Wednesday, August 31, 2005

At least it doesn't get fleas

"You sound like an idiot."

These were Hillary's first words to me upon wandering into our computer room early Saturday morning. And really, I couldn't argue the point.

I was playing "Nintendogs" on my new Nintendo DS. You've probably seen the television or magazine ads, and thought to yourself "oh, wonderful, another virtual pet game".

Well, I suppose so, but this thing is so detailed and realistic, it's scary. Dogs in the game really do act like real dogs. They have unique personalities based on their breed, gender, training, and other random factors that change with each individual puppy. Many of the subtle quirks and behaviors my virtual Welsh Corgi, "Callie", displays are eerily similar to those of the real dog I owned when I was younger.

The coolest aspect of Nintendogs is the method of interaction between you and your pet. While you can use the PDA-like stylus on the DS touchscreen to pet, wash, and play with your dog, training happens in the form of voice commands. You actually talk to your DS, using its built-in microphone input. Your dog learns its name, and you can teach it to do tricks on command (which opens up some hilariously distasteful possibilities -- I know one of the SomethingAwful goons named his virtual doberman "Hitler" and taught it to wave when he yelled "Sieg Heil!"). I went the slightly more politically correct route; Callie knows a multitude of tricks from "shake a leg" to "breakdance" to "Jackie Chan" (where she rolls onto her back and then flips up onto her feet).

So yes, on that cold, cloudy Saturday morning, I did, indeed, sound like an idiot. Of course, I felt better about this a few hours later, when my lovely wife made another very quotable exclamation:

"Can I make a puppy too?"

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The best TV show you didn't watch

Hillary and I just finished watching the "Wonderfalls" DVD set, and I must say that the ill-fated Fox series (which was cancelled after airing only four of the thirteen episodes that were filmed) has quickly catapulted into my "favorite shows of all time" list.

"Wonderfalls" tells the story of Jaye Tyler, a young woman with a bitingly sarcastic sense of humor who discovers that inanimate objects (virtually anything with an animal face) can talk to her. She comes from an extremely successful family -- her mother is a famous author, her father a doctor, her sister an attorney, and her brother finishing his Ph.D. Jaye, however, is content working at a gift shop overlooking Niagara Falls, settling on a slacker lifestyle despite her ivy league degree. Between the pressure from her overachieving family, her inability to decide what to do with her life, and Jaye's uncertainty over whether the talking animals are real or not, the storylines are very rich and original. The show's casting is absolutely amazing (if Caroline Dhavernas, who plays Jaye, doesn't start showing up in more shows and movies, it will be a crime), and the dialogue and camerawork is just perfect.

However, I'm not surprised that the show failed. Not because of a question of quality or a lack of demographic appeal, but because it wasn't given a fair chance. This is one of those shows (like "Scrubs" or "Arrested Development") where buzz has to spread by word-of-mouth -- and that takes time. Much more than the four weeks that Wonderfalls was given.

When the show was first aired, Fox did absolutely no promotion. I had heard something about it in an online forum, but given the ambiguous title and lack of hype, I figured it was just another Buffy-esque teen-friendly drama/adventure show.

Oh, how wrong I was. Wonderfalls is now probably my fourth favorite TV show ever, right behind "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", the new "Battlestar Galactica" series, and "Mystery Science Theater 3000". That's some impressive company.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I'm an IM packrat

With the launch of Google Talk (a Jabber-based IM service run by the benevolent folks at Google), I've noticed that my connection bar in Trillian has turned into a vibrant carnival of colored dots.

I don't know why I keep accounts on all of these services. 99% of my friends use AIM, and everyone at work uses MSN Messenger. I don't think I've talked to anyone over ICQ or Yahoo Chat for months, yet as soon as Google opened their service, my fingers left fiery trails on the keyboard as I raced to add it to Trillian's service list.

As for Google Talk itself, I don't see the point yet. I'm all for Google taking over Ye Olde Interwebbe, but their service doesn't offer anything that their competitors' don't. It seems like using the Jabber protocol is going to limit clients to a small feature set without leaving any room for expansion.

I know Google is all about minimalist design and avoiding feature bloat, but IM is one of the few mediums where an established userbase will be very reluctant to switch. It's easy to give out a new E-mail address, but by switching IM services, you risk losing the ability to communicate with all of your friends and colleagues (unless you use multiple clients, which sort of defeats the whole purpose).

Oh well, at least this might convince people to finally make the switch to Trillian.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?

I've spent almost every night for the last two weeks dealing with what has turned into a large-scale spider infestation in our new house. I've always had a pretty deep-seated fear of anything with more legs than our tasty friend the cow, but this August has taken my phobia to the next level. I encounter and destroy multiple spiders almost every night. The shoe, the broom, the vacuum, the aerosol can of toxic chemicals -- no matter what the method of termination, they just keep coming.

It wouldn't be so bad if they were the kindly daddy long-legs that used to get into my childhood home in California, or even the creepy-but-harmless furry house spiders that turned up occasionally in Alabama. What we seem to have are hobo spiders, which are extremely common in northern Idaho. Oh, and they're poisonous.

At least, that's what we think they are. The giant house spider looks virtually identical, and the only sure way to tell the difference by looks alone is to use a microscope. However, while the giant house spider loves to climb and can often be seen chilling with a 40-ounce on the ceiling, hobos are like the special-ed kid of the spider kingdom. They can't climb worth a damn, so they're almost always found on the floor or in sinks and bathtubs (which they fall into and then can't climb out). Incidentally, this is where we find all of our spiders.

None of the methods I've tried seem to keep them out. Bug spray only works when you hit spiders directly, and leaving their decaying, curled up corpses in the garden as an example hasn't seemed to slow their slow but determined incursion into our living space. I'm told that the first snow of winter will wipe most of them out, but having grown up in California and Alabama, I'm pretty sure an Idaho winter will spell the end of me as well.

The battle seems hopeless, and the more spiders I kill, the more I'm convinced that thousands of the little bastards are camping outside my window, waiting until I let my guard down so they can devour me in my sleep.

It's been nice knowing you.