Monthly Archives: December 2007

Movies

I’m heading back to Boston now, but before I go I thought I mention a few comment-worthy movies I’ve seen lately.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
I saw this in Florida at the Silver Screen Cafe and Cinema, an odd, run-down little place combining the properties of a terrible second-run picture house and a terrible hole-in-the-wall diner. Patrons sit at tables in the small, mostly empty theaters, eating (in my case) bland, cold chicken nachos and watch unpopular movies on the fuzzy projector and nearly incomprehensible sound system.

The movie is not really bad, but it is quite puzzling. It is either a children’s movie about death with a drizzle of obscure SAT vocabulary, or an adult movie without any adult message. Consistency is basically not a goal, and so characters switch back and forth between blandly accepting the store’s obvious magical qualities and blandly denying them, without any punctuation. It seems to be part of a growing genre of “why would you make this movie?” movies featuring amazingly talented all-star casts.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
My brother somehow convinced my family to watch the 4-hour-long BBC movie of Pride and Prejudice. It’s really very good, in terms of scripting and acting, and the screen presentation does a great deal to dodge some of the trickier points in the book. The attention to period detail is wonderful, and even the choreography and camera work is often impressive. If you have 4 hours, possibly not all in one day, it’s a worthwhile production.

Daywatch
I’d read a of this movie a few months ago, so when I saw it in Blockbuster I immediately recognized it as the Russian vampire movie featuring a deadly ferris wheel rolling through the streets of Moscow. I had no idea what I was in for.

Daywatch is the sequel to Nightwatch, which I have not seen, and it is in Russian, with decent but not great subtitles. Very little attempt is made to explain what is going on, and I had to work pretty hard to piece together the plot. I could list about 10 things that I still don’t understand. Nonetheless, it was fantastic. It’s a beautiful movie, with a soundtrack to match, set in an incredibly imaginative universe where vampires can’t drink blood without a license, issued by the Good-Evil coalition board. In typically Russian fashion, this means that proud lower-class vampire fathers try to curry favor with higher-ups to fast-track their sons’ licenses.

I recommend seeing Daywatch, but it would be even better to see Nightwatch first. I intend to see Nightwatch as soon as I get the chance.

CT

I’m back in CT.

My trip to Florida has been fun. The details are mostly not of general interest, but I got to spend time with family and enjoy the beautiful weather. It was lovely.

Now I’m back home, doing chores and generally getting back to work.

Grab a connection

I’m at my Aunt Steffi’s, for the annual Christmas party. There’s no internet connection at my parents’ apartment, so I’m basically off the map until Saturday.

We’re having a good time, playing with the Wii and chatting. I came here to see my family, and that’s what I’m doing.

ID

I never did get my ID, so didn’t go into my office this week. Instead, I worked on the OLPC stuff, and also the Chorallaries Spring Concert DVD. The DVD is now done. I made the first copy last night, and tested it on our projector in the basement. It all works… almost. The video skips, every few minutes. I don’t know if it’ll work better on other DVD players, or if I bought more expensive name-brand blank DVDs, or what. Anyway, my work on the video is basically done. Now I just have to figure out what to do with it.

Tonight my parents, friends, and I watched The Last King of Scotland. You’ve probably all seen it. If you haven’t, well, it’s worthwhile.

Spring Concert

I am tantalizingly close to having a finished DVD of the Chorallaries Spring Concert, approximately 8 months after the concert. I have spent countless hours chasing dead ends on this project. I cannot even begin to describe how much time I have wasted, but I would say that waste accounts for at least 90% of the time spent, and maybe 95%. I am also quite thoroughly disillusioned with Apple’s whole creative suite. Frankly, I have no idea how anyone uses it for anything.

On the other hand, I am now quite familiar with Final Cut Pro, Compressor, and DVD Studio Pro. That might come in handy some day.

Michael Clayton

I saw Michael Clayton on Sunday. I liked it a lot. I don’t know why it wasn’t promoted more heavily, because it seems like it would have fairly broad appeal. I don’t want to give too much away, because you should see it, but I will say that it takes an element of the modern zeitgeist, something you might see in the news, and uses it as an opportunity to explore the personal implications for the people involved.

