Friday, December 14, 2007

Swimming against the tide - Juno what I mean?

When Napoleon Dynamite came out, lots of people raved about it and said that it was the funniest movie they'd seen in years. I waited until it came out on DVD before trying to watch it and then I could only make it a few minutes before it became one of those very rare films that I could not bear to watch a moment longer. I watched it wanting to laugh, hoping to laugh, but mostly just wondering why anyone thought the movie was funny. It was just painful to watch.

Juno is no Napoleon Dynamite. But it's also one of those movies that's funny in parts, but overall it's just a bad film. I can't blame the actors for it being bad, they all did a great job with what they were given. I can point to two problems that made Juno a bad film and they are the screenplay by "Diablo Cody" and a soundtrack of quirky songs.

Kara and I saw the film at a sneak preview about two weeks ago, not knowing much about the film before we started watching it. Once I realized that it was the new film by Jason Reitman, director of Thank You for Smoking (which I consider one of the best films of the last several years), I had high hopes. Those hopes plummeted as soon as the songs started. Instead of enhancing the story or moving it forward, the songs served only as a distraction from what was happening on screen. I'm not against using pop songs in movies when they serve the movie, but here it seems they were just trying to fill in dead spots in the action with songs whose lyrics were supposed to be as witty as the dialog.

And, Ugh, the dialog! It's one thing to have a witty character or two where ever word that character speaks is sparkling, subversive, or charming, but it's another thing entirely when every single actor in the movie, even the clerk at the local convenience store (in a cameo by Rainn Wilson) sounds like a hipster or the wittiest person you'll ever hope to know. Plus, all of the characters in the movie are one-dimensional. The only exceptions are Michael Cera as the put-upon boyfriend/father-of-the-baby, who is still drawn in one dimension, but whose character is the opposite of witty, and Ellen Page as Juno, who gets to go from point A to point B (character-wise) in an utterly predictable fashion.

The thing that amazes me, though, is how practically every other critic in the world absolutely loves this movie. As I type this, Rotten Tomatoes lists Juno as 94% fresh with a simply unbelievable 100% for the "cream of the crop". Even Duncan Shepherd of the San Diego Reader liked Juno enough to give it 3 stars, one of only 10 films he gave 3 stars to this year (with only one other film this year, No Country For Old Men, granted more stars than 3). And actually, after reading through several of the "rotten" reviews, it seems that the people that didn't like the movie didn't like it for pretty much the same reason as I've given above - that the dialog is insufferable. Is this just another case of the inability of the masses to recognize bad choices in filmmaking? Will this be yet another movie that people will look back at many years from now and say, "What the hell was I thinking?"

I just don't get it. Of course, this isn't the first time I've been in the minority opinion on films. Here's a few others:
  • Peggy Sue Got Married - Horrible film, nominated for several Academy Awards
  • Forrest Gump - Terrible, also nominated and won six Oscars
  • Chicago - Just didn't work for me.
  • Independence Day - For this one, I go the other way - sure, the plot was ridiculous, but it was a good, thoroughly enjoyable spectacle.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the unforgivable sin committed by the makers of Juno: they put father and son Bluth (Jason Bateman and Michael Cera) in the same film and don't give them any scenes together. Oh the humanity.

Best movies I've seen this year so far... The King of Kong and No Country For Old Men.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A good reason to turn back the clock

I was perusing a copy of the local daily rag at Rebecca's this morning when I came across an article that stated that Monday is the 50th anniversary of "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency. Then, just few minutes ago, I was skimming old unread emails and came across a forwarded spam email expressing outrage and demanding a boycott of the new dollar coins because "In God We Trust" is not printed on them.

