Sunday, April 29, 2007

Guns: The Cooper color codes, theory and practice

To paraphrase Jeff Cooper from his now-classic adaptation of the USMC states of awareness in Principles of Personal Defense:

White: Completely oblivious to surroundings, total unreadiness
Yellow: Relaxed awareness of surroundings, nothing out of the ordinary observed
Orange: Specific threat(s) identified, mental trigger in place
Red: Mental trigger has been tripped, appropriate action being taken

I think these are sound guidelines for anyone (and obviously for people who are carrying a concealed weapon), but I wonder how easy it is to apply them in real life. While theoretically we all should be in Condition Yellow as soon as we exit our homes, there are plenty of times in life when your focus or attention is on something else (the woman in the red dress). It's easy enough to be aware of your surroundings when you are standing or walking around, but what about seated in a movie theater? Or at a baseball game? Or attending a funeral?

Now, some may argue the standard for awareness in a crowded place might be relaxed a bit, but past experience tells us that you are sometimes no safer in a crowd than by yourself (the bystander effect at work). I think a more honest approach would be to acknowledge that there are some occasions when we let our guard down in public, and we should recognize when that happens.

TV: Infomercials

I enjoy watching infomercials sometimes, mostly for the entertainment value. "Paid Programming" has a long and rich history that's been paved by the juggernauts of the kitchen appliance industry (your Ron Popeils and your George Foremans). Yet for every huge success story like the "ShowTime Rotisserie" or "George Foreman Grill," there's a shabby "GT Xpress 101" hidden in the shadows (to be fair, I've never actually used a "GT Xpress 101").

One of the weirdest things about infomercials is that they actually have a number of hosts/actors that keep appearing - almost like a stock company in a local theatre. Some of them have British or Australian accents that sound awfully forced. Others are washed-up B-list celebrities who need a quick buck and find that they have a talent for selling.

The techniques used to present a product are fairly uniform. Often there are demonstrations of extreme things that can be done with the device (grinding concrete, cutting a hammer, picking up marbles off a floor). This is paired up with an incredulous host and his "expert" co-host, who banter about how amazing something is before the pitch. While this is certainly effective, I applaud infomercials that go the extra mile to do something that hasn't been seen before. Particularly impressive is when they go outside the studio and do things in the real world - which must be completely anithetical to the budget production budget these shows must have.

I don't mind infomercials extolling the virtues of some new vacuum or knife set, but I really have a problem with those "no-money-down" guys who will extend you a life of luxury - as long as you buy their $300 set of CDs and books. It feels...unseemly - almost like they're making a living off the poor. And indeed, there have been allegations of misconduct in their sales, including persistent unauthorized credit card charges. I don't tend to disagree with "buyer beware," but it definitely

Books: The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

"Calvin & Hobbes" by Bill Watterson is my favorite comic strip - I grew up with it during the '90s, and I remember feeling a profound sense of loss when it ended (well, as profound a sense of loss as a middle-schooler can feel for a comic strip). While I had literally read every "Calvin & Hobbes" strip ever drawn through the acquisition of a number of the collections, I was still hungry for more.

Thankfully, I noticed the Tenth Anniversary Book sitting on a bookshelf one day. While the book doesn't actually contain any new strips, it does come packed full of Watterson's commentary on the process of creating the strip itself, including his ruinous battle with Universal Press Syndicate over the format of the Sunday strips. Judging from the sales of special edition DVDs, I know I'm not the only one into this kind of behind-the-scenes stuff, so it was nice to see it for my favorite comic.

One interesting note: I was inspired to become a lawyer partly through "Calvin and Hobbes." While basing a future career on a comic strip probably isn't what they tell you to do at Career Services, the indelible image of Calvin's dad as a patent attorney is still with me today.

Of course, Calvin had a pretty cynical view of the legal profession.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Food: Tony & Pat's

It's rare to find a good pizza buffet. It's even rarer to find a pizza joint that's been in operation for over 30 years.

Tony & Pat's is located in a run-down strip mall a bit south of Archer and 34th (probably the only successful place in that whole shopping center). It's pretty fantastic for what it is: an old-school, beer-and-garlic-rolls neighborhood pizzeria that doesn't mind giving you a lot of food. Right out of the gate, a ticket to the all-you-can-eat buffet and soft drink will run you $8 - not too expensive when a McDonald's value meal costs $5 nowadays.

Thankfully, though, price isn't the only thing T&P has going for it. Their buffet pizza is actually better than the major delivery chains (not that the major chains put out an amazing product or anything) - thick slices of pepperoni, fresh veggies, decent quality cheese. Like all buffets, if you go during an off period you might not get the freshest food, so head out at dinnertime on a Friday or Saturday night and watch fresh pizzas roll out from the kitchen.

They serve other stuff, but I don't see the need. I just walk in, grab a plate, and fill up with some yummy Hawaiian or pepperoni pizza. They even have TVs mounted that are perpetually tuned into ESPN or ESPN2 - talk about knowing your target audience. ;-)

2/4 stars

School: So much for actus reus

We learn a lot of things in law school. Most of it is either theoretical or disarmingly practical - everything from Pareto optimization in real property cases to how to disturb your opponent when negotiating a settlement. Sometimes I wish, however, that real life reflected our curriculum a little better.

Take the recent arrest of a student for writing a disturbing story. Marko has a pretty good fisk of what's happened. One of the first things any criminal law student in the U.S. learns is that punishment must be conditioned on a wrongful act, an actus reus. There are some crimes that can be committed even without wrongful intent - so-called "strict liability" crimes - but the requirement of a bad act has always served as a limiting factor on punishment.

There are a lot of good reasons for this, but one is central above all others - in a free society, your thoughts should never be on trial. Sometimes, we may wish to punish those who are attempting to do something, or even people who are just planning evil. But the consequences of a rule where people can't speak their mind are, quite simply, tyranny and totalitarianism.

Now, I realize this guy was a student. And if the school or the teacher talked to his parents or decided to take some action academically (a suspension or the like, or perhaps counseling), I don't think it would've registered as a blip on the radar of the public consciousness. But for actual honest-to-God police officers to arrest someone...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Guns: CCW Rig Thoughts

One of the problems that people who carry concealed weapons face is the issue of attire. A lot of the clothing you'll find out there is ill-suited to CCW duties - really tight blue jeans, short or form-fitting shirts, shorts without belt loops, etc. Of the rest of the stuff out there, it's a safe bet that much of it won't withstand the daily punishment inflicted by the inevitable steel and lead weight strapped to your belt. Here's some things that I've found make the going easier.

1) Have multiple handguns - I really admire the people who can schlep a full-size 1911 all day in all sorts of clothes, but for the rest of us, it's really easiest to cater the gun to the clothing choice, and not the other way around. This is especially important when you must wear certain clothing. Whereas a nice pocket revolver will slip easily into the pants pocket of a three-piece suit, for example, you might have a hard time carrying a hip holster in that same pair of pants (especially if you want to take off your jacket, meaning OWB is out).

2) Have multiple holsters - This is sort of a complement to #1. Sometimes, a standard strong-side waist holster won't do the job. Galco has an excellent comparison of many different holster types that will give you an idea of what's out there. Obviously, you'll want the best you can afford - the holster is the heart of any CCW rig. The best is not necessarily the most expensive (my best pocket holster for my S&W 642 cost $15), but you do tend to get what you pay for.

