November 2008


In the semi-rural outskirts of Beijing’s Tongzhou district (itself on the outskirts of Beijing) Wu Yulu has amassed a collection of simple robotic machines through sacrifice and the power of obsession. His journey into the world of invention began as a kid and his curiosity has continued despite his fifth-grade education and mounting debts; an electrical fire burned his family out of their home. By day he repairs electronics and appliances, then trolls scrapyards and metal recycling plants for his creations.

Over the years he has filled his house and yard with a ragtag collection of mechanical rickshaw drivers and eight-legged carts, headless walkers and assorted clunkers; he’s J.F. Sebastian without the corporate funding, hidden away in the dusty backstreets with his robot children. I think it’s awesome that he’s been able to figure out how to construct a working robot without any education but it’s also depressing in a way. Across the sea Japan is the world leader in slick and sophisticated robot maids and dogs, each new model unveiled in the world spotlight and discussed on daytime talk shows. Wu Yulu’s inventions are pieced together with whatever was laying around, no consultations with design firms, no microchips. Although Yulu’s work has garnered significant attention over the years from technology enthusiasts his attempts to capitalize on his talents by selling robot rides at local festivals have resulted in failure. I’m a little torn between his single-minded dedication and the selfishness which causes his wife and two children to suffer. In a just world he would be given a decent place to live and the backing needed to work on his robots full-time but for now it’s the front yard, late hours, scavenged materials and creditors.

Props to io9 for a pleasant Sunday morning viewing.

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Aspiring Psychopath (2007) Directed by Ryan Cavalline
Starring Danielle Donahue, Eddie Benevich, Peter Blessel, Joel & Catherine Wynkoop

Nothing unfairly prejudices the audience like no budget. Unfortunately our palettes have been spoiled by studio grade audio and cinemascope picture and we involuntarily react when what is being presented lacks the high gloss finish of a bankrolled project. It doesn’t help that many no budget features fail to compete on any level, a fatal flaw which sends Aspiring Psychopath spinning into the rubbish bin.

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The premise is self-evident and simple with a single twist– the psychopath in question is from the undeniably neglected demographic of female killers. It’s not that women have never been portrayed as ruthless and violent but typically the sub-genre of 80’s revenge flicks ala’ Ms. 45 create a viable motivation and the slaughter is a justified act of vigilante justice. Kathy Bates was a deranged and obsessed wingnut but her insanity, while statistically slight, at least fit within the conventions of possibility. Lucinda (Danielle Donahue) babbles about murderous fits of fiction as a child and losing her mom to a barrage of bullets but it’s never a credible tale. The obviously improvised ranting intended to accommodate her inspiration for becoming a serial killer sounds less like the monologue of a lunatic and more like someone grasping at straws in the dark. Her schtick (a serial killer requires something to differentiate their acts from simply being mass murder spread out over time) is that she stalks serial killers (who have no apparent M.O.) and learns from their methods. This is made clear after the first twelve minutes of insufferable dialogue and poorly orchestrated violence which precedes the credits and found me talking to a cat and shaking my head. (more…)


Creative Recycling— Not a Plug

Cockroaches are nothing if not thorough and they have absolutely destroyed my old laptop. It’s easy to be upset but on the grand stage of life this crisis cannot be compared to any you’ll see on the news. It was an old computer and served me well, never asking anything in return. It was also free.

So I find myself in a unique situation. I’ve recently purchased a G4 Powerbook from a reliable refurbisher/reseller operating out of San Jose through eBay. However I used my work account because we had a coupon that saved me fifty bucks and I’ve written a check to my job that hasn’t been cashed yet. The computer is either in San Jose getting packed up or is in between being roughly handled by someone with a secure job and little to lose. My old laptop is with my boss who had his boyfriend pry it apart in an effort to rescue my harddrive (no luck) and I’m operating a loaned IBM ThinkPad (thanks, Keith) after discovering that my old G3 Desktop can barely handle Gmail.

The fact that a computer from the 90’s still works isn’t surprising and I would have no problems with my old reserve except that it has been outpaced by development. In many ways the old desktop is a superior computer– it frequently runs faster than either of the laptops in my life and it never has problems with different programs interfering with one another; the problem is that everything operates on new programs that don’t run on the older computer. I could hook it up to an office network and use printers, type up reports and run spreadsheets as efficiently as anyone with a computer half its age.

