May 27, 2005

I'm not left handed either

I can't promise this will be my last Star Wars post, but I can promise it will be short. The swordfighting. I was disappointed by it. The effects were cool, but the technique didn't suit me. Not that it wasn't well executed, it just wasn't my style. Truly beautiful swordplay should probably be done with one hand, but the Jedi lightsaber style is most often two handed. It's a choice I can live with, and it takes nothing away from the story, but go back and watch The Princess Bride if you want to see artful swordsmanship.

May 26, 2005

Best news I've heard all day

Hayden Christensen may quit acting to become an architect
It's too bad he didn't do this before the latest Star Wars trilogy was filmed. My favorite part is where he talks about bulking up and having lifts in his shoes to fill up Darth Vader's suit. It must have taken more than that. David Prowse (the original Vader) is a good six inches taller than Hayden.

May 25, 2005

My Stolen Episode III Review

Regardless of anything else, you can say that Episode III was better than Episodes I and II. That's about all you can say. This was no great work of American cinema, and the only way one can claim it "rocked" is if you defined "rocked" as "having a lot of super cool special effects." Steven Goldman writes The Pinstriped Blog about the New York Yankees, but he also puts pop culture stuff in there as well. He has written the most intelligent review of the movie that I have read. I have little to say about the movie that he hasn't already said masterfully. Since I can't figure out how to put an enduring link to his review of Revenge of the Sith, I will copy it below. I'm warning you now: Do not read what you see below if you haven't seen the movie. It gives away the whole thing and is not meant to be read unless you've seen it.

STAR KABUKI: THE LOVE SUICIDES AT CORUSCANT
As with the two films that preceded it, "Revenge of the Sith" is a mixed bag. There are many scenes that offer compelling excitement. There are many more that not only fall flat, they crash through the floor. Whether the scales balance closer to good than bad is almost too close to call; the fall of Anakin Skywalker is affecting, but George Lucas really makes you work to feel it.

The current film has more good in it, to paraphrase a Star Wars locution, than the other two combined, but it still has many, many scenes in which the actors comport themselves, in dialogue, behavior, physical movement, as if the filmmakers had no experience with the way people actually behave. Specifically, any scene between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman is like a window into a parallel universe where everyone has an IQ of 75 but are still allowed to serve as politicians and police officers. If you had never seen these actors in other films, you would have no clue that either of them could act. These are career-breaking parts, acts of pure assassination by the writer/director. Forgive me if I paraphrase the dialogue between the two - I wasn't taking notes:

Anakin: You look beautiful today.

Padme: That's because I am in love.

Anakin: No, I am in love, and therefore beautiful as well.

Padme: We are beautiful because we are in love. Hold me, like you did at the Red Roof Inn in Rapid City.

In one of their scenes, Portman, who spends most of the film hanging out in her apartment, is wearing an odd bit of leather headgear that suggests she is either about to go out for a scrimmage with Red Grange or will be joining Snoopy to hunt for the Red Baron. The distracting wardrobe choices are almost as sloppily inattentive as the dialogue. In the "Star Wars" cycle, the characters speak in lofty, greeting card language that is to actual English what Albert Speer's Nazi monumentalist buildings were to architecture. Yet, as long as everyone talks in this odd sort of way, at least the film has an internal consistency. That goes out the window twice in "Sith," when Portman is momentarily receiving signals from a John Hughes film. "I'm pregnant. What're we gunna do?" she asks. Gunna? Ms. Portman, you're the princess of Nabu, not Jersey City. This doesn't take you out of the film nearly as quickly as Chewbacca's Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan yell in "Return of the Jedi" (repeated here, just in case we didn't get it the first time), but it's close.

The descent of Anakin Skywalker into evil, supposedly the whole point of this second trilogy, is breezed past as if Lucas never thought through the reasons for the change. Since one goes into these films knowing that they are watching the origin of Darth Vader, suspense isn't a big part of the transformation. What maintains dramatic interest, then, is the tragedy of Skywalker's fall. The film gets only about halfway there, but then the tragic aspect of the character was fatally compromised by the previous film, "Attack of the Clones," in which Skywalker was portrayed as a petulant, moody, humorless, arrogant, unlikable brat. We can't be watching a hero fall into evil if he seemed to be more than halfway there already. "A good man who went astray" is a compelling story. "A bad man who got just a little worse" is not.

