Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miscellany: Sleep Deprivation

There are a few experiences that are common to all humans, and sleep is one of them. No matter where you live or who you are, you're going to have to go to sleep eventually.

In order to finish my paper on Guatemala, I had to stay up until 6 in the morning. This kind of sleep deprivation always wrecks my concentration, no matter how many times I go through it. It's almost as if my brain is telling me something...

ulgh. I feel like Captain Picard after the events of "Night Terrors":

Saturday, April 26, 2008

School: Terminal Velocity

It's exam time here at Shangrila Towers. Studying for law finals is bad enough, but this semester, I have an International Criminal Law paper on Guatemala that must be completed, too. For the last couple weeks I've been working around the clock to get prepared. I often wonder what semesters would be like if I could put this kind of diligent work in all the time...

Music: No More Tears

A youngster who is only familiar with John "Ozzy" Osbourne from his stint on "The Osbournes" reality TV show might be surprised to find out that Mr. Osbourne is also a fairly storied rocker in his own right. I sort of tuned out on Ozzy's career after his split from Sabbath, but in 1991 he had a major success with this little number, "No More Tears":

It's simple, it's well-produced, and it was enough to elevate its host album to 4x platinum. And after screeching through Ozzy's vocals on "Paranoid" while playing Rock Band, I've definitely gained a better appreciation of the man's skills. Who knows what would have happened if he had kept cleaner during the '70s?

Guns: Todd Jarrett, again

I'm under the gun in terms of studying for finals this semester, so instead of writing all about shooting technique, I'm going to let someone far more qualified speak on my behalf. Here's IPSC Champion Todd Jarrett, here with some interesting lessons:

Books: My Grandfather's Son

My Grandpa reads a lot more nonfiction than I do. Every time I see him, he has a new book about history or politics. He's especially fond of autobiographies, so it wasn't much of a surprise when he gave me "My Grandfather's Son," by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

On the bench, Thomas has been characterized as taciturn. This autobiography, though, feels like the writing of someone who needs to acknowledge the sacrifices and effort that others expended for him. Thomas starts with his early life growing up in Pinpoint, Georgia, dirt-poor and feeling the effects of segregation. A remarkable and unlikely path to the Supreme Court follows, with the climax of the book being chiefly about his bitter confirmation fight.

Now most people have strong opinions about Justice Thomas' jurisprudence. Unfortunately, the book ends right before any description of his work on the court. I suspect that the case opinions contain everything Thomas has or had wanted to say about the cases that have been before him.

Friday, April 25, 2008

TV: Wings

When I used to stay over at my Grandparents' place over the summer, I usually had to share a room with my aunt. I appreciated that, since it probably wasn't convenient for her. One thing we used to do was watch reruns of "Wings" on the USA Network. The show had an opening based on an abbreviated Schubert piece:

It was a bit over my head at the time (jokes about sex toys don't really translate to a 9 year-old), but the humor was broad enough so that anyone could understand it. Critics have labeled it as "Cheers" at an airport, which is probably fair, but, although it wasn't innovative, it was entertaining in a workmanlike way, I guess.

Most of the performers in the show didn't really experience a career boost, except for perhaps Tony Shalhoub and Thomas Haden Church. Like in most shows, the supporting characters were often a lot funnier than the leads, especially the relationship between the acerbic Fay and the arrogant Roy:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Movies: Night of the Living Dead

I'll never forget the first time I saw "Night of the Living Dead." It was Halloween, and Rob Zombie (of all people) was hosting the Sci-Fi Channel's "Zombie-a-Go-Go" movie marathon. I was a youngster, and Rob Zombie's monotone intro to the flick went something like this: "All right. Up next is 'Night of the Living Dead.' Yeah, yeah, I know everyone's seen it a million times, but it's still a classic."

I was instantly sucked in. How could you not be? Seven strangers, trapped inside a farmhouse, with a horde of flesh-eating corpses clawing their way inside...it's the stuff of nightmares. I eventually had to go trick-or-treating that night, so I missed the climax of the film, but I never forgot it.

The next brush I had with NotLD was watching a grainy, low-quality version on my computer over dial-up modem. I finally got to see the entire film, including the memorable ending. Years later, I picked up the "Millenium Edition" DVD of NotLD (to my knowledge, it's still the best version available - the picture quality annihilates pretty much everything else out there).

One of the interesting things about the film is the fact that it inadvertently lapsed into the public domain. It was released in 1968, back when you had to reserve your rights when you published something to keep your copyright, and the distributor left the copyright notice out of the film when the title was changed from "Night of the Flesh Eaters." The creators, including legendary director George Romero, never saw any of the profits from the film.

News: FLDS

Depending on what you read, you'll either come to the conclusion that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a dangerous and abusive cult, or that they're a misunderstood minority. Their settlement, the Yearning For Zion ranch (strange how it's always abbreviated to "YFZ" by the press) was the site of a raid a few weeks ago - based on allegations of abuse.

A survivor's account:

The FLDS view:

In any event, it seems that the "16 year-old girl" who called authorities in the first place is either nonexistent, or worse, someone with a history of making false claims. I'm not one to allow children to be oppressed, but if cops will storm into a place based on a phony anonymous tipster, it looks bad, even if it's okay under Illinois v. Gates.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Links: Blogroll Update

I'm adding a few more sites into my relatively sparse blogroll. To be honest, I think a lot of bloggers have so many links that it's difficult to keep track of what's on there. The whole thing is really more of a convenience for me (for when I'm logged on to a foreign computer - that way, I only have to visit my blog to be able to get to everyone else's blog). The additions:

Rachel Lucas: An extremely popular blogger - her posts are mostly commentary on news, politics, and dogs. She seems to write with extra verve in these contentious times. Take that, Feminazis!

