Monday, July 28, 2008

This is just hilarious, imho.

He's funny, but she's funnier in her reaction.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dragon's Lair

In the very late 70s, when video game arcades were big, along came this wild thing called "Dragon's Lair." It was essentially a cartoon you played. Don Bluth studios - a group of animators who'd defected from Disney - came up with the idea and animated it. (They also did the great Secret of NIMH.)

It had a joystick and a button. You moved the joystick in the direction you were told to go, and you pulled the sword to attack via the button. It was very hard. I don't know anyone who ever got to the end. (It was 50 cents a play - very pricey for the day.) I heard rumors of rumors that someone had, but still assumed no one really had.

So, without further ado, here is the end of that famous game - the part where you enter the Dragon's Lair. I included the start, too, for continuity - and for the guys who loved this game, as it brings back the memories of all that wasted money and time.

(Apologies for the audio being so out of phase. I'll work on it and try to get a better version. There are only a few lines anyway, the rest is just sound effects. Enjoy!
Update: Apologies, can't get the sound better. As you're watching, note the little pause/jumps that occur when Our Hero is supposed to do something. Each time one of those happens, the sound drags further and further behind.)

Discovery of Cool Tunage

Whilst hunting for something else, I bumped into these compilations on Amazon MP3:

Little Steven's Underground Garage presents The Coolest Songs in the World!
Volumes: three, four, five, and (soon to be released) six.

They live up to their title. I didn't get the whole album, just culled the ones I wanted.

_______
Update:
Having listened to these for a couple days, the fambly and I think this little inadvertant call and response mini-opera from Vol. 5 is the pick of the litter:

3. Hot Girls In Good Moods - Butch Walker and the Lets Go Out Tonites
4. Because I'm Awesome - The Dollyrots
11. Ain't So Cool - Hell on Heels

Here's the vid for the Dollyrots tunes:

_______

And if you're looking for can't-miss singles, here ya go (and I may be repeating myself):
- Helen Says by Hank
- She Came On by Super Deluxe
- Woke Up Laughing by Robert Palmer
- Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand by Primitive Radio Gods

Between the compilations and those four, you should be able to put together a pretty rockin' road trip (or commute) CD.

Cheers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It is to laugh...

#857578

jess: So whats the difference between the mormons and the muslims??
jess: The mormons want their 72 virgins now

Monday, July 21, 2008

Batman II (or VI if you count all live-action movies)

Great movie. Too long. But, for once, the length is needed and not much noticed by anything other than your bladder. It's essentially two stories, but the story arc covers both stories, so I can see how they didn't want to break it up into two shorter movies.

Hey, beyond that, it's everything they say it is.

Particularly Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker. Wow. It truly is an amazing performance. It would be nice to know how much was in the script and how much Ledger brought to it.

For instance, in American Pie, the speech patterns of the character Michelle - the sweetheart band nerd who ends up being the star in the sequels (played by Alyson Hannigan) - are actually in the script:
       MICHELLE
Oh! And then this one time? At band camp? I stuck a flute in my pussy.

The question marks are where she raises her voice at the end of every line, even though she's not asking questions.

However, the famous line she says while slapping her boyfriend during sex - "Say my name, bitch!" - was an ad-lib on her part.

Thus, one of the most distinctive aspects of her character was on the page, but one of the best parts of the performance came from the actress.

Wherever it comes from, Ledger's Joker is riveting and worth seeing the move for, alone.

Btw, I could be wrong, but I think the creative forces behind the film also put in a nudge, nudge, wink, wink in-joke for the theatrical audience. I don't know about you, but these days when I go to a major studio spectacle, especially a sci-fi or comic book flick, the volume of the surrounds can cause your coke to froth up and spray out the straw if you haven't taken a few precautionary sips. In one scene, Bruce Wayne is doing a ballistics test with a robot gun, which just BOOMS - the whole audience wobbles like they're foosball dummies during an intense game. Alfred says, "I don't think it's loud enough, sir." Ha ha.

For all the majesty, yet again there's no real need to catch this on the wide screen. I think directors have either been given the directive, or have simply unconsciously adapted to, the fact that most folks see their films on DVD, and direct for that aspect.

That said, you still probably don't want to wait that long to see it.
The Reason for God

I've been salting my reading list with a lot of good books regarding Christianity and responses to the recent spate of fundamentalist atheist attacks on Christianity (because, let's face it, the popular books by atheists these days really all go after Christianity, and are not so much about the debate about whether God exists or not, as they claim).

The best one, hands down, is The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.

This is the book I've been waiting for someone to write for a long, long time. Only, C.S. Lewis is a better apologist, but now I'd recommend him AFTER this particular book, only because this one cuts to the chase on so many topics, and it's more accessible to the average American as the style is straightforward American English (as opposed to Lewis' very learned, early 20th century British prose).

This is the one I'd hand to people who are honestly interested in what real Christianity is about, and what our beliefs really are. (Though Keller does recuse himself at the beginning that his views are going to skew protestant as he is one, yet he makes a case that everything he says would not conflict with Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox views.)

This is the one I'd had to the dabblers, the Buddhists-because-they-don't-require-a-stance Buddhists, the agnostics, and the atheists who are open-minded.

And I'd particularly hand it to the fans of any of the "unholy trinity" (see below).

