Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Grand Central Then and Now



The New York Times is actually doing some cool shit online, from their 360 degree panorama photos of otherwise inaccessible locations to this (slightly less impressive) "then and now" of Grand Central, which is not two static images as above but an interactive Flash thingy on their own web site. It's interesting that they've chosen to compare today with 1978 - not the original design (which would be a bit cliché at this point).

The funny thing about Grand Central itself in these photos is that I'm not sure which is worse. The Times obviously raves about the current space that's almost "completely free of advertising" compared to the 1978 version, apparently oblivious to the giant banners hanging on the walls today, not to mention the massive American flags literally blocking the views across the hall. I'm pretty sure those weren't included in the original architectural design, and they weren't there in 1978. It's nice to have that kiosk gone from the middle of the floor, but otherwise I think it's pretty much a wash.

Still, I remember the terminal in 1978 (it's among my first memories) and it was kind of a dump. Grand Central is more than just the main hall here that always gets pictured - there's a big waiting room off this hall, then a maze of tunnels that house a market and what amounts to a giant underground mall. Most of it had the feel of a big rundown subway station, and it had all been "updated" with stuff like fluorescent lights and steel doors, so that it looked like what modern stuff looked like in the 1960's, when "modern" really meant utilitarian and ugly. (It still kinda does, doesn't it?)

These days Grand Central's restored mostly to what it originally was, which surprises some people at first because it's not totally what you'd expect. None of the light fixtures are covered, for example - they're just bare bulbs. The designers were showing off when this place was built and electric lights still weren't common. They wanted people to see all those light bulbs.

By the way, some people will tell you it's a mistake to call it "Grand Central Station" rather than "Grand Central Terminal", but they're wrong. It's not a mistake - it's just tradition. See, there was a train station here before this one, only slightly less "grand", and it really was called "Grand Central Station". Old habits die hard in New York City. (The word "station" also has a little romance to it - "terminal" just sounds like somebody's dying.) That name's been passed down through the generations now. We call it that on purpose.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Decode

Hayley's voice just makes me melt.


And just look at those perfectly-formed, well-practiced vowel shapes! Now that's a singer who takes her job seriously.

I don't think I could stomach the dumbass movie this song is from, though.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Motorcade!

Not that you can tell, but this was part of a presidential motorcade tonight. (I know, it's hard to tell that it's even a cop car - trust me!)

So was this:

Motorcades are a fact of life around here, but this one was a lot more impressive than most. Unfortunately, it's sometimes tough to capture these random little moments - you need to be ready all the time. But for a minute there tonight, I thought I was in an episode of "24".

My wife and I had this crazy idea that we'd drive an hour to our old neighborhood just to get some chicken and rice from this particular street vendor we used to like. As soon as I got on the Van Wyck Expressway, I noticed a cop car race up behind me and cut off the traffic coming out of the on-ramp I had just used. I was the last car to get on the road. This is the highway that leads from JFK Airport to both LaGuardia Airport and Manhattan.

The exact same thing happened at the next on-ramp, and the next. There was literally nobody behind me on one of the busiest New York highways besides cops. I'd see one speed up behind, then watch him slam on his brakes and wedge himself in front of an on-ramp I had just passed. "Ok, this is starting to get weird," I thought. Then three cop cars with lights on came up behind me and forced me into the next lane before passing at great speed. One of them peeled off to block the on-ramp just ahead. The other two sped off into the distance, clearing the left lane.

Finally, the motorcade came through, clearly exceeding the speed limit! I know it was a presidential motorcade both because of the size and the license plates: Maryland. (New York has its own motorcades for visiting dignitaries and New York officials, with New York plates.) There were about ten marked NYPD cop cars leading, two unmarked cop cars with flashing lights, several limousines, three large black SUV's, two more limousines, a couple of smaller SUV's, then four more marked cop cars. It was more of a convoy than a motorcade.

We unwittingly followed them for about 4 miles, so the road was lit up like a Christmas tree pretty much our whole way.

Oddly enough, we saw another, slightly smaller motorcade going in the other direction.

There was some sort of economic summit going on this weekend, so this was probably related. That would mean it was probably Bush in one of these motorcades, although who knows, maybe one of them was carrying Obama to meet with Clinton about taking that secretary of state gig.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Get to know me!

I worry that this blog seems a bit impersonal a lot of the time. So, a few bits of trivia about myself:

  • I am allergic to penicillin. When I was a kid, I was allergic to dust. This was a big problem.

