Friday, April 24, 2009

Greatest Thing of Anything: Keepon

Hey, remember those dancing plastic roses? Sure you do. My computer teacher had one in elementary school. It was the coolest thing in the world; of course, this was a time when computers had green screens that you could control with the color and contrast knobs, and you usually had to go and yell at your classmates to check the little red light next to the envelope symbol to make sure they got that message you sent them about how they're a jerk.

But just in case you don't remember, these things were potted plastic roses with guitars and sunglasses and little microphones in them, and if you played music near it the plant would wriggle around and the petals would open and close to make it seem like Elvis Petaly (yeah, well, you come up with something better) would open and close his stamens and pistols to make it seem like it was singing.


It was...meh. It ran on batteries, as far as I remember, and those usually ran out pretty quickly. And it wasn't long before you realized that the flower had about all the dance moves as your average white high school freshman and it got kind of boring.

Enter the 21st century, and Keepon!

It's Keepon. I just said that, dumbass.

Keepon was developed by Hideki Kozima, and it's basically the dancing rose taken to the next level, namely sophisticated robotics for scientific study. Keepon's eyes are cameras, and there's a microphone in its nose. Despite its appearance (I believe a friend once described it as a "creepy Peep snowman") it has much more of a range than a dancing plastic flower. In addition, this is evidently being used to study the interactions with children and autism and whatnot.


Kozima, now a professor, could be a friggin' millionaire with this thing (and maybe he is), but it seems the only way you can obtain a Keepon is for educational or research purposes. Which means that you can't just write in the creators and say that you want a Keepon to keep at your cubicle to add some entertainment to your soul-crushing work day by making it dance to Spoon. Which is completely hypocritical on the part of the creators, of course, since they realized the full potential of Keepon to dance to Spoon. And not just one song, but two. Observe!

In conclusion, I want a dancing robot. Preferably Summer Glau, but Keepon will do.

Keepon vs. will be a ratings smash hit

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hilarious Sprite commercials

Isn't the Internet wonderful? It seems like YouTube is filling up more and more each year with random nostalgia from back in the day. Today's entry hearkens back to that wonderful part of the 1990s that wasn't contaminated by the 1980s (nice as some things in that decade were). A time without DVRs, so people actually had to watch the commercials during things other than the Super Bowl, and so they actually had a bit of effort put into them.

One YouTube channel is made up entirely of videos from a fellow who worked as a writer and director of several commercials. Perhaps "SmartAdvertising" is a little self-applauding, but hey, these were good ads. Not only do I remember, them, but I remember what they were for. Notably, he's done quite a few Sprite commercials that were part of a line that ironically said that you shouldn't trust commercials, at least the ones that rely on overblown promises of what a beverage can do for you (ie, Powerthirst). I actually remembered most of these verbatim, and they've been off the air for 10 years or so.

And here we go:

Jooky looks like it would probably taste terrible, but the theme song is awesome. Judging by their appearance, I'd guess the two ski bums are too stoned to realize there's not really a party in the can. So perhaps it doubles as an anti-marijuana PSA.

Jooky Junk is kind of ironic, since Sprite is owned by the Coca-Cola company and the stuff you can get with Coke Points is pretty much the same old junk: more soda, T-shirts you'll use to paint stuff, crappy stuffed animals, etc. Plus they expire after a little while. How the hell am I going to save up enough to get that plasma screen?

Sun Fizz is probably carbonated, like those godawful sports drinks that someone thought would be a good idea to burn out the throats of runners after a 10-kilometer race I did once. But I'm sure this is ribbing Sunny D, which was a perpetual enemy of soda and whatever the purple stuff was (Jooky, perhaps?). What's creepy is that the logo gives no indication that he's going to do anything malevolent, but you know he probably is.

The effeminate guy on the left really steals this one, but the other two have some great body language as well.

I showed this to my friend John, who runs Weirdalapolis (sort of) in the list at right, and he said that he had to take a bit of a break because he was hurting too much from laughing. He also described it as a Sprite ad he'd think Seth MacFarlane would write. As far as I can tell, that kid is actually doing his own stunts. Or maybe a midget with a taste for punishment for some of the bigger ones...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Christine (semi-spoiled)

A B-52 accidentally dropped an atom bomb on a South Carolina neighborhood in 1958. And Khrushchev became the Soviet Premier. Oh, and this car came out, I guess.

