Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Break from the office

So I snuck out in the early afternoon today for a short run.

Strangely, there wasn't really a reason for me to be sneaking out... it's not like I didn't come back. And I would have gone during the generally accepted lunch hour but I was in the groove and getting stuff done. Sometimes you're beating your head against the wall and need a break to get a fresh perspective, sometimes you know exactly what you need to do and you have to let the momentum take you where it needs to go. Lunchtime, I was rolling.

So I had worked through lunch, and I was waiting for a simulation to compile and run anyway. But there's something about leaving the confines of the building at two-and-a-half in the post meridian that feels somehow not on the up-and-up. I'm sure that's just what they want you to think. And the Senior VP (previously the CEO of my group/department when it was a startup) was known to look unkindly upon those not in the office working vigorously at their desks, at all hours of the day. (Which barely scratches the surface of his mentality that you should be spending every waking moment doing work.)

But I've been trying to keep up my conditioning, especially after my forced inactivity while waiting for my shoulder to heal. And I was feeling a bit stiff and sore from the game last night, so I figured it'd be a good idea to get the body moving for a bit.

It didn't hurt that it was in the mid-80's and sunny with clear skies.

So 2:30ish, I head out. I figure I'll do a fairly short loop, maybe 30 minutes, since I did want to get back to check the results of my sim. Maybe a good day to check out one of the trails -- it hasn't rained much so it hopefully won't be too muddy, and on a warm day, it's nice to get off the road and run through the shade of the woods.

So I have one route that hits a trailhead through some town conservation land about 13 minutes into the run. I'm feeling a little sluggish and it's definitely work coaxing my legs into a decent pace, but it's always good to be outside. The sun and light summer breeze are just gravy.

So I hit the trailhead (13:25, right on schedule) and maybe 30 feet in -- WHAM! Faceplant. Well, maybe more like an unintentional layout. I'm stretched out on the ground lying slightly on my left side, left arm out, right arm bent next to me, legs straight behind. It wasn't painful, at least not initially, just surprising. And annoying. I just kind of laid there for a moment, surveying the situation. Must have tripped on a root or small tree stump. My eyes were probably still adjusting to the light change or something. Whatever. I did a quick self-check: the knee that I shredded yesterday during the game was fine, but I cut up the other knee (hey, matched set), a cut and scrapes on my left forearm, some nice bruising on both palms. Dirt.

Ok, I'm fine. Good enough, at least. I get myself together and continue on. I mean, it's a short run, turning around doesn't get me back to the office much faster, I may as well finish the run. I did have an image flash through my brain of me lying face down, unconscious with my head split open, but I dispelled that fairly quickly. Otherwise, pretty uneventful. Well, maybe the water hazard and 4 muddy stretches -- so maybe it wasn't so dry after all. I get back, do a quick stretching routine, shower, and I'm back at my desk maybe 64 minutes after I left, none the worse for wear. Well, you know what I mean.

Oh, and I can't forget to mention: while on the ground, I picked up some friends...
(found 'em while in the shower)

Maybe someone is trying to tell me something.

Still, it was good to get outside.

But maybe next time, I'll go during lunch. (And maybe stay off that trail.)

Monday, June 21, 2004

Studying Chinese, again

After finishing up the class at the Boston Language Institute in April, I figured I'd take a short break from studying. The class was a good kick in the ass to really work on my vocabulary and (lack of) conversation skills, but after two months I was pretty drained. Plus, Faith, my language exchange friend (really, informal tutor, since I really didn't feel like I was helping her all that much with her English), was taking a long trip to visit family back in China. Taken together, the motivation to study dropped off considerably.

It also seemed like a good idea to take a break and give my brain a rest. From language study, at least. Work had been heating up, and it really felt like most of my head was filled up with new vocabulary rather than the new (old) design I was supposed to be debugging.

I figure I'd take a few days off and then get back into it. Maybe a week or two, or at least as soon as the project calmed down. (I'm pretty sure it was only supposed to be two weeks or so.)

Two weeks. Yeah. It was two weeks, and then the next week, it was still two weeks. And the week after that... That lasted for about two months, actually.

So anyway, I'm finally studying again. It probably didn't hurt that I got an email from Faith that she was back and wondering when we wanted to meet. So I'm listening to the audio CDs in the car and reviewing flash cards and reading through chapters in the textbook again. It doesn't feel like a routine yet, but hopefully I'll get there.

It's definitely harder to buckle down when the weather's nice out and I've got disc in the evenings, and the weekends are all full. Your basic overplanned summer. But I have come up with one study trick that I feel like I'm going to be able to stick with...

