Sunday, January 27, 2008

More LED Toy Fun

I'm a sucker for these things.

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By al - 12:48 AM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Another New Geek Toy

Check this out..



I should be too old to enjoy things like this but it hasn't happened yet.

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By al - 12:26 AM | (2) comments | Post a Comment

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A week at the movies

My membership to City Cinema had run out a little while ago, and since the member price has recently gone up I had decided not to bother getting another one. But after going there for the third night in four days I probably should have ponied up for one already.

On Monday I saw Control, a biopic about Ian Curtis, former singer of the band Joy Division. What I liked about it was the way it painted industrial Britain in the late 1970s. Partly with the black and white .. I was going to write 'film' but it was shot in colour and just transformed to B&W afterwards. Not sure how to refer to that. Anyway, it gave everything a sea of grey and beige tones, rather than the more stark high-contrast look of a lot of traditional black and white films. Also, the sparse sets and props they used, likely out of budget constraints. But the rooms were very bare, and everything seemed lifeless and people fittingly bleak, it all came together to make you completely understand and appreciate why someone would want to start making the kind of music Joy Division were known for.

The other pretty impressive accomplishment of the film was to convince me, for the first time, to believe a rock star when he says he never wanted to be famous. I usually don't believe it, but the way the actor playing Curtis talked about how performing and touring took so much energy out of him, coupled with the epileptic fits he suffered from, which he had only recently realized could kill him, you can empathize with a young kid who just wanted his simple contented life back.

On Wednesday I saw Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. I have a bit of a problem when seeing movies in the theatres, where if there's a really uncomfortable moment where a character is doing something utterly terrible or heartbreaking, I will start to laugh. I have very little ability to take things seriously when I know they're fiction, conceived in a writer's mind and thrown up on the screen for my enjoyment. I can't get scared at horror movies and I can't get upset when a character acts as completely evilly and reprehensibly as the characters in this film. That's not to say it wasn't good, it was excellent with some of the best acting I've seen in a long time. I just felt like kind of funny for getting such a kick out of it while everyone else in the theatre would gasp and shake their heads while I'd be barely suppressing a giggle.

And I just got back from How to Cook Your Life, a nice, straightforward documentary about a zen master who uses cooking to illustrate some zen principles to those who come to his centre.

I've always seen zen teachers like him as more entertainers than true spiritual leaders to be revered, probably because I don't believe in revering or in any way approaching worshipping another person. And I appreciate them for what they are and what they are good at, but at the same time the people who pay the thousands of dollars to go to these things often are just looking for spiritual enlightenment at the end of a credit card, just a trendier version than what they'd get at church.

But all that said, he does do a good job of getting people to live in the moment, practise mindfulness and try and let go of their stresses and worries by engaging them in the act of cooking. This is definitely much more interesting than most buddhism for yuppies sessions where you just sit around watching yourself breathe for a while.

And it's a funny example of the nature of Zen as well, that you find Zen in the simplest things, and even the most necessary things, like cooking and eating, but in that it is really nothing hidden that you will find and then reach some higher level of existence, it's just a very insistent idea that everything just is the way it is, and you might as well learn to live with it.

My version of putting that principle into practise was how I really did enjoy my quiet walk home in this Canadian winter, and being able to genuinely enjoy walking in the kind of weather that makes itself known and forces you out of your own mind and into observing every step and every breath, whether you want to or not.

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By al - 11:43 PM | (4) comments | Post a Comment

Sunday, January 20, 2008

1x05: The Last Outpost

Back to the Star Trek Next Generation watching, it seems. This is what happens when you have a roommate who needs the TV for four hours or so to watch football.

This episode opens with an ominous introduction as Picard talks about the first encounter the Federation will ever have with a mysterious race called the Ferengi. We're clearly meant to think that these will be to this series what the Klingons were to the original series, strange and threatening.

But then they go and show, among oohs and ahhs from Geordi, who's at the helm today for some reason, what their ship looks like.

Does anyone else get the impression of eyes and teeth peeking out under a squashed Marvin the Martian helmet? Are we frightened yet?

Picard "very impressive design."

Indeed.

The planet that they're next to can drain all of the Enterprise's power, right through the shields. Mysterious super-entities don't show up as much in the later series, god love the good old days.

Data pulls up a historical comparison of the Ferengi to "ocean going Yankee traders.. The worst kind of capitalists." A little more obscure than the obvious "vulcans are greeks, romulans are Romans" theme. I still maintain that the Cardassians are a good facsimile of the French, though. I digress.

I love how everyone is so quick to snap at Data.

It's interesting how the effects and the ship still don't look dated. But if you take a good look at Data's console you can see how they did it:



Mostly static lights, including the busy-looking Nintendo control pad on the bottom left. The animated parts, on the top-left (with an upside-down Klingon symbol and writing, interestingly enough) and bottom-right are both in green-on-black, what you'd expect from a computer in the mid-to-late 80s. But still doesn't jump out as old or bad-looking when you're just watching.

