Monday, March 31, 2008

strange new worlds

As I mentioned previously, we were in Las Vegas about a week ago, and the Hilton Hotel's Spacequest casino is a favorite of ours, and we also enjoy looking through the Promenade shops at the Star Trek merchandise. On this visit, we noticed a postcard advertising that a Star Trek convention was scheduled to be held at the Hilton in August. Wow. It of course makes perfect sense, but can you imagine the convergence of Trekkies/ers that are going to be there come early August? This is the first I've heard about it, but apparently, they've been holding an annual Star Trek convention at the Hilton in Las Vegas since 2002. I wonder if the Hilton warns other guests booking for that time about the convention and what to expect from their fellow hotel guests. I can imagine the surprise that some people might have when they encounter groups of costume-adorned people wandering around the hotel. When we went to Celebration IV, the Star Wars convention, last year, there were designated hotels that people going to the convention could book, but at least they were pretty spread out among a number of hotels. In this case, I would expect the concentration of people would be staying at the Hilton directly since it would be most convenient and since I would expect there would be some kind of special convention rate.

I'm wondering what it's like for the people working the Promenade shops when the Star Trek experts descend on the place. On one visit we made with friends some time ago, the husband and one friend did the Star Trek Adventure (when they only had the Klingon one), and another friend and I wandered around the Promenade. One person working in the shops kept trying in impress us with his knowledge and experience as it pertained to Star Trek, but for differing reasons, it didn't work on either of us.

In talking about the convention to friends over the weekend, I had mis-remembered that the convention was going to be in September. It turns out that we will most likely be making another trip to Vegas this year, in September, and I was wondering if it was the same weekend. There's a tiny part of me that would have thought it was interesting just to pop in and sight-see the convention goers. However, since the convention is in August and we wouldn't be going until September, that's now a moot point. But at least that means we'll be able to play in the Spacequest casino in relative peace.

In my previous life, I attended Star Trek conventions for a couple of years, and they were fun. All the conventions were run by Creation Entertainment, and I went to a few non-Star Trek conventions run by Creation as well. Creation as a company has their upsides and downsides when it comes to conventions they put on, but everything I know/experienced was from multiple years ago, so I have no idea what it's like now.

In the Promenade area, they have a replicator that's supposed to be able to produce foods from different cultures. The sound was working, but the picture was not. I'm thinking they might want to get that fixed before August.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade - at home!

The husband and I are both huge fans of the Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade. Because of the husband's interest, we own the set of Electrical Parade floats that came out as part of the Walt Disney Classics Collection quite a number of years ago. We have also been collecting the pieces in Robert Olszewski's Disneyland Main Street U.S.A. miniatures collection, which is basically a miniature reproduction of Main Street and various attractions in Disneyland, since the first release in December 2002 of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

On Saturday, March 29, the first set of five floats from the Electrical Parade in the collection were released. The pieces are apparently modeled similar to the Classics Collection pieces. You can definitely see the resemblance between the two.

The Olszewski floats change color, as do the Classics Collection floats. They really do look remarkable together. Here's a video that shows the two sets of floats performing together (7.5 MB). You'll want to turn the sound up for this.

Yeah, I know, we're geeks.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

15 (ok, really, only 5) minutes of fame

Have you always wanted to be a radio talk show host? Are you at least 18 years old? Are you good at presenting your opinions? Has anyone ever told you that you have a great voice? Well, here's your chance! 97.1 Free FM in Los Angeles is holding a contest called "America's Next Great Talk Stud" (though presumably, it's open to women also, not just men). They give you a demo topic, and you do a 5-minute "show" on the topic and then submit it. If they like it, they'll play it on the air and put it on the web where people can vote for it. At the end of the year, the person with the highest-rate show will get two hours on the air. I'm presuming that the demo topic changes periodically - not sure if you can submit more than one show.

Here's the link for more information.

OK, I know, I'm a dork, but reading the official contest rules made me laugh.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I've got a bad feeling about this

Ever since I became interested in/liked/loved/been obsessed with Star Wars, my interest has encompassed all manner of Star Wars-related stuff, including things like toys and DVDs and random other things that have drained my bank account.

Well, on our trip last weekend to Las Vegas, I found something else Star Wars-related that is going to further drain my bank account.

Yep, Star Wars slot machines.

Oddly enough, the first place I saw them was at Spacequest, the space-themed casino at the Las Vegas Hilton, home of the Star Trek Experience adventures (Klingon adventure - good; Borg adventure - bad) and Quark's Restaurant (home of the ever popular warp core drink and newest addition to the drink family, James Tea Kirk) and the Promenade shops. (The Spacequest casino is one of our favorites, and we always make a point of spending some time there and browsing around the Promenade when we're in Vegas. It indulges my still-existing Star Trek interest, and I love the Spacequest casino because it's got nice atmosphere and usually fun slots and great music. BTW, they have a Star Trek-themed slot machine too, which the husband played for quite some time and really liked. If he wants to talk about it, he can be guest-blogger for the day sometime. Or if you're interested, just ask him about it.) I thought it was pretty funny that the Star Trek-adjacent casino had Star Wars slots. They had two different ones there, one for Star Wars, and one for the Dark Side. The Star Wars one was based on the first film, and they had the various characters as the wheel entries. If you won a particular bet with a particular character, it would play a little snippet of a scene of them from the film, and during the spins, it would play various themes from the movie. There were also two bonuses, one that was a Death Star Bonus, and if you hit that, then the Death Star above the machine would spin and determine what bonus points you got. There was also this cool lightsabre bonus where if you got both Vader and Ben Kenobi on one of your played lines, it would trigger the lightsabre duel between them from the first film, and you had to pick which one would win. Both times I got it, I picked Ben, and both times, Vader won. I was wondering if it was programmed that way because the film was that way, but I saw other people get the bonus where Ben won.

On the Dark Side one, all the characters were Empire characters and droids and such, and you'd get snippets of those characters if you won with them. They had a bonus where Vader and an Imperial guard were there and you picked planets, but it just gave you points depending on what you picked. I was disappointed - it's the Dark Side - you should be blowing up planets for points! I only got the bonus when I was in a casino that was loud with the machine sounds turned down, so I have no idea what Vader or the guard was saying. I wanted to play it again in a quieter place but didn't get a chance to.

I saw these same slots at New York, New York, but they also had a third one, themed to The Empire Strikes Back. It had characters from the film, and it played scenes from that movie when you hit certain characters. There was a Jedi Training bonus where you were on Dagobah with Yoda, and you picked the various objects that Luke had to levitate, including a rock, R2 and the x-wing. If you picked correctly, you could end up picking all of the objects and really scoring big - I managed to guess correctly once and get all of them. There was also a Bespin free spin bonus that was triggered if you got both Han and Leia on lines that you were playing. Once triggered, you got transported to Bespin with Lando talking to you, and you got as many free spins as you could until both Han and Boba Fett showed up on the same spin. At that point, the wheel Han is on is frozen, with the picture of Han in carbonite, but the entire row becomes wild cards, and then a bonus wheel spins to determine how many free spins you get, and that many free spins goes, and you earn whatever you can. One time, during the free spins, I managed to get Han and Boba Fett again, so I had two wheels that were frozen and all wild cards. I scored really high on that one!

Of all the games, I liked the Empire one best, and it's also the one that paid off the best. The Empire gave me a total of about $30, so I was happy. The Star Wars one was cool because of the lightsabre bonus. I really wanted to like the Dark Side one, but it really needed more extras to make it more fun.

I'm not a big gambling person, and it's not like I couldn't just put my DVDs in and watch the movies themselves, but it was fun playing slot machines themed to Star Wars. I'm hoping they'll do a Jedi one as well.

We had been making annual visits to Las Vegas, but our last trip was in Spring 2004, and I had made a short 24-hour trip in August of 2004 but did very little gambling because of the time constraints. The Star Wars slots apparently came out in 2004, according to this article. Here's a link to a page that has video of the Star Wars and Dark Side machines. You get just a quick glimpse of the Empire one - it's the one with Yoda sitting on top. Here's another article about the machine, with a screen capture shot. And here's a more involved article taking you through the Star Wars machine step by step. I'm going to have to read through that article thoroughly before our next trip.

I could completely see myself playing on those machines for hours, just feeding money in as needed. They're penny machines, but you can bet several dollars at a time, if you play all the lines for the max amount.

Hmmm, wonder when our next Vegas trip will be.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

kittens, kittens, kittens

I'm feeling a little off and having serious writer's block at the moment, so to address both problems, I'm just going to show you some of my favorite youtube videos with kittens.

This one is my absolute favorite. I love the little kitten in the box as well as the ones trying to get in. Too cute.

This little baby is really sweet. You have to watch with the sound on.

This one is just really funny with the kitten falling asleep. She's also doing the kneading thing that Orkid still does, even as an adult.

This one is funny because a little kitten is being terrorized by a bunny.

And just for good measure, here's a picture of Orkid on the first day we brought her home, when she was just a couple months old.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Go Fish

I can't even remember where I heard about a Fish 'n Flush Toilet-Tank Aquarium, but it sounded like a really odd idea. I know that people like to decorate their bathrooms, and I think that having a phone and big screen TV and such in the bathroom is a little weird, but live animals? If I walked into random person's house and had to use their bathroom and was greeted with goldfish or whatever swimming around in the toilet tank, I would seriously be surprised.

I would think that a fish toilet tank aquarium would be more interesting to men than women since women would really not get to look at it much, whereas men would be more likely to be facing the tank. But I know that men (and boys) can be curious and weird - what if they were to decide to "aim" for the fish? Ewwww.

And what if one of the fish died? One of the ways people get rid of dead fish is to flush them down the toilet. I think it would be weird to just move a fish from the tank to the bowl, though I guess it would be extremely convenient.

