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.

22 July 2008

Resident Evil 4: Wii edition

This is just a mid-game comment on Resident Evil 4: Wii edition. I purchased this game in the first glow of my Nintendo Wii, along with a bunch of other games with good ratings (Twilight Princess, Lego Star Wars, Metroid Prime 3). Well, as Resident Evil 4's turn came up, the glow had long since worn off and I began to grow wary.

Generally I don't do well with suspense and horror, and Resident Evil 4 has that in spades. Another worry was whether the game was a 1st person shooter; I get dizzy and headaches playing those. Fortunately, RE4 is played mostly in the 3rd person, like Twilight Princess, so I only get a low-grade but bearable headache when playing. I decided to give RE4 a try before deciding whether or not to keep it.

The first time I tried it (and presently I'm still in the middle of Chapter 1) I was mobbed by not-zombies and quickly ran out of ammunition. This happened multiple times. When Leon's (the character you play) head was chopped off by a chainsaw-wielding not-zombie seemingly immune to bullets, I freaked out. Hey, I already said I can't handle horror! Anywhoo, I decided that this game was not for me and resolved not to play it again.

Time mutes fear, however. There were aspects of the game I really enjoyed. I looked online for hints as to how to avoid Leon's impersonation of a headless chicken. I tried playing RE4 again, and now I'm going to play until I complete it.

Why? I've become a little used to the not-zombies (familiarity breeds contempt?). I realized that it's okay to run away. I'm not fleeing in panic (really!), I'm defeating not-zombies in detail. The game play is smooth (I guess I'm still expecting pauses and lock-ups as with PC games), and it's unexpectedly satisfying to use modern-day weapons and not primitive weapons like in Twilight Princess, or futuristic ones like in Lego Star Wars. The vast majority of games I've played are RPGs like AD&D, swords and sorcery. In RE4 you use pistols and shotguns and grenades. Guns just feel more weighty. More oomph. More real. Visceral.

Hearing the crack of guns firing, spinning around to check your back, jumping through windows, over fences, and kicking down doors, the spooky atmosphere, involving story and more all combine to create a wonderful game play experience. And don't forget the running. Lots and lots of running (see 2nd paragraph, 1st sentence). Lots.

Thank the stars not-zombies are slow.


Well, I finally succumbed. I'd been telling myself to hold off on buying a flatscreen television because there's a significant possibility I'll be moving at the end of the year. I don't watch that much t.v. and my 24-26" CRT was working fine. I managed to hold out for more than year when I saw what I think is a pretty good deal at Circuit City, which was selling a 42LG30 for $100 cheaper than Best Buy, and $200 lower than the regular price.

The 42LG30 is a 42" LCD 720p flat screen television, with 3 HDMI inputs, 2 component inputs, 2 RCA inputs, and has received positive reviews from both professional reviewers and customers. The reviews along with the price are what contributed to my decision -- without either I wouldn't have purchased it. Despite my post regarding the U.S. economic stimulus package, honestly the stimulus never crossed my mind until a day or two after I'd placed the 42LG30 special order.

It's been a little over a week since the t.v. was delivered and so far and I'm glad I made the purchase. Standard signals are definitely substandard when compared to my old television. Though I've already gotten used to it so I don't notice it so much anymore. My old t.v. of course is smaller, so there's less detail but smoother pictures. The 42LG30 is larger, so pictures are bigger and hence show more detail, which, as I said, on a standard signal initially looked sub-par -- especially faces. But again, it's no longer so distracting once I got a little used to it.

I might say more about HD picture quality later, after I finally have some HD channels setup. The over the air HD signals in my area are limited to the major networks and PBS. Unfortunately, I don't watch those channels, except perhaps for the news, so I'm waiting for Comcast (ugh) to hook me up with digital and HD service.

I haven't tested how my DVDs look, yet. I really should do that.

Games on my Nintendo Wii look better -- I can see different coloured grass layed out in grids on Wii Sports, whereas previously the grass was just an uniform mass. Mii close-ups don't look as smooth, but that may be because I'm sitting slightly too close to the television -- 42" is a little big for my living room layout, which I knew when I bought it, but I figure after I end up moving it might turn out to be too small. :o)

16 July 2008

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

When I was debating whether or not to buy a game console, the chance to play Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga was a significant plus. After finishing Twilight Princess I immediately plunged into Lego Star Wars, and after 20-25 hours of playing time I completed the story portion of the game. If I was motivated, trying to complete the game in free play mode would extend playing time considerably.

