Monday, October 27, 2008

Movie Review: WALL-E (49/50 Stars)

This review contains spoilers. If the ending of this movie is important to you blah blah blah etc etc [fill in standard disclaimers here]

It's been interesting talking to other people about WALL-E. It's a really polarizing movie; you either love it or you hate it. Well, I love it. I think this is probably the best Pixar film yet and to be honest all kid-ness aside was probably one of the best movies of the year. The only reason this movie doesn't also get a 1/1 is because I've only seen it twice so I can't stick my neck out for it that far.

All that said, it's not the easiest movie to watch. WALL-E comes down on our current state of civilization pretty hard. It puts a pretty thin veil over it's implications that we are overweight, wasteful, and self-absorbed.

But while it rails against our current state and our likely future state it holds out the most optimistic message I've seen in mass media in years.

It's a movie about a robot who has effectively turned into a human. WALL-E has been collecting our trash on an abandoned Earth for 700 years. It's a pretty bleak back drop. Like I said, it's not an easy movie to watch. Along the way he picked up a bit of a glitch. He collects old trash he finds interesting.

Really the rest of the movie revolves around which trash WALL-E likes to pick up. Sure there are some interesting trinkets and broken toys but largely he collects the things we are throwing out because we've forgotten that singing is fun and dancing is something that people do when they fall in love with each other.

Soon enough Eve makes her grand entrance. Since WALL-E has been reading up, he knows how to handle the situation. Sort of. He runs into that same awkward wall we all run into when we want someone to like us. But he is endearing and since he has the sense to preserve life when he finds it he and Eve end up on their way to fixing the world's problems.

WALL-E chases Eve back to the Axiom (the mothership if you will) and promptly manages to run amok left and right. It's adorable watching him try to clean things up. He helps people back in their chairs, he waves to people, sings, etc.

In the process he starts spreading humanity around as he goes. People who got knocked out of their chair notice that there is an actual physical world around them. He waves to other robots and they all start to pick it up. Even the big ol' trash robots in the bottom of the ship have picked it up by the time WALL-E gets there.

Eventually WALL-E gets the plant Eve was carrying around up to the captain who is probably the most self sufficient person on the ship. He actually does things like announce the weather every day which is a lot more than anyone else does.

The arrival of The Plant gets the captain researching Earth with the talking computer. It gives us one of the most romantic scenes I've seen in a movie in a long time. WALL-E figures out in space he can fly around with a fire extinguisher. He and Eve "dance" around the outside of the ship together while the computer explains dancing to the Captain. I know, written down it sounds lame but it's not, I promise.

At the end of the day the captain has to fight the auto pilot to get every body back to earth so they can start growing pizza plants again (why he thinks you can grow a pizza plant is still beyond me). The use of the space odyssey music when the captain finally gets out of his chair and stands up is classic.

Really what makes WALL-E so awesome is how incredibly optimistic it is. It fully acknowledges that we have big problems but it really does assert that we can solve them with really simple things like smiling and waving. It reminds you that falling in love means wanting to hang around each other and hold hands and dance, even if the person is in a temporary coma. And it does it with two main characters who can't possibly speak more than 10 unique words between them and whose only emotive features are eyes.

So there you have it. John Lasseter (the director) deserves recognition up there with Spielberg and Kurosawa.

Writer: M

Editor: G

Supporting Staff - Claire, Scott

OK, so unrelated to the rest of the movie the credits to this film are awesome. They start off with a backdrop of semi-animated cave paintings showing the Axiom passengers getting off and starting to rebuild things. Slowly over the course of the credits the background art morphs to Egyptian hieroglyphs, then Renaissance paintings, then impressionist, then Van Gogh. It ends with Atari style art of WALL-E and Eve. The assertion they are making is that computer graphics is the latest artistic technique and is just as valid as any other art form humanity has worked out. That would be incredibly arrogant if you hadn't just finished watching a movie that is a perfect proof of concept for that idea. I hope Pixar continues to make films my kids will watch and I will enjoy long into the future.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast ( 1 out of 1 Stars)

You've probably figured out by now that when I say "movie review" I really mean "Hey, why don't you read while I ramble about a movie I just watched :)" Well, tough, because there just aren't very many forums for discussing the artistic merits of early 90's children's movies.

I ended up giving this film only one possible star because no matter how many stars I allot, it will get all of them. After watching it as a child and as an adult with children, I do not have any changes I would like to see made to the film as it was originally released. That's coming from someone so cynical they usually have multiple suggestions for the makers of TV commercials.

