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June 27, 2004

The Office

Jean and I often relax in the evening by watching a show together. One of our more successful series recently was Colonial House. What made it successful was that we enjoyed the entertainment aspect of the show, but also had a lot of fun talking about the series, how it was set up, the interactions of the participants, and how we might have run things if it were up to us.

Our interests overlap in odd little areas, but this often results in a demographic that seems doomed to cancellation. For instance, Jean 'turned me on to' both Lucky and The Peacemakers. They are now both in the television graveyard, disappearing with not so much as a whimper after one season each.

We've had better luck in the animation arena, as Jean got me started on King of the Hill and we've totally exhausted the reruns to backfill early seasons. Now the most recent season is in reruns too, so we are casting about for things to watch. One show we've been watching is South Park. I've seen quite a few of these on my own, but it's fun watching them over with Jean. And there are about a hundred episodes a week to choose from. The downside of that is that even when it's funny, it gets to be a bit too much.

Enter the Internet! Da tada TAH! Somewhere, sometime, I don't recall, I read a rather glowing review of The Office. It's showing currently on BBC America, which we don't get. It's not showing on PBS. So the only way to see it is to buy it. After several weeks of cogitating, I finally decided to take the plunge, and bought the first season, with some trepidation.

To make matters worse, when I told Jean about it, she seemed unenthused, at best. I didn't know that she had a migraine and was running on limited sleep, so I thought, "oh dear, guess I'll have to watch it on my own." But she sat down with me the next evening to watch it. We watched the first two episodes, which really just introduce the characters and build their personae a little. Jean announced "that's cute." Okay, maybe I'll still be watching the rest on my own.

Well, she stuck with it, and the show has gotten better and better. Not for the characters, but for us anyway. The framing device is that the characters are on camera and they know it, via a documentary film crew. The film crew never intrudes on the action -- this is in fact like Colonial House in that respect. They just follow the poor sods of The Office around and capture their lives for us to see. This has an interesting effect in a comedy, as the characters get to actually direct their attention at the camera, at you, and share their feelings. Reaction shots can slip by in a second, but the looks are priceless. In one episode Gareth is riding in a motorcycle sidecar as he is driven past the camera, and he's only there for a fraction of a second -- I had to back up the DVD to catch it -- but his face, so apologetic, embarassed, defiant, conflicted, all at the same time. I bust a gut laughing at that shot.

Follow the link to get a summary of the series, setting, characters and what not. But a warning to my friends, I'm gonna be handing this one around when I'm done with it!

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:28 PM

iPod Adventures

Before the trip to Disneyland, I bought a Belkin iPod Media Reader. It's a device which attaches to the dock connector on new iPods, and allows you to copy the contents of various media cards (CompactFlash, in the case of my D70 camera) to an iPod. My plan was to move images from my camera's memory card onto the iPod, then delete them from the card, allowing me to take many more pictures than the 96 or so NEF files that the card can store. So instead of having to buy multiple cards, and stop photographing when I run out of them, I'd just fill up the iPod. With my current free capacity on my iPod, that gave me a headroom of 1200 photos. Never going to hit that on a single trip!

So I packed the iPod and it's power adapter, and the media reader, as well as my camera an it's battery charger. First day at Disneyland I filled the card up before noon, and stopped back at the hotel room to copy the images over. Plug things together, and the iPod says "no card inserted". Fiddle a bit, the card shows up. I push the button to start the copy, nothing happens. Push again. The "no card inserted" message reappears. Fiddle, fiddle. This goes on for ten minutes, until finally I get a copy started. It is slow. The connector is Firewire, but the transfer doesn't seem nearly up to that protocol's speed limit. Another gotcha: although the media reader uses AAA batteries, the iPod must still power it's hard disk for the copy (which I knew), and this puts a big drain on the iPod's built-in battery (which I didn't). By the end of the transfer, the iPod is ready for a recharge.

Every stinking time I needed to do a transfer at Disneyland, I had to go through the same drill. Fiddle, fiddle. Detach reader, reattach reader. Remove card, reinsert card. Reboot iPod to see if that helps (it doesn't). Eventually get a connection, begin the slow transfer. At the end, plug the iPod back in for a full recharge. Man, this sucks, I thought.

