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Archive for July, 2007

Week in review

July 25, 2007 2 comments

Monday and Tuesday of this week were eaten up by Orientation at the old college, which was, shall we say, interesting. It was fairly pedestrian fare, learning about class registration and not sexually harassing classmates and the like. But, of course, this was coupled with feel-good speechifying, of the sort of “You are engineering seeds, waiting to bloom!” (I kid you not) One bit perked my ears up in particular, where some College of Engineering fellow stood in front of us and said, “You all have a dream, you’re all going to graduate.” Now, the way I’ve heard it, the speech used to go, “Look to your left and right. One of the three of you will graduate.” But that’s not a very nice thing to say, now is it?

The whole affair was complicated by the parent’s orientation, which was essentially the college folks making sure the parents thought they’d made a good investment, and giving them a sense of security in sending their kid off. In any meeting where the parents and students were both present, the niceties were doubled. My very favorite was a cutesy presentation with pictures of animals accompanying trite quotes that were framed as “keys to college success.” These included such winners as “Love with all your heart”, “take naps with your friends”, and “close your eyes and smile.” Once again, I kid you not.

It wasn’t all bad, though. At least the food was good, and there were times of concentrated information that actually were very enlightening. I think I have a grasp on the process now.  But I’m awfully worried about a warning issued during one of the other speeches that stated that I “might maybe have to actually work hard.”

On another topic, the new Guitar Hero game is pretty sweet. It has far fewer songs than the previous two, with the same price tag, which leaves a nasty taste in my mouth — especially because it’s essentially the same game as GH2, with the same menus, locales, characters, and such. Accordingly, the development costs, I would imagine, were far lower than that of either of the previous two.

With the price tag out of the way, though, it’s great fun. All of the material that was borrowed from GH2 has had minor graphical alterations, making it more 80s-esque. In other words, everything gets a clashing color scheme. The song list is enjoyable, although rather short, as stated. There are plenty of catchy tunes, with guitar parts that are interesting and new to me, even though I’ve played through the previous two games.

The entire idea of the 80s edition is an interesting one, and one I wish they’d begun sooner. My ideal business model for the games would be regular releases of song-packs (i.e. the same game, just with different songs), for a relatively low price ($20). The song-pack model has been adopted by DDR, but with a rather steep price tag.

My one enduring hope, however, is the XBox 360. Not only because it will be able to play both GH3 and Rock Band (the latter of which will not be released for the PS2, which I own), but because the online store attached to the 360 already has some purchasable songs for GH2. The problem there is that it’s inordinately expensive. The songs, which are GH1 songs being re-released for GH2, come in 3-song packs, which are $6.25 each. To purchase all 47 songs from the first GH would cost $98, and still require purchase of GH2 to use them. Lower the price, increase selection, and I’ll be all over that.

My high school starts classes today. Weird.

Categories: Gaming, Real Life

Dual quagmires: internet law and copyright law

July 18, 2007 3 comments

A few months ago, being an avid listener of Pandora Internet Radio, I shared their concern at a recent ruling handed down by the Copyright Royalty Board which would drastically increase royalty fees required from online radio stations. Essentially, as I understand it, the system currently works by having the internet radio broadcasters pay a reasonable percentage of their profits to SoundExchange, a non-profit that then distributes the “royalties” to the artists. Using provided data from the broadcasters, SoundExchange pays the artists their cut directly, and then gives the labels their cut as well.

Overall, not a bad system, in my opinion. However, this ruling I mentioned would change the system to charging rates based on collecting a fee per-listener per-play of each song. And because of the format, this would drastically increase the fees required across the board, essentially shoving many of the smaller stations out of business. It would also severely threaten the livelihood of even the largest broadcasters, like Pandora, because they have so many thousands of listeners.

In addition, Pandora would get a special kick in the pants because, unless I’ve read the whole thing wrong, the $500 minimum fee per-channel or -station would apply to each and every one of the personal stations that Pandora allows you to create and tune. I personally use two such channels daily, and there’s no way I generate $1000 of ad revenue to cover those two.

