Friday, December 09, 2005

A man in a hot air balloon realized that he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted

"Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The woman below replied, "You're in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You're between 50 and 51 degrees north latitude and between 114 and 115 degrees west longitude.

"You must be an engineer," said the balloonist.

"I am," replied the woman. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "Everything you told me is technically correct, but I've no idea what to make of your information. The fact is, I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all. If anything, you've delayed my trip."

The woman below responded, "You must be in management."

"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"

"Well," said the woman, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you've no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, you've managed to make it my fault."
Earlier I wrote about how the video ipod is the harbinger of media consumption to come. Particulary for television content where screen size isn't as crucial as most people think it is, especially when measured against the portability factor.

Itunes Music Store has been steadily adding more and more television shows to their video category and they just recently listed the new Battlestar Galactica series. I mentioned in another blog entry about how much of a geekfanboy I am of this show.

The season 2 dvd set for BG is available on Dec 20 for $34.99 on Amazon.
It's available on Itunes for $19.90 right now.

The dvd set comes with the extras.
The commentaries is available for free as a podcast already.

The disks are nice to own, add to my collection.
I'll probably only watch the shows once so why not buy the download.

Another interesting bit to this is I don't own a video upod but can watch the stuff on Itunes via Quicktime. Itunes is a trojan horse. Apple markets the heck out of the variety of ipods but it's the iTunes app that they want on as many machines as possible, it's the gateway for all their media consumption, enabling non-ipodders to also consume content. The iTunes app is key; it's no secret if you think about it for more than a second but it's worth mentioning.
Fred: "I just farted and burped at the same time."

Merritt: "Great, honey, that's just great. You should put that in your blog. Everybody should know about it."

Fred [long pause]: "That's a great idea! 'Fred - I just farted and burped at the same time. Merritt - great honey that's just great you should put that in your blog, everybody should know about it.' "

Merritt [sighs]: "You're such an asshole."

Last week I was very sick. Had a bad case of diarrhea that lasted several days. Did not urinate for a long while. When you're not urinating, it means you're dehydrated, when you're dehydrated things can deteriorate rapidly. Went to the doctor's office just as things started to get slightly better (slowed down on the hourly diarrhea, actually urinated once) but just to be safe the doctor had me take home a stool sample kit to be dropped off at a lab at my earliest convenience. Giving a man with diarrhea a stool sample kit - hmmm. (How many times can i mention diarrhead in one blog?)

I'm better now. Not completely out of the woods yet, but much much improved. I won't bore you with any more details on my bowel movement but let's just say this - impressive. How about another word, just one more - purged.

During my whole hiatus from the land of the living I ended up weaning myself off of coffee. I was never much of a coffee drinker even when I worked at fancy schmancy high tech companies that offered latte's for free. But since my wife got pregnant with our first son, for some reason I got into that morning cup o' coffee and the occassional vanilla latte. Now that I'm on the caffeine-free wagon, I plan on staying on until I get my butt back in the gym on a regular basis.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Why I think Hollywood should continue to worry about slumping box office numbers and why the video ipod is the harbinger of consumption to come:

1. Going to see a movie in the movie theatre is a very sucky experience. You have to deal with driving, parking, long lines, people talking, cell phones ringing. It's hella expensive and time-consuming. The only movies I will go to the theatre to watch are those which MUST be experienced in the theatre like the upcoming King Kong.

2. DVR/Tivo and Podcast's popularity have signaled a new way of watching media. Tape it then watch it at my own leisure, or tape it and take it to go with me.

3. Small images like thumbnails and icons read better than you think - small screensize and resolution isn't necessarily a big barrier to entry.

4. An audience is more interested in what happened, what were the sequence of events, than how well they were able to see it on a high res screen. If they can watch the sports highlights with audio, or the latest episode of Desperate Housewives with audio, and experience where the story went - that is the core of what they're buying and worth the download time and price.

5. If you could take your DVR/Tivo list of shows and watch them on the road, would you pay for that? If you could take all the dvd's you haven't watched yet on the road, in your hand, would you pay for that?

I would.

Tomorrow I get to spend an entire day in traffic school for a speeding ticket I got in Orange County, CA this past summer.

Oh. Joy.

On a far more interesting note, when I image-googled "Traffic School" the first image came from a florida traffic school website, the masthead of which is above.

I love florida traffic school websites.
One of my brothers is a doctor. After 4 years of medical school, 3 years of residency, a year for a Masters in Public Health and now doing AIDS research for his specialty in Infectious Diseases - I ask him what's the most important thing you've learned?

He thought for a second and replied, "Wash your hands."