I just finished reading the Stephen King novel Christine today. I remember discussing Stephen King in general with my neighbor, who cited the novel as one of the author's lesser works. I'd have to agree. It's a good enough read, but it's kind of repetitive. And I suppose our hero doesn't fully realize how the '58 Plymouth Fury can fix its damages after splattering people or getting beaten up, but he has some idea of that. And yet his master plan to destroy the evil car is still "smash the hell out of it" (after deciding against burning it or blowing it up).

Hey kid, you seem smart. Here's an idea. Ever seen a car, haunted or not, drive on its friggin' roof before?

Volvo Christine, forever smote

Just get a big forklift or something and flip the thing over. Like these construction workers with a Maserati belonging to a former Miss New Zealand gal.

In their defense, it was probably evil.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Damn you, quality television!

Perhaps I'm just forgetting some TV shows I used to watch way back yonder in the late 1990's and earlier this decade. Or perhaps TV really just sucked enough at that point that I spent all that time reading books, drawing, and writing phenomenal pieces of fiction. That time, as far as I remember, was when a few reality shows started having success so every network seemed to say, "Hey, we don't need to put actual effort into our programming! Let's just create some premise for people to compete for money or love and run with it!"

It seems like the reality shows have died down to some of the early contenders which were the only good ones anyway, namely Survivor and The Amazing Race...neither of which I really watch, but both of which I enjoy on the occasions I catch them. They're also the only ones I can think of that look like they'd be entertaining to be on and worth the potential prize.

Now that I'm employed and independent, my free time might just be compromised in general, and though I've been getting a lot of reading and even historical research done, I'm going to have to try to cut down on the TV I watch. This is thanks to decent shows on the networks that are joined by other ones on cable that I've been introduced to by friends. Some might not survive; some are already well on their way and likely to hang around.

And here's the breakdown, as far as I remember, in lovely alphabetic order:

Adult Swim: A programming block rather than a show, these are generally easier on my time because they tend to be only about 10 minutes long and somewhat precarious as to whether or not they'll survive. Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Robot Chicken have been around and amusing for a long time; a show with tremendous promise, Frisky Dingo, unfortunately wrapped up without resolution after two seasons when the studio that made it closed.

Animation Domination: Another programming block, this one on Sunday, these have been declining a bit (The Simpsons has been around for 20 friggin' years, after all), but are still a nice way to end the weekend.

Breaking Bad: Something I caught up with that's currently in its second season, this show involves a chemistry teacher with terminal cancer cooking crystal meth with a high school dropout as a way of building up a nest egg for his family. Aside from being hilarious and depressing in equal parts, it really shows what Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle) can do with a darker role.

Hal snaps

Dexter: A show about a blood pathologist who is also a serial killer who takes out bad guys in his spare time. Would you look at that? A crime show that doesn't come with the CSI or Law and Order stamp pre-approved to go before whatever the actual title of the show is!

: I think Buffy and Firefly were probably stronger than this is right now, but it's a good idea for a show and it seems to be doing fairly well.

Fringe: I'm watching it right now! In another little box to the right. It's no X-Files, but it's got more kick and creativity than the endless cop and doctor shows that are starting to die off and, I'm recalling, were another reason I watched less TV not so long ago.

Lost: This show was originally pitched as focusing on the survivors of a plane crash trying to cut it on a desert island, literally Cast Away: The Series. Someone got the idea that the show would be more interesting if the island wasn't really deserted, if it had polar bears, and a variety of other things that would take up too much space to go over here (go over them here instead). The creators say they have a plan to wrap up all the questions before the show concludes next year, and I trust them, but the seeming blank slate of the whole thing is amazing. How we got from the standard "What are they going to eat?" question to the "What happened to the hydrogen bomb?" question over the course of a few seasons is probably one of the larger leaps a show has ever taken.

My Name Is Earl: Can be somewhat hit-and-miss, but has a lot of good humor (you'd expect that from some Kevin Smith veterans, right?). I also find it amusing how a show with a basic undercurrent of a guy trying to make up all of the bad things he did to people over the years can still be denounced by the Parents Television Council.

Mythbusters: Like any other man on the planet, I wish I could work with these guys.

Rescue Me: Catching up on this show on Hulu after managing to catch the first four episodes and the entire third season. It's having the dangerous effect of making me want to run off and join the FDNY, provided I don't have to constantly get involved in messed up family situations, alcoholism, and fights.

South Park: They're relying on current events more than odd ideas more, but the show can still find ways to approach plots in completely unconventional and hilarious ways.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: It's had a few missteps, but it's got a compelling enough story; a friend of mine complains that it's messed up the continuity presented in the movies, if there was one, but we are talking about time travel here. As an added bonus, you also get Summer Glau kicking ass and looking good doing it.

