April 28, 2006
Chrono Crusade is another series I wasn't planning to watch, but since I'm running out of things to watch and it's free, I decided to give it a try. Luna told me about half-way through that she doesn't think it is that great, and I agree. On the one hand the mythology of the bible is well incorporated with artistic liberties taken, and some interesting questions are posed without any concrete answers, of course. But at other times, the dialogue is corny, the action sequences are childish, and it is sometimes hard to empathize with the characters.
I did like the artwork very much, although the men were a little too bishonen for my taste. I think the artists may have temporarily changed for a short period of time in the middle of the series, as there was an obvious change in character drawing at one point. But it later reverted back to the original.
There was also some good music at times, although sometimes it wasn't anything special either. The first episode on disc five had some strange crackly noise throughout, which I found quite annoying, but I have no idea if that was a mixing/mastering problem or due to some other problem.
Two bonuses were the English dub including Hillary Haag and Jessica Boone. Both particular favorites of mine. I also recognized Laura Chapman and Tiffany Grant from the credits, although their voices are not as unique.
April 27, 2006
Canadian Music Creators Coalition
A number of Canadian musicians have formed the Canadian Music Creators Coalition. This group was created to stand against recent political and legal "abuses" that have been harming the reputation and consumers of the Canadian music industry. The three goals of this coalition are to make it clear that suing consumers is bad, DRM is a risky and more often than not negative proposition, and to promote local Canadian music. They also want to make it clear that the labels are not looking out for the best interests of musicians or consumers. The top three coalition members listed on the home page are: Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, and Sarah McLachlan.
The Ringworld Engineers
I just finished re-reading The Ringworld Engineers. This is the second book in the series, and one that was not originally planned but eventually written because of the amount of feedback towards the first book. I would say it's about the same quality as the first book, in terms of its style and substance.
The second novel takes place several years later, and goes a bit further into the origins of the Ringworld, although not as much as some might hope. There is some exploration of the Ringworld species and their culture, and also the technology of the Ringworld. As the title suggests, the engineers of the Ringworld are revealed, although there isn't much told about them other than what they did in the shaping of the Ringworld.
I purchased a Behringer FBQ2496 to act as a parametric equalizer for my subwoofers. I managed to get it for a great price, and after spending a few hours with my SPL meter, got measurements for input into Room EQ Wizard, a freeware (donations appreciated) audio measurement and correction tool. This software is amazingly good, runs on many platforms, and has just about every feature you'd want. With the FBQ2496 and Room EQ Wizard, I managed to flatten my subwoofer response quite well, although it would be better if the FBQ2496 could go below 20Hz.
This graph shows the measured frequency response of my subwoofers on the top purple line, and the corrected frequency response on the bottom purple line. The target response is the horizontal blue line, assuming a 150Hz cutoff. I performed my measurements with a 160Hz cutoff, to flatten the response as much as possible and allow the processor to handle the different cutoffs. Plus, the LFE channel is not cutoff at all.
The PEQ filters in the lower-right were automatically calculated by Room EQ Wizard, specifically for the FBQ2496. In other words, Room EQ Wizard knows the options available via the FBQ2496, and uses those constraints to determine the correcct filters. No boosts are assigned, as that can be a very dangerous thing to do.
Unfortunately, since my subwoofers are tuned to 12Hz, there's a huge 12Hz bump which the FBQ2496 cannot address. I tried tuning my subwoofers to 16Hz, but that resulted in a fairly gradual decline from 16Hz down, rather than a flat response due to room gain. This is because my subwoofers are ported, and so the frequency response will drop off dramatically once you hit the tuning frequency. You can see this at the 12Hz point in this graph as well.
So for now, I'm keeping that 12Hz bump, until I might be able to purchase a Velodyne SMS-1, which supports filters as low as 5Hz.
April 24, 2006
Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006
I've become even more unhappy with the current administration after the appointment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. John Ashcroft was bad, but he typically went after big brother surveillence type stuff. Which the rest of the administration was already doing anyway. Gonzales is going further and bringing the war of IP-terrorism into our homes. The Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006 will make it extremely easy for law enforcement to lock you up and confiscate all of your personal property if you decide to exercise your fair use rights. Because 13-year-old girls are funding terrorists by sharing music they like with their friends.
April 22, 2006
Azumanga Daioh Ellen Feiss
Hanging Out w/Alla
So I hung out with Alla this past Wednesday and also tonight. On Wednesday, movie night got cancelled (although Zhao never told me he was coming so it's not my fault he waited outside for 30 minutes) and Alla and I ended up cooking some dinner and just hanging out. Today, we went to Oakridge on the excuse that she needed to buy a dress for Wendy-Ann's wedding.
