9.30.2009

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny / Vol 1 & Vol 2 : 3 of 5

It's time to start my second Mobile Suit Gundam anime series, and since I just finished Gundam SEED, there's no other choice than the immediate sequel Gundam SEED Destiny. Although I've read a few ho-hum comments on this series, I know I'm going to enjoy it simply because I already have a feel for most of the characters and the background of the Cosmic Era in this particular Gundam universe. The new main character is Shinn Asuka, whose family was killed before his eyes in the previous war, leaving him with quite a grudge to bear. Shinn carries around his deceased sister's cell phone so he can hear her voice message, which is a great example of the kind of tragedy than Gundam seems to express so well. This series begins a lot like the previous one with the theft of some new technology mobile suits (called Chaos, Gaia and Abyss), and at first it's very difficult to decipher what nations are fighting and who is to blame, but this only adds to the tension and uncertainty of the conflict! Athrun is kind of undercover as "Alex", acting as Cagali's assistant, and his association with Orb later sparks some animosity from Shinn, who thinks Athrun should be fully on the side of ZAFT and the Coordinators. Shinn pilots the amazing new Impulse Gundam, which can assemble itself in mid-flight and even change equipment, making for some cool launch sequence animation (that I'm sure I'll see again and again throughout the show!). The real problems begin when some Coordinator terrorists force the Junius Seven memorial to fall to Earth, causing catastrophic damage and prodding the Earth forces into declaring war against the Coordinators once again. It's sad to see a time of peace drawn inevitably into conflict, and even Athrun begins to be swayed to fight. So far I'm loving the opening and closing themes and animation (although Shinn and Athrun look extremely similar, making you depend on their uniforms to tell them apart at times), and I can't wait to keep watching this saga until the end!

9.29.2009

Logan's Run / William F. Nolan : 4 of 5

Logan's Run has always been one of my favorite geeky movies (I have no idea how many times I've watched it!), so I've wanted to check out the original 1967 novel for quite a while, which unfortunately is nearly completely out of print. PaperBack Swap came to the rescue yet again, and I received a cool movie tie-in version that even included a nice color photo section as a bonus! Of course, the novel is tremendously different than the movie, but I totally enjoyed reading it and gaining new appreciation both for the source material and the way the story was adapted for film (which is pretty amazing, when you compare the two). The basic premise of a society so overpopulated that everyone must die (or accept "sleep") at a young age remains intact, but the novel provides some excellent background information on the "Little War" that started it all, in which the exploding youth population invented this radical and chilling solution. While the film takes place in one massive complex of domed cities, the book has Logan and Jessica traveling all over the country via mazecar, visiting an underwater city and even Dakota caves on their way to Washington, DC for the finale. In one city, there's a huge celebration with a robotic Civil War historic reenactment (Logan steals a costume to become part of the mock battle to escape), and there are also great scenes in a giant nursery complex as well as a chase from some seedy characters on something like Star Wars speeder-bikes! The writing style is a bit choppy, but this definitely works to speed up the action, although some scenes are overflowing with cool detail (such as the attention paid to the different types of bullets in a Sandman's gun, which have great names like Ripper, Tangler, and the deadly Homer!). The ending of the story contains a huge twist that completely shocked me, and although I think it was written too briskly, I liked the way things turned out. The plot of the film is much more concise and will always be my preference due to sheer geek nostalgia, but I'm so glad that I finally got to read the original book.

9.28.2009

Walt Disney World 2009 / Days 4-5

I have two more days of my recent Walt Disney World vacation to cover, so here we go! I scheduled the fourth day as a full day at the Magic Kingdom, which I thought would give Melinda and me just enough time to fit in all of the attractions. However, since we had already been to the Magic Kingdom twice already (once for Wishes and again for the Halloween party), we had already checked off several busy attractions off our list, which left this full day wide-open to enjoy lots of entertainment! Of course, we rode several rides again, and I was really impressed with the slightly longer versions of the Fantasyland dark rides, and totally blown away by the new staircase room in the Haunted Mansion. I loved watching Dream Along With Mickey (the only stage show with new technology that allows Mickey and his pals to move their mouths and blink their eyes), and right after the show we were suddenly "trapped" in the hub by the new Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! Street Party! It was really fun to dance along with the characters, and it was cool to be in the middle of a spontaneous party in the middle of our day. We even got to watch the Celebrate a Dream Come True parade, as well as SpectroMagic at night, and somehow we lucked out into riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the exact moment that the Wishes fireworks were going off, which was a totally surreal experience!

