31 March 2009

Looking Good?

Redesigning is fun! Unless you spend days working on something and then when you show it to a few people, the majority says, "I like the old one better." Back to the drawing board and another few days later, I decided to just commit to the simplest look possible, without being too plain. I wanted something a little fancier than this look but it's the most efficient and cleanest. Plus I like the colors.

The reasons for redesigning? I needed to switch off of FTP-ing to my own domain. Blogger's newer features, with widgets and drag and drop template adjusting, were all unavailable unless the blog was hosted on blogspot. And I wanted to have the "older posts" option when you hit the end of the page, as well as the hierarchy styled archives.

Basically, I just started a new blog but then transferred posts from the old blog to a new one with Blogger's new export/import function. So now I'm going to forward visitors from jonyang.org directly to a blogspot address. What kind of havoc this will cause is unknown at the moment. I'm curious what will happen to old links that reference jonyang.org. Will it all just go kaput? I hope not because I'm done redesigning.
[Update] Okay things went wonky. So I'm just going the simple route and use jonyang.org as a semi-static main page with the blog residing here.

[Update 2] Superlum is a genius, he has it working exactly the way I wanted it to. New blogspot address redirected from the normal address, but still with access to old files. Wow! Or should I say, super!
Also, the new look will herald me taking the blog in a slightly new direction, namely making it the clearing house for all my writing stuff. The book is coming out in t-minus six weeks and everything needs to be focused for that purpose.

If you hate the new template, if you have issues with anything, if something looks funky, please tell me! I won't take it personally, promise.

28 March 2009

Nana (2005)

Listening to: Mika Nakashima, "Glamorous Sky" (lyrics) and Yuna Ito, "Endless Story."

Ameer preceded this movie with the words, "I don't know if you'll like this." Then the titles came up. Big pink comic book letters intro, a movie about two girls looking for love and finding friendship, all encased in a J-Pop/Rock setting. How could I not like this movie? Apparently "Nana" is a top selling manga and this live action movie introduces the first story arc about two girls with the same name but entirely different backgrounds and styles. Nana O. is punk rock and dark, Nana K. is sugary sweet and armed with the biggest smile known to man.

While the story isn't anything ground breaking, the movie introduces the characters and their situations well. Nana K. has followed her boyfriend to Tokyo, Nana O. is there to make it big in the music scene. Complications ensue, love is lost and found, and everything is done (teen) romantic comedy style. But what sets the movie apart is that there's actually some good emotional depth involved. The two actresses who play the dueling Nanas are both incredibly captivating and charming. The movie reminds me a bit of Wicked, with the perky Galinda and reticent Elphaba inspiring and supporting each other.
"You never talk about yourself, it makes me feel lonely."
-Nana K. to Nana O.-
There's a lot of intentional and unintentional comedy in the film and the outfits on all the characters are outrageous and constantly comment worthy. We ended up watching the movie twice during the course of the day and I have no hesitation in saying that it's great. Highly recommended for lazy afternoons on the weekend when you need a bit of spark, a bit of heart, and something to take your mind off of things.

There are two main songs in the movie, listed and linked to up above. The actress who plays Mika Nakashima is actually a singer in real life and she brings authenticity to her role because of it. Her song hit number one on the charts. The other song, sung by a rival group, was headlined by Yuna Ito, who jump started her music career through the movie.

26 March 2009

Everyone Else and You

I've been buzzing about this thing for about a week now. Touch Graph is an application for Facebook that shows you how your friends are connected and interconnected visually. I know, I know, another Facebook app, blah blah blah. But this one is seriously cool and kind of useful. At least for me.

Awhile back, Lilly and I had this idea to create a Friend Web that you could carry around with you. It shows who your friends are, how they're connected, and what friend grouping they're in. It cuts down a lot on the "wait, who are we talking about again?" It was also a great idea for parents to know exactly who their kids' friends were. Well, Facebook neatly solved this problem because if you have an Internet capable computer/friend, you could just show people online. But, even then, the missing ingredient was a visual depiction of your friends and how they were related. Hello Touch Graph! We've been waiting for you!