3) Be aware of what you look like - Many ridicule photographer's vests as "shoot-me-first" vests, but I don't think that particular types of clothing draw attention to the fact that you're carrying a gun (well, aside from that "Got SIG?" T-shirt...). That does not mean, however, that you can put on a zipped-up jacket in the middle of July. If you follow tips #1 & #2, you can conceal a gun even when you're sunbathing on a beach with only swim trunks on (yes, I've done this ;-) ).

Finally, I have to say, I'm really glad I'm a guy and not a girl. It's tough to conceal a handgun in women's clothing.

News: Buh-bye, Rosie; RIP Kathryn

Rosie O'Donnell left "The View" recently. I've always written her off as a committed-yet-hypocritical leftist, someone who believes handguns are bad, but doesn't mind that she has armed guards protecting her. Her bile-spewing exchanges with Donald Trump were filling up the airwaves for the past few months, but I think it was her comments about the 9/11 conspiracy that finally did her in--

Rosie claiming that the World Trade Center's Building 7 was brought down by explosives on 9/11: "I do believe that it is the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel. I do believe that it defies physics for the World Trade Center Tower 7 ... which collapsed in on itself. It is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved. --

Gee, Rosie, your Wikipedia article doesn't mention a degree in physics or engineering. I wonder how seriously we should take a college dropout-turned-comedian-turned-talk show host. Well, here's the best fisking of these 9/11 conspiracy theories I've ever read.


In other news, the cops that "mistakenly" shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnson pled guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to about a decade in prison. Folks, if you or I broke down some innocent old lady's door, shot her to death, planted evidence in her home, and then pressured some stoolie to lie about the whole thing, how much time do you think we'd get? That ain't manslaughter. Last time I checked, premeditated homicide with malice aforethought was first degree murder. That whole "Some animals are more equal than others" thing should be a flashing banner in the middle of that article.

Books: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy - The Fab 5's Guide

I don't buy into the whole stereotype of gay men having inherently better fashion sense, but I do admit that the book that the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" hosts wrote is pretty good. A lot of these "fine living" books are a bit too passive in their suggestions, but the Fab 5's book is written in a manner that gives you concrete, do-it-today tips (keep in mind I've never seen a single episode of the TV series). I like instructional material that gets straight to the point, and without pimping a whole lot of brand names or particular products.

To be honest, though, I stumbled across this book in a bargain bin section at the Waldenbooks in the local mall. It was a great-looking book; it's essentially filled with snarky commentary and fairly typical design/living tips, but it's all wrapped up in a fantastic-looking package. Call me superficial, but not many books these days come printed in full, glossy color with a shiny dust jacket and sturdy hardcover binding. "The first bite is with the eyes," after all.

Here's a pretty quotable quote from the book: Men seem to commonly mistake "Black Tie Optional" for "Come All Ye Jackasses." There are ways to make the traditional tuxedo fun and have spirit, but they're generally not rentable for $5.99 a night from the local mall's Bob's-Buck-a-Tux.

Tech: Puzzle Quest - Challenge of the Warlords Review (DS version)

Puzzle game: A computer program designed to entertain by forcing the user
to solve problems that involve reasoning, often with abstract elements such as
shapes or colors.

Role-playing game: A computer program designed to entertain by forcing the
user to develop an in-game persona that typically defeats enemies and completes

Puzzle Role-playing game:
Bookworm Adventures, Puzzle

While it's fairly common for video games nowadays to blend various genres together (a racing game with weapons and jumping, for example), perhaps no mash-up is as strange as the puzzle RPG. "Puzzle Quest" takes the conventional RPG formula seen in games like Final Fantasy or Baldur's Gate and mixes it with a healthy dose of Bejeweled.

Maybe a video will explain it better:

The game is pretty good, and maddeningly addictive. The DS version looks and sounds much worse than the PSP version, but the DS also has stylus control, which is probably the best way to play the game. I remember spending a whole afternoon scribbling on my screen, battling giant rats and liches with all manner of multicolored gems.

Normally such addiction within a game is a sign of a true classic, but for some reason, after a long PQ session, you feel burnt-out, not elated. The game is essentially one long grind, and though it's an addictive grind, filled with variety, in the end, all you are doing is playing Bejeweled over and over and over...

Rating: 82/100

Music: Monster Mash

Bobby "Boris" Pickett, along with the Crypt-Kickers, created the Halloween classic "Monster Mash." Mr. Pickett died of leukemia recently, but he is survived by his grandchildren and of course his memorable hit. This is the kind of song that basically stays around forever, a sort of "White Christmas" for Halloween. I even had a recurring nightmare that had this song as the background music. Talk about catchy.

Fun mashup of various monster movies:

Rather good amateur music video:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

School: I have a bad feeling about this...

Well, my Property exam is in about 8 hours. Time to sleep. This one's going to be a thinker, that's for sure. Unlike a class like Torts or Criminal Law, where there are always neat little tests full of elements to shove everything into, Property is like a giant Katamari Damacy ball of craziness.

For example, you learn about eminent domain. But how about how eminent domain relates to someone's appurtenant easement that's adjoining the property you just condemned? Or say you know about mortgages. But how do those mortgages interact with the joint tenancy this husband and wife have formed, and what if the husband forged the wife's signature on the mortgage?

Subletting, the Fair Housing Act, adverse possession, copyrights, real covenants...quite a disparate bunch of concepts. Here we go!

News: Global Education - A Counter-Intuitive Lesson

There's a BBC blurb out about the standards of higher education in the UK and China. They even include a sample question from both countries; China's entrance exam question is far more complex than the UK's first-year undergrad question.

At first glance, you might think the deadly Chinese brain trust is going to wipe out Western civilization. How powerful must Chinese universities be, if they expect incoming students to reason like that!

Looking at the issue closer, I think there's a deeper message present. China, for all its massive development, has to give fairly difficult problems in its entrance exam because the competition for entrance into universities is a bloodbath - there simply aren't enough colleges in China to service its population of 1.3 billion. The Chinese problem, while certainly requiring greater reasoning and knowledge, doesn't seem to apply to anyone working in the real world (my Dad's been a structural engineer for thirty years and all the math he uses in his daily job is basic algebra and trig).

Music: Michael Bublé

My sister performed in the annual Danging Gators celebratory dance show, and she was pretty good. Someone in DG must be a huge fan of Michael Bublé, since three of the songs used in the show came from his albums. I'm not a big fan of the Canadian crooner, but the songs were pleasant enough and easy to dance to, so it's not like I have much to complain about. In any event, it's currently stuck in my head now, so I'm posting some of his stuff here. My Property final is tomorrow morning, so the blog might have to wait for awhile...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Guns: Speedloaders & Speed Strips

My parents came up and visited me this weekend. While tidying up my room, my Mom noticed some "bullets" on my nightstand. She was referring to an HKS model 36 speedloader, a device designed to load all five cylinders of a S&W J-frame revolver at once. It's a fairly simply gadget, and while the spring holding the ball detent in place isn't the strongest thing in the world, it's proven to be very reliable. You simply place the rounds in, and twist the knob to lock them in place. To load, untwist the knob (with the speedloader on the cylinder, of course) and the rounds will drop into the chambers.

