Saturday, July 27, 2002

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Writer(s): Douglas Adams

I read part of this back in high school, but never finished it (or don't remember finishing it). I liked it, but the story wasn't compelling enough to keep me from getting side-tracked. When Adams died I decided I needed to read his stuff, and so I recently picked up this as a starting point (I never read any of the sequels, though I plan to do so now). The book is very funny and wacky, mocking everything from existence to science. The story itself is slim and almost irrelevant -- you read this to be amused by Adams' wit and clever phrases. Essentially, the book proves that Murphy's Law is the only constant in the universe. My favorite thing is still the concept that mice are a more intelligent species than humans, and that they are here on Earth only to study humans by pretending to cooperate in scientific experiments. Very cool. Adams was definitely a genius.


Friday, July 26, 2002

Minority Report

Movie: Minority Report
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick
Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Well-done film. Not as thought-provoking as Philip K. Dick's stories usually are, this movie went more for flashy special effects and action sequences instead of mental struggles. Still, it was a good tale well-told. The plot deals with a "precrime" cop: based on the predictions of psychics, he stops murderers before they can commit their crime. Supposedly the system is flawless -- the psychics are always correct. However, when he learns that he's wanted for a future murder, he begins to question the system. The ending unravels into a typically Hollywood-style conspiracy (the bad guy is obvious from the beginning of the film as he's too good an actor for a minor role), but it's still a fun ride. The futuristic look of the film is unusual and interesting, though occasionally it feels artificial (I prefer the more realistic, gritty futures of films like Brazil and Delicatessen). The film's a bit too long and talky in places (which feels awkward mixed with the action sequences), but overall I liked it very much and my criticisms are nit-picky.


Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Impressions of New York City

I took a taxi from JFK to my cousin's place. He's in the upper east side, near East Harlem. It's just a block from the top of Central Park, and twenty blocks of the Guggenheim Museum. On my first night we visited a Senegalese restaurant not far from where he lives, in an area known as "little Dakar" (Dakar is the capital city of Senegal, West Africa where I lived for much of my childhood). The food at the restaurant was fantastic: Phil (my cousin) had lamb on couscous with a spicy peanut sauce and I had lamb chops smothered with onions and a creamy mayonaise dip. Though the chops were small (three inches by two inches), there was at least a dozen of them: I ate and ate and ate. Delicious, and very reasonable: each of our meals was around $8!

New York City reminds me a lot of Dakar: there's the same electic mixture of poor and rich, garbage dumps and luxury hotels. On Tuesday I had my first adventures using the subways: they have a cool system where you can buy a 7-day pass for a mere $17 that lets you ride the subway as much as you want for seven days. Unfortunately, I discovered the subways don't always go where you want. In New York, you'll learn how to walk. I'm not much of a walker, and I quickly developed blisters and my first purchase in NY was a pair of sneakers (my normal shoes aren't walking shoes). Fortunately, the blisters didn't burst, and after a few days of taking it easier and using the new shoes, my feet were okay.

Macworld Expo itself was interesting. I hung out at the REAL Software booth and helped them demo REALbasic and gave away flyers and copies of my magazine to whoever was interested. Everyone liked the magazine and I think many people will subscribe. My hope is that the magazine will encourage people to purchase RB as well. So far I haven't seen a huge subscription spike, but subs are steadily being sold, so that's good. I expect some will subscribe later, since we gave them a copy of the first issue at the show.

Cousin Phil and I toured the City. He took me to the New York Public Library, which was impressive. They don't lend books there (you read them on site), but they had a nice area for you to hook up your laptop to the Internet and sit and research. Apparently there's an excellent interlibrary lending system: you can order books, videos, and even DVDs via the Internet and they're delivered to your local branch for you to pick up within a few days. Very cool. I got my first NYC hot dog (very good) and we went to Battery Park and saw the Statue of Liberty in the bay. We could also see from there the Twin Towers that aren't there (we compared the current view with pictures from before being sold in the park). That night we ordered pizza and then I went downtown my myself to meet the TidBITS gang for ice cream. That lasted until midnight and I got back very late (I took a taxi home rather than risk the subway, and the driver drove fast and with little traffic, it was less than $8).

