Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Fortress of Yesterday

I just finished a book on Verdun called The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne. Verdun is a city in southern France ringed with a series of fortifications that hosted a titanic struggle during the First World War, where it is believed as many as a million men died. It was designed to serve as a centerpiece of French defenses, but by the start of WWI had fallen into disfavor. Following their humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, the French military abandonded the static defense in favor of the aggressive attack, so it is ironic that Verdun rises to such importance in the Great War. The book itself was very good. A little over three hundred pages, but a quick read for all that. I recommend both the title and the subject without hesitation.

When reading about the First World War, it's the senselessness of the whole thing that really strikes out at you. Now, I'm not exactly a pacifist. I believe that violence is always immoral, but there are times when you have to make a bad choice to stop from making the wrong choice. Killing is wrong, but there are things which are worse. World War I had no greater purpose. It didn't even benefit from the indulgent majesty of dynastic struggles. The Great War would become a force all its own, an indiscriminate, stoic devourer, set loose not in the defense of sacred principle or oppressed people, but rather because it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was a war with no real causes, with no real goals, and in the end, with no real winners.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Suffering under the rule of the Monkey King

I'm an editor with Japan-TV. It's my job to write the text that actually appears as subtitles in an episode. I get a script from a translator, who drafts a rough and often literal version of the original speech into English. Then I take that, rewrite and polish it up, and it goes either to be timed or, if it has already been timed, to be encoded for release. At least, insofar as I understand the process. Japan-TV, as the name suggests, primarily concentrates on Japanese dramas, but we also do Korean and Chinese shows as well.

For whatever reason, it seems to be the case that Chinese translations are the worst. A script from a Chinese show usually requires at least half-again as much time to edit into understandable English as a Japanese program. Now, this could simply illustrative of a particular translator's skill, but since this seems to span more than one translator, I have my doubts. I suppose our entire Chinese translation staff could suck, but I really don't think so. At any rate, the additional difficulty is one reason why I don't like doing Chinese series, but it isn't the only reason.

I've only worked on two Chinese shows, A Step into the Past and Monkey King. I've only done one episode of Step, but I've done three for Monkey King. Both shows seemed extraordinarily stupid, and as I busily turn Engrish into English, I can't help but wonder how dumb someone has to be to actually watch then. Someone must, because people download them, but I can't for my life understand why. I once tried to watch an episode of Monkey King, because I like to see episodes I edit. Partially it's to look for errors and what not, but there's a certain element of satisfaction in it. After all, if I didn't feel that the work was, in some sense, a worthy achievement, then I wouldn't do it. In any case, I made it barely ten minutes in before I closed the stupid player. Three sittings later I finally finished the episode, and I haven't bothered with another one since.

If none of this made any sense to you, visit Japan-TV and download it for yourself. You can find the link listed on this page. Beware the Monkey King.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Nothin' Doin'

Another action packed summer day. I spent most of it playing KOTOR, but I kept getting killed by this dumb Rancor. Somehow I have to feed him something that will kill it, but I can't figure out how to make it eat things. This whole thing would be a lot easier if I just looked at the online walkthroughs, but I refuse to use them out of principle. I mean, otherwise, what's the point?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


I have a friend who is currently in Japan as part of the JET program. JET, or Japanese Exchange and Teaching, is a program that sends people to Japan to teach English. From most accounts, JET is a relatively supportive organization, and most of the experiences I've read online have been positive. Of course, it must be accepted that most participants would begin with an interest in Japan, so there may be more than a little statistical bias. Still, people keep signing up, and the opportunity to live in a foriegn country is not often available to the average college graduate.

Although I'm not sure I would go in his place, I do envy my friend his opportunity. Aside from the chance to live overseas, which is something that I've always wanted to do, he is at least doing something. School represents my previous engagements as well as my future prospects for at least the next two years. Not only am I now heartily sick of all things educational, but as I see my friends moving on and getting real jobs, I can't help but feel left behind. It is a little thing, perhaps, but it adds to a more general frustration that has been mounting slowly but steadily these last few years.

If I were to engage in such a program, Japan would be pretty high on my list. Obviously the nature of the program would require a non-english speaking country, and I already pursue anime and Japanese dramas with enthusiasm. Japan is also relatively safe, close to a lot of other interesting asiatic attractions, and home to a lot of US military personnel. Although there is something to be said of their bias against foriegners, I've had a lot of experience dealing with people who don't much like me, and few of them have been as polite as the Japanese are supposed to be.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

En Garde!

I'm off for summer, and I'm not really planning on working, so I took up fencing to pass the time. I first became acquainted with the sport in the summer between junior high and high school. The city offered classes as part of their recreational program, and I thought it sounded interesting. Now, to be honest, I expected the dramatic swordplay found in movies and television, not the measured and technical sport of modern fencing. Still, the reality was very interesting in a different sort of way, and I took a shine to it. A few sessions later and many of my friends had joined in too.

I kept up with it through most of high school. There was even an article about us in the school paper, the only time I think I was even so much as mentioned in it. At the risk of being immodest, I think I achieved a respectable level of skill given my length of experience, though I remained perhaps too lazy to really push my gains. Later on, I gave it up all together. This was due to a combination of things, but mainly it was exhaustion and familial frustration. To start with, I had martial arts classes on Monday and Wednesday, fencingon Tuesday and Thursday. As time wore on, I just started to get sick of both because I was just too tired. More importantly though, I dropped fencing, and pretty much every other activity I had, out of spite. I won't go into the intricacies of Yin family politics. Suffice it to say that I became fed up with parental guidance and decided I just didn't feel like doing anything.

