July 31, 2005
Stem Cell Research Support
I was heartened to learn that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has publicly announced his support for stem cell research in the United States. With his support, there is a chance that stem cell research provisions will pass through, overriding President Bush's promised veto. While I do not necessarily agree with all of Senator Frist's beliefs on the matter, I do agree that stem cell research will provide amazing scientific advances in medicine and biology. It has the potential to revolutionize our knowledge and application in as much as genetics has already done and continues to do so.
Patriot Act Renewed
I haven't written about political stuff in a while. I think I have grown more apathetic on the whole issue. But I am glad that one of my representatives, Zoe Lofgren, voted against renewal of the Patriot Act. In my opinion, the Patriot Act is one of the worst bills to pass through the legislature in all of U.S. history. And the popular media does nothing to educate the public on how we are moving closer towards an Orwellian state.
Last night I watched 2LDK, a relatively short Japanese film that was produced as part of a gentleman's bet between two Japanese directors. The basic premise of the film is how things can get out of control between two rival women vying for the same role in a new film. Both women have somewhat unstable personalities and personal demons, but of types that are no doubt very common. Little differences, accidents, and misunderstandings grow into jealousy, spite, hate, and then rage.
At the start of the film, I felt compelled to root for one of the two women. I think most audience members would do the same. But which woman you want to succeed probably has a great deal to do with your own personality. Later, once all of their demons are unleashed, it becomes much harder to side with any one of the two.
It is an extremely intense and captivating picture. I also ended up watching all of the special features because I thought it was so good. I do wish I could pick up the Japanese version, or at least a version that allows the Japanese subtitles to be turned off. Plus, I could tell that the English translation had been done to capture the sentiment of the dialogue, but with an inaccurate translation. Many times my translation of the Japanese words did not match those of the subtitles.
I bought a used sewing machine today. I should have done that in the first place, instead of buying the cheaply-constructed Handy Stitch. I opened the Handy Stitch after the motor burned out, and saw it is a simple arrangement of plastic gears and a cheap motor. That machine is fine for extremely small jobs that just need to be fixed up temporarily. But this sewing machine is simply so much better. It produces quality stitches very quickly.
Using it, I was able to finish the black polyester ceiling for my home theater. Now the light reflected off the screen does not bounce off of the white ceiling. The polyester does reflect some of the light, unlike my velvet side curtains, but it is better than the white ceiling. I hope it stays up though; the cloth is pulled pretty tight and there is a fair amount of stress being placed on the closet poles. I assume it should be okay, since the strain is probably very similar to what would be there due to lots of clothes. Only my poles are 100" long without a center support.
I just watched Collateral. I wasn't expecting it to be any special, but turns out that it is a very well made movie. There is an extreme amount of depth to the characters played by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. And that is the true focus of the film. The rest of the film's content is just the staging ground within which the two of them expose and struggle with themselves.
I also very much enjoyed the environment presented. The hard-toned soundtrack and the real backdrop of L.A. kept things moving and immersive. I was a little surprised to discover Paul Oakenfold's "Ready, Steady, Go" remixed with Korean vocals. I think this is a movie worth watching again.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
I watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow last night. It was a really good stylized science-fiction movie. It is exactly the sort of Buck Rogers that someone in my generation remembers never watching. In other words, it is a movie that is exactly how I have grown up to imagine those sorts of movies to be. Pretty entertaining, and I was very surprised by the amount of infrasonic data included. This is a good movie for exercising your subwoofers.
July 29, 2005
New DVD Rack
I received the media tower I ordered today. Hard work assembling it, but it looks pretty good. It will hold 587 DVDs, so I am set for a good while on space. I had completely run out of space on the racks I was using for my CDs and DVDs. I'm still using that primary rack for my CDs, and I've moved the other display-type rack upstairs, to join the display-type rack I moved up previously.
July 27, 2005
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
I received the final installment of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex yesterday, and popped it in to watch the end of the series. The last disc contains three episodes that together conclude the laughing man case, with some pretty unexpected plot twists. It's an excellent series, well produced with great quality all around. I purchased all of the limited edition volumes, so I've also got the soundtracks and extras which are nice.
A lot of the thought-provoking ideas that float around in Masamune Shirow's head are presented through the episodes, and the end revelation (common to many anime shows) is not contrived or forced on at the end. Instead it is the result of consistent build-up during the series. This is a welcome improvement over many other shows.
