United In Film Criticism

Kevin Drum and I disagree about many things.  I read his blog specifically to find things to refute.  But it turns out we had the exact same two reactions to Quantum of Solace:

Now, I also happen to think Quantum of Solace wasn't a very good movie. The pace was so frenetic — chase, fight, chase, fight, chase, fight — that there was hardly any story that seemed worth following, and what story there was just wasn't very interesting. (Cornering the water supply of Bolivia? Seriously? And you thought the later Roger Moore movies were ridiculous?)

My reactions were here and here.

Posted on December 1, 2008 at 10:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Random Entertainment Notes

I feel I need to clarify one thing.  I am a huge fan of the old Bond movies.  Goldfinger, Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, Goldeneye -- all great.  Despite my comments above, I even like most of the Roger Moore films, though you have to take a different approach to them.  But the formula was tired.  The Survivor formula was hugely popular at first, but in season 9 or 10 or whatever, it's just done.  You either are repeating the same tired cliches, because you feel locked into a formula by your fans who will get pissed (as they did with Casino Royale) when you violate any minute detail the Formula, or you fall into the trap of trying to top yourself with goofier and goofier plots.  I actually thought the series was dead around about View to a Kill, but Pierce Brosnan really brought new life to the series for a while.

Oh, and I wanted to really make fun of the plot in the new movie, because it really is a great WTF moment, but I didn't want to include a spoiler, since there is some mis-direction in the movie.  However, the spoilers have already come out in the comments, so if you are interested, I reveal the incredible world-shaking evil plot around comment #6 here.
  •  I saw a trailer for the upcoming Star Trek movie, which could essentially be called "young Spock and Kirk."  It could be good.  Talk about a franchise, though, that has been milked to death.  A new take would be refreshing.  We'll see.  Never forget Battlestar Galactica - from the ultimate in goofiness came one of the better science fiction series to hit television.
  • The note above reminds me of an idea I have for a movie that I think would be a no-brainer.  The Star Wars clone wars stuff has pretty much lost me  (actually the dialog in episodes 1-3 pretty much lost me).  But I always thought a young Han and Chewie movie - how they met, various pirate adventures, young Lando, etc.  would be almost a layup to make succesful.  I am increasingly convinced that that the Star Wars movies were good almost in direct proportion to how much Han Solo was on the screen  (well, maybe pre-dryfreeze Han Solo -- after he was unfrozen, he was a little goody-two-shoes for my taste.)

Posted on November 18, 2008 at 05:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Quantum of Solace

First, I want to preface that I absolutely loved Casino Royale.  I had expected not to like it, being skeptical of Daniel Craig and the apparently trendy substitution of Texas Hold'em for Baccarat.  But the movie was fabulous, easily the best Bond ever, and a long-overdue retooling of the franchise.  In comparison, the campy Roger Moore 70's Bond movies are almost embarassing.

All that said, I was disapointed in Quantum of Solace.  The movie was entertaining and worth the price of admission, but two aspects really hurt the movie for me:

  1. The directors have adopted the currently popular edgy filming style of action sequences which involve lightning quick cuts and jerky camera pans (used in the Bourne movies, for example).  The style really increases the confusion of the moment, and has its place in creating tension and giving a first person feel to the action, but it gets tiring and confusing after a time.  Compare the opening chase sequences in this movie to the absolutely fabulous chase scene through the construction site near the beginning of Casino Royale.  I thought the Casino Royale sequence was much a better, but I must admit I am a big fan of long tracking shots over quick cuts, so I guess your mileage may very.  There was one shot I thought really cool in the new movie.  Bond and mystery villain #3 or 4 fall through a glass ceiling, and you fall with them POV-style. 
  2. The movie seems to be a return to the WTF-style plot of a lot of modern action movies, especially sequels, that put one-upping the action sequences of the previous movie over having a coherant plot.  I don't mind twists and turns, but in the end, all the motivations have to make sense.  I mean, how many mystery guys can Bond chase, kill, and then say, well, I guess we'll never figure out who that guy was.  The early parts were like the Seinfeld version of action movies -- they are not about anything, they are just chase scenes.  And, I still don't understand why the bad guys in QoS are doing what they are doing.  Its another one of those "spend a billion dollars in a vast conspiracy to make $100 million" Bond villain plans.  In contrast, Casino Royale was anchored to what I think was the best Ian Fleming book, and it stuck close to the book.  Even when it deviated, for example with the shift from bacarrat to Texas Hold'em, it actually improved the plot, as it shifted to a game that at least involves some skill.

Update:  I feel I need to clarify one thing.  I am a huge fan of the old Bond movies.  Goldfinger, Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, Goldeneye -- all great.  Despite my comments above, I even like most of the Roger Moore films, though you have to take a different approach to them.  But the formula was tired.  The Survivor formula was hugely popular at first, but in season 9 or 10 or whatever, it's just done.  You either are repeating the same tired cliches, because you feel locked into a formula by your fans who will get pissed (as they did with Casino Royale) when you violate the formula, or you fall into the trap of trying to top yourself with goofier and goofier plots.  I actually thought the series was dead around about View to a Kill, but Pierce Brosnan really brought new life to the series for a while. 

