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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wii, guess what I get to do?
So I've been working a lot lately, which means no exercise. How to correct this? That's right, I bought a Nintendo Wii using the feeble excuse that it will at least provide some measure of activity other than sitting at a desk and typing. Plus, you know, it's fun. In any case, I'm not writing much tonight, so I'll just point to a few things, including the latest "hubristic" round of the Movie Screenshot Game, in which I posted 5 screenshots and requested that the winner has to get them all right. As it turns out, that was perhaps a little too hard, so I've posted some hints in the comments. If no one gets them tomorrow, I'll post even more obvious hints, and if no one still has it by Friday, I'll have stumped the internet. Or, uh, the 10 people who read my blog.

For those who are baffled by the title of this post, it's one of the little clips they often play on the Preston and Steve Show, a local morning talkshow that's freely available online as a podcast (the whole show is posted every day, with almost no commercials). When I can home tonight and saw the Wii waiting on my doorstep (I ordered online), that was the first thing that went through my head... then I realized I could make a Wiipun.

In other news, Author is also watching Nadesico and wants to "engage into a stegagography themed game" in which people who get rare discs mark them in some way and post them in a central location, so that other people who get the same disc will know, and can mark it again, etc... until they find out how many copies of a disc Netflix has in stock. Interesting idea, though I should admit that I never got disc 4. It said "Very Long Wait" and then one day, it said "Now" so I put it at the top of my queue, but a couple of days later, I checked again, and it was back to "Very Long Wait." Crap. I proceeded to remove it from my queue and downloaded the episodes, which I still haven't watched (this weekend, I promise!) I'm half tempted to put disc 4 back in the queue, just to play Author's game. Author, if it helps, I do have disc 6 here, if that counts for anything. My assumption is that they have less than 10 (maybe only a couple or even just one) of disc 4. Since they don't have any of disc 5, I wouldn't put it past them...

And finally, for anyone who listens to the excellent Filmspotting podcast, it looks like we've reached the end of an era. One of the hosts, Sam Van Hallgren announced on last week's show that he will be retiring from after just a few more shows. At first I was shocked, but then the more I thought about it, I realized I should have seen this coming. The show has had several guest hosts throughout it's 2.5 year run, and it always seemed to be Sam that was absent. Sam will certainly be missed, and I can totally understand his reasons. When he started Filmspotting (or Cinecast, as it was called back then), he was single and working a part time job. Since starting, he's gotten married, bought a house in Milwaukee, and gotten a full time job. Like some bloggers I read, I have no idea how these people manage to produce the quality and quantity of material that they do, and so it's hard to begrudge Sam leaving the show. Again, though, he will be missed. One of the great things about the show was that Adam and Sam have great chemistry and differing tastes. They've already found a replacement for Sam (one of their friends, nicknamed Matty Ballgame), and he's guest hosted before. I'm sure he'll do a good job, but the show will never be the same. Of course, that's what happens - life goes on. Hey, maybe we'll go back to the 2 shows per week format! Really, though, I have to credit Cinecast/Filmspotting for really galvanizing and inspiring my recent (by which I mean the last 2 years) movie craze. I've always loved movies, but listening to Cinecast/Filmspotting has really emphasised my appreciation, and despite Sam's departure, I'm sure it will continue to do so.

That's all for now. Back to the Wii for me.
Posted by Mark on August 29, 2007 at 10:21 PM .: link :.

Monday, August 27, 2007

2K Games = Quality!
So the net is raging about the new video game BioShock, which apparently features an ill-advised DRM scheme. Shamus has posted several updates on the subject, and of course I agree with him and most of the fans that the DRM scheme is absurd, unusable, and ultimately pointless (echoing my general thoughts on DRM), but my experience with 2K Games has nothing to do with DRM.

I have a weakness for sports video games, particularly Hockey games. In 2003, I bought a copy of EA Sports' NHL 2004, which I loved (despite some flaws). I played/simmed 20 seasons in Dynasty mode, and won 20 Stanley Cups (fun!) Unfortunately, I lost the game when I moved into my current house. I looked at the game review sites for the new 2005 hockey games and the then-upstart 2K Games was making some bold moves and getting great reviews. They had just signed a contract to brand their sports games with ESPN and to compete with the EA Sports Goliath, they were pricing their games for just $19.99 (versus EA's $49.99). The games were getting 90+ scores on all the standard sites (while EA was getting average to bad reviews), so I figured why not? Big mistake.

My favorite part of the newer hockey games is the Dynasty mode where you can play a sort of meta game where you take the role of general manager and control a team through many years, as opposed to just one season. It allows you to build your team up with young talent and watch them grow into superstars, etc... NHL 2K5 had a similar mode, called Franchise. The problem? I played 20 games in the first season of my franchise, and then the game simply wouldn't let me save my progress. It just crashed every time I tried, no matter what I did. Did I mention that this was a console game, incapable of being patched? On a side note, it would have been nice if the reviews for this game mentioned this sort of thing, but video game reviews have largely become useless. Of course my review, which takes the form of a comparison between NHL 2004 and NHL 2K5, prominently calls out the 2K game's bugs.

