October 13, 2012
Evangelion Mini Cooper S Clubman
Yesterday the Evangelion Mini Cooper S Clubman was born. For the past several months I'd been planning to turn my new car into an 痛車 or a car with fan images on it. I'd already been gradually leaning towards Neon Genesis Evangelion with my iPod case and a small sticker I purchased off eBay a while back. I was originally planning to order the stickers from Japan, but that fell through and I was able to find a great local company, Mission City Signs, who could print for a comparable price as well as professionally apply the stickers onto the car. I still have tire air valve caps and license bolts on order, but those are minor details.
Making the images took quite a bit of time, and taxed my iMac for the first time since I last did some serious graphic design work. The images needed to be high quality actual size at 150dpi for a good print result. It took me a while to find source images large enough to work with, and there wasn't a lot of images that large. Luckily the recent Evangelion reboot has come with some excellent high quality artwork. I needed to extract Asuka, Rei, and Mari from the background and then composite them actual size onto an actual size image of my Mini. I would say doing all this took at least a couple dozen hours. The resulting source and final image files take up about 2.8GB and prompted me to ensure I was using GigE for my network connection.
I'm super happy with the results! There are a few blemishes in the application but they're only noticeable up close. From start to finish, this project took me about two months of research and work. The stickers should last about 5 years, maybe longer if I keep my car out of the sun and away from harsh weather.
July 11, 2010
San Jose Obon Festival 2010
San Jose's Japantown is holding their annual Obon Festival, hosted by the SJ Buddhist Church Betsuin. It runs today and tomorrow, for several hours each day. This is the first year I've gone. It's definitely not like the fancy temple Obon festivals you may have seen on TV or in anime, but it was close, taking into account the location and people that would show up.
I did find it a little disappointing. It was a little small, and didn't have a whole lot to see or do. There was a food court, which had a lot of regular-type Japanese and summer food, although there was a taiyaki stand. Unfortunately they were shaped like English muffins rather than fish. But tasted decent.
The one thing I did really enjoy was the Taiko drumming. A few different schools and organizations showed up to perform. The one I was able to attend for the entire duration was the UC Irvine Jodaiko group. Their performance, which also included some fun play between members, kept a big smile on my face.
June 28, 2010
I recently went on something of a whirlwind business trip through three countries as part of a project we've been working on at Netflix for a short time now. My trip started off in Hong Kong, then Shenzhen, China, followed by Seoul, Korea and finally Osaka and Tokyo in Japan. It had been almost ten years since I was last in Hong Kong, and it was my first time visiting Japan. I was in Korea last year for business but not in Seoul that time.
Things were pretty hectic in the beginning. We had one day in Hong Kong to acclimate to the time change, but Shenzhen and Seoul were completely filled each day with meetings and travel so there wasn't any free time at all. Mitch and I extended our stay in Tokyo, Japan a little extra though, so we could do some things that we wanted to. I was especially excited about Tokyo because I've wanted to visit Akihabara and Shibuya for a very long time.
In Hong Kong, we went to Lantau Island via the Ngong Ping Cable Car to see the Tian Tan Buddha tourist attraction. I say tourist attraction because when I was there ten years ago the site wasn't so commercialized. The clouds were very low that day, which meant our cable car went right through some dense fog, and walking around at the peak meant walking around through clouds.
Crossing from Hong Kong into Shenzhen meant going through the China border inspections. It wasn't a big deal, but it is like crossing between countries. (Returning into Hong Kong took much longer.) Shenzhen is pretty much what I expected with small towns, usually containing an obvious main street, based around industrial areas. The factories are what brings workers into Shenzhen and keeps money flowing into that area.
Both Hong Kong and Shenzhen were very hot and humid. My body is not at all accustomed to that sort of environment so I was constantly sweating. I think one day the humidity was listed as 90%, and the temperature was always above 30°C.
After China we flew into Seoul, Korea. I like visiting Korea because I have a friend there that works at Samsung. His English is quite good and we get along well. It happened to be his daughter's 100-day celebration when we were there, and he gave me a cute little rice cake treat. I was also hoping to meet up with someone in Seoul whom I just recently met at Can Jam 2010 when I was exhibiting, but a schedule conflict prevented us from doing so.
One thing that I really liked in Seoul were the interactive maps. Both the subway and shopping mall had an interactive map. Using the touchscreen, you could select where you wanted to go, or search for where you wanted to go, and it would provide detailed animated directions on the map itself for how to get there. This is so much better than the static maps used here in the United States. Although I suspect there would be some hesitation of installing expensive maps in U.S. subway systems out of fear of graffiti or vandalism. People, and police officers, appear to be so much nicer, polite, and courteous in Korea than in the U.S. (Obviously this is even more true in Japan, where manners are extremely important.)
