Thursday, August 31, 2006

The volume of an irregular object

Over the last few days, I took the opportunity to catch up on Eureka, a new show on SciFi. I had previously seen the pilot and, having been sufficiently amused, fully intended to follow up with the regular episodes.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the premise centers around a down to earth sheriff charged with policing a small town populated by super geniuses. Everyone in Eureka is connected in one way or another to Global Dynamics, a huge secret research company filled with bizarre high tech projects that cause problems on a weekly basis. And it's the main character's job to try and restore order after something blows up.

My initial opinion was favorable but ultimately uncommitted. I would have watched and been entertained, but it didn't seem like the show would lay claim to any genuine affection. The third episode changed that, turning me into a full fledged fan. Specifically, there is this scene about two-thirds the way through where the protagonist confronts the villian with owning the following impliment:

"A wormholing, time bending, invisiblying device that shields you from the mind."

As far as I'm concerned, this is the best show SciFi has produced since Farscape. If you have a few hours to waste and either good TV channels or an internet connection, I fully recommend giving it a look see.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Well, I ordered a new laptop to replace the one that was stolen. Last time I bought a Sony Vaio. It was an adequate machine, but large and clunky, and the fan developed this annoying squeaking sound somewhat reminiscent of an asthmatic rodent.

This time I went with a Dell Inspiron. I upgraded the video card, screen, and RAM. Then, when I made an innocent query regarding the student discount for SCU students, the helpful sales associate person further enhanced my prospective purchase with a DVD burner and some Bluetooth thing. I don't even really know what Bluetooth is exactly, but now I can use it.

In the end I spent a little more than I wanted to, but with my student discount I ended up getting a much better machine than would have otherwise been within my limited means.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The time value of money

Warning: This post contains examples of misused economic terms and concepts. Those sensitive to the proper construction of financial principles would be advised to skip this entry.

I recently received an email from a user regarding a comment I left on a third user's blog. The letter was somewhat irate, in which I was accused of committing certain heresies against the orthodox of money and it's relationship to happiness. Below is my original comment, reproduced in full, from Purple Haze.

I think the evidence is pretty clear. Money can't buy you happiness. And yet, it seems obviously true that the more you have, the more likely you will be happy.

Money is an enabler. The ultimate enabler, in fact, at least in a capitalist society. Money allows you to do the things you want, or avoid those you'd rather do without. It converts actual time to personal time, real time to free time.

If you can't be happy with money, that speaks volumes about who you are as a person, but it doesn't say anything bad about money.

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I do not believe that money can itself guarantee happiness. Nor do I assert that rich people are necessarily thrilled with life. You can be poor and ecstatic, you can be loaded and miserable. Money is an it, a thing, a possession. It doesn't make anyone do anything. It can't make you happy, nor can it force sadness on you.

However, it is also undeniable that money plays a big role in most of our lives, and the inability to manage it or put it into proper perspective can lead to big problems, and that was the point of my comment. As I said, money is an enabler. It allows you to do things, and the more money you have the more options are available. But it does more than that.

Money is power, and with it you can reduce opportunity costs and limit unpleasant externalities. Financial means allows you to manage your time according to your inclinations, by providing alternative solutions to annoying but necessarily problems. After all, many rich people don't clean their own homes, and they convert the time that would be spent into other pursuits. This then brings me to my comment's second conceit.

If you are rich enough to where you can choose how to spend your time and you aren't happy, that is an indication of a serious deficiency. Where the fault lies would differ with each person, of course, but it should be manifestly obvious that someone relieved of financial concerns has a significant leg up in the pursuit of happiness.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The limitations of unfocused ambitions

I have taken away one lesson of principle importance from my screenwriting class yesterday, and that is my own woeful inability to meet my artistic expectations. That is not necessarily very surprising; it was only the first class. Still, I cannot escape this persistent, if pessimistic, sensation of impending failure. The problem, you see, is dialogue.

Screenwriting had always held two great interests. First, I had hoped that the firm structure would help focus my often disparate aspirations. And second, crafting dialogue and conveying the nature of a person through their words has always seemed like an engaging challenge.

My estimations of the genre's dimensions have proven accurate, but my particular talents may not be well suited to the task. I find myself extremely dissatisfied with my varying efforts constructing conversations. The words just feel stilted or artificial, the characters far from engaging. In large part, I blame my own writing style.

Some people are kind enough to remark favorably on my literary endeavors, and I think it within the bounds of respectable modesty to admit that I harbor some degree of pride in my writing. Even so, my voice does not seem well suited to that of others. This style that now characterizes my composition, for whatever pleasant particularities may arise in prose, has not carried over into dialogue.