To give you a taste, here are some excerpts; they are long and there's more to this post after them, so scroll down if they do not interest:

The Gospels were written relatively soon after Christ's death and subsequent resurrection using the testimonies of actual witnesses, as opposed to the current popular public trope that they didn't hit papyrus until long after the events occurred and after they'd been mythologized (or borrowed from other mythologies):


Here's a fun passage about the character of Christians, particularly those with "character flaws" (or, the answer to "why are some of the Christians I know so deeply fucked up?"):


What about those fanatical Christians? The ones who hold up placards listing all the things God supposedly hates and who tell everyone else they're bound for hell (hint: "they are not Christian enough"):


Christian treatment of women, in the context of the culture of the time:


An intriguing definition of what sin really is:


If you're ever going to read a book about true Christianity, (outside of the Bible), Keller's The Reason for God should be it.



Then there's The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition by Paul Rhodes Eddy (Author), Gregory A. Boyd.

Now, this book is a pretty hardcore academic exploration of the validity of the Gospels. If what Keller proffers is just not enough for you, and you still want darned good proof that the Gospels are a historical account of actual events, this is the book for you.

Be warned though, it has all the grace and charm of highly academic tomes: overly complex grammatical constructions (meaning you'll have to re-read many sentences a few times to grasp them, probably with a look much like this on your face)...

...passages that would lull someone whose genitals are actively on fire to sleep, and exhaustive analysis of every wrinkle on the idea.

But, if you want proof, here it is.




I've read two direct challenges to the Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens books.

The first one, The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens by Vox Day, pretty much takes them apart on their own turf. Day is a believer, but states at the outset he has no interest in converting anyone to Christianity; he just wants to knock down the atheist screeds.

I think he does a decent job, but he does stay in the sandbox of arguing with the atheists on their own terms. This is both a good and bad thing; while he disarms them and puts his point to their little hears with a valiant cry of "touché!", he does not (usually) step back further and examine how the arguments themselves are bogus. (Btw, please consider that a very faint damning. It's still efficacious, and it's something I don't have the wit to do myself. Just like a tone-deaf music fan (which I am), I can hear, understand, and appreciate the melody, even if I can't sing it myself.)

It was a fun read. To get an idea of his style, and if you just need yet another well-written blog to visit regularly, here's his blog (and his "main" site).




While Vox is entertaining, David Berlinski in The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions is a fucking crackup. Berlinski is witty. (When was the last time you read a book that was witty?)

I laughed. Hard. My wife had to endure out-load readings of particularly snappy retorts.

Perhaps most interesting to atheists and other non-Christians, Berlinski isn't a Christian, or even necessarily a believer in God, but (like Vox) was annoyed by the fact the "unholy three" were just polemics that claimed to be on the side of science, while actually not doing a very good job of handling the whole science side of the argument very well.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on physics guys confronting the evidence that the universe had a beginning, which implies something outside of it started it all, and all the writhing they've done to try to get past that one fact - stuff like string theory and alternate universes. A couple years back it became clear to me that all theories for multiple universes are nothing more than a (pathetic and silly) attempt to provide a model of a universe with a clear beginning that wouldn't involve an entity who created it, and/or to address the sheer odds against anything like our universe coming into existence with the strict tolerances necessary to allow the formation of stars and the rise of life on planets. (To be fair, reportedly, a good half of all physicists don't have a problem with the implications of the discoveries that point toward a primary mover, and many believe in such a thing.)

So, you get two, two, two books in one: a stand-up comedian's educated take on the silliness of some scientific and philosophical stances that are nothing more than whistling in the dark, and a clear description of those very theories - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

(TLD: the wiki article linked above really really tries to make Berlinski look bad. What's funny is that his stance is consistent: he doesn't accept unproven "scientific" theories on faith anymore than he does religious claims. He's everyone's skeptic. I'll admit that his relationship with the wingnut attack shrew, Ann Coulter, makes me hoist an eyebrow, but we all have friends that don't fit conveniently into the approval criteria of our other friends. Personally, I think evolution is a pretty sound theory (having waffled on my feelings about it a while ago), but things like the Cambrian Explosion are pretty hard to overlook, much like the Big Bang is hard to ignore. Plus, evolution has never struck me as being mutually exclusive of the idea of God creating everything; it certainly could've been the mechanism He used to create humans. Given some of our more egregious behaviors, it makes some sense, actually.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Experiment: The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell, part 4, the end.

This is an experiment in commenting on a book while I'm reading it.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.

Progress: Finished 103 - 304.

Sigh.

I have fallen victim to yet another literary novel, and I even knew it when it was happening. It's the same feeling as waking up (when you're single) and suddenly realizing there's someone in bed with you, and your memory informs you you've done a drunken hookup - again. You can't blame the beer.

It turns out the comics are not the boy's dreams. (Spoiler below.)

It turns out everything is shite in the world of the novel.

It turns out that a gang of sociopathic bikers are the key to salvation.

It turns out (again) that literary novels can only end in tragedy.

The one truly positive thing I can say about this novel is the characterizations are very good. If the author could now put together a boss plot, grow a bit of a sense of humor, and not fall for the illusion of cynicism*, he'd be awesome. Let's hope, shall we?

*"To be cynical is not the same as avoiding illusion, for cynicism is just another kind of illusion. All formulas for meeting life - even many philosophies - are illusion. Cynicism is a trashy illusion."
- Robertson Davies, from The Manticore


Verdict on experiment: Meh. I think it's better to wait and review it all at once.


