July 31, 2007
Things have been running a little slow on our primary workstation, a Power Mac G5 system I bought in Fall of 2003. So it's about four years old, but it's not slow because it's old (although it is slow compared to the current offerings) but because both it and the Linux file server don't have enough RAM, particularly now that both Luna and I are always logged in. So I ordered 2GB of RAM for the Mac, bringing it up to 4GB total, and another 1GB of RAM for the Linux server, bringing it up to 3GB total.
With the additional RAM installed, things are a lot nicer. The Mac doesn't have to page out anymore, and maximum usage hits a little over 3GB, but there's still a lot of RAM left over for me to work with if I need to do something intensive like heavy graphic design work in Photoshop. The Linux server now has enough RAM to allocate at least 200MB of kernel buffer space, while still running all of the services I need, so the Mac never needs to wait for disk over the NFS mounts.
I suspect things will be good for a few more years, before I have to upgrade either the Linux server or the Mac workstation, again. It really was the case of Luna running applications on the Mac at the same time that pushed the Mac over the edge, while the Linux server has needed more RAM for its kernel buffers for a while, but it was never really bad until Luna started using it too.
July 29, 2007
The Great Yokai War
I'm not really sure why Yôkai daisensô was recommended to me, although it does fall into the genre of childrens' fantasy. The story is a very simple stop-the-bad-guy and save-the-world situation, featuring a young boy who has greatness bestowed upon him as the Kirin Rider, defender of the people (although he kind of looks like a girl sometimes). But other than the fantastical costumes, there's not much going for this movie. In fact, the protagonist doesn't even really fight that much; he just holds onto the sword as the sword fights.
The movie does star Luna's favorite Japanese actress, Chiaki Kuriyama, as the servant of the evil guy, but she doesn't do a whole lot in the movie. There's brief fighting, but not a lot of material for her to work with. Sometimes I wonder how she picks which films or television series to star in, as she's very recognizable (at least in the United States) and has a very long filmography, yet doesn't seem to ever play an outstanding role.
The movie is supposed to be a little goofy, and is probably geared towards younger children despite having a MPAA rating of PG-13. This is the sort of stuff I think children would watch when they're ten years old or possibly younger. This is despite being directed by Takashi Miike, who is more well known for his gory, scary films.
July 28, 2007
Alla's Off to School
So, Alla left to Philadelphia this evening to attend the Wharton business school for two years. She's going to be a poor student for a while, but she's going to learn a lot of good stuff and meet a lot of people, and this will be the first time she's been so far away from home for so long. Luna and I went to the airport to see her off. Her parents were there as well as Eric. She checked two suitcases, both of which fell just under the 50 pound limit, and took a big duffel bag as her carry-on, along with her new laptop. We stood around for about an hour until the security line started to get long, shortly before her flight would leave, and then said bye for now.
Luna spent some time talking to Alla's mom, and a little about how things were for Alla's family when they left Ukraine and came to the United States. Their story is interesting, and Luna found it very interesting too. I think it was a good thing she and Alla's mom talked for a while, since Alla's mom understands how it is hard to have to speak and listen to English all the time now.
We did learn something while at the airport. It seems that even if you don't have a boarding pass, you can get a special pass that would allow you past the security checkpoint if you are there to help someone. Such as a small child or disabled person. Which makes a lot of sense, of course, but I hadn't thought about that. Alla tried to get a second pass so Eric could go with her up to the gate, but she didn't really look like a small child or disabled person, so it didn't work.
July 27, 2007
Sexy Web Hosting
I happened across the web hosting company Apache.com today by accident. And I noticed something a little strange on their splash banner. See if you can spot it (click to view a larger version): (Edit: the hosting company has since "fixed" their image.)
July 22, 2007
Ah! My Goddess
The full 26-episode version of Aa! Megami-sama is a lot better than the stripped down OVA which removes a lot of the plot and character development. The relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy evolves more slowly and naturally, and the supporting cast is introduced slowly and really only as support for the two of them. Whereas I thought the OVA was rushed and incomplete, the TV series was fully fleshed out although later on I felt like things were dragging along in their relationship.
