29 October 2011

Final Word On The Problem.

Okay, so I can get the missing icons back if I just use the new interface, which I don't really have a problem with save that every time I open it, I get this banner up top telling me my browser isn't supported and I should try Chrome.
As I've said, I don't use Chrome because of a conflict that causes my PC to randomly restart. Evidence to prove this: Once I uninstalled Chrome, it never happened again. Correlation isn't causation, true, but a quick search in the forums showed I'm not alone in this; XP does not get along with Chrome, and random restarts are among the side effects.
Apart from that, though, why wouldn't the latest version of Opera be supported?

In any case, the time seems to have definitely come for me to do something about my PC situation. As of now, I'm still running XP on a rig I've had since 2005 with no real updates or upgrades beyond a new graphics card and a second disc drive. The biggest problem I'm having is that apart  from Opera and Skype, no application that requires an internet connection will work, including other web browsers. I think that, with all the Linux distros I've experimented with, on top of everything else I've used this computer for, the hard drive has simply had enough and needs to be replaced. I get error messages, but any attempts to fix them turn up negative, so I think we're dealing with an outright hardware failing. The same thing happened to my iMac once upon a time. It was funny when I took it in to get repaired; it had a 10GB hard drive and the store said the smallest drive they could replace it with (and not charge me an upgrade fee) was 30GB.

Anyway, the plan now is that I'll be replacing my hard drive and maybe even upgrading to Windows 7, but since it will most likely be the starter edition, I'll also re-install Jolicloud and switch between the two as needed. For some strange reason (upsell, upsell, upsell) the starter edition of Windows 7 does not allow you to set your own desktop wallpaper, but Jolicloud can. I intend to only use Windows 7 for non-web related activities, such as editing audio (and maybe video) and using my scanner. Jolicloud will be used entirely for running Opera and maybe Chrome (in case Blogger decides it doesn't like Opera, the uncultured swine that it is). I may also be upgrading the motherboard with one I've had lying around for a while (long story, don't ask). I've been planning at least one aspect of this plan for some time, but I've never gotten around to it. Instead, I've just been cautious about saving things and backing up my data whenever I think to. In any case, if I do replace my hard drive, it'll just be for safety sake as I intend to store most of my stuff onto flash drives, as I've done for years. When I was using my little Linux computer Sophia (also a long story not worth asking about), I had an 8GB thumb drive in the USB port at all times, only using the onboard hard drive (which was actually a compactflash card with a special adapter, something I may employ for this upgrade) for applications.

In the end, for as mad as I was, it wasn't so much at Blogger or Google as much as it was the fact that I don't like being told to make upgrades that I already intend to do regardless. Speaking of journals, though, we'll end this on something slightly different:

DeviantART's new journal feature just annoys me. They've essentially turned journals into literature uploads, complete with being able to give favorites and share options. My question, what about all those losers (they know who they are) who just post song lyrics or other things like that? Journals aren't art, they're a means for artists to talk to their audience, whether to give them important updates or just to shoot the breeze, they're not things to be placed in frames and hung upon the wall. The point of journals was that DeviantART users could essentially say anything they wanted with no fear of getting taken down, suspended, or even banned because the journal was just a kind of soapbox for people to have their little say in whatever they were on about. Now, by putting them on the same level as works of art, they're going to take away that relative safety. Journals can now get popular the same way paintings can, and that's not a good thing.

I know whenever DeviantART makes a change, there's always some huffing and puffing and melodrama about getting used to the change, and in the end, we get used to them, but this time, I think they may seriously have done something wrong, and I don't think they can undo it. We'll see.

Good night, and good luck.

The problem, in a screenshot...

There's a thread about this: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/blogger/thread?tid=6a5d6d17bab37a7e&hl=en

See, I can't even make a link out of that.

28 October 2011

All But One Avenger... In A Way.