*****SPOILER ALERT******MAIN PLOT POINT REVEALED****TURN AWAY NOW IF YOU'RE GONNA READ THE BOOK*****











Alright.

It turns out that the comics are what caused the accident that put the boy in a coma, which led to the suicide of the mother/wife. The boy gets to the end of the very last comic and all the freaks are miraculously healed except for the lead freak "Chicken Boy". Then the author of the comic ends the book with a quote informing the reader that not all stories have a happy ending.

The boy flips out and starts tearing up the comics, then moves on to tearing up his room (anything to do with the comics - the sheets, the wallpaper, etc.), then he smashes the mirror in his parent's room. When he's just tearing up his room the mother tries to intervene, and the boy slaps her and runs away. After he smashes the mirror, she tries to grab him and he punches her across the face. Out of rage and fear, she jabs him back with an uppercut that knocks him down the stairs where he lands at the bottom with the head injury that puts him in the coma.

Of course, mom kills herself out of guilt.

During a drug trip with a mixture that includes the boy's cranial fluid (long story), the father has a post-coma conversation with the son and discovers that the boy wasn't angry about Chicken Boy dying, as everyone assumed, but was angry that the other freaks were healed, and thus were not themselves anymore.

See, the whole point of the book is that the boy should not wake up from the coma, because when he does he will no longer be who he was (paralleling the healed freaks), and is better off as a vegetable. (Which is how it does end - the father and the bikers steal the boy so he cannot be revived, or "resurrected").

Typically when I get to the end of a book that pisses me off, much like the coma boy, I toss the sucker across the room. However, the book is the library's property, not mine, so I will have to placate myself with a snarky post-it note hidden in the book to warn off the next victim.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hellboy II

Well, I guess this summer the comic book movies are kicking things up a notch.

Guillermo del Toro takes all that has gone before in his movies and tweaks them to 11 for "Hellboy II" (officially: Hellboy II: The Golden Army).

This is the first superhero film where, more than once, I had no idea what was around the corner. It was an interesting experience to be surprised by a movie at my age.

I once had a conversation with a sports nut who didn't like movies; he always fell asleep. I am missing the sports gene entirely, so I thought given our positions at the far ends of the bell curve, we might have some insights for each other. I don't know if he took away anything from me, but what he told me finally helped make the allure of sports understandable. He said (and I paraphrase), "Movies bore me because I always know what's going to happen. In sports, you never know what's going to happen, so there's real suspense." Well heck, I thought, he's right.

I still don't like sports. Even though you don't know that someone is going to get a goal, I am still underwhelmed when someone does.

Btw, what I told him is that, yes, 90% of the time, you can guess how it will end, but you often don't know how the journey will unfold prior to that point.

That's Hellboy II in spades. I thought it was a great flick and my second favorite of the summer season thus far.

This whole summer has been packed with pretty good movies, I've noticed. I have the biggest backlog of "must see on DVD" I've had in a while.

I'm also resurrecting my "Star Wars effect" theory. It's simple: every summer there's a Star Wars movie released, it's a banner year for good movies. I officially pronounced it dead here, but have reconsidered in hindsight as the movies that year have proven to have legs. This year we have Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which I'm not sure I'll see in the theatre, but maybe we have it to thank for the plethora of pictures with panache.
The Wall-E Soundtrack

The Amazon.com "hey, since you bought Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass' 'Beat of the Brass' (that and the soundtracks to Camelot and American Graffiti were the soundtrack of my childhood as they were my mom's favorites), you might like...." recommendation algorithms usually just annoy me, but when they popped the soundtrack of Wall-E at me, I thought, "Hmmm, I don't recall the music from the movie at all." So I hopped over and listened to the samples.

I really liked them. I was ashamed. So I put it on the back burner, chalking it up to a breakfast with too much caffeine and sugar, perhaps. Then I went back another day to listen. I liked it even more. The fact that you can buy a whole MP3 album for $9 has pretty much lowered my threshold for purchase, and I hit that "Buy MP3 Album" frequently these days.

When you cut out the songs from the musical Wall-E's always watching (don't recall which one it was), the Peter Gabriel song, and are left with just the Thomas Newman score (minus the "BNL" jingle), you have yourself an awesome little record.

Sya had a post recently about listening to soundtracks as background music, which prodded the memory of one of my roommates from college who only owned movie soundtracks (they were his favorite to write to), and I picked up that habit. (I apologize to the spirits of proper grammar for that last sentence.)

The Wall-E soundtrack is now in my top 5 that I crank up for that purpose. Sya, get a copy!
Uh, no

I think I found this - The Science Fiction Stories that Inspire and Hinder Real Science - through Digg.com, and (outside of political stuff), I've never happed across an "I'm Listing!" post I disagree with more. There's just too much to pick on, so I'll leave that up to you.


Now, to get that sludgy chemical taste out of your mouth, check in on some stars of viral videos and see where they are now. Extra points to the author for the term: "asshattery".

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wasted on the Way

Can you fathom how wasted Andy Dick is in this mug shot? I get a contact high just looking at it.


