Monday, December 27, 2004

Mazel Tov!

So, apparently somebody thinks I'm Jewish, which is a bit odd to me. I guess it's because my last name is Schwartz, and apparently all Schwartzes are Jewish, or at least we all look like that (I am probably the least stereotypically Jewish-looking person I know). Or maybe it's that my name is Schwartz, and I live in the suburbs. I don't know. All I know is that Ed Koch, of all people, invited me to join the Republican Jewish Coalition this past election season.

I must admit, I was tempted. I have been fascinated by all things Hebrew since, well, a long time. There's something deeply attractive to me, at a fundamental level, about Judaism. Maybe it's the traditions. Maybe it's the way Jews seem to combine fatalism with telling God off when He pisses them off. Maybe it's that wacky Jewish sense of humor, I don't know. My father was interested in Judaism, as well. He once said that if he hadn't been born Catholic, he'd probably have converted to Judaism, simply because he loved the historical traditions and culture. He may have also had a weakness for potato latkes, but we never discussed it.

But the RJC? I don't know. I hate to affiliate myself strongly with a political party-- though I really miss not registering Republican this year, so I could have voted against Marilyn Musgrave twice (not that it would have mattered much, but this woman really chaps my hide, as the kids today like to put it). If I were to join a party, it would be the They're All Bastards Party, and we'd get together every four years to heap invective and scorn (I love that phrase) upon the well-deserving heads of politicians of every political pursuasion. It would be a new, more political Algonquin Round Table, where we sit on chaise lounges, drinking highballs and whiskey sours, and other such intellectual drinks, and discourse upon the sorry state of the nation.

So, uh, you busy in '08?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Christmas: Scourge or Minor Nuisance?

Once again, my friend Natalie has prompted this post. Her recent announcment of detente with the Christmas holiday got me thinking about my own Yuletide issues.

For the two of you that actually read this drivel I'm arrogant enough to call a blog, my father died on Christmas day in 1987. As I was a whopping 13 years old at the time, you can imagine my feelings towards Christmas were, thenceforth, less than salubrious. About a year or two ago, I came to my own detente of sorts, though my reasoning is slightly different: I realized that my being angry and bitter about Christmas wasn't doing me any good, and was making the people around me at least marginally less happy than they would be otherwise.

I have retained at least one issue, howeve, upon which I refuse to compromise: 90+% of all Christmas music is drivel, at best. The only Christmas music I will countenance is unconventional, or unconventionally arranged-- Dolly Parton doing bluegrass-style carols is okay, Englebert Humperdinck doing anything, really, is right out. The only exceptions I will make are for Tony Bennet or Frank Sinatra. Okay, maybe Mel Torme, but that's where I draw the line.

As far as the overcommercialization, well, that's an easy thing to get self-righteous about, but ultimately, all you end up doing is upsetting your friends and family; the message (if it was ever really about the message, but that's another rant) gets lost, and you just look like a jerk. But there are options-- as much as possible, this year, I'm trying to give experiences, not physical gifts. I can't do it for everyone, but most of the people in my life have too many things already-- what they could use more than anything is (say) a whitewater rafting trip, not another nonstick cookware set.

Besides, I think it's easier to personalize an experience than it is to figure out what to get my brother this year. I just think of what he and his family enjoy most, and most of the time it's something like a sailing trip, or a fun time with the grandparents. When lying on your deathbed, will you remember the Transformer you got for Christmas in 1986[0], or the time you went trekking around Japan on your own for two weeks?

On a side note, I must have a sick sixth sense for gifts, or something. At least in my family, it seems that whenever I get disgusted with the whole shopping process and just say "The heck with it, I'll give them this piece of crap", it turns out that's EXACTLY what the recipient wanted-- sometimes whether they knew it or not. (I got my brother a nutmeg grinder, of all things, for Christmas a few years back, and he still tells me how much he loves it!) I'm afraid this year, my ideas are going to get me in even more trouble that way-- I don't know how I'm going to follow this up next year.

[0] Yes I do, actually. Omega Supreme, TYVM. And it rocked beyond belief.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Gimp splash screen contest

For those of you not involved in the Free Software community, the GIMP is a free image-editing program. Recently, they sent out a request to artists to donate artwork for a new splash screen.

Here's my personal favourite.

This is a close second, though.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Signs you're getting old...

