Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

I haven't trick-or-treated in years, but I have to admit, it's a ridiculously fun ritual. I feel sorry for those kids whose parents don't let them trick-or-treat (because of safety concerns or religious quarrels); for a child, visiting a stranger's house and getting candy from them for free is the equivalent of winning the lottery.

The best part were the tools. I enjoyed carrying a flashlight and gallivanting about the neighborhood, but it was especially cool when you had a cap gun or bow and arrow or some other such prop to trick-or-treat with. Anything that made noise or lit up on Halloween night suddenly made you "The Man" when it came to comparing costumes. Once Mom and Dad cobbled together a bow and arrow for my Robin Hood costume - and let's just say the results were delightful.

There is some strategy to trick-or-treating, of course. First, bring a big bag, preferably a cloth laundry bag or something - one of those silly plastic pumpkin totes isn't going to hold the loot of a hundred houses. Second, hit the best houses - if you see a bunch with their lights on, it usually means they're going to be willing to give. Dark houses usually have people who aren't home or don't feel like giving candy. Third, don't take more than one from those "please take one" houses - it makes you look chintzy. Fourth, always say thank you. And five, your parents will always try to convince you to let them take some of your candy - DON'T DO IT. You'll never see that stuff again.

As a final treat, check out one of the best "Halloween" TV episodes ever - "The Adentures of Pete & Pete - Halloweenie":

News: Robert Goulet, 1933-2007

The fairly famous singer Robert Goulet passed away recently, so as is customary, I'd like to do a little tribute. Now, Robert Goulet was never a mega-star; the Canadian singer often had to struggle with small parts and long stretches without a major gig. But through persistence, he became successful.

He attacked the many cartoon roles and voiceovers he did with a passion. Here's some bits from Toy Story 2 and Recess:

His performance of "You've got a friend in me," with some amateur lipsynching.

And he could obviously make fun of himself:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Movies: Flightplan

Nobody does "slightly crazy overprotective mother" quite like Jodie Foster. We saw it in 1991's "Little Man Tate," 2002's "Panic Room," and now "Flightplan," a film directed by Robert Schwentke. It concerns the mysterious disappearance of a little girl named Julia, who is the daughter of airplane engineer Kyle Pratt (played, of course, by Jodie Foster). The hitch? Julia disappeared aboard an airplane flying high over the Atlantic. Or did she?

The movie is paced pretty well and has a slick, cinematic feel to it that doesn't take very many risks. You've seen these airline setups in other movies before, but Pratt's knowledge of the plane does make it a little more entertaining as she tears the place apart looking for her daughter. Jodie Foster is pretty convincing here, but it's not really a role that requires heavy lifting.

The last third or so of the movie is fairly cheesy, as the final plot twist is a bit far-fetched and clumsily telegraphed to the viewer at various points in the movie. The plotholes and action start to bog the movie down (going from a thriller to a bad cat-and-mouse movie), so the director wisely chose to end things quickly. I can't see myself watching "Flightplan" again, but it might be worth paying attention to as an inflight movie or something.

Rating: 5/10

School: Bus-hopping

There's an interesting little practical problem with the law school #20 bus stop here at UF, and, as I suspect, the problem probably arises whenever you have a minor bus stop that occurs right after a major stop.

The 20 begins at the Oaks Mall (the biggest mall in the area) and ends at the heart of UF, in McCarthy Hall and the Reitz Union. During the 3PM-5PM rush hours, I often wait at my law school bus stop while several full buses pass by, swelled like big metal ticks from all the passengers who got on at McCarthy Hall. Lately, I've been using the various circulators that take me only part of the way home - only about a quarter of the way.

The practical upshot, though, is that I can get on a 20 bus at a later stop, when people have gotten off at previous stops. It's a bit wasteful, and sometimes requires a little walking, but it works. Hopefully, if the weather improves, I can start riding my bike again.

Guns: Handgun & Flashlight Techniques

While the following videos are more geared toward law enforcement, they're worth a view just for familiarity's sake. I should probably add that I don't agree with 100% of everything shown here, but on the whole, it's pretty sound advice:

Whole courses are taught about low light tactics, so it'd be sort of futile to cover that kind of thing in one blog post. I'll just talk about what I use, and what works for me, an average Joe geared up for self-defense and not serving high-risk warrants or kicking doors in Fallujah.

I must admit to rarely carrying a high-intensity flashlight around. This is probably mistake number one, but it's already hard enough to lug keys, cell phone, wallet, and gun around. There's a point where you start having a utility belt a la Batman instead of just normal clothes on. Thankfully, most urban areas are lit up like crazy, but it's still not ideal.

This is completely changed, however, at home, where a flashlight is within easy reach of the bedside. Most of my nighttime hours are spent at home anyway, so it seems sensible. In terms of form, for me, the Rogers/Surefire technique is fairly awkward, with the Harries and FBI techniques about equally natural. Unless you have a button to turn on all the lights in your home instantly (which also disadvantages you to anyone looking inside from outside), you'll need a flashlight.

A flashlight, aside from helping to ID potential attackers, makes seeing the sights incredibly easy. Once the area you're looking at is bathed in bright white light, your sights (even the default iron non-tritium type) are set in stark contrast. You can also use a flashlight as a hand weight (like a yawara or kubotan) to make offhand strikes at close-in threats.

TV: A Jeopardy! Tribute

Quiz shows aren't anything new, of course, but the unparalleled success of the Alex Trebek version of Jeopardy! must bring pause to even the most cynical observer. Here is a show devoted to minutiae and useless tidbits, to the flotsam of human experience, and yet it has penetrated the pop culture in a way few game shows ever have. After all, you can probably hum the Jeopardy! theme. Can you say the same for the $100,000 Pyramid?

Sometimes the answers are mind-numbingly simple, made so that almost any adult can figure them out. In other cases, it's something you'd need to have prior knowledge of, whether it's the history of the Tudors or the inner workings of a catalytic converter. The structure of the show lends itself to being followed along actively by the viewer, who is either amazed or exasperated by the performance of the contestants.

Here's a sampling of Jeopardy!'s greatest moments, pop culture parodies, and homages:

One of the now-classic Will Ferrell Jeopardy! skits:

A fun moment with Ken Jennings, the longest-running Jeopardy! champion:


Music: Blue Monday

Back in my high school days, the popular MTV show "Total Request Live" was being spawned, and one of the earliest and most popular videos on the countdown was Orgy's cover of "Blue Monday," the legendary New Order dance song. The track itself doesn't stray very far from the original, but the music video is a late '90s classic:

Here's the original:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sports: Tough times for the Miami Dolphins

I remember when the Miami Dolphins were actually decent. They seemed to make the NFL playoffs a good deal of the time. Those were the twilight years of Dan Marino's career, as artfully described by Will Ferrell:

The final game of both Dan Marino and head coach Jimmy Johnson's careers was an embarrassing 62-7 blowout to the Jaguars that still sticks in my mind. What followed after the departure of Marino and Johnson could only be described as "decay." Although the new quarterback, Jay Fiedler (a Jewish quarterback was particularly suitable for a South Florida team), and the new coach, Dave Wannstedt, were competent, seasons invariably ended with disappointment (including a ten-win season with no playoff berth).

