Category / Media

Meals on Wheels October 23, 2011 at 10:03 pm

File this one as another of those things where they aren’t as you remember. Funny you realize more of these as you get older.
Anyway, we were watching Meals on Wheels this past Fri. It’s a Jackie Chan movie that I swore to my girls that it was funny and good.

Wow, what crap! Bad writing, dialog (dubbed) and acting. Typical Hong Kong action slap-stick flick. What a waste of 90 minutes of family time. Sorry girls.

Movies: Crummy Jobs February 9, 2010 at 10:03 am

So I’m putting together a list of top 10 movies with the characters who hate their crummy jobs. I am only up to 5. Any suggestions?

  1. Adventureland
  2. Clerks
  3. 500 days of Summer
  4. Being John Malkovich
  5. Office Space
  6. ?
  7. ?
  8. ?
  9. ?
  10. ?

"How Do You Know These Things?" March 5, 2009 at 8:04 am

One night many months ago, I was re-telling the story of the Tri-county pie-eating contest to Katelyn & Allison. Most people probably remember it from Stephen Kings’s Stand By Me– the barforama scene was both funny and gross to me when I watched it 20+ years ago. I had to rename the character from “Lard Ass” to “Fat Art” to do away with a “bad” word. Anyway, I grossed out the girls but they enjoyed how Fat Art got his revenge and got back at the people who were cruel to him. I told them that the story was from a movie.

So earlier this week, I caught Stand By Me on cable at the train scene which is just right before the barforama scene. So I called the girls from their room to watch the scene with me. I figured it’d be cool to make good on my promise of letting them see that part of the movie. When it was done, they thought it was pretty gross with all the barfing but they also thought it was funny too. As I turned off the TV and asked Allison:

Rex: “Did you like it?”

Allison: “It’s funny Daddy!”

Allison was impressed: “But how do you know these things?”

Rex: “You mean the story? Daddy watched the movie a long time ago. But I remember the story because it’s one of Daddy’s favorite movies!”

Allison: “Oh… I like it too Daddy!”

I think she was impressed that the story was “real” and that her old dad didn’t make up it all up… 🙂

Oscars: The Other Superbowl February 23, 2009 at 1:40 pm

After all these years, I’m finally realizing it… Oscar Night is the female version of Superbowl Sunday.

And it’s the whole gambit. There’s the week’s anticipation and the build up, leading to the big Sunday. The afternoon starts off with the red-carpet rituals (pre-game shows) with all the interviews and the analysis of all sorts of what-ifs and scenarios. Like Superbowl, there’s all sort of speculation of what that key “players” will put on in the show. Of course, then there was the show and its opening fanfare.

This year, Hugh Jackman was the master of ceremonies, pulling out the stops and conducting the show like a head coach running a football game. We each have favorite movies and actors we pulling for for. We get elated or disappointed whenever a favorite movie or actor didn’t come through, just as one would react to a broken play in Superbowl.

The show ends with celebrations and parties, with all the usual after-math happenings. There’s even talk of what to expect next year.

The mirroring between Oscar night and Superbowl is a bit scary if you think about it. I even saw loads of “Oscar Specials” advertising for big screen TVs on Best Buy and Newegg, just like Superbowl. The one difference is quality of the commercials, Superbowl commercials are far more entertaining…

The tube was on from 3PM to 10PM, my wife even planned dinner around the broadcast. 🙂

Anyhow, I’m glad Slumdog wins, as I usually root for the underdog– be it Superbowl or Oscars.

Yahoo! Bleeding February 3, 2009 at 1:03 pm

I can’t help but notice the steady stream of high level exodus @ Yahoo! It’s not surprising with a change of command, but the flight seems extra-ordinary to me and I find it disturbing for Yahoo! Below are some of news stream I’ve encountered:

Nortel Bankruptcy January 27, 2009 at 7:19 am

Nortel was among the many companies recently announcing dire economic news. In fact, it filed for chapter 11 earlier this month. Well, there goes my tiny pension… 🙂

It’s sad for me as I started my career at Nortel when I moved to the Bay Area in ’92. Fresh out of college, I joined the company to build software for the company’s Meridian line of PBX‘s. Nortel’s Meridian phones seemed ubiquitous at the time but they were getting replaced by IP-based systems during the late 90’s.