One thing I noticed right away was the improved art quality of the anime. It was produced a few years after the OVA, and recent advancements have been significant, but it was still extremely clean and nice to watch. I did not notice any tearing from deinterlacing artifacts, and the coloring was bright and lively. The opening and closing animations and songs were not that catchy or entertaining though.
Overall I think this is an anime series that well represents the genre. The characters are memorable and the goddess costumes are very distinctive. There are plans for a second season of the series. I'm not entirely sure I will decide to watch it, as this genre of anime doesn't appeal to me that much, but I do think this series falls into the classics category.
July 21, 2007
Dinner w/Kat & Baby Tyler
Luna and I met up with Kat, Dixon, and their new baby, Tyler, last night for dinner at a Shanghainese restaurant in Milpitas Square. This is the first time we've seen them since Tyler was born. He's about four months old now. We ended up mostly talking about babies and stuff like that. Luna thinks Tyler is really cute and looks like Dixon. It seems they got really lucky because Tyler is really well behaved and doesn't throw tantrums or cry a lot, and also sleeps a full eight hours each night.
I went to the ATM over there to get some cash because the restaurant only takes cash, and I think I left my ATM card in the slot, because later on when we went to the bookstore it wasn't in my wallet. We went back to the ATM but it wasn't there anymore, but it's not a problem because I called the bank after coming home and made sure the old card got blocked and I will get a new card soon.
July 16, 2007
Dinner at Hsiuli's
Luna and I went to have dinner with my mom, brother Calvin, Hsiuli and her son Spencer, and Spencer's grandma yesterday afternoon. Hsiuli lives up in Walnut Creek, so it took a little over an hour to drive up, and again back down. I already wasn't feeling that good from Saturday, because instead of being able to just take care of Niea and Nami, run some errands, and sleep, my mom wanted to go have dinner with Calvin at a restaurant. And then still with not enough sleep having to drive for so long in the really hot sun was very tiring.
We left home around 1 o'clock and then left Hsiuli's new place at 5 o'clock. The food was pretty good. I think Hsiuli spent a while working on the food. But there wasn't much to do there. We ending up looking at some of Spencer's stuff for a little while, and then watching America's Funniest Videos on TV.
Although we left at 5 o'clock, we didn't get back home until around 7 o'clock or a little after, because Luna wanted to stop at 99 Ranch to buy some vegetables. Even once we got home, I couldn't shower and sleep because all of the stuff we needed to do but couldn't, like cleaning up and taking care of the cats, had to be done.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
This Film Is Not Yet Rated is an independent documentary that looks at how the Motion Picture Association of America rates movies for theatrical release. They have a secret review board whose job it is to evaluate submitted films and make an "average parent" judgement as to its rating. The creater of the documentary, Kirby Dick, makes a pretty good case that the MPAA is applying the personal morals of the people in charge to films, in ways which are sure to please some particular groups, but also hurt the public at large. And because of how those ratings are used, the morals of those individuals really do dictate what can be made and what cannot.
I think really that this film is a good start at exposing how movies (as well as television and video games) are not considered equal intellectual pursuits as books. The same sort of judgemental activity applied towards books is the motivation for Banned Books Week. People seem to recognize that you can't just classify violence as categorically bad, or sex as categorically bad, or even pedophilia as categorically bad. Yet the same intellectual truth disappears when applied to other "relatively young" media.
One great example of this, as pointed out in the film, is the movie Boys Don't Cry. The original submitted version received an NC-17 rating for the sex scene between Brandon Teena and Lara Tisdel. However, the film as a whole is an extremely important film that portrays a real story and discusses a sensitive but timely subject in a very grown up and intellectual way.
Another example is the documentary Gunner Palace, which is a documentary about the soldiers in Baghdad that uses real footage taken as interviews with soldiers and as operational documentation. Of course, given the subject matter, violence, language, and other realities of life and war are fully exposed. This film was given an NC-17 as well, but really is exactly the sort of thing the American public, including children as they are paying attention to world events and politics, should see. The director made a very lucid comment about the silliness of trying to put a rating on reality.