Will Brown, the instructor who runs the program, was gracious enough to extend an open ended invitation to come back and give it another try, and I've decided to do just that. This summer I have no other pressing responsibilities, so fencing is not only an excellent source of much needed biweekly exercise, but my interest in the sport has never really gone away. This is an opportunity to start over, learn it all from the beginning again, and see if I can't do even better.

For more information on our fencing organization, visit the Fremont Fencers website.

Monday, June 21, 2004

External validation, blogs, and me

I'm not really sure what I expected when I started this blog. I've never been much of a diarist. In college I started a journal of sorts, and though it often went neglected, I managed to keep it up all the way through till graduation. I lost it when I upgraded computers and purged old data, accidentally forgetting to transfer it to the new hard drive. Even so, it wasn't that great of a tragedy. Most of the entries were shallow affairs, and there was little I really wanted to save.

I've always known about blogging, and I've got a few friends who've been at it a while now. It seemed like an interesting practice, your own personal soapbox from which to add to the immense background noise that is the internet. No great event or significant tragedy proved the final prompt, I just clicked on the little blogger icon off a friend's page and in a only few minutes I had this thing set up (I'm sure it looks it). When I started, I didn't think I'd care if anyone ended up reading this or not. After all, in theory, this is supposed to be for me. It just happens to be widely accessable, and if someone had a take on a post, they were free to add their comments. But after getting my first comment, I began to see the situation differently. I have to admit that I felt something good, a sense of encouragement when I recieved my first comment. There was a rush knowing that someone else had taken the time to tag along with me, even if it were only long enough to read a few lines of text.

I'm still writing this thing for myself. Though some of my posts are written with an eye to the outside world, I'm not pandering to the audience. Besides, it's not like there've been a deluge of comments anyway. So I continue doing what I set out to do, whatever that is. Writing for my own sake, at my own pace, about the kinds of things I feel I'd like to cover. Even so, for as long as you decide to hang around, I appreciate the company.

Sunday, June 20, 2004


On Friday, I went to play cards with some people I hang with. I met these people through one of my college friends, Big Milin. Big is an interesting character, and I'm sure I'll cover him in more detail in another post. At any rate, there were seven us who met to play poker, and a few more people showed up just to hang out and shoot the breeze. Jim Liu, our generous host, had a really nice set of poker chips. Each chip had his name inscribed in the center; first name on one side, last name on the reverse. I got there at ten, though I gather they'd been playing for at least an hour by then. We kept the game going until about 4:30 in the morning, slowly bleeding players as they lost money or exhaustion claimed them. Finally, at about 5:00 the three of us who remained decided to switch to a game called "Acey-Deucey."

After seven hours I was getting a little tired of poker too, but I wasn't quite ready to quit and go home, so I agreed to play. The game is deceptively simple; two cards are flipped up, one at a time. Then, the player whose turn it is bets that a third card will fall between the range established by the other two. For instance, if a 3 and a Jack come up, the bet is that the card will be greater than a three and less than a jack, leaving most of the deck. If an ace is flipped up as the first card, then the player must decide if the ace is going to represent the highest or lowest possible card. The rules are pretty simple, it's the betting that gives the game its edge. All participating players decide and deposit a certain amount into a general pot. Play proceeds one player at a time. On a player's turn, he may decide to bet any amount up to the pot. If he wins, he takes his money and if the pot is depleted, the players pay into it again. However, if the player loses, he must pay into the pot an amount equal to his bet. An unlucky string of cards can make for a large pot, which can lead to deceptively large stakes for such a humble game.

We're all more or less pretty friendly, so the whole night of cards was really entertainment rather than a pursuit of winnings. Still, I ended up with forty dollars profit at the end of poker, with a twenty dollar buy in and buck max raise that isn't bad. However, by the end of Acey-Deucey I was up only eight bucks on the night. The thing is, that game has this odd addictive quality to it. You want to see what the next range is going to be, so you keep playing. In the future though, I think I'll stay away from it. Until next time, that is.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

TV Guide

I like TV. I know a lot of people have plenty to say about how television is going to lead to the collapse of Western civilization, but I really find it an excellent diversion. I'm not really a junky, rare is the day when I manage to watch more than an hour or two. I like a variety of programs, the differing lures appealing to disperate fractions of my personality. My favorites tend to be comedies, so it is with particular displeasure that I witnessed the degeneration of the sit-com. Situational Comedies have really taken a nose dive in recent years. I know many of you are fans, but the sit-coms of the late nineties were, with the exception of The Simpsons, Fraiser and possibly Seinfeld, pretty terrible. Friends was, during its tenure, the stupidest non-reality television program anywhere in the Free World.

I like dramatic programs too, but I tend to shy away from cop shows. NYPD Blue never seemed to deserve the praise it got in its heyday, and I think the CSI shows are just absurd. Watching them, you'd think there isn't a need for any of the other cops. Cops itself is amusing at times, but after a while you just tend to get depressed when you realize it isn't supposed to be a comedy. Lawyer shows aren't bad, but since starting law school I've watched them less and less.

Anyway, I think television has much to recommed as a form of recreation. I'll list below some of my favorites. I will mention only US (and, in the case of Kung Fu, Canadian produced) TV shows. Foriegn programs will have to wait for another day.

Sit-Coms and other Comedies
Coach: This sit-com was centered around the coaching staff for the fictional Minnesota State University football team. Hayden Fox was an arrogant, self-centered, and narrow-minded man's man whose greatest desire was simply to watch his tv in peace. Of course, he never gets to. The show is very amusing, and when it broaches moral issues, it does so with a kind of witty discretion rarely seen today. The cast is good all around, but Jerry van Dyke really steals the show as Hayden's best friend, Luther.

