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November 2002 Archives

Circle Line: Project Named

I've had this idea floating around in my head for ages about the analogy between the subway and Hades. The Green Line part of Park St. Station in Boston gives off a very Gothic aura in particular. I've always wanted to make a short film based on that general idea. Anyway, I'm now determined to actually try to shoot this thing in the next few months while I'm in London, so I can do it on the London Underground. I've been working out the plot with Matt and Paul, and I'll be getting Tania's help, at least, to shoot it. Not sure who I'll get on board.

Today marks the day that I'm officially naming my film: "Circle Line". It's one of the many lines of the Tube, the most touristy one, actually, but it fits perfectly with the plot of my film. Stay tuned for further developments!

You're free, turkey! You're free!

As you may or may not know, there's a tradition that the President pardons a turkey for Thanksgiving each year, sparing it a grisly and delicious death. Well, Paul pointed me to an interesting stat:

Ratio of the number of pardons George W. Bush has issued turkeys to those he has issued human beings: 2:1

Positivity: Good! Negativity: Bad!

This is one of those "it's so obvious it's, well, really obvious" things, but I still think it's quite interesting how it really is much more fun to exaggeratedly, half-jokingly brag about yourself than to be all half-jokingly self-deprecating. Of course, I might have cause and effect reversed. :P

But yeah, in the meantime: I RULE! :)

MONKEY vs. JAPAN

Here's a highly amusing article on how monkeys are taking over Japanese farms and markets. This cop makes the situation sound almost zen:

"The monkey is a tough opponent," huffed a police officer in Kagoshima, where the child was bitten in September by a monkey that eluded police. "He appears and disappears like a ghost. Today, he may appear on the top of a roof. Tomorrow, he may be somewhere else."

Many monkeys are killed, but one man "teaches farmers how to outsmart the monkeys":

Inoue plots strategy with these farmers. Monkeys love vegetables -- they are silly for soybeans, for example, and plumb crazy for plums. But they don't like red pepper, or basil, or aloe. Inoue urges farmers to plant lots of pepper on the edge of the fields, making it the first thing marauding monkeys see.

Anyway, go read the article for yourself. :)

Pitter Patter

It's thunderstorming outside, and I love it! The thunder and lightning are amazing, and the splattering rain is calming. I just love the "pitter patter" sounds that the rain makes outside my window; there's just something really beautiful about it.

Where are all the TV people?

I don't have a TV here. Getting a new 13" TV/VCR would set me back over £200, which isn't worth it. I'm beginning to think that maybe I should start looking for a used one. Funny thing is, I want a TV not for the shows, but for the company. The people walking around talking to each other in the TV give me a sense that there are people out there in the world doing stuff, that I'm not all alone in the Universe. I mean, I can read news on the web or whatnot, but it just can't replace that "live connection" feeling. And yes, I know I should get out more in person, and I do as much as I can, but it's often easier said than done.

Of course, I can't honestly say that English programming appeals to me that much. Just as with pop radio, the stuff you grow up with, even if you don't like it particularly much, is just much more comfortable, and here I'm not seeking quality programming, but comfort.

For instance, I watched Game 6 of the World Series in my office on live webcast a month ago, while IMing with Paul. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the American commercials. They were just so... comfortable. I feel the same way about local car dealer and home furniture store commercials. I'm going to miss those Jordan's Furniture guys from Boston TV.... People complain about our culture being too commercialized, but I don't think that it's all bad. Things like cheap local commercials create a sort of community bonding, in a sense.

Anyway I'll look on the bright side of not having a TV and hope that this will at least get me to do "productive stuff" more. Like writing in my blog! ... or something. :P

Library censorware bans own website

You may have have heard of filtering software that blocks porn sites. The problem is that they also end up blocking lots of perfectly other sites. This is understandable. What's worse, though, is that they also deliberately block sites that are not about gratuitious sex and violence. Sex education and gay rights sites often get blocked by such software, as are sites that criticize censorware. They're not upfront about it, either; they go to great lengths to hide the list of sites that they block.

Congress enacted a law at one point that forced all public libraries to install this software, which in effect allowed for censorship in libraries, and by companies that are not accountable to the public, no less. The American Library Association sued, and a federal court stuck down the law as unconstitutional back in May. The case is now on its way to the Supreme Court. Still, many libraries currently use censorware, which leads us to the latest story...

