May 2008 Archives

Chris Ware's 'This American Life' Animation


Wil Wheaton on Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show

I remember how when I was a kid, there was a tv show on Saturday Mornings called "Pee-Wee's Playhouse". It was weird and crazy, and I didn't always understand what was going on. That same amount of wackiness can now be found in The Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show, except instead of Pee-Wee and his friends, you have the Japanese accented Kiko and her friends:

The following episode guest stars alpha nerd Wil Wheaton, as a businessman trying to close a deal with Kiko:

Mario Plays Anime Theme Songs


Uncanny Valley

An explanation of Uncanny Valley as told by the cast of 30 Rock:

If You've Seen Only One YouTube Video This Year...

... you probably won't understand the full fabulousness of Weezer's "Pork and Beans":

Nintendo Wii Fit

Earlier this week, I picked up Wii Fit at the local Target; it was barely 9 am, and there were only 3 Wii Fits left when I departed the store. The two people in front of me in the Electronics section were also purchasing Wii Fit. Then, for the next few days, the box sat unopened, until this morning, when I finally had time to play with it.

Wii Fit is the name of the pack-in game that comes with the Wii Balance Board; like Wii Sports, Wii Fit includes a variety of games on the disc which include both more serious workout regimens as well as more game-like activities, such as tight-rope walking and slalom.

The Wii Balance board is essentially an electronic scale which measures your weight on each foot; thus the shifting of your weight is essentially what is being measured. After inputing some information to determine your BMI, the game tells you whether you are "underweight, normal, overweight or obese", and after a series of balance tests, it determines what your Wii Fit Age is.

As you can see, I scored 10 years over my actual age; this is not too bad, especially considering that Olympic athletes Heather O'Reilly and Heather Mitts on the Nintendo Channel) scored about the same on the initial run through.

IMG_3471.JPGMy Wii Fit AgeIMG_3502.JPG

This morning, I set off to San Francisco to try and catch the Annie Leibowitz exhibition before it leaves the Legion of Honor. It turns out that I was not the only one with this in mind; the exhibition was crowded with people. I left the exhibition rather unenthused; while some of the more personal photographs (particularly those with Sarah Sontag) were touching, the vast majority were portraits of celebrities or politicians without evoking any real feeling behind it. This mixture of personal and professional life was touched upon in the exhibit, but not presented as much as I would have liked; some of the most disappointing photographs presented were large landscape photos, displayed as entire walls; the choice of the photos left much to be desired; blurry, grainy colorless landscapes.

I recommend Annie Leibovitz's book: A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 instead of seeing the exhibition; the exhibition is merely a small subset of the photographs within the book.

Cory Doctorow: Little Brother

IMG_3483.JPG Today, Cory Doctorow had a reading at Los Altos Library for his latest book, Little Brother. The crowd was small, being a midday reading of about 30 people in attendance, and both before and after the reading, Doctorow fielded some questions from the audience.

Doctorow on why Little Brother was set in San Francisco:

Cory Doctorow on Citizen Journalism and Mass Media, and how the Internet is a collaboration tool:

Doctorow also showed off the book he was currently readingfor research as he is currently novelizing his short story Anda's Game. The book is "Socialism Is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China by Lijia Zhang, which is a memoir of a woman who worked at a factory building intercontinental ballistic missiles in China.

The passage read is the same passage that has been read before, and will also be the same reading he's doing tonight at Borderland Books in San Francisco. He mentioned that one of the reasons why he reading the same passage throughout this portion of the book tour was to improve his performance of the reading.

Doctorow, after the reading also showed off his Steampunk watch made by Haruo Suekichi (one of two in the world), and demonstrated the "catapult" feature. He also explained that prior to posting the link on boingboing, he purchased one of the watches.

After answering a few more questions, he started signing books. The line went quickly, and when I got up there, I mentioned that I had been up by Mission Dolores Park earlier in the day, grabbing some ice cream, and he had mentioned that he had had lunch just a few blocks away at Cafe Gratitude, a raw food restaurant.