But she didn't find anything good in her size, and ended up buying some shoes instead. I ate some Chinese food at the food court, and then we went to Borders to sit around and read stuff. I read the first volume of Ray (can't find a good link) which is pretty good. I think I'll probably buy the series. I didn't buy from Borders though because the book was a little dirty, and they only had volumes 1-3, but the sale is for four manga books.
April 17, 2006
DMCA's Unintended Consequences
The EFF has published version 4 of their DMCA Unintended Consequences document, which lists ways in which the existence (and not necessary the litigation of) the DMCA has negatively impacted technological advancement and existing rights in the United States. The geographical distinction is important, as the rest of the world is not bound by the DMCA and may continue to operate without its burden, but in doing so can no longer engage in trade of technology or information with the United States, its citizens, or people who do interact with the United States.
April 16, 2006
I just finished the Battle Royale manga, which is fifteen volumes (longer than it had to be). I think the movie is excellent, and an important sort of film. The manga, however, perhaps is not. I think if less time had been spent on what felt like filler-frames to me, and instead the content had been presented in a more concise manner, then it would have been more enjoyable to read.
The most important aspect of the manga is the emotional and personal spin it puts on each of the characters. This is something that is not done to this extent in either the novel or the movie. The main characters and also all of the other students are given a lot of page time that provides backstory and motiviations for their behavior. There is some of this in the novel, but a lot more is explored in the manga. In some cases this exploration is interesting. In other cases, it's included more as a point to take away and not really important.
Number of the Beast
I just read Number of the Beast, which is a sort of capstone book in Heinlein's stories, as it joins together several threads started in other novels. But unfortunately I didn't enjoy the contents that much. A lot of time is spent on dialogue, very pointless in many cases with a certain repetition that becomes tiring without being obvious. I didn't really see anything new presented, although there is a lot to do with clashing personalities in relationships. As others have pointed out, this book is sort of a giant in-joke. But I guess I don't have what it takes to appreciate that.
Farewell, My Concubine
Ba Wang Bie Ji is another Chinese movie that includes Gong Li in its cast. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this movie as much. It was fine as far as the story, production, and acting is concerned, but I didn't really care about the characters and just about every scene involved unhappiness. In fact, the only character I thought worth anything is the one played by Gong Li, and she ends up dead a little more than half way through. Plus, she is constantly at odds with Dieyi, who remains a child throughout the movie.
April 15, 2006
The Emperor and The Assassin
Jing Ke ci Qin Wang tells the story of the first emperor's conquest of the six kingdoms, during the time leading up to when the assassin Jing Ke attempts to take the life of Qin Wang (King of Qin). The role of Lady Zhao, played by Gong Li, is prominently featured. The acting could have been better, and the king's descent into madness if not as glaring as some might consider it should have been. Regardless, the story is interesting both for its content and for the perspective used to tell it.
April 13, 2006
NSA Wiretap Whistleblower
On April 6, a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, released a statement detailing his knowledge and involvement in what he refers to as a secret room built by the NSA to perform mass communications analysis. This would be in direct violation of, depending on your interpretation the U.S. Constitution, and also of laws preventing surveillence of U.S. citizens without a warrant.
Fun with Dick and Jane
Just watched Fun with Dick and Jane with an unusually large number attendees. A total of nine people showed up, including a few people I wasn't expecting such as Christa and Vince, and also Mike Liu because he was back in town. Although he didn't stay for the movie, just to talk. Samir and Jamie were there, and also Zhao. Ellen showed up as well, although she caused some trouble earlier with refusing to eat Chinese food. Dantam was a last minute attendee so I ended up cooking extra food because I thought Mike and Dantam would need more food than what Jamie bought. But ended up that Jamie had bought enough food without my extras.
Unfortunately I didn't get to talk with Christa that much because she arrived much later than everyone else. Although she socialized with others a bit. She also washed her dishes, even though she shouldn't have.
The movie was pretty entertaining. This was one role where I was very amused by Jim Carrey, as well as his character's wife played by Tea Leoni. The premise is also pretty fun, in a timely way, as it goes through some extreme comedic relief associated with the recent financial scandals involving high-ranking corporate officials. They poked fun at those people a few times.