I do not write as people speak. I don't even write as I speak. In fact, my own conversation is marked by nothing as cumbersome, nor as when it may arise, as elegant, as comes from my pen. How this happened I'm not quite sure, but it is now a matter of some frustration.

Of course, it is not necessarily a fatal defect, the application of aberrant discourse. Some of my favorite movies and television shows are stocked full of characters unusually and perhaps even impossibly erudite. So if it were simply a matter of big words or clever phrases, I should be okay. Unfortunately, my limitations are somewhat less forgiving.

Aside from any inability to actually write in the manner the genre demands, I also seem to suffer from a distinct lack of concept. Everyone else has apparently entered the class with some long cherished storyline. Although they naturally vary according to the talents and dedication of the authors, the best offerings are wonderfully intricate, and bring my own inadequacies into stark focus.

I knew, coming into this, that I would have a lot of work ahead of me. But to be perfectly honest, I had not expected to be so completely unprepared. Perhaps my own expectations were unrealistic, and certainly it would not require the fulfillment of standards to which I hold myself simply to pass (although the grade and credits are in every way irrelevant). However, I first took this class in order to satisfy my own artistic desires. Now that I am faced with the possibility of failure, in personal if not absolute terms, I cannot help but regret the enterprising inclination that led me to try in the first place.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Somewhat more organized than before

I have now included a categories section in my sidebar, and have begun the process of organizing my posts. Most of them have been included in one or more of the listed divisions.

Unfortunately, the blogger tools themselves don't allow for any easy way to achieve this degree of categorization. If anyone wants to know how I did it, see the guide here.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sometimes you wonder if you're doing the right thing, then God sends you a sign and everything is clear again

My family recently received an invitation to a wedding reception. The sister of one of my brother's childhood friends is getting married, and though the ceremony is occurring in Washington, they made the gesture of sending us an invitation. Nice enough, by most standards I suppose, and yet I have it in me to be offended. For you see, there's a reason why the invitation is to the reception alone.

The people in question are Mormons, and the unelect are not permitted to sully the actual sacrament with their presence. As if that weren't offensive enough, they then expect others to happily attend a celebration of a union inaugurated in, if not quite defined by, the exclusion of otherwise valued friends and associates on the basis of religion. For my own part, I think it represents a particular lack of shame to slap people in the face and then invite them in for booze and a buffet so they can toast to your good health.

Although I am ever aware of my good fortune to have reached such a state, these occurrences make me feel even better about my atheism. I should not like to turn this post into a polemic against Mormonism or religion in general (topics for another time), and I deny nobody their right to choose their own associations along such lines as they may feel prudent.

Even so, I can't help but feel at every turn the vindication of compassionate reason. The test should rely on the humanity of a person's beliefs, not their form. A test the high-minded monothiesms seem to fail in proportion to their ability to influence social policy.

When someone's religion or politics offend me, they do so not because they use unleavened bread in the Eucharist or because they think Ann Coulter actually represents someone with the semblance of intelligence and respectability. The manner in which people choose to believe, although it often expresses itself in ways I personally find curious or amusing, is in the end irrelevant. It's what you do with those beliefs.

If you use them to abuse or degrade others, that's when I object. When, as is so often the case, they allow the expression of vile and hateful sentiments cloaked within the auspice of true revelation, it is not merely proper but right and even necessary that they are challenged. In a just world, they will not stand such scrutiny. In ours, it remains to be seen.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Spectator Sports

Although I do not indulge in the ostentatious resuscitation of former and impending disasters that has become cable news, nonetheless I endeavor to remain abreast of current events. So it is that I, like the rest of America, am aware that someone by the name of John Karr has confessed to the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey.

Leaving aside the specifics of this particular case, I am left wondering at what point individual tragedy became a spectator sport. There have always been violent people. I'm sure back in caveman times, there must have been a Cro-Magnon by the name of Grog who just couldn't deal with the stress of the daily hunt and decided to take his stone club to a few of his subterranean neighbors.

But although there have always been violent people, has there always been a market for this narrative, or are we just more degenerate than our predecessors? I admit I do not know the answer, though I suspect the reality is that our means simply provide us with a way to fulfill and even exceed our macabre interests to a degree unimagined by previous generations. Either way, violence on this scale, although undeniably unfortunate, should not be the subject of national interest.

To be sure, I do not mean to belitte the death of another human being. But really, nothing involving Scott Peterson or OJ Simpson or John Kerr is the least bit relevant to my life. National news should not become the aggregation of personal loss. It is a disservice to us, yes, and to the victims as well, who do not deserve to have their own grief aired for public examination.

