Monday, January 28, 2008

Virtual Universe of Sand

I've been meaning to post about this for some time, but Dan Ball's "Powder Game" is fantastic. It basically lays a little segment of a world before you and lets you dot it with various elements, wind and creatures which interact with each other wonderfully.

I think most of us understand that the game is mainly useful for simulation cataclysmic explosions, like the thermonuclear gun thingy pictured above.

The new update adds "wind" and a pixels remaining count, but it unfairly constricts the screen, adding that bar to the right side of the screen. Change it back, Dan!

Play the Powder Game

5 Things to do with the Powder Game

Monday, January 21, 2008

The 9 Most Racist Disney Characters

Perhaps "racist" is a little strong, but's anthology of the nine most stereotypical, insensitive Disney characters of all time is a neat little history lesson - a throwback to the bad old days where racial stereotypes were acceptable, and western media operated on the assumption that their audience was completely white. Don't even get me started on some of the old Warner Brothers cartoons we have lying around our house.

The 9 Most Racist Disney Characters

MLK / Civil Rights Day

Good morning and happy Martin Luther King, Jr. slash Civil Rights Day (those of you on the east coast who my "morning" greeting no longer applies to should understand my sleeping in on a holiday).

I'm going to be uncharacteristically serious this morning and offer up one of my favorite readings from the Dr. - one written from Birmingham Jail in 1963 defending the necessity of his cause and condemning those who stood on the sidelines while offering only theoretical "moral" support.

"Letter From Birmingham Jail"

It's a stunning portrait of a man invested in his cause and in his people. I'm reminded of some of my other favorite readings (Joseph Smith's prayer while in Liberty Jail and Peter's defense of the faith to the Sadducees comes to mind).

Here's to how far we've come and how far we have left to go.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


We just got out of Cloverfield a couple of hours ago. I would highly recommend it to those looking for exactly what the movie promises: a tense monster/disaster movie shot in Queasy-Vision. It's more than a bit of a downer and will make you nauseous if you have the slightest susceptibility to motion sickness. It's loud and dumb but not nearly enough so for lobotomized Michael Bay devotees. I might add that, unlike in most disaster movies, you grow to actually like the main group of characters (who initially seem uninspired), which is all the worse when typical monster movie-type stuff occurs to them.

My strange mental state upon arriving home led me to throw together this PhotoShop mashup of children's television and the original King Kong poster, pictured above and featured on Forest For the Trees as if it's a real comic. I promise I'll get those new cartoons scanned soon.


I actually saw two movies today. The first was "Shall We Dansu?", the excellent original Japanese version of the merely "good" 2004 American remake. Shall We Dansu? is one of those movies where the characters are compelling enough that it's fun just to watch them. Having seen the Gere/Lopez version first, it was interesting to me how direct a transition they had made - many of the American characters (particularly Sugiyama's hothead dance partner and the shy former dance champion who serves as his crush of sorts) seem like anglo clones of the original Japanese characters. While the American version takes a good half hour to rise from mindless banality, the Japanese version begins well and remains consistent throughout.

One edge that I'll grant the American version is its arresting dance number near the end, propelled by the scary-good Gotan Project track "Santa Maria (del Buen Ayre)". It's a clear centerpiece for the movie, and has clear allusions to more than dancing (though thankfully the "suspected affair" subplot has long since been dropped by this point). The Japanese version has no such centerpiece because it simply doesn't need it (not to mention the impropriety to Japanese society of Mr. Sugiyama and Mai meeting after hours just to practice their tango).

(EDIT: Apparently others have thought of this first. It's an obvious pun in retrospect, but I think my poster is better. :) )

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Immigration Part 2: Immigration and the Election

I've mentioned immigration before on my blog, but Orson Scott Card's recent comments on immigration and the upcoming election have really, really caught my eye. In a recent post on his WorldWatch column, Card smartly skewers this year's candidates for their stances and ties the whole thing into the future of American politics. I've neglected Card's politics in the past due to a perceived naivete on his movie reviews, but I may have been mistaken.

I won't post highlights here because the column needs to be read in its entirety:

Please Don't Throw Away This Election

Delicious, Delicious Clones

Scott Adams is at his best when he plays to his strengths: thought-provoking, topical humor. His unfortunate occasional preference for scatalogical humor aside, he's a savvy guy.

His musings yesterday were particularly enlightening:

"The FDA has decided that meat from clones is safe.

