Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blue Valentine

I love a film that takes you to the edge of melancholy and depression...

It's very sad but it's so beautiful.

It will keep you thinking - and feeling - about the possibilities for long-term love for days after you've left the cinema.

Wretched and beautiful, devastating and passionate, Blue Valentine evokes every inch of its title's dichotomy.

Emotionally raw, heartbreakingly beautiful and superbly acted.

Pulls no punches in terms of its heavy subject matter and boasts wonderful performances from stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Exquisitely painful to watch.

Assuming one can use the word "enjoy" for what might be the greatest feel-bad movie of the year, I enjoyed BLUE VALENTINE a lot.


After reading these reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, I almost feel like slitting my own wrists...

I can hardly wait to see the movie.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Movie Review: Client-9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

I was anxious to see this film, as I've been fascinated with Eliot Spitzer ever since the sex scandal broke. The film is very good.

It was astonishing to follow this man's political career. He could easily have been the first Jewish President of the United States. His fall from grace was heart-rending.

Spitzer made many high-power enemies during his crusade against Wall Street and the New York legislature. But he was honest enough to say that he didn't blame his enemies for ganging up on him. This mess, he brought upon himself.

The most memorable comment in the film came from one of his former employees. To paraphrase, all he did was have sex in a hotel room. That's it. And for that, he was crucified.

Ironically, Bill Clinton remained extremely popular, even after a woman sucked his cock in the Oval Office. But Spitzer has not been able to shake *his* scandal. (Although, he *does* have an excellent program on CNN called "Parker/Spitzer".)

I have grown to like and admire Eliot Spitzer. Sure, he betrayed his wife. But, cripes, it was only sex!! One of the most natural of human urges and needs. Otherwise, he's a very smart man, a very determined man, who fought against the worst excesses of Wall Street.

I highly recommend this film.

WikiLeaks

The whole world seems to be focussed on shutting down WikiLeaks and persecuting Julian Assange. I'm going to give you my two cents' worth, and you're not going to like it...

I think we should leave Assange alone. He did nothing "wrong". Even though I disagree with what he did, I support his right to do it. After all, we live in the digital age where information can be disseminated around the globe at the speed of light. We need to understand and appreciate this.

All information is fair game, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. This applies to ALL platforms on the Web, including Facebook, Twitter, Craig's List, WikiLeaks, and the like.

If you care about your privacy, about your confidentiality, then take the necessary steps to safeguard your information. This applies to you and me. And this applies to the United States of America.

The United States foolishly made their information accessible by nearly a million people. Did they really think they could prevent information from leaking?

And once the information was leaked, why should anybody in the digital universe assume any responsibility to keep that information private? In the digital age, all information is fair game. When it comes to privacy, the responsibility ultimately rests with YOU, the information's owner. Don't look to anyone else as a scapegoat. Don't try to censor the Web. Don't try to bully the Web into digital decency and morality.

The Internet is amoral and agnostic, as it should be. There is no right or wrong on the Internet. There is no cultural context, esp. given that countries as disparate as Iran, China, and Japan are connected. There is only information, and freedom of information. There is only communication, and freedom of communication. And anybody who tries to keep a lid on all of this is himself in the wrong. (I'm look at you, China and USA.)

The Internet has value because it is free and open. Anybody can post anything he wants, including child porn, terrorist propaganda, classified information, snuff films, etc. We don't have to like it, but we have to respect the freedom and openness of the Web.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wistful Thoughts, Part 2

How to make me weep uncontrollably (it's the music):

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wistful Thoughts

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

- Yeats


Friday, November 19, 2010

Imagine... Part 4

In my wistfulness, I imagine dancing with her to my favourite song:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Imagine... Part 3

Why she broke up with me:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Imagine... Part 2

This is why I needed (need) her:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Imagine...

I miss my ex-girlfriend, Mary. This song always reminds me of her, of us:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Movie Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

This afternoon, I saw the third film in the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. (The first two films were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire.) Despite the rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes, I thought it was very good, a nice, fitting way to complete the trilogy.

Lisbeth Salander is about to stand trial for the attempted murder of her father, Alexander Zalachenko, the war criminal that a covert organization within the Swedish government is hiding. Mikael Blomqvist, the journalist and publisher of the shit-disturbing magazine Millennium, tries to help Lisbeth, but amidst the conspiracy to cover up the truth, he and his magazine, including his partner and staff, are in deadly jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the blonde tank, Niedermann, is on the run, wreaking havoc wherever he goes, killing two police officers and various innocent bystanders, and trying to finish off Lisbeth. In the course of the trial, the sonovabitch Dr. Teleborian is lying through his teeth to have Lisbeth committed for life, calling her a dangerous schizophrenic. But Teleborian will get his dues in the end.

At two and a half hours long, I was surprised to find myself so engaged that I didn't need to take a bathroom break. The ending nicely ties up all the loose ends, and I have to conclude that this is probably the best cinematic trilogy I have ever seen. (Actually, Yoji Yamada's samurai trilogy is the best, but this one is the best in terms of having a continuous storyline.)

Highly, highly recommended. (It goes without saying that you have to watch the entire trilogy.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who's to blame?

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39419543/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts

Take a look at these two kids on the right, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei:



They look like nice people, don't they? But they turn out to be sick, soulless creeps. How did they turn out this way? Are they exceptional among today's youth? Food for thought...

What causes people to behave this way? Is it a sign of the times? The natural fallout from today's obsession over social networking, social sharing, reality television, mobile devices?

Does the fault lie with these kids, or with today's society in general?

And what should be done with these kids? I say, lock 'em up and throw away the keys. Send a clear message to all young people: The use of the Internet must be balanced with social decorum and human decency. Beyond that, we must all respect privacy and human dignity...

Concepts that are apparently alien to today's youth.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Movie Review: Devil

Up until opening day, there were absolutely no reviews for the M. Night Shyamalan-produced, John Erick Dowdle-directed Devil -- I was apprehensive. Typically, this is a bad omen -- the producers are afraid that early word from critics may hurt the opening box office. But they needn't have worried: I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

Devil is a psychological thriller, as well as a simple story of redemption. It's about five people that are trapped in an elevator. And one of them is the Devil. He's there to harvest souls.

Despite the fact that we know the Devil is there from beginning to end, the thriller aspect still works, as we find the trapped passengers getting killed one by one. The police and firefighters work furiously in a race to get into the elevator before the Devil completes his task.

Even though the film is only 1:20 long, the shortest I've seen in a very long time, it feels very full and satisfying. This is a testament to the skill of the director.

Recommended.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Movie Review: Machete

You gotta love Robert Rodriguez! He makes such over-the-top action gore fests (as does Quentin Tarantino).

Machete is another fine example of his craft. Hands and heads lopped off. Bullets in the face. Blood spatter everywhere. And Rodriguez does it with a certain tongue-in-cheek bravado and campy humour. For example, in one scene, Machete uses a hospital surgical tool (used for stripping flesh off bone) to gut a man and stretch his intestines out the full length to be used as a rope as Machete jumps out a window. Everybody in the audience laughed, including myself.

In another scene, a house is blown up and a man falls down on top of Jessica Alba's car hood, charred and smoking with a meat thermometer stuck in him. The mercury in the thermometer instantly rises to the top. Very amusing.

In fact, this is one of the funniest movies I've seen all year! Comic relief is necessary when you are immersed in so much blood and gore and violence. Speaking of which, one of the least funny scenes is when a priest (Cheech Marin) is literally crucified in a church. When those nails were driven into his wrists, I felt rather squeamish (quite unusual for me).

In the final action sequence, Machete brings with him the mother of all machetes -- it is HUGE. Really quite funny.

Machete is made as an homage to the "B-movies" of yesteryear. There is no pretense at a good story; indeed, the story is ludicrous. Acting is laughable -- Robert de Niro is a campy caricature of a corrupt Texas senator, Don Johnson is silly as the commander of a vigilante army, Steven Seagal is less than convincing as a Mexican drug kingpin.

Rodriguez includes some of his favourite actors in the cast: Danny Trejo in the lead role of Machete, and Cheech Marin as a priest and Machete's brother.

