Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend Rental Review: Despicable, Pirates, Knight

Every now and then, we'll go down to Family Video and grab a few movies.  This past weekend, we watched Knight and Day, Despicable Me, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  Here goes a review slam on all three films...

Knight and Day is your typical fun Tom Cruise shoot-em-up movie.  Tom is a spy who gets mixed up with Cameron Diaz.  He ends up trying to protect her.  The movie is full of cliches, but I didn't care.  It was exactly what I expected.  It has action.  It has humor.  It has bikinis.  (Did I say that?)

This movie was somewhat shunned in its opening week.  It came in third at the box office behind Toy Story 3 and Grown Ups.  I remember the rumors about bad reviews directed at Tom Cruise's unpopularity.  I know critics aren't supposed to let politics corrupt their art, but then again, the movie made a killing in the foreign market.  Makes me wonder.

My only complaints: there was one cuss word that just did not work - not even a "A" for "F"-fort.  And all the really funny scenes are already in the previews.  Although the previews do a good job of not giving away the main plot points, don't expect to see too many funny parts beyond what you've probably already seen.  (One of these days, I'll get around to writing my Preview Rant blog entry.)

Other than that, I enjoyed the movie.  Both Cruise and Diaz were funny, and they had a good chemistry going.  It also has plenty of cool spy action.  If you want to relax and have fun, then watch this movie.

Despicable Me was another fun movie that turned out pretty well.  The most impressive feature was the inclusion of several characters that you really care about.  It's funny, but then again - the most funny parts are included in the previews.

I can't say too much more without giving a lot of the movie away, but I'll try.  It's about an evil villain who's over the hill.  He wants to commit the ultimate crime.  Along the way, he meets three orphan girls, and ... well ... things happen.  Um, that didn't come out right, did it?

All of my children enjoyed the movie, and they laughed throughout.  The movie has wonderful pacing, so don't expect very many boring moments.

Steve Carell's fake accent is funny beyond belief.  It sounds like someone trying to do an accent where the person thinks he's doing a good job, but it's really terrible (think Michael Scott on The Office doing one of his voices).  At the same time, Carell is consistent with this accent throughout the whole movie, and I find that amazing.  I think he Gru on me.

Finally, we come to the oldie but goody: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

We wanted to show this film to our then-younger children who are now old enough to watch it.  Though, I had forgotten how much murdering goes on in this movie!  Well, I guess they are pirates.  What else would anyone expect?  There was plenty of fantasy gore, but my kids didn't seem to have any nightmares.  (Hmmm ... any other PG-13 movies I can show them?  I'm still waiting to show them The Sixth Sense or The Others.)

The movie was fun to watch (a third time for me), but it does seem to get long.  It has a lot of funny lines.  This time around, I also noticed more of those scenes that match up with the Pirates ride at Disneyworld.  (My kids pointed out a few of those scenes to me.)

Of course, Johnny Depp's performance is always fun to watch.  There's something about his eyes!

Before I end the review, I'll end with something my girl pointed out.  You may remember a scene near the beginning where Jack Sparrow has his two hands handcuffed together.  He escapes by wrapping the handcuffs over a rope and sliding down to safety.  It's a scene that's been done countless times in countless movies.

My girl said: How in the world does he get the handcuffs around the rope?  Think about it.  The top of the rope is attached to a pole.  Now imagine yourself with your hands handcuffed together, and you're standing behind that pole with a rope on it.  You reach over the pole to get your handcuffs around the rope - but then, how do you get your body past the pole?  It's topologically impossible!  No wonder there's a cut just before and just after he slides down the rope!  Hah!  At least they make it look possible!

And there you have it ... a fun weekend of movies!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review - Ursula Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea

For my first book review, I pick Ursula K Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea.  I had seen the miniseries on SyFy a few years ago when it used to be the SciFi Channel.  I enjoyed the miniseries, so I thought I'd like the book.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was drastically better than the miniseries.

I usually read sci-fi, but I've enjoyed the following epic fantasy books: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wheel of Time (up to book 8).  Le Guin's book is definitely up there with the rest of them.