Data explains the mysterious planet-trap while getting stuck in a Chinese fingertrap puzzle. The metaphors don't get much more subtle than that.

In the end Riker saves the day through diplomacy and the moral high-ground. Clearly they mean to show this aspect of his character early on.

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By al - 6:41 PM | (1) comments | Post a Comment

Friday, January 11, 2008

jPod - Episode 1

This year's Hollywood writers' strike has made me so eager for new TV that I have actually been eagerly awaiting the debut of a new CBC drama. But here I am, and since I am never home on Tuesdays I had to do something that most certainly was not download the first episode of jPod (Promo video | Wikipedia) on Bittorrent and watched it tonight.

First off, before any real critiquing, I will say that I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times at some pretty great lines ("If it was too easy to bury bodies, there wouldn't be any people left.") and setups, like when Ethan's stoned yoga-doing girlfriend suddenly makes it known that she could hear them talking about her through the window the moment the subject of her high-school lack of popularity was mentioned. So someone involved in directing the show definitely has an intuitive feel for what makes for funny and engaging TV moments. Not always a given with Canadian TV, and usually only found on HBO-type American shows. With the source material for the show being a novel I was expecting all the jokes to be talky quotes lifted from the written dialog, so I was very pleased to see well-executed visual setups.

The writing is good, I'm hoping the clever lines aren't just the build-up that a script writer working on a new show has of clever lines stored away in his head pouring out too quickly to sustain over the course of a TV series. Time will tell on that one. Fortunately the book contained many little sub-plots rather than one over-arching conflict that took a whole book to resolve. So the show should work well with episodic story arcs.



I found the acting to be uneven. The actors have a Gilmour Girls / West Wing way of being 'always-on' - which can be a good way of rapid-firing clever dialog, but makes the characters less like real people talking and relating to each other. But here's the problem: Coupland is probably doing this on purpose. All of the members of jPod (the forgotten team at Electronic Arts (The show may be afraid to get sued but I'm not going to bother changing names. Help I'm buried in 2nd-level parentheses.) who's members were all placed there because their surnames start with the letter J.) aside from the main character - a revival of the sympathetic everygeek from Microserfs, is living a carefully constructed identity, deciding to adopt some bizarre habit or obsession and making it their identity. But where the Microserfs characters had hope, the jPodders could all make a pretty convincing case that life is meaningless enough that either constructing a completely new person and acting as them is the only worthwhile way to approach the world. And so the overacting that got on my nerves might just be deliberate. I hope Alain Thicke's character continues to have a lot of screen-time, hopefully his Shatner-esque ability to completely hide self-awareness from the viewer will rub off on the other actors. This is a faint-hope. Right now the moments that are supposed to be sincere, like Caitlin and Ethan discovering a shared love for an old video game as cue for a romantic interest, are telegraphed so horribly you just want to get up from the room and wait for it to be over before it even begins. Pulling off making essentially contrived characters watchable will be a tough feat, it was the weakest part of the book for me.

Characters I want to see more of:
  • Cancer Cowboy - including the sex addiction and how it plays out
  • Ethan's Father
  • Also hoping that when they do introduce Kam Fong he will steal the whole show.
  • Also sad there's no trace of Evil Mark
The music was a nice touch, but it was too much 'lets grab recognizable Canadian music icons so people will feel comfortable, and I hope they dig a little deeper into the pile of great but lesser-known Canadian bands as the show goes on. And seriously, don't say "defendoid", say "Defender". You're allowed to mention real-world products, for crying out loud. Using fake names is jarring and takes away our ability to identify with their geeky obsessions even more.

I'm going to keep watching it, and there's enough of a chance that the first-episode wrinkles will be ironed out into a truly high-quality show that I'm holding out hope and telling people to watch it. At the same time, I'm also hoping Coupland will want to move on to something else at the end of the first season. I would really love if the Canadian TV industry moved towards a Channel 4-style of television production, making short runs of interesting shows and moving on to something else before it gets old.

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By al - 1:56 AM | (2) comments | Post a Comment

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Homemade Pizza Night

Today my friend from work came over and we made the best pizza I've had in ages. A few months ago some of us were out at the 42nd St. Lounge and we got this gourmet pizza they had on the menu that had goat cheese and spinnach and prosciutto, that we all really loved. (Including Sabrina, sorry we didn't realize it had the meat on it when you asked for a slice...)

But we've been periodically reminiscing about how good it was ever since. Yes, we talk about good food the way Carrie Bradshaw talks about a nice set of abs.) But we figured we could probably do something similar ourselves, and k. had some goat cheese she got at the Farmer's Market last week. The rest of the ingredients are pretty easy, though we substituted the prosciutto with chicken just to match up with some Rachel Ray recipe or other.

The goat cheese is so soft and creamy, you don't actually need any sauce on the pizza. It's nice and sharp and full-flavoured, and it envelops the other toppings very nicely when you bake it.