The production also included a lot of CG for backgrounds and certain sequences. Unfortunately, it is kind of easy to spot the difference. The CG is shaded with the same hand-drawn appearance, but the movements are much smoother and rotations are precise instead of containing the small inconsistencies of a hand-drawn artist. Plus, during fast motion sequences like cars, the lack of any forced blur does cause movement to jump around a bit.
Warcraft III - Frozen Throne
I finally completed the campaigns of Warcraft III: Frozen Throne. The undead campaign featuring Arthas and Sylvannas was very difficult on hard, and is what delayed my completion for so long. The bonus campaign, on the other hand, is an interesting grouping of hero subquests. Kind of enjoyable, but the lack of challenge did not make it as satisfying.
July 26, 2005
I watched Face/Off last night. Just as good as I remember it, but I had forgotten about some of the gruesome stuff.
Yvonne celebrated her birthday on Sunday. I got her two DVDs: Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Airplane. We visited her Dad's memorial (Shannon wanted me to come along) and then had dim sum for lunch. We went to New Park Mall to find presents for some of the people they are going to be visiting in Taiwan, and then went to Fry's when we couldn't find something good. I ended up buying the Lain Soundtrack by Chabo, Face/Off, and Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex.
We also ended up watching two sports movies. Yvonne really likes Shaolin Soccer, and has seen it a few times already. I thought half of it was kind of boring. She pointed out that it is a lot like Prince of Tennis but with soccer. Since so much of the stuff is crazy like fireball soccer balls.
Later we watched The Rookie, which both Yvonne and Shannon found boring. A lot of talking going on. I thought it was okay. Nothing special.
Improving the Ceiling
One of the things that has been bothering me about my current setup is the white ceiling and ceiling fan, right above the projection screen. The reflections can be distracting, especially as the bottom of the fan is several inches drop from the ceiling. So I removed the ceiling fan on Saturday, and bought some fabric and closet poles. I'm going to try and drape black fabric across the ceiling.
Unfortunately, the motor in my Handy Stitch burned out while sewing the fabric. I opened it up and it's just a basic gear system using a small motor. So I took one of the motors from Shannon & Yvonne that they were using for their motor boats and am going to try and fix the Handy Stitch. Just need to solder and it should be good as new.
Saving Private Ryan
I picked up the 60th anniversary edition of Saving Private Ryan last week. It's the first time I've seen the move in its entirety. It is, as I'm sure everyone knows, a very good and honest movie, although I didn't think it was a gory as others led me to believe. Realistic, but the focus is not placed on the gore when those things are happening. Although it is almost three hours long, it moves well and quickly, never leaving me bored or waiting.
July 22, 2005
I watched The Aviator last night. It's a pretty long movie, but while watching it, it didn't feel too long. The story, characters, and attention to detail made the film engrossing and intense. Leonardo DiCaprio's performance was very good, and felt very real.
July 20, 2005
Last night I watched I, Robot, a film titled after and premised upon the novel by Isaac Asimov. While there are some similarities, and the three laws of robotics remain, the story itself has nothing to do with the novel. This is somewhat disappointing, but at least the majority of thought-provoking ideas are incorporated. And the film remains an excellent action movie, despite being way too full of cliches.
That was, unfortunately, a disappointing part of the movie. Whoever wrote the plot didn't come up with anything particularly original. I don't want to reveal any spoilers, but the premise of the movie is an old idea. A lot of the behavior and sequences are what you would find in a hundred other movies, of similar style.
July 19, 2005
The Bourne Supremacy
I watched The Bourne Supremacy last night. It is a decent follow-up to the previous movie, but I thought that this movie was a lot more focused on action than on story and character development. That isn't to say that none of that exists, but I still feel the focus wasn't where it should have been. An entertaining movie with some great action sequences though.
White Water Rafting
This past weekend I went white water rafting on the American river. Alla organized the event again, only this time there were even more of us in the group. Some of the same people as last year. Some new people this year.
The first night up there, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. A bunch of the people there didn't stop talking and laughing until close to midnight. The rafting part was lots of fun, although I think there was a bit too much water fighting going on. I lost my left contact because someone threw a bucket of water into my face. So everything was really weird to look at after that. The guide for my boat was new for us this year; a girl named Erin.
