Friday, June 28, 2013

Movie Review: World War Z (2013)

Forget Superman. In World War Z, Brad Pitt's character doesn't have to take his shirt off. He gets things done. How refreshing to have a competent, grounded hero to counteract the empty grandiosity of DC comic book fare.

World War Z is apparently a departure from its book origin. That's fine. It stands up well as a film. The story follows Gerry, a former UN investigator who is sent to track the source of a mysterious virus in exchange for his family's safety. The virus turns people into speedy slavering zombies in twelve seconds. Gerry's mission takes him to South Korea, then Israel, then Wales.

There's plenty of tension throughout the film, starting with an outbreak in Philadelphia during a typical morning commute. The sheer numbers of the infected, and their sensitivity to noise, make it almost impossible to escape their stampedes. Gerry relies on a combination of field experience, observational skill, and of course, luck, to make it. At no point was he sassy, dorky, or tragically conflicted. He's a guy with a job to do, and he gets straight to the point. Like I said -- refreshing!

The rest of the cast do well, particularly Mireille Enos as Gerry's wife, Karin, and Daniella Kertesz, who plays Segen, an Israeli soldier. Fana Mokoena is the government official who works with Gerry; David Morse is great as a prisoner with vital intel; and Pierfranceso Favino, Ruth Negga, Peter Capaldi, and Moritz Bleibtru add more dependable characters to the story.

The zombies are probably the worst thing about the movie. They're terrifying as a crowd -- mindless and unstoppable. But seeing individual zombies up close made people in the audience laugh. It was probably a combination of the PG 13 makeup, and the fact that we've seen much more terrifying infected (c.f. 28 Days Later).

The end of the movie is probably more like what the book is like -- showing the different responses worldwide to the threat. World War Z felt truncated, actually. It didn't feel like a finished story. Gerry himself says that.

So now I will get my grubby paws on the book, and wax poetic about the varieties of creative expression and the impact of one medium versus another.

Or, more likely, I would say something like, "It was good, but where's Brad Pitt? herp derp"

This post brought to you by Apple. Apple: you don't really need it, but it sure is pretty! 

How was the First Week?

It was good, until I delved deeper into the shared drive and did one of these:


Duplicate files in redundant folders! Documents in the wrong places! This is madness! This...is...SPARTAAAAHHH...!

Note: In my failed attempt to look up a word that rhymes with "Sparta," I googled "smegma." Except I forgot to do it in an incognito window. Blargh.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Fermat's Last Theorem (1997)

This book by Simon Singh is a good summer read because it’s short, informative, and the mathematics are dumbed down. I skipped them anyway.

Fermat’s Last Theorem focuses on a theorem scribbled by 17th century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat stating that there are no whole number solutions for xn + yn = zn for n greater than 2. Fermat coyly revealed that he had proof of his theorem, which eluded others of the mathematical persuasion for centuries, until one extremely persistent Brit announced that he had solved it in 1993. He had spent seven years in isolation working exclusively on the theorem.

Simon Singh tells the stories of the great minds who set out to solve the problem before Andrew Wiles came along. Even when they failed to construct a proof, these mathematicians created new techniques and even new branches of mathematics. All paths do not lead to a solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem, but many of them converged to lead Wiles to his conclusion.

Singh emphasizes the absolutism of the mathematical world, and why the insistence on flawless logic deterred so many eminent minds of the past, and almost unraveled Wiles’ years of work. Wile’s proof is over a hundred pages long, and one reviewer found a gap in one area, which, if not repaired, would have been enough to discredit the proof.

For Wiles, the stakes were so high because solving Fermat’s enigma was his childhood dream. He wanted to solve it since he chanced upon it in a library book when he was ten. Incidentally, when I was ten I resolved to own a cat, have an apartment, and hold a desk job. So we both achieved our dream! The difference, of course, is that his dream is a dream of higher cognitive creation and my dream sucks.

Wiles had a fantastic quote for when he finally, conclusively had proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, one year later: “Nothing I ever do again will mean as much.”

