Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On Ethanol

So, I've been thinking about ethanol recently. Not really so much as an alternative fuel (because it pretty much sucks at that) or as a beverage. No, I've been thinking of it a little differently recently.

My interactions with ethanol start pretty much at the beginning of the day. Before I touch anything at work, I sanitize my hands with a little foamy spray of 70% ethanol. Normally, I don't particularly mind this and actually kind of enjoy it since I like the smell. Recently, I managed to cut up my hands a little bit, while swimming in the ocean (which means they're probably somewhere between slightly and very infected). So, now my day starts with a stinging, searing pain as I sanitize my cuts (bandages are for wimps). On the average day, I sanitize my hands around 5 times (I didn't used to keep count).

My other primary interaction with ethanol is when we're cleaning.

Let's use our imaginations a little bit. First, imagine a stainless steel tank. Now make it 500 liters. Now fill it with ethanol. Pure ethanol. Imagine it mixing really fast. Imagine you're monitoring it, or possibly adding some agent to it or are otherwise exposed to the vapors. Let's set the ventilation at okay. Imagine trying to concentrate on whatever you're doing. How about, imagine just trying to think clearly enough to breathe?

Yeah, ethanol is fun stuff. My brother describes drinking hard alcohol as convincing you're body to swallow poison. Breathing it in as I described, yeah, there's no convincing involved since your body doesn't have a prayer of controlling anything at that point.

Completely unrelated, I'm worried I'm not actually a good chemical engineer. Apparently, all the cool chemical engineers brew their own beer in the garages. Relatively early on, my coworkers asked me if I brewed beer and talked about borrowing decommissioned stainless steel tanks for this specific purpose. They seemed disappointed I was interested.

On the other hand, I might be an okay chemist. So, my coworkers were talking about brewing beer and apparently one of them was making something they referred to as an IPA. Now, I hear IPA and I think of isopropyl alcohol. Personally, I really like IPA. I like it's smell more than ethanol and think it's just better all around. But, I had never really considered drinking it.

So, my coworkers are talking, and I'm off in my little world trying to think how one would even go about brewing isopropyl alcohol based beer. I mean, I don't know of any bacteria that preferentially produce that as an end product when breaking down glucose in oxygen-free environments instead of ethanol. I'm busy imagining all sorts of weird alternate metabolic pathways that might split so that pyruvate magically has it's carboxy group reduced (and thus producing isopropyl alcohol). I'm starting to think to myself, wow it would be so cool to be able to make isopropyl alcohol in your garage.

Eventually, they finish talking and I ask one of them, "So, I'm just checking, but IPA doesn't stand for isopropyl alcohol, right?"

He laughs and informs me that no, it does not stand for isopropyl alcohol. It stands for India Pale Ale or something like that. Whatever, now I'm all curious about how to make an isopropyl alcohol based beer.

Anyways, those would be my random thoughts on ethanol. I'll let you know why I missed my Monday post sometime, I swear.

That is all.


Friday, August 24, 2007

On the Blog

So, yesterday I missed a post. It won't be the last time. Luckily, I had never gotten around to specifying what I wanted my post pattern to be. So, technically, I didn't really miss a post yesterday, because I had never specified that a post should have been expected (Yay for excuses!).

In any case, I am now specifying the post pattern that I intend to follow. The goal is 4 posts a week. Considering that most posts are between 500 and 1500 words, I think that's fair. I think my average post length should try to sit in the 800 words area (although, I don't intend to ever cut a post short due to length, my attention span isn't really guaranteed to hold out too much longer than that and neither is yours). So, yeah, I'm planning to be writing over 3000 words a week for the blog, which is not an insignificant quantity.

In general, expect a Monday-Thursday post schedule. If I'm feeling frisky, you might see posts on the occasional Sunday as well. Posts will always be posted on the day they are written, and will often have been started not much more than an hour prior to posting. This has pluses and minuses for all of us.

For me, it has the disadvantage that given a little while to separate myself from what I just wrote, I often find lots of changes I would like to make. You shouldn't like it because if I'm uninspired sometime, you're going to get a really weird, random post (hopefully funny...). Trust me, you'll know when it happens. You also shouldn't like it since it means that the writing quality is crap (of course, that's not any worse than the rest of the stuff on the Internet, so hopefully you won't notice).

The advantage is that, um, well...okay, there is no advantage.

Anyways, I intend to never do anything resembling research for my posts. Any topic I attack, I will have done the bare minimum necessary to have an opinion, let alone an informed one. I like it this way, because it means I can post faster and I am not willfully copying others' ideas. You shouldn't like it because it means I'll ALWAYS be talking out of my ass. Seriously, always.

As for the posts themselves, obviously they feature a variety of topics. Movies will probably be the most common topic, although I haven't decided how I necessarily want to approach those posts. I don't really like the idea of reviewing movies, because, I read a lot of movie reviews and that might constitute research. Also, I like the vast majority of the movies I see (mainly because I primarily am motivated to go out and see stuff I think I'll like), so odds are pretty good that if I'm talking about a movie at all, I liked it (Transformers is obviously an exception).

I wish I could do more posts about video games, but I'm just too far behind the curve. I'm kind of too cheap to buy very many games at full price, so the end result is that I don't play very many games when they come out, so basically any thoughts I do come up with will be a good 8-12 months out of date. Ironically, I recently bought a game the day it came out (Persona 3) and I still haven't gotten around to playing it because I'm wasting my time on some other JRPG that is total fluff and seriously not worth my time at all, but I make poor decisions like this all the time.

I'm not too sure what I'll be doing with music either. I definitely won't be doing reviews, but I guess I can use it to say nice things about Wilco (they're awesome, by the way). I'll also certainly use it to insult emo music, which should make me feel guilty (since it's kind of like drawing a mustache on a dude who's past out in his own puke... totally pointless, but cruel at the same time... and that was probably not my best analogy, but I didn't want to use beating a dead horse).

For reasons I don't totally understand, I haven't made a TV shows topic yet. I don't know why. I mean, what if I decide I want to examine the existential allegory behind House? What would I file that under? I don't know; it's decently random, but it's not a movie and there aren't any ninjas or pirates or Japanese schoolgirls. What if I wanted to talk about the best thing on children's television today (Avatar)? Okay, I guess I'd just file that one under Anime, but that's not the point (or maybe it is?).

But, so, yeah, that's what I envision for the blog. We'll have to just wait and see where it goes. I guess it's a little exciting for me, since I honestly don't know what I'll be posting about three days from now, but I guess that's why I started the blog in the first place. To write about pointless topics that came to mind (apparently, including the blog itself). I'll probably try to do more of these State of the Blog Address whenever the fancy hits or the need arises (for example, if I decided to reduce the posting schedule).

That is all.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On Dealing with Gifted Students

So, this morning, I made myself cereal like normal. Except it wasn't normal at all. I ran out of Cheerios yesterday and haven't gotten around to refilling my supply. This means I was eating an alternative cereal, stolen from my little brother, with about 2-3 times as much sugar as the Cheerios I know and love. Needless to say, I was doing my morning reading on a bit more of a sugar high than normal.

Speaking of brothers, I came down the stairs this morning and found a bum sleeping on our couch. I was a little confused by this, but then I realized that it was just my brother, who had apparently arrived at the house late last night and crashed there. Not that any of this is related to anything.

So, back to my normal morning (which apparently was not normal at all, but that's not the point). I was eating breakfast and reading Time magazine again. Apparently, I can't avoid it. So, yeah, the cover article is all about what America should be doing about the fact that we treat our smartest kids like crap. Or, at least that's what they claim the article is about. Really, it seems mainly focused on this school in Reno called the Davidson Academy. But, it's the first topic that I'm really interested in, so that's what the post is about.