At dinner, a few people started playing chess. One of the people who came, someone named Ilya, has played in chess tournaments and is very good. He can see four of five moves ahead, he said. He played against Femi and also John. Both of them got trapped pretty soon.
After dinner, Fabian took out his guitar and I enjoyed listening to him play, while others sang, for a few hours. I mostly just sat there with my eyes closed listening to the guitar strings. Of course, since he was doing requests and different people were singing, there were times when either he or the singer(s) messed up. But it was still great to listen to.
The only bad part about the weekend was the heat. It got so incredibly hot up there. It's been getting into the 90s in San Jose, and I think it got even hotter up there. Standing in the sun was horrible.
The War of the Flowers
Despite the shortened length, Wiliams does not skimp on any of the details to try and fit the story into a single volume. It never feels rushed or incomplete. At first, I thought it was going to be a bit uninteresting because of the contemporary setting and sense of normalcy that the story begins with. But before long, this turned into another wonderful tale. And in fact the juxtaposition is necessary for the character development.
Some of the basics used in this story come from existing fairy tales. But the incorporation of those ideas is never done lazily. A great deal of thought is put into how the fairy tales can contribute towards and build the world that is being presented. It is not simply a conglomeration of previous ideas used to build a larger story. Rather, those previous ideas are used as a basis for expanding upon and developing a new world.
All in all, I was quite pleased with the book and I think it is an excellent example of Tad Williams' work.
July 13, 2005
Be Cool was decent, but not great. Paul was very entertained by it, and I think Sasha enjoyed it as well. But Alla and I didn't think it was as great. It was interesting, and there were a number of entertaining moments, but I majority of the film simply lacked direction. Certainly each scene had purpose, and there was a great deal of attention paid to details. Sometimes you had to pay close attention to see a joke, which was not given center stage. But I can't say it is a movie I'd watch a second time.
July 11, 2005
Yesterday, I was woken up by my manager because there was a problem and they needed someone to investigate and come up with a fix. So I spent a few hours on Saturday working on that. Then I picked up Yvonne from her volunteer work and took her to Ohlone College to watch Vivian play tennis. Shannon and I had some Subway for dinner, but then Yvonne and Shannon got hungry again later. We went to McDonald's to get a happy meal, so Shannon could get a Neopets plushie, then ended up at Denny's for food.
We got back around 11pm. Mei-Ling had tried to call us earlier but my cell phone ran out of batteries. So she had not taken a house key with her, and Shannon locked the garage door. So she was stuck in the garage by herself without any way to get home until we got back from eating.
We ended up watching the first part of some sort of golfing movie, then we watched Johnny English which was very funny. A lot funnier than the previous Bean movie which wasn't good at all. After that, we watched some movie that had an English title translation of I Not Stupid. This is a comedy that is also a social satire about Singapore. There are some pretty funny parts, but also some really emotional parts. And the whole thing is filled with anecdotes and personalities that a lot of Chinese people can relate with. A good movie.
This afternoon (I woke up at 1pm) we all went up to some sort of regional park. In the Sunol area. Shannon and I splashed around in the creek, while Yvonne reverted into her annoy-others-to-retaliate and obnoxious mode for having been dragged out there. She kept carrying around her book even though if she had dropped it, it would have gotten ruined and then she'd have been mad at everyone else even though it would have been her fault. We tried finding a place called Little Yosemite but ended up going the wrong way twice. And then we drove back.
July 10, 2005
Fluke - Puppy
I picked up a copy of Puppy by Fluke. Their previous album, Risotto, was one of the best electronic albums ever released. Puppy does not contain the same sort of music as Risotto, and while my initial impression is that Puppy is very good, I'm not sure it is as groundbreaking as Risotto was.
Puppy has some excellent new material, but I found that it reminded me more of a combination of artists like The Crystal Method, The Chemical Brothers, and of course Fluke themselves. I think Fluke decided to experiment with their presentation and style a bit more on Puppy. It comes off extremely well, but the fact it reminds me of other artists prevents me from declaring it as important as Risotto.
I haven't finished listening to the entire album yet, and the later tracks seem to have entered a much more downtempo area. So my above comment is not to say the entire album has the harsher edge reminiscent of The Crystal Method or The Chemical Brothers. In fact, I think the track I have stopped on is more like some Jan Johnson tracks from Paul Van Dyk.
