Sunday, January 29, 2006

Skip to My Lou

Last summer, I wrote that I was learning fingerpicking on the guitar using DVDs from Homespun Tapes. I've made a small recording of me playing "Skip to My Lou", a very simple song that sounds pretty interesting with the steady alternating bass beat from my thumb. This is the first song off that DVD set.

Skip to my Lou - 696K (44 seconds)

Thursday, January 26, 2006


I watched Munich yesterday. This is the latest film by Stephen Spielberg, and it has been hailed as one of his best. Unfortunately, I don't agree. Spielberg's bests include "Jaws", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Schindler's List", "Saving Private Ryan", and "Minority Report".

"Munich" felt disjointed. After a hurried opening to establish the atrocity of the Israeli team's kidnapping and massacre at the Munich Olympic games in 1972, the movie follows Israel's secret "mission" to exact revenge on the perpetrators of this crime. Many scenes follow of assassination after assassination. Killing begets more killing. Revenge begets more revenge. As the main character, Avner (played by Eric Bana), gets deeper into this "mission", he becomes disillusioned and paranoid.

It's a tough plot to "brighten". It's a bleak message. But the film seemed to be heavy handed in its delivery of this dark message. Spielberg does get his points across, but their presentation didn't seem as succinct as Tom Hanks uttering "Earn it."

I suspect that the outpouring of praise for this esteemed director has a lot to do with the subject matter (the parallels between Israel's "terrorist" retaliation and our country's own "war on terror" are plain). But as a movie, it fell short of cinematic greatness.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Your Sunday Bets

Let's pretend for a second that I know something about football (I don't). Let's next pretend that I'm called upon to "comment" on today's betting lines. Here's what I would write, under the moniker "Rick the Flip":

Pittsburgh at Denver, Denver by 3 - Denver by three!? Denver by three!? Take the Steelers! These guys are on a roll. The Steel Curtain is going to, uh, come down on these Broncos, and it's going to be a love fest for Cowher at last.

Carolina at Seattle, Seattle by 3.5 - When I saw the highlight reel of Seattle's win over Washington last week, all I kept thinking about "boy, that's some foggy stadium." Then I saw the wide shots, and Seattle's stadium is downright scary. Take Seattle. This has home field advantage written all over it.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Best Movies Watched in 2005

(This is my fifth such list. I have done this for the years 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.)

I saw only thirteen movies last year, two of them in the theater. Out of this small set, I really really liked The Interpreter, the Sean Penn/Nicole Kidman movie whose plot revolves around a United Nations interpreter (played by Kidman). The director was Sydney Pollack. The movie has a languid pace, but it ratchets up the tension and suspense in logical ways. In some ways, it reminds me of Mystic River, in that it's a procedural. The movie is set in New York City, and it's photographed so well.

Other areas:
  • Best DVD Commentary: Sideways. Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church are so funny in this commentary that I listend to it multiple times. There's a combination of production reminisces, viewing reactions, and plain old good banter between the two. It's worth checking out.
  • Favorite Male Acting: Ewan McGregor (Revenge of the Sith).
  • Favorite Female Acting: Julia Roberts (Ocean's Twelve).
  • Finally Glad I Watched: Ronin. My Architect. The Polar Express.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Best Books Read in 2005

My Previous Best Books: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

I only read twelve books in 2005. One of them was Snow Crash, by Neil Stephenson. I read this book back in its prime (early 1990s), and when I reread it in early 2005, I remember thinking "this is still hip!" This book has a great chapter one. This is a real favorite of mine.

My big book from 2005 was The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is a dense book, and it was while reading this book that I made a change in commuting habits, forgoing public transportation for the automobile (I had a job assignment that required car travel). It took me several months to get to the end of this loopy tale of woe. "The Brothers" is complex and dark. There are whole chapters that digress into the pressing issues of the time (religion versus state being one of them). The book brought to mind images of the frozen tundra, and desolate settings of the poor and destitute in Russia. All the humor in the book is dark, and sinister. I kept hearing a cackling laughter during all the parts that were funny, because it was usually at someone's grave expense. This is one of the great works, and it's worth the time to read.

Of all the books last year, I was most pleased with the last book that I read: Solo. Written by an Air Force pilot, Clyde Edgerton guides the reader through his passion for flying. He talks about each of the airplanes that he flew in Air Force training, and later in Vietnam. When he got the flying bug again, he talked about buying a smaller plane and how he ran a very informal shuttle service with it. It's clear throughout that Clyde loves flying, and I was glad he wrote about it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Last Year's Books and Movies

It was a quiet year for both reading and movie-watching. Only twelve books, and only thirteen movies. In fact, after "Revenge of the Sith", I didn't watch a movie in nearly six months!

I'll post some notables in my next entry.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Process Versus Product

Jenn's Knit Sweater
I was flipping through a new knitting book that my wife got in the mail. She wanted me to pick out some projects that she could make for me. (She had just finished a nice vest, and I liked how it turned out.)

This knitting book, by Sally Melville, was quite inviting. I skimmed the pictures, marveling that the description of the actual stitching is done in a very terse language that looks like computer code ("Yf, sl 1 p-wise, yb, k to 5 sts remaining"). In Ms. Melville's The Purl Stitch ("don't try purling until you've learned knitting," she warns), she has a "meditation" on "Process versus Product." She states clearly that the process is "knitting," and the product is the final "garment." She strongly claims that the more valuable of the two is "the process." In fact, she writes "if you ask a knitter what she loves, she often won't even mention the finished garment."

Ms. Melville then applies the Process versus Product analogy to relationships ("dating and engagement" versus "the wedding"), to child caring (quick: what's the product? what's the process?), to education, to life itself.

For me, I most savor the times in my job when I can just "try things out": compiling code and seeing if it works, trying some different command or statement to see its effect. I love the process. Same with the guitar. My favorite part of working through the guitar DVDs is making my fingers learn the song. For most songs, this is a grueling process. However, once I finish learning the song, I am eager to go through the process again.

In the end, she says "it's what we do in the time we pass that makes up a lifetime. The journey is the destination." How wonderful to be reminded of this, from such an unexpected place!

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Law and Order

Happy New Year! Today, my wife and I sat through a lot of the "Law and Order" marathon on TNT. Great episodes! We are big fans of this long-running series.

When I was growing up, I was a huge fan of "M*A*S*H", and I felt I had seen every episode of that series. Of course, I was a fan of M*A*S*H before cable and all-day marathon viewings. I probably saw only 80% of that series. Back then, however, when I caught an episode that I hadn't seen, I'd be amazed. "How did this get past me?" Nowadays, with fan websites and episode guides and entire seasons on DVD, a TV series fan can be very certain that they've seen every episode. As for "Law and Order"? I know I haven't seen every episode, not by a long shot.