What She Said

October 5, 2001
2:51 PM
Woman calling me up out of the blue:"Hello? Is this the Campus Operator"
Me:"No, that's (#)"
Woman:"Oh, so this isn't the department of MOLD or SICKNESSES?"
Me:(confused pause)"No."
Woman:"OK, what was that number again?"

1:51 PM
"Why Do I Keep Having These Nightmares?" - this is really what violent video games teach you.

12:35 PM
I've developed something of a recent fascination with free software. I'm not turning into a Linux freak or someone who like to beat their chest over Open Source crap, but as someone who wants to embark on endeavours that usually revolve around expensive software, the idea of viable alternatives is interesting. In addition, I'm always interested in what people out there come up with in order to compete with the "big boys". These guys are ambitious to say the least, and if the public decides en masse to get away from Microsoft software products (if not operating systems), then these guys could have a shot at hitting the big time.

Take, for example The GIMP, the Gnu Image Manipulation Program. Originally a college project, it has now turned into a massive graphic application on the order of PhotoShop. PhotoShop is so on top of the graphic application market that people just refer to it by name - it's the Coke of graphic software (i.e., "I PhotoShop-ed him into that picture"). PhotoShop of course retails for close to $600. A company called JASC developed a little shareware program called Paint Shop Pro, but seven versions in it has changed from a $30 shareware program into a bloated $110 application - still, it's becoming comprable to PhotoShop. However, The GIMP is pretty impressive. Prior to its unveiling, there really wasn't a whole lot on Linux in the way of graphics (which is why most Linux generated web content seemed pretty bland). The creators of GIMP originally relied on a commercial Linux product to provide the menus and such (limiting its use to people who owned that) before writing their own, GTK (GIMP Tool Kit). GTK is portable and is used in projects like GtkRadiant, a port of a program written by id Software to make Quake 3 levels. Q3Radiant used MFC and looked like it was never going to come to Linux. Now Windows and Linux users can use the same program, though it feels a little funny to Windows users. GIMP also has tons of plugins (many of which are designed to mimic their PhotoShop counterparts), a 900+ page PDF manual (formerly available as a printed book at Barnes & Noble) and Script-Fu - a scripting language that can generate images for things like buttons and the like given the parameters. GIMP is a true contenter, it's available for Windows and Linux, and it's 100% free.

Then there's StarOffice. Recently the 6.0 beta was released, and it's the first version truly intended to take on Microsoft Office. My scant amount of research on the topic seems to indicate that indeed StarOffice is the current day implementation of the package that once contained WordStar. WordStar was a word processor that had 90% of the word processing market at one point in time, but squandered it as the product became increasingly counter-intuitive and difficult to use. It stemmed from a DOS era where word processors were little more than celebrated text-editors, not the complicated layout tools they are today. The most famous example of WordStar difficulties was the "exit the program" key sequence - CTRL-K-D. $50 if you could have guessed that one. WordStar gave way to Word Perfect, which had the market cornered (the PhotoShop of word processing, if you will) until internal struggles within the company and the company's being bought and sold three times (eventually into the hands of Corel) destroyed consumer confidence, and Microsoft Word took over, as did the rest of the Microsoft Office suite. The WordStar comany trudged on for some time, before going kaput and being bought by Sun Microsystems. Sun, still angered at Microsoft's tactics in undermining Java and destroying their good buddy Netscape, decided to come up with a new version, StarOffice 5.2, and release it as not only freeware, but open source it as well. Seeing as how Microsoft killed Netscape more or less by offering the (then) inferior Internet Explorer 3.0 for free (few people remember that you were "supposed" to pay for Netscape - $70 in fact - they gave up and made it freeware later), why not use the same tactic and offer StarOffice for free, to hurt Microsoft's product? It was a great plan, except that no one was going to give up Office for StarOffice, not this one at least. It came with my Mother-in-Law's eMachine (to keep costs down - a full MS Office would double the price of the computer) and I tried it. No thanks. This new 6.0 beta however is intriguing. It's kinda like the old "works" programs - one integrated application. Plus it uses a version of ADABAS, "ADABAS D", which is the same database paradigm we use up here at A&M on our mainframes. I still don't think it will topple MS Office, but it's still good enough for those of you on the cheap.

