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The Screening Secret Handshake

Once upon a time, I thought that in order to see an advance screening of a movie certain things had to occur.  A) You had to live in LA/Hollywood.  Or 2) You had to know someone on the inside.  Or D) You had to be lucky.

In my younger days, I’d only ever seen “Stay & See” screenings.  That’s where you’d pay to see one movie and then be allowed to stay and see a screening of a not yet released film, or you’d pay to see a screening of a soon to be released film and then get to stay and see some movie that’s already been out a couple of weeks.  The last of these I went to was in 1993, and it was Son In Law (yeah, the Pauly Shore movie) coupled with either Life With Mikey or For Love Or Money (both Michael J. Fox movies).  I can’t remember which was the screening and which was the released film.  But it doesn’t matter.  Anyway, a few years ago, I finally realized number 2 from above and met someone on the inside, someone who worked for a movie promotion company.  Through them I got to see a few movies, but there were times they couldn’t get passes, or couldn’t get enough for everyone.  But at some of these screenings, I met people who let me know that while number 2 was good, D was better and you could minimize the luck part of the equation.

People have asked me, in person, in email and on message board, “How do you to see so many movie screenings?”  Partly because I just want to, and partly because of the FTC ruling, I’ll tell you.  The answer is… I Googled.  Obviously, I don’t use Google to find passes anymore, but it is where I started.  “free screenings” was what I searched for and it lead me to a number of really awful websites and blogs, but by doing the legwork and looking through many of those facades, I found a few places, legitimate places, to acquire passes to free movie screenings.

Before I go on, keep in mind that I live in Atlanta, and these sites are the ones that best service me as someone who lives in Atlanta.  If you Google and search yourself, you can probably find other sites that better service where you live.

Further, if you do get passes to movie screenings, remember, you are a guest and are getting to see a movie for free.  So, don’t be an asshole.  Always put your phone on silent, don’t answer it, don’t text.  Don’t talk during the movies.  Don’t cut in line.  Don’t let twenty friends cut in line with you in front of the people behind you who managed to get there on time (you know, letting one or two people join you in line is fine, but when you have to ask the line to move back and make room, you’ve gone overboard).  Be kind, be courteous, and enjoy your free movie.

That said…

My current favorite place is Shakefire.  They do reviews for movies, music, TV and video games.  They also have columnists who occasionally talk about other stuff.  They have a community built around their forums.  And of course, they give out passes for movie screenings.  You have to join their site to have a chance, and they seem to favor people who participate in the forums over people who are just there to leech passes.  But hey, if you are there for the passes, the least you can do is go post about movies you’ve seen and what you thought.  The whole point of screenings is to get the word out anyway, so, get the word out.

CHUD is another place on the net for reviews and such, and they also give out passes and do other contests, but you’ll have to work a little more for these as they usually ask a question or two you need to answer in order to enter.

Film Metro is a good site for screenings, but they don’t give them out.  Instead you have to keep an eye out for when they become available and claim them.  Sometimes you get to know when, sometimes it just happens.

Another big player is GoFoBo.  This is a site actually run by a couple of movie promotion companies.  With them, sometimes screening just open up and you can grab a pass or two.  Mostly, however, you need a reservation code.  Codes are given to various websites or radio stations or newspapers or other outlets as part of promotions intended to drive traffic.  People used to post GoFoBo codes all over the internet, but GoFoBo has been cracking down lately and convincing people to post links to the partner websites instead.  Finding links for these partners is sort of hit and miss searching, but one place that seems to get a steady flow of them is this thread over at FatWallet.  The FatWallet thread is also a good place to find out which radio stations or other websites in your area give out movie passes.  That link will always take you to the last post in the thread, so you may have to read back to see anything recent you may have missed.  Do them a favor, and make sure you actually visit partner sites and look around, the codes are meant to drive traffic, and a couple minutes of your time is worth the free movie pass you just got.  GoFoBo also runs groups on Facebook, just search there for screenings or gofobo.

Also don’t forget to check out local publications like Creative Loafing or other print media who often have pass pickups at their offices, or will post ads about pass pickups at local businesses.