This is the Safariland Comp-1 speedloader. They're a bit less bulky than the HKS system, since there's no knob to twist - you simply shove the speedloader against the extractor star of the cylinder and the springloaded mechanism drops all the rounds into the chambers. I prefer this type of speedloader, as it's (slightly) faster, but either works fine. You can slip either of these speedloaders into a decent size pocket, but it's better to carry them in a belt pouch of some sort so they don't shift around.

I also have some Bianchi speed strips. These are excellent when you need something that can lay flat (perhaps in a tight jeans pocket, for example). You can load two at a time with these things fairly quickly. They're great for stashing in odd places - a couple in your glove box, a couple in your bathroom - who knows when you might need the extra ammo?

There are some other, more esoteric methods of carrying spare revolver ammo. You could go old-school, with a bandolier, but I'm not sure that would be very concealable. Actually, even stuffing spare rounds in a zippered pocket would work in a pinch - practice loading two at a time and it's faster than you might think. The best reload, of course, might be the "New York Reload" - you can literally carry two Airweights that weigh the same as one full-size 1911 (though I might still take the 1911 ;-) ).

Books: The Western Horse

Sometimes bargain book bins can hold some pleasant surprises. I recall traipsing through the UF bookstore's sale section and finding "The Western Horse: Advice and Training" by Dave Jones. This is one of those books where, even after looking at the blurb on the back cover, you still have little idea of what you're going to get inside (the book was sealed in plastic wrap, so I couldn't thumb through the pages). I ponied up the six dollars and took the book home.

Now, I've never spent any time whatsoever around horses or other working animals, so it was completely foreign (and fascinating) reading about the gentling of a colt. Stuff like this is great for anyone with a curious mind - you'll learn where the stifle and the gaskin are on a horse, you'll learn which hobbles and reins work best in what situations, and you'll also come out with all sorts of anecdotes about what it's like to train horses.

Jones writes in a practical, easygoing manner that speaks of years of experience. While the book is obviously not detailed enough to make you a master horseman (no book ever is), it does an admirable job of taking you through the entire process - sizing up a horse, buying it, training it, caring for it. The book is packed with detailed black-and-white illustrations and photos that aren't just window dressing, but are marvelously edifying.

It might be an out-of-the-way topic nowadays, but you just never know when knowledge like this might come in handy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

School: Textbook formatting and ConLaw musings...

(the above is one of Oleg Volk's great photos, obviously)

I never really wrote in my textbooks until I started attending law school. In most engineering classes, the books were already pared down to the essentials - formulas, examples, problems. Law school casebooks, on the other hand, often have lots of extraneous material that can hamper your understanding of the material. That's why most law students underline and highlight in their textbooks. I like to note what the reasoning of the court is when deciding a case - I draw a big box around the relevant reasoning and mark it with my pen.

Some books are better than others for this. In my experience, the formatting used by Aspen Publishers is terrible for law school work - the margins are thin, the paper is often translucent, and the headings and page divisions are easy to overlook. My favorite book so far, in contrast, is Contracts, Sixth Edition, by Farnsworth and co., and published by Foundation Press. It has brilliant white paper, big margins, and even the (extremely) rare illustration.

My Constitutional Law book (Stone, Seidman, et al) is, alas, an Aspen book. Naturally it includes Roe v. Wade, perhaps the most controversial Supreme Court opinion of the last half of the 20th century. Unlike previous controversial rulings like Brown v. Board of Education, however, Roe has precious little explicit support in the Constitution for its holding; instead, it infers that the privacy rights in the Bill of Rights by extension apply to abortion, taking pre-viability abortion out of the political debate altogether.

This might be defensible, I suppose (the people do have unenumerated rights, which may or may not include abortion) except for the curious issue of the right to keep and bear arms. I wonder how the Court (and all the lower courts) can infer a substantive due process right from a hotchpotch of different amendments, but remain silent about a right that is expressly protected in the Bill of Rights. Even under the specious "collective right" argument the gun control crowd like to bandy about, doesn't a collective right infer a "penumbra" that implies the majority of gun control is unconstitutional? In other words, how can abortions be legal in Chicago and not handguns? Which is more fundamental to the concept of ordered liberty - an armed populace or abortion? I'm not pro-life per se, of course, but these are questions that have dogged me since I started highlighting stuff in Roe. The box I drew around the reasoning there left me unsatisfied.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Happy Earth Day

Earth Day is a recently created holiday that sprang from the tumult of the 1960s (just like Father's Day). An observance promoting environmental consciousness must be a tough sell (hard to commercialize compared to other holidays), so it's sort of amazing Earth Day has lasted this long. Unlike most other occurrences in our calendar, this day does not celebrate people, but the home planet where we reside.

I still consider myself an environmentalist. While I've moved away from the rah-rah childhood environmentalism that is now inculcated in every grade schooler in the U.S., I do believe there is value in keeping the Earth clean enough for future generations to enjoy. To steal an old proverb: "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." Of course, I think that science and capitalism will eventually find solutions that will keep the Earth habitable.

Above is a picture of the Earth reflected in an astronaut's helmet. The sum total of human existence, every ounce of our knowledge and skill, not only got that astronaut up there but also wholly resides on that small blue sphere.

Tech: A Sinking 'Station...

The PlayStation 3 is in big trouble, by my estimation. Not because of hardware shortages or decreased demand (most reports say that the system is selling fairly well, which is amazing considering the price tag), but because of a looming defection of many of the major game makers.

It was always assumed the heavy hitters like Square, Capcom, and Konami would support the PS3 more than the 360, but with the smaller userbases available for both next-gen systems compared to the PS2's dominance last generation, my feeling is that most games will need to be multiplatform in order to recoup skyrocketing development costs. Add to that the unexpected success of the Nintendo Wii, and the continually-growing PS2 install base, and you have companies that are quite wary of betting the bank on the PS3.

Here's a look at some of the biggest franchises:

Final Fantasy XIII - Not exclusive any more; possibly being ported to Xbox 360.
Grand Theft Auto IV - Not exclusive. Coming out for both the PS3 and the 360.
Beautiful Katamari - Again, 360/PS3.
Devil May Cry 4 - Again, 360/PS3.
Assassin's Creed - 360/PS3.

And so on. Somebody at Sony better figure out something quick, or the PS3 will end up in an equal position with the 360 (which would be a monumental failure for Sony).

Miscellany: Womb Raider

Probably unfair to Angelina, but still funny as hell.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Food: Cabana Cove

"Cabana Cove" is one of those casual dining restaurants that might work better as a fast-casual chain. It's a Caribbean grill with two locations here in Gainesville; I get the sense it would be very popular as a place where you could get a quick plate of beans, rice, and chicken/shrimp/fish on the run. Anyway, my family and I ate there for lunch today.

The atmosphere was relaxed (we dined on the outdoor porch) and the service was efficient. They had a 2-for-1 margarita special, and the drinks weren't watered down. Having traveled around the Caribbean, I know that sometimes the island life isn't as breezy as what's portrayed here, but it makes for a pleasant dining milieu.

