March 31, 2006
Swedes Link Cell Phones w/Cancer
Swedish researchers have conducted the largest study of cell phone cancer risk to date, with over 2,000 subjects. Their results indicate that heavy users have a much higher chance of cancer on the side of their head that they use the phone. The number given is a 240% increase in risk, and heavy users are defined as people who have used their phone more than 2,000 hours aggregate. They also found people who began to use the phone before the age of twenty to be of higher risk.
Tsukihime Lunar Legend
Tsukihime Lunar Legend is a little short and yet still has a slightly higher amount of static time in it than I would have liked. The existing content could have been done more concisely, with less staring or silent conversations taking place. Luna tells me it is based on an H-game, and truthfully there is a bit of this portrayed in the storyline. Regardless, it maintains a high degree of tension and mystery that kept me wanting to see what would happen next and to discover exactly what happened to the characters in the past.
The action was carefully done, without any crazy sequences or anything annoying or drawn out. In fact there isn't a whole lot of it, as the majority of the time is spent on character development. The artwork is pretty good, although they used static art in about the amounts you would expect for some anime, but things have gotten better than that so I was expecting more. There was also some very pleasing string instrumentation for the background music and at other times.
Movie Night - Saved
I had the usual crowd over last night for a movie night. This time, Alla brought a guest, César, one of the coops working for IBM at the SVL lab. Dantam, Zhao, Jamie, and Samir all showed up. Because of last time, this was supposed to be a night when Samir would be free to exercise his opinion. But he didn't really exercise anything. We ordered Chinese food instead of pizza, and I also bought some hot sauce and red pepper for Dantam and Samir since they like spicy food.
For the movie, we watched Saved. I think everyone really enjoyed it, and it was a much more light-hearted movie than our previous movie night. Dantam pointed out that Mandy Moore plays evil very well. I think everyone did a pretty good job in the movie.
The water leak came back two nights ago. After showering, I noticed a dripping sound downstairs beneath the upstairs bathroom. The entire closet had been soaked. It looks like water had been gathering in there for a long time, with some of the non-reactive insulation absorbing it, along with cloth and cardboard boxes I had in the closet. I managed to clear out the closet and start mopping it up, and also found the leak location as the part right behind the shower knob. I called my mom and she was able to tell me where to find the water main in the garage to turn off water to the entire house. Then I called a plumber.
I called P.H.A.T. Crack because the owners live down the street from me. Their web site explains how they've been in business for almost eighty years, and recently changed their name. I gave them a call that night and Jim returned my call very quickly to schedule two of his guys to come out the next morning.
Since I was all dirty from water falling on me and clearing out the closet, I didn't want to sleep in my bed. I couldn't shower because the water main was turned off. So I slept downstairs on one of the recliners. It wasn't the most comfortable sleep, and I was tired the next day.
Anyway, the two guys Ruben and his son Santiago showed up the next morning at 8:30am. Ruben has been working for Jim for twenty years, and Santiago for seven years. They were both extremely polite, dedicated to their work, and genuinely wanted to do a good job. They even took their shoes off before coming into the house.
The leak turned out to be quite complicated. Instead of the 90° connector between the valve and the hot water main leaking, it was actually the valve itself. So they had to open an even bigger hole in the wall and replace the valve. A two hour job suddenly turned into a five hour job. Replacing the valve required disconnecting the showerhead pipe as well, and when they managed to rotate that, the 90° on top of that pipe fell off. So they had to cut a small hole into the drywall above the showerhead hole to attach a new 90° onto it. Then they finally got the valve replaced, and that was no longer leaking, but a union in the hot water pipe a little below it started leaking. Probably from all the rotations going on. So they had to detach the valve and retighten that union. So much work, and the two of them did such a good and thorough job.
Anyway, I just finished cleaning everything else up tonight, and putting everything back into the closet. Things are good again although my cardboard boxes are a bit ruined. And there's a kind of ugly face plate behind the new shower/bath knob to cover the hole they had to make. But at least the leak is fixed.
March 28, 2006
BusinessWeek 50 - Gougers
I noticed something strange about the top performers in the BusinessWeek 50. The vast majority of the top companies are in health insurance and energy. (Halliburton is also listed, but their growth is even more ethically questionable.) But shouldn't health insurance and energy companies be making minor profits, and not huge ones?
