Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

RIP Jeff Goldblum

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Following the tragic death of Jeff Goldblum this past weekend, I feel now is the time to share a small revelation I had this weekend while watching one of his greatest works.

This past weekend I had to work on Saturday. We are trying to get some test flights of a new airplane based radar I’ve been working on in amid the rain showers. Don’t ask me why, but they don’t like to fly in the rain. This has been difficult and no sunny day can be wasted. I was not scheduled to fly originally, but following a flight on Friday in which no data was collected for mysterious reasons, the powers that be decided I should fly, with 2 coworkers because we were the ones who wrote most of the software involved. If we flew we would be there to diagnose and solve the problem on the fly, if needed. Everything worked perfectly on the flight so my presence was not particularly needed, but it could have been. I also did manage to get a little air sick while sitting on the floor, out of my seat, but in a position to see the control screen.

Upon returning home I found my room mate Sriram about ten minutes into the film Independence Day. This film, long one of my favorites, possibly my favorite action film of all time, is an oddity among my usual tastes in movies. Now, it does have, quite possibly, the best speech in a movie by an American president, but the events of last Saturday shed some more personal light on why I enjoy the film so much. I remember seeing it on July 3rd (or 4th) in Louisville, KY with my family the year it came out; I was 12 years old.
That same year, 1996, was also the year in which I first learned how to program, in qbasic with my buddy Greg.

In the movie Jeff Goldblum plays an MIT educated cable/satellite guru who looks into the alien television disturbance and finds something no one else bothered to see. Later, he creates a virus for the alien computer and flies up to the mother ship with the Will Smith character to deliver it, despite chronic air sickness. Why did he have to fly? He explains in the flim, “If anything goes wrong I’ll have to think quickly, adjust the signal, who knows?”

Now, my air sickness was nothing like his, and its all a different scale, but that’s essentially the same reason I was flying. Upon landing, while I helping to preparing for the next flight, some of the binary files used to setup the flight were found to have errors, errors so sever as to crash the program using them. I encounter problems like this, that require manually examining difficult to read binary files on a frequent basis at work. I enjoy it. Despite having a call in to the person who created the files, I couldn’t help but dive in and find the problem myself. Now that was easy, because I had the rubric for how the file was laid out. Goldblum’s character didn’t have that. I really wish there was more of a need to reverse engineer stuff like that at work. It is so much more challenging when one is not provided with a key.

This may also help explain why upon much self analysis, I consistently find myself thinking that if I go back to school, the only place to go, where it would be worth my while, is MIT (or possibly Harvard if I decide to go back for an economics degree). Clearly, everything in my life so far has put me on the path to become Jeff Goldblum’s character in Independence Day. At least, that is one way to interpret the facts.

Google Reader Sharing Via Facebook

Monday, June 8th, 2009

A few weeks ago I saw on facebook that a college buddy of mine, Ed, shared a blog post he read in Google Reader. That is, he read a blog post someone wrote, via Google Reader and hit the share button on there and because it had been instructed to do so facebook add it to his news feed. I just had to have it. A few minutes later I found out how, and it’s been great.

It’s great for three reasons. First is how it works. Google Reader makes up a web page, that essentially looks like a blog, but it is of the posts that one has read instead of one has written. This page is public, and mine is here (for those of you who want to see what I share but don’t use Google Reader of Facebook. Now, that is pretty nice right there. What facebook does, is subscribe to the rss feed from that page. That means they didn’t have to contact or work with Google directly at all to get this to work. This was initially confusing, because I couldn’t figure out where to go to enable this magic. It turns out that you go to your own profile and click on “settings” below the big share button. They have similar setups for other sites too. Anyways, this is the wonderful kind of thing that open standards can buy!

But why is it so wonderful? Well that’s the second reason. Only like 2 people see what I share on Google Reader, and maybe one third of the time it’s stuff I’ve found because they shared it that I also agree is worth sharing. I also often ran across things that I wanted to share, but not with them; stories I knew they didn’t care about. I occasionally would use the built in email this option to share very cool things with the one person I knew would be interested. There were, however, still many interesting things that I wanted to share, but had no audience for. This little open standards miracle provides an audience. When it is as simple as clicking a button to share something cool with an audience, it drives one to share cool things.

The final reason builds on the second. Because now, I can easily share cool things, I have started reading more blogs. At least part of this is so that I can have more cool stuff to share. The other reason is that I found some other good ones on other strange topics I like, such as strange maps. Anyways, I’m a big fan, but it may mean less “From the Internet” posts on here.

