9.30.2006

The pressures of fandom

Sometimes I think I'm into too much stuff! I know there are many fans who are much more extreme than me, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the geeky things I'm interested in. The other day I had lunch with Barron and Ryan and we stopped in Wonko's, which is overflowing with cool toys. Everywhere I looked I found myself thinking, "Wow, it would be fun to start collecting (you name it)." I was really impressed by an awesome Space 1999 Eagle die-cast toy, but it was too expensive for an impulse buy, and I had just bought a die-cast Enterprise recently anyway (which I still haven't photographed)! I also saw a cool series of DC super-hero miniature figures that were screaming at me to buy them. Staying with the geek theme, I recently finished the terrific Revolution on the Planet of the Apes comic series, which made me remember that I'm a big Apes fan! Of course, I still love Star Wars (I've been thinking of ordering a miniature Han Solo blaster replica), which is feeding my LEGO hunger (Slave One is waiting to be built). Besides all the stuff to buy, there's the time requirement for all my obsessions! The new season of Battlestar Galactica is starting next week (thank goodness I'm up to date on the cool webisodes), there are tons of anime series I want to see, plus I'm trying to keep up with all the Jpop videos and Hello! Project TV shows I can find (I usually burn at least two DVDs a week full of various clips to watch)! I haven't even mentioned manga or Nintendo DS gaming or Disney fandom, which is still going strong (in fact, today is an all-Disney music day since I'm getting psyched for a Disneyland trip in a few weeks). Being a fan of so much stuff is definitely tough, but I love it so. I don't mind dedicating my free time to the pursuit of cool stuff!

9.29.2006

Cooking Mama / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

I love incredibly bizarre games that really push the limits of the typical genre, and Cooking Mama is definitely one of those games! Of course, this is a US translation of a popular Japanese game, and in fact, most of the dishes you can make are Japanese cuisine (but with English names, so takoyaki becomes "octopus dumplings", for example). All you do is choose the dish you want to make, and then you go through a series of steps, each one kind of like a timed mini-game, all using the touchscreen to full advantage. You may have to chop up onions, crack eggs, knead dough, or even follow precise instructions for stewing (stir now, lower the heat to medium, add next ingredient, stir again, raise heat to high, and so on)! Some of the tasks are kind of tough (peeling potatoes takes practice!), and a few do require some thought for non-cookers like me. When you have to cook a bunch of things in a skillet, you need to add things in the right order so they all finish around the same time, so maybe I'm learning something here! Every step is watched over by Mama, who will either praise you, or (when you burn the meat to a crisp) give you a glorious passive-aggressive "Don't worry, Mama will fix it" with flames in her eyes. There's around 70 recipes to make, from super-easy (instant ramen or a sandwich!) to really difficult, with lots of ingredients and steps. The graphics are fantastic (though the music can be annoying at times), and playing this game can definitely make you hungry! I'm not sure how much I will keep playing after I finish all of the dishes, but for now I'm enjoying my virtual kitchen.

9.28.2006

Maburaho Vol 7 : 2 of 5

I can remember when I first got hooked on this series after reading about it in Newtype, and the first DVDs were really entertaining and fun. Then about halfway through the entire feel of the show changed (thanks to the "Kazuki becomes a ghost" plotline), and it was all downhill from there. This final DVD eventually wraps up the mission to restore Kazuki to his human form, but the whole thing was pretty disappointing to me - I'm just glad it's over now so I can move on to other series! The DVD begins with focusing on Rin, since she has to restore her portion of Kazuki's ashes, but she's scared because she has heard that Kazuki will lose his memories when he regains his body. Finally, it seems like he's back (with memories intact), but suddenly collapses, and it turns out that Yuna and Chihaya (his childhood friend) still have a little to restore (they find this out by traveling inside his memories, which was one of the stupidest sequences of this whole series). At first they can't agree on what to do, but since this is the last episode they finally do fully restore Kazuki's humanity. Of course, there's no memory loss - instead there is an awful epilogue where we see that when Kazuki came back, he split into a bunch of clones! I don't think I've ever seen such a dumb ending. Even the mystery of the strange landlady is poorly releaved and fairly uninteresting. Oh well, I had a good time with the first half of the series, but I don't recommend starting it if you feel compelled to completion like me!

9.27.2006

LEGO Empire

I finally got around to taking some macro shots of my LEGO Star Destroyer, so now you can take a look at the building experience! I just put my camera in one position and took a picture after I finished each major assembly, so the photos aren't that exciting, but you can see how it went together anyway. It was totally amazing to build something so big with that many pieces (over 1,300), and once again, I was really impressed with the engineering (although the Star Destroyer is much more fraglie than the X-Wing, mainly because it's hollow). After the building shots are some nice "studio" shots - the Minifigs are especially cool this time (but then again, Stormtrooper armor is always cool!). My next project is going to be Boba Fett's Slave One, which is only around 600 pieces, but I'm looking forward to seeing how the rotating wings work!