We spent the last day at Hollywood Studios, making the morning march along with everyone else in the park directly to Toy Story Midway Mania, definitely one of the best (and certainly the most popular) new attractions in quite a while! The new Pixar street area and attraction queue are fantastic, full of giant classic toys, and the ride itself is so much fun that I could ride it all day! After spending the morning gathering Fastpasses, we got to see all the shows, including Lights, Motors, Action, plus we went to the Animation building to meet Mickey, Russell and Dug from Up, and even the Incredibles (I got to request a special cool pose from Elastigirl)! After surviving the Tower of Terror and Rock N Roller Coaster (which was somehow less scary than usual - maybe after Mission: Space I can take anything!), we got great seats for Fantasmic, which was awesome as always, and then took a quick look at the One Man's Dream exhibit to end the day. I could go on and on about all of the other attractions, restaurants, snacks, and other things we saw, but I guess I've pretty much covered the trip. Every detail just magically worked out, making the whole five days simply a perfect Disney vacation for total Disney geeks like Melinda and me!

View photos: WDW 2009 Days 4-5

9.25.2009

Walt Disney World 2009 / Days 1-3

Now that I've picked some good photos from the first three days of my Walt Disney World trip, it's time to hit some more highlights! After checking in at the resort (which was really smooth with both Disney's Magical Express as well as online resort check in!), we rode the bus to Downtown Disney, enjoyed riding the Characters in Flight balloon, and immediately got most of our essential shopping done. I had made a list of possible toys to buy myself, and I ended up getting them all at the Once Upon a Toy store (then had them conveniently delivered to the resort so I wouldn't have to carry them)! Next we rode the Monorail around and quickly visited the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian, then stopped at the Magic Kingdom for dinner at Crystal Palace. We had a great time with all the Winnie the Pooh characters, enjoyed a couple Fantasyland attractions, then had a great spot to watch the Wishes fireworks show!

The next day was all Epcot, and the major event was being brave enough to join the Orange Team for Mission: Space! On the last trip, Melinda and I chickened out and joined the Green Team, but this time we were determined to feel those sustained G-forces, and it was totally incredible! The launch was awesome, and I could really feel the pressure on my cheeks and hands as I pressed buttons for the mission. I also enjoyed the changes on Spaceship Earth, including the new narration and the Apple garage scene! Moving on to World Showcase, the addition of the Three Caballeros to the Mexico pavilion was hilarious, and it was fun taking a nice stroll around the countries with a couple drinks. We had dinner at Restaurant Akershus with Belle, Jasmine, Cinderella, Ariel and Pocahontas, and the food was delicious! Of course, we ended the day with a great spot for Illuminations, close to the water, which was pretty exciting!

On the next morning we headed to Animal Kingdom and rode almost every attraction before lunch! Expedition Everest was fantastic (but I think the Yeti lighting needed some adjustment), and as always I was overwhelmed by Festival of the Lion King. Our big meal for the day was at Tusker House, and I was so impressed with the variety of the buffet - I ate all kinds of interesting veggies and tofu, too! We had to leave Animal Kingdom after lunch in order to get to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, which I commented on previously. Since this was our second Magic Kingdom visit, we got to ride even more attractions, which set up the next day with lots of free time to enjoy the entertainment! By the way, if you have a chance to go to the Halloween party, don't pass it up - it's really an amazing event that had me wowed the whole time, and staying at the park until midnight was a blast!

View photos: WDW 2009 Days 1-3

9.24.2009

Battle in Outer Space : 3 of 5

I'm really excited about exploring all of the classic non-Godzilla Toho films, so I was thrilled to read about this new inexpensive DVD set on the Giant Monsters on the Loose blog. The Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection includes the original Mothra (which I previously reviewed), along with two other movies which I'll review separately, starting with the 1959 science fiction film Battle in Outer Space. While this movie doesn't feature any kaiju, it was made by the Godzilla masters (direction by Honda, effects by Tsuburaya, and music by Ikufube), so it really has that Showa era feel. Battle in Outer Space is primarily a special effects showcase with almost no character development at all. Of course, this would normally be a bad thing, but the miniatures and effects shots are so fascinating that they completely make up for it! The plot is pretty simplistic, with aliens from the planet Natal establishing a base on the moon so they can attack the earth using their ultimate weapon, an anti-gravity ray that can lift entire buildings so they crumble to pieces. The governments of the world unite to send two ships to the moon to destroy the base, beginning a long sequence of beautiful shots. I loved the classic rocket and saucer designs, and the various maneuvers (especially using thrusters to rotate the ship for landing) were incredible! The moonscape itself, which is the setting of a nice laser battle, was great (even if their rover vehicles look a bit like wiener-mobiles). This scene also provides the one emotional moment of the film, when Iwamura, who sabotaged the mission while under alien mind control, sacrifices himself to let the other crew members escape. Eventually the aliens do attack, which starts a huge dogfight in space, with exciting effects that are especially incredible when you consider this movie was made 18 years before Star Wars! The destruction of both New York City and the Golden Gate Bridge was pretty impressive as well. This DVD (along with Mothra) contains a brilliant commentary by some of the same kaiju scholars from the Classic Media Godzilla releases, which provides so many fascinating facts that it's almost as good as the film itself. I can't wait to watch the third movie in this set and then move on to other Toho classics!

