Ode to New York

IMG_3647

Everything about New York blows me away. The diversity of people, amazing art collection, bookstore with history and charm, delicious food, the lights of the Time Square and Broadway, music of the NY Philharmonic, impressive skyscrapers, historical buildings, parks with so much character. I can’t count the ways this city draws me and charms me. The four days I’m spending here turned out to be the best weather New York has had in a long time. It was preceded by a thunderstorm and temperature drops. The only side of New York I have seen is a city saturated in vibrant colors under warm and bright sunlight, and I feel impelled to to move here immediately.

IMG_3874

The city somehow injected me with energy and health that I haven’t had before. In two days it satiated the artistic paucity I felt for years. Surely it can’t be all roses to live here, but it’s unfair that I only get to see the best that New York has to offer because somehow I got lucky with the weather. I wonder if money would be a deciding factor in whether one enjoys New York or not… and I feel very lucky to have the means to go to the concert and not worry about starving for the next month.

IMG_3918

It’s eleven pm at night but I feel like I want to step out again, to gaze at the city from the top of the Empire State Building, to admire the Art Deco floors and the golden statue in front of the Rockefeller Center. And it’s amazing to behold the sight of Broadway and the Time Square… I wonder if you can feel lonly in the middle of all the warm glow of lights. I’m sure you can but tonight I just felt alive and happy to behold the sight in awe.

The ode to this city has been sung many times by writers (E.B. White “Here is New York), filmmakers (just see any Woody Allen film or hear him open his mouth), artists (Winogrand), jazz singers, pop singers, musicals, tv shows, etc etc. With all this hype from so many self-professed ‘New Yorkers’ and admirers of the City,  I thought I would feel blasé and I am so surprised to find myself so in love with a city and long to be with it as if it were a human entity. It’s a weird feeling.

So here is my ode to the great city, in the form of a blog post and couple pictures. And someday, I will have to move and work here and earn the claim to ‘know’ the city like a true New Yorker.

Italian Cinema Scores by NY Philharmonic

La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema  New York Philharmonic

La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema
New York Philharmonic

The program

The program

My friend brilliantly noticed, while traveling in NYC in August, that NY Philharmonic was scheduled to do a night of Italian Cinema called “La Dolce Vita”, including a piece from Cinema Paradiso. It was a two-day event with amazing violinist Joshua Bell, vocalist Josh Groban, and soprano Renee Fleming scheduled to perform. The last day of this event fortuitously fell on the day of my arrival at New York City. So despite the jetlag from time difference and flying the red-eye, I attended the event at the Lincoln Center.

I guess I should disclose that I have an on-going love affair with Italian Cinema. I haven’t seen enough of Italian Cinema yet to qualify myself as an aficionado, but I find myself extremely attached to the ones I have seen. The one in particular is Cinema Paradiso, which captures the wonderment of childhood, and is steeped in beautiful nostalgia and melancholy over the innocence and naivete that often inevitably goes away as we grow older. But truthfully, these movies would mean almost nothing to me without the scores by Ennio Morricone (Cinema Paradiso, Once Upon a Time in the West), Nino Rota (Fellini’s films like 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita), and Luis Bacalov (Il Postino).

Image courtesy of Forbes: http://tinyurl.com/odagu8l

New York Philharmonic did this very smart thing where instead of playing the footages from the movie like SF symphony does to scores, they commissioned an Italian film director Giampiero Solari to create a visual screen play for the performance. I felt that I could really experience the power of music and its role in cinema without confusing which is influencing me more (was it the images or the score?!?!). Tonight, music assumed a leading role in the world of cinema and made it clear to everyone in attendance of its power in storytelling and provoking deep emotions that transcend time and space.

Joshua Bell performed as a violin soloist on the Suite from “The Anonymous Venetian”. It was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and I think I had to actively fight the tears from flowing. His violin seemed to be telling a beautiful story, and all I could do was empathize with its melancholia, its vulnerability, its passion as the song played.

