Weekend Post (O/T): Wanton Media Consumption

I am an avid consumer of all forms of media. I’m either reading, watching, playing, or listening to something. Here’s a rundown of some of this week’s highlights for the weekend off-topic post.


After reading the obituaries for Maury Chaykin, I realized that I’d only see one episode of A&E’s Nero Wolfe, and that one long ago. We watch a lot of British mystery shows at Casa McD, but I was curious how the Americans would handle a classic literary mystery adaption like this. The answer is: pretty darn well. Tim Hutton is a snappy Archie Goodwin, and Chaykin is volatile and neurotic as Wolfe. The oddest part is the use of an ensemble cast in different roles each week. Aside from a few repeating characters, all the other actors play a different character in every mystery. It’s a very good American take on the classic British lit-mystery format (Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Marple, Midsomer Murders, etc).

As for Chaykin, the thing from him that I still remember best is “Mr. Potatohead! Mr. POTATOHEAD!” Can you name that movie?


Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock

Bleak House has been an ongoing project for the past two months. I’m always reading a few books at once, so a 1,000 page Victorian novel is going to take a little bit of time. Fortunately, Dickens wrote it to be read that way, since the story would have originally been printed as a serial. (That’s why all his characters had certain phrases or characteristics that were always repeated: to help people remember who they were from month to month.) This may not be the best place to start with Dickens if you’ve never read him before (Great Expectations or Hard Times are probably a better first experience), but it’s certainly the best writing Dickens ever did. If you’ve never seen the most recent adaptation (with Gillian Anderson and Charles Dance) make sure you do. I think it’s still on Netflix streaming, and it’s superb.

Solitaire by David Parlett. Parlett is the best writer on cards, period. Alas, I think his book on Solitaire is out of print. That’s a shame, because it’s not just a collection of 400 games and variants, but also a thoughtful look at the game of solitaire itself. Parlett categorizes the games, ranging from simple games of luck and patience, to logic problems that require as much thought as chess. This book desperately needs to be back in print. No one has ever written a better book on the subject.

Memorize the Faith (and Most Anything Else) by Kevin Vost. I teach religion to 8th graders, so I was looking for some interesting new techniques in this book. The author’s method is based on the ancient “method of loci,” which associates certain facts with different discreet locations, such as rooms and objects in a house. I’m not far into it, so I’m not sure what I think of the method. I’ve worked with teenagers for many years, and their retention of rote facts is very poor. While rote learning was probably over-emphasized in the past, it is drastically under-emphasized now. I’m 42-years-old, and I can still recite poetry and facts I learned at their age. (I had a classical education that emphasized that sort of thing.) I’m looking for any method I can use to help them retain hard knowledge. This may or may not be the method, but it’s certainly a different approach.

Killer Cribbage by Dan Barlow. I’ve read half of this book, and my 9-year-old daughter still took me to the cleaners … twice. (She said, “I don’t think that book is working.) Maybe all the best secrets are in the second half? Actually, it’s a very good book that offers some excellent advice, My daughter is simply a card shark. I’m so proud.

I’ve mostly been listening to Old Time Radio. The archive.org site has a complete collection of Gunsmoke episodes in perfect sound quality. This is some of the best entertainment you’ll find, and it’s free! Load up your iPod with OTR and you will not be disappointed.


The Week At a Glance

App Reviews
Chain Link Pro: puzzle, dexterity
Netflix: utility
Reiner Knizia’s Samurai: strategy, boardgame conversion
Spite & Malice: two-handed solitaire
Theseus: puzzle, maze

EA’s Medal of Honor Courts Controversy
The Bible as an MMO?

Cheap Labor
Games Magazine puzzle contest (off-site)

Colonial Gaming
Introduction to the series
Put and the lower classes: How to play the Poker of Colonial America
I catch you without green: A medieval game survives in the Carolinas.
Cards of the Colonial period

The Games 100
Dominion Prosperity Preview (off-site)
Friday Linkaround

Friday Linkaround–Random items of interest

New Content for Snoopy: Joystiq is almost correct: Snoopy Flying Ace is the best flight game of the past several years, and now it has new downloadable content, called Suppertime of Destruction. Must … have… kamikaze …. woodstocks …

Angry Birds: The Movie?: Are we witnessing the birth of a franchise with the Angry Birds app? Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?: discuss.

Through The Ages App: It’s one thing to shrink Roll Through the Ages down to App size, but the original, very large and complex Through the Ages game? Apparently someone is trying.

Batman Redux: We’re going to have to a wait a full year for the sequel to last year’s Game of the Year.

The Making of Tichu: I’ll be reviewing the new Tichu app soon. In the meantime, programmer Steve Blanding explains how he did it in this detailed, geektastic developer diary at BGN.

Little Plastic Dudes Fight Evil: Axis & Allies: Europe 1940 is finally out.

Move Along, Nothing to See Here: Sony is already trying to talk down expectations for the Move. I guess the “It’s an expensive peripheral that does kind of what the Wii always did” narrative is not working.

5 for 5: 5 boardgames that are good for 5 players, at funboardgames.org

What the World Needs is Another Videogame Movie: Will Brad Pitt star in Red Dead Redemption: The Movie? (Red Dead Redemption is one of the finalists for the Games Magazine Game of the Year.)

Speaking of Videogames Movies: Halo: Reach semi-live-action trailer. (No real word yet on when we can expect a live action Halo movie.)

Bring Out Your Dead: Target joins Best Buy in offering a hardware trade-in program.

News From the Chess World: Chess links for the week.

App O’ The Mornin’: Netflix App Review

No, it’s not a game, but I’m giving myself a little topic leeway on Fridays, and I’ve been waiting for this one for a year. (Also: it’s relevant to Apps, Xbox, and Wii.)

I’m a huge Netflix junkie. Back when DVD was first launched, I wrote quite a bit about the format and the technology. I published a lot of reviews and amassed a fairly large collection (about 1800 discs).

The flatlining economy has largely ended my days of DVD collecting, but Netflix has jumped in to fill the gap. I’m a big fan of their “Watch instantly” option, which offers a sizable chunk of their content as streaming video. When this was just possible via my laptop, I didn’t really bother. But when they added streaming to televisions through any Xbox Live Gold account, it became far more appealing. (You can also stream through Wii, but the resolution is not as good.)

Since Netflix hadn’t created their own app, I was still unable to manage my queue via the iPod Touch, but I assumed they’d get around to it eventually. Boy, did they!

Now I know what took them so long. Not only does the new Netflix app (just released yesterday) allow you to browse, add, and delete titles from your instant queue, but it streams the instant queue straight to your device! Sweet gorilla of Manila!

Screen capture from iPod Touch running Netflix app

Now, my entire instant queue can follow me anywhere I go. I’m not a huge fan of watching video on tiny screens, but I know others are, and I’m simply amazed that Netflix was able to include such a powerful feature.

Now for the negatives: am I missing some hidden feature, or does this App not allow you to manage your regular queue at all? I also can’t find any information on what has shipped, what’s been returned, and other account data. This needs to be fixed.

The App is free, and simply ties in to your existing Netflix account. The queue features work fine, and the video streams without any hitches. If you have a Netflix account, then this will be one of the most powerful media apps on your device.

UPDATE: I’m reading through the reviews for this, and some people are complaining about crashes and skips. This hasn’t happened once to me. I suspect these are users who have minimal free memory. You can’t run a heavy media application with 20 MB of free RAM. Use an app like “Free Memory” to see how much memory is available, and close some background apps.

My experience was based on watching video via a WiFi connection. Obviously, variations in cellular signal strength will effect streaming.