This is a big relief, because I have a long term goal of cloning myself and then eating my clone. I don’t have a compelling reason to do it, but most goals are like that. No one really needs to run a marathon or collect beer mugs, but no one is complaining about them. There’s nothing wrong with wanting what you want.

I’m a vegetarian, but I think I would make an exception for my clone. My torso is already full of my guts. Putting a few more forkfuls in there seems like a trivial change.

My clone won’t have a soul, obviously, since clones are an abomination and not a product of God’s approved method of procreation. You can’t expect The Almighty to hand out souls to creatures made in a laboratory. Only real people get souls, and that means there’s no ethical dilemma with eating your clone. It’s just protein with an attitude.

The risk with this plan is that my clone is just like me, and tries to eat me first and assume my identity. But that’s a risk we’re both willing to take.

Do clones have souls?"

I like the final sentence - a pointless declaration of war in the comments section. Seriously, if you haven't started reading The Dilbert Blog yet, you should.

Mini Movie Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks

Those of us who watched the original television series of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" will agree that a big-screen adaptation of the adventures of our favorite rock star vermin certainly had potential. With the creative chops of "Simpsons" writer Jon Vitti, the film seemed destined for greatness, or at least watchability.

Unfortunately, Vitti and his team made the bewildering decision to shoot much of the film in zero gravity. A little over half of the scenes of the movie take place in null gravity, and the lack of a satisfactory explanation for this occurrence gives the film an unpleasantly-surreal flavor. Sometimes the transitions are jarring: in one scene, for example, floundering songwriter Dave Seville has scheduled a meeting with a record exec after discovering the chipmunks' singing ability. His efforts to showcase the critters and cut an album deal are tainted by the cinematography: the drive to the record studio is uneventful, but the subsequent "waiting room" scene scans like an "Apollo 13" deleted scene: dotted with floating copies of "Time", bamboo chairs and a very-peeved receptionist. I'm as big a fan of physics as the next guy, but this is just ridiculous.

The voice-acting is spot-on, of course, for the first two-thirds or so of the film. Those familiar with the American Union of Voice Actors strike will recall that Fox was forced to bring in scab voice actors for some of the final scenes (due to the looser rules of the AUVA, scab actors are permitted for the purposes of finishing a film but not for new projects). I just wish that they had found more suitable voices - hearing Gilbert Gottfried voice all three chipmunks for the final few acts is fun for a few minutes, but quickly becomes jarring through his unsuccessful attempts to disguise his voice to accommodate three different characters. Scenes where the chipmunks speak with each other are particularly offsetting as it becomes clear that Gil shot all of his lines in one take.

Even the Goofy cartoon preceding the film is hit-or-miss; the animation is strong, and most of the slapstick humor is funny, but Disney's decision to indulge in a fairly strong bit of scatalogical humor for the toon's final seconds limits the cartoon's appeal, particularly for parents concerned for their children's viewing habits (another question: will the soon-to-be-infamous "colostomy bag" scene makes it onto the Chipmunks DVD as a special feature?).

I have now watched the film several times and cannot help but think that the movie would have benefited from more traditional methods: full gravity in all scenes, and consistent voice-acting throughout. Were those points respected I could forgive some of the more serious plot missteps of the film (the creepy "persistent imaginary friend" subplot, all-bluegrass soundtrack and inexplicable appearance of Cruella de Vil as the principal villain). Those intending to watch the film should decide carefully if they will still enjoy the film despite these significant issues.

FINAL GRADE: J+ and throw on a star and a quarter for good measure

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tom Cruise: Scientologist

I've been transcribing the Tom Cruise Scientology Video on Gawker this afternoon for posterity. It's scary, funny and very, very strange. I don't know who this video was originally intended for, or who edited it. It seems plain that they've included only the most incoherent bits. Watch the video and/or read the transcript below. The law-savvy Church of Scientology is trying to get the video taken down - soon it may be available only through alternate sources. The movie gets more incoherent after the end of my transcript, so I think I got the most important parts down:


"I think it's a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist, and it's something that you have to earn, and. . . because a Scientologist does. He - or she - has the ability to. . . create new and better realities and improve conditions. Uh. . . being Scientologist you look at someone and you know absolutely that you can help them.


