December 30, 2007
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Luna rented the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie because she's been watching through the entire new TV series and really likes it. I guess she wanted to see where it all started. I remember reading this book after getting it through one of the school's book orders.
I was actually surprised to see so many actors in the film that have either become famous or at least had serious careers. It's also a little different than I remembered, with more parody and self-deprecating humor; I remembered a lot of fighting in the book which I guess was an adaptation of the movie. It also surprised me to learn that Joss Whedon also wrote and directed the movie. He's a very highly regarded person in the television industry and by the general public, and I don't remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer having been considered a critical success.
Anyway, the movie wasn't anything special but I found it entertaining at times. Pretty short and straight forward. I can't find any faults in the film, but I think it's standard television movie fare.
You're Under Arrest! The Motion Picture
You're Under Arrest! The Motion Picture takes place a few months after the OVA just as Natsumi and Miyuki are finishing up their training away from Bokuto station. The same cast of characters are there, and you really have to have seen the OVA to appreciate the movie because no time is spent on character development or back story. The movie really is a feature film with Bokuto station up against a band of terrorists and heavy on action and plot instead of humor.
In terms of production, it's obvious that a lot more time and money was put into the movie than into the OVA. The picture is clearer and there is a lot more detail in every scene. There is surround sound, although it's a little too discretely mixed. I liked seeing Natsumi and Miyuki in action again, and it was cool to see them in a slightly more grown up version of the television series.
December 29, 2007
Why Hot Songs Are Crap
Rolling Stone has an excellent article about why compressed songs sound bad. The practice of compressing music is also referred to as mixing "hot", because all of the sounds are boosted until they all measure close to the max decibel level which is usually displayed as red and white on a spectral analysis graph. This can also result in a form of clipping when a frequency is boosted such that its amplitude hits the ceiling for too long. Imagine a sine wave that has a peak of -0dB. To the left and right of the peak, the amplitude drops. But if the entire signal is boosted, the areas to the left and right of the peak will also be at -0dB.
This is one of the most annoying aspects of music produced today because really high end gear will expose these problems. But on the other hand, it does mean that for lots of music, you won't hear much difference if you listen on high end gear or mass market gear. In other words, if that's the sort of music that you listen to, you don't need to spend time or money on good speakers or electronics. Things may actually sound better to you if you don't, because a high-frequency roll off will make it less fatiguing to listen.
Well mastered audio on good gear will sound loads better though. I've remarked before about an album from Tosca, classical music, and other well mastered CDs that let you hear the instruments and performers. Wide dynamic range adds a lot of depth and captures the meanings behind a passage that is supposed to be done with fortissimo instead of pianissimo.
December 28, 2007
Home from Christmas
Luna and I just got back from spending Christmas at my parents house in New York. We were there for four days, not including the two days spent flying. Dennis and Iris were there until the 24th, after which they went to Iris' parents' place. Calvin took the same flights that we did.
Luna was really excited to see so much snow, and the first day she wanted to go outside and play in it. But it was raining at that time and she hadn't packed the right clothing for us. In fact, she only packed me one pair of pants and the wrong shirts, so I ended up having to go buy some pants and wash the clothes often. Luna also bought some boots and a bag while we were out. We never got around to actually playing in the snow afterwards.
And I actually spent two days just watching season one of Heroes on my mom's laptop. Luna watched season one just before we flew out, without me. Heroes has excellent characters and a great plot. That's really what's so good about the show. There is a pretty large cast of people, some with super powers and some without, who find themselves bound together through taut strings of destiny to save the world. As things are revealed and you try to piece together the puzzle of motivations and challenges, so are they doing the same thing.
Unfortunately, while there's a really strong cast and excellent plot, the execution itself is plagued with sloppiness. That's a real turn off for me, and Luna didn't like it either after I started pointing them out to her. There are scenes that show up in one episode, and then you see them again in the following episode but the dialog, action, and even the set have changed. Part of me thinks this must have become a deliberate choice, if it didn't already start out that way. There's even one character who shows up and then mysteriously disappears without explanation. And some Ando-paradoxes are never answered.
