Monday, January 30, 2006

Stephen Colbert interview in The Onion's A.V. Club

This week's A.V. Club has an interview with Stephen Colbert:

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don't mean the argument over who came up with the word. I don't know whether it's a new thing, but it's certainly a current thing, in that it doesn't seem to matter what facts are. It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the president because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?

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CALEA VoIP Tapping: Like Clipper Chip without all the benefits.

Remember the Clipper Chip? It was a microchip that the government was going to mandate be the standard encryption solution for digital devices. It used a secret algorithm developed by the NSA, and also had a secret "escrow key" that allowed the government to easliy listen in. It died in the mid-1990's after a wave of public backlash. (But the government only really gave up after someone discovered a flaw that let you disable the backdoor.)

Well, the Clipper Chip is back. Except this time, it's not a chip, and it doesn't offer the marginal benefit of encryption; the government just wants to listen in for free. The FCC wants to expand the existing CALEA law to mandate that every piece of hardware and software must have a backdoor for law enforcement wiretaps. (The government already has this ability with calls made over traditional phone networks!)

The problems are legion, even aside from the obvious privacy issues: the inability of law enforcement agencies to adequately keep secrets; mandated backdoors are hard to write without introducing flaws; backdoors might be exploitable by hackers; and innovation would slow as governmental approval mires the development of new software and hardware. Ugh. Say NO to expansion of CALEA!

(Full size retro anti-Clipper Chip ad here.)

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Climate expert pressured to shut up: Why I don't get that angry anymore.

From the New York Times: The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Whenever I start to think about the way the republicans are ruining everything that was ever good about this country, stealing our freedoms, and messing up the planet for a little temporary comfort, I think of the coming economic disaster and post-global-warming Mad Max future they're giving us. And I don't even get that mad, because in the Thunderdome, we're going to have a word for people who supported the destruction of our world.

That word is "food".

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Testing Google Video Embedding

Video from SRL in Chinatown:

Video 1: Robotic mayhem. (Ends on a frame washed out by a flamethrower, not something exploding.) No sound; my camera doesn't do sound.

Video 2: More mayhem; pulsejet hovercraft in action. A few seconds before the end of the video, you can see the oil drum filled with white humanoid dolls explode. Also no sound. Sorry.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006


Digby over at Hullabaloo has been on a tear lately; if you don't follow his blog, you should start. Some of his articles get a little too "insiders only", and I wish he would de-uglify his blog, but it's worth the read. I particularly liked his recent spanking of Glenn Reynolds, but maybe that's just because I've learned to loathe Glenn Reynold's snarky comments. "Ouch!"

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Russians want to save us from the coming helium shortage

The Earth is running out of helium. Really! There's a limited supply; if you've forgotten your high-school chemistry, remember that helium is an element, and the only way to create it is through a nuclear reaction, and the helium we have is the byproduct of years of natural radioactive decay underground. And we're squandering helium at such a rate that the U.S. reserves will be almost all gone in 2015.

As any kid and they'll tell you that helium is awesome. I agree! As supporting evidence I point you to a fascinating article that opens, "This article is about the extraordinary gas helium". It would be a shame to have a future without helium.

But the future isn't totally bleak: Al-Jazeera is reporting that Russia plans to mine the moon for helium in 2020. (I never thought I would be typing THAT sentence.) I am a little sad because I doubt they'll let us use moon-helium to blow up balloons.

Update, 8/1/2006: In the past week or so, I'm getting tons of hits on this page, from all over the world. I'm curious why there's a sudden surge in interest for "Helium Shortage". Was there a recent event or story about the coming helium shortage? Is it happening sooner than we anticipated? If you're a recent visitor, and you can shed some insight, let me know. Thanks!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Google and Yahoo! know more about you than you think! just linked to an article from The Register, "77% of Google users don't know it records personal data". The article mentions the Google tracking cookie, and offhandedly mentions that Google also records IP addresses. Both the article and the digg discussion focused on Google's ability to track your searches, but both mostly ignored the fact that Google can assemble a pretty good idea of your web browsing habits even if you're not deliberately using any of Google's services!

What do my blog,,, AmericaBlog, Ars Technica, Slashdot, the article from The Register, and an insane number of other sites have in common? They all include assets fetched from a Google server that very well could be saving your IP address. My blog and AmericaBlog are hosted on, which is owned by Google; has a Google search image served off of a Google server; and The Register include Google adsense code; Ars Technica and Slashdot include Google-Analytics javascript.