So these are some free packages taking on 800 lb. gorillas. Look into them if you want to keep your software legit and keep your money in your wallet.

October 4, 2001
1:13 PM
The GeForce3 Titanium 200, while not quite as powerful as a standard GeForce 3 in some tests and more powerful in others, is available for around $200. Screw XBox and GameCube - I know what I'm getting for Christmas now...

October 3, 2001
1:10 PM
Ah, so that's how it happened.

11:23 AM
It wasn't already?

8:44 AM
I'm not sure if this is "too far" or not - Osama bin Laden skins for Quake 3, Unreal Tournament and The Sims. If you want a Bush model to blow it away with you can get one at Political Arena, a mod whose aim was to make fun of the Election 2000 fiasco.

I'm not sure what to make of all this bin Laden hating. I went to the store this morning and I saw a tabloid with a huge picture of him and crosshairs on him. I think of when we see propoganda in other countries saying to kill the President of the U.S. I think it's idiot propoganda, but this makes me realize we're doing idiot propoganda as well. Kinda makes me think low of the U.S.

But on a happier note, I pre ordered Bleemcast! for MGS and TK3, and so should you. Hit BleemDirect and you'll save $1 on each if you preorder before midnight tommorow.

October 2, 2001
7:30 PM
Do yourself a favor and watch The West Wing tomorrow night. The West Wing is, of course, NBC's television series with a fictitious White House and its staff. West Wing is put together by the same production/writing team as the movie The American President, so if you liked that movie (sans the romantic subplot) then you'll like this show. The reason this week's episode is significant is because it's in response to the terrorist activities of 09/11/01. West Wing does have an ongoing plot whose cliffhanger season finale is still unresolved, but they're putting the season premiere on hold in order to air this episode and its self contained plot, a move they will explain the workings of at the beginning of the show.

The episode, "Isaac and Ishmael", will deal with a terrorist action and the White House and country's reaction to it, but it will not deal with the WTC incident specifically. Furthermore, the response to the terrorist action will not be in the rest of the season, both due to the intent of the show and the fact that the rest of the season is already finished. Aaron Sorkin, the producer/creator of the show, started writing this episode shortly after the incident, and filming on this episode began Thursday before last and didn't finish until yesterday. Two editing staffs have been pulling 16 hour days for over a week now, and the episode won't be finished until tomorrow, hours before it airs (the executives won't even see it before it airs). By comparison, most episodes of this or any other show are filmed and finished months in advance, so the production schedule for this show is quick, to say the least. There will likely be a commercial interruption of some sort - probably comments from the cast and crew for reasons of shorening the episode slightly but not to advertise - but the episode is being produced at the expense of the producers - NBC is not paying for it.

Just so you'll have a better idea what is going on, here's a listing of the actors, their characters and an analogy for each:

Actor NameCharacter NamePositionAnalogy
Martin SheenJosiah "Jed" BartletPresident of the United StatesGeorge W. Bush
John SpencerLeo McGarryChief of StaffAndrew Card
Rob LoweSam SeabornDeputy Communications Director (speechwriter) 
Dule Hill (black)Charlie YoungPresidential AideHenry Burton in Primary Colors
Allison JanneyC.J. CreggPress SecretaryAri Fleischer (or better yet, Dee Dee Meyers)
Bradley WhitfordJosh LymanDeputy Chief of StaffJosh Bolten & Joe Hagin
Richard SchiffToby ZieglerCommunications DirectorKaren Hughes
Anna Deavere SmithNancy McNally, PhDNational Security Advisor 
Stockard ChanningAbigail "Abbey"
Bartlet, M.D
First LadyLaura Bush
Janel MoloneyDonna MossAide to the Deputy Chief of Staff (Josh's Aide) 
Tim MathesonJohn HoynesVice President of the United StatesDick Cheney (don't worry, you won't see him either)

