This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Thursday, September 30, 2004
Give the GLAT a try
Google has posted the Google Labs Aptitude Test (GLAT) on their blog. It is four pages and contains only 21 questions. Unfortunately, the questions are like this:

"'Tis known in refined company, that choosing K things out of N can be done in ways as many as choosing N minus K from N:I pick K, you the remaining.

Find through a cooler bijection, where you show a knack uncanny, of making your choices show all K of mine. Oh, for pedantry: let K be no more than half N."

I'm gonna skip the test; however, you can knock yourself out.
Viral marketing experiment
I've been watching my site traffic pretty regularly since I launched it back in May. For whatever reason, unique visitors, sessions and pageviews continue to double (and sometimes quadruple) from month to month.

While I can try to infer some things from the referrers and other data, it is difficult to determine exactly who is visiting my site. So I decided to do a little viral marketing experiment last night.

Using the little flickr component that I added to the right column of the page, I planted a goofy photo of myself wearing pink sunglasses, a red cape and a Buzz Lightyear hat. My bet was that I would see that photo show up around the office at some point today.

Well, the work day is barely 2 hours old and they are everywhere. I've seen them sitting on printers, pinned up in people's cubicles. I've also had people stop by and mention the photo. Mission accomplished.

Now if I could just figure out how to get people to give me money (instead of ridicule) with this newfound viral marketing knowledge.
Are you cool-blind?
WIRED.com has a very cleverly-written article about a neuroscientist in California who is using fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to try and determine how "cool" someone is. The author knows that she is a life-long nerd (and confirms it throughout with details that almost make you cringe); however, she wants to see if this test will make her "cool."

The procedure sounds strangely close to "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" in that test subjects are shown a series of cool and uncool objects and their brain is examined to measure their response.

Even more wacky is the goal of the project. It's not for some sociological or psychological pursuit, but for commerce. Steven Quartz, who developed the cool test (and sounds like the Mark Ruffalo character in "Eternal Sunshine"), wants to help companies determine what makes cool people respond so positively to cool products. Once that is understood, maybe people can be marketed to based on their coolness, not by demographics. Uh...OK.

While the article is a bit long (4 pages), the author, Jennifer Kahn, keeps it interesting by injecting tidbits from her personal Exile in Nerdville. I won't give away the results of her test, you'll have to check it out for yourself.

BTW, as an aside, this neuroscience stuff must pay very well. The article mentions that Quartz lives in Mabilu and is Tommy Lee's neighbor. Quite a contrast to the dingy office of Lacuna, Inc.
Flickr
As you may have noticed from the little box with photos on the right side of this page, I started using Flickr yesterday. It is one of those photo services where you can upload your photos and allow others to view them.

What I liked about Flickr (as opposed to other similar services) are the tools for web site owners like myself. Flickr allows you to add the photo "badge" that I have in the right column of this page. Plus, more importantly to me, it provides you with an RSS feed of your photo collection.

So my site will always have the 3 latest photos that I've uploaded and anyone who has my feed bookmarked will get alerted whenever I publish new photos. Very cool.

The service is still in beta; however, it is free, so you might as well give it a try if you're looking to upload and share your photos online.

Check out my collection | Get my photo RSS feed
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Finally watched "Super Size Me"
Wow! I have to say that I am blown away by what I just saw in "Super Size Me." I mean I know that fast food is not healthy; however, seeing the effect that the food had on Morgan in such a short period of time was unbelievable. He gained 17 pounds in 12 days!

I felt like getting on my exercise bike after watching about 15 minutes of the film. I'm seriously going to reexamine my diet and exercise regimen (or lack of one). Even though I only eat fast food about once a week, I'm stopping cold turkey after seeing this film.

If you haven't seen the film (and you're concerned with maintaining a healthy diet), I definitely recommend checking it out.
New Year's Eve: UO & Pixies
According to urgeoverkill.com and a post on Mood Control, the Urge Overkill mailing list, Urge and The Pixies are going to be playing a New Year's Eve show in Chicago. Even though I am already going to see them in Chicago on November 17th, I'd love to make this show as well.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Training wheels are off!
Mahlon finally decided that it was time to remove the training wheels on his bike today. He had been physically ready for a few weeks; however, he wasn't convinced that he could do it.

After one of his training wheels actually fell off during his ride this afternoon, he figured that he really didn't need them any more. However, with Miles breaking his foot recently, I would almost prefer that the training wheels stay on for a while longer.

BTW, the photo at right is of Mahlon making his bike-riding face. It is very similar to his football game face that I posted a photo of earlier in the week.
The Hives in Memphis
This is turning out to be quite a Summer and Fall for concerts for me. I've seen Urge Overkill twice (Louisville & Lexington, KY), I'm going to see Morrissey here in Louisville on October 20th, The Pixies and Urge Overkill in Chicago on November 17th, and now it looks like I'll be seeing The Hives in Memphis on November 28th.

My family and I are going to Memphis for Thanksgiving and the concert falls on the following Sunday. The show is at the 1,500-seat New Daisy Theater on Beale Street. I've seen so many great concerts there including Prince (concert after party), Urge Overkill, Beck, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Cracker, Afghan Whigs, etc.
New releases: 09/28/2004
Today is an especially good day for new DVD and video game releases, so I thought I would highlight some of the ones that I like.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This is the best movie I've seen in years. Brilliant performances. Amazing direction. Buy it!

Super Size Me
The filmmaker is originally from West Virginia. The film inspired the Adult Happy Meal. What else do you need to know?

Envy
I don't know if this movie is good or not (it got a 3.8 out of 10 on IMDB); however, I like Jack Black and Ben Stiller and I like the premise - one friend (Black) becomes super famous as the king of infomercials; the other (Stiller) can't deal with it. It should be worth a rental.

ESPN NBA 2K5
This game had its release date pushed up to today in response to EA's release of its NBA title. At $19.99, I think I will stick with the ESPN 2K5 series. The NFL and NHL games are both terrific.
Monday, September 27, 2004
What a day!
There are several things that I really dread: having an expensive home repair; getting a letter from the IRS telling me that I owe them more money and getting a frantic phone call that one of my kids is hurt.