Today I wanted to bike to the gym, but I remembered that the roads were ugly, and that wasn’t likely to work well. I didn’t remember just how bad they were; it was actually easier to run down the middle of the street than walk on the ice-slick sidewalks.

Too much to say

Friday was my dad’s surprise birthday party. My mother had been calling me multiple times a day for the preceding week, but I still didn’t know anything more than the time and location. I drove from Boston directly to the restaurant, Ponte Vecchio in Fairfield, where it was being held. It was a lovely party, but, like any party, it said more about the planners than the guest.

My mother hosts events at our house with some frequency, and so assumed by default that she would host the birthday party herself. It quickly became clear that this would not be possible: my mother was already hosting the SHS World Language Department’s Christmas party, for 30 people, earlier on the same day. Instead she decided to have the party at a restaurant. The results, as always, say more about the planner than the guest of honor.

Although we were having the party at a restaurant, the menus were written, printed, and cut by my mother. She brought the Challah (it was a Friday night, and there were a lot of Jews), the balloons, and the flowers arranged on every table. She even baked the chocolate cake that was served for dessert.

It was a great party, and the rest of the weekend was just echoes by comparison.

Snow

It snowed today, calmly and relentlessly. I wouldn’t call it a blizzard, since it was so peaceful, but we got about a foot of snow. That meant that tonight, when it stopped (about an hour ago), I got to partake in the winter pastime that is currently so popular among city dwellers here: Digging Out Your Car.

You may recall that in February, my car was stuck for two weeks in snow that had refrozen into a solid icy boot. Since I intend to drive home tomorrow, it was very important that this not happen again.

The snow was beautiful: light and dry. There was a huge amount, and few streets were well plowed. As I was clearing off my car, a friendly neighbor pointed out that I was parked in a Snow Emergency zone, which meant I could be towed so they could plow that area. He also pointed out a nearby open space. It took some doing, but I did manage to clear out a path for the wheels, and after a few minutes of fishtailing around the one-way streets with marginal visibility, I was parked again. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back out tomorrow.

Energy storage

I just came up with an ingenious energy storage device. I’m sure I’m not the first with this idea, but it’s just so simple and beautiful I have to share it.

The problem is: you’ve decided to power your country off of wind and solar power, but you often find that you’re producing excess power. You want to store that energy for later when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. So here’s what you do: you put a set of special buoys just off the continental shelf, in deep water. These buoys are big, say a 10-meter cube of stiff, light foam (or even larger). They are each tethered to an anchor, which is a geared-down motor-generator, connected to a seafloor cable running back to shore.

It takes about 3 kilowatt-hours of energy to winch the buoy down by one meter. If the buoy moves at 1 kilometer per hour, it can store 3 MW of energy. That’s about the amount of excess power you’d expect from one very large wind turbine, operating in high winds during a period of minimal load. In deep ocean, you could run at that speed for 3 hours. Storage losses are low, since electric motors are very efficient. The biggest loss is probably from fluid drag, so operating at the lowest possible speed is valuable.

The buoys never need to break the surface. In fact, you could always keep them deep enough to ensure no interference with surface ships. There’s no limit to how many you can chain together along one power cable.

The fundamental physics of this design are identical to the more conventional reversible hydroelectric dams. In both cases, energy is stored by raising a volume of water, and recovered by lowering the water again. However, this design avoids the complexity and inefficiency of pumping systems; it just needs a geared-down motor and a sprocket. It also doesn’t require locating a rare topographical formation with a sudden elevation change, building a dam, or flooding any ecosystems, and it can be grown gradually as storage demands increase. The potential storage is almost unlimited.

Sticking points: long heavy anchor chain, making a light buoy that won’t crush at 3 km depth.

Busy

Work seems to come in waves. I have suddenly found myself pursuing 5 different projects, all difficult, and all high priority.

This weekend was the Chorallaries concert, where the singing was great, and afterparty, where the singing was astonishingly terrible.

Last night was Game Night at my apartment, where I lost handily at Settlers of Catan. Emily made some great cookies though, so that pretty much made up for it.