Sunday, August 31, 2008

The End of the Beginning

One great thing about being a fan of Terry Brooks is that he's a writer who never keeps his fans waiting too long. He publishes a book every August like clockwork, and this year was no exception. The Gypsy Morph debuted last week, the final volume of his Genesis of Shannara trilogy (which covers an apocalyptic future in our world that ultimately leads to the creation of the "Shannara" world which has been the setting for most of his writing).

I've noted of the two previous volumes that this trilogy was on course to be his strongest in fifteen years. I felt that the conclusion lived up to that promise.

The plot delivered on all the major confrontations and plot threads that had been set up in the earlier books. The quality of the writing was again very solid. The pacing was the best of the trilogy, pulling you quickly through the book -- nearly every chapter left you unwilling to put the book down, too eager to see what happens next.

There was only a small misstep in my mind. There's a love-at-first-sight subplot added in this volume. It didn't really work for me, though I suppose your mileage may vary. On the one hand, it's not treated in too heavy-handed a manner as to distract from the major threads of the book. On the other, you might argue that it is this light coverage that makes it feel somewhat "unearned."

But the ending left me ultimately willing to overlook any small missteps. The book just seemed to have the "right" ending. And these final chapters leading up to that ending weren't all happy for all the characters -- a very appropriate tone for the apocalyptic storyline.

I rate the book an A-. If you enjoy fantasy and haven't given Terry Brooks a try, I think this series would be an excellent place to start.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Form of Protest

This protest seen downtown during the convention has me wondering:

Is this for real? I mean, you'd think no way! But there was this leaflet:

And there's a web site.

It's either a joke being taken very seriously, or somebody very serious about something that's a complete joke.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

No Rain on the Parade

It pleases me greatly to know that professional schmuck Stuart Shepard did not have his prayers answered tonight. Barack Obama gave his speech on a beautiful, cloudless night in Denver. In short, it would not appear that Focus on the Family speaks for God.

I think neither does this person, snapped downtown today by a "rich friend" I know:

As I said a few days ago, the DNC hasn't brought the craziness we were warned to expect. Nevertheless, I don't think I'll mind the circus leaving town.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not-So-Greatest Hits

I've been hanging on to this one for a while since a friend first kicked it my way, but now the time has come to bring you The 9 Most Unnecessary Greatest Hits Albums of All Time. (Right here, Shocho would point out here that the words "of All Time" are completely unnecessary in that title.)

This article brings the funny, from beginning to end; from the no-additional-comment-required-for-maximum-hilarity that is Nelson's hairdos (#8); to the observation that Tone Loc's album could have more accurately been titled "Wild Thing and Other Hit" (singular; #5); to the brilliant Amazon review of The Best of Shaquille O'Neal (#1), hoping that one day he releases a love songs album called 'Love Shaq'.

Sadly, I feel the need to confess that I actually owned "The Return of Bruno," one of the 80s Bruce Willis albums that his "Master Hits" were ultimately culled from. On vinyl. Shame, I know, but what can I say -- Bruce Willis was the shit back then, and I what the hell did I know at that age?

Don't look down your nose at me, secretly hiding the shame of your DayGlo leg warmers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Now That's a Ticket

As I write this, the Democratic National Convention is about halfway through here in Denver. Fortunately, it hasn't been the complete crazy town we natives were all warned to expect. Traffic hasn't been any worse than normal. Downtown has noticeably more people milling about, but it's not unmanageable to get lunch and get back to work in regular fashion.

But the crazies are out there. One of them left this two-sided business card on the windshield of my friend's car:

This thing is a truly inspired bit of stream of consciousness, given the very limited space in which it's contained. You get his opinions on McCain, Obama, and the Gators. You get a nice bit of casual racism. You get a plea to legalize marijuana, just after a condemnation of cocaine. You get a shout out to Mom. A request for a date. A love of Opera (the stage medium or the web browser?). And oh, so much more.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Snark / Counter-Snark

Continuing my shameless recent trend of just showing funny things that people forward to me, check this out:

This gamer found a weird glitch/bug in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08. But in the oh-so-annoying manner of too many power gamers, he gets all snide about the way he reveals his discovery:

So my hearty applause goes to EA Games for producing this equally snide retort:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nothing to See Here... or There

I have no content today. In honor of this, I present a link to the Uncyclopedia, the "content-free" Wiki. Some of the entries can be pretty stupid and juvenile, but a few (such as the 1x1x1 Rubik's Cube) are truly inspired.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Inclement Weather

Ever get to a party just as it was ending? I felt like I had that experience tonight. Some friends and I went down to a local reservoir where a hot air balloon festival was happening. It was supposed to be a big thing at dusk with several dozen balloons all lit up for a short night time flight.

