March 28, 2007

 

Internet Tips: A great little Google feature

Check out this link: http://www.google.com/movies

This is one of my favorite little lesser-known Google search features. I used to use Fandango to look up movie times, but Google Movie Search is really a lot more convenient.



Other cool sites for looking up movie facts are of course, the Internet Movie Database, and for compiling reviews to help when considering what movie to see, I like to use Rotten Tomatoes.



March 27, 2007

 

Today's Topic: Strange Occurrences

Look closely, it's a bale of hay in the back of that Corolla wagon. I thought it was interesting and, in a way, a bail of hay in the back of a Corolla wagon seems iconoclastic. That might not seem so strange, but something I've been reading about lately that does is a new trend in global economics. Right now, somewhere in China, hundreds of thousands of people are working, in factories, extremely long hours, like 12 and 18 hour shifts...playing video games. It's called “Gold Farming”

Well, just what exactly is or Gold Farming? (or MMORPG Farming or Game Farming as it's also referred to as), you may be wondering. To explain this first of all, for anyone who doesn't know what a MMORPG is, which included me, well it's an acronym for a kind of video game standing for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. This is not to be confused with, Massive Multiplayer Online Real-time Strategy (MMORTS), or Massively Multiplayer Online First-Person Shooter (MMOFPS). MMORPGs mimic something known as real life, so they also often feature an economy, well a virtual one, well actually apparently, virtual or not, the economies in these games are connected to the economy of the real world, and I guess in a sense that shouldn't be so strange when considering that economies in general are really just a virtual representation of the energy exchanged of goods and services between societies. And because these virtual worlds are so expansive, and because a virtual economy can be exchanged with a real economy, you now have a bizarre bastardization of global economics and gaming technology known as MMORPG Farming.

It sounds so far fetched and ridiculous, when I first heard on NPR last year about these sweat shops that are cropping up in China with people, essentially virtually laboring, I thought I was listening to a script of a SciFi film. Life, or rather the experience we call “life”, is undeniably a very strange thing. Makes me think, it may be a virtual product, but it's a sweatshop none the less...


March 18, 2007

 

Movie Reviews: Two Amazing Films ... with subtitles

Recently I watched two amazing movies both with a foreign perspective.


The Lives of Others/Das Leben der Anderen (2006)

A couple weeks ago some friends invited me to go see The Lives of Others (Original German Title is: Das Leben der Anderen), I actually knew nothing about this movie, but from my friend's description “a drama about living in East Germany while being spied on by the government ... it's supposed to be awesome” it sounded really interesting. And having seen it I can say that I really felt elevated by the film.

The movie is set in the Former East Germany in the 1980s; not that long ago--and now that I think about it, it seems remarkable that the kinds of things that are depicted in this film were happening in the same decade when kids I knew were learning to ride on skateboards and going to see the Back to the Future and Indiana Jones films at the theater.

The two most important characters in the film are: a renowned East German playwright, Georg Dreyman; and a secret service (“Stassi”) man, Weisler, assigned to monitor his activities. The playwright is an intellectual artist who is modest and smart enough to take the necessary actions to appear as if he believes in the values of the state, and at the start of the film he is not consciously against the invasive socialist government. He represents the best of his artistic friends. His girlfriend is the most revered actress in East Germany, Christa. Things are going well for him except that his favorite director, friend, and mentor has been blacklisted by the government has been living a reclusive life unable to express his creative self. Very soon into the movie that state officials decide that, even despite his apparent loyalty for the East German government, it's in the state's best interest to keep a very close eye on his activities. Although the government does not mediate death to keep people in line, it statesmen live like gods with the power to destroy the lives of the people they govern. The Stassi men maintain a world that is terrifyingly like the vision Orwell had for 1984. Weisler, a very loyal and sincere government servant, and unlike many of his government counterparts as he is not corrupt, is given the job of listening to everything the Dreyman and Christa say and do. After the death of Dreyman's friend the blacklisted director, Dreyman begins to doubt the practices of the government and spends more time with acquaintances who are less in line with the Party Line. Ultimately what makes this movie so interesting and quite a thriller is the ethical crisis faced by Weisler, who over time, despite his loyalty to the state, becomes sympathetic to the artistic couple and has to make choices that will determine their fate or his own.

The Lives of Others did a fantastic job of sharing the oppressive experience of living in East Germany, and in revealing how much freedom I take for granted. It's easy to learn about history without really comprehending the significance of freedom, or understanding what life is like when it is stripped a way and all that you have, including love, is at the mercy of tyrants.

From an outsiders perspective it I felt like this was a tremendous step forward that such a movie as this one would be made in the very place where the thought of doing such a thing would have been practically an act of treason. The movie is by it's existence a light of hope.
5 out of 5

--------------Part 2-----------------
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

Tonight I went with some friends to see Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, a “companion” film to Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers. Letters is written by a Japanese screenwriter, and featuring almost an entirely Japanese cast; I could have easily believed that this was not an American movie production—just as Flags was from the American perspective, Letters is entirely from the Japanese perspective, and to me it felt totally sincere and unbiased by hollywood's influence. And although the two films are about two different kinds of stories, they share the same setting and because of that they are intimately connected, as if they were siblings.