Today, I got all three! Our water heater went out and needed to be replaced this morning. That one was good for $500+. Then, we got a letter from the IRS that said we didn't pay enough tax in 2002 on my freelance income. That one is going to cost $450. Finally, Miles, who is hobbling around on a broken foot, trips because of his cast and falls on his arm. Fortunately, there was no break; however, his elbow was dislocated and he was in quite a bit of pain for a while.

With a little under 2 hours left in the day, I'm hoping all of the drama is over.
FFL: sMoRTy71 114, Big B'smacker 99

Sunday, the 'Smacker became the 'Smackee as I beat former division-leader Pedro Espinoza's Big Bitchsmacker team 114 - 99. See the score breakdown here. Next up, the 0-3 Vanderlay Vikings.
Kobe's transcripts
The Smoking Gun has released the 57-page transcript of Kobe Bryant's initial questioning by detectives in Eagle, CO. The document is really interesting for a few reasons:

1. You hear Kobe decsribe the events in his own words. He clearly recognizes the damage this would do to his marriage and his endorsement career. He also immediately believes that this is an attempt to extort money from him.

2. There are a lot of juicy details (check out line #554 on page 18 for one of the best) about that night and about another ongoing affair he was having.

3. You get to see the "good cop-bad cop" manipulation from the detectives. Some times they try to get him angry. Other times, they are trying to calm him and be his buddy. It's interesting to see that play out through the course of the transcript.

Check out the full transcript here.
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Free trial to Gamefly
When I was on GameSpot on Friday, I saw a promo for a free 21-day trial to Gamefly.com. I had been curious as to how the service worked, so I decided to check it out.

Gamefly is basically Netflix for games. You pay $21 per month and you can check out up to 2 games (from any combination of game consoles) at a time. There are no due dates or late fees and Gamefly pays the postage on the games both ways.

I signed up Friday and requested Burnout 3:Takedown and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 for Xbox. I got an e-mail Friday evening saying that both of my games have shipped and should be here early in the week.

And just like Netflix, if I return one game, Gamefly will automatically sent me the next game that I have saved in my "GameQ." You can even place games that haven't been released yet in your Q.

While the service seems cool so far, there are a couple of downsides that I can see:

1. You are without a game for 5 or 6 days between check outs -- For example, if it takes 3 days for the game to get back to Gamefly and then another 3 days to reach me, then I've missed 1/5 of the month that I could have been gaming.

2. Game availability is impossible to predict -- Because there are no due dates, you could run into a situation where all copies of a game are checked out and you will have no idea of when you can expect to receive a copy. Some games on the site have a "Short Wait" icon next to them which means that they are not available right now.

One feature that I may take advantage of during my trial is the "Keep it" feature. If you like a game, you can select "Keep it" and they will charge you a preplayed price (and they'll mail you the box and manual). Burnout 3: Takedown, which I really want to buy, is only $39.99. So I may pick it up before my trial runs out.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
Mahlon is a Chief
Mahlon is playing in a 6-7 year old flag football league through the YMCA. Today they got their jerseys and learned their team name. They are the Chiefs. Mahlon will be wearing number 8 (he was disappointed that #7 was already taken).

In the first game, he will be playing TE. In the second game, he is the RB. In the meantime, I've got him studying film of Tony Gonzalez and Priest Holmes.

His games are played at Zachary Taylor Elementary on Saturday mornings. Stop by if you're ready for some football.

BTW, as you can tell from the photo of his "game face", Mahlon hasn't quite gotten the whole mouthpiece thing figured out yet.
GB-PVR on my MediaMVP
I bought a Hauppauge Media MVP set-top box about 6 months ago to use with my HTPC setup. I wanted to use it to stream shows recorded with SageTV 2 to my master bedroom. However, after I decided that it is still easier to record shows with my TiVo (and use a coax connection from the TiVo to my bedroom), I hadn't really used the Media MVP.

But now that DirecTV has moved our local channels to the "B" satellite (and we don't get the "B" satellite until our neighbor's tree loses its leaves), I am using my HTPC to record our local digital channels (which I receive OTA with my Hughes HD receiver).

Instead of using the software that comes loaded with the Media MVP, I installed GB-PVR which is a freeware program that extends the functionality of the MVP. One of the key features of GB-PVR is that it allows you to watch (and record) live TV just like TiVo. In addition, there are a lot of cool plugins available. I am using the weather plugin (which pulls forecast, current conditions and local map), the RSS plugin (which lets you specify what feeds you want to read on the MVP), the photos plugin (which lets you view your photo collection) and the comics plugin (which lets you view over a dozen comics including PvP and Dilbert). So far, it is worked just as I have needed it to.

If you're looking for an inexpensive networked media receiver (the MVP can be had for well under $100), then I highly recommend the Media MVP running GB-PVR.

Check out GB-PVR | Learn more about the Media MVP
Friday, September 24, 2004
Teledildonics will be the new crack!
Gina Lynn's latest column on WIRED.com is about remote interaction technology or "teledildonics" as she calls it. I mentioned similar technology from Doc Johnson back in June (see the "This will be the new crack!" post); however, this one sounds even better.

A company called Sinulator is selling adult "toys" that can be controlled remotely via the internet. One interesting thing about the Sinulator implementation is that the male and female devices can interact with each other remotely. So the male device can send data to the female device and vice versa. Read more about it here.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Changing a layer's opacity
I was working on a project at work yesterday and discovered a really cool CSS attribute that I hadn't used before. I wanted to create a layer that covered the page, but allowed the portion of the page behind the layer to still be visible (but slightly muted).