As a media person, I got in to see Steve Jobs' keynote speech at Macworld, which was very cool (my first time). While there wasn't any exciting new hardware to announce, I felt good about the software he revealed (though a little miffed that it will cost me $129 to upgrade to the next version of Mac OS X). On Thursday night I attended the REALbasic NUG meeting and passed out copies of the magazine: everyone was excited and impressed. (One guy chided me the next day: he was reading the magazine on the way home and missed his subway exit!) Friday night we went to an Italian restaurant called Vespa's that was small and intimate and very cool. The food was excellent (I had breaded chicken with lemon sauce). Saturday was the Metrostars soccer game.

On Monday I walked to the Guggenheim. On the way I passed a film crew recording a scene for Molly Gunn outside a building that was supposed to be a private school. I didn't see any stars, though I did pass a lot of trailers (including one that said "Molly" on the door) parked along 5th Avenue. At the Guggenheim the current exhibit is called "Moving Pictures" and is all about photography and video. It was fascinating, though I question some of the exhibits as being art. A lot of it was very adult material (nudity, close-ups of genitals, etc.), which often had no point that I could tell. There were some traditional paintings (Picasso, etc.) in portions of the building, but most was devoted to the photography exhibit. Some of the video stuff was interesting, but the way they were presented was poor, since they were often just TVs set along the walkway, or within a small room, and people would just enter and leave as the mood hit them, meaning you usually came in in the middle of a show (something I abhor). Many exhibits were obviously full of themselves. One was several huge screens all showing the same images of a bare-chested guy smearing mud on his body. Yup, twenty minutes of that and then he started over. Ooh, that's deep. One video I liked consisted of a mother and her daughter laughing. Gradually the film was sped up and the soundtrack distorted, so you began to think maybe they weren't laughing and hugging, but that the mother was strangling the daughter. It was creepy and that was the whole point. Very cool. There were some other cool exhibits and photos I liked, but they're obviously difficult to describe (a photo's a thousand words, right?). You're best off visiting the museum yourself if you're so inclined.

Overall, my visit to New York was great. I got to see many parts of the city, though I avoided the tourist traps like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. I learned the subway system and how to hail a cab. I walked through portions of Central Park and bought hot dogs and croissants at the little stands everywhere. (I really like that.) What surprised me the most was how nice everyone was. People were helpful at guiding you on the subway, generally patient, the cabbies friendly (and spoke English, though always as a second language). The horror stories I'd heard of NYC were of a different town or time, I guess. It helped having a place to stay while I was there (I was less of a tourist), but it still was a surprisingly accessible city.


Wednesday, July 24, 2002

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire

Soccer: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire

Excellent game, though San Jose didn't get the two goals for me to get a free chicken taco from Una Mas. San Jose dominated play pretty much the whole game, with the Fire's Zach Thorton forced to make nearly a dozen saves. Joe Cannon, the Quakes' keeper, only had to make a couple stops. The only goal came late in the first half, when Graziani headed it home on a feed by Donovan. Graziani almost had a duplicate in the second half, but Thorton impossibly stopped it. Donovan had a couple good chances himself, though he mostly played mid-field in this game. Good stuff and the result puts San Jose 8 points clear of second-place Dallas. Final: 1-0 San Jose.


Monday, July 22, 2002

Mulholland Dr.

Movie: Mulholland Dr.
Writer(s): David Lynch
Director(s): David Lynch

Fascinating film. The mystery isn't that mysterious: it should feel a little cheap (the "twist" near the end could have felt too much like the infamous Dallas "it was a dream"), but Lynch's marvelous direction keeps things interesting and the ending fits. Even if you don't know what's going on, the film's mesmerizing to watch. I want to watch it again to study it (Lynch's films are always rewatchable), but I liked it a lot.


Sunday, July 21, 2002

A Beautiful Mind

Book: A Beautiful Mind

The book is far better than the movie, though not as accessible. There is math here, though I couldn't understand much more than the rough theories (and barely that). Part of that is because the writer doesn't explain the math issues as well as she could (or as well as I'd like her too). Still, it comes across as an honest exploration of this character, John Nash. Nothing's glossed over: we see John with his warts and flaws as well as his genius. The author is a bit too focused on the physical characteristics of people: she describes Nash and everyone else by going on and on about how handsome and beautiful they are, which struck me as overkill. Still, it's a good read, and a much better portrayal of genius than the film.


