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Monthly Archives: October 2010

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What We’re Supposed to be Outraged About Now

Good news everyone, there’s lots of stuff to be outraged about. Or stuff that we’re expected to possibly sort of be outraged about. First up, Outsourced is still racist, which is probably okay because no one watches it anyway. If a racist tree falls in a forest, does it burn a cross? Probably not. Also that’s a really bad metaphor. Hypothetically speaking the only people who care about whether Outsourced is or isn’t racist, are fans of Parks and Recreation outraged because their “paint dying on a barn wall” show that nobody watches got shoved aside by foreigners. And everyone knows lame shows on NBC should be filled entirely with Saturday Night Live rejects. American Saturday Night Live rejects, damn it.

Also there’s a gay joke in a Vince Vaughn movie. Okay it’s the same joke about an electric car that was in the Will Ferrell movie, The Other Guys. Except there people who drove electric cars were accused of being women. Here they’re accused of being gay. But it’s apparently okay to compare electric car drivers to women, but not gay men. Also Ron Howard will not allow his movies to have their gay jokes censored. Which we can all agree with, because if you take the gay jokes out of a Ron Howard movie, you might as well just take it out back and shoot it.

Also Lee Ann Rimes was on a magazine cover, except she’s a homewrecker. And we all know homewreckers aren’t allowed on magazine covers unless they’re right next to a story about how aliens probed Bill Clinton and convinced him to turn over America’s nuclear secrets to Bigfoot in exchange for cocaine. So I hope we’re all really outraged about all these very important topics. Properly outraged. Because outrage doesn’t happen on its own.

Why the Saw Movies Aren’t Going Anywhere

The real horror is that the Saw movies are still all too viable. The latest one Saw 3D, torture porn in 3D, pulled in 22 million this weekend. The last one had gone head to head with Paranormal Activity and ended up in second place. This time Paranormal Activity moved up its sequel opening and left the weekend free for Saw.

Saw 3D is not up to the huge box office weekend for Saw V, but it gives Lionsgate lots of reasons not to retire the franchise to DVD, especially now that DVD sales have been flatlining, thanks to the whole DVD is a dead format, while Blu Ray is a limited and overpriced format, problems. Saw 3D is part of a trend in which the fall box office has been dominated by things that can barely be called movies and appeal to audiences with the IQ’s of dead flounder.

Jackass 3D has passed a 100 million dollars. Which means that idiots pretending to hurt themselves doing stupid things is already more lucrative than just about every movie released this fall, except for probably Saw 3D. Jackass 3D made more money in three weeks, than Social Network made in 5. Twice as much as the Wall Street sequel or Legend of the Guardians did. With audiences like that, is it any wonder the Saw movies won’t be going anywhere?

Acc to Niki Finke, Saw 3D underperformed because of higher ticket prices for 3D movies.

Terriers Pilot review

There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news is that Donal Logue is getting old. There’s white in his beard and his neck looks like the inside of a telephone pole. He won’t be able to keep playing this kind of role forever, but for now the traditional ex-alcoholic and divorced ex-cop turned PI living on the margins of society fits him well. The good news is that Terriers actually works, as a kind of Coen Brothers movie turned into a regular TV series. But Terriers isn’t focused on being clever, instead it captures the laid back energy of The Big Lebowski, without the surrealism or absurdity. While Network TV has given up, cable shows have been successfully rolling off shows like this, and Terriers is Justified in a different setting and with more of a sense of humor.

From the opening where the partners are trying to kidnap a dog to get free dry cleaning, Terriers establishes the low rent lifestyle, and Donal Logue carries the show, as a PI who’s low on the food chain, but not as dumb as he looks or acts. The story isn’t that new. Missing girl. Bodies turning up. A big shot who turns out to have a dirty secret. Thugs on their trail. A key piece of evidence turning up in the hands of the guys who don’t know what to do with it. We’ve seen this done a million times before, but just like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, there’s a pleasure in sitting back and watching it done all over again.

Terriers isn’t without its flaws. A plot that hinges on an incriminating video doesn’t make much sense when the entire episode could have been cut down by half, by just uploading the video to YouTube. The last third feels like it’s missing some pieces, as the ex-partner shows up and does a search, after refusing to do it before. And it’s hard to believe that an upscale mansion would be so easy to break into. But that might be a pacing problem that will clear up when the show has its sea legs. But what Terriers succeeds at, is capturing that element which made The Big Lebowski so easy to watch. Terriers is just easy to watch.