Anyway, it gets better. My friend Dave bought a copy of NHL 2K7 last year... and it still has the same bug! It's been 3 years, and they still haven't fixed the bug.

So I'm not surprised that the same company has embraced a useless DRM scheme (provided by Sony, no less - how on earth could anyone trust a Sony DRM product?) Don't worry, they'll probably get around to fixing the issue in 5 or 6 years (I wonder if they fixed the aforementioned crashing bug in NHL 2K8?).
Posted by Mark on August 27, 2007 at 11:17 PM .: link :.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Top 5 Anticipated Fall Movies
So I'm still working through MSN, but I'm not done yet. I see that Filmspotting has begun their Top 5 Anticipated Fall Movies list, and will be concluding it next week. I'm not sure if this fall will be as strong as they seem to think (the first half certainly wasn't as strong as the first half of 2006), but there are several movies I'm looking forward to this fall. So here's my list:
  • There Will Be Blood (December 26): Director Paul Thomas Anderson always seems to turn in interesting efforts, and this adaptation (which is something new for Anderson, as he usually writes his own stuff) of an Upton Sinclair novel seems ripe for Anderson's style. The subject matter, the grueling 1927 oil prospecting scene, could be interesting and Anderson seems to make even mundane stuff good. Add in an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis, and I think we're in for something pretty good.
  • Lust, Caution (September 28): Ang Lee can get a little ponderous with his stuff, but this espionage thriller sounds interesting, and the unusual setting might be a big part of that. I still haven't seen Lee's Brokeback Mountain, but from what I've seen of Lee, I think this could be good.
  • 3:10 to Yuma (September 7) - One of the genres I wasn't been very familiar with was Westerns, and I've seen a bunch over the last year (several are on my to watch list). This film, a remake of a 1957 film with the same title and adapted from an Elmore Leonard story, stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. As you might notice in the rest of my list, the director of a film is usually what attracts me to that film (also, the story). In this case, it's the actors (and the story). I'm particularly interested in Bale, who is one of the more talented young actors.
  • Eastern Promises (September 14): I was pleasantly surprised by director David Cronenberg's 2005 film, A History of Violence, and this new film looks like it's along the same lines. It delves into a world of Russian mobsters in London and stars History alum Viggo Mortensen. Will it be as good as History? It's got expectations going against it, so I'm doubting that, but I think it will be worth watching.
  • No Country for Old Men (November 9): The Coen brothers always interest me, and this film is no exception. A few months ago, I did a quick draft of a top 100 movies list, and I was surprised to see that there were at least 5 Coen brother films in consideration, and at least 3 of those would actually make it on the list. Perhaps I shouldn't be, as the Coens always seem to produce good stuff.
  • Honorable Mention: 30 Days of Night (October 19 - This would seem like a cheesy vampire movie with a gimmicky plot if it weren't for director David Slade's involvement. Slade's Hard Candy was one of my favorite movies of last year, and I had similar apprehensions about that movie, so I'm actually looking forward to this), American Gangster (November 2 - Starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott, I was really looking forward to this until I saw the preview, which knocked it down a few pegs. It could still be good, but I'm not on fire about this one anymore.), Shoot 'Em Up (September 7 - An action movie with Paul Giamatti and Clive Owen that looks like a lot of fun and... little else.), The Mist (November 21 - Frank Darabont's adaptation of yet another Stephen King story seems interesting, if only because Darabont and King seem to mix real well), Youth Without Youth (December 14 - Francis Ford Coppola returns to directing, and he's vowing to make more "personal movies." Whatever that means. Could be interesting, as the man has directed 4 exceptional movies... unfortunately, they were all made in the 1970s.)
  • I'm not sure what to make of: The Kingdom (September 28 - I don't know what to expect from this and I keep swinging back and forth on whether I want to see it), The Heartbreak Kid (October 5 - the Farrelly brothers turn in their first R rated comedy since 2000 - Eh, maybe.) , The Darjeeling Limited (September 29, limited, October, wide - Director Wes Anderson is extremely uneven in my mind, so I'm never sure if I'm going to like his movies - I hated his last movie), Michael Clayton (October 5 - a thriller written and directed by one of the people behind the Bourne franchise? Ok, I'm interested I guess.), and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (November 16 - Looks kinda like a poor man's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).
Well, it looks to at least be an interesting fall. I'm a little wary of some of these films, but the talent is certainly there, and besides, there are always a couple of films that are big surprises (who knows, maybe one of the remaining movies on my 5 Upcoming Movies I Want To See Even Though I Know They'll Suck list will be awesome - so far, The Bourne Ultimatum is the only one that turned out really well, though The Simpsons Movie wasn't a total wash)
Posted by Mark on August 26, 2007 at 08:38 PM .: link :.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Movie Screenshot Game Round XXII Extravaganza
The game grinds on, and has more or less become the Mark, Roy and Alex show. So be it - we all seem to be having fun at least! Anyway, I was thinking that we're due for a curveball, and since Friday is List Day, I'm going to post 5, that's right, 5 screenshots for this round. You have to get them all right to win. Rules and screenshots below the fold...