Not only isn't it the proper subject upon which to focus national attention, but this fascination with individual incidents stems, I suspect, from voyeuristic and degenerate impulses. Unfortunately, we live in a society where the loss of life, although far from trivial, is nonetheless accepted. These reports serve to titillate, not to inform. They provide details, unnecessary and preferably intimate, their value increasing in relationship to their extremity.

Tragey is a spectator sport now. Popular, lucrative too, and completely unworthy of a humane society.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It was a dark and stormy night...

Earlier this evening I met with a woman, Gina, and together we resembled a writing group. I had answered her post on Craigslist, and to my surprise, something actually came of it. Not that Craigslist isn't a useful venue, because it is, but most of the people on there are either flakes or in the grips of some severe psychosis.

In any case, we met at a Starbucks in Mountain View, traded stories and comments, and an hour later resolved to meet again. I thought the encounter was pleasant, entertainment and personal improvement rarely go together so conveniently. It was originally my hope that a writing group will help provide the focus and reinforce my flagging enthusiasm, and though I feel no overwhelming urge to grab my pen and craft the Great American Novel, I think it likely at least that this collaboration will result in more and better literature.

The five best dramas you aren't watching, Vol 2: Comedy

A few weeks ago I commended to your attentions a selection of Japanese dramatic television programs. I know, in all likelihood, that nobody bothered to give them anything more than a moment's notice, if even that much. But that's okay. I remain unfazed, and in a triumph of enthusiasm over experience, present this second volume.

Even more than romance, comedy relies on the personal outlook and experiences of the audience to make its connections. We all expect more or less the same things from a romance, but humor knows few such commonalities. It has its conventions, but they can only go so far. To connect with an audience, you have to be funny in a particular way. In order to satisfy some, you have to neglect others.

Thus it is with that preamble, as a sort of warning, I now present the five best comedic Japanese television series you aren't watching. As always, your milage may vary.

The five shows are presented in no particular order, again without syllabi for the same reasons I outlined in Volume One. However, I can furnish a synopsis upon request, and am more than happy to answer any questions regarding the attainment or utilization of these works.

1. Odoru Daisousasen (Police investigation headquarters)

2. Great Teacher Onizuka

3. Dekichatta Kekkon (Shotgun Marriage)

4. Wedding Planner

5. Kisarazu Cats Eye

Honorable Mention:

101 kaime no puropozu (101st Proposal): This show requires a little more appreciation of Japanese character conventions. People unfamiliar with the show will find the main character pathetic (as intended) but may not find the humor.

Densha Otoko (Train Man): Not that I didn't find it funny, because I did, but the main character and the female lead are both a little too generic for me. It's like they took all the cliches and piled them into one show. Also, as with 101st proposal, the characters (especially the men) require some degree of acceptance of Japanese mores. Still, quite amusing.

Omiai Kekkon (Arranged Marriage): This show is very funny, but the unavailability of any copy even resembling adequate video quality with English subtitles relegates this series to the Honorable Mention category.

Gokusen: Because I already included one school show (Great Teacher Onizuka), I decided to skip this one. Personally, I think they are pretty much interchangeable, although I liked some of the film schticks and the soundtrack in Gokusen a lot.

Lunch no Joou (Lunch Queen): A little formulaic, this is one of those shows where everyone falls for the vulnerable yet fiercely independent female lead. However, the cast and the writing can usually keep you from noticing the cookie cutter outlines.

Sutaa no Koi (A Star's Love): Going from a little formuliac to out-right hackery, Kusanagi Tsuyoshi and the rest of the San Marco Ham staff pull out such wonderful performances that you don't mind coming along.

Most of these shows can be downloaded for free, along with their subtitles, at D-Addicts, the rest from Japan-TV.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Who even has time for anything like Civil Liberties anymore?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

- Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Who has time for a little thing like civil liberties? Well, according to this article, not the Secretary of Homeland Security. In asserting the need to expand police powers for the War on Terror, Secretary Chertoff states that "It's not like the 20th century, where you had time to get warrants."

Hooray for progress, I suppose.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I am the very model of a Holy Roman Emperor

I have information vegetable, animal, and mineral.


Just got back from playing Here I Stand, a six-player wargame made by GMT. I took the role of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain too, as if either one weren't good enough. After a grueling struggle, I can say with pride that I kept the Turks at bay, humbled France, and put the heretics in their place. All in all, I was quite the enlightened despot.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Whore of Blogylon

Am I the only one who thinks those Adsense bars are a little ridiculous? To my mind, they mar an otherwise excellent format for personal expression, a brash bourgeois intrusion into otherwise thoughtful narratives. Whenever I see one, I always wonder what the blogger was thinking when he or she signed up.