July 9, 2005
Final Weed Wahcking
I did some more weed whacking today, what should be the last bit of weed whacking that I need to do. Now I need to hire a gardener to keep the backyard clean of growth, trimmed where appropriate, and the front yard well kept.
July 6, 2005
On Monday, Fourth of July, I went to downtown San Jose with Alla, Georges, Sasha, and Lana to watch the fireworks. We met Aarti, Paul, and Thomas there. There were tons of people there but it didn't matter much because it didn't get too crowded and we could easily see the fireworks in the sky. It was pretty cool how the large explosions shook your entire body, but it would have been nicer if we weren't downtown. The street lights remained on, a few planes flew overhead, and we had to sit on the street.
One thing that was funny was when we saw a mounted officer pass by and his horse went to the bathroom right there in the middle of the street. He had to get off and hold onto his horse while using a dustpan and big plastic bag to scoop it up.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
On Sunday I visited Shannon & Yvonne. I played some games outside with Shannon, and we also watched a couple of movies. I don't remember the name of the first movie; it was some strange Warner Brothers movie that had hired famous actors for the voices, but the story wasn't very good. The second movie we watched was O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
Apparently this movie is losely based on The Odyssey. It was a somewhat amusing movie, and a lot of strange things happen matching up with events in The Odyssey, to some degree. The acting was pretty good. And the story was interesting. But I'm not sure it's that great a movie. I don't think I'd bother watching it again.
July 3, 2005
I found out a charge was put on my credit card for AOL, so I called them to get my charges reversed and to have the account closed. The stupid AOL rep in the cancellation department then tried to sell me service to AOL. How stupid is that? I had to repeatedly tell him that I was not interested in any AOL services.
Two More Baby Tiger Barbs
I discovered two more baby Tiger Barbs in my aquarium tank today. The other two babies are larger now. About three times as large as when I first noticed them. And the new babies are tiny just as before. I wonder if they will keep breeding.
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
Cable Staples & Tie-Downs
I have been having lots of problems keeping my cables attached to the walls and ceiling without falling down. I did use some double-sided adhesive before, which works great until you want to remove the cable. Then it rips off some of the drywall, and needs to get painted over again. I've been using white duct tape instead, but it tends to lose adhesive fairly easily and then the cable will fall off. So today I went and bought some cable staples and cable tie-downs. The staples nail into the wall and the tie-downs are attached using screws or nails. Works perfectly. I don't have to worry about the cables falling anymore. And if I cover it up with white duct tape, it looks as inconspicuous as before.
Killing More Spray
I sprayed the rest of the backyard today. Used up the rest of the concentrate, and technically I needed like one or two more gallons of the concentrate for the area I'm trying to treat, but I did see that the areas I sprayed before are clear of growth now. I also found that the ants are going into a crawl-space vent and also into a loose lighting fixture. I can't block the vent, but I caulked up the gap around the lighting fixture. So hopefully that eliminates one of the entrances for the ants.
July 2, 2005
Frou Frou - Details
I picked up Frou Frou's album Details yesterday. It's a great album, and I think Alan may have recommended it to me over a long time ago. Imogen (the singer) has a very distinctive and captivating voice. And it is great that these songs and her voice are so unique, that this does not sound like an album which will get lost in the others.
I finished reading Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds last night. As the book got nearer the end it became harder to put it down, so I probably sat reading for 2-3 hours. I found it very enjoyable, and there are some very interesting ideas proposed in it. It is also a great tie-in with his trilogy set in the same universe. Chasm City can easily stand on its own, but having read the trilogy I think you will have a greater appreciation for the worlds of Yellowstone and Sky's Edge.
One thing I found a little disconcerting is the approach he used to merge story-lines. This was a necessary and well executed storytelling approach, but having recently read Absolution Gap, this led to a vague sense of deja vu.
July 1, 2005
Azumanga Daioh: The Animation
I watched the last episode of Azumanga Daioh last night. Reaching the end of the anime had the same effect on me as the manga, where I was sad that it had to end. It's like I had come to expect these characters to be here, alive, and I didn't want them to go away. But I suppose that is part of the point, as their high school ends and each of them is off to a different life.
Anyway, the anime was just as great as the manga, but different enough that there is good reason to watch the anime and read the manga. Lots of really funny stuff and just overall good fun. You'll get different jokes and events out of each, but they are very complimentary.