Now, back to my point. When I first read about this, I figured it was probably just some money-grubbers trying to grab more green for themselves. Of course, how could they not see that increasing the royalty rates so much would actually decrease their revenues to nothing by making the fees unpayable? It crossed my mind that the intention could be to push the webcasters out of business, but everyone loses by preventing the webcasters from making money. It just didn’t add up.

And then comes this little gem which is the end-product of all the formal complaints and protests, which states that the minimum fee would be capped at $50,000 (100 stations) for all webcasters who “work to stop users from engaging in ‘streamripping.'” For those unfamiliar with streamripping, most programs that play a digital music stream just play the audio and display the artist and track names (“metadata”) provided by the stream. However, streamrippers actually save this information to your hard drive, so that, after listening, what you get is a drive full of recorded audio complete with track and artist listings.

I’m not going into the legality of this, but the point is that any sort of such “work” to stop streamripping, as discussed in the most recent link, would involve some sort of Digital Rights Management, the music industry’s attempt to maintain a stranglehold on “their property” (the music that you bought and paid for).

Now, I’m a firm believer in the “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity” philosophy, but I just can’t explain this one away. Except that this latest revelation shows an interesting and frightening possibility. Finally, someone has something to gain: the labels can get their dirty little DRM fingers into internet radio by using this proposed rate hike to extort the webcasters into adopting their standards … or else.

Now, I feel vaguely dirty typing out such an outlandish conspiracy theory, but so far, it’s the only explanation that makes sense, aside from greedy hubris on an epic scale.

At any rate, this is rather worrisome.

Categories: Uncategorized

Hey man, you gotta see this

July 13, 2007 4 comments

The entire topic of classic movies has always been a somewhat nebulous one, because there are all these landmark films that “everyone should see” that are, like much of the literature I am compelled to read in school, crap. I can accurately pin down when I realized this fact, because it happened after I viewed the “classic” science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. (As an aside, it is worth not that I probably saw this film during or shortly after 2001. )It was a public screening at the local science museum, and I remember sitting through most of it scratching my head and wondering why this was so interesting.

I actually had a similar experience with the only other Kubrick film I’ve, seen, Full Metal Jacket. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make me get up out of my seat either. I actually enjoyed the first half with R. Lee Ermey as Sgt. Hartman more than the latter half that was supposed to show “the way things were” in Vietnam.

Now, I’ve seen these films once each, and it’s entirely possible that I missed some deeper artistic level to the films, but that is itself missing the point of my argument: they’re just not “classic,” in any meaningful sense I can find.

On the topic of Kubrick films, I have two rather strong associations from what I’ve been told about two of his other movies. The first is A Clockwork Orange, which my father has described as painful to watch; from everything I’ve seen about it, this seems to be something of a consensus. On the other hand, I have it on good authority that Dr. Strangelove is an excellent film; I’m actually meaning to get around to seeing it one of these days. Take that as you will.

And while I’m contradicting my own thesis (“classic” movies are junk, for those of your who left your notebooks at home), I believe the Die Hard series bears mentioning. I just finished watching the third movie in the series, after seeing the first, fourth, and second, in that order. And they are uniformly awesome. After seeing the fourth movie with some friends, I heard them attempting to rank it among the other three; I couldn’t really contribute because I hadn’t seen the middle two. But now that I have, I’d have to say that any ranking for me would be impossible. They’re just such quintessential action flicks that the antics of John McClane grab at the heart of any American. Because that’s what McClane is: a top-notch American.

In the fourth Die Hard, at one point, during a driving scene, McClane’s hacker sidekick asks him why he does all of this, running around the country and thwarting evil plots. After acknowledging that it’s been a long string of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he states that he has to because if he doesn’t, no one else will. He’s got to be the hero.

One a sort of related note, I find it interesting that Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth movie, was released as Die Hard 4.0 outside the States. I guess the rest of the world doesn’t understand living free?

Categories: Real Life

If you don’t have anything nice to say

July 11, 2007 2 comments

I haven’t updated in almost a week, and that’s because I don’t really have anything to say.

