Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking back on 2009

I'm no good at lists. Many bloggers seem to be good at making Top 10 lists and the like. I think I've done about 2 in the history of this blog. It's way too much effort to come up with a set number of things to exemplify some idea. So this is my haphazard ("lazy blogger") retrospective on the year 2009.

This was a significant year for me personally. I left the job I'd held for two years, moved 5000 miles to Hawaii, began graduate school towards a PhD in oceanography, and got my first boyfriend (first date, first kiss, etc.). I also went to Germany for the first time to make my first presentation at an international conference and got my first peer-reviewed paper published. I still feel like the same person, though.

I don't really go to the theater that much (though that's all relative, I guess), but I saw a good selection of new movies this year. I got to see Push (the sci-fi movie, not Precious based on the novel Push by Sapphire), which was admittedly not a particularly remarkable movie, but it was exciting for me because I had read the script a few years before it came out. Watchmen was a bit of a disappointment. Star Trek was awesome--everything that I wanted it to be and more. Up was delightful, as Pixar films tend to be. District 9 blew me away--a sci-fi film that was provocative, original, exciting and refreshing. Avatar was enchanting and gorgeous, not to mention successful, capping off a record-setting year at the box office.

The epic Battlestar Galactica came to an exciting, thoughtful end. I was satisfied, and it remains one of my absolute favorite TV series ever. Joss Whedon's clever Dollhouse came and went--Fox will air the finale in 2010, but it can basically be said to be a movie of 2009 alone. Glee aired its delightful pilot in the late spring and built its fan base over the summer to become the biggest new hit of the season. With a great cast, clever songs, and a sharp wit, it deserves the distinction.

Dragon Age: Origins. The beginning of the year for me was sadly all filler just to tide me over to November's release of BioWare's DAO. I still haven't finished it (why is my vacation so frakkin' busy?), but so far it's been very smart, fun, and engaging.

I thought about doing some list of the best of the decade (leaving aside the argument that due to the lack of a year zero the decade won't end for another year), but since this decade has essentially been everything since my early high school years, where my tastes were maturing to their current state, to make a list of my favorites from the decade is almost like making a list of my favorites. Basically, I don't have enough decades behind me for comments on the past decade to show much perspective. Plus...lists are hard. But the aughts--or whatever it is we're calling them (I think it should be "the double oh's")--have been good to me, bringing me through high school, college, and into grad school. The decade has been pretty rocky on the national and international stage. May the upcoming decade bring good things to us all.

Farewell, 2009!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Geek-tastic stunt casting

Even as I happily continue playing through Dragon Age: Origins, I am eagerly anticipating the release of Mass Effect 2 on January 26.

A short video on their website reveals much of the significant voice cast of Mass Effect 2. The returning cast includes Keith David as Counselman (formerly Captain) Anderson, Liz Sroka as Tali, and Seth "geek living a geek's dream" Green as Joker. The new cast members recruited into the sequel represent a surprising selection of major sci-fi franchises. Stunt casting has previously crept into high profile games; Mass Effect 2 seems to have followed with an impressive selection of the kind of people who make the kind of geeks who will be playing the game go squee. These include

Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) as EDI the Normandy's computer
Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) as Miranda Lawson
Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) as Aria, an Asari
Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica) as Capt. Bailey
Adam Baldwin (Firefly) as Kal'Reegar
Michael Dorn (Star Trek TNG) as Gatatog Uvenk

The rest of the cast revealed in the video includes Simon Templeman (who has done a lot of voice work, e.g. Dragon Age: Origins and KotOR) as Han Gerrel, Shohreh Aghdashloo (who has recently had a recurring guest role on FlashForward) as Quarian Admiral Shala'Raan, Natalia Cigliuti (I didn't recognize her from anything) as Asari Morinth, and Martin Sheen (perhaps the actor I was most surprised to see) as "Illusive Man".

I tend to have more faith in experienced, proven voice actors than in big names when it comes to video games. There's always the danger that I'll hear the actor--or worse, their more famous roles--instead of the game character. But we'll see how this one turns out. They've got some great people, so I'm hopeful.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Have an RPG Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from RPG Called Life!

May you find peace, joy, love, and hope this winter season.

(Screen captures from the Guild Wars Wintersday festivities 2009. I had a potion that turned my avatar into an elf in that first one--and s/he is doing a little Christmas jig for you.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not in Hawaii anymore...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am home for the holidays, staying at my parents' house (the house I grew up in, starting in 8th grade) in New England. I left Honolulu at 80 degrees F and touched down in 19 F weather. But home has my cute puppy Ele (short for Ele'ele, the Hawaiian word for "black", though we usually improperly pronounce her name "Ellie"). My brothers whom I adore are both home, and Mom has been cooking up a storm. With hot chocolate, a fireplace, and a brightly decorated Christmas tree, it's quite cozy here.

The first night I came back, we got a good bit of snow--maybe 10 or 12 inches. I woke up at a jet-lagged 11 am and was greeted by a white winter wonderland. Ele, I have a feeling I'm not in Hawaii anymore.

Here are a few photos from around the house that day.

Ele, who will always be a puppy to me but is actually 13 years old, knows how to fetch the newspaper. This is a particularly useful skill on cold, snowy mornings when the paper has been dumped in the snow next to the mailbox at the end of our long driveway. With the promise of a treat, she happily sifts through the snow to retrieve the paper.

Good dog.

The sky was very pretty as we tried to get the driveway cleared out before sundown. Here's my dad snow blowing in the sunset.

And my mom shoveling.