After Korea, we flew into Osaka, Japan for our last business engagement. This is where it first hit me how expensive things are in Japan. I'd heard and read about things being expensive there, but a fruit plate in the hotel restaurant was more than USD $40, and I found out the waitresses at that restaurant were probably only making about USD $10/hr. I thought at least food should be about the same price as in big U.S. cities if the pay scale is about the same, but since it is more expensive and going out to dinners and drinks are such a big part of Japanese culture people must spend a significant portion of their income on food. The pre-packaged meals at 7-11 are priced around what I usually spend if I'm eating out to lunch at home.
Also really expensive are pets. We stopped in a pet store in Osaka, and kittens and puppies are regularly priced over USD $1000 and often close to USD $1500. Some of them were even around USD $3000-$4000. The pet stores were pretty small, and probably had about a dozen or so of kittens and puppies. There was one store that also had some monkeys. No prices were listed on the monkeys; I imagine they might be considered a luxury where if you have to ask, you can't afford it. One thing I noticed though was that all the kittens and puppies were very young. It's a lot easier to sell cute kittens and puppies, and I saw a bunch of girls watching and saying kawaii a lot, but it also makes me wonder what happens to the ones not adopted. If they only keep young ones in the store, the others might be discarded. T_T
After Osaka we went to Tokyo. For a few hours one day Mitch and I took the train to Hakone and went to the Kappa Tengoku onsen. It took about two hours each way by train, and we spent about two hours at the onsen itself. The soaking pool water was very hot. So hot that I immediately started sweating like crazy and my body began tingling all over. I had to get out and shower in cold water once, and also sit mostly out of the pool, in order to cool down. I also got over a dozen bug bites right away. Most of them got bigger and only just started disappearing a couple days ago.
But by far I spent the most time in Akihabara and Shibuya. Akihabara was very exciting for me because of all the shops and the culture. Maid cafés have gotten very popular and there were dozens of maids on the streets handing out flyers and trying to convince customers to enter their shops. We didn't end up going into a maid café though. Which was fine by me since I was spending all my time shopping anyway. Although I would have liked to go to one. As well as check out some of the other crazy theme restaurants; I'm not sure where they are though since they're not in Akihabara. I didn't get a chance to check out a love hotel or capsule hotel either.
There are a bunch of otaku-stores in Akihabara, unsurprisingly. The stores tend to be thin and tall. Only the stores that sell electronics or are like department stores have enough floor space that things don't seem cramped. There was tons of manga, anime, movies and TV shows, figures, video games, and pink stuff. Although when it came to figures and trinkets only the most recent stuff was getting shelf space. I can't read Japanese so manga and anime was pretty much out. Plus, music and videos are super expensive over there. A new release movie on DVD or Blu-ray might be over USD $50. PC and console games are only slightly more expensive than in the U.S. And there is a ton more selection. I picked up a few video games that are only available in Japan including Atelier Rorona, Record of Agarest War, and Agarest Senki Zero; I need to learn how to read Japanese before I can play them though. I would have also gotten Atelier Totori but it was releasing a couple of days after our return flight. I only picked up a couple of music CDs, because at those prices I couldn't just grab stuff that might be good. I did find a Final Fantasy XIII collectors music set though which I immediately purchased. (Have yet to buy the game though.) Mostly I bought figures to add to my collection: I got some Mari Makinami figures from the new Evangelion 2.0 rebuild; Nagi and Tsugumi from Crazy Shrine Maidens; Ein from Phantom, a couple of Vocaloid Hatsune Miku wind-up music toys; a distorted Rei; and Chocobo and Moogle plushies.
The other thing I spent a lot of money on is clothing. I really like Japanese casual street fashion. The sort of interesting stuff you can't find in the U.S. and gets featured in some video games. Most recently in The World Ends With You, a Nintendo DS game that deals heavily with fashion and takes place in Shibuya, although the store names were changed. (The game itself gets a bit repetitive and collecting all the items would take several play-throughs.) To find the better stuff, I ended up shopping mostly at Jeans Mate in Akihabara and Parco in Shibuya. Individual stores in Parco are relatively small and devoted to a single brand, the clothing selection is limited, and there is usually only a handful of specific styles per brand. Prices at Jeans Mate and some of the stores at Parco tended to start at around USD $30 for a T-shirt. But some of the really high-end stores in Parco sold a single T-shirt for USD $300. Some of the stores had more complex clothing, like jackets, that sold for USD $1000. This despite being something that could be made for a few dollars in material and labor. I limited myself to things that were priced at the lower end, but even then I think I spent more on clothing this one time than I've spent on clothing my entire life so far.
There were two things that made it more difficult to buy clothing in Japan. First was the extreme leaning towards girls' clothing. There are entire mall buildings that only contain girl clothes. I would say only about 10% of the stores sold boys' clothing. The two types of stores were also physically segregated in many cases. Only the larger non-boutique stores carried both male and female clothing.
