Good bye, 2006

This was such a relaxing weekend to end the year (and of course, I'll be relaxing tomorrow, too)! I just goofed off and enjoyed my Christmas presents - I watched DVDs, read books, studied Japanese, and played lots of Nintendo DS. I'm really enjoying Pokemon Ranger, though I'm stuck on a fairly difficult challenge now! I also had lunch with my pal Melinda, and then I decided I needed a new LEGO set to finish up the year, so I got a cool Ferrari racer to build. I also watched the latest DVD from the Extinct Attractions Club about Pirates of the Caribbean (which I bought a few weeks ago), and it was pretty good, but it's a bummer that their great documentary skills are marred by such terrible home video work. Oh well! Of course, I took a little time to sit and think about 2007. I don't really make solid resolutions, but I definitely like to have a few ideas in mind for the new year. I think generally I just want to focus on always working toward a small goal, since I have lots of ideas (both creative and practical) that I never get started on. Maybe this year I can make some great changes while continuing my life of geeky leisure! Well, it's time to go play with the Greatest American Heroes for our New Year's Eve show. Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!


Looney Tunes / Golden Collection Vol 4 : 5 of 5

I've already finished the first of many DVD sets I received for Christmas, starting with another spectacular set of Warner Bros cartoon genius! I've enjoyed these collections for four years now, and it seems like they could keep making them forever - I have no idea when they will run out of cartoons. This year the set begins with the usual focus on Bugs Bunny, and finally includes Knighty Knight Bugs, with Yosemite Sam as the hilarious Black Knight. The second disc contains shorts directed by Frank Tashlin, with lots of commentary on his cinematic style, plus the only cartoon with Porky's brothers. The third disc is a real treat, completely filled with Speedy Gonzales cartoons in all of their Mexican stereotypical glory! I loved laughing at all of the drunken songs in Spanish, and it was cool to see the very first Speedy with a much different character design (he even had a gold tooth!). The final disc is all cat cartoons, but not as much Sylvester as you would expect. There are lots of great one-shots and other secondary characters here, such as the adorable kitten who sleeps on the big bulldog's back, and even a weird cat that was voiced by the actor who did the original voice of Goofy! The bonus documentaries are pretty good, but I didn't really care for the old one narrated by Orson Wells. The newer one about Friz Freleng was excellent, though, along with the many Behind the Tunes featurettes. Sixty cartoons later, I'm even more impressed with Looney Tunes, but now I have to wait a whole year for the next set!


Brain Boost: Gamma Wave / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

I really didn't know much about the new Brain Boost games when I put them in my Amazon Wish List, but I always love thinking games (second only to rhythm games!). My pal Dae saw my list and sent me this game (plus a great CD) for Christmas, and I started playing it right away on the way to visit my parents for the holiday! This game is designed to develop your right brain, specifically your "photographic" memory, through five different activities. The idea is that images, colors, or numbers are presented to you at a speed that's too fast for your left brain to process them, so your right brain has to just "feel" what the right answer is! It's definitely interesting - at the slower speeds I tend to come up with a mnemonic (which is kind of cheating), but at the higher levels I have to try to do the right (pun intended) thing. Memorizing numbers is easiest (because I type a ton of ID numbers at work) and faces are fun, too, but color patterns can be tough! All of the games are presented with a little story including well-designed cartoon characters - they definitely add to the urge to keep trying to see how the game's story ends. Gamma Wave is a simple game, but still pretty interesting and fun - I wonder if my memory will really improve?


Manga Mentions 12.06

Before my Christmas vacation, I had read four new volumes, and I've finished a fifth volume since I've been back (since it's almost time for another batch to come out), so it's time to mention some manga! Dr. Slump Vol 10 was really funny, especially since a new Chinese family has moved next door to Senbei and the gang (it's strange to see Chinese stereotypes in a Japanese manga!). Kaze Hikaru Vol 3 was wonderful, and I'm really ready for the next volume since the story is moving past where it ended in Shojo Beat. My cousin Clinton got me Kingdom Hearts Vol 3, which was cool to read - seeing Disney characters interact manga-style was really interesting! Genshiken Vol 7 wasn't quite as enjoyable for me as the earlier volumes - now that the club is mostly made up of new members, the tone of the story is really different (but it's still worth reading!). Finally, Monster Vol 5 continues to be one of the most fascinating dramas I've ever read, but it goes by so fast! This volume focuses on Johan's sister and other characters as well as Dr. Tenma, and the split-personality plot is really heating up. It can be a bit gruesome at times, but it's better than any movie I've seen in this genre!