Oregon Trail Nostalgia Hit of the Day

First up is the College Humor trailer for The Oregon Trail imagined as a movie. This is the sort of thing that College Humor does well, one of the few things they do well, so you pretty much know what to expect going in. The only scary part of this is that some Hollywood types have probably already looked at it and began thinking hard. We live in a world in which Battleship and Monopoly are both being made into high end movies. The sky is the limit. So is the trail.

But then there’s this, The Men Who Wear Too Many Hats’ Organ Trail. If you’ve ever wanted to play a modern version of Oregon Trail in which you’re escaping from a zombie epidemic in Washington D.C., then the Organ Trail is your number. It has all the “fun” of the original Oregon Trail, but with more zombie killing.

Trade batteries and muffler parts for food. Scavenge food while fighting off zombies. Treat zombie bites. Visit the ruins of St. Louis. Avoid nuclear zones. And it’s playable in your browser.

Remembering the Walkman

There was a time when Sony was to portable music, what Apple is today. The Walkman was the great revolution since the portable transistor radio made it possible for millions of teenagers to take their music with them. But where the portable transistor radio empowered radio stations and public music, the Walkman turned the dial the other way. Instead of listening to what radio stations wanted you to listen to, you bought tapes and listened to what you wanted to instead.

It wasn’t video that killed the radio star, it was the Walkman. Not at first. The Walkman even had a radio built in. And cassettes and later CD’s could only hold so much music. But the pattern was there. When the MP3 player showed up, it made radio irrelevant. And the Walkman paved the way by letting users listen to music on the go, independent of the whim of DJ’s.

In retrospect it’s stunning that Sony was never able to get the MP3 player market off the ground. It isn’t still able to do it, which is even more stunning. But Sony was still thinking in terms of selling media. From cassettes to CD’s to the Sony MiniDisc, which never had legs outside of Europe, Sony thought in terms of selling media. It missed the flash revolution and thinking of music as data to be copied into flash memory, not printed over cartridges. But the Walkman helped define what music is today. An experience that people carry privately with them and control, rather than the shared experience of radio.

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi book review

What do you get if you mash up Starship Troopers, The Forever War and some Halo? If you’re not very good at it, you might come out on the other end with The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. It’s not a fair comparison, because not only isn’t Scalzi anywhere in the same galaxy in writing talent, but unlike either of the two books, Ghost Brigades doesn’t have much more of a reason for being than any other random Mil SciFi books working the same side of the street do. How for example is Ghost Brigades any better than the Clone Alliance books? The answer is isn’t really, but their author is better at promoting himself.

The Ghost Brigades does kick around some potentially interesting ideas on the margins, but Scalzi has no real idea what to do with them. What makes it worse is that Scalzi’s writing is almost as lively and stylish as an instruction manual. As obnoxious as his blogging style in the afterword is, it at least doesn’t put you to sleep. Which is more than you can say for the actual novel, which doesn’t bother with things like descriptions and has a main character who’s a blank, and the only character with any personality is the alien traitor. The sloppiness is so bad, that the ending which hinges on the brainpal being able to store and run programs, features a capability that we never even saw hinted at before. And the special forces soldiers go from being helpless, to one soldier being able to defeat all the aliens.

In his defense, Scalzi does okay with pure combat. It’s the non-combat stuff he isn’t any good at. Character development and interaction, forget about it. Too bad then that The Ghost Brigades doesn’t actually have that much combat, and forces us to follow around what amounts to the short bus version of The Forever War, complete with oversexed co-ed soldiers. Mercifully The Ghost Brigades is short, but that’s because it doesn’t have all that much of a plot and Scalzi leaves his best ideas lying around, waiting for someone else to do something with them.

California’s Violent Video Games Obsession

California is back in the ban violent video games sweepstakes. It’s the usual case that pits legislators who think appealing to soccer moms worried about violent video games is a home run against freedom of speech advocates who think it’s a terrible idea.

The industry argues that the ESRB ratings system already prevents minors from buying violent video games. We’re regulating ourselves already, don’t regulate us. But everyone knows that plenty of 16 year olds are playing M rated games such as Grand Theft Auto 4. So how are they getting their hands on it? Same way they can get their hands on beer and just about anything else.