Update #2:  Tigerhawk has similar thoughts

Posted on November 17, 2008 at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

One Movie, Two Governors!

Channel surfing last night, I ran into the Running Man, an unfortunate movie "adaption" of  a pretty good Steven King (as Richard Bachman) book.  For those who have seen one and not the other, they have little in common with each other. 

What I hadn't realized before was just how bizarre the casting for this movie was -- Richard Dawson, the cheesy game show host as a ... cheesy game show host.  Jim Brown, Dweezil Zappa and Mick Fleetwood?  The latter, by the way, as himself but in the future.  Whatever.

But the best part is that the movie has two United States governors in substantial roles -- Arnold Schwarzenegger (California) in the title role and Jesse Ventura (Minnesota) as one of the "stalkers" trying to kill Arnold.  Is this a great country or what?

Do ya'll know any others?  I know Sonny Bono did a Love Boat guest appearance, so there must have been two Congressmen  in one TV episode (with Fred Grandy of Iowa).  There may be a Fred Thompson +1 out there I can't think of.  And of course there were probably some Ronald Reagan matchups, but that is before my time.

Update:  Rob reminds me that the Ventura-Schwarzenegger team can also be found in Predator. 

Posted on November 9, 2008 at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

My New Favorites

I went to see Santana with my son last Saturday night, and I can tell you that 67-year-old Carlos Santana is still the man on the guitar.  2-3/4 hours of straight guitar and percussion goodness.

But my new guitar fav's are probably Rodrigo y Gabriela, Mexican guitarists who went from street musicians to stars in Ireland.  Here is Diablo Rojo

And while we are on guitarists, I can't help but give a shout out to fellow Princetonian Stanley Jordan, still the most amazing thing, technically, I have ever seen on guitar.  If it looks like he is playing piano rather than the guitar, that's because his original training was on the piano.  When playing piano, all one is doing is causing strings to get hit.  He wondered why he couldn't just do it directly.  Skip to about a minute in if you are impatient:

Or watch him playing two guitars at the same time in Stairway to Heaven around the 4:00 mark (Jimmy Page had his two-neck guitar but never played them at the same time!)

Posted on October 1, 2008 at 01:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Pandora May Close

What is easily, to my mind, the best and most innovative music service on the Internet may be closing soon, as Pandora can no longer pay the royalty rates demanded by record labels.  This is really too bad.  I am a paying customer of Pandora (it is a free service on the Internet, but I pay $30 or $40 a year to listen to it on my Squeezebox streaming system at home). 

I can say with total confidence that Pandora has caused me to buy more music than any other outside force has caused me to buy since my ill-fated flirtation with Columbia House when I was a teenager.  I have gotten streams going that were so great that I had Amazon open in a second window, and was banging out CD orders almost as fast as Pandora could serve up tunes.  I have thought for years that this would be a natural fit for Amazon or iTunes.  Too bad the record labels can't understand this.

Posted on July 18, 2008 at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Willing Suspension of Physics

I went to see the movie Wanted today, mainly because I am home alone and tried to pick the movie I was least likely to take my wife or kids to.

If you like non-stop action movies with computer game physics and lots of CGI close-ups of bullets drilling through people's skulls that were fired by a smoking-hot assassin babe played by Angelina Jolie who actually had to add tats rather than hide them for this role (and, really, who doesn't?), then you will probably enjoy the movie.  The lost opportunity in the film was the very beginning, which sortof tried to be Office Space without being nearly as good.  But there is certainly a big hint that Office Space was on the director's mind -  don't miss the red stapler, though it didn't look like a classic Swingline.

As an additional note, I see from the previews that someone has done a remake of Death Race 2000, though it seems to bear about the same resemblance to the original as the Running Man did to the original Steven King / Richard Bachman book.  The whole fight-against-the-dystopic-state thing seems to have been lost.  By the way, can't they find any actor other than Jason Statham to portray someone who drives cars fast?

As a final shout-out to SF geeks out there, trolling around on IMDB led me, via Morgan Freeman of all people, to this page which seems to imply a Rendezvous with Rama movie is in the works.

Postscript:  I will never be mistaken for a social conservative, but I did find it odd today that in a preview that was supposedly "approved for all audiences" there were numerous F-bombs dropped.  Update:  OK, I can't be sure that this particular preview was "all audiences."  All the ones that followed were, but it may be they have grittier versions of previews they show before R-rated features. 

Clarification:  Sorry if it was not clear, but I actually did enjoy the movie.  Sort of a guilty pleasure.  Fixed Jason Statham's name, thanks to commenter.

Posted on June 28, 2008 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

New Indiana Jones Movie Just OK

I saw the new Indiana Jones movie with my kids this morning.  It was OK.  The chase / fight scenes were great, and the effects were terrific.  But the plot was so-so  (George Lucas has a writing credit, so I could just refer you back to the Padme** dialog in the last 2 Star Wars movie).  There is sometimes a fine line between good fantasy and silliness, and the movie crosses back and forth several times.  Also, you just can't beat Nazis for over-the-top bad guys.  The Boris-and-Natasha style Soviets just don't serve as well.  Overall, worth seeing if you liked the others, and certainly better than Temple of Doom.  But I wouldn't stand in line to see it.