There were a batch of new grads coming in to the Mountain View campus that summer. The place had a lot more older folks, very different from the companies I’ve been a part of since (web companies tend to attract young folks). The newly relocated “rookies” began to hang out together– many remained my good friends to this day. The companies may not have been one of the cooler companies, but I sure have the fondest memories of the folks there.

Good luck to the company.

Wall-E = Mac? November 23, 2008 at 7:04 pm

wall-eWhile watching Wall-E with the girls this weekend, I finally catch on to one of the inside jokes from the movie Wall-E now that I started to use a Mac.

Toward the end, after The Axiom lands on Earth, Eve takes Wall-E back to his hut and feverishly puts him back together. She then shot a hole in the ceiling to let in the sun light to recharge Wall-E. After a few seconds, Wall-E boots up with an audio chime. Turns out that chime is the same sound my Macbook Pro makes when it boots up!

The joke is that Wall-E is a Mac, I get it now… 🙂

Why Societies Collapse November 3, 2008 at 8:47 am

Some years ago, I read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. Diamond took a whirlwind look at the human societies trying to answer the question posed to him by a politician from New Guinea:

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Diamond took a broader approach: why European societies managed to dominate the world in wealth and power?

He rejected the notion of racial or intellectual superiority as answers and argued that successful societies are not created out by sheer intelligence, but by a chain events. His investigation focuses on environmental issues and formed a theory that whites dominate the natives because of environmental influences.

He argued that development of farming in specific regions and favorable climates in certain areas that give rise to the growth of important crops. Some regions were less prime for farming like New Guinea. The farming advantage gave way to a larger population which in turn gave way to trade & economic growth in a society. Two critical advantages come with larger more efficient societies: strong immunity and faster technology progress.

In short, Diamond basically argued that the dominance of Europeans is attributed to happenstance (luck of climate and location) rather than actual differences (intelligence, strength, etc) between the people. His theory gained both acceptance (the book won 1998 Pulitzer prize) and criticism.

It was an interesting read; while I accept a lot of his arguments but I do think he sidestepped some of the more controversial issues.

Anyhow I was browsing TED the other night and came across an interesting presentation called “Why Societies Collapse” by Diamond in 2003. In it, he argued for 5 factors that lead to a collapse of a society:

  1. Human impact on environment
  2. Climate change
  3. Relation with neighbor societies
  4. Relation with hostile society
  5. Political, economic and cultural factors that lead a society to perceive & solve environmental problems.

As an example, he explained how all these 5 things that can lead to the collapse of Montana (who knew Montana is in danger? :).

  1. toxic from mines, weed control, salination, forest fires etc…
  2. warmer & drier weather
  3. half of Montana income derived from out of state
  4. economic hostile from over seas and terrorism
  5. long-standing traditional values getting the way

He argued that two things that blind a society from seeing the coming collapse:

  • The conflict of short term of decision maker elite and long term of society as whole. He argued that this conflict is particular acute in US in 2003 as the elite insulate themselves from society; he used ENRON as an example.
  • It is hard to make good decision when conflict involving long-standing values. He used Australia as an example, but he can simple look at the religious conservative in the American heart-land.

Diamond argued that these ticking time-bombs have short fuses, most of them a few decades-long. We are on a non-sustainable course and we will face outcomes in the coming decades. Ever the optimist, Diamond claimed that that we have choices and we can choose to do things to avoid a collapse of our society.

The take away lesson?

We have to look at what we can do and do more!

