Minor Update

The “Weblog” link at the top of the page now takes you to an archives page that lists recent activity on the site. Could be useful to see where comments have been made; mostly it’s just me dinking around with the site.

The “Links” page is still sketchy, until I figure out something useful to do with it and how to make it work with WordPress. The idea is that it’s going to be a “hey, this is neat!” repository so I don’t have to make a whole post just to say “hey, check this out.”

After Life

Pete's DragonA couple weeks ago I was threatened by my friend Matt to reconsider my opinion of the videogame Resident Evil 4, or I couldn’t be friends anymore. Well, I re-tried the game and I still don’t like it. I don’t like shooting games without a mouse, anyway, so I was already annoyed. And when the villagers pushed a boulder on top of me, and the only way I could escape was by furiously pushing the A button like a monkey, I completely lost interest.

So in a desperate attempt to save our crumbling friendship, I rented the movie After Life from Netflix, and finally watched it last night to take a break from putting off the work I wasn’t doing. A few years ago, Matt had recommended the movie to me, but I could never find it.

It’s a neat movie. The premise is that after you die, you choose one memory from your life to take with you for eternity. It’s filmed like an indie movie, but doesn’t fall into all the pretentious traps that indie movies usually wallow in. It’s not overly obscure in order to hide the fact that it’s not really saying anything, and it also doesn’t have a single message you’re supposed to take away from the movie once you get past all the symbolism. Instead, it does what an “art film” is theoretically supposed to do: present an idea and let you make your own conclusions about it.

There’s enough of a plot — concerning the counselors who help the recently deceased choose their memory and then recreate it — to show different takes on the central question and to raise more questions about what exactly it is we’re supposed to be doing with our lives. But they’re presented as different ways people would answer those questions for themselves, not as an attempt to give The One True Answer. It avoids getting over-sentimental or relying on effects or gimmicks, presenting everything as completetly straightforward; it could be mistaken for a documentary, if filmmakers had unrestricted access to the afterlife clearing house. And as a result, the images are even more powerful — instead of relying on special effects, the movie depends on your own memories and how you form them and see them in your own mind.

But of course, you’re left asking yourself the same question: what memory would you choose, if you chose one at all?

My first thought was that it would be the first time I saw the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disney World with my family. I have such a strong memory of that, of being safe, protected, amazed by the spectacle of it, and being overwhelmingly happy. And of course, not long after I thought that, the movie showed one of the recently deceased choosing a memory of Disneyland, and the counselor telling her that all the teenage girls do that (ouch!) and helping her pick a better memory.

And after that, well, I’m stumped. I don’t have a single memory that incorporates all my friends and family, and they’re too important not to take with me. I need to either have all my friends together to do something ridiculously fun, or else get used to the idea of being a counselor.

Man-child

Space Mountain via blurry cameraphoneI just got back from Disneyland.

I got into Burbank a little after 5:00, and I’m already caught up with my work (or more accurately, I’m at a complete deadlock with my work and would need some kind of divine intervention to get past it). So I could either sit around the hotel for hours, or I could take advantage of my annual pass, drive down to Anaheim and ride the new Space Mountain as many times as possible.

Turns out “as many times as possible” was once. Tuesday night at around 8 pm, and the wait was 80 minutes. Even with all that, including the hour drive and the kids behind me getting all up in my personal space the whole time in line (because they were excited, so I can’t fault them for that), it was worth it. The ride is that cool. I’ve just got to go with somebody else now, so I can actually talk about it instead of just writing about it on my weblog.

After all that, I didn’t feel like waiting for anything, although the waits for everything else in the park were under 30 minutes. I went on the Matterhorn right as the fireworks were starting, and that was pretty damn cool. Not quite as spectacular as riding Big Thunder Mountain when the fireworks are going on — on Big Thunder, you come out of a tunnel and see the fireworks spread out all over the park, and it’s amazing — but still a great sight. Some of the fireworks are launched from the top of the Matterhorn itself, so the show was going on all around us.

And apart from that, I just had a beef skewer, a Dole whip, and a chocodile (from a 7-11) for dinner. If I were accountable to anyone, I’d be in so much trouble right now. Now I’m going to stay up too late playing my new videogame. Maybe I’ll build a pillow fort in the hotel room.

The Importance of Being Earnest (About “Alias”)

What’s wrong with me? I forgot to talk about “Alias” some more.