Sources: IMDB, Cincinnati Enquirer, JedBartlet.com FAQ

10:01 AM
MemPlug is a product by Portable Information Technology that is a series of SpringBoards for the HandSpring Visor. The first two, at $50 a piece, can allow your Visor to access CompactFlash and SmartMedia memory cards, two different proprietary formats commonly used to store data from digital cameras and such. Palm has some models which also can run programs from SmartMedia, so presumably armed with the SmartMedia MemPlug Springboard you could exchange programs and such with a Palm Pilot device. Next month they're unveiling a third model which can read the Sony Memory Stick, a third proprietary format. So, armed with an array of these devices, you could use any number of memory cards on your Visor. And to think this little $150 device of mine can do so much...

Also, the other day Panasonic, makers of the Secure Digital memory card (a form of SmartMedia, I believe) announced 256MB and 512MB cards. I know that the Nintendo GameCube uses a proprietary 8MB memory card but they will also unveil an adaptor to use 64MB SD cards from Panasonic (due to an agreement between the two companies). I wonder - can you use the 512MB card on a Game Cube? If you can, then one memory card would do you for life. Better yet - I wonder if you could then pop the same memory card (be it 512MB or 64MB) into your Visor and manage/hack your saved games on your Visor/Palm Pilot - that would be too cool.

September 30, 2001
9:54 AM
Life is good. I finally got my Twin Peaks Pilot DVD. It's only made in Taiwan and I had to import it from Hong Kong, but it's Region 0 (meaning it plays on ALL DVD players) and it's the only way to get the original pilot episode of TP on any format, ever.

To explain, Twin Peaks (not the best link, but it does have a good FAQ) was a television show in the early 1990's. Described by some as "fucked up" and others as "brilliant", it often draws allusions to the Star Trek series in terms of cult-like followings and the sorts of people who found it intersting. It also more or less shared Trek's initial fate, if not it's ultimate one. TP's first episode opened with the discovery of a body on the shores of a lake wrapped in plastic. The High School girl, Laura Palmer, had been strangled and an FBI agent (Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan) was dispatched to help solve the case.

However, while TP started out as something of a murder mystery, it quickly changed to an evening soap opera on the caliber of Dallas - read: it got complicated really quickly. And it was initially quite popular, but its popularity (short of a devout following) waned over time as the murder mystery went unsolved. The brainchild of David Lynch, the original idea was to never reveal the murderer, but rather Cooper would slowly get enschonced in the town and the murder would just sort of be in the background. When the ratings declined, the producers decided to go ahead and reveal the murderer 14 episodes in. Of course, if you thought the whole point of the show was the murder mystery, then there was little point to watch after that and the show was cancelled after two seasons.

Like Trek, the idea after that was to do movies after that, and there was one TP movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, was a prequel. Due both to misunderstood demand and the fact that it took so long to make the movie due to MacLachlan's not wanting to play along, the movie bombed and there's been nothing in the way of TP ever since.

Of course, there's always been a small, devout following and there have been festivals, conferences, a magazine (called Wrapped in Plastic) ever since. And there have always been attempts to have the show and movie on the popular video formats. These attempts have been mostly successful, but marred by a simple fact revolving around rights issues. The prequel movie has been on video and laserdisc and will be on DVD soon (under the New Line Patinum Series), but the television episodes have been a different matter.

The television show consisted of 30 total episodes, a 2-hour pilot episode and 29 regular episodes, one of which was 2 hours, the rest were 1 hour (though the last two episodes were broadcast together). For a producer, it's standard practice to finance a pilot episode yourself (somehow) and to "sell" it to a network, which will fund the subsequent episodes. David Lynch and Mark Frost, however, had problems securing funding, so they decided to sell the video rights to the pilot episode to Warner Bros. to get the money they needed. WB had a proviso, however, in that they required that the producers film an alternate ending so that they could sell a self contained 2 hour movie version of the show (with no intention of making this version into a series) to networks in Europe. This version of the pilot is often referred to as the European Pilot or the Euro Pilot.

