February 2008 Archives

Angel Complete Series Collector's Set

The other day, one of the Gold Box specials on Amazon was the Complete Series Set of Angel on DVD. Looking at the picture on the product page, you might think that this is a big box, after all, even 30 DVDs in Thinpak packaging is a good 7 or 8 inches long.


Actually, the whole thing is about the size of a small stack of CDs, and features one of the best designed packages I've ever seen for a DVD set. The top flips up, and one of the sides of the box folds down to reveal the booklet and season-by-season sets of the DVDs.

IMG_2759.JPG IMG_2761.JPG

I'm told that the 40-disc Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Collector's Set is similarly designed.

Notes: Angel Season One Disc One

I've never seen Angel before so I thought it might be kind of a fun exercise to go through the episodes and take some notes regarding them. There will be spoilers, so everything will be in the extended entry.

One of the things that I don't like about these DVDs is the way the menu has been designed in regards to the episodes; there's no "Play All" option.

Maybe I'll get bored of doing them, maybe I'll figure out another way of annotating them... or something. There's 29 more of DVDs to go.

links for 2008-02-29


WonderCon 2008: Get Smart

The Get Smart panel followed very quickly after the 10,000 B.C. panel with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. A flood of people ran up to the stage after the showing of the trailer to take photographs, and an announcement was made for people to stay in their seats to take photos, which resulted in Steve Carell running up in front of the stage to shoo people away.

One of the first questions asked of Carell was of the can I get your autograph after the show variety, to which he mockingly replied "Damn you! Everyone hates you for asking that!", followed by a "Sure".

After answering the autograph question, it wasn't long before someone asked the variant "Can I have an photograph?", to which Carell said "Yes", and started to get up out of his seat to walk towards the questioner, which resulted in the audience booing the questioner, which caused Steve to sit back down and shout "No! No you may not! How dare you! That's an awful question! Damn you!" into the microphone, followed by a "After this is over, I'll take one with you". Just watching the panel, you got the feeling that Steve Carell is a just a really nice, sweet person, which is something that Anne Hathaway said in response to someone asking Anne what it was like working with Steve Carrell. Some of the scenes in Get Smart are improvised (usually led by Steve), and so Hathaway was reluctant at first to play along, but eventually did.

When asked whether Carell was writing anything for himself, Carell responded that he just finished 2 weeks of jury duty, and wants to write an episode of the Office in which Michael Scott gets sent to jury duty.

Asked about the movies that got them to want to get into film making, Hathaway replied that it was Auntie Mame and Naked Gun 33 1/3, while the director Peter Segal claimed Young Frankenstein and Star Wars, and Carell replied that it was Dr. Strangelove, because it was "chilling and funny and ridiculous and truthful all at the same time".


WonderCon 2008: Prince Caspian and Wall-E

Each panel in Hall A is split between two presentations, giving each presentation about a half hour to show the trailers/bonus material, and then time for a question and answer session. Howard Berger of the Prince Caspian Special Effects department was there to answer questions.

This panel began with the showing of the trailer, which included some incomplete CG shots -- the CG critters were smoothly rendered without the application of fur or hair, and the centaurs were just wireframes.

Questions in the session included "Do you hope to make them all?" (Yes) and which is your favorite character (Mr. Tumnus). Most of the post-production work is being done in New Zealand by WETA, and they're still working on finishing the movie.

For Wall-E, Andrew Stanton of Pixar "came all the way from Emeryville" (across the bridge, basically for all those who are not familiar with Bay Area geography) to show us the extended trailer of Wall-E, as well as three clips from the movie: Wall-E shows Eve his truck, Wall-E leaves Earth, and Wall-E on Eve's ship.

Talking about Wall-E, Stanton said that the inspiration for Wall-E came from Luxo Jr, the animated lamp in the first Pixar short, and also from him playing with binoculars at an Oakland A's game, in which he realized that you could attach emotion to the movement of the binoculars --happy, sad, happy, sad. Someone asked whether Johnny Five of Short Circuit had any influence on Wall-E's design, and the answer was that he saw the movie once. When designing Wall-E, Stanton said he didn't want a humanoid robot for Wall-E, he wanted a machine. The design of Wall-E was dictated by Wall-E's function; the box for his body is because he needs to compact the garbage, the treads are so that he can move over obstacles, and the eyes mainly came from the binoculars.

When asked what kind of story Wall-E is, Stanton replied "It's a love story", and hearing the crowd reacting with groans, he added "it's a good one!".

Wall-E is not intended to be a True-3D film -- the first one that will be is Toy Story 3.

Stanton said that he was totally geeked out working with Ben Burtt, who did most of the sound effects for Lucasfilm, who is now at Pixar, making sounds for Wall-E. Look for Pizza Planet in the first 20 minutes of the film, and John Ratzenberger has a speaking role in this film as well.

WonderCon 2008: Shutter and X-Files 2

I got the feeling that they swapped around the order of the panel because they didn't want the horde of people assembled in Hall A vacating en masse after the X-Files panel; originally X-Files was to be first, and then followed by Shutter. Shutter is a Hollywood remake of a Thai horror movie of the same name which came out several years ago. The location of the movie has now been transplanted to Japan, but still deals with the subject matter of "spirit photography", the photographing of unexplained phenomena.

