20 December 2008

More NHL09

I guess it's not something that is readily fixed if you play a lot of games, like I have. Inevitably the game announcers are going to repeat themselves enough that it gets annoying.

Let's see, when someone misses high, "he had to shoot high because he knows he's playing a butterfly goalie". Excuse me, McLean is a stand-up goalie.

"They're taking really poor shots. I would have thought pass before taking a shot. You have to wonder if their confidence is really low." Umm... we're leading 12-1. I don't think our confidence is all that low.

It's unfair that computer goalies can leave their net by so much, while McLean can't. Behind the net, all the same. But if McLean wants to move in front of the goal line for a really loose puck? Nope.

19 December 2008

McLean Called Up.

Just a short update to help minimize my NHL09-withdrawal pains induced by the holidays.

To my surprise goalie Kirk McLean was quickly recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Montreal Canadiens. I think I've figured out why he was sent down to Hamilton in the first place. After each game you're graded in three categories; if you're average grade is poor, or if one bottoms, ta dah! You're sent down to the AHL.

Playing goalie is tough. Picard doesn't really care how many goals against are scored because he's practically still guaranteed to come out of the game on the plus side. Goals against, however, are anathema to McLean's statistics and hence his career success.

McLean's job is made worse by the fact that on average he only earns 27xp per game used to improve his stats. This mean it takes playing 10 games to improve one of McLean's stats by... one point. Picard, however, earns 60-70xp per game and is able to improve every 4-5 games.

McLean's job is made even more difficult because his D-men insist on passing the puck through his crease. The last game McLean had to save 2 shots from his very own D. This is just plain wrong.

Oh yeah, one of McLean's "stretch goals" is to have 7 shutouts this season. Is the coach out of his hockey-lovin' mind!? In the last minute of every period, my D-men are guaranteed to leave a forward parked in front of my net waiting unmolested for a one-timer from the corner.

And the coach repeatedly saying, "you have to keep the puck out of the net", has to be one of the most annoying things I've ever heard. Does coach not think I know that?

One last thing for now: The Curse of the Announcer. Every time the announcer says how great you're playing, you're soon going to have to make some spectacular, impossible save to not prove him wrong.

17 December 2008

Credit Cards

I'm relatively responsible with credit card use. My policy has always been to have two, one VISA and one Master Card, and that's it. During my sojourn in the Washington D.C. area I've mainly used my Amazon.com VISA and American Express cards for all my purchases.

Anywhoo, in preparation for leaving the U.S., I've been closing my credit card accounts. It was at this time that it hit me how many credit cards I actually had. Seven. Seven?! Let's see... oh yeah, at Best Buy I wanted their 0% financing when I bought my computer. Circuit City... that's right, 0% financing for my flatscreen television. You get the idea. Credit cards for single purchase use. I wonder if many customers are like me, and if so, how can the stores make any money? Though I guess since they're store credit cards they make their money from the purchase itself, and any profit from credit cards is gravy.

I discovered that many credit cards now have an automated closing option via telephone. Very nice.

I was planning to close all credit cards except the oldest (tip: keep your oldest credit card to better your credit score) until I contacted Amazon.com VISA. With Amazon, run by Chase, owned by Capital One, I spoke to a person, a friendly associate who upon learning I wanted to close the account promptly offered me incentives to stay. Lower interest rates on just about everything, a bonus of 1000 points to put me up for another $25 Amazon.com gift certificate, more ways to earn points.

Hmm, well... I guess I don't have to close now. I'll wait until I get that $25 gift certificate.

16 December 2008

Fallout 3

Lest you think I'm fixated on NHL09, I've also been playing Fallout 3 on the Playstation 3. With Resident Evil 4 fallen by the wayside (no ammo) Fallout 3 has taken its place.

Fallout 3 is an open-ended role-playing game played in the first person. Why did I buy a first person game? A few reasons:
  • I like RPGs.
  • The idea of seeing a post-apocalyptic Washington, DC -- an area I've lived for almost 6 years -- is very appealing.
  • The V.A.T. system. The V.A.T.S. in the game lets you pause the action and select your shots at any time. I only wish I could switch weapons in V.A.T.S.
Fallout 3 is open-ended; I've already spent hours just on side quests. Fallout 3 feels like it will be another huge game like Twilight Princess and Okami. Dungeon crawling and monster shooting is reminiscent of my AD&D high school days. At times it can get visually gory, but at night and with the customary dim lighting of abandoned buildings I hardly notice. Sometimes.

Random thoughts:
  • One thing I enjoy is using my sniper rifle. It's surprisingly fun to try to discover enemies without being discovered in turn and to take out tough monsters in one shot. From the shadows I once cleared out an entire super-mart filled with raiders, using single shots with my sniper rifle. Extremely satisfying.
  • I had to learn to think out of the (my) box. At one time radscorpions were my nemesis (they're still tough) until I discovered the utility of land mines. Mirelurks are annoyingly well-armored and I avoid them with a passion. But now I'm itching to take them on again, utilizing some apt load-screen advice. In your face, mirelurks! Arlington Memorial, here I come.
  • So far feral ghouls thankfully are easy kills. I hope that remains true throughout because they're quick, ugly, and they freak me out.
  • Radroaches gross me out, which means I have to kill them, but they're not worth the price of a bullet and I don't want to get close enough to use a baseball bat. Dilemma.
  • Actually, many of the enemies in the game gross me out.
  • Duck and cover, but don't cover so much that you can't shoot. Despite the V.A.T.S giving you a respectable percentage of success you often will shoot the covering object in front of you instead. Irritating.
  • While specific ammo may temporarily run low, ammo in general is plentiful (if you have the caps, and multiple guns), a far cry from the annoying ammo-deprived Resident Evil 4.
  • Once I was ambushed as I exited a Metro station. I almost died. Next time, I saw them first and threw a couple grenades their way to soften them up.
  • Once I exited a Metro station and immediately was engulfed in a fire fight only to realize no one was shooting at me. I left without knowing who was fighting who, and why (though I do have an inkling, now).
  • On my first visit to Megaton, no one would talk to me except to say that they were watching me and not to "try" anything. Very unfriendly and suspicious people. Then I discovered the sneak mode, and realized I'd been using it the entire time in town. Now they give me food and ammo for free.
  • Once I saw a sheriff gunned down from behind. I took his stuff. Then I killed his killer and took his stuff, too.
  • My natural inclination is to play the good side of the Force -- that doesn't mean I don't want to be paid for my efforts.
Fallout 3 is so far a great game and another I highly recommend, excepting children.

Credit Score Update

I posted earlier about using a free online credit score calculator rather than paying for it and about wondering how accurate the calculator was.

Several weeks ago when I still thought I had to buy a new car, I decided to bite the bullet and pay for my credit score. Guess what? The MSN credit score calculator was accurate. My true score was smack dab in the middle of the MSN credit score range.

A new way to rebel against credit monitoring agencies who profit from a product wholly derived from my history. Gotta love it!

The Land of Tim Hortons

Despite how great it is to live in the Washington DC area, I've always thought one thing is sorely lacking: Tim Hortons. Sure, there are locations in the U.S. but none even remotely near were I live. Disappointing, right?

Anywhoo, a few weeks ago I was in Hamilton, Ontario -- I know! The very city that ushered in the dawn of a new coffee, right? -- and I stopped at a Tim Hortons near my hotel. To my surprise Tim Hortons only takes Master Card.

Strange, right? Most places, if they take credit cards, take both VISA and M/C, and maybe American Express (which you can, despite what commercials say, leave home without), to boot. So why only M/C? I wonder if they have cheaper fees or something.

This odd tidbit (tidbit, get it? Hah, I even amuse myself) leads to a slight tarnishing of Tim Hortons. Since I don't have a M/C, which actually is in violation of my which-credit-cards-to-own policy, and only had U.S. cash I was going to cancel my order. The cashier looked surprised and said, amused and smiling, "We take American money".

Now, when a store says that they take U.S. cash I've always assumed that meant they calculated the current exchange rate. Am I wrong? Well, in this case I was. Tim Hortons took my U.S. cash at face vale, at a 1:1 rate. Eh?

The coffee barely made up for my irritation.

