September 30, 2004

Gmail Invites

Meant for this just to be a PS given how available these are now but forgot so will make it a separate entry. If you want a Gmail invite send me your name (if I don't know it) and email address to . Given how few readers I expect I have, I expect I can give one to anybody who asks ;)

Posted by aarondf at 01:11 PM | Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

Movie: Rivers and Tides

This movie, recommended to me in Cool Tools and elsewhere, turns out to be really beautiful, showcasing the work of Scottish artist (using only natural materials like stone, leaves, sticks, ice, etc...) Andy Goldsworthy. Goldswothy creates a combination of mostly incredibly ephemeral 'sculptures' which last between seconds and days to a smaller number of permanent pieces like the incredible stone wall at Storm King (in NY which I'd love to visit). The movie shows off around 15 pieces in 90 minutes and Goldsworthy's commentary as he tries to articulate what his art is about is wonderful. The influence of place on his work, particularly his home in the Scottish highlands, is also fascinating. ***1/2

Posted by aarondf at 01:08 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

September 28, 2004

Links: Very cool aerial photos

Check out La Terre Vue du Ciel (The Earth Seen from the Sky) for an incredible collection of images of aerial photography. The photos have no captions but that is a small loss. Link from Making Light.

Posted by aarondf at 12:14 PM | Links | Comments (0)

September 27, 2004

Books: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

This first novel, written by Tom Haddon, purports to be written by the protagonist, an autistic fifteen year old named Christopher Boone. The early part of the story is on the surface mostly a murder investigation by Christopher into the death of the neighbor's dog Wellington, but the book is really about the difficulties faced by Christopher and his parents due to his autism. The inability to even allow his mother to hug him due to his difficulty in being touched I found intensely powerful. Quoting an Amazon review:

This is the sort of book that could turn condescending, or exploitative, or overly sentimental, or grossly tasteless very easily, but Haddon navigates those dangers with a sureness of touch that is extremely rare among first-time novelists. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is original, clever, and genuinely moving: this one is a must-read. --Jack Illingworth

Posted by aarondf at 02:34 PM | Books | Comments (0)

Movies: Dirty Pretty Things

Powerful and wonderful acting by Tautou (of the wonderful Amelie), Benedict Wong in a minor role and particular the lead Chiwetel Ejiofor, as an illegal immigrant Nigerian doctor doing the very best he can and basically being nearly a saint. The relationships among the three are all powerful and effective. This movie is scary as it presents how little power or choice illegal immigrants (particularly women) have to control their lives at all. The blackmarket kidney transplants which the antagonist demands from Tautou's character in return for a passport at first seems too horrible to imagine but after a time I came to think it a reasonable choice, given her situation, which is all the more scary. Illegal immigrants are in an unbelievably horrible position: unable to go to the police or other authorities for help, limited to so few and so awful jobs that they must go to unbelievable lengths to keep them, and with no family or other support system to protect them at all. Highly recommended but not for the faint of heart. ****

Posted by aarondf at 02:22 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

September 23, 2004

TV: The Amazing Race finale

Well, the final two episodes were quite good. I was sorry Colin and Christie didn't win as they had dominated this race for a long time and I felt deserved to win. They also in the final episode basically did every task better than the other two teams, but checking luggage in this time of positive bag matching and not either reserving a backup flight or calling to check on their flight much earlier was a big mistake. Chip & Kim basically got lucky that they were the slowest team to get to the airport and so got the delayed flight news sooner but they also were obviously really working the airline phones on this while Colin & Christie were focusing on their (brilliant but not enough) plan of arranging a super-fast, knowledgable cab which in the end was the only thing that gave them any chance but it wasn't enough. Anyway, these were the two teams I had favored for a long time, C&C for their smarts and competitiveness (and despite Colin's meltdowns) and C&K for their obvious and real pleasure in the amazing around the world travel and adventures experience. I hated the Yield thing in the prior episode although it was obviously good strategy but I just can't stand the very idea of it and was really glad it turned out to be a non-elimination leg.