One of the unexpected side benefits of watching this movie is seeing Lindsay Lohan's tits. Hey, how often do you get the opportunity to gawk at a PR disaster's hooters?

I also like Michelle Rodriguez (no relation to the director). In the final action sequence, she is extremely sexy dressed up in leather and wearing an eye patch (earlier, Don Johnson had shot her in the eye).

This Labour Day Weekend, I really wanted to catch The American and Machete. I was simply in the mood for blood -- call it blood lust. And I was suitably sated. Thumbs Up.

Movie Review: The American

The American is an exquisite gem of a film. There, I said it. A great number of reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes will disagree with me.

These reviewers say that the movie is too slow, too ponderous. I normally don't like films that are too slow either, but in this movie it works, thanks to the beautiful photography and elegant direction. The slow pacing allows the audience to soak in the atmosphere of the charming Italian countryside and to dwell in the mind of the main character, Jack (George Clooney), an assassin in hiding. I actually shared his feelings as he walked down the cobblestone streets, sat in the café sipping coffee, and driving on the winding roads in the mountains.

When Jack discovers that he is targetted for termination by the Swedes, he hides out in a small Italian village. While he's there, he does one last job for his employer: provide a customized rifle for a beautiful assassin named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). The normally reserved and very private Jack strikes up a friendship with a local priest, and a torrid affair with a young prostitute.

However, trouble follows him to this town in the mountains of Abruzzo...

George Clooney gives another great performance. I re-watched Up in the Air a few nights ago on television and it reminded me of what a fabulous actor Clooney is. The American cements my opinion that George Clooney is absolutely one of the finest American actors of our time.

The feel of the film also reminded me of In Bruges, a story about two hitmen hiding out in Bruges, Belgium, after a job goes very awry. It was also rather atmospheric, giving the audience a good taste of the historic city of Bruges. Coincidentally, Thekla Reuten (the beautiful assassin) also starred in In Bruges.

I also have to put in a good word for Violante Placido, the prostitute Clara. She is very convincing and enticing. If I were Jack, I'd want to run away with her, too! (Please? Pretty please?)

Highly recommended. Definitely on my Top Ten list of the year.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Canon 60D Announced!

The Canon 60D has finally been announced. And it's a humdinger!

It has an articulated LCD!!! And a sensible one, too, not like the D5000's piece o' shit.

It has a slightly smaller, PLASTIC body (compared to the 40D/50D/7D). I prefer metal. I like metal. I lust for metal.

It has no AF micro-adjustment.

It has a 96% coverage viewfinder (compared to 95% in the 40D/50D and 100% in the 7D).

It does away with the joystick. (But it has a 4-way controller inset within the rear control wheel.)

It has no multi-flash support.

It uses SD cards instead of CF.

It has a slightly slower frame rate, 5.3 fps.

It has the same metering system and movie mode as the 7D.

It has the same sensor as the T2i. And the same 9-point AF system as the 40D. (Just as well -- I think the 7D's 19-point AF is too complicated.)

It's only slightly ($300) more expensive than the T2i, the top-end Rebel. In fact, think of the 60D as a Super Rebel.


I'm glad I didn't buy the 50D. The 7D is the natural upgrade path. The 60D is pretty much a dumbed-down 50D. Canon have repositioned the xxD line away from 'semi-pro' and toward the high-end consumer segment.

My guess is that the 60D will be more comfortable to hold than the Rebels, but not as comfortable as my 40D. Let's see if I'm right...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Halcyon Days

The Good Sex Network is the crowning achievement of my life. Second to that would be my IT career. I've had a long and successful career, working on some of the most exciting projects I could imagine...

Early in my career, I had the privilege of working on the world's first commercially available fault-tolerant mainframe, Tandem NonStop, in a first-of-its-kind trading system at the Toronto Stock Exchange. The development language, TAL, was a hybrid of C and Pascal (with a decidedly Pascal-like syntax). I had a blast during those days.

I also worked on the world's first attempt at a Unix-based office automation suite called Emerald One, including a word processor, spreadsheet, and remote dial-up facility. This was my first exposure to the C language which later became the mainstay of my career.

I helped to develop a remarkable "application generator" called Intellisys from a small start-up in Hamilton. This, too, was exciting because we were working with state-of-the-art hardware such as MicroVAX and large-screen GUI workstations.

Writing a TIFF fax decoder at Image Software Solutions, a very small start-up, was also a proud achievement. I was the only programmer in the company, so I was on my own with no help from anyone. If you've ever tried to decode TIFF (not the Toronto International Film Festival), you know it's a complex protocol.

My 7 years at ATI Technologies were the longest tenure of my career, a significant achievement in its own right. It was there that I finally learned how to drive (sort of). And working on Windows NT video drivers was exciting, too. I actually rewrote one from scratch! I also had a blast liaising with Microsoft in Redmond.

Alas, all of these software systems have been relegated to the dustbins of history, tossed onto the scrapheap of eternity. Such achievements have no lasting value, not like a successful book, song, movie, or historical recognition. Such achievements are like performance art, to be enjoyed in the moment, and afterwards forgotten.

Those were the halcyon days of my career. I sure miss them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Requiem for Smalltalk

http://www.tiobe.com/index.php/content/paperinfo/tpci/index.html

August Headline: Dinosaur Smalltalk falls off top 50

Smalltalk, the first pure object-oriented programming language ever, lost its position in the TIOBE top 50 this month. The same happened to the other well-known pure object-oriented language Eiffel a couple of months ago. This is probably part of the trend that languages are becoming more and more multiparadigm: both object-oriented and procedural with a functional flavor.

WHAT???

This is a frakking outrage!!! What is this world coming to?!!

Smalltalk is the closest to being the "perfect" programming language. It is simplicity itself. It is unbelievably flexible and versatile. The "IDE" is mature, sophisticated, and powerful, consisting of an object browser and a "live" debugger. It is a "productivity amplifier" without peer. And the code is remarkably compact.

The only knock against it is in the area of performance, but even there, you will find opportunities to optimize. With today's CPU and GPU hardware, performance will rarely be an issue.

I s'pose Ruby will take the crown as the ultimate OOP language, but it is not nearly as simple nor as easy to develop in as Smalltalk is. And you don't get that wonderful "live" debugger.

It's worth dredging up this old post:

http://richardeng2005.blogspot.com/2006/10/ode-to-smalltalk.html

Friday, August 13, 2010

Movie Review: The Expendables

Despite poor critical review, I rather enjoyed this movie. While the story is pretty standard action fare, the film does have some remarkable gems. And Stallone's direction is actually quite adept.

The Expendables stars Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, and David Zayas (Batista in Dexter). As if this weren't impressive enough a cast, there's also Randy Couture and Steve Austin (sports fighters), Terry Crews (NFL player), Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), and uncredited Ahhnold and Bruce Willis in cameo roles. (Willis plays the man who hires The Expendables, and Ahhnold plays a mercenary competing for the same job.)

I like the name of Jet Li's character: Yin Yang.

Mickey Rourke plays a tattoo artist who has been working on Stallone's body art for ages. In an unexpected scene, Rourke's character, Tool, talks about his struggle to save whatever was left of his soul after having fought in Bosnia. This was an Oscar-calibre performance, people, make no mistake about it. And to find it in the middle of a Sylvester Stallone testosterone-fest is totally astonishing!

Another unexpected gem is the running joke about Jet Li's character being so short that he has to constantly fight to prove himself.

One fabulous action scene that I have to mention is when Stallone and Statham fly into enemy territory in a cargo sea plane, purportedly on behalf of the Global Wildlife Conservancy. When they are discovered, the army chases them to their plane, which takes off and eventually turns around to unleash a powerful counterattack, using onboard machine guns or cannons, and dropping incendiary liquid on the docks. Most imaginative! And most entertaining!

All in all, I have to recommend this movie. If you're in the mood for testosterone-driven action, you won't find anything better.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Movie Review: Yoji Yamada's Samurai Trilogy

I've just finished watching Yoji Yamada's Samurai Trilogy. I rented "The Twilight Samurai" and "Love and Honor" from Bay St. Video -- these movies cannot be found at Rogers nor Blockbuster. Nor HMV. ("The Hidden Blade" is the middle film.)