If health costs are so high, or the insurance prices need to be high to cover things like malpractice, why are the health insurance companies actually making lots of extra money? And energy should not be priced at whatever the market can bear, since they are legalized monopolies due to infrastructure limitations. All of these consolidations are not good for consumers and I'd be interested to see how pricing is determined. When there's only one supplier, or a few suppliers with close ties to each other as well as high-ranking members of the federal government, things should smell fishy.
March 27, 2006
Xenosaga: Episode I
I finally completed Xenosaga: Episode I. I'd started it before changing jobs, but all the movies in the mail distracted me from my gaming. The great thing about Xenosaga is the story. About 40% of the actual gametime, which I clocked in at about 44 hours, is spent in cutscenes. This can be a little annoying, because it means you start watching a movie instead of playing a game. And the cutscenes can be very long. Regardless, the story really drives things forward, and does make me want to play the sequels despite the follow-up games also having problems. Xenosaga is a flawed game, and besides the story, most of the time is spent in a dungeon-crawl.
So the story is excellent, and the visuals, graphics, and music used during the telling of that story are first rate, although a little dated now. Facial expressions are cartoonish, but at least they have them. The thing that was lacking was really mouth expression. They got the eyes pretty well, but mouths didn't do anything except open and close. Now for the things that really needed work.
The background music was a little boring. Combat music especially so because it never changed throughout the entire game, and was extremely repetitive. The audio logic was also messed up, because sounds came out of the speakers relative to the character on screen. But this meant your character may be on the left side of the screen and something to the right of him or her, but still on the left side of the screen, would come out of the right speaker.
There was a similar problem with combat navigation. Depending on the camera angle, tapping left on the D-pad might select a character to the right on screen, and vice versa. Combat itself was also a bit boring and very repetitive. Your normal attacks do very little damage, so you must always use your tech attacks. And using those attacks involve longer action sequences during which you cannot do anything except watch. The only way combat maintains your interest is because to make sure you advance statistics fast enough, you must control the sequence of turns by delaying or interrupting the natural sequence. Watching the same thing over and over again, with unimaginative action, gets boring.
One other thing that annoyed me was how the game always asked for confirmation when using an elevator. If I step onto the elevator, it means I want to use it. Same with buttons and switches. The game doesn't ask if I want to go into another room when I walk through a door, so why is it asking that for the elevator? Random destruction of objects using a vaporizer-type weapon is also a little strange, although the developers do poke fun at that.
I also didn't like the controls. The combat menu button is also the normal cancel button. Sometimes you have to use the confirmation button to continue through a menu action, even though you want to go backwards. In other words, you're using the confirmation button to perform an exit command. Navigation through the in-game menu is also annoying. It is too many levels deep and hard to move between characters because sometimes you need to back up before you can switch to another character. This becomes especially annoying as some screens are naturally tied together, such as equipment and skills (equipment can provide skills, and you can also set skills) which would be much easier to manage if they were on the same screen.
The A.W.G.S. units were useless. You don't do more damage or take less damage even though you're in a giant robot, your turns occur much more slowly, and if your robot breaks down, you cannot exit it. It's a complete waste of money to invest in your A.W.G.S.
Offensive magic is also useless. I used them only a few times to discover that they don't do any more damage than your normal attacks, but your tech attacks can be upgraded to do more damage. So, offensive magic uses up magic points, doesn't do any more damage than normal magic-based attacks, and cannot be upgraded to do more damage while your physical- and magic-based tech attacks can.
There aren't enough technology points to go around. As it happens, I sort of lucked out and didn't use any technology points for statistic or attack upgrades until near the very end of the game. I horded my point upgrade items as well. I probably could have benefited from better statistic upgrading, but then I wouldn't have had enough technology points to really upgrade the final tech attacks to be as powerful as I did. If you really want to do stat raising, which can be very effective, then you won't be able to do tech attack upgrading. The only alternative is to engage in even more repetitive combat to earn more points.
Tintin told me about this personality test site called PersonalDNA. It actually has nothing to do with DNA, and it also makes you describe yourself, instead of asking you questions that will let it figure out how you should really be described. In other words, it's going to tell you exactly what you tell it. Not very smart. Anyway, my "personal report" is available for people to view. Nothing new in here, which makes sense because it's reporting exactly what I told it.
