Halo 3: Best graphics on the worst Halo

So Stephanie was kind enough to pick up Halo 3 for me this week. I played it. It was gorgeous to look at initially. But ultimately it kinda sucks.

In Halo 2, the story was convoluted and both over- and under-written. It was confusing and cliched to an embarrassing degree. I figured the nerds just couldn’t pull a story together and whatever plan they might have had got away from them. I forgave them.

But they made millions upon millions of dollars on Halo and Halo 2. Couldn’t they have spent a few hundred thousand bucks on a story developer / writer / screenplay expert for Halo 3? Please? No. No they could not.

To follow the story line in Halo 3 AT ALL, you must know Halo 2 already. To know Halo 2’s story, you must have played it through several times, listening carefully to figure things out and make several big assumptions. But even if you know Halo 2 (and I do), Halo 3 makes little sense and the ending is absolute unmitigated ambiguity.  No closure, and bad writing to boot.

I don’t play the multiplayer much — the weenies on Xbox Live aren’t worth the trouble, especially at $50/year. So that aspect of the game — a huge aspect, I’ll grant you — is lost on me.  From here I’ll play through the “solo” game a couple more times just because some of the graphics are good and the new weapons and vehicles are great. But after that, Halo 3 goes on the shelf. Or out to eBay or something.

Shame on Bungie and Microsoft for continuing to screw this thing up. Lots of potential. Little delivery.

Hold on, Amazon…

Okay, so I looked a little closer at the Amazon MP3 downloads. Turns out they are NOT 256Kb bitrate files. They’re around 256Kb — they’re Variable Bit Rate (VBR) files.

That’s definitely not what I want. If you tell me it’s 256Kb, then I want my freaking two hundred fifty-six kilobits — every last one of them. And I want them for every piece of the song: the silent parts, the loud parts, the complex and simple parts and everything in between.

Can I hear the difference under normal listening conditions? Nope. It’s the principle of the thing for me, a purist of process and product. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours ripping and re-ripping my 1,200+ CD collection to get to my exact 256Kb AAC files. To know they cheaped out on me this way really sticks in my craw.

I know, I know… that’s weird. But that’s the way it be. Amazon won’t get any more sales from me except in “emergency” situations or when I just don’t care about the archivability of the audio.

Amazon MP3 store — good so far

Well, Amazon introduced their online MP3 store in beta this week. I just purchased my first album using the service. There are some pros and cons…

PROS

  • No DRM lock-down on downloaded tracks, allowing you to move the music where you want.
  • 256KB stereo bitrate on the MP3 files, ensuring a very-near-CD sound quality (I use the same 256KB bitrate when ripping CDs from my collection, although I create AAC files rather than MP3 files)
  • Better prices than iTunes in most — if not all — cases (I got a complete album for $7 vs. $10)
  • Automatically adds downloads to the iTunes library for you
  • Leaves an additional copy of the MP3 file in an additional folder on your Mac, so you know which tracks to back up without having to think about it (this is a big bonus)
  • Album art (nice, big images) integrated into each MP3 file

CONS

  • Requires special downloading application (Windows and Mac versions available)
  • Can’t add albums to a cart — must buy via “One Click” — which means that the purchase went to the wrong credit card in my case
  • Just like iTunes or any other non-physical service, you have to backup your music yourself because you get no physical backup (original CD)
  • Limited selection — quite limited so far, and some of the exclusions are weird as they’ll include one album from an artist, but none of the other 4 or 5 albums
  • Search function inside Amazon is not so clean — I searched for an album title with the exact spelling and it said it couldn’t find it, but then presented the album in a list of “did you mean?” results. Huh?

In short, the store works and the prices and quality are good. It’s not as smooth as iTunes, but for $3+ I can sweat the details.

In any case, I still prefer buying physical CDs. Our collection is quite large and I rather like the collecting aspect — lots and lots of CDs all lined up and on display. Downloads don’t display on a shelf well.