Still, it's a great show and I can understand why people really like it. There's a whole lot of inside jokes and little gestures as well, such as George Takei's license plate or Stan Lee's cameo. I did appreciate those, although I suspect the vast majority of viewers didn't even notice.
Christmas day Luna and I spent sleeping. She wanted to wake up early to get presents, but then after that we both went back to sleep and ended up spending a lot of the night actually awake instead of sleeping. I got a new pair of sneakers which I really needed because mine are so old; I was actually looking at some when we went out earlier to buy the pants, but ended up not buying any. I also got socks and some money. Luna got a coat and a pair of warm socks. Calvin got me Transmission and Luna a scarf. Dennis and Iris gave us Genki Hats of Luna and Artemis.
The day after Christmas Luna and I took Amtrak to New York City. She wanted to see the Statue of Liberty and ground zero. The train ride was about 2.5 hours each direction, and was convenient because once in the city we could just take the subway and walk. Unfortunately the actual Statue of Liberty ferries and stops took four whole hours to do. We had to wait in line for a long time to get onto the ferry, which has airport-like security screening, and then again on the way to Ellis Island and back to Manhattan. We couldn't get into the Statue of Liberty itself though because all of the time passes had been given out; you need to reserve well in advance it seems. So other than some quick pictures it wasn't very fruitful. It's also a lot smaller than I thought it would be. The tickets are sold out of Castle Clinton though, and the whole thing brought back memories of Deus Ex.
Afterwards we went to ground zero but didn't enter the special memorial thing they have set up while construction is going on. Luna just snapped some quick pictures through holes in the fence they set up around the hole. When we saw some local cemeteries she thought the people that died there had been buried right there, but of course those are just regular cemeteries next to churches.
Dinner was at Roxy's Delicatessen which is pricey but nice. I probably wouldn't go back again though. Service was a little slow and I saw one of the wrapped muffins fall on the floor and then get put back onto the shelf (it was wrapped, so not really a big deal, but still feels weird). We walked around Times Square for a long time, visiting places like the M&M store and Hershey store until it was time for our train back.
It's the flight back to San Jose that was really annoying. Our plane at Albany arrived late, so there was no airplane for us to take to Detroit even though we could have left if a plane and crew had been available. As a result, we missed our connection in Detroit and ended up taking a later flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul on standby. And since we were late arriving there, our flight to San Jose had already left and we would have to stay overnight if we wanted to catch the next one. Instead, we got on standby for a flight to San Francisco, and arrived at SFO around 12:30am without any of our luggage. We had to wait a long time for a shuttle that would take us to where Luna and I parked at SJC, and finally arrived home at 3am. Northwest needs to find our luggage and somehow get it back to California to deliver to our home.
Cat O' Nine Tales
Luna picked out Cat O' Nine Tales by Jeffrey Archer from the airport bookstore, probably because it had the picture of a cat on the front and some amusing cat illustrations inside. But we were both pretty disappointed at the quality of the stories and writing. I ended up reading the whole thing on the airplane, but Luna hasn't bothered to get past the first few stories.
This book is a compilation of twelve short stories, typically telling about some crime or interesting caper that Archer heard about while in prison himself, embellished from the short plot and punch-line that you'd read about in the paper. But those embellishments are extremely simple, predictable, and usually end up following exactly the sort of twist you've heard about before. The characters aren't interesting and rather two-dimensional, and the writing is suitable for young teens. All in all, nothing remarkable about this book or its stories.
Calvin gave me Transmission by Hari Kunzru for Christmas. In this story, psychologically stressed Arjun Mehta unleashes an extremely devastating virus onto the Internet which leads to a cascade of events he can no longer control. The book received some decent praise, but I found it somewhat dated and exaggerated. No doubt in 2004, when it was published, a lot of the ideas and slang Kunzru used would have been considered hip by the typically unaware critics, but I didn't find the "name dropping" that appealing. I refer to it that way because terms like RL are tossed out once but the overall tone of narration and its characters don't speak using that sort of vocabulary.
