« December 2002 | Main | February 2003 »

January 31, 2003

Sleep

Well, following the 0.5g, 0.5g, 1g dosage plan, I got at least six hours of sleep last night -- just one hour shy of what I consider a normal night's sleep, so I feel much better. By yesterday evening I was feeling depressed and pessimistic. I still don't think the cat scan will turn up anything, so perhaps I'll try calling up Dr. Tirjer and seeing if we can schedule a visit with a neurologist 'in tandem', or at least try to set up an appointment to follow the cat scan quickly, rather than another two to four weeks.

And in the meantime, I'll continue the gradual reduction in meds, and hope that the twitch doesn't return with a vengeance. Wish me luck.

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:32 AM | Comments (4)

January 30, 2003

Meds

I saw a second doctor yesterday regarding my twitch. He's another D.O. like Dr. Selby. He couldn't make heads nor tails of my condition, though it's been under control with the Lorazepam. I told him I was worried about developing a dependency on it, and he suggested that I cut back to using it only at night.

And what a night it was. It turns out that the 'anecdotal' evidence for dependence is correct. I was up all night, not with my twitch, but anxiousness, apnea, just generally unable to sleep. I probably got three hours. So today was zombie day.

I'm now trying a more gradual reduction, but of course it's too soon to tell if that'll work very well either. Cross your fingers, maybe I'll sleep tonight.

Doctor Tirjer has set me up for a cat scan, to rule out vascular defects, scanning from the abdomen down past the pelvis. That's in two weeks. If that doesn't turn anything up, then I get to wait an undetermined length of time to see a neurologist.

Right now I'm kind of down about the whole thing. At full strength, the Lorazepam was letting me sleep, but it was only a matter of time until my body developed a tolerance for it and the twitch came back. So now I have to bull forward and try to find another solution. I just hope there is one.

Posted by dpwakefield at 05:34 PM

January 29, 2003

Not There Yet

Cory Doctorow wrote Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and got his publisher to agree to let him offer it simultaneously as a free e-book. I mentioned that I wanted to pay him back somehow, but buying the hardcopy just seemed a waste of paper after reading it electronically (still in progress). So can I send money anwhere? From his cite:


"Q: Can't I just send some money to you by PalPal instead of buying the book?


A: You don't have to buy the book, but I'm not interested in tipjar payments. I'm not doing this to compete with my publisher. If you read the ebook and want to pay me back, but don't have any use for the dead-tree edition, the best way you can do that is to buy a copy of the book and donate it to a school, library or community center. If you do this, you'll put a copy of the book on the shelf where it might be read, I'll get a royalty, and my sales-figures will go up (which means that I'll get a bigger advance on my next book and my publisher will be more likely to want to repeat the experiment)."

And...


"...the cost of bookeeping an entirely new type of transaction (which would also include the cost of my agent and my publisher's lawyers negotiating how to handle this kind of transaction) would far exceed that kind of sum -- IOW, they'd save money if they tore up your check."

So I'd agree with him that what he's doing is an "experiment" in that the details of a system that would encourage an author to publish online for free aren't ironed out yet. I'll ask at the library if they take donations other than for library sales, but if not, I'll just send Cory a polite note explaining why I wish he'd try to expand the experiment in this way. We'll see.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:02 PM

January 28, 2003

Head Games

I dropped Kelly off at school this morning. She took her Gameboy Color in the car to entertain herself on the drive to Bridgeport. But, she is not allowed to take it into school with her, so as I was getting out of the car, she asked "where should I put my Gameboy?"

"Give it to me," I said, and put it in my jacket pocket.

"But don't keep it!" she said.

"Oh, you want me to give it away?"

"No! Just give it back to me when you get home!"

"Oh. Why would I want to keep your Gameboy Color? I've got a Gameboy Advance."

Silence...

"Oh, yeah. I guess that's right!"

Posted by dpwakefield at 06:30 PM

January 26, 2003

Reading Update

Back to the library with Blundering into Disaster: Surviving the First Century of the Nuclear Age. I was hoping for a detailed account of the events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that was my expectation, not any presentations by the author. The book skates over the crisis in about three pages, and is instead a considered technical argument for de-escalation of the arms race.

