August 2004 Archives

A Few Notes

Attention casting directors: In addition to "the gay guy" and "token black guy", please add "people who vocally trust in the Lord instead of taking responsibility for their own fate" to the list of overused character types we don't need to see anymore on reality shows. Thank you for your attention.

Comment (1) | last by Howard M. Lewis Ship, Sep 2, 11:58 AM

Good Fences

My next-door neighbors have been renovating their house for the past few months. And when I say next-door, I mean take three steps from my house and you're at their house. There's been lots of early-morning loudness, construction equipment, and so forth. None of which has actually bothered me, as it turns out, so it's been easy to be a good neighbor and accommodate their needs, like moving my car out of the driveway so they could get equipment in. No big deal, really.

Tonight one of those neighbors rang my bell to give me a home-made plum tart (which was delicious) as a partial thanks for my being so easy-going about the whole affair. And, since my car has been blanketed with dust and what-not in the course of construction, they gave me a certificate for a free car detailing.

I just thought it was a very nice and unexpected gesture. Have you done anything nice for your neighbors recently?

Comment (1) | last by Larry, Aug 30, 6:04 AM

Fan Films

If you've got some bandwidth to spare, satisfy your inner geek by visiting, your source for fan-made movies. The quality certainly varies, and there's a preponderance of Star Wars material, but some efforts are truly remarkable. I've barely scratched the surface, but the film that first brought me here is Grayson, and it's well worth a look. Made for $18,000 in 18 months and filmed mostly in the parking garage of the director's apartment complex, Grayson is a trailer for a film that doesn't exist. The premise is that Dick Grayson has quit the crime-fighting game, grown up, married former Batgirl Barbara Gordon and even had a daughter. But then Batman goes and gets himself killed, and Dick dons the old tights to get whodunnit. The trailer features appearances by Batgirl, Catwoman, The Joker, The Riddler, Penguin, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern, and despite this kitchen-sinkism is quite a remarkable achievement for such a low budget effort. If I were a film student I'd be totally inspired.

iPod Update

You guys are the bestest. Enough people have signed up with my link that, if all of them complete their offers, I'll have enough for the iPod. So please, if you signed up but don't intend to complete the deal, let me know so I don't count on you.

Even though the Blockbuster deal says you only get credit at the end of the 2 weeks, Craig signed up for it and got credited the same day. So that may be the easiest offer to go for, since you could then cancel before your 2 free weeks are up.

Assuming everyone will come through, that means the conga line advances. Anyone new should please use this link to help Chris get his iPod. Thanks, everyone! I'll keep you posted.

Comments (11) | last by Chris Lemon, Aug 28, 2:55 AM

iPod Me

You may have heard about the web sites that have popped up offering free iPods. I did some research, and according to everything I've found, they're not a scam. Wired even did a positive write-up on them. So I decided to try it out. That's where you come in.

Follow this link to sign up, then complete one of the sponsor offers. I chose the Infone offer, which requires a credit card but the card will never get charged if you don't use the service, and just for signing up with Infone you get a $10 Amazon gift certificate. Sweet.

If 5 people do this, I'll get a free iPod. And those 5 people can in turn recruit 5 people of their own to get their own iPod. And so on. Sounds pyramidal, but there's no cost to you. And people really are getting iPods.

If you use the above link to help me out (which means going all the way through the process and completing the sponsor offer), feel free to post your own referrer link in the comments and we'll get a conga line going. Free iPods for everyone!

Comments (31) | last by Matt Chris, Aug 1, 2:47 PM

Changes on Millionaire

The syndicated Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? will have three changes this season, generally making the show a little easier with one hand while taking a smidgeon of cash away with the other.

The payout schedule is changing around the latter third of the game. Instead of 16, 32, 64, 125, 250 for questions 9-13, contestants will now be competing for 16, 25, 50, 100, 250. If you make it to 250 it won't matter, but stopping before that point will leave you with less cash than before. On the other hand, the pot odds for question 13 are now much better, with a payout of 2:1 instead of 1.34:1.

