Archive for Random Thoughts

Henry Poole is Here

9 out of 13 nots.
for being about faith without being preachy

Technically, this movie opened yesterday, and I should have put up the review then.  But I already had two reviews set to go up, and three posts in one day seemed a tad crowded to me.  Besides, I don’t think many people are going to rush off and see Henry Poole is Here on a Friday night.  It is more of a lazy Sunday morning movie.

Henry Poole is dying.  Although, we never learn from what, he does say he won’t be around long.  But he’s gone back to his childhood home… or at least he tried.  Instead, he bought the house down the street.  He has a Hispanic neighbor who used to date the man who previously owned the house (who died of a heart attack in the kitchen).  He also has a neighbor whose husband ran out on her and their child, a daughter who hasn’t spoken in a year.  And he’s got a water stain in the shape of Jesus in his stucco.

Its that last thing that causes the most problems.

Henry Poole is Here is a movie about faith, about belief in something greater, but at no point does it come out and shove any particular religion down your throat.  It also never says anything remotely close to people who don’t believe going to Hell or anything.  It is more a message of, “Having hope is better than having no hope.”

I enjoyed it.  Not the greatest film ever made, but far from the worst.  I can think of plenty of worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

Synchronicity

Oddly enough, on the same day that a Democrat member of the House of Representatives announces that he’d like to legalize casual personal use of marijuana, Cheech & Chong announce they are planning to go back on the road.

Life is funny like that some times.

RSS and Advertising

Yesterday I decided to go through and make sure my RSS feeds in my reader were up to date.  I ended up dropping a couple where they haven’t posted anything in a while (a year), and decided that while I was doing it I’d try to see if feeds were available for some websites that I visit frequently.

Out of all the web comics that I added to the feed reader, only one (xkcd) actually had the comic in the feed.  The rest, at best, gave you a feed item letting you know that a new comic had been posted and you needed to visit the site to see it.

Now, I am not stupid.  I know exactly why they do this… advertising.  See, most of these sites, in order to offset the cost of hosting the comic (bandwidth and all that), have advertisements.  And as is the trend of ads on the web these days, most sites don’t manage their own advertising directly, they sign up with a banner providing site and then throw snippets of code on their site that will request an ad from the ad provider.  They do have some control over the ads, usually the ability to block ads they don’t wish to support, and overall I suppose they do a good job of keeping the ads “on message” with the rest of the site.

My problem is… well, why can’t the code snippets live in the RSS parser as well and tack on an ad at the bottom of a feed item.  Same banner image (though not the Flash “punch a monkey”/”you’ve just won two free ipod nano” ads), a line of text and a link/url to follow.  The capability exists.  WordPress has a plugin that does exactly that by putting a footer on RSS items.  Of course, not all web comics are using WordPress, but if it exists for one system it has to be possible for other systems.

Anyway, the result is, after adding a bunch of comics to my feed reader, I then removed all of them except xkcd.  For all the ones I removed, I’ll go back to visiting them when I remember to, which is usually once a month.  Just think, if they put the comic and an ad in their feed, they’d make me a daily reader of both their comics and their ads…

The Rock-afire Explosion

If you are anything like me and grew up in the 80’s, you probably went to Chuck E. Cheese or Showbiz Pizza for someone’s birthday or some other special occasion, or maybe you just went for the fun on it.  Both places had, in their dining hall, animatronic bands that would play songs while you ate.  I haven’t been to one lately, so I can’t say if they still have them, or if the shows are any good, but I do recall the last time I went (on a first date when I was 17 back in 1992… I wonder if she remembers that date, heh) the dining hall remained well lit while the band performed, which was kind of a let down.

Anyway, it seems that the band from Showbiz, The Rock-afire Explosion, is experiencing a resurgence.  A guy, a car salesman, bought himself one of the animatronic bands and with the help of the original designers is making music videos for more current songs.  They made a documentary about it.  You can see videos of several performances by searching for “Rock-afire Explosion” on YouTube.