More videos in the extended.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: My Life As King

Last week the first WiiWare titles hit the American Wii, and among them is Square Enix's Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: My Life As King. The game is a simulation game, and is essentially a Final Fantasy themed MySims. Players play the ruler of a Kingdom, and spend much of the game acquiring resources to build new buildings in town. The King can also send out adventurers to gather resources, explore dungeons and kill bosses. Unfortunately, the results of these expeditions is returned in the form of a rather mundane report. As a WiiWare title, Square Enix definitely wanted to take advantage of the micro-transaction options, and thus the game has additional content is available for a small fee, which together amounts to an additional 1500 points, which makes the add-on options equivalent to the cost of the game download. Having not downloaded the add-on options, I don't see how it could add much in the form of gameplay value; the majority of the content is in the form of additional races for adventurers and costume changes for the character. The game overall doesn't take advantage of the Wii's capabilities well; other than the player shaking the Wii Remote to summon Chancellor Chime, there is no reason for the game to use the Wii Remote; all other functions could be done on a GameCube controller.

On Netflix's Future in the Living Room

A few weeks ago, I switched from Indie DVD rental service Greencine to the more well-known Netflix. This transition was actually a rocky one, as there are certain advantages and disadvantages to each service.

For instance, while both services have a "Play Instant" feature, Greencine's selection is typically limited to classic movies, while Netflix's selection is a smaller subset of their DVD offerings; in addition, some of their instant-play selections are not yet offered on DVD. The major disadvantage of Netflix's service is simply that one must use Internet Explorer and a PC to view this content.

The one major feature that I miss about Greencine is their "Quick Return" feature. At anytime during your rental period, you can go online and mark a DVD "returned", and Greencine would send the next film on your queue. There's no similar service on Netflix, and I find that sometimes Netflix is not as fast on processing returns (due to them not sending out on weekends)

With Netflix's strength being the available on demand selection, it's no surprise that Netflix has announced a $99 set top box, which will deliver these movies on demand to the television. This market is obviously the battlefield in which Netflix will compete with TiVos, DVRs and AppleTV. The Netflix box has no hard drive, unlike the other options; the movie is streamed over the network.

With blu-Ray and HD-DVD essentially being rather unpopular formats, it may just be that consumers skip the format altogether and just move onto download streams.

Joss Whedon's The Dollhouse

Joss Whedon's latest project is about a bunch of genetically engineered humans who have their memories wiped after each assignment. Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, one of the Dolls. Dollhouse Trailer: (Hopefully the video works, it seems as if FOX is going through a lot of effort taking down the trailers, which I believe is a big mistake, as this is definitely a lot of free hype and publicity for a new series) I'm really surprised that FOX is giving a Joss Whedon show a chance, after it canceled Firefly so quickly.

California Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Yesterday, the California court declared same-sex marriage legal; this is a good thing, as a society whose ideals include equality and fairness simply cannot deny same-sex couples access to the respect and security that marriage provides. California is the second state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage, Massachusetts was the first.

Press Conference about the announcement, with some words by Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco (who also handed out marriage licenses in San Francisco a few years ago to gay couples):

Press Release

BlizzCon 2008

It appears that Blizzard is having yet another BlizzCon. Still in Anaheim, and tickets will still be $100. While that ticket price sounds steep, it's essentially to pay for the venue, the goodie bags of phat loot and the software developers for not working on their projects and talking about them. For me, BlizzCon is the MOST profitable of the conventions I attend year long; unlike last time, this convention is well past the summer convention season, in October, which means that those cosplayers can also use the costumes for Halloween. Cosplayers take note: the Blizzcon costuming prizes are better than ANY other cosplay masquerade contest in the world -- last year's grand prize was a computer system worth several thousand dollars.

Official BlizzCon 2008 Press Release.


Neil Gaiman and Books

Just the other day, I was talking with littlestar about how Amazon kindly sent me a notice that Absolute Sandman Vol. 3 had a new release date (June 17, 2008) and she asked me whether or not there would be a fourth Volume. It turns out there is a fourth volume, due in November, but available for pre-order now: Absolute Sandman Vol. 4; those interested may want to place an order now, as Amazon is offering a 5% pre-order discount on top of their regular price of 62.37, for a total price of $59.25.

In addition, Subterranean Press also has a special limited edition (numbered $250, lettered $900) of The Graveyard Book featuring illustrations from Dave McKean.

The mass market hardcover of The Graveyard Book features different illustrations (also by Dave McKean), and is much cheaper.

The edition of the book I am most interested in is actually the Bloomsbury children's edition illustrated by Chris Riddell. The Graveyard Book has a special place in my heart, as Gaiman first read a portion of the book at a reading in San Jose in 2006.

DIY Wii Sensor Bar

Recently at our apartment, we've been using the projector for watching movies and playing video games, but the problem we've had is that the Wii sensor bar is simply too short, and won't reach from the projector to the screen, and so we've had to situate the Wii sensor bar on top of some boxes in the middle of the room. This solution led to the Wii tripwire, , in which anyone attempting to cross the room would snag their leg across the Wii sensor bard cord and take it down, and so after a quick trip to Radio Shack this morning, I made a battery powered sensor bar as a replacement.


