I Hate Windows

I got The Boy some games for his birthday. I used to be a fairly heavy game player myself but haven’t really had the time in years. He’s playing on a machine that’s about six-years-old, which used to be old for my house. Except I started getting laptops instead of desktop machines (for various reasons) so the desktops are starting to creak a bit.

The three games were Grand Theft Auto IV, Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead. (I’ll leave you to figure out whether it’s mandatory for games to have a numeral in the title these days.) Left 4 Dead worked pretty well and he enjoyed it, though with games it’s often not as simple as “I liked it”. (Online play versus campaigns versus scenarios versus free-style versus whatever. A game can excel in one area and suck in the rest, but still be worth playing.)

Since I haven’t been able to use my work machine—I’m not allowed on the treadmill and it shows up on my tests when I cheat—I let The Boy replace his old one with mine. Fallout 3 looks great, but it locked up. GTA IV wouldn’t even start, though.

I’ll skip to the ending and say that I got it working, but here’s what had to be done:

1. Game installation. This takes about 18 whopping gigs of space. (18 gigs!)

2. Entering a massive serial code. Have you seen these? Here’s a sample: 8MEH-RB32G-UPE9U-TRLQR-BLQ9O-CEMBR-ACED. Is that a letter “O” or a zero? You may not know. That, by the way, is assuming you can find the code. It’s usually on the back of the manual, or printed on a disk sleeve, or a disk, or maybe a slip of paper included in the box—or maybe it’s nowhere at all and you bought yourself a $60 coaster.

3. But wait, there’s more! In order to play the game, you have to “activate” it. Sometimes this requires a different code like the one you ended in step 2. The software connects to the developer’s studio (Rockstar Games) and that has to work or you’re hosed. And a variety of issues can make this even more complicated.

4. You still can’t play your game, though, unless the damn DVD is in the drive. The software used to ensure the DVD is actually in the drive can cause all kinds of horrible problems with your system.

5. Almost always, you then have to download a patch and fix the game.

6. Now, when we started the game, it failed. We got a non-helpful error message that led to a bunch of elaborate suggestions on what might need to be done.

7. OK, well, I hadn’t upgraded my Windows from SP2 to SP3. SP3 has “Windows Genuine Advantage” in it. “Windows Genuine Advantage” of course provides no advantage to you, the user. It basically allows Microsoft to kill your computer from a distance if its authorization system which—and I know this may shock you—isn’t always correct about who it authorizes. I bite the bullet and do it anyway.

8. Windows Update required me to upgrade the Windows Updater. You can’t make this kind of thing up.

9. After that, the upgrade failed. The helpful advice from Microsoft? “Try again.” I did. I’m not sure where I’m more appalled that this is their advice, or that it worked.

10. Did I mention upgrading the video card driver? Yeah, did that, too. It’s always a good idea. (Mine was three years old, even though the machine is only two years old.)

11. OK, so now it’s time to try GTA again, right? Brand new error message: “The program failed to start. Check out our support web page.” No error number or details, just “It didn’t start: F**k you.” The only hint was that it was the RGSC.EXE program that failed. That doesn’t seem like GTA. That seems more like Rockstar Games Social Club. Which I don’t want. I just want to play the freakin’ game!

12. The web support page? Not surprisingly, no help for this completely worthless error message.

13. OK, I figure if it’s the freakin’ Social Club causing the problem, I’ll register with the freakin’ Social Club. I use my “ilovespam” e-mail and sign up. The form wants my phone number. Address. Unbelievable. I put in fakes or leave blank. There’s no way this should actually affect whether or not the game runs.

14. But it does. Now, RGSC doesn’t crash and the actual game starts. Yay, right!

15. WRONG! Now you need to update your Windows Live software. Windows Live is yet another freaking “social club”/vehicle for selling crap I don’t want. No choice, but at least it’s clear what’s wrong. I download and install Windows Live.

16. Now Windows Live wants me to join. Just kill me. I skip—but the program starts!! Yay! Now The Boy can boost cars and beat prostitutes!