Secondly, the clothes in Japan aren't sized for me. I had to purchase size XL / LL or size 4 (for shirts) and even then it is a tight fit. My shoes are 2cm larger than the largest they stock in shoes and socks. On many occasions I simply couldn't buy the clothes because they didn't sell it in my size. I guess there are a couple of stores that do sell larger clothing, but you have to go find them specially.
I think I could have spent a whole lot more money in Tokyo, both on toys and clothes. And there are still a lot of other things to do and see just in Tokyo itself, never mind the rest of Japan. I'm not much into sight-seeing, but I can imagine myself spending weeks more exploring just Tokyo.
May 15, 2010
Not Everyone Gets A House
I found this article The Mad Scramble for Chinese Real Estate to be an interesting commentary on the large discrepancy between what new workers expect and what the market provides when it comes to housing. What I find particularly interesting is how closely it mirrors expectations of some of the people I've met in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For the majority of residential locations in the United States, housing prices are inline with average salaries. Meaning that a single person who makes an above average salary or a couple that individually make an average salary can easily afford the down payment and mortgage on a nice and relatively spacious home. No one expects the same from downtown New York City or San Francisco. Yet most people seem to expect it from the San Francisco suburbs. Especially if they grew up in another part of the country or moved here for work.
I can understand why. Things aren't that different, superficially. The area seems slightly more populated. The houses are relatively smaller and older. So logically these homes shouldn't cost as much as they do. But that is just a superficial view of things.
The wealth disparity in the Bay Area is significant. The median household income is only slightly higher than the rest the country. In other words, your typical clerk or service industry worker in Mountain View probably makes about $10k more than somewhere in the Mid-West. The difference between $40k/yr. and $50k/yr. is three months. But there's a much higher concentration of IT workers who are making significantly more money. And many of them are dual income. The difference between a single income of $50k/yr. and dual income of $250k/yr. is four years. This means the housing market has a higher percentage of customers (out of all residents) that can afford to pay more. The spread is too large for the people with lower salaries to compete.
In addition, there isn't really more room to expand within the existing cities. That means you won't see additional homes being added to Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Redwood City, Milpitas, etc. There is a bit of room left in San Jose, but not much. The population continues to increase. These cities are job centers. So prices on old small homes go up as demand increases but supply remains constrained.
Given this, I think it's easy to see why a 1200 square foot home might cost $500k. Even though the same home in your hometown might only cost $60k - $80k. You can't simply look at the size of a house and the overall look of its neighborhood and say the cost is wrong. Prices are no longer being artificially buoyed. This is just what things cost due to scarcity of land and the desirability of central housing locations.
(N.B. I haven't done any particular research into this area. This is just what I've concluded based on my own observations and through deductive reasoning.)
March 28, 2010
FUTURESTATES is a miniseries of science-fiction webispodes that look at future social possibilities. The ideas aren't particularly ground-breaking, but the execution is excellent. I highly suggest spending some time to watch through them.
Some of the topics explored include the environment, over-population, virtual reality, economics, and social divide.
February 6, 2010
Patrick Stewart on Digital Culture
I got a real kick out of this short monologue by Patrick Stewart.
May 27, 2007
Luna and I got back from FanimeCon 2007 at around 7pm. We got on the light rail this morning around 10am, and got to the convention center around 10:45am. Unfortunately, that was too late. This was the first time I'd gone so late, and it also seems like anime's increasing popularity is being represented at the cons (there are more cons this year as well). We ended up having to stand in line for at least 2.5 hours! The longest I've ever had to stand in line in previous years was about 15 minutes, although I'd never gotten there so late before. There were a lot more staff members this year as well, and I think they expanded into more rooms.
Anyway, we spent the vast majority of our time in the dealer's room, since both of us just really care about picking up some hard-to-find collectibles. At first, Luna got really sidetracked by seeing some of the dolls, because she saw some people selling clothing and accessories for them in the artists' room. And so we ended up not going through systematically and sort of running around to look for the doll seller. They're too expensive though, so she won't buy one until later.
Luna also ended up not always knowing what she wanted until after we had left a store, so in a couple of cases we actually ended up coming back to the same store to buy things a second time. Which is bad because you can usually get a little discount by buying more things all at once. So we probably could have saved a little more money if she would have known what she wanted at the beginning instead of only deciding later.
Yvonne had told me she wanted something from Paranoia Agent or Romeo x Juliet, but I couldn't find anything about those two shows. We ran into Sonia later on, and I asked her what Yvonne might like instead, but she couldn't think of anything except Romeo x Juliet. So we ended up getting Yvonne and Shannon one plushie each. Although now I'm not sure if Yvonne already has the plushie I ended up picking for her. Luna also picked up a Gackt single to send back to her cousin in Shanghai.