A library Piqua, Ohio accidentally blocked its own website from its own computers. You see, 70 years ago, one Leo Flesh founded the Flesh Public Library in Piqua. The Flesh Public Library uses Net Nanny, and Net Nanny doesn't like the word "flesh". So did they drop Net Nanny or even get Net Nanny's developers to change their software? Of course not. They just changed the name of their website.

Movie: Die Another Day

[ IMDb Entry ] [ Rating Key ]

Toast Toast and a half

I enjoyed Die Another Day, but I wish I enjoyed it more. The basic feeling I got from the movie is that the director (Lee Tamahori) just tossed in as many gimmicks as he could think of, and he didn't care enough about them. Bond's car actually fires missiles galore this time, but its scenes just don't feel fun enough. Perhaps I've just been spoiled by great car movies like The Fast And The Furious and Ronin. After all, a Bond flick has its own ideas of fun, right? And the villain's secret weapon is certainly a joy to watch, despite its lack of originality. Still, the direction was worse than bland. Tamahori uses some fast motion and slow motion shots that just feel totally gratiutous and out of place. They feel like the feature film version of someone playing with Photoshop filters. :P

I guess the real problem is that Die Another Day is too much of an action movie. There isn't enough style, enough suaveness.

Halle Berry, Academy Award Winning actress, is, well, better than Denise Richards in her stint as a bond girl. That's probably as harsh an insult as I can give. :) On the other hand, Rosamund Pike is quite good as the hard-to-get "Miranda Frost", and her scenes with 007 are considerably more interesting to watch.

Part of the problem with Berry's character is that she makes a ridiculous number of puns, and her delivery isn't that great. I mean, I'm generally a fan of Bond's inane puns, but they only work when he makes them a couple of times per movie. Every other line in this movie is a pun or double-entendre of some kind, and they sort of take the place of real humor.

I guess my last complaint is that the settings feel a bit too fake. Computer-generated backgrounds are a dime a dozen these days, and when I watch a Bond flick, I want it to immerse me in the atmosphere of foreign places. The director does take us to some foreign places, but his North Korea and Cuba look like sets. His Ice Palace isn't really all that impressive, either. I only enjoyed the scenes of London. That's mostly because of the recognition factor, but it's also because it's the only scene where we saw a fair number of extras. I mean, this is a James Bond movie where there are generally only two or three people on the screen at a time! Where are the busy streets? Even the villain's headquarters doesn't have nearly enough lackeys running about.

In the end, though, it's still a fun little Bond flick, especially if you think of it as just another action movie. You know what we haven't had in a while? A Bond flick with an all-out brawl for the ending, as in Thunderball and Moonraker. I want larger scale in my Bond movies!

And yes, I know this has been a particularly whiny, fanboy-y review, but, just as I use a different standard for rating different types of movies, I figure my reviews themselves will be different, too. Just you watch when Episode III comes out; I assure you that this review will seem like the work of an autistically quiet child in comparison. =)

P.S.: I didn't link to Ebert's review this time because it's got some spoilers, and because Ebert generally doesn't write the best action movie reviews anyway.

Movie: The Man Who Wasn't There

[ IMDb Entry ] [ Ebert Review ] [ Rating Key ]

Toast Toast Toast and a half

The Coen Brothers have a knack for making movies that are seemingly serious yet subtlely absurd. The Man Who Wasn't There is a film noir where the flawed protagonist is a barber instead of a detective.

Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thorton) is a barber in the small town of Santa Rosa, circa 1950. He's not a talkative barber. He moves through life on autopilot, and we get the sense that he got married merely because he was asked. His wife, Doris Crane (Frances McDormand), is an accountant at a department store, ambitious and nervous, often spouting complaints like, "He's such a knucklehead!"

Regardless of the events that transpire, the movie progresses with leisure, matching the pace of Ed Crane. Even in a life or death situation, we feel relaxed. Everything might not be okay, but don't mind. We're not bored, mind you; we merely feel no sense of urgency. Ed Crane is a man who takes life as it comes. We get the sense that if he were aboard the sinking Titanic, he would be distracted by the motions of the ocean waves. Likewise, rather than eagerly awaiting the next plot development, we the audience are able to appreciate the scenery. We have time to appreciate the gorgeous black and white cinematography. (What else could film noir be shot in?) We have time to appreciate the rapid-fire monologues of the lawyer, Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub), who applies Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to criminal law. We have time to appreciate what can only be described as the world's most graceful car crash. And we certainly have time appreciate the deliciously appropriate ending.