James Kyson Lee (Heroes) and Rachael Taylor (Transformers) were on the panel talking about the movie, and how it was a little difficult working with a Japanese director who doesn't speak English, and how in living in Japan for the months while they were filming, Rachael felt very disconnected, partially because she's a foreigner in Japan. James is obviously looking forward to Season 3 of Heroes, because with Hiro and Ando together again, it means more screen time for him. But let's be honest, Shutter was the lead-in for X-Files, and after a few questions they were quickly ushered off-stage and showed the trailer for the new X-Files movie.

The crowd in Hall A was insane; it was fully packed with large crowds standing at the sides. Hall A is huge, it seats close to 8000 people. As the lights came back up, Chris Carter, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny walked on the stage, and a huge line for questions appeared.

Anderson said that for the first two days, she really sucked at playing Scully -- it was hard for her to get back into that role after not being Dana Scully for 6 years; Duchovny agreed that she was bad, and ribbed her by commenting "why don't you tell them which scenes those were?"

The funniest moment of panel had to be when an costumed attendee asked the cast "What do you like to believe?" Chris Carter responded first: "Can I first ask a question? Are you from Sherwood Forest?"
"Why, yes I am" the costumed questioner replied.
Duchovny chuckled and said "I believe in this. What are you dressed as?"
"Link", the attendee replied.
Duchovny looked puzzled. "Who?"
"Do you realize how cool it is talking to you in this costume?" Link asked. "Is this a fetish?" Anderson asked.
"It will be on the internet soon, I promise." Link said.
"David, what do you believe in?"
"I thought we had circumvented that..." David replied.

Carter made the statement that no one really dies on the X-Files, but they're keeping who is appearing/returning in the movie a secret, though they have mentioned Amanda Peet as Special Agent Dakota Whitney and Billy Connolly as A Man with Long Hair.


WonderCon 2008: Harold and Kumar 2

For this panel, approximately 70% of the population of Hall A filtered out after X-Files went backstage, allowing us to snatch some seats up front.

As always, the trailer for the movie was shown, as well as some scenes from the movie. While they had originally intended to do Harold and Kumar in Amsterdam, there were too many Euro-trip comedy movies that were being released, and so they wanted to do something more topical, and so they changed the setting to Guantanamo Bay. All the post 9-11 Homeland security stuff gave them tons of material to work with.

Harold and Kumar will premiere at the International Asian American Film Festival in San Francisco. John Cho can't talk too much about Star Trek, since J.J. Abrams really wants things to surprise the audience.

The movie looks great, and the most important thing for the writers was that they wanted to portray Harold and Kumar as real people, like the ones that they grew up around, but also they wanted to make a movie that was just as good as the first movie.


WonderCon 2008: Jericho

Leading off the Hall A presentations this morning was Jericho, a science fiction drama about a midwest town after nuclear bombs had wiped out a lot of the big cities, throwing the United States into chaos. Jericho is now entering into its second season, after a fan campaign of sending peanuts to the network granted them another order of seven episodes, enough to tell about a third of what they originally envisioned for season 2.

They started off the session with the entire episode from Jericho, and brought on stage Lennie James (Hawkins), Brad Beyer (Stanley), Alicia Coppola (Mimi) and executive producer Carol Barbee. Before the start of anything, they thanked all the fans for saving their show and the cast and crew had made a video to thank all the fans who sent in peanuts. The fan who spearheaded that effort is now helping Obama's campaign.

The take home points from the session: keep watching Jericho, if you DVR Jericho, play the entire episode through to the end, buy the DVDs. The Nielsens are broken, and they know it, but now the internet fan base Jericho has captured the attention of the network execs, but the execs are still trying to figure out how they can make money from it.

They filmed two different endings for the last show of Jericho; one will lead into Season 3, the other will end the show.


WonderCon 2008: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

I'm guessing that everyone at this panel was here because of Summer Glau, because even on Sunday, Hall A was pretty crowded with fanboys and fangirls alike. A trailer spot for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was shown, before the other cast members Thomas Dekker and Brian Austin Green and director James Middleton and writer Josh Friedman were led on stage.

Thomas Dekker said he reads the message boards, even though he's not supposed to. Summer Glau doesn't read the boards, though her mother will often read the boards and send her the good ones. Thomas Dekker said his mother just sends the bad ones. Brian Austin Green reads the boards, and he loves being on a sci-fi show. While at first fans didn't like the idea of Brian Austin Green being on the show, he said they've come to accept him as the character, and he loves it.

At first Friedman wanted to bring Kyle Reese onto the show, but the Terminator people said no, you can't do that, so he invented a brother, and the Terminator people really liked the idea, so he just ran with it.

Summer Glau said that her dance training helps alot in the stunt choreography; she thinks it'd be alot harder to do all the martial arts and fighting sequences if she didn't have a good foundation in mirroring moves. Everyone does their own stunts, Thomas Dekker doesn't have a lot to do, and Lena is probably the toughest person on cast.