I have shifted fully into summer break mode, and accordingly have become apathetic to much of the world. The short of it is that I’m in a sort of lull. I sort of expected this, and so I’m running with it.

I’m largely disconnected from the outside world, aside from what portion of it flows through the internet to my computer. I’ve been spending most of my days at home, working for Mentor Media, having fun, and working on my guitar. Although you couldn’t tell it from looking at this blog, this summer has probably been my most productive to date.

However, it’s dull. But that’s the way I like it. A simple day where I make my own hours and have my own fun. It is not, however interesting. And that’s why I haven’t been writing on my normal schedule: I don’t really have much to say.

For now, posting will be erratic. I’m not sure what will happen once I head off to college: I’d like to think I’ll have plenty to say and I’ll pick this back up again, as regular as I’ve been in the past. But I’ve never been much of one for predicting the future.

See you soon.

Categories: Metablog

Wait, what were we talking about?

July 4, 2007 2 comments

When I started my PC gaming back in middle school, it was because a PC was what I had. Well, that, a Half-Life installer disc, and an internet connection. What that added up to was Counter Strike, the online first-person shooter that really got me started in gaming. I dabbled elsewhere, like Team Fortress Classic and Warcraft 3, among others, but it was all PC based. The games have changed since then, but the rationale has stayed more or less the same: I am a PC gamer because I have a PC. I don’t play, XBox 360 games because, obviously, I don’t own one.Now, there are a few notable exceptions to this. The most obvious is my infatuation with Guitar Hero. This actually stemmed from a similar rationale, which came about after my sister acquired a Playstation 2 and GH. I played the PS2 because we had it. Well, that and the idea of a guitar game sounded pretty cool. But once again, it was a case of already having the required hardware through no direct action of my own, and simply putting it to good use.

Now, I mention having the required hardware because it’s worth noting that I can hardly claim the “I play because I already own what it takes” excuse with my modern PC gaming. This is because almost all of the components in my current PC were purchased specifically to enhance the gaming capability of my computer. Now, these have been relatively minor purchases, usually resulting in the acquisition of parts that are far flung from the state of the art. But that’s never really a problem since I don’t do much cutting-edge gaming anyways.

But the reason I don’t buy top of the line equipment is because my discretionary income is entirely self-earned. I have to work for all of the dollars I would spend on the $400 graphics card instead of a $120 model, and I have to ask myself if the difference is really worth the price gap. Furthermore, my discretionary income must also provide for every other luxury I might care for: CDs, movies, games, etcetera. In short, being having a top-of-the-line machine and no games to play on it isn’t much fun.

But this acquired fiscal responsibility is a source of much trepidation any time I make a major purchase, and especially when it involves breaking from my established paradigm of PC gaming to acquire the holy grail of portable gameplay: the Nintendo DS. As astute readers will realize, I bought just such an item a while ago, because I examined the market and felt that it offered too much excellent gameplay for such an affordable price to turn down. Especially in light of my soon-to-be dynamic location (i.e. moving into a dorm), any conventional console, such as a Nintendo Wii or XBox 360 would require me to also have a television to accompany it to be utilized; the DS, of course, comes standard with not one but two screens.

That is not to say that I was not tempted to purchase one of the two consoles I mentioned earlier: the 360 and the Wii. The Wii has the advantage that it’s extremely compact, rather inexpensive, and offers a truly unique gaming experience with it’s controller, the Wiimote as it’s slangingly called. On the other hand, the 360 serves as a full media center, as well as having amazing graphics and remarkable online capability. But it’s not so easy on the wallet.

Consoles certainly have the advantage that, because every console is identical in terms of hardware, the software can be fine-tuned to run perfectly on it. PCs take a hit here because, due to their highly customizable nature, each one has different hardware limitations. But the PC also has one advantage that consoles could easily compete with if they wished to: the keyboard and mouse interface. I know that some people will swear by the XBox controller, or any other controller for that matter, but to me nothing can touch the flexibility of a keyboard and good four-button mouse.

