Gifts from Japan

Yesterday I got a great package from my pals Matt & Kumiko in Japan! They got me a cool Nova Usagi spaceship toy (plus a neato cell phone strap) for my birthday, with light-up eyes and engines! Nova Usagi is the mascot of Matt's company - usagi means rabbit, but Nova Usagi is a weird rabbit with a beak. It's a great addition to my Japanese toy collection! (You can watch the Nova Usagi spaceship in action in this commercial!) Kumiko sent me delicious chocolate cigars for Valentine's Day (in Japan, girls give chocolate to guys on Valentine's Day). They came in a nice box and they each have a cigar label and everything - inside they are chocolate covered cookies, and completely delicious!

Just for fun, here's a brief rundown of Japanese-esque things I did today. I listened to J-Pop in my car and on my iPod, bought five new manga volumes at lunch, read NewType (about anime) and drank a Japanese beer when I got home, watched an episode of Gatchaman, and completed a Rosetta Stone Japanese lesson. That's a pretty typical day for me!


Animal Crossing: Wild World / Nintendo DS : 4 of 5

Yes, I've finally joined the countless DS geeks who are obsessed with this crazy game! My pal Barron has been playing it for quite a while, which got me interested, so my pal Melinda gave it to me for my birthday - I've been enjoying my time in this alternative world ever since. If you haven't read about Animal Crossing before, the game is really unique because there's no real object - you are simply living in a little town where all your neighbors are talking animals, and what you do with your time is up to you. It's kind of strange to get used to, because when you start up the game, you have to decide, "What am I going to do?" You can walk around and pick fruit, which you can take to the local store to sell, since you have a mortgage to pay off (of course!). Or, you can walk down to the beach and gather shells or do a little fishing, and if you catch something interesting you can donate it to the museum, where they have an aquarium! You can also donate fossils (which you can dig up) and bugs (which you can catch), and have a quick cup of coffee in the cafe while you're at the museum. And you can definitely stop by your neighbors home for a visit, and even write them letters that you can mail at the post office, and they will write back! The incredible thing is that the game works in real time, so when you play, it knows the time of day and the date (for example, if a character tells you their birthday, you can stop by on that day and go to the party!). I've barely touched the wi-fi features, but it's enough for me to just hang out and live a peaceful little life in my animal town. Isn't it funny that a game can be such a relaxing diversion?


Blue is the color of happiness

Blue skies at last! After six or seven days of overcast, rainy weather, it's finally sunny today (even if it's still a little chilly). Grey skies really give me the blahs after a while, so I'm so happy to see some sunshine again. This morning I had a nice massage (which felt especially nice, since my ribs are still sore from my spectacular fall), and today I'm relaxing with magazines and manga. Last night a bunch of my pals and I went to see the Sinus Show at the Alamo, which was hilarious (probably the most insane mid-show skit ever), and then went to BD Riley's for a drink (I had B&B since it was chilly) and we got to watch some Olympic speed skating, too. Austin's Mardi Gras is in full swing, so we also did a little walking through the crowded streets to watch the bored cops babysit the drunken masses. I'd say it's been a pretty nice weekend, and now I'm off to continue relaxing.


Roving Mars : 4 of 5

IMAX movies always seem like a vacation to me, since they really take me out my world into a new experience. Roving Mars definitely did the same, since now I feel like I've been to Mars with the two incredible technological miracles, Spirt and Opportunity! Thanks to some incredible CG work (and Disney's adequate budget), we get to see the mission from a perspective never before possible. All of the images are scientifically accurate and based on mission data, so I'm convinced everything is accurate. I really enjoyed the scenes showing the live mission control team in January 2004 with cuts to the CG images of what was actually happening on Mars (while the scientists were all holding their breath!). The sequence of the actual lift off and various rocket separations was completely thrilling - the theater sound was booming, and watching all the intricate steps that had to take place with precision made the whole thing seem like science fiction. There are some fantastic contrasts between extreme close-ups of the rover's wheels making their way across rocky soil, then large panoramas to show how far the rovers can really travel. I love to get that feeling that humanity can accomplish something so far beyond our normal limitations, and watching what we've accomplished with this mission definitely made me feel that way! This is an excellent, inspiring IMAX experience!