I think Orkid might enjoy it during the times she's allowed in the bathroom. I'd think she'd want to stand on the seat and chase the little fishies around. I'd be concerned that she'd just terrorize the living daylights out of them. On the one hand, I'm not sure they have enough brain cells to be scared of her, but then I'm also remembering that as a kid, my brother had aquariums with big fish for whom we'd have to get feeder fish, and I remember one time seeing one feeder fish who was cowering in a corner among some fake plants trying to hide. No, I'm not making it up and imbuing it with human feelings. (I can't remember how to spell the word that means that, and I'm too lazy to look it up at the moment.) It looked terrified. It also had bite marks on its fins and tail, so I'm assuming it was about to be lunch or dinner and managed to get away for the time being, but it was scared enough to know what its fate was going to be. And the next time I looked, fishie was gone. Gulp.

I think the tag line for the product is pretty funny though:

"A whimsical potty that turns your toilet into a nautical wonderland."

"Nautical wonderland". Hey, that would be a good name for a band!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

even worse than bad reality television

I've written about the show "Passions" previously. As I mentioned, I don't watch the show, but since I subscribe to Soap Opera Digest, I read the weekly summaries of all the shows, so that coupled with feature stories and bits and stuff, I know a lot about what's happening on shows I've never watched.

Here's a sentence from one such "Passions" summary a couple weeks ago:
"Eve gives Vincent a gynecological exam on her kitchen table."
OK, without even knowing relationships and circumstances, how incredibly, mind-numbingly EWWWWWWW is doing that kind of exam on your own kitchen table???!??!!!?!

But then, what if you know the following:

Julian and Eve are Vincent's parents. They had both thought he had died in some event that happened, but then Eve discovered that her new friend Valerie was actually her son Vincent in disguise, her son who also happens to apparently have complete girl bits. Valerie then purposely seduced Julian and got impregnated by him. Eve knows all about this, but Julian is oblivious to who Valerie actually is.

OK, now keep all that in mind as you read a recent part of the "Passions" summary:
Eve helps Vincent with his Lamaze training, doing her best to comprehend the situation. Then Vincent gags Eve and ties her up in a closet because Valerie has a "date" with Julian and doesn't want to be disturbed. A horrified Eve is forced to listen as Valerie tries to seduce her baby's father. Val torments Eve by proceeding to having sex with Julian. However, Julian gets the biggest shock when Val's wig falls off, revealing the true identity of his lover. Now Julian knows that Vincent is alive. Vincent decides he has no choice but to kill both Julian and Eve.
Are you serious? Seriously. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT.

As I mentioned before, soap stories oftentimes have an outlandish quality to them, and "Passions" even has witches and witchcraft as a central part of the show (which I'm ok with in primetime shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Charmed" but for some reason doesn't work in a daytime setting for me, but then I never watched "Port Charles" and wasn't interested at all when they brought vampires into that show). But there's fantastical within reason, and then there's beyond. I remember reading about Marlena's possession by the devil on "Days of our Lives" some time ago. Again, outlandish for daytime soaps, but possession isn't new to stories - look at "The Exorcist" and any number of movies and television shows. Heck, look at Corinne and Father Tim's child on "Soap". But really, I want to know how the creators of this particular Eve/Julian/Valerie|Vincent triangle (or is that square? or rectangle?) write this entire storyline and think that it's a good day's work at the office. Yeah, incestuous and semi-incestuous relationships have and are even currently being played out on other soaps, but again, this goes way beyond that. Who exactly watches this storyline and thinks, yeah, great story, can't wait to see more? Oh, isn't it great that he/she is seducing his/her own father and getting pregnant by dear old dad? And then mom has to listen while her son has sex with his father. What do the actors think about having to portray that kind of story? There's portraying Ted Bundy and Charles Manson and the likes of that, but what about the two people playing Vincent and Valerie? Yes, Vincent is actually played by a man, and Valerie is played by a woman, though I'm not sure if the actor who plays Vincent is ever dressed to look like Valerie.

Yeah, I know, I'm getting entirely too pissed off about a show that I don't even watch. If I don't like it, don't watch it, which I don't, but don't even read about it. Hey, if they want to put it on the air, I obviously have no power to stop them. I just see them doing this kind of thing and then completely not understand how they can be so shocked and surprised that their ratings aren't doing very well.

Yeah, that's exactly the kind of thing soap fans are clamouring to see more of.

Monday, March 24, 2008

T4 aka "Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins"

So in addition to the new television show "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles", yet another continuation of the Terminator saga will be coming. Warner Bros. has announced that their film entitled "Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins" will be released on May 22, 2009, with Christian Bale in the pivotal role of John Connor. There's apparently not much known about the story, but it's planned to be a trilogy of films that begins after Judgement Day, after Skynet has already destroyed a significant number of humans, and John Connor leads a group of survivors to try to stop the machines. The events of the TV show are supposed to take place after the third Terminator movie, and the events of the new movie are then supposed to take place after the events of the TV show. I don't think it will quite be the parts of the fight that we've already seen, when the network of resistance fighters has already been established, but rather, the beginnings of John becoming a leader and gathering a following, which should be really exciting and interesting to see. Hey, they have to win - they're being led by Batman! However, can I just say that as much as I like Liam Neeson, he damn well better not be cast as some wise sage in this film.

I would expect that Kyle Reese would be in the story, if not the first film then at least by the second or third film since he plays such an important role in the fight. It will be interesting to see whether they incorporate the recently created character of Derek Reese in the film. Warner Bros. does also produce the television show, so it shouldn't be a problem.

Neither James Cameron nor Arnold Schwarzenegger are affiliated with this new project.

I absolutely loved "Terminator" and "T2". I was not all that pleased with "T3", but I also love "T2-3D", the Terminator-themed show at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with this movie.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

magical memories - Disneyland circa mid-1980s

I've been a Disneyland annual passholder for a number of years now, but I wasn't one of those who grew up being taught to love Disney. Sure, living in Southern California, we would visit periodically, maybe once every couple of years and/or when relatives might be in town, but we mostly went just because it was the thing to do. In the mid-80s during a summer break from college, I ended up getting a job at Disneyland, and during that same summer, I spent one of the most memorable days there. I was usually off on one or two days during the week, and I can't remember how it came about, but my brother, six years older than me, decided to take a mid-day off work, and we took our parents to Disneyland for the day.

Some people say that small children are too young to take to Disneyland because they won't really enjoy it or remember anything. Others say that it's not any fun without children being along. Others only like going with friends. Well, to me, your experience at Disneyland is what you choose to make of it. It doesn't matter what configuration of ages or relationships might be in your group. Disneyland is truly a place for families of all types and children of all ages.

I don't remember too many specifics about the day except for one thing - the Main Street Electrical Parade. We had decided we wanted to see that, and our parents liked parades anyway, so we made sure to stake out good seats early. We found a location along Main Street where our parents could sit on a bench (which would be more comfortable for them) where they could enjoy snacks while watching the parade, and my brother and I sat on the curb so we could be up close and personal. We were two adults, but we were having as much fun as any of the kids around us, and I think that's when I started waving at the parade performers and trying to get them to wave back. I remember managing to get some of them, even the non-character people, to wave back - double-points if it was one of the people holding a pole or something with two hands, so they had to maneuver a bit to take one hand off to wave.

My parents told us later that it was the most fun they'd ever had at Disneyland. On previous trips, it was usually with the entire family, so there were more people to take into consideration, whereas this time, it was just the four of us. They said that our sisters had really been into shopping, so lots of time was spent wandering through stores, which they didn't really enjoy. We did very little shopping that day (surprising to those who know me, I know), and basically did rides all day. There were probably some that my parents didn't go on, but generally, we were all able to go on rides together.

That summer, we ended up spending a few more days like that, visiting other locations with just the four of us, but it's the memory of watching the MSEP with my brother and my parents that stands out in my mind.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

the real reason for the fall of the Galactic Empire

It wasn't the Rebellion. It wasn't blowing up the Death Star. It wasn't even the death of the Emperor.

This is the reason for the fall of the Empire.

How does one even come up with this kind of idea?

A friend passed this along, and you know who you are. I think that in penance for even putting that picture in my mind, you owe me some free therapy sessions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

maybe it's a time zone problem

Even though I've never been a morning person and have always done much better staying up later at night, I've found that to be more and more true nowadays. My arrival time at work has been seriously adjusted the last couple of years, but I'm grateful that my boss is ok with that. I've also found myself staying up later than I really should given that the next day, I have to go to work.

I think I finally figured out the problem - I'm in the wrong time zone. I'm getting up and going to bed about 3 hours later than I really should - so since Hawaii is three hours later than L.A., would my problem disappear if I were living in Hawaii instead? Is my internal body schedule tied to the earth and "time" as an abstract concept, or am I somehow fixated on the actual time constraints of L.A.? If I were living in Hawaii, would I then be in sync with how their workday goes, or would I still end up being more comfortable doing things 3 hours later than I should there, which means that I would have to keep moving 3 hours west in an elusive and futile quest to find the natural time zone for me?

But then, I don't want to live in Hawaii (or in the middle of the ocean for that matter). I've never been there (Hawaii or the middle of the ocean), and I hear it's nice (Hawaii, not the middle of the ocean), but I don't think I want to live on an island (in the middle of the ocean). OK, technically, North America is an island, but you get the idea. (I can't figure out how to squeeze in an ocean reference here. OK, I'll stop.)

