Trust the Gene Genie

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Five more Wilkinsons in our world

For those keeping score, Jayson and Rachelle just gave birth to the quintuplets. I've written about it a couple times here and here. Anyway, you gotta go check out their his and hers blogs. Jayson already has video up and it's absolutely incredible.

You have to remember, this was a shaky venture at best. They weren't ever sure how many would survive nor what problems they'd have once delivered. But the birth was a success and the five babies -- three girls and two boys -- seem to be doing really well.

Congrats, Jays and Rachelle! Your babies are beautiful and they couldn't be coming to a better home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Boy Who Was Always in a Bad Mood

Let's get this out of the way.

I finished the last Harry Potter book last night and had a few thoughts to pass along. Spoilers are ahead, so if you haven't finished the book yet or don't want to know what happened or simply don't care, just skip this post and be thankful you lead a healthy, normal life. For the rest of you who have read the book, don't care or wish to mock me, here's what I think.

The book was interesting and for the most part entertaining. Claire noticed me reading it over the past couple days and was intrigued that was I was reading Harry Potter. So I dug out the first book and handed it to her to read. Doing it, I noticed that it's been almost eight years since I read the first book and that Becky and I finished it in three days.

That was a long time ago. Eight years later I'm not quite as enamored with the books as I used to be. Around book five Harry became this grouchy, selfish and almost painfully unsympathetic character and stayed that way until about the last fourth of book seven. It got to be a real drag.

I wanted to finish the series, even as I enjoyed it less, because I was so intrigued by those first books, interested to know how it would all resolve, curious to know just how Harry had survived as a baby and how he would turn into this wunderkind wizard.

And now I know. And I'm kind of ambivalent about the whole thing.

At the same time, I've got to give credit to J.K. Rowling. She kept her characters human, obnoxiously at times. I remember reading all the Tom Clancy novels in high school and being left with the sense that Jack Ryan was this unbelievable, infallible hero who could never really make a mistake and always knew what do. By the time Clancy made him president, you realized that the author had slipped deep into hero-worship never to return. Jack Ryan became a god among men and a bad cliche.

Mercifully, Rowling never falls into this trap. In fact, most of the time, she took it to the other extreme. Harry was always in a bad mood. At times, he was woefully unsympathetic. He was mean, self-obsessed and fixated on his parents. There were times over the past three books that I'd wished he'd just get killed so he'd shut up and stop whining about himself and his his parents and focus on something or someone besides Harry Potter.

Rowling kept that up for a good portion of book seven. Luckily, Harry finally matures and becomes less annoying. In fact, the book's finale, when Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts to make their last stand was really, really good. Finally, the potential of the entire series comes to fruition and you see all the characters grow into who you wanted them to be.

Neville's my new favorite. He was Harry's mirror image for much of the series -- weak, goofy and unsure, but his parents destroyed by Voldemort all the same. But he came into his own at the end of "Deathly Hallows" and in a way was more Harry Potter than Harry.

Snape's big reveal was also really satisfying. Of all the characters in the series, this is the one Rowling gets right. She never went straight melodrama with him and made him substantially three-dimensional. It made his death that much more tragic. Fred died, which bummed me out and so did Mad-Eye, Lupin and Tonks. Those all felt kind of ancillary.

The one character I kept hoping would die, however, never did. Hagrid survived. There was a brief moment at the beginning of the book where it looked like he might have bought it and then another scene near the end. But no, he's left to annoy and distract for generations to come. I would have gladly traded his death for Fred's.

There was a lot of whimsy in the first books that was gone by the seventh. And I suppose that's understandable. The books get progressively darker as the characters mature and face more dangers. That being said, I wonder if the writing became more of a chore for Rowling as she went on and less of an enjoyment as it clearly had been in the beginning.

Book seven also alludes heavily to a Nazi-controlled Europe, with Mudbloods standing in for Jews and Death Eaters for the Gestapo. The whole quest for Horcruxes and then the subplot to collect the Deathly Hallows felt almost Dan Brown-ish. We've got secret societies, powerful talismans and a centuries-old conspiracy to keep them hidden. It didn't do much for me.

That being said, the book was gripping overall. Rowling wasn't afraid to put her characters in real peril and as a result "Deathly Hallows" was a true page-turner. And excluding the misguided epilogue, it ended smartly and satisfyingly.

Except for the fact that Hagrid didn't die. That would have made it completely satisfying.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Decider

I've never been very good at decision-making. I can walk into 7-Eleven and spend an hour trying to pick out a pack of candy. Becky will ask what I want for dinner and I go straight to the hoary old chestnut, "I dunno. What do you want?"

Sometimes, it's a great way to shirk responsibility. I've never been real comfortable with responsibility. And sometimes it bites you in the behind.