Setting aside the fact that IGWT is, in fact, engraved on the new dollar coins (it's on the edge of the coins except for a few batches where it was accidentally left off), this just reminds me how much I wish our coins and currency were god-less, as they were before October 1, 1956. Of course, I wasn't born yet, but I still occasionally come across some of the older bills and they always make me smile.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Donkey Kong and Harmony

It's been miserably hot and humid the last few days, so much so that it's tough to do anything during the day. So, Kara and I snuck out this afternoon to catch the 5:05 showing of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters at the Ken Cinema. I almost got to see this at a sneak preview during Comic-Con, but I passed because I was too tired at the time. Luckily for us, the producer of the film, Ed Cunningham, was there for our showing and he answered our questions after the showing.

We both really liked the film and I recommend it highly, especially if you spent far too many quarters back in the 80s on video games, as I did. (I played my share of Donkey Kong back in the day, but Tempest was my game.)

On a separate note, Jimmy G. showed me his Harmony 880 universal remote that he bought online a few weeks ago and, as soon as I saw it, I knew I needed one. So, I found a deal on Amazon and it arrived the other day. I think I've finished tweaking it and it replaced the 4 remotes that I had been using. I love the interface and the customizability and if you've got $120 or so to spare and too many remotes cluttering up your coffee table, I highly recommend it. I've got it set to control the following devices:
  1. HDTV (Samsung HL-T5689S)
  2. DirecTV HD-DVR (HR20-100)
  3. DVD/CD player (no Blu-Ray or HD-DVD player yet)
  4. A/V Receiver (Sony STR-DE995)
  5. Cassette deck (which I rarely use anymore)
  6. Air Conditioner (Haier ESA3105)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Google comes to my neighborhood

Golden Hill Street View Map
From Google's Earth and Maps blog comes this bit of news:

We're excited to announce that Street View is now available in San Diego.... Like the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego features high-resolution imagery.
I checked it out and, while they have coverage from downtown to the East Village all the way to I-5, they just barely skirt the Western and Northern edges of Golden Hill with a few views of B St. They also have some views of the Western-most streets in South Park with a little peek at Grape Street Dog Park.

The stop short of my house by four and a half blocks or, roughly, 0.2 miles.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Steve's Rant: The top 10 unintentionally worst company URLs

Pointed out by my friend Steve (different Steve): Steve's Rant: The top 10 unintentionally worst company URLs

I survived (yet) another Comic-Com

Carmen Mirandarth (P1000120)
Originally uploaded by orayzio
My Comic-Con 2007 photoset can be perused here or viewed as a slideshow.

For the first time in Comic-Con history, all tickets for all 4 days were completely sold-out... and you could tell this by trying to navigate the exhibit hall. Preview Night is supposed to be the slow night, but I swear it was at least as crowded as Saturday last year. And actually, Saturday this year seemed to be the least crowded day of all the days that I attended. I was there on Wednesday night through Saturday night, but I skipped out on Sunday.

The highlights for me were:
  • Kevin Smith in front of 6,000 fans in Hall H. This was the 2nd year that I've seen Kevin Smith in this hall and although he recycles a lot of his "stand-up" material, he was still a lot of fun to watch.
  • The Sarah Silverman Program panel. OMFG, these guys and gals were absolutely hilarious.
  • Watching Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. unveil the Iron Man suit at the Marvel booth on the exhibit floor, working my way through the huge crowd around them to get close for a picture and being rewarded for my efforts when, out of nowhere, Rosario Dawson pops in to say hello to Jon and Robert!
  • Seeing early footage of Iron Man (you can probably find it on YouTube)

Oh, and all of the pictures were taken with my new camera. It took me awhile to figure out the best setting for pictures at the various sessions (I settled on the "High Sensitivity" scene mode with the higher level of jitter reduction) and when you add in the 10x optical zoom, I'm pretty happy with those photos. But, I didn't like the fuzziness and out-of-focus shots on some of the more up-close photos. But, I would recommend the camera as a very handy and capable, slip-it-in-your-pocket-and-go camera.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

New Camera Time

I purchased my first digital camera, a Canon PowerShot G3 in early 2003 and I've taken around 13,000 pictures with it. It's always been a great camera with a lot of great features, most of which I've never used. My favorite features are the high-quality images, the 4x optical zoom and the swiveling LCD screen that allows me to see myself while I take self-portraits.

