Welcome to my website!

This is the personal website of Tri L. Astraatmadja. I'm a postdoctoral researcher at the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany. I am involved in the Gaia project, a space mission that will survey around 1 billion stars in our Galaxy.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

On who I am and how I came to be.

It's all about painting with light

On the art and techniques of photography.

Weblog

Your (almost) regular dosage of astronomy-related, research-related, or life (or the complete lack thereof)-related blog posts.

Kodachrome

December 13th, 2013

Kodachrome, the miraculous film. Source: Wikipedia.


The death of Kodachrome was slowly felt when Kodak announced in June 2009 that they will no longer manufacture the slides. Then they decided to shut-off their processing plant in Lausanne, Switzerland, and outsourced any processing to Dwayne’s Photo, a photo laboratory in Parsons, Kansas. Dwayne’s became the only lab on this planet that can process Kodachrome, but this won’t last very long. Sometime in 2010, Dwayne’s announced that they will stop accepting any Kodachrome on December 30th 2010. Finally the last place on Earth that can process Kodachrome shut down its machine, when the last Kodachrome roll has been processed.

I do not remember where was I when I read this news that Dwayne’s shut off its Kodachrome processing. What I did remember was bitterness because I still have several rolls of undeveloped Kodachrome. I remember I frantically searched for other alternatives, just like somebody who are in the stage of denial when facing their own death. Acceptance came soon: either process them as a black and white reversal like Agfa Scala, or just wait until somebody wants to restart Kodachrome manufacture and processing. The second option would be akin to what The Impossible Project is doing for Polaroid films.

What can I say about Kodachrome? Obituaries has been written about it, a last picture show has been made, a state park has been named after it, and a song about it was once even written by Paul Simon. It’s a cultural icon, although it was totally forgotten during it’s last days. All I can say is that I had a brief run with Kodachrome between 2007 and 2010, I shot 38 rolls of them, and I cherish every frame of it. The days when I received my processed slides from Lausanne were the exciting days, I would immediately inspect it with my lightbox and loup, and I would mark the truly best shot. Some of the frames have been scanned and put into a set somewhere else.

Skara Brae, Orkney Island, 2010. My last Kodachrome shot.

The last Kodachrome shot I took was when I traveled to the UK in 2010. I managed to send the rolls to Lausanne and they sent me back the results. There are still two rolls (if I remember correctly) that I haven’t manage to send to the lab. It remains in my freezer up until today, waiting for my decision. Who knows what memory lies inside? I have totally forgot.

What make these slides so awesome? Simply because the colors are so alive and will be so well-preserved that they will stay that way until the next century. Unfortunately, their processing, called the K-14 process, is so delicate and elaborate that no amateur photographers can do that. This is because Kodachrome, unlike other color reversal films such as Ektachrome, has no dye integrated within the emulsion, and thus must be introduced during the processing. The emulsion must then be lighted with two lamps: red and blue. Such process can only be done with a professional machine.

I don’t know what’s going to happen now with Kodachrome. Rumors have spread that some private parties have been thinking about restarting production of Kodachrome films and accepting processing. This rumor is yet to be confirmed, and I myself is hoping that someone is willing to do another impossible project for Kodachrome. A good friend of mine, on the other hand, once told me that I should be one who should initialize the resurrection of Kodachrome. Well… we’ll see about that!

Simpler solution

December 4th, 2013

There is an old, well-known, anecdote about Soviet space pen. In the 1960s during the space race, NASA engineers spent years of research and millions of dollars to develop a pen that can work in space. What came out in the end was a pen with a pressurized ink cartridge, enabling one to write in zero-gravity, underwater, as well as at any angle of writing. Soviet engineers, facing the same problem, came out with a simpler, more elegant, solution: a pencil.

It’s a charming and well-known anecdote, but it is already established as an urban legend. The moral of the story, however, can be taken to heart: Sometimes we spend a lot of efforts to create an elaborate solution to a problem, while missing out on a simpler (and possibly more elegant) solution.

Last week I was struggling with the simulation code I’ve been working on for quite some time. I’m supposed to do a numerical integration of a function, however the function has be interpolated from a grid of two-dimensional data points. It’s okay. I can use the usual Simpson’s 3/8 integration and Bicubic spline interpolation. The problem is that bicubic spline interpolation is notoriously much slower compared to bilinear interpolation, although they are better.

