4.30.2008

Glen is Billy

When I was growing up, I would always read the newspaper comics with my mom at breakfast, so of course I've read hundreds of goofy Family Circus panels by cartoonist Bil Keane. Recently I found out that Glen Keane, one of Disney's most talented animators and one of my heroes, is Bil Keane's son (and even appears in Family Circus as Billy)! I feel like I'm the last person to find this out (I'm sure all the other animation fans already knew this), but I thought it was pretty interesting! It's amazing that the lead animator for Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin, and Tarzan was right there in front of me while I was eating cereal!

Watching a novel

While I was reading Douglas Coupland's novel JPod, I was surprised to find out it had been turned into a TV series in Canada! Thanks to the good ol' web, I was able to watch all 13 episodes of the show, which has unfortunately already been cancelled (and even caused a fan uproar). The show was really well-produced with great casting, and it was so funny to see many of the quirky scenes from the book adapted for the series. Actually, the episodes managed to cover most of the complete novel, so if it had continued to another season, there would have been new stories created for the characters! Anyway, this is the kind of show that people will either love or be bored with - if the outlandish lives of a group of video game developers sounds cool to you, I'll bet you'll like the show (and you can watch it on the CBC's site). I definitely enjoyed seeing a novel I never dreamed would be adapted brought to life for a while!

4.28.2008

First Kiss : 3 of 5

Wow, it's been way too long since I enjoyed an entire Japanese drama series! I actually downloaded First Kiss in December of last year, but only watched one episode before my Christmas DVD avalanche, so I'm glad I finally had time to see it all. I didn't know anything about this show, but I wanted to see something else with Inoue Mao since I loved her so much in Hana Yori Dango. Unfortunately, in this series she spends the first several episodes being a total jerk - it's tough to watch her being such a mean-spirited character at first, but I guess that comes along with having a terminal heart condition! Her character Mio decides to spend a summer in Japan with her older brother before she has a risky operation, and her simple but kind-hearted brother decides he wants her to find love so her summer will be full of good memories. Of course, there are tons of supporting characters, such as her brother's funny roommates, her lead doctor (played by the female lead from Nanisama, who was nice to see again), the young doctor who becomes the romance of the show, and her brother's devoted girlfried Haruna, who ends up rejected (how can they do that with such a cute character?). Part of the show is set in Los Angeles, with some of the worst "they have no idea what they are saying" English I've heard, but once we get to Japan the story gets moving fast, and starts the tear-jerking machine in motion. I've begun to see that Episode 6 is usually the "major crisis" episode in these shows, and this time it included a huge typhoon while Mio's brother tries to get her some nitro medicine! The build-up to the inevitable romantic kiss is especially good, and the final life lessons are well-presented and interesting, especially if you think about how life would be if it could suddenly end. First Kiss isn't a spectacular drama, but I really enjoyed it, and now that I have the craving for more, I've already downloaded two more series to watch (maybe I can get to them before Christmas)!

4.27.2008

ベスト マン

アメリカには けっこんしきの しゅうかんが たくさん あります。その なかで ベスト マンと いう しゅうかんが とても にんき です。しんろうは ともだち と かぞくの うちから 男の人 一人だけを えらびます。その 男の人は「ベスト マン」と いいます。

ベスト マンは いろいろな ことを しなければ なりません。さいしょに、けっこんしきの まえ、しんろうの ようじが ある とき、ベスト マンが たすけます。たとえば、クリーニングを とりに いったり、はなの ちゅうもんを はなやに かくにん したり、しんぞくの くるまの よやくを かくにん します。つぎに、どくしん パーティの よていを たてます。だいたい ベスト マンが その パーティの ひようを ぜんぶ はらいます。

けっこんしきの日、ベスト マンは しんろうの ために けっこんゆびわを かんり しています。そして、けっこんしきの あとの けっこんひろうえんで、大切な スピーチを します。いい スピーチ なら、みんなが かんどう してくれます!

私は いっかいだけ ベスト マンに えらばれました が、たのしい けいけん でした! ベスト マンに なった ことが わすれられない です。

Carmen / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

Last night was a special opera evening for me, since this was Austin Lyric Opera's debut production at the new Long Center (which means this review is for both the venue and the opera)! Since I had no idea how parking was going to work out, I arrived almost an hour early, which turned out to be a great plan, since I had time to explore (and take a few photos) before the show. Actually, this may be my new routine, since the Long Center has a beautiful terrace that overlooks the city, which is perfect for enjoying a glass a wine before settling down to three hours of entertainment. The architecture is modern, but still feels somewhat classical to me, but unfortunately everything (right down to staircases) is labeled with donor names, which gets old pretty fast. The theater itself is fantastic, designed so every seat is much closer to the stage compared to the Bass Concert Hall, and I was thrilled with my new seats! So, on to the opera, which was an incredible production of Bizet's Carmen. I think that operas containing so many "hit" arias are difficult to make relevant, since the audience just ends up tapping their toes to the tunes they know, but ALO really did a fine job at making the story itself more prominent. In fact, I think I got into the characters in this production more than any other Carmen I have seen before! The sets and lighting were wonderful (although I have to complain about the incredibly long pause during the third act for a set change, which was simply uncomfortable), and the performers were absolutely amazing, especially Carmen herself, who really made some sense of the character's thoughts and motives. And of course, the popular Habanera and Toreador arias were fantastic and full of spirit! For me, it was a wonderful first experience at the Long Center, and I'm definitely looking forward to many more arts events there in the future.