View photos: LEGO Star Destroyer

9.26.2006

Rhythm Tengoku / GameBoy Advance : 5 of 5

I play my Nintendo DS almost every day, but I have pretty much abandoned all of my old GameBoy Advance games, even though I can play them on my DS just fine. I never dreamed I would be buying another GBA cartridge, but when I read the reviews of Rhythm Tengoku, I just had to give it a shot, because there will never be enough rhythm games in the world for me! This is a relatively recent Japanese game, and it's kind of like combining Wario Ware mini-games with DDR-style beat accuracy. A large number of the games really only use a single button, but it's all about pressing that button right on the beat (and precision definitely counts)! There are tons of hilarious games, ranging from punching flower pots being thrown at you to shooting ghosts with a bow and arrow, to dancing robots and monkeys, and of course, whacking demons with a sword. You don't have to know Japanese to figure things out, but it makes it more fun for me! Lots of the games feature some unique Japanese culture, too, like making girls dance during a summer festival, or responding to some Japanese rap with certain patterns (based on the words just said). The games are organized into groups that you have to complete to unlock the next group, and each one ends with a cool "remix" where you play tiny pieces of each game combined into one song - it's a blast (and the music is great, too). There are some unlockable bonus games, too - my favorite has you matching the cool beats from a bunny drummer, and many of these are patterns I would have trouble playing on an actual kit! I can definitely see myself enjoying Rhythm Tengoku for a long time to come.

9.25.2006

Gatchaman / Collection 7 : 4 of 5

Wow, my Gatchaman DVD collection is really growing, and since I've been buying these in the special box sets, they are looking really sweet on my shelf. As usual, the bonus DVD isn't much to get excited about (although this time there are some fun tracks of Gatchaman themes in Italian and Dutch!), but it's definitely worth it for the amazing Alex Ross art on the boxes. The episodes in this collection are really heating up, and the battle with Galactor is getting more serious all the time. Just because Jun the Swan loses her shoe during a fight, Galactor's scientists are able to figure out how the Science Ninja Team's "bird style" transformation works, and they use this to develop detectors, weapons, and even to discover the location of the secret underwater Crescent Coral Base! There's a really dramatic attack, but thankfully we learn that the base has rockets so it can just move to another underwater location. Character-wise, Joe the Condor unlocks some hidden memories and learns he's the child of Galactor parents (actually rescued as a boy by Dr. Nambu), and Ryu the Owl (the only non-orphan) has to save his dad from an ocean attack without revealing his Science Ninja Team identity. As always, there are plenty of cool and hilarious mecha, this time including a giant peacock, an underground burrowing beetle, and a massive prawn. I'm all set for the next collection, and still having fun singing the Gatchaman theme!

9.24.2006

Nami Tamaki / Specialty DVD : 4 of 5

Even though I can't handle Nami Tamaki's hyper-anime style music in large doses, I could watch her videos all day. Her dancing skill is the main reason I was so impressed with her Greeting DVD, so I decided to check out her newest videos, too. This is a really cool, extremely polished DVD, right down to the unique DVD jewel case and artwork. There are four videos included, each with a dance shot version, TV commercials, and a "making of" segment. In all of them, I'm really impressed with Nami - she seems so genuine, like she's not struggling to be overly cute or sexy. She's just herself, and she's a fantastic performer! Get Wild includes some cool dance moves (especially on the chorus) and some nice shots on a fancy motorcycle with side car (with some cool video effects). Her choreography is so fascinating, usually involving really complex arm motions (way more advanced than Morning Musume moves, but of course I love those, too). My Way actually has her leading a cheerleading squad in a school gym, and it's really fun to see those cute yellow uniforms following her moves. Result (my favorite track from the CD) is pretty much all dancing with a black and chrome color scheme - the set is an amazing rotating contraption (there's a quick glance at the blueprints in the behind-the-scenes segment). Sanctuary is the exact opposite (no dancing at all), and had enough budget to film outside in a cool hedge-filled misty garden. As a bonus, there's a track of Nami's choreographer teaching all the moves! This is a really top-notch DVD - it definitely makes me want to buy her last CD/DVD that I missed.

9.23.2006

Power struggle

I had a minor Apple crisis today! My trusty iBook G3 has been surviving hours of daily use for years now, but the power adapter was suffering. The amber light that turns to green when the charge is complete stopped turning amber years ago (it was just stuck on green), and then about a month ago the green light went out, too. I could tell it was still working by watching my battery indicator, but once or twice I noticed when I plugged it in that it didn't start charging, so I knew it was getting sketchy. Today I let my battery run down to almost nothing, and when I came home from shopping it didn't have enough power to start up. I plugged it in, but it was still total silence with I pressed the power button! I figured the power adapter had finally gone out totally, but it still felt like I was missing a vital organ! So, I quickly searched around online - you can barely find the original Apple replacement adapter, since my iBook is getting so old. Apple sells it, but it takes four weeks to ship! Thankfully, I discovered there are third-party adapters - I found one that CompUSA said was in stock at my local store, so I was back home with it in 20 minutes. It felt so good to hear that startup chime! The new adapter is a Kensington, and I think it's pretty cool - it has various tips to work with other Apple devices, so I can even use it to charge my iPod if I want. I'm relieved to have healthy, fully charged iBook again!

