Sunday, September 21, 2008

Well, I'm 29 now... (The Rock Band cake post)

But don't all say Happy Birthday all at once. I'm not too thrilled with the prospect of only 365 days until I hit the big three-zero.

I've had a lot of cool birthday presents, but few match the cake Jen made for me this year. As some of you might know, I like to play Rock Band using the Guitar Hero X-Plorer controller to play bass guitar.

Wanna see it? Oh, I know you do...

This is it before it's finished, but the picture also shows the actual Guitar Hero controller for comparison. Here's the finished product:

Body... The D-pad is made up of a ring of chocolate frosting and four M&Ms. The whammy bar is a Pocky stick (Mexican shortbread stick dipped in chocolate), and the strum bar is a Kit-Kat. The green M&M represents the Xbox guide button, and the other two halves represent the Back and Start buttons.

Neck and head... each of the five fret buttons is represented by four M&Ms of the same color. The tuning knobs at the head are represented by four brown M&Ms - we didn't have room for all six.

The whole finished project.

If you want to see more pictures of the cake, for a limited time you can see the topic I made on GameFAQs' Food board. I say limited time because after so long of a post not getting replies, they'll purge it. I can re-post the other pictures here, I just haven't got the time right now.

And as with all pictorial blogs I post, you can click any image to see it full-size, if you'd like a closer look.

Oh yeah... under the frosting, it's a Devil's Food cake... mwa ha ha ha ha. It was good... We served it with Breyers Triple Chocolate ice cream.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The three best movie trailers ever

Who doesn't love movie trailers? Some say the trailers are the best part of the movie. People have paid to see movies just for one trailer. (Read on, one such trailer makes the list.) Trailers were so popular on Apple's QuickTime gallery that they required QuickTime Pro (a $30 license) to view some of their most popular trailers.

Almost all trailers have major spoilers, and most give away important parts of the movie being advertised. Many show all the best parts of a movie. The justification for this is that they're shown before a movie you are hopefully very interested in (as you paid good money for your ticket), and most people will forget the bulk of most trailers after the feature presentation is over, leaving them with a positive feeling about the movies advertised.

There are three kinds of trailers. The first trailer is not a trailer but a teaser. A teaser is usually about a minute long and often contains a lot of text, music, special effects, not a lot of bulk. The purpose is to let you know the movie's coming and to leave you wanting more. Next comes the actual trailer. These start at about two and a half to three minutes and contain spoilers and the bulk of the movie (lots of action if an action movie, the best jokes if a comedy, and so on). They're designed to make you love the movie, so you'll pay to see it when it comes out. Often there's more than one trailer. Sometimes they're rotated, sometimes one follows the other. Then you have the TV spots. Always about 15 or 30 seconds long, and there are almost always at least three or four of them. Sometimes different TV spots focus on different aspects of the film, sometimes they're just different teasers.

While almost all trailers are memorable at the time, most of them are forgotten after you see the movie. They no longer have any purpose, really. With the introduction of high-speed Internet, we can download them, or just watch them online, but which ones are worth watching months or years after the movie came out? Here are, in my opinion, the three most memorable trailers.

#3: Lord of the Rings Trilogy Teaser
I believe it was March or May 2001. Sept. 11 hadn't changed the world yet, and we were already being treated to an amazing trilogy, we'd seen one two years prior and were a year away from the second installment. Fantasy nerds and bookworms had read Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was read in schools, but to casual readers, Lord of the Rings was rather slow starting. It was respected but not widely read, not by this generation anyway. Then this teaser came out. Longer than a traditional teaser, but then again, it was for three movies.

Fire, lightning, runes, and a cool little poem ("...and in the darkness bind them") isn't a bad way to start a trailer. Following it with an epic battle, horses running in the darkness, some randomly cool fantasy scenes - then it just drops off about a minute in. You get a cool, quotable line ("Even the smallest person can change the course of history") and then the title shot. That would be enough to satisfy the fanboys. It could have ended right there and been nearly as effective. But no. Let's show off closeups of the major heroes with a vocal choir singing softly in the background while title cards announce each film's release date. Christmas 2001 for Fellowship, Christmas 2002 for Towers, and, you guessed it, Christmas 2003 for Return. Another cool quote and the names of the main actors. Beautiful presentation and of course it got everyone talking.