** Interesting fact that maybe I am the last person in the world to know:  Do you know who the actress was that played the fake Queen / Padme double in Star Wars Episode 1?  I always thought it was Natalie Portman, but that is actually not correct.  It was an uncredited role, and the actress was always in elaborate makeup.  Who was it?  It was Keira Knightly, of Pirates and Beckham fame.

Posted on May 22, 2008 at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Wow- a video of Jimmy Page in 1957.  For you younger folks, Page was lead guitarist for the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, among others.

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Home Theater Projector Reviews

I am a big proponent of front projection for serious home theater.  I currently have a 108" wide (not diagonal) projection set up and I paid less for it than many people do for their 50" flat screens.  Unfortunately, it is 720p rather than 1080p, but there is a great new crop of affordable 1080p front projectors that I am lusting after.  This site has very good, complete reviews of front projectors and has just posted its roundup of the best 1080p machines.

Posted on March 17, 2008 at 08:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Harry Potter Camping Movie

Apparently, the 7th Harry Potter book will be split into two movies.  Great.  The second part will be killer, but the first will doom us to watching Harry run all over England camping. 

Posted on March 13, 2008 at 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Format Wars May Be Over

It looks like Blu-Ray will soon defeat HD-DVD

Fans of Toshiba's HD DVD format have been kicked while they're down, this time by Wal-Mart's decision to ditch the format, and sell Blu-ray players and media exclusively. Effective June, the move is the result of customer feedback, and an attempt to "simplify" patron's decisions. This news closely follows Best Buy's decision to also give the format the boot. Speculation has already surfaced that suggests Toshiba will abandon their own format "in the coming weeks"...

So file all that HD-DVD software next to your Betamax tapes.  I actually preferred the HD-DVD format, but thought from the beginning that Blu-Ray's position in home gaming machines, which immediately gave them a huge installed based before any of us started buying High Def. movie players for our home theaters, might give it a lead that could not be overcome. 

Most consumers have just wanted the format wars to be over so they could pick the right player and software (I partially avoided this problem by buying a combo player).  This is an interesting consumer-friendly role for Wal-Mart that I have never seen discussed, that of standards-setter.

So here is a message to Blu-Ray:  Now that you are on the verge of victory, you need to clean up your own house.  The creeping standards problem you have had, which has caused early players to be unable to play newer disks, has got to end.  In particular, it is irritating not to be able to play a newer disk because the fancy multimedia menu won't work.  When when you learn that we aren't interested in all that crap and just want the movie to start?  Just because the technology says you can do that stuff does not mean that you should.

Update: Reuters with the same news, and a rumor that Toshiba has already shut down production line.

Posted on February 16, 2008 at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Wire

I really like the HBO series "the Wire" about the Baltimore police force and the pursuit of various drug gangs, which I have been catching up on via DVD.  While season 2 and 3 were not quite as good as 1, they still are quite good.

In many respects, this is a very libertarian series in outlook.  A central part of the show is that government officials nearly universally do wrong and wasteful things.  However, only a few of them are overtly corrupt.  The vast majority are regular folks responding rationally to the types of incentives government employees are given and which result in really bad outcomes.

In fact, I may just be screwed up from too many years in a past life working on corporate performance metrics, but at some level the show is all about incentives.  Even within the drug gangs, there is an interesting interplay between Avon and Stringer due mainly to the fact that though they face roughly the same circumstances and inputs, one has a goal of making money while the other has a goal of reputation and street cred.  I can see now why the Freakonomics blog discusses the show so often.

Oh, and the season 3 experiment with effective drug legalization is also interesting.

Highly recommended.

Posted on February 8, 2008 at 11:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

My First and Only Post on the Writers Strike

I was surprised to see on someone's blog that the writers' strike was still going on.  I would think that the biggest danger of going on strike (beyond the lost income) would be that no one notices you are not working.  This seems to be a real danger faced by the writers, and an important reason why you will never see Congress go on strike.

Posted on January 16, 2008 at 07:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

This is Really Cool

This is really cool.  They recreate the Omaha beach landings with three actors, a camera, a green screen and lots of computer work.  Really amazing results.  Beware anyone whose business model relies on movies being produced in the traditional manner, with lots of actors and props.

Posted on January 15, 2008 at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

New Ipod Classic Update

In a couple of posts, I warned readers that I thought there might be problems with the new 80meg and 160meg iPod classics  (generation 6).  On two occasions, I tested units at Best Buy stores (two different cities) and found the menu and scrolling performance to be terrible.  The controls were laggy and slow.

An Apple person wrote me to say that my experience was not universal.  I also noted that people were split on the message boards -- some loved their new iPod and couldn't understand the problem, and others couldn't understand how anyone could miss the scrolling problems.

From this and other evidence, I am now convinced that there were either two different batches with different performance, or there was some early software patch that fixed the problem but stores like Best Buy were not applying the patch to their demo models.  The other day I tried the new iPod Classics at the Apple store and was thrilled with the performance.  The menu scrolled beautifully, perhaps better than generation 5. 

So, I still advise folks to try before they buy, but I now am convinced that the new Classic is a great product.  I bought an 80gig over the weekend.

