Dec 31, 2010
1. Cousin and his fiancee touching each other's faces
My cousin got engaged a few weeks ago, and in case anyone forgot, he's really into her, as evinced by the fact that they were constantly touching each others' faces all day.
2. Uncle Don being flammable
...and by the weirdness of the English language, also inflammable. He's on oxygen now, and, per his usual tradition, didn't wait to open his presents, but just kind of ripped them open, sighed, didn't thank or acknowledge anyone, and then (I think) fell asleep.
3. Grandma tried some cocktails
My grandmother is kind of loud and outrageous anyway, but on Christmas Eve, she got a few glasses of wine and some cocktails in her. "How much vodka did you say was in this?" was a question she asked quite a few times to me. It didn't really make her act that much different than her usual self, but, you know.
4. Matching pajamas!
My family is now officially owned by the Walt Disney Company, because my mom bought matching robes/pajamas for each of us. Needless to say, Christmas was even more adorable than usual this year.
Dec 23, 2010
Dec 10, 2010
Dec 8, 2010
Notice how the shadow stays with the man until the very end, when the vision of the woman becomes real. Her shadow appears, and his fades, as he becomes a memory to her as well.
UPDATE: There's a making-of featurette. So cool to see how this was done!
Dec 3, 2010
The Chicago Cubs lost their biggest fan today, with the news that Ron Santo, former third baseman and longtime radio color commentator, died of complications due to bladder cancer. I have no idea who will now sit alongside Pat Hughes in the WGN radio box at Wrigley, but that doesn't matter for now. Baseball has lost a great, and we here in Chicago are going to miss him.
Dec 1, 2010
I missed this in the news for the last few days, but Irvin Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back (by far the best of the Star Wars franchise), died on November 27 of lung cancer. He was 87. Best wishes and condolences to his family.
"Films and genres do run a course," said Pixar Animation Studios chief Ed Catmull, who along with director John Lasseter oversees Disney Animation. "They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it … but we don't have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up." Indeed, Catmull and Lasseter killed two other fairy tale movies that had been in development, "The Snow Queen" and "Jack and the Beanstalk."
Catmull said he and Lasseter have been encouraging filmmakers to break with safe and predictable formulas and push creative boundaries.
"If you say to somebody, 'You should be doing fairy tales,' it's like saying, 'Don't be risky,'" Catmull said. "We're saying, 'Tell us what's driving you.'"
I think that, especially in the short term, this is probably a good thing for Disney. It's not that princess movies are a bad thing. It's simply that Disney's already done them. It's a tried and true, fill-in-the-blanks kind of storyline (though it sounds like Tangled is trying to change it up a little bit) that the creative heads want to move beyond. It also--and maybe I'm just being too cynical here--gives the distinct impression that Disney simply wants to sell more products to little girls
Some of Disney's best animated films have been serious, fairy-less stories. Think The Lion King or Bambi or 101 Dalmatians. It'll be good to take away the crutch and see what other great ideas they can come up with.
Nov 30, 2010
Yesterday, I called off work because I am getting over a residual sore throat from the weekend. However, I wasn't so out of it to be purely bedridden. My roommate and I decided to go out to one of our favorite diners, Daley's, for breakfast. I've been there about a hundred times, and, even though it's in a sort of shady area, nothing has ever happened.
As we reached the entranceway, though, a car flew by, shots suddenly rang out, and people started ducking into buildings. An older gentleman, my roommate, and I were huddled together, crouched right outside the door. The old man started saying to me, "Open the door, open the door!" So I did, and we all slipped into the restaurant.
I don't think anyone was hurt (thank goodness), but it was pretty frightening nonetheless. I mean, I've been around gunfire before. In fact, I remember being part of a summer program on the West Side of Chicago a few years ago, sitting out on the rooftop sometime around July 4, trying to figure out which explosions we heard were gunshots and which were fireworks (and, fyi, fireworks have more of an echo, gunshots are sharper). But I've never been at the intersection where the stuff was occurring. It really sobers you about what goes on in the city and what some people have to live with every day.
The cashier in the restaurant, as we scuttled in half-crouched, nonchalantly looked out and said "Are they shootin' again?"