April 12, 2006
iPods for Senators
A while back, IPac started a donation campaign to send iPod's to every U.S. Senator after the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation chairman revealed during a hearing that after getting an iPod he suddenly understood how the "Broadcast Flag" and "Audio Flag" would be detrimental to both consumers and technological advancement. The MPAA and RIAA representatives at that hearing were blind-sided by his questions. Donate today.
Rube Goldberg Ramen Machine
Seems a Japanese TV show had a contest for the most amazing Rube Goldberg machine. The result in this video is a 6 and 1/2 minute machine that ends up making a bowl of hot ramen with egg. Crazy.
April 11, 2006
Beyond Good and Evil
One of the best action adventure games ever. That's how I would sum up Beyond Good and Evil. In addition to great gameplay, on par with any of the 3-D Legend of Zelda games, this game features an amazing story, wonderful music, and extreme levels of polish. It was tons of fun, and I only wish it had lasted longer. It is somewhat short at only a little more than a dozen hours.
The basic interface is extremely easy and intuitive to use. You will never have to refer to your manual or think about how to accomplish something. Key combinations or sequences were not difficult at all, and you are introduced to actions and behavior through fun immersive action. For example, you'll learn how to fight almost immediately through a sequence that tightly flows with the story.
In some ways, the cinematic aspect of the game is not even noticeable. Unlike other games that involve cutscenes or a clear break between story presentation and gameplay, BGaE incorporates that part of the game right into your basic activities. But more importantly, the storytelling never takes over from your control of the characters, and sometimes even takes place parallel to your character control. So it never feels like you're stuck waiting for the action to start again.
Having a great and intelligent story, along with memorable characters with real personalities, helps a lot in that regard. The basic story is relatively simple: the Alpha Section arm of the military is protecting the citizens of Hillys against the alien DomZ attacks. But there's a much deeper and complicated truth behind that. Your job is to discover and expose that truth. There could have been more done with that, but I suspect that some of that mystery has been left open in hopes of a sequel. Unfortunately, I doubt a sequel will happen as BGaE did not have a large number of sales to my knowledge.
In terms of content, no two battles are ever the same. And combat is fun because of the simple but fun to use attacks. The maps are filled with puzzles that involve lots of different ideas, some traditional, some more inventive, and the puzzles are not the same thing over and over again. When an idea is duplicated, it is done in a way that requires you to think of new approaches and analyze the situation carefully. I constantly felt challenged but never overwhelmed or tired of the puzzles.
Minigames are also built in without them being as a side-track. There's racing, vehicle combat, a game like air hockey, and also side puzzles that are not necessary for advancement but can be done for fun. If you manage to complete one particular side-quest, you can unlock a really difficult two-handed independent coordination game. Anyone that can get far in that will have developed excellent hand-eye coordination along with parallel spatial tracking.
The music was also great. This is one game where I felt like I would have really benefitted from playing it on my home theater system, instead of the lower-end system I have set up for gaming. It's rich, detailed, and heavily supports the emotions and mood of the game.
April 10, 2006
Bush Administration's Iran Plans
The New Yorker has a piece titled The Iran Plans: Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb? I'm not sure where the information is coming from, but as The New Yorker is a very respected and long-lived publication, I assume they've done their fact checking. The gist of the article talks about the plans President Bush and his administration have for Iran, with the clear preference being war in order to bring about regime change. For alarmists, the use of tactical nuclear strikes against underground bunkers is mentioned as an option.
Came across this article called Testing Darwin off Brad Fitzpatrick's LJ. It's an incredibly interesting read, as it discusses the experiments several researchers have done over a number of years now involving an artificial life program called Avida. In this simulation, software programs can mutate and are rewarded or punished (from a survival point of view) when they succeed at processing numbers (i.e. resources). The results of these experiments are extraordinary.
2046 is another film by Wong Kar Wai, and stars some of the best Chinese actors and actresses, including Tony Leung, Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Maggie Cheung, and Faye Wong also showed up. With that sort of cast, the acting was excellent. The movie also has what I consider to be Wong Kar Wai's directorial style from both a cinematic and plot point of view. I did find the pacing a little slow and sometimes disjointed, but the characters are interesting and full-bodied. Ultimately, this movie requires you to pay attention and think about exactly what is going on and what is being said. But if you take the time to do this, I think you'll find some interesting throughts going through your head.
One important aspect to the movie is the music. A great deal of effort was put into including music that enhances the mood and emotions being presented, and to fully appreciate this film you need to also appreciate the music. Some of the music was taken from old recordings though, or purposefully played back on older equipment (as the story takes place in the late 1960's) because you can hear noise and vinyl artifacts quite clearly. But I'm sure that was done intentionally.
