Archive for February, 2007

“Pan’s Labyrinth”

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Wednesday night is our new date night. After dropping off Sammy with Kyrie, we grabbed some quick food at Sushi Tomo on University in Palo Alto (not very good, sorry — Kimi hated her zaru soba, and the tempura was a little off, but the spicy tuna was ok). Then it was time for Pan’s Labyrinth at the Cinearts, where we arrived ten minutes late but just in time for the opening scene.

It’s hard to review this movie without revealing too much of the plot. I first have to say this: Do not take children. We were warned this was an intense film, but “intense” is too mild a word to describe the movie. A better word might be “brutal” but you could also add in “shocking” and “relentless.” The commercials that I’ve seen (or more accurately, the commercials I fast-forwarded through) give the impression of a gentle but sad and dark fairy tale. You’re better off expecting a violent war film with certain fightening fantastical elements.

Now that your expectations are set, the film is beautifully made, written in perfect balance, acted with rare skill, and fully deserving of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 2006. It walks a delicate line between its fairy tale theme and its rebels vs. soldiers war story, and more than once I thought it was unraveling, only to realize I was being led deeper into the maze. There are certain foreshadowing elements that should have been a little less emphasized, but overall this is a film that will be haunting me for months. I recommend it highly as long as you have a strong stomach for violence; there were three or four scenes Kimi could not watch. Despite all that, it is a rare and breathtaking masterpiece.

Rant: “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a bit misleading as a translation of the Spanish title, El Laberinto del Fauno. I didn’t know the real Spanish title until afterwards, and so based on the English title, I expected Pan himself to show up or be referenced; a better title would be “The Fawn’s Labyrinth.”

Postscript: If you’ve seen the film, check out the interesting trivia.

“And the dogfish tastes like bark!”

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Sammy told his first joke this evening.

Well, he didn’t exactly tell it. He performed it. So maybe it was more like a skit.

Here’s what he did. He put one of his wooden fish puzzle pieces in his mouth, knowing that it isn’t food, and then smiled at us to show us that he knew he was doing something silly. He laughed a bit. Then he waited, knowing that we would laugh.

Sammy Mack tells a joke involving a wooden fish puzzle piece, Mountain View, CA, February 27, 2007

When we actually laughed, he laughed even harder. And he looked very pleased with himself. I am 100% certain that he was perfectly aware of his behavior, to do a particular silly act solely in order to get Kimi and me to laugh.

If I had to translate this joke into text, it would be something like, “Mommy, daddy! This ‘fish’ tastes like wood!”

He then proceeded to tell the same joke six or seven more times. We laughed every time.

TiVoCast launches on Series3 units

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

If you have a Series3 unit, TiVoCast is now available. Check it out online or under TiVo Central -> Find Programs -> TiVoCast.

Immune to Oscar Fever

Monday, February 26th, 2007

We just didn’t catch the fever this year. Kimi asked me to record the Oscars, and around 6:15pm I went to set up the recording and realized it started at 5:30pm. My DVR reminded me it was a live event and I should pad it, and offered an hour. “An hour?” I thought. “It’s already 3 hours, how much longer can it run?” So I changed the post-padding to 15 minutes. That meant we missed all the important awards, since the dang thing ran nearly four hours. O wise TiVo DVR, I’ll never ignore your advice again.

So even with missing the beginning and end, and even with fast forwarding through a bunch of stuff (“Celine Dion is singing? NOOOOOOOO”) we watched nearly two hours of the thing. Sure, Ellen was pretty funny, and it’s always great to see the stars all dressed up and acting all self-congratulatory, but I feel like my IQ went down a lot. Mimes? Really?

I didn’t make any guesses this year, but I think I would have nailed about 12 of them. I would have guessed correctly for most of the biggies. I know people are all surpised about The Departed (which I haven’t seen yet) winning the goods, but it seemed like a no-brainer to me.

Story time

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Saturday night, Kimi and Sammy and I had a visit from Andy and Jack.