Back in the DOS and early Windows days, there was all this crap you had to do to get games (like Doom) to run: Memory managers, specific graphics drivers, sound drivers, etc. It was all very technical. You could see why someone might flee to a Nintendo or Jaguar or whatever the kids were playing back then.

I didn’t mention it but I ignored 5 different license agreements in order to get this game to play. Crap like this is one reason I don’t play any more. It actually can be a lot worse. Like, you can get to the end of the process and discover that the game won’t play at all. It might be for a technical limitation—or it might just be that one of the half-dozen security protections failed and decided you were a scum-sucking thief.

The irony being that if you are a scum-sucking thief, you don’t have to deal with any of this.

UPDATE: I SPOKE TOO (*#&*(&q# SOON! GTA IV–after letting The Boy play all yesterday and save his games, today it insisted he have a Windows Live Login. Of course, having one, his save games from yesterday are all gone.

I HATE WINDOWS! I also hate freakin’ consoles. They think it’s cute to put on 5 minutes of copyright/warning/video/uninterruptible crap at the front, and that’s freakin’ infected PC games. Get over yourselves!

Shrink, Shrank, Shrunk

Some of the synopses of this movie about a psychiatrist who kind of deteriorates into depression and drug abuse make it sound like a sort of wacky, black-ish comedy.

Don’t be fooled. Shrink is a movie about surviving the suicide of someone you love, and in a larger sense, surviving life with is failures and even successes. There are some darkly funny moments, but a whole lot of depression.

Kevin Spacey plays a psychiatrist to the stars: A successful man with successful clients who wallow in neuroses and look to him for excuses for their bad behavior. But he’s increasingly depressed over the loss of his wife, and unable to use the information in his bestselling novels to help himself out of his funk.

I should put in a ROBIN WILLIAMS ALERT for Trooper York: Williams plays–well, I’m guessing a character maybe based on Jack Nicholson?–and he’s actually not very convincing. But he’s not in it much, and he’s not obnoxious.

The main characters are an agent played by Dallas Roberts, who is as powerful as he is neurotic, a screenwriter/tenuous relative to Spacey played by Mark Webber, a troubled urban school kid played by Keke Palmer, and an overly successful strung-out actor played by Jack Huston (yes, of those Hustons).

That’s a lot of main characters. Which gives us the primary failing of this movie.

There’s a writer by the name of Robert Newton Peck who wrote a cute little book on how to write, in which gave various rules about what to do and what not to do. One of the things that stuck with me was “Stay in the phone booth with the gorilla.” In other words, you don’t mention that your main character is in a phone booth (okay, outdated now) with a gorilla, and then go off on 12 tangents while leaving everyone wondering about the character, the gorilla, and the antiquated phone booth.

This doesn’t create suspense, typically. It does create annoyance. And so, while have our main-ist of main characters, played by Spacey, we’re constantly being yanked away from the interesting stories and pulled into another story which isn’t nearly as interesting. Then it gets interesting and we’re pulled away from that into another one.

Paul Thomas Anderson has gotten away with this, arguably, with Boogie Nights and Magnolia, except that he lets the scene finish before switching to a new scene. Not completely resolve, but finish as a reasonably self-contained unit. The exception being when the stories overlap in a suspenseful way and are about meet up.

This movie just sprawls, sort of fecklessly unsure of where it’s going, but reasonably sure about the quality of the material it has in its characters. Who, when you break them down sound pretty cliché: the psych who can’t help himself, the troubled urban kid, the desperate screenwriter, the self-absorbed agent, the star who self-destructs because he’s not producing quality “art”, the starlet trying to sleep her way to the top, the aging actress who can’t get good roles….

Geez, I may have talked myself into thinking this is a worse movie than I thought before I started this review. The characters don’t come off horribly hacky, though. The movie is really buoyed by the relationships of the main characters with the supporting characters, like the titular character with his drug dealer Jesus (Jesse Plemmons). Although this is sort of hacky, too, since, fercryinoutloud, his name is Jesus. Not hay-soos–he’s a ginger named “Jesus”.

Well, at least they don’t put any words of wisdom in his mouth, exactly.

