Friday, May 29, 2009

Why Do Filipinos...?

This is what the auto-completion feature suggests when you start typing these phrases into Google's search box.

"why do filipinos"...
  • why do filipinos have spanish names
  • why do filipinos have flat noses
  • why do filipinos look mexican
  • why do filipinos eat dog
  • why do filipinos smell
  • why do filipinos work abroad
  • why do filipinos leave their country
  • why do filipinos go abroad

"why are filipinos"...
  • why are filipinos good dancers
  • why are filipinos so ugly
  • why are filipinos short
  • why are filipinos good singers
  • why are filipinos always late
  • why are filipinos dark
  • why are filipinos poor
  • why are filipinos so poor
  • why are filipinos stupid
  • why are filipinos lazy

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Even as Arnold Schwarzenegger was en route to becoming California's governor, the ending of Terminator 3 made it clear as daylight that another Terminator movie was unavoidable. As if written into the fundamental constructs of physics-- inevitably, possibly even without human intervention, the forces of nature would eventually bring about a Terminator movie set in the future where John Connor is a leader of the Resistance fighting the machines of Skynet.

And now, six years later (holy crap that was six years?), here's Terminator Salvation.

Notice how this one isn't called Terminator 4. This is appropriate, because it feels nothing like the other three movies. It shares little in common with them but the universe they're set in. Arnold isn't even in this one, believe it or not, except for a brief digital cameo.

Perhaps to establish some continuity with the old movies, they snuck "I'll be back" and "Come with me if you want to live" into the dialogue, timeless quotes from the old movies. But this time it wasn't profound or funny or anything. In fact every overt reference to the old movies was kind of disheartening, reminding me of how good those movies were and how far of a departure this one is.

To be fair, going off on a tangent was surely intentional. They wouldn't want to risk pounding the original formula into the ground and making a sad replica of a Terminator movie. This one is a straight-up action movie, guns blaring and sparks flying and eardrums splitting, and it makes no apologies.

Actually, judging it on it's own merits the movie is not bad, but gives no sense of greatness as the others did. This may have been an attempt at a series reboot-- in the vein of Batman Begins or Casino Royale-- where standard series conventions are thrown out the window and grittiness is increased off the charts. Except this series hadn't grown stale yet, and the old style was way better.

Terminator Salvation has one interesting parallel with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In the X-Men series it was all about Wolverine's shady past, in Terminator it was all about the unseen future. Then suddenly we have these new movies that finally reveal everything we wanted to know-- but can we ever really be satisfied? It's like philosophy, which poses deep questions that have no real answers. Once the answers are within reach, the questions aren't nearly as profound.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

I told myself I would never do memes, but somehow it feels a bit acceptable to make an exception for a meme that has had an article written about it in Time Magazine. Plus, the fad already came and passed a few months back, so I feel a bit less of a lemming.

So here you have it, twenty-five facts about myself:
  1. I have hairy legs but the hair stops abruptly at the ankles... like pants.
  2. I can type at 90 words per minute (and my record is 106).
  3. I have lived in four different apartments in Cebu in the past three years.
  4. All of my underwear is the same brand, size, and color.
  5. I have a notebook tracking all my daily expenses since October 2006.
  6. I can't whistle or snap my fingers.
  7. I read Jurassic Park, the novel, when I was 8.
  8. My first memory is playing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.
  9. I went to China and ate a Zinger from a Chinese KFC. It tastes the same.
  10. I finish my fries before starting my burger.
  11. The keyboard key I press most often is the left tab (and the most pressed letter is E).
  12. I like having an old cellphone because I'm proud of how long I can make it last.
  13. I passed a qualifying test for Mensa membership, but didn't think the membership fee was worth it.
  14. I took the Civil Service Exam just to occupy my excessive free time, and placed 2nd.
  15. I fractured my foot falling from a coconut tree.
  16. I drove 1000km from Atlanta to Washington DC in a day, then drove back two days later.
  17. I like tall buildings, infrastructure, roads, maps, and satellite imagery.
  18. I can solve a Rubik's Cube in under 2 minutes (but that's still not good enough).
  19. There are 55,600 Google results for "michael gonzalez", and none of the first 30 pages of results are me.
  20. I have a high tolerance for walking, and wish others wouldn't be so lazy.
  21. I once walked from Ortigas to Ateneo (around 8 km) in the middle of the night.
  22. I don't like seeing videos of myself or hearing my own voice.
  23. I have not been hospitalized since I was a baby.
  24. I got the first pair of pants I bought for myself at 22 years old.
  25. I have been to 13 out of the 7107 islands of the Philippines.
That's it. Stop looking at me like that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Philippine Defense Squad

On Saturday, Roger Ebert wrote on his blog of seeing the Philippine film "Kinatay" at the Cannes Film Festival:
"There are few prospects more alarming than a director seized by an Idea. I don't mean an idea for a film, a story, a theme, a tone, any of those ideas. I'm thinking of a director whose Idea takes control of his film and pounds it into the ground and leaves the audience alienated and resentful. Such a director is Brillante Mendoza of the Philippines, and the victim of his Idea is his Official Selection at Cannes 2009, "Kinatay." Here is a film that forces me to apologize to Vincent Gallo for calling "The Brown Bunny" the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival."
Now, Ebert is the greatest movie critic in the world, past or present or future. His opinions are almost always right, and even when they're wrong he is still so insightful that his words are worth listening to.

