Yogurt memories

I love to eat yogurt for breakfast, and my favorite is Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Blueberry. I love stirring it up until it gets nice and purple, and there are always plenty of berries in it! I can remember the first time I ate yogurt. During my CITGO days in the early 90s, I was doing Macintosh development in C++, and the company sent me to a week-long training course on MacApp, which was a cool object-oriented framework they used to sell that you could use to write Macintosh applications (the original Photoshop was written using it!). Apple used to do these Developer University courses (I still have my D.U. coffee mug!), so I got to fly out to Cupertino and stay in a great hotel that had a free breakfast spread in the morning, and since it seemed cool to be in California and healthy, I tried some yogurt. I actually didn't know you were supposed to stir it up, so the first time I ate down to the bottom and encountered all the fruit at the end! The next day I got it right, and I've been enjoying it ever since. I've tried some other crazy flavors without fruit, but they're too much like eating pudding, which doesn't feel right in the morning!


The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie : 3 of 5

I've only seen an episode or two of SpongeBob Squarepants on Nickelodeon, but I still consider myself kind of a fan, since he's such a funny character with a creative design. I thought the trailers for the movie looked great, so I rented it as soon as it was available on DVD. This is a really fun, goofy movie, with just a pinch of good-feeling message and a whole lot of silliness! The majority of the plot involves SpongeBob and Patrick traveling to Shell City, which turns out to be a gift shop in the surface world, so there's a long section filmed in live action along with the animated characters. The scenes with David Hasselhoff are just hilarious, especially when they ride him (inexplicably swimming at super-speed) back to Bikini Bottom. There's also some fun live action to start the movie, with a bunch of pirates singing the theme song like a huge male choir, and then they go to the theater to watch the movie! I totally enjoyed SpongeBob's pal Patrick in this movie - there are plenty of scenes of him exposing his butt or underwear, plus drooling over King Neptune's daughter Mindy. I loved the scene where SpongeBob and Patrick get "drunk" on ice cream! Maybe I should watch the series more since I enjoyed the movie so much.


Candy and doggies

As usual, my pals Chris & Eliza had an Easter get-together at their house, which was lots of fun. We had burgers and candy, plus three dogs to play with! Dolly was there, of course, plus two others they were dog-sitting - Danger and Jewel. We also had some crazy fun looking for "haunted items" on eBay, and we actually bid on and won Baby Chaos, a goofy looking baby doll. The listing was so stupid that I'm sure it's not really possessed, but I shot a lot of video of us bidding, so maybe I can make a funny documentary out of it! (I'm sure I'll have more news on this exciting topic in the future!)

View photos: Easter 2005

Cool River Cafe : 3 of 5

This was definitely an unexpected experience! I swear I had heard the name Cool River Cafe used in the same sentence with the phrases "fun place" and "happy hour". So, my parents and I showed up in casual attire and quickly realized this was a full-blown crumb-scraper restaurant! (As you know, the really fancy places scrape your crumbs away between courses!) We decided to tough it out, and I enjoyed the rich settings, with giant paintings and blazing fireplaces. Our waiter told us about a wine "special", so I ordered semi-expensive glasses for Mom and I. It was much better than I expected - I'll have to drink Pine Ridge Chardonnay on my own sometime! I had mahi, which was prepared with a kind of tomato sauce, bacon, and shrimp - really delicious, but not very light. Dad had some nice chicken, and Mom had a salad consisting of half a head of iceberg lettuce. Even though we were looking for a different kind of dinner, we still had a good time. I really enjoyed the wine and my meal, I just have to remember what to expect if I go back again!


New Disney tidbits

I'm always reading about Disney stuff (of course), so it's not too often that I find out a really interesting tidbit of information that I didn't know before. However, I do have a couple of things I found out recently to share with you! First, I had no idea that the oldest "surviving" Disney animated character is Pete (who went by many names, my favorite of which is Pegleg Pete). Pete is Mickey's enemy, right from the beginning in Steamboat Willie. He was in a few early Disney cartoons before Mickey was born, so he's the oldest. He's still around in today's shows, making mischief at the House of Mouse, and he's even Goofy's next door neighbor in the Goofy movies!

Next, I saw a great DVD from the Extinct Attractions Club that features Imagineer Tony Baxter giving a walk-though tour of the Haunted Mansion in Orlando (I have no idea where this incredible video came from - it seems to be some kind of a Cast Member overview thing). Anyway, Tony mentioned that since the original Haunted Mansion at Disneyland opened in 1969, things were well underway at Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971. So, they actually built lots of the animatronics and illusions in duplicate, so the doubles could just be shipped to Florida and installed. Essentially, they were building both Haunted Mansions at the same time - amazing!

Aida : 5 of 5

My parents are practically Zach Scott Theater regulars now, since we seem to see something there each time they visit. This time we saw the Disney produced version of Aida, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice. I really didn't know the complete details of the story (it's been a long time since I saw the opera), but I figured Zach would do a good job, and I was so right! After the opening song, I was a little worried - the actors seemed really stiff, but it could have been the dialog (which wasn't nearly as well-written as the lyrics). It wasn't long though before I was completely wrapped up in the music! There are a few ballads in the show that had me in tears, especially the duet Elaborate Lives - the actors were fantastic singers, and I loved how real their emotion was, belting out the words right in each other's face. The end of the first act was incredible, too, with the number The Gods Love Nubia - this time I got misty-eyed just from the beauty and talent. The music was all live, but the band was actually tucked away in the mezzanine (I found out later they could see the stage via video monitors). The second act goes by quickly, but the final song by the Pharaoh's daughter ties everything together nicely. Even though the music is full of hooks and cliches, I completely ate it up (and now I'm planning on buying the Broadway recording!).