Unfortunately, I am a terrible photographer. Some of the blame can be placed on my sad camera which has a broken screen so I can't see what I'm shooting very well or change any of the settings, and on the fact that it was cold and the sun was setting fast and I was going to miss my chance for this shot. But this is just not a good photo. I am including it because the subject is so ideal: a holly bush with berries, snow, and a setting sun. Just look at the photo and think of what it should have looked like.

Season's greetings!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Eddie

Finally got the photos uploaded...

Eddie Aikau is a surfing legend, particularly famous in Hawaii. He was known for fearlessly surfing the biggest waves, as well as being a North Shore lifeguard, braving 30-foot Waimea Bay waves to save lives. Unfortunately, he was lost at sea in 1978 at age 31 in a tragic incident: he was part of a Polynesian Voyaging Society-recruited crew attempting a voyage between Tahiti and Hawaii on a double-hulled canoe, much as the ancient Polynesians had once used to travel between island chains. The canoe sprung a leak and capsized, and after waiting some time for help to arrive, Eddie volunteered to paddle his surfboard to Lanai for help. The rest of the crew was eventually found, but he was not. Today, surfers use the mantra "Eddie would go" to inspire themselves to tackle intimidating waves, a saying you can find on bumper stickers and the like, and you can find other cute variations of the saying as well ("Mom would go", "Eddie would tow", etc.).

A surfing contest in the famously huge waves at Waimea Bay is held in his honor: The Quicksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau. It can be as often as annual, but it requires such huge waves that there may not be any day in a given year that is suitable for the event. There was recently a dry spell, with the last event being in 2004. But the contest was held once again on December 8, 2009, so I cut two classes the week before finals to go out and see it with the Housemate.

To get a good view, we had to get there early. Since everyone else was getting there early, too, we had to park about a 30-40 minute walk away from the bay (also, there was a chance the waves would be big enough to close the road down). It was still dark when we started out, but the sky began to lighten as we walked. We got there about ten minutes before sunrise, stopping to watch the competition just off the road, looking down on the bay. Some surfers got in the water not long after that, testing the waves. At this point, it was still uncertain whether the competition would be held, since the competition officials were waiting to see if the swell was sufficient. But they called it on, and the crowd on the beach (where they could actually hear the announcement) roared. The competition started at 8 am.

I know I posted pictures of beautiful big waves back in November, but these waves are even bigger in most cases, I have different kinds of shots, and it was a different event, after all, with the competition going on. And I was using the Housemate's camera for almost all of them, so I actually had a working screen. So exciting (I need a new camera).

Here's the bay as the sun was rising high enough to shine down on some of the waves. The break that the surfers were all catching is the left-most wave that is not in the foreground.

I was pretty obsessed with this one shore break wave, mainly because the spray was catching the sun just right so you could see a rainbow in it. I love rainbows. Here's one with less rainbow but a nice hollow barrel. This one is the Housemate's favorite, since the barrel is so suitable for surfing. You can see the "green room", as they call it, not to be confused with the backstage green room.

Here is one with a less hollow barrel but a nicer curtain of spray. Still doesn't catch much of the rainbow, though.

This one has a more impressive crashing wave, and it catches the rainbow better.

Believe me, I had a lot more of that break, and it took me a long time to narrow it down to those. Which is the best of the three? I think I like the third best.

The bottom half of this photo could almost look like a snowy field, there's so much white water.

OK, finally some surfers in the competition! (You may have to click for a full size version.)


Not a good photo, but it's the only one that I have any clue who the surfer is. I think that this is Kelly Slater, modern surfing legend, riding the wave in. But I could be wrong about that.

Three surfers drop in

Nice big wave

We didn't stay the whole day, unfortunately, because of finals and final papers. Apparently the huge waves were more consistent in the afternoon. Oh well. It was a fun day.

Good home, bad internet

I promised photos of the surf competition. There are big barrels, famous surfers, and rainbows in the spray. And now that I am at my parents' house in New England, there are pictures of holly berries and sunsets and my puppy in the snow. And I have enough time on my hands (between DAO sessions) to put together posts with these photos. But my parents' internet has such questionable bandwidth that I have about a 50% chance of uploading a single photo (takes about 2 minutes), and a 50% chance of instead somehow shutting down my house's internet, requiring me to unplug the thing and plug it back in then wait a few minutes for it to start up again (can an internet connection overload/short-circuit?). Needless to say, uploading photos is a bit frustrating. But I will get them up as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I am happy to be home. I arrived at the airport the morning before the big storm hit (thank goodness, otherwise I might have been stuck in my layover L.A. airport for 24 hours--or more!). I had only the chenille sweater from my suitcase that I'd pulled over my little T-shirt. Luckily, my dad picked me up at the airport and brought the winter coat that I had neglected to take with me to Hawaii, though I did have to sprint out to meet him at the car in the 19 degrees F (-7 C) weather. Kind of a shock after leaving Honolulu at 80 F (27 C).

Now I'm enjoying Mom's cooking (chicken fajitas, Chinese beef and broccoli, and now she's making some sort of beef stew that involved lighting Cognac on fire), hanging out with my dog, and drinking hot chocolate (Spanish chocolate, not from powder, spiced with cinnamon). The snow outside is beautiful and makes it feel so cozy inside. Life in Honolulu has not made me soft yet for the cold. I just have my nice sweaters, and everything's fine. Everything's fine. Home is nice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Golden Globe Nominees 2010

It's the hap-happiest season of all!

Ah, 'tis the season of giving--awards!