Actually, there is one thing that is, in some uses, superior to the keyboard half of the keyboard-mouse duality: the Nostromo n52 Speedpad. It’s a grouping of 14 keyboard-like buttons with a 4-way directional pad and some other thumb buttons, not to mention the scroll wheel. It’s got a bit of a learning curve to it, but once you get used to it, as I have, you’ll swear there’s no going back. And yet the console makers don’t want to let me use my custom input devices with their consoles, for some reason I can’t fathom. I mean, just imagine what I could do in Halo 2 on the 360 with one of those and a good optical mouse.

So anyways, where was I? Oh heck, I don’t even know. That’s a number of different topics mashed into one: fiscal responsibility, consoles versus PCs, the history of my gaming, etc. That’s what I get for blogging late at night.

Categories: Gaming, Real Life

The Elderly Dancing Radar Abomination From The Sewer: The True Story

July 2, 2007 2 comments

Saturdays hold a special place in any teenager’s heart because it symbolizes the one perfect day out of the week: no work, no school, no reason to get up in the morning, and no work or school the next day. While I’m on break, I tend to think of every day as a Saturday. The world, not content to let me hold this conception, decided that this past Saturday that it would make sure that I remember what a particular awesome day Saturday is. To top off a week with a promising job interview and an amazing movie (Live Free or Die Hard), and other things, I started off with a gathering with friends to celebrate the passing of birthdays and play games.

As it turned out, there was some more celebration yet to conclude concerning my graduation, which involved copious and generous presents, for all of which I am yet grateful. And while I was there, we got on to the topic of Bob’s B-Movie Title Generator, which sparked my interest. So, out of curiosity and for fun, I set about porting the whole thing into Python. The final product is a nearly exact replica, with its only variation being an intentional one.

Okay, so that whole gathering was totally sweet. And after that, were the Raleigh Little Theatre Cantey Awards, a night of celebration of the past season. As it happened, because of my internship and after-school volunteering, I’ve actually worked on every show in the 2006-2007 season. As it happens, the Theatre found this worthy of recognition, by awarding me an Al Wolfheimer Volunteer Service Award, “Wolfie” for short. It wasn’t entirely surprising, but I will admit that it wasn’t until about a month ago that it really occurred to me how much I have done over the past year. My after-school work just became so integral with school, that the passing of an entire year seemed too short. I’m just happy that I got to spend so much time helping Roger Bridges, the Theatre’s Technical Director.

He’s leaving in a few weeks to get married and move up to Washington D.C., where he will be fabulously happy and wealthy and have many children — or something in that vein. At any rate, I’m very happy for him. I know leaving his job and the RLT community is going to be very hard on him, and it’ll be hard on us too. Losing him will be particularly sobering for me because, well, I’ve never known a world without him. I became the person that I am today, with my strong opinions and convictions and such, in high school. And growing up, as I did, spending a lot of time around RLT, Roger became a sort of father figure in a way that my father wasn’t. Now, let me disclaim the following by saying that my father is mine and I wouldn’t trade him for all the tea in China. See, Roger is a dude. My father has prepared me excellently to be a thinking, rational, and logical member of society. But Roger showed me how to be a guy. If you’ve met him, you’ll know what I mean, and if you haven’t, well, more’s the pity. At any rate, he’s going to be missed.

So anyways, where was I? Oh, right, the Canteys. So after the Canteys, a bunch of RLT folks ended up adjourning to a piano bar, which my sister Ruth dragged me to. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. It was pretty much karaoke, but with broadway tunes sung by people who are actually qualified to do so. The cover was steep, since I am under 21 and therefore wouldn’t be recouping them their costs buy consuming alcohol, but that was okay. The whole night was worth it for the drive home where my sister and I sang along with the radio at the top of our lungs. Probably the best part of the whole thing was when “The Power of Love” by my man Huey came on and we just belted it out. Ahh, good times.

Hmm, well, wasn’t that fun? I generally dislike posts of this format that talk about all the stuff the writer did that day, but I thought this past Saturday was meritorious enough to bear blogging about. Ah, good times.

Categories: Uncategorized