All three films are beautiful. All three make me weep.

As much as these are deeply profound stories of warriors and bushido, they also qualify as "chick flicks." Every film has a powerful love story that is sure to make women swoon.

Yamada's artistry is unsurpassed. The look and feel of the movies are absolutely authentic. It's like travelling back in history.

And performances are magnificent. Unforgettable. Haunting.

The trilogy is among my favourite films of all time, right up there with Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" and James McTeigue's "V for Vendetta."

My life is supremely richer for having seen these films. I can't recommend them enough.

I promise I shall devote 6 hours every year to watch the trilogy for the remainder of my life... (I can't say this about any other movie.)


The Twilight Samurai - A samurai, and lowly clerk, is ordered to kill a dishonoured samurai who refuses to commit hara-kiri. His sick wife died, and he has two young daughters and a senile mother to take care of. Thus, his colleagues have given him the nickname "Twilight."

The Hidden Blade - A samurai is ordered to kill one of his best friends who has escaped from the law. Unfortunately, his friend is a far better swordsman. He must also take revenge against a high-ranking official who raped his friend's wife.

Love and Honor - A samurai loses his sight tasting food for his Lordship and struggles to stay alive in a world that has no use for a blind samurai. When his wife is dishonoured and effectively raped by a high-ranking samurai official, he must engage in a duel to the death. He is resigned to his fate.


I have to confess, though, that The Hidden Blade is my favourite of the three.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The iPad and QuickTime Divorce

I just came back from the Apple Store, playing with the new iPhone 4 and the iPad. I have a major beef...

The iPad is supposed to be the ultimate multimedia consumption device. Putting aside the fact that the vast majority of videos on the Web are Flash-based, I would, at the very least, expect the iPad/iPhone to play QuickTime -- not just any ol' QuickTime movie, but QuickTime streaming over RTSP, as well. The iPad doesn't.

This is idiotic. QuickTime is Apple's own proprietary video standard. Why is it that I can play all QuickTime movies on a Mac but not on an iPad???

Suppose I were to set up a Mac server to stream QuickTime using Apple's own QuickTime Streaming Server. Then I would lose the vast iPad/iPhone user base. (No supposition is necessary -- I have actually done this.)

Do Apple plan to obsolete QTSS? (And, no, HTTP Live Streaming is not necessarily a suitable replacement/alternative. There are solid, practical reasons to prefer QTSS.)

What should website administrators who rely on QTSS, like myself, do? Shove an iPad up their ass?

So, in effect, the iPad cannot play Flash and it cannot play QuickTime. How is it the ultimate multimedia consumption device again?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Secret Powers of Time



In this marvellous video, Professor Philip Zimbardo (of the famed Stanford Prison Experiment) “conveys how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Smoking Jacket

CNET story.

Playboy launches site you can ogle at work

http://www.thesmokingjacket.com/

The article "7 Signs That You've Given Up on Getting Laid" made me laugh so hard, I almost had a bowel movement! Here are some gems:
  1. Shoes that stay on with a couple strips of Velcro are highly recommended—for the elderly, the retarded or the shitfaced. If you’re none of those three, learn how to deal with a fucking pair of shoelaces. Or a shoehorn, at least. And if your wallet closes with a strip of Velcro, just end it already. What are you, 12? A grown man’s wallet has no hooks or loops, and it’s made of something called leather. Look into it.
  2. If you have missing teeth, rotting teeth, fizzing teeth, teeth that are no longer teeth but disgusting black nubs, make it your no. 1 priority to get to a dentist and have that shit taken care of. You don’t have to go to Elliott Yamin extremes, but the second you stop caring about the condition of your chicklets, you might as well forget about being within arm’s length of a naked woman ever again.
  3. Certain things should never be used inside the home. Gas-powered generators, for example. Because they’ll kill you. The same goes for plastic eating utensils, paper plates and anything else that might be utilized to consume food at a picnic. The sheer sloth of using this stuff under your own roof is beyond comprehension. If you find yourself doing so, go ahead and stick a plastic fork in your dick, because it’s done.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why are we fighting?

A couple of weeks ago, CIA Director Leon Panetta said that there were fewer than 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan. Maybe only 50. So why are we fighting a major war against the Taliban???

Last month, 100 NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan. That's more than one allied death for every living al Qaeda member there. In just one month.

The latest estimate is that the cost of fighting this war in 2010 will be $100+ billion. That's $1 billion for every al Qaeda member thought to be living there. In one year.

This sounds completely disproportionate to the threat.

Are we fighting the Taliban simply because they are al Qaeda's ally? Is that a good enough reason?

Is that worth the tremendous time and energy and financial cost, not to mention soldiers' lives, to prosecute a major land and air war against them?

Keep in mind that the Taliban are almost entirely Pashtuns. And Pashtuns comprise nearly half of Afghanistan's population. Is there any reasonable expectation that we can totally eliminate the Taliban?

Why are we fighting? What do we hope to accomplish that is worth all of this?

These are obviously rhetorical questions, but if you actually have a sane response, let's hear it...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Movie Review: The Secret in Their Eyes

What a terrific year for foreign films! First, there was "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and now "The Secret in Their Eyes."

In 1999, retired Argentinian federal justice agent Benjamin Esposito decides to write a novel. For the subject, he chooses a 25-year-old cold case with which he has been obsessed. In 1974, a beautiful young woman named Liliana Colotto was brutally raped and murdered. Her husband, Ricardo Morales, was obsessed with finding the man who did it.

Benjamin and his partner Pablo Sandoval eventually find the culprit, Isidoro Gomez. After Gomez is sent to prison, he is released through a bizarre quirk of politics and works for the newly minted Peronist government as a hit-man. Then, without any warning, Gomez vanishes.

Twenty-five years later, Benjamin learns the staggering truth as he researches his book...

Amidst this tale of mystery is also a love story, as Benjamin secretly pines for his former Justice Department Chief, Irene Menendez-Hastings.

Great story, with an ending that will haunt you. The Secret in Their Eyes is also one of the year's best films, and at this time I'd be hardpressed to say whether it's better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Movie Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The girl with the dragon tattoo is back. She's been hiding and living comfortably under an assumed identity. She returns to Sweden, but a series of murders for which she is blamed has her on the run as the police engage in a nationwide manhunt.

Lisbeth Salander enlists Mikael Blomkvist's help in tracking down the real killer. The key to the mystery is a Russian defector and spy named 'Zala' and a "blonde tank" named Niedermann, Zala's henchman who feels no pain and is very hard to kill.

The story is very convoluted so you have to pay close attention. Overall, it's not quite as good as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but Noomi Rapace's riveting performance (as Salander) is well worth the investment.

Also, the sex scene between Salander and Miriam Wu (her girlfriend) is hot, hot, hot!

This movie is apparently the second of the Millennium trilogy. I can't wait to see the third film!

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

No, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not about the Sandra Bullock/Jesse James story. It's a Swedish mystery thriller. (And, yes, it's subtitled.)

Mikael Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist who is about to enter prison for libel. Henrik Vanger is the wealthy patriarch of the highly dysfunctional Vanger family. Vanger approaches Blomkvist to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of his favourite niece, Harriet. Vanger suspects that someone in his family is responsible. Blomkvist has six months to complete the task before he is scheduled to go to prison.

Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker and all-round 'bad girl' (she's on parole). She resembles a punk, what with nose rings and eyebrow piercings, and a spectacular tattoo on her back. As an employee of a security firm, she investigates Blomkvist and stumbles across the same Vanger investigation that he's on. Together, they uncover the dark secrets of the Vanger family and end up pursuing a serial killer whose trail of destruction is unimaginable in scope.

Lisbeth also has to deal with a legal guardian who abuses her and rapes her. And she has a dark and shameful past that has made her into the violent and disturbed personality that she is.