The Golden Globe nominees were announced on Tuesday morning. Golden Globes, awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are awarded to TV shows as well as movies and split some of their categories into both drama and comedy/musical categories, so there's lots of love to go around. The awards will be handed out on January 17, 2010 at a televised event hosted by Ricky Gervais. They haven't had a host at the Golden Globes in a while, but judging by his good reception when handing out awards at previous events, he should be a great host for the occasion.

Here I discuss some of the big contenders and laud the nominations of my own favorite movies and shows.

Up in the Air topped the movie nominations with six: feature (drama), actor (drama), director, screenplay, and two supporting actresses. Director Jason Reitman's last two features were Thank You for Smoking and Juno--he is on a great roll. I haven't seen Up in the Air yet, but I have every intention of doing so after it opens wide in the U.S. on Christmas day.

The Hurt Locker received nominations for best feature (drama), director, and screenplay. I've seen this at the top of many critics' 2009 lists, and I'm really interested in seeing it. It's being praised as perhaps the only Iraq war movie so far (and there have been many) that was actually good. It is an outstanding war movie in itself, but it is even more extraordinary in that it was directed by a woman (an extreme minority in directing film in general, but even more so in directing action/war films). I hope Kathryn Bigelow receives an Oscar nomination as well (and she has a good chance); if she does, she will be only the fourth woman ever to do so (there have been no winners among them).

Avatar received nominations for best feature (drama), director, score and song. Buzz has fluctuated for Avatar between positive and negative, so much so that I don't even know what it is at right now. But given that I am a fantasy/sci-fi geek, I am sure I will enjoy it, even if it's not the greatest thing ever. Neither was Titanic, which, if you've been living in a box, is the last feature that Avatar's director/writer James Cameron did--quite a lot to live up to. I intend to see this movie as soon as I can, though given my travels on its opening weekend, I will probably wait until after Christmas.

As you might have detected, I have not seen many of the movie nominees this year. This is somewhat surprising given that I like movies so much, but it is somewhat less surprising in that I am a grad student with little life outside studying. I am sad to say that the only Golden Globe movie nominees that I have already seen are District 9 (awesome, awesome movie), nominated for best screenplay, and Up, nominated for best animated feature.

And I wasn't that much better in the TV categories. Luckily, one of the shows that I love got a lot of love from the Golden Globes, too. Glee received four nominations, making it the most nominated freshman series of the year: TV series - comedy or musical (it's both!), actress (comedy or musical) for Lea Michele, actor (comedy or musical) for Matthew Morrison, and supporting actress for Jane Lynch. I think Jane Lynch is the standout actress, even if she is one of maybe two actors on the show who hasn't had to sing, but the supporting actress category is stiff competition given that it includes not just comedies, musicals and dramas but also miniseries and made-for-TV movies.

The other nominees from shows I love are Michael Emerson, nominated for his amazing role as Ben on Lost, and Neil Patrick Harris as the legendary Barney on How I Met Your Mother. Emerson has received three Emmy nominations for the role, finally winning for it this past year, but this is his first Golden Globe nomination. This is NPH's second Golden Globe nomination for his role.

Well, I'm pretty excited about the awards season, though I'll be a little more excited once I've seen more of the movies. Congrats to all the nominees.

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

A full list of the Golden Globe nominees can be found here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Critical Point

I have finally reached that critical point at which final exams seem imminent enough that it is no longer enjoyable to procrastinate, but it is still not enjoyable (it never is) to study. I study, I'm miserable. I play DAO or watch TV, I feel so bad and stressed that I'm still miserable. Can't win. It is utterly depressing. What was I thinking, coming back to school?

Anyway, I'm pretty busy with finals and final projects for my first semester in grad school. But I did go to the Eddie Aikau surf competition last week (even bigger waves than the other week), and I hope to post photos some time in the next week. If I'm too busy then it may have to wait until next weekend, when finals will finally be over. And I will be back home at my parents'. That will be a considerable change of scene--from tropical paradise to (hopefully) snowy New England.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The light of my life...

So part of the reason that I didn't post very much in November was that I was busy playing Dragon Age: Origins. Because I am so proud of my little female Elven mage, I thought I'd share some pics! DAO conveniently takes periodic screenshots while you're playing, so I have a few to choose from. Of course, it never seems to take the shots during battles, so I'll have to do screen captures myself if I want any action shots. Here are some of the screenshots I do have.

Here's the little girl before her Harrowing at the very beginning of the game.

Shortly after becoming a Grey Warden...

Meeting Leliana

Not a screenshot but from my character profile so you can see a clear shot of her, including her cowl (all head gear is "removed" during the cut scenes). Apparently the cowl was chafing her long Elven ears, so she had to cut little slits in the side. Didn't change the item's magical properties, luckily.

Well, those are all the pics for now. So far, DAO is awesome. I love the dark fantasy world it takes place in, the characters, the story, and the gameplay. I just can't express how much I'm enjoying it. At present I'm about 28% of the way through (the game is kind enough to provide an estimate). I'll be saying more about it, I'm sure, as I go along, maybe commenting more on the characters and plot once I've seen more of them.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cars and Transformers

This is another random story, but I thought it would be a funny if embarrassing look into my little mind. This morning the Housemate and I were walking to school together, and he said "Oh, so I meant to tell you about that machine."

Totally out of the blue, no context, except apparently from a previous conversation from who knows when. Naturally, my mind started darting around, trying to think of what machine he was talking about. Basically, brainstorming types of machines. So, when Eleni is trying to think of types of machines, what are the first things that come to her mind?

Apparently, cars and Transformers.

It is such a strange thing. We were walking along the street, so there were cars going by. So when he mentioned machines, they were the first machines I thought of. But the next thing that came to my mind was Transformers. My mind actually kind of oscillated back and forth between cars and Transformers for a good six seconds or so, unable to break away or think of anything else that he might be talking about, until he finally broke the silence and clarified which machine he meant (which was much less exciting than Transformers).