About two weeks ago, I noticed a line a single pixel wide that traveled from near the center of the picture to the bottom edge of the picture in every shot I took that day. The bad line was showing up in the LCD while I composed the pictures as well as in the image file itself. "Uh oh," I thought, "my sensor is going bad!"

Well, I dropped my G3 off at my local camera store, George's Camera, a few days ago to send it to Canon for a repair estimate. I won't know if they'll be able to fix it or how much it will cost me to fix it for another two weeks. Since Comic-Con is next week and since Kara has expressed interest in owning a compact camera of her own, I figured now was the time to get her one that I could use during Comic-Con and then turn over to her when I get my G3 back.

After a few days or research, I decided to go with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 and I bought it at my local Costco last night. I could probably have gotten a better deal online, but I wanted time to play with it this weekend before Comic-Con starts on Wednesday. I chose this camera for the following reasons:
  • It's small enough to fit in my pocket or Kara's purse.
  • It has an awesome 10x optical zoom, much better than my G3.
  • While I would normally stick with Canon or Nikon, the Panasonic Lumix cameras are actually Leica cameras with Leica lenses. I've never owned an SLR, digital or otherwise, but I recognize the Leica brand as having quality lenses.
  • Digital Photography Review gave it a "Recommended" review. I relied on their review when I got my G3 and I trust their reviews now.
  • It has an image stabilizer
  • It has 20 different fully automatic scene modes, including a mode for fireworks
I told Kara that I'll know after Comic-Con if I'll be keeping this camera for myself.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The best "free" software that I use

My friend James asks, What is the best 'free' software you have stumbled upon?.

I seldom stumble upon free software, I usually go looking for it. My home computer runs Windows XP Home Edition, so I'm always looking for free software that improves upon it. I will say that the most important piece of free software on my PC is what I'm using right now: Mozilla Firefox. If you're still using Internet Explorer, I pity you.

I'll skip the usual free software that everyone has (Windows Media Player, iTunes, Adobe Reader, etc.) and talk about the free software that you might now know about:

  • Google Desktop: I've turned off
    the sidebar and all its distracting gadgets and pop ups and use this
    strictly to search my computer. Since I have emails going back to 1998,
    this has been a lifesaver.
  • Notepad++ and Vim: Windows ships with Notepad, which is probably the most pathetic and useless text editor. If you edit text files regularly, like I do, you absolutely need a replacement text editor. I use Notepad++ for most of my text file viewing and editing needs and it's all I need much of the time. However, if I need to do some complex search and replace using regular expressions, vim makes it easy. Easy for me, that is -- if you've never used vim or vi and you're not up for a challenge, I can't recommend it to you.
  • PDFCreator: If you're on a Mac, you don't need this. Macs can create PDF files without any additional software. If you have Adobe Acrobat, you probably don't need this either. But if you don't have either and you don't want to spent hundreds of dollars to create PDF files, PDFCreator allows you to create them from nearly any Windows application. Plus, it's open source and ad/nag-free, unlike PDF995, which is what I used to use.
  • WinMerge: This handy tool is a file comparison utility that can compare two files or two directories.
  • FileZilla: This is a free open source ftp client that I use whenever I need to connect to an ftp server.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Just doing my part for the economy

A window retrofit, a new air conditioner, a new 1080P DLP TV and new furniture...

I work from home and although San Diego doesn't get as hot as other parts of the country, it gets hot enough during the summer months to wish I had air conditioning. Last summer, I bought a portable air conditioner for my office, but either something was wrong with it or it just wasn't powerful enough and I quickly returned it to Costco.

We don't have vents, so putting in central air conditioning would be far too expensive. A window air conditioner would work for most of the houses in our neighborhood, but our windows were replaced before we moved in with brand-new vinyl windows that slide left-to-right, rather than up and down. Since most of the windows in the house are too narrow to fit a window air conditioner in the half-width that I could slide it open and since I don't want to give up one of the big picture windows for a window air conditioner and a huge piece of plastic to cover from the top of the A/C to the top of the window, my only options were to suffer again this summer or to replace one of our windows. I opted to replace one of our narrow side-to-side windows with an up-and-down window.