This year has been the most frustrating for a fan, though. The Dolphins, who are 0-8, are actually getting worse as the season progresses - they've lost starting QB Trent Green and their star RB Ronnie Brown to season-ending injuries, they traded away Chris Chambers, and countless defensive players have been dancing in and out of the injured reserve. When veteran Pro Bowler Jason Taylor starts practice and literally says, "Hi, my name is Jason Taylor. What's your name?" to some third-string rookie being brought in to help out, you know you're going to have problems.

But, as a fan, you have to take the bad with the good. The Dolphins can't stay this bad forever...can they?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

News: Justice is blind

A few days ago here in Gainesville, Cevaughn Curtis Jr., a 28-year old career criminal, thought he had found easy pickings. Arthur Williams is a 75 year old man, who was also legally blind. So Cevaughn broke down Arthur Williams' door and pushed his way into the house.

Unfortunately for Cevaughn, Williams had a .32 revolver and the presence of mind to use it.

This kind of case is not uncommon, for several reasons. The young and healthy, unfortunately, will always try to prey on the old and infirm. Older individuals tend to have houses filled with the memories (and property) of a life fully lived, making them ripe targets for some thug who wants to pawn Grandma's heirloom jewelry for some cash.

Most importantly, Arthur Williams (and others like him who are involved in these self-defense cases) is old for a reason. You don't get to the age of 75 (61 of those years without sight) by being helpless, or by being unwilling to defend yourself from violent attack. And that is why Cevaughn is in the hospital with a bullet in his neck and Williams is still in his own home, unmoved.

Movies: Marebito

In some ways, "Marebito," a J-horror flick from Takashi Shimizu, is the ultimate H.P. Lovecraft pastiche. One almost gets the sense that Shimizu, who filmed this movie between "Ju-On: The Grudge" and its American remake, was getting a little sick of onryō and the rest of Japanese horror conventions. Instead of young girls with long hair dressed up in white, we get a creepy suicide and an obsessed photographer. But that's just the start of the trouble here...

The film never really explains what is happening. Is this a hallucination or illusion? Is there really anything supernatural happening at all? What about the oblique references to the Hollow Earth theory and other pseudoscience? This is refreshing in the era of "twist" endings and revelations - since you're free to think what you want, the movie doesn't feel like it's pulling the wool over your eyes.

Unfortunately, the same atmospheric creepiness and existential ambiguity that make this film Lovecraftian are also matched by equally detrimental Lovecraftian elements, like the absence of anything of note happening (the trailer essentially conveys everything that happens in the movie in about a minute and a half), the monologue-y narrator-focused style, and the utter abruptness of the ending. You may feel a bit shortchanged when the credits roll, which is never pleasant.

Rating: 6/10 (7/10 if you enjoy a good Lovecraft yarn now and then)

Miscellany: My First Jack-o-lantern

This weekend, I had my first opportunity to carve a pumpkin. Now, my family has always been pretty keen on Halloween (I still remember the countless awesome Halloween costumes Mom sewed together for me), but I don't recall ever having had the chance to get my hands goopy - I'd seen it done by others, but this one was gonna be mine and mine alone. I grabbed a pumpkin from Publix and away we went.

First of all, carving a pumpkin is messy business - it's definitely better to do this outside, or at least over lots and lots of layers of newspaper. The initial cut is a circular or hexagonal affair around the top of the pumpkin - be sure to cut at a 45-degree angle so the top won't fall through into the interior of the pumpkin. You'll probably want to cut a small slot up top for a "chimney" if you're putting candles inside, as well as to help remind you which side is the front.

After you pull out the top, you'll need to do the tedious part - clear the inside pumpkin goop out as much as possible. You can save the seeds to roast them, but the stringy junk inside seems like it's best thrown away - I'm not sure the pumpkins they sell for carving are all that tasty. After an eternity of scraping with either an ice cream scoop or a specialized pumpkin scraper (scrape, scrape, and keep on scraping until the "walls" are nice and clean), you will be ready for the fun part - carving!

Carving a pumpkin is a bit tricky, mostly since you're working on a 3D, irregular surface. The chintzy $3.00 pumpkin carving kit tools work okay, but advanced carvers will probably go for something more substantial. And when everything is said and done, but some tea light candles in there, and voila:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tech: Sin & Punishment review

When the N64 was getting its clock cleaned by the original PlayStation, it's no secret Nintendo gave up and shoveled many of the later N64 titles onto the nascent GameCube. One title that did not come to American shores was "Sin & Punishment," a game developed by the legendary Treasure, famous for shooters like "Gunstar Heroes" and "Radiant Silvergun." Now, however, 7 years after the original Japanese N64 launch, the game is finally available to American gamers via the Wii Virtual Console.

"Sin & Punishment" borrows ideas from a lot of previous 3D rail shooters, including the old arcade game Cabal, but everything is wrapped in Treasure's typical polish. You take the role of a young rebel soldier fighting against monsters named Ruffians, as well as conventional military forces. The plot is fairly throwaway; the game is all about fast, arcade-style action. You'll encounter boss enemies at a fairly regular clip, stuff will explode all the time, and you carry a sword to swipe at enemies who come in close.

It's a fun game, though the mechanics are less complex than the rest of Treasure's landmark shooters, which makes the whole experience more shallow. After you've completed the game, which isn't an easy task on the "Normal" difficulty level, there's not much left to do but jockey for high scores.

Rating: 83/100

The game's standout level features epic flybys of a carrier battle group and combat through the air and on the sea. Really outstanding stuff, especially considering the meager powers of the N64:

Miscellany: On fetishes

A couple of recent posts on some blogs I enjoy, one involving amputees and one involving women with guns, got me to thinking about "fetishes" (a dictionary definition - any object or nongenital part of the body that causes a habitual erotic response or fixation).

Now, I'm a "live and let live" kind of guy so whatever floats someone's boat is fine. I'm just fascinated with the ability of the Internet to connect people with out-of-the-way sexual preferences in an ad hoc way. For example, 20 years ago, I'm not sure how one would get their vore fix. Any magazine devoted to it would have had incredibly limited circulation. Now, of course, a Google search turns up thousands of websites that either talk about the stuff or feature it wholesale.

As for me, a woman who can shoot is commendable on a logical level and personal level, but the actual image of a woman with a gun offers no more or less physical attraction than a woman without. It's just a tool, after all.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I've always fancied myself a decent game designer. Whether it's conjuring up a Greek mythology-based tabletop RPG for a high-school English class project, or babysitting my cousins using some novel, improvised games involving Nerf guns, I tend to think about what makes things fun for people. A great site that features plenty of articles on the why and how of what makes some games great and others bad is (the blog is also quite interesting).

My favorite articles on the site are the ones devoted to "Playing to Win." I suppose everyone at times has been accused of "gamey," "unfair," or "cheap" behavior - but a competitive game demands this kind of play in order for you to win. After all, it's not like you're cheating - you're just playing to win. It's a neat reflection on human motives that even stretches to stuff like Survivor.

Miscellany: Running a "Call of Cthulhu" campaign, part 10

I can't imagine trying to get people together for a tabletop RPG session before the advent of cell phones, e-mail, and text messaging. After all, you are asking for a considerable chunk of a person's time (a few hours in most cases, and in some campaigns, many, many hours). Unless you had regular contact with someone via school or work, it must have often devolved into a game of phone tag, missed answering machine messages, and written notes.