  • I was born in Manhattan and I have a working class Manhattan accent (as opposed to the Jackie Kennedy aristocrat Manhattan accent). Think Robert DeNiro, but his real accent, not the exaggerated one he uses in movies. See here. That's what I sound like. The funny thing about Manhattanites is that when we get agitated, our accent gets stronger. We use it as a weapon.

  • On the night I was born, two taxis who were racing to try to pick up my mother to take her to the hospital crashed into each other. One of them flipped over. The drivers were both okay.

  • When I was very young, I was in a train accident. I don't remember it, but I have pictures. It sounds funny to describe it now - the train car I was riding in hit a parked steam locomotive sideways. Don't ask how a train car goes sideways. I ate a fair amount of broken glass. But I still love trains.

  • One of my legs is an inch shorter than the other. I fell down three steps while juggling. I broke my ankle and my leg stopped growing. This is unnoticeable to anyone else, but it causes me back pain sometimes.

  • I can play saxophone, bass guitar and guitar. I also took singing lessons when I was younger, although I am still not a very good singer and even less so since my lung problems (a giant tube rammed down your throat is not good for a person's singing voice). I was in a heavy metal band in high school. We thought we were pretty good.

  • I can drive a stick.

  • I graduated from NYU film school.

  • I was music director for my college radio station (before NYU).

  • I have both driven across the country and taken the train across the country, multiple times. This has hugely affected my world view and I urge everyone to do one or both sometime before they get old and cranky.

  • I have stayed aboard the Queen Mary.

  • I have lived in 25 different places in my short lifetime. That's almost a move every year.

  • I grew up on both coasts. My parents are from the midwest. My brother lives in the Oregon desert. I lived in Rockford, Illinois for a few years after high school, by choice. I really liked it there. I was able to live on $25 per week working at K-Mart. I ate a lot of store brand macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and ramen noodles.

  • I have really bad luck with girls named "Jean".

  • My first car was a 1984 Pontiac Firebird. My second car was a 1980 Camaro. My third car was a 1990 Nissan Sentra. My fourth car was a 1980 Camaro. (A different one.)

  • I met my wife online, halfway around the world. We got married three years later.

  • In New York City, I have lived in Morningside Heights, the East Village, Chelsea, Woodside and Astoria. I have both good and bad memories from all of them, and they represent different phases of my life to me.

  • I collect video game consoles and games. My first system was a Mattel Intellivision, which I got for Christmas in 1980.

  • I used to work in the video game industry, and I will give you the following advice: do not work in the video game industry.

  • I lived for a year with two bisexual girls. They started out among my best friends. Long story short, I haven't talked to them since.

  • The first album I ever owned was The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour". I was 4 years old when I got it.

  • I was considered for a part in "Clerks" but then forgot to follow up. I was not an actor anyway.

  • I used to want to be a pilot, until the plane I was in almost crashed. Now I am afraid of airplanes, but still fascinated by them. I love airports as long as I am not the one flying. I will go to an airport just to hang out. I will drive anyone to the airport that needs a ride.

  • I have been in two major car accidents. I have also lost three good friends separately to car accidents, all due to drunk driving. I have never gotten over them.

  • I love history. Specifically, I love the history of rich people. I'm not sure why, as I am not rich. And half the time I root against them anyway. But they used to live interesting lives.

  • I am a purist and a traditionalist in almost everything except technology. (But sometimes, even there.) Nothing beats the original. Nothing beats the real thing.

  • My first computer was an Apple //c. I used it for 11 years.

  • I think modern pop music sucks.

  • I am generally a skeptic, a pragmatist and a realist out of necessity and experience. But I love to feel caught up in a movement when one takes me.

  • My favorite sport is NFL football. My wife calls herself a football widow.

  • My first concert was Journey in 1985. I have been to around 50 more concerts since then (almost none of them Journey!).

That's about all that comes to mind. Now you know me a little better.

(Defective) ThinkPad SL500 in da house!

So the new computer is here, BUT...

First, a little backstory. After my previous experiences with my last couple laptops, this is what I was looking for:
  • Build quality!

  • Matte (non-glossy) screen

  • Dedicated graphics

  • Windows XP

And it had to be cheap, because this was an unexpected major purchase.

I figured I'd need to compromise, and I did. I didn't get my Windows XP or my dedicated graphics, though I could have if I'd spent another $200 or so (that actually surprised me). I did get my matte screen. And buying a ThinkPad, I thought I'd be getting good build quality too. I had a ThinkPad a few years back, when they were still sold by IBM, and it was a tank.

The SL series are Lenovo's entry-level ThinkPads. Mine only cost $561. I knew it wouldn't be quite as good as the T series or above, and I was right about that, but I think mine is also just defective. Take a look:

Weird, huh? I've never seen anything like that. The keyboard and palm rest are actually warped. This thing is going back.

