Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two years my home but have I ever belonged?

This afternoon was my going away party. I'm not actually leaving the lab for a little while longer; this just turned out to be the best timing for a party for whatever reasons. The two lovely professors whom I have worked for these past two years threw the party down at our lab's pavilion by the water, with a barbecue, chips and salsa, salads, beers, wine, sodas, and cake. We had pleasant weather, and it was a very lovely party.

The big question in my mind as I walked to the party was How many people will show up? Assuming that the people who attended would be there not to celebrate the fact that I'm finally going to be out of their hair but rather to celebrate the time I spent at the lab and to give me their goodbyes and best wishes, the party turnout would be a little measure of popularity. There are obviously reasons that people who might have wanted to attend would be unable to, especially since it's the middle of the week and the invitation was only sent out to the entire lab (including me!) yesterday morning. That said, I still couldn't help but take notice of the attendance.

Here's the breakdown:
11 of 24 students
4 of 31 faculty research assistants
8 of 32 faculty
We also had 1 spouse, 8 children, and 2 dogs (maybe just 1.5 dogs... I'm not sure if the Pomeranian counts as a whole dog).

Actually, I was quite pleased with the turnout. There were a few people I expected to see who didn't make it, but also a few I did not expect to come who did. There were enough people so it didn't feel dead, but not so many I couldn't have a good conversation with everyone.

Still, it is clear that I was not the most popular girl in the lab. I didn't even mention the 0 of 30 support staff who didn't come. The fact of the matter is that I have not been overly social here. Even though I was myself a faculty research assistant, of the 31 FRAs, I can only recall ever having conversations with 16 of them. I just don't know enough people here well enough to have expected more people to come to my party.

I am not particularly social by nature. As I've mentioned before, I am all too happy to sit at home watching TV or playing a computer game. I'm not a big party person and I'm not a big drinker, so when the large part of the grad student bonding time is at the bar, I usually pass on the opportunity to join them. I have attended some parties, and I'm always friendly around the lab, but really the most time I've had to talk with most of the people in the lab is over lunch on Wednesdays after seminar (oh, free post-seminar lunches!).

My social detachment is also linked to my seemingly temporary position here at the lab. I arrived at the lab two years ago thinking I would stay for two months. There was no reason to get attached to anyone. But two months turned into 6 months, then 9 months, then 12 months, then 24 months. At the beginning there, I always felt like I was about to leave. I felt that I shouldn't bother with the people here, because this wasn't my place, it was a placeholder, a temporary landing pad. And even when I finally figured out I would probably be around for another year, habits had already been formed, people had already ruled me out, and I had already ruled myself out. I was out of the loop, and I was not going to try hard enough to get in.

Now that I look back on my time here, I can recognize that I have never felt I belonged here. I never particularly liked the town (it's small and in the middle of nowhere and the only place to shop is a WalMart). The lab is nice and quite pretty but it still gets too hot and buggy in the summer and in spite of the water being right here it's no good for swimming. But more importantly, socially, I was always that girl that no one disliked but few ever remembered to include. Two years I have been an outsider at home.

I am not sorry to be leaving this town for Honolulu. I will not miss the weather here. I will not miss our muddy river when I can have the Hawaiian beaches. But I will miss the people. I will miss the very few that I got to know well, and I will miss the missed opportunity for friendships that never were.

Maybe they will be my friends if I invite them to visit me in Hawaii :-)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Weekend box office 6/26-28/09

After each of the first two weekends of my blog's life, I did a short post commenting on the box office results from the previous weekend. Since then, I have not made any posts specifically on the box office. This does not mean in any way that I have ceased to follow the box office. Ask me any day, "So, how's the box office going?" and chances are I will be able to rattle on at least three minutes about the current state of the box office: who was in last weekend's 5 or 10 top-earning movies, approximately how much the top 3 or so earned, a sense of who's "doing well" and who's "underperforming", and whether the box office has been considered good or bad lately. This is an important component of my geekiness. It's not just the fantasy books and the sci-fi TV shows and the computer RPGs. It's this strange obsession with the box office (and, let's be fair, other Hollywood business news and numbers).

I suppose sometimes the box office is more interesting than other times; it's always best if there is a particular movie that I am rooting for or rooting against. But the truth is that every weekend there are movies battling it out for the top--or at least a respectable--spot on the box office list. And any weekend you can find me celebrating triumphs, mourning tragic losses, lamenting undeserved victories, and relishing in the carnage. So with this box office comments post, I attempt to share my joy (though I may just bore people to tears--I'm not delusional, at least in this respect). I will try to limit myself to the most interesting tidbits. But I can't make any guarantees on that.

Note: All figures are U.S. box office unless otherwise noted; I find international earnings fascinating as well, but they get more complicated to compare because everything opens different weekends in different places.

The titan this weekend was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It opened last Wednesday breaking the record for a Wednesday opening with $60.6 million, besting previous opening Wednesday record holder Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix's $44.2 million. The Transformers sequel was able to build on the success of the 2007 Transformers movie, taking in $200.1M over its first five days, giving it the second highest five day opening gross ever, behind last year's The Dark Knight (which earned $203.8 in five days). Transformers 2 was not reviewed as well as the first one; movies like Transformers are generally considered "critic proof"--their audiences aren't much deterred by poor reviews--but that often only works for opening weekends. It is possible that its success will drop off in following weekends due to weak word of mouth. We saw in May how word of mouth pays off for the big blockbusters, as the well-received Star Trek had a lower opening weekend than the poorly reviewed Wolverine but quickly surpassed it after just a few weeks out in theaters. Transformers 2 was also a huge hit overseas, taking in a further $166.1M, bringing its total to one of the best international openings of all time.