Le Guin's writing style is distinctive.  In most of the other books I read, dialogue is the main driver of the action.  Usually, the formula is: set the stage, provide a lengthy exposition of something that occurs within a brief amount of time, then provide a transition to get to the next lengthy exposition.

For example, consider the six Star Wars movies.  They each fit into a chronology where a lot of time passes in between each movie, but each one movie concentrates on events that transpire over a few days.

Le Guin does the exact opposite.  There is amazingly little dialogue in the book, and we rarely get a full conversation.  Rather, we get to see important snippets of what's said.  Le Guin instead concentrates on the overall story arc of Ged/Sparrowhawk's life.  She tells the story as one relating a legend while sitting around a campfire.  The words are flowery with plenty of metaphors.  With the lack of dialogue and other fillers, the writing is dense, and the pace can be very quick at times.  At the blink of an eye, a year or two can pass.  Even with only twenty or so pages left to read in the book, I wondered how she could finish the book with so little paper left, but I should not have feared - she ended it well.

Le Guin has the talent of describing concepts that otherwise wouldn't make much sense - but somehow she makes sense of it.  For example, here's an excerpt of her explaining the strange coldness of the Court of the Terrenon.

From these windows Ged looked out, as he kept by himself in his high tower-room, day after day, dull and heartsick and cold.  It was always cold in the tower, for all the carpets and the tapestried hangings and the rich furred clothing and the broad marble fireplaces they had.  It was a cold that got into the bone, into the marrow, and would not be dislodged.  And in Ged's heart a cold shame settled also and would not be dislodged, as he thought always how he had faced his enemy and been defeated and had run. ... And he would watch the snow falling, thin and ceaseless, on the empty lands below the window, and feel the dull cold grow within him, till it seemed no feeling was left to him except a kind of weariness.

Doesn't that just give you the shivers?  Oh, and did you notice how much time had elapsed in that short passage?  It's impossible to know exactly how much time passed, but it certainly feels like a long time.  (Okay, now I'm feeling a little depressed.)

I recommend this book for anyone seeking a fantastic epic with vignettes that will stick with you for years.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Missed "V" Last Night and Now I'm Screwed?

As a sci-fi writer, I watch a lot of sci-fi shows.  I have to keep up with what's going on.  I was actually enjoying watching "V" - the remake - on ABC.

That is, until last night.  I was doing something else at 9PM and the DVR got a little confused.  The result: I missed it.  I wasn't angry, because after all, this is 2011, and if you miss a show, you can always find it online or catch it On Demand.


When I went searching for it tonight, I discovered that it's gone.  It's not On Demand.  So I went to  But no dice.  They state: "Streaming rights for full episodes are no longer available."  Okay, next I went to  This is where I really get angry.  They have a note that says:
Fellow V fans,

It is with much regret that we must inform you that full episodes of V will not be available on or Hulu for Season 2. Just like you, we truly wish full episodes were playing here. But we also hope our detailed recaps will keep you informed and entertained should you ever miss an episode.

Best always,

The Team
Are they really trying to kill off the series like this?  Do they really mean to show it one time and no reruns?  In this day and age, no show can survive like this.  Most successful shows will show multiple times on multiple channels and be available through several different streaming options. 

And boy are "V" fans angry!  As one poster on hulu says to the producers of "V":  "Come on get with the Times!!!! 21st Century Much????"

On, there are 1785 comments in response to their letter, and not even one comment is positive.  Most of them are along the lines of "You just lost another viewer, ABC."

But before blaming ABC, I don't think it's entirely their fault.  There are no official statements as to why they refuse to stream the show, but there are rumors going around.  The most prevalent believable rumor is that Warner Brothers is the real culprit.  In the past, they have demonstrated that they will do whatever it takes to maximize their profits.  After all, they have every right to do so.  If they think "V" is in high demand, they may decide that it's in their best interest to limit the supply to bring in more money - even if it means making the fans angry.

I think I know where the producers are going with this.  They hope that when the viewers see that the only way to watch "V" is to catch it on Tuesday nights, then they will all tune in live - and then the Nielsen ratings will go up.  But can you say, BACKFIRE?

With so many angry fans, people are just going to stop watching.  Viewership will drop like a rock, and the show will be canceled, and then the cash cow will be shot.