In interviews, George Lucas has responded to this criticism by saying, in essence, "Hey, I was depicting a teenager, and guess what? Most teenagers are whiny, self-centered, and irritating." True enough, but most teenagers are not the main characters of an epic story. If your typical shallow teen was meant to be the main character of a movie, you wouldn't need a script or special effects; you could just set up your camera at the local mall on Friday night and see what transpired. We're supposed to be dealing with exceptional people here, or to put it more directly, your story either has a hero or we can stay home. Lucas didn't get this, and because of it, his saga has a hole in the center.

Lucas's failure to come to grips with his own hero's journey (reference here to Joseph Campbell is made pointedly) is hit home in "Sith." Anakin's slide into evil is then presented as a series of shrugged-off decisions. "Now, Skywalker, you will join me," says Chancellor Palpatine. "Yeah, okay," says Skywalker. In a few wholly unconvincing scenes he appears to agonize over the decision when in actuality he made the call quite casually, about 15 minutes into the film. Any regrets expressed thereafter are strictly pro forma.

Because Lucas himself is aware that Skywalker's turn appears to be unmotivated, he tries to give him some extra incentive. Skywalker dreams that Padme will die in childbirth and comes to believe that only the dark side of the force can save her. Later, he is told by Palpatine that his fellow Jedi are threatening to overthrow the state and he must choose between his loyalty to democracy and his loyalty to his religious order. Yet, Skywalker knows from the outset that this is not true. Again, we are robbed of the chance to view the story as that of a hero who went astray despite noble intentions. He is not seduced by the dark side, he does not do the wrong thing because he believes it to be right. He merely acquiesces. The greatest evil the galaxy has ever known is born because Anakin Skywalker has expectant father syndrome.

That's not tragic, it's pathetic. Our main character isn't a man of destiny, he's a patsy. Imagine if the anxiety over Padme's delivery was never mentioned and the revelation of Palpatine's revelation of his Sith-hood to Anakin was saved for the end of the film, not the beginning. The makings of a true tragedy reveal themselves. Anakin trusts Palpatine, who has become his second mentor. Palpatine tells Anakin that the Jedi are involved in treasonous activity. Normally Anakin wouldn't believe him, but because the Jedi are suspicious of Anakin's closeness to Palpatine, they close themselves off from him, which serves only to lend credence to Palpatine's story. Now misconstruing everything he sees, Anakin turns on the Jedi. Believing in democracy, he slaughters its protectors in the service of a man whose intention is to become dictator. And the slaughtering part it's strangely compelling, kind of a turn-on. By the time he finally learns the truth he has sacrificed everything he believed in. His teachers are dead, his friends and loved ones betrayed. He is stuck in a metal suit because he believed a lie and acted out of good intentions. He has killed and enjoyed it. He is lost. That's tragic.

The political and philosophical aspects of "Sith" have been much commented upon. They're really not worth the time. Jedi Manichaeism is contrasted to Sith relativism. The former is naïve and the latter would have been more interesting had Palpatine meant it sincerely, but Palpatine is (again) not a megalomaniac taking over the government because, he, Hitler-like, thinks he's the only one who can do the job. He' s just a comic book villain, in the worst meaning of that expression, with a blind lust for power. That characterization renders his motivations utterly unimportant. Crazy people don't need thoughtful motivation. Their condition is self-justifying.

In one of the film's most facile scenes, Anakin goes to Yoda and professes that he's a bit anxious about losing someone or something. The cat. Yoda's comeback is out of Stoicism for Dummies: Fuhgeddaboutit. Let it go. Learn to live without the, um, cat. This is not necessarily a bad point, but it's the beginning of a long lecture about emotional self-denial, not the end. It begs a follow-up: "In the short term, try this…" "This" isn't forthcoming, because Lucas doesn't know what "this" is.