Sammy Mack, Jack Robinson, Andy Robison, Stephen Mack, reading, Mountain View, CA, February 24, 2007

Poppin’

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Sammy and his ball popper, Mountain View, CA, 94043, February 25, 2007

Hulk smash puny bottle

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Sammy holding a bottle, mad, Mountain View, CA, February 24, 2007

“Reno 911!: Miami”

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Friday night was our date night this week, and we were lucky to have Nancy babysit for us. We started with sushi boats for dinner at Sono Sushi, then the movie choice this time was Reno 911!: Miami. I don’t usually watch the TV show, but Kimi’s a fan, and we both were in the mood for something lightweight.

Lightweight is what this is, all right. I definitely laughed, but I didn’t feel proud of myself for doing so. The comedy is about as low-brow as it gets. There are some amusing cameos (including The Rock in a tiny bit as an overzealous but undercareful SWAT team leader), and the physical comedy is well done, but I thought they should have come up with funnier jokes or more of an overall plot. If you like the show, you’ll probably like the movie, but ultimately I was a bit disappointed despite my low expectations.

New blog launch from Zeigen: Windows keyboard shortcuts

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I got my start after college as a trainer, teaching folks then-current programs like WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. Even as recently as a few years ago I was teaching classes at the San Jose State University Professional Development Program.

I still like to teach occasionally. By popular demand, I held a one-hour course at TiVo on Windows keyboard shortcuts last week. Why that topic? I rarely use the mouse if I can help it — instead, I use the keyboard as much as possible. The keyboard is much faster, saves your wrists, and is more precise. A few of my co-workers, when they see my fingers fly across the keyboard, asked me to teach them how to do what I do.

The best way to learn to use the keyboard is to practice. Rather than try to memorize a big long list of shortcuts, it’s helpful to focus on just mastering one a day. So, to help people learn keyboard shortcuts, I’ve created a new blog at zeigen.com/shortcuts. Every weekday there will be a new keyboard shortcut. Please check it out!

Watching Heroes from NBC’s site

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

I wrote about watching the first nine episodes of “Heroes” previously. The other week, I went to watch the second half of the season but realized I had failed to set the Season Pass priority high enough, and one of Kimi’s shows had been recorded instead. Fortunately, NBC offers Heroes free from their site, so I was interested in trying out their experience.

First off, thanks NBC for offering full-length shows free from your site, but the experience was pretty bad. I expected ads that couldn’t be fast-forwarded, but I didn’t expect the same ad multiple times. Six times viewing the exact same ad is irksome and off-putting. If I were an advertiser, I wouldn’t be caught dead trying that — the frustration factor is too intense. I’m actually less likely to purchase the particular product being advertised now because of how annoying the ad was. In addition, the UI needs work. After each break (and each commercial), I had to re-maximize the video to full screen. I had to disable my screen saver.

And worst of all, the video was grainy, too dark, and had too much macroblocking. The streaming was faster than real time, though. And the price was right.

On a more individual level, I really didn’t like watching a full hour of TV on my computer. Wrong light, wrong chair, wrong ergonomics. I much prefer watching TV on my couch in the living room.

Fish Fish Fish Dream Aquarium Fish Fish Fish Magnetic Fishing Game Fish Fish Fish

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

With fish being Sammy’s new favorite thing, I noticed he really liked the Windows aquarium screen saver (which came with Windows XP Plus), but I felt it didn’t have enough variety. After a bit of research, I bought Dream Aquairum for $20. (You can try it free, but to remove the nag messages and unlock all the fish, you gotta pay.) I think the program is really beautiful, and the fish animations are very lifelike.

Sammy loves it. He can watch it indefinitely. His refrain is, invariably, “Fish! Fish! Fish! Fish! Fish! Ooooh. Fish! Fish! Fish! Wow. Fish!”

Sammy watches the Dream Aquarium screen saver, Mountain View, CA, February 21, 2007

(We don’t usually let him sit so close, but I couldn’t think of any other way to frame the picture.)

