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April 2006 Archives

God Bless America

So there's this traditional White House Correspondent Dinner that the White House reporters and the President traditionally attend, and where they tease each other, presumably all in good fun. This year, Stephen Colbert showed just house much balls he had by making jabs at the President that were anything but polite and light-hearted.

There's about 26 minutes' worth on YouTube in three parts: [one] [two] [three]

And here's an edited down 11 minute best of clip, and the 7 minute skit he does at the end where he "auditions" for White House Press Secretary, complete with cameo by Helen Thomas.

On one hand, I feel like the point of the dinner is to ease tensions between Bush and the press corps, and this was a rather inappropriate and probably had the opposite effect. On the other hand, it's pretty awesome for someone to really punishingly bash the President like that to his face, and have the President shake his hand and apparently even say, "Good job," to him afterward [Editor and Publisher article], even though he stopped smiling not too long into Colbert's speech.

Most importantly, though, I'm proud to live in a country where someone can actually do something like this to the President and not fear reprisal. (Although, I bet you the White House is going to more carefully review the speaker selection at next year's dinner!)

P.S.: Most of the articles on the evening focused on how Bush performed a skit with an impersonator, which mostly made fun of his saying "nukular", etc., and didn't mention Colbert. So in the interests of being fair and balanced, here's the 11 minute two Bushes skit on YouTube.

P.P.S.: And finally, that kinda reminded me of the video Clinton made way back when (apparently also for the White House Correspondent Dinner) called The Final Days (6 minutes).

Update May-3: A CBS News blog points out that, at a White House Correspondent Dinner several years ago, Don Imus pissed off Clinton with jokes about his womanizing (pre-Lewinsky).

David Copperfield uses magic trick on robbers

David Copperfield and two of his assistants was robbed at gunpoint after a show. But here's the cool part: After taking his assistants' money, one of the robbers turned to him, and:

Copperfield told Page Two he pulled out all of his pockets for [the robber] to see he had nothing, even though he had a cellphone, passport and wallet stuffed in them.

"Call it reverse pickpocketing," Copperfield said.

That's pretty freaking awesome. He also had the composure to read off the license plate of the car as it sped away, and the police caught the robbers.

Hooray Hoorah

Oh Joy of Joys! The Daily Monkey returns! It's the periodic monkey now, though. :P

Virtual Iraqis

See my latest post on SSRD's blog.

Zoned Out

Sometimes, I come home, and I'm really drowsy. So I turn up my music really loud, lie down on my bed fully clothed, with all the lights on, and kinda zone out to the music, falling half-asleep. (On occasion I've actually fallen fully asleep like this.) For some reason, I find this one of the most pleasurable experiences in the world. I'm not even exaggerating.

Oddly, if I actually turn off my music at these times, I tend to find that I can't sleep. The conditions also have to be just right. I can't do this any time I'm drowsy. I can tell when I'm feeling just the right kind of drowsiness, and it actually only manages to happen once every few months. It happened just now, and I think it's the first time in well over a year. Perhaps the very rarity of it helps to make it so wonderful.

(For the curious, this time I was listening to Franz Ferdinand's sophomore album, waking half-up (Is that what one does from a half-sleep?) half-way through the last song.)

Btw, has anyone else experienced this and find it as pleasurable as I do, or am I just being weird again?

100 Years Since the Big One

1906-houses.jpg 100 years ago, on April 18, 1906, at 5:12am, a 7.8 earthquake hit San Francisco. The subsequent fire destoryed whatever the earthquake had not. A commemoration was held, with various officials speaking. After the clock struck 5:12, there was a moment of silence, but what amused me was that some people actually counted down, "5... 4... 3..." as if it were New Year.

It's funny how something like that earthquake (and earthquakes in general, really) can feel like such a big part of our San Franciscan identity. We're taking a massive tragedy and disarming it by celebrating it. We're turning it into something positive by embracing it and making it a source of social unity.