When I got back home, I resolved to hunt up the receipt and take the sucker back, at least for an exchange. This weekend I located all the relevant documentation, and set things up for a test run, so I could actually show the store how the device failed. It didn't. I tried several times, even taking it to a different location, and the card was recognized every time. It's still Godawful slow, and the iPod still chews through it's battery, but it works. So I'm keeping it, but am wary. We'll see on the Chatanooga trip if it continues to work.

So for anyone Googling on the Belkin iPod Media Reader, here is the summary:

So caveat emptor, baby.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:37 PM | Comments (3)

June 26, 2004

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

(A Mom’s-eye view of Disneyland)

By Jean Wakefield

We spent my daughter’s 9th birthday at Disneyland, a world of adventure and excitement where cartoon characters dance, children play and parents ooze cash from every orifice:

Day One

Mom: “I told you we should’ve taken two suitcases. There’s no room for souvenirs, and we had to pay a $25 heavy-bag fee before we even left Portland. All souvenirs must be compact and nonbreakable. No stuffed animals! I repeat, no stuffed animals!”

Dad: “No way am I paying $2.75 for sugar water. A plate of tortilla chips in plastic cheese for $8? Never happen.”

Daughter: “Look! A Build-a-Bear Workshop!”

Daughter rides the Orange Stinger, where kids are strapped into lawn chairs chained to a tether ball pole and flung in circles. She screams with joy. Mom just screams. Dad takes Daughter on a death trap called the Maliboomer. Mom is too terrified to look, yet compelled by the force of evolution to watch as the lone bearer of her DNA and the bright future of the human species is shot into outer space by strangers, then plunged to earth with no more protection than a seat belt and a vomit shield. Mom envies that vomit shield.

It’s great staying at the Disneyland Hotel. Close to the parks and Downtown Disney, helpful employees, convenient souvenir shops, pool and crowds of raucous partiers who scream outside our hotel window until 3 a.m. Which leads us to ...

Day Two

Mom: “Omygod, three hours of sleep and no coffee maker in the room. I have no eyelids! I wonder if I could draw them on with eyeliner?”

Dad: “This hotel has no Internet access. I want to go home.”

Daughter: “I want to ride the Maliboomer again!”

Travel is so educational. It shows Mom what she’ll be like at age 90: a bag lady. Sacks beneath her eyes, belongings strapped to every part of her body, exhausted, malnourished, seeking only a quiet place to rest her weary bones. Daughter spends $140 at Build-a-Bear Workshop on a rock-star bunny with accessories. For $35, Mom gets a silhouette in a glass frame and giant lollipops. Daughter wins a pink stuffed dolphin at Dolphin Derby. After riding the Maliboomer 12 times and bruising the judgment center of his brain, Dad leads Daughter to the California Screamin’ roller-coaster ride of annihilation. Mom knows she will never see either one of them again.

This scenario shows why, despite technological advances, we will never quite make fathers obsolete. Nature requires someone to take kids on California Screamin’, which Moms cannot bear to watch, much less ride. We can’t escort our children to certain doom. But Dads can, and do happily. And make certain doom seem like a blast.

Day Three

Mom: “Omygod, are those varicose veins?” She nearly calls an emergency vein-stripping center until she realizes the “veins” are multicolored, shaped like Goofy and match the souvenir bags she’s had banging against her calves all day. Daughter buys a Stitch hat that looks like a monster is eating her head, wears it for 15 minutes, hands it to Mom to carry. Daughter joins Mom on safe, clever, imaginative rides like It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight. Thanks Mom politely, then -- back to California Adventure!”

Daughter and Dad: “Leave her! She’s too slow!”

Abandoned to starve, Mom struggles through crowds, carrying an autograph book, Stitch hat, Tilley hat, sandals, candy, Kleenex, snacks, other people’s water bottles, sunscreen ... and oh, yes, the tickets. They can’t go far.

Mom: “Moo-ah-ha-ha. I’ll just rest here a while and enjoy this Mickey Mouse ice cream bar.”

After a big meal at Ariel’s Grotto, Daughter rides California Screamin’ and the Maliboomer six times each.

Daughter: “I don’t feel good. I think I have gastric reflux.”

Dad: “Hey, look! That guy’s selling Diet Coke for only $2.75!”