I'm watching Chinese kung-fu movies.

Videos are alright in the short term, but it really is all about the DVDs because you can select the language track as well as easily disable (and enable) the subtitles. I'm not confident enough to get to that point yet, but I figure I'm going to experiment with that soon enough. I originally tried this with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when I first got the DVD. I guess it's a testament to the quality of its subtitles that I thought I really understood what was being said until I actually turned them off.

The library is great for renting DVDs and videos. And a dollar for a weekly rental (and the ability to reserve a movie) is hard to beat. Unfortunately, the selection of Chinese films, while better than expected, still isn't that great. But it's still a great resource that we highly recommend. Plus, they've got a searchable catalog that's plugged into the regional library network. Also cool.

We did find a decent selection at the new Hollywood Video that recently opened in Waltham, but unfortunately, a several of them only have English-dubbed tracks which I can't understand. (They're also kinda expensive.) I've discovered the same problem with many of the DVDs offered on I suppose with the recent rise in interest in old kung fu movies, there's been a rush to re-release a bunch of the classics in the same format that many of us remember watching on TV on weekend afternoons.

But as much as I fall into that crowd that fondly reminisces about those poorly dubbed action spectacular, I remember that the whole point is to get more material that I can (watch and) listen to in Chinese.

In some ways, it's a little weird, because in most cases, the original dialog is actually in Cantonese. So I'm still watching a redub. But somehow it doesn't seem as bad as the English dubbing. I mean, at least there more vocabulary and syntax in common. Still, I keep wondering how accurate the dubbing is. I tried poking around on the web to see if there were some native speakers that had an opinion on the subject, but I couldn't find anything. It'd be nice if I could just ask my parents, but it would require them to watch both versions of a given movie and then give me the rundown and frankly, I don't think they'd pay that much attention to the differences. You definitely need a net geek to do the proper in-depth nitpick.

For now, I'm just running with it. I bought a bunch of movies on and were pretty happy with them: good selection of DVDs with the original Cantonese and dubbed Mandarin tracks, prompt delivery and good prices. I just put in a second order which included the classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin (also known as Shaolin Master Killer). I'm also branching out and trying to get some more contemporary films, since vowing vengeance after the death of your master seems to have somewhat limited application. (perhaps a reverse of the Korean brother in Better Off Dead that spoke like Howard Cosell)

Anyway, I've found some sites that have been helpful in selecting additional film titles. has provided excellent overviews and reviews of many of the films. And when I couldn't find info there, I stumbled on which has been a mixed bag. It's more of a central repository for people to submit plot summaries and reviews, so the quality varies greatly depending on who cared enough to enter a submission.

As far as other on-line stores, I'm also going to check out which is the only site that I've found so far that carries copies of the elusive Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain that have the necessary DVD region encodings, picture format (NTSC versus PAL) and language/subtitle tracks. seems to be a Asia-centric Amazon wannabe, but it's mostly region 3 (South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan) and region 6 (China).

Speaking of "Zu," it was interesting to discover a whole controversy associated with it's U.S. release (or lack thereof). The SOOTTAD and I saw a preview for it sometime last year at the Belmont and were pretty psyched about seeing it once it came out. But it never did and we eventually forgot about it. Something similar apparently happened with Shaolin Soccer as well. I hadn't really thought about the movie recently, but I remember the buzz when the trailer showed up online (was it, and we did get a chance to see it when someone from my tai chi class brought in the DVD.

It turns out that they both figure into a greater issue of the release of successful Hong Kong movies in the U.S. -- and apparently an issue with Miramax/Disney in particular. It's all kind of a bummer and has me just a bit worried about the pending release of Hero. I won't go into the details here since this is already getting pretty long, but if you're interested, you should check out the Web Alliance for the Respectful Treatment of Asian Cinema. (Oh, and I just found this open letter to Miramax.) Here's also an article on the (non-)release of Shaolin Soccer which I found in this post while I was trying to find information on the Mandarin versus English dubbing of Cantonese spoken language films. ...which was unsuccessful, but did turn up this paper on teaching ESL using subtitled broadcasts of the X-files.

Lilies are out

Yay, summer.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Revisiting Reagan

Now that the 24/7 Reagan memorial craze seems to have finally blown over, I figure it's about time for me to post this.

But first, a quick comment (Ok, potshot) at the Bush/Cheney reelection committee that replaced information on Bush with a full page memorial on their website. (You can read about it at Talking Points Memo) What was up with that? It made you wonder whether they really are gunning for this.