So far, so good. I don’t mind that Apple has competition now. But the playing field is not yet level, as Universal has turned over the goods to Amazon but has locked out Apple intentionally, at least for now. In theory they are trying to squeeze Apple for some sales concessions (variable pricing, album-only sales, etc.). At least EMI is being a responsible new media player, providing the same un-DRMed tracks to both stores.

I look forward to seeing how this plays out. Ironically, this new service comes out in the same week I received three CDs from the old mail order BMG Music Club — CDs I ordered… wait for it… three months ago. Three CDs, three months delivery time. What are they doing… shipping quarterly? Morons.

Blow it, throw it — just get rid of it

Oh, baby… you’re coming with me. I’ve got a job for you.

Last year I used a two-stroke gas engine snow blower (snow thrower — whatever) to keep the driveway clear in a fairly busy winter in Anchorage. Worked okay. It was a Toro, too.

But every time I used it I ended up smelling like a truck stop. Not a trucker, but the actual truck stop itself. I had to immediately peel off my clothes and throw them in the washer after clearing the driveway. If I left the clothes in a laundry basket, the room would end up smelling like a truck stop, too. Crazy!

The nasty oil-and-gas half-burned exhaust would blow straight on you as you manuevered up and down the driveway. I’d never seen anything like it. Or heard — it was one noisy beast, too, with plastic panels clattering against the vibrating engine. I hated it. Only I hated manually shoveling 12″ of snow even more.

This year, it’s bye-bye gas snow thrower. We’re going electric — just like our lawnmower and weed whacker. Quieter, cleaner, and just as effective. No gas/oil mix stored in the garage, no nasty exhaust. I kinda can’t wait. Kinda.

I’m actually ready for spring.

Early November trip south is set

Beginning Friday, November 2 at 9:42 p.m. (Alaska time), we begin a week-long trip south to visit family in upstate New York and western Massachusetts.

We’re flying to Albany (via Minneapolis and Detroit) and will touchdown just before noon on Saturday the 3rd.

We’ll then take off from Albany once more at a bleary-eyed 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 10, getting home around 3:30 p.m. We’ll reverse the trip exactly: Albany > Detroit > Minneapolis > Anchorage.

Amazingly, this four-airports flight path was the only affordable way to make the trip. Anything with just two legs and three airports cost far more money than the (already outrageous) $1,300 we’re spending on airfare alone for this itinerary. Gotta love how extra miles and extra fuel actually cost less to the consumer. Sure, I get the economics, but still…

Meanwhile, back home… We’re planning on getting a live-in house sitter to watch over the pets and eliminate any snow from the driveway. Yes, snow.  Wanna sign up?  There’s a big screen TV, XBox 360, Wii and free Internet access just waiting for you, slugger.

Wish us luck. Here’s hoping for a little sumpin’ extra during my TSA pat-down. “No, that’s most certainly not a gun in my pocket. I really am happy to see you.”

Google Reader kicks, um… butt

So I’ve noodled around with Google Reader (a web-based RSS aggregator and reader) before, but not really taken it too seriously. The integration between web page and RSS feed reading in Apple’s Safari browser has made me happy for a long time.

However, once you’ve gotten past a handful of feeds, it becomes cumbersome to track them in Safari. There are ways to bring them together, to aggregate them. But it’s not simple.

I’ve also messed around with full-blown RSS reader applications, especially on the Mac. Stuff like NewsFire and NetNewsWire and even the open source Vienna project. But so far as I could tell, you couldn’t easily sync your feeds (and where you are in your feeds) across multiple computers. If they synced, I’d probably be sold because they are so slick and fast and beautiful with lots of extra features.

But back to Google Reader.

I’ve spent several hours (yes, hours!) transferring various RSS feeds into Google Reader today, and now I’m organizing them. I’m also using the Share feature (articles appear in the sidebar right on this page). Pretty darn slick. And free.

So three cheers for Google Reader. Check it out if you’re a serious RSS collector.