When I was twenty I worked on the internet, specifically for a company called NextMonet which sold “contemporary fine art” online. The business model was horrible but very en vogue at the time– get investment capital and spend all of it on things you don’t need. There was the programmer corner, the writer’s room and the main room was split between various functions; everyone had their own work station and new computer and everyone spent a lot of their time using about 10% of what had been issued them to do their jobs. The writers honestly could have used typewriters but they demanded special lighting and chairs to write little sonnets describing the crap for sale. Shockingly the upside-down pyramid financial plan ended in tears for everyone and layoffs eliminated the writing staff, then half of the main office. I dismantled all of the IKEA office furniture I had assembled and moved around, then was laid off after NextMonet was absorbed by another company.

It was obviously a poor way to run a company but what lingers most in my mind is how much technology is wasted. Subsequently I worked for a large corporate law firm that was similarly stocked with top of the line computers for everyone, staffed by a crew of legal aides who had no idea how to use them and who essentially wasted an entire computer to check their e-mail when they left their Blackberry at home. This was a major company, a well respected (in the business world) firm, but there was no need for every employee to have fancy computers. However the firm had to update their systems frequently because as new software was developed new computers needed to be able to process the applications. The development of technology was driven by an understandable enthusiasm but the result was lost, and continues to be lost, on most people. (more…)


Flickr user Glenmcbethlaw

A favorite topic of conversation at the annual event is how I’m such a stranger. While it’s true that better than a decade’s worth of reunions were skipped by both my sister and I, we have both been present at least twice in the past three years so I’m not quite sure why everyone continues to make such a big deal out of our attendance. Have they have simply forgotten that they saw me two years ago just as I’ve forgotten their names and how exactly we’re related? Don’t get me wrong– they’re all very nice people who are very welcoming, warm and giving but spending a Sunday wandering from room to room seeking likely candidates for common ground and scraping the potluck for any inoffensive culinary delights does not qualify as a good time.

The reason behind my sudden reemergence on the family scene was a guilt trip by my parents regarding the advanced age of my grandparents who I never see. In fact, two years ago my grandfather expressed surprise at my presence and ribbed me about it: “I know why you’re here, your parents are giving you grief about me and Oma. I know how it is kid, oh no, the old folks are gonna die soon so you better go to the family reunion.” He was more amused than anything else and said he was glad to see me, even if I no longer shared his enthusiasm for the assortment of smoked meats and roasts we used to pursue with a single-minded passion. I’m glad I went because the next time I saw him I was carrying his coffin and the joking by the buffet is a better memory. (more…)

superobamaworld

It’s real, and you can play it as I have.

Old news but thanks to Tokyo Mango for pointing it out. I’ve been trying to think of an excuse to share for weeks. I suppose it would be more meaningful had McCain taken the election.

Fuck it, let’s double-down on lazy. This was a promotional clip for some MTV production called Human Giant. Obviously it never aired but Will Arnett really rises to the occassion.

Well, shit. WordPress can’t handle the glory so you’ll have to hit the link. Sorry I’m a cheapskate.

Old Man Coffee
By Flickr user Yogi Parish

Should have sat around the corner with the hardcore computer geeks cloistered together like helmets on the short bus. There was an obvious radius around the old man sitting disheveled and greasy, newspapers spread across the table in a confused mess, but staying a couple tables down the wall preserved the integrity of my personal space. Overflowing cup threatening to breach any second carefully set down on the table top (was I supposed to express pity for the barista after she said under her breath that she spilled some on herself?), backpack on the bench and jacket coming off. What the fuck is that smell?

This wasn’t the stench normally associated with our city’s vast population of transients, that thick animalian reek which begins to blend with old urine and acetone as the years pass. While the old man’s wardrobe was not wildly different than any shopping cart nomad there was no obvious street wear, just the frayed evidence of consistent use, as though changing clothes was too much trouble and buying new attire obviously out of the question. No, the nauseating odor was more like a blend of hospitals and varnish reminding me of mothballed furs I once found hidden in some rich people’s bedroom while I was on three kinds of acid. The acrid air comes through the nose, tickling the back of your throat before settling in your stomach. My eyes itched and I wondered if someone was really capable of emitting such a melange of chemical vapors.

