Tina K. Russell

November 26, 2008

New Experience Required

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:12 pm

Tina’s Xbox Live avatarI have tried Microsoft’s vaunted “New Xbox Experience.” Hmmm… I can say that what I was most looking forward to was making my avatar, at right, which was fun. My impression was that Microsoft had found the happy medium between too simple (Wii’s “Mii” system) and laughably overwrought (PlayStation 3’s euphemistic “Home”). The “NXE,” as they call it, made it simple and fun to make an avatar that looked like me and carried a real visual weight. Yes, it has big heads, unlike on PS3, but they also have discernable bodies, unlike on Wii. Here’s a tip: use a “chiseled” chin for some transsexual chic.

I picked the green shirt, plaid red skirt, and “Goth Boots,” but I also enjoy trapsing around (in my imagination) with the yellow spring dress and matching pumps. For once, somebody at Microsoft has my number. (Really, I just enjoy any fantasy in which I look good in anything I want to wear. Eat that, Tina’s body.)

To the service’s shame, only one game so far really uses these avatars for their intended purpose as game characters: the downloadable title A Kingdom for Keflings, which I must admit was amusing. The demo had me giggling with its simple tasks and lovable presentation. That said, it gave me no confidence that this enticement held up over time; as my brother observed, “it’s the economic part of an RTS” (real-time strategy, like StarCraft or something). It’s the build-up, but without any competition… and unless I can customize things to my liking, as in Animal Crossing, there isn’t much to the power fantasy of building a self-sufficient society on my own. …Well, there is, but it wears off. I don’t just want my kingdom to love me; I want to ride through the streets on a human-carried sedan, wearing a bikini and sensually holding a fan, while citizens clamor to catch of glimpse of their beautiful leader.

…I may have issues. In any case, strolling around a forest as a giant, picking tiny people up and putting them down to get them to do work for me, and in time building up a beautiful kingdom for them to live in, is a pretty enticing proposition. I just want to be sure that, in the end, they roll me in shimmering gold dust and proclaim me their golden matriarch.

…I’ve gone too far, again. Download the demo, though; watching yourself pick people up like that and order them around is a sight to behold, as is helping them build beautiful houses for them to live out their happy tiny-people lives in. Awww…

I should discuss the rest of the “Experience,” besides building avatars to fulfill my narcissistic messiah-complex fantasies. (What else is there?) Um, well… I haven’t been using my Xbox 360 in a while, and, given that Sonic Unleashed (breaking my heart!) has had a lukewarm critical reception, I probably won’t use it for a while longer. Meanwhile, hard as Microsoft tries to proclaim its system as some kind of gateway to orgasmically joyful media consumption, it’s difficult to believe they’re doing me a favor when you must pay by the pound at a steep price for everything. I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with charging two dollars a single half-hour TV episode laden with DRM on a system with an estimated lifespan of two more years, you just won’t see me clamoring to take them up on the deal. Their movie “rental” service, with its arcane rules, is more sensible to one’s budget ($3 for regular, $4 for HD… I think), in the sense that it does not involve physically going to a decaying Blockbuster outlet and hoping that it is not out of business within the five-day rental period. However, it’s simply not a substantially better deal than other services, and the selection is lousy. Every movie studio is willing to hand over its dregs, and only its dregs, to this experimental Xbox movie service, so you have the second two Matrix movies but not the first one, Shanghai Knights but not Shanghai Noon, etc. This service has been around for two years and its selection is still pathetic. Hmmm, I wonder if Microsoft could score a deal with a hip new (in relative terms) movie rental service to enhance its selection?