I just wasted an hour watching this stuff, and I am bound to do it again.  I want to go to a Showbiz now, although I figure it won’t be as cool as these videos, and I would love to see those old pizza party places make a comeback, old-school, with the darkened dining hall, music and light show.  If I have kids one day, I want to take them there, or some place like it.

Thanks to Cyanbane for the heads up…

Company Policy

I have stumbled across this on the Internet a few times now, and I decided that I would post it to share with my readers, whoever you may be, and perhaps someone out there can point me toward the origin of this brilliant piece of work, because I can not find it.

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how a company policy begins.

I have found this to be true.

Best TV/Web Cross Promotion Ever

Have you ever been watching a TV show and heard a song that you wanted to know what it was or who sang it? Even worse, it wasn’t on the CW so they didn’t tell you at the end and you had to go digging around the Internet hoping that someone else who watched the show knew the songs and put it out there somewhere that Google could find it?

Last week saw the premiere of Swingtown. Its set in the 70’s and is about a couple that moves a few blocks from a cozy middle class neighborhood to a more upscale rich neighborhood across the street from a couple who swings. If the use of ‘swing’ there confuses you, it means to have an open marriage, sleep with other people as well as engage in group sex. The show was okay… nothing really ground breaking, and I didn’t even find their allusions to sex all that graphic or shocking. I’ll probably keep watching it through the summer because there isn’t much else on.

However, the best thing during the broadcast was a little blurb saying “if you want to hear the music from Swingtown again, go to Last.FM” and they gave out this link.

Pure genius. Every single show that has music in it needs to hook up with Last.FM and do this. Simply awesome. I mean, I’ve used that site before, during dinner parties or regular parties or just while I’m working… normally, you pick a band you like and you get to hear them and other bands similar to them. But this, putting together a streaming soundtrack from a TV show… this is truly inspired use of the medium. No more guessing what the song was, just go to the show’s Last.FM page and hear it again.

I repeat… every single show that has music in it needs to hook up with Last.FM and do this.

Indiana Jones and the City of Gold

No, this isn’t news about some lame 5th Indiana Jones movie, nor is it an announcement of an upcoming video game. What follows is simply how I would have done the 4th Indiana Jones movie instead of what got made: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Some elements will be very similar to the movie you know, but other elements will be radically different. So, sit back and enjoy and I regale you with the tale of how Dr. Henry Jones Jr. gets mixed up with El Dorado…

We open on the Paramount logo, which fades into a slide projected picture in class. A teacher lectures, a door opens, and a boy about 17 or 18 years of age, wearing a leather jacket, sticks his head into the room. “May I help you, young man?” “I’m looking for Dr. Jones.” We follow the boy as he heads down the hall, a class lets out, “Dr. Jones?” he asks of someone, they point him into the class room. He enters, but no one is there, the door on the far side of the room shuts. He follows, out among the students, across the quad, and to the office on Dr. Henry Jones Jr. – Archeology. The interior is filled with students, the boy asks the secretary if Dr. Jones is in and she indicates he’ll need to wait. The boy looks unhappy with that answer and leaves.

Inside Jones’ office, he and the dean are speak. Dr. Jones has passed up another opportunity for field work, the dean says, “I know the past couple of years have been rough, with the loss of your father and Marcus” (cut to photos on the desk) “but you can’t hide in your classroom, and the University needs its head Archaeologist to go out and occasionally discover something, or at least research and publish.” They talk more leaving Henry under the orders that he has to find something else beyond just teaching his classes. The dean leaves. Just as Jones relaxes a little, the boy climbs in his window.

The boy introduces himself as Walt Williams, and explains he needs to talk to him about Harold Oxley… we get some back story here about how after Walt’s dad died, he and his mom, Mary, stayed with Oxley. Some months ago, Oxley went to South America in search of something. A couple months later, his mother got a letter asking her to come down and bring some things with her. That was a couple weeks ago that she left, and Walt got a letter from his mother telling him to find Dr. Henry Jones at Barnett College, which he did. Walt says, “Look, there’s more. Can we go somewhere?” Jones looks at his door and we hear the sounds of people waiting to see him. Both men leave through the window.