Max Rebo R.I.P.

One of the last things I watched before my Christmas adventure was the original theatrical DVD of Return of the Jedi, finishing my nostalgic look at Episodes IV - VI. I really liked seeing the old silly Ewok victory dance at the end! Even though the Special Edition is much more appropriate, I always enjoy a little "Yub yub!" I also liked the old version of Jabba's band, no matter how goofy those creatures are. This was the first time I realized that Jabba took Max Rebo, the blue keyboard player, out on the sail barge to execute Luke and Han, which means that when Luke blew up the barge, Max Rebo was killed! Poor Max Rebo - he was just a little blue musician trying to make a buck, playing for a gangster mob because the money was good, but he paid the price for getting mixed-up with criminals. I still have my Max Rebo action figure, so his memory lives on!


Christmas magic

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! The final days of my Christmas vacation were simply wonderful. On Christmas Eve, my parents opened the rest of their gifts from me (and loved everything), and then we watched A Christmas Story together just like we have for the past few years. On Christmas morning I opened all of my presents, and I couldn't believe how much Santa brought me this year! I got enough DVDs, books, and Nintendo DS games to keep me busy until June! After all the unwrapping, we watched the Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade and ate candy, and after that Dad and I watched some Disney True Life Adventures while I drank wine until I needed a nap. When I woke up, it was time for Christmas dinner, and Mom cooked everything perfectly as always! My entire vacation was really incredible and so relaxing, and Mom and Dad gave me another magical Christmas just like they have for the past 39 years. Enjoy the final group of Christmas photos, or take a look at all of them together in the complete set!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 5


Christmas Eve-Eve

It's amazing how fast vacation days pass - it's already Christmas Eve-Eve! My parents and I are still having lots of fun together, and I'm still enjoying tons (literally!) of holiday food. We went to see another movie and made a quick stop at Crossroads Mall, which is always fun to see since I went there a million times when I lived here. We've still been playing games in the evening, and now we've added Derby Day to the mix, so we can bet on virtual horses and scream at the TV while they race! Yesterday I had a nice surprise visit from my old high school friend April, who stopped by for some fun conversation. We caught up on lots of stuff, and it was wonderful to see her again! It won't be long now before I'm ripping all the rest of my presents open!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 4


Night at the Museum : 3 of 5

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it looked pretty silly and had too many stars in the cast to actually be good. But, this definitely seemed like a perfect movie to enjoy with my parents for the holidays. It turns out I was right all around - Night at the Museum definitely has a really silly, even stupid plot, but I still laughed out loud for the whole movie! If you've seen a commercial then you know the plot - Ben Stiller is the night guard at New York's Museum of Natural History, and at night everything comes to life, including wax figures, miniature dioramas, and even a dinosaur skeleton (which shows off some excellent animation when these huge bones take on the character of a playful dog!). Lots of really goofy things happen, but I can't be critical because they all made me laugh! I liked watching the miniature cowboys fight with the miniature Roman Empire, but I probably cracked up the most when Ben consoles the raging Attila the Hun by understanding his childhood and giving him a big hug - completely ridiculous, but still funny! My parents and I had a great time during the whole film and spent a fun day at the theater laughing together, so in my book that makes this a great holiday movie!


