December 2003 Archives

Today a fire caused by Christmas lights destroyed a Capitol Hill rental home which, until he and his family moved to the D.C. area a couple of years ago, used to be the residence of my friend Russell.

Moral of the story: it's safer to rent to Jews.

Comments (3) | last by Matthew, Dec 31, 10:28 AM

PVP

If you've ever been a gamer, a comic book junkie, or a fantasy/science fiction geek-- and chances are that if you're reading this, you hit the trifecta-- you should be reading PVP. There are other geek comic strips out there, but PVP stands alone. For starters, Scott Kurtz is an honest-to-goodness cartoonist, not just some shlub with Illustrator and a web site. He's got a sure line and an obvious understanding of the medium.

Even better, the guy's funny. The jokes in PVP touch on all things geeky, but the humor isn't dependent on them. The humor is usually quite mainstream, actually, but coming from an oblique angle hobbyists will appreciate even more. See for yourself-- a complete archive of the strip is available online.

Excelsior!

Comments (3) | last by Howard M. Lewis Ship, Dec 29, 10:03 AM

Naughty Gomez

I've owned an Addams Family pinball machine for a few years now, and I cracked up earlier today when something happened that's never happened before.

The software for the machine is pretty basic, and can't layer sounds over each other. If a sound gets triggered while another is being played, the newer one overrides the older one.

When you score a train wreck, Gomez cries "Good show, old man!" When you hit the Cousin It target, Gomez exclaims "It, old man!" Today I did both consecutively, resulting in Gomez triumphantly shouting "Good shit, old man!"

Juvenile? Sure. But I'm still chuckling.

Comment (1) | last by King Kohl, Mar 27, 11:07 AM

Big Fish and Paycheck

Big Fish is a great family feel-good movie with the kind of striking visual style we've come to expect from Tim Burton. Ewan McGregor has a winning earnestness that really sells the tall tales. The framing story is the least interesting aspect of the film, right up until the climax which I felt brought things together nicely. Not a great movie but a good one, and certainly one of the least treacly family films in recent memory.

Paycheck I loved, start to finish. Really, it had me at Hello. How could I fail to love a film that is basically a computer adventure game? If you've seen the trailer, you know the fundamental premise-- Ben Affleck's �berhacker emerges from a job requiring a 3-year memory wipe but yielding a huge paycheck, only to discover that his pre-wipe self gave up the money for 20 mundane items instead. Those 20 items become his inventory, and over the course of the film he uses each one to extricate himself from one situation after another. It all fits together marvelously despite some minor quibbles (the items had to pass corporate scrutiny, yet included a company access card and a bullet; its unclear how Affleck was able to view a different future than his bosses without them knowing about it; none of the viewings of Affleck's ultimate fate showed Uma to be present, yet she was) and the raft of genre archetypes (massive high-tech research lab; a horde of armed security guards who can't hit their target and get beaten by a techno-geek and a biologist; corporate billionaire with no conscience). But for me all of that was secondary. For this Infocom-raised gamer, the gimmick carried the film. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

North By Northwest

As I watched this 1959 Hitchcock film for the first time tonight, one thought kept running through my mind.

"How retro!"

Everything about the film reflects a bygone era. The cold war plot. The luxury of train travel (when was the last time Amtrak served brook trout?). The glacial pacing and 136 minute length.

The signature cropdusting scene only makes sense if the bad guys graduated from the Ernst Blofeld Academy of Criminal Arts. The lecture notes look something like this:

Dispatching a Government Agent
  • Know what the agent plans to do even before the agent does, and plant a femme fatale in his path. Graduates are encouraged to capitalize on our working relationship with the Pussy Galore Finishing School of upstate New York.
  • Femme fatale is authorized to tease, seduce, or pleasure the agent, but under no circumstances is she to kill him while she has him alone.
  • Have femme fatale lure agent to remote location. Preferably someplace scenic or offbeat. Avoid the "in" places for assassinations. Blofeld men do not follow trends, they set them.
  • Blofeld graduates are expected to show a little flair. No scheme is too elaborate. Under no circumstances should you just drive up, put a bullet in the agent's brain, and drive off. You are criminal masterminds, not common thugs.
  • Blofeld men flaunt their confidence. Do remember to gloat, divulge your master plan, and leave the agent unattended.
  • Quiz Friday. 25% of final grade. Bring sword-cane to class.

I haven't seen many Hitchcock films-- Psycho, To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, and now this-- but what I've seen has left me puzzled at the man's street cred. These films are neither all that nor a bag of chips. Is it a generational thing-- a case of them being the cat's pajamas back in the day but not holding up to a modern moviegoer? Or am I just one of the great unwashed, unable to appreciate a master's scraps if he dropped them into a bowl with my name on them?