I don't think Fellowship of the Ring really lived up to this trailer, but Fellowship of the Ring (the book) was always the weakest link, anyway. It's really just the introduction to the series, sets the stage for things to come, and of course The Two Towers more than redeemed the series. (Fellowship wasn't that bad, but still didn't live up to the trailer.)

#2. Star Wars Original Trilogy Trailer
The year was 1996. It was fall, maybe October, maybe November. Most trailers fill the screen, but this one didn't. This one put a tiny sqaure TV in the middle of the screen and said, in a 1960s Twilight Zone kind of voice, "For an entire generation, people have experienced Star Wars the only way it's been possible: on the TV screen." They just make TVs sound so bad. I'd watched the movies countless times, of course, who hasn't? And it was just fine on the TV. Of course anything's gonna look better on the big screen, but these movies were almost 20 years old and I'd long accepted that the best I'd ever see these movies would be on a big-screen TV (which I never did). Then this bad boy comes out. And then the X-wing flies out of the TV and all of a sudden the whole theater collectively gasps as the X-wing fills the theater screen, the volume goes up, and jaws hit the floor.

YouTube really doesn't give this trailer justice. Watching it online (and having seen it in the theaters, and having seen it on DVD, upconverted on an HDTV), it loses most of the effect it had in theaters, except for right when the X-wing breaks out, and at the end of the trailer when the Death Star blows up. The overall presentation isn't as good as the Lord of the Rings teaser, but overall it's more effective - and much more memorable.

And the best, most memorable theatrical trailer of all time... drum roll...

#1: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Trailer
November 1998, two years after the above trailer came out. There were rumors of a new Star Wars trilogy, but I hadn't heard them. I was too busy watching the remastered and updated Star Wars movies on VHS over and over, particularly A New Hope (the very first one, more commonly just called "Star Wars" - my favorite movie of all time).

The Lucasfilm logo would clue most people in. Not me. I knew Lucasfilm made Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I assumed they made much more than that, so it wasn't like "OMG new Star Wars" it was more like "Oh cool, another movie from the guys who made Star Wars". Still, it had me at the edge of my seat. Of course, the music clued me in a second or two later. Then we get a whole bunch of cool sci-fi shots. The pod race, gunfighting in a big hall, space flight, the chromed-out ship parked in the desert, the queen with too much makeup and the funny hair, big robots, and funny creatures (Jar-Jar and Watto).

Then, as if it couldn't get any hotter, Samuel L. Jackson appears on screen and starts talking about a prophecy. If you don't guess that the little boy highlighted next is Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, the guy who becomes Darth Vader, the baddest villain ever made in America (Final Fantasy VII's Sephiroth is a strong contender, but we can say Sephiroth is Japan's baddest villain and Vader, America's). We then see Anakin meet a much younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is really special because, as we all know from A New Hope, Anakin's the one who (as Darth Vader) kills Obi-Wan so many years later. We then see Yoda, and for the first time heard that great quote that was repeated and parodied ad nauseum for years to come. And here it is again: "I sense much fear in you. Fear, is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to... suf-fer-ing...!" And then that badass double-bladed lightsaber, and holding it - our third Sith lord, after Vader and the Emporer from the original trilogy. We finish with some more cool shots and then the title card.

You know, I don't think there's a Star Wars fan alive who hasn't ripped on Phantom Menace. "It was a kid's movie." "It was Star Wars dumbed down for younger kids." Blah blah blah. But I can't say too much - I'm guilty of this myself. But there also wasn't a Star Wars fan who didn't fall in love with Phantom Menace as soon as they saw this trailer. This one trailer set the stage for six years of anticipation. We knew Anakin Skywalker was going over to the Dark Side. We didn't know who Luke's mom was just yet, although we had an idea. And we didn't know just how it was going to happen. Six years, though.

