Saturday, December 13, 2008

Not much to report. Wrapped up another week at work. I am still really digging my job.

I don't want to sound like a whiner, and I feel like I learned valuable stuff at my last few jobs, but its nice to head into work without wondering what is going to explode in your face today... The current job isn't predictable or anything, but it's just less likely I will be putting out fires on any given day. For example, my duties are just different enough that there's a far smaller chance of something going horribly awry and there goes the weekend... (let me tell you about running a support team some day...)

People I don't know

Last night was very low key. Jamie and I stopped by "Cherry Creek Catfish" (whose motto is, literally, "Keep South Austin Fried") and I began chatting with an older couple while we waited for a table. I guess we all have our starting point with how we approach people. For example, I might not be sure if some people speak English and ask a few probing questions before assessing the depth of their language skills so I know how to proceed.

So I felt kind of stupid last night when I began chatting up this nice, older lady and her husband and couched what I do for a living in the same terms I save for, say, Jeff the Cat and found out the guy was a programmer for Austin Energy for years and built several databases that they still use today and this lady held two masters degrees and was some sort of city planner they city needed so much they called her back out of retirement. And, suddenly, you realize... this isn't nice old Grammy and Grampy, these people are just as with it as you, and certainly smarter than you...

Anyway, once past the initial embarrassment, then you want to start asking all sorts of questions, like "how the @#$% were you building relational databases in the 1960's and 70's...?" and, honestly, this lady's job with the city sounded pretty cool (she worked with an arm that provided "how to" services for people looking to start businesses in town). But, you know, we got whisked off to our own table, and I think it might have been awkward to ask perfect strangers to eat dinner with me so I could barrage them with questions.

But I think that's part of why I like reality shows about people at work (Dirty Jobs, those crab fishing shows...). I get all the details without having to ask. Finding out what people do for a living is always interesting, and when the people themselves are interesting (for example, the lady had moved here from Austria... who moves here from Austria...?), then you've got a whole story to dig through.

Bells of St. Mary's

Went home and watched "Bells of St. Mary's", which is a surprisingly engaging movie for a movie which is devoid of conflict. But it also has Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby in one movie, and that's tough to beat. I am unsure of why "Bells of St. Mary's" is shown at Christmas. Only one or two scenes take place during the Holidays. The rest is spread over a school year.

I need to compile a list of great platonic couples in movies and TV. Surely Father O'Malley and Sister Mary Benedict would be at the top of the list.

Anyhow, its a great movie, and I always get a little misty during the final scene.

Unrelated, here's the Phil Spector produced "Bells of St. Mary's" by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans.

My eyes do not work

Got up today and went to the eye doctor. My eyes are the same as last year (ie: lousy). I am going ahead and spending money on new glasses as well as contacts although my prescription hasn't changed a lot and my insurance doesn't cover them. I just hate my current glasses as my right lens pops out regularly, and they always feel like they're slipping off my face. I'm going back to plastic frames, so I look forward to my family's ceaseless commentary upon my selection of frames once again.

Gotta go clean the house.

Ya'll have a good weekend.

Friday, December 12, 2008

RIP Bettie Page

Even if you didn't know her name, it's most likely you knew the face (etc...) of Bettie Page.

Ms. Page was a pin-up model of the 1950's, who occasionally posed not just for standard cheesecake faire, but also for some racier and edgier material that became a hot item among collectors. Page gained notoriety as she appeared in Playboy and eventually found herself subpoenaed to testify on the adult publication industry of the 1950's (congressmen were really into making a name for themselves in the 50's by calling hearings for all sorts of cultural/ moral issues which appealed to the easily outraged).

Much of Page's mystique springs from how the model basically quit the biz and disappeared off the cultural map for decades, leaving behind a look as iconic as Louise Brooks, or even her contemporaries such as Marilyn Monroe (or Harlow or Mansfield).

Oddly, there is a comics-bent to all this as Dave Stevens (who died in March), creator of the Rocketeer, was semi-obsessed with Page, using her as a model in his work. Jennifer Connolly would go on to play the role Stevens had modeled after Page in the Disney movie of The Rocketeer (which I love. You should rent it). Stevens eventually tracked down Page, who was apparently unaware of her cult status, and who chose not to be photographed so her fans would remember her as the smiling face they knew, forever young.