At 2 hours 30 minutes, the film does not feel overly long, thanks to excellent pacing and direction. Combined with stunning performances and a fantastic script, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has to be one of the year's very best movies. If you miss this one, shame on you.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Movie Review: Predators

Robert Rodriguez may be the producer ("Robert Rodriguez presents..."), but relative newcomer Nimród Antal is the director. And despite a few continuity errors, he does a pretty credible job. I enjoyed Predators.

Adrien Brody plays the hero in this reboot of the Predator franchise, essentially stepping into Ahhnold Schwarzenegger's shoes. When I first heard that Brody was cast, I was very leery. After all, he's always been a bit of a wimp, playing a musician in The Pianist, a playwright in King Kong, a villager in The Village, and a scientist in Splice. But Brody is actually fairly convincing as a mysterious black-ops commando snatched from an airplane and deposited on an alien world.

The story takes place on an alien game preserve where various species, including homo sapiens, are hunted for sport. The denizens of this lush jungle planet are *chosen* for their predatory/fighting nature. So, for example, we find a Colombian cartel enforcer (played by Danny Trejo, soon to be seen in Machete), a Yakuza assassin, a Russian soldier, and a FBI Most Wanted convict.

Laurence Fishburne makes an "interesting" appearance.

The film alludes to the original Predator, and even indirectly references Ahhnold. The picture below supports this (for extra points, can anyone explain why?).

The ending tantalizingly hints at a possible sequel (or franchise!). You may not be aware, but I'm starting to drool as I type this...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Bucket List

A friend of mine told me that I need to pursue life vigorously while I still have time. This is the so-called "bucket list" syndrome. She said that I need to get off my duff and push myself...

I'm supposed to work hard and "sacrifice" to achieve my life goals, she said. Why?

What if I don't have any "life goals?" What if I lack ambition and drive?

Isn't this purely an "ego thing?" At the end of your life, if you've failed to achieve your goals, what does it matter to anyone? Surely, it matters not to anyone but yourself.

And once you've breathed your last breath, it won't even matter to you.

The point I'm trying to make is that this whole bucket list thing is really about your ego and about making yourself feel good (or at least as good as possible) while you are living your life.

In other words, it's all about being in the moment and how you feel about yourself, and your life, in the moment. It's not about making the world a better place -- this would be incidental and a self-justification in the service of your belief system which, of course, would ultimately make you feel better about your life.

No matter how you slice and dice it, it all comes down to how you *feel* about yourself. In the present moment. While you are still living.

Naturally, if other people recognize your achievements, this would make you feel better. This, then, is an ancillary motivation: having others around you *validate* your life by heaping praise upon you.

But in the final analysis, you have to be true to yourself, to who you are at the core. If you can feel good about your life without having accomplished anything, why should anyone else's opinion about your life matter?

I don't have a bucket list. I'm taking life at a very leisurely pace. And why not? The only one who needs to feel good about himself is moi.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Movie Review: The Last Airbender

This film has garnered an astonishing 9% (out of 98 reviews) at Rotten Tomatoes. It appears to be an unmitigated disaster. What the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan???

Having watched it yesterday (for $7 at Rainbow Market Square -- they raised ticket prices!), I have to say it's not one of his better efforts. The Last Airbender is Shyamalan's first foray into action/adventure, and he hasn't quite mastered this genre yet.

To be fair, I didn't find it that bad. Certainly no worse than The Golden Compass, which has a *very* similar feel. But most everybody who left the theatre did express huge disappointment.

The story is about a young boy who returns from a deep freeze after a hundred years to take his place as "the avatar," a master of the four elements whose role is to keep the peace among the four nations (Water Nation, Earth Nation, Air Nation, and Fire Nation). In each nation, there are citizens who have the ability to "bend" their own respective element.

The Fire Nation is the bad guy here. They are technologically advanced, possessed of great machines and metal warships, and they're trying to establish their supremacy over all others.

The world that Shyamalan paints has a strong sense of Buddhist/Nepalese culture, as the avatar belongs to an order of monks that practice katas to discipline their minds and control their psychic abilities. The other nations resemble Mongolian tribes, although Fire Nation is rather like Imperial China with Terra Cotta warriors.

The story is extremely simplistic and the direction is lacking in any kind of inspiration. The ending, however, is quite spectacular, but not enough to make up for the rest of the film.

Speaking of the ending, it is very obviously set up for a sequel, but I fear the sequel will never be made, as the box office will ultimately disappoint. Who will ever bankroll Shyamalan again?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

More on The Armageddon Factor from TVO

Here's an excellent interview by Steve Paikin on TVO's The Agenda:



The follow-up TVO program is a very good discussion on the book and the issues surrounding it:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Nature of Neocons

On my way to the gym Tuesday afternoon, I was thinking...

What do the G20 anarchists and protesters have in common with far right fanatics such as Ezra Levant and David Frum (as well as their American counterparts)? [I know, it's a very odd thing to think about, but then, that's how my genetically-engineered intellect works.]

Then it hit me like a soaking-wet burlap sack full of cow and horse manure: The only way for them to get their "message" across is through outrageous actions and/or diatribes (esp. vitriolic, insulting diatribes). They need to draw attention, any kind of attention. They need to display their outrage, their contempt, their most base self for all the world to see.

They're bullies, and they believe if the world doesn't listen to them, well, they'll foist their agenda into your face, whether you like it or not. The far right fanatics, in particular, have their own unique style: in print or on television/radio, they'll foam at the mouth, or turn red and go shrill while their blood pressure shoots through the roof. In effect, they're throwing a tantrum.

What astonishes me to no end is that well-respected intellectuals like my dear friends James and Norman would actually read their garbage in the National Post or other similar publications. I suppose the reason must be that their constituency lacks any sort of a respectable paragon or role model (such as the late great William F. Buckley Jr.). It's quite sad, really.

I yearn for the old days when political debates had class and decorum, when well-reasoned arguments were as devastatingly powerful as insults and snarky remarks and childish hysterics. But I guess I'll just have to grin and bear it, as frustrating as it may be. These are the times we live in, unfortunately...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nibbled by Ducks

I found this terrific comment, which nicely summarizes my feelings on the matter:

Rick Hiebert said, “I’d suggest that if you are not careful about your facts, can we assume that you are not careful about your thesis? Also, the thesis rests on your facts and is based on them.”

Yes, but I think there is a difference between an intentional error made to underpin an important point and an unintentional slip. So far, all the ranting I’ve heard are slips. If she had just left these bits of error out completely, it wouldn’t have diminished her case at all.

Those outrightly opposed to the premise of the book will find any and every error to discredit both it and its author. As metaphorically eluded to by Tim in Matthew chapter 23, they will ignore the weightier matters while garnering attention about incidentals.

I agree facts are paramount. Everything written as non-fiction literature must be evaluated by the basis of evidence to support it. But so far all I’ve heard from yonder “heavy weights” are comments akin to the whining of a two year old. So what I’d like to know is, if these learned and scholarly individuals seem to be so thorough in their dissection of McDonald’s reporting, what, if anything, DO they agree with as true, factual and more importantly, relevant, evidence? They travel land and sea, so to speak, to find one error, but the question is, will they also go the distance to find and admit the greater evidence McDonald gives to support her thesis? We all know there is in fact an ocean of truth to her thesis. But, I won’t hold my breath to hear it from the likes of Stackhouse, Wells or Levant.

Funny how important facts are when it comes to refuting something they don’t like, but when it’s something they do like, facts become irrelevant. Take the bible. A disquisition of the bible, the word of a perfect god (not infallible mankind), reveals a book rife with mistakes, contradictions, errors and inconsistencies. Even so, otherwise intelligent people, Christians, ignore them, do not demerit the book, because somehow they see the greater “truth” of the book outweighing the errors pointed out by critics.

If we are going to play by the “throw the baby out with the bath water” rules, then lets start with your sacred text – the bible.

Hear! Hear!

Like I said earlier, every non-fiction book has some factual errors. For Levant and others to focus on this is childish. While the book is being nibbled by ducks, they overlook the greater substance in McDonald's work, which sounds pretty solid to me.

Do "factual errors" spoil the book?

At Ezra Levant's own website, he lists "a comedy of errors"...

