Friday, July 25, 2008

Batman the Dark Knight and WALL-E review


I saw two movies recently: Batman the Dark Knight and WALL-E.

WALL-E is the first Pixar movie I've seen in a long while. The last one was, hmm, can't remember. It was a very long time ago. The reason I watch WALL-E is actually the review that says something like "most of the movies features little dialogue." This sparks my interest. I think movies are getting too wordy recently. The exception to that is Harry Potter series. So, I really want to SEE movies, not audio books. And I wasn't disappointed.

There are quite a bit logic holes in the movie: A green thriving plant inside a closed refrigerator? Nonsense! No photosynthesis means no green leaf! Cockroach survives a rolled on? Ridiculous! Hologram being projected onto thin air? Hah! And so on...

But you know, if you look at the movie from artistic point of view, it works great. Lighting does not strike twice at the same spot, but it's poignant, funny, and relevant. Robots do not misbehave, but this isn't a robot story. It's a love story set in a robot environment. I kept waiting for the line "I'm sorry Captain. I'm afraid I can't do that." Homage to 2001 Space Odyssey.

In short, WALL-E is funny, engaging, relevant, and has all the marking of a timeless classic. Go watch it!

Batman: The Dark Knight

The visual effect is excellent. The imageries are vivid. Of course, Heath Ledger's performance is rumored to be excellent. In the beginning, I didn't think so, but somewhere in the middle of the movie, I saw several of his scenes that I can only describe as "inspired". It really does feel like Heath Ledger wasn't acting and it is the best Joker performance I've seen bar none. A real spooky feeling enveloped the theater...

Action sequences are top notch, worthy of being a summer movie blockbuster. With production qualities that is over the top, however, I'm not as satisfied as can be. Don't get me wrong. The Dark Knight is a great movie, and I didn't regret sitting in it. Great acting, tight plot, twists and turns abound. Really high quality movie.

Except that the script felt half baked. It certainly wasn't a good as the first one. In the first movie, Rachel's got the best lines. In the second, the lines are uninspired, standard action fare. A lot of time, it feels like the action decides what the character is going to say. For example, when Batman told Commisioner Gordon he needs 5 minutes, Gordon refused and gave Batman only 2 minutes. This takes away their comradeship, but it does allow a very fast-paced, highly energetic action sequences that ends with the Joker hanging upside down. Action drive the story, not the other way around.

Another great acting by old veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Scenes are simply done, yet with great depth. I'm still trying to figure that out. Still, the materials could be better. What was there is great, but missing that little something that inspire. The script is designed to move scenes along, twisting and surprises the audience along the way, but no great inspiration like the first.

In short, if you're the kind of people who like action in your movies, and not wanting to think too much, then this is your kind of movie. Watch it for the special effect and action sequences.

LifeChess - Judge not the Outcast


People has a tendency to put image above performance. If you look at the cheery ads, especially soft drink ads, you'll see this in action. And yet, if you look at the technical details of the drink, they are mostly corn syrup concoction. Considering that a lot of money goes toward paying for those commercials, are the drinks worth the price difference between those with clever ads and those without?

I have been playing chess for quite some years, now, and in those times, I have been experimenting with quite a bit of opening. Usually, they're just simple openings, but sometimes, the opening falls into what is known as "fun" unsound opening. That reflects me just fine. I like playing chess for fun. I also like winning chess from behind. Any monkey can memorize opening, but do you really understand chess? Can you calculate different positions?

When I play chess on the internet, some people who are sore loser would complaint that I cheated, usually accusing me of using a computer. It's true that my play style is thorough, simplistic, and usually without obvious error. In other words, unless my brain is off, it takes a very clever and thorough person to beat me. I have beaten lesser computer programs or computer set at lower level of playing. So, I'm rather capable of playing well. These people who complaint that I use a computer are just loser who would blame the world, rather than themselves.

It does annoy me, though, that this happens a lot, so much that I discourage people from playing on the Internet. There are times that I just want variety, though, and the internet does provide a good alternative to your local chess club and chess computer. Anyway, I started to use these unsound opening, just so that people cannot complain that I use a computer. They can't really accuse me of using a computer when the play is something that no computer or sane person would play!

