Wednesday, December 31, 2003


From What NOT to do during "Return of the King.":

# 6. Finish off every one of Elrond's lines with "Mr. Anderson."

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Curse of the Bloody Puppets

As is my wont occasionally, I bought a videogame out of the bargain bin at Fry's, to have something to noodle with during the New Year's holiday. This time out, it was Devil May Cry, by the creator of Onimusha and Resident Evil. With a pedigree like that, you can imagine that it's a bit disturbing.

So Kelly was in the bedroom when I watched the initial video cutscene, and when I first started walking Dante toward Mission One: Curse of the Bloody Puppets. After awhile, the atmosphere got a little too spooky and she left. No monsters yet, she was just doing a preemptive strike. So I played on until I met the first batch of puppets and got killed. Of course. I had no idea what I was doing, as I hadn't read any directions, and was just fumbling with the keys. Even when I know what I'm doing, it's touch and go if I'll move fast enough to survive.

After the killing, I put the game away, and wandered into the living room. Kelly was by this time taking a bath. Jean looked up and reported the following. Kelly came into the living room, and Jean asked her what she'd been watching. "Something called 'Curse of the Bloody Puppets'."

"Was it gross?" asked Jean.

After a pause, Kelly gave her 'that look' and replied "well, the name says it all, don't you think?"

Big Fish

I took the afternoon off, and Jean and I went to see Big Fish together. I'm a fan of Tim Burton's work, so I was looking forward to it. It was interesting and colorful, as are all Burton's movies, but it certainly wasn't one of his best. I'd rank it around Edward Scissorhands, which was a colorful movie without a lot of direction, full of imaginative imagery, that stalled out by the ending.

In Cold Blood

It snowed yesterday, the second time this year. Ugh.

But Kelly really liked it, as witness this tableau, repeated in the current banner. I'm not sure the snow corpse was originally laid out as I saw it today, but I like it better this way. When it starts melting, I'm going to go out and outline it in chalk.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Urban Planning

I've just started reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, written in 1961. It's a seminal work in urban planning, which exploded several myths about what made a city successful. I was doing a little background research on the book and came across a review where the reviewer suggested viewing a film stored at the Prelinger Archive, entitled The Dynamic American City. This film was created in the early 1950s by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and reflects some of the prevailing attitude of the time on urban planning.

I watched it, and the key phrase here is 'urban renewal', a code phrase for bulldozing old neighborhoods, and building high rises and parking lots in their places. There also seems to be a strong support for urban sprawl. Modern-day Los Angeles in the making.

Now I'm better prepared to read the book in the context of it's times.

If that's all too grim for you, you might want to view The Relaxed Wife, which is an educational film on how to manage stress using stretching and relaxation exercises, and if those don't work, Atarax, a tranquilizer produced by Pfizer. I found it pretty amusing, especially after my bout with Lorazepam (curse you Doctor Wynans!). Download it and give it a peek.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Altered Carbon

Well, I managed to finish Altered Carbon. The conceit is to produce a hard-boiled detective novel set in a future where brain recording and cloning are commonplace technologies. If I had to guess, I'd say that Morgan was aiming for a world similar to Raymond Chandler's, and indeed he is quite successful at channeling Philip Marlowe, whose voice in my head is distinct from the one created by Humphrey Bogart (who did a great job, but whom I saw after I was fortunate to read a few Chandler stories).

The sequel, Broken Angels, is coming out in paperback in March. I may buy it then, though I think I'll want to wait a bit before diving into another story in Morgan's literary universe.

Atom Heart no Himitsu

So I spent a little time scanning the 'net looking for translations of the instructions for this game, and found none. I found a few reviews, and it sounds like an interesting game, but I still want a bit more info. I scanned a few of the pages and blew them up to 8X10 size to allow my aged eyes to see the kanji without exploding. Now I have to look up a few. I'm truly stale on my Japanese, as I accidentally selected the hard level when I saw the hiragana for 'muzukashi' and thought "I know that word! It means easy!"