One might argue that in a world of dynamic addresses, firewalls, and shared computers, your IP address doesn't uniquely identify you in the same way that a tracking cookie can. But it's a pretty good start, and for a large portion of the audience, the IP address is as useful for tracking as the cookie. It's difficult to browse the web without accidentally loading these assets. (I know there's somebody out there with images, cookies, and javascript turned off feeling mighty superior right now, but that's the exception, not the rule.)

This isn't just a Google thing; guess what's common between my blog, Sploid, Coop's blog,,, and any site including a Flickr image? Each of these includes assets served from a Yahoo! owned server. As you browse the web, start to look for "Ads by Google" or "My Yahoo!" icons; they're so common that you probably stopped noticing them a long time ago.

The moral isn't that your web surfing habits are traceable; nobody's surprised that their ISP knows all about their browsing habits. And it isn't that Google or Yahoo! are evil; they're really not. But for third party companies, they can gather a surprising amount of information about you as you traverse the web. It might not be a bad thing for everyone to be more aware of exactly where their surfing is leaving digital footprints.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Today is Pie Day

I can't believe that I almost forgot that today is National Pie Day. (Not to be confused with Pi Day, which isn't until March). Go forth and celebrate pie!

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chinatown Survival Research Labs

The aftermath of last year's SRL show.
Originally uploaded by IvyMike.
Last year, I wrote about the telerobotic pyrotechnic mayhem that was the Survival Research Labs show in Los Angeles at Dangerous Curve. That show ended with the arrival of the L.A.F.D., who looked at the aftermath of the show in stunned disbelief. I was floored by that performance, but sadly I suspected it may have been the end of SRL in L.A.

Fortunately, Survival Research Labs was back in the City of Angels yesterday, this time in Chinatown in a space outside of Fringe Exhibitions. My brother drove down from SF and we headed over to the show around 6:00. We watched the artists preparing for the show; ominously, there were sacks of strange fluids being loaded into even stranger devices, a humanoid figure composed of dead fish, and warnings from the safety crew that we might get splattered with "something". But I didn't give up my primo spot, even after the crew made us stand three feet back from the plywood crowd barrier with the admonishment that it might fall onto us during the show!
Preparations for the SRL show

The show finally started around 8:00; once again, it was intensely terrifying, although not quite on the scale of the April show. After all, the show was in a parking lot adjacent to an occupied apartment building! It's useless to try to describe the entirety of the chaos, but these are the images that stuck out for me:
  • The sneaky soldiers, which are squirming telerobotic humanoids that serve mostly as targets.
  • A giant styrofoam lizard head which drooled fish guts as it rose above the crowd. It also had a harpoon that pierced and mauled at the dead-fish humanoid.
  • The return of the pulsejet hovercraft. Pulsejets are giant propane-powered trumpets that pump out a noise so loud that it serves as the vehicle's propulsion device!
  • A robot with a giant claw and a set of off-centered flywheels that allowed it to grab a target and vibrate the hell out of it.
  • An enormous flamethrower on a forklift. This eventually was used to immolate the lizard head into a mass of molten sytrofoam. (I noticed that the forklift was a rental.)
  • Two barrels filed with some sort of milky-white fluid and hundreds of small humanoid beanbag dolls--and an automotive airbag in the bottom. The exploding airbag expelled the disgusting doll soup sky-high and into the crowd.
  • Walker-bot smash!
    The six-legged walker-bot. This thing moves with alarming speed, and makes erratic moves. In this show, the walker bot went out of control into the crowd barriers, pushing them back into the crowd! I think this was partially planned, but the bot continued to lunge at the crowd again and again until we had been pushed back about twenty feet, and the robot handlers ran over to shut it down. Once again, I got the feeling that unlike most sanitized experiences in our modern life, this time we were actually in serious physical danger.
Part of the metallic-looking humanoid.
After the demolishion was complete, the artists allowed the crowd to walk around the performance space. They also flung some of the dolls and dead fish into the crowd--gee, thanks! The artists talked with the crowd and each other about the performance. (One funny moment: one of the safety crew saw a hand reach out from the crowd and touch the hovercraft, and he quickly asked, "Please don't touch the hovercraft." He had to sheepishly smile when the response came back, "I built it!") The vehicles were still radiating heat; smoldering piles of rubbish littered the ground, and the lizard head dangled molten plastic cobwebs.

Given the proximity to the apartment buildings, I was somewhat amazed that the authorities never showed up--but I guess it's Chinatown, Jake. I have some poorly lit photos of the show on Flickr, but I think the insanity of the show is best captured by the grainy videos I took of the show:
More from around the web:
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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Critical space junk threshold approaching

Great; not only are we furiously busy polluting the Earth, but we've managed to foul up our escape route:
Even without launching any additional spacecraft, the number of new fragments created by collisions will exceed the number falling back to Earth and burning up by 2055.
There sure is a lot of crap up there.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Camera-toss photography: I PROMISE TO FEEL THE NEWS

I have ten half-written blog posts in the queue, but none of them are quite ready for publication.