Levant says:
For example, on page 39, she says that Jason Kenney "served as Stockwell Day's chief of staff." I presume she makes that point to show just how dominant the Christian influence in Day's office is. But as anyone on Parliament Hill knows, Kenney has never been Day's chief of staff.
This is definitely a factual error. However, Kenney *was* national co-chairman for Stockwell Day's campaign for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. Does this error alter the substance of McDonald's book?

Levant says:
So, too, is the claim on page 65 that Ontario politician Frank Klees was a Baptist minister. He wasn't -- not that McDonald bothered to check with him before writing it.
Elsewhere on his own website, he says:
Did you know that Frank Klees was a Baptist minister?

No? Neither did Klees!
According to The Interim, a conservative newspaper, "He received his early religious education in a very conservative Baptist seminary in Toronto, but said he never became a Baptist minister and instead adopted the values he learned there."

Although...if you visit The Interim, apparently an older version of the website, the same writer says, "Frank Klees has highly principled positions, is a former Baptist minister and recently moved a motion to honour Pope John Paul II in the Ontario legislature."

Okay, my point is, it doesn't frakking matter! Obviously, Klees is very religious. If McDonald goofed here, it's virtually immaterial.

Levant's focus on "factual errors" is intended to suggest that McDonald's book is not a reliable source of information, that *ultimately* it is a work of pure fiction. You see, this is how the conservative mind works -- you can almost see the gears turning.

Non-fiction books routinely contain factual errors. I defy anyone to show me a non-fiction book that is absolutely flawless. Moreover, given that McDonald's book is over 400 pages in length, is it likely that the handful of factual errors (which, by the way, are pretty minor) overwhelm the rest of her thesis to the point of irrelevancy? Can we believe the conservative critics who say that this book is simply not worth reading and that her thesis deserves no thoughtful consideration at all?


One final thought:

On his own website, Levant says, and I quote: "She's a Christian hater -- that's a given." Funny, since McDonald regularly attends Anglican church with her family. What an asshole...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Marci McDonald vs Ezra Levant

CTV's Question Period had an interview with both of them:


Is it just me, or does Ezra Levant sound like a Major League Asshole? For a moment, I couldn't tell whether I was watching Levant or Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. They sort of blur into one another.

I thought living in Canada, I could keep my distance from extreme right-wing fruitcakes. If this isn't proof positive that American-style conservative wingnuts are making their way into Canadian politics, I don't know what is...

UPDATE (June 29, 2010): Check out Dr. Dawg's review of Marci McDonald's book. Very entertaining, and the best review I've read so far.

The Armageddon Factor

Ever since Marci McDonald's The Armageddon Factor was published earlier this year, a number of hateful book reviews have come out against it, mostly from the right and the Christian right. (Quel surpris!) The most egregious example was probably this one in The National Post. I wanted to understand what all the fuss was about (but I didn't really want to buy the book and read the whole thing).

Yesterday afternoon, I dropped into Indigo at the Eaton Centre (after Saturday's G20 violence, the World's Biggest Bookstore was closed). I sat down and read the passages that Frum cited...

Therefore:

6) The questioning of judicial nominees is the first step on the slippery slope to stoning adulterers!

That's not what McDonald said. I like the way Frum twists her words to make this inflammatory assertion. McDonald did point out that Harper and his colleagues were outraged by the power of the judiciary to make laws (something that many of us on this rant line acknowledge -- including myself). She outlined how Harper tried to alter this situation (and rightly so, as even I would concede). She then presented facts regarding others close to the centre of power who supported Harper's initiative, including Vellicott and Bloedow. As background, she delved further into the political views of Rushdoony, and pointed out that his views had fallen into disrepute. But she did say that contemporary conservatives had taken to reviving some of his themes. David Frum's hysterical admonition that we might ever support stoning of adulterers is so typical of right-wingers' tactics to discredit and tear down people whose views threaten their own. His wood-duck-burning-witches sarcasm is further absurdity in support of his vile contempt for McDonald.

“So unflinching has Harper’s backing of Israel been that some have questioned ... to what extent is this country’s role in the Middle East being influenced by ... the idea that the end of the world is at hand?” (p. 312)

McDonald was raising some questions that we should all consider. Is Frum suggesting that we should not ask such questions? Why not?

No matter how you read the above quoted paragraph (and I read it three times...carefully), you cannot interpret it as an assertion, which Frum obviously does.

Another fine phrase that is as loaded as dice in an underground gambling parlor: "sinister chain of causation." I didn't see a causal argument here. McDonald presented her observations (which you may or may not choose to accept). She left it up to us to put these observations in context.

Christians are not Marci McDonald’s most detested target.

Very nice! Makes it sound like she's a raging anti-Semite. I did not at all get the sense that McDonald had it out for Israel. "Most detested target"??? I suppose to anyone who is really, really sensitive about Israel, if you criticize that country in any way, you are anti-Semitic.

It especially enrages McDonald that “opponents of [the Harper government’s] pro-Israel policy are routinely branded as anti-Semites”

I love David Frum's use of the word "enrages" -- no, this word isn't loaded at all, is it? "Endorses." "Disdainfully dismisses." He makes it sound like McDonald is a raving lunatic. I read the cited passages and her tone is well-measured and reasonable. "The government pays too much attention to anti-Jewish hate crimes"?? I didn't get the sense that McDonald was terribly critical. She was just laying out observations from her experience.

Is it possible that McDonald has a particular point of view in this book? Yes. You can't really write a political book without injecting something of your own view into it. The political tome has not been written yet that is totally neutral -- and such a book would be quite dull, at any rate ;-)

After all, the point of her book *is* that Christian nationalism is taking root. I would expect her to make a forceful argument.

However, I did not get the sense that Marci McDonald was completely off-base in her attempt to present a thought-provoking dissertation. If her goal was to make us ask the right questions, to make us consider the possible, then I think she succeeded.

Is it possible that the Christian right is making a power play? Yes. In fact, I would be shocked if they weren't. We should consider the possibility that fundamentalist elements of faith are asserting themselves in Canadian politics. Seems to me, until McDonald wrote this book, no one even realized the likelihood. Certainly, I didn't.

It is apparent to me, if to no one else, that book reviews are much like movie reviews. They are subject to personal interpretation. That David Frum has his own particular interpretation is no surprise. What's really surprising is that his interpretation is firmly rooted in conservative ideology ;-)

Truth is always filtered through one's experiences. That's why there is no absolute truth. David Frum's review of the book is ample evidence of this. But why the hell am I surprised?! Since when have right-wing publications been unbiased???

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Microsoft

My old enemy...

Never forgotten...

Remember OS/2...

He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I'll chase him 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares Maelstrom and 'round Perdition's flames before I give him up!


Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? ... It is very cold in space!


I've done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her; marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet...buried alive! Buried alive...!


To the last, I will grapple with thee. ... From Hell's heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!


THIS IS CETI ALPHA FIVE! Ceti Alpha Six exploded six months after we were left here. The shock shifted the orbit of this planet and everything was laid waste. 'Admiral' Kirk never bothered to check on our progress. It was only the fact of my genetically-engineered intellect that allowed us to survive. ... On Earth, two hundred years ago, I was a prince with power over millions...

The Decline of Internet Explorer

How the mighty hath fallen! Microsoft's Internet Explorer has rapidly lost browser market share over the past year. Evidence is based on Google Analytics performed on my website, The Good Sex Network.

A year ago, Internet Explorer was king of the hill with a 76% share. Firefox was in second place with 16%. All other browsers hardly registered (less than 3% each).

This month, Microsoft's premiere browser slipped to a pathetic 50%. Firefox has 24%. And we have a new kid on the block with 13% share: Google's Chrome. (Safari and Opera each have about 5%.)

These results are sort of supported by other statistical studies, whose numbers do vary quite a lot. But there's no question that Internet Explorer is in serious decline, and Chrome is rapidly ascending. (Firefox and Safari are relatively stagnant.)

Steve Ballmer and Microsoft can't be happy, which makes me very happy. Can we spell s-c-h-a-d-e-n-f-r-e-u-d-e, boys and girls?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fish oil capsules do work...