Campaign Posters October 15, 2008 at 3:09 am

Ran across some funny campaign posters inspired by the original posters by Shepard Fairey

Supertramp August 31, 2008 at 5:03 pm

I didn’t exactly grew up with what you call “outdoorsy” upbringing, didn’t take my first camping trip until the year I graduated from high school. But I’ve always associated the outdoor with a sense of romanticism. The source of this feeling was probably developed through the books I was reading as a young boy.

Growing up, I dreamed of being a fisherman, ala Hemingway’s The Old Man & the Sea. There’s something undeniably adventurous (at least through the colorful description in the books) about battling the elements of the sea and the simplicity of living off nature. The 3 days I spent in the south China sea escaping Vietnam as a kid probably further enforced the idea. It’s funny because of course, had I followed that dream, I’d be starving everyday since I get sea sick & puke every time I step on a boat. 🙂

I admired folks with deep passion for the outdoors like John Muir, Edward Weston & Ansel Adams. I often imagine the thoughts that were running through John Muir’s head when seeing the pristine western wilderness for the first time.

Then there are extreme folks like Chris McCandless who desperately seek solitude and pit themselves against mother nature, without an ounce of fear. I started to look into McCandless’ life after watching movie Into The Wild. I got curious after I realized when I was watching the credits that the movie was based on real life. (Spoiler-alert: rest of this post discusses the endings at lengths).

McCandless was from a middle class family in suburban Washington DC. It was clear even at an early age that Chris marched to a different drummer. He was compassionate, intelligent, independent & adventurous. He also had an unusual strong will. To escape a troubled family life, Chris turned to writings of Thoreau, Tolstoy and the likes. He quickly subscribed to the doctrine of asceticism: extreme self-denial as a means to salvation. These writings turned Chris from an innocent young man into an extremely idealistic skeptic. He began to “feel extremely uncomfortable with society.”

After college, rather than attending law school per his parents’ wishes, Chris rebelled. He donated all the money in his estate and was determined to invent a new life for himself. He permanently severed all family ties and created for himself a new identity: “Alexander Supertramp.” He burned all his cash, left behind identification documents and drove off in an old Datsun, embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage to seek solitude and to “kill the false being within.”

He wandered the west for almost 2 years before beginning the audacious trek into the frontiers of Alaska in spring of ’92. Determined to live off the land, Chris brought minimal rations. Frankly, he was ill-prepared. He proved very resourceful at first, able to supplement his 10 lbs of rice with hunting and gathering. He sleeps in an old abandoned bus and keeps a journal for 189 days.

By summer however, food was getting low and Chris resorted to eating roots and seeds. Chris eventually succumbed to starvation one August summer day; he was 24 years old and weighed all of 67 lbs. Both the movie and the book suggest toxins did Chris in but that theory had been debunked. Chris left the world with a self portrait snapshot (2nd picture below) the following last message:

“I have had a happy life and thank the lord. Good bye and may god bless all!”.

It’s ludicrous to suggest Chris was suicidal. Some dismissed Chris as a foolhardy misfit, a nature greenhorn who is no match for the Alaskan wilderness. And some even questioned his mental stability. On the other hand, some people made him out to be a hero; in fact his story is quickly reaching a level of folklore.

I’d argue that “Supertramp” was a lost soul. Every answer he thought he had spawns even more questions. The existential struggles within him lead the young man in search of the pure meaning of his own life and his relationship to the world. His last message and picture seemed to suggest that he was at peace or at least content. There was no indication that he regretted any of his actions.

In the end, that’s what made his journey admirable and worthy of our attention. It is one thing to subscribe to a set of ideals, it’s another to gather the courage to practice them in real life, especially ideas most consider extreme. Chris lived his life by his ideals and died clinging onto them. The wilderness may have defeated him, but there’s no denying that his journey self-discovery was extremely courageous– the type of courage is all but rare this day and age. We can only speculate and theorize if Chris really managed to kill his “false self” within and found what he was looking for.

As for his family, they have my sympathy. His father said that it’s ironic how a compassionate person can create so much pain for close ones. Perhaps they found comfort in one of last Chris’s entries in his journal:

“Happiness is only real when it is shared.”

