Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Cats of Encanto

Its A Jungle Out There

The wife and I live in an old historic neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona. The neighborhood dates back to the early 30s which makes it really old for Phoenix. It has seen its ups and downs over the years and is now one of those places on the rebound. The rising cost of transportation, the proximity to the new Light Rail System and the fact that every house is unique in character and not part of a cookie cutter sub-division means that the Encanto-Palmcroft area is moving up-scale.

Unlike most of the sub-divisions in Arizona that we call the 'Sea of Same-ness' (because all the houses look as though they came off an assembly line and are the same shade of beige), Encanto is the exact opposite. Each house is different in style and construction. The streets are all curved and the vegetation is all old-growth. The palm trees are almost reminiscent of Beverly Hills. There is a character in this neighborhood that is unique from any other I have lived in.

There are many things that distinguish the area, the architectural styles, the various gardens and sculptures, the large parks and open areas where everyone walks their dogs, and the cats. There are lots of cats in Encanto.

Since we border a large park, we are ground zero for those bastards that want to 'get rid' of the cute kitten that grew up and claws the furniture or got pregnant because the owner forgot to have them spayed. There is also the perception that this is an 'affluent' neighborhood and that someone else will take care of them. Many of these cats have made this their home. Some found owners on their own....some are semi-ferrel and live on back porches, and others are as wild as the wind.

They have become part of this urban landscape because they serve a purpose. Since this is an 'old' neighborhood, there are a lot of rodents. At least there used to be. The ones on the ground are few and far between these days. We also have roof-rats that feast on all the citrus from the orange and grapefruit trees in the area, but they don't fair as well either these days. The Cats of Encanto are on patrol. Pigeons also learn to spend as little time on the ground as possible.

I usually see this legion of hunters in the early morning hours on my way to work. Watching me from under a car, behind a hedge, sitting on top of a stone wall or lounging on a front porch. They see everything that goes on. This is their Serengeti

All these pictures were taken in the Encanto Palmcroft area during July 2008, using a Yashica G camera shooting 35mm Kodak Tri-X 400 speed film. Clicking on the pictures will take you to the full resolution photo reference page on my Flickr account. Clicking the blog title takes to the entire Black & White 35mm Set.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Non-Essential Cinema

The Dark 'Not'

I just finished viewing "The Dark Knight". I downloaded a pirated copy of the film from the internet, exported it to AppleTV via Quicktime Pro and spent most of Sunday morning seeing what all the hype was about. I know this is 'illegal', but after watching all 2+ hours of it, I am certainly glad that I did not pay to see this. I was less than thrilled with the film.

While this movie is 'slick' with all the bells and whistles that Hollywood can throw in these days I found it disturbing on a social level. Lets face it, most of the people that line up to see this sort of manufactured entertainment at the cineplex are pretty malleable. They don't think for themselves, and tend to believe what they see on Entertainment Tonight, U-Tube, MTV and reality television. They watch what they think is their world and try to emulate it.

So while watching "The Dark Knight", I saw the same 'escapist' mentality that I have seen in "Pulp Fiction" and "No Country For Old Men". These are films where troubled characters are set against antagonists without consequence regarding their actions. Violence is never punished, in fact it is encouraged. There is no laws applicable to the main characters. No one is ever stuck in jail and left to sit there for 40 days until their arraignment. It is all action, plot twist, explosions and violence. What do the tweens lining up to spend their minimum wage earnings take away from this sort of entertainment? Very little I fear.

If that were not bad enough, there also seems to be a suspension of the laws of physics in these films that no one seems to question. When the Joker rigs up Gotham General Hospital to explode via remote controlled cell phone.....where did he find the time and the resources to rig these 48 explosive charges on all the floors? When he rigs the ferries to explode, how does he get all the 55 gallon drums of fuel on board and where did he get the fancy triggers for them? How is he is able to surgically implant a cell phone and explosives in a mental patient and come up with rocket launchers on short notice? Why is it that when an action sequence occurs among a crowd of police every officer is ineffectual in solving any of the problems? At this point, Star Wars is almost as believable as this film.

The acting was good, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are always fascinating to watch. Christian Bale is OK, and Heath Ledger was not all that impressive. It is much easier to play psycho well than it is to play smoldering and intense without all the manic behavior. I was more impressed with the dialog that the script writers were able to come up with along with the stunt work than I was with the acting.