I watched the last episode of Season 2 last night. The big surprises from the Season 2 ending were already spoiled for me, so I didn’t get as big a shock as the first-time viewers. But I’ve got to say: even though I knew it was coming, that was one hell of a fight. I guess graduate students can only afford apartments made out of balsa wood. I’d heard about the big cliff-hanger/twist as well, so that wasn’t a shocker; I was just waiting to see how they actually did it.

Everything from here on out to the zombies is still spoiler-free for me, so I’m waiting to see what they do with Season 3. I’ve heard varying reports on teh internets. Netflix will show me the way, since I’ve already got the first disc queued up.

With these shows that I’ve gotten obsessed over in the past (“Buffy” and “X-Files”), they’ve always had episodes where it seems as if they’ve painted themselves into a corner, and then magically turned it all around to reveal a whole new room. “Alias” takes more of the brute-force approach — they paint themselves into a corner, and then demolish the house. But it keeps moving; you’ve got to give them that.

Another thing I noticed about “Alias” after watching the bonus features and commentary (since there were only 2 episodes on the last disc, I had to watch something): it’s really hard for me to maintain a healthy cynical detachment from this show. I realize that the show is formulaic and filled with ridiculous contrivances and plot-twists, but they all realize that, too. It doesn’t matter. It’s like a roller coaster — if you keep telling yourself it’s fake and there’s no way you can get hurt, it sucks all the fun out of it.

There was a bit of an interview with Jennifer Garner on there, where she said that during the filming of the finale she kept crying in between takes because she felt so bad for Sydney Bristow and what she was going through. She said, “I mean, I know that she’s a fictional character of course, but she’s real to me.” That’s the key to the whole show. You can either roll your eyes at that, or you can take it at face value and play along.

They’re all so dead earnest about the show, which is why you can hear about double- and triple-agents and ridiculous plot contrivances and DNA strands and retinal scans and not be distracted by the absurdity of it all. And you can really think things like, “Man, how bad would that feel to have your mother who you thought was dead but actually turned out to be a double-agent spying on your dad who was also a double-agent and now she’s stabbing you with a cattle prod because she’s working with the man who killed your fiance in order to steal ancient super-powerful artifacts that grant immortality? That would really suck!”

And because they’re so dead earnest about it, I actually liked watching the blooper reel, which I normally despise. It’s just fun to see them all get to smile for once. And I got a kick out of watching the rest of the promotional stuff, even though I know it’s all just marketed and manufactured to be a star vehicle for Jennifer Garner and show star-struck brainless TV-watching masses just how charming she is. But dammit, she is charming!

I’ve been tired of irony for a while now — everything trying to be all self-referential and “dark and edgy.” I’m getting a kick out of seeing something that just says, “Yes. We have zombies.” And they’re not afraid of looking stupid, and they’re not saying it’s some joke or a metaphor for something “deeper.”

Every time I change this site, I die a little

I had big dreams for this website, once upon a time. It wasn’t going to be just the place where I ramble on about computer mice and “Alias” that it has become. I was going to write all kinds of fancy web apps and gadgets in PHP and whatever else came along, making it kind of like the original Brunching Shuttlecocks site. I was going to write my own blogging engine, so I could get practice writing. I was going to do travelogues for the places I went, with a fancy photo gallery and write-ups like a travel magazine. And I’d be able to post random pictures, movie reviews, short stories, whatever else I could think of.

But then I gave up my own blogging engine because WordPress is simply better. And now Flickr’s taken over for the photo hosting, and it does much cooler community stuff than I could’ve thought of. All my travel photos are now up there, and I can’t even do a detailed write-up because it’s been so long I can’t remember where half those pictures were taken, and why they were significant. All the other stuff I’d planned fell to the wayside because I never had time.

My only consolation was that I could at least make the thing look nice, and so I wrestled with CSS to finally come up with something not great, but at least somewhat “different.” And that was fragile and broke under different browsers. So now I’ve even given up on that and just went back to the default WordPress theme, gave it a sickly gray-green background and added some old pictures, and I’m sticking with this.