Twelfth Night / State Theater : 4 of 5

Part of my experiencing art resolution this year is to see more plays, so when I heard that Shakespeare was being performed by the always professional State Theater, I had to go. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a Shakespeare play on stage, with the last one being Comedy of Errors (since I was in the band!). I was actually surprised at how similar Twelfth Night is to Comedy of Errors - both have twins (though one of them is a girl dressed as a man in the Twelfth Night plot), plenty of hilarity, and the big "A-ha!" moment when the entire cast is onstage. This production was really amazing! The actors were all quite good (with impressive biographies, too), and came across with that speaking comfort that's so necessary with the language. Both lead females (Viola, who spends the play as Cesario, and Olivia, who falls in love with him/her) were really amazing, giving a lot of strength and depth to their characters. The set design was remarkable, with a true three-level performance space - it was fascinating to see actors on the third level, which acted as a balcony window, while other action was taking place on the actual stage below. I laughed a lot and had a great time, and it was nice to see the play that's hinted at in the final scenes of Shakespeare in Love. I guess all those Shakespeare college courses I took haven't worn off yet!


My J-Pop TV dream

While I'm fresh on the subject of J-Pop videos, I need to mention another incredible way to watch them that I discovered recently! There's a fantastic website/community called Jpopsuki ("I like J-Pop") that has a service they call Jpopsuki TV. It's basically non-stop streaming J-Pop videos, just like watching a music TV channel in Japan (my dream come true)! It uses a new kind of streaming technology called NSV, which was developed by Nullsoft, so right now I can only get the stream to work on my PC using the Winamp player. Hopefully there will be a way to watch it on my Macs someday, but for now I just keep it going on my PC when I'm upstairs. The video and sound quality is pretty great, and I can watch it full-screen, too. I really wish I could pipe it down to my TV set and just be mesmerized for a few hours. I've seen so many great videos, both old classics and new hits! Anyway, Jpopsuki TV is an amazing way to get your J-Pop video fix!


Video candy store

Of course, I'm sure everyone has discovered YouTube by now - it seems recently most of the links you find to clips all use YouTube, because it's free and easy to link to. I'm not a huge YouTube fan, but that's only because my wimpy iBook G3 600 can't keep up with Flash-based video (no problems with QuickTime, though, so why can't they make it work in Flash?). However, because everyone uses YouTube, there are so many cool videos, including lots of J-Pop! Anyway, I recently read how easy it is to grab a video from YouTube and put it on my iPod! Using the Safari Activity window, you can find a link to the actual video file, which can be converted to iPod format using iSquint. It's totally cool - the first day I found out I converted about five BoA videos. The quality is a little lossy since the source was Flash, but it's still excellent on the iPod's screen, and watchable on the TV (since I'm always desperate to watch J-Pop videos!).


Some run, some fall

This weekend some friends of mine ran the Freescale Austin Marathon, so a few of my pals and I got together to cheer them on! Eliza, Bernadette, Shawn, and Erin all ran the half-marathon, and my pal Tom ran the full marathon (he's a total veteran now). We didn't see Tom in the crowd of runners, but we did catch all the half-marathon heroes, and I got to take their picture at the finish line! It was totally freezing, and we were shivering our butts off (along with all the other spectators, of course). While Ernesto and I were walking to a good spot, I stepped on a patch of ice! My feet went right out in front of me like I had stepped on a banana peel in a cartoon, and I landed solidly on my butt. Since there were people everywhere, within seconds there was a paramedic asking me if I could move my toes! I survived just fine, but now I have some really sore ribs and a black and blue pinky. It was worth it, though - it's always fun to get together with my pals and watch the runners. Congratulations, everyone!