That’s where Netflix comes in, at full throttle, you might say. The “NXE,” which I refuse to type unless I can use quotation marks, adds the Netflix streaming service to the Xbox 360. It works if you have a Netflix subscription and an Xbox Live Gold subscription, which are fairly pricey together. Fortunately, my brother has both; a Netflix subscription so that he can watch the TV shows and movies culturally assigned to him in college, and an Xbox Live Gold subscription so that he could play Carcassonne with potty-mouthed 14-year-olds (no doubt trying to figure out how to “hump” your opponent in a board game). I can indulge my brother’s overabundance of free time, then, by using his Netflix account to watch old movies and TV shows. And boy, if you thought the Xbox Live movie rental service had slim pickings…

I think Netflix’s movie streaming service (in which you pay by subscription, as God intended, not by the title) actually has a substantially bigger library, in volume, perhaps by orders of magnitude, than Xbox Live’s movie rentals. However, the Netflix streaming service manifests Netflix’s reputation of having “the obscure stuff” in an unfortunate way… it has an implausibly random selection of completely obscure stuff, and there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason as to what’s on. Seriously, browse the selection.

Oh, wait, you can’t! In an impenetrably stupid marketing move, you cannot see the Netflix streaming library, what titles are in it, unless you have a Netflix subscription. Actually, maybe that’s brilliant; you have no idea what you’re signing up for! I used my brother’s subscription to browse the catalog, and do not worry… you aren’t missing anything. Well, unless they happened to stop the wheel on your favorite obscurities, in which case… auuugh! Netflix’s marketing “logic” is cooking my brain.

As a sample, here’s what I picked out, one lonely night, from the catalog to place on my “Instant Queue”:

  • Heroes, season one (I like ’em cheesy and idealistic, and I hear this show delivers… too bad the exposition appears to be at least a third of the freaking season)
  • Heroes, season two (Back for more punishment)
  • Transamerican Love Story (I have to admit, if there have to be vapid TV dating shows—and after seeing half of the first episode and failing to finish, I can tell you it’s predictably awful—it’s nice to see trans-positive vapid dating shows. Maybe we can see trans-positive emptily pretentious cop dramas, or trans-positive HBO gutter serials. Oh, what a bright future…)
  • Girls’ High (I can’t remember why I picked this one. It’s an anime. Their anime selection is also maddeningly arbitrary.)
  • Some other anime with a strange name. I haven’t a clue why I picked it.
  • Air (I watched the beginning of this anime, and it did seem cool, except that it confirmed that Netflix only streams anime dubbed, gyaaaaahhh!)
  • Justice League: New Frontier (because they didn’t have those Avengers DVD releases, and I like superheroes)
  • Our Brand is Crisis (about American political consultants exporting our, uh, brand of democracy abroad; it sounds interesting)
  • The Beauty Academy of Kabul (I’ve heard of the story before, and it sounds interesting)
  • Yes, Minister (an old British comedy series about politics; it’s funny)
  • Network (I’m mad as hell that I still haven’t seen this movie, and I’m not going to take it anymore)
  • Easy (it’s a cheesy romance movie. It sounds pretty stupid. Hannah, I’m too ashamed to ask this in person: want to come over and watch it? If it turns out to be too awful at the start, we can watch something else.)
  • Sonic Underground, volumes one and two (this deserves its own paragraph… or two)

I can’t blame Netflix too much; they’re excuse for why the pickings are so slim is that they have to go through the arduous process of licensing every movie in their massive stockpile all over again. I’ll extrapolate further: movie studios are loath to “cannibalize” the sales of their good movies, so they prefer dumping their refuse onto any promising new service that asks. Now they can say they’re “with it” and working toward the future, except that the new service can’t survive under the weight of such mediocre titles. Thus, the service remains unpopular, and the existing, increasingly outmoded business models are saved. I think the lesson they’ve taken from Apple’s conquering of the digital music market is simply not to license good content; keep that in the physical realm. (The lesson should be to get the jump on Apple with a superior service, but telling content holders to innovate is like telling overcompensated CEOs to earn their fat paychecks. Oh, wait, it is telling overcompensated CEOs to earn their fat paychecks. My bad.)

Remember that big content holders tried to stop FM radio, tried to stop home video and are furiously trying to stop BitTorrent. Holding back the future seems to be easier than adapting to it, in the minds of the already powerful.