The 1990's and 00's saw a resurgence of Page collectibles, merchandise, and rock-a-billy chicks took on Page's look. Quite the cultural footprint for someone who was never a movie star, what-have-you.

Sadly, Ms. Page passed away this week at age 85. While her body and spirit have joined with the infinite, she has left an eternal legacy of people pausing longer than necessary when they stumble upon her photographs.

More on Page here.

We love you, Bettie. You'll be missed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

no new pocket oracle for me (yet)

Our contract is pretty much up with Verizon, our current carrier. We've been with Verizon since 2002 and been very happy with our service. I've been very interested in upgrading from a cell phone to something a bit more feature-heavy. You know: something with a decent web browser, e-mail interface, camera, maybe some other features.

Despite what I recognize in the iPhone to be the epitome of such a device, I was so turned off by Apple's launch of the iPhone, and not interested in changing carriers, that I'd simply categorized the iPhone as something I would not have.

So... I was very interested in the new Blackberry Storm. Basically Blackberry and Verizon's answer to the iPhone, it also has a browser, GPS, what have you... I knew it wouldn't be as slick (this was Blackberry, after all), and so Jamie and I hopped in the car to check it out and maybe re-up our plan.

Basically, the thing never worked. The interface was relatively intuitive, and I liked that you literally clicked the screen to make selections. And my worries about fat-fingering the virtual keyboard were completely unfounded. That part of the technology was rock solid.

This was also true for the Samsung Omnia I looked at (Samsung's answer to the Storm, I guess). I actually liked the Omnia's interface better, but the screen seemed to have less real estate, and while I was able to look up a sample site (I looked up this site), I couldn't figure out how to click on a hyperlink from this page. And, honestly, it all just felt very, very cramped. Like... what's the point? It did use Windows, which was kind of cute.

I never could get a webpage to open on the Blackberry. It kept launching a Beyonce video whenever I clicked "Browser". The GPS didn't work on either device. Mail seemed iffy. I couldn't get a clear answer about web-mail versus signing up for some other mail... (I don't think the sales person was very educated on the devices and services) It just seemed like the foundational technology... the hardware... was fine. Everything else seemed like a mess.

Now, I know these devices have lots of people messing with them, and it was late, so who knows how many had pawed the devices before I touched them. But... their stuff didn't work. Not a strong sales pitch.

So... I don't know what we're going to do. Month-to-month with Verizon, but I think were going to go to an Apple store in January and look at the iPhone, check out the costs there (they are high, but so was the cost of the Storm and Omnia). But we may also just be in for phones. I dunno.

The whole thing was disappointing, to say the least. The iPhone has been out for a while, and the competitors just aren't keeping up. I predict another two years (at least) before they're at where iPhone is now, and who knows what Apple will have done by then...


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It Frikkin' Snowed Here Last Night

Seriously. It was snowing. It didn't stick, but it was building up on the fence and on the cars.

Even if it does freeze in Austin, it's usually in January (but there was one Christmas around 1998 where Jamie and I thought we were getting frozen in and weren't going home). It was kind of pretty, watching the fluffy flakes come down, and Lucy seemed to like it.

I do hope we get one good freeze in January with ice. I always like those days. Nothing to do but hang out, stay warm, read and check the weather.

In the News

So how about this Governor of Illinois guy? Now THAT is a political scandal. In some ways, I'm kind of impressed. He seems like a villain right out of a schlocky movie.

What's disheartening is that Blagojevich is just the guy they caught.

At work, I said something about "Geez, and this is the big fish. What level of Government do you work at before the corruption stops? PTA?"
And then my co-worker told me about his kids' PTA president who stole $500 out of the treasury.


I don't even really know what to say, other than "Now this is a scandal!" It makes other folks' attempts to cook up a scandal with a call-girl, secret lover, what have you... seem like small potatoes. Now selling a Senate seat... Man...

End of Year Lists

This weekend I petitioned Leaguers to send in their very own "End of Year" lists. We've had a pretty good response thus far.