I really like this movie. Watching it again as an adult, I appreciate a lot of stuff I never noticed when I was a kid. The songs move, the characters are more real than most movies (ironic since they are candlesticks and feather dusters), and there aren't any awkward "duct tape moments" at the end to patch things up.

Like at the end of the little mermaid:
"What the heck. She may have dragged us through more misery than we ever imagined possible and I'll never see her again but why don't I just put those legs back on? Besides, maybe then she won't bug us anymore."
Or in Aladdin:
"I know we just had a whole movie about a genie who can't make you a real prince so you can marry my daughter so I'll just change the rules now instead. Have fun kids!"
You get the point.

Of all the cool stuff to pick out, mostly I was surprised to realize that even with Belle being 1) the princess, and 2) the "star," a large part of the story is a deep contrast between Gaston and the Beast.

Gaston declares "She's the most beautiful girl in town... That makes her the best." Ironic, since she is the best girl in town but not because she's the most beautiful. Of course Gaston "knows" Belle will be happy to marry him. The Beast knows Belle is the best but doesn't think she could ever love him.

Gaston can't stand Belle's father so he has his lackeys throw him out in the cold. The beast can't stand Belle's father so he safely, albeit abruptly, sends him home in a carriage.

When Gaston realizes Belle is missing he leaves his buddy in the snow to wait for Belle to show up. When Bell runs off and goes missing the Beast tracks her through the snow and fights off wolves to save her life.

When Gaston realizes how much Belle loves her father he tries use that to force her into marrying him. When the Beast realizes how much Belle loves her father he lets her leave, believing he will never see her again.

At the climax of the movie the Beast and Gaston fight like titans, hand to hand.* When all is said and done, Gaston is dangling from his neck over the kind of chasm that can only exist in animated films (and Saturday morning cartoons). For some reason the Beast pulls him back in and lets him go. Why? Why not kill him? He already invaded your castle, tried to kill you, and force the only woman you've ever loved to marry him.

If I guess right, the Beast can't help but realize as he holds Gaston over the ledge that not that long ago he WAS Gaston. The young prince that sent the old woman away could just as easily have been born in a small provincial town with the pick of all the local women. The Beast was given a second chance, and can't throw someone over the ledge that hasn't had their's yet. He's learned too much about love for something like that.

Not that this is some kind of wacko Sundance film though. I mean, Gaston does turn around and screw up again, getting himself killed in the process.

Nor is it Shakespeare. The beast comes back to life and there is much rejoicing.

Thus ends (in my opinion) one of the best movies ever made.

*Anyone who has done any hunting will tell you being within arms reach of an injured but living deer or similarly sized animal is a disturbing idea. The idea of intentionally hitting something the size of the beast with a stick after you have "irritated" it with an arrow is ludicrous for anyone who has not been magically transformed into something. Apparently Gaston has magically been turned into an idiot

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cheering at big rallies

First off, even though I noticed this listening to the DNC speeches, I don't want this to come across as partisan. Now that I notice, I know I've heard this same phenomenon at every political rally from which I've ever heard sound bytes and quite a few other places as well.

I was listening to Patrick Murphy's speech at the Democratic National Convention. It used to be up on youtube but it looks like it's gone now.

Here's a slightly enhanced transcript from the middle

For eight long years, we've had a president who rushed to stand in front of soldiers at political rallies but abandoned them at Walter Reed

[cheering by the crowd]

We had a president who spent billions on private contractors but not enough on body armor for our troops

[cheering by the crowd]

We had a president who was there for the photo-ops but AWOL when it came to doing right by our fellow veterans.

[cheering by the crowd]
For the first time I had the presence of mind to ask "Why are we cheering about veterans being left in inadequate medical facilities and failing to get the combat equipment they need?" Some of the cheering was reserved but a lot was definitely in the "WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEEEE" vein.

Shouldn't these be fairly sobering statements? Shouldn't our next thoughts be to question why we haven't already fixed this? Congress approves the budget. The Democrats control the house and the senate. Why didn't they hold out for that body armor? Why aren't they passing bills to improve oversight of Veterans facilities?