I was also disappointed with how the characters' plot lines were woven together and with the conclusion. It's not atypical for an author to begin a story with characters in different locations and plot lines, but Kunzru never actually brings those plot lines together in any meaningful way. Guy Swift, Leela, and Gaby really don't matter and are only there to provide some additional characters and interest. But they never drive the plot forward. And in the end, everything is wrapped up in an afterward-like concluding chapter that tries to explain what happened to everyone years later. But it's told from the perspective of someone who doesn't know, which sucks since the whole book was placing you next to those characters up until that point.
December 27, 2007
The Great Train Robbery
The Great Train Robbery is one of Michael Crichton's earliest novels and appears to be getting another printing these days. It's a little different from his other books, in that it is historical fiction based on the actual train robbery of 1855 where a team of highly skilled and intelligent thieves managed a heist that was almost never solved. It also reads differently as a sort of dramatized documentary. A lot of the chapters are short but heavy on character and plot detail written as someone who is compiling information about the subject for informative purposes rather than entertainment. That's probably part of why I didn't find this book as fun to read as some of his others. However, the amount of research Crichton brought to this book is indicative of the dedication to accuracy found in all of his books.
December 25, 2007
Empire is a novel by Orson Scott Card published last year. I found it in the airport book store and the back cover described a book very much like what I had recently been thinking about, regarding the current direction of the U.S. government and society as a whole. The main characters are all U.S. soldiers or veterans that lean right to varying degrees, who are caught up in a sort of rebellion when a successful rocket attack takes out the top members of the Executive branch and cabinet. In the resulting chaos, a left-wing group conquers New York City and various state and local governments begin aligning themselves with this new organization.
I wish Card had focused more on the issues, morals, and ideas associated with how and why this could happen and the consequences of a country that has become so divided and complacent. Instead the majority of words are there to move the plot along without a whole lot of commentary on the subject. That's understandable, considering this is supposed to be a thriller and exploration of a possible near future for the United States.
To his immense credit, Card does make parallels to a possible consequence within the story, and the book has underlying criticism of both right- and left-wing extremists as well as the citizens who have allowed things to reach this point. Which is good, because it slips those thoughts into the reader without forcing the issue. People of any political leaning can read it, enjoy it, and not feel like Card is trying to force his own beliefs upon them. Your individual political views will shape your perceptions of the story and its political opinions. Although I suspect (and no doubt Card does as well) that people who lean far in one direction or the other will not be able to see that they are exactly the kind of people being criticized by the book. Instead, they will believe the book vindicates their own political choices.
December 21, 2007
My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is probably Hayao Miyazaki's most famous film, although it's from 1988 and not as fascinating as his contemporary works. There's less action, less visual and aural spectacle, and a much simpler and shallow story. But it's also an amazing children's tale that you can still enjoy as an adult and it contains universal appeal. Basically it's a great movie that everyone will like and be willing to watch multiple times.
The film centers around 11-year-old Satsuki and her younger sister Mei after moving to the countryside with their father. Their mother is in the hospital with some sort of chronic illness that is never fully explained. The entire film is presented from the viewpoint of someone of Satsuki and Mei's ages, which means the world appears simple in some ways, grand in others, and magical but overwhelming. Totoro is a forest spirit that appears to Mei and then Satsuki. He lives in the enormous tree at the nearby temple.
I really liked this film. It's endearing, fun, and magical just like Satsuki and Mei. The songs have a sing-along quality to them, and the art is colorful and vibrant. The English ADR is pretty good as well since it was done by Disney. There aren't any deep thoughts or epic conflicts here; it's more like the type of movie you'd watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
December 19, 2007
The last load of dirt and rocks from our backyard's makeover was hauled away this afternoon. Our backyard has been neglected since I moved in three years ago, mostly because I have no real interest in using the backyard. However, I should have hired someone to maintain it right away, rather than letting it get out of control. I have tried each summer to clean things up, but that only succeeded in making it possible to see where you were going.