I've not had to deal with differing time zones much. Sometimes, I've adjusted well, and sometimes not. When I was in London eons ago, I didn't really have a problem adjusting to the 8-hour time difference when I got there. However, because of various extenuating circumstances, adjusting to the time change when I came back to L.A. was a nightmare. When I've been in places that had a one or two hour time difference, it hasn't been a big deal. When I've been on the east coast, my adaptation has varied. Recent trips to New York, Florida and Connecticut and an older visit to Washington D.C. did not yield any time-zone adaptation problems. On my first trip to New York, I did have a bit of a problem, but that's because I had a red-eye flight (which I am *NEVER* doing again), leaving L.A. at about midnight, and it wasn't a very comfortable seat or airplane, so I didn't get much sleep, and then they woke me up at what I thought was about 3 in the morning and tried to feed me nasty airplane food. That's not to say all airplane food is nasty, but this stuff was, moreso because it was the middle of a frickin' sleep-little night for me. It took me a few days to adjust to New York time on that trip.

On my first trip to Washington, D.C. with a friend, we initially tried to go with local time, but as the week wore on, we discovered that we were having dinner later and later, and by the last couple days, she and I were having dinner at about 9pm local time, which was at least closer to our regular dinner time. On a trip to New York two years ago, though, the husband and I pretty much just went right into New York time, so we were having dinner fairly early, relatively speaking.

And yes, before someone else mentions it, I was in Reno last year and had no idea what time zone I was in, so maybe it's not entirely a time zone issue.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What do you "mean"?

Here's a picture of a sign that the husband and I have driven past multiple times. This company is located in Baldwin Park, east of Los Angeles, and the sign is visible from the 10 freeway.

The way I see it, they haven't actually moved - they're just pretending. Maybe they have creditors after them who want them to pay up, or unsatisfied customers who they've treated poorly or disgruntled employees who they haven't paid in ages, and they're pretending not to be there just to avoid all of them. After all, if they've "moved", all these people after them won't think to look for them at their actual place of business, right?

We had noticed the sign and the "moved" some time ago, and it bugged me every time we went past it. But it took finding out about this blog (Thanks, Bean!) to give me the impetus to want to take a picture of the actual sign so we'd have a record of it. I've also submitted the picture to their blog, but since they get a bazillion submissions, I don't know if or when it might get posted. I'll let you know if it does. It's a great site. Be sure to read the FAQ on that site!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fox vs. FCC Grudge Match - The Supreme Court Edition

Everyone who watches television and/or listens to the radio knows the affect that the FCC has had on those two mediums in the last number of years. Ever since the world got a glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast during the half-time show at the 2004 Superbowl, the FCC has been on an unchallenged rampage, deeming this or that to be obscene with seemingly no rhyme or reason and without any accountability. People can't possibly be held responsible for paying attention to what they watch or even worse, paying attention to what their children watch. No, some other entity must be responsible for saving the children and for saving us from ourselves. Wouldn't want to be scarred for life because someone got a glimpse of a boob they didn't expect. Now, I don't have kids, but I would think that if your kid was watching the Superbowl and got a quick glimpse of Janet's breast and wanted to know what the big deal was or what happened, you as the parent could have taken the opportunity to explain that in the States, some people think it's not right to be naked on television. It's something private and personal, but nothing to be ashamed of - different cultures have different beliefs, and things aren't necessarily right or wrong, just different. I would think that would have been much less traumatizing to a child than a parent/guardian/adult flipping out about the exposure and screaming and carrying on about it. And if any adults were traumatized by Janet's boob, then seriously, you need help, way more than the FCC could ever provide you.

And I could see where people can expect that if they're seeing a family show, they're not going to encounter nudity or anything remotely resembling bad language. But if you're watching "NYPD Blue", you're really going to be outraged by seeing some kind of nudity or hearing some bad language? If you're watching that kind of show, you don't expect something more than sunshine and light? Heck, blood and violence are apparently ok, but love and sex are considered obscene? In any case, if you're letting your kids watch that show, then you're an idiot. If you happen to be channel-surfing during the two seconds that the nudity is shown, then that's just bad luck on your part. And even then, are your sensibilities so paper thin that brief nudity is going to create a chasm in your soul?

Even in a case where broadcasters requested ahead of time for some guidance on whether a particular broadcast would be considered indecent, the FCC refused to cooperate. And we're not talking about television stations wanting to show something like Playboy After Dark. No, the indecent, heinous thing they wanted to show on broadcast television was "Saving Private Ryan" around Veteran's Day in 2004. The FCC refused to say ahead of time whether they would fine stations for showing that movie. It's not like you didn't know what the movie was about. It's not a sexual romp or anything like that. It's a film about the very real trauma experienced by soldiers during a war. Usually with that kind of thing, they have disclaimers and such broadcast repeatedly, so it's not like you're not going to know what you're watching. And it's not just for sensationalism's sake. It's history. Ooooo, but it's not appropriate. Bite me.

But there are people out there who need to not only have someone control what they watch, but they also feel the need to control what other people watch. Turning off the TV or changing the radio station would be entirely too much responsibility for them to take. No, they must protect the entire frickin' world from what they deem to be so incredibly horrible. And the FCC decides that if a handful of people complain about something, then they must be the ones whose voices must be heard. Never mind the MILLIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE WHO AREN'T COMPLAINING, who don't need to have their hands held or eyes or ears covered at every little thing, who are perfectly capable of being adults and deciding for themselves what they and their children are to be exposed to.

And for eons, the FCC has continued to go unchallenged.

Until now.

During the Billboard Music Awards in 2002 and 2003 that were broadcast on Fox, a couple of celebrities let loose with some expletives. In 2006 (it took 3 and 4 years to arrive at this decision?), the FCC cited Fox for those expletives. Fox challenged the citation since the FCC had a history of not issuing citations in cases where it was basically an outburst during a live show, and the challenge has been upheld by a federal appeals court. The FCC has asked the Supreme Court to address the issue, and in a move that is surprising to many, the Supreme Court has agreed. Some have speculated that the Supreme Court could review not only the specific instances of one-time live outbursts but also the FCC's indecency policy altogether, which operates under the guise that it is in place to protect children who may be watching. The last time that the Supreme Court ruled on an indecency matter was in 1978 involving a radio case, but many argue that an updated precedent needs to be set in these technologically-advanced times when parents have many options on devices that can control what their children watch.

I have no idea how the Supreme Court is going to rule, but I'm optimistic that no matter how they rule, there will at least be some kind of guideline set for what's acceptable, something the FCC has refused to do. And hopefully, the Supreme Court will take into account the changed society we live in today where Ricky and Lucy Ricardo, a married couple, no longer have to sleep in separate beds.

I originally read about this story in Daily Variety yesterday, but stories about this are pretty much all over. Here's a Reuters article, here's an Adweek article, here's a San Francisco Chronicle article, and here's an AFP article.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Horton Hears a Who" - spoiler movie review (and notes on trailers for other films)

Of course, I've heard of "Horton Hears a Who", but as I was listening to a "what's coming out this weekend" informational thing about it, I realized that I had never read the book and really didn't know what the story was about. For whatever reason, I don't recall having seen a trailer or a TV spot for the film, and I didn't really know if I wanted to see it, especially since I'm not fond of Jim Carrey and I don't have a particular affinity for Steve Carell. The husband wanted to see it though, so we did end up going, with a friend joining us as well.

For a Sunday afternoon, 4pm-ish show in suburbia, the theatre was much more packed than I had expected - it was probably almost 2/3rd full. I had been even more surprised to see that the following show was already reading as "SOLD OUT" when we bought tickets for this show. I guess that's the kind of thing that was happening all weekend which accounted for the film making a whopping $45 million on its opening weekend.

I ended up liking the film much more than I expected, and overall, I really enjoyed the film a lot. Since I don't know the original story, I don't know how faithful it was to it, but I would expect that they wouldn't have strayed too far away from the source.

One thing I was really impressed with was the animation. The first drops of water on the leaf were pretty amazing, though I wasn't quite as happy with some of the jungle scenes themselves. I can't quite explain what bothered me about them, but the early shot coming down the waterfall wasn't as spectacular as I had wanted it to be, though the river shots were pretty good. But the first little blips of Whoville really got my attention, probably because the style was so different than in the jungle but still so good. And then in that first real scene in Whoville, when the camera panned across the city and all this stuff was happening, I was just blown away by how great it looked. Now, again, I don't know if this difference in style is reflective of how the book is, but even if it is, I think they did a great job of duplicating it on film.

The story, of course, includes a few good lessons - don't let others bully you around, don't be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, even if there are consequences, don't be a part of a mob that sticks your nose in where it doesn't belong especially if you don't know all the facts, and be true to your word. I think they did a good job of conveying the message without it being heavyhanded, and I think it's a message and film that speaks on all levels, so no matter if you're young or old, everyone can come away with some aspect of the message that you can understand and use, and you've had an entertaining movie to watch as well.

I loved the bit that Vlad could either be the scary vulture or the cute little bunny with cookies and that they actually did the payoff of that bit.

So I'm wondering - are these the same Whos that are in the Grinch story? Does the Grinch live on a speck as well? Could be - it's clear from the ending of the film that we live on a speck too.

I loved the music that the citizens of Whoville are playing when they're trying to get the attention of the rabid jungle mob trying to cage Horton. I especially loved the music that JoJo produces. Spiffy scene.

I did think the sequence of the cast singing REO Speedwagon's 1985 hit "Can't Fight This Feeling" was a bit odd - funny, but odd. I would love to know how they even thought up the idea to do that.

I've not particularly been a fan of Jim Carrey as I feel that he gets too manic (as Robin Williams can sometimes get as well) to be funny and is more show-offy than entertaining. I remember thinking he did a great job in one of his earliest works, a TV movie called "Doing Time on Maple Drive". I also think he did a terrific job in "Man on the Moon", capturing the spirit of Andy Kaufman dead on, and "The Majestic", where he gave a truly understated and personal performance. But his overacting histrionics in "Batman Forever" typifies the kind of performance by him that I hate, and there have been a number of movies that I probably would have been interested in seeing if he had not been in them. I wasn't sure how he was going to do as Horton, and while I found the occasional sequence to be over the top, I generally thought he was kept well in-check and made Horton into an interesting character.