So Tom, James, if you know where I can get translations of the booklet, lemme know!

More Israel History

I returned The 50 Years War: Israel and the Arabs to the library today, after a few days of cramming it into the interstices of all my other holiday activities. This is a five-hour miniseries containing interviews with key figures, when alive, and actual footage from events as they happened.

I was fascinated by this documentary, and came away with an even greater impression that there is no good side/bad side dichotomy, no absolutes of good and evil. There are in fact some pretty nasty characters on both sides, but the average people on both sides are caught up in a cycle of violence and territoriality which seems to magnify the darker aspects of human nature.

Between this and what I've read so far, I don't really see any resolution to the conflicts in that region of the world during my lifetime. Sure, temporary solutions that seem to be the lasting peace, but nothing that will last several generations. Still, I suppose that's kind of a trite observation, considering how short a time ago the last battles in Europe were fought...

Friday, December 26, 2003

Low Rider

Featured in this banner are two of Kelly's Christmas presents from this year: a Bratz doll (for some reason she really likes these things) astride an RC truck. I don't even want to get started on the mountain of toys she got, between us and her grandparents, aunts, uncles and distant friends, but thanks to all you contributors out there! I swear each year, that she gets more toys in one holiday than I recall getting in my entire career as a Christmas child. Probably not true, but it surely feels that way.

Most of my presents to Jean and Kelly went over well, with the exception of a book-on-CD, which she had just checked out of the library this week! So she gets to take one thing back to the store. Oh well, not too bad a ratio.

Jean and I bought each other an early Christmas present, the Roomba vacuum cleaner. We've been using it for the past week, and it fulfills my expectations as an interrim light vacuum. We bought it using some of the money we'd set aside for tests my doctor ordered for my annual physical, which turned out not to be needed. So, found money, as I like to say.

I opened all my 'rebagged' gifts from the NOVA Christmas party last weekend. I got a great cookbook from Lisa, many goofing toys from Alan (two Star Wars Lego kits and a foam ring 'gun'). Tom gave me the Season One DVD from Red vs. Blue, which turned out to be a great gift, as I have watched the entire season, the Outtakes, the P.S.A.s, and the Directors' comment track on Christmas day. Good choice, Tom!

James gave me two cool gifts. The first was a Japanese import game for the Gameboy Advance, based on the current remake of Astroboy, which James knows I consider my first 'anime', having seen it and practically worshipped it as an 8-10 year-old in Washington, D.C. (UHF! UHF! UHF!). The menus, printed manual, and everything else are in Japanese, and since I put my Japanese studies on hold until Kelly gets out of the house, it's all 'Greek' to me. So it'll be a challenge to work through some of it. I even got stuck in the introductory training level as the key combos started scrolling past too fast and poor little Astroboy got creamed by the sample monsters.

The other gift I got from James was a Hot Wheels model of the Mach 5, or Mach Go Go Go!, from Speed Racer, another cartoon from that childhood era which included such gems as Ultraman and Eigth Man. Boy, I'm tearing up here with the nostalgia. . Last but not least, John got me a DVD. Rather, he offered me a choice of one out of seven or eight different movies and anime. I finally settled on Boondock Saints, as I'd seen it but never owned it, and I have heard that there will be a sequel, so best to refresh my memory.

Gifts from the family were limited to stocking stuffers and a couple of personal gifts, as I'd already spent my gift money on buying an upgrade to Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther). All the computers in the household are running it now! Cool!

I just ate one of my presents, vegetable curry, with my dinner. Other presents include a Skeptical Inquirer magazine, a terrycloth pillow for soaking in the tub, some Chinese spicy sauce, and another personal favorite, my own DVD of Strictly Ballroom. Jean and I rented this movie many years ago, and it is just a pleasure to watch, both for the dancing, and for the drama and comedy of the storyline. I can't wait to watch it again.

The final present I'll mention was a minicase for my Gameboy Advance SP. I've been using the case for my old GBA, which is oversize. It has the advantage that I can fit most all of my games in the same case, but it is bulky. The minicase can fit two games, if you count the one in the GBA. I expect I'll use both, on different occasions.