The piece I was looking forward to, called “Se”, from Cinema Paradiso, ended up disappointing me. Possibly because I have heard that piece on youtube so many times (possibly around hundred times) without the singers (and with Ennio Morricone conducting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FzVWlOKeLs). The singing somehow took away from what was already perfect, or that was how I felt at the end of that piece…

The NY Phil also played a piece from Life is Beautiful, and the gorgeous footages from the movie played (instead of the animation), along with the piece that ebbed and flowed, swelled with the crescendo and made our hearts melt into pools of emotions.

So these are the movies on my to-watch or re-watch list:
Life is Beautiful
Cinema Paradiso
Il Postino
Once Upon a time in the West
Incontro
Amarcord
Profumo di Donna
Juliet of the Spirits

Picking up the brush again…

It’s been about four years since I’ve drawn/painted anything. I think I couldn’t justify the act of drawing/painting – I mean, I wasn’t going to become an artist. My profession is clearly in computer science and everything else seemed like such a waste of time. Recently though, I met someone who convinced me to pick up the brush again and get back to painting. I watched Casino Royale with him and the image of Vesper Lynd stayed with me. It sort of shocked me that a Bond Girl can be witty, brainy, and vulnerable (as well as beautiful – I think you have to be if you are a Bond Girl). Anyway, Here are the paintings:

SIGGRAPH 2012 Recap

SIGGRAPH [Sig-Graph]

Definition: Name of the annual conference on computer graphics (CG) convened by the ACM SIGGRAPH organization. Dozens of research papers are presented each year, and SIGGRAPH is widely considered the most prestigious forum for the publication of computer graphics research.

Our paper, Updated Sparse Cholesky Factors for Co-Rotational Elastodynamic, was presented at SIGGRAPH. Here’s a picture of me and Florian (first author) doing a silly 40-sec advertisement of our session during Tech Papers Fast Forward.

SIGGRAPH Fast ForwardSIGGRAPH ends up being a big re-union of friends since graphics industry/academia is so tightly knit. The left half of us met at PIXAR during the Summer Internship. Lot of us ended up in the visual effects studios including Pixar, Weta, and Bungie and we started our new jobs within few months of each other. The right half are my friends from Berkeley Graphics Lab. Everyone loves technology, art, and being a nerd. I loved spending time with these like-minded people. 

Curiosity landed on Mars succesfully on the first day of SIGGRAPH. There was a viewing session set up at the Geek Bar in Los Angeles Convention Center. A fair amount of people came, including my family who snuck in to the geek bar to watch the landing with me. I believe my mom cried during the landing. It was so emotional and I felt so proud to be an engineer.

And I got some quality time with my family and my parents’ not-so-small-anymore pug. It looks just like Frank the Pug from Men in Black. This pug changed our family dynamic from a grouchy family to a loving family. It loves everyone it meets. Here’s me pinching its velvet-pin-cushion cheeks.

One of the best things about SIGGRAPH is the screening of selection from the SIGGRAPH Animation Festival. I got to watch Disney’s new short Paperman, which is screened in front of Wreak it Ralph. The style of it was an interesting blend of 2D and 3D framed in photographic black-and-white. I watched it three times, and during the third one I teared up a bit. It moved me in the best way. Definitely a dreamer and romantic’s pick of the evening.

I also loved the style of Twinings commercial called “Gets You Back To You”. My favorite part is when her feet plunges in to the shallow ocean (44 seconds). Makes me want to walk along the shores of Seal Beach before I head back to Silicon Valley.

During downtime, I wandered into the SIGGRAPH Bookstore. It’s awesome because someone already did the work for you in selecting the books in your interest range. I ended up buying bunch of them:

Herb Sutter, Andrei Alexandrescu
I heard of this book through an amazing coder I programmed with at Berkeley. He was a C++ guru and when I asked him how he picked up C++ (Berkeley doesn’t teach it to you) he mentioned that he read a red C++ book over Summer. I assume it’s this one since it’s one of the more well known red-books on C++.

