Jan 28, 2011

Sometimes Rioters Can Do Good Things

If you ever read the news, you may have noticed that Egypt is on the verge of collapse. Is it really? That's a good question. A few years ago, people were predicting the fall of the Iranian government, but it never materialized. Will the same happen in Egypt? Who knows.

There are reasons to be concerned about a new regime and reasons to be hopeful for one. I have no idea what will happen, so half a world away, I'll just wait and watch.

I can say that I'm incredibly happy to have been able to see Egypt before all of this craziness. It seems that riots and disasters follow me in the wake of my trips: Istanbul in 2008, Greece in 2008-2010, Kenya in 2010 (though, in all fairness, most of their riots were already over; I was there when they ratified their new constitution, though, which was pretty awesome), and now Egypt.

I don't know Cairo very well--partially because we didn't spend much time exploring the place--but, our hotel was very close to the Egyptian Museum and the NDP Party headquarters. So, when I heard that the headquarters were on fire, my first worry was for the priceless artifacts in the Egyptian Museum, among them the thousands of items found in Tutankhamun's tomb. To lose those after thousands of years would be absolutely tragic not just for Egypt, but for the entire world.

That's why I was so happy to read that one of the first places the Egyptian Army went during the night was to secure the Museum. Apparently, before they had arrived, a group of rioters had surrounded the place in a protective chain to keep looters from savaging the collection. When the Army arrived, the rioters allowed them to access and secure the place.

It's such a relief that the Egyptian people understand the importance of the items that they steward. I mean, I guess I understood they did, but I'm really happy to see them put their money where their mouths are. Way to go, Egyptians!

Jan 27, 2011


I don't know why I began this post with 'guh'. It's probably to express the noise I made when I saw that Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3) has posted photos of TS3 characters that were printed using a color 3D printer.

Beyond being generally cool, I'm wigging out over the fact that one can print things in 3D! And with such detail!

Of course, this ignited a massive internet search. Below is a good pseudo-explanatory video of how the process works. Basically, the printer takes the 3D image information and lays down successive (thin!) layers of resin to form the image. My first question was: "what if there is something that is hanging over (like an elephant's trunk)? How does that get printed without falling off?" The answer is that a waxy resin shell encases the actual object. As the layers are placed down, the shell builds up around it. You then remove the shell by either melting it off or washing it off.


Jan 25, 2011


A few years ago Emily went to Thailand and Vietnam with her (now roommate), Jill. While there, they met up with a bunch of Seventh Day Adventists. One of them happened to be an aspiring animator. When she returned, she told me about it and sent me his senior project, entitled "Tezcatlipoca". It depicts the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca descending from the stars in the form of a jaguar, and it is very well done. I had it saved to my iTunes for a long time, but just today, on the blog On Animation, there it was as a link! I hadn't watched it in a long time. So, now, two years later, I'm posting it, too.

Facial Expressions

Tracy Butler at Lackydaisycats has a great ditty on expressions for characters. Click on the picture below to see it in full. I certainly know that I too easily make the 'smarm brow' that she says artists should 'unlearn'.

Jan 24, 2011

Jim Henson's Fantastic World

On Friday Emily and I went to see the Museum of Science and Industry's exhibit on "Jim Henson's Fantastic World." Unfortunately, if you want to see it, you'll have to find its next stop, since it left Chicago on Sunday.

The exhibit was breathtaking. The moment you walk in to the first room--circular and painted with an alternating green/lime green pattern reminiscent of a certain Muppet's collar--Kermit the Frog greets you. It's an original Kermit puppet from the 1970's, just sitting on a log, happy as a clam. When I saw him, I could've started crying hysterically, but I held myself together.


All around are early sketches made by Jim Henson. You realize when viewing them that his mind was constantly moving, making connections between language, art, music, movement, and mechanics. He took puns and literalized them into characters. He took music and visualized it with animation. He took homonyms and built them into satirical worlds.

Each successive room goes through his career (somewhat) chronologically. You see the posters he made as a college student for events on campus. You see characters and sketches from "Hey Cinderella!", "Sam and Friends", and the commercials he worked on in his early days. You see Rowlf the Dog--the first nationally-known Muppet (due to his appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show).

All that is followed by The Muppet Show (including the Mahna-Mahna guy and his pink friends) and his different films. Miss Piggy is there in her wedding dress from The Muppets Take Manhattan.