About a month ago, after Wilco had announced tour dates, Becky and I were trying to decide if we wanted to go see them. It's a big decision. The nearest show is in Berkeley -- about a three-hour drive from where were at. That means we'd need to figure out what to do with the girls, decide how much we were going to spend, plan the trip -- all this stuff you have to do when you live far from family and have an actual life you're repsonsible for.

Anyway, to budget the trip, Becky suggested the trip and the concert be my birthday present. So I was left to decide: is that how I wanted to use my brithday money? I couldn't decide. There were a few things I wanted to do with the money and I knew doing the Wilco show would be unforgetable but fleeting at the same time. It would be a gift I'd experience rather than keep.

Finally, last week I decided. I thought about how I was getting older, how it had been over three years -- THREE YEARS! -- since I'd been to my last real concert (no offense, Jim) and that if I had the chance to go see Wilco I shouldn't be giving it a second thought. So I told Becky I had decided that we should do the show.

She has an aunt and uncle in Concord, just a hop, skip and jump from Berkeley. We decided we'd leave the kids there, go to the show, stay the night and visit the Oakland Temple in the morning. It was such a convient plan, Becky thought it would fun to invite friends Erick and Jaylynn, aquaintences who were also pretty big Wilco fans. They were game, too.

That's when my weeks of indecision paid off. Erick called a couple days later saying he'd gone to Wilco's Web site to check out tickets only to learn that the Berkeley show had sold out.

The show had sold out.

You have to understand, as good a band as Wilco is, their shows rarely sell out. In fact it usually happens in the Midwest where they have a huge following. I took my time hemming and hawing because I figured I had the time to hem and haw. And, of course, I was wrong.

So we're left with precious few options. There's ebay of course, where tickets are selling for about double the original price. The next closest show is either Seattle or Santa Barbara. The Seattle show could work -- both Becky and I have family there -- but that would mean making the concert a full on family vacation. Neither of us really want to to do that. Then there's always the hope that they'll add a show somewhere in between. Both Berkeley and Portland sold out, so I suppose it's a faint possibility.

But the point is don't wait. Just make a decision and get on with your life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Weight, weight, don't tell me

I still can't figure out a way to just put mp3s on the Rob Report so until I do let's talk about my weight.

You may recall last year when my weight hit the magical number 200. Yes, I was celebratory, but then the scale kept inching up. In fact, by the begining of 2007 I was already at 210. You have to remember, I'm a skinny white boy who came home from his mission weighing a skant 165. I was up to 175 by the time I got married two and a half year later. But even then, watching some of the wedding videos, I looked like Skeletor in a couple shots -- my face all bony and hallowed out.

And, almost nine years later, I've managed to put on an additional 35 lbs., wonderfully illustrated by that picture on the left. If you look closely (you can actually click on the photo to make it bigger, though, I don't know why you'd want to), you can see the beginnings of my double chin and my round, rosy, cherubic cheeks. And to be honest I don't think my weight gain is that bad. I mean, that's roughly three and a half pounds a year. My problem is that my weight is still on the increase. I figure, if I don't want to end up morbidly obese or even just a sweaty mouth-breather after climbing the stairs, I better staunch my free flow of girth.

Which is why one of my summer predictions was that I'd drop 10 lbs. by Labor Day. I don't want to be back at 175 and I certainly don't plan on giving up white bread and milk shakes and chocolate-chip cookies and Skittles and Hershey's miniatures because who wants to be healthy enough to live to 100 if you're miserable the entire time. That would be like having extra years added onto a prison sentence.

No, all I wanted to do was put more moderation in my diet, be able to wear the great leather belt I bought coming home from my mission (which I was still able to fit until the beginning of this year) and not huff and puff walking from my bedroom to the kitchen.

So I've cut out all snacking mid-meals. The only times I'm eating during the day is when I sit down to breakfast, lunch and dinner. I've cut out all ancillary sugar consumption, which means I'm no longer consuming pounds of candy at my desk all day and a bag of cookies in front of the TV at night. I'm not exagerating about that. And I've stop drinking soda. I'm also taking it easy on my white bread consumption.

Will this be permanent? Of course not, silly reader. Once I get down to a comfortable weight, I'll eat my unhealthy snacks again. But the goal, of course, is to not eat so much this time. I'm hoping I can learn a little self-discipline while I get my weight down and then exercise that self-discipline once I get my weight down to keep it from ballooning back up. I don't care if I gain a few pounds here and there, I just want to stop myself from subsisting solely on a diet of sugar. Which I love and will not speak ill of.

Some may find folly in my plan. I'm certainly not as militant about this as others who undertake similar challenges. And that lack of regimented commitment could ultimately be my undoing. I'm not so sure. Simply because I'm not trying to drop 50 lbs. or something. But mostly because it's more important to me to be happy than than to weigh a specific amount.

I may change my tune, though, when I weigh in next year at 220 and the doctor tells me I have heart disease.

