Sunday Apr 20, 2008

Candies for Beatles Fan

Across the Universe
Directed by Julie Taymor

Pub. Date: 2007

Cross posted at http://www.nomadicminds.org

My iPods collects 128 Beatles songs.

They have cryptic lyrics, but mysteriously beautiful, bringing tears or smiles from the heart. You can't talk when the music is still playing; and have long buried the moment in your heart when the song ended. When the song starts, they all came back up.

Maybe it is a clever musical strung together with Beatles? No, that’s possible only with ABBA. This is Julie Taymor’s interpretations. Nicely done.

She was giddy talking about Paul McCartney at the pre-screening. Oprah joined her like a teenage slumber party girl. "Wow," I thought. "The power of Beatles." <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Beatles") Technorati("Across the Universe") Technorati("Julie Taymor") TagEnd() </script>

Thursday Apr 10, 2008

Golden Compass

His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
Philip Pullman

ISBN: 978-0440238607
Pub. Date: September 23, 2003
Publisher: Laurel Leaf
The Golden Compass
Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards


Director: Chris Weitz

Cross posted at http://www.nomadicminds.org

Excellent books, disappointing movie. But is it possible to produce a good movie of such a richly written book? There has been two attempts to cinematize Dune; both failed too.

What an interesting concept that everyone has three parts: body, soul, and spirit. These three parts can exist independently — body can live on without spirit, soul goes to hell/heaven after body dies. Pullman made the spirit exist in the form of an animal that has to stay close to the body. When the tie between the body and spirit gets severed, two things happen: a great amount of energy releases and the person either dies or becomes very dull.

Lyra, the main character, reads the Golden Compass, an oracular instrument. That skill comes from the rare ability to intensively focused on emptiness. With that, and Golden Compass as the channel, Lyra communicate with Dust, a substance both generated by and stimulates human intellects. Human becomes more creative when exposed to Dust; the creativity also generates Dust. Apparently, multiple cultures discovered the same and created their own version of the instrument. Chinese's I-Ching is one of them. Astrology, Taro cards, crystal ball, and other fortune telling skills are all the same thing.

The movie ends up with inconherent fragments and under-devleoped characters. Nicole Kidman, however, almost perfected the role. I cannot think of a better actor for Mrs. Coulter. But maybe it is not fair to critize the movie as a book reader. Only Lord of the Rings, after all, met my expectation as a successful adaptation. I watch Harry Potter movies mainly just to reminisce: like a quick re-read and recollection of the details. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Philip Pullman") Technorati("The Golden Compass") TagEnd() </script>

Saturday Mar 22, 2008

Definitely Maybe

Definitely Maybe
Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin


Pub. Date: 14 February 2008

Cross posted at http://www.nomadicminds.org

What a cute movie! Romantic comedies ran out of originality long time ago. Of course, they are never meant to be. The formula includes the chemistry, the tug-of-war of characters, some situation-comedy, and just enough sappy emotion to earn this genre the alternative name of chick-flick.

Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) play a divorced father and daughter. The story starts when she insisted to know his past relationships; he obliged but turned it into a game. Both the little girl and the audience kept on asking, "What next?" As the story unfolds, it gets a bit strange that a daughter can be so obsessive about her father's past. "Why is she so into this?" A little voice inside gets louder and building up the anticipation.

And that's the gripping part of this movie: part plot and part acting. Every characters is likable but the little girl was the best.

Not an ordinary chick-flick. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Definitely Maybe") Technorati("Ryan Reynolds") Technorati("Abigail Breslin") TagEnd() </script>

Wednesday Mar 12, 2008

User's Manual to Human Body 人体使用手册

User's Manual to Human Body 人体使用手册
吳清忠

ISBN: 7536046316
Pub. Date: 2006年1月
Publisher: 花城出版社

Cross posted at http://www.nomadicminds.org

If a free and legal version of the same book is available online, would you go to the bookstore and buy a copy with, say, 4 dollars? The answer is over a million resounding "YES." The physical version of this book is a best seller in China (and Taiwan alike). It has sold more than a million copies. I personally bought 10 copies; friends asked me to get them a copy while I am there. The author describes a sales peak soon after publication followed by a even stronger one a couple of months later. The 2nd one was not only stronger but also diminished much slower. Words of mouths from the 1st peak readers is the only explanation.

The central theme is an alternative to our medicine concepts. The traditional medicine training see human body as a machine with complex parts. As we get old, or subject to invasion, those parts need chemical or mechanical assistances to maintain normal operations. The picture of an old, beat-up car come to mind. The engine needs tune-up, the tires need replacements, etc. Eventually, the whole thing wears down and we kick the bucket.

