Monday, January 28, 2008

Artie Lange on Letterman this Friday, 2/1

Be sure to watch the Lateshow with David Letterman this Friday, February 1.

Looks like Paris Hilton is scheduled to be the "main" guest, which sucks, but that should also give Artie some good material for his segment. I didn't hear Artie discuss this appearance on the show today, so I don't know how he rationalized around the Writer's Guild strike. He mentioned on a previous show that he wouldn't cross the picket line, but maybe the deal the Guild made with Dave's production company was enough.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Blame Sally in Sacramento

Indie-pop, folk-pop, whatever you want to compare their style to won't exactly hit the mark. Piano, guitar, bass and percussion (not a drum kit) are the tools these women use to craft their sound.

I was introduced to the band Blame Sally a number of years ago by a friend who discovered them in the San Francisco Bay area. They often play in and around the Bay area and sometimes on the outskirts of Sacramento, but tonight they were right here, downtown at Marilyn's on K. What I really enjoy about this band is that their passion and joy for music comes through in their performance. As a casual musician, it's inspiring. Whether you are a fan of indie-folk-type music or not their shows are great because it is obvious the band is having a great time, the songs are heartfelt and the music's eclecticism is interesting.

The twang of a Fender Strat or slide guitar evokes some country flavor in one song, bongo drums and bass suggests African rhythms on another. Other instruments present were a mandolin and accordion.

The melodies chosen over atypical chord progressions are fresh. Dynamics and silence are no strangers here either, and enhance the individual skill of these musicians and their voices. The two and three part vocal harmonies are beautiful.

Blame Sally has been gaining attention over the past year with their 2007 release, Severland, ranking number one on XM Satellite radio's Starbucks XM Cafe and making the pre-nominating ballot for a Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary Folk, Best New Artist and Song of the Year categories.

The venue was low-key and not crowded, but in a good way. This band connects with its audience and those who were there were enthusiastic. Here's to more tour stops in Sacramento.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I just finished Portal this morning and loved it. I don't know what I could say that hasn't already been said to heap praise upon this game. I finished it over two days, maybe 8-10 hours, so it's pretty short, but it's also mind-bendingly creative and very fun. Portal is one of the five games included with The Orange Box, which is out on PC and Xbox 360.

The basic game mechanic centers around the use of two types of "portals," each can be an entry or an exit, which are linked ... dimensionally, I suppose. As the player you learn how to control and place these portals to move objects, move yourself, and achieve various objectives. It's a deceptively simple concept that you come to realize is surprisingly versatile.

The setting is within a "test facility" where you are supposed to be learning about this new portal device. As you progress you find, through some often hilarious automated commentary, that all is not as it seems. The in-game environment is interesting and at higher levels it is quite challenging to achieve the required objectives. There's a ton of spatial reasoning and problem-solving skill required to achieve these objectives, and I just loved it.

If you've heard the buzz about this game, I'm telling you the buzz is justified. If you haven't heard the buzz, do yourself a favor and find out what rock you've been under and then check out this game. The Orange Box is a compilation and also includes Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and Team Fortress 2, all of which have received high praise as previous separate releases.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Praise and a few gripes for PGR4

I have expanded my videogame collection with the spoils of holiday giving and one of the games I've acquired is Project Gotham Racing 4. The only other game I've played in the PGR series is PGR2 on the original Xbox, and I loved it. It hit the sweet spot between an arcade-style racer and a driving simulator, with an excellent online component to race against your friends.

PGR4 is much the same, though I have to say it is more of a challenge than PGR2. This is due a bit to the more technical nature of the game, leaning more toward a realistic simulation, but it's mainly due to the toughness of the artificial intelligence of your bot opponents. If you don't get out in front early in a race, it's nearly impossible to catch up to first place. I'll be spending much more time honing my driving techniques this time out.

One of my gripes with the single-player portion of PGR4 isn't even with the gameplay, it's with the integration of your friends' stats via Xbox Live -- it hardly exists. In the "arcade" mode where you're just competing for various medals in different types of races you will see a leaderboard after completing an event that shows you where you rank among your friends, but that's it. That's the only time you will see the leaderboard and as far as I can tell, you can't bring it back up just to look and compare. Lame. That's a huge part of the competitive fun of racing games is competing against your friends' times on the same tracks.

In the "career" mode, such friend comparison simply isn't there. Maybe there are too many variables to factor in with all of the choices one can make throughout the course of one's career, but I don't see why the game couldn't at least let you see how your friends are doing.

I played my first online matches this past weekend and they were just as fun as the online races in PGR2, just much prettier graphically. I have to say, though, the interface and menu navigation for setting up the custom races is clumsy and leaves a lot to be desired. Much of the menu choices are text-based with little explanation and the menu choices are all nested inside of each other. It may be a case of sacrificing ease of use for a "clutter-free" onscreen menu appearance.

Even the online web component of PGR4,, suffers from a lack of ability to compare your stats with your friends'. You can do it, but not without seriously digging down into the "Leaderboards" link, and even then, you are relegated to nondescriptive text-based choices that provide so little information they are useless, particularly out of the context of the game.

I want to see these comparisons when I'm online in the game interface so I can look at a leaderboard for a particular track before I race it, see where my friends placed, and try to beat them. The leaderboard should also be associated with a graphical representation of the proper map with a title, too, not just "Event 1 Street Race."

Another gripe is with the "garage" component of the game. It apparently lets you view vehicles and motorcycles available to you in your garage, but I didn't see all of the cars I'd been using in my garage, and of the cars and bikes you see, you seem only to be able to take pictures of them to upload to Huh? I was so bored, here's the picture I took and uploaded:
I couldn't even open the dumpster or kick it or anything. But that's not the worst part about the "garage." In one of the garages you can walk up to and play an upright arcade machine version of Geometry Wars: Waves. I did this and it was a cool variation on the regular Geometry Wars, but when you've had enough and want to go back to PGR4 (even selecting "Back to PGR4" on the menu) it spits you totally out of the entire game as if you rebooted your console. What? I wanted to go back to the garage and walk around taking pictures!

I don't mean to sound so negative about this game. It does provide a great driving experience while you're actually playing, and the online component when you are actually racing works very well. The shift toward a more technical simulation may warrant experiencing this game with a steering wheel. I've read many find this significantly enhances the feel and experience of driving in this and other driving games. Also, one creative addition to PGR4 is the ability to use motorcycles instead of cars. You still race against cars and other motorcycles and it's an interesting addition with a whole different feel and skillset to learn.

I did finally win a few Championship series races in the Amateur category tonight, so I just have to keep at it and keep practicing.

Howard Stern to be on Letterman next Monday

[UPDATE -- LAST MINUTE] On today's show Howard said he'd be on Letterman tonight, January 10!

Just a quick note -- Howard mentioned on his show today he will be appearing on David Letterman next Monday, January 14. Stern always steals the show, so this one's worth a tape or DVR program.