways.

Smurfy Classical

You know what my favorite part of this Smurfs video excerpt is?  The use of Franz Liszt’s Totentanz music starting a few seconds in.  It’s my favorite piece of classical music.

How to write up American Idol episodes

In reading back over my previous American Idol writeups, I noticed one or two odd choices of phrasing, so let me explain how the writeups have been done this year and why some occasional grammatical foul-ups come of it.

I’ve been writing the reviews as I watch the show. I sit on the couch in front of the tv with the DVR remote next to me and the MacBook on my lap. I literally am typing as I’m watching the show. I don’t pause that often, usually just to give myself a second to finish a thought during commercials. (Yeah, I can’t let the commercials play. I pause them rather than listening to them. Ah, DVRs. . . )

In the past, I’d always taken notes by hand and typed them up later, meaning my write-ups would be in the past tense. Now, they’re more in the current tense. Occasionally, though, I lapse back into old habits and the tenses get mixed up. Sorry about that.

I may go back to hand-written notes in the future. The writeups seem to be shorter that way. It all depends on my mood each night, really.

This has been my navel-gazing for the day. Please go back about your lives.

AI7 – Round of 10 – Results

The bottom three were Jason, Syesha, and Chikezie. Of those three, I’m most surprised by Jason. There seems to be a youth movement this season. The younger ones that seem to stand no chance keep skating by – Ramiele, Kristy, and Jason. They’ve all been in the bottom three now, though, and they’ve all survived. Jason is just getting boring, and that’s why America failed to vote for him this week

Syesha’s problem is one of a fan base. I don’t think she has a big one at all. She doesn’t have anything to compare to the likes of Davids Cook or Archuleta, for example. There’s something about her that comes across, personality-wise, as annoying. Even if you can’t articulate it, there’s something about her that’s off-putting. She had the performance of her life last night and still wound up in the bottom three. That’s not good. She needs to either become more likable, or keep putting up amazing performances week after week, to carry on.

Chikezie picked a bad song this week and paid the price.

It’s important to remember that though we all pretend this is a talent show, it’s really not. It’s a popularity contest. I keep getting caught in the trap of predicting the worst performer to go home each week, when I should be picking on the least popular, the one who fails to excite his or her fanbase, and the previous week’s results.

All three performers were safe last week. That doesn’t help energize your fan base to vote for you this week, at all.

Syesha sang so well that many people probably figured she was safe and didn’t vote for her.

Neither Jason nor Chikezie wowed America, nor did they do so poorly that their fanbase was excited to call to protect them.

And so Chikezie is gone now.

Ah, well.

What did we learn this week? If she sings well and picks a good song, Kristy can avoid the bottom three. She can energize her country base, as she has that vote locked up by herself this season. It’ll carry her through another couple of weeks.

David Cook had a remarkably large noggin, even as a child.

And that commercial from last night where the lizards start dancing to “Thriller” is hilarious!

De Blieck Out!

The Problem With Canon

In hindsight, I’ve made a few mistakes on the road to getting started in digital photography. But it all stems from one bright idea: Avoid The Kit Lens.

When I bought the Canon Xti (400D), I wanted something better than the 17-55mm lens that it came with. I saved $100 by buying the body only, so I put that money towards a better lens — the 28-135mm IS lens, which is actually the kit lens for the next model up, the Canon 40D, I believe.

Mistake #1: I saved another $100 by buying that lens as a refurb. Adorama.com sells cameras, lenses, and more that are “Refurbished by Canon USA.” I poked around on-line and saw people were generally satisfied with Canon’s service, so I felt safe in buying a Canon refurb lens.

Mistake #2: I didn’t test the lens extensively as soon as I got it. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how. I’m still new to the world of dSLRs, and even six months of reading countless photo magazines, listening to hundreds of hours of photography podcasts, and surfing photo blogs and websites daily didn’t teach me about what to do when I get a new lens. I still haven’t found a good resource for that. (Some say you should hang a newspaper up on the wall and take pics of it at all apertures to get a feel for it.)

Mistake #3: The lens wasn’t working consistently, and I thought it was my fault. User error. The auto focus was slow, then it wouldn’t work, then it worked again. I assumed it was something with the way I was using it. Maybe I shouldn’t flip that switch at that time, or maybe I had the aperture setting too high, or the ISO too low. . .

But after using the lens on and off for a couple of months, the inevitable dawned on me – the lens was crap. Manual focus is great. It works well on macro. IS is fine. But the autofocus is just busted. Every now and then you could get it to work again by focusing on a bright light, but that was a temporary fix.

