My Top 5 movies of 2012

5. The Sequels (three way tie): Dark Knight Rises, Avengers, and Skyfall

These movies were well made, didn't take themselves too seriously, and were entertaining popcorn munchers. Unfortunately, none of them really tried anything new or took any risks. I wanted to include Mission Impossible too but it's from 2011. These directors have really found what people in general want to see and they exploit that for great profits. Sometimes a movie like this is exactly what I want, but there is no way it can be the best of the year without doing something extraordinary.

4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I really liked some of the choices Peter Jackson made with this, such as the new frame rate, including songs, and the slow pace. I dislike the cinematography choices. Why oh why does he insist (like he did in LOTR) on long panning far off shots while the characters are in a cave underground? It takes away from the claustrophobic feeling and makes them look like toys. Other than that and some plot holes which may have been in the book, I really am happy that Jacksons success is allowing him to do what he wants and not just what other people expect.

3. Wreck-It Ralph

I'm pretty sure a lot of people will disagree with me putting this so high on the list, but when I saw this unexpectedly at a sneak peak I was really taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed it. It was fun, dramatic, moving, and even unpredictable. I loved the voice acting choices (30 Rock's Jack McBrayer as Fix-It and Sarah Silverman as Vanellope), the arcade gaming inside jokes, and the Toy Story feeling of nostalgia.

2. Les Misérables

I watched this 3 times in 3 days and I was humming it for over a week after that. It is so good. All the singing was done live instead of prerecorded and now when I watch other musicals I just can't enjoy them knowing it wasn't done that way. I really hope it changes the way the industry does musicals from now on. I know this wasn't the first or only movie to do this, but it was the biggest and most successful application of the technique.

1. Django Unchained

Wow. I finally saw this over the weekend and there are so many things I loved about it. The pacing, the script, the actors, the story, the ending.. Rarely have I ever felt so satisfied by an ending as I was with this movie. This is truly Tarantino at his best, so if you are not a fan, don't bother. Christoph Waltz makes every movie better, and Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio were excellent as usual. Go see it.


Things they should teach in Highschool

What are some things you think they should teach in highschool that they didn't teach you? What about things they taught that were useless/not necessary?

They should add these classes to the curriculum:
  1. Statistics. I really think this is more important than calculus for most people and useful for everyone in daily life (especially when reading/watching the news).
  2. Law/Taxes. They should teach a class that shows people how to do their taxes and teaches them about where the money goes, tax rates, different kind of taxes, interest, etc. One of the assignments should be registering to vote (if taught senior year). Students should learn their civil rights and how to avoid giving them up in certain situations. We should learn about our current representatives and what they stand for. I couldn't name (hardly) anyone in congress in Highschool and I had no idea what the Governor was for or against.
  3. Home Economics. I don't care if it sounds old-fashioned. I wish I had learned to do what I saw Japanese kids do in home ec. Heck, just name the class 'chef apprentice' or something to make the kids interested. I would have loved to learn how to cook. But basic cleaning skills are also something every college student needs.
I found these classes useless or just unnecessary for a Highschooler:
  1. Calculus. I say this despite the fact that my profession is one of the few that actually uses it. It just isn't as important as statistics. I took 2 years of calculus in Highschool and when I got to University, I started at the beginning with everyone else.
  2. Spanish/French. Those were my only two choices and I sat in those classes for 4 years of Highschool and learned very little. The way they teach languages is totally backwards. Begin at an earlier age with exposure to many languages. Encourage or even require semesters abroad. Have an exchange program at the school to let the students mingle with people from around the world. By the time students reach Highschool, it is very late to begin their first foreign language. I'm not saying they should cut foreign languages, just change how they are taught entirely.
It's hard to stop and not rant on about the horrible ways they teach in american schools, but I'll leave it here today. What do you all think? Snarky comments about Rio Americano will be insta-liked.


Answer to Problem

Solving the problem in my previous post allows me to do Gouraud Shading.

Here is the before picture. I calculate the color of each polygon face using the face normals (the line perpendicular to the face of the polygon).

With Gouraud Shading, I use the normals at each vertex, not the face. The normal for a vertex is the average of the normals of all the faces that use that vertex. With this normal I calculate the shading value for each vertex and create a gradient in each triangle.

I'll post the answer to the problem in the future if someone wants me to.


