3.31.2008

DVD triumph

I'd like to formally announce that I've finally finished watching all of the DVDs that super-generous Santa gave me for Christmas this year! I'm also proud to say that I stayed true to my new frugal goal, and I haven't bought a single new DVD this year, since I already had so many good ones waiting to watch. This is a big deal for me, since I used to buy new DVDs all the time and stay perpetually behind in watching them! Of course, now I'm free to think about buying some that I've had my eye on, but I'm going to try to stick to getting one (or two, tops!) at a time and enjoying Netflix in between.

Speaking of DVDs, I had been wondering for some time if Disney was ever going to release Zorro on DVD, since I used to like watching the old episodes on the Disney Channel before they changed their format. Well, I recently discovered they already have it on DVD, but it's only available as an exclusive Disney Movie Club selection! There's no way I'm joining, since I already own 95% of their entire catalog, so that's a really bummer. But there's still a chance I can get Zorro, since I also found out you can earn it as a prize for Disney Movie Rewards points! These points come with most Disney DVDs, and I have quite a few saved up, so I hope it works out that I can earn enough to get it before Disney changes their mind or sells out.

3.30.2008

てがみ

なかまさん へ

こんにちは! オースティン へ くる と きいて とても うれしい です! よろこんで あんない します! なかまさん の ような げいのじん は なに を する の が 好き なのか わかりません が、がんばって よてい を かんがえて みました!

まず は、あさごはん を たべましょう。 オースティン では メキシコ ぶんか も けいけん できる ので、「Las Manitas」へ いきましょう。 この レストラン は ちょっと きたない ですが、かなり ゆうめい です。「Migas」と いう たまご りょうり が おいしい と おもいます。

つぎ に、ダウンタウン を さんぽ しましょう。 オースティン の キャピトル や、びじゅつかん や、こうえん は どこも すてき です。 さんぽ の あと は、たぶん おなか が すく と おもう ので、「Central Market」へ ひろごはん を たべに いきましょう。 ここ は すばらしい スーパー です、ほんとう に アメリカ てき! オースティン といえば、ライブミュージク が ゆうめい です ので、たべながら バンド を みられる かもしりません。

オースティン には きれいな おか が たくさん あります。 けしき を たのしみ に ドライブ しましょう。「Lake Travis」では ふね を みられます。 へいわ な きもち に なる と おもいます。

よる に なる と、もちろん ばんごはん の じかん です! 「Ruth's Chris」で おいしい ステーキ を たべられます。 わたし の ともだち は 「Ruth's Chris」が いちばん すき な ステーキ の レストラン だと いって います。 つかれて いなかったら、ばんごはん の あと で オペラ みに いきません か。 さいきん あたらし げきじょう が つくられた ところ です。

なかまさん が くる の が たのしみ!

マイク より

Having fun morning till night

Yesterday was jam-packed with fun - I was out of the house from 8:30 AM to 11:00 PM! I'm pretty sleepy and lazy today, but the memories were so worth it! There was a huge wedding shower for Jonathan & Anne Marie held at a ranch in Round Top, which is a little country town halfway between Austin and Houston. We started with some great chip and dip and sausage (and plenty of wine), listening to a really cool musical duo who played everything from tub bass to bowed saw! I had so much fun spending the day talking with so many of my pals, which was wonderful since lately I haven't been able to spend much quality time with them. I had a great time taking photos of Emiliano and Miles, both unbearably cute and hilarious as only babies can be. Later we ate an awesome lunch of chicken, potato salad, incredible corn bread and salad, later followed by pie and ice cream, and then relaxed in rocking chairs singing along with the band. The whole event was a peaceful, fun celebration, and I'm so glad I could be there! After the party, Jonathan and I had to drive back full-speed to make it to a Casa del Swanko gig at North by Northwest, and even though we were beat we played a nice show, and the crowd was really generous with their tips, too. It was one of those days were it just felt good to be tired, since the experiences will last forever!

View photos: Jonathan & Anne Marie's Wedding Shower

3.29.2008

WEBmikey on the web

I've been expressing myself digitally a little more often recently, so here's an update on WEBmikey stuff. First, I finally caved-in and started using Twitter, which is one of those super-popular sites that millions of people are addicted to, and now I'm hooked, too! Twitter is really hard to explain (and people have written essays and even made films trying to get the idea across), but the best explanation I have heard is that it's a way to record and tell the world and your friends what you're doing or thinking when you don't have time to write an official blog post. It's fun to check it, since some of my friends are using it, so it's also a little like instant messaging, too. Anyway, I enjoy it, and it's fun to update it from both my MacBook and my iPhone!

Next, I discovered a cool site called Profilactic that combines your online presence into one neat page. The new buzzword for this is "lifestreaming", and I think it's pretty cool. It's fun to see all of my WEBmikey posts, Flickr photos, Twitter posts, Delicious bookmarks, and even songs I'm listening to (since I use Last.fm to record what iTunes is playing) all in one chronological list!

Finally, I've been working towards adding labels to all my prior WEBmikey posts, so things like my old poetry posts are getting collected together now (lots of ancient stuff out there!). I've also resurrected my Japanese practice blog, since my tutor Kumiko is giving me some great writing assignments for homework! After we correct them together, it's fun to have a record of what I'm learning online, so I'm sure this collection will keep growing! I'm also finally starting to take some macro toy photos again, which you may have noticed popping up in my Flickr photostream.