I turned to Fragrant Husband and repeated that line. “Can you say that about anything?” I asked him.

“Maybe just you,” he said.

D’AWWWWWWWWW.

Infinite Pogi Points Unlocked.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013)

It's a good thing Kal son of El is actually stronger than Fe3C, given the utter demolishing of countless steel structures in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. This latest retelling of the Superman story starts out as a brooding contemplation of folly, isolation, and power that soon transforms into a heavy-handed Christ allegory, and then ultimately ends with mind-boggling citywide destruction that magically disappears by the end credits.

The single greatest thing about this film is a scene featuring Kevin Costner's character, Pa Kent, proving the strength of his own conviction. The next best thing is Russell Crowe. A very close third is Henry Cavill's godlike physique, insert sexually-charged joke here.

I suppose the writers had to contend with the fact that most audiences know the Superman backstory already, but that doesn't excuse the shortcuts they took to jam in more CGI action sequences. For instance, a major theme in the film is Kal-El's standing apart from humanity and his search for his true origins. So by the time General Zod comes and threatens the human race, the script should have established compelling reasons for Superman to fight against his own people to save Earth. But apart from his adoptive parents, and his apparent compulsion to save everybody, Kal-El doesn't really seem to have made a strong connection to us homos -- homo sapiens, I mean. Insert joke about actual gays and Henry Cavill here.

And thus, we speculate -- maybe Kal-El is really just super nice? Maybe Zod, played by an excellent-as-ever Michael Shannon, was just too clearly evil for Kal-El to support? Speaking of my spirit animal, here is Michael Shannon doing a dramatic reading of a viral email from a deranged sorority president.

On another note: why did Zack Snyder employ Joss Whedon's cinematography style from The Avengers? You know, the one where there's something plummeting from the sky at speed, and then suddenly the camera zooms in. Snyder uses that trick often. I guess it's appropriate, what with all the high-velocity flying, fighting, and exploding.

Also: boy, the writers couldn't stuff in enough Jesus references in there. Let's see: Superman assumes the crucifix pose before saving Lois Lane; a priest advises Clark to take "a leap of faith;" Ma Kent assures Clark that Pa Kent always knew he could "shoulder the burden" -- carry the cross, get it? Argh.  Good thing my boyfriend Henry does puppy dog eyes very well. I need saving, Jesus! Er, Superman!

Apart from those musings, my only other "Huh?" moment came when General Zod's perpetually bitch-faced commander pulled out a knife and intoned, "A good death is its own reward." But her knife looked like a box cutter that would be lucky to reach a capillary. Huh?

I recommend watching this film on IMAX, but only because the explosions will provide a nice massage . If you're s summer blockbuster aficionado, go for it. If you like staring at a beautiful man for over two hours, run, do not walk, to your nearest movie theater.

This post brought to you by Fragrant Husband's first attempt at pinakbet. Delicious!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cover Letter Template

Many fields require the ability to string together words and transform them into coherent sentences. As such, a cover letter becomes important when venturing into the delightful world of the job search. A well-written cover not only introduces your magnetic personality, but also systematically lists your stunning competencies and awe-inspiring accomplishments.

Moved by the spirit of generosity, I, a new hire starting next week, share with you here the cover letter template that got me eleven (11) interviews in two (2) months. Yes, it works, and it helps you lose weight! I hope we're still talking about the same thing.

First, disclaimers:
  1. This is a template, and must be adjusted according to the description of each desired job.
  2. I offer it for free, but you can go ahead and buy me a drink or food item as thanks.
Next, suggestions:
  1. For maximum WIN, create a separate "Skills List" document so you have your brilliant talents handy for copying and pasting into the blank spaces in the template.
  2. Identify the top two or three skills required by your target job, and put those into the template.
  3. Only include the "Customer Service" bit if the job actually seems to require it. 
Without further ado:

A STUNNINGLY EFFECTIVE COVER LETTER TEMPLATE 
By Fragrant Elephant, Writer Extraordinaire and Vanquisher of Leftovers