The Volokh Conspiracy: Run by a number of authors, but chaired by Eugene Volokh. All about law, current events, and court commentary. Much of it has a decidedly libertarian slant, but not nearly as pronounced as Reason's blog.

Reason Magazine - Hit & Run: They've toned down their appeals for subscriptions and mostly stick to news and commentary. They also stick to their mantra ("Free Minds and Free Markets") pretty closely. Best place for neutral election news, IMHO, since the contributors usually don't hew very closely to either of the two major parties.

Miscellany: The Earliest Weapons

I took a course called "Development of World Civilizations" in undergrad, because in my first couple of years in college I still believed in getting a well-rounded education. Reality hit me like a 2x4, though, and I took engineering classes exclusively in my junior and senior years. That's a bit of a shame, since I liked studying human evolution and ancient civilizations.

Specifically, I learned about one of the first weapons humans ever made - the atlatl (I pronounce it "attle-attle"):

The atlatl, and other tools like it, are quintessentially human concoctions. The earliest hominids were fairly outmatched against the rest of nature - no claws, poor senses, mediocre foot speed. It's sort of inspiring that our species could go from launching a spear to launching a rocket in about 50,000 years.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tech: The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Video games are not immune from the "follow the leader" type copycatting that you see in television and movies. It's human nature, I guess - you see your neighbor prospering and you inevitably want a piece of the action. A few recent stories highlight this tendency:

First up are the rumors that "Guitar Hero IV," the latest sequel in the popular rhythm game series, will feature not just guitar controllers, but also vocal tracks and other instruments. Hmm. Sounds more like a band. A rock...band.

Another rumor that just refuses to die is the not-so-secret Wii Remote ripoff that Microsoft is reportedly developing for the 360. Frankly, I think we'd all be a lot better off if Microsoft put half the effort into 360 quality control as it has in this new controller. While my Halo Edition 360 seems to be working fine, you just never know when disaster will strike.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Miscellany: The Road to Recovery

After my bike fall a month ago, I'm pleased to report that I'm out of my sling, and moving my arm around. It'll be a couple months at least before I'm fully recovered, but it's nice to be able to fold laundry again. Some of my friends were curious about what actually happened, so here's a rundown.

From orthoinfo.org:

Radial Head Fracture:

Trying to break a fall by putting your hand out in front of you seems almost instinctive. But the force of the fall could travel up the lower forearm bones and dislocate the elbow. It also could break the smaller bone (radius) in the forearm. A break can occur near the elbow at the radial "head."


Radial head fractures are common injuries, occurring in about 20 percent of all acute elbow injuries. They are more frequent in women than in men and occur most often between 30 and 40 years of age.

Approximately 10 percent of all elbow dislocations involve a fracture of the radial head. As the upper arm bone (humerus) and the ulna return to their normal alignment, a piece of the radial head bone could be chipped off (fractured).


Pain on the outside of the elbow
Swelling in the elbow joint
Difficulty in bending or straightening the elbow accompanied by pain
Inability or difficulty in turning the forearm (palm up to palm down or vice versa)


Radial head fractures are classified according to the degree of displacement (movement from the normal position).

Type I Fractures -
Type I fractures are generally small, like cracks, and the bone pieces remain fitted together. The fracture may not be visible on initial X-rays, but can usually be seen if the X-ray is taken three weeks after the injury. Nonsurgical treatment involves using a splint or sling for a few days, followed by early motion. If too much motion is attempted too quickly, the bones may shift and become displaced.

Guns: Rifle Grenades

The rifle grenade is an interesting answer to a problem that was posed when grenades were first used in warfare. A grenade's range is obviously limited by how far you can throw one - and unless you have a few Nolan Ryans in your unit, there's a good chance that distance isn't very far. Of course, you might be able to use a grenade launcher to extend this range, but that means not being able to carry a rifle...

Enter the rifle grenade. It harnesses the propulsion and sighting system you already have - you stick the grenade on the end of your rifle, and voila! Your rifle just became a grenade launcher. It's a bit more complicated than that, though. Early rifle grenades didn't have a bullet trap system (to catch the bullet and gases as they exit the barrel), so you had to use special blanks (if you mistakenly tried using a live round with one of these on your muzzle...).

They've been mostly replaced by integrated underbarrel grenade launchers, but they still work:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Music: Maneater

Okay, this one might elicit some groans - today's song that I can't get out of my head is "Maneater," just one of the many megahits from '80s pop duo Hall and Oates. I have a different perspective on '80s music than most, I suppose; I was forced to listen to endless hours of "adult contemporary" on the radio when I was a kid, so I'm pretty well-acquainted with most of the pop music from back then:

It's a fun song, and like most of Hall and Oates' output, it's genuinely catchy pop/rock/R&B. One bit of trivia: I always thought the duo was called "Holland Oats" when I was growing up. I imagined a big Dutch windmill and a lot of grain, like this:

Food: Adam's Rib Company

Adam's Rib Company is a restaurant located near the Wally World on 13th Street. It's a small place, like most of these independent barbecue joints. There's a cramped counter with stools to serve the lunch crowd, and a few tables, too. The whole affair has a pretty casual feel - yes, there's an actual "Adam" back there, cooking your food.