When the TV show was cancelled, Worldvision bought the rights to the episodes to put them on video. They acquired the rights to the 29 episodes, but they were unable to purchase the rights to the pilot because WB wanted too much for it - the cost of acquiring the episode would have offset any profit they could have made on it. They released the first seven episodes after the pilot on VHS. VHS, as you know, has three recording modes, SP (2 hours for a T-120 cassette), LP (4 hours) and EP (six hours). Almost any movie you purchase or rent on VHS is recorded in SP mode - it has the shortest recording time, but the best sound and picture quality. The first seven episodes were released in this manner on video. However, the episodes didn't sell as well as Worldvision had hoped (ironically the Laserdiscs fared better so far as percentage of owners was concerned) and the company didn't feel like releasing the rest of the episodes in sets this way. However, they didn't want to disappoint fans who wanted the entire show on video, so they released a second set of all 29 episodes on video on six VHS cassettes, recorded at the EP mode. While this did accomplish the goal, the episodes didn't look or sound very good.

Warner Bros., on the other hand, released the pilot episode a few times on VHS and Lasterdisc - but it was always the European Pilot with the alternate ending. While this has always been "better than nothing", it's always made an uneasy transition to the rest of the series, particularly as the orginal pilot has been unseen for nearly a decade.

Now it's 2001 and Artisan is trying it again. This fall they're releasing the first of a series of DVD sets of the Twin Peaks episodes on DVD. However, like Worldvision before it, they've been unsuccessful in getting the rights to the pilot from WB, so it won't be in the set.

However earlier this year a DVD started surfacing on eBay in mass numbers under the name HONG KONG TWIN PEAKS DVD. It was the original pilot episode, which has been unavailable on any format anywhere ever. Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, isn't exactly known for stringent enforcement of International Copyright Law, so most figured this was a DVD of dubious origin. Case in point, the Star Wars movies are officially unavailable on DVD, but that hasn't stopped them from trickling into this country on the format. In that case they're taken from a Laserdisc dub so while they're better looking than the VHS copies readily available, they still leave room for improvement, and they often have foreign subtitles burned in (i.e., can't be removed). Furthermore, since the last time anyone was able to see this was on ABC in 1990 the theory was it was taken from a bad VHS dub or possibly a stolen master tape. Another suspicous indicator was the fact that it was under the label "Republic Pictures", which has been defunct since the late 1990's.

However as it turns out, it's a legitimate disc. By a weird turn of events, WB's dominance doesn't extend to Taiwan, so Aaron Spelling, one of the original producers (really) went to Taiwan and made the DVD he wanted to make, making it Region 0 so all DVD players can play it. And I got one, so once they release the rest of the episodes on DVD and the movie I'll finally have them all.

The DVD itself is quite interesting - they chose to highlight the names Kyle MacLachlan and Sherylin Fenn. Not Lara Flynn "I'm skinny as a twig and banging Jack Nicholson" Boyle, but Fenn. OK. They also did it to where it's next to impossible to read what's on the label of the disc itself, but they did go so far as to include the "Welcome to Twin Peaks" sign itself and actually have the population in near microscopic print. The back has three pictures, two of which have the lone Asian character in the episode - though I don't think she speaks a line in the whole show. You don't buy a DVD like this for extras, but they do have two Bios - MacLachlan and that Asian woman. Bizarre. Also, the front of the disc case has "Silver Screen" which is odd since I don't think anyone is interested in this "line" of DVD's and this show was never a move in the silver screen.

Rumor is that WB will probably release the pilot on DVD if the Artisan discs become popular and word is once again they'll whip out the European Pilot. If they're smart they'll do a branching thing with both endings - I'd kinda like to see the other, but if they don't I'm still happy I have this one on DVD.

It's kinda sad, though, the show was never really brought to a logical conclusion. The ending of the second season was something of a minor cliffhanger and the movie was a prequel, so it didn't tie up any loose ends (the original idea was for more movies, but that didn't happen) and some little part of me has always wondered what happened to these ficticious characters, but alas there's nothing more to tell. Oh well, it'll be fun rediscovering this little show and phonomenon over time again on DVD.

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