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| Diadem || |
Diadem is a rewrite of something I did when I was working on Picasa. It’s a library for displaying and managing dialog windows, using the same code and resource files on Windows and Mac OS X, while also keeping a native appearance and layout on both platforms. Many of the windows in Picasa use it, including the Preferences window.
I rewrote the library as Diadem for two main reasons. First, the original version was too closely tied with Picasa, so it could not be packaged as a separate library. Second, I came to regret some of the design decisions I had made, and changing them would have been too disruptive to Picasa.
As a rewrite, Diadem only retains some of the most basic layout code from its predecessor. Beyond that, the similarities are pretty much only conceptual. The Mac and Windows parts have to be almost totally rewritten. The Mac version is functional, with some controls (most notably tabs) remaining to be implemented. On Windows, the cross-platform and XML parsing tests are working, while the native control implementations are still in progress. Additionally, there is a wrapper for using Diadem in Python.
For the moment, Diadem is not being used in any application, but it has been an interesting project to work on, giving me opportunities to learn more about Windows, Python, and good old API design.
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| The Last Airbender ||7/7/2010 |
I’m calling this a victory for hand-drawn animation. The Last Airbender is a 3D, live action film that pales in comparison to its cartoon counterpart. The original show, Avatar: The Last Airbender, is an excellent show. It shows depth, originality, and a fantastic blend of humor, action, and serious drama. In all of these aspects it is superior to the film.
Having learned my lesson from Transformers 2 and Percy Jackson, I went in expecting nothing. I left plenty of room for pleasant surprises, but that void remained empty. The only surprises were the unpleasant ones.
The first big surprise was how distractingly bad the post-process 3D effect was. Many times, I saw faces that seemed to float several inches in front of where they should have been, and in general there was just a strange mix of flatness and depth. I was expecting it to be on par with Alice in Wonderland, which similarly added 3D after filming, instead of being actually filmed in 3D like the not-to-be-confused Avatar. Alice was fine, but with Airbender I wished I could just get rid of the glasses, but of course the double vision effect without them was even worse.
The most jarring thing was the change in pronunciation for several of the names compared with the cartoon. Aang (rhymes with rang) became Ahng. Sokka (sock-ah) became Soh-ka. Iroh (eye-roh) became Ee-roh. Even Avatar was Ahvatar (most of the time).
There has been a lot of controversy over the racial changes in the casting. I think the changes were probably a mistake, but it didn’t really bother me that much. My only problem was that Jackson Rathbone looks too much like Brendan Frasier, and I’m just not used to taking him that seriously.
Any adaptation from one medium to another has inherent challenges. Here, they had to condense 22 half-hour TV episodes into a two hour movie, as well as take an occasionally silly cartoon and find a more appropriate tone for live action. They failed on both counts.
The film felt rushed, jumping from one story point to the next without taking any time to breathe. Even when they were directly recreating individual scenes from the cartoon, they produced inferior dialog, action, characterization, and drama.
There was a scene in which Zhao invites Zuko and Iroh to lunch, and it soon is obvious that his only purpose was to mock and taunt Zuko in front of the Fire Nation soldiers. Zuko storms out, and after a moment’s pause, Iroh silently follows. Lisa and I, as well as our two teenage nephews, all had the same thought: the Iroh we knew from the cartoon would have humbly thanked Zhao for the meal before leaving. Like Albus Dumbledore, he is unfailingly polite in a manner that shows calm and wisdom in spite of his host’s rudeness. The Iroh from the film has not fully developed this virtue.
Like Percy Jackson, this film’s source material has ten times more potential. Ideally, they should go on to make the sequel (I really want to see Dwayne Johnson play The Boulder), but find a new writer and director. Lisa thinks Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top style would be well-suited to adapting a cartoon. After M. Night Shyamalan’s failed attempt, I’m certainly willing to give him a chance.
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| Iron Man 2 ||5/8/2010 |
Like most of the reviews said, and as I expected going in, Iron Man 2 was good overall, even if it wasn’t quite as good as the first film. It picked up literally where Iron Man left off, and I think it did a good job of continuing the established tone and characters. I also laughed a lot, so it’s definitely an entertaining movie.
My main problem was with the Justin Hammer character. I feel like I’ve seen this situation before, where the spoiled, corrupt rich guy thinks he can control the evil mad genius, only to be inevitably double-crossed because the mad genius has his own agenda, plus he is, after all, a genius. It can be fun to watch if the rich guy is a genius himself (I’m thinking Lex Luthor), and is actually equal to the task. Mickey Rourke’s character, Ivan Vanko, never loses his cool in this story. It would have been fun if Hammer could have made him scared or angry or something just once. It’s fun to watch two villains go after each other when they’re evenly matched. But it was established from his first scene that Justin Hammer is annoying, overbearing, and incompetent. His attempts to duplicate the Iron Man armor are all embarrassing failures. I didn’t even find it believable that such a person could be in his position without screwing it up a long time ago.
Plus I didn’t enjoy watching him because he was just annoying. They might as well have cast David Spade or something.
The whole thing with Tony’s electric heart poisoning him as well as keeping him alive also seemed somewhat unoriginal, but I think it was handled well, especially in terms of staying true to the characters of Tony, Rhodey, and Pepper. It was also good to see some exploration of Tony’s relationship with his father, though I think it could have been woven into the story more. It felt a bit shoehorned in.
I’m often dissatisfied with the villains in comic book movies - like Justin Hammer - but Ivan Vanko/Whiplash was done pretty well. He was kind of inscrutable; he didn’t talk much, and half the time it was in Russian. But still, the little he said was enough for me to understand his motives. The character made sense, and he was all the more intriguing because he didn’t want to kill Iron Man, just show the rest of the world that he was vulnerable. That was enough for him.