You don't come to places like this to enjoy the scenery - you come for enough smoked meats to stuff a walrus. The standout at Adam's was the pulled pork, which was tender and flavorful. The ribs, on the other hand, were dry and a bit of a disappointment, given the fact that it's supposed to be the specialty. Thankfully, there are a lot of sauces available at the counter to dress things up a bit. The accompaniments (collard greens, french fries, etc.) were fairly tasty.

It's about even with the other BBQ places around Gainesville, so I give Adam's Rib Company...

2/4 stars

Miscellany: A most expensive bottle

Humanity, if nothing else, is good at exploiting materials. Aluminum is a good example - it's light, it's corrosion resistant, and it's easy to work with. I guess that's why a lot of the things I own are made from aluminum - my flashlight, my carry gun, and now my water bottle:

Yeah, it's a Sigg bottle. You've probably seen them before; they're trendy, all-aluminum bottles with designer exteriors. Like the other SIG, they are pricey. I never thought I'd pick one up, but the massive amounts of water I was downing while studying convinced me that grabbing one of these would be a good idea.

It's worked out so far. The main selling point for these things is that they don't leech chemicals into any water held inside them. You can leave one full of water out in the sun or in a locked car and theoretically, the water should taste exactly the same. I can't really tell the difference either way, but it's nice to have a bottle that's almost impossible to break.

Books: Lord of the Flies

They say that when it comes to food, "the first bite is with the eyes." I posit that the same is true for books; an eye-popping or striking cover can do a lot to sell a book, especially to a young boy. That's what happened with me and "Lord of the Flies," by William Golding.

I'm not sure who painted the cover illustration above, but it neatly encapsulates what the book is really about. "Lord of the Flies" is not about a tropical island or even the conflict between the marooned boys on that island - rather, it's about evil and human nature. First published in 1954, the book takes traditional notions of 19th century inborn civility and society and tosses them out the window.

As an allegory, it's fairly powerful, I suppose. But the real strength of the book isn't that "Piggy = science" or other such simple equivalencies, but that these boys feel more real than simply talking heads attached to a theme. We've met these kids before. And that makes what happens even scarier.

TV: Battlestar Galactica

You can tell a lot about a TV series from its intro, and "Battlestar Galactica" is no exception. The original 1978 version had an almost triumphant opening with a rather romantic score:

The re-imagined version of "Battlestar Galactica" ditches the space opera stuff in favor of something a bit more somber - an opening stinger introducing the Cylons and opening credits played over a plaintive lament:

Because that's what the re-imagined series is - a long funeral for humanity. Every ship destroyed, every crew member lost, is one step closer to extinction for the survivors (the exact number of people that are still alive is displayed prominently at the beginning of each episode). It's dark, it's depressing, and it's more fun to watch than the original.

Granted, I don't enjoy the random "hooking up" that characters do, but I guess it's to be expected (sex sells). The remake fares better with the pseudo-religious aspects - the Cylons are monotheistic, but it seems their religion is inextricably intertwined with humanity's. Ironically, like in the original series, the pitched space battles are the most entertaining. Galactica is nearly always against overwhelming odds, but through scrappy maneuvers and brave sacrifices, she hasn't been destroyed...yet.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Politics: Of Astroturf & Federalism

The Pennsylvanian Democratic primaries are coming up, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are doing their best to (rather shamelessly) pander to PA's gun owners. If you've seen any of the debates (including the one last week), then you saw the standard presidential candidate's response when confronted with a history of anti-gun measures. Here's part of the Althouse liveblog of the debate:

9:24. It's the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings. People are saying a prayer. It takes a fraction of a second for Obama to bow his head. Prayer: Bows head. Great reflexes! That's just an intro to a question about gun control. Hillary keeps talking about Mayor Nutter — love the name. Both Hillary and Obama do exactly what you'd expect them to do: Distinguish between the good guys, who deserve respect as they go their traditional ways, and the bad guys, who deserve regulation. We can be sensible. Balanced. Don't give guns to "the mentally deranged," Obama advises. That's all very nice but do you support the D.C. ban, the one that's before the Supreme Court? Hillary waffles about how she doesn't know the facts. She does a federalism riff: What might work in New York is certainly not going to work in Montana.

That last bit is a pretty contradictory thing for a Yale-educated lawyer to say, at least if Clinton is trying to convince people that she thinks they do have a right to own a gun. If that's the case, "what works in New York" is entirely irrelevant. Both Obama and Clinton probably took Constitutional Law when they were in law school - the bedrock principle of the Bill of Rights is that some rights cannot ever be legislated away, even if a majority goes along with it.

And it's not surprising Obama got the endorsement of the AHSA - a gun control organization masquerading as a pro-gun rights group. It's an interesting attempt to fake grassroots support - "astroturf," as we call it in the blogosphere. For someone who's supposedly trying to change politics as usual, it's a distressingly familiar approach.

That's because in recent years, many Dems have realized that the gun control issue is a loser with most of America, and so they've changed their rhetoric. I mean, politicians have always lied about what they're going to do when they get elected. What's new about modern politics is that men and women running for office misrepresent what they did in the past, too. When Thomas Jefferson ran in 1800, he probably didn't try to convince Federalists that he was something he was not.

Miscellany: A Salute to Stand-Up Comedy

I had a bad experience with stand-up comedy as a kid. I went into the school talent show with literally no material (not a good idea), and I froze up like a deer in headlights. Since that experience, I've learned to appreciate the skills of stand-up comics.