I’ve been using the streaming service, now, to watch entirely too much Heroes at a time (maybe, in the next episode, something will happen!), to watch Yes, Minister, and… Sonic Underground. This is a cartoon that I’m quietly resisting bringing up… it was made in the late nineties (before Sonic Adventure), which is by far the most miserable, most abominable period of Sonic history, surpassing (yes) even the current malaise. This is a cartoon in which Sonic wears a magical medallion that transforms into a three-necked guitar that shoots laser beams… and believe it or not, it’s all downhill from there.

I will say one thing in its favor: Sean Connery makes a guest appearance (at least one, as far as I’ve seen), telling Knuckles “the fate of Mobiush is in your handzsh!”, and I will treasure that forever. If he later speaks of the “Chaosh Emeraldzsh,” I will die happy.

UPDATE: I’m heartbroken to have to retract that about Mr. Connery; I became curious when I did not see his name in the credits to the relevant episodes, and can now confirm his name is no longer listed on the IMDB page for Sonic Underground (I’m pretty sure that was my original source). Instead, IMDB now lists Maurice LaMarche in that role, no doubt doing a pretty good Sean Connery impression. (LaMarche does appear in the credits; however, with the exception of Jaleel White as the three hedgehogs, character and actor names are not matched.)

As it happens, I can’t find any independent source to verify that character’s actor. The closest I can find is an offical press release, from the distributor, for a Sonic Underground boxed set (I didn’t know that show had 40 episodes! Painful), boasting that Sean Connery appears in that role. Since IMDB is so widely used, even in professional copywriting circles, I can’t really accept that as definitive. All that would convince me now of Connery’s involvement in that sorry chapter of Sonic history would be confirmation from DIC, or for that matter, Connery himself. Given that LaMarche is about nine million times more likely, I’m going with that for now.

Remember, IMDB is not an official source. It’s pretty reliable for run-of-the-mill stuff, but if you see something that makes you say “holy $@#!,” you should probably check it first. If you make the mistake of believing IMDB implicitly, you’re not alone; I made that mistake just now. (The same goes for Wikipedia. It’s really a wonderful source; just make sure it’s not your only source.)

November 18, 2008

Animal Crossing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:25 pm

I thought y’all should be made aware that I’m now the proud owner of a copy of Animal Crossing: City Folk, and that those interested should come visit the town of Elysium at the earliest convenience! Here’s my info:

My name: Tina
My town’s name: Elysium
My Friend Code: 5112-6939-3711

Leave a comment if you’re interested! Bring your town fruit!

October 15, 2008

Shame on Sony

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:01 pm

This was linked at GamePolitics:

MAXCONSOLE – Playstation 3 – Report: Why Can’t I Play My Friends In Iraq/Afghanistan On The PS3?
A writer over at Sony Insider is asking Sony why he cannot play PS3 games over the PSN with his friends who are serving abroad the United States military. According to the report: If you have a friend who lives in a different country, then its likely you will not be able to add them as a friend on your PS3. The reason why is that if you register your PS3 in a specific country, your Playstation Network is limited to that region. So, if my friend from the United States registers his/her Playstation 3 while they are on tour in Iraq/Afghanistan, then I will never be able to add them as long as I’m a US resident. The writer says it is time Sony removed the restrictions of the Playstation Network and made it truly global.

Arbitrary territorial restrictions in videogames has always been annoying. In this case, when gamers cannot even play against gamers in other countries, it’s hampering opportunities for social cohesion across borders and adding insult to injury for our troops.

(What is online gaming if I can’t play against my friend in South Africa, huh? Huh? … I should note that the PlayStation Network is the first time I’ve ever heard of a “stick to your own borders” scheme for an online game platform… other than Phantasy Star Online for the original Xbox, but nobody played that port anyway.)

August 4, 2008

Vanity by the quarter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:23 am

Xbox Live Avatars “May” Bring Charges | Edge Online
Microsoft might charge for virtual accessories for the recently-announced Xbox Live Avatars, a new report says.

