Saturday, August 25, 2007

We've Only Just Begun....

As I've observed in my first week of classes so far, apparently every one in law school has a laptop. So being the ever dedicated, competitive academic scholar that I am (and realizing that this was a great opportunity to get a parentally subsidized new laptop) I heeded the advice of a fellow unemployed NYU alum and got myself a Dell.

I'm pretty satisfied with my purchase thus far. Everything seems to be working fine, Vista isn't nearly as annoying as I thought it would be, and compared to the outdated leviathan that was my old Toshiba from when I started undergrad it'll be a refreshing change not to suffer a hernia every time I tote it around. It's been a few years since I got a new computer (or had to completely format a computer and start anew) and I every time I always enjoy the feeling of a fresh computer with a completely blank slate. Everything runs faster, loads quicker, there's plenty of hard drive space, and there isn't the byzantine system of folders, files, and programs that usually develops through the course of my use. It's all clear virgin territory at the start and I always say to myself this time I'll organize all my files, or keep track of all the programs I install and uninstall, or the porn will be summarily categorized by genre for easy access. I try my best but a year or two down the line I'm trying to remember what I saved that term paper under, or what this random exe file does, or I'm finding a chick on chick video in the middle of a folder of Huey Lewis mp3s. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in that initial boot up.

While I enjoy most of the activities associated with setting up a new computer the one major annoyance is getting all my music in iTunes in order. Now, this never used to be a problem back in my early days of mp3 enjoyment. I had my small handful of mp3s that each took me hours to download through Napster via a 28.8K modem connection and I would just select and play my precious little collection of files on my winamp player. By the end of high school friends started getting cable lines and CD-R drives and we found ourselves being able to connect to each others' computers and transfer our files through a "network", growing our collection exponentially. As the cache of mp3s began to grow I began to the start organizing them in separate folders based on artists and genres, still accessing them individually using winamp. This behavior reached a critical mass when college started and everyone got a high speed internet line and copious amounts of free time to download and trade music. This all changed during my sophomore year, when our lone Mac using suitemate, against my wishes, installed iTunes 4.1, the first edition available for windows on my computer. I begrudgingly gave it a try and found it diabolically exploiting my personal compulsion to categorize and rank things. By the end of the year my entire collection had been given meticulous star rankings and arranged in countless different playlist groups. I also got a new fangled "iPod" that year, thus further strengthening iTunes' monopoly over my personal music.

Now I find nothing wrong with this arraignment, it's a great system for me. However, this becomes a serious issue every time I have to move my collection over to a new computer. I guess to slow down rampant song piracy iTunes has made it a total bitch to perfectly transfer all your files and information to another computer. Physically moving the song files over is easy enough but the real appeal of iTunes: the stars ratings, the accumulated play counts, the carefully created playlists, stubbornly refuses to move. Since I didn't want to spend countless hours re-organizing thousands upon thousands of song, I searched the internet and found about a million sites, boards, and blogs with solutions to this issue. As it turned out though many involved shady third person software, complicated jerry rigging of code, or flat out didn't work. After about two hours personal trial and error I managed to trick the files into thinking they were in my old computer by creating a near identical directory on my new PC (don't tell them). This was a compromise solution however since I was able to preserve everything but the song counts.

Thus my collection enters a brave new world of statistics. History has been completely reset to zero and the hallowed heights of my "Most Played" smartlist are now open to any number of songs catchy enough, replayable enough, and lucky enough to be considered the most played. With respect to the accomplishments of the past, as of earlier this week the top five most played songs of all time were as followed:
  1. Doctor My Eyes - Jackson Browne (53)
  2. Rich Girl - Hall and Oates (50)
  3. Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now - The Smiths (48)
  4. Sleeping With the Television On - Billy Joel (45)
  5. Someday Someway - Marshall Crenshaw (44)
So who has the chops to wrestle the title from the Pretender? Well, a look at the early exit polls over the last week indicate a wide open field:
  1. Goodbye to Love - The Carpenters (3)
  2. Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check - Busta Rhymes (2)
  3. Queen Bitch - David Bowie (2)
  4. 19 way tie at (1)
Whether Karen and Richard can maintain this momentum in the long run remains to be seen and these numbers will see no doubt some definite fluctuation as I continue to listen to my iPod during my 3 hours daily commutes. You can probably bet Billy Joel and Hall and Oates will make multiple appearances in the days ahead, but until then what lies in the future is a mystery to us all, no one can predict the wheel of fortune as it falls.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Just Leave Me Alone...

