January 29, 2007
Social Security Number
Some people may not know this, and I wasn't aware of it until last week, but it's possible for someone on a K-1 visa to get a social security number, without having to file paperwork with the USCIS (formerly INS) asking for a work authorization card. All you need is the I-94 form that was given to you when you entered the country and passed through immigration. So Luna and I were able to apply for her social security number at the local office today. We should receive her social security card in one or two weeks at which point she can find a job and also start doing all those things which require a social security number.
Apparently, it may help to wait two weeks or so after entering the country for the I-94 information to get into the system. I don't know if that is really true though, and I read that if you go before the information has been entered they can still process your application it will just take longer because they need to wait for it to get into the system. Luna's I-94 form stub is stapled into her passport next to the K-1 visa, and it's actually a very important document to have because it's also used on the adjustment of status application.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
I've finished playing Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It's very similar to the style and pacing of Metal Gear Solid 2 but the approach is a little different. There's a greater emphasis on camoflauge, which made it easier for me to hide in this game, and also on using things to fix yourself up in the field. I was a little confused at the beginning because I didn't realize this game chronicles the first mission of Snake, but not of Solid Snake.
I found the storyline of Metal Gear Solid 3 to be less thought-provoking than the previous ones. It was only at the end that reasons and motivations were revealed, and those revelations weren't that interesting. Just somewhat basic and expected. There is, however, an ongoing dialogue regarding the idea of allies and enemies as they change over time with the political landscape. Perhaps an interesting new thought to some, but not to me. I do think it is a little sad how the notion of a soldier in this game results in so much sacrifice, even though it's a noble idea.
January 27, 2007
I've been using Grant's Kills Ants baits for a while now, and when I first bought them they worked decent. Not atomic halocaust quality, but not bad. However, the old baits I still have from two or three years ago aren't as effective anymore. So Luna and I went to the hardware store and ended up picking some Terro liquid ant baits on the suggestion of a store employee. These do in fact end up destroying the ant population like an atomic bomb. I put out five baits, and they were filled with ants for a couple of days. Once the ants disappeared, I threw away the baits and I'm fairly certain the nests have been wiped out.
Back from Disneyland
Luna and I just returned from a two-night trip to Disneyland. We drove down on Wednesday, spent all of Thursday in the park, and then drove back today. It's about a five or six hour drive, which isn't horrible but it isn't great either. Since Luna can't drive, she spent a lot of the drive sleeping. Traffic in some parts of the Los Angeles area is pretty bad as well.
We stayed at a motel called the Parkside Inn & Suites, which is located very near Downtown Disneyland. The location is very convenient, and we could walk to the Downtown area and to the park, but the quality of the rooms is somewhat low. The floors were stained and dirty, there was no TV remote, and the old refrigerator was actually off and we didn't realize it. The first morning we found a grasshopper walking around. However the bathroom area looked very clean and well kept. There was a strange hole in the ceiling near the beds that we couldn't figure out though.
The first night we had dinner with Alan and his girlfriend Gen at a New Orleans style restaurant in Downtown Disneyland. I hadn't seen Alan since leaving North Carolina, and it was cool to catch up. He works for Disney now as a developer for their web site. Since he works for Disney, he could give me and Luna two free park tickets which was really nice.
We woke up early the next day and got to the park entrance around 9:15am. But it turns out the park doesn't open until 10am. I don't know if that is just because of the season, or if that's the year-round time that the park opens. People who stayed at one of the Disneyland hotels could enter at 9am though. It was warmer than Luna and I expected though even at 10am, and we should have worn lighter clothing. Instead we ended up tying our jackets around our waists the whole time.
There weren't a whole lot of people, but the park was still very active. A few rides were closed down for whatever reason, but they tended to be rides Luna didn't want to go on anyway. She found the more "violent" rides, like Indiana Jones or Star Tours, scary so we didn't go on many of those. She liked the more calm storybook rides like Pirates of the Carribean or Winnie the Pooh. Actually, she found a lot of the park somewhat boring, but we did end up going on just about all the rides. We did have a good time and it was fun though. I was hoping they'd be selling the large turkey drumsticks but they weren't, and of course all the food and drinks in the park were expensive.
January 24, 2007
Sealed Sonotube Subwoofer Graphs
I've been using a program called Room EQ Wizard to perform subwoofer equalization, level matching, and crossover/phase measurements. It's a very useful multi-platform program that's also available for free although donations are welcomed. Since building my sealed sonotube subwoofers required measurements below 10Hz, I managed to get a beta copy of REW 4.0 that would measure that low. I haven't posted the following graphs until now because the program was still in beta, but now that it's officially released I can post my measurements.
