A suite ballgame

A week ago my pals Ryan and Robert and some other guys at work entered a whiffle-ball home run derby contest, and they were the champions! Their prize was tickets to a Round Rock Express baseball game in a private suite, complete with free food and beer. Robert was nice enough to let me use his extra ticket, so last night I got to enjoy the game with the guys. The Express lost 8-4 to the Albuquerque Isotopes (what a name!), but the whole experience was a blast! The suite had cool leather couches, satellite TV, a huge window wall between home and first base, plus our own regular seats just outside the window (kind of like a balcony). We were served twelve hamburgers and twelve hot dogs for the group, plus a ton of chips, and of course, an entire refrigerator full of cans of beer. In about five hours, the entire group of about 10 people drank over 100 beers (I only had four)! It was a ton of fun hanging out with everyone, enjoying the nice evening weather, and watching the game - thanks, guys!

Enjoying iQuiz

Yesterday I decided to try out iQuiz, Apple's newest iPod game available from the iTunes Store for only 99 cents, and it's really fun! It uses all of the information about the songs stored on your iPod to generate a random music quiz that cleverly uses sound clips and album art for a really cool game show experience. It's so much fun answering questions about your own music, but it can be funny since my music taste is so broad (with questions like "Who performed this song - Morning Musume or Beethoven?"). Each game has several rounds of questions and even bonus "lightning rounds" to keep things interesting, and the graphics are cool, too. iQuiz can also play general trivia quizzes, including custom ones you can make yourself. For only a buck, I'm really impressed with the game, and it' a fun way to enjoy all of my music in a new way!

Manga Mentions 4.07

Get ready for five more super-short manga reviews! Actually, Osamu Tezuka's Buddha Vol 1 deserves more words of praise than I have time for - I've kind of avoided this one, but now I'm so glad I'm reading it. Tezuka has the sheer talent to take on the life of Siddhartha in this gigantic series (each volume is so thick), and this first volume focuses mainly on fascinating side characters, the background of the castes of India, and incredible metaphoric teaching. Continuing with Tezuka, Phoenix Vol 10 covers the first part of the Sun story, which coincidentally deals with themes of the conflict between Buddhism and Shintoism in ancient Japan! The main character is a noble half-man, half-wolf who dreams of his future reincarnation, which is an incredible way to transition to the next volume. Now that the "serious" manga is out of the way, I also read Video Girl Ai Vol 3, which introduces a new cute girlfriend named Nabuko (and includes a weird segment in the "video world"), plus Ninen ga Shinobuden Vol 2, which was totally hilarious. There are so many jokes (most with culture notes) on one page that it reminds me of reading Mad Magazine! Finally, Kikaider 02 Vol 6 finishes this series, but strangely enough leaves the story hanging. There are some interesting flashbacks for Mitsuko, but overall the series was a little disappointing, even for a Kikaida fan like me!


Ant conditioning

Earlier this week my air conditioner stopped working for the first time since I've lived in my condo. When the air would kick on, the unit outside was just making a buzzing noise, but the rotor wasn't spinning at all! I was going to call for maintenance, but then the next day it worked perfectly all day long. But then yesterday it stopped again, so I figured I should call someone. I looked up maintenance on the Lennox website, and found a place really close to me and called them at lunch, and they had a guy here in only ten minutes. I couldn't believe what the problem was - ants! It turns out that ants are attracted to the electrical contacts, and they crawl in there and get electrocuted, but all their dead bodies eventually start preventing the circuit from closing. The guy replaced the contact unit and showed me the old one - there were hundreds of dead ants in there (so many in fact that he said he was going to show it to their training class!). He sprayed some super ant killer inside there, and also checked everything else out on the A/C, which is working perfectly now. I'm so glad the problem turned out to be something so simple, even if it was pretty bizarre!


Hello! Project 2007 Winter / Shuketsu! 10th Anniversary : 4 of 5

I always enjoy Morning Musume concerts more than these giant extravaganzas with the entire Hello! Project line up, but it just wouldn't feel right if I didn't see this concert, and it definitely had some great moments. Overall, I enjoyed the variety and the quick transitions from song to song (made possible by the different sub-stages in the huge arena), but I was disappointed that there was more lip-syncing than usual (and when actual singing was going on, I was intrigued by the use of ear monitors, which I don't remember seeing before). There are way too many girls and too many performances to mention, but here are a few highlights. Ayaya and Nacchi both show their talent (meaning real singing voices) and professionalism that kind of blows the baby girls away! Reina still manages to be a camera ham among the crowd, and Goto totally cheapens the entire show with her slut-fest. Seeing Sakura Gumi and Otome Gumi perform again was absolutely incredible - I felt nostalgic even though I wasn't a fan back when they were around! The Country Musume graduations are nice mainly because Konno makes a surprise appearance, and the final huge rendition of All for One & One for All is beautiful with so many of the girls in tears, caught up in the anniversary feeling. This is a nice long show with plenty of entertainment, and I'm looking forward to whatever the next concert release may be!