WonderCon 2008: Masquerade Contest Entries 1-10

Held in the cavernous Esplanade Ballroom, WonderCon 2008's Masquerade Contest was chaired by Phil Foglio, who continued the tradition of making the audience call out the contestant numbers. There were a total of 31 entries (after subtracting the 2 that were no shows) that spanned the gamut of sci-fi, comics, movies, television, videogames and anime.

The extended entry features Entries 1-10, and includes entries from Legend of Zelda, DC Comics and Doctor Who.

WonderCon 2008: Masquerade Contest Entries 11 - 20

If you haven't figured out by now, the contestant entries aren't really grouped by any sort of categorization system. This next group of ten entries is no exception to that rule. Notable costumes in this group are from Spider-Man, Sparta and Avatar.

WonderCon 2008: Masquerade Contest Entries 21 - 31

In which the rest of the entries are revealed, including more from Record of the Lodoss War, Star Wars, Sesame Street and Green Lantern.

WonderCon 2008: Masquerade Contest Winners

As I wrap up the series on the WonderCon 2008 Masquerade, I am reminded that at WonderCon this year, there were some fabulous costumes walking around the convention center, even if they didn't participate in the contest. Many of those did come and watch and show support for those brave enough to perform in front of the large audience.

This is WonderCon 2008's Best in Show:

At the very least, the bad performances and displays during the show serve as a reminder of what a good performance has that the bad ones lack, and quite simply it comes down to these few things:

  • A good skit should be funny, but not obscurely so. If you need to explain to another person why it's funny, it's obscure.
  • A good costume needn't be overly sexy; that being said, the costume should reflect the general physique of the character.
  • Dance numbers. Generally, I don't like them for showcasing a costume; the requirements for making a costume that one can dance in is different from one that looks good on stage; unless your costume is a recreation of a character in a musical, dancing just doesn't occur that often. Also, the choreography involved is very tricky stuff, unless the members of your group have had dance training, don't expect synchronicity
  • Don't just walk on stage and pose. Even though there are tons of cameras pointed at you, this isn't a photoshoot, and the audience members (and the judges) probably find it incredibly boring.
  • Katas. These are solo performances in which a person plays with their weapons. While definitely a step up from posing, the problem here is that people familiar with the kata are too busy subconsciously evaluating form, while those without training can't understand what they are seeing. In most cases, the eyes are not on your costume, so much as being focused on your movements.
  • I have mixed feelings about costume accuracy -- within practical workability is my general guideline; what we see in comics and manga is a stylized version of things -- the use of costumes don't aim for photorealism, and much of the time, things like wrinkles, creases, zippers and buttons and seams aren't drawn because it moves away from fantasy and into reality (as well as add a whole load of work to the artist). The clothing material in comic books and manga is rarely explicitly noted; Batman's armor is made out of Kevlar, but in the movies, the look is approximated by latex and rubber.
  • Entertain us. The reason attendees go to the Masquerade is to see the costumes, but also to be entertained. Many of us have seen the costumes walking around the convention center all day, so what everyone wants to see is how you bring that character to life.
Sitting so close to the front of the stage, I was getting a lot of echoes from the microphone, so I couldn't make out all the categories, but these are to the best of my knowledge, the winners of the WonderCon 2008 masquerade. Honorable Mentions:
  • Woman in Pink Dress
  • Deedlit and Pirotess
  • Mojo Jojo and Lobsterwoman
  • Dorothy and Scarecrow
Best Star Wars: All-American Jedi, Star Wars Disco Best Science Fiction: The Creature from the Black Lagoon Best Novice?:Fuu Best Presentation: Pirates of the Caribbean Best Humorous: The Yip-Yips Best Worksmanship: King of Sparta Best in Show: Maximum Spider

WonderCon 2008: 10,000 B.C.

I picked up my badge on Thursday after my sessions at GDC, but on this rainy Saturday morning, WonderCon 2008 attendees (even those who had pre-registered) stood in a line that stretched down in front of Moscone South, and curved around the corner down Fifth Street. It was only ten-thirty, and the dealer's room (am I the only who still calls it that?) had only been open for a half-hour. I took a quick sweep around the show floor. WonderCon was already getting crowded, and I took off to find Hall A, where all the huge panels were going to take place. I searched the front, and finding nothing, took up a position behind the camera platform. Before the panel started, they aired a bunch of Star Wars fan films

The first panel of the day was 10,000 B.C., and they handed out 10,000 B.C. and Get Smart pins as we walked into the hall. The 10,000 B.C. trailer led off the panel, which was attended by director Roland Emmerich, and movie stars Camilla Belle and Steven Strait.


Someone from the audience asked Roland Emmerich why he likes to do movies with the whole "Chariots of the Gods" theme, and he says he like the idea of lost civilizations, how the evidence and the theories form an odd hybrid.

Also asked was whether or not the actors had a tough time working with the CG, and a pretty standard reply was given with all the drawbacks of working against a green screen.