Stand-up is a high risk/high reward scenario. On the one hand, if you have good bits and you do your job as a showman, you can make a whole room full of strangers laugh - a very special gift. If you're bad, though, you can be heckled or booed right off the stage, or you can say things you might regret. Witness Michael Richards' case if you need more evidence (there's some foul language in this one):

Good stand-up, though, works in a way most comedy can't. Everyone has told a funny story or too, so we instantly connect with the format of a single person trying to be funny. The best stand-up exploits this. Here's a good bit by Kathy Griffin (again, foul language):

Some stand-ups appeal to our prejudices. If you can make someone laugh at something that's normally a bit distasteful, you're probably pretty good. Here's a little "Then & Now" - Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle (once again, NSFW):

A lot of stand-up comics eventually become writers for sitcoms and other shows. Some, like Robin Williams and Steve Martin, hit it big and become mainstream actors. But for most of them, it's an often thankless, demanding job to come up with new material. So it's not surprisingly that people do steal jokes. It's difficult to prove, and a lot of comedy does sound alike, but I still think it's dishonest.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Links: South Park & Digital Distribution

If you're at all familiar with the Internet, you know that modern technology makes it really easy to infringe copyrights. The MPAA and the RIAA have taken a hardline stance in the past, but a more recent trend has been to harness the power of the Web to distribute television shows for free. The best example of this is probably the official website for "South Park," the irreverent (and libertarian-leaning) Comedy Central cartoon.

Sure, there's some ads (in the form of banners and brief commercials), but, like in regular TV, they're few and far between compared to how much programming you're receiving. More importantly, it takes more effort to download an episode than to stream it from the official site. This is key - when you can make ad-supported content more convenient than the illegal stuff, you're virtually ensuring that you'll be successful (at least if the show is any good).

South Park is just one example of a growing trend. Episodic shows like Battlestar Galactica and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" have also been released this way, making it much easier for new viewers to catch up on a series. You don't often find win-win situations in life, but I think this is one of them.

Tech: Super Smash Bros. Brawl

To a certain kind of video game fan, "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" for the Nintendo Wii is the equivalent of "Crisis on Infinite Earths" - it brings together almost all of the greatest Nintendo characters in one huge crossover event. There's Mario and Link, of course, but also Samus, Pikachu, and Kirby:

Like the previous entries in this series of beat-em-up video games, Brawl is all about knocking your opponents off a platform while staying on yourself. Unlike a traditional fighting game like Street Fighter or Tekken, the game focuses on easy execution of moves and good timing rather than intricate combos or in-depth mindgames. It's fast, it's frenetic, and it's accessible.

The combat and graphics haven't changed much from past entries, which would ordinarily be a huge minus. Thankfully, Brawl has a metric ton of different modes and features to play around with, from the simple but addictive coin launcher minigame to a cutscene-laden single player adventure called "The Subspace Emissary." Add in the fact that you can play matches via Nintendo's (rather cumbersome) online servers and you have a pretty decent game.

Rating: 87/100

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

School: Lexicon of Curses

We're wrapping up the semester, and Copyrights class has meandered into all sorts of smaller topics. We've already hit the big stuff - what material can be copyrighted, infringement, fair use - and it's not too hard to grasp the important bits.

The application of the law in this area is fascinating, though. Unlike some other subjects, copyright infringement is highly visible all around us, from Front Sight's recent pilfering of Marko's "The Gun is Civilization" essay to Ms. Rowling getting pissed over a Harry Potter fansite's new book.

The website run by the book's author is the Harry Potter Lexicon (no link because the site's down at the moment). Given the fact that J.K. Rowling has more money than God, and, along with Warner Bros., can probably afford some of the best IP lawyers on the planet, it'll be interesting to see if the challenge holds water.

Music: Stand By Me

My family and I used to eat at this little pizza joint back when I was a kid. Like so many things from childhood, it's not there anymore. What I remember most from that place was a jukebox that sat in the back, loaded with both oldies and some newer songs. The song I liked to queue up when we went there? "Stand By Me," by Ben E. King:

Ben E. King (you might know him as one of the lead singers of "The Drifters") is an old man now, and I've never met him. But the fact that this 60s ballad was one of my favorite songs on that jukebox says a whole lot about how universal music can be.

Food: Zapp's Potato Chips

Buying lunch when you're stuck at the law school can be an exercise in frustration. Whether you're buying from the coffee stand, the book store, or Wilbert's across the street, you're probably going to run into some clunkers. Thankfully, Wilbert's sells some good potato chips that you may or may not have ever eaten: Zapp's potato chips (warning - site uses Shockwave).

These chips are made in Gramercy, Louisiana. The default plain variety is a bit bland, but crunchy enough. It's only when you get into the more exotic flavors, like "cajun dill," that the chips really start to shine. Best of all, they come in big enough bags to share with others.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Guns: Campus Carry and "Kids"

CNN just did a surprisingly fair take on concealed carry reform on college campuses. It has some of the standard "I'm scared of other students with guns" responses, as well as Gene Ferrara, a Cincinnati police chief who says "I don't think the answer to bullets flying is to send more bullets flying." (oh really? - then why do you carry a gun, Gene?)

One thing I truly dislike, however, is the article summary that calls college students "kids." Barring Doogie Howser cases, college students aren't kids. A lot of them aren't even the stereotypical irresponsible twenty-somethings you see in Hollywood movies. In fact, many of my friends are married, nearly all of them have had "real" jobs, and some even have kids (real kids) of their own.