Romantic comedy The Proposal continued to perform strongly in its second weekend, taking in $18.6M. That pales in comparison to Transformers, but it's actually a very good take for a second weekend of a comedy, which obviously did not cost as much to make as the special effects-extravaganza that is Transformers. Another comedy, The Hangover, continued to perform beyond many expectations, adding another $17M in its fourth weekend (!) to bring its total to $183M. Pixar's Up earned $13.1M to bring its total to $250M, passing Star Trek ($246M) as the highest grossing film of the year, though considering Transformers is now in the picture, that title will likely not hold for long. New drama My Sister's Keeper under-performed, taking in $12.4M when it was expected to get $15-20M.

Taking 6th place was the disappointing Year One ($6.02 in its second weekend) followed by somewhat under-performing The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 ($5.45 in its third). Star Trek is still on the chart with $3.71M, and the Night at the Museum sequel with $3.64M. Rounding out the top 10 was Away We Go in limited release, taking in $1.71.

You might be able to tell that I was pleased that Star Trek did better in the end than Wolverine at the box office. I tend to like it when good movies make more than bad ones, since it encourages studios to make more good ones (these are technical show biz terms). So I am also pleased at the success of Up, which I finally saw this weekend, contributing $8 to its $13.1 million. I loved the first Transformers movie, and I do intend to see the sequel regardless of the reviews. But if the Transformers movie is as bad as the critics say it is, I am a little wary of its success. If it had beaten The Dark Knight, I probably would have been bitter. We'll see how it continues to perform. I don't want it to be an example to the studios that all we care about are big robots and explosions and Megan Fox. Give me some intelligent plot and character development and I may see it twice.

All right, this turned out longer than it needed to be. Maybe in the future I'll only mention the top 5, or the winning movie. And maybe not give so much background information. Of course, if it hadn't been a record-breaking (or near record-breaking) weekend, there wouldn't have been as much background to give. I'll think about it.

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/ (not sure what the permalink would be)

Friday, June 26, 2009

John Hodgman geeks out with Obama

Last week Friday night at the Radio & Television Correspondents’ Association dinner, John Hodgman, the comedian perhaps best known as the PC in the ubiquitous Mac commercials, did a routine that played heavily on Barack Obama's nerdy side. There was a great sequence where Hodgman, skeptical of whether Obama was truly a nerd, accused the reporters of not asking the president the hard questions to determine his nerd credentials, and proceeded to administer a test of Obama's nerdiness, which used a nice slide show of photos. He got a Vulcan salute from the president. I admire Obama more than ever.

The audience reception was mixed--while, as Hodgman pointed out, all reporters may be nerds, I think a lot of Hodgman's jokes and references went over the heads of the many who were not geeks (though a great line from the speech: "I'm a big fat geek. And there are those of you who will say, 'Wait a minute, didn't he earlier say he's a nerd? There's a difference between geeks and nerds, of course,' and to you people I say 'Shut up nerds!'"). But Obama seemed to be amused by the performance--or at least he was very good at acting like he enjoyed it. And, being a nerd/geek myself, I was amused by the speech as well. It played well with various criticisms and things that have come up in the news, made lots of clever references, and had an interesting thesis as far as light comedy routines go.

I'm not always a fan of John Hodgman when I see him on the Daily Show, but he has enough good bits in this for it to be a worthwhile watch--if you're a geek and can understand all the jokes. Check it out here:


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Lovin'

I have a new love. And his name is Merlin.

The TV show "Merlin" that debuted last fall on the BBC is now being shown in the US on Sunday nights on NBC. The first two episodes were on this past Sunday, and I just caught them on Hulu. And I have to admit that I am kind of in love with this show right now. It's so good! I cannot wait until next Sunday when I can catch the next episode!

Now, let's keep this in perspective: It's summer so I'm positively starved for scripted programming, plus I'm always a total sucker for anything fantasy related, anyway. But from the two episodes I saw, I think the show is just totally adorable. The show is loosely (I repeat, loosely) based on Arthurian legend, centering around a young Merlin and his interactions with a young Prince Arthur (all these "young" characters seem to be about 20 years old). King Uther (played by Buffy's Anthony Head), a young Morgana, and a young "Gwen" are important supporting characters. As my brother puts it, the show is basically like someone took Arthurian legend and said "Hmmm... how can we update this to appeal to a teen audience?" (To be fair to me, I'll assume they said "a teen audience and the 18-24 demographic".) The basic plot so far: Merlin, a warlock with surprising innate magical abilities, comes to live in Camelot where King Uther's law decrees the practice of magic to be punishable by death. A dragon beneath the castle tells Merlin that it is his destiny to protect Arthur, who is destined to do all sorts of important stuff in the future as king. After saving Arthur's life, Merlin is given the honor of being his manservant. Morgana (who does not seem to have a blood relation with Arthur) has premonitions in her dreams. Gwen is her handmaiden. Both seem like smart, strong-willed women in spite of the misogynistic society (which would exclude any sympathetic characters like Merlin).

