Tuesday, December 29, 2009

During the Snow

Portland is having it's annual 'blizzard' today. I came home early and took maybe twice as long as usual to get home. Jean is still out there, and thankfully she has her cellphone so I can get frequent updates on her progress, which currently translates to 'slow'. Given that I'm currently sitting on my hands waiting anxiously, I'll use the time to mention the movies I've seen with her and separately lately. Since they just happen to all be Asian, I'm using the Asian Movies tag.

Summer Time Machine Blues.I first heard about this movie a few days ago when following a pointer from another web log (sorry, don't remember which) to this review. This website will be a bit of a jumpstart to my Asian movie viewing habits, I can tell. STMB is a silly, light comedy with many nods to other time travel movies and a lot of confused conversations over what constitutes a time travel paradox. Its best departure from standard fare is that the protagonists dream up a new use for time travel: recovering an air conditioner remote control from the past as their present one is now broken!

I watched this movie streaming, and Renee watched parts of it with me while playing Last Remnant on her Christmas Xbox360 (thus interleaving a Japanese RPG with a Japanese Sci Fi movie). I gotta say that this is a very fun movie. Jean did not watch this with us.

The movie that Jean and I did watch together recently was also a Japanese movie, Shall We Dance?. Given my spectator-only interest in dance (I'm hideously clumsy in the act, as Jean can attest after our efforts at a Cha Cha class), this was a very nice movie. The story was pleasant, with that other-culture aura that comes from hearing that ballroom dancing is considered something to be ashamed of by the average Japanese salaryman. Recommended.

The same guy who recommended Summer Time Machine Blues took pains to not recommend Protégé de la Rose Noire, as it is a rather weak 'madcap adventure' with next to no plot. But alas, it is a Twins movie, and I'm bound by a silent oath to watch every one of their movies before my death. Fortunately, I am neither diabetic nor particularly demanding, so I managed to breeze through the film with only a few cackles of "this is really bad!"


Jean got home after three hours of travel from Beaverton! The roads are truly sucky right now, but my sweety is safe at home with Renee and I once again.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

A selection of photos from today are now up on my Flickr account. See the Christmas 2009 set.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Scottish, Irish and English Breakfast Teas

I've always been a green tea drinker, preferring them to most black teas. I never liked the scented, fruity Darjeelings or Oolongs. I make an exception for gunpowder or lapsang souchong, but until now that's about been it.

Recently, though, Jean introduced me to the world of breakfast teas, of which the principal varieties seem to be Scottish, Irish and English. They are rich, not perfumed, and taken with milk really do fit in well with breakfast. She started me off at a high standard, sharing her fave-of-the-moment, Taylors of Harrogate Scottish Breakfast. It was very good.

Last weekend I tried to find something equivalent at the local grocery store, but the best I could do was Stash's Super Irish Breakfast Tea, which was above average for a black tea, but much below the standard of TofH Scottish. Anyway, I've had a cup of breakfast tea most every morning at work this last week, and can see doing the same for awhile.

Vince Guaraldi

Most recent acquisition from eMusic: In Person, a live album of Vince Guaraldi, whom most people know through his work on the Charlie Brown animated specials. Perhaps it's because of growing up with these that I really like his piano work, even though I'm not generally partial to piano jazz (with some notable exceptions).


Recently on Netflix:

Julie and Julia. Jean and I agree that this was half a good movie. All the Julia was interesting, and all the Julie was annoying.

49 Up. I've never watched any of the earlier installments in this documentary series, but this one was very interesting.

On my own I've watched One Eyed Jacks, a sorta classic Marlon Brando western. The one I really wanna see is Missouri Breaks, which I saw many years ago and which was quite quirky.

I'm just about finished watching Stephen Chow's kid's movie, CJ7, which is corny, but has a bit of the strange cartoon sense of humor Chow is famous for.

And yes, I did see Avatar, in 3D, and yes, it was pretty good. For a retelling of Pocahantas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Your Ghost

I'm usually a little tickled whenever I recognize the music used to back a show on radio or tv. In fact, it seems I'm getting to be an old hand with PBS. They use a lot of Miles Davis, like Freddy Freeloader from Kind of Blue. And recently, I was quite pleased to hear some Amon Tobin on This American Life.

But I don't know what to think about the recent music on Dollhouse. I watched A Love Supreme (nice shout out to Coltrane, once again), and they were playing Your Ghost, originally found on Hips and Makers, perhaps my favorite Kristin Hersh solo album. However, it wasn't Kristin singing the song, it was some dude (sadly, not Michael Stipe, who did the backing vocals and harmonies in the original version). Okay, covers can be fine in many cases, but this is one of the best damn songs she ever performed! What gives?

I assume they couldn't clear the rights. I hope they didn't think the cover was somehow cooler.

So anyway, to make up in some small way for that bad karma, I'm going to recommend Hips and Makers to everyone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Recent Movies

Bulk update:


Jean and I watched the streaming version of Good Night, and Good Luck, which tells Edward R. Murrow's story of confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy in a rather compact narrative. It was good, and David Strathairn was great as Murrow.

Jean and I have sporadically followed the career of Jim Jarmusch over the years. It seems that after his initial spurt of creativity, he had trouble settling on a reliable voice for his stories. Night on Earth was somewhat pretentious and uneven, for instance. Save me from Roberto Benigni being boisterously Italian! So it was with mixed feelings that we queued Limits of Control, his current movie. Well, it was once again a bit of a pretentious muddle.