Kamikaze Girls : 5 of 5

What an absolutely fantastic, hilarious, beautiful, quirky, touching, heartwarming movie! I first heard about Kamikaze Girls from an article in Shojo Beat, so I put the DVD in my Netflix queue just because I thought it sounded interesting. Now, after enjoying every minute of it, I want to buy the DVD and watch it again! The story began as a best-selling novel in Japan, which has since spun-off into a manga version, as well as this amazing film. The story is about two strange girls - one is obsessed with Rococo culture and wears frilly dresses (Japanese "Lolita" style), while the other is a tough biker gang girl (Japanese "Yanki" style), and eventually they discover how similar they are and the importance of friendship. The film is full of crazy techniques such as quick editing, intense colors, animated sequences, unexpected flashbacks, talking directly to the audience, and so on, and all of this completely made me laugh out loud - I just didn't want it to end! The actresses playing the main characters are fantastic - of course, they're beautiful, but they also give excellent performances with comic timing. They can also pull off the emotional scenes as well! The soundtrack is really cool (but I can't find the CD available online!), and it was a blast to listen to the Japanese, which includes lots of rough-talking street slang that was fun to experience. I'm totally in love with this movie - I'll definitely be buying it soon!


Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon / Act Zero : 3 of 5

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the incredible live-action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon series that was a TV hit in Japan. After the series was finished, they released a couple DVDs with additional stories, and I bought this one during my last trip to Japan. Act Zero covers the early days of Sailor Venus (or Sailor V, as she was called then), starting with the arrival of her cat Artemis. We get to see Minako fight her first battles and learn to use her attacks (but there's no Love-Me Chain, sadly), but the real fun of the story comes when we see the other girls and characters in brief cameos, all leading up to the actual start of the series. So, we have Usagi at home, Ami feeling shy, Makoto looking for an apartment, and Rei at the temple as usual. There's a really weird scene were the four Shitennou (the main bad guys) are all bumbling cops, before they are "awakened" by Queen Beryl - totally bizarre comedy! I had to watch the show in Japanese with no subtitles, but I was definitely able to follow the plot and even get a couple jokes, and it was good practice, too! The DVD also includes a couple of mini-episodes about how Tuxedo Mask got his start, and a cool segment where the actors who played Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask return to some of the filming locations to reminisce. There's also a collection of "final shots", where the crew gives the actors flowers to thank them, and the girls usually end up crying - so touching. It was nice to spend time with the Sailor Senshi again - now I want to re-watch the series!


Kagaku Ninja keitai

One of the coolest things about the new Gatchaman DVD series is the fantastic paintings by Alex Ross on the cover of each disc. I've loved his artwork for a long time (though I really need to see more of it!), so it's pretty cool to see his incredible interpretations of the characters (by the way, there's a great interview with him available on the ADV Films podcasts page!). Since I've been really enjoying being a Gatchaman fan lately, I decided it was time for another round of cellphone wallpaper. I just cropped some of my favorite DVD covers from the series (my favorite is Ken in mid-transformation), so now they're all set for my Motorola V505 (which is 176 x 220). Hopefully you can enjoy them for whatever screen size your newer, cooler, hipper cellphone uses! One more quick Gatchaman link - you can download a complete episode of the 1994 re-inventing of Gatchaman from Harmony Gold, ready to watch on your iPod. It's a little to edgy for me, but it's free!