So, for me it really is KSW [Keep Scientology Working], and it's just like. . . it's. . . it's something that, uh. . . I don't mince words with that. . . y'know - with - with anything, [garbled name] does but that policy in me has really gone PTH! . . . boy aradalala. . . I - just the time I went through and I said 'y'know what'? When I read it, I - y'know - I just went 'PFW! - this is it. This is exactly it.


Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it's not like anyone else. As you drive past, you know you have to do something about it, because. . . you know you're the only one that can really help.


That's . . . that's what drives me, is that. . . I know that we have an opportunity, and, uh. . . to really help the first time, and effectively change people's lives, and, uh. . . I am dedicated to that, and I'm gonna, I'm. . . absolutely, uncomprisingly. . . dedicated to that.


The Orgs [Scientology organizations] are there to help, okay? - but, we as. . . y'know, as. . . elsewhere, the public, it's like. . . we have a responsibility; it's not just the Orgs, it's not just Dave Miscavige [Google him]. . . y'know, it's not just - not just me, it's you, it's everyone out there kinda [hiss] re-reading KSW and looking at what needs to be done and saying 'okay, am I gonna do it or am I not gonna do it?' Period! Am I gonna look at that guy or am I too afraid because I have my own [illegible] ethics, to put in someone else's ethics - and that's all it comes down to.


[mumbled frighteningly] Cause I won't hesitate to put ethics in on someone else, y'know, cause I put it. . . ruthlessly in on myself, and I think that. . . uh. . . . . I respect that. . . in - in others, and, uh y'know, I'm there to help, and we're here to help, and my opinion is is that - look - you're either on board, or you're not on board. Okay? But, just - if you're on board, you're on board, just like the rest of us. Period.


We are the authorities on getting people off drugs, we are the authorities on the mind, we are the authorities on improving conditions. Criminon [controversial Scientology-based program of criminal rehabilitation] - we can rehabilitate criminals. . . way to happiness, we can bring peace, uh. . . and. . . and unite cultures, uh. . . that. . . once you know these tools, and you know that they work, it's. . . it's not good enough that, that I'm just doing okay.


Traveling the world and meeting the people that I've, that I've met - y'know, talking with these leaders, in dif- various fields. . . . . . they want help, and they are depending on people who. . . know, and who can be effective, and do it, and that's us. That is our responsibility to do that.


It is the time, now - now is the time, okay? It is. . . being a Scientologist, people are turning to you, so you'd better know it. You better know it. And if you don't. . . y'know, go and learn it [laugh], y'know? But don't pretend you know it and. . . or. . . foo, y'know - whatever - it's like we're here to help."


I mean, if you're a Scientologist, you see life, but you see things the way they are. . . in all its glory, y'know? All of its complexity, uh. . . and the more you know as a Scientologist, you don't become overwhelmed by it.


The video gets scarier and more generic and pointless at this point. The blurb at the end seems to imply that this may be an official Scientology video, but I'm hoping for their sake that it's not. It looks like parody.

If the video is an official Scientology tape it makes one of their most influential members look ridiculous. If it isn't then they have no claim on a copyright case. I think the latter course of action would be wiser.

New York On $100

Sorry for the excess of video links these last couple of weeks, but this Infinite Solutions Travel Edition was too informative to pass up. Save some money on your next vacation with these. These guys are amazing - it's a wonder he manages to keep a straight face.

Surreal "Lasagna Cat" Enthralls, Weirds Out

By word of the Comics Curmudgeon comes surreal video series Lasagna Cat. It's surreal and eclectic and I can't tear my eyes away. What will it be today, Lasagna Cat? A Final Fantasy parody? Surreal mindbending psychedelia? This man may be on drugs, but at least they're the creative kind.

The below video is seriously only for those with a high tolerance for strangeness. Don't say that I didn't warn you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cat Mosh Pit

A feeding session at an animal shelter quickly drives legions of felines into a sharklike feeding frenzy. Watch up to the very end - I love the impartial way the lady doles out the food as the cats swarm.

Recently Seen: Slate's Web Archive

Great out-of-context story blurbs from Slate Magazine's web site:

Thanks for the unintentional hilarity, Slate.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Classic Sesame Street Overload

Aimless YouTube browsing often leads to a bevy of rewards. I've been on full nostalgia overload all afternoon, thanks mainly to finding a veritable smorgasbord of classic Sesame Street clips. It seems that there's no better canary than Sesame Street for chronicling the decline of American culture and imagination. The show has truly declined, and the modern age of Sesame Street and everything else offers nothing but shameless, bland pandering and slow, meandering tripe.