By the way, I have never been anything but enthusiastic (except perhaps to wish for more memory) about the iPod Touch.

Posted on November 18, 2007 at 11:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Music Recommendations

A while back, I solicited input on what bands a lover of classic rock should be listening to from the last 10 years.  I got about 40 responses.  Here are some of the more popular recommendations:

First, several people suggested Pandora.com, an internet radio station that will play music based on songs or bands you like.  I have used Pandora for a while and really like it.  I have found a number of albums I really love from this source.  For example:  Frank Zappa's "Shut up and play yer guitar" series of live guitar solos.   RadioParadise.com also had a number of supporters, and I am running it right now as I type.  It streams a fairly eclectic mix of old and new music.

Several bands / albums got multiple votes.  Those included:

White Stripes
Corrosion of Conformity
Dream Theater
Queens of the Stone Age

I will try a selection and let folks know. 

Lot's of support for the most recent Rush efforts, which I already own and enjoy.  Ditto Stone Temple Pilots and the Black Crowes, though I am not sure their best work quite clears the 10-year-old hurdle.  Someone suggested Days of the New -- I own their first album and really enjoy it (acoustic grunge?).  I also own and enjoy both "Burning for Buddy" CDs that several folks recommended, if you are looking for something jazzier.

Lots more recommendations I will check out over time in the comments here.

Update: I asked my college roommate and CATO-ite Brink Lindsey the same question, because I know from several years of living in a confined space that he shared many of my musical tastes.  He writes:

From the mid 90s to the present, my favorite albums are:

Soundgarden, Superunknown
Garbage, Garbage
Kula Shaker, K
The Offspring, Smash
Beck, Odelay
Audioslave, Audioslave (this one's actually from after 2000!)
Kid Rock, Devil Without a Cause (yeh, it's rap but it rocks)
Green Day, Dookie
Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory (from 2000!)

Going back to the early 90s, Metallica's black album, Blind Melon's
self-titled album, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik, U2's
Achtung Baby, Nirvana's Nevermind and Unplugged, and Pearljam's 10 and
Vs. are all favorites.

None of this will allow you to claim you have current musical tastes.

Among current rock bands that I know of, I like the White Stripes.  But
that's about all I know.

Soundgarden / Metallica / Nirvana / Pearl Jam sort of represent the new end of my music collection, beyond which I am attempting to fill in the white space.

Posted on November 2, 2007 at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Frampton Still Alive

I saw Peter Frampton in concert tonight from the eighth row of a small venue.  He still puts on a really good concert.  It is really rare to see someone who has been touring as long as he has having so much fun on stage.  The 40 minute rendition of "Do You Feel Like We Do" was worth the price of admission alone.  The show had a little of everything, from some acoustic guitar to a Soundgarden cover.  He ended the final set with his friend George Harrison's "While my Guitar Gently Weeps," which was quite good.

Posted on October 23, 2007 at 11:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Music Bleg For Classic Rock Fans

OK, I am tired of getting grief from family and friends for only listening to classic rock.  My collection includes some Metallica and SoundGarden and Pearl Jam, but thats about as new as it gets.  So, here is my request.  Knowing I like classic rock, what albums or artists from the last 10 years should I be exploring?  And please, don't tell me Avril Lavigne because you like her -- Tell me what I will like.

Update:  Holy Sh*t!  If you want lots of comments fast, put up a music bleg!  I'll put up a summary post for all of the results this weekend.

Posted on October 18, 2007 at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

Ken Burns Disappoints?

I had eagerly awaited the first installment of Ken Burns documentary on WWII.  While it was fine, it undershot my expectations.  My expectations may be affected by the fact that, unlike the Civil War or other topics he has addressed, WWII has been done to death by documentaries.  It may also be that WWII is so sprawling, its hard to get a handle on in his timeframe.  After all, his series will be much shorter than the classic World at War and even than his own series on Baseball.

As with the Civil War, I thought the focus on a few American cities and the impact of the war worked pretty well.  However, I found the narrator (Keith David) for this particular series sleep inducing, particularly after David McCullough in the Civil War did such an outstanding job (and he was not even a professional "voice") and after the incredible cast of voice-overs in that same series.  Also, the organization seemed bizarre.  Around the 2 hour mark, they seemed to be clearly wrapping up the first episode, with summaries of dead and injured in the first part of the war.  But then all of a sudden they grafted on a short segment about Latinos and the marine raider battalion on Guadalcanal, and even a little snippet about Bougainville.  And then it just ended suddenly.  Made zero sense to me.

Posted on September 24, 2007 at 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Lord of the Bad Plan

TJIC points to more poor decision-making by LOTR characters.  I can't take these criticisms seriously after seeing the Lord of all ring-plan critiques here:

Posted on July 31, 2007 at 09:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Worst Music Video Ever

It has been a while since I have posted this, but I am still convinced this is the worst music video ever made.  The only competitor I can think of is if you classified the movie "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" as a music video.  Enjoy (or not):

Seriously, this is wrong is so many ways.

Posted on July 16, 2007 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Speed Racer

I guess I must be the last to find out, but I saw this weekend the Wachowski Brothers (Matrix) were doing a live action movie remake of Speed Racer.  Woah.

