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Now this does indeed make for good reading … darn good reading!

There are so many posts to comment on and things to respond to, but I am, for some reason, choosing to use my precious free time to talk about something else instead. You see, Microsoft has just introduced its version of Google Maps, called Virtual Earth.

Can you guess where this is going? Well, as if the headline didn’t give it away or anything.

Once again, Microsoft has taken something done very well by someone else and made it worse. From the functionality to the interface, Virtual Earth is a ham-fisted tragedy while Google Maps is a useful, good-looking tool. I was going to provide links as examples to bolster the following points, but Virtual Earth can’t even do links correctly. A search for my old apartment in Boston got stuck in the link cache, even through the wildly different searches that followed. Then my local Pavilions store got stuck there. So forget the links. You’ll have to experiment yourself.

The only thing so far for which I would credit Virtual Earth is its sometimes high-res satellite images. I can zoom in very close to my apartment building, almost to where I can see my satellite dish (I know it’s there, but I can’t quite make it out!). But this level of zoom is spotty, and… Well, why not simply provide some details for your comparison pleasure?

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Virtual Earth: Much of the satellite images for big cities are black and white. Some are very old.

Google Maps: Lots of color! More modernity! Groovy!

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Virtual Earth: Streets and highways with names. Oh, and directional arrows (one way, etc.).

Google Maps: Streets and highways with more complete directional arrows and accurate on and off ramps!

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Virtual Earth: Two different input boxes, one for What (businesses, points of interest, etc.) and one for Where (specific addresses).

Google Maps: One input box for any search you want to conduct.

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Virtual Earth: Simply drag your cursor in the map to move it arou… OOPS! Oh, but don’t go off the page or into the annoying results overlay boxes or… Well, now your cursor’s stuck in move mode. Bummer, huh?

Google Maps: Simply drag you cursor in the map to move it around. Even go off the page if you want. The map will move no matter what.

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Virtual Earth: The zoom slider is sticky. Drag your cursor over it and the slider drags whether you want it to or not. Sometimes. But the slider doesn’t work very well, so maybe you’ll be lucky and the sticky won’t stick.

Google Maps: The zoom slider slides when you click and drag it.

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Virtual Earth: Handy (read: annoying) overlay boxes that store your past searches (a box per search) and another that is your “scratch pad.” These boxes pop up over the map itself, obstructing a good portion of it. Oh, and see the convenient X icon you can use to close each box? X stands for “good luck,” since there’s no guarantee clicking the X will, in fact, close the box.

Google Maps: Google search results are kept apart from the map. No need to close them to get them out of the way.

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Virtual Earth: As you zoom in on the map, your list of search results is changed to reflect only what’s within the zoomed area. So if you’re looking for marker #7, good luck. It has probably changed to #3 or #4 or #1 or has vanished altogether.

Google Maps: The search results stay put so you can always get to them.

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Virtual Earth: Double-click on a map marker to re-center the map to… uh, to… okay, to select the text in the marker. Oh, no, I was right. To center it. Maybe. Unless it selects the marker text. Huh. Good luck.

Google Maps: Double-click a map marker to re-center the map to that marker. For sure. Without fail.

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Virtual Earth: Freeway and road icons, text overlays, markers, marker info boxes, and everything else designed by Pete Pixel of ASCII Pixel Graffix House.

Google Maps: Freeway and road icons, text overlays, markers, marker info boxes, and everything else designed by a designer.

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Virtual Earth: Type “pavilions los angeles” into the What box (not the Where box) and get a useful “No results found.” Oh, but if I zoom out, it did find some results. Oh.

Google Maps: Type “pavilions los angeles” into the one input box and get a list of results with a map of the area you specified.

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Virtual Earth: Type “dorothy and bundy 90049” and get, er, Los Angeles.

Google Maps: Type “dorothy and bundy 90049” and get a marker at the intersection of W. Dorothy St. and S. Bundy Dr. (Though Google does not know the significance of this block of Brentwood, extra credit to anyone who does.)

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Virtual Earth: Type “11838 darlington ave 90049 to 3800 w alameda ave 91505” and get, er, Burbank. Hmm. To get driving directions, Virtual Earth tells you how: 1) Display the pop-up for a location by pointing to the pushpin for the listing you want. 2) Click Drive To or Drive From. MSN Maps & Directions opens in a new browser window with the location you chose already specified as either the beginning or the end point of the route. 3) Type or paste an address for the opposite end of the route. 4) Click Get Directions. Why, that’s EASY!