The performances in Letters From Iwo Jima were amazing. And I found the story of these Japanese men in a hopeless situation a lot more compelling. Somehow Ken Watanabe is able to pull off a more commanding and amazing performance than his role in The Last Samari where in my opinion he was a lot more than just a best supporting actor, but instead stole the show (note: he seems to be becoming a popular commodity in Hollywood after is role in Last Samari; since then he as appeared in the latest Batman film, which he was very under-utilized in, and is slated to be in the upcoming movie Wolverine)

Maybe because it is more fresh on my mind than Flags of Our Fathers, but it seemed there is a much greater display of the power of gunpowder in this film than in Flags. There were more explosions, more black earth and flame pouring up from the ground displaced the guns on the war ships, and there was the constant pounding both close and far a way as the Japanese men listened while they spent so much of their time in caves. I think that was the point, to show how tremendously outnumbered they were and what it would be like to be pitted against a force as powerful as the American military.


I'm glad I saw Flags before Letters, and I would recommend that anyone wanting to see Letters see Flags beforehand. Flags was a fantastic movie, but Letters is able to trump it by way of storytelling and emotion.

Both of these movies show the confusion of ethics and the good and the bad on both sides of the battle field, and the extremes in human behavior and the utter tragedy caused by war. While staring up at the opening credits I began to wonder how this film was/will be seen by Japanese audiences, not yet knowing exactly what to expect, but expecting something comparable to Flags of Our Fathers. Having seen a movie that in many ways seemed totally innocent of the influence of Hollywood and totally honest and authentically Japanese, and even better than its counterpart 'Flags', I am even more curious how it has been/will be received in the land where it takes place. 5 out of 5.


March 13, 2007

 

WikiMania ... and more ...

This blog entry is all about interesting websites I've been looking at...

Part 1: Wiki-Mania

Lately I've been feeling something I can only describe as “WikiMania.” I think Wikipedia is so amazingly useful I added a Wikipedia search box to the front page of my website, and was very pleased with myself when I figured out how to do so. Now I've discovered there are a lot of variations of Wikipedia that are quite interesting and worth taking a look at if you're looking for a cool website to peruse, check them out...

Wikiliality--a parody of Wikipedia (not part of the WikiMedia family of projects)--I recently heard of an incident involving Stephen Colbert and Wikipedia; apparently Colbert was able to motivate fans to deliberately alter information about the endangered status of African Elephants as a way to make fun of a media stir about the reliability of Wikipedia (because it's entirely reliant on user participation), and they were successful in making it seem like Elephants are doing pretty well. As a result fans created a parody site called Wikiality, using the term Colbert coined. This is something you probably would appreciate only in you're a fan of Colbert and his continuing sarcastic mockery of conservative punditry.

Uncyclopedia, yet another sarcastic spoof of Wikipedia that is extremely funny and well done.

Mupit Wiki: I heard about this on episode 13 of net@night about Wikipedia. This is by far the coolest variation of the Wikipedia concept I've seen; it has the same look and feel of Wikipedia but its focused purely on the universe of Muppet trivia.

Wikinews (part of the WikiMedia family of projects). This has the same user generated concept as Wikipedia but directed entirely to news. From what I've checked out so far it already is awesome. I imagine that this service will truly grow as time goes on and more wiki users get involved. It seems like there is finally a good news companion to Google News.


Wikipmapia, not affiliated with Wikipedia or any of it's Wikimedia affiliated projects, WikiMapia combines the Wiki concept with Google Maps, to allows anyone to in their words “describe the whole world.” Kinda cool, but also a wee bit freaky because anyone can say anything about anyplace on earth.

Part 2: The Race for Space

In the 1960s America won the race to the Moon (allegedly). Now it seems that two commercial enterprises are gearing up for the race for commercialized space flight. The first company I heard about awhile back is part of the Virgin family of companies, named appropriately Virgin Galactic (their airline is Virgin Atlantic). And I heard on net@night the founder of Amazon.com is starting his own space-flight endeavor named Blue Origin. This makes a lot of sense to me. The commercialization of space travel could really give financial power to expanding the horizon on space exploration. (Russia has already taken passengers into space to help fund their space travels.)


Part 3: Educational links

In college I often wondered if I was really getting any knowledge that I couldn't discover otherwise, or it was more about learning the ways I can find and use information that was the really valuable knowledge. That's why I was interested to hear out about this site, from an episode of Diggnation, that contains links to credible academic sources for educational material. It's a cool link. Making information more available and education more accessible is really the best hope for the Internet. And it seems that the Wikipedia family has a project with similar goals.


March 8, 2007

 

News from the Huffmania

hey Huffmaniaks It's been a while since I've blogged I know. What can I say?

A couple weekends ago, I went to visit some of my friends in Richmond and while there we went to the circus. I'll be adding some pictures to the Photo section of that. It was pretty amazing, most of all, the stuff that the humans did was pretty awesome -- the animals gave a lackluster performance.

Recently I've added a few adjustments to the Huffmania site. The Killer Apps page has been upgraded to better promote free software, so check it out. Free software is a wonderful thing, take advantage of it. I also edited my links page a lot and added a bunch of cool stuff there.