The film's climactic battle takes place above, on, and around a river of molten lava. It's strange what your willing suspension of disbelief can and cannot endure. Force powers, sure, I'll buy that. Hanging around a lava flow like it's the Danube, sorry. Your lungs would suppurate moments before your flesh burned from your body, and that's without ever touching the lava.

What is left then, is the ghost of Lucas' intentions. Skywalker's tragedy can be moving if you let John Williams' score take you along and convince you that it's supposed to be. Ewan McGregor's semi-Alec Guiness Obi-Wan Kenobi is well done. He has some fun moments chasing down a vicious droid with emphysema. It's not really relevant to anything, but it's amusing. Samuel Jackson is good, as always, and he has a truly tragic part - a powerful man who lives just long enough to see that he wasn't paranoid - they really were out to get him. And if you dig light saber battles, well, this is the film for you. There's one approximately every two minutes, for a total of 73. Finally, of course, seeing Lucas set up his linkages to the second/first trilogy makes for a nice game of mental trivial pursuit as the characters sweat what they're gunna do.

Those of us grew up with the original Star Wars, for whom the film was almost a religion, perhaps we're living the real tragedy. We invested a lot more thought, emotion, and rationalization in these films than Lucas did. He had a fully realized universe, however cardboard its structure in places, and millions of people ready to believe in it. He even had a compelling story to tell, a classic of rise, fall, and redemption. In the end he had less regard for his creation than we did, building it into a baroque edifice of merchandizing and special effects, one without a message to convey or a story to tell. It's insincere and betrays a disdain for the audience. His emperor has no clothes, so what did we bother for?

May 24, 2005

I live here

It's a short story, so I'll copy the whole thing. You can link to it here.

RALEIGH, N.C. - The state's test writers tried to come up with a math question about football and ended up with a fumble.

On an end-of-grade test this month, seventh-graders had to calculate the average gain for a team on the game's first six plays. But the team did not gain 10 yards on the first four plays and would have lost possession before a fifth and sixth play.

The team opened with a 6-yard loss, a 3-yard gain and a 2-yard loss, which would have made it fourth down with 15 yards to go for a first down. The team's fourth play was just a 7-yard gain, yet it maintained possession for a 12-yard gain and a 4-yard gain on two additional plays.

"Whoever wrote it didn't think it through," said Gene Daniels, athletics director of Salem Middle School in Apex.

Mildred Bazemore, chief of the state Department of Public Instruction's test development section, said the question makes sense mathematically and was reviewed thoroughly.

"It has nothing to do with football," Bazemore said. "It has to do with the mathematical concepts that you're studying."

What's worse, that the question is messed up or that this woman tried to defend it?

May 23, 2005

One Sleeping Friend + One Cooperative Cat


Tony_PJ, originally uploaded by ajvogel.

Equals this picture. Tony (the Colonel) was asleep on the living room floor after a hard day of driving and watching Star Wars. The cat was sleeping on the couch. I put the cat on top of Tony and she settled in. Of course we took pictures.

May 21, 2005

PowerToy for XP

Microsoft has some downloads for Windows XP called Powertoys. You can access them here. I recently installed the ClearType Tuner on my system. It purports to make text on the screen easier to read by smoothing things out a bit, and it has a wizard that give you a few examples of text and asks you which set looks better, and then it automatically adjusts for your preference. It takes a little while to get used to everything looking different, but I'm starting to like it. If you're interested, you can download it. If it doesn't look good for you, it can easily be reversed in the Control Panel.

May 20, 2005

Come See Flickr

I have a new Flickr account. You can see my pictures here and make your comments/tags as you like. For now, there are just pictures from the San Diego Zoo. Also, there is a link graphic to my pictures over with the links section.