As a little break, there is a puppet theater where museum staff perform shows throughout the day. There is also a touching 18 minute film "Jim in His Own Words" (or something like that) that chronicles his entire career.

This section is followed by a little foray into Jim's earlier work in Time Piece in the 1960's, followed by Sesame Street, including Ernie and Bert and sketches and storyboards for various characters and scenes. The early concepts for Big Bird and Oscar are especially neat. A little girl came in and saw the Oscar concept and exclaimed "It's Randall!".

Notice that Jim drew himself inside the puppet

The last room contains information and items from his other projects: Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and Fraggle Rock.

I think it's a pretty uncontroversial point that everyone, whether consciously or unconsciously, chooses icons for various aspects of their lives--the people who have inspired them to act in certain ways, to fight for certain beliefs, and to accomplish certain things. Often, they are people we know: parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, pastors. Sometimes they are people who inhabit our world but aren't personally familiar: artists, politicians, academicians. In some cases, however, they are people whose time was before our own, whose lives were unknown to us as they happened, and whose legacies can only be understood from what remains of their work.

Jim Henson died two days after I turned four years old. I venture to guess that when it happened, I neither noticed nor cared. As one of its principal architects departed this life, I sat comfortably watching Sesame Street. I'd like to think that he was mindful of the impact he was having on so many young lives.

In his own words (from a foreword to an unpublished book, 1986):

Over the years, I've evolved my own set of beliefs and attitudes - as we all have - that I feel works for me.

I believe that life is basically a process of growth - that we go through many lives, choosing those situations and problems that we will learn through.

I believe that we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best. I know I drive some people crazy with what seems to be ridiculous optimism, but it has always worked out for me.

I believe in taking a positive attitude toward the world, toward people, and toward my work. I think I'm here for a purpose. I think it's likely that we all are, but I'm only sure about myself. I try to tune myself in to whatever it is that I'm supposed to be, and I try to think of myself as a part of all of us - all mankind and all life. I find it's not easy to keep these lofty thoughts in mind as the day goes by, but it certainly helps me a great deal to start out this way.

At some point in my life I decided, rightly or wrongly, that there are many situations in this life that I can't do much about - acts of terrorism, feelings of nationalistic prejudice, cold war, etc. - so what I should do is concentrate on the situations that my energy can affect.

I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good; that we can help to shape the thoughts of children and adults in a positive way. As it has turned out, I'm very proud of some of the work we've done, and I think we can do many more good things.

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here.

It's a wonderful life and I love it.

Now, most people enjoy the Muppets. They go about their daily lives and sometimes see a funny clip or an old movie with Kermit the Frog and laugh at the entertainment it provides. What they don't recognize is how much thought and care Jim Henson put into what his characters represented. Sure, the Swedish Chef is hilarious, and the idea of a pig and a frog as opposite romantic leads is ridiculous. However, when viewed as a whole, Jim's ouvre--from Sam and Friends to The Jim Henson Hour--is about bringing education and awareness to children and laughter to adults. And what can't be overstated enough is that that was no accident.

Jan 20, 2011

Have You Seen The Google Today?

If you didn't realize, today is the day every four years that we inaugurate a new (or re-inaugurate an old) president. Because we happen to be between those four years, there isn't a new president today. However, there are many, many presidential inauguration anniversaries. The most notable being the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address ("Ask not what your country can do for you..." ring a bell?).

However, it is also the anniversary of (almost) every president's inauguration since the 1930's. So, below I post as many of the inaugurals that I could find on Youtube, beginning with the famous Kennedy address (and, as a side note, Eisenhower's and Reagan's second addresses were on Jan. 21 due to Jan. 20 falling on a Sunday):

Roosevelt 1937

Roosevelt 1941

Roosevelt 1945

Truman 1949

Eisenhower 1953

Eisenhower 1957

Johnson 1965 (not complete)

Nixon 1969

Nixon 1972

Carter 1976 (not complete)

Reagan 1981

Reagan 1985

Bush 1989

Clinton 1993

Clinton 1997

Bush 2001

Bush 2005 (I can't find a video or audio file of it...)

Obama 2009

Jan 18, 2011

Nurse: Revenge of the Makeup

A few nights ago, Emily's roommate, Jill, spent a night in the hospital because of [HIPAA redaction]. It wasn't fun for her, especially because there were not one, but two Ben Stiller movies to choose from. How on earth should anyone be expected to make that kind of decision when incapacitated? We watched Rick Steves' Europe instead. He was in Barcelona, which was okay, I guess. Another friend saved the day by bringing in some Us Weekly, People, and Redbook for our enjoyment. I looked through the Redbook and learned many, many things about women that I did not know (and shan't share here...buy your own copy at your local grocer and find out for yourself!)