Can anything ever just be fun?

June 17, 2008

Firefox 3 FTW

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:34 pm

Go get it!

June 11, 2008

Tina’s Picassohead

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:45 am

Hey, I was bored.

My self-portrait, made in a web app

It’s really a fun application. By the way, if you want to know how I did the fancy stuff, the sad answer is this: patience.

(By the way, that’s really what I look like. I really am constantly being marauded by an army of multicolored geometric shapes. No, seriously, it’s a self-portrait. I kind of like it.)

Mr. Picassohead

June 4, 2008

I start by talking about throttling, and finish by complaining about tech-news websites themselves

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 11:44 pm

ARPANet architect: bring “fairness” to traffic management

This is a step in the right direction, but I still think it’s kind of a bad idea. I would imagine the best way to manage traffic among users of an ISP is to ensure that your connection isn’t slowed by others’ heavy use; that is to say, safeguards probably shouldn’t kick in until conflicts emerge and we need a fair algorithm to decide who is due some extra bandwidth. This way, your P2P downloads won’t be slowed until Granny next door needs to check her e-mail. She won’t notice, and you’ll only notice to the extent that others need some space at the Internet trough.

Of course, maybe that is the guy’s plan, and it’s eluded me due to Ars Technica’s aggravatingly dense writing style that requires you to read an article three times and backwards before gleaming the facts from it. I was a little dissappointed to find Condé Nast (their new corporate overlords) saying they wouldn’t change a thing about Ars’s culture; I would rather like them to put some grownups in charge of the zoo.

Is there a way I can read interesting tech news stories, written for a general audience, that are (a) not delivered to me by an algorithm easily subverted by Ron Paul fanatics with cybernetic rapid-clicking implants and delusions of grandeur, (b) accurate, that is to say not Slashdot, (c) not constantly showing off its snark like a parading peacock, instead presenting the facts and letting me form my own opinion, even if I’m aware a tech site is always going to have a tech and individual-freedom slant, and (d) not in the pocket of its own advertisers, or otherwise completely cynical about the job that it’s doing? I suspect the problem is that programmers aren’t writers, and writers aren’t programmers, so any attempt to meet these criteria easily miss the mark. I would, however, like to see some writers passionate about technology craft a tech-news site that treats me like an adult.

Maybe there is one, and I simply do not know of it. Any suggestions?

April 25, 2008

Digital fiefdoms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:58 pm

Senator, Clear Channel dispute DOJ logic on XM/Sirius merger

The Justice Department argued that competition doesn’t exist between XM and Sirius because the two satellite services use different kinds of technology, making an interoperable radio receiver an uphill project even after a marriage. XM and Sirius don’t compete for existing customers. How could they, given that existing customers can’t access the other service with their receiver?

But both Clear Channel and Senator [Bryon] Dorgan [D-MD] note that this lack of interoperability plainly violates the very condition that the FCC set to XM and Sirius when it created a satellite radio service in 1997: All satellite receivers manufactured by licensees must be able to receive all Digital Audio Radio Satellite (DARS) signals.

“For defying this FCC order and for engaging in this anti-competitive practice of locking in car buyers to one of the two satellite companies, the Department of Justice rewards them with a merger,” notes Dorgan with a tone of contempt. To reward this lack of cooperation with the FCC’s rules now, argues Clear Channel, would “make a virtue out of a vice.”

Yes, thank you! I’m glad somebody’s looking out for consumers’ rights in the digital age. Interoperability is the biggest digital challenge of our time, and it’s not helped by digital media companies drooling over the prospect of future platforms being established monopolies instead of open standards, or companies like Microsoft (with their Office suite and Xbox Live media services) or Apple (with their FairPlay DRM used for iTunes) refusing to allow competition into their walled gardens, and instead hoping to establish a vertical chain of dependency for users on their products.