WonderCon 2008: Memorable Moments

I'm pretty tired from spending nearly the entire week at Moscone so I'm not writing up everything right away, but here are some highlights that you can look forward to reading about later:
  • The long line that stretched down Fifth Street for registration.
  • Camping out in Hall A for most of Saturday.
  • Watching Steve Carrell chase away the photographers from the stage.
  • Seeing the horde of people fill Hall A and camp just for X-Files.
  • Feeling dejavu when Hall A filled up again for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

GDC 2008: Of Apples and PCs

One of things I noticed at GDC 2008 was the intensely high Mac to PC user ratio. Almost everyone I saw presenting had brought a laptop, either to run a Powerpoint presentation or to demo their work, and with the exception of the Square Enix people, everyone was using a MacBookPro or a Powerbook. People taking notes at GDC, I'd say the audience of Mac users was about 75 percent. If I saw a laptop, it was usually a Mac. Now, the reason I find this somewhat surprising is that the platform targeted for most computer games, is in fact the PC, by a somewhat large margin. The hardcore Mac game market is mostly dominated by World of Warcraft, and includes a small selection of triple-A titles ported over from the PC. For games, the PC market has shrunken down, while most of the games now are being released for the console. I have been to many GDCs, but I've never seen such a high percentage of Macs being used before.

Part of this, I credit to the affluence of being a game developer; being in the industry and being able to attend the GDC means you have a certain amount of cash -- during the breaks in the sessions, I saw plenty of PSPs and DS Lites, as well as iPhones. I believe that there are several factors in effect here: the iPod halo effect is definitely present; these are folks who probably would have never considered a pre-intel Mac (my ancient Titanium G4 Powerbook was definitely the Methuselah at the conference), but also coming in play is that for programmers who are not working in the Microsoft .NET architecture, the Mac is an overall better programming platform -- UNIX support is standard, and if you need Windows, there are enough ways (VMWare, BootCamp) to install Windows on a Mac with minimal effort, whereas installing Windows and Linux (or using Cygwin) is simply a daunting task. Couple this with the the MacBook Pro's capable gaming performance (for a laptop), and you have an ideal portable notebook for a developer.

I did not see a lot of MacBooks here, nor did I spot in this gathering of developers a single MacBook Air. I did see an black eeePC, and someone from EA had an OLPC. Most laptops seen were in the 13-15 inch range, I did not see any 17 inch laptops, although I did see one XPS Dell laptop being used by an attendee during lunch. Keep in mind that not everyone here brought a laptop; presumably, most of the work they do is on a desktop computer in the office, most likely running some variant of Windows.

I believe we are just starting to see the shift away from Windows in laptops; I suspect that within a few years time, with the withering of the computer as a gaming platform, the choice of computers will largely be based on the preference of the user.

links for 2008-02-23


Cirque Du Soleil: Kooza

This was my first time seeing Cirque Du Soleil in person (I had previously seen Cirque Du Soleil's Journey of Man in an IMAX theater), so I wasn't quite sure what to expect; Journey of Man had little unintelligible dialogue, and I hadn't enjoyed it a great deal. Cirque Du Soleil was something that I'd been wanting to see live for a while; videorecordings don't do the performance justice -- there's a certain amount of splendor and impressiveness in seeing the actual performer bend themselves into forms you thought impossible, or seeing a stunt that is executed just 50 feet in front of you. There's dancing, there's acrobatics, and there are clowns, and while I found the second half to be far less impressive than the first half, I had a wonderful time -- I was mesmerized by everything.

Kooza is in San Jose until March 16. Discounts are available through Goldstar.

Ray Kurtzweil: GDC 2008 Keynote


Ray Kurtweil was the keynote speaker for GDC 2008 today, a futurist and inventor, and while he's a very enthusiastic speaker, I wasn't quite sure if he was the right person to be a keynote speaker for the GDC, as very little of his keynote was actually focused about games -- even though the talk was titled "The Next Twenty Years of Gaming", he talked mostly about technology, and how the adoption rate of technology is fast, and progress of technology is fast, and how he as a student at MIT in the 60s chose to go there because MIT had their own computer, and how that computer cost 11 million dollars, and how the price-performance of a modern cellphone in comparison is about a billion times better -- the processor is a million times cheaper, and yet thousands of times more powerful, and all that progress has happened within the last 40 years.

Part of the problem, Kurtzweil explains, is that humans tend to think linearly, and not exponentially -- this is why the sudden growth of technology like the internet came as such a surprise to many people -- first it didn't seem to be growing very quickly, and then boom, it was everywhere. Nanotechnology and immersive VR were things that he said we should be seeing within a few years, and he seems to believe that the extension of life expectancy is within our grasp.

Kurtzweil demonstrated two pieces of technology that got thunderous applause; the first was a program on a cellphone that took a picture of text, performed some OCR and then read the words out loud to assist blind people, and the second was an audio translation program that translated English to French.