9.23.2009

A perfect Walt Disney World adventure

Last week I took a fantastic vacation to Walt Disney World with my fellow Disney pro Melinda, and it was definitely a trip for the record books! Looking back over the five days, we literally experienced nearly every single attraction in all four theme parks, as well as tons of shows and entertainment! Of course, we had to get up early, stay out late, and walk our feet off (and we have the blisters to prove it), but it was worth it to have so much fun. Amazingly, even though the weather forecast said there was a 40% chance of precipitation every day, we never saw a drop of rain (maybe because of my "lucky umbrella" which makes the clouds go away!). There's a lot to mention, so I'll have to stretch this report over a few WEBmikey posts (which will give me time to select the best shots from over 1,000 photos!), but I'll get started with a few overview highlights.

My resort this time was All-Star Movies, which is one of the value resorts, but it still has nice rooms and super-cool huge character displays all around the buildings. I was excited to get the Toy Story building, which was really close to the food court for breakfast, as well as the gift shop and bus stop for those early morning rides to the parks!

We were lucky enough to book our trip during a great promotion that gave us the Disney Dining Plan for free, which meant we hardly spent a dime on food and still pigged out! It was always so amazing to look at a menu and realize I could get anything I wanted, and every meal came with dessert (I ate so much ice cream). Snacks were included each day as well, so I got to have all my favorites: Mickey Premium ice cream bar, Dole Whip, frozen banana, and a giant pretzel, too!

Thanks to the amazing weather, we got to ride the fairly new Characters in Flight balloon ride at Downtown Disney. It was really cool to be lifted 400 feet up by a giant helium balloon, and the view was great (you could see the major icons of almost every park)! The landing was pretty exciting as the tether pulled the balloon back to the ground, too!

The best entirely new experience of the trip was definitely Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party! It was so cool to be part of the "special" (which means, willing to pay extra!) guests that got to stay in the Magic Kingdom from 7:00 PM until midnight, with tons of exclusive things to see and do! We got to trick or treat and munch on candy, meet tons of Disney characters in special Halloween costumes (we also saw incredibly rare occurrences like Snow White with all seven dwarfs!), and of course, visit the Haunted Mansion, where all the cast members were decked out in scary make-up. There was a special Happy HalloWishes fireworks show with awesome spooky effects, plus an incredible Halloween parade featuring fantastic Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean characters as well as the Headless Horseman (galloping on a real horse)! Finally, we saw a cool show in front of the castle with all the classic Disney villains, which topped off this huge night of Halloween fun!

View photos: WDW Pals 2009

9.22.2009

Star Trek / Mirror Images : 3 of 5

I've been reading a lot of Star Trek comics this year, especially anything set in the era of the Original Series, and I'm pretty impressed with the great stories out there! Star Trek comics are great because they can include scenes that would have been impossible to film or too expensive back in the Shatner/Nimoy days, and they can also tell obscure tales that only fans would adore. This comic collection is set in the alternate universe of the episode Mirror, Mirror (which everyone knows as the "Spock with a beard" episode), where the Federation is known as the Empire and all the characters are ruthless cutthroats! The plot takes place prior to the TV episode, while evil Kirk is only second-in-command under evil Captain Pike. The story is full of backstabbing and deceit, even from evil Spock (who is cruel in the name of logic, of course), and beautifully rendered with fantastic, moody artwork with great use of shadows and dramatic lighting. Most of the story involves the building of Kirk's spying device in his quarters (which he uses in Mirror, Mirror), which Scotty has to secretly build from parts smuggled in by green Orion slave girls wearing the components as their sexy outfits! The book also includes a short interlude story set in the Next Generation timeline (but still in the alternate evil universe), in which a young Picard kills a Vulcan captain to rise in rank. There are several fight scenes and lots of brief dialogue, which makes this book a quick read overall, but I still totally enjoyed this tribute to one of the most popular and unique episodes of the Original Series. I'm looking forward to buying more Star Trek graphic novels soon!