Now, before I start bashing the article, the author, the politicians, the children, and whatever else comes to mind, I just wanted to say that the school sounds pretty cool. I can totally imagine wanting to go to a school like that when I was about that age (which I think is between 10 and 18, but they weren't too specific). I'm sure they're doing a really good job with the kids that go there (although the article makes it sound like there's only 45 kids or so), and that it's very impressive.

Also, I'm pretty sure that when I actually was that age, I did qualify as gifted by the standards they were using in the article (top .1% of the population on certain "gifted" tests, although I didn't take the same tests they call out, but we'll just assume that the gifted tests I took are equivalent, alright). So, when I relate my own experiences and opinions of the situation the gifted students face, just trust me that it's coming from a qualified background (whoo for asking for trust over the Internet!). Also, I make no claims whatsoever about my "gifted" status anymore (and I'm pretty sure this blog is evidence against said status).

For one, I more or less totally agree that the school system doesn't really have a response for the kids who learn quickly (and those top .1% kids are capable of learning really quickly). At the same time, I believe there are pockets of really interesting and intelligent strategies that already exist. To start, here's what I believe is the most important part of any strategy: that the system ensures that the gifted kids get to meet and interact with each other. I was disappointed that the article did not value this nearly as highly.

This is why I'm inherently suspicious of home schooling. This is also why I immediately know that the Davidson Academy is doing something right. Gifted kids really need to meet and interact with other gifted kids. Until they do, they will struggle to value their "giftedness" and consider themselves weird. The most important thing public schools (from here on, simply called: the system) can teach them is that their intelligence is something fun and exciting which they can use and enjoy.

The article, when it wasn't lavishing praise on the school, argued that advanced students should just be pushed forward through the system. The author seemed to think that if a kid is learning faster than those around him (or her, I swear I'm not sexist...), he should just be pushed on to the next grade, as if that will solve the problem. It doesn't, though. Admittedly, the author did provide a rather underwhelming study that followed about 40 different gifted students, some of whom skipped grades and others that didn't and many of the ones who skipped grades came out better. Personally, I didn't find it convincing.

The problem with skipping grades is that the gifted student is still interacting with non-gifted students (we're pretending, for the sake of argument, that the older students would interact with the younger, gifted student at all) and the classes are still moving way slower than he is capable of learning. In the short term, it seems effective, because the gifted student is challenged to catch up, but once he's caught up, then it'll be time to skip another grade, or leave him unchallenged again. It's not too hard to imagine an instance when a really smart 10 year old is finishing up high school (which is bad, not because he's finishing high school, but bad because he's become completely isolated from anything even remotely like his maturity level, assuming that boys mature at all, of course).

Basically skipping grades is not a way to solve the problem, but rather a way to avoid the problem. The kid shuts up about not being challenged for a little while and hopefully gets sent off to college quickly so the system doesn't have to deal with him anymore. The only thing the system did for him was help him to get out of the system, which shouldn't count as a positive (although, I suspect that's basically what the study got as positive).

No, the buzz word that needs to be applied to dealing with gifted kids is "self paced learning". From the description, I'm pretty sure the Davidson Academy does it, which is good. Interestingly, the advantages of this strategy can come out of a simple thought experiment.

Imagine this: You've got a group of motivated, intelligent (perhaps even gifted?) kids together, with a single intelligent, young teacher. What happens? Well, the teacher has to meet certain requirements so she (okay, I am sexist, I'm making the teacher female and student male, what can I say?) starts trying to teach the required subjects (math, English, history, science, whatever). English and history are easy for her; she just has to pick topics, promote discussions, grade papers, and maybe do simple tests to ensure that the students are keeping up and prepared for discussions.

Math and science are harder. At the beginning of the year, the kids all start out together, but quickly some students start getting stuck at points (we're assuming that whatever math they're learning is at least a bit beyond what any of them have done before... maybe an introduction to Algebra without wasting everyone's time with Pre-Algebra sort of thing). She has to slow down for some of the students, but the other students are still interested in moving forward.

So, she says, "Okay, you kids who think you're SO smart, can just read ahead in the book. I'll be looking extra close at your homework and if you're still doing everything right, I'll let you keep going forward. In the meantime, I'll be helping these ones try to catch up with you, and I promise to dedicate some time to answering any questions you have." And, boom, self paced learning just naturally arises out of the situation (I heart Steve Jobs, by the way).

Obviously, there's many places for the plan to fail, but the trade off is the opportunity to let the kids that want to advance actually advance. You'll need a good textbook, the teacher will need to be willing to grade a variety of homeworks, it will have to be made clear that going the pace of the class is not a bad thing, and the list goes on. But, and I swear this is true, it's actually really achievable. You know why? Because the kids will help you.

Let's say there's one kid that really just doesn't get it. He's struggling (because of course all the students are male, because I'm sexist) and everyone else is ready to move on. Now, the teacher could try to do something like set aside one-on-one time or just stop the class to help him out. But, there's another option. Find a volunteer from the group that's pulling ahead to sit down and work with him for awhile (ha, volunteer, I crack myself up sometimes...). This both reinforces the learning of the volunteer and frees the teacher to keep working with the rest of the class.

Obviously, there will need to be a significant number of groundrules set for the classroom. We don't really want instances of individual students pulling ahead of the class, but some other number, probably between two and five (if it's more than five, you're looking at a significant portion of the class looking to go faster, which means it might be time to examine the curriculum). This is because the goal is not only to allow individual students to excel, but to still encourage the group learning that helps to reinforce and support each student's learning.

It's worth pointing out that I was put in this type of environment on multiple occasions in my public schooling. As a sixth grader, I was in a 20 person class of gifted students. In that class, the teacher's goal was not so much self paced learning, as super accelerated learning. The result was the I initially found myself falling behind (in my defense, all the other students had been doing that curriculum for a couple years). The teacher would never have considered slowing down for me, but he did have a classmate sit down and help me. Pretty soon, I was caught up and going along with the rest of class, no problem. So, it's not outrageous to expect the kids to be able to help each other.

Also, my high school actually really valued the idea of self paced learning and tried to apply it to all the students. But, it totally failed. Not because it's a bad idea, mind you. It failed because they tried to use it for the entire population and not just the "gifted" population.

They thought that by making it possible for slow learning students to take their time, they could improve their learning experience as well. Of course, it is not very easy to tell the difference between lazy students and true slow learners, so the end result was that lots of students basically made no progress in subjects like math because they were going at "their own pace."

However, there was a segment of the school's population that really benefited from the self paced learning (I'll give you two guesses, and no, lazy students not having to do any work don't count as having benefited). That's right, the "gifted" students that were motivated and excited about learning. We got to fly through the math program, in little groups of two or three (helping each other along the way), as the teachers spent more time with the slower (read: lazier) students. The end result was that my little group completed 2 years of high school math our freshman year and then went on to take AP Calculus our sophomore year. In my personal group of two, both of us got fives, although we were sort of outliers on that one (I think most of the groups got threes, although my group had the advantage that we finished a couple weeks before most of the others and spent that extra time preparing).

You can compare this to my experience in seventh grade, where I was forced to retake Algebra because the eighth grade Geometry class was full (what was especially frustrating at the time was that there was a test to get in and I pretty much dominated it, while an eighth grader just barely passed, and he got priority over me when a space opened up...).

Anyways, that's my view on how public schools can help gifted students to rise to their potential. Implementing the ideas wouldn't be all that hard. There's already programs that help to recognize gifted students and create classes specifically for those students. This would just require changing the classes so that they're actually useful. And, yes, in the end it would probably be helping to move the gifted students out of school earlier (and, well, they probably should be getting out of school earlier), since we're expecting their pace to be above average. But then at least they're doing it with peers, instead of on their own.