Anyway, my label is Considerate Idealist. Here's the 2D image map that is supposed to represent my personality. There's supposedly a more interactive one which you can view on the report itself, but it didn't do anything interactive when I tried. I prefer the horizontal representation, but that only provides information in one dimension. So I'm linking to the tiled representation.
March 26, 2006
New Root Disk
I woke up today to find the hard disk in my Linux server had crashed again, and was making the noisy clicking and clacking sounds. My disk has been doing this for a few years now, and seems to recover just fine. But I decided I'd had enough of that and went to Fry's to buy a new SATA/300 Seagate Barracuda drive on rebate. Got everything moved over, and GRUB likes living on this disk better, but unfortunately something doesn't seem to like mounting /dev/sda1 as my root.
March 25, 2006
Not One Less
I just watched Yi Ge Dou Bu Neng Shao, another film by Yimou Zhang from a few years ago. It tells the story of a 13-year-old substitute teacher named Wei Minzhi in the village of Shuiquan who struggles to find one of her students who went to the city in search of work. The movie is really about two things. The first is the teacher's determination and courage in going after her student with almost no money and absolutely no idea of what she will face. The other is the poverty in China that forces children to drop out of school and find work. Both of these aspects are very well done.
I vaguely recall reading that Yimou Zhang prefers to work with non-actors, although I may be confusing him with someone else. While the story Not One Less is fictional, he pulled real people from villages in China and filmed in real locations. Wei Minzhi is actually a 13-year-old student in a village named Wei Minzhi, and some of the other people who played themselves are Zhang Huike, the boy she chases after, and the television employees and restaurant and store owners. A few other characters are also played by non-actors from villages in roles that aren't really what they do in real life, but still roles that are very close to their own lives.
March 24, 2006
Scott's + Stephen's Birthdays
Some of us celebrated Scott's and Stephen's birthdays today by treating them to lunch at Chevy's. Jeannie brought an ice cream cake that was very good: cookies and cream flavor. It was cool hanging out with some of my friends whom I haven't seen in a while. Besides Scott and Stephen, Ashmi, Jeannie, Bryant, and Ellen also showed up. Alla couldn't make it because she had a team lunch with her coworkers. As usual, I was on time and everyone else was late.
March 23, 2006
Alla put Les Compéres on her queue, and left the disc at my place so I could watch it. I decided I'd take a look tonight, although it didn't look that appealing to me. It's sort of a comedy movie, with two men being told by a woman that they are the father of her runaway son, so that they will go look for him in Nice. The two men are complete opposites, and there's a side-story involving the mob, so some interesting things happen. It was an okay movie, not that great to me.
As an experiment, I purchased a Hosa GLT-255 adapter and found that it reduced the noise coming out of my Emotiva MPS-1 when I placed it into one of the amp module inputs. The noise did not go away completely, but it removed the noise being contributed by that connection to the Emotiva DMC-1. I received seven more GLT-255 adapters today, and have managed to completely rid myself of the noise.
What is interesting is that I cannot use GLT-255's on every amplifier module input. Placing a GLT-255 on three specific modules, which correspond to three specific channels from the DMC-1, removes the noise. Placing it on any of the other modules or channels has no effect. However, placing it on the left front channel, which is also the module closest to the MPS-1 power connection, introduces crazy amounts of noise, as with the ART T8. I suspect the T8 I purchased earlier and returned was in fact no defective, and instead my specific DMC-1 and MPS-1 units need to have the left front channel and/or that module grounded to each other.
March 22, 2006
To Sail Beyond the Sunset
To Sail Beyond the Sunset is the last volume in the Lazarus Long series that includes many of the Heinlein books I've recently been re-reading. This was the first time I've read this book though. Unfortunately, I didn't like it as much as the previous books.
The story is basically the memoirs of Maureen Smith, Lazarus' mother, and covers her life through the early 1900's with a smaller amount of the second half of the 20th century. It also interleaved her current situation into this backstory, somewhat similar to Time Enough For Love, but without enough detail. As a result, events tended to become a distraction rather than something of real interest. I feel like there is a lot of stuff which Heinlein could have further explored but didn't.
Luna told me that Huo Zhe is the only movie by Yimou Zhang to have been banned in China. I can understand why, as it paints the rise and social condition of Communism under Chairman Mao in a less than flattering light. In fact, I believe there are hints of "disappearances" but this is not obviously stated. Regardless, it is an excellent movie about how a husband and wife continue with their lives, finding happiness and meaning in family no matter all the hardships they have to go through.