Inkheart & Bridge to Terabithia

Monday, May 4th, 2009

InkheartThe other thing I did this weekend, besides the Derby party, was watch some high quality children’s movies. On Friday, due to a canceled date, I stayed in to hang out with my roommate Sriram and watch Inkheart, which is about a man who, when he reads aloud, causes people and things to jump into and out of books. He loses his wife in this way and gains a gang of bandits for his trouble. The graphics are pretty good on the many fantastical things that get read out of the books. The story also winds its way around a bit, and keeps some suspense for a movie with a foregone conclusion.

The foregone conclusion is what I forgot about with Bridge to Terabithia.AnnaSophia Robb in Birdge to Terabithia I ended up spending Sunday night relaxing with the house to myself and rain threatening outside. Inkheart at put me in the mood for another imaginative tale, and imaginative it was! They did a great job with the subtle use of special graphics to reinforce that Terabithia exists only in the minds of the two main children. The little girl, by the way, AnnaSophia Robb, is a dead ringer, at least in the movie makeup, for a 14 year old Keira Knightley. I had forgotten how the movie came to be on my watch list in the first place, but was reminded in the credits that its because the always wonderful Zooey Deschanel is in it.Keira Knightley in Love Actually She plays a music teacher with an interesting take on teaching, and an arbitrarily invitation to take one student to a museum in the city. This suddenly leads the movie down an unexpected road. In retrospect, I remember Richard Roper warning parents about this in his review, but I had forgotten. This only helped my appreciation for the film, however.

Bridge to Terabithia sits somewhere on the same scale as Pan’s Labyrinth. That is a scale between realism and fantasy. Pan’s Labyrinth spends far too much time in the real world, but it’s fantasy world is quite vivid. Bridge to Terabithia spends less time in the real world; well, maybe not film time, but the real world is less harsh and so that counts for it. However the fantasy world is not quite as beautiful, and again, like Pan’s it is but a taste. Somewhere on this scale exists a perfect escapist fantasy. The Chronicles of Narnia movies had a shot at this, but they screwed the pooch with the bland interpretation of the fantasy world.

Star Trek @ Brattle

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Star Trek - 118 - ArenaI’ve been in a Star Trek mood since seeing the movie last week and subsequent debates about it’s merits with the handful of people who I saw it with. So when I heard that the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square was going to show six episodes of the original series on their big screen tonight for cheap, I decided to go and see two of them. I just got back.

Wow, am I glad that I didn’t pay to see all six. I mean I know there is a reason why I’ve not bothered to ever watch them (I have them all), but they were pretty bad. Although, as with Indiana Jones, seeing them with an enthusiastic audience probably did help. Also, the source material was the remastered DVDs, so the quality was much improved over my recorded from the G4 channel reruns. In any case, I saw:

  1. Star Trek – 118 – Arena
  2. Star Trek – 126 – Errand of Mercy

I feel that perhaps I’ve been too hard on Star Trek 11, it was much improved over the originals. But then I suppose the next level up is to compare it to the original movies, which I haven’t seen in many years.

Star Trek (11)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009


I just got back from seeing the new Star Trek movie! How do you ask, well Celeste, told the xkcd forums, who told me. It seemes the Internet and the theater knew nothing about it otherwise. I still don’t know how she found out about it, but not many people did. It was not packed. I don’t quite understand why you wouldn’t promote a sneak preview enough to pack one showing. Anyways. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so the rest will be quite generic.

The movie started out strong, and quickly established a great action drama balance. I was drawn in well before the opening credits. The opening credits lacked a certain familiar tune. I mean, what they had, it’s similar, but it did not fulfill my desire to hear the music. The closing credits did so that was good.

So the movies going along just great and then there is a major plot point, something bad happens, and after that the movies just not the same. However, due to the continuities involved, there was a choice the writers could have made; that I would have made, but they did not. This takes them down a road towards a disappointing conclusion.

There is one gripe I can be specific about, because it was in the trailer. In the trailer they show a starship being constructed on the ground, on pylons. This utterly ridiculous. First, it is not consistent; all other star trek ships have been built in space. Second, if NASA didn’t even want to launch all of the international space station at once cause it weighted too much, imagine a star ship. Finally, star ships are not made to fly in the atmosphere, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna be rocketed up there, and they don’t have that kind of transporter capability at that point in the timeline; so how the hell does it get off the damn planet! I’m sorry there’s just no way that is realistic at all.

So this movie, being an odd one (11) was bound to suck (as all the odd numbered ones do), and so it did, although I will continue to applaud the strong start it had. And if you claim that this was really a different movie sequence then the other one then it is number 1, also odd, also bound to suck. This movie will not reboot the franchise. I’m not even sure the tag line “The future begins” is appropriate.

