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Monday, December 27, 2004  

The 2nd Annual Octys!
It’s that time of year where every site on the interweb posts its top ten, best of, and picks and pans lists, and the ‘Hat is no exception. The Octys are given to the stuff that I liked the best in 5 different categories (Movies, music, video games, TV, and tech/gadgets) and they don’t necessarily represent the best of what’s out there (as shown in last years awards where I overlooked the Shin’s “Chutes too Narrow” which would have easily taken the prize had I discovered it a few months earlier. And so today we begin with what was this years most clear-cut award: the 2004 Octy for

Best Video Game
The runner up in this category is a game that will probably sit on the top of many other “best of” lists this year: Halo 2. The games is really a lot of fun, and it probably the best on-line console game this year. It really isn’t hard to find a review that will sing its praises, so I don’t really feel like parroting those feelings, so instead I’d rather highlight a few aspects that irk me about the title. The single player campaign is well put together and fun, but it really feels like just more of the same. Sure, you can dual-wield and you play part of the game as a different character, but it still feels JUST like Halo 1 (which isn’t entirely bad since Halo’s gameplay is compelling enough to keep you on the edge of interested through some REALLY questionable level design.) But I really wanted MORE out of the game. Halo 2 really shines on Xbox Live, and if that is your bag then you’ll easily be enthralled by the great maps, cool games types, and gorgeous visuals. But the learning curve is STEAP and you really have to WORK at the game to rise above the level of controller-hurling frustration. Still if you are an FPS fan you owe it to yourself to see what the cutting-edge of the genre’s implementation on consoles can be.

I didn’t used to consider myself a big-fan of racing/driving games. There have been some stand-out titles in the past that I’ve REALLY gotten into (Wipeout comes to mind) but I never got into what are generally considered the “titans” of the genre (Gran Turisno, Need for Speed, Project Gotham etc.) But then I remember some driving games that have really effected me: last year’s Octy Winner “Mario Kart: Double Dash,” and The various incarnations of Sega’s masterpiece “Crazy Taxi” and I realize that I enjoy racing games when there is more to do that make a perfect drifts around corners. And so it is with this year’s winner: “Burnout 3.” This game is SO fun; I don’t even know where to start selling it. The mechanics are fantastic: it is a race (usually) and you go faster if you cause the other cars to crash (and you never get tired of causing all kinds of vehicular mayhem.) The visuals are known to cause spontaneous eye-bleeding, and the sense of sheer uncontrollable speed is palpable. When your car is flying down a busy freeway at 200MPH it really FEELS like you are traveling at a speed that is entirely unsafe, and that would cause lesser drivers to soil themselves. Take this absolutely top-notch gameplay, best-of-show visuals, and tight controls and mix in the multitude of game-modes (including a puzzle-like mode where the object it to cause as much damage as possible by orchestrating a massive crash) and tracks and you get one hell of a time-suck. There where days that I would go home for lunch just to get in a couple of races before returning to work, and even Julie (who has typically avoided driving-games) got SERIOUSLY into BO3. Simply put there is no game more fun and ACCESSABLE on any of the systems (and it is available on all 3!) So you really don’t have an excuse to go out and buy it. Even if you don’t like driving games I would wager that you’ll Love Burnout 3.

The “Honorable Mention” this year goes to a game that I didn’t even play: Half Life 2. I may not have been able to play it on my aging PC, but if I COULD, I KNOW that I would have been sucked right back into the world of Gordon Freeman. So I envy those who have a rig to run the game, and I’ll eventually get there, but until then I can only imagine the inner-conflict I would experience if I had to choose between HL2 and BO3. So yeah, go buy Burnout.

posted by JMV | 12/27/2004 04:42:00 PM

Thursday, December 23, 2004  

I finally got a hold of a copy of my 8mm film from the Attack of the Fifty-Foot Reels a few months ago, and I took advantage of the slow week at work to burn some DVDs and expirement with diffrent compression codecs. I'd like to post a copy to the site so those that couldn't make it to the screening can see it, but am unsure how large of a video-file I should post. The film is about 3.5 minutes long, and I have versions from 5 gigabytes to 8 megabytes. The three main candidates for web-viewing are the crappy-quality 8MB version or the nice-looking but odd file-format 22MB Mpeg4 version. Is 22MB too big for you folks to download? Is it too big for me to saddle my free web-host with? Do just bite the bullet and publish the 8MB version? Any comments?

posted by JMV | 12/23/2004 07:11:00 PM

Monday, December 20, 2004  

It's About Time
How long have I been wishing that the self-heating coffee cans that I first read about in Gibson's "All Tomorrow's Parties" were a reality (here in America at least?) Those on the other side of the Atlantic (and Pacific for that matter) have been enjoying chemically heated caffeine beverages for at least the past couple of years, and it finally took a megalomaniac Austrian celebrichef with a desire for corporate domination to make it a reality on Uncle Sam's shores. Frankly they can't get this product to market fast enough for me. Now I really CAN have an emergency cache of insta-coffee in my desk, car, bedroom, and perhaps even ferreted away in various "safe house" around town like a secret agent would stash selections of foreign currencies and 9mm pistols.

posted by JMV | 12/20/2004 12:22:00 PM

Tuesday, December 14, 2004  

So now is about the time of year where I usually start my Christmas shopping, but this year I'm close to 90% done. I'm not quite sure why I'm so on top of things this year, though I imagine it has something to do with my employment! At anyrate, here we are with a scant 12 days of shopping to go and it was nearly 80 degrees here in Hollywood today. It makes it a little tough to get in the holiday spirit, and I would really like to wear my sweaters, but still being able to cook outside is probably worth the slight discomfort.

posted by JMV | 12/14/2004 05:28:00 PM

Thursday, December 09, 2004  

The Ditty Bops!
Last night we saw The Ditty Bops at the small (and I mean a capacity of 120 tiny) club: Largo. The show was absolutely fantastic! A combination of very intimate venue, fantastic seats, and a great and very enthusiastic band made for a memorable night.