But the moment I saw the word "Philippines" out of the corner of my eye, I could hear it coming. The inevitable rumbling of a massive chest-thumping army approaching from just over the horizon-- the Philippine Defense Squad.

Kinatay premiered in Cannes last weekend, and it's near impossible that any of these belligerents have actually seen the film in question. Not that it matters.

A sampling:
archie del mundo:
"Mr. Ebert, this review is so unfair and I almost want to cry...don't ever think of coming here for you are not welcome. [...] this is why American critics shouldn't be allowed to review international films (for Lord,forgive them, they dont know what they are doing) [...] Sorry Mr. Ebert, tough luck, when you attack something that bears our label, our nameplate - you're attacking the whole country as a whole - didnt LINGUISTICS teach you enough?"
To my relief, the squadron was composed of just a couple of dudes posting multiple times. It's characteristic of what happens every time though, but it's still embarrassing having the Philippines' endemic cultural oversensitivity exposed like an open wound. The backlash's backlash had done it's damage.

A professional film critic for over 40 years, Ebert said in response: "Until now I have not received a single message confusing a negative review of a film with a negative review of a country."


Monday, May 18, 2009

Ayala Center Cebu's Terraces

In 2008, Cebu Holdings spent P600-million to redevelop an already lovely man-made lagoon beside Ayala Center Cebu into some sort of godly shopping-dining utopia.

10°19'8"N 123°54'20"E
Friday, November 28, 2008, 6:53 PM (GMT+8)

You can click the image for a much larger photo, but it still can't capture how awe-inspiring the place really is. I can't decide whether it's prettier on a clear sunny day-- with the sun making everything colorful and radiant with the skyscrapers of Cebu Business Park as a backdrop-- or at night, when the artificial lights do the work of blending with the landscaping for a hypnotizing glow.

It still blows my mind and takes a fistful of effort to look upon this scene and wrap my head around the fact that I'm still in the Philippines. Much more, I'm still in Cebu.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The three X-Men movies were alright, so I went ahead and watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The full title makes it pretty clear that the producers are interested in turning this into an open ended series, or at least they want to have that option open.

If they do turn this "X-Men Origins" thing into a series they really need to rethink their approach, because the way it's done here just doesn't work. Much of the first half of the movie felt like an opening prologue-- you're well into the movie before you realize that you're watching the main event.

The "Origins" of the title suggests that you'll be seeing a lot of those wonderful origin stories like in Spider-man or Batman Begins, but there's none of that here. There's no sense of wonder at Logan discovering his powers, not a single scene to demonstrate any coming-to-terms with what he is. Instead there's a brief opening scene in the 19th century, followed by a montage that spans a hundred years or so. Origins, indeed!

The main story of the movie involves a lot of stuff that I don't even feel like sorting out into a summary. I just couldn't get myself interested, impatient to get things moving on to some real action-- I eventually realized what I wanted was so see another real X-Men movie. Not gonna happen. Gambit and Cyclops are thrown into the mix with no fanfare whatsoever. Maybe this stuff is intresting to you X-Men devotees, but I have no idea why I should care.

On a side note, I think we've gotten to a point that special effects do nothing for me anymore-- seeing claws emerge and retract from Hugh Jackman's fists is not inherently impressive, no matter how many times I see it happen.

The movie ends with our guy Wolverine losing his memory (as he must), which pretty much negates everything that happened in the past two hours. It's one of the least satisfying things for a story to possibly end with. He loses his memory, but lives to see another day and... and what? Goes on to have the adventures of the three X-Men movies? If this is all there is to look forward to in any future "Origins" movies, count me out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Star Trek

I have a confession to make: I really never got into Star Trek before. Further, I have tried to care about it, but just couldn't. I watched the more recent movies when I had the chance, and saw some of the television series when it happened to be on... I've kept an open mind to the whole franchise and allowed it several opportunities to reel me in, but each experience with Star Trek has left me cold and extremely apathetic, mystified as to why a dwindling handful of extremely vocal nerds* continue to invest their interest in this dead fish.

Apparently I'm not the only one that was thinking along these lines. Seven years after the release of the last worn out charade of a movie, they've finally decided to come out with a shiny new one-- a much needed new beginning rather than a sequel-- refreshingly titled Star Trek.