And of course even this isn’t cross-platform like a website is supposed to be. I’ve tried it out, and the score-card is:

  • Safari for Mac: looks pretty much how I intended
  • Firefox for Mac: not bad, but it doesn’t handle fonts as well
  • Firefox for Windows: exactly like Firefox for Mac, except the halftone-image collie is missing from the headerbar
  • Opera for Windows: pretty good overall, although there are some weird spacing nitpicks
  • Internet Explorer for Mac: no surprise that it totally chokes on the spacing, but considering I didn’t put any IE-specific workarounds in, it’s usable
  • Internet Explorer for Windows: header, spacing, links, fonts, all completely fucked up

Now it’s no surprise that IE doesn’t render the webpage well; I’m about the 10 millionth person to bitch about Internet Explorer’s lousy CSS compatibility. But for it to render the page differently on the Mac and Windows versions? That’s just wrong.

So my plan is for standards compliance through petulance. I’m not going to put any of the workarounds to get it to work in IE; they wrote a crappy browser, so they should be the ones to fix it. I realize that I’m not running amazon.com or anything here; as I said, it’s just a place for unfocused rambling. But I used to think that if I’m going to try to learn something (e.g. webpage design), I should learn to do it right (e.g. accessibility, standards compliance, and cross-platform compatibility). Well, screw that.

P.S.: I realize that the “Weblog” and “Links” links are broken. I’m still working on that.

I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Input Device

I’ve grown to realize that my Microsoft Intellimouse Optical is the Hilary Rodham-Clinton of input devices.

I will admit that I’ve strayed. I’ve tried the newer, flashier versions. The sleek green one that came with my PC — oh, it looks nice, and at first grasp it seems a perfect fit for my hand. Form-fitting. Yielding, even. And oh, the buttons! Sitting up high, pert and perky in an unfamiliar and exotic location. But I soon realized that it was too exotic, too form-fitting. And too yielding — the scroll wheel just rolls over with no response, no interplay, a mushy, cursory movement that suggests it would roll over for anyone.

I tried the wireless version, with its big promises of the future and a life browsing with nothing tying me down or holding me back. But it was a short-lived passion. The affair lasted only as long as the supplied AA batteries, and when those died I realized how plastic the whole thing was.

And of course recently, my very public affair which many of you have no doubt read about, down to my lurid descriptions of the scroll nipple. I’m not proud of it, but yes I did try it. I breathed deep of the promise of Apple innovation, and oh yes I did inhale. But it ultimately failed me, refusing to turn around properly in World of Warcraft because I wouldn’t play by its rules and take my index finger off the mouse when right-clicking.

And standing beside me through the whole ordeal was my Intellimouse. It’s not the flashiest of the bunch — you could even call it “plain.” But she and I have a rapport built up over the years; we just work and play well together. And I’m starting to realize that it isn’t just the trusty workhorse that stands behind me throughout any Republican-led assault. It actually does an excellent job, and I just never noticed because it does it so well. After installing the Microsoft drivers for OS X, I can actually go back and forth through web pages using the left and right buttons, and it takes me back to when we first met and I first took her out of the package.

Also, my mouse was in charge of an ill-conceived and ultimately doomed plan for national health care.

Flickr and Raccoon Dogs

Now there’s the title for a 70’s action movie if I ever heard one.

I got my copy of Pom Poko yesterday and watched it on the commute back to San Francisco. I’m impressed; Disney released it unedited. And with a pretty tasteful translation — they always refer to them as “raccoons” and never describe them as different animals, which is kind of a shame but perfectly understandable; and they describe at the beginning that the males can inflate and transform their “raccoon pouch” and leave it at that. There’s no cautionary or explanatory material anywhere else on the DVD, and it’s really not needed. (There are also no bonus features other than the original trailers, and a second disc containing the entire movie in storyboard format, but that’s no big surprise as this was never a huge blockbuster release even in Japan).

And I ususally hate English dubs of Japanese movies, but they did a pretty good job with this one. Some relatively big names for voice actors, including John DiMaggio (Bender from “Futurama” and Doctor Drakken from “Kim Possible”), Brian Posehn (again), and J.K. Simmons (from “Oz,” Spider-man, and the yellow M&M). I guess Disney can afford to hire anyone they want. I’m thinking it’s pretty damn cool that the movie was released in the US at all, and the fact that it’s a well-done release is just an added bonus. I’m also very happy I don’t work for Disney’s complaint department.