I offer an alternate explanation (just a hypothesis) - perhaps a lot of young adults have a feeling that they're immortal, or, at the very least, unkillable. It may or may not be true, but it helps explain why these young people discount the value of having a firearm for self-defense.

1000th post!

(It's the only thing I could think of with a "1000" in it)

It's been about one and a half years since the start of this blog. That's pretty much the longest time I've ever kept a continous journal of anything, let alone pop culture, food, and guns. This is the 1000th post on Shrangrila Towers, which is pretty crazy when I think about how much time each post takes nowadays.

I'd like to thank anyone who's stopped by during that time. Thanks for reading and commenting; it's always more interesting when people can respond and contribute to what you write than when you have to write in a vacuum.

Books: Le Petit Prince

One of the rites of passage for someone learning the French language is "Le Petit Prince" (The Little Prince), one of the best-known works of children's fantasy in the Western hemisphere. The book was written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, and it includes flights of fancy comparable to the best of Lewis Caroll (though without much of Caroll's more biting allusions).

It tells the story of the Little Prince, a little boy from another planet. He and his companion, a wayward pilot lost in the Sahara, travel to distant worlds with a large cast of characters. My favorite of these vignettes is the one that features the Businessman, since it includes a not-so-subtle slight on materialism and workaholics.

The story has inspired a lot of interesting tributes, but the coolest one is the Mylene Farmer song, "Dessine-moi un Mouton" (Draw me a sheep):

The sky is empty without imagination...

Politics: Revisionist History

I'm knee-deep in my paper on the Guatemalan civil war (and its aftermath), so I might as well blog about it.

One thing that's always bandied about whenever you talk about Central American history is the United States' involvement during the Cold War. 1954 wasn't exactly our finest hour - a CIA-backed coup in Guatemala overturned a leftist, but democratically-elected government in favor of a military regime more friendly to U.S. interests. We've since apologized, and the really atrocious acts in Guatemala occurred a couple decades later, but it's still regrettable.

The conventional history says that the noble indigenous Mayans, repressed for centuries, allied with the Communist insurgents to fight the tyrannical fascist government during the civil war. I've been reading several books by anthropologist David Stoll, who contends that while the military regimes' actions were indeed vile in the early 1980s, the natives really didn't care about the Communist cause and just wanted to be left the hell alone.

Even Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú tacitly confirmed that this was more true to what really happened, and, if anything, it makes the murder of thousands of Mayans even more atrocious.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sports: Orange and Blue Game

One of the oddities of University of Florida football is the annual "Orange and Blue Game" (this year's iteration was held yesterday). It's an annual spring practice game that usually has better attendance than most of the regular season games of lesser football programs. There's tailgating, there's cookouts, and there's 60,000 screaming fans anxious to see what the coach has been cooking up since the end of the fall season.

That's really the key, I suppose. All the fuss is because it's a good preview of what Florida football fans are going to see in the fall. I've never been to one of these games, but I can tell you this - parkng was nonexistent at the law school yesterday.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Movies: The Parent Trap

If you're only familiar with the remake starring Lindsay Lohan, now might be the time to dig up a copy of the 1961 version 0f "The Parent Trap," a charming kid's comedy starring Hayley Mills and directed by David Swift. While the plot of the two movies is nearly identical (separated-at-birth identical twins conspire to get their parents back together), the actual execution of the 1998 film is markedly different.

Back in 1961, the reprocessed split-screen shots were an interesting novelty. While time hasn't been kind to some of the effects, they were good enough to convince audiences back in the day that Hayley Mills must have had an identical twin in real life. Combine this with a guileless performance from the young actress, and you have a movie memorable enough to be remade nearly 40 years later.

The 1961 version, like many Disney films back in the old days, included some memorable songs, such as the so-corny-it's-catchy "Let's Get Together":

Rating: 7/10

Tech: Ikaruga

"Ikaruga" is an arcade game developed by Treasure. It's been ported to both the Sega Dreamcast and the Nintendo Gamecube, but its most recent appearance is the Xbox Live Arcade version. The game is a vertical scrolling shooter in the same vein as the Raiden series or 1942 - you control a ship on the screen that dodges enemy bullets and returns fire.

The game's central conceit is that all bullets and ships are either black or white, including your ship and your bullets. So, you are tasked not only with moving around and firing, but with switching between black and white as necessary. Hit enemies with opposing-colored bullets (a white bullet hitting a black enemy, for instance) and you'll do more damage. If an opposite-colored bullet hits your ship, you're toast. As you can see from the video, it gets complicated:

In theory, completing the game can be done on the first try, assuming you have incredible reflexes. More likely, though, you'll have to play each stage multiple times in order to memorize the layout if you want to survive until the end. And if you want to really increase your score, you're going to have to plan your route in advance.

Ikaruga's one of my favorite games - it takes only about 20-odd minutes to traverse all 5 levels, but it takes hours and hours of practice to truly master the tricky, puzzle-like enemy formations for maximum points. After a certain point, you can start to play the game from muscle memory, which provides for a hypnotic, almost Zen-like experience that will amaze your friends.

Rating: 95/100

Miscellany: A Quiet Place

Writing a research paper takes a huge amount of concentration, at least for me. Now, I've banged out Shangrila Towers posts in the middle of a crowded mall, on an airplane, and even in a hospital. But when it comes to something that has to be cohesive, correct, and persuasive...well, that's a horse of another color.

One problem is finding the ideal place to write. My room is a mess, and the desk inside is too small, so that's out. Downstairs would be fine, except other people disturb you there. The library at the law school is great, too, but it closes at 7:30 PM (rather early IMHO). Most of the private coffee shops and things close near midnight, too.

