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.