I did really like the way things changed over the years, as the movie spans about three decades. The acting by Li Gong and You Ge is really good, and it was interesting to see how they have to adapt to the changing times when the people they've known all their lives are affected by the revolution. There are some really tragic situations, and a constant condition of tension that is still present in China today.
Unfortunately, I see the United States falling into that same situation today, with ultra-conservative religious and big brother observation/control becoming more common. Hopefully the Constitutional protections will eventually revert the damage done so far. However, I'm not too optimistic based on how the judicial branch at all levels is starting to involve personal opinions more instead of relying upon the Constitution and law.
March 21, 2006
Just Like Heaven
I hadn't seen Alla in a while, so we decided to meet up tonight. She is on her eating-healthy kick right now so she didn't want to go out to eat at any restaurants. I ended up buying some fresh vegetables and cooking that with some chicken. She liked the black vinegar chicken and deep-cooked onions (with too much soy sauce), but not the boiled vegetables. Afterwards, we watched Just Like Heaven, a movie she's already seen but liked. We watched it in French with English subtitles.
Just Like Heaven is a decent movie, but it follows a typical romantic comedy storyline. Nothing really new here except that Reese Witherspoon can really act out spunk instead of just saying things, and she is a good actress. I don't really like Mark Ruffalo as much. What I did really like about the movie were the funny parts involving Reese's interactions with Mark. Otherwise, there's nothing much here.
March 20, 2006
At only a half-season long, Elfen Lied is shorter than most but it is extremely dense in its content. I liked everything about this series, from the artwork to the audio to the story, but especially the characters. This is a very well planned production, without any gaps and with a very deep emotional connection between the characters as well as with the audience. Although some of the basic elements could be considered cliché, it is the execution that makes it excel. This is an anime where you will care what happens to whom, and unfortunately not everyone comes out the way they should in an ideal world.
I did recognize a few things that were unexpectedly nice. The first was the artwork. I really like the character design style, but I don't know whose style it is. Recognizing the voice talent of Kira Vincent-Davis was also interesting, and now that I've looked her up she has been in many animes that I like. I also recognized Jessica Boone and Tiffany Grant. I mistook Cynthia Martinez's voice for Hillary Haag.
It should be noted that this series is extremely graphic. The nudity is not really out of place, and I don't consider nudity to be a problem in general, but the method by which people are killed is extreme and shown in full detail.
March 19, 2006
Today Shannon finally came to visit me at my place, although Mei-Ling and Yvonne didn't come. I think Shannon's the only one that's actually interested in coming to my place, and I don't think Mei-Ling likes the long drive. So I picked Shannon up from her house around 3:30pm. They had all gone to the dentist today, and Shannon got one of her teeth pulled out because she says the dentist said it would have crowded her mouth. We stopped at Target on the way back so she could buy birthday gifts for Winnie and someone I don't know named Samuel.
The first thing we she when we got to my place was to look for the kitties. Asuka and Niea were around just fine, but Chie was hiding. I'm not really sure why he hides whenever Shannon comes over, but he does. I think Shannon needs to visit more often so he will remember her better. Then I taught Shannon how to play Settlers of Catan. She liked this game, and it was pretty close; she almost won except I built some roads and stole the longest roads points from her.
Then we talked to Luna for a little bit on the webcam. This was the first time Luna got a chance to see Shannon. Her mom and dad also saw Shannon. For dinner Shannon wanted a bread bowl, so I put some soup in the cut ends of some fresh French bread I bought this morning. I also made some spaghetti and fish, but Shannon was full off the soup and bread bowl so didn't eat much of that. We watched Bruce Almighty while eating.
We played a couple of games of Magic: The Gathering. I let Shannon use my old deck, which my mom brought over when she visited for Christmas. She had some problems with the deck though, and lost both times. I think my old deck has better cards and is better balanced for a wide variety of opponents, but my new white deck does have a much more aggressive creature approach which Shannon was unable to defend against. Plus, new cards often have effects that can only be efficiently countered using cards from that same series.