Fraiser: This program really raised the double-entedre to new levels, and even more importantly, saved it for posterity from a generation whose only previous exposure had been from Beevis and Butthead. While the Crane's refinement was the source of much of their misery, it also helped show that the finer things in life could be appreciated by people from all its walks. The show may have dragged near the end, but even so it ranks among my favorite sit-coms.

Perfect Strangers: Okay, this show was stupid. Fine, I admit it. Balky's accent, cultural ignorance, and primitive origins were just cheap tricks aimed at cheaper laughs. But it's when you look past that, to move beyond the gimmick, that the show reveals its treasure. Larry Appleton's constant schemes are a source of unparalleled amusement. Everytime he tries to get rich, score on a date, or even just get a date, he cannot proceed but under the aegis of a bizarre and outlandish plan. These machinations, usually invented to cover a previous transgression, inevitably explode into problems far larger than those they had originally been drafted to obfuscate. Watching him get into trouble, and especially watching him try to weasel out of it, are my most cherished memories of the TGiF line up.

Sports Night: If you haven't seen this show, stop reading and rent (or buy) the DVD's. Sports Night is a show of such profound promise that its cancellation has to rank among the greatest tragedies of all time (among television program cancellations, that is). Though Dan's mental breakdown in the second season was a little abrupt, the show nonetheless was excellent across the board. Writing, acting, even things normally relegated to secondary status such as music, all shone through magnificently in this comedy centered around an upstart network and it's lead sports program.

The Simpsons: I can't say enough about this show. For many people my age, Simpsons is THE defining program of our adolescence. Never before have social commentary and comedy blended together so well, and in a format as acceptable as an animated television show. The Simpsons, aside from all it offers on the surface, is a satirical onion. You can peel away layer after layer to reach new depths of appreciation, exceeding even that which was originally intended. Countless expressions, including the immortal D'oh have found their way into our everyday vocabulary, and the stereotypical characters form the basis for many a comparison to participants of our own lives. Of the show, I have really only two complaints, and both of them are recent. Lately, whether the result of intellectual exhaustion or simple laziness, the show has been flagging. The last few seasons were largely forgettable, and though FOX seems content to buy seasons until the heat death of the Universe, I think it would be better if it took its final bow. My other problem with the show is that, ever since the 2000 election, it has been increasingly partisan. The Simpsons always took aim at people from both sides, though the conservative position took more flak (deservedly so too, in my opinion), at least the left got its share of whacks. Aside from the fact that cutting out the left abandons a lot of good material, in some sense the Simpsons are an institution, one that cheapens its legacy by becoming increasingly antagonistic with a particular world view.

Brimstone: The best single season of television ever produced in the English speaking world. Or at least, it's up there. Brimstone is an excellent show with an entertaining premise, good cast, and thoughtful writing. The show would have been better had it been made today, in the era of cable dramas, and with the increased freedom a network like HBO or Showtime can offer. Additionally, the episodes that were made did not air in a chronological order, meaning certain events (like Stone's move from New York to Los Angeles) aren't really clear at the time they're shown. Still, the program is an incomparable story with an admirable, but flawed hero, an entertaining "villian" in the form of Lucifer, and dynamic opponents who are rarelly all they seem to be. The show raises moral, cultural, societal, and religious issues, all wrapped within a flashy but not ostentatious redemptive cop show. Simply put, a must see.

Firefly: The interplay of the characters is what drove this western-themed sci-fi show. It's cancellation left a lot of issues up in the air, and if all the movie whispers are true, then hopefully it'll mean a new lease on life for the show as well. Sci-fi that isn't afraid to get dirty, the crew of the Serenity scrape a living out on the frontier, pursuing the Big Score, but motivated by a desire to make a difference.

Farscape: Another sci-fi show cut down before it's time, Farscape covered four seasons and still had plenty more to offer. The best Farscape episodes were the comedies, and anytime the camera panned to Rigel you were in for a treat. The disperate interests of Moya's crew provided the basis of more than one story, and watching them hash out their differences provided people with the evidence that acting acumen and science-fiction characters weren't mutually exclusive.

Babylon 5: Good show. Up through the first three seasons, it represents everything sci-fi should be. The fourth season wasn't bad either, but the fifth season shouldn't have been made. Although the program tends to be overly simplistic, an indictment all the more severe as it so often deals with moral issues, it is nonetheless an excellent viewing experience.

The Shield: If you've got the stomach for it, The Shield will remake your image of the cop drama. The show is edgy, dark, and raw without being pretentious or self-congratulatory. Vik Mackey is an excellent anti-hero, and watching the strike team crack under the weight of their illegal activities is not only entertainment, it's a message without the sermon. This show is not for everybody, but if you can handle it, then I highly recommend it.

Law and Order: This antideluvian program chronicalling the efforts of the police, who investigate crime, and the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders, is an excellent way to waste life an hour at a time. Though recently in the grip of NBC's escalating dramaticism (to be seen in the commercials of any other premium NBC show, such as ER, where every single episode promises dramatic change - and typically fails to deliver) and beginning to show signs of age, Law and Order is an engaging spin on the crime drama that takes you all the way through a case in an hour. One of the most interesting things about the show is the fluidity of the characters; none of the current cast were on the show at its inception, and character replacements have little effect on the program as a whole. My personal preference are for earlier episodes, where (and because) a young Jill Hennessey plays ADA Claire Kincaid.

Playmakers: Essentially The Shield for football, Playmakers is a no-holds-barred look at the lives of professional athletes. Although no doubt sensationalized, it's an off-field of violence and excess borne of the kinds of money and freedom fame brings sports stars in America. Just about all the characters suffer extreme physical, psychological, or emotional issues, and constrained by a culture of mindless machismo that offers no escape. It's an engaging program, though it is decidedly negative. So much so that the NFL strong armed ESPN into cancelling the highly successful program before a second season could be made. Oh well.