As it is now, Season 2 episodes are not available anywhere (legally) - not even on iTunes or  So, even if you didn't mind paying $4 to watch, it's not even an option at this time.

To Warner Brothers, ABC, and other greedy producers, I say: it's not too late.  Save this show.  Make your fans happy.  Turn streaming back on.

Or, you can do what you usually do and stick to your guns and ruin another decent show.



Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Narnia)

I was pleasantly surprised.

First, I must admit that of the seven Narnia novels, I found The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to be the most boring.  (Keep in mind that I was a teenager at the time.)  So boring, it would take me several years before I got enough interest to finish the book and continue with the rest of the series.  In the novel, the protagonists go around in this boat looking for seven lords and ... <snore>.  About the only thing I enjoyed from the book at the time was the island of dreams, and they didn't actually go there!

Thus, I dreaded to watch the movie version, but was pleased to find it was not boring.  Plus, they expounded on the elements I actually enjoyed from the novel.  The result: a worthy sequel in an already great series.

To help the story move along, the writers introduced the idea of a green mist.  It wants to devour the world, and it emanates from an island much like the island of dreams.  I usually don't enjoy it when movie writers add to the novel (such as the White Witch's appearance in Prince Caspian), but in this case the green mist made a big difference.

The biggest surprise of the movie was one of the most successful character transformations that I've seen in a long time.  I'm talking about the new character, Eustace Scrubb, played by Will Poulter.  He starts out as a very annoying brat, which Poulter pulls off very convincingly.  By the end of the movie, he turns into a heroic figure, who you can't help but to like.  The transformation was fun to watch.  It was natural, believable, and effective - much like Al Pacino's performance as Michael Corleone in The Godfather.

Religious Themes: Keep in mind that Lewis swore up and down that the Narnia series was not meant to be Christian literature.  He was writing something that he hoped all children could enjoy.  He modeled Aslan after Jesus Christ, but beyond that, no specific religion is mentioned.

Yet, you'll find plenty of religious overtones in this movie.  The green mist tempts all who are weak.  Aslan urges them to be strong.  If you believe (here - it's the generic "believe" like in The Polar Express), then you can overcome.

Though, I must point out: if this is meant to be religion-neutral, then C. S. Lewis slipped a little when he had Aslan say, "[In your world], I have another name.  You must learn to know me by that name."  I'm not sure what a non-Christian is supposed to think of this line.  (Unless, of course one might think that Aslan is their own father - one possible interpretation, but a stretch.)

Still, I think that anyone would enjoy this film regardless of their religious affiliation.  None of the religious themes are in your face, and any moralist would agree with the concepts presented (mainly to overcome vanity, greed, pride, etc.).

3-D Effects: We chose to watch this movie in 2-D, which was hard to find.  (Stay tuned to my 3-D rant in an upcoming blog post.)  I did not miss the 3-D effects at all, and I still feel like I got a full enjoyment from the movie.  However, there was the one long scene toward the end that I think would have been fun to watch in 3-D.

I would recommend this movie to anyone over 8 years old (there are a few scary scenes for younger children).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Space Battleship Yamato = Anime Come to Life

Any Space Battleship Yamato fans out there?  Or, should I say Star Blazers?  This classic anime has hit the big screen in Japan.  It's a live-action remake, and it looks well done.  Check out this trailer...

This movie is getting great reviews.  It was the #1 movie in Japan, pushing Harry Potter #7.1 aside.  It has a score of 7.3 on (out of 92 votes). 

Even if you've never seen the 1970's TV anime, you would probably recognize the major plot lines, which have been borrowed in many subsequent sci-fi productions.  Basically, Earth is getting pounded.  The only way to save Earth is to send a ship to a far away planet to retrieve a device that will save the day.  But they must hurry, as they only have one year before everything dies.  As you may gather, this is no easy task.

Does this sound familiar to you?  Battlestar Galactica, perhaps?  Or perhaps you've seen the 13-episode run of the unfinished Babylon 5 sequel Crusade?  In the latter show, the protagonists are given five full years to seek out the cure to the disease that is killing Earth.