Not to suggest that illiteracy is a prerequisite for insanity but his intense devotion to reading made me hesitate to declare him crazy. You can usually tell crazy from a block away because the person tries to eat the chair instead of sit in it, or they carry on conversations at top volume with themselves or, more specifically, with people who aren’t there. He sat amidst the clutter in his worn clothes, stringy filthy hair and clammy skin, drinking a diet soda and had, despite the odds, half a cookie on a clean plate. Most crazy people don’t have money for diet soda and cookies, nor do they appreciate clean plates. Something about the pulsating ozone which permeated the cafe screamed hospital to me. Perhaps I was mistaken– could the smell be from a pool of bilious, viscous fluid I failed to note before putting my bag in it? I was too terrified to check and too embarrassed to be seen searching around the bench and under the tables for any caustic solutions. While my position certainly made me a candidate for the pungent aroma originator behaving as though I emitted horse piss in my sleep would detract from the more obvious culprit two seats down, and if I have to sacrifice my bag to the flesh-dissolving toxic soup to save face I’ll gladly sit pretending as though nothing is amiss.

The eccentric to my left carried on his reading and sipping with no indication of awareness. I was tempted to move, almost convinced that I would retch on the floor if I remained, but self-consciousness refused to release me from my seat. If we accept that the old man is not crazy and if we accept the possibility that he has some sort of medical condition which causes a horrible scent then what kind of bastard would I be drawing attention to his obviously debilitating diagnosis by bolting up, gathering my possessions protectively about me, and shuffling off across the room? Honestly, once the initial shock and confusion wore off I had nothing but sympathy for the guy. He’s alone, from the ugly side of the tracks and has to survive in the world where being disgusting and somewhat diseased is more reprehensible than knifing an infant. I sat and coughed a little and carried on with my business, unlike that stuck-up blonde bitch who walked in talking to her iPhone earpiece, sat on the far side of our subject, then quickly bolted around the corner to join the laptop brigade. (more…)

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The Big Steal (1949) Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix, Ramon Novarro, Patric Knowles

Blending the sarcastic interplay of a romantic-comedy with the punch and thrills of a fast-paced action flick The Big Steal was surprisingly entertaining. There’s a chemistry between Mitchum and Greer (previously seen together in the noir classic Out of the Past) that, while it falls short of Bogart and Bacall’s, has an undeniable charm which carries throughout the movie from their acrimonious introduction to their inevitable romance; interestingly Greer was late in signing on, taking the role as a favor to Mitchum who was having trouble following a marijuana bust. The supporting cast, particularly Novarro, all rise to the occasion whether alone or sharing the screen with the stars. Vibrant performances elevate what would otherwise have been a dime a dozen adventure to a giddy romp without straying into cheaps laughs or rote violence.

It’s not all fun and games, however, it’s a whodunnit. Captain Blake (Bendix) is gunning for Duke Halliday (Mitchum) who is accused to stealing hundreds of thousands in an army payroll heist. Halliday maintains that the money was actually stolen by pretty-boy Jim Fiske (Knowles) but no one believes him, even Fiske’s jilted fiancee Joan Graham (Greer) who’s just disembarked in Veracruz hunting after her vanished betrothed and the couple thousand he’d borrowed. Halliday ducks the pinch and heads after Fiske assuming Blake’s identity, bumping heads with Graham along the way. Graham catches Fiske as he’s setting out on a delivery job and holds the package while he arranges a car. Halliday finds Graham, drags her after Fiske and Fiske takes off out of town leaving Halliday in the dirt and Graham wondering if what Halliday (posing as Blake) says is true. Before they can find out the local police get involved and both Graham and Halliday find themselves before Inspector General Ortega (Novarro), an eager student of English under the tutelage of his Lt. Ruiz and a cunning detective behind his quick smile. Fiske is burning rubber to make his drop, Halliday and Graham are both hot on his trail, Blake is hot on theirs and Ortega and Ruiz are curious to see where this is all going. (more…)

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