Considering that the book was published in 1986, it is very apt for it's time, but I'm not surprised that the book is out of print. I guess I'll have to hunt around and ask for recommendations on a good book about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I've since gotten a library copy of Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. It is a history of the events which led to World War I, despite the intentions of some of the participants. I got interested in it when I read a snippet by Robert Mcnamara, where he stated that John F. Kennedy required all his cabinet officers to read it, to be better aware of how accident and unforseen forces can drive history. Compare this with Bush, who, when asked what his favorite book was as a child, cited a book that had been published only a couple years before he was elected!

If that's not enough, I also downloaded Cory Doctorow's debut novel in e-book form, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, a sci-fi novel. I haven't gotten too far into it, though on the Palm, page counts are inflated, since each screenful of text counts as a page. He's put the book out under a Creative Commons License to test whether a book in the public domain can be profitable. I intend to buy it (or better, send money to the author, since I don't need the dead tree version on top of the e-book) to support his notion.

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:51 PM

Busy Weekend

Saturday was more packed than today, but all told, it was pretty busy. Nothing exciting, per se, just the usual chores. I got some breaks yesterday, but after taking Kelly swimming, I came home, did a few quick chores, then settled in to help Jean with her math. By the time we finished, it was approaching six o'clock. Kelly had been patiently waiting (playing her Gameboy, watching television, reading her books, etc.), so I offered to take her for a walk.

Judging by the way she jumped on the offer, she'd been dying for attention, and the walk simply confirmed it. We went around the block, but played 'store' at every street grate, fire hydrant and telephone conduit box we encountered. It took us forty minutes to loop back home. After getting her fed and having a snack on my own, it was time for Kelly's bath, and shepherding her around the house to pick things up that she'd scattered about during the day. She actually had a few tearful moments because 'Dad gave me too much to do.' We reminded her that she'd had pretty much all day to take care of this stuff, but you know kids.

I finished her up with a chapter from The Witches by Roald Dahl, and finally got her to bed. When I went downstairs to relax before bed I noticed it was 9pm. This was the first block of time on Saturday that I'd felt I had truly to myself. Oh well, it's all for a good cause.

Today was more straightforward, with my usual chores, a quick trip down to work to drop off the week's food, and then some exercise on the 'bikler'. Once I'd had my shower, I dived into helping Jean with chemistry, which I'm not quite as adroit at as math. We ended up having a 'study group' where we taught each other. I guess I'll find out if we got it right over the coming week.

After a quick lunch snack, we went to the store so Jean could pick up some things she needed, and I bought myself a treat (two actually). I got Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, 'cause I wanted Kelly to hear the original "It Ain't Me Babe", since she didn't like my version. And since it was on sale, I also bought a copy of Onimusha - Warlords, which I have only just begun playing, following my usual technique of playing without reading the directions for the first few hours.

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:26 PM

January 25, 2003

Astroturf Redux

Now we know where the astroturf came from. Via Follow Me Here:

"eager partisans used the [Republican National Committee] site's automated e-mailer this month to spam just about every newspaper in the country with a letter to the editor that begins: 'When it comes to the economy, President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership'. ... nearly 50 papers, including the Boston Globe and the Financial Times, actually ran the thing, each one under the name of a different, and presumably genuine, local author."

Apparently, the RNC site awards points to members for activism that can then be traded in for prizes, from bumper stickers to fleece pullovers. So not exactly astroturfing in the accepted sense of the word, just a clumsy campaign.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:10 AM

January 23, 2003

More Trackback Testing

This time, from my laptop computer, IE5 Mac OS X, to a specific article: TrackBack Development: TrackBack Spec Updated.

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:43 AM

Testing

Movable Type (the weblog tool I'm using now) allows a feature called TrackBack, which means that anyone using the same or similar tool can write an article on their weblog, referencing mine, and a link to their article will show up at the bottom of mine.

This works both ways, so if I wrote an article referencing someone else's article on their weblog, and they have TrackBack enabled, my weblog will 'ping' theirs, and their article will have a link back to mine.

I am just experimenting with this, so I'm not sure of the details, but I think the links only happen in archived articles, to allow a permalink. We'll see.

