From the archives: March 2004

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It’s falling with style

Tuesday, 30 March 2004 — 12:25pm | Animation, Film

This comes a bit late, but since Friday there have been reports of Disney going ahead on Toy Story 3. This is, in a word, problematic.

When Pixar’s contract extension negotiations with Disney fell apart earlier this year, one of the stumbling blocks just begging for trouble was Disney’s retention of sequel rights. This is the result: the possibility of a second-rate, non-Pixar Toy Story movie – and one likely going straight into cinemas.

Let’s be very clear about one thing: second-rate sequels of any sort have no place existing at all, but given that studios nowadays are greenlighting such hotly-anticipated titles as Baby Geniuses 2, let’s accept that they are a very real threat. The least you could do is relegate them to a second-rate medium (i.e. direct-to-video) where you can exploit the pocketbooks of uninformed parents all you want without disturbing the peace for the rest of us. Franchise projects like this are a veritable sinkhole for a studio’s marketing dollars and come bundled with a theatrical print release strategy known as “clogging the rivers with their dead.” In the end, nobody wins, except for the execs who point to the opening-weekend figures and think they made money, ignoring the fact that said figures are nowadays more indicative of hype than lasting appeal. The result: Toy Story 4.

Worthwhile sequels in general are rare enough, and when it comes to animation, there is perhaps only one, that being Toy Story 2; and before you heckle “The Rescuers Down Under?” let’s not pretend for a moment that it is on equal parity with John Lasseter’s seminal masterpiece. The point is, the reason why Toy Story 2 escaped DTV Hell at all was because to understate its quality, it was a cinema-worthy project made by cinema-worthy storytellers.

Apparently this sent the Mouse House the message that DTV-quality sequels can still make a lot of money at the multiplexes, hence the silver-screen treatments of The Jungle Book 2 and Return to Neverland, which nobody remembers, and with good reason. This is backwards thinking. The other form of backwards thinking we’ve seen recently is how Pixar’s nine-digit returns on every single film has sent Disney the message that CG is automatically salable. What they are forgetting is that the likes of John Lasseter, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton actually know how to make movies, while the only in-house CG feature we’ve seen from Disney tried to rip off The Land Before Time and couldn’t even do it right. But lest I waste more valuable keystrokes flogging this deceased equine, I will defer to this editorial entitled “Why Pixar’s films are more ‘Disney’ than Disney’s”, which explains it a whole lot better than I could here.

The best solution, of course, is a coup at the top of Disney’s chain of command like the shareholder revolt last month, only successful. Ejecting Michael Eisner could mean repairing the Pixar-Disney relationship, which implies there will thankfully be no Toy Story 3 unless and until there’s a worthy idea to back it up. Furthermore, as explained in a lot more detail in this Jim Hill article, this may resolve the issue of which distributor picks up Ratatouille in time for a projected 2006 release.

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Evening break and breaking even

Sunday, 28 March 2004 — 10:50pm | Scrabble, Video games

Fourteen rounds of Scrabble does strange things to you. This week I played in the 1200-1600 division at the annual two-day Spring Tournament in Calgary, finishing with a 7-7 record and a negative spread. According to the Ratings Calculator my rating will stay about the same, rising from 1251 to 1255. The actual change will likely be slightly different, as in two-day events, intermediary rating changes are calculated after the first day – in this case, the first eight rounds, after which I was sitting at 5-3. (The player rating system is a variant of the Elo system used in chess, and is explained in this document.) Stay tuned next week for an update concerning the first tournament ever to be held in Northern Alberta, a one-day event at Sherwood Park in which I will be playing in Division 1.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles has been selling ridiculously well for a gimmick title that absorbs US$600 if you want to set up a four-player game. But already being in possession of two Game Boy Advances, it was not considerably pricier than what I usually pay for games, which is in itself too much. The game is of the old “fight monsters, don’t die” formula, but pulls it off quite well because of the teamwork element involved when several players are managing inventories and eyeing distinct radars on the GBA screen while conducting battles on the television connected to the GameCube. There is the occasional frustration that comes from leaving all the healing spells in the hands of a teammate who is a little slow to the punch, but that just adds to the social atmosphere. Social video games are an endangered species in this day and age of going online, but that’s a diatribe for another post, another day.