As far as I can tell, these people can't wait 30 seconds to hear about how we might actually solve the problem. They smell blood. They know that since things are bad they are more likely to get what they want if they promise change. The fact that people are cheering the existence of problems because it might advance their cause means we have let a conflict of interest sneak in. I don't mean the kind of conflict of interest that fits through your front door. I'm talking about a conflict of interest you need an aircraft hanger door to let in. We have aparently created a situation where someone who wants to get something (election, promotion, etc) has a vested interest in 1) not helping out or 2) causing problems until the decision is made. Thats BAD. Attack of the 50 foot woman bad.

Of course I don't know what to do about any of this. Perhaps everyone at one of these conventions will get mild food poisoning and spend the rest of the convention vomitting. Then someone from the overworked food service lobby can get up at the "Stop Big Emotional Conventions" convention and give an exhilarating speech about how horrible that convention was where everyone puked their guts out.

Then we can all cheer long before they get to the part about the new handwashing public service campaign they are planning.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wondering why this blog is called this?

I named this blog during a fit of frustration with most of the rest of the world. I can't remember what the problem was at the time but it seemed like one in a long line of "You've got to be kidding me!??" moments.

And then just when I was starting to think I was crazy and everyone else was normal you get stuff like this




This is Reuters right? I didn't type the name wrong did I? Is Reuters not who I remember them being? I remember a Reuters that occasionally approached responsible journalism.

But surely this is just some sucker rookie reporter at one news outlet who managed to slip something past their fact checker right?

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

In case you are wondering

1) It is possible to get significant power out of water. Just ask these guys. Sure maybe they have a mini-tokamak reactor in there even though the best fusion researchers in the world need a 6 meter radius to get net power output. Of course if you believe Bussard you can do it in 1 or 2.

2) Supposedly this car runs a 300 watt engine. Problems with this anyone? My car runs a 150000 watt engine. Granted my car is reasonably fast but I don't actually think it is 500 times more powerful than the engine in the car you see in the video.

3) I'm not saying this is impossible. Lots of things that seem impossible are real. But lets let at least a touch of peer review or actual demonstration take place before we go off 1/64th of the way cocked.

I'm not asking for much, just a ten hour test drive with a five gallon bucket of water. Or however much I need to keep me going for that long. What's that you say, you have to stop and replace the very battery-esque filters every five hours? Oh well then, I can see how that would eliminate the need for any real validation of you claims.

Carry on.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Obesity and Imigration, Two Birds, One Stone?

So you've probably heard alot about the immigration issue in the news lately. Lots of people making a big huff about people taking jobs, drivers licenses, potential terrorist entry points, blah blah blah.

You've also probably heard a lot of people talking about how Americans are getting heavier and how a higher and higher percentage of people are obese or morbidly obese and are going to drive up our health care costs blah blah blah.

I think I have a silver bullet answer to both problems.

We need a commodity manual labor market place. Some system so I can go find 1, 5, 15, or whatever number of hours of manual labor I can do for free.

When someone needs their lawn re-sodded or house repainted or whatever, they post it on some craigslist style service and I'll show up and work for free for however long I want. That way I get my exercise in for the week without paying gym memberships and on my terms.

Since I'm working for free there aren't any messy tax issues or ID issues. And since you aren't charging me I save on gym membership and I can pick and choose when and where. If you have something that needs doing that happens to be on my way home from work, bingo. I get a free workout and you get free labor.

Since most immigrants come and do unskilled or low skill manual labor it shouldn't be hard for most Americans to pick up the skills they need to specialize in some particular kind of labor. If you don't want to do that there would be a fair number of jobs that wouldn't require any skill at all, like moving shingles or pulling rocks out of someones lawn so they can plant a tree. That would lower the demand for foreign labor and solve our immigration problem since even Hispanics can't compete with free.

We all get healthier, we lower the incentive for people to sneak into our country and surreptitiously hang our drywall and fry our food, and we do it relatively free of red tape.

Of course this won't work because the liability issues surrounding letting someone come on by and pull rocks out of your lawn or work with "hazerdous" chemicals like latex paint are astronomical by American standards.

Oh yeah, and Americans are too lazy to actually get out and do any work.

But still, a guy can dream can't he?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

DIY Car Repair... The Power of the Internet

I know everyone is super excited about how the internet is bringing cultures together and improving business but you've probably already gathered how I'm a bit of an odd duck who doesn't care about the things most sane people care about.

When I think of the power of the internet I think of things like do-it-yourself car repair.