Disney Comics / 75 Years of Innovation : 4 of 5

Although I'm not so thrilled with modern Disney comics, I really love the older Disney classic strips! One of my Christmas gifts this year was this excellent collection, cleverly designed in the same style as the Disney Treasures DVD series. There are tons of great stories here, all printed perfectly and ready to enjoy (which I have been doing for the past several days)! I like how the book includes historic moments like the first visit from Huey, Duey & Louie, but also more obscure characters like Ellsworth, Goofy's bird friend (that I had never heard of). Speaking of Goofy, there are even some really old strips where Goofy is still called Dippy! I like the stories where Mickey is on a big adventure like climbing a mountain, since he always stays positive no matter the circumstances. The book also has a nice introduction about the history of Disney comics, which talks a lot about the international success of Disney magic in comic form. This is a fantastic collection of great Disney stories and a nice overview of Disney comics in general!


More Christmas highlights

Christmas fun continues! Dad and I finished our yearly puzzle, which was a personalized map of the surrounding miles with our house at the center - it was much more difficult than I expected, but we did it. We've also been really enjoying challenging each other with Clubhouse Games on Nintendo DS - Dad is really skilled at darts! We kept our tradition of watching the Christmas home movies (this time on DVD!), and we also watched The Polar Express, which Mom & Dad hadn't seen before (they really enjoyed it). We also have been playing some DVD games I bought for them - we each played Deal or No Deal (and I'm the current record holder!) and a few rounds of Trivideo, and both are pretty cool games. Finally, we went to Sears to buy my parents' "big gift" this year, which was a new fridge, we ate out at a couple of our favorite restaurants, and we had a second day of Vegas fun at Riverwind. The time sure is flying by!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 3


Elite Beat Agents / Nintendo DS : 5 of 5

Since I've played the amazing Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! for hours, I was thrilled to find out that a version was being created for the US called Elite Beat Agents. Of course, Santa gave it to me early for Christmas, and I've been having a blast playing it. I think they did a fantastic job completely re-imagining the game for American gamers, since the entire storyline and all of the graphics are completely new (along with all the songs, of course). Even though everything is new, the short manga-style stories still keep a nice Japanese feel (with super-deformed expressions and so on), but that's probably because 95% of the names on the credits are Japanese. The overall gameplay experience is great - I will always love rhythm games more than any other kind, and Elite Beat Agents is one of the best! The American song selection is pretty cool, and even songs that I'm not a big fan of are tons of fun to tap and drag with (Jumpin' Jack Flash in the game's finale is so fun!). The new characters are stories are nice and quirky, and include some cute anime girls, too. So far I've finished all the songs on the super-easy level, and I'm looking forward to playing the harder modes for more rhythm fun!


Casino adventure

My parents and I love to play slot machines, so for the last few visits together we've gone to the Remington Park casino and had a fun time. But today we decided to check out the new Riverwind Casino, which is brand new and the largest in Oklahoma! The building is really massive, and the interior is pretty cool - it definitely feels like Vegas, but the decor is nice and tasteful. Of course, there are thousands of slot machines, each with it's own plush chair in front of it, and they have several restaurants and a food court, too (just like a mall). We found one of our favorite games, Super Jackpot Party (which is so much fun because of the bonus games), and spent several hours playing nickels and pennies. We discovered when you play pennies that the machines are rigged to pay off a lot more often, and even with pennies I was able to finished the day with $45 bucks in winnings!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 2


Eragon : 3 of 5

When I saw the trailer for this movie, I never thought I would be going to see it, but since my parents and I love to go to the theater a few times during the holidays, it seemed like it might be fun to check it out. It turned out to be a surprisingly great time, and we all enjoyed it! I've never heard of the book this story is based on, but the plot is so much like Star Wars that someone should be ashamed! A farm boy meets an old former knight and they go rescue a princess - there's even a Han Solo kind of character. But putting that aside, Eragon is a nice fantasy adventure to just sit back and enjoy for a while. There are plenty of cliches and nothing is super original, but it's exciting to see a dragon in action! The effects were much better than I expected, especially during the flying sequences (and of course, no can resist a cute blue-eyed dragon hatching from an egg). The acting is decent enough (especially from Jeremy Irons), but John Malkovich is kind of silly as the evil king with 10 minutes of screen time (just a setup for the sequel, really!). So, I'm glad this was one of my holiday movies this year, and now I'm a dragon fan!


Here comes Christmas!