I got money too, even though I spent the money Jean usually give me on the OS upgrade. So I put most of it in the bank to cover my expenditures for everybody else. Funny how that works!

And now, I'm being summoned to help my daughter brush her teeth (braces and all), so I'll just wish you all happy holidays, and post something more tomorrow...

Sunday, December 21, 2003


Saturday evening was the NOVA Xmas party. Much food, lots of fun, and friends exchanging prezzies. I swear I left with more presents than I carried in! We unwrapped them at the meeting, but I decided that it'd be nice to reprise 'em on Xmas morn, so I rewrapped them and put 'em under the tree. That is, if you can call stapling them into paper lunch bags rewrapping. So sue me!

Saturday, December 20, 2003

'Tis the Season

Today's banner change is brought to you under the auspices of Haggen's Groceries, and their 'Breakfast with Santa' program. Have your child visit with Santa! Have your child's portrait taken with Santa by a helper using a crappy Polaroid Instamatic camera! Scan same photo into your computer on a flatbed scanner to render lovingly each flaw in said photo!

Anyway, no bah humbug here. Seasons Greetings and all that.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Return of the King

I took the afternoon off to see Return of the King. At three hours and twenty minutes, I'm uncertain that I'd get to see it as a regular NOVA post-meeting outing. The earliest we'd get to see it that way would be 10pm, which after trailers, would let out around 1:30am, and I'd be lucky to get to bed by 2am, which nowadays is a bit too much for me.

So I went. It was excellent. If you've seen the first two, you're probably going to this one anyway. If you didn't see the first two, then nothing I say will make you see number three. But it was a great culmination of the series, and within the framework of a movie trilogy, this is as close as we are ever going to get to a faithful realization of Tolkien's books.

There. Go see it.

Thursday, December 18, 2003


More of an excerpt of the day, as this article by Clay Shirky on experiencing lutefisk for the first time reminded me of my own encounter with sea urchin sushi...

The moment every traveller lives for is the native dinner where, throwing caution to the wind and plunging into a local delicacy which ought by rights to be disgusting, one discovers that it is not only delicious but that it also contradicts a previously held prejudice about food, that it expands ones culinary horizons to include surprising new smells, tastes, and textures.

Lutefisk is not such a dish...

How to describe that first bite? Its a bit like describing passing a kidneystone to the uninitiated. If you are talking to someone else who has lived through the experience, a nod will suffice to acknowledge your shared pain, but to explain it to the person who has not been there, mere words seem inadequate to the task.

Ode to Lutefisk (found via BoingBoing

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Battlestar Galactica

Okay, I know I made fun of this 'reimagining' before it ever came out, but the SciFi Channel's miniseries of Battlestar Galactica wasn't half bad. The preoccupation with sexy Cylons was pretty stupid, but overall, the characters were more believable in four hours than the originals were in several seasons.

There's been talk of extending the new version, either as a series or with more miniseries. I wouldn't have a problem sitting through another four hour block, but I think a series is a bad idea, as it would eventually devolve into the same sort of clunky mess that the original did.

Okay, one 'innovation' I do have to make fun of: Star Battle Shakey-Cam!


I recently finished Warchild by Karin Lowachee. Not much to review, just that it was sufficiently interesting that I bothered to finish it. I might hunt up the sequel when it comes out in paperback.

I'm now back to reading Altered Carbon. I had to return it after a single library signout because there was a long line of others waiting for it. It's due to return this weekend, so I may have to requeue again, though I'll try to renew...

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sunday Double Bill

In addition to my usual Sunday errands and chores, I attended two social events today.

Event the First: Kelly's Sunday School Performance. Kelly was Mary (the mother, not the sidekick), and acquitted herself well. There was a rough moment when she mounted a platform and tripped on her robe. I could tell she was deeply upset, and felt she was the center of negative attention. We spoke with her afterwards, and it took awhile to convince her that 'these things happen', but she came around, especially after we pointed out some other flubs her castmates had experienced.