So there you have it. To me, machines = either cars or Transformers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's like kindergarten all over again...

Mommy, mommy--look! The teacher gave me a prize for the best job coloring of all the other kids!

No, really.

You'd think that grad school would be all serious, with challenging, engaging, academically valuable projects assigned in class. Well, our last homework assignment in geological oceanography was to "Colorize the Arrhenius 1963 map of pelagic sediments and submit in electronic form." Using the word "colorize" doesn't hide the meaning of the assignment: the professor wanted us to color in a black and white map. And, better yet, submit it in a form so that he could use it in his future slide show presentations. In truth he needed it--his present slide with the map was black and white with poor resolution.

This is what the original looked like:

Though somewhat bitter that he was essentially having us make him an image for his presentations which he found too tedious to make himself, we all went diligently about our task. Some people pulled out their crayons, colored over the shaded areas of a printout of the map, and scanned it into the computer. Others of us traced over the electronic image from his slides using various programs, filling in the areas with color. I used PowerPoint. I suppose I went the extra distance in tracing over the outlines of the continents and the lines of longitude and latitude, making them sharp and bold. I selected colors from PowerPoint's default color scheme to suit my taste. When I look closely, I see numerous mistakes--stray marks, lines that are supposed to connect that don't, etc.--but I guess I could claim those imperfections add to the artistic value of the image. Yeah. So I spent several hours on this... nearly an entire afternoon, I'm not as ashamed to admit as I should be... but I found it quite pleasant devoting myself to such a mindless, meticulous task. It's refreshing to do on occasion. Here's what the final product looked like:

As if a coloring homework assignment wasn't elementary school enough already, when we turned our maps in the professor told us that he would select his favorite map and give a prize to the student who made it. We all wondered what the prize would be and waited anxiously for two weeks to learn which lucky student would win. Well, what'd'ya know, I won a book! The book is Overshoot by William R. Catton, Jr., which appears to be about how, considering our population size and growth and use of the world's resources, humans are all totally frakked. Delightful.

So this was a totally random story, I know, but I just thought you all should know that yours truly is officially an award-winning colorer. A bit like putting the picture up on my refrigerator. Yay!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

North Shore continued

Yesterday I posted photos of the big waves at Sunsets, Pipeline, and Waimea, but on the same trip I also took photos of the picturesque Turtle Bay. If you've ever seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that's where they filmed most of the movie.

So, without further ado, more pretty photos!

This shoreline can kill you seven ways... with just its pinky.

Looks like some place that may have been in the movie

Another shot taken from the same bit of coastline

Waves crashing behind tide pools at Turtle Bay

Another shot of the tide pools, with a bit more sun. You can see the haze from the wave spray, which was refreshing but got my sunglasses all salty.

Tide pools and an outcropping, with wild white water beyond

Quite a picturesque place for a resort. I'd never been there before, so it was fun to see.

Monday, November 30, 2009

North Shore's swell swell

Last Wednesday, the Housemate and I played hooky and spent the day on the North Shore watching the waves. The only class I was missing was physical oceanography, so I figure it was actually important for me as a PO student to take this field trip and witness the awesome power of physical oceanography at work. Plus, it was the day before Thanksgiving, right?

The reason we had to go on Wednesday was that the swell was huge. 30+ feet. The Housemate had to explain this to me, but with swell that big it was likely that Sunset and Pipeline, two famous and popular breaks on the North Shore (if you've ever heard of the movie Blue Crush with Kate Bosworth, they were surfing Pipeline), would be too unruly to have good waves (it would "close out" or something). BUT Waimea Bay, known for waves so big it makes Pipeline look amateur, only breaks with swell that big. And that doesn't happen very often (several days a year). Since the Housemate is a surfer (though "out of practice" enough that he wasn't going to try surfing the super-huge waves) and I'm a wave lover (PO PhD student, after all), we jumped in the car with our cameras and drove up to the North Shore at 5:30 am to get there by sunrise.

Of course my camera screen, after a brief period where it worked properly, whited out, and I couldn't just use the Housemate's camera because his battery died (it hadn't been fully charged). Kind of bad planning, but remember that we left at 5:30. But I still got a few nice shots to share.

While in the car driving around the North Shore, I played a game of "Encore", trying to think of songs that use the word "wave". The rules of Encore are as follows: you must have 8 words in a row including the word in question, and you must sing with the correct tune or at least some good approximation. In my "wave" game, I deemed any sense of the words "wave" or "waves" acceptable, but words like "waving" or "waved" were not, since the originally desired sense of the word was the noun form. I came up with seven songs that fit the bill. What songs can you think of? It's a fun car game. To get you in the mood for the wave photos, I'll share a snippet from one of the songs (a favorite of mine... I danced to it once):

Fragile as ships as we pass through Gibraltar
The Sirens have long given way
Dark as the murky graveyard of sailors
Whispering secrets told in the crashing waves

-Edwin McCain, "The Rhythm of Life"

And now the photos.

Waimea Bay minutes before sunrise. Pink clouds are nice. The break at the mouth of the bay is where the surfers are in the last photo of this post.

The notoriously dangerous shore break at Waimea. I like how the light caught the higher clouds in this one.


A wave by Pipeline, early in the morning (7:30ish by now)

There was a surfing competition scheduled for that day at Sunsets, but the water was too wild, so it was postponed. (I watched some of the finals for the contest over the weekend--but online in Honolulu. Still pretty cool.)