The new window was installed today and I discovered during the install that I was getting less window than I expected. I had asked for and was expecting a total window replacement and I even asked the company to come out and measure the window for this purpose. What I got was a "retrofit" where they removed the middle of the window and insert a new window with a new frame inside the existing window. In other words, I lose about an inch along all sides. Needless to say, I was not happy and I'm still trying to work out with the window company a solution that will get me a big window without additional cost to me. I don't know how successful I'll be at that.

In anticipation of having a new window installed, I ordered a Haier ESA3105 window air conditioner last Friday and I am waiting for it to be shipped to me. This model was a Consumer Reports "Best Buy" and it's an Energy Star model with 10000 BTU, which should be more than enough for my living room and office.

Not content at spending hundreds of dollars for a new window and a new air conditioner, I also bought something today that is much cooler. The only TV I've had since 1995 is a 25" Zenith with standard-definition picture-tube technology and, while its served me well for 12 years and still works perfectly fine, it's no match for any of the HDTVs on the market. Kara told me a year and a half ago that I could buy a new TV, but I could never make up my mind on what I wanted. Well, I finally decided and this morning I ordered online a Samsung HL-T5689s for the lowest price I could find. Most sites list it at $2,799 or $2,599, but I found it through the Samsung web site at The High Definition Store for $2,199 and with free shipping. I used some of that $600 savings to buy the extended 5-year warranty, but I would have bought the warranty anyway and, even with the warranty, it was still the lowest price I could find.

My new television is the new model for 2007. It's a 1080P 56" LED DLP with 3 HDMI 1.3 inputs. It has an amazing contrast ratio of 10000:1 and with the new LED technology, I won't have to ever replace a bulb. It's got too many cool features to list here -- probably more than I'll ever use. I can hardly wait (although I'll have to wait at least 5 days) for it to arrive.

I didn't order the Samsung TV stand but instead ordered a nicer-looking Bush stand (Model #VS13988-03) with enough room for my audio and video components. Unfortunately, that'll arrive about a week after my TV, so I'll probably have to prop the tv on top of the coffee table for a week.

Once my tv arrives, my next purchase priority is to get an upconverting DVD player with HDMI output to replace my ancient non-progressive scan DVD player. I haven't figured out which one to get yet, but I figure I can get something for under $100 that will cover my DVD viewing needs until a victor is declared in ththe Blu-Ray and HD-DVD war or until a good hybrid unit is available at a reasonable price (might be by the end of the year). If anyone has a good recommendation, please feel free to comment on this post.

Also after my tv arrives, I'll need to upgrade my DirecTv to HD with the HR20 HD-DVR to replace my R15 standard-definition DVR.

Anyone want to buy a used Zenith?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A little bit about myself

Many years ago, I created a page on my web site that provided some details about me in a question-and-answer format. I figure it's time to update my faux interview with myself:

Interviewer - Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Me - My name is Ray, I live in the South Park neighborhood of San Diego, California. Professionally, I work for Cutek (pronounced q-tek) and my job is to provide consulting and custom programming services for credit unions that run on the Symitar Episys platform. (It's a bit of a niche market -- I used to work for Symitar in their product development department, so I know their Episys software inside and out.) Personally, I'm married to Kara and we have two black lab mixes named Buster and Gracie.

Also, I was born and spent the first seven or eight years of my life in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. My family moved to San Diego in 1974 and I lived in El Cajon, California from late-1974, early-1975 until I graduated from El Cajon Valley High School in 1985. I then spent a semester and a half in Los Angeles attending the University of Southern California until I ran out of money, had to drop out, and moved back to El Cajon in 1986. Around 1989, I moved to the city of San Diego and I bounced around neighborhoods of San Diego until I met Kara and moved in with her in 1999. Oh, and I was married to someone else in the mid-90s, but I won't talk about that here.