9.15.2009

Bolt / Two-Disc Deluxe Edition : 4 of 5

It's only appropriate that my last WEBmikey post before I head to Walt Disney World is for a Disney animated feature on DVD! As always, watching the bonus features on this disc has given me a better appreciation of the film (which I really enjoyed when I saw the sneak preview, though I certainly wouldn't call it an instant classic), and I really had a great time watching it again with a new set of eyes. Truthfully, in the theater I didn't notice how wonderful the backgrounds are, which actually have digital information removed to give them a more artistic look, so this time I hardly looked at the characters! Well, that's not totally true, since I really like Rhino the hamster, and I thought it was cool that the Disney story artist who recorded the scratch tracks for Rhino's voice was chosen for the actual role. Bolt was headed-up by two first-time directors (although they have 14 years experience at Disney!), but John Lasseter was really involved as well, and it's fun to watch the story meetings (as well as see the cool Disney offices) in the brief documentary included on the disc. By the way, even though this is a two-disc edition, the second disc only contains the digital version of the movie, which was kind of a disappointment. At least they managed to squeeze quite a bit (relatively speaking) on the feature disc, which also includes a couple nice deleted scenes (I actually preferred the Las Vegas setting for Bolt to learn he doesn't have powers) and the new short Super Rhino, which can only be described as "fully awesome"! Overall, I really enjoyed Bolt on DVD since I could really take notice of the wonderful art direction and lighting, which proves that Disney still cares about the art of animation. They still have a long way to go to match the emotional impact of a Pixar film, but at least Bolt knocks something like Chicken Little right out of the park!

9.14.2009

9 : 3 of 5

9 is a rare combination of generes that rarely work together - the story is first and foremost pure science fiction, yet presented in the medium of animation. While the average theatergoer will always equate animation with children's films, 9 is definitely an adult story - animation is simply used because the circumstances of the plot demand it (since we can't actually build small robotic dolls with burlap skin that can act!). 9 takes place in a post-apocalyptic world full of rubble and dust - there are no human characters at all, except for flashbacks, and much of the film is spent slowly revealing both what has happened and what's going on now for these nine living creations. Each of the dolls has a distinct personality, almost as if they were separate sides of a single mind (and there's a very good, if obvious, reason for that), and watching their interactions was fascinating to me. I wouldn't really call it character development, but it's definitely something like "character discovery", as both the dolls and the audience learn who they are together. However, I would say over half the movie is pure action, as the dolls battle against maniacal (and often horrific) mechanical creatures. These fights are all exciting, but definitely super-intense and PG-13 creepy (possibly to be expected since Focus Features also released Coraline!). It's easy to say that 9's plot is a bit thin, but I enjoyed the ambiguity (especially during the ending) and wondering what these creations can hope to accomplish in their bleak world. 9 is certainly an artistic, dystopian bit of science fiction, and I'd definitely recommend it to fans of movies like Blade Runner!

9.13.2009

Walt Disney World around the corner

Later this week I'll be heading to Walt Disney World with my pal Melinda, and I'm super excited! This will be my fourth trip to Orlando, and I've always had magical adventures with family and friends (for the record, the first was with Chris & Eliza, the second with Jonathan, the third with Mom & Dad, and the fourth with Melinda). As usual, I've been working out every detail of the itinerary for the past several weeks, using excellent sites like TourGuideMiKE and the fairly new Disney Mom's Panel. The biggest new experience for this trip will be Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, featuring a special parade (with the Headless Horseman!), Halloween fireworks, trick or treating, and of course, the opportunity to keep riding attractions until midnight! I'm also looking forward to some great Disney eating, since our vacation package included the Disney Dining Plan for free. It's going to be an amazing adventure, so get ready for lots of tweets from the parks!

9.11.2009

The Day the Earth Stood Still : 4 of 5

A few weeks ago I went with my pals Matt & Kumiko to Austin's Paramount Theater to see the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, one of the best classic science fiction films of all time. Since I missed this recent remake of the movie at the theater, I thought it would be nice to rent it while the original was fresh in my mind, and I really enjoyed it (and noticed several details that I wouldn't have picked out otherwise). The basic storyline is intact, but this version stretches things out as much as possible, even adding extra scenes such as a 1928 alien landing in order to gather human DNA. I really liked all of the tension surrounding the landing in Central Park, from the emergency gathering of scientists (with only 78 minutes to go!) to the cool lights of the sphere over Manhattan. Of course, Gort is involved in many more action scenes for a modern, effects-crazy audience, but thankfully still has his original minimalist design. Keanu Reeves is a convincing Klaatu (of course, he excels at dead-pan characters who never crack a single smile), who is born as a human to try to convince humanity to stop destroying Earth. Even though his role is small, John Cleese did a fantastic job in his role as the recluse scientist, and the chalkboard scene was an awesome nod to the original film. Although the remake takes some liberties with giving Klaatu extra powers and building up to an action-packed climax, I never found myself groaning or wishing it had been done differently, which is a good thing. The ending is a little abrupt and maybe even a bit open ended, but managed to recreate another classic plot point, so I was happy with it. Overall I had a great time enjoying this remake, but I would always recommend the original black & white film if you only have time to watch one!