That brings another factor into play. My opening is so bad, that I usually fall behind in development. That's okay, though. I'm perfectly happy to play a fun position. Some people, upon seeing a novelty opening would immediately pegged me as weak, and play carelessly. Only later on when I beat them would they realize their error! Judge not the outcast. Just because somebody played a weak move does not mean you are better than that person!

The game also highlights the lesson of making the best move in a bad situation. My opponent could have won with a mate in 2, but didn't. If you look at the position, he lost all advantages and was heavily discouraged. I took advantage of that and play a very provocative move. It works. If you're in a bad situation, play your best move! It may not work, but maybe it will! Is a glass half empty or half full? Keep your optimism high even if the position is bad. Life works better that way.

The following game was played over the internet. Imagine my surprise to see that Chessmaster do not give me any error on my playing except for the mate-in-2 blunder. Perhaps this is a sound opening after all? I call this barbarian king opening because King Leads the Way!

White: Ramstrong
Black: alain.chiffonade
Date: 2007-08-26
Event: Yahoo Chess
1. f4 d5 2. Kf2 (Barbarian King opening - theoretical novelty by Ramstrong)
2. ... e6 (Nf6 would be sharper)
3. g3 Be7 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. e3 Bd6 6. Bb5 Bd7 7.Bxc6 Bxc6 (this is rushed. Black has the two bishop)
8. d4 Qe7 9. a3 O-O-O 10.b4 a6 11. Nbd2 Ba4 12. Ne5 Bxe5 13. dxe5 (Taking with d pawn means I protect the king with my pawn, achieving good pawn chain, and opening line of attack to Black's King. Also, Black no longer has the bishop pair. Board situation: Different color bishop. Advantage: White)
13. ... b5 (I don't like this move. It traps the bishop. Also, once I took it, Black's pawn structure would be damaged.)
14. Nb3 h6 15. Nd4 Qd7 16. Qd3 Ne7 17. Bb2 f6 (White spends too much time setting up. Black tries to take advantage)
18. Nb3 f5 19. Nc5 Qc6 20. Nxa4 bxa4 (Black's pawn structure is damaged. Once I trade Queen, I would bring King to that side to help with the attack)
21. Bd4 Qb5 22. Ke2 Qxd3+ 23. Kxd3 Kb7 (So far so good)
24 c4 dxc4+ 25. Kxc4 (King pusher! No computer would play this move, but strangely enough, Chessmaster is okay with it.)
25. ... c6 26. Rhe1 Rc8 27. Rab1 Rc7 28. e4 (This is to prevent Knight from taking d5, but is really weak)
28. ... g6 29. Bc5 Rd7 30 Bxe7 Rxe7 (That's another way to prevent Knight from taking d5!)
31. Kc5 (This is my mistake! I should have taken control of the D file. Game may continue with advantage)
31. ... Rd7 32. exf5 Rhd8 (Diagram - 3r4/1k1r4/p1p1p1pp/2K1PP2/pP3P2/P5P1/7P/1R2R3 w - - 0 33) (I stare with horror at that mate in 2! Then I decided to just press him on. Normally, I'd play fxg6 here to separate the pawns, but instead, I decided to egg him on by attacking his rook!)
33. fxe6 Rd5+ (and it works! I'm so happy! Black can still draw, but he didn't see it)
34. Kc4 Rd4+ 35. Kc3 Rd3+ 36. Kb2 Rd2+ 37. Ka1 Re8 (This is slightly passive, but I guess it's understandable in his situation. I definitely unnerved him)
38. Rbd1 Rxd1+ 39. Rxd1 Rxe6 (Advantage: White. I'm up a pawn, and the position is worth another pawn. Now, to push the king back up.)
40. Kb2 Kc7 41. Kc3 Re7 42. Kc4 Rd7 (Offering to trade rook is a mistake. This simplifies my task)
43. Rxd7+ Kxd7 44. Kc5 Black resigned.
There is simply no way for Black to save the situation. Kc7? Kingside pawn marches on. Ke7? Kxc6 and Queenside pawn marches on.
Had I secured the d file, the game may have continued with this:
31. Rbd1 Kb6 32. exf5 gf5 33. Rd6 Rc8 34. Red1 Ree8 35. Rd7 Rc7 36. R1d6 Rxd7 37. Rxd7 h5 (And White wins, but the continuation isn't forced by any means. Black still has dangerous counterplay if White is sleeping.)