Saturday, July 20, 2002

New York Metrostars vs. New England Revolution

Soccer: New York Metrostars vs. New England Revolution

Cool game! This was my first MLS game not at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, and I'd definitely like to experience games at other stadiums. (Maybe I'll go to LA for a game sometime.) Giants Stadium was not what I expected. First, getting there was easy: take the subway to the Port Authority bus terminal, then ride the shuttle bus to the stadium. We were dropped off right in front, with a shorter walk than those who parked in the parking lot! The stadium itself is a huge bowl. The seats were so vertical that they were all good, though some were in the sun or under an overhang (and hot). I was surprised by how close the field felt even though we were high above it. The game itself was great: Andy Williams scored first with a terrific power shot, followed by Diallo on a PK, and Davis with a fantastic blast from outside the box. Twellman got one for New England just at the end of the half, but it was all New York before that. Diallo got another just seconds into the second half, but the Revs didn't give up, coming back with great goals from Steve Ralston (who pegged one from the top of the box) and Hernandez (who's shot was the farthest of all, from maybe 45 yards out). Great stuff and an amazing display of long-range shooting. Final: 4-3 New York.

Giants stadium was cool because there were TVs everywhere so you could keep up with the action and watch replays (even at the concession stand). Unfortunately, the food was expensive and not great: $5 for a feeble excuse for nachos (a bag of chips and a little bit of cheese and salsa).

This game was part of a double-header, so we got to see Brazil's Santo take on Scotland's Rangers. Unfortunately, the Rangers weren't that enthusiastic, and lost 1-0. That's typical of exhibition games. The coach took out Flo, one of my favorite players at half-time, a sign that the game wasn't real.


Friday, July 19, 2002

A Beautiful Mind

Movie: A Beautiful Mind

I was reading the book and hadn't finished it before seeing the film. Big mistake: see the film first. The film is very different: it works, but it's so different it will irritate you if you've read the book. Overall the film's okay. It's well-directed and the performances are good, but it's too simple. The character of math genius John Nash is a complicated one, and his trials with insanity and back to rationality are profound. Unfortunately, the movie gives us only a glimpse of that, and it's a Hollywoodized version of it, all wrapped up and nicely packaged. Real life is much more complicated and ambiguous. What I felt was the most significant part of the book, John Nash's realization that he was losing touch with rationality, is scarcely touched in the film. Think about it: for a genius to lose his abililty to reason, that's like an Olympic athlete losing his legs. It's a huge shock but the film doesn't deal with that at all. Still, the film isn't bad, just simple. I joked that it should have been called A Simple Mind, and maybe that's correct. The film also had a major flaw of not showing us Nash's genius early on: he had many accomplishments and is widely considered one of the top minds of the last century, but the film glosses over that, assuming that if they tell us he's a genius, that's enough. I would have done much of this very differently.


Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Bridget Jones' Diary

Movie: Bridget Jones' Diary

Good performance by Renee Zellweger as a British single woman struggling to find balance in life and romance. I don't know what the diary had to do with anything: it was only mentioned two or three times. Funny, a little corny, and somewhat predictable (she gets the guy in the end, duh). Not bad, though.


Monday, July 15, 2002

Travel to New York City

Today I flew to New York City. I'm here for the Macworld Expo to launch my magazine, but since I'm going to stay with my cousin, I'll have some time for sight-seeing as well.

I flew the excellent JetBlue airlines, which are inexpensive but not only had a direct Oakland-to-JFK flight, they include free DirecTV in every seat! So the six hour flight passed quickly as I sat back and enjoyed A&E and other channels.


Friday, July 12, 2002

Play: Julius Caesar

A much better production. The costumes were modern, but consistent, so they made sense. I loved that Julius Caesar was dressed as the Godfather. Hilarious (and quite brilliant)! The only weak part was the role of Mark Anthony, which is key to the production, was performed by a non-actor. The guy wasn't the worst actor ever, but he wasn't outstanding, and if there ever was a role that needs an outstanding actor it's Mark Anthony (the play is essentially conflict between Brutus and Anthony). The actor who was Brutus was excellent, a terrific actor, but the second half of the play, which features Mark Anthony more, was much weaker. The guy even blew some of the best and most famous lines of dialog, screwing up the "lend me your ears" speech! Fortunately, everyone else was good enough to minimize the impact of the poor Mark Anthony, but I was still a bit disappointed. The play was still worth seeing, however. I liked the production and direction, and Brutus was awesome.