Chinese think differently. The body is a system that is capable of self-healing to infinity. For it to work, it requires energy similar to power-supply for computers. When the battery runs low, many parts of your computer stop working. There is no point fixing those part; re-charging the battery will restore everything to normal. In fact, if one is careful about the energy balance, immortality is quite possible.

"Heresy," you cried. There is no scientific proof of such non-sense. Mr. Wu answered this challenge. The medicine researchers primarily learned from autopsies; there is no more energy flow in cadavers. Since Chinese tried to achieve longevity, they study those who live well and healthy, not the sick or dead.

Hmm... The nice thing about being a Chinese is that we can work with both systems. I will practice Qi control and take a Tylenol for headache too. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("人体使用手册") Technorati("吳清忠") TagEnd() </script>

Sunday Mar 02, 2008

A World Perspective

Cross posted at http://www.nomadicminds.org

Always have facts with you. Visionaries and pundits dazzle you with grand predictions or scare you with warnings of dire consequences. You need facts for perspectives.

Find the most populous and prosperous countries in the world, and remove those only on one list. Most countries dropped off. For about 30 countries on both lists, they represent about 70% of world population and 85% of the economic production. Yes, like other markets, the world observes the 20/80 rule too: a small number of countries dominate the majority of the economic activities.

The USA is weaker, but only compared to itself several years ago. This mighty country is far and beyond the wealthiest one. Its GDP at about 32 trillions (all GDP numbers are in US dollars) is about 3 times bigger than Japan, the 2nd one on the list. The USA is 4.5 bigger than Germany, almost 5 times bigger than China, 13.4 Russian, and 14.6 India. Have no doubt. The USA will still be the #1 for several decades to come.

We all know that China and India have lots of people. Their combined 2.4 billion people (1.3 and 1.1 respectively) is about 37% of the world population. The USA, the 3rd most populous country, has about 300 millions people: less than a quarter of China.

In terms of individual productivity, the picture changes drastically. Americans, on average, produce, over 44k of value every year. For all practical purposes, it is a good substitute for their average income. UK, Canada, Australia, France, Japan, Italy, and Spain are roughly in the same league with Spaniards doing about 63% of their US counter-parts. Russians produce about $7,000 every year, Chinese $2,000, and Indians $800. Average Indians make 2% of Americans and Chinese 5%. China and India literally make up with volume. Each of their citizens make very little, but the countries produce a lot.

Tuesday Feb 26, 2008

Resident Evils

Resident Evils
Milla Jovovich

Pub. Date: 2002, 2004, 2007

I am so sorry. Unlike more sophisticated people that watched Oscar nominees, I watch all 3 Resident Evils this weekend: Biohazard, Apocalypse, and Extinction. I feel so mindless, just like when I finished RoboCop 3, Omen 3, and Rocky 6. Sigh... No wonder they keep on producing sequels.

Watch only for, "What next?" Since the movie makers knew, they avoid answering. Instead, they fill the time with mindless killings, cheap emotions, and, once in a while, good fights.

The general story line, after watching all 3 episodes, is the sterotypical virus genetic mutation one. This time, a scientist created a virus to cure his daughter's inability to walk. The evil management tried turning it into a bio-weapon. A greedy insider stole it. Everything went wrong and the earth is destroyed. Why is this not a ruin? Because you don't watch these movies for the stories. Besides, I did not reveal those details designed to hook you.

Milla Jovovich is another female fighter on the silver screen. For some reasons, they have this draw on male viewers. We have Trinity, Sarah Connors, Violet, the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon girl (what's her character name?), and many more. I guess their fight scenes are more pleasing to watch like dances than those masculine power displays.

Fine, Lynn. I will watch Atonement next. Geez. Enough the rolling eyes. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Resident Evil") Technorati("生化危机") TagEnd() </script>

Monday Jan 28, 2008

Would this happen soon?