The legislators are targeting the video game industry as it existed 5 years ago, not as it exists today. The retail stores like GameStop are the past, just like Blockbuster turned out to be. Buying or renting games online is where it’s at. And credit card numbers let teenagers buy anything they want. Regulating that is a waste of time.

Is Microsoft Dead Yet?

In the wake of that infamous Information Week article, let’s take a rational look at the situation. It’s trendy to declare Microsoft dead, but the Beast from Redmond isn’t there yet. Or anywhere near it.

Yes Microsoft has failed to gain on the mobile front, but it has the PC locked down and it has the entire XBox platform, which is slowly starting to look like the winner in the hard core gaming demographic. Microsoft failed to take down the iPhone when it had the chance, and Android is becoming the one to beat, but counting Microsoft out is stupid. The Windows 7 phone probably won’t be a game changer, but Microsoft has the money and the resources to stay in the game. And it can survive without the mobile marketplace.

On the computer, Windows 7 has been a big winner and Office is still going strong, despite open source competition like Open Office. It is fumbling the browser battle badly, but it’s not clear what Microsoft ever gained from having a dominant browser share. The big money is in search, and while Microsoft can’t win there either, it’s sitting comfortably in the Number 2 spot. Bing is still a money hole, but being number 2 means waiting around for Google to fail. And that’s not an impossibility.

Microsoft is number 1 in the PC and soon to be in the console. And it has the resources to be number 2 in search and mobile technologies. Which means it’s a little too early to count out Redmond just yet.

Prematurely Burying Microsoft

Microsoft has been behind the game for a while and it’s considered almost irrelevant in some circles, but no, it’s a long way from dead

“I believe that Microsoft as we know it may not be around in another decade–maybe not even in five years.”

Barring an alien invasion, Microsoft will be around in 5 and 10 years. 20 years is a possibility. 5 years is not. Unless you foresee everyone jettisoning PC’s in the next 5 years.

Most significantly, Microsoft waived the white flag on social media when it pulled the plug on Windows Live Journal, dumping the blogging platform’s users onto the open source WordPress system.

Wait… wait. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, Microsoft giving up on a blog platform that no one cared about is significant? Yahoo did the same thing. Google has a blogging platform only because it bought one.

But that’s just whistling past the graveyard, spouting a tune written from backward-looking data not particularly useful for gauging the impact that hugely disruptive new products like tablets and smartphones and even tablet-smartphone hybrids are about to have on Microsoft’s place in IT. Market research group NPD recently found that 13% of iPad users bought the Apple OS-based device instead of a Windows PC.

Anyone who actually thinks an iPad can replace a PC is completely ignorant about what an iPad can actually do. An iPad is a supplementary device. It’s not a PC replacement. If the survey said that people bought the iPad instead of a notebook, there might be a point here. All this survey says is that more than 10 percent of iPad buyers are idiots. Probably a too conservative figure.

It’s not that the mobile marketplace isn’t going to have a big impact on Microsoft, but so long as businesses are office based and people primarily use PC’s in their homes, Microsoft isn’t just going to go away. Because it still controls the core platform. Smartphones are nice, but you can only do so much on them. Tablets are cute, but there’s also only so much you can do on them. The idea that the tablet will wipe away the PC is like believing that the notebook computer, which unlike the iPad actually could do much of what a PC does, would do it.

We’re Surrounded by Idiots

How exactly did the American political system come to be defined by a Florida drive time DJ and the second banana on the Dana Carvey Show? It used to be Martin Luther King doing rallies on the Washington Mall. Now it’s Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart. Watching the news has gotten to be like watching a Robocop news report from the future, except more depressing.

The only sure thing to come out of both rallies is a higher national profile for two TV clowns. And two parties that are so out of ideas that they’re willing to let two idiots conduct the national conversation. The only real achievements shared by Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is that they’re entertainers who are great at pretending to stand for things and then playing plausible deniability. You can’t challenge them on anything because they’re just entertainers. But you can let them throw rallies in the nation’s capital to promote themselves.

Bread and circuses. While millions of people are out of work, both parties are willing to lease themselves out as props for comedy theater, to channel some kind of outrage at somebody or something.

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