June 29, 2006
Full Metal Panic!
Full Metal Panic! turned out to be an entertaining anime, although in a lot of ways it's a typical mecha show without much else. What is great about it is the constant level of excitement and comedy. The characters all have very extreme personalities that are amusing on their own, and when combined with each other and crazy situations the entertainment value rises pretty fast. There wasn't anything special other than that.
There were a few nice songs during the series, but not many which means most of the songs were played back quite often. So in some ways the songs worked as a theme for certain situations, but in other ways it just felt like you were hearing the same thing again. However, the opening and ending songs and video sequences changed a few times, and that was actually interesting.
One thing I found annoying was the voice-over done by the voice actors during the FBI copyright warning at the beginning of each disc. That sort of thing alone would make me not want to purchase the series. It's an in-your-face reminder of how some executives and industry people think of their customers. Especially since this anime featured one of my favorite voice actors, Hillary Haag, as well as others I recognize.
A few things about the story and situation were not revealed at any time during the series. I suspect those questions might be answered in the sequel.
Front Yard Cleaned Up
Over the past month or two, I've had my front yard cleaned up by one of my neighbors, Del Sol Landscaping. They topped the four 45' Italian Cypress trees that run alongside my driveway, pulled all the weeds and laid down landscape felt, and put bark into the non-grass areas. They also installed a sprinkler system and automatic timer.
They did a good job, although spread out over a somewhat extended period of time. That's okay because I wasn't in any hurry and let them know that. I'm having them continue regular maintenance on the front yard because I would just never get around to spending the time myself. The automatic sprinkler system solves my problem of watering a brown lawn.
June 28, 2006
Queen of the Damned
Today I held a small movie night, with only Dantam and Alla attending. I moved it from tomorrow to today because Alla has something else planned for tomorrow night. So I cooked some food at home, which seemed to impress Dantam for some strange reason. And then we watched Queen of the Damned. Unfortunately, I think this is a movie that sort of gets more content for having read the book, and also loses some of its appeal for having read the book.
Stuart Townsend does a very good job at portraying the Vampire Lestat, but I really think casting Aliyah as Akasha was messed up, or at least what the director had her act out was just wrong. It doesn't fit the role of Akasha very well at all, and I also recall the physical description of Akasha being different in the book. Townsend matches Lestat very well, on the other hand.
I also thought there was way too much emphasis on the rock music and also messed up special effects. Blurring people to make them seem faster doesn't accomplish that effect. It only makes things look messed up. And then there were some sequences with crazy visuals that really didn't make sense either. Some aspects of the plot were inconsistent with the mood and emotional aspects that I think Anne Rice tries to convey in her stories.
I think the most memorable part of the evening was Dantam's opinion on Stuart Townsend.
June 25, 2006
A Deepness in the Sky
I just finished re-reading A Deepness in the Sky, another Vernor Vinge book that I think is very good. This book stands alone from his previous work, A Fire Upon the Deep, but knowing what you do from reading that book does make certain things both more clear and also places things in a different, larger light. It is something that changes how you will perceive the book and the things it talks about.
There are lots of interesting concepts and technologies worked into this story. The Spiders are a unique and interesting species, that have evolved in a way very different than what you would expect possible given their unique environmental conditions. There is also a strange virus or bacteria called mindrot, which when controlled can create a "Focused" person who becomes an intelligent computer, essentially achieving the dream of artificial intelligence, but at the cost of a person. Another interesting concept threading throughout the story is the physical, social, and cultural difference between Spiders and humans.
In addition to of all that, the story itself is very exciting and the characters very interesting to read about. The character Pham Nuwen has a very special role, especially knowing what his fate will be from reading A Fire Upon the Deep. There are other characters who are also uniquely intriguing, such as Qiwi because of howw she is molded and manipulated by the villian Thomas Nau, and Ezr Vinh who has an unbreakable loyalty to the woman Trixia Bonsol even though she is lost to him for decades.
June 22, 2006
I'm not really sure why people like Pulp Fiction so much. I remember it was one of Jessica's favorite movies when it came out. So I finally watched it, and while it was somewhat unique in its storytelling approach, Chungking Express came out the same year and shares a similar storytelling approach. I suppose it's no coincidence Quentin Tarantino brought Chungking Express over for a U.S. release given his statement of being a huge fan of Won Kar Wai. The only difference is that I'm not really sure what the point of Pulp Fiction is. There's some speculation about religion being a factor, and maybe that's true, but I don't think that's really clear or prominent.