At the end of the implementation, it took around 8 seconds to finish integrating, and I have to do it 480 times! The total running time is then $480\times 8 \sim 1\;{\rm hour}$ to finish the whole code. Jeebus that’s too fucking slow, so Coryn (my boss) suggested me to use a look-up table and other methods of integration.

After several days, look-up table turns out to be difficult to implement for the sort of function I want to integrate, so investigating adaptive quadrature looks like an interesting bet. I tried fidgeting around first with Legendre-Gauss Quadrature, and it manages to quicken the code by a factor of three. It’s okay but it’s not enough.

I was just about to write my code for an adaptive quadrature when I notice that in my part of the code where it is doing the interpolation, a bicubic spline constructor is always declared inside the method for the interpolation. The first thing that came to my mind was, what the fuck is the constructor doing over there? I then move the constructor out of the method and declare it as a field of the class. I don’t need my code to declare a constructor and fill it with the grid values every time I request an interpolation. I need it to just to interpolate and all of that bloody initialization can be performed beforehand.

After I made that correction, I run the code again and… lo and behold… everything is finished within 2 seconds! Not one hour, not 30 minutes, but two fucking seconds! Yep… I spent one whole week looking for a solution that might not significantly increase the speed of the code without sacrificing accuracy, and here I am with an elegant and simple solution.

Of course it is a good idea also to look at adaptive quadrature again, as it will potentially increase the speed of the code even more.

After-hours WTF moment

October 11th, 2013

Never in my life somebody has treated me so rude like what has transpired last Thursday… and in the past 7 years I’ve lived both in The Netherlands (where it is said that customer service is nonexistent) and France (Gabriel Garcia Márquez once wrote that French people is the rudest people in the world)! It was around 21.50, October 10, I was still in my office at the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy (MPIA), ready to go home. I called a ruftaxi (a taxi whose schedule follows that of a bus schedule, but must be called at least 30 minutes in advance. You pay the same amount as a bus fare. The rest will be paid by the city) and gave the usual request with my best German:
“Hello, good evening, can you send a ruftaxi to the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie at Königstuhl?”
“Okay. When do you want it?”
“The next one, please.”
“I don’t know when’s the next one. You have to give me the time.” *hangs up*
What the fuck, this is rude enough and very unusual. What the hell is this? An exam? This has never happened before, the operator would normally just tell me the time (which I know for sure that it’s 22.26) and I would meet the driver at the agreed-upon time. I call the taxi company again.
“Hello, it’s me again. The next ruftaxi is at 22.26. Can you send me that one?”
“No that’s not right. You have to check the internet.” *hangs up*
Oh my fucking god, this has gone outrageously rude. There’s not even a good-bye. What the fuck is going on with him? Did he just broke up with his partner or is his partner simply didn’t give him any sex in the past… I don’t know… eight months? Probably he just simply enjoys abusing his power, but then again it’s equally probable that he just had a big fight with his significant other and dumped all his anger to me. Probably he’s just in need of a hug and a proper blowjob.

But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt despite his rudeness. What with the construction works around Königstuhl there might be a change of schedule that I wasn’t aware of. Probably he’s just pissed at customers who aren’t aware of such things. I open the website of the public transport service and it clearly says that the next ruftaxi will come to the MPIA at 22.26 and that I should call at least 30 minutes in advance. Business as usual, nothing changes. I called the taxi central again.

“Hi it’s me again. The website says here that the ruftaxi to the Max Planck Institute will arrive at 22.26.”
“No that’s not right… wait, which Max Planck Institute are you?”
“Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.” *duh*
“…oh yes you’re right! Sorry.. sorry… I’ll send you one. For one person, right? I’m sorry.”

Oh what the fuck. At least he apologized and the ruftaxi later came at 22.26. No explanation though.

You might not be reading this, my dear taxi central operator, but if you do I just want to say: I really don’t need any explanation from you, but next time please do remember that whoever at the other end of the line is also a fellow human being just like you. Even though you only hear their voice.

