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My Archives: January 2005

Friday, January 28, 2005

Hair Today, Krunk Tomorrow
Posted by CKL @ 10:38 AM PST
Three good things about getting my hair cut on Tuesday:

1. I donated my hair to Locks of Love. They accept hair that's at least 10" long, and use it to make wigs for children who have lost their own hair due to medical treatments (chemotherapy, etc.). Thanks to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy for first putting me wise to this very cool charity.

2. Free haircut! Lots of salons all over the country do this for Locks of Love. I went to Great Clips in Mountain View, who were very friendly and helped my indecisive ass pick a good-looking, low-maintenance hairstyle. I would have donated my hair even if I'd had to pay for the cutting, but this was a nice bonus.

3. If I were single, this would be a great way to get chicks to notice me. I think every person I've seen this week has had something to say about my hair. Everyone was surprised, and most said they liked it. But the women definitely had the strongest reactions, and stared at me the longest-- as the kids say, "checking out" my "game" and "digging" the new "do". They clearly found it rather "tight"; perhaps even "pimp".

For shizzle.

[Link]

Read More Science Fiction
Posted by CKL @ 02:14 PM PST
You can now view the complete list of 2004 Nebula Award nominees, and even read some of the stories online!

I'm man enough to admit that "Sergeant Chip", the novella by Bradley Denton, made me cry-- and I'd love to see a studio like Pixar make a great movie out of it.

I'm also looking forward to downloading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the novel by Cory Doctorow, especially as an act of protest against unreasonably restrictive copyright legislation. I don't want things to stay the same-- I want them to get better.

[Link]

Thursday, January 27, 2005

News and Views
Posted by CKL @ 10:26 AM PST
It's official: use a text browser, go to jail!

"A Londonder made a tsnuami[sic]-relief donation using lynx -- a text-based browser used by the blind, Unix-users and others -- on Sun's Solaris operating system. The site-operator decided that this 'unusual' event in the system log indicated a hack-attempt, and the police broke down the donor's door and arrested him..."
-- Boing Boing

And yes, Spock must die. We don't like half-breeds 'round these parts, boy.

"Last year Canada passed the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which bans chimeras. Specifically, it prohibits transferring a nonhuman cell into a human embryo and putting human cells into a nonhuman embryo. Cynthia Cohen is a member of Canada's Stem Cell Oversight Committee, which oversees research protocols to ensure they are in accordance with the new guidelines... Creating chimeras, she said, by mixing human and animal gametes (sperms and eggs) or transferring reproductive cells, diminishes human dignity. 'It would deny that there is something distinctive and valuable about human beings that ought to be honored and protected,' said Cohen..."
-- National Geographic

It always bothers me when I hear about things like this, i.e., reactionary segments of the population trying to constrain the leading edge and enforce the majority view. There's nothing wrong with being "normal", but the conservatives should remember that the minorities-- the forward thinkers, the visionaries, the crazies-- are the people who make the world a better place. Don't hold them back because you don't know what consequences their actions will have.

And, of course, it bothers me when people imply that human actions are "unnatural" and in the same breath talk about disturbing the "global ecosystem". Humans are still a part of nature, dude, whether you believe in divine creation or not. We're here, we're interconnected, and we have no more lasting effect on the environment-- which we share with countless other species-- than any other life form. Seriously. Stop counting in years and think about changes over centuries and millennia. In the grand scheme of the universe, we're not that important. We're tiny, stupid, and mostly harmless. Deal with it.

[Link]

Monday, January 24, 2005

an exhausting weekend
Posted by CKL @ 10:29 AM PST
im too tired to capitalize or use proper punctuation

Just kidding. But it was a busy couple of days. On Saturday morning, Team Ferromagnetic Snout gathered to create puzzles for the first-ever Iron Puzzler. The three ingredients (Pipe, The Queen of Spades, and Twenty-Seven) were announced online at 9am, and Jeff made crepes for breakfast at 11am. We spent the next six hours brainstorming and building.

A white limo picked up DeeAnn around noon and ferried her off to her bachelorette party. Gerry had to leave at 5pm for a gig, but we were done with puzzles by then. I changed into my tux, Jeff drove me to Palo Alto to meet the rest of The Richter Scales, and at 7pm, we all went up to the penthouse of the Garden Court Hotel to sing a few songs at DeeAnn's party. She was totally surprised and very happy.