The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques

Barry Andersson, Janie L. Geyen
I am considering purchasing a DSLR and shooting videos in my spare time (weekends tend to be open). Reading a book about production usually doesn’t help with the process unless you absolutely have no clue as to where to start. Well, I have zero knowledge and any starting point will probably help.
An Interdisciplinary Introduction to Image Processing: Pixels, Numbers, and Programs

Steven L. Tanimoto
Can’t wait to read this book. It looks at image processing from creative and artistic as well as technical point of view. 
My friend Josh bought this book. I picked it up again at the store and read couple pages and realized that it’s directly related to projects done by my team at NASA. It covers terrain reconstruction among other topics. I can’t wait to read this one and hopefully implement it for planetary bodies. 
More detailed blog on technical talks at SIGGRAPH will be coming soon, including the ones on Mobile GPUs. So stay tuned…

Moonrise Kingdom

My roommate, Nicole, invited me to the showing of Moonrise Kingdom as part of her birthday celebration. I had seen the trailer and gathered that it’s a film about two kids in New England who decide to runaway together. The film takes place in the sixties. I would have dismissed the movie if it wasn’t for the cast and the pretty movie trailer (and the 94% rotten tomatoes rating also helped). I swept aside my Asian guilt (I thought about spending this evening coding) and joined her and her friends for the movie showing.

Moonrise Kingdom, whose title sounds like a Chinese martial arts movie, is so pretty. It’s like candy to your eyes and ears. It’s so pretty that I wanted to take frames out of it and post it around my room. Every scene is like a vintage polaroid photo. An advertisement from the 60s. It’s as if Wes Anderson shot the movie through Instagram.

The plot is simple and yet each moment is full of innocence, wonderment, and adventure. And Wes Anderson  portrays children as complete human being with full mental faculty and emotional complexity! But frankly all that stands out in my memory is the color palette. The sepia and pink hues, the golden fields, washed out blues, red and green standing out against the desaturated background. There is such a decisive and consistent look throughout the film.

I guess one thing that slightly bothered me was the visual imagery of the night time scene. The rain is pouring and it’s the evening. And either the director or the post-production crew decided to blue-filter the sh#$ out of it. So everyone’s faces look blue. Like ghosts. I didn’t particularly like the look but maybe it was the look they were going for.

I appreciated that the film didn’t water down childhood. I find that childhood portrayed through Hollywood is either idealistic, fantastical, really sad and dreary, or some other end of the spectrum. The subtlety and complexity is usually entirely missing. Wes Anderson deals with it very delicately, being careful not to shift to the extremes I mentioned. And the acting from these kids is amazing. I loved the gaze of the main character (the girl). It’s always distant and full of meaning, and we can never really guess all that goes inside her head.

Overall, I loved it. Two hours well spent and coding could wait.

Caramel

Image

Ever since I heard about this movie, a foreign film from Lebanon that takes place in Beirut and written, acted, and directed by Nadine Labaki (a female director to boot), I wanted to see it but kept pushing it off. It came up again on my Netflix watch list so I finally decided to watch it tonight.

And it whirled me into its world: a small beauty salon in Beirut where people come to share their personal drama, joy, worries, and hopes. It’s a pastiche of different stories that involve women who work in the beauty salon and their frequent customers.

And you will never guess what the caramel is used for. Hint: it’s not for eating.

There are many poignant moments in the movie and what I appreciated the most was the honesty in which these poignant stories are shared. Unlike in Hollywood movies, where the story takes expected turns to satisfy the audience, Caramel has moments of disappointment, disillusionment, but ultimately hope. The beauty of life shown through its most mundane, every day moments. I loved it.

I was reminded of a quote from Gogol’s Dead Souls, which strangely fits this movie:

And for a long time yet, led by some wondrous power, I am fated to journey hand in hand with my strange heroes and to survey the surging immensity of life, to survey it through the laughter that all can see and through the tears unseen and unknown by anyone.