Then today, when I told one of my coworkers (a 27 year Navy vet) about it, saying "I mean, I've never been shot at before," he responded--without sarcasm--"Really??" Sorry, dude, but I grew up in Indiana. Shooting at each other is not one of our usual pastimes.
Nov 22, 2010
Nov 16, 2010
Nov 14, 2010
"Walt Disney Pictures has provided us with this first look at Disney's The Muppets, to be directed by James Bobin from a script by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. The December 25, 2011 release will star Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper.
Entertainment Weekly says that the new Muppet in the film will be Walter, who you can see holding the smartphone [above]. He's described as "a sweet, slightly naive twenty-something Everypuppet who, in the movie, is the best friend and roommate of Segel's character, Gary. Both Gary and Walter are die-hard Muppet fans."
"Walter is the kind of guy who faints when he sees Kermit," Bobin told the magazine. "Walter has a little bit of a self-confidence issue because he's the only person like him that he's seen aside from the Muppets," Segel explained. "His dream is to meet the Muppets and be around people who are like him."
EW adds that when Gary and Walter learn that the Muppet Theater is in danger of being torn down, they set out to save it by reuniting Kermit, Piggy, and the entire troupe to stage an old-fashioned extravaganza.
Nov 11, 2010
Don't let her happy little face fool you. She's really a Gremlin inside.
Guess what, Darby. Nobody likes you!
Here's the trailer for the movie...I can't wait.
*Apparently Christopher Robin was the favorite of everyone except, well, Christopher Robin Milne, the son of the original author of Winnie the Pooh, who hated the stories. He had to learn how to box to protect himself in school, because the other boys would bully him on account of his role in the books.
Nov 6, 2010
An excellent Guy Fawkes remembrance essay, from John Derbyshire's website:
Please to rememberThe fifth of NovemberGunpowder, treason, and plot!
Oh, I remember. My very earliest Guy Fawkes Nights were family affairs. Dad would have made up a modest bonfire in the back yard and bought a box of assorted fireworks from our local store, the same place where we got our newspapers, candy, and soda. When darkness had fallen and we could already hear fireworks going off in the neighborhood, we'd put our winter coats on, troop out down the garden, and light the bonfire. It had a rough-made Guy on it, of course, stuffed with back copies of Dad's Daily Mirror, and it was very thrilling to watch the Guy go up in flames and to wonder darkly how things would proceed with an actual person there. You had to have a Guy on your bonfire. The only place that didn't was St. Peter's School in York, alma mater of the actual Guido Fawkes, where it was felt that burning an alumnus in effigy showed poor school spirit.
You got a good selection of fireworks in those boxes. Lamest were the volcanos, conical things that you set on the ground and lit the apex of. They sputtered out varicolored flames and sparks. A small step up on the excitement scale were roman candles, cylindrical and held in the hand (lit end away from you, of course). The Catherine wheel was a long thin tube of paper stuffed with powder and wound in a spiral around a small wooden disk. You nailed the disk to (in our case) one of the poles that supported the family clothes line. Once lit, the thing spun round, emitting a lovely circular display of flames. Then there were bangers, of course: you lit them, threw them on the ground, put your fingers in your ears, and waited for the bang. More exciting was the jumping jack, which banged many times in quick succession, jumping at each bang, everyone knocking in to each other in the semi-darkness to get out of its way. My favorites were the rockets, always on a long stick. You put the stick into an empty milk bottle, lit the taper, and stood back. My sister, in common with most girls, preferred "sparklers" — lengths of wire coated to halfway along with some hard substance that burned with a fizzing white brilliance. In the darkness of a small-town November night you could write your name in the air with a sparkler before it burned down, the light so bright it lingered on the retina. I remember, I remember.When I was a little older, with the liberty that came to older children in that time, and in every previous time, back to Tom Sawyer and beyond, but which has since been abolished in the interest of, what? I forget — when I was a little older, I say, I joined in setting up the neighborhood boys' bonfire. It was an immense thing, twelve feet high or more, on some waste ground nearby. Scrap wood and old furniture — discarded sofas or armchairs were in great demand at this time of year — had been diligently piled up for weeks before. The great fear was that some idiot from the neighborhood, or some commando squad from a rival neighborhood, would sneak in and torch your bonfire. Sentries were posted, as best this could be managed under parental dinner-time and bed-time rules. In fact I never knew of a bonfire being prematurely lit, though it would have been easy to do. I think the deed was just too dastardly for anyone to carry out. On the Fifth, of course, the thing would go up gloriously, all the neighborhood boys standing round, tossing bangers at each other and sending up rockets. The older element tried to smoke cigarettes and made amateurish attempts to impress the few girls present.