Instead, enjoy this camera-toss photo I took, entitled "I PROMISE TO FEEL THE NEWS."

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Iraqi Invasion: A Text Misadventure

Bush's presidency as an Infocom-style text adventure:

The situation in Iraq remains unchanged.

You put on the flightsuit.

"Mission accomplished."

The mission is not accomplished

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Easy image editing, on the cheap: Paint.NET

My dad needed to touch-up some old scanned photos, so he asked me for a software recommendation. He needed something vastly more capable than Windows Paint, and he needed editing features that don't come with something like Picasa. But he definitely didn't need the power or complexity that come with GIMP or Photoshop. And he doesn't do this very often, so it's probably not worth it to buy something like Photoshop Elements.

My recommendation to him: The free Paint.NET, developed as a joint project between Microsoft and Washington State University. It's designed to be easy to use, it fills the niche between MS Paint and Photoshop quite nicely, and it's even open source under the MIT license. If you're using Windows, give it a try.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

100 Suns

"100 SUNS documents the era of visible nuclear testing, the atmospheric era, with 100 photographs drawn by Michael Light from the archives at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. National Archives in Maryland. It includes previously classified material from the clandestine Lookout Mountain Air Force Station based in Hollywood, whose film directors, cameramen, and still photographers were sworn to secrecy."

The link has been making the rounds, but how could I not repeat it here: it includes a photo of Ivy Mike.

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Quite simply amazing:

Luca "Lazylegz" Patuelli was born with arthrogryposis, a disorder that affects his bone structure and muscular growth from the waist down. He has been break dancing since the age of 15.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Personal Netflix annual report.

This is probably of interest to nobody but me. But it's my web journal, and I'll do what I want!

In 2005, I signed up for Netflix immediately after returning from my Christmas vacation. In that year, I rented 114 DVDs, or an average of 9.5 a month; this means that each video cost me $1.90 to watch. Four DVDs were damaged when they arrived; three DVDs took a long time in arriving for apparently no reason; two DVDs arrived with ripped packaging and a postal service rubber-stamp "Damaged during shipping" message; four DVDs took a long time before they arrived back at Netflix. In the end, no DVDs were lost.

I watched three seasons of the Sopranos; the first season of Farscape; great movies like Tokyo Story, Crash, and The 400 Blows; not-so-good movies like Biker Boyz, Jersey Girl, and King Arthur; half of Ichi the Killer, which was the only movie I couldn't finish; and a helluva lot of documentaries. Thanks, Netflix!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Man, I hate spiders.

I've got an interesting article in the works, but it's not quite ready. Until then, read this article about one of my nightmares made real:

A tarantula-like spider which has been biting an elderly man in his sleep has been in his house for several weeks, according to the RSPCA.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The one about the buck and where it stops.

Last year, in this thread on fark, one of the users sarcastically suggested Bush gets blamed for too much. I saved this excellent response by "LarsThorwald" for a rainy day blog post. Enjoy:
I know I am going to get ridiculed for this, but I think GaryPDX is right. People should stop blaming Bush for everything.

They should just stick to blaming him and/or his Administration for abrogating the ABM treaty; for abandoning wholesale the Kyoto Treaty; for the decision on CO2 emissions; his stem-cell research position; his decision not to seek the full funding he promised for No Child Left Behind; for immediate caving on vouchers; the dismissal of Richard Clarke's views, and then of Clarke himself; foot-dragging on creating a Homeland Security agency; foot-dragging on appointing a 9/11 commission; foot-dragging on appointing a National Intelligence Director; promising, and then failing to fight to keep the promise, to fund emergency responders; the dismissal of dissenting intelligence offered by elements within CIA, State, DOD and GAO regarding the need for and costs of going to war in Iraq; sixteen words in the State of the Union; ignoring Powell, Shinseki, and Scowcroft; embracing Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld; going to war with the army you have and not the army you could have had had you applied yourself; dismissing calls from elements within the Pentagon for better post-war planning; breaking it but then not owning it; "Mission Accomplished"; "Bring it on"; "Dead or Alive"; sticking to tax cuts in the face of ballooning debt; proposing a massive Medicare benefit in the face of massive debt in abrogation of every real conservative principle; not vetoing--and in fact encouraging--an Energy Bill that is adorned with pork in abrogation of every conservative principle; not vetoing--in fact encouraging--a Transportation Bill that is adorned with pork in abrogation of every conservative principle; pursuing in the first instance or abandoning Social Security reform, depending on your ideology; pursuing in the first place or abandoning real litigation reform, depending on your ideology; pursuing in the first place or shelving until it is politically unacceptable real tax reform, depending on your ideology; "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie" when Brownie wass not, in fact, doing a heck of a job; promising to fire anyone "involved" in leaking the identity of a CIA agent, and then abandoning that promise; Harriet F*cking Miers.