Re-watching favorites

I know, I know - I have so much stuff I want to watch that I couldn't possibly re-watch things I've already seen, right? Well, a while back ADV Films had a really great DVD sale going on, so I ended up buying complete sets (for practically nothing!) of a couple anime series that I really enjoyed the first time around! I've been watching an episode here and there, and I've been enjoying them all over again. I've already re-finished Chance Pop Session, which I still think has a cute soap-opera style plot, and I'm well on my way into Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, which quenches my thirst for science fiction coolness. After I bought these sets, I realized that I should really own the entire Chobits, so I picked that up from Overstock.com (I think it's going out of print soon, if it hasn't already), and now it's waiting for me, too. While I'm talking about watching things, I also checked out another movie via Amazon Unbox - I missed Jet Li's Fearless in the theater, so it was nice to watch it at home. Truthfully, I wasn't really moved by the plot, but the action was cool, although I didn't watch it closely enough for me to really review it!


Maybe I need to join a snoozetet

Last night I missed rehearsal for the Ernesto Marquez Sextet because I slept through it! After work I was feeling sleepy, so I set my oven timer (which I use for an alarm clock all the time) for 30 minutes, and started napping on the couch. Before I knew it, I was waking up about an hour after rehearsal started! The band called my cell phone, but it was still on silent mode from going to the movie on Sunday. I can't believe I slept through the oven timer, too. Everyone was nice to me when I called, though, and they still had a good rehearsal. I just stayed home and continued organizing software CDs instead! Anyway, this is a good excuse to mention that recently Chris finished a fantastic website for the band, where you can hear our tunes and check our schedule, so take a look!

Grindhouse : 2 of 5

I'm not really a fan of Tarantino or Rodriguez (although both of them have made some good stuff I've enjoyed), but the concept for this double-feature was so good that I had to check it out with my pals Tom, Chris, and Ernesto. I love the idea of celebrating the genre of these movies, complete with fake trailers (which was my favorite part of the experience) and lots of grainy "bad print" effects. Rodriguez gets things off to a great start with Planet Terror, an awesome zombie movie featuring a hot chick with a machine gun leg! There's plenty of gore, but it's the kind that's so gooey that it's laughable, and Rodriguez fills his plot with corny jokes and over-the-top action that really make the movie fun. After some more great fake trailers, Tarantino's Death Proof takes the screen, and I've never seen such an incredible turd of a movie! On the plus side, there's about 20 minutes of fantastic car chase to enjoy, but you have to suffer through more than an hour of absolutely boring scenes of characters that you care nothing about, talking on and on about things you don't care about, and then getting killed so there was no point watching them in the first place. Tarantino just crapped out the movie that he wanted to make, almost ignoring the genre, and forces you to watch it - it's just as terrible as the Rodriguez movie is good! So, if the concept sounds good to you, take a look at Grindhouse, but you might want to walk out in the middle.


Falling for Niagara

The next vacation trip my parents and I are taking together will be next month to Niagara Falls! I'm looking forward to seeing such an incredible sight for the first time, and we're all going to enjoy some casino action as well. As usual, I'm playing the part of travel agent, and I already have everything planned and booked. We're going to stay in the fabulous Niagara Falls Hilton, which looks like a wonderful hotel with nice views and quick casino access. After flying into Buffalo, we'll be riding across the border into Canada in our Jewel of Niagara car (they were exceptionally nice to work with when I made the reservation). Of course, we're taking a tour while we're there to get in all the major falls attractions, including Maid of the Mist, which is the famous boat ride that takes you right up to the falls and gets everyone soaked (wearing raincoats, of course). Since Mom & Dad were a little worried about wet shoes, I found us some disposable shoe covers to wear (I never dreamed I would be ordering "commercial-grade work supplies" one day)! It's going to be a great trip, and I can't wait to go!