Heather Nova - Siren
Heather Nova's Siren was actually the album of hers I first wanted to get. I finally found it for a decent price and picked it up. I was quite pleased to discover the total album length fills the disc; this was not a forty-minute album. Heather Nova's distinctive voice is as beautiful as ever, and this album has enough of its own character to make it something special. I really enjoyed listening to it, with her vocals as the centerpiece with a nice sort of folk rock accompaniment.
This morning I woke up early, not on purpose, and started working on building a pair of subwoofer isolators/bass-traps. I'd been following a discussion thread about the Auralex Subdude/Gramma's benefits under subwoofers. I didn't feel like spending $150 for three Subdudes, and I still had another 2'x4' sheet of rigid fiberglass. So I picked up some 2" insulating foam, a pair of 18"-diameter pine circles, and a couple yards of black felt to build myself a pair of insulation/bass-trap risers custom-fit to my 16-46PC+ subs. Total materials cost was about $30.
It took about 2.5 hours to put together the isolators, and I've put up some pictures of the construction process. The majority of time was spent sewing the felt wrap, as I had to do that by hand. Cutting the foam and rigid fiberglass was very easy using a hand saw and liquid nails worked perfectly as a bonding agent.
So far, I've tested the results and found that the subwoofers are indeed isolated from the floor, and thus the house. Instead of feeling the floor vibrate right next to the subwoofers during heavy bass sequences, all vibrations are due to air pressure interactions. I doubt this means the subwoofers can operate more efficiently, as the energy that was previously being sent into the floor should now be absorbed by the isolator. Maybe the isolator is rejecting energy transfer, but that seems unlikely.
Instead, I hope the primary benefit is reducing boominess that might occur due to vertical standing waves at the subwoofer locations. The rigid fiberglass and insulating foam should help trap some of that energy, and the riser will move the subwoofer drivers farther away from the floor. I haven't tested this yet, but I plan to do so.
March 17, 2006
Lord of the Yen Trilogy
Shannon forwarded me this video mashup of Azumanga Daioh (anime) and The Lord of the Rings (movie): The Lord of the Yen Trilogy. Quite amusing, but only if you've seen both. It's a bit long, as it covers all three movies in the trilogy, but worth checking out.
I had another movie night today, which Zhao, Dantam, Jamie, and Samir attended. People brought movies to watch, and from the selection we ended up choosing North Country, which was contributed by Samir and Jamie. The movie is based on real events, but presents a fictional dramatization of those events with different people and companies involved. Josey Aimes got a job working as a miner at a corporate environment that encouraged and hid a culture of sexual abuse towards women. The best thing about the movie was the acting. I think the story and other aspects of the film was about average.
March 16, 2006
I got a preview disc of Karas today. Unfortunately, the disc cuts off thirty minutes in, rather than containing the entire movie. So it gets some negative points right there. It also gets negative points for bad voice acting and poor facial expression and body language when it comes to the 2-D art. Plus, the plot is not very clear and other than some basic facts I have no idea what is really going on. It can stand as a pure action movie, but that's about it.
There are some redeeming qualities though. The 3-D art is quite impressive, as are the action sequences. I think they pushed the envelope a bit when putting together the 3-D sequences, although there is still a slight timing issue as I don't think they handled minute blur as well as they needed to. The heavy action is very stylistic and quick, so it doesn't need to appear as realistic. I also think the audio quality is high.
One other thing I did like about the thirty minutes I did see was the surreal aspect. There appears to be two worlds laid on top of each other, and looking into the "other" world is interesting and amusing at the same time. It's much more whimsical and seems to be more energetic and colorful.
I doubt I'll purchase Karas, although I might rent it and see if it's actually worth something once you've seen the entire picture.
ART T8 Noise
I've been trying to get rid of the last bit of buzz and hum in my system, which seems to be due to some sort of strange electrical circuit behavior between the DMC-1 and MPS-1. Only when the two are interconnected in a particular way does the MPS-1 output noise on specific channels. I found that inserting a Hosa GLT-255 into the amplifier input removed the noise contributed by that channel. So I decided to purchase an ART T8 under the assumption that would work even better with full isolation. Unfortunately, the results were horrible.
Inserting the T8 between the DMC-1 and MPS-1 resulted in immediate noise at least 30dB higher than the previous noise. I tried this with just one channel connected between the DMC-1 and MPS-1 as well, and the noise was still there. Without the T8, a single channel connection results in no noise. I can't figure out how the T8 can possibly introduce noise like this, as it is a passive device containing some transformers and is supposed to eliminate noise due to ground loops and completely isolate the source and destination devices.