During his visit to Tacoma around Christmas, he started playing with Kira’s fishing set. This is just a magnet on a string attached to a stick, used to pick up wooden fish out of a tray. He loved it, and played with it so much that Kira got a bit upset. After we got home, sometime in January I got him a set of his own, a magnetic fishing game from Melissa and Doug toys. (The supplied magnet wasn’t strong enough, so we had to glue on one of our own.) Sammy is very pleased every time he catches a fish.

Sammy playing with his fishing game, Mountain View, CA, February 21, 2007

As tempted as I get sometimes, I don’t want to keep a real aquarium at all. (Some of my friends, like Jason W., have some impressive ones.) I don’t know anything about keeping fish (and lack motivation to learn), and I’d rather not deal with ongoing maintenance, feeding, and expenses to replace the inevitably dying fish. Less than $20 for a beautiful aquarium that never spills, can have as much stock as I want, and can be switched off at will — that’s more my speed. Sammy’s too. Fish! Fish! Fish!

Ads at Century 16

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

We live near the Century Shoreline 16, and I prefer going there over, say, the AMC Mercado 20 because it’s closer, it’s easier to park, and they don’t play commercials before the movies. (On the other hand, the Mercado’s stadium-style seats are better, and the theatre is better maintained.) Except last week, when we went to see Music and Lyrics, they had some horrible program playing. Fortunately we were late arriving and only caught the tail end of it, but what little we saw was back to back commercials mixed in with promotional puff pieces with no depth. Very similar to the AMC program called “The 20” or something like that, but a different name.

Evening movie ticket prices are now $10. (Grandpa mode: Why when I was a kid, movies cost $4.50, and we used to line up around the block and wait two hours to get in on opening weekend.) Anyway, they raise the price and have to have commercials as well? It used to be they advertised no commercials. Guess that’s changed. I’m going to complain. I can’t stand these pieces — you can’t talk while it’s playing.

Update, Feb 25th: Except no commercials on Friday before Reno 911. Guess they had a lot of complaints.

What kind of bubble bath should we buy?

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Driving home on late Saturday/early Sunday, listening to NPR’s “Living on Earth” program, I heard a story about the chemical dioxane (or more fully, 1,4-dioxane) being found in children’s shampoos and bubble baths as a byproduct of the manufacturing process. Dioxane is banned in Europe as a carcinogen. The FDA limit is 0.5 parts per million. Several products (including some which the program alleged were being recalled) contained much higher concentrations. The part that made me take notice was the Hello Kitty Bubble Bath, with 12 ppm, the highest of any of the children’s products tested. One guess which bubble bath we buy for Sammy. In the car, I was horrified. The thought of Sammy developing cancer because of a bubble bath.

Reading LOE’s online version of their story, the press release that led to the story, the lab results, and a cancer blog entry that covered the story, my thinking has changed a bit. The story certainly brings up valid points, and it’s important to know the F.D.A. doesn’t test health and beauty products, including children’s shampoos, soaps and bath products. And honestly, it’s terrible that the maker of the shampoo is spending a huge amount on licensing Hello Kitty but wouldn’t spend a relatively small amount to remove dioxane from its product. If they’ve actually recalled it (which I couldn’t prove) then maybe there’s something going on here. But realistically, I suspect that 12 parts per million of this particular chemical are probably not worth worrying about, especially after diluted in the bath. On the other hand, who wants to voluntarily expose their child to a carcinogen?

I’m not a chemist. After a few hours of research, I became frustrated. I didn’t see any balanced web sites that honestly assessed the safety of children’s products without bias from a manufacturer. The test results are very specific: These five products had this much dioxane. But ok, what bubble bath is safe and I should buy instead? Where’s the invisible hand when you need it? Is this the F.D.A.’s job or isn’t it?

Weird fish, redux

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Thanks to slacy, I found out the weird fish I saw last week was a Bubble Eye Goldfish. Kimi, Sammy and I went back on Sunday to confirm.

Bubble Eye Goldfish, Sea Scapes Aquarium, Mountain View, CA, February 18, 2007

Now I want to know all about them. Here’s a start. Apparently that’s fluid inside those bubbles and not (as I thought) air.

