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Movie Review: Beowulf

Friday, March 28, 2008
Being spring break for us students, my neighbor rented Beowulf last night and brought it over. I'd wanted to catch it in the theaters but, given how expensive movies are and how broke I am (as a student) I didn't. Therefore I jumped at the opportunity to see it.

I'm only vaguely familiar with the epic poem; having read it in 9th grade (which was 16 years ago - over half my lifetime!) I just don't recall all the details. Oh, I remembered some of the major players (Beowulf, Hrothgar, and Grendel), but I made no attempt to do even the most minimal research before watching the film, as I figured that would have probably spoiled my enjoyment of the film (as book-to-movie translations often disappoint.)

Getting back to the movie, however, I enjoyed it thoroughly. The plot runs like this: King throws party. Monster attacks party. Hero arrives, kills monster. Monster's mom attacks party. Hero attacks monster's mom, things turn interesting. King dies, Hero takes his place. Time passes. Dragon attacks Hero-King. Hero-King slays dragon, then dies.

Lest I forget to mention it (and as anyone who has seen the preview will have noticed), Beowulf is sort of computer animated. Apparently they did a lot of motion capture of the voice actors, then computer-enhanced and animated everything else. It is visually stunning - though not perfect. I really felt that the camera work was distracting - the idea that, with computer animation, they can put the camera anywhere... and they did, resulting in a lot of swooping and movement of the perspective.

Those criticisms aside, the movie was fun. As the wikipedia article mentions, many themes were changed for this interpretation of the story - many themes that make it more relevant today. Yet it still feels like a classic tale, and much of what was changed made it flow better. I was impressed with the result.

Final word on Beowulf? Rent it, 'cause it's awesome.

Day Trippin'

Thursday, March 27, 2008
I took a day trip up to Seattle for a few hours yesterday. It was for a meeting, but I managed to get out and see downtown for a bit while I was there.

The first thing I noticed when parking was the rates for per-hour street parking. Perhaps I've been living in Salem too long (where most downtown parking is still free) but I thought Portland was getting expensive at $1.25/hour... Seattle beats that by another quarter. I shouldn't be surprised, though. There does seem to be a direct correlation between metro population and per-hour street parking.

$1.50 per hour!

Of course, what would any self-respecting individual do with a few hours in downtown Seattle than immediately head for the Pike Place Market. I managed to find good food and ate lunch while meandering about, enjoying the sights and smells of the marketplace.

Pike Place Market

I also took some time wandering around outside. I stopped at the original Starbucks for a few minutes (though I didn't order anything because I was low on cash and the line was long) and took in a view of Puget Sound.

Original Starbucks!

A view of the sounds

... and, of course, no trip to Seattle would be complete without getting stuck in traffic. While some studies show that Seattle is the third worst in the nation (or thereabouts) for traffic, I can only anecdotally say that it took me two hours to go 30 miles on the freeway between Seattle and Tacoma. Thanks, guys!

Fuck Seattle traffic.

A step in the wrong direction

Wednesday, March 26, 2008
In my internet surfing, I came across this article on Reuters.com about the potential use of an "Eye-in-the-sky drone" by Miami police.

Now I've always been one for privacy rights, and this just strikes me as a bad idea. While a police department spokesperson is quoted as saying, "Our intentions are to use it only in tactical situations as an extra set of eyes", I can't help but feel that somebody, somewhere, is going to succumb to the temptation to use it for more than just that. Precedent has more than shown that abuses of power are constant; just remember Nixon's Watergate and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI!

Furthermore, I've played Half-Life 2. Anyone who's played through the game should remember some of the opening scenes as Gordon Freeman is introduced to the new society run by the Combine... and the City Scanners are a very noticeable part of that. Yes, I'm comparing to a video game, but if you've played Half-Life 2 you know how wrong this whole thing can go....

Picture from Reuters.com of the droneCity Scanner from Half-Life 2

Saturday Market on a Spring Day

Monday, March 24, 2008
I went to Saturday Market in downtown Portland this weekend with my girlfriend. We had a fabulous time looking around, but, since I've not been since last year, I was unaware that the geography of the event had changed; the building they used to abut against seems off-limits now.

Nonetheless, here's a list of some fabulous experiences:
- The Springroll Kitchen, where, for $3.50 each, I was able to devour several of the best springrolls I've ever had.
- Watching a breakdancing Jesus get funky on the cobblestones by the Skidmore fountain.
- Elephant ears. YUM YUM YUM.
- Getting sucked into a conversation consisting entirely of the words, "Blah."
- Spoonman creations!

Truly a cultural experience, and lots of fun. I'm *still* full from the food, though.

To whom are they actually selling?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I don't know how to describe it. I was walking through Macy's with a friend and saw the following mannequin:

Mighty nipples on a mannequin.