Posted on June 11, 2007 at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy Birthday Star Wars

Brink Lindsey reminds me it is the anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars.  I happened to be staying in Century Plaza in LA with my family on the day the movie was release, though I had never heard of it.  It was actually a pretty low-budget movie, and was only released on a few screens.  I got dumped off by my family, who was going shopping, in some theater near UCLA and Century City I can't even remember the name of.  Anyway, I and about 20 other people were in the theater that first day, partly I guess because it was daytime and mid-week.   It is the first and only movie I stayed and watched a second time.  I know this makes me a geek, but it really was a transcendent experience for me, though sadly an experienced unmatched in any of the follow-on movies.

Being one of an extremely small cadre to have seen the first one on opening day (really by accident) I felt compelled to see all the others on opening day, a cycle I completed successfully.

I would argue that for its time, against expectations of its day, the opening 30 seconds after the words stop scrolling may be the most amazing and powerful opening of a film ever (starts at about 2:00 into the clip below).  And don't miss that fine exhibition of Stormtrooper shooting at about 4:31.  Enjoy it again:

And don't miss how Star Wars should have ended.  Priceless:

And if you are not Star Wars'd out, try the Stormtrooper Training Video:

Posted on May 25, 2007 at 10:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Google Music Search

Possibly this is one of those things that everyone but me knows about, but Google apparently has a search function for music.  I found it only because I was searching for the Rolling Stones and found this search page.  Its got track listings and ratings.  Kind of cool.

Posted on May 15, 2007 at 10:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Concert Review

Though my usual musical tastes run more to this, my wife and I went to see the Celtic Women in concert the other night.

So what's wrong with a hot blond babe playing the fiddle and a singer who looks like Xena warrior princess in an evening gown?

Uh, nothing.

Posted on May 5, 2007 at 09:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

An Evening in Hell is...

... attending a concert with a bad ABBA cover band singing through a really awful sound system to a full house of 70+ year-olds ripped from their usual haunts at the dinner theater and who are in full sing-along mode, swaying their arms and, god help me, holding aloft lighters.

Having never been an ABBA fan, I got talked into this after really enjoying the Mamma Mia show in London.  Never again.

Posted on April 6, 2007 at 09:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Hawaii 5-0 on DVD

I am thrilled to have Hawaii 5-0 on DVD.  I remembered it as my favorite TV crime drama ever, and so far, it is holding up very well.  A couple of other observations:

  • Whether you like the show or not, I think it is nearly indisputable that Hawaii 5-0 has the best intro of any TV series ever made.  Mission: Impossible is pretty good, but I never liked the practice of having scenes from the days show in the intro.
  • I am watching show 4 or so of the first season, and they have Ricardo Montalban playing a Japanese man.  Never has a Caucasian looked less like a Japanese man since Sean Connery when he was supposed to have been surgically altered to be Japanese in You Only Live Twice.  [check out Montalban's linked videography - in the last 60's and 70's he was on nearly every TV show I can remember]

Posted on March 30, 2007 at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

A Step Forward? Or Just Sideways?

A Judge has ruled that the Kaleidescape movie server (basically a big box that rips and stores DVDs on hard disk) did not violate its licensing agreement with the DVD-CCA:

Kaleidescape argued, first and foremost, that nothing in the DVD-CCA licensing agreement prohibits the development of products that allow users to copy their DVDs.

Indeed, that's exactly what Judge Leslie C. Nichols ruled today in the non-jury trial at the Downtown Superior Court of Santa Clara in San Jose, Calif. There was no breach of contract.

That seems to be good news for those of us who like the server concept and would like to make copies of our DVDs for our own (fair) use.  However, the judge seems to have sidestepped the copyright and fair use issues, such that this ruling probably will turn out to be pretty narrow and not constitute a useful precedent.

Because of this ruling, the Judge did not have to get into copyright issues, so the Kaleidescape ruling has no copyright implications. It is not a statement on the legality of ripping DVDs.

There was the possibility that copyright issues could have come into play. The DVD-CCA submitted to the Court a particular document, the "CSS General Specifications," that it asserted was part of the licensing agreement.

The CSS General Specifications document includes wording about thwarting the "unauthorized copying" of DVD’s. The issue of what constitutes an unauthorized copy could have come up, but Judge Nichols ruled that the document in fact is not part of the DVD-CCA licensing agreement.

Posted on March 29, 2007 at 10:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

24 Season 3 Update

The second 12 hours were a LOT better.

Posted on March 9, 2007 at 03:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

I need 24 Help

I have no tolerance for watching TV series on the network's schedule.  If a series gets good reviews, I will watch it on DVD (e.g. Serenity, Deadwood, Rome, Sopranos, Alias, Wonderfalls, etc).  In this same vain, I watched the first season of 24 straight through and really enjoyed it.  The second season was OK but weaker and less believable (even a hard-core libertarian paranoiac like myself had trouble buying the cabinet coup).  Plus I got about the same feeling when the Kim Bauer character was on-screen as I did when there was Anakin-Padme dialog in the last Star Wars movie.