Update: Hints are posted in the comments. Let's go people! I'll give it a couple more days, because these are hard screens and there are 5 of them...

Again Update: Roy won! Swipe blocks next to each screenshot below for the answer. Also, Roy has posted the next round, so go and play... First, the rules:
  • I'm going to post a screenshot from a movie. If you're the first person to guess the movie, you win!
  • If you win, you have to continue the game by posting a screenshot on your blog with the same rules outlined here (please to the main post as well). The winner of your round will host the next round, and so on.
  • If you don't have a blog (and if you don't want to start one), I'll host the next round as well (the screenshot should still come from the winner, if possible). If you do have a blog, but the winner of your round doesn't, you should host the next round too.
  • Once the winner posts their screenshot, I'll link to it from this post. Each winner needs to link to the next winner, and so on.
  • Only movies are eligible. No television shows.
  • If no one can figure out the answer within 3 days, then you've stumped the internet. If you want, you can give hints. If we still have no winner, then congratulations, you've won. Maybe I'll start a hall of fame or something. Give everyone the answer, and post another screenshot (or pass the baton to someone else, and link them). If you decide to host the next round, be nice, and post an easier screenshot. This game would be no fun if you keep posting random landscapes from obscure Italian films.
Again, minor change for this round - I'm posting 5 screenshots and you have to guess them all to win. Here they are (click images for larger versions):

Screenshot 1: Big Trouble in Little China
Round XXII, screenshot 1

Screenshot 2: The Wild Bunch
Round XXII, screenshot 2

Screenshot 3: An American Werewolf in London
Round XXII, screenshot 3

Screenshot 4: Nikita or La Femme Nikita
Round XXII, screenshot 4

Screenshot 5: Midnight Run
Round XXII, screenshot 5

Get guessing people!
Posted by Mark on August 24, 2007 at 01:40 AM .: link :.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Judging Anime by its Cover
Time is short (I know, I know, what else is new?), so just a quick post about something that caught my eye when I was looking at the Anime series that I can watch online at Netflix. The cover is a pitch perfect parody of the poster for one of my favorite movies:

The cover of the first disc of Pani Poni Dash! parodies one of my favorite movie posters.

The series is called Pani Poni Dash! and it's apparently an exercise in referential humor (perhaps a sorta Japanese Family Guy?). The series, which is apparently a high school comedy with little or no plot, doesn't seem all that interesting, but the artwork on that first disc and the fact that it's available to watch online means I'll probably give it a chance. I doubt it's something I'll get into (it seems... stupid), but who knows, maybe I'll enjoy it.

I'm still making my way through Martian Successor Nadesico though, and I'm going to finish that first. Discs 4 and 6 are on their way (should be here for the weekend) and I've downloaded disc 5, so I should be able to finish it off in the next week or so (I'm actually travelling this weekend, so not a lot of time then...) I haven't forgotten all the other recommendations that were on the list, but given my schedule over the next couple of months, progress may be slow.

Update: Steven has a page with a capsule review of Pani Poni Dash!, and he doesn't seem impressed: "Take one part Azumanga Daioh, two parts Excel Saga, remove all the charm and most of the humor, and add half a liter of unsweetened lemon juice. " Doesn't sound so appetizing.
Posted by Mark on August 22, 2007 at 09:33 PM .: link :.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Blogging Cliches
About a month ago, the Kaedrin Weblog reached the 7 year point. It's hard to believe that I've been blogging for so long, even though I perhaps don't write as many posts as your typical blogger. Every now and again, I like to take a step back and look at what I'm doing and where I'm going, and now seems like a good time for that. The last time I did this was back in January, and that's when i modified my posting schedule to post at least twice a week. So far, this has worked out reasonably well, though I will admit that my Wednesday entries tend to be somewhat lacking. This is due, in part, to an unexpected work schedule (which, come to think of it, should have been expected.) Honestly, I don't know how some bloggers do it.