  • 2 High Intensity Infrared LEDs (@$2.39 each)
  • 1 4 AAA Battery Pack with on/off switch ($2.99)
  • 1 47-ohm resistor (a pack of 5 for $0.99)
  • a couple feet of insulated wire (a spool of 50 feet for $5)
Total cost of materials: around $12

The Wii sensor bar is simply two groupings of powered infrared LEDs which the Wii remote uses to triangulate its position relative to the screen; as such, a homemade sensor bar will also have two groupings of LEDs. I went ultra cheap and only used 2 LEDs, but it is possible to have more, the Nintendo Wii sensor bar uses 5 on each side, for a total of 10. The reason for this design is to create a bigger LED source for the Wii remote to detect. From my experimentation, the Wii remote seems to use ANY two LED sources to use to triangulate, meaning that if you space the LEDs too far apart, the control feedback of the Wii will not be smooth, because it will attempt to triangulate using the two LED points.

Other notes: IR LEDs can be viewed using a digital camera with a live view screen, and make sure they are wired correctly (on my LEDs, the long end is the positive end, the short end is the ground).
Infrared LED

The sensor bar I built is a little bigger than the Nintendo supplied one, and actually looks quite slapped together (it's mounted on a cardboard box lid at the moment). I'll make a more polished sensor bar later, but for now, this works fine.

Homemade Wii Sensor Bar, Left SideHomemade Wii Sensor Bar, Power BoxHomemade Wii Sensor Bar, Right Side

How to build the bar is actually pretty simple; from the power source, attach the resistor, and then run the LEDs in a series, and then complete the circuit by attaching the ground.

Go Speed Racer, Go!

Much to the amusement of everyone around me, I actually wanted to see Speed Racer, even after Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a of 35. I was never a fan of the original cartoon, as I was a bit too young to have ever seen the series in the United States. Unlike Transformers, this childhood cartoon making the transition to live-action keeps much of the source material intact, almost to the detriment of the movie; the antics of Spritle and Chim-Chim will delight young children, but will not be appreciated by adults. Much of this movie is computer generated, and the colors are super saturated, to give the film a quality that is vaguely reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The racing in the movie feels like a Super Mario Cart track -- the one known as Rainbow Road, in which there are physics-defying elements to the course. I found myself entertained by the film, and bedazzled by the art direction; but this film is not for everyone. Speed Racer is solidly a children's film and will likely not appeal to those past the age of 12. The major problem of Speed Racer, and probably the major criticism of most film critics is simply that it is too juvenile.

Speed Racer definitely lacks the more sophisticated humor that makes children's films entertaining for adults. Speed Racer is definitely a film that is not to be taken seriously at all, but to be enjoyed just for the pure eye candy.

Go Speed Racer Go Music Video

links for 2008-05-02


Apple's iTunes sells movies on DVD release date

The news this morning in the tech world seems to be that Apple has managed to negotiate the same date of release on iTunes as DVD retail release; new titles are 14.99, and older catalog titles are 9.99. Part of the reason this is such a major victory for Apple is that when this was done on the music side, there was a noticeable increase in iTunes sales, and a decline in retail sales of albums. For music, I can understand the appeal; consumers were buying music, ripping it into MP3, and then copying it onto their music player; iTunes managed to save them the work and know-how of putting their music CD into a format their music player could use. For movies, it isn't quite as simple; iTunes Movies aren't a format TiVo or other DVRs understand, and putting a movie onto an iPod takes up a substantial amount of space.

One of the small victories that Apple has won by doing this, of course, is making it easier for consumers to get the latest releases. Apple's rentals business is certainly interesting; most consumers want to pay to own their media, not rent it, and it is especially true for movies, but until Apple can get the AppleTV capturing the living room market, the way the iPod has captured consumers on the go, I just don't see downloadable video replacing DVD sales anytime soon; it may be for this reason that movie studios have gone ahead with this agreement; previously, DVD sales had a 30-45 day head start on iTunes, in order to preserve the revenue stream of DVD sales. I never saw this as much of a problem, as those who download and those who purchase DVDs are two entirely different audiences; the customers who purchase a DVD are different from those customers seeking to download a movie to watch on their computer. Until Apple can get iTunes onto the living room television, iTunes isn't really competition for DVD sales.