I offered two 'explanations' for this movie to Jean, neither of which jibe with his public statements regarding the movie, which involve a lot of name-dropping of European directors and citations of early surreal detective noir from the continent. No, my two explanations, either of which satisfy me better are:

  1. He had recently read a collection of Jerry Cornelius stories, which were about intrigue and far-flung locations, and always featured bizarre characters with obscure motives.

  2. Jarmusch had recently acquired a desire to visit Spain, and conceived of this movie as a low-effort knock-off that would allow him to write off the trip on his taxes.

There you go. Not very respectful, sorry. I still encourage everyone to watch Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law (which also features Roberto Benigni being RB).

On my own, I've gone to a few movies in various genres. I recently saw 2012 to fulfill my "go-boom" quota for the month. Then I decided that a stop-motion animated feature written and directed by Wes Anderson based on a Raould Dahl story sounded just weird enough, and attended The Fantastic Mr. Fox (which was actually pretty fun).

Finally, this weekend I went to see The Princess and the Frog, which was a very nice return to the classic forms of hand-animation for Disney. The music was pretty good too. They grabbed me right in the beginning with Dr. John setting the scene with New Orleans spirit! It almost felt like that singular elation that I had in the opening moments of The Little Mermaid!

It looks like Randy Newman (You've Got a Friend in Me) is the standard go-to guy at Disney now. He's very different from Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, but still very good, and appropriate to the optimistic tone of Disney animated features.

The Search for a Quicken Successor

I own and use Macs at home and have for many years. I've used Quicken for most of those years as a way to keep track of my bank accounts. Recently, inexplicable errors have crept into my registers, and I've resolved to start fresh. So I'm re-evaluating my software choices. Seems like the new year is a great time to roll over my records to a new system.

Quicken for many years has been something of a second-class citizen on the Mac, and even though Intuit is planning on releasing a new version in February of 2010 (we'll see), some have observed that they seem to be removing features, rather than adding them, or at least reaching parity with the Windows flavor. Additionally, I'm trying to move to more integration with my bank (updating transactions online instead of hand-reconciling from the monthly statement), and Quicken has a nasty reputation for 'expiring' online features and requiring you to upgrade to a newer version. So I'm exploring alternatives.

Here's what I've found so far. Desirable features for switching include:

  • Register-like interface (similar to Quicken) is available

  • Transactions between accounts (transfers) are easy

  • Online interaction with bank works (no duplicate transaction problems during import) - it seems support for OFX helps here (supplies unique ids per transaction)

  • Export to CSV

  • Reports, especially with some sort of wizard to drive creation, some form of graphing

So here are the candidates. I'll try out as many of them as I can without shelling out money, then decide if I'm buying one of them, or another copy of Quicken...


Moneydance is the first possible Quicken replacement I've looked at. For the limited tasks I have in mind, it seems quite similar in layout to Quicken, and seems to accomplish the tasks no better or worse. I'll need to find something it is better at to justify changing ships.

I should really test how well it handles transfers between two accounts at the same bank.

I'm also just a little bit wary that it is written in Java. Not bothered by the language choice, but rather by Apple's iffy on-again off-again commitment to supporting Java...

Monday, December 7, 2009

New eMusic Acquisition

Imidiwan by Tinariwen. This group of musicians from Mali have pushed out music for thirty years, but are currently enjoying a bit of buzz in America. I finally saw one too many positive reviews and grabbed this one off eMusic.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?

Our household has been plagued by printer problems for months. So much so that Jean and I have even considered purchasing a new printer, though without any assurance that this would help, so I've procrastinated on that approach.

Anyway, in case anyone is Googling for help with printer problems which are similar to ours, I'll describe the problems and the solution which worked for us. Your mileage may vary, local laws may apply, etc. etc...

The Problem(s)

Our setup consists of two Mac OS X computers, one a rather old PPC in the dining area with an Epson Stylus Photo R260 inkjet printer attached via USB (printer sharing enabled), the other a newer but still 'mature' Intel version in the den.

The first problem was that the den computer could not always see the printer, even when the dining area computer was awake with the printer turned on. Over the months, attempts to get the den computer to 'see' the printer had resulted in multiple listings of the same printer in various print dialogs. Selecting any one of these printers was a coin toss, and the job could either get printed, or disappear into the ether, never to be heard from again. The print queue tool might indicate that the job was printing, the printer unavailable, or busy.

The second problem was that even when the printer was visible, available and printing jobs from the den, they would invariably print out in a muddy sepia tone, i.e. a monochrome shade of brown. I should also mention that Jean says that even the dining computer, attached directly to the printer, had problems printing photos with any sort of faithful color.

The Solution (So Far)

This weekend I resolved to solve the problem or prove that we needed outside help (paging Apple Store Genius...). After a bit of Internet browsing and multiple forays into the Apple Help menus, I resolved to do the following:

  1. Delete all printers, print queues and configurations from both computers

  2. Download and install the latest drivers from Epson for this printer onto both computers

  3. Reestablish printer sharing from the dining room computer

  4. Re-add the printer to both computers' printer lists

  5. Test printing several color documents from both printers

After this full system teardown and rebuild (hence the title of this article), I found that indeed, for now, the printer is visible, active and available to the den computer. Any given document printed from both computers appears to be identical in color and layout.

So for now, problem solved. I'll be watching for degradation in performance over the next few weeks/months.