Chuck. Awesome.

That’s my review of tonight’s episode of Chuck.

To use several more words: Yvonne Strahovski. Yikes. Adam Baldwin sets a high bar of badassery, and then hurls himself right over it. The past several episodes the story has been interesting, the writing has leaned towards action while bringing well-timed laughs, and the stars continue to be great at what they do. If you’ve missed it – Hulu has not.

Then you get to the preview for the next episode (and season finale). Are we headed for a cliffhanger? It looks cliffhanger-ish, but let’s face it… most of the commercials feature some combination of Chuck with a gun to his head and Sarah in her underoos. Again I thought, “Have they renewed Chuck? Because it’s been great and they better not ruin it.”

I turned to The Internets. And wouldn’t you know it, the New York Times Arts Beat posted an interview with Josh Schwartz, one of Chuck‘s creators, this morning. The gist of the interview is that renewal or cancellation have still not been announced, which understandably sucks for everyone involved in making the show. They asked Schwartz about the season two finale, and his response was as far from what I was hoping for as a response could be:

If, in two weeks, that is the last episode of the show to ever air, it will be one of the least satisfying finales of all time.

Times like these I’m glad I have no power or influence! Should Chuck end in a miserable cliffhanger? Or should the show get another 20-some episodes, more than half of which are likely to be tired rehashes of old episodes mixed with on-again-off-again nonsense?

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iTunes Is the Worst Program Ever

For a year or so I’ve been using Microsoft’s Zune software – despite the fact that I don’t have a Zune – because of how cool the online community features are. It’s a memory hog, it does janky things with your library’s metadata, and not all of your plays are tracked as they’re supposed to be. I’ve always felt a little guilty, operating on the assumption that iTunes was far superior software.

I was wrong. iTunes sucks. Want to add some music to your library? Give iTunes a few months to move everything… and convert it to a proprietary format. Want to get art for the 90% of your CDs whose album art was not recognized? You’ll have to sign in to the iTunes store. Then you’ll have to go to the website to confirm your identity. Then you’ll have to log in on the website again. Then when you’ve updated your account info (which requires you to provide a credit card), you’ll have to log back in through iTunes.

Congratulations! For all your trouble, you’ve earned the right to sync your music to your iPod. If you want to copy said music onto a different machine… good luck. If you connect a different iPod it will be logged in to your iTunes account, and you may have to smash it with a rock to sign it out. Each time you connect an unregistered iPod, it will try to register itself to your account until you’ve told it not to four times. If you need to charge someone else’s iPod, you’ll have to sync it with your library — or all the iPod’s contents will be deleted. Really, Apple? It takes some seriously aggravating “features” to make me wish I were using a Microsoft program.

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Dumb Plans and Their Results

Another entry for the Government Should Manage Fewer Things file, with a story on Yahoo! Tech about the idiotic digital transition plan. The converter box subsidy is running out of money:

To subsidize the converter boxes, most of which cost between $40 and $80, the government has been letting consumers request up to two $40 coupons per home. But any day now, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the arm of the Commerce Department in charge of administering the coupon program, expects to hit a $1.34 billion funding ceiling set by Congress.

I sort of understand the FCC mandating the broadcast switch to all-digital. I can also see the argument for providing converter vouchers, since the government is essentially removing analog as an option for broadcast viewers with dated TVs. But two per household?

I’ve pissed and moaned about the stupidity of this from the first day I heard of it. Must be my poor grasp of the founding fathers’ intentions: Life, Liberty, and Federal Subsidies for Multiple-Television Families. This is such a small but pathetic example of bureaucracy run rampant. Someone in a meeting somewhere said, “why not offer two $40 vouchers per household?” and suddenly, twice as much taxpayer money is gone. Sorry, but if you can afford two televisions, you can afford a $50 analog-to-digital converter for one of them.

Just think of the disasters that await on February 17th! Converter vouchers lost in the mail… half the population of New Orleans joins a class action lawsuit for mental distress due to daytime dramas missed… op-ed columnists the world over go into apoplectic shock from this final, spiteful injustice committed by the Bush administration. America falls into darkness without the guiding lights of the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Agence France-Presse.