The attribute is "opacity." Of course, there are different implementations for IE, Mozilla and Safari; but, unlike other browser CSS differences, this one is actually easy to implement. See the code below:

For IE: filter:alpha(opacity=50);
For Mozilla: -moz-opacity:0.5;
For Safari: opacity: 0.5;

You can place any or all of these in your CSS class depending on which browsers you care about. For example, to make a white box that has 50% transparency (and works in all 3 browsers), you could create the following class:

.whitebox {
background-color:#ffffff;
filter:alpha(opacity=50);
-moz-opacity:0.5;
opacity: 0.5;
width:350px;
height:350px;
}

IE requires a height and width attribute in order for their filter to render the transparency.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Chat with SW Trilogy DVD producer
The Washington Post has a transcript of yesterday's live chat with Van Ling who served as the DVD producer for the Star Wars Trilogy DVDs. While I found most of it interesting, one little nugget really jumped out:

"Van Ling: The films were all restored to HD, and are actually ready for digital cinema release should Lucasfilm so choose. I'm not aware of any HD broadcast plans at the moment, but if there are enough people interested, maybe they can do a digital cinema thing. It would look amazing!"

I'd love to see either HBO-HD, who broadcast "Attack of the Clones" in HD, or HDNet pick up the rights to broadcast the HD versions of the first three films.
First Impression: "The Handler"
Har Mar Superstar released his new album "The Handler" yesterday and I've been listening to it on Rhapsody all morning. First, let me say that I thought his last album, "You Can Feel Me," was brilliant. It had a raw sound that made it live up to the "porno funk" label that has been slapped on HMS's sound.

After a couple of listens to "The Handler," I am kind of disappointed in how polished it sounds. Maybe it is due to producer John Fields who has worked with Pink and Mandy Moore. I don't know. It's just way too tight. It doesn't sound as loose and raunchy as "You Can Feel Me."

The best track, by far, is "Cut You Up" which features the great Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I could listen to this one all day. Kind of reminds me of "Erotic City" for some reason.

On a couple of songs ("Transit" and "Sugar Pie"), though, he seems to be doing a Stevie Wonder impersonation. Unfortunately, with the over-polished production, it sounds more like "I Just Called to Say I Love You"-era Stevie Wonder than the great older Stevie stuff.

The album isn't terrible, but it isn't that great either. I just had high expectations after loving "You Can Feel Me." Maybe "The Handler" will grow on me after a couple more listens.
Pongmechanik
Sone guy in Germany has built a mechanical version of the video game "Pong." The device, which is called "Pongmechanik" (how clever), "is an absolutely physical game. The game is realized electromechanically, and essentially consists of four elements:
A relay computer, the mechanical movement with collision detection, the display and the acoustic components."

As you can see from the photo, this thing is huge. It looks about the size of a foosball table with a couple of wired joysticks. The clear case was inspired by Konrad Zuse who created the first mechanical computer in 1935. Like Zuse's machines, the Pongmechanik showcases its interior parts.

The site, which may be hard to access because it was Slashdotted this morning, features a more detailed explanation of how the device works, photos and video clips.
Miles gets a second cast
Well, Miles' first cast lasted less than a week. Somehow he got it soaking wet and was required to return to the doctor's office to have it replaced with a new one.

This time, he opted for the purple one. I told him that it was the same color as the Vikings and offered to draw something football related on the cast. No chance. He still wants me to draw a Care Bear on it. Maybe I can slip a Vikings jersey on the bear.

The one good thing about the new cast is that it is a darker color. The last one was already getting pretty grimy.

I just hope that this one lasts the remaining 3 weeks.
Wanna edit a film?
Robert Greenwald, director of the anti-Fox News film "Outfoxed," is making the raw, unused footage available online for others to "remix" as they see fit.

In this WIRED article, Greenwald says, "I hope there will be a series of creative, interesting and different ways that this material will be utilized by all kinds of different folks," said Greenwald. "And I look forward to seeing what comes out of it. And toward that end, the possibilities are very exciting as to what people will do, because there are no limits other than creativity."
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
EditCSS extension for Firefox
I just downloaded the one of the greatest browser extensions ever written. It is called EditCSS. It allows you to view and manipulate the style sheet of any site you open in Firefox. This is a huge time-saver for anyone who works with CSS on a regular basis because it allows you to see your CSS changes in real-time.

It can also be fun even if you don't know much about CSS. For example, in this CNN example, I just took the color code for hot pink and added it to their font styles and their leftnav bar.
The Vikings looked terrible, but...

"Mr. Culpepper needs to hold onto the football ... and maybe lay off the donuts."

Mira looked lovely in the new Minnesota Vikings dress and headband set that she wore for last night's Vikings-Eagles game. As you can tell from her expression, she was not at all pleased with the Vikings' pitiful performance.

Their most glaring problem last night was their lack of an offensive line. Culpepper was hurried and/or knocked down on just about every pass (even when the Eagle were only rushing 4 guys AND the Vikings kept 2 backs in to block!).

Unfortunately, the o-line wasn't the only problem. There was Culpepper's fumble. The guy's got a great arm, but he currently holds the NFL record for the most fumbles per game in history (70 fumbles in 60 games). Their special teams play was pitiful: Elling can't get the kickoff past the 10 yard line, Andersen can't hit a 44 yard field goal, and their kick coverage team gave up huge returns.
CEA-2027
The Consumer Electronics Association has published a new user interface standard, CEA-2027, aimed at making televisions the central point of control and navigation within the "digital home."

According to News.com, CEA-2027 "uses Web browser-based communications to provide access to and control of networked components--such as a personal computer or digital video recorder--through the main TV screen from a single remote control." The standard only supports FireWire connections with plans to include Ethernet.

This is a curious development for a couple of reasons:
1. Due to piracy concerns, most hardware manufacturers don't include FireWire connections on their hardware. Even Ethernet isn't that common yet.
2. TV manufacturers are notorious for the terrible remote control and onscreen interfaces that they create for their products. The thought of them creating theses interfaces is a little scary.
3. The audio/video receiver seems like a more natural choice for a standard like CEA-2027 since it is responsible for switching all of the a/v signals that end up on the television.

