Sunday, July 05, 2009

Crimson Tide is a continuation of WarGames by other means

Last night, I (re)watched Crimson Tide (1995) on Bravo. I only intended to watch part of it, but I was sucked in. I think I've seen the movie twice before, but for some reason it never occurred to me until last night that it shares a lot in common with WarGames (1983), one of my top 10 favorite movies.

Both films, despite significant differences in how the stories were presented, dealt with issues including:

  • Decision-making complexity (whether or not to launch nuclear weapons, based on possibly inaccurate information) during unusually stressful conditions.
  • The conflict between flexible human judgement versus strict adherence to protocol.
  • The futility of war in a nuclear era.

Watching the personal conflict (especially the discussion about Clausewitz, hence the title of this post) between Commander Hunter (Denzel Washington)--educated and "complicated"--versus Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman)--simple, instinctive, and aggressively confident--reminded me of the 'Jocks versus Nerds' dichotomy humorously explained by John Hodgman in his address at the 2009 Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner. See below for the whole video.

Timothy Leary wrote about WarGames in an essay (see below) in which he described the film's protagonists as examples of self-directed cyberpunk heroes who followed a critical mantra: "Think for yourself; question authority" (TFYQA)--especially when the fate of humanity is on the line and the authority in question is based on rigid protocols and machine intelligence versus actual experience and human wisdom.

The essence of WarGames is summed up when Professor Stephen Falken implores General Beringer: "You are listening to a machine! Do the world a favor and don't act like one."

Sound advice in any era...

Related reading:

The Letter of Last Resort: The decision about nuclear apocalypse lying in a safe at the bottom of the sea

Leary, Timothy. 1991. "The Cyberpunk: The individual as reality pilot." Pp. 529-539 in The Cybercultures Reader, edited by David Bell. London: Routledge.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fair Share, possibly the best iPhone tip calculator and bill splitter

Fair Share iPhone tip calculator and bill splitterMy long-time friend from college, Jerry Hsu, just released his first iPhone application. Now, I don't use an iPhone (and I philosophically prefer Web apps that are based on open standards and work across devices/browsers), but if you're going to make an iPhone app, it might as well be good, and Jerry's made a great one.

It's called Fair Share, and here's what it does. When you dine out with your friends and it's time to pay the bill, Fair Share...
  • Calculates the tip amount and bill, split fairly between every member of your party.

  • Provides an easy interface for entering different price amounts for the various items ordered and assigning them to specific members of your party.

  • Intelligently handles all kinds of ordering and payment situations.
Although Fair Share is one of many iPhone tip calculators and bill splitters out there, Jerry has worked hard (and done a ton of research) to make his version the best. The thing I love most about Fair Share is that it really embodies a part of Jerry's personality. Back in the day, whenever our group of friends went out for a meal, Jerry (being the treasurer of our college anime club) would take on the task of making sure everyone contributed properly to the bill. Jerry is a fair guy, and Fair Share represents his personal philosophy as much as his technical skill and understanding of what people need in software. To see it in action, view the video below: You can find the app on iTunes: Fair Share - Tip Calculator and Bill Splitter Jerry also writes about Fair Share on his blog: I'm sure he'd love to hear your feedback!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Introducing Opera Unite

Today is a really big day for Opera, and I'm proud that I have an opportunity to share it with people via an article I wrote for Opera Labs, the first in a short series to introduce our newest browser innovation--Opera Unite.

Here's the intro:
Taking the Web into our own hands, one computer at a time

My name is Lawrence Eng, and as a Product Analyst for Opera Software, my job is to understand our users and what they need so we can serve them better. Today, I've been asked share my thoughts on Opera Unite, a new Opera technology that I'm extremely excited about. I've been an avid Opera user since 2001 and seen the numerous innovations Opera has introduced to dramatically improve the experience of Web browsing. Of all the new features we've introduced over the years, none of them have filled me with anticipation as much as Opera Unite--a radical first step we've taken to address what I call 'the Internet's unfulfilled promise', which is about our ability to connect with each other and participate meaningfully online.

To read the entire article, please visit: Taking the Web into our own hands, one computer at a time

After (or before) you've read the article, I hope you'll try Opera Unite for yourself by downloading an Opera Unite-enabled build of the browser. Visit for more info.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer 2009 anime events in SoCal

Anime Expo is coming soon (July 2-5). If you'll be attending, please feel free to join my colleagues Mikhail Koulikov, Alex Leavitt, and I for the follow panels we're hosting:

Friday, July 3
10:30 a.m.
Live Programming 3
Title: Introduction to Anime/Manga Studies
Description: The Anime and Manga Research Circle is an international community of scholars of Japanese popular culture and its reception worldwide. The AMRC has hosted similar panels at Anime Expo several times in the past, and this year, looks to return with a talk that will introduce the concept of serious academic study of anime and manga, provide tips on researching and writing school-level and college-level papers, introduce a guide to sources and resources, and share our members' own experiences as beginning and advanced anime/manga scholars

Saturday, July 4
6 p.m.
Live Programming 2
Title: Anime and Manga in Academia
Description: Building on the earlier 'Introduction to anime/manga studies' session, this panel is aimed at students at the undergraduate level and above who are already seriously pursuing the study of Japanese popular culture. The panel will provide a brief history of anime/manga studies, introduce the prominent figures in the field, and provide advice on finding programs and courses to pursue, writing thesis papers and dissertations, and even publishing anime/manga research in established academic journals.

Edit (7/3/09): Due to illness, I won't be attending Anime Expo (and the above-listed panels) this year. Sorry about that.