But please. Don't blame him for everything.
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Monday, January 09, 2006

Nights of the week

My sister suggested that the nights of the week should be known as Monnight, Tuesnight, Wednesnight, Thursnight, Frinight, Saturnight, and Sunnight. I couldn't think of a reason why not, so I'm going to try using them.

It's also somewhat interesting where the days of the week get their names in the first place. Shamelessly cribbed from wikipedia:
  • Monday: It gets its name from Mani (Old English Mona), the Germanic Moon god.
  • Tuesday: The English and Scandinavian names are derived from the Nordic god Tyr.
  • Wednesday: The name comes from the Old English Wodnesdæg meaning the day of the Germanic god Woden.
  • Thursday: The name Thursday comes from the Old English Þunresdæg, meaning the day of Þunor, commonly known in Modern English as Thor, the Norse god of thunder.
  • Friday: The name Friday comes from the Old English frigedæg, meaning the day of Frige, the Norse god of beauty.
  • Saturday: It is the only day of the week to retain its Roman origin in English, named after the Roman god of time Saturn.
  • Sunday: In English, Sunday gets its name from Sunna, or Sunne the Germanic sun goddess.
That's it for now. See you on Tyrsnight.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Snakes on a plane

I referenced a movie in this earlier post, but it occurred to me that not everybody is familiar with the upcoming Samuel L. Jackson movie "Snakes on a Plane."

Let me say it again: there's a movie coming out and it's called "Snakes on a Plane." It's about snakes--on a freakin' plane! And there ain't a GOD-DAMN thing you can do about it. The entire internet cannot wait for this film to come out.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Celestron SkyScout: A very smart telescope

Celestron just announced a new gadget called the SkyScout: It's a telescope that uses GPS and magnetic sensors to identify the celestial object it's pointed at. You can also use it to find a celestial object if you know the name but not the location. I want one.

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Snake in a mutha-f*ckin' car.

And there ain't a GOD-DAMN thing you can do about it.

Someone on fark just asked how to get a well-fed and satisfied seven-foot boa constrictor out of the dashboard of their car. They've already had two herpetologists on the case, but no luck yet. Events are unfolding as I type! I can't wait to see how this turns out.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Google Video Marketplace

Google just announced their Google Video Store. But the Onion scooped just about everyone with their early coverage in 1998!

Update, 1/7/2006: Just to clarify the point of my joke: I like to think that the promise of the internet is more than just another way to get T.V., so I was a little underwhelmed by the announcement. (On the other hand, the announcement of Google Pack was good news; although I already have virtually everything in it, it will make life a lot easier next time I have to set up a computer.)

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Wiretaps without warrants.

This seems pretty simple to me: I want the government to spy on terrorists. But I don't want the government to spy on everyone. Warrants act as a check step to make sure that we're actually spying on bad guys. If you can't get the warrant for a real terrorist, under the current political climate and rules, you're not just incompetent; you're keystone-cops incompetent. Eliminating the warrant makes abuses of power easier; cynics might say it makes abuses of power inevitable.

What I don't understand is why republicans who used to be against big government suddenly want to give that same government unchecked and seemingly infinite power. Heck, I thought they loved the second amendment because of a deep mistrust of governmental power. Republicans, you're supposed to hate this kind of thing!

This flip-flop from one of the core republican principles seems inexplicable; even if they fundamentally trust the current administration, why do they implicitly trust the next administration, and the next, and the next? If we don't allow the constitution to set limits on the office of president, it seems like he has no limits at all. That's not democratic, and that's not American.

I've not sure I've gone where I wanted with this post. But the first four or five versions of this entry pretty much all ended with a paragraph of stream-of-consciousness profanity, so this will have to do.

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Back in July 2005, Yahoo! bought Konfabulator, a shareware collection of desktop widgets that ran on both OSX and Windows. It included goodies like a weather widget, a calendar, a CPU monitor, and hundreds of third-party plugins. This type of thing has existed since "xeyes" was written, but everybody who sees it agrees that Konfabulator looks gorgeous; it has zazz.

Yahoo! released Konfabulator for free, which I appreciated, but I didn't understand how this fit into Yahoo!'s business plan. I thought maybe it was just a goodwill gesture to the internet at large.