3.28.2008

Green, orange, red, yellow

Even though I enjoy using Lean Cuisine and 100-calorie snacks to help me control my diet, recently I was feeling like everything I ate was tasting the same. Nothing was fresh, and everything was so salty! I can pretty much accept this situation since I really have no interest in cooking, but I figured I could at least try eating more fresh food. Even though I like veggies and especially fruit of almost any kind, I almost never buy them because I can never eat them before they go bad, but I decided to just buy less and go to the grocery store more often if needed. So, I got some salad, broccoli, carrots, apples and bananas, and I went a whole day eating nothing but fresh stuff, and it felt great! I also dropped a few stubborn pounds, too. Of course, I'm still going to supplement with a Lean Cuisine every now and then, but I'm cutting out the salty snacks for the most part and eating like a bunny instead!

3.27.2008

JPod / Douglas Coupland : 3 of 5

I've been a Douglas Coupland fan for a long time (there are at least three other novels of his reviewed here on WEBmikey), but this time around I waited for his latest book JPod to come out in paperback, and then let it sit on my shelf unread for longer than I'm willing to mention! But thanks to my quest to read all my unread books, I finally got to it, and it was a blast to read! JPod is about a group of employees at a video game company that organizes people's cubes alphabetically, so all of the "J" names, including our hero Ethan Jarlewski, sit together, hence the title. The book goes into fantastic detail about Ethan and his co-workers, all of which are quirky and interesting, and the story winds from Vancouver to China in some of the most bizarre plot twists Coupland has yet devised. In fact, Coupland himself is a character in the book, and you can sense that he had so much fun writing himself in as a rude, scheming guy who ends up taking Ethan's laptop (which theoretically becomes the basis for this very book)! One of the funniest story devices is the group's plot to sabotage a video game in development by secretly including a deranged, bloody Ronald McDonald, and the descriptions of their plans are hilarious! It's easy to compare this book to Coupland's Microserfs, and in many ways it is an updated variation on that Microsoft-inspired story, but this book is actually much more experimental and even serves as its own art exhibit by the inclusion of huge typography, pages of spam email, and long sections of prime numbers and digits of Pi. All of these serve the story, but are essentially more of a visual device, which is interesting, but a little disappointing at the same time. However, JPod is still an incredible novel that I really enjoyed reading, and apparently it was popular enough to become a TV series in Canada (which I plan on watching soon)!

3.26.2008

Back to socks

I've been cranking out 20-25 songs on DDR everyday for the past several days, and all of that stepping has made my failing RedOctane Afterburner start to really annoy me. The down arrow just doesn't register half the time, and I tried taking it apart to clean it, swapping arrow panels, and so on, but nothing really helped. I've used the Afterburner for so long that I thought I could never go back to anything else, but since I've been a little more frugal lately, I wasn't prepared to shell out the big bucks for a new one just yet! So in an act of desperation, I dug under my bed (where I have about four other old forgotten DDR pads!) and found my trusty RedOctane Ignition pad. I decided to give it a try, and I'm loving it! Maybe all the years of playing with shoes on has made me appreciate the feel of socks again, but I can't believe how light and free it seems. It took me about five minutes to get used to it, and suddenly I was hitting 800+ combos again with no problem. I could never do that with a bum down arrow! So, I'm happy to say I'm really enjoying Endless Mode on Supernova 2, and I went ahead and got the Disney Channel mix for a little variety, which I'll start playing soon. It feels great to be in control of my dancing score again!

3.25.2008

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters : 4 of 5

This documentary received a lot of press in Austin, since it was shown at a special sold-out screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, so I've been anxiously waiting the DVD release, which I watched with my Sunday night pals recently, and we all loved it! The film is about classic video game high score record holders, specifically the well-known champion Billy Mitchell and his underdog competitor Steve Wiebe and their quest to hold the record on Donkey Kong. It turns out Donkey Kong is one of the hardest video games out there, and it's even more difficult because of the "kill screen" which ends the game (essentially a software crash!) after about 2-3 hours of play. The movie is jam packed with interviews with these two video athletes, along with just about everyone they've ever met, and even covers the quirky Twin Galaxies organization, which officially verifies and records all video game scores (and is even sourced by the Guinness Book of World Records). I can't begin to express how well this film is edited - it's certainly one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, and definitely among the most entertaining! It's incredible how much you begin to root for Steve, especially after observing what an arrogant jerk Billy is, and the ever-building tension is fantastic! I usually don't bother watching bonus features on a rented DVD, but I actually had to keep this disc an extra day to enjoy them all, including and incredible side-by-side Donkey Kong playing comparison with professional commentary! The King of Kong is fantastic on so many levels, and it made my pals and I so nostalgic that we had to play a few games of Donkey Kong on my Nintendo Wii afterwards!