So I am a third of the way through season 3 and I am having trouble really getting into it -- maybe the threat is not immediate enough at the mid-point.  Should I stick it out?  Is there anything out there left worth seeing?  Is there anything interesting in seasons 4 or 5 that bring back what made the first season great?

Posted on February 26, 2007 at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

The Next Milestone In Killing Fair Use

Back in the stone age (say, about 20 years ago) we used to have this quaint concept for media we purchased called "fair use."  I won't get into the legal definitions, but it meant in practice that if I had a book, I could read it at home, or I could take it into work and read it there.  In college, I would read novels in the back of boring lectures, and soon hit on the tactic of xeroxing 20-30 pages of my book and putting the copies in a folder to disguise what I was doing.  Fortunately, fair use let me do so without penalty.  Sometimes a friend would read an article in a magazine he thought was cool, and he would xerox a copy of the article (a sample of the magazine, so to speak) and share it with me.

Increasingly, in the digital age, none of the behaviors are allowed anymore.  For years I used to install my copy of turbo tax on both my home and office computers, and carry my tax file back and forth on a floppy to work on it.  Then, a couple of years ago, Turbo Tax installed a form of rights management that required that I buy a second copy of the same software for my own personal use for my office.  In effect, I could no longer carry my novel to work -- I had to buy a second copy if I wanted to read it at the office.  The same situation has prevailed with digital music files - increasingly recording companies are taking the position that if you want a digital file on both your iPod and your home system, you need to buy two copies.  And the sampling and sharing we used to do all the time with magazine and newspaper articles are not longer permitted for digital media.

Having firmly established the principle that multiple uses by the same individual of the same digital media should require multiple purchases, where do we go next?  Well, I think that we will look back on the release of Windows Vista as the next great milestone in killing fair use.  Microsoft may have left out nearly every product enhancement they originally promised for Vista, particularly the revamped file system, and tried to hide the fact with some pretty desktop eye candy, but they found plenty of time to add numerous DRM and copy protection schemes to the OS. 

Because, having killed fair use for multiple copies, believe it or not, the media companies are attempting to kill fair use even for the original media by the original buyer!  I know this sounds crazy, but in Windows Vista, media companies are given the opportunity to, in software, study your system, and if they feel that your system is not secure enough, they can downgrade the quality of the media you purchased or simply refuse to have it play.  In other words, you may buy an HD DVD and find that the media refuses to play on your system, not because you tried to copy it, but because it feels like your system *might* be too open.  The burden of proof is effect on the user to prove to the media companies that their system is piracy-proof before the media they paid for will play (emphasis added). 

PVP [a new Vista DRM component] eliminates these security gaps, enabling a series of DRM measures that keep a high-resolution content stream encrypted, and in theory completely protected, from its source media all the way to the display used to watch it. If the system detects a high-resolution output path on a user's PC (i.e., a system capable of moving high-res content all the way to a user's display), it will check to make sure that every component that touches a protected content stream adheres to the specification. If it finds a noncompliant device, it can downgrade the content stream to deliver a lower-quality picture -- or it can even refuse to play the content at all, depending on the rights holder's preferences.

So you see the next step.  First, they prevented fair use of copies.  Now, they are going to prevent fair use of the original.  Back to the book analogy, its as if the book will not open and let itself be read unless you can prove to the publisher that you are keeping the book in a locked room so no one else will ever read it.  And it is Microsoft who has enabled this, by providing the the tools to do so in their operating system.  Remember the fallout from Sony putting spyware, err copy protection, in their CD's -- turns out that that event was just a dress rehearsal for Windows Vista.

As Rosoff's statement implies, many of Vista's DRM technologies exist not because Microsoft wanted them there; rather, they were developed at the behest of movie studios, record labels and other high-powered intellectual property owners.

"Microsoft was dealing here with a group of companies that simply don't trust the hardware [industry]," Rosoff said. "They wanted more control and more security than they had in the past" -- and if Microsoft failed to accommodate them, "they were prepared to walk away from Vista" by withholding support for next-generation DVD formats and other high-value content.

Microsoft's official position is that Vista's DRM capabilities serve users by providing access to high-quality content that rights holders would otherwise serve only at degraded quality levels, if they chose to serve them at all. "In order to achieve that content flow, appropriate content-protection measures must be in place that create incentives for content owners while providing consumers the experiences they want and have grown to expect,"

Nope, no arrogance here.

Matt Rosoff, lead analyst at research firm Directions On Microsoft, asserts that this process does not bode well for new content formats such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD, neither of which are likely to survive their association with DRM technology. "I could not be more skeptical about the viability of the DRM included with Vista, from either a technical or a business standpoint," Rosoff stated. "It's so consumer-unfriendly that I think it's bound to fail -- and when it fails, it will sink whatever new formats content owners are trying to impose."

More links on Vista DRM issues here

Update:  OpenOffice 2.1 is out.  We love OpenOffice at our company.  We stopped buying MS Office a couple of years ago and have been thrilled with the decision.  The version 1 release was weak but since version 2.0 it has been a very strong offering.  It is nice to see Sun getting its Microsoft hatred out in a more productive manner than suing them all over the place.