I thought this was a little too simple of an answer. But whenever I meet another doctor in a social setting and I tell this story they all nod their hands and repeat, "Yeah, wash your hands."


I also had this writing teacher in undergrad who was a bit of a prick who once started the class with this statement,

"Do you want to know what the secret to a long and happy life is? Flossing."

The guy sitting next to me nodded his head solemnly. Apparently they both had had dental issues.
Sunday, Oct 23, 2005 - 05:05pm (PDT) Edit | Delete | 0 Comments | Permanent Link

Friday, October 21, 2005

Router-less web-browsing question...
A few years ago a friend of mine who works in IT support came to my house and checked out my computer set-up. He shook his head in disappointment at my computer's vulnerability. He immediately had me download and install Zone Alarm's firewall software (showing me how random computers were routinely pinging mine.) And he highly recommended that I get a router even though I only use one computer in my home. The router would act as a physical firewall which is much safer. I did so without any problem.

Recently, I switched to cable high speed internet. Unfortunately when I did this, having the ethernet go through the router does not work. I tried and tried all different things with tech support on the line, hooking/unhooking while the modem/computer was on/off in every and all possible combinations but it still doesn't work via the router. So, my computer is currently plugged directly into the cable modem riding the information superhighway with no physical barrier.

Another friend of mine has said that while the router is better, the ZoneAlarm software should be fine. I would like to solicit your opinion on the matter. Am I safe or should I get the darn router to work one way or another?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Thursdays I have a class called Figure Studio 600. It's my favorite class of this semester. The teacher is very good but that's not the best part. The best part is getting to class.

I take the N Judah train (2 blocks from my house) downtown to Powell. From there I hop on the cablecar. That's right, I take the trolley to class. Fortunately my monthly adult FastPass includes the cablecar routes or else it would be prohibitively expensive.

There's nothing like starting out your day at 8am in the morning riding the cablecar up Powell in the city of San Francisco. It's pretty uplifting. Of course, I have yet to ride it in the rain. That would probably suck.

I frickin love the new Battlestar Galactica series remake now in its 2nd season.

This show rocks. It's a retelling of the classic series from the 70's which is near and dear to my heart but it does it in a completely different way. Very dark, mature, unpredictable and kickass in every way. The writing is superb, the cast is great, the production is excellent. Every detail is thought out and made use of.

Fortunately I'm not the only one watching as it is a very successful and praised show. The producers are technopiles and have astutely created podcasts which can be listened to as audio commentary to the individual episodes of season 2.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When I first moved to SF I got cable for free/spliced from my landlord who lived upstairs (I lived in the basement of a family home, that's another story). When I moved in with my girlfriend we got free/spliced cable from the downstairs neighbors. Then when we bought our house 3 and a half years ago we decided not to order cable and see how long we could go without it.

Well, after 3 and a half blissful years of being cable-free, I've caved in, fallen off the wagon and went all in for the basic + premium cable + cable internet + dvr set up. $68/mo for the 1st 6 months. After that I'm probably going to drop the premium channels. Previously I relied on Netflix to catch up on my favorite TV shows. Now I used DVR (comcast's version of tivo) and needless to say, I love it. The question is whether I can utilize the DVR to limit my watching or whether it will just put my media-head habit over the top.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

When I get real tired, my left eyelid gets heavier and doesn't fold all the way under. (See pic above.) This used to be the norm and I thought that's how I looked until I got a lot of sleep one week and it went away. Now I get it when I don't get enough sleep especially when I'm drinking lots of coffee. Those two things usually happen at the same time. I think I need some sleep right now.

Thanks to Kelly for giving me some advice on how to fix my funky 20GB ipod. Unfortunately it didn't work. I downloaded the updater but the problem is the ipod won't even successfully mount on the computer in order for the updater to restore the ipod. Doing the menu/select button restart doesn't help it mount onto the computer either. sigh. Yesterday, I popped into the Apple store to check out the nano. I'm not much of an Apple-phile anymore but that thing is wickedcool.

Still listening to "The Kite Runner" on MUNI commute to animation classes. Must resist breaking down in sobs of remorse and heartbreak in front of other MUNI riders. Instead I make grumpy face. Muy macho.

Latest animation is called Jumper 1 at the bottom of the list of this page...


