Monday, April 28, 2008

Arbys buys Wendy's

Arby's has bought Wendy's for 2.34 billion dollars. While the stores will continue to operate autonomously, Dave Thomas's family is not happy with the news:
It's a very sad day for Wendy's, and our family. We just didn't think this would be the outcome," said Farber, 53. If her father were alive to hear news of the buyout, "he would not be amused," she said.

Arby's needs to watch out. This is a fast food icon whose posthumous legacy is unblemished, and now they've pissed off his family. Unlike Colonel Sanders, Dave Thomas now only exists in the form of faded posters overlooking condiment racks of restaurants who haven't touched their decor since 2002. While Colonel Sanders has been reintroduced in a comical animated form, rendering the Colonel's tormented spirit incapacitated from spinning so furiously in his grave, Dave Thomas's old stomping grounds are ripe for the haunting.

And it doesn't stop there. Arby's has pissed off the friendly redheaded namesake as well:
Farber said she had just gotten off the phone with her sister Wendy, 46, the company's namesake. "She's feeling horrible. She just is devastated," Farber said.
Arby's, this acquisition has only upset the family so far, but the consequences are much broader if you manage to alienate the fan base. Less competition in the fast food business means prices can go up with less resistance, but God help you if you take away the 99-cent chicken nuggets.

Friday, April 18, 2008

One Decade of mp3s

Historical reference.

Ten years ago on Saturday, Matt Varas walked up to me with a small stack of floppy diskettes, and in usual Varas fashion, thrust them at me.

"What's this?"
"It's an mp3."
"What is that?"

He explained that it was just a way of making a sound file small. On four disks (remember this was 1998, before CD burners were common), he told me to use Microsoft Backup/Restore to combine them all.

Not really sure what that was, I went home, spent two hours downloading Winamp, and used that obscure program to combine the diskettes into my very first MP3: Bone Thugs N Harmony's "Tha Crossroads."

And that's what got me started. From there I got mIRC. Downloading files from mIRC was a pain. One had to

-Search for a file
-Find someone who had it
-Type a command just to enter their queue, and, usually
-Wait for them to become available, then
-Spend an hour downloading a song.

But I kept at it as the times kept changing. From mIRC to Napster. From Napster to Morpheus, and from Morpheus to KaZaa and onto KaZaa Lite, iTunes, eMusic, and the legally ambiguous And along the way I tried my share of programs: Abe's mp3 finder, gnutella, iMesh, limewire, BearShare, AIMster, grokster, audiogalaxy, Direct Connect, eDonkey, eMule, launchcast, winmx, shoutcast, soulseek, g2p, seeqpod, imeem...

My point? I kindled the nascent technology and watched it blossom into its current form, along for the entire ride. More than 6,100 songs later (that's 1.7 a day for 10 years), it's shaped me into the copyright-infringing music pirate RIAA-abiding fan of music that I am today. One full decade in the making.

And thank you, Bone Thugs N Harmony, for shining your light for others to follow!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reviews and dinner

I had my 6-month performance review at work this morning. It went very, very well. Danielle also got the results of her observation this morning and they were equally positive.

We decided to celebrate with a meal at Bistro Bella Vita downtown, and it was fantastic. Along with a glass of wine, we ordered a prosciutto and apple salad with pistachios and gorgonzola and a baked goat cheese appetizer. For dinner, I had roast quail over a bed of gnocchi, sweet potatoes, figs, artichokes, and baby tomatoes. Danielle had a delicious Italian sausage penne pasta with roasted onions, red peppers, and tomatoes. It was a fantastic way to cap off an all-around great day.

Friday, April 11, 2008

xkcd vs Watterson

I'm a big fan of the comic xkcd. Its unabashed nerdiness and superior wit combine for some truly great comics. Today's is a brilliant synthesis of his newfound enjoyment of electric skateboards and Mario Kart Double Dash, and an homage to the philosophical and artistic style of Calvin and Hobbes' wagon comics.

Now, I am also a big fan of Calvin & Hobbes. I read and relate to Calvin & Hobbes as I would a religious text. I also respect Bill Watterson's firm desires never to have Calvin & Hobbes parodied (isn't there a better way to show everyone you enjoy hunting than to buy a sticker of Calvin peeing on the word "anti-hunter?"), referenced, or duplicated. As such, even a respectful C&H homage as well-done as today's xkcd is treading on sacred ground and should be subject to intense scrutiny.

Obviously he wanted the characters on the skateboard as entrenched in Calvin & Hobbes' world as possible, to write dialogue like Watterson, and to compose a scene like Watterson. The idea of the strip is great, but I have two major complaints about its execution, where I feel he failed on two counts (and C&H is such sacred ground that I'm splitting hairs finely enough so that anything short of perfection is failure):

First, the strip hits us over the head with what it's trying to accomplish. Its reference to "building character," obviously Calvin's dad's mantra, is said in earnest, and exists only as a red flag in case you didn't follow from the artwork yet. Additionally, it uses the word "philosophy" in lieu of actual philosophy. Not only is that lazy, forceful writing, but it's *telling* us what it's doing, not *showing* us, which is jarring and wrong in the context of how the wagon strips played out artistically and textually.

Second, it misunderstands the Hobbes duality. While Hobbes' true nature may be up to interpretation, it is very consistent: Hobbes is always in stuffed tiger form when there are other humans around. Calvin's world is his alone.

I disagree with the argument that this strip just lets us know that xkcd/Randall's mentality is closer to that of Calvin than that of the real world. However, discussions of Python/C, skateboards, and Mario Kart firmly ground it in our own human world, where Hobbes would be in stuffed form.

That said, this is still a very moving strip. In my admittedly picky opinion, however, it just falls short of a goal within its reach. A truly respectful tribute to Calvin & Hobbes should be done perfectly (i.e. consistent with the C&H world) or not at all. Just remove the line about "my philosophy" or replace it with an actual philosophy, and draw Hobbes in his stuffed form, and this would be it.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Still got it

I'm weak.

I just finished Bioshock. I played through Portal one more time. I spent a full hour tonight trying to get System Shock 2 to work, without success. I accidentally uninstalled the Call of Duty demo before finishing it and didn't have time to wait for it to download. Lacking any other immediate and available options to get my quick gaming fix, I turned to an old drug: UT2004.

I had been sober since August, but I went back. It was all there, just as I remembered: The three-second load times. The silky-smooth framerates. The rap-heavy background playlist. And the absolute domination of opponents. It's just like riding a bicycle.

I could use Mass Effect or Assassin's Creed right about now.