"In this photo released by Riverside County Calif., Sheriff's Department, comedian Andy Dick is shown after being arrested for suspicion of drug possession and sexual battery early Wednesday morning July 16, 2008, in Murrieta, Calif." - AP

More details here.
When the Current Occupant is that Lame

Got the following wingnut email chain letter from a bud. He's kind enough to forward these to me, and I enjoy the peek into "the other side." Some of them are honestly funny, but this artifact is a different thang altogether. It's rendered completely unfunny because Bush is such a 'tard, the jabs below are so futile. In every instance, Bush baby is so much worse, it's the proverbial "trying to gold-plate a turd."

I just had to add some grim retorts, in italics.
___________________
A THANK YOU LETTER

My fellow Americans:

As your future President I want to thank my supporters for your mindless support of me, despite my complete lack of any legislative achievement, my pastor's relations with Louis Farrakhan and Libyan dictator Moamar Quadafi, or my blatantly leftist voting record while I present myself as some sort of bi-partisan agent of change.

So that means the Bush family's relationships with the ruling families of Saudi Arabia, where all the suicide bombers of 9-11 were born and raised, not to mention the huge "Bush compound" they're building for you, isn't an issue. Real relationships with the enemy aren't as damming as false implied ones. Got it. Oh, and Bush's pastor's network of friends is particularly stellar, and they got him to make it legal for them to use tax dollars for the charitable side of their empires so they could use the donations of actual members to buy new Hummers and male prostitutes.

I also like how my supporters claim my youthful drug use and criminal behavior somehow qualifies me for the Presidency after eight years of claiming Bush's youthful drinking disqualifies him. Your hypocrisy is a beacon of hope shining over a sea of political posing.

Um, George was as much of a coke-head as he was a drunk. Better check that definition of hypocrisy.

I would also like to thank the Kennedy's for coming out in support of me. There's a lot of glamour behind the Kennedy name, even though JFK started the Vietnam War, his brother Robert illegally wiretapped Martin Luther King, Jr. And Teddy killed a female employee with whom he was having an extra marital affair and who was pregnant with his child. And I'm not going anywhere near the cousins, both literally and figuratively.

Yeah, invoke the most popular presidency of the modern age to try to make Obama look bad. What a great tactic. Is Karl Rove helping out here?

And I'd like to thank Oprah Winfrey for her support. Her love of meaningless empty platitudes will be the force that propels me to the White House.

Not really. I mean, it's not like Obama was nominated for her book club. Now, that's an honor. Besides, most of the Dems I know thought that was more of a help for Hillary.

Americans should vote for me, not because of my lack of experience or achievement, but because I make people feel good. Voting for me causes some white folk to feel relieved of their imagined, racist guilt.

Being the Governor of Texas, which all Texans admit is just a figurehead, was great practice for being Cheney's sock puppet now, I'll allow. Being a Senator and actually working at the Capitol doesn't really count as experience. Interesting theory.

I say things that sound meaningful, but don't really mean anything because Americans are tired of things having meaning. If things have meaning, then that means you have to think about them. Americans are tired of thinking. It's time to shut down the brain, and open up the heart. So when you go to vote, remember, don't think, just do. And do it for me.

Ah, yes. Bringing up "thinking" and "shut[ting] down the brain" when the presumptive topic is Bush, known for his vast intellect, is better than mentioning JFK! Wow. Is your think tank actually IN a tank? They forgot to actually put armor on those, y'know. (Well, they didn't forget, actually, it was just too expensive, and the soldiers are expendable anyway, since none of them are rich or connected.)

Thank You.
Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.

Oh no, Mr. letter writer, thank YOU.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Experiment: The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell, part 3

This is an experiment in commenting on a book while I'm reading it.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Progress: Into Chapt. 10 - 49-103.

My primary impression thus far is, even though the book is good, the story's a tad gloomier than it needs to be. Yes yes, we're dealing with a man grieving over his son who's in a coma, but we've also got the comic book element, so we are delving into the absurd. Because of that, I wish there were more humor present, as there was in the first chapter. Even gallows humor would be welcome.

I know in the "modern literary novel" that all must be shite, the world a jaundiced version of its formal wonderful self before we came down from the trees and screwed it all up, everyone is damaged and suspect, so maybe that's the goal here. It certainly feels that way thus far.

Another thing that made me hoist an eyebrow is in the comic book, the sailors who were ferrying the freaks to refuge throw them overboard about a mile away from shore (which in itself is not that big of a deal), but when they fight back, the sailors move to rape the hermaphrodite. "The Limbo" comics, TV cartoons, and collecting cards are aimed at the youth market, say 9 to 14 year-olds. Gang-raping a hermaphrodite would seem to be a bit rough for that particular demographic.

I'm still impressed with the way O'Connell sketches characters. They come to life in my mind wholly formed within a few short sentences. That's a gift.

Friday, July 11, 2008

All Time High

I've mentioned Divx a few times, and have been meaning to post a "how to" on converting movies to the format.

Why would one do this? Well, it's almost exactly like converting songs to MP3. You can get a whole movie, in decent quality (a scootch better than VHS), on a CD, about 700 Mb. If you want to have a bunch of movies on your PC for traveling, this is the way to do it. They also sell home DVD players that play the format, so you can watch them over your home theatre as well.

Another great feature is that you can use the Divx editing package to edit and create custom versions of things. It's limited in that you can only splice things together - or splice segments out as an excerpt - as if you were editing developed film, but still, it does allow for some fun.