Even though I know who Steve Carell is, I don't think I've ever actually seen anything he's done as I don't think his kind of projects are my normal cup of tea, but I thought he also did a very good job as the Mayor of Whoville.

I was very impressed that they got Charles Osgood as the narrator. What a voice of authority to have in that role. And I was amused that they got teen music star Jesse McCartney (who I remember from ages ago when he played J.R. Chandler on "All My Children") to do the few lines as JoJo. I wonder if he had anything to do with any of the music that JoJo created.

But for me, the standout performance came from Carol Burnett as the shrewish Kangaroo. I had seen her name flash by in the credits, but I think I would have recognized her voice in any case. She gave the perfect tone to the character. She's no slouch when it comes to acting - I used to love watching her shows, and it was amazing to see her morphing into the various characters. She really showed off her ability to convey so much with the tone and timbre of her voice, giving Kangaroo the perfect inflections necessary at each turn.

Two small "hey, that's cool" moments in the film:

1. I didn't see it myself, but the husband and the friend both noticed that during the breakfast segment, when the Mayor of Whoville's children are basically being conveyor-belted around the winding table, at one point, you can see that one of the plates has green eggs and ham on it.

2. Towards the end of the film, when the Mayor of Whoville is introducing various people to Horton, I believe it's Burt/Bert from accounting who leans out the window a bit, and you can see he's holding a coffee mug. It's only a quick second, but I could swear the coffee mug has the Blue Sky Studios logo name on it.

Definitely a recommend for this film.

As one might expect, several animated family features had trailers that played before this film.

"Speed Racer" - I missed the very beginning of the trailer as I was late getting into the theatre. OK, so it's mostly a live-action film, but the race sequences are oddly animated - very CGI. I know the husband is looking forward to this, and while I remember loving Speed Racer as a kid, I can barely remember anything about the show, but I'm interested in the movie anyway.

Here's the trailer.

"Wall-E" - Yet another trailer, and the first one I've seen where there's actual talking from other than Wall-E himself. I also had heard of Eve but not seen her before, so it was interesting how absolutely different she looks than he does.

Go here to see the new trailer. It's the one dated March 14, 2008.

"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" - This weekend was also the debut of the trailer for the third Ice Age movie, which is scheduled to be released on July 4, 2009 in digital 3D. Reports are that it was only being shown in front of "Horton". I hadn't heard anything about the film other than that they were probably making another one. The trailer stars Scrat, not surprisingly, and he's as funny as ever. I looked around at some sites, and apparently, all of the gang is back, including Queen Latifah. I didn't care much for her character in the last film, so I'm not thrilled about that, but since the movie is about dinosaurs, I'm excited to see what they're going to do.

The trailer doesn't seem to be up anywhere on the net yet, but I expect it will be soon. In the meantime, here's the official Ice Age site, which shows the teaser poster artwork for the third film. From there, you can enter the Ice Age 3 site itself, which currently doesn't have the trailer, but I'm figuring it will soon.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Hangman

A friend sent me a link for online hangman some time ago, when it was Halloween Hangman. I just looked at the link recently, and they apparently have different versions of hangman for different holidays.

Hangman itself has never had all that much appeal to me, but this version is funny because the skeleton talks to you. OK, really, he criticizes you and makes rude comments to you and is sarcastic and condescending to you. Maybe that's why I like it!

Click on the picture below to get to the page to play the current hangman, but note that if you scroll down, you can play other holiday versions as well.

Halloween Hangman created by The Dimension's Edge, Inc.


Two words of caution for today: green beer is ICKY and drive to work carefully on Tuesday.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Law and Order", "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles", "Back To You" and "The Big Bang Theory" news

"Law and Order: CI"

The detectives were called to a hotel room where a dead woman was found, a Ukrainian blonde that we had seen at the beginning of the show with her baby, and video surveillance showed that she had gotten off the elevator with a man but that another woman, dark-haired and unable to be identified, had been in the elevator with them. They found emails on the dead woman's computer that pointed to her as having been on a website for married people looking for something extra on the side. Hmmm, where have I heard of this before?

They ended up finding the man who was last with her, a married writer who was being blackmailed. He had woken up the next morning to find the girl dead, with a picture of him and the dead girl next to him. He already had a girlfriend on the side, but when she didn't show the night before, he had hooked up with one of the two women he had met at a bar. He had taken money from his wealthy wife to pay off the blackmailers, but the backstory from the guy and his girlfriend didn't quite mesh, so while he was already in jail, the girlfriend was taken in for questioning, and she showed up with her lawyer. We later found out that the girlfriend and the lawyer were in a lesbian relationship and were actually the ones involved in blackmailing married men who were cheating. After the man hung himself in jail, the detectives found out that he had met the girlfriend during a session of speed dating, and the girlfriend had already been involved in seducing and taping her sessions with married men, who were then blackmailed for their silence.

In a sting operation, the bartender at the bar purposely made an incorrect identification of the girlfriend as having been one of the two women at the bar with the guy. It turned out that the girlfriend was supposed to have blackmailed the guy, but instead, she let him fall in love with her and she developed feelings for him as well and was therefore unwilling to blackmail him. It was then revealed that her lawyer was actually the unidentified woman in the elevator and that she was the one who had killed the blonde in order to finally extort the money out of the man.

"Law and Order"

There were two drunk girls who had gone back to reclaim their car from a parking garage, but after they were refused possession of their car because of their inebriated state, one slept it off in the garage while the other wandered off and was reported missing. The detectives discovered that she was picked up by a guy in a cab, who turned out to be a pimp, and the cabbie reported that he dropped them off at a hotel that was known to be a workplace for prostitutes. Surveillance cameras showed that one of the hookers came out to pay the cabbie, so the detectives tracked down who she was and contacted her parents. They said they had previously sent her to rehab and so the detectives tracked down her former dealer, who led them to the hooker - Melinda. They also found the body of the dead girl but couldn't hold Melinda so let her go, hoping she would lead them to the dealer, who they thought had killed the girl. Sure enough, she did meet up with her dealer boyfriend and both were taken into custody. During the course of the trial, it turned out that the dealer boyfriend thought he had accidentally killed the girl after raping her, and he and Melinda, who had witnessed the rape, had both put the body in a bag. When the dealer boyfriend had gone to scout a place to dump the body, Melinda had noticed the girl in the bag moving, and she was jealous of her boyfriend's interest in the girl, so she ended up killing her after all.

There was also a side story that started during the voir dire segment about a member of the jury who became infatuated with the female ADA. That had been mentioned in the previous week's preview, so that had been the story I was interested in, but it ended up being a very small part of the show. Because the juror actually spoke to the ADA before the trial was over, she wanted to report the contact to the judge, but the male ADA didn't want her to because it would derail the trial and they'd have to start over again. So there was a bit of story about the fact that they didn't report what they should have and did that bring about the guilty verdict that was eventually revealed. However, I wouldn't have thought that one juror's improper conduct would have made a difference, especially since it had no impact on the other jurors. Sure, he would have been kicked off because he obviously showed a bias for the ADA, but there should have been two alternates, so the trial and deliberations could have continued with them. I don't think one juror's actions, given what they were, would have caused a complete mistrial.

So I've been struggling with these two shows since the beginning of the season. Sometimes the episodes were just ok, which happens, but usually, the good outweighed the bad. But this year, I've found myself less and less interested in the shows, especially with Sam Waterson's changed role on "Law and Order". I've found myself plodding through the tapes with the feeling that I was watching mostly out of loyalty and habit. I don't think that would have lasted much longer even if there wasn't much else on TV I was watching, but especially given the volume of shows I watch, I really don't have the time, inclination or interest to keep watching two shows that I have to almost force myself to watch. I noticed that Kelly Giddish, who I know and liked from when she was on "All My Children", was going to be on the following week's "Criminal Intent", and while that might have normally kept me interested, even that wasn't enough. I'm figuring on continuing to watch "Special Victims Unit" when new shows are broadcast because I still like their cast and stories, but as for these two flavors of the franchise, I'm out.

"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" - first hour

Cromartie, the terminator who came through the time portal with them and is specifically after John, posed as an FBI agent and showed up at the school district office looking for a list of new students in an effort to track down John. When the man refused, Cromartie killed him and did the search himself. He then ended up at John's school. Cameron was tracked down by a hall monitor, who gave her a slip of paper to say that a policeman wanted to see her brother. When Cameron got a peek at him in the office, she recognized him and got one of John's friends to answer the summons instead. Cromartie was fooled since the friend was not a match for John's image and left the school. The friend later told John about the deception, and when John asked Cameron about the matter, she said it was Cromartie but that he will have moved on to another name and school and wouldn't be back. She told John that they couldn't tell Sarah about it or Sarah would immediately move them to another city.

Derek found the other terminator's brain stem/chip that Cameron had kept in her room, and he outed her to John and Sarah. Derek said that he thought Cameron sold his team out to the terminators and got them killed. Cameron defended herself by saying that the chip contained video and audio of everything the terminator did, and she thought it was important to keep the record of where he'd been and what he'd seen and done. John was disturbed that Cameron had kept this secret, and when he questioned her about lying, she confirmed that she was capable of lying when the mission required it, even if she had to lie to John - at least the teenage John. She had previously stated that her orders came from adult-in-the-future John.

John obtained a high-tech game system in order to try to hack into the chip. Cameron tried to help him by explaining what kind of power it needed and that they had to only give it enough power where they could tap into the video and audio, but that too much power could reactivate the higher functions of the chip. John was able to get into the chip, and they started to watch its visual record. It turned out that the terminator was using the name "Vick" and that he had a wife who was a city manager. When John questioned whether the wife could have really never known his true identity, Cameron responded ominously with "she would not be the first human fooled by a machine". When their address showed up in the video, Derek and Sarah decided to go have a look and see if they could get any more information.