Christmas has officially begun! I always look forward to spending the holiday with my family, opening presents every single night. This year I started my parents off with some personalized Disney Santa hats, so all three of us can look extra festive for all the gifting! The Christmas eating has started, too, with plenty of cookies and some of my favorite foods (like salmon patties and homemade potato chips!). I'm trying to counteract the calorie onslaught by doing a few exercises each day, but other than that my only activity will be ripping wrapping paper and shoving cookies in my mouth. I'll try to make a WEBmikey post periodically, but it may be hard to interrupt my busy schedule of relaxing!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 1


Carols via satellite

My pal Ryan has become addicted to XM satellite radio lately, since it came with the new car he bought a few months ago. On Thanksgiving weekend he found a great deal on a portable XM device, so we've been listening to it at work in our shared office. There are lots of cool channels like the Cinema channel, which plays movie soundtracks (complete with audio clips of dialogue), but of course we've been listening to the several channels of Christmas music for the past month. Sometimes we hear some really obscure songs! The other day there was a version of Andy Williams doing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and we think it was from a TV special since we can hear people clapping. Anyway, right in the middle he says, "And then a reindeer came in and began to dance." It just sounds so silly that we both started laughing!


Old-school Star Wars

I finally watched the recent theatrical-cut releases of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (and I'll check out Return of the Jedi soon). It had been a long time since I had watched Episode IV all the way through, and it really gave me a nice nostalgic feeling! It was cool to see the non-Special Editions, with everything the way I remembered it from all the times I saw it at the theater back when all I could think about was when the next Kenner figure was coming out. It definitely made me think that Lucas just went a little crazy with the prequels in the CG special effects department. As much as I like Episodes I-III, I would much rather watch "imperfect" miniatures than "perfect" CG models. The whole revolution of Star Wars was partly because everything looked homemade, and using CG in every single shot just ruins that feel. I also realized that the transition from Episode III to Episode IV is a little shaky, mainly when I think about Obi-Wan's reactions to meeting Luke and the droids on Tatooine. The audience has to believe that Obi-Wan is faking the whole thing, because he's got to know who Artoo and Threepio are. Anyway, I don't mind so much, but this was the first time I thought about it!


Perfect presents

I've received some really amazing Christmas gifts from my pals this year! This weekend I gave everyone this year's video project (which was a big success, judging by the laughter!), and they went together to buy me a fantastic new gig bag (for my drum kit hardware), since my old one was a serious pain. The new one is totally amazing and has wheels on it, so it's going to be so convenient! Then tonight, my pal Melinda and I exchanged gifts, and she gave me a beautiful Snow White figurine (part of the Disney Traditions series by Jim Shore)! It has a great folk-art style to it, and looks wonderful with my other Snow White sculptures. She also gave me a little LEGO set to add to my growing collection, too! Christmas is so much fun! Be sure to take a look at my latest Flickr photos, since I just got up-to-date with my latest toys, PEZ, and collectibles.

View photos: Disney Collectibles
View photos: PEZtastic
View photos: Toys on Stage


Not worth reindeer poop

Since I love all of the Rankin-Bass classic Christmas shows, I'm a fan of The Year Without a Santa Claus (from 1974). Practically everyone loves the Heat Miser and Snow Miser songs, and of course the animation is brilliant for the medium. Unfortunately, this holiday classic was given the live-action treatment, and as expected, it was a disaster! If all I could watch was this show, then I really would wish for a year without a Santa Claus. Not only was everything ultra-updated to the point of stupidity, but they couldn't even put a decent beard on John Goodman (it looked like it came from a cheap Halloween store)! The only things I liked were the fact that they used real reindeer (much better than the ugly animatronics in The Santa Clause 3), and the segment about the "retirement community" called Mythopolis with Jack LaLanne playing Hercules (which was pretty funny). The Miser brothers were just OK - not horrible, but so low budget. I guarantee you I won't be watching this one next year!