I guess this is why people have settled in nearly every part of the world, heedless of any threats nature might pose. I know I sound corny in this post, but c'mon! San Francisco pride, man! :D


Apple makes a little girl cry

This is hilarious: Apple made a little girl cry. I'm sorry. I guess it's the little boy in me that gets giddy at the thought of little girls crying. :D

Malcolm McLaren in Halo

You may have heard of Malcolm McLaren. He was the controversial manager of the Sex Pistols (who later sued him). He later had some hit songs of his own, and he's dabbled in all sorts of media, never happy to settle with success (or failure). A couple of years ago, he wrote an article in Wired about 8-bit music, which people create by hacking their GameBoys to sequence and play music entirely on their GameBoys. Even Beck's had a go at it.

You may also have heard of "machinima", movies made by manipulating video game characters like puppets. My favorite in this genre is This Spartan Life unlike most machinima, it's not a drama or a straight comedy, but rather a talk show. It's a talk show, entirely from within the game Halo 2. Another brilliant touch is that, instead of reusing the game's original orchestral music, their soundtrack is entirely composed of 8-bit music. Click under "Choose A Playlist" on the left of this page for some samples. You can probably guess what's next...

mclauren.jpg This Spartan Life has interviewed Malcolm McLaren. It's notable for being machinima that actually involves someone from outside of the gaming world. Check out the video: [QuckTime] [Windows Media] (It's part of this episode.)

The host and the guest take a leisurely walk while other players in the background and explore glitches in the game environment. The genius of it is that the action is staged to accentuate and illustrate what McLauren is talking about. As McLauren starts talking about 8-bit music and appropriation of mass media for art, a group of players perform synchronized dancing to an 8-bit soundtrack.

A Wired reporter wrote an article about this interview, and he was in fact also in the game during the interview. He even decided to talk a pot shots at the host of the show, only to be brutally taken down by the staff. How often do you see that in an interview? :D

If you liked that, be sure to also check out the interviews from the first episode.

* * *

In related news, someone decided to use RBI Baseball for the original Nintendo to recreate the 1986 World Series, Games 6, bottom of the 10th. He dubs the original sports announcer track over it. What I found most interesting about this is that baseball's probably the game where this works the best. I mean, there are long stretches where nothing much happens in baseball, and it's accentuated here because you don't even get to see cuts between shots of the pitcher, then the batter, etc.... but it works because baseball is all about suspense, anyway. :)

* * *

gorillaz-madonna.jpgthe Gorillaz, a virtual band populated by cartoon characters. They've actually had "live" concerts which are actually pre-rendered 3D graphics: "Clint Eastwood" from their first album, "Feel Good, Inc." from their second album, "Feel Good, Inc." at the Grammies, handing it off to Madonna, and finally, an actual, truly live performance by the real band, visible only as silhouettes, to avoid putting a human face on the band.

What's missing from the Gorillaz performances is the true merging of animation and live action. In the Madonna section, she's actually a virtual version of herself, on a screen, when she's interacting with them. How cool would it be if the characters could instead be puppeted in realtime, so that the band could really be playing live, but you'd see animated versions of them? Then they could actually respond to the audience and so forth, instead of just going about a set routine.

I don't think that day is far off, and I think live animated performances are gonna be big. Some of it will have puppeted characters, and some of it will have real people in virtual environments. I want live stage plays with the limitless environments that digital sets can provide. We already have that to a small degree with some weather reports and that first-down line in football broadcasts. But that's reality augmented with graphics. I want graphics augmented with reality!

Or actually, I want both! And more! Okay, I'm getting a little too excited. :D

:D :D

Cha cha cha!

