July 2009 Archives

One Trillion Dollars Visualized

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This visualization is done by Jess Bachman, who also created the fantastic Death and Taxes poster.

San Diego Comic Con 2009 - Day 3 - Saturday

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Since it seemed as if the major studio panels were moved away from Saturday and onto Friday, the exhibition hall seemed crushed with people today as the busiest day of the con was underway. Team Uni in a mostly concerted effort, and discouraged from the infinitely long lines for the panels hit the exhibition hall floor in an effort to obtain more signature/sketches and make more purchases; we were not alone in this thought, and we soon found ourselves meeting the artists of Flight and visiting many independent artists.

After leaving the crowded convention center, our group made a quick stop at the local pinkberry, before the final event of the day: the Alice in Wonderland Touring Exhibition (flickr), which is traveling the world showing off props, costumes and set pieces from the upcoming movie by Tim Burton. After passing through the doors and falling down the rabbit hole, there are many props of various sizes and function on display; all were very impressive.

We skipped the masquerade again this year; while last year's Mythbusters panel was definitely interesting; getting in line for the panel seemed quite hopeless, and the two panels ahead of Adam and Jamie were somewhat uninteresting: Human Target and Vampire Diaries.

San Diego Comic Con 2009 - Day 2 - Friday

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For a Friday the comic con felt more like a Saturday; I spent most of the day camped out in either Ballroom 20 or Hall H; when the line for Hall H begins to snake around the convention center, there's a problem. When the panel is nothing more than a video telecast, one starts to wonder why they don't just set up monitors and screens outside for the people standing in line, or simulcasting to other parts of the convention.

The day started off with the Stargate Universe panel, which seems to follow the pattern established by Star Trek: set the first one about exploration of worlds; set the second on a base, and throw the third show out to the middle of the galaxy and have them try to find their way home.

The BSG: The Plan/Caprica panel followed SGU in Ballroom 20, which consisted of Ron Moore, David Eick, Jane Espenson, Edward James Olmos and Esai Morales. Halfway through the panel, Grace Park showed up. The Plan is a retelling of certain events from the series of BSG retold from the Cylon point of view, and Espenson described it as a sort of reverse puzzle in which she had to pull it altogether to make the story work.

Olmos said he hopes that his vision for continuing the BSG timeline is a story in which Col. Tigh shows up at his door and says "Sir, we have a problem". He also noted that BSG leads perfectly into Bladerunner, he considers Inspector Gaff from Bladerunner to be a distant descendent of Adama.

Esai Morales said that in watching science fiction, he was always wondering why Hispanics weren't in space; mockingly he said in an Cheech Marin accent: "What happened, man?"

I ended the day with a slight sunburn on my arms; the injury of a long wait outside for Hall H to view Focus Entertainment's 9. I followed up by watching the panels for Legion and District 9. Legion is an apocalyptic angel horror movie, while District 9 is about alien refugees in South Africa; Legion looks terrible, but District 9, for a 30 million dollar movie seems quite impressive and interesting.

The Empire Muggs Back

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Take some blank Mighty Muggs, get some artists, and have them create Mighty Muggs for a Charity Auction.

Some of them are really quite creative, and they will be on display at San Diego Comic Con 2009.

David Sedaris Delivers A Pizza

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18 Essential Maker Skills

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"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love

Inspired by the 100 Essential Geek Skills on Geekdad, Mike Hord came up with 18 Essential Skills for a Maker.

The only thing I haven't done is #18:

    Program a microcontroller- nothing fancy, just something along the lines of the Arduino. Just enough to make it spin a motor on a trigger or light an LED or sound an alarm.

Analyzing the Cheesecake Factory

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Michael Ruhlman recently blogged about his experience at the Cheesecake Factory:
    "So, clearly, decent food can be had at more than reasonable prices, but it takes some careful choosing on a menu with more than 200 offerings. The biggest drawback is the mall-like atmosphere, a sense of faux everything that is perhaps inevitable in any large chain. The fact that any of the 146 CFs around the country can put out this astonishing variety of food is an impressive work of corporate organization and efficiency. But I left feeling sad, and not sure why."
It has been several years since I have been in a Cheesecake Factory; my eating tastes actually set me on a trajectory away from chain restaurants, so I tend towards local independents. There was a period in my life where Cheesecake Factory was a regular destination, and that had more to do with the people I was with than with the food.

I think a great part of CF's success has to do with the feel of the restaurant; while I find it somewhat off putting to sit in a restaurant with walls that look like cheesecake, it has the fa├žade of being a fancy restaurant with the waitstaff in formal attire and a lobby which features their desserts in a large refrigerated glass display case. It's an American family restaurant which does everything, making it a common ground choice where there is likely something for everyone.

Cheesecake Factory's "no reservations" policy makes it a possible choice for those who decide on the spur of the moment to go eat out at a restaurant. I once waited for three hours to be seated at a Cheesecake Factory with a group of 14, which gave us ample time to talk and catch up. During this wait, I realized that while I wouldn't mind going to Cheesecake Factory with friends if we just needed convenient sit-down food, it would never be a place that I would take a date to -- the atmosphere of the Cheesecake Factory, and the quality of the food didn't put it in that class; in fact, the Cheesecake Factory seems like the kind of place that my friends and I might have gone to when we were still mallrats in high school; the food had variety, portions were large, and relatively cheap, and with food palettes raised on fast food, Cheesecake Factory would have definitely been a step up. For someone at my age who has eaten has restaurants and had some truly exceptional food, a place like Cheesecake Factory is simply a disappointment; in catering to the masses, their food lacks a certain sense of distinctiveness.