I like my cinema to make me think and give me a glimpse of a larger world I have not seen or comprehended. This film didn't do it for me.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back of the Bus

Never really arrives

One of the axioms of life that I have learned is, 'It all depends on where you sit'. Much like the 'Glass half empty, glass half full' question, it tells a lot about a person even though they don't know it.

From the time we were in grade school, certain children always wanted to sit in the back of the bus. They usually wanted to be as far away from authority (the bus driver) as possible, so they wouldn't be caught doing things they weren't supposed to.

Fast forward to college, and I realized that the same thing applied to 20-somethings. The slacker students always sat in the back of the class. They rarely lasted more than a semester. In the beginning, I usually sat somewhere in the middle of the classes. I suppose I was a slight under-achiever.

Then it dawned on me in my junior year. If you wanted to get ahead in life you had to take on the world and meet it face to face. The "A" students always sat in the front row. So I started sitting in the front row. I quickly realized that when you do this, you are mano y mano with the instructor, you have to have your homework done, you have to be prepared and sharp. You have to be engaged. You aren't a spectator anymore, you are in the bull ring.

While taking the bus home from work, I usually stand near the exit. That way, I don't have to worry about finding a seat and who might end up sitting next to me. The back of the bus is always crowded, with the transients, the homeless and the rebellious, slacker youth.

I am so glad I learned to move to the head of the class in college. Once you muster up the courage to sit in the front row, you will never sit in the back of the bus again.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Essential Cinema - 36

The Piano

Holly Hunter (Ada McGrath)
Harvey Keitel (George Baines)
Sam Neill (Alisdair Stewart)
Anna Paquin (Flora McGrath)

Jane Campion

Jane Campion

Stuart Dryburgh

A mute woman and her daughter become the mail order bride for a white settler in turn of the century New Zealand. The woman can only speak through her daughter or by playing her piano.

Communication. How we express ourselves to others, the true nature of love, and perils that we must go through to find true happiness.

I would consider this a "women's" film. It deals with a woman's search for love and understanding in a harsh land. The central focus is on Holly Hunter who portrays Ada McGarth. She gives a very good performance considering that she does not speak a word in the entire film. She also plays all the musical pieces on the piano. Good enough in fact to win her the Academy Award for best actress.

The film is written and directed by Jane Campion who is somewhat of an icon in Australian and New Zealand film making. She specializes in these types of films, which have stunning scenery and intimate character studies. During this viewing of the film I was surprised at what a rather simple and straight forward story it is. The film is more visual than anything else, which is not surprising, since the main character never speaks. But Campion pushes this even furhter, giving turn of the century New Zealand a beautiful, almost surreal quality.

Anna Paquin portrays Flora McGrath in the film and won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress as Ada's daughter. This is somewhat puzzling, since she isn't really all that prominent on screen and her acting scenes are nothing more than what the average little girl of 12 would do anywhere else. There are also large gaps in the development of Sam Neil's character, Alisdair Stewart, ( who portrays the mail order husband). He appears frustrated and impotent in the film, but his mindset and issues are never really flushed. out. He is spurned by Ada only because he appears to not see the value in her piano. But he does try and never gives Ada a reason to dislike him.

This film is graphic at times and there are scenes that come very close to bordering on the explicit. There is also violence but this is more for effect as opposed to simply showing gore and blood.

More than anything else, this film makes me admire the acting abilities of Holly Hunter and also makes me want to visit New Zealand. It also makes me realize that any woman that has to have a piano hauled everywhere she goes is not the sort of woman that would make a good long term relationship.

This film is avaiable for viewing and download by clicking the image below. The film is in m4v (Quicktime) format.

This film is a part of my LaserDisc Collection which can be viewed here.

Clicking on the "Essential Cinema" title will take you to the Internet Movie Database entry for this film.

Clicking here will take you to a listing of all the "Essential Cinema" reviews in my Blog.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My - MP3 (The Police)

The Police / Outlandos d'Amour / Born In The 50s

Artist: The Police
Album: Outlandos d'Amour (Outlaws of Love)
Song: Born In The 50s
Released: 1979

Track List:
01. Next to You
02. So Lonely
03. Roxanne
04. Hole in My Life
05. Peanuts
06. Can't Stand Losing You
07. Truth Hits Everybody
08. Born in the 50's
09. Be My Girl - Sally
10. Masoko Tanga

I had this album in college and to the best of my recollection, this song was not on it. It was on the "b-side" of a 45rpm they released, which is where I first heard it. Regardless, it is not a well known Police song, which is a shame. It highlights the band in their early days, when they were a bit more edgy and angry. The song is aimed at all the baby-boomers and recounts how the images that we witnessed in the 1950s shaped our lives.