Now, I am the first one to admit that if I believed there was real money in it, I should abandon my artistic integrity and proudly peddle links of dubious utility. And of course, something is always better than nothing, especially since in this case the "cost" is somewhat ephemeral, and indeed to some perhaps non-existent. It is easy to put sign up for AdSense, and it's burdens are actually quite slight.

If it made me any money that would be more than I had before, and I would seem none the worse for it. However, I think in a real sense there would be a price to be paid for free money. I do not intend to criticize anyone who may employ AdSense, after all it's their blog to do with as they will, but I can't help but think that the pittance they offer is an insufficient incentive to become a tool of commercial advertising.

Relatively harmless, if somewhat demeaning, AdSense may be. Unfortunately, some other people have chosen less innocuous forms of advertising revenue. I hate to encounter pop-ups of any kind, and I have yet to encounter any truly malicious, but there are many blogs that trigger these unprovoked windows. Some of these ads contain brutal, vicious viruses or worms. Others, maybe, "merely" annoying adware.

But there is an injury even aside from technological inconveniences. I know it might seem strange, but I have it in me to be personally offended at the attempted usurpation of my attentions. After all I think I should be free to govern for myself the advertising content I consider. Each precocious pop-up just makes me want to leave the place that much sooner.

Of course, it should go without saying that the standards differ depending on whether the site in question is personal and professional. But even commercial sites, in my opinion, would do well to craft less obtrusive advertisements.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Revelation in the face of oncoming traffic

Previous posts have documented a sense of general discontent that permeates my current existence. This despondency seems, on the outside, somewhat odd, especially given my systematic efforts to avoid anything resembling work - even as to such tasks as might suit my talents and disposition. Sloth and procrastination are two of my more able skills, yet it seems I may have honed them too sharply.

However, the next six months promise changes even I cannot evade. The imminent completion of law school, and the (hopefully) ensuing bar success brings my future into sharp focus. A legal education is not cheap, and I even have some loans from my undergraduate studies. These obligations promise to serve as the defining characteristics of my financial and professional realities for the foreseeable future.

I have avoided facing them so long as I could, an act of childish self-absorption I know, yet for all I aspire to reason and maturity, so characteristic as to be cliche. Completion of law school triggers a temporary grace period, after which my loans require repayment and my options diminish from a spectacular host of the possible to the cruel reality of the necessary.

Let it not be said, though, that I am completely hopeless. This term, in addition to my legal studies (which, I should say, have never received from me the proper attention they deserve) I have enrolled in Screenwriting at a local community college, and expect to enroll in a Digital Video class at the UC Extension, contingent on financing. These are fields that have always captivated my interests, and I've long intended to consider them in a more formal and professional setting.

I do this without expectation that it will save me from forty years of legal toil, a prospect of little joy but free, at least, from dread. Neither my beginning screenwriting class nor my introduction to digital filming will result in anything other than amateurish pretension. But that's okay. I am doing this for myself, and finally too, action brought on by the uncomfrotable revelation of impending fates. Nobody knows what the future holds, but if I am consigned to a life of unfulfilled hopes, I should not want the failure to have been one of mere effort.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pointless Factoid XVI

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The Standard Deviation is the average distance of any set of values from a mean. It's also a fairly middling blog that sucks the life out of its readers one post at a time.

Image courtesy of SDSU, used without permission but with much admiration.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Doctor, doctor, Mr. MD, can't you see what's ailing me?

I can't believe Doctor Phil has his own television show. I can't believe companies pay money for ad space during that inane hour, and I can't believe people actually watch. Yet all those things are true, and I am left baffled. What is it exactly that people see in that bloated sack of insipid pontification? Do they like that he "confronts" people? Is it simply the "suck it up, loser" tone? Or is he, for some, a figure of genuine insight?

It is the easiest thing in the world to tell others what they should do. This is because most tough decisions are really quite easy, objectively speaking. When weighing the alternatives and the costs, recognizing the proper choice is often a small matter. If you don't have the pay consequences yourself, it is easy to tell someone else what they should do. And this speaks to the heart of the matter. It isn't figuring out which choice is the right one that's tough, it's sticking to your guns and paying the price.

That's my problem with people who, like Dr. Phil, become rich celebrities by peddling easy answers. It's a simple matter to tell someone else to suck it up and get off the couch, but actually doing it is much harder (judging by his own physique, the good doctor has some experience in this).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Life through the rear-view mirror

I am often surprised by the cavalier disregard for the past people are given to express after a life changing experience. Encapsulating this attitude is the statement "I have no regrets". I don't understand what this means, or at least, I don't see how it could be true. A critical step in any irrevocable alteration, the curious boast seems to me little more than denial.