12 December 2008

NHL09 Bug

I've found one annoyance or bug with NHL09. When goalie Kirk McLean was first called up to Montreal, his very first game could only be simulated. Why? I don't know. Even worse, when McLean was sent back to Hamilton, his first three games were automatically simulated. What the heck?

What is the function of this tidbit of frustration? What purpose does it serve?

It's some kind of Twilight Zone irony when game designers stop people from playing their game.

What could have been floating around in their quirky little minds... Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?

11 December 2008

Dr. Horrible

For those that haven't seen this, here's a link to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. This video stars Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Horrible, a villain aiming for world domination... and love.

Harris is great in this video. I've always liked Harris since Doogie Howser, MD, and he currently stars in How I Met Your Mother.

The Sing-Along Blog is divided into 3 acts, with the entire video about 40 minutes or so. There are single 30 second commercials between the acts.

My only quibble is with the ending, but I won't say why because I don't want to spoil it.

Anywhoo, if you have the time take a look -- it's very funny.

10 December 2008

McLean Sent Down to Hamilton

Goalie Kirk McLean (10-0-0) has been sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs for "more seasoning".

I don't understand the GM. McLean has a better GAA than Cary Price; McLean also has the most wins and the best save percentage of any Montreal Canadiens goalie.

Ugh. It's late December and the Canadiens have made their way up from last in the league to 6th in the Eastern Conference. I really hope the Canadiens can manage to hold a playoff position so that McLean will still have a chance for NHL post-season success.

07 December 2008

McLean Update

Kirk McLean is going to have a more difficult time carrying the Montreal Canadiens than Picard with the Vancouver Canucks.

The difficulty is in the number of starts. McLean (5-0-0) wins one game, then Carey Price (4-16-3) loses the next two.

A few observations about game play as a goalie.
  • I find the "High" camera view the easiest to play. I found "Low" to have poorer depth perception.
  • In "Rookie" there is a blue arrow indicating the direction of the puck. In the beginning I just concentrated on centering McLean on the arrow but I eventually realized that made me react to events rather than anticipate them. Keep your eye on the puck!
  • Because the camera is behind and slightly above the goalie, when the puck is close in front I can't see the puck because the goalie is in the way.
  • Ovechkin has a mean slapshot.

Trapezoid Rule

If you're a hockey fan then you're probably aware of the trapezoid rule, where when behind the net a goalie can only touch the puck within a trapezoid shaped area. This rule was established pretty much because goalie Martin Brodeur is too good at his job.

I suspect Brodeur has mixed feelings about having his very own official NHL rule: the rule acknowledges Brodeur's excellent puck handling but at the same time prevents him from handling the puck.

I wonder if the NHL will retire the trapezoid when Brodeur retires.

I digress. The original intent of this post was to complain about the trapezoid -- goalie Kirk McLean (NHL09 Montreal Canadiens) pounced on a loose rebound to the side and was penalized 2 minutes for being outside the trapezoid.

What the heck!? The puck was definitely in!

Stupid ref.

06 December 2008

Introducing Kirk McLean

Currently LW Jean-Luc Picard is the points leader by a 30+ point margin and goal leader by a 50 goal margin at the mid-point of the season where the Vancouver Canucks currently lead the league. With Picard starting the Canucks have won 29 straight games.

Picard averages 3.5x goals and 4.6x points per game. His highest points in a game was 13 (7 goals, 6 assists) and Picard's most goals in a game was a triple hat trick.

Posting all this is not so much to brag (I'm playing the Rookie/easy level, after all -- speaking of which, after playing 75 games Picard becomes "Pro". Is that Pro as in the next skill level? That would be neat) but to provide some info as to why it's become a trifle boring; there's no challenge anymore.

I don't want to start all over again because I've played almost 50 games with this player -- it would be a waste. Plus, Picard is a sure fire way to Stanley Cup success, a fail safe in case other avenues fail.

So... I'm turning elsewhere to indulge my competitive spirit... to an alternate NHL universe where stand-up goalie Kirk McLean joined the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL for the 2008 season. After 10 games (10-0-0) with a 2.42 GPG and a 93.5% save percentage McLean was called up to the Montreal Canadiens.

Calling McLean up so early must partly be due to the fact that after 16 games the Canadiens are rock bottom at 30th in the NHL -- McLean's first game in a Canadiens uniform will be to put an end to an 8-game losing streak (the Canucks, by the way, currently are 1st place in this NHL-verse).

I hope it's been the Canadiens goalies Price and Havlak that have been leaking and not the D-men. McLean at 19 is unusually young for a NHL goalie -- I wouldn't want him to be emotionally scarred after being crushed in a poor game.

Can Kirk McLean revive the flailing and failing Montreal Canadiens?

02 December 2008

Eddie Murphy, in Absentia

I was browsing Amazon for blue-ray discs and I saw that Coming to America (1988) had been released on BD.

Here's the provided list of actors on Amazon: Arthur Adams, Leah Aldridge, Don Ameche, John Amos, Louie Anderson, Paul Bates, Vanessa Bell, Ralph Bellamy, Stephanie Clark, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Mary Bond Davis, Allison Dean, Victoria Dillard, Frankie R. Faison, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Birdie M. Hale, Arsenio Hall, Helen Hanft, Shari Headley, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Notice anyone missing? I'll forgive you if you've never seen this movie, but guess what? The main star of this movie, the actor that portrays the character around which the movie is based, is missing.

Where art thou, Eddie Murphy?

Even stranger, let's take a look at the description of the Trading Places (1983) BD on Amazon:

Denholm Elliott, Dan Aykroyd, Maurice Woods, Richard D. Fisher Jr., Jim Gallagher, Anthony DiSabatino, Bonnie Behrend, Sunnie Merrill, James Newell, Mary St. John II, Bonnie Tremena, David Schwartz III, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Tom Degidon, William Magerman, Alan Dellay, Florence Anglin, Ray D'Amore, and Bobra Suiter.

Even if you've never heard of Trading Places, one guess as to which actor is missing. That's right... Eddie Murphy.

Not to diminish their contributions, but someone took the time to include actors such as Mary St. John II and David Schwartz III yet failed to include the actor in the lead role (co-starring with Dan Aykroyd)?

Am I the only one that thinks this is odd?

Anywhoo, I submitted Eddie Murphy's name for both BDs. Nevertheless, being the most recent inclusion Murphy's name won't even show up on the main product page of a movie he's the top -- or sharing the top -- billing.

Oh yeah, though I've never watched Shrek the Third, shouldn't Mike Meyers at least be one of the only five voice actors listed on Amazon's main page for the BD?

Guess who else isn't listed. Eddie Murphy.

23 November 2008

Bieska Traded?!

Vancouver Canucks Kevin Bieska was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Marc-Andre Bergeron -- in NHL 09, not real life -- after 25 games (Edler was called up concurrently, by the way).

This trade shocked me a little because I'd just been wondering whether Jean-Luc Picard could be traded despite being my created Be A Pro player on the Canucks. Probably not, right? Still, I wonder... it might be kind of neat if he was.

The trade also shocked me slightly because the Canucks and Wild are both in the Northwest Division -- intra-division trades don't happen often, do they?

Anywhoo, the Canucks have 37 points after 27 games, placing them 5th in the league, 4th in the Western Conference, and 2nd behind league-leading Colorado Avalanche (40 points) in the Northwest Division.

LW Picard has 53 points (41 goals, 12 assists) with the Canucks and is 2nd behind NHL point leader Daniel Sedin (54 points). Picard leads the league in goals, and is currently +45.

17 November 2008

Picard Called Up By Canucks

Jean-Luc Picard was called up by the struggling Vancouver Canucks, having racked up 49 points (44 goals, 5 assists) after 16 games in the AHL. Picard has scored 33 points (24 goals, 9 assists) in 8 games in a Canucks uniform. Since Picard joined the team the Vancouver Canucks (12 wins, 8 losses, 2 OTL) have won 8 straight.

At first I couldn't understand how the Canucks could have such a poor record (4 wins, 8 losses, 2 OTL) with reasonable team stats and a great goalie. I was still puzzled after the first few games Picard joined the Canucks -- Luongo was hot, scoring goose eggs or single goals per game. Recently, however, Luongo has been letting in 5 at a time with a poor save percentage, to boot. If this was how Luongo was playing in the simulated games no wonder the Canucks were playing 0.286 hockey after 14 games.