After the play ended, at about midnight, my cousin and I drove home to California. We arrived in Oakland about 5:30 a.m.


Thursday, July 11, 2002

Play: As You Like It

On the way home from vacation, we stopped in Ashland, Oregon, to catch some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This one was in the outdoor theatre. I was not impressed. It was fiendishly hot, and at the back where we were, it was difficult to hear. The actors didn't help, with several amateurishly turning their back to the audience while delivering lines! The quality of the acting was disappointing: some were great, but others were quite mediocre, completely demolishing the meaning from Shakespeare's amazing poetry. I also had issues with the costumes: some were dressed in modern clothing, others in period dress. It was confusing. For instance, at the very beginning, a group of soldiers were dressed as Nazi's, making me wonder what interpretation the director had in mind. (It turned out they were just supposed to be soldiers, but their uniforms were too Nazi-like for me.) There were other errors as well: two characters were dressed in riding outfits, making it confusing as to which was which (they each appear briefly in different scenes in the beginning). As the play continued it got better, mostly because the story had more action and because the leads were on stage more. Still, it was a dull rendition of what normally is a hilarious play.


Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Vacation 2002

Drove to Oceanside, Oregon on the first and spent my vacation at my grandfather's home. Had a great time, though of course it passed much too quickly. Watched a lot of DVDs and played some golf (scored 105 on the full-length Alderbrook course, a significant improvement over last year's 144).


Monday, July 8, 2002

The Iron Giant

Movie: The Iron Giant

Animated fare about a giant 100-foot robot that befriends a kid in the 1950s. It was surprisingly adult in tone and plot, though there were some nice kiddy touches. The robot is being hunted by an evil FBI agent and his army buddies and the kid tries to hide it. When the robot is found and attacked, it defends itself, making people think it really is dangerous, though the robot says (and wants to believe), "I am not a gun." Pretty cool.


Sunday, July 7, 2002

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Movie: Plan 9 From Outer Space
Writer(s): Ed Wood
Director(s): Ed Wood

Hilarious! I'd never seen this infamously bad film. I'd expected it to be bad from a technical perspective, but that wasn't it at all: it was the fact that this was very "B"-grade material which the author/director seemed to think was deeply literary. The ponderous narration that occurs throughout was way over the top without even realizing it. A classic of bad movie-making, so bad it's good.


Friday, July 5, 2002

Men in Black II

Movie: Men in Black II

Disappointing sequel. Sure, it was fun, and there were some good gags, but most of it was a retread, and while I thought the premise of agent J recruiting agent K in this film (the reverse of the first) had some hilarious potential, it turned out to be a minor affair (K had his memory restored and that was that). The original picture had a great plot with multiple things happening and multiple tasks for the heroes to accomplish: this one was far too linear, and the film over too soon. Good for video, but don't bother with the theatre.


Thursday, July 4, 2002

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Movie: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Writer(s): Coen Brothers
Director(s): Coen Brothers

Strange film: not what I expected, and I didn't expect anything. It didn't quite work for me. The comedy wasn't the laugh-out-loud kind, which made you wonder if you were supposed to be laughing at the odd things that were happening. The music was different and interesting, and I liked the musical aspects, though sometimes the songs were too long (they lived past their one-joke premise). Overall, I liked the whole Odyssey retelling aspect, set in the 1940's, but Clooney was an awkward casting choice, with an inconsistent performance. Worth seeing just because it's so different, but it's not one of my favorite Coen brother's films.


Wednesday, July 3, 2002

City Lights

Movie: City Lights

Very cool film: my first Chaplin and I'm now a huge fan. Physical comedy, which has always been one of my favorites, and Chaplin is amazingly deft at it. This is a silent film (there's a musical score, but no dialog), and it's wonderful. The lack of sound forces you to concentrate on the sight gags. The story is about a homeless man (a bum) who falls in love with a blind girl and has a series of adventures as he tries to woo her. Excellent, a definite classic.


Wednesday, July 3, 2002


Movie: Chaplin

We had to watch this biography of Chaplin after City Lights, of course. Very well done, with good performances. Definitely above average, though a little long. I had no idea Chaplin was as powerful as he was: he ranks as one of the highest paid entertainers ever, and his studio was extremely influential. A remarkable story about a remarkable man.