Thankfully, the Internet has solved many of these problems. In the long breaks between my "Call of Cthulhu" sessions, I have decided to continue the campaign via e-mail. It's sort of like the old "play-by-e-mail" games of the grognards and Civilization PC players, except instead of sending turn data, my players are sending information and actions for their characters (about a weeks' worth of actions at a time). The investigators are in Chicago circa 1927 now, so, as you might imagine, there's no limit of places to go or people to meet.

To be honest, in some ways, I actually prefer DMing this way. Although you lose the immediacy and improvisation of a live session, you can tailor every game e-mail to fit the mood and plot of your story. And frankly, I think I'm a better writer than I am a showman. The one disadvantage is that there's no combat or dice-rolling, but that's not a big deal in CoC.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

School: Concealed Campus Empty Holster Protest

If there's one thing the Virginia Tech massacre (as well as other sundry rapes, robberies, and murders) should have taught the country, it's that no law will stop a deranged criminal from attacking innocent people. The unpleasant reality is that many state laws, even in states with CCW programs, prohibit lawful concealed carry on campus, meaning that a student is faced with a Hobson's choice between following the law or being able to prevent another mass shooting.

Students for Concealed Carry on Campus ( are holding a nationwide empty holster protest this week, which I joined in on. This isn't a new idea, obviously:

The great irony here is that taking along one of my empty CCW holsters would be pointless, since no one could see it anyway. I actually wrangled a BlackHawk Omega thigh holster and wore it to school, which provoked some good discussions about what was strapped to my leg and what I was saying. I'm not sure I changed any minds, but it feels good to at least be doing something.

Unfortunately, a lot of college students seem to check their critical thinking skills at the door, my fellow law students included. People seem to object to other people carrying guns, or even the idea of "guns on campus," but if someone attacks you at 2 AM in your dorm, and you call the cops, guess what you're doing? That's right, you're summoning men with guns to take care of the problem. I'm not sure why someone would want to outsource their personal safety to strangers, especially when there's hard data that folks who legally carry guns are much less likely to commit crime. Thankfully, laws (and attitudes) can change.

TV: TaleSpin

It's rare to see a TV show that successfully apes the action-adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s, so it was even more of a shock that an animated cartoon show featuring most of the cast of "The Jungle Book" could pull it off, and pull it off well. "TaleSpin," part of the famed "Disney Afternoon" lineup that dominated after-school TV for a decade, draws its inspiration from stuff like "The Mysterious Pilot" and "S.O.S. Coast Guard." This is high adventure, sometimes-deranged villains, and McGuffins, all softened with the fact that all the characters are talking animals.

Baloo, the goof-off ace pilot of the series, his sidekick Kit, and his boss/almost-girlfriend Rebecca have a wonderful chemistry that you seldom see in today's slapdash cartoons. Real attention is paid to motivations and emotions, which is a far sight better than a lot of live-action TV shows. Not suprisingly, TaleSpin won an Emmy and was nominated for another. Ironically, this makes TaleSpin one of the most honored shows Sally Struthers has ever worked on.

In addition to the screwball storylines, you also got some neat flight antics:

Here's a clip from a classic episode. The subtle use of the TaleSpin theme after Baloo breaks the record is the kind of emotional heartstring-tugging the series is great at:

Finally, the episode of TaleSpin that sticks out most in my mind is "Last Horizons," where Baloo's home of Cape Suzette is attacked by Asians (thinly-veiled as pandas) from Pandala. The episode was temporarily banned as offensive, but I thought it had the greatest gag of the series - Baloo uses huge amounts of ice cream and ice to thwart the Pandala heat-seeking rockets.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Music: Angeles

Elliot Smith had a fairly tragic end, but his music will be around for awhile. He had an ambivalent relationship with Hollywood, so I think the constant use of his songs in film isn't really a good lasting memorial. I bet he would have gotten a kick out of all the covers that fans have posted on YouTube, though.

Here's "Angeles." I picture my entire family, just living their lives, when I hear this one:

Books: Vingt Mille Lieues sous Les Mers*

*roughly translated - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Should probably be "20,000 Leagues Under the Seas." And thank God for the Web - all these cover photos match what I actually own.

One of the first books I ever read front to back was an illustrated, abridged version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." It read more like a comic book, truth be told - every other page was a picture that showed what was happening on the opposite page, and all the artwork was suitably heroic. As a kid, I loved the square-jawed Ned Land, the nefarious giant squid, and a Captain Nemo who looked sorta like Ming the Merciless.

About the time of 3rd grade, I found out what "abridged" meant, and resolved to get the whole story. This time, I bought a "Signet Classics" paperback featuring a haunting picture of Captain Nemo on the cover, and no illustrations within. I marveled at the variety of the ocean's undersea life, the picaresque adventures on shore, and the depths to which Nemo had isolated himself from society.

About the time of high school (about when I was taking my first French class), I realized that Jules Verne was not an Englishman, and the book I had loved all this time was a translated version. So, after shopping for some time in a Manhattan bookstore that carried foreign-language works, I spotted a "POCKET CLASSIQUES" paperback with the familiar giant squid on the cover. And when I've become fluent in French, then maybe I'll be able to say I've read "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Miscellany: Human Tetris

This is both wonderfully creative and woefully stupid all at once.

Food: Virtually Cuban

If you look back through my restaurant reviews, you'll notice I've never given a 1-star rating to anything. Mostly that's because places that are really bad are usually not worth reviewing in a separate post. Today, though, I think I'll make an exception - the unlucky recipient is Virtually Cuban, a little place off of 13th here in Gainesville.

I had eaten there a long time ago, but I suspect they're under new management, since they just changed their hours. Whatever it is, I saw some guy holding a banner for the place, and I decided to stop in for an early dinner. Virtually Cuban is, fittingly enough, virtually never open - they're closed on the weekends, so it's not even an option most of the time.

I tried the arroz con pollo and the ropa vieja, and both were fairly bland. The chicken was dry and overcooked, while the white rice that came with the ropa vieja was semi-hard and old-tasting. With the right price, they might be tolerable, but the menu items all hover around $10. That's unacceptable when essentially all you're serving is Cuban fast food (everything's pre-made and just sitting in a hot tray). Heck, see for yourself.

Rating: 1/4 stars

Tech: A Really Cheap, Off-The-Shelf Cell Phone

My sister has a penchant for damaging or losing personal electronics (sometimes her fault, sometimes not). When she lost her cell phone, there were a couple options we could have taken - buy a whole new phone at reduced cost (but with the caveat of having to renew the plan), or purchase a new phone outright, no strings attached, but at a high cost. I know you can get cellphones off the Net for pretty cheap, but she needed something now, not a week later.

I opted for an alternative - a $10 cell phone that I bought from the mall. It's part of the GoPhone packages they sell at FYE - a prepaid phone that you can pay as you go. However, it's easy enough to not use the SIM card provided in the package and to replace it with a SIM card containing my sister's plan (obtained at an AT&T store). Voila! A cheap phone that I bought conveniently at the mall, with no new plan necessary.

The phone itself is a Motorola C168i - pretty much the cheapest, most disposable thing you can think of. This being the modern era, though, even it has a decent-looking color LCD screen, multiple ringtones, and a rechargable battery. And if you drop it in the toilet, you don't shed a tear.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Guns: Only in New York...