***

[DATE]

Dear Hiring Director:

I am writing to apply for the [JOB TITLE] position advertised on [WEBSITE/JOB BOARD]. My relevant skills and experience for the posted position include:

[SKILL 1] -- As [CURRENT/MOST RECENT TITLE] for a [TYPE OF COMPANY], I have [#] years experience with [A THING YOU DO/DID THAT RELATES TO SKILL 1]. [LOTS OF DETAILS HERE, E.G. "I WENT INTO LABOR FOR SIXTEEN HOURS TO ENSURE DELIVERY OF MY FIRSTBORN, ETC."].

[SKILL 2] -- I also spent [#] years doing [A THING YOU DO/DID THAT RELATES TO SKILL 2]. [DETAILS HERE, E.G. "I CREATED A PROGRAM USING FORTRAN THAT ACCURATELY PREDICTED THE NUMBER OF TIMES MY CAT WOULD VOMIT ON ANY GIVEN DAY."].

[SKILL 3] -- Finally, I have extensive training in [SKILL 3]. In one instance, [DETAILS HERE, E.G. "I LEVERAGED CORPORATE SYNERGY TO IDENTIFY DEVELOPMENT MARKERS AND ACHIEVE ANNUAL TARGETS."]. 

Customer Service
—All of my previous positions taught me to work with efficiency, a collaborative spirit, and a positive attitude under high pressure and tight deadlines. I have worked with people from all over the world, and have consistently found ways to reach consensus as we worked toward our goals. I also learned that strict attention to detail and prompt follow up are keys to success, especially with [WHATEVER THIS JOB DEALS WITH MOST].

My previous and current positions have required discretion, professionalism, flexibility, efficiency, and the ability to work with various stakeholders. I learn new things quickly, especially if they are technology-related. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss how my skills and experience might be a match for the [JOB TITLE] position.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Anastasia Beaverhausen
anastasia@mybeaver.com
+81 842-2679

***

There you have it. May the Force guide you toward your new role as a cog in the machine.

In closing, I offer this job search-related anecdote -- Whilst wrestling with an iPhone case designed to withstand heavy impact, and, apparently, morons like myself, I realized that one of the two pieces I was trying to mash together was, in fact, upside down. I flipped it over, aligned it correctly, and it clicked into place.

The lesson: If it's a match, it will slide smoothly into place.

That's what she said.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Game Review: Tales of Innocence R (PS Vita)

Tales of Innocence R is the 2012 PS Vita remake of the 2007 Nintendo DS game. This latest version features two new characters, as well as voice acting segments. The game is the ninth in the Tales series. It is a light snack of an RPG.

Tales of Innocence R follows Luca, the young, shy scion of a successful merchant. Luca has dreams of being Asura, an ancient demon lord who aims to unite heaven and earth, because in Japan, "heaven" is populated by spirits, rather than by radiant choirs of angels chanting praise to the patriarchy the Heavenly Father. Luca's country is in the grip of war, and rumors are spreading of "inousha," or people with unusual talents. Luca's father sternly warns him not to associate with such folk, which naturally means that Luca is one of them.

Through a series of meet cute and other contrivances, Luca meets others like himself, who call themselves "tenseisha," or reincarnated beings. They all have spotty memories of the ancient world, and are drawn to Luca because of who he used to be. For his part, Luca, who looks like a little girl, is thrilled to be thought of as Asura, who was large and powerful.

One is more imposing than the other.

Eventually, the group's mission becomes clear: retrieve the "power of creation" from, of course, the head of the church, who, naturally, intends to use it to destroy the world. Tales of Innocence R doesn't demonize the church as much as Breath of Fire II did back in the nineties; instead, it uses organized religion as a conversation starter between the characters to pad out a skinny plot and minimal character development.