June 21, 2006
The fence on one side of my house had been falling into disrepair recently. A small portion of the back fence fell down completely. Several weeks ago, the landlord of the house behind replaced that small portion of the fence. And yesterday my neighbor, who runs Bow Construction, finished replacing the side fence. I paid for materials, and he and his crew put the fence up in two days, including a gate which I didn't have before. I was surprised at how quickly the fence went up, but it looks very well done. I just need to get a better gate-pull because right now it opens with a short wire.
June 20, 2006
Steamboy was an amazing film. Everything about it was excellent. The visuals were extremely detailed to an extent I'd never seen before. The CG work was almost seamless, and artistically done. The audio was immersive and explosive and the score wonderful. The story itself has meaning without weighing down the pure action of the film. And the characters have depth, in a very focused but not really one-dimensional way. Throughout the entire movie I was totally engrossed in the film and fully enjoying it.
Sony got some amazing voice talent for the show, including Patrick Stewart who has become more popular for anime voice acting, and he is very good at it, and also Alfred Molina and Anna Paquin who did a great job. The distinctive voice of Kari Wahlgren is also there, who it turns out has been in many shows and video games that I am familiar with. Because this movie takes place in England, watching it with the English voice actors is actually a much better choice than watching it with the Japanese voice actors.
Steamboy has some incredible audio as well. There is a constant amount of background audio in the movie, as many scenes take place in areas containing heavy machinery. And the massive action sequences involving steam engines and other steam-powered war machines are filled with the noise that will accompany such action and machinery. This film also has a large number of low-frequency effects that require a bottom-feeding subwoofer, and accurate reproduction of machinery that will stress good high-frequency reproduction as well.
Watching the special features, the artists and animators talk about how this was the one anime where there was no deadline on the artwork. And so they could spend as much time as they wanted to draw the images Katsuhiro Otomo envisioned and put down on paper. And that is an incredible amount of detail. This is one anime that would really benefit from a high-definition video transfer. And the images are beautiful as well.
Underlying the story is a cautionary exploration of how technology is a cold, powerful, and raw tool that must be tempered with morality and the human heart. Ray's father and grandfather represent the extremes of this spectrum, and he is torn between them as he tries to find for himself an answer that he can live by. But of course this isn't an easy question, and it does't have a simple answer, and it is still one of those ideas which is something a person can only provide an answer for from their gut and their heart. Otomo will not give you an answer.
June 19, 2006
Fruits Basket was recommended to me by Netflix, and it seems to be a highly regarded series. This is true, to some extent. The characters are well developed but one-dimensional in their complexity (which drives the meaning of the series). And the animation work is very good for most of the episodes. But while the series does make a valiant attempt at humor and poking fun at anime in general, it doesn't pull it off as well as I had hoped. Instead most of the humor was lost on me. Ultimately, the theme of the movie is intelligent, but something that I've already heard many times so while the episodes do very well at discussing the theme, I found them somewhat boring and simple.
June 15, 2006
Must Love Dogs
A bunch of people were going to show up for movie night tonight, but at the last minute the roster got shuffled. So Alla, Dantam, Zhao, Sasha, Femi, and then at the last minute Kristie, showed up. Originally the girl-to-boy ratio was going to be higher, but regardless we watched Must Love Dogs which has a very clichéd and predictable plot, but some really funny points which is what made the movie enjoyable. Otherwise, it would have been just another typical romantic comedy.
MySpace became a big topic of discussion at this movie night for some reason. I'm not a member and don't plan to be, but everyone else attending has at least an empty profile on there, and some are actively using the site. The discussion about MySpace, and also other things, seems to reinforce the idea that the universe is actively working against Dantam when it comes to certain things.
June 13, 2006
I finished Pikmin 2 after a gruelling 25 hours of gameplay. Pikmin 2 builds on all of the strengths of the first game, and adds the twists of white poisonous and purple heavy Pikmin, which have a sometimes minor and other times interesting effect on gameplay. I think the addition of the purple and red juices has a much greater impact on strategy and skill, because of their effect and limited duration which can be used to extreme advantage at times. The wider range of enemies and and requirement for more fine-grained and speedy control of your Pikmin army makes things more challenging and more fun at the same time.