Science Ninja Team | Ken with globe | Ken with light
Ken transforms | Joe Condor


Girls Bravo Vol 1 : 3 of 5

Since I've finished up some of the series I've been renting, I decided to try something fairly new, and I've read lots of comments about how funny Girls Bravo is, along with lots of warnings about excessive fan service! Well, the warnings are definitely justified - there's no mistaking the intention of a series that starts out with a completely naked girl in the very first scene! I have to say, though, that they try to keep an innocent feel to most of the nudity, since Miharu is an alien from another dimension who doesn't know any better, of course. The story is 100% harem, but with a few differences, the main one being that the main character Yukinari truly has no interest in girls, since he's actually terrified of them! They go through a few flashbacks to develop this, but it's still kind of a bummer to feel for a guy who wants nothing more than to get out of his current situation (but I have feeling he'll learn to enjoy it). Besides Miharu, who comes to Earth through a kind of portal in Yukinari's bathtub, there's his cute next door neighbor and a black magic witch girl after him. The witch is actually the sister of the big womanizer at their high school, who is totally perverted (and quite hilarious). So there you have it - I'm sure there are more girls on the way in Volume 2 (but I doubt they will ever top Miharu's first encounter with bananas!). This is definitely not high-art anime, but it's really funny, and I can use some non-stop laughing now and then!


Easy Amazon money

It may be old news to a lot of people, but Amazon has a seriously cool price change policy that I've read about lately, so I tried it out for myself! Basically, if the price of an item is reduced within 30 days of your purchase, you just have to let them know and they will refund the difference. Of course, you have to notice the change yourself, but I love to read sites like dealnews, which always has tons of Amazon prices. The process was amazingly easy - Amazon has a special page with a form just for this purpose, and it only takes a second to fill it out (after signing in, of course). I had an item drop by $10 just a few days after I bought it, so I filled out the form to see what would happen. About two hours later, I already had an email from them saying they had credited the $10 back to my credit card! I couldn't believe how easy it was. It almost makes me want to click through my recent order history to see what else I can find!


Full Metal Panic Vol 7 : 3 of 5

I can't believe I've already finished this series! It seems like I just started watching it, even though that was ages ago (with so many things to watch and read, it takes me a while to rent a whole set). Unfortunately, when the show ends, it feels like the characters have only just begun - there's plenty of development across the whole series, but I feel like there so much more I want to know about them. Still, these final episodes definitely deliver in the excitement department! Gauron has taken over the computer of the massive submarine De Danaan, so Tessa and Kaname must work together to regain control. We finally get to see Kaname use her full potential as a "Whispered", since she essentially becomes one with the sub's artificial intelligence. Of course, there's finally a last showdown between Sosuke and Gauron, fighting all over the sub (and on top of it) in a massive mecha battle! It's a really fantastic fight with an awesome ending technique, but afterwards there's not enough closing resolution for me, even though we get to see Sosuke and Kaname spent a quiet moment together. I wanted to see more about the love triangle with Tessa! Well, maybe that's explored more in Full Metal Panic Fumoffu - I'll have to find out, of course. Full Metal Panic has been a blast to watch from end to end - it's definitely a classy series that any anime fan can enjoy!



When I was in high school I had a weird biology teacher that said "Happy V.D." to everyone on Valentine's Day, and for some reason I still remember it. So, Happy V.D. everyone! I'm celebrating by going to see Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation later on, but I was a good boy and sent my parents some flowers, too. Mom & Dad always send me a card for every possible holiday, so I also got some Valentine gift money, which I spent ordering some new Mini PEZ from Japan! I've started re-studying my old Japanese textbook from my classes at Austin Community College, and it's been pretty easy so far. It's pretty cool going over lessons and concepts that completely freaked me out when I was in class, and now they totally make sense! I guess that's a pretty good way to see some progress, even though I still feel like it's taking forever to feel comfortable speaking. My tutor Kazki has more students now, so I'm glad I was one of his first students to get the ball rolling - I'm determined to keep studying Japanese until we can talk fairly easily! He's making me take notes in hiragana again, too, which is great since I was starting to forget how to write. I'm hoping to start a Japanese sub-blog soon (mainly for my own practice)!