After the party, the Scales (plus Jeff and James' wife, Trina) retired to Gordon Biersch for dinner, where we also sang for another bachelorette and a birthday party. I tried their Schwarzbier, which was similar to Guinness but didn't quite have the same bite. After dinner, we walked over to the Creamery and sang a couple of songs for the patrons there. It was pretty crowded, so no table-dancing opportunities for Nolan this time.
[more]

[Link]

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Richter Scales Sing For Tsunami Relief
Posted by CKL @ 09:25 AM PST
Next Sunday, THE RICHTER SCALES will join a multitude of bay area a cappella groups to perform:

IN HARMONY FOR ASIA
A pair of Tsunami Disaster Relief Concerts

Sunday, January 23, 2005
Performances at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm

Chabot Performing Arts Center
25555 Hesperian Blvd.
Hayward, California

Tickets are $25 for general admission, but you'll get to see a lot of big a cappella acts, including Clockwork, The House Jacks, The Edlos, and, of course, THE RICHTER SCALES. If you're into that sort of thing.
[Link]

You can't buy that kind of advertising
Posted by CKL @ 08:16 AM PST
"A charismatic leader who said he ate a McDonald's product most days, [former CEO] Bell was diagnosed with colorectal cancer just weeks after being named to the company's top job in April."
-- CNN.com
[Link]

Friday, January 14, 2005

Spoilers Galore!
Posted by CKL @ 05:52 PM PST
WARNING: The article linked below contains gi-normous spoilers for the DC Comics mini-series Identity Crisis.

"Comics historian" Peter Sanderson had this to say about the ending of Identity Crisis:

One of the underappreciated virtues of the great Silver Age DC comics edited by the late Julius Schwartz was their treatment of women...

So, now in Identity Crisis #7 comes the grand revelation that the murderer of one Schwartz heroine... is none other than another Schwartz heroine...

Identity Crisis has been accused of misogyny. In my past reviews of the series, I've been willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. But now it's clear that, intentionally or not, "Identity Crisis" is indeed disturbingly misogynistic.

-- Comics in Context #67: Catch As Cats Can

I have to agree with several of his points. It was odd, in this era of not-unwelcome girl power and sexual equality, to see not a single strong female character (other than the murderer) driving the story. And the ending was quite a letdown, with certain consequences hinted at but nothing truly resolved. Was the DC universe "changed forever," as the ads promised? Sure, but that happens every other week nowadays. Did the characters or readers learn anything new? Yes, but only in the form of loose ends yet to be tied up.

Maybe it's a brilliant marketing scheme to get us to buy more comics. Or not so brilliant, since I don't plan to buy many more comics, and certainly don't intend to get sucked into the weekly wallet-emptying comic shop visits I indulged in high school. I find that I'm agreeing with DeeAnn's philosophy of comic book consumption: don't bother subscribing to monthly titles; just wait for the trade paperback collection, and then you can read an entire arc at once. In fact, this is almost essential for Fables and Astonishing X-Men. The only trick is you can't always count on the publishers to put out those editions regularly, or sometimes at all.

[Link]

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Going Sideways
Posted by CKL @ 09:45 AM PST
We finally saw Sideways last night, and it's every bit as good as you've heard. Every performance is brilliant, but especially Paul Giamatti, who does wonders with a mostly thankless (albeit starring) role, and Virginia Madsen, who delivers a heartbreaking monologue about why she loves wine.

Since it's the season for it: I predict that Sideways will be this year's Lost in Translation; that is, a film which is worthy of the Best Picture mantle but which will not win because the Academy prefers to reward more "epic" filmmaking.

There ain't no justice.

[Link]

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Declaration of Price War
Posted by CKL @ 12:15 PM PST
By the way, if that last entry made you want to buy DVDs, check out DVD Price Search, a comparison shopping site designed specifically for DVDs. You can add several titles to a "comparison cart", and then see how much it would cost to buy all of them from each of a number of stores-- you can also specify stores to always include (I recommend Deep Discount DVD) or exclude (I boycott the incompetent Buy.com). It's interesting to see how variations in pricing for individual titles, or shipping costs, can affect which store comes out as least expensive.
[Link]

The Death of Quality
Posted by CKL @ 12:01 PM PST
Earlier this week, the "UnderGroundOnline" web site (UGO.com) published its list of the Top 50 DVDs of All Time, which is at best useless, and at worst insulting.

Notice that the list specifies DVDs, not movies. They're ranking the packaging, not the content, and they even admit to it:

The advent of DVD has ushered in a bold era where even the most questionable of movie can result in one of the best home video releases of all time. And that, our friends, is what this list is based on. Sure, that one nameless film makes you queasy in your stomach, but the four discs it comes on are packed with reference-quality video and sound transfers, and hours upon hours of awesome in-depth special features explaining how they made the turtles talk. We've entered an age where a great DVD is more than just a film...it's a presentation, and as the home for Fantasy Entertainment, who better than UGO to decide the fifty best examples of what DVD can do for Hollywood. Enjoy.
Has it really come to this? Are we really okay with a half-baked Indiana Jones rip-off (Stargate, 16th on the list) ranking higher on the list than the actual Indiana Jones movies (19th), simply because it's got more bells and whistles? Is the Goonies DVD (#20), featuring "'screen-specific audio commentary' with Richard Donner and all seven original Goonies", really better than the mind-blowing Memento Limited Edition (#32)?