Just saw Captain America: The First Avenger, technically the fourth feature-length outing for the captain, if you're keeping score and are up to date on your obscure/forgotten film trivia. I was never a big fan of the character; I only had one issue of the comic as a kid, and it ended on a cliffhanger with him being prepared for a gender-swap. I kind of always meant to pick back up on that, but eventually I stop and just ask myself, "Why?" I think he's just kind of uninteresting, the same way Superman can be. He's too powerful and just doesn't have that many flaws or inner conflicts.
However, I was willing to give the movie a chance for two reasons, first being that Joe Johnston has never made a bad movie and I just knew in my heart he would respect the source material. Second, it kind of reminded me of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, but done just a little better (or so the trailers made it seem).
When all was said and done, I really wanted to like this movie, and while I don't hate it, I just found myself almost completely underwhelmed. at first, I thought it was just from being in something of a bad mood, but after letting it all sink in for a bit, I figured out the problem. It has the same overall fundamental flaw that Iron Man 2 had, that it was so busy setting up the next story that it took almost no time to tell its own. In Iron Man 2, this was just annoying because the story that we were left with once the setup was removed wasn't really any good. It was full of holes and gaps in logic bookended by a few semi-interesting action sequences. With Captain America, the story it told wasn't bad, but it was very straightforward and simple, but told at such a breakneck pace there was no time to really take anything in. Normally, I don't think a movie feeling too short is a bad thing; if anything, it means the movie has done its job by making me want to stay immersed in that world long after the credits roll. Here, though, it just felt rushed. This movie clocks in at about 2 solid hours, but there was more than enough content here for at least 2 and a half, and I would never have gotten bored or tired of what I was looking at. In short, I felt like I got shortchanged in favor of a franchise.
Thor, meanwhile, is my favorite of the lot. Everyone seemed to compare it right away to the Flash Gordon film, but I kept thinking of Masters of the Universe, especially with the way that much of the story is set on earth. There's a lot to dislike about the film, namely the fact that the small New Mexico town looked far too much like a set (and I'm from there, so I can tell you no small town looks like that nice), but that's hardly a dealbreaker and it's almost ironic that we're more willing to forgive and accept the fantastic settings than the "real" ones. It was also cool to see Colm Feore as Laufey, king of the frost giants, who were surprisingly scary. Most people may know Mr. Feore as the leader of the Necromongers of Riddick infamy, but, to me, he'll always be Glenn Gould.
I have not seen the newest Hulk, and frankly, nothing really makes me want to. I'm one of those weirdos who actually really likes the Ang Lee Hulk film, and not just because of my present-since-childhood crush on Jennifer Connelly. I was really disappointed that one wasn't better received. Sure, the ending was a bit weak, and Nick Nolte's anti-military speech seemed way more out of place than it should have, but it had a lot of good points. It embraced its comic book origins and did justice to the pathos of the main character. The new one, however, is a dull retread starring Edward Norton, possibly my least favorite actor in cinema, certainly in my bottom 5, alongside John Malkovich. I just don't get his appeal; nearly all of his movies have him playing a dual-natured character, which he only just about manages to pull off. There's also his off-screen antics, like constantly re-writing and ad-libbing his own lines as well as inviting himself into the editing suite to give himself more scenes, leading Tony Kaye to attempt replacing his director credit with "Humpty Dumpty" on American History X. Ego is a word that gets thrown about haphazardly when it comes to actors, but Norton seems to be one of the few actors to whom the term "egotist" actually applies.
So, am I excited about The Avengers in 2012? Honestly, not really. I think it's being built up too much and Marvel Studios is obsessing far too much with making a franchise that it's selling its setup films short.

10 October 2011

A Dungeon Crawler On 2600 That's Not Dragonstomper?

I can't believe this thing exists. It's an Atari 2600 game released in 1989, 5 years after the release of the Atari 7800* and the NES. It's not a homebrew game; it was made by a toy company called Axlon, which was actually owned by Nolan Bushnell, long after he'd left Atari in the hands of Warner Communications.