The Man Who Wasn't There is a beautiful film full of subdued humor that is not so much black as it is gray. The plot twists and turns in utterly unpredictable yet perfectly logical ways, which is what real life often seems to do, isn't it? I'm beginning to think that maybe Ed Crane has the right approach to life: to expect nothing, to fear nothing, to do what you can, and to just watch what happens.

P.S.: I'd like to point out this article by Roderick Jaynes on the naming of the film. (I'll be a spoilsport and note that Roderick Jaynes, alleged editor of Coen Brothers films, is actually entirely fictitious; they do the editing themselves.)

Book: American Gods

[ Amazon Link ] [ Rating Key ]

Toast Toast Toast and a half

What if gods were among us, vulnerable and nearly human? (No, not quite like in that song.) What would they want?

Neil Gaiman's American Gods starts out like a road trip. The protagonist, Shadow, is an ex-con who reads Herodotus for fun. He gets hired as an assistant by an enigmatic man named "Mr. Wednesday", and they start driving around the country and relishing in the Americana. We find out more about Wednesday and friends in time, and the plot goes, well, where it needs to go.

Meanwhile, we get these little interludes called "Coming to America", stories about various individuals' journeys to the Western Hemisphere throughout the centuries, supposedly written by one "Mr. Ibis", stories about human sacrifice and self sacrifice, about life, death, and places in between. Good stuff.

The book is well-researched and filled to the brim with references to various mythologies, from Norse to Slavic to Native American. Gaiman transplants all these gods and legends to a modern setting, and on a grander scale than what he did in Neverwhere. Unfortunately, the plot itself is a bit heavy-handed at times when you think about it, but it's really just a way of tying the ideas together, anyway. Consider this book an Englishman's very successful attempt to portray the essence of America.

One problem I have is that I actually find the "Coming to America" interludes to be more interesting that the rest of the novel. They are serious, dramatic, emotional, and quite well-written. They have a wonderful air of history and truth about them. If only Mr. Ibis were really around!

Then again, perhaps he is. That's the whole point, isn't it?

Comic: Boy on a Stick and Slither

[Link] I think I'll start occasionally spotlighting comics I read regularly. Today: Boy on a Stick and Slither. It's updated every Monday and Friday, and I chuckled enough at today's comic to make me want to mention it. And just randomly clicking a couple of the archives again, I found this fun bit. Go take a look at the archives! And don't forget to go check out the "About BOASAS" section. The wallpapers are delightful.

This is definitely a strip with a very specific type of humor, but perhaps you'll like it. Who knows! My dad doesn't get the humor, but he did say (in Chinese), "I've never seen a snake drawn to be so cute before."

Was this covered by insurance?

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day was a car that was hit by a meteor back in 1992. (Actually, since it's called a "meteor" while in the air and a "meteorite" when it lands, I wonder what it's call when it first hits a car? A question for the ages!)

Somebody gimme a pacifier

You know how babies sometimes just cry and cry for no real reason, and the only thing you can do is to wait for them to get tired of crying and go to sleep? I've discovered that it sometimes kind of works on me recently. I'll be in a really bad mood for whatever reason, and eventually I get tired of thinking and/or complaining about it, and I'll just lie down for a while and end up taking a nap. When I wake up, I'll have calmed down. :P

What is art?

Leo Tolstoy spent over a dozen years of his life writing a book by that very title, and here I plan to tackle it in a single blog entry. :)

A lot of definitions of art are very specific. I like to take a very liberal view of the word. Here's my shot at it: art, n.: Any activity that requires the use of intuition.

What is Intuition?

So what's "intuition"? I see intuition as the human ability to make decisions in complex situations with no rationally clear "right solution".

We'll start with the obvious. There are all kinds of guidelines for story-writing. "Introduction, rising action, complication, climax, denouement," is one. "Know your ending before you begin," is another. These are easy to follow (or ignore). But some guidelines are more vague: "Develop your characters to the point where they write their own dialog." "The writing should flow, so that the reader can be engrossed in the story." There have been some serious attempts at programmed story generation, but Stephen King won't be looking for a new job any time soon.