Would they drop the bomb on us
While we made love on the beach
We were the class they couldn't teach
'Cos we knew better

My - MP3 is an ongoing experiment into obscure music that you may not have heard before. Clicking on the album will take you to the MP3 file of this song. Clicking the "My-MP3" title will take you to my music blog containing all the songs in the collection.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Essential Cinema - 35

How The West Was Won
(A Special Note: This film is also available for download and viewing)

Carroll Baker
Lee J. Cobb
Henry Fonda
Carolyn Jones
Karl Malden
Gregory Peck
George Peppard
Robert Preston
Debbie Reynolds
James Stewart
Eli Wallach
John Wayne
Richard Widmark
Brigid Bazlen
Walter Brennan
David Brian
Andy Devine
Raymond Massey
Agnes Moorehead
Harry Morgan
Thelma Ritter
Mickey Shaughnessy
Russ Tamblyn
Spencer Tracy

John Ford
Henry Hathaway
George Marshall
Richard Thorpe

James R. Webb

William H. Daniels
Milton R. Krasner
Charles Lang
Joseph LaShelle

The story of 4 generations of a single family and their journey through the west from 1800 to 1900.

Our roots. Where we have come from and what makes us who we are. The concept of manifest destiny and our drive to conquer the unknown and find a better tomorrow.

I have watched this film several times and I am always captivated by its scope and sense of grandeur. This is a BIG film, lasting almost 3 hours and encompassing every major star in Hollywood at the time. It was one of the last blockbuster films created by pulling out all the stops and allowing the motion picture industry to really flex its muscle before the advent of digital effects.

This is a special film due to its format. It is one of the few full length feature films that was shot in Cinerama. A technique that used three cameras to create a panoramic image that literally wrapped around the audience. It was so costly, both to shoot and to display, that it never caught on. The version that I watched is on Laserdisc which preserves the three screen effect, but even this version is slightly cropped. It may be impossible in this day and age to see this film in its true aspect ratio with a surround screen, which is a pity. For its visual merits alone, this film is worth seeing.

When shown on a flat screen, the picture appears somewhat compressed and looks almost as though the image is seen through a fish-eye lens. Because three large cameras were used to shot these films, there is minimal free camera movement and zooms, although there is a lot of tracking and dolly shots

More than anything else, this film deals with the soul of America and the concept that the world was ours to conquer. This is a theme that is somewhat politically incorrect these days. In this film, the world was vast, beautiful and rugged, with sweeping vistas, broad rivers and beautiful sunsets. Many of the scenes are down-right spectacular, and the ending shootout on the train still ranks as one of the greatest action sequences I have ever seen.

The story line and acting take a back seat to the overpowering concept of the land and the struggle to overcome its hardship. The film is a tour-de-force for Debbie Reynolds, who is the only star who is seen throughout the entire film. She is also featured in several musical numbers to showcase her singing talents. The score by Alfred Neauman is grandiose and almost religious in places, tinged with old west folk tunes. This is a three hour one sided history lesson for all the young folks that don't have time to sit and read about all the details of the great westward expansion.

Clicking on the Laserdisc cover below will download this film in Apple Quicktime format(m4v). File will be available through 8/1/08.

This film is a part of my LaserDisc Collection which can be viewed here.

Clicking on the "Essential Cinema" title will take you to the Internet Movie Database entry for this film.

Clicking here will take you to a listing of all the "Essential Cinema" reviews in my Blog.

Friday, July 11, 2008

My New Car

Originally uploaded by lotus_07

Despite some of the stuff I write on here, once in a while things actually work the way they are supposed to. Such was the case on July 10, 2008 when my latest mode of transportation made its debut downtown. In December of this year I will be using this to get around the Phoenix Metro area. Gas prices? What gas prices?

Video shot with my LG Cell Phone, 7/10/08

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Frick'in Vista!!!