Originally we were planning to hire someone to do the work. The same company that I hired to fix up the front lawn and install the sprinkler system there. But the total cost was about 1/3 more than the maximum I was hoping it would be, and we have other home improvements that should also be done. My mom said she and my dad would like to visit us for a few days to do it themselves, because they thought it could be done for a lot less and be finished in maybe 3-4 days. Once they got here, though, they found out it was going to be a lot bigger job.
In total, I think it cost us a little more than the maximum I was referring to above, but still a decent amount of money less than if we'd hired a company to do all the work. The problem really is there was a lot of stuff that needed to be dug up, hauled away, and fixed up. A large portion of the backyard was covered in dirt-grass-filled rocks, overgrown, and not level. We got some people to do a bunch of the leveling and hauling both away and to the backyard, as well as the sprinkler system based on a plan my mom put together. We did the rest ourselves, which was basically most of the sod, all the landscaping fabric and bark, and also some digging up of rocks and putting down new rocks.
My mom originally had the idea of keeping some of the old rocks and just cleaning them up to save money. But it really wasn't worth it at all. We should have just dumped all the old rocks and it would have saved us a lot of time. Luna was spending days and days trying to clean the old rocks up, until I decided it just wasn't worth it and ordered a cubic yard of new rocks. We shoveled up the old rocks and replaced them with new rocks in one day. In total, we had to spend three weekends working on the backyard ourselves. It was very exhausting work, and left me feeling very tired and physically fatigued when I had to go back to work on Monday.
Everything is done now though, and we did save money. I just need to make sure someone comes on a regular basis to maintain it. The sprinkler system isn't actually complete either; I need to attach the control unit and another valve to run a drip-line to the banana tree. But that will wait until later, since the rainy season is starting now.
You're Under Arrest!
You're Under Arrest! is an OVA of the manga of the same name written by Kosuke Fujishima. The two main characters are Miyuki and Natsumi, who are partners in the traffic division of Bokuto Police Station. They meet for the first time in the first episode and become quick friends and close partners. There are a number of supporting characters, including the love interests of both Miyuki and Natsumi. Every character has a very distinct personality which all together work very well. I particularly like the character of Natsumi. She's super strong, aggressive, and rough-and-tumble. Miyuki is the quiet intelligent one, with a not-so-secret love of machines and guns.
I would describe the series as a really good Saturday-morning cartoon. Each episode is pretty standalone with a few stories spanning two episodes. Of course there's a real progression of character development and plot over the entire series, unlike U.S. cartoons which are never intended to end or change. It's suitable for very young children as well as adults. In fact, I'd say young children and teens are the prime audience. I found Bokuto's police force very inspirational and I can imagine children wanting to grow up to become policemen and policewomen (there's even a girl that does that in the show).
I enjoyed You're Under Arrest! because of the characters, decent stories, and overall fun attitude with a nice splash of action. There aren't any annoying issues like reused cels or evident budget problems. Very solid production, but not particularly remarkable.
December 18, 2007
Tank Girl: The Gifting
Tank Girl makes her return after a long haitus with Tank Girl: The Gifting from IDW Publishing. This compilation of short stories is a departure from the more traditional visual narrative of the earlier comics. Many of the stories contain only a handful of words and a few pages of illustration; some are simple ditties that speak with the Tank Girl attitude. But the overall personality of Tank Girl, Booga, and their compatriots in mischief is the same, and no doubt welcome by Tank Girl aficionados who are a little older and mature these days.
The Gifting was not illustrated by Jamie Hewitt, but instead by Ashley Wood who has created a look of rough lines and watercolor. It's certainly a more visually interesting and freeform approach, but I did find it a little dry because of the earthy, washed-out color scheme. And I didn't enjoy the plotless or very short skits as much.
Still, Tank Girl is back. She's a little more grown up but just as much an irresponsible and reckless misfit as ever, even if she no longer lives in a shack in the Outback. I believe she's going to be returning in some future volumes which I plan to pick up, in large part just because I've started the collection.
