Puttering Around

I can’t say I’ve been getting a lot done on my week off. I’ve hit some used bookstores, bought and read this week’s comic books, eaten a bunch of good food (including trying the new burger restaurant, The Counter, which recently opened in Palo Alto; pretty good!), talked to friends and family on the phone, and done some reading.

Precious little writing, however – here or elsewhere.

Other than playing poker on Monday, my main accomplishment has been going for a bike ride every morning so far this week. Yesterday I went for a lengthy ride (meaning, about 15 miles – not lengthy for some, but lengthy for me) around some territory I’ve only biked once before, and along the way I discovered some new places to go walking. So tomorrow – now that Debbi’s off for the rest of the week – we might go for a walk in the morning rather than a ride.

It’s been cool and sometimes foggy for my morning rides, but by the end of the outing I’m pretty hot and sweaty, so I guess it’s not cold enough! Actually by 10 am it gets up well over 60, which is plenty warm for biking.

So, not the most productive week. But it’s not over yet! And if I regret anything, it’s that it’s flying by so quickly!

Real. Zune. Now.

Assorted links and observations about Microsoft’s Zune music player.

There are early reports that Microsoft’s Zune music player is now available in the wild.

Wow, they really did ship the shit-brown players. Until now, I didn’t quite believe that they’d actually do it.

Does the Zune’s slogan “Welcome To The Social” make anyone else’s head hurt?

The best thing about that link is not just the fact that he got an error trying to install the Zune software, but the picture that accompanies the error! And he’s not the only one. (Is that photo Not Safe For Work? Close call. Exercise caution if in doubt.)

While watching football yesterday, I saw an honest-to-gosh Zune advertisement. It baffled me. A friend of mine has joked that all television ads should come with a Gilbert Gottfried voice-over explaining what the product is. (“It’s a car!” “It’s a feminine hygiene product!” “It’s a digital music player!”) This campaign could use some of that.

It could use less of this sort of thing. What in the world were they thinking when they prepared that photo? Then there are some of the bizarre “ads” done by third parties for the on-line campaign, such as the eyeball one or the flaming birds one. Again, what the–?!?

For that matter, what does the name “Zune” mean? Even the Wikipedia entry doesn’t shed any light on the meaning of the name. Is it a portmanteau of “tune” and some other word (“zoom”, maybe?), or what?

Anyway. In addition to all that, if you’ve previously bought music from the MSN Music or some other Plays For Sure-based store, then you may be SOL trying to transfer it to your Zune:

In a statement a Microsoft spokesperson said: “Since Zune is a separate offering that is not part of the Plays For Sure ecosystem, Zune content is not supported on Plays For Sure devices.”

I’m not a serious industry watcher, but the Zune sure smells to me like a product which was designed and built by several disparate departments. The product and marketing campaign have that feel of “several ideas – both good and bad – forced together through a series of unfortunate compromises”.

In related news, it’s nice to know the music industry loves its customers:

“These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it,” UMG chairman/CEO Doug Morris says. “So it’s time to get paid for it.”

(Via b.bum, whose response is also worth reading.)

Now What?

Everyone’s wondering (well, in the liberal American thoughtspace), “Now that the Democrats have control of both the House and the Senate, what do we do next?” Meaning, of course, what do the Congressional Democrats do with the big mess the Repugnicans have handed them?
And by “What next?”, I think people mean “What to do about Bush’s adventures in Iraq?”

The problem here, I think, is that the Democrats’ answer to this is: We wouldn’t have gone in there in the first place. Going into Iraq was a stupid move, made out of stupidity and greed and ignorance, and which has exposed the country to far more danger than Iraq ever posed before we went in there.

Which, unfortunately, doesn’t solve the problem, because we are there, and pulling out without first stabilizing the government is just going to leave Iraq to turn into a breeding ground for really serious problems, because the nation basically consists of (at least) three factions who don’t really want to coexist peacefully.

The Repugnicans have been accusing the Democrats of not having a plan for stabilizing Iraq and finishing our jobs there. Which is ironic since the Repugnicans certainly don’t have such a plan, and have spent the past four years proving that they don’t have a plan. The Bushies’ plan, as far as I can tell, involved going in, extracting as much value as possible for their friends, and leaving the political mess for someone else to clean up.

But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the Democrats have a plan, either. And I have yet to hear anything which sounds remotely like a real plan from the Democrats which will accomplish the goals of getting the US out of Iraq without leaving it a complete disaster area. All the post-election chatter seems to discuss vaguaries like “The American people voted for change, and by god we’re going to give it to them.” But “change” doesn’t mean “progress”, and to me it sounds like “we don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’ll come up with something.”