06 November 2008

NHL 09

I just recently purchased NHL 2009 for the Playstation 3 -- money amazingly well spent if you're a hockey fan. This game is great.

There are a couple graphical glitches away from the ice (sometimes the stands/boards blink black) but graphics and game play are excellent. You can play the entire game in a particular position (playing goalie is surprisingly boring for long stretches of time). Being on the bench after a line change is a convenient way to relax for a few moments after the rush of on-ice action.

The AI is pretty good. I actually think I've been geting more ice time when I play well, less if I'm not.

There are several game modes one of which is "Be A Pro" where my created player is just beginning his professional hockey career.

Having recently joined the Canucks' AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose (5-0), 19-year old Jean-Luc Picard plays left wing, shoots right, is 6-ft. 195 lb and wears jersey #17. Picard began the season on the 3rd line and after 11 points (8 goals, 3 assists) in five games Picard has been moved to the 2nd line. Assuming Picard continues to play well he has a good chance to make the 1st line -- and to ultimately get called up by the Canucks and play in the NHL.
Expect further updates on this Vancouver native's promising hockey career.

01 November 2008

Bush Endorses McCain-Palin

Tina Fey does a brilliant Palin impersonation (visit the NBC/Saturday Night Live website for more Fey-as-Palin videos); what I didn't know is that Will Farell does a pretty good impression of Bush.

31 October 2008

2007 Hyundai Elantra

Unfortunately I had the opportunity to drive a 2007 Hyundai Elantra this week.

It's supposed to be a sedan, right? The seating position felt like a high chair. In the first five minutes I was reminded of that thing called body roll. One U-turn and the Elantra abruptly disabused me of the notion that I could drive the Elantra like I drive my R -- I suppose whether that was a good or bad thing depends on the point of view.

The Elantra has great cup holders relative to my R. The R has two cupholders designed such that one of them is pretty much useless. It's so shallow than any small cup is going to turnover as soon as I make a turn. Any cup in there also interferes with the parking brake. I have no idea what VW designers were thinking. The Elantra on the other hand, has two useable cupholders in the center divide, and furthermore these large cupholders are designed to hold firmly variously-sized smaller cups, as well. This was a revelation. Why this cupholder design isn't mandatory in all makes is beyond me.

The Elantra also got me to where I wanted to go. It's quieter than the R, and I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the ride was -- as long as I was driving in a straight line. Remember that thing called body roll? No turns, please.

It also occured to me that it's actually comfortable to be a slow driver in the Elantra. In the R I might get annoyed at traffic and at people driving slowly in the passing lane, but in the Elantra? It's much more comfortable and stress free to be a slower driver and hold-up traffic. It's not that I don't want to drive faster, it's just that the car's capabilities warrants slower driving. See that large gap in traffic a car-length ahead? Forget about it. You won't make it.

I'm being facetious, of course. Still, this was my mild epiphany as I rock'n rolled through a turn.

30 October 2008

Credit Card Theft

On my monthly credit card bill I occasionally see a vendor whose name does not quite match the name of the store I patronized. It's not unusual for a purchase to be charged to a parent company, and these instances are easily verified.

Recently however, I noticed a puzzling $0.10 charge from CENTR LIMITED 888-560-6635 TX. First, I don't remember ever making a $0.10 purchase using a credit card. Second, I have never had the opportunity to visit Texas nor have I -- as far as I know -- had any business with an online company based in Texas. Huh.

I can only assume that some criminal accessed my credit card information from one of my online transactions and the $0.10 charge was a test to see if I was someone who paid a modicum of attention to their monthly bill.

Moral of the story? Check your bills regularly, and question every charge you don't remember.

I googled the above phone number and apparently I'm very much far from the only victim of these criminals.

15 October 2008

U.S. 3rd Presidential Debate

Tonight was the third and last U.S. Presidential debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, moderated by Bob Shieffer from CBS.

Random thoughts:

  • Much of the camera work was a split screen so you could see both nominees at the same time. While Obama was talking, McCain looked very stiff and only slightly creepy -- but that may partly be due to old injuries.
  • Shieffer did okay, I guess.
  • Obama performed well, again. Very presidential and calm.
  • McCain appears more energetic than in previous debates.
  • Because Obama is leading the race by at least a 6-7 point margin, McCain had to out-perform Obama to win the debate. I don't think that happened. At best it was a tie, and a tie is good for Obama. Besides, if you ignore issues, I think Obama did slightly better than McCain.
  • I was cringing when McCain was spewing about Ayers. Guilt by association -- it reminds me of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.
  • McCain... please don't smile or laugh on television. Grin, chuckle... perfectly fine. And I know it's not your fault, nor do I place any fault. But your smile looks like a rictus. It puts you in a bad light. So please.
  • ACORN? Currently I find it extremely difficult to believe ACORN is fomenting wide-scale voter fraud, given what I've read and given that claims of voter fraud is a typical Republican tactic to disenfranchise voters who mostly vote Democratic. As Obama said, ACORN pays individuals to collect voter registration information. Some individuals are stupid and break the law; that doesn't tar and feather an entire organization. That's like saying because one high-schooler plays hookey all the other students do, too.
  • What scares me is the thought that McCain really believes Palin is qualified to be President of the United States. What scares me is the thought that McCain really believes his own lies. And if so, what does that say about his judgment?
  • And what the $%^&@! is it with this false equivalancy!?! How can McCain calling Obama a terrorist be equivalent to Obama calling McCain erratic? How is McCain calling Obama a traitor equivalent to Obama saying McCain is lying? I really wish people ie. the media, would start calling McCain on it.

14 October 2008

A few months ago I was wondering why my blog was valued so high on Blogshares, somewhere around B$237k.

But just as the economy has recently been taking a precipitous plunge, it appears the bubble has popped on my blog where its current value is around B$46k. That's approximately a drop of 80%.

Fortunately, my real world savings -- while still painful -- has not dropped by quite so much.

I try not to think about it.

13 October 2008

Anime Mecha

Protagonists in mecha anime I've seen tend to be annoying brats. I'm probably not within the target audience but nevertheless that's what they are. Brats. Why are 14 year olds entrusted with saving the world? Must be that target audience thing.

Let's see... Neon Genesis Evangelion had the invariably passive agressive Shinji who never seemed to get past, "Why me?", and as such was willing to let other people die as long as Shinji didn't have to do something. Oh yeah, and Shinji was a pervert. What a wonderful protagonist.

Kira from Gundam Seed wasn't as bad. Whatever you say about his whining and crying, at least Kira went out and did something. Still, the look-at-me-suffer, woe-is-me stuff grew old, quick.

Now I've just seen another mecha anime with a 14 year old protagonist who at least isn't passive agressive. In fact, this protagonist is agressive to a fault, clearly delusional and stupid. Describing him as egotistical wouldn't be wrong, evidently lacking understanding of cause and effect all too depressingly true.

The appeal of these characters to children is unfathomable. And yet, here I am drawn to the next episode to see if the protagonists can grow and change for the better, but ultimately and inevitably disappointed, cursing their very existance all the way to the series finale.

Perhaps that's the trick. Maybe this is a case of nice guys finishing last. Shows don't necessarily have to make characters likeable or well adjusted just as long as people watch the anime, bemoaning the waste of their time until the very bitter end.

10 October 2008

Star Wars: Clone Wars

I think of myself as a fairly big fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, so I had been looking forward to the animated movie and television series that was being produced. That changed as soon as I started seeing promotion clips.

First, I very much dislike Anakin Skywalker. Darth Vader, good. Anakin, bad. I suspect that George Lucas wanted people to sympathize with Anakin and his transformation-redemption bit. All I wanted was Anakin to die. Quickly. ASAP. Die in Episode I; who cares if it would screw up Star Wars continuity. Die, Anakin... die.

All this to say I was very disappointed to discover that the recent movie and current television cartoon takes place in the time between Episodes II and III. Ugh. Even worse, Anakin appears to be the main character, along with a new-to-the-mythology padawan perky enough to make me ill.