I don't know if its the sudden wave of stress and anxiety from starting law school or the inadvertent triggering of some long repressed childhood trauma or that maybe it's just a tumor, but I woke up a few days ago from the weirdest dream I've had in years. The dream itself is pretty simple to recall: I was riding the trippy, literal, Michael Jackson theme park ride from the "Leave Me Alone" video.

That was totally the whole dream in a nutshell. I found myself at the beginning of the ride in that little rocket ship thing, I even had the flight cap on, and then I made that long strange journey through Wacko Jacko; the teeth, the canine reporters "doggin' me around", Bubbles the Chimp, a high stepping Elephant Man, they were all there! As disturbing as this whole dream was, the most unsettling fact after everything was that I haven't sat down and seen the whole music video in at least 5 years. When I went online to check out the video again I was amazed and a little scared at how well my subconscious had remembered all these busy scenes that I've watched only in passing. It's a shame my subconscious is only good for this…that and all those dreams with the funny talking, midget who helps me solve murders.So what did I learn after revisiting this classic video?

  1. Along with being a what I consider a top tier Michael Jackson song , the video itself is actually pretty awesome. Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" has its slightly overrated usual top 5 spot in most Best Video Ever countdowns, but I can't recall a single VH1/MTV greatest videos or songs list that contained this song. According to wikipedia it wasn't released as a single in the US and was only available on CD copies of Bad, which might be some factors to why it gets so little love. The video is also totally interesting because Michael is actually sort of acknowledging his recent weird behavior and then sort of giving a creative middle finger to all the critics and paparazzi. This is a completely different Michael compared to the one who kept digging himself into a deeper, creepier hole while being interviewed by Martin Bashir or dangling babies and wondering why everybody freaked out. It's nice to see the artist in this late 80s period right before he totally lost touch with reality.

  2. If "Leave Me Alone" was an underrated song, Bad was an underrated album. I know it's hard to make the case that one of the best selling albums of the 80s and the only album to have 5 number 1 US singles is underrated but it's also the one album that has to live in the inescapable shadow of Thriller. Nobody ever includes Bad in the conversation of a top album, but I personally think it rivals Thriller in quality matching it pound for pound. For me, it actually has more killer than well...Thriller. I looked at the tracklist and noticed every other song I thought as on a later or earlier album was actually on Bad. Aside from the title track (which also is significant in bringing back the career of Weird Al Yankovic) it's also got "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Smooth Criminal", "Leave Me Alone", the completely forgotten classic "Dirty Diana", and "Man in the Mirror" which I have to admit is unexplainably high on my Jackson depth chart. Also if you're looking for another light hearted duet where Michael and some other superstar awkwardly fight over a girl a la "The Girl Is Mine" then look no further than "Just Good Friends" with Stevie Wonder

  3. Elizabeth Taylor. Nothing wrong with that. There's that one part of the Jackson ride where he goes through the shrine to Elizabeth Taylor filled with all those pictures of the iconic film star and I must say she was quite the looker. Despite her long and accomplished career I have to admit I haven't seen a single movie of hers, save for her turn as the annoying mother in law in The Flintstones movie. I think it's a real shame that she spent most of her youth during Haynes code era Hollywood so there's no dirctor's cut of Butterfield 8 with edgy, hard hitting frontal or even titillating yet tasteful sideal nudity.