The whole "Where's Hitchcock" cameo thing is pretty cool, though. If I were his estate, I'd totally sue those Waldo guys.

Comments (9) | last by Mustak, Apr 11, 8:17 AM

Season's Greetings

I imagine that people who send holiday cards send out a LOT of them, which must be a fairly time- and labor-intensive process. On the other end, the recipient typically gets a canned greeting and a hastily-scribbled signature.

To which I must ask, what's the point?

Spare me the clap-trap about "thinking of you" and "keeping in touch." I don't call sending out a generic card to everyone on your address list either of those things. People who take the time to write a meaningful personal note get partial exemptions, and there's a clear role for family newsletters and photo cards. But does this annual ritual constitute any kind of meaningful contact, or is it just a pro forma obligation people mark off their holiday checklists? Does the "thought" of sending something at all count more than the "thoughtlessness" of sending a Christmas-themed card to someone of a non-Christian faith?

I received two cards today. One was custom designed and contained a nice personal note of fairly little substance, yet sufficient to make me think fondly about the senders and want to drop them an equally hollow let's-continue-to-keep-in-touch-despite-having-nothing-really-to-say-to-each-other reply. The other was a generic winter holiday card with pagan/Christian associations from a far-away friend, with no personal comment at all. It was nice of the sender to take the time and expense to include me-- a little unexpected frisson in the mailbox-- but the generic nature of the card created conflict between sorrow at the lost opportunity for personal contact and pleasure at the regard implied by even being included on the sender's list.

I don't mean to be ungrateful for being thought of, but then that's the crux of the question-- is it, truly, the thought that counts? Does cranking up the holiday card assembly line constitute genuine thought? Who's season's really being celebrated, the sender's or the recipient's? Would just a 1-2 minute personal phone call rate higher on the warm fuzzy scale than a canned card? Do holiday cards really say, "Thinking of you!" or just "Going through the motions!"?

Comments (22) | last by Jean, Aug 16, 12:22 PM

My automobile registration renewal notice came yesterday.

"Marge vs. the Monorail" was a terrific episode of The Simpsons featuring homages to The Flintstones and The Music Man, plus the memorable Monorail Song. Watching it has never failed to elicit a few laughs. But day by day, that episode has become a little less funny as life in Seattle has imitated art.

Last year, voters passed a referendum to fund a new genuine, bona fide, electrified, six-car monorail line through the city. The plan was a pundit's wet dream, the butt of many jokes and amused editorials. Then it passed. And suddenly nobody's laughing. Fighting about the route and the location of new monorail stations, yes. Laughing? Not so much.

On The Simpsons, the project was funded from a massive fine paid by energy baron Monty Burns. In Seattle, none of the local gazillionaires are stepping up to the plate. Instead, the plan will be funded by an annual auto tax. Which brings me back to that $165 renewal notice. Less than $30 of that is for the actual license renewal. $34 is for a local transit tax. And $98 is for the construction of the freaking monorail. The last time I paid that much for a monorail, there was a fairy tale castle at one end and a geodesic sphere at the other. I know retro is in but if we're going to resurrect 1960s visions of the future, my vote goes to personal jet packs. Now that's something for which I'd gladly pay a hundred greenbacks.

Comments (2) | last by Russell, Dec 20, 9:37 PM

Austin Powers in Goldmember

Why do people continue to flock to theaters in droves to see this tripe?

Each film reuses jokes from the previous one (this one even made a joke about doing so!) and becomes progressively less funny. As with the previous two films, the best thing about Goldmember was the opening credits. I laughed out loud at the celebrity cameos, especially Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito. But it was a freefall plummet from there.

Biggest gripe: Goldmember himself was a non-character. Not only was he completely superfluous to the plot, but he just wasn't funny. Even Dr. Evil was tiresome this time around, and that must have been the easiest paycheck Robert Wagner has ever picked up.

I saw this film for free and I still feel cheated. Behave indeed.

Comments (2) | last by Travis Eberle, Dec 16, 7:57 PM

Survivor Finale

Yay! Finally, a Survivor winner who deserves the title. Way to go, Sandra. I was praying Lill would give Jon the boot, thereby allowing him no opportunity to slime into a victory, but worried that she'd be smart enough to know that she couldn't beat Sandra. Sadly, she also thought she couldn't beat Jon and decided she'd rather Sandra get the money. And that's a very understandable line of reasoning. Jon may have irked people, but he played the game very well. There's always the chance that the jury would set their personal feelings aside and give the money to the player who played the best game (c.f. Richard Hatch). In the case of Lill vs. Jon, Jon was unquestionably the better player.