If Lucas wants to fill in the gaps, he should have made the series take place between Episodes III and IV. I want to see the original trilogy characters before the trilogy. Truthfully, I'd love to see more Han Solo, others not so much. Hey, they could get Shia LeBeouff to play a young Solo; LeBeouff's already played Indiana Jones' son.

Anywhoo, to cut this short I didn't see the Clone Wars animated movie and I have no intention of watching the television cartoon... except for tonight when while channel surfing I caught the last 20 minutes on an episode.

My worst fears were realized (see 2nd paragraph)... double ugh. The character animation style... triple ugh. Story... quadruple ugh. They turned General Grievous into a stereotypical comedic enemy. Dialogue... quintuple ugh. Awkward and forced. Pacing... sextuple ugh. Too slow. Voice acting... septuple ugh. It sounded flat.

As I said I only caught the last 20 minutes of a single episode... nevertheless nothing I saw makes me want to watch it again.

07 October 2008

U.S. Presidential Debate: Town Hall

Tonight was the second of three United States Presidential debates between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain. Tonight's was in a "Town Hall" format moderated by Tom Brokaw (NBC).

I came into this second debate planning to watch the entire 90 minutes. You know what? I turned off the television after 10 minutes. This debate was miserable. Miserable enough within the first ten minutes that I turned it off.

Was it the "Town Hall" format (with questions from the audience and online; 2 minute answers, 1 minute follow-ups) that turned this debate in to torture? Compared to the format in the first debate tonight's was pitiful.

Random thoughts, given that I turned off the t.v. after ten:

  • I groaned -- painfully -- when Brokaw recited a submitted question and then immediately added his own question on top of it. Hey, Tom. Kind of defeats the purpose of this type of format, doesn't it?
  • It's hard for me to describe, but Brokaw rubs me the wrong way. Something about him irritates me, like a tiny pebble stuck in my shoe. I can't quite say exactly why that's so, but I can say that Jim Lehrer (1st Presidential debate) and Gwen Ifill (vice-presidential debate) didn't irritate me at all. In fact I was mildly impressed with Lehrer's performance.
  • Part of the reason I turned off the debate is that McCain now officially aggravates me. These days whenever I hear McCain speak I start cringing. McCain doesn't even have to be spouting bald faced lies anymore (lies, not gross exagerations, plain lies), McCain says anything and I cringe like Pavlov's dogs.
  • I saw one debate clip where McCain was lurking evil-like in the background as Obama talked. Creepy as all heck. Unfortunate for McCain. It makes me wonder what the cameraman was thinking. Perhaps the screen would have cut McCain in half if the camera had been centered on Obama?
UPDATE: Oh yeah, McCain's oratorical habit of saying, "my friends"? Entirely too presumptuous. I'll decide who my friends are, thank you. Please, just stop it. Stop it. I'm begging you. STOP.

05 October 2008

Luke Skywalker is a wimp

Luke Skywalker is a wimp. Relatively speaking.

Let's see, in Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker was defeated by Emperor Palpatine. Only via Anakin Skywalker's intervention was Luke saved and the Emperor killed.

Now we have Star Wars: Force Unleashed for the Nintendo Wii -- MAJOR SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW -- with the main character Starkiller.

Starkiller, if you complete the game, ends up defeating both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine in turn. See that? That's how it's done, Luke.

Oh yeah, speaking of the game, what's with the extreme don't kill the Emperor, Palpatine is already defeated moronicity. Starkiller won't kill Palpatine because even though he's just killed hundreds of stormtroopers on his way there, executing Palpatine would be wrong. What's up with that?

What were they planning on doing?! We'll let the defeated Palpatine live as we escape the Death Star, so that we can officially form the Rebel Alliance who's prime directive is to oppose the Galactic Empire led by... Palpatine.... Eh?

02 October 2008

U.S. Vice - Presidential Debate

Well, I just finished watching the first and only United States vice-presidential debate for this election (tonight is/was also the first English and second Prime Ministerial debate in Canada, by the way) between Democrat Senator Joe Biden and Republican Governor Sarah Palin.

Random thoughts on tonight's debate (comments on the first presidential debate can be found here):

  • Biden performed very well. He acted like a vice-president, or for that matter a president, as well. Experienced, knowledgeable, passionate, and regardless of whether you agree with his politics Biden was someone I'm accustomed to seeing on the national and world stage.
  • Palin, unfortunately, is not ready for national or international politics. It felt like Palin had prepared talking points and if she didn't like a question Palin talked about those instead (typically energy policy in the first half). To me, Palin is a local politician with a shallow grasp of issues. For example, with the topic of McCain's support of deregulating financial markets and Wall Street Palin instead talked about Alaskan energy policy.
  • Palin kept on hammering the talking point that Obama-Biden are too focused on the past (ie. Bush-Republican screw-ups) to be agents of change. Every time I kept wanting to shout:
    "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." -- George Santana.
    Biden was much more succint: Past is prologue.
  • Perhaps part of the reason I have such a good impression of Biden is that for once someone on television actually did what I told them to do. Palin stupidly said, and maybe it's the scientist in me but that's just what it was, stupid:
    "...there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don't want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?"
    I was silently screaming, how can you formulate a solution if you don't know what causes it!? And to my elation Biden's reply:
    "If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution."
    Ahhh... balm to my wounded soul. You'd understand if you knew how rarely this happens for me.
  • Palin acted like someone who had crammed for an exam, reciting talking points from memory, with no deep understanding of the issues and unable to answer anything not in CliffsNotes.
  • Most of my points being critical of Palin (she scares me), I should add that Palin performed adequately (if you weren't looking for substance), given how low the expectation bar had been set.
  • I haven't read what the pundits have said, yet, but it wouldn't amaze me if Republicans declared this debate a tie. Given where the polls are right now, Palin needed to do more than just hold her ground. Who knows, Palin may halt the crash but her debate performance alone won't reverse the declining polls.
  • Palin being one step away, one heart beat, from the presidency scares me. I can't say it enough. It scares me. McCain is what, 72 years old? With a history of recurring melanoma? With a 1 in 7 to 1 in 6 chance of dieing in the first two years of a first term? How can this not scare people? I'm all for privacy, but President of the United States is too important a job for this type of uncertainty. McCain should stop playing peek-a-boo with his medical records.

01 October 2008

My Credit Score

Although it's possible to get a free credit report every four months the same is not true of credit scores. This deficit has always annoyed me. It's a reflection of my credit history so why can't I see what it is without having to pay?

Anywhoo, today I discovered a credit score calculator on msn. I know that online you can find calculators for anything from unit conversions to home loans, but it never occurred to me that there would be one for credit scores.

Why not for credit scores? Because if you can calculate it for free why would anyone bother paying for it? Of course, the calculator linked above only gives you a potential range for your credit score as opposed to the actual value obtained under mercantile duress. So who knows, the calculator might be horribly inaccurate.

It makes me want to actually pay for my credit score just to see how accurate the calculator is, but that would defeat my purpose of getting something for free.

30 September 2008

Star Wars: Force Unleashed

I was really looking forward to Star Wars: Force Unleashed for the Nintendo Wii. What could be better than the Wii's motion sensor controls combined with swinging a lightsaber? Perhaps my expectations were too high but nevertheless Force Unleashed failed to meet them. Don't misunderstand. I'm glad I purchased this game. It's just that Force Unleashed could have been so much more.

Force Unleashed takes place in the period between Episodes III and IV. You play as Darth Vader's apprentice ordered to hunt down Jedi. Faces from the movies show up in parts, which is kind of neat.

When I think of Star Wars I think of epics and inherent in that is time, as in the passing of. My major gripe with Force Unleashed is that it's disappointingly short. Wonderful, engaging story. But too beeping short. I finished it in less than eight hours. Maybe I've been spoiled with the classics, Twilight Princess (72 hours) and Okami (60 hours). Stars and stones, even Lego Star Wars was 25 hours.

Another problem with Force Unleashed is the graphics. I didn't buy a Wii expecting PS3 graphics, but I do expect the absence of jagged straight lines.

Gameplay is fine. There's nothing quite like swinging a lightsaber around or throwing stormtroopers around using the Force. Still, some of the different Force techniques are difficult to execute. I'd wave the remote/nunchuk around and press buttons as instructed but success felt haphazard and random. I ended up using only two Force powers regularly (Force Push and Lightning) because they were the most efficient powers I could use confidently. Perhaps I just need practice with the others techniques.