In the past, GDC has managed to have games industry heavyweights make keynote addresses at the conference; this year's speakers have been somewhat of a disappointment -- while I enjoyed hearing Kurtzweil speak, he seemed to geared towards the Wired crowd, rather than the gamers, and the Microsoft VP of Live (yesterday's keynote) is just pretty unexciting -- because when it's Microsoft giving the keynote, you know that inevitably it turns to a advertising pitch.

links for 2008-02-21


More from GDC 2008


links for 2008-02-20


links for 2008-02-19


Reporting GDC 2008


links for 2008-02-16


links for 2008-02-17


February Woot-Off

As a sort of post-Valentine event, woot! is having their famous woot-off. Everyone should know how this works by now; items are put up, and as soon as they sellout, the next item goes up for grabs; the thing to watch out for, are of course, the bags of crap: $1 mystery items that can be lame or unbelievably awesome.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Dr. Jones is back:

Friday Afternoon Time Waster: LEGO Indy


Can't get enough of Indiana Jones, even after the trailer, and not watching the Woot-off? Then you can spend your time playing LEGO Indiana Jones

Don't be fooled, it's not that easy.

My Little Dinner

Today is, if you haven't noticed with all the red hearts and roses everywhere, the florist's favorite holiday, Valentine's Day. Now, unlike a lot of other singles out there, I don't hate this holiday; but it is the one day of the year that I refrain from eating out -- instead of eating out alone and taking a table that could be used by a couple (whether that couple is man and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend or a man and his mistress), I end up cooking a course meal for myself; it is one of the few times in the year that I do, as on any other day, one-dish/one-pot meals are the norm. Last year I was too busy leveling my WoW characters to 70, however, this year makes up for it.
Today's course meal:
  • Organic Tomato Soup with Roasted Peppers
  • Homemade Potato salad
  • Fred's Marinated Kobe Beef
  • BV 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Panna Cotta with Fruit and Cherry Ice Cream

According to the Lunar calendar, yesterday happened to be mankind's birthday -- for Buddhists like me, it's another holiday that has to do with refraining from consuming meat; these vegetarian holidays are hard for me, and I usually end up the following day craving meat. There is some truth in that eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat will aid in your longevity, but so will not smoking and more exercise.


One of the things that I've wanted to try for a while now, is Kobe Beef. While most of the Kobe Beef you'll find in America is American-raised Kobe Beef, American-raised Wagyu are actually more humanely treated than their Japanese counterparts. As readers of this blog know, I do not eat beef, unless it is organic or Fred Steak. This quirk of mine is not for humane or ethical reasons, but for the silly reason of trying to minimize the chances of contracting Mad Cow. But, because of these self-imposed restrictions, the number of times that I actually consume beef a year can actually be counted on one hand.

The last time I had Fred Steak was sometime last October; eating my fill of Fred's Kobe Beef tonight feels most gluttonous, and having leftovers will raise the beef consumption count in the days ahead.

What makes the Kobe Beef different from the regular sirloin is the amount of fat in the steak, which makes the steak a bit more tender, and a bit fattier than the normal Fred Steak. Because Fred's Steaks are from cows that have been raised naturally without antibiotics, hormones and animal by-products, the taste is similar, but the Kobe variety tastes a bit richer, and the fat just oozes out of the steak.

links for 2008-02-15


People love using the iPhone to Google


The main feature that gets touted on the iPhone is how with touch, the iPhone is really easy to use, but that's not what sold me on the iPhone. It was actually the integration of touch + internet that pushed me over the edge on the iPhone; Safari with touch emulates enough of the experience of using a mouse in browsing the web that I often find myself using Safari more than the actual phone portion of the iPhone. The iPhone, in essence, has become my portable Google search engine, and a recent announcement by Google claiming that the iPhone generated 50 times more Google searches than any other mobile device tells me a couple of things.

  • iPhone users will tend to use the default.

    The first is that iPhone users use Google, because that's the default search engine on the iPhone. While they could use other search engines by using Safari and setting their browser elsewhere, most of them aren't doing this, because it involves extra steps. When you're searching, the sooner you put in what you're looking for, the sooner you'll get results back.
  • iPhone users are more likely to use their mobile Internet capabilities

    I can understand this -- before the iPhone, I had a Nokia 6820. This phone had EDGE connectivity and could browse the web in a somewhat rudimentary fashion, but it wasn't easy to parse out the results, and the display felt more like I was browsing through an old text-based Lynx web browser than actually surfing the internet. With the larger displays on phones currently, and better interfaces, surfing on the internet has improved, but there are still a lot of problems with browsing on phones, even on those with keyboards. I use my iPhone's internet all the time, while I'm waiting for something, while I'm wondering about something I see at the store, while I'm curious what the street address is for where I need to go, I know that most of the answers can be found on the internet, and with the iPhone with me, I know I can find those answers.

Knowing these things also tells me the inverse is probably going on too --

  • People who have mobile devices that aren't the iPhone probably aren't using the internet features of their phone as often.
  • Keypad-based controls for browsing aren't as convenient as touch.