As I said on Thursday, I went into tonight with Lill as my #1 choice and Sandra #2. But as the final tribal council unfolded, I reversed my votes. Much as I rooted for Lill, Sandra played a far better game. Kudos to her for a well-deserved victory.

Meanwhile... could you possibly love Rupert more? A shame he'll get voted off the All Stars the moment the tribes merge...

Comments (3) | last by Don, Dec 15, 12:45 PM

Hypocrites

"You voted for her, you twit!"

That's what I shouted at the TV tonight upon hearing Burton's self-serving final words against Lill. If I hadn't already been rooting for his demise, that would have been enough to send me into a little happy dance when his flame was snuffed. What a hypocrite. He was an idiot for picking Jon for the reward and leaving the three women alone at camp, and he paid for it. Take your licking along with your car. Some people only got one chance at the game, bozo. You got two and still couldn't close the deal. Don't let the bitterness hit you on the ass on your way out.

I have to admit that I'm a hypocrite, too. As time's passed, the thought of Burton winning the game after getting voted out the first time really rubbed me the wrong way. It would feel unjust for him to win because of an unexpected rebuy. And yet I'm rooting for Lill. Same circumstances, same unjustness. But in her case I don't care. Maybe it's because I felt she was booted unfairly the first time. Maybe it's because she's the underdog. For whatever reason, a victory for Lill wouldn't bother me a bit.

I've been a Darrah detractor in the past, but anyone who can win three immunity challenges in a row has staked a deserving claim to the prize. I'd rather she not win, but I can't say she hasn't earned it in the end.

Sandra's my #2 preference. You have to admire her no-nonsense approach to the game. That lady's got moxie.

The winner, of course, will probably be the least desirable of them all-- Jon. He's already been on the island 35 days too long in my book. He's worked to get where he is, no doubt about it. But I just don't cotton to 'im. His sorry ass belongs on the jury bench, not in the winner's circle.

Remember: the finale is this Sunday, followed by the live reunion show. TiVo owners, add the reunion manually since your Season Pass won't get it (although a Wishlist will).

Comments (7) | last by Brian L, Dec 14, 9:14 AM

He's Still Got It

Eleven years later, and Calvin and Hobbes is still the world's funniest comic strip.

In other news: Ziggy, Garfield still not funny. Even in Spanish.

Comments (8) | last by Dan Blum, Dec 12, 7:04 AM

Feed Me

For years, there have been only two applications I use day in, day out, every day: my email client and my web browser. Recently I've added a third, which is almost to the Web what Tivo is to television. Now I can't imagine being without an RSS aggregator.

"A whaaaaaaaaaa?" I hear you grunt. Increasingly, web sites are offering their content in two distinct flavors. HTML is what we see when we visit with our browser, and it's all most people know about. XML is the wizard behind the curtain. It often doesn't contain a site's content per se, but rather a description of that content. Big deal, you say? Actually, it is. Those descriptions-- offered in a consistent format-- are called RSS feeds. And where your web browser can understand and display HTML pages, other applications can understand and display these RSS feeds.

An RSS aggregator collects these feeds into one convenient interface, notifying you when something new is published on the feed. If you read a bunch of news sites or blogs, this means instead of visiting each one individually to see if there's anything new, your RSS aggregator will automatically tell you when anything happens on any of them. Then you just click on the feed to see what's there. It's kind of like having news stories or blog entries getting emailed directly to you, except they don't clutter up your mailbox.

I use SharpReader. I don't know if it's the best or fullest-featured, but it's free and I'm satisfied with it. I use it not just for news (Wired, Yahoo Entertainment) and blogs (Defective Yeti, Metafilter), but also for the latest comic strips (FoxTrot, PVP) and bargains (Slick Deals). Using an RSS aggregator makes it easy to bring the best of the web directly to you.

Anyone have other feeds to recommend?

Comments (5) | last by Chris M. Dickson, Dec 29, 9:05 PM

Gettin' It On, Super-style

I thoroughly enjoyed this week's Justice League. The writing was fantastic, with The Joker cracking me up multiple times. The format of the episode-- The Joker hosting a broadcast of the League's attempt to foil his plot-- worked beautifully, and Mark Hamill's Joker was delightful as ever. After seeing the Royal Flush Gang in Batman Beyond, it was great to see the origin of the group. And to top it all off, the long-simmering chemistry between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern finally paid off with some super-smooches. If the JL Watch Tower's a-rockin', don't come a-knockin'.

Checking It Twice

I know as the holidays approach, the thoughts of many Static Zombie readers have been troubled. "Peace on Earth and good will to men is all well and good," they worry, "but however am I going to decide what gift to get for Peter?" And so, as a service to you, I present my wishlist. Consider it my gift to you during this troubled holiday season. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some orphans to visit.

