Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Everyone is special, Dash: Continued

Remember that elementary school feel-good song?

I am smart,
I am successful,
I am special,
I am... self-centered and narcissistic?

Apparently it wasn't a good idea after all.

(Part I here.)

On skiing

The highlights of my spring breaks since 2000 have looked like this: Trip to Europe, [whatever I did in 2001 besides paid babysitting], skiing in Colorado, Boston, skiing, skiing, skiing & Chicago, skiing. The general idea is that warmth is a copout. Not that Friday counts as spring break -- that is a concept now shelved with recess as a regular and satisfying chunk of time for many years while now a completely irrelevant concept, but still.

Anyway, Danielle and I went skiing at Caberfae on Friday. It was my third time skiing there and it's definitely great for the price if you can secure one of their midweek or college day discounts. They had a college day deal going on and my valid MCard gave me a lift ticket for $9 instead of $35. The warm weather last week caused some melting and re-freezing, so by the end of the day the hills were pretty icy. It was Danielle's first time, but we were still able to find routes where I could ski harder hills and she could ski down at her own pace. Fortunately she enjoyed it, and I'm once again successful at getting her hooked on my own interests (like Michigan football!), which makes life much easier. Hopefully we'll get to go once more this year. Probably only to Timber Ridge or one of the local landfills though.

On the Oscars: Yay for the Departed, boo for Happy Feet getting the Best Animated Feature award over Cars. C'mon now. I couldn't see that happen, though, since local cable monopoly Charter had its ABC feeds go to total fuzz twenty minutes into the ceremony.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Premiere premiere preview

Adobe is bringing some sort of video editing tools to the web, which is good news for those of us who enjoy recreational video editing but have become frustrated with the near-total lack of free options available for PCs.

I've made most of my simple videos from my digital camera clips using Windows Movie Maker. WMM is great for very basic web-friendly compilations requiring nothing more than assembling clips together and throwing a song or two underneath. It does slow-motion and basic cheesy effects. Beyond that, it sucks. You can't un-marry an audio file from a video track. You can only have one additional sound layer underneath the main video and audio. You can't delete a clip and have a gap; it automatically bumps the next one back to fill in the space. You can Ken Burns (slow zoom) a still image but you can't specify where or really how much. And so on.

There are some editing programs available for a small cost, but with the free options available for Macs (and my campus access to them) there's no reason for me to pay. As long as I sacrifice myself to the mercy of a Fishbowl, iMovie is fantastic. For anything but advanced processes, it covers all its bases in regard to different types, amounts, and layers of audio, assembling multiple layers of video, with simple and intuitive controls over appearances, effects, transitions, and outputs.

Of course, there's something to be said for convenience, and the time and bandwidth consumed by uploading video clips may negate some of the advantages of Premiere Online. I may trade the advanced functionality of Premiere for the ease and speed of WMM if it's going to result in essentially the same product anyway. This depends on what features and functions are offered by Premiere and if the quality of the finished product will be worth the additional time investment. We shall see.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jailbreak

The Jailbreak Mod for Half-Life 2 was released today. Since this and Weapons Factory pretty much consumed my entire summer between 8th and 9th grade, I was eager to try it out.

I played for a solid half hour on a server that wasn't too laggy. There were only 4-6 people, which is less than ideal. The maps made good use of multi-level environments and were nicely polished. There were obvious battleground areas with ways to retreat, and some bottlenecks and choke points (which may have been too linear at times). This may change with more people, but it felt like there were way too many guns and ammo boxes strewn about. Also, the levels seemed to make random electronic explosion noises that were distracting when trying to figure out where the enemies were.

The rush from releasing teammates is still exhilarating enough to keep playing this mod for a while.

Monday, February 19, 2007

update

The Free Press has a more sensible article on the effects of the MCRI implementation. With numbers!

MCRI effects

It's not surprising, but According to the Daily, UM underrepresented minority admissions have decreased from 76% last December to 33% in January, a decline of 43 percentage points (not an absolute percent, as the Daily reports -- since 1% of 1,000,000 applicants would be more than 100% of 1,000 applicants even though it's technically a 99% drop. Or maybe I have that backwards).