Four recent news articles string into a follow-up story.
  • New York Times reported that Marion Jones will be sentenced for 6 months for lying. She took performance enhancement drugs at 2000 Olympic competition.
  • International Herald Tributes reported that IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations, the top organization to govern track and field competitions) ruled Oscar Pistorius ineligible for Olympics. Mr. Pistorius is a double amputee. When he competes in 100 meter sprint, he attaches two Cheetah blades. IAAF clearly believes those blades gave him unfair and artificial advantages over other athletes.
    Personally, I think Mr. Pistorius is pretty inspiring.
  • ABC reported a new protocol to treat dogs with damaged joints. The vet extracts the stem cells from the same dog, cultivates them into larger quantities, then injects the concentrated cells into the damaged joint. Few weeks later, the previously limping and inactive dog will be bouncing around like puppies.
  • Lastly, New York Times reported that a research lab has grown a rat heart from adult stem cells. The lab first washed out every muscle tissues from the damaged heart, leaving only the blood vessels, nerves, etc. Then they use the stem cells to grow them back. The result is a pumping, healthy rat heart ready to be implanted.

Do performance enhancement drugs relevant when genetic engineering is thriving? If Mr. Pistorius's legs gave him unfair advantages, what about his new heart or increased muscle, not from steroid, but from his own stem cells?

Some years from now, when I am old and frail, should I find a doctor to give me a new lease of life or wither away like all my ancestors did? The most scary part of this question is its possibility. I can feel these technologies coming and these questions will become real.

You get the story? Are we ready?

Monday Jan 21, 2008

Who owns your Genes?

Next
Michael Crichton

ISBN: 978-0060872984
Pub. Date: November 28, 2006
Publisher: HarperCollins

I don't know if I read Michael Crichton for education or entertainment.

As I scanned the paperback section of the airport bookstore, "Clever," I thought. Michael Crichton's book occupied not one, but three, shelf spaces. The book has three different covers: same design of a monkey and bar code, different background colors of red, green, or white. It worked. I bought a copy.

And this is a usual page turner. Gerald the parrot is the most alive and memorable character. Other are all superficially developed and stereotyped. Then again, you read a Michael Crichton for education and entertainment, not for literature.

He strongly criticized the genetic industry as greedy, anarchical, predatory, and confused. The main point is ownership of genes — can people own genes like intellectual properties?

But I own my body and therefore all my genes, if genes can be owned. I then own half of my biological children's genes too. Unless there was a mutation, they are simply copies of my genes. In fact, biological parents together own all of children's genes.

Hold on. Grand-parents own parents' genes, by the same logic. When they die, their properties, including the genes, are inherited by their offspring. Uncles and aunts therefore own all cousins' genes together. If we pushed upward in the ancestry line, eventually, in legal sense, there is only one possible conclusion: the whole human population together owns the human genome.

This is fun then. If genes can be owned like properties, then genes must be owned by the entire human population, therefore genes cannot be owned by anyone. Without too much effort, one will reach the same conclusion for genes of any species.

No one owns life. How simple and blatantly obvious can that be? <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Next") Technorati("Michael Crichton") TagEnd() </script>

Monday Jan 07, 2008

Learning Mandarin: False Eastern promise

I am a big fan of The Economist. Read it religeously every week. But this recent article got me scratching my head. Who was the editor of that issue? This article argues that it is economically a bad decision for British businessmen to learn Chinese.

Three main points are in the article: China will dominate world market soon, Chinese are too hard to learn, and, lastly, elite Chinese professionals already speak English fluently. The return, therefore, does not justify the investment of time and energy.

Let's say all three points are valid, would they draw the conclusion that learning Chinese is not fruitful? In a global market place, speed and information win. Isn't it fearful that the other side know you better than you them? And, how come Brits found Chinese too hard and those elite Chinese are fluent in English? Are Chinese smarter? Work harder? Or they don't look for excuses to do it?

I was in a meeting with an important partner in north-eastern China. The meeting went the normal way, all in English. Presentations, discussions, etc. At the end, action items taken, meeting wrapped up, and everyone shook hands. Just as the chairman of the company is walking out of the door, the CEO, who was just a step ahead of me, whispered something to the chairman. Instinctively, I said, in Chinese, "We can help. No problem. Give me about 2 weeks." Without even pausing a step, the chairman patted my shoulder and told the CEO, "That's it then."

I cannot testify that Chinese fluency is required for a foreigner to function, or even succeed, in doing business in China. Can one win a foot-race with an extra 20-pound bag on the back? Sure! But not in Olympics. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("Chinese") TagEnd() </script>

Friday Dec 21, 2007

How We Die

How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter
Sherwin B. Nuland

ISBN: 978-0679742449
Pub. Date: January 15, 1995
Publisher: Vintage

Death fascinates me like life. Sherwin Nuland, a practicing medical doctor, depicted death with autopsy clarity. It is a freaky, moving, and addictive book. It is also a wonderful book to learn some basic medical terminologies; my appreciation on House is now greatly enhanced.