It's fun. Easier than I expected due to limitless lives, but over all pretty good. Seeing Chewbacca rip the arms off a stormtrooper for the first time was hilarious. Wha-- did Chewie do what I think he did?! Stomping on 'troopers with an AT-ST is pretty fun, too. :o) The puzzles are for the most part modest, though there were a few that were a pain because I had no idea what to do in order to move on (Hint: on Hoth, straight south and use a mine).

When I try to come up with a comparison all I can think of is Mario in space, and as I've never touched a Mario game take it for what it's worth.

My Mario ignorance may soon be over. After I start and finish Resident Evil 4 (assuming game play doesn't make me dizzy) it's either Mario Kart (assuming I can find a copy) or Okami (which has also received rave reviews). Heck, I'll most likely end up buying both; it's just a question of in which order.

14 July 2008

My Eyes, My Eyes!

In a hurry, at the elevator door ready to exit as soon as it began to open, I was held up abruptly, staring down the gaping maw of a yawning orifice. Let me tell you, this was hippo quality yawning.

And I could have lived very happily without ever seeing it.

The Second Time, for the Twentieth Time

For the past half year or so, I've been getting automated telephone calls informing me -- as if I didn't know -- that my Volkswagen warranty period has expired. Now, I can't get any more specific than "Volkswagen" because the first call happened before 4-years of my R. I'm guessing they were initially referring to my VW 1.8T GTI -- which I traded in 4 plus years ago. A result of some record snafu, perhaps.

To paraphrase, each auto-call starts with, "This is the 2nd call notifying you that the warranty on your vehicle has expired...", which is about the point where I hang up. This is probably a 3rd party trying to get me to purchase extended coverage for my car. That would be fine, after the second time. But no. They keep calling, over and over, like the cat that came back. Each time for the "second" time. Are they too cheap to record a voice saying, "third" or "fourth" all the way up to "twentieth"? Perhaps they could keep things simple and just substitute "umpteenth" for "second". Do they think I'm so forgetful that I won't remember this is far from the first time they've called? How many vehicles do they think I have?

The recorded voice alternates between a male and female. Could the male be for my ex-GTI, the female for my R, or vice versa? The calls did seemt to increase in frequency once my R's warranty expired.

I once even listened to the entire message and when prompted promptly and firmly pressed "2" in order to reject their offer. One guess as to whether or not they stopped calling.

Call-blocking doesn't work, either, since their Caller ID changes each time.

The auto-calls were first considerate, then humourous followed by irritating and quickly to annoying. Now it's reached the point where, irrational as it may be, my ire is spilling over to Volkswagen itself. Volkswagen is probably innocent of this matter, though in the darkest of nights I wonder if VW of America sells and/or shares warranty information to subsidiaries and independents. Perhaps I'm not irrational, after all.

Anywhoo, irrational or not, I just want them to STOP.

10 July 2008

HDMI cables

I was looking at flatscreen televisions at Circuit City last week, and a salesman tried to get me to buy some Monster HDMI cables... for $69.99!? I'd need the HDMI cables to connect a digital cable box to the television, but... $69.99!?

Fortunately, I seemed to recall my brother having bought HDMI cables for much less, so I held off on a purchase until I could talk to him. I'm very glad I did. MonoPrice.com is an online retailer of cables and accessories with a good reputation. I purchased two 6-ft HDMI cables and a component cable for the Nintendo Wii, all for less than $20 including shipping. The cables arrived nicely packaged, with the ends wrapped in protective foam.

What I find astonishing is that Circuit City only carries Monster brand HDMI cables. Nothing else. They must know they're ripping off ignorant customers. If they don't know, why don't they know?

I've always rooted a little for Circuit City as a competitor to keep Best Buy honest. But after this experience I've perhaps gained a little insight into why Circuit City is doing so poorly. First CompUSA... can Circuit City be far behind?

UPDATE: Hmmm, it's just occured to me that I have no idea whether or not Best Buy sells Monster HDMI cables, or sells more than one brand, and for how much. I'll have to remember to check the next time I'm there.

Windows Vista Tweaks

I was more or less forced to upgrade to Windows Vista when my previous computer broke down. Overall, after the initial setup headaches (you can read this post for an example of my tribulations), I've been satisfied with it. It's definitely prettier than XP, but in addition to compatibility issues I was disappointed with the speed.

Despite a brand new Intel dual core 1.87 Hz, 2 GB RAM computer, Vista ran slower than I had expected. Were my expectations too optimistic? Obviously. But there you have it. I cursed the fates that led to my old computer's death.