The one thing about this show that I really don't like is the flight/business operating times bottlenecks. Teams can work a ton to build up a sizable lead and then have it evaporate in a second at one of these many bottlenecks. It also seems to me that this is absolutely forced in by the show's producers. Let's say a team got a lucky break and got a 12+ hour lead (as I belive at one point C&C almost got). Would the producers let them keep it? I doubt it.

Posted by aarondf at 10:43 AM | Television | Comments (0)

September 22, 2004

Online Flash Game: Net

Dougo pointed me to a cool logic puzzle game called Net. The game it most reminds me of, in case you've played it, is Sokoban but something like the more well known MineSweeper as well. Score, strangely to me, seems mostly based on making the fewest turns of squares and not on how long it takes to complete a puzzle.

If you are confused about how to play, try the 3x3 grid and it should become pretty obvious and then switch to the larger boards.

Posted by aarondf at 04:00 PM | Links | Comments (0)

September 17, 2004

TV: The Apprentice

I was shocked by Trump's decision in last night's boardroom scene and really think it was a massive overreaction on his part. Last season, I was actually extremely impressed by him and thought every decision he made was justifiable and, in fact, thought that the whole season would make an interesting little business course.

Last night's decision, however, seemed absolutely insane. What Bradford was really saying (in his extroverted way) was "Look, I know I have immunity but I think my performance on this task was so good that it doesn't matter because, based on merit, there isn't a chance that I would be fired anyway." I think this statement was completely reasonable and correct except for capricious decisions like the one that ended up being made. The point about giving up immunity was mostly hyperbole and I don't think he expected it to be accepted. In addition, there were two people greatly deserving of firing in Ivana who did a horrible job leading and was never decisive, including in the boardroom, and the terrible Stacie J who is a loose cannon and not liked by any of her teammates. Bradford was the leader before (although not a great one in my opinion) and certainly by far the strongest one-on-one salesman in the group in this task. Trump went against every person on the team and his own advisors to punish him for a statement which I thought was completely correct. This just made no sense whatsoever to me. As a game rules thing, it is also I think a bit inappropriate to allow Bradford to give up his immunity or at least to do so based on one light comment without a "Do you really want to do this?". I would also note that Burnett's main other show, Survivor, also explicity allows for the ability to give up immunity (here in a transfer to someone else) and it has been done a couple of times and with good reason I think. Regarding it as so insane as to require firing despite all other evidence being against that decision makes zero sense to me.

Anyway, terrible decision and it makes me noticeably less interested in the show. If decisions are going to be made based on capricious personality quirks of Trump, the show isn't nearly as interesting to watch.

Posted by aarondf at 10:59 AM | Television | Comments (2)

September 16, 2004

Pub Trivia N

Trivia last night ended up being just Mark, Alec and I as several people couldn't make it and one who said he would come didn't show. However, it turned out to be one of the best trivia nights yet as we all heavily contributed and ended up winning first prize even though we were in second place on points due to the top team having more than 6 people and we would have also had the most points if I had just been more agressive on the final bid. I ended up personally running the first quarter of questions and then we got to the picture round which is usually a killer and aced it with 10/10 as each of us had a guess for one person and all three guesses turned out right (the other 7 we were pretty sure of) and we then had a perfect second round as well. After this things got harder as we only got 4 points on the 'points go down from 10' question even though Alec had the right person at 8. Despite our difficulties, though, somehow we picked up a few points and went into the final two questions with a 2 point lead (over the strong team with 7 players) for 1st and a 13 point lead over the 3rd place team. This was mostly thanks to Alec's excellent job on the state capitols' third quarter bonus question which we aced. As it turned out, only I on our team had any knowledge of the final two bonus questions - the first one I was 90% sure of and got right for 10. The second, OTOH, asking what actor has voiced a role in all 5 Pixar feature films (and it turns out will also be inThe Incredibles), I was not nearly so sure of but I did get right but we bid conservatively to assure us of at least second place score and 1st place prize.