Anyway, I purchased a Gunslinger Girl wall scroll, while Luna got one of Kyo Kara Maoh!. I got a Tachikoma 1/24 scale model, although not at the greatest price, and the four figure Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children figure collection. Luna got a five-piece One Piece figure collection, but they didn't make a figure of Sanji who is Luna's favorite character. She decided not to get the special versions of Nami or Usopp. I got one doll of Lain in her bear pajamas, and also a doll of Kasukabe Saki in her President cosplay outfit, from Genshiken. I want to get the Ohno cosplay dolls as well, to go with Saki. I didn't see any of Ohno at the convention. Luna got the first eight volumes of xxxHolic and a Mokona doll that wiggles when you pull a string.
We walked a lot today, and carried back a lot of stuff. Both of our feet hurt now, but I think we found a lot of pretty good stuff that we wouldn't have found elsewhere. The One Piece collection is actually from a Japanese store that has two branches: one in Japan and the other in Los Angeles. The sellers were actually Japanese, and one of them didn't know very much English. So Luna talked to her in Japanese asking about the collection. They were also selling a Keroro collection but for the size of the pieces, neither of us thought it was a good price.
I did think it was interesting that this year's most popular characters were from Kingdom Hearts 2, by far. Organization XIII and Sora were popular cosplay costumes, and so many of the doujin artists featured Kingdom Hearts 2 characters. Final Fantasy and Naruto were not as popular anymore. There were a few people dressed as Princess Mononoke, more than I expected. The girl in front of us in line actually had a very good costume. There was also a bunch of Mario Bros. characters, and one group of girls came together as Princess Peach, Daisy, and Toadstool. A Shy Guy and Mario found them and they made a good group picture.
May 13, 2007
An Inconvenient Truth
I finally got around to watching An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary about global warming focusing on the personal crusade of former Vice-President Al Gore to educate people about this "climate crisis". A real quick presentation about the issue was given at the 2006 TED conference, which you might want to check out. I greatly respect Gore as one of the very few really educated and contemporarily-savvy politicians of our time. And the global warming problem is one that I have believed in for a long time now.
I think one of the primary reasons I really liked this documentary is because it feels less like an opinionated exposé or personal agenda and much more like the sort of presentation or lecture you might find in academia. Of course, due to the nature of the presentation, the actual research and science involved is glossed over, but it's important to note that the scientific results and their projected impact on our world are presented. Which is where things change from opinion and subjective points of view or conjecture into real scientific data, interpreted in a scientific manner, and presented for public consumption.
One thing of note about the DVD is there's a 30 minute extension in the extras that half rehashes the existing talking points of the presentation in the documentary, and half brings in new information about the topic that is related to those talking points that have come out of research since the movie was produced. It's probably of interest to some people, but if you've already accepted the situation then it's probably not worth the time. Might be better to find newer information on the web.
December 31, 2006
Koi Kaze was not what I expected. Based on the cover art I was thinking it was a shoujo anime, but it's actually very complicated and serious. And the topic it deals with is not one that most people will find themselves comfortable with. In Koi Kaze, a 27-year-old man, Koshiro, and a 15-year-old girl, Nanoka, end up meeting each other, and by circumstance going on something of a date at an amusement park. Mostly because they didn't have anything better to do. They end up finding themselves somewhat attracted to each other, but then learn that they are in fact brother and sister who have not seen each other since their parents' divorce.
Koshiro finds himself attracted to Nanoka despite his best efforts to fight it, and so acts in a very gruff and arrogant manner towards her. But it's clear he really cares about her and is actually very protective and treats her somewhat badly because he doesn't know of any other way to deal with it. Nanoka, on the other hand, finds herself with growing feelings towards Koshiro even though she has some suitors at school.
Eventually, Koshiro and Nanoka need to figure out how they are going to deal with their mutual attraction and love for each other, despite the cultural taboo against incest and also their significant age difference. In many ways, all of the same feelings and social pressures they are subject to can be seen in what homosexuals have to deal with, in certain cultures and communities.
These ideas create a gut reaction of disgust or perversion in many people, even though there is not necessarily a real reason for it. If you mention incest, or an age difference like that, the majority of people will immediately come to certain conclusions about the two people involved. But this is more of a learned behavior and prejudice than anything else. Being able to overcome that is a very difficult thing to do. Koshiro remarks on this when he asks who else but he and Nanoka has the right to decide if this will make their lives miserable.
I found the artwork of the series very interesting. It's drawn in a style almost like watercolor or crayon, that has a sort of nostalgic feel to it. I think this is the first time I've seen that art style, but I don't watch a lot of shoujo anime.
December 11, 2006
Christmas Presents w/Shannon and Yvonne
Yesterday I went to visit Shannon and Yvonne having not seen them in a long time. I brought them their Christmas presents, but also had to show them how to order things online to order my own Christmas present. :p They both wanted to get me Kingdom Hearts 2 because they want to see it. Hopefully they know how to use a shopping cart and go through the checkout process now and can do it again in the future. During dinner we talked a little bit about things like the video game controversery and the different attitudes towards sex and violence seen in the United States and Europe.