In fact, one thing critics of violence and sex in popular media never allow for is the difference between fantasy and reality. It's always a blanket statement that all children cannot distinguish between the two, when of course it's all individual. Plus, there is the argument that fantasy violence desensitizes people towards real violence. But there are ten-year-olds who can go on gory and realistic frag-fests for hours a day, then get grossed out by a dead rat. While there are fourty-year-olds who can't tell the difference between the two (i.e. they find the fantasy frag-fest as disgusting as the dead rat).
I guess my overal rant is simply about individuals, or groups of people, trying to impose their personal morality upon others. This applies not only toward movie ratings, but also towards other personal moral beliefs like homosexuality or polygamy/polyandry or even less controversial things like social mores. And just as much towards fantasy (as a depiction) violence and sex, the two big flags when it comes time for the MPAA to assign a rating to a movie.
July 15, 2007
Niea's Okay (We Think)
I called the doctor at the emergency clinic this morning and found that Niea is doing much better. She is able to meow a little again, and was very hungry this morning and ate a lot of dry cat food (the clinic fed her Science Diet). So we went to pick her up and take her home. My mom came also, because she visited this weekend. When we got there, we had to wait a long time to get Niea because there were a bunch of emergencies coming in, but finally we got Niea and she was glad to be coming home. We also got some X-rays which showed something possibly in her stomach area, but the doctor wasn't sure and it could have just been nothing in particular. We are supposed to feed Niea 1/4 of a Pepcid AC 10mg tablet each day for four days, to help her digestive system. Niea was shaved in a couple of places: on her neck and on her right forearm where the IV was.
While we were there, a few other pet owners came in to pick up their dogs and cats, although the vast majority of people that showed up, both for pick up and to drop off, were for dogs. A couple of dogs came in after having eaten something like chew toys, but one dog had been bitten by what was probably a rattlesnake and was in a lot of pain. Left untreated, his body would shut down and he would die. It looked like the family wouldn't actually be able to afford treatment, especially since I guess anti-venom is very expensive, but they said they'd figure out some way to pay it off.
We have VPI for Asuka, Niea, and Chie, and I'll be adding Nami and Kiba to our account as well. So even though Niea's treatment is expensive, we should get most of it back after I file the claim form. My mom didn't really care about Niea, or the other pets. She was more concerned with whether or not insurance would pay for the treatment, and even laughed when the dog with the snake bite was crying in pain.
Niea's in the Hospital
So Niea didn't get any better since coming home yesterday. I slept with her in the extra bedroom, and she didn't pass anything and there were several times when she was trying to get something out. She's still not playing around, or even doing much, except for lying on the bed or hiding inside. So we made an appointment to go back to the doctor this afternoon. When we got there, we saw a different doctor who said she might have felt something in her stomach. Might be poop, might be an obstruction. Unfortunately they close at 5pm and wouldn't be able to fit Niea in for an X-ray, so she referred us to the emergency clinic which is open after hours and 24 hours over the weekend.
We brought Niea there, and she didn't meow once, even as she was being carried away by the nurse. They're going to give her an X-ray and do some blood work to see if there's anything to be found (they can do all the work in-house at the emergency clinic, which is not possible at the doctor's office) and give us a call later tonight. We should get a call soon. Most likely she'll be there at least 24 hours and we'll have to pick her up on Monday morning, but might be sooner or later depending on what they find out and if anything needs to be done.
It's possible Niea just has a sore throat, or a viral or bacterial infection. Which would be better than having swallowed something because that might require surgery to remove. If she just can't eat hard food because of some irritation or sickness, then we can feed her soft food or the bland canned food which we got from the doctor, in small quantities several times throughout the day.
July 14, 2007
Nami's Sick; Niea's Hurting
We took Niea and Nami to the doctor today. Niea has stopped being able to swallow hard food (she ate some vegetables okay), immediately throwing them back up before they can get down her throat. And she's no longer running around or playing, and can't speak anymore either. When she tries to speak, she just opens her mouth but nothing comes out. She's also been either coughing or heaving, trying to get something out of her throat or stomach.
So we took her to the doctor today, and brought along Nami because maybe she gave Niea her sickness and that is all. The doctor examined Niea and wasn't able to find any obstruction in the throat or stomach, but once she say Niea's dry heaving she gave her a shot, pumped 200mL of fluid under her skin, and said we shouldn't let her eat or drink for 24 hours and see if she is able to either pass or cough up whatever's bothering her by tomorrow. If not, we should bring her in for some X-rays and blood work.