Some thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness

June 5th, 2013

What else there is to say about Star Trek Into Darkness (STID)? Everybody has seen it and made their comment. I guess what I’m going to say here will be nothing new after all.

You might have seen my ranking of the best Star Trek movies ever, which starts here and then continued here because I’ve to go watch STID. Simply saying, where does STID stand in my ranking?

I will put STID at number 7 among the best Star Trek movies ever. It certainly is better than that shitty ST5 and all those awful TNG movies, but not as good as the first Abramsverse Star Trek.

STID is a fine action movie with much less plot hole than its predecessor, and is still playing out people’s brand awareness of Star Trek by showing off elements familiar to wider audiences. This time the Klingons and a tribble make an appearance, to evoke the sense that this is still Star Trek after all. I also enjoy very much the role of Uhura in STID, which is considerably more than one can say about Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura’s roles. Here Uhura is a competent linguist and is given an important role to the plot. In fact she has replaced McCoy in the holy trinity of TOS’ three most important character. In the olden days it used to be Kirk, Spock, and McCoy going to an away mission. Now it’s Kirk, Spock, and Uhura. It is also nice to see Sulu in the Captain’s chair, a nod to George Takei’s Sulu who was promoted as Captain of the Excelsior in ST6.

Despite all these, STID still lack an important element that defines Star Trek and separate it from other popular franchise set in space: A compelling human drama and morality play that encourage us to ask what does it mean to be human. STID is all about shoot-’em-up. It’s a good action movie but it’s not Star Trek.

There is an attempt early in the film to mimic another feature of Star Trek: as a commentary to the contemporary social conditions. As I’ve said in my previous writings, a long time ago people noticed that Star Trek was sometimes an allegory to the Cold War. In STID they tried to make some sort of a statement about the war on terror but somehow they went out of the window towards the middle of the story, in order to give way to the action, and Kirk’s question about giving Khan a fair trial was soon forgotten.

What we have instead is a bunch of reference and nod to all things that in the past define Star Trek, just as a fan service and to show that the writers have at least do their homework. What these references lacking are motivations that drive the plot, leaving us instead with parody of Star Trek and guessing game throughout the whole movies: Which Star Trek reference are they going to shove-in next? When Kirk went into the engine room to realign the warp core, and Spock then realized what happened, I was sort of thinking that the only way they can make this parody worse is by making Spock shout Khan’s name in the way only The Shat can pull. I fell into a facepalm when that actually happen.

What makes the death of Spock in ST2 such an important moment that sometimes still bring tears to my eyes, while its homage in STID can only bring me into facepalm? I gues it is because the STID scene lacks motivation and is there just to refer to ST2, and thus is lacking an emotional resonance. In ST2, Spock’s death is important to give Kirk a character arc. Before Spock’s death everything always went alright for him. He never believed in a no-win situation and always bluff and cheat his way out of tight situation. Now he has to face death and lost his dear friend, making him cherish life more. At the end of ST2 Kirk grows a character and became a changed man, symbolized by the birth of the Genesis planet. Kirk’s sacrifice in STID I guess is there to also give him an arc, to make him learn the meaning of sacrifice and dedication, thus transform him from an asshole into Bill Shatner’s Kirk, but it was done by blatantly copying ST2 that it is there merely as a wink-wink moment for those who have watched ST2. The same can be said to the many references to the old Trek in STID: They are there merely as a reference while not giving us any new insight to the characters.

Self-reference is not something new in Star Trek, but it used to be done cleverly. Case in point: In ST3, the self-destruct sequence of the Enterprise was done in a similar way to the sequence enacted in the TOS episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. They even use the same self-destruct code. Both enactment however, have different dramatic functions. While the sequence in the TOS episode is already quite superb, with shots and close-ups that resembles Mexican standoff scenes in western movies, the ST3 sequence also stands out to dramatically depict Kirk and co.’s ultimate sacrifice for their dear comrade. It is not a poor imitation of the original, and the reference is there but subtle enough and not distracting. In STID all those references can be very distracting and serve no purpose.