Anyway, in the thick of it, I was hitting a lot of cognitive dissonance while listening to all the overly saccharin, warm fuzzies that were lavished over his memory. But it was hard not to get caught up in it either. I do remember the scary nuclear build up, which were hightlighted by movies like Wargames or the TV miniseries, The Day After. But, yeah, we beat the Evil Empire (mark 1), right? Yay us. And reading some of the backstory now, I find I have to give credit to the ol' Gipper for having the cojones to play his hand strong when the stakes included possible world annihilation.

That being said, I did want to go through a list of what I remember from the Reagan administration, having achieving sentience around that time.

  • "trees cause pollution" [link]
  • the attempt to classify ketchup as a vegetable [link]
  • Iran-Contra []
  • the aforementioned nuclear arms race and threat of nuclear annihilation.
  • Reaganomics/voodoo economics and the resulting record deficits (until now, that is)
  • Savings & Loan Crisis (although fully materializing during Bush Sr.'s tenure)
  • Oh yeah, Star Wars (the Strategic Defense Initiative, that is)

Then there's stuff that I've found out since then:

I think the last two can both be considered to be the "Reagan doctrine" in action.

Anyway, a lot of this can also be found in this article from the Washington Post (If you've got issues with the login requirements, don't forget our friends over at, which I thought was a much more balanced perspective than the rest of what was being broadcast.

And to be fair, here are my memories of the Carter administration:

  • double-digit inflation
  • Odd/Even days to buy gas
  • U.S. embassy hostages in Iran
  • middle east peace (Egypt-Israel)
  • Something about Salt?
So I suppose everyone sucks if you think about it enough. Which seems to be a fairly accurate starting point these days for a lot of people.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Updates for early June

I haven't been posting much these days, but I suppose that goes without saying. I suspect that part of it is that I've been trying to avoid reading news or hitting politically charged blogs that would get me all juiced up. Maybe it's the hopelessness of it all, or maybe I'm just subconsciously stepping aside to let the better writers say what I want to say. There may be a lot of crap out there in the Blogosphere, but you have to at least give it credit for making people feel less alone out there in the electronic wilderness. Ah yes, the internet, bringing people (and wackos, can't forget the wackos) together since 1969.

So, what have I been up to?

Well, we've been doing our fair share of puttering around the garden; mostly in the mornings... making me late for work, but also on the weekends. We've been doing battle with the evil vine (Black Swallowwort), and the SOOTTAD has been putting in all kinds of native woodland flowers in the back. Off the top of my head I can come up with red lupine, bleeding heart and yellow violets... but I'm pretty sure there's more.

We had the first raspberry blossoms open this morning. The peas are a little thin this year, but there are a number of pods that are already maturing. We also had our first alpine strawberries mature, but we didn't get to actually taste them because they were swiped by marauding critters. Grrr. With the return of the warm weather today, the watermelon mounds which were looking so sad and barren in the cold and rain are finally showing signs of life. No such luck for the two new grape vines that we put in last year.

Monday, I got the green light on my shoulder. I'm still going to be careful with it (I'm trying to avoid any layouts until July), but I can have a little more confidence playing in games now.

Work finally seems to be under control, but I already have to refocus on the next big project.

I told myself when the last project finished, I would get back to studying Chinese. I've been listening to audio CDs in the car, but I really need to sit down and start reviewing characters again. Maybe this week...

Oh yeah, and I've been playing a bit of poker online these days too. I used to play with a bunch of guys in college; I have good memories of stumbling home at the crack of dawn, pockets full of nickels, dimes and quarters. It's not like I was any good, but I would get lucky at crucial moments that would allow me to continue playing.

The folks I played with were pretty hard-core card freaks; I'm not actually sure when those guys actually went to class. Or slept. They all started freshman year, back in the dorm. And when they weren't playing poker, they were playing bridge. (they moved on to blackjack the following year) They'd be playing in the lounge when you got back from class. And they'd still be playing when you went to bed. And the next morning, there they'd be, the scene exactly the same, except for the addition of a few empty pizza boxes.

I hadn't really played much since I got out of college. I have a few friends who play (regular games, even), but I've probably only played three or four times in the last year or two. So maybe a couple of weeks ago, I followed a link at Cardhouse to I'd actually never played Hold 'em before -- it's been fun. And it's kinda nice to play online because you can play with real people, and you can pretty much play whenever you want, what with that whole global network thing and all.

And maybe that's another reason why I haven't been posting all that much...

Monday, June 07, 2004

Yeah, it figures...

speak and spell

You're a Speak & Spell!! You nerd, you. Just
because you were disguised as a toy doesn't
mean you weren't educational, you sneaky

What childhood toy from the 80s are you?
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