So - the program is shot, and only the Classic Sesame Street DVD Collection stands as a witness. Out of respect to the former greatness of the show I post the following gems:

Ernie Fixes the Television

Don't we miss the days when Sesame Street was allowed to be surreal and bewildering? Bert really, really sounds like Fozzie Bear in this sketch. I guess Oz could only do so many voices.

Rebel L

Great jumpin' Jehoshaphat - this Billy Idol parody rocks. I only vaguely recall this one. It ends in a full arrest for domestic disturbance of all things.

Hey Food!

Cookie Monster and The "Beetles" sing this tribute to all things bingeworthy. I never did know who "Jude" was in the first place.

Cookie Monster and the Computer

Cookie Monster makes a libidinal request of an anti-libidinal technology operated by Maria, who is trying to reconcile her desire with technical rationality. The Monster, representing the part of the child eradicated in an administered world, is disciplined by having to "press the right key", and given, in place of a reward, the image or Baudrillardian simulacrum of gratification.And, Maria was soooooo hot."

Super Grover and the Apple Fight

This clip is wonderfully unfocused and pretty hilarious to boot. "Off to save the world and other good stuff!"

Cookie Monster - If Moon Were Cookie

Great song from a great sketch. Strangely sentimental.

I promise that there will be more of these soon. These are just some of my favorties. Heck, go ahead and find more yourself.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Now Streaming Whether You Like it Or Not!

Courtesy of, Cracking My Knuckles in Public now has streaming audio! I'll try to keep the songs unobtrusive: you can turn it off if you like, and I'll keep the playlist's initial tracks very serene for the time being to avoid "fall out of your chair" moments. I'm quite liking it so far.

I've put four tracks up so far, and I'll likely have something of a library pretty soon. Be sure to check out the albums if the songs interest you. I recommend all of these artists.

How Many Five-Year-Olds Could You Take in a Fight?, besides having just about the most descriptive URL in history, is a fantastic online quiz - an essential primer for the unlikely event that you ever find yourself facing an army of preschoolers in vicious hand-to-hand combat.

The quiz takes into account your physical fitness, the "ick" factor of attacking children, and combat readiness to give you the "magic number" of children who you could whip in a fight.

The rules:
  • You are in an enclosed area roughly the size of a basketball court
  • There are no weapons or foreign objects
  • Everyone is wearing a cup (so no kicks to the groin)
  • The children are merciless and will show no fear
  • If a child is knocked unconscious, he is "out." The same goes for you.

Take the Quiz!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Journalistic Integrity

With a headline like the one to the left ("School band desserts; Parents given strict policy for bag lunches"), what story would you expect to read? I would expect to see two things:

1) A school banning desserts.
2) Parents being told what to pack in their children's lunches, or at least certain items being prohibited.

The story features neither. Drudge's headline isn't just a stretch of the article (as so many Drudge headlines are) but an outright hallucinatory version of the article. Let's go over the points in the wcbstv transcript:

1) "School bans desserts":

"Glenville School in Greenwich is trying to turn [childrens' eating habits] around[;] starting this year ice cream and cookies are no longer sold in the cafeteria. Instead they have fruit and yogurt as an option." (Eighth paragraph.)

2) "Parents given strict policy for bag lunches."

"Parents can pack anything they want in their kids' lunch, but they've all received the school's wellness policy that encourages them to go for healthy snacks. " (Final paragraph.)

Drudge, this is just dishonest. "Greenwich school eliminates cookies, ice cream from menu, encourages parents to pack healthy" would have been a factual, well-researched headline. It just wouldn't have stirred up nearly as much knee-jerk right-wing anger, which is obviously your intent.

Don't make your readers start guessing whether you're a liar or an idiot. I don't even care whether you should be impartial per se, as long as you're not just making things up.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

More TSA Madness

I think the TSA and the RIAA are learning from each other. Both are pursuing tactics that would drive their organization into the ground in the free market, yet both are protected by the government and therefore immortal.

BoingBoing's recent tale of a five-year-old detained by airport security because of a mistaken identity is hardly surprising at this point. It's a wonder they didn't taser the kid when he cried.

