The Big Think

December 31, 2006

2006 (updated)

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 11:16 am

It’s the last day of the year and I thought I’d take a page from Katherine’s book and do a personal best/worst list for the past 365 days.

Best Book of 2006

I was about to remark on how happy I am that I was able to break a personal record for number of books read, but after seeing that Katherine was able to plow through 250 books (some without pictures!) and it was an off year for her, I’m a little depressed. I feel like I did a lot of reading and I was really happy until I saw this. In one year she’s read almost as many books as I will in a decade. And I call myself a reader. No more, no more.

Anyway, the best book of 2006 for me has to be Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I finally got around to wading through this massive tome and it repaid me in spades. What an amazing book. A couple of other good ones (though not in the same league) would have to be Alastiar Reynolds’ Century Rain, and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. This one particularly is a stellar book about the history of, well, nearly everything. Bryson starts at the very beginning of history and traces the wandering pathways of science down to the present day. There are tons of interesting anecdotes about the quirky personalities involved in the study of the physical world. Lots of stuff that I’ve never read before about Feinman, Bohrs, Einstein, etc. I preferred the first half to the second a little bit. The first half talked more about the development of physics (which I love), while the second half went more into biology and anthropology. He’s a good enough writer, though, to make even this part fascinating. Definitely a good read. Bryson continues to awe me with his sheer breadth of writerly ability. Heh: writerly ability. I think I just disqualified myself from any of that.

Worst Book of 2006

Eric S. Nyland’s A Signal Shattered isn’t a bad book, per se, it’s just really, deeply, profoundly… weird. Still, it had some truly mind-expanding things in it, so I feel a bit bad about putting it here. So never mind. It was the second book in a series and I didn’t read the first, so of course I was confused, and looking back on it I remember some cool stuff. Still, the weirdness stays with me.

If I had to pick one, I’d say Eric Van Lustbader’s The Bourne Legacy. I’d never read any of the Bourne books before, and I think I picked a real stinker to start with. First off, it wasn’t done by the master himself, and second, it wasn’t even very entertaining. Paper thin characters and improbable situations that would make Bond himself roll his eyes. I suffered my way through this to see if it’d get any better. It didn’t.

Best TV Show of 2006

Best thing about 2006 was the fact that we hardly watched any TV. If I had to pick one show, though, it’d be Firefly (got it on DVD and have passed the virus to three friends now). If they started producing this series tomorrow I’d want to get cable again, and I’d for sure buy the DVD’s. The fact that they killed this franchise before it got going and yet still air dreck like The Best of Dancing with the Idols of the Stars 2 is proof enough of why we banished Cox and Time Warner from the house. I’d like to say that axing the boob tube gave me more time to read (which is true), but Katherine keeps up with tons of shows and still reads 250 books. I am so lame.

UPDATE: I can’t agree with Giles about Battlestar Galactica (see his comment below). I’ve quit watching it, but the last time I saw a show I was disappointed. The acting seemed forced and strident and the characters were caricatures. Plus the big surprise at the end was obvious. I may have caught a bum episode (I understand that there are more than a few this season), but that just seems to reinforce my point. I liked the first season but somewhere in season 2 BSG became obvious commentary on the GWOT. When a show moves from entertaining to indoctrination I lose interest.

Worst TV Show of 2006

The Best of Dancing with the Idols of the Stars 2.

Or anything on channels 2-109. I can’t concur with Katherine about Lost. We keep up with it via DVD’s and friends with VCR’s, and yes, we’ve been known to break out the rabbit ears on a couple of occasions. So sue me. Lost: Season 1 was fantastic. The current season (2? 3?) has been a big disappointment, but I don’t think it’s circling the drain yet. Approaching the sink, yes. circumnavigating the exit protuberance, no. But if they don’t quit introducing new rabbit trails and answer some of the mysteries they’ve dangled in front of us for the past 2 years, though, I’m outta here. Jack Shepard is a wimp compared to another Jack, and I had zero qualms about kicking the CTU crowd to the curb once the show got too manipulative and forced. Don’t think I won’t kick myself off the island, ABC. You have been warned.

Best Movie of 2006

Nothing really amazing stood out (hard to live up to the LOTR franchises). Giles and I went to see King Kong, which I felt was extremely violent and lacked much heart. Superman had its moments, but I could have caught that on DVD. Xmen 3 (which we rented last night) was okay, but nothing spectacular. Since we got rid of the TV I’ve noticed that my capacity for bad storytelling has decreased. We’ll occasionally turn it on to watch the news or something (like the whole Saddam exercise last night). When we do, we’ll sometimes flip over to one of the top rated shows and watch a few minutes to see if we’re missing anything. Seriously? This is what everybody is watching? Is everyone brain dead? Even going back and watching stuff we were way into a few years ago is eye-opening. Has TV gotten worse in the last year and a half or are audiences just used to this crap?