I love A Series of Unfortunate Events to death. They are everything children's books should be: smart, funny, and most of all, not condescending to its audience. It's some of the best writing around these days, and manages what is probably the hardest trick in the book-- being self-aware without being self-conscious about it. I'm not sure if the author is singular or a committee (a la the Hardy Boys books or Nancy Drew I treasured as a preteen), but whoever it is, the stuff is brilliant. It's like Rocky and Bullwinkle: something parents can read with their kids, and neither feels talked down to or ignored. Of course it helps to have a rather dark sense of humor, but I find being a parent has already done that to most of my friends.

Anyway, what brought this on was my friend Natalie's bemoaning the fickleness of pop culture as regards the Care Bears. You see, a movie is being made of the first three books of this increasingly traumatic series, and I was browsing the IMDB message board on the movie, looking for tidbits, and found out that teenage girls were hoping there was a SoUE clothing line at Hot Topic, so they could buy them and wear them to the premiere.

Wait a minute! I thought. How come they seem so young?, and then I realized I was probably more than twice as old as most of them. Eek! When did that happen?
I guess it shows I'm still hep with the kids today. Plus, I'm learning invaluable things, like this tidbit from one moviebuff27:
I REALLY hope the clothes come from Hot Topic, that'd be much better than instead of - dun, dun, dun - LMITED TOO! EW!

Better not!

Who knew? If I ever have kids, this stuff will be key, I'm sure.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Paarfi does Tech Support

No shit there I was, having an absolutely terrible day. The sort of day you're glad the universe didn't put a small puppy in your path, because people look at you funny while you're strangling it. The solution?

The Viscount of Adrilankha, of course.

Well, that wasn't my original thought, but I was depressed, and at the library, and one thing lead to another, and, well... it just happened. Then I thought, "Hey, it's 6pm, and I don't want to go home, because my net connection is teh suck right now, why not head to a coffeeshop with wireless? They're all the rage with the kids these days, I hear!"

Book and laptop in hand, off I went.

Upon arrival, I ordered a large chai, paid far too goddam much for it, and sat down, unsure of whether or not to read Brust, or hang out on IRC and update my computer to the latest Ubuntu bits. As fate would have it, I decided upon "both". And thus was born a very odd evening, with my hanging out on #ubuntu, and sounding like a tech support drone in a very bad Regency romance novel. Unfortunately, that was a couple of weeks ago, so I can't bring the genius back, but I highly recommend it, always assuming, of course, that anyone ever actually reads this.

Friday, October 08, 2004

He Got It Right The First Time

I'm reading Return to Mos Eisley: The Star Wars Trilogy on DVD, and so should you. The basic thesis is that Lucas' original approach to the movies had a thematic integrity that his CGI fixes to it do not, and more importantly, that they do not preserve.

What made "Star Wars" so great in 1977 was Lucas' creation of a "used world", where things had been happening for centuries before the cameras showed up, and would continue long after. The sets, the props, everything was designed with that used look; Luke's speeder even looked third- or fourth-hand. But the CGI, mixed with that gritty realism, is too clean, too perfect. CGI props don't seem to move right, CGI characters (Jabba, among others) don't either, exactly. This isn't inherent to CGI, but it is, I think, the current state of the art.

This ties in interestingly with a lecture I sat in on the last half of at Nan Desu Kan this year, about 2-d animation techniques vs. 3-d ones. What I took away from that lecture was that 3-d animation is, in many cases, too perfect. It can be made better, but that takes a lot of work that isn't always practical to do.

An example: push your index finger into the palm of your other hand. Notice how when your finger contacts the skin, the knucles and skin deform, and the cuticle turns white around the tip. This isn't impossible to do in 3-d, by any means, but it's very easy to forget, and just have the finger touch the surface and not deform properly. Likewise, I think, the CGI in the revamped Star Wars movies detracts because the movie wasn't filmed with it in mind, so it jars the suspension of disbelief, because the world is gritty, and the CGI is not.

Anyway, while I realize and recognize 100% that George Lucas doesn't owe me a thing, I still would like to add my voice to those asking (not demanding, those people scare me) Lucas for a release of the original theatrical cut.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Nobody to vote for, again

I tried, really I did.

After a history of voting for third parties for President, based mostly on a dislike of both major party candidates, I proclaimed that this year, I was going to vote for one of them. The motivator for this decision was the realization that politics is inherently all about compromise-- that the very act of voting, no matter for whom, is a declaration of compromise, given that no candidate will ever represent my views exactly. At that point, it's much like the famous quote, apocryphally attributed to Dr. Jonson: "Madam, we've settled that. Now we're haggling over the price."