...I think. For the past six months, I've been taking three 1000mg capsules per day (as well as multivitamins), and I believe I feel more alert and sharper than I did last year. It's not a HUGE change, but any change is appreciated.

My memory is still pretty spotty, but I think I have better short-term recall.

And this week, I've been shooting remarkably well on the archery range. I've learned to relax and take my time firing off the arrows. Previously, I was always too quick and anxious to release the arrow (not unlike premature ejaculation). But now I can tap into my intuitive centre and find the calm that I need to guide the arrow. Patience, Grasshopper, patience.

It's a bit like tapping into the Force. Or our great mother Eywa (Avatar). Okay, enough Hollywood metaphors. You get the picture.

To paraphrase Porsche: Omega-3...there is no substitute.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Most Fascinating Resource in the World

http://www.onlineschools.org/

Here's what I learned...

The average American watches 151 hours of TV per month -- an all-time high.

Dr. No was a cyborg (I haven't seen the movie in ages, but I don't recall this fact).

1 million people per year commit suicide in the world. That's one death every 40 seconds.

Japan has the highest suicide rate in the industrial world.

It's estimated that 12-15 suicides are attempted for every one that succeeds.

Prostitution is legal and regulated within 22 countries (including Austria, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico, Australia & Colombia).

1 in 10 men in the world have purchased a prostitute. The rate in China is 1 in 4. And 1 in 5 Korean men pay for sex more than 4 times a month.

Men between 35-44 are the most common demographic of customer. 2 out of 5 men paid for services they never received. 1 in 5 were robbed by the prostitute.

Men ejaculate over 14 gallons of sperm in their lifetime.

Sarah Carmen suffers from Permanent Sexual Arousal Syndrome. Because of this, she can have 150-200 uncontrollable orgasms in a day.

The most female orgasms recorded by doctors were 134 within a single hour!

When queen bees mate with a lucky drone, the male's genitals snap off and explode during orgasm.

A pig's orgasm lasts for 30 minutes.

Learning a second language before the age of 5 changes how the brain will develop later in life.

1.35 billion people smoke worldwide. That's 1 out of every 5 people.

Every day, your sinuses produce up to 2 litres of mucus.
1 out of 5 people pick their nose up to 5 times a day.
1 out of 4 "pickers" spend up to 15 minutes a day.

1 out of 2 have eaten their boogers.
1 out of 10 have eaten ear wax.

Women are legally allowed to be topless in Hawaii, Texas, Ohio, New York, and Maine. In Ontario, too.

Top Ten Farters:
  1. Termites
  2. Camels
  3. Zebras
  4. Sheep
  5. Cows
  6. Elephants
  7. Labradors/Retrievers
  8. Humans (vegetarians)
  9. Humans (non-veg)
  10. Gerbils
Of the $97 billion in worldwide pornography revenues, the top spenders are:
  1. China - 28%
  2. S. Korea - 27%
  3. Japan - 21%
  4. U.S. - 14%
I don't mean to be racist, but why are the top 3 Asian??

Companies like Time Warner, GM, and Marriott make millions selling erotica.

The online dating industry is worth $1.049 billion per year.

1 out of 3 women who meet men online have sex on the first encounter. I find this very hard to believe. They must've made a mistake in this study.

Sunday is most popular day for online porn

I got such a hoot from reading this, I just had to share it with all of you! ;-)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

House Warming Gift

27-inch iMac for my new condo next year:
  • 2560x1440 screen
  • 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5
  • 4GB 1066MHz DDR3
  • 1TB hard drive 7200 rpm
  • ATI Radeon HD 4850 w/512MB
  • 8x double-layer SuperDrive
  • Wireless Magic Mouse
  • Wireless keyboard
  • AppleCare Protection Plan
C$2,298

It doesn't have the most powerful processor (2.8GHz i7), but I'm not a power user and I don't run high-performance apps. The gorgeous 27" screen is the main attraction, as is the 1TB hard drive (my goal in life is to break the 1TB barrier). This will make for an excellent development machine, as well as for hacking into the Pentagon a là "24".

I was going to get the 15" MacBook Pro (to avoid cable mess and for small footprint), but -- dammit! -- that huge screen is seductive. And at any rate, I want to achieve my life goal...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Offensive PETA Ad?

The Vatican took offense at this PETA ad featuring Joanna Krupa:


I don't know about you, but I really, really, really, really, REALLY like the placement of the cross...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ning Alternatives

Ever since Ning announced that they were phasing out their free service, I've been scrambling to find a suitable free alternative (being the Cheap Bastard that I am). I wanted to find a company that, by virtue of its size and, hopefully, successful business model, was most likely to survive and to keep offering the free service in perpetuity. I evaluated six candidates: Grou.ps, Grouply, Groupsite, SocialGO, Spruz, and Webs. (See Comments section for my selection criteria.) Here are my findings and recommendations...

Grou.ps

What I liked:
  • 10GB free storage
  • Upload and store videos from your computer
What I didn't like:
  • Very buggy -- could never get video uploads to work
  • Unreliable service
  • Profile questions text editor behaves very oddly
Recommendation:

Avoid this service.


Grouply

What I liked:
  • 10GB free storage
  • Can search entire network
What I didn't like:
  • Poor selection of themes
  • No custom profile questions (or their site manager is infuriatingly difficult to use)
Recommendation:

Avoid this service.


Groupsite

What I liked:
  • Can search entire network
What I didn't like:
  • Very awkward method of video sharing
  • Unable to post a blog using Chrome browser
  • Only 250MB of storage
  • Profile questions text editor behaves very oddly
Recommendation:

Avoid this service.


SocialGO

What I liked:
  • Can customize a theme with header and background image from your computer
  • Respectable 1GB of storage
What I didn't like:
  • Very inflexible site manager (in the free service)
  • Profile questions text editor relies on HTML coding
  • Profile questions are more tedious to set up
  • Search facility doesn't work
Recommendation:

Avoid this service.


Spruz

What I liked:
  • Nice themes.
What I didn't like:
  • Profile questions text editor relies on HTML coding
  • Profile questions use colon in a very odd manner
  • Limited storage space if your site has low traffic (100MB for less than 500 Avg Daily Page Views)
Recommendation:

Not a bad choice, if you can live with the quirks.

UPDATE July 8, 2010: Their free service has now changed because of this. A warning to all network creators that the economics of freemium services is unreliable.


Webs

What I liked:
  • Nice themes.
  • Upload and store videos from your computer
  • Video gallery allows embedded videos
  • Very flexible site manager
What I didn't like:
  • Very chintzy on storage space (40MB) and bandwidth (500MB)
  • No subgroups
Recommendation:

As long as you don't need lots of storage or bandwidth, and you don't need subgroups, I recommend Webs. I finally settled on Webs for my free social network, Good Sex Space.


Ultimately, none of these social network services live up to the standard set by Ning. Webs came the closest, but their parsimonious storage prevents them from delivering a knockout punch (however, this may keep them in business longer as the free service is not a huge drain). It's a pity Ning was unable or unwilling to continue providing the free service.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is the meaning of life?

Every day, I am reminded of this question. Just yesterday, while I was at the Columbus Centre doing my workout, I saw a bunch of school boys in the locker room. I thought to myself, these kids are very strong, they have great potential, they'll be able to do great things with their life.

My best days are long over. Once upon a time, I had great physical strength. I had a remarkably sharp mind. I had ambition. I coulda been a somebody...

Assuming I have another 20 "good" years left (what is a useful definition of "good"?), I'm counting down my days. Yesterday was day #7300. Today is #7299. It's not such a large number, is it?

(And after these days run out, I'll be warehoused, ready for physical expiration.)

It's frightening how easily one can waste a day away. I crawl into bed in the middle of the afternoon for a short nap, and suddenly several hours have vanished!

I watch some shows I've timeshifted from the night before, and more hours evaporate. I go out for a walk on a beautiful day, grab a Second Cup, sit down at the Eaton Centre for a little rest, and hours slip away.

I struggle with an Android tutorial, and a whole afternoon is gone!