3.24.2008

The Taste of Tea : 5 of 5

This fantastic DVD was my Christmas gift from my pal Dae, which I had put on my Wish List because it has the same director as Kamikaze Girls, which I loved so much. I didn't really know what to expect from this Japanese movie, but it was much more enjoyable, inspirational, and touching than I could have imagined! The genre is hard to describe, because it's filled with surreal elements such as a girl being followed around by a giant version of herself only she can see, but it's also down to earth at the same time, and takes a lazy pace that really makes you stop to watch a scene closely. An example of this is the family of main characters will often sit quietly together on their porch, and watching these segments made me realize that these simple moments are what life is all about - stopping to enjoy the "taste of tea" (at least that's what the title means to me). The story has several subplots involving each member of a rural Japanese family, all of which are wonderful. The son joins the Go club at school to be near the girl he adores (played by Anna Tsuchiya, looking younger than her years), and the daughter needs to learn how to do a backflip to get rid of her giant self I mentioned before (yes, it's crazy, but it makes sense as it unfolds). The mom is a budding anime artist working on her own scenes, and the grandpa is completely nuts, but of course turns out to be a genius in the end in one of the film's most amazing moments. There are even more characters to follow, including the dad and his brothers, and there's even a bit of Yakuza to keep things interesting. This is definitely a unique movie with its own style, so I'm sure it's not for everyone, but I completely fell in love with it and I'm sure I'll be watching it again when I'm feeling the mood for some quiet wisdom with a touch of comedy.

3.23.2008

Peaceful Easter weekend

Today's special Easter service at Gateway was fantastic! It was a full musical production, with sets, costumes, lighting and other multimedia, telling a modern version of the parable of the prodigal son (or daughter, in this case), using the songs of U2. I know, it sounds pretty unusual, but it was totally amazing, and really had a wonderful message filled with Easter spirit! It was a nice addition to the great weekend I've been having, which included lunch at the lake, scanning some old childhood memories, doing Japanese homework, and going out for beer with Matt & Kumiko. Of course, all of this is combined with quality "chair time" - reading manga, watching Disney and Jpop DVDs, and enjoying my first awesome naps in my new leather lounger.

3.22.2008

Nerima Daikon Brothers Vol 2 & Vol 3 : 3 of 5

This hilarious musical anime series is only twelve episodes long, so I rented both of these DVDs fairly quickly and finished it fast. Although it was still lots of fun, I have to admit that this show is much better in the earlier episodes, before you've heard the same song variations over and over. But aside from that, the second DVD includes tons of hilarity, while the third DVD tries to wrap it up with a really bizarre ending. Yukika the "gadget policewoman" really shines as her character is developed, and her crazy panda fetish is awesome (I always laugh out loud when she goes nuts and screams "Switch on!"). She also has a funny scene where she dresses up in a pink Darth Vader costume to go undercover! Most of the plots involve a complex parody of something or someone in Japanese pop culture (explained very well by the popup note subtitles), but there's even an episode with a deranged Michael Jackson look-alike (who sings a tender song about his dream amusement park, filled with random vocal interjections like "Ow!"). The ending is a huge spoof on former Prime Minister Koizumi, where he sends his lion troops to fight an army of pandas on the daikon field. It's totally bizarre, and I would have much rather seen the band just build their dome and fulfill their concert dream! Each DVD contains some excellent Japanese commentary tracks with the directory and voice actors, who are all enthusiastic and lively - really a joy to listen to! Shigeru Matsuzaki, the famous singer who plays Hideki, is a real firecracker with an amazing attitude. Be prepared to watch each episode three times - once normally, once with commentary, and once with the notes subtitles! Even though it went a little downhill towards the end, Nerima Daikon Brothers is still a series I wouldn't mind watching again someday - and singing along!

3.21.2008

Horton Hears a Who! : 3 of 5

You may already know that I'm a Jim Carrey anti-fan, but my love of animated features overcame my aversion to seeing this movie, so my pal Melinda and I went on opening weekend. If you ask me, after how terrible How the Grinch Stole Christmas was, Dr. Seuss should have a restraining order to keep Jim Carrey away from his stories, but thankfully Jim's much more toned down than usual this time around. Actually, Steve Carrell has a much bigger role as the Mayor of Whoville, and he does an excellent job! The animation is really nice, and extremely true to the Dr. Seuss designs, which was a joy to see (I thought the snooty kangaroo looked like she had just stepped out of the book). It made me wish for a series of films for all of the classic books, as long as they were done in this style! The screenplay follows the story pretty closely, keeping just a little narration and enough of the well-known lines (in rhyme), along with the inevitable plot fillers, and the addition of the Mayor's son JoJo, who provides the "misunderstood son saves the day" element to the story. In addition to the nice CG animation (definitely above average), there are a couple 2D segments that really excited me - especially an extended anime-style fantasy fight sequence that was completely hilarious! The most unusual moment comes at the end of the movie, when disaster is averted and everyone celebrates by suddenly singing REO Speedwagon's I Can't Fight This Feeling, which is one of the most off-the-wall choices I can imagine! I'm sure the filmmakers were just sitting around brainstorming and couldn't let go of the idea once it popped up! It was fun to see a Dr. Seuss story presented with respect, comedy, and warmth, and I'm happy that Blue Sky Studios is out there as another animation studio to watch for!