View photos: The Long Center

4.26.2008

Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story : 3 of 5

Even though I've been a Family Guy fan for quite a while, I neglected to rent this DVD when it was first released, so for all this time I was under the impression that this was entirely new material only available on DVD. Well, I finally got around to watching it, only to find that this is really just three episodes (which were new back in 2005) cleverly tied together with a few extra scenes that didn't appear on TV. So, I was a little disappointed, but it was still fun to watch the now classic story of Stewie's time travel adventure with the adult version of himself. I should also mention that there's actually around 30 minutes of DVD-only material via some special opening and closing segments for the "movie", so it's worth renting to see these scenes. Actually, the best part of the disc is the commentary track, which features Seth MacFarlane along with other creators and voice actors, and everything they say is hilarious! It's especially interesting to hear Seth switch to character voices - he seems to avoid doing Stewie, but finally gives in at the end after everyone keeps bugging him about it. This DVD would have been awesome to see a few years ago when Family Guy was just starting to become popular again, but now I would only recommend it for serious fans of the show (even though you've already seen the included episodes 10 times each like me!).

4.25.2008

The Beatles: Love / Cirque de Soleil : 5 of 5

For our last show in Vegas, my parents and I continued our tradition of going to a Cirque du Soleil production by seeing The Beatles: Love at the Mirage. I somehow expected this to be a simple show filled with more dancing than acrobatics, but it turned out to be a huge production with all of the beauty and spectacle of a typical Cirque experience! Of course, the music consists of fabulous remixes of popular Beatles songs (all sounding incredible in the custom theater with speakers embedded into each individual seat!), and roughly follows a kind of timeline of the band, beginning in Liverpool. The opening number is really unexpected, since after watching all the performers partying to Get Back, the Liverpool set is suddenly destroyed (down to individual bricks) in World War II. This leads nicely into some sadder songs like Eleanor Rigby, which also introduces other characters (like Father McKenzie, for example), who show up throughout the rest of the show. The plot seems to follow The Beatles through several stages of their career (and ages of the performers), but includes typical Cirque touches like a persistent character representing "love" (in my opinion), forever offering a bouquet of flowers to the world. Acrobatically, there are some great flying routines and trampoline jumping, and theatrically, the stage itself is really unique, featuring huge translucent screens that are used to extend the set with projections, display silhouettes of the band, or even as a slide show of Beatles images for the wonderful finale. The Beatles: Love is an incredible production, combining drama, artistry and fantastic music that everyone knows and loves into one of Cirque du Soleil's best shows ever. It was a great show to finish our Vegas vacation!

4.24.2008

La Rêve : 4 of 5

The next show my parents and I went to see in Vegas was La Rêve, performed in a special theater in the new Wynn casino. There's no doubt this production was inspired by Cirque du Soleil's O, since it incorporates water, rising stages, and theater in the round, but that doesn't make it any less spectacular! La Rêve means "the dream", and so the show opens with a girl being put to bed by her lover, then quickly transforms into a dream world full of angels, demons, bald guys, and lizard creatures. The show is made up of water and flying acts, and I really enjoyed the incredible wire work - there are moments where it seemed like the theater was overflowing with flying performers, which was really beautiful! The water numbers made good use of fountains and all kinds of spray (amazingly leaving the audience dry even though we were very close), and one portion features several incredible high dives that were exciting to see. There was a group of four "clown" characters for comic relief who did a funny sketch about bringing a dove back to life, too. I thought the music could have been a little better, but the rising stage was a marvel of engineering, since it could be low enough to create simple walkways on the water, or rise above in multiple levels as diving platforms for the finale. I think my favorite aspect of the show was seeing the performers constantly wet, since their glistening hair and droplets of water always flying around looked so cool in the stage lighting! Of the three Vegas shows I saw during this trip, I have to place La Rêve third, but I still recommend it for a night of beautiful entertainment!

Legend of the Doll : 2 of 5

Every now and then Netflix will come up with good recommendations for me, and recently it kept suggesting some new DVDs billed as an Akihabara Trilogy, so I thought I would give one a try, It turns out these are extremely low budget, short movies shot on video (about the quality I could make!), distributed by the Asian Pulp Cinema label, so they are pretty sketchy - but to tell the truth, that's what made watching it kind of fun! This is the story of an otaku (big surprise) who builds female anime figures, and suddenly one comes to life. Actually, it's not much different than the plot of Weird Science with some elements of Chobits thrown in, but of course it takes a serious turn, as expected of a Japanese movie. Later we find out that the guy's girlfriend was killed in a traffic accident, so there's some mystical stuff about the doll being some kind of incarnation, but I enjoyed the goofy scenes much more, such as when the guy invites his cosplay friend over. The friend's reactions are pretty funny, and the fashion show isn't bad either! Legend of the Doll is a pretty crappy movie, but if you enjoy Japanese culture, language, and the otaku scene, you might find it worth watching! Now I have to decide if I want to rent the next two DVDs, but how can I refuse a movie called Cat Girl Kiki?