Lent's officially over

Happy Easter, everyone! If you remember, I decided to donate to lots of charities during Lent this year, and I'm happy to say I kept my promise. I spaced them out to about one charity every other day or so, and it worked out to 20 different charities. Most of them were ones I donated to last Lent, but I found a few new ones, too. In case you're looking to make a donation anytime soon, here's my list with links to their sites. Giving to charity is much more fun than giving up sweets, if you ask me!


My moves aren't lame

Today I completed Endless Mode on DDR 3rd Mix - yatta! It's a great feeling to dance 55 songs in a row without stopping. I'm kind of amazed at how my skills have improved since I first started playing a few years ago. It's fun to go back to these old mixes (still playing faithfully on my old Japanese PSOne that my pal Matt bought for me) and smoke some songs that I had so much trouble with before. Now I actually like all those versions of Paranoia and Trip Machine!

Speaking of DDR, RedOctane has joined up with a developer and their own dance game for PS2 will be out this summer! It's called In the Groove, and I'm sure it's going to rock - it's supposed to have about 70 songs (no licensed big hits, but as long as it's dance pop I don't care). I've already pre-ordered my copy so I get a free T-shirt.

Cheddar's Casual Cafe : 3 of 5

While my parents were in town, I decided to try out a few new restaurants (I usually take them to places I've previously tested). I think I've driven by Cheddar's at least a hundred times, since it's right on 183, close to my Acura dealer and on the way to Lakeline Mall where I like to walk. This is definitely a fairly average Americana place, and not much stood out from the decor, except a cool rotating palm fan that fills the ceiling of the main room (we didn't get to sit under it, though). There's a lot on the menu, but the one thing everything has in common is the size - this place serves gigantic plates of food (which means you get gigantically full). I had a nice club sandwich, piled too high with meat, but it had this really yummy kind of mint peppercorn jelly on the bread. It was an unexpected taste, but I loved it (I still ate the bread and jelly when I was too full for the second half of the sandwich). My Mom had the veggie plate, and Dad had chicken strips, which were huge. The beer selection was pretty dismal, so I had a Mohito, which was pretty tasty (with sugar around the glass). I probably won't make a point of going back, but I'd tag along if someone else was going.


New Jamba love

I still love to get my Jamba Juice on, and I've been going a little more often lately as a lunch substitute (since the protein blast seems to work as a meal). They recently introduced some new flavors that they call Jamba Energy, which basically means they all have caffeine - woo hoo! I've tried two of the new ones: the Turbo Tropic and the Matcha Green Tea Blast. Both were awesome, but the green tea one is absolutely incredible. Since it's made with sorbet and yogurt, it's like a green tea milkshake with a kick! Oishii! I can't wait to try the third new flavor, too.

Aliens of the Deep : 4 of 5

A few years ago, I took a drive to San Antonio to see Ghosts of the Abyss on the big IMAX screen. This film is definitely a follow-up, since it's a James Cameron production, who seems to be obsessed with undersea exploration since he made Titanic. This movie is all about going to parts of the ocean floor where light has never touched, and yet there are all kinds of sea creatures there who survive and thrive in total darkness. This fact is used to tie together future missions to the moons of Jupiter, which may have oceans under deep coatings of ice, so it's possible life could exist on those worlds. Cameron and his crew all take turns narrating, which makes the film even more interesting and gives lots of different perspectives. They use really cool submersibles, some of which have great full bubble cockpits, and also robotic cameras that they can drive into interesting places, such as into a swarm of shrimp playing around in a several hundred degree volcanic vent! This movie was in polarized lens 3D, and they took great advantage of it, making it seem like you were actually swimming in these strange waters with huge, beautiful jellyfish in an undersea ballet. Even though the movie is short (less than an hour), I learned a lot and was completely fascinated!


Hole in the Wall : 3 of 5

I've been to the original Hole in the Wall downtown before, but truthfully I didn't even know they served food (maybe the downtown location is only a bar). My pal Ryan goes to the one in Round Rock and loves it, so we went to the North Austin location with my pal Barron. The specialty is giant burgers - the smallest size they have is a half-pound! I've always shied away from the half-pounders at Fuddruckers, but I soon discovered that I can actually put away one of these babies (though I was full for hours afterward). My favorite thing they have is homemade chips, which taste super-fresh and yummy (and remind me of my Mom's chips, but not as good, of course). The only thing I didn't like was the decor. It's small place with simple tables and chairs that look like they came from Wal-Mart, and everything else is just the usual bar setting (beer lights and so on). But I guess the food speaks for itself, although I probably won't visit here a lot since the half-pounder is a big job! Every now and then you just need to get stuffed, though!


Hanging out again

Tonight's posts are live from Barnes & Noble, since I had to buy three wireless sessions a while back, and I need to use them up! There are plenty of people here tonight, but not a lot of interesting folks for me to spy on. (In fact, one ultra-opinionated old guy is talking so loud that everyone is staring!) I played some DDR 3rd Mix at lunch today, did a Rosetta Stone lesson after work (tonight it was lots of adjectives and things, so now I can say Watashi wa onaka ga ippai desu after a big lunch), and still caught a little sun while reading a Disney comic. After lunch I ran into Ryan and Barron and I got to see Barron's new over $1,000 digital SLR camera. Wowza! I should have a Flickr pic of Barron in action up soon (Flickr is having another massage!).

