Halo 3

I know I’m a bit late to the game on this one, but I did in fact pick up Halo 3 at the Microsoft company store the day it came out ($25!). I got home, popped it in to my Xbox 360 that I had bought a few weeks ago (in anticipation of Halo’s release) and played through the first few levels. My first few thoughts are it’s pretty good and lives up to the hype. It looks stunning at 1080 on my LCD and the Theater mode really lets you appreciate the graphics quality and the draw distance the game has. One of my good friends bought an Xbox specifically to play the game and saw a few people in line at Best Buy doing the same thing. The inital sales reports say it rung up over $170m in the first 24 hours. Not bad for a game where you play a genetically modified human being on a quest to save man-kind.

Mumbai, a City of Contradictions

In this weekend’s New York Times, author Alex Kuczynski writes about his experience visting Mumbai, speaks a lot about the dichotomy of worlds between the new rich and the exceedingly poor. A couple of quotes jumped out at me:

Simply walking along a city street is an exercise in yogilike self-composition. If you walk, you must be comfortable with the press of warm bodies and the dense, meaty smell of skin and hair that has not been washed in weeks, perhaps months.

The ladies who lunch don’t speak of their philanthropic work to end the city’s abject poverty. “There are simply too many suffering,” one socialite explained. “So we focus on things we can actually have an impact on, like art and gardening.”

I wonder what happened to the girl [who was seen earlier playing in sewage]. Was her tarpaulin home washed away? As I imagined the all-night parties continuing at Privé, the Bordeaux flowing and the young investment bankers paying for bottles of Stolichnaya with black American Express cards, I wondered: was she able to even salvage a T-shirt, a pair of underwear, a favorite book of cartoons? I have no answer. The city of contradiction carries on, oblivious.

California Voting Trickery and Deception

The “Presidential Election Reform Act” is currently hunting around for the required amount of signatories to appear in the 2008 ballot. This proposed Act would change the way California’s electoral college votes are divided up, moving from a winner takes all to a system where a electoral vote would go to the winner of every congressional district, possibly moving away ~22 of the California electoral votes away from the winner of the popular vote. The cleverly named Act is a thinly veiled effort by California Republicans to sway the electoral power of the nation’s largest state away from the popular voting results in to a slanted version of electoral representation.

The number of voices against this proposed Act is growing, and as Slate argues that this is most likely unconstitutional. Article II, Section 1 of the constitution states electors shall be appointed by the states “in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Taking this to the ballot and having the voters decide on how the state’s electoral votes are decided therefore would be unconstitutional. As Slate comments, the attempt to take this directly to the voters is a sly way to avoid the Democraticly controlled State legislature and confuse them with a well titled Act.

Further (and I’m no voting law expert), this would severely disenfranchise voters in more dense districts (e.g. Los Angeles or the Bay Area) by moving voting power to less populated areas. If the proposed Act argues to give more voter control to the individuals, that’s patently false as it is still a winner-takes-all system, only now at the district level. The popular vote is still left discarded under the Act.

As Mark Leno and others argue, we need electoral reform, and we need it badly. But what we don’t need is disingenuous trickery of the public to meet one party’s ends in the name of reform. The worst part of maneuvering like this is that it will drain resources and time to defeat where the state has pressing issues that require attention instead of this Act.

Treasure Island Music Festival

Along with about 10,000 other people, I went to the inaugural Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend. I only went on Saturday for the (mostly) electronica day. We got there towards the beginning of the M.I.A. set, which ended up being a lot cooler than I thought it’d be. I had her first album, and given how produced it was I wasn’t sure how her live show would be, but it was pretty good.

After M.I.A. was the DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist doing 8 turntables and 4 mixers for their “Hard Sell” album. Pretty cool to see. I haven’t seen Cut Chemist since last I saw Jurassic 5 and I expected something quite a bit more hip-hop-y, but the set was a lot more of old school funk and other stuff that I hardly recognized.

Gotan Project (a group until Saturday I’d never heard of before) was nothing short of astounding. Tango + electronica + breaks. It was phenomenal. They came on stage with a full orchestra, including an accordionist, DJs, strings, horns, etc. I’ve been listening to their two CDs all morning. They had great stage presence as well.

The headliner was Thievery Corporation. I only had The Cosmic Game, and based on that I expected a super down tempo set. Au contraire, they delivered an jamming, rocking, hard hitting show with three or four singers, drums, DJs, and sitar in tow. I still think Gotan stole the show but the Thievery set was a lot more fun to listen to than I’d expected.

Goodbye meebo, Hello Pidgin

For all accounts except for Windows Live Messenger, I’ve been using meebo as my primary IM client. It was convenient, useful and generally pretty fast, especially when I switched over to using Firefox as my primary browser. While generally a good product, my computer started to bog down with Firefox eating 500+ megs of memory regularly. Running Facebook, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and meebo all at the same time just made Firefox consume resources like there was no end in sight, and meebo was the primary consumer (as far as I could tell).

Thus last night, I downloaded and installed Pidgin (aka GAIM). It’s the first time I’ve given this open source IM client a try since 2000, when it destroyed my AIM buddy last (I have yet to find all the screennames I lost from that fiasco). Now, seven years later, the product is pretty amazing. It works with all the major IM services (I’m connecting to Yahoo, Windows Live, Google, and AIM), the UI is clean and unobtrusive, it supports features like file transfer, status updates and email notifications and best of all, it’s fast and light (only 17 megs of memory consumed).

While I love some Web 2.0 replacements for my desktop applications (e.g. Yahoo Mail and Windows Live Mail vs Outlook/Thunderbird), I think they have a way to go until they reach the level that I don’t get frustrated. In this instance, the desktop application is quicker, faster, and lighter than the web app. Until the web apps bridge that void I think desktop apps have a long life yet.

New Music: Common and Talib Kweli

Over the weekend I picked up two new albums: Common’s Finding Forever and and Talib Kweli’s Ear Drum. Finding Forever feels like a lot of the same stuff I loved from Be, and overall it continues to hold strong on Common’s delivery plus Kanye West’s beats. There’s a lot of sampling going on that flows together well, much like some old Jurassic 5. This album is the one I’ve got on repeat in the car.

The Talib album disappoints though. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten in to any Talib albums ever since Quality. The Beautiful Struggle had some great tracks on it (Black Girl Pain stands out), but Ear Drum seems to be in the same vein. I love the track with Jean Grae, but I still compare all of his work to Quality and Black Star, which is why I think I’ll probably never be impressed with what comes next.