Except that when we got there, about 30 minutes before sundown, these three balloons were the only ones in sight:

And they all were taken down within about ten minutes. Trouble was, it was windy. Not transport-you-to-Oz windy, but too much to safely fly a hot air balloon. So everyone was packing up and the event was canceled.

At least we walked in and didn't pay the seven bucks for parking.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Not the Kind of "Stackable" You've Seen Before

You might be taking steps to be a little more "eco-friendly," or thinking about a few simple things you could do.

But are you willing to install a combination toilet/washing machine in your house?

Me neither.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Whose Way Are We Having It Here?

A friend of mine (Roland Deschain, for those who troll the comments area of my blog) recently shared these very bizarre foreign ads with me. They're too funny... and disturbing... and funny, not to share them with all of you.

These were apparently used as tray liners at Burger Kings in Munich, Germany.

Each one of these gets progressively stranger than the one before.

But we all seemed to agree that this fifth one was the most bizarre of all. (Check out what's going on at the lower right. And read the magazine titles.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Clones About It

I've had a few people ask if a review of The Clone Wars animated movie would be forthcoming from me. So let me clear that up: nope. Didn't see it. Don't want to.

Really, somebody should do this:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Those of us who surf the internets are bombarded with hundreds of banner ads a day, and we've pretty much learned to block them out. Which is why it's pretty incredible when one actually manages to catch my attention. Especially one so simple as this one I saw today:

Did I click? No. But I looked. So bravo, ad agency.

And know that I've already used Photoshop to erase the words from this so I can use it for some sort of "FAIL" e-mail in the future.

Monday, August 18, 2008

High Calibur

Slowly but surely, a few games are showing up that get me to occasionally put down the Rock Band and play something else on my Playstation 3. One of the most successful of these of late has been SoulCalibur IV.

I've never been that big a fan of the "fighter" game genre, but I've made room for SoulCalibur since the second installment. This series has always managed to walk a fine line that others of its type have not: skill vs. randomness. My feelings from sampling other people's copies of Tekken, Street Fighter, and other such games is that they heavily favor the skilled players. If you know the great combos, you will dominate all comers. SoulCalibur, by contrast, strikes me as making room for just enough "button mashing" to satisfy. The skilled player will still win most of the time, but even a novice can pull off some great looking combos and actually win a fight.

One of the reasons SoulCalibur IV has been able to slide in between the Rock Band marathons is that it is a very "bite-sized" game. The game has dozens and dozens of characters, each with his or her own storyline. But the storylines are incredibly minimal. You play each through five stages, taking perhaps a total of 10-15 minutes, and then you're done -- you see that character's ending, and can move on to another. So every night, I'm playing one, maybe two characters' stories to completion, and having a really fun time with it.

I have yet to delve into the character creation that's getting a lot of attention. I frankly don't even know what any of the special abilities do that you can put on characters (including the "stock" ones). I'll probably get there once I've played out the storylines, but that just feels like "bonus" to me and not a vital part of the experience.

But it almost never happened. A few months ago, they announced that Star Wars characters would be featured in SoulCalibur IV, Yoda and Darth Vader. Now, I have no problem with illogical character bleeds into the series. SoulCalibur II for GameCube had the Zelda series' hero, Link, after all. But Yoda fighting in Episode II was, by many parsecs, the dumbest frakking thing among thousands of dumb frakking things about the prequel trilogy. If Yoda fighting was going to be any part of the game, I was not going to buy it. That's all there was to it.

Fortunately, Yoda turned out to be a character exclusive to the XBox 360 version, while the PS3 got Darth Vader, who, despite that laughably lame Frankenstein moment at the end of Episode III (another of those thousands of dumb frakking things I mentioned), manages to not have had all the cool leeched out of him. Him, I could accept in the game. But fortunately, he hardly factors in the storyline at all. He, like all the other characters, has his own 10-15 minutes you can play, but as yet I haven't seen him appear in any of the other characters' storylines. So it would seem Vader is way off on the sidelines, an extra you can enjoy or ignore, according to your tastes.