Christmas editing

This weekend I put together a DVD of bunch of my family's home movies of Christmas (14 holiday seasons!). My parents and I always watch them every year, and now we'll finally be able to see them on DVD. These were originally old Regular-8 and Super-8 films, which Dad had transfered to VHS, then I transfered them to MiniDV, and finally into iMovie. It was fun editing them all together, but it wasn't as smooth as I expected. I did a little digital clean-up (which was semi-successful) and then added enough music to cover the full 1:45 hours, and finally started up iDVD. Later I found out (from reading Apple's support discussions) that iDVD takes forever to encode the audio for so much music - it took over 12 hours to process! I'm just glad it's finished, and I'm looking forward to watching it with Mom & Dad!


The Santa Clause 3 / The Escape Clause : 3 of 5

I knew this movie was going to be goofy from the moment I first saw the trailer a few months ago, but since I like seeing holiday movies of almost any kind, my pal Melinda and I decided to go. The good news is that The Santa Clause 3 wasn't as bad as I expected, but the bad news is that they should have stopped with The Santa Clause 2! For me, the charm of the original movie (one of my holiday favorites) is discovering that Santa Claus is a real person, and how his magic can do wonderful things at Christmas. So, when you set the whole movie at the North Pole, and throw in all the silly other legendary characters (like the Easter Bunny and even the Tooth Fairy), it definitely becomes less special. In fact, the whole thing felt like a made for TV movie, or even something that should have been animated in stop-motion! But I have to say, I did have a fun time with the story, especially when Santa and Jack Frost travel back to the moment when Scott Calvin first wears Santa's coat in the original film. Even though Martin Short can be painfully annoying, he actually fits the Jack Frost character perfectly, and I kind of enjoyed his bizarre performance. So, I guess I don't mind too much that Disney is squeezing the last dollar they can from this 1994 hit - I just like watching Christmas movies at Christmas time (but any other time of the year, I would definitely give this a 2 rating)!


Pirates of Silicon Valley : 3 of 5

I've been a kind of Steve Jobs fan from way back when I used to go to the Apple World Wide Developer Conference each year in San Jose, because there's just something exciting about hearing him speak. Of course, there's always a dark eccentric side to genius, but even though I know about the "bad Steve" I still admire him. I watched this TV movie many years ago when it was first broadcast, which follows the early lives of Jobs (played by Noah Wyle, who was complimented on his performance by Jobs himself) and Bill Gates (played by Anthony Michael Hall, who looks pretty scary at times!) as they shape a new industry on their separate paths, but cross when Microsoft steals all of Apple's ideas. Essentially, all of the events talked about in the Computer Chronicles show I watched a while back are retold in dramatic form, which is both fascinating and funny (since a few scenes are just over the top). It's fun to see them working in the Apple garage, but sad to see Steve's abusive outbursts at the Macintosh group. It's also amazing to watch Bill sell DOS to IBM before they had even started developing it (and then bought it from some other poor guy for 50K!). The movie ends in 1997, so none of Apple's recent success or the iPod is covered at all, but overall it's cool to watch a 25-year soap opera unfold about the computers we all use today!


The new old Trek

I've been enjoying checking out the new remastering of Star Trek: The Original Series, even though I'm not exactly sure how this project got approved (probably so they can resell everything on DVD again!). Since I only recently finished watching all 79 episodes, I'm not actually sitting through them again - I just fast-forward with TiVo and stop and the scenes with new effects. The results are pretty interesting - all of the space exteriors are now CG, which means the ships can make more complex maneuvers and the camera can shoot from more dramatic angles, plus the "planet of the week" actually changes in each episode. These shots look cool, but they are still a little jarring, only because I know there's no way these effects were possible back in the 60s. For interiors, most of the changes involve windows (adding moving stars and so on), and generally they have left phasers and the transporter alone (though I'm sure they were tempted!). Sometimes the windows are really impressive - in The Menagerie, the main window on Starbase 11 features a beautiful view of the skyline that actually moves in perspective as the camera pans. Pretty impressive!