9.22.2006

Mainichi benkyou shimasu

Here's a quick update on my various adventures in studying Japanese. I've been taking a few complete sample tests for the JLPT Level 4 (including listening comprehension from CDs), and I can usually score in the 90s. They only require a 60 to pass, but the old "grade monster" in me really wants a 90-something! Anyway, because of those results, I'm not thinking about the test too much (but I will still work on it weekly, I think), and instead I've been watching tons of Japanese TV! Granted, 90% of the stuff I'm watching features Hello! Project, but it still covers a wide variety of situations - game shows, cooking shows, talk shows, comedy routines, and so on. While I watch I write down words to look up later, and I save the slang or weird expressions for Kazki to explain to me. Tutoring with Kazki and Mikie is great as usual - lately Mikie and I have been walking step by step through my 2005 trip to Japan via a photo book I had printed, and it's so much fun that I'm going to make books for my 2003 and 2001 trips, too! I think I've had about four dreams where I'm speaking Japanese (of course, it's easier in the dream), and I'm trying to avoid the translation temptation - I'm hoping the meaning (when I read or practice conversation) will just "sink in" without trying to construct an English sentence in my head. I'm happy things are still progressing!

9.21.2006

Fluffer-whatter?

The other day my pal (and office-mate) Ryan mentioned that when he was a kid he used to love to eat Fluffernutters. Of course, I didn't know what in the world he was talking about! He told me about this stuff called Marshmallow Fluff that's only available in certain states, and that a Fluffernutter is just a Peanut Butter and Fluff sandwich. We decided to look for it online, and found lots of places that sell it, so we bought a few jars! We got it this week, so Ryan has been playing Fluff chef all week and making Fluffernutters for breakfast. I have to say, they are really delicious! The key is getting a lot of Fluff on the bread - you need twice as much Fluff as peanut butter, or the peanut flavor will over power the marshmallow. I think the whole thing is pretty cool, since it's all new to me, and Ryan's enjoying the taste of his childhood!

View photos: Fluffernutter

9.20.2006

Musume Dokyu! Vol 3 : 3 of 5

It's nice that Musume Dokyu! DVDs are continuing to be released - I enjoyed watching Volume 2, so I eagerly got Volume 3 to check out more of the same stuff. This DVD is quite different, though - it has shows from what seems to be the second season of the show, which got rid of the narration and typical "news" format. Instead, each episode features one member of Morning Musume one-on-one with the camera, typically just sitting in a youthfully decorated room (so it kind of feels like the viewer is over for a visit!). They start by reading a letter from another member, then do whatever the letter says, goof around and chat for awhile, and finally write a letter with a message for the next member. It's kind of fun seeing how the girls manage to keep the show flowing all by themselves (seeing what they try to be interesting or cute), but sometimes it can get a tiny bit boring if they tell a long story, since I can't pick up all of the Japanese yet (but someday I will!). This volume starts with Risa, who has to shoot some mini-basketball to earn some cake, then she hides a little puppy for Ai to find in the next segment. Ai goes completely nuts for this cute black puppy, which seems completely drugged, since it barely moves, even when she dresses it in a shirt! Konkon has to make takoyaki, then Sayumi has to make a complete bento lunch, which she ends up burning and messing up (but she tries so hard!). Finally, Eri has to eat the lunch, unfortunately declaring it oishikunai (not delicious)! This new format doesn't move as fast as the first season, but I think I like it, so I'm definitely getting Volume 4.

9.19.2006

Point Blank / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

I'm always on the lookout for new Nintendo DS games, and sometimes I like games that are kind of quick, mindless and easy - fun to play for five minutes here and there. Point Blank definitely fits that description, since it's basically a kind of target shooting game where you simply tap the touch-screen to fire - there's no aiming or any other controls at all! I've had a lot of fun playing it, especially because there's lots of variety, since each round is a different type of mini-game. There are lots of different things you have to shoot within a specific time limit, like ducks, bees, skeletons, criminals (without hitting the civilians, of course), ninjas, and even fireworks! Some of the games require a little thinking, such as shooting the correct analog clock face to match a digital time (I'm actually pretty slow at that one!). Other games require some real precision, too - even though you're just tapping right on the place you want to hit, accuracy can be really important. You can play in Arcade mode, which picks four or eight games at random for you to complete, or Brain Massage mode, which just plays the same games and gives you a kind of intelligence score (which is pretty dumb). The graphics are really nice on most of the games, but definitely not spectacular - the whole thing seems just a little unpolished, but it's still pretty cool. If you're looking for something fun to play while you're waiting for your microwave dinner, Point Blank could be it!

9.18.2006

Baseball adventure

Yesterday Barron and I drove to Arlington to see the Angels/Rangers baseball game - it was kind of a rainy day, but it was still a blast! It was fun to remember the game we saw in Houston and compare the two - we both liked the park in Arlington better, since it felt more like being outside. We had special passes to get into the Cuervo Club, so we had a beer there and checked out the view that the swanky folks get to enjoy. But speaking of view, we had incredible seats behind third base - we couldn't believe how close we were to the players (you could even hear the umpires)! We had some great baseball food while we enjoyed the game - hot dogs (of course), peanuts, beer, plus bratwurst and fries for Barron and nachos and ice cream for me! The Angels lost (bummer), but I don't mind, because we saw some great plays, including some nice home runs (complete with fireworks). The drive home was kind of intense for me since there was a lot of rain, but Barron and I just chatted our way through it (and even learned some Japanese together). It was a great Sunday, and I slept like a log when I got home!