Okay, okay. This was supposed to be about good movies I’ve seen this year. If any stood out I’d remember them. Ergo…

UPDATE Giles reminded me that Cars came out this year. How could I forget that? We saw it in the theater (Pixar gets our box-office money no-questions-asked). Great film! I have to give it my thumbs-up for the year. We also saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2 on New Year’s Eve after I wrote this post. That’s also a worthy “best-of” flick, though I think Cars just barely beats it out for me. From Giles’ comment:

…though Pirates Of The Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest may not be great cinema, it gets an honorable mention for sheer spectacle. Whereas the first POTC artfully turned a well-known ride into a 2.5-hour movie, this sequel successfully turned a well-known movie into a 2.5-hour ride; I found padded pleasure in the symmetry.

Worst Movie of 2006

Hand’s down no question, and my vote for worst movie of the decade, was the fiasco known as Borat. I told Erin that I would gladly pay somebody another $6.50 to remove the memory of this excrescent piece of celluloid from my grey matter. I thought I would always consider “It Came From Hollywood” as my low water mark for bad films, but this one made John Candy’s clip movie look like Lawrence of Arabia. Incidentally, It Came from Hollywood was the first movie I ever paid full price for, which was a lot of money when I was a teenager. I always felt a sense of betrayal at the film industry for suckering me into buying that ticket long ago. No longer. Borat is everything that’s wrong with popular American culture. The glorification of the basest and grossest. The Mook unleashed. To quote Roger Ebert, I hated, hated, hated this movie. I’m in the miniscule minority on this one, so I’ve decided that the rest of America is crazy.

So ends the list of Katherine’s categories for best/worse of 2007. I copied it off her site and filled my own answers in, but I didn’t think it went far enough. So for your edification (and because this post isn’t long enough) here are a few more of my choosing.

Best New Store: Vino 100. We discovered this cool place about halfway through the year, and our grocery budget has suffered for it. We’re getting an education in oenology and enjoying every minute of it. Hmmm… wine, Ayn Rand, no TV. Am I sounding pretentious?

Best Work: Hard to choose since my stuff at Baylor is so satisfying, and there are so many good moments there. Excluding the Baylor stuff, I’d have to say the work that I did with Storme and Lee this year has been the most rewarding. Like I’ve posted before, these guys get it, and it’s a real joy to work with them. I’m hoping this next year brings more collaborations with them. We did one project in particular called The Body that was everything a good day on the set should be. Hard, fun, exhausting, creative, and problem-solving. I’m really happy with the post-production and foley work I did on it as well (though it’s hard to tell from the compressed demo version). Particularly pleased with a bit of audio rescue work you’ll never even notice. You can watch the demo version here. I’ve done other kinds of production work but I always feel like I “come home” to an eleven72 project.

Worst Work: I try not to do anything halfway, even the stuff that sucks. However, I think Erin and my foray into chair/stool making for children was the most frustrating. After many, many hours of work, we barely managed to break even. We were shown that the market for custom woodworking for children is very small, and most of the residents of our Austin suburb are cheap, cheap, cheap. Fortunately, we learned some good business lessons and got some great experience out of it.

Best Woodworking Project: I was really pleased with the wall cabinet, but I’m most proud of the work I did on Erin’s music cabinet. I’m currently working on a subwoofer but work has kind of stalled until I get some more music charts written. I keep meaning to go work on it but the days seem weirdly short. I think I just need to make myself go out there and I won’t feel guilty for taking the time.

Worst health Moment: No contest. Food poisoning. Oy. Bleah. Yuck.

Barry always writes a cool “what I did in 200X” post (write it soon Barry!). Following is my own version of the seminal moments from the past annum.

Had a good show: 7 of the 8 acts for this years’ Pigskin Review were my arrangements. The first place act wasn’t mine, but I was really happy that my groups did so well in the rest of the show. Ultimately, the final result isn’t up to the arranger (some of my best arrangements have been some of the worst acts in the show), but it was gratifying to see so many of my groups succeed. I was pretty pleased with the way things turned out this past year. What made it extra special was the fact that 10 or so friends from Austin braved icy roads to come see the show this year. They didn’t know what all the fuss was about an now they want to come back! Here’s a hint gang: I think this year will be even better. I don’t think I’ll have as many acts in Pigskin, but I think the overall quality of acts is going to be even higher this year. I’m really looking forward to February.

Rebuilt the bathroom: I took a flying leap into Serious Home Remodeling and stripped everything out of the guest bathroom. After two weeks of wondering if it would all come together, Erin and I were both happy at the final result. I built the big cabinet, medicine cabinet, tiled the floor and walls (with concrete backerboard), removed/replaced the toilet, installed a ceiling speaker, new light fixtures, new faucet, new mirror and towel/TP racks, new shower curtain and rod, and even did a cool tile accent pattern around the perimeter. The final result was much better than we ever though it would be. So I’ve gotten inspired and I’m finally going to gut my studio workspace and give it the overhaul treatment. A little scary, but now that I’ve trod this road I think it’ll be successful.