To me, this whole thing seems like an attempt by TV manufacturers to get ownership of some sort of standard in the emerging "digital home" market before someone else does.
Monday, September 20, 2004
I finally switched to Firefox
I generally chose the technology product that is considered the "standard." I use a PC. I run Windows. I (used to) run IE. The main reason that I steer clear of "alternative" technologies like OS X or Linux is because their advocates are usually so damn annoying that I don't want to be lumped in with them. With that said, I still decided to switch from IE to Firefox this morning.

I have been writing a lot of CSS stuff at work lately and found myself checking my code in Firefox (since it is a standard-compliant browser) which I had installed solely for testing purposes. However, the more I used it, the more I really liked it.

In addition to the improved security that has been touted in the press, I really like tabbed browsing and the ability to easily integrate RSS feeds.

I am going to resist being one of those annoying zealots and simply say that Firefox is available for download here.
It's really all about George
CNN.com has an interview with George Lucas where he responds to the criticism he has received for not releasing the original Trilogy and opting for the special editions instead. IMO, he comes off like kind of turd (as usual):

Q: Why not release both the originals and special editions on DVD?

LUCAS: The special edition, that's the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it's on VHS, if anybody wants it. ...

I'm not going to spend the, we're talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn't really exist anymore. It's like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I'm sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be

Q: Do you pay much attention to fan reactions to your choices?

LUCAS: Not really. The movies are what the movies are. ... The thing about science-fiction fans and "Star Wars" fans is they're very independent-thinking people. They all think outside the box, but they all have very strong ideas about what should happen, and they think it should be their way. Which is fine, except I'm making the movies, so I should have it my way.


Too bad he didn't rethink all of the damn Ewoks he had running around in "Return of the Jedi." I'll only concede that reworking the original films is warranted if he is able to replace Anakin when they release the prequel DVD set.
Is your Windows license legit?
News.com is reporting that Microsoft will begin asking users of their download site if can check the validity of their Windows software license. The program is optional and Microsoft will still allow users to download software even if their Windows license is invalid. Hmm. I think I'll pass on that.
Arrested Development wins 3 Emmys
One of my favorite shows, Arrested Development, won 3 Emmys last night including Comedy Series, Directing for a Comedy Series and Writing for a Comedy Series.

While I don't usually care about the Emmys, this is huge for Arrested Development which didn't do too well in the ratings last season. In fact, I only know of two other people who watch the show. Hopefully this Emmy win will guarantee a couple more seasons.

If you missed the first season, it is coming to DVD in October.
FFL: sMoRTy71 70, Bums 72
A coaching mistake and a former back-up player having a career day have cost me a win against Jim's Underachieving Bums.

At the last minute on Sunday, I picked up Muhsin Muhammed, who has become the number 1 receiver in Carolina after Steve Smith's season-ending injury, and benched David Givens, who is one of 6 or 7 targets for Tom Brady in New England. Bad move. Muhammed scored 2 points while Givens scored 11. Couple that with DeShaun (I was a backup until last week) Foster scoring 23 points for the Bums and I'm 1-1 after two games.

Watching the scores during the 4PM games was maddening because Jim had a defense playing and I had a RB playing. So every time the opposing team would gain yards or points against his defense, Jim's score would drop below mine. Then his defense would get a sack or an interception and his score would suprass mine. Then my RB would get a few yards and I'd be back up again.

My last chance to win the game came as Buffalo ran the ball with my RB Travis Henry on 4th and goal from the 1. Henry was stopped about an inch short thus costing me 6 points. Then Josh McCown, who may be the worst QB is the NFL, gave Jim's defense the 2 points he needed to win by throwing yet another interception in the closing minutes. Damn, I hate to lose like that!
Sunday, September 19, 2004
My HTPC saves the day
If you are a DirecTV customer, you know that there are 3 satellites (A,B,C) from which you receive programming. Recently, DirecTV started moving channels around from one satellite to another. For example, ESPN HD, Discovery HD and the Louisville local channels got moved to the B satellite. For most people, that would be no big deal. For me, however, it was bad news. See, during the spring and summer (when my neighbor's tree has leaves on it), I don't receive the B satellite at all.

While I'm content to wait a couple of weeks for the leaves to fall (since I don't watch much network TV), my wife wants to see the new fall lineup of shows from the major networks (and she wants to be able to TiVo them). Since my DirecTiVo doesn't have an over-the-air antenna, I decided it was time to turn to my HTPC.

I've connected my HDTV receiver, which receives our digital local channels over the air, to the Hauppauge PVR-250 tuner/capture card in my HTPC. By using SageTV, I can now set up my HTPC to record all of the network programming that my wife is missing from DirecTV. Whew!

The next step is to reinstall MediaMVP server on the HTPC to allow the recorded shows to be streamed over my LAN to the MediaMVP set-top box in our bedroom.
Friday, September 17, 2004
sMoRTy71.com is TABLE free!
OK, I finally got around to reworking my blog template to use DIVs instead of TABLEs. When I first decided to start the blog, I didn't have time to do the DIVs and CSS, so I cheated and used TABLEs. Although there is no noticeable difference in terms of the look-and-feel, I just feel better having standard-compliant code (especially since I wrote nearly a dozen articles for Builder.com about the benefits of CSS).

Feel free to check out my CSS file here. You can also view the HTML code here.
Pixies & Urge Overkill in Chicago
Yesterday was a great day. My home theater got featured on CNET.com. My wife and I went to see a terrific movie (Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset"). And I got tickets to the Pixies and Urge Overkill show in Chicago on November 17th.

First of all, I can't believe that two of my absolute favorite bands are doing a show together. Second, I can't believe that I'm actually going. Third, I can't believe I get to go to IKEA again. The Pixies, Urge, cheap Scandinavian furniture and Swedish meatballs. Maybe I'm easy to please, but it doesn't get much better than that.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Show Us Yours is live!
The Show Us Yours feature, where CNET readers submit photos of their home theater setups, is live and featured in the lead spot on the CNET.com home page. My setup is featured under the heading "Southern Comfort." I think they selected that heading because I look drunk in my photo (BTW, that pimpin' look is for the ladies only).