I lead an easy life. Although, in no sense of the term, financially endowed, still I lack for no necessities and am even able to pursue my hobbies with few restrictions. I like who I am, for the most part, and many of the decisions I have made seem to be right, or at least right for me. In short, I'm doing okay. And yet still, I have many regrets.

In fact, it seems to me that life itself is little more than the aggregation of regrets, and triumphs too, interest compounded from the choices we have made. The story of our lives told, in black ink or red, each entry one path over the other. To do one thing, we must neglect another. Opportunity costs and time eventually foreclosed some routes forever.

Already at the age of twenty-six (which I know to be no great achievement, but it is the only age I can be) I feel the weight of my regrets. Personal, professional, intellectual. Who I am. How I treat others. Where I am going. Even so, my discontent is not general, but specific. It has less to do with how things are now than how I got here, and what it cost me along the way.

Some of these disappointments may stay with me my whole life. Others might fade over time. Perhaps a few will make a better person out of me. Certainly they contribute to the eclectic host of talents, beliefs, and faults that consist this one man. In the end, I do not bemoan my fate.

I like who I am.

But I wonder if I could have been better. Better to myself maybe, or perhaps to others. Better not financially or professionally (which for me means scholastically), although those would be fine improvements too, but better in the sense that I had done more with what I had, or given more to others. I have my regrets, and they are as much a part of me as my jubilations. I have them, I keep them, at times I even brood upon them, and I have no regrets about that.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The five best dramas you aren't watching, Vol 1: Romance

In my spare time, I help subtitle Japanese television shows into English with Japan-TV. Now, I don't actually speak Japanese (although I seem to be learning some through osmosis). What I do is take the rough translations and transform it into something resembling the King's English. It can be a difficult job at times. Much depends on the quality of the translator's work, but even with an excellent translation, the editor (me) still has a hard road ahead.

Always there is the balance between strict accuracy and elegance. If the subtitles are flat and unimpressive, that will weigh against the show, no matter how compelling the acting or setting. But at the same time, the desire to draft dialogue has to adhere to the responsibility to convey the original work as accurately as possible. Anything else would be disrespectful. it is a constant challenge, but an engaging one.

Like American television, most of these shows are mediocre at best. They adhere to their own conventions with all the slavish devotions to cliche and cheap laughs of a Friends or otherwise intellectually and artistically bankrupt sit-com. But, as also with American television, there are the gems too. The following are a list of five shows I heartily recommend to anyone.

Even if you aren't a fan of Japanese media, or if you aren't yet familiar with any of it (although an increasing number of people are becoming familiar at least with anime, in some cases even if they don't know it), these shows stand on their own merit. As is their custom, each of these shows comprise 10-12 one hour episodes, so the entire show can be seen with a relatively slight investment.

I have listed them in no particular order, and I have posted a link to where they can be found. I have not included a synopsis, partialy because I didn't like how any of the ones I drafted turned out (it's early here and I'm tired) and partialy because I'm lazy. I'll be happy to answer any questions about them though, including how to get them and how to play them. If anyone asks for a specific synopsis then at some point I'll try and write one up. You can find some descriptions at Japan-TV or Jdorama, but they are often very poorly written, especially the ones at Jdorama.

1. Slow Dance Download it at D-Addicts.

2. Long Vacation Download it at Japan-TV.

3. Beautiful Life Download it at Japan-TV.

4. Tokyo Love Story Download it at D-Addicts.

5. Meguri Ai Download it at D-Addicts.

Honorable Mention:

Kimi Wa Petto I contemplated including this with the top five, but it isn't really a romance per se, more a character study of people with emotional walls of varying difficulty. The premise is a little absurd, but it serves to allow for development that would otherwise be impossible. A good, strong show.

Orange Days I didn't like it quite as much as it seems others did. It was alright, but a little formulaic for me. In my opinion, the cast's popularity accounted for more of the show's success than its actual merits.

Moto Kare It has a good cast and a good premise, but it devolved quickly into one big cliche after another. The character of Makoto, and her portrayal by Hirosue Ryoko (Ryoko Hirosue) were the highpoints of the program. Worth a watch, but it starts slow and ends flat, with only a good middle to sustain it.

Anego Not so much a romance as a search for romance show, the main character was engaging, but there just wasn't enough going on to merit a true endorsement, and one of the sideplots was kinda dumb and took a long time to resolve.