Event the Second: I had the mixed pleasure of taking Kelly and her friend Parker to see Cat in the Hat. It wasn't nearly as painful as the reviews had led me to believe, but it was a weak movie overall. I think I set a record for number of times I escorted a young lady to the restroom, since they took turns, rather than going together.

And I ate entirely too much popcorn for my own good. I've tried to counteract it with a dinner of oatmeal. We shall see if my stomach forgives me, or aches vindictively...


Jean had that nightmare experience that only a poor teacher can give. She was taking her final exam, on which her future in nursing hinged, and very few of the questions had anything to do with the material covered in class. In addition, questions were ambiguous, to the extent that sometimes they were phrased to deliberately confuse. Jean checked the answers after the exam against the master sheet, and she thinks she still managed to pull an A, but I for one am furious with her 'teacher'.

I had a teacher like that at O.G.I., for a computer architecture class, and his tests were execrable. My friend Burr was taking the course with me, and we actually met with the Dean to complain. Again, we both managed to pull A's despite the dolt's incompetence, but we felt others shouldn't have to suffer because this guy wasn't willing to do the work.

I don't think Jean is going to do anything, but I think someone should tell her teacher to at least have somebody review her tests before she gives them.

Pizza 'n' Pins

My division at work had it's annual Christmas outing this Friday. We started at Pizza Caboose for lunch. Why? Because our build guy, Stacy, is married to the mob Seriously, his wife's family owns the restaurant. They have such good pizza that Jean, Kelly and I went there Saturday.

I went to my 'Core Strength' class before lunch, which is the short-form Pilates class at work. I also do the Monday-Wednesday long-form Pilates classes, and it's a good thing, since the activity after lunch at Pizza Caboose was bowling! I don't bowl, and don't have the muscles for it, but my back is much stronger now, thanks to the class, and I made it through the three games with only minimal strain.

We went over to Tigard Bowl which is next door to the pizza place. There were three games, two high score and one low. The first game, we were each given an automatic strike on the third, sixth and ninth frames. The second game, seven, eight or nine pins counted as a strike. I had quite a streak of strikes there for the second game!

The third game, you had to try for a low score, but missing all pins counted as a strike (missing all pins on the second ball was a spare). This made the third game into the most skill-based game of the three, and I stunk, of course. Still, it was just for fun, and I got a See's chocolate turkey to take home to Kelly, and a baseball cap to take home to Jean.

Our final activity was to go back to Pizza Caboose and sample from a dozen cakes and pies from Papa Haydn. These were rich desserts, and even though I served myself only a sliver each of the pumpkin cheesecake (kind of disappointing, after all the build-up I've had) and the chocolate mousse, I was in sugar shock for an hour.

I managed to drive home safely, and stayed with Kelly while Jean went to take her final exam in her most recent nursing class. More on that in a later post.

Anyway, that's how we did office Christmas this year!

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Musical Night

Tonight was Kelly's 3rd grade concert. Luckily I was able to make it, and witness the splendor of "The Unity Tree", a tale of conflict between cats and dogs, which ends, happily enough, in Unity.

Seriously, it was fun watching Kelly sing, and even deliver lines in her one sentence speaking role. She was one of the few kids to actually emote and put some body language into her lines. Someday she'll be a star...


On visible expression of emotion while performing music:

James Brown swiped his whole end-of-concert collapse and resurrection bit from preachers and ministers of the Gospel. It's really not cool to be too emotive in Hip Hop or R&B these days. In fact, classical music may be the last place this type of face-making still hangs on. Someday, we may be treated to the spectacle of sweaty, exhausted Yo-Yo Ma collapsing onstage, being led off by his attendants with a regal robe around his shoulders, and then suddenly reviving, and running back on for a rousing reprise of a Bach cello suite.

