Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Old Year

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TRON: Legacies

The countdown is over. Have you seen it? After decades of anticipation I found TRON: Legacy entertaining, thoughtful and, with the exception of a computer-generated face that looked like a computer-generated face, everything I hoped it would be. Travelling hundreds of miles to see it with my oldest friend and his son skewed my objectivity and in all honesty it would have had to be an unmitigated disaster to rate any less, but I liked it. A lot.

It was the Year of the Geek when we met, my friend and I, the same year of the original TRON's release, yet 1982 seemed a long time ago in a galaxy far away as we stood at the front of the line for its sequel. His seven-year-old son brought an identity disc along, a toy replica from their summer visit to the elecTRONica exhibit at Disneyland, and afterward as we ate dinner and digested what we had seen kept it close at hand like he was ready to dive back into the game grid at any second.

For sights and sounds a peerless spectacle, were it not for one glaring problem we'd have unanimously embraced TRON: Legacy right then and there as the first great sci-fi classic of a new generation. It doesn't cross the uncanny valley. Common to animation, the uncanny valley is what you get when a face doesn't look real. The more animators attempt to realistically render a face, the steeper the valley wall. Pixar manages to climb out every time, but they are alone in this category.

The adversary in TRON: Legacy wears a computer-generated face that looks uncanny as can be. Every time he appears, you want to reach up and slap that stiff mannequin face. Every movie has its flaws and this one's has cartoony eyes and a stiff upper lip that imitates a gumming action when rubbed against its stiff lower lip, like the villain just put his dentures out. Weird. Distracting. Less Grandpa Tron and more light cycles, please!

Was that all we talked about over dinner? Of course not. Between bites of taquitos and tacos, we griped briefly about the uncanny valley problem and then got back to remembering the movie's many fantastic scenes. It was a great movie. The legacy of 1982 lives on.

TRON: Legacy has so much that is entertaining and fun. The breathtaking light cycle sequences could go on forever. Jeff Bridges is terrific as an aged Zen hacker. Balletic scuffles with discs flying hot and furious are dazzling. Great stuff. Honestly, I can't wait to see it again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Sound of Wonder

What's today
What will be tomorrow
Don't think
Sing with me humanity

Dama Dam Mast Qalandar
Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar
This is the Song of Wonder
Sound of Wonder

Get together
Don't be lonely
Life is a game of a few days only
What's happiness or what is sorrow
Don't think
Sing with me humanity

Live and Let Live
Love and Give Love
Love is God & God is Love
What you lend or what you borrow
Don't think
Sing with me humanity

What's today
What will be tomorrow
Don't think
Sing with me humanity

Dama Dam Mast Qalandar
Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar
This is the Song of Wonder
Sound of Wonder

-M Ashraf

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Three More Days

On top of ending twenty-eight years of anticipation for the TRON sequel, what I'm looking forward to most this weekend is celebrating Thanksmas with family. My sister and cousin live in the Bay Area and I'll be flying down from Seattle to have a holiday celebration with them that is a little bit country, a little bit rock n' roll. Whatever it is, I can confidently say it won't be traditional. We're planning to gather at my cousin and her husband's lovely pad in Oakland and watch 70's kung fu movies whilst dining on delicacies -my cousin is an excellent cook and whatever we eat, it will be delicious. The best part is that none
of this was discussed in advance, it was automatically agreed upon.

With there being such a small number of us, the possibilities of a psychic network are not totally in the realm of fantasy; it doesn't hurt either that we've known each other since infancy. That kind of connection runs deep; it also apparently excites a deep-seated and irresistible desire for chop socky cinema.

In short, I've got a lot to look forward to this weekend -and so do you: an end to my TRON rantings! It is, after all, the Season of Miracles.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Wet of the Samurai

There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything. -Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Purple Swan

If I directed Natalie Portman in a film about the trials and tribulations of a ballet diva (the trials! the tribulations!), this is what it would look like:

Friday, December 10, 2010

One Week!!!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Zoo Station

Six good years at Zoo Station, home longer than any other but the California house where I grew up. Moving out next month won't be easy. I'll miss the camaraderie and the memorable mixers we've thrown, and after I'm gone I'll pine for long walks through the park, located with the zoo right across the street.