9.10.2009

Haunted by Ghost in the Shell

This isn't really a review, but I thought I should comment on a new anime world that I've been immersed in recently. Way back when I first started watching anime, I rented most of the "essentials" of the genre, including films like Akira and of course, Ghost in the Shell. At the time I wasn't into manga and had never heard of Shirow Masamune, but since then I've become a fan of his detailed cyberpunk style through Appleseed, so I was interested in looking at his other work with new appreciation. Although I almost never watch dubbed anime, I decided to make an exception for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, since it was just too tempting to have it accessible on Netflix Watch Instantly. I was completely blown away by the series, and kept watching episode after episode until I finished it all! I'm a sucker for all the incredible technology, modern cities, and even cool cars, with fantastic characters and plots to boot. The implications of cyberbrains in an always-connected world and all the accompanying philosophical questions are fascinating, and it was thrilling watching Section 9 solve all the various crimes this kind of world makes possible (including "hacking eyes" to conceal identity!). I also really fell for the Tachikomas (intelligent "tanks"), and now I'm dying to add them to my toy collection! After finishing the series, I decided to watch the original movie again, which was excellent (I don't think I appreciated the slow montages the first time around), and I also viewed the third movie, which has one of the longest titles I know: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society! I can't wait to check out the second complete series, as well as the second movie, but I think I need to watch another Gundam series while Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is still pretty fresh in my mind. There's just too much anime and not enough time!

9.09.2009

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol 1 / Power & Responsibility : 3 of 5

Although my comic book tastes seem to lean to the DC side, I still love Marvel characters, too. I've been wanting to take a look at the Ultimate Marvel series, where classic heroes are "updated" into today's world, and finding this seven issue collection of the rebooted Spider-Man on PaperBack Swap was the perfect opportunity! The original Spider-Man origin story that everyone knows was only a single issue, so it's nice to see this re-telling spread out with much more detail. Truthfully, I was expecting this new version to be much more different, but all of the significant plot elements remain intact. The small changes are still interesting, though - Peter Parker is only 15 years old, Mary Jane is brainy like Peter, and Uncle Ben has a ponytail (I guess that one wasn't too significant!). The biggest change is that Norman Osborn and the origin of the Green Goblin (who is much more of a monster in this universe) is directly linked to Peter's spider bite, since the spider is from an experiment with a drug called "Oz" that also becomes the agent to create the Green Goblin. The artwork is all excellent, especially during a long aerial fight with the Goblin, and I thought the storytelling was well done (Uncle Ben's power and responsibility speech was delivered with excellent subtlety). I liked the extra time spent on Peter's short wrestling career, as well as his interaction with the high school jocks, but in general the story still feels like classic Spider-Man, retold with better pacing and care. After reading this, I don't really have the urge to keep digging into this alternate reality, although I definitely won't hesitate to pick up more Ultimate Marvel titles on PaperBack Swap if I run across them!

9.08.2009

Inazuman / Complete Series : 4 of 5

Thanks to my introduction to Kikaida several years ago, I've been a 70s Japanese superhero addict ever since, so I'm always excited when a new DVD set is released on the Generation Kikaida website. Their latest offering is Inazuman (staring Ban Daisuke, Jiro/Kikaida himself!), and I had a fantastic time watching this entire series! Of course, the usual tokusatsu formula is intact (a cool theme song, an evil organization to defeat, a new villain in each episode), but Inazuman has some truly unique aspects that make it a stand-out show. Watari Goro undergoes a two-level transformation, first changing into Sanagiman (who must endure some punches to gain energy for the next phase), and finally into Inazuman, who is an incredibly powerful hero with the ability to reverse enemy attacks! But that's not all, because there's also Raijingo, Inazuman's sentient car that flies, shoots missiles, and can even do complex things like rescue Inazuman from a pile of rubble (Raijingo even has its own theme song!). Inazuman fights for the Youth League (who start out wearing orange uniforms that look like the Science Patrol in Ultraman) against Emperor Bamba and his minions, who are all named "Something" Bambara (the craziest was Paint Bambara, who is made out of giant oil paint tubes!). While the series begins quite lighthearted, it really changes around Episode 11 when Goro discovers his mother was transformed into Rose Bambara against her will. From this moment on, the show has a lot more tension and emotional impact! Similar to the other DVD sets available from Generation Kikaida, there are tons of fantastic extras, including incredibly detailed factoids that are fun to read, karaoke versions of the theme songs, plus informative interviews with the actors and die-hard fans. Now that I'm officially into Inazuman (I already have a T-shirt!), I'm really hoping they will release the follow-up series Inazuman Flash, because I can never get enough tokusatsu!