In any case, via Steven, I came across Jeff Atwood's post about Thirteen Blog Clichés. Let's see how I'm doing:
  1. The Useless Calendar Widget: I've never had one, and to be honest, I never got why they existed in the first place. Indeed, the longer I blog, the more I realize that the standard date-based navigation of blogs leaves a lot to be desired (just look at the unwieldy list of monthly archives on my side nav). Maintaining a list of good categories (or using tagging) is a much better way of navigating through a blog. It's pretty rare that I ever even load a monthly archive page, and I never do so when I'm looking for a specific post (categories and search are much better for that). I must admit that my categorization scheme needs a lot of work, but it's still a much better way to navigate than dates.
  2. Random Images Arbitrarily Inserted In Text: Well, I don't do this, and to be honest, it's not something I've noticed very often, though I perhaps assume such images are simply advertisements and ignore them...
  3. No Information on the Author: While I do have an about page and an about me page, they're both outdated and could use some updating. Also, my name is on every post, so I think I'm covered.
  4. Excess Flair: I don't have much flair, though there are perhaps a couple of things. For instance, the image on the right navigation, which links back to some of my better old posts, would probably be considered flair, but I think it's a fair trade, as those posts would otherwise just sit, unread, in the archives. Not that I know whether or not people are clicking on it (and, uh, I haven't updated it in a long time), but still.
  5. The Giant Blogroll: I've kept my blogroll relatively small pretty much throughout my blogging history. This is perhaps due to the fact that I've never had that huge of an audience and was thus not forced to reciprocate via blogroll links, but even then, it's probably worth keeping the blogroll short (due to Inverse Network Effects, among other things)
  6. The Nebulous Tag Cloud: As previously mentioned, I think tagging is a much better way of organizing content for usable navigation than date-based archives, but I agree with Jeff that the trendy use of "Tag Clouds" is kinda silly and unusable. The other issue with tagging is that it can get a little ridiculous. For instance, look at the tag cloud for my del.icio.us bookmarks:

    The tag cloud for my del.icio.us bookmarks is absurd.

    That's not just useless because of the tag cloud, but becaues I have so many tags. One of these days, I'll create tag bundles which will make it a lot easier to navigate. Of course, there are other benefits to tagging on del.icio.us, notably the social networking aspects, but such benefits wouldn't be present on a blog. As such, I'm not sure I'll ever move to tagging for my blog (though I will probably start being a little more granular in my categories and sub-categories).
  7. Excessive Advertisements: I've never had any advertisements on this site, though I do link to Amazon with my Associates ID (which allows me to share a small but fun percentage of any sales made).
  8. This Ain't Your Diary: And indeed, this blog ain't my diary (though it would probably make posting every day a little easier, it would also probably be incredibly boring.)
  9. Sorry I Haven't Written in a While: One of the biggest obstacles I've faced in building an audience for this blog has been my low posting frequency. Ever since instituting my weekly schedule, I think this has gotten better, but even twice a week is perhaps too little to get people excited (or maybe it's my tastes). And to be honest, some of my Wednesday entries could probably be a little better.
  10. Blogging About Blogging: The ironic one, as both Jeff's post and mine are actually embracing this cliché, though Jeff sorta extends this to people who only blog about blogging, which is a little more understandeable. Personally, I kinda like reading about other bloggers' writing habits, but a blog which posted exclusively about blogging would indeed get old.
  11. Mindless Link Propagation: I'm guilty of this, particularly on some of my Wednesday posts when I'm short on time. I do try to make sure these links aren't posted all over the place before posting them, so perhaps those don't count, but even then I'm probably still guilty of this.
  12. Top (n) Lists: Aside from participating in the Friday is List Day meme, which isn't really what Jeff's talking about, I'm not sure I've ever written a top (n) list. It is kinda odd that such lists have come to dominate the social networking sites like Digg and del.icio.us popular, but it seems like this is a good way to create attention. I'm sure I'll write one at some point, but it won't be one of my standard blog conventions.
  13. No Comments Allowed: Jeff says A blog without comments is not a blog, but I disagree with that. In any case, I have comments. Jeff makes an exception for people with massively popular blogs, and Steven attests to that (as does Shamus). Personally, while I certainly wouldn't mind a little more traffic, I've written before about how I don't mind being a small blog. Jeff also notes that "the comments are often better than the original blog entry itself" which is something I've never found particularly true. Not that I don't appreciate comments, and indeed, the best comments tend to come on posts that only get 5-10 comments. Actually, comments on Kaedrin are actually pretty darn good, I think. So maybe he has a point. But on any post that has over 100 comments, it quickly gets absurd. Even if there's great content in there, it gets old fast.
All in all, I'm doing pretty well when it comes to these, though my blog still isn't all that popular.
Posted by Mark on August 19, 2007 at 01:22 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Closed-Eyes Syndrome
So I've been exploring the world of Anime, and one thing I've noticed is the tendency for characters to close their eyes a lot. Most often, this seems to happen when they get especially happy or giddy and is thus accompanied by a smile of some sort. A character who yells is often animated as having tilted their head back, with closed eyes and an oversized mouth. However, it seems to extend beyond that as well. Often, a character's eyes will be closed even while delivering normal dialogue. By itself, it's not all that unusual, but it seems to happen quite frequently in most anime that I've watched. Maybe I never noticed it in other animation, but it seems to be much more frequent in Anime than anywhere else. I don't think there's anything especially wrong with it, except insofar as I always notice when it's happening.

There's apparently a trope for eyes always shut, but that seems to apply to particular characters who never open their eyes:
This describes a character who appears to have their eyes shut constantly, except, perhaps, for a few instances of surprise or shock. Nevertheless, they still give every indication of being able to see - which implies that this characteristic is actually more of a pronounced squint.