Anyway, there you have it.  I check those sites about once a day, maybe twice, and in general I end up seeing a screening a week (though sometimes there are weeks with none, and sometimes there are weeks with three or four or more).  To me, the key here is that if you go to see screenings, make sure you tell people about the movies you saw.  Tell friends, post on message boards, write a blog.  The screenings are meant to get the word out about the movie, so, get the word out.

EVE adding a ground game

If you dig around this site you’ll find that I occasionally praise the design of EVE Online.  Which is funny, considering that I don’t play it.  I did, at one point, but unless you have the desire and time to get involved in the forums, corporations and politics of the game or like the economy jockeying, the mechanics of the game are fairly boring.

CCP, the company that makes EVE, is looking to change that… sort of…

Enter, DUST 514.  I read about this over at Fidgit, and here is what was said:

DUST 514, featuring first-person shooter and RTS-style gameplay, will interact directly with EVE Online, CCP’s critically acclaimed flagship MMO. This interplay between the two games opens the EVE universe to console gamers and gives them a chance to become part of one of the most massive cooperative play and social experiences ever.

The primary gameplay of DUST 514 features brutal ground combat that takes place on the surface of planets from EVE, delivering the visceral, adrenaline-fueled experience of futuristic firefights. Developed for the current generation of consoles, DUST 514 combines equal parts battlefield reflexes and strategic planning, giving commanders and ground infantry real-time configurable weapons and modular vehicles to manage dynamic battlefield conditions.

Again, CCP seems to be taking risks by trying something that isn’t exactly mainstream.  Sure, console FPS games are old hat, but the idea of integrating that console FPS with a PC MMO and tossing in some RTS style elements has my interest piqued.

This article includes a video showing what I can only hope is in-game footage of combat.

I am excited to hear more, which they say we will at CCP’s Fanfest in October.

Use the Tools Provided

The fundamental problem with Web 2.0 and social networking tools is a lack of blocking and filtering options, and when they exist the reluctance of users to use them.

When I look at a site like Twitter, I think they have done it right and provided the proper tools to manage their brand of social networking, and yet I see so few people using them.  If you were to look at my account, you’d see that I have around 44 people following me (I say around because that can change at any time).  I could easily have 200 followers, but it wouldn’t mean anything.  Every person who follows me, I read their account, if they are say the kinds of things I want to hear I follow them back.  If you follow me and I don’t follow you, it doesn’t mean I won’t follow you in the future, it just means that what I read so far didn’t excite me enough to add you to my main feed, but I’ll check back later to see if that changes.  If, however, I read your account and find what you have to say in poor taste or your account is nothing but advertising, I will block you.  (Keep in mind, I don’t base this on a single tweet, it has to be a long held pattern.)  Blocking on Twitter has the effect that not only do I not see you, but you can’t see me.  More people need to do this.  I see spamming accounts following thousands of people, and unless that is thousands of other spam accounts, it means people aren’t blocking.  And this behavior isn’t limited just to Twitter.  Any social network site that publicly displays how many “friends” or “followers” you have is subject to it.

The problem, of course, is that the number becomes too important.  That number shouldn’t matter.  Why should I care if someone has eleventy billion friends?  The thing I should care about is whether or not the content that person produces is worth reading.  In the end, that’s the thing I consider the biggest failure of Web 2.0.  It is supposed to be about the content, but most sites wind up including some number like views or friends counts that becomes the focus over the content.

I’m not alone here.  Trent Reznor, a person who has embraced social networking but is now turning away from it, had this to say:

We’re in a world where the mainstream social networks want any and all people to boost user numbers for the big selloff and are not concerned with the quality of experience.

The power to make social network sites better is in your hands.  Use the tools provided.

Remembering GeoCities

If you haven’t heard, GeoCities is being shut down by Yahoo.  Back in 1998, after a short period of putting updates in a finger file on my mIRC client, I decided to build my own web page.  GeoCities was the leader in free web space, so I signed up with them.  I honestly cannot remember the account name I used or the URL I had.  But I remember the page, and somewhere on a CD I burned a few years back I still have some of the graphics I used, though I’m not 100% sure I could find that CD.