These measurements were done with a Behringer ECM8000 microphone, and REW was loaded with a microphone calibration file made available at the Home Theater Shack. The ECM8000 isn't super high grade so the calibration file of someone else's mic is probably good enough. I extrapolated below 10Hz since the calibration file was only down to 10Hz, based on a converstaion with the person who performed the microphone calibration, and also my subjective listening.
I used a M-Audio MobilePre USB preamp to supply phantom power to the mic and serve as an outboard input and output audio interface to a laptop. The MobilePre doesn't perform super well in the very low frequencies, with a measured drop off by REW, but at least it can be perfectly measured and compensated for by REW.
Here is the measured room response for the subwoofers in conjunction with the mains, crossed over at 70Hz after equalization and boost was applied. There are about 16 filters being applied to boost below 20Hz and flatten the response with the lowest center frequency at 20Hz.
Onix Reference 1
I was very lucky to find a pair of Onix Reference 1 monitor speakers in piano black from someone who was upgrading at an incredibly good price. These are two-way rear ported speakers with a 5.25" woofer and Vifa XT concentric ring radiator tweeter and a fourth-order crossover at 4kHz. Luna and I listened to these side-by-side with the Monitor Audio Silver S8 speakers. Personally I prefer the Reference 1 over the S8, although some people would not.
In my opinion, the Reference 1 features a more even overall frequency response, which allows for more of the original material to be heard. This means detail is not lost across the entire spectrum. I also think the tweeter behaves better in comparison to the S8, although that may also be because the frequency response appears flatter on the Reference 1. On the other hand, the Reference 1 sounds somewhat dry or empty compared to the S8. This actually translates to more accurate audio reproduction, but may not be what everyone is looking for.
The S8 has a mid-range boost, which I think ends up masking some of the higher frequencies, and also more cabinet vibration which may contribute to the more full and warm sound which is one of their attractive characteristics. It is a little similar to what I heard when I placed the Monitor Audio Silver SLCR center channel in direct contact with its stand; the stand vibrated in response to the speaker enclosure and the sound was less clear.
The S8 also goes a dozen or so hertz lower than the Reference 1, and I think handles the frequencies below 100Hz with a little more ease. That's not too surprising considering the difference in driver complement, but both the Reference 1 and S8 should be paired with a subwoofer.
I do think the S8 has better off-axis response than the Reference 1. Moving in either the vertical or horizontal direction off-axis had a very audible effect with the Reference 1, while it was not as much of an issue with the S8.
Battlestar Galactica: Season One
I've been saving Battlestar Galactica to watch with Luna. It's a really good space drama, and we just finished going through season one. Most of season one focuses on recovery of the fleet after fleeing the Cylon attack. Each episode tends to deal with a particular aspect or issue that is likely to arise in the sort of situation they're in, such as dealing with the Cylon spies, finding resources, and the revelations of new information about different people. The episodes maintain the primary plot arc while developing the characters and exploring the issues of survival.
The production values of the series are extremely high. The sound, picture, story, and acting are all top-notch. Episodes, although individually dealing with something new and separate each time, flow together very well and keep the viewer engaged and thinking. I also think every episode challenges the actors and the production crew.
Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of the television series proper is the slower pace. Whereas the miniseries was one epic and fast moving storyline, like a really well developed and deep movie, the television series does feel more like a television series that is not as tight and drawn out simply because each episode is written after the previous, rather than all at once as a single longer unit.
January 22, 2007
Magic: The Gathering and Bridge
Luna and I just got back from visiting Karen and Sebastian. We went up and first played a little Bridge. Karen had to re-teach me and teach Luna how to play. I think Luna and I did okay, especially considering that Karen is really into it. She didn't really know what to do when I started playing a little irrationally, but that made things more interesting. After playing a while we got hungry and went to a Thai restaurant to eat. The food was pretty good. We talked about random things like Sebastian's research and television shows, then went back to their place to play cards a little longer.
I also played a few games of Magic: The Gathering with Sebastian. He's still really into the game, and recently went to a tournament. While we played that, Karen and Luna played a different card game but I'm not sure what. Sebastian has some newer cards and dealt more with direct damage or disabling effects which posed a major problem for my creature-based decks. There are some very interesting cards available now, which unfortunately can really alter the balance of gameplay in my opinion if you're not up-to-date.
January 21, 2007
Luna's been a little homesick lately, and she really wanted to have some Chinese television programming to watch. So we looked around at some satellite dish services and found a package and channel she wanted from Dish Network. We ordered only the Chinese package, and the installer showed up today to get everything set up. He was quiet but did a good job and wore booties over his shoes while inside the house. It took a while to get the dish pointed correctly, with me inside reporting on the signal test results.