At a diner, they talk a little more, Oxley was looking for El Dorado, the City of Gold. The letter from his mother said Oxley was in trouble, there are some notes in the margins which Walt thinks might refer to some of Oxley’s books. Jones notices a couple men in suits watching them, one has a gun. They get up to leave, the suits get up to block them, Jones has Walt start a fight to cover their escape. A chase scene ensues with several men in suits trying to catch them. They evade capture.

Map overlay – travel to Chicago.

At Oxley’s home, they quickly run through the clues on the letter. Those written within the letter give them info on where to find them, Mary and Oxley, where they’ve gone. The clues in the margin which are more difficult indicate that Jones should not come. He’s about to tell Walt to take the location information to the US Embassy to get the authorities involved when he discovers that Mary Williams is actually Marion Ravenwood. He agrees to go, although Walt has his doubts that Jones is going to able to do much if his mother really is in trouble.

Map overlay – travel to Peru.

Here they find where Marion and Oxley have been and where they were headed. Again they are followed by men in suits who now have thugs in more casual attire as well as native guides. They discover they need to go to Brazil after sorting through what they find (at one point, Walt slips a small sack into his backpack when Indy isn’t looking), and Indy says he “knows a guy” who can probably help them. Indy meets up with Jock (pilot from the opening scenes of Raiders) who says he can’t fly Indy to Brazil, but puts him in touch with a group who will take him by truck. Unknown to Jock, the guys he knows are working with the men in suits.

Map overlay – travel to Brazil.

Indy and Walt get out of the truck and find themselves surrounded. Pull back to show the men in suits, Indy appears to look around, beyond the men and says, “Didn’t you guys lose?” and gets hit with the butt of a gun. Pull back farther to reveal their camp, complete with Nazi symbols.

Dr. Jones wakes up restrained, bound at the hands and feet. The Nazi in charge explains that Indiana Jones is somewhat of a legend among the SS, while historians may decide that many different things lead to the downfall of the Third Reich, those with the knowledge know that ultimately it was the denial of true power… the Ark, the Grail… that lead to their defeat. He explains that when they find El Dorado, they will have all the money they need to rebuild, to start the Fourth Reich, that thanks to ODESSA many officers of the SS are in South America just waiting for the call to arms, that when they rise, Germany, though defeated, will stand behind them again. But in order to win, they need to fulfill the prophesy, to bring the Crystal Skull to the City of Gold, and that they were just waiting for Jones to bring them the skull. “Well, you’re out of luck, if it exists, I don’t have it.” “No?” The Nazi opens Walt’s bag, opens the small sack from Peru and reveals the skull. “The best part, Dr. Jones, is that in the past, we have needed you… to find the Ark, to find the Grail… but the Fourth Reich, to find El Dorado, we have Dr. Oxley, so we don’t need you.” They pack up most of camp, load Walt into a truck and the Nazi tells Jones, “I’d kill you myself, Dr. Jones, but I’m afraid someone else will get that honor.” and they load him into a different truck. The main group heads off one way, Jones’ truck head in another.

Action scene, Jones fights men in truck and turns it around.

The Nazi brings Walt and the skull to a new camp, Walt is reunited with Marion and the skull is given to Oxley. Marion asks when Jones is, Walt says that he was to be executed. Marion gets very angry. Walt and Marion are locked up. The Nazi takes Oxley and the skull and begins to threaten him about leading them to the City. Walt manages to get free of his bonds, frees Marion and knocks out a guard. He and Marion are trying to sneak out of camp, another guard is coming up behind them. A truck comes smashing through camp and hits the guard. Its Jones. “Get in! Where’s Oxley?” Short action sequence of getting Oxley and the skull, the four of them drive off in the truck. They stop, pursuit vehicles are heard. Everyone gets out and Jones rigs the truck to drive straight and they hide in the jungle. A couple of jeeps and motorcycles drive past after the truck.