I'm simply at a loss for words. I don't know to whom the clothing is targeted... but here's my guess:
  • The educated shopper who's constantly "excited".
  • The enlightened shopper with an overgrown nipple problem.
  • The trendy shopper with the curiously shaped bust.
  • Men. (Though you'd never catch me wearing that shirt.)
Enjoy it. Stop by Macy's and compliment them on their mannequins that - in my humble experience - look like no human being alive. It just makes sense.

I can't be *my* fault

Sunday, March 16, 2008
I read an excellent article over on CNN.com the other day. Authored by Glenn Beck, it frames the debate - currently underway - about letting Michigan and Florida "re-do" their Democratic primaries in the context of personal responsibility... and it's awesome.

Personal responsibility has always been a core belief of mine. I mean, yeah, it sucks if the man is getting you down and life is just handing you lemons, but do you know who's responsible for your success or failure?

I'll give you a hint: The answer starts with a "Y" and rhymes with "boo".

I like to think that I'm willing to take responsibility for my own actions. I have a big dent in the back of my car that's my own fault. Who's going to fix it? Me. (Well, I would, if it were worth fixing, but that's another story.) I put the dent there and only I am responsible for it. I'm going to owe a well-equipped Mercedes Benz in student loans when I graduate. Who's responsible for paying that off? Me. What happens in my life is largely determined by me and the choices I make - or have made. For those things I've been lucky enough to have handed to me I'm thankful - for everything else, it's only going to happen if I make it.

So that's my personal responsibility rant for today. Thanks for listening.

Papa Haydn

Saturday, March 15, 2008
My girlfriend and I were up at an event in Portland the other evening and afterwards we decided to satisfy my sweet tooth at Papa Haydn, up on 23rd. (Yes, it was my suggestion.)

Looking around, I was amazed at how well run the place seemed to be. Don't get me wrong - the desserts were fantastic. But that was expected. What wasn't expected was the efficiency with which the operation appears to be run. Considering the initial impression - waiting in line in a cramped foyer - watching how well Papa Haydn operates once sitting down was impressive.

Let's track the process once we were seated. Water glasses were already in front of us, and someone showed up momentarily to fill them with water and ask about beverages. Yes, water was basically already on the table, and we were actually able to order dessert immediately (since the menus were already in front of us.) We ordered, sat and talked for a few moments, and then our delicious-looking desserts arrived. Maybe two minutes had passed from ordering to delivery. As we slowly consumed our treats, we looked around. A group had just gotten up from the table behind us. As soon as they stepped away, a staff-person came by and, in one impressive motion, cleared the table (and the one next to it.) As they were walking away, someone else came by and set up the table - and the guests weren't even out of the restaurant yet.

As we were obviously finishing our desserts (but before we had a chance to sit there too long with empty plates in front of us) they brought the bill by. The whole process was notable for how classy and comfortable the restaurant felt, yet how quickly and efficiently they managed to eliminated wasted time between guests - without looking rushed or making the guests feel rushed.

It was awesome to behold. I may have to go back, just to see it again.

The Process of Natural Selection

Wednesday, March 05, 2008
It so happened that I was driving through a part of Salem yesterday evening when, through the darkness, I saw the headlights of oncoming cars briefly obscured. Squinting through the darkness, I realized that it was a person on a bicycle. Not your normal see-and-be-seen bicyclist, however. This guy was wearing dark clothes, camouflage pants, and was riding a bicycle with no lights or reflectors on it through traffic.

The only thing I could think was, "This guy has poor survival instincts."

However, maybe I am the crazy one. You see, as I was driving somewhere later that night, I happened across someone crossing the road. Of course, I didn't see them right off the bat, but only when I got close enough to have my headlights definitely illuminate them. What was this person wearing? Dark clothes - with camouflage shorts!

My only hope is that these people don't breed, lest the whole of the human race eventually be in danger.

The US Postal Service

Tuesday, March 04, 2008
So I'm going to take a minute to actually rave about the United States Postal Service. Sometimes the scale and efficiency with which things are handled amazes me. It started when I put something in a mailbox in Salem at 4:30 PM and it arrived in Eugene by noon the next day.

That's incredible to think about.

In the span of 20-ish hours, this letter was picked up by the Post Office, sorted, put on a truck to Eugene, sorted again there, and then sent out for delivery and delivered. 20 HOURS. Sure, I could have just hand delivered it myself for about $15 in gas (round trip) and an hour and ten minutes each way, but I put a $.41 stamp on this envelope and the Post Office saved me a bunch of time and money.

I know I sound like a broken record, but to ship it via UPS or FedEx would have cost a lot more and not go much faster. That level of infrastructure just astounds me sometimes. It's cool.

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