June 12, 2006
Karen recommended Downfall to me a few weeks ago. It's gotten very good reviews, and I can understand why. The movie tells the story of the last days within Hitler's bunker from a few different viewpoints, and is partially based off a book by Hitler's secretary during that time. The re-creation is very realistic, although a lot of it was dramatized for theatrical effect, and I suspect miscellaneous plot additions were made to enhance the viewing experience. The acting is very good, and I think the real value in this film is how it makes the all of the people come to life as people and not just as villains.
I was impressed by the attention to detail in this movie. Everything from the rubble to the uniforms, and maybe even behavioral characteristics (although I can't be sure about that) seemed very auhentic. I'm certain that a great deal of effort was put forth in making all of that as close to the original as possible. I also really liked the sound production values. The surround mix is used to good effect both within the bunker and outside when Berlin was being shelled. Underground, low frequency information made it possible to somewhat experience the effects of artillery landing above.
June 11, 2006
No Way Out
No Way Out is a decent thriller, starring Kevin Costner with an important but relatively short role by Sean Young. There's nothing really special about this movie, but if you like thrillers I think this one will satisfy. The basic storyline is one where an accidental death and the potential for scandal result in a coverup investigation. Costner's character knows what really happened, but needs to find a safe way to expose the truth.
A Fire Upon the Deep
I just finished re-reading A Fire Upon the Deep and even though I already knew the plot and ending, it found myself just as engrossed by the story this time as I had the first time. As a writer, Vernor Vinge is both visionary and imaginative. Some of the ideas which he uses in this book are very interesting but he doesn't hit you over the head with them. Instead, they are finely woven into the story so that you come to accept those ideas as part of the world involved. This book is exciting and smart at the same time.
Iria: Zeiram the Animation
I didn't know this until after the film, but Iria: Zeiram the Animation is the prequel OVA to two live-action movies starring the same character. While I enjoyed this anime, it really is just an action movie without much more going for it. But as an action anime, it was very well done with really no repeat frames and a fast pace without the artists cheating out by showing barely moving images. There really isn't much story or purpose to it though.
June 10, 2006
Netflix 5M Celebration
Today Netflix had a company party to celebrate reaching 5 million subscribers. Shuttle service was provided to Nestldown, a private park-like area in the Santa Cruz mountains. The theme of the party was a carnival, so there were some carnies, carnival games, and food like hot dogs and cotton candy.
I learned how to play Bocce Ball from William, and played against him, his wife, Donna, Tod, and one of the event people (who was also a Netflix subscriber, going through the top 250 movies off IMDB). I did okay, especially at the beginning, but later on I wasn't thinking about it as much so didn't do as well.
Afterwards, Tod and I went down to the pond and listened to some live music from a quartet playing a violin, two guitars, and an acordian. All of the instruments were amped though. I saw Lin's daughter Alexandria there so went up to talk to them. Then Alex wanted me to go with her into the forest so I went up. We walked around in there for a while and we were going to go back but then she changed her mind and started hiking some more. She ended up seeing the train and running after it, and I couldn't get her to stop so we could tell Lin we were going after the train.
We followed the train for a while then stopped in the games field to play some volleyball and frisbee and use the swings. Then we'd been gone for a while so I told her we had to go back, and followed the train tracks back to the pond where she met back up with her dad. Turns out Lin didn't realize we had run off and so went looking for us back at the cabin area.
Afterwards, I met up with Samir and Jamie and we rode the shuttle back down to Netflix HQ and then I drove home.
June 9, 2006
Poker at Alla's
Tonight was the first time I'd played Texas Hold'em, although I'd watched Bryant play before. Alla wanted to have people over so she invited me to play at her place. I didn't realize, although I should have known, that we would be playing for money until after I got there and asked. I also didn't want to stay very late. We were going to start at 8pm, and I was planning to leave at 9pm.