I probably need not say that the graphics are amazing, the settings quite varied, the music fitting... all past hallmarks of the series. SoulCalibur has never been a "grade A" series for me -- it can really only aspire to being "best of the fighting games" in my mind. But it has still proven worth the money. I'd rate it a B+.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reflections on Mirrors

I was on the fence about whether to go see the new horror movie Mirrors. Looking at the trailer, you couldn't help but think maybe the entire movie came about because someone said, "you know all those cool moments in horror movies where somebody sees something scary in a mirror, like in The Shining, and Poltergeist III, and The Omen? Well, how awesome would it be to have an entire movie of that?!"

Honestly, it didn't look like it would be very awesome. And yet, I think maybe the year-and-a-half 24 withdraw we've all been going through got me craving some fun Kiefer Sutherland action. Had I known ahead of time this was directed by the same man who brought us the unfathomably awful The Hills Have Eyes remake, I probably wouldn't have gone, but I only found that out later.

The movie started out pretty bad with some very ham-fisted exposition, and began to slowly degenerate from there. There were a few good things, like Kiefer's wild gravitas, a few cool death scenes, and the really well-done sets and set decoration. But for every good thing, there would be two terrible things. Crappy dialogue, irrational motivations, very few scares that weren't of the cheap, "make you jump" variety.

I was ready to write the thing off entirely, but then came the final reel. Don't get me wrong, the last 20 minutes were really just as hokey as what came before. It relied on cheap scares just as much as the rest.


It got very satisyingly dark. I hope I'm not spoiling vital specifics for anyone here, but suddenly we have our hero kidnapping a nun at gunpoint, a child asking why her mother tried to kill her, and creepy child phantoms running around with knives. Like I said, it wasn't like this was suddenly great material, but the tone was actually pretty cool.

And then there was the last scene itself. This I won't go into, should any of you decide to see the movie. I'll simply say the ending was the darkest element of all.

Did the final act save the movie? No, not hardly. It really was just too much suck overall for anything to have redeemed it. But if the whole movie had had that kind of tone? Well, that might just have done it, even as sub-par as it all was.

Ultimately, I'm not recommending the movie. But if you do ever sit down to watch it and find yourself thinking "man, this is stupid" after an hour or so in, hang in there. There is a small pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Okay, terrible metaphor there, mixing rainbows and horror films. So I'll cut to the chase: I rate Mirrors a C+.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Is This a Joke?

I like breakfast cereal. Kind of a Jerry Seinfeld thing, I guess. There are a decent number of "adult" cereals I find alright, but I do have a soft spot for the "kiddie" cereals.

I recently finished off a box of Lucky Charms, and when I went to collapse the box to throw in the recycling, this dropped out:

This Joker toy is the weirdest little thing ever. It's supposed to have this "kick" thing it does, but it's ridiculous and lame. As you can see in the photo, the Joker's right leg is sticking out. Pull it down into a normal position and let go, and it springs back out like that. Oooo.

Perhaps stranger than where his legs are stuck is where his hands are stuck. They don't move, you see. The Joker is permanently giving himself a shampoo or something -- I'm not really sure what that's supposed to be.

So, I guess props for having an actual toy right there in the box. I can't remember the last time I saw a cereal that had that. (But those who buy more kids' cereal than me can jump in and prove me wrong.) But the total lameness of the toy? I'm afraid "that's gonna be a deduction."

Friday, August 15, 2008

See the Thunder

Tonight, I went to see Tropic Thunder, the comedy about a group of actors who suddenly find themselves in real combat while making a Vietnam war movie. This film has been getting a lot of good buzz, including some from people claiming it's the funniest movie of the year.

It is. But don't let that set your hopes too unreasonable. It's been a pretty weak year for movies, so the bar wasn't set too high. Don't get me wrong, this is good and worth seeing, but I think it'll fall short for you if you start to believe the hype too much.

Now let me contradict my warning and hype it a bit myself.

Ben Stiller is great in this. I suppose whether you'll agree depends on which of the two Ben Stillers you like (if either) -- the zany and unrealistic Ben Stiller of Zoolander and Dodgeball, or the "straight man" of Meet the Parents. This movie stars the former, the one I happen to like, and he's great.

I've been sort of indifferent to Jack Black in the past, but he's funny here. Maybe it's that I've felt like a little of him goes a long way; here, he's just part of ensemble cast, providing many great moments without running unchecked over everything.