Aside: I lost everything on my hard drive, without any warning whatsoever -- luckily I had a week old back-up on an external drive. If you don't already, back-up your computer!!! It's just like breathing, you never appreciate it as much as when you can't.

My ideal operating system is lean and mean, bloatware free; I don't need the bells and whistles.

Anywhoo, off and on I've been researching various tweaks to make Vista run faster. I found a great site with a multitude of tweaks on appearance, security, performance and other customizations. The How-To Geek has clear, simple instructions that even I can follow.

So as I said, overall I'm satisfied with Windows Vista. Vista runs the programs I need, and does the crucial tasks I want. Does it perform perfectly? No; but neither did XP.

06 July 2008

Wimbledon 2008

Holy bovine! Rafael Nadal is the 2008 Wimbledon gentlemen singles champion! Nadal defeated world number one, 5 time consecutive Wimbledon champion, Roger Federer in an epic 5 set match (6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7).

I think the match ran around 4 hours, 17 minutes, with two rain delays mixed in. Both players played amazing tennis. I really thought that if the match went to 5 sets, that Federer would win. I'm glad I was wrong.

According to the commentators, Nadal is the first Spanish player to win Wimbledon in 40 years, and the first to win both the French and Wimbledon in the same year since Bjorn Borg in 1980.

Part of the reason why Wimbledon is my favorite tournament to watch is the behaviour of the fans. Complete silence during the serve and during the points. Nirvana. In the other majors I get really annoyed when folks scream in the middle of a player's toss. Scream your support after the point, as the fans at Wimbledon did, but not during.

Random thoughts:
  • Federer, as always whenever I see him, is extremely gracious in what must be a heart breaking loss, missing out on a record-making 6 consecutive Wimbledon titles, and still 2 majors away from tieing Pete Sampras' record of 14 single major titles. In Federer's own words, from Federer's perspective he was playing the "worst player on the best surface". :o)
  • Nadal, as always when I see him, was very humble, mentioning several times that Federer is the greatest player in history. I also liked how after crushing Federer at the French Open Nadal was subdued in his reaction to winning match point.
  • I like Federer, and I think he'll eventually beat Sampras' record, but I'm also a little glad that that moment is delayed a little longer.

05 July 2008

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Wow, I just completed The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Nintendo Wii. This is a great, if at times frustrating, game, and one that I recommend highly.

Twilight Princess has excellent gameplay, nice graphics, interesting story, and sometimes devious (hence the frustrating part) puzzles; the puzzles, however, always turned out to be logical. No trick questions, here.

It took me 72 hours, 16 minutes, plus an hour or so playing time to complete the game. The variability results from the fact that you can't save games during the final scenes/battles. Well, you can save your game, but when you load it always sends you back to before you meet the final boss. Wangos. When I discovered this tiny relevant fact my frustration level reached an all time high.

Spoilers may follow.

I say "may" follow because I mention things in the game without providing background. So unless you're familiar with Twilight Princess you might have difficulty understanding the context.

Completing Twilight Princess was supremely satisfying. Why? Because I had a heck of the time defeating the final boss in his last iteration. The difficulty stemmed from the fact that despite learning it from the Golden Wolf, I had never mastered the backslice. My success with that technique always seemed random. I jumped and swung my sword, and sometimes it worked but more often not. For myself, getting out of the backslice training session was one of the most difficult parts of the game.

Anywhoo, once I did learn how to perform the backslice on demand, the final boss went down without trouble. It's just a matter of being patient and persevering, since the boss will block you after you get a couple strikes in.

I never collected all the Poes -- there's 60 of them?! I only collected 29.

I think the second Star Game with the double-clawshot is much easier than the first.

The non-speaking lines was novel at first, but after a while I kind of wish they included speaking lines.

I wonder what the maximum number of hearts, is. Is there 10 on the top row? I think I ended up with 14 - 17, then.

There are a lot of mini-games and other stuff I didn't complete. I wish that after you complete the game they'd let you wander around and finish everything.

I'm not sure if I want to replay this game, but I'm mighty tempted; I've been playing on an old dinky 24-26" CRT television. How amazing would it look on a 42" LCD flatscreen?

On to the next game.... :o)

04 July 2008

Art of the Saber

Links to these videos were posted at a forum I frequent. I think they're both great, for different reasons, so I had to post them here.

Art of the Saber

Lightsaber Accident

I think the introduction to Art of the Saber is a little dragged out, and the sticking the lightsaber in the ground too over done, but all in all an impressive fan video.