9.07.2009

Manga Mentions 9.09

xxxHolic Vol 13: It's been quite a while since I've read this series, and it's actually getting a little old (I'm definitely tired of the stupid Tsubasa cross-over stuff), but since I've come this far I feel like I have to keep reading it! In this volume it seems there's an end to Kohane-chan's problems, and there are a few intriguing lines, but none of the charm that got me started on this series, unfortunately. I'm caught up with the publishing dates of almost all of the manga I'm reading now, which means I have to wait months for each new volume!

Kaze Hikaru Vol 13: Even this fantastic series seems to have lost a little steam (maybe the 13th volume is unlucky?), but there's still an interesting emotional plot to get into, since Kamiya begins to face the fact that she's just not as strong as a man (even though she's posing as one!). The side story this time involves Kashitaro's dejected overweight brother Miki, who becomes Kamiya's friend so they can encourage each other.

Nodame Cantabile Vol 16: Now that my pal Kumiko has read the entire Nodame Cantabile series in Japanese, I'm totally jealous that I have to wait three months between each new translated volume! This time Chiaki concentrates on getting the Roux-Marlet orchestra in shape, while the rest of the story features Tanya and Kuroki. Nodame herself doesn't appear much, but when she does she presents a hilarious photo collection of her beloved Chiaki!

Hikaru no Go Vol 16: Since Hikaru is being boring while he's depressed about losing Sai, the story focuses instead on Isumi living in China for awhile to study Go with other dedicated students. This is an excellent subplot that really had me interested, and it looks like it's going to finally get HIkaru back in the game!

Appleseed Vol 3: I'm really starting to become a Masamune fan and enjoying the way it feels to dive deep into his futuristic world (which means examining each page for all of the insane details)! This volume is filled with international intrigue and politics, including a huge action-packed operation in France as well as the capture of a renegade Bioroid, plus a bunch of conversations between Deunan and Hitomi (usually lounging around half-naked).

9.06.2009

Macintosh developer nostalgia

Several months ago as I watched Welcome to Macintosh, I started thinking that I should write an essay on my early computer career, which involved using Macs at CITGO Petroleum Corporation. I was really lucky to get hired at just the right time (I actually got the job a semester before I graduated, mainly because the interviewer was fascinated that I had classical music and Shakespeare courses on my transcript!), because CITGO was starting to look at alternatives to their giant mainframe in the new world of Client/Server Computing (yes, there was a time when that was a cutting edge concept!). They told me I was going to use Macs and a scriptable spreadsheet called WingZ, so I spent some time reading a few books about it before moving to Tulsa.

CITGO is a big corporation accustomed to spending big bucks, so I had a top-of-the-line Mac with two huge monitors (I couldn’t believe it!), and I was given time to play around with WingZ, building graphical user interfaces to crunch numbers with charts like no one in the company had ever seen on their green screen terminals. Later I learned HyperCard (how nostalgic!) and used it as a front-end to a mainframe application. I thought this was really cool since it did some terminal screen-scraping in the background with a cool UI on the front-end. We had Apple reps in all the time who loved to make sales to big businesses like CITGO, and they always brought me cool goodies like coffee mugs and mousepads! Once they invited me and my boss to the Infomart in Dallas (where Apple had a huge business center at the time) to present the things we were working on to Apple staff, and they treated us like royalty!

Soon the CITGO big wigs saw that we should do more stuff with Macs, and they hired more people into my group – all of us became great friends and had fun together for the next several years. It was a total blast to go on business trips to the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (I got to go three years in a row and gasp at the first public demonstration of QuickTime!) and even MacWorld, not spending a dime of my own money (and of course, sometimes we would go a day early to hit Disneyland or rent a convertible!). During one of these trips I got to see part of the Apple campus in Cupertino, and even went out for sushi (my first time ever) with some Apple employees. It was all pretty amazing!