OK, so it may not be a totally great show. Some of the situations seem a bit contrived, and the dialogue isn't exactly perfect. But the characters are appealing--whether it's appealingly valiant or appealingly sweet or appealingly cocky. There's entertaining tension between characters. There's some endearing silliness. There are sword fights, magic, princess dresses, and a dragon. What's not to love?

I understand that the BBC show I really need to see is Doctor Who... I may get around to that eventually. But this is here now, there's not much of it (just one season), and it's fun. "Merlin" is like watermelon. Not much to it, but it's sweet and satisfying and goes down easy on a hot summer day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reservations for Hawaii

Warning: This post is not well composed or carefully edited. It's a bit stream-of-consciousness, and by that I mean it has a lot of tangents and long paragraphs I didn't bother to break up because that's just how they came out. Living on the wild side today. No guarantees.

I realize that I haven't done a post since Monday. Things are getting pretty crazy at this point. I am frantically trying to bring my projects at work to a close so I can leave next month and move to Hawaii for grad school. Seeing as two of my current projects are papers that are both to varying degrees unwritten, I have a lot of work to do. I have an enormous stack of forms that I have to fill out for grad school and my research assistantship. I am making doctor appointments for various tests that are required for enrollment. I am combing Craigslist for an apartment or house, something affordable and preferably within walking or at least biking distance from the campus. I am figuring out what to do with my car--sell it and buy another one there, or ship it. I am coordinating with my mom who is going to visit her parents in Honolulu at the same time that I will be moving there about how much "family time" I'll have and how much time I'll be trying to set myself up at work and at a new apartment. And I'm appeasing my grandparents who don't understand why I didn't have this all sorted out two months ago.

Do I hear violins playing? I know, I'm whining about moving to Hawaii. But as much as I put on my I'm-deliriously-happy-and-why-wouldn't-I-be-it's-Hawaii front whenever I talk to anyone about moving to Hawaii for grad school, I am not without some reservations.

Make no mistake, I am thrilled to be getting out of here. I spent one summer here as an undergrad, and honestly, I was not sad at the thought of never coming back. But when I graduated and had no idea what I wanted to do other than to get out of my parents' house, the easiest thing was to come back--housing and paycheck and no interview required. It was supposed to be for two months; that's how long the funding would last and it was enough time for me to figure out what I wanted to do instead (hah!). More funding came, and my life wasn't figuring itself out, and before I knew it, two months turned into two years. So I am very excited to be leaving here to move to Hawaii. But I'm not sure I'm any happier than I would be moving to Seattle or Santa Cruz.

I name Seattle and Santa Cruz because they are the homes to the University of Washington and UC Santa Cruz respectively, two schools with great oceanography programs that I did not apply to. I applied to only three schools: 1) here, because it's familiar and I knew I could get in, 2) the University of Hawaii, because Hawaii is nice, and 3) the most competitive oceanography program in the country. In retrospect, that was probably not the wisest selection of schools. My two years working here in oceanography research gave me a great advantage in applying to grad schools. Not only did it plump up my resume, adding experience to my not unimpressive college transcript, but it also gave me an "in" in the field. I know people. I know people who know people. I got to see firsthand how the whole grad school admissions thing works in this field, and I had professors willing to give me all the wise advice and juicy details I could want. But--and I think this was ultimately nobody's fault but my own--I think in the end the way I handled that "inside" knowledge did not benefit me. The two professors I work for were both sure I would get into school #3; I quote, "I really don't see any reason you wouldn't get in there." I maintained some skepticism, but I think there was definitely a part of me that could already see the acceptance letter at the point that I was doing the applications. Also, I knew from my professors that the best applicants always contact professors beforehand, networking and establishing potential advisors to list on the application. I believed this to the extent that I did not apply anywhere that I had not made contact with a potential advisor. Since I am not the most confident and active networker, this added up to three schools. I tried contacting a guy from UW, but he never responded. I looked over the research interests of faculty at UCSC and UC San Diego (Scripps), but no one popped out at me as having research interests exactly like my own. So I didn't contact anyone, and I didn't apply. But on my visit to UHawaii in March, I observed two things. One, that the two professors who offered to be my advisor were not the professor I had talked to when applying. The department liked my application, thought that I would be a good person to have at their school, then passed my application around to all the professors asking, "Who wants her?" Two, there was a girl there who had never done anything oceanography-related before, and had no idea what she wanted to study other than the broad topic of "physical oceanography". As such, she hadn't contacted any professors, she had just sent her application to six or seven schools. She got into five of them, and then she went about visiting each and meeting people and choosing between them. The point is, it may help to have contacted a professor and have him or her on your side when applying, but it is not a requirement, and if you're like me and are shy and very hesitant to contact anyone, it doesn't hurt just to send out more applications to places you might want to be and then let the faculty help match you up with an advisor. UH is a great school with a very strong oceanography program. But I'm not sure that with the way it turned out it actually makes more sense for me to be at UH than UW or one of the UCs. After all, when I realized that my application to UH would arrive a day late, I remember thinking, "Oh well." At the time, I must not have been taking the option of going to UH too seriously. It's sort of a troubling memory.

