December 26th, 2012 The Les Mis Movie

Saw the Les Mis movie last night – Anne Hathaway is devastating in this. Her performance alone is worth the ticket price. Most of the cast is good, but Russell Crowe’s performance was incredibly disappointing. The first 30 minutes was borderline unwatchable (bad) – but Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dreamed” set the mood and the movie was enjoyable from there.

In general, I liked how they took liberties to insert moments that cannot be conveyed on stage – meaningful glances between Valjean and Javert, etc. The overall effect is that the story line and character development came into sharper focus than on stage , but at the expense of a theatrical urgency that pervades the stage version.

Musically, I would say that this was a contemporary take on a 25 year old score. The orchestration was tweaked to evoke a typical 21st-century film score: I could hear war drums, fast and percussive arpeggiations on the string, and a generally warm sound. (Compare that to the bright and grandiose orchestral sound on the 25th anniversary concert, for example). The recitatives were performed in a slow and pensive manner, which on-stage may have come off as unexciting, but works to give it a more “filmic” character on screen. However, having heard Les Mis performed so many times for the stage, I did miss the bombastic excitement and drama in the music. The film version does bring out more subtlety.

I think the film was successful in this sense: I found myself relating to the story and characters much more than the stage version (maybe I was too busy enjoying the music in the stage version?). When Anne Hathaway sings “I Dreamed a Dream”, I heard and felt that moment in the story much more deeply than I had ever before. Her singing and acting in this number is truly one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. Aaron Tveit’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is also stunning (although to a lesser extent than Anne Hathaway’s performance).

Also, one more thing. I was incredibly disappointed that my favorite line in the whole musical was sung an octave-lower. I can’t believe they did that! Listen to the way it’s supposed to be sung at 1 minute and 37 seconds:

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December 22nd, 2012 The gun violence paradox

Intuition #1: more guns in public places would lead to less mass shootings. Intuition #2: more guns in society correlates with more gun violence. These two opposing viewpoints are actually not opposing. Consider Simpson’s Paradox:

September 9th, 2010 Mike Portnoy Leaves Dream Theater

It is the end of an era. Mike Portnoy is leaving Dream Theater, and with it, taking my teenage memories. Below is an archive of my Twitter/Facebook posts regarding this breaking news.

Hell froze over, pigs are flying, and my teenage years are being ripped apart: MIKE PORTNOY LEAVES DREAM THEATER

This is all very bitter behind the scenes. Notice the difference between this ( and this (

NOW is time for DT to do something truly artistic and radical.

When Schoenberg wrote atonal music for the first time, there was an uproar, and nobody liked Picasso’s paintings in his day.

DT: STOP being the typical rock band that gives its fans what they want. Instead, start being true artists – be what DT has always been about (or was at the beginning) – blazing your own trail.

Your next album needs to break all barriers of genre, expectations, instrumentation, and form.

I always found it amusing that most hardcore fans of DT say they like Dream Theater because it is “artistic” or whatever. But, in reality, this was furthest from the truth. DT has always been the same-ole orgasmic formula glazed with a sheen of artistry. I think now is DT’s chance to abandon that formula and actually do what the fans claim they are: artists.

As Henry Ford said, all people wanted was a faster horse. But he gave us the car.
All DT fans want is more epic DT-ness. But they will give us something we don’t even know we wanted.

Ironically, Dream Theater’s latest music video is a wonderful tribute to the band’s end –

May 24th, 2010 the lost finale

Here are some miscellaneous tidbits from the Lost Finale I noticed:

1. Flash sideways = whispering in the woods. Since season 1, we have been intrigued by the spooky whispers in the jungle. Then couple of episodes back in season 6, the dead Michael appeared in the woods to tell one of our castaways that the whispers are those who died on the island but can’t move on to the other world. As it turns out, this is precisely what the flash sideways was. In my mind, this is a very satisfying and bold resolution of a mystery from season 1. (For some reason, a number of blogs and newspaper reviews are claiming that ALL of Lost was about characters already dead. These people are either not really watching the show, or they don’t deserve to be writing reviews for newspapers.)
2. Who was in the church? It is interesting to note the people that were NOT in the church with the main castaways. Presumably, these people are not yet ready to “move on” and still must suffer in the in-between world. One of these is Ben, who deliberately chooses to stay outside the church even though Locke forgives him, and Hurley invites him in. Noticeably missing were characters like Michael, Ana-Lucia, and Mr. Eko.
3. Hurley to Ben out side the church: “You were a great number 2.” Before Jack dies in the Jungle, Hurley assigns Ben as his true number 2 to help him protect the island. Later in the in-between world (flash sideways), Hurley tells Ben “You were a great number 2.” Presumably there is a lot of story left out here about how Hurley and Ben became the protectors of the island after Jack died.
4. Jin is the candidate. Sun was not. There was ambiguity about where “Kwon” mean Jin or Sun as Jacob’s candidate. But if you recall from season 4, when Ajira flight crashed and took most of our main character back to Dharma period, Sun conspicuously did not flash back with the other main characters. But ALL of those other characters who flashed back in time were revealed to be Jacob’s candidates. It must be that Sun is not a candidate. Other characters that remained in the present after the crash were Ben and Frank.
5. The “incident” that built the Swan Hatch is precisely the bomb exploded by Jack and crew. The show’s creators have repeatedly stated publicly that their show is a no-paradox time travel show. Furthermore, they have strongly implied that nothing can be changed in the past (as explained by Ms. Hawking to Desmond). Indeed, Jack and Juliet’s blowing-up of the H-Bomb is precisely what caused the Swan hatch to be built in the first place. The “alternate universe” as shown in the final season, wherein the crash of Oceanic Flight 816 never occurred, was revealed to be the after-life world, so that in the main time line, the crash did occur, even though the H-Bomb went off.
6. Desmond uncorking the island. And Jack replacing it. What is the significance of this to the fake Locke (man-in-block) becoming no longer invincible?

March 16th, 2010 my little green friend

I found this note I posted on Facebook back in freshmen year of college…

Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 4:35pm

My arboretum plant fell off my windowsill today. I left it there this morning so it can soak up some sun, but the strong wind pushed it off while I was gone. The dirt splattered all over the floor. Luckily, the bulk of the dirt is still on the plant and I carefully put it back into the pot.

The weather has suddently turned from warm, wet, and humit to cool, brisk, and sunny. Occasionally there is a very strong burst of wind and a whole batch of yellow leaves blow off a big tree. The leaves fly about in a chaotic fashion, outlining turbulent flow, and create an ecstastic visual. This, combined with the cool wind and a general yellow aura from the sun make for a wonderful day to just sit outside and do nothing. I tried to study in Kohlberg today but wound up looking up at the sky for an hour instead. There were alot of clouds going by very fast. But the clouds were very thin, and you could see layers and layers of them. They were more like theatrical smoke than real clouds. It makes me want to fly through them so I can swish my arms and feel the clouds. How depressing and yet somewhat romantic then, that on a day like this I am inside studying for an Orgo exam.

An a friend from highschool (that shall remain nameless) commented the following:

October 28, 2006 at 7:32pm

Maxx, you need to get crazy drunk tonight. BYE!

October 3rd, 2009 Dream Theater's "Black Clouds and Silver Linings"

So I’ve been listening to Dream Theater’s latest album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” for about a month now. I fully expected to hate it, especially after the debacle that was their previous album, “Systematic Chaos”, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Usually with Dream Theater albums, I go through the following stages: 1. I am absolutely in love with the album at first. 2. The songs on the album start sounding less and less good over time. 3. I have spurts of renewed interest in an album, where for a short period of time, the songs will sound amazing again. (Depending on how good the album is, these spurts occur more or less frequently).

With Black Clouds and Silver Linings, I can say that, so far after a month, I have not entered stage 2 yet. And I am pretty sure that, even after I start disliking the songs, the “spurts” will occur more frequently.

It seems that, by switching to the new label (from Elektra to RoadRunner Records), they have performed a reboot on their musical style. This newest album is very similar to DT’s second album, “Images and Words”. One word sums up both of these albums: atmospheric. Of course, John Petrucci’s big work in this album “Count of Tuscany” is incredibly atmospheric and also cathartic (as was expected). But Mike Portnoy’s songs are on the atmospheric side as well. His song “The Best of Times” is a tribute to his father, who passed away from cancer during the recording of this album. The song resorts to some cheesy string effects, and while it sounds amazing on first listen, it falls flat pretty quickly on repeated listenings.