View photos: Angels at Rangers

9.17.2006

Whisper of the Heart : 5 of 5

I'm still working my way through the Disney DVD releases of Studio Ghibli's masterpieces, and recently I watched Whisper of the Heart for the first time. This is simply one of the most beautiful films I've seen, not only from an animation standpoint, but also because the plot is so wonderful. There's also such a nostalgic feeling about the way life in Japan is portrayed, that it makes me miss being there even though I've only been in the country for about 30 days of my entire life! The story (which loosely ties together with The Cat Returns, since they both feature the cat figurine called "The Baron") is about a girl named Shizuku, addicted to fantasy books, who keeps seeing the same boy's name on the library cards of the books she enjoys. There's a little budding romance, some excellent life advice about doing what you believe in, and an ending that had my tears really rolling! The backgrounds in this movie are nothing short of spectacular - detailed city scenes, beautiful landscapes, and even the small apartment Shizuku's family lives in, all just make you want to be there. There's are so many animation details, too, such as bugs flying around streetlights at night, and tons of subtle blushing in the characters' faces when they're embarrassed - I just can't imagine the work that went into making this film. I can definitely say this is now one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films, and I'll certainly be returning to watch it again from time to time!

9.16.2006

Destroy All Monsters : 3 of 5

I've always liked giant monster movies, and when saw Godzilla: Final Wars recently I thought it would be cool to start watching more of the classics! So when I saw that ADV Films had Destroy All Monsters for super-cheap during their Labor Day sale, I decided to order it. Granted, this is definitely a low-tech DVD - there are zero special features, no chapter stops, and not even a menu! This is pretty much a DVD pretending to be a VHS tape, but for five bucks, I'm not complaining. The movie itself is really fun - only the English dub is available on this DVD, but it's so funny that it's worth it (especially the terrible voice of an old British scientist), and that's part of the charm of these movies anyway! The story starts in the amazing future (year 1999!) when all of the earth's monsters have been rounded up on an island. Of course, that's convenient for the Kilaaks, an alien race (with good ol' flying saucers) who controls the monsters using transmitters so they attack all over the world! All of the best monsters are here (although Mothra is only a larva), plus a bunch of obscure ones that are from movies I haven't seen. Eventually the good guys get the monsters to switch sides and attack the alien base (set up near Mt. Fuji), so the aliens bring in King Ghidorah for a big battle, and they beat the snot out of him (it's actually kind of sad watching everyone gang up on poor Ghidorah and stomp on his body). Overall, it's a totally fun movie that I really enjoyed seeing again - I still want to rent more monster movies like this!

9.15.2006

Japanese in MangaLand Vol 1 / Marc Bernabe : 4 of 5

I have a weird habit of wanting to read Japanese study books covering basic concepts that I already know, but I've had my eye on this book for a long time, so I finally decided to give in (especially since it's the start of a three book series). The concept of using manga panels to help teach Japanese has been used in several books I've already read, but I think this is the best implementation so far. Each of the 30 chapters has a quick grammar discussion (usually with some pretty good reference tables), followed by a few manga panels that illustrate the idea. There's also a short self-test after each chapter, which is kind of fun (and verbose answers are included in the back of the book). I think this book covers things too quickly for a beginning student (I know I would have been confused if this were my first exposure), but it definitely explained a few concepts to me in terms I had never seen before (the differences in the various "give" verbs were very well explained, I thought!). I really like the book's binding and design, and it's cool that they've included chapters on things like swear words and rough language that you normally would never see (but since the emphasis is manga, they need to be here!). It was really fun to pick up this book for a five minute lesson every now and then, so I'm definitely going to continue with the next book in the series!

9.14.2006

Dance Factory / PS2 : 2 of 5

Such a tragic story - I remember seeing a magazine ad for Dance Factory back during the summer and instantly getting excited about every DDR maniac's "dream game". I'm sure everyone who plays as much as I do has hoped for the same thing - to be able to dance to any CD of music! Well, I survived the wait (including a couple of delays by the developers), and got the game - I had to buy it just to support the Bemani industry. Sadly, Dance Factory is more like Dance Frustration. There are some good points - the game does its job with generating dances for your own CDs, and the waiting time isn't too bad. Some of these dances are fun and the general graphic look of the game (which has to be fully loaded in PS2 memory) is fine with me. I really like Endurance mode, since it's fun to dance through a whole CD. OK, on to the bad stuff - the song analyzer is downright stupid (granted, I'm sure it's not an easy coding task). It tries to key off any prominent sound in the song, so anything with a syncopated beat can causing the timing to go wonky. Sometimes it guesses an incredibly slow beat for a fast song, and vice versa. It does an OK job with stuff like Kumi Koda and Heartsdales, but unfortunately can't deal with Morning Musume since their songs have so much going on that the waveform must be fairly even. But, even if I could forgive the bad dance timing, there's simply no accepting the switched arrow order - the up and down arrows are reversed from standard DDR, meaning that my well-trained brain who sees steps as pre-defined patterns naturally screws up. I can make the switch for the easier modes, but it's too much pain in Pro mode, which would be the most fun to play. Finally, I just have to say that the whole "creature" thing is a tremendous waste of code for the ugliest, most unnecessary feature ever included in a game. I would be twice as sad if DDR SuperNova wasn't just around the corner - I'll have some "real" fresh dancing soon!