Oxley explains that even though they have the skull, the Nazis know how to find the city, but if they can get there first, the skull is rumored to have the power to destroy the city. So they go.

They reach the city, but so do the Nazis. The City of Gold isn’t really made of gold, but instead all the walls have yellow crystals in them, as the sun begins to rise, the light begins to shine in the city making the entire thing talk on a gold colored shimmer from the crystals. Jones and company race through the ancient city occasionally fighting and occasionally avoiding soldiers, eventually they reach the main temple. Inside there is much gold, real gold, on the walls and in the chambers. They reach the central chamber to find a room surrounded by thrones. They try to understand what to do with the skull, but the Nazi arrives. “So, looks like I’ll get to kill you after all, Dr. Jones.” Indy uses his whip to disarm the Nazi, but the Nazi uses the whip to pull Jones off balance. Other soldiers enter but the Nazi holds them off, preferring to take Jones alone. They start to fight.

During the confusion, Marion, Walt and Oxley slip off behind one of the huge thrones. While Jones fights, the others try to figure out the room. Light begins to pour in from a hole in the ceiling. The crystals are reflecting/refracting the sunlight causing a beam to shine down into the center of the chamber where a chest high pillar sits. As Walt looks on, the Nazi gets hold of Jones’ arm and forces his head down onto the pillar. “I know what to do.” Walt says, “Give me the skull.” Jones breaks free of the Nazi and gets in a few good shots. The soldiers look on. Walt comes running out and places the skull on to the pillar and with his hands on the sides, aims it toward the soldiers. The light from the ceiling pours into the top of the skull and beams of light shoot out of its eyes, burning the soldiers like lasers, setting them afire. He turns, Jones takes a hit and falls, the beams cross over the Nazi and he screams. Jones gets up and looks around the room. Chest high, in the main throne is a hole, he puts the skull back into the column of light and aims the eyes toward the hole. The beams shoot out of the eyes and reflect off something there and go downward. The Nazi stand up, his face and hands burned. He looks at the skull, “The power of the skull…” “… can be used to destroy the City of Gold” Oxley says as he and Marion step down. The ground begins to shake. Indy, Walt, Marion and Oxley run from the chamber, out of the temple, trying to leave the city as it begins to fall apart behind them. The Nazi takes the skull from the pillar, but the rumbling doesn’t stop. “The power of the skull is mine.” And they run, Jones hypothesizes that the heat from the beam must have triggered something that is literally tearing the city apart.

Jones and company run from the city in time to see the retaining wall at the far end of the valley in which the city rests collapse. They climb and beat the waters as the city is buried beneath them taking the Fourth Reich with it. “That was clever, kid”, Jones tells Walt, “that bit with the light and skull. Clever. And Quick. That’s one smart kid you’ve got here Marion.” “He gets that from his father.” then through a bit of clever dialog which I can’t work out at the moment, it is revealed that Walt is Henry Walton Jones III.

As with that last little bit, obviously I’ve left out pretty much all the dialog. Throughout, much like, although much better than, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I’d want to see Jones getting close to the kid, and when Marion arrives, a bit of witty banter that shows the old spark is still alive (I actually loved the bit where Indy said that all the girls after Marion hadn’t worked out because “They weren’t you”). I wouldn’t, however, end the film with a cheesy wedding scene. Just a smile, maybe a wink.

Anyway… that’s essentially how I would have preferred to see the new Indiana Jones film go instead of the gophers, monkeys and aliens we got… oh well.