The gameplay system in Tales of Innocence R is geared toward the gamer having an easy and enjoyable RPG experience. The world is tiny and readily traversed. The expected modes of transport become available: ship, then airship. The party can only hold fifteen of every item, but those are simple to sell/use and then replenish. The enemies and bosses are quickly dispatched. Best of all, magic points automatically regenerate after battles, and players can activate bonus skills that improve attack or defense, recover HP during combat, and, as a godsend, allow characters who aren't in the main party to gain as much EXP as everyone else.

This last blessing allows the discerning gamer to cycle freely between different party combinations, which adds variety, which is the spice of life. I recommend leveling up the all-girl team; their weak attack stats almost got me killed a couple of times. Yes, coed is best!

Speaking of coed, to demonstrate my commitment to equality, I dressed everyone up in beach wear. Observe:

Behold my fearsome fighting force!!!

They're dressed like this so they can go to the beach
right after defeating the final boss (above).

I probably earned the "meccha sukebe" (really lewd) title for that move, didn't I. I shall wear it proudly.

What else? Oh, so the Tales series does skits, or dialogues between characters, often played for humor. For instance, the holy maiden Ange frets about being fat toward the middle of the game, and the other girls -- skinny teenagers who barely wear clothing, because clothes get in the way of fighting monsters -- encourage her to exercise more. This is the topic of several skits, and it never gets old. /sarcasm

Apart from that, there's cooking, a few side quests, a coliseum-type area, and some interesting minor twists. For instance, the youngest party member turns out to be Asura's mother from their past lives. The main villain turns out to be [REDACTED]. Honestly, even I didn't see that coming, but now I have a new trope to add to my mental trope collection.

The music is okay. The voice acting is typical fare. Since it's entirely in Japanese, playing it is a great way to keep up with the language.

The PS Vita version has replay value, because of the two mysterious additional characters -- to find out their backstory, players need to go through the entire game until they have access to the airship, and therefore the location of the secret reveal. Maybe one day I'll get to it.

Until then, may the odds be ever in your favor. What?

***

If you want to be a bold adventurer and try out this game, here is my walkthrough on GameFAQs!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Instant Lunch, with Pictures!

Hello, internet friend. Today's post will hopefully inspire you to consider me for the Lazy Genius Award 2013. I need another trophy, you see, for my self-esteem. Not that I have any trophies whatsoever, come to think about it. Which means...I already won the Lazy Genius Award? YES!!!!

The insta-recipe below provides 148% of your mandatory Vitamin A, 60% of your required fiber intake, 20% of the calcium you ought to have in a day, a whole bunch of protein and potassium, some sodium, and, yes, more molybdenum than you strictly need, but your body knows what to do with it, so just eat!

Today's Instant Lunch: Black Bean Taco Salad
(A lazier version of the Vegetarian Nacho Salad)

Step 1: Place chips in bowl (Garden of Eatin' corn tortilla chips, pictured).
Step 2: Chop up preferred greens (romaine lettuce, pictured) and pile on top of chips.


Step 3: Heat up bottled salsa on stovetop. Add chopped fresh tomatoes and one Thai chili, preferably the smallest one on earth. Pour on top of chips and greens.


Step 4: Add shredded cheese on top! Lactose intolerants may have cheddar.


Be sure to scarf all this down as soon as possible, because the chips might get soggy. As a precaution against such an unmitigated disaster, keep a half-full package of chips nearby. The atoms of the dry chips have yet to be diffused into the collection of atoms in the salad, and therefore may be used to scoop up the contents of your lunch bowl.

Or, if you're really classy, use a spoon to eat the salad.

This post is dedicated to Ate Au, who is such a chip fiend that she keeps a stash inside her bedside drawer! How do I know this? Because all your chips are belong to me!!!

In closing, I would like to share my father's reaction to my original post about making this type of veggie taco salad:

"You cook?"

And a Happy Father's Day to you, sir.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Still Not Married, Despite Wedding and Honeymoon

Massachusetts regulations dictate that a couple wishing to become Smug Marrieds (Bridget Jones' Diary, anyone?) must:

a. Apply together for a marriage license at City Hall.
b. Have the wedding officiant sign the marriage license and send it back to City Hall.
c. Pick up copies of the marriage certificate.

