January 28, 2008
Michael probably doesn't remember, but his mom was my babysitter for a summer a long time ago back in Minnesota. There weren't tons of Chinese families in the area at the time; they lived near us, so our families were social. I think my parents are still in touch with his.
I have a distinct memory of playing ping pong with Michael and his older brother Carl. Michael was barely tall enough to see over the table, but he was quick and aggressive, slamming the ball despite his height.
They moved away to California so the boys could play tennis more earnestly. Obviously, it was a good call.
Michael was the first world-class Asian-American professional athletes I can recall. The whole community rallied behind him; even today he's a big celebrity in the Chinese-American community.
I see on Wikipedia that he lives on Mercer Island here in Seattle. Maybe I'll run into him again sometime. (For more, here's his official site.)
Anyway, congrats, Michael!
The concert was enjoyable. There were three large screens suspended over the symphony showing scenes from the games. While the scenes weren't set to the music, it was helpful to see the games with the music and fun to see old school stuff like the original Zelda or Mario games.
They also showed close-ups of the musicians playing; since we were about three rows from the back of the auditorium in the highest balcony, it was especially nice see musicians doing their thing. I wish they did this in all symphony performances.
I admit I was a little surprised by the quality of the scores. While some of the songs like Super Mario Brothers were just fun and nostalgic, the newer scores were often beautiful. Since video games have become as huge financially as movies (bigger now, I think), I guess it makes sense that they can attract a similar caliber of composer for games as movies. They sometimes felt a bit formulaic (for example, almost every fighting game broke into a martial snare drum beat), but I'm this may have been just the samples they chose. As a Microsoft guy, I was pleased how good the medley from HALO was; in particular, the opening bars of the HALO theme are really distinctive.
One interesting note: two of the composers, Jeremy Soule and Martin O'Donnell, were in the audience - not something I've seen before since most classical music composers are, well, dead.
The boys were well-behaved through the concert, although by the end of the three hour performance, Michael (7) was getting sleepy and fidgety (I was too). Andrew (10) really loved it though. All in all, it was a good first symphony experience for them.
In case you're curious, here's the program:
|Nobuo Uematsu||Play! Opening Fanfare|
|Nobuo Uematsu/Square Enix||FINAL FANTASY VII-Liberi Fatali|
|Koji Kondo/Nintendo||Super Mario Bros|
|Joel Eriksson/Electronic Arts||Battlefield 1942|
|Nobuo Uematsu/Square Enix||FINAL FANTASY VII-Aerith's Theme|
|Masato Nakamura/Sega||Sonic the Hedgehog|
|Tappy Iwase/Konami||Metal Gear Solid|
|Yoko Shimomura&Kikaru Utada/Disney/Square Enix||Kingdom of Hearts|
|Jeremy Soule/Bethasoft/UbiSoft||THE ELDER SCROLLS IV: OBLIVION|
|Nobuo Uematsu/Square Enix||FINAL FANTASY SERIES-Swing de Chocobo|
|Yasunori Mitsuda/Square Enix||Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross|
|Jason Hayes/Blizzard||World of Warcraft|
|Akira Yamaoka/Konami||Silent Hill 2|
|Koji Kondo/Nintendo||The Legend of Zelda|
|Nobuo Uematsu/Square Enix||FINAL FANTASY VII-One Winged Angel|
They also played a special additional score by Jeremy Soule, although I missed the title.
January 17, 2008
I've said it before, the Japanese are weird. These videos are part of a set that apparently tries to teach English through a weird combination of skits and dancing; while this is nutty enough, the phrases they choose are odd and funny.
Here are a few gems:
January 15, 2008
His pathology report came back and had good news. The renal cell cancer was confined to the removed kidney and the lymph nodes were clear. He has some follow-up checks, but no radiation or chemo or anything horrible like that. He's home now and eating/drinking real stuff again, so hopefully it'll be clear sailing ahead.
What a relief!
Watch graphics from your all-time favorite blockbuster video games—including Super Mario Bros.,® HALO® and The Legend of Zelda®—on the big screen while Seattle Symphony, Vocalpoint! Seattle and Northwest Boychoir perform the soundtrack.
They have a show next Thursday (1/24) at 7:30pm and a matinee Saturday, 1/26 at 1:00pm. Both shows are at the incredible Benaroya Hall. Unfortunately, it's not cheap; the lowest priced tickets are about $50 each with most of those sold out on Thursday already.
In any case, I thought it would be a fun way to introduce the boys to the symphony, so we're going to one of the shows. I'll let you know how it is.