A tow-in surfer catches a wave at Pipeline later in the morning (9:30ish). You can see the jet ski that towed him in, but you may need to zoom in to make out the surfer to the left.

People watching waves at Pipeline. You can almost make out leaping horses in the wave break. The little orange flag with the sign is a warning about the high surf.

Late morning surfers at Waimea Bay (the break visible in the first photo of the morning). They all go for the wave, but there's a system of priority (based on position and whose turn it is), so the others will pull out once the person with the highest priority shows they're not about to fall down. Looks like quite the ride.

More photos tomorrow!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thor casting, Dark Void, Lost schedule, UFO, etc.

Some little tidbits of recent entertainment news that have caught my eye.

Casting for the Thor movie continues. Anthony Hopkins has been cast as Odin, king of Asgard and father of Thor (Variety blog). Stuart Townsend, Ray Stevenson, and Tadanobu Asano will play Warrior's Three (Variety blog), who fight alongside Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Kat Dennings will play Darcy, who works with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) (Variety). The cast looks pretty good so far.

Reeve Carney has been cast as lead Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Spider-Man: The Musical, aka Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark (Variety). He joins Evan Rachel Wood as Mary Jane and Alan Cumming as the Green Goblin. The show's budget problems continue, but it seems that nothing has been rescheduled or called off, yet (LA Times)

Brad Pitt's Plan B production company along with Reliance Big Entertainment is planning to develop Capcom's video game Dark Void into a movie (Variety). I don't know the game, but I'm always wary of video game-to-movie adaptations, since they're usually so bad. We'll see what becomes of this one.

Lost has had a number of different air times over the course of its run, but ABC has decided that its sixth and final season this spring will air Tuesdays at 9. The season will premiere on Tuesday, February 2, with a two-hour premiere from 9 to 11 pm, then settle into its regular time slot for the remainder of the season (Variety).

Avatar is getting some big promotion from toy deals with McDonald's Coca-Cola, and Mattel. One neat feature are these augmented reality cards that seem pretty cool (Variety--you can see a short video clip of the augmented reality thingy at work). I'm not sure if the new technology is quite at an "hours of entertainment" stage yet, but still, they're worth noting.

The 1970s British TV series UFO is being adapted into a feature film version with Joshua Jackson set to star (Variety). I'm not familiar with the TV show, but Joshua Jackson has proved his value in the sci-fi genre with his work on Fringe. I'll keep my eye out for more news on this project.

And lastly, Joss Whedon has won a Vanguard Award from the Producers Guild of America for his achievements in new media and technology (Variety). Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was an innovative and successful venture, and just one of Whedon's many achievements. Joss is the man. Congrats.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Men kissing men

(Hoping some people in Utah will find my blog through Google searches ;)

So you may have heard that Adam Lambert kissed a guy--his keyboardist--at the American Music Awards last weekend. The incident caused quite a bit of controversy, with some expressing appalled outrage and others delighted support. To be clear, I fall in the latter category, since I look forward to the day when such acts are seen as perfectly acceptable by everyone.

Anyway, I find it interesting how there has been a much stronger negative reaction to Adam's kiss than there tends to be when two women kiss on TV--say, Madonna and Britney at the VMAs. It seems this is because, in general, men like seeing girl-on-girl action but are disgusted by guy-on-guy action. Women, on the other hand, do not have such a strong negative response to seeing girl-on-girl activities. So quite simply, guy-on-guy is offensive to half the population, while girl-on-girl is not particularly offensive to most people.

I have long been puzzled by the apparent disgust men feel at the sight of guy-on-guy action (I remember guys refusing to see Brokeback Mountain because they couldn't bear the one minute of male-male intimacy. Heads lopped off? Blood and guts spilling forth? Cool! Guys humping? Ugh I can't bear to watch it's just so wrong make it go away!!). I think personally, my reaction to seeing a woman kiss another woman is not unlike my reaction to seeing a woman kiss a man I don't find particularly attractive. It's kind of neutral. Not something I'm dying to do myself, but seeing it in a movie or TV show doesn't mean they're making me do it, so why should I care?

The Lambert incident served as a springboard for me to investigate this mystery. I quizzed a male friend over lunch (poor guy) on what exactly this disturbed reaction to male-male action is and why it exists. It is understandably difficult to express, but he made a good effort at getting me to understand his viewpoint.

My first question was "What exactly is this feeling of disgust? I mean, is it like the kind of disgust you'd feel finding a bloody, half-eaten hare with its guts hanging out in your backpack? Or is it like the disgust you feel when your housemates once again leave their dirty dishes on the counter for several days?" His response:
"Well, how would you feel if there were some ugly obese guy in a Speedo making out with an ugly obese girl in a bikini? Wouldn't you think, Ugh, that's disgusting!?"
An interesting point. Of course, ugly people are by definition unpleasant to look at, so it is not unnatural not to want to look at something unpleasant. The two men kissing are not themselves unpleasing to look upon. So it's not an exact analogy, but still, this was an enlightening explanation.

The second question was "Why do you find it so disgusting seeing two guys kiss?"
This was a tougher question with a more hand-wavy response. He explained that a large part of male personality is masculinity, and, to be frank, penetration (implied: of women) is a crucial part of masculinity. Thus, the thought of gay sex which requires a male to be penetrated is so contrary to the nature of men (as seen by straight men) it is abhorrent. I pointed out that seeing two guys kiss is a far cry from forcing you to have gay sex. He said that he does not find men pleasing to look upon, so if both of the kissers are men, it is displeasing to see (I didn't think of it at the time, but this seems pretty irrelevant because obviously men don't mind watching men do other things on TV or in movies). But even if I understand why guys don't enjoy watching men kiss, that doesn't explain why men find it so gross. Here he brought out the fat and ugly couple in bikinis example, saying that seeing the kissing is gross because you picture yourself in the situation and find that situation to be gross.