I actually disagree with the aforelinked researchers' view that computers will never become "truly intelligent" (whatever that means), but what's important here is that human beings can make decisions that we do not deeply understand. A person may know plenty of music theory, but that doesn't mean that they'll be able to produce a new work of Mozart. In fact, Mozart himself actually experimented with algorithmic composition, (Try Mozart's Dice Game!) but it took more than simple algorithms to compose Piano Concerto No. 20.

Human intuition excels (relatively speaking) at making sense of complex human emotions and relationships. There is a great deal that psychological research can tell us, sure, and there are even drugs that can adjust our emotions, but therapy still requires a human being for a reason. There is simple flow chart to mental health. A computer-written story may have the broad outlines right, but it won't capture the nuances of human relationships.

Not just fine art

Any activity? Sure, I think art can apply to any activity. It doesn't have to be restricted to literature or painting or film. You know all those times when someone does something with no clear correct path and says, "It's an art"? Well, I think it is. :)

I've already discussed that therapy is part science and part art. Small talk is a similar art. A person needs a very complex understanding of human behavior and local popular culture in order to be successful at small talk. Knowledge is not sufficient, either; you need to know how to apply that knowledge. Consider that computer programs that simulate conversations can only do so in limited domains and in limited styles. Small talk requires cultural sensitivity, detection of your conversation partner's domain of knowledge given very little information, and the ability to make inventive and convenient segues.

Even software engineering is an art. Good design often relies on intuition as much as formal methods. We tend to call certain coding styles "ugly" without necessarily having an air-tight argument against them. There is much about software engineering that is not well-understood, where there isn't clearly a "right" way to do things, but a human programmer can often get a general sense of "good" versus "bad" design.

The death of intuition?

Of course, the obvious questions are: Isn't intuition just a matter of what we can't yet do algorithmically? When I say "a computer will never do that", what about computers that are as smart as humans? (Whether artificial intelligence will ever be "strong" (truly intelligent and even conscious) or remain "weak" (a mere simulation of intelligence) is still just a matter of philosophy, of course.)

I think that, in a sense, some things do stop being art after a while. Medicine, for instance, is often less of an art than it used to be. As we understand more formal ways of solving certain problems, we need less intuition. In a more traditional realm, many people used to consider realistic paintings to be amazing art. Then came photographs, and the creation of a realistic image no longer required human intuition. That's not to say that photographs cannot be artistic, though, and it's not to say that all realistic paintings are, either.

So, yeah, I think some things that require intuition now will no longer require it in the future, and those activity will cease to be something I consider "art", but there will probably be other realms for human (or strong AI) invention. Perhaps the real question will then be: Will we ever fully understand our own minds? (That's another wide open philosophical topic, of course.) My definition of art hinges on our lack of a complete understand of our own thought processes, so, yeah, maybe if we can one day understand everything there is to know about what we're thinking, there will no longer be any true art. I for one hope that that day never comes.

Equality

"So are you saying that the latest Dolph Lundgren action flick is as much a work of art as Dr. Strangelove? For that matter, what if I were to poke you in the eye? It'd require human intuition to do it successfully! Are you saying that Dr. Strangelove is no better than a poke in the eye?" Well, note that I have yet to make the distinction between "good" and "bad" art. I consider bad action movies to contain a great deal of formula and a little bit of art. Since this entry has gotten ridiculously long, I'll talk about what I consider "good" art another time. Stay tuned! And please do comment below!

"Miss Cleo" to pay back $500 Million

The FTC has ordered the Miss Cleo psychic hotline to reverse $500 Million in customer charges for deceptive advertising, deceptive call charging practices, and violation of "don't call list" telemarketing rules. Woohoo! Go FTC! One amusing bit is that actress Youree Dell Harris (aka "Miss Cleo") was actually born in LA to American parents. :)

Nimoy & Bilbo

Here is a certain pointy-eared fellow singing about Bilbo Baggins [4 MB].

UK Firefighters' Strike

As of 6pm GMT, the firefighters' union here started a 48 hour strike for the first time in 25 years. They're asking for a 40% pay raise, and the government is only willing to give them a 4% pay raise, with an additional 7% to follow later. The military has taken over firefighting duties, albeit with trashy old vehicles that can only drive at 30mph. A couple of people have already died from fires, though in cases where they probably would've died anyway, even without the strike. I guess I won't even pretend to know enough about this issue to comment on it.