Except for by trauma, such as gun shot, car accident, etc., death is a process that takes a lifetime; it is not an event that terminates a person. Fearing or trying to avoid it is not acknowledging life itself. That said, there are certainly smart things to do to enhance its quality or not shortening it unnecessarily.

Note that Dr. Nuland does not believe one can live beyond the length programmed by one's genes. It appears cells can only divide a finite number of times, organs will gradually lose their efficiency, and entropy in the system can only increase. Modern medicine has not found a way to reverse this process yet.

Dr. Nuland stopped short of promoting assisted suicide. The medical profession and institutes dispense excessive amount of resources just to maintain signs of life. Since death is a process, and not an event, there is really nothing to avoid and meaningless to catch just few more breaths.

He admitted it is easier said than done in a painful and emotional story regarding his own brother. He seemed to be trying to convince himself with those grueling chapters on AIDS and cancer death: their inevitable ugly and painful processes. Where is dignity, where is social responsibility, where is humanity, to prolong their suffering while dispensing away resources?

I rewrote my living will and checked my medical power of attorney after reading this book. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter") Technorati("Sherwin B. Nuland") TagEnd() </script>

Saturday Dec 08, 2007

A China Literature Form

天觀雙俠 (繁體中文)
鄭丰 (陳宇慧)

ISBN: 9789867131881
Pub. Date: 2007年07月19日
Publisher: 奇幻基地

How do I describe this style of literature? The straight translation will be "KungFu fictions." But that is not justice. On the other hand, many will snicker at even trying to acknowledge them as literature, similar to what New York Times will call tabloids journalism, I guess. I have been obsessed with them when I was much younger, spending a big part of my allowance renting them (the other parts are on other similarly questionable categories).

This popular art form combines the elements of fantasy, western, history, and folk lores. Decades ago, no serious writers dare to use their real names writing these, lest ruining their pure artistic reputation. Many admitted subsidizing their normal salaries with this side-job, but usually long after they have firmly established themselves in the literature circle.

About 10 years ago, GU Long (古龙) and JIN Yong (金庸) changed the industry. The former wrote stories that are unrealistically and sappy poetic. The latter actually tried to turn this form into real literature. Mr. GU died from alcoholism: very fitting to his characters in the books. Mr. Jin essentially killed the industry by setting a new benchmark few can surpass.

Until this one came. I have not read Kung Fu books for so many years now. But this one captured me no less firmly than Harry Potter.

Sunday Dec 02, 2007

High-Tech Hopefuls: India and China

The Economist
Special Report on India and China
Nov. 3rd, 2007

The Economist had a special report on India and China titled High-Tech Hopefuls. As I would expect from any world-class publication, I have always found this magazine fair and informative. Its subscription fee at China, however, is more than double of USA. These economists really "charge what the market can bear."

The opening article offered a rather interesting point of view on why did these great civilization declined — they were both technology leaders in this world few hundred years ago. "Lost of interest!" said Joel Mokyr. Both China and India ran out of challenges at that time. Hmm... Another classic economic doctrine: competition is always good for the society.

The report focus very much on present and future. And its points are simple and compelling. For the next few years, both China and India would reap the benefits from existing technologies, mostly originated from abroad, instead of developing their own. They will catapult themselves over the mistakes made by the 1st world countries these few hundred years and land on the modern world in much shorter time. During that speedy flight, they need to scoop up a bigger piece from the value chain: Apple keeps $80 for each iPod and leaves $3.70 to China's assembly lines. Innovation seems to be the key. But insisting on re-inventing a China version is not getting very far, even in China. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("The Economist") Technorati("India") TagEnd() </script>

Monday Nov 05, 2007

Sleep, the new diet program

I endured years of protest imposing strict sleeping routine for my kids. They must be in bed and light-out earlier than most of their friends, at least so they claim.

A recent study showed a good night's sleep, when the kid is young, will help their grades, make them more socialable, and even avoid later time over-weight.

I guess this makes sense. A good night's sleep give them more energy, to focus in class, and more participatory on the playground — that becomes higher interest in activities and exercises later.