It actually looks somewhat worse in the pic than it does in real life (mostly because you're not usually looking at that angle), although it's noticeable. I can feel it when typing. When I called Lenovo support (which is still run by IBM), they actually wanted me to fix it myself! I'm not afraid of getting my hands dirty, so I did try - but I couldn't get one of the screws out. Anyway, I feel like they need to know what's going on in their factories - this is unacceptable quality control. So they're sending me a box and I'm sending it in to them. (Not for replacement, though - they're still going to try to repair it. Given that it's going to IBM and not Lenovo, I have at least a little confidence.)

Other than this bit of weirdness, I'm generally happy with the SL500. It is definitely not what I'd consider a "real" ThinkPad, in that it's got a plastic case, a glossy top, and no roll cage. But I knew about all that stuff. It does have enough of what makes a ThinkPad a ThinkPad to justify purchasing it (notwithstanding the problem above).

The power connector is really chunky:

The anti-glare screen is wondrous in this day and age of ludicrous mirror-like finishes:

It does also have the anti-shock thingamajig for the hard drive that's common to all ThinkPads. It's kind of funny to open up the anti-shock app, shake the laptop around and then watch the little laptop icon shake around the exact same way.

Oh, and it's got a Trackpoint. God how I missed this! I hate touchpads. Hate 'em! They're so imprecise, and if you slow them down enough to where you can actually click things without missing, then it takes about five swipes across the pad to move your pointer across the screen. You also need to take your hands off the keyboard to use one, which was IBM's whole point in developing the Trackpoint - your hands stay in typing position the entire time.

Most people who haven't tried one look at a Trackpoint and say "how the hell can you use that thing?" But almost anyone who has used one will tell you that they can never go back to touchpads. You can zip all over the screen, then stop on a dime and click exactly where you want, every time. And your hands never move.

In fact, I'd have been happier if I could have ordered this thing without the touchpad at all. That's the way ThinkPads used to be.

Lenovo also doesn't load a lot of junk on their ThinkPads, which was always an IBM trademark too. They do load some, but none of it's actually set up by default - Mcafee, Office 2007 trial, maybe a couple other things. You don't end up with 100 different tray icons and apps running the first time you turn it on, though.

Speed and all that seems good, though I haven't tested the graphics yet. It has an Intel 4500MHD, though, which is at least a somewhat nice surprise - their web site just says it's an X4500. That's a step down from the MHD, so I got a slight upgrade from what I thought I was getting. This is an integrated graphics card, but it's the best one Intel makes and is on par with some low-end dedicated cards. It runs Vista Aero just fine.

Here's the ultra-shiny outer case - I actually think it looks quite nice, even if it is a fingerprint magnet and not very ThinkPad-like:

I just can't wait to get the damn thing back so I can type on a flat keyboard.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New computer disappointment!

Ugh! New computer is here and has keyboard problems. Currently have a support ticket in; might have to replace it. I'm a little disappointed in Lenovo now; the ThinkPad keyboard used to be the best in the business, but the design of these new ones is problematic to say the least. Mine actually has a little hill on the left side; it's not even flat.

So my little mini-review will have to wait until I get this sorted out.

New computer is here!

I don't actually have it yet, but my wife does. I will hopefully be posting from it tonight! And I'll have some thoughts.

btw, I find this pretty impressive:


Keep in mind this shipping was free and involved a customs delay. Still overnight from China to my house. Pretty pleased with Lenovo (and UPS) so far.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New computer on its way!

Woohoo!



Fresh off the build line in China. I wonder if it'll come complete with photos of the iPhone girl (er, Thinkpad girl?).

I should have it tomorrow.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Best Car Chase Ever

I think I avoided seeing "The Dead Pool" because of its pretty horrendous reviews - and it's clearly the worst of the Dirty Harry movies. But still, it's Clint Eastwood! As Dirty Harry! So I finally watched it on TBS or something last night.

Mostly it's a bone-stock thriller, and both Eastwood and Harry had obviously mellowed a little in the decade or so since the first film. But it's got the best car chase ever - it's even better if you don't know the context:


Bonus props to this movie for starring Evan Kim from Kentucky Fried Movie's "A Fistful of Yen" segment as Harry's partner. Talk about a weirdly coincidental Clint Eastwood connection.

Fixing Jazzmaster bridge buzz

The Fender Jazzmaster has one really common, really nagging problem: bridge buzz. Ironically, there is (usually) a really simple solution.