Our Mac group eventually started working with 4th Dimension (a development environment that’s still around today) with an Oracle database back-end (the SQL knowledge I gained learning Oracle is something I still use every day in my current job). We hired a 4D expert from Tulsa, who became a great friend and later hired me away from CITGO to do consulting with him in Austin! We built a giant application called FAMOS (a silly acronym) to track oil tanker schedules, which ended up gaining some notoriety (and saving CITGO lots of money). First, Apple and Oracle were working together to promote their products in big business, so they brought in a film crew to make a video about our successful application. It was a crazy day at work (cameras and lights everywhere), and I got to click around in the app and say a few things on camera! (I recently imported this video from VHS, which was a blast to see, even though I was extra overweight at the time!) Next, my boss and I were asked to be guest speakers at 4D Summit (the 4th Dimension developer conference) in San Francisco, and I got to demonstrate the application and show some of my techniques to about 1,000 people (with a Steve Jobs-style giant screen for the demo!). I can hardly believe those events happened even today.

The next step in my Apple development was to "go deeper" and learn how to build applications using C++ and MacApp (Apple's old object-oriented code framework which was used to build the original versions of classics like Photoshop). Of course, this meant more fun out-of-town training at Apple's Developer University, where I went to some pretty intense MacApp classes that not only solidified the object-oriented concepts I had learned in college, but also familiarized me with lots of Mac internals that are still similar in iPhone development today. Not only did I get to take these courses, but CITGO even flew out an Apple employee to tutor me in Tulsa! I remember he was a nice guy who helped me quite a bit with memory management and other areas, and we often had lunch so he could talk about his cool California lifestyle and his red Miata. The only thing I actually wrote with MacApp was a desktop faxing application, but it was still pretty cutting edge to be able to drag and drop any document without getting up and walking to the fax machine!

There were a few other fun aspects to my Apple enthusiasm, such as running a CITGO Mac user group at the office (with presentations and even a newsletter), and getting to be involved in various beta testing programs (I was part of a committee helping to refine an attempt to bring PowerBuilder to the Mac), but eventually CITGO's efforts were all directed towards SAP, which was the perfect catalyst to convince me to move to Austin. I'll always be nostalgic about my early career, and I'm thankful that I got to experience so many things during such an explosive change in the industry!

Watch video: Apple Success Story Video
Be prepared - I was pretty overweight in 1992!

9.04.2009

Last of the Jedi Vol 7 / Jude Watson : 3 of 5

I'm still enjoying this incredible Star Wars series since I'm fascinated with these imaginative events that take place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. I always end up waiting a little too long between reading each volume (since I have to keep up with manga and other books!), but thankfully there is a new Guide to Characters that covers everyone in the story (which really helped me out!). In this part of the saga, Ferus Olin is operating as a double-agent, officially working with the Empire right under the nose of Darth Vader. This is especially dramatic since Ferus was friends with Anakin at the Jedi Academy (as seen in Jude Watson's previous Star Wars books), and there's a scene where Ferus almost begins to figure out who Vader could be after studying his fighting moves! The setting this time is the planet Belassa (where Ferus is from, which makes him look like a traitor to his people), and the Empire is stepping up factory production for a huge project (which I am guessing could be the Death Star, since Grand Moff Tarkin is involved!). There are also scenes on Coruscant involving the kidnapping of a Force-sensitive boy, including other familiar characters such as Dexter Jettster. The end of this volume has a really sad and dramatic scene that I can't reveal, but it leads to the Emperor talking to Ferus and offering him the same kind of "training" he gave to Vader! Hopefully I'll read the next volume before I forget what's going on. Things are getting exciting and chilling - I almost wish there was a movie of this series!

9.03.2009

Mikey-lite strikes back

Back in 2005, I lost 25 pounds and was really proud of myself. I had always wanted to drop five more, but slowly I let the weight creep back on and basically never recovered from an especially gluttonous Christmas! Since that time, I half-heartedly struggled with losing a little and gaining a little, and eating way too many pizzas and milkshakes, and basically just accepting being overweight. Then in May I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time with my pal Ryan, and while I was there, the thought kept occurring to me that I really could lose weight again. Somehow the Grand Canyon was so unreal and incredible to me that it inspired me to do something “unreal”, too. It was like flipping a switch, because when I got back to Austin, my cravings and temptations were basically gone. Well not really, but I had no doubts that I could overcome them!

I didn’t do any research or anything – I just knew I wanted to eat fresh food (no more TV dinners), as close to natural as my lazy no-cooking lifestyle would allow. So, I quickly settled on a small set of foods, and ate nothing else:
Lettuce, canned tuna, canned salmon, black beans, eggs, chicken breast, fruit cups, raisins, almonds, carrots, yogurt, oatmeal, frozen vegetables, blueberries, grapes, fruit juice, green tea, water, lite beer
I was so strict with these foods at first that I even went to friends’ BBQs and dinner parties without eating a bite. On vacations I still ate whatever I wanted, but the setbacks were pretty small, and I got back on track right away!