I liked that alot.

The greatest reward of the whole experience, however, was the nurse. Her name was Anne (or something like that), and she was quite possibly the most remarkable woman I have ever seen. I mean, don't get me wrong. Helen Keller and Mother Teresa certainly had their moments, but I don't think anything could compare to Anne.

We thought she was Filipino, but that was just a guess. Her English was less than stellar (which made Jill really comfortable, being in her care and all). But those are just side notes. What really made Anne special was her sense of fashion. Imagine this: overly tanned skin, pastel pink lipstick, heavy duty mascara, and powder blue eye shade. As if that weren't enough, she had bleached blonde hair in a really strange cut that seemed like a combination of Sally Brown and this picture of Patrick Swayze with a mullet that I found. Add Mimi from The Drew Carey Show to the mix, and you can pretty much imagine how delighted we were to have gotten to know Anne.

All I can say is, Anna Wintour, look out!

*This picture does not do her justice.

Jan 12, 2011

The Beauty of Pixar

This has been bee-bopping (sp?) around the interwebs for a few weeks now, but it's a great video of clips from all eleven Pixar films. Sometimes the editing is a little clunky, but overall, it is very well done. It's incredible to see the breadth of character--yet continuity of style--the studio has managed over the past 15 years.

Jan 11, 2011


I had quite a Sunday this week. In fact, it was such an intense day that I had to use Monday as a day to not do the stuff that I did on Sunday.


Anyway, so I'm a greeter at our church. That means I smile real big, open the door, and shake people's hands as they arrive on Sunday mornings.

I've always had this desire, though...

Of course, there wouldn't be anything there. I'd just want to see what the random people would do when I scream bloody murder. Sometimes, I might say "It's Godzilla!" or "Killer Honey Bees!" or "Barry Manilow!" Depending on people's reactions, they would either get prime church seating or a trip to the ER. So fun!

Well, I wasn't brave enough to try that this Sunday. Instead, we were having an all-church lunch after the service. When I arrived, a friend said "Josh, we might not have enough food! Go to Popeye's and buy a bunch of chicken!" I, of course, obliged.

When I arrived at Popeye's (side note: did you know that Popeye's beat KFC in a national double-blind taste test??), I ordered 50 pieces of chicken through the bulletproof glass and then waited for it to be ready. The friendly cashier gave me a drink on the house. I was happy.

A few minutes later, however, some guy walked into the Popeye's. It all seemed fine. He ordered a Po' Boy and was waiting for it when another guy came in. That guy turned to me and said "Hey, man, you want some weed?"

I politely demurred, so he went to the next guy. "Hey, man, you want some weed?" The Po' Boy guy looked at it and then said "Nah, I already got enough of my own."

So then the weed guy went up to the glass and asked the Popeye's cashier if he wanted any. The guy looked at it and then bought it through the little hole in the glass where you pass money.

Go figure--I saw my first ever drug deal go down!

After that, we had the church lunch. The pastor's kid is at that post-infant pre-toddler stage where he doesn't know what words mean, but he repeats anything you say. So, a friend of mine told the pastor that his son was going to be a politician. He was confused, so she picked him (the kid, not the pastor) up and put him on the table and said "Hello, my people!" The baby repeated "Hello, mah peepuh." Then she said "I'm going to be mayor of Chicago!" and he repeated "mauh Chee-go". Then he was done with all that and went down on all fours, pretending to be a dog or something.


After church, we went to a bookstore and for a walk before going to the sketchiest sushi joint I've ever seen: Lawrence Fish Market. You have to go. It's super cheap, super weird, and super delicious. When we walked in, the shop was replete with (a) a seat that appeared to have been removed from the back of a minivan and placed in front of the cash register, (b) a book on learning English, (c) a bowl with a bunch of splatters on the wall behind it that looked unnervingly like blood, and (d) a whole frozen octopus.

Then we went back to Emily's place to eat. I really, really wanted to get The Dolphin: Story of a Dreamer from the Redbox. It calls itself "the greatest story ever told." How could you not want to see that??

But Emily and my friend Bridget said no. So instead we watch How To Train Your Dragon. Oh, well.

*An enterprising reader may note that in one of the pictures, I gave myself six fingers on my right hand.