In the weeks before, while fireworks were on sale, experiments were undertaken. Bangers could be dropped into milk bottles (not recommended) or down street gratings, poked up drainpipes, or, in the open fields beyond the edge of the town, imbedded in cowpats. I am proud to say that I went considerably beyond these merely explosive adventures. Inspired by Werner Buedeler's book Telescopes, Rockets, Stars, which I had read from cover to cover a dozen times over, I was bent on constructing a multistage launch vehicle by tying two store-bought rockets together and adjusting the lengths of their fuses. I actually got this to work, and even achieved separation of the two stages, though the development budget wiped out a month's pocket money.We had never heard of Halloween back then. I am told that nowadays, in the glutted abundance of postindustrial society, English kids celebrate both festivals. In fact, Guy Fawkes and his 1605 plot against King James I notwithstanding, they are both the same festival. Fifty years ago, as Iona and Peter Opie noted in their book The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren: "When darkness closes in on the vigil of All Saints' Day, Britain has the appearance of a land inhabited by two nations with completely different cultural backgrounds …" Half the nation celebrated Halloween, half held off until Guy Fawkes Night.Both halves were keeping alive a tradition that stretched back to long before the wars of religion, indeed to before religion itself. The pastoralists of the ancient British Isles divided the year not according to planting and harvests but at the points where livestock could be released to graze freely, or needed to be brought in to the homestead stalls. With the coming of winter, cattle could not be left out on frozen pastures to suffer cold and darkness. Neither could the spirits of the ancestors. All needed to be brought in to warmth and light. The economics of winter feeding demanded that many animals be slaughtered. Their meat was salted away, their bones burned in the welcoming fires — bone fires. From a roadside somewhere in France on a hot June evening in 1915, Private John Henry Knowles, my mother's father, wrote to my grandmother: "Dear wife tell my sons we are close to the big guns and people walk about as if it was bonyfire night …" Granddad, though barely
literate, had his etymology right.
The Opies: "The guy has long ago been burnt and forgotten. The last firework has been exploded. The bonfire becomes all-important, and somehow it seems to be a heathen Hallowe'en fire they are attending." I remember, I remember.
Nov 2, 2010
Nov 1, 2010
Oct 20, 2010
It's making the rounds on a lot of the blogs right now, but there's a five year old boy named Aidan who was diagnosed with leukemia a few weeks ago. He's going through rounds of chemo, and to help with the medical expenses, his family has started a blog and an Etsy profile to sell his drawings. He loves monsters and has a lot of talent drawing them (see below). Currently, the Etsy shop is sold out, and, if you read the blog, you can see why; he's a rather busy little guy right now.
So, pray for Aidan to get well soon, and check out his blog!
Oct 15, 2010
Presidents, of course, are all different, and one way their individual differences, political and personal, manifest themselves is through a change in decoration of the Oval Office. It's a tradition that has happened since the Oval Office came into being. When George W. Bush came into office in January 2001, he had the Clinton rug removed and replaced with the old Reagan rug, symbolically indicating in whose footsteps he wanted to follow. In contrast, when Barack Obama became president, he kept George W. Bush's decorations for almost two years, not to indicate a continuity of policy but to avoid a display of needless extravagance in the midst of a recession. How the decorations are treated means something, both to the president and to the American people.
Its decor is also subject to unintentional symbolism. For example, while John F. Kennedy was traveling to Dallas in November 1963, the Oval Office was redecorated with a deep scarlet rug and new furniture. He never lived to see the change (in fact, Mrs. Kennedy never saw it either; the decorations were taken down immediately after the assassination, before she returned to the White House), and Lyndon Johnson, soon after his assumption of the presidency, went back to the dull Truman-era green. The optimism to take on everything--even the traditional old Oval Office--that had seemed so bright was extinguished.