Anyway, I've sent the T8 and the 8-channel XLR snake back for a refund, and instead ordered seven more GLT-255's, which actually seem to work and cost much less as well.
March 13, 2006
Yes More Secrets
A small group of senators have drafted a bill that would make it illegal to talk about illegal spying. In other words, it would be illegal for the press to have disclosed the illegal NSA wiretapping that has created a huge backlash against President Bush personally and his administration as a whole. The bill authors claim reporters would be exempt, but the wording does not seem to indicate that. Plus, individuals who pass on that information could still be prosecuted. That means me, for example, writing about it in my blog or passing a news article on to a friend.
No Pokémon Cards
I visited Shannon (pretty much only Shannon, since Mei-Ling was out and Yvonne barricaded herself in her room) last night. I drove her to Target to buy some Pokémon cards, but she ended up not buying any because her mom would have been unhappy with her. But she whined about it instead, until we got back to her house. I picked up some Mexican food for dinner on the way back, and Shannon discovered that she likes refried beans.
Afterwards, we watched Star Wars: Clone Wars as I saved the discs until she could watch them. We had to watch on Soujiro because their DVD player is still broken. They need to get a new one, but Mei-Ling wants to buy one for like $20, which is very rare. And probably crappy too.
Besides that, I tried hooking up an old USB webcam so Shannon and I could videochat with Luna, but it didn't seem to work with Windows XP or maybe the USB ports on the laptop have a problem. Unfortunately, my only other webcam is a Firewire one, and I don't think there are Firewire ports on Soujiro. We had fun talking to Luna via IM though, and Luna said Shannon acts like she is five. We also ended up talking to Christian via IM, and Shannon said he is not that tall at ~180cm.
I just watched Tron, one of the best movies Disney has made. Part of it has to do with not trying to use the special effects or buzzwords to push the movie, and instead to use ideas and a storyline. Bonus points for not doing anything that seems to defy the laws of physics. The acting is not that great, but the audio is quite a bit above average for the type of movie (science-fiction): no harsh dissonant chords. The underlying questions about users, the afterlife, self-awareness, and behavior are interesting although not heavily presented.
March 12, 2006
I've had an inclination to watch Ray once I saw how well Jamie Foxx imitated the mannerisms of Ray Charles. Now that I've seen the movie, it's pretty clear that his performance is the highlight of the film. In fact, the story is a little shallow although I've never much liked biographies. But I did learn a few new things about Ray Charles, such as his beginnings and drug addiction. Overall it was a very good film, but I wouldn't be interested in watching it a second time.
I Will Fear No Evil
Keeping with my Heinlein binge, I just finished re-reading I Will Fear No Evil. Also one of his great novels, this story is about an old man who finds a new lease on life by having his brain transplanted into the body of a young woman, and him having to learn how to behave like a woman. There's a lot to deal with here, with questions about death and sexual identity and of course Heinlein's always present ideas on love and living life to its fullest. Of course, the characters in this book are vintage Heinlein, and finding identity involves finding those characteristics.
March 11, 2006
I just watched Flightplan, which is actually a movie off Alla's queue. Samir and Jamie both said it wasn't good, and I wasn't really looking forward to it. But it actually turned out pretty good. Mostly because Jodie Foster did a great job acting and you couldn't be at all sure of her mental state until the very end. And the tension remained throughout, without any lapses for people with short attention spans. The only thing I didn't like was some of the editing and foley work that was put in to blatantly support things that should have remained subdued.
The IT Crowd
I don't watch television, but I've been hearing a bit about The IT Crowd on some blogs. It's a show only available in the UK, but many people have posted it on video sites so I've been able to watch the first five episodes off YouTube. It's actually very funny, mostly because everyone on it is extremely stupid or mental in at least one way.
March 10, 2006
Star Wars: Clone Wars
Star Wars: Clone Wars is a two hour animation production by CartoonNetwork that bridges the storylines of Episode II and Episode III. This installment of the series is done very well, although it doesn't use the original actors for voiceovers and is a little lacking in the audio quality as the new music was not done by John Williams or performed with a full orchestra (from what I can tell).