The problem is, both major-party candidates have gone out of their way, it seems, to tell me they don't want my vote. Leaving the foreign policy realm out of the discussion for now, President Bush has initiated one of the most disastrous fiscal policies I've ever seen out of a Republican, and John Kerry is naive enough to believe that technology can somehow save us money by instituting a national health care plan. (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt on that one; I'd rather not believe he's intentionally planning on wasting trillions of taxpayer dollars on a boondoggle.) Bush believes that gay couples don't deserve the same social and legal protections straight couples do, and Kerry apparently sees no ethical problems whatsoever in using the stem cells from aborted fetuses for research purposes.

How am I supposed to vote for either of them, when they both tell me, "Your core beliefs aren't important to me" ?

And before y'all go all third-party-candidate-y on me, let me just point out that one does not generally start one's political career with the Presidency. Even the current President Bush spent some time as Governor of Texas, after all. So no, sorry, I will not entertain seriously any candidate who hasn't even been elected to the position of Junior Assistant Dogcatcher.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Staring at the Mountain

While reading this Chuck Lorre vanity card, I had a bit of a realization: I have no ambition. None at all. If I had an ambition, I suppose it would loosely consist of "don't lose what you have, because you'll lose it anyway, but if you try not to, it'll take longer."

Well, that's crap. That's nothing to work towards, nothing to tell your kids, should you ever have any. "Well, son, your daddy's dead now, but he worked all his life to not lose his pathetic material trappings." So, instead, I'll list all the things I've ever wanted in my life, but have given up on:

Becoming a rock star. Writing a comedy TV show. Eating fugu. Directing a play. Running sound for a rock and roll tour. Proving the Reimannian Conjecture. Getting over this goddam cold. Doing something truly original with a computer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Millenium Actress

I was over at my friend Dragon's place last Sunday. We were going to go see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, but by the time we got off our lazy butts to leave, it was too late. So we watched Satoshi Kon's Millenium Actress instead. All in all, it's a great choice, and highly recommended.

Millenium Actress follows an actresses' reminiscences of her life and career. When she was a young teenager during the Sino-Japanese War that preceeded World War II, she fell in love with a Japanese activist opposed to the Manchurian occupation. After giving her a key that he said unlocked "the most important thing there is", he disappears. She then takes a job as an actress in a movie that is being filmed in Manchuria to find him, and thus starts her movie career.

The conceit that makes the movie work is that as FUJIWARA Chiyoko slips between the present and the past, between reality and her films, the documentary crew goes with her, sometimes even taking part in actions that occurred before they were born. This technique blurs the lines between reality, fantasy, and history, rendering them indistinguishable, and in some sense all equally fictitious.

This movie is well worth a rent for the non-anime fan, and fans who don't own it by now probably should. It's a revealing look at the lies that underpin our definitions of ourselves, and their necessity.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Bend it, Baby

Just watched Bend It Like Beckham, which has just become one of my favourite movies of 2002. The plot is fairly simple: Jess is a second-generation British immigrant from Punjab who's amazingly talented at football. Her parents, however, are very old-school, and do not approve of her doing un-ladylike activities. Hilarity ensures.

This movie is hilarious, not because of its gags-- there aren't really any to speak of-- but because of its characters. Sure, Jess' English friend Jules has a mother who declares, with a straight face, that there's a reason Sporty Spice is the only one without a man, but there are people like that, after all. In one of the extras on the DVD, the actor playing Jess' father declares that after 10 minutes, you believe in the characters. I don't think it takes nearly that long.

The DVD also has a recipe for Aloo Gobi, which looks really tasty. :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

#$(*&!ing cats, and home repair

I just called around, and it sounds like I'll have to pay anywhere from $300-$360 to have my carpets cleaned. Freakin' cats. The problem, of course, is that the carpet in the basement has been pissed on six ways from sunday, so:

  • my cats think it's okay to piss there
  • piss soaks through the carpet and into the pad
  • you clean the carpet, and it just wicks the piss smell back into the room.
The only REAL solution is to move into a hotel for a week, pull up all the carpet, paint the floors with Killz, put down new carpet, and then move to Scotland.

But last week I put a hardwood floor in my walk-in closet, and it is nice. And was very easy to put in. But damned expensive. I probably spent > $200 on materials alone, and I still haven't even put in the new baseboard. At least I enjoy this sort of thing, or I'd be bonkers by now.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Getting started

This is more of a placeholder than anything; I'm relatively new to blogging. I've given some thought in the past to writing my own blog software, but decided to give blogspot a try, for at least a while. Mostly, this will be my random blatherings on my life, things I care about, people I care about, and so on. Fasten yer seatbelts, folks, this is going to get very lame very fast. :)