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I have just started my second full week of classes at the Academy of Art. On the one hand I'm a little frustrated at my curriculum of classes that I feel I shouldn't have to take or that I couldn't enroll for because of a late application entry. But when I take a step back and when I actually take the classes I realize I'm actually enjoying learning about something I've always wanted to do with my life but never had the balls to pursue. So maybe I'm just getting frustrated out of worry because I'm doing something so different, something that is artistic, something that is truly a leap of faith for me. I'll have some stuff to show once I get it in .avi format and take a few snapshots of my drawings from the figure studio class. I'm also enjoying my MUNI ride downtown in the mornings, I "read" by listening to audiobooks on my ipod. Or rather on Merritt's ipod mini since my 20GB ipod just died yesterday. It won't even boot up. It was acting up the past few weeks and then yesterday it just never started. Bummer. Good thing Merritt hardly ever uses hers. It will be interesting next semester when our second baby arrives in February, considering there's no such thing as paternity leave for students. Heh.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Today is the first day of classes at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I am an MFA student in the 3D Animation program. Currently I'm waiting to meet with the director of the 3D program to see if I can waive a studio class (or two) to save myself some time and money or substitute a different studio course.

It's been repeatedly encouraged to keep a diary or skectchbook journal. In fact, said journal will be the thesis statement down the road. Let's see if I can keep an online version going as well.

Friday, August 12, 2005

I'm trying to deliver a sketch or animation a day.

Previous animations...

Running Man



Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter Jennings died.  He was the anchor I watched the most growing up.  I'm not sure why my dad preferred ABC News to the other stations but for a while I thought Peter Jennings was the only anchor for all of the nightly news stations.  He was cool as a cucumber at all times.  It's funny how a fixture of your childhood has a bigger impact then you think.  I actually feel sad that he's just died.

I'm a huge Netflix fan, not just for the service but because I'm also interested in the distribution channel and its evolution over the past decade.  Lately the biggest competition was coming from Blockbuster, Walmart and Amazon.  Blockbuster has stumbled a bit when it started offering it's netflix subscription option.  Walmart bowed out and partnered with Netflix itself.  But a recent article reminds us that Amazon is still interested in this space.  Which would make things pretty interesting.

Netflix has two advantages. They have experience in distributing the dvd's across the nation.  They have a database of personal recommendations based on ratings by its users including user reviews.  Amazon has a similar ratings program for their current products so it will be interesting to see if they can leverage that when they launch their own dvd rental product. Plus they definitely know a thing or two about distributing physical products across the nation. If you'd like to add me as a Netflix friend just send me an invite at '' I've rated over 1027 movies. (Not all seen via Netflix but seen over the course of my entire life.)

My goal this week is to produce a sketch each day and post it here. Get into the habit so to speak and gear up for animation school.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I have a question for you.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I used to work at Yahoo! In a nutshell, it kicked ass, I loved every minute of it. Although I worked on a number of different 'properties' as a UI Designer, one of my favorites was the Fantasy Sports games. I had never played a fantasy sports game in my life before being assigned to design one. (Sorry, Chuck, I lied.) Fortunately it all worked out fairly well and in the end, I became something of a fantasy sports addict. I've cut back on my habit and now solely focus on one game, NFL Football.

The season is nigh.

There is one private league that I've been a part of over the past 6 years or so that matters the most. I call it the 'LarryLeague' after its commissioner, who, while adept at producing these games, ranks beneath me as an overall fantasy player. (Brian has the stats to prove it.) Just recently the live draft order was determined for this year. This brings me to my question...

Where do you prefer to be in the order of the draft?
1) Top of the draft
2) Bottom of the draft
3) Either top or bottom, I like being on the ends
4) In the middle
5) I don't care either way
6) I don't know I've never drafted a fantasy sports team in my life you geekloser.

Personally, I'm a #3 guy. I much prefer being on the ends because it means my draft picks are close together so I can strategize what my next two picks are. When you're in the middle you have to wait an eternity for every single pick while keeping a close eye on whether your queued player is still available or has been snatched up.

This season I'm pick #7 out of 12 teams. Smack dab in the middle. Fuck.

Friday, July 29, 2005

In 1997 I jumped out of a perfectly good plane while it was in the air. I had just recently moved to San Francisco from New York city for a job at Oracle as a UI Designer. I didn't know anyone in the Bay Area, but I was attracted to the prospect of living in SF and Oracle had a really snazzy 4,400 sq ft gym. I figured if I didn't like it I could always move back to NYC. The only person I really knew was Paolo, a friend who had recruited me to work at Oracle. Early on Paolo introduced me to Sebastian, another new Oracle employee who was from Argentina.

Sebas and I were hanging out one day and he said he'd always wanted to try skydiving. I said that would be cool and that if he ever wanted to do it I'd be game. The Friday of that week he called me up and said he'd made an appointment for the two of us in Hollister, CA for the next morning at 7am.

