Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pictures are now up on my Flickr from the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival I attended last week at the Bowers Museum in Costa Mesa (CA).

CLICK HERE to view my photostream!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Jacaranda Vines Jacaranda Vines by Tamara McKinley

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

A trashy soap opera of a novel. Fairly entertaining, but trashy.

Family drama abounds in this sweeping story of a family running a winery in Australia. Jock Witney, evil patriarch, is dead. Cordelia, his 90+ year-old widow is trying to keep the family business from being divided and sold off. The business is Jacaranda Vines, the most successful winery in the country.

Jock & Cordelia's children and grandchildren want to sell off the business, take the money and run. They've all had enough of Jock's bullying over the years and want nothing more to do with Jacaranda Vines.

Cordelia sees one hope of keeping the family business together--her granddaughter Sophie. Cordelia and Sophie head out on a driving trip across the outback to a neighboring winery. During the journey, Cordelia imparts the family history to Sophie, going all the way back to the 1800's when the first member of the family came over from England and set the first vines to growing.

The soap opera ensues from there. Family muckraking, romance, natural disasters, secrets, love and hate make up the tale. The author is successful with her descriptions of the countryside, and the scenes of characters fighting the elements are quite thrilling.

Overall, an entertaining, albeit trashy, read.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

When I started my Flickr account back in the ancient times of 2005, I wasn't very concerned about tags. If I even knew what they were at that point, I certainly didn't care.

Unfortunately, I care now.

Being the librarian that I am, I now want my photos organized, categorized, and creatively tagged. I do that religiously now, but it's a relatively recent habit. While I'm relaxing on this glorious three-day weekend, I thought tagging pictures would be a good project to undertake.

I also thought it would be the most boring thing in the whole world, but I told myself, "It HAS to be done."

Starting at the end of my photostream, I now have tagged just over 550 pictures. It's been a surprisingly fun project! Looking back at the older pictures is great. They've made me both happy and sad, and some of them make me wonder what I was thinking taking a picture of, say, a half-eaten slice of cake.

Do you have a flickr account? Are you a good tagger? If not...force yourself to do it. You'll be happy later on that you did.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Adorable Strategy

More than anything else, Ninjatown is cute. With characters like Ol' Master Ninja, Consultant Ninja, Baby Ninjas and Ninja Droppings, how could it be anything else? The denizens of the game are based on the equally cute Shawnimals toys, and they're ready for action on the Nintendo DS.

At its core, Ninjatown is a strategy game. Mr. Demon and his minions, the Wee Devils, are attempting an invasion. What do they want? Ninjatown's recipe for the world-famous ninja cookies, of course. You, Ol' Master Ninja, and his troops, must keep the invasion at bay. You decide where to build ninja huts which will deploy various types of ninjas to fight off Wee Devils.

There are different types of ninja huts you may build, spending from your bank of ninja cookies to do so. Different types of huts produce different types of ninjas. Some are faster, but do lower damage, some slower, but pack more of a punch, etc.

As you play through the levels, you have increasing choices of what to use, including some tricks from Ol' Master Ninja himself. Baby Ninjas deploy floating on tiny clouds. They emit waves of hearts that slow down opponents. Ninja Droppings have the same effect, but by virtue of their horrible stench. It bothered me a little bit that the Ninja Droppings had faces.

As you work your way through the maps and levels, your building and deployment strategies must become more and more sophisticated to beat the ever-growing and changing hoards of Wee Devils.

If you are not a fan of strategy games, you will not like this game. I myself am not much of a strategist, and I found the game somewhat repetitive. However, I can see how it would be great fun for someone better at planning than I am.

Objectively, for its super-cute graphics, hilarious bad-movie scripting, and a good strategy base, I give Ninjatown an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Operation Valkyrie was a plot devised by Nazi officers sympathetic to the German resistance. However, it was much more than merely a plot to kill Hitler. Valkyrie proposed to install a new government in place of Hitler's rule, and quickly surrender to the Allies to save Europe from destruction.

Sounds straightforward enough, but there was that nasty little detail about killing Hitler. As everyone knows from the countless commercials, trailers, posters, etc., for the film, that it is based on a true story. However, based, seems too weak a word.

Director Bryan Singer, a stickler for details and historical accuracy, did a first-rate job of bringing the story to life. Filmed with special permission in many of the actual locations where the events took place, the viewer is drawn in and feels like the proverbial fly on the wall.

Valkyrie does stick to the facts, but instead of feeling like a History Channel documentary (and I'd know--I watch ALL of them!), Singer manages to create an excellent suspense thriller.

Obviously, the viewer knows that this plot to kill Hitler will not succeed. This in no way hampers the suspense. Knowing that the conspirators would be summarily executed if and when their treasonous plot was discovered, I was breathless throughout much of the film. Despite the fact that I knew exactly how the plot would turn out, and I knew the true fates of most of the conspirators going in to the film--I paid for the whole seat, but I only needed the edge.