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:34 AM

Dance Dance Revolution - In Action

While I have historically been a couch potato where video games are concerned, some of my friends are fans of a much more physical game called Dance Dance Revolution, or DDR, as it is affectionately abbreviated. Originally an arcade game, as pictured in the link, it was later reproduced with a portable floor pad for the Playstation game console.

I actually debated getting a floor pad and one of the first game discs (each disc comes with new songs and dance moves), thinking that Kelly would enjoy it. But I ended up not doing it for the simple reason that Kelly's legs are still too short to reach all the squares on the pad comfortably. So I remain a couch potato gamer.

Browsing weblogs last night I came across a link to this site. What is it? A guy visiting Japan took his video camera with him and shot a bunch of videos of Japanese teenagers playing the original arcade game. It turns out some of them are freakishly good at the game. I downloaded two videos, and the quality is about what you'd expect. The video is low-resolution, and the sound is abominable, you can just barely make out the music over the noise.

The guy has a dozen different videos, but I'd only bother trying one or two, as you get the idea pretty rapidly. The phrase 'crazy-legs' comes to mind.

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:52 AM

January 21, 2003

Swamp Coolers

Trying to explain to Kelly last night why sweat cools the body (or not, depending on humidity), I mentioned swamp coolers. I just found a site that has a rather good explanation, so here it is.

Update: To date I've received two requests for more information about swamp coolers from interested readers. To be clear, I don't have a swamp cooler and never have. The website I've pointed to is a good starting point for more information, or you can of course try Google.Good luck!

Posted by dpwakefield at 06:57 PM | Comments (4)

Astroturfing In Action

Good catch, Rebecca!

Posted by dpwakefield at 06:32 PM

Weekend Report

It's late, I know, so sue me. The highlight of the weekend happened during (and after) NOVA. I was visiting with Alan at the meeting when Tom arrived. But he had some folks in tow. With him were Eric, Max and Brian, whom I'd met at Anime Expo 2001. These folks are good friends of Tom, and involved in running Sakura Con up in Washington.

Since Max worked at Sakura Con, she was able to 'network' the convention organizers at Expo and get us into some events I wanted to attend that are hard to get tickets for. But that's not why I like her .

Max is a very energetic, cheerful and funny young woman, and totally extroverted. I'm an introvert, but respond well to friendly (but not bubbly, bouncy or cheerleaderly) extroverts. So we hit it off. Her husband Brian is more of a quiet sort, like me when I'm among people I don't know well, so I liked him even if I didn't get as verbal with him. Anyway, they're a cool couple.

Eric was working for some anime company at the time (Gainax?) and is a young 'hip' dude with a great sense of humor. We had dinner with him while we were there and he told a lot of goofy anecdotes.

So anyway, there they were at NOVA! And Max and Brian had brought the little addition to their family, a 3 month-old boy. Wow. So we talked for awhile and then they headed out with Tom to fix dinner.

After NOVA, Alan and John and I headed over to Tom's place, and we all visited. It was great seeing these folks again, and I realized I'd actually missed them, after only getting to know them for four days at a convention! Brian is still the quiet sort, but I did notice a glint in his eye a few times, so maybe he's opening up a bit around me.

So that was the highlight of the weekend. Jean and I spent some time on math, me tutoring her on logarithms, trying my best to get out of my rut and be a better teacher, but I'm not really good at that, so I tend to say the same things over and over. Still, Jean is getting better, perhaps in spite of me. We're going to do more during the week after I return home from work nights.

Sunday we went to Borders for a break from chores and study (and to get Kelly out of the house). I went specifically looking for two things:

I looked for the book, didn't see it, and tried their online help system. It said 'in stock', and gave a specific shelf. I checked, and no such luck.

I looked in their music section, found a slot labelled 'Cake', empty of course. So I tried to use their online music help system, but the 'a' key on the keyboard wouldn't work, and searches for 'Cke' turned up nothing.

I was able to look it up on a terminal at the front of the store, and it said 'in stock'. I've of course had clerks tell me that the inventory system is not able to tell if a book has been sold in the last few hours/days, but come on, how hard is it to link the database for your inventory system to your POS system? Fix it, folks.

So, long story short, I went to Fry's yesterday, and they had a Cake album, Prolonging the Magic. I bought it, and I'm listening to it now. I'll let you know what I think after a few listens.