Microsoft Gives Up May 5, 2008 at 8:53 am

As a former Yahoo! employee, I’m happy to see Microsoft gave up on buying Yahoo! It’s a good thing.

But as an investor, I’m running out of patience waiting for viable strategies for turning the company around.

As a Google investor, I’m thrilled at the fallout since the possibility of getting gang up is gone.

As you can see, I’m all mixed up with this… 🙂

Bolinao 52 May 1, 2008 at 6:41 am

I am part of the “boat people” generation. Our family left war-torn Vietnam in the 70’s. I have vivid memories of the escape. While it was harrowing, to a 12 year old boy, it was an adventure. The reality was a lot more tragic.

It is estimated that half of the 1.5 million people escaped Vietnam perished in the South China Sea. I can attest to that at some degree since dozens of my relatives never made it, including an uncle and a cousin who also was my childhood best friend.

Existing documentaries about them were usually told at a macro level and in the political context of the Vietnam conflict from American point of view. Human strategies were usually sensationalized at grand scales– inevitably emphasizing the positive: the message of hope, undeterred determination, overcoming wretched beginnings, etc… I’ve always felt that there was a lack of the element of raw story-telling, and that these tragedies are most appropriately captured and depicted at the intimate personal level without the context of politics.

So I was intrigued when I read about documentary called “Bolinao 52“, airing on PBS this week. It documents the journey of Tung Trinh, as she retraces and re-tells her torturous journey as a survivor.

Trinh’s rickety boat set out with 110 people in 1988– only 52 survived (thus the name of the film). It spent 37 desperate days stranded in the open sea with people fighting hunger, thirst and hopelessness. The young mother saved her precious ration of water for her boy, drinking his urine instead. She took turn to bail water from the leaky boat after the engine died. Her companion died next to her one night. In the darkest hours, the survivors turned cannibals and ate the dead. Minh, the leader of the boat rationed the human flesh to those who have the strength to bail water. Later, Minh was accused of murdering victims for their flesh.

They ran into USS Dubuque, an American Navy ship heading to the Persian Gulf. A few men dove into water and swam 500 yards to the ship, desperately seeking help. The sailors shook a monkey rope sending one of the men back into the water. The exhausted man drowned while the men looked on. Captain Alexander Balian, the commander of the ship, ordered a few sailors to give them the beef stew left over from lunch. Then he ordered his men to abandon the ship and head straight to Persian Gulf to fulfill their mission: protecting oil tankers from Irianian missiles.

The survivors were eventually picked up by a Filipino fisherman and were towed to the town of Bolinao.

Captain Balian was later court-martialed. In a collectively generous gesture, all 52 survivors submitted their signatures as a petition to pardon Captain Balian. But the U.S. Navy found him guilty of dereliction of duties and stripped him of his duties in 1989.

Tung settled in the U.S. with her boy, while Minh found refuge in Europe after the U.S. denied his entry into the country.

Our Voting System March 4, 2008 at 7:17 am

As today is the next “super Tuesday”, I have some comments on the whole voting process.

I think the American voting system is due for a revamp. The whole process is so long and inefficient.

First, we saw that the presidency can be won without winning the popular vote. That is so damn wrong. Secondly, the way delegates are won differs from state to state. Some states grant partial delegate count, while some go for all-or-nothing. I don’t see the need for delegates anyway, just another level of proxy we can do without.  Then the democrats have these “super-delegates” who vote freely which means their votes don’t necessarily align with the voting public. Plus since they are professional politicians, they can be influenced by special interest groups.

And some super delegates reportedly to be “rethinking” their votes. What? Furthermore some states like Michigan had their delegates wiped out as a penalty for moving their voting dates. Insane! I’d like to see it, along with our tax system, revamped and simplified. At least make it more direct and uniform so a simple man like me can understand.

