Thursday, August 30, 2007

Whether the Weather

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's hot in LA. And, as always, it's even hotter in the Valley. It's the kind of heat that feels like you're walking through a hot jell-o wall as soon as you go outside. Still, it's not as hot as the week Melissa and I moved here (and our AC promptly broke). And at least we have central air in our new place.

So why bring it up? Widgets. That's right, widgets. I recently started using the new Google homepage as my internet start page. It's pretty great. It shows my Gmail inbox, keeps track of my Google docs, shows my Google calendar (my God, I'm a Google whore!), as well as several non-Google related things. I can search Wikipedia, read one of my Cubs blogs, get news feeds, all kinds of stuff. Recently, I've noticed that the "official" Google Weather widget has been a little...well, off. So, I've started looking into alternatives. Basically, I have three options:
  1. The Weather Channel widget
  2. Apple's dashboard weather widget
  3. Stick with what I've got.
So, in true American fashion, I'm holding a competition. Physically, they're all pretty similar (although the Weather Channel one is a little large, shows a radar, and kind of looks like an iPhone). I'm only interested in how they perform. Looking at their forecasts for today, picking a winner should be pretty easy. Weather Channel said it would be sunny with a high of 101. Apple said sunny with a high of 105. Google, on the other hand, said there was a high of 97 with a picture of rain and lightning. Now, just looking out my window, I haven't seen so much as a cloud, so that should tell you how reliable Google is right away. The "Current Weather" reading on all 3 stayed consistent throughout the day (though Google seemed to be about 15 minutes behind), so that's a wash. It all comes down to what the actual high temperature was. And with the mercury reaching 101, it looks like Weather Channel is the winner. As a fun side note, Google continues to post the high as 97 degrees, even when the current temp right above it says 101.

I'll give the test a few more days, but it looks like Weather Channel is far superior. I don't know why I care, anyway. Someone in my office building insists on keeping the thermostat somewhere in the mid-60s, so I won't feel anything either way.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Suck at Pac-Man

Yep. The title says it all. Pac-Man (or as the Japanese call it, "Puck-Man") has been on this Earth every moment of my life, and I still royally suck at it. I'm not even close to being "OK" at it. I know this because of the internet. First, some background:

A couple months ago, I watched a screener copy of the new documentary "King of Kong." This fun movie chronicles two gamers (the underdog and the pompous "king" of video games, Billy Mitchell) as they try to be recognized as the world's best Donkey Kong player. What did I learn from this movie? I suck at Donkey Kong. But I already knew that. My brother has always been way better than me at Donkey Kong, and this movie taught me that he sucks at it, too. So what does that tell you about me? Anyway, it certainly made me want to play some of the classics. So, I broke out my old favorites and set to work.

Which brings us to today. I've accepted my suckiness at Donkey Kong. I'm a fairly passable Berserk player (and I love how the machine taunts you- "Chicken! Fight like a robot!"). But, boy, do I suck at Pac-Man. I decided to put some research into it (maybe I should rename this blog "I decided to Research..."- it seems to be a common theme), and I learned that there are vast tomes of Pac-Man strategies. I studied them. I learned some patterns, I learned how each of the ghosts reacts differently and what parts of the screen they can't go to. And I still suck. Can't even get past the second peach level (and only made it that far once). There's no excuse for this. I've had all my life to hone my Pac-skillz, and I intend to make up for some lost time. Watch out Blinky- your red ass is mine!

p.s.- On a more serious note, check out my buddy Mike's blog "Hey Gang." It's linked on the right side of the screen. He just got back from Africa and posted some great pics. Enjoy!

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Corporate Responsibilty

Hey, so, as I mentioned in my first blog posting, The Brothers Solomon comes out on September 7th. Now, according to our best research, most of you have never heard of the movie, or at least you don't care about it. Well, I'm here to do my part to change that. I've been sitting on these funny videos that Will Forte put together for a couple of weeks now but they've finally showed up on YouTube so I can post them freely. Here are my favorites (the first one is NSFW, Not Suitable For Work, but please watch them and tell everyone you meet about them. There are four more on YouTube, just do a search for "Will Forte Grandma" and they should all come up. Do your part to spread these things like a virus:

Go forth and spread the gospel!