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Hipster Doofusry

I finally scheduled an appointment to have new tires put on my car, having talked myself into and back out of looking for a 2008 BMW to finance at 0.9% several times over. Since the lobby of Discount Tire is clearly not designed for “hanging out” – they have space for a display of racing slicks, but the waiting area consists of half a dozen chairs crammed in a corner – I went to Starbucks in hopes of finding free wi-fi. Surely an hour at Starbucks couldn’t kill me… right?

I have never once entered a Starbucks without being made to feel like an idiot. I asked about wi-fi, which apparently takes a registered Starbucks card. I didn’t even ask if that cost anything. I’m carrying around a MacBook these days and certainly don’t need my name in a Starbucks database, too. After I paid the guy who took my order and he wandered off, I realized I was supposed to wait near the little round thing at the end of the counter. I was disappointed but not surprised to see that $2.50 at Starbucks gets you a hot chocolate that’s roughly the size of a children’s Frosty. Then again, if you know what size a children’s Frosty is you’re probably not Starbucks’s target demographic.

In Europe are all the tables extremely tiny? Is Europe where Starbucks picked that up from? I am sitting at a table with three chairs around it, and it’s like a TV tray. It’s as if all the furniture in this place was designed by Lilliputians. +10 points to Mac for their dictionary’s simple and shiny confirmation of the spelling of Lilliputian. -100 points from EA for blocking me from playing Spore Creature Creator without an internet connection.

[Update: Typos, begone. Who misspells "Frosty" - seriously!]

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Curse you Sony!

As expected, Blu-ray prices have increased since the end of the format war with HD DVD.  Without opposition, Sony has succesfully driven high definition content out of reach for a lot of people.  Their players are, on average, 2-4 times more expesive than the HD DVD equivalent.  The cheapest HD DVD player you could purchase (before the format war was over) was around $100, and that was for a third generation player.  On the other hand, the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market was closer to $300.  Now, however, the same blu-ray player costs $400…that’s a $100 increase since the end of the format war, which was about a month ago.  At these prices, Sony is making it quite impossible to purchase a standalone player since the PS3 is also in that price range and features a built in Blu-ray disc player.  There have also been about 3 good game releases on the platform, so you could get in on that as well.

It boggles the mind why Blu-ray players are so expensive, when they are unable to connect to the internet at all.  That feature is on the horizon for the players, but all versions of the players so far will never be able to access online content for movies or receive firmware updates, which could possibly mean the inability to watch future Blu-ray movies.  One would assume Sony would distribute firmware updates through the mail on a Blu-ray disc to remedy this issue.  Even with this being the case, Blu-ray prices continue to rise.

It is also popular belief that the upconversion on the Blu-ray player does not match that of the HD DVD format.  This has also been tested by professionals and determined to be true.  This being the case, you can easily grab an HD DVD player for under $100 and enjoy a great upconverting DVD player for the same price (or even less in a lot of cases) as a good upconverting standard DVD player.  Hopefully Blu-ray improves this in the next generation of players, as I have an extensive standard DVD collection and would enjoy a good upconversion for all of them.

Considering all of this, now is the absolute worst time to purchase a Blu-ray standalone player.  The costs are soaring, and they will be obsolete by the time the next generation Blu-ray player is released.  If you really need a Blu-ray player, buy a PS3.  This way you spend about the same amount, plus one would imagine that you will be unaffected by the looming upgrades since the PS3 has online capabilities.  I make it a point, however, to never assume anything with regards to Sony.  I am continually let down by their utter lack of interest in what is best for the consumer.

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A Teaser-paper

Coffing’s post yesterday reminded me that I chopped an old 11×17″ flyer graphic into a 1280×1024 wallpaper and forgot to publish it. You can download the thing by clicking this thumbnail, if you’re really that much of a dork:

Simply Heroic wallpaper thumbnail

Consider it a preview of cartoons to (maybe) come! You can even buy the full-size poster, if you trust CafePress…

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Nerdcraft

It’s been long enough, I think, since I canceled my World of Warcraft account that I can mock the game without being knocked from my chair by Hypocrisy in some corporeal form.