A third, kind of food-for-thought question that we discussed was whether the negative reaction to men kissing is instinctual/natural or cultural/societal. He was quick to blame it on nature, but my little knowledge of the ancient Greeks gave us pause. According to Wikipedia, it didn't matter so much the gender of the person a man was penetrating, it just mattered that the penetratee was a social inferior--a woman, a slave, or a youth would be acceptable. In such a society, two guys having sex would not be seen as abnormal, as long as the more dominant of the two were doing the "active", penetrating role. Since this was well-accepted in society, I would bet that in that culture, men would not have been immediately disgusted by seeing two males kissing.

So I guess the summary is that (straight) men find it gross to see two men kiss because they can't help but imagine themselves in that situation which they would find disgusting because it implies sexual relations that defy the very nature of masculinity in our culture. This explanation still has holes, and it is entirely anecdotal, coming from just one person. Does anyone else have any input?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday night fireworks

Every Friday, the Hilton Hawaiian Village (a hotel complex in Waikiki) puts on a short (approximately 5-minute) fireworks show. Thanks to our beautiful view of the Waikiki skyline, we can (mostly) see the show from our big windows. The Waikiki skyline is pretty at night anyway, and when the fireworks start booming, we stop whatever we're doing, turn all the lights off in the house, and enjoy the show.

A panoramic including some fireworks. Sorry one of the panoramic panels was particularly blurry. I'll have to try another panoramic some other time.

(You have to click on it to see the larger version)

On another note, after my cooking success yesterday, I was inspired to try making Thai green papaya salad, which involves shredding a lot of papaya in a grater. Now I'm sporting a band-aid on my finger, and someone may find some skin in their salad that's not so green. Ah well--as my biologist Housemate says, it's all C, H, O, N, P, and S, anyway.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

There are not many places in the world where it is still Thanksgiving, but Hawaii is one of them, so this post is not too late. This was the first Thanksgiving that I did not spend with my parents. We usually have Thanksgiving at either their house or at the house of one of my mother's two siblings. But they all live on the east coast, which is a bit too far to travel for a long weekend.

Instead, I had a lovely Thanksgiving with extended family from my mom's side: my grandparents plus my grandfather's siblings and those offspring of theirs who live on the island. There were just over thirty of us at the party, if my memory serves me correctly. For a "grace" my 10-year-old cousin played a delightfully out-of-tune version of "Simple Gifts" on his violin. Slightly painful, but still cute. We had all the normal Thanksgiving foods: turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie for dessert, but we also had a very nice salmon dish and some sticky fried rice (good old Chinese style), a green salad, a pasta salad (vinaigrette, not mayo thankfully), green beans with almonds, and apple pie. Yum.

I was told that I didn't have to bring anything for the dinner, but to me that just meant that I could bring the cookies that I had been wanting to make. So this afternoon I baked up several dozen pumpkin cookies. I based them off the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Filling recipe by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito I found while browsing online, but I made a few changes (including doing away with the filling, which would probably be pretty good, too, but I didn't want it). Since I had never made them before, I didn't know how they would turn out, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. And I must admit that they earned some rave reviews at the party. So I figured I would share my recipe (I was going to say this is my blog's first recipe, but I've remembered that technically I had one before...). If you don't like pumpkin, then don't bother reading on. But you'll be missing out.

Eleni's Pumpkin Cookies
These cookies have a sweet crumbly shell on the outside and a soft, chewy, cakey interior with an aromatic pumpkin and spice flavor. One taster described them as a cross between cookie, cake, and pumpkin pie. It's a relatively easy and quick recipe (took me about half an hour to do the mixing by hand, then however much time it takes to drop them on the sheet and bake them). The following makes about 4 dozen (plus or minus depending on size of the cookies).

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 T. ginger
1/2 T. cloves
1 c. dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 c. butter (1 stick), softened [bring it to room temperature... or warmer if your room is cold; this is more important if you are mixing with a spoon (note: large wood spoon works well), rather than an electric mixer]
1 1/2 c. pumpkin
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
~1 c. white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves and set aside. In another bowl, cream the butter with the brown sugar until smooth. Add the pumpkin and mix thoroughly. Add the egg and vanilla and stir until combined. Stir in dry ingredients mixture, mixing until blended completely. [I find it best to pour in maybe a quarter of the mixture at a time, and I'm careful not to stir too vigorously lest the powder go flying out of the bowl]. Chill dough in fridge [I chilled it for about 45 min in the fridge just to make it more manageable in the next step].

Grease cookie sheets. Drop a tablespoon of dough into bowl of white sugar [the 1 c. is just an estimate--just make sure there's sugar in the bowl and pour more in as needed]. Roll dough in sugar, shape into a ball and place on cookie sheet. Repeat, spacing balls of dough with about 1 inch between. Bake until a toothpick stuck into the middle of a cookie comes out clean, 12-15 min (the original recipe said 10-12 min, but I did it more like 15 min, though my oven's temperature may be off).