Of course, there's an even simpler explanation for this: while an unlimited data plan for the iPhone is included in even the most basic of plans for the iPhone, most cell plans aren't that generous with data usage; a nickel per 50KB was my previous fee, and that definitely relegated my cellphone internet usage to the times where I actually needed it. Unlimited Data Plans have become more common, but as they are a per-phone contract option and not part of a standard package, it's an option only the most internet-addicted partake in.

iPhone, Yahoo! and Microsoft

For the past week, most of what I've been posting about is Yahoo! and the potential of being bought out by a variety of companies; Microsoft wants them for search, but a merger with Yahoo! would also put some 90% of email under Microsoft's thumb. Google purportedly made a deal with Yahoo regarding some advertising if Yahoo didn't accept Microsoft's offer, and both AOL and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. are supposedly also making offerings to Yahoo. Search is big business, and the chance to get the #2 player seems to have attracted media companies.

One company that I noticed that curiously hasn't been mentioned at all is Apple. And why should Apple be mentioned at all? They have businesses that don't really intersect; Apple has their own .mac service that is likely soon to be outsourced to Google, and they have no interest in running their own portal site. However, Yahoo! provides two service applications on every iPod touch and iPhone shipped -- Weather and Stocks.

This, of course is something of a curiosity for me, as Google also has a capability of sending up to date stocks and weather information, and it puzzles me that with the iPhone having Google Maps and YouTube support, that they didn't contract out the widgets for the Weather and Stocks as well. Perhaps it was part of the deal to get that Yahoo! mail icon on the top of the Mail settings (interestingly, the iPhone doesn't have a default setup for MSN/Hotmail e-mail settings).

If Microsoft were to acquire Yahoo!, any Yahoo! icon on an iPhone app might someday become a MSN icon. Microsoft, having their own mobile division, hasn't done anything about the iPhone, but as part of Microsoft's standard operating procedure, the re-branding of an acquisition is something that happens quite commonly (such as Hotmail becoming Windows Live Hotmail).

Yahoo!, on the other hand, doesn't try to re-brand the acquired properties.

As far as I know, Microsoft hasn't approached Apple about putting anything on the iPhone; even now, Exchange/Outlook integration via IMAP with the iPhone is something of a fustercluck, and Hotmail implementation requires Hotmail users to upgrade to the POP3 enabled Hotmail Plus plan, in which the oldest messages are downloaded first. The solution for both of these is to use Safari to access the webclients of these programs. Consider for a moment, if Microsoft folded Yahoo! Mail into Hotmail, and the amount of breakage that would occur on the iPhone. Microsoft has their own Mobile division, and their own Mobile OS that has seen some amount of adoption in smartphones, but Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has made it pretty clear of what he thinks of the iPhone, but as the iPhone gains a foothold in the cellphone marketplace, it'll be interesting to see the market develop; one year after the announcement of the iPhone, the trend for cellphone manufacturers is definitely touch, with everyone developing their version of the iPhone-style touch interface.

links for 2008-02-14


Microsoft to Yahoo: It's Not Over Yet

Yahoo's response yesterday led to Microsoft issuing a statement of their own: "It is unfortunate that Yahoo! has not embraced our full and fair proposal to combine our companies, " and added "as we have said previously, Microsoft reserves the right to pursue all necessary steps to ensure that Yahoo's shareholders are provided with the opportunity to realize the value inherent in our proposal."

What does this mean? It means that Microsoft wants to take Yahoo!, and they're probably going to the shareholders to do it. On top of that news is 1,000 layoffs for Yahoo! employees. This happens mere days after Yahoo! CEO thanked his employees for sticking it out. There are rumors of a deal between internet has-been AOL and Yahoo! priced at $40 a share, but it seems like the old assimilate everything Microsoft is back.


One of the things that's quite different in American television from International programming is that in the United States, a show could run forever, provided that a network renews the show season after season. In other countries, shows tend to focus on one story arc, and it's shown in a format that usually consists of 10 to 13 episodes, each being about an hour long. In large part, American television is normally episodic, as network executives fear that too many serialized elements might hinder the show, because as people miss episodes, the ability to catch up to what's going on is harder and harder.

Journeyman was one the casualties of this past Fall season, executives, worried in the Nielsen decline by the sixth episode, chose not to renew past the initial 13 episode order. This early decision by NBC, did allow the show's production to create a much more structured finish to show, and by the final episode, Journeyman is able to function as a standalone series, with many of the questions introduced throughout the series answered. I didn't take to Journeyman right away -- while I found the writing clever and the quality of acting high, I don't think the series really came together for me until about halfway through the series, it definitely takes time to develop the characters and episode 7 is where they actually start to break from the pattern established in the first 6 episodes.

