Armen Chakmakjian

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

Review of “The Promise” #keepthepromise

In Random on April 24, 2017 at 3:43 am

Tonight I went to see “The Promise” at the Capitol Theater in Arlington. This was actually my second viewing, as I had the privilege to be a part of a private showing at Brandeis University a few weeks ago. My review here of the movie spans both of those viewings. The first viewing was actually quite emotional for me as this was an epic depiction of many of the salient points of the atrocities that were perpetrated by both the Ottoman government and their successor, the Turkish State, during that period against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other minorities.

To begin, the movie is incredibly beautiful. The scenes of the Bosphorus and the villages were very well done. It was obvious that some of this was CGI, but the up close sets of the streets of Constantinople were very familiar to me. I travelled there as a seven-year-old and stayed there for about two and a half months visiting my maternal grandfather. 1972 didn’t look much different from my memory than the depiction of 1915 in the movie. Just a few less fezzes in ’72. The same teacups were being used and the look of the bazaars and street vendors was spot on. I doubt that Istanbul looks like that anymore, but I may never find out.

Now, for the non-Armenian viewer, you have to understand that the Armenian Genocide that many countries have now recognized, took place from 1915 to 1923. This movie shows the first few months starting on April 24, 1915, when the about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were rounded up and exterminated and continues through the initial mass deportations and murders of Armenians in their ancient villages. The depiction near the end of the movie of the battle and escape of the Armenians at Musa Dagh ended on Sept 15, 1915, so the bulk of the movie is about five month of events. More atrocities would happen after the period on which the movie concentrates.

All this being said, for an American of Armenian descent at the first viewing this movie forced me to cry my eyes out and ended with catharsis. The story of our grandparents and great-grandparents had finally made it to the big screen. There was so much familiarity in the scenes — the music, the Armenian spoken and even the Turkish spoken. In my youth, the languages in my home were Turkish, Armenian and English. Home was a large soup pot of linguistic expression. So hearing all three languages in one movie was giant tug at my emotional memory.

Putting aside my inner-Armenian, the three or four way love story was a little bit flat. It was the weakest part of the movie. It was too convenient. Christian Bale’s character, Chris, was three-dimensional heroic protagonist throughout the movie. He represented the western press trying to get a story of unimaginable atrocities being perpetrated by a state. The main flaw is that the Chris character becomes two-dimensional whenever Ana is on the screen. You know h0w you felt bad about Dr. Zhivago (Omar Sharif) because the other guy, Victor (Rod Steiger) is a real bastard and worse he gets Lara (Julie Christie)…well Chris was never really bad to Ana, or even to Michael. And that meant you weren’t dragged into hating him and hoping for his demise so that the real lovers would escape together without him. In some ways you are sympathetic to him because maybe Ana should be with him 🙂

Now back to my Armenian-ness: I thought Maral (Angela Sarafyan) looked the part…she was the most Armenian looking of the main characters, being Armenian herself…but the character needed a bit more spice. It would have been good for her to turn out to be a nagging, acerbic Armenian housewife (like Mesrob pointed out) so that Michael could be, in the movie sense, plausibly enchanted by another woman. At least from my point of view, his wandering-eye was out-of-focus 😉

In the same complex this evening, Fast and Furious was playing in one of the other theaters and if you are just there looking for gratuitous violence and action, go see that movie. Terry George didn’t make a movie about action and gore. He wanted a PG-13 movie that was a vehicle for people to be able to consume a story and learn about history.

If you like Christian Bale or Oscar Isaac, you’ll want to see this movie, as both of them are excellent in their roles.

If you want to see a movie that realistically depicts a time in human interaction and scenery and teaches you some history, then go see this movie.

If you like catharsis and ending for the main character who had to endure losing almost everything and then rises above it, then go see this movie.

If you are bothered by humans inhumanity to other humans and want to learn more about event about which you are unfamiliar, then go see this movie.

If you have an Armenian friend, who has talked about his or her family history and you want to understand them better, then go see this movie.

In the end, my strong suggestion is you should go see this movie.

Product Review: Bose SoundTouch

In Random on April 15, 2017 at 12:49 pm

So we were doing some cleanup last year in our living/dining room after some water damage from the snowpocalypse of 2015 and I had to make some decisions about to do with my sound system and speakers in the room. I had an apple wireless hotspot in the room plugged into the video input of my stereo (yes a stereo) and two floor CSW speakers and a subwoofer placed around the room with wires around the edges of the long area rug.

We had decided that after stuffing the room with furniture and sound and other things we were going to rethink the layout, get rid of the rug, sand and refinish the water damaged floor, paint the walls et cetera.  The stereo and speakers had to go.  Although acoustically it was very good, each component stuck out like a sore thumb.

Way in the corner of the room is the SoundTouch 30 Series III completely blending into the room.

Anyway, I had done a little bit of research and came upon on a Bose tabletop system called the SoundTouch.  There were 3 models, and given the size of the room, I went for the one with the biggest speakers and a built in subwoofer.  This model was the SoundTouch 30 Series III. Booming sound, as expected, and filled the room with sound easily placed at one end.

The SoundTouch system is basically an internet radio with access to your accounts on Spotify, Pandora and Amazon (and a couple of others). It also supports Internet Radio streaming. Notably it doesn’t work with Apple Music and the new models have dropped being Airplay compatible. However, you do have a line-in and bluetooth if you need to pump in something from your phone.  Also it does know how to traverse your NAS or iTunes music library on a computer over the WiFi so you can get some of your personal library played on it.

There is an app that runs on your phone/pad and on your desktop to control the device as well as select what music stream source. It also can pair over bluetooth with an Amazon Echo so you can pump music from that by asking Alexa.  Can be very convenient!