Matt's fun photos

My pals Matt & Kumiko have been back in Japan a few weeks now, so Matt has developed and scanned a bunch of great photos! They aren't in chronological order right now, but they are so much much fun to browse through. There are some great art shots, and plenty of craziness, too. I don't even remember Matt taking this shot, but this is Kumiko (doing what looks like an Ultraman pose) and me (doing what is definitely a Sailor Moon pose). (Sorry for the cropping, Matt, your composition is much better!) Take a look and enjoy (and read his cool website, too)!

View photos: Moon Station Foxtrot

Ride the Wild Surf : 1 of 5

Well, according to Greg Noll in Riding Giants, now I've seen the worst surf movie ever made. I can understand why he hates it so much, especially since the character called Eskimo in the film seems like a total rip-off of the real Greg Noll (including his signature black and white striped trunks)! This movie is definitely bad - even a semi cool Jan & Dean song can't save it (of course, the song is only during the closing credits, and nobody cares by then). The plot involves three guys who go to Hawaii to catch the big ones, and their adventures with the other hot-shot surfers and the weirdo gals who love them (one of the gals is Barbara Eden, who only looks about one third as cute as she did in I Dream of Genie). There are lots of scenes of the guys floating on their boards in nearly motionless water, then one of them will look off camera and yell "Big set coming!", then paddle off, and they cut to a guy tearing down the face of a 15 footer. Pretty hilarious, really! There's also some rear-screen close-ups (just like in Gidget), and I'm pretty sure they reuse the same shots over and over. There are three little romances to keep track of, and all of them are pretty boring. The final contest, where they surf until exhausted and the last one surfing "wins", is totally crazy, too. Oh well, I've seen this "amazing" movie so now it's out of my system!


DDR dilemma

I was planning on taking my iBook to Barnes & Noble to write a bunch of reviews, but the time got away from me. First I caught the last half hour of sun on my patio, then I decided to play some old-school DDR 3rd Mix. I wanted to try out Endless Mode, since I just recently unlocked it (my old mixes are kind of untapped since my moves weren't as good back then), but I couldn't get it to start. I would go to the Endless Mode screen, choose my settings, and then no matter what I stomped on, it wouldn't start! So, I tried digging around on the web, and before I knew it I had spent over an hour with nothing to show for it, and my iBook power was getting low. When I was giving up it dawned on me that since Endless Mode is a one-player game, maybe the controller has to be in the Player One slot (I always play in Player Two so I can pick the cute girl characters). I was right! So, I solved the mystery, but I didn't want to go out with a half-charged iBook, so I did a bunch of online Nihongo studying instead, which was fun anyway.


Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes : 3 of 5

This wonderful little book contains six classic fairy tales, all retold in the amazing, bizarre poetry of Roald Dahl. Even though this seems like a tiny book, you shouldn't blaze through it - I recommend reading it out-loud to really appreciate the poems (stopping to laugh your head off, of course). These retellings are always hilarious and unexpected! In Cinderella, the prince chops off the heads of the ugly sisters, so Cinderella rejects him for being so violent. Snow White uses the queen's Magic Mirror to win big at the horse races! And Little Red Riding Hood packs a pistol, and uses it not only against the wolf at Grandma's house, but also against the Big Bad Wolf harassing the Three Little Pigs! There are plenty of illustrations as usual, but most of them are in color this time, and they illustrate some goofy moments (like the huntsman from Snow White buying a cow's heart at the butcher shop). It's all funny stuff - I love irreverent re-workings of these classic tales!


Choo-choo me home

My parents went home today after a fun-filled four day visit. We saw some great shows and ate at plenty of restaurants (reviews on the way, of course), but the best thing we did was take a trip on the Hill Country Flyer! The Austin Steam Train Association is a volunteer group of folks who keep old trains running as a "rolling museum". We rode in a lounge car called the City of Chicago, built in 1950, but our train also included several coach cars built in the 1920s! During the two hour ride (at the amazing speed of 20 MPH), you can walk all through the train, including between cars, where you can hang your head out the vestibule. It was so exciting and historic! Our car attendant was a lovable old guy named Don, who told lots of jokes and stories. Our destination was Burnet, a really small town where you can get an ice cream cone for a buck, and after a big lunch we watched a goofy gun fight, complete with bad acting and plenty of loud shots. During the ride back we all sang Chattanooga Choo-Choo as it started to rain, which made the ride seem even more authentic to me. The whole experience was so cool - I will definitely do it again sometime!

View photos: Parents Visit 2005


Bambi / Platinum Edition : 5 of 5

It's always a big moment when a Disney animated classic comes out on DVD for the first time! I can't even remember the last time I saw Bambi all the way through, so this was definitely like a new movie for me - I had completely forgotten about the older Bambi, Thumper and Flower and their girlfriends! Of course, the movie is spectacular - the use of the multiplane camera is phenomenal (and you get to see those amazing glass plates from the Disney Archives in the special features!), and the impressionistic style of the backgrounds combined with the most realistic animal animation ever created will never be topped. I was totally on edge waiting for Bambi to lose his mother - that one huge tear Bambi sheds was echoing mine. The bonus material is really nice, but there isn't as much as the other Platinum Editions they've released. Still, there's some great animation discussion with Andreas Deja (who stood his ground and decided to stick with the pencil!) and a nice hour of behind the scenes information. The best feature by far is the "Inside Walt's Story Meetings" commentary - they took the typed transcripts of meetings from the 1930s and reenacted them with voice actors (the guy who does Walt's voice is incredible!), so you can hear the creative discussion while you watch the scene in question, along with various pre-production artwork. Sheer genius! Bambi is simply a moving work of art, and I'm so glad I finally have it on DVD!