Installation required drilling a hole through the exterior wall and running a coax cable. So, the satellite dish is really only available from one location right now: the bedroom. Moving the TV would require running coax through the floor or walls or something, and I'm not going to do that anytime soon.
Another issue is the set-top box itself. It's a Dish 381 unit, and it's hot even when turned off. No components can be placed on top of it, even with some breathing room. I had the Playstation 2 on top of it for a short time and that caused it to shut down while I was playing a game, even though the Dish 381 was off.
The Chinese picture and audio quality isn't that great. You can see compression artifiacts, and most of the time the picture looks worse than local channels. But it's real Chinese television so Luna is happy.
Trip to Berkeley
I wanted to show Luna Berkeley so we drove up yesterday. We walked around a bit and took pictures. She liked the top of the Campanille, but we couldn't get into Soda Hall because it was the weekend and closed unless you have a keycard. We stopped at the student store and she bought some souveniors to send to her relatives, and also walked along Telegraph Avenue. Afterwards we went to that street past the north tunnel for dinner.
We ended up eating at an Indian restaurant. They actually gave us the order of the people sitting at a table next to us, so we got some free extra food. Luna really liked some of the food, but it turns out the dish she liked most had butter in it, and she's lactose intolerant. We left a pretty big tip since we ended up with free extra food and the waiter was very nice about the whole thing.
Afterwards, Luna wanted to look at some watches and we'd found an upscale watch store on the same street near the Indian restaurant. They were closed, but it's a family-run store and they let us in after-hours. Luna picked a Tissot watch that she liked. It's analog and shows both the day of the week and the day of the month. It runs of a kinetic energy store, so as you move it around it keeps itself running.
January 20, 2007
Dinner with Kat
Luna and I went to have dinner with Kat and Dixon tonight. We were going to have dinner at a small Shanghainese restaurant in Milpitas Square, but they couldn't or wouldn't put together a table for the four of us. So we went to a different restaurant instead. Luna liked the food but she still felt it wasn't as good as food in Shanghai, because she thought it was a little oily. We talked about a few things and Kat is almost due for her baby. I hadn't seen them in a really long time, almost a year, so it was good to meet up again. They treated us to dinner so we'll have to treat them next time.
January 19, 2007
I got Alla the board game Puerto Rico for Christmas. It's an economic building game where players compete against each other to produce goods and build the colony. This was our first time playing. Alla also invited Christian, Marcus, Duncan, and Marie. Luna and I were on a team, as were Alla and Marie although Marie didn't really pay attention. The rules are a little complicated so we spent a lot of the initial time reading each rule as the game progressed.
Once we got the hang of things, the game is actually pretty fun. I still don't like it as much as some other games because although you are competing against each other, you don't directly interact with each other as much. The way things progress is a little strange at first, but then makes sense. And the way you pick roles ends up introducing some strategy which is more subtle than one might first think.
January 18, 2007
We had a fair number of people over yesterday as a sort of "meet-Luna" movie night. Dantam showed up, but Alla couldn't make it (we stopped by to see her before though), as well as the Wendy-gang: Wendy, Brian, Thomas, Anh, and Kristina. Samir also showed up for the first time in a long time, but Jamie couldn't make it because she was up in San Francisco. Tintin and one of her coworkers, Ken, also showed up.
We had pizza for dinner, and spent some time talking about random things. Dantam wore a pair of Luna's Keroro-Gunso slippers (I think Dororo).
When it came time to pick a movie, no one was sure what to watch and we ended up watching XX/XY, which Anh brought from his Blockbuster subscription. Luna didn't understand a lot of it other than the main character, Coles, was basically having sex with everyone else. The beginning was strange in an artsy way, but then basically it got a little boring. It's supposed to be a look into relationships and a man who really doesn't know what he wants or what he's doing, but it just wasn't very fun to watch. The only person who seemed to like it was Ken. And we'd never met him before. :p
January 17, 2007
Luna and I were officially married on Tuesday, January 16, 2007 in the little "chapel" of the Santa Clara County Clerk-Recorder's office. Calvin and my mom were witnesses. We arrived on time just barely but the couple two spots before us was still in process. So we had to wait a while before our turn actually came. Turns out you're supposed to have the witnesses sign in front of the officiator, but I didn't know that. And Calvin also put a little cross-out when you're not allowed to. But they said everything should be okay.
Calvin video taped the whole thing using our camcorder, and my mom took photos but she didn't know how to time it right. So she kept making Luna and I fake kiss over and over again to try and take the photo of that, but then she didn't even get one.