To compensate, there are two lifeline changes. Ask the Audience will now effectively be "Ask the Audience and AOL". AOL Instant Messenger users can sign up to be IM'd during taping when someone uses this lifeline, allowing them to provide their answer. The contestant will then see separate stats for the in-studio audience and the AOL users. A great interactive element for fans, and more data for the contestant to consider. Since the AOL crowd will be a self-selecting group of game show fans, I'd expect their success rate to be higher than the audience's-- it will be interesting to see how that pans out.

Contestants will also receive a new lifeline at question #11. Switch the Question will allow contestants to throw out the current question and receive a new one instead, with no obligation to answer (they can still choose to walk away). This could prove to be a great lifesaver, or it could put someone in an even worse pickle. Still, I would have liked having that option when I got to question 14...

The net effect of these changes should be that more contestants who reach the second plateau will go on to win at least $250,000, but we may well see more players bail at $16,000 now since the pot odds for question 10 are much worse (.6:1 instead of 1.06:1). Then again question 10 may have been too rich before, since in addition to the guaranteed cash you also win a free guess at the next level.

One thing's for sure, the new lifelines will certainly make the upcoming season more interesting to watch. And a big shout out to my man Fingertips, who just got the postcard saying he's in the contestant pool. Congrats, and I hope you get the fateful phone call.

Comment (1) | last by Tim H., Aug 25, 10:18 AM

It's official: Adria's an idiot. Not only did she cast the deciding vote to evict Will, thereby guaranteeing that should she make it to the final two Will would certainly not vote for her, she asked everyone to put her in that position. That's just insane. The last thing you want to do is be seen wielding the dagger when you stick it in someone's back. Making yourself hated can be a viable strategy-- it worked for a different Will in Big Brother 2-- but that needs to be a general loathing as opposed to a fiery enmity fueling a red-hot need for reprisal, as Karen is now feeling. Nikomus is none too happy with Adria either, and as the new HoH I'd lay money on an Adria/Natalie nomination (unless she holds Natalie in reserve in case Adria wins the veto). Eliminating Will, knocking the Will-Karen-Nikomus alliance down to two-- was not necessarily a bad idea, but doing it so flamboyantly was idiotic.

Reality Meltdown

Spoiler alert. Read no further if you haven't seen this week's episode of The Amazing Race.

I really thought this was going to be a non-elimination leg, so I was very surprised when Mirna and Charla were eliminated. And while Mirna continued to display no redemptive character traits ("Who's feeling hungry? Oh, Charla is." Way to step up, chippie. Did Mirna even do a single Road Block on the entire race?), it's Colin and Christie's downfall I'm now eagerly awaiting. Mirna was unlikeable, but these two are just plain nasty and vindictive.

Meanwhile, on Big Brother 5, Adria's living proof of the old saw about absolute power corrupting absolutely. She's managed to alienate most of the house and scarcely seems to realize it. Her nomination speech was the most condescending thing I've heard in five seasons of the show. She should be hyper-sensitive to the reality that as twins, she and Natalie are a scary threat to everyone else. She should be walking on eggshells to avoid becoming the next target, not going on a power trip and making unilateral decisions. I wash my hands of the whole affair and officially hop off the Adria train.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure which would be worse-- being on peanut butter and jelly for a week or having to watch Without a Paddle.

Comments (5) | last by Jodi Longobardo-Bauer, Aug 19, 8:49 PM

Mounting and Dismounting

I caught a bit of the women's gymnastics tonight. What's with the red latex unitards and lip gloss on the American team? Just slap some fishnets and pumps on those girls and have done with it. The whole competition is nothing more than an infomercial for a white slavery ring.

Comment (1) | last by Stephen Glenn, Aug 18, 5:57 AM

The Only Thing That Matters

I only wish this trailer was for real. Brilliant. The "Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo" sequence is hilarious.

Comments (3) | last by Nathan Beeler, Aug 15, 6:35 PM

Holy Disaster

TiVo recorded the 1997 Batman & Robin film, and since I hadn't seen it, I figured I'd give it a look.

Oh. My. God.