Walt Disney Treasures / The Adventures of Spin & Marty : 4 of 5

I always get each of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD sets each year (and so far my parents have a perfect record of getting them for me for Christmas), even if I'm not really familiar with the show being featured. I had only seen a few disjointed episodes of Spin & Marty back when the Disney Channel used to show complete episodes of the Mickey Mouse Club, so I knew it was about a couple boys on a ranch, but I never got to know the characters. This two DVD set contains the entire first "season" of Spin & Marty, which is told over 25 short episodes (each about 11 minutes), which were shown as a serial segment of the Mickey Mouse Club back in 1955. It's really hard to explain, but once I started watching this show, I couldn't stop! I seem to have nothing in common with boys learning to be cowboys at the Triple-R (a ranch summer camp), but I was just sucked in - there's something about the simple values of the 50's that makes stories from that era really enjoyable to me. Spin is a typical popular boy, good at sports and so on, and Marty is a "rich kid" who everyone hates at first. Of course, he's scared of horses, but thanks to the kindness of the main ranch-hand, he makes friends with Skyrocket, and finally learns to be one of the guys. Of course, to get there we have to make it through a kids' boxing match, an encounter with a rattlesnake, a run-in with a bear, and a big rodeo competition! The acting is just good enough to not snicker too much, but the Disney quality is still there - this is such a peaceful show that's really easy to enjoy!


Bambi II : 5 of 5

Simply put, Bambi II is the best traditionally animated film to come from Disney in years! It's by far the best of the DVD sequels, rivaling even The Lion King 2, which before now had always been my favorite. Thanks to Andreas Deja and his reverence for the original Bambi, the animators truly took the time to create a fantastic story, as well as a beautiful look that really matches the feel of the first masterpiece (and the timing of this release is great, since the Bambi Platinum Edition is still fresh in most fans' minds). The story wisely begins just after the moment of Bambi's mother's death, as his father, the Great Prince (voiced perfectly by Patrick Stewart) takes him in. All of Bambi's friends are lovingly re-introduced, and Thumper has some great moments with his four hilarious sisters (and gets to re-create his classic interaction with his mom, too). There's even a beautiful dream sequence were Bambi remembers his mother in an eternal sunset full of butterflies - it's truly magical! The plot builds nicely into a final showdown with hunters' dogs, and the suspense of hiding from the dogs in the tall grass is perfect. The backgrounds really capture the almost abstract look of the original (especially in spring), but a few cost-cutting uses of CG animation (especially when Bambi and Thumper walk along hiding under a log) really stand out poorly - but that's my only complaint. Of course, the behind the scenes material is a joke - far too short for such an amazing movie, but I can let that slide, because Bambi II is fantastic!


Macro secrets revealed

If you've had a look at my Flickr photos, then you know that I'm obsessed with taking pictures of my toys, PEZ dispensers, Japanese snacks, and of course, Disney collectibles! It's so much fun to have nice photos of cool things, so I've done lots of experimenting to find a style that I like. I was first inspired by Paul Watson's On White photo set, so I started asking my photography pals (Barron and Matt) for tips on how to achieve the effect I wanted. Getting my Canon SD400 was a big help, since its macro capability is astounding - it also has lots of settings that I figured out by trial and error. My goal is to get nice sharp close-ups of my stuff (sometimes with cool shallow depth of field effects), along with a nice "blinding white" background, hopefully with no Photoshop editing at all, and I've been really happy with the results! So, in case you're wondering, here's my simple method:
  • My "macro studio" is two pieces of white foam-core posterboard (I like the foam-core since it's not so flimsy), plus two cheap desklamps. I move the lamps around a lot, to avoid glare or make shadows or whatever.
  • I use my tripod whenever possible, along with the timer function of my camera (I can set it to two seconds, so the wait is short), which means my camera will be completely still when the picture snaps. Sometimes I want to get in spots where my tripod won't work, so I have to shoot handheld (I really need a beanbag or monopod to help with this!).
  • I manually set my camera's white balance to Tungsten (because getting a pure white is the most important thing to me), and I actually over-expose by "two notches" (that's my technical photography term) to really make the white glow.
  • Obviously, I set the camera to macro mode so it will know to focus so close, and turn off my flash, since the desklamps can handle the job (and using flash close-up makes for terrible photos!).
  • I also use my camera's "vivid" mode to make the colors really intense. I'm not actually sure what vivid mode does, but I love the results!


