Sunday, February 28, 2010
I saw Avatar 3d, and it was pretty good. There was a scene or two when the characters are standing on tree branches way above the ground (it was a very large tree) and I almost felt like I was standing too close to the edge. My fear of heights doesn't kick in very often, but for some reason I have a weakness for exposed cliff faces or drops that don't have railings. And I've never gotten that gut-wrenching "get back!" instinct just from watching a movie before. Of the two, I think I liked Hurt Locker a little more just because it was shorter and more efficient with my time. Totally different movies though and hard to compare them. Avatar could have gone a little deeper into how the planet's ecosystem actually forms a sentient organism. And the consequences when this is revealed, in terms of its interaction with the corporations. Some kind of corporate resolution would probably be longer-lasting than just expelling all the troops and workers at the end of the movie.
I was going to write a long post complaining about how trying to renew my passport left me feeling violated on Friday, but you probably don't want to read that. Oh, I also need to summarize my interaction with United, but that's going to have to wait as well. It's getting late.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I saw Hurt Locker with Kate, Matt and Lisa. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was lots of tense situations, sorta like how the movie The Rock starts out with Nicholas Cage trying to defuse a bomb while its spewing gas and everyone is yelling at each other. Good stuff, that was one of my favorite scenes in the Rock. Kate doesn't like tense movies so she didn't like Hurt Locker as much as me.
I'm not a fan of E-street cinemas. I show up to see a movie and instead there's some movie nerd in front before the show all giddy and babbling about his movie club. When he's done you have to sit through a bunch of advertisements with the lights off, as though it's part of the movie, and then there are all the documentary previews because Hurt Locker is sorta written like a documentary. Documentary previews are damn boring though, especially when the film isn't in English so there's no talking during the preview. Just lots of weird camera angles and actors looking at each other passionately.
I also went to Puja's baby shower with Rachel. We played some baby bingo and trivia (I didn't win either), and ate Indian food. It was a pretty good time, even though I was super tired from staying up too late.
Oh, I got a email response from United airlines, but I'll post about that next time, because it's long.
(user review of the game X-Blades)
BEWARE! This game is horrible! The story line is non existent, the voice acting is worse than hentai and the battle system is a flawed button masher that leaves no room for any skill and it doesn't even have any satisfying combos. Stay away and for the love of god do not give as a gift.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I finally got my speakers back from the repair shop. It looks like they swapped out my wireless receiver for a new one. But it's all working! It connected right away without me having to fuss with anything. We have achieved 5.1.
I did write a stern letter to United Airlines, requesting to be shown where the 6-month thing was a Vietnam or USA regulation, or if it's a United-specific requirement then customers should be notified ahead of time. I thought about posting it here as some kind of "open letter" but that seems silly. And Rachel said that I deserve an extra free flight, but I'm not going to demand anything like that. If it turns out to be United's fault, I'll let them apologize in whatever way they see fit. I certainly wouldn't turn down any free flights.
It looks like I'm going to owe LOTS of money in taxes in April. I made a bunch of extra money by investing in stocks just in time for the rebound last spring, but taxes never got deducted for it. It is time to start saving.
(from the "criticisms" section of a Wikipedia article about stock trading taxes)
No offset for gains due to inflation: The capital gain upon which the tax is calculated is not inflation adjusted. Thus for example, a gain that is entirely due to inflation, is not a real gain at all, nevertheless this illusory gain is taxed.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The following I wrote a couple months ago but never posted for some reason (or perhaps with-reason, if it bothers you).
5 Most Annoying characters on TNG
Weasly Crusher - An obvious choice. Supposedly this character is how Gene Roddenberry pictured himself as a kid in the star trek world, which really makes him more annoying. Almost every line makes you want to punch him.
Tasha Yar - Most people would skip right to Beverly or Troi because Tasha Yar was only in the first few episodes before they killed her off. But this character dominated the annoyingness aspect of the few episodes she was in. Constantly overly-macho. Like Worf, but without all the honor talk. And who goes through one-by-one and compliments everyone else at their own funeral?
Beverly Crusher - Maybe it's because she's Weasely's mother. Maybe it's because as the doctor she tries to mother everybody on the ship. Beverly is super annoying, and I would have fired her and replaced her with the holographic doctor after the first threat of "As your doctor I can order you to your quarters." That comes up at like every other encounter with the captain.
Deanna Troi - "I sense great anger." STFU Deanna. This character was ridiculous from the start. It might have worked as the ship's psychological counsellor (being on a ship for extended periods could be stressful). But the idea that she can sense feelings across thousands of miles of space (as she often does from the bridge of the Enterprise) always seemed silly. They might as well have added a witch doctor to the bridge crew.
Geordi LaForge - Usually Geordi blends into the background and isn't annoying, but occasionally there's an episode where he gets romantic about something or other. Sometimes socially inept engineer dates can be funny but Geordi is so disgustingly sincere that it's annoying. Surprisingly, I don't mind his whole "blindman's glasses" gimmick.
5 Most Entertaining characters on TNG
Worf - Worf is always the straight man, and I appreciate it. When the joke is dumb he comes out and says "You humans are strange" or he just grunts in resposne and I think exactly the same thing. The few episodes dealing with the Klingon aspects of his character are all pretty good. Even when he had a girlfriend and a kid, which would normally annoy me to no end with most characters, it wasn't too bad with Worf.