I got wind of this one from some of my fellow bloggers - seems like a New York TV "news" station is getting the vapors over the "antique gun loophole" - that's right, they're up in arms over single shot, muzzleloading, blackpowder rifles (the video is partly hilarious, and also partly disturbing in its portrayal of media stupidity).

It must be noted that this technology has existed for a few hundred years (well, since the Civil War if we're talking about muzzleloaders with percussion caps), so I'm surprised that no one spoke up about this "glaring loophole" until now. I'm pretty sure baseball bats are used in more crimes than muzzleloading rifles, but I guess that doesn't stop reporters from putting on worried faces. Wait'll they figure out composite bows and crossbows are unregulated, too!

The next time some doofus says the Founding Fathers didn't intend for the Second Amendment to cover modern firearms, point them to this story - it seems even 1776-era guns are too dangerous for common folk to possess, at least according to our friends in the media.

News: Michael P. Murphy, 1976-2005

The Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest decoration, has been awarded posthumously to Michael Murphy:

For more on the operation, check out this post over at Xavier's place (I feel I must add this - some of the comments underneath the linked post are enough to make you throw up).

Links: Sports Law Blog

I've always loved the professional sports meta-game - that is, the constant battle that goes on between players, owners, and coaching staff for their respective slices of pie. A well-managed team, as we're seeing with the New England Patriots and the San Antonio Spurs, can stomp other teams regularly even when the league itself has rules designed to keep everyone on a level playing field. But with so much money on the line, and such complex rules to handle who gets what (commentary about the NFL's arcane rules regarding the salary cap and revenue sharing could fill entire books by themselves), there comes...lawyers.

The Sports Law Blog is a neat blog written by four sports-law professors. From Michael Vick's legal troubles, to the Joe Torre debacle, all sorts of issues are covered in the world of professional and quasi-professional (read: NCAA) sports. I suppose reading about the Baltimore Ravens' copyright suit is dreary to sports fans who are not lawyers, but I like to view it as just an off-the-field extension of all the on-the-field athletic prowess.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Guns: A Blast From the Past

Here's a video from one of the FDCC shoots I used to frequent back in the day. Also some fun on the Lake City range with a Class 3 MP5:

Music: Tunak Tunak Tun

According to the Wikipedia article:

The "strange" dancing and presence of only the singer in this video was a response to criticism from the world of Bhangra pop. Many critics at the time complained that his music was popular due to his videos which featured multitudes of beautiful women dancing; his response was to create a video that featured only himself. As he predicted, the song was still a huge success, but the phenomenon of foreign language and unusual dancing made the video a cult hit in other countries as well.

My explanation:

It's just a really catchy song -

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Movies: H

Korean movies, for better or worse, tend to be gimmicky. Whether it's the incessant use of Pachelbel in "My Sassy Girl," the ludicrous role-reversals in "Tae Guk Gi," or the hallucinations of "A Tale of Two Sisters," you generally have something in there that exists only for the sake of the plot. "H" is no different, and once you see what the "H" actually stands for, you're going to groan in disbelief.

"H" is either the most brilliant send-up of serial-killer-thriller-type flicks ever made, or the worst example of the genre in recent memory. People have described it as "Se7en" meets "Silence of the Lambs," which sounds great until you realize that the description is quite literal - there is a hard-bitten, near-emotionless female supercop (Clarisse), and a pathetic arrogant average cop (Brad Pitt). There is a long, drawn-out series of puzzle-type murders (Se7en), as well as scenes where the cops confront a captured serial killer (Mr. Lector). Even the ending is incredibly similar to "Se7en" - personal demons coming back to haunt a cop as he makes a fatal decision out in the middle of nowhere.

The final "Aha" moments of the movie feel like one of the biggest cheats in cinema history. Sure, the audience pretty much knows exactly what is happening at this point, except that there are so many plot holes that you can't believe that what you're seeing is occurring. I mean, do police interrogate prisoners in Korea without anyone else watching, or without it being videotaped? Do good cops suddenly execute people for no reason, in situations where their motivations and personal history suggest they should be doing the exact opposite?

Rating: 5/10 (for the laughter)

Miscellany: Strip Show

Funny, I had this very same idea for a short film earlier this week:

Movies: Man on Fire

The UF law school has an interesting movie section on the second floor. There are plenty of "lawyer" movies, including "The Firm," "The Client," and "To Kill a Mockingbird." And then there are the movies that I assume have a rather tangential relationship to the practice of law - films like "Flightplan" and "Man on Fire." I checked out the latter since I had never seen it, and have been puzzling over its inclusion in the library ever since.

"Man on Fire" stars Denzel "Moar Oscars Plz" Washington as John Creasy, a role that he is becoming increasingly comfortable with - the hard-nosed killer operating at the edge of the law (see "Training Day" and "American Gangster" for further examples). It also features the eerily precocious Dakota Fanning, whose very presence in the movie almost gives away the ending. Anyhoo, Creasy is hired to protect a little girl in Mexico who is subsequently kidnapped, and as you might imagine, all hell breaks loose.

The resulting mess of a movie follows a simple formula:
1. Creasy finds someone connected to the kidnapping
2. Creasy tortures him at gunpoint for information
3. Creasy executes him, usually finding some way to immolate the victim in the process (Get it? Man on fire.).
4. Goto step 1

It's a formulaic and contrived process to watch, and the movie is overlong and peters out towards the end.

Rating: 4/10

Food: Gainesville, Night Owl Edition

After the witching hour (that is, midnight), you have limited choices if you want a decent cup of coffee or a place to sit and relax if you're in Gainesville. Sure, there are always the bars, but it's not exactly an ideal location to read or work on your laptop if you're burning the midnight oil away from home. There's also the University itself (specifically the Reitz Union, which is open all night), but given that when I'm off-campus I'm invariably carrying, all of the preceding is pretty much out of the question.

One place is Mi Apa Latin Cafe. During the day, it serves run-of-the-mill Cuban food, but the drive-through and to-go counter are open until 3 AM, and though the inside dining room is closed, you can dine outside on the patio. They make a ridiculously strong cafe con leche - not the best I've ever had, but well worth the $2.65 for a large size. If you're not a coffee junkie, you'll be up all night with the jitters. There's also food available, too.

Another hangout I frequent is Whataburger. Again, the food is no great shakes, but since the air-conditioned dining room is open 24/7 (a rarity, even among fast food restaurants), it can be a nice place to go in the wee hours. I'd go for a standard Whataburger here - their pastries and breakfast stuff aren't very good.

The final option is something like Denny's, which has become very popular among the UF club and bar crowd. A filling breakfast at 2AM somehow makes you sleep better, at least in my experience. One problem is the service, which can be very slow at such late times. Thus, it's best to bring a bunch of friends with ya.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Miscellany: The D&D elephant in the room

We're approaching the level in our "Red Hand of Doom" Dungeons & Dragons campaign where the game starts to unhinge. More specifically, it's as if the ghosts of D&D game systems past come back to haunt the players, their fetid claws wrapping around our play sessions like shackles. I'm talking about the wizard (or spellcasters in general, but the wizard is the best example).

