24 September 2015

Great Books by Great People

Alright, so I’m in New York, have been for a few weeks, and while there’s lots to cover, let’s start with my timely arrival that enabled me to hit a few book events. All exciting stuff, so see below.

I’ve been following Alex Kleeman’s blog, technicolor.org, since maybe 2002. Like back when blogs were barely a thing. Technicolor was an all-time favorite and I pushed it on as many people as would listen. Alex’s writing was just so amazing (and she was super young), and I knew she would, at some point, be a writer. Fast forward to 2015 and here we are, Alex's debut novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. I slipped into her reading at Asian American Writer’s Workshop last week and it was like my online life just collapsed in on itself. Kinda wild. Anyway, go read Alex's book, I’m saving it for my airplane ride back to Taipei but you can get started on it today!
I met Dhonielle one night in New York years ago, as she was in town visiting with our mutual friend. Twenty-four hours later we had canvassed the city and stayed up forever, and that set the stage for the first YA writer friend I had! Dhonielle and Sona met while doing their MFAs at the New School and their debut novel just released, Tiny Pretty Things. It’s about three dancers at a Manhattan ballet academy and all the behind-the-scenes drama. Since I was in town, I jetted to the Brooklyn Book Festival to see their panel but it was so jam packed that I couldn’t even get in. Overcapacity!

So I guess I was there in a support capacity, but you know, outside — hanging out with Sona’s husband, Navdeep, also a writer! Regardless, Sona and Dhonielle have a whole slew of things coming out so I’ll have the chance to catch them at other stuff soon. Also, the super duo launched Cake Literary last year, a book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. The world of YA is lily white for the most part, as we know, so it’s kind of amazing to have fellow authors of color who like, get it.

Actually, while I’m here in the YA world, jetting from San Diego to New York meant I missed Cindy Pon’s book launch for her new release, Serpentine. It’s set in the same kingdom of Xia as Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix and there’s also a follow-up coming!
And finally, yesterday I went to my friend Sam’s book release for her one-woman play, Lydia’s Funeral Video. I saw Sam perform Lydia’s Funeral Video a few years ago in San Francisco, and it’s literally amazing. If that’s possible. I thought last night’s event was actually a performance but as it turned out, it was just the book release. I wish there was a way for you to see Sam do the play, but if the next best thing is the book format, that’ll do.
Basically all this going to book stuff makes me feel like I need to be back in New York. There’s just so much shit to do here, and the people, the people! Of course, I should probably also get back to writing something. Heck, the long discussed project I wrote for Sam’s Kearny Street Workshop class I took in 2009 is still waiting for me to get past the proposal stage. What’s the gestation period for a writing project? Infinity right? So I'm on the right track?

06 September 2015


Listening to: Charli XCX, “Need Ur Luv” and Carly Rae Jepsen “Run Away With Me.” Summer pop struts, one featuring a saxophone. Also, the new Carly Rae album is ridiculous good.
Today’s Surf Report: Scary waves, low standing up to tumble ratio, Jon couldn’t make it past the breakers. Knocked silly multiple times, the end. Generally speaking, when I speak about “surfing,” it is of the web variety. But every once in awhile, usually in August, I take to the outdoors for my surfing.

You grow up in California and don’t surf and people are like shocked. I’m sorry, none of my friends growing up surfed okay? Like literally nobody. Even though we lived so close to the beach. It wasn’t until a summer in our mid-twenties that we got together and started learning. I never got really good, truth to tell, any good at all, but it’s fun to sit out there on a board, the ocean all clear around you, even if nothing is happening.

We always go to 11th street in Del Mar, which involves walking down across train tracks and then down this semi-steep dirt cliff. The first time we went it was scary but now it’s more mundane. It feels cool actually, to walk to a “secret” spot. The good thing about 11th street is that even though the beach is sandwiched between the touristy areas of Torrey Pines and 15th Street, the intimidating access point keeps it unpopulated.