The really nice thing, again, was that we all seriously contributed. Mark got all 3 science questions right as well as the Muppets band name question. Alec led us on the state capitols bonus and got a rap music question that Mark and I had no clue on (which unfortunately we convinced him to bid too low on). I got the final two questions as well as another sports question, an opera question amazingly and a number of others.

Posted by aarondf at 11:29 AM | Events | Comments (0)

September 14, 2004

Movies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallence

This is quite an interesting movie with excellent work by both Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. Wayne's character saves Stewart's character at the beginning of the movie, pays for his room&board while he recovers, gives him excellent advice and later saves his life (by killing Vallence from hiding while Stewart is in a duel with him). In return, Stewart (mostly unintentionally and certainly without malice) steals from him the girl he loves and goes on to great wealth and power. Effectively, Wayne is punished for his good deeds. Stewart, on the other hand, although a smart, kind, modern eastern lawyer, is totally unprepared for the West but is incredibly lucky to have Wayne as his guardian angel. Everything in the movie goes outrageously well for him as he gets a reputation as a gunslinger without having to kill anyone, gets elected to represent the Territory in Congress and gets the girl. He in fact ends up getting elected based on something he didn't do and, in fact, something which if he had done would cause him to refuse the election. Very interesting. Thanks Mark H for the recommendation - two for two. ***1/2

Posted by aarondf at 11:24 AM | Movies | Comments (0)

September 13, 2004

Movies; Hero

This movie has a 95% rating at Rotten Tomatoes (a site I really like) and I just can't understand why as I thought it was basically stupid and boring. Some of the visuals are very pretty but, for me at least, not on the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon level and the plot is absolutely ridiculous. There are 3 main (and 3 additional) martial arts characters and the movie seems to want to have almost every combination of two characters fight against each other. Since these are almost all supposed to be fights to the death, this of course is a problem which they solve with a 'dream sequence' equivalent copout where we see one set of fights only to then realize these weren't real and then see another set and then this happens AGAIN! Ridiculous! In addition, the fights for the most part aren't that interesting since either they involve two very unevenly matched opponents (the fights with Moon) where the outcome is obvious and/or in 80% or so of the fights one person is trying to lose for one reason or another. In the end, all three main characters die to absolutely no purpose. The scene of Flying Snow and Broken Sword attacking the palace and killing 3000 guards is utterly insane as well, particularly as Broken Sword then chooses to not kill the King. In fact, none of the scenes involving the Qin army make any sense at all. The visuals here are good but not nearly enough to overcome the ridiculous plot. Also, the main theme of the movie could have been made IMHO much more easily and effectively in a 100 different ways. I was bored almost throughout and actually considered walking out. **

Posted by aarondf at 12:45 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

Movies: My Neighbor Totoro

This is the last of the anime director Hayao Miyazak's movies that Netflix has and I watched it Friday evening. The two sisters were of course incredibly cute and likable but not as fun as Kiki and the scenes with just them are just light and enjoyable. Only when Totoro and even more the unbelievably wonderful Catbus enter the scenes does this movie become extraordinary. Every scene with either is absolutely beautiful and funny. However, Miyazaki may be right to use them sparingly so that they remain new and fresh and we anticipate their next appearance. ****

I now must wait for more of his movies to be available including Nausicaa, Cagliostro and the upcoming Howl's Moving Castle.

Posted by aarondf at 12:34 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

World Poker Tour - Bad Boys episode

I find myself continuing to be amazed at the play of Gus Hansen who here won his fourth WPT event. His call against Antonio's all-in (with 77) bet with 8-10s was absolutely incredible in that it turned out to be the right thing to do, but is still shocking as it is really only a reasonable call against a pair 7s or less. On this hand Antonio bet 29K and Gus raised to 100K and then Antonio went all-in for a raise of 334K. Although Antonio is slighlty favored (52% to 48%) in the hand, given the pot odds Gus is definitely right to call but, again, only against a tiny number of hands that Antonio could have. Was his read that good or was he just lucky? Antonio was utterly shocked at his call and acting like it was a crazy thing to do but against his actual hand it was correct.