  4. Finally, a real life version of the "Leave Me Alone" ride would be pretty sweet and fairly feasible. People loved Captain EO and that was just a movie presentation. I can see it now, it'd be a water based ride into a huge hollowed out Michael structure with all these anamatronics, that big hand comes up and photographs you at the high point of the ride and afterwards you can get a little tabloid with your best roller coaster face on it. You'll zoom past the iguanas and blast right through the teeth and after it all you'll be rewarded with a duo with Michael and the bones of the elephant man. While the rocket ride will be the main part, there are like 4 other mini rides going on at the same time from the parachute drops from his arm to the Ferris wheel around his chest; the possibilities for expansion are endless. The sound track of the ride would also be a random Michael Jackson single every time for added novelty. The way I see it if Aerosmith can get their Rock n' Sell-Out Coaster, why not the king of pop?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"One Two, One Two Punch, Mac!"

I thought I should break the monotony of the last couple of entries and write something that doesn't involve me losing a game show. So I figured I would write about my recent attempt to go all the way in the classic NES boxing game "Punch-Out!!". "Punch-Out!!" (or "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" pre-rape conviction and loss to Buster Douglas) is one my all time favorite NES games. It was a game that managed to be both fun to play and be, at times, frustratingly difficult. The game becomes fairly easy if you play it enough to figure out the different opponents' gimmicks and weaknesses, but towards the end of the game it's just a battle of quick reflexes ( a battle made all the more difficult if your controller is about a decade old and sticky with spilled beer). By the time you reach Tyson/Mr Dream, one of the most impossible final bosses in video game history, forget about it.

So until this afternoon I haven't sat down and played an actual full game of "Punch-Out!!" since the days when I would hang out at my old friend's basement in Long Island playing his NES around the late 90s, at my best I made it all the way to Mr Sandman the third to last fighter. The game I played today was on my computer via emulator, but you can be assured that there was no save state funny business. No continues or redos, I played it straight through to see how far I could go before I got beat.

Glass Joe

Glass Joe is one of the easiest video game characters of all time. He's like the first goomba you meet in Mario Bros., in fact he's probably easier. With the goomba you at least might accidentally run into it and lose a life, you really have to put in an effort to lose to this guy. He long distance telegraphs his punches and in the rare cases he lands something does a pathetic amount of damage. Even if you didn't fight back and let him pound on you in the first round, he still won't damage you enough for the match not to get into the next round. It makes me wonder who that 1 KO was. Suffice to say I got the three knock downs in the round to force the TKO a little over two minutes into the three minute first round without him landing a single blow. In relative Glass Joe terms this was a mediocre victory, many times he won't get up from the first knockdown. I give some credit to his somewhat valiant effort.

Von Kaiser

Old school German boxer and suspected Nazi sympathizer Von Kaiser is the first "real" fighter you meet and by real I mean he actually throws punches. Chances of actually getting hit in this match go up a little bit depending on how sloppy you're fighting. He managed to get one punch off on me. His compulsion to shake his head before throwing a punch still makes him a walking punching bag. His arsenal of punches is also quite lacking. It was another three knock out TKO just under the 2 minute mark in the first round, pathetic. I do however dig his Cecil B. DeMille puffy director pants and boots, quite the dandy.

Piston Honda

The learning curve suddenly takes a sharp spike upward when you meet Honda for the Minor Circuit title. You actually have to pay attention to the match when fighting this guy. He has his give away eyebrow furrowing but he also throws into the mix a body blow and a sharp uppercut that'll totally nail you if your timing's off. He's also the first guy to have a "special move", his being this Bonzai rapid punch sequence that I to this day never figured out how to avoid aside from blocking. I knocked him down twice in the first round but I ran out of time so for the first time it went into the second round (in between rounds he declared he would give me a "TKO from Tokyo"). I was able to knock him down again twice and by the second time he stayed down for the 10 count, giving me my first official KO (although the game counts all TKOs as KOs too) and the Minor Championship.

Winning a title means one thing...dramatic training scene please!:

Don Flamenco

The Minor circuit is basically like the first 5 questions in a game of "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire", they should just be easy obligations to get out of the way before the higher stakes appear. The first fight in the Major circuit pits you against the cocky Spaniard Don Flamenco, who comes to the ring with a rose between his lips, which due to the limitations of the NES, he appears to eat right before the match starts. He has an interesting quirk where he first motions for you to hit him and you sort of have to to force him to make his attack which you have to quickly counter. However once you counter his attack, you can keep giving him a combination of alternating left right punches until he gets knocked out. It's a weird flaw that makes him one of the easiest guys to fight in the game. Two knockdowns and 46 seconds into the first round he was KO'd, by far my quickest match. This made the Glass Joe match look like the Thrilla in Manilla.