This is an old device to imply wisdom; more recently, it's been subverted as a device to show "wise guys".
I'm not familiar with any of their examples, but again, I've noticed that eyes are closed a lot more often in Anime than in other animation. For example, I've been watching Martian Successor Nadesico, and closed-eyes syndrome seems to be operating in full force:

Yurika from Martian Successor Nadesico
OMG, I'm so happy I simply must close my eyes!

More examples below the fold. Closed-eyes syndrome was prevalent in Vandread and Vandread: Second Stage as well. Examples below, including one where at least 6 characters are doing the eyes closed thing...

BC Closes her eyes when she talks to Bart in Vandread: Second Stage

The crew in Vandread celebrates Christmas by... closing their eyes!
A holiday celebration calls for closed eyes!

Haibane Renmei also prominently features the closed-eye syndrome:

I am so happy that my eyes have closed

I am going to close my eyes even though I am talking to you...

I think that last screenshot is the only one I have that shows someone who is just talking normally with their eyes closed. Most of the other screenshots are of the more common "I'm so happy I've closed my eyes" variety, but that's only because I rarely take a screenshot of random characters talking normally with their eyes closed. I had to dig our my copy of Haibane Renmei to get it, though I'll note that I was able to pull several screens from the first 5-10 minutes of the first episode.

Perhaps I'm being overly observant, but it's Wednesday night and my brain is fried and I wanted something easy to write about. So there. I've finished the first 2 discs of Martian Successor Nadesico, but unfortunately, I have to wait a little longer for disc 3, as Netflix doesn't have a copy at my local shipping center (I'm lucky in that I live very close to one of their shipping centers, but sometimes stuff that's out of print like this series are scattered throughout the country, so it takes a little longer to arrive). It shipped today from NY, so I should get it tomorrow or Friday. I don't think I'll be able to finish the series by Sunday, but I'll probably have an update.

Incidentally, Netflix has lowered their monthy fees again. That's two times in the last month or so. I don't especially follow the industry, but I assume this is due to competition from other companies like Blockbuster. The funny thing is that when I saw that price drop, I immediatly thought about how that meant that I would have less access to their "Watch Instantly Online" service (which basically says that you can watch 1 hour for every dollar you pay a month - so I used to have 18 hours of free watching, but now I only have 16 hours). As my friend Dave noted in the comments to a recent post, it seems like an awkward way of determining the viewing allowance. But then, I'm not complaining. I think Netflix should be applauded for simply giving us new functionality for no extra charge. I just thought it was funny that their price cuts also cut their viewing allowance.
Posted by Mark on August 15, 2007 at 10:05 PM .: link :.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Martian Successor Nadesico: Volume 1
It's been a while since I tackled an Anime series, so I checked back to my recommendations post and decided that I should try Martian Successor Nadesico next. It gets good reviews, it seems to be recommended for newcomers to Anime, and it meets the requirements I laid out in my recommendation request (said requirements won't stay in place forever, but I've got to start somewhere). The only drawback is that it's out of print and Netflix is missing disc 5 (of 6 total) in the series. But I was able to find a torrent of the series and downloaded the episodes on that disc, so I think I'll be alright. I just finished the first disc and wanted to give some of my initial impressions.
  • So far, things seem to be pretty engaging. The characters are interesting and the story seems to be moving along well enough. The only thing that is a little strange for me is that there appears to be a ton of references to other anime series. Not having watched a lot of Anime, I can't really say for sure, but it seems pretty obvious to me that this is at least partially a parody of older Anime series. For instance, one obvious source of parody is how some of the characters become obsessed with a 100 year old series called "Gekigangar 3," which features a giant fighting robot that looks to this newbie's eyes like a version of Voltron or something. I'm positive there are tons of references going on there (it just feels referential, the way you'd be able to tell Family Guy was being referential even if you didn't know what they were referencing). Also, several of the characters tend to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience, a sure sign of parody. Again, I'm finding the series engaging and funny (I laughed out loud several times) in its own right, but I wonder if I'd get more out of it if I was more familiar with the giant fighting robot genre?

    Voltron?  Is that you?
    This mecha looks so familiar...