Mistake #4: I looked at Adorama’s website to get an idea of the returns procedure. In their FAQ, they specify that you have 15 days after purchase to return an item, otherwise it has to go back to the manufacturer.

Mistake #5: I went to Canon.com and looked up their procedure. It’s very easy. You fill out a form, including the serial number of the lens. You specify your issue, and they give you an address to ship the lens to. After receiving it, they’ll send you an invoice for how much it’ll cost to fix and you can approve it. The manufacturer’s warranty will cover my lens, though. It’s from Canon, and it’s under a year old, right?

Mistake #6: Canon sends me a bill for $90 to repair the lens. Thankfully, they won’t start the repairs until I authorize it and send them my credit card number, but let’s backtrack for a second:

I bought the refurb lens to save $100. After the $10 I spent to ship it back to Canon, I’d be losing out. I might as well have bought the new one.

Canon says it’s not under the manufacturer’s warranty. So let’s sum this up: there’s a lens that Canon refurbished and Adorama sold to me. It never worked. Canon wants me to pay to have them fix it, when they never fixed it in the first place. Does this blow anyone else’s mind yet? Canon refuses to stand by their own work and service. They’re saying that I have to pay them to fix a problem they told me was already fixed.

I checked back on Adorama’s website. Looks like they warranty used and refurbished items for 90 days. If I had seen that first, I might have sent the lens back to them. Now, I have to call Adorama, and then likely pay Canon to ship the lens back to me that they’re not standing by so that I can ship it to Adorama, who will likely send it back to Canon to fix.

I’m beginning to like the sound of Nikon’s system right now.

So I called Canon this afternoon. The woman I talked to was nice and understanding, but said that Canon can’t guarantee refurbished items sold through other stores. Sometimes, she said, stores sell stuff they claim to have been refurbished by them, but wasn’t. (Just to be clear, she didn’t claim this of Adorama. It’s just a general policy no doubt brought upon by lying .com weasels somewhere.)

I called Adorama. They said that they do, indeed, guarantee for 90 days and I could exchange it for the same lens. No problem. They sent me an e-mail with directions and a PDF form to fill out.

I called back Canon. I asked to cancel the service and they immediately offered me 20% off the labor costs. There’s a hint to all of you in the future: If you have to have Canon fix something, decline the repair estimate, wait for them to offer 20% off, and then accept it. ;-)

The good news is, Canon didn’t ask me to pay shipping on the item back to me. So I’ll only be out about $20 in shipping costs when this is all said and done, plus the lack of a lens for a couple of weeks.

Annoying. I’ll update as events warrant.

Nintendo Release Dates

For those keeping track:

  • From the same link: Wii Fit is coming May 19th

AI6 – Round of 10 – Birth Years

American Idol logoI had planned on taking the week easy. I wasn’t going to write anything too lengthy up. I didn’t take notes.

And then they deliver what might be the best episode of IDOL ever. It has to rank up there. We can even float the possibility of MULTIPLE Idol Moments in one episode. When it was good tonight, it was very very good. When it was bad, it was still decent.

Ramiele is in trouble again this week. Going first is never good. Being sick is never good. Singing a song that’s a little bigger than even your own big voice is a bit of a mistake. She didn’t sound awful, but it was a bit shouty and forced. I felt the most sorry for her when the cable from the camera wrapped around her feet. She didn’t trip over it, though, so all is good.

Jason was Jason. He picked a good song, but we’ve seen his routine already. He’s the awkward kid behind the acoustic guitar with a light and airy voice. He’s never recovered from “Hallelujah.” Still, he sang it well. Not powerful, not an Idol Moment, but he didn’t trip up. He was Jason Castro, and that was it. Simon is right — he needs to take some chances.

So far, not so good, but not bad, either. Nothing embarrassing. Nothing that will be crash and burn material. Then things ramped up:

Syesha sang a song so clearly, so memorably, and so darn pitch perfect that I’m tempted to call it an Idol Moment. It was the perfect song for her. She delivered it without missing a beat. She paid attention to the lyrics and acted them out. She hit the big power notes, but also carried the melody and the transitions. There was absolutely nothing wrong with a note in that song. I didn’t quite get goosebumps, but I think it was, at that point, the best performance of the season for any contestant. It was just that good. Is it an Idol Moment? I’d love to hear what you think.