9.13.2006

Manga messages

I've polished off another seven volumes of manga, so it's roundup time again! Azumanga Daioh Volume 4 was so wonderful, and I'm sad there's no more to read - I wish it could go on and on, but I guess the girls had to graduate from high school eventually (but now I'm watching the anime again!). Monster is possibly my favorite dramatic manga right now, and Volume 4 was fantastic - I also discovered that there are 18 volumes of this masterpiece, so it's going to be years before I finish! My other favorite is still Death Note, and Volume 7 finally gets the story back on track with Light as the true Kira. So much of this story is told through thought balloons (quite necessary!), so it has the most words of anything I'm reading now, which is the total opposite of Kikaider 02, since Volume 4 is still mostly battle panels (but with more story than the last volume). Dr. Slump Volume 9 was really funny with a long honeymoon story (Senbei's proposal was hilarious, too), and I''s Volume 9 continues with its usual doki-doki magic. Finally, xxxHolic Volume 4 had a terrific plot about two sisters and how their lives are affected by the power of words, and I have to say the message behind the story really hit me - I think it's the first time a manga has actually got to me and really made me think. See, I knew all this reading would pay off!

9.12.2006

Saikin (recently...)

Since I've been writing so many reviews lately, I haven't spent any time writing about everyday life, so here's some recent things in no particular order. Last weekend my new LEGO obsession continued with the incredible Star Wars Star Destroyer set, which was over 1300 pieces! I think it took about six hours over Saturday and Sunday, and the end result is huge. I really admire LEGO engineering - it's amazing how their designers figure out how to create such complex structures! Hopefully I'll take some nice photos of it this weekend. Speaking of photos, I got another light for my "studio", since I think my macro photos haven't been so great lately (I moved my setup to another part of the room, and it had a bad effect on the light somehow). Ernesto, Jonathan, Tom and I hung out at Hole in the Wall recently to see a girl play ragtime piano, which was pretty amazing, though it was weird for me since I always associate ragtime with Disneyland, but I definitely don't associate drinking bourbon with Disneyland. Matt & Kumiko sent me an amazing package of stuff from Japan, including a custom portfolio from Matt's recent photo exhibition, plus several toys and some issues of J-Life, which is a free magazine designed for semi-beginner Japanese readers. I was able to read several paragraphs at lunch, and it felt pretty good! Tonight I went to Main Event with Melinda and we played some glow golf and did the 3D theater thing, which was pretty cool, then I got hooked on crane games and won a couple stuffed animals. I guess I've been keeping busy, now that I look back on the past few days!

9.11.2006

Otaku no Video : 2 of 5

I had never heard of this DVD before, but it showed up on Netflix as a recommendation for me (gee, I wonder why?), so I thought I would give it a try. This is definitely a strange film, taking a somewhat dated look at the world of otaku (which I am pretty much a part of). Half of the film is anime, telling the story of a "normal" guy who meets some old friends and gets sucked into it all - anime, manga, cosplay, model making, and everything else. Some of the story had a nice Genshiken feel to it, but the animation style is definitely old (very 80s) and the plot is bizarre. After becoming an otaku causes his girlfriend to break up with him, the main character decides to go all-out and become "otaking" (king of otaku!), and starts a huge company, gets rich, and even opens an Otakuland theme park! The second half of the film is composed of live-action interviews with otaku guys, cut into the anime in appropriate spots. They all have blurred faces and disguised voices, but I doubt any of them are real (though I'm sure there are guys this weird in the world). These segments aren't that interesting, and usually just seem sad - in fact, the whole film seems to take a slightly negative look at fandom. My favorite parts of the whole DVD are the opening and closing credit songs, which are great examples of 80s anime theme songs, but with hilarious lyrics about becoming the "otaking" and so on. I guess this was a semi-interesting DVD, but I don't really recommend it if you're looking for something entertaining.

9.10.2006

Nami Tamaki / Specialty : 3 of 5

I haven't listened to Nami Tamaki in a while (I missed her last album), but since I enjoyed Greeting so much I decided to get her new album Specialty, especially since it included a special edition DVD. Overall, I really like the CD, but I have to admit that it's hard to take it in all at once - most of the songs have the same feel and tempo (I could really use a ballad in the middle of all this!), but it's definitely true to her anime-theme style (although this album has a little more bite than Greeting). The introduction track is really cool, with it's sudden "electronic takeover", leading into Result, which sets the tone for the whole CD. Nami's voice is pure and always on pitch, even though her melodies often jump large intervals! Almost every track has a cool guitar solo with great harmonies (the solo on New World is my favorite), and most songs are over four minutes, which seems a little long every now and then. The DVD contains live footage from the CD release event (I was hoping for music videos, but it's fun to watch anyway), with Nami singing live to recorded music and groovin' with six dancers on-stage. It's a small crowd, so there's nothing extravagant going on, but it's nice to see that she can hit the notes and steps in a live venue. I'm looking forward to hearing these songs come up randomly on iTunes, but there's not enough variety to listen to this over and over in my car. I'm still a Nami fan, though, and I'm going to check out her new DVD release soon!