Chinese New Year Play #9: Year of the Pig

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

Saturday night was another of Jennie’s amazing CNY parties. Every year we perform a little play (one of my few creative outlets), and this year the theme was a parody of American Idol. I procastinated a bit worse than usual this year, and despite an early start we were still making script changes the night before. Moses played the part of Why-Yen Seacrest, but had a wedding gig during the afternoon, so I got to be in that role during the afternoon kids performance (aka dress rehearsal), which was fun, although I overdid the excitement a bit and started losing my voice midway through. People kept coming up behind me to pass me glasses of water mid-scenes.

The evening performance went well. Our goal was to keep it at half an hour (Moses having felt strongly that we were too long the year before), but we came in over an hour anyway. I was proud of it overall, especially some of the parody commercials that we put in between scenes.
Jennie always does a great job with the food, and the site for our play, a genuine Chinese noodle factory, adds a genuine ambience that can’t be beat.

Last year I put the script in here but it was a bit too long for a blog post; if there is interested, I can post the script separately.

Sammy and Kimi came up for the afternoon performance (joined by John and Yvonne), so they got to see it in action. Afterwards, during the break between the two parties, we wandered through Oakland’s Chinatown and picked up some bakery items while taking in the eve of Chinese New Year ambience.

Greg said something which I feel to: During the preparation for the play, it’s a bit of a pain, and you wonder to yourself why you do it and resolve to make this your last year. But then performing really ignites your enthusiasm, and you end up energized and looking forward to next year.

We have four more animals left to do (Rat is next year), and after that I’ll take a step back and think about what we want to do next.

Sammy at 17 months

Friday, February 16th, 2007

A bit taller, a lot more words, new obsessions (such as fish), and getting taller if not heavier. Sammy is 17 months old today.

Sammy Mack at 17 months of age, Mountain View, CA, February 16, 2007

Favorite words: “wow,” “what’s that?”, “ball,” “ba-ba” (which means “bottle,” as in bottle of milk), “wa-wa” (“water,” especially asking for more water in the bathtub), “peas” (“please,” although usually he uses the ASL sign that we taught him instead), “hi!”, “uh-oh” (his first word, still going strong), “na-na” (“banana”), and his new favorite, “fish!”

One day when we were playing with his fishing game, he said “yay” a couple of times but hasn’t done that since. He also says “dada” but not “mama” so in your face, Kimi! Hah.

He’s also pretty good with certain animal sounds: “owww!” (cat noise), “wuf” (dog noise), “oooo!” (cow noise), “mmmm” (elephant noise), “biz!” (a bee’s buzzing, which amazed me when he picked it up after what I thought was the first time I said it), and “rawr!” (any wild animal noise, especially bears, lions, and dinosaurs).

“Music and Lyrics”

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

After dinner, Kimi and I opted for a movie (and thanks again to Bob for baby-sitting). This was the first movie of the year for me. Since it was Valentine’s Day, I pushed for something light and romantic, and there was really only film fitting the bill: Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.

Hugh is perfectly cast as Alex Fletcher, an ’80s pop star who seems to relish the “has-been” label. (His character is modeled off of Andrew Ridgeley of WHAM!, the half of the duo who, unlike George Michael, did not remain famous). Drew plays Sophie Fisher, a klutzy aspiring writer who enters Alex’s life when she appears to water his plants.

I have to say I enjoyed the film overall despite some unconvincing plot twists to keep Alex and Hugh apart. It was refreshingly unconventional, and the backdrop of writing a hit pop song worked to distinguish this film from the countless other romantic comedies. Hugh can’t sing, and can barely dance, but his charm carries the day, and he remains the master of the throwaway line. The opening fake ’80s video (so good they had to show it twice) is spot on, and I liked the newcomer playing Cora, a teen sensation with a faux Buddhism fetish.

Deep? Nah. But a pleasant date movie with some laughs, and an incredibly catchy pop song at its heart. (Check out the movie’s MySpace page, switch off the video, scroll down halfway, and click on the first “Way Back Into Love” song in the embedded player to listen.) Pure treacle but with hooks that dig in for days; it was written by the bassist for Fountains of Wayne.