Posted by dpwakefield at 06:13 PM

Apples

In Praise of Apples: A Harvest of History, Horticulture & Recipes. I'm currently reading this, but I don't think it'll be on the pile much longer. I got it to try to answer my questions about apple propagation, how varieties come to be, that sort of thing. I'd once heard that apples don't 'breed true' and that if you plant a seed, the tree might not grow the same kind of apples as the seed came from. It turns out that's sorta true, but a bit more complicated.

However, the overwhelming majority of pages in the book are devoted to recipes including apples. I'm just not thrilled at the idea of making a bunch of dishes with apples, so now that I've sucked up the few vital facts the book had to offer, I'm pretty much done with it. Back to the library with thee!

Posted by dpwakefield at 05:48 PM

January 20, 2003

The Gift of Time

I finished The Gift of Time this evening. Jonathan Schell is not as compelling a read as I remember from Fate of the Earth, but then it's been decades since he wrote that, and I guess you get a little stale honking the horn for all those years.

When the book comes alive, it is during the interviews he conducts with figures close to the Cold War and the vicious circle of mutual assured destruction. His interview with Robert Mcnamara prompted me to get the book Blundering Into Disaster: Surviving the First Century of the Nuclear Age, which is next in my queue. I'm grateful I didn't keep track of all the books mentioned, or I'd be snowed under for the next year.

Instead of outlining the main ideas covered in the book, I'll simply urge anyone interested in the topic of nuclear abolition to get this book. Struggle through the prefatory material, but stay for the interviews, as many of them are quite stirring.

Finally, I want to quote one passage by Jonathan Schell himself, not directly on the topic of nuclear abolition, but rather on the end of the Cold War. It struck me because it illustrates a more nuanced view than the usual "we spent Russia into bankruptcy" view I've heard more than once:

"While some doves imagine that they reversed the arms race by their own efforts, some hawks imagine that they 'won' the Cold War. In truth, it was chiefly the peoples of the East who, through their efforts in their own countries, won the main victory -- in consequence of which the Cold War disappeared."

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:01 PM

January 17, 2003

Asian Movie Roundup

We get the International Channel, and I take advantage of it by recording Hong Kong Movie Express each week. Most of the time they are a big disappointment, like a recent selection known as The Nightmare Zone. It was an anthology of three stories each of which was supposed to be spooky, but was usually 'oooo, wasn't that scary, kids?' rather than truly creepy. The punchline was always anticlimactic.

Somewhat more entertaining was When I Look Upon the Stars. Directed by Dante Lam, it is an offbeat love story, sort of a love triangle, but more mixed up. I confess that it also has an actress I've always had a crush on, Shu Qi, whose reputation centers around cuteness and clowning around.

This time around I was surprised to see the movie was actually fairly well known. It was King of Comedy starring Stephen Chow. I own God of Cookery and Shaolin Soccer, which are both hilarious. Watching this one, I can see why it made the International Channel lineup. It is not as sustainingly entertaining as those other movies, though I did laugh out loud a few times (enough so that Jean came downstairs to see what all the hubbub was about).

Final verdict, I'm glad i saw it, but I won't be buying my own copy or forcing my friends to watch it.

And now we're entering a dry spell, until at least February 7th without subtitled Hong Kong movies. Poo.

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:29 PM

A New Kind of Science

Well, I'm mildly bummed. I went to renew the books I've got at the library, and A New Kind of Science is not renewable, because there's too many people in line. I've gotten up to page 327, out of about 850, if you don't count the voluminous notes, which pad the volume out to it's 1200 pages. The reading is often repetitive, usually a bit annoying because Wolfram is egotistical and even justifies his egotism scientifically. But for every twenty pages or so there is a nice nugget of info that keeps me reading.

Do I want to pay $45 to own a copy? No, I honestly don't think it's worth that. I have my doubts about it's revolutionary nature too. So I guess I'll just queue up at the end of the line and check it out again when I come up in a few months. Sigh.

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:54 PM

Film Adventures

Well, after having had fun with Fuji Velvia at Disneyland (even using an Oly Epic P&S), I just gotta try out the new Agfa Ultra Color 100 print film. Maybe it'll scan better than Velvia on my 'cheap' Canoscan FS2710U?