Interviewer - What do you look like?

Me - There are tons of pictures of me in my Flickr photo stream. I'm the one with the ever-changing facial hair. If you want to know what I used to look like, I have some older pictures on my old web site.

Note: For the next few questions, I play the Interviewer role as an adversary and ask the same types of questions that I often hear from god-believers.

Interviewer - I've heard that you call yourself an atheist. What is an atheist, anyway?

Me - My answer is still the same as it was several years ago. I like to break the word into it's 2 root parts, "a"meaning without, and "the(os)" meaning religion. Thus, an atheist is someone who is without religion, or more commonly, someone who is without a god. Some atheists may have a slightly differentdefinition, but this is mine. Also, I'm not an agnostic - to me, agnostics are people who can't make up their minds.

Interviewer - Why are you an atheist?

Me - Just like everybody else in the world, I was born an atheist. My parents tried to raise me as a Catholic (I went through all the major milestones: I was baptized, received communion and, finally, confirmation), but I always spent more time admiring the stained glass windows, architecture, and decorations of the church than listening to the mass. When we stopped going to Catholic church (except for major holidays), my mom tried to infuse me with religion by sending me to various other-than-Catholic-denomination Sunday schools and bible camps (actually, I think she just wanted us out of the house), but I never really paid any attention to the indoctrination attempts. Finally, one day when I was thirteen, I was walking home from school talking to "god" in my head when the realization popped into my head that I was really just talking to myself. I've been an atheist since that day and I've never looked back. It did take a few years, though, before I "came out" as an atheist to my family.

Interviewer - Why don't you believe in God?

Me - First, before I explain this, let me clarify something. I always spell god in lowercase (unless I am playing the questioner or if sentence rules dictate it.) This is because I consider god to be a pronoun, not a proper name. I do not believe in any god because, I believe that gods are myths, I don't need gods to make my life "complete", and the whole concept of god makes no sense to me. I am a logicial, sensible person - I realize that there are things that are not easily explained by science (yet), but it takes an unreasonable leap of faith to assume that a god is behind it. Gods do not fit into my equations.

Interviewer - Aren't you worried about getting into heaven?

- I don't believe in Heaven or Hell, or Satan, or angels, or any other religious trappings (although, I do rather enjoy demon and devil artwork).

- Then, what do you think happens when you die?

- Nothing. When I die, I'll be dead. There is no afterlife, my "soul" will not leave my body, and I will cease to exist. (poof)

Interviewer - How can you go on living?

- Easy, I want to. I have no desire to die because I know that once I die, it's over baby. I like my existence and I want to live forever. I realize that this is highly unlikely, but,hey, I'm gonna try my hardest to live as long as I can and enjoy as much of it as I can.

- What does your family think?

- My mom and Chuck (her husband) are religious and they worry about me. My sister and her family are deeply involved in their church and I believe they worry about me as well. They probably do a lot of praying for me. My dad's not so religious and I don't think he worries about it much, of if he does, he doesn't let on in any way.

It's nice to know that my family cares about me, but I don't really care whether they pray for me or not. I mean, if it gives them comfort to do this, more power to them. I just think of it as a waste of time.

- Is the fact that you are an atheist the most important thing to you?

- Absolutely Not! The fact that I am an atheist may influence my views on many issues, but it is not all that I am. I am a complex, thoughtful, caring person - who happens to be an atheist. While this is important to me, I am much more than just an atheist. My life does not revolve around me being an atheist, my job has nothing to do with me being an atheist, and the little pleasures that I enjoy have very little to do with being an atheist. Everything about me has everything to do with me being me.

Interviewer - What else can you tell me about yourself?

- That's what my blog is for and if you read my posts, you'll probably get a good feel for who I am. If I had to apply labels to myself, they would include (in alphabetical order): amateur photographer, atheist, independent thinker, intelligent, liberal, likes dogs, loves his wife, married, politically aware, progressive, stirrer-upper and locally involved person.