3.20.2008

A comfy butt is a happy butt

One of my goals this year is to finally replace some old furniture from my early Austin days (and even the old Tulsa days), and I'm happy to say that I'm writing this from the comfort of my new La-Z-Boy! Whether I like to admit it or not, I spend a lot of hours on my rear end watching DVDs, reading, or surfing the web, and for more than 10 years I've been doing that in a wooden rocking chair. It wasn't so bad really, but I was sick of that all too familiar sore feeling, so I decided to get something nice. I really wanted something like a club chair, but since Mom & Dad trained me from infancy to be always rocking, I had to go for a rocker/recliner. I picked the smallest one I could find (since I don't like the overstuffed look), with simple lines and a fairly modern style, and it was finally delivered today! I'm already happy with it, and I was impressed that the back is completely removable to make moving it easier. Now I have to decide what DVD to watch to break it in!

iPhone scrolling

Here's an awesome tip I heard about while watching Macworld coverage on GeekBrief (I can only take Cali in extremely small doses, but it's so easy to watch on my TiVo that I can't help it). Browsing websites on the iPhone is cool and easy, but if you scroll all the way to the bottom of a long page and need to get back to the top, it's sometimes a pain to flick the screen back up over and over again. But all you have to do is tap the title bar of the iPhone (the bar at the top with your signal strength and battery level), and it will instantly scroll back to the top of the page automatically!

3.19.2008

40 Digital Photography Techniques / John Kim : 3 of 5

Sometime last year when I was feeling frustrated about my inconsistent results shooting macro photos of my toys, I decided to just browse around Barnes & Noble and see if there was a book that looked simple and helpful. So, I kind of bought this on a whim, and then promptly didn't read it until recently! It's actually a pretty good book, even though the edition I bought was a little old, touting Compact Flash as the most popular memory card when SD was still new. Still, the basic information about photography is timeless, and I actually learned exactly what I needed to help me get my exposure how I like it! The trick for me is using spot metering, and before I read this book, I never really understood metering modes, so I was thrilled to finally read a concise explanation. Most of the book is devoted to a nice overview of general photography tips, covering basics like the rule of thirds, but it does a good job of dividing things up into chapter on photographing people, landscapes, and so on. The entire book is in color with lots of pictures to demonstrate technique, and also comes with a CD of trial software, which was Windows only, of course. Still, I have to give this book credit - it's a nice reference of techniques and style, and it actually taught me what I needed to learn, so I'm glad I picked it up! I'd definitely recommended it to beginner photographers looking to make their digital pictures a little better than regular snapshots.

3.18.2008

Forgotten passwords in Keychain Access

The other day I completely forgot an old FTP password that I needed, and it wasn't something I could easily reset. I knew I had it saved in some web accounts, so I tried to find it in the HTML source, but they were too smart and had it encrypted and non-copyable. Then as a last straw I realized it would be in my Mac OS keychain, so I checked out the Keychain Access application (in the Applications/Utilities folder), and there it was! I found it in just a few seconds, protected by my Mac password (which I never forget!), and I suddenly became a Mac OS fan all over again. If you find yourself in the same situation, give this tip a try!

3.17.2008

Death Note Vol 2 & Vol 3: 4 of 5

I've recently rented both of the next Death Note DVDs, and I'm still enjoying watching this series a second time in Japanese, even though I'm currently watching the newer episodes on Cartoon Network. The Volume 2 DVD contains the genius plot to kill all of the FBI agents through Raye Penber, which is absolutely chilling, and then quickly moves on to Light's cruel manipulation of Raye's fiancee. In both of these plots, Light tells his victim he's Kira just before it's too late, which is pretty devastating! Light's character really reveals itself as a creepy combination of perfection and evil, which is part of what makes this series so fascinating! On Volume 3, L decides to confront Light by entering the same college, and they begin a high-tension relationship that can only be explained by long thought monologues. When I read the manga I expected this to be a big challenge for the anime, but they really pull it off well with some dramatic artwork! Misa Amane is finally introduced as the second Kira (and of course her voice is cute in the way only a Japanese's girl's voice can be!), but the real stand-out moment of this DVD is when the Shinigami Rem tells the story of the other Shinigami who loved Misa and gave himself to save her life - it's presented like a bittersweet fairy tale! Unfortunately, now I have to wait for future DVDs of this series to be released, but I'm definitely going to keep renting them until the show ends. I'm curious to find out if they plan on continuing the plot past the L story arc!

3.16.2008

Welcome to post 3000!

Today marks the 3000th post on WEBmikey, and I'm just as shocked as you are! If someone forced me to sit down and write about 3000 different things, I don't think I could do it, and yet somehow that's just what I've done. So, here's a brief site history and some comments about what it means to me.

This site started in early 2000 (before blogs really existed) as something to do for fun - I remember I was even a little embarrassed to tell my friends about it! Here's a small image of my original pre-blog header (so nostalgic!). At the time, personal websites were called "vanity sites", and I thought they were kind of silly, but eventually I caved in and wanted to make my own (hence the old tag line "The impossible vanity site"). The name was kind of an accident - when I tried to register a domain name, of course "mikey.com" was taken, but it offered the suggestion "webmikey". I thought it had a nice ring to it, and got the idea of making things look like fake HTML tags (which is the reason for the weird capitalization).

I decided that I wanted to boil my life down to series of lists (which was pretty fun), so everything was organized into four broad sections: Last 5 (which was the start of my mini-reviews), Today (which was the start of a blog about current life), Yesterday (which was all of my life lists), and Creativity (which contained poetry and other writings). When Blogger hit the web, I realized it would be so much easier to use than doing everything by hand, so I originally created a separate blog for each of these areas. Later, I got tired of that, and switched everything to a single giant blog, which is how it stands today.