My day starts with a walk, rousting myself in the wee hours to trudge through the park for a nice warm dose of caffeine. There's a dirt path that winds past the eastern border of the zoo that during the rainy season turns into Gravy Lane. Splorching your way up the muddy incline, it leads to a footbridge that after traversing Aurora Avenue debouches into the park proper. Lovely spot. I've had some of my best walks there, at times developing into a full trot when the ideas are flowing so freely that I can't wait to get home and write them down: most if not all primary plotting of my novel occurred during walks in Lower Woodland Park. I'll miss it a lot.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Free Julian

The US Government is screwed over this whole WikiLeaks boondoggle. They can't win. No matter how disingenuous they try to appear, what with their unseemly and short-sighted focus on Julian Assange, this year's poster boy for nose-thumbing, they come off looking the bully with their boot on a nerd's throat. Assange gave himself up for arrest and is facing the music for personal misdeeds, which, in case you missed the headline, have nothing to do with leaking secrets. Maybe he did rape and molest the women accusing him. I'm not defending the guy, but I'm not saying he did it, either. The timing is quite convenient. It's no mystery where the pressure to prosecute comes from, one of many aspects that make out the USG to be ugly, vindictive and just plain stupid.

Officials griping over damage done to the USG seem to suggest that things were better before the documents were leaked. Hmmm. Should we go back to spying and bombing under the cover of diplomacy, serving up blatant falsehoods
through the complicit media? Naturally this isn't what officials intend to say, but their disingenuity is clear. Those that go a step further and call for the death penalty and hunting him down only increase the stature of an unlikely hero. These people should keep their ugly ideas to themselves until the whole thing blows over. They aren't the only ones.

Assange is on record stating his innocence. Whether or not Pentagon honey trap is the leading thought on his mind is up for debate, but a recent article includes suggestive statements like this one from his accusers:
In her interview, she dismissed the idea, seized on by many conspiracy theorists that ‘dirty tricks’ lay behind the rape allegations, because of WikiLeaks’ defiance of the US government. She said: “The charges against Assange are of course not orchestrated by the Pentagon.”
It's possible she was asked a leading question, but such an assertion is curious. I'm not saying a conspiracy is afoot; that would be WikiLeaks' department, wouldn't it? I do recall the first rule of journalism, never believe anything until it's officially denied, and this comes pretty damn close to fitting in that category.

The USG should declare a moratorium on official statements concerning Julian Assange. They are playing into WikiLeaks' strategy of obfuscation and serving merely to distract from issues of substance, namely the flimsy security that allowed such massive troves of secret documents to be exposed. It's too late to quell the uproar and there's no way to gag Assange, who has the world waiting on his every word, so why not focus instead on damage control and address real problems.

To read Assange in his own words, I recommend this eloquent statement released this week from The Australian.

The Brothers Miser

The Year Without a Santa Claus is a neglected classic. I know only a handful of people who have seen or even heard of it. That's not right. Other Rankin/Bass holiday specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town enjoy prominence this time of year, and this one should too. Disillusioned that children no longer believe in him, Santa stays in bed rather than deliver gifts, causing Mrs Santa to rally the elves and send two off on a flying reindeer to find kids who still believe. You can guess how things turn out, and I recommend watching this special wherever you can find it. Among the great characters the elves encounter during their travels, none are quite so memorable as the Brothers Miser. For this pair alone The Year Without a Santa Claus deserves to be in permanent rotation.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Two Years is Not Permanent

Got an email from the government today saying that I judged the President too harshly. Out of fairness and gratitude, since I am one of millions of recipients of continued unemployment benefits thanks to his efforts, I share with you what the President has to say for himself, most importantly that the heinous compromise to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent is not permanent, that we have two more years to abolish them.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Divide and Capitulate

The fix is in. Lame duck season is open. Anybody (like me) who believed that fiscal conservatism would return with the end of the Bush Administration is crying in their beer. Not any fancy beer, either. Who can afford quality lager these days, when jobless rates are at historic highs and tax rates only benefit chuggers of champagne? No, I'm watering down my PBR with salty tears, shaking my head at the President's complete and utter capitulation to the forces of economic ruin, my own as well as the nation's.