Speaking of film experiments, I bought some Fuji color portrait film (Fuji NPH 400; It was the fave of the guy at Oregon Photo I talked to), and some Kodak TMAX 400CN B&W film. Jean insisted on at least a few black and white portraits of Kelly, so I cheated, and got the Kodak, which is a C-41 process film (meaning it can be developed at any regular color photo lab) without the color dyes.

This is all an extremely amateur operation. I intend to use the Sigma zoom set at around 100mm for the portrait lens, and photograph by natural light, with maybe a supplemental house lamp or two. The guy at Oregon Photo warned me to use a correction filter, 80A or even 80C, if there's any tungsten lighting in the frame, so I gotta make the trip for that. Maybe I'll finally buy a cable release at the same time. Already got the cheap tripod I bought off of Ebay...

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:02 PM

January 16, 2003

Two Years and Counting

Through a remarkable feat of wizardry I've not only imported all my articles from the Greymatter weblog I've run these last several months, but...

I coded up an application in Python XML-RPC to fetch all (or most, discounting errors) of the articles I wrote in the original Terebi.weblogs.com, the weblog that started this whole mess. So now I've got posts dating back to October 2000. W00t! Two years of posting last October, it just crept past me!

With a little massaging, I got the file into the format that Movable Type likes to import (okay, a lot of massaging), and sucked 'em all in. Once again, I make no guarantees about link breakage, and images are definitely out in this batch. But the text is there.

I feel like an old pro now!

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:26 PM | Comments (2)

Mango's Successor

Jean bought me a White Sapote at the grocery store this weekend. I'd told her "surprise me." And since I didn't know what the heck a White Sapote is, she succeeded.

We cut it up this evening. Very creamy, almost custardy, though it may have been a bit overripe. The taste was lemony, with a hint of pear and banana. Very sweet! I'm gonna buy this one again.

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:29 PM

Mickey Conquers the Commons

Seldom have I been so disappointed in a Supreme Court ruling as this. I'm trying really hard not to resort to scatological terms to describe the thinking of the seven justices who voted to uphold what amounts to perpetual copyright. Would that the minority opinion, which seems more common sense, had held sway:

Justice Breyer also wrote a dissenting opinion. He argued that the CTEA 20-year extension does not make the copyright term limited, as is required by the Copyright Clause, but instead “virtually perpetual.” Further, Breyer argued that the CTEA's primary effect is not to promote science, but to inhibit it. Conceding that the Copyright Clause grants broad legislative power, Breyer nonetheless concluded that the CTEA falls outside that grant, thereby making it unconstitutional.

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:55 AM

January 15, 2003

QOTD

Even the video game stories hailed as brilliant come across as bad science fiction from the 1950s or dreadful teenage love poetry (which covers anything from Square).

Poster on stevenberlinjohnson.com

Posted by dpwakefield at 06:05 PM

Toys, Toys, Toys, In the Attic!

I think I might be buying one of these when they come out, and giving my GBA to Kelly.

Posted by dpwakefield at 04:58 PM

Note to Myself

As I'm currently snowed under about five great big books (okay three are huge, one's medium and one is thin but dense), I decided to leave a note here for later reference. I was reading William Gibson's weblog and he went on an absolute tear about the genius of Iain Sinclair, mentioning Landor's Tower (fiction) and Lud Heat (prose and verse). The library has Landor's Tower, a non-fiction book called Rodinsky's Room, and White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, another novel. I'm probably gonna sample Landor's Tower, and then maybe if I like it I'll buy a copy of London Orbital, supposedly a travelogue of London, but filtered through this strange poet's eye.

After all, when one of the authors you've most enjoyed raves about another author, what else are you supposed to do?

Posted by dpwakefield at 01:05 PM

January 14, 2003

QOTD

As to drugs facilitating creativity, I think I’ve seen a lot of paintings, most often stacked along the walls of thrift shops, that argue against this. (Amphetamines, however, can definitely facilitate macramé.)