Then, few weeks ago, they released a new version, renamed "Yahoo! Widgets". The new name lacks zazz, but other than that, Yahoo!'s new version of Konfabulator didn't look very different, other than a few new core widgets.

But as I played around with a few of the new widgets, I realized that Yahoo! has actually done something very cool: they've started to blur the line between their web applications and the desktop.

Yahoo! already has an online calendar/todo list and a notepad application, both associated with Yahoo! mail, but now you can access the same data from Konfabulator widgets. The new photo widget displays photos from Flickr; the new contacts rolodex widget uses your Yahoo! mail contacts list. All of a sudden I've got these applications that run on my desktop but store the information online. The desktop applications have more zazz than the web versions, but I can get to the same information from anywhere.

Take the next logical step: Imagine the apps you use every day, but when you hit save, the information was automatically saved online and available to you, everywhere, in a web version. A Word clone that saves online and also has a writely-style web interface; a Picasa clone that managed your Flickr photos directly; a Powerpoint clone that saved your documents as an online flash presentation; or a desktop text/html editor that saved your documents directly to the web, and could auto-publish to your blog. Who doesn't want those things?

This feels like the start of something very cool.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I've got Olympic fever

Just a warning: The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin start in 37 days, and I've got Olympic fever. Back when I was 11, I was given a book that detailed the mechanics and rules of the sports of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and I've hooked ever since.

And it's not just the mainstream sports; I like watching the obscure, underappreciated sports the best. During the last summer olympics, there was a point at which I had to stay up until 3 am to watch the archery finals--I couldn't tape it, because my Tivo was busy recording badminton.

Olympics factoid: There are only seven sports in the Winter Olympics: Biathlon, Bobsleigh, Curling, Ice Hockey, Luge, Skating, and Skiing. Of course, many of those sports are broken into dozens of events. (Oddly, Skeleton is considered an 'event' in Bobsleigh, but Luge is an entirely different 'sport'. I don't know how that happened.)

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Monday, January 02, 2006

A Life, Wasted

The Washington Post has an incredible column titled "A Life, Wasted" from Paul E. Schroeder. Paul's son, Lance Cpl. Edward "Augie" Schroeder II, was killed in Iraq.

The day his unit returned home to waiting families, we received the second urn of ashes. This lad of promise, of easy charm and readiness to help, whose highest high was saving someone using CPR as a first aid squad volunteer, came home in one coffin and two urns.


In our last conversation, Augie complained that the cost in lives to clear insurgents was "less and less worth it," because Marines have to keep coming back to clear the same places.


Though it hurts, I believe that his death -- and that of the other Americans who have died in Iraq -- was a waste. They were wasted in a belief that democracy would grow simply by removing a dictator -- a careless misunderstanding of what democracy requires. They were wasted by not sending enough troops to do the job needed in the resulting occupation -- a careless disregard for professional military counsel.

But their deaths will not be in vain if Americans stop hiding behind flag-draped hero masks and stop whispering their opposition to this war. Until then, the lives of other sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers may be wasted as well.

This is very painful to acknowledge, and I have to live with it. So does President Bush.

Read the full column: Paul makes the point that his son was a hero in life, not in death.

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Star Wars: Clone Wars

If you've already punished yourself by watching Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III, you should give yourself a little treat by watching the two animated Clone Wars DVDs. These DVDs gather together the Cartoon Network animated shorts, and cover events that occur between Episodes II and III.

Clone Wars Volume I consists of 20 episodes, each of which is about three minutes long, and each is jam packed with action covering various battles in the Clone Wars. (So much so that watching all of the episodes back-to-back can be a little overwhelming. Try spacing them out.) The Jedi combat will impress you more than anything in the movies, and you'll find yourself empathizing with the cartoon Anakin more than you ever did the Hayden Christiansen Anakin. And Mace Windu proves himself a total badass by single-handedly defeating an entire droid army, which is worth the price of the DVD alone.

Clone Wars Volume II consists of five episodes, each about 12 minutes long, which allows director Genndy Tartakovsky to create a more involved storyline. Virtually every missing event between Episode II and III is explained--C3P0's gold plating, Dooku training Grievous, the friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin, and even the rasping cough that Grievous inexplicably had in Episode III.

The animation team is also responsible for the Samurai Jack series, and the stylized animation captures the energy and life of the original three Star Wars movies. It's clear that the animators, who were raised on Star Wars, care about preserving the Star Wars mythos and want to get every detail exactly perfect.

(P.S. Know me in real life? Ask to borrow the DVDs!)

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Why I can't wait for 2010

The end of "200x" themed novelty glasses.

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