For instance, it dawned on me that I could finally make something I've always wanted to see (and buy had they ever made it): a DVD that is just the opening title sequences to the Bond films, with the silhouettes of nekkid females jumping around to Sheena Easton, Garbage, and Rita Coolidge. It would make a great party vid because you'd have music playing, and those who were in the midst of a lull in conversation could tune into the TV until some new cocktail party chatter bubbled up.

So, I got the box sets from the library, ripped the DVD, converted the first .VOB file (more on that below) to Divx, and then edited them together in the Divx Author. It's even better than I thought it would be. I can't wait to have a party just to show it off.

Here's one to jog your memory:



Anyway, here's how you do it:

First, you need a good DVD ripper, which is a program that converts the DVD files - which are in .VOB format, a form of MPG/MPEG format - and removes the copy protection. Once you've done this, if you can burn DVDs, you can essentially create a straight copy (menus and all) that doesn't have copy protection and without all the FBI Warnings about not copying things. However, the goal here is to convert them to Divx.

The best DVD ripper is DVDFab, which is a commercial package, but it lets you rip DVDs for free without having to buy the advanced features. How cool is that? I certainly am going to buy the package in the near future, because I want some of the extra features, but for now it does what I need.

The next best one is a freeware package called DVDshrink. The only reason I don't recommend it above DVDFab is that it's older, and some of the new copy-protection schemes trip it up. And, the commercial package is just easier to use and is better at naming files and directories, as a commercial package should.

If you have the room, install both. I've found that when one package can't copy the DVD for some reason, usually the other one can.

After you have your .VOB files, you then turn to the Divx converter. Divx is a commercial package, but you can download all of their software for free. A little Googling will also get you the activation codes if you need them before you pony up the cash.

So, first rip the DVD. This shows the DVDFab ripping screen:

You can rip the whole disc or just the movie. I usually rip just the movie, because that's all I really want. If you want the bloopers and stuff, rip the whole disc. In this graphic, note that two whole versions are available, the widescreen 16:9 (Title No. 2) and the full screen 4:3 (Title No. 10).

On the right is the audio track and subtitle selection section. I usually deselect everything except the main soundtrack, which is the one you see at the top right (Type AC-3/5.1). It's usually obvious which one it is. The other audio tracks are usually director's commentary and such.

Some systems may need the AC3 filter (free). AC3 is an audio format used on DVDs. I also just discovered the Divx converter can't handle PCM audio, so make sure you don't have it selected when ripping the DVD.

The less info you have for Divx to compress, the better the final product will be. However, if you want the commentary track and subtitles, Divx can convert them and play them back, so keep them if that's your thing.

If you're just going to copy this onto another DVD, by all means, grab everything available so it's just like the official DVD.

Here's DVDshrink:

This is the "rip the whole thing" screen with the selections for audio and subtitles.


Here's the "just the movie" screen. I had to watch portions of the two available to tell which one was the widescreen, which is my preference. This is where DVDFab is a little better, because it spells it out on the screen for you. You have to double-click the titles you want converted so they show up on the left, under the "DVD Structure" area. (Title 2 was the widescreen version.)

Now that you have your .VOB files, open the Divx converter:

Drag the first .VOB file to the Divx window, where it indicates. You don't grab all the .VOB files, because Divx figures out that the other files (2, 3, and 4) are the continuation of the movie. Both of the DVD rippers chop the movie into 1 GB chunks (and they're that way on the DVD, too). Because of this you do not want to rename the .VOB files before you convert them with Divx.

Once the converter analyses the files, it pops this screen:

Here you select or deselect all the audio and subtitle stuff you want or don't want. I use the "Maintain source audio" selection when I'm converting a DVD that's mostly music (like concert DVDs), and if during the first conversion the audio does not match the picture (this happens sometimes). This will sometimes correct the audio being out of sync. I don't use it for regular movies, because it compresses the video better when you don't maintain the source audio. However, during dynamic sequences you can hear some of the warbling artifacting that MP3 does when there's too much to compress. It's rare though.

Then you want to make sure you come to this screen, select the "Limit Filesize to" and select 700 MB, so it will fit on a CD:

If you are never going to back them up on CD, and are just going to have them live on your hard drive for movie watching while traveling, you may want to NOT choose this option and let Divx choose the size for you. It will vary between 1 GB and 1.4 GBs usually (twice the size of a CD). You get pretty good quality at 700 MB for most flicks, though.

If the movie is a straight talky or a comedy without any big visual effects sequences, say like Good Will Hunting, Jersey Girl or About a Boy, you can even scrunch them down to 350 MB so two will fit on a CD.

The one type of film that does not covert well is animation; you get a lot of pixilation. I suspect it's because the way video compressors work: first they establish a shot using the initial frame of a sequence, and then subsequent frames are only the information that has changed from the last frame. When it's a live-action movie with a lot of detail, there's more pixels to swap out, hence it looks better. But with animation, you have huge swaths of one color, and so the compressor assigns the same value to a lot of pixels, and thus you begin to see big squares that are one kind of red (for instance) with an obvious square border next to another swatch of slightly different red. This also happens in underlit and dark scenes in live-action movies, too. However, you typically only notice it if you're watching the movie in the dark and your eyes can pick out the borders between various blacks.