This is all you need:

No beeswax, no lard, no axle grease, nothing exotic or messy. Just Loctite Blue thread locker. Available at any hardware store.

This is where you use it:


Do all of your saddle screws. I only drew lines to the first few so beginners know what I'm talking about; you want to do all of them. My bridge there is post-Loctite, so you see that it's not messy at all. The buzz is just caused by these little screws rattling. Over time, they actually move and will lower your saddles by themselves, which can cause other problems. So it's good to Loctite them whether the buzz bothers you or not.

I didn't take any photos of myself actually doing it, but next time you change your strings, just unscrew your saddle screws and put one drop of Loctite on each screw before screwing them back in. Do them one at a time, making a mental note as you go along of the correct height of each saddle in relation to the ones around it, so you can set the height back where it should be when you're done. That's it! Bridge buzz cured. This is a permanent solution, unless you decide to unscrew them again.

Some people throw the baby out with the bathwater and go with non-adjustable Mustang saddles instead, and that's your choice, but I don't think it's necessary. This is a ridiculously simple fix that takes 5 minutes and costs about $2. And the reason you want Loctite Blue (as opposed to Red, or something even stronger) is that you can still just break the thread lock with your little allen wrench and adjust your saddles if you want. But no more rattle, and no more screws unscrewing themselves.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I've acquired an AVRI Jazzmaster that had a bridge that just would not be quieted, even after Loc-titing every single screw on it. (Sometimes the springs or even the bridge stalks rattle too.) It does happen - some Jazzmaster bridges are just garbage. If all else fails, you have one option: replace the bridge. There are several good drop-in alternatives - my favorite (and the one I use on my AVRI) is the Staytrem bridge. It definitively solves the buzz, it has offset, Allen-keyed intonation screws for easy changes without removing the strings, and it has a look that fits right in with the Jazzmaster's vintage vibe.

Friday, November 07, 2008

"Suicide Club" & "Noriko's Dinner Table"


Another one of my double features, this one an example of the modern wave of Japanese splatter films that's been getting more and more attention over here.

These films both generated controversy and strong (mostly positive) reactions at western film festivals, due to both their subject matter and their level of gore. They've gained a little bit of cult status since their release earlier this decade, similar to "Battle Royale", another film I'd put in this genre and probably the "Pulp Fiction" of Japanese cinema in terms of its influence.

Both films have suicide as their central theme. "Suicide Club" (aka "Suicide Circle") came first, and tells the story of a wave of youth suicides plaguing Tokyo, including a group of 54 schoolgirls who jump in front of a train (in graphic fashion) and another group of students who casually jump from the roof of their high school. The mystery is what's behind the suicides, and most of the film is told from the point of view of the investigators - C.S.I. style.

"Noriko's Dinner Table" is billed as a "prequel", but it's really more of a parallel story. "Suicide Circle" leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and "Noriko's Dinner Table" does not answer many of them. Instead, it's a story of the alienation behind the suicides from more of a personal level, focusing on three specific girls who may or may not be part of the "suicide circle" - if such a thing even really exists in the fictional Tokyo created by director Shion Sono.

I watched both of these films with no pre-judgments - I had never heard of them. My wife wanted to see them, but I went in cold, not knowing either their reputations or their plots. Since then, I've read quite a bit about them, and some of the reactions by westerners I consider very strange.

First, these types of films are not particularly popular in Japan. They are neither reflective of society nor embraced by it. Many westerners seem to want to interpret them through the prism of Japanese societal stereotypes, but I think that misses the point. No, most kids in Japan are not constantly contemplating suicide. Most are not even particularly unhappy. Most parents are good parents, most kids are good students, and they mostly stay at home and do their schoolwork, go to college and get jobs. Japan is a really, really normal country, despite the weirdness and darkness that westerners seem to like to project onto it. In fact, I think it's just as likely that these films are a reaction to the boredom that comes from living in such a normal, peaceful place as the reverse. It's similar to the random and unfocused angst a lot of American kids feel living in the suburbs.

Second, from a pure filmmaking standpoint, these films are just not very well-crafted. The same is true of "Battle Royale" and most other Japanese films in this genre. They suffer from a lack of control over the script and dialogue, overly long exposition (endless, ENDLESS scenes of characters explaining their feelings in voice-overs), a lack of coherence, poor editing, uninteresting cinematography, and other problems. Occasionally they're bad enough to be laugh out loud funny, unintentionally. They're also just plain too long.

(I am a huge fan of guys like David Lynch, so it's not that I have a problem with needing to think, or with long films. What I have a problem with is utter randomness in a narrative film.)