While I think the series wraps up pretty well, I wouldn't mind seeing more episodes of Journeyman, and it seems a lot of fans of the show feel the same way; they've started a campaign to Save Journeyman by sending boxes of Rice-A-Roni to NBC. The boxes sent to NBC are donated to City Harvest, a food rescue organization in New York City.

links for 2008-02-12


Yahoo! Rejects Microsoft; What goes up must come down

With Yahoo! rejecting Microsoft's offer, expect things to get rather interesting; Yahoo is reportedly rejecting the offer on the grounds that $31 per share is too cheap; in light of the recent run-up in the stock price (Yahoo! is currently trading at about $30, up from about $20 before the announcement), this is definitely true. Depending on how badly Microsoft wants Yahoo!, a few options are available:
  • Microsoft walks away.
  • Raise the bid. Microsoft said it might go up to $35, Insiders at Yahoo! claim the board won't take less than $40.
  • Convince the highest shareholders to lobby the directors to accept the offer. This would be hedge funds.
  • Microsoft could go directly to the shareholders and make an cash offer.
  • Microsoft could overthrow the current board of directors. Elections for the board are coming this year.
Yahoo's stock is likely going to be pretty volatile until then; it is my belief that the run-up in price was those looking for Yahoo! to be bought by Microsoft held onto their shares, while other purchases were made with the assumption the deal would go through, making whatever they bought under the $31 buyout offer profitable. With the rejection of the offer, the next move is to be made by Microsoft.

Microsoft's actions have inflated Yahoo's stock price 50%, Microsoft's best move at this time is to do things other than raise the bidding price, and in fact, it might be better for them to walk away completely. A recent poll shows that an overwhelming majority say that Microsoft should raise the price; what this tells me is that shareholders of Yahoo want this deal to go through, and they want to profit from it. If Microsoft were to release a statement to the effect of "Sorry you didn't like our offer, we regretted making it, have fun beating Google on your own", I expect we'd see a reversal of those gains. One thing that shocked me about Microsoft's offer was why the purchase price was so high; Microsoft was offering 50% over Yahoo's current stock price, and the market responded in kind, pushing the price to nearly the offer price in a day; Wall Street definitely thought this merger was going to happen, and Microsoft's stock took the appropriate hits, and Yahoo made the appropriate gains.

Why Apple Doesn't Need Tradeshows

It's official: Apple will not have a booth at the National Association of Broadcasters conference. This move doesn't really come as any surprise to me; Apple does well enough through their own advertisements, announcements and their own stores that the trade show circuit is largely superfluous.

Apple has shown that it can compete for headlines as well as any other electronics company -- for the past two years, Apple has made bigger headlines with their products more than any product at the larger CES was able to generate. I think the way that announcements are covered in media these days works against tradeshows to a large extent; members of the press already know what they are going to see, and it's mighty stressful for both businesses and journalists to arrange time for product demos, interviews and the like. This flurry of activity over a couple of days isn't enough to produce material to last for the whole year, or even until the next trade show rolls around. The information that gets released on the day of a tradeshow is just a raindrop in the vast lake of press releases. Apple's releases, because they are staggered throughout the year, keep showing up and hitting the front page of the tech section every time they do.

While it's convenient to see all the product offerings from different companies under one roof, a tradeshow ultimately leads to choice paralysis by the consumer. Best Buy and Circuit City don't stock every product made by electronic companies, they stock only the ones with the greatest profit margin for the store (this is why those stores carry a hodgepodge of models, while Costco carries one for every five you might find in a big box retailer. There's also the looming problem of customer service at retail stores: if they were to have every item in the catalog, consumers would ask the sales clerks for the differences between the models.

In effect, Apple's retail stores have become a year-round tradeshow, always showcasing the latest and greatest of the Apple products. Pair that with salespeople who actually are trained with knowledge of the products, and it's understandable why the Apple retail stores are so profitable.

Apple is setting up their own announcement to be made on February 26th. This is likely the announcement of the iPhone/iPod Touch SDK, and possibly the announcement of new MacBook Pros.

An Upgrade to Movable Type 4.1

This evening, I upgraded the Movable Type installation to 4.1, attempting to fix some bugs that I had with the previous version. In the installation of Movable Type 4.1, the Dashboard widget which once worked, was broken, and spat out the following error:
    Movable Type was unable to locate your 'mt-static' directory. Please configure the 'StaticFilePath' configuration setting in your mt-config.cgi file, and create a writable 'support' directory underneath your 'mt-static' directory.
After growing increasingly frustrated at the error, I took some time to troubleshoot the problem. It turns out that if you set the StaticWebPath variable in the mt-config.cgi, setting the StaticFilePath variable becomes unnecessary, so I just commented it out, and everything happily works again.

I'm still running into a problem where the "export entries" function doesn't fully export my entries -- it stops at about 1200 entries.

links for 2008-02-07


Apple announces 16GB iPhone and 32GB iPod touch

Since the discontinuation of the 4GB iPhone, Apple has only had the $399 8GB iPhone available, but today Apple announced the availability of the $499 16GB iPhone, adding a higher capacity model to the line. In addition, Apple has announced a 32GB iPod Touch, priced at $499. It seems that Apple's pricing strategy for the iPhone and the iPod touch is to keep the pricing relatively consistent while upping the capacity; this is not unlike what Apple has done with its line of computers, but surely dashes the hope of those wishing for a price drop of the 8GB iPhone to $299. With the Macworld announced Macbook Air just finally shipping, one wonders why the announcement of the 16GB iPhone and the 32GB iPod Touch was not made at the same time three weeks ago, during Macworld, except for the significance of being three weeks ago, when the full refund time for an Apple product is two weeks from the purchase date. This affects anyone who bought on the basis of the Macworld announcements; while it doesn't drop the price of the product, it moves the maximum capacity up, and that is going to cause some amount of buyer remorse for those who wanted a larger capacity in their product. The capacity increase on the models is just what some buyers have been waiting for, but to get the remaining iPhone holdouts two different things must be done: a more budget-priced iPhone and the inclusion of 3G. Without the price drop of the iPhone to $299 for the 4GB version, I probably would have never purchased the first-generation iPhone without 3G -- $399 is simply too expensive for a phone without it.