K. went all out and even made a crust from scratch. It turned out perfect, just thick enough to have some substance to it without being too doughy, and it crispied up just right in the oven.

The kicker was some smoked sea salt sprinkled on top. I fear I may develop an addiction to that stuff, even though I've never been one to put extra salt on my food.

We ate that while watching DVDs of the ├ćon Flux cartoon, a better way to spend a Sunday evening I've yet to find.

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By al - 11:23 PM | (1) comments | Post a Comment

Friday, January 04, 2008

Steak

OK, so you know how revolting it is when someone orders their steak so rare that basically all they want is for the chef to walk past the grill when he's taking it to your table? Well, my friend Kelly ordered one that way today. Everyone at the table was pretty horrified, especially when it arrived. But I figured, OK, she has good taste and her craziness generally resides elsewhere, so I'm curious. So I ask if I can try a little sliver of it. She cuts me off a corner and puts it on my plate.

My biggest mistake was picking it up with my fingers. It felt exactly like something I would be touching because I was preparing food to be cooked, not to be eaten. But I was far too committed at this point not to try it.

And hoooly christ it was good. So so tender. The cooked edges gave that nice bit of flavourfulness, and inside was just soft ant springy and absolutely showed you what good quality steaks they serve at Hunter's. It just makes me want to walk up to a cow in a farmer's field and bite it. The waitress even said she made sure the chef didn't over-cook it, because chefs have a tendency to overcook steak. Perhaps they just want to feel like a part of the process.

I don't know if I'd want to eat a whole steak in this fashion, but I'm definitely ordering my next one more rare than I ever have before. Apparently The Keg restaurants give you an option of "black and blue" steak where they cook the outside very well and leave the inside nice and raw and tender. This strikes me as just about perfect since you get the most flavour and the best-tasting meat.

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By al - 5:58 AM | (2) comments | Post a Comment

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A random list of things that smell good

  • Peach juice

  • Barbecue pork

  • Static electricity - like when you put your nose up to a CRT or an old TV after it's been turned off, and the air is all ionized. I don't know if that counts as a smell or not.

  • New plastic toys

  • A new RC car that drains 8 alkaline batteries at once, being driven at full speed for over 10 minutes. The smell of electricity, basically.

  • When a girl comes out of the shower and has shampooed her hair, but hasn't put on any other perfume yet.

  • Old books

  • The plasticy-dusty smell you might notice when you are desperately blowing into an old NES to make it work.

  • Chlorinated swimming pool

  • Freshly-ground hazelnut coffee

  • New guitar strings

  • Fruit loops and / or leather polish. It's basically the same smell.

  • Rainy days when the grass is green and alive

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By al - 2:55 AM | (0) comments | Post a Comment

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Thunder? WTF?

OK I thought the first one was a snow plow making noise hitting a mailbox or something, but the second one was definitely a rolling crash of thunder. In January. I don't see any lightning out my window, though, which is too bad. I bet lightning on snow would be gorgeous.

Could you get electrocuted by just being out in the snow somewhere near a lightning strike? Is the air between the snow flakes enough of an insulator to make this not the case? I think I need to start spreading around an urban legend about this and then have Mythbusters try and tackle it. They have a lightning machine, right?

I went to see The Darjeeling Limited tonight by myself. Before seeing it I had a bit of a sense of steadily lowering expectations for Wes Anderson's movies, as each one has been steadily less interesting than the one before. I think he needs to shoot someone else's screenplay next, since he has too many cliches and character personalities that he is relying on too often. The Darjeeling Limited confirmed all of my fears in this direction. That said, it was still a funny Wes Anderson movie with humourously awkward dialog, strained relationships and interesting sets and costumes that have a timeless quality to them which I do enjoy.

OK, the thunder seems to have subsided. Oh shit there was lightning. Damnit, I stopped watching for it, too. It's quite close, too, the thunder was only about 2 seconds behind.

OK, I googled Winter Lightning, here's what came up: Link.
Can there be lightning during a snowstorm? Lightning is usually associated with thunderstorms, and therefore is thought to be a spring and summer event. Yet lightning does occur during winter, and even during heavy snowfalls and blizzards. Winter lightning appears to be unusually powerful, associated with loud and long thunderclaps. Sometimes associated snowfalls can reach 3 inches an hour. A man was struck by lightning during a blizzard in Minneapolis during March of 1996. He is still alive...and very puzzled.
Neat.

Apparently in Chinese they have several different kinds of states or descriptions of feelings of love, mostly centered around sadness. The examples given were "sorrow-love", "tenderness-pity" and "sorrow pity". Sounds ominously like something I'd probably wind up in. There's an interesting frankness about human relationships that comes through there that is a little intimidating.

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By al - 5:48 AM | (2) comments | Post a Comment

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

No I will not fix your computer

OK, to all the people who seem to be infected with this MSN virus going around: I am officially not going to help you clean out your computers to get rid of it. I'm just going to block you.

That is all.

By al - 11:51 PM | (3) comments | Post a Comment

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