Anyway, there are several photos and details about my system plus the editor's commentary. Everything he says is pretty accurate (especially the "supercool" part) except for one thing. He recommends that I get a DVD player with HD upconversion. My current HTPC setup allows me to do that now (and with better picture quality that the standalone DVI-enabled DVD players).

There is more info on my home theater here.
There is but one lone Ramone
CNN.com is reporting that Johnny Ramone has died at the age of 55. The article is full of interesting tidbits about Johnny and the band including the fact that Ronald Reagan was Johnny's favorite president and that Bruce Springsteen wrote "Hungry Heart" for the Ramones (but decided to keep it for himself).

The article also lists the friends and family members at Johnny's bedside when he died. Talk about a strange bunch to be gathered in one place:

"Along with his wife, Linda Cummings, Johnny Ramone was surrounded at his death by friends, including Pearl Jam rocker Eddie Vedder, singer Rob Zombie and others. Other friends who gathered at his Los Angeles home included Lisa Marie Presley, Pete Yorn, Vincent Gallo and Talia Shire."
Slacker Criterion DVD
There have only been a handful of movies that really changed the way I looked at filmmaking. Richard Linklater's "Slacker" probably made the biggest impact. It made me realize anyone, including me, could make a great film for very little money. In fact, it is to "blame" for my decision to go to graduate film school.

So when I heard a couple of months ago that the DVD was finally going to be released on September 14th, I was thrilled. The fact that it would be a Criterion collection was almost too much for me to take.

Well, since hearing about the DVD, my wife and I decided to take the kids on a Disney vacation at the end of October. I've been trying really hard to avoid buying a bunch of DVDs and video games prior to the trip because I know that damn Mouse is going to bleed us dry. Plus, I figured I could rent it for now.

Unfortunately, Blockbuster doesn't rent Criterion DVDs. On top of that, I just received a glowing review of the DVD via e-mail from The Washington Post. Some of the bonus features include commentary by Linklater, audition videos and footage from a reunion of the cast members on the 10th anniversary of the film in 2001. Damn Mouse!
Star Wars Trilogy DVDs
CNN.com has an article discussing the state of the DVD business for the major studios. Of course, much of the article focuses on the upcoming release of the Star Wars trilogy which is predicted to be the largest-selling DVD ever.

I've long been opposed to what Lucas did to the first 3 films when he re-released them several years ago. In fact, I declared (after seeing footage of Jabba walking) that I would never watch them. To this day, I haven't. However, with the big media push for the new DVDs and my desire to see them played through my HTPC with WinDVD 6's Trimension DNM, I'd been considering reconsidering...until yesterday. That's when Eric Brinley forwarded me a link to the additional changes that Lucas has made to the films since the first re-release.

You can check out the full list here; however, I must include a couple of the worst ones:

1. "As everyone knows already, Hayden appears as a ghost beside Yoda and old Obi-Wan at the end of the movie." Yeah, that's right. They've removed the actor who originally portrayed Anakin/Vader and included the new crappy Anakin/Vader. Lame.

2. "Han Solo avoids Greedo's shot before shooting at him." What?! Self-defense? Han was supposed to be a pretty seedy character before he met Luke and Obi Wan. It totally made sense for him to cap Greedo. After all, Greedo was going to deliver him to Jabba.

Even with the changes, I may still consider watching the films on my HTPC; however, I just won't buy them...
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Miles breaks his foot
Well, I was able to put it off for 7 years; however, Monday night Miles put an end to my streak of cast-free living.

While he and Mahlon were playing in the backyard, Miles fell and somehow broke his foot. So today I took off early from work to get his glow-in-the-dark cast put on. He originally wanted pink (which is his favorite color), but they didn't have enough pink for a whole cast. He agreed to glow-in-the-dark on the condition that I draw a Care Bear on it.

After getting the cast on, I took him to Toys R Us. After an hour of browsing (the application of the cast took less than 15 minutes), we finally settled on a Hot Wheels set. As you can see from this photo, Miles feels pretty good about his purchase.

He gets the cast off in 4 weeks which is just in time for our big Disney trip. It may take that long for him to learn to walk with the cast on.
Dr. Robotnik will see you now
WIRED has an article on the increasing use of video games in medicine. While I had heard about the study a couple of years ago about the improved performance of surgeons who played Super Monkey Ball, I hadn't read anything about the use of video games by patients.

According the article, video games are being used for a variety of things including claustrophobia (Unreal), fear of driving (Midtown Madness 3) and juvenile diabetes (games are used to remind patients to check glucose levels).
Nintendo DS for $200?
Wal-mart.com has posted a pre-order page for Nintendo's next-generation handheld gaming device, the DS, at a price of almost $200. That's more than an Xbox!

This News.com article speculates on the accuracy of the pre-order and on Nintendo's chances of selling their DS for $200 considering that Sony's PSP will be in the same price range.

Maybe I'm too old-school, but I'll take a $300 console over a $200 handheld any day.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
FFL: sMoRTy71 85, Motorcity 79

The first week of our Fantasy Football League is in the books and my sMoRTy71 team was able to get a win over Michael Hines' (mediocre) Motorcity Madmen. See our side-by-side scoring summary here. So now, Michael owes me a hand-delivered drink (Pepsi, please, Michael. Chilled).

Of course, I can't take all of the credit for the victory, I have to thank the following people: Priest Holmes for providing me with 33 fantasy points (150 yards, 3 TDs); Michael Hines for not starting Quentin Griffin (who would have scored 31 fantasy points had he not been riding the bench).

This week, I face Jim McDonnell's Jim's Underachieving Bums who lost in Week 1 to Pedro Espinoza's Big Bitchsmacker team.
Halo 2 Multiplayer Beta
GameSpot has a seven-page hands-on preview of Halo 2's multiplayer features. There are several new screenshots and some video clips. Enough said.
Monday, September 13, 2004
No "Stuck to ODB" after all
I tried to set up my TiVo to record "Stuck to ODB" tomorrow night, but couldn't find it listed. According to TVTome.com, Rhett Reese's new show (which Rhett won't confirm is "Stuck to ODB") is postponed indefinitely and will not air tomorrow night as scheduled. Coincidence? Probably not.