The Star Wars franchise lends a mystique to any game it places its name on. Star Wars gets bonus points just for being Star Wars. Still, if Force Unleashed instead of occurring in the Star Wars universe was a sword and sorcery deal I'm not so sure I'd have bought the game. Despite the multiple Force powers minion and boss battles are very simplistic. It's pretty much hack'n slash with Force powers thrown in. Bosses have no weaknesses to look for. Rush up to the boss, swing your lightsaber and wait for the finishing sequence (where you wave the remote/nunchuk when prompted to deal significant damage).

Finishing sequences bring up another quibble. In order to get the timing right, it was difficult for me to concentrate on what was happening on the screen. I'd concentrate on looking at the remote/nunchuk prompts and miss out on the actual action on screen.

Another thing that makes battles, especially long ones, a little boring is the way the game designers worked out death. Actually, I'm of two minds of how they implemented it. If Starkiller (your character) dies you simply respawn with no significant consequences, except for a boss regaining only a slight portion of health. Minions you've killed stay dead, areas you've cleared are still completed. Starkiller can die as many times as you want.

Why am I of two minds? First, I'm glad the designers handled death the way they did because as I said fights are hack'n slash. Bosses have no vulnerabilities to look for, so I sometimes needed multiple respawns to get by a boss. If I had had to defeat some bosses with one life, starting completely over if I respawned, then it would have become irritatingly frustrating. Second, I lost my fear of Starkiller dieing. Dead? Who cares? Getting shot from behind? I don't care. Health bar almost empty? Heh, instead of looking for healing I'll just go ahead and charge that platoon of stormtroopers.

Although I've talked about a lot of negatives in Force Unleashed, as I said before I'm glad I bought this game. It's Star Wars. I get to swing a lightsaber. It has a great (albeit short) story. If you're a Star Wars fan, definitely buy it. If not, you might consider giving this one a pass.

27 September 2008

U.S. Presidential Debate

Last night was the first U.S. Presidential Debate between Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain.

In the past U.S. politics never interested me beyond who the current president was, and I would have never even thought about watching a debate. The past 7-8 years have changed my mind. Politicians are not all the same. Some are noticeably worse than others. In fact, some are downright scary.

Anywhoo... I watched last night's debate. Random thoughts follow.
  • McCain is much shorter than Obama, though CNN tried to hide it by zooming in on McCain and zooming out on Obama.
  • Had I known the debate was on other channels I would not have watched CNN. CNN had too much junk on the bottom of the screen.
  • McCain performed better than I expected after having watched his disastrous speeches. Ever watch the show Monk? Adrian Monk at his most painfully phobic is how I feel when I see a McCain speech, without the humour.
  • Behind in the polls, I think McCain had to perform noticeably better than Obama. Didn't happen. Ignoring the issues, at the most it was a tie and more likely a small lead for Obama.
  • Obama performed above expectations, given foreign policy is supposed to be McCain's strength. Obama displayed thorough and well versed knowledge on foreign policy.
  • McCain came off as cold.
  • McCain, please don't smile. It scares me. Really. Hallowe'en is next month.
  • They both had a couple good zingers. The best was Obama, paraphrasing, "I won't be lectured on unwise statements by someone who sings about bombing Iran". Another good one was Obama's reference to McCain's statement that he wouldn't meet with the President of Spain, a NATO ally.
  • On some topics I thought Obama provided much more substantive answers.
  • At times I was forced to mute McCain else risk aggravation. One such instance was when McCain started giving an anecdotal story to prove soldiers want to stay in Iraq. Even if true (which it is not if you read polls), anecdotal is anecdotal. It's not proof, and it should not be used as proof. Must be the scientist in me. Another instance was when McCain referred to the fact he was a POW. Yes, McCain, we KNOW. You use 'POW' like Rudy Guiliani uses '9/11': every sentence is a noun, a verb, and POW.

16 September 2008

Bullets and Frozen Meat

I was watching They Eat Horses, Don't They?, a first season episode of the television series Due South, one of my favourite series. Due South aired from 1994 to 1999, starring Paul Gross as RCMP Constable Benton Fraser.

Anywhoo, in this episode frozen steak was used like a bullet proof vest. So... is this mirrored in reality? Can frozen steak really stop bullets?

15 September 2008

Titan Air Jack

I think that as described this Titan Air Jack is pretty nifty, far and beyond -- light years in fact -- better than the wimpy jack that came with my R. On even the slightest incline the stock jack is a tad dangerous. I guess I should really look for another one -- but the jacks I've seen appear to take up a lot of room.

In short, the Titan Air Jack is an air bag inflated by attaching a hose to your exhaust pipe or to an air compressor. You can change two tires in one go.

Anywhoo, my only questions are: cost, warranty, weight and deflated volume.

Music versus Personality

A study reported on bbc.co.uk suggests a link between the type of music
a person enjoys and personality. They looked at 36,000 people

  • BLUES: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease
  • JAZZ: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease
  • CLASSICAL MUSIC: High self-esteem, creative, introvert and at ease
  • RAP: High self-esteem, outgoing
  • OPERA: High self-esteem, creative, gentle
  • COUNTRY AND WESTERN: Hardworking, outgoing
  • REGGAE: High self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at ease
  • DANCE: Creative, outgoing, not gentle
  • INDIE: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle
  • BOLLYWOOD: Creative, outgoing
  • ROCK/HEAVY METAL: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, at ease
  • CHART POP: High self-esteem, not creative, hardworking, outgoing,gentle, not at ease
  • SOUL: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease
Source: Heriot-Watt University 

For the most part the above seems fairly accurate when I think of the
music I like. But because I like multiple genres some characteristics
are contradictory eg. if you compare classical and jazz one says
"introvert", the other "outgoing".

As always, take studies like this with a grain of salt. In 36,000 samples there's bound to be many that don't fit the descriptions.

Anywhoo, something to think about while you're listening to your
favourite tunes....

11 September 2008

A Little Levity on this Solemn Day

While written in 2002, it's just as relevant today as it was then. Relevant in the future, too.

Warning: Minor profanity.

From The Onion:

Second Birthday In A Row Ruined By Terrorism

HOBOKEN, NJ—In what threatens to be an annual ritual, Rob Bachman, born Sept. 11, 1973, braced himself Tuesday for yet another birthday ruined by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"My birthday's gonna suck for the rest of my life," Bachman said on the eve of his 29th birthday. "Every year, I'm going to want to go out and have fun, but it's always going to be inappropriate in light of the meaning of this most tragic of days."

Added Bachman: "Man, there's nothing quite like hitting the bars on the anniversary of the worst act of terrorism ever perpetrated on U.S. soil."

Though Bachman will try to enjoy his "special day" as best he can, he said he is not looking forward to the muted, somber acknowledgements he will receive from others.

"Last week, there was a lunchtime office party for [coworker] Matt [Quigle], complete with cake and decorations, because, of course, nobody cringes when you say your birthday is Sept. 5," Bachman said. "Already this week, Dina the receptionist, who lost a cousin in the attacks, looks like she's going to cry at any second. If they do recognize my birthday at all, I'm sure it'll be in some tasteful, appropriate way, without music or streamers or anything like that."

"If I try to have a good time, I look like this shallow, selfish asshole who's oblivious to what's going on in the world," Bachman continued. "Still, Sept. 11 is the only birthday I have, and it'd be nice if I were allowed to have fun."

As of press time, Bachman's efforts to gather friends and coworkers for the evening have been unsuccessful. Most of his e-mails and voicemail messages have gone unreturned, while those friends who have responded have politely declined, offering subdued birthday wishes.

"When I invited my friends a few weeks before, I distinctly avoided mentioning the date and just said people were getting together for my birthday on Wednesday," Bachman said. "Of course, once people realized what day it was, they all bowed out. Now that I think of it, I probably would've done the same thing."

If he is unable to assemble a group of friends, Bachman said he may just spend the evening at home alone.

"Maybe I'll just chill out and watch a movie," Bachman said. "But I know that as soon as I turn on the TV, I'm going to get hit with one of the wall-to-wall specials on the attacks, and it's going to make watching Shallow Hal or some other bullshit puff movie seem way too depressing."