What's more surprising is how deep the game is. The last game to approach this level of complexity was Dragonsmasher from Starpath, and that required a special adapter to let the 2600 use cassette tapes instead of its typical cartridges. I wanted to bring this video here because it kind of gently ties into what I was talking about with derivative works. At first glance, this game made me think of the Swordquest games or Adventure or even Haunted House, which had rudimentary exploration elements. Mark Bussler of Classic Game Room made the comparison to Zelda, though I think the game has more in common with Namco's Tower of Druaga or Falcom's Ys series, especially the way the character runs into enemies with sword extended. All these comparisons may sound like I'm putting the game down, but I'm not. In fact, though I called it a dungeon crawler, Secret Quest is firmly in the science fiction genre, with space stations standing in for castles. The object of the game is to explore the station and collect symbols to enter into a command console in the center of each station. Then, a timer appears, giving the player only a scant few seconds to backtrack though the station and get to a teleporter and escape the detonation of the station. If you thought I was going to say, "Just like Metroid." I wouldn't blame you, but you'd be wrong; it's actually more like Major Havoc, an arcade game from Atari released in 1983.

*) Interestingly enough, the 7800 was backward compatible with 2600 games, which I think stands as a real testament to Nolan Bushnell's business genius. The 2600 was easy to develop for, and it still had a solid install base between people who still held onto their 2600s and people who had 7800s as well. Seriously, don't mess with this guy.

08 October 2011

Fan =/= Collaborator =/= Publicist =/= Martyr

I grew up in a Christian home. I not only went to church regularly and attended CCD (think Sunday School meets summer camp), but even volunteered as an altar server for many years. Of course, I'd be lying if those facts didn't come with the respective qualifiers: Whether I wanted to or not, which made up some of the worst social experiences of my childhood, and primarily because it looked like fun. Suffice it to say, I don't consider myself Catholic anymore. I still believe in God, but there were a few elements to the system (the Fan Club, as Marilyn Manson calls it) I could never quite get past, and not the typical "A-Ha! I'm on to you." ones like, "Why doesn't the Bible mention dinosaurs?" or, "Where did Cain find a wife?" Instead, they were more basic and fundamental.

The first is unconditional love. I mean, I get it, I guess, but I just find myself really uncomfortable with the idea. I would just rather earn it like anything else worth having. There's a little more to it than that, but we'll leave it there as the second item is the important one.

The second is martyrdom. There's nothing wrong with standing up for something you believe in, but expecting something in return to the point of demonizing people who don't reciprocate just doesn't sit well with me. Whatever happened to kindness being its own reward?

While this doubt had lingered in my mind for many years, it was a chain e-mail I got for Easter that, though meant to inspire and compel, really only served to highlight what I'd come to perceive as a self-deluded absurdity. You probably know the one, about the theology professor who offers donuts to his students and for each one he gives, whether they accept it or not, his star student has to do x number of push-ups, "So (name) can/not have a donut."

A better example is the opening scene of the Frank Oz film Housesitter, wherein architect Newton Davis (played by Steve Martin) presents an entire house as an engagement gift to his sweetheart, only for her to say, "No." This may or may not have been based on the tragic life story of Edward Leedskalnin, a Latvian sculptor who built Coral Castle to impress his betrothed after she left him at the altar.

It's all about expectations, and how your expectations of others should never play a role in your intentions.

When did "OMG, HOW I LOVE WHAT MY FANS DO FOR MEEEEE!" go from being a simple nicety to a litmus test for determining greed and authenticity? It's probably a little sad that the event that actually got me thinking about all this and digging up memories of my past and my religious views was Nintendo shutting down a fan-made, feature-length film based on the Legend of Zelda franchise (then again, I learned more about faith from Legend and Time Bandits than most any time spent in church, so it's not completely grabbing at straws). Called The Hero of Time, the film was produced entirely by volunteers over a period of four years. It was shown at a few film festivals and eventually uploaded to Dailymotion. Nintendo filed a cease & desist notice in 2009, but allowed the film to remain online until the end of the year.