There was nothing-- and I mean nothing-- redeemable in this film. It went to hell in a handbasket right out of the gate with the flashy-blinky Batmobile and poorly-scripted video call from Commissioner Gordon (looking and sounding far more like TV's Chief O'Hara). Then... Mr. Freeze. Where to begin? They got the character all wrong. For the right way to do Mr. Freeze, look no further than the Batman animated series. Freeze should be cold and detached in his anguished, single-minded pursuit of a cure for his wife. He should not chew the scenery. He should not toss off one-liners. He should not have a coterie of minions recruited from the Mighty Ducks bench. He should not be enraptured by The Year Without A Santa Claus and force everyone to sing the Heat Miser song. He should not suffer the attentions of a scantily-clad babe whose presence among the underlings makes no apparent sense.

And then... Robin crashes into the museum on his motorcycle, leaving a hole in the wall the perfect shape of the bat signal! He then not only clings to a rocket streaking skyward under absurd G-forces, but climbs it and pulls himself inside. When Freeze blows the hatch on the rocket, the compartment does not decompress. Don't even get me started on the whole "surfing the hatch doors without a parachute" escapade in which the laws of physics are completely suspended.

And I haven't even gotten to Bane, Poison Ivy, Batgirl, and the ludicrous art direction and set design.

George Clooney once joked about killing the franchise, but that burden falls on writer Akiva Goldsman and director Joel Schumacher. This would have made a spectacular starring vehicle for Adam West.

Comments (2) | last by Erin, Aug 18, 6:22 PM

Justice Unlimited Photos

Justice Unlimited

Last weekend I went to San Francisco for the latest Bay area Game, Justice Unlimited. The SF Game community is much larger and more active than Seattle's, and frankly seems more fun. In Seattle all the team names are colors which, while faithful to the source material, aren't much fun. SF teams get more creative with both naming and costuming, with teams like Orange Crush (clad in bright orange), Blinded By Science (wearing sunglasses and lab coats), and the Scooby Doobies (their van is, of course, a replica of the Mystery Machine). The Games themselves are also more publicized, without the cloak-and-dagger don't-talk-about-Fight-Club attitude prevalent in Seattle. All of these things are, in my opinion, Good Things which help make the experience more fun. We are team Briny Deep, the puzzle pirates, complete with pirate shirts, Jolly Roger head wraps, an anchor to toss overboard whenever we pulled up to a clue site, and a hearty "Yarrrrrr!" for all we meet.

At the start of the event, each team was given a groovy custom-made device that strapped to your forearm. It contained a two-line dot matrix display, a knob/button, and an infrared sensor. The device came preloaded with potentially useful information (Morse code, Braille, Semaphore, tide data, ASCII codes, etc), thereby ensuring that each team had any decoding data they might need. Each clue also contained a code which, when input into the device, yielded supplemental information (mostly just for flavor, unfortunately, but very occasionally containing a hint). Puzzle answers were intended to be input into the device as well to produce the next clue location, but sadly that aspect of the device didn't work and teams had to phone in our answers instead.

The event ran from 10 AM Saturday though about 4 PM Sunday and took us all around the Bay area starting at the SF Municipal Pier a stone's throw from Ghiradelli Square. Location-wise, the next stop was one of the coolest: the Bay Model, an enormous scale model of the Bay area used to simulate tidal and other natural effects. Teams had to identify parts of the map by matching line drawings of topography to the right part of the model-- a fun scavenger hunt activity that got all teams moving amongst each other.

Other highlights included the Bat Blinker, a custom-made electronic persistence of vision gizmo supplying an elegantly-designed AHA puzzle; searching the beach at night for a hidden clue, flashlight beams cutting through the mist to create an X-Files-like vibe; a wonderfully collaborative solve on an audio puzzle where high and low sound effects overlaying dialogue from the Daredevil movie mapped to-- what else?-- Braille; a clever puzzle in which multicolored plastic strips had to be threaded through like-colored metal connectors to create letters; and a very nice balancing puzzle involving coins and a ruler.