I've gone to City Hall four times now, in the hopes of securing copies of the marriage certificate so I can get the ball rolling on getting my name changed.

(Incidentally, my decision to trade my exquisitely exotic last name for a surname that sounds like fluffy winter hand gear is based on my burning desire to finally stop having people getting it wrong ALL THE TIME. Rrrrgh.)

I assumed that, since almost a month has passed since the ceremony, and the officiant lives about 45 minutes away from us, that step (b) was complete. I was wrong. I got a big fat nothing burger all four times I made the trip to City Hall, making my failure rate an impressive 100%.

So, mothers, lock up your sons, Fragrant Elephant is not legally married yet! Still a Singleton! Wooooo!!!

And now I shall cry giant woman tears of sorrow into my goblet of sangria.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Job Searching with Cats: Oscar


Oscar followed in the fine tradition of cat-blocking begun by Sheba. I suspect they both want me to stay homebound. Sheba likes having me around to pet her, while Oscar is charmed by the cheese I offer him as blood sacrifice treats.

Le sigh.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Job Searching with Cats: Sheba


This happened a couple of days ago.

I was in the middle of answering a typical interview question -- "Why do you want to work here?" -- when Sheba suddenly launched into a concert. I had petted and cuddled her beforehand to buy her silence during the call, but I guess it's never enough. She finally ran away after I made furious kicking gestures at her.

She did the same thing when I had another interview today, but this time I just kept moving around until she gave up following me and went to sleep on the couch.

Next comic: Oscar the ninja also gets in on the job-blocking action!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek: Into Darkness deserves to be seen on IMAX. That way, space scenes can be absorbed in all their beauty, plus viewers get frequent close-ups of Zachary Quinto's face! Win-win!

Director J.J. Abrams' sequel to the 2009 reboot sees Captain James Kirk and his crew on the Enterprise performing a clumsy survey of a newly developed civilization. Before long, they are chasing down a Star Fleet intelligence officer (Benedict Cumberbatch) gone rogue. The villain goes into hiding on the Klingon planet; to avoid conflict, Admiral Marcus orders Kirk to launch photon missiles from neutral orbit.

Since Star Fleet functions more as an exploratory institution rather than a military organization, the police/military nature of the manhunt for Cumberbatch raises moral and practical questions for the crew. Why not bring the man to trial? Why risk bringing unknown torpedoes into an exploration vessel? How can the Enterprise be sure that the Klingon's won't attack anyway? Commander Spock persistently brings up these and many other issues to Kirk, who is in no mood to listen to his First Officer's even, velvet Vulcan tones.

Now some commentary on the main ingredients of this summer blockbuster, in alphabetical order:

Acting--Fine. No standouts, except for Cumberbatch and Quinto competing for sexiest voice. Still undecided on that one. Just kidding! Cumberbatch wins, obviously.

Action--Lots of it, and loud, too! They caused good vibrations in my TempurPedic theater chair!

Cinematography--Pretty great! Loved seeing all those shots of deep space. Lighting looked fine. No complaints about 3D.

Characters--Could've used more Khan.

Music--Sounded like John Williams and Philip Glass took turns composing the score, but it was actually Michael Giacchino, the same guy who did the music for the 2009 Star Trek.

Writing--Acceptable. Funny banter, especially whenever Spock is involved (mostly because he never gets why it's funny). Themes of revenge, honor, justice, friendship, et al given due consideration. Gratuitous plot holes questioned here. The Chekhov's Guns were like clubs to the head. (Chekhov's Gun: an element in a story that is introduced early on and will play a key role in the plot.)

That's all that comes to mind at the moment. Like the first one, this is a movie that I'll re-watch when it comes out on cable. Until then, I shall have fond memories of being massaged by my IMAX chair!

This post brought to you by Circus Boy from the Magic Hat Brewing Company.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Kauai!

Kauai is the northernmost and most epic island on the great state of Hawaii. Fragrant Husband and I, both Hawaii virgins, celebrated our honeymoon there.