As you might imagine, fans were outraged at Nintendo, with many forums and message boards bustling with outcries along the lines of, "How dare you! They're just fans who love the games so much. Who the Hell are you guys to crush their artistic spirit? George Lucas would never--" and so on and so forth. In all, the people the least bitter about the whole affair (at least, publicly) were the filmmakers themselves:

We understand Nintendo’s right to protect its characters and trademarks and understand how in order to keep their property unspoiled by fan’s interpretation of the franchise, Nintendo needs to protect itself — even from fan-works with good intentions.

In the time since, the group has developed two new projects, both of them original IPs. It begs the question of whether or not these new projects would be receiving as much attention as they are were it not for the icebreaker that was Hero of Time. It's a classic dilemma that artists face, how do they get noticed without risking alienating people with an unfamiliar property? On that note, if the team behind Hero of Time had approached Nintendo for permission in the first place, and Nintendo declined, what would they have done? Would they have simply gone ahead and only shown the film as a kind of demo reel to entice potential investors in their original projects? Follow up to that, would they have even considered carrying on with their original projects? I'd like to think they would, but somehow I can't fully subscribe to that notion.

The relationship between artists and their fans is a very complex one, existing in a kind of Schroedinger's Cat/Double Slit state of limbo where no one wants to peg down the barriers and limits of the relationship as doing so would undo it altogether. It's like that couple that has been together for years, but never talks about marriage, only to break up the moment the topic comes up and they realize they have different ideas about matrimony, even though they'd been living the dream fine and dandy up until then. It's as if the fans hate to be told that they're just fans in the eyes of their idols, albeit they'd be hard-pressed to lay down their credentials to the contrary. Even the "free advertising" or "good publicity" arguments don't hold up. On a satirical note, if you'd never heard of the Legend of Zelda and Hero of Time was not only your introduction, but the driving force that led you to give the games a try, then tell me, what's Mars like?

This sort of "Who's doing the bigger favor for who?" debate can really go on for days, even years (and have, in many circles), and while I'm all for keeping the debate open and giving equal consideration to all points from both parties, I wish we could get past the sticking points of expectations and entitlements as far as the fans go. To those fans who get riled up when some derived work they've invested in is shut down by the original creators, I understand your frustration, but what do you honestly expect? Lastly, to prove I'm not condemning your actions, I'll offer up an alternative in the form of an observation:

George Lucas is a fan of Akira Kurosawa, but Kurosawa never made a science fiction film.

06 October 2011

Goodbye, Steve

Top 5 Apple Products I Actually Like (reposted from Venusian Radio)

Steve Jobs passed away earlier this week, and for all the flak I give Apple for items like the iPad, iTunes, and the iPhone, I can't deny Apple's place in my life and in my heart. Believe it or not, there are actually some Apple products that I like, have owned, and genuinely wouldn't mind having. So, Steve, this one's for you.

Honorable Mention. Appleworks

Known today as iWork, Appleworks was Apple's answer to Microsoft Office as well as Microsoft Works, and it gave both of them a run for their money. It had far and away the best word processor I've ever worked with. I'm more familiar with its classic incarnation than its new style, but the omissions are more than made up for by what it offers in their place. Powerpoint may well be the best presentation software from a technical standpoint, but Keynote is a close second and offering a far more reasonable price point, plus it's far more user-friendly and intuitive than OpenOffice.org's Impress.

5. G4 Cube

Amidst the dull towers of Windows-based desktops and the goofy silicon heaps of iMacs, the G4 Cube rose up like a monolith and almost single-handedly re-wrote the rules for desktops. Taking a cue from its big brother, the NeXTcube, the G4 Cube not only made desktop towers more accommodating in terms of size and weight, but also made them fashionable. Usually, a tower is placed on the floor under a desk or immediately beside it like a dog. If towers ever got placed on a desk, it was tucked behind the monitor. The Cube, meanwhile, was not only small and lightweight enough to sit on top of a desk without any real problems, but it was also whisper-quiet so as not to add to the noise of an office space. In terms of design, it is quite literally a work of art; the Museum of Modern Art showcased an unmodified model complete with peripherals. It's really a shame the sales were so poor, and I really wish more desktops were designed as cubes.