Calling a spade a spade, Chronicles is closer to a beat-’em-up than an RPG in terms of genre, but relies on elements of both and does not excel at strictly one and not the other. Aside from the overhead, the use of GBA-Cube connectivity deserves some credit, and it should be interesting to see how this technical feature unfolds in Four Swords Adventures.

Speaking of Zelda, be sure to read this transcription of Eiji Aonuma’s keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference held last week, wherein he discusses at length both the history of the franchise and the depth of the design process. It’s a fascinating read that covers everything from dialogue writing to the timing of the “success chime”.

CUSIDnet is back online, albeit under a new address, probably due to however the new host, GlobalServers, handles subdomains. If this remains the case, I will likely go back and update the various hard links to the CUSID forums to reflect this. Actually, don’t count on it; too much work. If this remains the case, I will likely see what is up with the subdomain issue, it being my new job and all.

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Politics are useless

Thursday, 25 March 2004 — 6:03pm | Studentpolitik

Or is it “Politics is useless”? Actually, it’s both, and although the singularity of its usage is sometimes dependent on context, the line between the two is not too clear. The word is plural by all appearances, but “takes a singular verb when used to refer to the art or science of governing or to political science” according to the American Heritage Fourth entry at

Whenever politics becomes especially useless, a number of things may occur. The more glaring errors merit apologies and explanations while people scramble to figure out what just happened; take, for example, Edmonton Transit’s all-too-predictable response to the recent, prematurely-conceived referendum on the Universal Bus Pass. The infeasibility of jacking the price down to $60/semester was known by every informed student prior to the election, but even among the voting population, the informed student is a rare and beautiful creature.

Another thing that happens when politics takes a dive off the cliff is that another set of politics comes along and thinks it can do better – that is to say, dive off a much higher cliff with a triple-backflip and a cherry on top. “Self-sodomizing U-Pass referendum, eh?” said the University of Calgary, “We’ll do you one better and overturn our entire election.” Word to the wise: online voting is contingent on online competence. At the same time, what co-appellant and failed candidate Phil Barski of “Barski’s Cabinet” does not realize is that even with the election results thrown out, he still won’t take the presidency; you can only hoodwink students so far and so often with a no-platform, no-clue slate. Proof otherwise would indicate that even my limited faith in the capacity of voters is excessively optimistic.

In a somewhat more legitimate political process, last night I was re-elected to the position of U of A Debate Society Internal Director by way of acclamatory approval. This means another year of fiddling with the website – let’s face it, the current layout was a bit of a rushed job – and doodling in QuarkXPress and waiting for a newsletter to magically congeal, which is fun in the sun for everyone.

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Smoked meat and poutine (of conduct)

Tuesday, 23 March 2004 — 11:52pm | Debate

Last weekend I attended my first CUSID National Debating Championships, hosted this year by the McGill Debating Union. The competition itself was less than stellar in terms of my own performance, but overall, the event was well run. Alberta won the Nationals bid for 2005, so hopefully we run it as well. From an entirely biased perspective, I would still call the elimination of Alberta Law (Wanke/Adhihetty) in the quarter-final opposing Carleton one of the more egregious decisions I have witnessed, but as someone who finished with a 2-4 record I have no right to talk. Unlike the “Nick vs. Portland and pretending to know jack about economics” of UBC’s Pacific Cup two weeks previously, Nationals was “Nick vs. Marionopolis and pretending to know jack about where Marionopolis is located” – and somewhat less successful in that respect.