The plot of STID is more-or-less a rehash of the 2009 Star Trek: Chris Pine’s Kirk having leadership and dedication problem and must learn to roll like The Shat’s Captain Kirk. Spock being a stickler for regulations and feeling conflicted with his human emotions. A villain who is dedicated to something is hell-bent on revenge for being wronged. Old Spock appears again. Why do we need to see the same plot, when the arcs of the main cast have been nicely established in the first movie?

Why must Spock Prime appear again, only to lecture Spock on who Khan really is? Jeez, don’t they read history books? In Space Seed, Khan’s reputation is already documented in the ship’s computer and all they have to do is learn history. Here Spock Prime’s presence is merely to assure us that what we are watching is still Star Trek because Leonard Nimoy is in there.

Four years ago, when Star Trek 2009 came out, I wrote that I was quite happy with the convincing acting of the cast and how normal their interactions are. Despite the humongous plot holes and the fact that it is very far from the ideals of Star Trek, I am willing to accept this new continuity as a mean to bring Star Trek back into the public’s attention in the same way ST4 bring Star Trek outside its fan base. I was hoping that the sequel will take Star Trek back into its root: Musings about the nature of humanity, an optimistic vision of the future of humanity, and the optimistic view of modern technology as a force of good.

Unfortunately this is not the case in STID. In a time like this, STID writers have the chance to provide us with an important commentary on our present society, just like the olden days Star Trek. Science-fiction stories have also for a long time becomes a mean to do that. This opportunity is unfortunately has been passed in order to tell a simple but tired story of good and evil, while referencing the past here and there. The new Star Trek should not keep going back into the past. It should look toward the future, creating new interesting science-fiction stories. Making Star Trek more cerebral is of course a financially risky proposition in times like these, where movies have to quickly make bucks and the economy is uncertain, but I’m pretty sure that a smart writing can in fact make people more interested and make the sequel distinct from its predecessor.

I am quite sure that they are going to make another one, but I’m much less optimistic than in 2009 when the reboot came out. If they keep making Star Trek like this I will certainly skip the next one.

Star Trek movies ranked from worst to best (Part 2)

May 11th, 2013

Okay, I’m back from watching Star Trek Into Darkness (STID). I’m not going to say anything about it except that the top 5 spots are in no way of being endangered to be replaced by STID. So here’s my take on the next six best Star Trek movies, and part 1 is here if you haven’t read it already.

6. Star Trek Abramsverse (2009)

I have to say I quite enjoy the Abramsverse. There are some enjoyable moments and it is a smart action movie despite the annoying lens flares that has become the trademark of J.J. Abrams. The acting of the actors are really fine and they manage to embody the spirit of the original crew. However the most important aspect of Star Trek is still lacking in Abramsverse: the human drama and exposition of ethical problems that have became the trademark of the best episodes of Star Trek. Abramsverse’s Star Trek is all about shooting a bunch of phasers and kicking ass.

Do we fight for the right to a night at the opera now? ... [Or] is it simply a game for rich young boys to play? The color of the world is changing day by day...

The problem has been told many times before: This is not a Star Trek for me or any older generation who remember TOS and TNG, but a Star Trek for the general audience who is not emotionally invested in the previous incarnation of Trek. What they know about Star Trek is just the general stereotype: The dashing womanizing Captain, the alien logical First Officer, and a bunch of other people speaking in foreign accent. Consequently everything has to be simplified much to the chagrin of the die-hard fanboys. I still long for Star Trek to be the cerebral Trek I once knew, however we might have to come to the realization that nobody is going to make any show like that, and that DS9 is the last great Star Trek show that has been made. Shows have to make money as much as possible and for that everything has to be simplified so that as many people can enjoy it and buy the tickets.

The great success of the Abramsverse Star Trek is that it can incorporate elements from the original series to produce an enjoyable action movie. However my problem with the movie is that above all Star Trek is not an action franchise but it is a human drama and moral play, and these are the most important elements in Star Trek that are seriously lacking in the last 5 Trek movies. Abrams make Star Trek feel and look like Star Wars… which is kind of weird because if I want to watch Star Wars I would watch Star Wars and not Star Trek.

5. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

A movie that should not exist were we able to accept Spock's death, but I like the sweet ending nonetheless.