Astro Boy Vol 21 / Osamu Tezuka : 4 of 5

There's seven stories in this jam-packed volume, which is a big departure from the multi-part epics from a few books ago. A couple of the stories don't really count, though, since they were originally part of a manga that came with 3D glasses, so there are huge panels with lots of "popping-out" action and not much story content (although one of them does include a visit from Dr. Saruta from the Phoenix saga - nice crossover!). The other stories are really early in Tezuka's Astro work, and several include the first appearance of some supporting characters like the bully at Astro's school and the Inspector. The reason I really enjoyed this volume, though, is because Astro falls in love in the story Sea Serpent Island! It's so cute that he doesn't want the girl to know he's a robot - at the end she believes he's died and he watches her walk away from a window. So bittersweet! In another story Astro is the commanding officer on a manned mission to Mars, and in another there's a Frankenstein robot that must be stopped (plenty of exploration of human/robot interaction here, of course). There's one more short story where Astro begs Ochanomizu to give him the emotion of fear (so he can enjoy ghost stories), but Astro soon realizes that it becomes a real problem when he has to battle. I can't decide if I like the short or long stories better - they have such different pacing, but they're both fun!


Sailor Moon Season Two / Complete and Uncut : 4 of 5

I've made it through eight more DVDs of sailor soldier action, so now I've enjoyed the complete series of Sailor Moon R (I still have no idea why the continuing seasons of Sailor Moon are labeled "R", "S", and "Super S" - does anyone know?). I think it's brilliant that all of the girls have to rediscover their identities again, since it brings back the fun feel of an origin story, even though it's the second season of the show. As far as enemies go, there are kind of three arcs to this season. First, there are brother and sister aliens and their giant Doom Tree, then the sexy sisters of the Dark Moon Clan attack, and after they fail, the next set of Dark Moon folks fight to the finish. These episodes also feature Chibi-Usa, the little Usagi from the future (who is actually the daughter of Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask in the future - try to wrap your head around that one). She's mostly annoying, but still really cute sometimes, and it's pretty cool when she is transformed into Black Lady (you get to see her age about 15 years in a few seconds, including the growth of various interesting glands). The last few episodes of the series are really wonderful, and seeing the girls stand together to fight for love and beauty is pretty inspiring in an otaku sort of way. I've already got Season Three ready to watch!


Thrilling chain of events

Here's a brief rundown of my past few days, just because! Yesterday I went to the mall at lunch for an energetic mall-walk, accompanied by my iPod shuffle and some great new earbuds that stay in my big ears much better (a gift from my parents). It's fun to march around the mall with my personal dance music soundtrack! I forgot that it's Spring Break, so the food court was totally overflowing with kids, so I got a jasmine bubble tea and drove to another Chick-fil-A, but it was packed, too! Oh well. While I was in line I couldn't stop staring at this guy with no earlobes - no kidding, the bottom of his ears were completely connected to his head! Last night I spent some time playing on a new (to me) Japanese language site that has cool videos you can watch - I can't get enough Nihongo, and I can't even explain why, except that it makes me feel cool to be studying something. Today I forgot my Papa iPod (I left it charging), so I was naked at work without my tunes, but then I remembered I still had my Baby iPod in my bag! However, I discovered that it doesn't auto-power off, since I accidentally left it on when I went to lunch and it was dead when I got back (it's charging now!). I had lunch with Ryan and Barron and ate a 1/2-pound cheeseburger - it was the only size they had! I'm still feeling the love in my tummy. My parents are coming to visit tomorrow - I'm taking a couple days off work, so this definitely feels like a Friday night!

Boba Fett 6: Pursuit / Elizabeth Hand : 4 of 5

Even though this "young Boba Fett" series isn't nearly as well written as the Jedi Apprentice and Jedi Quest series, it's still a fantastic set of tales that make great use of the Star Wars galaxy of characters. It's always cool to read about Boba's feelings when he guns down a Stormtrooper, since they are all really "him" and his father - such is the life of a clone! Boba's emotions aren't as well described as Anakin's were in my other Scholastic Star Wars books, but I definitely enjoy reading them anyway. This volume picks up at the cliffhanger of the last book, with Boba escaping capture and going after a bounty, when suddenly he's attacked by Anakin! Boba actually meets Anakin (who knows who he is), and Anakin even repairs the Slave I (pretty cool when you think about it)! The second half of the story involves Boba's quest for revenge against Mace Windu, who killed Jango Fett in Episode II (of course), so he ends up being escorted to Coruscant (by a young Tarkin, no less!) to meet with Palpatine (since Boba found out about the Dooku/Tyrannus duality in the earlier books). Anyway, there's a good fight scene with Windu, and the meeting with Palpatine is pretty spooky, too. After that, it feels like this series is already over, but I hope they come up with more stories.


Read more blogs in less time

I love to read lots of blogs and other sites everyday, but until recently I had been holding off from using an RSS reader, even though I could definitely use it. I always thought it wasn't cool not to visit the actual sites and experience their design, so I never bothered finding a good reader in the past. Eventually I started playing around with NewsFire, because the user interface was so well done that it made it fun to read feeds, but it still didn't completely catch on for me. Finally I tried Bloglines, and now I am completely hooked! It's basically just a fully web-based RSS reader, but it has lots of nice features, and it's fun and easy to use. I've been keeping up with about 50 sites now with no problem! My favorite feature is grouping blogs into folders and then being able to read the whole folder at once. I still try to check out the actual sites every so often (which I can do from a link in Bloglines) so I can enjoy the design. My browsing life has certainly improved! By the way, you can take a look at WEBmikey's Bloglines subscriptions anytime you want (I'm keeping the link in the sidebar).