I invite you to go over to Jason's list of 10 Things They Wanted Us to Like in 2008 That Ended Up Being Lame. Plus, our irrational debate about a minor issue here in Austin's telecomm industry.

The League's own McSteans also piped up today with her very own Top 10 of 2008 list entitled "The Awesome of 2008". You should stop by.

Michael also chimed in, by the way.

Top Three Do-Dahs for Christmas

1: Kindle
An electronic book AND always connected to Wikepidea? Sign me the %@#^ up.

2: Itouch Apps
That much fun for .99cents a pop is seriously addictive. I'm asking for an itunes gift card for just that purpose.

3: The Wii and all its Wiiness.
Because it's so much fun it should be criminal. How could I still be playing Final Fantasty more than two decades after numero uno? Because Nintendo brings the thunder, that's why.

Year End List - Movies and TV

My Favorite Movies I Saw in 2008

1) Iron Man
I'm not sure it's all ages fun. I'll leave that to the parents to decide, but I don't think there's any denying how great Robert Downey Jr. was as Tony Stark, how great the armor and effects were, or the level of summer-fun that director John Favreau squeezed into the movie.

2) I liked "Incredible Hulk"
Maybe not the brightest movie ever made, but it brought the story of the Hulk to the big screen with a certain, imaginative panache. Ed Norton was a likable Bruce Banner, and the final effects on the Hulk were really pretty good.

3) Dark Knight
I've already talked at length about Dark Knight, but it set a new standard for action movies and comic adaptations. And for this DC Comics fan, it was particularly gratifying to see something that was so close to the spirit of the Batman comics after so many years of bad adaptations under WB's belt.

4) Step-Brothers
Dumb comedies never make these lists, but I laughed myself sick at this movie (as I tend to do at about 2/3rds of Will Ferrell's comedies). It's no masterpiece, but I liked it.

5) Wall-E
I tend to go for Pixar's work, and I found Wall-E to be a triumph even by Pixar standards. I'm not sure I loved it as much as I loved Ratatouille, but... just a deeply gratifying movie.

Movie that wasted my time: Wanted
This movie didn't just complete ignore the source material, it just wasn't a very good movie. Unlikeable characters engaged in a plot that seemed like it was cooked up by someone in a blindfold mixing up words from fridge magnet poetry... If I knew it wasn't going to get any better after the first 30 minutes, I probably would have walked out.


1) The Middleman
I think JimD, Jason, Jamie and I were the only folks who watched ABC Family's bizarre little show about a straight arrow fighter of bizarre threats to the world and his cynical sidekick. But for a low-budget show, it was big on ideas and very well written and cast. I will actually pick up the series/ season 1 on DVD.

2) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Season 4 didn't have quite the same zing as Season 3, but this FX Network show still delivered. It's in no way an all ages show, and it may not fit your brand of humor (how badly didn't you want to see Danny Devito's posterior through a hospital gown?). But the characters are well drawn and the show is, if nothing else, not afraid to take risks. Plus: Kaitlin Olson is one of the funniest women on TV

3) 30 Rock
Speaking of hilarious women on TV, Tina Fey continues to be, maybe, the funniest person on television, rivaled only by the rest of her cast on 30 Rock (I have special love for Alec Baldwin on the show).

4) Mythbusters
It's not just the explosions that are fun. I really enjoy watching these guys, who you sorta wish were your friends, engage in problem solving for problems nobody else would bother to work out. Whether shooting arrows as a "ninja" (martial arts master) or blowing up pianos, it's always a good time.

5) Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
I'm not one who goes in for hour-long dramas, but I'm hooked on Terminator, and not just for the one-two punch of Summer Glau and Lena Headey. Robots, a gripping storyline, and tying into one of my favorite film franchises... I'm a fan.

6) Ghosthunters
I cannot explain why I love this show, but I do.

7) A Colbert Christmas
I always enjoy The Daily Show and Colbert Report, but I particularly enjoyed the hour-long special of A Colbert Christmas on Comedy Central. If you stumble across it on cable, I highly recommend it.