That is all.


PS - In case you're curious, this post was just over 2100 words. Wow, the primary advantage of blogging: infinite page length. Whoo!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Music Sucks These Days

I just wanted to throw that out there. I can't really imagine there's too many people who are going to disagree with me on that one, since music really does pretty much suck. I mean, it kind of sucks how much sucks. I wish music didn't suck today, but it does.

So, then the question becomes: who we can blame? Supposedly we're entering this awesome digital age when anyone can post their music and the masses will find the awesome stuff and support it and help make others aware of it. You know, that whole Web 2.0 shtick and the concept of word-of-mouth advertising. Sure, it sounds good on paper.

But it doesn't work.

Or at least it doesn't yet, but I'm not holding my breath either. Just like most of the other Web 2.0 stuff, I'm not motivated to go through and find the stuff that's worth finding, because it's a tiny fraction of the stuff that's out there. I mean, take my blog as an example. It's one of millions and there's nothing about it that makes it any more worth reading than most others, and it's significantly less worth reading that some others. At least, I write in full sentences, I guess. So, why would or should anyone find it? Answer: they wouldn't, nor should they.

Even worse, most of the stuff that the masses find and actually support is terrible. It's the exact same lowest common denominator stuff that plagues the worst of pop music today. Only a lot stupider and with a lower budget.

In the end, I still want to discover music through the radio or some other equally simple method. I like having someone picking the music for me and playing it and then telling me what it is. That works. It's a tried and true method. But, it has stopped working, because the radio stations can't seem to find anything new that's worth playing either.

I remember being in high school and listening to the radio. I still remember the first time I heard "Fell in Love with a Girl" by The White Stripes. I remember thinking that this bad was obviously incredibly interesting and intelligent and loving the idea that they went for such an incredibly garage band sound. Similarly, I remember hearing "Heavy Metal Drummer" by Wilco and and realizing I had just heard one of the most important things I would ever hear on the radio. I desperately needed to hear what else was on that album.

I remember similar experiences with The Strokes doing "Last Nite" and, going farther back, The Offspring's "The Kids Aren't Alright" and even Counting Crow's "Mr. Jones". All these songs just hit me like a ton of bricks when I first heard them on the radio. I knew, then and there, that I was listening to bands doing something really exciting.

Even more exciting to me was that these were all bands on major labels. Even as the rest of the populace was having to sit through the teen pop craze, I was still getting to experience excellent new music. Now, though, there is no excellent new music coming out of the major labels (no, emo doesn't count). They're still putting out the pop music I don't want to hear, but they're not supplying the rest of us with worthwhile music, and so we're not hearing it on the radio.

This seems crazy, but it feels like as much as 75% of the music I hear on the alternative stations is either from four or more years ago or it's from a band that broke out that long ago. That's about how long the drought has been on worthwhile new music, and I'm really starting to feel it.

I know the alternative music stations proudly proclaim their allegiance to new music, but there is no new music worth supporting as far as I can tell. I distinctly remember hearing a DJ being super excited about this upcoming song, only to then introduce it as "the first track off the Foo Fighter's new album, and it should please Foo Fighters fans because it sounds just like the Foo Fighters". Seriously, that's what they have as new music.

I mean, I guess playing Spoon, Modest Mouse, Muse and Interpol makes you alternative, but they don't count as new music. Not even their new stuff. I already know their music is good (well, at least Spoon and Interpol...). I want to hear something special, from someone I haven't heard before. But it doesn't exist as far as I can tell, because they certainly aren't playing it.

In conclusion, I just want to say what my favorite song/album from last year was. The song was Mrs. McGrath, as performed by Bruce Springsteen on his album We Shall Overcome. This song is something like, 500 years old! I'm serious. That was the best goddamn song of last year.

On a side note, I'm part Irish and that song is just about as Irish as you can get, so I might be a little biased. I wouldn't be surprised if it was in my blood to love the song, or something.

Anyways, that's the state of things. A song from time beyond memory, as performed by an artist that was popular in the eighties, was better than anything else that came out last year. And, to my knowledge, you couldn't hear it on the radio, either.

Well, maybe I'm just getting old. That is all.


Oh my God!

Wow. I just saw what the font looks like on PCs. Here I'd been reading all these blogs about the differences in font rendering styles between Macs and PCs. Up until now, it was totally theoretical to me since I basically just use a Mac. I would look at the little picture differences and think to myself: "Whatever". Now, though. It just hit home. And, apparently, Windows sucks. I can't believe how terribly it treats my beautiful little fixed width Courier font. The lower case m's are just blobs, for goodness sake. I purposely bold my font so it doesn't look all thin, but that's not good enough for Windows. It still looks thin, but now it looks gross too. Sigh.

And don't even get me started about that title. It looks like something that came out of a Lite Brite set. It's literally, like 10 block sized pixels trying to make up each of my letters. What's the deal? What happened to anti-aliasing and ClearType and all that jazz? I write long posts and I want a nice serif font. But, I guess that's too much to ask for. I don't want to have to settle for Times. I hate Times.

In all honesty, I think my Mac and my PC are reading Blogspot's definition of Courier as two different fonts (as in, I'm seeing Courier New on my Mac and Courier on the PC, which is just weird).

So, yeah, I'm going to have to change all the font appearances so they don't look like complete crap. Wish me luck.

That is all.


PS - Whoo for posting during my lunch hour!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Captain Malcolm Reynolds

So, I'm something of a fan of Firefly/Serenity. Admittedly, basically everyone is these days, so that does little to make me cool (or uncool, for that matter, phew). There are many things I like about the show, but the thing I like the most is most definitely our dear Captain Reynolds.

In the same way that Jack Sparrow made it so that Pirates of the Caribbean could never be an ensemble cast, so does Malcolm Reynolds treat Firefly. There may be eight other people on the ship, but they're only there to interact with the Captain and provide insight into his character. As far as I'm concerned.

Firefly and Serenity are truly about Mal's redemptive journey. The opening scenes of the pilot to Firefly show his world and everything he believed in crumbling apart. He is forced to not only witness the end of the war, but experience it as well. Even as him and his men are doing everything they need to do, the situation is hopeless.

And then we hear the song. The love song to Serenity and everything it represents to Mal. We just watched him lose everything, but with the help of Serenity, he believes there is still something they can never take, even if his hope is already gone.

And so the show begins. Mal is cynical and still hopeless. He's just another guy with a ship and a crew trying to get by. He's already starting to realize that maybe he's wrong, the sky is starting to get smaller and it's not really his anymore.

And so he takes on passengers. And meets the Tams.

They inspire both the best and worst in him. Simon represents everything he doesn't trust about the system and he abuses him for it. But River, she means something else entirely.

She's like him. She's been wounded deeply, but she still has the spirit he lost ages ago. So he has no choice but to agree to help them. He can never explain to the others why he does it, but he sticks by them.

Every other good deed he ever does, he finds a way to justify as meeting some self-serving ends. But these never mean anything because there is always this blatant, and wholly self-less act defining him to the others.

He helps them purely because River represents something he lost forever ago. It was for people like her that he was willing to fight a war forever ago and in the movie, he is finally able to return to being the hero that he once was. All because of her.

I love watching the journey he takes. He starts out broken, but eventually becomes whole again, because he is given a cause. He may have a song about how the only thing he needs is the freedom he can provide himself, but he truly needs so much more. And I was glad to see him get it. Can't stop the signal, indeed.