The food was fairly good. We all ordered the grilled fish lunch specials, which also came with a choice of which rub the filet would be cooked in. The jerk was, as expected, fairly spicy, and the other rubs were competent. Mom's sweet potato fries were good, but my black beans and rice were a bit underwhelming (if it's just black beans and rice, why can't they give you more of it?). The portions, though, seemed small compared to the prices.

Rating: 2/4 stars

Guns: Online Stores

One of the great conveniences for a shooter in the modern era is the World Wide Web. Unfortunately, some outfits are better than others at reliably shipping ammunition and other firearm accessories. Here are some sites I've had good experiences with:

1. MidwayUSA - These guys are great about shipping stuff; if you order in the morning there's a good chance your order will be shipped out the same day. Their site has loads of pictures, so there's never much question about what you're going to get. The shopping cart, inventory system, and search function are also more refined than most other sites. I've ordered tons of stuff from them.

2. Natchez Shooters Supplies - A couple years ago, they had deals on XM193 5.56mm that were nearly impossible to beat. They are a bit slower to ship than Midway, but their prices are often excellent - for awhile, their CCI Blazer 9mm prices compelled me to order case after case on their site. Their in-stock e-mail notification system seems to work well, but the rest of the site is less user-friendly.

3. Sportsmans Guide - One of those sites where membership gives you discounts. They tend to have coupons available that give pretty decent savings. I never shopped from here much, but they're reputable and have a pretty good selection of ammo. As the name implies, though, they're not really focused on shooting but more on the outdoors in general.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Miscellany: The Close-up Magic of Michael Ammar

I've been ruminating on my childhood summer vacation days recently, and one of my dearest memories from that era was when I tried out the stuff in the Klutz Book of Magic. One of the biggest lessons I learned from that book is that the practice of magic is a difficult performance art; simply knowing "the secret" of a trick won't allow you to do it, and even mechanically executing a trick flawlessly won't guarantee an astounded audience. Proper magic is equal parts dexterity and showmanship that only a few magicians ever really master.

Michael Ammar is one of those magicians. While he'll probably never have the fame and supermodel girlfriends that David Copperfield and David Blaine get to have, Ammar remains one of the great close-up magicians alive today. His unassuming, friendly manner and somewhat bemused attitude towards his tricks is refreshing in a world full of self-important illusionists. This is the kind of magic where, even if you know or discover "the secret," you can still be amazed at the fluidity (and sometimes bald-faced, P.T. Barnum-style misdirection) that only hours and hours of practice can produce:

Note the brazen misdirection used to get the third ball on the cup at 0:50 :)

Michael flashes his palm a bit here, but he's young

Books: The Fourth Dimension

I remember spending a lot of time indoors during my summer vacations up at my grandparents' house in Houston. I was mostly alone, then - I often spent the whole day just left to my own devices. Searching through the books Grandpa had was interesting. Most of them were in Vietnamese, but one book was not - "The Fourth Dimension."

Rucker's meandering journey through the higher dimensions and the nature of reality struck a chord with me. This kind of theoretical speculation is basically completely novel to a grade-school child. The mind experiments (Zeno's paradoxes, the twin paradox, hypercubes) were a far cry from the dumbed-down logic puzzles a kid could get from daytime TV. Accompanying it all were evocative, cartoony illustrations.

There are some criticisms, of course. The book is admittedly written for a layman, and so the mathematics of the subject are left for others to explore. Many of the threads of thought are tenuously connected, and some of the best problems in the book have unsatisfying answers. This book, though, eventually led me to Flatland, which I also enjoyed.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

School: The Last Day of Classes

The 1L experience is something that I'll probably never forget. It's been a long time since I've been stuck in the same classes with people for the whole year. The undergrad years were obviously all over the place, as everyone had a different schedule. The first year of law school, though, really did remind me of high school - sitting in the same chair, day after day, and hanging out between classes with "the usual suspects."

The year went by really quick. We lost a good person along the way, we went through the shock of first-semester finals, and we settled in for the spring doldrums. I asked Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg a question, I washed dishes at a homeless shelter, I heard all manner of guest speakers and lecturers, and played countless games of Munchkin and Settlers of Catan during the lunch break.

Today was our last day of classes together as Section 2. We'll all be scattered from now on, mixed in with the other 1L sections. There was applause at the end of each class today (except for Prof. Collier's, which I thought was rude), and a sense of finality. I think our first semester professors were more engaging than this semester's crop. Now it's time for the last hurrah, spring finals.

Movies: National Treasure

My sister called this the "IB action movie," and I tend to agree with her. Looking at various Nicolas Cage films before viewing "National Treasure" will give you some false expectations. "The Rock" and "Face/Off" might lead you into thinking there'll be a lot of shootouts and explosions. "Gone in 60 Seconds" and "Con Air" might suggest Cage is playing his typical reformed-criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold character.

Instead, Cage plays Ben, a smartie-pants history buff seeking the titular McGuffin. Up against him in the hunt for the treasure is Sean Bean, who always seems to get a kick out of being the antagonist. Through various clues and deductions, Ben and his friends keep getting closer to the treasure...or are they? The movie can be somewhat cerebral at times, with history and science popping up with enough frequency that it might turn off those expecting a pure action thriller (though the brainy parts aren't always accurate, of course).

The beginning third of the movie is the best part, especially the fairly well-executed heist of the Declaration of Independence. Nothing here is too spectacular, mind you, but the pacing of the film feels right. Everything follows standard adventure movie conventions, but the actual movie itself is squeaky clean and something you could take your kid to see without worrying too much (it's rated PG). All in all, a decent movie and worth seeing on TV, or perhaps as a NetFlix rental.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

TV: Serialization

One of the big dilemmas that face most hour-long dramas (and especially genre dramas, like sci-fi or fantasy shows) is the balance between stand-alone episodes and continual story arcs. On the one hand, multi-episode plotlines can leave longtime viewers in suspense, and often give writers great freedom. The best example of a show like this is "24," where the events of an episode in the middle of a season (or, indeed, an entire season) are difficult to understand without a lot of introduction.

On the other hand, a series consisting of mostly stand-alone episodes has an easier time drawing in new viewers and keeping them, as missing a few episodes isn't fatal to someone's enjoyment of future episodes. This is by far the most common way to write a TV show - everything from "The X-Files" to "Knight Rider" uses this format, perhaps with the occasional two-parter or mythology show thrown in. At its worst, though, this format can lead to "Monster of the Week" syndrome.

A relatively rare few shows abandon any pretense of continuity, such as "Aeon Flux" (as seen below) or "The Prisoner." Often it's easy to watch episodes completely out of their actual broadcast order. It's an interesting concept, but it definitely runs counter to the intuitive human understanding of time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guns: A 9mm & A .22 LR

A day after the tragic, repulsive murders at VA Tech, the accusations and recriminations are flying. I believe it was confirmed that the killer used a GLOCK 19 and a Walther P22 - these are not special guns by any stretch of the imagination. Walk into any place handguns are sold and you will find G19s by the barrelfull (I considered buying one as my CCW, but chose the P-01 instead). The P22 is pretty common, too (though the one P22 I've shot was about as reliable as an alarm clock made of cheese).

It got me to thinking about the capacity for evil. How many people have a GLOCK and a .22? Hell, how many college students have them? I'd bet the number is huge, easily in the thousands. So what made this nutcase, representing maybe .000001% of the shooting population, different?