At the beginning of the game, the wizard is dramatically underpowered versus all the other character classes, even the spellcasting ones - he has much worse fighting ability and hitpoints than the cleric, for example, while possessing less useful spells. In an adventuring group, he has little to do at these beginning sessions but shoot at stuff with a crossbow and hope for the best.

Around 7th or 8th level, though, you start getting access to spells that allow you to do almost anything - fly around like a bird, convince enemies that you're their best friend, or even create stuff out of thin air. In the hands of a skilled player, the wizard can essentially annihilate any enemy. Compared to more mundane classes, like rangers and fighters (More favored enemies. More bonus combat feats. Yay?), who can really only swing their swords better at higher levels, the difference in variety of play is grating.

It gets even worse at higher levels. Wizards can now kill people with a word, take extra turns in combat, and reroll the dice. To an outside observer, it must look a lot like cheating. I'm not sure how to rebalance D&D so the "tanks" get more to do, but from everyone's experience with the D&D wizard, I do know that being able to alter reality at will has a tendency to make a class overpowered.

Movies: 30 Days of Night

If you read a lot of comic books, you might remember "30 Days of Night," a fairly popular book that eventually served as a case study in how to milk something for all it's worth. The number of sequels and spinoffs on the original concept boggles the imagination, especially when the first comic book was merely average. Now, the story of Barrow, Alaska and its beleaguered residents comes to the big screen, and to be honest, I think it's one of the few film adaptations that improves upon the source material.

The premise is simple - Barrow is so far north that every winter the sun doesn't show itself for a month; and vampires are coming to feast on everyone there. Josh "My voice is a cheerless monotone" Hartnett leads the show as Eben Oleson, the Barrow sheriff, and there's a panoply of minor characters following him that you know are destined to be vampire chow. The mission is simple - last the 30 days and try to see another sunrise.

This film adaptation is competently directed by David Slade, though it's certainly not as groundbreaking as "Hard Candy." The plot sags drastically around the middle - this isn't surprising, since it's hard to convey a month of time in a movie like this. There is a wicked sense of humor on display here in certain scenes - like where Eben is trying to fry some vamps with his Mom's pot-growing sunlamps.

All in all, it's not a bad movie, and seeing it in a crowded theater will give you many "Oh snap!" moments from the audience. "30 Days of Night" doesn't take very many chances with the whole zombie/vampire/horror conventions (yes, there's the obligatory "our friend has turned into a vampire" scene), but if you're just looking for some entertainment this weekend, it'll fit the bill.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tech: Fascinating portrait of an obsessed programmer

Gamasutra is a website mostly devoted to video game developers, so it was a neat surprise to find an article that was a very down-to-Earth, candid portrayal of a legendary figure, John Carmack, from pretty much the best source in the world - his wife, Anna Kang. Any gamer or 3D engine programmer will probably be familiar with John Carmack, but if you don't know the man, you might know the resume - the engines of Doom, Quake, Doom 3, etc.

It'd be interesting to put some of these programming giants in a no-holds-barred coding competition. I wonder, for example, how Bill Gates would do working with Microsoft's own DirectX 10 API, or how Carmack could finagle his own OS to match Windows' capabilities.

News: Well that was fast

Horror movies, unfortunately, have nothing on real life. Explosions near the motorcade of former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto reportedly killed over a hundred people; I still remember the news reports earlier this week talking about the "fears of violence" people had over her return to the country from exile. Those fears were confirmed in the bloodiest way possible.

In a way, though, it might be better for this kind of event to occur now than later. Having a terrorist attack against a progressive, female leader that kills scores of innocent people puts into sharp relief what kind of challenges lie in wait for anyone who tries to bring order to the country. That it occurred in an organized, large-scale manner is frightening, but the fact that these killers struck pretty much as soon as she entered the country means that I won't be joining the Benazir Bhutto campaign trail anytime soon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Books: Solaris

When my favorite high school English teacher, Ms. Ammons, heard I was going to do my IB extended essay on a couple of science fiction books, she suggested stuff like "The Martian Chronicles" or "Fahrenheit 451" from Ray Bradbury. Not that those aren't fine books (451 is a sentimental favorite of mine, BTW), but I had something a little more esoteric in mind - "Solaris," by Stanislaw Lem and "More Than Human" by Theodore Sturgeon. Today, let's go into "Solaris."

Translated works are generally difficult for genuine literary analysis - you lose quite a bit in the transition from Polish to English, so I made sure not to stress any of the particular words or syntax present in Lem's original, instead focusing on the general themes and metaphors that occupy the story. "Solaris" concerns an astronaut who lands on a station orbiting an alien planet covered by a vast, foreboding "ocean." Whether the ocean is or isn't alive (and whether it's intelligent in the way humans define it) is one of the great mysteries of the book.

There isn't much in the way of plot, but the psychological tortures inflicted on both the astronaut and the researchers on the station become increasingly...visceral. If you've ever wanted to peel back the layers of human sanity, at the edge of an alien and unsympathetic consciousness, this is your book. Just avoid the movie versions and go straight for the real thing.

TV: Get Smart

We may like to sentimentalize our favorite TV shows, but to be brutally honest, most of them are pretty dumb. The concepts for stuff like "Gilligan's Island," "M*A*S*H," and especially "Hogan's Heroes" (let's set a comedy inside a German POW camp!) are simply silly on paper. "Get Smart," fortunately, suffers little from being viewed in a more sober light, since it's designed to be a parody of the entire spy genre.

Don Adams, in the role which would come to define his career, plays hapless "Agent 86" (as in "this guy's had too much; 86 him"). Along for the ride is Barbara Feldon, Edward Platt, and a host of evil ne'er-do-wells in the form of KAOS, an organization bent on world domination. Much of the humor comes from Adams' wickedly on-target deadpan delivery - while 86 is frequently incredibly incompetent, Adams never breaks character:

It's silly fun that I really enjoyed as a kid - I still remember watching reruns on "Nick at Nite" during the summer (I'll be blogging more about those lost summer gems in due time). Like many old TV shows, Hollywood's trying to make a feature film. It stars Steve Carell (a casting choice that's hard to argue with):

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Music: Brazil

The movie "Brazil" has a hodge-podge of disparate elements (heck, this blog's named after one of them), but perhaps the most striking is the titular song. It's an old standard that's sometimes known as "Aquarela do Brasil," and it's been performed by a lot of people over the years. My favorite version is performed by Geoff Muldaur - bouncy, cheesy, but still effective (they even put it in a VISA commercial, which is fairly ironic):

Another great rendition comes from Pink Martini, a jazz/world/latin "little orchestra" that prides itself on playing a diverse blend of music:

Monday, October 15, 2007

Guns: The Tactical Lever-Action

First inspired by this post on THR and by this article by Gabe Suarez, I've started looking into the prospects of a levergun for home defense. My last HD guns were an 870 and a Bushie AR, but the realities of law school life forced me to pare down to only the firearms I practiced with the most - handguns.

It looks like Micanopy Shooting Sports isn't going to put in a rifle range anytime soon, so I'm left with using pistol calibers. .357 Magnum is such an interesting round - it gains a ton of power from using a nice 18" barrel (a 158 grain slug going at 2100 fps), but it doesn't break the bank like a .44 Magnum does. Plus, you can use .38s to practice with at the range, a pretty decisive advantage.