8) American Experience
More of a clearinghouse for documentaries on PBS than a particular show, the documentary program covers both grand and horrific moments in American history. It might not have the immediacy of "Independent Lens", but it does put history into context in a way that I'm not sure even the programming on the History Channel manages. Always beautifully produced, it's well wortha dding to your DVR.

9) John Adams
An HBO mini-series, this show followed the life of America's first Vice President and Second President from the earliest rumblings of revolution in the colonies to Adams's death on the 4th of July. Add in another great performance from Paul Giamatti as Adams and what may be Laura Linney's finest performance, and its a good renter.

10) History Detectives
This PBS show is the natural spin-off of Antiques Roadshow. People contact the show with heirlooms they know very little about, and a team of researchers uncovers whether the item is authentic, the true story behind the item if its not authentic, but most importantly relates the story of the part of history where the item might be from. This can be anything from old firearms to paintings, to photographs... It's a great show, and often oddly moving as the owners of the objects learn the history that's touching them through the items.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Re-Telling Superman's Origin

click the image for a full-sized version

This Spring DC comics will release a series retelling the origin of Superman. It is the 3rd effort in the past 23 years, but will establish a post Infinite Crisis baseline of the Man of Steel. I think you'll enjoy it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Round-Up of Interesting Information and a Plea for Donations

New Jim Parsons Interview at USA Today

Check it out, Jim P. who plays Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" got a high profile interview at USA Today. There is no accompanying pie chart.

Hopefully Jim has not entered the twilight zone for actors where they have so convincingly embodied a character mostly unlike themselves that the audience is somewhat disappointed to learn that Jim is playing a character and not himself. (See: George Reeves as Superman, Michael Richards as Kramer, etc...) But, really, would anyone want to put up with Sheldon for more than 22 minutes per week?

Price of success, I guess. Hopefully Jim is enjoying the fruits of his labors. I'm still enjoying the show.

Give Some Dough to the Salvation Army and Help Out Your Fellow Humans

I am $5.00 from my personal goal set for raising money for Salvation Army. I am, however, $160 dollars from what I had hoped would be a team goal.

Tis the Season of Giving, Leaguers. Sure, I know times are tough, but that's all the more reason to share if you can.

The website is easy to use, the donation is probably tax deductible, and anything you give will genuinely help other people out in a time when so many people are in need. I know you gave $3.00 to the guy ringing the bell at the mall, and that's super. If you can afford to give more, we'd certainly appreciate it. We're going to be leaning on each other a lot more in the next few years.

So join League of Melbotis in giving. Click here, and then click "donate to my kettle". Anything from $0.25 to $250 would be welcome.

I've heard some people find the site a bit wonky. If you need help, let me know.

New Years Party

A gentle reminder that December 31st at 8:45ish, we're kicking off our annual Holiday Party as a New Year's party (Melbotis's 2008 New Year Hullabalunacy!).

Click here for details and to RSVP.

And to Keep You in the Yuletide Spirit


Only moderately safe for work

Sunday, December 07, 2008

DITMTLOD Special: Robot Ladies of Interest Part 2

So... looks like we got derailed with the whole Matrix discussion last week. That's all right. It's probably an important movie in a lot of ways, and the discussion it engenders is probably a sign of the movie being better than I give it credit for.

But we're not here to talk about the Matrix today. We're here to puzzle over that oddest of topics: The Robot Ladies of Interest

Alice Krig as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact

I'm sort of on the fence with this one. ST; First Contact isn't one of my favorite movies, and I think Krig's character was more interesting as a special effect than as an actual character. But if you were a fan of the Trek series, her character added a new dimension to both The Borg and Data.

Technically, Borg aren't really robots. They're organic beings being piloted by robotic intelligence in a hive mind. I figure there's enough intersection on the mental Venn-Diagram that it's okay to cover our friends, The Borg.

But, really, if we want to talk Borg, we want to talk Seven of Nine.

Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine on Star Trek, Voyager

ST: Voyager was struggling in the ratings on the fledgling UPN network (now defunct). The show was a bit dull, from some perspectives (mine), as its primary conceit was leaving behind the very rich environment of the Star Trek corner of the galaxy. This was problematic. Star Trek: The Next Generation was the best rated syndicated show in history, and UPN executives had expected their new show to carry their network until other shows caught on.