Here are (supposedly) some plays the murderer wrote. What strikes me most about them is not the angst or the violence, but how awful they are. This is a guy who was an English major, after all. I've written better stuff than that in my creative writing class in freshman year. What does it all mean?

The guy was an idiot. Not some criminal mastermind, not a brilliant terrorist, but a psycho with a poor sense of plot. I hope he's forgotten - he doesn't deserve any kind of fame after what he did. So Good Riddance to Bad Theatre.

Tech: StarCraft in Korea

While many gamers here in the U.S. think widespread, mass-market pro gaming is a pipe dream, it's a reality in South Korea. A nearly decade-old PC strategy game is still mind-numbingly popular there; StarCraft, released in 1998, was certainly a hit here in the States. I remember plenty of nights playing fierce 2v2 matches on But something strange happened - whereas SC lived its normal life here in the U.S. and faded away as newer PC games took its place, the game became wildly popular in Korea, where 3.5 million copies have been sold to date.

The depth of strategy and skill of the players in some of these videos is astonishing. Their fingers are literally flying, battling SC's outdated hotkey and unit command system almost as much as each other. If you're good enough with those keys, you can make units do things they weren't intended to do. Transport shuttles become mobile weapons platforms, resource gatherers become precious fighting units, and somehow having a base destroyed doesn't hurt as much.

Warning: If you don't know StarCraft, this video will make little sense.

Monday, April 16, 2007

News: I was going to say something...

...about the VA Tech massacre, but LawDog basically said it for me.

As much as I hate the nutjob that killed those helpless students, I have to wonder who dropped the ball here - how can a couple people be shot in a dorm and then the shooter is left free to roam the campus for a couple hours? Don't they have cops there? UF has its own police department (I think they have a SWAT team, too), and there are cops patrolling the school all the time. The pictures of the VA officers waiting outside, behind their cars, are eerily reminiscent of Columbine.

Then there's the university police prohibiting CCW on campus. I'd bet there was someone in that engineering hall who had a gun and wished to God he or she had it with them today. Carrying in school is a crime in FL, so it's not just a UF policy keeping me from bringing mine. But this kind of thing illustrates the blinders the people in power seem to have to what's happening...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Movies: MirrorMask

"MirrorMask" is, unfortunately, a perfect illustration of the fact that the talents of illustrators and comic book storytellers don't necessarily translate well to the big screen. For every successful Terry Gilliam, in other words, there's a Dave McKean - someone who knows how to put striking visuals on the screen, but who fails to back them up with intriguing story or compelling characters.

"MirrorMask" is about Helena, a girl who finds that she has entered a dreamy fantasy world on the eve of a life-changing event. This film is part of an old genre - running the gamut from "Alice in Wonderland" to "The Wizard of Oz" to "Labyrinth" - and mostly follows the blueprints. For instance, Helena soon meets Valentine, a performer, and the duo find themselves desperately searching for the McGuffin of the plot, the MirrorMask.

The performances in general are good, with Stephanie Leonidas' Helena satisfying most of the coming-of-age character points that must be hit. The pervasive CGI in the movie is done well, and often the results are astonishing, good-enough-to-frame images. The jazzy score from Iain Ballamy would be out of place in most movies, but it fits fine here.

The main problem with the movie though, at least for me, was that there's not much to it. The story is quite simple, there aren't a whole lot of characters (and even fewer characters with significant amounts of dialogue), and the whole thing ends up feeling a bit...empty, almost more like a student film project than a real movie (imagine "The Wizard of Oz" without the memorable song sequences, and where Dorothy just meets Scarecrow and never meets the Lion or the Tin Man). It's a chore to just sit through one disconnected happenstance after another.

Rating: 6/10

Food: A Sushi Survey

Finding good sushi outside of Japan is a chore. Finding good sushi in Gainesville is damn near impossible. Here's some of my takes on local eateries - you may find some uncomfortable reflections of raw-fish-joints that you've visited in your home town...

1) Ichiban - A pleasant interior with typical Japanese restaurant atmosphere. Service was pretty good. The rice, unfortunately, was consistently mushy and not very appetizing. The sushi was passable, but a bit expensive, especially for lunch. I'd consider coming again, but I wouldn't jump at the chance.

2) Miya Sushi - Again, typical Japanese restaurant decor (everyone likes blond wood tables and paper screens, I guess). Our waitress was hardly seen, even though the place was empty. The portions were tiny, the quality was below-average, and we were all left hungry. Pass.

3) Miraku - More of a hibachi place than an actual sushi bar, which is a bad sign. The sushi took forever to come out (they only had one person making it), and it didn't taste that great. Again, small portions and big prices. It's enough to make you want to grab something from the grocery store.

4) Dragonfly: Rolls & Bowls - A decent place - it's not a sit-down, full-service restaurant like its downtown big brother, but a fast casual joint serving quickly-thrown-together rolls. The prices are a bit more fair than at the other restaurants. $18 gets you 24 rolls, which ain't too bad. Quality is decent, but a far cry from the best I've had. I'd visit here once in awhile.

5) Bento's - Another fast-casual type of place. This is a popular Gainesville spot, but I think their noodle bowls are a better value. As sushi goes, the quality is slightly worse than Dragonfly, but not by much. Again, you're going to have to spend in the double digits if you want to be full...

Moral of the story, I guess, is that if you want to conserve the ducats, yoou're going to need to eat non-sushi meals.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Miscellany: Car Talk

One of my favorite radio shows is "Car Talk," the weekly call-in show hosted by former MIT grads and current auto mechanics, Tom and Ray Magliozzi (AKA "Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers"). It's easily one of NPR's most popular shows, and for good reason - the light, easygoing banter between the two brothers enlivens what could be a dull or depressing subject.

Listeners call in with their automotive problems (the show isn't live, though - all callers leave a message and are called back for taping) and the brothers do their best to diagnose the problem. The calls range from the mundane - "How often should I change the oil on this car?" - to the bizarre - "I need a way to keep goats off of my car" - and often the callers contribute their own humor, making for a pleasing threesome of comedic proportions.

The part of "Car Talk" I like best, though, is the Puzzler. This weekly riddle is sometimes an old chestnut, but most of the time it's some logic puzzle or automotive conundrum. I couldn't imagine something so cerebral popping up in mainstream commercial radio. It's a nice departure from the typical inane "Be the 10th Caller!" contests.

Having visited Boston, I have been to the "Car Talk" office in Cambridge Square. It's smaller than you might think. :)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Guns: Range stupidity

Unfortunately, not every gun owner is a paragon of responsibility and safety. While maybe 8 or 9 out of 10 shooters are competent in these areas, there's always that bad apple in the bunch that could potentially make us all look like idiots. Xavier's long line of posts highlights this phenomenon, but I thought I'd talk about some of my personal experiences with (a lack of) range safety.

Last week, some guy blew the clip off his hanging target holder in his lane. It's no big deal, and it happens sometimes if you are a beginner and you can't keep your shots on the paper. You just have to own up to it and pay to replace the clip you just destroyed. This guy, though, caught up in his own machismo apparently, starts taking potshots at the rest of the steel target holder, and then lies about it when he gets out to pay. Apparently the guy doesn't realize that shooting at a steel target at that close a range can cause pieces of the bullet to ricochet back towards the firing line. Not to mention the possibility of him snapping the wire of the target holder completely, shutting down the lane for the day.