The little thing on the sound bar, you can see the light

This was pretty much as good as I expected. But there was an issue that I had sorta solved with apple TVs and the Airport Express in that room which was no longer available.  At holidays or dinner events, I could pump from the same playlist across all my apple endpoints from iTunes on my desktop (and control that from my phone as a remote). Bose has thought of this of course.  Bose thought of this by allowing you to buy multiple SoundTouch speakers and place them around the house. This can get pretty expensive and if you already have sound systems from other eras having an extra speaker in the room is redundant. Bose has a solution for this also. They sell a SoundTouch module that can be hooked up into existing sound systems and from the app you can add that endpoint to act in concert with an existing speaker, essentially pumping the same source to both rooms.  This works great for me since I can now have the music in the living room and the Samsung sound bar in my kitchen playing the same music.

One other thing that Bose seems to have solved that Apple did not was that the various endpoints are acoustically in the same phase as each other.  Standing in between the two rooms in a doorway, I don’t sense that there is a delay on one of the setups…whereas I always felt like I the Apple products had no clue that they were in the same setup and stepping from room to room the phase shift was detectable (at least by me, in low noise situations).

So overall, if you want a compact sound system that has some neat extensions and gives you that Bose bassy sound, I would recommend the SoundTouch products.  At some point I might replace my Samsung sound bar with an SoundTouch 300 sound bar which would free up the small module to be used somewhere else in the house.  But that is for another day/year.

Interesting quotes by or about Presidents

In Random on February 20, 2017 at 2:59 pm

“It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and, above all, in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples.”

– Theodore Roosevelt from a transcription of Roosevelt’s speech at the opening of the Minnesota State Fair, as it appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune 3 September 1901

“Don’t worry, I’ll just confuse them”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower in March 1955 when warned by advisers to watch what he said about a crisis with Red China at a press conference

“Find out what whiskey he drinks and send all of my generals a case, if it will get the same results.” 

– Abraham Lincoln quoted in New York Herald on September 18, 1863 on General Grant’s drinking during the successful Vicksburg campaign

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

-George Washington in a letter to Alexander Hamilton August 28, 1788

“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”

Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) February 19, 2017 on twitter on Donald Trump’s comment that something happened in Sweden the night before.


On excellent expression…

In Random on February 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm

As the 35th anniversary of my high school graduation approaches I look back fondly on those years. I attended what at the time was called “Fairfield College Preparatory School” or “Prep” for short and at the at time Fairfield College had for many years been referred to as Fairfield University. The University teams were called Stags in reference to the time when Fairfield was an all male college, but at the time of my attendance at Prep, the university was co-ed. Not so for Prep, which was still and still is a boys’ school. The teams at Prep were and are still referred to as “The Jesuits.”

I was a child of Armenian immigrants from the middle east, my mother from Istanbul and my father from the litany of famous and infamous cities of history, Jerusalem where he was born, Bethlehem, Beit Jamal, Ramleh, Jerusalem again and finally Amman where he grew into manhood before coming to the US. I was born and raised in Bridgeport CT and my father was a steel worker with a wish that he could have had more education. While attending Prep, I was presented with as good an education that one could probably receive anywhere. The level of discourse, verbal and written, between teacher and student and even more so between students about every topic was, in retrospect, way beyond our years or peers. I was on the debating team, but every common conversation in the cafeteria would become a debate of ideas.

Within this environment of elevated discussion, I was always amazed at the writing skill of my fellow students. I had to work extremely hard to express myself in a similar way. While I knew 2 other languages beside English and was taking Latin, I always felt like the bar was really high. These guys were very smart.

I write all the above for some context on the actual topic of this note which is the appreciation of excellent expression. Years after leaving Prep and getting my engineering degree, began to re-immerse myself in non-technical books and writing for my edification and enjoyment. I read works on literary criticism, politics, and creative works. I came across some writing by that guy on Firing Line with the weird accent who used really long words that I hadn’t heard in a while, at least since the high school verbal jousts or ever at all. While I didn’t come down as far over the political spectrum as he often debated from, I was fascinated when William F. Buckley and John Kenneth Galbraith would go after each other on the PBS debates. The civil repartee between colleagues who still disagreed wholeheartedly was very enjoyable.

This past Christmas one of my sisters sent me a book, A Torch Kept Lit, which is a collection of eulogies written by Buckley about people in his life that were mostly published in the National Review in his column. Given everything I wrote about above, I thought this letter by Hugh Kenner, defending Buckley’s overuse of the word “solipsism” to Charles Wallen, their mutual friend who complained about it, reminded me of a lot of the oddball discussions from that time in high school:

Dear Charles,

Bill’s point is precisely that there is no substitute for “solipsism.” If what pains you about it is simply the fact that you seldom hear it, then the fault is not in the man who grinds it against your ears, but in the millions of part-time and largely inadvertent solipsists who are so who are so convinced the universe emanates from them that they feel no need of a word to designate such a condition. Fish, on the same principal, know nothing of water and for aqueous terminology you should not apply to a fish.

If on the other hand your ears are assaulted by its impacted sibilants (as the ears of Tennyson were aggrieved by the word “scissors”) then I can only fetch you the cold comfort that for a graceless condition the wisdom inherent in the language has afforded us a graceless word. And if, finally, your grievance is that Bill uses it too often, then I can only tax you with inconsistency, since you report that after one to two years of not hearing it from his lips you were wounded anew by a single occurrence — perhaps, I will grant, on the principle of a man who has been sensitized to penicillin. Such a man’s comfort should be that others need the remedy that inflames them, and that principle I commend to you.

Hugh Kenner

Writing like this always makes me laugh out loud (LOL!).