That is all.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

On Traffic

So, I've been doing the same stretch of traffic for a little while now. You'd think, as a chemical engineer, I should be able to figure traffic out. Everyone says, "Yeah, traffic is just like fluid flow." Whatever. For designing highways, I can certainly see why it's just like fluid flow. However, I don't have overly much experience as a water molecule, so I can't really relate my own experiences driving to fluid flow all that well. However, I have been gathering plenty of personal experience, and I hope someday to understand traffic.

So, the first goal, as a driver in traffic, is to be typically moving faster than those around you. If you're beating everyone else, then you're winning. In order to successfully do that, you need to have some sort of insight that the other drivers don't.

Let's start by examining traffic as a fluid, just because that's how everyone starts. Unfortunately, traffic only somewhat follows the concept of viscosity. At higher speeds, it follows it very well, but at low speeds the viscosity is clearly non-linear. At high speeds, there is a tendency for the average lane speed to increase as we move away from the slow lane (which is the slow lane because it technically borders the "wall", which is where cars going significantly slower than the fast moving traffic enters). The fast lane basically gets to be the farthest from the wall, so it typically moves the fastest.

At slow speeds, the "wall" is no longer moving any slower than the fluid and so it can no longer determine the minimum speed. In other words, we typically think of each lane as insulating the lane to its left from the slower moving traffic on its right. In very slow traffic, however, this does not occur because those lanes are not necessarily moving at differing speeds.

Intuitively, this means that we should think of the traffic as block or plug flow. The problem with this assumption is that it treats each lane as moving together. Obviously, this doesn't occur. Oftentimes, there's lanes not moving while other lanes are moving. If we liked dreaming, we could try to assume that over some time or distance, all the lanes moved together (so, a time averaged plug flow). However, this is a poor assumption that is both hard to test in action and would require knowledge about the traffic conditions ahead in order to use to our advantage. Essentially, this would be giving up and saying pick a lane and stick with it (which is not a bad strategy, but we want to do better).

In traffic, we have to extend our analogy beyond just fluid concepts. The lanes are moving slowly, but somewhere up ahead, there is no traffic and we are all slowly moving towards it. We'll have reached it once all the cars in our lane have already reached it (since traffic is stop and go, each time we stop, we're waiting for the cars ahead of us to move). The theoretical number of cars between us and where it opens up determines how soon we get out of traffic (even though, many times, our exit comes before the traffic gets better). This view can provide some important insights.

First of all, it explains why the fast lane (here on, called the number one lane) is not truly the fast lane during traffic. Most people get into the number one lane for the long haul, because they believe it will eventually be the fastest lane (since it's the fastest lane during regular traffic, and they are stuck in their fluid flow conception of traffic). The result is that the number one lane normally has people moving into it, but only occasionally has people coming out. The result is that the theoretical number of cars ahead of you in that lane isn't decreasing as fast as it is in some other lanes.

Next, let's look at the slow lane (or, number four lane). This one experiences a wide variation in speed. Ahead of an exit, it tends to move very fast. The theoretical number of cars ahead of you is decreasing as people get off the freeway. Ahead of a busy entrance, it basically stops. The rate at which cars are being added to the lane is very nearly too much. However, almost no one actually stays in the number four lane, which is how it can recover from entrances. One of the primary reasons a lot of people don't give the slow lane a chance is because it is moving the slowest when they are in it (right after they get on).

Upon consideration, we immediately see something we like about this lane. It is highly predictable. There are signs telling us when exits are approaching and we know entrances typically follow exits. This is something we could, easily take advantage of.

The middle two lanes are fairly similar. They have people moving both in and out. The number three lane tends to behave a little bit more like the number four lane, but they are very similar. In most cases, if you intend to never change lanes, one of these lanes is a good choice. You can count on it not to be the slowest, and it wouldn't be surprising if it came out the fastest (it's just hard to predict what the case will be).

Now, before we talk strategy, let's talk about changing lanes. Changing lanes is inherently evil. Changing lanes is a completely self-absorbed action that causes pain and suffering to a significant number of people behind you. Personally, I'm against doing things that are so evilly evil, so I recommend taking time to very seriously contemplate the magnitude of your decision whenever you are about to change lanes in major traffic.

Always remember that your maximum speed at any time is basically determined by the speed of the car ahead of you. If they slow down, you slow down. However, the other lanes have little to no bearing on your speed. When people change lanes, two things happen. First, they slow down. They have to do this because changing lanes requires some measure of attention and time and slowing down makes it easier. Next, they move between the lanes. During this time, they are determining the speed of both lanes (by technically taking up two lanes). And they have slowed down. The result is that two lanes suffer because of the decisions made by one driver. It's just evil.

The only way to change lanes without causing this kind of suffering is to do it when there is significant space to move into. By moving into what is effectively an empty lane, no slowing is required and neither lane suffers. Of course, such wide open options rarely occur in traffic. The result is that almost all lane changes cause unneeded suffering to others.

So, our goal is to be able to take advantage of the patterns we can find in traffic, while minimizing lane changes. For now, my strategy is simply to be bouncing between the number three and number four lanes. When the number four lane is going into an exit, it speeds up and it is easy to change lanes into it. As I approach an entrance (and I know when they are coming), I find an opportunity to get out. By knowing the slowing ahead of time, I don't need to get stuck, because I have time on my side.

For now, that's the best recommendation I can give you. As time goes on, I hope to explore the art of dealing with traffic in greater detail.

That is all.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Oh Dear God! or The Battle Royale Post

Similar to Transformers, watching this movie elicited a response so strong, I started feeling the need to create a blog, just so that I could write about it. Not that this is relevant...

I remember adding the movie to my Netflix queue, because there was some stupid Stone Cold Steve Austin movie playing in theaters that was getting poor reviews. A large percentage of the reviews compared it to Battle Royale (typically, unfavorably, although since many critics didn't like Battle Royale, either, it's a little less clear cut). So, because I'm stupid, I decided to rent it.

And I saw it. Alone. On a Sunday afternoon. Afterwards, I no longer felt capable of interacting with fellow human beings on any meaningful level. I took a cold shower. I didn't feel any better. I went to church. Still didn't really feel well. I went to bed early (didn't sleep too well, either). Obviously, I've since managed to recover, somehow.

Battle Royale was crazy. Like super crazy. Like the kind of crazy that makes you go crazy not only by witnessing it, but just by thinking about it hours, days, even weeks later. This was some serious shit. Seriously serious.

Here's a quick summary: In the future, the shit hits the fan in Japan. Youth violence is on the rise, so the response is to have an annual "battle royale" where a single class, randomly chosen, from a trouble school will be sent to an island, armed, and told to kill each other. Last one standing gets to go home, and only one is allowed to return.

The movie is Japanese, and I have to admit that helps. They did an amazing job of getting a cast of kids who really look like they're only 13 or 14 years old (insert comment noting that I can't really differentiate ages of Asians, and so I just believed the given age by default). It also helps that they're not the best actors, because this movie celebrated the over-acting and cheesy dialogue of 13 year olds brilliantly.

The premise sounds ridiculous. It sounds over-the-top. Most people wrote the movie off as the worst kind of exploitation possible, especially with such young actors. A depressing number of people recommend this movie to others because they only see it as exploitation. I don't know what's wrong with them.

The movie is not about exploitation. It's about life during those terrible developmental years called adolescence. It's about the stupid things we believed when we were that age, and all the things that seemed so important until we finally grew up a little bit. Because, these kids don't get to grow up a little bit.

The movie is very violent. But none of the violence is cool. This violence is scary, unwanted, and inexplicable. We're treated to friends turning on each other with only a moments notice. And all of them are crying in fear and shock at what they are doing. But, friendships in middle school do sometimes dissolve at a moments notice. The only difference, is that these dissolutions are permanent. Screaming your sorrow to the corpses of your friends does not bring them back to you.