Every day I’ve been checking the surf report and really, I have no idea what “overlapping pair of primary SW-SSW and secondary SSE Southern Hemi swells hold. Meanwhile, small shorter period WSW and SSE tropical swells mix in, along with minimal NW windswell.” Hah, ooookay. All I’m looking for is what the air and water temperatures are. The past couple weeks it’s been high seventies and low seventies, respectively. Having such warm water is pretty glorious. I’ve even been able to consistently catch a few waves this summer, so maybe I'm finally getting the hang out of it! Surfing: Five out of five stars.

What does suck is post nasal drip. Like if you get tossed around a lot, which I did the past two days, your head fills up with seawater and then an hour or two after you exit the beach a waterfall comes out of your nose. No warning, nothing, it just comes right out. It’s not snot or anything gross, just seawater that’s been lodged in your brain. But it’s still quite the experience. Nature’s Neti Pot I guess? Also I got flipped around so much today I gave up after half an hour, went ashore, and then found seaweed in my shorts while eating lunch two hours later. Whoopee.

I don't know how I just saw this right now, orcas chasing a speedboat. I'm so behind it's frightening.

The other thing I’ve been doing besides finally going outdoors — I’m still pasty, just less so — is getting my photo situation fixed up. I remember years ago when some tech people were saying that photo management was going to be the next big thing. And boy were they right! Ever since all the Internet goliaths announced their photo management solutions, I’ve been researching and debating which one(s) to use.

Before I just imported everything into iPhoto, sorted stuff into event and yearly folders, and left it at that. I had some Flickr accounts too, mainly as legacies. My photo collection felt like a nice mix of historical documents and useless fodder, but now with camera phones it's tipped way over into “too many shots of everything” territory.

Yeah, I still pick out the stuff I want to share for my personal moblog but otherwise all those photos just sit on the computer taking up space. And space, and space, and more space! I moved everything off to an external drive last year -- 130 gigs of photos stretching all the way back to high school -- but I knew that was only temporary. Enter iCloud Photo Library. I’d been waiting for a new computer (the old one barely opened that huge of a Photos file) and faster wifi to implement my photo plan. Da-dun, the big day arrived this weekend!

Well, turns out that shoving 57,250 photos to iCloud takes awhile. So the dream continues. In the meantime, here’s my photo solution:
  • Paid $3.99/month for 200 GB to use for iCloud Photo Library
  • Use Google Photos, unlimited setting, for cloud backup
  • Have everything on two externals too, one that goes with me, one that stays at home
I’ve discovered that one backup is not enough. Those in the know suggest two backups of everything, like two offline and two online. So a total of four. That means I’m actually behind. And I thought I was already paranoid. I pretty much believe in having backups for everything, up to and including friends. I mean, the most paranoid billionaire in literature, S. R. Hadden from Contact, essentially made a backup of The Machine so that when it blew up, he had another waiting for Jodie Foster to ride through some wormholes. Pretty genius. So yeah, back that shit up!

Oh, and I started clean with my new laptop. Instead of porting over all my old settings and programs from my Macbook, I started super fresh. New laptop, new life right? It took most of a whole day to get everything right but as I discovered, the most time consuming part was my Mac Mail folders. It’s embarrassing but I generally still rely on offline Mac Mail to do my email organizing. Even though I imported most of the important folders, I know it’s time to take my email habits straight to the Gmail interface. Hello IMAP, good bye POP.

The latter half of this post brought to you from my future android body. Let the cybernetic takeover begin.

15 August 2015

Turnt Down & Out

Listening to: Vancouver Sleep Clinic, "Flaws." I heard this at the end of Before We Go, Chris Evans' Before Sunrise-y directorial debut. Since then I've just had their wonderfully dreamy six song EP, "Winter," on repeat. Excuse me, Vancouver Sleep Clinic is just one guy, Tim Bettinson, and he's only eighteen. Geezes!
I hopped back to the States the other week, straight to San Francisco. The flight I took was all kinds of backwards. First to Hong Kong, then to Manila, and finally to SFO. That’s what happens when you book your flight late and try to save a few bucks. Somehow, for the entire long leg of the flight, I managed to not even get out of my seat. Pretty impressive right? I’m really getting the hang of long flights!