April 9, 2006
I just watched the miniseries Taken, which has Spielberg's name attached to it, but is in fact directed by someone else. However, I felt as though there was a heavy Spielberg influence on the film's direction and production. The story was written by Leslie Bohem. The driving force behind this miniseries, which is pretty good, are the characters. The plot follows three families, one of abductees, one of hybrids, and one of the military investigators, through three generations in a culminating finale.
That aspect is the main strength of the series. The special effects are a little subduded but well done, and the science and exploration/speculation is very interesting (and what I would have preferred to see more of), but following three generations of people really gives a depth to the characters as to their motivations and fears and the family that shaped who they've become. Unfortunately, I think the best actors and characters are those from the first generation, but maybe that is only because I found that time period and their behavior more interesting.
I do think there are some great actors and some not-so-great actors in this series. Sometimes I felt like the characters came alive, while at other times things seemed fake or forced to me. The only real exception to that is the little girl, who acts as a narrator from the beginning and later one becomes a focal point. I believe she is supposed to be unnerving in her behavior and mannerisms, as her grandfather was before, because of who she is.
April 6, 2006
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
We watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe tonight. Jamie and Samir showed up, as well as Dantam and Zhao. Lin showed up for the first time today. I turned the volume way up on the movie so that the low frequencies would create the proper visceral feeling. Of course this made the movie really loud in general, and I also ended up increasing the center channel volume a little because I had a hard time making out the dialogue. But it paid off on some critical scenes and everyone really enjoyed it. Lin screamed and jumped a couple of times.
The movie was very enjoyable from an action and basic plot point of view. The visuals were pretty spectacular, as was the audio. But as a story, it is a little simplistic. More so, I think, than some other childrens movies that are spectacular in the same way. It's all very straight-forward and you're not really trying to discover anything or come to any sort of realization. Things are presented at face value, although the symbolism is high.
One thing I did notice very clearly was the inferior attitude towards women. Susan is given a bow, and Lucy a dagger, but neither of them ever use them in any serious manner. Instead, they only call for help and heal others (think motherly). The evil white witch is a woman, while the good Aslan is a man. There are only a handful of female warriors shown, and they stay far back and only fire a few arrows. In contrast, there are hundreds of male warriors who engage in direct combat. And in a very obvious presentation, Aslan is shaved to look like a woman before being killed on the stone table. So in total, there are only a handful of extremely useless women, women are evil, and Aslan is insulted by being dressed like a woman.
April 3, 2006
Mario Bros. Terrorism
In a wonderful turn of events, a group of teenage girls who decided to have some fun (think performance art) built some really good question-mark blocks from the game Super Mario Bros. and left them around town. Residents of the town got crazy and assumed they were bombs or other evil items. So now the girls seem to be facing criminal charges.
Seems as though Chevrolet has put together some sort of advertisment-creation contest for their new Chevy Tahoe SUV. Clever interactive marketing ploy, with television show tie-in? Or incredibly stupid marketing idea because of viral videos? I think the latter.
Swoop and Squat
Apparently a new form of fraud is becoming popular, or at least more widely known. It's called Swoop and Squat, and basically involves someone cutting you off so as to force a rear-end collision. Since the rear-ender is usually the one held at fault, this means the other party stands to benefit. Plus, it seems a network of auxiliary services are staged to try and pry more money out of you. A few others are listed at Allstate's Fraud page.
Eat Drink Man Woman
Just finished watching Yin Shi Nan Nu, and unlike the other movie I recently watched that approached life with a cooking theme, this movie really delivered. Chef Chu and his three daughters give really great performances as a series of events leads to finding love and also truth about themselves and their relationship with each other. There's no comedy involved, but the drama seems very realistic and it's nice to see everyone's lives turn out good, despite the turbulence surrounding them.
Tim Moshier's Gone
I just got a message from Jess that told me Tim Moshier's helicopter was shot down yesterday and he was killed in action. Tim went to West Point after high school and started flying helicopters down in Louisiana. He was always a big kid, looked just like a soldier too. He was also a really good person, and the kind of person I would trust to always do the right thing in a situation where he has to be a soldier. His wife, Katie is also that kind of person. I imagine it must have been very scary for him.