In fact, I've noticed that a lot of Japanese films are revered here in a way that I don't think makes a lot of sense. I think some people might confuse a good concept with good execution. Maybe Americans are just so hungry for something unique that they're willing to overlook obvious (and repeated) flaws, or chalk them up as "cultural differences".

You're right to then wonder why I give them this much attention. Partly it is to say exactly that - that the reputation these films have is in some ways undeserved.

But they do stick with you. They're very far from perfect, but they are memorable. What Japanese filmmakers in this genre lack in filmmaking craft, they partly atone for in concept and imagination. And there are things about these films that are disturbing.

I want to focus on "Noriko's Dinner Table" because it is the better of the two films. Unfortunately, it's kind of necessary that you watch "Suicide Club" first, or you'll be a little lost. The main issue with "Suicide Club" is that there's just no clear narrative and no three dimensional characters to care about - it's more a series of events surrounding this mass suicide on a train platform. You're then presented with several copycat suicides and eventually follow along with the police as they investigate, complete with many red herrings and plot devices that end up having no point.

The story meanders onto one of the (still-living) targets of the investigation who shares a mysterious tattoo with many of the victims but has not yet killed herself. There's a suggestion that a Morning Musume-style all-girl singing group called "Dessert" (or "Dessart" or "Desert", the film can never decide) is behind everything, then something laughable about a glam-rock David Bowie wannabe who falsely claims to be the puppet master (but is still a killer). A lot of pseudo-existential questions are asked in too-straightforward fashion ("are you connected to yourself?"). The Japanese love to do this, I've noticed - they'll make the entire film completely obtuse, then beat you over the head with something ridiculously literal out of the blue.

"Noriko's Dinner Table" is a lot more unsettling and effective. Sono seems to have learned something from his earlier work and this time he focuses squarely on three girls throughout the entire film. Noriko and Yuka are teenage sisters, Noriko being severely unhappy with her family and bored with her life in rural Japan. She befriends a group of girls in Tokyo on an online forum and, during a power outage, runs away from home to meet the leader, a girl named Kumiko who claims to have been "born in a coin locker" at Ueno Station - an orphan. She makes a living running a "family rental" business - "acting" as family to those who pay for it.

Noriko falls in with Kumiko and begins a life under Kumiko's control, playing family characters to those who pay, an obvious juxtaposition to the fakeness of her real family life back home. It begins to take on the feel of a cult as she's brainwashed by Kumiko into believing family as a concept does not actually exist. Eventually, Yuka joins Noriko, although they never speak as sisters when they meet. By this time, Noriko has utterly lost herself in her characters, even changing her name and forgetting that she was ever called anything else. The two girls "pretend" to be sisters from then on, in character.

What do their parents do? Call the police, right? After all, these are underage girls who have suddenly disappeared. But no, in one of the film's many breaks with basic logic, the parents initially do nothing. The father, Tetsuzo, continues working, the mother continues doing dishes or whatever it is she does (dishes and painting are all she's ever shown to do). Eventually, Tetsuzo begins looking for the girls himself, as his wife slips into madness. He stumbles upon various clues intentionally left by Yuka, who may have just wanted to follow her sister and test her parents rather than truly break with her family.

Tetsuzo's quest brings him to Tokyo, where he finds Kumiko and confronts her. She tells him nothing, and rather than drag her to the police station, he again just lets her go. What a pussy! The same happens later when he's confronted himself at a coffee shop by a guy who obviously knows where his girls are, but rather than telling him goes into another long-winded pseudo-intellectual speech about knowing yourself and your place in the world. The logical choice at that point would be to stand up and punch the guy in the face repeatedly until he coughs up some real info, but instead Tetsuzo just sits there and takes it.

Eventually there's a big climax and stuff happens that is pretty interesting and unexpected. I won't spoil it, except to say that Tetsuzo does finally get some balls and puts an actual plan into action. But the last 20 minutes or so of the film are both unpredictable and poignant, albeit still a little random. (I still don't understand why one of the big things that happens at the end does, and why nobody stops it.)

The thing I found unsettling about both of these films, and in fact find disturbing about many films in this genre, is the utter lack of empathy felt by most of the characters. There's a scene with Kumiko, who's played by the amazing Tsugumi (just one name, like Madonna), where she's met by someone who is obviously her real mother. She explains via voice-over that the woman had asked her to meet, and that she had claimed on the phone to be her mother. Kumiko initially shows no emotion whatsoever, asking the sobbing woman matter-of-factly why she believes she's her real mother and how she expects her to act. As it becomes clearer that she actually is Kumiko's real mother, Kumiko appears to begin to break - she starts to cry and speak more from the heart, telling her she's been waiting for this moment.