The best thing about WEBmikey for me is being able to step back and observe myself. When I browse my old posts, I can watch my writing style evolve and my attitudes change! I also use the site (along with Google search) as a reference into my own opinions - I can't tell you how many times I've wondered what I thought of some movie way back when, and it's always fun to read my old review. Speaking of reviews, 1440 of these 3000 posts are my mini-reviews of DVDs, movies, books, CDs, and various other things! Since I have links to all my Flickr photos here as well, lots of my pals use WEBmikey to find photos I've taken, and I'm proud of that! I've also run into some old friends and reconnected sets of people who happened to find WEBmikey through searches, which is pretty nice. The only thing I'd like to change here (besides eventually changing this stale site design!) is to finally start making shorter posts more often - I'd like to record more spontaneous thoughts here, but I have a phobia of two sentence posts that I need to get over!

So, thanks to anyone who has read even one of these 3000 posts! I'm pretty confident that I'll keep writing, since WEBmikey has not only become a record of who I was, but also helps define who I am today. See you at post 4000!

3.15.2008

れんぞく ドラマの ちがう ところ

アメリカの れんぞく ドラマ と 日本の れんぞく ドラマ は たくさん ちがう ところ が あります。

さいしょ に、日本の ドラマ は たいてい 十一わ か 十二わ で おわります。 アメリカの ドラマの おわり は いつ か わかりません。日本の つくりかたの ほうが いい と おもいます。はなし が いつも ちゃんと おわります から です。

つぎ に、日本の ドラマ は まいかい にんきな きょく が ながれます。たとえば、「はな より だんご 2」で、 とうじょうじんぶつの きもち が たかまった とき、宇多田ヒカルの きょくの「Flavor of Life」が いつも ながれました。ですから、ドラマ が おらるころ には、きょくを おぼえて しまいます!

さいご に、日本の ドラム は プラスしこうの はなし が よく ある と おもいます。はなしの なかで、とうじょうじんぶつ が かわって、しあわせ に なります。日本の ドラム は みてころ と、 いい きぶん に なります!

アメリカの ドラムも 日本の ドラムも すき です。でも、いつか じまく ぬきで 日本の ドラムを みるの が ぼくの ゆめ です!

Austin Symphony / Andre Watts : 5 of 5

I decided to see the Austin Symphony's last performance at Riverbend Center (since their next will be at the new Long Center), and I'm so glad I did, since this special night of French composers was one of the best concerts I've seen in the past few years! The program began with Francaix's The Flower Clock, which was interesting since it uses about a half-size orchestra, and because of the great solo oboe by Beth Sanders, a long-time member of the symphony. This was followed by Roussel's Suite in F, which expanded the number of musicians on-stage, and this piece was theatrical and exciting with lots of percussion! After the intermission, Andre Watts was the featured performer for Saint-Saens' Piano Concert No. 2, and I can't even begin to describe how great it was! The first movement is full of fire, and it just keeps increasing - by the time the third movement began, I was sure Andre Watts had three hands, and they were flying! Normally when the applause starts, there's the usual lag time before people start deciding to stand up. But when he hit the last note, the entire audience jumped to their feet - it was an instant standing ovation! It was certainly some incredible energy and enthusiasm for a "refined" classical concert! Finally, the program ended with Debussy's La Mer, which I've been a fan of for some time, and it was wonderful to see the orchestra expand even more for this huge piece. It's amazing that it takes two harps to pull it off! This was certainly an exciting night at the symphony, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again at their new venue!

3.14.2008

Dance Dance Revolution Supernova 2 / PS2 : 5 of 5

Fresh after my victory with DDR Supernova, I decided to buy DDR Supernova 2, which has been out a long time, so it's great to finally play it! I've been doing some major stepping lately, playing almost everyday, shooting for my usual goal of unlocking Endless Mode, and I'm happy to say that I unlocked it today! So, this is a good time to write a quick review, which can be easily done by saying that DDR Supernova 2 is essentially the same game as the original, with nearly all the faults corrected! The best improvement is that Hyper Master Mode is someone easier (and less stupid) than the old Stellar Master Mode, and better yet, you can actually unlock everything in the game by sheer determination, since eventually items unlock based on total hours of game play (thank goodness!). The song list is actually pretty great (for my taste), since there are plenty of Jpop songs to keep me happy, as well as some songs that I just can't get enough of - I could dance to Dragon Blade over and over (and I have!), and I love Freeway Shuffle as well. As usual, there are several songs with videos, but unfortunately they didn't bother syncing them up (but I guess it doesn't matter since I'm watching the arrows anyway), including some awesome anime videos - I love playing Baby Tears with the Sky Girls intro (it makes me want to watch that anime!). Another cool tweak is the quick manga style character drawings that appear after 20, 50, and 100 step combos - Emi looks so cute! In order to earn the points to unlock everything, I played just about every mode possible, even Battle Mode, which is kind of fun if you enjoy those crazy options. DDR Supernova 2 is definitely one of my favorite mixes, and now I'm excited about enjoying the joys of Endless Mode!