Lastly, there's the weather. Hawaii is gorgeous. Most people would probably consider its climate a paradise. But the thing is, I like seasons. I have this little thing on Facebook where under "interests", the first item listed is always the current season--with an exclamation point, even (tomorrow, I'll have to change it to "Summer!"). Dorky and quaint, I know, but I've been doing it since the beginning of Facebook. The fact is, I'm always excited for the new season. I love the beach, but eventually I get sick of the hot summers and excited to put on long pants again and see the leaves turn colors. Then I get excited at the prospect of snow. Then I get sick of the cold and want to see all the flowering trees. Then I'm ready to go swimming again. Actually, I tend to get a little cranky in prolonged hot weather. Hawaii doesn't get too bad because of the trade winds, but if it's in the 80s all the time... I love my warm weather clothes. I have some great sweaters. I love my corduroys. My favorite item of clothing is a purple velvet scarf (actually an accessory I guess). The story behind it: There was this store in our local mall in my home town called Monsoon which I always loved to look through. They had flowy shirts and long skirts all in the most vibrant hues. But the prices were way above what my $20/month allowance could support, so it was always just looking. But one day I was passing through (and I do mean passing through--it was this odd layout where the little store had two entrances, connecting from the main hall, reaching behind two other stores to open back out at one of the side halls) and saw this purple velvet scarf that was on sale and marked down and 75% off on top of it all... In short, it was $4. I felt I had hit the jackpot. I finally had my item from Monsoon. And it's not a solid color but transitions from deep purple to a sort of fuchsia. It's one of my items of clothing that gets a lot of compliments (along with my ring and a couple of my skirts). Anyway, it sounds shallow to say "I don't want to live in Hawaii because I can't wear my purple scarf!," but it's kind of representative of... I don't know... how the Hawaii climate will limit the variety of my wardrobe. OK, still shallow. But it's something I've thought about that makes me a little sad. I will need to find more exciting summer clothes.

I don't expect a lot of sympathy. I mean, I'm moving to Hawaii. It's rough. Cry me a river. Scuba diving for my job. Eating mango for breakfast (and lychee and papaya and pineapple and lilikoi aka passion fruit and guava). Having dim sum with my cousins. Going to the beach year round. Getting a nice tan. Learning to surf (?). Not to worry. Despite some reservations, I am still really excited about moving to Hawaii.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mary Janes, The Hobbit, Mars, and a new NWN MMO

Time for an update on entertainment news that has piqued my interest...

It has been confirmed that Kirsten Dunst will in fact be returning to the role of Mary Jane in Spider-Man 4 (IMDb). Tobey Maguire had already agreed to return for a fourth and fifth installment of the blockbuster franchise, but director Sam Raimi had said Dunst was reluctant to sign on for the threequel sequels. They are still looking for the perfect villain, with producer Todd Black saying "Trust me - people will appreciate who we pick, because it'll be a big part of New York." I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean... the villain will be the Empire State Building? Anyway, the third Spider-Man movie was a tad disappointing, so I hope they can pick it back up and make the fourth one good again.

Speaking of Spider-Man, we mustn't forget about Spider-Man: The Musical (more properly called Spider Man, Turn Off the Dark). Turns out that Evan Rachel Wood is going to star as Mary Jane in the stage musical, after all (IMDb). First there were substantial rumors that Wood (who worked with Spider-Man: The Musical's director Julie Taymor in the movie musical Across the Universe) had been cast, then Taymor denied this saying that she was still working on casting MJ, and now this. Apparently Peter Parker has yet to be cast.

Everyone kind of already assumed that this would happen, but Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, and Ian McKellen have all been confirmed for the cast of The Hobbit, reprising their roles as Elrond, Gollum, and Gandalf, respectively (IMDb). We are still awaiting to hear who will play the titular hobbit Bilbo himself (Ian Holm, who played Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, is too old to come back for the younger prequel role, unlike the other three whose ageless or semi-ageless roles let them get away with it). Here's hoping director Guillermo del Toro finds someone great. I'm a bit anxious waiting.

Wolverine stars Taylor Kitsch (Gambit) and Lynn Collins (Kayla Silverfox) are both set to star in Walt Disney Pictures' John Carter of Mars, a fantasy epic based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs series that began with the novel "The Princess of Mars" in 1911 (Variety). Wall-E writer-director Andrew Stanton will be directing the film as his first live-action pic. The story is about a damaged Civil War veteran named John Carter (Kitsch) who is mysteriously transported to Mars where his interactions with the warring races of the dying planet, which presumably include meeting the Princess of Mars (Collins), help him to rediscover his humanity. I don't know what to think of the casting (I actually haven't seen the Wolverine movie yet), but I have great respect for Stanton (I loved Wall-E) and the period-piece-meets-sci-fi-epic aspect of the project is very intriguing. I'll be watching for this one.

Lastly, in gaming news, recent Atari acquisition Cryptic Studios is working on developing an MMO for Atari property Neverwinter Nights (Variety blog). This is really big news for me. For those who don't know, Cryptic Studios is the company behind (among other games) Champions Online, the game currently in its beta testing stage that recently became the first MMO I had ever played. Neverwinter Nights is a Dungeons & Dragons-based Forgotten Realms-set series of computer RPGs. I played through the single-player campaigns of NWN and its two official expansions as well as NWN2 and one of its expansions. But one of the most distinctive features of the Neverwinter Nights series, which I never took advantage of, was the multiplayer component that allowed players to design their own missions in their own persistent worlds--essentially hosting their own mini-MMOs (would these be called "not-so-massively multiplayer online" games or something?). Anyway, there were plenty of people who did take advantage of this feature, making NWN quite a popular success. The news that a proven MMO developer is planning to create an MMO for Neverwinter Nights is intriguing indeed, though they have a tough road ahead of them, since even MMOs based on strong franchises sometimes fail to catch on. Word is they are hoping for a 2011 release... 'round 'bout the time that BioWare is planning to release The Old Republic (more history for those who aren't gamer geeks: BioWare, which developed the original NWN but not the sequel, will not be involved in the NWN MMO). I'd say I see conflict ahead, but I'm already fairly certain I'd pick TOR if forced to choose. But there's time. We'll see how the NWN MMO develops.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wall of Storms