December 15, 2007
After four years of university, the Genshiken manga comes to an end with a total of nine volumes. It's been quite enjoyable following the members of Genshiken as they came to know each other and to know themselves, and I have no doubt I'll be re-reading this manga in the future.
I could really identify with the Genshiken, their ideas and personalities, and the clashes arising from Kasukabe's and Ogiue's attitudes towards otaku. Kio Shimoku made some excellent choices in the characters he brought together in the Genshiken, with depth and realistic personalities (with the occasional amusing ones) that both highlight the ideas and challenges of otaku while complementing each other to bring out interesting and intelligent interactions and ideas.
Shimoku is a very good manga artist. Many artists, even for popular series, are poor at creating a sequence of panels, establishing context, and making clear exactly what is going on. This manga suffers from none of those issues. There's also a lot of time and detail put into every frame, into the characters look and mood, and the backgrounds. I suppose that's particularly important given the subject matter and audience of this manga, but it's always nice to actually see an artist put so much effort into his work.
At the end of the nine volumes, I found myself slightly disappointed that it was all over, but not as much as after reading through Azumanga Daioh. Perhaps that's only because I had to wait so long between volumes of Genshiken, and reading it through in one sitting would make my attachment to the characters stronger. There's a little bit left open for a continuing series, but I doubt that will happen.
December 13, 2007
The Boy Who Would Live Forever
The Boy Who Would Live Forever is the fifth novel in Frederik Pohl's Heechee saga, and sort of falls outside of the previous novels by focusing on a completely new set of characters and separate plot line. The two main characters in this book are Stan, a boy who used to live close to poverty until getting to Gateway, and Estrella, whose background is more of a mystery. Together they become the first human visitors to the Heechee core, where time moves 40,000 times slower than on the outside. Klara and Albert Einstein play secondary roles, as well as Wan who is something of a galactic annoyance who cannot be ignored.
This time a lot of time is spent illustrating how the Heechee live in the core and on their cultural differences from Homo sapiens. I found some of that interesting simply because of the Heechee's tremendous influence in the previous novels, but honestly there isn't a whole lot of newness to this novel in the series. It feels much more like an auxiliary novel instead of an important one.
December 12, 2007
2013: No North Pole
Recent modifications to arctic melting models by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski and his colleagues have shown a dire result: ice-free summers of the North arctic circle. They argue that previous models which predicted this to occur decades out fail to take into account some recent observations on the annual shrinkage of the arctic ice sheet and that effect on future years. The BBC article includes statements from other scientists who support Maslowski's team's new model.
This is pretty bad. A large amount of water will be getting dumped into the oceans on an annual basis, resulting in overall rises in sea level worldwide. The animals that rely upon ice to walk on will drown. There is no land mass at the North Pole, which means when the ice melts, the only thing left will be the ocean. It looks like the disappearance will be quite sudden. No more polar bears.
Dinner with Samir + Jamie
Luna and I had dinner with Samir and Jamie tonight. Originally we were going to have dinner with Dantam, because we haven't seen her in a while since she started working for Akamai. She no longer lives or works close to our place, so we've only been keeping in touch via IM. Unfortunately, Dantam had something else to go to and she wasn't able to make it (this was actually her second cancellation; the first time she forgot about her Spice Girls concert).
We went to a nice Mexican place called La Fiesta Restaurant. It's kind of on a back street that doesn't look like it would contain any commercial buildings, with a parking lot that is way too small for it and would have been impossible to navigate with a long car or large truck. The food was pretty good, although I was surprised they didn't serve horchata at all. I'm not even sure the waiter knew what we were talking about.
Mostly we talked about Luna's school plans, the landscaping work we were doing, Samir and Jamie's plans for a trip to Japan, and a few things about work. Of course there was a little talk about our cats as well. For some strange reason one of their cats (Rosemary I think) is trained to come to you when you whistle, and the other (Mojito) is trained to go to the bathroom when you whistle.