Posted on January 26, 2007 at 11:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Did DVD Save 24?

Hollywood seems to treat digital media like DVD as the greatest threat to their existence ever crafted.  But it appears to me that DVD may have saved 24.

From the second season onward, there has been intense pressure on the makers of 24 to convert from their popular serialized format (all 24 episodes are one story arc) to a more usual format where each episode stands on its own.  While prior shows like Alias and X-files have had running story arcs, their individual episodes stood on their own much better than do episodes of 24.  What that means is that 24 does not syndicate well at all, cutting off a very lucrative revenue stream. 

But what makes 24 difficult to syndicate makes it a very popular DVD offering.  In fact, if you look on Amazon, all five seasons are among the top 20-30 sellers in the DVD category.  Incredibly, a DVD of the first four episodes of the new season, which were televised about a week ago(!), is ranked #16.  My guess is that DVD sales do not fully make up for lost syndication revenue (I have no idea of the exact numbers) but these sales must have made it easier to continue down this innovative path.

Posted on January 23, 2007 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Overdue DVD Releases

I was thrilled to see that two of my top 5 most wanted DVD releases are finally coming out - by March 6 according to Amazon.

  • Hawaii 5-0:  The greatest TV crime drama ever. 
  • Captain Horatio Hornblower:  I know that the current generation doesn't think there was ever a good adventure movie that did not involved Industrial Light and Magic, but this Gregory Peck movie is an absolute classic.

I was a little worried that both had the identical release date.  I am hoping that this is not just the default date in the Amazon system when the release date is uncertain. 

Posted on December 19, 2006 at 09:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Best. Bond. Ever.

I finally saw Casino Royale this weekend, and though it has been said in many other reviews, I will repeat it:  This is the best Bond ever.  More than just changing Bond actors, the movie represents a retooling of a Bond franchise gone way, way astray in the Roger Moore years.  Pierce Brosnan did a good job bringing Bond back to reality, but he was still too pretty-boy to really portray the ice-cold, very serious Bond of the books.  The double-0's are supposed to be hired as assassins (license to kill, remember) and not because they look good in a tux.  Bond in the book Casino Royale, for example, doesn't even want Vesper Lynd around because he refuses to be distracted by women on duty.  The Bond of recent movies seems to do nothing but get distracted by women on duty.

Casino Royale was always my favorite of the Bond books, and I am pleased that it was this book that brought the franchise into a new era.  Yes, Q and the gadgets are gone, and even some of the classic lines are mostly absent (though shaken not stirred draws a funny joke).  In their place is much sharper and more interesting dialog.  Judie Dench finally gets a role as M that does justice to some of her acting talents.  And  Daniel Craig is fabulous.   

This is also by far the closest any Bond movie has stuck to it's namesake book.  The book was a bit light on action, so rather than try to work it in where it does not belong, they grafted the action onto the front of the movie, which is essentially a prequel to the action in the book.  The book begins about where Bond gets approval to go after LeChiffre in a card game, and from that point forward it follows the book almost exactly, with some minor updating.  The only small amount of pain was seeing Bond playing Texas hold'em rather than Baccarat, but after seeing the movie, poker works much better than Baccarat did in the book - the element of bluffing adds to the tension.

Don't worry, the action is still there.  The opening chase scene is fabulous, all the more so because it is mostly free of gadgets and aircraft and missiles and... you get the idea.  Instead, you get Bond at his most ruthless as well as the improvisational Bond we haven't seen since Sean Connery.  First movie in a while I immediately wanted to see again.  And first action movie in forever where the plot made any sense and the writing was sharp.

Posted on December 4, 2006 at 02:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Disney World Reviews and Advice

For a while now, I have meant to publish a guide to Walt Disney World (WDW).  For a variety of reasons related to a recurring family reunion, I have spent at least 50 days at WDW in 10 trips over 25 years.  Over those years, I have learned a fair amount about surviving WDW.  Since we may not be going back for a while (the crowds are just too crazy, see below) I thought I would share some of my experience.  My thoughts, review, and tips on Disney World are below the fold.

Note:  I have made updates in blue from my October, 2008 trip.

General Advice

  • If schools are out in a large part of the country, then WDW will be packed.  There are no exceptions. If kids are in school, then crowds will be much more manageable. Christmas, New Years, Summer, Spring Break, Presidents Day – they are all slammed.  Thanksgiving used to be the one exception to this rule, but Thanksgiving week is now packed as well.  Even the second week of November, which is only a holiday in New Jersey schools, is packed.  If you want to avoid crowds, you will either have to hope your school has a unique week of vacation that no one else has, or you will need to take your kids out of school.  In October, 2008, my daughter and I did visit for a week when most other schools are in session.  The park was still pretty busy, though certainly less so than Thanksgiving or the summer.  Mornings 9-11 are still the best time to see the park without bad lines.  I am told the first two weeks in December are about the last quiet periods that exist in the park.