Faze, a Metafilter poster

Uncanny Valley

If like me you were unfamiliar with the phrase "uncanny valley", you can get a great introduction by reading this paper (pdf document) by Dave Bryant:

Stated simply, the idea is that if one were to plot emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement, the curve is not a sure, steady upward trend. Instead, there is a peak shortly before one reaches a completely human "look" ... but then a deep chasm plunges below neutrality into a strong negative response before rebounding to a second peak where resemblance to humanity is complete.

If you get creeped out by zombie movies, or see a face in the fog on your bathroom mirror and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, Dr. Masahiro Mori would explain it this way: these are things which seem very human, but off-kilter, uncanny in a way the brain can't explain. Dr. Mori was a roboticist, interested in what made humanoid robots more effective. As it turns out, making them too human creeps people out, because they end up in the 'uncanny valley'.

The conclusion drawn by the good doctor is that designers of robots or prosthetics should not strive overly hard to duplicate human appearance, lest some seemingly minor flaw drop the hapless android or cyborg into the uncanny valley -- a fate to be dreaded by all concerned.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Moving Target

This Scientific American article explains Flynn's Effect, the observation that scores on IQ tests rise over time. It's a good article, and gives useful background for Eliot Gelwan's notice that the tests are being revised (as they are, apparently, every 15 to 20 years) to correct for this effect.

So if you think your child is smart, don't be disappointed if their IQ score seems lower this year...

Ceci and his current and former graduate students, Tomoe Kanaya and Matthew Scullin, found, for example, that the number of children recommended for special services for mild mental retardation tripled during the first five years of a new test compared with the final five years of an old test, despite the fact that there were no real changes in underlying intelligence.

Cornell News

All Mecha Are Equal

Relatives and friends with no interest in anime can stop reading here. But my anime friend James will be pleased to hear this, as he's a big mecha fan, and knows more about Gundam than most 'mundane' folk would consider healthy

Kelly and I were downstairs exercising together today, and watching Big O while we did it. Big O is an interesting show, where the main character 'pilot's a fighting robot known as Big O. In the show, all piloted robots of it's kind are referred to a MegaDeuces. Kelly knows this, and even that a pilot is called a Dominus.

Regardless of that, her mecha world map seems to have blurred at the borders. During our cooldown, we were talking about the latest episode we'd watched, and Kelly kept referring to Big O and Big Faux as Gundams. Tom, can you make sure James hears this one?

Final Fantasy X

With Final Fantasy X-2 now out, I finally stirred myself to work through the DVD set Tom lent me. This set of DVDs captures the storyline elements (cut scenes) from the game, as a sort of prolonged movie. As I had a four day weekend over Thanksgiving, I started to watch it then. I just now finished the first disc.

I appreciated Tom's offer, because, as you may recall, I got stalled in the game at some point and couldn't progress any further. In fact I gave up in disgust after succeeding in the defeat of a flying worm only to be thrust into a battle without any save point. Bam went my characters, and I just didn't have the energy to try again.

So having finished the first DVD, I think it's fair to say this probably represents about half of the actual game. And guess what? I played all the scenes on this disc. So I was at least halfway through when I stalled out. Too bad.

Now it turns out that I didn't even have to keep the DVDs. My iLamp and VLC software are able to play the DVD VOB files after they have been copied to my hard drive. So I'm going to give the discs back to Tom next NOVA meeting, and watch the VOBs as I have time. I'm deleting them as I go, since each VOB is about a Gig, and I don't want to eat up that much hard disc space for files I'll never watch twice.

Sorry for keeping things so long, Tom!

Monday, December 1, 2003

The Scottish Song

My new favorite song to obsess over and play continuously is The Light Before We Land by The Delgados. It actually took me a little while to figure out who did the song, as I heard it in the opening credits of Gunslinger Girl, a new anime making the rounds. It must be in vogue among anime creators to use Scottish groups, since these guys are Scottish, and I've been hearing a lot of bagpipes in anime lately (cf. Last Exile).

Now I know who did it, which album it's on (Hate) and that it's available on Amazon. Next batch of orders will include this CD!