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Day at the Blog

Ok, so my boss is on vacation this week, leaving me alone in the office. This has the effect of making my work day rather boring, and as such, I haven't posted in a few days. That much time to yourself has a tendency to freeze your mind. But not to worry! I actually did something productive! I got out my Marx Brothers movies and watched every one I hadn't seen (and a couple I had). So what better way to celebrate than to go through and give my thoughts on them one by one. Now, I didn't watch The Cocoanuts or Animal Crackers this week, and it's been some time since I have, so my thoughts for those will be short and a little hazy. Anyway, here I go:

The Cocoanuts: Obviously it's very raw. It's the first Marx foray into film, and from what I understand, it's nearly identical to their Broadway hit. I like this movie and it makes me wish I could have seen the brothers preform on stage in their early years- I can only imagine how crazy and chaotic they must have let their shows get. Must have been fun.

Animal Crackers: More great fun. The opening Captain Spaulding number is one of my favorites.

Monkey Business: I blogged about this one a little while ago. It drags a bit in parts, but overall the comedy is solid. I love the Chevalier bit, and Zeppo really seems at the top of his game in this one.

Horse Feathers: The college stuff is fantastic, some of the best. Quincy Wagstaff's song and introduction are up there with Animal Crackers. Unfortunately, the football stuff falls WAY flat, dragging down the last half of the movie. Still pretty good.

Duck Soup: Still my favorite Marx Brothers movie. Groucho during the war scenes is something I could watch (and have watched) over and over. It's short, sweet, and has a real anti-authority message that most of the movies just hint at. The jokes are funny, the songs are wacky (so they actually fit in) and there's no dumb love story tacked on. It's pure Marx.

A Night at the Opera: Another classic. The comedy set pieces (the state room, the opera itself) absolutely kill. Possibly their funniest stuff. Unfortunately, to me, the musical numbers here seem to go on forever. "Cosi Cosa" stands out as one of the biggest wastes of time in a great movie, and the Chico playing piano and Harpo playing harp bits are uninspired in this one. That's the only thing keeping this one from joining Duck Soup at the very top.

A Day at the Races: There's a lot to like here. Groucho as a doctor (a horse doctor treating humans) is great. Even the horse races at the end seem like they belong. I laughed a lot during this one. Unfortunately, the "Negro Spiritual" song made Especially when the brothers try to hide in the crowd by painting their faces. (Though Harpo only doing half of his face is still pretty funny).

Room Service: It all falls apart for me here. This was actually a stage play that was adapted for the Marx Brothers and it wasn't adapted well. The real laughs are few and far between here. The young romantic male (formerly the Zeppo role) is just awful here. It loses even more points for criminally wasting a young Lucille Ball by not giving her anything funny to do. I was really really disappointed by this one.

At the Circus: For the most part, another miss. Though I love "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," the people in this one would just not stop singing sappy love songs. There's some goodness here, but I watched this right after Room Service, and my patience was starting to wear a little thin. Still, the bits in the midget's house were good, and Groucho's scene walking on the ceiling was pretty enjoyable.

Go West: And my faith was restored! I was ready to give up on the later films when I came to Go West. They seem to have regained a lot of their comic form in this film. It wasn't brilliant, but I laughed an awful lot. I'd never heard much talk about this movie so it came as a surprise to me. Not bad at all!

The Big Store: Didn't make me laugh as much as Go West, but still a solid step above At the Circus. Nice to see Groucho and Harpo working together, and the detective agency scenes with Margaret Dumont were classic. The chase at the end didn't work perfectly for me, but there were some nice set pieces throughout. This also features what is easily my favorite Chico piano scene AND my favorite Harpo harp scene. So that's a big plus.

A Night in Casablanca: Another solid effort, much like Go West and The Big Store. I like that these last few movies took the Marx Brothers and put them in more distinct, "Hollywood" settings. It gives them each a nice character. Nothing terribly "classic" in this one, but having Nazis as villains is always a good thing.

So there you go. My thoughts on all of the Marx Brothers movies (except Love Happy, which I don't own and am not sure most people count it anyway). My not be earth-shattering, but it's what's been on my mind.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Ongoing War...

Hey everybody, sorry no posting yesterday but I couldn't think of anything to write about. My mind kind of blanked out around 1pm and never fully recovered. But there's something to talk about today...The War!

Don't worry, no talk of politics. The War I'm referring to is a format war. Here in Hollywood, the studios all seem to have gotten a case of the crazies over high definition versions of DVD. For those not in the know, there are two competing formats- Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. For all intents and purposes, these formats are identical. Hook up one of each kind of player playing the same movie side by side and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. People who work professionally with video can't tell the difference. But the studios are insisting that there's a difference and taking up sides to make consumers choose. Blu-Ray was looking like a clear winner, with every major studio except Universal showing support for it, but then yesterday happened. Stupid yesterday.