New Blogging Software

I've moved my system over to Movable Type, which lets me have "sections" and other delightful features. :) Each section page shows the last 10 entries for that section (with an option to view all entries to that section). And there's a search feature now, too! Please comment to let me know if there's anything that could be better.

As if things weren't complicated enough...

A US citizen was among those killed in the CIA attack in Yemen.

Locked in the bathroom!

I almost forgot to mention this.. So our bathroom door has a deadbolt. You just turn a knob from the inside to lock or unlock it. Thing is, the knob isn't secure or something, so, on several occasions, when I opened the door after taking a shower, the knob would fall off. I would just stick it back in, hold the parts of the lock on both sides of the door (think nut and bolt, without the screwing), and press them in. They would stay for a while longer. Didn't think much of it.

On Monday night, I made a quick trip to the bathroom right before going to watch 28 Days Later, and, as I unlocked the door, the knob fell off. The door was still locked. I realized now the importance of the fact that I had to hold the pieces on both sides of the door in order to put the knob back in. I was trapped in the bathroom! With no windows! But guess what? I had my mobile in my pocket! I've always despised these things, but this time, it really saved me a lot of trouble. I called my flatmate, who happened to be in the vicinity, and he came to rescue me. I was spared of hours of waiting in the bathroom. *whew*

Too much politics

I've been engrossed in politics too much lately. In a forum I visit, I saw the heading, "Most used weapon nowadays," and I expected something about Bush. It turned out to be something else. :)

FBI bugging claim retracted

The Hartford Courant retracted their earlier claim that the FBI bugged library computers, following a strong FBI denial. Libraries remain concerned. Here's hoping this is related to the point about "hope" I was making in my last post. :) Here's an amusing Slashdot post about it.

Intelligence on our side

Slashdot linked to a statement the NSA Director Michael Hayden made to Congress a few weeks ago. In this statement [pdf] about what the NSA knew or didn't know about the September 11 attacks, Hayden talks about how modern commercial encryption technologies are already a pain for them to break, that al Qaeda needed only off-the-shelf merchandise to make themselves difficult to track.

Conspiracy theorists love to talk about how all-powerful the government is, how they have covert operations all over the place doing awful things to our country. Scary? Sure. But perhaps what's even scarier is how little capability they have in reality. The government may not be planning to sell us to aliens as a slave race, but they're also not about to prevent terrorist attacks. Of course, true conspiracy theorist will just tell you that the government is actually behind the terrorist attacks. :P (Sadly, come to think of it, you don't need to be a wacko to believe that. There are millions of people who think that Israel was behind the attacks, or even that 4000 jews called in sick that day. *sigh*)

Fielding criticisms about the NSA's famed lack of information sharing, Hayden said that the NSA shares information more readily with the Defense Department than with the Justice Department for very important legal reasons: We expect much more privacy in the realm of domestic law enforcement than we do in the realm of foreign intelligence. He went so far as to urge Congress to find out from their constituents where we want the line drawn between liberty and security.

Now, he is the head of the NSA, so I'm sure there's plenty he isn't telling us. Still, call me naive, but I see the emphasis in his statement on privacy concerns as a sign that we've still got hope, despite a Republican government and certain people in charge of law enforcement.

There. That was my attempt at a positive, or at least hopeful, political rant. They don't all have to be whiny! :)

Convergence?

So I'm reading about China's changes under Jiang Zemin. It talks about how, as a result of the government's moves to set away from total control, it "acts like a massive corporation with the Communist Party as its board of directors." It's also been nice to intellectuals, which the cynical might see as a way of keeping them in line:

"I bump into friends from '89," said dissident Liu. "The life they searched for is the life they have now: a car, money, a girlfriend, a house.

However, rural wages have gone down, and there have been massive layoffs in the cities.. A few months ago, I read about how (illegal) union organizers are often physically threatened or jailed. The government is harsh on strikes, and workers just can't afford them. (Compare that to the other extreme, though: London Underground drivers who make US$56K a year, work 35 hours a week, and get tons of benefits just because their strikes are so costly. It's all about balance.) Meanwhile, the government's ties to corporations are tighter than ever, and much of the progress has been based on stimulation from deficit spending.