BoA Complete Clips 2004-2006 : 5 of 5

There's almost nothing better than Jpop music video collections on DVD, and I'm so glad that BoA released this fantastic follow-up to 8 Films & More! This time there are 13 videos to enjoy, and even though I already own half of them from buying her singles, I love having them available on a single disc. The DVD opens with Shine We Are, which I'm pretty sure was the first BoA song I ever heard, because I remember watching the video on a giant TV in a train station during a visit to Japan. BoA looks exceptionally cute in this video (with her perfect dimples), and the dance moves are fun. Double has some interesting dancing on the ceiling effects, followed by Rock With You, where she switches to bad-ass mode and even tries some martial arts action. Quincy is my least favorite video - the floating eyeball robot seems like such a waste of special effects, but Meri Kuri is simply beautiful (and it better be to go with such a heavenly song). I've pretty much commented on all the other videos (from her Outgrow album and later singles), but it's cool to watch them in succession and see how BoA's style matures along with her music. There aren't any additional features on the DVD, but I'm not complaining since 13 videos in a row is definitely a treat!

Themed rooms

I'm sure you're getting tired of reading about all my organizing, but I don't care because I'm still having fun! Yesterday morning I got up early to work on my DVDs. Earlier this week I bought another Qube shelf to hold a few DVDs and CDs that I keep downstairs, which let me move my third DVD rack back upstairs, along with the two racks that were in the Toy Room. Now my three DVDs racks are in the loft, which officially turns the loft into my Library, and my Toy Room will now be completely for toys! Later in the day I started on my junk closet, and there's lots of stuff to go (including a ton of old Zip disks - I don't have a Zip drive or even a computer that could read those old files!). I moved up my former souvenir bins into the newly-emptied closet, and it's going to be so nice. The organizing bug has even bitten my surfing habits, because I'm also working everyday to get all my bookmarks into Delicious (over 1,000 links so far!), which is so much nicer than having them buried in Safari.

Minimoni Single V Clips Vol 1 : 3 of 5

Since I'm a relatively new Hello! Project maniac, it's fun traveling back in time to explore all the various groups I've missed. After seeing my first glimpse of Minimoni on an old episode of Utaban, I decided to check out this collection of videos (truthfully, I couldn't get Minimoni Hina Matsuri out of my head, so I had no choice!). Even though I don't really like Tsuji and Aibon, they definitely fit this crazy group and their hilarious videos, which were definitely aimed at kids. In fact, some of these psychedelic images made me feel like I was watching the Teletubbies! Seeing Mika dressed with American flags plastered all over her costume always cracks me up (but I so admire her bilingual-ness!), and later when Ai Takahashi joins the group she looks super cute. There are plenty of songs about food (you have to laugh at a song about strawberry pie), geography (naming the prefectures of Japan) and even counting to ten (combined with the lesson that bathtime is fun!). Then suddenly, Crazy For You is a total departure to hip-hop, which is a pretty good song even if it seems out of place. Of course, the only thing that could follow that is some anime videos featuring the girls as hamsters (since they actually did voices in Hamtaro)! I probably wont be popping in this DVD for background music very often, but it was still a blast to get a Minimoni overview and have a good laugh!


JLPT statistics

I recently realized that statistics for the 2006 JLPT are now available online, so now I can compare my scores to everyone else! I'm definitely happy with my scores, but seeing them in this light makes me feel even better. For Vocabulary & Kanji, the average score was 73.3, and I scored 93. For Listening, the average score was 53.2, and I scored 76 (I was interested to see if everyone else had the same trouble I did with this section, and it appears so!). For Grammar & Reading, the average score was 131.6, and I scored 186. Finally, the average total score was 258.2, nearly 100 points lower than my score of 355. (By the way, 55,957 people took the test worldwide, which is amazing!) Not bad, but I'm actually shooting to do even better on Level 3 in December!

Walt Disney Treasures / The Complete Pluto Vol 2 : 3 of 5

I always enjoy the cartoon short collections in the Walt Disney Treasures series, and this second set of Pluto cartoons really went by quickly! Each DVD contains around 12 cartoons, and only the first DVD has true bonus material, but what's they've included is extremely good. There are two Master Class segments where Disney animators (including Andreas Deja) provide wonderful commentary on a Pluto short, with the ability to pause and repeat key scenes! This allows them to comment directly on unusual poses, point out inside jokes, and generally give the viewer a really personal look at some of the best Pluto shorts (including the wonderful Hall of Mirrors sequence in Bone Trouble). There's also an interesting segment called Pluto's Process, which combines pencil tests, storyboards, and layouts along with the finished cartoon - this kind of feature isn't really new, but the presentation is pretty unique. The cartoons themselves are really fun (though not as good as the first DVD set), typically pairing Pluto with some other animal (such as a seal, gopher, bee, turtle, or anything else) as an annoyance or buddy. My favorite is Pluto's Sweater, where Minnie knits Pluto a silly-looking fuchsia sweater that he can't stand, and he goes crazy trying to get it off while the other neighborhood dogs laugh at him! This cartoon also features Figaro the cat, one of my favorite characters from Pinocchio, and this set actually includes several Figaro cartoons as a bonus (I didn't even know these shorts existed)!