Jan 10, 2011

Dick Winters, 1918-2011

I found out today that on January 2, Major Richard "Dick" Winters passed away. He was 92 years old.

Major Winters was a relative unknown until Stephen Ambrose's 1992 history of the WWII service of Company E ("Easy"), 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, entitled Band of Brothers. The story is one of those that has to be read to be believed. The men of Easy Company--and their comrades throughout the 101st--parachuted into Normandy in the wee morning hours of D-Day. They cleared the Germans from Normandy. They parachuted into Holland during Operation Market Garden. They were surrounded, yet held out, around the Belgian town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. They marched on, and took, Berchtesgaden--Adolf Hitler's summer retreat. They helped liberate concentration camps.

And then those survived came home. Some went to college, while others went to work. They married, had children, bought homes, and continued life, like all our World War II veterans, unsung and dignified. Major Winters, after winning the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Normandy, and after having led Easy Company for much of the war, went back to his home in Pennsylvania, where he eventually settled down on a quiet plot of land to live his life. Even today, his actions for taking out a number of German 88mm cannons behind enemy lines on D-Day are taught at West Point as ideal on-the-ground tactics.

Winters, from all that I've seen and read of him, was quiet, sharp, and self-effacing. He spent much of his life extolling his comrades-in-arms. I'm sorry he's gone. The world--quite literally--is better because of him, and ultimately, as a legacy, what more could one ask for?

Jan 7, 2011

Unicorn vs. Narwhal

An epic tale of "love, war, and triumph over adversity" by Adrian Molina. I recently discovered it's* brilliance.

*Yes, this is supposed to be 'it's', because I am saying that the film itself is the definition of brilliance, not simply that it displays the quality of something brilliant.

Jan 6, 2011

Merry Orthodox Christmas Eve, With Bonus Musings on Missing Limbs!

Clearly, I haven't gotten over the fact that it's January now and Christmas has ended. Each year, I'm the rabid dog who guards the tree from being taken down until early February, so we'll see how that goes this year. Even if normal Christmas is over, though, a friend of mine converted to eastern Orthodoxy yesterday afternoon, so I feel that I can claim her new Christmas as my own, at least for blogging purposes.

So, I just discovered (courtesy of Drawn!) Nathan Stapley's hi-larious comic about himself over at Double Fine Action Comics. Example:

Before normal Christmas, he did his own reinterpretation of A Christmas Carol, the entirety of which I have pasted below:

I was rolling on the ground laughing (OK...I was quietly chortling at my desk) when I saw Scrooge's reaction to Tiny Tim: "What's wrong with that awesome kid?" And the fact that instead of being simply a gimpy little boy, he has a disease that all his limbs will fall off until he dies.

Which made me remember about the Moody Church Christmas Festival that Emily and I went to this year. It was wicked cold and snowy and gross, and I almost wussed out, but Emily wanted to go, and I felt like I'd never live it down if I opted to skip. So, we went, and it was one of the best Christmas concerts I've ever been to--choir, full orchestra, handbells, carols, poinsettias, and a guy who was missing an arm.

He was sitting right in front of us, so I could totally stare the whole time and he wouldn't notice. So, full disclosure, I have this thing where in another life I think it would be cool to be totally different than I am now, kind of like some people do for midgets or my friend does for Messianic Jews or Emily's dad does for Aretha Franklin. Except for me, I think it would be incredible to be missing a limb or two. Not that I actually want that to befall me now, but in a weird theoretical sense I'd like to be able to play piano with my toes or wear super awesome prosthetics that are kind of like dinosaur legs and then have a made-for-TV movie about overcoming the odds and whatever. I always wished, though, that the prosthetics could be as good as they are in Star Wars so that I could switch out to a real hand again whenever I wanted to. But when I felt like it, I could have a laser cannon or a drill or a dictionary for an arm instead. Alas, technology has not yet caught up with my dreams. Someone should get on that.

That means my reaction to this guy at the concert was a lot like Scrooge's to Tiny Tim in the comic: "That guy is awesome." Afterward, I tried to nonchalantly gauge Emily's interest in missing limbs, so our conversation went something like:

Me: Wow...that was the best rendition of 'O Holy Night' I've ever heard.
Em: Yeah, my dad was totally right when he suggested we see this.
Me: Yeah, I'm glad we came.
Em: Me, too.
Me: So, did you see how the guy in front of us was missing his right arm?
Em: Uh...(awkward sideways glance and 'I'm confused' smile)...no...
Me: (way too excited) It was so cool to see how he would carry his program and move stuff around and...
Em: (worried expression)
Me: Oh, yeah, but 'O Holy Night' was amazing. (put hands in pockets and casually glance around the room for something that isn't missing a limb to stare at).