Another bright spot is Pell James as Daisy, pregnant assistant to the high-powered agent, who gives us a reason to like both the agent and the screenwriter. Robert Loggia brings some nice gravitas to his short role. And Saffron Burrows as the aging actress (she’s 36 or 37!) is delightful.

Ultimately, though, the movie founders: It’s too unfocused, even remote from its own characters. We don’t get enough time with them to appreciate their changes, and the movie doesn’t sell their flawed selves well enough to allows us appreciate their transformations. They’re actually not really in conflict with each other most of the time.

The whole thing comes off a little boring, a little listless. Marijuana plays a big part; maybe there’s a connection there. Heh.

The Boy was not thrilled. He thought it could’ve been funnier and overall less drab. I tend to agree.

Second movie in a row we saw that took place in L.A., though. (Previous one: Funny People).

MMA Bonus: We are devo.

I follow Steve Simon on Twitter; he’s one of the guys I followed early on in my far less discriminating days. But he has interesting stuff, so he survived the big purge I did when I realized there was no way I could keep up with all the tweets.

A few weeks ago he talked about retiring, and then about cutting costs by doing a variety of tasks–lawn care, oil change, etc.–on his own. Nothing wrong with that, especially if these are things he derives some pleasure out of.

But at a social level, it’s a symptom of poverty: We specialize because it’s more efficient. An expert with the right tools can do something better and more cheaply than you can at home. This is not really a different discussion than the previous one on fast food. Economies of scale, expertise and specialization (why even fast foods are usually separated by variety of slop: chicken, burger, Mexican, sandwiches) both result from and drive wealth.

One thing Americans don’t get about European countries is that it’s kind of a big deal to go to lunch. Even Canada, with its $9 Subway footlongs–which must suck given they can see the $5 footlong ads from America.

It’s sensible–necessary, even–to do more for yourself if it saves money. And there are good non-monetary reasons to do things, too: Just so you know you can fix the pipes, change the oil, etc.

But it’s better if that’s a luxury you do because you like or want to, not because the economy is such that you can’t get paid more at your specialty than it would cost you to do on your own.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Charleton Heston Three

Although he became a right-wing icon, it’s hard to think of the guy who uttered such cynical and dark anti-human sentiments in three iconic apocalyptic films of that cinematic cesspool known as the late ‘60s/early ’70s as being conservative.

Well, okay, it’s hard to imagine Ronald Reagan saying those things. We don’t have to imagine Heston saying these things, because he did.

In the first, and by far the best, movie of the pseudo-trilogy is Planet of the Apes. Heston wanders around a sort-of 19th century desert world where non-human primates struggle with Enlightenment ideas and a hugely restrictive religion that’s bent on covering up a dark past. It’s a grossly cynical movie that works because it’s also a great action film, a Twilight-Zone-esque mystery, and for all its cynicism, does not come across as a nihilistic film.

I should read Pierre Boulle’s novel. If I understand correctly, his story took place in a world more like the world of the 1960s, and I think was more meant as an indictment of consumerism and social satire. Tim Burton’s remake sort of touches on that idea–but that movie is haunted by the greatness of the original and contorts itself into absurdity trying to surprise.

The second film in the trilogy is The Omega Man. This is the second adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller I Am Legend. I’ve talked about it in the link there, so I won’t rehash it much. This movie is the most wildly uneven of the three: The high points–the horror and action setup–are as high as the low points–the whole hippie-as-vampire thing–are low.

I mean, I’ve been impressed by how good parts are, and also how much other parts make me positively wince.

So, I suppose, it’s fair to argue that Soylent Green is a better movie. Meh. It’s so steeped in the sort of thing that our current science czar believes that I find it too hard to take seriously. And it was meant to be taken seriously–and people did.

Omega didn’t really leave any culturally legacies. Soylent left one really prominent one (and a few lesser known ones). And of course Apes is almost up there with Wizard of Oz as far as iconic screen moments and bits of dialogue go.

Still, it’s hard not to look back at those days and think, “Thank God, they’re over!” At least for me, from a cinematic standpoint, anyway. The ’80s would set its own post-Apocalyptic tone with the highly entertaining Mad Max series. Then the point became not “here’s how the world ends” but more “well, now that the world’s ended, let’s party!”

