Movie Hangout Spots At Vallco Shopping Mall

To be or not to be? That is the question!After Borders closed at Santana Row and Oakridge Mall, and Micro Center closed at the Mercado, it seems unlikely that there would be any movie theaters left in Silicon Valley that had a decent hangout spot within reasonable driving distance from my home. Showing up to see only a movie is somewhat boring. There has to be a decent hangout spot to go to before or after the movie to prep yourself for what critics are panning as a bad movie or dissect a good movie that gone horribly wrong. Shopping is a nice bonus.

My friend and I went to see “Raiders of The Lost Ark” in IMAX at the AMC Cupertino Square 16 theater in Vallco Shopping Mall. The last time we visited this movie theater was when the U2 3D movie came out in 2008, when 3D movies were still new and not yet mainstream. Then and now, we came back to this mall to see a movie that was only available at this particular theater.

The mall has been in a state of decline for several decades. I used to live down the street in the late 1990’s when the mall was filled with stores from end to end. I remembered the ballyhoo back in 1999 when the mall planned to renovate by going upscale and getting rid of all the downscale stores, which started the trend of stores leaving the mall without being replaced. After the dot com bubble in 2000, the mall sat mostly empty, going through several ownership and names changes, for the last decade.

We scoped out the mall as a potential movie hangout spot. The lower level is blocked off by temporary walls, which, ironically, was an expansion to increase the size of the mall in the late 1980’s. The ground level is filled with stores that you would typically find in any strip mall in Silicon Valley. The renovated food court next to J.C. Penny’s was virtually empty of restaurants. If this mall was in revival, it still has both feet in the grave.

But we did find a couple of  hangout spots.

Armor Geddon, a store that sells armor, swords and other medieval knick-knacks, is as thread-bare in selection as the mall is in stores. All the wonderful chess sets that I saw in the late 1990’s were reduced to a handful today. I did picked up a skull coin bank for my writing desk. If you’re a writer, you really need one for those “to be or not to be” Shakespearian moments.

Legends Comics & Games is actually located in two locations across from each other near Sears, with comics on one side and gaming on the other. Being hardcore comic fans, we gravitated over there. I love browsing through the indie comics to find trashy pulp ideas to incorporate into my own short stories. A comic shop is better than any bookstore.

Vallco Shopping Mall has become the new place to go see movies—for now.

The iPod Nano May Replace My iPod Touch

The New iPod Nanos (2012)My first-generation iPod Touch that I got in 2008 has grown long in the tooth over the last few years. After I got my iPad 2 earlier this year, the only thing I use the Touch for is listening to audiobooks when I’m doing something boring and I need to keep my mind preoccupied. I’ve been wanting it to replace it with something new. With Apple’s recent announcement for the iPhone 5, iPods and iOS 6, I may have found the ideal replacement for my Touch. Surprisingly, it might be the Touch’s smaller cousin, the iPod Nano.

During my lunch break at work on Wednesday, I scanned through the various Mac news websites to learn what Apple had announced. The biggest disappointment was the iPod Touch family being split into two generations. The current fourth-generation Touch will be the low-end model at $199 USD, a thinner and much updated version of my first-generation Touch. The new fifth-generation Touch has the larger screen, 1080p HD camera and a dual-core A5 processor, starting at $299 USD.

If I wanted a fourth-generation Touch, I would have gotten it by now. While the fifth-generation Touch has a fantastic design, the price wasn’t so fantastic. If I’m going to spend $300 USD, I would wait to see if Apple introduces the iPad Mini—a smaller version of the current iPad—next month. If the fifth-generation Touch was available at $199, I might go for it. An updated Touch seems unlikely.

That leaves the iPod Nano. With the square video screen and limited functionality of the previous generation, I never considered this particular iPod to be useful for anything. The seventh-generaton Nano has a new 2.5″ video screen that can play videos in widescreen format. The built-in pedometer and FM radio receiver are nice features for the gym. Checking the compatibility list for Audible, my collection of audiobooks should work. At $149 USD, it’s priced just right.

Will I rush out to pre-order the new Nano? Not yet. A repair bill for a coolant leak and a possible head gasket failure lurking in the background on my car has cooled down my enthusiasm for a new tech toy at this time.

If I do get a new Nano, the hard part will be picking the color. I could go for black to match my black MacBook and black iPad. Green is a strong possibility. The other pastel colors don’t appeal that much to me. Something I won’t decide until I’m in an Apple store to look at it person—and my wallet has plenty of cash to spare.

DNC, Harold & Kumar

Unlike the Republican National Convention that featured Clint “Dotty Harry” Eastwood and an empty chair, the Democratic National Convention was perfect as factious Democrats unified to give former President Bill Clinton President Barack Obama the nomination. Despite not watching this one either, two things bubbled out of the gestalt to catch my attention.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7O_ADbgQ8k]

I’m not sure what’s more disturbing in this campaign video: President Obama calling one of the potheads from Harold & Kumar, or knowing and dialing the phone number for Kumar—actor Kal Penn, now a political activist—without going through the White House switchboard.