In other news, Hayao Miyazaki will be appearing at a tribute event (in his honor) at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, hosted by John Lasseter. The event will be on Tuesday, July 28th, at 7:30 p.m. Further information, including details on how to get tickets, can be found here: Summer of Anime Heats Up at Academy (press release)

The Academy is also currently hosting the "ANIME! High Art – Pop Culture" exhibit, running until August 23rd. I happen to have a small handful of items on display there (loaned to the exhibit) and got to attend the opening reception in May. I also contributed an article on Gainax and otaku culture to the exhibit's program book--which might be on sale at the gallery (if they're not sold out yet). The exhibit is definitely worth a look if you're in the area. Best of all, it's completely free to visit!

More info here: ANIME! High Art – Pop Culture

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Raspberry Dream revisited (Rebecca, Ayu, and SpringS)

It's always interesting to see how some tastes change over time, while certain other things retain their appeal and have a timeless quality about them. I'm a fan of Japanese rock/pop music; while spending some free time on YouTube, I came across a set of related music videos that I wanted to comment on.

Here's the same song, Raspberry Dream, performed quite differently by different people in three distinct eras. The original (1986) is by the 80's Japanese rock band Rebecca, featuring Nokko (b. 1963). Some of you know that my favorite one-shot anime is To-Y (1987). In that anime, Nokko was the voice of Niya Yamada. Because of that role, I became a fan of Nokko's solo work and her prior work as the frontwoman of Rebecca. Watching the video below, you'll see that Nokko is an honest and exhilarating performer and musician.

The video below features Ayumi Hamasaki, one of Japan's most prominent and prolific female pop artists. The following video, however, is from her "Idol on Stage" TV show performance in 1995 when she was only 16 years old, prior to her debut album. It's not quite fair to compare an amateur performance against a polished music video, but the quality and potential of Ayu's singing is already apparent (and stylistically different from Nokko), and it's entertaining to see Ayu before she became a superstar.

Finally, here's a video from 2003 featuring SpringS, a short-lived girl band. SpringS is mostly known for its member Aya Hirano, a well-known anime voice actress.

At this point, I suppose some weighty topics could be discussed, such as authenticity, postmodern creativity, the value of derivative works, changing aesthetic sensibilities, the nature of the music industry, etc. There are things to ponder, for sure. For now, however, I simply enjoyed watching the three videos and invite you to do the same if you haven't done so already. Personally, I still prefer the original. It's got a sense of purpose and energy that can't be matched by CG, special effects, and a higher BPM.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Defining and thinking about anime

I recently met a student online named Alex Leavitt. Alex is one of the new generation of scholars in the US studying otaku culture, and I couldn't be more pleased, as we desperately need more serious investigations of otakudom (from all angles).

On his blog, Alex posted some interesting thoughts on the meaning of 'anime', especially in light of works like Kunio Kato's La Maison en Petit Cubes, which recently won the Academy award for 'Short Film (Animated)': Reflections on Anime: Animation and the Academy.

Here's my comment on his post:

Hi Alex,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I generally define anime as the following:

Animation created (primarily) in Japan by Japanese creators for (primarily) Japanese audiences.

I use that definition because it's useful to me as both a fan and scholar, allowing me to delineate the aspects of 'anime' (re: context, production, and reception) which I am most interested in. In the end, the word 'anime' is just a container for whatever concepts we want it to hold.

That said, I certainly enjoy (and find important) many things that fall outside of 'anime' as strictly defined above.

In another sense, my definition might be considered less strict than most since it places less emphasis on specific anime styles and genres, allowing us to recognize as anime historically important but stylistically distinct titles (such as Tezuka works, as you mentioned), along with modern Japanese works such as La Maison en Petit Cubes.

Below is a video filmed by Cameron Williamson of AniLogTV, asking attendees of Anime Punch 2008 "What is Anime?" (I'm at the end of the video)

Blogging, Twitter, and Comments

Here's a comment I posted on the blog of my colleague, Henny Swan, in response to her post entitled Did Twitter kill commenting?:

Some additional thoughts (expanding on the excellent points above):

When you comment on a blog, nobody but the blog author, random visitors to the blog, and yourself knows that you commented. I guess I could comment here and Tweet that I did so, but that's two steps instead of one (for both me and my Twitter followers).

It's also hard for me to keep track of all the different blogs where I've commented online. On Twitter, at least, I can look through my own update history to see the things I've been interested in and writing about. Similarly, most web forums retain a full posting history of each user.

We want our impressions to matter; for many of us, that means we it to be part of our recorded history. Others go farther, and want that recorded history to be public. Unfortunately for them, blog comments are easily forgotten and difficult to recover once memory fades.

Blog commenting doesn't usually allow one to keep track of responses. After I respond here, I won't know if you or anyone else responded to this comment unless I make an effort to check back here (forever)? Some blogs allow you to subscribe to comment feeds (via RSS), but that's potentially a lot of feeds to keep track of, and a lot of irrelevant comments to wade through. Mail notification when new comments are posted also results in a lot of unwanted messages, especially if the topic generates a lot of comments.

Finally, I noticed that Twitter produces an interesting curiosity effect. People link to content (often obscured by tinyURL and other such services), and people get curious about it (because of the mystery). The effect is even more pronounced when people publically reply to each other on Twitter, and they're saying things that only make sense in the context of their own conversation, so third party observers find themselves following the Reply trail to see what they're talking about.

By removing context clues, it's like Twitter added/maintained a level of inconvenience/opacity to encourage users to be curious about other people's conversations and have to dig a few levels before getting a payoff (generating a gambling-type of thrill, perhaps).

Following Miquel's lead: twit back on @lawmune

This topic is also related to the alleged death of blogging.