4.23.2008

Blue Man Group : 5 of 5

The first show that we enjoyed during our Vegas vacation was Blue Man Group, which was especially convenient since it plays at the Venetian where we were staying. Even though I had seen short clips and photos of the show, I really didn't know what to expect, but I figured it would be something cool. Amazingly, the show was even more incredbile than I had imagined, and my parents and I loved it! It's really tough to describe or categorize the show, which is sometimes a percussion exhibition like Stomp, and other times a futurist social satire. Since the Blue Men never speak and seem to be "discovering" everything they are doing for the first time, I kept thinking of the show as a party with alien beings! There are several numbers that feature their unique PVC pipe instruments (backed up by a super cool on-stage band wearing glow-in-the-dark robot style costumes), segments that are pure comedy, and other portions that combine both elements, like their famous "how to become a rock star" sequence. My favorite part by far was the finale, which featured reams and reams of white streamer paper (nicely glowing under black light) that begins in the rear of the theater and is pulled to the stage by everyone in the audience! It was just wave after wave of paper, and with all the music, lights, and excitement, everyone in the audience (including my parents) were transformed into five year old kids giggling like crazy! The whole experience was simply unique beyond belief, and afterwards I felt like I had just been to a rave or something. If you're looking to really have an interactive blast in Vegas, I definitely recommend seeing Blue Man Group!

Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies : 4 of 5

After enjoying The Disney Mountains recently by the same author, I decided to finally read his in-depth look at my favorite Disneyland ride! This book has been on my shelf since the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was released, so it's about time that I got around to reading it. Similar to his Haunted Mansion book, the first section is devoted to a history of the ride's development, which is particularly fascinating in this case, since the ride transformed from a walk-through wax museum into the masterpiece it is today (I love looking over the drawings and plans for what was never built, though!). It was interesting reading that the cool caves are located in the original dug-out basement where the museum was going to be built, and the creepy fact that there were originally actual skeletons in the attraction is once again confirmed here, too! The second section is my favorite, which is a super-detailed description of every scene of the ride, highlighting the differences between the four different versions in the various Disney parks. I'm really impressed with how the entire flow was changed for Disneyland Paris, and I would love to experience it someday - I can't imagine seeing the prisoners trying to get the keys from the dog first! The final section is about the first movie, and basically reads like a bonus DVD documentary. It has some interesting anecdotes about the "concerns" raised when Johnny Depp first developed the characterization of Jack Sparrow, but other than that, I would much rather read about the attraction itself. Jason Surrell's books are a must for every Disneyland fan's library!

4.22.2008

Las Vegas 2008

My parents and I have settled into the habit of visiting Las Vegas every other year now, and this past weekend was our third spectacular Vegas vacation together! This time we stayed at the Venetian, which was magnificent since we had our first-ever two-room suite. It was really nice to have a such a spacious room, and I especially enjoyed getting ready in the mornings in the giant bathroom, wearing a huge fluffy robe after my shower. We saw a different show each night, and I'll be reviewing all three of them over the next few days - they were all incredible. Other than eating, the only other thing we did was gamble - we didn't even stop to do any shopping! As usual, we played tons of penny and nickel slot machines and enjoyed the free drinks, and now I can rank the free Manhattans on the strip. The best was at Paris, since it was served in a full-size Martini glass with three cherries and tasted wonderful, while the worst was at MGM, since the liquor proportions were off and it was too small! I really enjoyed the Monopoly-themed slot machines, as well as the Star Wars ones - it was great playing them in the morning when it wasn't crowded and I could take in all the cool sound effects and music. Of course, the best part of the whole trip was just spending time with Mom & Dad - enjoying meals together, cheering each other on as we played, and experiencing awesome entertainment together. I have no doubt we'll be headed back to Vegas in 2010!

View photos: Las Vegas 2008

4.18.2008

Classical tidiness

I recently finished some digital decluttering of my iTunes library, focusing on my classical music collection. I have close to 200 classical CDs (which was practically all I bought in college), and although I ripped them ages ago, their tag information has always been a mess. The CDDB entries for classical music are totally inconsistent, since classical works don't fit well into the usual track information, so I had tempo markings in the Artist field, movements in the Title field, and the whole thing was driving me crazy! So, I decided to take on a few albums every day, copying and pasting things the way I like them. I decided to go with putting the composer in the Artist field, since I would never search for something by performer in this case (with exceptions like Kronos Quartet). At the same time, I even grabbed a portrait of the composer from Wikipedia to put in the album art! The lesson that I reinforced to myself is that big tasks that seem like they will take forever can actually be done if you just make a commitment to do a little each day. It was actually kind of fun since I only spent 15 minutes or so each morning, and now I have the reward of nice, neat classical tracks! I'm following the same daily method of tagging all of my old blog posts, too.