We got up brutally early and made the drive to Hollister which is way the hell over in nowheresville. We signed in and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally we realized that they were doing a training and safety class inside for the jumpers and we were missing all of it. When they came out of the class we somehow still managed to go on the jump.

This was a tandem jump, meaning a jumpmaster would be strapped to my back and he would operate the chute. This way we could go up higher and freefall for a good 30 seconds before he pulls the ripcord. My guy's name was Bill. I also had the option of having the entire thing photographed and videotaped. This means another expert jumper will jump alongside with you while operating the cameras attached to her helmet with her teeth. Sweet, I signed up for that.

It was a full plane. There was no door to the hatch. We climbed to 13,000 ft ? (and I could be totally wrong about this height, I really don't know since we had missed the safety traning class.) My jumpmaster and I were the last on the plane to jump. This meant that I saw everyone else lean out and disappear over the hatch. Slowly and awkwardly, since Bill was tied to my back, we made our way to the open hatch. Between the doorway and the earth is air. The horizon looked like it curved just a little. Lots of trapezoidal farmland like a jigsaw puzzle.

My videographer, Jane, climbed out the hatch before us and hung onto the doorway outside of the plane, waiting for us to jump out. We leaned over together and then we're falling. I begin to yell exultantly with Jane about 5 yards away flying in front of us. I could barely hear my own screaming. Jane is circling us. I'm Superman, dammit! Superman!

Then Bill lets me know he's about to open the chute. He does. I feel a slight bouncy pull as we slow our descent. And then another few bounces. A few seconds later, Bill tells me to look up and I see the open chute. He hands me the reins and I steer for a little while. The one thing that struck me the most was how quiet it was. Beautifully quiet. I was also very out of breath, since all my yelling had me gasping for air but the oxygen was thin at that height. I sort of hyperventilate the whole way down. But i didn't care I was so exhilarated.

As we near the ground, Bill takes over the reins of the chute. The ground is coming up kind of fast and he says in my ear, "When I say 'Stand up', just stand up. Okay, Stand up." I stood up. And that was how we landed. Perfection.

A van picked us up to bring us back to base and while in the van Bill asked Jane, our videographer, "Hey, did you see what happened with our chute?"

"Yeah," said Jane, "I thought I saw something, but then I had to pull my own."

"It didn't open all the way," Bill said. "Half the canopy was folded under itself. I kept pulling and pulling to get it to open all the way. I thought to myself I'm going to pull just one more time and if it doesn't work, I'll have to rip this one loose and go to reserve." (Every jumpermaster has two chutes, the second is a backup/reserve in case the first malfunctions.)

"Well, that last pull did it. It unfolded and it was ok."

And i'm sitting there, listening to all this, happy as a lark because there's tons of adrenaline still flowing through my body because I had just jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and lived to tell the tale.

I tried to view the canopy malfunction on my video tape they gave me. But they actually edited it out! There's a shifty jump right when our chute opens to when Jane's own chute opens. Bummer. Would've liked to have seen that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

When our son, Milo, was born we had to decide whether to circumcise him or not.

Thirty years ago this wouldn't have been an issue, circumcision was believed to be the 'sanitary' thing to do. But in the last 10 years the American Medical Association has stopped recommending circumcisions. I consider the AMA to be pretty conservative so for them to reverse themselves gave me pause. And when I thought about it I realized that an unnecessary circumcision is pretty much genital mutilation.

I come from a family of doctors. My mother was a pathologist up until my middle brother was born. My oldest brother is in infection diseases doing AIDS research in Nairobi, Kenya and my father, well guess what, he's a urologist. That's right, the guy who deals with kidneys, prostates, enter-your-penis-joke-here. So I asked him for his thoughts.

He said that americans tend to be circumcised because it was thought to be cleaner for the genitals. But europeans are generally not and they don't seem to have the sanitary issues that americans were concerned about. So now they abstain from suggesting one way or the other and let the parents decide. He brought up a few interesting cases where young adults or adult men without circumcisions would develop a situation where the foreskin would continue to grow beyond the head of the penis. At which point a urologist would have to perform a circumcision.

Obviously it's a painful experience and one argument is to have it done as an infant so that the experience would be more tolerable, since one doesn't recall their infancy. The counterpoint is that even though you don't remember infancy it doesn't make the pain any less for said infant. Also, if the advice is to have it done as an infant as a preventative measure in case the foreskin grows beyond normal - well, how potential is this case scenario? There isn't enough statistics to definitively show the probability because, again, most american males are circumcised.