To promote voting, why not make it more of a direct civic duty and tie it to a tax levy? If you don’t vote, you’re levied with a small tax, say $100. Think about it, most regular joe’s will vote to avoid paying the tax. The rich folks can afford the tax, but they probably already have the motivation to vote for their candidates anyhow. I’ll bet that gets a lot of ballots on a regular basis. 😉

Update: like most other taxes, the levy would work out better as percentage. Something like 0.5% with minimum of $100. Yeah, I think that’ll do…

RIP HD-DVD February 20, 2008 at 11:37 am

Like most folks, I’ve been sitting on the sideline of the format war of HD-DVD vs Blue-ray. It’s finally over with Toshiba’s official defeat yesterday. It’s about time.

So is Blue-ray the best solution for consumers? I guess we can’t know for sure. One thing is clear: this battle wasn’t decided by consumers. There were a lot of dealing and wheeling by the manufacturers and movie studios, even some muddy financial deals between the big companies. There were a lot of stake for Sony & the likes. It wasn’t a pure consumer decision, but one format is obviously better than two for everybody.

The HD-DVD owners got burned, but most of these folks fully understand the risks of being early adopters. I’m usually an early adopters too, but definitely glad I chose to be more prudent this time. Now I can start looking into getting a player and start watching Netflix movies in their full hi-def glory. A PS3 looks like a great deal all suddenly…

My Candidate! January 8, 2008 at 10:05 am

After months of indecision, I’ve made up my mind on the candidate I’m voting for.

No Country For Old Men January 7, 2008 at 5:56 am

Last year was a slow movie-going year for me. I caught very few movies in the theaters, skipping most of the summer blockbuster sequels. Just didn’t find many movies worthwhile of $10 tickets, I guess.

However, it is finally looking up as I think I caught the best movie of 2007 last evening. “No Country For Old Men” was premiered in May 2007 at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s directed by the Coen Brothers whose stuffs are usually awesome! I’d say insofar that this is their best piece of work so far.

The film opens with a scene in the arid and desolate desert. A professional heartless assassin strangles a policeman and escapes. Chigurh is a monstrous psychopath killer and carries a air cattle gun; he has a knack for the game of chance. The guy just reeks evil. He is the best character of the movie and amazingly performed by actor Javier Bardem.

A man named Llewelyn on a hunting trip finds a Mexican dying in a pickup truck surrounded by bodies. It’s a drug deal gone bad! Llewelyn grabs the bag of cash and took off. But later that night, his conscience got the better of him and he returned to the scene with water for the dying man. His return kicks off a series of run-ins with other drug dealers and assassins, including Chigurh. The hunter quickly becomes the prey now as he desperately tries to elude the determined Chigurh.

The movie was sparsely scored, instead the intense drama is played up by the great dialogues. That worked really well for me. The photography was subtle yet unforgiving, keeping you on your seat anticipating the unfolding events. If there is one thing to complain about, I’d point out the miscasting of Woody Harrelson as the other hit-man. Woody Harrelson? Come on, he sucks in dramatic role! But Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin made up though, they were great in their roles.

The ending is refreshingly vague– a great departure from the usual Hollywood formula of happy ending. Definitely worth the $10 ticket; check it out if you had a chance.

MCE Buddy December 10, 2007 at 7:48 am

Recently I started to setup my Vista desktop machine to double as our dvr, recording TV shows which we watch on our media center pc in our living room. These videos are DVR-MS files and they are MPEG-2 encoded. The files are huge– 1 hour of Monk eats up 3 gigs for best quality recoding! For the life of me I couldn’t find a configuration Windows Media Center to use more efficient codecs. Perhaps a reader of this blog can enlighten me.

Anyhow, the best workaround I’ve found is MCE Buddy: a windows service that automatically re-encodes the video files to other ideal formats like H.264 & DivX behind the scene. Added bonus: the program claims to be able to automatically removes comercials! Sweet!

This is jumping through a hoop, I wish the video codec was configurable in the first place to avoid this re-encoding business. I suspect copyright protection has something to do with the missing codec configuration. Annoying nevertheless.