As “Hollywood Nights” blasts yet again over the P.A., Mom and Dad debate whether “Hotel California” should be included on the endless loop of California-related songs. Mom fantasizes about kidnapping Bob Seger and Donald Duck-taping him to the Maliboomer until he agrees to quit the music business. Dad shells out $24 for several heart attacks with plastic cheese. Daughter wins three large stuffed animals from claw machine. Mom declares any additional stuffed animals will be shot on sight. Spends evening sitting on suitcase.

Day Four

Mom considers using concealer as foundation in hopes of making her whole head disappear. Daughter wins two stuffed dolphins at Dolphin Derby, rides California Screamin’ five times and declares she’s ready for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which is like the Maliboomer but with fake mold. Mom waits outside wishing Disneyland sold Minnie Mouse prayer beads. Daughter self-ejects from Twilight Zone ride, having spotted scary moss up ahead. Dad completes the ride, declares it “kinda boring” and buys another Diet Coke.

Time for the fireworks display. The Mouse puts on a good show: The sky explodes with color, Tinkerbell soars overhead.

As glowing white sparkles trickle down through the sky, Daughter hugs Mom:

“Mom, look! It’s the fountain of dreams! The fountain of dreams!”

Smiles all around. The perfect trip. Gotta do this again next year.

Posted by dpwakefield at 04:26 PM

You've Got Gmail

Or I do, anyway. This will only matter to the geeks in my audience (are there any?), but I got a Gmail invite today thanks to a helpful stranger. I saw him post that he had a bunch he wasn't using, and I asked if he'd mind parting with one for me. So now I've got one, and there's yet another way to reach me:

don.wakefield@gmail.com

Posted by dpwakefield at 03:46 PM

June 25, 2004

P2P Helps the RIAA in Spite of Themselves

I grabbed a tune off the Internet someplace, because the reviewer wrote a poignant entry on the touching memories of said song. It was Last Goodbye by Jeff Buckley from his first (and last real) album Grace. It lived in my 'Deletables' playlist for weeks, getting airplay on my iPod several times. Finally, I decided it rated five stars. That's a solid buy recommendation, and the next time I went to Fry's (to buy The Office, Season One), I decided "what the heck?"

To my surprise, they actually had that very album. I bought it on the spot. If the song hadn't been on the Internet, I'd probably never have heard of Jeff Buckley, his sadly short career, or this album. I'm almost sorry I gave my money to these guys, as they'll just use it trying to sue music lovers like my benefactor off the net. Bleh.

And it even has a cover of one of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs, Hallelujah!

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:42 PM

Comprehensive Obsolescence

Yeah, all the console manufacturers are starting their buzz machines for the next gen boxes, but I never buy the new box as soon as it comes out, so figger a year at least. I have my PS2, plenty of gameplay on that one. I have my Xbox, not so much play, but already amortised in my books. Now, now, I've got a Gamecube.

Actually, I'm 50% owner of a Gamecube. Kelly bought Pokemon Channel a couple months ago, after saving quite assiduously -- I'm really quite impressed. Then I took a boatload of old games to Gamespot and sold 'em for credit. I made a deal with Kelly that if she could save around half the price of a used console, I'd kick in my credits. So her birthday rolled around, and she got the b'day checks from the grands, and oh, boy, oh boy!

After factoring in the memory card, she's paid exactly half on this rig. I'm a little late posting about this, as she's had it since before we left for Disneyland, and I'm getting really tired of the Pokemon Channel 'busy mode' music. Not to mention Pokemon News Channel (gibberish in a high pitched raspy voice).

I have yet to buy a game that I want to play. But Sudeki and Fable are both looming in the near future, and I think I'd be willing to pay full price for either of those. Then we will judge just how 50% my share really is...

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:05 PM

June 24, 2004

Fog of War

This is another movie Jean and I watched before hitting Disneyland. It's a film by Errol Morris, who is a great documentary film-maker. I've had the pleasure of listening to him talk about his craft on Fresh Air, and I've read a brief interview with him about tools he invented to facilitate his theories of interviewing, and I have to say he's damned clever.

Two other films of his I've seen that I also recommend are Fast, Cheap and Out of Control and A Brief History of Time. Sometime in the near future I expect I'll rent Mr. Death, centered on the inventor of the electric chair.