Imagine if your car only ran one brand of gasoline, or if your radio could only pick up stations from one company. Now, adapt this analogy to something that is forming the backbone of society and for social interaction well into the foreseeable future. Imagine if the Internet hadn’t been around to save us from horrendous proprietary portals like AOL and CompuServe, carving America up into closed-off fiefdoms. Now remember how much public funding went into the creation of the Internet (including, I should note, from Al Gore, who championed the project during his career in Congress). Now you’ll see the kind of dire situation we’re in; companies will have to be convinced to change to open standards, even if they are being short-sighted and destroying the market they’re trying to create by not doing so on their own.

When I have children, I hope their social lives won’t have to be dependent on proprietary platforms like MySpace or Facebook. This ensures that one company has veto power over their interactions, and tremendous ability to shape their thoughts and beliefs. Their ability to grow, learn, and interact will be held back by one company’s ability to learn what they need. Their privacy rights will also be an afterthought, something considered by the company’s PR department, not R&D or IT. Instead of being able to take part in a grand, collaborative, social project, they will be feeding from the breast of a new, global, social Ma Bell, one with the arrogance to consider itself merely a platform, a force of good for humanity, instead of the humility to recognize it’s a corporation like any other.

We need to vote in our self-interest, prevent more media consolidation, and take back control of our government. It’s not too late.

April 24, 2008

Live and play in our world, or else

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:12 pm

Sony Delays PlayStation Home Again : Next Generation – Interactive Entertainment Today, Video Game and Industry News – Home of Edge Online

Sony Computer Entertainment has announced that PS3 users will have to “wait a bit longer” to get a taste of virtual world PlayStation Home, with an open beta not expected to begin until fall 2008.

If you don’t know what PlayStation Home is, you may be better off not knowing. Still, I felt it necessary to give my opinions on the comments page. Basically, I’m sick of proprietary, incompatible visions of the future trying to tear each other apart, and I’m sick of companies drooling joyfully at the prospect of controlling the social lives of all teenage America. Let’s get serious and establish some common platforms, or we’re all sunk.

Here’s my comment:

I’m really afraid of Home. Instead of giving us the tools to make our own virtual worlds, it looks like they’re going to be nickel-and-diming us for everything we want to do, and then plastering the fake world with corporate sponsors. No thanks.

I’m just afraid of the precedent it sets. It seems like corporations are rushing to get us to subscribe to _their_ virtual world, at the exclusion of all others, so they can milk us on advertising and the sale of “virtual” goods, that they have a monopoly on. It’s a bleak vision of the future, were companies compete to foist incompatible, proprietary utopias upon us, spending far into the red in hopes of eventually gaining complete control of our online time. Sony controls a lot, but they can’t control reality… and it seems like that’s what they want.

I know that’s kind of paranoid, but hey… look at how much the average teenager’s social activity goes through MySpace or Facebook. I’m afraid of giving one organization that much power, and it seems like the hip thing to try to do these days. The Internet was a collaboration, it wasn’t exclusively owned by anybody, and that’s why it was a success. Instead of venturing outside these tiny corporate courtyards into the wider marketplace of ideas, it seems like companies are determined to keep online social spaces in their infancy by fighting tooth and nail to impose their unique and incompatible vision of the future on us. It just makes me mad.

Obviously, the problem could be self-correcting: Home’s prospects of commercial success are as bleak as the theme of a sterile corporate overworld it promotes. Still, I’m uncomfortable with it seeping into our videogames. It’s anti-competitive, anti-consumer, and above all, anti-human.

April 22, 2008

Good Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:08 am

nakedjen

This is a neat blog. A middle-aged lady from Utah takes naked pictures of herself and some of her friends and family. I mean, that’s a gross oversimplification, as its mainly on her life and her feelings. But, the naked stuff is sort of the unique selling point and its a wonderful public service. She wants people to see what ordinary naked bodies look like, and so do I.

She referred to one of her nude self-portraits as “a portrait of a life well-lived.” Looking at it, I couldn’t agree more.

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