Gerald Ford, upon Nixon's resignation, had the Oval Office redecorated, not as much because he disliked the look as to indicate a severance between his administration and his predecessor's. The eagle carpet was removed, replaced with a nice pale yellow, patterned rug. Jimmy Carter kept the decorations during his administration, though he rearranged the furniture a bit.
Ronald Reagan on his last day in office
Replica of Reagan Oval Office (at Reagan Library)
Reagan was, of course, followed by the first George Bush, who changed the colors of the office to a sky-blue motif. As far as my aesthetic is concerned, it's pretty atrocious, but whatever.
George Bush Oval Office (note the Reagan couches are the same)
Then came Bill Clinton. Frankly, of the motifs I've seen, I like his the best. He used a bold blue rug and two couches with alternating red and white stripes of varying thicknesses. To me, it reflects both the power of the office by catching your eye and subconsciously reflecting the American flag.
Clinton Oval OfficeHis office was effectively recreated for the television drama The West Wing, which was written as an alternate history to the Clinton presidency. What if, it posits, the president were intelligent like Clinton but had a better moral compass? It's a great show, which, while (according to former White House staffers) not being entirely accurate on the White House layout or the way policy is done, is an excellent portrayal of the energy and the 'mood' that an administration exudes.
George W. Bush, as mentioned above, had the Reagan rug pulled out of storage very soon after he took office. During his tenure, the Oval Office floor was redone (in a beautiful light/dark alternating wood pattern), and his new decorations were put in. They were less intense than the Clinton colors, though I must admit his 'sun rays' rug was an incredible touch. He gets the silver medal in Josh's contest.
Bush meeting with advisers in 2001
The Obama Oval Office
One thing is sure: as long as there is a presidency, there will now be an Oval Office. Our nation's psyche is attached to it. Were something terrible to happen to the White House and the Oval be destroyed, it would be immediately rebuilt. It stands for the Office of the President more than any individual ever could.
Almost all pictures courtesy of the White House Museum (check them out!)
Oct 14, 2010
Oct 12, 2010
However, the focus of the article is mostly on Toy Story 3, which made tons and tons of people--including myself--sob in their seats. The author was apparently crying when the toys are about to be incinerated. Knowing that Pixar would never kill off its characters like that, I wasn't sad at that point; I was simply stuck in the intensity. The waterworks scene is at the end, when **SPOILER (if for some insane reason you haven't seen the movie yet)** Andy gives the toys to Bonnie and the two of them play together. You're saying goodbye to Andy's childhood, and, in a way, because animated characters are so easy to project ourselves onto, we're reliving the times when we had to say goodbye to our own. We all remember that moment or series of moments when we became 'grown-ups'. For all that we've gained, there's that sense of innocence and wonder that we know is gone. That's why we cry. It's not because we think Woody is going to melt.
For the other movies, we cry for different reasons: Dumbo is separated from his mother, Simba watches his father die and thinks it's his fault, Bambi loses his mother and doesn't understand, Todd and Copper can't be friends anymore because the world says so, and Wall*E forgets who EVE is because he sacrifices himself to save humankind. These are human emotions for intense moments and crises in life--love, death, and separation. How can we not cry?
h/t Pixar Blog
Oct 11, 2010
Oct 9, 2010
The film Secretariat, based on the life of the horse who made ESPN's top 100 athletes of the century list (at #35), came out this weekend. I haven't seen it yet, but I'd very much like to. Slate has a great article discussing why people are able to get so wrapped up in Secretariat's story. Why do we--even today, almost almost forty years after the events took place--love the big, lazy, champion? Unlike Seabiscuit, who was tiny and always the racing underdog against the big-boys, Secretariat was always the champion. He was like the guys on my swim team in high school who would skip practice for days on end but still win their events at the meets. You couldn't help but be impressed by their athleticism.
I first learned about Secretariat from my dad's old business partner, who used to come to our house every day to work. She'd leave Lemonheads for my brother and me and would also leave the scent of perfume wafting about our house, since she would pet the cat all day and transfer all the smell to her. She also loved horse racing. One day, she brought a huge coffee table book about Secretariat to our house. I gobbled it up and then went on to tell anyone who would listen the story of the horse. Go figure, most third graders didn't particularly care about how he won the Belmont by over 30 lengths or how his heart was twice as big as a normal thoroughbred's. Whatever. I thought it was cool.