Problem of the week

Here's the problem:

You have a triangle with points A, B and C (known). Each point has a shading value s: As, Bs, and Cs that are also known.

You want to shade the triangle with a single linear gradient so that each point has the right shading value.

So what is the starting and ending point of the gradient?

Some hints:

If As = Bs = Cs, the triangle is all the same color, so any points will do.
If Bs = Cs but not As, then the gradient should go from As to the closest point on the line BC to A.


World Cup Predictions Part 1

Here is my prediction. What do you think?


Answer to Squares Question

Given a grid that is NxN, how many squares can you make by connecting the dots?

The answer I got is this:

The reason is pretty neat. For an example, let's use a 5x5 grid.

Here is the sum:

1 * (5 − 1)2 + 2 * (5 − 2)2 + 3 * (5 − 3)2 + 4 * (5 − 4)2

Which equals:

1 * 16 + 2 * 9 + 3 * 4 + 4 * 1

Let's start with the first term: 1 * 16. When you have a 2x2 matrix, you can make 1 square. And in a 5x5 matrix, you can make 16 of those squares.

Next is 2 * 9. In a 3x3 matrix you can make 2 squares (as below) and there are 9 places you can do this in a 5x5 matrix.

This continues for 3 * 4 as there are 4 places you can make the 3 squares below.

And finally, you can make 4 squares out of the largest block just one time in a 5x5 square.

I thought this was really interesting and elegant. So the next thing I did was figure out the answer for any matrix of NxM. It is actually pretty simple. The answer for the NxN matrix was the sum of x(N-x)^2 because N-x was the area.. so with an NxM matrix the sum is like this:



The first (and only) program I ever made in Visual Basic was a game called Squares. I was in high school at the time, and didn't even know C, so I just wanted to make something simple and interactive.

In Squares, you have an 8 by 8 grid like a chess board. Players take turns putting their pieces on the board. When their pieces make a square, they get points equal to the area of the square. The game is tricky because squares can be rotated at any angle and are often hard to see. It's quite fun.. I made a simple hotseat version in canvas a while ago to test out canvas (Rendering shadows is slow!). Let me know if any of you are interested and I can show you the game.. if there is enough interest I could make it multiplayer online.

On a 2x2 board, there would only be one possible square. On a 3x3 board, you can make 6 squares.

So the question is, how many can you make on an 8x8 board? How about an NxN board? Or better yet.. an NxM board?? Anyone? :) It actually works out to be a nice clean answer.


The Ultimate Final Lesson

I just had my last lesson at my 2 schools and since I was leaving, I had some extra time, and I really like the schools, I decided to go all out.

The second to last lesson I did a quiz game with questions in 4 categories 'easy', 'medium', difficult', and 'challenge' all color coded white, yellow, blue, and red, respectively.

On a previous lesson before that one, I taught shapes and had each student make their own flag on an A4 piece of paper using shapes and colors.

I then (with some help) copied their flags onto small label stickers and using dollar store poker chips, toothpicks and those things you put under chair legs, I made flags for each student.

Here's a blank flag:

Then I made the game board.

My goal was to make a mountain climbing game where the students draw a card, answer a question and then roll the dice moving up the mountain. Then if they draw an earthquake card, everyone on certain spaces (small areas next to ramps) on the board fall down one level.

I made 4 different sets of cards based on the quiz game (easy, medium, difficult, challenge) and again, color coded them. I used the colors on the game board to indicate which card they had to take. There are multiple paths to the goal (the gold sticker on top) and each path is exactly balanced based on difficulty.

To spice it up I added a rule that says if 2 players land on the same place you can fall from, they have to do rock paper scissors and the loser falls down.

Here's the plan:

The rules are explained on the blackboard:

Finally, after using the game boards, I can take them apart and they stack and fit into my bag to carry to the next school.

It was a lot of work, but very rewarding. I'll leave one board at each school for each class that played and there's one left over for me.


Culture Shock

Just minutes in LAX and I'm already reverse culture shocked.

1. The walls in the toilet stalls don't go all the way to the ground and there is writing on the walls.

2. I ordered a medium drink thinking it wouldn't be enough and it was HUGE.

3. A Pizza costs the same as a sandwich. Japanese pizzas are really expensive.

On another note.. LAX sucks. I'm going to try avoiding it from now on. When I got out of my flight there was absolutely no sign or employee to ask about where to go for my connection. It just led me to the street.