After seeing Phantom Menace in May of 1999, it was happy and sad. Happy, that we'd seen the first Star Wars movie in 22 years if you don't count the Endor movies (and most of us don't), but sad because it would be 3 years until the next one. Whatever was going on, as much as whatever job sucked at the time, I had Episode II to look forward to. We didn't know what it was going to be called, of course, and the announcement of the title in mid-2001 led to much speculation. Same thing after seeing Attack of the Clones. Another three years. And despite any real or inferred shortcomings of the Prequel Trilogy, no one can deny that they complete the saga.

Sort of. Lucas originally planned a trilogy of trilogies. Anakin's story, Luke's story, and Leia's story. I doubt any true Star Wars fans believed Lucas when he said he was done with it with six. Here he is now releasing that Clone Wars cartoon AGAIN. (As if they didn't already do a Clone Wars cartoon in 2005.) Like the rest of us, George Lucas loves making money. He may not know he's doing Episodes 7, 8, and 9 yet, but he will. And if (God forbid) he passes on first, someone else will. The movies are guaranteed to sell tickets. The money is there to be made. The economy is hurting right now. If 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm ever need a get out of jail free card, it's the third Star Wars trilogy. Mark my words, they'll do it. And it probably won't take them 22 years, either.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Waiting for Tropical Storm Hanna

So, the past 24 hours or so we've been waiting for this storm that kinda didn't happen.

Yesterday morning, I got off work. Pretty clear conditions. I stayed up for a while thinking something might happen early (I kind of had my facts wrong, too - it happens).

Finally get some sleep, but we wake up kinda early. Got maybe 4 hours sleep tops. Because we're still expecting this thing to happen sometime today.

Then we get the info that Hanna's supposed to make landfall at 2am around Wilmington (for those not from here, it's a coastal town near the NC/SC border) and at around 2am Sunday morning, it's supposed to be long gone, through Virginia. OK.

We go to the store for some stuff, thinking we were going to need to stock up and all that good stuff. The local Food Lion has these metal shutters over their windows, not real shutters but rather some kind of paneling they just threw up real ghetto-like. I wish I'd gotten pictures. Oh, and a sign that said "Yes we're open", one of those Coca-Cola banners smaller stores have. Epic fail for not saying "I assure you we're open" ("Clerks." reference). It didn't even need to be shoe polish on a bedsheet, just the words - would it be too much to ask? Oh well. We scored the bare necessities. You know... bread, milk, bologna, cheapo frozen pizzas, Whoppers (Hershey's, not Burger King's), etc.

We get home. Still no rain. It's a pretty nice day out. Hardly a cloud in the sky. And everyone's making like it's Hurricane Floyd (1999) all over again.

We decide to make it a movie night. First up was Layer Cake, a pretty good British gangster flick starring Daniel Craig (the recent James Bond) and Colm Meaney (best known as the transporter chief and handyman from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine). I love seeing Star Trek actors curse, drink, do drugs, or otherwise engage in behaviour they never would on a G/PG television program.

Then we watched WWE Friday Night SmackDown! on the DVR. Decent show, but it sucks Mick Foley's no longer on commentary, I loved his personal style. And that Edge is taking a break (read: Undertaker sent him to Hell at Summerslam), he always puts on a good show. Undertaker's uber-awesome dramatic entry was interrupted by a storm update, which of course we skipped because it was by then three hours outdated. We got treated to a pretty good match between MVP and Shelton Benjamin, two heels who usually put on good matches. Jeff Hardy's talents got wasted on a mostly worthless act they call "The Brian Kendrick". The guy's got talent, but in trying to build him as a heel, they just have him steal matches. Boring. Shelton Benjamin is a heel and still puts on good matches, but then he's established. Main event sucked - long story short, Triple H got punk'd by half the locker room. Boring. He still pinned Khali after a Pedigree. Oh, and there were a couple Diva matches.