By any estimation, there are way too many people – somewhere around 9 million active accounts, last I heard – paying monthly subscriptions to play Warcraft for the game to be just a trend. In my case, several friends started playing while we were still in school, and I was glad to join in as soon as I had a job and a broadband connection. The prospect of running around a huge virtual world with the guys, beating the virtual tar out of virtual enemies controlled by lesser nerds the world over, made several months of catch-up seem worthwhile.

And, for a good long time, it was. There’s a lot to Nerdcraft, and we had hours of fun completing quests and picking fights. We’d stumble upon a group of morons tormenting new players, and kick them around until they ran away. We developed quite the skillset for finding the lamest, dirtiest players around, then smashing their faces until they cried and logged off.

The problem came from our lack of virtual dedication: the better your pretend armor and weapons, the tougher your character gets, and when the annoying losers playing the game (it’s a game that attracts more than a few) spend 4-6 hours every day grinding for better gear… most fights are determined by mathematics alone. Um, sure, I’d love to sit at my desk for 30 hours a week clicking 2 buttons a hundred billion times so I could be that awesome. Thing is, I already have a job, so I’ll pass.

I never wanted to play World of Fight This Monster Four Times A Week Until Your Armor All Matches, but unfortunately that’s what the Warcraft developers had in mind for anybody who hangs around more than a few months. I should add that for every complaint my friends and I have about Warcraft it sounds like Warhammer (“Nerdhammer,” to keep the theme consistent?) poses a solution. Until then, if you see one of the Warcraft commercials on TV and think “Wow, that must be the dorkiest thing ever,” ..you’re right!

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Die, dirty dogs

I remembered to check the “feedback” email for my old website this evening. “Feedback” gets scare quotes because it’s only truly feedback if you consider spam robots visitors and if you count spam as comments. Out of 1000-some odd messages, I’d guess 800 followed the pattern of:

Get you/’re bachelor/’s! Your busines dreams can be realize but only with a degree!!!11!

And then there’s a phone number to call, with gramatically inept directions on precisely how to leave my name and contact information because this offer is too good to miss! I feel bad, really, that I deleted the whole heap before thinking to copy a phone number so I could share the inside line to a fast-track degree. I guess C1al1s S0ftab5 are sooo last quarter. Speaking of quartering, that’s what we should do with spammers! Seriously, if I’m not going to respond to one pathetic email why would I respond to any of the next 30 with the same, exact words from the same, exact place? If you knocked at my door that many times our relationship would progress rapidly to door-slamming and then punching of face.

The one email (again, out of over a thousand) that I saw from a real live person was a request to be removed from my mailing list. Which means, sickeningly, that my contact form has been used recently to spam people other than me, and at least one poor guy thinks I’m the one who did it. “Pissed” would be a good way to describe the way that makes me feel, and “deleted” would be a good way to describe my contact form and anything attached to it. So if any of my site’s four visitors ever want to contact me again… tough, because I won’t sift through trash knowing others are getting it on account of me, too. But hey, that’s the way it goes, Electronic Mass Marketing is a dog-eat-dog industry. I just wish all the filthy rat-dogs would eat each other already and leave my stuff alone.

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Ugh

Today I worked late for the first time ever. It, as anticipated, sucked. Not in a standalone “noooo this is a fate worse than death!” sort of way, but in a “why couldn’t this week have ended four days ago” fashion. Lead-in disclaimer for the following paragraphs: nerdery ensues…

If I live to be a hundred and remain lame enough to write about it in 2083, I’ll still be railing on about Internet Explorer. My distaste for it is such that no matter how many Africans the Gates Foundation provides with food, clothing, and Short Term Single User Software Licenses, Bill Gates will be on the short list of people I irrationally hate. Other members include the guy who decided Mark Wahlberg should choose the monkey over the blonde in Planet of the Apes, and whomever happens to be dating Natalie Portman currently.