I've been very lazy about blogging lately, but I have plans for more posts, including some exciting new Hawaii photos. I'll try to be better, I promise. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Autumn in Honolulu

I know that the season formally started almost two months ago, but I'm finally starting to detect a little bit of change in the weather. At long last, it's fall (autumn) in Hawaii. Today's high was a mere 82 F (28 C), and right now at the low it's a brisk and lightly breezy 72 F (22 C). And I must admit, in my sleeveless short knit dress, it feels a bit chilly. Could it be? Am I becoming a softy, a disgrace to my New England upbringing? No, I'm enjoying the relative coolness. Really, I'm very much looking forward to a day when I can wear a long skirt to school without being to hot. I miss my long skirts. I also miss my long sweater-coat thing (not sure what the technical term is), but I've given up hope on that one.

No fall leaves, of course. However, last week there was this large tree on campus--a comose fig, it is labeled--that had bright orange fruits about the size of small grapes which fell to the ground, all within the span of maybe three days. The fruits covered the ground under the tree with a blanket of orange. Honolulu's version of fall! My great regret is that I never brought my camera on my walk to school to take a picture of it. If I'd had a photo to show, this might have been an actually worthwhile post.

Today was Veterans Day--the first day off from classes that we've had since Labor Day (the first Monday in September). The semester has seemed so long. At my undergrad institution, our semesters had only 12 weeks of classes, and the fall semester as well as spring semester had one whole week off in the middle, after midterms week. OK, maybe we were slackers at my alma mater, but here at UH there are 16 weeks of classes, all right in a row (though I did, uh, have that one week in Berlin). It's intense. These little holidays are all we've got.

Fortunately, I've managed to make good use of my holiday today. Making some progress in Dragon Age: Origins. It's been a good day.

Since I am in a relatively autumny mood, I thought I'd share my favorite autumny poem.

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child
Gerard Manley Hopkins

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Oh right, the Blight. Time to get back to DAO...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

At the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

This just in: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Manoa Market is playing Christmas music.

You'd better watch out
You'd better not cry
You'd better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

It's been pointed out before, but it's worth repeating how that song turns Santa into a horror movie creep.

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness' sake

Or what? Oh no! Actually, that reminds me of what was probably the funniest skit in short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, where Chris Hansen catches Santa Claus on his To Catch a Predator series.

Anyway, the point is, it's November 5 and they're already playing Christmas music in Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Pop Christmas music, no less. *Sigh.* What am I even doing in a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, sitting back in the leather couch and sipping my chai tea latte with my work MacBook Pro in my lap? I should be at home diving into my shiny new Dragon Age: Origins on my home PC. November 5--my application deadline was 5:00 pm today, and I am pleased to say that I submitted the application with a whole 117 seconds to spare. And now I am free! Free, in theory, to play DAO. So why am I here?

I am somewhat ashamed though mostly baffled to admit it, but I am here because of the Housemate. He works better here than at home, and I found I kind of do as well, so we've been coming here all week to work on our applications. But since his application isn't due until tomorrow, here we are. I'm here to provide moral and grammar/punctuation support. When I could be gaming. Jeez, what has become of me?

But it's cozy here (a clean, well-lighted place?), I've got my hot chai tea latte, and I'm aimlessly blogging. Feeling pretty good for now. DAO can wait until the weekend. This weekend is going to be fun.

This post was brought to you by The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Have I plugged you enough yet? Please replenish your supply of the spiced honey apple cider already!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November 3 has passed me by

November 3 (3 November) has come and gone, and I've been so busy with my proposal (due Thursday, i.e. TOMORROW) that I missed all the fun!

Yesterday, the third of November, 2009, was a hotly anticipated date for two deliciously geeky reasons: it marked the series premiere of ABC's critically acclaimed reboot (remake? reimagining?) of the 1980s sci-fi series V, and it brought the release of BioWare's new dark fantasy Dragon Age: Origins.

ABC has been promoting V heavily all fall, with trailers airing frequently and gorgeous (and creepy, CGI-eyed) Morena Baccarin staring out at us from magazine ads and billboards (I assume the latter--Honolulu doesn't do billboards). The pilot was well received at Comic-Con, and last week the critics came out with stellar reviews of the show, comparing it even to the Battlestar Galactica reimagining (see Variety's review here). In further good news, the numbers from last night are very, very strong, with 5.0/13--13.9 million viewers making it the most-watched series debut of the season (Variety). Unfortunately, we're only being granted a taste this November, as four episodes will air and then it will go on hiatus until the spring. The show airs on ABC Tuesdays at 8/7c. Episodes will be posted on Hulu on Saturdays (obnoxious), but I'm sure one could find it on less reputable sites right now.

Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare's single-player fantasy RPG said to be the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate, was supposed to debut for PC last spring, but they decided to make us wait until November so they could release it for all platforms simultaneously. Hopefully the wait will be worth it. My copy arrived in the mail yesterday, and I would not allow myself to play or even install it because of my approaching deadline. I did allow myself to open it; the shipping box had a green "Time sensitive materials" sticker on it, after all--for all I knew, if I didn't open it yesterday it might have burst into flames (bloody flames, of course) or hatch into a terrorizing (bloody) dragon.

Anyway, yesterday was extremely exciting, but my enjoyment of what it brought must be delayed until Thursday evening. More than I have in a long time, I can't wait for the weekend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Busy J.J., Vol. 3, DAO is sweet, Joss is sweeter

It's been a really long time since my last entertainment news post. I have a bunch of things collected, but I'm going to be brief on all of them (not that my ramblings are usually interesting, anyway). I have that application thing that I should be writing instead...

J.J. Abrams has a new series in the works, a spy action/adventure thriller. The spec script written with Josh Reims was just bought by NBC (Variety). Yay J.J.

NBC's midseason thriller Day One has had its order cut from 13 episodes to a four-hour miniseries (Variety). This isn't a totally bad thing for the makers of Day One; they can still hope to pull a Battlestar Galactica.