Watching it now gave me a much better appreciation for the costuming and puppetry. The minimalism of the sets also reflects well the sparseness (but fullness--paradox!) of the Serengeti, something I wouldn't've noticed even two months ago. I'm not totally sure which parts of Africa The Lion King (movie and musical) are based on (I think the animators and directors went to Kenya to study), but there are moments where you realize how well they've captured the visual essence of the East African savanna.
Anyway, here are some great videos that I've found discussing how the costumes were made and how they are operated:
Oct 7, 2010
I love his little interview in The Pixar Story (below), where he's working on what ended up being the final completed shot of Finding Nemo. According to the director's commentary on the DVD (if I'm remembering correctly), the shot was finished around midnight, so instead of having a big studio-wide celebration like usual, Sweetland and Andrew Stanton simply high-fived, hugged, and went home to bed.
Oct 6, 2010
WALL-E, EVE, and contour drawings of attorneys and judge
Oct 4, 2010
Eventually, however, the wails of my brother and me caused my parents to screen the movie themselves and then take us, with the promise that we would turn away when they told us to. It seemed like a reasonable solution (with the one exception that I could watch the lawyer get eaten off the toilet, since my friends had constantly referenced it). As expected, the movie both enthralled and terrified me. I had nightmares for weeks about velociraptors disemboweling me. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It only took a few dozen therapy sessions for me to recover.
Anyway, I just found 'The Making of Jurassic Park' on YouTube. It's really neat to see how CGI went in the early days (and Steven Spielberg's excellent 90's wardrobe). Sometimes it seems that these were CGI's golden days. Back then computers were used sparingly by directors, both because they were nervous about them and because they were cost prohibitive. Today, CGI is all too often used as a crutch: create a digital world and then your terrible story won't be as bad. Of course, that's a lie. But directors apparently think it's true.
So, without further ado, The Making of Jurassic Park:
Such is the story of blue!
Anyone familiar with high school chemistry knows of copper ions' bluish tinge, so it makes sense that the chemical pigments would have that ion hanging about (see the 'Cu' in the formula). Mayan blue, however, was a bit more cagey. Even today scientist's aren't sure exactly what they used, though they believe it was a mixture of naturally occurring indigo plants and a clay called palygorskite. Though different in their makeup, each of the compounds has lasted for centuries: you can still see blue paint on Egyptian friezes and sculptures, ancient Chinese porcelain, and Mayan sacrificial sites. That's right: in times of drought, in order to bring the 'blue' rain, Mayans would cover someone in the blue dye and toss them into a sacrificial well. Even today, there are wells found with over ten feet of hardened blue dye on the bottom.
As an unintended side-effect of Prussian blue's discovery, by the 1800's, lapis lazuli, the blue stone that had been so precious to medieval and Renaissance aristocrats, was shunted aside. If anyone could have blue, they figured, why would they even bother?
Even today new blues are being synthesized, continuing a chain from ancient times to now.
I don't know what I think of physiotherapy, but...
Blender's open movie project, Sintel just released. Everything done open-source.
Sep 30, 2010
That means my life can get back in order for a few weeks (before moving up to Michigan for another trial!).
I don't know how Assistant US Attorneys (AUSA's) do it. They are constantly in court, constantly filing motions, constantly having trials. I have two in the course of two months and feel like I'm going to melt. The worst part is how it puts your life on hold in such a frustratingly indefinite way.
However, I have been doing some stuff art-wise. I'll post the sketches that I did during the trial when I am back at work (took today off, woot). Days off do mean art for me, so today, I've been working on this little guy (work in progress):
I heart my tablet. I heart cheetahs. I heart cheetahs drawn on my tablet.
I also heart sketching things onto a colored background. I don't do it enough. Starting with a rusty, neutral pinky-brown automatically gives you a shadow palette, and you don't even need to do anything.
Sep 28, 2010
Being in 'law mode', therefore, has led me to an interesting article by Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic reviewing Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's new book Making Democracy Work. Now, I like Justice Breyer. He seems like one of the nicest justices on the Court. I respect that for the past few years he's been taking strides to find a way to counter Justice Scalia's thoroughly expounded originalism. However, he's dead wrong in almost all his opinions, and Mr. Rosen is dead wrong in his softhanded, uncritical approach to Breyer's clear inconsistency.