Here's how Touch Graph works. By leveraging the connections that are already embedded in your Facebook information, the program comes up with a giant relational web of your friends. Those who have lots of connections to you and other people in your web are closer to the center. Those with fewer connections are further. Simple right? Keep in mind this doesn't mean those closer to you are your "better" friends, it just shows connectivity.

When you make your friend graph, you can adjust the settings to show however many friends you want. I'd suggest cranking it as high as possible for the best view. I tried smaller sample sizes but it wasn't as interesting. So once you crank your selection pool to the max, all of your friends are ranked, generally in order of how many connections they have to your other friends. But higher ranks are given to friends who are connectors between different cliques. They call this "Betweenness Centrality," which is a metric to measure a person's importance within a social network. Here's a cool article and explanation about that here.

So what's a clique? Different colors are used to show clusters and cliques. All your friends in a particular color are probably friends with each other, but not connected to other people outside of that group. It's really accurate and works quite well. I mean, the colors definitely showed my various cliques of friends, people who were "one-offs (unconnected to anybody except me)," and revealed all sorts of interesting information. You can also choose to organize your friend web by location, thus finding out how many people are in San Diego or New York, for example.

When you switch to pyramid view, it shows you by semi-tiers who's the most important people in your social network. Like who's connected to the most people, or who's the gateway friend for your other friends. This is freaking fascinating isn't it? It's probably not anything you didn't already know about your own friends, but for someone else to look at your graph, it really gives them an idea of your social worlds.

I'm just happy I finally found a good personal use for Facebook. All this time I've been doing it because everyone else in the world does it, but all those hours wasted on it has been repaid by the wonder that is Touch Graph.

What I'd like to see is someone's graph with two or three large dominant cliques. I tend to want to mix as many of my friends together as possible and I really only have one big group of all muxed up friends. When I visit you next, I want to see your Friend Web, thanks. For my settings under "Advanced" I used: Min User Photo (1), Min Edge Photo (0), and Min Network User (5)

While I'm at it. This other Facebook app is interesting too. It's called Socialistics and digs up demographic dirt on your friends in graph format. It's still got a lot of work needed but I was able to find out, for example, that 42% of my (Facebook) friends are married, 14% are engaged, 20% in a relationship, and 21% single. Also, only 11% of my friends are my age, with 56% of my friends being 26-28 years old. Once this thing can tell me how many friends younger than me are married/engaged, then I'll really know how far behind I am. Can't wait!

23 March 2009

The Fempires

"It sounds like fun and games -- the boozy, all-woman answer to those close-knit gangs of Hollywood boy-men captured on screen in 'Entourage' and embodied by the real-life Apatown, the industry moniker for filmmaker Judd Apatow's coterie of actors and screenwriters including Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen. But these women also work hard: Ms. [Diablo] Cody, Ms. [Dana] Fox and Ms. [Lorene] Scafaria can command seven figures to write a movie that makes it into theaters with big stars. Ms. [Liz] Meriwether (the others call her 'the freshman') is on her way to joining them. That’s no small achievement when you consider that among the screenwriters who are in steady demand for major projects, only about 20 are women. Don’t even try to credit their bankability to their looks."
-An Entourage of Their Own-

20 March 2009

I Love You, Man (2009)

Not normally a movie I'd pay to watch, since I don't like 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and other Apatow-esque guy movies. If you want to read a positive review of this movie, click here.

"But what I appreciated most was the way that the film captured the modern American male condition with thought and humor. On the whole, when men get married, study after study has demonstrated that they are more likely to depend more on their spouses for emotional support than they do on others, as opposed to females, who are typically able to maintain a more extensive social network. As a result, widowed men experience higher rates of depression and shorter periods until remarriage."
-Slashfilm review-

I don't think the movie captured much of anything but it is a great concept and can be the launching pad for fun conversations about bromances. The conceit of the movie is that Paul Rudd is about to get married (to Rashida Jones) but he has no guy friends, which indicates he's flawed in some way. Awkward moments, dumb jokes, and a few laughs ensue. Yawn.