It's time to take my parents on a vacation again, so I'm leaving for Las Vegas today! WEBmikey posting will resume in a few days, but I'll probably say a few things on Twitter while I'm out of town.

Nim's Island : 3 of 5

Since I'm not really a Jodie Foster fan, I wasn't sure that I would see this movie, but because the trailer seemed really fun and my parents enjoyed it so much, I went with my pal Melinda to see it. Actually we were the only ones in the theater, but even though audiences may have given up on Nim's Island, I really enjoyed it. The main surprise for me was that the trailer makes the movie seem to be a story about a scared city person's stay on a remote island with the little girl Nim, when actually the plot is all about the journey to get to the island. Once Jodie Foster's character finally makes it, the movie abruptly ends! But the character development is nice, though, focusing on an agoraphobic author who writes Indiana Jones style adventure novels without ever leaving her house. Nim is a cute girl living with her scientist father alone on their island, but she has to reach out for help (thank goodness for satellite internet!) when her dad is lost at sea. This is without a doubt a fantasy movie - there are lots of facts that you just have to accept and move on, like Nim's animal communication, the unlikely survival of Nim's dad, and so on. There's also an encounter with an unsavory cruise line, and the crew is so surreal that they might as well be pirates! But even with all the goofiness in the story, I was still interested throughout the film. Nim's Island is a nice relaxing movie that's good for a quick escape!

4.17.2008

Ollie lives on

I thought I would mention that Ollie Johnston, the last of Disney's famous Nine Old Men, recently passed away. There are so many animation blogs that have paid tribute much better than I can, but since Disney animation is so important to me, I at least wanted to say something. Every time I watch a Disney animated feature, I always get excited to see the animators' names in the opening credits, and when some of the Nine Old Men are in the list (especially Ollie or Frank Thomas), I know I'll be seeing something special. The work that Ollie did to advance the art of animation has had profound effect on every animator today, as anyone who reads The Illusion of Life (Frank & Ollie's huge book of animation technique) will realize. Thank goodness that even during Disney's "dark days", they still had the foresight to train today's generation of animators before the Nine Old Men left the company. Everyone I admire today was personally mentored by these incredible artists! I'll always be thankful for Ollie and everyone else who truly created this form of entertainment that I enjoy so much. Now you should read Brad Bird's thoughts about Ollie, since his words are much more fascinating than mine!

4.16.2008

レシピ

私は ひとりぐらし して いる どくしん です ので、りょうり を あまり しません。でも、クッキーを つくることが できると おもいます。インターネットから クッキーのレシピ です。

さいしょに、オーブンを 375どに よねつ して下さい。ちいさい ボウルに、こむぎこ カップ 2か4ぶんの3ばい と ベーキングソーダ こさじ 1ぱい と ベーキングパウダー こさじ 2ぶんの1ぱいを まぜて下さい。

つぎに、大きい ボウルに、バター カップ 1ぱい と さとう カップ 1か2ぶんの1ぱいを まぜて下さい。たまご 1こ と バニラ こさじ 1ぱいを まぜあわせて下さい。すこしずつ ほかの ざいりょうを くわえて下さい。

つぎに、きじ こさじ 1ぱいlを まるめて、クッキング パン に ならべて下さい。オーブンで きつねいろに なるまで やいて下さい。たぶん、はっぷん から じゅっぷん かかります。

さいごに、つめたく なるまで、まって下さい。あとで、たのしんで下さい。

この クッキーは いかが ですか? わたしは クッキーを 食べたい!

Amazing weekend, amazing athletes

This past weekend was fun-filled and fantastic! It began with playing a Casa del Swanko gig at North by Northwest, which was completely packed because the weather was so nice. Lots of people we knew came out to see us, including some folks from work and my pal Melinda. On Saturday night, I went to see Master Panckake's showing of E.T. at the new Alamo Ritz with Matt & Kumiko! This was my first time to visit the new downtown Alamo, and also my first time to see Master Pancake (although I was a loyal Mister Sinus fan!). The movie was hilarious, so I'm sure I'll be back for their future shows! Finally, on Sunday I got to watch Chris & Carlos ride to the finish line of their MS150 bike adventure. This is a huge two-day ride from Houston to Austin (180 miles), and they made it easily! It was nice to have lunch with Eliza, Matt & Kumiko (plus I got to help with Baby Emiliano), and the atmosphere at the finish line (in front of the Texas History Museum) was full of energy - it was a blast! Congratulations to Chris & Carlos!