But then she turns it off. Instantly, and without warning. Her welled-up tears turn into a stony glare. What was becoming an emotion-filled scene for us, and one of the few cathartic moments in the film, is suddenly snatched away. Kumiko makes it clear that it was all an act, and viciously criticizes her mother's own "acting", calling it unbelievable and fake. She tells her that if she wants to learn how to act, she'd be happy to hire her as an actor in her "family circle". To Kumiko, this had simply been an audition.

It's an amazing scene. At almost no point in the film does anybody demonstrate real empathy for anybody else, and even when they do, it's unclear if it's genuine. (There's another violent scene involving Kumiko illustrating this that most will probably find even more disturbing, but I don't want to spoil that drama.) And that's part of the point. Sono says in the DVD interview that he wanted to tell parents to be more involved with their kids (because otherwise, I guess, they run away and join suicide clubs). In fact, it's almost comical hearing him say he hopes that families watch this film. Yeah, blood splattering everywhere, all sorts of suicide talk, of course it's a family film!

But the fact that you're never sure of the exact nature of the relationships in the film makes it very hard to know anyone's real motivations. And that's actually kind of intriguing, because it makes it both impossible to predict how anybody's going to act in any given situation and also less hard to believe when they do something unexpected. This is not a relationship dynamic you see in western films, but it's common in this genre of Japanese films. And it's necessary to the theme here.

But it is uncomfortable. And at almost three hours, it can be tough to sit through at times. If people really acted this way to each other, it's probably not a world you'd want to live in either. It is worse than something like "Pulp Fiction", where violence is treated as a matter of course - there's definitely that in this film, but there's also a lot of selfish manipulation going on here, by all the characters. They are all almost irredeemably evil. The only character who isn't is Tetsuzo, and he is instead completely impotent and weak through most of the film.

I mentioned Tsugumi but I have to also mention Kazue Fukiishi and Yuriko Yoshitaka, who played Noriko and Yuka, respectively. Both excellent. Fukiishi straddles this line throughout the film where you're never sure if she's crazy or just acting. She maintains that right up until the end of the film. Yoshitaka was apparently a newcomer for this film and she gets criticized repeatedly for bad acting following takes in the film's "making of" documentary (something you'd never see on a DVD of a US film!), but you wouldn't know it by what actually made the final cut. (Not for nothing, but she has also become really beautiful in the couple years since this film was made.)

I recommend seeing "Noriko's Dinner Table" because it's an interesting concept and far different from anything you'll see here in both plot and tone. It's also got some great acting. But I caution against reading too much into it as a comment on Japanese society. I do believe that it's impossible to separate any film from the culture in which it's made, but that doesn't mean you need to take it all literally, or at face value. There is alienation and angst in Japan like there is anywhere else. Some people do commit suicide, as they do here. Doesn't mean everybody does. Doesn't mean everybody or even most people want to or even think about it. And people in Japan do not feel or act towards each other as they do in this film.

I have to then recommend "Suicide Club" only so you know the backstory of "Noriko's Dinner Table", but just be prepared to laugh at parts you're clearly not supposed to.

Noriko's Dinner Table Trailer

DO NOT BUY an Acer laptop

The saga of my suddenly-defunct Acer Aspire continues. Thing is, it's not the fact that it broke. It's the way it broke, and the fact that I now continue to find things broken about it. Anyone who's considering buying an Acer laptop should look at the following pictures and take heed. Consider the fact that this laptop was approximately 18 months old - not brand new, but not on its last legs either.

First, there's this:

If it's not immediately obvious what the problem is here, there is supposed to be a pin sticking out from that hole. (I realize that's kind of a crude way to put it.) It's no longer there. It's rattling around inside the case somewhere. That's the power connector, meaning I have no power. Acer designed the connector in such a way that the weak side of the power connection was on the laptop. Contrast that with what Lenovo does:

Opposite. The pin is on the cord. If anything's going to fail, it's going to be on a part that costs $50 to replace.

If you think this was somehow my fault, consider that it happened when I was pulling the connector out, not trying to force it in.

Now, not only did my power connector fail. At approximately the same time, because I never noticed it before, this happened:

My lid cracked at the hinge.

What a piece of junk.

I don't abuse my stuff either. This thing led 95% of its life sitting on a coffee table plugged in to power. Only a few times have I taken it on trips, but it's not like I use it to bring daily to and from work or anything. This thing took less abuse than my desktop does, which is older, has been banged around repeatedly and still works fine. No doubt if I actually treated this Acer as a laptop, I'd have gotten less than a year out of it.