And there you have it. Happy compressing!
Lily and Jim

[removed]

Unfortunately, the vids were nuked by youtube because the owner of the copyright complained, as is his right.

I wasn't aware you could even buy it anymore, because for a long time you couldn't. So, before I wrote that complaint, I figured I'd better check, and sure enough, you can now buy it.

If you do want it, it's available here.
Experiment: The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell, part 2

This is an experiment in commenting on a book while I'm reading it.
Part 1 is here.

Progress: Into Chapt. 5 - pp. 18 - 49.

It occurs to me that I can't just summarize the plot in these posts. I don't want to prevent you from reading this yourself, of course. I'll do my best to not spew the story.

I'm pretty sure the comic book story is the dreams of the boy in the coma, as there are interesting parallels to what's happening in the real world.

And, thank God, that story is kind of amusing. It's about a bunch of circus freaks who are abandoned by the circus because the knife-thrower hates freaks, and one of them makes a noise that causes him to nick his latest wife/knife-target on the thigh.

The language is much more florid, which initially put me off, but I have begun to enjoy the mood it creates. It's not a like reading a comic book, but it certainly has that mythical, "this is all just pretend" flavor.

Getting back to the real world, the style is much less baroque and creates a nice transition.

The father is presented less sympathetically than previously, and he's kind of a puker (he throws up and gags a lot). However, the last scene he was in, he crawled into bed next to his boy and started reading the comic book to him - very sweet.

The plot thickens when we find the doctor on a mission that has him meet up with a guy who's into knives. (See parallel with circus comic book story.)

I've really enjoyed the novel thus far and am looking forward to getting some time with it this weekend.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Verbiage

I think I've identified someone who reads my blog!

Aren't lists like this just silly?

Really, I think the only universal stylistic advice regarding word choice that I feel is sort of correct, and I'm sure a lot of you would agree, is the avoidance of adverbs.

Mark Twain put it this way: Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. (I doubt this is the exact phrasing, but it's close enough.)

Stephen King put it this way: The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Experiment: The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell

I'm going to try an experiment. I blindly picked up The Resurrectionist from the new releases rack at the library. I've not read anything by this author, and I have assiduously avoided reading anything about it on Amazon or elsewhere. Here's the deal: I'm going to put my impressions and such in upcoming posts as I'm reading the book (as opposed to a short review after I'm done, like I usually do). I have no idea if this will lead to decent posts; I have no specific goal. Let's just see what happens, eh?

Here we go:


Progress: Chapt. 1 & 2 pages into Chapt. 2 - pp. 18.

Hated the first paragraph. I'm one of those readers who think the first paragraph should grab you in some way ... by the (proverbial) balls, by the nose, by the frontal lobes, by the limbic system - just get a grip. The reader should not finish that crucial clutch of sentences thinking, "wha?" as I did. Only later does the character's reading a comic book become important - his son was a comic book fan. Still, it would have been better to place it later.

However, then we're off like a shot. Very good. The characters are realized beautifully so far.

The premise is our hero has a son in a coma, and he's taking a job as a pharmacist in a hospital that specializes in coma patients, though the job is beneath his abilities and training. His wife is dead, too, but we don't know why or how yet.

We are taken on a tour of the facility by a fantastic character, the head of Human Resources of all things, who knows the facility intimately because she took a job there for the very same reason; her husband was in a coma for 20 years. The descriptions of the patients evokes the setting very well. Some look like they're sleeping, others are curled into nightmarish gaunt fetal fractals.

The tour guide inadvertently gives the father the bad news that his son probably dreams, which is horrific to him; he has been assured before that boy does not, most likely for his own piece of mind.

Our hero even has a Raskalnikov shoebox of an apt. on site so he can be directly below his son.

Nice nice.

Then chapter 2 is the start of a comic book story. Oy. My guess is we are in the dreams of the boy in the coma. That might be interesting. We'll see. It had better the boy's dreams not be a clever artistic device.

To be continued...
Girls Like Us
by Sheila Weller

A local steakhouse - a real Midwestern steakhouse where there're 4H pictures on the wall and the only options for sides to the beef are a choice between a baked potato or fries, salad and veggies non-negotiable - used to have an offering on the menu they've since changed: a 12 oz. steak they called "the cowgirl." The other steak options were either what dieticians recommend: something the size of a deck of cards (and if you're at a steakhouse in the first place, this is a self-canceling item ... it's only on the menu to keep food Nazis from bothering the waitresses); or the 20 oz. monster, called the "ranch hand", which no one but fat guys order, and even they don't finish it. Everyone orders the 12 oz. Back when it was still called "the cowgirl", you could see the pain etched across every male face when they were ordering, even if they just pointed at the item on the menu. I don't know if the waitresses eventually were no longer amused at the discomfort of their male patrons, or if a regular begged for it to be changed, but now it's just the 12 oz. steak.

Carrying around a rather large hardbound book with "Girls Like Us" blazoned across the front brought similar discomfort to ordering "the cowgirl". For books that I simply don't want to have to explain to anyone, I'll resort to the ole' college paper grocery bag book cover trick, but this one was just on the edge of embarrassing but not really - and I knew I wouldn't be carting it around long enough to bother.

See, it was a stinker in terms of the writing. Gad, what a slough. See for yourself.