The only thing that did strike home was how the movie highlighted the difficulties males can face in trying to meet other males. It's something that could be a problem, I guess, but really, males bond over lots of things, especially hobbies. So just go find an activity you sort of enjoy, do it on a regular basis, and you'll make a guy friend or two. Maybe not one you'll say "I love you" to but that's okay, isn't it?

19 March 2009

I seen, I saw

During the past week, I saw six movies in six days. It was the Asian American Film Festival and there's nothing better I like to do than watch a ton of movies. They were offering six movies for the price of five, a deal I couldn't resist. The problem was, what to watch? I couldn't make heads or heels of most of the films so relied on the handy dandy guide that highlighted the feature films. I wish I could have seen some of the shorts or picked a random film or two but there was just too much to see.

While it's hard to pin down exactly what constitutes an Asian American film (something made by Asians? a film about Asians? anything set in Asia?), I definitely love that SF is such a hotbed of Asian American culture and activism. To not take advantage of these events would be criminal. So I picked out a few films, set off for a week of wonderful viewing, and had enough popcorn for a lifetime. Actually, that's a lie. I could probably eat popcorn every day of my life and still not have enough. Extra butter, in the middle and on top please!

A neat phenomenon of watching all these movies was that I didn't have any preconceptions of what I was about to see and few expectations. I didn't watch any of the trailers, didn't know most of the directors, and relied solely on a few lines of description to choose which movie to watch. It was exciting to sit there as a film opened, with no real idea of what might happen or what it was actually about. I know that's also dangerous, because you could walk into a two hour waste of your life, but aside from one exception, every film I saw was worth the time and I'd definitely recommend watching as many films as possible next year. I know I will be.

I doubt many of these movies will be available here, or even on Netflix, but I wanted to share short reviews of the stuff I saw anyway. In order of descending awesomeness.
(1) Dirty Hands (Harry Kim) - Subtitled "The Art and Crimes of David Choe" and the one film I really wanted to see at the festival. It didn't disappoint, not one bit. Choe is an amazingly versatile artist; a charismatic, crazy, and troubled soul; and this documentary captures and reveals all of it. Heck, I could watch the unedited footage of this stuff and probably totally love it. [Trailer]

(2) The Panda Candy (Peng Lei) - A gentle surprise. The Panda Candy, about two hipster lesbians (sort of) looking for love, reminded me a little bit of Lost in Translation in mood and sentiment. Unexpected moments abound, whether they be humorous, beautiful, or poignant. I'd be curious to watch it again to see how I feel after a repeat viewing. I loved the way the film was shot and composed. [Trailer]

(3) Lust, Caution (Ang Lee) - This much discussed and controversial movie from Ang Lee is probably the only one readily available Stateside. It wasn't in theaters very long, and did quite poorly here, but that doesn't mean it's not worth watching. I have a ton to say about the movie, both good and bad, but I'll leave it alone. One helpful thing to note is that Eileen Chang's translation of her short story title was actually "The Spy Ring," which is a useful tidbit. A friend let me borrow Chang's Love in a Fallen City and I highly recommend her writing. It's beautiful, simply put. [Trailer]

(4) High Noon (Heiward Mak) - A stylish movie about seven Hong Kong youths growing up without direction or conscience. The director was only twenty four when she made the movie and I was really impressed with her grasp of male relationships and her visual flair -- even if it was a bit overdone in spots. The film did drag a bit and I had a few quibbles with the last quarter of the movie but overall it was pretty good. [Trailer]

(5) Whatever It Takes (Christopher Wong) - Edward Tom is the first year principal of a high school in the South Bronx. He's passionate, involved, and extremely hard working. The school challenges its students to rise above their environment and circumstances in pursuit of higher education. The setup sounds intriguing but the documentary plays out more like a feel good story than anything that truly illuminates the struggles of a school serving an underprivileged area. The decision to focus on one particular student lent too narrow of a view to the story and I wish we had been able to follow more the students' stories. [Trailer]