Iron Chef: When I first started watching Iron Chef, it was only shown on the local Asian channel, and it didn't have subtitles. Now it's come quite a ways, but it's still good for a laugh. The show is especially endearing to me because it displays the sheer irrelevancy of sports by raising cooking to the same level. Now, I have nothing against sports. But the obsessive devotion to what are essentially faceless corporations is a development I observe with equal parts amusement and apprehension. People riot after "their" team wins a sporting championship, and threaten people who adversely affect "their" team's fortunes. Iron Chef, aside from an entertaining program in its own right, shows that anything can be raised to the level of a spectacle, if only you're willing to be taken along for the ride.

Kung Fu: The Legend Continues: Okay, this show blows chunks. I fully agree that the show is undeniably terrible, but I guess that's why I like it. Apparently, in order to turn any White guy Chinese, all you have to do is make him talk slowly, be polite, and teach him Kung Fu. Additionally, Kane's various challengers become increasingly ridiculous, including a bout with Genghis Khan in the mystical realm of Shambala. There's more laughs in one episode of this show than a whole season of your average sit-com, and for that reason, if no other, you shouldn't miss Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.

Anyway, that's how I've wasted a good portion of my life. I've never really had access to HBO and stuff, so I haven't seen The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, or Sex in the City. However, with the increasing availability of TiVOs, digital distribution, and DVD's, I'll be able to rectify that. I also stayed away from the Whedon shows Buffy and Angel out of superficial prejudice. I assumed Buffy would be a waste of time. However, I've since heard from reliable sources that it actually isn't bad. I figure I'll give it a try. Even if it's lousy, Sarah Michelle Geller and the girl who plays Willow will keep my attention through a season or two. If you have any TV recommendations, let me know.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Ni Hao Ma

When I was younger, I used to take Chinese lessons at a special Mandarin school held on the weekends. My dad and his family emigrated from Taiwan to the United States when he was thirteen. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles all speak Chinese, though many of my aunts and uncles speak it with difficulty. English was the only language they were allowed to use at home, my grandparents wanting to ensure their children developed the ability to communicate. Today, aside from difficulties in formal writing, an occasional slippage in tense or word order, and a vocabulary that has odd omissions, there is little that marks their English from that of a native speaker.

Now they have children, but with the exception of my youngest cousins, none of us can speak or understand any Chinese. Neither I nor my siblings were taught at a young age. Later, in junior high when I made the decision to start attending the special classes, I honestly wanted to learn. However, the school wasn't really very helpful. Many students there already spoke Chinese, and were there because Asian parents tend to fill up their kid's free time with more school. Class focused more on writing than conversation, and though I consistently scored high marks, I had no idea what was going on.

Now I regret not having learned. I know it's not too late, but realistically I'm just too lazy. Every so often I think I might work up enough interest to take Chinese at the local junior college, but it never really pans out. To a certain extent, this is just part of a larger personal issue. I'm not very Chinese. I mean, genetically I'm half Chinese, but culturally I'm firmly American. I don't really see this as a great problem, it all evens out in the wash. Still, sometimes I think that perhaps I have not made the effort that maybe I should have, to be more attentative to these kinds of concerns. Right now I'm Chinese enough to recieve red envelopes on New Years. While that's better than nothing, I'm not sure it's enough.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Thinking outside the X-Box

I have an X-Box. Originally I bought an X-Box so that I could play the Robotech game. I'd read somewhere that, although there were plans to make it for several platforms, the game would play best on the X-Box. Since I didn't really care otherwise, I went with the X-Box. Now, that was a more than a little while ago. I've beaten the Robotech game, but now there really isn't anything else that looks interesting, with two exceptions. Friends own Ninja Gaiden 2 and KOTOR (Knights of the Old Republic), so I've been playing those games a little, and they aren't bad. In fact, Ninja Gaiden 2 is very challenging, and I've heard good things about KOTOR. The problem is, aside from those two, nothing on the X-Box looks very good. I don't like sports or driving games. In fact, I hate cars and everything about them. I have one, I use one, but I really don't like them. My brother is really into the NCAA series football games, and though I have to admit they aren't bad, I do get sick of playing them awfully fast.

Playstation 2 has a lot of good games, but I'm hesitant to buy such an old system. They're only $149 now, which isn't bad, but still. I expect they'll be replaced in a few years, and since I've already waited all this time, I might as well wait some more. I wasn't really very impressed with the Game Cube. I know a bunch of people who have it, and it doesn't really seem that great. The more complicated the Mario games get, the more "cutesy" they're becoming. The older Mario games were just two dimentional stompfests with one dimentional Italian stereotypes. Super Smash Brothers isn't bad, I still prefer the one on N64, but I can see myself playing it. The problem is that, to really make it worth your while, you need a group of people to play with. I typically play video games as a solo distraction, something to do with my time when I don't have other options.

I'm not actually a huge console gamer. I generally prefer computer games, since they tend to be a bit more complicated and involved. I haven't bought a computer game in a while, because of Star Wars: Galaxies. The funny thing is, while I enjoy playing SWG, it really isn't that good of a game. I mean, it's like the designers set out to make a game no better than they absolutely had to, and just depended on the Star Wars name to get them through the rough patches. SWG has been improving as time goes on, but it is still way below its potential. So, I'm thinking about making a new gaming purchase, be it a console, a computer game, or what have you. If anyone has a suggestion, let me know.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Bad choices and a local Blockbuster

I've spent the last few days at a friend's house in Santa Cruz. It's actually pretty close to where I used to live off campus when I went to UCSC. Yesterday night, ensnared by a particular bout of stupidity, we took a trip to a local video store. You see, there've been these commercials on TV recently, advertising the availability of Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation on DVD. Now, a direct-to-video release doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but then again, I wasn't looking for anything more than a sci-fi splatterfest. If that's all the movie had been, if it was just an hour and a half of mindless mayhem, I wouldn't be writing this post.