Pretty much the only game in town for lever guns right now is Marlin, since Winchester folded up shop. That's not much of a problem, as the Marlin firearms are genuinely good. The .357 version is called the 1894C, and I suspect it would be suitable for the needs of most people.

Movies: A Tale of Two Sisters

I'm a known curmudgeon when it comes to confusing movies (I've panned them in the past). While ambiguity may be well and good on the printed page, where a reader is free to ponder and review the narrative at leisure, it's less endearing in a movie, which is essentially a roller coaster ride with a fixed pace. "A Tale of Two Sisters," a Korean horror film loosely based on a Korean folk tale ("Rose Flower, Red Lotus"), suffers from too much ambiguity.

It starts out simply enough - Su-mi and her younger sister Su-yeon return home after an extended absence, only to start confronting their stepmothers' increasingly mysterious behavior. Things go bump in the night, weird things happen, and there are a few requisite "Sixth Sense"-style revelations. You know the story is not being told well when there's a huge IMDB forum post trying to explain it (spoilers).

While the screenplay is a bit of a mess (except at the end), the acting, cinematography, and score are all well integrated and do tend to create the creepy atmosphere that escapes most American horror films these days. My favorite bit is actually the final scene, with Su-mi defiantly walking out of the house, to the swelling strains of the score.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Miscellany: It's Just Like a Mini-Mall

There are some things I love about America. One is that virtually anyone can become successful by hard work, creativity, and a little luck, as evidenced by the owner of Flea Market Montgomery, Sammy Stephens:

I'm a bit late to the party with this one - it's a cheesy commercial that's gone on to YouTube fame, eventually landing Stephens on "The "Ellen DeGeneres Show." That's capitalism at work - transforming a guy who has the guts to put himself out there into a star. And of course, Stephens is no slouch at exploiting his newfound fame.

The Flea Market itself? Well, it looks like every other indoor flea market - nothing more, nothing less. Still, you've got to admit, the only thing that separates Tylenol from acetaminophen is good advertising, so that's no surprise:

Movies: Undead

While there's been a lot of hoo-hah about Japanese horror films in the past decade or so, other countries continue to put out horror movies, some good and some bad. I'm a sucker for zombie movies, so when I saw "Undead," an Australian zombie flick, I knew I had to give it a go. But let's just say this movie might not be what you expect.

Rene is a small-town beauty queen looking to move to the big city, but fate steps in as the town is overrun by zombies apparently created by falling meteorites. To say any more would spoil things, but the movie takes as many cues from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" as it does from "Night of the Living Dead." There's also a substantial amount of comedy in the movie, which is alternately hilarious and annoying.

My favorite of the stock of characters is an appropriately ass-kicking fisherman/gunstore owner named Marion, with the runner up being an arrogant police officer named Harrison (who reminds me a lot of Rimmer from "Red Dwarf"). Choice quote from Harrison:

"I'll ----in' finish you off faster than a ----in' birthday cake at a fat chick's ----in' birthday party!"

Rating: 6/10

Tech: Half-Life 2 - Episode 2 review

If "Portal" (the mind-bending first-person puzzle game included in "The Orange Box") suffers from the sin of being very clever and too short, "Half-Life 2: Episode 2" is a problem because it's exactly the right length but not clever enough. For those new to the party, Episode 2 continues the story of Gordon Freeman, scientist-turned-savior, and his battle against the sinister forces of the Combine, a powerful group of extradimensional aliens. Earth has been completely overrun, and the whole Half-Life 2 series has had a wonderful post-apocalyptic feel.

Unfortunately, you soon get tasked with by-the-numbers FPS objectives to complete. Defend a point from invading insects? Check. Blow up incoming alien walkers before they reach a central base? Check. Survive an ambush from the dreaded new "Hunter" enemies? Check. The gameplay in Episode 2 is unerringly more of the same that we got in both the original "Half-Life 2" and "Episode 1."

Fortunately, that underlying gameplay is still entertaining. There are still numerous action setpieces, including spectacular building destructions that are modeled in real-time. The characters, particularly Eli Vance and Magnusson, are still the strongest part of the series, and the final sequence is appropriately heart-tugging (though predictable). I just hope Valve Software can bring in something truly new for Episode 3.

Rating: 80/100

Food: Satchel's Pizza

"Satchel's Pizza" is one of Gainesville's most famous restaurants - no mean feat considering how far out of the way it is (about 15 minutes from the University of Florida). It's the kind of place that you expect to see on TV - there's an old, doorless van outside that houses a table where people can actually order and eat, there's local art on the walls, and the whole affair has the sort of indie kitsch you come to associate with local establishments.

The strangest thing is, though, that the pizza at Satchel's is just...okay. The regular pizza comes as a thin, N.Y.-style pie with a generous crust all around. The deep dish is better, but still doesn't quite match what you can get at a good Italian joint (*cough* Nino's *cough*).

So why go there at all? The "Satch Salad" is fantastic and fairly inexpensive to boot - $6 buys you a huge portion of red and green lettuce, nuts, apples, tomatoes - more than enough to fill two dinner plates' worth. Combine that with a fresh draft beer, a slice of pepperoni, and a pleasant atmosphere and you have about 45 minutes worth of Elysium.

2/4 stars

Friday, October 12, 2007

Links: People of the Gun

Jeff of fame has rallied together dozens of gunbloggers in response to the infamous editorial by Laura Washington accusing the gun rights movement of being somehow bankrolled by the "nefarious gun industry" (which isn't even that big of an industry in the first place). I suppose it's about time I joined in on the fun - send your picture to "People of the Gun". Here's my planned submission:

Tech: Team Fortress 2 review

"Team Fortress 2" is the long-awaited sequel to the original "Team Fortress" mod for Quake. The game sports stylized graphics and a sharp sense of humor:

It's a team-based multiplayer shooter that features 9 distinct classes, all with wildly different abilities. You'll quickly come to recognize your weaknesses as a particular class. The Scout might be great at capturing flags, but face him off against an Engineer's sentry gun and he's toast; A Pyro is the ultimate close combat class, but he has no chance against a Sniper at long range.

These changes were put in place to keep one expert player from dominating everyone else with a single class. They really do force you to work as a team and to split up your roles, or at least your targets. The gameplay is polished and sharp as a result, and matches between well-organized teams have an ebb and flow that is very satisfying.

A few things keep it from perfection. The initial release only contains 6 maps (and among those, only 1 CTF map), so you could get tired of it after awhile, though it's not likely. More vexing is the fact that the game just isn't that fun with small groups - even 6 on 6 matches feel a bit empty. For a real lively battle, you're going to need at least 9 on 9, which is a fairly significant drawback.

Rating - 87/100

Thursday, October 11, 2007

News: Shootings, spree killings, and strangeness

We've all heard by now of the police deputy who went haywire, murdering 6 innocent people and then killing himself. Not to mention the 14-year old who shot up his school and then killed himself. And now some kid was caught before he could carry out his alleged plans (the article picture is hilarious - pretty much all those guns are Airsoft or BB guns).

A friend of mine has studied these types of murders, and the only pattern is seemingly that there is no pattern. Still, speaking broadly, it's easy to see most of these individuals have some kind of profound mental illness, given how many of these tragedies end in suicide for the killer.

It's important to emphasize how isolated and rare these kinds of events are (thankfully). Still, they do happen, and that's why we train.