As John was able to watch more of the video on the chip, it appeared as if Vick killed the wife and left her in the woods. Sarah insisted on going to find the body, even though Cameron didn't understand why since she was already dead. They found the location on the video and eventually the body, but it turned out not to be the wife. Instead, it was a woman who had opposed the wife's pet project, an automated traffic lights system that had been pushed by Vick in support of Skynet. Derek wanted to blow up City Hall, but John decided instead to develop a virus that would crash the system so its backers would withdraw their support and shut the project down.

As John continued to watch more video from the chip, he was disturbed by how Vick acted, how he could fake tenderness and accurately portray being human in order to get the wife to do what he wanted with regard to pushing the project through. John was even more disturbed when Cameron pointed out how "effective" Vick's technique was when he brushed his hand against the wife's face, and Cameron noted how much the wife liked it. Even with all the disturbing observations that Cameron had made, she was eventually exonerated of Derek's accusation as the chip showed that one of the freedom fighters had been tracking the wife, unbeknownst to the rest of the team. Vick had noticed and followed him back to the apartment and killed the entire team, minus Derek.

As Sarah and Derek tried to figure out how to get into City Hall to plant the virus, Derek mentioned that there were tunnels underground into City Hall, which he knew very well because those were the very tunnels he used in the future. They were in fact able to get in, and Sarah uploaded the virus, but the system had a built-in security feature that rejected it and sounded the alarm in the process. Sarah and Derek were able to get away from the security officers who came after that, but not before Sarah stopped Derek from unnecessarily killing one of the officers, who was already unconscious. It's interesting that as much as Derek rails on about Cameron being a machine and having no feelings, he has pretty much turned into an unemotional, unthinking killing machine himself. It's Sarah's sense of humanity, not his own, that saved the security guard's life.

As John tried to figure out a way to alter the virus to work, the extra power ended up activating the higher functions of the chip. Once awakened, it identified John and was attempting to take over John's laptop so that it could contact others to relay the information, but John managed to unplug everything before it could accomplish that. But this event gave John an idea. If Vick's chip could do that, then so could Cameron's, so he wanted to use Cameron's chip to take over a traffic light and then infiltrate the system that way and take it down. Derek relayed his worry to John that she might take over the entire system and then not want to come back out, that maybe it wasn't the program that would become Skynet but rather, it was her instead. John pushed aside Derek's concerns, and after Cameron talked him through how to take the chip out, he and Derek went to a traffic light and plugged her chip in. She did indeed get in and take the entire traffic system down, causing massive confusion and accidents because of the scrambled traffic light system. Derek took out her chip and wanted to destroy it, but John said no. He put it back into Cameron's body and tenderly caressed her face, stopping abruptly when her system finally rebooted.

Sarah contacted the person who had bought the computer from Andy's partner (the name on the card that Cameron had obtained). She also made it clear to Derek that she knew he killed Andy and that she was not happy about that and threatened him if he ever lied to her again.

In the previous chips from the video, it appeared that Vick was protecting the wife, which seemed odd, but apparently, it was only for as long as he needed her. Ultimately, there was video proof that Vick did in fact kill the wife.

"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" - second hour

The date was April 21, 2011 - Judgement Day. Two boys were playing baseball in a park. We find out later that it was 15-year-old Derek teaching his 8-year-old kid brother Kyle how to hit a baseball. Kyle saw what he thought were fireworks overhead, but it was really the missile launch, and after that, Derek took Kyle underground to protect him.

Sarah communicated with the person who had the computer (Sarkissian), who said it would cost her $500,000 to buy it. Sarkissian was then seen at the house of the man who made Sarah's fake IDs. He said he was looking for her and that she might have been responsible for killing the guy's uncle. The nephew didn't show any sign of cooperating until Sarkissian's men killed all of the nephew's cohorts.

Meanwhile, FBI agent James Ellison visited Charlie. He talked to Charlie about the rapture and quoted Revelations. He also said that he knew about Sarah and Skynet and believed her story and just wanted to talk to her. He told Charlie that he thought Sarah was alive. He had to have been hedging his bets because he *did* know that Sarah was alive - she saved him from the fire. However, Charlie was not cooperating and also inadvertently alerted Ellison that another FBI agent (Cromartie in disguise) had already come to talk to him. Charlie then went to see Sarah, to tell her about Ellison's visit and that he believed her, but Sarah dismissed Charlie and told him to leave and not come back, that he could be putting them all in danger.

Sarah and Cameron were examining the diamonds that they had found at the freedom fighters' apartment, and Sarah hoped to use that cash to pay for the computer. She and Derek were stood up at the designated meeting place, but when they returned home, they found Sarkissian waiting for them. He told Sarah that he knew who she was, so now he wanted $2 million, and if he didn't get it in 24 hours, he was going to turn her in. When Derek threatened him, he said he had people watching John at that very moment.

John was otherwise occupied with other more mundane and personal matters. He was on a school field trip to a science museum, and he ended up telling Cameron that the next day was his birthday, and he was sad that Sarah had forgotten. However, mundane turned dangerous when Cameron noticed a man (one of Sarkissian's men) watching John. Later, one of John's friends saw her shutting the trunk of a car and asked what she was doing. He thought she was kidding when she said she was stashing the body of the man she had killed who was the owner of the car, but whereas the friend thought she just had a strange sense of humour and was just joking, John looked at her in surprise and horror, and the two of them drove off.

Ellison looked up the name of the other FBI agent that Charlie had given him, and when he saw his picture, he knew that he was false because he recognized him as the guy who had been a client of the murdered plastic surgeon. He left his office just as Cromartie arrived looking for Ellison because Ellison had Sarah Connor's file.

The girl who was at the fake-ID-making nephew's house who Cameron had kind of bonded with showed up with blood-stained clothes. She was now helping them, presumably as an act of revenge against the people who were killed in that house by Sarkissian and his men. They all went in search of Sarkissian, who ended up holding John hostage. Derek took a little girl hostage, but she turned out not to be Sarkissian's daughter. Derek managed to shoot Sarkissian anyway, but he at least covered the little girl's eyes, so I guess Sarah's humanity was rubbing off on him. John went in search of Sarkissian's computer and took out the hard drive, hoping to find some information about the computer they were looking for.

Back at home the next day, John spent hours tediously decrypting all the files on the computer. Derek came by and revealed that he knew it was John's birthday and offered to buy him some ice cream and told John he had something to show him. Derek took John to a park, where in the background were the two kids we saw earlier playing baseball. Derek revealed that he knew John was Kyle's son, and he also told John who the little boy was. It was a nice moment as John's eyes welled up while watching his father, but I was wondering how sentimental you would get seeing your father as a five-year-old.

Ellison had gathered a SWAT team to storm Cromartie's apartment. As the saying goes, you're going to need a bigger boat. One by one, Cromartie killed all of the men, but I loved how they showed the sequence. One of the men was thrown out the door of the second story apartment and landed in the swimming pool. The view was from the bottom of the pool and the man landed and the water around him started to tinge red from his blood. From that angle, more and more bodies dropped into the pool, making the water redder and redder. By the time we got the topside view again, there were just dead bodies strewn in the pool and in the surrounding area. Only James was left alive, and Cromartie was standing next to him, but he left without killing him. Charlie had heard the call go out while in his ambulance and arrived to see Ellison standing over the dead body of one of his colleagues. Charlie was appalled at seeing all the dead bodies.

John was back in his room working on the computer again when Sarah came in and said it was time to take a break to celebrate John's birthday. John was surprised and happy that she remembered after all. John told her that there were other people who had apparently been interested in buying the computer as well, so maybe one of them had it. Both he and Sarah were shocked, though, when he pulled up a passport with Sarkissian's name on it, and the picture on the passport was not that of the guy that Derek had killed. Instead, Sarkissian was apparently the cashier at the internet cafe Sarah and Derek had gone to. Sarah had told John that she had sent Cameron to get a cake for him. As Cameron was getting into the car, she saw a guy watching her, who turned out to be Sarkissian, and when she started the car, it blew up.

I had started out really liking this show, but I wasn't sure they would be able to sustain my interest. I'm still interested in the story, but I've also found some very frustrating things about it. The main story is really three-fold: 1) Cromartie is trying to find John to kill him; 2) Sarah, John and Cameron are all trying to hide John to prevent Cromartie from finding and killing him; and 3) Sarah, John and Cameron are trying to prevent the birth of Skynet and the arrival of Judgement Day. Most of the events of each episode are basically in support of one or more of the three main storylines. Of course, you're going to have the side stories as well, but I think they've strayed too far in those storylines. I'm ok with the side story about Ellison because it ties into both Cromartie and Sarah, but I can't for the life of me figure out why Cromartie didn't kill Ellison. He killed the entire rest of the team, and as I recall, Ellison was trying to reload a gun when Cromartie had his gun pointed at Ellison. But then Cromartie lowered the gun and walked away. OK, so other than Ellison being one of the main cast and his female co-hort being expendable, what was the reason for keeping him alive? Cromartie doesn't exactly have compassion, so he wouldn't have left him alive the same way Sarah convinced Derek not to kill the security guy. Ellison was obviously still a threat to Cromartie, so he really should have taken him out. Ellison wasn't the only one who was surprised and confused when he was left alive.

Then there are the two side stories at John's school. What is the deal with the girl who jumped to her death and what about the make-shift doors and what they meant and what was going on with her parents? And what's going on with the other girl, the blonde one, that John is interested in now who shares a class with him and freaked out when John mentioned somewhere she supposedly had previously lived?

And then I completely didn't understand why it mattered that the girl from the nephew's house came to help them. Could they not have done that without her? Other than driving the car, what real help was she to them? Did she provide any assistance that they could not have done themselves? Why was she even brought back into the story - just to show that all the people at the house were killed? It really made zero sense to me.