It was like reading a textbook. How you can take the lives of three very interesting women in rock/pop/folk music, two of which had/have sex lives that rival any of the Hollywood bad boys, and make it so darned dull is beyond me. Granted, I've just read the To Kill a Mockingbird of rock biographies - U2 at the End of the World by Bill Flanagan, so perhaps my calibrations are a bit off.

I read it because I really wanted to know more about Carole King, how she went from Brill Building hotshot to making one of the best selling albums of all time, and then seemingly fell of the radar after a few more hits. Answer: She met a nutball "back to nature/into the wild" kinda guy and holed up in Idaho for years until she finally divorced him.

I mostly knew the stories of Joni Mitchell and Carley Simon (except I didn't realize to what extent she was a sexual omnivore - wow).

The biggest disappointment is how it drops the threads of all their stories somewhere in the 80s. (Which is kinda like the old Woody Allen joke where one woman complains how bad the food is and her companion answers with "yes, and such small portions.") All of these women have had major life events and albums since, and surely there could have been at least a paragraph or two on them. I wanted to know about the backstory of Joni's Night Ride Home, one of my favorite albums of hers. I wanted to know why Carole King started showing up on David Letterman and started touring again. Etc. You'll not find any of that here.

The feminism angle initially grated, but it became evident that trying to write about these women in that time and not talk about feminism is to try to completely describe popcorn and never mention salt.

Did get some trivia out of it, though:
- The cover photo Joni Mitchell's Blue was taken by Tim Considine who as a child actor was on the TV show "My Three Sons" (cue that clarinet starting up in your head), and the song "Little Green" on that album is explicitly about the daughter she gave up for adoption.

- The reason Gerry Goffin and Carole King broke up is he went full goose batshit crazy, with the foaming at the mouth and the funny jacket with the poorly tailored arms, and the screaming and the flailing, glaven. Though he got better, and eventually wrote "Saving All My Love for You", the ubiquitous Whitney Houston hit.

- These people appear to have fucked each other, everyone else worth fucking, and a few more beyond that, back in the day:
* Joni Mitchell
* Carley Simon
* James Taylor
* Jackson Browne
* J.D. Souther
* Warren Beatty
* Jack Nicholson
* Mick Jagger
* Linda Ronstadt
* Don Henley

I'm sure the list is longer than that, but these are the names that have bubbled up in every Laurel Canyon-centered bio I've read. (I'm up to four, I think, and I'll probably read Heaven and Hell by Don Felder.)

- Warren Beatty even begged Carole King to screw him when she was near term because he said he'd never fucked a pregnant woman and wanted to know what it felt like. She declined (she was married and she seems to have morals).

- Carley Simon didn't (doesn't) like to sleep alone, and, according to her, never did in those days. She had VD once, too.

- Two of the biggest egomaniacal pricks in the biz are Don Henley and Stephen Stills, according to everyone. James Taylor is a bit of a narcissistic prick, too.


One of the of things I've been having to avoid due to reading these tell-all bios is disliking the music of some of these folks (especially the earnest stuff) now that I know what the person who wrote them is like in real life. But - you read it everywhere - most people who ascend to the top of the various worlds - music, movies, politics, TV, etc. - usually have ego issues and exaggerated personality flaws; it's one of the reasons they rose to the top.

Paradoxically, the other effect is I keep wanting to listen to these songs now that I know the story behind them. I have a buddy (who reads this blog) who would always get obsessed with a band after he'd seen them in concert. For the whole month after the show, their songs would be in his top rotation. It always puzzled me, even though it makes logical sense, because many music lovers consider an artist's live shows to be as important as what they lay down in the studio. However, I understand it a little better since reading about the artists is doing the same thing to me.

I recommend the music of these three fine ladies, but skip the book.
Choke

Having just read the new Palahniuk (and becoming smug that I know how to spell his name without looking it up anymore), I happed across the advertising campaign for the latest film made from his work: Choke.

Here's the preview. Looks hilarious. I've made an MP3 of the melanoma joke for use on a future CD, even.


If you want to watch a clear copy, go here to the official site. (Studios need to grasp the concept of embedding, which is a great form of viral marketing. Why does this even need to be explained?)

There's a prevalence of group therapy scenes in Palahniuk's work, and it figured into the great Infinite Jest too (read the excerpt here). This is just gotta be someone's sr. thesis waiting to happen.

Sam Rockwell has become one of those actors whose movies I will search out. He's such an everyschmuck, and it's cool to see him do so well. His role as the doomed redshirt in Galaxy Quest is classic.

Can't wait to see it.

Oh, and here's Rockwell (and the guy who plays the Macintosh in the Apple commercials) in a cute short about Robin (of "Batman and") going on a date.
Joe Bob Briggs, Where Are You?

I'm sure someone will set me straight on this (meaning they'll tell me exactly how I've gotten it wrong), but last night on the news they reported that they've hired the Colorado Springs police dept. (or more accurately, their "overflow" and "off duty" officers) as the security for the Democratic convention here in Denver.

So, they've hired the police force from one of the most renowned right-wing cites in all of America to police the left wing's biggest party?

This isn't going to go well folks.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Wall-E, Hancock, and the devil

Hey, I'm actually making it to the theatre for the occasional film these days. Back when we had our first, I couldn't wait for the day that my kid would beg me to go to the movies, and that day be here.

Just last light we locked in for the new X-files movie. I got the DVD sets that are just "the mythology" and we watched them as kind of a father-daughter event. So of course we have to see the new flick together.