After a quick week in San Francisco — saw some friends, saw some movies, rode/walked a bike up unconquerable hills — I came home, finally. San Diego’s weather awaited me and right away I headed for burrito-land. Well, actually, a delicious set of chicken flautas but close enough. I was trying to figure out the last time I’d been away from proper Mexican food for such a long time. Maybe almost a decade ago. Sometimes I went to the sub-par Mexican choices in Taipei just to get some pico and shredded lettuce on my tastebuds. Desperate times you know?

It seemed like everyone I met up with in the Bay had a recent big life change. Like moving out, moving in, moving in together with their significant other, recently engaged, recently announced their pregnancy, quit their job, new job, etc. All the changes frightened me a little. I don’t know if “frighten” is the right word, but basically it felt like big things were happening for everyone. That, combined with our going to bed so early on the weekends, portended a future for me that had me scared.

See, San Francisco was the last of the West Coast cities where my friends actually still went out. And stayed up late, and hung out, and did stuff. Coming straight from Taiwan, where my schedule was super late, it was a mild shock. And I stared at the gaping maw of my dystopian Bay Area future and had to face facts: People were settling down / growing up. Oh the horror!

For U.S. cities, now it’s down to just New York, and New York will always be an exception because people there are forever young. So yeah, I’m trying to get there as fast as I can, hopefully in September, after some beach and sun back in San Diego. Plus the burritos.

I was also in L.A. for a bit last weekend. Hung out mostly in the downtown L.A. area that I was previously unfamiliar with — aside from parts of K-Town and the Staples Center for Clippers games. Driving in, I passed by the tent cities of Skid Row, which looked even crazier than the Tenderloin. I was very curious about how Los Angeles handles Skid Row, and started doing some online reading about it.
"At the time, Skid Row made sense. It corralled all that would attract ‘undesirables' into a part of the city without much of a population beyond daytime office workers, pensioners, and the homeless and semi-homeless hotel-dwellers already there. It lay far from coastal enclaves like Santa Monica or suburban hinterlands like the San Fernando Valley, which were home to more politically important constituencies.”
-The Gentrification of Skid Row: A story that will decide the future of Los Angeles-
Last year, we took a walking tour of the Tenderloin, which was both informative and eye-opening. My friend Stef and her friends are now working on launching The Anchor & Plow Project, a program to give SF newcomers (i.e. invading techies) a better understanding of the neighborhoods they’ve taken over. In related things: On the way to the airport, via Uber Pool of course, I saw my first Google Bus and the huge queue waiting for it. Anyway, check out Anchor & Plow’s mission statement and pass the survey on to anyone you know.

Also, I stuck around in L.A. to watch Sean Baker's Tangerine, because I knew it wasn't playing back in San Diego. Plus the theater was in Hollywood, a few miles from where Tangerine was set. The movie itself was fantastic. All the more overwhelming because it was shot on an iPhone. You want to talk diversity? How about two transgender leads and an Armenian cab driver imprisoned by his cultural background? So yeah, start with the trailer, then make sure to watch the whole damn thing.

10 July 2015

How Long Do I Wait?

I’m not often called a genius, for obvious reasons, but sometimes I get so close to genius it’s confusing. For example, I’ve solved the “how long do I wait" problem. With a spreadsheet, as per usual.

See, I tend to always be waiting for a friend to do something. Maybe it’s to catch a specific movie, maybe it’s to go on vacation, whatever. I’m loathe to do anything alone so part of that always wanting companionship thing is agreeing to wait. And wait, and wait.

My friend pointed that this was ridiculous and offered up a few different strategies to fix it. She was very helpful. I'll try a few of her suggestions but in the meantime, we came up with a formula to mathematically figure out how long a person should reasonably wait. After extensive testing, our system basically works for every situation, including and up to “How long should I wait to break up?”

So yeah, all everything you need is right here: "How Long Do I Have to Wait: An Answer," with a step-by-step and explanations below. It’s an incredible system, and one I’ll be applying to my own life immediately.

STEP ONE: Pick a time frame. Is it hours, days, weeks, months, or years? Most of the time, the answer is obvious. When in doubt, pick the shorter time frame.