My only complaint about this movie: I CAN'T SEE IT!  (Otherwise I'd be able to give a more smashing review.)

There's no word as to when and if they'll release it in the USA.  Someone has to bring it here.  Please!  Please!  Please!  Somebody translate it!  Buy the rights!  We'll pay!

Go Kodai!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review - The Cape on NBC

Last night I watched the premiere of "The Cape" on NBC.  It turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It contains a lot of elements you would expect to see in a good comic book: the cool villains, the superhero, the back stories, the titles that go with each chapter, etc.  In general, it was just plain cool.  Even the music was well-scored and the acting was better than usual for TV shows.  It even had humor that was actually funny.

The plot is similar to Batman.  A person with no superpowers (Vince Faraday) obtains a magician's cape.  He learns how to use the cape as a weapon.  He learns a few magician tricks, and even picks up hypnosis.  In a nutshell, he's a trooper who really wants to get the bad guys.

The main villain is Chess.  It's unclear what his powers are, but he's one bad dude.  He kills anyone who gets in his way, and of course he does it with a few chess references (such as "I call this the Latvian Gambit").  I just wish that he was badder than what I saw, though.  The writers haven't given him anything to really make me hate him.  But guess what - he lives through the premiere, so we may learn to hate him as the season progresses.

Chess employs some pretty cool bad guys: Cain and Scales - oh - I guess we only get two other main villains in the premiere, but we're promised more in later episodes.

Faraday (the Cape) is helped by a mysterious online entity: Orwell played by Summer Glau.  Oh, the Serenity!

Faraday also receives help from a notorious band of no-good circus hooligans.  At first they threaten to kill him unless he helps them rob banks and then they become friends.  I found this part to be a little confusing.  As, if Faraday becomes a vigilante crime fighter, then shouldn't he stop his friends and put them behind bars?  I think we're supposed to assume that their leader, Max Malini, ends up finding new purpose in life and turns away from crime to help Faraday realize his mission.

For a vigilante superhero show, this show is relatively light and fluffy.  You don't see skin rotting off of the bone, super insane villains like the Joker, or 24-like torture sessions.  This means that kids might be able to watch and enjoy along with their parents.  But on the other side, you may miss stuff that makes the Batman movies and The Walking Dead so fun to watch.  I was impressed that they were able to keep the energy moving throughout the pilot - and we'll see if they can keep it up.

The show has a little bit of the same magic that Heroes did when it first came out.  Just once - can we see a show keep the magic going?

Finally, one other funny thing: Faraday models himself after a comic from inside the story itself.  That comic is called, "The Cape."  That would be like someone going around dressed as Batman in our world trying to stop crime.  It makes me wonder: are we going to see the comic creators coming after Faraday on copyright infringement?

On that note, one person does ask him, "Are you a superhero or something?  What are you called?"

He answers, "The Cape."

The person laughs and says, "You'll work on the name."

It seems that the "professional" critics don't like this show (imdb now has it at a 5.9 rating with 36 votes), but I say, "Watch the pilot and try it for yourself."  If you like comics and you're looking for a fun ride, then this show may be for you.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Conference Report - Who Was There - Part 2

See Part 1.

Okay, now that I'm done with Christmas shopping, I can get back to reporting on the NCWN Fall Writer's Conference I attended at the beginning of November.

Here are some of the people (and/or entities) I met.  In this post, I'll concentrate on people who ran the exhibition booths, which were run by publishers, authors, editors, etc.

As soon as I walked through the door into the exhibition room, I was hailed by one Daniel Hill Zafren.  I think he said something like, "Come on in - don't be shy."  He must be an expert at handling introverts.  And wouldn't you know it?  He seemed to me to be an introvert himself.  He was really easy to talk with.

We discussed the publishing company he's with: Time Treasures Books.  I picked up a couple of the books he had on display.  They were paperbacks, and well put together.  I didn't realize at the time that those were his books.  You can look inside one of his books here on Amazon.

He's also an antique collector.  Take a closer look at his picture in the link above, and you'll see some of his pieces.  He had some of them on display with him as well.