The thing I remember most about GeoCities was in trying to comply with their advertising requirements without making my page design look like garbage.  They had various schemes of watermarking and drop downs and popups and floating toolbars and other things, and each of those could be avoided by putting certain branding on your pages.  If you threw a GeoCities graphic on the page some stuff would go away, if you included links more stuff went away, and if you voluntarily put a static version of their ad panel on a page on your site then most of the rest of it would go away… at least until they changed the rules and the hidden branding you put on your site failed to comply and the annoying elements returned.  But then again, GeoCities wasn’t meant for real professional design, at least not for free.

Ultimately, the branding and the ads and the bandwidth limits drove me off to find my own space on the net, a trail of providers and domains that would eventually lead me here.  As much as I disliked working with GeoCities, if there had not been a GeoCities its possible I might have never started a web page, and I’ve enjoyed the last nearly eleven years of posting junk to the Internet.

So, farewell GeoCities, I may have hated you, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without you.  Thanks.

Print is Dead

Personally, I’ve never been a big newspaper reader.  Mostly, though, its because I never wanted to spend the time reading the news, not for any dislike of newspapers themselves.  I wasn’t replacing the newspaper with TV, radio or websites, I just avoid most news outlets since they tend to report primarily bad news.  If I had the inclination and the time, I probably would subscribe to and read the newspaper, because I do like the format.

But like the title says, print is dead, or at least is dying.

The thing I like most about newspapers that is lost as they move to the Internet is that they are a snapshot.  You can go to a library and pull up a newspaper for 40 years ago, or even just a month ago, and see exactly what was considered news on that day, exactly what was fit to print.  Try doing that on CNN, or even the sites of print newspapers.  You might be able to gather a collection of stories that were published on the site a month ago, maybe piece together an idea of what was newsworthy on a particular day, but not really.  With news websites’ penchant for “updating” stories and new information breaks, often rewriting rather than just appending, news reported on a Monday might carry the date and time stamp of Friday when the story stopped developing.

I would absolutely love to see news websites that mimic print news papers.  Big publications of stories once a day, with an archive so you can always pull up a previous issue, and then maintain a “breaking news” blog type feed that puts out mini stories and facts and things happen throughout the day, all of which will be rolled up into full stories for the next day’s issue.  But I suppose, perhaps, I am in the minority about this, seeing as how every news website out there is following the CNN.com style layout of “news now” and anything that doesn’t make the front page that minute is lost to the search field, which even defaults to a web search instead of a site search.

A man can dream though…

Chrome

In case you have been living under a rock, Internet-wise that is, Google released a beta of their new web browser called Chrome.

I’ve been playing with it, and my official review is that I love it.  Its fast, and when a web page does lock up for some reason being able to kill just that one page without killing all my web pages is really nice.  Of course, being a beta, it still has flaws.  There is no integration with many of Google’s other tools (I’m a big user of Google Bookmarks, and while I can use the web page I would prefer to have my bookmarks available in browser), and various plug-ins don’t function (if you use any Cold Fusion web sites that make use of the database table grid tool thing, it doesn’t work).  But I am sure many of those will come in time.

However, playing with chrome introduced me to another thing which had previously been available but I have never used and that is using a single link to read my RSS feeds from my Google Reader.  I have subscriptions to 87 RSS Feeds, and its only growing.  Now, up in my bookmark bar in Chrome, I have a link that says “Next»” and when I click it, my browser navigates to the next unread RSS entry, or rather to the page of that RSS entry.  Now, when I find myself with a few minutes to spare between work items, I just click the Next link and start making my way through my RSS feeds one article at a time.  It really is quite nice.

Another really nice feature is the adaptive search engine capabilities.  Essentially, any website that uses a search where the search terms are in the URL (not passed as session or cookie values), Chrome will parse the URL and add it as a search engine.  When you start typing in a URL and you have enough characters to correctly identify the page (i.e. – it shows as the first option to select in the suggestions under where you are typing), hit Tab.  This will change the URL bar into a Search Bar for the selected web site.  Enter in your search terms and hit enter and Chrome will submit the search as if you had gone to the site and entered your terms into their search field.

And it works with any web site as long as you have performed one search on it.  If you have Chrome, search for something on my blog.  Anything.  Now, go back to the URL, type in “weblog” (or whatever you need to type to make my web site the first suggested option) and hit Tab.  Now type in a search term and hit enter.  You should get back a page of search results.  This kind of thing is fairly nifty as long as you have searched the site before.  Like, if I know that Scott over at BrokenToys.org has written about Hello Kitty before and I want to find it, I would just type in “bro”, hit Tab, then type “Hello Kitty” and press enter.  Bam.  Search results!