Picard - Obvious choice. I don't like the Dickson Hill episodes, any Picard+Weasley episodes, and any Picard gets romantic episodes, but all the other ones are pretty great. I saw an interview where Roddenberry said "At first we thought there was no way we could have a bald captain for the show, but thank God we cast him!" So, so true.
Q - Another obvious choice. Q is always good at making fun of the other characters. If only he was a more regular character on the show.
Data - Sometimes Data was annoying. Why he couldn't pronounce contractions doesn't make any sense, and every episode where he gets all autistic with his shipmates gets a little old. About half the time he is quite funny. The episode when he had a daughter was mildly annoying, so he's ranking at the bottom of this list.
Special mention: Lieutenant Barclay. I think he only appeared in like 4 episodes, but Barclay deals with social situations the way Geordi and Wesley should. He stutters and says weird things and can't focus, the way an engineer or science nerd with social issues should. But the writers, who don't understand engineers, instead play it off like general incompetence, and suddenly Barclay is just the embarassing fool that nobody wants to take on their away team. There was a funny moment when Picard heard Riker refer to him as Broccoli and told him to stop.
Picard: I speak now as the Captain of the USS Enterprise and Lieutenant Worf's commanding officer. You will not execute a member of my crew, nor will I turn his brother over to you.
K'mpec: This is not the Federation, Picard. If you defy an order of the High Council, the alliance with the Federation could fall to dust.
Picard: The alliance with the Federation is not based on lies, K'mpec. Protect your secrets, if you must. But you will not sacrifice these men.
(I should start ending all my episodes with Trek quotes)
Monday, February 15, 2010
I was originally scheduled to fly to Vietnam last Wednesday. That flight was cancelled because of a storm in Chicago (though we had lots of snow here too built up over the weekend). I was rescheduled to fly out Thursday, but that flight was cancelled too because of the blizzard that hit DC on Wednesday, so I was re-rescheduled for a Friday morning flight.
Early Friday morning I spent $80 on a taxi out to Dulles (the metro wasn't running out to the West Falls Church metro so I couldn't get out to the shuttle). When I tried to check into my flight, the United worker was uncertain about something with my passport and took it to her supervisor. Then she came back to me and told me that because my passport expires in 5 months, I can't take the flight. Even though I had a Vietnam entry visa, there was some regulation that said I needed 6 months of validity on my passport to go.
I step out of line and called Dave to see what he thought I should do, but he didn't pick up his phone. Then I went over to the "additional services" United counter to get more details. I tried to explain my problem to the lady, and she took my passport and started checking me in like normal. I mentioned the issue they were having earlier and she said sometimes the computer just needs to know all the information about the return ticket and everything before it will let you check in. And it all appeared to be working just fine. Then this manager jackass happens to wander around the counter behind the ticket agent and he says "He cannot fly. Did he tell you that he tried to check in already?" As though I'm sneaking around with an invalid passport repeatedly trying to check in at different ticket agents and looking for a weak link. He pointed a regulation the computer screen and convinced the lady that I couldn't get a boarding pass.
Which regulation? First the manager told me they had a special computer system that they pay a subscription fee for, which tells them all the regulations they need to know. When I asked how I was supposed to have known about it he said I could have found out about it on the internet or by asking the vietnam embassy about it. Then he recommended that I go down to the Vietnam embassy and get some special extension or exemption and get the next day's flight. He was a jerk.
Instead of getting a cab I sat and talked to Kate on the phone a bit. She did a good job of commiserating with me. After maybe a half hour the guy at the Washington Flyer counter said that the trains were running to East Falls Church, so I took the shuttle back. But it turns out he was lying and that the metro was only shuttling people from East Falls Church by bus, instead of sending trains out that far. Buses were delayed because of the snow and there were more people waiting in the cold for this shuttle bus than there was gonna be space on a bus. So me and a bunch of other people caught a local bus to West Falls Church. This turned out to be the most annoying bus trip of my life in close quarters with some very annoyingly chummy people (though Dave did call me back and was also baffled by my situation). It took me 2 hours to get home from Dulles.
At noon, when I got home, I called the Vietnam Embassy to see if there was any truth to the passport extension/exemption rumors. The Vietnam Embassy telephone system is terribly organized. It gives you a list of 4 or 5 extensions for each category and you have to pick an extension number, which then channels you to the corresponding employee's voicemail. There's no way to get back to the main menu when that employee does not pick up the phone, which happened to me over and over again. Apparently everyone goes to lunch at noon and stops taking calls.
I took a nap (having not slept the night before because it was part of my strategy for getting on Vietnam time schedule), and called the embassy again at 3:30. I tried a bunch of extensions and no one was picking up, again. Then I finally got someone at 3:45 who told me that all the employees were leaving at 4pm for 10 days. I asked if he could just answer a question for me and he said "I'm sorry sir, I can not help you. Everyone is leaving." Now I know English is his second language, and Vietnamese is a tone-based language so maybe inflections that imply sarcasm are difficult to learn, but the guy said "I'm sorry sir" in the most sarcastic way. Asshole.
This week I'm going to send in for a new passport. And United Airlines was nice enough to give me a travel voucher for a trip to Vietnam, which I guess is the least they could do after fabricating a regulation to prevent me from flying.
Kate: At least now you have some good cereals to eat!
(I have a couple boxes of cereal that I packed in my suitcase because Dave can't get them in Vietnam and misses them.)