I told him that I write science fiction, and I asked if they publish sci-fi.  He answered, "I suppose we could do that."  He invited me to send in a query package, and if it's good quality, he'll consider publishing it.  Right now they're looking for some new talent to expand.  I'll keep him in mind.

I also came across John G Hartness, a self-published author who had a booth set up to sell his books.  He was excited that I write sci-fi.  He said, "Then you'd love to read my books.  Buy one."  I found myself buying two: The Chosen and Hard Day's Knight.  They're both published through CreateSpace.

Unlike most authors I've met, John is very much outgoing.  His personality grabbed my attention immediately.  During the Saturday breakfast panel discussion, when the topic was turned to self publishing, John stood up in front of everyone and said, "I totally recommend self publishing.  Buy my books."

He presented in open mic at the end of the day, and he gave a well rehearsed reading.  Most authors began their readings with a quick awkward introduction, but not John.  As soon as his name was called, his voice boomed from the back of the room as he commenced reading a short excerpt.  He walked to the front of the room as he read.  Then when he was done, he introduced himself and read a couple more things.

Did I mention that he's really big on self-publishing?  I'll have a separate blog entry just on that subject a little later.

I met a couple of people outside the exhibition room who directed me to stop by their booths.  I already mentioned sitting next to Margaret Bauer at dinner.  She's the editor of the North Carolina Literary Review.  When she heard that I do science fiction, she sold me a sci-fi edition of her review (at a discount) and suggested that I send something in.  I have yet to look over the review she gave me, but once I do, I'll have an idea what to send in.

She's also a teacher and she was very busy.  She even had to leave dinner early to attend to business.  Boy - I wish I could be that busy in my writing.  Just imagine: my agent calling me all the time to tell me about all the opportunities that keep popping up.  Wow!

I didn't get this next person's name.  (I want to say it was JC Walkup, but I can't be sure.)  I met her outside some elevators.  We talked briefly, and I gave her my card.  She saw that I do sci-fi and humor.  She said that I should consider sending in a humor piece for her magazine, and said I should stop by the booth and grab a copy of the magazine as well as a copy of the submission guidelines.

The magazine is called Fresh.  It's a universal theme publication, and seems to center around the mountainous western half of North Carolina.  The magazine contains short stories, poems, and essays.  It's a fun read.

I also did not get a name from the next booth.  I checked out the Pedestal Magazine.  This magazine is entirely online.  It's sponsored in part by the NC Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.  When I saw their logo, I instantly remembered it from some research I had conducted a few months prior.  This is one of the few magazines eligible for SWFA Membership.  That is, if I get three short stories published in this magazine, I can join the SWFA.

I was excited to learn that this was a NC publication.  Of course, I will check out their magazine shortly and see if I can send them an appropriate short story.

For this last booth, I must add that this person grabbed my attention while I was waiting to speak to someone at another booth.  He represented doe branch ink.  It's a writer's retreat in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

He gave me a card and some literature.  But to tell you the truth - I'm broke, and I don't see any opportunity in the near future for me to go on any writer's retreats.  I'm not exactly sure how they work, either.  It does sound like a fun getaway - and I love watching nature, but does a retreat really help get the writing juices flowing?  Maybe one day I'll find out.  Currently, I have the opposite problem - I have all these ideas that want to get written down, but there just isn't time.  I already have the inspiration, and I just need to get the perspiration out.

But - I'll keep them in mind.  Perhaps later when I become an established writer and I quit my day job and I'm burned out - then yes - I'll look them up.  (Alternatively - if anyone wants to pay my way, I may take you up on the offer and I'd promise to write a review on the experience.)

I think that covers all the people I met in the booths.  Stay tuned when I turn to the other writers I met.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Scam - Part 1

I may have fallen victim to a phone scam.  It's too early to tell if I've been had, but I figured this would make a great blog entry.  Since I did say that I'm going to review things, I'm going to add the National Union Fire Insurance Company and/or Global Contact Services to my list.  That way, if they take my money illegally, I'll do my best to bring them down - and have fun doing it!  On the other hand, if they turn out to be legit, I'll report that as well.

From what I can tell, it appears that the National Union Fire Insurance Company (NUF) is a legitimate insurance company with interesting acquisition techniques via Global Contact Services (GCS).