But, the rest of this album is a gem. My favorite work on this album is the aforementioned “The Count of Tuscany”. It is an orgasmic mix of the older atmospheric style of Dream Theater with the newer, more aggressive sound DT has espoused since Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. I can tell that John Petrucci tried to consciously move away from the old DT-foruma: come up with a few great motives and develop these ideas multiple times through the piece. Instead, “The Count of Tuscany” introduces tantalizing new themes that never come back later in the song. This teasing aspect to the song makes it fresh and new for Dream Theater.

“Wither” is a surprisingly catchy and fun ballad tune, and it excellent to rock out to. “The Shattered Fortress”, while a somewhat disappointing end to Mike Portnoy’s 5-part suite, is an excellent heavy song to head-bang to by itself. “A Rite of Passage” is perhaps the weakest song on the whole album, but surprisingly it sounds much better without the vocals! (The instrumental versions of the songs were released on their special edition).

I would like to offer a conspiracy theory (of sorts): DT’s final album with Elektra, “Octavarium” ended with the words “We move in circles”. The album art had Newton’s Balls and Mobius strips. I think DT is deliberately starting a new cycle with their albums from the new label. Their first album with the new label, “Systematic Chaos”, had some similarities to DT’s first ever album , “When Dream and Day Unite.” And now this second album with RoadRunner Records has many similarities to “Images and Words”. Furthermore, both album titles have the word “AND” in it. (“Images and Words” and “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”). “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” is at once invokes an Image, yet are a set of Words that are uttered often. One exciting prospect is that “Images and Words” contained “Metropolis, Pt.1″, which was later expounded upon in their concept album “Metropolis, Pt. 2″. There are many tantalizing possibilities for writing out a concept album based on one of the songs on “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”. If this theory is correct, then their next album will be somewhat heavier and less melodic, much like “Awake” was.

June 13th, 2009 the need for a new e-morality

Like any new domain of human activity, the internet world is collectively struggling to reach a consensus on what is right and what is wrong. This is akin to the early days of the radio, for example, when it was uncertain whether it was stealing to play recorded music over the air. The solution was reached through broad licensing agreements between the recording industry and the radio stations.

Similar ethical uncertainty exists with digital priacy. Like the primitive apes of the digital world that we are, most have simply and straightforwardly adopted the moral conventions of the physical world: STEALING IS WRONG. But this sort of simple transfer of code only highlights our penchant for continuity and traditions over logical analysis for establishing appropriate rules in a new arena.

Consider the following case scenario: Alex bought a CD (whether it be music or software is irrelevant, for now). Then, Alex loses the CD. Is it ok for Alex to download an “illegal” pirated copy from the internet (say, from, without paying for it again?

Asking this question on most internet forums would yield a broad consensus among typical internet users: “NO, it is not ok. It is stealing.” They would draw the following analogy: Since Alex lost the CD, would it be ok for Alex to walk into a store and walk out with a second copy of the CD without paying for it? NO! Then why should it be ok for Alex to do the same on the internet?

But here in lies the rub. Let’s compare the apparent “analogy” between the physical world and the digital world. In both cases (Alex downloading a priated copy and Alex pick-pocketing a CD from a store), Alex has already paid for the contents of the CD itself. But in the physical case, by stealing a copy from the store, the store loses the CD. There is a victim. In contrast, there is no victim in the digital scenario. Alex has already paid for it, so the company creating the content on the CD does not lose sales. And because digital piracy involves making a bit-by-bit copy of the material, no one is deprived of anything when Alex downloads the pirated copy.

So, if no body loses, why should it be unethical? I hope you see that Alex is perfectly acting within his/her moral boundaries. Piracy seems blacketly wrong only when compared with stealing physical objects. Analyzed within its own terms, piracy is not always unethical.

The conlusion is this: we cannot simply apply the familiar ethics of the phyisical world to a new arena such as the digital world. This only confuses the issue, as demonstrated above. I call for a new system of e-morality, one that is logically constructed through careful analysis of the new domain.

April 23rd, 2009 dear mr. jobs

Hello Mr. Jobs,

I recently dropped my iPhone and the glass screen broke. I brought it to my local Apple Store (King of Prussia, PA) to get it fixed, and it cost me $299 (the same price I paid for the new phone back in September)!

I am a poor college student, and this price is too much for me. I do not mind paying lots of money for quality products and service. (In fact, I love it!) But $299 to replace a glass screen on a phone that works perfectly well otherwise? This is too much!