Suffer The Innocents - Oh, really?

I pick up a copy of San Diego CityBEAT every week (religiously, you could say) and I usually agree or sympathize with the opinions of the editor. Not this week.

Apparently, the regular editor was on vacation so they had a guest "opinion" from Carl Luna today. His editorial, Suffer the innocents: The Diocese's other victims, concerns the liabilities stemming from 150 lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, their filing for bankruptcy protection, and his feeling that his (Mr. Luna's) rights and interests should be taken into consideration by the court:
"But it is my hope that, in achieving justice, the rights and interests of the hundreds of thousands of people who make up this diocese will also be taken into consideration."
Go and read the editorial and then read my letter to the editor:

"WTF? As you've testified in your editorial, you've spent thousands of dollars and hours over the last 18 years building your diocese and now that that same diocese has been found to be harboring and supporting the crimes of its priests, you don't think your diocese should be held responsible for compensating the victims? And your reason for thinking that your diocese should not be responsible is because you are innocent? Are you insane? You and the "hundreds of thousands of people who make up this diocese" are directly responsible for this mess. You funded it, you supported it and you made it what it is today. If you hadn't had such blind "faith" in your leaders, you wouldn't be in this mess. Claiming innocence at this point is just plain selfish.

If you really feel that you are innocent and that you were tricked or misled by your leaders, then leave your diocese and sue the Catholic church to get your money back. Otherwise, quit complaining and own up to your own responsibility for this mess."
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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Movie Catch-up

Kara and I caught two movies at the local all-digital projection cinema this weekend so I thought I would post my thoughts on the movies we've seen in the last year.

First up is the most recent movie, the one we saw this afternoon: Knocked Up. We had both been looking forward to seeing this and it did not disappoint. It was great to see some of the freaks and geeks back together again and Judd Apatow is really good at writing dialog and scenes that look and sound like people we know. I got the feeling, though, that many in the audience didn't quite get "it" with a few of the scenes that Kara and I were loudly laughing about. Maybe it's generational or maybe we're just more in tune with the movie-fan subculture.

Spoiler Alert: The following may contain spoilers, especially if you haven't seen Little Children - read at your own risk

Yesterday, we saw Pirates 3. I liked the first pirates OK but Kara really liked it. The second one... we both thought it sucked. The 3rd one was much better than the 2nd, but that's faint praise. I didn't remember any of the plot from the 2nd installment so I was completely lost for the first hour of this one. The battle scenes (which, is really 90% of the movie) had no excitement to them. The only truly interesting thing in the movie were the scenes with multiple Johnny Depp and even those scenes got tired after a few times. If you haven't seen the second movie, don't bother with the third. Just wait until next year when they show it non-stop on HBO.

Between the two big-screen flicks this weekend, we watched Little Children on DVD. It was an interesting movie, worth the rental, but I don't quite get all the critical acclaim heaped on it. Jackie Earle Haley was great, but I think he got nominated for best supporting actor half because he did a great acting job in both this and All the King's Men and half because his character castrated himself with a butcher knife (see Mel Gibson's career for reference).

On a side note, I remembered Jackie Earle Haley as a child young adult actor in the great coming-of-age movie from 1979, Breaking Away. If you haven't seen Breaking Away, go out and rent it.

Getting back to movies we've seen (past tense), Spider-Man 3 was wonderful. Sure, it's not as good as the second one, but few movies are that good. It's still Sam Raimi, it's still Bruce, and it's still Spider-Man. After the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man was my favorite comic book character growing up and I always loved the marvel team-ups where there were multiple heroes and multiple villains. If I had one complaint, it was that the movie wasn't long enough; there was so many characters and plot points and it would definitely benefit from a LOTR-style extended version (just like the first two LOTR, though not the third which was already too long).

Going back a few more weeks, I thought Grindhouse was greatly entertaining (more so for RR's Planet Terror than QT's Death Proof), Blades of Glory was, well, another fun if mindless Will Ferrell film and 300 was very good. Speaking of 300, I borrowed the Troy DVD many moons ago from my friend Jim and finally got around to watching it just this past week; it was OK, but 300 was so much better that I think I liked Troy less for having seen 300 first.