Afterwards, we decided to go to rent some movies. Wasn't sure what to pick. It's hard to find good movies at the store because the selection is so small. Shannon wanted something funny. Yvonne kept picking weird movies like the black and white Robin Hood. We settled on Beetlejuice, The Princess Bride (again), and Back to the Future. Beetlejuice is too creepy for Shannon, so only Yvonne and I watched it. Yvonne got creeped out too though. They both really liked Back to the Future and we need to rent the sequels next time. Back to the Future gave Yvonne a chance to make fun of me for being old. XD I'm just going to have to get them a copy of The Princess Bride rather than keep renting it.
August 1, 2006
I just finished playing Xenogears, which is an old game from 1998 but one with an amazing story and depth of intellect and emotion. From a technical standpoint, it's a very traditional RPG that has all of the hallmarks of the time. Which is good, but lacking in comparison to contemporary games. As a result movement, combat, and the audio are not particularly great. In particular combat is somewhat repetitive although a bit above par for the times. It's really the content that makes this game shine.
The first thing that one needs to realize about Xenogears is there are two layers to everything in the game. On the surface, you are presented with a lot of challenging ideas and plot mechanisms and characters that will really make you think. But beneath all of that is additional meaning which you can only extract if you have the background required to do so. And I am pretty sure I don't have all of it.
Some of the discussion points referenced include World War II and Nazi Germany with themes that can be applied towards anti-semitism as well as prejudice and social caste systems that apply or have applied to many other societies, such as India. There are also references to Freud's ego, superego, and id which make concrete appearances. Some references are to popular culture and include Star Wars, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Volton, Final Fantasy, and Soylent Green. I'm sure I've missed a few.
Perhaps the biggest talking point is how the concepts of religion, the church, sin, sacrifice, and God become the central plot around which everything else revolves. There is meaning behind the protagonist being the one who will destroy God, as well as arguably the reincarnation of Adam while another protagonist is the reincarnation of Eve. Other characters have representative roles as well, including Miang and Cain and Abel. The lambs have both a negative conotation in general speak, but a positive conotation in regards to biblical reference. There is both a clear criticism of how religion has been approached by people and an argument that tries to force you to find your own true faith. People assume certain things when it comes to God and religion because those are assumptions that are comforting. If those assumptions are removed or proven incorrect, are you willing to reshape your own view of the universe?
All in all, while I wasn't particularly impressed by the gameplay I do think many things were done very well for the time. But all of that is of very little importance compared to the storyline and the amount of thought that went into conveying those ideas and questions to the player. The second disc actually goes into a narration mode for significant amount of time, no doubt because expanding upon those parts of the story would easily have doubled the game's play time. I'm very satisfied with where this game ended up.
I do have a few questions which aren't answered. This installment of the game is referred to as Episode V. And there is a clear connection between this game and Xenosaga. But I have no idea how tight that connection is.
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 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.
March 4, 2006
Wiccan Not a Religion (in the U.S.)
It seems that in the United States military (which supposedly fights for Amendment I of the Bill of Rights), the Wiccan religion is not recognized. The issue has come up because Sergeant Patrick Stewart was Wiccan and died when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. But the use of a pentagram on his memorial is not authorized by the government, as it is not a "recognized" religion.
February 1, 2006
Sundance Film Festival 06
I got back last night from spending the weekend in Park City, Utah at the end of the Sundance Film Festival 2006. Each year, Netflix gives its employees some money to subsidize a trip to Sundance. I left Friday morning and got back late last night.
On its own, Park City is a sleepy ski resort town. For one week each year, there is an extra inrush of people and things become very crowded and busy. And the atmosphere changes a whole lot too, I imagine, with celebrities and sponsor events drawing a unique type of person. I felt like there were a lot of wannabes and phonies. At least Park City makes a bunch of money with their super-inflated prices for the week.
There is really only two things to do while you're there. You can either watch lots of films (which requires either a significant financial commitment, both for lodging and tickets, or a lot of patience to stand in line for extra seats) or go skiing (which also requires a large financial commitment since lift tickets are a bit expensive). I didn't really want to spend a lot of money, so I didn't do much of either. And as a result, I was kind of bored most of the time.
I didn't see any celebrities, but FOX hosted a party for Netflix that I went to on Saturday. Unfortunately, it was quite loud and my ears were ringing a lot afterwards. That's not good. The party was also a little boring because I didn't know many people, and since it was so loud my throat was strained whenever I spoke. I also didn't much like the music. It was standard fare, but nothing I really like to listen to.
The restaurants are supposedly also not that great, and a bit expensive. Samir and Jamie spent $50 one night on dinner, and said last year they didn't find any good restaurants. I ended up buying groceries and cooking in the hotel room. I also ended up spending time in the hotel room watching stuff on TV and also the first three discs of Samurai Champloo.