The Ren & Stimpy Show / Seasons Three and a Half-ish : 4 of 5

This fun DVD set (which was another Christmas gift from my parents) continues the series with 18 more full episodes of Ren & Stimpy. These episodes were mostly started by Spumco and John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy, and then finished by Nickelodeon's own studio after the big controversial firing of John K. So, this time around there are still several fantastic episodes (some of my favorites, in fact), but there are also a few duds that start to creep in, as Nickelodeon ran out of John K.'s original story ideas. My absolute favorite episode from this set is An Abe Divided, which always makes me laugh out loud, especially when Stimpy drops his nickel in the "See the President Pick His Nose" slot! Of course, Ren's Pecs is always a hit, and there are several episodes that were much better than I remembered (since I haven't seen them in years), especially Lair of the Lummox! Because these episodes were "stolen" from John K., it's fascinating to listen to his commentary, along with other original Spumco artists. Not only does he totally rip on the changes that were made to his stories, but he goes off on long discussions about the television animation industry in general. It's also a blast to listen to the other guys praise John K. up and down, even though he's sitting right there (and never says thanks!). Well, he may have a bizarre temperament, but he's still an animation genius who brought me this great show! I'll have to get the next set of episodes to complete my set soon.


Manga madness

My manga collection is really growing, so it's time for another update on what I've been reading. I love browsing the manga shelves at Barnes & Noble or Dragon's Lair, and I usually check them out a couple times a week. After doing some studying and drinking coffee, it's a great reward to buy a new manga! I've been keeping up on all the series that I've started so far, and trying not to start any new ones (just so I can keep the plots straight!), but I had to start Kikaider Code 02, since all those fun Kikaida DVDs I watched are still fresh on my mind! So far the story is really cool, making the saga much more serious and updated - I've read Volume 1, and bought Volume 2, which already has Hakaida on the cover! I'm still laughing at Dr. Slump (just read Volumes 4 and 5), and Nausicaa is becoming truly fascinating, since the story has become so much larger than it was in the movie. I've also read Midori Days Vol 3, Genshiken Vol 4, and Gacha Gacha Vol 2 (I have to admit, Gacha Gacha is by far the winner in the fan service department, but it always makes me laugh out loud!).


Breakthrough Japanese / Hitomi Hirayama : 4 of 5

I'm pretty much always reading some book on Japanese language in addition to my other regular study methods, and when I saw this book was by the author of the Pera Pera Penguin column (that I've been a fan of for a long time), I had to add it to my collection. The book is divided into twenty short lessons that each cover a particular language topic, but aren't organized into any order. Each lesson starts with a common point of confusion, such as the difference between shirimasen and wakarimasen, and then presents lots of sample dialogue and exercises. Actually, many of the topics covered are taken right from Pera Pera Penguin, which is available for free online, but it's nice to have them all together in a book, and I believe each includes more example sentences here. There's tons of great lessons, including a nice explanation of the use of buri (which I didn't quite understand in a recent lesson with Kazki), and a great chapter of the many, many set phrases (which the author calls "pocket phrases") that make the language so lively. The layout of the book also has a great style and it's really fun to read. My only complaint is that the tone of the book makes it so easy to breeze through and yet not remember anything! I guess that's mostly my fault, but I feel like I should go back and re-read most of the book again. As an intermediate Japanese student, I definitely think it's worth reading for exposure to some interesting topics.


Overdue Disney thoughts

I guess my comments on the recent Disney news are really overdue, especially considering the magnitude of something as important as Disney buying Pixar! I have always been hoping that the two companies would get back together, which was one of the reasons for me to celebrate at the departure of Eisner. Iger and Jobs seemed to hit it off right away, but when the rumors of the buyout started popping up, I was concerned. Even though I love Disney, no one can argue that their focus on the bottom line has nearly destroyed Disney animation - from too many DVD sequels, to the abolishment of 2D, to the loss of so many fine animators. So, of course, I was initially worried that Disney could do this to Pixar once they got their hands on them. However, now I'm feeling great about the whole thing (and reading that the animator community does as well via Cartoon Brew certainly helps!). The key is John Lasseter, the most respected guy in animation today. He's tearing it up right away, starting with canceling the sure-to-be-mediocre Toy Story 3 and hopefully chopping out some middle management, too! John definitely has the right values - he loves stories with heart, he loves the art of animation, and he's willing to take big risks. He's going to kick off another Disney renaissance, just like The Little Mermaid! Sure, Jobs now owns more Disney stock than anyone else - how could that bother me, since I've been an Apple fan for so long?