Overall, I’m really looking forward to more improvements being made to Chrome.  They have a great start going, and I am optomistic that it can only get better from here.

30 Days of Game

I’m starting up a new category here at the blog: 30 Days of Game.

The topic of this category is going to be to review a game I have played for 30 days.  The idea came to me quite some time ago, but to be honest the thought of buying a bunch of games, or even one a month, just to play and review them, no matter how much they sucked, was unappealing.  So, until game companies are willing to send me 30 day free trials, I am going to stick to games that are free to play.

I want to start this in September, after I return from Dragon*Con, with my review coming in on the last day of the month.  That said, I need some candidates, some recommendations.

Previously on this site I have reviewed Urban Dead and Mafia Matrix (a new review of that one is coming, since I am considering quitting), so those two are out, because I want to approach 30 Days of Game games as a new player.  For right now, I do want to stick to free to play MMOs, so, if you know of one you think I should give a shot, post it here in the comments or email me at jason (at) probablynot (dot) com.

Last.fm

I’ve been a user of Last.fm for quite a while now.  Originally I would just hit it up occasionally to find a band or song and listen to it and maybe find some new music I’d never heard before.  Then, when the wife and I started having guests over to the house, either for parties or dinners, I put a PC up in the kitchen and dining room area where we could pick an artist and have random selections play in the back ground while we cooked, ate and hung out.

Then something happened.  With the idea that a television show could showcase and promote music through the site (something I still think every TV show should consider), I found myself spending entire work days on Last.fm, winding my way through genres of music.

So, I finally took the plunge and actually signed up for a free account there so I can actually store favorites and all that stuff.  This means, of course, I now have a profile there.  If you happen to also use the site, feel free to add me as a friend, and if you want to, let me know your profile so I can see what you are listening to.

RSS and Advertising

Yesterday I decided to go through and make sure my RSS feeds in my reader were up to date.  I ended up dropping a couple where they haven’t posted anything in a while (a year), and decided that while I was doing it I’d try to see if feeds were available for some websites that I visit frequently.

Out of all the web comics that I added to the feed reader, only one (xkcd) actually had the comic in the feed.  The rest, at best, gave you a feed item letting you know that a new comic had been posted and you needed to visit the site to see it.

Now, I am not stupid.  I know exactly why they do this… advertising.  See, most of these sites, in order to offset the cost of hosting the comic (bandwidth and all that), have advertisements.  And as is the trend of ads on the web these days, most sites don’t manage their own advertising directly, they sign up with a banner providing site and then throw snippets of code on their site that will request an ad from the ad provider.  They do have some control over the ads, usually the ability to block ads they don’t wish to support, and overall I suppose they do a good job of keeping the ads “on message” with the rest of the site.

My problem is… well, why can’t the code snippets live in the RSS parser as well and tack on an ad at the bottom of a feed item.  Same banner image (though not the Flash “punch a monkey”/”you’ve just won two free ipod nano” ads), a line of text and a link/url to follow.  The capability exists.  WordPress has a plugin that does exactly that by putting a footer on RSS items.  Of course, not all web comics are using WordPress, but if it exists for one system it has to be possible for other systems.

Anyway, the result is, after adding a bunch of comics to my feed reader, I then removed all of them except xkcd.  For all the ones I removed, I’ll go back to visiting them when I remember to, which is usually once a month.  Just think, if they put the comic and an ad in their feed, they’d make me a daily reader of both their comics and their ads…

An Upgrade Is Coming

At some point during this week, once I’m sure none of my needed plugins will be broken, I will be upgrading to WordPress 2.5.  This is an apology in advance for when I screw it up…

It does certainly appear to have a number of new features and fixes (read about them here), and I’m excited for it.  However, in the past, while bug fix releases have always gone smoothly, full releases have always taken down some esoteric plugin I had built my site around causing me to have to redesign the whole damn thing.  I’m hoping that’s not going to happen this time.

Even if it does though, I’ll work through it.  WordPress has been the best blogging software I’ve come across, so unless someone just blows them out of the water with cool useful features, it is here to stay.