January 12, 2008
Kellie, Kristen, Eric, Katie, David, and I visited Chris yesterday at the hospital. (Wow, not a very prolific set of bloggers...) Like I mentioned recently, Chris learned last week that he has renal cancer. For a guy who just had major league surgery to remove a mutant kidney, he looked great. I was mentally prepared for him to look a bit ragged, but he looked pretty normal. The only real indication of his condition (aside from the fetching hospital gown) was that his voice was a bit gruff, probably from not being allowed to drink or eat anything for the past few days. (More on that here).
His wife Leslie looked good too and was in high spirits. We also got to meet Chris' mom. I love meeting my friends' parents; they're almost always as cool as their kids (clear correlation). It would crush me to see my kids with cancer, but she seemed to holding up well too.
Kellie, Kristen, and I brought Chris a few Vosges Bacon Chocolate bars, which are fantastic, of course, because they have bacon. Hopefully, Chris will be able to enjoy them in a few days, unless Leslie keeps trying to kill him.
It's great reading the comments on his blog. I think it's a real testimony to the man Chris is that so many people care about him and are concerned. As Leslie mentioned in the blog, EVERYBODY LOVES CHRIS! Go, man, go!
January 8, 2008
A few years ago I worked on the MSN Explorer 8.0 team; the project was code-named Texas. I made a few really good friends on that project. This weekend two of them had serious medical surprises.
Craig, movie critic - really, he was the FOX13 movie dude - and former speech writer for Bill Gates, had surgery to get his appendix out; his blog post just said, "They say it has to come out tonight."
Perhaps even more severe, Chris, golf and ski buddy now at DeepRockDrive (guess they couldn't afford spaces for their name), went into the hospital with a sharp pain, thinking it was as kidney stone. Unfortunately, it turned out to be cancer. Chris goes into surgery tomorrow. He and his lovely wife, Leslie, have started a blog to document the experience.
Other than the fact that these two good friends of mine (both of whom are about my age) had these problems on the same weekend, the weird thing about these was that I found out about both on Facebook. Sign of our times, I guess.
I admit I'm a little freaked out by my friends having these kinds of health problems. I know these are strictly age related, but it's playing on my impending feeling of doom around getting older. Of course, my feelings here are nothing compared to what Craig and Chris are going through. My prayers and best wishes go out to them and their families.
January 7, 2008
It's been a while since I've been to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It's too bad I missed Bill Gates' keynote this year though. Bill has been the regular keynote speaker for years; since he's retiring later this year, this is probably his last one. He kicked off his talk with this funny video full of celebrities about his last day. Wish I had been there. Check it out:
January 1, 2008
As I mentioned earlier, I've started listening to Chinese language learning podcasts to help me improve my language skills. I took a look at a few and decided that two really fit my weird needs pretty well (I'm pretty fluent speaking and listening, but my vocabulary isn't particularly modern or adult, having learned most of my Chinese at home.)
Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk
It's hard to believe that a guy named Serge Melnyk speaks Chinese well enough to teach Chinese, but our man Serge does. In fact, his Chinese is better than his English, which he speaks with a weird accent.
The thing I like best about Serge is that he covers real topics with mostly real language. One of the first lessons I evaluated was one on lining up in China (anyone who has visited China knows that queuing is a lost art in China) and included vocabulary on how to yell at the line cutters ("Are you blind? Can't you see there's a line here?"). Another recent lesson was on how to break up in Chinese ("...you're a great girl and I'm sure there's a better match for you somewhere.") I certainly didn't learn that at home or in Saturday morning Chinese classes growing up.
The podcasts are free; you can buy the transcripts and worksheets for added practice. My only real complaint is that Serge doesn't provide any pauses in the podcast for the listener to repeat the vocabulary or sentences.
Another good podcast for me is iMandarinPod. This podcast is put together by The Center of Chinese Educational Development in Tianjian in partnership with the College of Chinese Culture & Literature on Nankai University.
I picture all the instructors are students at Nankai University; they all sound young and are very sincere in their efforts. The lessons are a bit more traditional Communist Chinese text book (e.g. "The Great Wall" or "I want to learn to sing Beijing Opera") than Serge's lessons. Unlike Serge who explains the lessons in English, the iMandarinPod lessons are entirely in Chinese. They force me to really listen a lot more closely than Serge does, which is a good thing. They also are clearly native speakers and have the right cadence and sound; even though Serge's Chinese sounds excellent, you can still tell he's not a native speaker.
The biggest issue with iMandarinPod is that most of the site is in Chinese; since I don't read or write Chinese very well, it's tough for me to get around. However, since it doesn't really matter which lessons I download, this hasn't been horrible for me. These podcasts are free as well, although there's a link to donate. They also have downloadable learning guides once you register.