Other reasons fathers have their sons circumsized are: because the father is and wants his son to be the 'same way' (I thought this fairly lame - genitally mutilate my son's penis for cosmetic reasons???); because then they won't feel awkward when they're young adolescents in the gym shower, singled out for looking funny (again, cosmetic); religion (I'm not Jewish, although my wife's grandfather was Jewish her family doesn't identify themselves as Jews.)

At this point, Merritt, my wife, let me be the sole decision-maker on this, since clearly I was very troubled over the ramifications and I was doing a very thorough job of researching it. (She also said something about not having much experience with non-circumcisions anyway.)

Then I asked my brother, the infectious disease doctor in Kenya, what he thought. He was very clear. He had been reading about some preliminary medical research showing that non-circumsized penises had a greater chance of catching sexually transmitted diseases (or perhaps I should say circumcized penises had a lesser chance of catching STD's?) So if I thought my son would ever be sexually active, cut it.

My brother's point stuck with me and I ultimately decided to have it done. I also decided to witness the procedure since I was the one who made the fateful decision. That was a very stupid idea. Don't do this. Just hand the baby to the nurse and wait for them to give him back to you. Man, was that a bad idea.

My oldest brother just had a baby, a son. And when it came time to circumsize him, his wife had second thoughts. My brother was like, "Honey, we have to do it. I just told Fred to do it, so we have to do it." And it was done.

Then a few weeks later this article in the SFGate and another from the AFP confirmed my brother's report.

Monday, July 25, 2005

We're back from San Francisco (San Pancho), Mexico! It was a very relaxing trip. The weather was hot and humid and it rained about a a quarter of the time but the location was perfect. It was far enough off the beaten path from the hubub of tourism. The house itself was quite nice, right on the beach with its own pool. It was recently built and there was a lot of thought put into the design with an open air kitchen and upstairs bedroom, and a closed 1st floor bedroom with air-conditioning. The pic above was the view from the kitchen.

We basically hung out, swam, ate, swam and read for the majority of the time. The beach was great but the ocean waves tended to be rough, definitely too rough to swim with our son, Milo.

Getting there was very easy. Just a 3 and a half hour flight from SFO to Puerto Vallarto, MX and then about an hour drive north. Puerto Vallarta had its own Walmart so you can imagine what that town was like. But where we were was much more rustic, in fact, you had to drive to PV just to find an ATM or post office! One neighboring town was Sayulita which is kind of a surfer's destination but still pretty nice.

I think two weeks was just a tad too long. I was definitely ready to come home.

We are going on a 2 week vacation to San Francisco. San Francisco, Mexico that is; also known as "San Pancho". It's a small, off the beaten/touristy path town near Puerto Vallarta. We're renting a house that has its own pool which is good since July is an extremely hot (non-ideal) time to be vacationing in Mexico. However, we're very excited for the trip, to use our spanish (Merritt's is fluent, mine is pretty good), check out of American reality and immerse Milo in a foreign language environment. You can see more info on SF, MX by clicking here.

Although the house has internet access I will not be packing the laptop. I repeat I will be without internet connectivity for two weeks straight. I doubt there will be any internet cafe's where we're going (although you never know) so this will be an interesting experience for me. Merritt's looking forward to it.

Today is also our 4th year anniversary, so this trip is a bit of a anniversary present as well. I discovered that the 4th anniversary material is either "books, flowers and fruit" or "electrial appliances". More info on anniversary gift material's here.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Where is C-19?

Merritt arranged a special evening for her birthday - dinner at Greens Restaurant and tickets to the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. We invited our friends Tiffany & Paul and Peter & Christina. We arrived for our 5:45pm dinner reservation at Greens which is a high-end vegetarian restaurant at Fort Mason. We were a little uncomfortable having our friends pay for a prixe-fixe meal but it was the most convenient location since it shared the same parking lot with the theatre.

We got started a tad late and our server was slow. We weren't too worried since the performance was being held at Herbst Pavilion right next door. But it was past 8pm by the time we made it over to Cowell Theatre inside Herbst Pavilion. No problem, these things usually start late anyway.

The lady at the door rips our tickets and hands us our stubs. We quickly move on to the usher who glances at my ticket and says, "C-19, okay, you'll be in the 3rd row from the front, left hand side." The six of us shuffle our way to row C and find that the left hand section only goes up to seat #14. The middle section starts with seat #119. I ask the very large, comfortably seated men to show me their seat numbers and they confirm that they are, in fact, in the correct seats. By this time people are getting settled and seated and the six of us are spread out over the theatre looking for our seats. I make my way to the right hand side of the theatre and see that the seat numbers are still in the hundreds. I find another usher and hand him my ticket. He takes a closer look at it and reads the top of the stub, "'Palace of Fine Arts Theatre' - um, I think you're in the wrong place."