The programming team at SpikeTV may want to reconsider since we all know that "God made Dirt and Dirt bust yo' ass!"
Pay-per-view limits on TiVo
SiliconValley.com reported last week that TiVo and ReplayTV have agreed to set limits on how customers can store and view pay-per-view and premium content. For example, users may only be able to keep a pay-per-view movie on their TiVo for a limited amount of time (say, 7 days) before it is deleted.

This is yet another example of the MPAA trampling all over the rights of consumers. As the article points out, the movie industry sees the combination of TiVo and pay-per-view as a threat to their DVD rental/purchase revenue stream, so they will force companies like TiVo to comply or face legislation.

In the article, Fred von Lohmann, senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says,"Consumers are not the ones who are asking for this so-called feature. And I hope that the marketplace will respond by punishing TiVo and Replay and others that do this." Although I am a big fan of TiVo, I have to agree with him. "This aggression will not stand, man" (BTW, von Lohmann didn't say that, the Dude did).
Burnout 3: Takedown
After reading the glowing review of Burnout 3: Takedown on GameSpot, I decided to rent it and try it out. While I generally hate driving games, I absolutely love B3: Takedown. The gameplay is much more arcade style than other driving games like Project Gotham Racing. The controls are simple to learn and to use. And most importantly, the object of the game is to make your opponents (and sometimes yourself) crash. Considering that crashing is all that I do on more realistic racing games, B3: Takedown is perfect for me.

So far, I've played it. My kids have played it. Attendees of my NFL kickoff party played it. Even my wife has played it. Everyone loved it. I can't remember the last game that I've played that has had such broad appeal.

The only thing that takes any getting used to is the speed of the game which is absolutely ridiculous.

Unfortunately, there are too many good games coming out in the next couple of months (Star Wars Battlefront, Halo 2, Conker Live & Reloaded, Sonic Mega Collection, etc.). I don't know if Burnout 3 will make the list. So, I urge you, valued reader, to buy the game now and invite me over.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Marshall 21, #9 Ohio State 24

Mira wears her Marshall windbreaker while watching the game

Marshall played #9 Ohio State (in front of over 100,000 fans in Columbus, OH) to a 21-21 tie late into the fourth quarter. They even intercepted a pass in OSU territory with under 7 minutes to play...but then, they blew it! A missed field goal, a shanked punt (by the same kicker) and some bad clock management later and OSU gets into field goal range with :02 left in the game.

As you can probably tell from the picture above, Mike Nugent made the 54-yard field goal as time expired to give OSU the win. I think there may be more tears ahead for Mira when Marshall travels to #3 Georgia next week.
Morrissey in Louisville
I got my ticket for the Morrissey show this afternoon. He is playing the Louisville Palace on October 20th. Although I generally don't go to Clear Channel-sponsored concerts (since CC pulled Howard Stern off the air), I had to make an exception this time. I actually went to the Palace box office to purchase my ticket to avoid the $8 in Ticketmaster "convenience" charges.

The 2,700 seat Palace is a great place to see a concert. My wife and I saw Prince there a couple of years ago and it was amazing. Check out these photos of the incredible interior of the Palace.
1,650 HD channels on DirecTV
DirecTV has announced a plan to launch 4 Ka band satellites by 2007 that will provide about 1,650 HD channels. The first two satellites slated for a 2005 launch will support 500 local HD channels. The other two satellites will provide "more than 1,000 additional local HD channels, more than 150 national HD channels, and other new programming offerings."

This is great news for current DirecTV customers, like myself, who feared that limited satellite capacity would prevent DirecTV from offering more HD channels as they become available. Now there appears to be absolutely no reason to have cable.
Friday, September 10, 2004
Sept. 10, 1979: First KISS concert
KISS Dynasty Tour BookWow. I just realized that it has been 25 years to the day since I attended my first KISS concert at the Huntington Civic Center in Huntington, WV. They were supporting the "Dynasty" album and featured Judas Priest as their opening act.

Because I was only 8 years old, my mom (who was less than thrilled) had to take me. Actually, she tried her best to avoid taking me. Several weeks prior, we had heard that KISS was playing in Lexington, KY. My mom made some offhand comment like, "If they come any closer than Lexington, I'll take you to the concert." Well, a couple of weeks later, as I was dozed off in the car, a commercial for the KISS show in Huntington came on the radio. My mom practically ran off of the road trying to turn off the radio; however, it was too late. I had heard enough.

Of course, the show was like nothing my 8-year old eyes had ever seen. The makeup, the pyrotechnics and the incredible volume of the music and the crowd (luckily we brought earplugs) were almost overwhelming. I think I spent the entire next day showing off my ticket stub and tour book (which cost an outrageous $5!) and recounting all of the details for my classmates who probably couldn't have cared less.

I've seen KISS probably 10 times since then (including a 1998 Halloween trip to L.A. for our honeymoon); however, this show is the one I still remember best. It's probably the reason I still go to their shows even though I stopped listening to the music years ago.
Opera's TVR technology
Opera Software announced yesterday that they have developed a new screen rendering technology called TVR or TV Rendering. Opera claims TVR makes the "necessary adjustments to perfectly display any Web page on any TV screen."

I am really excited about the possibilities of TVR for HTPC enthusiasts; however, it doesn't look like a TVR version of the browser is being offered as a consumer download. It looks like they are only offering it to STB manufacturers as an option in their SDK.

I sent an e-mail to Opera anyway to see if they will be making it available for download. I'll post an update here when I hear back.
Women & video games
CNN.com published a story yesterday on the roles women play in the video game industry (as both players and developers). Turns out that women make up a big portion of the gaming community (as high as 40% according to the article) but make up a very small portion of game developers (around 10%).

Southern Methodist University, which has a "school of video game making," is the first to offer a scholarship for women to enroll in their program.