May 19, 2005

12 years of wrestling got me something

Paul Lukas writes a column for ESPN.com called "Uni Watch." It deals with happenings in the world of sports uniforms past and present. Last time, he mentioned some shoes that boxers were wearing in lieu of the more traditional boots. These were, in fact, wrestling shoes, so I fired off an email explaining this and giving a link to an ad for the shoes on one of the boxers. Lo and behold, I, along with other people, got his attention. Click here and either read the whole article or do a search for my name (it's near the end, in a section called "Follow-Ups") in order the see the first, and probably last, time my name has ever been associated with the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Old Man Body

So my hip started hurting the other day this week. Janet, of course, had no sympathy. "Your hip hurts? What are you, 90?" was her exact response. Never mind her, though. I just started taking some ibuprofen, which seems to help dull the pain. Perhaps it would stop hurting if I would stop running every day, but I don't really want to do that. I'll probably take a break this weekend. The hip is a little sore when I start running, but once I get going, I don't really notice it until I cool down later that day.

This reminds me of wrestling with injuries, in a tangential sort of way. Whenever you have a minor injury that doesn't keep you from wrestling, drilling was the hardest part for me for a couple of reasons. First, you have to let your partner train as well, so you're getting thrown to the ground repeatedly. This can irritate a sore knee or wrist. Second, when you do the move yourself, you are repeating the same motions over and over, and if that irritates the injury, it irritates it repeatedly. Actually competing, whether in practice or in matches, is a much more fluid and flexible situation. You don't end up doing the same things over and over, and you're also more focused on your opponent than a banged up joint.

It's only tangentially related to my hip because running is nothing but repeated movements. People train for years to be able to repeat the same stride thousands of times in a row with little variation. My hip hurts less when I'm running for a completely different reason than my wrist used to hurt less in competition.

May 17, 2005

Where does the name Vader come from, anyhow?

Let's make this my one pre-relese post about the latest Star Wars movie. The first two movies were generally disappointing, as the acting left a lot to be desired, especially from Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen. Anakin in particular was wooden and had little personality. He came off the way a 10 year old acts when he doesn't get his way. You'd expect more out of the Chosen One. Portman was mostly blah. She didn't bring much to the table, but she didn't take anything away, either. The Jedis did a pretty good job, as you can't really go wrong with Sam Jackson, and people have been waiting more than 20 years to see Yoda in action. Part of the disappointment could be that, like the finale of Seinfeld, no movie could have lived up to the hype.

The main problem with the first two movies was that George Lucas probably should have delegated more of the control. Instead, he was in charge and fell in love with CGI almost to the exclusion of good storytelling. I say almost, because the movies were entertaining and I don't feel cheated out of my money for having seen them. The setup in the first trilogy made it difficult to totally ruin things, as there was a complexity that required explanation in the newer trilogy.

Perhaps another point that made the movies disappointing is that no matter what happened, everyone knew how it was going to end. Anakin becomes Darth Vader and all but kills off the rest of the Jedi (perhaps all but Obi Wan and Yoda?). This final movie has the kicker of finally getting to the transformation of Chosen Once to asthmatic and tying up a lot of loose ends in the story that the viewer is dropped in the middle of in A New Hope. Much has been made of this final movie being the first of the series to have a PG-13 rating. I suppose this was inevitable, with all the darkness of Jedi extermination and transforming from mostly man to mostly machine. Keeping it kid friendly probably would have made for a worse movie.

I'll hold back anything else until I see the movie. I'm hopeful that it rises to the level of the first trilogy and doesn't sink the level of the second.

May 16, 2005

Planning a wedding? Know someone who is?

Then you need this book. It would be a perfect engagement party gift. Start the bidding now!

May 15, 2005

Too Much Stuff

I guarantee that this isn't a unique problem to Janet and me, but I'm still talking about it. We just have too much darn stuff. I was thinking about this after going through some things today while Janet was at work. Most of it is stuff that we could live without but choose not to. In the next few weeks, I'm hoping to do some organization to figure out what is important and what just is. If we're lucky, we can get rid of some of the stuff that isn't essential. That way, we'll have more space to collect non-essential items for us to throw away six months from now. And the cycle of life continues...

Oh, and by the way...now that I've been enlightened as to who the heck Michael Buble is, I've decided that I was right. He's not particularly famous, and I can safely forget I've ever heard his name.

May 11, 2005

Who is this guy?

Ever seen the Frappucino commercials running these days? There's this guy singing, and he's identified as Michael Bublé. Am I supposed to know who this guy is? Is he famous, and I'm just running in the wrong circles? That's all I got tonight.