The Lion King 2 / Simba's Pride (Special Edition) : 3 of 5

This fine film is one of the first, as well as one of the best, home video sequels of Disney classics. I've already seen this movie several times, and even already owned the original DVD, but I had to break down and buy this two disc edition just to have the latest! The movie itself is a great sequel, with fantastic animation and songs that really keep the feel of the original - I think more care was taken with this production than any sequel since. But it's the bonus disc that I really wanted to see, since it contains One By One, an amazing animated short that was originally a part of the next Fantasia project (before it was sadly cancelled). So, One By One is truly new feature animation, and it definitely shows - the story is of African children who build kites and let them fly, set to an infectious song (arranged by the guy who did the chants for The Lion King). It's a joy to see this short, but also sad that we didn't get another Fantasia. The rest of the bonus material consists of some so-so education spots with Timon and Pumbaa, plus another edition of their Virtual Safari (but it's my least favorite). There's seven minutes of behind the scenes material - far too short, but at least I got to see the glamorous life of storyboard artists once again. Anyway, the film is definitely worth owning, and shows how great a home video production can be with a big enough budget!


Robots : 4 of 5

Truthfully, I mainly wanted to see this movie to support the art of animation (I try to see them all!), so I didn't have high expectations. By the time the opening credits were finished, though, I was really impressed! Robots takes place in a world of living machines - there's nothing organic, so anything that's metal and can move is "alive" (including things like stop lights). When Rodney Copperbottom is "born", his parents assemble him from a kit, and then continue giving him upgrades and new parts to make him "grow". The animation is pretty amazing, even though rendering metallic surfaces in CG is the easiest thing to do (which is why Pixar started with Toy Story). Even so, the design of everything is so creative! Most everything looks like it would actually work - even with the squash and stretch needed to express emotion, these beings look like you could buy them on the way home from the theater. The plot is pretty good with several emotional moments, and just missed passing the Mikey test of tear-shedding (though the father/son ending came extremely close!). I thought it was a little strange to include two female characters that both seemed to be attracted to Rodney, so the romance angle is a little confusing. Robin Williams does a fine job with his voice work, but I'm afraid there will never be another Genie in his career. I'm happy to see another fantastic animated movie giving Disney some serious competition!

How about a glass of juice water?

I recently started enjoying a kind of weird drink (at least it seems weird to me), which I've been calling "juice water". One day I felt like drinking some orange juice, but I wanted something more light and refreshing. So, I took a tall glass, filled it with ice and mostly water, and then just poured a little orange juice on top and let it mix. The result tastes either like really watered-down OJ or orange-flavored water - kind of like Kool-Aid or Tang, really. Anyway, I've been drinking it all the time now! It feels healthy to be drinking the water, and I'm sure the extra Vitamin C in the juice is good for me, too. Maybe it's just a spring thing!


Jimi's Book of Japanese (Katakana) / Peter Takahashi : 3 of 5

I discovered this book on Amazon since it gets great reviews (and keeps popping up as a recommendation), so I decided to give it a shot since my Katakana reading isn't so great (I can read Hiragana pretty quickly, but for whatever reason my Katakana just won't "stick"). The look of the book is irresistible, since it's filled with fantastic color graphics that really have a Japanese kawaii look to them, featuring the little monkey Jimi. Each page is filled with a giant Katakana character (big enough so you can trace it with your finger to help remember it), along with several little cartoons of different vocabulary words. Most pages also have a little paragraph that explains various culture references, too (I wish all of the pages had these!). There are lots of other neat touches, like color-coding the pages for the "K" sounds, "T" sounds, and so on. I don't think it's a miracle book, though - I think it needs to explain more about how English words are broken down into Katakana, but it's still a great presentation of the characters anyway! In fact, it's so colorful and cool that I think I might buy the accompanying Hiragana book just to have in my library.


Disney comics

A few months ago I decided I needed a little more Disney in my life (he he he), so I subscribed to Walt Disney's Comics, which is a continuation of the original Disney comics from decades ago (which is why they are on Issue 600 and something!). Each issue is really thick, and is mailed in a fantastic cardboard sleeve (man, I wish they had those back when I had other comic subscriptions!), and contains several stories featuring all of the Disney gang, including more obscure folks like Horace Horsecollar. Sometimes they reprint a vintage story, and these are always my favorite. The modern stories are OK, but I think they've changed the personalities of Mickey and Donald too much - they're a little too smart-ass or something. Anyway, it's a fun read, but I'm not sure if I'll renew my subscription - I just need to watch the classic cartoons again!

Chobits / Original Soundtrack 002 : 3 of 5

Even though this CD isn't nearly as enjoyable as the first soundtrack for this anime, it was still an absolute "must-buy" since I had to have the closing credits song (for the second half of the series), called Mermaid. The melody is just great and semi-sad, making it a great night driving tune, and I can understand most of the Japanese, too. The track listing says "Short Version", which makes me hopeful for a full-length (or at least more than one minute!) version of the song on the third soundtrack. This CD also includes the original version of the title song, Let Me Be With You, which I like a little better than the remix from the first soundtrack, and there's also a vocal version with actual lyrics (not just "ba ba ba") of Play in the Early Afternoon, which is one of the better melodies from the series. Actually, there's a lot less "ba ba ba" on this CD in general, replaced by more standard instrumentals. There are several more smatterings of dialogue on this soundtrack - a few go on a little too long, I think, but it still really makes me want to buy the series on DVD and watch it again! I guess I'll have to check out the third Chobits soundtrack sometime soon.


Free auto repair!?!