Telling quote:

"When his mother went to pick him up and hug him and comfort him during the proceedings, she was told not to touch him because he was a national security risk. They also had to frisk her again to make sure the little Dillinger hadn't passed anything dangerous weapons or materials to his mother when she hugged him."

Sword-Swinging Killer Wiibot

Tales of Wiimote reverse engineering abound, but this one gets my prize for independent development: an industrial robotic arm set up by USMechatronics engineers to read the remote's commands. Put a tennis racket, sword or anything you want into the robot's arm and swing away. Technically, the robot only recognizes certain movement patterns, responding with pre-recorded movements (it's not a one-to-one imitation), but this still rules.

Scott Adams: Religion and Politics

"Why would you vote for a president who has a different religion than you?", asks Dilbert creator Scott Adams on his blog: "If you are certain of the rightness of your own beliefs, and equally certain of the wrongness of a presidential candidate’s belief, that proves the candidate has, in your opinion, bad judgment about the most important question in reality."

With one simple statement, Adams gets down to the crux of religion and politics. If people really thought about the relationship between church and state, things would turn on their head.

To wit: "why would you trust a Catholic who wouldn’t take advice from the Pope, who the candidate believes gets advice directly from God? Such a candidate would be a liar or an idiot to ignore advice from God."

Adams' question: is an alternative even possible? Does a modern candidate indirectly reject the tenets of his/her religion by refusing to take "perfect" counsel from those he/she believes to be communicating directly with God? Can an honest, intelligent candidate or politician ignore the "most important question in reality" and remain viable?

The fact that "good judgement" is only a Presidential priority for some 25% of American voters begins to answer the question, but opens up some larger, scarier questions. Do we really "believe" our religions, or is our religion just something to help us "feel good about our place in the universe"?

One alternative explanation (more of a theory):

1) We really do believe our religions (and that certain leaders communicate with Higher Powers), but in the name of plurality we avoid pushing our religious beliefs upon others in order to retain that same comfort ourselves. We unconsciously recognize the damage that a schizophrenic American theocracy would create and decide that it's better not to be ruled by any God as long as it's not someone else's.

Just a theory.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Yet Another Perpetual Motion Machine

Our power worries are solved! Well, probably not, but these "perpetual motion machine" hoaxes are some of the most entertaining of the modern era. Turn off your skepticism and watch Steorn's "OC" machine whir up. Great stuff and pure (almost certainly) fantasy. This is a repost of the original video with better lighting and sound.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Zombie Flash Fun

There's just something endearing about zombies - few other film beasties have that lure, that animal magnetism that works itself into our hearts (and our brains). As those who saw the Zombie Infection Simulator(s) can attest, there's something compelling about warding off a vicious, single-minded horde of the undead.

In that spirit, here's a bevy of flash games featuring the inevitable zombie war, treating it in entirely different ways. The best of these games were shown to me by my friend Jeff, potentially a bigger zombie buff than I:

Among the best of the lot is Boxhead More Rooms, a game with an endearing "Lego"-like design scheme and loads of destructive weapons (and defensive traps) with which to combat the undead menace. (Tip: Your earned upgrades are determined by your combo level. Hit "p" to pause the game and see which levels must be reached for specific upgrades). Once you've got it, try playing on "nightmare" difficulty for more fun.

A little less cute (and far more violent) is defense game The Last Stand. Not much different than your average "Defend the Castle" simulator, but somewhat gripping nonetheless. Repair your castle and search for weapons and other survivors during the day, then defend yourself at night. When does this guy sleep?

Autumn War plays like an old-school warfare simulator, provided you ditch the Kraut tanks and infantry in lieu of hordes and hordes of writhing, sweaty zombies (ew!). Position your troops and hold the line!

Classic Deanimator is a more tense, strategic affair, steeped in H.P. Lovecraft's strange (and still terrifying) universe. I won't spoil possibly the best zombie flash game of all time for you by outlining strategy, save to tell you that you must actually click on zombies to shoot them - merely clicking in their direction won't cut it.

All Hallow's Eve is simple but fun. Defend your home.

Dead of Night is another cute(ish), fairly difficult isometric defense game. Those who don't have the skills for this one should take another run at Boxhead.

There are plenty, plenty more where these games came from, but I've gotta get to bed or I'll be moaning and groaning with the best of them come alarm time tomorrow. Have fun!

Or don't - whatever.

(KILLER MOVIE IDEA: Zombies on New Year! George Romero, I'm looking at you.)