I actually don't read reviews before watching a movie; after all, I want to come to these things as fairly as I can. However, I often like to read the opinions of others regarding a movie I have seen, especially if it was bad. Now, the funny thing is that most of the reviews I've seen online have been quite positive, which makes me wonder if they're talking about the same movie. The Starship Troopers I saw was really a dismal affiar.

To begin with, the characters are universally bad, and few of the actors are any better. The guy from the Sentinel, that stupid TV show about the cop with the heightened senses, plays Captain Dax, the aforementioned "Hero of the Federation." Only one actor from the original makes an appearence. The woman who played the captain of the ship Denise Richards flew plays a seargent in the Mobile Infantry. So, either her original character actually survived the wreck of the Roger Young, changed services, and suffered a massive demotion, or she has an identical twin in the Mobile Infantry. The other "actors" are all a motley assortment of talentless hacks whose performances would be forgettable if they hadn't been so terrible.

The movie itself is intolerably bad. Though far from the worst thing I've seen (that honor going to ZOMBIE! versus Mardi Gras, a film which will no doubt be the subject of a future entry), Starship Troopers 2 is a miserable way to spend eighty-eight minutes. I've seen porn with better plots, more developed characters, and less nudity. Though there is plenty of fighting, none of it is particularly dramatic. In fact, many of the "action" scenes are so poorly shot that it's hard to tell exactly who is doing what where. Many reviews praise the effects, but with the exception of the bugs, there really isn't anything to crow about. The guns have little light bulbs on the ends of them which they use either to simulate or replace muzzle flashes, I can't tell which. One of the characters carries a long, rectangular tube that I think is supposed to be some kind of heavy weapon. The sound effects are similarly lousy; it's almost like they just went to a corner store and bought a cap gun to simulate rifle rounds.

Now, I'm not above enjoying a few hours of violence and full frontal nudity. I mean, I sneer at the low brow nature that such entertainment appeals to, but there is something to be said about simple pleasures. Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation doesn't really lack either violence or sex, but both are presented with such stunning incompetence that neither are able to hold your attention. In short, if you are thinking about renting or, God forbid, buying Starship Troopers 2, save your money. There's plenty of free porn on the Internet, and better fights are on TV any day of the week.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Vaios on the big screen

I bought this laptop for school sometime last year, a Sony Vaio. I got it for around a thousand bucks, and it isn't that bad. I mean, it's got more than enough muscle for school, and it can even run most games. I actually went with the Vaio because it had a G-Force card, so I could play Star Wars: Galaxies on it. SWG was having video card issues at the time, so I bought something with a card on the "approved" list. Now I want to hook it up to my TV, so I can watch video files on a bigger screen, but I can't get it to work.

It's got this little spot in the back, a place to hook some kind of cable up, but I don't know what kind it is. I know it isn't S-Video, and though they sell an S-Video adapter for my model Vaio, it's almost $200. I've tried fiddling with some spare RCA cables, figuring color coding might save me, but no luck. If anyone is reading this and has any familiarity with Sony Vaio's, let me know. I'd really like to get this thing hooked up. If I had a dvd burner, it wouldn't be such an issue, but I don't so it is.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Table Top Heroes

My biggest hobby is gaming. You name it, I play it. Role-playing games, board games, war games, miniature games, computer games, video games, card games. I love games. It's probably the mental stimulation that I enjoy most of all; pursuing a goal, plotting and planning, hell, I can even enjoy arguing about the rules. But even more than games, I love gaming.

Now, doubtless some of you are unfamiliar with the hobby. What's more, those of you who have heard of it immediately think of pimple speckled nerds or obese, socially inept computer engineers. And, to be honest, many of you would not be too far off the mark. While gaming does entice an incredibly diverse range of people, there is an intellectual common denominator, an interest in concerns beyond the mundane. Gaming is made up, in large part, of nerds. And, while that label has managed to shed some of its pejorative context with the rise of things like the internet, it's never going to completely shake itself free of stigma.

I really think gaming is a wonderful hobby. It's too bad that it's just so strange, a lot of people don't know how to approach it. What's more, it can be pretty intimidating for people too. I know that sounds odd, but gamers are a fairly insular lot. I wouldn't say we have a seige mentality, but neither do we really reach out to new participants. Add to that the fact that gaming is a hobby based on collaborative imagination; it isn't passive like collecting or solitary like reading. You need to put yourself out there, and a vulnerable part of yourself at that. Your sense of adventure and imagination, those things that are usually confined to the private recesses of your consciousness. That's the only way the game can move, fueled by the contributions of its particpants.

If I could, I'd explain in general terms the years of enjoyment I've gained from the hobby. And, while I can talk about things like comraderie, imagination, challenge, and accomplishment, in a very real sense I'd be doing the whole thing a disservce. So instead, from time to time, I will endeavor to share a story from my table top; tales of table top heroes battling cruel villans over the fate of imaginary universes. Maybe you think that kind of thing is a waste of time. Stick with me, and hopefully I'll change your mind.

Resisting the pull of G-Forces

I'm thinking about upgrading my computer. Right now I have a 2.4 ghz Pentium 4, 1GB of RAM, 120 GB hard drive, a Live Platinum sound card and a Ti4200 G-Force 4 video card. Recently my video card fan has been making disturbing wheezing noises, and I'm worried it might give out. Now, it may be possible to simply repair the fan, and I may not need a new video card. However, this fan thing could also be an opportunity in addition to a problem.