(6) 24 City (Jia Zhangke) - This was highly anticipated but ultimately majorly disappointing. A mixture of documentary and staged monologues, the entire movie was just too slow moving and impossible to get into without knowing what was actually true. While I was really interested about the topic at hand -- a Chinese factory being torn down to be replaced by commercial high rises -- the documentary provided no insight or entertainment. [Trailer]

15 March 2009

The Golden Apple

If you dream it, it can happen. I dreamed of a new laptop and it arrived in a beautifully wrapped brown package the other day. Shiny, aluminum, expensive. Dreams cost money nowadays don't you know? In this case, dreams cost me close to a grand and a half and was probably fiscally irresponsible. The decision came down to: rent, laptop, travel money. The safe answer was rent. The responsible answer was travel money (2009 is shaping up to be a big wedding year). The only acceptable answer was laptop.

As Ameer pointed out to me, it's not like I'm one of those people who just lightly use their laptops. I'm on it all the time and I require speed, precision, and mouth watering goodies. The last laptop I purchased was five-ish years ago. Dinosaurs still ruled the Earth when my computer was cutting edge. I was tempted to go straight to the top of the line for maximum bang but really, I'm neither a professional graphic designer or video editor so that might have been overkill. I settled for a low end Macbook -- but juiced up the RAM and HDD -- and figured that anything faster than my driving would probably be a huge upgrade.

I also now have a video camera so we can totally hang out on Saturday nights video chatting or amusing ourselves with Photo Booth. And by "we" and "ourselves" I mean "me." Here's a short happy timeline of my computer use through the years.
Middle school - "Wow, that's an awesome green turtle, I can make it go right how?", Oregon Trail

High school - Word processing, lame AOL chat sessions with stupid made up names. King's Quest and Minotaur (amazing multi-player game)

College - Late nights in computer labs, the magic of email, building basic websites and image manipulation. Avoid Starcraft like the plague because I know it will be the death of me.

The year after college - I finally have my very own computer, I discover blogging and downloading music, I make plans to marry the Internet, I start saving for a ring. Install Starcraft and as predicted, it's the end of me.

2004 - My first laptop and my first Mac (twelve inch iBook), freedom rings and there is much rejoicing.

2006 - A new PC for me and the introduction of double (even triple) screens in my life. I'm like super productive. Super.

Now - New Macbook, to infinity and beyond.

10 March 2009

On Rainbows

My obsession with Wizard of Oz, and by extension, Judy Garland, is well documented. I don't know exactly why I have this love of everything Wizard-related. I could probably give a dozen reasons, all of them truer than the last. I liked the movie because of the songs. I like exploring the history and trivia surrounding the movie. I like thinking about how long ago 1939 was.

I liked reading L.Frank Baum's thirteen sequels. I like the Wizard of Oz story and characters as a parable for life. I like the way the story is constantly re-interpreted and re-envisioned. I like Judy Garland's rags to riches story. I like Judy Garland's voice. I cheered for her life highs and felt pained at her (many) lows. I like that her original name was Frances Ethel Gumm. There's a good chance I'm partial to brunettes and throaty voices because of Judy. Who knows?

It's nice to have random obsessions. Without them, what would give your life meaning? Certainly not life itself right? Here's an awesome Wizard of Oz related story, "Who Stole the Ruby Slippers?"
"Throughout her famously up-and-down career, which ended Elvis-style in 1969 -- an accidental overdose of sleeping pills, rigor mortis in a London bathroom -- Garland was particularly admired by gay men. She was less guarded than most stars, and they were drawn to this brassy candor. After all, being unguarded wasn't an option for gay men in Garland's day; they could only long, like Dorothy, to live in Technicolor. They secretly referred to themselves as 'Friends of Dorothy,' and took solace in Garland's apparent sympathy -- not least, perhaps, because two of her five husbands turned out to be gay. 'If you're afraid to love, if you're afraid to feel emotion, you can't know Judy Garland,' one fan tells me.
-Who Stole the Ruby Slippers?-

08 March 2009

Watchmen (2009)

This movie is polarizing reviewers. Artistic masterpiece versus incredible waste of time. I've been waiting for the movie for months, maybe a year even. And now, having sat through two and a half hours of it? I think it's better to invest a few hours into reading the graphic novel before watching the movie.