I’ve written about all this before, and it’s dismaying to feel like I need to write about it again, that nothing’s changed in three months. But it’s such a bloody disaster, and it’s not at all clear to me that the Democrats have any idea what to do about it. Never mind that it’s not really Congress’ job to deal with it, it’s the job of the Executive branch and the military. And, as I said above, I don’t think the Bushies are really interested in dealing with the problem.
Aargh.

Anyway, hopefully at least we’ll get some subpoenas and hearings so that some of the administration’s backroom machinations will come to light.

Heroes

Debbi and I have been watching Heroes since its debut, and haven’t missed an episode. We’ve watched it faithfully for one fundamental reason: It airs on Monday, and Monday is the one night of the week when we typically have nothing else planned. By contrast, it didn’t take long to bail on Jericho, since that airs on Wednesdays, which is both comic book night and gaming night.

Heroes features a world in which some humans have developed super powers, and so far it mainly involves the characters finding how in what ways their life has changed as a result. Two characters have learned that in a month New York City will be destroyed in what seems to be a nuclear blast, and the key to preventing this is to save a cheerleader from Texas. (The series’ tag line is “Save the cheerleader, save the world.”) There are several forces working at cross purposes to this, or so it seems, and the main characters themselves are often of mixed or dubious moral character.

The pacing of Heroes is extremely slow, with a great deal of time spent on the characters’ personal problems and foibles rather than moving the overall story along, and since several of the characters are either dull or not very likeable, this means that the feel of the show is one of “Something interesting happens!” followed by 20 minutes of “I wonder if they’re showing poker on ESPN2?”

The individual characters have their own story arcs which cross but rarely directly relate. Here’s how I feel about each of them:

  • Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere) is the cheerleader, who heals from almost any wound. She spent the first episode documenting on videotape her attempts to kill herself, and then changed her mind – a change in motivation which made no sense at all. Her stepfather is the man in horn-rimmed glasses (Jack Coleman) who is investigating powered individuals, and who was described in one episode’s promo as “the face of evil”, but this week’s promo suggests he’s a more ambiguous figure. Claire’s arc is deadly dull, being mainly a boring little soap opera.
  • Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) is a Japanese businessman who can teleport and freeze time. He jumped to New York in the future just before the bomb blast, then returned to the present and flew to America with his friend Ando (James Kyson Lee) to try to stop it. Since then they’ve gotten delayed in Las Vegas encountering several other characters. Oka is hands-down the actor who comes out the best in this series, and his character is the most likeable, which does a lot to keep his arc interesting even though it’s been stalled out for several weeks.
  • Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) is a telepathic policeman who’s having trouble with his marriage. He’s also working with the FBI to investigate a serial killer who seems to have powers (apparently telekinesis). His professional life is interesting, his personal life varies between boring and painful, so his arc is a Jeckyll-and-Hyde one to watch.
  • Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is the son of a man who was trying to learn about the powered individuals springing up around the globe. He travels to America from India after his father’s death to find out what he knew. Unlike the others, he has no powers that we know of. Although he’s gotten involved with a woman (Nora Zehetner) working for the horn-rimmed glasses man. When Mohinder is around, the story tends to move forward a little, and he seems like a good guy, and Ramamurthy is an engaging actor, so I am encouraged when he’s on screen.
  • Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) is a prospective New York Senator who can fly, but who is not interested in using his powers. His wife is paraplegic, and Petrelli is kind of a slimeball, involved with a mobster and cheating on his wife on a trip to Las Vegas. He also treats his brother like crap. I hate him as a person, so when he’s on screen I mostly hope he’ll get his comeuppance.
  • Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) is Nathan’s brother. Peter thinks he can fly, too, but his actual abilities are somewhat different (I won’t spoil them here). He’s a good guy who is getting involved with the destruction-of-New-York element, but other than a subway encounter with one of the other characters, he hasn’t had a lot to do yet. I’m hopeful, though.
  • Niki Sanders (Ali Larter) is a single mother to Micah (Noah Grey-Cabey) whose reflection in the mirror has a mind – and powers – of her own. She lives in Las Vegas and was an Internet stripper before her debt to the mob sent her on the run. Most recently, her husband D.L. (Leonard Roberts) has shown up and taken Micah away. The story around Niki’s powers is interesting, but her personal problems got old really quickly, around the second episode. Overall a net minus.
  • Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera) is a painter and drug user who paints pictures of the future, including the destruction of New York. Other than meeting Peter, his story has gone nowhere at all.