Music: Sometimes a Circle

It can be tough living in the shadow of famous parents; Louise Goffin's folks are famous songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin, so it's pretty astonishing that she decided to become a musician at all. Her latest and best album, "Sometimes a Circle," has the sort of modern, well-produced pop sound that should be a surefire hit with somebody. Alternating between lonely wistfulness (the track "Quiet Anesthesia") and girlish seduction ("Sleep With Me Instead"), there's a pretty good variety of songs here. The title track is also pretty good.

Here's a Gap commercial that shows you what I mean by "living in the shadow" - there's nothing like being topped in a duet by your own mother:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Miscellany: On the Cover of the Rolling Stone

I've never read "Rolling Stone" magazine, and I've never been interested in reading it, so you can understand my surprise when I received a card in the mail saying I would be billed by the magazine if I didn't cancel my subscription.

Naturally, I was peeved, and I canceled immediately via automated 800 number. Strangely enough, the computer was programmed to beg me to subscribe, even lowering the rate to $15 per year, which makes "Rolling Stone" almost cheaper than toilet paper. I've never really respected the magazine for its musical opinions (they ripped "Led Zeppelin" in all their reviews - guess who's laughing now?), but with the new editors trying to make it into "FHM" or "Maxim," I respect it even less.

My personal favorite contradiction is their left-leaning, progressive politics combined with their relentless pandering to advertisers. It's a little hard to take some dyed-in-the-wool "Chimpy McHitlerburton" Democratic scrawl seriously when there's an ad for Skyy vodka on the back cover, as well as ads for Levi's, Nissan, Motorola, etc. on every other page.

Anyway, here's the only thing I could think of to go with this post:

Tech: Portal review

"Portal" is a first-person puzzle game developed by Valve Software (I previewed it before). It's part of Valve's "Orange Box" collection of games (I'll be reviewing all of them this week). While it may look like a standard first-person shooter, it is definitely more of a mind-bending, brain-twisting exercise than the average Quake/Doom/Halo blast-em-up.

The basic design conceit goes something like this - you're equipped with a gun that can shoot dimensional portals into walls, floors, and ceilings, and you have to navigate increasingly complicated and deadly environments using this one tool. Since your momentum is preserved upon entering a portal, you can execute all sorts of gravity-defying tricks, like falling into a portal shot at the floor and using your speed to shoot out of another portal and across a chasm.

Time for a video explanation:

The game is excellent, as you might expect. Some parts, particularly near the end, echo the feeling of daunting challenge that you experience in games like Ico - you might be faced with a wall hundreds of feet up, and seemingly no way to scale it. But try hard enough, and you'll find a way through to the end. Surprisingly, there's even a good story being presented here, which is an absolute miracle for a puzzle game.

The only problem is, it's very short ride to the finale; you'll probably finish the game in 2-1/2 hours. Thankfully, there are more advanced bonus missions to try, as well as the promise of more user-generated content to come. Worth $20, though? Maybe just barely...

Rating: 80/100

Books: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

Robert E. Howard's masterwork was Conan, a barbarian whose exploits have been endlessly copied and pastiched. Del Rey has come out with a neat new collection of the unedited, unabridged Howard stories, and I picked up Volume 1 - "The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian." It includes the first thirteen Conan stories, along with some fascinating rough drafts and previously unpublished material.

While most people are familiar with the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of the character, the original writings first published in the pulp magazine "Weird Tales" are arguably more effective at conveying a ruthless, cunning antihero. Howard's Conan is no saint - he's a thief and a killer, but he seems to have his own code of honor that sets him apart.

Predictably, the early stories are heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, and most of them end with Conan encountering some nameless terror from the Great Beyond. The difference between Howard and Lovecraft, though, is that Conan actually slays these foul things, making the tone more heroic than despondent. Later stories (including "Queen of the Black Coast") introduce high adventure into the mix.

If there's criticism to be leveled, it's that the reader must keep in mind these stories were written for fantasy pulp magazines, and definitely have the rough edges that come from such parentage. But considering how popular Conan is 75 years after he was first revealed, it's safe to say these stories have some lasting value, making this volume a worthy read.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Guns: Hi Powers and Handguns

I can't believe that it's taken me this long to feature Stephen A. Camp's excellent website, "Hi Powers and Handguns," on my blog. While the organization leaves a little to be desired, on these pages, you'll find a wealth of practical information on Browning Hi-Powers, as well as many other pistols. Like myself, Mr. Camp has no axes to grind in the handgun world - he shoots and carries all sorts of guns, from old-school J-frames to custom 1911s to military surplus pistols.

My favorite article of his is the comparison piece between the CZ-75 and the BHP. I wish we could see more well-researched, impartial gun reviews like Mr. Camp's on the Web.

TV: Shining Time Station

In the annals of children's television, there are such things as "B-list" television programs. These are shows that, as a child, you pretty much never watch unless the only alternative is daytime talk shows and soap operas. After all, not every kid's show can be a "Sesame Street" or "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

For me, one of those second-rate shows was "Shining Time Station." The star of the show (well, the live-action bits, anyway) was station manager Stacy Jones, played by Didi Conn (she was in Grease). It takes a special kind of actress to not despair when performing in what is essentially a lead-in to sell "Thomas the Tank Engine" toys. And yes, George Carlin was in there too, playing "Mr. Conductor":

It's not classic children's TV, but by golly, those "Thomas the Tank Engine" toys fly off the shelves even today.

Sports: Marion Jones

Less than a month after Floyd Landis lost his Tour de France win, we now have Marion Jones admitting to doping and having to give up her gold medals.

Whenever an athlete (especially someone who waved the American flag as an Olympian) is caught cheating, it's like someone punched you in the gut. It's bad enough to cheat to win, but smiling to all those cheering fans? Signing an autograph for a kid? I don't know how these people can stand it. If it were me, I'd begin to feel like a counterfeit person, a forgery of my true self.

Worst of all, there's the latent suspicion. How many are cheating? Are most of them doping? The world may never know. I suppose if enough people take these drugs, you might be "forced" to do so in the loosest sense of the word, but it's not a great excuse.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Movies: Kopps

I could tell you how "Kopps" is Sweden's silly answer to "Hot Fuzz" or "Reno 911." I could say how it involves a hilarious wannabe named Benny. But instead, watch these videos and merely agree with me that sometimes, the posts write themselves.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

School: The Hunt Begins

The second summer of a law student's education is usually an important one. Most 2Ls, after all, have little to no legal experience, so getting your feet wet at a law-related job of some kind is almost required. The hunt for a summer job in the thick of the second year can thus be overwhelming.

Like many of my friends, I'm in the middle of the process. After the on-campus interview sessions failed to yield a suitable position for me, it's time to do it the old-fashioned way and start putting pen to paper. Cold mailings might be a sign of desperation to some, but in reality many small and medium size firms will hire you if you make it easy for them to hire you.

Another option is government work. Unfortunately, few of these posts are paid, but they provide valuable experience. I suppose we'll see how it pans out, but it's important to be persistent - the worst thing they can say is "no."

Miscellany: Running a "Call of Cthulhu" campaign, part 9

Eventually, every game master needs some inspiration for the next adventure. One possible source is the wealth of published supplements colloquially known as "splatbooks" that feature pre-generated material for role-playing games. For games that are at least partially based on the real world, like "Call of Cthulhu," these books can help add invaluable realistic detail that might otherwise require fairly extensive research and/or personal knowledge.