Still, as a purely entertaining movie, it's good. It's heavily action driven, with much less storyline or character development than the movies, but the action is focused and epic. The majority of the animation work was done via CG, and that allows for some great scenes. But the character designs were too caricature-like for my taste. There are some nice inside jokes and tributes to the feature films, and overall I really enjoyed it.
Massive Attack - Mezzanine
Massive Attack's Mezzanine is the album that I first heard of them by. The music on this album is very bass-heavy. Almost too heavy, as I think my ears got a little fatigued from listening to it, although that's more likely due to my poorly calibrated subwoofers and the boominess of my room. It's a very nice album to listen to though, with good composition and a nice emotional feeling to it. Somewhat downtempo while maintaining a solid rock beat with the instruments.
March 9, 2006
Cranium + Scattergories
I had some friends over for a game night today. Dantam, Alla, Samir, Jamie, and Ellen showed up, although Ellen didn't play anything and left early. Jamie and Dantam didn't want to play any "brainy" games, so although Alla and I would have preferred to play Settlers of Catan, we ended up playing Cranium and then Scattergories.
For Cranium, the teams were Samir and Jamie versus me, Alla, and Dantam. Ellen wanted to be the question reader, and also sat next to me so my left ear got some pounding. Samir and Jamie had gotten the game for Christmas (as well as Scattergories) and this was the first time they'd played. I find the game fairly easy, and we got some lucky purple rolls, so we ended up winning, although it was a little close at the end.
I don't think Scattergories is much fun though. The basic idea is to come up with different words that start with the same letter, one item per category. And there's a three-minute time limit. But you're really just playing against yourself, as you look at the lists and come up with words, with almost no gameplay involving other people. Jamie likes it though.
March 7, 2006
Information Control for the Marines
It seems that the U.S. government, in its wisdom, has decided that US marines should only have access to "good" political news. Based on the examples given, that would appear to be right-wing conservative news. Edit: based on posts to /., it seems some military personnel (not just marines) are experiencing this but others are not. So this may just be an isolated situation (in terms of network topology, not geography).
Vampire Hunter D
I don't understand why Vampire Hunter D is rated so highly. Unless all of the raters are young boys who like pointless action and gore. The drawing was old style, but I think cheaply done. Animation frames were repeated, and sometimes scenes pointless. Other films from the same time period have better animation. The story was very superficial and simple, and it was mostly sequences of pointless fighting, with what passed as gore back then. At least the movie continued to move forward.
March 6, 2006
South Dakota Bans Abortion
A number of sites are reporting that South Dakota has banned abortions, in direct conflict with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling. The law bans almost all types of abortions, including those due to rape or incest and also when the mother is at risk of injury or death. The goal appears to be to push this into the Supreme Court for another ruling, as with two new conservative justices, it is likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Especially as both implied that they would rule against abortion if put to it.
Tae Guk Gi
Taegukgi Hwinalrimyeo is amazing in its horribleness. The story is something that's been done before, but I've never seen it done in such a human and horrific way. Two brothers are drafted into the South Korean army in 1950, and forced to fight against the North Koreans. One of the two loses his humanity, and the criminal behavior of him as well as both the North Koreans and South Koreans is very upsetting. I was very surprised to see this depicted as it goes against the type of Korean pride I'm used to.
Unfortunately, the ending is very bittersweet. But extremely human and real in that respect. Instead of focusing on the horror of war, this movie puts great effort into showing the horror of humanity at some of its worst, but perhaps most understandable or appreciated, moments.
The acting was extremely good, by all of the people involved. The principal actors include Dong-Kun Jang, whom I've seen in a few Korean movies, and Bin Won who is new to me, but very good. But all of the actors were very good.
I'm wondering about the special effects, because it all looked very realistic to me. And they did not cut between when people were wounded or destroyed. Not only the typical sort of pyrotechnics for bullet holes, but also fire, explosions, and dismemberment. I know of at least one time when I gasped in surprise and horror. Possibly there were more, but I was so engrossed by the film that I wasn't paying much attention to anything else. The impressive sound work helped with that; it was very immersive.
March 5, 2006
Emiliana Torrini - Love In The Time Of Science
I heard the singing of Emiliana Torrini a few times, and it really appealed to me. The character of her voice has a very alluring quality to it. I picked up her worldwide debut album, Love In The Time Of Science which was received with excellent reviews. I enjoyed the album, although I don't think it's one of the best I've heard. It has some influences of rock while maintaining a more downtempo tone with good vocals driving the songs.