Posted by aarondf at 12:25 PM | Television | Comments (0)

September 09, 2004

WorldCon Report

The World Science Fiction Convention (short form: WorldCon) is a large (around 6000 this time), moving around the country and world, all volunteer convention bringing together those interested in Speculative Fiction and related areas (movies, anime, filking, etc...) annually. This year it came to Boston for the first time in 15 years as Noreascon 4 (Noreascon 3 was the previous one in Boston in 1989) and so I went for basically the whole thing (began noon Thursday and went through Monday). This report is going to be pretty long despite the fact that I am going to be very brief and focus on the highlights. To start off with, I really, really enjoyed the whole experience and am actually going to consider going to ones outside the area although at those I wouldn't know nearly as many people and that would make the experience considerably less enjoyable. I will probably also go to Arisia next year for the first time as it doesn't conflict then (as it usually does) with the MIT Mystery Hunt.

Highlights for me included the George RR Martin reading from A Feast for Crows and very interesting discussion afterwards on why this book is taking him so long to write, fully interesting and believable enough for me to forgive him for at least a while longer on not getting this book out, the book I am without question most eagerly anticipating. I think this series is probably for me the best Fantasy series since Earthsea 35 years ago. Martin was also kind enough to sign my copy of A Game of Thrones afterwards, sparing me the long autographing lines which I just don't have the patience for. The Neil Gaiman reading from Anansi Boys and Terry Pratchett reading from Going Postal (both forthcoming) were also excellent.

Another highlight which I am not going to try to describe the task and vehicles/devices for was Junkyard Wars where teams had 90 minutes to construct from a bunch of junk (but lots of tools to manipulate it) a device to complete a given task. A bunch of the devices were absolutely great but the device which took a very close second was absolutely brilliant and amazing they could design and build in so little time. Thanks, Mark, for pointing this item out to me as I think I would have completely missed it otherwise.

The evening programs were generally pretty well done although with some significant delays and audio problems (which the smaller panels and thinks didn't have at all and went almost entirely like clockwork) and the best of them were the Hugos (with Gaiman doing a great job MCing and Robert Silverberg giving a great retrospective on the past 50 Hugo ceremonies, all of which he's been to) and the Masquerade which had some beautiful costumes but went way too slowly and then the judging took absolutely forever, despite giving awards to almost every single entry. I also was not a fan of the MC who seemed to constantly want to fight with the audience. I was particularly impressed with the Discworld entires A Pale Rider (particularly the wonderful remote controlled Luggage briliantly driven by Rincewind) and Not the Usual Unusual but missed seeing due to taking a soda break the Best in Show winner Arctic Circle. Blight in the Novice division was also excellent. Still, the whole program inculding the judging ended up lasting 5 hours which was ridiculous although Charles Ross's one-man halftime show presenting the entire original Star Wars Trilogy in 45 minutes was a tour-de-force but it occurred so late I could only manage to keep myself sitting still for half of it. The only good thing about the length was that I managed to chat a couple of times with Terry Pratchett and get him to sign my (just bought second) copy of Good Omens. Unfortunately, that means I now really need Neil to sign it also and didn't manage that here. A young woman in the costume contest with a Discworld entry (Death's granddaughter Susan Sto Helit) also got her picture taken with Terry and the Death of Rats miniature he was given which I imagine was one of the highlights of her entire life and was really sweet to witness. I didn't find the Retro Hugos or the Opening Ceremonies all that interesting other than the amusing Pratchett interviews Weston segment.

The one Hugo I was of course disgusted by (although totally expecting) was Return of the King winning Best Dramatic Presentation. I went to three Tolkien themed panels, two of which (both of which had bloggers Jo Walton and Patrick Neilsen Hayden on them) on Tolkien's Techniques and the Theme of Loss in Tolkien I tthought were quite interesting and generally excellent. Both focused entirely on the books and refused to even here mention of the movies. The third, on the book-movies relationship, I knew I would probably not like but felt obligated to go to. However, when I discovered that the entire panel absolutely loved the movies, I left the panel after 15 minutes to avoid either screaming in pain or getting into a fight with probably almost the entire room which I just wasn't up for and would serve no purpose. I still just can't understand how people can forgive the massive problems these movies have but I guess things will stay that way.