So, I now find myself typing in the Trial Team office. It's not ideal, but it'll do for now.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Music: One of My Turns

It's happening again here at Shangrila Towers - a big paper to be written, with all the research done, and only the actual writing left. It looks like I'll be working into the small hours of the night, and that means massive amounts of Pink Floyd:

Well, it's not really due, but given that the next few weeks are going to be spent studying for finals, I'd better get it done ASAP.

Food: Steamers

Steamers is a little place nestled right across from the University but behind one of Gainesville's most famous restaurants, the Swamp. There's not a lot of parking, and there's not a lot of dining space, either - just a couple picnic benches outside and a small bar inside. It's a pretty casual joint.

Unlike the Swamp, though, it's easy to get full for not a lot of money at Steamers. You can get a big box of fried rice or chicken curry for about $6, and the sandwiches (filled with steamed ground beef) aren't bad, either. The food quality isn't fantastic, but the combination of low prices and good portions will mullify most complaints.

2/4 stars

Books: 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

I've had the privilege of learning from some very fine English teachers over the years. There was Mr. Dellapenna, whose friendly manner and love of learning led to me play the grasshopper in a production of "James and the Giant Peach." There was Ms. Ostaffe, who put up with my antics so she could unearth the writer beneath. And then there was Ms. Mickey.

Ms. Mickey wasn't very popular with the administration, but our class loved her. Irreverent, traditional, and witty, she sometimes got so frustrated with the principal that she'd kick desks around. One thing she did know, however, was literature, and English class was a joy because of it.

On her final day, we all said our heartfelt goodbyes. She gave me a very special gift - I could keep whichever books I wanted from the classroom library. I snagged many classics, of course - the Cohen translation of "Don Quixote," "Great Expectations," "The Lord of the Flies." But the one I read on the ride home was "18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe," a collection of some of Poe's best work.

We had all read stories like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." But here was a treasure trove of some of the most evocative short stories ever written - "The Cask of Amontillado," The Fall of the House of Usher," and, of course, "The Masque of the Red Death" (my personal favorite).

I don't know where Ms. Mickey is now. But whenever I'm crawling into the earth to find that Amontillado, I think of her.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

News: Beijing Olympics Conspiracy Theory

I was following the inevitable protests in San Francisco today. At first, I marveled at the sheer stupidity of the IOC - run the torch in a city with one of the highest populations of disgruntled Chinese immigrants in the country? Even better was when they literally hid the torch in a warehouse and shipped it off by boat to another neighborhood:

The cynical part of me thinks that maybe they want people to protest - makes the run-up to the Summer Games more exciting than it'd be otherwise. After all, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Tech: Planned Obsolescence

One of the problems with modern computers (for a computer maker, anyway) is that they are actually too powerful. A laptop from 5 years ago can perform word processing, websurfing, and e-mail just about as well as anything available today. Why on Earth would anyone buy a new computer if the old one works just fine?

Enter the product "life cycle." Unfortunately, there's a real-life example close to home: my sister's laptop is about to kick the bucket. Additionally, the left touchpad button on my laptop just went belly up, too. Bad luck? The result of two years of neglect?

I think a more honest explanation is that things aren't really built to last anymore. Whether it's your iPod, your cellphone, or your computer, consumer electronics are cheaply made and largely disposable. It's kind of expensive having to replace computers every few years, but I guess it's less trouble than buying new cars.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Guns: The Appleseed Project

One of the things I sometimes neglect when I write about guns is the necessity of passing on the tradition of firearms marksmanship to the next generation of shooters (and I'm not just talking about children). There's something special that happens when you turn a man into a rifleman - as Jeff Cooper and others have remarked, learning to use a rifle effectively and responsibly can turn a subject into a citizen.

It's also no secret that the Founding Fathers relied on this principle when they were constructing our government; no less than John Adams wrote that our country was unique in all the world because of our tradition of private firearms ownership. Like most Americans in those days, he viewed the private possession of arms as going hand in hand with local government and civic virtue. From Federalist No. 46:

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.
The Appleseed Project aims to keep this centuries-old tradition of civil-minded shooting alive. I've never been to one of their events, but it sounds like fun, or at least an opportunity to learn and talk in a casual environment. The contrast between what we're free to do in this country (gather together, shoot rifles, and talk about politics and freedom) versus what other people around the world have to put up with is pretty stark.

Links: Pearls Before Breakfast

A friend sent me an interesting article about an experiment conducted by Joshua Bell, a gifted concert violinist. Here's the setup - would people running through a crowded Metro station pause to listen to some of the best classical music ever written performed on a Stradivarius violin by a talented musician? Apparently, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the answer is "no."

There are a lot of reasons why this same experiment could be performed in dozens of public places with the same outcome. By its very nature, a Metro station is a bad place to stop and listen to someone play a violin - the people are already traveling, and not lounging around. In cities, many people might be used to tuning out street performers, and it's hard to tell how skilled someone is from a ten second snippet of performance.

In the comments to the article, I notice a lot of musical elitism - that classical music is somehow "superior" to modern popular music, and that people are stupid or ignorant for not appreciating it. That rings a bit false, even given my love of classical music. Beauty is in the ears of the listener.

Music: Friday Night Dance Party

I listen to a bunch of music podasts, but one of the best ones for kicking back and studying is, oddly enough, "Friday Night Dance Party." It's hosted by Jeff Hinz, and he plays a pretty wide variety of music - not just electronica, but rock, pop, hip-hop, and other up-tempo stuff. If you're like me and you enjoy typing to a nice long setlist of independent tracks, FNDP might fit the bill.