4. iPod Nano (5th Gen.)

It really seems like Apple, following OSX, has been violently opposed toward people using their products creatively, at least not without throwing down a thousand dollars for Final Cut Pro. IPods by definition are media consumption devices, not meant for productivity on any level (except maybe for DJ's, but that requires additional hardware from third party manufacturers). However, with the 5th generation of the iPod Nano, Apple threw in not only a camera, but effects filters as well. In addition to the typical ones like monochrome, Apple threw in one that simulates the POV of the Terminator himself. Now that's the geeky kind of cool we expect from the original bad boys of personal computing.

3. Notebooks

Originally, I was going to put something like the original Quadra (the computer Myst was originally developed on) or one of the early PowerMacs, but after some thought, I realized I wasn't giving Apple its due credit in a very important area of personal computing.

Apple has never made a bad laptop.

I'd almost completely forgotten about the countless hours I spent playing Marathon and Marathon 2 on my dad's Powerbook. It was powerful and equally well-built. Even the Macbook Air has some great design elements; I like that it uses flash memory, giving it essentially few or no moving parts, an indispensable feature for any portable device.

2. Mac mini

This characterizes Apple's philosophy and attitude better than any other product in their lineup, for better or for worse. When the Mac mini was first introduced, sales of Dell computers were at an all-time high, thanks in no small part to a combination of the Home Shopping Network and a starting price point of around 400USD for a reasonably-equipped desktop. Apple's lowest priced desktop was at least twice that, and couldn't hold a candle in terms of performance. Put simply, Apple knew they were having trouble justifying their prices, regardless of their craftsmanship and quality of service, and were going to have to make a more budget-friendly computer. However, Apple is rarely one to give in, play nice, and follow the rules, so not only do they make a relatively inexpensive desktop computer, they make it one of the smallest, most compact, and downright cute desktops ever made.

1. Quicktime

Put simply, I owe my college education to Quicktime Pro. After struggling with some really annoying quirks in iMovie and not being able to afford Final Cut, I found out that Quicktime Pro was a surprisingly powerful editor for the price. Most people don't give it much credit for this, mostly because of the popularity of iMovie as well as the fact that nearly all editing functions of Quicktime Pro are handled through key commands, making it more like a kind of visual word processor than a non-linear video editor. It's only fault was not being able to actually capture footage from a camera, but that was only a problem if you were still using tapes and used FireWire for uploads. I had another editor that came free with a capture card, so I had that problem sorted from the start, leaving nothing between me and my short films. Every single one of them (except for one, which marked the last time I ever used iMovie) was edited using Quicktime Pro. The only reason I don't use it anymore is because I've used Windows XP since 2005 with occasional sojourns into the untamed wilderness of Linux, and Quicktime doesn't play too nice with others outside its comfort zone, even just for playback, which is the real icing on the cake. Still, you can be more than certain if I ever go back to Mac, it won't feel like I've returned home unless Pro is waiting there for me.

04 October 2011

An Open Letter to Bethesda Software

This is in response to the Mojang litigation, already in progress.
Okay, Bethesda, let's put things in perspective: You bought the Fallout property from Interplay instead of licensing it from them, released what basically amounted to Oblivion with a texture swap and a gimmicky aiming mechanic, sued Interplay for trying to spend the money you paid them, and now you're suing an independent developer over a trademark dispute that you now have no reason to sue over.

What the Hell am I missing here? I'm trying to give you guys the benefit of the doubt, but now I can't wish enough turmoil and misfortune upon you and everything you've built.

Seriously, I hope someone makes another point-and-click adventure using your game environments again; I'd call it Karma.