King Hippo

The next match is against the most famous Punch-Out character, noted enemy of Captain N and Mother Brain henchman King Hippo. The character itself is all gimmick, you only have to knock him down once using the one secret method, punching him in the mouth and then punching him in the guy when he's stunned; aside from this lone method, King Hippo is indestructible. Although his weakness is pretty easy to exploit if you're not careful he'll land some hard punches on you, and you can only take so many of those shots. He also annoyingly covers his mouth sometimes so you have to pay a bit of attention. About two minutes in I got the necessary hits in to bring him down. Is it me or is Butterbean basically a real life version of this guy?

Great Tiger

The Great Tiger used to be the end of the line when I was younger. His regular fighting style was easy enough to deal with, standard jabs and uppercuts telegraphed by the flashing jewel on his turban (you wonder why he just doesn't cover that up when he fights), but then he breaks out his cheap ass special tiger punch where he disappears and does a perpetual sequence of quick punches that you can't dodge. The trick as I later learned was to forget dodging and to block the punches five or so times in a row which will cause him to stop and remain momentarily dazed allowing you to knock him out in one punch. I only managed to knock him down twice in the first round so it went on into the second round. By the second round I had made some mistakes but his unexplainable (hubris perhaps?) reliance on a high risk maneuver that he obviously knew that I had learned to counter caused him to be TKO'd by the end of the round.

Bald Bull
First off I want to know what sort of legitimate boxing organization would sanction a fight between a 107 lb fighter and a 298 lb monster (that and a fighter that's listed at "??" in the case of King Hippo)? Nevertheless the Major Circuit title bout pitted me against another classic "Punch-Out" pugilist in Bald Bull. His standard fighting style alone is a bit of a handful, his jabs and uppercuts are quite fast and he'll definitely make you pay if your timing is off. Actually the only reason a fight with this guy is winnable is due to his bull charge special move where he charges at you from one end of the ring. If you can hit him in the stomach at the specific point of his charge you'll score an instant knockdown, if you fail he will score an instant knockdown. Normally a fight with Bull lasts at least into the second round but I managed to knock him down early and got extremely lucky on two of his rushes to finish him off towards the end of round one, thus capturing the Major circuit title!

This calls for a celebration, how about training night!:

Piston Honda II: The Revenge
The final circuit, the World Circuit is where the difficulty really ramps up. It's also a breeding ground for fighters I've beaten to come back demanding rematches, case in point: Piston Honda. On the surface the guy hasn't changed too much since I beat him way back in the Minor Circuit, but he's definitely a beast this time around. He doesn't have any new moves but he's significantly faster and stronger. By this level it's extremely rare to have boxers getting KO'd, so its just a race against the clock to get your 3 KO's in. This is sort of what makes Honda all that more difficult, since he lacks a high risk instant knockout maneuver to take advantage of. The first round had him knocking me down once and me knocking him down twice. The second round was similar except he knocked me down twice as well. As the match came into an unprecedented third and final round I was still holding out hope that I had knocked him down enough times for the next one to be the KO. As the round was drawing to a close I found myself much like in previous rounds unable to deliver that elusive third knockdown for the win. I basically now looked to make it through the round and hope for the split decision (which I had a good chance of getting since I knocked him down more overall). However 15 seconds from the end Honda connected on his second knockdown and despite my button mashing I was unable to make it up in the 10 count. Thus, my drive for the World Title ended there and my only parting gift was the lasting image of Honda's flexing and showboating. I could have accepted a rematch but I wanted a perfect record to the top (that and my fingers were starting to get sore).

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Grand Slammed

"I haven't seen a Lee that gracious in defeat since Appomattox."

Last night, game show enthusiasts, Victor Lee enthusiasts, and anyone who just happened to have come across the Game Show Network during prime time saw the premiere episode of Grand Slam. For anyone not in the know, the show gathers some of the biggest winners in game show history (and a handsome young up and comer or two) and pits them in a diabolically intense 16 team single elimination tournament for ultimate game show bragging rights.