Fortunately, this was a campaign video. If it was a H&K movie, we might be seeing a hairy penis and testicles that looked like Osama bin Laden’s face, a claymation penis flying everywhere, and a rubber penis stuck frozen to a light pole. Or, God forbid, Neil Patrick Harris pretending not to be gay.

Meanwhile, the DNC out tweeted the RNC by more than a 2-to-1 margin (i.e., 9.5 million vs. 4 million, respectively). The 2008 election only had 1.8 million tweets total. If Twitter replaces the electoral college in selecting a president, the 2012 election would already be over. Alas, we still have less than two months to go until the election is over—and then the vote counting lawsuits can begin.

NASA Picked The Wrong Space Probe Mission

Sailing The Titan Seas
ALP: Titan Mare Explorer (TiME)

After the successful landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, NASA will launch in 2016 the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) probe to study the interior of Mars. That sounds… boring. The two other proposed space probes was a comet hopper and landing a robotic boat on the methane lakes of Saturn’s moon Titan. It’s painfully obvious that NASA picked the wrong space probe mission.

Landing a robotic boat on another world would have been a really cool thing to do. Drilling for rocks on a barren planet isn’t as cool. Comet hopping? Oh, please. We got Kristen Stewart for that.

If manned spaceflight is being turned over to private industry, maybe private industry can take care of the unmanned missions that NASA doesn’t want for not being boring enough. Maybe a Kickstarter project can raise the money to help build the probe, Virgin Galactic can launch the probe with a satellite launcher and James Cameron can do a documentary about the mission.

Space used to be the next exciting frontier for humanity. As a young child in the 1970’s, I read every available book and pamphlets at the local library about all the space probes being sent out into the solar system. The Voyager probes are still ticking nearly 35 years later, hurling out into interstellar space with enough nuclear fuel to keep transmitting until 2020. As an adult, I can’t find the excitement for space anymore. Perhaps because NASA is leading the way in being boring rather than being visionary about the future.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark In IMAX

If you haven’t seen “Indiana Jones and Raiders of The Lost Ark” on the big screen, now is the time to see the restored version as it appears on the digital IMAX screens for a one-week engagement before the Blu-Ray collection comes out next week.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUhU3ERigdw]

As a child growing up in a “poor” family (i.e., cable TV to watch MTV was the dividing line for poverty in middle school), going to the movies was a luxury that my parents couldn’t afford. (Except for “Conan The Barbarian” with Arnold Schwarzenegger that my father took me too see at the tender age of 12, where I learned that having sex with a witch can be extremely hazardous to one’s health.) I never saw “Raiders” when it first came out in the theaters in 1981, and watching it on the small screen over the years doesn’t do it justice.

Restored from the original film negative and the audio track updated for surround sound, “Raiders” looked wonderful on the digital IMAX screen. Despite coming out 31 years ago, and set in the the late 1930’s before World War II, the story of an archaeologist trying to prevent the Nazis from capturing the ark of the covenant held up quite well.

An Ordinary Bio Hazard At Apartment Complex

Bio Hazard WarningI came home from work, went over to the mailbox gazebo that sat in a cluster of two-story apartment buildings, and stopped at a paper sign—“Warning Bio Hazard”—taped to yellow tape that cordoned off several apartment building entrances and a patch of lawn. Since the apartment complex went pet-friendly this year, my front door step has become a litter box for any passing two- or four-legged animal. I couldn’t think of a worse bio hazard than that.

Okay, maybe an exploding diaper bag in the parking lot. Seen that a few times in the seven years that I lived here. Always in the middle of the parking lot, as if the parents opened the car door, dropped the diaper bag like a bag of kittens, and sped away before anyone could call the cops. Not even the neighborhood crows would peck away as such a nasty package.

A leasing agent stood 20 feet away on the other side of the cordoned off area, telling me that I have to come around the backside of the building if I wanted to pick up my mail. When I asked about the nature of the bio hazard, she declined to comment and said it was nothing to worry about. Uh, huh. Serious enough to put a sign up but not serious enough to call 911 for a hazmat team.

As I went around the building and entered the mailbox gazebo to pick up my mail, I noticed that a family with two small children were waiting outside of the yellow tape. A sheet of plastic laid in front of their apartment door. Both the front and patio doors were wide open, as if airing out something bad from inside. That narrowed down the possible nature of the bio hazard as being an indoor menace. Maybe the apartment was infested with bedbugs like mine was three years ago.

About 15 minutes after I got back to my apartment and left a voicemail for the leasing office to call me back on what the bio hazard was, a pair of Servpro trucks pulled up in the parking lot and two people donned in white bunny suits went in with their equipment. I can imagine an exploding toilet, the maintenance guy coming out, and, after finding the bathroom covered with wall-to-wall mold, declaring the apartment to a bio hazard danger zone. The trucks left after a half-hour. Perhaps the bio hazard wasn’t that serious after all.

Updated 13 September 2012: The leasing office neither confirmed nor denied that a bio hazard incident took place. So far, no zombie apocalypse—yet.