Sounds like it must be a wizard spell. Like Wall of Fire except with lightning damage. But I'm talking about some weather we had here recently. Given my previous posts with pictures of snow, rainbows, fluffy clouds, and fire rainbows, it may have become apparent that I am fascinated by the weather. Well, lately we've been getting a lot of thunderstorms. Sadly, I haven't taken any pictures of pretty lightning strikes, but I do have a cool picture of approaching storm clouds. First, here's what the radar map looked like (Photoshopped in an attempt to hide my not-so-secret location):

Yes, that is a swiftly approaching wall of storms. After seeing that on weather.com, I picked up my camera and headed outside. It was a balmy 85 degrees F (29 C). Here's what the cloud looked like as it approached:

This shot was taken a minute later; you can't see the dramatic edge so much, but you can see the interesting cloud structure a little better:

This is when the wind started picking up, and before ten minutes had passed, it had dropped by about 15 degrees F (8 degrees C). Okay, I don't really know how much it dropped in how long, but that's my best estimate. Hot and humid to breezy and cool in mere minutes. I took a few pictures when it started pouring (with high winds and thunder and lightning), but they don't look particularly interesting--just kind of wet.

Summer lightning storms are so much fun... as long as I'm safe inside (or on the porch taking photos).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Schedule conflict: Champions Online and SYTYCD

Oh dear. I have just realized that my only summer TV show, So You Think You Can Dance, has its performance episodes on Wednesdays 8-10pm, smack dab in the middle of my Champions Online Beta play tests! Oh no! Two precious hours of my twice weekly play test lost to a TV show I can't miss. I can probably find all the SYTYCD clips from the show online, but it's annoying and not the same as watching the entire episode while it airs. I don't think they like to put SYTYCD conveniently on Hulu, unfortunately. Silly Fox. DVR, I have never wanted you as much as I do now!

Still, I am excited about watching SYTYCD. I don't like almost all reality TV shows and competitions, but I love to watch dancing and this show has some great dancing. It's like the dance version of American Idol, except that I find the talent pool more consistent and the judges more helpful and less gimmicky (OK, so Mary likes to scream and put people on the "hot tamale train" if they're really good, but I don't mind it as much as some other people seem to). The show actually started a few weeks ago, but I haven't been watching because I don't enjoy the audition episodes as much. Like American Idol, it seems that for every amazing person they find at auditions, there's some truly awful contestant who is just hopeless. And I have yet to acquire a taste for watching people's dreams get dashed on national TV.

But tonight is the Top 20 episode. This is when the real spectacle starts, with lighting, staging, costumes--the works. One of the greatest things that SYTYCD has going for it is its phenomenal team of choreographers from all sorts of different disciplines: contemporary, jazz, hip hop, salsa, foxtrot, disco, jive, swing, waltzes, etc. Some of my favorites have been Wade Robson's jazz, Mia Michaels' contemporary, and Tabitha and Napoleon's lyrical hip hop, but last year there was also an amazing Bollywood style dance, and there are too many other great dances to name. And starting tonight, the top 20 contestants are paired up (10 girl-boy pairs) and each pair is given a different style of dance to perform, choreographed by one of the superb choreographers. This is where the growth really starts. Dancers specializing in one discipline may be stuck performing a completely different style, and they are forced over a grueling week to learn to adapt. And the result is more often than not remarkable. The dances as well as this growth are thoroughly entertaining to watch.

Well I can't wait for the show, but for now, Champions Online awaits!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Game trailers that have me psyched!

So E3 was last week, and that means we got new trailers and videos to watch for highly anticipated upcoming games. Here are the two that have me squeeing:

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Mass Effect 2

Eeek! I loved the first Mass Effect, and this one will hopefully be like that but better. It looks darker, but that's the direction it was headed, and it's fine by me. I think the PC version of Mass Effect had fewer technical problems than the Xbox 360 version, but there were some inconveniences that they will hopefully clean up in ME2. The developers say that which characters died in your original campaign will be relevant in ME2, which is intriguing. I wonder how much the NPCs from the first game will factor into the sequel. Will Shepard get an entirely new team or keep some old friends?

TOR seems like just about the most ambitious project ever: an MMORPG that has more story content than all previous BioWare games put together. It's basically eight full, elaborate RPGs rolled into one, and an MMO to boot... Conversations will happen between player characters and everything. And it will all be voice acted. How many hours in the voice recording studio did that take? Whew! And though I was hesitant when I first heard about this game (as expressed in this rather uniformed post from the early days of my blog), because I've now already given in to the evil of MMOs, I'll have no reservations about playing TOR when it comes out!