The two screenings that I did go to watch were the animation spotlight and the documentary award winner. The first featured about ten short animation films. Most of them were horrible. One guy spent six years camped outside a studio with his wife to make a two minute animated poem. And it wasn't very interesting. I did like, however, the following: Jasper Morello, Gopher Broke, Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot, and Los ABC's ¡Que Vivan Los Muertos!.
The documentary winner was God Grew Tired of Us. Apparently, a number of documentaries have been made about the Lost Boys of Sudan. Maybe they keep making documentaries until someone will pick one up for mass distribution. I remember watching some stuff about them on the news before, so about half of its content wasn't new to me. This latest one was clearly directed by a non-Sudanese person, because a large part of it contains ethnocentric humor.
January 10, 2006
Shanghai is Cold
Over the new year, I visited Shanghai which was my first time in China (excluding Hong Kong). I stayed at my dad's place because he has an apartment/office there, and went because I wanted to visit Luna. Shanghai is a lot like New York City, only more so in the ways I don't like New York City. It is even more crowded, dirtier, and noisier. Buses were frequently packed way past capacity, and no one obeys simple traffic rules like driving in one lane or not running red lights. So it is also pretty dangerous because you can be easily hit by a motorist and people can steal easily on the buses.
Despite that, the city planners have done a good job in many ways. There are separate lanes for bicycles and motorcyles in many areas, and raised or subterranean walkways for crossing busy streets. You can also find completely underground strip malls. And the traffic cops are doing their best to enforce good and safe pedestrian and motorist behavior in many places.
The biggest problem for me was the extreme cold. Temperatures hovered very close to 0°C or only a few degrees higher for the majority of my stay. I ended up getting sick on Wednesday or Thursday because it was raining heavily at freezing temperatures with strong winds and I got very wet while walking around. Plus, my dad doesn't like to use the heater so even on the 23rd floor when it is so cold outside, he had the bathroom window open and the heater set to 18°C or 20°C in the main room. So I would be really cold when there, and also when sleeping. He only turned up the heat later after I got sick. It was warmer to leave and get on the bus or go to the shopping mall.
Food is cheaper there, and of course there is a great variety of authentic Chinese food available. But if you decide to visit one of the new Western chains such as Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonald's, or Burger King the prices are the same as what you'll find in the U.S. (The same goes for any other imported brands of clothing or electronics.) But the menus are very different, and more like restaurants rather than fast food joints. You will find yourself waiting for a table at Pizza Hut, and the menu is Chinese-flavored at all of these places. I did really like the food at Ajisen Ramen though.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi have a strange sort of competition going on though, with Coca-Cola clearly spending much more on advertising. Both of them have created "teams" of celebrities to promote their brand, and you can find their faces pasted all over the place individually or as a team with their respective company brand in the background.
While I was there, Luna and I visited the TV broadcast tower, which is the 3rd tallest tower in the world or something like that. We also went to the museum which was featuring the paintings of many renaissance artists, but Luna wasn't interested in seeing any paintings. Plus the line was really long. Instead we looked at the gemstones, which she really liked. Shanghai also has a really cool aquarium with lots of different types of fish and other ocean and river life. The introductory exhibits are not that exciting, but later on you go down deep into a really long underwater tunnel so you can see all sorts of animals up close.
One thing that I did get a chance to do was visit a HiVi store and listen to a pair of Swans 2.2. These are amazing speakers featuring ribbon arrays for the tweeter and midrange, and four woofers. What I heard was excellent. Unfortunately, no one in Shanghai knows how to sell speakers. The room was acoustically horrible, and the salesmen did not know what they were doing (the DVD player and integrated amp were not configured correctly). The salesmen didn't even turn off the nearby television or close the doors into the rest of the mall. The room was glass walls and a hard floor, although there was a suspended ceiling. The speakers are rear-ported, but were placed way too close to the wall.
December 22, 2005
World on Fire
I ran across the url for World on Fire, which is a web site that presents one of Sarah McLachlan's music videos. What's special about this video is that instead of spending tons of money to produce something flashy (at some outrageous prices due to how things are) that money was instead donated to many different causes around the world.
December 20, 2005
Intelligent Design Ruling
U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III has ruled against the Dover school board on both counts of the very important intelligent design court case. This is an important ruling because it establishes two facts. First, that the school board's motives were clearly to push religious ideology into the classroom, and second that intelligent design is unscientific and a religious concept. The latter is most important in that it sets legal precedent that would prevent other attempts at introducing ID into public schools. Yay for intelligent judges!
December 10, 2005
Fantastic Voyage / Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Fantastic Voyage was a great film when it came out for its special effects and imaginative set construction of the inside of a human body. The story is interesting because it takes the audience through a tour of the human body, and explains a little bit of how things work and are connected without being overbearing. It's too bad Raquel Welch wasn't given more lines though; the few lines she did have were well done. Instead she was put on as eye candy.