You see, the problem I have with Internet Explorer is that it sucks. If you are working on a website, there are basically three phases. Phase 1: Design. Phase 2: Implementation. Phase 3: Fix all of the things that work in every browser but Internet Explorer. In a typical web development lifecycle, Phase 3 lasts as long as Phase 1 and 2 combined, and is far less rewarding.

So it is that this week I’m working on a surprise continuation of Phase 3 in a project that should have been done months ago. Sadly, its original iteration was written in InfoPath, a fine product by – who’d have guessed! – Microsoft. What I inherited was completely wrong for the business process, so I learned InfoPath while rebuilding from nothing. Only when I started trying to test it did I find that InfoPath cannot do math. Addition, multiplication, you name it, InfoPath’s XML processing ruins the living hell out of it. Format it to death and back again and one cent plus two cents will (sometimes, not always) add up to .030000072001 dollars.

Now, here I am, having wrenched the Access backend (can I mention Access without writing a separate paragraph of my hatred for it? -maybe!) into shape and the fronted into semi-functional ASP. Turns out my initial testers are incompetent beyond compare and didn’t mention to me that half of the friggin’ totals are calculated completely wrong. They also mentioned, only in passing, that any data entry mistake causes the main form to be completely reset in Internet Explorer.

The first issue, I could fix… if someone would, you know, tell me how the totals are supposed to be determined. The second, to my delight, goes to the very core of how Explorer processes ASP code, and is probably going to require a very ridiculous and painful amount of data retrieval. And only now do we get to this post’s title –

Sweet, sweet relief! In the middle of my crappy day yesterday, I noticed a poster in the hall about the office next door selling ice cream this afternoon. In the middle of my crappy day today… I had to leave the building just in time to miss out on ice cream. And then it was 5:30 by the time I got back downtown. And boy, was that the perfect way to end the week.

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Now, Seriously–

Are they going to try to regulate Internet free speech using McCain-Feingold? Well, yeah. And anytime “they” refers to a Federal entity (in this case the Federal Election Commission), they’re going to do what they want unless a whole bunch of someones do something about it. I think it’d be safe to call this the Fuss of the Week around the blogosphere – there, I said it, I hate the word but there it is – and I think it’d be equally safe to say it ought to be. There are an awful lot of smart Americans who have realized during the past election cycle that, thanks to a half-dozen blogging services ranging from ‘free’ to ‘free and annoyingly ad-filled,’ the Internet really is a great marketplace for discussion and ideas. If the FEC decides to treat every Joe and Sally the same as NBC or Fox, a lot of us will be up the proverbial creek without a paddle (proverbial or otherwise).

First Amendment, First Amendment, First Amendment. For all the carrying on you hear about it from the attorneys of terrorists and Martha Stewart, here is a situation where a Federal bureaucratic agency is seriously targeting First Amendment protections. We’re not talking about millionaire nutjobs pouring dirty money into dirty politics here (ok, we’re not as long as you exclude moveon.org), we’re talking about insightful working men and women who take the time and energy to lend their own unabashed perspective to daily events. I, for one, enjoy that right, mostly because I like reading what they have to say. A lot. Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters has posted a letter to Congress, and La Shawn Barber has a good rundown of the subject from top to bottom.

As far as open letters go, here’s my own much easier, dumb version:

McCain-Feingold must not be applied to the Internet. Would it be just – or within the intentions of the original legislation – to treat private citizens the same as NBC or The Washington Post? This is a dangerous swipe at our freedom of speech, and one that I’m counting on you and other Republican members of Congress to block. Thank you and God bless.

The Internet is, in addition to giving nerds such as myself someplace to write as though people were reading, a great resource for reaching our elected officials. If you’ve got a minute, send a quick message to your state’s senators. If you’re blessed to be an Ohioan, visit the contact forms at Voinovich.senate.gov and DeWine.senate.gov and drop a few sentences through. Otherwise, visit senate.gov and pick your state from the dropdown list.

Oh, by the way, those links to George Voinovich and Mike DeWine’s websites? In the months prior to an election, they’d probably be considered illegal in-kind assistance if McCain-Feingold were stretched to cover Internet communications. Yikes…

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