Fortunately, the Palace of Fine Arts is just down the street from Fort Mason, not too far at all. Merritt parks in the parking lot in a spot that I was sure would scrape the sides off her Subaru Outback. We rush to the entrance and the woman at the door, glances at our tickets and says, you'll want to go to the left hand side of the theatre. We start walking across the lobby and another usher meets us halfway asking if we needed any help. Sure, I think, handing him my ticket, we could use all the help we can get. "C-19, okay you'll be sitting on the right hand side of the theatre, go through that doorway." We follow his instructions and enter the dark theatre.

By now it is 8:37pm, we've missed the Chinese group and are in the middle of the Indonesian performance. The ushers ask us to stand and wait at the top of the aisle until there is a break between performances. We stand and wait. Finally the Indonesians have finished and we make our way down the aisle in complete darkness. There isn't any gap of six empty seats in the C row and our usher flashes her light on my ticket, "C-19, you guys are on the other side." We make our way back up the aisle and go over to the left hand side of the theatre. By then the Scottish group has already started dancing and the ushers ask us to wait until there is a break.

We watch the Scottish group dance from the aisle and, there's no other way to put this, they suck. Not only are we devastatingly late but the performance might be a bust as well. The Scottish dancers transition seamlessly into the Dutch clog-dancing troupe. They're a lot better. But we're still standing at the top of the aisle waiting for our chance to sit. It's been a while and the usher gets us ready to take our seats when there is a break. "Okay, C-19, that's 3rd row from the front, in the middle section."

There is a break in the performance and I go for it, everyone following my lead. There is indeed a gap of six seats in row C with one guy sitting in the middle of it. I excuse my way over there anyway. At this point I realize that the break in the performance was not really a break, just a slight pause really, the Dutch clog-dancers have revved it up again, and there are six of us smack dab in the middle of the theatre 3 rows from the front trying to find our friggin seats! (Did I mention that Paul and Peter are 6ft 2 and 6ft 4 inches respectively? Yeah.) The guy who was sitting in the middle of our seats moves over a few. Then one more. Then one more. We're still scooting ourselves over when he realizes that, yes, we need ALL six seats. So he gets up and has to walk across all six of us to get back to his seat which was near the aisle. So we finally have our seats. We sink as low as possible in them. We start to watch the performance that we've disturbed so blatantly. Less than minute and half passes and the lights go up... Intermission.

We don't dare move. We wait for the second half of the performance which, thank god, kicks serious ass. The Korean group (KOREAPRIDE!) was the best. Their costumes were the most colorful and beautiful, the choreography was professional, the drumbeat was exciting, the hats with the twirling string were cool. There was also India, Spanish flamenco and Hawaii and all were outstanding. The performances were cultural but with a contemporary twist. We were all impressed and very glad to have gutted out the odyssey and made it to the dance. Although the journey was as memorable as the performance.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

My wife, Merritt, has experienced many of the great restaurants San Francisco has to offer. But she'd never been to Gary Danko which just this year surpassed Boulevard as the #1 restaurant in the city. Last night I took her there as a surprise for her birthday. Not only was the food, service and presentation excellent but there were little touches that placed it above its peers.

We sat at the bar and had a drink as we waited for our table. We were early and our table was availabe at exactly 8pm our reservation time. The interior decor is reminiscent of Chicago-style: dark lighting and warm wooden tones, but not heavy or oppressive. The art pieces were striking without being showy.

For appetizer Merritt had Lobster Salad with Avocado Mousse, Papaya, Mango and Madras Curry Vinaigrette; and I had Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Maitake Mushrooms, Patty Pan Squash, Marjoram Oil. Mine was a rather large serving for an appetizer and it was oustanding.

For entree Merritt had Pan Seared Beef Filet with Wild Nettle Risotto, Asparagus, and Morel Mushrooms; and I had Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Israeli Cous Cous, Yellow Zucchini and Garam Masala. This was a relatively smaller portion but still more than enough and just as delicious.

For dessert Merritt had Baked Chocolate Soufflé with Two Sauces; and I had Chocolate Hazelnut Crispy with Coffee Cream and Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet. I liked mine slightly more, definitely a chocolate-lover's nirvana.

Our service felt more intimate than at Boulevard's. Our waiter was putting on a show every time he came by and made us feel special. One of the nice touches was that he took our valet parking ticket and said it would be added to the check and that the ticket would then be returned to our table once the car was outside the door so we wouldn't have to wait out in the sidewalk. Another was that they gave an extra plate of sweet goodies with the words "Happy Birthday" on the plate - I had only mentioned that the occassion was a birthday once to the reservationist.