You can see the common thread here, right? There’s a lot of soap opera plotting going on and it’s just plain boring. The series feels like it’s stuck in its prologue and can’t manage to get the main plot moving. In retrospect, the first episode seems almost entirely redundant. When I think back over the episodes to date, it seems like there’s a lot more motion than progress, and it feels like a series badly in need of editing down to fewer episodes.

The series bend over backward to portray the characters as flawed but not evil, but the writing doesn’t feel consistent. It feels like the writers want us to be able to root for any of the characters, but also not to be able to see what’s coming. Consequently, several characters feel like they’re being pulled in different directions for no good reason; the characterization often feels made-to-order rather than natural.

To me, what drives the interesting bits of Heroes is a set of questions: Who is Claire’s father, and what’s he doing? Who is the killer the cop is tracking? Who’s going to blow up New York, and why? And, of course, why are people developing super powers?

So my fear for this show is that it’s going to fall into the trap of The X-Files and Smallville and (I hear) Lost of not really resolving things. If most of the questions in the preceding paragraph aren’t satisfactorily resolved this season, then I’ll know that the show isn’t serious about telling a story, but just wants to string us along. I bailed on The X-Files in its third season when I realized it wasn’t serious about going anywhere. A series with ongoing storylines needs to deliver a payoff in a timely manner or else it just feels like a cynical effort on the part of the producers and writers: “Keep watching, because something might happen at any minute!”

Overall, I feel that the series isn’t very original from a comic book superhero standpoint, and not very lively from a character drama standpoint. It has the potential to be a good series, but it needs to live up to that potential sometime soon, or I’m going to lose interest, even if it does air on Mondays.

Another view: Scott Marshall

On Voting

The comic strip Dullard, er, I mean, Mallard Fillmore, is at it again, trying to convince people not to vote.

Now, while I don’t agree with this, I don’t go the other way either. Indeed, I hate it when someone says something like “If you don’t vote then you have no right to complain,” which in one pithy comment helps set the cause of free speech back 250 years. This attitude isn’t helpful, either. While I believe people should vote, I also feel people have the right not to vote, while still having the right to complain about the outcome.

Here are some arguments to try to encourage people to vote:

  1. Voting helps keep politicans more honest. I think nothing would frighten the politicians more than if voter turnout went up by 50%. Especially if a lot of disaffected fringe voters who don’t support either major party were to show up.
  2. Going to vote is fun! Well, I think so, anyway. But then, voting for me just involves a plasant 10-minute walk to my polling place and (usually) a short wait in line. Your mileage may vary.
  3. You might be able to shake up the system! If you hate the major party candidates, go vote for some minor party candidate. They might not win, but you might help their party establish a footing in your area. If everyone who doesn’t like their major party candidates went to vote for a minor party candidate, that would be pretty neat. It would certainly make politics more interesting, which given the shape their in probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.
  4. You can send a message. I hate referenda, propositions, ballot initiatives, or whatever they’re called in your state. I tend to vote against them because I feel they’re an abdication of responsibility by the government. I vote for representatives to act, not to send things back to me to vote on later. Occasionally I vote for one, but the bar is set very high. I want to vote against the others to help send the message that ballot initiatives suck and I work against them just on principle. (You could make the same argument about bond measures, with the additional factor that bond measures are a way of sidestepping the tax system.)
  5. If you didn’t know who your Congresscritter was until election season, maybe the problem doesn’t lie on your end. Maybe it’s time to elect someone who will be a little more, um, useful.

While I would be happy to see the Democrats take control of Congress by Wednesday, I would be even happier if voter turnout vastly exceeded the expectations of the politicians, media and analysts. That would be really, really cool.

Doctor Who: One Versus Two

I’ve seen the first four episodes of the second season of Doctor Who, and I’ve noticed that they each resemble an early episode from the first season:

  1. The first episode of each season involves an invasion of Earth by some improbable aliens (“Rose” vs. “The Christmas Invasion”).
  2. The second episode of each season takes place in humanity’s far future and features a number of unusual aliens (“The End of the World” vs. “New Earth”).
  3. The third episode of each season takes place in the 19th century and involves a classic horror element (“The Unquiet Dead” vs. “Tooth and Claw”).
  4. The sixth episode of the first season and the fourth episode of the second season features the return of well-known figures from the original Doctor Who series (“Dalek” vs. “School Reunion”).

On top of this, both series feature a recurring background element (“Bad Wolf” vs. Torchwood, the latter I guess laying the groundwork for the spin-off series). Hopefully Torchwood will have a more rewarding climax than Bad Wolf did.

Is this correlation just coincidence, I wonder?