Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael and Farrah

There are probably, oh, 50 or more posts that could deal with fascinating territory about Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and their place in American culture.

My guess is that the barrage of media coverage yesterday (Thursday) has obscured something simple: Our connection to Michael Jackson was complicated, extremely divided and not very warm, while our attachment to Farrah Fawcett was far more heartfelt.

I'm not saying that legions of fans weren't deeply fond of Jackson. I'm talking in sweeping generalities -- relevant, I think, to how they'll ultimately be remembered -- and I think Jackson's baggage is far greater than the immediate flood of media coverage conveyed. I heard at least half a dozen reporters refer to his weirdness over "the last few years.'' Please, the bizarre and alienating stuff was a loooong-running saga.

And what really counts about celebrities is whether we end up feeling close to them, as if we've bridged the gap between the distance that's inherent in observing a performance and the bond we value with friends and family members. Some so-called stars seem to walk right at our sides, touching our lives in treasured ways, even as they move across an international stage.

In that sense, I think it's Fawcett who leaves behind the only kind of legacy that really counts. An admiration for Jackson's immense talents and a respect for his path-breaking career aren't enough to overcome the many barriers that frequently made him a remote and obviously troubled figure. At least to me and, I'd guess, millions of others.

RIP, Michael. RIP, Farrah.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The new Tiger on the Wii

"Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10'' for the Wii ought to be the Nintendo console's signature game. Using the Wii remote as a full set of of virtual golf clubs, as well being able to interact with simulated versions of challenging and gorgeous courses -- well, that's a formula that should maximize all the Wii's strengths.

But Electronic Arts managed to blow the opportunity for a couple of years running. Indeed, the 09 edition was a stunning atrocity because of a mangled putting mechanism. If the recently released Tiger 10 was seriously flawed in any way, EA's basic competence would be under scrutiny.

The good news: Tiger 10 is a very good game. It's annoying that it's not great -- it damn well should be by now. Still, it's a tremendous value, given how deep all the game's features are and how overwhelmingly well it plays in general. In order to do justice to the long list of positives, I'm going to review the game in a series of posts instead of one windy opus. And I'll start by explaining where the game falls short, even as it solves its most nagging problem:

There's a new way to putt, "precision putting,'' that's adequate. Or slightly better than adequate. That's a big deal. When the putting is broken, everything else -- driving down the fairway, competing for scores and victories, reading the greens -- is for naught. So being able to adequately enjoy a complete golf experience is pivotal. And with Tiger 10 you can.

Now the hitch: "Adequate" is far below ideal.

The system works entirely on touch. Your feel for just the right amount of backswing and contact, with adjustments for downhill and uphill rolls, determines success or failure (as well as some built-in adversity, which for me, on a "medium" overall difficulty setting, has meant seeing some nicely struck putts lip out). Yes, this does emulate what the manual notes is a "more true-to-life golf simulation.'' The more hours played, the more experience with the nuances of a green-to-green touch. So what's wrong? One major thing: The touch that's required is, in almost every instance, just a minor variation on a light tap. There's almost never a putt that demands giving any oomph to the attempt. It's all about the most delicate type of gradations. It's hard to distinguish a two-foot putt from an eight-footer; it's just about as hard to distinguish some 25-footers from some 10-footers. That's no good as a simulation, even though it does function as a manageable challenge, albeit an excessively tricky one at times.

Nothing else in the game -- actually, what I should say is, nothing else I've encountered so far -- is this marginal. But it's not a game-killer. Far from it. The putting works. It's squeaking by, but it works.

Next: The benefits of the new MotionPlus attachment for the Wii remote.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The collector's eye

This blog has been silent for too long, for all sorts of reasons. More on that in the days to come.

One good thing: I'm swimming in material that I think will promote the kind of conversation that makes regular posting so rewarding. Let's start with this: Did I find a truly cool collectible at last month's Super-Con event in San Jose or was I just an impulse buyer who succumbed to his worst fanboy tendencies?

I bought what was billed as -- and genuinely seems to be, based on my research so far -- the uninstalled display glass from one of Bally's 1978 "Star Trek'' pinball machines. Here's a link to a Web site with some background on the machine (my purchase is the glass panel with Capt. Kirk in the foreground).

To my way of thinking, I got a neat piece of pop culture artwork (yes, art!) and maybe (probably?) a relatively rare item that would excite a lot of Trekkers. Or did I just drag something home (it was heavy!) that will make only one contribution to my family's life -- additional clutter.

You tell me. I paid $250 after some skillful haggling. Did I make a great find? Prize or booby prize?