STEP TWO: Go through all five categories, scoring from 0-5 for each. Zero is low, five is high. The formula is weighted like this:
(A*0.35)+(B*0.25)+(C*0.20)+(D+0.10)+(E+0.1) = How Long Do I Wait
STEP THREE: Inform your friend(s) how long you’ll be waiting. That’s it! Feel free to live your life now without suffering guilt about how you didn’t wait for someone to do something.
Categories Explained: 
Word is Bond, 35%
This category covers how fixed in stone the plans were. A passing “Oh yeah, we should watch that together merits just a one on the scale. But if you’ve looked deep into each other’s eyes and promised to do something together, that’s a five. I can’t emphasize enough how important this category is, thus it’s weighted very heavily because the agreement part is where most of the future disagreements stem from. “But you said you would wait!?!”

Closeness, 25%
How close are you to the person you made a commitment to. Is it just a so-so friend, or perhaps a co-worker that you’re friendly with but owe nothing to? A five on the scale is someone who will slit your throat (deservedly) if you ditched them. Irreparable betrayal really.

Worth the Wait, 20%
Is experiencing this event with the other person going to be worth the wait. Sure, you could go ahead and watch the Game of Thrones finale with anyone, but wouldn’t it be better to wait and enjoy it with your die-had fan? If so, that’s a high Worth the Wait score. Also, this is the category to take into account how important this thing is to the two of you. Is your bond with so-and-so all about roller coasters and you’d have the most fun with them? Or you traditionally ALWAYS do this one thing together. Then that’s a five.

Frequency of Event, 10%
Is this the kind of thing where opportunities will come again? Or is it a once-in-a-lifetime deal? A brunch or a movie can happen quite often, so that would score low. Taking a trip to pet penguins in Antartica? That’s probably pretty rare, score it a five.

Crucial Figure, 10%
Is the person you’re waiting for a big part of the event? Are they central to the planning process, will they have connections to free housing or VIP seating? That’s what this category is about. If this person is irreplaceable, then they should rank highly.
Let’s take a real life example. Piper is headed to jail for transporting drug money across international borders. Her fiance, Larry, promises that he’ll wait for her to be released before continuing Mad Men. How long should Larry wait?

He verbally promised he would wait (score it a 5), he and Piper are engaged (5), it seems like watching Mad Men is their couple thing (4), they could likely replace Mad Men with another show when she gets out (2), and Piper isn’t really a crucial figure to watching the series (1). Final answer: 3.9.

The timeframe part is up to Larry. If he wants to be a backstabbing, lying asshole, then he can wait 3.9 hours to watch Mad Men. If he wants to be a stand up guy, then he can wait up to 3.9 years for Piper to get out and watch Mad Men together. Your call Larry.

Please, use the spreadsheet, test it out. I think you'll find that it's both simple and effective. As always with my world changing spreadsheets, I welcome comments, questions, and improvements. This is just an alpha version, created in an evening, but I think it has the potential to change how we interact with each other. As rational, responsible adults who shouldn't get upset at each other for superfluous stuff. You know, like what I did when my friend ditched me to get her tattoo. I'm still holding that one against her...

Caveat: This “how long should I wait” formula doesn’t work for things that can only happen during certain timeframes. If an event happens on a specific date and time, then it’s simply a matter of whether you can go together or not. Along those same lines, this formula doesn’t work for things that you absolutely can’t delay. Like, say, childbirth. “It says I should wait 3.47 weeks to give birth, should we go ahead and tell the doctor?” No.

01 July 2015

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Okay, so the first Magic Mike wasn’t technically a dance movie since it was Steven Soderbergh’s attempt to make a semi-serious film about male strippers. For the sequel, Soderbergh is just exec producing and XXL has totally turned into a dance movie! I mean, SYTYCD and Step Up alum Twitch is in this thing! That's when you know it's official.

A little backstory on my history with Magic Mike. I (mistakenly) made like half a dozen friends go watch it with me on opening night in 2012, leveraging Soderbergh's auteur credentials and the pull of Channing Tatum. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t very good. I mean, I loved it, and Matthew McConaughey was amazing, but Magic Mike wasn’t say, The Wrestler. It tried to sort of be dark and have human emotions but really, Magic Mike ended up squarely in the “pretty awful but fun” camp.