The whole family sat down to watch Wall-E, but alas, 'twas only MPC1 and myself who finished it. Wall-E, though it has a minimum of dialogue, has so many plot turns that after about 20 minutes, MPC2 was kinda dazed, and it made her tummy feel funny, so she and mom went home. (I offered, but mom had missed enough through trips to the potty, so I didn't get voted off the island.)

I even missed a plot point during my potty break. I was able to pick the threads back up as far as I can tell.

The movie?

Well, it's everything you're going to (or already have) read about: brilliant, pretty, moving, do-dah do-dah. Should you see it? Heck yeah.

As Kottke pointed out, the world of Wall-E is a lot like that of the not very funny Idiocracy. I noted that the romance sub-plot had a lot of similarities to my favorite romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

They've got to knock it off with the misfits being heroes, though. That sub-plot is so gratuitous here, you can just hear gay 'ole "Charlie-in-the-box" warble "it's been done!" Like someone once said of Cocoon - and I avoided saying in my post about the latest Indiana Jones - we don't need one more movie where a spaceship takes off at the end and the credits roll, and no more fucked-up characters saving the day.

For you movie tech buffs, here's an article on how Wall-E was filmed, particularly how they got the camera movement to be more realistic.




Also saw Hancock with MPC1, which was just a hair too naughty for her eleven years, as Hancock's Marty McFly action word is "Asshole".

It's OK. A nice popcorn movie. Don't feel denied if you don't catch it in the theatre. Even though it's a big-screen movie, it was directed for the TV - nothing but closeups, and the action scenes just aren't all that grand and vast.

As usual, Will Smith's presence really makes the flick. That guy can do just about anything.

It is too bad, though, that the movie isn't just awesome. The last really awesome film he was in was Men in Black (not counting the unfairly harshed upon and pretty darn good Jersey Girl). Wish he could get another out and out winner like that.

Apparenly, Hancock was once better, according to this guy. (And you can snag the source script of the flick before it morphed into Hancock.)

Maybe now that Smith is such a megastar, the studios just won't let his films be overly edgy.




Finally caught Before the Devil Knows You're Dead on vid, and as evidenced in this post and comments by M. Blowhard, isn't all that - even though it opens on portly Philip Seymour Hoffman porking Marisa Tomei in a pretty explicit shot.

It's just too overwrought, and there's no one we care about, which is usually a fatal flaw in a flick. Just a bunch of middle-class lowlifes fucking up their lives. It kind of has that same fascination but eventual rush of disgust you get waiting for the guy at the party who's way past his cups to puke. You know the eventuality. It's kinda fun to anticipate it. It's gross when it goes down, and ultimately you're kind of ashamed of having witnessed the event.

On the 2blowhards there's a discussion about PSH's acting. I'll put my vote in the "yes" column as he's always convinced me he was who he was. He's fun to watch. But, M. Blowhard is right, he "indicates." (See the post.) He's clearly "acting" (scare quotes and all) in every scene and you know it. He reminds me of Dustin Hoffman, actually, who I also like to watch.

Oh well. Not everyone can be Meryl Streep.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Snuff

Chuck Palahniuk is something of a genius.


But before I try to back that up, I should probably do a bit of a recusion cha-cha.

You see, I have this buddy whom I've known from college whose tastes run to the dark and absurd. For instance, he once drew this brilliant cartoon that showed a sloth hanging from a tree (it had a resemblance to Garfield, which made it better ... really) that possessed a penis equal to the mass of its body, which dangled past its back a bit. The expression on the face was of utter jadedness, and the caption read "moral fucksloth." It so perfectly coined yer basic twenty-something guy when he goes to a meat-market to get laid.

Another of his coinages was the term "shit clit." He had just emerged from taking one of those dumps that feel spectacular, and he says, "That one really hit my shit clit." And he proceeded to mime a birthing turd, pulling one finger from the grasp of the others, and going "OOOOOoooooOOOooo." Gross. Shocking. Hilarious.

This buddy got me ready for the sensibilities of Chuck Palahniuk.

Another oddity of mine is that I can pretty much handle any sort of depravity, bizarre sexual scenarios, terrible acts of human cruelty and so on on the written pagel. I have a much different line of demarcation for movies, primarily because actors (no matter how willing) have to perform the acts you see, and if it's something I can't imagine someone I love doing, I'm dropped out of the flow of the movie. I can handle a bit more with animation, because it's drawings or computer generated stuff, sorta like words on a page.

I say that only because I've groused about porn and other less than honorable pursuits before.

/End Recuse


Why is he a genius?

Because who else could set a novel on the day of a porn video shoot where a woman decides to go for the new gang-bang record of 400 guys at once and make it suspenseful, compelling, moving, and funny?

The premise is this porn queen is planning to die during (or right at the end of) the shoot in order to launch the video into the stratosphere so that her child, who she gave up for adoption years earlier, can inherit a fortune as a sort of apology for her life and abandonment of the child. Further complications are the queen's illegitimate son might be one of the participants, and the father might be as well. (Ew!)

There's a lot thrown your way to make you squirm, sorta like during Clarice Starling's exit after her first interview with Lecter, if you get my meaning.

Great, quick (quickie?) read. A must for fans, and a recommendation for someone who's not yet read a Palahniuk.