View photos: MS150 Finish Line

4.15.2008

Blade Runner / Ultimate Collector's Edition : 5 of 5

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is an incredibly made, genre-defining film that any self-respecting geek loves, so when I heard about this new five-disc set, I just had to order it as a Christmas gift to myself! The set is packaged in a cool briefcase with several collectible items, including a miniature Spinner car, along with the DVDs containing five complete versions of the movie. The real star is the definitive Final Cut, completely supervised by Ridley Scott with enhanced shots, and the result is amazing! Zhora's terrible stunt double and Deckard's out-of-sync mouth movements were painstakingly fixed by filming Joanna Cassidy and even Harrison Ford's son to restore the footage, and it looks perfect. This is all explained in detail in Dangerous Days, a three and a half hour documentary which is the best (and definitely the longest) behind the scenes look at a film I've ever watched. Another disc contains even more mini-documentaries, covering interesting topics such as a comparison of the film to the original novel, plus an innovative way of presenting a huge set of deleted scenes. All of the scenes have been cut together like a movie of their own, running about 45-minutes, so you can actually follow new angles of the story, which is brilliant! Of course, there's a segment specifically covering the question of Deckard being a Replicant, and it's fascinating to hear everyone's differing opinions (although Ridley Scott is pretty clear with his answer). And I haven't even mentioned the rare Workprint version of the movie, or the multiple wall-to-wall commentary tracks! It may sound crazy, but I loved watching Blade Runner over and over during the course of a week, so this terrific set has certainly made me an even bigger fan of the film.

4.14.2008

Walt Disney Treasures / The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit : 3 of 5

I've been looking forward to this Walt Disney Treasures set for quite a while, since just like every Disney fan, I've always been curious about Oswald, the character that was stolen from Walt Disney and caused the creation of Mickey Mouse. There are only 13 existing Oswald cartoons, but even that number is incredible when you consider their age from the 1920s, along with the fact that they were terribly preserved since Disney didn't own them (some of the shorts could only be found on old 16MM home movie versions!). Oswald is a funny character, acting with broad pantomime in these silent shorts, along with his cat girlfriend and his villian Putrid Pete (what a coincidence that Mickey's villain is Peg-Leg Pete!). The best short by far is Oh What a Knight, which has a hilarious sword fight where Oswald keeps running off to steal a few kisses from his girl. There's an all new documentary that covers how Oswald became a success and how he was stolen, including some nice Bob Iger interview footage explaining how he made a trade to get the character back (such an incredible move for a new CEO that really won me over). Unfortunately, the second DVD isn't as exciting, since none of the material was new to me. Since the incredible Ub Iwerks was the sole animator on many Oswald and Mickey cartoons, they included early Alice and Mickey shorts for comparison, all of which have been released already. The rest of the disc has the beautiful documentary The Hand Behind the Mouse, but this was shot in 1999 and I had already seen it, although it's still nice to have in my collection now. But even with the weak second disc, this set is still a must for Disney fans, and it was a pleasure to finally meet Oswald!

4.12.2008

Star Trek stands

I've slowed down just a wee bit on my toy collecting, but I'm still buying all of the reproduction Mego Star Trek figures as they are released! I can't even begin to count all the fantastic, 8-inch Mego action figures (with real clothes!) I had as a kid - lots of super heroes, Planet of the Apes, and of course, Star Trek. I love watching home movies of me playing with the Transporter on the Enterprise bridge playset! These new reproductions are incredible, right down to the accessories and packaging, and even though I know I shouldn't open them, holding them in my hands again really makes me feel young. I've been buying mine from BigBadToyStore, and I have six so far, so I decided I should get some stands to display them. I spent forever digging around Google looking for "action figure stands", but I couldn't find anything for 8-inch figures! Finally I stumbled upon a place that had "doll stands", and when I discovered that was the correct term, they were easy to find. When I was a kid I always hated it when people called them dolls instead of action figures, so I guess the term "doll stand" never occured to me! I actually found the perfect stand from an Amazon seller, and they work perfectly. The waist clamp holds the figure snuggly, and it's so nice being able to arrange them without spending an hour getting them to balance. I wish I had these stands when I had all my original figures - but actually, I wish I had still had my original figures even more!

View photos: Mego Star Trek

4.11.2008

Dance Dance Revolution: Disney Channel Edition / PS2 : 4 of 5

Since a steady supply of fresh music is essential to keeping me addicted to DDR, I decided to buy this special Disney Channel version of the game, even though I haven't watched many of the featured shows (why didn't they make this back when I was a Lizzie McGuire junky?). I knew this game would have less songs than the average DDR mix, and truthfully I was expecting a simple rehash of DDR Supernova, but surprisingly, they really gave this game a distinctive look, and I like it! Of course, most of the music is from Disney Channel shows and movies, such as High School Musical, Hannah Montana, and a few other things like the Cheetah Girls, That's So Raven and Kim Possible (which is one of my favorite themes to dance to, actually!). The game comes almost totally unlocked right out of the box, so you can play Endless Mode right away! The only challenge to overcome is revealing a second outfit for each of the characters, which you can do by beating that character in a three-song battle (unfortunately, the Battle Mode makes such annoying noises that you can barely follow the music). The game itself has unique graphics, with lots of Disney Channel logos and character photos, and all of the characters are pretty well-animated with new dance moves (so rather than my old favorite DDR characters Emi or Alice, I have to dance with Miley!). To fill out the Disney songs, there are a few Konami tracks which are mostly totally new to me - I never knew a DDR tango could be so much fun. I've been enjoying this game for a few weeks now, and I have to say that all those positive lyrics eventually make me feel like I'm dancing at a Disney park!