Of course, as these are middle schoolers, nearly all of them want to join with their current crushes. Over and over again, we see the children die in the arms of their current lovers, pledging their undying love. Is it cheesy? Of course. But the idea is that they haven't learned any other form of interacting with each other. To them, this is how they want to die. There are no thoughts of parents, or home, merely the person who is so important to them right now (and would typically be forgotten in just a few weeks if this were school).

That's what this movie's about. And it's unforgiving. By the end, the emotional weight of the characters is something almost tangible and finishing the movie is challenging. I'm not even sure it's worth it.

So, who would I actually recommend this movie to? Well, definitely my enemies. They totally deserve to experience that. Hmm, not too many other segments of the population. People who are heartless will probably be alright. I think the safes way to go is: people who liked Oldboy. If you don't know what that is, then Battle Royale is not for you.

So, if my description of Battle Royale caught your interest, then go find Oldboy. Then, and only then, should you seriously consider going out and finding this movie (and, personally, I would probably recommend just avoiding both of them). I guess if you need another Asian movie barometer (or you want a movie that's in the same language as Battle Royale, I don't know why) then you could also go find Suicide Club. If you still want to see Battle Royale, then more power to you. You've been warned.

That is all.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On Romantic Comedies as a Dying Genre

So, I was eating my Cheerios this morning and reading Time magazine (shit, I just admitted to reading Time magazine. Damn it.), when I happened upon an article about the lack of romantic movies being made anymore. The author, who was female, seemed bothered by the fact that major movies these days don't really focus on romance or relationships.

Even worse, I guess, it's been years since a romantic comedy managed to gross significant amounts of money (or something like that, I wasn't reading too closely since I was mainly concentrating on the Cheerios). Well, to make a long story short (more accurately, I'm about to make a really short story a whole heck of a lot longer), it got me to thinking about romantic comedies.

Obviously, there's other kinds of romantic movies (she brings up Titanic, which apparently isn't a comedy...who knew?). However, I'm only going to spend my time thinking about romantic comedies because I'm lazy (and I tend to avoid romantic dramas or whatever they're called because that's combining two genres I don't like, as opposed to romantic comedies, which are combining a genre I like with one I don't).

I would like to start by saying, "Yes." I'm not going to argue with the fact that this genre seems to be on the decline. I'm pretty sure I don't even mind. But, I sincerely doubt that it's truly disappearing.

Let me bring in a completely random example, to help make my point. Think of video games. One of the biggest selling games of all time was Myst (stupid Sims for taking the top stop away). It was in a genre called "point and click adventures". Nobody makes those anymore unless they like wasting time (and not making money). Does that means that the ideas and concepts of that genre are dead, just because no one makes games like it anymore? Of course not. Instead, the current crop of popular genres incorporates some of those same ideas and uses them to add to their experience. The Metroid Prime series from Nintendo feels remarkably like a point and click adventure (with the targeting system, information system, and focus on exploration), but it's a first person shooter.

How does this relate to romantic comedies? It doesn't, I'm just excited about the fact that Metroid Prime 3 comes out in less than 2 weeks. But it totally could.

Think about it. What really defines a romantic comedy? A movie that features a very cute couple that should be together (typically, it's pretty obvious they should be together as well) and the very cute and comedic struggles they have in actually getting together. In the end, they finally get together, overcoming whatever obstacle it was that required them to take 95 minutes of our time for them to overcome. Some examples include: not knowing each other (I think, Sleepless in Seattle), class differences (tons of examples), guy's immaturity or girl's neurosis (again, way too many examples), and the list goes on.

Well, the above paragraph pretty much summarized the romantic comedy genre in the space of two sentences. Admittedly, action movies could probably go faster (Pointless action! Boring exposition! Bigger pointless action! Credits, hopefully with funny outtakes!). But, that's not the point. The point is, the basic definition is really simple.

It's so simple that the last really popular romantic comedy (Love Actually) was literally a collection of cute examples of the application of those two sentences, all cut together into one giant movie (while skipping all the stuff that typically makes a romantic comedy original). It was a pretty huge success. And it did this by merely condensing the basic premise of a romantic comedy into small sections of a bigger movie (admittedly, the bigger movie was made up of similar sections, but that's not the point).

What does this show? It shows that the fans of the genre don't actually need a feature length romantic comedy to be spend on a single relationship. They seem to almost be happier when less time is spent on the couple trying to overcome the obstacle (Love Actually tends to just skip the obstacle all together using the Christmas season as an excuse, in order to expedite the arrival of the cute romantic ending). The key pieces of a romantic comedy can satisfy most fans of the genre simply genre simply by being present in a movie, potentially with other topics involved as well.

Amazingly, I can now go back to my initial video game example and apply it to romantic comedies. The romantic comedy genre can no longer support itself (because it's been done into the ground), but the desire for the content hasn't dried up. The result is an opportunity for other genres to borrow themes from romantic comedies to reach out to additional audiences (i.e. - the fans of romantic comedies).

And we can see this happening.

Stardust, a fantasy movie based on a graphic novel/book by Neil Gaiman features interactions (read as: bickering) between the main characters that would fit perfectly in just about any romantic comedy, and cute scenes of them overcoming the obstacles preventing them from getting together. Is it a romantic comedy? No. It's a fantasy movie with a decent amount of action, but it still found it worthwhile to build their budding relationship into the framework of the movie.

Family movies have been using those same genre themes for years. Recent examples include Ratatouille and Flushed Away (read as: the last two family movies I've seen), but pieces can be seen in Disney movies much farther back (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, et al).

The last example would, of course, be action adventure movies. They may be considered the realm of guys, but even as far back as Star Wars, can we see examples of the romantic comedy genre present. The dialogue (bickering) of the heroes with the women they are trying to impress is most certainly taking its cues from romantic comedies. In recent memory, the first thing I can come up with that follows this formula very closely would be the November blockbuster from a few years ago, National Treasure (not that I recommend you go see this movie, mind you).

So, yeah, you probably aren't going to see too many more true blue romantic comedies anymore, but that doesn't mean the genre and it's traditions have been abandoned. They are being incorporated into other genres. Hiding in plain sight if you will.

That is all.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I love being a Chemical Engineer

I recommend reading the above title the same way that Michelango screams "I love being a turtle!" at the end of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Not that this is relevant at all...

Anyways, today I was approached by a coworker (also a chemical engineer) for input on a problem he had been thinking about in the back of his head for the past couple days and couldn't come up with a solution for. Basically, he was trying to estimate the rate at which we consume Argon during operations. Nothing all that exciting.

The trouble was that for the Argon system, everything is measured in PSI. This is a annoying, since the Argon system is supplied by a big tank which keeps the stuff at liquid temperatures (around 85 K). Typically, pressures become a little less meaningful as a unit of measurement when there's a phase change going on (read as, we were pretty much like, "oh, shit, how do we account for that?").

So, we started just chatting about it. You know, throwing out all those classic chemical engineering buzz words we all learned in school, hoping that the other one would know what the words actually meant and could magically write down an equation that would just solve all our problems. Examples would include such gems as "pressure differentials", "saturated vapor pressure", "vaporization energy", and "thermodynamics" (okay, we both had at least an okay idea of what those last two mean). To make a long story short, we agreed that the problem seemed a lot harder than it should be, and I promised to try to come up with a way to get a approximation for it.

So, I started thinking about it. Around this point, it occurred to me that, well, we have this Argon system and it's only about 30 seconds of my time to walk over and use it. So, maybe I should stop trying to come up with ways to predict the rate of vaporization based upon the pressure differential that the boiling liquid is experiencing (and assuming there's no heat input since obviously our 85 K tank is well insulated) and just see how long it takes to fill up a tank.