Organizing obsession

My recent efforts to organize and get rid of stuff are really becoming a happy obsession! It feels so good to work on this stuff, since I really wanted to get going on this last year, but I managed to let my time slip away. Now I'm so excited that it's tough to decide what to do in any given moment! My latest idea has been to drastically reduce the space taken up by my CD collection. Years ago I took the step to throw away all my jewel cases, and I bought lots of nice leather CD binder cases for my collection. Now I've decided those are too big! My new plan is to use simple two-sided CD envelopes, and then cram them vertically into CD boxes (I have been storing my burned DVDs like this already). I was up until after 1:00 AM last night emptying the last of the binders, resulting in around an 80% reduction in required storage space! (I can definitely see myself moving toward the all-digital utopia of the future.) I also decided to throw out a bunch of magazines, and I even dug into the souvenir bins. Barron took a ton of old Pokemon toys for his kids (hope they have fun!), and I gave Ryan a few Star Wars things. Most of the other stuff was Happy Meal toys that I just don't need, so I'm just going to break some collectors' hearts by tossing them. Later this week I'm going to move the empty bins into one of my closets to store office supplies - each project just feeds another one!

Godzilla Raids Again : 4 of 5

I'm pretty excited about these new Toho Master Collection DVDs, so I really hope the series continues for a long time! I completely enjoyed their excellent treatment of the original Godzilla, and now they've done it again with the very first Godzilla sequel from 1955, Godzilla Raids Again (which was released in the US as Gigantis the Fire Monster!). The original Japanese version does a great job of explaining that this is a second Godzilla in this movie, since the original was definitely disintegrated by the Oxygen Destroyer (I had always wondered about that). Godzilla's first monster opponent Anguirus is introduced, and there is some fantastic fighting footage. Godzilla finally kicks his butt by throwing him right into Osaka Castle (which was cool to see since I've been there!) and then violently biting his neck. Even though this is only a single DVD, the complete American release is included, which is great to compare. It contains nearly non-stop narration, additional stock footage, and even stock musical score, giving the film an entirely different feel. The audio commentary is simply fantastic, combining tons of interesting facts with a great dose of humor. My favorite fact was that one of the monster fighting scenes looks speeded up because of a camera operator error, but they had to use the footage anyway! I love the drama of these original Godzilla movies, and I'm looking forward to watching the next one soon.


Suburashii mise

Today I received some new JLPT study books from The Japan Shop, so I thought I would mention their fantastic service! They have a great selection of learning materials and other cool Japanese items that I can't find anywhere else, and everytime I have ordered from them they actually ship the same day, and even their least expensive shipping method arrives in only a couple days, nicely packed with care. I'll definitely continue being a customer of The Japan Shop as long as I'm working on the JLPT, so they can expect several more years of business from me!

Tofurkey fan

Some guy on Flickr is going nuts making mosaics of different kinds of food photos that he finds, and one of my Thanksgiving pics is included in his Tofurkey mosaic. I guess someone else eats that weird stuff besides my pal Chris! (My tofurkey pic is in the lower right corner.)

The Barber of Seville / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

Austin Lyric Opera is now officially in transition from their old home at Bass Concert Hall to the new Long Center next year, so the last opera of this season was performed at Riverbend Centre. This venue definitely wasn't designed for opera (since it's really a church!), but it allowed this production to go all out with a light-hearted total comedy version of The Barber of Seville. Since the stage is small and has no curtain, the only sets consisted of huge decorated boxes with drawers and cabinets full of props. The orchestra itself was onstage, so the actors took every opportunity to include them in the jokes (it's not often the conductor becomes part of the show!). For the most part, the humor was hilarious, but there were a few times I thought it went too far (especially when at times it actually took the audience's attention away from the aria being sung!). Even so, this is still one of the best productions of this opera I've seen, and I managed to enjoy it all without thinking of Bugs Bunny the entire time (since Rossini's music is all over Warner Bros. cartoons)! I was completely impressed with Sandra Piques Eddy making her Austin debut as Rosina - besides having a beautiful, powerful voice, she was downright beautiful and bursting with energetic charisma. I don't think the pews at Riverbend were designed for three hours of sitting (ouch!), but I still thoroughly enjoyed the close of the opera season!