Yesterday Parmount and Dreamworks Animation announced that they would no longer be supporting both formats and that they were switching to HD-DVD exclusively. Why? They say it made more business sense, but what it really means is that the HD-DVD people (notably Microsoft) gave them a total of $150 million to do so. That's a lot of scratch. Now, Microsoft didn't create the HD-DVD, Toshiba did. But they are it's biggest supporter (mostly because their rival in the gaming world, Sony, is the creator of Blu-Ray). This is essentially a Microsoft cash grab. Their interest seems to be in prolonging this format war as long as possible so that people will stop buying any DVDs and switch to their Xbox Live Marketplace to download high definition movies. It's moves like this that make me even more proud to be a Mac owner.

I was seriously considering buying a Blu-Ray player sometime after Christmas once the prices get reasonable. This move by Paramount has changed my mind. Now I'm not going to be buying either format, possibly ever. And I'm not going to start downloading my movies either. Call me crazy, but I like to have some kind of physical representation of the media I buy. I can't help but envision buying a bunch of digital movies, having a hard drive crash, and the online store folding so I have no record of my purchases. Just like that- no movies. So what to do? Stick with plain old DVD. I have an HDTV and a DVD player that upscales my current movies to 1080i. And you know what? It looks fantastic. There's nowhere near enough of a difference in picture quality between what I watch now and the HD formats to justify switching unless I'm forced to do so.

Now if they release Star Wars or Indiana Jones in Hi-Def, well, ask me my opinions again.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I Look Like A Monkey....

....And I smell like one too. That's right, today is my birthday. I'm 25 years old. I am officially no longer in the "MTV" Demographic. That's fine, really, because I haven't watched much MTV since "Beavis and Butthead" and "The State" went off the air (no, I don't watch the Real World/Road Rules Challenge...ok, it's on my Tivo because my wife watches it and I may be in the room on the couch at the same time...). I'm no longer in the key 18-24 demo. Of course, some people say it's 18-25, so I'm good for another year. Ah, who am I kidding? I'm a white male, advertisers won't stop caring about my opinions until I'm well past 50, and then the drug companies will start taking interest (if I see one more Cialis commercial, I swear...). It's nice to be wanted.

Everyone keeps asking what I'm doing for my birthday. The answer- Not a whole lot. I'll see Superbad this weekend, and we'll probably have a nice dinner or something, but my real gift is the MacBook, and I couldn't ask for anything more for my birthday. Really, things are pretty good right now. Here's to hoping that they stay that way for a long, long time. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's a Girl!

At least, I'm assuming it's a girl. It's all curvy and pretty and seems to have mostly "female" input ports. Of course I'm referring to my beautiful new Macbook! It's 13 inches diagonally, 1 inch, think, weighs 5lbs and is perfectly healthy! Cigars for everyone!

Seriously, though, I haven't had much time to play with it yet (I just went home at lunch to pick it up and plug it in) but I can't wait. The shipping was a little crazy on it. After Anchorage last night, it apparently flew to Indianapolis, then caught another flight in the wee small hours of the morning to make it to LA. For those of you keeping score, the final flight path looked like this:

Seems like Indianapolis was a little out of the way, but I'm not complaining. It got here in less than a week, which is a hell of a lot faster than I could get anything here from China. Maybe I'll put some pictures up tomorrow.

The only thing dampening this good mood for me right now is the fact that I have a splitting headache and no pain medication at the office. Looks like I've got something for the shopping list this weekend.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Working in the picture business

As I was leaving my parking spot recently, I noticed something strange hanging from the outside of the parking deck:
Intrigued, I decided to get a better look at it from outside. Imagine my surprise when I saw this:
For some reason, someone had re-created the head of the Statue of Liberty on my parking structure! I know CSI:NY films on my lot, but I can't figure out why this thing is there. It's not like it's got blue or green screen behind it to allow you to fake a scene there. Plus, there's nowhere to stand or anything, the actors would have to be hovering around it. And even more curious, the thing seems to get bloodier every day, like it was crying blood (yes, I know I said this happened "recently," but the head has actually been up for nearly a month now. I've just been too lazy to get the pictures off of my phone.). Just one of the perks of working in the biz, I guess. Where do you park? Oh, I park in the Statue of Liberty's bleeding head.