The "Grand Slam" element comes from the category of the four rounds in each match up: General Knowledge, Math and Numbers, Word Games and Logic, and the always exciting Potpourri round. In addition to the difficulty of mastering all those disciplines, the games themselves involve you answering these questions as fast as possible before your one minute clock runs out. It's kind of like speed chess where you keep going back and forth, you answer a question your clock stops and the opponent's clock starts and they have to answer a question. Whoever runs out of time first loses the round and the winner gets to keep their time to be added to the final potpourri round. To give you a sense of the action, here's a clip from the original UK run of the show; pretty freaky huh? Add the esoteric color commentary of Dennis Miller, the ultimately uncompelling analysis of Amanda Byram and the unseen reading skills of Pat Kiernan and you got yourself Grand Slam.

So flash back to the beginning of June and I'm in the conference area of some random hotel in midtown eating catered fudge, drinking Fiji water, and listening to the producers of Grand Slam list the seeding of the tournament. I'm surrounded by a room full of millionaires and game show celebrities and just like WSOPC I'm still the youngest guy in the room (even more so this time around). I have no idea what the hell I'm doing here. I only got the call for this out of the blue about a month ago; they sent over some vague documents sort of explaining the game. Leading up to this tournament I've been more occupied by the month long backpacking trip to Costa Rica that I was going on immediately following the show. This is the third game show I've been on in this the most insane year of my life, what the hell am I doing here?

They announce that the bracketing is done by total winnings. I immediately figure myself to be the 16th seed meaning a first round draw against Brad Rutter; however they announce it's Amy, the girl from Lingo! My 1/3 share of $250,000 edges out her 1/2 share of being the champ of Lingo, which I later learned was $41,000 (come on GSN you have deeper pockets than that!). It was then I realized that the match up I jokingly hoped for when I heard of the contestants for this tournament had actually come true: it was 15th seed Victor Lee versus number 2 Ken FREAKING Jennings!

This was it, it was like when ham-and-egger Rocky gets his longshot opportunity against undefeated Champ Apollo. Like Ric Flair said, "to be the man you gotta beat the man" and here was my chance. At that point I didn't really even see myself winning the whole tournament, I would have been just as ecstatic to have beaten Ken on this the ultimate showdown of game show bragging rights. Then I could become part of that exclusive club of people who beat Ken Jennings on TV: Brad Rutter, an extremely lucky Nancy Zerg, and pop culture wunderkind Victor Lee. It was at that time I regretted not studying for any of this.

If it sounds like I had some sort of vendetta against my opponent, it's far from it. In fact, that whole time I was sort of in awe of the guy. Here was this guy who was essentially living my dream, becoming a multi-millionaire by answering trivia questions, cementing a spot as the greatest Jeopardy champion of all time, becoming nationally famous while doing it, and eventually quiting your boring job and writing books! I think there are elementary school journals of mine that actually list those as my exact goals for when I grow up. I had nothing but the respect for the guy.

I think that was the difference between WSOPC and GS. In the WSOPC I had little to no reverence for all those teams (with the notable exception of previous years' champ El Chupacabra), they were good enough to have made it New York and all but I haven't seen anything by them for me to deem them better than my team and I. In the case of the slam I was surrounded by big time champs, people who won what I won in total over one question. Someone who has won 74 straight games of Jeopardy, or the Million Dollar Masters Tournament, or 43 games of Tic Tac Dough, or arrogantly burned your final life line in Millionaire just to tell your dad you were going to win has definitely earned my props. I'd have to have a few WSOPC wins under my belt before I start talking any serious smack about these pros.

So hanging out with Ken in the green room and backstage and the long downtime on the stage, it actually turned out he was a pretty cool dude and unless it's just excessive Mormon kindness he didn't seem annoyed by me either. We shot the shit about pro wrestling and Nick Nolte, and shot a ridiculous backstage interview where we both announced our intense mutual hatred for each other and about how money hadn't changed Ken because he was an asshole then and was still one now. I don't know why that interview never aired?