Lifecycle of toys

Yesterday I built a new shelf for my toy room and had a blast loading it up. Now my LEGO sets finally have a place to live! There were a few things that I realized I didn't feel like having on display anymore, so I guess I will move some stuff to my souvenir bins. It really made me think about my whole toy lifecycle. The fact is I love buying stuff - impulse buying toys, CDs, DVDs, books, or whatever is pretty much one of my favorite things to do! Maybe it's because I had tons of toys as an only child, or maybe I like spending money since I was kind of broke in my college days. The reason doesn't really matter - I'm going to keep doing it! After I have fun shopping and buying, then I like displaying things (and taking photos) for awhile. Eventually the newness wears off, but I don't want to just throw things away, so they end up going in my souvenir bins in my garage. I have about five of these huge bins filled with stuff. I'm sure some of it would make some collectors pee their pants, but I really just keep stuff because I'm too lazy to sell it. Someday I will have to get rid of some things - it would be nice to have kids playing with my old toys instead of keeping them captive in boxes! You could look at my collecting habits as a waste of money, but I don't see it that way at all. To me, I'm just renting all of this stuff! I pay the rent, which gives me the joy of having the toy, displaying it, and eventually I say goodbye to it. The money is gone, but the joy remains!

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters : 4 of 5

I'm pretty amazed that this film actually got made and released, because even though Aqua Teen Hunger Force has been on Cartoon Network for several years, most of the world still has never heard of it (evidenced by the insane bomb scare in Boston!). If you are an Aqua Teen fan, then you've probably already seen this movie (my pal Chris and I went on opening night), and if you aren't a fan, there's no reason for you to go (but I definitely recommended checking out the show and seeing if you get hooked). As for me, I loved it and laughed my head off - sometimes it was hard to stop laughing to hear the next joke (I totally lost it during the MC Pee Pants cameo)! Besides Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad, almost all of the other side characters make appearances, although I have to say it seemed a little unbalanced. I wish there would have been more Carl and more Mooninites, and a little less Cybernetic Ghost. The plot is pretty cool, since it kind of tells an origin story (and incorporates the weird closing credit images from the show) and it does a good job of intertwining all of this bizarre stuff. The opening spoof of the singing snack bar foods is unbelivable, and several other moments are too funny to be believed (especially the Civil War video game!). I'd say Aqua Teen works much better as a 15-minute TV show, but this movie was still an incredible gift to the fans - I can't wait to watch it again on DVD!

The Last Mimzy : 3 of 5

Since I see lots of animated features and films that are marketed to kids, so I saw the trailer for The Last Mimzy several times, and each time I wondered what in the world it was about! My pal Melinda and I decided to find out, and we both really enjoyed the movie. The story is really unusual, and I guess I can reveal some of the plot since this probably won't be in theaters much longer. A brother and sister find a strange box on the beach that contains bizarre items with strange powers, along with a cute stuffed bunny that seems to talk to the little girl. The whole movie involves finding out just what these items are for and where they came from, and gets mixed up with ancient Tibetan Mandalas and even anti-terrorist FBI agents! The child actors do a fine job (especially the girl), and I also enjoyed Rainn Wilson as the science teacher (I don't watch The Office, but I liked him in Six Feet Under). The story really kept me guessing and intrigued all the way to the end, and includes several subtle hints that all add up once the plot is revealed (such as the nice connection to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland). The Last Mimzy really has an E.T. feel to it (without needing alien special effects), and I definitely recommend it as an engaging, intelligent story!


Nami Tamaki / Graduation Singles : 4 of 5

I've been a fan of Nami Tamaki for quite a while, so of course I bought this CD/DVD set months ago when it was first released, but I forgot to write about it! Lately I've been in the mood for high energy "determination" music, so I've been listening to it again in my car and watching some of my favorite videos again, so now it's finally time to say that I really love this CD. It's a pretty amazing thing to release 12 hit singles before you graduate high school, so I think it's definitely appropriate for Nami to release this collection, and I'm thrilled to have each and every one of her great videos on the accompanying DVD, which comes with the limited edition release (but this is the regular edition cover, because it looks cooler!). The DVD also includes her audition when she was only 13 (though she looks more mature), and even though her voice wasn't as trained back then, her confidence and genuine genki-ness are incredible. There are a few songs and videos here that I didn't know before, and one of my new favorites is Heroine, which has a cool driving feel, plus an inspiring video about a young athlete in training. Heart & Soul has a cool video, too, although it's kind of funny to watch her hanging out with a stereotypical American group of kids. Most of Nami's other videos are dancing only, but her moves are so unique that I can watch them over and over. I've really been enjoying the energetic feeling I get from listening to these songs, so I think this CD is going to stay in my car for a few more days at least!