MacBook Update: As of posting time, my MacBook has made it on to the continent and is in Anchorage, Alaska! Some reports I've read say that it will come straight to LA from there, others say it might be routed through Indianapolis first (which doesn't make a lot of sense, it's apparently a FedEx sorting thing). This means that there is at least a small possibility that I will have my new laptop (I'm sorry....notebook) computer tomorrow!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Waiting is the hardest part...

Hey everyone. So, this past Thursday I ordered myself a shiny, new white MacBook. And now, I wait for it to arrive. I'm reminded of The Simpsons (once again), when Homer was going through the 3-day waiting period to buy his gun. He sits in front of the house watching things he wants to shoot go by as Tom Petty's song "Waiting is the Hardest Part" plays. That's pretty much how I feel right now.

It finally shipped out late last night, so now I get the pleasure of using FedEx to track the shipment. I track everything I order, even if it's nothing exciting. And, well, this computer is VERY exciting, so I'm tracking it obsessively. Here's what I know so far:

I live here:

The package has just left here:

Now, for those of you who failed geography and don't own a globe, this is what the trip looks like:

Hopefully the plane can avoid the giant dragon in the Pacific and get me my computer soon. I'm hopeful because when I ordered my iPod, it only took like two days to get to Atlanta from Hong Kong. And California is closer to China than Atlanta, right? Ah well. I'll have a new computer soon, things are good.

Making good things better is the fact that Karl Rove resigned today. Granted, this is 7 years too late, after a career of causing irreparable damage to the world in every way conceivable, but better late than never. I'll be drinking to that tonight.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bear with me on this one...

So, last night I was watching my DVD of Season 2 of The Muppet Show (which is fantastic, by the way) and the Rich Little episode came on. Now, Rich Little is pretty awful. He does a bit where he does impressions of Fozzie, Kermit, and Piggy and none of them are even recognizable (I do much better Muppet voices, thank you very much). His impressions are cartoonish and often way off base (how hard is it to do a Bing Crosby, for god's sake?). But that's beside the point. He did a number where he recreated scenes from classic movie musicals, and when he did "I Remember It Well" from Gigi I thought, "Hey, that's a pretty good Maurice Chevalier." Wait a minute, did I just think that? Where the hell did that come from?

I couldn't pick Maurice Chevalier out of a line of two people. Why did I know 1)Who this guy is, and 2) that Rich Little's impression of him was pretty good? I've never seen or heard Chevalier before, really. Well, that's not entirely true. I'm pretty sure XM's broadway channel plays his Gigi recordings fairly frequently, but I didn't know who he was when I heard them so they don't count. So why my sudden expertise on Maurice Chevalier? Then it hit me- The Marx Brothers.

Early in the week, my boss was out of town and I filled some of the downtime by going through some of my Marx Brothers collection DVDs. In Monkey Business, the brothers are stowaways on a cruise ship and apparently Chevalier is one of the passengers. They manage to steal his passport to try and get off the ship uncaught. In turn, all four of them (Monkey Business does feature Zeppo) imitate Chevalier to prove that it is their passport. Harpo's imitation, which involves a small phonograph, is especially memorable (not to mention the only time I had knowingly heard Chevalier sing). Seeing them all fake their way through "You Brought a New Kind of Love To Me" is a highlight of the film for me. But it apparently was also enough to make me an expert on Maurice Chevalier. It is an introduction to pop culture of the 1930s.

I love pop culture. Heck, I love all trivia, but pop culture is fun. This whole Chevalier fiasco (that should be a movie- The Chevalier Fiasco) has made me realize how much pop culture I absorb second hand. I can reference TV shows and movies I've never seen just because I'm pretty familiar with them. For example, I could pinpoint a scene from Citizen Kane or Dr. Strangelove on sight before I had seen them because I was so familiar with them from The Simpsons. And Animaniacs? Forget about it. I am a font of other people's knowledge. Thank you movies and television, for teaching me all about movies and television.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

My First Earthquake (by Fisher Price)

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Last night I experienced my first earthquake. Granted, the epicenter was at least 20 miles away, but I still felt it. It was a terrifying experience, much like the Earthquake ride at Universal Studios. The gas line was spewing flames out of my stove and a truck came crashing through my roof! We were lucky to escape with our lives...

Ok, that's exaggerating things just a bit. It was only a 4.7 (apparently, that's pretty low) and I was awakened by a gentle rumbling at 1am. How gentle? I convinced myself pretty quickly that I had imagined it. Hell, Melissa slept right through it, how strong could it have been? The action figures that I keep precariously perched on my desk didn't even fall over. Honestly, my office is directly above the air conditioner for the building, so my desk and windows shake more than that on a constant basis. If an earthquake hit while I was at work, I might not even notice it.