Robert Downey Jr. IS great -- that part of the hype you should probably believe. Nearly all the biggest laughs in the film come from him. It's a real testament to his skill that he can make a character so hysterical that could be tasteless and offensive if taken just one notch to the side.

But you could argue that the rest of the cast is as good or better than the "headliners." Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Cruise all take minor roles and make every second count. Strange cameos from many other celebrities provide laugh out loud moments. (I'd name some of them, but in many cases it would just spoil a good joke.)

Perhaps best of all is the series of fake movie trailers that start off the film. You may have liked the fake trailers in Grindhouse, but these play the joke even better. Where the Grindhouse trailers kind of reveled in their phoniness, these are almost scarily authentic. Somehow, they got a variety of different film studios to play along and actually put their real studio logos on the trailers. And each one feels eerily close to a real trailer for an actual movie we have seen. They prime the pump, putting you in the mood to laugh at how ridiculous Hollywood (and the mammoth egos associated with it) can be.

I rate the movie a B+ (and those trailers an A+).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Banner Year

As you may know, the Democratic National Convention is coming here to Denver in two weeks. Banners like the one at the left are now up on every lamppost in the downtown area.

I find them a bit interesting. Thet just say "Denver 2008" and have that star logo. Nowhere on them do they use the words "Democratic National Convention." I wonder why? Are the banner makers assuming everyone know what it means, or are they in some subtle way trying to hide the meaning of the banners? You know, so as not to piss anybody off for whatever political leanings they may have, we'll just celebrate "Denver 2008."

I don't get it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Bloody Vikings

One of the more recent games to arrive on the scene in my regular group is Vikings. This is not to be confused with Eketorp, another game about Vikings.

Vikings is a pseudo auction game. There's a big wheel on the center of the board with 12 numbers, 0-11. You array 12 random land tiles around that wheel every round, and pair with each tile a random viking unit from one of six different colors. Then each player in turn buys exactly one pair off the wheel, for the price of the number facing it. You can't buy the "0" unless you're out of money, or that pair is the only one with a viking of that color remaining. When the 0 is taken, the wheel spins around, making the next lowest pair remaining worth 0, and so on. Eventually, the price on every pair declines, and eventually, every pair in the round is bought by some player. You must then take the pairs you purchased and array them on a personal board in a way to score points and earn more money, with each different color of viking helping you in different ways.

The strange wheel mechanic is very clever, and puts a neat little tension in "how much is it worth to pay for something I really need" vs. "taking something not as good because it's cheap." We've played the game a few times and found it possessing enough strategy to be interesting, but with enough randomness in the way tiles and vikings are pulled to keep a player from always running a sure path to victory (from what we've seen).

But it is one of those games where a whole world of agony can transpire as other players take their turns in between yours. So while the box says it supports 2 to 4 players, and it's not bad with 4, I've found it far more enjoyable with 3.

The game does have an "advanced" variant that brings strange action tiles with "special game text" into the mix, but we have yet to try this variant. So far, the original has been satisfying enough for us.

It's not "the best game I've played in ages," but it's quite good. If you play board games regularly with a small group of only three or four total players, it would be something to consider adding to your collection.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mutants on Display

So I have yet to find that Olympic event I might take an interest in, but the truth is you can't turn on the TV or read any news web sites without being blasted with the latest from the competition. And it has made me wonder this:

What's with all the World Records getting beaten?

It seems like this happens every Olympics, from what I can remember, just record after record getting smashed. Now, part of that I know comes with the advent of new technologies. For example, those weird Borg-looking suits all the swimmers wear now are scientifically engineered for speed and all. But still, equipment couldn't tell the whole tale. (If it did, wouldn't that beg the question, "why are performance enhancing drugs so bad when other performance enhancing technologies are acceptable?")

It seems more likely that the world is just breeding mutants.

Every four years, the new crop of mutations mixes together with the older mutations that aren't quite past their prime yet, in a worldwide mutant-off. Okay, so that sounds more than a bit goofy, but I think there might actually be statistical merit to the notion.

There are more people in the world now than there have ever been before. And that's true every time the Olympics roll around. More people being born, more chances that some random one is going to have some freak athletic skills that no one before has ever possessed. Four years from now, even more people, even more throws of the genetic dice with the possibility of coming up Seven.

Think about that when you're watching today's contenders perform seemingly impossible feats and setting unimaginable records. Eight, twelve years from now, these records will be ancient history that few but the sports stats geeks will remember.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Mole, The Conclusion

All is now revealed. And all is basically right in the world of The Mole, as Mark won, and Nicole was revealed not to be the Mole, winning nothing as reward for her crappy behavior.