TV: Rock the Cradle

I've criticized MTV for putting on endless, non-music-related reality shows, and it seems like someone at Viacom finally took my criticism to heart. Behold:

Well, okay - it's an "American Idol" ripoff, but at least it's an interesting idea. I figure that most of the children of musicians consciously try to separate themselves from the family business, but for these 9 individuals, the emergence of a hungry ecosystem of reality TV execs has given them a chance at a big break.

In the debut, they performed short snippets of popular songs. As you might expect, the performances are judged and voted on by the viewing public. It's curious - they're all singers; I assume it's because even a layman can tell when someone is a good singer or not.

Miscellany: The Allergy Test

I have seasonal allergies - when that ragweed pollen comes around, it's often runny noses and sneezing for yours truly. But aside from that, I never felt the need to see what else I was allergic to. I had heard, though, about the process for testing people for allergies (they essentially stick you full of needles dipped in various allergens) but a friend of mine recently let me sit in while they performed the procedure on him.

It's fascinating to see a grid being drawn on someone's back, almost like a game of Battleship. In each grid is pricked a different extract of something - cats, dust mite goo, pollen, etc. They wait 15 minutes and see which ones, if any, react. It's interesting that in 2008, with all our medical knowledge, it all boils down to trial and error.

Well, not quite - they do inject you with a control, in the form of pure histamine designed to provoke a response. It's a bit unsettling to think that your body's own defenses are restricting your lung function, but I guess it's better than not having an immune system at all.

Movies: Blade II

Years from now, when Guillermo del Toro looks back at his directing career, it's doubtful whether he'll count "Blade II" among his best works. Like many film trilogies, the "Blade" series got markedly worse as time went on, and the signs of the malaise are visible even in the second installment. It's at once stupider, less innovative, and more forgettable than its predecessor.

The movie features the half-human half-vampire comic book hero Blade, played by Wesley Snipes before his troubles with the IRS. He's forced into an uneasy alliance with vampires (his sworn enemies) when a new threat emerges - a new strain of monsters called Reapers who feed on vampires. As you might expect, the only way to resolve this is with lots of fighting.

"Blade II" loses a lot of steam in its second act. When Blade and co. are fighting the mindless Reapers, it's about as exciting as a B-grade sci-fi flick. The real problem, though, is the absence of interesting characters; whereas the original "Blade" had a snarling, sneaky Stephen Dorff as a foil for Blade, this new installment's villains are boring and schlocky. Donnie Yen and Ron Perlman are sadly underused, and when the final "twist" is revealed, you won't care.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, April 06, 2008

School: Get These Business Majors Out of Our Law School!

The facilities here at the Levin College of Law are pretty good if you need a quiet space to work. Between the numerous study carrels and the massive reading room, the "Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center" (AKA the law library) is a nice place to go when churning through a bunch of books. On weekends, there's also plenty of parking available, which is not the case with the main campus libraries. I guess it's not surprising, then, that it isn't just law students who come to study here.

It's easy to tell them apart, of course. Law students in the library are invariably thumbing through a casebook or logged on to WestLaw/LexisNexis. So when someone comes in bearing a slim course packet that says "Marketing" on it (along with an undergrad course number), it's safe to say they ain't earning a JD.

I find it a little annoying that these students come over and occupy our resources, since law school tuition is so much more expensive than undergraduate tuition. Apparently, the practice got to be so common that during exam time the law library puts out a sign warning that "study areas are for UF law students only." That's right, get out and stay out. :-P

Saturday, April 05, 2008

News: Charlton Heston, 1924-2008

Charlton Heston passed away yesterday at the age of 84. Most know him from either his long acting career or his stint as president of the National Rifle Association. I'll never forget the first time I saw a Charlton Heston flick - it was a sleepy Saturday afternoon when they were showing "The Omega Man" on TV:

But it was really Charlton Heston the freedom fighter that his family is probably most proud of. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, and as you can see from the above trailer, Heston wasn't afraid to have a romance with a black woman onscreen in 1971, when it was still a bit risqué. His speech to Harvard Law School is particularly interesting for both its tolerance of other races, religions, and even sexual orientations, and its intolerance of the suppression of politically incorrect behavior.

Here's a keynote speech to the NRA - eloquent and sincere:

Miscellany: Walking Distance

Having one arm in a sling has big consequences for my exercise routine. Obviously, weightlifting is out of the question, but I also can't really run efficiently, either. Biking might seem to be a nice, low-impact alternative, but it was biking that started this whole mess. If I get into another spill in my current state, with only one arm available to break my fall, who knows what would happen? But not doing any exercise is a recipe for disaster...

It seems one of the only things left for me to do is walk. Humans are natural walkers, and in my youth I would ramble for many an afternoon through the jungles of suburbia. Walking is easy to do but it doesn't burn many calories, so it always takes awhile to really get a workout. The upside of this is that you get to see your surroundings up close and personal, for extended periods of time.

Tech: The Death of the PDA

If you recall, the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) used to be all the rage. On-the-go businessmen and students bought stuff like PalmPilots by the truckload back in the '90s. But take a peek in any big box electronics store, and you'll see that the traditional PDA has pretty much died off. Palm's most recent standalone PDA, for instance, is the TX - released way back in 2005. On a recent trip to Best Buy, it was relegated to a small corner in the back of the store.