I do know that the economic reforms have really helped my middle-class relatives back home, and things definitely do seem a whole lot better in general than they were a decade ago, so I can't complain too much, but that's really part of the problem: Corporations are seen as the bringers of growth and fortune by the middle class. None of that WTO riot stuff there! Speaking of which, here's the paragraph that convinced me to write this entry:

With its pro-growth policies, ban on independent trade unions and low environmental standards, the government has created an advantageous atmosphere for the economic elite to make money. Policies so favor the rich and business that China's economic program, in the words of one Western ambassador, resembles "the dreams of the American Republican Party."

I'll leave the implications of that (for both countries) as an exercise for the reader. :)

Ants ate Paul's hub!

This is such a cool story that I just have to link to it, for those of you who don't read the plog: ants squatted in Paul's Ethernet hub. Ellen Ripley would be proud!

Another Name

So I was organizing my hard drive last night... I had a folder that contained such things as my comics, some old stories, and ideas for a game, and I had a hard time coming up with a name for that folder. I didn't want to call it "art" because that sounded too pretentious. I'd been calling it "works" but that didn't really roll off the tongue. (Also, I now had a folder called "work", and it would've been too confusing to have both.) I considered "creations", but that sounded like I had delusions of grandeur or something. Eventually, I settled on "projects", but that's really too general, since it could include work and so forth. So, does anyone have any better ideas?

Update: I've already mentioned this in the comments below, but I just want to point out that I've solved this problem. Jesse came up with "Compositions". :)

FBI bugging public libraries

The FBI has been bugging public libraries, and librarians have gag orders about it. There are state laws that protect the privacy of circulation records and such, but the USA PATRIOT Act overrules them. After passing the act (since they had to be terrorists not to), Congress has now asked the Justice Department what they're doing in libraries, but Ashcroft says he doesn't have to answer.

All I know is: I'm glad my friends back in the States are also SECURE BENEATH THE WATCHFUL EYES!

Update: The article has since been retracted.

Osama bin Laden at 15

One big happy family. (I found that image while browsing through a Google Answers question.)

Guy Fawkes Day

The British have the weirdest holidays. Today is Guy Fawkes Day. At night, people set bonfires, burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, and set off fireworks. Who is Guy Fawkes? He was a member of Catholic resistance to King James I who led a failed attempt to assassinate the King and blow up Parliament. He was tortured on the rack then hung, drawn, and quartered. Allegedly, the King knew of the plot well beforehand and just waited around for the best time to make an example of him and rile up anti-Catholic sentiment. (And it worked great!) What a delightful occasion for a holiday! Oh, those wacky British! :)

CIA unmanned drone kills al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen

The CIA just killed 6 suspected members of al-Qaeda in Yemen with a missile fired from an unmanned drone. It's the first (known) attack on al-Qaeda members outside of Afghanistan.

*Insert comments about my internal conflict between the horrors of war and the wonders of military technology here. Perhaps add a link relating to Private Joker's statement about the duality of Man.*

Okay, speaking of cool military aircraft (that are unfortunately made for killing), some of you might not have seen this wacky number.

Movie: 28 Days Later

[ IMDb Entry ] [ Rating Key ]

Toast and a half

Oo! I know what I can write in my blog! I can write movie reviews! I've always wanted to do that! :) Tonight, I watched 28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle of Trainspotting fame and The Beach not so fame. It's set in a deserted England after zombies take over.

So the main problem I had with this movie was the tone. I didn't know quite what to make of it, and I get the sense Boyle didn't either. You get some almost-nice shots of a deserted London (more on that later), but then most of the movie takes place in rural countrysides which are usually deserted anyway, so you can't appreciate the post-apocalyptic aspect of it much. You get some pretty decent fast-editing action of attacking zombies, but they're far too short. Every zombie attack ends as quickly as it begins. There's no apprehension. Once an attack is over, you quickly move right back to philosophizing about Our Place In A Post-Apocalyptic World and stuff. The zombie scenes try to be scary, but they're just over before I even have time to start being scared!

The feeling I got was that they started out trying to make a zombie movie, but then decided, "We need to make this different from other zombie movies somehow." Unfortunately, they never really found a clear approach, so the script just kind of meanders around aimlessly until it reaches the ridiculous climax. Perhaps they just wanted to make a cheap quick movie for fun, but then, because the action was so toned down, it wasn't really all that fun. It would've been more fun with more zombies.