Though Bachman's friends are hesitant to engage in any sort of revelry on Sept. 11, they sympathize with his plight.

"I really feel bad for him," said Danielle Eckstrom, Bachman's longtime friend. "Some of his friends don't want to go out because they're afraid of some big follow-up attack. The rest just want to be alone that night. I was going to take it on myself to go out and make sure he has a good time, but I don't particularly want to go out, either."

Given the historical magnitude of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bachman said he doesn't hold out much hope for future birthdays, either.

"It's probably going to be at least 10 years before I can get back to celebrating like a normal person." Bachman said. "Then again, that 10th anniversary of the attacks should be a pretty big deal, too. Fuck."

06 September 2008

Linden's #16 Raised to the Rafters

Wonderful. This post is a couple days late, but... finally! I'd hoped, I'd expected, but not until they officially announced it was I able to perform a mental celebratory dance.

On the night of 17 December this year, prior to the game versus division rivals Edmonton Oilers, former Vancouver Canucks captain Trevor Linden's jersey #16 will be lifted to the rafters of GM Place to become only the second jersey (the other being Stan "the Steamer" Smyl's #12) retired by the Canucks and the first to be retired in GM Place.

Here's a link the the official announcement: A Night to Remember.

Here's a previous post partly explaining exactly why Trevor Linden, the most popular player in team history, deserves this ultimate tribute: Forever a Canuck.

No one is more deserving of this singular honour. Congratulations, Linden, and thanks for all the memories.

04 September 2008

2008 US Open

I was watching the Andy Roddick - Novak Djokovic men's quarter-final (2-6, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6) at the 2008 US Open when I noticed something odd. After Roddick threw his racket to the ground to my astonishment a ball boy waited for the racket to stop bouncing and then promptly rushed to pick it up.

... Eh?

Are ball boys expected to pick up a player's racket after he or she throws it to the ground? I've never noticed this before and I wonder if this is a common or uncommon occurance. If a player is frustrated or angry enough to throw his racket, then the player should pick up his own beepin' racket.

28 August 2008

Word Clouds

I found a neat site called Wordle. It makes a word cloud out of whatever text you input. You can also edit the font, layout, and colours.

The picture below is a word cloud of this blog, using Wordle. :o)

I'm not sure why "one" is so prominent. Have I really used that word so much?

24 August 2008

Stupid Commercials on DVDs

I was watching my Avatar: The Last Airbender (Nickelodeon) DVDs when I was reminded of something I find highly moronic, useless, worthless, irritating, idiotic... well, you get the point. So what is it that irks me so? Let me give an example.

Some DVDs include ads and previews in addition to the main feature, right? Well, there I was, watching a commercial for the Avatar DVDs on my... Avatar DVD. Yes, you are correct. Nickelodeon put a commercial for a product on a product that I had already purchased. They put the commercial on the product that the commercial was advertsing for!?

I've already paid for the bleepin' thing -- why in all that's sane would Nickolodeon even imagine that I'd want or need to see a commercial for something I already bought?!

This wasn't something in the "special feature" section, either. This devilish commercial was run immediately after all that copyright jumbo that you're forced to watch. It felt like several agonizing minutes before the DVD let me escape to the main menu.

Annoying and frustrating.

Audi Driving Experience pics

It took longer than I'd originally thought it would be, but finally here are some pics from my very fun day at the track. See my previous post for details.

Track day!

Drivers, start your engines!

A S4 on display.

Guess where I'm sitting!

I'm sitting in one of these. :o)

Audi R8.

Now I just need to win the lottery.

16 August 2008

The Dark Knight

Finally, four weeks after it premiered, I watched The Dark Knight directed by Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight is a worthy successor to Batman Begins and dare I say, even better.

I'm now able to admit that I like Nolan's Batman films over Tim Burton's iteration of the caped crusader. I much prefer Michael Keaton as Batman over Christian Bale in the current film., but over all, I think The Dark Knight is the better film.

Burton's vision was dark, levied with humourous spots, with larger than life villains almost comical in their comic-ness. Something about Jack Nicholson's Joker seemed off to me -- too loud, a mite too silly, a little too over the top. The film might as well as been called The Joker rather than Batman, and Burton's second outing felt even moreso.

Nolan's vision, in contrast, is even more dark, at least in part because it mirrors reality, the "real world. This embues the film with a grey grimness that pulls you in to an insane world where masked vigilantes and a crazed killer rule the streets of Gotham City (also known as Chicago). I can't remember a single instance of levity.


The late Heath Ledger, in his final role, does a great job as the Joker. There were a few similarities between the Joker in The Dark Knight and in Batman. In both films Joker interrupts a mob bosses's meeting; the Joker falls from a skyscraper -- but while the scenes are similar they are also different. Instead of dieing from the fall the Joker is saved.

Actually, I thought all the main actors (Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal...), did a fine job in this movie. My only quibble would be the mafia and gang characters; they seemed a little like caricatures.

Random thoughts:
  • During the Harvey Dent (Eckhart) paddy wagon chase scene, the police seemed incredibly inept -- more so than usual. No sirens. They appeared to be driving extremely slow for a chase (50-60 mph). Too much traffic? See sirens, above.
  • I was very surprised, as intended, when Batman chooses to rescue Harvey Dent over Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhall). Nevertheless, I'm actually glad her character died. It gives Bruce Wayne closure. There's no way Wayne will stop being Batman (hey, you know there's going to be another film!) and as long as that's the case, Wayne and Dawes will never get together. See, this way there's closure. I don't have to worry about suffering romantic Wayne-Dawes angst in a sequel.
  • The ferry bomb bit: I'm glad neither boat decided to sink the other, and I hope in the same situation I'd make the same decision, but nevertheless it seemed slightly off to me. I'm a little more cynical in regards to human nature.
  • Batman crashing his bike to avoid running over the Joker: Eh? What the heck? Don't kill the Joker (it's just not Batman's thing) but what, you can't clothesline him or something? Tackle him, maybe? Knock the Joker's legs out from under him? This was Batman at his most moronic in this film.
  • The last scene was one of the best and had some pretty good lines. The "you were the best of us..." bit was very nice. Tragic. It presented Batman, Gordon, and Dent as three sides of the same triangle, each representing a different aspect -- vigilante, policeman, and golden crusader. Brothers-in-arms using different methods to achieve a common goal, only to have one of them fall in to the dark side of the Force.
Anywhoo, this is a great film. Definitely a keeper. I'll be buying this one on DVD/Blue-ray.

I rate The Dark Knight 5 out of 5 stars.

Feeling Insulted

At a traffic light, having just spent one hour hand-washing my ride, and being confronted by persons waving signs for a car wash at a gas station.

Windows Vista update

In my previous post I mentioned how after re-installing Windows Vista I'd decided to use Windows Defender rather than Webroot Spysweeper. Well, less than 12-hours later I've changed my mind.

The reason why I'd used Spysweeper originally was because Defender generally had poor reviews. Spysweeper may be a resource hog, and what an obese hog it is, but at least it works.

As an aside, I think it's pretty ironic that in Windows when I click on "click here for help" it doesn't actually help. Oooooh, good one, Microsoft. FUN-ny. Yup. You got me.

Look in the mirror, much?

Does anyone else think this is funny?

"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can invade its neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed." -- Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, on the conflict between Russia and Georgia, August 2008.

Site Visitors in July 2008

Oops. This is a trifle late. The top 5 visitors listed by countries in July were:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. an European country
  4. Great Britain
  5. Australia

The full list for July 2008

Visitors in previous months

15 August 2008

Vista Update Error Code 80080005

More Windows Vista issues. :o( For the past month or so I've been unable to use Microsoft update, either automatically or manually. I always get an "Unable to search for updates, error code 80080005". My last successful update was back in July.

Until now I've been procrastinating about fixing this but as this month's patch Tuesday passed I decided to do something about it. I did some research and discovered there's no information on update error 80080005 at Microsoft Support but there's information on the web. Go figure. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell there' s no clear fix. Oh yeah, and my anti-virus and anti-malware scans came up clean.

I'm not sure if it's related, but I've also noticed that with every single restart, during bootup I get the message "Installing Windows Updates (part 3 of 3)... x% complete". Ugh.