Craig certainly had me fooled, but I took some pretty serious consolation in learning tonight that even the winner of the game didn't actually know he was the Mole until there were only four players (one being himself and another being the Mole) remaining. That sort of gave me a glimmer of hope that, had I actually been a player in the game as hopelessly lost about the identity of the Mole as I was previously, I might not have been eliminated early on.

Tonight, upon reflection, I and the friend I've been watching with together throughout the summer realized what should arguably have been the biggest tip-off of all to the Mole's identity. It's the fact that Craig was put back into the game after his brush with hypothermia and oxygen deprivation. If you watch any amount of "reality television," then you know the producers don't generally mess around. If somebody actually develops any medical problems, they'll yank that person off the show so fast that if you blink, you'll miss it. And yet Craig was given a night's bed rest and then sent right back into the fray. This should have been a siren going off -- he can't be taken out of the game, because he's the Mole!

I would argue, though, that the Mole was not nearly as Mole-y as he could have been. Clearly, almost nobody suspected him until very deep in the game. That means he could have taken some more early opportunities to sit idly by and "prevent" money from being put in the pot through total inaction. He didn't have to jump in on the When Pigs Fly mission to help man the slingshot when the team was suffering. He didn't have to find the clothes at the laundromat during the Dress Code mission.

I kinda feel sorry for Paul, having been the only one to really know the Mole's identity all along, and having missed the final three by only four seconds on the quiz. But then I remember what an ass he was throughout the game, often running a neck-and-neck race for who was more deplorable between he and Nicole, and I don't feel too bad for him at all.

So that about wraps it up. Who knows when or if we can expect another installment of The Mole again? But if it comes, I'll be back here to break it down.

Hopefully with a little more success.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Would It Be Wrong? YES!

Check out this unbelievable, immature piece of crap. It's a video of Stuart Shepard, some kind of high muckity-muck in the Colorado-based religious organization Focus on the Family, praying for rain. Specifically, he asks people to pray for rain in a few weeks, on the night Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech at Mile High Stadium, so as to ruin the event. Shepard asks, "would it be wrong" to pray for that?


There are drought conditions in parts of the world leaving many with insufficient drinking water for a reasonable level of survival. Is this man asking that people pray for rain to relieve some of that suffering? No. He wants rain to spoil a party for a political candidate he doesn't like.

It's one thing to say, "I don't like that guy, I hope it rains on him and his fans." But to pray to your particular Almighty Power that this happens? What is this, Ancient Greece? You're literally asking for God to hurl thunderbolts at your enemies!

Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I confess to being pretty fuzzy on the Bible, but I'm pretty sure those are some pretty key concepts found therein. Focus on the Family and the people leading it like Stuart Shepard should pay more attention to those parts of the Bible and not all that archaic garbage in Leviticus.

But then, if these people are right and their God is waiting for them in the afterlife, I'm sure he'll tell them what giant infantile douchebags they were in their time on Earth.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Expressing Myself

I caught the latest movie from the "Clan Apatow" today, Pineapple Express. I wasn't going expecting a masterpiece, but expecting a good share of laughs. I got pretty much what I expected, no more and no less.

Starring Seth Rogen (who also co-wrote the film) and James Franco, this is Stoner Opus meets Buddy Action movie. It's kind of Hot Fuzz with weed. And the movie does a pretty good job of blending both genres, thankfully never lingering too long on the stoner material to get boring for the non-stoned.

The laughs don't actually come that steadily, but when a good joke arrives, it really makes you laugh. James Franco is especially funny as a washout low-time drug dealer. Also notable in the acting department are two very short but very funny parts by Bill Hader and Ed Begley Jr.

It's hard to say anything more about it without starting to ruin specific jokes, so I pretty much have to wrap the review up at this point. I'd sum it all up with a B-. It's not a movie I'd urge people to see, but I expect just about anyone with any inclination to go in the first place would probably enjoy it.

Friday, August 08, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being "Jeezy"

My friend FKL was thinking of me today. Perhaps he was just dismayed by yesterday's lame post (which I realize now was basically "here are some bunnies... with no pancakes on their heads") and decided I needed something better. In any case, this is definitely better.

Behold the story of a woman who found a Cheeto shaped like Jesus.