Adventures In Extreme Couponing (Part 1)

TLC Extreme-CouponingMy roommate wanted to sign us up for a 90-minute seminar on Extreme Couponing at the San Jose Mercury News headquarters in North San Jose. Since he couldn’t complete the sign up form on his iPad, he sent me the URL and I signed us up for two tickets under my name on my MacBook. The website stated that the Media News Group, which owns most of the regional newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, was the largest distributor of manufacturer coupons. I told my roommate to expect a hard sell for newspaper subscriptions.

I could never figured out exactly where the newspaper office was located. We spent 20 minutes driving up and down North First Street, and from the airport to Fry’s Electronics on Brokaw Road, but still couldn’t find it. A quick check of the iPad with the GPS enabled indicated that the freeway went over East Brokaw Road. Was that the 680 in East San Jose? We drove past Fry’s Electronics and discovered that the 880 has a Brokaw Road exit. No surprise that I didn’t know about that particular exit. The 880 is king of potholes from Silicon Valley to Oakland. (Now king of construction zones with Caltrans paving over the potholes.) No one takes the 880, if it can be avoided.

We drove around the San Jose Mercury News main building to follow the signs that led to a side entrance for employees. After walking past the security guard in his glass cage and down some long hallways out of the 1960’s, I handed over the printed tickets to a woman at a table. We entered a large room with a stage at one end, long tables folded up against the back wall, and plush office chairs filled with an audience that was mostly women. Not surprising since women have traditionally done all the shopping.

The seminar started with the door prizes, which alternated between a $20 USD gift card for Safeway and a $20 USD coupon book for fast food restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was surprised that my name was called out on the third draw to win a coupon book. I never win door prizes—or anything else. A nice surprise.

We saw several videos from the reality TV show with shoppers filling up their shopping carts with $1,000 USD of groceries, handing over a thick bundle of coupons, and paying $10 or nothing at all for the entire amount. A woman spoke on how extreme couponing works by collecting the coupon inserts from the Sunday newspapers, waiting for products to go sale, and buying five or more items to stock up.

As I suspected, the newspaper had a special deal of five Sunday-only subscriptions for $50 USD. I stopped subscribing to the newspaper years ago because the neighbors kept stealing the paper off my apartment doorstep if I didn’t get to it first. Despite my reluctance, my roommate signed up for the newspaper deal and began our adventures in extreme couponing.

Jungle Bird Scores A Touch Down Against KFC

Remember Andrew “Jungle Bird” Dudley when he crashed the U.S. Open golf tournament in June? He’s back! This time scoring a touch down against KFC during the Norte Dame vs. Navy game at the Emerald Isle Classic in Dublin, Ireland, performing a victory dance before being taken away. If you’re not familiar with his shtick, it’s a wearing a Union Jack knitted hat and crying out like a jungle bird to draw attention to deforestation around the world.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOsATaFAQn8]

Until Jungle Bird came along, I had no real interest in deforestation. With the cutting down of 400 mature trees for the space shuttle parade in Los Angeles, I’m starting to get interested in urban deforestation. Without trees to absorb the sunlight and provide cool shade, sidewalks and buildings retain the daytime heat that makes the surrounding environment hotter than it should be at night. As a child growing up in the 1970’s, I remember planting trees every year as part of an Arbor Day class activity. We need to preserve and grow the trees in the concrete canyons of our cities.

Cutting 400 Trees For The Space Shuttle Parade

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is coming to South Los Angeles for a 12-mile, two-day parade before arriving at its final home at the California Science Center. That’s the good news. Everyone loves a parade. How often do you see a 78-foot-wide, five-story-tall spacecraft being towed down the street? The bad news is that 400 trees have to be cut down to accommodate the width of the space shuttle.

But for some residents in South L.A., the excitement of the shuttle rumbling through their neighborhoods quickly faded when they learned that 400 trees will be chopped down to make room for the behemoth.

[…]

Many worry that the replacements — young, wiry trees that will provide little shade — will pale in comparison to the mature magnolias that line the Crenshaw corridor. Others are concerned that the bare streets will further depreciate property values.

Didn’t NASA do an environmental impact study on transporting the space shuttle to its final home before selecting Los Angeles?

Cutting down mature trees reduces the amount of shade that keep buildings and sidewalks cool during the summer. Replacing mature trees with double the number of young trees won’t replace that missing shade for a generation. Which is why most communities have made it difficult for homeowners and developers to cut down mature trees. Cutting down even a single mature tree can be a substantial loss to a neighborhood. Multiply that by 400, the loss becomes an environmental tragedy.

This reminds me of the classic episode from “The Andy Griffith Show,” where the fine citizens of Mayberry spruce up the place for a Hollywood movie and the movie producer stops them from cutting down of a historic oak tree because they were ruining the small town atmosphere he was looking for (begins at the 20:00 mark).

[youtube]vXG2KJVzKsg[/youtube]

Like a very young Ron Howard, I went through a Hollywood movie making phase during the late 1970’s. (Except my father refused to get me a Super 8 movie camera as developing the film was expensive for a wannabe George Lucas without an allowance.) That an old oak tree could be sacrifice for a Hollywood movie—or “progress” under different circumstances—was a disturbing idea to me then. Sacrificing 400 mature trees for a spacecraft relic is a disturbing idea now.