I can't wait!!! Dragon Age: Origins is due out October 20, 2009. Mass Effect 2 is currently scheduled for release in Q1 2010. I saw it suggested somewhere that TOR would be out at the end of 2010, but there is plenty of time for that to get bumped back. I think I picked the wrong time to be going back to school, with all these games coming along to keep me busy. I'm so excited for all of them. I LOVE BIOWARE!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Saturday stroll down memory lane: Dead gerbils and tasty cicadas

So for the past two months, on the first Saturday of each month, I have been discussing excerpts from the personal journal I kept in college that date back to four years prior to the post. Looking back to May 2005, most things that I recorded in my journal fall into two categories: 1) way more details about playing KotOR and KotOR II than I ever should have bothered recording and 2) stories of college reunions and graduation (my brother and I went to the same college, and he graduated that year) that would kind of blow the not-so-carefully guarded secret of where I went to school. Really, the most interesting stories in the May 2005 section of my journal were all things that had happened before I started keeping the journal that I suddenly felt the need to record, despite them being out of chronological order. These are longer stories, but not as overtly geeky as in my last installment.
Date of story: January 2005
Remembering back to my Garden State-like experience, burying poor Hapa [an adorable, beautiful nutmeg gerbil; I have had nine gerbils throughout my life] during my winter break. [If you've seen the movie Garden State with Zach Braff and Natalie Portman, I'm referring to the somewhat comical but also sad scene where Sam's mother hands her a hamster of theirs that just died and she goes to bury it in their little pet cemetery in their backyard.]

She was the first pet of ours that died in the winter, I guess. Well, at least the first we tried to bury when the ground was frozen. I felt so bad when she died. I had noticed maybe two days before that she had looked sick, and I had tried to care for her. Their [Hapa and her sister Kukui's] cage hadn't been cleaned for well over a month because they [my family members] don't seem to be able to clean the gerbil cage without me home. So I cleaned the cage, thinking maybe the air was really bad in there. But she died the next day, and I feared that having cleaned the cage had done her in. Maybe she was too cold without all the fluffy chewed-up egg carton bedding... but then again, she had been avoiding any nest-like structure in the cage, apparently seeking coolth [this should be a word]--maybe she had a gerbil fever. Anyway, she died the next day, and I was so sad. She was the first one I had to shovel into a check box myself [having had seven gerbils die on us before, we knew check boxes to be the perfect size coffin]. Then there was the matter of burying her. When I pointed out the difficulties that we would encounter, Mom suggested just throwing her out. I think that's what they did with Bitey, but he was my first pet to die, when I was six, and none since then have had the same poor fate. I would have none of it.

The ground was covered with about two feet of snow. It had been a very snowy month. So first, I had to go back there, guess about where I'd want to shovel (not too close to the trees, not too far, and not where another pet was already buried), and then shovel away the snow. That was the easy part. The tough part was digging the hole. Now, it's not like it needs to be six feet deep or anything; just one foot is sufficient for our needs. But the ground was frozen. I tried chipping at it with the shovel we usually use, then tried the snow shovel, then tried the gardening trowel. Nothing worked. So I turned to the ice pick. I didn't use the pointy side, but the sort of flat-edged side. That was somewhat useful, in that it effectively chipped away the frozen dirt and could do it in the shape of a check box if I aimed properly. The problem still was that the progress was very slow (maybe a tablespoon of dirt at the most was removed with each chip) and the dirt went flying a couple feet in all directions when chipped. But I was determined to have Hapa buried like the others.
It was cold and I was miserable, sad that she had died, sad from the guilt, and sad that Mom had suggested I put her in the trash. So there I was, knee-deep in snow, chipping away at the ground with the ice pick, frozen dirt flying in all directions, including at my face, crying but also nearly laughing at how ridiculous it all was.
Poor Hapa. I am a big fan of gerbils. Hamsters are the more popular pet, but that fact kind of mystifies me. I guess they have short stubby tails, and a lot of people don't like the longer gerbil tails, but I really don't understand what's wrong with a tail. I understand that rats' hairless tails are kind of unappealing, but gerbils have cute fuzzy tails--I mean, dogs and cats (usually) have long fuzzy tails too! Anyway, I firmly believe that gerbils make better pets than hamsters for the following reasons:
1) Gerbils don't pee as much as hamsters, so the recommended cage cleaning frequency is a week longer.
2) Gerbils are diurnal while hamsters are nocturnal. This means that in general, gerbils will be cute and active during the day and quiet at night. Hamsters will be noisy at night and boring during the day.
3) Perhaps most importantly to me, gerbils are social. You can buy a pair of brothers or a trio of sisters (best not to mix genders unless you want a LOT more) or really any gerbils that have been introduced to each other at an early age and they will be adorable friends. They snuggle together and groom each other and play together. There was actually a sad story of when one of my gerbils died and his brother was so depressed that he started eating and eating and eating and blew up like a tennis ball before dying a few days later. It really seemed that he was just so sad that his lifelong friend wasn't around anymore that he gave up living. So that's kind of sad, but it means that they are that much happier when together. Hamsters, on the other hand, have to be kept separately or they will get all territorial and attack each other. Not so cute.

So yes, if you're looking for a cute, sweet, and easy pet to take care of, I recommend a pair of gerbils!

I don't have any pictures of Hapa on my computer, but she looked a bit like this, only even cuter and prettier!