4.10.2008

A gift from Apple

Every time I have to visit the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, I always leave as an even bigger Apple fan! Lately I had been experiencing some weird behavior with my MacBook battery - when the power was running low, it would shut down with no warning message! I tried a few possible solutions that I found on the web, but it still happened every now and then, so I figured the battery was definitely freaking out. I could almost live with it, since it was simple enough to just plug-in a little sooner than I normally would, but then I decided I should just give the Genius Bar a shot (especially since my last visit had gone so well). So, I explained my situation (including how my warranty ended two months ago), and I figured they would do a little diagnosis and finally sell me a new battery, and that would have been fine. To my total surprise, the guy just checked out their records on my MacBook, and said, "Well, it's not authorizing a replacement, but I'm going to give you a new battery anyway." Absolutely amazing! I was completely prepared to spend $130 for a new battery, and they gave me one for free - out of warranty! That's the kind of service that will keep me happily buying Apple products forever. Since Dad is going to inherit my MacBook someday, I'm glad he's going to get a fresh battery, too!

4.09.2008

子供じだいのトランプあそび

子供の とき、私は おじいさんと いっしょに よく トランプを しました。おじいさんが たくさん トランプあそびを おしえてくれました。クレージーエイト という ゲームが いちばん 好き でした。クレージーエイトを せつめい します!

さいしょに、トランプを きって下さい。つぎに、プレーヤーは それぞれ ななまい もらいます。トランプの やま から、いちまいを めくって下さい。

すべての カードを なくすのが この トランプあそびの ゴール てす。まいかい、めくられた カードを みて下さい。おなじ すうじ や おなじ マークは めくられた カードの うえに すてる ことが できます。たとえば、もし めくられた カードが「に」なら、どれでも「に」の カードは すてられます。それとも、もし めくられた カードが「ハート」なら、どれでも「ハート」の カードは めくられます。もし いい カードを もっていなければ、ほかの カードを ひかなければ なりません。

「はち」の カードは とくべつ です。その カードは いつでも つかえます。「はち」の カードを つかう とき、ちがう マークを しんちょうに えらんで下さい。「はち」の カードは かつ ために とても やくにたちます。

クレージーエイトは たのしそう だと おもいますか? クレージーエイトで あそびましょう!

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer : 2 of 5

Even though I pretty much hated the first Fantastic Four movie, I was kind of excited about this one when I saw the footage of the Silver Surfer, and I was impressed with the life-size figure of him I saw in the theater! I still ended up missing the film though, so I finally got around to renting the DVD, and now I realize that it's no big deal that I waited so long. Just like the original film, this movie is just barely entertaining, but it's even worse if you're a comic book fan and hate seeing your heroes spoofed. The whole wedding plot is really dumb (but not as dumb as Jessica Alba looks in every scene!), and the ridiculous "power swap" idea only adds more farce to an already silly movie. As I hoped, the Silver Surfer is the best part - he looks good during an exciting chase with the Human Torch, and he even looks cool when his power is drained and he's played by an actual person rather than CG. I also enjoyed the appearance of the Fantasticar, since it was a nice nod to the comic book, but the insane revival of Doctor Doom and forced team-up is pretty unforgivable. Of course, they didn't have the guts to present Galactus as anything more than a disembodied force, either! I can only recommend Rise of the Silver Surfer if you're a huge Silver Surfer fan, or if you're looking for a movie to laugh at with your buddies.

4.08.2008

Walt Disney Treasures / The Chronological Donald Vol 3 : 4 of 5

Continuing with 2007's wave of Walt Disney Treasures, I really enjoyed this latest volume in the Chronological Donald series. It's amazing that there are so many Donald Duck shorts (now filling six DVDs!), especially since Donald has already been around ten years when these cartoons start in 1947. Most of the shorts on this set feature a co-starring nemesis, such as the ever-popular Chip & Dale, or more obscure characters like Bootle Beetle or the Aracuan Bird (which I've never really liked!). I always enjoy watching Chip & Dale though, since it reminds me of eating at Crystal's Pizza with Mom & Dad when I was a kid, watching Disney cartoons on their little movie screen! There are some really unique shorts in this collection, such as Donald's Dilemma, where Donald becomes a Sinatra-esque singer after getting hit with a flower pot, and Donald's Dream Voice, which a has a similar plot, but with "voice pills" this time. I also like Crazy Over Daisy, since it has the song that eventually became Meet Me Down on Main Street for Disneyland (with new lyrics, of course). The bonus features include some quick documentaries with Jerry Beck and Donald's official voice, plus a segment on a maquette sculptor, which is interesting, but doesn't have much to do with Donald at all! Even though the bonus material on Volume 3 is a little thin compared to the past two sets, the cartoons here are still essential for any Disney fan. I definitely enjoyed singing along with Donald's theme song before watching each and every one!