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt down in Poipu. The best part about this seaside hotel is the constant sound of the waves breaking against the shore. We kept our balcony door open all the time (which automatically shut off the airconditioning), so we caught all the ocean breezes and the magnificent KA-BLOOSH, KA-BLOOSH of the Pacific. The ocean lulled us to sleep every night.

The worst part about the Grand Hyatt is the fact they designed its 52 acres in such a way that rooms are far, far away from the important spots: the sea, the pools, the bars, the restaurants, and the front desk. One time, I was chilling in our private cabana (free with honeymoon!) and ordered a mimosa. The lady said I needed my ID. Instead of marching the long and winding path back to my room, I decided to be a sad, sober panda. That's how far away it was.

But that story has a happy ending -- Fragrant Husband generously volunteered to go back for my ID. So I had three mimosas to honor his noble sacrifice. Least I could do.

Here are some of the fun things to do in Kauai:


^ Hike the Na Pali coast! Drive up north and head all the way west on the 560. When you run over hippies and chicken families, park your car and get started on the trail. You'll have breathtaking vistas such as the one above. You may also pass out from heat exhaustion. This trail is not for the weak of muscle.


^ Plunge into the ocean! Kauai has tons of glorious beaches, all state-owned, apparently. The one in the photo is off the Na Pali trail. We plunged in to cool off before the return hike. Some places have a mix of fresh water and saltwater near the shore, because of the runoffs from the falls.


^ Rappel down a waterfall after kayaking! Observe my dutiful L-form. I would do that again.


^ Hang upside down on a zip line!


^ Ride an ATV! ATV stands for "all-terrain vehicle," and it's basically the steroid lovechild of a golf cart and a motorcycle. The point of the activity was to try to hit as many mud holes as possible.



While on the ATVs, we stopped to check out the field from Jurassic Park, where Dr. Grant and the kids flee from a Gallimimus stampede. The tour guide made us pose for a picture with a plastic dinosaur (see upper left, above). I think Fragrant Husband and I did the best job pretending to be terrified. He's the one in the right, pointing, and I'm gripping his arm and yelling.

***

Activities not pictured:
  • driving up to the Waimea Canyon, aka "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific"; 
  • going on a helicopter ride around the island; 
  • going on a boat ride with dolphins swimming right beside you; 
  • visiting ancient ruins; and 
  • shopping!
***

As for the food, well -- neither of us lost weight, let me tell you that. Kauai, and I imagine all of Hawaii, does fish really well. Most of the restaurants served the freshest fish that ever freshed. We had spectacular fish tacos, fish sandwiches, fish specials, sushi, and whatever else has fish in it.

Kauai also has a lot of cows, and one of our tour guides pointed to one and joked, "That cow is royalty! It's Sir Loin!" Har har. The point is, the cows there are grass-fed and delicious.

We went to a luau on Kilohana Plantation. Fragrant Husband took full advantage of the open bar. They would have lost so much money if they served whiskey. The food was great, especially the pineapple chicken. The performance started out cheesy, but the dances were amazing. The fire dancer was impressive. And the live singing and music throughout was damn good.

***

Numerous though they are, the chickens on Kauai were outnumbered by the Ilocanos. The Ilocos region, north of the Philippines, has a fine tradition of sending its men and women to Pacific islands. Everywhere I looked, my mother's people smiled back at me. I chatted with a bunch of them, and we shared our life stories, as per protocol.

According to census results, the population on Kauai is about 30% Caucasian, 30% Asian, and 25% biracial; and there are Pacific Islanders and Hispanics also! Quite a mix!

I blended right in. Most locals knew me as a proud daughter of Gabriela Silang at a glance. One lady at a restaurant told Fragrant Husband, "Filipinas are at the top of the hierarchy for wives! They're so loyal! They'll never leave you, even when times are tough!"

Well, mahalo! My wife cred seems solid!

***

In conclusion: KAUAI IS AWESOME!!!

Inevitably, I must end this blog post with a hearty, "Alooooo-HA!"

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)