On another front entirely, I won the election for the CUSID Executive Director on a status quo, “I promise not to break anything” platform. Unbeknownst to myself, this was a direct contravention of the delicate equilibrium maintained under Murphy’s Law, which responded in force with the revocation of service to Without divulging anything that is not already in the minutes, Concordia took issue with a potential enforcement stipulation of the proposed Code of Conduct Bylaw, which subsequently passed. Concordia alumnus and web space donor Gordon Buchan then withdrew his support for CUSID. The entire issue is complex to the point that nobody really has a clear understanding of it yet, though outgoing CUSID President Konrad Koncewicz has more than a little to say about the concerns regarding club sovereignty.

Has anybody else noticed that the acronym “CUSID” is redundant for the ostensive sake of being pronounceable? It stands for the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate. First of all, one would contest that it is strictly bound to universities alone; secondly, the redundancy lies in “University” and “Intercollegiate”. It would follow that the ‘U’ is up for elimination, the result being “CSID”, pronounced “see-sid”, but not to be confused with CSIS. Debaters are only spooks in the literal sense.

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Do you want to buy a chicken?

Monday, 22 March 2004 — 5:57am | Literature

If you follow this blog regularly, you may have noticed that one individual has received a lot of attention lately; that individual being Steve Smith, one of the University of Alberta’s highest-profile student politicians by virtue of the fact that he actually does stuff. On the other hand, if you follow this blog regularly, you are probably Steve Smith himself, and I invite you to point out the fallacy in my assertion that there is in any way a linear correlation between “lack of uselessness” and media coverage. Regardless, while I taking a much-needed weekend off from the Internet, the Students’ Union’s most influential advocate of Simon & Garfunkel took it upon himself to start his own weblog.

In his first entry – which, like every inaugural post, fumbles for a sense of direction and waits for Godot – he mentions this page, calling me “a brilliant writer, who posts beautifully crafted (though all together too infrequent) treatises on movies, language, student journalism and, of course, hack.” Why thank you, Steve. The parenthetical remark is duly noted and will be addressed to the best of my abilities.

That promise is one to regret on a somewhat immediate basis, due to a little thing called “academics”. I would typically use a sentence like this to go into detail with respect to what homework it is I am missing, but lo and behold – a barometer of irresponsibility has emerged for me without my even bothering to ask. Hot on Steve’s heels comes Video Games and Building Blocks, another weblog that sprung up over the weekend. This one belongs to Josh Bazin, who is enrolled in half my classes. Think of him as a proxy for expressing my Software Engineering woes.

But when one talks about online diarism as a medium for expressing woes – and let’s face it, the vast majority of blog material nowadays consists of exactly that – we are led to an interesting question. Why write blogs?

The easy way out is to cry “exhibitionism” and leave it at that, but in no way is it that simple. For one, the vast majority of blogs start with no audience, aside from a number of personal friends and possibly second-degree acquaintances. It is extraordinarily rare that someone will read the public diary of a complete stranger in whose life he or she has no vested interest. Not every journal is as politically relevant as Salam Pax, as comprehensive as The Volokh Conspiracy or as laden with technical expertise as Grant Hutchinson’s Splorp. Normal blogs – actual personal diaries about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens – are of very little appeal to a voyeur removed from the context. Often, they are read by those within two degrees of separation from the author; rarely are they ever intended to be more.

These diaries are, in a way, a natural evolution from e-mail as a medium of correspondence. As some people will have no doubt discovered, maintaining all the promises to “keep in touch” scribbled in the inside cover of your high school yearbook requires a tremendous amount of repetition. Why not write one letter to everybody? Because CC’s are first and foremost impersonal, and a static roster of recipients carries its own sack of problems. The average recipient of a mass e-mail regards it as spam and junks it immediately, if not through an automatic filter. Furthermore, there are inevitably hard feelings from interested parties excluded from the list. The solution is to leave the reception of this information at the discretion of the reader; hence, the rise of the blog.

Class dismissed.

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