April 2, 2006
Center Channel Stand
I built a new center channel stand today which has an adjustable tilt. So I can precisely angle the speaker up towards my head when the center channel is laid horizontally. I've been using the center channel vertically because it sounds much better when sitting directly in front of it, but this does mean people off-axis don't get as good of sound. But now I want to lie it horizontally again because I also lowered the projector screen. I lowered it by about eight inches after making sure people in the back row will not be blocked by the front row heads. This screen height is much more comfortable for the people in the front row.
The center channel stand is made of two 10"Wx24"L pieces of shelving, and an odd connection between them. One of the shelves serves as the base. To this I attached two 8" angle brackets in the center, lengthwise. The top shelf had two pieces of 2"x6"s screwed into the bottom so that they would fall right inside the angle brackets rising from the base. I could then shoot a 5/16" hex bolt through the angle brackets and through the 2"x6"s. Now the top shelf can freely rotate using the hex bolts as its axis while the base remains flat. To lock the shelf's angle, I can tighten the hex bolt and nut, and I placed locking washers on both sides of the 2"x6" to keep it tight.
It's works very well, although you have to be certain to tighten the nuts and bolts enough to prevent the stand from rotating while the speaker is on it. I used some mounting stickies to keep the speaker in place on the top shelf. To put the stand at the correct height, I bought some 6" tall cinder blocks and placed them on the floor below covered in some leftover black felt. I spraypainted the wood and the brackets black to prevent reflections, although I didn't spraypaint any of the nuts, bolts, or washers because I didn't want them to get thick with paint or stuck with paint either.
Yvonne's Colorguard Team Wins 1st
Yvonne spent the day at Sacramento with her colorguard team (I think she said there's eleven of them) from school because a competition was held there and they won first place! Yvonne was super happy, although she looked a little funny to me wearing blue eyeshadow and blush. I think Mei-Ling made the eyeshadow too high and added too much blush. Mei-Ling also tried to take credit saying they won because she drove them. Probably because they drove her crazy by singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.
Anyway, no one at the school seems to even know what colorguard is, so I told Yvonne she should get them to write something up in the school paper so everyone would know. And since they won first place, other people would probably get interested in it. Just because it would make them feel like something special even though they had nothing to do with it. But for some reason you have to apply to be a school paper staff member and can't just submit a story. Maybe she can get one of them to start interviewing the colorguard members.
Alhambra and Shannon
Around noon, I drove to Irvington High School and picked up Shannon from her Chinese class there. I was really hungry by then, as I hadn't eaten anything in a while, so we went to Sweet Tomatoes. I hadn't been there in a long time, and so I stuffed myself. Didn't eat any dinner or anything else as a result. Shannon wanted to play Settlers of Catan because she really liked it when we played last time. So we drove to Great Mall and picked up a copy of Alhambra, winner of Spiel des Jahres 2003.
Alhambra is pretty fun, although not as interactive as Settlers of Catan because you build a city in your own space, without affecting other players. Instead, your city plan might be influenced by the purchasing actions of other players, but you can't really do anything that would ruin another player's strategy. Shannon liked it though, so that's good. I left the game at her house so we can play it whenever I'm over there.
I also fixed their coffee table and some of their chairs. They weren't really broken. Just the screws were loose or had come out and Mei-Ling had no idea what to do. Easy to fix, just took some time to screw everything back in and tighter. There's still a gap in the base of one chair, which is because the screws went in at an angle that drew the boards apart from each other, but that's only an asthetic problem.
Got up a little early this morning and patched up the small drywall hole the plumbers had to cut above my shower to reattach the 90° pipe. Based on a suggestion by Ruben, one of the plumbers, I stuck a piece of 2"x6" into the wall through the hole and attached it to the existing drywall using drywall screws. Then used that to support the piece that was cut out and screwed that piece into the wood as well. Then used spackle to cover everything up. It's not perfect, and you can see the outline where the spackle caught, but if you painted it over, I'm sure it would disappear.
April 1, 2006
Like Water For Chocolate
I just watched Como Agua Para Chocolate, a Mexican film based on the book of the same name. Perhaps the book is more enjoyable to read, because I found the movie a little uninvolving. There is supposed to be a lot of passion, emotion, and color portrayed by the characters involved, but I didn't feel it. I felt like much of it was subdued, and the third-party narration took a little away from things. It would have been more powerful to see and hear the characters thoughts rather than hear them from the narrator.
I finished re-reading Larry Niven's Ringworld last night. I really like the book as a hard science story. There is a lot of interesting stuff presented, interesting ideas and technologies, unique perspectives on how to see things. It is a hard science book though, which means minimal character development. I should continue reading the series, and order some more of his books which I don't have.