4.06.2008

Designing dungeons

The web was swamped recently with memorials to Gary Gygax, the creator of role-playing gaming as we know it today, and after reading my pal Barron's excellent post, I was inspired to add my own memories. So. here's my late tribute to childhood fun with Dungeons & Dragons, although for me it was all about an inspiration to create!

I don't really remember how I first heard about D&D, but I remember getting the basic set while I was in 7th grade and marveling at how you could play a game with no board or pieces to move around! It finally dawned on me that role playing was just "pretending with rules", and I thought all the crazy math formulas used for battles were cool. Of course, I had a few sets of dice (I remember how you could ink the number using a fine pen or by rubbing them with a crayon), and even though everyone thought the 20-sided die was the coolest, I liked the simplicity of the 4-sided one. I think I started saving my allowance for the hardback Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books before I even played my first game, because they were full of fascinating character types and awesome illustrations! I read through the Monster Manual over and over, enjoying the gross creatures and imagining epic fights. I started collecting the small metal figures, too, and spent lots of afternoons painting them with toothpicks and learning wipe-off antiquing techniques from magazines.

My geeky group of school friends became my playing group, since we were all into Lord of the Rings and D&D at the same time - it was just inevitable! My pals Scott, Chad, David, Galen (who had the best medieval-sounding name) and I would meet at the public library, where we could get a little private room to play in. I was almost always the Dungeon Master, since I liked being able to play all of the various non-player characters that my friends would interact with in the game. I was already an acting ham, so I didn't want to limit myself to just one character when I could be several at once! I also liked knowing the secrets that everyone else had yet to discover, and I thought the Dungeon Master's screen was so cool - it had fantasy paintings on one side for the players to look at, and tons of reference tables and formulas on the other side! I remember several really good games, and I also remember being a lenient Dungeon Master, since I didn't want my pals' characters to actually die since they had worked so hard on them.

But by far my best D&D time was spent creating my own fantasy world for our games. You could buy tons of game modules that included all of the background material and maps for an adventure, but I wanted to make my own from scratch. So, first I made a few "mini-modules" for quick games, and later embarked on giant stories with hex maps and multi-level dungeons! Back before home computers, I actually owned a typewriter and did all my "serious" work on it, so I spent lots of time getting my modules to look just right, and even adding illustrations to the pages just like the pros. I used to draw a lot (although I barely doodle now), so I really enjoyed sketching castles and coloring maps, even if I had to draw hundreds of little symbols. My drawings also were a part of my own Monster Manual supplement, where I designed my own creatures with their crazy stats, and I tried to incorporate these into my custom modules. Truthfully, I enjoyed all this creative activity far more than playing the actual game, but I'm really glad I had a group of D&D friends to inspire this in me!

When I was decluttering my college notes recently, I found most of my Dungeons & Dragons creations, so I scanned a few pages (only maps and parts of modules with drawings) for you to enjoy (and for me to remember forever!). Remember these are from the brain of a 7th grade geek!

View photos: Dungeons & Dragons Memories

4.05.2008

Morning Musume Concert Tour 2007 Aki Bon Kyu! Bon Kyu! Bomb : 3 of 5

I always look forward to watching new Morning Musume concert DVDs, so even though I had read lots of blah reviews of this show, I figured some fans were just being too negative. Well, now I can agree - this is my least favorite concert since being a serious fan, although it still had some nice moments. I was surprised it was shot in one of the smaller arenas - I didn't think it would make much of a difference, but I guess those quick crowd shots do have an effect on me. This show was just missing "spectacle", and the drab stage with the giant pretzels didn't help either. My eyes were on Sayumi as usual, and I loved the messy way her hair was styled for the opening numbers! Reina was eating up the attention as always, Eri got more singing lines than I've ever seen before, Aika's solo was really sweet, and Koharu was incredibly annoying. In general, the girls all had tons of energy, but I think they need to dial back on all the "Oi" yelling - the fans can handle that alone just fine! The camera work was pretty good this time, with lots of interesting side angle shots, so maybe they were able to try new camera spots since the stage was smaller. I really enjoyed seeing Biyuden perform as well, and even though they were selling sultriness, it didn't overcome the typical positivity of a Morning Musume concert. I have to mention that the intermission video "puppet show" was an incredible waste of time - I can't imagine even the Japanese fans enjoying that junk! Of course, I still had a good time watching this performance, and sang along with glee - I just don't expect this show to be very high on my "watch again" list.

4.04.2008

The bonus cup

Since I'm a minor coffee snob, I have my own little coffee maker in my office so I don't have to drink the generic Folgers that we have at work. I grind some beans at home every few days and bring them in, so the first thing I do everyday is make my own little pot of caffeine, which I love sipping to wake up while I'm getting settled in. I like small mugs better than huge ones, since a smaller mug means less coffee to get cold, so I've been using a cool Kogepan mug that my pal Barron bought me in Japan everyday for the past several years! I usually have two of those mugs full right away, but then I try to save the rest of my pot for the afternoon. Around 3:00 PM my brain starts shutting down, so it's nice to have an extra sip of coffee without making a new pot (I just nuke the dregs for half a minute!). Lately I've been calling this the "bonus cup" in my own internal monologue. I love seeing that magic hour come along and thinking to my myself, "Time for the bonus cup!" Of course, sometimes I can't resist and I drink it all in the morning, and then I have to suffer in the afternoon. Poor me!