Anyway, the cheapness leads to my other point.. This movie was filmed on cheap digital video. Now, I have nothing against digital video, per se. It's fine if it's the only thing you can afford, for instance. And it can even work well artistically, as it did in 24 Hour Party People, where it gave the film a gritty documentary look. Here, it's obvious that the intent is also to make things look gritty, but the the direction doesn't match the look. The cinematography and editing aren't documentary style; with the exception of the action scenes, I don't feel like they take advantage of the gritty look at all. Worse still, there are often wide shots of sweeping vistas, and they just look like crap because of the grainy video. Although the action scenes were well-edited, there were many other shots where the framing and editing felt amateurish and rushed. Digital video is no excuse for crappy direction. Boyle and company could have gotten the budget to shoot on film, I'm sure. The aforementioned deserted London scenes would have looked so much nicer on film, with perhaps some filtering/processing for grit where needed.

One last thing.. I noticed that I haven't mentioned the acting at all. The acting was pretty decent on the part of the leads, but it was also pretty forgettable. They kind of just didn't, well, talk enough for me to care about them. This movie was the worst of both worlds.. not enough action to be a good action/horror movie, and not enough coherency to be more meaningful.

And did I mentioned that the climax was really lame?

Despite all the gripes, it was actually an entertaining evening, but I guess to be honest I wouldn't even recommend it for rental. :)

Goodbyes

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How sad! It's hard to let go of something you've had for 6 years, even if it's just a computer account. I guess the main thing is that this symbolizes my stepping into the Real World. I guess I've already braced myself for this by getting a new domain and email and all that, but to actually see that notice....

Goodbye, sweet Athena. I'll miss you. *sniffle*

Death to America?

When I was back in the States, I complained about the Bush administration all the time. I knew that Western Europe was further to the left in general, and I mostly agreed with their criticisms. Now that I'm actually in Western Europe, however, I've found that the US-bashing makes me somewhat uncomfortable. It makes me feel defensive, and I don't want to feel defensive of the US gov't, especially when the Bush administration is in power! :P

One problem is that when people complain about the US, I get the sense that they're not just complaining about the Bush administration. Back home, I enjoyed "American jokes" about how Americans are arrogant, ignorant buffoons and so forth, so I was rather surprised to find myself feeling a bit offended here. I luckily haven't experienced much anti-Chinese discrimination back home, but that's kind of what it feels like here... I feel like I'm being prejudged based on my American accent. I guess I should actually be grateful, in a sense, that I've experienced so little discrimination in my life that this little bit disturbs me. :)

Part of it is that the British aren't into political correctness and all that in general. "That sounds wonderful!" you might say, but I'm telling you.. You don't miss it till it's gone... When I got on the wrong bus at a bus depot here, the employees started making fun of me!

"Are you a student?"
"Uh.. yeah."
"I knew it! Ha ha! Are you studying English? It says 'Heathrow' right on the front of that bus, you know."
"Uh... no, I'm not studying English.."

Of course, if I complain about something like that here, people will just think I'm an overly sensitive wimp. Personally, I don't care what they're thinking underneath.. it's just more pleasant when people are polite! :P

Back on topic, another issue is that it's just so easy to whine about the US. There are some valid things to complain about, sure, but I feel like that's not the only reason for the whining. Much of it is almost like a bonding thing, I feel. It's sort of just the "in" thing to do to complain about "the big kid on the block" (as Alice put it). It's also easier to complain about another country whose policies you have no control over than to complain about your own government. Like I said, though, there are plenty of valid complaints as well, and it's hard to separate the causes. The end result, though, is that, while the US gov't does deserve criticism, it gets a somewhat disproportionate about of grief compared to what it does.

Also, it's easier to complain about someone you're similar to. It's more fun to criticize US policy than to criticize the policies of, say, the Nigerian gov't.


Here's an interesting observation I made in the wake of 9-11: When it floods in India, when there's a famine in Africa, or when there's an economic crisis in South American, no one gives a damn, for the most part. If you ask people, most feel a bit guilty for not caring more, but they don't. That's not necessarily a bad thing.. I think it's perfectly reasonable for people to want to get on with their own lives and not think about death and destruction all the time.

But when 9-11 happened, people all over the world held vigils and all that. These are the same people who spent all their time complaining about the US before. They're also ordinary people who didn't have anything to gain by being in Bush's good graces or anything like that. (One might say something different for Blair, for instance.) Yes, that's partly an encouraging sign that people do know the difference between the people and the government after all, but why did people care so much? A few thousand deaths is far lower a body count than the body counts of a lot of other disasters.