The article asserts that if more women become game developers, then women will see more games that appeal specifically to them. While that sounds good in theory, there are obviously a lot of games that attract women now (if they do, in fact, make up 40% of the gaming community). It will be interesting to see if the nature of games do change as more women enter the industry. "Shoe shopping with Brad Pitt 2K7" could be just around the corner.
Panasonic's DMR-E500HS
If you've been looking for a full-featured DVD recorder with a ton of storage capacity, then check out the new Panasonic DMR-E500HS. In addition to being a progressive scan DVD player/recorder, the unit also has a TV tuner, a 400GB hard drive (damn!) that stores over 700 hours of video, ethernet port, FireWire input and onscreen TV Guide.

It records on both DVD-RAM and DVD-R. According to the specs, it can record a one-hour DVD-R in 56 seconds! That's makes it the fastest DVD burner on the market.

So now that you're sold on the features, you just need to scrounge up $1,500 for your very own DMR-E500HS.
Thursday, September 9, 2004
Court reverses sampling ruling
WIRED is reporting that a federal appeals court in Cincinnati has ruled that "rap artists should pay for every musical sample included in their work — even minor, unrecognizable snippets of music." This is a reversal of an earlier ruling which required the sample to be recognizable after it was sampled.

This will have a huge impact on hip hop. Just think of Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique" without the samples. There would be nothing left but the vocal tracks.

On the other hand, had this ruling been made earlier, we could have avoided "U Can't Touch This" and "Ice Ice Baby."
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
I just watched the trailer for "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" and it looks like Wes Anderson has done it again. I liked "Rushmore" and really, really loved "The Royal Tenenbaums." I think this one will probably fall somewhere in between.

The film follows the adventures of legendary oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) as he avenges the death of a friend (from a shark attack) and connects with his son (Owen Wilson). It appears to have all of the usual trappings of a Wes Anderson film, so if you liked any of this other work, check out this one, too. It opens at Christmas.
Wednesday, September 8, 2004
Watch Netflix movies with TiVo
According to this News.com article, TiVo and Netflix may be very close to a deal that will allow users of both services to download movies (via a broadband connection presumably) to their TiVo boxes.

This could be a very cool idea. One of the key issues in the success of the feature will be cost. For example, I would imagine that Netflix stands to gain more new subscribers than TiVo does (since TiVo requires a hardware purchase). So there will need to be price incentives for current TiVo users to sign up for Netflix.

Another issue will be download method. Will they download the entire movie to your TiVo before you can watch it or will they stream it? Anything that is less than "on demand" service will not be worth the added price IMO.

I'm sure they will release more details when and if the deal goes through.
"Paul's Boutique" endures
"Paul's Boutique" is one of my favorite albums. In fact, it is probably in my top 10 of all-time.

Several months ago, I made a copy of the CD for my wife to listen to in her car. Well, it turns out that she is not the only one enjoying it. "Paul's Boutique" is now the favorite CD of my sons Mahlon (7) and Miles (4). While I find it interesting that they are drawn to the same music that I was in college, there is something surreal about seeing my kids singing "Eggman" and "Johnny Ryall." Not only do they know the song titles and track numbers, but they know many of the lyrics ("We all dressed in black / We snuck up around the back / We began to attack / The eggs did crack on Jes' back" is their favorite).

Of course, there are some songs that aren't age appropriate, so they have to skip those. However, much of the humor and innuendo is above their heads anyway.

I'm going to try and capture their next "performance" on video. I'll post a clip as soon as I do.
Tuesday, September 7, 2004
Guilty pleasure returns
Hello. My name is Shawn and I love The Real World... I've seen every episode from 13 of the past 14 years (I skipped the London installment)... some of them two or three times.

The show started its 15th season tonight with The Real World: Philadelphia and I can already tell I'm going to like this cast. Of course, they've stacked the deck to insure maximum tension. There is the good-natured country boy, the needy sexpot, the flambouyantly straight jock, the bitchy blonde, the foxy black girl who dates a dorky white guy and two, count 'em two, homosexual men - one sterotypical and one not.

Unlike last year's cast, who pretty much all got along, this one looks like there will be plenty of melodrama to keep it interesting. In the first episode, Willie and Karamo bonded with their straight roommates at a gay bar and Sarah let the guys feel her fake breasts. What else do you want in a show?
Saturday, September 4, 2004
Glitches make gaming less fun
News.com is reporting about a glitch in Madden NFL 2005 that is driving online gamers crazy. Apparently an unscrupulous player can switch their offensive formation multiple times before the snap thus exploiting the game's fatigue AI and making the defensive team practically fall over with exhaustion before the play even starts. Some users are demanding that EA recall the game. EA is encouraging people to turn off the fatigue feature (and they're calling that a "patch").

I've been experiencing a couple of similar glitches in the new ESPN NFL 2K5. One seems to exploit the goalie AI and another appears to exploit defensive zones.

In the goalie glitch, a user can take a slapshot from just across the blue line. The goalie doesn't react (even when there are no other players blocking the goalie's view of the shot) and the shot goes in about 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time, the shot hits the post. It appears that the goalie AI is set to respond only when a player with the puck gets within a certain range. The slapshot position, it seems, is just beyond that range.

In the defensive glitch, a user can skate deep into the opponent's zone and then swoop in behind the defensemen. This gives them an open shot right in front of the goal which they almost always make. As with the aforementioned goalie glitch, this one appears to exploit the defensemen's AI. It seems that if a player approaches the goal from outside of the defensemen's "zone," that they won't react. Either that or there is a "backdoor" in the zone that allows the user to skate in from behind. Whatever the cause, my defensemen stand there like a couple of mannequins and don't defend the goal.

These glitches resulted in 5 straight losses for me in online play. This, of course, seriously limits the "fun factor" of the online experience. Last night, I finally played someone who doesn't exploit the glitches and got my first victory. Hopefully, I will be able to find enough people who want to play without resorting to these cheats.
Friday, September 3, 2004
Traffic light design

I was checking out the Ask E.T. forum on Edward Tufte's website and stumbled upon this thread about traffic light design. While this sounds like the ultimate exercise in navel pondering by a bunch of designers, it is actually a very interesting topic to consider.