You see, at the end of summer the space expansion, Jump to Lightspeed will be coming out for Star Wars: Galaxies, the Star Wars MMORPG (Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game). My computer currently runs SWG well enough; not great perhaps, but well enough. I have most of my graphic slides near the maximum settings, and for the most part things load quickly. Still, there are times when the graphics slows down play. I can turn down the settings, and I have before, but the game looses a lot of its appeal when stripped down to monochromatic polygons. A new video card could be just the thing I need to give my computer games a boost. Plus, I could give my current card, a little old now but still fairly respectable, to my backwards brother.

Generally speaking, I have a very loose stance on money. After all, money exists to make life easier. So, if I have it, and I don't need it, I tend to spend it. It's a philosophy that has served me well enough thus far, though in truth I've yet to shoulder the burdens of "real life." Replacing my video card on a whim seems somewhat oppulent, even for me. Still, there is that fan noise...

Anyway, if anyone reading this has any advice regarding kinds of video cards, let me know. I'm thinking of spending, if any at all, around $200. I figure I ought to be able to get something respectable for that price.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Venus Rising

Today there will occur a rare astronomical event, a Venus Transit. When the Earth, Venus, and the Sun are all in a direct line, our neighbor will be seen travelling across the star's surface. Venus Transits always come in pairs; the next one will be in 2012. I live in California, which means that I won't be able to see this year's at all, but I'll have a good view for the next one if I'm still here in eight years. If I miss the one in 2012, I have to wait until 2117. I'd be 137 in 2117, so by then I figure a transit will be the least of my concerns.

In case you aren't as versed in Roman mythology as you should be, Venus is named for the Roman goddess of love. Like many Roman dieties, she is actually an amalgam of other figures in Greek, Etruscan, and Near Eastern mythologies. Her actual responsibilities were more sweeping than simply meddling in people's business, but today she is remembered best for her romantic patronage. Accordingly, I figure there wouldn't be a better occasion than her planet's transit to talk briefly on the subject of women.

For those of you who have been reading thus far, it should be pretty obvious that I have a rather low opinion of people in general. I'm afraid to say that women are not an exception. Of course, it's important to note that this is a personal opinion. By that, I mean it is an opinion I hold towards other people, as opposed to women as a specific group. Socially or politically speaking, I'm exceedingly progressive in most issues traditionally thought of as "women's issues." Just trying to be clear before someone calls me a misogynist. My problem with women isn't that they're women. It's that they're people.

Were all the alternatives not so lousy, I think I would have given up on girls completely. I mean no disrespect to those of you who have selected one of those alternatives, we all have to make it through as best we can, but to me they all seem cures far worse than the disease. Still, as I may not be able to abandon romance, I have taken as my recent practice its avoidance. Even so, every once in a while I am coaxed out of my hostility.

Though I am by no means Don Juan, I've been on my share of dates. Most of these encounters are one time things, and more than one has been motivated by baser instincts, the urging of a friend's friend, or simply to round out to an even number. I think on the whole that I'm probably a pretty good date. I may not be especially attractive, but I can be charming when I want to be, and I have a memorable, if unforgiving, wit. As long as I need do no more than make a few hours pass, I get by pretty well. It's when things are more serious that I have a problem.

I've only really had one serious girlfriend, and that was an exercise in personal and moral inadequacy that I'd sooner not repeat. Other than that, I've been out with a few people for a length of time during which such a relationship might have formed, but I never really pursued the option. I guess there just hasn't been anyone yet that has brought out in me that kind of yearning.

I mean, I've had my share of attractions and infatuations, but as of yet, the more enthusiastic sentiments haven't appeared. Not that this really bothers me. Where I'm at right now, I don't even really want to have to deal with this kind of stuff. It seems to me that, until you're set with yourself, other people are just complications.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Fiat Slug

The University of California at Santa Cruz was kind enough to host me for what can be loosely termed my undergraduate education. I was a UCSC student from 1998-2003, though in 2003 I only attended the summer session. I ended up short of credits by some miserable amount, less than a single class, by the end of my traditional four year term. I walked with the rest of the 2002 graduates, then finished up in the summer. My degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies, the shortest major then offered. Ten classes constituted the entire list of requirements, which meant that the whole program could be completed in a year. To be sure, its brevity was not the deciding factor, as I still had to complete the same number of units to graduate as anyone else, but it didn't hurt.

College was actually a near thing for me. High School had been so painfully inane, and though my friends were near the top of the class, I never bothered to do much more than pass. I left Washington High with a sliver over 3.0, and an SAT around 1300. Respectable numbers, perhaps, but certainly not particularly impressive. I applied to a couple of places, most of which rejected me. When the dust cleared, Uncle Claude's Summer Camp was the best option, so I went. For those of you unfamiliar with the campus, UCSC is furher subdivided into a number of associated colleges. These colleges have their own identities, core academic class, and they each play host to one of the departments. I picked Stevenson College because it was the smallest of the colleges. I didn't want to have to deal with more people than I had to.

Recently I've begun to miss college. This strikes me as somewhat odd, because I really didn't like it when I was there. Santa Cruz is a rather provincal town. Most of the residents hate the college students, and most of the college students are perfectly hateable. Bars and the card club on Ocean aside, just about the entire town shuts down by ten. Late night food options are limited to the twenty-four hour Safeway and, on weekends, a similarly nocturnal Jack-in-the-Box. Many people put a lot of stock in the scenary, which is nice to be sure, but if you are looking for amenities than Santa Cruz isn't for you.

As wretched as I found the town, I think I may have disliked my peers even more. I spent two years in the dorms, and never again do I expect to be in such close proximity to such boundless stupidity. Life in the dorms was an experience, and one that, on the balance, I'm glad I had. But primarily what I took away was that everything ill I had thought of humanity was true, and then some. The later years were better, living off campus on Bay Street. There were five of us, not counting guests, in a house meant for no more than three. We ate microwaved bacon, bacon grease flavored rice, and pizza (with bacon). Taken together, our schedules were streched out such that at any given time, someone was awake. A few of us ran an on-line business selling items for Diablo II, which was popular at the time. Our website is actually still up. We played a lot of hardcore Diablo II; I had a Barbarian at level 91 before I stopped.