Truth In Advertising

Back in the day when I started this blog, it was a venue to rant and rave about all those things that drove me nuts. I have tried to progress past simply ranting over the years, but I am going to back slide here.

I have already ranted about my frustration with the level of automation comprehension in our office and how Vista is just making that worse. See this blog, or better yet, this blog, and least we forget, this blog...and last but not least there was this blog. I am sure there are going to be others.

I just got off the phone with our ITD department. No, wait. Let me retract that. A phone call is something that lasts less than 5 minutes. This was an impromptu meeting with the ITD support center staff, because this phone call lasted almost 45 frickin minutes!!!

The reason for the phone call? All my network printer drivers decided to go on strike. I couldn't print anything to any of the 5 network printers we have in the office. The solution? Forty Five minutes with 'Gabe' on the phone, restarting my computer 3 times, and running out the the printers to see if the test pages finally printed for each printer. Now that is progress for you! I can see where Vista is making a BIG difference. It is screwing my ability to get my job done, but it is giving Gabe a hell of a lot of job security.

Since the implementation of Vista in our office, we have been plagued with intermittent problems and random program failures. Add to this mix the fact that most of my co-workers are not really keen on where the power button is for their computers much less have the ability to decipher an error message and you have a slow burn to disaster on your hands.

Now we are starting to find out that beyond the infamous printer driver issues that Vista has, it is also having connectivity issues with various database drivers as well. Database applicatiosn are locking up records and not releasing blocks of memory and basically running the servers out of resources until they crash.

We can top off this cake with the fact that ITD has done little-to-no training of staff other than the minimal (the start button is going to look different / this is how to read your e-mail training) required. They have gone so far as to lock down profiles so that the user can't even delete a shortcut from their desktop without administrative privileges.

Of course, this is the same ITD Department that crashed our e-mail server and LOST a weeks worth of incoming e-mail in for the entire State Judiciary in July, 2006, so none of this should come as a shock. My days are taken up by the fact that whatever I plan to do is going to be wiped off my radar by the 'crisis of the day' (isn't that "crisis de' jour" in French?)

Less than 3,000 days till retirement.....Less than 3,000 days till retirement.....Less than 3,000 days till retirement.....Less than 3,000 days till retirement.....Less than 3,000 days till retirement........ this is my new mantra.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The End Of Days

Originally uploaded by lotus_07

There comes a point where we just don't care anymore.

Old folks pass out in hospital waiting rooms and die within feet of doctors that could help them.

Here in town, people drive 85mph in a 55mph zone while the few police troll the highways looking for the ones doing over 90.

Someone drove through our neighborhood and stole all of the Barrack Obama campaign lawn signs from peoples lawns (about 12 of them) last night.

We have become an apathetic country where laws are just a suggestion and everyone is some sort of criminal.

This all became crystal clear a few days ago on the way to the post office. I saw THIS sign on a major city street. I had to stop and take a picture. I actually went on-line to make sure this isn't how you spell 'mufflers' in spanish (the correct translation would be silenciador or tapabocas or bufanda).

But here in Phoenix, AZ, we get the spanglish / phonics version. Yup, this is a pretty apathetic town. At this rate, there will just be picture signs everywhere with no words at all.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

De-Innovation by Greed

"Greed Is Good" - Gordon Gecko

Something just dawned on me while I was trying to ascertain where Microsoft put some of the well established functions in the New Version of Excel that comes with Vista.

I have been moaning about our office's transition to Vista for the past few months. It has been a headache, not so much because of the operating system, but because of our staff's very low functioning when it comes to automation. Example: they all have Excel on their desktops, but 90% still prefer to use the small paper adding machine calculators on their desks. As I have stated before, change comes slow to some, extremely slowly to others.

But back to Excel. From my perspective, the most frustrating thing about Vista and it applications buddy, Office 2007, is that they have changed things around for no apparent reason. Instead of having thing all in one logical place, they have placed them all over the place in hidden 'ribbons' along the top of the application window. This makes no sense. I thought that after a couple of weeks I would start to see the grand design philosophy, but a couple of weeks have gone by and I am still not seeing the light.

I am a big beleiver in speed. I rarely use the mouse and prefer to manipulate data with hot-key combinations. My hands rarely leave the keyboard. This was NOT a key design concept when they created Vista.