The officiator did this whole routine about how you need to love and respect each other no matter age or whatever might happen and also said that kind of corny saying about not finding the right person but being the right person. She actually said a lot more than I would have expected, and I don't remember most of it.
Afterwards, we all had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Los Gatos where it turns out the waitress is also from Shanghai. So she and Luna could take to each other in the Shanghai dialect.
After lunch, Luna and I went to Netflix to meet a bunch of my coworkers. Luna felt very shy about the whole thing and it actually took us a long time to get to the building because of some sort of traffic accident on Winchester Boulevard. We had to go all the way around to go maybe 200 feet.
January 15, 2007
Going to San Francisco
Luna and I spent the yesterday making a trip to San Francisco. It took the whole day to go up and come back down because we took Caltrain and BART instead of driving. Luna thought it would be too tiring to drive, but as a result we spent a lot of time going there and coming back instead of actually spending time in San Francisco. When we got to the train station we walked to Market street and then into Chinatown. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant that Luna thought was very good. She wasn't much impressed overall and it was really cold and she was a little scared because it was so dark.
Calvin gave me a copy of Octavia E. Butler's Blood Child (the collection of short stories and essays) for my birthday. I think she is an excellent writer, which means my opinion pretty much matches everyone else, and I enjoy reading her work although I'll admit they're a little different from the science fiction I prefer to read. Blood Child contains a few really interesting and poignant short stories, and a couple of essays. Everything is pretty engaging, although I didn't care for the essays so much.
January 14, 2007
Luna arrived in the United States for the first time yesterday. She took the same flight I used, a direct connection between Shanghai and San Francisco. I went to pick her up at her arrival time, even though I knew it would take a while for her to get through immigration and customs, because she insisted. I also brought some flowers, although she wasn't that interested in them. While driving home, Luna compared many of the cars on the road to those in Shanghai but there wasn't much to do by way of sightseeing along the highway.
The first thing we did after getting home and unloading her luggage was drive to the Santa Clara County Clerk-Recorder's office to get our marriage license. The office is actually not very busy, and we were able to get in and out in about 15 minutes. Fairly straight-forward except they had no remaining ceremony slots open, and we have to come back to get officially married on Tuesday morning.
Luna is suffering from some jet-lag, so she took a nap right away when we got back from the clerk's office. I started unpacking her things and putting them away. I'd made room in the closet and dresser and bookshelves ahead of time and she didn't bring a lot of things, so there weren't any problems finding space. We just need to buy some picture frames for the posters and pictures she wants to put up on the walls.
January 12, 2007
GitS:SAC 2nd Gig Soundtrack
The 2nd gig of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is also scored by Yoko Kanno. As I mentioned before, the soundtrack is even better in this season, and very enjoyable. That said, there are some differences between this season and the first. I found the second season's soundtrack to be more experimental. Somewhat mixing rock, classical, jazz, and electronic influences together in an interesting way that is sometimes very pleasing but also sometimes a little grating. I'm sure other people would have different opinions about each track, but my personal tastes made me like some songs much more than others.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig
I just finished watching the 2nd gig of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I think the second season takes what they accomplished in the first season and improves upon it in all ways. The artwork and CG is better than before; it's more refined than in the first season. Yoko Kanno takes the music and soundtrack even farther, and I really like how every episode has its own audio production instead of recycling the music. Perhaps the best part of 2nd gig is how there is more character involvement. Motoko's past and emotions play a larger role this time.
The ending is a little sad, but very well done. Unfortunately Motoko and Section 9 are not able to prevent the last assassination, because they learn about it too late. Although I'm not entirely sure exactly what motivated the last part, as there are two characters involved whom I did not recognize although it seems they should have appeared earlier. I particularly appreciated the last scene which plays homage to the original manga.
January 8, 2007
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
I just completed Dragon Quest VIII. It took me about 75 hours, which is not as long as I thought it would since Bryant told me it took him 110 hours because he kept dying a lot. The game is very good, although I found myself spending a lot of time in combat. The battles are not too boring or repetitive, so that's not necessarily a bad thing. The character design is by Akira Toriyama, who is famous for his particular drawing style. There are several great things about this game, with a few minor issues that don't really detract from the overall experience.
The arching storyline is long, well developed, and interesting. Things start out fairly simple, and get more complicated and involved as little things are revealed and discovered along the way. It really helps that there are some well developed supporting characters, as well as very well developed main characters, who give the story more feeling. The voice acting, of which there is a fair amount, really helps flesh out all of the people involved.