Here's my hypothesis: For all the complaining, when the US was actually being threatened, people suddenly realized that there are far worse countries that could be holding the title of "most powerful country in the world". Even with Bush in power, the US gov't really does exercise quite a bit of restraint. The problem is that you never notice restraint; you only notice when something annoys you.

Of course, if we had a different President, he might not have squandered in record time that opportunity to forge more cooperative relationships with the world. :P


Anyway, that bit about how it's easier to complain than to appreciate applies to me, as well, of course. I'm complaining a lot, but that's only because I don't feel as much of a need to rant about what I appreciate. It takes effort to notice that I generally don't have to worry about offending religious sensibilities here, for instance, or to appreciate the generally more liberal governments, whereeven "extreme right" candidates can be supportive of gay rights. It's much easier for me to bitch and moan about anti-American sentiment and lack of chicken broth. :P

In the end, though, I'm writing this not just because I think anti-American sentiment is partially unjustified... On an intellectual level, I knew that already. As Paul would say, "In other news, the sky is blue." No, I'm writing this because US-bashing unfortunately affects me on an emotional level, something I didn't expect, and I felt the need the vent a little. Besides, surely the anti-PC British can take some criticism in return! :)

British phone service

I finally got a landline and dialup Internet set up at home. Posting from it now. Woohoo! Phones and dialup are soooooo complicated here.

  • Local calls are generally not free. At a payphone, you have to keep inserting coins even on a local call! Very irritating. Calls to "mobiles" are super extra expensive, but it's free to receive calls on a mobile.
  • 0800 numbers are free, except from mobiles, where they can be even more expensive than a national call! What's up with that?
  • There are these wacky 0845 numbers, which are charged "local rate" everywhere in the country, and there are 0870 numbers which are "national rate" everywhere in the country. I wonder if the phone company pays people to get 0870 numbers? And here's the real catch: I actually paid for unlimited nation-wide calls (nights and weekends), but 0845 and 0870 numbers are not included. I always have to pay for those. :P
  • I have this phone card that has an 0800 number, an 0845 number, and a London local number. It's cheapest to use the 0845 number, I think.. and most expensive to use the 0800 number. Different rates for all the numbers. So complicated.
  • Calls to dialup Internet are also not included. Previously, you had to dial 0845 numbers to get to your provider. Nowadays, you can pay the phone company even more money and get unlimited calls to dialup Internet.
  • So then I'm looking for an ISP, and some of them disconnect you every two hours, too. It seems that with a lot of ISPs, you'll also have a lot of trouble getting through to their modems sometimes.

I much prefer being a lazy American and just having unlimited local and unlimited dialup as the default and primary options. It's just so much easier!

Chicken broth and other gripes

So when I attempted to start a blog earlier, it only lasted a single entry. Let's give this another shot, shall we? :)

First of all, go check out what I like to call the plog. Paul commented on several links I sent him today, so I won't bother repeating them here. :)

Second of all, I'd like to officially complain about the lack of canned chicken broth in this country. I thought it was a relatively culturally neutral thing, but, apparently, I was wrong. They have tons of canned creamy chicken soup and such, but no plain chicken broth. The closest thing I've found are OXO chicken boullion cubes, but they still have some spices and stuff in them. I've tried and failed to make quick chicken broth from a few pieces of real chicken. I guess I'll have to just make pork soups until I figure out a new way to make some good quick soup...

I found another page by Americans griping about things they didn't like in Britain. The lock thing really baffles me. They still have these wacky locks that are just a hole all the way through, like in the old days. As that page mentions, you have to use a key to open them from either side. Yet, right next to that, we have a more reasonable lock, too. I don't know why those old style locks are still so popular. I guess people just haven't bothered to get new doors. And yes, it takes 3+ hours to run through the wash/dry cycle (and that's on "quick wash"!), and I can only put in about 2/5 of what I can put in an American washer, if not less.

Hm. My first blog entry here is pretty dry. Just boring griping. Here's some more:

I got my first text message spam today! Unscrupulous corporations can make my pants vibrate. There is just something seriously disturbing about that. :) I did, however find an opt-out service that's apparently an attempt by the industry to self-regulate. I don't have a clue if it'll really work, but it's worth a try!

Okay, now let's see if I ever get around to writing a second entry! :)

About November 2002

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in November 2002. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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