The match itself was a quick and semi-anticlimactic affair relative to all the build up and anticipation I had. My proudest moment came in the first round when I edged out Ken by a little over 8 seconds in the general knowledge round. This was the closest to Jeopardy and the only source of pop culture questions for me so we were both in our elements. I could now say that despite it all I had beaten the great trivia wizard at his own game...once. That fleeting sense of satisfaction immediately disappeared when the math round came up and my inability to quickly work out number sequences and do general multiplication buried me and gave Ken a 31 second cushion. The third round, logic and words, turned out to be my last great hurrah as a string of lucky guesses and my idiot savant celebrity anagram skills got me another 8 second victory and put me well within striking distance going into the finals. Of course I then completely choked in the finals, it just seemed like every other question I was randomly asked was about math. In the end all I could do was stand there with about a second left waiting for Ken to get one question right to end it all and he did with about 30 seconds to spare.

Despite what people expected from such a seemingly lopsided matchup on paper it was quite a competitive game. Normally I don't take losing very well at all, but I recall feeling a little bit proud of myself and content with my performance. I don't know maybe it was the competition or the personal wisdom I gained from a year spent doing game shows, it was definitely not as bitter a pill as Jeopardy. In fact watching my interviews again now I am completely surprised at how uncharacteristically gracious I was after it all. In an ironic twist the passage of time as actually made me a little bit more bitter instead of the opposite effect like with Jeopardy. I'm still at peace with the whole experience but after watching the episode I realize how I could have gotten a handful of those crucial questions if I had just thought about it clearly for a second rather than play the game in a mental panic. I don't know if I would have won but I would have definitely narrowed the gap at the very least.

In the end though all props to the Stormin' Mormon. He came in and was a quick, focused, consistent performer in every category and in the end proved his mettle, nothing but the best of luck for the rest of the tournament. For me I hope I go down as the person who lost to the eventual champion rather than the person who got beat by the guy who lost in the next round. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lovely Parting Gifts

I went to check the mail the other day, looking forward to ogling the women of the Sears catalog, when I came across a suspiciously plain looking white envelope directed to me. It wasn't from any college and the return address wasn't from Wilmington, Delaware so it wasn't credit card junk mail. It was from Culver City, California and a few moments later I put two and two together and realized that there was only one reason I'd be getting a letter from Culver City, California: Jeopardy!

Yes, the fabulous winnings from my forgettably brief run had finally been processed and sent home. I had just been granted the sweet, sweet rewards of third place and a key to the fantastic lifestyle that accompanies it. After I subtract the cost of flight and lodging to Los Angeles, and the stiff California game show taxes I've earned myself about a couple hundred bucks for the whole experience (of course I'm not factoring in the Jeopardy tote bag, Jeopardy picture frame, and personal picture with Trebek for said picture frame; the combined value of which I deem priceless).

Despite the hint of sarcasm, in the end I'm gracious to have received anything at all and the overall Jeopardy experience was pretty awesome. I kinda wish I could pull a Rickey Henderson and keep it in my room. Looking at this check is definitely a bittersweet experience though. I just wanted to win one game, just one game and I knew I was good enough to do it. Years of college bowl, a childhood of trivia, and a lifetime of people saying "you should go on Jeopardy" had groomed me for that shinning moment and I had blown it all in that critical moment of hesitation during the last notes of the Final Jeopardy theme when I choose Poland instead of Austria in my mind. On top of it all I also went for the blaze of glory betting strategy instead of actually thinking logically about reasonable wagers which could have also helped me out. I can only wonder what the "Sliding Doors" winner Victor would have ended up with. Would he have just blown it in the next game? Would he have challenged Ken Jennings (me verses Ken...yeah right)? How many more zeros could this check have had?

It took me a few months to get over that choke but in the mean time I've had the benefit of winning another game show (a comfort I assume few other Jeopardy third place finishers have) to salve my mental wounds. It will be a Merry Christmas indeed when the VH1 checks comes in sometime by the end of this year. As of now though I've gotten over it, not enough to see that episode again on TV, but over it enough to watch Jeopardy again on TV and spend this money (which will probably go into that insatiable "get Victor through law school fund"...or a Wii).