On the other side of the disc was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. This movie, on the other hand, was not very good at all. It had a bunch of clichés and it seems like the writers decided to throw every predictable conflict into the movie. The only good part of the film was the tension that remained constant as you tried to determine if Admiral Nelson was insane or the only hope for survival. Joan Fontaine and Barbara Eden were given equal opportunity as well.
One thing I found interesting was that in both movies, there was a time at which religion is juxtaposed with scientific thinking. In both cases, the discussion is extremely short-lived and left without any opinion one way or the other. Seeing the intelligent design versus evolution debate pop up for a few seconds in Fantastic Voyage is rather amusing given the current climate on that subject.
December 9, 2005
Narnia instead of the Bible?
A lot of Christian people and groups are getting very excited about the movie release of Narnia. Many of them view it as a Christian film that can be used to convert non-believers to the faith or to positively influence people who have questioned their faith. But what I'm wondering is how it can be considered good when the converting takes place as described in Talking Narnia to Your Neighbors.
Why should a person be more likely to accept, understand, or cope with God when He is presented in the Chronicles of Narnia rather than in the Bible? If a person can accept the God in those books, but not in the teachings of the church or the Bible, then are the two God characters different? Does this mean that if the Bible was more enjoyable to read, then more people would be Christian? And if all that is true, then what does that really say about believing in Christianity? This makes Christianity looks a whole lot more like a Jedi mind trick.
Reading about how easily influenced and weak-minded some people are makes the institution of Christianity seem much closer to Scientology.
October 3, 2005
Stupid Religous People
I was reading some comments posted in response to a recent Sony print advertisement mocking Jesus. And it really makes me unhappy to see just how stupid some religious people are. The casual attitude towards a separation of "us" and "them" is quite disheartening. The human race has started making progress towards racial blindness. But I guess being blind to belief systems is still too hard.
September 7, 2005
Apparently an 11-year-old girl is having her photo going around the Internet with messages asking for lessened Chinese hostility towards Japan. I don't really know how this started, or if it is even with this girl's permission, and maybe it is a hoax. Very strange how this happened. Anyway, here's a little more info about what is going.
September 5, 2005
Hanging Out With Jeannie
Today was a hanging-out-with-Jeannie day. We went to see The Skeleton Key and we both thought it would be one of those jumpy scary movies. But I'm kind of glad it wasn't because although it was kind of freaky scary in the beginning, it turned into a puzzle type of thriller later on and so didn't leave me feeling as scared afterwards. It's actually a pretty interesting movie because there's a lot of unique stuff going on that has to do with New Orleans and the history there. And it isn't too predictable. There is a plot twist or two which I doubt most people would be able to predict. Unfortunately, I think everything shot in this movie is now buried under water.
Afterwards, Jeannie found some running sneakers she needed to buy, at like the third or fourth store we looked at. She's pretty picky about her running shoes because she runs so much and is going to be in a relay race sometime in the next month or two. She doesn't like Nike sneakers and only likes Adidas. She was looking for a particular sneaker model, but instead found one that is similar.
Then we went up to a Greek Festival at a church way up near San Mateo. It was pretty cool just to sit around, people watch, talk about things, and eat some Greek food. The food was pretty good. I didn't get to try all the stuff I would have liked to. Too expensive. But it was kind of like a fund raiser for the church. I made a joke about the traditional folk dance they were doing. You'd have to ask Jeannie if you want to know what it was.
May 30, 2005
Saturday night, Shannon & Yvonne slept over and this morning we went to FanimeCon 2005. We ended up getting into the Convention Center at around 9:30am and left at 2:30pm. There was the usual dealer room, where I purchased a number of items, and the art booths, arcade games, and programming. I didn't pick anything up from the art booths, although we did walk around there for a while. Nor did I play any arcade games or go to any of the programs. For about half of the time, Yvonne went with Cecilia and Kathy, who arrived at the same time we did.
We saw a bunch of cosplayers, and I took pictures of many of them. However, some of the pictures came out kind of blurry. Naruto was by far the most popular cosplay choice. I saw the same short redhead girl in the white furry costume as last year. Kathy dressed up as a Naruto character, although Naruto is also one of the easiest choices. The Prince of Tennis cosplayer I took a picture of was appropriately sexually ambiguous.
I also learned a new vocabulary word: glomp v. to attack someone with a hug. A few people were walking around with signs asking for or offering glomps. I did see a few people participate in glomping. Yvonne also told me that she saw a pair of guys offering to perform "yaoi-ish" activities for money. Something new I saw this year was three fat guys walking around with a cheap cardboard sign saying "Fanime Girls Gone Wild" and a video camera. I don't think anyone participated in that one.