It all started with a phone call I received today.  This is what the caller ID said: "GCS - 1-714-551-9581".  I seldom answer telemarketer calls, but I thought this was a phone call I was expecting, so I answered.

The woman thanked me for my business with Wells Fargo.  She said she was going to send me a gas voucher and started talking about some kind of accidental health insurance - and all this after I only simply said, "Hello."

Believe it or not (and this almost never happens), I was actually interested, as we just lost our GAP insurance through my employer.  If this is a good deal, then it could be a good cost-effective replacement.

Basically, the woman said that she would send me some documentation to look over and after a free trial period, if I'm not satisfied, I can cancel coverage, and I get to keep the gas voucher.  She never really asked permission to send the package (they never do), but I never said no.

She said, "Okay, let me confirm your address.  I have you at ...."  It was the correct address.  Then she said, "Now please give me your birth date so we can confirm eligibility."

Oh yes - there it is!  Only a few months ago, I had a similar phone call - and that time I wasn't interested.  I had stayed on the line just to see how far they would get, and when they asked for my birth date, I had said, "Sorry, but I can't give that information over the phone."  She had answered, "But I can't confirm eligibility without your birth date."  Then I had said, "I'm not interested."  Then she got angry and terminated the call in a huff.

This time, I tried a different tactic - as I was legitimately curious to see what they're selling.  I said, "Wouldn't it be sufficient if I just told you my birth year?"  She answered (keeping her cool), "I have to enter a month and a day in the computer screen.  That's just how it is.  I can't get to the next screen unless I put something in."

I said to myself, "What the hay.  Let's see where this goes."  I gave my birth date and then it was like lightning hit me.  She was done with me.  It was almost as if I had signed my soul to the devil and he was dancing and laughing on top of me.

Not even five seconds had elapsed when she said, "Okay, I'm going to transfer you to an agent," and this other dude got on the phone.  He called me by name and told me that the phone call was being recorded.  Then he went on with a big spiel about what the insurance was.  He kept stopping in the middle and asking, "Do you understand this, Mr. Windham?"  Yes - I understood him.  And as he kept going and kept asking me if I understood him, I started getting nervous.  He was freaking me out.  It was almost as if he was building a case against me in the event that I ever complained that I never authorized any charges.  I went to the computer to look up the number that had just called me.

If you ever need to do this, it's really easy: just go to Google and type in the number without the initial "1" and no dashes.  Go ahead and give it a try.  Search on "7145519581" and see what comes up.

I found this website:  I saw the posting by tickoclock where it says something like, "He said he met me in the grocery store.  He got me to tell him my name and my address..."  Something didn't feel right.

Then at the same moment, the "agent" said, "Now I need to set up a security question.  What is your birth city?"

I wanted to say a cuss word, but what came out was, "Um - wait a minute, I'm looking something up."

I then told him (lied) that my birth city was the same city I'm now living in.  Well then - WHEW!  At least they don't have my birth city.

Somewhere in there he mentioned the National Union Fire Insurance Company.  It all went by so fast!  In the end, he gave me a phone number to call if I had further questions: 1-800-572-5848.  He again thanked me in behalf of Wells Fargo and that was it.  The phone call was over.

So, then I had another number that I could look up.  When I searched on 8005725848, I came across this website:  It gives some 9 pages on NUF.  Most of the posts seem to be complaints along the lines of "They're telemarketers wasting my time."  Some posts claim that they never received the initial package (see the suckeredin and PrescottChet posts on page 1).  Quite a few posts say that they canceled, but kept seeing charges.  Some posts say that they never received a phone call, and they never signed up, but they started seeing the charges on their account.

On the other hand, there are some posts talking about how the insurance is legitimate.  On page 6, Jeff claims: "I have this insurance and just got paid over 5000 dollars last month for being in the hospital a couple of days."  But then again, Victim of HUF FPP on page 7 says that he tried to submit a claim, but was unable to do so.

So, is it a scam, or is it legit?  I guess I'm about to find out!  I'll keep you posted along the way.  Why would a scam give a legit phone number that works?  How could any insurance company operate such a large scam over three years and not yet be shut down?  That doesn't make sense.  But then again - why did the dude claim to be from Wells Fargo, when they're clearly a third party that does business with other banks?