I make for a lousy Time Lord. I can't manage my time very well. (The new season of Doctor Who is fabulous! I love Matt Smith.)

My life is running out too quickly. Eighty years are but a brief instant in time. (Stephen Hawking suggests that there may be alien civilizations that live out their entire existence in a matter of seconds!!)

To me, life is meaningless. I have no legacy, and no one to leave a legacy to. Nobody cares whether I live or die. Will anybody show up at my funeral? Will anybody bother to write an obituary for me? What would be the point?

In the final analysis, my life is about making the journey from Point A to Point B as comfortably as I can, without pain or sorrow, without anguish over the past or apprehension about the future. Simply make this moment pleasant. It doesn't have to be meaningful or useful or practical. It doesn't have to be important or memorable. I just have to feel good in it. This moment. Right now.

And like the morning dew, it vanishes.

No one is ever "remembered." You may "remember" Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill, but all you remember are the names and the deeds. Such remembrances have no meaning. They are merely bricks in the foundation of our civilization.

The meaning to *your* life, if it ever existed, dissolves when your last loved one expires. And with the death of memory, all is lost...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Go Android!

http://techcrunch.com/2010/04/19/steve-jobs-android-porn/

Steve Jobs says:
We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.
This is wrong on, oh, so many levels...

First, Apple is a technology company, pure and simple. Their role is to manufacture cool gadgets for consumers to enjoy...and make tons of money in the process. Who appointed them the moral police for the global community?

Second, Apple's criteria for determining what is, or is not, porn include the presence of nudity. Not all nudity is pornographic. Not all nudity is sexually arousing (pornography is intended to sexually arouse). Context is vital (but unfortunately it is also subject to interpretation). Images of genitalia have appeared in works of art throughout history. It takes a person who is extremely erotophobic to be offended by any and all kinds of nudity.

Third, why is porn "immoral?" Why is it immoral to be sexually aroused by images?

And if you believe that the source of objection is in how those images are produced (through human exploitation), then you are incredibly ignorant. Hugh Hefner would not consider his girls as exploited, nor would the girls themselves. Jenna Jameson, the most successful porn star in the world, does not feel exploited. And every hour of every day, thousands of people around the planet are uploading amateur porn to the Internet, NOT for profit (because they don't get paid) but because they enjoy their sexuality. This is not exploitation.

Fourth, iPhone users (even the most prudish) are not obligated to purchase or view porn. It is entirely the consumer's choice. What is wrong with simply making porn available for purchase? Put the software in its own special category and set up parental controls.

(Not that there's any point. Anybody who wants porn can easily get it off the Internet -- and there are no parental controls! For example, youporn.com and redtube.com.)

BTW, there's a *lot* of money to be made in adult apps. Apple are depriving themselves of a great deal of revenue.

But, hey, this *is* Steve Jobs' App Store -- he can do whatever he likes. And we can eschew the iPhone in favour of an Android phone.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Upgrading to the Canon EOS 7D, Part 2

Sweet Mother of Jesus, I'm talking myself into buying a 7D!!!

Next year, after I've settled in at my new West Harbour City condo, I may upgrade my 40D to the 7D. As a special treat to myself, I may also buy the first, and probably only, 'L' lens in my lens collection: the 300mm f/4.0L IS for C$1,400. This baby is equivalent to 500mm on a full frame camera! (The 500mm f/4.0L IS sells for C$7,000, a difference of $5,600. This monetary difference could pay for a vacation in Japan and Australia!)

Not only is the 300mm a lot less expensive than the 500mm, it's also a lot lighter -- 2.6 lbs vs 8.53 lbs. This hernia-inducing 6-pound difference makes using the 500mm a terrible burden.

Now you understand why the 7D, with its 1.6x crop factor, is so attractive. You can achieve much longer focal reach for less money and less weight.

Here's a review of the 300mm f/4.0L IS.

To recap, the choice of 7D over 5D Mk II saves $1,000. The collateral choice of 300mm over 500mm saves $5,600. Total saving? $6,600. Don't we feel richer now?

Upgrading to the Canon EOS 7D

A friend, who was looking to buy a new Canon DSLR to replace his aging 300D, asked me for a recommendation. The short list included the (full frame) 5D Mark II and the recently released 7D. After some deliberation, we decided on the 7D (with a couple of caveats).

The 7D offers very impressive features:
  1. dual DIG!C 4 processors, which not only aid in high fps, but also in improved in-camera image processing
  2. 8 fps continuous shooting speed (which is pretty darn close to the blistering 10 fps of the 1D Mk IV)
  3. a new, super-sophisticated AF system with 19 cross-type points
  4. 100% viewfinder with 1.0x magnification -- every photographer should *demand* this feature!
  5. ISO sensitivity up to 12800 (perfectly usable at 6400)
  6. a new, 63-zone, colour-sensitive metering system
  7. wireless flash control
  8. 18 mp resolution for when you need large prints
  9. the best HD video feature on the market -- just in case you *ever* need video
  10. the best weathersealing short of buying a pro camera such as the 1D Mk IV
The 5D Mark II falls far behind in terms of features. And my friend values the 8 fps shooting speed and 1.6x crop factor more than full frame Image Quality. The wireless flash control is also a major attraction.

The 7D costs C$1,000 less than the 5D Mark II, a very significant difference.

The first caveat is: the 7D's AF system seems to throw a lot of owners off, so be prepared to do your homework. RTFM and be sure you understand how to use the new AF. It's not rocket science, but less acute minds will falter over this.

The second caveat is: the 7D has only been selling for 6 months -- much too soon to buy. All Canon cameras need time to sort out initial problems, esp. the high-end DSLRs. I would recommend delaying your purchase until the fall.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tips for Optimizing the Toshiba NB305

When you first turn on the NB305 netbook, you will be prompted to restore the Operating System from its recovery disk partition. Once completed, you will have a pristine copy of the software environment.

Tip #1
Before you connect to the Internet, create your Recovery DVD. If you connect to the Internet immediately, updates will be made to your software environment and you will no longer have a pristine copy.

Tip #2
Get rid of Toshiba's bloatware. This includes trialware such as Norton Internet Security, MS Office, and WildTangent. Also, get rid of MS Works -- there are better office suites available such as Google Docs and OpenOffice.org.

After you've activated your warranty online using Toshiba Bulletin Board, get rid of Bulletin Board, as well. This piece of bloatware consumes 42MB of valuable memory and, in my opinion, its functionality is not worth it.

Tip #3
Set your taskbar to 'auto-hide' -- your screen real estate is already highly constricted, thanks to the 1024x600 resolution, and there's no need to have the taskbar visible all the time.

Tip #4
In your browser, hide any unnecessary toolbars to maximize the client area (for the same reason as in Tip #3). I use Google Chrome, rather than Internet Explorer, and I hide the Bookmarks toolbar.

Tip #5
When watching 720p HD videos off the Internet, make sure you completely download the video first before playback. The NB305 is normally too slow to play HD video and you need to give it every chance. For some reason that baffles me, downloading a HD video consumes a large amount of CPU cycles.

In my experience, QuickTime HD plays best while Flash HD stutters from time to time.

Tip #6
To download and play Flash HD, I recommend making a copy of the temporary Flash video file and playing it with VLC. To make a copy of the temporary Flash video file, you need a tool such as HoboCopy.

I created a desktop shortcut to cmd.exe (to run in Administrator mode). For convenience and safety, I created a batch file in the default starting folder (Windows\System32) to change directory to my home folder, where hobocopy.exe resides. I created two more batch files:

whatflash.bat:
dir appdata\local\temp\fla*.tmp

copyflash.bat:
@echo off
if .%1 == . goto end
hobocopy appdata\local\temp desktop fla%1.tmp
:end

...where %1 is the 3 or 4-character suffix from fla*.tmp.

Whatflash.bat tells you what temporary Flash video files you have from Chrome's online access of Flash video.

Copyflash.bat copies a particular temporary file (identified from whatflash.bat) to your desktop. Subsequently, you need to rename the file as .flv for playback with VLC.