Google Maps: Type “11838 darlington ave 90049 to 3800 w alameda ave 91505” and get accurate driving directions and a map. Double-click the departure or arrival markers on the map to get a small local map pop-up. Map route includes which on and off ramps to take, even.

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Virtual Earth: More info on more parts of the world. But don’t try to zoom in too much. You’ll only get so far. Oh, and type “piccadilly circus, london, uk” in either search box and get a “no results found” error.

Google Maps: Set up specifically for the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Japan. Yet while there are no name labels for other parts of the world, go ahead and zoom in. You can get great images of Baghdad or Brussels! Type “piccadilly circus, london, uk” and get a marker at Piccadilly Circus, London, UK.

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Virtual Earth: But it’s only in beta. It’s bound to suck.

Google Maps: But it’s only in beta and has been amazing from day one.

Today’s new discovery: I love Tokyo Pig. And I’ve only seen 4 episodes. What a bizarre, overly-kinetic treasure it is!

I completely disagree with this article. There are some hilarious lines that only adults would love, and I imagine, since there are American writers credited with each episode, that some of the self-referential dialogue is changed from the original.

But I wouldn’t know that for sure.

Don’t worry, Steve. I’ll be back with Scrubs soon!

Permalink Comments Off on Nutrition Bar SHOOT-OUT!Comments Off on Nutrition Bar SHOOT-OUT! By

While enjoying the fun and thrills of OS X 10.4 and the new Mail features, I re-discovered a nutrition bar review I wrote during a sales meeting in August 2003. At that meeting, we had constant access to a bewildering variety of nutrition bars. Hating nutrition bars in general, I thought it’d be fun to try as many as possible! It was like comparing wooden apples to wooden apples.

Instead of letting this never-sent e-mail go to waste, here it is in its uneditied glory!

NUTRITION BAR SHOOT-OUT
(Best to Worst)

Balance Chocolate Raspberry Fudge
It’s like chocolate raspberry truffle as concocted by your lumberjack uncle Clem!

Balance+ Yogurt Berry Plus Antioxidants
Mystery berries and tangy yogurt do their best to disguise the soggy gravel brick.

Balance+ Honey Peanut Plus Ginseng
A touch of honey, a touch of peanut, a barrel of compacted dusty cobwebs.

Balance+ Chocolate Banana Plus Antioxidants
The slight hint of fake banana flavor nearly overwhelms the bland pastiness.

PowerBar Raspberry and Cream
Delightfully tart raspberry flavor wrapped in raw, moist vitamin ooze! Delish!

Balance Outdoor Chocolate Crisp
Texture and flavor just like compressed wood mulch with “Waft-o-Chocolate” binding agents.

Balance Chocolate
Since when should chocolate taste like nuclear sewage? And a radiation-sickness aftertaste? UGH! Disgusting.

Stevo. I loved the France diary, mon frere. However, I am severely disappointed that there were no entries regarding hot, French, man-on-man action with accompanying pics. Since it was a Disney trip, I just assumed there would be some homo-erectus encounters. Oh well. It was still lovely to live vicariously through thee.

I feel cheated. I came to the site to see Steve’s first Parisian trip report, since he is leaving today, and I get nothing. Nothing. NOTHING. What a rip. At least an airport report would be nice!

It happened tonight. I saw Mary Poppins.

And I hated it.

In Disney-speak, it has no magic. No sparkle. No effervescence and joy. It looks ugly, in shades of black-and-white and brown and beige. Like a hack pianist with a fake book, they’re hitting the right notes, but they lack any feeling.

Keep in mind, I think the movie — especially having seen it again recently — is just about close to perfection. It may ascend to a spot in my top five films of all time. It is glorious.

The musical sits there like a lump, trying to create charm but succeeding only in making you wonder why they chose these particular actors. The one who plays Mary is indeed delightful, and almost manages to make you forget Julie Andrews. Not quite, but that’s a nearly impossible order to fill.

The kids are irritating. The father and mother charmless over-emoters. Bert has no life. Authentic Cockney accent, yes, but give me Dick van Dyke mangling it any day over this.

The movie weaves the story arc of Mr. Banks throughout with subtlety and restraint; the musical hits you over the head with it: This man needs to change and love his family!

Not unsurprisingly for modern-day Disney, the central tension of Michael inadvertantly causing the bank to come to the brink of ruin — with Mr. Banks wholly unresponsible but needing to accept the blame quite unfairly — is tossed out the window. Instead, the story turns on a decision Banks makes that causes the bank to lose money … and the redemption comes when the bank comes to the happy conclusion that due to Banks’s judgment, it has turned an enormous profit. A melancholy life lesson gets turned into the message Disney so clearly believes these days: Profits are what matter. As George Banks would say, that’s quite a bitter pill to take.