We have in this installment a hammy Doc Brown playing as a Klingon captain, Commander Kruge. Attempts to bring Spock back from the dead are a bit contrived here and I think the movie is quite unnecessary: They should have let Spock dead and move on. Spock’s death was an important moment that left Kirk a changed man. Bringing back Spock only renders those important moments about accepting death and cherishing life ineffective.

Having said that, I kind of understand why this movie should exists (other than to play it safe by bringing back Spock to the franchise): It was meant as a device to show how different Kirk is from Spock. “The need of the many outweigh the need of the few or the one” has been taken as an axiom by Spock, however at the end of the movie Kirk answered that he and his crew risk everything to safe him simply because “the need of the one outweigh the need of the many,” which shows that the logically-flawed humans (at least according to Vulcan logic) manage to do the right thing by sacrificing their career for their dear comrade.

We already kind of know that but we need to be convinced anyway, that’s why this movie exists.
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Star Trek movies ranked from worst to best (Part 1)

May 9th, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (hereafter written STID for brevity) premiered in German cinemas last night. I already bought my ticket, but because of the inaugural MPIA board game night I’m organizing, I cancelled it and bought a new ticket for tonight. So later this night I’ll ride to Mannheim and watch this second Abramsverse Star Trek.

Before I watch STID, I would like to refresh my memory on the experience of watching Star Trek movies. There are already 12 movies so far including STID: Six movies involving the Original Series (TOS) crew, four involving the TNG crew, and the latest two are the brave-new-world of the Abramsverse Trek.

So here it is: The ranking of Star Trek from worst to best. How do I rank them? Simply my (sometimes not so original) opinion and how I’ve felt in watching them. What’s awesome and not so awesome about it. I’ve also put in anybody else’s opinion that I’m agree with. You can agree to it, and you can disagree with it, it’s up to you.

11. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

It's Bane like you've never seen him before.


Let’s be fair: Star Trek is at a crisis when this movie came out. Enterprise didn’t really fare well in ratings and Rick Berman was criticized a lot for his handling of the franchise. So I can totally understand if they want to play it safe and produce a movie that is basically Star Trek: The Wrath of Shinzon, but come on… that is not an excuse good enough to shit on all that makes TNG good. Making Picard enjoying offroad driving with a stupid jeep is inexcusable. In the TNG series, Picard has been painted as an enlightened person who enjoys Shakespeare, archaeology, theatre, classical music, and British tea (despite being French). It would totally be out of character if Picard is so into redneck activities such as offroad driving and this is what the movie does to Picard.

The second thing I hate about this movie is that Picard’s role as captain of a Federation flagship is totally set aside in order to make him an action hero. In the final fight with the bad guy, the septuagenarian Picard is beamed alone to the enemy’s ship in order to fight and kill him. Oh fuck this scene. Picard is captain of the Enterprise, dammit. He’s the leader and sometimes he has a burden to decide who lives and who died in his ship (a moral burden that has been lamented even since Captain Pike‘s The Cage). He should have sent Worf over there, armed to the teeth, with a specific assignment to disarm Shinzon, since it is his duty as a security officer. Beside, for years Worf has pointed out that it is his duty as a Klingon to defend his ship to the death if necessary.

These two scene alone is enough evidence that Nemesis tries do dumb-down Star Trek into an action movie, and failed at that. First because Star Trek is always about the human drama and moral discussions in which action scenes are necessary to enhance these two things. Second, by making Star Trek solely as an action movie, it pulls the TNG crews out of their characters that we have know and respect. These put Nemesis as the worst Star Trek movie.

10. Star Trek: Generations (1994)

To be honest, this is the first Star Trek movie I’ve watched in the big screen. Back then Star Trek is not really popular in Indonesia and movie distributors think thrice about showing Star Trek in Indonesian cinemas. I watch Generations probably five times in Jakarta and each time there were only 5 people in the theatre. I don’t remember if earlier Star Trek movies were shown or not.

Anyhow the film sucks. The worst offending factor is the insulting way Captain Kirk’s role and death is handled. He died defending a planet and civilization we know nothing nor care about (the movie doesn’t take time to explain), in an idiotic way, and was buried in a shallow grave. Captain Kirk has a lot of other more important expertise as a strategist and leader that can be put into good use, but the movie instead use Kirk simply because Picard need somebody to hold Soran while he punch him in the gut. Earlier Picard wants Guinan to help him, for god sake, and then Guinan suggested Kirk! What the fuck is this.