The thing that really puts this story over the top for me is the way that everyone interviewed and indeed the reporter him-/herself seem to taking it quite seriously... and yet more-than-slightly not seriously at the same time.

I mean, that headline: "Woman Finds Jesus In Bag of Cheetos." It's perfectly factual, yet completely mocking in a passive-aggressive way.

The fact the husband named it "Cheesus."

The local pastor who said: "If people can find Jesus, somehow, in each of us like she's found in this object, that would be a wonderful thing." You know, basically the world would be a better place if we could each of us find our own Cheeto Jesus.

Truly, Frito-Lay is doing God's work.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Show Me the Bunny

It's late and I'm particularly exhausted tonight. Sorry, everyone, but I just don't have anything insightful to share in this installment. Instead, please enjoy this collection of movies told in around 30 seconds by bunnies.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pretty Pictures

The Olympic Games are starting up in just a few days here, but I don't much care. Those who know me know that I don't take any real interest in any sport. That also goes for the ones we only seem to pay attention to every four years rather than annually for months at a time.

And yet...

I've got HD television now in my new place. And I didn't really get to enjoy it too much back in May before nearly all the shows I watched that would look good in HD went off for the summer.

See, I think that sports broadcasts look pretty freakin' amazing in HD, from the couple seconds here and there I've seen of them. I think this is actually a fairly objective fact, regardless of one's opinion of the sport. There's a reason stores use them (and Blu-ray movies) to demo high-def to potential customers.

So now I'm kinda wondering, is there some event somewhere in the midst of all the stuff at the Olympics that I could somehow muster an interest in? Because it'll look fantastic in HD, I'm sure.

I have a friend who is freakishly manic about equestrian events. Maybe I should just have her over to watch that stuff here and hope that some of the enthusiasm wears off?

Or maybe I should just hang in there until the good stuff comes back. Only a bit more than a month now...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Twenty Steps Back, Twenty Steps Forward

I've come to the conclusion that every item at Bed, Bath and Beyond must be marked up 20%.

Week in and week out, my mailbox is flooded with "20% off any item in the store!" coupons from Bed, Bath and Beyond. (And I understand that it's my using them, with my mailing address printed on them, that keeps them coming.) I mean, I'm talking tons of these things. There are more of these coupons coming at me than Oreos at a fat man.

So I can only conclude that B3 is assuming everybody's going to be taking 20% off of anything they ever buy there. And thus, the prices must all come pre-marked up to account for the eventual "mark down."

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Mole, Week 9

Tonight was the final episode of "regulation play" for The Mole. Next week, all will be revealed.

As all of you who've been following along with me know, my suspects have been disproven again and again, and now my theories are basically like a fire hose flopping around with no one holding onto it. In other words, don't put much stock in what I'm about to say. But after tonight, I believe I'm slightly suspecting Nicole of being The Mole.

If you're looking for support for that within the missions, tonight's bomb defusing mission offered some. (And what a cool mission that was, by the way!) Nicole was responsible for looking up most of the time zones, and she messed up lots of them -- more even than were later corrected. If you looked at the remaining letters the players had to work with in trying to find the two missing words of the puzzle, they weren't even close.

Furthermore, Craig looked very much not like the Mole in that mission. He pointed out the big clock in the center of the room. He found the pulldown map. I would think the Mole would not want to say anything on those points, leaving the other players to succeed or fail. Also, Craig seemed content to hold the map for the other two to search. There, I would think the Mole would want a position of some control, searching for at least some of the cities so as to deliberately misidentify them.

As for the second mission, and Mark's decision to open the dossier... as I've said, he's been responsible for putting too much money in the pot (almost single-handedly) to be the Mole. He simply can't be. I'll be floored if it's revealed that he is. His observation in the episode was very astute, therefore; if Craig is a player, then he knows Nicole is the Mole, and if Nicole is a player, she knows Craig is the Mole. That leaves Mark with the dilemma, and therefore it's perfectly understandable that he'd open the dossier for any help he could get.

For what it's worth, I believe the one bit of information that would have come from that dossier was the answer to tonight's question 18: What did the Mole highlight on their application? "Visited Thailand," "Hates complainers," or "143 IQ." And if indeed that information was in there, I believe it could bust the whole thing wide open, because if you ask me, it's pretty easy to guess which answer belonged to whom. We know Craig has traveled a lot, making him the likely "Thailand" player, and Nicole must have been the one bragging about I.Q. That leaves Mark as the "complainer hater," which is not as obvious, but does seem consistent to me.