The Jolly Holiday and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious numbers are supposed to be rousing — and the audience was most certainly appreciative. But they lack the color, spark and wit of the film.

It’s discussed throughout the program that the musical’s creators used the source novels as much as the movie for inspiration. If that’s true, I wonder why the novels were ever popular, because this musical is a plodding, dull affair with an unhappy core. I’m so very disappointed.

Sorry, Steve, for not addressing any of the issues you’re facing with this post — but I just had to get this off of my chest.

Johnny Carson died today. A few moments for Johnny Carson, please.

********************

OK, so, what I’m hearing everyone saying is the old, “The original trilogy is great, the prequels suck.” Well, far be it from me to disagree, but, well, I guess I disagree.

First off, I honestly liked both Episode I and Episode II. Did I have the same reaction to them as I had when I first saw Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back? Nope. But, then, I was 10 and 13, respectively, when I saw those movies, and I viewed them through the eyes of a 10- and 13-year-old kid. Interestingly, I was disappointed in Jedi in 1983, when I was 16, which is a very different age than 10. When I watched it the other day on DVD, I was genuinely surprised that it’s a good movie.

My point is, you were in your 20s or 30s when you saw The Phantom Menace. You had life under your belt. That always changes things. Menace was a movie about a 10-year-old kid, made for 10-year-olds. Deeper, it told the story of how a galaxy (read: country, culture, civilization) went from being peaceful, productive and luxurious to being at the brink of a war.

Clones was a “romance” made for people (that is, young girls) who think romance is sitting by a fireplace, looking deeply into your lover’s eyes and saying things like, “No one must know that we are in love.” To an adult, it’s silly — and, I will admit, in Clones some of the performances didn’t help matters. In the middle of it, though, is Anakin Skywalker (who is learning how to be a Jedi — or, in our terms, something like a UN Peacekeeper) talking to Amidala (a politician) about the need to control people, to get things done, to wield power. He believes that power should be taken by those crafty enough to have it, then manipulated to their whim — in short, a dictatorship. What he doesn’t realize is that his views have been shaped by his association with Palpatine, a mid-level politician with an eye toward being the most powerful person alive. Rings kind of true to our own world, eh? So, that’s in there, if you look beyond the surface of the movie.

The big difference is, Star Wars, Empire and Jedi had no real subtext, beyond the Luke-Vader thing. There was nothing “more” to them. And there shouldn’t be, because they’re relatively straightforward stories about a band of freedom fighters trying to overthrow an oppressive government. It’s just “let’s find a way to get ’em.”

What George Lucas did was surprising and tough to pull off — he wanted to tell a story about how the war started, to follow a group of people who would shape its destiny.

That’s a tall order, and it requires patience from viewers. Worse, what the viewers really wanted, truth be told, was much simpler: They wanted to see a first movie that told the story about how a kid grew up to become Darth Vader, have him don the mask at the end of the first movie, then have the next two be about Vader crossing the galaxy causing destruction.

It will be interesting how naysayers view Episode I and Episode II in light of what they see this May, because (without giving away more than George did in Vanity Fair), they’re going to discover that Vader isn’t as horrible and evil and all-villainous as we imagined; he’s a person underneath there, a person who had to wear that mask and respirator for a reason — and when we learn the reason, we’re going to view him differently. Maybe we’ll even hate him even more because we know who he is, but there’s also going to be a bit of pity for this guy who had a choice to make and chose very, very poorly.

That’s not to say that Episode I and Episode II don’t have some bad acting and stilted dialogue — of the sort found in, say, Titanic or even (dare I say it?) Lord of the Rings. Particularly with the latter, so many people hold that trilogy up and say, “Here’s what Star Wars should have been,” without pausing to think that some might consider them bloated, lumbering and repetitive beyond belief.

Whatever, that’s just my anti-Rings rant. What I know is this: My 10-year-old goddaughters loved Episode I and Episode II. They fell in love with Star Wars and talked about the movies incessantly and bought Anakin t-shirts and read the books and bought the DVDs. They think the movies are great, because they saw them through the eyes of a 10-year-old — which is virtually impossible for us to do.

In the end, like I said, I’m going to change no opinions. But I think the difference between the trilogies is intentional and will make sense when you see Episode III. Maybe you still won’t like the prequels, but hopefully you’ll give Sith a shot and at least be able to say, if nothing else, that George Lucas stayed true to his own vision — even if you feel his vision was somehow flawed.

Steve’s rant was OK. Rodney’s was fine, except … well, imagine Daffy Duck here: “That’s just the last straw!”