This is old news now (it's been soo long since my last news post), but Quentin Tarantino is planning to make a Kill Bill: Vol. 3 (Variety). Isn't Bill already (spoiler alert) dead, though? Eh, whatever, it'll probably be awesome.

I hate reality shows in general (only exception: So You Think You Can Dance). An article in Variety suggests that maybe, finally, they are on the decline. It warms my heart to hear it.

Robert Rodriguez has cast Adrien Brody to star as the alien-hunting mercenary in his reboot of the Predator franchise (Variety blog). Interesting choice. Topher Grace has also been cast in the movie, which leads me to

The Spider-Man spinoff Venom movie will be directed by Gary Ross (Variety blog). It is uncertain whether Topher Grace will be reprising his role as Venom from Spider-Man 3, since the spinoff is starting from the drawing board.

Aline Brosh McKenna (Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses) and Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, X-Men 3) have teamed up for a script, and their pitch was just bought by Paramount (Variety). The movie will be produced by Bad Robot with J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk. I am intrigued.

The Warcraft movie has a writer: Robert Rodat, of Saving Private Ryan fame (Variety). Sam Raimi is already signed on to direct.

20th Century Fox has just made a deal with EA to make an animated Spore movie, with Chris Wedge (Ice Age) attached to direct (Variety). Hmm.

Speaking of Spore, much like that game's pre-release promotion, EA has released a downloadable character creator module for Dragon Age Origins, the new BioWare title that will be released on November 3 (Variety blog). I. am. so. psyched. If only it weren't for this proposal/application thing.

And I already said this in a previous post, but it needs to be said again. JOSS WHEDON IS GOING TO DIRECT AN EPISODE OF GLEE (EW Ausiello Files).

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Berlin Zoo

On the Friday of my conference in Berlin, I skipped out to go to the zoo. Zoos are always a little sad, because you look at the tiny space allotted to these animals that should be out in the jungle or on the plains... But if this is one way to introduce people to the animals, make them feel a connection to the animals and ultimately care about the fates of their brethren in the wild, then there is some good to zoos. I've been to a number of notable zoos before, but each is unique. Here are some photos and descriptions of the highlights of my visit to the Berlin Zoo.

One of the first exhibits we visited was the elephants. I've seen elephants before, of course, but we had a good time watching these ones. While we were at the elephant exhibit, we saw a lovely red fox--not a legal resident of the zoo--strolling by some bushes along the walkway. The elephants noticed it as well. The two adults pulled in close on either side of the baby elephant, and they began making threatening sounds while slowly walking towards the fox's location. The elephants needn't have worried, for the fox was separated from them by a deep trough like the rest of us, but I wouldn't have wanted to mess with those elephants if I were the fox, anyway.

Leave our baby alone, puny fox!

I'd never thought such a thing was possible, but the Berlin Zoo had a very impressive collection of chickens and pigeons. Really. I didn't take many pictures of them (why would I take a picture of a chicken or pigeon at a zoo?), but here are some chickens. Yes, they are chickens.

The Berlin Zoo has more monkeys and apes than any zoo I've been to before. They have a huge monkey house complex, with some fun and photogenic apes. This guy looks awfully anxious. I kept looking, but I never did figure out what he possibly could have been looking at so nervously. My guess is he was seeing through the planes...

I see... I see... Death, coming...

I spent a good amount of time watching the gorillas. They are so human-like, it's kind of disturbing seeing them in a cage. The thing is, when they make eye contact with you, you can feel them thinking--considering and assessing you. Unsettling (zoom in and you can see she really is looking at me).

What are you looking at?

Otters are my favorite animals, so anything otter-related is of great interest to me. This is the first tayra that I'd ever seen.

Speaking of otters, here are some adorable Asian small-clawed otters (the smallest species of otter).

The thing that really stood out to me about the Berlin Zoo was that it was so obviously NOT IN AMERICA. By this, I mean that they had exhibits set up in ways that you would NEVER SEE HERE. Consider the lion exhibit: Visitors stand behind a waist-high railing located approximately 5 feet away from the lion cage. And the cage is not thick glass but thin wiring with wide spacing almost worthy of a collapsible dog kennel. And the lion sits right up against the cage, with a bit of its mane fur sticking through. It looked so calm and friendly. And soft. How I would have loved to run my fingers through that nice, thick mane. Nice kitty...

My point is, had I decided to, I could have hopped over that railing and stuck my hand into the cage in two seconds. Any stupid kid could have done the same. In the U.S., some idiot would have done just that at some point, then sued the zoo after getting their hand bitten off. The liability is just too great. I couldn't believe how much trust the Berlin Zoo had in the practicality of its patrons. It's quite refreshing, really.

Along the same vein, here's an adorable tapir we saw. Yes, it is halfway out of its pen, with only a short stretch of grass between the pen rim and the sidewalk in the foreground. Unlike lions, I don't think tapir pose any sort of threat to zoo visitors, but the zookeepers would still probably rather not have to chase it down. We stood there for a few minutes cheering on the tapir--You can do it! Come on! Just a little hop! Yeah, almost there. Go!--but moved on when we concluded that those who had designed its exhibit must have carefully calculated how high they had to make the pen so the tapir couldn't lift itself out. But it has time to work on that upper-arm strength...

So close, yet so far away...

And last, we have Knut. The famous polar bear who not only has his own song, but he still gets his own celebrity zoo pen separate from the other polar bears (I wonder if he likes that). He's not so tiny and cute as in the YouTube videos, now that he's almost three years old. And he was kind of covered in green scum (algae of some sort) when we saw him. But there he is: the famous Knut, der kleine Eisbär.