The translation from page to film is pretty accurate but there's too much context and subtext missing. I'd even suggest that having a good idea of how/why Watchmen is important in the history of comics and superheroes is necessary for full enjoyment. Don't get me wrong, I think the movie is well made and Zach Snyder did an amazing job, but I'm beginning to believe Alan Moore when he says that his work is unfilmmable.

I was worried for my fellow movie-goers who hadn't read the book. I was sure they would think the movie was terrible. Even as a superfan, I thought the pace dragged a little (but was pleased with how much wasn't cut) and the tone was too one-note. I think people are going to go into the movie thinking it's a superhero flick and halfway through, will realize that they're getting nothing of the sort. There's entertainment here, but nothing like Iron Man or The Dark Knight Returns. In comparison to the latter, I'd much prefer to re-watch Watchmen over and over though, because there's more you could unearth with multiple viewings, unlike Batman, who tries to give a nod to symbolism and meaning but is really just vapid in comparison.

In sum, the film version of Watchmen functions better as a visual companion to the book and doesn't necessarily work very well as a standalone piece. Don't watch it unless you've read it, that's what I'm saying.

Update: I take it all back. Watchmen is in (financial) trouble! Go watch it immediately. Then watch it again.

07 March 2009

Revolutionary Road (2008)

Geezes, what a movie. It's intense, it's serious, it's goddam a super scary story. A young couple stuck in suburbia and trapped in their lives, together but totally separate. The intensity of the fights between Leo and Kate are enough to make any veteran of relationship battles cringe and wince. If you've ever wondered what you might look like when you are yelling at your significant other, this movie pretty much shows you. It's ugly. And Leo is so manipulative with his words, turning every argument around on its head. It's so real it's crazy.

This is probably the best, most emotionally impactful, movie I've seen all year. I've dubbed it "my new Valentine's Day movie" because it feels like something I should revisit annually to remember what not to do. Fantastic film.

06 March 2009

Examined Life (2009)

The movie opens with a quote from Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living." That sets the stage for an hour and a half of watching/listening to big thinkers talk about big things. The film is technically about philosophy and could serve as that but it struck me more as an experiment in movie making. Similar to Richard Linklater's "Waking Life," the entire running time is taken up by various people walking/sitting and talking to the camera. But unlike Waking Life, the topics and charisma of (some of) the speakers didn't put me to sleep.

There's a lot to think about when coming out of the movie, but because of the rapid pace, you kind of lose the ideas that germinate while watching it. Thus, I took out my iPhone and started taking notes. Midway into the movie, an old lady leaned over and said that it was very distracting. Initially chastened, I put the phone away. Then I thought about it some more and decided that I should be able to take notes on my phone if I wanted to. I assumed she was bothered by the light so I dimmed the screen down to the minimum and continued note taking.

Some of the topics mused over and talked about: the moral obligation to not just avoid harming others, but also to help. From behind her rose-tinted glasses, one woman talked about how in our search for meaning, we need to have anxiety about our actions and decisions. There was someone noting the difference between religious evangelism ("be like me so I can love you properly") versus the ideal of cosmopolitian love ("be who you are and I'll love you as I love myself"). There was a discussion about being handicapped, whether it be physical or mental, and how that undermines and alters the idea of Rousseau's social contract.

The two most charismatic talkers of the group were Cornel West and Slavoj Zizek (the subject of the filmmaker's first movie). Zizek stood around in a landfill talking about ecology as the new religion, and how more alienation from the environment would be better for us. Mr. West used his particular brand of bebop charm to talk about how philosophizing is learning to die.

These are just some of things that came up in the movie, of course. Every utterance is probably worth discussion and while it's certainly interesting, I can definitely understand some people getting tired and falling asleep. Pump in some caffeine and stay awake!