But, wait! That's too easy. I didn't spend four years studying all sorts of complicated chemistry, math, and physics applications to just hook up some pipes, turn a valve and look at my watch.

So, how do I make it more complicated? Well, remember, everything we measure is in PSI. So, how do you define a tank as "full"? Well, the simple thing to do is just pick a goal PSI and fill it to there. Then, since Argon is about as close to an ideal gas as anyone could possibly ask for, just use that law to figure out how much we actually put in. Simple.

But still too simple. That would just require me to hook up some pipes, turn a valve, look at my watch, and type some numbers in my calculator. I didn't go to school for four years to be able to do that, either.

Here's where I finally got to bring in some serious chemical engineering. I pointed out (to me) that the tank has a resistance to increasing the pressure. The closer we are to the final tank pressure set point, the weaker the driving force is to actually bringing the tank to that set point. The result is that if I were to just fill up a tank to a specified pressure, I would significantly underestimate the true capabilities of the system. This would be especially problematic during tank purges, when the valves are left open so the tank stays at atmospheric pressure (resulting in a constant maximum driving force).

There we go. Now we have a problem worthy of the attention of a chemical engineer. The fact that it took a significant amount of the chemical engineer's attention to actually create the problem is irrelevant.

So, the end result? I had to make a simplifying assumption and stated that the molar flowrate is linearly dependent on the pressure differential between the tank and the pressure set point of the valve (which I have no way of justifying but intuitively makes sense, especially since the evaporation rate of the liquid Argon is almost certainly not going to be a limiting factor). From there, I built a simple differential equation from the above assumption and solved it with respect to the number of moles in the tank. With these, I just needed the actual time values, so that I could plug them in and determine the slope of the molar flowrate vs pressure differential graph.

So, I did have to eventually go out and just fill up a tank, but now it was with the goal of determining the rate constant, which is way cooler than a normal constant. In case you're curious, the difference between just filling up a tank and using that value vs. my analysis was around a factor of 2 (which is why we chemical engineers make the big bucks).

I love being a chemical engineer!

That is all.


PS - We just needed a reasonable value for approximation purposes, so I'm definitely not interested in the far better approximations that actually deal with the fact that there is a phase changed involved, thank you very much.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Entry Level Anime: Slayers

So, I was reading Megatokyo earlier today (damn it, I just admitted that I read Megatokyo. Shit. Anyways, moving on...), and there was an ad on the top of the page (craziness, I know). This was a special ad, though. It was special because it wasn't for some stupid and most likely very bad anime series. It was for an anime called Slayers. This got me to reminiscing...

Slayers was the anime I saw that really, truly convinced me that I should continue watching anime (or rather, that there was anime worth watching and discovering out there). Prior to Slayers, I had seen two animes: Dragon Ball Z and Evangelion. Some day, I'll write a post about my opinions on Evangelion, but lets just say, neither of these shows had me desperately searching for more anime to watch.

I remember my friends telling me things like, "Well, you liked Dragon Ball Z, so you must like anime we just haven't found the right one yet". My response was something typically along the lines of: "I don't know much, but I'm pretty confident that Dragon Ball Z doesn't actually count as anime anymore." Not surprisingly, they had no response.

Then my dear, albeit semi-psychotic, friend offered to lend me his DVD box set of a old anime called Slayers. He promised I would like it, because it's ridiculous. This was a powerful argument. The fact that I was bored at the time probably also had something to do with it.

So, I watched it. And, obviously, I loved it.

Slayers is easily one of the best portals to watching anime that a random guy who doesn't particularly know or care about Japanese culture can ask for. It's primary advantage is that it doesn't really look like the Japanese animes of today. A lot of the trademark appearances and visual cues from more current animes are simply not present. Instead, the animation looks remarkably like the majority of the Saturday morning cartoon shows from the eighties and early nineties that I was exposed to (I think it's from around 95 or so). This is a huge help, because it really feels like a show I would have totally watched with a bowl of Cheerios in front of me (except that it's not in English, of course).

Another advantage was that it had a simple, well presented story with a relatively small cast. Even today, I'll admit to struggling to understand what's going on in many anime series, simply because I can't keep track of the characters. This series kindly takes its time with the characters, which I appreciated.

Of course, its real selling point was the hook: stupid, super violent, vaguely cute female mage that likes to kill things with fire travels with a far more stupid male swordmaster. Hilarity and violence ensues.

No question about it, that's a concept just about anyone can get behind. And, so yeah, I enjoyed it. It did a lot to convince me that anime is worth watching.

Also, in case you don't read Megatokyo (I wouldn't blame you, either, sometimes I wonder why I read it, but then I remember) and therefore didn't get to see the ad, I guess I should let it be known that they are re-releasing the Slayers season 1 box set with digitally remastered video. I'm not sure if it's really necessary, since the poor video quality in the originals helped give it an old school feel that I enjoyed, but... I also remember thinking the video looked pretty janky (and I was watching it off the original DVD box set, remember, not illegally downloaded files, I swear). So, yeah, you should check it out. I know I am...

That is all.


PS - Completely unrelated, but can you tell I've discovered how to make links. This could be dangerous.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Oh dear God! or The Transformers Movie post

So, I pretty much had to write this post. In fact, in some ways, this post is the reason I felt the need to start a blog in the first place (or at least inspired me to create a location for pointless rants). Okay, enough context. Moving on...

I guess I saw the Transformers movie about a month ago. I was fairly excited about the movie. Although I hadn't really been a fan of the cartoon series (what can I say, I'm young), it seemed like a fun project and it definitely was going to fit the bill as a ridiculous action movie, and we can never have too many of those. I've never had a strong opinion about Michael Bay, at least partly because the only movies of his that I've seen are Armageddon and The Rock. And, while I didn't like Armageddon, I thought The Rock was very awesome (if only because Sean Connery is very awesome). So, in short, I didn't think he was necessarily going to ruin the movie for me or anything like that.

I would also like to admit that I was a little nervous, because the trailers had seemed to work towards making me less excited about seeing it. Each time I saw more of the giant robots, I wanted to see the movie less. Because I'm stupid, I concluded that the best strategy would be to stop watching ads for the movie so that would stop happening. It did not actually occur to me that this was a warning, that I wasn't going to like how the robots turned out. I just kept thinking they were being poorly represented in the trailers to keep the scenes in the movie awesome. Obviously, I'm stupid.

In short, I like to think I came into the movie doing my very best to like it (and I like most movies). I'm sorry to say that I came out of it simply glad to escape. I remember leaving the theater briefly to get more popcorn and breathing a sigh of relief. That's how painful the movie was for me.

So, what was wrong with the movie? Why was it unable to meet the relatively low standards for a summer, popcorn, action movie? Why did it hate me so? Why are there people in this world who don't think it was terrible and painful and insulting to watch?

Well, I can't answer all those questions. But, I like to think that I can answer some of them.

So, first off, the movie was really freaking stupid. In and of itself, this doesn't count against it. Lots of movies are stupid and summer action movies certainly get passes on that. But, there has to be a line drawn somewhere, and I'm confident that Transformers definitely crosses this line regularly. When the stupidity involved is insulting to the audience members and simply painful to witness, we have a problem.

As an example, the movie opens with a group of soldiers, one of whom is of a Hispanic background. I think the audience is supposed to think it's funny that the moment he gets excited about something he switches into Spanish and all the other guys in the group start groaning and yelling at him to speak English. This happens multiple times! Why? I don't know. Is it funny? Well, I hope to God that isn't what qualifies as comedy in this day and age, all I know is my theater certainly wasn't laughing.

