Miscellaneous and Useless Information

Art and music


[Avenue Q marquee at the Orpheum Theatre] Last Wednesday, I joined Jon and friends to go see Avenue Q at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. In case you haven’t heard of it, think Sesame Street meets South Park. A case of humans and Muppet-style puppets work through their 20- and 30-something angst, and sing about love, purpose, and Internet porn. (These videos of the original Broadway cast and the London cast are good introductions.) It was absolutely hilarious, and I thank Jon for noticing it was coming to town and grabbing the tickets.

Unfortunately, Avenue Q has already played its last date in San Francisco, but if you’re happen to coincide with the rest of their national tour — or you live in New York or London — go see it!

For me, the fun didn’t end on Wednesday. Last year, Avenue Q put out a book that looks to be as irreverent as the musical. I got it from HamiltonBook.com for 73% off (woohoo). I’ll probably also buy the soundtrack. And there are a ton of Avenue Q videos on YouTube. My favorites include the cast in a presidential debate (part 1, part 2, part 3) and exploring London (part 1, part 2 — not safe for work!). Also, Avenue Q meets Wicked, Fiddler on the Roof, and the boy band Take That. Remember “Back for Good”? I prefer the puppet version.

From July 4 to August 4, I watched four movies in the theater, which is probably more than the previous two years.

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Transformers. Better than I expected — the action and graphics were quite good (of course), and the acting wasn’t bad (maybe because my expectations were low). It’s done amazingly well at the box office, so you can be sure a sequel is in the works.

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Ratatouille. The best of the first three movies I saw. The storyline was well conceived and beautifully executed; it felt genuine, never hokey. I’m surprised it hasn’t as well at the box office as, say, Cars. And you can’t draw a rat cuter than Rémy.

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The Simpsons Movie. A must for Simpsons fans. The plot didn’t exactly have any surprises, but the Simpsons has always been about the small moments, and this movie delivered. I wished I hadn’t seen the trailers though: that took away jokes like President Schwarzenegger (“I was elected to lead, not read.”) Of course, I also went to the Kwik-E-Mart in Mountain View and took loads of photos.

The Bourne Ultimatum. I hadn’t seen the first two Bourne movies, so I got an assignment. The night before I watched it with two friends from high school, we watched The Bourne Identity. Then I borrowed The Bourne Supremacy and watched it the next morning, before finally seeing The Bourne Ultimatum that afternoon. 24 hours of Bourne! I enjoyed all three of the movies — very well crafted action thrillers. There are some great scenes, such as when Jason Bourne is trying to choreograph a journalist’s safe passage through a London train station.

But I must admit that I am an action movie wimp: I totally get sucked into movies; the deaths of characters, among other things, really affect me. So before seeing any of the movies, I read the plot summaries in Wikipedia. Therefore, I already knew which characters would die. But that allowed me to enjoy the movies more, because even though I knew roughly what would happen, I still had to watch the movie to find out how they happened.

In between, there was also a little bit of high culture: Shakespeare in the Park in Cupertino. The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival put on an excellent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I particularly liked the modernistic staging — the angels were punks, and Lysander wore a Public Enemy T-shirt.

I actually don’t mind having these songs stuck in my head, which is a good thing.

Last month it was “Rhiannon” (video 1, video 2) and “Gypsy” (video 1, video 2) by Fleetwood Mac. Triggered by listening to The Dance CD over and over again during my trip to Rochester.

Afterwards came “Sister Golden Hair” (video 1, video 2) and “You Can Do Magic” by America. Probably triggered by watching an infomercial for The Midnight Special.

Now it’s “World (That’s the Price of Love)” (video 1, video 2) and “Ruined in a Day” by New Order. Don’t know what caused me to think of those, but those songs are classic.

Recently I scored great deals on a few books. At Moe’s Books in Berkeley I bought:

And then at Compass Books (owned by Books Inc.) in San Francisco Airport, I bought:

Total amount:  $73.83 $22.98. Saved over $50. Sweeeeet.