In a completely random observation unrelated to anything (okay, so it's actually related to listening to the new "Illinois Street Lounge" stream on soma fm), I'm very amused by the Latin genre of "Cha Cha Cha". I am specifically amused by the fact that, regardless of the lyrics, every song somehow incorporates the words, "Cha Cha Cha". I can't think of any other genres of music that always incorporate a specific phrase, regardless of the rest of the lyrics. (Okay, maybe with the exception of gangsta rap and certain words starting with F and N. :P) (Okay, and maybe also soft rock and "baby". :P)

In news completely unrelated to cha cha cha, check out this article, titled, This Boring Headline Is Written for Google. It's about how headlines and section names in online newspapers have become more boring and generic in order to make sure they contain searchable keywords.

The flipside, of course, is that blogs often have individual pages with titles containing keywords, artificially (and usually inadverdently) inflating their search result rankings. This would be why my Hello Kitty Toaster post keeps getting comments from search engine hits.

This post is now mostly about searchable keywords, but it's titled Cha Cha Cha, so take that, search engines! :P

Making Statements with Game Mechanics

Fix the Budget - There is one obvious area where you could make a statement with a game that you can't make (the same way) in any other medium: Manipulation of the game mechanics. Sim City, in a way, taught me the importance of balancing a budget better than any book or article. In fact, the Sacramento Bee had a somewhat simpler "game" a couple of years during our budget crisis where they simply list programs you can cut funds from and programs you can add funds to, and you have to cut a total of $1 Billion from the budget: Fix the budget mess - your way.

The idea was to make it clear how important each program was, and how hard it was to cut funding from them. So whenever you cry out about some vital program's budget being cut, you have to think: Well, if they restore funding there, which other vital project's funding should be cut instead? My point is that the game did not need to explicitly spell out this moral, like I did. The mechanics of the game itself spoke the message.

Conquer the World - In a game like Civilization, your goal is to conquer the world. In the original games, you need to balance civic and scientific pursuits with military ones, but, ultimately, your science serves your military. You need territory to win, and you get territory by taking over your neighbors. It's interesting to think about what statement this is making. In Civilization III, they add "culture" as a way of expanding your civilization and taking over neighboring cities non-violently by converting their minds. That's an interesting twist, but, ultimately, the goal of the game is still to conquer the world. By making that the goal, the game subconsciously makes you relate to that goal, and to think of it as a "good thing" to some degree.

People apply this idea to video game violence, and while I don't think video game violence is solely responsible for increased aggression and whatnot, I can see the basic statement that many video games make: Violence solves problems. I think they make that statement partly in jest, though, and partly for fantasy-fulfillment that most people can differentiate from reality, so of course it's complicated... But I do think there's something to be said about games that encourage you to think your way through problems.

Wild West Bank - There's also this game called Wild West Bank that I found a while ago. To play it, click the sign with the red letters to start, then click on any trailer or double-click on any house to get rid of it. However, if there are any soldiers guarding a house, you have to first drag them out of the West Bank (which seems to make them happy).

Eventually, the settlements start popping up at a faster and faster rate, such that you can't dream of keeping up with removing them, and so you always lose. Again, the game mechanics speak the message in a way that words can't. The game was created by an anti-settlement group.

Also, both of these games do something else that words can't: They put the player directly in a role. The games define a goal for the player, which causes the player to identify with that role, because they're now an active participant. When you fail to balance the budget, you might think, "This is tough!" and relate to our state legislators a bit more. When you fail to stop the settlements, you might think, "Oh no! This is impossible!" and relate to the anti-settlement people more.

Photopia - This reminds me of Photopia, which uses the basic mechanism of those old text adventure games, but in a novel way. Try this web-based version. (Just note that you have to type into the text box below, and to use [enter] when it says "hit space", because it was originally designed to be played on a PC.) It's in the format of a typical text adventure, where you type commands like, "look", "look at treasure chest", "north", "get shovel", "talk to salesman", etc., but it uses the medium in a very novel way. There are very few puzzles to solve, and it's quite linear, but it really focuses your attention on what interactivity can bring to the table. I urge you to try it out.