You also have the stuff from the future, which was interesting as it related to some of the events we know, but we don't know what the torture chamber was that Derek was subjected to. We also don't know everything that happened between Derek and Cameron, and while they keep dropping hints about Cameron's ability to turn on a dime, that hasn't really gone anywhere.

When it comes to something like "Desperate Housewives", which is all about having multiple storylines going at once without any all-encompassing story arc, it makes sense to weave in and out of stories, but even they would resolve stories here and there and then start new ones. For this show, it's not about having a bazillion storylines that don't get resolved. ("Lost", anyone?) The side stories are really supposed to be filler, like the B story, that keeps your interest but doesn't distract you or detract from the main story.

And then comes my biggest complaint. In the last hour of the nine-episode arc, we're introduced to a new face - Sarkissian. Ah, but it's not really him, it's just someone using his name. It's really this other dude. Surprise! Ummm, yeah, surprise that you threw a new face at me at the last minute and then pulled a switcheroo because I didn't recognize him. Some of my recap and especially the very end was done with the assistance of the official website. I apparently never realized that the guy who invaded the nephew's house was supposed to be Sarkissian until I read their recap. OK, maybe it was just me being bad at recognizing this stuff. But then I really didn't get the ending, with the name and face on the passport not matching what they knew, and I had no idea who the guy was that was watching Cameron before she went kablooey. Thanks to the official summary, though, I know now, but I shouldn't have to rely on a written summary to know what's going on in the story. To me, that's just sloppy "aren't we cool" trickery writing.

One of the things I have really enjoyed is Brian Austin Green. I was skeptical when I first found out he'd be on the show, and I wasn't entirely happy that he would be playing a character as pivotal and connected as Kyle's brother. But I've been really happy with the direction they've taken the character, and I've been really impressed with his performance. He's certainly grown a lot as an actor since his "Beverly Hills 90210" days, but then, that was a long time ago.

There doesn't seem to be any indication of whether the show is being picked up. 9 episodes seems a bit short for a first season, but I'm not sure how much of that is because of the writers' strike. They seem to be done for now with the current cliffhanger. We probably know that Cameron isn't dead or deactivated or whatever. She might need some of that skin-growing stuff that Cromartie has, but her system should be able to reboot fine - a little explosion shouldn't take her out. I think I generally want the show to come back, but I can't say I'd be terribly upset if it didn't. If it does come back, though, I hope they can get back the excitement of the first two hours of the show.

"Back To You" - Tuesday episode

They had two episodes of the show that were completed prior to the writers' strike that they hadn't previously aired for whatever reason, so the two remaining shows were aired on two consecutive nights.

A news anchor at the station (Ed) had died, and Kelly had been asked to do his eulogy but she was confused about that because she didn't know him very well. Gary, on the other hand, knew him *really* well but was not asked, so he expressed his upset at that throughout the episode as a running gag. Chuck had already decided he wasn't going to the funeral, so after a bit of cajoling, he finally convinced Kelly to let him watch Gracie while Kelly went to the funeral.

Montana showed up at the funeral dressed in black - but her dress was short and sparkly and revealing. She was funny because she didn't understand what the big deal was - she was wearing black like she was supposed to.

Another running gag was that Ryan kept not really knowing who Ed was. He initially thought it was one person, but then he saw the person at the funeral. Then he thought it was someone else, but then he saw *that* person two seconds later.

Unbeknownst to Kelly, Ed had told his country club friends that he was sleeping with Kelly. Marsh found out that Ed did that to hide his being gay. Gary didn't believe that because he knew him so well and that they spent a lot of time together and even vacationed together. One of the other people commented that at least Ed had never given him a ring, because that would have cemented it, and Gary surreptiously took off the ring he was wearing, so apparently, Ed had a thing for Gary that Gary never caught onto.

Ed had been Kelly's mentor, but he had been a difficult and demanding teacher, so Kelly's speech referred to her experiences with that, but everything she said was a double entendre that all the country club friends took to mean that she was referring to their sexual relationship. After she made a number of comments, which were really funny, Marsh went up and told her the truth, and she was really embarrassed. However, the focus was taken away from her when a celphone started ringing from inside the coffin. Marsh had taken Ryan's phone earlier to try to get a picture of Ed so Ryan would know who it really was (don't they usually have a nice picture of the person at funerals?), and Marsh had accidentally dropped it in there and left it. Later, when Gary was at Ed's graveside, the phone rang again, and Gary leaned in closer to hear it. I kept expecting a "Carrie" moment there.

Meanwhile, Chuck wasn't having much luck with Gracie. She was initially annoyed that she had to have someone watch her in the first place, and then she was bored with everything Chuck came up with to do, most of which were entirely too juvenile for her. Then Chuck's date from the previous night showed up, and complications arose when Gracie asked questions and Chuck and the date each had differing answers. Chuck eventually took Gracie to the hotel bar, where she was having much more fun, though she didn't heed Chuck's advice about the nuts on the counter. They turned out to be wasabi peas or peanuts or something with wasabi because she complained about how spicy they were. Do hotel bars or any bars for that matter really have wasabi something on their counters? Kelly found them at the bar, and rather than being mad as Chuck had expected, she actually was happy because after the day she'd had, she really needed a drink.

"Back To You" - Wednesday episode

At the end of the newscast, Chuck said that a longtime employee was retiring and so he wanted to thank him and wish him well, but he got his name, his job and everything else about him completely wrong, for which Kelly gave him a hard time. The group was going out together for dinner before the evening's newscast, but Gary wasn't allowed to go. Even though he'd had a great hard-hitting interview earlier in the day, he was given his next assignment - to cover Anthrocon, a convention for furries. He was told that he needed to cover the furry formal being held that night, and he referred to furries as the people that Trekkies beat up. I'm going to disagree with him. Furries are the people that other fandom people are *afraid* of.

And yes, Anthrocon is real. They even mentioned this particular "Back to You" episode, though I'm a little surprised they liked the episode. Yeah, it tells their point of view, but the con attendees also did some questionable things. But that comes later.

The group had previously talked about a new anchor on another TV station, and he happened to be at the restaurant where they went for dinner. He came over to the table to say hello, and as much as Montana seriously tried to flirt with him, he ended up asking Kelly out for drinks after the night's newscast, which made Montana seriously jealous. She was really funny during that whole dinner scene.

When Gary was conducting on-camera interviews with the furries, he was making comments and asking them all kinds of questions which were ridiculing, condescending and demeaning. However, when he was finished and went back to his car, he was surrounded by a menacing group of furries.

Chuck was jealous about Kelly's date, and he even thought that the anchor was asking her out solely to lure her to his station. When he bullied Ryan into calling the anchor, who Ryan had shown a total, complete and utter man-crush for, they found out that the anchor really just wanted to get to know Kelly for personal reasons.

One of the running jokes on this show was that Marsh was trying to come up with a signature sign-off line, but he was just trying random things on the air, which Ryan didn't like. It was like he was trying to come up with something like what Chick Hearn used to say, but Marsh's were totally random and unrelated and bizarre. At one point, he ran one past Ryan and said, "work for you?" to which Ryan responded "not for long", which made me bust up.

During the late newscast, they went to Gary and Chuck said he must have some really funny footage that he pretaped, but Gary said no he didn't and he was very serious as he was talking about the furries on air, with a group of them surrounding him. He made the comment that people should come down and see for themselves and they should call their friends and family and the police, and he acted like he was being threatened and was in serious danger, like if he didn't say the right thing, he was in for it from them. At the end of the show, he was sitting with a sketch artist describing the furries that menaced him. He was really good in this episode.

After the newscast, Kelly was talking to Ryan about something that Ryan did not want to talk about, and I can't remember what it was - maybe it was about calling the other anchor. Anyway, Ryan faked a phone call and took something out of his back pocket and held it up to his ear and said, "Hello?" Kelly pointed out that it was his wallet, so he said it was an iWallet! That was just too funny. Don't give Microsoft any ideas!

Because the anchor was quite a bit younger than Kelly, she got nervous and wanted to cancel the date, but Chuck told her she should go, to which she retorted that why didn't he go instead, to which he responded, "I would but Ryan would scratch my eyes out". He finally convinced her that she was still attractive and interesting, and she finally agreed to go.

Looking forward to new episodes of this show, which should start airing in April.

And speaking of new episodes, "The Big Bang Theory" comes back this Monday, March 17 with an all new episode at 8pm. The show had previously aired at 8:30pm. I'm already loving the previews I've seen, so I'm so excited that we get new episodes. YEAH!!!!!!!! Geeks Rule!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

warning for the Ides of March - beware a man not of woman born

I discovered a couple of years ago that New York isn't all that far away. Yeah, yeah, I know, they now have these nifty newfangled devices called aeroplanes that can take you to distant places a lot faster than cars can. But generally speaking, New York isn't really a weekend getaway kind of place, at least not from the Left Coast. It takes a little more planning and a little more time and things like taking days off work. In 2006, I was lamenting the fact that I was on the Left Coast and the new musical "Tarzan" was playing on the Right Coast, and who knows how long it would take to make it out here. (Turns out the answer is 3 years.) And then I decided that there was no reason I had to wait for it to come to me - I could go to it, and that was the impetus for our week-long stay in New York in May 2006. Well, I wish it was as easy to make a quick trip out there this May, as another Broadway show is calling to me, though this one is not a musical and nowhere near as light as "Tarzan". The Lyceum Theatre on Broadway will be hosting a limited spring run of The Scottish Play with Patrick Stewart in the title role. The production ran on the West End of London last fall, with Patrick being nominated for an Olivier for his performance. The production has been playing a six-week run to sold-out audiences at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and will continue there through March 22, where it will then move to the Lyceum for performances from March 29 to May 24. I'm sure tickets for its Broadway run will be in high demand, but wow, how awesome would that be to see Patrick.