So, I can similarly say that while Iron Man 2 wasn’t perfect, it was still entertaining and engaging enough.
On the other hand, I don’t plan on going back to the AMC theater in downtown Santa Monica anytime soon. The sound was terrible.
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| Kicking the farm ||4/16/2010 |
I enjoyed FarmVille for a while. It was fun to build up the farm, and interact, after a fashion, with old friends I don’t otherwise get to see much.
While many people took the power-leveling approach to FarmVille, adding “friends” indiscriminately and growing just the right crops for maximum experience points, I decided the purpose of the game is to have fun making a nice-looking farm. After all, no matter how fast you level up, there is no way to “win”.
But I’ve gotten bored with it. I can’t expand my farm without adding more friends, and since I insist on only adding people I actually know I’m pretty much at my limit. So my farm has been kind of stagnant for a while, in spite of Zynga’s attempts to regularly add new things.
Two of the recent big additions to the game actually contributed to my decision. The Co-Op Farming feature seems fun, but you can’t meet its goals unless you have tons of friends with big farms. The new puppies are a non-starter because I’d have to either pay money or play every single day for two weeks straight to get one. Since I have a strict rule about not playing video games on Sundays, that doesn’t work for me.
The other factor in my decision was another game, an iPhone game called We Rule, which is very similar to FarmVille except you build kingdoms instead of farms. It seemed nice (except when there were server problems), but the main problem I had was I don’t know anyone else who plays it. That makes a social game kind of pointless.
So first I deleted We Rule, and then I shut down my farm. I harvested the last of my crops just because I like to be clean, but FarmVille is now hidden from my news feed and gift requests are blocked. Thanks to my friends who played with me. Now that I’ll have a little more spare time, maybe I can finally finish LEGO Indiana Jones 2.
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| The Lightning Thief ||2/21/2010 |
I had been looking forward to this movie for a while. Then the reviews started coming out, and they weren’t all that positive. OK, I’ll just lower my expectations and maybe I can still enjoy it. But no, it turns out it really isn’t a very good movie.
Déjà vu. I wrote something very similar to the above last Summer, describing my experience with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The good news is that Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief isn’t as bad, but of course that’s not saying much.
The biggest problem is what was left out. Of course, when a book is made into a movie, things have to be left out. But you have to keep the important stuff. The Percy Jackson books are about modernizing the Greek myths, and the film didn’t do a good job of sticking to that theme. We never got to see Hermes dressed as a bike messenger, or Zeus in his business suit, or Poseidon as a weathered fisherman. This was a vivid and unique part of the story that I was looking forward to seeing on the screen, and it never happened.
When I’m reading a book, I like to try to cast actors in my mind. Only a few tend to stick, though. In the Percy Jackson books, the only ones that really stuck were Danny DeVito as Dionysus, and Randy Savage as Ares. I wasn’t surprised that they weren’t cast in the film. What did surprise me was that they were cut from it entirely.
Another theme in the series is that the gods have a tendency of not identifying their children. Percy (nor anyone else) didn’t even know that Poseidon was his father until about a third of the way through the book. That revelation is a significant part of the story. The movie kept the scene, but not its purpose. He just found out that, since he’s a son of Poseidon, water heals him. Surprise!
Medusa was one of the very few examples the movie had of putting these mythological characters in a modern setting, with her sunglasses and the turban hiding the snakes. The problem was that Uma Thurman played her just like Poison Ivy from Batman and Robin, which was about on par with Transformers 2. I don’t need to be reminded of that.
There are five books in the series. I read them all last year. I don’t read a lot of books, but Percy Jackson kept me going for all five books and left me looking forward to the films. Now I’m not even sure the filmmakers are ready for more because they left out the parts that set up the overall story. (Spoiler) In the book, Ares and Luke were following the plan of the Titan Kronos, the villain of the story. In the film, Ares was absent and Luke was a lone teenage mastermind setting the gods against each other. Riiight.
Sigh. Can I say anything nice about this movie, other than that it’s not as bad as Transformers 2 or Batman and Robin? Well… Grover was funny.
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| What’s going on, 2010 ||1/1/2010 |
I just looked back and found that it’s been five years since I last did a year-end blog post. That’s mainly because my life has shifted away from the things I set this site up for.
Shareware - People still occasionally send in payments for Icon Machine, which I appreciate. A few other projects have come and gone in the past 5 years. The current one I’m calling Budget Machine, and I’m hoping I’ll get it to the point where Lisa and I can use it some time this year. Whether it’ll go farther than that, as open source or shareware, remains to be seen. I’m also imagining doing a web-based iPhone/mobile counterpart, which I think I’d be more likely to expose to the public (with appropriate disclaimers).
Games - I never got very far on doing mods for Unreal Tournament 3. Having less time, and seeing the UT series get progressively less mod-friendly (from my perspective), there was too little motivation.
Icons - I occasionally work a little on updating Paper Folder to 512x512, but with this kind of design it’s an inherently awkward process. Now that I think of it, it’s probably the hardest one I could have picked.
Real Life - Lisa and I recently celebrated our second anniversary. We remodeled our condo, and got cats. We attended family gatherings in Utah, Italy, and Disneyland. It’s been fun (and at times a bit grueling, but that’s life). At work, Picasa continues to move along, having recently reached version 3.6. I continue to look for opportunities to broaden my experience.
The coming year is harder to predict. No major events are planned, other than the arrivals of a couple of new nieces. There’s also the possibility that we too will find ourselves having to repurpose one of our bedrooms. We’ll see.
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