I mean, seriously. If I don't like the movie, am I ever going to spend four-plus hours watching self-congratulatory featurettes and listening to audio commentaries? And they're recommending Pearl Harbor because of the "technologically amazing re-creation of the USS Arizona splitting in half in high-definition surround sound"? Christ on a stick, why don't I just take some Ecstasy and then read Winnie the Pooh? At least I know I'll be getting a good story.

UGO.com bills itself as "the leading online source for Fantasy Entertainment," which it defines as "a breed of entertainment that values imagination above realism, action above idleness, and superheroes above ordinary people. It's what boys dream about and men refuse to outgrow. The wonder of magic. The curves of Heidi Klum. The thrill of turbo speed. The power of technology." Their tagline, doubling as navigation links, puts it more succinctly: "GAMES : FILM & TV : DVD : MUSIC : TECH : SPORTS : COMICS : GIRLS : VIDEO".

Basically, a slightly geekier, online version of Maxim, FHM, Cargo, or any number of other "men's magazines". Don't even get me started.

A few months ago, I was at lunch with some co-workers and discussing the relative merits of HDTV. One guy-- let's call him "John"-- was adamant about HDTV's technical superiority to everything, and seemed annoyed when I declared that I didn't want HDTV for various reasons, including being unable to time-shift and a lack of content. He almost violently protested the latter point, saying that most network programming is already broadcast in HDTV, and accused me of being ignorant of this.

I deflected the insult and replied that I watch a lot of cable programming which isn't broadcast in HD. At this point, another fellow at the table-- let's call him "Paul"-- mentioned that I watch Star Trek. John offered that Enterprise is broadcast in HD. I pointed out that Enterprise is crap. John countered disdainfully with: "So what are you going to watch, reruns?"

In my mind, John is the kind of guy who would find value in UGO's Top 50 DVDs list. He's the kind of guy who doesn't care what execrable content is coming through his TV, as long as it's coming through in high-definition video with digital surround sound. And he's spending way too much money for it.

I fear for the future of media.

[Link]

Monday, January 10, 2005

This is why I don't play war games
Posted by CKL @ 03:29 PM PST
I'm pretty good at tactics, but not so much at strategy. This is something I need to work on in my writing. More on that later.

Two things reminded me of this particular strength and weakness during the past weekend. First, while on retreat with The Richter Scales, I played a couple games of poker. In the second game, I knocked out all of the other players but one, and then he cleaned my clock on the last hand. It was pure luck that he won that hand, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, I did well tactically-- winning hands and taking one player at a time-- but not strategically. James let me cull the field until it was just him and me, making the endgame much easier for him: winning against one opponent is easier than winning against many.

The other reminder was the second season premier of HBO's Carnivale, quite possibly the best damn show on cable television. The first season had moved fairly slowly, revealing bits and pieces of a larger mythology in a patient and calculated fashion. Several of those pieces came together in last night's episode, and it's clear that the creators of the show had much of it planned out far in advance-- in short, that they had always known more than they were telling the audience. This is one of the reasons I hated 24-- because it was obvious that the writers were just futzing around with no real plan or direction.

But it's also a weakness I recognize in my own writing. I'm great at dialogue and description, but not so good at structuring the overall narrative. Once I know what's going to happen, plot-wise, I tend to want to say it all at once, in a very linear and chronological fashion. That's not always the most interesting way to tell a story.

I also don't like rewriting, and in my mind, "rewriting" includes outlines and drafts. Which is bad, because it means once I've plotted out how the story is going to go, I feel on some level like it's already happened, and I lose interest in actually writing it. I admit it-- I'm more attuned to plot than character. But while I can wrap my head around building a character and then writing about him or her, I find it harder to intricately design the flow of a story and then proceed to actually write it out. I suppose that's not necessarily being bad at strategy, just bad at execution. But I often don't even take the time to plan; I just want to jump into writing, because it feels more like I'm actually doing something, accomplishing something.

More on rewrites (or lack thereof): For example, when I'm blogging, I tend to spew out a stream of consciousness in one burst. Then I read over the preview and hunt-and-peck to fix typos, polish a sentence here or there, maybe add to the introduction or conclusion. But I don't rewrite. I don't have a clear conceptual separation between the idea of what I'm writing and the actual words that end up on the page. Maybe that's the root of the problem: I need to be able to separate the story itself from the text that tells the story.