I can see what people say about the "best years of your life." For all my complaining, those were good years. I got to do a lot of interesting things. I stood in line for Star Wars: The Phantom Menance with a friend for twenty-two hours, watched the thing at midnight, and slept through class afterwards. I saw the look on someone's face when we ordered one-hundred hamburgers from McDonalds. They were thirty-nine cents at the time. I fooled around with a girl on a rooftop, officiated a drinking contest, suffered through terrible poetry, heard the worst rendition of "Uptown Girl" performed in the western hemosphere, and that was just Freshman year.

From where I'm sitting now, they were all good times, even the bad ones. I know I can't go back, and I'm not even sure I would if I could. But now that I can't, I've gained an appreciation for years I had thought, at the time, I couldn't get through fast enough.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

If it's Tuesday, this must be Normandy

Sixty years ago the Allies landed on the Normandy coastline. Five divisions of infantry stormed Sword, Gold, Juno, Omaha, and Utah beaches in their bid to free France and purge from the world an unspeakable evil.


Saturday, June 05, 2004

I'd rather be sailing

Law school is expensive. A year at Santa Clara is more than $25,000, and that's just tuition. I don't actually have that much, so I've borrowed it. When you throw in the money I had to borrow for my undergrad education, I'll owe over $100,000 by the time I'm done. That's a lot of money. In fact, you know you're in hot water when, as a non-smoking, non-drinking twenty-four year old, the value of your internal organs can no longer cover your debt. My parents, and my father especially, are worried that I don't appreciate the enormity of my insolvency.

I'm prepared to concede the point that I don't really understand what the money means in real terms, never having really dealt with such sums, but it is something that I think about from time to time. When I started law school, I actually had a pretty good grasp on the numbers involved. This $100,000 isn't exactly a surprise. I know that I can deal with the loan; after all, other people borrow it and they get by okay. Still, I didn't want to run down the 100m dash of life with a 100k weight around my neck, so I came up with a plan. I decided to see if the military would pay my way. After a round of meetings and forms and so on, I got to talking with the people at the Navy JAG program. If I can get in, I'll end up serving a few years after law school, in exchange for a little help. It's a good deal, and it'll let me live overseas too, which is something I think I'd really like to do. There is a little problem though.

The program is competitve. That is, they have only so many slots, and they have more applicants than they can let it. Ordinarily, I like my chances in most competitions. Call it arrogant, which indeed it may very well be, but I trust in my own ability to come through when I really want to. The problem is that this year I didn't really regard my studies with the gravity with which they may have deserved. Grades come out in a few weeks, and while I don't fear failing anything, I don't expect to top the class. If I don't do well enough, I won't get into the program. They do accept new applicants quarterly, so it's not like this is my final chance. If the Navy doesn't accept me this time, I can always try again after improving the old GPA. And, even if I never make it in, it isn't the greatest tragedy in the world. I'll just have to pay off the loans on my own. But in some sense, I think I would be disappointed if I never get in.

At the beginning, this was just a financial alternative. I'm pretty laid back; taking orders for a few years seemed a small price to pay for a legal education. But as I got deeper into the application process, I began to warm to the prospect. To begin with, military service is somewhat of a tradition on both sides of my family. It isn't about being the tough guy, shooting people up, or just feeling big. My father is actually an immigrant, and his sense of appreciation has rubbed off. I do feel indebted to the country, and service is an honorable way to level the scales. It's also an excellent opportunity to live overseas. I'd really like to live somewhere far away, Japan or Australia, or maybe somewhere in Europe. Foriegn travel is the kind of experience that can really change someone's life, and I don't want to have to wait until I've lived most of mine before I'm in the position to try it.

Ultimately, we'll have to see. I hope my grades aren't too bad. If they aren't good enough, hopefully that'll give me the motivation to do better next term.

Friday, June 04, 2004

The Ardship of Cambry

I thought I'd take a break from serious stuff to address something that's been bothering me for a while. I'm new to blogging, so with a novice's enthusiasm for the novel, I often peruse some of the other journals. Blogspot has a nifty list of recently updated sites, which I scan at my leisure, clicking on names that happen to catch my attention. Many of the blogs are written in foriegn languages, though their titles are in English. There are a subset of blogs, however, that appear to be written in a kind of degenerate English indicative of something out of Riddly Walker. When the host of words "to, too, and two" became replaced by a multipurpose numerical expression I couldn't say, but thrown in with the other shortcuts and you'll think you've got literature from the Mole People.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking. I admit it isn't really that big of a deal, and that I am probably just overly sensative to linguistic violence. On the other hand, this is the language of Shakespeare and Mark Twain. We were left with great works of literature, expositions on the nature of humanity and existence. We'll pass on 1337.

These dismal substitutions are finding their way out of the internet too. No longer is terrible English to be restricted to the inner city or the internet. At law school I heard someone respond to an amusing anecdote with "lol." Lol! Come on people, we can do better than this!

Friends from further afield

I'm a difficult person. I admit it. I have a very sharp personality, hostility tempered only by nonchalance and an adherence to certain forms of etiquette otherwise found only on PBS programs. I often refuse to engage in the give and take of everyday social interaction, not because I can't, but because I honestly think it is beneath me. I don't answer hanging questions. I don't inquire after sighs or pouts. I don't typically care about what you are doing. I don't like being hugged as a greating or parting expression. In fact, I don't even really like being touched. When it became okay to paw at people I'm not sure, but it is a development that finds little favor with this particular man. From this it can be easy to take away the sentiment that I don't really care at all, which is, of course, untrue. It isn't that I don't care, it's just that I don't care about the same things.