Chikezie sang a Vandross song. When I heard that the contestants would be singing songs from the years of their births, and then Chikezie mentioned a ballad, I knew it would be one of Vandross’. It’s almost cliche. That said, he sounded great. He looked comfortable on stage. He sold the song. Some parts were better than others, but he sang it well. The judges were all over him for being cheesy or safe or something, but I thought he showed off some great range to his voice.

Brooke White did The Police with her piano. It sounded great. Yes, it’s back to her Beatles Week 1 mold, but I like that mold. I even liked the way it picked up when the band came in. It might have worked well completely solo, but I liked the way the tempo picked up and she almost seemed to lose herself in the song at that point. It seemed less well-rehearsed and more raw. More real. I really liked it, moreso than the judges did. And the gaff at the beginning was cute, too. Anything beats that thing she did last week.

But her left hand looked like that of an 80 year old woman. It had to be a trick of the light. I thought she was wearing a glove from all the wrinkles that she had. Nah, just a lighting thing, I’m sure.

And she plays piano by ear, basically. I’m so jealous. . .

Michael Johns - I wasn’t as big a fan of his “Bohemian Rhapsody” as others were, but this Queen thing tonight was pure genius. Idol Moment, for sure. This is one people will remember for the rest of the season. Even when he was reaching hard for those power notes, he seemed confident and sold it. Great lighting, arrangement, and theatrics all around. Impressive. I even liked the slight hints of his accent that came out in this song.

Carly Smithson played the Jim Steinman card on me. “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” She sang it well, but it was pure karaoke to me. Even worse, she sang “power keg” instead of “powder keg.” OK, I’m being really nit-picky, and it might have even been the accent. She did look a little stiff on stage, but the bigger crime was in being so literal with the song. It’s tough to top Bonnie Tyler.

David Archuleta sang a song that was perfect for him. It was some weird kind of Up With People-like joint. While he had one bad voice crack in the last third, he sang it like he sings everything. Catchy little ditty. Not his best performance, but good enough.

Kristy Lee Cook, no doubt, ticked off the contingent of people who are sick of “God Bless the USA.” (Though even Simon admits it’s a well-written song.) She also cagily got all the votes from people who still love that song. Think of the song what you will, but it was her best performance so far. It was a perfect song for her voice, for the show, and for this round. I think I said it last week — odds are, she’ll have a good week and then be voted out. Uh oh.

And, yeah, it was a little karaoke.

David Cook - pure Idol Moment with “Billy Billie Jean”. I missed Ryan Seacrest’s introduction to it. Whose version of the MJ classic was this? I know I’ve heard it before, but I can’t remember who did it. Cook nailed it from beginning to end. It was amazing.

I’d rank David Cook, Syesha, and Michael Johns at the top of the charts for this week. Brooke White and Kristy Lee are close behind, with David Archuleta just behind them. Chikezie and Carly are next, with Jason close behind them. Ramiele is at the bottom.

Bottom three this week: Kristy, Ramiele, and one upset of some sort. Maybe Chikezie? I think Ramiele is really going home this week, though the sick excuse might get her enough sympathy votes to save her. Still, the patriotic vote for Kristy will trump that. Say good-bye to the girl whose closet is filled with high-waisted everything.

De Blieck Out!

Random Tuesday Morning Link Dump

  • LiveJournal is no longer signing up new free members. In other news: LiveJournal is sending prospective new customers and future paying customers to WordPress.com, et. al. This blog began as a LiveJournal for about three weeks once upon a time. (Correction: No new ad free accounts.  You can still sign up, though.  OK, that doesn’t sound so bad.)
  • Maps of how far Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. (The sites might still be down, so try again in a day or two.)

New DVD Releases for 25 March 2008

Hey, only 9 shopping months left till Christmas!

  • Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors: Season One

. . .includes script by JMS.

  • Painkiller Jane: The Complete Series

If you’re a big fan of the comic book, here’s the TV series.

  • The Mist

Based on something of Stephen King’s it seems. Frank Darabont is responsible for this one, so there’s a chance it’s good.

  • Party of Five: The Complete Third Season

From a time before Jack was Lost and what’s her face wasn’t talking to ghosts. . .

  • Wings: Season Six

Funny series.

Kind of a boring week, eh?

Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 (Mac)Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac is now available for demo or purchase. Amazon has it for $82 (though not shipping until April 1st),  or you can download it directly from Adobe for $90. It’s a 1 GB download, but it’s instant gratification.

World Poker Tour returns tonight

World Poker Tour returns tonight, to GSN, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.  It’s been way too long.