This time out, XXL has embraced its inner campiness, turned the focus on pure entertainment, and tossed aside all previous pretentiousness and given us a movie that is just fun, fun, fun. Spoiler alert: This movie is gonna rank really high on my dance movie scoring scale, like frighteningly high. Like maybe the best one ever high. Beware.

Tagline: “Back to the grind.” Someone should receive an award for this tagline. Absolute perfection.

1. Plot (6)
Magic Mike, aka Channing Tatum, left stripping behind at the end of the first movie to pursue his custom furniture business and home life with a steady girlfriend. Like he says in XXL, he was ready for that Downton Abbey life. Instead, with a broken heart and a head of shattered dreams, he’s ready to join his friends, the former Kings of Tampa, when they come calling for “one last ride."

While this isn’t exactly an original premise, there are two or three set pieces along the way, as the boys road trip toward a stripper convention, that makes XXL a cut above the rest. Also, as my fellow moviegoer pointed out, there’s no “oh shit, everything is going wrong” downturn in the story. XXL is simply a joy ride all the way through with no lame speed bumps to slow things down.

2. Can the lead characters dance (10)
There was a time where I would get into arguments about whether Channing Tatum could dance or not. My take is that while he’s pretty good, he definitely wasn’t amazing or anything in the first Step Up. Of course, as hindsight always proves, I’m an idiot and of course Channing Tatum is a great dancer. And when he’s stripper dancing, like wow. Off the charts. If you thought Magic Mike had some fantastic dancing, XXL will take it to the next level.

And while Tatum is clearly the star of the show, this time out, four of his buddies get a nice amount of screen time too. Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Matt Bomer, and Kevin Nash aren’t on Tatum’s level but they can definitely get the job done dance wise. So yeah, get your dollar bills ready.

3. How’re the dance scenes? (10)
I’ll just leave a big fat "10" up there and let you watch this movie for yourself to witness the dance stuff. Suffice to say, there’s something for everyone. There’s sexy dance scenes, fun dance scenes, hilarious dance scenes, acrobatic dance scenes, “OMG what is happening” dance scenes, and genuinely holy shit dance scenes — the end one with Twitch and Tatum doing mirrored choreography was quite impressive.

Plus, there’s a Backstreet Boys scene by Manganiello that may have been my favorite of the movie. Yeah, just go watch XXL already. I guess you could take a peek at the trailer if you're still not convinced.

4. How’s the love story? (6)
Short, painless, and mostly non-existent! Simply subtracting the awful Cody Horn from Magic Mike was an instant improvement. Sure, Amber Heard is nominally around to be the love interest — and she’s okay doing a blonde Kristin Stewart impression — but this movie isn’t about heteronormative relationships.

Instead, the relationships that XXL focuses are the bromances between Channing and his boys. You get the feeling that everyone really missed each other during Mike’s time away and while there may be some hurt feelings, the guys actually talk them out. And at one point Channing even gets his cell phone tossed out the window because his friends want him to focus and "be present," to bond during their last weekend together. Sweet stuff! And deserving of a higher than average grade.

5. Rate the sidekicks (10)
Technically speaking, each of the other Kings of Tampa are Magic Mike’s sidekicks but the movie goes out of its way to imbue each of them with a personality or backstory, unlike the first movie. And as it turns out, that depth makes for a much funnier and enjoyable movie. They're co-stars this time around, and not just window dressing. So let’s set aside the idea that Big Dick Richie, Tito, Ken, and Tarzan are sidekicks so we can focus on the amazing cameos in XXL.

Seriously, what a cameo list. Let’s start up top with Jada Pinkett Smith, who was just amazing in her role as Rome, proprietor of a Savannah's best-kept secert and eventually the guys’ MC. Jada is great in this movie, like G-R-E-A-T. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Housed within Rome’s house of pleasure are Donald Glover, Twitch, and I swear it’s true, former NFL superstar and Hall of Famer Michael Strahan. I was like, “Wait, is that seriously Michael Strahan? No!” Also, apparently Ric Flair made a cameo? But I didn’t see him. Maybe on the rewatch…

On top of that, Andie MacDowell, sweet sweet Andie MacDowell is in this movie. And she’s perfect. In fact, every cast member in this movie is perfect actually. Unlike, you know, the disaster that was Cody Horn and Alex Pettyfer in the original. Speaking of Pettyfer, his career went down the tubes pretty fast eh?