Comments (10) | last by Brian Bankler, Dec 8, 4:45 PM

Virus-- Help!

I appear to have a virus on my system, or I had one and now I've got a trojan. Every so often when I have Internet Explorer running and I navigate somewhere (especially on the 1st navigation after running IE), a new IE window gets spawned. This is especially odd since I have the Google Taskbar running with the pop-up blocker activated. Sometimes this window never shows up anywhere but the task bar, and then vanishes. Sometimes it appears off-screen as a 0-size window. Other times it's a pop-under with ads.

Task Manager shows no unusual processes running. My system registry has no unusual keys in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Run. I haven't found anything like this listed on AntiVirus sites, and my eTrust AntiVirus program doesn't detect anything awry. Has anyone else seen this? Help!

Comments (10) | last by Martin Orrego-Zwerling, Nov 30, 6:28 PM

Todd Newton has a pretty easy job on E!'s Coming Attractions. All he has to do is look affable and read the inane script off the teleprompter. Any monkey could do it.

Wrong.

Cindy Taylor, the guest host-du-jour on the show, makes Todd Newton look like Laurence Olivier. Her qualifications were apparently that she's easy on the eyes, because the Wizard's got her brains on a shelf somewhere in Oz. I'm being a bit harsh-- she manages to get all the words out, pronounced correctly and in the right order. But it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that zing. The dialogue she's given is dopey enough as it is-- when read by someone for whom Dick and Jane is heavy material, it's painful to watch.

I can only hope the casting couch doesn't chafe.

Comment (1) | last by Jake, Dec 5, 10:41 AM

It Was 35 Years Ago Today

On December 3, 1968, I was born into a dark, barbaric world of discrimination. A world where the value of your birthright was dictated by the calendar. A world where children born at other times of the year got presents twice-- once for their birthday, once for the winter holidays-- but where the poor, sad children born in December got one "combined" gift. "This is for your birthday and Hannukah, dear." "Uh... gee, thanks. Oh, that birthday gift I gave you last May? That's for Hannukah, too."

It's not our fault we were born near the anniversary of Christ's manger debut. And as for Hannukah-- that sucker bobs and weaves its way around the calendar, just waiting to drive a haymaker into defenseless newborn children. So remember, people-- two celebrations, two gifts.

Think of the children.

Comments (17) | last by Peter's mom, Dec 16, 10:22 AM

ESPN has long mastered the art of making good poker into bad TV. Who knew bad poker could be good TV?

Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown showcased some pretty poor poker. In fairness, all the exposure the game's received lately has raised the bar pretty high. Plunk a bunch of celebrity amateurs at a table and it's bound to be ugly. Sure enough, the first outing saw baffling raises, insane calls, and some flat-out appalling luck. But that they-could-do-anything-because-they-don't-know-any-better factor made it fun to watch.

I love Kevin Pollak, and his Christopher Walken intro was hilarious. But after that, he wasn't on the A material. Poker pro Phil Gordon provided some great incredulous commentary-- it's always fun to make fun of celebs. I particularly liked the fact that players moved to the "Loser's Lounge" when they're knocked out where they can comment on the action and hope they'll show more of it next time around.

As an hour show, we only see a scant few hands. This makes the action seem disjointed, as players who were far ahead before the commerical suddenly drop to the back of the pack upon return. Room for improvement, then, but still an entertaining hour and one I intend to track faithfully.

Comments (2) | last by Stephen Glenn, Dec 6, 7:20 AM

hi peter...
my name is [name withheld]...and i want recive all the report which is include gatthering......i will play a game with you...can you find my adress....and forget payable checque...i think you would sent thoese report free to me..."i dont have any money"......there is country; Turkey, the town is; Konya...but i dont want to give you my adreses....i think that report is only issue 11...but if there is other report, whay not..sent them to me to...

i think you can find my adress.my heart is with you...i will pray for you....but if you dont, do this..mail me at [email address withheld] .... then i can send you my real adress.....

have a grateful day.....

[name withheld]

Comments (7) | last by Chris M. Dickson, Dec 3, 2:27 PM

Knowing When to Fold 'Em

While visiting my parents in New Jersey for Thanksgiving, we took a drive out to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut-- a very nicely designed and attractively appointed complex, including a couple of smoke-free gaming areas. I was disappointed and flabbergasted, however, to discover they had recently removed their poker room. There was no poker to be had in the casino unless it came on a video monitor. Rumor has it the casino has decided to remodel and establish a world-class poker room which can play host to some of the high-profile events being seen on television of late. But it strikes me as a bizarre move to completely remove your poker room in the midst of what may be the greatest surge of interest in the history of the game. Then again, I don't understand how anyone would pay $14.00 for a handful of cashews from their mini-bar, either. That's one serious case of the munchies.

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