Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Really? This is sad.

Microsoft is running ads during the olympics talking about how awesome Windows 7 is. In one ad this ostensibly British woman talks about how she said Windows 7 should be easier, and she shows as proof the new task bar. I nearly died laughing. Here's a screenshot of windows 7:

Now, there are several things that make this funny. First and foremost is the taskbar mentioned in the ad. This AMAZING new feature makes windows easier to use, or so says the ad. Ok, fair enough, I'm sure it does. So how innovative is this new feature? Look at this shot from the Mac OS X public beta, released in October of 2000:

See that at the bottom? Look familiar? Yes, that's called the Dock. It's the exact thing that Microsoft is ripping off for Windows 7. When Windows 95 came out there were T-Shirts that said "Windows 95 = Macintosh 87" and they weren't far from the truth. Apparently Microsoft has fallen further behind, because now they are nine years behind the Mac...

Don't even get me started on the "Gadgets" that are a ripoff of the Dashboard, first introduced with Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" in April of 2005. To be fair, the gadgets debuted with Windows Vista, which is a bit like saying you got your start in film working on Ishtar...

It's sad really. Microsoft tries so hard, and fails so spectacularly over and over again. I honestly don't understand it. I've been to their campus. They have bright people who work very hard in a great environment. I walked away very impressed. But at the end of the day, I use the mac because I don't like being 5-10 years behind in technology...


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Lightning Thief

This weekend was my daughter's birthday party. It's a sleepover involving no less than ten adolescent girls. As you might expect, I make it a point to be out of the house as much as possible...

Every year I take Jacob and go to a movie during this event. This year I looked at the movie choices and it came down to The Tooth Fairy, The Spy Next Door, or The Lightning Thief. It seemed like The Lightning Thief was the best of these choices, so we figured we'd give it a try.

But first... This movie is based on a book, and I have a general rule about movies based on books: READ THE BOOK FIRST. This stems from reading the hobbit as a kid and then seeing this on TV. In the book the Hobbit, the Arkenstone is described as, basically, the most beautiful gem ever created. It has an inner light and also reflects every light that shines on it. How do you imagine the most beautiful gem ever created? What does it look like? In the tv special it looked like a chunk of white plaster with gems stuck in it. Not EXACTLY how I would envision the most beautiful gem ever... From that point on, I have made it a point to always read the book first, so I have my images in my head instead of seeing the movie maker's images when I read the book.

So, on Friday I took Jacob to Barnes and Noble, and bought him the book. I told him that if he wanted to go to the movie, he had to read this first. It's 375 pages and he is almost 9. Sounds daunting, but he pulled it off. He is a pretty good reader. After he went to bed I took the book and read it so that I would not be waiting for him to finish it the next day.

The book:

The book is delightful. It is a little linear (go here, fight monster, go here, fight monster, go here, fight monster) but still a good read. The main characters are 12 year old kids, and the book does a decent job of grappling with the problem of how three young kids would get from New York to California without taking a plane and not being old enough to drive.

There are really great moments in the book, my favorite of which is when they go up in the St. Louis Arch and encounter a fire breathing chihuahua. Throughout the book, Percy receives small amounts of cryptic help from his very famous father (if you have no idea what these books are about, Percy is the son of a greek god). There are good characters that they encounter, and it's a fun and easy read from start to finish. If you have a child who is into fantasy, this is a great book for them to read. It bears some similarities to Harry Potter, but that doesn't really detract from the book.

The movie:

Let me start by saying this: I am not one of those people who thinks it makes me sound intelligent to say "the book was better than the movie" or just, by default, always likes the book better. For example,Jurassic Park is one of the best books ever written, and a pretty good movie as well. I enjoyed both (well, I was completely obsessed by the book, but that's not for this discussion. No book has ever grabbed me as that one did). The Hunt for Red October was an awesome book, and an awesome movie. The best part was, the book was a better book, and the movie was a better movie. To me, that's exactly how adaptations should be done. Take the best stuff from the book and re-write it so that it is appropriate for the screen and has the right level of action and suspense.

On the other hand, it is possible to follow a book too closely. The film Screamers showed us this. I can't think of a movie that followed the book more closely, and failed so spectacularly as a movie. The book was amazing, the same thing as a movie...not so much. I went to see the movie on opening weekend, and was completely underwhelmed. So was everyone else, as the movie was a total flop.

So, how does all of this tie in to The Lightning Thief? Simple. This movie bears very little resemblance to the book. Some of the characters are the same, but the plot is very different. Not only is it very different, the main villain of the book is entirely absent from the movie! The movie took a few characters, a couple of plot elements, and a general premise from the book. That's it. Which is a huge shame because the book could have made a really great movie. There was an attempt to make the movie have a bit of Lord of the Rings scale and feel, which is also unfortunate because this is NOT a book about epic battles and hundreds of people with swords. It is a story about three twelve year old kids going on an adventure in a world in which the greek gods really exist. But the movie is a story about three 16-18 year old teenagers who drive around the country looking for pearls and then go visit Hades.

The plot is very weak and rather disjointed. The effects are fine, but nothing special. The characters have no depth to them at all, and readers of the book will be left very disappointed. My son was, and he is not exactly a movie critic. The weirdest part of all of this is that the book reads a bit like a movie, and you get the feeling it would be a great movie. Unfortunately it was not to be. This movie falls short in so many ways it's hard to fathom. Pass on this one.

But read the book.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Never, ever, trust anything to microsoft DRM

I have an Xbox 360. It is a toy, but a fun toy. The kids and I love playing games on it. A few weeks ago I got the dreaded "Red Ring of Death" on the box. Thankfully, I am covered by the three year warranty for this exact problem. So I send it off to Microsoft. Their solution is simply to send us an already fixed box rather than making customers wait to have the machines fixed. Great, sounds good.

So I get the new xbox today. In it is a note. To transfer my downloaded content to my new xbox I will have to connect to xbox live and redownload every single item (all 58 of them) to my new console. This will transfer the licenses and then they will work offline. This is HUGELY important to me, as I don't have internet at home. So without the DRM transfer, I cannot play many of my games. Incidentally, since the "media update" which allows it to play aac's and every kind of video I care to watch is also protected by the drm, the console is significantly hampered without this transfer.

Included in the box are instructions on how to do this. Connect to live. Redownload everything. Things should work now. Included is this line: "License restoration will only work on this console."

So, I follow the instructions. Works when I'm connected to the internet, doesn't work when I'm not. Looks like it didn't transfer. So I call Microsoft. They give me a bunch of useless steps to take, and it still doesn't work. They try other things, things that will probably create more problems when I get this home, and it still doesn't work. I am getting annoyed.

It's been an hour, and my xbox still isn't working properly.

Thankfully, this is only a toy. If this stuff actually mattered, I would be hosed. What if this was a license to my server? What if this was something that the church required to operate for a weekend? Yeah, sorry.

DRM is evil. This is exactly why. Paying customers are inconvenienced to the point of sheer frustration. I'll bet if my console was hacked and I had pirated all of this, I would be back up and running. DRM punishes the people who do things legitimately. Anytime anyone says "the future is online content" remember this lesson. If it isn't DRM free, it is likely to not work at some point, no matter how much you've paid. Once that happens, it's useless.

I hate Microsoft, and I hate DRM. Put them together? Bad news. Bad, bad news.