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

June 22, 2004

Disney Gallery

Okay, the banner now links to a gallery of images from the trip. Speed was valued over finely tuned image processing, so there are some noisy ones in there, sorry.

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:01 PM

Talk To Her

I watched this movie with Jean before we left on our Disneyland trip, and it met all my expectations. I've seen several of Pedro Almodovar's movies, and all I can say is, pick any of them for a unique trip into an alternate world where strange things happen but nobody seems to think them so. Sort of a magical realism for my generation.

Posted by dpwakefield at 04:39 PM

Back From Disneyland

Well, we arrived home early yesterday evening, after travelling most of the day, mostly waiting in airports, caught in traffic, and the like. First thing I did after putting stuff away was to eat a bunch of vegetables. I succeeded in getting a lot of vegetation at Disneyland this year, due to my increased familiarity with Downtown Disney and the immediate environs of Anaheim, but the rest of the food was so rich, I just want to return to my bland diet.

I dragged Jean and Kelly to Coco's for breakfast one day, since I really enjoyed going there with my friends during Anime Expo last year. The following day we tried to go to Tiffy's Restaurant, which is just across the street from Coco's. I still managed to get lost on the way there, as I'm not as familiar with the route there from the Disneyland Hotel. I can do it blindfolded from the Convention Center, though! Eventually, after Kelly had a meltdown and I lost my temper, we regrouped and found our way, and had a great lunch at Tiffy's.

Above we have an image from California Screamin', a sizable roller coaster located in Disney's California Adventure. The photo is a 'little' posed, if there can be such a thing. They take a flash shot near the end of the ride, and Kelly and I rode that thing nearly a dozen times while we were down there. So by that shot, I knew about where the picture would be taken, and I gave a thumbs up. The facial expression is pretty authentic though.

Two years ago, Kelly's favorite rides were the Teacup, King Triton's Carousel, and the Dumbo ride. This year it was California Screamin', Orange Stinger, and the MaliBoomer (which Mark, at work, cleverly had me thinking was called the MailBomber). About the only things she still considers too scary to ride are the Haunted Mansion, which I rode this year, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a new ride which I rode once, and which is sort of like the MaliBoomer, with more of an emphasis on the dropping part.

This year we had a pair of FRS radios which my friend Burr lent to me, and it made a lot of difference. We were able to keep in touch from most locations in the park, so there was no anxiety as to where Kelly was like last time. I really took for granted the ability to contact Jean almost any time when we were apart. It was great.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:24 AM

June 15, 2004

weblogs.com Shrinking...

Terebi II started out life as Terebi, on weblogs.com, and up until recently, you could still go there to read the archived pages. I left voluntarily about three and a half years ago, as the load increased and responsiveness decreased. My posts were all (mostly) long and (mostly) thoughtful because it cost too much in wait time to post a short note or a link I wanted to remember for later.

Still, it was my testbed for the world of weblogging, and I'm grateful for the start. Thanks, Dave, however much you have irritated me in the past, you were more than generous with this resource.

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:07 PM

June 14, 2004

More Gaps

Here's another instance of my idealizing things I like and not empathizing with Kelly enough. Recall that I tried to get her interested in the Marx Brothers, as I really enjoyed their movies. But watching them with her, I realized that a lot of what made them special was fairly fast-paced and complicated wordplay, made worse by the fact that a lot of it was way out-of-date. Kelly had no cultural experience to understand what made it funny, and quickly became bored.

This time, I noticed that she really enjoyed the Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon series, and told her about some of Jackie's Hong Kong movies. I told her I'd look out for one that she might enjoy and record it for her. So when AMC showed Rumble in the Bronx, I thought that would be a good choice. It's pretty corny, as the bad guys are ridiculous, almost clown-like images of a biker gang. Additionally, it was retargeted for America with a full redub in English, and Jackie Chan did his own voice.

We watched for around fifteen minutes, and Kelly asked when Jade would show up. She's a character in the cartoon. I explained that this was a different story. I got my first inklings that things were going astray after the second fight. To me, the stunts and acrobatics are primary, but the fights are not like in the cartoons. Even though Rumble is cartoony, there's special effects blood, and the actors, though poor, can get across the pain of being hit more effectively.