I have very few friends. The word has a stronger implication with me than is to be found in common usage; relationships generally termed as "friendships" I think of as "acquaintances." I regard my acquaintances very highly, but my friends are as close to family as you can get without blood or marriage. This is a principle distinction that, in everyday life, has little value. Each are equally welcome to my Henry Weinhard's Root Beers, each free to inquire after my time or property, each an enjoyable vessel for the squandering of a few idle hours. There is a difference though, and it comes from within me. That is, the responsibility I owe to another based on how I see them, regardless of how they may have come to see me.

Things have been pretty rocky with my old friends for the last few years, since the second year of college or so. Just about all of them have moved on, which isn't what really bothers me. Time marches on, and all things change. What ticks me off is that it seems they are largely incapable of even the most trivial gesture of solidarity or the slightest effort. Relationships are built on frequency as much as anything else, and if you can't find a few hours a month for a friend, perhaps you aren't friends anymore after all. What's worse, they are infuriatingly noncommital. It's one thing to just drift away. It'd even be fine to make a clean break. Unfortunate, to be sure, but better in the long run.

Of my old friends, two in particular are on my nerves. Sometime around 1999-2000 they became wacko Christian fundamentalists. Now I'm a firm athiest, but I generally see religion as an amusing handicap, no more dangerous than the inability to pick matching colored socks. Faith I regard with adequate respect, if more than a little suspicion. But when you hear people you used to know espousing insane views based on nothing more than a line or two from an old and moldy book, most of which was plagarized and rest of which is largely forgettable, it's disturbing to say the least. Worse, in my mind, is that with this religious conversion seems to have come the requirement that you have as little to do with your old buddies as possible.

Friend One I met in elementary school. I don't remember the exact grade, but his is the longest standing relationship I've had outside of family. His family was always pretty Christian, but he didn't turn into Jerry Falwell until recently. He's getting married soon, an act which I generally regard as a mistake. At twnety-three it seems unlikely that he is set to decide the rest of his life. I think his motivations are less highminded, and in my opinion, he'll be lucky if the marriage doesn't fall apart until after I finish law school. Then at least I can litigate his divorce for him. Admittedly, I speak from a precarious position. I've never met her, and even he I come to know less and less with every passing year. The real problem isn't that I feel so. I've always been opinionated, and most of my opinions are decidedly pessimistic. What bothers me is I no longer feel as though I've the standing to even raise the issue.

Friend Two I met at the start of high school. He was the things I wasn't, and from that came not friction but an odd sort of partnership. We usually came to the same conclusion, but even when we were not of one mind, we at least had a unity of vision as it pertained to the big picture. In the words of Jay and Silent Bob, he was near my "heterosexual life partner," a friend of incomparable value, and the kind of person who enriches your life such that it is difficult to imagine a time before. It isn't an exaggeration to say that I expected to know him for the rest of my life, but as it turned out, for him finding Jesus meant ditching old friends.

My other high school friends are important to me too, in their own ways. Each appeals to a piece of my personality, but more than that, the group of them represents myself as I would like to be. That sense of unity is one of the most profound losses of my life, short as it has been thusfar, and the genesis of so much that is currently who I am. I owe each of them a debt of epic proportions, tempered, as I hope it truly is, by the belief that they came to be through the same crucible. I'd gladly give any of them my last dime, but I worry that responsibility is all that remains between us. Worse, I worry that someday it may be that only I remain so tethered; a tragedy all the more terrible measured against the thing lost.

Of course, we're all still young. I speak in dread tones because I feel, in some sense, the frustration of being the only earnest player on a team of slackers. Though I try not to think of it in such terms, it is difficult to avoid a sense of bitter abandonment. I know that I am certainly not blameless, indeed I can only hope that I am not even more culpable than those I implicate. Ultimately, of course, blame is somewhat irrelevent. Unless it's all you have left.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


On Thursday my maternal grandfather died. He'd been having health problems for a while now. Last monday he fell and broke his hip, which to be honest, I didn't think was going to be a big deal. He'd broken it before, but this time he developed complications in the hospital. He had a heart attack, during which oxygen deprivation caused a stroke. By the time I arrived in Sacramento they had him hooked up to tubes making him breathe, though his heart was going strong. My mom's family met and discussed the options, though I gathered there really weren't any. The doctors performed a few brain activity tests, pro forma I think, and that was basically his last chance. The DNR was signed, the machines unplugged, and that was that.

I didn't really know my grandfather very well. He was always sort of a remote figure, not only by distance, but by personality. I always got the feeling that he didn't like me very much, though he may simply have been that way with everyone. For my part I had no lack of respect for him, but admittedly I regarded him on a personal level no greater than he did me. Gruff criticsm was the tenor of most of our conversations, and he had such an objection to trivialities; trivialities that to me not only make life bearable, but indeed encapsulate the entire point of living. He saw the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Life was a struggle to him, and my desire to simply coast by must have struck him as exceedingly indulgent. I, of course, never found such severity endearing.

All of this is not to say that he was a humorless man. Far from it. My grandfather enjoyed sports and music. He loved card games, especially cribbage. At the time of his death our cribbage series was tied up, and I guess now that's the way it'll stay. Many older people find new ages and new things disturbing, but my grandfather truly seemed to enjoy the wonders of modern life. I installed his first modem and he'd surfed ever since. Until his condition deteriorated to make it impractical, he had an active daily routine that included shopping and socializing with neighbors he'd lived near for more than thirty years. His body gave out before his will did, and in that I think is to be found the most profound inspiration.