I've seen people at the range who honestly do not belong there. There are little specks of glass on the floor in front of the firing line sometimes. Where do they come from? Light fixtures. People actually shoot and, intentionally or not, hit the ceiling, shattering the fluorescent light tubes there. You also see people with their "booger hooks on the bang switches" quite a bit. I've even seen wannabe tactical instructors giving lessons to security guards - not so disturbing in and of itself, but when people start literally stepping off the firing line drawing loaded guns from holsters, things tend to get a little iffy...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tech: One Laptop Per Child

You've probably heard about efforts to develop a $100 laptop for children in developing countries - but the project is getting closer and closer to fruition. The Children's Machine, or XO-1, is one of those ideas that seems utopian. Much of the world, aside from war-torn places like Darfur, is living relatively well - there's enough food to eat and water to drink. What is lacking for many children, however, is the chance to receive a modern education that could help them compete with the rest of the world in the Information Age.

Honestly, the rank and file of the children in these countries probably won't benefit much from these computers. Just because a child is from a poor country doesn't mean he or she will instantly take full advantage of the opportunity to learn. But in every group of people, there will be those who start tinkering and adapting to the technology. Maybe they'll start programming their own applications. Maybe they'll start writing their own blogs. Maybe they'll take classes in medicine. Some kid in Thailand or Brazil might be the next Einstein. If humanity can harness the gifted individuals who are currently languishing under the weight of poverty, we might all be better off.

The XO-1 is a good indication of how fast technology is moving. When I was in middle school, I used a laptop that weighed much more, used far more power, had a black-and-white screen, and was several times slower. The old laptop didn't have any wireless card, nor a digital camera, nor touchpads. Now, in a device that costs about $135, you're getting all those capabilities and more. Nice.

Books: Le Petit Larousse Illustré

I started learning French as a freshman in high school, and I've always wanted to get more proficient at it. One of the stumbling blocks a student of any foreign language finds is that the translation-type dictionaries ("French to English/English to French") soon fail to capture the exact nuance or meaning of a word in its native form. French, for example, is not a code or a funny translation scheme for English. That is, "bonjour" does not exactly equal "hello," and not every French word has an exact English analogue.

So after you've progressed past the "Comment allez-vous?" phase, you need something that can force you to think of the meaning of French words in terms of other French words. That's where the Larousse encyclopedic dictionary comes in. Containing 1800+ pages (with most in full color) and thousands of entries for French people, places, and things, this is the kind of intermediate level reference work that will serve people slugging through Camus' "La Peste." There is no English here - all the entries and definitions are in French. The only real knocks, I think, are the lack of individual pronunciations for each word and the somewhat simplistic nature of the definitions.

If you get even better at comprehending French, I can only imagine that the best dictionary will be something French college students buy for reference.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

School: Procrastination

Sometimes, the hardest writing in the world is rewriting. Having turned in the first draft of my Appellate Advocacy brief a month ago, I'm now waiting until the very last minute (it's due Friday) to revise it before I turn it in for good. This is a very bad habit, and I'm sure it'll haunt me in the future. Why do people put off work that they know they must do?

There are some excuses I suppose I could use in this case. I'm kind of sick of the subject, since we've been doing it for about three months now. I'm a little bit sick, and I feel like I don't have energy left to do things after classes have concluded for the day. I've already prepared several lines of reasoning for the oral arguments that I presented last week - and they turned out to be winners. And finally, the darn thing's already written! I could literally turn it in with an hour's worth of revisions and still get a good grade. So no worries, I guess...

Oh, it will get done eventually. I figure that it only took two nights to write the darn thing in the first place, so why should it take more than that to correct and redo it? I already have all the arguments and cases locked in my head, so it's not even a question of acquiring the knowledge.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Movies: Grindhouse

This isn't the first time Tarantino and Rodriguez have joined forces. If you've ever seen "From Dusk 'Til Dawn," one of the neatest things about it was how the wordy Tarantino crime movie suddenly metamorphosed into a gory, action-packed Rodriguez action horror flick. "Grindhouse" consists of two feature-length stories stitched together, with faux trailers and corny '70s-style rundown theatre segments filling the spaces in-between.

"Planet Terror," the first story, is the better of the two by a fairly wide margin. A parody/remake/pastiche of the "chemical zombie" line of zombie movies (exemplified by stuff like "Return of the Living Dead"), the story features Rose McGowan as a go-go girl turned messiah with an M4 carbine (with M203 grenade launcher) as a prosthetic leg.

The townsfolk predictably begin dying off from an outbreak of zombie-creating gas, and it's up to a last resistance from the survivors to stop the spread. There are some fun sight gags and hilarious gore (Nicotero, of "Day of the Dead" fame, worked on this one, and Tom Savini has a pretty big role), but it's nothing you haven't seen before.

The second feature is called "Death-Proof," and while Kurt Russell turns in an inspired performance as "Stuntman Mike" (the best work he's done in years), the story is mired by poor pacing, less gore and thrills than "Planet Terror," and a non-sensical story. Basically a takeoff on slasher flicks and old-school car movies like "Vanishing Point" (which even figures into the plot), "Death-Proof" abandons the genre conventions fairly early on, to its detriment. Tarantino never wrote a word for his characters he didn't like, so that's not surprising.

The trailers are pretty fun, and are uniformly entertaining. They tread the line between parody and homage quite well, with "Werewolf Women of the SS" coming eerily close to the old "Nazi frauleins in chains" movies.

Planet Terror rating: 7/10
Death-Proof rating: 5/10
Fake Trailers: 9/10

Here's my favorite of the fake trailers, "Thanksgiving." Warning - NSFW, and not for the kiddies (especially that trampoline part - ouch):

Monday, April 09, 2007

Guns: Tacticality

I stared for awhile at the catalog for LA Police Gear that I received in the mail today. I'm wondering how much of this stuff is absolutely necessary, especially for a decidedly non-LEO, non-military Average Joe like me. Sure, I understand having good quality pants and shirts that can withstand the rigors of daily CCW is important, and of course everyone should be able to buy whatever gear they want, but I have the feeling a roll-on luggage bag called the "Mission Ready" is pushing it.

A weird part of the catalog is the way guns and ammo are interspersed constantly throughout, and always of the tactical-black variety. No way are you going to see a Winchester 94 or Marlin 336 here; heck, I bet they don't even have any plain Jane wood-stocked 870s on the pages. No, it's all about ARs, GLOCKs, SIGs, juiced-up 1911s, and Springfield M1A SOCOM IIs.

The coup de grace, though, has to be the ZB-7™ Zoombang™-powered Trauma Pad™, designed to supplement body armor by responding immediately to "outside forces" (like bullets). The pad costs $50 - given that body armor is way more expensive than $50, I'm left with a simple question - if the ZB-7 is so effective, why isn't it incorporated into body armor in the first place?