It was clear from the first trailer that this is the movie that people like me have been waiting for-- an entry level Star Trek movie where newbies like myself wouldn't be punished for not knowing anything. It gives a proper introduction to characters like Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Sulu-- characters that feel just vaguely familiar, though I've previously only come to know them by reputation through their catchphrases, cliches, and pop culture references.

The story involves some time travel, a convenient device to free this new series (and it will become a new series, no doubt) from the constraints of continuity with the old Star Trek stories. Time travel is something I'd usually prefer to be used as an absolute last resort in a story, since it has the potential to make everything ridiculous. The dimension of time, far more than mere space, becomes the final frontier once it is introduced. That's why it's so irritating that the time travel concept is introduced in the third Harry Potter book and never used again. But in this case it's absolutely appropriate and necessary to give the series the big sweep it needs while technically staying in the same universe (multiverse?).

While watching it I came to realize that this is the kind of movie I would have wanted the Star Wars prequels to be. Much more energy, much more fun, and not reliant on past glory to lift it to importance. Intentional or not, a few scenes felt like a direct homage to Star Wars, like the medal awarding ceremony at the end, or Kirk lost in the snows of the ice planet.

The movie is not without it's flaws: My mind tuned out a few times during some moments of impenetrable spaceflight jargon, and the romance angle between Uhura and Spock is one of the most tacked-on love stories of anything ever. I have heard some other complaints, especially from Star Trek fans, nitpicking about this or that or whatever little plot points that no one gives a crap about, but don't listen to them. This was a good movie and if you don't think so you must be daft.

As I made my way out of the theater after the screening, I overheard a foreigner guy telling his girlfriend about how the movie changed things from the originals. Of course, I have no memory or emotional investment in the old stuff so I couldn't know what he was talking about-- but then I realized that whatever the hell this dude is talking about no longer matters, and that this glorious series reboot has sufficiently served its purpose.

* Don't be offended, you know it's true

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The man with no arms

Today I saw a man with no arms on the jeep.

Well, he was missing his whole left arm and half of his right arm.

There was a cell phone tied to a rope wrapped around what's left of his right arm. And a pencil was tucked into the part where the rope wrapped around, so he could rest the phone on his leg and use the pencil to push the keys.

I don't even know how he paid the fare for the jeep.

Or put on his pants.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How to build a time machine

I know now how a time machine will be invented.

The first element is technology like Microsoft's Photosynth, an application that takes multiple digital photographs, then analyzes and combines them to create a three dimensional model of a scene that you can immerse yourself and move around in. With enough photographs you should theoretically be able to create a complete encapsulation of an entire scene, where you can seamlessly view anything you want from any angle.

A good example of this is the inauguration of Barack Obama last January, where CNN asked viewers at the scene to contribute photographs of the moment Obama was sworn in as president. The hundreds of photos were fed into Photosynth to create a complete snapshot of the inauguration, allowing immersion into the scene so you can view the event from thousands of angles.

CNN's Photosynth model of the inauguration of Barack Obama

Now, combine this technology with another element: Google Street View. As you may or may not know, Google's been going crazy putting cameras on top of cars, driving through the roads of the world's major cities, taking 360-degree photographs of our whole world, and two years later I'm still frickin' astounded by it-- I can view anything I want in the streets of Atlanta, New York, Sydney, Paris, Tokyo, London, and hundreds of other cities on our Earth.

Google Street View in a residential neighborhood

Another element is the recent introduction of historical satellite data on Google Earth. Not only is it possible to view satellite data of all the world's major cities, but you can now move through time to see what the looked like in the past (depending on the availability of data, of course). With a few clicks of a mouse you can view the transition of a barren plot of land to a construction site to the glittering Mall of Asia. As time goes on, historical data will only become more available and frequent.

Historical views of the SM Mall of Asia in Google Earth

Expand that idea to Street View. It's only a matter of time before it will become necessary for Google to update the snapshots of street views, leaving them with historical data that will inevitably be available to allow us to see cities change and develop over time.

Why not take this concept further and predict that a time will come that public photography and data storage will become so inexpensive that we will have video cameras constantly running with overlapping coverage available in city streets. Is the idea so far fetched? London already has hundreds of thousands of video cameras watching their streets as a potential deterrent to crime. We may eventually reach the point that people realize that making the video coverage available is no more invasive to privacy than what we currently have with street view.

A street in downtown Atlanta

And if widespread public video camera footage can be combined with the image analysis technology of Photosynth, we can create an immersive three dimensional world that encapsulates not only a moment in time but a span of time in history, allowing us to practically travel through time to the moment in history of our choosing.

Whenever I'm showing off Google Street View to people, I like to amaze them my checking the views of houses I've been to in the US, and then I zoom in on the door and say "Ok, so now let's take a look inside the house..."

For a second they gasp and actually believe that such a thing is possible.

We'll get there...