The Sexy Robotics Institute rejected both my application and my suggestion to get dinner somewhere.

The Colbert Report: Fox News is so vain, they probably think this show is about them. Stephen Colbert's complete cut-up routines and quest for personal glory are probably some of the best things on TV right now. I also want to see him fill in every state in Better Know a District one day.

The Daily Show: It led to the Colbert Report, and it's still one of the better reality checks on the government, cable news, and various other crazies. It's also good to see that they can continue to be funny and thus disprove the theory that only mockery of a Republican President can sustain such a show.

The Office: A nice send-up of working life, but those guys really shouldn't complain...they don't even have to deal with cubicles. I can understand how some people think Steve Carrell's batshit insane regional manager is far more squirm-inducing than anything else, but anyone who can't laugh at an exchange between Dwight and Jim has no soul.

I'm not sure I've even seen 1,000 places total

I stopped into the local coffee shop today, which has a pretty sizeable library in one of the sitting areas. The fare ranges from Dan Brown to surfing magazines to Lord of the Rings. I came across 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and was surprised to find that it's about as heavy as a brick. I first came across the book at Heathrow International Airport in London, having visited a handful of sites listed in England. I probably haven't seen many more sites since then.

I have somewhat mixed opinions about this book. On the one hand, it's probably the most comprehensive travel guide ever made, covering the planet as it does. It probably leaves a fair amount out, considering a follow-up book lists 1,000 places in the United States and Canada alone. One thousand places and events out of the roughly 510 million kilometers of planetary surface might seem a little scant, but most of that is probably just ocean anyway. But at the very least, reading through the brick of the book is sure to be educational and help you decide on a few vacation destinations.

On the other hand, the very title of the book almost seems to mock you. It might be possible to see all of these places before you die...just. The owner of said coffee shop has managed to get around to four continents over the course of his life for work and play, and has probably seen a good chunk of the listed sites. Aside from that, you'd probably have to hit something like 15 places per year over the course of your vacations. And most people probably get a later start or don't exactly have the resources to go bumming around Tunisia at age 83.

Flipping through the book, I was a little amused that some places simply don't show up. You don't need to see anything in the state of Kansas before you die, including a museum that includes the command capsule of Apollo 13 and a huge range of other space race artifacts.

The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, which you don't need to see before you die.

I found out about this interesting-sounding location in the flats of tornado land via Wikipedia, after checking to see if the rumor really was true and there's nothing interesting in Kansas. The book also contends that there's nothing worth seeing in the area of Maine where I've lived for the past two years. Some days that seems true, but some of the hikes around here certainly seem worthwhile.

Friday, April 3, 2009

"Videotaping this crime spree is the best idea we've ever had!"

Yesterday, we posted this story on our breaking news section. For those of you who just can't muster the energy to move your mouse over to click that link, here's the gist: a bunch of teens and old-enough-to-be-charged-as-adults set off some Molotov cocktails in a vacant building. They weren't supposed to be in the building, and you're not supposed to make homemade explosives to set off in buildings you're not allowed in. That's what those in the law enforcement community call burglary and arson.

These Rhodes scholars were kind enough to not only record these felony crimes, but also to scroll a line of credits listing the names of all of those involved. Police subsequently charged seven people with crimes that could result in 40 years in prison if the judge throw the book. Note: that won't happen. Burglary charges are generally let off easily, and even arson charges seem to result in a matter of months in county; given the age of these kids, they'll probably get even less.

One of the first comments we got was a question of whether we can charge people with the crime of stupidity. On one level, it seems like a good idea. A misdemeanor, for sure, but a bit of a punishment for being so damn brainless as to make everyone wonder if humanity is looking for a jackhammer to get past rock bottom. Then again, stupidity might fall more along the lines of insanity: a way of getting one's sentence reduced because they simply didn't know better. At any rate, crimes of stupidity free up police time to tackle other crimes, so it might be difficult to argue that it's a bad thing.

I remember criminals having the urge to film themselves breaking the law since videotapes were in fashion, so it isn't surprising that YouTube idiocy seems to be on the rise. Here's a story on some drug dealers bragging about selling crack in a rap video; here's one on some people who threatened their neighbors with illegal weapons online; and here's one on police investigating a fatal gang beatdown that was posted on the site. And these are all from browsing through the past week of news that returned hits on "YouTube arrest."

You know what? Screw those jagoffs. Here's Chocolate Rain.