I do want to end on a high note. I really liked all of the new actors for the major characters, and they really did a good job of working in everyone’s lines from the show. They also hit all the classic elements but they did some of them in different ways. This is very similar to how Get Smart did things, and is applaudable. I would see a squeal involving them, but not in the time-line that extends from this film, which is the real problem with it.

New Glasses

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

I resolved my lost glasses problem today. I got my new prescription from the optomistrist. Surprise, it’s the same as it was two years ago. At least I didn’t pay for them to tell me that directly, but this is totally part of the health care spending problem in this country. If I want a pair of lenses with certain focal lengths, I should be able to get them without wasting money on a doctor. Anyways, I spent more than I expected, but I like them better than my old ones so at least there’s a win. Here they are in black, but mine are silver.
Mine are in silver, not black
Of course, with a broken camera, I can only show you the stock photo. But it is pretty accurate.The last picture of my old pair (I think) They are very similar to my old pair, in that they are silver, have a rim only at the top, and are squarish rather than round. The main difference is that the lenses are smaller and more rectangular. They still aren’t the tiny little rectangles that are in style these days, but they’re smaller. Mary, who I brought along to provide her expert opinion, suggested that my old ones were too big, so at least we solved that problem. Although, these were her second choice, her first choice were even smaller, and I just couldn’t deal.

Broken Camera

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Also on the ski trip, on the second day, I broke my camera. After taking this picture featuring mike climbing up a ridge after taking a pretty impressive fall. Even those of us who didn’t fall still had a climb, that powder stuff really slows you down. Sadly I forgot to use the snow setting for this shot.

Mike coming slowly up the hill

Anyways. After taking that maybe I didn’t turn the camera off properly and the lens didn’t retract. Or I did and I somehow turned it back on while it was in my pocket. But the next time I took it out to take a picture, the lens was already extended, and some of the teeth on the gears that let it focus and zoom appeared to be broken. That seems like something that might be fixable, but who knows if that would cost less than the price of the camera new, which is ~$110 apparently.

I’ve got some mild issues with the camera, which is a Cannon A560, so I’m not sure I’d replace it with the same thing. The things I’d like in a new camera are:

  • Faster flash/picture taking: I often find that I miss things because once I hold down the shutter button it takes too long to capture the image. I’m not taking motion blur, I’m talking delay. It is only exacerbated when the flash is on. New batteries help, but if I have to use brand new batteries all the time then it’s really a battery life issue.
  • More optical zoom: 4x is just not enough. I like to take high resolution pictures of landscapes for my panoramas, and more zoom, combined with more pictures make better results.
  • Better night photos: many of my shots occur at night, and this camera kind of sucks at it. First, I almost never want the flash on for them. The flash ruins the colors. There are so many vibrant colors in the city at night; I want a more sensitive CCD to pick them up. Also, I want a lot more leeway in how still I have to hold the darn thing.

I haven’t done a lot of research yet, but I think that those requirements push me into the expensive SLR world. This is especially true of the last one. However, whatever I get still needs to fit into a cargo pocket, which pretty much eliminates the SLR world. I mean cargo pockets are big, but they aren’t that big. I suppose all I really want is an improvement in each category, not the best I can get in each category. Maybe I can find that, but I’m not sure how to quantify some of those into a comparable number, of where to find numbers for the ones that can be quantified.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I’m blogging from the Friday awards ceremony at the FIRST Buckey Regional, but when I arrived in Cleveland on Wednesday my first stop after the hotel was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is, of course, the only thing I thought there was to do in the city. Josh and I were surprised at how un-interactive the exhibits were. Most were simply clothes, cars, notes, posters, or records sitting in glass cases. Well, the cars were not in glass cases. It did have quite a lot of exhibits, but since we’re not very well versed in music many of them amounted to, “so who’s that?”

Afterwards we went out to dinner. We were surprised to find a pedestrian only street lined with all sorts of restaurants, Mexican, Vietnamese, Mediterranean, Irish, American. We gave the Mediterranean one a try. It was called La Strada. We started with a free fried eggplant appetizer because they were out of the one we actually wanted. I had a chicken and cuscus dinner. Everything we had there was excellent. However, after dinner they kept offering us all sorts of things. Desert, coffee, complimentary fruit, then later tea, and a wet hand cloth. It was a little too much, made me feel sort of bad that all I wanted to do was pay and leave. Actually, I didn’t have to pay because Josh owed me a dinner since the Red Sox & Yankees tied the season series last summer at 9 games apiece (we decided due to extenuating circumstances that I would win ties).