Read a lot: okay, I’m no Katherine, but I did manage to blow away any previous years’ book total. I’ve already got my reading lined up for the next 12 months. Literally. One bookshelf in the library contains 30 books that I’ll read through in 2007.

Got a dog: and then took him back to Blue Dog Rescue when we discovered a 40lb german shepherd mix wasn’t a good fit for our lifestyle. Captain was a great pup but not quite right for us. We’re still searching for the “right” pooch. Who knows… we may get one before this decade is out.

Lost my grandmother: In a sad milestone, my family said goodbye to my Grandma Bea.

Blogged: In spite of occasional server wonkiness, I kept up a fairly consistent pace of posting. Thanks to Giles for still being willing to host this mess. I know I haven’t posted that much the past few months, but this is my busy season. Hey… you’re getting a big post now, aren’t you? How many people have actually read this far anyway?

Got a new iMac: about 2 weeks ago, actually. We finally replaced the aging Pismo from the year 2000. It’s still my road machine for note taking, but now Erin gets to use a spiffy 17″ iMac for daily surfing. Boy, is that thing fast.

Gamed: My friend Jan continues to hook me up with the latest and greatest games. This year I played through some good stuff indeed. Jan is a truly hard-core gamer and he serves as my filter/pusher. He’s able to filter out some of the good and bad and give me recommendations. Granted, his preference is heavily on the RPG genre, so I’ve gotten a huge dose of them the past few years. I’ve completed Kingdom Hearts I and II (great), Final Fantasy VII (because i needed the geek cred), and FFX (fantastic game). I finished all three of the Ratchet and Clank games (fantastic), and played Daxter and Jak I (good) and II (bad). Right now I’m working my way through Beyond Good and Evil (pretty good) and I just finished Disgaea 2. Final Fantasy XII is on deck, followed by Okami and maybe Valkyrie Profile 2. And as soon as Lego Star Wars 2 hits the $20 level I’m there. I tend to buy my games later when they’re cheap. That also lets me read the reviews and get the best stuff.

Got bronchitis: which almost turned into pneumonia again. All hail RediClinic and antibiotics!

Hit “middle age”: and realized again that this is true.

Built Props: I was not only able to build a really big, elaborate ferris wheel prop for the show last february, but I topped it a few weeks ago with a trio of huge props. Shh… it’s a secret. I start work on another, easier prop in the next few weeks. I love building props for the show. It’s a chance for me to exercise a different set of skills and still justify it as work!

Found Out I’m a Scanner: It may not sound like a big deal, but this was a huge revelation to me. If you’re not one, you might not understand what it means. If you are a Scanner, you’ll know how if feels to find out that it’s okay to be interested in so many different things. Best of all was the knowledge that it’s not a disease and there are other’s like me out there! Are you a Scanner, too?Got a Roomba! I know, I know, it’s nothing compared to the self-discovery of the Scanner thing, but it’s cool to have a robot vacuum our carpet. Just like it’s cool to have a computer control our house. Just like it’s cool to have a robot mow our lawn. Bow before me, the Robot King.

Traveled to Nebraska: and got to see my wife bond with her best friend again. How great that she has someone that she’s so close to. It makes me happy to see her with Anne. As well as I know Erin, when she’s with Anne a subtly different aspect of her personality surfaces. And speaking of my wife:

Approached 10 years: Erin gets on my case for celebrating our 10th anniversary too early (it’s actually in April), but I can’t get over the fact that I’ve been married to this amazing, beautiful, compassionate, funny, wonderful person for almost a decade. Can that really be true?

Another year is in the can. I wonder what 2007 will bring?

December 28, 2006

Sister Sarah

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 5:07 pm

Giles and Jennifer have announced to the world that they’re expecting again! Congrats to them. It’ll be fun to see what Sarah makes of a new little brother or sister.

Iran in Collapse?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:41 am

According to this article, Iran’s oil exports could disappear in the next 8 years, completely crippling the nation and effectively taking it off the table of dangerous countries. Or, the loss of 65% of its revenue could make it try some desperate things. Invade Iraq, anyone?

Singularitarian

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 1:11 am

Scientist and author David Brin (a personal favorite) has an erudite essay on the Singularity. Worth reading if you want to keep up on this stuff.

December 27, 2006

Evil Lair

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 10:46 pm

Ever wanted an evil lair? This guy has posted a bunch of drawings of his own lair prototypes.