The biggest argument against originalism is that, by its nature, it puts too much power in the hands of a small group of judges to determine what some people writing hundreds of years ago thought about something. Or, even more difficult, is Scalia's version: that the Constitution should be interpreted in light of what the common people believed it to have meant at the time of ratification. How on earth could someone decipher what a common person thought in 1787, let alone common people? Instead, originalists use clues from writings of the time and early legal interpretations. It's certainly not perfect, but it's workable. It also limits the reach of the Constitution, which inarguably was construed in a very limited manner upon ratification.
Though originalism tends to comport with a conservative (or libertarian) view of the role of government in society, it is unfair to say that it's a 'conservative' philosophy in the sense that by being 'conservative' it exists for partisan political ends. Originalism would exist without the Republican party, and absent a coherent school of originalist thought, the Republican party would survive with a less nuanced judicial interpretation.
Breyer's judicial philosophy seems to come from something else. It is strangely reactive, seemingly trying to find a way to make the square peg of liberal political preferences fit into the round hole of the Constitution. That's not to say that all liberal political positions are unconstitutional, but it is to say that Breyer is trying to create a framework in which all are constitutional without question.
Even so, taking Justice Breyer's purported philosophy at face value is what should be done. His motivations for concocting it shouldn't discount how right or wrong he is (no ad hominem here!).
Rosen, in his review, summarizes Breyer's view:
Rosen here is wrong here at best, demagogic at worst. In fact, originalists judges constantly explain the need to defer to the other branches, not because of their institutional existence (as Rosen posits Breyer does), but because of their very reason for existence. Congress should always get deference, because Congress embodies the very democracy our nation purports to have. When Congress passes a law, the presumption is that it is a law of the people, interpreted in a way such as the people intend it to be interpreted. What nine guys in robes think should hold very little water to that.
Breyer persuasively acknowledges the Court’s inability to act unilaterally by arguing that it should consider—and often defer to—the institutional views of the President and Congress in deciding cases. Here Breyer shows an appealing humility, which contrasts with the grandiosity of originalist judges who believe they have a unique ability to discern the one and true meaning of the Constitution, and to put the other branches in their place.
That said, however, all judges will agree with this point: when Congress acts in a way forbidden to it by the Constitution, judges should strike down those acts. Scalia is all for that in many cases. Breyer is, too (Boumediene v. Bush, anyone?), just not the same cases as Scalia. To act as though originalists simply disregard the other branches while 'living constitutionalists' don't is ridiculous.
What's frightening about Breyer's interpretation, however, is made in a point I referenced earlier. Breyer believes that Congress deserves deference simply because it is a branch of government. While structurally this is true, this view is in direct opposition to what Rosen claims is Breyer's great strength: active democracy and citizen participation is at the heart of judicial interpretation. If there is one thing that liberal jurisprudence has given this nation, it is a series of decisions that have been against the public will. While the American people will say that abortion should be available but severely limited, flag-burning should be illegal, guns should be legal, and prayer should be allowed in public places, Breyer and his adherents would step right over them, strangely inviting them to participate in the process only to strike down their democratically-achieved Constitutional interpretation. And I'm not saying that he might do that in the future--I'm saying that in many decisions, he already has. Originalists have as well, but their reasonings for going against public opinion are based on an unwavering and discernable constitutional standard. Breyer's is based on how he feels at the moment. Which one would you trust to make the right choice?
And that's why I doubt Breyer--and judicial liberals for that matter--will ever find a coherent philosophy. You cannot say that deference should be given to people in a democracy when the views of the people are only allowed when liberal judges agree. And alternatively, you cannot say that Congress gets deference simply because Congress exists.
So, to end my stream-of-conscious rambling, I will say that I doubt Breyer's philosophy will be more than a blip in the big scheme of judicial understanding. He's grasping at straws, and however much writers like Jeffrey Rosen want to give deference to Breyer, my inclination is to give more deference to those who have given me a basis of belief that's more solid than one man's ever-changing feelings.
Sep 14, 2010
because then there is no possible way that Apple could get any cooler. Their machines are slick, beautiful, and efficient. And their CEO carries ninja stars on planes.