  • Considering that I've pegged this as a parody of your typical giant fighting robot genre series, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that almost everything about this series reminds me of Vandread and Vandread: Second Stage. Lots of things, from the characters and their stories (for instance, Akito is like Hibiki in several ways: they've both got a mysterious past, they've both got a ditzy girl chasing them around, and they're both pseudo-untrained pilots.), to the enemy (the Jovian Lizards also seem to use robots to do their fighting, just like the enemy in Vandread - the ships even have similar designs), to the combinging robot fighters (which, granted, don't happen in the same way) are similar. MSN came out before Vandread so I can only assume that they're both borrowing from a common set of archetypical anime characters and conventions. In any case, I'm guessing that I'll be using Vandread as a point of reference to all anime in this genre going forward.
  • I was somewhat shocked by the end of episode 3 and start of episode 4. Something surprising happens to the character I had pegged as a cross between Bart and Hibiki from Vandread, and, well, I just wasn't expecting anything like that this early in the series.
  • The extras on the DVD are actually helpful for once, particularly the Translation Notes. At one point, a character who had stowed away in a shipping container makes her entrance, and one of her friends tries to push her back into the container. In response, she says "Don't put me back in... I'm not a mackeral that has to be canned." Inexplicably, she starts laughing hysterically. At the time, I remember thinking it was an odd thing to say, and that there must be some sort of translation problem with a Japanese idiom or something. According to the translation notes, I was close. It turns out that the character in question can't stop herself from making horrible puns, and the Japanese verb for "packing in" and "preparing mackerel" is the same (shimeru). Apparently, the translater pulled out his hair all throughout the series trying to come up with ways to translate the puns. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of this sort of thing really makes it through, and it makes me wonder how much I'm missing whenever I watch a foreign language film (I've recently written about this subject as well).
  • Speaking of translations, is it me, or do the subtitles on this get ridiculously difficult to read at times? They use different colors to indicate background speech and foreground speech, but they're sometimes inconsistent with it and in a couple of cases, the text takes up more than half the screen! For the most part, it's fine, but I was having a little trouble at first. The translation for the dubbing seems to be similar (not exactly the same, but not as different as some other shows I've watched). I guess I'm still on the fence about whether or not to watch with subtitles or dubbing...
More thoughts and screenshots below the fold. Some even more random notes and screenshots:

So far, the series has two ditzy female characters that appear to be going after the lead male character (i.e. playing the role of Dita from Vandread). The first is Yurika who is ditsy when it comes to social graces, but she's also the ship's captain and she seems to perform well in that role. She has a thing for Akito, who seems to be making every attempt to ignore her advances (the first couple episodes made me think that this would play out almost exactly like the Hibiki/Dita relationship, but buy the end of the first disc, I can see things are progressing differently). The other ditsy character is one of the pilots, named Hikaru. By the end of the first disc, I'm not sure she's actually interested in Akito, but her introduction mirrors Dita's pretty strongly. She falls on top of Akito (giving us the apparently common and awkward trope of having a female character's breasts smooshed on top of an unsuspecting male character, though in Vandread, this is given extra juice because of the whole male/female war thing), then they sit and talk and the scene is framed almost exactly the same way (well, the background is more complicated in Vandread, and their positions are reversed, but the whole sequence is still very similar).

Hibiki and Dita   Akito and Hikaru

Later, the aforementioned pilot introduces herself to the rest of the crew thusly: "Hello, I'm Hikaru Amano, another pilot! My blood type is B and I'm 18 and among my favorite foods are pizza crust edges, and slightly soggy rice crackers. Nice to be working with you!" She then pulls a tube to her mouth, takes a deep breath, and blows, activating... well, I've never seen one of these before. It appears that she's rigged some birthday noisemakers into a device that she's attached to her head. Its... awesome? Eccentric? I don't know, is this something common in Japan?

What's that thing on her head?

What's that thing on her head?
What's that thing on her head?

For some reason, I tend to like these ditsy characters. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's that they also seem to have a professional side to them. One is a captain, and by all accounts a brilliant tactician. The other is a pilot. So even though they're ditsy, they've also got to have some smarts, right? Same thing for Dita in Vandread. Lots of reviews mentioned that her ditsyness was annoying, but I was fine with it, perhaps because she was also a pilot...

That's all for now. I'm sure I'll have more to say as the series progresses. I already have disc 2 and will probably watch that today. I should get disc 3 later this week, though disc 4 has a status of "very long wait" on Netflix. I may have to just download those episodes too...
Posted by Mark on August 12, 2007 at 12:25 AM .: link :.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Movie Screenshot Game Round XV
Well, the game has run through most of my blogger friends' sites, but it hasn't really made it's way beyond our little circle. It's been a lot of fun and I'm overjoyed that my friends participated, but I don't know how much longer this can last if it remains confined to our little group... I do know of at least one person who occasionally reads this blog and also has a much larger audience than I, so I'll post another round (*hint, hint*). And, uh, I'm positive he knows what this round's screenshot is. Not that I'm stacking the deck or anything. *ahem* Anyway, the rules:
  • I'm going to post a screenshot from a movie. If you're the first person to guess the movie, you win!
  • If you win, you have to continue the game by posting a screenshot on your blog with the same rules outlined here (please to the main post as well). The winner of your round will host the next round, and so on.
  • If you don't have a blog (and if you don't want to start one), I'll host the next round as well (the screenshot should still come from the winner, if possible). If you do have a blog, but the winner of your round doesn't, you should host the next round too.
  • Once the winner posts their screenshot, I'll link to it from this post. Each winner needs to link to the next winner, and so on.
  • Only movies are eligible. No television shows.
  • If no one can figure out the answer within 3 days, then you've stumped the internet. If you want, you can give hints. If we still have no winner, then congratulations, you've won. Maybe I'll start a hall of fame or something. Give everyone the answer, and post another screenshot (or pass the baton to someone else, and link them). If you decide to host the next round, be nice, and post an easier screenshot. This game would be no fun if you keep posting random landscapes from obscure Italian films.
Here we go (click image for larger version):

Screenshot Game: Round XV

There you go.