Yes, kids, build quality does matter.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


BELIEVE!



I'm obviously ecstatic about the results last night. New Yorkers were literally dancing in the streets. Spontaneous outbursts of emotion everywhere. I've never seen anything like it. On TV, that is. I'm in a little pocket of McCain-land here, which is weird. But I saw it on TV and talked to friends and co-workers today, and their stories were all interesting. Of course this was a historic choice.

I was addicted to this campaign, in both good and bad ways. I followed it more closely than any campaign since I've been old enough to vote. A few things I learned this time around:

  • This was the year the pundits collectively talked themselves out of a job. About two dozen times during the election results, I actually yelled "shut up!" out loud at my TV. At one point I just put the damn thing on mute. It used to be that to talk about politics on TV, you had to actually know something about politics. And there weren't that many people on TV doing analysis, so the ones that did exist were experienced, were trusted and were usually right. But these days, they're more often than not just random people off the street who know less about politics than I do.

    This video might only tangentially illustrate my point, but it's also funny as hell so I'm posting it:



    It's really the professional "analysts" that I think have screwed themselves this year, though. They're so cocooned in their own little world that they've got less connection to reality than even most politicians.

  • Racism is still unfortunately alive and well in this country. Yeah, Obama won, and that's great. But he got 52% of the vote? In a year when 89% of the public say the country's on the wrong track, when we just had a $700 billion financial industry bailout, when the stock market's tanked by 40% and a lot of people are saying we're headed for a depression? He was called a muslim (as if there'd be something wrong with that if it was even true), he was called a terrorist, he was called every racist code word in the book. Matt Drudge packed into his top slot as many photos of Obama playing basketball as he could find, as did Fox News, reinforcing racial stereotypes. (As far as I know, he played basketball just once during the entire campaign).

    I don't believe in the "Bradley effect", but I think plenty of white people were totally up front about the fact that they weren't voting for Obama because he was black.


    Then there's McCain's concession speech (which even some liberals have called "gracious"). I sure heard it as a big "fuck you" to black people. What else can you make of this?
    A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to visit -- to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

    In other words, racism is over, so shut the fuck up about it because you've no longer got any reason to complain. Watch this become the new mantra of the Republican party when issues like affirmative action and progressive taxation come up.

  • Related to above, the Republican rationale for why they lost the race is that there were "headwinds" against them, namely the economy (for which they are responsible, so I consider it less "headwinds" and more their own dumbass policies). They say no Republican could have won this year. But think about the "headwinds" against Obama. A black guy named Barack Hussein Obama. Yeah. Like anybody would have thought this guy had a chance. The Republicans had all the built-in advantages this year.

  • The polls were mostly right, as they usually are. Mostly. But you know who was right more than anybody? Nate Silver and his amazing site fivethirtyeight.com.

    Open that photo up and look at it closely. Look at the projected electoral map vs. the actual electoral map. The only state he got "wrong" was Indiana, and that wasn't really "wrong" as he only had it as "lean GOP" with the Republicans ahead by about 2 points. Look at the electoral projection vs. the actual projection. Look at the projected vote totals vs. the actual vote totals. And look at the projected senate seats held vs. the actual number of seats held - keeping in mind that there are still several seats outstanding, two of which the Dems have a good chance of winning. (In other words, the 57 seats he predicted might still turn out to be not just very close, but exactly right.)

    This guy's a prodigy. He put this site up a while back and everybody was shocked when it predicted a couple of surprising results for Hillary Clinton in the primaries; results nobody else saw coming. They dug deeper and discovered that he's actually a baseball statistician who's partly responsible for publishing the Baseball Prospectus, which from what I gather is kind of a bible for fantasy baseball team owners looking to predict the performance of players over the next year.

    He took the methodology he uses for the Baseball Prospectus and applied it to elections. Basically, he has a computer model that looks at all of the polls (state and national), weights them based on things like date taken, sample size, past performance and "house bias", then runs 10,000 simulations per day to find the most likely results. He then publishes all sorts of stats from those simulations on a daily basis. I don't have them all pictured there, but he publishes things like "chance of Obama win if losing OH", "chance of Obama win if losing OH and PA", "chance of an Obama landslide", etc. (and obviously, all the same numbers for McCain, though they were all very small for him this time around).

    And he's not some jerk who thinks he knows everything, either. He doesn't pretend that his site could ever be 100% accurate. He just thinks it's the best method of prediction available. And it sure was this time around. I read this site several times per day leading up to the election. It was my daily reassurance whenever I'd see news about the polls "tightening" because one outlier somewhere had a one day sample that showed a race closer than all the others. It was my check against media spin. Which brings me to...