So... I had to use a chainsaw to slice a cake. After I backed up my computer I did a clean install of Windows Vista.
  1. Back up computer.
  2. Restart with Vista installation DVD and perform a clean install.
  3. Updated Vista via Microsoft Update until I had all the latest patches.
  4. Install my anti-virus program.
  5. Install ZoneAlarm firewall and turn off Windows firewall.

Random comments:
  • I haven't re-installed Webroot Spy Sweeper, yet -- it's just so beepin' slow during updates. As I posted before, Spy Sweeper is a MASSIVE resource hog while updating. If only they let you schedule time of day for updates. Ugh. Anywhoo, for now I'm relying on Windows Defender.
  • Previously I hadn't been able to update to Vista Service Pack 1. I assumed it was because one of my drivers wasn't compatible, but after I re-installed Vista I was able to update to sp1. ::sigh::
  • It took about 40-50 minutes for the initial install, then an additional 3 hours or so for all the updates.
  • I've only installed the progams I use often. For the rest I guess I'll install them as I need them.

12 August 2008

Vancouver Canucks Great Goaltenders

On a forum there was a discussion about who were the great Vancouver Canucks goaltenders. Anywhoo, someone posted some stats and it led me to this webpage.

In it the author looked at Canucks goalies with at least 30 wins in a season; turns out there are five -- Gary Smith, Kirk McLean, Dan Cloutier, Alex Auld, and Roberto Luongo.

The webpage considers several factors (including the number of games per season, shoot-outs, overtime et cetera) and calculates statistics adjusted accordingly. Again, check the website for the details -- I've just copied and pasted the stats (after minor editing for formatting).

Most adjusted wins in an season:
34 - Kirk McLean (1991-92)
32 - Gary Smith (1974-75)
31 - Roberto Luongo (2006-07)
29 - Dan Cloutier (2002-03)
26 - Alex Auld (2005-06)

Most adjusted points in a season:
83 - Roberto Luongo (2006-07)
81 - Kirk McLean (1991-92)
73 - Gary Smith (1974-75)
68 - Dan Cloutier (2002-03)
65 - Alex Auld (2005-06)

Best adjusted winning percentage in a season:
.633 - Kirk McLean (1991-92)
.630 - Dan Cloutier (2002-03)
.562 - Gary Smith (1974-75)
.561 - Roberto Luongo (2006-07)
.508 - Alex Auld (2005-06)

To my delighted surprise Kirk McLean, in these statistics, comes out on top in 2 out of the 3 categories, and 2nd in the third. Kirk McLean has always been my favourite Canucks goaltender and I thought he had fallen in the shadow of Luongo. For now, at least, I can say it's the other way around. :o)

11 August 2008


After 55-60 hours of playing time, I recently finished Okami for the Nintendo Wii. Okami is a great game, definitely a keeper along with Twilight Princess.

The first thing that struck me when playing Okami was the art: watching grass and flowers bloom as you restore a cursed, blackened land is a treat.

The incorporation of the motion-sensing capabilities of the Wii remote into the game is very well done. One of the key actions in the game is using brush techniques -- you use the Wii remote like a paint brush eg. paint a line across an enemy to damage it, paint a circle around a tree to make it bloom or in the sky to make the sun appear, paint in a broken bridge to make it whole.

I guess I'd describe Okami as an adventure game in an ancient Japan-like setting. The story is based heavily on Japanese mythology. You play a god-wolf trying to literally restore the land from evil. The artwork is such so that it's like you're reading through an ancient scroll with the story and pictures drawn out in front of you. As the wolf runs you see flowers bloom at her feet; when she jumps maple leaves scatter.

Battles are interesting but ultimately not too tough. I never died during the game (through the use of many healing aids) but I came close. Okami is fun because of how the brushwork is smoothly incorporated into fights and for the need to figure out an opponent's weakness.

So... Okami has great game play, wonderful art, and an intriguing story. What more could you possibly want?

The final battle and conclusion to the game were emotionally satisfying. This is the first time a game has made me (almost!) tear up. The game developers also left avenues for an obvious sequel. Unfortunately, I've read that the Okami developers are no longer in business. I guess it will be up to good sales to determine whether another company takes up the Okami mantle. I'm crossing my fingers.

Aside: I might not finish Resident Evil 4; RE4 has been relegated to "if I have nothing else to play" status. I don't have enough ammunition to finish a particular boss fight and going back to repeat chapters in order to conserve ammunition lacks a certain appeal.

09 August 2008

Audi Driving Experience

Earlier today I participated in the Audi Driving Experience; this event is currently traveling around the United States and for the next week is being held at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia.

The Audi Driving Experience is to promote the upcoming 2009 Audi A4. Drivers are able to compare the '09 A4 against competitor AWD-equipped vehicles, the 2008 Lexus IS250, 2008 BMW 328xi, and the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C300. Apparently, prior to us fortunate registrants, only the media and salesmen had had a chance to test drive the '09 Audi A4.

All the cars were in stock form, with dealer options to make them as close as possible to the A4. We did the comparison tests on a shorter track.

My impressions and personal rankings:
  1. Audi A4 -- Wow. Very impressive handling and better than I had expected. Light steering feel, point and shoot. Big roll on corners.
  2. BMW 328xi -- I expected more of the interior of a BMW. Compared to the IS250 it felt cheap. Handled great.
  3. Lexus IS250 -- sluggish acceleration, with nice interior.
  4. M-B C300 -- Relatively poor tires? The C300 lost traction fairly easily in the corners. It felt like that had I wanted to I could have very easily initiated a 4-wheel drift. Longest to brake of the four.
I didn't check what tires were on the cars. The tires were supposed to be whatever each manufacturer put on them at the dealership. It's very close between the A4 and 328xi, but I put the A4 ahead because it had a better interior.

A funny: in the comparison tests, all the A4s were bright red, and all the competitors' were silver and/or grey. :o)

After the comparison tests I was able to take the A4 out on the Shenandoah Circuit at Summit Point. Apparently one of the banking turns is a dimensional replica of one at Der Nurburgring, though we went through it in the opposite direction. I was the last of five drivers, the first being the instructor/follow-me car.

I had time to make 5-6 laps -- that's probably about twice of what most people had because of having to switch drivers. Serendipitously I was the only one in my car. :o)

Another funny: instructor says, "Squealing tires are happy tires."

Hmm, what else to say. Oh yeah, in the 30-minute introductory talk, he spent a significant amount of time on the "Driver Select" option newly available for 2009 A4s. He said this option will be thought to be as revolutionary as putting Quattro on street cars was.

Basically, Driver Select is the ability to have a dynamic and comfort mode. Dynamic is like sport mode, but better. Driver Select alters the steering, transmission, suspension, and engine responses. Even better, each driver can individually modify each of those four areas to fit their own preferences. Furthermore, on "auto" mode, Driver Select will switch between dynamic and comfort within milliseconds, depending on how you're driving.

Reality Check -- the lead car communicated to us via hand-held tranceiver, so while we were all concentrating on keeping up he was driving with one hand on the wheel, and the other on the transceiver, all the while looking in his rear-view, "okay, brake here... 3rd car accelerate to catch up to the 2nd... that's good... take this turn wide... now close it up on the straight...." :o)

Hmm, oh yeah, how could I (almost) forget? They had many Audi models out for people to take a close look. They had an S5, A3, Q7, A(S?)6, and the... R8. Guess which one I sat in first. :o)

Pictures later.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, of course I had to sign a liability and/or injury agreement, but I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't bother reading it. I wonder if it said anything about who would pay for a trashed car.

UPDATE 2 (24AUG2008): I finally got around to posting some pictures. Take a look!

07 August 2008

Debix update

To follow up my previous post regarding the ID fraud protection service offered by Debix, there was some question as to the credit freeze lifting fee required for each credit request if -- as reported in the cnet article I sourced -- Debix places a credit freeze on your account as part of signing up with Debix.

I e-mailed Debix for information and this was their reply:

"Debix does not place a "credit freeze" on your credit file. Debix service does not prevent your credit file from being obtained; it will only prevent new credit lines from being opened without your consent. A fraud alert requires the creditor take additional steps to verify your identity. One step is to obtain your permission via your Debix safe number."