Although I did like the character design, after it grew on me, it is slightly annoying that so many of the people you meet look the same. Maybe several dozen character designs were made for the people you will meet casually, which means you're going to see the same person over and over again in many places. The monster design is very interesting though, because lots of animations were developed for each monster.
There is a flaw in the combat system though. Dragon Quest VIII takes the approach where you have to choose the actions for all party members at the beginning of each turn, thus requiring you to make some strategic decisions to maximize the effectiveness of each turn. However, if you change your settings so that Jessica, Yangus, and Angelo make their own decisions, you'll actually get a better result. This is because in this mode, each of them makes a decision on what to do right before they do it, rather than at the beginning of the turn. So they can make much more informed decisions that are appropriate for the moment. They also seem to have more information about the current status of each enemy's remaining hit points and their weaknesses. So you can become a much more effective in combat if you don't take control.
I liked the music, from an orchestral point of view, although I don't think there's anything particularly special about it. I wouldn't be interested in the soundtrack, or really be able to tell you about any specific songs. The same music was used in many places many times, which is not unexpected, but it also reinforced the problem of repetition that you saw with the characters.
Another minor issue I had was with the controls. Two buttons act as confirm depending on the situation. So sometimes I found myself trying to open the menu but instead performing an action. You get used to it, but every once in a while it still gets you.
The alchemy system is a little interesting, but not that exciting. Many of the better items can be made using alchemy, but you're best off just getting a list of recipes and continuously shoving stuff in your alchemy pot. If you try to put stuff together that doesn't create anything, you find out right away, so there's not a whole lot of point in experimenting. Sometimes you do create something worse, but most recipes don't end up that way.
I really liked the ending. It's actually an interactive ending, so while the ending moves forward you can walk around and explore and talk to people, and also make some more of the yes/no decisions that pop up throughout the game. I don't actually think the yes/no decisions, during the game or during the ending, affect the ending or the storyline though. Mostly you can just use them to change the response you get for that particular question. I think it would be great if more games adopted interactive endings.
January 7, 2007
Galaxy Angel Z
Galaxy Angel Z happens to be the second season of the Galaxy Angel series, but I ended up watching it first by mistake. Each episode is approximately 15 minutes long and both designed and suitable for younger children. The jokes are blatant, episodes are stand-alone, pacing is fast, and the plot is simple. I'm sure many adults will still find the show funny to watch, but I wasn't interested most of the time. A few moments of amusement, but that's about it. I did enjoy the opening and ending songs though.
January 4, 2007
Material Girls is another movie that Alla put on her queue. It's a movie I would consider targeted at pre-teen and early teen girls, because it stars Hilary Duff and also her sister Haylie. The plot's pretty simple and predictable, so nothing special there, and the acting is pretty bad. The only good actors involved are Brent Spiner and Angelica Houston, but their characters are so simple they could have played the parts in their sleep. There were a few little in-jokes which you might appreciate, but overall nothing worth watching.
January 3, 2007
Alla put Hostage on her queue, but hasn't taken it home yet. The story is extremely cliché: police negotiator makes a mistake, causing him to be full of guilt, and have a messed up family as a result. Then ends up being in a situation that brings back memories of that mistake, and he has to deal with it and overcome the guilt to save the day. Overall, the acting is not so great, and the plot convenient and exaggerated and unimportant. Perhaps the worst thing is that the ending is incomplete. The real reasons behind what's been going on are barely revealed, and after what happens at the end, you expect that things are not going to be okay. But instead, they are okay. Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
January 1, 2007
War of the Worlds
I put War of the Worlds on my queue mainly because it's a movie that has caused many a subwoofer to bottom out. And I wanted to put my new subwoofers to the test. If I'd done everything right, I'd be able to listen to this movie at reference levels and my subwoofers should not bottom out and instead capture the earth-shaking intent of the sound mix. I was very pleased to discover that my subwoofers were up to the task.
There are many sequences in the film where the characters are experiencing what are essentially mini-earthquakes. I played the movie at perhaps -5dB from reference, not entirely sure, but those times the subwoofers really did recreate the earthquake experience in my primary listening position. It felt like an actual earthquake, although not as high on the richter scale as if I was actually in the movie (which would be bad, if my house collapsed), still something that would have been recorded and felt by seismologists.
Anyway, with regards to the movie, it was a decent action movie but there isn't much of a plot or anything really going on except for mass hysteria and a general fleeing from the aliens by the public. The acting is okay, but it's not like any of them have to do much except be really scared and run away a lot. Nothing else happens, since all of humanity's efforts are in vain, and the audience is not involved with any plans to fight back.
But it's an excellent movie for exercising your subwoofers, as long as they can handle it instead of breaking.