At the same time, I started walking almost everyday. During the workday I take two walks just under 1.5 miles each, and on the weekends I try to do a two mile walk. I started loving the crazy 100-degree Austin heat and enjoying sweating! I’ve also been hitting the Wii pretty regularly, too (though I only started that about a month ago).

Back when I was struggling and not getting anywhere, my pals gave me a Japanese daruma for my birthday. You are supposed to draw the pupil of one eye while making a wish, and then draw in the second pupil when the wish comes true. Back then I decided I wanted to lose 30 pounds (more than I lost in 2005), and today I reached my goal. My daruma finally has depth perception! It may have taken me a few years to get my butt in gear, but I finally lost the weight! It’s been fun wearing shirts that I never wore because they were too tight, and wearing the smaller-sized pants that I saved from 2005!

Now that I’ve hit my target weight, I’m going to change absolutely nothing. I’m going to eat the same foods and do the same amount of exercise, except I'll allow myself to indulge every now and then, mainly with friends when the opportunity arises. I’m also going to keep a short leash on my maximum weight, and if it hits a certain number then I’m switching back into strict mode for a while. Even though maintenance seems a little scary (since I didn’t do well before), right now I’m just happy and excited with what I've been able to accomplish, and I’m going to use that excitement to keep myself fit in the future!

9.02.2009

Sailor Moon Scout Guides / Sailor Moon & Sailor Mercury : 3 of 5

I'm not ashamed to say I'll always be a Sailor Moon fan, but I would never have gone searching for these books if they hadn't shown up on PaperBack Swap, where they were impossible to resist! These Scout Guides came out a few years ago (now out of print), and there was a book for each main Sailor Moon character, but there were only two available to swap. Each book is crammed with full color artwork and tons of frames from the anime, with first-person writing to reveal the "secrets" of the character (you know, important things like their favorite ice cream and stuff like that!). It's kind of fun to see all the frames of their transformation scenes and attacks (easier than freeze-framing a DVD), and I enjoyed reading summaries of some great episodes that I remember watching a few years ago. There's a ton of text about nearly every bit character and enemy in the show, but lots of it is written sideways (to be stylish, I guess), so it's totally annoying to read. Strangely, the text sometimes uses the original Japanese names, but sometimes throws in the lame English dub names (I will never refer to Usagi as Serena!). Each book ends with a section of poetry, which is actually the lyrics to some of the sappy romance songs from the show, such as Tuxedo Mirage (I actually like that stuff!). Overall these are pretty fun books, and I wouldn't mind getting the rest of the series if I stumble upon them. These books kind of make me feel like watching some of the anime series again - maybe I can find time to see at least one of the Sailor Moon movies!

9.01.2009

Netflix One-Liners 9.09

Batman: I love re-watching old favorites on Watch Instantly, so it was fun to check out Tim Burton’s original Batman movie again, which really ignited the whole superhero entertainment industry, as well as inspiring the Batman Animated Series!
The Poseidon Adventure: I hadn’t watched a disaster movie in a long time, so I thought I would take a look at one of the classics, and I was actually pretty impressed with the story, upside-down effects, and characterization (especially by Gene Hackman).
Poseidon: I couldn’t resist watching this modern remake so soon after the original, which of course had tons of flashy effects, but really fell short in the character department (everyone was basically boring or stereotyped).
Armageddon: Yes, I had never seen this before, and truthfully, I only wanted to watch it since it’s so often parodied, but at least now I know the first two-thirds are really terrible (so much sap!), but the action scenes in the final third are pretty cool.
Across the Universe: I remembered being intrigued by the trailer for this musical inspired by Beatles music, and even though I’m not into 60s culture, I absolutely loved the film and the creative way they integrated all of the original lyrics!
Beneath the Planet of the Apes: Every few years I have to watch all of the Planet of the Apes films (which are all on Watch Instantly except for the first), so I had fun as usual watching the creepy mutants take on the gorillas!
Escape from the Planet of the Apes: I love all the subtle laughs in this movie (such as “grape juice plus”), but it’s still a fantastic setup for the bizarre timeline (though I always crack up at the “Mama! Mama!” chimp at the end!).
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes: I’m fascinated by the details of how the apes gain intelligence, but the extended battles run a little long for me, though I think Caesar’s final speech is pretty chilling.
Battle for the Planet of the Apes: Even though this final film is really low budget, the way it ties everything together (including clips from Escape) is still pretty genius, and Caesar’s character is interesting and complex!
Hancock: I totally missed this in the theater, so I was glad to find it on Watch Instantly, even though the second half of the movie was a little too “out there” to balance out the superhero farce feeling of the first half (still a decent film, though).