The doctor also took a look at Nami, because her runny nose and sneezing should have gone away by now, if it was just a little cold. Two weeks is too long for her to be this way. The doctor proscribed some antibiotics, 0.5mL three times a day, as well as a lysine paste, 1mL twice a day, in case she has herpes. We need to keep Nami isolated from the rest of the cats until she gets better.
July 13, 2007
Discover Card's Horrible Rewards Program
I finally managed to cancel my Discover Card after trying to get my last $20 rebate check. I'm never going to sign up with Discover again; they have the absolute worst rebate program I've ever had to go through. I originally signed up because they were offering 5% back on purchses at home improvement stores, which for me is an excellent deal. I buy things from The Home Depot and Orchard Supply Hardware pretty often, and the 5% back really added up. But then they decided to switch to a crazy quarterly rotating rebate system. Which resulted in me spending a year working on reaching that last $20.
Under this new rebate system, the category of purchases changes every fiscal quarter. So for three months of the year, you might get 5% back on travel purchases like airline tickets or cruises. Then it'll switch to bookstore purchases. And then maybe clothing stores. This is incredibly annoying. You have to keep track of the current quarter's cashback categories, and you even have to keep track of specific stores. For example, when the category is books, you might get 5% back at Barnes and Noble but not at Borders. All other cards I've used apply cash rebates to the category as a whole, without exception.
Discover Card also has a tiered system of how much percent a purchase is worth in cashback points. So you may not always get the cashback you expect on a purchase. This effectively reduces your cashback rate below 5% or 1%, depending on the purchase category and your current expenses that year. You might notice the wording in all their documentation is "up to 1%". In contrast, all other cards I've used with cash rebates apply a flat percentage to all purchases, so I always know what I'm going to get back.
I also discovered a nasty little surprise, that may be in the fine print, but took me a few months to figure out. You don't get any cashback points for purchases you make if you pay off your balance before receiving a statement. In fact, Discover Card didn't even send me statements for those billing periods where I'd paid off my balance in full, before the period ending date. So, even though I might have bought something eligible for some cash back, I didn't get anything. People who do carry a balance, but might pay multiple times per billing period, or pay in advance, might never even notice this, especially since it's so hard to be sure exactly what amount of cashback you're supposed to get.
July 12, 2007
Invader Zim is an amazing Nickelodeon series by comic author Jhonen Vasquez. It's funny, off-the-wall, exciting, and as exaggerated as any children's show full of satirical imagination can be. Pictured here is Gaz, who is the most awesome angsty goth girl you'll ever find. Luna and I laughed a lot. Enough to make you hurt. The show isn't perfect; there are a few times when an episode or sequence lacked that extra spiciness, but overall its excellent.
Zim is an Invader of the Irken military, at least in his mind. As an Invader, he's maniacal, insane, and while technically competent, about as likely to conquer a planet as a shoelace. Havoc is very easily possible, its just conquering that's a problem for him. His sidekick is GIR, a dysfunctional robot slave who has more interest in TV and junk food than in fulfilling their mission.
Zim's archnemesis is Dib, a super-intelligent dweeb who sees Zim as the Invader he is, but lacks the ability to convince anyone else of this fact, despite Zim's inhuman behavior and physical appearance. As the lone defender of Earth against Zim's incompetent invasion, Dib struggles mightily against Zim without once receiving acknowledgement by anyone else. Dib's sister Gaz is the only other person who knows of Zim's true nature, but she's intelligent enough to know Zim's doomed to doom to fail with doom, his doom, and would rather spend time playing video games.
Some episodes are short at about 10 minutes, while others span a couple of episodes clocking in around 40 minutes. There's usually some simple social situation or human characteristic that an episode explodes into a comic force, like teenage acne or avoiding late fees at your local video store. The hilarity of a water balloon the size of Greenland, with a big stylized smiley face on it, is genius.
Besides all of the wonderful content, Zim is outstanding in two other categories as well that aren't often so special for an afternoon television show: art and music.