Need Sleep and Food!

Merry Christmas from the Denver airport. :(


Flashback Post

This is a repost of a really old blog entry from when I lived in Saitama over 3 years ago. Oh how things change (see first sentence)

Friday, November 03, 2006

I've been spending a lot of time studying Japanese recently.

Sundays, I go to a community center where many foreigners gather and some Japanese volunteers teach Japanese. My friend and I are the only native English speakers there. Most of the others are Chinese or Philippino. Last Sunday we had a Japanese BBQ instead of class and we sang some songs and made food all afternoon. I spent most of the time playing with 2 adorable kids. One is 4 years old and 1 is in first grade (probably around 6). The 4 year old spoke to me in Chinese as if I understood everything and the 1st grader spoke to me in Japanese. Kids that age are so cute!

Tuesdays my friend and I go to this elderly lady's house and she and her friend give us one on one lessons for an hour and a half. After that we all drink tea and chat for a little while. This is where I learn the most out of all my lessons, because she prepares conversations for me that we read aloud and she uses expressions and idioms I otherwise wouldn't be able to pick up very easily.

Thursdays a couple other foreigners and I go to another community center where some more volunteers teach. This lesson is much smaller but pretty fun. After this we usually grab a beer and chill (I'm usually exhausted by Thursday and completely worn out on Friday). I finally got my first monthly pay check. It was about the size of the paycheck I was getting in the US after taxes.... every 2 weeks. But this paycheck is gonna furnish my apartment so I can get my home theater system back up and running.

Before telling this next story let me explain the Japanese alphabets a little.

First there is hiragana. Hiragana has a letter for each sound you can make in Japanese. There are 5 vowels (a i e o u) pronounced as in Spanish and there are about 9 consonants. Making roughly 46 letters. Hiragana is used for all the Japanese grammatical aspects such as verb endings, particles, and more. Here is Hiragana in Hiragana: ひらがな

Next there is katakana. For every hiragana, there is a katakana equivalent. Some of them look simliar, like ka (hiragana か, katakana カ) but some are completely different like su (hiragana す, katakana ス). Notice how katakana is much more angular and hiragana is smooth and pretty. Katakana is used for foreign words and names. For example, orange -> orenji -> オレンジ. Here is katakana in katakana: カタカナ.

Last but not least is Kanji. Kanji means Chinese character and as you may have guessed, comes from China. There are thousands of characters used for names and all kinds of words and verb stems. Kanji are sometimes very simple, such as one (ichi) 一, or person (hito), 人, but they can get really complicated, such as the character for love 愛. Here is Kanji in Kanji: 漢字.

Here is an example sentence: 今日はマイケルの誕生日です。 This sentence means 'Today is Michael's birthday.' 今日, pronounced kyou, means today. The kanji separately mean Now or This (今) and Day or Sun (日). Then comes the hiragana topic marker は, pronounced wa. This marks 'Today' as the topic. Then comes the foreign name Michael (actually said maikeru マイケル). Then comes the hiragana particle の, pronounced no, meaning possession (like the 's in English). After that comes 誕生日, pronounced tanjoubi, meaning birthday (notice the day kanji again, but with a different pronunciation). Lastly is です, the verb meaning is. This is pronounced desu technically, but usually it sounds more like des.

Okay lesson over. So this Thursday I taught 1st and 2nd graders the numbers 1-20.. after 2nd period, about 20 students mobbed me in the hallway asking for my signature. They all had their little booklets and pencils and they lined up nicely for me to sign each one. One girl asked me to write my name in hiragana (the Japanese alphabet) but I said no, I should write it in Katakana. The concept of katakana's use for foreign names was yet unknown to her, though, so she thought that meant I only knew katakana (being a first grader she had just learned katakana recently herself). So about 10 minutes later after I had finished the signatures, she came back with a little folded piece of paper, handed it to me and ran off.

This is the note she gave me. She wrote the whole thing in katakana (the other teachers thought that was hilarious). It says at the top, 'to Michael sensei <3' and at the bottom left it has her name and 1-2 (grade one class two). The face is a picture of me. The note on the right says 'Michael sensei, thank you for the signature. I am very happy. Bye bye.' Hahaha so cute! I'm not sure who the flying thing is but other people drew it on notes to me too. The note by it says 'shinamon' which might be cinnamon, but who knows. Anyway, thats life here, and that's all for now.