The nail in the coffin, so to speak, is that in the cartoon, no one ever gets killed. Something undignified may happen to them, but they only ever go to jail. Most of the bad guys are back for more in the next episode. In Rumble, though they don't actually show the death, one gang of bad guys kills another bad guy. Kelly was just shocked at that and drew the line. I apologized for not anticipating her sensitivity, and watched the remainder on my own.

We recovered some of that last night, when she came downstairs as I was watching the last few minutes. It was the outtakes, where Jackie shows all the stunts that he does and doesn't quite get right on the first try. Kelly enjoyed watching him 'water-skiing' with his sock feet, and falling into the water again and again.

Dunno what I'll scar her over next, but you can be sure I'll keep making this mistake.

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:57 PM

June 09, 2004

Three Cantos

Monday we had rain, thunder and lightning in Tualatin. Kelly just had to go out and play in the rain. It'd been raining heavily for awhile, and backed off to a drizzle, so I let her, grabbing an umbrella to be near her. She was walking around in a shirt, shorts and sneakers. Soon she discovered the pools of water collected along the curb, and began to walk around in them.

"Kelly, you have to wear those shoes to school tomorrow, so you shouldn't get them wet," I said. Being the good father, I made her stop: "take your shoes off, and play in your sock feet."

So she got good and soaked, and I decreed that she had to take a hot bath. Once the tub was full, she asked me to stay with her. I didn't really want to just sit around while she played with bath toys, so I told her, "I'll stay if you let me read to you." She resisted, but relented.

I ran into the den, and returned with Allen Mandelbaum's translation of Dante's Inferno. Jean and I had been talking about it because I got Jean to read a modern adaptation written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Kelly had asked what it was about, and we explained some of the background of Dante's time, how revolutionary a work it was, some of the politics in it (putting his enemies in real life into the various circles of hell). So I decided to expose her to it. I said "I'm just going to read the first Canto, so you can get a feel for it."

Well, I read it to her, getting into the emotion of the story, and reached the end. "That's the end of the first Canto. Now you know what the feel of the story is like."

"Read more!"

"Really? Are you sure? He's going to enter Hell soon, and it'll get pretty icky then."

"I want to hear more."

So we read the first three Cantos. I don't expect to pick it up again soon. I've read the Inferno in three different translations on various occasions, and I always enjoy it, but I doubt Kelly will be in the mood more than this once. Still, it was fun doing such an atypical thing with her.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:18 PM

Generation Gap

Kelly and I were listening to the freebies Apple's been giving away, and she jumped on Accidentally In Love by Counting Crows (the notion of counting crows, or crows that know how to count?). I had previously rated it two stars, out of five, for being typical pop rock with very little originality. Kelly wanted to hear it twice, probably because it's featured in Shrek 2.

This led to me looking for Holding Out for a Hero, which was in a pivotal, chaotic scene in the movie. I knew there were two versions, the 'original', and a trancey, electronica version that played over the closing credits. I found the original, by Bonnie Tyler, which I kinda like. Kelly found the remix, by a group called Frou Frou, and had me play it twice. So once again we diverge!

I was still more surprised to find that the 'original' was in fact sung by Jennifer Saunders, who played the voice of the fairy godmother. I really enjoy her character acting, but I was really surprised that she sang that well (maybe a little studio engineering help in there?). Either way, Kelly prefers the Frou Frou.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:06 PM

June 02, 2004

Revelation Space

I mentioned Revelation Space already, but I've finally slogged through the entire volume. I was right, I had to go out and buy it, since at the rate I was going, there was no way I'd finish a library book version.

It's not that it was a hard read. Hard science fiction used to be my bread and butter, and I've read more superstrange, sensawonder sf in my life than I can rightly justify.

No, the main problem is that I've got a hundred ways to recreate nowadays, and also take time to interact with Jean and Kelly in the evenings. All that after work, which is demanding in a somewhat intellectual way. So by the end of the evening, working through more than a few pages of a book is usually beyond my resources.

So, capsule review, two thumbs up. I intend to look into more Alastair Reynolds, Chasm City being set in the same universe, seems like a good candidate. Maybe I'll buy it for the summer. If so, you'll read about it here first!

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:09 PM