EDIT: Argh, more data is needed here. Like, actual numbers, for more than two years.

Subjective interpretation of the 'academic qualifications' of the incoming class is, to me, a superficially positive outcome and a red herring trumpted by those who contend that our work is done without acknowledging the discrepancies and significant issues that still exist in regarding k-12 educational opportunity. Sure, for families who can afford it, families and culture will always have more influence and ability for change in the life of a child than the government. But if Affirmative Action was just a band-aid, this is saying "screw it, it wasn't healing anyway." The playing field can be better leveled. This difference can be reconciled beyond pipe dreams.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

no smoking

The MPAA is under pressure to make any movie containing smoking carry an R rating.

Ultimately, it's not really censorship, as theater chains decide what they will exhibit, and papers decide what to advertise, but statistically it would affect pictures' abilities to make a profit. Still, it's eerily similar to Hays Office style crackdowns, harshly condemning pictures that don't conform to the Production Code. Isn't this why we go to movies in the first place? I enjoy seeing characters doing things I will never do and that I know I should not do. That is part of the fundamental enjoyment of cinema. I understand the desire to keep cigarettes away from children (or even the sexualized image of smoking), but this is punishing people who had nothing to do with the kids' own disgusting decision to start smoking. It reminds me of a certain crass Onion article.

Besides, when shot correctly, a contemplative curl of cigarette smoke can become a character of its own. This ruling would render Wong Kar Wai's films veritably pornographic.

steak's the king of meats

I just had the greatest Crunchwrap Supreme ever. It remains their tastiest six-sided product, and is high in the running for tastiest overall.

It's still profoundly disappointing that there's not a Taco Bell on or near campus. They're sitting on a gold mine. Our complacency with its proximity (which is what drove American Spoon out of business and killed the Krispy Kreme obsession in Portage) would still be drastically outweighed by our excitement for its perpetual satisfaction.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

winter storm warning

I like how the snow, when there's this much of it blowing around in the air, reflects all the ambient light and makes everything appear so much brighter. There's a glow with no traceable source filling the sky. It's a falsely alluring invitation.

A little samba on the speakers, a little Winter White in the hand... glad I don't have to leave the apartment tonight.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ayai-yai-yai

I had a dream last night that involved playing DDR at Peter Piper Pizza as a fire alarm went off inside the building. The song was Boom Boom Dollar and the worst part is that the steps were probably accurate.

Because of the large contingent of old trombone friends in the Ann Arbor Community band, we've started a rotating dinner party every Monday night before rehearsal. It's nice to have that time with everyone, but spending essentially 15 straight hours away from home can be grating.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Weekend Update

Another great relaxing weekend in the bag. Danielle and I saw Borat on Friday and it was just as ridiculous as I expected. All the hype was accurate, and while parts were horrifying, I hurt from laughing at other times. I downloaded a couple oddly catchy songs from the end credits too.

Saturday Steve came to town and we all went to Buffalo Wild Wings for a night of gluttony and sports. We watched Michigan basketball not lose to Minnesota. The team is not playing like they really care if they make the NCAA tournament or not. We won, I guess. While that was happening, the hockey team clawed their way back from a 3-0 deficit to end in a tie. Considering it was against MSU at Joe Louis, where we perennially suck, that was a pretty decent accomplishment by the end. We made our way to a "Middle School Jamz" party at the lovely 516, where I partied like it was 1997 -- which is to say, shooting baskets in the gym, buying 50 cent cups of Mountain Dew from my math teacher, and pacing around among the various cliques while trying to get Steve to ask Danielle if she would dance with me at arm's length (she said yes!!!).

Saturday we also watched The End of Suburbia, which was basically an hour-long overview and introduction to the impending problem of peak oil, our dependence on cars, and the catastrophe that may result. I liked it very much. It was not surprising, but that's probably just since I consider myself well read in the subject (or at least the surface-skimming sort of information that this movie provided). For example, it prominently featured author James Kunstler, and I've read four of his books and saw him speak in Ann Arbor last spring. I watched the movie more curious of how they were going to deliver the information and I was impressed with how palatable it all turned out. Even the concepts that Kunstler and others introduce, that come off as outlandish claims and cynical naysaying (like the harsh dismissal of alternative fuel sources), are actually backed up by research in their books. The movie gave brief mention of the problems and their solutions, ending on a somewhat uplifting note as it sang the praises of the New Urbanism movement. I want to watch this movie with as many people as possible.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

New Dishwasher!

