December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas

Hope everyone had a very happy holiday. I'd type more, but I'm too full.

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December 18, 2003

One Film to Rule Them All ...

... and in the Oscar bind them.

[Warning - spoilers included, but if you haven't read the books, you should be fed slowly to Shelob anyway. By the way, the film's title is Return of the King - which may be a bit of a plot spoiler ... ]

Peter Jackson's final installment of the Lord of the Rings was, quite simply, a wonderful conclusion to a brilliant revision of Tolkien's masterpiece. Sure, there were some melodramatic moments (years of literary graduate study means that my wife and I both just can't help but snicker when characters tenderly and reverently caress the pommel before 'drawing their swords' while others gaze on with admiration; those who haven't seen Return yet can just reference the scene in Towers where Gandalf rather dramatically suggests to King Theoden of Rohan: "Your fingers would remember their old strength better--- if they grasped your sword." But I digress.) - given the epic scale, melodramatic moments are to be expected. Most were handled very well, such as the subtle scene where Aragorn tells Eowyn that he, alas, cannot return her love.

In fact, one thing I liked about the film was that (for me, at least) the usually awe-inspiring speeches and calls for battle were surpassed by the more subtle scenes - Pippin's song, Eowyn's relationship with Merry, Faramir's realization that he doesn't measure up to Boramir in his father's eyes, just to name a few.

The battle scenes were no different: while I expected to see some awesome fighting on the part of the Amazing Trio (Aragorn of the Stringy Hair, Gimli the Comedian, and Legolas the Rapid-Fire Elf), Jackson really spread the wealth. A catapult battle leads into a scene where Gandalf wields his wicked elven blade in one hand while smacking orcs with his staff in the other; Eowyn was sheer brilliance as she dropped a giant elephant by hamstringing it on her way to punctuating a woman's right to battle by shoving her sword through the Witch-King's face (I agree with Liz, Eowyn rocks); and - best of all - the hobbits had some of the best fighting scenes, especially one Mr. Sam-Wise Gamgee, who reminded me not to be afraid of spiders.

Unlike Tolkien's novel, where I frequently wanted to speed-read through the sections detailing Sam and Frodo's journey ("Oh look Mr. Frodo. More desolate landscape. More heavy ring carrying. We should take a break - why don't you rest your head in my lap?"), Jackson managed to glean the gems without making the journey tedious. Pulling Shelob the Spider in from Tolkien's Two Towers helped achieve this balance and the stunning work of Andy Serkis as Gollum always enhances these scenes.

The few critical reviews I read did point out perhaps the one - very slight - flaw of the film, which really only mimics that of the book: the difficulty of the ending. As many critics pointed out, there are about six of them, each of which I think should be named. There is what must certainly be summarily called the "Wizard of Oz Ending," wherein Frodo awakes to find the fellowship slowly spilling into his room in slow motion while he mouths each of their names: Why Gandalf! I had the weirdest dream ... and you were there ... and you ... and Gimli, you were there! ... Of course, this is also the "Pillow Fight Ending," wherein a bunch of hobbits bounced on the clean linens of Frodo's bed and tickled each other. If they had dressed in lace and had a pillow fight, theatres could have charged an extra $4.99 (discreetly, of course) to each viewer's credit card.

But the problem of the ending isn't really Jackson's so much as Tolkien's - I simply expected Jackson, who has both preserved the spirit of the series while not fearing to revision it for his own purposes, to come up with a smoother series of transitions.

These are minor details. The film felt much shorter that its approximately 200 minute run-time and I'll happily sit through the extra hour or so when the extended version is released.

Posted by Jason at 6:25 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 17, 2003

Turbine, With Increased Power

As reported on games.slashdot, Turbine announced that they are buying Microsoft the Asheron's Call franchise from Microsoft [AC press release].

Turbine also released a Letter to the Players, with the news everyone wants to hear:

I’m sure that as soon as you read this announcement, your first question was, “Will Turbine develop an expansion pack for AC1?”

Does Bobo like nanners?

I've always felt that AC1 (and the expansion Dark Majesty) was a fabulous, unique, and inventive game in a genre all-too-often cluttered with cliches. No time to elaborate now, but what a fabulous coup for Turbine, who is also developing Middle Earth Online and D+D Online.

If they can manage to meld the graphics of AC2 with the addictive gameplay and storyline of AC1, Turbine should continue to do quite well.

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December 15, 2003

Journey to Wild Divine

Like Jill, I'm fascinated by the idea behind The Journey to Wild Divine game, an "Inner-Active" computer game, which uses biofeedback rings as a central user interface.