Free books online


There's a couple places to get free books:

Project Gutenberg (NOT www projectgutenberg org): This is the old standby and the first real successful archive place. The quality is high. The only downside is that it's all text. Therefore, diagrams are missing.

Google Book: This is the new one. It is really nice, except I can't browse. Graphical intensive. The search engine is decent, but I wish it'd be set up like a library so I can browse similar subject books. I know that it's not set up that way, but Amazon does have something like that.

Economic Stimulus check goes to car repair


So, I put my car into dealership for regular service. Not too far away, about 20 miles, the radiator blew up. A phone call to the service department elicits "It will cost you about $130 just for us to look at the problem. Also, towing charge extra." There's nothing said about the fact that the car just left their dealership? This smells like a set-up. You know, I've never regretted the fact that I now regularly take the car somewhere else whenever there's a problem.

So, I have to wait for a tow truck. $200 total. Yikes! Repairs cost another $500. Well, there goes my economic stimulus check. I know I'm supposed to spend it, but this is ridiculous.

Phoning Sears, there was no operator, only a machine. Furthermore, the system doesn't allow for number presses as options, only spoken words. It took me a few tries to get to their auto center. Of course, I wasn't the in the best of mood then, but what follows is ridiculous.

"Your radiator blew up? I don't know if I can fix it." (Huh? Can't even look at the service board? No such thing?)

"You need a tow truck? I don't know any. Why don't you look it up in the Yellow pages?" "I'm in PARKING LOT, like I said, I don't have access to it!" (strike one)

"Why don't you ask other people there?" "Who would have a phone book in the middle of a parking lot?" (strike two)

"Well, I don't know what to say." (You don't have a phone book in the shop?) (strike three)

Needless to say, I didn't have my car repaired there. How come a manager be that stupid anyway? Complain all you want about how illegal immigrant is causing economic hardship, and that China and Korea are working cheap, I think that gross stupidity is the real cause of economic slowdown. I know first hand, especially since I've worked with a lot of them.

Zig Ziglar wrote in one of his books that you shouldn't voice a complaint about bad boss or work environment, except to those responsible, such as the boss. If after you complain, nothing changes, then you have two choices: Shut up or move on. My weak point is that I don't complain enough. Which means, if I do complain, then I'd probably move on if things don't get better. I've been moving on quite a bit. On the other hand, once I find a good company to work for, then I become extremely loyal. I think you should place your loyalty to good companies, not just big ones. How loyal? I think they should have APU unit installed, and when they complained about the costs, I told them I'd pay half! I put my money where my mouth is.

Oh, and the car? I took it to a Midas dealer whom I've had good service in the past. The manager checked it out and told me that the items the dealer said needed fixing was so small as to unnecessary. When somebody turns down business opportunity on the high moral ground, I know I've found a good one! I'll be taking my car to be serviced there from now on. It may be a little farther and more expensive, but I believe that spending money on good, honest people is one step closer to saving the earth. And I do want to save the earth.

Monday, July 14, 2008

California smog


I was passing through the national forests of Oregon and Northern California the other day, and what strikes me strange is that the smog was extremely heavy in NoCal. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive in Idaho, albeit with some excitements over narrow roads without guardrail over a steep cliff. In California, though, it's a different story.

First of all, I noticed that the sun was strange looking. More reddish orange than bright yellow. That indicates the presence of oil. And indeed it wasn't smoke, but smog. The air is terrible, and this was on national forest! I didn't enjoy this particular trip.

The next day was spent in Sacramento. There must have been a heat wave or something. The temperature was in the hundred. Also, the air was filled with extremely heavy smoke. The thick smoke continues until I get to Wyoming. I was rather disappointed to see smoke in Nevada. At least in California there were trees to absorb the carbondioxide. I noticed the trees in California seemed more tired than the ones in Idaho, though.

Salt Lake has Bonneville salt flats, where they do all those speeding. I notice quite a few messages with stones formed on the side of the road. I usually enjoyed this part of the trip. The smoke just ruined it for me this time. I wonder how Yellow Stone fares?

Monday, July 7, 2008

More highscores


I got bored and played a couple of those casual games. Not bad at all. The difference in user interface is obvious. Even though the newer machines have better graphics, I find navigating them annoying. Too much eye candy, I suppose.