William Gibson

Posted by dpwakefield at 03:28 PM

January 12, 2003

Geek Lust

I'm in geek lust again. The Pentel Twist-Erase III 0.7mm Automatic Pencil is the best mechanical pencil I've ever used. Jean's been buying those disposable plastic mechanical pencils at the grocery store, and we've got dozens laying around the house. I started buying leads and feeding them into the front (breech-loading) to prolong their life, but there was no replacement eraser for them. So I went to Staples and bought a couple of brands of mechanical pencils which do have eraser refills as well as lead refills. They are concidentally both Pentel brand, but the Twist-Erase is the hands down winner! Geek love!

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:44 PM

Mafia

I'm not enough of a people person to want to rustle up a crowd and play this myself, but it seems that Mafia is one heck of a fun parlor game. Jean disagrees with me. "So what. You sit around with your eyes closed."

Of course the game is a little more complex than that, and the real boost comes from all the human interaction, some insightful people, some not so bright, all trying to figure out who's who.

What came out of sharing this with Jean was immensely valuable, though. I'd just spent the better part of the day trying to tutor Jean on logarithms for her math course, and the going was slow. But now I find that she does not learn by hearing. "Everything you just read me about that game, it boils down to people sitting in chairs with their eyes closed."

So now I have to do some hard thinking on ways to be a better tutor, since I'm a very verbal person. What to do, what to do?

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:38 PM

January 10, 2003

All Consuming

If you are an avid reader (as am I), you should check out All Consuming. It's an aggregator site for bookreaders. Erik checks Weblogs.com (a website which notifies clients whenever a weblog on it's list is updated) every hour, then scrapes the indicated weblogs for mentions of books. As I understand it, he looks for URLs pointing to Amazon as an easy way to recognize a book reference (which makes sense, since I understand he's an Amazon employee). Once he's gotten all that data, he posts a list of the most frequently mentioned books. It's an automated community book circle!

You can also maintain lists of the books you read on his website. Where this really comes into play is that he generates javascript you can link to which places each book on your website with a link back to his site, covering other people's comments on the same books. It's very cool! His Javascript has a slight bug, so for now I'm inlining his code so I can fix the bug, but you can find the books I'm currently reading in the left sidebar.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:12 AM

January 08, 2003

Sunday Outing

Kelly and I saw The Wild Thornberrys Movie on Sunday. She liked it a lot, and I didn't fall asleep, so two thumbs up!

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:02 AM

January 07, 2003

Afters

Saturday was a NOVA weekend, and there were no new movies to see, so we fell back on the "let's go out for a bit of nosh" alternative. Usually we've been going to the Macmenamins restaurant, John Barleycorn. Food a little bit pricey but tasty and varied, location good for me since it's ten minutes away from home. You may recall that I took Jean and Kelly there for the great Armagnac experiment, and it got good marks from them.

This time, however, a larger group of people than my little clique was involved, and they voted for Applebee's. I was hesitant, and Dan started to give me a hard time about it. This isn't uncommon, as it seems Dan and I have gotten into the habit of good-natured ribbing bordering on the argumentative. I've been pondering this, and I think it's because I've got a whitish beard and thinning hair on top, so I remind Dan of his video partner, Terry. He and Terry have a tempestuous relationship, which has more than once broken out into publicly raised voices. So I hope I'm not headed in that direction!

Anyways... Dan was giving me a hard time, and I was hedging, but went with the herd. The food was okay, but uninspired. The talk was fun as usual. Sunday I told Jean where we went, and the whole story of my hesitation and the ribbing I took. Jean, it turns out, has eaten at Applebee's with work colleagues, so she knows it as well as Barleycorn.

"Why would they want to go to Applebee's? It's a chain. Okay, John Barleycorn is part of the Macmenamin chain, but that's local, so it has some flavor. At John Barleycorn, the food was expensive, but there were a lot of good choices, and the atmosphere was neat. At Applebee's, you get fried chicken strips. It's like an expensive Denny's."

I rest my case.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:48 AM | Comments (2)

January 02, 2003

Longterm Reading

One of the books I've perused from the library in the recent past was The Great Terror, by Robert Conquest. It's a great book, chock full of detail, and in the 'Reassessment' edition, corrected with lots of new knowledge coming out of the former Soviet vaults. Unfortunately it's also a hefty book, not the sort that you can really read from the library. I told my wife that I was fascinated yet disappointed in it. It's one flaw (from the perspective of one uneducated in the details of Soviet history) is that it dives right into the infighting and casually refers to all the players as if you already know who they all are. As I told Jean, I need a book that leads up to this book, filling in all the details of what came before.