My most memorable theatre experience actually involves that very same play. Years ago, I went to London on a week-long tour arranged by a local theatre group, and as part of the tour, not surprisingly, we saw a number of different plays and musicals. While we were based in London, we made day trips to Bath (with a stop at Stonehenge, and yes, that was incredible) and to Stratford. Our time in Stratford included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, including looking out at the seats while standing on the stage. That was really cool. In addition, we would be seeing a performance that night. I had been disappointed when I had originally found out that we were just missing Kenneth Branagh in "Hamlet", but I was excited to find out that instead, we would be seeing Derek Jacobi as the title role in The Scottish Play. Because of a mishap where two of us were given a ticket to the same seat, I ended up not sitting towards the back of the balcony as had been originally planned, but instead, I sat about in the 8th or 10 row on the aisle. The theatre wasn't that big so even the balcony seat would have been ok, but from my new seat, I had a complete and great view of Derek. And he was utterly incredible, moreso because he was performing Shakespeare live right in front of me from a not-very-far distance, even moreso because it was at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford with all its history for goodness sake. I can't even explain how excited I was on the bus ride back to London after the show.

I'd already had a respect and appreciation for Derek prior to that, but after seeing him, both grew immensely. As much as I've liked him in various movies that I've seen, my favorite performance of his that I didn't see live in person was from "Frasier". He played a horrible Shakespearean actor - and pulling that off convincingly is much harder than one might expect. His comedic timing was excellent and his performance would have been good even if you didn't know who he was, but knowing his background and talent, his performance was even more amazing. Yeah, I know, I'm gushing, but I'm in good company - he actually won an Emmy for Best Performance by a Guest Actor in a Comedy for that performance. He was even better than Patrick Stewart was in the film "Jeffrey", and I loved both the movie and Patrick's performance in that.

So we come full circle back to Patrick and me not being able to see him this time around. I did have the good fortune of having seen Patrick perform his one-man show of "A Christmas Carol" early in its run, pre-Broadway, when he performed it at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium. For various reasons, I had gotten pretty bored of that story, but his show really reminded me of how good a book it is. It was pretty incredible to see Patrick (I was in something like the 5th row, so yeah, good vantage point) performing every single role by himself and dancing on the stage and weeping and everything. Tour-de-force pretty much describes it exactly. After the show, I happened to notice that some of his Next Generation co-stars were in the audience. I think there were at least three of them there, but the only one I remember is Brent Spiner.

Patrick performing Shakespeare on Broadway. And I can't be there. *sigh*

Friday, March 14, 2008

Would you like feng shui with that?

I can't remember where I heard the story, but I then found this news article. The McDonald's mentioned in the story isn't too far away from where I live, so I could go and visit it. But then I think - why? Ummm, OK, it might be comfy and nice and all, but it's still a McDonald's. I visit McDonald's on occasion, but almost all of the time, it's via the drive thru, and most of the time that I even go inside, it's because the drive thru is too long, so I go inside to get food to go. I rarely ever actually eat inside a McDonald's, and even if I did, I'm not sure I'd be that interested in lounging around in one. I'm trying to figure out the business value in that. Do they figure that the longer people stay there, the more money they'll spend? Well, if they've purchased coffee or a soda, they're going to get free refills, so that's not more money spent. As for food, there's really only so much food you can eat. At least with Starbucks or something like that, you don't get free refills, so if you're there taking advantage of their free internet and you want something else to drink, you're going to have to spend more money. Maybe they think that when word gets out, people will choose to go to McDonald's and specifically that one just because of the decor? I mean, I'm ok with McDonald's food, but I don't really see their comfy couches as being a reason for me to go there.

And nice relaxing color palettes and soothing water is fine, but McDonald's is also generally a family place. How relaxing is all that going to be with young children running around and screaming and smearing ketchup on their nice soft furniture and splashing water from their tranquil fountain? That location even has a PlayPlace so they obviously are inviting families with children there. Maybe the flatscreen TVs are to keep the parents occupied when their kids are in the PlayPlace, and they hope that the tranquil environment might subdue noisy younglings. Or the parents can immerse themselves in calm and tranquility while ignoring their children who are screaming their guts out in the PlayPlace. I hope there's thick glass between the PlayPlace and the restaurant proper.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


If I had to choose one word to best describe myself, it would probably be "anti-social". Now, a lot of people are going to disagree, and have disagreed, with that particular assessment. Heck, I have a website, and I have a blog. Up until recently, I participated in a number of discussion groups. I lurk in several other discussion groups. And within the last month or two, I have joined both yelp and twitter. So how could I possibly be involved with so many communities and yet still call myself anti-social?

First, I guess we need to define "anti-social". I have had a disagreement with the SO of a friend who insists that the term only has a clinical definition, something that's the equivalent of a sociopath or a psychopath. (Even with as much "Law and Order" as I've watched, I don't know the difference, and no, I don't really care. You get the idea.) I've decided not to engage in that argument and just don't use the word around either of them anymore. But apparently, I've been vindicated in my belief as my understanding of the word shows up as's second definition, which is "not wanting the company of others".

I'm used to spending a lot of time by myself, and I rather enjoy that. I've gone to movies and meals and concerts and amusement parks and even vacations by myself. Being able to entertain myself has never been a problem, and I'm an avid reader, so I will generally have some kind of reading material with me, especially if I'm expecting to be alone. And by "alone", I don't necessarily mean locked in a closet by myself. I could be around a ton of other people but not know anyone else who's there. I've even found that when I've been around a lot of people for any extended period of time, even people I really like, I need time by myself after that.

At work, I rarely have lunch with anyone. For me, lunchtime is my bubble time - I'm usually dealing with people all day long, whether it's on the phone or over email or in person, so the hour reprieve that I get from having to deal with any of that is really nice. I can quietly read or shop or whatever that maybe isn't too taxing on my brain, or sometimes, I'll be reading something that takes me to another world, which oftentimes makes it difficult to stop and come back to the crashing reality of "lunch is over, time to get back to work".

I've never been one to be a social butterfly - I know and know of people who can't stand to be alone, ever. To them, that's a painful punishment. I've had people feel sorry for me when they see me eating alone at a table at lunch, and they invite me over, only to be hurt when I decline. They can't understand how I could possibly choose to be alone when given the opportunity to be with other people. In most cases, it's because while I might be friendly with them, I'm not that interested in having an hour-long conversation with them discussing whatever. Given a choice between that and whatever book I'm engrossed in, I'm going to choose the book in most cases.

In the past, I've been involved in some activities which would definitely not be considered anti-social, and for the most part, I've enjoyed them, but there have been enough situations where I have wished that I was alone rather than with whomever (singular or plural) I was actually with at the time. I find that if I don't have to, I'm not tolerant of spending time with people I don't like. Some people would prefer to be around someone, anyone, than be alone. In my case, I'd rather be alone than be with people that I don't enjoy being around. And while there are times that I'm looking for particular people to hang out with, there are probably more times when I'd prefer just not to be around people.

OK, so then, why do I have a website and blog and why am I on various other websites and such? Well, I think part of the key for me is that they're passive connections all around. I read and post and participate when I feel like it, but nothing and no one requires me to participate at any given time, and the same is true for the people I interact with. I'm not in the position of forcing anyone to deal with me. If they're interested in what I have to say, they can read the website or the blog or the tweets (Is that what all twitter entries are called? That's apparently what Wil Wheaton calls them.) or the reviews on their own. Anyone can make the choice of whether they want to read what I have to say - they know where to find it, or random strangers might stumble on something accidentally. Since having the blog, I forward very few things around to friends. Even before, I generally didn't forward a lot, but I'd periodically send around news articles or information or something, and even though I was careful and tried to tailor what I sent to the appropriate people to send it to, you can still never know if you're bothering people with things they're not interested in. Heck, people send me stuff I *am* interested in, and sometimes, it still takes me a while, days, weeks, months to read them. While I still forward some things, usually things that don't really fit here or to people who I know don't read this, I forward much less than previously.

That's not to say that I don't also enjoy hanging out with my friends, but there are times when I don't even want to do that. And there are times when I don't really want to hang out with anyone, but some particular friend will call or email, and for whatever reason, I'm ok being around that person at that time. Can't explain it - there's no real reason for it. It's just how I feel at that moment. And there have also been situations in recent history where I've agreed to meet up with total strangers, much to the surprise of those who know me well enough to know what an anomaly those particular situations were.

And then there was the time when I was basically lectured because I wasn't willing to meet and converse with any random person who wanted to and look at all the potential goldmines of friendships I was missing out on and apparently, I was also being mean and selfish by depriving them of my scintillating personality. Yeah, whatever, I'm ok with that. I'm not lacking for friends, and I'm not collecting them (which is probably the *only* thing I'm not collecting, but more on that in a future entry), and while I think I *can* be a great friend, I'm not full of myself enough to think that every person who comes in contact with me has bettered their life because of it. I'm fine with the friends I have, and if I have missed out on whatever, I'll never know it, so I don't really care. As for those missing out on the fabulous friendship I can offer - learn to live with disappointment.

I'm not entirely sure this entry went where I had thought it was going to go, but oh well, sometimes that happens. See, aren't you glad you're not my friend? You don't have to be subjected to my constant ramblings!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

casting now open!

Have you always wanted to be on a game show? Have you been looking for a fun game show to be on? Do you want to travel all over the world for fun and profit? (OK, I'm not exactly sure about that last part, but they do say you need a passport and international travel is involved.) Do you like to form weird shapes with your family and friends? Do you wish you were Japanese?

Well, what are you waiting for? APPLY NOW!