Nothing I write is going to change any minds, I know that. But, just consider some things:

George likes to say, “The fans grew up. The movies didn’t.” I love that phrase.

Dang, I just got completely sidetracked. I’ll rant this weekend.

On Thursday, two representatives from Burger King came to meet with us to talk about Episode III. One of them had a red nose and puffy eyes, and just as I entered the room I caught her sneezing into a Kleenex and blowing her nose. Then what did she do? She got up and extended her hand. Within 1/4 second, a hundred thoughts ran through my mind, most having to do with how to gracefully decline her hand — but instead, I shook it. Coupled with Jeff and my boss both being sick, it was too much, and now I have a cold.

Watery, itchy eyes. Runny nose. Sneezing. I look like a zombie and feel like one, too.

Thanks, Burger King. Guess you didn’t let me have it MY way.

Beyond that, we also were forced by our head of marketing to go see “The Phantom of the Opera” on Friday, because I had gotten into a public argument with him about the movie. I think it’s a piece of … well … effluence. He thinks its great, and keeps lobbing at me: “Did I tell you what George thought of it?” Yes, Jim, you did — a dozen times. That does not make me like it anymore.

I wanted to be a good sport, though, so I went on Friday. I think that contributed to my illness. What a nightmarish travesty of a “movie.” As Roger Ebert might say, it’s ukelele picks. No, on second thought, even ukeleles would reject that piece of crap.

Would someone please WRITE SOMETHING on this damned forum? If not, what the hell is it doing here? What’s the POINT, dagnabit?

Bewitched Barbie

Sorry. Nicole Kidman’s “twitch” just doesn’t do it for me.

Not by a longshot.

How is it possible that The Amazing Race just gets better and better every season? It may be TV’s finest offering … ever.

Permalink Comments Off on Radio ParadiseComments Off on Radio Paradise By

I am loving this one online radio station, Radio Paradise. I’ve been listening to it through iTunes, and it’s fantastic! Give it a whirl if you are bored.

In iTunes it’s under Radio > Alt/Modern Rock. There are 4 different stream qualities for your convenience.

Non-iTunes: Go to their website (radioparadise.com). They have multiple Windows-crap listening options.

L.A. Weekly cover George Bush as vampireAs I was painting this weekend and thinking about John’s posts regarding how we should all get along, liberals and conservatives, one thought congealed in my head: Social conservatives are the ones setting up the fortresses and attacking to “protect” a way of life that is not in danger. Giving gays the right to marry, say, will not take away conservatives’ marriages to their opposite-sex spouses. Letting a woman choose will not, say, force conservatives to have to get an abortion.

Coincidentally, this concept was laid out in a funny Op/Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. (It’s remarkable that the same concept was discussed in the column, but also incredibly remarkable that I saw it since I never read the Op/Ed page!)

The article is here. [NOTE: This now links to The Washington Post because the Los Angeles Times makes you pay for anything archived.]

When I then recall an interview from Salon.com last week with an überconservative whose goal is, in fact, to divide the nation, I have to assume that conservatives do not want to get along. My friend Steve even sent an opinion piece from the New York Times discussing the same concept of planned divisiveness.

They do not want to get along.

What conservatives want is not something for which they can be met half-way. How do you meet half-way on gay marriage? Civil unions? I need not point out again that “separate but equal” is not, and never will be, equal. America is better than that.

Social conservatives’ motives go beyond just “protecting marriage,” though. Some of the 11 anti-gay state initiatives that won last Tuesday include additional language to make civil unions unequal to marriage, gay or no. Social conservatives are not afraid of gay marriage, but of “gay” in general. To them it is an abomination, no matter what you say, so they desire nothing less than to remove gays from society. They can’t do this outright, of course, so all they can do is try to “protect marriage” from gays. It is merely one step to them. Removing gays from teaching and from the military (beyond don’t ask, don’t tell), these are next steps.

Liberals, on the other hand, are just asking for equality. Such a request puts no burden on conservatives, it asks them to do nothing they do not already do, and to lose nothing they already have. They can keep living the life they are already living, without detriment. Yet they will not allow it.

Things have changed in this country as far as social equality. But they have changed exactly because people have not backed down, or “calmed down.” The conservatives will, in the end, always lose these battles because I believe we tend to move toward a more accepting and equal society (barring a major dark-ages-type social upheaval in favor of the conservatives, that is). But the conservatives always fight anyway because, as John said, “they” think “they” are right. With the election of Bush, social conservatives will continue to barricade avenues of progress that have yet to be opened to those not subscribing to their ideals. If things go as Viguerie hopes (see Salon.com article above), previously open avenues will be re-barricaded.