Producers seemed to have decided that the primary reason the show wasn't doing well was that the show was missing a certain element.

Three guesses what they thought the show was missing prior to Ryan's arrival.

I can't talk too much about Voyager, Ryan, Seven of Nine, etc... I didn't watch the show and saw the move to drop in a character in a shiny, skin tight suit as suspect at best (no, seriously). But Ryan's arrival on the show did, in fact, boost ratings. So say what you want about Sci-Fi audiences, I guess. They're an easy enough read.

Battlestar Galactica Reboot

In college I became nostalgic for a show I remember watching as a very young kid, Battlestar Galactica. For its time, and certainly for 1970's TV, it was a pretty awesome show. However, by 1997, when I watched it again... not so much.

After decades of attempted reboots, about five years ago someone finally re-did BSG and added what the original had been sorely lacking: really attractive Cylons.

Enter: Tricia Helfer as "Six". A robot seductress who tricks a top earth scientist into helping the Cylons wipe out the outerspace colonies.

an understandable error

Well, apparently that wasn't enough.

The show went on to introduce several models of humanoid Cylons, including Grace Park as Sharon, and Lucy Lawless as D'Anna.

If this is the doom that awaits me by steely, robot hearts... I am okay with that.

BSG is a surprisingly smart show, and unlike your average syndicated sci-fi program, there's a point to the Cylons' human appearance. I came in to the show too late to keep up, but what I have seen, I've really liked.

Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell

Yes, she's animated, but Motoko Kusanagi is a terrific character in a phenomenal movie. Just don't ask me what the hell's up with the ending.

It's a dark future in Japan (is there any other kind?) and the Japanese military/ police force has created a cyborg unit to keep up with the level of crime their having to deal with.

I saw this one on my own in the theater one night in college at The Dobie. It's a hell of a movie, visually, if the story is a bit muddy. I guess they've turned it into a whole franchise, but I haven't kept up.

The manga and anime of Ghost in the Shell would go on to be highly influential to the genre. It's tough to point to specific examples in American film where they've managed to evoke the same design, exploration of AI, etc... If anything, I'd say Blade Runner had a huge impact on the look, tone and issues of this movie.

Here's some music video that used Ghost in the Shell animation. Beware, non-sexual nudity is included.

Terminator 3 and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

I'm, like, legally obligated to mention Terminator 3, because it did star a woman as the base form for one of the shape-shifting sort of Terminators you saw in T2. But I really didn't like T3, so I don't want to talk about it (can you tell I was a little disappointed?).

I don't care

The lady Terminator was played by... you know what? It doesn't matter. She's gone on to be in a bunch of really goofy and forgettable stuff I hope you haven't seen. The producers felt T3 was so irrelevant that they used a neat narrative trick in the pilot of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles to render T3 completely irrelevant.

Speaking of T:tSCC, remember 90's band Garbage? No? Well, you guys missed out. They had some good tunes. Anyway, their singer, Shirley Manson, has hung up her mic and moved on to play Catherine Weaver, a cyborg who has taken the place of a millionaire industrialist in order to further the evil, robot agenda.

Only happy when it rains...

The Sarah Connor Chronicles demonstrates the richness of the Terminator franchise once its been divorced from the star wattage of Governor Arnie. Look, I love Arnie as much as the next child of the 80's, but if he was attached to the franchise, the promise of time travel + robots just wasn't going to be fully achieved.

And now, we have Shirley Manson creeping me out.

PLUS, we have Summer Glau as Cameron Phillips/ Baum, a Terminator unit reprogrammed by future John Connor to go back in time and protect modern-day John Connor. Glau might be recognized from her work in Whedon's Firefly series where she played "River Tam". She was also in a spectacularly bad Sci-Fi original movie "Mammoth".

Wouldn't be Terminator without a steely stare and a messed up face

The show is using the long format of a weekly series to look into the actual character of a Terminator as it continues to learn as it lives among humans. The cast is very good, even the younger players.

Plus, the show features lots of robot fights. Nigh weekly. And, also, Glau is foxy.

That's it for this post.

If you guys have any robots I might have missed, pipe up. We'll do a Leaguer special!