Lightsaber Accident is just hilarious. :o)

03 July 2008

Wii Sports

Much of my leisure time used to be spent playing computer games. Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dales, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Civilization -- I played these games over and over. Repeatedly. Again and again.

I'd play it through once, pick a different character, and play it through again until I'd gone through all the character classes. And then I'd find a character trainer and start the entire process once more. Then I'd forget the trainer and try to complete the game without dieing. You get the point -- PC games were supreme and game consoles were for people with money to spare.

This continued until one day it finally sunk in that I had a couple unopened games sitting on my shelf, new games that had been sitting neglected for months. This pretty much finalized the end of my PC game playing days. I spent my leisure hours with other activities.

I'd heard of the Nintendo Wii when it was first released, but at the time I wasn't interested in console games, and my only thought was, Wii is such a stupid name.

Anywhoo, to cut this overly long preamble, after trying my brother's Wii during Christmas holidays I decided to get one myself. The graphics for Wii aren't as nice as other consoles like Playstation or XBox, but I think it's more fun. The Wii remote has motion sensors so its movements are included in the game. For example, to swing a sword or tennis racket you swing the remote. In baseball you swing the remote as if you were holding a bat. In boxing you punch the air while holding the remotes. It's pretty fun.

After much searching I finally found one (I can't believe Wii's are still backordered; how long is it since its launch!?). One of the best things about the Wii is that it comes with Wii Sports (Hurah! I've finally reached the reason for my post title!) -- it has tennis, baseball, golf, bowling, and boxing. My favourites are tennis, baseball, and golf.

There is one thing about tennis that annoys me. I find it very frustrating that I can win a match and still lose "skill points" (when your Mii, the player's avatar, reaches 1000 points the Mii earns "pro" status). Anywhoo, given this puzzling point system, I've been wavering back and forth, above and below the 1000 mark, despite winning all of my matches. Sometimes I swing my racket when I'm no where near the ball, just because. Does this action make me lose skill points? Annoying.

Vending Machines: A Buck Too Far

For a while I've been satisfying my snack cravings by making use of vending machines at work. Prices for items I'm normally interested in ranged from $0.60 to $0.90. This week, however, all the prices suddenly jumped -- as a consequence of higher gasoline prices, I wonder -- to the cheapest item being $1, and the most expensive equalling $1.25. My response was to immediately stop using the vending machines.

Initially I wondered how long my personal vending boycott would last, as $0.40 isn't going to put me out in the street. To my mild surprise, after several days I don't think boycotting my workplace vending machines is going to bother me at all. When I asked myself why, I came to the conclusion that $1 marks a sort of mental demarcation. Anything below $1 is inexpensive, but $1 and above is not worth the expense.

I wonder how many people might feel the same way I do. I'm curious as to whether there will be less people using the vending machines, or using them less often. I'll have to make a mental note to check how quickly the vending machines empty.

It's a Spam World

There was an interesting article at bbc.co.uk the other day.

An experiment by the computer security company McAfee found that surfing the web unprotected for a month will leave the average surfer 70 spam e-mails per day. One study participant received 5,414 spam messages during the trial.

McAfee invited 50 people around the world to participate in their study. Participants in the United States fared the worst, receiving a total of 23,233 spam e-mails during the one month trial.

"The results show that spam is showing no signs of slowing down, although the opposite can be said of those receiving messages.

"Many of our participants noticed that their computers were slowing down. This means that while they were surfing, unbeknownst to them, websites were installing malware," said Guy Roberts, director of McAfee's labs in Europe.

Some 8% of the total spam received during the experiment was classified as phishing e-mails - messages that pose as a trustworthy source as a way of getting sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and bank account details." --bbc.co.uk

From the article:

Number of spam messages received:
  1. US - 23,233
  2. Brazil - 15,856
  3. Italy - 15,610
  4. Mexico - 12,229
  5. UK - 11,965
  6. Australia - 9,214
  7. The Netherlands - 6,378
  8. Spain - 5,419
  9. France - 2,597
  10. Germany - 2,331
*Data supplied by McAfee

Top ten most common spam categories:
  1. Advertisements
  2. Financial
  3. Health and medicine
  4. Adult services
  5. Free stuff
  6. Education
  7. IT related
  8. Money making
  9. Credit cards
  10. Watch adverts
*Data supplied by McAfee

01 July 2008

Site visitors in June 2008

The top 5 visitors in June 2008, listed by countries:

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

Full list of visitors in June 2008.

List of visitors for previous months