Taking a half-step backwards, I wanted to see Stranger Than Fiction last year when it was in theatres but we never got around to it until it came out on DVD. If I had seen it last year, it would have been one of my favorite films of last year. All I can say now is that it was excellent and I highly recommend it. Also, in that same half-step but a little to the side, I miss GOB and Arrested Development. Arrested Development was one of the great TV series and it's just too bad that it couldn't find an audience. Oh, and if you haven't figured out the half-step, it's the two Wills: Will Arnett and Will Ferrell.

Getting back to the movie theatre crawl, Hot Fuzz was OK (Shaun of the Dead was soo much better), Zodiac was excellent, as was Breach. Pan's Labyrinth was also excellent.

If I include DVD watching, Blood Diamonds was excellent while Music and Lyrics By was barely tolerable (we were looking for something light and Drew Barrymore usually delivers - not so much for this one though). Also, we didn't see Cars until this year on DVD and it's the first Pixar film that was not only not excellent, it pretty much just plain sucked. But, after seeing Cars and thinking about just how sad a commentary it is to note that the United States has become a nation of NASCAR and wrestling-loving red-state-necks, made me appreciate just how close we've come to the society visualized by Mike Judge in his under-rated and underseen Idiocracy. (Kara and her mom hated Idiocracy, but I enjoyed it and it gave me my favorite catch-phrase of the year, "Ow, my balls!".)

Going back much farther and into last year, I liked Children of Men, although I thought the cinematography was just annoying and not visionary (as some critics labelled it). And in the battle of Victorian magicians, The Prestige was a much, much, much better movie than The Illusionist, although I will say that I did enjoy both movies. The Prestige would have been perfect except that I was sorely disappointed by the ending. Not enough to not recommend it highly and not enough to spoil it for you.

I could keep on going, but I think I'll stop now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Microsoft Outlook 2007: Craptastic

I've used every version of Outlook since it wasn't even Outlook (in 1995 or 96, it was Windows Messaging) and it's generally gotten better with each new release. No more.

I upgraded to Outlook 2007 recently because the previous version of Outlook was not correctly interpreting the time for appointment requests that were sent from my coworkers (who use Macs and iCalendar). They'd book a meeting with me for 10am and it would show up on my calendar at 4am instead. Also, the new version of Outlook promised calendar sharing without Microsoft Exchange (we're a small company so we use our ISP's POP3 mail instead of a dedicated email server).

Initially, Outlook 2007's calendar sharing feature worked fine. I could tell it to publish my calendar to our internet web server and I could then use Google Calendar to view that calendar when I worked at a client without my laptop. But then, after a few weeks, I realized that when I viewed my calendar on Google Calendar, it was sorely out-of-date. At first, I thought it was a problem with Google Calendar but I later figured out that it was a problem with the icalendar file (.ics file) produced by Outlook 2007; for some unknown reason, the file produced by Outlook 2007 is now produced in an invalid format that can't be parsed by Google Calendar or any other third-party ics validator (the UID field is broken into two lines which is a violation of the icalendar spec).

So, my primary reason for upgrading Outlook 2007, to take advantage of the calendar sharing features) is no longer working. Add to that, Outlook 2007 has several annoying habits:
  • If I shut it down and then hibernate my computer too soon after the shutdown, when I start it up again, it tells me that it "failed to shutdown correctly" and I have to wait several minutes for a fruitless and pointless error check to complete before I can use Outlook again.
  • It crashes randomly - for the last crash, all I did was close a Note window and boom.
  • It's terribly slow - much slower to start up, much slower to deliver mail.
  • I can't delete bad nicknames because the MS article that explains how to do this is wrong and I can't figure out where the new nickname file is stored.
  • Because I can't delete bad nicknames, it has this annoying habit of not sending some emails - they get stuck in the Outbox because the email address is invalid but there is no visible warning to me that they're there.
I'm just hoping that Microsoft hurries up and delivers a service pack that fixes these problems soon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Real Live Atheist in the Congressional Foxhole!