Straits Cafe

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

For her 30th birthday and St. Valentine’s Day, I took Kimi to the Straits Cafe in Palo Alto. They had decorated it nicely with pink and red balloons, and it was quite crowded. (I had forgotten that a year ago I had made a reservation to return to Chez TJ, so when they called me to remind me I had to cancel. But we’ll go back there next year.) Right away, I think Straits had made an error in strategy: It was a prix fixe menu (with cutesy names such as “Casanova’s Chicken Skewers” and “Flaming Arrows of Love”), and the regular menu wasn’t available. While Kimi and I didn’t mind at all, I heard more than one arriving couple balk at the idea (“But I wanted the chili crab!”). They certainly should have warned those customers making reservations that the regular menu was off.

Regardless, the menu that they picked was memorable and appropriate. The appetizers were my favorite part: Roti prata (a dish Kimi loves almost more than me), vegetarian samosas, satay chicken, and coconut shrimp. The main course was a mix of beef fillet (which we passed on since neither of us eats red meat), panfried swordfish, Indonesian-style grilled chicken, and chili-infused asparagus with little dried shrimps and shallots. For dessert, a chocolate-covered strawberry and a molten chocolate cake.

Happy birthday Kimi!

Happy St. Valentine’s Day

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

I think I’m going to be the kind of old man who always tells the same stories and jokes over and over again, not remembering who has heard them already, because I was all prepared to write about why Xs and Ox are used to represent hugs and kisses, but found that I’d already done that last year.

Today’s Kimi’s birthday, and we’re celebrating with dinner out and a movie if the schedule works out right. Bob’s watching Sammy for us tonight. Kimi just joined me for lunch at the always-tasty Andiamo’s Cafe in historic downtown Alviso. So many TiVo folks eat there, and having a choice between Italian and Mexican food is great. Anyway, happy birthday, sweetheart!

Apples vs. Oranges — Purchasing Physical vs. Digital Media

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

With our Amazon announcement going out last week, some folks on the TiVoCommunity forum have been discussing the advantages and disadvantages of digital movies and TV show purchases.

One customer, trying out Amazon Unbox for his PC, purchased Stand By Me for $14.99. Another customer found the DVD of that movie for sale somewhere with free shipping for $14.02, and wondered why anyone would spend more for a digital purchase.

Bearing in mind that it’s not currently legal to rip your purchased DVDs onto a PC, I think there are a lot of factors to consider. Personally, as long as the price is right, I wouldn’t mind paying a bit extra for digital media over a physical DVD.

With a physical DVD, you get certain extras on the disk (such as trailers, documentaries and other bonus features), the video quality is a little bit higher, you may get some nice artwork on the DVD box, you may get an informative insert, and the portability is convenient — you can loan the DVD to a friend, and put it in a portable DVD player or car DVD player. But, physical DVDs warp in the sun, get scratched by DVD players, break when the kidlet tosses them around the room, can be stolen, or not returned by friends.

A digital purchase from Amazon is kept in your media library forever (or for as long as Amazon stays in business, anyway, which in my mind is the same thing as forever) and can be redownloaded upon demand, and moved between different DVRs and PCs, even when you’re at work. It doesn’t take up physical space in your house so it doesn’t get dusty on a shelf. And you don’t have to rummage through boxes of DVDs to find what you’re looking for. It never gets lost by your neighbor’s kid. And it takes minutes to arrive via Internet instead of days to arrive via UPS/Netflix (or saves you a trip to Walmart).

A dozen years from now I bet my existing DVDs won’t be so useful (especially if I get an HD player). But I bet my Amazon purchases will still work well on my DVR, and my PCs, as well as a few different types of portables.

But, as for any early technology adoption, there are definitely risks and tradeoffs.

Apples are sweet and crisp and red or green. Oranges are tangy and juicy and, well, orange. They’re both good. Paying a little more for one or the other doesn’t bother me, personally. It just depends on what’s in season.