In my dissertation work, I'm working towards an examination of embodied computing in gaming that broadens the reach of the avatar beyond a simple sprite-representation on the screen. You can find some other posts along these lines in the category ergonomics, which is the broad term I use to discuss game hardware and HCI -- see the 6th paragraph of this post if you want a brief description, or see my Level Up proposal, which was accepted (unfortunately, a limited travel budget hindered my ability to attend).

I'd really like to experiment with this (and the P5 glove and PS2 Eyetoy) for my dissertation, but it's just not in the family budget. Has anyone ever had success in requesting 'review copies' of game material for dissertation work? It sure would be nice if I could check it out from the library...

Also check out this article, which briefly describes how researchers manipulated users' bodies by sending small electric currents to alter the balance of the inner ear. [via blog - Pål tænker]

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December 12, 2003

Lunchtime Query

Why does Dannon include a convenient resealable top for their 6 oz. yogurts?

Do people really get halfway through and think: 90 calories? Whew! Too much for me. Better save this for later!

Posted by Jason at 2:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 10, 2003

Herd Feed?

Ok, so how do I set things up so that the recent entries from all Herders shows up on the Wordherder main page in order (most recent posts first)? And nicely styled, too (just need to CSS the RSS?)?

If someone can show me how to do what I imagine is just a RSS feed (?), I'll set up a small redesign of the main wordherders page, which would have the latest entries from everyone...

I'd just like to see the main page function more as a bridge between the blogs rather than just the relatively lame, static portal that it currently is. It would be nice to get the collaborative blog feel (like they have at Crooked Timber, GTA, TerraNova, or Social Software) while still letting everyone run their own blog space.

Also, is there a way for people to choose when to include something in the feed and when not to?

I'd appreciate any and all advice (and if bored Herders want to look around, I'd appreciate it - thanks!).

[note: post (with some comments) double-posted here]

Posted by Jason at 12:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Digital Dissertation

As December graduation deadline dates are fast approaching, please update all department publications, and notify degree candidates that, effective Fall 2003, all Thesis and Dissertations will be submitted electronically. The on-line submission process is outlined at our web site [from University email]

The University of Maryland now only accepts a thesis or dissertation in PDF format (they take .rtf and .doc, but change them into PDF). This is a pretty radical shift, I think, not just in general policy, but in terms of what a dissertation can easily include. Of course, digital dissertations aren't new, but we are talking enforced doctrine here, rather than early adoption.

The UMD process still has restrictions in terms of margins and other formatting issues (fonts, grr!), but you can still embed video, images, and sound easily in a PDF document, not to mention use programs like Quark to develop elaborate designs within the established guidelines. While I'm grateful that I'll eventually save money on copy costs, I really wonder: are they just trying to make it harder for me to finish?

Hyperlinks. Images. Video. Sound.

Bound, but unbound.

Posted by Jason at 12:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Game Program on the Kojo Nnamdi Show

During Kojo's "Tech Tuesday" show yesterday, Mia Consalvo (Ohio U.) and Chris Taylor (of Time Magazine, not - I think - Gas Powered Games) talked about gaming. I only caught the last few minutes of the program, but fortunately you can stream it from the WAMU website. Scroll down to Tuesday in the above link to see the show listing and the link to the stream.

Link to the archives for future reference (show isn't listed there yet, but it will be under December 9, 12 noon, probably sometime next week. In the meantime, use the link above).

Posted by Jason at 7:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

earth shiver?

Dave already took the good title and George took the second best in his comment. What are you going to do.

I too think I felt the earthquake. I was sitting at my office desk when I heard what sounded like when a train resettles on the tracks with that sonorous ka-boom that shakes the whole ground, but just once. It was noticeable enough - in my ears and my feet - that I got up and looked out my window, thinking some very large truck was passing by and hit a large pothole. Seeing neither, I returned to the task at hand - writing lesson plans.

Thinking back, looking out the window when hearing a loud ka-boom sound in the middle of downtown Washington, with a window looking over the Capitol Building ... probably not too smart nowadays.

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December 9, 2003

Powdered Donuts

Sometimes, you just have to give in to the vending machine.

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December 4, 2003

A Different Kind of Wealth

Today, I hit 29.

The last run of my twenties.

It's always sort of convenient, for me, that my birthday is a week (or so) after Thanksgiving, because the holiday puts me in the proper sort of mood for birthdays. The sort of mood that lets you look around and think

I am the luckiest guy around

A wonderful wife, a loving family, great friends (both nearby and to visit), a roof over my head, a baby on the way, an engaging intellectual community, books to read, and a fairly wicked Scrabble game.

Who knew I could get so wealthy in just 29 years?

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