3.13.2008

Batman Beyond / Season One : 4 of 5

I remember being really skeptical when Batman Beyond was first on TV, but I soon realized that the creative team of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini could make Batman cool even set in the future! Now this series is respected on its own (at least by me), so I was shocked to learn it was originally green-lighted by Warner Bros. purely as an idea to get younger viewers - the show was put into production with almost no pre-production development! They really came up with a cool premise quickly, though, with an elderly Bruce Wayne hanging up the cape because his ailing body forces him to break his "no guns" rule. Soon Terry McGinnis becomes Bruce's assistant and the new Batman, and begins to fight crime in his amazing powered suit and ultra-sleek Batmobile (with awesome red lighting in the interior). The future world (with Barbara Gordon as the new commissioner!) has some great new villains, such as Inque, whose liquid movements make for some fantastic animation, and Shriek, who fights with sound waves (this episode also includes a daring sequence with no sound at all). The show really has a unique feel to it, starting with its frenetic opening titles (created with no CGI, amazingly) and ultra-modern theme (I enjoyed the music so much I even bought the soundtrack CD years ago). This DVD set has a few commentary tracks and a super-short documentary, but at least I learned a lot of fun tidbits listening to them. I think I enjoyed this series even more than when it was first broadcast, proving that Batman is simply timeless!

3.12.2008

Bowling night

Last Sunday my pals Matt & Kumiko and I decided to go bowling at Main Event, and it was a really fun evening. I hadn't been bowling in years, but it just seemed like something fun to do, although it was quite a bit different then playing my Nintendo Wii! Matt and I seem to have about the same skill, but Kumiko is a total ace - she scored 150 easily, I pulled in 105 (which is kind of rare for me), and Matt scored 100. Our second game doesn't really count, because we were trying to bowl as fast as possible since our time was running out - in fact, we went so fast that I ended up pulling a muscle that's still healing (I'm such an old man!). After the bowling we played glow golf, and I'm happy to say that I won (but then again, I've played that course a few times now)! It was a nice change from sitting at home on a Sunday, so enjoy a few photos!

In other pals news, Jonathan asked me to be in his upcoming wedding, and I'm really happy - maybe those cigars I got him for his birthday paid off! And today I had a surprise present in the mail - my pal Shelly in Portland sent me a 1984 vintage set of Golden Trivia Cards, Disney Edition! I don't know where he discovered them, but they are really cool - it's like you have to go back in time to answer the questions correctly, especially about the parks, since Epcot is such a different place now! As always, I'm thankful to be remembered by such cool friends!

View photos: Bowling at Main Event

Walt Disney Treasures / Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic : 5 of 5

I've finally watched the first of this year's Walt Disney Treasures DVD sets, and I have to say that Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic may be the best set they've ever released, especially for a Disneyland nut like me! There's so much packed onto these two discs that I can barely mention it all here, but I'll give it a try. First, there's a new huge documentary shot just for this set, filled with wall-to-wall Imagineer interviews (most with the legendary Tony Baxter) and several other celebrities (including George Lucas!), as well as tons of rare footage I had never seen before, such as the Mickey Mouse Circus once held in Holidayland, and a quick look at the Submarine Voyage live mermaid try-outs. There's also a nice John Lasseter anecdote about his days as a Jungle Cruise skipper, including his favorite "headhunter" joke! Next up is the newly restored People and Places feature Disneyland USA, which is phenomenal not only for the incredible helicopter footage of the new park, but also for Winston Hibler's great narration that makes a trip to Disneyland seem like a True Life Adventure. There's also a fantastic trivia game, which I played 15 times in a row, and the questions were actually difficult! The second DVD contains three Wonderful World of Color episodes, including an entire performance of the Golden Horseshoe Revue, which is cool to see knowing that I've sat in those seats so many times. Operation Disneyland shows the crazy work ABC had to do to broadcast the opening of the park live - they couldn't even rehearse their camera moves with all the construction going on! Finally, there's some amazing bonus time-lapse footage taken from tall towers as the park was constructed, so you can watch it appear from the ground up. This DVD set is probably the most essential item a Disneyland lover could own, and I plan on watching it often before each trip!

3.11.2008

Ratatouille : 5 of 5

Still working through my Christmas DVDs, I recently spent the morning drinking coffee and enjoying this Pixar masterpiece! I love to watch the bonus features first, but unfortunately this isn't a two-disc set, so they could only fit a few things on a single disc (and there's not even a commentary track!). The only thing close to a documentary is a short conversation with a chef and Brad Bird, comparing their arts, but there's still some nice background information, and it's always fun to hear Brad's geeky way of talking. The deleted scenes are wonderful just because they animatics are so darn incredible - I would pay to see an entire movie in that style! But the best of all is Your Friend the Rat, a special short made just for this DVD, that really blew me away. Not only is it funny, but it combines 3D animation, 2D animation, and even stop-motion techniques! I loved the movie just as much as the first time, and I noticed some new details like how Ego's office is shaped like a coffin and his typewriter looks like a skull. The character design for the rats is super-expressive, but their eyes keep making me think of the Muppets! I really enjoyed the build-up to Remy and Colette's kiss as well - such a fantastic moment in the animation of human characters! I'm sure someday there will be another DVD release of Ratatouille with more of the bonus stuff I'm craving, but for now, this is a wonderful DVD that every animation fan should own.