Which brings up a fear I've always had- What if you're riding the Earthquake ride at Universal Studios and there's a real earthquake? You come out of the show building and see the world still shaking. Are you convinced that it's all part of the show and that Universal has really upped the production values? You laugh and take pictures while the rest of the town runs around screaming. You'd be woefully unprepared. These are the kinds of things I worry about all day. I think there might be something wrong with me.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Who Watches This Crap?

While I'm sure there is no shortage of rambling phillipics on the sad state of entertainment in America today as a result of reality television, I'm also sure that most of them don't refer to themselves as "philipics." So, I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway.
Today, they're apparently shooting "America's Got Talent" on my lot. Fine. Whatever. Unfortunately, this means the area surrounding my office is crowded with slack-jawed idiots. You can pick them out from a block away. They're the ones wandering around like they've never been outside of their homes before, staring and pointing and driving 3 miles an hour down Venture Boulevard. They walk across the street at a leisurely pace, gaping and gawking, hoping to see some minor celebrity at the McDonald's, all the while oblivious to the traffic they are blocking; every driver about 3 seconds from running them over. They are either dressed pathetically sloppily or WAY too nice to be going to a television taping, like this is the biggest event of their lives. These are the people who are not content to sit at home and waste an hour of their life watching a crappy reality competition on TV, they have to take an entire day of their lives (a Monday, mind you; most people are working) and watch the same crap sandwich in person. And to make matters worse, I was told when I came back from lunch that my RESERVED parking space may not be available because apparently these morons can't follow simple directions and park in the general spaces on the 4th and 5th floors. Apparently, they just think they're at the mall and can't be bothered not to park in the first space they see, regardless of whether it says "SPACE RESERVED FOR E. SELZER- CW FILMS." Thankfully, no one had taken my spot or I would have left a rather nasty note.
I believe that these people are not fans of reality television, they are products of it. Networks like to make a big deal of the fact that they are putting out terrible reality programs because people watch them. I think this gives people too much credit. If you took every reality program off the air, people wouldn't stop watching television. If every network made the blanket decision to stick to scripted shows, the overall number of people would not change. People will watch what they are told to watch. So, I see reality television as a vast conspiracy to dumb down the American people. If you want to keep a civilization in submission, the first thing you do is keep them from getting educated. Intelligence is the main enemy of tyranny. I don't think it's a coincidence that the first season of Survivor was the year that people allegedly elected George Bush president. I'm just saying.
Now, I'm not one of those people who claims that television used to be a golden font of entertainment and it's all gone to hell. There's always been crappy TV. And, to be fair, there's a lot of REALLY good TV on right now (The Office, 30 Rock, Lost, Heroes, anything on HBO). But reality isn't just bad television, it's stupid television. It talks down to the viewer and removes any critical thinking that standard storytelling evokes. It tells the audience that they must personally get involved to affect the outcome of the show. You don't have to think about anything, you just have to feel something. "I like that guy better than that girl! I want that suitcase, not that one." When was the last time anyone turned off one of these shows and said, "Wow, that really gave me something to think about." Art (and yes, I'm including television as art), should be a thought-provoking reflection on society. If reality TV is a reflection of society, we might as well just kill ourselves now. I don't want to believe that we're all such vapid, greedy, fame whores. I try to give the average citizen credit for having some amount of intelligence. And yet...
Do me a favor. Go watch an episode of "Dora the Explorer" or any current children's show. The obsession in the industry right now is to make these shows more "interactive" for kids. Dora (or Mickey or whoever) will address your kids directly; they will ask questions, ask for help, and praise them whether they actually do anything or not. The idea is to get the kids involved in the show, and for the six and under set, this strategy makes a lot of sense. But this is basically the same strategy they use with these reality shows, specifically, the reality competitions. "Call in and vote so YOU can change the outcome of the show! Hooray! You did it!" With your toddler, it's cute. But isn't it insulting that major television networks think your brain is essentially the same as that of a six year old? I'm insulted, and I don't even watch. Create characters that get me involved in your show. Don't pander to me and tell me that my watching has an impact on the show (Spoiler Alert- It doesn't. The networks pick the winners and then manipulate the shows so that you feel the same way that they want you to feel. And that's assuming that they even look at the votes; which, in fact, they probably don't). Please, television networks, start treating us like adults and put some damn effort into your programming.