Sunday Oct 28, 2007

History Lessons

Qing Dynasty's 12 Emperors (New with Full-Color Illustrations)
YAN ChongNian

ISBN: 710105062X
Pub. Date: 2006-4-1
Publisher: 中华书局

Only Han, Tang, Ming and Qing dynasties survived more than 200 years in China history. Qing is the last one and also the only one whose rulers were not of the Han race. Every Chinese people shakes head and sighs when they read the recent history. Why! Is it the monarchy governance? Is it Cixi (慈禧) to be blamed? Was it God's will? If I were Qian Long (乾隆), would China have risen to its place as a major global player 300 years ago? At the very least we would have avoided the multi-nation invasion and the Opium Wars. After the Tong Zhi period, the demise of the Qing Dynasty became just a matter of time. The government botched one opportunity after another. It has been 210 years since Qian Long descended from the throne in 1796 and left behind the most prosperous time. If we think about these last 200 years Chinese people have to sigh again.

YI ZhongTian's (易中天) commentary on the era of the Three Kingdoms (品味三国) has inspired the public to take an interest in popular history. YAN ChongNian (阎崇年) further demythified history for the mass. They both came to fame as media personalities before they published: re-printed again, then new edition, then newer with illustrations, then with color illustrations - the contents are mostly the same but the price is not. Those who bought the book early on might begin to feel buyer's remorse. But the whole book (TV versions) can be downloaded free of charge. Interesting business model.

Although the Qing Dynasty had such a long history it had no more than twelve emperors. The reign of Nurhaci (努儿哈赤) and Hung Taiji (皇太极) didn't really count. Guang Xu (光绪) and Xuan Tong (宣统) were useless. The prosperity of the early era was followed by the Jia Qing (嘉庆), Dao Guang (道光), Xian Feng (咸丰) and Tong Zhi (同治). Those 4 did away the great Qing Dynasty in 80 short years.

Make you think. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("正说清朝十二帝") Technorati("阎崇年") TagEnd() </script>

Thursday Aug 09, 2007

A Magical Summer


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. K. Rowling

ISBN: 978-0545010221
Pub. Date: July 21, 2007
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books



Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Michael Goldenberg (screenplay)
J.K. Rowling (novel)
Directed by David Yates


Release: 10 August 2007

There are no spoilers in this blog. Feel safe to read this even if you have not finished the book or watched the movie.

A generation grew up with Harry Potter since Sorcerer's Stone published 9 years ago. And the series ended this summer. The publishing industry will eagerly wait for the next J.K. Rowling, or her next endeaver.

Good thing that the movie series will keep everyone hooked for a few more years.

I did not dress up as one of the characters to wait for the clock to strike mid-night. Instead, we drove to Costco at 9am, July 21st, and got a copy with no wait. I woke up at 7am the next morning and took the book from the bedside of my younger daughter and started reading. I knew that she finished. The older daughter woke up few hours later, walked up to me without a word, and I surrendered the book without protest. We understood the faster reader get it first. By the afternoon of July 23rd, Monday, she handed it back to me. Then work got in the way. I attended all-day meetings from July 24th to 27th, Friday. Wife did not protest about my absence during the weekend. By Sunday morning (really early), I put down the book, sighed, and went to sleep. It ended.

Structurally, this may be J.K. Rowling's best. The main line kept its focus the sub-plots are natural. Her socio-political points are obvious and the human tragedies are just enough for older readers to understand and younger ones to feel the gravity.

Harry Potter books gave me this 9-year journey with my kids. They grew up with Harry Potter and I participated. They really have out-grown the magics and sometime the patience for J.K. Rowling's compusion became thin. The last few books are honestly obligatory readings — few days of light works in exchange of keeping up with the story line and the buzz. This finale, slightly anticlimactical, is refreshing as well as a relief.

The movie high-lighted one of my senior moments — I have forgotten what the book was about. And I remembered the cute little kid Daniel Radcliff was. How much Harry, Hermione, and Ron have grown! Maybe a 18-year-old (he was born in 1989) actor can still play the 15-year old Harry. It will be unrealistic for the next 3 movies.

This book turned mature in the series with a cold-blooded murder and the beginning of teenage romance. The movie faithfully reflected that changee. Magic is no longer the attraction; complex characters and intensive struggles are. I watched all those small kids in the theater and wondered how much they enjoyed it. They clearly did. The new director seemed to have find a good balance between keeping the little kids excited and older ones entertained too.

Soon, my senility will win and I won't remember exactly what happened in which book. It is pretty certain that there will be a box edition of all Harry Potter movies in few years. I probably will add them to my collection, together with God Father, Indiana Jones, Matrix, Lord of the Rings, etc. Nope, although I did watched them all, I do not intend to add Rocky and RoboCop to my collection. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Harry Potter") Technorati("Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix") Technorati("Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows") TagEnd() </script>

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