(To see a semi-humorous transcript of the phone call where I cancel, click here to see Part 2.  I'll give you a hint - they really don't want you to cancel!)


PS - It's probably never a good idea to divulge your birth date over the phone.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Thought Macs Were Supposed to be Cool

I really love my Macs.  They're so cool.  I have spent many, many more hours debugging and fixing IBM Compatibles (affectionately called "PCs" today) than I have with Macs.  Macs are just built better.  I mean - I'm still waiting for my first virus!  They boot up faster (more of a software thing - I know), and they're easier to use.

But let me tell you, when a Mac goes bad - they GO BAD.  Apple is very good at what they do: pushing innovative products; changing the world; creating things that really work.  But they are also very bad at what they don't want to do: admitting mistakes; fixing mistakes; warranting their products for free for more than a year.

For example, look back to the iPhone 4 screwup.  Having an antenna that goes around the phone is a neat idea.  But if you touch that one spot, your call gets dropped.  This was an anomaly that anyone anywhere could reproduce (especially Consumer Reports).  Yet, what did Apple do?  First, they blamed it on AT&T and their weak coverage (throw your partners under the bus - I guess).  Then they blamed a software glitch - some formula that showed the incorrect number of reception bars.  When they fixed that glitch, the calls kept dropping.  Then Apple released the statement suggesting that owners avoid gripping the phone in that spot.  (Did they really say that?  Now it's our fault?!)

Apple finally apologized, but even in the apology, they stated that competitor phones have similar issues.  (Yeah - right.)  They did make the right decision to offer free "Bumpers".  Everyone just rolled their eyes, took their Bumpers, and no more dropped calls - well almost (there is still that AT&T reception thing).

So why am I upset?  I don't own an iPhone, but I have been experiencing random crashes on my iMac the past couple of days.  I've also been noticing strange horizontal graphical anomalies that pop up every now and then.  I did a little research, and lo-and-behold!  There's a "known issue" in 2006 manufactured iMacs.  The graphics card can crash if the computer gets too hot.  When I say "known issue," I mean everyone else but Apple acknowledges the issue.  The official fix is to get a new graphics card (expensive to fix on an iMac - you basically have to switch out the whole motherboard), but Apple is yet to foot the bill for any of these fixes.  There are even reports that these complaints are suspiciously disappearing and/or being edited on Apple message boards.  (I don't know how true that is, but I couldn't help noticing a few posts that said, "This reply was removed.")

This is very bad news for me.  It's like learning that a good friend has a genetic terminal disease.  I can't download a piece of nifty software to fix the issue.  (Though I can download a fan control program that can cool down the computer and prolong her life.)  There's nothing I can really do except wait for my iMac to become unworkable and then get a new one when I can't afford it.

I'm just one of the unlucky ones who happened to buy a 2006 iMac.  Who would have ever guessed they would have defects?  No wonder Apple is not willing to warrant for more than a year!

Well - maybe I'll get a tower next time so that repairs won't be so expensive.

Isn't a computer supposed to last more than a few years?  I mean - that's what really cool things do.

Go figure.  I thought Macs were supposed to be cool.  What a paradigm shift!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review - TRON: Legacy

First off, I must admit that I loved the original Tron.  I saw it in the theater when I was a little geeky kid.  I thought it was one of the coolest rides ever.  I mean - what's cooler than going inside the computer?

I've seen it several times since.  When I was a kid, I didn't care what the critics said.  (I didn't even know what they said!)  It wasn't until I was older that I noticed that the acting wasn't that great and the movie suffered from pacing problems and no character development.

But you know what?  I don't care - I still love that movie.  It's still cool.  At least everyone's seen it - right?

As someone who loved the original, I also enjoyed the sequel.  It delivers more of what happens to Flynn, Alan, and even the son of Dillinger.  It provides highly energetic fight scenes, putting the original movie's special effects to shame.  The graphics are clear and exciting to watch.

The music is a fun mixture of classical, electronica, and rock.