[Link]

Friday, January 7, 2005

Today's Headlines
Posted by CKL @ 11:27 AM PST
Raise your hand if you saw this coming a mile away:

DirecTV launches non-TiVo digital recorder
DirecTV on Thursday debuted its first digital video recorder with technology from another News Corp. division, raising questions about the strength of its relationship with digital video recording pioneer TiVo... Last June, DirecTV divested its stake in TiVo and stepped down from TiVo's board, fueling speculation that News Corp. would eventually dump TiVo. DirecTV represents TiVo's single largest pay television customer...

Didn't I see this in Judge Dredd?

In wrong hands, high-tech guns won't fire
Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark are building a handgun designed to fire only when its circuitry and software recognize the grip of an authorized shooter. Sensors in the handle measure the pressure the hand exerts as it squeezes the trigger. Then algorithms check the shooter's grip with stored, authorized patterns to give the go-ahead...

All together, now: "Did you order the code red?"

Memo reveals Bush OKd torture
...[A] December 2003 FBI internal e-mail, suggests that Bush issued a secret Executive Order authorizing the use of extreme coercive measures in interrogation, including sleep deprivation, stress positions, attack dogs, and use of hoods to intimidate prisoners. The Geneva Convention Against Torture bans all of these practices...

[Link]

Thursday, January 6, 2005

How could I forget? Oh, yeah.
Posted by CKL @ 04:30 PM PST
Just remembered two other movies I saw last week:

Legend of Earthsea (Sci Fi Channel miniseries)
Not the worst thing in the world, but also not Ursula K. LeGuin's original epic. I think her critique of the production was right on: the source material was whitewashed, all hint of color or eccentricity leeched out so the final product would be bland and familiar enough to appeal to the largest possible mass market.

Under the Tuscan Sun (NetFlix DVD)
Fluffy and inoffensive, but also mostly inconsequential. DeeAnn called it "lifestyle porn."

[Link]

Law & Order
Posted by CKL @ 09:43 AM PST
Is the first time that a verdict has been overturned by an episode guide?
A Texas appeals court in Houston on Thursday ordered a new trial for Andrea Yates, the woman who confessed to drowning her five children in a bathtub, citing the false testimony of a prosecution witness...

The Texas First Court of Appeals ruled that the conviction should be reversed because an expert witness for the state, Dr. Park Dietz, presented false testimony when he said Yates may have been influenced by an episode of the "Law & Order" television program. No such episode had ever aired.

Yates, now 40, apparently was a fan of the show and watched regularly.

The doctor, who worked as consultant for the NBC program, testified during Yates' trial that there was an episode dealing with a woman suffering from postpartum depression who drowned her children in the bathtub and was ruled to be insane.

He suggested that Yates may have been inspired to kill her children because of the show.

In its appeals, the defense said it contacted the producers of the show, who said such an episode was never shown.

-- CNN

I'm sure alt.tv.law-and-order will be buzzing with discussion about this in a day or two, after they finish mourning the late, great Jerry Orbach.
[Link]

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Merry Xmas, Movie House!
Posted by CKL @ 02:05 PM PST
Had a relaxing vacation last week, marred only by DeeAnn having the flu, which cancelled our trip to the Cartoon Art Museum. But we did manage to see quite a few movies:

It's a Wonderful Life
Xmas Eve at the Stanford Theatre. One of our holiday traditions.

The Fifth Element
Bought the Superbit DVD ($20 at Fry's) to try out my new DTS-capable A/V receiver. The movie's still a lot of fun, and the art direction is fantastic (in both senses of the word). So far, I can't hear a significant difference between DTS and Dolby Digital, and I believe Superbit is overrated, even for rabid videophiles.

Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2
Good, but not great. I know, it's blasphemy for a film geek to say that, but there it is. I didn't love The Godfather either. And am I the only one who thinks it's hypocritical for reviewers to bash David Mamet for being "mannered" and praise Tarantino for being "stylish"?

Shaun of the Dead
Hilarious, and unexpectedly touching. If you missed it in the theatre, get the DVD!

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Nice to look at, but with all the drama of an eight-year-old playing with his action figures. I hate to say it, but Hidden Frontier holds together better as a production shot on virtual sets. There's something to be said for actors with conviction, even if they are rank amateurs.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Featuring the best werewolf I've seen in a movie. And, unlike Van Helsing, I actually cared when the computer-animated puppets started fighting.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy
In one marathon, twelve-hour session, we watched all three extended version DVDs. And you think Frodo suffered...

[Link]

You might be a computer scientist if...
Posted by CKL @ 12:07 PM PST
...you read the back of a shampoo bottle, get to the part where it says "lather, rinse, repeat," and think it's badly written because it would cause an infinite recursive loop.
[Link]

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