Liberals and progressives believe they are right, too! They think their beliefs are better than everyone else’s because these beliefs err on the side of inclusiveness and tolerance. I dare to argue such beliefs ARE better.

My improv buddy Lori, who spent days in Florida working to un-elect Bush, said this to me last Thursday: “There is room in my world for them, but there is not room in their world for me.”

Bush was—is—all about bigotry and divisiveness. Those of us who could not reward such a man and his platform and his cadre of staff who support such notions have every right to be upset and angry that he is remaining in office. If anyone wants to get along with the other side, it’s us, but to them, we should be spat upon. Or, at the very least, we should obey. (Thus the pic for this post!)

That is the crux of it. That is why there is an “us” and a “them.” John is right that we need someone to come along who can speak to everyone. But there is no one right now. In fact, I don’t know how to balance a platform of equal rights and inclusion with a platform of God-given superiority.

Manga peopleI feel very sorry for Manga characters. I have been reading some samples of the kind of Manga I normally avoid, the books having been acquired for free at Comic-Con the other weekend, and my heart goes out to all those poor characters who suddenly lose facial features when they are drawn smaller than normal.

It’s bad enough, I imagine, for these characters to constantly be sweating raindrops when nervous, or for a Reich star to appear somewhere on their faces when angry, but that must be nothing compared to the embarrassment of suddenly losing their detailed eyes, noses, and mouths to more easily-drawn geometric shapes, like ovals and half-moons. Their bodies, too, often undergo amazing simplification, and the long, supple limbs they may have had on page 45 suddenly shrink to Mario Bros. proportions on page 46.

When these tortured ink people are drawn so tiny, it is often while they are showing most of their emotion, meaning these odd manifestations of themselves are contorted into wacky, cartoony positions. They also have to dodge the tiny spirals or hearts or flowers that have been spawned within close proximity. How rough for them all!

It’s the real tough-guy characters who must find all this the most distressing. They might be moving along quite comfortably in a violent fantasy world where people are sliced and maimed with bloody abandon, only to find themselves shrunk and Hello Kittied in the middle panel. How are they to be menacing and deadly when they have saucer eyes and a Lucky Charms mouth? Impossible!

Thanks to this over-reliance on artistic übersimplification, the artist might also visit some more horrors upon his or her characters by describing everything they do using cute little text asides. Instead of being trusted to convey action and emotion, the poor Manga people are left to move about through a maze of quips and throw-aways which explain to the obviously moronic reader that, in fact, Mitsuo is ignoring Mitsuru and, in addition, thinks he is an ugly poopy-pants.

Then there’s the final insult: The non-emotive “animal” sidekicks. Our poor abused Manga friends might have to share their limited space with some kind of creature that resembles an animal the same way a ping pong ball resembles Hamlet’s friend Yorick. Eyes of simple punctuation, limbs of simple ova forms, creepiness of simple simplicity, these often-floating fauna add the cherry to the genuine Manga experience.

I know this is all cultural, that the Japanese love cute things, but I prefer to stick to titles like Akira and Lone Wolf and Cub, which, while enjoying their own artistic liberties, don’t go in for any of that bloopy bopsy giggle tee hee hee aesthetic. A few of the newer titles I’ve been reading, like Vagabond and Planetes, are serious works that, nevertheless, stoop to the occasional Manga iconification of their characters. It’s distracting. I’m not getting used to it after hundreds of pages of reading. It is out of place to me!

But then again, so is raw fish.

The Village may not only be the worst movie of the year, it may be one of the worst of the past decade.

Discuss.

I still hold to my opinion that “The Amazing Race” is the best show on TV (THE BEST!) but for best comedy, and judging only from one episode, I’d have to say the new winner is “Entourage” on HBO. Just finished watching the first show. Scary thing is how close I came to living that life with a few friends of mine — waaaaaaaaay too easy just to “hang” in L.A.! Funny, funny stuff, though — you’ll never look at the Matterhorn the same way again.

Wow! Excellent! And that site has links to the Shazam! unofficial appreciation page, the Space Academy unofficial appreciation page, the Jason of Star Command unofficial appreciation page, and the Ark II unofficial appreciation page!

I’m very happy to see there’s a movie to illustrate the question I always had, even as I little kid: Why did the huge docking bay doors in Space Academy have to open so far before the tiny little shuttles could come out? I always got so bored with those endless sequences!

It is official with last night’s “season” debut. “The Amazing Race” IS the best show on television. Hands down. Maybe one of the best shows ever in the history of TV.

And, no, I am not joking.