But until that time, we'll see how my plan works. Because I'm only three days into it, it seems hardly worth mentioning, but I've been able to stick to my plan so far. I haven't had any candy since Sunday, any soda since Saturday and except for some cheese and whole wheat (ugh) crackers last night, I've only eaten at my three daily meals.

Now the sticky part. Becky's been trying to get me to do all this for a while. And she's been reasonably successful. I've gone off pop a few times and curbed my cookie consumption for a while last year. But this renewed effort came about after a friend, Bryan Hamblin, challenged a few of us to do it. I joined in 'cause I'd already predicted I'd lose the weight and plus it's nice to have that extra motivation. Whether or not I'll actually do it, well, that's a whole other thing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Kind of new and kind of improved

As you can see, the Rob Report has been tweaked a bit. We're trying out a few new features here and hopefully it will improve your Rob Report experience.

The most exciting, though, is that I've figured out how to place audio files on the site. That's right, crazy, tinkering Uncle Rob now brings you music. To celebrate, below you'll find a link to the crappy nu-metal cover of "The Transformers" theme song. Right click the link and just select "save file as" and you are good to go.

Transformers [mp3]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Oh my heart, a back flip

This one's for H.L. And this has been a long time coming. He was prescient enough as a sophomore in high school to understand the nostalgia/irony value of certain movie that defined a certain age. I was the jerk who lost the movie a short time later. We can all thank Garrett for digging it up.

Cru (imitating Bob): Late again, Cru?
Cru: Oh, excuse me Blob, I don't have a watch.
Cru (imitating Bob): Bob, the name is Bob, not Blob. Smart-ass.

On a side note, visiting the film's IMDb page, I learned a very, very important fact about 1980s cinema. If it was a terrible movie released sometime between 1977 and 1987, it was directed by a man named Hal Needham.

"Cannonball Run"? Check. "Smokey and the Bandit"? Check. "Cannonball Run II"? Check. "Smokey and the Bandit II"? Check. "Rad"? Check. And the coup de gras? "Megaforce." Yes. "Megaforce" was directed by Hal Neddham. I learned that and all of sudden so many things in my life made complete sense.

In fact, I need to do a post just on "Megaforce" to properly deal with it's enormous level of suckitude. Something to look forward to. In the mean time, you can rest easy tonight knowing that one man is responsible for many of Me Generation's worst movies.

Send me an angel, Hal
Right now
Right now
Right now

Friday, July 06, 2007


Alright, we're a week into July, let's take a look at how my summertime "Rob Predicts the Future!" predictions are holding up.

My first prediction was that you'd enjoy my predictions. I can say almost unequivically that this has come true.

As for the others, well, time will tell.

1. Gas prices, mercifully, are still hovering around the three-dollar level where I'm at. I filled up the car this morning for $2.99 a gallon. Driving around town this morning, the most expensive gas price I saw was $3.18, a far cray from $4.50. That being said, Labor day is still two months off. I really think we'll still see it.

2. "Pirates" so far is in third place for the title of summer's biggest blockbuster, not first. "Spider-man 3" currently holds that place. But, rest assured, I haven't met a person yet who liked it. As such, it's still a massive waste of $200 million dollars. Seriously, stop and think about it. They spent $200 million on a movie that will sit on the shelf next to "Independence Day" and never get watched ever again. It's a great system.

3. I was vaguely disappointed with "Transformers" but not for the reasons I thought. It easily held up to my childhood nostalgia. But it was just kind of sloppy and poorly directed. I'm still eager to see "The Simpsons" and I still think I'll love "Bourne Ultimatum."

4. I have not lost 10 pounds yet. But I haven't gained 10 pounds either. So that's something. I suppose, though, that I better get working. The pop habit has been a tricky mistress to ditch.

5. Erick and I did not form a band and blow away the Boulder Creek crowd with our trumpet/guitar/6-year-old vocalists rendition of "Ring of Fire." The talent show was held during the day making it virtually impossible for us to participate. But, for the record, Erick worked out the trumpet part from the song by ear. Impressive.

So there it is. That's where we're at. We'll keep it going all summer, folks. So be sure to check back in.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Autobots are watching over you

The problem with taking something like "Transformers" and putting it on screen is that, well, you're taking something like "Transformers" and putting it on screen.

As I'm sure everyone knows, Transformers were toys launched in 1984 -- coupled with a cartoon -- that could change from vehicle to robot. Not to get all Gen X, but for a certain segment of the population at that time, Transformers were the end-all, be-all of toy and cartoon creation. Simply put, they ruled.

But like most of my generation, I almost forgot about Transformers as I reached adulthood. In fact, I had to Google most of the generation one toys just to remember the names of the Transformers I had -- toys that were in some respects as real to me as my friends at the time. A little sad? Probably. A little scary? Certainly.