May 8, 2005

Picture Time

In the spring of 2003, I interviewed for a job in Charleston, South Carolina. I went to the aquarium while I was there and took some pictures, including those seen below.

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May 6, 2005

Mechanically Speaking

Will Carroll is an excellent baseball writer who specializes in player injuries and injury prevention. He's written two books, Saving the Pitcher and The Juice, about preventing pitcher injuries and steroids, respectively. On his blog today, he analyzes the mechanics of all 20 of Sports Illustrated's top 20 young pitchers by looking at the photographs seen here. Reading it and comparing the pictures was way more fun than it probably should have been, so I won't be offended if you don't find it as fascinating as I did.

And now, for the real news

So CNN.com has decided an interview with Paris Hilton goes on their front page, now that she's a serious actor and all in the upcoming House of Wax horror movie. The following exchange is just priceless:

Q: Do you read blogs?

HILTON: What's that?

Q: Um, they're these things on the Internet where people write about news and stuff.

HILTON: No, I don't really read anything on the Internet except my AOL mail. I don't like people who sit on computers all day long and write about people they don't know anything about.

Q: Paris, you just described my job.

May 5, 2005

Interesting Article

A History of the GUI

Ever wonder where Windows came from?

Mind Game: Janet Vogel

As promised, here is part three of the wildly popular series "Stream of consciousness blogging from the mind of _____." Up today, Janet. This one is really too easy, me living with her and all. Let's just hope I don't share too much. Maybe next time I'll do Brooke, but I'm not sure since no one who reads this knows her well enough for anything I say to be funny. I've had a request for Tim Hillner, but I might pass that one off to the Captain and see if he's interested in subbing in on that one. He was his roommate for three years.

When this is all over, I better be able to get a job because there's no way I'm working at Barnes & Noble with a Masters Degree.

Nanny 911 is such a great show. I wish Andy would have let me tape it when my grandparents were here.

Why won't they open the pool? Why won't they open the pool? Why won't they open the pool?

OK, 35 page limit. He won't be upset if I go onto 36 pages will he? My gosh, I'm such a nerd.

I shower every day, and Andy sometimes does twice. Why is my classmate so stinky?

Will Sheridan ever ger her baby back on Passions? The suspense is killing me.

We've got two boxes of Cheerios left. That's not enough, I better go get some more.

If one more kid at the park tells me George Washington fought in the Civil War, I'm just going to cry.

I mean it, this job has shaken my faith in the public school system, and my mom's in the NEA!

It's a good thing I'm married, because I don't think it would take much to turn me into the crazy cat lady.

When there's no one in the left turn lane, why is there an arrow? Can't they get a smart light?

I love the cat and all, but I wish she was smart enough to remember that I fed her an hour ago.

How come Andy's the lucky one who gets to work with all those people who speak German while my fluency goes out the window?

Just a few more Discover Card dollars and I'll have enough for that iPod.

If it wasn't bad for me, my lunch would consist entirely of potato chips every day.

OK, that was harder than I thought. I think it's funnier, for me anyhow, if I've neve actually heard the person say some of the things, but that it's just a guess on my part. It's harder to guess when I've heard Janet say so much. I hope you have as much fun reading these as I do writing them.

May 4, 2005

Mind Game: Vikki Bol

It's now time for the second installment of "Stream of consciousness blogging from the mind of _____." Today's subject: Vikki Bol. I did a pretty good job with James yesterday, but it only gets harder from here.

So Johnny Damon got married this winter, but I think Tom Brady is still single...hmmm, at least there's Tim.

If I made mitochondria out of marshmallows, would there be any left by the end of the day, or would the kids just eat them all?

Wait, was that two drinks or three?

I hate the University of Maryland and all their stupid turtles.

I know A-Rod saved that kid from getting run over by that bus, but why couldn't he have been hit while doing it?

It costs $700 to fly to Dominica! They better have some darn good bananas there.

For the last time, it's a viola, not a violin. Get it straight, people!

If that jerk Megan brags one more time about going to Fenway, we're not sisters anymore.

The school year would be much better if it were only six months long, but I still got paid the same.