Update: Alex wins (swipe for answer: Silent Hill) and he's posted the next round.

Again Update: Roy won the last round, and has posted the next round...
Posted by Mark on August 08, 2007 at 10:26 PM .: link :.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Manuals, or the lack thereof...
When I first started playing video games and using computer applications, I remember having to read the instruction manuals to figure out what was happening on screen. I don't know if this was because I was young and couldn't figure this stuff out, or because some of the controls were obtuse and difficult. It was perhaps a combination of both, but I think the latter was more prevalent, especially when applications and games became more complex and powerful. I remember sitting down at a computer running DOS and loading up Wordperfect. The interface that appears is rather simplistic, and the developers apparently wanted to avoid the "clutter" of on-screen menus, so they used keyboard combinations. According to Wikipedia, Wordperfect used "almost every possible combination of function keys with Ctrl, Alt, and Shift modifiers." I vaguely remember needing to use those stupid keyboard templates (little pieces of laminated paper that fit snugly around the keyboard keys, helping you remember what key or combo does what.)

Video Games used to have great manuals too. I distinctly remember several great manuals from the Atari 2600 era. For example, the manual for Pitfall II was a wonderful document done in the style of Pitfall Harry's diary. The game itself had little in the way of exposition, so you had to read the manual to figure out that you were trying to rescue your niece Rhonda and her cat, Quickclaw, who became trapped in a catacomb while searching for the fabled Raj diamond. Another example for the Commodore 64 was Temple of Apshai. The game had awful graphics, but each room you entered had a number, and you had to consult your manual to get a description of the room.

By the time of the NES, the importance of manuals had waned from Apshai levels, but they were still somewhat necessary at times, and gaming companies still went to a lot of trouble to produce helpful documents. The one that stands out in my mind was the manual for Dragon Warrior III, which was huge (at least 50 pages) and also contained a nice fold-out chart of most of the monsters and wapons in the game (with really great artwork). PC games were also getting more complex, and as Roy noted recently, companies like Sierra put together really nice instruction manuals for complex games like the King's Quest series.

In the early 1990s, my family got its first Windows PC, and several things changed. With the Word for Windows software, you didn't need any of those silly keyboard templates. Everything you needed to do was in a menu somewhere, and you could just point and click instead of having to memorize strange keyboard combos. Naturally, computer purists love the keyboard, and with good reason. If you really want to be efficient, the keyboard is the way to go, which is why Linux users are so fond of the command line and simple looking but powerful applications like Emacs. But for your average user, the GUI was very important, and made things a lot easier to figure out. Word had a user manual, and it was several hundred pages long, but I don't think I ever cracked it open, except maybe in curiosity (not because I needed to).

The trends of improving interfaces and less useful manuals proceeded throughout the next decade and today, well, I can't think of the last time I had to consult a physical manual for anything. Steven Den Beste has been playing around with flash for a while, but he says he never looks at the manual. "Manuals are for wimps." In his post, Roy wonders where all the manuals have gone. He speculates that manufacturing costs are a primary culprit, and I have no doubt that they are, but there are probably a couple of other reasons as well. For one, interfaces have become much more intuitive and easy to use. This is in part due to familiarity with computers and the emergence of consistent standards for things like dialog boxes (of course, when you eschew those standards, you get what Jacob Nielson describes as a catastrophic failure). If you can easily figure it out through the interface, what use are the manuals? With respect to gaming, the in-game tutorials have largely taken the place of instruction manuals. Another thing that has perhaps affected official instruction manuals are the unofficial walkthroughs and game guides. Visit a local bookstore and you'll find entire bookcases devoted to vide game guides and walkthrough. As nice as the manual for Pitfall II was, you really didn't need much more than 10 pages to explain how to play that game, but several hundred pages barely does justice to some of the more complex video games in today's market. Perhaps the reason gaming companies don't give you instruction manuals with the game is not just that printing the manual is costly, but that they can sell you a more detailed and useful one.

Steven Johnson's book Everything Bad is Good for You has a chapter on Video Games that is very illuminating (in fact, the whole book is highly recommended - even if you don't totally agree with his premise, he still makes a compelling argument). He talks about the official guides and why they're so popular:
The dirty little secret of gaming is how much time you spend not having fun. You may be frustrated; you may be confused or disoriented; you may be stuck. When you put the game down and move back into the real world, you may find yourself mentally working through the problem you've been wrestling with, as though you were worrying a loose tooth. If this is mindless escapism, it's a strangely masochistic version.
He gives an example of a man who spends six months working as a smith (mindless work) in Ultima online so that he can attain a certain ability, and he also talks about how people spend tons of money on guides for getting past various roadblocks. Why would someone do this? Johnson spends a fair amount of time going into the neurological underpinnings of this, most notably what he calls the "reward circuitry of the brain." In games, rewards are everywhere. More life, more magic spells, new equipment, etc... And how do we get these rewards? Johnson thinks there are two main modes of intellectual labor that go into video gaming, and he calls them probing and telescoping.