I've been pretty diligent about getting my Acura Integra serviced according to a little maintenance book they gave me when I bought the car in 1998. If I always get the maintenance work done, then every other appointment is free (plus, I don't mind hanging out in the waiting room reading and eating free donuts!). This week was a scheduled freebee, but I also asked them to check my brake indicator light, since it sometimes stays on when the weather is cold. They found the bad sensor that was causing the problem and replaced it for free! I don't think I've ever received something free from a service department other than an oil change. Thanks a bunch, David McDavid!

Gidget : 2 of 5

One of the side effects of watching Riding Giants is that I wanted to see the movies they proclaimed as the worst surf films ever! The original Gidget really started an awareness of the sport of surfing, so I couldn't resist renting it. Well, even though Sandra Dee is a cutie, this is definitely a lousy movie. It's almost bad enough to be good, but not quite, which means it takes dedication to make it to the end! Gidget is a tomboy who learns to surf so she can hang out with the guys at the beach (they nickname her Gidget for "girl midget"), especially Moon Doggie (these nicknames are so ridiculous!). There's an older surf bum (that's what he calls himself) named Kahuna, and Moon Doggie wants to leave his rich life and join Kahuna in bum-hood. The surfing scenes are hilarious, with the actors mostly standing still in front of a rear projection - I can't believe they didn't even try to make it look like they were balancing! There are a couple of songs thrown in, which appear out of the blue, but since it's not a musical, I have no idea why they are there! At the end, the "normal" life of responsibility seems to win out over the crazy surfer lifestyle - even Kahuna goes legit. Oh well, I survived and laughed a few times - it was fun to hear Gidget keep saying, "It's the ultimate!"


Real superheroes

With the plots on Smallville getting more ridiculous by the minute (the person who came up with the whole witch possession thing should be fired!), it's good to know the real superhero stories are alive and kickin' on Justice League Unlimited! I'm always several episodes behind since I save them up on TiVo, but every time I watch one I'm impressed by the story quality. Where else can you see Superman divert lava inside a volcano to prevent its eruption, or Batman take out a missile by magnetizing his jet? I still don't like the theme song, and the CG work is a little to lo-fi for my taste, but the characterization and the plots rock. (Oh, I should also mention that the Black Canary episode should win the Sexiest Animated Heroine award, hands down!)

Phoenix: Resurrection / Osamu Tezuka : 4 of 5

This is the fifth volume of this incredible series that has been translated, and I have no clue when or if the next volume will be released! It's so amazing how Tezuka accomplished the difficult task of making each story stand alone, yet connected them all through such a huge timeline (and of course, the appearance of the Phoenix herself, through strangely she has her smallest role yet in this story). The plot jumps back and forth between past and future, mimicking the way each volume jumps on a larger scale, but generally follows a man named Leon who is murdered, but brought back to life via medical technology. In his new brain and body he sees organic life as grotesque, but robotic life as beautiful, so he falls in love with a robot named Chihiro. The plot unfolds to uncover the reason he was murdered (related to the Phoenix!), and then follows a strange course to connect him to Robita, the companion of Dr. Saruta, a character who has appeared in most of the other volumes. The artwork is amazing, including lots of future city scenes which I love, plus several large spreads of action scenes and explosions. There are some touching moments, too, and plenty of questions to ponder about humanity when you've finished the book. Please publish more volumes, Viz!


Pay per post

I finally caved in - I'm posting tonight using the wireless network at Barnes & Noble, which means I'm paying for it. I think it's worth it though, since I'm having fun reading books, surfing, eavesdropping on conversations, spying on girls, and so on. Sitting here alone in a crowd is just cooler than sitting at home!

Birthday pie

My pal Jonathan's birthday was last week, so Lisa threw a little party for him. Jonathan is famous for having "pie parties" (usually around Thanksgiving), so we all brought pie and enjoyed eating together. A bunch of us went together on Jonathan's gift - the Spanish version of Rosetta Stone, since he's getting serious about learning to speak Spanish. For some reason, it was decided you could either make a toast or show your underwear, so don't miss the pics!

View photos: Jonathan's Birthday 2005

Millions : 4 of 5

I'm not sure when this movie is actually going to be released, but I got to see a special screening of the film since my pal Melinda had special passes! This is a wonderful independent film made in the UK, with a great story and some very cool, modern editing styles (including lots of over-saturated color that really adds to the emotional impact). The plot is about two boys who end up with a huge bag of stolen British Pounds, which will soon be worthless when the Euro becomes legal currency. The youngest boy is obsessed with the lives of the saints, and so he often has visits from Francis of Assisi, Saint Peter, and many others (who always appear in traditional costume with halos), and they counsel him on what he should do with the money. The boys have recently lost their mother, and so the boy always asks the saints if they have seen her (happily, he's finally rewarded in the end!). One of the criminals who pulled off the heist is after the boys, and his appearances are definitely frightening! All of the actors, including the boys' father and the woman he becomes interested in, do a fantastic job - they are all really likable and it's easy to step into their shoes (and feelings). I think I most enjoyed the youngest boy's ideas about God and what life is about, and his conversations with the saints were enlightening - Saint Peter's own version of the feeding of the 5,000 makes the movie worth seeing all by itself.