4.03.2008

Manga Mentions 4.08

Although I'm trying not to buy any new books until I finish what I already own, manga is an exception to that rule, since I have to keep up with my ongoing series, and I just think of them as comic books anyway! I've decided to format Manga Mentions as separate mini-paragraphs this time, so we'll see how it looks.

Genshiken Vol 9: This final volume was a nice end to the series, although the first arc of the plot was overall much better than the second. The new American character who "speaks" Japanese only by quoting anime and manga was pretty funny (and thank goodness there are explanations to all the references!), but the incredible "silent chapter" was the best part, where Madarame almost confesses to Kasukabe - such a nice bittersweet moment!

Dr. Slump Vol 14: As usual, this was a super-fast read, finally bringing an end to the Dr. Mashirito saga, which was funny all the way. There's a hilarious plot about Arale discovering she has a "pee-pee" when her head is installed on Obatchaman's body, plus a big reveal at the end - Midori is pregnant! I still miss the days before Slump was married to her and just chasing her around, though.

Buddha Vol 8: Reading this final volume of another Tezuka masterpiece was really sad, since I definitely didn't want it to end! Many previously stories are all tied together, ending the sagas (and lives) of many characters. There's a wonderful sub-plot about Sudatta the beggar that's particularly touching, and Buddha tells the rabbit parable from the first volume again. Reading this series has really taught me a lot about Buddhism and life itself!

Kaze Hikaru Vol 8: Now that I've finished Buddha this may be my favorite series, since I'm always fascinated by not only the detailed Japanese history, but also the deep look into these characters' lives. This volume is a perfect example, which takes a break from the main storyline to look at the childhood of Soji, showing how he was molded by knowing the future captain and vice-captain of the Shinsengumi as a boy.

xxxHolic Vol 10: This volume went by too quickly, but the artwork is even better than usual. There are several dream sequences where Watanuki is helped by the spirit of Doumeki's grandfather, and Himawari-chan's bad luck secret is finally out in the open!

4.02.2008

Superman: The Animated Series Vol 1 : 4 of 5

I decided I couldn't collect the Batman Animated Series DVD sets without also getting the fantastic Superman series by the same talented creators, and watching this actually had some nice synchronicity with seeing Space Ghost, since Alex Toth and Bruce Timm ended up in a huge fight over Superman's design! I've always loved the look of this show, keeping the same feel as Batman, but adding a much brighter, science fiction palette, and every character looks great (except for Jimmy Olsen, with his mini-mullet!). The series had the guts to begin with a three-part retelling of Superman's origin called The Last Son of Krypton, and they really did an incredible job of making the classic tale fresh and exciting. I especially enjoyed the Jack Kirby influences in the design of Krypton, as well as in the episode The Prometheon, which features a huge monster right out of Kirby's brain. Superman's regular villains are nicely done, such as Brainiac and Parasite (even though they aren't as cool as Batman's bad guys), along with new characters like Lex Luthor's S&M bodyguard Mercy. There are a few nice commentaries on this set, as well as two 10-minute documentaries, which should be much longer of course! I've been a huge fan of this series for a long time, and it was great to watch these episodes again and remember my favorite moments. I'll never forget when I first saw Lois looking at Superman's photo and exclaiming "Nice S!" - one of the boldest lines in Saturday morning cartoon history! It's going to be fun collecting the next DVD sets of this series.

4.01.2008

The Jungle Book : 4 of 5

It feels strange to be writing about the last Disney Platinum Edition DVD when a new one is already out, but I'm happy to say that this is a great presentation of the last Disney animated feature with Walt's involvement. There's a nice 45-minute documentary included (which is nice since so many recent DVDs barely squeeze out 15 minutes of information), and I learned a lot about the development of this movie! I never knew about the former "dark version" (closer to Kipling's original) written by Bill Peet, or the subsequent argument with Walt that made him leave the studio, after which Walt changed the story into what we all love today, including the girl from the man village at the end, which was originally controversial among the animators. There's plenty of animation discussion with Andreas Deja looking over some original drawings (I love that stuff!), plus conversation about the first use of "star voices" and the replacement of the original set of songs - The Bare Necessities was almost dropped! There's even footage of Louie Prima's band going nuts in their recording session, which is great stuff. Of course, the movie itself is wonderful, and has some of the best character animation on film. I always cringe a little when they repeat gags to save money (such as Ka's accordion joke which is in twice, cel for cel), but they definitely make up for it with scenes like Baloo tucking Mowgli into bed with leaves, and of course King Louie's dance is pretty awesome! The Jungle Book is really an enjoyable movie, and learning about its history and rocky development makes me appreciate it even more.