Photopia illustrates my last point especially well: When you actually play a character, it makes you relate to that character and their actions more so even than when you read about them in the first person. In fact, I was going to post some spoiler comments here, but I'm going to do that some other time instead, to further encourage you to try it out for yourself. I'll probably take you less than an hour to get through it if you're familiar with text adventures, and maybe twice as long if you're not, but it's totally worth it. It's probably the most innovative and moving piece of interactive fiction I've seen.

I'll give you guys a week to try it out, and then I'll summarize and talk about it. But really I urge you to try it for yourself first. :)

Libby: Bush told him to leak

According Fitzgerald, Libby testified to a grand jury that Bush authorized the Plame leak. I'm pretty jaded about the Bush administration's scandals by now, but this would be the most unambiguously illegal thing he's done. (Well, those wiretaps are pretty illegal, too, I guess.)

MIT Shin case settled

Back in 2000, a 19-year-old MIT sophomore named Elizabeth Shin died in an apparent suicide. Her bed was on fire when police officers forced their way in and rescued her, but she later died in the hospital. She had tried to commit suicide before and threatened to commit suicide that day. She had also been in and out of the Mental Health programs at MIT. Her case sparked a lot of debate about whether those facilities were adequate, etc., though I've always found it very telling that she seemed to be a classic overachiever who likely had a lot of pressure from her parents.

Anyway, her parents sued MIT, and now the case has been settled. [The Tech] [Boston Globe] The Shins now say they're convinced that the death was an accident and not a suicide, no doubt part of the terms of the settlement. :P But it does seem that Elizabeth Shin overdosed on an unnamed drug the night of her death as well, before candles lit her bed on fire, so I can see how it may have been sort of a semi-accident, perhaps.

Best. Lousy T-shirt. Ever.

lousy-t-shirt.jpg Look! It's Arthur C. Clarke wearing a t-shirt that says, "I invented the satellite and all I got was this lousy t-shirt". Sweet.

It comes from this BBC News article on the debate in Sri Lanka about their time zone. They changed from India's UTC+5.5 to UTC+6 in 1996, but both Buddhist monks and Tamil Tigers weren't happy with the change. The latter just ignored it, while the former blame the country's ills on the change: "The Venerable Gnanawimala says the change moved the country to a spiritual plane 500 miles east of where it should be."

:D I actually disagree with Clarke here, though, who seems to just argue that UTC+5.5 is weird. It seems to me that syncing up with big neighbor India would be more important thab a little weirdness to the rest of the world.

(Found via boingboing.)

* * *

In vaguely related news, I figured this was as good a time as any to plug my favorite (musical) artist of 2005, M.I.A.. Her music is kinda hard to describe... hip-hop-ish, electronic beats, a vaguely ethnic/world music feel, sometimes political. Okay, so Wikipedia says, "Her style contains elements of grime, hip hop, ragga, dancehall, electronica and baile funk," only a few of which I've heard of. :) Really pretty different from anything I'd heard before, which is part what I like about it.

She was born in London, but was raised in Sri Lanka. Her dad was a Tamil Tiger (thus the connection to the previous story), and so she moved in and out of India until she eventually ended up back in London as a refugee. She got her start traveling with Elastica during their last US tour. She provided the cover art for their last album and documented the tour, and she was Elastica lead singer Justine Frishmann's roommate. I thought this was neat because I actually went to Elastica's last US show in Boston, and so M.I.A. was probably actually there. :)

Here is the video for her debut single Galang, which features her own artwork. And Justine Frishmann produced that song(!). She eventually got together with a white DJ from Philadelphia called Diplo, who had fallen in love with Brazilian "baile funk", and they made her album, Arular.

Even though the album is kinda overhyped among music circles, I think most people still haven't heard of it. I found it kinda jarring at first, but I soon got used to it and then found myself leaving it on repeat a lot.

About April 2006

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in April 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2006 is the previous archive.

May 2006 is the next archive.

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