The acting was also excellent. I'm no great fan of Tom Cruise, per se, but I thought he did a fine job bringing Claus von Stauffenberg to life. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to the Colonel. This is actually true of many of the actors playing Nazis in the film, and not due to heavy makeup. Tom Cruise really does look like Claus von Stauffenberg, Terrance Stamp bears an uncanny resemblance to Ludwig Beck, Tom Wilkinson like Friedrich Fromm, and so on. Matthias Freihof, who seems to be a German character actor, could have been the reincarnation of Himmler. It was actually a little frightening.

Someone I know said they didn't like the Hitler in this movie. I cannot understand why. The Hitler was perfect. By that time in the War, Hitler was an unhealthy, broken man. After years of drug abuse, and possibly battling Parkinson's disease, the Fuhrer, though only 56 years old, was a shuffling, stooped old man. He was portrayed very well in the film, and I liked that Singer even had Blondi, Hitler's faithful and well-loved German Shepherd, there by his side.

I've also heard many people complaining about the lack of German accents in Valkyrie. My opinion on the accent issue is this... In the opening scenes, von Stauffenberg is at the front in North Africa. He's in his tent, writing in his journal. The voice-over is clearly Tom Cruise, speaking in German, with English subtitles. "I'm a soldier, but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience." He is pondering the atrocities of the war, and as he's speaking, a few words begin to be spoken in English over his German. Crimes against humanity. Genocide. As we, the viewers, are drawn closer to von Stauffenberg, we are drawn into the story, into the film, into their lives....we are immersed. Because we are a part of the action now, a part of the time, we "hear" and understand. Accents are thus not an issue. At least for me.

Valkyrie is not a war movie. Again, it is a suspense thriller. Well-acted and finely directed, it is highly entertaining as such. It is also a very moving portrayal and testament honoring men and women who gave their lives in the attempt to stop evil. General Henning von Tresckow declares, "We have to show the world that not all of us are like him." This film does just that.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Barefoot Gen, Volume One: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima Barefoot Gen, Volume One: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Keiji Nakazawa, the author, is a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima. I saw him in the HBO documentary film, White Light / Black Rain. I'd heard of Barefoot Gen before, but had never read it. After listening to Nakazawa-san speak of his experience, I couldn't wait to read this manga.

The book did not disappoint. I expected to be, and I was, deeply moved by the plight of the victims of the bomb. The characters we meet are well-formed--representing groups of people (fanatical patriots, brainwashed citizens, outspoken folks who want to protest the war...) without being two-dimensional.

What I did not expect was the background of how people treated each other at that time. Gen's father does not think the was is righteous. After making a couple of comments to that effect, he is harassed by his neighbors as a traitor. The initial disagreements turn into harassment of the family members, the father's arrest, and the eldest son volunteering for the war to redeem his family's honor.

Poverty, starvation, separation of families, were the norm for life in Hiroshima before the bomb. They were victims of the war even before Little Boy fell.

It is disturbing reading, but I'm anxious to read the next books in the series.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Snow Crash Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Snow Crash is a truly visionary work, but not an easy read.

The surface plot involves two young accidental heroes in a futuristic United States. Y.T. and Hiro attempt to figure out and terminate a mind-destroying virus that is spread through both physical and digital means. The virus is Snow Crash.

What makes this book unique is the author's prophetic creations in Y.T. and Hiro's world(s), both real and virtual. They, and most people in their real world, spend time in something called The Metaverse. This is an online world where they interact with other users in real time. They are represented in The Metverse by lifelike representations called avatars.

Sound familiar?

It should be to anyone who's been on the current Internet for more than 2.5 seconds. Stephenson actually created the terms, avatar and Metaverse, for this book. He states in his afterword that the terms in use at the time, virtual reality, did not suit his purposes.

The thing is, Stephenson wrote Snow Crash in 1992. Years before the World Wide Web existed in any mainstream form. Certainly long before metaverses such as Second Life were created. This is akin to Jules Verne writing about submarines 1870. It's speculative fiction by someone intelligent enough to see where technology could, and did, lead.

And clearly, Neal Stephenson is one highly intelligent person. As aforementioned, Snow Crash is not a quick, easy read. It's fascinating and disturbing, but not easy. The narrative switches quickly back and forth between the real world and The Metaverse often. It's sometimes hard to keep track of where they are, ultimately it doesn't matter, since both worlds are equally valid to them.

I will not spoil the more detailed plot workings of Snow Crash here. It involves elements ranging from the most ancient languages of humanity, to Babel, to theoretical computer languages. A metavirus, a metaverse, mentally-altered-evangelical-followers, ancient history, science-fiction-become-fact...this book has it all.

It will expand your mind and make you question reality. It gave me nightmares. The only reason I didn't give it five stars is due to how difficult it was to read. At least for me.

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