Point being, if the dossier gave you that bit of information, then you could probably guess who the answer matched up with, and thus know who the Mole was before taking the quiz.

If you're looking for evidence outside the missions themselves, this is hardly a lock, but I did find it interesting: we saw clips of both Mark and Craig talking about what they would do if they won the money. We saw nothing of Nicole's plans for the money. Would that be because she knows that as the Mole she has no chance of winning it? Instead, she spoke cryptically (crazily?) of how this would let her move on to "the next stage" of her life -- as though she thinks she'll gain some measure of reality show fame from this that will get her into the television business or something.

If you do want the answer, though, I do believe it was given to us point blank tonight. Going into each commercial break of the show, we see a "bumper" of The Mole logo. As tonight's bumper for the first commercial break came up, there was a very strange, distorted sound that played. My guess is it was a voice played sped up, or backward, or both. If I were determined to know the answer one week early, and had the tools to actually shunt my TV audio into my computer to be able to manipulate the sound, I feel pretty sure there it would be. If one of you readers has the capability and wants to give that a try, go ahead and post your findings here in the comments.

Otherwise.... we'll find out next Monday!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Songs (Not of Ice and Fire)

Still no word on when George R.R. Martin might get around to finishing the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Desperate in the interrim to print things with his name on them, his publishers have released a two-volume compilation of selected short stories from throughout his career. See, before he was the author of a great but neverending epic fantasy saga, before he was even the author of any novels, he published hundreds of short stories in various magazines -- science fiction, fantasy, horror, and hybrids of all those.

I recently finished reading Dreamsongs, Volume I. Overall, it's not as entertaining as even some his stand-alone novels (such as Fevre Dream). Still, I'd say it's worth a read, because some of the stories are quite good. It is a nearly 700-page tome, though, so for those of you who might not want to go cover to cover, here's a quick rundown of the best selections.

"And Death His Legacy" is an interesting tale with perhaps some passing similarities to Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone. It's purely coincidental, though, as Martin did write his short story nearly a decade before King's novel, but never actually sold it -- this is one of two or three stories in the collection that was never previously published.

"The Exit to San Breta" is a nice little supernatural tale you might tell around a campfire. While not hugely original, it's well-crafted and worth a look.

"With Morning Comes Mistfall" is a melancholy story of technology sapping the wonder out of classic folklore.

"The Way of Cross and Dragon" is a great examination of the difference between faith and organized religion, with a tasty little bit of blasphemy as the central conceit.

"Meathouse Man" is a wonderfully disgusting sci-fi/horror premise of a world in which people are able to control corpses and use them for various forms of labor.

"Sandkings" is a classic horror setup of a flawed man being given specific rules to follow, ignoring those rules, and getting himself into a heap of trouble. This is another story in which you can guess pretty much every beat of this story as you read it, yet again it makes the reading of it no less fun.

"Nightflyers" is the story of a doomed spaceship, in the vein of 2001, Alien, or Sunshine. It's a full length novella in the midst of these short stories, and thus somewhat out of place. But for my money it's the most "cinematic" of the entire collection -- you could easily imagine a film of this story, and expect that not much of it would need to be cut, since it isn't a full length novel.

Several other stories in the collection may be worth the read, even if they aren't among the best of the tales -- "A Song for Lya," "The Stone City," "The Ice Dragon," "In the Lost Lands," "Remembering Melody," "The Monkey Treatment," and "The Pear-Shaped Man." If you were to keep score, that leaves only about one-quarter of the book made up of inferior bits of fiction.

So, taken as a whole, I'd rate Dreamsongs Volume I as a B. It's no substitute for a full-fledged book by George R.R. Martin (Ice and Fire or otherwise), but if you're looking for material by him you haven't read yet, you might not have many other places to look.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Stuck in Traffic

A local Denver "transportation museum" has an exhibit called "The Sticker Car." See if you can guess why:

Friday, August 01, 2008

Beat Drums! Beat Drums!

You've probably heard the joke that goes, "what do you call a guy who hangs out with musicians? A drummer." But if you've played real drums, or even a little Rock Band, you're no doubt aware that drumming is hard work.

Now some scientists are studying just how hard. Apparently if you're really rocking out, it gets your heart going as much as a professional athlete's, and can burn as much as 600 calories in an hour.

So think twice before telling a drummer joke in front of drummer. Chances are the drummer can kick your ass.