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Watching The War October 4, 2007 at 7:55 am

The documentary starts off with a story of a young man in Mobile Alabama who learned that his professed love was spurned by his sweetheart. Devastated by the rejection, he drove off on his motorcycle in the middle of the night looking to drink his misery away. Even that simple attempt failed as the bar tender refused to serve the under-aged man.After wandering the night, he enlisted in the army and eventually chose to deploy in the Pacific front instead of troubled Europe.

Little did he know that the upcoming attack on Pearl Harbor will be laying the horrific war path ahead of him for the next 4 agonizing years. He served under MacArthur in the Philippines. As the Japanese closed in, MacArthur took off in a small boat with his family, leaving thousands of American soldiers and civilians to surrender to the enemies. The young man survived the Bataan Death March and endured savage years as POW in Japan.


Eventually, the determined man survived the war and headed home after Japan surrendered. Years earlier, the army had informed his family of his "death." When he placed a call home, his mother, his aunt and sister– all fainted after hearing his voice. His father instead spoke with calmness and with certainty; he told his son "I knew you’d make it!"

The young man’s sweetheart, who had a change of heart and had been waiting for his return all these years, decided on marry someone else after learning of his "death". Three days after his return home, the man’s sweetheart married another gentleman.

The War is a documentary that reconstructs WWII through microscopic stories like this one. I finished watching most the 15+ hours. Very powerful stuff; as usual, it’s the story-telling of Ken Burns that makes the documentary engrossing. In fact, unlike The Civil War, Burns used no historians or experts to dissect events and provide history lessons. I had expected that and do wish Burns had worked that in. Instead, Burns tells the war through sole the accounts of people at war and at home, barely mentioning Hitler and the likes. This bottom up approach offers a unique and very personal account of the war. While not as good as The Civil War, I thought is an exemplary piece work– 6 years in the making. I also wished McCullough was the narrator.

I hope some of the politicians like Bush, some of Japanese politicians and that idiot Ahmadinejad, watch it and learn from history.

Take-away points, learned or appreciated, from the documentary:

  • General MacArthur was a coward
  • The horrible Bataan death march
  • Terrible sacrifices of that generation
  • Bad planning contributed much to heavy losses of the war
  • The greatest generation is disappearing: about 1000 WWII veterans die each day. In fact one of the man featured in the documentary recently passed away.
  • A Marine said "I don’t think there is such a thing as a good war. There are sometimes necessary wars."
  • One mother’s all four sons died in the war. She learned 2 of her sons died on the same day.
  • Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye gave a Rambo-like effort taking out 3 machine guns firing at his men and got hurt in multiple places. He finally received his Medal of Honor 55 years later for that effort!
  • Some veterans have post traumatic stress for decades, some never really recovered wholly

Letterman September 30, 2007 at 2:15 am

While David Letterman has mellowed out a bit in recent years, there are still glimpses of his former self once in awhile. Case in point: his recent interview of Paris Hilton after her stint in jail. No softy questions lofted here… It proves he’s the cooler late night show host and edgier than a tame Jay Leno; Dave wasted no time & relentlessly pounding on poor (okay rich) Paris.

Hilarious! Makes me almost feel sorry for the media-magnet girl…

The War August 24, 2007 at 2:44 pm

The WarI am highly anticipating the coming PBS documentary called “The War.” It’s a documentary film about World War II by Ken Burns. I have a fascination with that era and the generation that lived (or died) through the war.

I like documentary films in general, but I particular dig Burns’ works– he’s masterful at driving home the big stories by diving down to detailed personal affairs and relationships that most other film makers and historians neglect.

His films usually carry an air of authenticity and intimacy through personal interviews and his innovative use of old black and white prints and photos (the so called Ken Burns Effect). His work doesn’t rely on actors like a lot of modern documentaries to tell a story. I really hate that; nothing kill genuineness more than the use live actors in documentaries in my opinion. This is probably why I think stuffs on History channel are mostly crap!

Too bad this series will not be narrated by David McCullough who did the narration in many of Burns’ films. 🙁