If handled well, the encounter of Picard and Kirk could be epic. Unfortunately that is not the case in Generations.

Like the next movies afterward, Generations also does not give respect to Picard’s characterization in the TV series although it’s only one scene so you might not notice it: At the end of the film Picard threw away a twelve-thousand-year-old Kurlan Naiskos and prefer to pick up his fancy photo album to salvage.

There is at least one good thing about Generations: a study about Picard’s bachelor life and how death remind him about procreation and continuing the family line. It is a really human moment and the Nexus can provide a family and children for him, which is in conflict with his duty as a Starfleet officer. This conflict was, however, resolved too quickly before we had any time to emotionally invest in the matter.

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RIP LucasArts (1982–2013) and Roger Ebert (1942–2013)

April 4th, 2013

This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of LucasArts, and now film reviewer Roger Ebert passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.

The complexity of Maniac Mansion can be mind-boggling, added by the fact that it is a game from the 1980s.

LucasArts was established in 1982 as Lucasfilm Games. The name change took place in 1990. I think the first LucasArts games I’ve ever played is Maniac Mansion, which I borrowed from my neighborhood friend. I never managed to win the game, but I intend to… someday…

Of course LucasArts is well-known for their adventure games, which have a distinct style different from other adventure games: In other adventure games like those produced by Sierra, you can die if you do something wrong. In LucasArts’s adventure games you can’t die (except in the Indiana Jones games).

Stan the fast-talking salesman will always be my favorite character from Monkey Island.

We all know and love the Monkey Island series, and I’ve played them all except the fourth installment onward. The third installment is quite bad but I’m very satisfied with the first and second games. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is the game I really adore because… well… Indiana Jones is awesome and that is all. Other LucasArts adventure games I’ve played is the Maniac Mansion sequel, Day of the Tentacle, and Sam and Max hit the Road. I think I’ve played all LucasArts adventure games except Loom. I’ve even played Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade adventure games, and I quite enjoyed the corny jokes.

LucasArts also made flight simulator games. I’ve played Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, which I quite enjoy, but the one that really took my attention is TIE Fighter. Of course X-Wing—which came out earlier—is also awesome, but come-on, TIE Fighter is much much better! Strapping ourselves into a TIE Fighter, launched from the belly of an Imperial Star Destroyer, and start to shoot X-Wings are really an awesome way to spend our free time as a 14 year old.

Oh I forgot Grim Fandango, which might be the last great adventure game LucasArts ever produced. I didn’t play it but I’ve watched my best friend Adjie played it in his house and that’s enough already. I might play it myself one day. Full Throttle might be the last LucasArts adventure game I’ve ever played. It was really fun but it suffers from easy-to-solve puzzles, an oh-so-predictable twist that the female mechanic Maureen is the dead-millionaire Malcom’s daughter, and man it’s over too soon!

In the last ten years I haven’t seen any great LucasArts game that really caught my attention. I’ve heard that the company is declining in quality but then again it could be that I no longer play games as often as before.

Roger Ebert’s health has been in decline since he was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. I don’t read his reviews as often as 15 years ago, but I fondly remember reading a lot of his reviews when I bought Microsoft Cinemania 1995. This was an age before broad-band internet and IMDB, and a lot of information were stored in single CD-ROMs. People bought Microsoft Encarta and Encyclopaedia Britannica, I bought them also as well as Cinemania, which was a treasure-trove of cinematic information. This is the first time I’m introduced to Roger Ebert and other cinema reviewers such as Pauline Kael and Ephraim Katz.

Cinemania really told me a lot about American films and its tropes, long before TV Tropes exists. Within the CD, 1300 Roger Ebert reviews were stored, long before his website appears. Many people don’t like Ebert’s reviews because he was not trained in film or art schools, but I like his reviews exactly because he speaks his mind and is honest about his subjectivity. While I enjoy an academic criticism of films published in cinema journals, I still enjoy Roger Ebert movie reviews.

Rest in peace LucasArts and Roger Ebert, you are part of my childhood and you will be fondly remembered.