Checked the weather again. Nothing too big, still pretty calm.

Next movie up, Ready to Rumble. SmackDown! didn't really fulfill our pro wrestling fix, so we watched this 90 minute ad for WCW (WWE's competition in the 90s which they now own). Pretty good movie along the lines of Joe Dirt. A couple of losers travel 3 hours to see a taping of WCW Monday Nitro only to see their hero lose his title, so they track him down and find out he's an even bigger loser than they are, but they don't give up, ultimately taking him to Las Vegas in an attempt to win his belt (and respect) back. It was better than I thought it would be at the start - and half an hour in. For a while it was looking pretty bad. I'm not sure if it gives a better or worse depiction of pro wrestling than exists in reality. I really need to read more books on the backstage politics and technical side; while I do enjoy watching as a fan, I'm much more interested in the production of the show. (Yes, I'd love to work for WWE - just as a tech guy though. Meeting some of the legends and superstars wouldn't be a bad bonus either.)

So anyway, movie ends and my wife pretty much declares the storm a no-show and heads to bed. And here I am, 6:30 in the morning, typing away the PG-side of the night's events. I'm hearing a bit of wind outside, but looking at's live radar, which is even better than what they show on TV (Google Maps with a live radar = pure win) and it looks like TS Hanna went farther inland than originally anticipated. It's probably pretty wet in Raleigh, and Greenville might be seeing some drippage, but it's still mostly dry here. We've had some light rain.

Here's a screenshot of wunderground's map, with some notes of my own.

The red circles is about where TS Hanna hit land, just south of Wilmington. I think technically the eye of the storm landed on our side of the border, but I'm not sure. Close enough anyway, and I'm sure Myrtle Beach (SC city/tourist trap just south of the border) got hit with some rainfall earlier. It actually hasn't reached Raleigh yet, but should any time now. The thin red lines are my guesses (from having watched it all night) as to where the worst of it will go. The red star (directly south of Washington) is approximately where we are. Chocowinity, NC - zip code 27817 - if you'd like to look it up.

We will get wet by the time it's passed us by, but it won't be as bad as we thought.

What we have to worry about is Hurricane Ike, which is right behind Hanna. Earlier I mentioned Hurricane Floyd, but people who were here when that hit said it wasn't even that bad, it's just that it too was right behind another hurricane, Dennis, so the one-two punch is what did the damage. We've got a tropical storm followed by a hurricane followed by a tropical storm (Josephine's the third one). And of course it all depends on what path they will follow when they reach us. Experts are almost certain it'll hit Florida, but the question is whether it will follow the Atlantic seaboard up and hit the Carolinas or continue through the Gulf and tear up the Gulf states. And then there's Josephine, can't forget about that one.

It's not too tough tracking the storms, really. You see these guys on TV and they sound so smart, but nowadays Joe Citizen has access to many of the same resources. You can use the more popular (The Weather Channel) but I find to be more direct, easier to get at the relevant information for a quick drive-by check. Or you can be a real nerd and check both. But tracking storms isn't the important part, preparing for them is. Both phones charged, we have water, we have food, we have flashlights. As long as we have power, we can watch the news or go online for information, but if we lose power, we have the Net on our phones. No live radar or any bells and whistles, but we can get basic info.

So to our friends and family, we're safe from Hanna, I think it's safe to say. Ike and Josephine though... we'll have to keep you posted on that. (And that strong wind I heard earlier is gone now.)