Turns out Emiliana Torrini has contributed to many other songs and artists that I like. Such as the track Slow by Kylie Minogue, Thievery Corporation, and Gus Gus. She also sang the wonderful Gollum's Song which was played during the end credits of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
I just watched the long (some would say epic, although I don't really think of it that way), Bridge on the River Kwai. It's a pretty decent film, set in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. The focus of the film is really on an American soldier and a British officer, though, with the Japanese and Siamese playing a smaller part, with the Siamese actually being little more than decoration. These two characters each have their own idea of correct behavior and morality, which is at odds.
The acting is decent, but stereotypical of the time. The locale is fairly exotic though, and I'm sure it wasn't easy to film things there and that seeing that on the big screen was a treat back then. The Japanese roles are not demeaning or stereotypical though, which is good. There is an loose implication that the British way, or Western way, is somehow superior. But at the same time, it's made clear that the British officer is a little messed up in his beliefs.
March 4, 2006
Wiccan Not a Religion (in the U.S.)
It seems that in the United States military (which supposedly fights for Amendment I of the Bill of Rights), the Wiccan religion is not recognized. The issue has come up because Sergeant Patrick Stewart was Wiccan and died when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. But the use of a pentagram on his memorial is not authorized by the government, as it is not a "recognized" religion.
Time Bandits is a strange comedy with a fantastic story line. It was a bit entertaining. It has the sort of wit that I like in British humor, although not as funny as I would have liked. Instead, it was too dry, to the point that it is more like antics rather than humor. But it was something fun, and I'm sure younger audiences would really enjoy it. Unfortunately, the disc was letter-boxed 4:3 and only featured stereo sound.
March 3, 2006
Dinner with Karen
I just got back from meeting up with Karen. I hadn't seen her in a few months now, and so I drove up after work so we could catch up a little over dinner. We ate at a Chinese restaurant called Jing Jing on University Avenue. We talked a little bit about Luna, and her work, and other random things. Afterwards, we met up with her boyfriend, Sebastian, and drove into Mountain View to a pool hall where we played a game I'd never heard of before. It ended up being one win each.
The new pool game, which Sebastian described to me, is that each player must hit the smallest numbered ball first, and you get points equal to the number on any balls you sink. Karen tried to do some smart bounce calculations, but got all confused about the rules of physics. So she ending up doing those angle shots wrong, although more than once that worked to her advantage.
March 2, 2006
I just got back from going ice skating at Logitech Ice. It's the first time I've been ice skating, except for one time I can barely remember as a little child. I was very bad back then, shuffling my feet, but since I am a good rollerblader, ice skating was not difficult for me even though this kind of counts as my first time. The ice is more slippery though. Alla, Dantam, Alin, Paul, Marie, Vitor, Sebastian, and Michael (I don't really know the last people) came as well.
March 1, 2006
Bunny Hopping x Bravia
Looks like bio-diesel is getting some coverage in the mainstream press, finally. Although it seems to be because kids built a soybean-fueld car, rather than because adults did it. However, the current leader in removing its dependence upon fossil fuels is Brazil. Whenever I might need to buy a new car, I'll be seriously considering bio-diesel.
Gia is a movie that is somewhere between documentary and drama. It depicts the rise and fall of Gia Marie Carangi, a supermodel during the late 70's and early 80's. It's a somewhat rollercoaster life, which is mirrored in the movie's plot. Gia is "discovered" as a rebellious teen and shoved into the modeling world. She has a fear of abandonment, which the film implies stems from her childhood. And she starts hitting the drug scene quite hard. Which eventually leads to her fall.
The role of Gia is played by Angelina Jolie, and she gives an outstanding performance. She's able to portray a wide range of emotions and a very unique personality that will captivate you. It seems effortless, as if she fits the role of this other person perfectly. Although, one can't really say what the real Gia was like in real life, so it may very well be inaccurte. Regardless, it's a great performance, and the supporting cast is also very good.
I'm not sure either how accurate the movie portrays Gia's world. It certainly fits the rumor and stereotypes associated with the high fame and decadent wealth of models and rock stars during the 80's. Even if it is not accurate, it is a world that seems real and has an impact.