One Cup

So I have decided to make an effort to get into better shape.  I contemplated making a new category for the blog, but realized that making a category would make it feel like an obligation to write, at which point I would feel less like writing on the topic.  I’ll just try to write about it as I feel the need and shove it into the Random Thoughts category…

In any event, part of my getting into better shape is being more conscious of what I eat and how much.  So the other day I decided to read the label on my cereal box.  I ran through the nutrients and it all looked pretty good, perhaps I could do without the sugar, but every time I tried a cereal that wasn’t a sugary kids cereal it tasted like cardboard.  While eating things that taste like cardboard may, in fact, be healthier, putting up with the cardboard taste isn’t worth it.  So anyway, I also notice that the serving size of all this morning sugary goodness is “1 cup”.  I looked at my cereal bowl and wondered if it was a cup… so I got out a measuring cup.

One cup of cereal is a lot smaller than I thought it would be.  It turns out my usual breakfast is actually about two and a half cups, sometimes three.  So I poured myself a cup of cereal and a half glass of orange juice.

It seems until my body gets used to it, I’m going to be hungry a lot.

A Car for the Zombie Apocalypse

One of the central preoccupations of my life is ensuring that I am prepared should the dead rise from the grave.

Okay, not really, but it is fun to pretend sometimes…

In any event, when I saw the products from Gibbs Technologies, I couldn’t help but think that they might come in handy should the improbable happen.  Especially the Humdinga.  Going from 4 Wheel Drive to gliding across the water is sure to safer than driving around looking for a bridge to cross the river the undead have chased you toward.

Now if they could just make it a hybrid capable of running on full electric, full gas, or any combination thereof, I’d be set.

Digsby

A long time ago, in an apartment far, far away… I was a gaming geek, and other gaming geeks with whom I chatted on IRC were talking about a new instant messaging tool called ICQ.  It was kinda like the instant messaging that AOL had, but you didn’t have to be an AOL user.  I wish I still had my old ICQ#, it was low, and that made me leet… sadly, I forgot the password, had the account set up with an email address I didn’t have access to, and after much pleading with the ICQ guys I gave up and got a new account.  But I barely use ICQ at all anymore.  Over the years, AOL made their IM client available to everyone, Yahoo put one out, and so did Microsoft.  There are more, like Google Talk, X-fire, and most social networking sites have some sort of integrated chat, but I haven’t signed up for most of them.  The real problem was having all that crap installed on your PC.  For years each network was completely separate.  And even now, only a couple of them have linked up to share.  That was why when a friend showed me Trillian, I was extremely excited.

Just think!  All my instant messaging clients wrapped up in one application where I could manage them all!

Trillian has served me well over the years, but a while back they simply stopped going forward.  The developers were pouring all their time into Astra (I’m in the beta), their next multi-IM client, but even it is going forward slowly.  It also doesn’t seem to be expanding on the features of the old program very much.  I’m in the beta, and I’ve been using it… its basically the same thing with a slightly different look and feel.  In fact, really, the only thing that Astra has is a web version that promised to have the same contact and configuration info as your desktop client does so you can get on your IMs from anywhere you can open a browser to their site.

A couple months ago, someone pointed me at Digsby.  I poured through the feature list and got very excited again.  They promised to integrate with MySpace and Facebook and others, they also promised to allow me to manage my email accounts (like hotmail and yahoo) without having to open the webpage if I didn’t want to.  And it delivered… with one tiny flaw.  See, they had this feature that allowed you to alias and merge multiple IM accounts for the same person under one entry, so now I wouldn’t see the same person four times, I’d see them once with four options for chatting.  The flaw was that after moving all my contacts around, when I closed and then re-opened Digsby, all my contacts were gone.

So, I trudged back to Trillian after one glorious day of Digsby.  But now, a few months later, I decided to check up on ol’ Digsby and it turns out they claim to have fixed many of the bugs, including the one I ran into.  I fired up Digsby and it auto-updated to the latest version, and blam! all my contacts!  In fact, all my contacts in the way I had grouped them prior to them vanishing!

It looks like I’m giving Digsby a second chance.  I’m still not uninstalling Trillian/Astra, just in case I need to recover my contacts again, but maybe this time ol’ Digsby will stick.  I hope it does, because I dig all the extra feature, none of which look like they are going to make Astra any time soon.