But things didn't really turn out that way. No one else showed up until 8:20pm, and even then many people didn't know how to play either so we didn't actually start playing a game until 9pm. A lot of people showed up, I think 13 total people were there including Alla. And so we split into two games. I ended up at the table where most of the other people didn't know how to play either, other than Paul and Alla.
Anyway, I started with $9, and we played maybe a dozen hands. In the end, I tied with Kristie at finishing with $17, although she started out with $10. The last hand also resulted in me giving her a couple of dollars because I was already pretty ahead, and so I played it through even though I knew she had better cards than me. It was kind of uncomfortable playing, because it was very warm with so many people there.
24 - Season 4
The fourth season of 24 was not as good as the previous three seasons. While I think the story was as well developed and still very dramatic and intense, I also think the writing changed in three bad ways. First off, sometimes the dialogue sounded a little silly. The relationship discussions didn't fit in as well as before. Second, there was one episode that looked like a giant Cisco commercial. That ruined things a bit. Lastly, this episode took a very one-sided approach towards recent events, when it used to take a more objective view that at least included a balance of both sides.
That third aspect did bother me a bit. The entire season argued heavily in favor of being able to do whatever it takes to achieve your end. There were a few times when things were presented in the other light, where principles and law have to be upheld, but the arguments were weak and the plot and counter-arguments always won over. In previous seasons, the line between good and bad, the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do, were always a little fuzzy. In this season, the line was razor sharp.
Another thing I noticed that just about all of the technical details, and the terms they used to describe them, were just plain wrong. Someone made things up and just assumes the audience has no idea that it's all fake. That's not really a bad assumption, but it did make some things just wrong for me when I watched it. Interestingly, when uber-hacker Chloe actually said things or did things, it did make sense and was accurate. It's almost like she rewrote her lines to be correct or something. Although that seems extremely unlikely.
Stellvia turned out to be better than I thought it would be, although not as good as it could have been. The series starts out a little slow, and I felt like there wasn't enough content in many of the episodes. The character Shima Katase also stays a little too long in the unconfident crybaby mode, although I don't necessarily think that's unrealistic. Despite this, the story got more interesting in the second half and contains some good moments, especially dealing with relationships and sometimes human nature, although it didn't focus too hard on any one aspect.
Stellvia has some good music, and also pretty good graphics. I liked the character designs a lot, for the most part, although I felt they didn't get the CG work right for the ships because they didn't take into acceleration. So the movements were too stiff and visibly wrong.
I did really enjoy some of the jokes and joke sound effects, but they started to occur less often as the show became more serious. I would have liked it if they included more of them, but that could have detracted some from the seriousness of the ideas and topics later on. So I can understand leaving it out.
June 6, 2006
0:2 at Settlers of Catan
Alla came over last night to viist, mostly motivated by desire to pick up her movies. Anyway, we ended up playing two games of Settlers of Catan, the second one with the Seafarers of Catan expansion. Unfortunately, I lost both games.
June 4, 2006
Mayor Bloomberg's JHU Address
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg gave a moving and insightful graduation address to the students of John Hopkins University. I'm pleased to hear of his opinions on certain topics, which happen to match my own opinions on those same topics, and to know he is making a stand for it, at a time when politicians tend to be more concerned with their position and belief in fallacies than with taking the time to understand and make intelligent decisions.
June 2, 2006
Fixing the U.S. 2004 Election
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is someone I've admired for his stance on protecting the environment. I only think it is a shame that he and his cause doesn't get as much attention as they should. Today I came across an essay he wrote for Rolling Stone entitled: Was the 2004 Election Stolen.
In this essay, he presents evidence that indicates a conspiracy to ensure that President Bush would be elected to a second term. This is something I'd wondered about, after reading about electron fraud or errors and how in almost every case it seemed to favor Bush over Kerry. It seems that the implicating evidence is stronger and the scope of the situation broader than I had thought.
Today I finally finished sewing blackout cloth to the last of my upstairs curtains. There are a total of ten curtains, and I used about 13 yards of blackout cloth and a few hundred feet of thread to sew blackout cloth onto the outside-facing side of each curtain. Now, the sun is completely blocked in both bedrooms and the computer room. This should do three things: keep the overall heat down during the summer by reflecting more light back out, allow me to play video games during daylight hours without being blinded, and keep the sun from waking me up too early in the morning.