Then today, while I was hunting for the data sort functions in Excel it sort of dawned on my. They changed this stuff, not because of some design group study or because they were trying to force users to learn more efficient ways of doing things, they changed it because they 'could'. They wanted to change it just to make it different than the competition. However, this does not mean they changed it to be 'better'.

Microsoft controls the global PC market because they have become entrenched in every business and household in America and most of the developed world. In the beginning, they did this by solving problems and being innovative. They improved on Lotus 1-2-3 and made Excel. They integrated Internet Explorer into the operating system and came up with some interesting design concepts with Windows 95. After that they slowly ran out of steam. However, they had the market share which means that they could dictate what we do in the office and at home. Sort of like a puppet master yanking the string attached to your right wrist.

You don't want to jerk your right hand around, but you no longer have a say in the matter. If you want to get your job done, move that right hand. Never mind that you never had to move it before.

They have made these changes because they have to do something to stay a head of the pack. They can't just sit on their accomplishments or Apple and Linux will start to catch up. So short of coming up with the next big thing....just come up with something and 'force' your customers to buy it.

This sort of reminds me of Kodak, the great American film / camera company. Kodak is gone now and exists in name only. They were innovative with the Brownie camera back in the 1920s. Then went on to make some really nice cameras up through the 1950s. Then things changed. The rest of the world set the standard with 35mm film in the 1950s but Kodak didn't want the competition. Instead they forced their market share to move to 'cartridge film', and then onto 'disk' film, and finally, who remembers the 'Advantix' system that came out about 10 years ago. They are all gone, and so is Kodak. Now they sell their brand name to dozens of third party manufacturers that sell everything from computer paper to digital cameras.

I have the funny feeling that 'Vista' is the 'Advantix' of the computer age. The 'next big thing' that was 'something new' but in the end, offered nothing that the world wanted and the world found out there were better things out there. Vista won't be leaving us anytime soon, just like the thousands of Polaroid and Kodak cameras that linger in thrift stores. But it isn't leading the pack anymore. It is making Microsoft more money, but isn't doing the end user much good at all.

Aging companys that fail to innovate make money based on the standard that they have established. Even when the standard is no longer relevant. I believe that I might see the day, before I die, when Microsoft is no longer a relevant player in world automation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Nation Of Victims

Its All A Game

I have seen a growing trend over the years that has really been bugging me. With each new 'crisis' or 'disaster' that befalls mankind it just seems to get worse. It is a crisis of perspective and expectation. We have become a nation of victims and no one seems to be questioning it. I surmise that this is because there is more money to be made from victims than from people that can just 'suck it up' and deal with it.

A few of the long running list of examples that cause me to think this way.

The numerous people I known through the years that always blame someone else for something going wrong.

If they hit a tree with their is the trees faults, or better yet the property owner that owns the tree...he should have put reflectors on that thing.

The drunken person that stumbles on the curb and knocks his teeth is the cities fault for making the curb too high....or Budweiser's fault for not putting a large warning label on the beer.

The folks wailing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because they didn't have anyplace to is the governments fault for not being able to hold back the ocean. (Hello? You live in a city that is below sea level....)

The folks that are railing about high gas prices....but thought nothing of it when they bought that Ford Expedition 2 years ago, assuming gas would never get more expensive (have gas prices EVER gone down?).

And always there are the attorneys waiting in the wings ready to help you get what you are "entitled" to for a small fee. Because you can't collect anything if you aren't a victim.

We now live in a society of 'entitlements' where we all feel we are "owed" something and if we don't get it, we will kick and scream until we DO get it.

I guess THE memo sort of got lost somewhere along the way, but in case some of us didn't get around to reading it;

1. It is a dangerous world, if you don't pay attention, you are going to get hurt. If you get hurt...learn from it.

2. If you don't understand it, stay away from it until you do.

3. Floods, fires, lightening, hurricanes, tornado, earthquakes....they happen, be prepared. (Better to pay your insurance premiums before the accident than pay a lawyer afterwards, or worse yet rely on the government)

4. If you figure things out on your own, you learn and grow. If you pester others to do it for you or pay folks to get it done, it won't get done right and they will be enabling you to fail.

5. We don't all get a trophy just for putting on the uniform and sitting on the bench. Failure is a part of life, it is supposed to motivate us to do better. That is the way nature intended it and it isn't nice to fool with mother nature. I could never trust someone that has not learned from failure. It is what determines character.