3.09.2008

Music Moments

Ready for some quick comments on ancient CDs that everyone else has already reviewed? Great, here we go! Way back at my first A-Kon I was lucky enough to see Dream in concert, so I decided to get their 7th Anniversary Best album, especially since it came with a DVD of all of their videos, which I only recently watched all the way through, loving every minute. I really enjoyed their voices and harmonies, so it's too bad they aren't around anymore. Speaking of not being around, I also bought Biyuden's Single Best 9 Vol 1 Omaktsuki with no idea their demise was right around the corner, mainly because I can't resist greatest hits albums. Rika is so cute and sexy that she's alternately attractive and appalling, but it's just fun to listen to someone sing about hamidasu bubun every now and then! Next up is Matsuura Aya's Double Rainbow album, and I have to say that her transformation to adult contemporary is pretty much complete. She really seems to be playing it safe on this CD, but I can't complain too much since I love sappy ballads, and she really sings some great ones here! Back to older stuff, and sticking with my greatest hits addiction, I got Otsuka Ai's Ai am Best compilation - whenever CDs like this come with a DVD of videos, I almost always buy it! Her videos are all fantastic and lovely, and she really shows a wide range of emotions (when she lets a tear fall it's almost unbearable!). Sure, her voice is unmistakably anime-style, but she can make it sound fantastic, so I was completely impressed! Finally, I departed from Jpop for my fifth CD and got Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown after hearing one of their songs in church, and I've really enjoyed listening to their brand of "philosophy rock". It's definitely a great album when you want to feel defiant and positive at the same time!

3.08.2008

Be Kind Rewind : 4 of 5

When I read a blurb about this movie in a magazine several months ago, I knew right away I wanted to see it, since I love making movies and would enjoy all the amateur remakes in the film! Matt and I took Jonathan to see Be Kind Rewind for a birthday outing, and we are surprised by what we saw - we knew this movie would be funny, but we had no idea it would be touching, too. Through a freak accident (which is the silliest part of the plot, actually), Jack Black erases all of the VHS tapes in failing video store, so he and Mos Def decide to re-shoot some of the movies to appease their few customers, and eventually their "sweded" versions become so popular with the neighborhood that they can't make them fast enough! All of the mini-movies are hilarious, from Ghostbusters to The Lion King, and it's fun watching the characters (including their friend Alma who really spurs on their efforts) film them. Eventually the plot revolves around the imminent demolition of the video store, which inspires the whole neighborhood to shoot a biography of Fats Waller (who was born in the building, according to "legend"). They all gather to watch their movie, and it's such a celebration of togetherness and the joy of creativity that I was really moved. All of the acting is well done, and even though Jack Black is insane as usual, it really fits his character perfectly. It's rare to see such a funny story that still has some real meaning, and it definitely inspired me to be more artistic and appreciate the opportunity to create that everyone has these days!

3.07.2008

Easy DVD enjoyment

I really like my new Philips DVP5982 DVD player! My old player bit the dust, but my new one arrived quickly from Amazon with free shipping, and I had it hooked up in two seconds. In another two seconds, I already had the region-free hack working, and it tested out perfectly with some Morning Musume DVDs! I've been doing a lot of DVD watching lately, and there are several features I'm enjoying. When you power it off and on again later, it remembers exactly where you were on the DVD, and immediately picks up from that point! This is such a huge help, especially when I'm watching a DVD of 40 or so Jpop videos - I used to have to remember which chapter I was on, but now the player can remember it for me. Speaking of Jpop, my old player had a little overscan problem that made it tough to enjoy subtitled music videos, but this player seems to get it right and I can read more text now. I can't wait to try out the upscaling feature when I get an HDTV later this year!

3.06.2008

Swing for under a buck

I'm really late in mentioning it, but my pal Dae, guitar player for the world famous Day Jobs from Austin's swing glory days, has put our old studio tracks on Amie Street to make a few pennies! We did this recording just before Dae moved to Los Angeles, and all of the tracks online are original compositions. On Amie Street, the price is set by how often something is purchased, so you should buy this rare album while it's only 78 cents! Of course, the Day Jobs features my pals Matt on vocals, Ernesto on sax, Dae on guitar, Ann Marie on bass (now a Grammy-nominated artist!), and myself on drums.

While I'm on the topic of music, I should also announce that the Ernesto Marquez Sextet has been renamed Casa del Swanko! Since our beloved founder Ernesto has moved to Los Angeles (oh how we miss him!), we chose our new goofy name to commemorate Jonathan's house (where we rehearse), which has always been referred to as Casa del Swanko. We have lots of gigs booked through May - look for us at the Tree House Italian Grill or North by Northwest!