9.09.2006

My favorite professor

Besides studying computer science at college, I was also introduced to a whole new world that I had never acknowledged before, and now I couldn't live without. I think every college student has a certain professor that they will always remember, and for me that was Dr. James Yoch - my memories of classes with him are the absolute best of my entire college life.

The core classes for freshmen required two semesters of English (Composition and Literature), but because of my high school grades, I was offered an honors English course. I jumped at the chance, because it was a "two for one" offer - by taking one semester of Honors English, you got credit for both non-honors semesters. My professor was Dr. Yoch, so I met him on practically the first day of college. His plans for the class were simple - we were going to write a ton of papers (practically one per week), but his motives were to expose us to arts and culture (one of our required textbooks was Exploration of the Arts, which seemed strange for an English course!). And so, one week he would say, "The symphony is performing Handel's Water Music this week - go see it and write a paper." The next week it would be an art exhibit, and then a play, and then an opera - he even had us go to see the OU polo team play! All of these were entirely new experiences for me, but since I had an assignment, I had to go. All of us in class were gently "forced" to learn about all of these new things, and it definitely changed me forever.

After that class, I was yearning for more, and I had definitely developed an admiration for Dr. Yoch. So, I took as many classes as I could with him during my college career. His Shakespeare classes were fantastic (we always read the Penguin Classics editions, and I still have them all), once again because of his innovative teaching style. Besides a midterm and final exam, we only had one other assignment that he called an "invention". Basically we were free to do any project we wanted, about any aspect of Shakespeare that we had studied in class. There were practically no boundaries! Some students performed in class, some wrote traditional papers, and then there were weirdos like me. One semester I created a role-playing game called Romeo's Quest (with maps, cards, and everything) that explored what might have happened if Romeo had realized Juliet wasn't really dead. It was geekdom at it's best, but Dr. Yoch loved it. Another semester I wrote a song for each major character in The Merchant of Venice to explore their personalities through music - I recorded all of these using a synthesizer and my own singing, and it was a big hit, too!

I was able to spend a little time with Dr. Yoch outside of class. When I was just beginning to write poetry, I gave him a book of several that I wrote to ask for his comments, and he was harsh but helpful. I visited him a time or two during his office hours, and once went to his house with a group of students to work on a project. I remember he even advised me not to get married (as I did after my sophomore year), and even though I ignored his advice, I really appreciated it.

During my final course with Dr. Yoch, several students wrote a modern-day retelling of Euripides' Medea for our invention, complete with music. We all worked on the script, and I worked on the music with another student, which we recorded (we even used a local church organ to record a "scary" piece that I wrote). Dr. Yoch liked it so much that he wanted to publish it as a university project, and he even secured some funding from the university for the printing. I was supposed to get things together, which included creating sheet music - this would be simple now, but at the time this was kind of an advanced computer task that I didn't know how to do. At the same time, I was married, swamped with my Software Engineering project, working at Eckerd's, and even planning moving to Tulsa (since I already knew I was hired by CITGO). I never got the project off the ground, and I felt like I had betrayed my friend Dr. Yoch. I just swept things under the rug, and so my contact with him ended.

I've often wondered if he would remember me, but it's really not important now. What is important is that I'm a great lover of opera, classical music, art, poetry, Shakespeare, and many other things, and I owe it all to Dr. Yoch. He was my guide into a world of beauty and humanity, and I never would be the person I am today without his influence.

9.08.2006

Vermillion Pleasure Night Vol 2 : 3 of 5

Time for another crazy DVD of Vermillion Pleasure Night, the bizarre Japanese TV show that I enjoyed before! This volume contains many more episodes of the various continuing sketches, but also has other original material, and most of it's quite dark. Overall, this DVD has a much more sinister tone that the first one, primarily in the extended sketch called Quick Girl (which takes up nearly half of the second episode). The story is a well-filmed, intense drama (with no dialogue) about female assassins all out to kill each other. There are plenty of hot-looking outfits and bad-ass women, but the deaths are still pretty violent (and the "punch line" isn't much lighter!). There are several episodes of Zombie Family, featuring a mother and her two daughters (all of them with gross, flesh-falling-off faces), who act out a simple sitcom style story (except for the axes in the head!). Even the Oh! Mikey segments are a little weird, especially when Mikey becomes demon-possessed (although that's a pretty funny one, too), and Midnight Cooking even tries to demonstrate how to cook a ganguro girl (but she gets away, of course). I'm still looking forward to more volumes of this series - even though this one was so weird, it was definitely fascinating and unique from an artistic view. I'm kind of hoping the next one is a little more humorous, though - bring back the One Point English Lessons!