The Lion King (Special Edition) / Original Soundtrack : 3 of 5

This was another impulse buy at the Disney Store that I definitely didn't need, since I already had all of the vocal songs on other CDs! I just couldn't resist the cool lenticular cover, though, showing Simba growing up with Timon and Pumbaa walking across the log (you know the scene). Still, it's nice to have all the tracks together here, along with the film version of The Morning Report (which I only had on the Broadway soundtrack before). There are only four tracks from the musical score, though, which definitely seems weird, but they are great tracks. I love the themes that Hans Zimmer came up with to represent Mufasa, Simba's destiny, and even what I would call a Rafiki theme. I love the use of the African drums and vocals, so it's great to have these tracks. The CD ends up with lots of Elton John cuts, unfortunately - I love his compositions, but I'm not really fond of his singing style. His Circle of Life isn't too bad, but I Just Can't Wait to Be King really sounds ridiculous when he sings it! I have no idea why they included a remix of Can You Feel the Love Tonight, which is practically the original with a simple drum machine added, but I guess they had to fill the disc with something.

Least favorite DDR song

I finally played Dance Dance Revolution again after a couple weeks without playing - no time to dance while my pals were in town! It felt good to get moving again! Of course, somehow the game always manages to hit me with my least favorite DDR song, Absolute. I can pass it with no trouble, but I'm just so sick of the music. I don't even know what it is I don't like about it, since it sounds mostly like a regular goofy dance tune, but when it pops up, I'm always tempted to reset my Playstation!


Only seven innings

On Saturday I went to a baseball game at the Dell Diamond to see a traveling college game - it was the USC Trojans versus the Rice Owls. I was rooting for USC, just because I always cheer for any team from California, but it turned out to be the worst score I've ever seen! USC lost 12 to 1 - they stopped the game after the 7th inning, because of a rule in college baseball that says if a team is up 10 runs by the 7th, the game is over. I still had a great time, though - it's always fun to hang out at a ball park, drink beer, eat a corn dog, nachos, and ice cream, and chat with pals (I was there with Ryan, Barron, and his son Bay). It was pretty chilly - I was freezing off my patootie while I was eating that ice cream!

View photos: Chilly Baseball

Mulan II : 3 of 5

Even though I would rather see new feature animation than direct-to-DVD sequels, I still have to say that DisneyToon rocks. Since they're now the only division of Disney doing traditional animation, they are huge heroes in my book. I think they know they are keeping something alive, and it shows with Mulan II, which stays true to the original animation and quality more than almost any other recent sequel since The Lion King II. The story isn't too bad, and they managed to push the length over the usual home feature. They also did the right thing and got all the original voice talent, except Eddie Murphy - however, the actor playing Mushu is so dead-on that I definitely never missed Eddie. They even put some nice new songs in the show, although they weren't brave enough to include a ballad (which would have been nice with Mulan's voice!). I really enjoyed the animation of the new princess characters, which were beautiful and playful simultaneously, and the big dramatic moment with Mulan and Shang on the bridge is really intense! The bonus features were pretty good for a single disc release, though I always wish they would talk about the animation a little more. Overall, I'm really happy with this movie, and I'm definitely rooting for DisneyToon to keep up the good work.


My web-famous office

Amazon's search engine A9 (which I use every now and then because they give you an Amazon discount!) has this cool and crazy new Yellow Pages feature with images of the real physical places of business. They actually have guys driving around vans with digital cameras snapping millions of pics and feeding them to their database with GPS information, so when you find a place, you actually get to see it - the images themselves show up on the Amazon site. Just for fun I looked up the vet next to my office, and I was able to see a great picture of my office building! My pal Josh has a cool VW van with a distinctive green paint job, and it's right there on Amazon for all to see. Hilarious!

Jedi Quest 10: The Final Showdown / Jude Watson : 4 of 5

It looks like another amazing series of "kiddie" Star Wars books has come to an end, but this volume does a fine job of ending the set on an ominous note for Anakin. This story finally ends the battle with Granta Omega (the son of Qui-Gon's enemy from the previous Jedi Apprentice series), and takes place on Korriban - the home of the Order of the Sith! Since these stories are "blessed" by Lucasfilm, they really should be required reading for Star Wars fans! Where else are you going to get detailed descriptions of the Sith monastery and all of the creepy tombs of the dead Sith lords? The author always does a great job of letting you into the heads of Anakin and Obi-Wan, and here we get to see how they deal with waves of the Dark Side of the Force (Obi-Wan has visions of Qui-Gon telling him he has failed, and Anakin is confronted by his mother and other tempting voices of power). Unfortunately, I think the final death of Omega is a little too quick and uneventful, but the skirmishes leading to it are dramatic and emotional (and include the sad death of a padawan). I love how these stories really make it obvious how Anakin could turn to the Dark Side for what seems him to be noble reasons - such excellent characterization! I hope the author continues to write other special Scholastic novels, or maybe even another series!


Time well spent

The best part of having my old gang back together for a few days was just spending time together doing ordinary things. We spent a day walking around Town Lake, we ate at some of our old favorite spots, and played a little Scotch-enhanced Scrabble (even though I'm always terrible at it, I did OK this time!). We also showed Kumiko around Central Market, apparently an amazing sight for a Japanese tourist! On Matt's last night in Austin, we headed down to South Congress ("Soco" for the hip crowd) for First Thursday, ate yummy burgers, and watched the International Tubadores on the street. The whole visit was a great one - Matt, Kumiko and Dae are lifelong pals!