Morning Musume Sakura Gumi / Hare Ame Nochi Suki : 3 of 5

Since I recently enjoyed checking out the second singles from Morning Musume's subgroups of the past, I decided to take a look at the first singles, too. Sakura Gumi definitely was on the mellow side, since Hare Ame Nochi Suki shares a similar tone with Sakura Mankai (though this first single isn't half as good as that magical second single!). The melody is really nice, and I love the super-high notes at the end of the chorus (which means only the best singers get a shot). The video is totally pink-ified and filled with falling cherry blossom petals (I guess it has to be!), and the minimal dance moves aren't very interesting, but the costumes are kind of cool (as long as you ignore the crazy hairdos that some of them had to endure). This single was released while Natsumi Abe was still in the group, so she looks great during the close-up shots. Yossie looks like an entire different person with much softer features - the difference between then and now is really incredible. My favorite shot in the video is the use of rack focus between three girls standing at different distances, so they come into focus just in time to sing "suki suki suki". The DVD also has a close-up version and a really funny making-of segment, which has lots of goofing around scenes (which are always the best part!). I'll be checking out Otome Gumi's first single soon!


BoA / Winter Love : 3 of 5

For as long as I've been a BoA fan, I've loved listening to her ballads. I'm sure I've listened to Jewel Song hundreds of times, and the same goes for Everlasting (of course, I've watched the videos for both of these over and over, too). So, it was an easy decision to buy BoA's latest winter-themed single, which came with a DVD. Winter Love is a really pretty song, but I have to put it in third place behind BoA's other ballads. I like the instrumentation, which has just enough bells and other effects to sound like winter, and her singing is fantastic, of course. The video, while not overly impressive, is still beautiful. The whole thing takes place in a kind of igloo with massive ice-block walls and doors, and it really looks cold! Effects have been added so you can see BoA's breath when she sings (I hope they were effects, otherwise it was freezing when they were filming!), and the loose plot has a guy trying to give her gifts or cheer her up who ends up with snow on his face from her refusals (ouch!). BoA looks lovely as usual, and shows some great emotion on the chorus. The end of the video is really cool - BoA blows into the camera to ice up the TV screen. So although it's not spectacular, I'm still glad I got this single while I wait for her new album!



This weekend I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 4, and it was a great experience! It was nice to have a pal like Dae to drive me to the USC campus, and it was really easy to find the building and my classroom. There were tons of test-takers of all ages, including some older guys like me, and even several really young kids with Japanese mothers dropping them off for the exam (and there were plenty of cute Asian girls, too!). On the first section the 25 minute time limit was barely enough, so I paced myself better from then on. One question had to include the one kanji that never showed up on any of my sample questions, of course! Next was listening comprehension (via CD), which was really tricky - I think it was more difficult than what I studied, but I guessed when I had to. Finally, reading comprehension, which is usually tough, turned out to be the easiest for me. There were definitely questions that I had trouble deciding between two answers, but maybe I picked the right ones! Anyway, it's over and I'm glad that I took the exam - now I just wish the results would be announced before March (such a long wait!). I'm definitely going to take Level 3, and I'm looking forward to studying next year!


Happy Feet : 3 of 5

I'm always glad to go to the theater to support any animated feature film, and Happy Feet was a fun movie to see, and quite interesting for many reasons. I was a huge fan of the trailer, because seeing penguins sing is just inherently funny, so I was thrilled when the movie began with tons of penguins hanging around and singing. The opening act has so many pop songs intertwined (with excellent arrangements, by the way), that I was instantly reminded of Moulin Rouge, and at first I though this would be the whole movie - one long musical. The plot is that Emperor Penguins are born to sing, but poor Mumble is born to dance, so he becomes an outcast who can't get a girlfriend and so on. That would have been enough for me, but instead, Happy Feet transforms into an entirely different movie in the middle, where Mumble tries to discover why "aliens" (humans) are stealing their fish, and even ends up trapped in a Sea World kind of exhibit, which is depicted kind of like an asylum! The tone change is really kind of jarring, and then resolved far too quickly with a montage. However, these scenes are pretty innovative, since they use live-action humans along with the CG penguins, which was a surprise! The musical first half of Happy Feet definitely gets a 5 rating, but the too serious second half gets a 2, so the whole film gets a 3 from WEBmikey. I still recommend seeing it for a fun movie time!