9.07.2006

Walt Disney Treasures / Legendary Heroes : 3 of 5

I can't believe I'm still catching up on last year's wave of Walt Disney Treasures! I finally got around to watching this set, and it was pretty enjoyable. I remember several years ago when the Disney Channel would air these shows, and I always skipped watching them, so it's nice to enjoy them now coming at them fresh. After the success of Davy Crockett, Walt decided to make shows about other American heroes. He started in 1958 with Elfego Baca, who was a Mexican-American gunfighter that gained the reputation of having nine lives (after surviving a dramatic siege). These are really fun shows, full of Wild West adventure, and Elfego is a really cool character. In 1959 Walt followed up with The Swamp Fox, about one of the heroes of the American Revolution who had a Robin Hood reputation. These shows look beautiful (Walt had the foresight to shoot in color, even though they would be broadcast on TV in black & white!), and even have some matte painting work, but the Swamp Fox stories just aren't as interesting to me as Elfego Baca (maybe there's a little too much military strategy and not enough all-out action). Overall, it's fun to watch these shows mainly because they include the Walt Disney Presents titles and those wonderful introductions by Walt himself (often including the somewhat goofy theme songs of the shows). They don't necessarily fill me with Disney enthusiasm, but they're definitely interesting to see as part of Disney's rich television history.

9.06.2006

Girls Bravo Vol 5 : 3 of 5

I can do it - I can finish this series if I stick with it! There are better series waiting for me to watch! As much as I'm ready to put Girls Bravo behind me, I actually enjoyed this DVD, much more than the last couple, actually. The first episode has the girls getting a part-time job to pay for all the damage they've done to Yukinari's house. As you would expect, they end up as models at a cosplay event, and they convince Yukinari that they need another member, so they dress him up as a girl and call him Yukina! Guess who (Fukuyama, of course) gets the hots for Yukina, and all kinds of craziness ensues. The next episode may win for the most out-loud Mikey laughs! Since everyone is home bored, Fukuyama (they should have just called the series Fukuyama Bravo) comes over to challenge everyone to a kind of hentai Mah Jong - all of the tiles have bizarre titles (you can guess), and there's plenty of silly penalties for losing. The third episode is mostly a kind of alternate story where the girls play cat burglars, except they call themselves the Phantom Rabbits. The plot is kind of cool, with Fukuyama as a "good guy" and Yukinari as a villain. The last episode involves Miharu's sister making a visit to Earth from Seiren and causing trouble at the school's culture festival, which was kind of boring. This DVD was definitely worth watching to fill in some empty spots during my four-day weekend, and the fact that I did get some good laughs gives it some merit.

9.05.2006

Star Trek / The Original Series / Season Three : 4 of 5

I've finally finished watching the 30 hours of episodes included in this DVD set, which means I've watched the entire Original Series over the past year and a half. The third season of Star Trek is famous (or infamous!) for several reasons. First, the series was basically cancelled after Season Two, but a huge letter writing campaign by the fans almost forced the studio to continue with another season. Next, Gene Roddenberry generally didn't participate in this season (besides being executive producer), and their budget was dismal. And so, this season is full of cheese - think of the goofiest Star Trek episode you can remember, and it's probably from Season Three! The all-time silliest plot is Spock's Brain (which was actually the season premiere!), where alien hotties steal Spock's brain to run their computers. The Way to Eden is a classic because of its hilarious "space hippies" (complete with folk songs), and I always laugh like crazy at The Savage Curtain when I see Abraham Lincoln flying through space (although that episode does have many merits). On the flip side, some of my favorites are in this season, including The Tholian Web (such a cool idea) and Day of the Dove (with great Klingon tension). Just like the other sets (Season One and Season Two), there's some fun bonus material (including a nice restored version of the original pilot The Cage), but my favorite feature is the text commentary, which is only included with two episodes. I would buy these sets again if they had text commentary on every episode - it's so entertaining! I really enjoyed seeing the original series again, which makes me want to watch all the movies next!

9.04.2006

How I became a scientist

The other day George and I chatted a bit about our past academic days, and it really made me stop and think about the things I studied at college. I have a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Oklahoma. I mainly chose OU because I didn't really want to move away from home, and it was an easy commute from my parents' house. At the time, you could get a CS degree in either the School of Engineering or the School of Arts & Sciences, and I went with the Engineering degree because it sounded cooler (even though it had more requirements and core engineering classes, such as Engineering Physics, that I simply hated!).

Studying computer science sure was different in 1985! Strangely enough, my first semester was the last semester that OU used punch cards, so I actually had to type out Fortran programs on punch cards and submit them to an operator to be loaded and run, and then wait for those wide green-bar printouts to show me if my program bombed or actually computed compounded interest (or something like that) correctly. I still have a box of those printouts and a deck of punch cards in my garage somewhere! After my first semester though, I was a full-fledged user of the computer lab, so I could slave over a terminal as long as I wanted (or had to). Even though I'm sure the internet existed in some form, no one really had access to any of it at home - the concept of a web page was never even mentioned during my entire course of study for my degree! This meant that all of my homework had to be done in the lab, so I spent lots of time there - I can remember coming home at 3:00 AM many, many times (of course, some of that time was dabbling in MUDs and printing PostScript blueprints of Star Trek ships).