Ayaka no Totsugeki Eikaiwa!

I just finished watching all four seasons of the famous Ayaka's Surprise English Lessons! No, I didn't watch them all in one sitting - it took several days! In each short episode, Ayaka (who is completely fluent in English from living in Hawaii) surprises a different Morning Musume member each time, teaches them a phrase, and rewards them with food. For the most part, I really enjoyed these, because it was fun to hear the Japanese phrases that correspond to what Ayaka teaches (although these are some really loose, slang expressions!). Ayaka is super cute and sophisticated, and it's interesting seeing the other girls' personalities in this situation. Almost everyone puts up with the lessons pretty well, but I have to say that Tsuji and Aibon were totally brats when these were filmed! Tsuji is so rude and annoying that I could barely stand to watch (and I don't really care for her nowadays, either!). The fifth generation girls are the most fun - Konno is especially sweet and shy. Anyway, it was cool to experience this piece of Hello! Project history. By the way, you can watch them all too, since they are all available on DJ Waffles awesome site!

Walt Disney Treasures / Your Host, Walt Disney : 5 of 5

The Walt Disney Treasures series continues to amaze me, and I'm so glad that it looks like it will continue with another wave this year! This particular set features various TV shows where Walt was given a lot of screen time, and each program is really special. I've seen a few of these shows many times, such as the famous Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show (where Walt talks about the future Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean), but there are definitely some gems here that were totally new to me. Where Do the Stories Come From? includes priceless footage of several Disney backyard railroads, showing Ollie Johnston's, Ward Kimball's (full size!), and of course Walt's incredible track layout. Another show is about a backstage party (after the filming of Babes in Toyland), but the best part is the introduction where the viewer "gets lost" in the Disney studio, wandering the streets and stumbling upon backlot sets. Kodak Presents Disneyland '59 has some incredible old Submarine Voyage footage (as well as some hilarious old Kodak commercials!), and now I finally understand what a kinescope recording is! The new interview footage with Walt's daughter Diane is interesting (but not spectacular), and the photo galleries are really nice. I think this set is probably the best of last year's wave, although I still have two more sets to watch!


Less computers, less books

My recent efforts to simplify and reorganize are going well! I've gone from five computers down to two, selling my iMac to George, my iBook to Barron, and my PC to Ernesto. They all seem happy with their purchases, I'm happy with a little cash, and I'm really happy with the extra space in my loft! My next big job was making room in the toy room (for more toys, of course) by moving my bookcases into the loft. I've been selling (practically giving away) bags of books to Half Price Books, but I finally had to get down to it and move everything. This weekend I unloaded all three bookcases, moved them into the loft (with help from Jonathan), and I just got them reloaded today. I'm totally amazed at how much more shelf space I have after reorganizing the books! I still have a million more projects of this type I want to do, but it feels great to really be getting started!


Egg-cellent church

Happy Easter everyone! I just got home from church a little while ago, and I really enjoyed it! I've been checking out Gateway Church on and off for a quite a while now, and I like it a lot (it reminds me of the contemporary church I used to go to when I was in college). I'm always impressed with the quality and excitement of the services, and the band is absolutely fantastic. Today they added a string quartet (the stage was full of musicians), and the message included a cool dramatic interpretive reading of the Passion story through the Resurrection - it was powerful stuff! I hope the Easter Bunny was good to you and that everyone's having a good time - I'm going to be moving bookcases today (I know, sounds like work, but I can't wait to do it!) after a quick trip the bookstore for a Niagara Falls book, since I'll be taking a trip there next month!