I've had this problem with my Volkswagen (thanks AZ for the spelling correction) for a couple of months. Whenever I really step on the gas I hear this loud hissing noise. G also notices that their really isn't as much boost from the turbo as there used to be. Obvious problem - there is an air leak somewhere.

But where?

It's not like I don't take a gander at my hoses when I change my oil so if there were big chunks missing or clamps coming off I would know about it. It has to be a slit in a hose or some component like the wastegate or diverter valve has an internal failure.

And to make matters worse, it only happens when the turbo boosts above atmospheric pressure so it will be nearly impossible to reproduce without 1) a dyno or 2) strapping someone to the front of the car and driving around under high acceleration with the hood open. For the record if the good ol' 'net hadn't come to the rescue I would be trying option 3 (have someone stand on the brake while they rev the engine) since I'm far too cheap to actually go find a good dyno.

Anyway, before trying either of those I decided I would give my local "overly interested in our particular make/model of car" internet forum a shot.

So I wander over to the B5 garage forum (my car is built on the B5 VW/Audi chassis) and searched for "throttle hiss".

There are five results for that query

One of them is this
Another is this
Another is this

I figure if someone describes pretty much the exact symptoms I'm seeing and gets a response that says:

"No, this is about a 6 inch long hose, about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Look at the throttle body. Then look at the intake to the rear of the throttle body. Start feeling hoses.

One is going to feel REAL soft and have a 4 inch tear in it."

I ought to at least give it a shot. So even though it's pretty late I grab our flashlight and head out to have a look. Sure enough, right in the inside of the L there is a ~1 inch split.

A little more googling tells me this part will cost ~$20 to purchase + some change for new clamps. I didn't ask but I'm guessing a mechanic would have run me ~$150 for this fix. [rant] And depending on the mechanic they probably would have gotten it wrong and I would have had to haul my now more broken car back their shop so I can let them continue to not fix it because heaven forbid if a repair shop messed up your car they would pay to have someone else fix it[/rant].

Anyway, all I know is since there are 85000000000000 people on the internet if there is a common failure mode for pretty much anything I own, I can probably go online and find a few dozen people who got fed up about it, knew enough about what was going on, and wrote it up compete with the part numbers I need and links to online retailers who will sell me the parts.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Health Care and America (opinion)

You've probably heard people talk about how far behind America's health care system is. You've probably heard them talk about how awesome the health care system is in Europe or Canada or whateverland.

I think all these people are crazy.

Let me explain how I understand our current medical system. There are four major players: you, doctors, health insurance companies, and "other people".

You pay the health insurance company.
"Other people" pay the health insurance company.
The health insurance company pays your doctor.
The health insurance company pays other people's doctors.

The nature of insurance is such that when you pay money to the insurance company it stops being "yours". You have no more right to the money than "other people" and vice versa. That way when someone needs a new kidney they get access to some of "your" money and don't have to foot the bill themselves.

It's fairly obvious that this can be abused. "Oh , Mr. Young, I see you've got another concussion, let us pay to fix that for you". So we invented copays and patient portions and percentage coverage so that we would still feel some economic pain to discourage us from doing things that hurt us, expose us to illness, or seeking treatment that likely won't do any good.

So if we have these checks in place, the natural question to ask now is "Why not get rid of the private companies that are getting rich off health insurance and roll it into the public sector (governement)?"

Here's why. The copays and deductibles aren't the only checks. At a health insurance company when you want to get some insurance money to pay for your [fill in condition here] you go ask them for it and "The Man" looks it over and decides whether or not the refusal of your claim is 1) illegal or 2) so bad for his company's reputation he would take a loss. If it doesn't fall into those 2 categories, you don't get the money. This isn't perfect but the money that used to be "mine" isn't going to be given away to someone who wants to see a doctor who specializes in treatment via sunflowers and unicorns because "The Man" isn't going to be giving out any money he doesn't have to. He's going to use it to lower my rates or line his pockets. Mostly though since 10,000,000 people are lining his pockets it doesn't take much from each of us to keep him turning down the unicornians.

Now let's think about how the government works. The people making the call have no interest in whether or not they dole out money. The lady at the counter doesn't get a cut. The manger on duty doesn't get a cut. The head bossman of the imaginary FFHCA (Federal Free Health Care Administration) doesn't get a cut. So why shouldn't they give out the money? What would ever be the point of ending the year more than $5 in the black? Survey says: let the man see the unicorn.

Throw that in with the horror that is letting the people that wrote our tax code write your insurance plan and I'm opting out.