I used to think teachers were underpaid...after looking for a townhouse to buy, I know we are.

Julie Bowen really should have stopped with Ed. I can't take this Jake in Progress nonsense.

If something that costs $100 is on sale for 50% off, that's like someone giving me 50 bucks. Shhh, don't tell me the truth.

Drinking a Diet Pepsi and eating a salad is practically the same as 30 minutes on the treadmill. If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

Stinking humidity. Looks like it's ponytail day for Miss Bol or else I'll end up looking like Art Garfunkel.

Dude, I'm totally boycotting all things Terrapin. Don't even try to stop me.

Whew, that was tough, but I think I did all right. I'll go for something easier next time and do Janet. That will be a piece of cake. Stay tuned for the next installment of "Stream of consciousness blogging from the mind of _____."

May 3, 2005

A reminder

Amy: August 10, 2005
Andy: Anniversary (October 10), 2005
James: February 28, 2005
Janet: Valentine's Day, 2005
Katie: Christmas 2005
Liz: May 2005 (almost gone)
Vikki: Christmas 2004

Mind Game: James Barley

This post is the first in a forthcoming series entitled "Stream of consciousness blogging from the mind of _____." In this series, I will get inside the head of different people to give you a glimpse of what they may possibly be thinking on a daily basis. I'm not sure how long this series will be, so we'll see how it goes. First up: James (the Captain) Barley.

Let's see here, if I set the loop counter to 6 outside the main loop, that would...Bah!...Why am I thinking about this on my day off? Oh yeah, I don't get those anymore.

OK, it's May 3rd. That gives me a 16 days to finish my Ewok costume, 15 if I want to get in line early.

Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?

If I was going to fake my own kidnapping, I'd do a way better job than that Georgia woman.

If I ran one of those Amish buggies off the road, would anyone know?

I'm going on a hunger strike until the stupid pizza place figures out how to deliver to the Cove every day of the week.

One of these days, some middle school girl's parents are going to be upset when I spike a volleyball into their daughter's face.

I'll never tell them this, but, to me, all three Brady girls are pretty much the same.

How many cans of Mountain Dew would I need to build my own snowboarding slope? Better get my calculator and figure this out.

Seriously, only 16 days!

I need to plan my next party before Smalls moves away so I can get her drunk one last time.

My team never wins these stupid volleyball tournaments. I need more athletic friends.

Those people who got the Dave Matthews Band bus septic system dumped on them don't know how lucky they are.

We can put a man on the moon but can't make a machine that washes and dries my clothes.

I can't believe they stopped making the Cavalier. What will my next car be now?

Stay tuned for the next installment of "Stream of consciousness blogging from the mind of _____."

May 2, 2005

Class of 1999

My high school, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, had a six year reunion for my class this past weekend. Why six years? Because no one was on the ball enough to plan it for the more traditional five. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, as Janet had to finish her monster of a paper, and it's a long drive to Cuyahoga Falls for a reunion. Maybe I'll go to the next one. Anyhow, I would have liked to have gone and seen what my former classmates have done with themselves in the past six years. I had nothing to worry about. I finished college, got a job, married a beautiful girl, all the stuff they ask you about at these things. Sure, I have a lot less hair than I did at graduation, but, hey, I drive a MINI.

This reunion business got me thinking about my class, so I headed to my class on the CVCA alumni webpage to check things out. Some of the people have emails listed and some have sent in news updates. Curious, I decided to start Googling this weekend. I searched for the names of classmates that weren't too common. Anything like Smith, Jones, or Brown was left out due to the avalance of unrelated results I would surely find. The only definitive think I could find was one girl is an accountant for Price Waterhouse Coopers in Columbus, OH. All in all, Googling my classmates yields one result (other than myself) where the person I'm looking for is the first result returned by Google. Take a bow, Tim Meier. As a bonus, the picture includes his wife Rachel who also graduated in the class of 1999.

High school seems like so long ago now, especially since I've lost touch with everyone (except Lisa's blog) and met a whole new set of friends at Messiah. I'm much better at keeping in touch with the new set of friends, that much is true. I guess that's why it's good to have reunions.