OK, so yeah, sometimes, I use acronyms, but usually, only if it's fairly obvious, either in context, or it's a really well-known acronym or I'm figuring the audience I'm addressing will easily know that acronym. But some people get entirely too carried away with acronyms. In Disneyland discussions I used to have, people would use the stupidest acronyms, and it was fairly hard to decipher what they meant. I get that you're trying to conserve key strokes, but sacrificing clarity for a few extra letters on your part is stupid. You're posting, not texting. And if you're posting from your PDA (the electronic kind, not the kissy-kissy kind), then you should still follow posting rules not texting rules. I mean, how many people know what IJA is at Disneyland? But everyone knows what ride you mean if you say Indy. Instead of HM, I usually say Mansion. Instead of POTC, I usually say Pirates. No confusion there. I find that in other arenas as well, where some people will thrown out acronyms almost like name-dropping so they can act superior when you have no clue what they're referring to.

So when I was listening to the Frosty, Heidi and Frank radio show last week, Frosty happened to reference the t-shirt that Heidi was wearing, and I thought it was great. I found at least a version of it here.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hop Li Seafood Restaurant - restaurant review

Hop Li Seafood Restaurant has four different locations, and since one of them is not too far away from where I work, I've gone there a number of times for lunch. Their service is generally good, and the food is excellent. They also have a location in Arcadia, and we had dinner there with a group of friends this past Saturday night. The Arcadia location is open from 11am to 1am, which surprised me. There must be something about that particular location that warrants them being open so late. I was even more surprised to find out that they were a Chinese restaurant that actually took reservations.

The restaurant has a parking lot behind it, but it wasn't nearly as large as I thought it had been at first glance. There's a KFC right next door, and there's a lot for KFC behind their building that is adjacent to Hop Li's parking lot. We and several members of our party ended up parking in that lot, even though there are signs clearly posted that it's KFC parking only. No one got ticketed or towed away, but be cautioned that you run that risk if you do choose to park there.

We ended up getting there a bit late, but some of our group that had arrived were already seated at the table, so we joined them. Our party of 12 was being seated at one of their large round tables, and with that size table, there was a lazy susan in the middle (a smaller round circle that spins so you can more easily pass food around the table without having to lift plates, and you can also pass the teapot and condiments that way as well). I was a bit surprised that the lazy susan seemed to be such a novelty to most of the people at the table. I guess I was so used to them and love their utility that I figured it was just common knowledge. However, one lesson that had to be learned by at least one person in our party later in the meal - if a dish is extending past the edge of the lazy susan, you have to be mindful before you push it further in, because you might just be pushing something off at the other end. You also have to make sure that glasses and cups and other things have to have a clearance from any dishes that are extending past the border of the lazy susan, not to mention serving spoons on plates on the lazy susan.

The last two people arrived shortly thereafter, and we all perused the menu. I hadn't been sure how we were going to order, as I'm used to ordering family style, but I wasn't sure people would be comfortable with that. Some people ended up ordering on their own, and some people ended up grouping up a bit to order. When we had all made our decisions, our subgroup ordered first, and because it's not customary for individuals at the same table to order separately, it took a while for me to get the waiter to understand that I was only ordering for our little group and that he needed to go around the table to get everyone else's orders.

Chinese food can sometimes involve what I term "scary food", ranging from squid, which might be pedestrian to some but exotic to others, to things like chicken feet, tofu, clams, oysters, sea cucumber and steamed live fish, which you don't necessarily find in everyday restaurants, and even if you're familiar with those, they might not be prepared in dishes the way you're used to. Some people asked me for recommendations and questions about specific items, and the best I could do was give my own opinion, because obviously, there are things I like and don't like, but that doesn't necessarily mean someone else would share my tastes. I ended up steering some people away from certain items because since this was a fairly new experience for them overall, I didn't think the items they asked about were good things to just jump into. In another case, I gave my opinion about a particular item, but after hearing my reasons for not liking it, the person decided they didn't have that issue and so ended up ordering the item and loving it. In our ordering, I mostly went with "safer" things to accommodate those who wouldn't necessarily be interested in the "scary" food. Since we were sharing, it wouldn't have been fair to subject them to something they weren't necessarily interested in trying or wouldn't end up liking. In some cases, it might even be the preparation of the dish that could be daunting. Everyone's had chicken and beef and pork, but Chinese dishes using those meats don't come out the same as American dishes or Italian dishes or Mexican dishes, not to mention that in Chinese restaurants, you can order whole fish and whole chicken, both of which come with head and tail/butt, which can be a bit disturbing to newbies. I've been used to scary food all my life, and my tastes have branched out in the last multiple years so that I've come to love lamb and venison, and I've even tried elk and goose, though I will admit I've drawn the line at rabbit and alligator. I can eat quail but squab aka pigeon is iffy. But I digress.

We had decided to start off with the hot and sour soup, something I happen to love, but since everyone makes it differently, with different quantities of different ingredients and differing spicyness, it can sometimes be hit or miss. The soup turned out to be quite good, with a lot of different ingredients and plentiful as well. At first, I didn't think the soup was spicy enough, but since it seemed that they used red peppers to make it spicy more than white pepper powder, the spicyness accumulated so that the more you had, the more spicy it got. Definitely a recommend.

As I mentioned, it was customary for the table to order as a group, so as dishes came out, they didn't necessarily give them to whomever had ordered it - they were all just put on the lazy susan. There also wasn't any rhyme or reason to what dishes showed up in what order, and dishes would appear pretty much whenever they made them, unlike in other restaurants where the entire table would get their order at generally the same time. One unfortunate accident that happened out of this is that the first several dishes that came out were all items our subgroup had ordered, so whereas we had gotten three of our dishes, no one else had gotten anything yet. They had already brought rice to the table, but no one had anything to eat with it. The good part about this, though, is that it turned out that people just started sharing, and it turned out to be mostly family style anyway. Because there had been an array of different dishes ordered, people could get a taste of different things, some of which they might like and some not as much, but it's a great way to sample and especially to know what you might want to order on a return visit. There were so many good things to eat that I ended up having very little rice at all.

We had ordered a half order of the Peking duck, which I thought was pretty good. There's generally not a lot of meat on the bone still, but the cut meat and skin part were really tasty and roasted well.

We also ordered the sauteed prawns with sweet peas, which I thought was ok - I mostly enjoyed having the sweet peas as a vegetable - and we ordered sliced beef with vegetables. We had also ordered scallops with Chinese broccoli in black pepper sauce, and when the scallops arrived, I was disappointed that instead of Chinese broccoli, it was just regular broccoli, which I like anyway, but it's not the same as Chinese broccoli. I also thought the dish was rather bland. We discovered later in the meal that someone else at the table had ordered scallops with vegetables, and we had gotten our dishes mixed up, so she'd ended up with our dish and us with hers. When I had a taste of the dish we'd actually ordered, I really liked it. The brocolli was just the stems, which were cooked perfectly, and the black pepper seasoning was terrific. I would definitely order this dish again next time so that I can have more of it.

(sauteed prawns with sweet peas)

(scallops with Chinese broccoli in black pepper sauce)

As I mentioned, others at the table ordered different dishes, and I had tastes of some of them. One friend ordered the golden sand shrimp, and that ended up being one of my favorite dishes of the night. It's pretty heavy on garlic, which I love, and the garlic flavoring on the shrimp was just wonderful. That's a dish I'd order in the future as well.

Others at our table ordered orange peel chicken, kung pao chicken, kung pao shrimp, black cod with black beans hot pot and two other beef dishes. I'd definitely be interested in trying the kung pao chicken on some future visit. That's a dish that I find tends to be so homogenized and made uninteresting that I almost never get it anywhere, even at fast-food Chinese places, but I remember the dish looking pretty good with lots of different ingredients, so I'm sorry I never got around to having a taste because there was too much other food.

In general, I thought the food was pretty fantastic, and I'd definitely like to go back to try a few other things, including the sizzling rice soup. Not too many places have that, and even when they do, not all places do it well.

The atmosphere was about what I expected. Chinese restaurants tend to be a bit louder than most other restaurants, so people unfamilar sometimes aren't fond of that. I actually tend to look suspiciously on Chinese restaurants that are austere or are very quiet and subdued. I have sometimes been in Chinese restaurants that are too loud, but generally, I find the noise of the hustle and bustle to be quite comforting and easy to deal with.

In general, the service was about what I expected - Chinese waiters aren't really into the customer service that you'll find at other restaurants, and it's mostly just very business-like. They also share their tips, so it's not as vital to find "your" waiter when you need something. My one complaint is that it did take quite a while for most of the food to show up. As I mentioned, most of our dishes arrived first, which wouldn't have been as big a problem if others' food had arrived shortly thereafter, but there was a lull where nothing else arrived for some time, and at one point, I actually had to ask a waiter about two dishes that still had not arrived quite some time after everything else had. For the amount of time it took for those to arrive, we figured they had somehow missed those dishes on our order, and they didn't cook them until I had inquired about them.

I was also a bit disappointed that we got fortune cookies for dessert. I looked around to see if others had gotten something else, and sure enough, the table next to us had gotten tapioca or red bean pudding or something else served in a bowl. That's the usual dessert served on a complimentary basis in restaurants, or sometimes, you might get cut oranges. But I figured we got the fortune cookies because the majority of the people at our table were non-Asian, so the wait staff probably decided on the "safe" option. I wished they had asked, as I would have preferred the opportunity for those at the table to try something else for dessert rather than boring pre-packaged fortune cookies.

But even with the few glitches that arose, this is a restaurant that I'd definitely recommend and return to.

Hop Li Seafood Restaurant
855 South Baldwin Avenue
(off the 210 freeway, just south of Huntington Drive, on the west side)
Arcadia, CA 91007
(626) 445-3188

Here's their official website, and from there, you can go to any of their four locations. I was interested to note that the dinner menus are different at different locations. The Westside and West Los Angeles menus are identical, but the Chinatown menu has some more exotic items, and the Arcadia menu seems to have the most "scary food" of all on their menu, and to me, that's the menu that looks most interesting. The Arcadia menu also seems to be the only one that has pictures in their menu, and I'm a fan of pictured menus.