Serge claims to be able to take learners from nothing to high fluency. I haven't listened to the earliest podcasts to see how well he handles people new to Chinese; the iMandarinPod stuff is definitely for advanced intermediates+.
As usual, we had a generous Christmas with lots of great presents. One gift that I thought was particularly appropriate given my long-lasting and well-known love for bacon was The Bacon Cookbook by James Villas, former food and wine editor of Town & Country Magazine and Bon Appetit's Food Writer of the Year 2004.
It's clear that Villas shares my love of bacon in all its forms. He starts by describing the different kinds of bacon from around the world and then dives through forty+ recipes, sorted by course; he even has a few bacon desserts like Canadian Bacon Maple Custard.
Each recipe has a short description that tells a personal story, explains a little history, or otherwise introduces the dish; I love when cookbooks do this vs. just listing a pile of recipes. Each introduction sells the dish with effusive praise, e.g. "...you simply can't serve a more delectable side dish" [Lima Bean and Bacon Casserole] or "One of America's most original and sensational breakfast or lunch dishes..." [California Hangtown Fry]. The photography in the book is very nice as well. More important, the recipes seem pretty well written and straightforward, with the possible exception of having to find these exotic types of bacon (although Villas does offer web resources for getting the different kinds of bacon.)
I admit, my mouth is watering right now as I flip through the book. I'm excited to start cooking out of it.
Welcome to 2008! I'm not really one to make New Year's resolutions, but I have been thinking about things I want to do this year. Mostly, I have a list of things I've wanted to do for a while that I never quite got around to. Over the past few weeks, I took some steps to get going on these. Here are a few things I want to do and the steps I've taken. (Blogging about them will also help create a little public accountability.)
Spend more time with the boys
I think the kids and I do quite a bit together already, but I think these are the prime years I have with them where they're old enough (7 and 10) to really participate and still don't mind hanging out with dad, so I want to double-down on our time together.
The kids have been bugging me to go camping beyond our backyard for some time, so I thought I'd start there. I haven't ever really camped (OK, we went once when I was two), so I've been dragging my feet a bit, but I really want to try it as well. I looked into camp sites last summer, but it was almost impossible to reserve one at that late date, and I didn't want to chance driving somewhere and not having a site. So, this week, I reserved a choice site at Deception Pass State Park (close enough to home that we can bail out if it sucks) in June. I'm pretty excited and will probably book a few more dates just in case we love it.
Incidentally, the Washington State Parks reservation system is pretty good. They show you the individual sites with descriptions and ratings of quality and privacy, have photo(s) of the site, and make it easy to see what dates are available. Good use of our tax dollars.
Work out more
As I've chronicled on this blog, I've been up and down with my working out. I definitely do best when I have scheduled events I'm working toward, so this morning (the first day of sign-ups), I signed up for the RSVP (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party). It's a ride like the STP (Seattle-to-Portland) that I did two years ago. I tried to sign up last year, but I waited too long, and the ride sold out. I'll do the Chilly Hilly again in preparation too, but I'll probably skip STP. Good to have the goals on the calendar now. I may do another half marathon (probably Kirkland in May instead of Mercer Island in March).
Learn to play an instrument well
I took piano lessons on and off growing up (mostly off) but never really reached a level of reasonable competency. I've always wanted to play well, so I started piano lessons last month, taking the half hour before Andrew's lessons (can't skip my lesson without making him miss his). We also just had a little Yahama grand piano delivered yesterday. It's been fun playing again, and my instructor has me working on theory as well to better understand what's going on. This had added an interesting new dimension.
I thought about starting guitar instead (which I've also always wanted to play), but I'm much closer to competence on piano, so I figured that was wiser. (I also played clarinet for six years, but I don't have much interest in picking that up again. Not too many social opportunities for clarinet...)
Learn to speak another language to adult fluency
I grew up speaking Chinese at home, suffered through eleven years of Saturday morning Chinese school, took a year of Chinese in college. I also took four years of high school German (enough to get by as a tourist). However, I can't really do business or carry on adult conversations in either language. Since I'm closer to fluency in Chinese, I decided to build on that base. Although I'm basically illiterate in Chinese, I figured I'd start with my listening and vocabulary skills. I started listening to Chinese language podcasts. There are a few good ones, but my favorite so far is by a guy named Serge Melnyk (really). More on these later.
I have lots of other things I want to do, but I figured this is a good start. Hopefully, I can stick with these and build some good habits. What are your plans?