The newly renovated Sundance Kabuki is a pretty good movie theater. It's a fancy theater for grownups: reserved seats, an effort to show good films, even a bar that lets you bring cocktails into the movie screening.

We had a pretty good experience on Thursday seeing Julie & Julia. Great film. The balcony seats were comfortable, the projection and sound were good, and the audience was polite. That last point is important; I seldom go out to movies because I hate the rude audiences but a movie about Julia Child at a theater that's $2 more / ticket than normal is a bit self selecting. Also the theater didn't show any ads, too many previews, or offensive threats to put the audience in jail. A welcome change.

The real novelty of the place is decent food and drinks in the movie. That was a mixed bag. The menu sure beats jujubes and popcorn, but it's not a proper dinner. And the alcohol service is limited to an awkward, crowded upstairs bar, a few small theaters, and balcony seating in the main theater. But the balcony worked out quite well, it was very nice to enjoy a martini and some fresh potato chips from our front row balcony. I can recommend Dosa across the street for a late dinner afterwards to make a full date.

I sure wish San Francisco had something like Portland's brewpub theaters. I have many happy memories of beer and pizza watching second-runs and old flicks at the Bagdad. Great place to watch Repo Man.

  2009-08-22 18:17 Z
Since coming back from France I've had a hard time enjoying the big American wines as much as I used to. My tastes are pretty promiscuous but the American style of overextracted high alcohol wines distracts from the meal and leaves my tongue exhausted.

There are exceptions, like the Sonoma winery Hafner Vineyard. It's a small family vineyard, making only Chardonnay and Cabernet and selling only direct and via restaurants. But they aren't too snobby; there's no waiting list and $20-$30 a bottle isn't crazy for good wine.

And it is good wine. I'm more of a fan of their Cabernet than the Chardonnay. The Cab is consistently elegant and full and more in a Bordeaux style than a California style. They just released the 2002 Cabernet and it's lovely. After two years of aging in barrels and tanks and another two years in bottle it's ready to enjoy now, but I'm optimistic it will improve over the next five years.

It's a wine worth checking out. A good way to try it out is the 2 bottle tasting package for $56. Their web site is great, too, very personal.

  2007-02-14 21:00 Z
One thing I miss from France is the more subtle wines. I like big American wines, Zinfandels and Syrahs full of strong flavours. But the fashion in American wine right now is very high alcohol. I drank a 15.5% Zinfandel last night from Peachy Canyon. I didn't even know you could ferment to that level of alcohol. French wines tend to be more in the 12% to 12.5% range. The flavours are more subtle, they don't have the hot taste of alcohol.

It's not good that US wine has 1/3 more alcohol. It's a bit like the fashion for overoaked Chardonnay of a few years ago. It lacks finesse. Not to mention the effect of drinking that much more intoxicant.

  2006-12-11 17:01 Z
I was all excited to relax a bit this weekend playing Far Cry, a clever new first person shooter. I made a special trip to buy it on the way home and everything. But instead of installing the game and enjoying virtual battle I first have to have a real-world battle with my computer. Or, as the box says in tiny print:
Notice: This game contains technology intended to prevent copying that may conflict with some disc and virtual drives.

I use Alcohol 120% to create virtual CD drives. It's great for saving the trouble of finding the actual CD and it's able to emulate a bunch of the crap that copy protection schemes look for. Ubisoft has decided to punish their paying customers by refusing to run if you have Alcohol installed. It's almost enough to make me join the 12,938 other people who are downloading a fixed version of the game off of BitTorrent. I'm not even trying to run the game with an emulated CD; just having Alcohol installed is enough to break Far Cry.

Fortunately the software engineers aren't any smarter than the decision makers at Ubisoft and upgrading from Alcohol 1.4.3 to 1.4.8 fixed my problem. But I had to waste an hour of my life figuring that out.

Palladium, the uber-DRM system Microsoft is pushing, will make it impossible for me to work around crap like copy protection. With "Trusted Computing" Ubisoft will have more power over what my computer does than I will.

  2004-03-27 03:47 Z
I've been wallowing in computer game nostalgia, playing old arcade, NES and Apple ][ titles. The emulators are fantastic. And you can download the complete history of Nintendo in one easy 250 meg archive. Arcade games have a fantastic database.

Playing old console games is easy, but playing authentic Apple ][ games is hard. They were copy protected with bizarre data layouts, manual lookups, code discs, etc.

Copy protection failed to protect the companies' profits, but it makes it harder to preserve Apple ][ history. The popular Apple ][ archives don't serve the original game; they serve cracked versions. They mostly work, but if you're into pristine preservation it's not quite right.

I wonder how folks will play today's PC games in 20 years. I think the DirectX API will make emulation easier. But the games are still copy protected. There are emulators for today's PC CD protection, so maybe preservationists will be able to play the original. And there are cracks too, but most are rips that strip out a lot of game content to make the download smaller. Ugh.

  2003-10-18 15:20 Z
Tron, the new computer game, has SecuROM copy protection. And apparently it deliberately blocks Alcohol 120%, so I can't run the software I bought without the stupid disc in the drive. I'm a big fan of Alcohol 120%, it's really nice being able to put CDs away and not have to swap them in and out. This latest move is only temporary of course; the Alcohol guys say they'll have a patch soon.
  2003-09-14 20:44 Z
According to, the new Raven Shield patch deliberately breaks the game, preventing it from working with Alcohol 120%.
Jen from UbiSoft tech support tells me that this "error" was intentional, as one of the goals of the patch was to prevent people from using these mock rom drives.
This is too bad, I really like this form of fair use.

I finally figured out how to get Vice City to work with Alcohol 120% - have to rip with DPM turned on to defeat SecuROM 4.8.

Why do I have to have a $50 program just to use the $50 game I bought? At this rate I'm tempted to steal the games off of a P2P network: at least those versions don't have copy protection.

  2003-05-17 01:10 Z
I just bought Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for the PC, first day of release. Even more fun than GTA3, excellent production design. Great use of pink and green. Some of the fonts are anachronistic but I'll look the other way. The 80s are a brilliant foil for this kind of game. I'm ashamed to find myself singing along to the radio. "Shoot that poison arrow".

The game works pretty well so far, much better than the mess that was GTA3 on the PC. Some annoyances: it installed DirectX 9 without asking my permission, there's a silly off-by-one display glitch in the cutframe letterboxing, and I can't get Alcohol 120% to emulate their crappy copy protection. But the framerates are good and the graphics are beautiful. Even the intro is cool, retro C64 load screen.

Lots of laugh out loud moments. My favourite so far, the little putt-putt moped called the "Faggio".

  2003-05-14 05:18 Z
Alcohol 120% is good Windows software. It does three things:
  • Rip CDs and DVDs
  • Burn CDs and DVDs
  • Emulate a DVD drive
The kicker is it does this well, including out-of-spec data.

Got some SafeDisc bad blocks on your CD? No problem. Got some funky SecureROM 4.8 spiral tracks? No problem. Rip the disc to your hard drive, then either mount it with their emulator or burn it to CD-R.

Mostly I use Alcohol 120% to rip the games I buy so I don't have to have the physical disc in the drive to play. No more downloading scary cracks. I also rip all discs before I ever mount them; the virtual device is much faster than the physical.

Obviously Alcohol 120% enables piracy. I haven't seen their MDS files (ISOs with the out-of-spec data) turn up on file sharing networks, but that can't be far away. But I hope they're not tarred with the piracy brush; the software is great for legitimate use, too. Fair use has a posse.

Daemon Tools is a free hackerware predecessor. Alcohol 120% is a polished commercial product.

  2003-04-13 17:07 Z