The other story that I recounted dates back to May 2004 and is centered around cicada Brood X. These cicadas have a 17-year life cycle. Their eggs are laid in the bark of trees, and when they hatch, the larvae drop to the ground where they burrow. When their 17 years is up, they dig their way out of the ground, molt one last time, leaving their last molt stuck to the tree trunk or whatever plant they were sitting on at the time, make a whole lot of noise, mate, and then the cycle begins again. There are some cicadas every year, but some years are MUCH bigger than others (and thus every 17 years after that also is a much bigger year). In the region I was in, late May 2004 was peak season for the cicada brood known as Brood X. They were EVERYWHERE, and they are big bugs. You could hear the droning even inside buildings, their exoskeletons covered the trees, and their smooshed bodies covered the sidewalks. Luckily they don't bite or anything, so when they'd land on my arms or in my hair (an unavoidable occurrence) I'd just brush them out. I was at college still, though it was after exams had ended and most of my friends had gone home. There was very little going on on campus at the time, and there were no meal plans. This will provide some context for my story.
Date of story: approx. May 25, 2004, and the following weeks
I had been talking to Seth online, and he was all drugged up from just having had his wisdom teeth taken out. I told him that I'd eaten cicadas. Thanks to IM which makes it easier to improvise and unnecessary to keep a straight face, I elaborated on the story a bit. I said that Charles and Jo (who were also still on campus with me) had had a chicken they were storing in the fridge in the dorm kitchen (entirely plausible), but someone had stolen it. So we'd used all the seasoning and stuff on cicadas instead. Seth made some comment about how it sucked that the chicken was stolen. I realized that he had kind of taken me seriously, so I said, "No, I was just kidding!" He said I shouldn't have taken advantage of his drugged-up status. I, however, immediately regretting admitting to the joke so readily and decided that the next person I would talk to online I would really try to convince I had eaten cicadas, though it would probably be harder because they wouldn't be on painkillers like Seth was.

The next person who popped up on IM was Calum. We talked a bit, and I finally worked into the conversation the story that I had told Seth. Calum was the one who had originally told me that cicadas were good to eat (he had read an article online) and when the best time to harvest them was (late evening, when you could look up at the trees and see the tender white cicadas that had just molted). He asked me when I had harvested them, and I told him just what he had told me to do. He asked what they tasted like, and I said that while you might expect them to taste like chicken, they actually were more like shrimp. I wasn't sure he believed my story, but I refused to tell him it was a joke. The next time I talked to him, he said his mother was interested in my recipe. Had he believed my story? He couldn't have! But I wouldn't give up the joke. I said we didn't really have a recipe, just the seasoning for the chicken, adding a bit of this and a bit of that as we went along. So the charade continued.

The next time I talked to him, online again, he said that he had told Kari about my eating cicadas and that she was very... amused. I responded with something like, "WHAT? YOU TOLD KARI???!!!" and he said he had indeed. [You see, Kari had been my dance teacher and was a mutual friend of ours that Calum and I both new before we met at college. She is about the most hilarious person I know, somewhere on the border between brilliance and madness, who has the most inexhaustible store of ridiculous stories that she loves to tell to her dance students and probably anyone else. In short, the story of me eating cicadas was potentially very dangerous in her hands.] I demanded to know exactly what he had told her, and how she had responded. I was kind of freaking out. Memories of Kari condemning my friend Leigh to the nickname "muskrat" for all eternity swimming in my mind, I imagined Kari turning the story into something big and humiliating, leaving me with a reputation as a cicada-muncher forever. I still didn't cave and tell Calum that I had made up the story [what discipline I had!], but at the same time, I found my friend Catelyn online and explained my predicament, as she's my only friend who knows both Calum and Kari and could appreciate my situation.

The end to this story is somewhat less exciting than it deserves. When I saw Kari at the dance concert that summer, she didn't mention the cicadas. Perhaps she had forgotten, or she was too busy to remember. I ran into another dancer friend who did bring it up, seeming very concerned about the rumors she had heard, but I assured her they were not true. I spent a good bit of the summer wondering if Calum had figured it out, but it turns out that Catelyn had broken the news to him that I had been kidding. I still haven't brought up the cicada non-incident again to tease poor Calum. But some day I might.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chuck, Buffy, Paul, Waldo, Guys (Ritchie) and Dolls, and Project Natal

What's up in the entertainment world? Here are the recent items that have caught my attention.

So we learned last month that NBC had finally decided to renew Chuck. Chuck will have to share its Monday 8pm time slot with Heroes, which used to air after it at 9pm; Heroes will air in the fall, while Chuck will come back midseason. But when Chuck finally does come back, we will be seeing a lot more of Subway (Variety). The sub sandwich chain is one of the show's main sponsors, and it was at the center of a fan campaign to get Chuck renewed, with fans buying Subway's $5 footlongs in support of Chuck. Subway has already enjoyed some rather shameless product placement in the show, but they are now planning to have one of the characters work at a Subway. Product placement is annoying, but if it keeps the show going, I guess I'll live with it.

A new Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie is in the works (Variety, IMDb). Yes, studios love their franchises, and vampires are hot right now. Fran Rubel Kuzui, who directed the original Buffy movie, owns the rights and plans to bring the franchise back in a reboot with a new cast. I am skeptical that this is a good idea. I just hope they don't manage to ruin the memory of the TV show. Joss Whedon wishes them well, but it doesn't sound like he'll be involved.

The name of the movie is Paul (Variety). Simon Pegg and Nick Frost wrote the script. Greg Mottola (Superbad) is directing. The plot revolves around two sci-fi fanatics (Pegg and Frost) who find their way to Area 51 where they meet an alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) named Paul. Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Jane Lynch will also be in the cast. Oh my god, I must be dreaming. This movie sounds like the perfect comedy. I will definitely be looking out for this one.