With very few exceptions (the beach, Bay Model, a mountainside, a park, and a rooftop), however, the locations were largely unremarkable and underutilized. We rarely had to really search for a clue, and consequently our out-of-van exposure at any given location was minimal. I'd have preferred the clues to either be better integrated with the environment or better concealed, so that we interacted with each location instead of just hopping out to grab the clue and then piling back into the van.

A couple of clues really spanked us hard. One, a rainbow jigsaw that had to be cut out and assembled, was just poorly designed. When the pieces were properly assembled, the resulting shape had the same number of rows as the letter grid we were to use to extract an answer, and the shape had irregular square gaps that just screamed to be utilized. Was the shape a physical mask to be overlain on the letter grid? Were the gaps some kind of mathematical encoding to determine which letter to extract from each row? No. They were just noise. Each piece of the puzzle was a different color, and each row of the grid was a color. If the color sequence was red, yellow, purple, orange, purple, green, blue, red, we were supposed to take the first letter from the red row, the second letter from the yellow row, the third from purple, and so forth. That's it. We wasted a lot of time analyzing the gaps which had absolutely no purpose in the puzzle. That's just poor puzzle design-- in this kind of event, where you're working without instructions, you don't throw false leads in front of people that can rathole them for an hour. In fact, you remove as much of that noise as possible to help funnel solvers to the correct approach. This puzzle aggravated us and left us disgruntled when we finally hit on the solution.

We also got spanked by a puzzle incorporating Heroclix figurines. The puzzle itself might have been fine a few hours earlier, but it hit us around 4 AM when our energy was at its lowest ebb. Four of our six players were asleep, and the other two were barely staying conscious. It was ugly-- especially coming off a semaphore puzzle that also spanked us because it appeared to be a completely different sort of puzzle, and consequently we overlooked an important bit of information.

There were some nice opportunities to draw on useless superhero knowledge gained through years of comic collecting in my adolescence-- a crossword puzzle where the clues were superheroes and the answers were their secret identities, and a quiz on superhero origins. I pray no Game ever has a Pokemon or gangsta rap theme.

Team Snout, Game Control for Justice Unlimited, generally did a terrific job. Aside from the DRUID problems (the whole infrared sensor thing never really worked right, either), the puzzles appeared to be error-free and Snout staff were unerringly upbeat and helpful when reached on the phone-- impressive, considering 25 teams were playing the Game (for comparison, only 9 teams played in Shelby Logan's Run in Vegas, the last Seattle-based game). Aside from reporting our answers, we generally called under two circumstances: when we were about to embark on a lengthy decoding process and wanted to make sure it wasn't going to be a blind alley; and when we were stumped and collectively agreed we weren't having fun anymore. Game Control was always happy to unblock us and keep us energized, which was exactly the right attitude.

I look forward to playing in the next Bay area game. If you'd like to join, Briny Deep may have a couple of spots available...

Comments (13) | last by Danielle, Aug 20, 9:09 PM

Call Off the Hounds!

Restoration Hardware is once again selling dice plates, and they've added a companion set of dice coasters to go along with them. I ordered mine today. And while I was at it, I figured I'd pick up a set of ace plates too. Retro poker night, here I come!

Many thanks to Janet Powers for tipping me off.

Comment (1) | last by Jack, Aug 3, 9:37 AM

On the way back from the Justice Unlimited Game (to be blogged about later), I was stopped at the Oakland airport security checkpoint because of the Maglite 3-D cell metal flashlight in my carry-on. It hadn't caused any problem on my flight out, but suddenly it was considered a potential bludgeoning weapon. Since it was a pretty new and nice flashlight, I decided to just check the bag instead.

Back in Seattle, I opened the bag to discover a Notice of Baggage Inspection-- indicating the bag had been opened after I checked it-- but the flashlight was missing. Had the flashlight been within arm's reach at that point, I would have used it to bludgeon someone.

I filed a report with the airline and have sent a claim form to TSA, but I'm expecting that it's just a loss. And frankly, I'm furious. Livid. Because if they had just let me carry the damn thing on, everything would have been fine.

The terrorists win again.

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