Probing is essentially exploration of the game and its possibilities. Much of this is simply the unconscious exploration of the controls and the interface, figuring out how the game works and how you're supposed to interact with it. However, probing also takes the more conscious form of figuring out the limitations of the game. For instance, in a racing game, it's usually interesting to see if you can turn your car around backwards, pick up a lot of speed, then crash head-on into a car going the "correct" way. Or, in Rollercoaster Tycoon, you can creatively place balloon stands next to a roller coaster to see what happens (the result is hilarious). Probing the limits of game physics and finding ways to exploit them are half the fun (or challenge) of video games these days, which is perhaps another reason why manuals are becoming less frequent.

Telescoping has more to do with the games objectives. Once you've figured out how to play the game through probing, you seek to exploit your knowledge to achieve the game's objectives, which are often nested in a hierarchical fashion. For instance, to save the princess, you must first enter the castle, but you need a key to get into the castle and the key is guarded by a dragon, etc... Indeed, the structure is sometimes even more complicated, and you essentially build this hierarchy of goals in your head as the game progresses. This is called telescoping.

So why is this important? Johnson has the answer (page 41 in my edition):
... far more than books or movies or music, games force you to make decisions. Novels may activate our imagination, and music may conjure up powerful emotions, but games force you to decide, to choose, to prioritize. All the intellectual benefits of gaming derive from this fundamental virtue, because learning how to think is ultimately about learning to make the right decisions: weighing evidence, analyzing situations, consulting your long term goals, and then deciding. No other pop culture form directly engages the brain's decision-making apparatus in the same way. From the outside, the primary activity of a gamer looks like a fury of clicking and shooting, which is why much of the conventional wisdom about games focuses on hand-eye coordination. But if you peer inside the gamer's mind, the primary activity turns out to be another creature altogether: making decisions, some of them snap judgements, some long-term strategies.
Probing and telescoping are essential to learning in any sense, and the way Johnson describes them in the book reminds me of a number of critical thinking methods. Probing, developing a hypothesis, reprobing, and then rethinking the hypothesis is essentially the same thing as the scientific method or the hermenutic circle. As such, it should be interesting to see if video games ever really catch on as learning tools. There have been a lot of attempts at this sort of thing, but they're often stifled by the reputation of video games being a "colossal waste of time" (in recent years, the benefits of gaming are being acknowledged more and more, though not usually as dramatically as Johnson does in his book).

Another interesting use for video games might be evaluation. A while ago, Bill Simmons made an offhand reference to EA Sports' Madden games in the context of hiring football coaches (this shows up at #29 on his list):
The Maurice Carthon fiasco raises the annual question, "When teams are hiring offensive and defensive coordinators, why wouldn't they have them call plays in video games to get a feel for their play calling?" Seriously, what would be more valuable, hearing them B.S. about the philosophies for an hour, or seeing them call plays in a simulated game at the all-Madden level? Same goes for head coaches: How could you get a feel for a coach until you've played poker and blackjack with him?
When I think about how such a thing would actually go down, I'm not so sure, because the football world created by Madden, as complex and comprehensive as it is, still isn't exactly the same as the real football world. However, I think the concept is still sound. Theoretically, you could see how a prospective coach would actually react to a new, and yet similar, football paradigm and how they'd find weaknesses and exploit them. The actual plays they call aren't that important; what you'd be trying to figure out is whether or not the coach was making intelligent decisions or not.

So where are manuals headed? I suspect that they'll become less and less prevalent as time goes on and interfaces become more and more intuitive (though there is still a long ways to go before I'd say that computer interfaces are truly intuitive, I think they're much more intuitive now than they were ten years ago). We'll see more interactive demos and in-game tutorials, and perhaps even games used as teaching tools. I could probably write a whole separate post about how this applies to Linux, which actually does require you to look at manuals sometimes (though at least they have a relatively consistent way of treating manuals; even when the documentation is bad, you can usually find it). Manuals and passive teaching devices will become less important. And to be honest, I don't think we'll miss them. They're annoying.
Posted by Mark on August 05, 2007 at 10:58 AM .: link :.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Friday is List Day
If Friday really is list day, I should really be doing this every week. For some reason, I sometimes don't get around to it, but really, how hard is it?

Random Ten
  • Faith No More - "Hippie Jam Song"
  • Pigface - "The Greenhouse"
  • Skinny Puppy - "The Killing Game"
  • Gypsy Kings - "Baila Me"
  • Stabbing Westward - "Control"
  • Aerosmith - "Big Ten Inch Record (unplugged)"
  • Radiohead - "Life in a Glasshouse"
  • Einstürzende Neubauten - "Sie"
  • Yoko Kanno & Seatbelts - "Rush"
  • Coheed and Cambria - "Coheed and Cambria / XI"
Five Podcasts I Listen To That's all for now.
Posted by Mark on August 03, 2007 at 10:03 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Link Dump
As has been fashionable lately, time is short this week, so just a few links: That's all for now.
Posted by Mark on August 01, 2007 at 11:39 PM .: link :.

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