I never got into the comic books and I never followed the toys after the late 1980s. But I remember finding out four or five years ago that the original cartoons had been released on DVD and getting very, very excited. And I threw them on the Netflix queue and sat down to watch them when they arrived. Needless to say, the experience was deflating. The cartoon itself was terrible -- everything from the animation to the storylines.

But hearing the music, hearing the sound effects and surprisingly hearing Optimus Prime's voice put me in a flashback -- not unlike the Vietnam vet that hears a truck backfire and is immediately taken back to his foxhole in the jungle fighting Charlie. Those sounds just took me back to a time when a concept like a car disguised as a robot could effortlessly and completely capture the imagination. And it surprised me. And all the love and fascination I had with these toys came flooding back.

Anyway, getting to my point, I saw the movie last night. I hadn't been this excited to see a movie in a long, long time. I was kind of skeptical at first, as I'm sure many were, when news of the movie broke and set photos leaked. But after seeing the second full-length preview back in May it all melted away. Especially when I saw Prime transform and it was accompanied by the the old school sound effects. They had me from that point on, hook, line and sinker.

So let's review the movie.

"Transformers" is underwhelming and exciting all at the same time. The first scene to show a Transformer actually transform -- from a Skiorsky military copter to a robot -- was incredible. All those of hours of imagining it in your head as you played with the toys as a kid, all those walks to school where you looked at the cars you passed by and wondered if they were Transformers and what would they look like if they transformed and then there it is on the big screen. Industrial Light and Magic's special effects, its computer animation, was photo real. I really don't think it could have looked any better. It was simply breath-taking. And as a credit to ILM it never really got old. It was fun watching the vehicles transform every single time it happened.

Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the two principle screenwriters, probably had as difficult a job as the artists and computer techs at ILM writing the script. They had to take a premise -- that originated as a half-baked backstory for the toys' marketing scheme -- and make it work in a convincing and credible way for the big screen. I mean, these are alien robots that come to earth and then take the shape of everyday vehicles and the good guys, despite coming from a planet that has no human cars, are called Autobots.

But, for the most part, they pull it off. And maybe a little too well. There was a lot of exposition in the movie, a lot of talk explaining every last detail about the Transformers' existance, motivation and history. Show, don't tell, boys. That said, the cleverest move by the writers was having Prime explain why they're called Autobots. In the film, "auto" is short for autonomous whereas for the toys and cartoon, it was obviously short for automobile. Pretty smooth.

The film's major flaw, and I'm sure this comes as no surprise to anyone, is Michael Bay. To his credit, he keeps the film fun and keeps the action moving. However, the film lacked a cohesiveness. It moved so fast it never had a chance to congele. Rather than feeling like it was the story that was sweeping you along, you felt like it was Bay, making sure you never stayed long enough in each scene to see him pulling the levers behind the curtain. Contrast that with a filmmaker like James Cameron who's known for his love of technology, his revolutionary special effects and the soul he can imbue even in mechanical creations and you realize in the right hands "Transformers" could have been much better, more "Terminator 2" than "Armegedon."

In fact, whether it was laziness on Bay's part or hubris, he references his own films many times in "Transformers" -- most notably a scene where Shia LeBeouf runs across a rooftop, flare in hand as fighter jets fly overhead a la "The Rock," the only Michael Bay film I really enjoy. I would have enjoyed seeing more interaction between the Transformers themselves, rather than just their strings of one-liners in the battle scenes. Yes, I'm complaining that there wasn't more character development for a group of transforming alien robots. And this may be the only fanboy complaint I have, but c'mon, only one scene with Megatron and Starscream together? At close to two and half hours, you'd think they could have at least worked one more scene.

Shia LeBeouf, the boy in the writers' boy-and-his-first-car story hook, does a convincing job acting with machines. There's a genuine sincerity there -- played against some amazingly dumb dialogue -- that keeps the movie from devolving into pure camp. Bernie Mac's cameo was also a refreshing comedic where many of the film's intended jokes fell flat. John Turturro was the billed comic relief and while he out-acted most every one on screen, too much what he put across felt forced.

The masterstroke, however, was bringing back Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime. It was the one voice that stood out in the cartoons, one filled with wisdom and compassion and heroism. It's surprising I know, but it was that gravity he brought to the character that made him so memorable to entire generation. Bring him back to voice Prime for the movie was just brilliant. Mainly because the writer's kept those character traits intact. It was the same Prime on the screen last night as the one from the cartoon 23 years ago.

Interestingly enough, USA Today picked up on that facet of the show's fandom. Last week they wrote that Optimus Prime, as the ultimate hero with that amazingly compassionate voice, served as a surrogate father to a whole generation of latchkey kids.

The movie is celebratory and wonderfully visual. It was a lot of fun and certainly easy to watch. My only regret walking out of the theater was leaving with the a sense that the movie could have been that much better.

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