3.05.2008

Space Ghost and Dino Boy / The Complete Series : 4 of 5

I remember watching Space Ghost cartoons when I was much younger, and even drawing a few pictures in the same futuristic style. I used to love the space ship designs and weird creatures created by the genius Alex Toth, so I was really happy to see this DVD set was released, and even happier to receive it as another birthday gift from Matt & Kumiko! Space Ghost was one of those cartoons from the late 60's in the "limited animation" style that Hanna-Barbera did so often, full of cheesy plots and goofy dialogue, but it's still exciting to watch. Along with Jan & Jace, two teenagers who help fight galactic crime, and their monkey Blip, Space Ghost romps around the universe battling classic villains such as Zorak and Brak. There's so much to enjoy here, from the cool artwork (I love how space is always deep blue) to the hilarious one-liners (such as when a scientist says "I don't know what I've created, but it's ten times larger than it should be!"). Each episode has three parts - two seven-minute Space Ghost stories plus a Dino Boy in the Lost Valley cartoon. Dino Boy isn't as interesting, but it's still enjoyable - Ugh the caveman is always there for the rescue (or to be rescued) and Bronty the baby dinosaur's voice sounds like Scooby Doo. Along with all this cartoon fun is an incredible documentary about Alex Toth - I was stunned by the length and quality of this bonus feature, which easily tops the wimpy documentaries on most other animation DVDs! It runs a full 1.5 hours, and covers Toth's early days at DC Comics and follows his career through tons of interviews and correspondence. I was really impressed with this DVD set, and my interest in Space Ghost is definitely renewed!

3.04.2008

Mary Poppins in the Park / PL Travers : 3 of 5

This book was one of my birthday gifts from Matt & Kumiko (thanks, Amazon Wish List!), and I really enjoyed reading these additional short Mary Poppins stories (which take place sometime during Mary's previous visits with the Banks children, as explained by the author). The title refers to the fact that all of these tales take place in the park just across Cherry Tree Lane, where Mary takes Jane & Michael (and the other babies who don't appear in the Disney movie) for outings, and all kinds of bizarre wonderful things take place. My favorite story is Lucky Thursday, which focuses on Michael, who's having a bad day and makes some wishes before bedtime. The next day everything goes his way, and in the park he's suddenly carried away to a land full of talking cats! I also really liked the huge Halloween party where everyone's shadow breaks free to dance on their own in the Halloween moonlight, and the reason they're gathering is to celebrate Mary's birthday on November 1st (bet you didn't know that bit of trivia!). Many of the characters that have been introduced in Travers' other books (as well as in the movie) appear from time to time, and it's nice to see Admiral Boom and Burt show up. The Mary Poppins books are a great way to think about and expand my enjoyment of one of my favorite Disney movies of all time, but they definitely stand on their own as wonderful stories full of childhood joy!

3.02.2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles : 3 of 5

I went to see this movie over a week ago, so I'll do my best to remember it for this review! I didn't know too much about the story, since I haven't read this series of children's books (although my parents gave me a "sample chapter" book freebee that was interesting), so I had no idea what to expect. I knew the plot involved an unseen world and strange creatures, but I was surprised at how scary and gross most of the creatures were! Maybe I thought it was going to be fairies and cute fluffy monsters, but the evil characters in this movie are definitely horrific, and bite and scratch with fury! The plot is an interesting premise, involving a scientist who discovers and catalogs this unknown world (which happens to be right in front of you, as long as you look through a special stone or have hobgoblin spit in your eyes!), which twin brothers and their sister discover and must keep from taking over. The twins are played by Freddie Highmore (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) in a duel role, and he does a fine job of showing the differences in each boy's personality. The effects are pretty cool, too - there's never any doubt you're looking at CG, but the designs of the characters are so deliciously disgusting that it's fun just to see how these bizarre creatures move and fight. Another interesting facet of this film is the harsh reality of the characters' family life, which erupts into some harsh interactions - pretty bold for this kind of movie! The final battle is quite exciting, and I love all of their unusual defense preparations involving things like tomato sauce (which happens to be like acid to the bad guys!). The Spiderwick Chronicles seems like something a studio would love to spin into a long series of movies, but this story is surprisingly self-contained, and I really enjoyed it!

3.01.2008

Yamenai!

Studying Japanese has been one of my major activities for the past several years, but lately I've been having a tough time. I always feel frustrated when I try to speak (even though I have two spectacular tutors), and I'm often too lazy to do the hard work of attempting to express myself by writing, so I don't feel like I've progressed much, especially this year. One of my goals for this year was to have more fun with studying - to find new ways of studying as a kind of enjoyable game - but instead, I feel like my studies have a lack of direction, which drives me crazy sometimes!

I received my results for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 3 that I took in December, and I was a little disappointed. I was well above the passing score, so I have a nice certificate to frame, but my scores were just so-so. Actually, looking at the statistics from 2006, I'm way over the average mark, but I just wanted to do better. I made an 84 out of 100 in vocabulary and a 163 out of 200 in reading comprehension, but my listening comprehension was only 48 out of 100 (kind of embarrassing!). So, my total score was a high C grade, but since I'm such a perfectionist (probably because I was my high school valedictorian), I was a little bummed. On top of that, my work week was a little crazy, so I've been in a negative state of mind that made me consider just quitting Japanese all together.

But since then I've changed my mood, and I definitely want to continue studying! I just need to really chill out and treat my studies as a hobby, because that's exactly what it is. I have a strong love of Japanese culture, and I've always enjoyed enhancing that by learning how this beautiful language works - I just need to remember that motivation! I'm really moving along towards finishing Rosetta Stone Level 2, and my pal Kumiko is going to assign me some fun essays to write for homework. It's always hard to balance my time and keep my over-obsession in check, but I'm going to do it!