We are getting a new dishwasher this afternoon. Despite the brief inconvenience of hand-washing all of our dishes piling up our dishes next to the sink, I am very happy with how all this turned out. This is in no small part because of the awful experiences I had with previous landlords.

Let me summarize the situation:

During my senior year I was a tenant at 1033 Michigan, a house owned by Baltzell Properties. In June 2005, heavy rains caused water to seep into my basement bedroom. The carpet was soaked. They had me move out temporarily since they had to disassemble my bed and peel back the carpet while a large fan dried it out. They also put a piece of PVC piping on the downspout so it drained farther from the house and more downhill along the driveway.

I had no problems again until January, when the same exact thing happened on a night of heavy rainfall.

I called our landlord, Marty Baltzell. In a documented conversation, he exploded and berated me over the phone, trying to trace the problem back to us tenants. He suggested, among other things, that the leak may have been caused by "neighborhood bums" who tried to rinse out cans with the hose on the side of the house and left it on, so therefore it was our fault for leaving cans outside. He then attacked me for calling their phone numbers (they had four listed, plus an assistant's cell) in an order unsatisfactory to him. This was a ridiculous non sequitur, and after a full hour of arguing he eventually said someone would be over to look at it.

They concluded that that my fridge was "pouring water out the back" at a high enough rate to soak most of my carpet in my room. Despite this, my freezer was still frozen solid and there was no notable condensation on the inside. The rainfall was just a coincidence. Marty scolded me for bringing such a wasteful item into his house when there was a fridge two doors down in the pantry -- after all, he said, he had to get up and walk down the hallway at home when he wanted a drink of water. So we got rid of my fridge and they put a dehumidifier in there.

It rained hard again three days later. The carpet was soaked again. This time they decided that it was because the dehumidifier's condensation bucket was not emptied properly (by me of course) and therefore it filled up. They said -- actually said -- that the water seeped into the carpet, where it lay unnoticeable for two days and then resurfaced. The rainfall was a coincidence. After my assertions that this was both false and impossible, they decided that it was caused by a bad dehumidifier, and replaced it.

For the record, I noticed the day before the first January flooding that the PVC pipe extension was missing. They put it back on after the final rainstorm. I mentioned this all along. That's all the problem ever was.

So last week we noticed that the first stage of our dishwasher ran completely dry. We mentioned the problem to our landlord in person on Thursday and no accusations were made. Guys showed up to fix it on Friday morning. On Wednesday we had a new dishwasher sitting in our living room, and they're coming over today to install it. This level of professionalism and service is leagues above and beyond the Baltzells', and I am very glad. Post Realty has its act together.

And I'd like to say once again that the Baltzells rented me a legally uninhabitable bedroom and I was very dissatisfied with the way they ran their business.

Monday, February 05, 2007

more general updates

Great weekend in Kalamazoo. It was too cold for sledding, but we did see Pan's Labyrinth, which was incredible. I'm going to endorse Rave Cinema again here. Two student tickets cost $5, and that came with popcorn and pop. There was a coupon for 20% off a Burdick's bill (probably worth more than $5) on the back. That is fantastic. K-10 may have $3 student tickets at all hours, but I'd rather pay $2 more for $8 food and, like, not go to a theater that's old and decrepit.


So when Proposal 2 passed, Mary Sue Coleman held a rally on the diag, pledging to defy the courts. With Pfizer's loss, she had a meeting at the Union promising to do what's necessary to keep the people here in Ann Arbor. I'd like to eat crow on this in the next few days, but last week the court ruled that ruled that same-sex benefits are no longer legal for U-M employees. Ms. Coleman has said nothing. And I wonder what Google, as a tech company setting down some roots in Ann Arbor that Bryan alluded to, thinks of all this.