This is almost a standalone sequel.  If you haven't seen the original, you may be a little lost during the first 15 minutes, but you should still be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

This movie makes a little more of an attempt to build up characters.  It's a little better at pacing than the original.  It provided most of what I expected to get from this movie.

My only complaint is with the plot itself.  There are so many parallels between the original and the sequel that I just felt like I knew already what was going to happen before it happened.  They did change a few things to make it interesting, but I could see the "Formula."

You know what the "Formula" is.  Practically all TV shows have one.  On the show Monk, each episode begins with a murder.  Monk is talked into accepting the case.  He overcomes his thematic foible of the day, and he catches someone.  But we're only 30 minutes into the show - so this isn't the guy.  He pushes forward some more and figures out who the real guy is.  He says, "Here's what happened," and they lock the guy up.

Star Trek (TOS and TNG) also had its "Formula".  The captain is on route on a diplomatic mission.  Something happens along the way.  No one else is around to take care of it.  With a little bit of conflict, the captain manages to save the day while maintaining the Prime Directive, and everything returns to what it was before the episode began (people who grew old become young again; Spock's vision returns to normal; etc.).

We expect to see the "Formula" in TV shows, but not necessarily in movies - where if there is too much of a "Formula," many people will come out of the sequel asking why they had to see it.  Despite seeing a TRON "Formula," I still enjoyed this movie.  I just wished they were a little more creative in the plot.

3D Effects: I'm glad I watched this in 3D, but don't expect the typical House of Wax gimmicks.  Just like in Toy Story 3, Disney makes sure not to insert needless pop-out-of-the-screen tricks to distract from the movie.

Well - there is the one gimmick.  They decided to represent the "real world" in 2D and the "grid" in 3D, much like the black-and-white vs color trick in The Wizard of Oz.  The audience is instructed at the beginning to keep the glasses on throughout the whole movie.  Though it was irritating to wear the glasses during the 2D portions (and also not to mention that I would expect the opposite gimmick to be true in our world - the "real world" in 3D and the "grid" in 2D), it was still a fun gimmick.

Also, I never noticed before, but in TRON: Legacy, where the background is everlasting darkness, and people are wearing lit-up suits - the contrast provides an unexpected echo effect - especially if you wear glasses under your 3D glasses.  What happens, is that light from the screen bounces off the outside of your real glasses and then off the inside of the 3D glasses to produce a ghost image above the real one on the screen.  I found this to be a little distracting - but kind of cool at the same time.

To avoid this ghosting effect, you may want to consider wearing contacts.  I had no choice but to wear my regular glasses under the 3D glasses.

Also be warned that they make everyone in the "grid" look good, and the suits are skin tight.  Now where can we pick up a couple of these suits?  ;)

If you like sci-fi, and the idea of computer programs being alive in the system doesn't drive you bonkers, then this is the next movie for you to watch.  Happy viewing.


PS: Feel free to comment and provide your own thoughts...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Intoducing Mel-o-rama Reviews

Everyone loves a critic - right?  Actually, I despise them.  They always sound ... well ... critical.  They take something subjective and attempt to analyze it objectively.  Also, they always ensure to add at least one sentence as to why something sucks.  That must be how they get paid.  Why else would anyone take a highly successful work of fiction and point out any one tiny insignificant flaw?

When you think about it, isn't there good in everything?  If someone puts together a book or a movie, a lot of work went into that piece of art.  Somebody is trying to say something.  An artist may not be entirely successful in communicating what he hopes to communicate, but most of the time you can tell what he intended.  And if you understand the intentions, it's easier to appreciate the work of art.

When a critic gives a scathing review, sometimes I believe that it shows how narrow-minded that person really is.  It comes across as some artsy-fartsy dude with a chip on his shoulder trying to prove how much smarter he is than everyone else.  And then it makes me laugh when I see people enjoying something despite what the critics say.  Shows how much they know - right?

With all this said, I announce that I will start reviewing things: mostly movies, TV shows, and books, but possibly other things if I feel so inclined.  It's something that I notice established writers doing.  Orson Scott Card has his "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" column, on which he posts about once a week.

In other words - I'm going to become a critic.

I really despise myself right now.