In its place, people carry various smartphones, including the popular BlackBerry line of devices. But I've never been enamored of the high cost of these suckers - you either shell out a lot of money up front (often nearly enough to pay for a decent laptop), or you're stuck with a two-year plan that'll end up costing an arm and a leg. And even the best smartphone will be bulkier and more cumbersome than a dedicated cell phone.

I've been thinking a lot about getting something like a PDA, since my currrent laptop is a 15" 7-pounder that is a burden to lug around. In my dreams, someone would release a device with the following features:

- Backlit touch screen with handwriting recognition system
- Support for creation and editing of MS Office formats (.doc, .xls, etc.)
- Wifi and BlueTooth
- Small enough to fit in a large pants pocket

Any suggestions?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Guns: Private Property vs. Gun Rights

Lately, at Hell in a Handbasket and in other places, the question of whether employers should forbid their employees from carrying a gun has been in the spotlight. Frankly, it's a complex issue, since employers are usually on the hook for any negligence of their employee when they're working in the course of their employment.

Then again, employers are often tasked with providing a safe workplace by various regulations. When pizza delivery guys are being assaulted and murdered just for the cash they carry, it'd seem like the employers aren't holding up their end of the bargain.

It must be noted that carrying a gun on the job isn't illegal, but it may get you fired. For my part, I'd rather be out of a job for a few months than dead permanently, but I have the luxury of family and friends to fall back on. The best thing to do might be for others to exert pressure on these businesses to change their ways - otherwise, we all might be faced with such Forks in the future.

TV: Legends of the Hidden Temple

Nickelodeon ran a lot of game shows during the '90s, but one of the most elaborate was "Legends of the Hidden Temple." It combined Latin American myth, physical challenges, and trivia questions. Teams competed against each other for glorious prizes. Maybe a clip'll jog your memory:

That's right, the announcer is a giant mechanized Olmec head puppet. I'm not sure who thought of that, but I want a snort of whatever they were snorting.

The finale of the show pits the final team against the nefarious Temple and its guards. Occasionally, someone would get lost in the labyrinth and have to go through nearly every room...like Shane here:

News: Project Gunrunner

The ATF is much lampooned among the pro-gun community, and not just for its failures in Waco and Ruby Ridge. Nevertheless, they soldier on, and the latest news from their tireless battle against firearms (err...I mean illegal firearms) is actually something that might be within the ambit of their authority. They've accused Victor Varela of smuggling firearms into Mexico.

But, alas, for every thing the ATF might do right, one of their agents usually has a foot in his or her mouth. Case in point:

Authorities said one recent discovery, in a storage locker in Yuma, Arizona, yielded 42 weapons and hundreds of rounds of .50-caliber bullets already belted to be fed into a machine gun-style weapon, as well as Fabrique Nationale pistols, semiautomatic handguns that fire a 5.7-by-28-millimeter round.

What's interesting about this gun, why it's in high demand, is the nickname that it has in Mexico," said William Newell, ATF special agent in charge, about the Fabrique National pistol. "It's called 'mata policias,' or 'cop killer.' "
He's talking about the FN Five-seveN, a polymer frame pistol that can penetrate body armor in some cases. Funny thing is, to buy the gun legally here in the U.S. requires around $800, with ammo costing about 50 cents a shot. All for a round that doesn't penetrate as well as even the weakest centerfire rifle rounds. It's hard to believe a drug cartel would rather use this than an AK.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Music: Chairman Dances

John Adams is a composer best known for his haunting minimalist and postminimalist pieces. If you've ever played the PC game "Civilization IV," you've probably heard much of his work, as it comprises much of the game's soundtrack in the "Modern Age" period of play. My favorite piece from John Adams is "The Chairman Dances":

The work is pretty abstract, yet it's really a byproduct of the music for Act 3 of John Adams' opera, "Nixon in China." If you can picture Chairman Mao dancing a foxtrot as the hope of the Shanghai Communique dies down, then you have a headstart into understanding the work:

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Links: Oleg Volk

Oleg's journal is linked in the blogroll, but this recent photo is dynamite, so I felt an extra mention was in order. The photo has extra meaning for me because of my broken arm. Whenever anti-self defense folks trot out their platitudes about how "no one needs a gun" or that you should "run away from your attacker," it'd be worthwhile to mention that not everyone is equal physically. Thankfully, with homo sapiens being a crafty critter, some have learned to survive with less than others.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Politics: Change We Can Believe In

I'd like to announce my support for Mr. Barrack Obama's bid for President of the United States. After all, how can you not vote for someone who inspires musical tributes like these?

Here's a quote from World:

I see among many of the young a hopelessness that is almost tangible. Alongside that is an inability to trust others and to believe in ultimate truths and values. The mantra is that authority cannot be trusted and that the loudest voices in society want to do nothing more than “sell” something. Broken homes have created a generation with absolutely no one to look up to and to turn to for advice. So direction is lacking, commitment is rare, and despair is rampant.

Barack Obama strides into that void. While voicing “other worldly” themes he suggests “this world” solutions. His soaring oratory and his ambitious promises make his appeal to hope and his drive for change seem reasonable and attainable. He appeals to all that is innate and created in us in a longing for that “better country, that is a heavenly one” discussed in Hebrews 11. And he offers fulfillment in his election to the presidency at which time he will unleash the power of government to set things right in a world currently turned upside down. Thus he offers a messianic hope with the full weight and force of the U.S. government to back him up. For many right now, with the youth leading the way, this is a compelling combination. Heaven on earth is indeed appealing rather than having to wait.