I do not understand why it would cost any more than $150 to replace a glass screen. And why does it cost more to replace the glass screen on a 16GB iPhone as opposed to the 8GB model? ($299 vs. $199). Does the 16GB iPhone have better glass?

I realize that I am receiving a refurbished different iPhone in place of by broken iPhone. But if I don’t get to keep my broken iPhone anyway, why should it cost more for 16GB iphone users?

I love my iPhone, and I spend money on the iPhone app store almost every week. I am a loyal and passionate Apple fan, but today my faith in this little-big great company has been greatly diminished.

-Maxx H Cho

Broken iPhone

April 11th, 2009 the hit list and things

I originally posted this here, but based on its positive response I have decided to repost it here.

I recently purchased The Hit List, a to-do list management app for the Mac, through the MacHeist bundle. I have been using Things, another to-do list app, for a while now. I was drawn to Things by its visual appeal. The first time I used it, I ran into some user interface issues, but decided to live with them given its apparent simplicity.

After trying out Hit List, I am convinced that it is far superior. I did not know how much Things sucked until I started using The Hit List. The Hit List seems to have been modeled after people’s actual working habits, as opposed to arbitrary and fangled user interface decisions. Some of these problems I was fully aware of and annoyed by, others I did not even realize them until I used The Hit List.
The Hit List

Here are some of the reasons why I prefer The Hit List over Things:
1. In real life, the difference between a single task and a multi-step “project” is very tenuous. Having to manually “promote” a task into a project every time you want to specify more granular steps (like in Things) can get very annoying. Not to mention that one can have a long list of projects, cluttering up the side bar. In The Hit List, every task automatically has the ability to have sublists.

2. Despite tags and areas, tasks in Things tend to get cluttered up in the “Next” list, with no satisfying or effective way of organizing or sorting them. It turns into a jumbled and unorganized list. One can sort by tags, but it still feels messy. The Hit List provides folders and lists, which is a natural way to organize tasks.

3. “Areas of Responsibility” in The Hit List is treated like tags, as opposed to like folders in Things, which seems more intuitive to me.

4. One can “Cancel” tasks in The Hit List, one can only delete or complete tasks in Things.

5. Things archives completed tasks automatically, and pushes them all into a giant bucket (the logbook), which means you loose information about how they were sorted/organized. The Hit List only archives when you hit “Archive”, and keeps the archived task in the same place (you can hide or show archived tasks in lists).

6. Ability to set “Start” dates, which allows one to automatically have tasks move into “Today” when desired. In Things, you have to manually move tasks into Things.

7. Priority rating is treated separately from tags, which means your tags are not cluttered and messy like in Things.

8. When I first tried to create recurring tasks in Things, it literally took me hours to figure out how the settings work. This is very typical of Things – its visual simplicity is deceptive. I was able to schedule recurring tasks immediately in The Hit List.

9. The Hit List can sort tasks by all sorts of attributes. I don’t understand why Things doesn’t have this – another reason why the Next list in Things is so cluttered and messy.

The ONLY thing that will keep me using Things is the lack of iPhone sync for The Hit List. I know the developer said this is coming soon, but I can’t realistically use The Hit List unless I can have it on-the-go.

March 20th, 2009 the leibowitz brothers

Jon Stewart’s Brother is a Stock Market Insider

Following the public grudge-match between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer, some have speculated that the reason for Stewart’s bitterness is that he himself lost much of his savings in the recent stock market crash. Indeed, while Stewart has consistently taken on the failings on the media, his recent attack on CNBC has been unusually resentful (and not as funny).

Some have suggested that Stewart lost his shirt in the stock market, leading to his unusually bitter attack on Cramer. However, a better theory has surfaced. Jon Stewart’s brother, Larry Leibowitz, is a stock market insider, working as the head of US Markets at NYSE Euronext. This article reveals that Leibowitz prepped Stewart for the Cramer interview.
Jon Stewart

It is possible (and likely) that Leibowitz lost a ton of money in the recent economic downturn. This explains Stewart’s all-out attack on the financial world, especially the CNBC. As you can see in the video below, Stewart’s original attack on CNBC is very different in style from his usual attacks: not as funny, and more biting.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
CNBC Gives Financial Advice
Daily Show Full Episodes Important Things w/ Demetri Martin Political Humor