Other interesting panels I went to were on the amazing anime of Hayao Miyazaki , Must-See (SF) TV and Movies, The Art of Screen Writing: Big and Small (nicely moderated by George RR Martin), The World Map of 2100 - What Does It Look Like? (with very interesting demographics and commentary by panelist and author S.M. Sterling), a panel on the Simpsons, a panel on The Character of Death and a very funny panel (almost entirely due to the outspoken and Devil's Advocate comments of panelist Rick Berry) on SF cover art portraits. Berry was advocating completely ignoring the author's character descriptions in his art but amusingly an author stood up to thank him for the accuracy of his cover painting for her book. Finally, I went to a couple of Cory Doctory (of BoingBoing fame) panels on privacy and other issues and a bunch of other panels for brief periods or longer.

The Dealer's Room was pretty good but there wasn't really much of anything I really wanted surprisingly and I basically didn't buy a thing. I looked over the Tshirts particuarly a lot and there were a ton with Dragons on them but none that I really loved. One thing I was blown away by was the cost of signed first editions of quite modern books including a $1500 copy of Snow Crash and $250 copy of A Game of Thrones (just like the one I had had Martin sign for me) - I was just astounded by these prices. The Art Show was also very good but generally prices were just way high. I did buy one cute print of two kittens with wings (a SF concept I have always loved) which I ended up giving to my Mom due to their similar look to her cats. The other thing I seriously considered was a Margaret Organ-Kean piece entitled "Redmond Ho!" showing three penguins girded out in battle gear (bow, pole axe and spear I believe) and in marching formation. I thought the piece was beautiful and given the theme it would have been perfect to hang at work but although I was willing to pay $200 for it when bids got to $400 I decided it was just too much for me but I somewhat regreat this.

The other thing worth mentioning is the room parties every evening, of which there were ten or so representing convention location bids, SF groups and other random interest groups. The ones I enjoyed most were Xerps in 2010 (fake bid party - great tightly integrated theme and decorations), Boxboro (old Mass group regrouping - excellent Death theme and themed deserts), George RR Martin fans (excellent drinks) and the final party we went to Sunday night for Norwescon (excellent food including chocolate fondue and a full bar which they had us take a bunch of away as this was the last night and then they were returning to Seattle - thanks!).

A final thanks to all the people I hung out and/or chatted with for various periods including Mark, Julia, Cally, Andy, MarkK, Bill, Paul, David (whose Guitar Circle performance was really interesting and wonderful), Heidi, Ricardo & Kate, and a bunch of others I am sure I am forgetting.

Posted by aarondf at 11:28 AM | Events | Comments (2)

September 08, 2004

My Favorite Movie

It is now the 10 year anniversary of The Shawshank Redemption and, due to this, Charlie Rose had director/writer Frank Darabont and stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman on to discuss it. Although hard to pick a single favorite movie, if forced to choose this would be my choice. It is an almost perfect movie, with basically not a word, scene or moment wrong in it and an incredible number of powerful and touching scenes. The scene on the roof drinking beer is probably my favorite one but Red discovering the box towards the end and the final meeting on the beach are also incredibly wonderful. This is also almost certainly the 'smallest' movie in my top group and I don't think I ever even saw it in the theatre but it is a movie that is so intimate in a fashion that it actually may work better at home. Apparently with the anniversary it is going to be reissued in a very limited number of theatres and I will probably go if I get a chance to see it on the big screen for the first time. *****

This movie is also currently #2 (and has been #1 at times) on the IMDB Top 250 movies of all-time which amazed me when I first saw it there as I adore it but thought it a small movie that only a few would think so good but it is great that it is as well known and loved as it obviously is.

Posted by aarondf at 01:18 PM | Movies | Comments (0)