View photos: Pals Around Austin
View photos: Soco Pals

Cirque du Soleil / Varekai : 5 of 5

My pals Matt & Kumiko had great timing with their recent visit to Austin, since they were here during the opening week of Varekai! We went to the show along with Eliza, Kristin & Carlos, and we all had a fantastic time. This was my fourth Cirque du Soleil experience, so I knew what to expect in general, but of course, I was totally blown away by what I saw. The theme of the show seemed to be jungle or rain forest creatures, with lots of lizard, frog, and bird costumes, and the basic plot involves a fallen angel trying to regain flight (and it takes a beautiful acrobat to help him reach his goal). The various acrobatics are amazing, with lots of flying routines, including the "cloud jumping" finale, where guys are launched from giant swings to be caught by huge sheets. There was also lots of amazing balancing (more than usual), and a trio of Asian children swinging weights from ropes with incredible precision. The live music was wonderful, and the lighting of this production was definitely spectacular - I loved the firefly effects that flew around the audience! The clown routines were much different than I was expecting - much more "low brow" for a Cirque show, but hilarious. I think Varekai is my second favorite Cirque now, with La Nouba still holding the top spot!


Aladdin (Special Edition) / Original Soundtrack : 3 of 5

I haven't fully decided if I'm officially collecting Disney soundtrack CDs, since I have so many of the more popular songs on compilation CDs, but I picked up this CD at the Disney Store on a whim, since it contained some new material I hadn't heard before. As usual, all of the vocal tracks appear first, followed by the score, but this CD also includes Alan Menken's demos for two songs that were written out of the film. Proud of Your Boy is a fantastic song (through the cheap demo keyboard instrumentation is horrendous), but High Adventure seemed more annoying than enjoyable. All of the vocal songs are great, of course, and listening to them on CD means I can really appreciate all the incredible lyrics and rhymes. For some reason I always crack-up on Prince Ali when the crowd in the background yells, "He's got the monkeys! Let's see the monkeys!" Arabian Nights also includes most of Robin Williams' opening dialogue, which is a total bonus! The score is pretty interesting to listen to, since you can hear details like Menken's quote of When you Wish Upon a Star. I think Marketplace really stands out as a fantastic piece of background music that really evokes the mood and culture - it's definitely my favorite part of the music-only score.

Subway tales

I stopped at Subway on the way home to pickup dinner (I felt like something light since I've been eating big while my pals were in town), and I decided to start keeping the stamps to earn free subs since I eat there a good bit. The person behind the counter gave me a card, which I later realized was already filled with stamps! So, she basically handed me a free sub for my next visit. I don't know if she did it on purpose or not, but I'll take it. Speaking of Subway, there's one sandwich gal there who is definitely the best - she knows exactly how to position the meat, cheese, and veggies so each bite is perfectly proportioned. I've even seen her re-do a sandwich if another employee gets things a little askew. So, here's to you, sandwich gal - I appreciate the attention to detail!

Mom's birthday

Yesterday was my mom's birthday, so I just wanted to say here on WEBmikey that my mom is the best there ever was or will be! I'm so thankful to be close to my parents - we always have a great time when we're together. Mom and Dad will be coming to visit me in about a week, so we're planning lots of activities like riding the Hill Country Flyer, seeing an IMAX movie, and catching Aida at Zach Scott Theater. I like to make Austin a nice vacation experience when they visit!


Constantine : 3 of 5

This definitely isn't the kind of movie I normally see, but while my out-of-town pals were here we needed something to do on a rainy day, and Constantine seemed like a goofy action movie we could laugh at together. Keanu Reeves plays a guy who can see demons and angels, and tries to "deport" demons as a way to buy his way into Heaven. Of course, there are lots of gross scenes (but nothing too gory), and plenty of frightening stuff, but nothing I couldn't handle. The plot is so bizarre and takes itself so seriously that I was really fascinated - in fact, it reminded me of the Warrior Nun comics I used to love to read! (Of course, Constantine is based on a comic series, but I haven't checked it out.) There are lots of scenes that are hilarious just because they are so unexpected, like the angel Gabriel cursing or Keanu giving Lucifer the finger on his way to Heaven. His toys are pretty cool, too - his gun is a giant cross, with a small cross for the sight! My pals and I had a good time watching this weird movie - I actually enjoyed it much more than I expected, since it's somehow fun to follow the adventures of a "spiritual" super hero.


Partying with Oscar

For the past seven years, I've had an Academy Awards party, and this year's was probably the best ever! It was definitely a full house since Matt and Dae were here along with all my other pals, and with Ernesto and Ann Marie here, the night was also kind of a Day Jobs reunion (especially since Ian called from New York, too!). We ate some great food, drank some nice booze, smoked some fine cigars (thanks to Jonathan!), and enjoyed screaming at the TV during the ceremony. We also had fun during the commercials with our own acceptance speeches and "worst" awards, which were a riot!

View photos: Academy Awards 2005


Riding Giants : 4 of 5

There's something therapeutic about surfing movies for me - I always have a new outlook on how to live my life after watching one! I didn't enjoy this movie quite as much as Step Into Liquid, but it was still completely awesome. Riding Giants looks at the history of surfing first, but quickly focuses on big wave surfing, starting with the famous Greg Noll, one of the first guys brave enough to take on Hawaii's north shore, through Laird Hamilton, who basically invented tow-in surfing. Just like most surfing documentaries, the images are spectacular and the soundtrack is well-chosen, and of course the interviews themselves are fascinating. I wasn't too thrilled with the editing style, though, since it uses a lot of quick cuts, fast zooms, and lots of edgy transitions (even though the editor says he toned down his usual style!), but the source material and films are so fantastic that nothing can spoil the thrill of watching them. The movie follows the lives and histories of these famous surfers by using tons of old photos, which have been transformed into a kind of three dimension style with CG processing, but unfortunately only touches on what I love most about surfing - talking about it as a life-changing force (done so well in Step Into Liquid). I guess I should stop comparing - Riding Giants is a fantastic surfing documentary that I plan on buying on DVD, since I already want to watch it again!