I’ve also been looking more at Flickr.com and am starting to catch on more to the appeal of it. I’m always late to the party with these internet phenomena, but it’s still worth pointing out. What’s neatest to me is the support for public forums and groups, and the ways that people are using them. Those networking sites like Friendster and Orkut are neat for the first couple of days, but after you settle all your “hey, that friend knows that friend! Small world!” incidents, it’s pretty useless. They try to create “communities,” but it just ends up being “so you like ‘Mr. Show’ too? Cool.” followed by awkward silence. And silences between internet geeks are the most awkward silences of them all.

The flickr people have realized that you can’t just facilitate people’s getting together, you’ve got to give them something to do. And, what’s most surprising to me, people have actually picked it up and run with it. What with this being the internets, there are of course the predictable “look at me naked” and “hey u live in sf too thats cool!!!1!” groups, but most of the ones I’ve found have been surprisingly clever and creative. Usually when you give a ton of people on the internets the chance to be creative, they don’t do much other than reaffirm the idea that 99% of everything is crap. But at least on the groups I’ve seen, people stay on topic or with the theme — “Tiki culture,” “Route 66,” “Most photographed landmarks,” “What your world looks like at 5:00” — and it ends up being pretty cool.

I’m actually encouraged to take pictures again. And just for their own sake, not to be “artistic” or as part of some larger project or some special event, but just because it’s pretty fun. An internet creativity experiment that actually encourages people to be creative; I never would’ve thought it possible.

I realize that I could use my RAZR to post on Flickr, but at that point I’d be turning into one of those guys who always talks about moblogging and geocaching and uses the term “blogosphere” non-ironically and refers to himself by his online handle. And SolGrundy don’t play that, yo.

Adventures in the Blogosphere

Saints of Notre DameI found out tonight that I’ve already got a free account on flickr because of my DSL provider. So this is little more than a test post.

I’ve got to say I’m not all that impressed with flickr and can’t see what the big deal is yet. The iPhoto plugin just makes it tolerable to use, not actually fun. But considering how everybody’s all crazy about it, I’ve got to try it and see what all the fuss is about.

Now that I’m living in San Francisco and using a Mac mini to make a weblog and a flickr account, I’m running out of stereotypes.

Not so Mighty

In other news, my Apple Mighty Mouse came in the mail today, while I was comatose. I’m starting to think the love affair is over between me and Apple, because I just don’t like it.

Apple’s strengths have always been industrial design and integration — stuff just works, and it all works together. This just feels like it’s missed out on the last 10 years of computer mouse development. It doesn’t feel right to my hand, for one thing; their pill-shaped mouse design may look great in their ad photos, but isn’t so great for ergonomics (unless, I suppose, you’re left-handed).

They’ve finally added the right mouse button functionality, but it’s faked and it feels faked. Because it’s touch-sensitive, I have to take my index finger completely off the mouse for it to register a right mouse click. While knowing that there’s a touch sensor inside does appeal to the inner geek in me, it’s pretty damn impractical and I can’t see how that’s actually better than having an actual, physical second button. There’s no tactile feedback.

The “scroll ball” is their other big selling point, and I’m not impressed. Rubbing a nipple on my mouse just doesn’t feel right. The mouse itself is optical, which should be a requirement, but the scroll ball feels every bit as flimsy and gunk-up-able as the mouse balls of old. And it’s just not as good for actual scrolling — I never need to scroll in “any direction” as the ads claim I do, so I’d rather have something that is more responsive at just scrolling up and down.

And another problem with tactile feedback — the “buttons” on the sides are actually more like squeeze points; they don’t depress. So you still can’t use the left and right buttons to go back and forward through web pages on your browser (Safari, in my case), which is the biggest thing I miss since I switched from Windows. Instead, you squeeze them both at the same time, and it registers as a single input — by default, that brings up Expose, but I turned that off immediately after inadvertently triggering it the third time.

I realize it’s an exaggeration, but I have to say that this mouse sums up every complaint that people have about Apple. It’s overpriced, to start with — for $50 I could’ve gotten a top-of-the-line Microsoft mouse. It’s form over functon — it looks nice, but simply doesn’t feel comfortable. And it’s gratutitous technology over practicality — touch sensors are neat, but again, why not just make a real button?