All in all a very special experience.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I also saw Howl's Moving Castle a few weeks ago and I liked it. I hesitate to recommend it unless you're a fan of animation. Miyazaki's movies of late have been pretty esoteric and altogether trippy.

Although I thought Howl's was relatively less 'out there' than Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. My favorite Miyazaki films are Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro which are more rooted in a traditional storytelling arc.

Still, I think Howl's themes and symbolism will reap many an interpretation and deep thought for years to come, which is part of what makes him such a riveting figure in contemporary animation. Plus, it's frickin beautiful to watch.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Saw Batman Begins last night. I'm an avid media-head who reads a lot of spoilerish info and measure the buzz on upcoming movies in development. Batman was being well-received, rated highly, the buzz was 'excellent'. So I came into theatre with high expectations. I was not disappointed.

It's easier to note what wasn't good than what was since most of it was top-notch. The soundtrack was fairly poor which had been noted in early reviews. The movie was pretty long and did drag at a few moments especially during speechy/preachy scenes between Liam Neeson's character and Christian Bale's Batman/Bruce Wayne. And that was all. The rest was damn good.

The supporting cast was awesome. Cillian Murphy in particular stole every scene he was in. I heard that Murphy was up for the part of Batman and when he didn't get it they tagged him for the Scarecrow. It would've been fun to have seen Murphy's Batman - however, Bale was excellent. I can't say enough about the supporting cast, they all had one-liners, they delivered them perfectly. My wife thought that Liam Neeson was miscast and I see her point; but his role/performance didn't take me out of the movie.

The gadgetry was sweet. I don't want to ruin any scenes for you but I really liked the Batmobile. When I first saw the pics on the internet, I was really worried, but I get it now. I totally get it. The backdrop of Chicago + CGI as Gotham were beautiful, fantastic, not at all cheap or kitschy or fake. It made for an even more powerful experience than Buton's Gotham which I thought was an awesome artistic feat in itself.

So there you go. Batman is thumbs up all the way. Enjoy.

Monday, June 06, 2005

I used to really hate Flash.

I hated the stupid fancy animated intros to websites (still do). On repeat visits, the intro is annoying and a waste of time, unless the site is meant for a one-time-visit only in which case the site is pretty useless.

I was unimpressed with flash widgetry (especially when they employ a scrollbar without the scrollbar and only the arrows - the scrollbar lets the user know how much content there is and your position within it so you know how much you have left to read!)

On the whole many of the early implementations of Flash UI were just that - flashy, but not an improvement in any pragmatic sense to the HTML version of the site. In fact, the HTML version was quicker to load and less buggy therefore often the most utilitarian experience. I'm all about utilitarian.

My attitude towards flash changed recently with the new developments in flash technology. One great example of a flash product is the new Yahoo! Baseball GameChannel/StatTracker. Now there is something you cannot do in HTML (at least not as smoothly) and it's useful!

Now I'm sitting in front of my computer trying to learn how to use flash. Not for a UI project but for animation school. I need a reel of some sort to get into the fast-tracked mfa in animation program and they have said that a flash animation could suffice.

So, I'm back to hating Flash.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"I Was a Cigarette Captain"

It was the summer of '95, I had just quit my first job out of college without having another one to fall back on (a scenario which would play itself out repeatedly in my professional career) so I became a temp with Kelly Services. "Oh, a Kelly Girl," my dad said, "we hire them sometimes."

My very first time as a Kelly Girl was with CitiBank. I handed out the daily marketing report on the trading floor. Every desk had 3 monitors, two for cable news stations and one Bloomberg station with stock quotes inserts, tv inserts and a microphone - a super media consumption trough. One time a guy started banging his phone so hard on his desk the receiver split into pieces. I discovered later he was "doing currencies." "Must've been the deutschmark," my friend said, "it crashed that week." Everybody kept to themselves and were very intent on what they were doing.

I got a call for my second temp job on a Sunday night while I was eating dinner. "How do you feel about working for Philip Morris, you know, the cigarette company?" My roomates and I were literally watching 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace explaining why they were not going to air the Tobacco Whistleblower story. Looking at the TV I replied, "Sure!"

The next morning I walked into the lobby of their midtown Manhattan office and the receptionist handed me an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) to sign. A document that prohibits me from ever discussing my experience there or so help them God they will sue the crap out of me. After I signed it she looked up and said, "Hello! Welcome to Philip Morris."