On the topic of stupidity, lets also talk about totally stupidly wasting the audience's time. So, the movie is almost two and half hours long. I have no idea why. I suspect Hollywood has concluded that people don't think their movie tickets are a good value unless they get a minimum of a two hour production. Because this movie did not need to be over two hours by any stretch of the imagination (whether it should exist at all could potentially be up for debate as well, I guess).

So, how does the movie waste our time (alternatively, how doesn't it waste our time?)? Let's see, greater than the first half of the movie is spent trying to find a pair of glasses that are in Shia's backpack. In his backpack, people. We even get an extended scene of him searching his room for the backpack and getting interrupted by his parents, who for some strange reason think he's trying to masturbate (this would be another excellent example of stupidity that most definitely crosses the line). In the meantime, the robots are standing outside the house being invisible and we get to waste time with their stupid struggles at hiding in a backyard. This even gets to include getting peed on by a dog (at which point, all I could think to myself was: "Oh my God, I spent 9 bucks to watch a dog pee on a robot, what was I thinking?").

So, eventually, they find the glasses and they can locate the special device that all the robots are looking for (whoo! plot can finally move forward). Except, wait for it, AT THIS POINT EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS THE LOCATION AND THEY'RE ON THEIR WAY THERE. So, the first half of the movie was a complete waste of time. No one needed the glasses after all. They just needed to ask the US government, who had been chasing them the whole goddamn time (you know, just turn around and ask them: "Hey, you seem to already know a lot about us. Would you happen to know the location of a huge fucking Cube that we've been looking for? Oh! You do, great. Where's one of those Staples Easy Buttons when you need one?"). In fact, that's actually pretty much how the conversation goes once they get around to interacting with the government, instead of peeing on them (oh, did I mention that we get a scene of John Turturro getting peed on? Well, we did.).

So, that whole section of the movie was a waste of time. More or less. But hey, at least we got to watch a robot pee on a guy, right? That makes it worthwhile... (I think I might have cried a little bit at this point).

And so, finally, we get to the huge exciting battle sequence. The thing we've been waiting for and patiently sitting through stupid "jokes" and unwelcome scenes involving urinating can finally begin. And, then, we really start to cry. We just start balling, because it's not fair, we didn't deserve this treatment at all. We are treated to one of the most confusing, frustrating, meaningless action sequences of all time.

What are the problems with this action sequence? Alternatively, did they do anything right? I don't think so, I guess LA was a cool location. This action sequence is literally explosions and screaming and fast cuts. That's all. At no point did I know what was going on. Admittedly, this was at least partly because all the robots looked the same. In fact, you know how I was able to tell a good robot from a bad robot? By who the humans were shooting at. Apparently, they could tell the difference, but I certainly couldn't.

Obviously, this is a long sequence. But, it has no tricks to speak of. There is absolutely nothing cool going on, at all. What's amazing is that the action actually gets worse when the robots are on the screen. Did I mention they look terrible? Well, they look terrible. The look like big piece of junk. As cars, they are super shiny and new. In their normal forms, they are falling apart. How is that cool? They're dirty and ugly and totally lame. They look like they came out of a really bad H.G. Wells pulp novel or something. They definitely don't look futuristic, at least. Even better, they randomly pull big-ass swords and guns out of nowhere. And use them to make more explosions during the fast cuts and random slow motion shots.

How does anyone enjoy this? I swear, it wasn't cool at all. It was just, frustrating. I like to think that's not what the producers were going for, but I can't imagine that they were watching this going thinking that everything was totally comprehensible. I mean, most of the Decepticons only get a 3-5 second introduction. How are we, as the audience, supposed to have any idea which one they are? Even if they actually looked different, I'm not sure I could have followed who they were, simply because I didn't have time to find out.

On a random aside, I have a similar problem when watching Japanese horror movies because all the victims are Japanese school girls wearing the same uniforms and have the same hair and have names that don't mean anything to me, and all basically look the same regardless. Which is pretty much how the Transformers movie went, except none of the robots had straight, black hair (or schoolgirl uniforms, as far as I could tell, but I'm not 100% confident about that one, or the hair really, now that I think about it).

So, yeah, that's what I didn't like about the movie. I truly wish I knew why it hated me so much, because I swear I didn't do anything to it, but what's done is done. As for why there are numerous people in existence who didn't hate it...

I honestly can't say. I mean, I know people who laugh when I bring up the peeing scenes, for goodness sake. People are weird. I try to tell them they're wrong and that the movie is terrible, but they don't listen. They tell me stupid things like, "Everyones entitled their own opinions." But, seriously, don't they understand that they're wrong and the movie was terrible. This is not an opinion, people.

I would like finish by bringing up the one positive from the movie: Megan Fox. All I can say is... Wow. That girl can do very, very little. Acting is most certainly not on the list. But, man, she can walk in a denim skirt like nobody's business. She is amazingly, ridiculously hot. I know she will never be in a good movie, or even an okay movie, but she will elevate every project she's involved in to the realm of at least worth considering watching. She's just... wow. Seriously.

That is all.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Those movies in May...

I was thinking I should probably write a positive post, sooner or later, just because. This is supposed to be it, although I make no promises.

So, in April, there were only two things on anyone's mind (okay, my mind, at least): Spiderman 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3. By June, it was generally agreed that May was a pretty disappointing month, with many people going so far as to say the above movies were bad. Personally, I think that's very harsh and though neither movie managed to be the best in their respective trilogies, neither movie was the worst, either.

Let's start by taking a look at Spiderman 3. Alright, everyone had really high expectations for this movie. When it came out, Spiderman 2 was almost undoubtedly the best comic book movie ever... until Batman Begins came out the following summer, of course. So, it had a lot to live up to. And, it most definitely didn't live up to it's successor. It was convoluted and long and busy and just very soap opera-ish. The dialogue was hokey and we had to tolerate an extended scene of Peter Parker being emo and thinking it made him cool. Really, there was a lot to be disappointed by.

But, does it really deserve to be derided? I don't think so. For one, it continued the tradition of having awesome villains, with a fun take on the Sandman, another great performance by James Franco, and Venom was undoubtedly cool (except when they did that stupid thing where we had to see Topher Grace's face instead of Venom's giant tongue). Also, Sam Raimi had just as interesting things to say in Spiderman 3 as Spiderman 2, even if they didn't come out as well, so at least it was aspiring to be something special, which is worth points in my book. On an unrelated note, it managed to prove that Bryce Dallas Howard is actually ridiculously hot, M. Night Shyamalan just wasn't treating her right. In short, I agree that it isn't Spiderman 2, but it has positives.

Compare that to the first Spiderman movie. If you remember really liking it, but you haven't seen it in a while, don't. Seriously, keep the happy memories because repeated viewings will destroy them. That movie is bad. It suffers from many of the same failings as Spiderman 3, but has none of the positives. All it has going for it is the excitement of discovering the powers. Everything else, from the cheesy dialogue to the silly acting and the lamest villain of the series (although Willem Dafoe is still awesome), pretty much sucks.

So, how about Pirates 3? Personally, I really liked this one. I know it's talky. But, hey, with Jack Sparrow, talky is way better than stupid action-y. To me, Dead Man's Chest is all about the most ridiculous action set pieces they could come up with, at the cost of completely destroy the mere appearance of a plot going forward. It's a little depressing to be watching a movie and realize you've already seen people going through a crowded forest hill in a rolling object. It's even more depressing when you remember that you thought it was kind of lame the first time. So much of that movie was a waste of time, I remember being so disappointed with the movie I was just stunned. It was like the people involved had no idea why everyone liked the first movie. We had to sit through so many pointless scenes of people who were not Jack Sparrow failing miserably at entertaining us, it was almost insulting.