Somewhere out there today, there's a hipster who is missing an arm (oh, yeah, did I mention that he was a hipster?). In spite of that, he has my respect.

So, Merry Christmas, Orthodox people! I hope your celebration doesn't involve you actually losing any limbs.

Jan 5, 2011

My Name Is Josh, And I Have A Problem

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Lucy, playing the role of psychiatrist, tells a depressed Charlie Brown that "as they say on TV, the mere fact you realize you need help indicates that you are not too fargone."

I'm here to say that I need help. Why?

I think I might have an addiction.

To Korean Dramas.

There, I said it. KDramas have grabbed a hold of me. Terrific.

But what is a KDrama, you ask?

In Korea, TV shows are done in a different way than in the United States. In the US, we have a show that runs for an undetermined number of seasons. Each season has roughly 22 episodes, usually unplanned for the entirety of the run. That is, when season 4, episode 1 begins, season 4, episode 22 isn't yet written (though writers may have a rough outline of the season's progression). Additionally, there is no specific ending point. A show gets canceled (or its writers get bored), and in response, the writers create a 'series finale' to tie up any loose ends. This means that many shows limp along for an extra season or two instead of ending on their highest and most plausible notes.

Korean shows, on the other hand, begin with a predetermined number of episodes and a prewritten story. This allows them to be full and contained. Instead of a 'what silly adventures will our favorite characters have this week?' It is 'in what way will the characters develop in this episode'. The difference seems subtle but is actually pretty major. It's basically what we would view as a long miniseries in the States.

I'm currently in the middle/end of my first one, and I'm hooked. It's called Coffee Prince (or 1st Shop of Coffee Prince), and I won't ruin the details, but the basic premise is: what happens when a tomboy girl pretends to be a guy to get jobs but then falls in love with a man she works with who thinks she's a guy? Follow that? It's full of angst (girl wants guy to know she's a girl but is afraid to tell him, guy thinks girl is a guy and starts falling for her and is dealing with the possibility that he's gay (even though he's always liked girls), guy has to deal with altering his view of girl when it is revealed that she's a woman) and some great side stories. I would totally recommend watching them.

It also displays a lot of differences between American and Korean culture, such as the importance of respect for your elders, the complexity of traditional women's roles vs. modern women's roles, and the nuances of familial/romantic relationships. It is all insanely good, so you should watch it. In fact, here's the link. Click it. CLICK IT.

Merry Orthodox Christmas!

It's Christmas in Armenia tomorrow and in the rest of the Orthodox world on Jan. 7. Thought I'd preempt it with an image vaguely reminiscent of this one:

Jan 4, 2011

Quand Soudain L'Amour Est Là

Encore un extrait du Roi Lion, maintenant c'est la chanson "Quand Soudain l'Amour est Là"

Ça me plaît!

Jan 3, 2011

Il Vit En Toi

Or, "He Lives In You." It's an amazing video from the French cast of Le Roi Lion ("The Lion King").

Lyrics (with my very, very rough translation in italics):

La nuit est* l'esprit de la vie
The night is the spirit of life
Et une voix comme l'enfant qui a peur
And a voice like a child who is scared
Oh mambella
Oh, mambella
Il vit en toi
He lives in you
Il vit en moi
He lives in me
Toujours il veille
Forever he keeps watch
Sur ce que tu vois
On that which you see
Dans l'eau qui part comme un miroir
In the water that leaves like a mirror
Même dans ton reflet**
The exact same [way] in your reflection
Il vit en toi
He lives in you

*This must be 'est' ('is') instead of 'et' ('and', as in the original English) if the second line is the singular 'appelle'. However, if the second line is the plural 'appellent' (pron. the same as 'appelle'), it would be 'et'. I've chosen to make it singular, since I like the idea of 'the night' and 'the spirit of life' being one and the same (representing Mufasa, the deceased father) , paralleling the singular, fearful respondent voice (representing Simba, the living son). Different from the English, but a better point made.
**I went for a more word-by-word translation here. The point that it is making, in less clunkly language would be: "...in the water which, like your image in a mirror, leaves, he lives in you."