It turns out that many cities around the world have been tinkering with the basic red-yellow-green configuration of traffic lights to include blinking (in order to add more states). The problem is that cities like Boston use blinking differently than they do in Montreal or Taipei (which could lead to disastrous results for travelers).

The coolest idea that I did see was the countdown method being used in cities like Washington D.C. There, the pedestrian crossing signals have a countdown to indicate how much longer you have to cross or how much longer you have to wait until you can cross.
News.com interviews RIAA lobbyist
News.com has an interesting interview with Mitch Glazier who serves as the Senior VP of Government Relations for the RIAA. He addresses questions about many of the issues I've discussed here such as the Induce Act, the Pirate Act and the Digital Milennium Copyright Act.

While I don't like many of his answers, it is nice to actually hear them directly from the source.
Thursday, September 2, 2004
Mark Cuban talks HDTV
WashingtonPost.com had a live chat this morning with Mark Cuban (owner of HDNet and Dallas Mavericks) about the state of HDTV. It's a very interesting read. If you have read any of Mark's posts on his own blog, you know what I mean. Check out the transcript here.
Stuck To ODB
SpikeTV has announced an new reality show called "Stuck to ODB." The object is for someone to stay within 10ft. of Old Dirty Bastard for 5 days straight. Their reward? $25,000 (and a million stories, I'm sure).

I think this show is being produced by Rhett Reese who put together Joe Schmo & Joe Schmo 2. One of Rhett's last entries on the Schmo Blog mentioned that he would be launching a new SpikeTV series on September 14th. I bet this is it.

I know I will be setting the TiVo to record this one. An instant classic!
GameSpot reviews NHL 2K5
In case my glowing review of ESPN's NHL 2K5 wasn't enough to get you to buy the game, GameSpot has given the game a rating of 9.1.
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
Mike Le & Tokyo Suckerpunch
Mike Le wrote Tokyo Suckpunch and don't you forget it!I got an e-mail from my friend Mike Le on Monday. It was the first time I had heard from him in several years. Apparently he had seen my blog postings that linked to the student films that he, Rob McKittrick and I shot together back in 1995.

In my description of our documentary master work "Generation Ecstacy," I failed to mention his most recent credentials. Mike has written the screenplay for "Tokyo Suckerpunch" for Fox Searchlight. I didn't get much info from Mike about the film other than it is a "thriller"; however, you can check out more about the book on which the film is based here.

So my loyal reader(s), if you ever run into Mike and you mention that you know me, please refer to him as "the Mike Le who wrote 'Tokyo Suckerpunch' for Fox Searchlight." I've even changed the original post to reflect this recently acquired info.

Maybe he'll fill me in on the film now that I've made things right... or did I just make them worse?
NFL Sunday Ticket in HD
I just stumbled upon this interesting little tidbit on the DirecTV website. Turns out that DirecTV will be broadcasting 100 games in HD this NFL season. I guess I hadn't been paying attention to the AVS HDTV Programming thread recently 'cause this came as a total surprise to me.

In the first week of the regular season, 8 of the 13 NFL Sunday Ticket games (including my beloved Vikings) will be broadcast in HD. Sweet!

Now, I'm not sure if the ESPN HD broadcasts or the OTA HD broadcasts count into this number; however, 100 is still 100 and that is way more than I expected.
Digital cinema - a pirate's dream?
News.com has an article on the film industry's push to transition to a completely digital distribution model. According to industry estimates, studios spend about $800 million per year just on printing and distributing films.

The new technology, which is being defined by the Digital Cinemas Initiatives, is based on the JPEG 2000 video format and will distribute films over the internet to servers housed at the theater.

Of course, the biggest remaining hurdle for the studios (other than convincing theater owners that they should shell out the big $$$ for the digital equipment) is copy protection.

Whatever system they do come up with, the one thing that is certain is that the copy protection will be cracked and exploited by pirates. Based on how much money (billions, supposedly) the RIAA claims to be losing on music piracy, I am surprised that the film industry is pushing so hard for digital distribution. Maybe they are counting on the incredibly large file size of an uncompressed digital film from being the main deterrent to pirates. But that seems like a short-sighted strategy since bandwidth speeds will eventually overcome that limitation.

I am waiting for a time when I will be able to legally download first-run digital films to my HTPC.
ESPN NHL 2K5 is great!
I'm a big fan of hockey video games. In fact, I recently repurchased a Sega Genesis console just so I could play the greatest hockey video game of all-time, NHL '94.

Until yesterday though, the only other hockey game I had purchased since NHL '94 was NHL Hitz 2002. Hitz was the only other hockey game that seemed to capture the more arcade-like qualities that made NHL '94 so fun and easy to play. All of the later EA versions in the NHL series had swung too far towards realism for my tastes.

Anyway, yesterday, I decided to take a chance on ESPN NHL 2K5 (mainly due to the $19.99 price tag and my experience with their NFL and NBA games). I am very glad that I did. The game is fantastic. ESPN has managed to marry the fast-paced fun style of play that I liked in NHL '94 and NHL Hitz 2002 with the more realistic presentation that have made its NFL and NBA games so good.

The only thing that disappointed me about NHL 2K5 is the fact that it doesn't support high-definition resolutions. Since it is limited to 480p, the edges of objects are often jagged. This is especially noticeable on the ESPN logo that is displayed prior to each game.

However, after the game starts, the pace and excitement of the game makes you forget about the graphics. I ended up spending about 4 hours playing it both offline and online. Even though I lost all four games I played online (seems people have already found enough trick plays to guarantee victory in most situations), I had a blast.
'Arrested Development' on CNN.com
CNN.com had an interesting little story on the cast of "Arrested Development" which, IMHO, is one of the 3 funniest shows on TV. The other two are "RENO 911!" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Anyway, if you're a fan of the show, check out the article.

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.