I mentioned before that Guy Ritchie had expressed interest in branching out from gangster movies and tackling musicals--with Jason Statham as a leading man, no less. But now he has chosen which musical he wants to do: Guys and Dolls (IMDb). Ritchie is apparently considering setting the musical in London rather than the musical's original New York ("It's the oldest established permanent floating crap game in... London?"). I'm picturing Statham as Sky, rather than Nathan, but I'm willing to be surprised. We'll have to see where this one goes.

Universal and Illumination Entertainment have beaten other studios to acquire the rights to a Where's Waldo movie (Variety). I have absolutely no idea how a Where's Waldo movie would work. Would they have some kids in a big crowd at an amusement park or beach or ski resort or somewhere trying to find Uncle Waldo again and again? Great! OK, so I guess they've done a Where's Waldo TV show already, and it seems it discarded the original books' simple "Find Waldo in the crowd" premise and gave him traveling adventures and conflict and stuff. Well, I can't say I have high hopes for this movie, but reading about it did take me back a good number of years. Ah, childhood nostalgia.

My last news is technology news from console land: At a press conference on the eve of E3, Microsoft presented its Project Natal, a technology they are developing for the Xbox 360 that will allow the player's own body to act as a video game controller (Variety, Variety blog The Cut Scene). The system will also have voice recognition. Those presenting the project expressed a belief that the hand-held controller has been a barrier (they seemed to imply that people who don't play video games don't do so because they don't want to pick up a controller), and now they have the solution to eliminate it. They gave some demonstrations of how the currently rudimentary system works, but it is unclear how long it will be until the technology is ready for release (at least a year, probably). I'm not really a console person, but this idea is certainly intriguing. It all depends, of course, on how the games use the technology. My general sense is that Wiis are very popular among casual gamers because they're so cute and trendy with their Wiimotes, but the Xbox 360 has better games overall. So I guess it's good that the Xbox 360 is finding a way to compete in terms of novelty and trendiness.

So what about Sony and their PS3? Sony has just unveiled their own PlayStation Motion Controller (The Cut Scene). This appears to have more in common with the Wii in that there is a remote, but it's more advanced and they seem to be chasing hardcore gamers, demonstrating the remote in an FPS context as well as a smashing-demons-with-a-mace context. Once Sony and Microsoft's motion sensing devices come out, the competition in console land will be very interesting.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Going back

I wish I could go back to college.
Life was so simple back then.
What would I give
To go back and live
In a dorm with a meal plan again?
I wish I could go back to college.
In college you know who you are.
You sit in the quad
And think, "Oh my God!
I am totally gonna go far."
How do I go back to college?
I don't know who I am anymore.
I wish I had taken more pictures.
But if I were to go back to college
Think what a loser I'd be.
I'd walk through the quad
And think, "Oh my God!
These kids are so much younger than me."

-Avenue Q
I just got back from my college reunions. Rather appropriate that "I wish I could go back to college" came up on my playlist on the drive back. I can definitely relate to a lot of it, and hearing it and singing along made me all sad and nostalgic. I can't say I actually knew who I was in college--I have long had this sense that I have no idea what I want to do with my life--but somehow being a good student in college--an elite college at that--was enough to hold the identity issues at bay. It gave me status and security; my school and my major were all I needed to tell people to convince them that I was a successful young woman with great things ahead of her, whether or not that was true. Now that I'm going back to grad school, I still have that easy identity to some degree. But really, I don't know who I am, and I am unsure of how far I will go; I am full of doubt. I wish I had taken more pictures as an undergrad. I didn't have a good camera until junior year, so my freshman and sophomore years are sadly under recorded. And I am already finding that most college kids seem young to me; I mean, gosh, my baby brother is an upperclassman! If I were to go back to college, I would definitely be a loser.

Moping aside, my weekend at reunions was great. I am now two years out of college, and the campus has experienced some very notable changes since I left (ever more new buildings). But still, when I step back on campus, it's almost like I've never left. Walking around campus is just as natural as it ever was. I visited once last year when classes were still going on, and that was a little strange. Seeing kids who had the year before been my peers go off to class when I had no classes to speak of, I felt like a complete outsider (which I was). But at reunions, I belong again. The campus is full of alumni, most of my friends are there, and we all fall back into our old habits. We hang out at the same places, hit the same restaurants, have similar conversations. It will be different in a few years when we all start bringing back significant others and--*cringe*--children, but for now we can still pretend we've just come back to school from a long break.

Granted, talking to my college friends isn't exactly the same as it was when we saw each other every day. We all now have new friends from where we currently live who know more about our daily lives than our old college friends. Heck, readers of my blog know more about recent happenings in my life than most of my good friends from college. So much has happened since last year's reunion, we struggle to figure out what to tell. If we haven't been communicating much in the past year, there is just too much to fit into one long weekend. But, at least for now, we all still have the same closeness that we used to have. We speak as freely as ever, relating stories that we think are interesting and saying whatever comes to mind, which largely turns out to be stories from the good old days.

I wish I could go back to college, but I can't. Thank goodness for reunions! May they continue to be as great as they were this year.

P.S. I have been out of the loop for almost a week, so it'll take some time to get back into the loop. Also, my journal article has now been published online, though I'm still not sure which month it will appear in the printed journal. I'd give the link to the article, but that would be bad for my whole attempt at anonymity. And it would bore you anyway.