And then they made the third movie and it made up for all those terrible short comings of the previous movie. This movie worshipped Jack Sparrow. He was crazy and that was not only okay, but absolutely necessary. And I loved it. I loved watching Jack talk, whip, eat, and kill himself. This movie totally recognized why we all loved the first movie and gave us exactly what we wanted: Jack Sparrow. In fact, it did even better. It got rid of the two pointless characters nobody cared about (that would be the Turner couple). I came out of that movie hoping, even wishing, they'd someday make a fourth movie to let us all bask in the glory of Jack Sparrow again.

And yet, so many people complain that At World's End isn't as good as the first movie. I don't know, but it never even occurred to me that it could be. That first movie was incredibly lucky. I mean, we're talking catching lightning in a bottle lucky. How do you go into a movie expecting that kind of luck, again? The first movie is unreproducible, and to get something just as good is hopeless. This movie was at least smart enough to recognize what made the first movie awesome and actually let us experience it some more. And, to be honest, that's definitely a fair deal.

That is all.


That Linkin Park song...

So, Linkin Park's first single off whatever their new CD is called is "Bleed It Out". You might have heard it on the radio. Stranger things have happened at least.

My initial reaction to the song: wow, oh my god, I can't believe they are so lame that they need to recycle lines from previous songs.

Then I was like:
"Wait! Maybe they are super-cool and this is one of those totally meta things where they reference their old songs as a way to say something new or at least play with the themes from their catalog in new and exciting ways."

Then the song ended. Then, magically, it started again, only they just sang the chorus about 5 more times and the song ended for real. At this point, I started coming up with a new theory for the repeated lines...

[Cue dreamy music cut to music studio as Linkin Park members are working on their soon-to-be-next-super-hit, Bleed It Out]

Dude that Screams: Guys, we really need to come up with a super hit song for this new CD. Can't we come up with anything like Numb?

Dude that Raps: Man, I hate Numb, I don't get to do anything in it.

Techno Dude: Well, we certainly can't do any more songs like One Step Closer because all the 13-year old girls that listen to us probably won't like it.

Someone in the band who actually plays an instrument: Well, how about In The End? Even my mom liked that song.

Dude that Screams: Hmm, not a bad idea. It definitely does make more sense to rip off our first CD since it's probably been longer since anyone bothered to actually listen to a song on it.

Techno Dude: Man, that CD was so ridiculously awesome. I wish we hadn't used every single good idea we had on it, though.

Dude that Raps: Hey man, it earned us, what, like the 2nd best selling album of the year?

Dude that Screams: Yeah man, I can't believe we lost to that soundtrack to that stupid George Clooney movie.

Techno Dude: Fuckin' George Clooney and his fucking constant sorrow.

Someone in the band who actually plays an instrument: Man, George Clooney wasn't even singing that song.

Techno Dude: Yeah, but people thought it was him. And, seriously, how is anyone supposed to be able to compete with George Clooney singing. Totally not fair.

Dude that Screams: Wait! What if we stole from that song? That constant sorrow line is definitely emo enough and I would totally be able to scream it into the mike.

Dude that Raps: Hell no. Man, I want to actually do something on our next hit song. Besides, people might notice. I think we should write a song about how we have no clue what to write anymore and it's only a matter of time before we're gone from the music scene at this point anyways.

Dude that Screams: Okay, fine. But how do we disguise the message? I assume a song like: "We're running out of things to write" wouldn't go over too well.

Dude that Raps: Don't worry, I've totally got it covered. All I need is for Techno Dude to supply a really fast beat so that the average listener won't really be able to hear what I'm saying anyways, and I'll just make it up as I go along.

[A couple hours later...]

Dude that Raps: Alright, I was only able to come up with about a verse and a half. It's pretty much about dying, I hope that's close enough to what we were thinking.

Someone who actually plays an instrument: Um, so how are we planning to finish the verse?

Dude that Raps: Well, I was thinking about just stealing "Doesn't matter how hard I try" from In The End. I mean, seriously, anything can rhyme with try and it'll reinforce that theme of: shit, we don't know what we're doing anymore.

Dude that Screams: Ha, it'll be even better if you deliver it the same way so that it totally sticks out in the middle of the song and doesn't make any sense.

Techno Guy: Seriously, that would be totally awesome.

Someone who actually plays an instrument: I guess that'll work...

[Everyone records and it's just about done...]

Producer Guy: Um, you guys, we have a problem.

Dude that Screams: What's that? I thought we were almost done.

Producer Guy: Well, because we're using this fast beat and there's only two verses, this song is currently like, almost two minutes long. I don't think radio super-hits are typically quite that short (unless you're the White Stripes, which you're not).

Dude that Screams: I've got this. How many times would I need to sing the chorus to get us up to the three minute mark?

Producer Guy: Um, well, about four times.

Dude that Screams: Perfect. I'll just scream the chorus three more times and we can have a long exit.

Producer Guy: Well, should we get back in and record it with the extra choruses?

Dude that Screams: Nah, don't even bother. We can just tack the extra screaming on after the first end so we don't waste anymore time.

[Fade back to me...]

I like to think that's about how it all came about. Sheer laziness (with just a little bit of the meta self awareness going on as well). I can respect that.


Why I hate Ginny...

So, I hate Ginny. Absolutely despise her character and everything she represents, really. Basically, everything is her fault.

Alright, I admit that was an exaggeration. But, seriously, I blame her for a lot of things. Here's my problem: she is the motivation Harry needs to give up being a hero, and I never wanted him to stop being a hero.

Harry Potter is our hero and we love him for it. He is single-mindedly determined to stop Voldemort and avenge his parents. He is surprisingly empathic (empathetic? I'll never be able to decide that one) and loving and good. Dumbledore is blown away by how awesome Harry is and Voldemort can't stand against such goodness. I mean, seriously people, when confronted with the fact that the only way Harry can possible enable the defeat of Voldemort is by sacrificing himself to Voldemort he goes ahead and does it. Alone. He is famous and noticed by everyone and inspires heroics in those around him.

So, in this context of Harry as a hero, what role can Ginny possibly have? She's the cute girl who thinks he's amazing, not because he's Harry Potter the hero, but simply because he's Harry. She doesn't need him to be defeating Voldemort to earn her affection. She doesn't value him as a hero, she values him as a person, while us readers want him to be a hero.

Compare her to Cho (who is hardly perfect either, of course). From the earliest scenes when Harry has noticed Cho, she is inspiring him to go out and be a hero. To him, she is something unattainable, and if he could just do something amazing enough, he would earn her attention. Cho could be Harry's Madonna, his Dearly Beloved, his Beatrice, or any of the countless other muses that inspired greatness in the men who worshipped them but couldn't actually be with them. As a girl in Harry's life, she can help him to bring out his heroics.

Harry needs to have both of their influences in his life. Ginny is needed to remind Harry that he is a good and like-able person, which is valuable. While, Cho is needed to remind Harry that he is a hero and that is valuable as well.

In book five, Harry stops being a good and like-able person for awhile. He allows the pressures of being a hero consume him and bad things happens because of it. Notably, Cho gets much more of the focus in that book (although Ginny certainly gets attention).

In the end, though, Harry chooses to give up his life as a hero. He settles down with Ginny. He does this knowing that he is giving up his life as a hero. He even admits it. In both books six and seven, he describes being with Ginny as living another person's life. At the end of book seven, with Voldemort gone (oops, did I just spoil something...probably not) he is finally given the opportunity to permanently live that other person's life, and he takes it.

And it's all Ginny's fault. And I hate her for it.

That is all.


PS - Yes. I'm an asshole to a fictional character. I feel terrible, can't you tell?

1st Post, Whoo!

I always wanted to write that...

Too bad I've never been so obsessed with a site that I was actually able to... I guess that's why it's worthwhile to create my own.

That is all.