Miscellany: Umbrella Reviews & Musings

The mini folding umbrellas are really pretty useful. I have one that readily fits into the flap on my backpack designed for a water bottle, yet opens into a 42" diameter canopy. It's light and unobtrusive, so I just keep it there all the time. It's useful whenever it's raining, of course, but also on those days when the sun is scorching the earth and you're standing there waiting for the bus out in the middle of the sidewalk (not all stops at UF have bus shelters).

The larger umbrellas are much better for anything more than a drizzle, however. Especially nice are the big golf umbrellas that can fit two or three people beneath their wide canopies. Even nicer are the windproof golf umbrellas with those handy flaps to let air through the top of the umbrella. Of course, once you've hit that point, it might be necessary to get a raincoat.

I used to have half a dozen umbrellas - they're so handy in Florida that it never hurts to have a few ready for guests, plus a backup in case you forget one on the bus or something. They're cheap; nearly all the umbrellas you can buy today are made in China, like most other consumer goods. I've never made my mind up whether this is good or bad - my gut says that competition is always best, but it's disheartening to see how people are treated back in the old country.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Music: Flesh

Yes, I do occasionally listen to vocal trance, which explains tonight's post:

The weird thing about "Flesh" is that it never got incorporated into a full album by the performer, Jan Johnston. Also, the original Brian Transeau mix of the song was never released; instead, we get an edited down version of the DJ Tiesto remix (which I have and which is, admittedly, pretty good).

The world of electronic dance music has gotten fairly ridiculously large over the years, with the Eurobeat-scored anime Initial D helping to make European style dance music hip again. It's definitely still a niche, though - go down to your local Best Buy and their "Electronic" section will likely group ambient music from Vangelis with the likes of Paul Oakenfold.

Happy Easter

Once, I heard that churches swell two times a year - Christmas and Easter. This always seemed paradoxical to me - if you truly believe in Jesus Christ, why would you only acknowledge that twice a year? But hey, I guess people can do whatever they like. I wish everyone a pleasant, spiritual Easter (and belated Passover greetings, as well).

Regardless of what you do believe, however, it's evident that much of the greatest Western art is rooted in the deep emotions and images concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus. From the incredulity of The Last Supper, the sorrow expressed in Michelangelo's Pieta, to the mystery and wonder of the resurrection, Easter is a time of profound depictions.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Movies: The Neverending Story

Time for a heavy dose of '80s nostalgia today; "The Neverending Story" is a classic children's fantasy film loosely adapted from a German novel by Michael Ende. It tells the tale-within-a-tale of Atreyu, a warrior out to save the land of Fantasia from a horrific "Nothing" that threatens to devour the world. Reading his story is the lonely Bastian, a downtrodden modern day youth who finds a curious book called "The Neverending Story."

Any kid who grew up when this movie was on VHS probably got to see it quite a bit in school, mostly because of the positive "reading is entertaining" message that's implicit throught. Everybody plays it straight, and I thought Noah Hathaway did a phenomenal job as Atreyu. The film is also gifted with a memorable score from Giorgio Moroder, including the famous theme "Bastian's Happy Flight," which is probably my favorite traveling montage music of all time:

Of course, no "Neverending Story" post would be complete without the infamous cornball music video from Limahl...

...And the "Family Guy" parody...

TV: Dinosaurs

While it's unusual for sitcoms to push the envelope (save for, perhaps, a "Very Special Episode"), the TV series "Dinosaurs" manages to artfully skirt the line between "funny" and "offensive." Produced by Michael Jacobs and Brian Henson (yes, that Brian Henson), this ambitious series is a typical nuclear family-style sitcom - except for the fact that the whole cast is made up of anthropomorphic talking dinosaurs. Primetime puppet shows are about as rare as free-market communists, so already we have an interesting concept.

Earl Sinclair, a typical Ralph Kramden-esque working stiff, leads his family through all the strange happenings of 65,000,000 BC Pangaea. Along the way are hilarious send-ups and satires of very human foibles - greedy developers clearcutting forests, politicians, materialistic teenagers. This kind of social commentary would be dynamite on its own, but "Dinosaurs" manages to weave this message-making with stories about the basically-good Sinclair family, which helps keep the series from being preachy.

The show was, above all other things, environmentally conscious, which is reflected nowhere more than the final episode. Earl, spraying defoliant at the prodding of his boss, inadvertently destroys all plant life on the planet and then causes a new Ice Age. This kills off all the dinosaurs. How's that for a sitcom series finale?

Friday, April 06, 2007

School: Oral Argument

One of the most tense periods I've experienced in law school happened today, in the minutes before my scheduled final oral argument in Appellate Advocacy. While there's certainly been stressful times these past couple semesters, I can't recall the last time I was so nervous before I had to speak in public. I've done presentations and such in undergrad before, but legal arguments are more meticulous and far more formal, and there would be no PowerPoint to aid me.

It went pretty well. Before an appeals court, there often isn't much time to present your case before the judges start peppering you with questions. It's imperative that any questions are dealt with openly and frankly, before smoothly returning to the meat of your argument. You get bonus points for pre-emptively addressing issues the court might have with your position, especially if you can come up with novel ways to support your case.

The bottom line, though, is preparation, but perhaps not how one might think it applies. There's a certain minimum knowledge of the caselaw required, of course, but to truly do well, you have to apply those principles at a higher Yomi layer than your opponent. You make an argument, other side makes a counter-argument - but if you can counter this counter-argument, you can really hit the opposition's position hard.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tech: Joost, or, why hasn't this caught on yet?

P2PTV is still in its infancy, mainly because broadband penetration isn't quite up to the level that would support such endeavors on a massive scale. When it does, I expect TV-over-theNet to be as ubiquitous as iTunes, or potentially even more so (especially if said TV is free and supported only by commercials). A nice model for it might be Joost, a program from the founders of Skype and Kazaa.

With Joost, you can pick which channels to watch and exactly what you wish to watch. They have all sorts of stuff that seems tailor-made for the savvy Web denizen - everything from "Ren & Stimpy" to "Fifth Gear." It's completely free, supported just like how conventional TV is supported - through commercial advertising. Somehow, though, commercials just aren't as intrusive when they're on your PC, and the ads can be targeted to your account - meaning you'll never have to sit through another ad for the AARP if your viewing habits skew young.

There's already stiff competition from services like Youtube and the various broadcast networks' free online content, but Joost seems like a good solution to the problem. It's free, it's completely legal, there's nothing that needs to be stored on your computer, and all it needs to support it are the traditional once-every-fifteen-minutes ads that people have accepted for years. I expect this is the tip of a very huge iceberg...

Politics: Good Sweet Mike, I hope it doesn't vote

Amid the worldwide hullaballoo about the captured British sailors, there was a quieter but even more significant story, at least for anyone interested in the '08 presidential election.

Hillary and Obama are raising money hand over fist in a frantic effort to capture the Democratic nomination - pretty dramatic that a freshman Senator from Illinois is almost matching a Clinton (who has at her disposal the deadliest fundraiser in politics). There are, of course, lots of Dems who simply don't care who's up for the nomination.

Unfortunately, the only Democratic candidate I might actually vote for is way behind in funds, and had this to say:

"Money isn't going to vote," said New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who
raised $6 million for his campaign. "Voters are going to vote."