In theme park news, Expedition Everest looks totally amazing! There's lots of photos and video on the web, so when I make my next Walt Disney World trip I'm going to be unbelievably excited. I'm almost happier about the queue than the ride, just because it's so super-detailed - it really shows they were willing to focus on the story and quality of the attraction. On the other side of the coin, I'm not too psyched about the Pirates of the Caribbean news - both Disneyland and Walt Disney World will have figures from the movies (Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, and so on) put into the rides really soon. (So, the ride inspired the movie that inspired the ride!) I can get past my emotional response to preserve Pirates like a museum, since I really think if Walt were around he would be doing the same thing - think about how many times he changed the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland! However, these new figures better be the absolute best - I mean, they better really impress me if they are going in my beloved Pirates! When I make my next trip, if they are anything like that creepy Ellen figure in Universe of Energy, I'm going to have to drown my sorrows in fake mint juleps for the rest of the day.


Austin Symphony / Janina Fialkowska : 4 of 5

Since I enjoyed the last symphony so much, I decided to go again, and I was lucky enough to get a 4th row seat just by booking online! (Now I wish I had purchased season tickets, but if I keep going it will be fun to see what kind of seat I can get.) Sitting that close was perfect for watching the guest pianist Janina Fialkowska perform the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1, and I even had a great angle so I could watch her hands on the keys the whole time. The disadvantage to my seat was that all I could see were the strings, and I like to watch the woodwinds and percussion, too, but they were hidden to me. The pianist was really remarkable, playing with absolute precision, but I think she sounded much better in the slow expressive passages - the fast sections seemed a little mechanical, but still spectacular! The concert opened and closed with Mozart, which is always wonderful, starting with the overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio, which is up-tempo and full of percussion, and ending with the 41st Symphony, which has the incredible fugue-like section in the 4th movement. It was a really enjoyable evening, and also interesting since an older man sitting next to me was really friendly and talkative (actually, he reminded me of my Uncle Glenn because of his curiosity about my opinions on things). Going to the symphony is such a relaxing evening of entertainment, so I hope I can go again soon!


De-Lovely : 4 of 5

Cole Porter's music is beautiful, haunting, and incredibly fun (I always loved playing his tunes in the Day Jobs), and his life was fascinating and bizarre to match. De-Lovely is a fantastic biography of Cole's life, told as a huge, theatrical, musical flashback in his last moments. The film really makes use of the "life as a show" theme, as the angel Gabriel shows the aged Cole the events he has lived as if it were on Broadway. The story is amazing, since Cole lived helplessly controlled by his vices (usually other men), yet remained in a loving relationship with his wife Linda. Everything is presented so well, from Cole's tragic horseback accident, to little details like Linda's gift of a new custom-designed cigarette case on each shows' opening night. Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd give absolutely perfect performances, and really make you feel the tragedy and beauty of their characters. I wish I could say the same for the musical performers - unfortunately, the film-makers made the incredibly stupid decision to use modern pop stars in cameos to sing his songs, and they all come off terribly - especially Alanis Morissette, Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow. Listening to them sing in a horribly out-of-place style made me cringe, but that's the only thing that keeps me from rating this a perfect five! This is still a wonderful movie that gave me a new appreciation for Cole, his life, and his music.