Every person I met was the nicest person in the world. They all said hello and asked me how I was doing and welcomed me. They smiled and not that fake kind of smile but a genuine I'm-noticing-you-and-want-to-be-nice-to-you smile. I sat at my desk and noticed a sign on the wall. It was a No Smoking Sign with a gangbuster symbol over a cigarette. Except it wasn't. I looked more closely and saw that the gangbuster sign was modified. The line was curvy instead of straight making the sign look like a yin and yang symbol. Below it read, "Smoke Friendly".

I worked in the Employee Services department for Margot C. Margot was very nice. One of her main jobs was making sure that employees were relocated successfully. My main responsibilities were:
- updating the gym calendar
- updating the Health Awareness calendar
- making sure deceased employees got a flower arrangement at their funeral
- making sure employees who've just had babies were sent a congratulatory baby spoon
- helping out with the United Way fund drive
- making sure everybody in my department got their free weekly carton of cigarettes.
- dealing with retired employees who were not sent their free monthly carton of cigarettes

On Monday I would receive a legal-sized hardstock sheet of bright fluorescent green paper. At the top of the page it read "Cigarette Captain" with directions on what to do. It also listed all the brands of cigarettes made by Philip Morris: Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Benson & Hedges, Merit, Parliament, Alpine, Basic, Cambridge, Bristol, Bucks, Chesterfield, Collector's Choice, Commander, English Ovals, Lark, L&M, Players and Saratoga etc. I would walk around the department asking each person (there were 12) what brand they wanted. I would record how many cartons were requested of what brand on the green sheet. Then on Tuesday it would get picked up by the mailroom person. On Friday, sitting on my desk would be a stack of cigarette cartons held together with rubber bands. One by one, people would stop by my desk and pick up their carton and walk back to their desk.

The interesting thing was nobody in my department smoked. They would give their free carton to their friends or family members or just store it in their desk, but they never turned down the cigarettes. In fact, only one person on our entire floor smoked. A white-haired middle-manager who would light it up every half hour or so with his office door wide open. It stank up the entire floor.

Where were you when the OJ Simpson verdict was read? I was at Philip Morris, coming back from an errand and my officemates were crowded around a radio at someone's desk. I made it to within earshot just as the juror stumbled over her sentence ending with, "not guilty." Later that day, I was riding an elevator with a few officemates and their friends. One woman was theorizing about who may have killed OJ's wife and friend. She recalled seeing footage of OJ's white suburban car chase and when it was all over and OJ came out to greet his family from the car, his son ran to him first giving him a big, emotional hug. She thought it was his son who did it.

Sometimes I would check Margot's voicemail for messages and write them down. It was something she encouraged me to do, but in retrospect it wasn't such a good idea. One time, a woman, who was clearly a friend of hers, left the message: "Margot, this is _____ and I'm in Washington, DC with a million black men surrounding the entire block." She said it not as if she were threatened, but as if it were exciting, thrilling, scandalous. It was the week of the first Million Man March. Do I delete the message? Do I write it down? Do I save it? If I save it, it clearly shows been heard. I was embarrassed to have inadvertently eavesdropped on a personal voicemail of racial proportions. I don't remember whether I saved it or deleted it, but I think I saved it.

In the lobby, security was tight. You had to show your card to the security doorman and pass through a turnstile. One day my officemate was pretty upset. She said that one of the doormen had just died the night before. Apparently he had an altercation with the police and they apprehended him using pepper spray. He had had some sort of allergic reaction to the spray and couldn't breathe. By the time they brought him to the hospital he was dead.

I was walking by a conference room one day and the door was propped open and I could hear the presentation inside. The man was saying that yes, the cigarette business in the US was on the decline. Yes, the media onslaught from the whistleblower story was affecting sales. But something to consider is the global market. The sales in Asia were on the increase and South America was on the rise as well. You have to look at the bigger picture, he said, and in the global view, we're still doing pretty well.

I worked as a temp for almost 3 months and towards the end Margot C. offered me a full-time job. I actually felt guilty about turning it down. Because here I was working with all these nice people, all of whom had this enormous chip on their shoulder or dark cloud hanging over their head because they were working at a cigarette company, a cancer factory, an evil empire. It was the unspoken guilt and shame that full-time employees carried with them like a scarlet letter sewn to their suits. I just said no.

I finished my last day of work taking the call of a gravelly voiced retiree, making sure that she was re-sent her monthly carton of Marlboro Reds. I had to fill out a yellow form in triplicate. Then I turned around and filled out the blue form for sending flowers for a deceased employee's funeral.