I hope so, Bill. I hope so. Because if 2008 turns into Clinton v. Giuliani, I think I might just jump on a rocketship and speed away at a substantial fraction of the speed of light; special relativity will leapfrog me far into the future through time dilation. w00t.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Music: River of Dreams

I'm not the world's biggest Billy Joel fan, but I have to admit, many of his chart-toppers stay stuck in your head for some crazy reason. I've currently got "River of Dreams" stuck in my head, but I always used to call it "In the Middle of the Night."

Here's an amateur music video of the song that somehow manages to be endearing.

Guns: That strange age

I'm an unabashed firearms enthusiast, for pretty much all the reasons you can think of. There's the obvious practical considerations, as well as a more abstract connection with a free republic that goes along with owning weapons (an idea that goes back to the ancient Greek panoply). I understand the desire to defend oneself with a firearm, and that modern society often demands that firearm be concealable (that is, a handgun).

(Note: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, seek a qualified attorney if you need to know the relevant statutes and all the baggage associated with them)

Strangely enough, Federal law has different standards of age for buying handguns versus shotguns/rifles. You cannot buy handguns from a dealer if you are under 21. Buying handgun ammunition from a dealer when you are under 21 is also a no-no (note, though, that the distinction between handgun and rifle ammunition (18 U.S.C. Sec. 922 (9)(b)(1)) is pretty nebulous these days, with rifles chambered in pistol calibers and rifle cartridges being shot out of handguns).

There are ways to stay well within the law and still get the tools you need for self-defense. In many states, you can buy handguns from private parties while only being 18, for example. Many of the online ammo stores (like MidwayUSA) aren't Federal dealers and can thus sell handgun ammo to 18-20 year olds. In a way, it's curious that you can get an AR-15 from a dealer at 18 that holds 30 rounds of 5.56mm, but you can't buy a single-shot .22 target pistol from that same dealer.

If your position is even more dire (perhaps a felony conviction, and for some reason you cannot get your rights back), note that muzzleloading guns and their replicas are "antique firearms" under Federal law and thus are not burdened by the same restrictions as other guns. Obey the law, know your rights, and stay safe.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

School: The Championship Aftermath

I wouldn't want to ride a bike down University Avenue right now. The remnants of last night's full-scale, street-flooding celebration of the Gators' championship win were readily apparent on University Ave. today. Broken bottles, strands of toilet paper hanging from streetlights, and a general feeling of "ulgh" highlight the calamity inflicted upon a landscape when thousands of drunken college students start celebrating.

It's definitely a bit disconcerting, something so ugly coming out of UF's beautifully played final game. One police officer was even run over by a speeding Tacoma last night, and is currently in the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Given the massive crowd last night, complete with impromptu fireworks and eventually petty acts of arson, I'm surprised no one else was hurt.

While sports are fine, in the end, it's only a game. I understand why raucous postgame celebrations occur, but it's still something people should discourage, and not turn a blind eye to.

Tech: God of War 2 Review

Perhaps the PS2's swan song, "God of War 2" is a fitting sequel to the original bestselling action-adventure video game. Starring Kratos, the unbelievably tough Spartan warrior perpetually out for revenge (look up "badass" in the dictionary and Krato's picture will be there), GOW2 starts with a bang. The first level is essentially one huge setpiece battle with an animated, skyscraper-size Colossus of Rhodes, who threatens to flatten Kratos like a pancake.

The boss encounters don't stop there, though. In GOW2, you'll encounter many, many iconic characters from Greek mythology...and kill them. The controls feel tight and responsive, the graphics and sound are probably among the PS2's best efforts, and the story, while over-the-top, manages the rare feat of ending on a satisfying note while still leaving ample room for a sequel. Most importantly, the ultraviolence and dynamic presentation of the first game are here in droves.

So why the relatively low score? The combat still feels button-mashy, missing the tactical complexity from other games like "Ninja Gaiden" or "Devil May Cry." In general, Kratos is best served with using and upgrading his default, signature weapon - the whip/sword/hook-like Blades of Athena, which kind of dampens the variety of the combat. Many of the new puzzle elements are lifted wholesale from other games (like "Prince of Persia"), the puzzle design sometimes lacks the user-friendliness of other games (like Zelda), and there's a disturbing sense of deja vu when fighting almost all the non-boss enemies - they're basically exactly the same, right down to the animations.

Still though, this is probably the best game that will be released this year, and it's easily the best PS2 game in years.

Rating: 92/100

Sports: It's all just a little bit of history repeating...

The Florida Gators defeated Ohio State (again) to win the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (again). For anyone outside of Gainesville, this might not be an interesting story, but most UF students who read local papers and see the players around the university know how special this team is. The starting five includes the Oh-Fours (named because they entered school in 2004) - Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Taurean Green and senior Lee Humphrey. Providing support off the bench are Walter Hodge, Chris Richard, Marreese Speights, and Dan Werner.

These guys are the definition of "team." No one player is the go-to guy; no one player is so important that the team cannot function without him. In terms of offensive firepower, the 06-07 Gators had formidable weapons inside (Horford, Richard, Noah) and deadly-accurate shooters outside (Humphrey, Green, and Brewer). Defensively, thanks to the coaching of Billy Donovan, the team tenaciously guarded the perimeter and allowed their big men inside to clean up the glass. Off the court, the Oh-Fours and the Seniors had a special bond that is rare to see in today's ego-fueled college basketball game. Nobody on the Gators made First Team All-American; there are no Durants or Odens on the Gators. But then, Durant and Oden don't have two championship rings, either.

This victory feels like deja vu in a number of ways. Not only did UF beat OSU 86-60 in a December basketball game, but the BCS championship was also captured by UF over OSU. Man, talk about one school "owning" another. It is, of course, pretty impressive for OSU to get to the championship games in both sports, but history tends to forget about second-place finishes. So congratulations to the still national champs, the Gators.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Fool's Day

Okay, time for a confession - I'm not that great of an April Fool's Day prankster. Some people go to elaborate lengths to freak out, gross out, or blank out their buddies. The best April Fool's prank I can think of is when my sister and I woke my cousin up early by telling him that the oven was on fire. Seriously. That's it.

Thank goodness for the modern age. Now, websites have all sorts of pranks that you can try out on your friends. Here's a good one - watch out, you better be over 18 because some of those pranks are pretty disgusting...

Happy April Fool's Day! :-)

Movies: Macross Plus - The Movie

Anime has never had a shortage of shows based on giant fighting robots, and one of the most persistent of the breed has been the "Macross" series. As with any franchise, there have been ups and downs in the Macross saga (including the awful Macross II movie). The high-water mark of Macross (and indeed, of the entire transforming robot genre) is probably "Macross Plus."

"Macross Plus" is sort of like "Top Gun," except Kenny Loggins has been replaced by Yoko Kanno, Tom Cruise has been replaced by Isamu Dyson, and the F-14s have been replaced by futuristic transforming fighters. Two rival test pilots square off against each other, both in the sky and for the affections of an old flame. Things get complicated when a super-powerful artificial intelligence starts to take over the world with hypnotic pop music.

The movie version of "Macross Plus" is a sterling illustration of the adage that less is more. While the original miniseries was composed of four separate 40 minute episodes, the movie combines all the episodes, adds or expands key scenes, and cuts a substantial amount of fat from the equation. What's left is a tighter narrative, more emotional high points, and a better ending (spoilers).