Here's what I bought: the grimrock! Mix Evangelion Ayanami Rei & Sohryu Asuka Langley figurines, some larger plugsuit Ayanami Rei and Sohryu Asuka Langley figurines (can't find a link; made by SEGA), a copy of the new Appleseed movie, Appleseed figures of Deunan, Briareos, and Hitomi, and two volumes each of the Battle Royale and Tuxedo Gin mangas.
I saved a bunch of money on the Evangelion figurines, but I overpaid for the Appleseed ones. I also overpaid for the Appleseed movie. I could have ordered the special edition for the same price online. I was hesitating on the movie, but decided to pick it up anyway. The Appleseed figurines I don't mind having paid a few dollars extra.
April 29, 2005
Saturday through Tuesday I took a vacation with Szu-Huey to Las Vegas. We stayed the first night at a Super 8. The next two nights we stayed at Harrahs for only $40 because we went to a time-share presentation by Fairfield Resorts. They gave us $20 and free buffet tickets for spending three hours listening to their sales pitch.
We didn't do much on Saturday except walk around. Szu-Huey played some Roulette and won $1 from betting $20. She was super happy for the rest of the day. Sunday we checked out of Super 8 and into Harrahs but had to leave our bags in the baggage check because they had no rooms available in the morning. We ate at the Rio seafood buffet. It was super-expensive but Szu-Huey's favorite buffet there.
Szu-Huey wanted to keep playing Roulette but lost so I convinced her to play Blackjack because the odds are not against you in that game. On Sunday I won $20 from $30, and on Monday I won $40 from $60. Tuesday before leaving for the airport, we played again and actually more than doubled $60, but instead of stopping we kept playing and ended up losing everything.
On Sunday we saw Mystére at Treasure Island. It was a very funny and entertaining show. We had excellent seats in the very front row, center section. After the show we ate at their buffet but Szu-Huey didn't like it as much. It wasn't as much as the Rio buffet but not as cheap as some other buffets.
Monday we saw the Bellagio water show, the Mirage volcano, and the Treasure Island Sirens of TI show. We ate at the Harrah's buffet with the free tickets we got from Fairfield Resorts. After that, we got on the strip trolley trying to get to the Stratosphere to see Bite but the trolley was going the wrong way. So we had to hop off and get a taxi to get there on time. I liked Bite, and they had some interesting plot twists and a really good acrobatics show. Szu-Huey was scared a few times though.
February 3, 2005
Just saw this article on Wired about how tens of thousands of Microsoft employees in Redmond, WA are buying Apple iPods. Despite the fact Microsoft publicly denounces the iPod and is trying to make big money off of their WMA format and competitor portable players. Turns out Microsoft employees are telling the company big time that their product just sucks.
Some of my favorite quotes from the article are:
- "I don't know what I was thinking. I'm sure that Microsoft employees are not buying iPods, or Macs or PlayStations." - In response to senior management expressing displeasure at the thought of Microsoft employees purchasing iPods from a local Apple store.
- "I don't really care if it pisses them off," he said. "I'll argue why they're doing it wrong. If you want me to stop using it, give me a product that works and is as easy to use." - Manager who flaunts his iPod on Microsoft campus.
- The Microsoft manager said he's heard from several executives who dutifully bought Microsoft-powered players, tried them, failed to get them working, and returned them in favor of an iPod.
January 14, 2005
Malaysian VCD Pirate Shot
The Star (a Malaysian newspaper) is reporting that police officers shot a VCD pirate in the chest during a struggle. The bullet also hit a bystander after exiting the victim's chest. The pirate is in critical condition and the bystander in stable condition. The event is under investigation as the pirate did not have any firearms in his possession.
I think it is somewhat interesting to see this happening. In some ways, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Southeast-Asia is one of the biggest producers of pirated material. And the culture there accepts it as the correct way of doing business. Legitimate stores sell pirated material all the time; there are street vendors on every corner; and law enforcement seems to turn a blind eye.
I wonder just what caused the officers to focus on this particular person, and what led to the use of firearms.
December 10, 2004
Japan is one of the few places in the world I want to visit. Partly because so many of the things I like come from Japan, or are heavily influenced by Japanese culture. One of the reasons I don't want to go to Japan, however, is because there are so many things over there I would like to buy, even though I can't read Japanese. Unfortunately, since I do pay attention to the technology and culture of Japan, I realize the sort of things that are lacking in the U.S. The SFGate has an article about this titled The Gadget Gap.
I think a large part of the problem is the mass-market approach dominant in U.S. business. It is extremely hard to find niche products anywhere other than via direct channels. In Japan, there are stores that sell a single product, open one day of the week with a different product each time, and sell out in hours from a line that formed the day before. There are so many types of products I would be interested in, but I'm looking for something that is perfect for me. That's hard when the majority of products are feature-saturated to meet the needs and desires of the lowest-common denominator.