Prodigies

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 10:46 pm

Two of Erin’s prodigy students from an email to Erin:

I bet you don’t hear about too many 5 and 7 year old brothers fighting over
– of all things – the definition of “jazz.” Yet, this was the argument that
took place the other morning at our house, the kids in their jammies with
stuffed animals, eating oatmeal and talking about Santa Claus and the like,
and all of a sudden they break out into a full-fledged argument about
whether a certain piece is “jazz” or not (I can’t remember the piece right
now) and yelling at each other over whether you are supposed to “swing” the
8th notes. Can you imagine?! This all ended as sibling rivalries usually
do, by Finn hitting Shane in the back after Shane taunted Finn by saying
“You don’t know EVERYTHING about jazz, you know.”

Radicalism in Dallas

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:46 pm

I stumbled across an interesting and disturbing article about growing Muslim radicalism in Dallas, of all places. Read more here.

Pachelbel Rant

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 8:58 pm

Thanks to Sean for posting this hilarious Pacelbel Canon rant from YouTube.

December 23, 2006

Gauss Pistol

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 9:51 pm

I don’t know if this is a fake or not, but if not, this guy is going to get a call from the military. And then he’ll disappear.

What an awesome gun.

December 21, 2006

Hey Hey!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 9:50 pm

As the clown says.

I’m back. Giles told me that the DNS was a bit fargled somewheres. These tubes can get clogged, ya know. I hope it’s resolved, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s one of those issues that is hard to track down.

Denise, Dana, and Seta (Erin’s Aunt, Uncle, and cousin, respectively) are staying with us for a few days. We’ve already had a good time with them and expect more of the same. Sorry, holiday time is a bit light, blogging wise, though I’m sure that everyone has been trained to stop coming here because of the outage. Again, sorry.

December 16, 2006

Vista Downgrade?

Filed under: Computing — jasony @ 10:57 pm

Is Microsoft’s Vista a downgrade?

December 14, 2006

Good Work

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 8:36 am

It’s 1:30am and I’m about to fall exhausted into bed, but I had to take note of what an incredible day I’ve had. I got to work hard with people I care about doing work that matters to me. It’s creative, fun, tremendously stretching, and a little risky, and I’m able to do it in an environment of support and trust slathered with wild fun abandon. I suspect that there are very few people who fall into bed at night feeling the profound contentment of a job really well executed, when all your skills and talents are stretched, and when you feel like you are doing exactly what you are meant to do. I’m lucky that I get to feel this way quite often. I get paid for this?

I know that there will be drudgery days and hard days, frustrating days and days when I get consumed by my old demons of self-doubt and fear, and days when the financial payback doesn’t seem worth the ridiculous amount of time I put in. But I try and stick days like today in the bank so I can draw their interest out in the future when I need it. I feel blessed that I have so many days like this in that account.

There are probably only one or two people who understand exactly what I mean by all of this, and that’s okay. The important thing is that I’ve reached the point where I realize how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing right now. I don’t have to wait until it’s all in the past to say “I wish I had realized”. I think Future Jason is looking back at me and saying YES. He wrung those days dry, and I have no regrets.

What a life.

December 12, 2006

That’s No Moon…

Filed under: Audio — jasony @ 1:30 am

It’s a subwoofer.

December 10, 2006

I’m In Awe

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 5:00 pm

As an intermediate level hobbyist woodworker, I’m always thrilled when I get a joint flush or the grain just right on one of my projects. All of my work seems to take five times as long as I initially think it will just because I spend a lot of that time thinking and planning around problems. After all, wood is expensive!

That’s why this kind of woodworking just makes me weak at the knees. Don’t miss the video of this masterpiece in action.

Best comment from the post:

Whoever designed and made this table just made Norm Abram look like a 7th grade shop student. Holy moly.

I concur.

Blogs in Spaaaace!

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 4:29 pm

Rookie Astronaut Bill Oefelein blogs from space.

December 8, 2006

Lileks

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 8:07 pm

James Lileks is up for a weblog award (“best individual blog”). If you read him, be sure to click this link and vote for him. If you don’t read him…. well, if you don’t read him, I don’t even want to know you.

Helicopter Madness

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 4:58 pm

This looks awesome. What fun!

Scanner

Filed under: Science — jasony @ 4:12 pm

I’ve always wondered how a scanning tunneling electron microscope works. This quicktime tutorial shows how. Pretty neat!

December 6, 2006

Christmas Shopping

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 6:28 pm

This year is the year of Amazon. We’ve decided to get as much of our Christmas shopping done online as possible. Sure, we’ll pay shipping (in many cases), but we’ll save tax. I think it’ll more than balance out. And I will have the pleasure of not having to fight the hated crowds.

Take that, local retailers.

Sickie

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 6:26 pm

Sorry I haven’t posted in a few days. I’ve been sick sick sick sick sick. Some people may have the fortitude to post when they’re sick, but I just felt like sitting on the couch all day hacking and blowing my nose.

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