I acquired one of these recently; it's "Secrets of Kenya" by David Conyers - a fairly complete guide to running CoC in 1920s British East Africa. The book covers everything from tribal weaponry to colonial British racial prejudice to indigenous fauna, so as far as content goes, the book has most of what you'd expect. Unfortunately, Africa is way too big to cover in one book(imagine the sheer amount of stuff you could write about Egypt and the Congo), so the supplement only covers Kenya.

How much you get out of these things is pretty variable. You could conceivably use all of the content here, but few GMs will be so lazy as to crib everything here and play it by the book. The underground ghoul world lurking beneath Africa is pretty cool, so I believe that might be useful to me, but the other adventures here weren't very impressive.

Anyway, there's a lot of reasons to play in Kenya:

Links: Lolthulhu

I know I'm late to the party with this one. Imagine mixing in early 20th century cosmic horror with a fanciful Web meme, and you get this:

Anyone familiar with Lolcats will probably appreciate Lolthulhu. Or rather, anyone familiar with Lolcats and with Lovecraft's undersea god of dreaming madness will get a kick out of it.

Movies: The Kingdom

In the world of political-action-thrillers, you can either skew heavily towards the story (like the rather muddled "Syriana") or heavily towards the action; "The Kingdom," directed by Peter Berg, takes the latter approach:

In the movie, Jamie Foxx and Co. journey to Saudi Arabia to track down a terrorist. In a way, it's sort of an idealized, utopian version of how terrorists are found in real life, but the deviations from real life ultimately create a kitschy atmosphere. I mean, doesn't Saudi Arabia have more experience investigating suicide bombers than an FBI team?

There's nothing wrong with explosions, car chases, and gunfights, but the plot here is pretty threadbare. I almost wish the movie were half an hour longer so it could be more complex. As it is, it feels like a carnival roller coaster that moves in a straight line and ends quickly. On the bright side, the action scenes are fairly realistic, though they lack the intensity of something like "Black Hawk Down," which shows the difference between a relative newbie like Peter Berg and an old warhorse like Ridley Scott.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, October 05, 2007

Music: Duvet

Folding laundry can take awhile when you have to do three or four weeks at once, so I generally put on some music. One of my favorite bands is Boa, an English rock band that you've probably never heard of unless you're a fan of "Serial Experiments Lain." I find that their songs just put me in the mood to clean up stuff - weird, no?

Here's their biggest hit, "Duvet":

Guns: Looks can kill?

James has a good post detailing the not-so-recent handwringing the Brits are experiencing over replica guns (essentially pieces of metal that are shaped like guns). I thought I'd post about my own experiences with such things.

I remember getting a Red Ryder BB gun as a gift. The person who gave it to me knew I was a huge fan of "A Christmas Story":

That's all well and good, but living in Gainesville, the only convenient place I had available to try it out was a big wooded lot behind my old apartment complex. I grabbed the BB gun (complete with huge orange cap on the barrel and plasticky appearance) and walked the 100 yards to the wooded lot, thinking no one would care about a fake-looking gun.

That was a mistake. About ten minutes later, as I was merrily pinging a few tree branches with BBs, a police car rolled by and the police officer inside shouted that I should "drop the weapon." Naturally it was all a humorous misunderstanding and the cop eventually even offered to drive me home (a nice gesture), but the fact remained that some busybody in an apartment was so worried about a BB gun that they called the cops. Generally, when I go out in public, I don't expect to have uniformed officers ready to draw a G27 on me, so I think I'll stick to shooting real guns in a range. :-P

Thursday, October 04, 2007

TV (Sorta): The MST3K Amazing Colossal Episode Guide

One of my favorite shows is "Mystery Science Theater 3000," but this post isn't about the show. You can find a lot of fawning tributes all over the Web, including YouTube. This post is about MST3K's episode guide, a book published in 1996.

Episode guides for TV shows are pretty commonplace. Most of the time, they're just relentless cash-ins on a popular show, as the MST3K episode guide itself acknowledges:

"No, [this book is] not like those other episode guides, chunked and formed out of vague rumors and scant observation by some no-talent stringer from In Style magazine looking to make a fast buck. No, my friends, this is no after-market quickie, with six words per page and stupid photos of Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey braying like jackasses."
- From the MST3K episode guide prologue

Instead, we get fairly tongue-in-cheek synopses of all the wretched movies that were featured, as well as behind-the-scenes info and humorous editorials that are sometimes sidesplitting. Ironically, I think the episode guide may actually be funnier than the show itself, which is either an incredible compliment or a huge putdown - or both.

Books: Gold

My favorite science fiction author when I was growing up was Isaac Asimov, who wrote the "Foundation" and "Robot" series of novels. Unlike some of his peers, there's never been a really satisfactory film adaptation of his books (whereas pretty much everything Philip K. Dick ever wrote is now up on the big screen), and I think that is what has caused the popularity of his works to stay at a slow burn.

An example of the difficult-to-translate nature of his stories comes in the form of his Hugo-award-winning short story called "Gold." In a somewhat metafictional turn, the story is about a "compudrama" director who is having difficulty translating a story into visual form; the story in question is actually "The Gods Themselves," a prior book by Asimov.

It's probably the last significant piece of science-fiction Asimov ever wrote, but it's also a great illustration of the struggles that accompany the creative process. In a way, Asimov is commiserating with all the film directors and screenplay writers who have ever tried to give emotional weight to an abstract idea with only pictures and sound.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tech: Zero Punctuation

The thing about video game reviews is that they are almost always dripping with sarcasm or cynicism. Unlike other types of media, game reviewers rarely spare the feelings of the people involved with the game - if some programmer screwed up and left in a game-breaking bug, you can be sure the failure will be lamented and re-lamented, over and over and over again.

In the proud tradition of these types of reviews comes Zero Punctuation:

News: Myanmar

Last week's big international news story was Myanmar's crackdown on Internet access, along with the simultaneous squelching of protests aimed at the ruling junta and Than Shwe, the junta leader. While it's been pushed off the front pages by other news (including an asteroid named after George Takei), Myanmar is still very much a place where You Probably Don't Want to Protest.

I think they need to send in a specialist to negotiate:

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Food: Krishna Lunch

The cheapest lunch to be found on campus is "Krishna Lunch", a program run by the local Hare Krishnas here in Gainesville. The lunch has been around for a long, long time - it's now so popular that they had to split the line into two and double their staff just to serve everyone. They set up at lunchtime in the Plaza of the Americas.

For a $3 (might be a bit more - haven't gone in a while) cash "donation" (sometimes the cashier-guy gets uppity when you don't give any money), you get a vegetarian lunch consisting of rice, veggie stuff, salad, a dessert, and mint lemonade. It's quite filling and it's all you can eat, so for the money, it's easily the best food value in town if you don't want to make lunch yourself.

On Wednesdays, they have veggie spaghetti with faux meatballs, which I tend to avoid. And some of the food tastes better than others (their eggplant dish is inferior to most Indian restaurants, IMHO). Additionally, you're sure to get a dose of the insufferable hippie/krishna/peacenik vibe if you sit on the lawn. All in all though, worth a look if you're a UF student or you're driving through Gainesville on a schoolday.

2/4 stars