Maybe There’s A Downside To The Constant Drumbeat of Apocalyptic Defeatism

If you’re not watching “The Goode Family”, you’re missing some very funny stuff. The above line is spoken by Helen Goode in response to her kids’ despondency over the doom of the earth. (Said despondency I personally recall from my school days. If global thermonuclear war didn’t get us, the ice caps were going to melt and send us spinning off into space. I’m not sure how the ice age was going to bring that on, but there it was.)

It still makes me laugh, a lot. The Goodes themselves are, of course, very good. Well, Gerald is very good. Much like Hang Hill, his straightforwardness in life not only prevents him from getting very far ahead, but actually prevents him from seeing how venal people really are.

Like Hank, he’ll act to stop something he perceives as immoral, but he usually has to come the long way around to realize that people operate immorally–no matter how many times he sees it happening. Gerald’s at a slight disadvantage (versus Hank), because he’s not entirely sure what a man is supposed to do, though this is not too far removed from Hank’s politeness and diffidence (which allows others to take advantage of him).

Interestingly enough, the message of both shows is pretty much the same: For every principle, philosophy or ideal (worthy or not, good or bad, right or wrong), there’s someone willing to exploit those who believe it for personal advantage.

So far in the series, we’ve seen an ALF-style group exploit Ubuntu (the son), prisoners and bureaucrats exploit the entire family after they adopt-a-highway, a graffiti-cleaning program in an area with no graffiti, NPR as a front for people not talented enough to make it in the real market, meatless chili (with and without chicken), and acres of hypocrisy.

I enjoy “King of the Hill,” but for me, Arlen is as far away as Oz. But whatever small town the Goodes live in is right next door. I’ve seen the “Good/Bad” tote board at Whole Foods. I’ve spent some time hashing out–for nutrition reasons, not really moral ones–which of the six different varieties of apple is “best”.

But I’m sort of reminded why I didn’t follow that road: It’s freaking insane. But it’s hard not to empathize with them, which is really what makes the show watchable.

The Flower Builds Things

I’ve mentioned the The Flower’s knack for putting things together and got some great suggestions on how to encourage that. What’s kind of cool is that it seems pretty apparent that I don’t need to encourage it; it will emerge whenever and however it can. (And I have a post percolating on her current basketball season, too, so if you hate parents bragging about their kids, you might want to skip the blog for a while.)

Anyway, submitted for your approval: Projects the Flower has spontaneously put together.

A few months ago, she cut up some boxes, got some duct tape and made an A-frame:
The door works, as does the shutter. The duct tape is both ornamental and functional. I think that’s transparent tape as the doorknob.

Then for my birthday, she employed Popsicle sticks and glue to make a box.
I’m sure this was a birthday present, so I’m not sure why her jewelry is in there. I haven’t tried it, but I’d bet money this would float.

But I’m most impressed by her latest creations. She started making duct tape wallets–The Boy even requested one!–and then decided to get more ambitious. That’s a purse made out of gorilla tape. It has a sleeve for a wallet, and another for a cell phone, and she’s planning to dress up the handle with some duct tape.

Again, I think this is so cool because she just gets it in her head to do things and then does them.

I got a good feeling about this kid.

The Boy Gets A “B”

The Boy was very pleased to discover he’d received a “B” in his first college course. I’m–well, I come from a family where “A"s were expected, and barely noted, but I was pleased because there was a lot of work and pressure associated with this grade. He went from keeping his own schedule and deadlines to keeping someone else’s very quickly.

And what’s more, he learned stuff. He can talk about movies now in a fairly erudite fashion. I often found more than a bit of disconnect between classes I learned from and classes I got "A"s in.

Anyway, I learned stuff, too, about what he needs work on. And, not surprising, it’s just more reading and writing. That’s what education used to be, mostly: reading and writing. And, mostly we’re talking form and style, with a few grammatical/punctuation issues. The content of what he wrote was pretty damn good. (He wrote a "memoir” of himself from the perspective of his shoes. Funny guy.)

Homeschooling or not, exposing your kid to a college class ahead of time is probably a good idea. Recommended.