Last note: It's coming a little more to the east now, but rather than Raleigh getting the eye, I think it's going to pass through Wilson. Not too far off. Greenville isn't going to fare much worse than I initially thought, and we still look clear. But I'm only seeing the front band, or arm making a huge arc to the west, from Fayetteville through Chapel Hill and up into Richmond, VA. There should be a trailing band or arm that will probably slap us later in the day, but that should be weaker.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Gas station owner tip #42

Got high gas prices and want to bring in customers? Obscure your sign. They know they're getting f---ed in the a-- without a reacharound, but if they don't know just how high your prices are they might just stop anyway as opposed to getting discouraged and hope for slightly lower prices up the road. The Shell in Grimesland, NC has the vendor park in front of the prices like this:

See? Companies can work together to screw consumers. But hey, at least Shell doesn't buy its gas from the Middle East, so I know no part of my $43 and change is going to buy weapons to kill American troops. Go me. Oh, and the gas was $3.59 a gallon. Oh my bad. $3.59 and nine tenths.

Google makes a browser, but Zack & Miri Make a Porno

Just a few days ago, Google proved the rumours true. The rumours I speak of (as there are many surrounding the rainbow-coloured-logo'd Web giant) concern a Web browser to take on not only Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but Mozilla Firefox as well. That browser is here, it's called Google Chrome, and it's sexy as hell.

So why would Google, a longtime Firefox supporter, flip on Mozilla and begin competing with them? The answer is simple: $, £, €, ¥, you get the idea. If you're a fan of Google, as I am, you probably already know that they are the best at what they do, and if they're not, they're either working to improve or saving up to purchase their competition. Gmail thoroughly owns Yahoo! Mail and Windows Live Mail. Mapquest? The 90s called, they want their online maps back. Now in the 21st century, we use Google Earth. Forget mapping; we now use a virtual globe with satellite photos. And when Google Video failed, they up and bought YouTube.

All free.

So how do they pay for all this, their employees, and upkeep on their beautiful Mountain View, CA office? Advertising. That, and investments, but a big chunk of their money comes from advertisements. You run a search, and the results are preceded by sponsored results. You check your email, and ads similar to the content of the email is displayed. They have a massive database of ads to match keywords to, and sponsors want in. In a big way.

But if you use Firefox, you can block Google's ads and hide the sponsored search results, so you get the best Google has to offer while Google gets nothing for providing these great services.

Chrome is Google's answer to Firefox and the extensions that cut off their revenue. In exchange for giving up these conveniences, Chrome offers a very small and lightweight tabbed browser experience, which seems to load pages about twice as fast as Firefox 3. There's also this weird security feature that lets spyware and viruses through, but into some virtual space that is destroyed when you close the tab. Sounds scary and cool at the same time, but I don't visit sites that would install malware anyway. I wouldn't know where to begin with that.

If you use Firefox for whatever reason, especially if you don't block ads, you owe it to yourself to at least give Chrome a chance. It really is a nice browser.

And now for something completely different, Zack and Miri are making a porno! If those names mean nothing to you, how about Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen? Rogen you may know from Superbad or Knocked Up, and Kevin Smith is that sick writer/director behind Clerks., Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, and Clerks 2. He also plays Silent Bob in all of those but Jersey Girl. Rogen is Zack, and Miri is played by Elizabeth Banks. Early reports don't shine much hope into a possibility of screen time for Smith, but his comedy partners Jason Mewes (Jay) and Jeff Anderson (Randal) have parts.

The premise is pretty simple. Zack and Miri are lifelong platonic friends going to college who decide to make adult films to make ends meet. What else do you need to know? Oh yeah, do they do it, or is this another Hollywood cop-out (I'm lookin' RIGHT at you, Hostel)? Seth Rogen describes the film as filthy, but defends the use of nudity and sex in films. The MPAA slapped an NC-17 rating on it. Smith appealed without changing a thing, and it's getting an R rating, but just barely.

Google's Chrome is out now, but you're going to have to wait until Halloween to see Kevin Smith's Porno. Until then, you can check out the red-band trailer. You know how the "The following PREVIEW" card that flashes before every trailer has a green rating? Trailers are rated, too, but they only have two ratings. All Audiences, or green-band, is the most common by far. Restricted, or red-band, is very rare. You won't see them in theaters, as they almost always contain language, violence, or even nudity. Zack and Miri's trailer earns the red band for language alone.