So what does Jean get me for Christmas? Yep. I'm really happy, and looking forward to reading it over a period of several weeks, but first I gotta find that other book, the one that sets the stage. Any recommendations? Maybe Ten Days That Shook the World? Since Conquest is clearly anti-Communist, Reed's pro-Bolshevik book should provide an interesting counterbalance...

Posted by dpwakefield at 12:12 PM

Dogme 95

Jean rented Italian for Beginners over our holiday break. This is, to the best of my knowledge, my first exposure to a film made under the strictures of the Dogme 95 'vow of chastity'. Filmed with a digital video camera, the story is that of normal human relations, without bombs or fisticuffs (in contrast to another movie I saw in the theatre over my holiday break, The Gangs of New York). The only music in the film is music occurring in the given environment. There is no musical score. This is reminiscent of Touch of Evil, Orson Welles' film of corruption in a Mexican-American border town.

To be clear, I enjoy the better Hollywood blockbusters, and the occasional blockbuster which is not truly of Hollywood, such as Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which I saw last Thursday with several of my friends. And I had some initial misgivings when the film started and it became clear that it was shot in video. But as the story unfolded, I became involved in the characters' travails, and by the end, both Jean and I were contributing excited comments about what was happening. The final scene is notable as much for what it doesn't spell out regarding the characters' fates as for what it does.

If you can handle slow movies with lots of dialogue, and are not put off by handheld video imagery, try this movie. Jean and I intend to seek out some of the other Dogme 95 films, at least the ones which have won awards and are therefore easily available.

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:31 AM

They Took My Thumbs, Charlie!

Never let your daughter talk you into playing 'twitch' fighting games for hours to level up your character. The left joystick controls character movement during battle, which is real-time, in Kingdom Hearts. I've got the sorest thumb today. Jean was complaining about the same thing...

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:11 AM

January 01, 2003

Kingdom Hearts, First Report

One of the presents from Santa was to Kelly and me. Kingdom Hearts is a joint venture between Squaresoft, one of my fave game companies, and Disney. It mixes characters from the various Final Fantasy role-playing games with characters from the Disney stable, in an adventure game with a mix of story and action. Kelly was asking for it frequently before Christmas, though by the time Christmas rolled around, the ad campaign for it was over, and Kelly had forgotten all about it.

Monday we finally got through the backlog of toys and Kelly decided that she wanted to play the game. We got through the first part, arrived at Destiny Island, and collected all the items we needed for our raft. Then we were 'promoted' to the next sequence. The first time through I was pigpiled by a bunch of evil little shadow creatures, and I couldn't hit them for the life of me. My character got killed. Kelly told me to try again. This time I decided not to try fighting the shadow things, and instead ran across the island looking for help. I found Riku and got to the next level, a boss monster that looked like a big shadow demon. I fought hard, but got snuffed again.

At this point, Kelly took over, starting on Destiny Island again. She went into her 'hop, jump and twist' mode, where she just endlessly runs around, jumps up on stuff, whacks things with her sword, and generally pushes every button in sight. I went back and checked the play clock, and she did this for seven hours. Needless to say, I took a nap during that time.

So I went on the web and did some research, and discovered that the boss monster is called Darkside (no, not Darkseid), and most hints suggest that you need to spar with Tidus, Wakka and Selphie on Destiny Island to build levels (one guy said Level 7). So we spent today sparring, bringing in Jean as our ringer for several matches (she's the Bust-a-Groove champ around here, so her reflexes top all others in the household). It's now around 3:30, and we are at Level 7 at last. We saved, and quit, 'cause I insisted to Kelly that my hands were too sore to do any more fighting (and Kelly never does the fighting parts of these games).

So at this rate, assuming we don't lose interest first, or get ticked off by some unfair (*cough* Final Fantasy X *cough*) segment of the game, we'll finish the game around the time Kelly becomes a teenager .

Posted by dpwakefield at 04:02 PM