Party number four

Wow, what a week of birthday fun! I was lucky enough to have four (count 'em!) birthday celebrations: first there was dinner with my pal Melinda and the surprise cake, and then my pal Jonathan took me out on my actual birthday (Monday) for an extravagant Ruth's Chris steak dinner, followed by cigars and never-ending drinks at the Elephant Room, resulting in a mere hour and a half of sleep before work the next day (but it was worth it)! Then my pals Chris, Barron and Ryan took me to lunch and gave me a fun Nintendo DS game, and finally, everyone took me to Mikado last night for a great dinner, followed by karaoke! We found a cool Korean-run place called Austin Karaoke that had private rooms (just like in Japan), so we all went insane and sang (or screamed) at the top of our lungs until almost 2:00 AM! It was really am incredible time, and made for a spectacular finale to my birthday week! I'm so happy to have such great friends around me to grow old with - they're simply irreplaceable. There's really not a thing wrong with turning thirty-nine when you're as lucky as I feel!

View photos: Birthday karaoke


Walk the Line : 3 of 5

I usually like movies about musicians, so even though I wouldn't say I'm a Johnny Cash fan, I was still really interested in this film (and the Academy Award nominations didn't hurt either). The story definitely kept my attention, since I really didn't know a thing about Cash's life, or his terrible relationship with his dad. I really enjoyed seeing him stationed in Germany as a young man, the last place you would ever guess for the writing of Folsom Prison. I also had no idea that he toured so much with other musical giants - it was pretty amazing that the movie implies that it was Elvis' fault that Cash got hooked on drugs. Joaquin Phoenix is gifted actor, and he does a fantastic job of not only acting like Cash, but singing like him as well. Reese Witherspoon also sings, but Phoenix does a far more accurate impression than she does of June Carter. Speaking of June, I was pretty shocked that she wrote Ring of Fire - I guess this movie is just full of surprises for someone like me. There's really not a bad thing to say about this film, but even the really dramatic moments didn't really stir up a lot of emotion in me, but that could be just because it's hard for me to relate to that life Johnny Cash led. Well, at least now I've seen something from this year's Academy-nominated line-up!


Gatchaman / Collection 3 : 4 of 5

Gatchaman just keeps getting better, and I'm becoming more and more of a fan (I've really been enjoying that 70s anime style lately)! This set has some really amazing episodes, with quite a bit more character development for everyone, but I'm mostly excited about all the great mecha monsters that the Science Ninja Team has to defeat. There's a fantastic flying squid with tentacles that detach and fly on their own, and a really neat mantis rocket with giant scythe arms, too. My favorite has got to be the mecha giraffes that shoot missiles out of their neck - Galactor sure knows how to build terrifying weapons! The weirdest episode of the bunch takes place in "Ameris" (which I guess is the name for America in the Gatchaman universe), where Mount Rushmore features three presidents' faces, plus Jesus! If that's not unusual enough, Galactor makes a magma robot (since I guess Mount Rushmore is a volcano) out of the Jesus face, so cities are being terrorized by a giant molten lava Jesus. Now that's something you don't see in your everyday cartoon! The bonus disc is pretty much just like the previous two sets, this time focusing on Jun (including the auditions for her English voice actress), but I mostly enjoyed reading the bios of the original Japanese actors. I'm definitely excited about continuing the series, and thanks to my pal Dae (who sent me Collection 4 for my birthday), I can start right away!


Fun photo experience

A couple weeks ago my pal Francis, who's starting a new band to perform his own music, asked me to shoot a head shot for him. I haven't really done any good portrait shots before - I tried to get some good shots of Conrad once, but I've learned a lot about my camera and lighting since then, so I thought it would be fun to try. So, I set up my "studio" in my kitchen (using the stuff I have for my macro shooting obsession), and we took about 300 photos in under an hour. I tried lots of different lighting situations and exposure settings, as well as black and white backgrounds. The black was fun to try, but blazing white looked cool against Francis' hair. Anyway, it was a great experience, and I'm kind of proud of the final shot, which hasn't been Photoshopped at all (take a closer look on Flickr if you want). It would be fun to have sessions like this with all my pals someday!