The food selection of Cheesecake Factory is a little reminiscent of being in a mall food court; every kind of cuisine you can find, all coming out of one kitchen. The Cheesecake Factory can be an introduction to the dish, but it's the generic version of the dish; nothing I've ever had at the Cheesecake factory ever felt fresh or authentic, and their food to this day remains mostly unmemorable in taste or presentation. There's a certain sameness in Cheesecake Factories throughout the United States, but where I found the most variance on a location-by-location basis was the fried items; I've had some fried items burnt to near blackness, while others came from a perfect fryer; light, crispy and burning hot. That being said, I suspect most of the food served at Cheesecake Factory is likely pre-packaged, frozen or canned, only to be fried, boiled, baked, grilled or microwaved at the appropriate time for the restaurant patron; the next time you're there, try to ask them to make the Jambalaya without shrimp, and I suspect it can't be done because the dish comes to the restaurant in a frozen plastic bag. What makes me sad is coming to the realization that for the dishes to be so consistent across the nation that the food must all come from a real factory and flown and trucked thousands of miles before it arrives at the Cheesecake Factory kitchen, and ultimately served to a restaurant patron.

The World of G.I. Joe: Escaping Casualties in 20th Century

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    "The first war between G.I. Joe and Cobra (1985-86), as documented in the G.I. Joe animated series, was the most violent conflict in history never to result in a single casualty."
Slate: "That Was Way Too Close!": Wonderfully absurd escapes from mortal danger in the original G.I. Joe cartoon.

Wait, I've seen this before...

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Have you ever watched a tv/movie/videogame and thought "oh look, it's another case of the Trickster Mentor!" tvtropes.org collects the tropes currently found in modern media, and as comic strip xkcd points out, once you start reading it "is like rickrolling, but you're trapped all day".
Back in February, I bought a ticket for the King Tut exhibit when it first went on sale for Members of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. Called Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, this exhibit has been making its way around the world, and several years ago, I recall King Tut being in Los Angeles and being completely sold out during the last weeks of the exhibition, so I made sure to buy my tickets early for San Francisco. The show opened on June 27th, but I anticipated the opening week crowd and the 4th of July crowd to be far too crowded for a relaxed viewing, so I chose this weekend.

The tickets are expensive; tickets for the exhibition are 22.50 for adult members, and 27.50 (weekday M-Th), and 32.50 (weekends and holidays F-Su). Ticketholders are given a time when they may enter the exhibit; I chose the first showing of the day, at 9am. An audio tour is available ($6 members, $7 non members), which contains additional information about some of the objects in the exhibit, and is narrated by Omar Sharif.

The deYoung, which I am a regular patron of, has added an additional ticket area in order to accommodate the crowds for the King Tut exhibition; ticket booths to the left of the inner main entrance display the exhibit name and the ticket prices largely and brightly; ticket holders are then assigned a timeslot, and stand in line for the appropriate timeslot, much like standing in line for a movie at the local cinema. Ticketholders are then directed down the ramp to the lower level, where they are in line to enter the exhibit (and/or purchase the audio tour or a collectible limited edition print) . At the entrace of the exhibit, there are two large wooden doors, similar to the large doors at the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. Beyond the two wooden rooms is a short 90 second film, which all viewers watch before allowing patrons to go within the exhibition area. This is the first and final reminder of no food and drink, and no photography of any kind within the exhibit.

Museum security is tight, with several guards watching patrons within a room at all times; this has been the only show at the deYoung I've been to in all my years where photography is prohibited and the patrons respect that prohibition; I saw no errant flashes, nor did I hear a single click of a shutter during my viewing; I did however see a guard demand that an artist put away her sketchbook, as "sketching within in the exhibit is not allowed".

The rooms in which the items are exhibited are of varying sizes and light levels; one room may have normal light levels, while others are practically pitch dark, with only the items and placards illuminated by spotlights; the exhibits show a lot of care in the design of the display; the little information cards in the display case which detail the item are also posted up in larger print above the display, as well as the number which corresponds to the supplementary audio tour. Most of the items on display are sealed behind plexiglass from all sides, allowing a 360 degree viewing of the item; some items are relatively small items, and can be hard to see with the crowds; the exhibition itself is quite large, boasting over 130 items from the age of the Pharaohs.

While some of the pieces that one would expect are not part of this exhibit, it's still quite a breathtaking spectacle to see a golden funerary mask, even if it isn't King Tut's, and view with amazement that all of the items on display are over 3,000 years old. It should be said that not all the objects in the 130 count are from King Tut's tomb; approximately 40% of the objects on display are from Tutankhamun's tomb; the rest are items from that epoch and help describe the time period and customs of the ancient Egyptians; many of items I have seen before in books; the pictures in the books are misleading, as several of those items are smaller than I realized; but some things, such as the golden sarcophagus on display are much larger and more detailed than I imagined.