I ended my job contract over a year ago and haven't worked a day since, being way over- or under-qualified for the jobs that are available. Now my benefits are set to run out at the end of the year unless tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent are extended.

What's truly sad is that job prospects will not be improved by this compromise; quite the opposite, in fact. Small business, the main engine of job growth, is being left out. While $70 million in tax credits is on the plate for the majority of citizens, $140 billion goes to the tiny minority of the wealthiest among us, none of whom will be inclined to do anything but squirrel those savings away. This will pump up the federal deficit beyond its already astronomical bulk and do nothing to improve our dismal economy. This isn't fiscal conservatism; it's fiscal madness. This is the kind of thing we saw in the Bush era, and now Obama is working with the opposition to keep it going. Meanwhile his own party lays blame and squabbles with each other, creating a new paradigm in US politics: divide and capitulate.

Lame duck season is open to all comers and those with the biggest guns are walking away with all the greatest gains. The way things are going, it might be the last time hunting is this good.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

This Week's Face

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet is a little vague. Things. Presumably these things include faces. As in, what face are you wearing this week? A question with special meaning on Facebook, where you can look like whomever you please for whatever reason you want. Some reasons are political.

The Face of the Week phenomenon came to my notice a year back or so, when the idea spread, phage-like, that everybody should change their profile picture to whatever celebrity they most resemble. Response was surprisingly swift and widespread. It was amusing to see who looked like whom. The only rule, if you could call it that, was to keep the pic posted for one week, an arbitrary length of time. Not as fleeting as a day nor as trying as a month (a lifetime on Facebook) and just long enough to register on the newsfeed.

Then it was childhood pic week, and then favorite author week, and on and on. What I thought a one-time deal turned into an outright phenomenon. Things (that word again) turned a corner when changing your profile pic meant showing solidarity for a political cause. When the Mavi Marmara was attacked off the shores of Gaza, wearing a protest sign as profile pic displayed your sympathetic support. A long way from Let's Pretend We're Celebrities.

This week's is to fly an image of your favorite childhood cartoon character in opposition to child abuse. I can get behind that, yet the impact of changing your pic is so limited. What purpose does it really serve? I'm against it, but solidarity doesn't fight child abuse or even address it. The only people who will see your profile pic are friends, none of whom (we hope) are abusers and who are therefore already in agreement with you. Some of my friends have railed against the stupidity of taking part in such a pointless exercise; others, instead of changing their pic, posted links to get actively involved in fighting abuse against children. I did both. Does it matter?

Facebook is a self-perpetuating experiment in groupthink, where unanimity is preferred over quality decision-making, a heaven-earth mashup teeming with Hamlet's things, philosophical or otherwise, wise or foolish, altogether human. Which is not to say I take it so seriously that I believe my profile pic is of any consequence outside the arena of faces. Still, it's more fun to take part than stand apart... when it comes to things dreamt of in my philosophy.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Happy Cookie Day

Thanks to the Dutch, today is Cookie Day. Party on! To appreciate a bit more just what this day represents, Bill Smith gives us some background on one of humanity's most dangerous inventions:

While you likely won't find any cards at your local Hallmark, there are a few people out there who celebrate National Cookie Day. This obscure cookie holiday occurs every year on December 4. In deference to the cookie, here is a little history on this venerable dessert treat.

The English word "cookie" is derived from the Dutch word "koekje," which means little cake. Bakers used to place a small amount of cake batter in the oven to test the temperature. They soon discovered that these little bits of cooked batter were quite tasty on their own, and the cookie was born!

The humble cookie has evolved a lot since then, and now there are hundreds of varieties baked across the world every day, from the classic chocolate chip to more exotic offerings with caramel, macadamia nuts, dried fruits and more. Cookies can be broadly classified into 3 categories. First are "drop" cookies. These are aptly named because the batter is dropped onto the cookie sheet. Chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin are all examples of drop cookies.