We had dinner reservations and arrived early ensuring us the PRIMO booth adjacent to the stage and were positively floored by the genre-melding performance by the band. I'm hard-pressed to come up with an adequate description of the music, the best I've come up with with is "retro-jazz indie-pop," (my coworker who turned me onto the bad suggests "ragtime folk-rock.") Neither of those really capture the toe-tapping tunes that the two grills throw-down while jamming on the guitar, mandolin, and dulcimer, backed up with paino, fiddle, and banjo with a heaping side dish of "effortless harmonies." Their album is on of those where every song is a favorite at one-point or another, and even though they didn't play my current favorite, the puppet shows, sea-chanteys, and skits more than made up for it. They had just gotten back to LA (their hometown) after touring with the Dresden Doll's for a couple of months, and their excitement at being home was very clear as they pulled out all the stops for the show. They even stuck around after the show and talk to the fans! I highly suggest you check them out post-haste (here is a handy iTunes link.)

posted by JMV | 12/09/2004 04:39:00 PM

Wednesday, December 08, 2004  

Bad News for Exterminators
scientist, oh those wacky scientists. As our society hurdles towards its inevitable doom, it is the scientists who will deploy the drag-chutes to slow our plunge. Either that or they will fuck us all by creating a lab-grown rat brain to fly military aircraft. Mighty Mouse indeed.

posted by JMV | 12/08/2004 04:43:00 PM

A Network of Networks
I though social network software was dead as of 2001, and here I am, juggling like 4 different networks, all of which bring a different set of strengths and uses to the table. My biggest problem w/ the social networks WAS I thought they were pretty useless. And for the most part the early incarnations like Frindster were good for little else than killing time ("Hey look, 'Law and Order' is my friend!") But the second generation (3rd generation?) networks are finding niches and there are some exciting things going on. The catch with these systems is you need to have social connections to really get the most out of them, and while it is certainly possible to construct your list of contacts solely within the confines of a given network it sure helps to carry your real-world contacts into the network.

That said, some of the networks I'm currently using are, Myspace (my page) as the general social-net since it is so big in my office. Myspace is the logical successor to friendster and there are some useful photo-sharing, blogging, and messaging tools built-in. It has also found favor among unsigned/undergroud/on-the-verge musical acts to promote their work.

Next up is the most transparent and most promising of the crop: Audioscrobbler (my page.) Audioscrobbler is unique in that it uses a plug-in for your digital-music software and logs everything you listen to and constructs a detailed database of your listening habits. You can then explore music recommendations as well as other people that share similar taste in music. The stat-nerd in my loves this one and it is far superior to the "playcount" rating in iTunes alone.

The new kid on the block is still in early beta, but it is easily the most practical of the networks out there. del.icio.us (my "inbox") is a "social bookmarks" service that allows you to post anoted and tagged bookmarks to a search able, subscribable database. It took me a while to wrap my head around WHY everyone thought this was the shit, but now I L-O-V-E it. Basically whenever I run across a neat site that I think I'll want to look at, or link to at a later time I post it to my del.icio.us inbox and tag it "readreview" or "tolink" and then I can have access to these sites from anywhere at anytime. You can then "subscribe" to other users inboxes and see what they are linking, or subscribe to specific "tags," and it is all neatly rolled into RSS feeds. Really a killer-app.

And finally my current favorite Network flickr (my page.) Flickr is a kick-ass photo-sharing, mo-blogging, on-line image repository. It has a killer UI, great feature set, and an extremely prolific user base. If you have a digital camera there is no reason that you shouldn't be using this service.

SO yeah, that is my take on the current crop of social networks out there. I'll expand on some of the best features on another post at some point, but until then go check a couple of them out. I think you'll find that these systems have come along way since the early days of friendster.

posted by JMV | 12/08/2004 02:50:00 PM

Friday, December 03, 2004  

The current object of my techno-desire is the T-Mobile Sidekick 2. I salivate at the thought of having a google search available to me ANYWHERE at ANYTIME. Unfortunately I'm still shackled to my 2-year Cingular contract for another 4 months, so a carrier switch is an impossibility. This impracticality is causing some of my lustful thoughts to be transferred onto the Ogo; a wireless TXT, Instant Messanger, and E-mail device (no phone capabilities.) The price on the website has just dropped to $50 and the service in only $17/month with no contracts. This price-point/service-fee structure makes the Ogo a pretty attractive device to just try-out for the hell of it. Or am I just blinded by my consumer-impulses and in reality the Ogo is lame?

posted by JMV | 12/03/2004 01:47:00 PM

Thursday, December 02, 2004  

I'm not really prepared to give any commentary on this billboard other than it scares me. Comparisons to Orwell's 1984 are becoming increasingly common, and maybe that is because our world is becoming increasingly similar.

posted by JMV | 12/02/2004 02:05:00 PM

Wednesday, December 01, 2004  

Can anyone suggest a good, free, RSS reader for WinXP?

posted by JMV | 12/01/2004 02:21:00 PM
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