December 11, 2007
All Over the Guy
All Over the Guy is a movie from a few years back that I found a promotional copy for at Netflix. Sounded a little interesting from the tagline: 4 friends, 3 guys, 2 couples &emdash; You Do The Math. (I guess it ended up with a different tagline later on.) It's a simple story about love and relationships, but with very complicated characters. The characters are what makes this movie worth anything, but I suppose anyone interested in this type of movie would already be looking at it from that angle. So while I found it interesting to watch, I don't think it's particularly great.
The four friends in the movie are played by Dan Bucatinsky, Richard Ruccolo, Sasha Alexander, and Adam Goldberg. Richard's character, Tom, is the one that I found most engaging and as a result felt the film focused most on, even though the screen time is probably fairly equally distributed with Dan's character, Eli. Eli's sort of messed up but in a sort of wishy-washy way. Tom's character is messed up in a weird mental-complex sort of way, which is what makes him unpredictable and frustrating but someone you want to see turn out okay and happy.
December 10, 2007
Halliburton/KBR Gang-Rape Cover-up
ABC News is reporting about the gang-rape cover-up of a woman who worked for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad two years ago, by fellow employees. According to the article, she was repeatedly raped, threatened about her job, and then held prisoner in a shipping container for 24 hours before a sympathetic guard allowed her to call her father and report what happened.
The U.S. justice department, state department, Halliburton, and KBR seem to be doing whatever they can to forget the incident. Two years later, the case has not proceeded through the justice system because of the loophole that allows private government contractors exemption from prosecution for things they do in Iraq. KBR claims any legal action must take place through private arbitration, which would make it so no transcript or liability becomes public. Jamie Leigh Jones will be speaking with news agencies, including 20/20, in an attempt to get word out on what happened.
December 8, 2007
The Day of the Triffids
BBC's 1981 television adaptation of The Day of the Triffids was available as a freebie at Netflix so I picked it up. I really didn't know anything about it, but I knew that it falls under the category of sci-fi cult classic. I figured it would look old, but still be interesting and worth watching for its cultural value.
Triffids are a plant-animal that sting animals and then eat them, much like spiders or insect-eating plants do in reality. Only Triffids seem to possess some mediocre level of intelligence and can move around. When an unexplained astral phenomenon leaves most of the human race blind, the Triffids start having a free lunch. Conveniently, there's no explanation for where Triffids came from (they are a magically introduced new species) or the astral phenomenon either.
The statements I later saw comparing it to 28 Days Later are apt. However, I really liked 28 Days Later and felt let down by The Day of the Triffids. What I didn't like about this TV series was that there wasn't a whole lot of direction. I've been led to understand that is how the novel was as well, but I felt for the time involved something more should be accomplished. The ending left things a little too open as well. The screeching music could be very annoying too.
December 3, 2007
Cute Bunny and Bells
Ferry Halim has a new cute little game up called Winterbells. You are a little white bunny and it is snowing bells. The goal is to bounce up the bells for as long as you can to get points. If you fall down, your run is over. I could easily see myself playing at this for a while and trying to better my score. The sprites and sound effects are just great. :D
4" Subwoofer Legs
A short while ago I mentioned how watching THGttG popped my subwoofer grilles and a desire to do something about it. So over the weekend I increased the leg length of the subwoofer base to 4" (I would have gone with 5" except Home Depot doesn't sell screws longer than 6") and created new end plates and legs for the top of the subwoofer as well. There are no longer any grilles in use.
Increasing the leg length to 4" is based on allowing enough cylindrical surface area for the air displaced by the driver to freely move back and forth. It might have been ideal to go with 5" legs but that would have required 7" screws. As it is, the 6" screws only came with hex heads and required me to cut a little depression into the plates for the head to run flush with the plate surface. The top plate provides protection for the driver in a sturdier and more reliable manner than the grilles and allows the driver to reach its xmax without any interference. The grilles were impeding the surrounds. I do think it looked better with grilles though.