6. Best line (7)
There’s a lot of conversations in the movie, and a lot of lines directed squarely at the movie’s prime demographic: thirsty women! Especially those raised on a diet of late Nineties era boy bands, Disney movie references, and say, young adult book/movie phenomenons. Not to mention that little Fifty Shades of Grey thing. Whoever wrote XXL definitely knew what to serve up to its audience in wink wink asides and references.

I can’t even remember most of the good lines (“We’re like healers or something…”) but the best one was definitely when Tatum is introducing himself to Heard’s character. “Nice to meet you. [I'm] Magic…*twirls*…Magic Mike.” So good! Just watch it. Also, the guys perform as "Resurrection," which is kind of a good name for a boy band. Plus there's five main characters, and they're from Florida...aha! I see what you did there you clever script geniuses.

7. Music (8)
Of course there was “Pony,” just like there had to be. But then there were the D’Angelo and Bruno Mars covers, by Matt Bomer and Donald Glover respectively. Also: Bomer can sing man, he does an acapella cover of Bryan Adam’s “Heaven.” Bryan Adams in a stripper movie, who would have thought?

Throw in some Jodeci, some R.Kelly and 112, and the soundtrack was definitely headed toward the top of the charts. The clincher for me was Glass Animal’s “Gooey” over the closing credits. “Gooey” is great and totally unexpected and well, it’s just high scores all around. Am I gushing, can you see it on my face?

8. Fashion (5)
I mean, most of the characters are in (very temporary) tank tops and half-naked for most of the movie so there’s not much fashion to discuss. Amber Heard’s character had her troubled hippie/hipster look down, but nothing else really stood out.

Oh wait, there’s the costumes that the guys put on to perform. After throwing out all their old getups, there's a “putting it all together” montage that involves lots of cutting and snipping as the guys make their new outfits. Tarzan even shows off his glitter skills. It was all very arts and crafts. Hello glitter! Plus, shout out to body oil, which definitely had its own line item in the budget.

9. Cultural Impact (8)
XXL isn’t just mere throwaway entertainment either. A movie centered around a couple of dicks is getting the feminist Mad Max: Fury Road once-over and it mostly fits. "This time the movie explores more about male/female gender identity and dynamics, suggesting that the strippers, whose bodies are sexually objectified the way actresses often are in cinema, can not only shamelessly impersonate women but give them what they really want: attention and pleasure.” Click on for the think pieces:
10. Miscellaneous (8)
Well, we can hope XXL eclipses all box office records but it’s been contending with Jurassic World and Inside Out so it won't ever likely hit #1 at the box office, like it so obviously deserves. Seriously, this was one of the most enjoyable movies of the year so far -- not even grading on a dance movie curve -- and I won’t be shutting up about it for at least a month.

After all, XXL was about fulfilling fantasies and chasing dreams. When revamping their routines, each of the main characters do so with their personal ambitions/interests in mind. For example, Big Dick Richie is a man afraid of fire who has been doing a fireman routine for years. What he ends up choreographing is far more in tune with his inner self. The XXL lesson is that if you put your passion into your work, you’ll have a greater chance to succeed. Or something like that. There are a lot of quasi-deep moments in XXL, like seriously.

Also, if you've made it this far into the review, then you clearly are interested in Chocolate City, aka the black Magic Mike. Chocolate City has Ginuwine and Tyson Beckford in it. (Tyson Beckford, where you been!?!) After Chocolate City will surely come the Asian, Hispanic, etc. versions of Magic Mike right? #weneeddiversity

Yup, just like I suspected, Magic Mike XXL topped the charts for my dance movie series, narrowly edging out Centerstage by one point. It also tied Centerstage's record for three perfect category scores. What else can I say really? This is a good ass movie, and guaranteed to be a fun time simply for its ridiculousness.

While you go buy tickets for XXL, I'm gonna go work on my body roll because seriously, you cannot get anywhere in life without a decent body roll, right?