The Preparatory Course for the JLPT, Level 4 / Unicom : 4 of 5

Wait a minute, didn't I take this test already? Well, I bought this book from The Japan Shop on sale only a month or so before the exam, so I only had time to begin looking it over, and since I always have such a desire to completely finish a book once I start, I had to finish studying it! I really think this book is a great study aid, since it does a nice job of presenting each grammar point individually with lots of examples. My other study aids for Level 4 were mainly sample exams, which are totally useful, but I really like going over the details one by one. Since this is a Level 4 book, there's a little English thrown in, but in general everything is kana, as it should be. The price of this book is kind of expensive, mainly because it comes with two CDs (which I haven't even listened to, honestly), but I still think it's worth it to get a nice overview of everything that encompasses Level 4 Japanese. My only complaint with the book is that all of the sample questions have the answers clearly displayed at the bottom of the same page, making it less than ideal for testing yourself, but the amount of exercises provided more than makes up for the inconvenience. I'm definitely going to keep using this Unicom series in the future. In fact, now that I've totally finished this book cover to cover, I'm ready to hit the Level 3 book!

Meet the Robinsons : 3 of 5

I'm glad that my local theater is equipped to show Disney's recent 3D movies, since my pal Melinda and I have enjoyed going to see all of them. I think Meet the Robinsons has taken advantage of the 3D process the most so far - many of these scenes were definitely designed with 3D in mind, so much so that it will be interesting to see how it looks on DVD. This is the only Disney animated feature with a good ol' science fiction time travel paradox, which seems a little crazy for young audiences to grasp, but then again, all of the characters are crazy, too! In fact, Meet the Robinsons feels like a bunch of funny, talented storytellers got in a room and threw out every gag they could think of, and then they managed to put them all into the same movie! The story starts out nicely, covering Lewis' childhood situation, but after Wilbur takes him forward in time, it starts to feel really off-course. Thankfully, things definitely come together at the end and there are some great emotional moments wrapped up in a nice quote by Walt Disney (which seems like something John Lassater may have contributed to the film). On the positive side, the animation looks really cool, and I love the extreme character designs. I also laughed a lot, and I appreciated that the jokes had a much less contemporary edge than your average DreamWorks movie. I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the movie experience, but I'm still longing for Disney to bring back some real magic (and I'm confident they will)!


PEZ catch-up

This rainy weekend I'm finally catching up on some PEZ collecting duties! First, I hung nine more Mini-PEZ shelves (order some for your collection!), which completely fills up my Elfa shelving uprights. I have lots of empty room to fill now, but when that's gone my Wall of PEZ will be totally full (and then I don't know what I'll do, but I'm not worrying yet). I had two boxes of stuff from Canada Candy Connection to open up, and I had fun taking photos of everything. The first few of shots needed a little more light on the PEZ themselves (because I was using my tripod on the edge of the table), but then I thought I could do better using a bean bag right in the middle of my stage. I was going to go buy one, but I realized that I had some bean bag juggling cubes that work great (I never learned to juggle, but at least these are good for something!). All of the new photos are in my PEZtastic set on Flickr, with lots of new Mini-PEZ from Japan, plus some new Disney PEZ, including the new limited edition Black & White Mickey & Minnie!

Bookmarks mess

I've always wanted to consolidate and organize all my website bookmarks - I've collected way too many over the years from general surfing and blog reading. I really like using Delicious (yes, I know it's really del.icio.us, but that's a pain to type), since I can easily save things I see at home or work, and organizing by tags is so much better than crazy folder structures (even though I still enjoy Safari's bookmark management). Anyway, I decided to try out the new Firefox extension that keeps local bookmarks in sync with Delicious, but I don't like it - I'm just a Safari purist when it comes to the Mac, and I would much rather create my own tags and descriptions rather than relying on an import. So, now I'm deleting over 1,000 links from Delicious (what a mess!), and then over time I'll put all my links there by hand. I want to eventually get all of my "save for someday" links into Delicious, and only keep my "use often" links locally on Safari. That's my bookmarks dream, and someday it will come true!


Walt Disney World wrap-up

Thanks to my pal Melinda, I have a few photos of myself with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip & Dale from my recent trip to Walt Disney World, which gives me an excuse to write a little more about the fun!

Each day of the trip I carried a pedometer with me, and Melinda and I were amazed at the miles we walked! Of course, Epcot is the largest of the four parks, and believe it or not, we covered a full 18 miles that day! All of the other days were over 10 miles each, too. Keep in mind that the counting started by walking to the bus stop at 7:30 AM, and finished back at the room after 10:00 PM, so we definitely had some full days of walking!

I've been thinking some more about Space Mountain lately, and now I think I like the original Magic Kingdom version better than the Disneyland version, just because it's little more exciting. It definitely feels scarier, but it's great to get really pumped up and enjoy it! Part of the fun is screaming at the other track during the main lift - it's so cool to look across and see the other set of rockets and cheer each other on!