The majority of artwork is CG and its amazingly good. Lines are bold; figures are animated and vibrant; movement is smooth and appears like what you might expect from a hand-drawn character. The shapes and colors are basic, but filled out to provide depth and texture. The only ugly is the poor deinterlacing or cadence flags that was done during the transfer to DVD.
The music is amazing. This is music you'll want to buy on CD and use as background music or personal theme songs all the time. It's heavily influenced by techno, although extremely well matched to the mood and action, and full of awesome little surprises like the choir of piggies. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the tracks (which are not recycled) are available for purchase.
Lastly, although extremely important, the voice acting is excellent. The tone, pacing, and speech patterns are perfect for each character, sounding realistic but exaggerated enough to make the characters really unique. Zim, in particular, must have been extremely difficult to voice because of his constant tonal and pacing changes. But Richard Horvitz pulled it off amazingly.
July 6, 2007
The Last Carcassone
So Alla will be leaving soon for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to get her MBA. Her orientation classes start at the end of the month, and next week is her last week at IBM. She's really busy getting everything ready, and planning to take a short vacation before she flies out to start classes. And so last night she and Eric came over for one last game of Carcassone. I ended up making some mistakes, and didn't build any cities which is why I didn't win the game. Luna ended up with the most points by playing under the radar and won the game.
Alla also met Kiba and Nami for the first time, and she really liked Nami until she tried climbing up her back during the game. She played with Nami a little bit before dinner, but Kiba didn't come down until later.
It also seems like Alla might have broken her toe. She told me someone at work stepped on her foot by accident, really heavily and with some hard shoes, and it's been a week already but it still hurts to walk and move. I think it should be okay.
July 5, 2007
Luna really wanted to see fireworks this year, so we went to the downtown San Jose fireworks show held at the Children's Discovery Museum. We didn't go to the main area, but stood on the nearby street after taking the VTA light rail to the Civic Center station. Luna bought a sno cone from one of the vendors while we waited for the show to start. The fireworks were about the same as last year, but Luna really liked it. I'm not sure we'll go again next year though, since it's usually always the same thing.
Fixed Refrigerator Line Leak
Instead of hiring a plumber, my mom suggested I try and cap off the leak ourselves. I managed to find a 1/8" copper cap at Orchard Supply Hardware (Home Depot doesn't care them) and used a pipe cutter to cut the refrigerator line below the point of the leak. My first attempt at soldering the cap onto the pipe didn't take. What did work, however, was wrapping the end of the cut pipe with teflon tape after rubbing it down with some pipe cleaning cloth, and then sticking the cap on with some Copper Bond. After setting for about 20 minutes, we turned the water back on and the seal was good.
July 4, 2007
Leaking Refrigerator Line
Luna and I checked behind the refrigerator today, to see if there was any food back there which needed to be cleaned. What I found instead is that the water line to the refrigerator, which I did not connect, has been leaking for some time now and there is water damage to the wood floor there. I managed to shove the part that is leaking down through the hole in the floorboards so it is leaking into the crawl space, but I will have to call some plumbers tomorrow to see about permanently removing that water line.
July 3, 2007
Luna and I watched MirrorMask last night. Samir had recommended it to me, and I like Neil Gaiman's The Sandman graphic novels (although I didn't like so much his Anansi Boys). MirrorMask is a really fun and interesting fantasy movie about a young girl in England who visits a world of her own creation in a dream, after being forced to deal with the possible loss of her mother who is undergoing surgery that same night. The allegorical aspects of that crisis and her personal desires for a different life extend directly into the dream world, giving her quest and trials personal meaning. However, I wish it could have been treated as a real fantasy world, rather than a dream one.
The protagonist Helena is played by a young actress named Stephanie Leonidas. While I don't think the acting was that great, I think she did a decent job. There were a few times where body language and emotional displays seemed too choreographed and scripted. Unfortunately, that did detract a little from the mood.
The special effects are pretty good though. Not amazing, but very convincing and imaginative in a dreamy way. Overall I really liked it as a fairy tale story about a quest. I don't think it's as good as some other movies in this genre though, because some things just felt a little lacking. I don't like how it was a dream, or how certain things that happened in the dream world were a little too convenient.