Besides core classes and math, most of my classes were just more and more programming languages, although there were things like Compiler Construction and Large Scale Scientific Computing, which was interesting since we were allowed time on the big expensive parallel processing computer (like just about everyone has on their desk now!). I had to write stuff in Fortran, COBOL, Pascal, Lisp, ADA, C, C++, and even Smalltalk. I was supposed to learn Assembly Language, too, but my professor was really innovative. He knew that Assembly was totally dead, so he invented a way for us to learn it without actually writing it. We wrote a C program to emulate the 6502 processor! To test our program, our professor loaded a BASIC interpreter and then ran a BASIC program to compute digits of Pi, so there were kind of three levels going on - it was amazing, and I enjoyed that class more than any other CS course.

The grand finale was two semesters of Software Engineering, where groups of four students built a "product" from start to finish, complete with all the documentation and so on. Basically, the professor had everyone build applications that he needed, so our free slave labor resulted in a bibliography generator and reference database program. In the second semester the four of us would meet in someone's dorm room and work almost all night on various deliverables we had to turn in. I can remember sometimes we would take turns sleeping, and someone would go out and buy this cheese bread that was fantastic so late at night. Those were crazy days, since I was married and also working full-time, but I survived! It's fun thinking about all of this now, but my favorite college memories have nothing to do with computer science - I'll write about those another time.

9.03.2006

The Illusionist : 4 of 5

I didn't know a thing about this movie, but I wanted to see something during my day off, and noticed lots of good reviews and comments for this film. I'm really glad I saw it, because it was fantastic! The story is about a boy who is in love with a girl of noble birth - when they are separated, he travels the world and becomes a great magician (Edward Norton as Eisenheim), finally playing to crowded theaters in turn of the century Vienna. By chance, he again meets his childhood love, who is to be married to the Crown Prince (but still wears a secret locket given to her by Eisenheim), and from there a huge mystery unfolds! Paul Giamatti is excellent as the Inspector who has a genuine interest in magic, but is ordered by the Crown Prince to keep on eye on Eisenheim. There are so many things to like about this movie - the story is well-constructed and fun to follow, the acting is definitely believable, the Philip Glass music fits perfectly, and the period sets and costumes are great without being over-the-top. What I enjoyed most is that the real mystery of the film isn't the magic itself - of course, the tricks are all far more realistic than could really be done, but are left happily unexplained, leaving a sense of fantasy in the story. It's almost like a fairy tale for adults, and it really proves to me that a well-written and entertaining story is the absolutely most important element of a film. I'm glad this story was discovered and made into this movie!

9.02.2006

Mikey's happy day

Friday was the first day-off I've had without a real purpose in a long time - maybe the first ever! I had such a great time just enjoying myself that I have to share what I did. It may not sound that exciting, but it was amazing to me. I got up early and went out to buy bagels (which I love, but hardly ever eat), then came home and made coffee and watched The Tigger Movie during breakfast. Then I played a little DDR and went out for a haircut, which turned out nicely. Next I dropped off two of my pipes at Pipe World for a tune-up, then went to the mall to just wander around, browsing video games and other stuff. Next I saw The Illusionist at the mall theater (seeing a movie during the day was so cool), so I had popcorn for lunch. After that I went to Toys R Us and checked out every aisle, taking my time - it was great to have no time limit for anything! For no reason at all, I thought it would be cool to build a Star Wars LEGO set, so I bought a fantastic X-Wing fighter (437 pieces!), and came home and spent a couple hours leisurely building it and drinking beer. Building LEGO was incredible - I had forgotten how much fun it is! It's cool to start out not even knowing what section you're working on, just following the well-designed instructions. I was really impressed with the end result, too - it even has landing gear and wings that go into attack position! Finally, I watched Whisper of the Heart (a completely amazing Studio Ghibli anime) and finished the bagels for dinner, and finally went to bed thinking I have three more days off to enjoy!

View photos: LEGO X-Wing

9.01.2006

Ten Cool Tunes 09.2006

It's fun coming up with a ten track mix every month, but it's getting difficult to decide how I should put them together. I like to have a flow or a theme, but I also like most of the songs to be available on iTunes (even though there are only four of those this month). This mix is a little moody, but it contains some stuff I've listened to over and over. Great Expectations is a movie I really like (even though some other folks I know think it's terrible), and the soundtrack is cool, so after a quick classical intro, Pulp starts the mood. Sakura Mankai strays a little, but I had to include it since I've only recently become addicted to this song! The next four songs are all old, but all emotional in different ways (I've always thought All Her Favorite Fruit sounded like a stalker ballad). You'll have to forgive the Hilary Duff track, but it really fits here (definitely not her usual mindless pop). She Said is a truly amazing song from Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma Monogatari), and this re-mix of Life in Mono is one of the few cases where I think a re-mix is way better than the original.

09.2006 iMix (Song / Album / Artist)
  • Act One: Prelude / La Traviata / Verdi
  • Like a Friend / Great Expectations Soundtrack / Pulp
  • Sakura Mankai / CD Single / Morning Musume Sakuragumi
  • Girlfriend / Girlfriend / Matthew Sweet
  • Number One Camera / Tonight and the Rest of my Life / Nina Gordon
  • Queen of Charades / Still Life / The Connells
  • All Her Favorite Fruit / Key Lime Pie / Camper Van Beethoven
  • Dangerous to Know / Hilary Duff / Hilary Duff
  • She Said / Shimotsuma Monogatari Soundtrack / Rin Oikawa
  • Life in Mono (Alice Band Mix) / Formica Blues / Mono