Second are "rolled" cookies. Rolled cookies are rolled out like pie dough, and then cut-out using a cutter. Sugar cookies are the most popular rolled cookies, followed closely by gingerbread. Rolled cookies may also be "rolled up" into a cylinder and then sliced off and baked. Rolled cookies bake up firmer and flatter than drop cookies, and are therefore ideal for personalizing with icing and other toppings. Third are pressed cookies. For pressed cookies, the dough is loaded into a cookie press, and then extruded, typically using various dies to create interesting shapes. Spritz cookies are the most common pressed cookie variety.

Some also consider bars and brownies as a fourth cookie variety, since the ingredients are very similar, and the resultant treats are typically cut into single serving sizes.

Cookies are a multi-billion dollar industry in the US, ranging from packaged cookies at the grocery store to fresh-baked cookies at the mall, and even Internet bakeries that ship direct to your or your gift recipients. So this year when December 4 comes around, remember this humble little cake by munching on one or by sending a cookie gift to your loved ones.

13 Days and Counting

Look carefully at the right edge of this still frame from TRON. Can you see what Mr Red Antenna sees? Here's a hint: he's yellow and lives on a steady diet of ghosts.

I've always thought this is one of the more unique cameos in film history. In 1982, when TRON came out, it was definitely not cool to be a geek, not like it is now, what with the booming popularity of The Big Bang Theory and so on. Little inserts of geek culture like this were few, if they occurred at all. Part of the abiding charm of that year for a science fiction fan. It was the year that every month brought a new classic of the genre. Blade Runner, the second Star Trek movie, E.T., Poltergeist, The Road Warrior, The Thing... a seminal year for geekdom, without a doubt.

We're watching an odd double bill today, TRON and Die Hard. Originally just intending to watch the one, when word got out that one of the gal's friends has never seen the greatest christmas action movie of them all, we decided to double down. Should be fun. We'll watch 40 Stories of Sheer Adventure (Die Hard's tagline), break for an intermission supper and then fire up TRON himself, which nobody present will have seen before; or if they did, it was long ago and is now a distant, barely perceptible memory.

That's why I'm here: to create good memories.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Like and Drop

"Like and Drop" brings to mind "Lycanthrope" -could there be some kind of Twilight thing happening here? It's not the first thing on my mind, not even the last thing, to be honest, but here's hoping I don't wake up covered in hair.

I'm not funny. I've been told. A couple strangers went out of their way this week to let me know this on Facebook. Griefers, we call these folk in the world of the interwebs. Strangers who camp out with no other intent than to harass and provoke. I've felt their sting. They didn't like the videos I was posting. Unlike anyone else that found them unamusing, however, these unsolicited guests communicated in no uncertain terms that I'm not funny. Which means that not only did I waste their time, but they turned around and wasted mine in return. Hoo-rah.

What does this have to do with anything, you might ask, dear reader. What, indeed. You see, I've finally finally realized how Entrecard and Facebook are connected (and it's not that they're both a waste of time): they let you appreciate the better things, each one in its unique but connected fashion. I'll let you in on what I mean.

Something appreciated on Facebook has the option to be liked. There's a "like" button at the bottom right of everything posted on the newsfeed, and you can choose to click it or not, depending on your preference. Entrecard has a similar function, in the form of a "drop" button. A similar function in my mind, anyhow.

I don't see a great divide between "liking" and "dropping" in any other light than dropping has an attached value of Entrecard credits that can be used to advertise, in the loosest form of the word, on other blogs. The value of liking on Facebook is advertising on someone else's profile that what they posted was found worthwhile. Not terribly similar, but not miles apart, either.

Both are positive acts of reinforcement and miles apart from what griefers will do to you, at least.

Signs of Apocalypse

Found whilst wandering the neighborhood in the wee hours, portents of pending doom:

The Blame Game

No good times, no bad times, there's no times at all, just the New York Times -Simon and Garfunkel

(Resemblance of any characters to Aquaman is purely coincidental.)