  • The media can no longer be trusted. None of it. I didn't used to feel this way. I'm really cynical in some ways but I also think that cynicism can sometimes be used as cover for a lack of critical thinking. Trusting nobody is the same as trusting everybody - it's just as naive. I used to think the media got a bum rap; that by and large journalists had integrity, they had experience, and they were a lot better schooled and trained in what they do than most people gave them credit for.

    I still think that about specific people. The problem is the news is no longer considered a public service. It's considered a ratings and advertising driver, no different than any other TV show. It's entertainment. CNN even sells t-shirts of their headlines on their web site these days. How is that not a conflict of interest?

    Because of the quest for ratings/page views/t-shirt sales, it's in the media's best interests to keep elections close. They'll do almost anything these days to equalize the race. They'll look for moral equivalency where none exists - one example I remember being a story that said both McCain and Obama were guilty of negative campaigning because while McCain had brought up Ayers and Palin had said Obama "pals around with terrorists", Obama had created an attack ad about the Keating Five. There is no moral equivalency there whatsoever. That would be like me running around your neighborhood knocking on doors and shouting at your neighbors that you were a child molester, and somebody else saying you were no better because you once told them that I sometimes drink straight out of the milk carton. And I did drink out of the milk carton.

    Another example are all these "the polls are tightening!" stories. If you actually search on that term, you'll find that the media has been reporting this same story since August! You'd think if the polls had been tightening for that long, the result would have been a little different. The obvious truth is that polls go up and down; they have a margin of error, and some are just outliers. The media knows this as well as I do. And they all know about sites like fivethirtyeight.com too. It's disingenuous for them to post stories like this when they know full well that they probably aren't true. (Of course, this then generates a flurry of "are the polls tightening?" stories from other "watchdog" sites, who themselves are fishing for page views from the same polls.)

    That's not to even mention guys like Matt Drudge, who have an obvious Republican bias but claim they don't. I don't mind sites and publications that make no bones about their leanings. I read the Huffington Post and Gawker - these are liberal sites and they don't pretend to be anything else. But I have a problem with guys like Drudge and sites like FoxNews who proclaim they have no political bias at all when it's clear to absolutely everyone with half a brain that they do. Because you know why? Some people believe them. (Not everyone does have half a brain.) And when you get your news through this warped prism thinking it's unbiased, mainstream news reporting, your entire view of normality ends up being completely skewed.

    The Republicans will tell you that the media was biased in favor of Obama. Bullshit. The media was biased in favor of a close race. They ran more positive stories about Obama because there were more positive stories to report. But they also ran more positive stories about McCain, and more negative ones about Obama, than either deserved.

    I'm not saying you can't believe anything you read. I'm saying you can no longer take anything the media says at face value.

  • Sarah Palin is finished. Again, the media is wrong about this - she's finished. (The McCain camp seems to be trying to put the final nail in her coffin today, not that there's any surprise in that.) The media's trying to prop her up because she looks good in pictures and she gets a lot of page views - it's in their interests that she remains popular. But she's a lightweight politician.

    Let's not forget what happened to Dan Quayle, which is still the best equivalent, and he actually was vice president for a while. She's going back to Alaska where she'll be governor of a state smaller in population than Rhode Island for the next four years, 5,000 miles away from Washington and out of the media sphere. Unless someone else makes her a surprise pick for VP again, any chance she had for national office is gone. She had her one shot and she blew it.

    The only chance she's got is to appoint herself to the US Senate if Ted Stevens ends up being removed. But that's a longshot to begin with, and it'd be a pretty risky move politically. Not that I'd put it past her.

  • By the way, 11 of the 13 original colonies that fought for and gained our independence as a free nation voted for Obama. That's "real America", Sarah and John. Suck on it.

I'm not trying to take anything away from what was a great night. It was a great win and for once, I'm actually looking forward to the next four years. I'm hopeful that this country can finally right itself and get back on track.

Updates

For no reason at all, I've had this song going through my head for like the past two weeks:


That fucking guitar riff just will not go away.

Completely unrelated, I plan to post some thoughts on the election a bit later tonight if I can. For now: whoooooooooooooooo!!!

And I've got a new laptop coming. It's been painful trying to use my wife's old Dell, which was made in like 2000. I still can't really post pictures very easily, and everything is sooooooo sloooooow. I'm getting a Thinkpad. I wanted one. I'll talk a little more about it when it arrives (supposedly it takes them 11 business days!).

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

About Me

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I own a lot of musical equipment that far outstrips my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to live on a different planet.

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