So it turns out the cnet article was inaccurate. Debix places a fraud alert on your file rather than a credit freeze, thus avoiding a lifting fee each time your file is requested.

Furthermore, while self-evident but nevertheless bears repeating, Debix only protects against new fraudulent credit lines. Any fraudulent accounts established before signing up with Debix won't be detected.

05 August 2008

ID Fraud Protection

Ever since I started shopping online I've been concerned with identify theft. Though I guess you don't even have to shop online to be vulnerable.

Despite my concerns I rejected the identity fraud protection services offered by banks and the like. The major problem I have with these services is that they only catch a problem after the fact. I'm also annoyed by the monthly fee -- especially since it's the banks who ultimately permit criminals to open accounts, albeit under false pretenses. So personally I think the ID protection plans have been useless and a money grab.

"The Achilles' heel in all of these plans is that the financial institution does not have to make a reasonable attempt to contact you, so the fraudulent account may still get opened. Even with a credit freeze, some financial intuitions won't contact you. There's no way to prove or disprove an institution called you" -- cnet.com

I don't know how LifeLock works but when its CEO is an ID fraud victim after publicly bragging about LifeLock's security, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. As Jeremy Clarkson discovered, it's not a matter of whether or not you're vulnerable to ID fraud, but a matter of whether or not you'll be targeted.

In the United States the three credit monitoring companies (Equifax, Trans Union, Experian) are legally required to each provide a free credit report annually. I've been checking my credit reports every four months.

Am I being paranoid? I don't think so. Millions of Americans are victims of identity fraud annually. Besides, I'd feel much worse being a victim having done nothing than being a victim and having at least tried to be proactive.

Anywhoo, all this is to say is why haven't I heard of Debix sooner? From an article on cnet:

"Not only does Debix put a credit freeze on your profile, but it uses its own phone number to log whether the credit institution tried to contact you. And if you're not available, Debix puts the pending account or loan on hold until you are able to return the call. And by using a Debix phone number, not your home number, on your credit report, that adds another layer of security to the product.

So how does Debix work in the real world? Say you are at a car dealership and you need to finance a new car. Shortly after the salesperson leaves the showroom floor, your mobile phone should ring. That's Debix; you know it because it's your voice saying a secret code. Then Debix asks if you indeed are seeking to establish a new account. If yes, you type in a secret personal identification number.

Say you are on vacation and Debix conveys a permission request for a new account. Since you didn't request a new account, you press star and you are instantly put in touch with a Debix investigator, who then contacts the party requesting the credit check. The advantage here, says Holland, is that the ID fraud case is still hot. In some cases, Debix has been able to identify a particular IP address and then turn that information over the local law enforcement. This saves local law enforcement time; they don't have to get a warrant for the bank's information--Debix has already provided the information. [...]

Sound too good to be true? In a study published by Julie Fergerson, vice president of Emerging Technologies, and Debix's Holland, the authors looked at 30,000 Debix-secured transactions during a two-month period at the end of 2007. Of those, 380 were identified as fraud and were stopped immediately. Overall, the rate of new account fraud among Debix customers was zero percent.

ITRC's Foley said he was impressed with the results within the survey. Holland told me that during the survey period there were four instances of new account fraud. In each case, however, the financial institution did not call the customer. With Debix, though, you have some recourse. Debix maintains a record and can prove the institution in question did not attempt to call the customer."

Bold is mine

Debix has been protecting against ID fraud since 2004, so it's not an untried new kid on the block. Plus, it's only $24 (for a single adult) or $72 (up to 3 adults, 4 children) annually.

I doubt it's full-proof, but Debix sounds far better than anything else I've seen.

31 July 2008

I Want to Believe: Update

As I posted earlier, I saw The X-Files: I Want to Believe the other day. While I thought it was an excellent movie, given the number of people in the theater with me on opening weekend I was worried about the box office figures.

According to this bbc.co.uk article I Want to Believe took in $10.2 million in the United States and Canada on its opening weekend. Still, assuming low production costs (I Want to Believe is just like a great X-File two-parter -- with minimal expensive special effects) and hoping for reasonable actor salaries, I hope they make a profit. I Want to Believe, after all, is a very good film.

I don't know if it's merely a matter of putting up a brave face on things, but in the same article a representative of the film's distributors (20th Century Fox) said the film's figures were...
"within our reasonable expectations [....] I read some X Files fan sites and the postings on there were incredibly positive about the film. The hardcore X Files fans, they're happy. And frankly, that's who the movie was made for."
If true, then I'm glad. Who knows, maybe they'll make another X-Files film. I'd definitely watch that. And if it's true they made I Want to Believe for hardcore fans, even better.

Normally I'd be a little more cynical about their motives, but what else could they have been thinking, putting out an X-Files film 6 years after the series ended, 10 years after The X-Files: Fear the Future (which grossed $187 million worldwide). I can't imagine Duchovny and Anderson being huge draws -- they can hardly be expected to do well against a record breaking blockbuster like The Dark Knight on its 2nd weekend.

Anywhoo, Chris Carter, Duchovny, Anderson... 20th Century Fox executives, if any of you are reading this: if you make it, I will watch it.

Hmm, my mangling of a quote (from an entirely non-related movie) sounds less pithy than it did in my mind. Oh well.

27 July 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Sweet nostalgia. The X-Files is one of my top three all-time favourite television shows (up until Mulder left, at least), right up there with Stargate SG-1 (up until O'Neill left, at least) and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Anywhoo, when The X-Files series ended after nine seasons there was talk about making a 2nd movie. As time went on I thought it would never happen. Years later, though, and hurrah! The X-Files: I Want to Believe is here! Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, with Chris Carter directing.

I Want to Believe is exactly what you'd expect from X-Files: intelligent dialogue, adult humour, with a healthy dose of suspense, horror and spookiness. There was one scene where I gave a short burst of laughter, but that was atypical. It's hard for me to describe. It wasn't Get Smart humour. It was what you'd expect from X-Files, wry and often subtle.

The atmosphere and suspense was suitably spooky at times, and the gross out factor was there -- but most of the jump-out-of-your-seat bits were off-screen.

Special effects: I can't think of a single part where they used computer graphics.

The movie doesn't involve the show's engrossing and convoluted mythology; it's a hunt for a suspect with the aid of an is-he-or-isn't-he psyhic. Supposedly this makes the movie more accessible to people not familiar with the t.v. show, but I'm not sure how effective that will be. I hope it does well at the box office, but Sunday night on opening weekend I Want to Believe was relegated to a smaller theater, and only 15 or so people showed up.

Personally, I wouldn't want kids to see this. I'd give this a PG-16. The subject matter and some of the visuals might not be appropriate for younger folks.


  • The movie takes place a few years after the show ended -- they don't specify exactly (I wish they did). Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are living together when they are asked to help find a missing FBI agent.
  • It's been what, six years since the series ended? They've aged. At least they didn't try to hide it with gobs of cosmetics.
  • In the hospital meeting where Scully was late -- I really wish she said that performing the risky treatment was up to the parents and the primary physician. But no mention of parents at all. Just her. Scully. Doctor supremo. The parents didn't show up until later, and it seemed a very long time until they did.
  • There are several in-jokes. In one, Mulder is trying to use his mobile one-handed, and in his contact list there's "Gillian". :o)
  • One of the funniest jokes of this movie wasn't even spoken. Mulder and Scully are at FBI HQ. At a door, pan left, portrait of President George W. Bush... cue first few notes of X-Files Theme. Pan right, portrait of J. Edgar Hoover. Mulder and Scully look at one another and share a silent commentary. :o)
  • Walter Skinner shows up near the end of the movie. Brief, but I'm glad he was there. Too bad they couldn't fit in The Lone Gunmen.
  • Oh, yeah. Skinner? If someone is freezing in the snow, perhaps you should bring them indoors.
  • There are a few times where they allude to stuff from the series. Not required info for the movie, but just added background.
  • Lest I forget: Duchovny, get some sun. You're way too pasty.
  • Stay until the end of the credits if you want to see the wave -- in more ways than one. :o)
I think you'd still enjoy the movie if you're unfamiliar with The X-Files series, but perhaps wouldn't rate it as well as I do.

Anywhoo, I give The X-Files: I Want to Believe, 4 out of 5 stars.