July 2, 2007
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End with Karen
Karen came down to visit us today. It's been a long time since we've seen her. We introduced Nami and Kiba to her, and she had fun playing with them even though she's allergic. Because she played with them, she started sneezing a lot. We'd vacuumed a lot before she came over, so she wouldn't be uncomfortable, but playing with them kind of defeated the purpose. She brought over a couple of movies, but we decided to head out to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
We got the to theater a little early. It turns out we were able to use those $5 vouchers I got back from a Century Theaters in North Carolina, even though that was three years ago. Since we were there early, we played around in the arcade. Luna and I tried some shooting games. Karen tried a shooting game one time, but then moved onto pinball.
There weren't a lot of people in the theater. Probably about twenty or thirty. This third intallment of PotC didn't feel as good as the first, or even the second. It's basically a straight continutation of Dead Man's Chest, which was sort of a problem for Karen since she didn't remember the previous movies. The first half of the movie was a little boring to me. I thought they could have done more there to make it a little more exciting. And while I found the climax very exciting, it did leave a lot of unanswered questions. It seemed that all of the pirate ships were destroyed, yet afterwards they weren't. And the issues between Will and Elizabeth aren't really resolved, they just sort of get ignored.
After the movie, it was pretty late so we drove to a Vietnamese place on Capitol Expressway near the Target. They stay open a little later, and have good food for a good price. Apparently Karen's never eaten that kind of Vietnamese food before.
July 1, 2007
Happy Lesson that advertised itself into my queue. It's not the type of anime that appeals to me, but after seeing its trailer run on so many DVD previews, and wanting to find something funny to watch, I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, my initial assessment of this series turned out dead on. The best part about Happy Lesson? The chibi closing animation. I love those chibis.
The basic premise of Happy Lesson is a lesson in happiness for troublemaker student Chitose by five of his teachers who become his self-appointed moms. Chitose's parents died when he was very young, and he grew up in an orphanage. For whatever reason, he returns to his parents home, the only thing left to him, when he enters high school.
The five moms each have very distinct and exaggerated personalities and quirky behavior which is what makes the series fun and endearing. Each episode tends to focus on one mom, or later on one of the other girls who enters Chitose's life, with antics galore. There isn't really any over-arcing storyline, which does mean it ends a little weakly. It doesn't really feel like an ending at all. Of course, there's the second season, Happy Lesson Advance, but that's not available yet. I might decide to check it out, just to see how things go.
There is also a Happy Lesson OVA, which is on the fourth disc. The first episode of the OVA is the same as the first episode of the 13-episode series. So you can skip it. But the second and third episodes are new, and somewhat worth watching. However, the relationships between Chitose and his adopted sisters is completely different, and doesn't match the series. The fourth and fifth episodes are not available in the U.S.
On something of a whim, Luna and I drove to Pet Club to take a look at the kittens available for adoption. Luna has had some desire for baby cats since meeting Asuka, Niea, and Chie, since they're already grown up. I'd gone to Pet Club today to buy more food and litter and some carbon for the aquarium filter, and noticed they were having an adoption fair. I think it's every Saturday, although sometimes it's dogs. I mentioned it to Luna when I got home, and she got really excited so we went back.
There were about a dozen cats and kittens there today. I think all kittens except for one, who looked about a year or two old. Some had already been adopted. We looked at a few, but then found a black kitten who has white fur on his tummy and neck. He was my favorite, of course, and he also immediately grabbed onto me once I started holding him. He didn't want to get off from my shoulder. So we decided to get him. His name was Spunk.
Luna also liked another cat who was in the same cage as him. A calico female. They aren't siblings, and haven't been staying together, but seemed to get along with each other pretty well. And Luna really liked her. So we decided to get her also. Her name was Ginger.
We got another little kitty bed and some Eukanuba kitten food, then drove home. They both started exploring pretty quickly after we got home.
It took us a longer time to figure out what to call the boy. I suggested Sasshi, from Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, but that sounded too much like sashimi to Luna. So we settled on Kiba from Wolf's Rain.
Nami likes to run around a lot, and jump and hunt and play. Kiba is less active, but much more curious and he likes to explore and climb around on things and hide under the stairs.