The Guild

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Over this past weekend I found a wonderful new web show via Internet Superstar on Revision 3, the only other web show that I periodically watch. On my first visit in a few months, I saw they highlighted an episode with Falica Day, whom most people know from Dr. Horrible. Anyways, I keep not writing a post about The Guild, because every time I goto the site I end up watching more episodes. Actually, I’m just watching the episodes from season 1 over and over again, as I’m saving starting season two for some reason.

The guild is an independently produced and financed short web series about a guild that plays something very similar to, but not actually called World of Warcraft, and it is hilarious even to an outsider like me. Although, I have had to bone up on some lingo including QQ more and PUG. <asside>Gee thanks to all the urban dictionary users who wrote that PUG is a dog, if I wanted to know that I’d have checked a normal dictionary.</asside>

It seems for season two that they have found some sponsorship and so individuals can no longer donate directly, which is a shame. I don’t really want/need the show on DVD or a T-Shirt, but I haven’t found another way to contribute. Contrary to Saddleback ski resort, I think everyone should check out The Guild.

Cranmore and Saddleback

Monday, February 16th, 2009

This post is about my two (so far) local ski trips this winter.


On January 24th Mary and I drove to North Conway, NH to give Cranmore a try. We mostly went because it would be cheap. That day they were running a deal where driver’s of hybrid cars get free lift tickets. Oddly, since passengers of hybrids didn’t get free lift tickets it actually discourages carpooling, which, given the distance, makes a larger environmental impact than the hybrid. For the curious, they asked to see the car’s registration to prove it is a hybrid; note that my registration doesn’t have any indication of such a status, but they were not concerned. It also came recommended by Kelly, who skied there frequently in her youth.

I was disappointed with the runs there. The vertical was 1200 feet, which seems respectable, and they had some nice lifts to keep the lines moving, but we took our warm up run on a blue and diverted to a black. We mostly diverted to get away from the crowd, but it was not difficult at all. The conditions were pretty good. It was clean and ~25 degrees out, but there was a howling wind, that was blowing snow up the mountain. This was not a problem as far as seeing, but it did manage to keep the slopes well groomed, as any tacks you made were covered back up by the snow you loosed. It was fun to spend all afternoon (we skied from 11:30-4pm) speeding down the relatively tame runs, but we did manage to do just about every black and blue there in that time frame. In short, it was a fun time, and it was cheap due to the free ticket, but I wouldn’t go back unless I was teaching someone.


Eleven people somewhat loosely associated with Wednesday Night Dinner went to Rangeley, Maine from February 6 – 8 to ski at Saddleback. Saddleback was a small, local place until recently when it was purchased and greatly expanded. They expanded their trials by 40% since last year, and they have plans to continue this kind of growth. When they are done it will be huge, at least as fat as New England standards go. It was also exceedingly cheap and not at all crowded. Of course, it is almost five hours drive to get there. That is why we spent two nights there. Also the lodging was part of a package deal that left us with $28 lift tickets. Since its so new and expanding everything, but most importantly the equipment was all brand new.

The skiing here was excellent and challenging. There were some glades and slopes that looked downright scary, some of which I did and some of which I skipped. The weather was warm, topping out at ~36 degrees, with little wind. Although it got overcast in the afternoon. Here are some icture highlights from the trip to continue the story:

The Cabin. There were 3 rooms (with an open kitchen/living space). There were 9 beds in the place and we slept 11. It was cozy, but cheap.

Breakfast was eggs and toast.

Before we could get the slope we first had to climb this ice covered hill between our lakeside cabin and the road. It was well below freezing in the valley (it was warmer up on the mountain by a lot) and so we ended up pushing all of the cars up the hill. I don’t recall having ever needed to use low gear on my car before, but clearly it helped here. What didn’t help is that due to the lake, we didn’t have much chance to get a running start. Luckily Sunday morning was much warmer and so it wasn’t a problem.

The view was pretty spectacular from the top of the ~4000 foot mountain. The lodge was at ~2000 feet. This view looks west down towards our cabin and New Hampshire. Looking north one could see Canada as well.

We rode a lift up with an instructor and we discussed these two trails that looks like there was all kinds of debris in them. He said that it was only the tops that had the debris and that bottoms were clear, and of course ungroomed. He told us how to cut over safely. There we found the best conditions of the day; although, they were not untouched power by any means. I found I was able to cope (and have fun) with the natural, soft moguls that had developed. It was great. Of course, the story with the trail is that they didn’t finish cutting and clearing it all before the first wave of snow; this picture looks up at the debris field of course.

In closing:

  • Don’t take my word for how great this place is.
  • Don’t ever give it a try.
  • Continue to take your slight shorter drives to your much pricer, smaller, and more crowded resorts of choice.