View photos: Mikey & Characters

Thinking about blogging

Wow, what a busy week! It's mainly been full of fun stuff (such as a visit from my pal Ian from New York), but I just haven't had time to keep up with things like blogging. Sometimes my self-imposed rules for posting to WEBmikey hold me back sometimes, so now that I've finally had time to think about it, I'm laying down some new guidelines. (No one will really care about these but me, but I'm writing them so I won't forget!)
  1. I'll post whenever I want. I used to restrict myself to one post a day, but sometimes I want to write more, and sometimes I just don't have time.
  2. No more cheating by back-dating posts. I'm just going to let the clock and calendar tell the true story.
  3. Post length doesn't matter. I'm not going to pay attention to how much or little I write, because lots of times I feel like mentioning something, but then blow it off because I can only write a sentence or two.
  4. One subject per post. Since I'm allowing myself to write short stuff, as well as more than one post a day, this will be much easier (and avoid those weird random entries).
  5. More about Mikey. Sometimes I think there are just too many reviews here! I've been kind of inspired by Barron's posts on Takoyaki.org lately, so I might try using the same ideas to write some more personal stuff.


Meteos / Nintendo DS : 4 of 5

I've been having trouble keeping all my hobbies in balance lately, so my poor Nintendo DS and Wii have been getting lonely. I finally started making some time the past few days to play some games, though, and I since I felt like playing something I could get into quickly, I decided to give Meteos (which I got for Christmas) a workout! This is a really old Nintendo DS game, but if you read anything about it, you'll quickly see that it's a classic that everyone likes. Meteos is a great variation on the usual falling-block game, and the object is to get three blocks of the same kind in a row so they "launch" into the sky. The trick is you can only move blocks vertically, which took a while for me to get used to. The game has a really cool science-fiction style to it, including playing the game on various "planets" (which provides a lot of variation, since the block launching may work differently on planets with unusual gravity and so on). I really like the Star Trip mode, which lets you progress from planet to planet, and it's also fun to unlock different things, based on the number of the various types of blocks you've launched. Along with the fun gameplay, the game has some cool graphics, sounds, and different music for different planets. Meteos is definitely a game with tons of replay possibilities, and it's great for getting a five-minute DS fix here and there. Ah, it feels good to play something again - I'll have to move on to another game soon!


Blades of Glory : 3 of 5

It seems like Will Ferrell has a knack for choosing subjects that are just begging to be parodied and then giving it his usual hilarious treatment. It's amazing that no one else has made a male-male pairs figure skating movie before, but I'm glad Will got this story first, since it's much funnier than his other recent movies (much better than Talladega Nights!). This is also the first movie I've seen with Jon Heder since Napoleon Dynamite, and I was pretty surprised by his great comedic performance, since I expected him to get stuck in the Napoleon role. The best parts of this movie are all jokes about figure skating in general - the outlandish costumes, the overly emotional routines, and the gushing commentators (including Scott Hamilton, which brought a lot of realism!). I especially loved the mini-bios at the beginning, covering each skater just like ABC Sports would, right down to the quick editing style and the cheesy puns! Watch out for the video of the dreaded Iron Lotus move in China - that's a good example of a shock joke gone too far! Overall, Blades of Glory made for a great night of laughing at the Alamo with Jonathan and Ernesto, and I'm looking forward to seeing what subject Will takes on next!


Private parade & mountain madness

Here are some magical highlights of the last two days of my recent Walt Disney World adventure! At the Magic Kingdom, Melinda and I got to ride everything (in spite of Spring Break crowds), and we even had another lucky moment where a Tomorrowland Cast Member handed us some Space Mountain Fastpasses out of the blue, so we got to ride it twice (I definitely think it's scarier than the California version!). We also got to see the totally brand new Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor attraction, and we had an amazing spot for the Wishes fireworks show! We decided to go to the late Spectromagic parade (at 10:00 PM, after Wishes), and it was like having a private parade performance! The crowds for the late parade seemed about 80% less, so I definitely recommend it!

At Animal Kingdom we enjoyed the entire park, including the new Finding Nemo musical (definitely Broadway quality), and especially the incredible, fantastic, amazing Expedition Everest! I knew this ride was going to be great, but it was even better than I expected! The transition into the snowy peaks is really cool, and the backwards sections of track inside the dark mountain are really exciting (it really feels like a reverse loop is coming, but it doesn't!). The huge animatronic Yeti at the end of the ride is definitely an Imagineering achievement - I can't believe something that big can move so smoothly! Enjoy the photos, and I'll have one more trip wrap-up next week.

View photos: Magic Kingdom
View photos: Animal Kingdom