Speaking of Foul…

I make “I’m getting old” jokes all the time, but I’m usually not all that serious about it. But I’m starting to wonder how much truth there is to it after days like today. I just don’t spring back from minor ailments the way I used to be able to. Okay, that’s inaccurate, because I’ve never exactly been a paragon of good health and proper nutrition; instead I’ve always been somewhat like those guys you read about in turn-of-the-century novels who were “wan and sickly” which explains why they spent so much time indoors becoming educated about Arts and Literature.

But still it seems like I can remember a time when getting sick didn’t knock me out for an entire day. Last night in mid-“Alias” recap, I started getting the feeling that something I ate wasn’t just disagreeing with me, it had serious problems with me as a person and wanted out of the relationship immediately. So not only was I up until the wee hours (so to speak) reading magazines (as it were), by the time I was finally able to get it all out of my system and get to bed, I was completely exhausted and ended up sleeping until late afternoon. And of course, this being summer in San Francisco, it’s dark and gray outside, which just drives home the point that I missed out an entire day. Before, I always blamed this on stress, or crunch mode, but now I’ve got to figure I’m just not as young as I used to be.

I call foul!

Hooooooooooooooooooooly crap!

I just finished watching the first episode on “Alias”, Season 2, Disc 4. There’s only one other time I can remember that I felt compelled to yell back at the screen during a TV show, and that was an episode of “Twin Peaks” where Bob crawls out from behind a planter in the Palmer living room. The only thing that kept me from screaming back “oh hell no you didn’t just do that” at the last 5 minutes of this episode is that I started watching it at 1 AM and I got neighbors. (Plus, I’m a suburban white guy, so I shouldn’t be saying that kind of thing anyway).

I know I said they don’t like to drag out plot lines, and instead just throw everything at you at once, but this is crazy!

Everything after this is a big SPOILER for “Alias,” so stop reading if you haven’t been watching the show and think you might want to at some point.
Continue reading “I call foul!”

Disney shows some balls

I just read that Disney is actually releasing Pom Poko on DVD in the US next week! This is my favorite Studio Ghibli movie and in fact one of my favorite movies, but I assumed that since Disney owned the US rights, we’d never, ever, not in a million years, no way no how, ever see a US release.

One of the reasons I like the movie so much is that it was my first exposure to an entire section of Japanese folklore. Before seeing Pom Poko, I’d never heard of tanuki. (Actually, it turns out I had, but I’d never made the connection.) But the “problem,” as far as Disney’s concerned, is that tanuki are always depicted as having huge testicles, and in the folklore it’s the source of their power. It’s non-sexual, or at least more a symbol of fertility than sexuality, but to Americans (myself included), the first reaction is always, “Whoa, check out the ball sack on that raccoon!”

Which is why I thought that once Disney bought the US release rights to all Studio Ghibli movies, we’d never see an American release of Pom Poko. It’s not just a case of how the characters are drawn, either; it’s actually the source of a couple of major plot points — one group of tanuki attack a police group using their scrotums, and another wise old tanuki turns his into a giant sailing ship. So Disney was left with the option of either going in and heavily editing the movie, or not releasing it at all. Since it’s a relatively obscure movie even among anime fans, I can’t imagine the money they’d make from the release would warrant the time and effort it’d take to edit it so heavily.

I haven’t seen it yet, obviously, so they could’ve turned the movie into a eunuch. But I’m encouraged by this interview with the translators, which suggests that they got around the concerns simply by translating “scrotum” as “pouch.” We’ll see.

And although I realize I’ve spent the entire post so far talking about testicles, the point is that it would be a shame to see it edited because it’s relevant to the folklore but such an inconsequential aspect of the movie overall. The real reason I love the movie so much is because it gets its message across so perfectly. It’s mostly an environmental message, like many Studio Ghibli movies, but it’s not reduced to platitudes or schmaltzy symbolism. It has talking animals throughout, but like Watership Down, they stay true to their nature. They’re not just furry stand-ins for humans, they’re really animals.

Or at least, they’re really animals as the traditional folklore portrays them. Tanuki are fun-loving tricksters, and they have difficulty fighting against the humans destroying their mountain specifically because it’s not in their nature to take anything too seriously. When they try to fight back on the humans’ terms, they fail. When they’re in hiding and the humans try to call them out by singing the traditional children’s song, the tanuki can’t help but sing back. And more importantly, when they try to deny their true nature and blend in with the humans, they lose the essence of themselves. I’m sure that it has something to do with the fact I was working for EA the first time I saw it, but the ending never fails to make me start tearing up, every time I see it.