Note that the above only applies if you're using Google Chrome. For other browsers, you will have to find other workarounds. (Good luck!)

Alternatively, you can use a third-party service such as keepvid.com to convert a YouTube HD video to MP4. I don't like relying on a third-party service unless they're a big name and likely to be around for a long time (eg, Google).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

RapeLay

CNN on RapeLay video game

I have to admit, I'm not familiar with Hentai games, but I am intrigued! I'd like to play this one, called RapeLay...

The object of the game is to rape and brutalize young teenage girls. Mmmmm.

Women's rights groups all around the world are up in arms over this. What a bunch of whiny, self-righteous, sanctimonious nags!!

Hey, people, this is just fantasy. You know, things you do in your imagination that you'd never do in real life? It's downright therapeutic to go through these kinds of psychic exercises to purge yourself of dark tendencies.

People have been playing such violent video games for ages and our society is still intact and we haven't created a whole new generation of rapists, murderers, and thugs.

Oh, and don't even *try* to bring up the few instances of aberrant behaviour that have been sensationalized in the news. The truth is, there has always been, and there will always be, mentally disturbed people in our society. We cannot live our lives in fear of inciting these perverts to action.

For the rest of us, there is nothing wrong with these games. The argument that they "desensitize" us to violence is nonsense. I love watching shows like Spartacus: Blood and Sand and 300, but that hasn't made me a violent individual. I still feel empathy for those who suffer pain from crime or war. I'm still very compassionate.

How to explain this apparent inconsistency? Simple...

Like most people, I can make the distinction between fantasy and reality. I can embrace my dark side, and stay firmly grounded in the light. Like a master thespian, I can play evil without *being* evil. I can have fun playing Devil's advocate without subscribing to demonic creed.

In short, I recognize the duality of my (human) nature, and I am not afraid to explore both aspects. Critics of RapeLay cower in fear over their own potential to do evil. They do not understand that such games *defuse* such tendencies...

[Editor's note: By the way, RapeLay is marketed to adults, NOT kids.]

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

iPad Thai

Green-Lantern weighs 2.6 lbs, 1.1 lbs more than the iPad. (The iPad has roughly the same footprint, but it's a LOT thinner.)

What do you get in return for this extra weight?
  1. a REAL, physical keyboard
  2. a 250GB hard drive -- about 4x the storage of iPad
  3. a user-replaceable battery
  4. a card reader, VGA port, Ethernet port, and several USB ports
This makes Green-Lantern eminently more versatile than iPad. And, honestly, Win7 Starter Edition isn't much more onerous than the iPad OS.

What iPad has going for it is the e-reader capability, something Green-Lantern is distinctly unsuited for. Also, iPad is good at playing HD videos.

Where the iPad falls down are:
  1. no built-in webcam (for videoconferencing)
  2. no multitasking
  3. no support for Flash
  4. Apple's draconian control of the App Store
  5. no USB (except via a stupid dongle)
However, iPad is the future of computing. Someday, I'll ditch Green-Lantern in favour of an iPad-like device (with the abovementioned problems fixed)...

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2361906,00.asp

timseh says:
I contend that it will change the game. and radically change it at that. Why? Tablets have been tried over and over again for years. In some cases, they've proven to be interesting, even useful niche products, but they haven't caught on. Previous tablets have tried to shoehorn a desktop OS into a keyboardless, touchscreen laptop. They put too much emphasis on remaining backward compatible.
...
The iPad is a forward looking device. Apple has managed to do what previous attempts at tablets have failed to do. They have re-imagined what a truly portable touchscreen device can do and how. Interacting with the iPad and the core applications is intuitive. Natural. It's more than the Apple "it just works" propaganda. It makes sense when you use it. The calendar and address book behave the way their paper cousins do, but they can do so much more. In iBooks, books behave like... well, books. Apps like these, and like the photo app, Mail and Safari show us new ways to do the things we do on other platforms.
...
Where it really breaks new ground is the fact that people (lots of people) will actually use it. And once they start using it, it will change the way people interact with information of all kinds.
Check out these Apple/Steve Jobs recipes:

http://www.thecooksden.com/steve-jobs-cheese-head/

Monday, March 29, 2010

Netbook Screens

I went to the Sony Store and looked at 10.1" netbooks with 1366x768 screens. The text on the screen was tiny, both in Windows and in webpages. It was hard to read and hard on my eyes. To be sure, the fault is mine: my weak, aging eyes.

This is what happens when you try to stuff 70% more pixels into the same screen real estate (most 10.1" screens use 1024x600). Of course, you can enlarge the font size in Windows to compensate, and you can magnify the webpage in the browser. But I have to ask: What's the reason to have a higher resolution screen in a netbook? Play video games? Watch HD movies?

Dan Ackerman and Scott Stein at CNET are always going on about how the newer, premium netbooks offer the higher resolution screen, a gentle rebuke of high-end devices such as my NB305. But if you don't have the right hardware, a high resolution screen is a waste.

You need discrete graphics acceleration in order to enjoy a positive gaming experience, or a positive HD video experience. However, discrete graphics will also drain your battery more quickly. I appreciate the 8.5 hours of battery life on my NB305, and I wouldn't trade any of it for better gaming or High Definition. In the end, it really depends on what is important to you.

My Green Lantern Netbook


I just bought the Toshiba NB305 netbook from Futile Shop for C$390. (Mine is Mocha Brown.)

I've given it the machine name Green-Lantern.

The selection of the NB305 was based primarily on its exceptional industrial design. It looks gorgeous! The trackpad is very nice to use. The high quality keyboard feels luxurious. The 6-cell battery has a good shape that doesn't protrude impractically.

There's also the Toshiba brand, which I've always favoured.

The NB305 has a large 250GB hard drive, a 10.1" screen with 1024x600 resolution, and the new Atom N450 processor. The 6-cell battery provides an impressive battery life of 8.5 hours.

Green-Lantern will serve three purposes:
  1. Mobile Internet Device
  2. Digital camera backup for 40D & S90, via USB or SD card
  3. Media player (mainly movie files)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Scaled Test

There are some people who claim that the dpreview.com tests for high ISO noise are unfair because they use 100% magnification to compares images of different resolutions. So I took the 50D 3200 ISO RAW noise sample and scaled it down to match the size of the corresponding 40D 3200 ISO sample. And you know what? The 50D still looks noisier!



Perhaps it's because the difference in resolution isn't sufficiently great. But I think there's a better explanation: if you take a cluster of noisy pixels and average them out into a single pixel, you still get a noisy pixel. The process of averaging is NOT any kind of noise reduction.

Now, you may argue that the resulting noise is less noticeable but the loss of detail due to smearing is also noticeable, as you can see above.

Repeating the process for cameralabs.com:



As you can see, same outcome. The downscaled 50D image has less detail.


My Gear
  • Canon EOS 40D with BG-E2N battery grip
  • EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS
  • EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS
  • EF 100mm f/2.8 macro
  • EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5
  • EF 50mm f/1.8 II
  • 580EX II external flash
  • Cameron/Marumi DRF14 macro ring flash
  • Induro C-014 carbon fiber tripod with SA-0 ballhead
  • Lowepro Fastpack 250 camera bag
  • Canon PowerShot S90 backup camera
For an amateur photographer, and a novice at that, this is pretty good gear. C$5,100 worth.

(For the same price, the EF 70-200mm f/4L is much sharper than the 70-300mm. However, the latter has Image Stabilization, or IS, and a longer focal reach. IS allows for handholdability, without the need for a tripod, and that's very convenient.)

The 40D body alone was effectively C$1,000, slightly more expensive than the consumer-oriented Rebel T2i that you can buy today. But in return, you get:
  1. durable magnesium alloy construction
  2. comfortable grip
  3. ergonomic control wheel
  4. large bright pentaprism viewfinder (0.95x magnification)
  5. better AF (9 cross-type points)
  6. 6.5 fps shooting speed
  7. top LCD info display
Otherwise, the 40D is a fairly basic body, without such amenities as built-in vignette correction, contrast-detect AF, and VGA screen.

I am primarily interested in wildlife, landscape, and macro photography.