The timing of this release also coincides with an upcoming American holiday: Valentine's Day, a day where a dozen roses cost as much as an iPod shuffle. This year, the American consumer is projected to spend an average of $122.98 (Men will outspend women on cards and gifts, $163.37 to $84.72). With Valentine's Day just a week away, people who put in their orders soon can get their new toys in time for the holiday.

links for 2008-02-06


Review: American Born Chinese and Shortcomings

This afternoon, I read both Gene Yang's "American Born Chinese" and Adrian Tomine's "Shortcomings". This, of course is a doubleheader of Asian-American experience inspired graphic novels, and the feeling of reading these two right after each other is the same feeling one might get by watching two Asian-American films in a row. For the most part, the two graphic novels deal with the same issue: what it means to be Asian American, and how that affects their ability to be in a relationship.

Gene Yang's American Born Chinese is told through the viewpoints of three characters: the first being the Monkey King, a traditional Chinese hero, the second being Jin Wang, a Chinese American boy who grows up in a primarily white-dominated neighborhood, with his only friend being another boy from Taiwan. The third story centers on that of a Caucasian teenager named Danny as his Chinese cousin destroys his life and reputation at school. This third story segment involving the Chinese cousin named "Chin-kee" was the hardest for me to read through; this is partially on account of the Chin-Kee's swapping of the "R"s and "L"s in the English, along with his being a highly stylized version of a 1930s era Chinaman, with buckteeth and cue.

Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings centers on Ben Tanaka, a Japanese-American and his relationships with people. Ben Tanaka is not a likable character; he's a bitter, angry Asian male, who has a troubled relationship with his Japanese girlfriend, and his only friend in the world seems to be a Korean lesbian grad student named Alice Kim. Set in Berkeley, the backgrounds of the Bay Area are clearly seen such as the defunct University Theater, and a sign for the Durant Food Court. While beautifully drawn and inked, the character of Ben is impossible to like, and as a result, one reads through the book as merely an observer, never feeling any emotional attachment.

Of the two, Gene Yang's American Born Chinese is the easier to read of the two; the story is a visual allegory, while Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings feels more like an biographical dissection of the topic, leading to disappointment and dissatisfaction befitting the title; I expected more from Tomine, but what I received was far less.

Shortcomings: 2/5
American Born Chinese: 4/5

links for 2008-02-05


links for 2008-02-03


Google down 8 percent, Yahoo up 48 percent

Yesterday we had Amazon buying out Audible, this morning we've got earnings reports from Google and a bid for Yahoo from Microsoft.

Google earnings are only 17 percent this quarter, making this the first quarter that Google earnings did not exceed 25 percent. As a result, the stock took a tumble of 8 percent, coincidentally, the same amount they missed analyst expectations by.

Microsoft, in the meantime has decided that if you can't beat the competition, you can try to buy them out. With a purchase price of 44.6 billion dollars, a number well over its book value of about 10 billion dollars. As a result, Yahoo stock is up 48 percent, bringing the market cap of Yahoo! to about 37 billion. Google, of course is number one in search engine traffic at 65%, Yahoo is number two at a respectable 21 percent, while MSN ranks at third with 7 percent. In November of 2007, Microsoft made a bold statement that they aimed to be in the top two in search; while I originally thought they would do it through efforts in engineering and better advertising of their search engine, it looks like Microsoft is throwing money at the problem in a different way.

Microsoft has been one of those companies that came late to the internet party; they didn't realize how important it would be, and ended up spending a lot of time and money on it trying to catch up to the rest of the pack. One of their first internet-related purchases was the code to Mosaic, which they used to create the first versions of Internet Explorer. Another was the purchase of WebTV, a television set-up box which allowed users to surf the web on the television. The potential of buying Yahoo! would boost Microsoft's web presence greatly; not just in search, but in many other service areas as well. Yahoo! owns Flickr, del.icio.us, upcoming.org, and 46% of Alibaba (one of China's biggest search sites) among other acquisitions not branded by the Yahoo! label.

I've always found some of Yahoo's services superior to Google's -- namely Flickr over Picasa, and My Yahoo! over iGoogle, but rarely do I find any webapp of Microsoft's even remotely useful. With share prices of Yahoo! skyrocketing over this news, I'm pretty certain a refusal of this buyout bid would not go over well with shareholders.

Second Skin, a documentary on the lives of 7 MMORPG players


links for 2008-02-02