It’s amazing how much time you can sink watching videos online:

  • Robot Chicken is a satirical stop-motion animation show on Cartoon Network. For example, take a look at how the Emperor reacts when he finds out the Death Star was destroyed. (Thanks to Brian.)
  • Line Rider is a Flash-based game where a little guy goes sledding down the lines you draw on the screen. There are dozens of Line Rider videos online — some of the drawings get really elaborate. (Thanks to Bill Buxton.)
  • Here’s a “kinetic art movement” project by Tim Fort. It’s way more than dominos. (Thanks to Clemens.) Reminds me of the Honda “Cog” commercial.
  • See Sacha Baron Cohen (of Ali G and Borat fame) like you’ve never seen him before: normal.
  • I was intrigued by the music in the TV commercial for “Gears of War,” an Xbox 360 game. The song is “Mad World,” sung by Gary Jules for the movie Donnie Darko. And it turns out that the song is originally by Tears for Fears.
  • Another melancholy song: “Missing” by Everything but the Girl is one of my favorite songs from the 90s.

Maybe it’s because I’ve watched Time-Life’s Classic Soft Rock Collection infomercial one too many times, but when I was leaving for work today, Christopher Cross‘s “Ride Like the Wind” popped into my head, complete with backing vocals by Michael McDonald (“what a fool believes…).

So I got curious and did a Google search on “ride like the wind michael mcdonald”. And the third hit was an SCTV parody of Michael McDonald singing those lyrics (“such a long way to goooooooooooo…”) posted on YouTube. Really funny, and absolutely hilarious if you know who Christopher Cross and Michael McDonald are. If you don’t, well, you didn’t listen to enough yacht rock as a kid, did you?

And then to top it off, this week VH1 is counting down the 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s. Take my breath away…

Weird Al’s lyrics for “White and Nerdy” [MTV music video] touches upon so many geeky characteristics, it’s uncanny. So I’ve created the White and Nerdy quiz so that you can see how you measure up.

[ ] Went to MIT
[ ] Played Dungeons and Dragons
[ ] Likes Escher
[ ] Drinks tea
[ ] Does not have spinning rims
(more…)

When I was in elementary and middle school, I listened to mostly adult contemporary songs (i.e., “soft rock”), mostly because I didn’t know any better. So watching the infomercial for Time-Life’s Classic Soft Rock collection was particularly trippy, because they showed that these songs were sung by real people! With bad hair and funny clothes! I recognized almost every song, but less than half the singers. I also learned some surprising facts (Lotta Love was originally by Neil Young?).

Every once in a while, I’ll hear a song that catches my attention, and then I can’t resist going online to do some research. Like when I first heard Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love and then finding out a few weeks later it was built around a sample of the 1971 hit “Are You My Woman? by the Chi-Lites. Or when I heard the background music to a Lincoln car commercial about 4 years ago and discovered it was a song called “Get A Move On by Mr. Scruff, who sampled “Bird’s Lament (In Memory of Charlie Parker) by Moondog. Or just recently, when I dug into Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and read that they sampled “Nel Cimitero Di Tucson” by Gianfranco Reverberi, from the soundtrack of a 1968 Italian cowboy movie!

But of course, no one can beat Weird Al. His latest triumph: turning Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’ into “White and Nerdy After more than two decades, he has not lost his touch.

Last week San Jose hosted a huge digital art conference and exhibition called ZeroOne, held in association with the International Symposium of Electronic Art. I went on Tuesday with Francis and Simona to check out an art piece created by their friends called Acclair, a provocative piece on the intersection of profiling, security, and advertising. We also got to see massive images get projected onto San Jose City Hall the result was quite spectacular. I also wanted to see the Survival Research Labs show on Friday, but it was long sold out.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen people from San Francisco come to San Jose to see art. I hope it’s not the last.

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