He's probably not the first and he's probably not the only current U.S. Representative to be an atheist, but Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) is the first to admit it publicly. This is great news and I can only hope that more politicians will follow his lead. I don't know anything about his politics or his effectiveness as a leader, but admitting that he "does not believe in a supreme being"* makes him a hero in my eyes.

From Americans United The Wall of Separation: Stark Statement: Congressman Says He Has No Belief In A Supreme Being

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My photo on Boing Boing!

I was reading through the Boing Boing posts this morning in Google Reader when I came across a familiar photo. Apparently, Games for the Brain uses Creative Commons licensed Flickr images in a game they call "Rotate". It's similar to those little puzzle games where you push the squares around but, in this version, you rotate the squares in place.

Here's the image they used in the Boing Boing article next to my original, uncropped image posted on Flickr:

Wedgehead (IMG_3409)

Boing Boing: Game made from CC-licensed Flickr photos

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Snippy's is gone

Snippy's Tavern Wall (IMG_5580)
Originally uploaded by orayzio.
Snippy's was an old dive bar across the street from our old house in South Park. It was purchased about a year or so ago by Sam Chammas, the same guy that owns the Whistle Stop. It had been closed pretty much since the purchase and the rumour was that the place was going to be remodeled and reopened. And, that's what appeared to be going on for the last few weeks.

Then, about a week ago, they tore all the stucco off the building and exposed this great old cigar ad. As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed a picture. And, it turns out that taking its picture was a good idea... today when I walked by, the entire building had been torn down.

Snippy's is no more.

I imagine that they're planning to rebuild something on that spot, but it's really too bad that this piece of Americana is gone.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Vacation Photos... Lots of 'em

Kara and I took our first trip to Europe since 2003 with a two-week trip to central Europe this past October. We stayed six days in Prague, two days in Bratislava, and five days in Vienna. We had expected that it would rain during our trip, but we were very pleased to encounter no rain whatsoever. Also, the temperature was great for the first week and only a little cold for the second week.

We had a wonderful time on our trip and I especially loved Prague and I would love to go back again some time. There was just so much to see in that charming city and it was very tourist-friendly. Although Bratislava didn't have as much to offer as Prague, it was a great place for a short visit and it served as a nice rest between the bigger cities. On the other hand, Vienna was a bit overwhelming. It's a fascinating city with lots to do, but perhaps it had too much to see and do and we really didn't know how to take it in for such a short visit. Also, unlike Prague, Vienna wasn't nearly as English-speaking tourist friendly; my assumption is that if your national language is spoken only in your tiny country (as it is in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia), you have to provide translations in English, but if your national language is German (as it is in Austria), you don't have to worry about tourists understanding things as much. In Prague, virtually all signs and directions were available in both English and Czech, but in Austria, English was rarely seen (except on menus).

I took more photos during this trip than I ever have before -- over 1800 -- and I just recently finished uploading most of them to my Flickr site. You can view them in my photostream or you can view them in the sets that I've created:

IMG_3801 Central Europe 2006 (1627 photos)
IMG_5279 Kunsthistorisch es Museum 2006 (123 photos)
IMG_4435 Slovak National Museum 2006 (77 photos)
IMG_4990 Melk Abbey 2006 (147 photos)
IMG_4900 Wachau Valley and the Danube 2006 (170 photos)
IMG_4661 Austria 2006 (812 photos)
IMG_4637 Vienna 2006 (611 photos)
Bratislava Castle Steps (IMG_4492) Slovakia 2006 (242 photos)
Prague Old Town Square at Night (IMG_3800) Prague 2006 (493 photos)
IMG_4157 Karlstein Castle (80 photos)
Marionette Theatre (IMG_4027) Prague Marionette Theatre (19 photos)
IMG_3842 The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague (57 photos)