  • Learn to use the Fastpass system – its the greatest thing Disney has done in the parks since eliminating the E ticket.  The fastpass system gives you reservations on certain attractions and lets you avoid the lines. In each park, your first action upon entry is to find the most popular ride you really want to ride and go get a fastpass for it, then go do something else until your reservation comes up.  One big misconception – Disney has never enforced the expiration time on the fast pass.  For example, a pass might say it is good for entry on a ride from 10:05am to 11:05am.  They won't let you on until 10:05, but they will let you use the pass well after 11:05, in fact generally until the park closes.  This is still correct.  We would often collect fastpasses in the morning, using the standby lines while crowds were low.  Then we would take a break at the hotel to swim, and then come back in the evening and use our passes.  Be careful with very popular rides.  You cannot get another fastpass until the time on your last pass.  This means that if it is 11:00am, and the fastpass return for the ride you want is 5:00pm, then you essentially cannot get any more fastpasses that day.  Think long and hard before you take a fastpass that has a time more than an hour or two in the future.

  • Call the Disney restaurant reservation line and make dinner reservations several weeks in advance, at least, for busy weeks.  If you wait until you arrive, you will find very, very little available.  Disney World has one single reservation number for all its restaurants – the number is posted on their website.  Make this for any week, not just busy ones.  I called 2 weeks in advance on a mid-October date and all the best locations were totally sold out.  Here is something to be aware of, though.  Your reservation never expires, kind of like Fastpasses.  If it is for 5:00pm, and you show up at 7:00, they will honor it.  And vice versa.  I showed up an hour or so ahead of a couple of reservations times, and they honored those. 

  • If you are there during the busiest weeks, you need to hit the park by opening time.  Yeah, I know it's vacation and you want to sleep in.  But you will be able to get more done in the first hour than you can in the next three. Also, on busy days, fastpasses quickly run out.  At the top attractions, by 10:00 AM the earliest fastpasses may be for 3:00pm or even later.  By 11:30am, they may well be gone entirely.  We often go to a park early, ride a few rides, gather up a few fastpasses, and then go back to the pool or to DisneyQuest for a while, returning in the late afternoon to use our fastpasses.  I can't emphasize this too much.  You can ride as much from 9-11 as you can during the entire afternoon when it is busier.

  • Avoid parks with extra magic hours or extended hours.  "extra Magic Hours" are the Disney practice of allowing Disney hotel guests (only) to come to a park an hour early or stay a few hours late.  This used to be a good deal, but there are now so many Disney hotels that these guests can swamp a park. Most guests stay three or four days, and see a different park each day.  Lacking any other criteria for deciding which order to do the parks in, they will typically head disproportionately to the park with extra magic hours.  This means that on any given day the extra magic hours park is probably the busiest spot. Also, late night is not necessarily quiet any more at the parks.  It used to be that you could go after 9:00 to Magic Kingdom and have the place to yourself.  Recently, I found the park still packed as late as 11:00 PM during Thanksgiving week (the one exception is Spash Mountain -- if its cold out at night, you can ride it as often as you like).

  • With the possible exception of the Rockin' Roller Coaster, all Disney thrill rides are tamer than their equivalents at other parks (like Six Flags).  This will disappoint thrill seekers and probably be a source of relief for others. Some rides make up for being a bit tamer with unique theming and atmosphere (e.g. Splash Mountain and Tower of Terror).  For example, Space Mountain is actually a very tame roller coaster, made slightly more exciting by being in the dark

  • Study Disney ticket pricing.  Once you buy a three-day ticket, each incremental day is very cheap.  For example, going from a five to a six day pass cost me $2 per person. Also, I always buy the parkhopper option – you never know when you might go to MGM in the day and then want to go to the Magic Kingdom for the fireworks at night or go eat in an Epcot restaurant.  Also, I always get the additional package of destinations thrown in. These include passes to the water parks, Disneyquest, and Pleasure Island.  Going to one of these locations even once pays for the added cost in the ticket.

  • One day at Disney I had the opportunity to tag along with a friend who had hired a Disney guide for the day.  This is a very knowlegeable and professional Disney employee who will take up to 8 people around a park through the day for about $125 an hour(!)  I could never pay this much myself, but I will say for those who can afford it, it is an amazing experience.  The guide had a plan for the day to do the maximum amount of stuff.  He managed our fastpasses and got us premium seats at shows without the wait.  The best part was the stress reduction - you didn't have to worry about what to do next, it was all taken care of.  Highly recommended if you have the bucks to spend.
  • The lines for kids to meet characters is typically insane.  However, on our last trip we stumbled on three prime characters - Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore all together at the same time - with no line at all.  They often appear in a room in the very back of the UK country pavilion at EPCOT.  As you face the main structure, go into the store on the right.  The store rambles back through multiple rooms  (if you pass a bunch of Beatles memorabilia you are getting close) and in the very back room you will often find these characters, and sometimes Mary Poppins.

Where to stay and dine at Disney

  • I can't offer a lot of help on the relative merits of hotels, as I have only stayed three places.  The “unofficial” guidebooks have pretty good advice on hotel cost-benefit tradeoffs.  It used to be there was a big advantage to staying in one of the three hotels (Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary) on the old monorail system.  However, most of the new parks are not on this system, so there is less benefit.  Of these three, the Polynesian has the best location because you can walk to the Epcot monorail and are on the Magic Kingdom monorail.  The Grand Floridian is nice, but pricey.  Its main advantage is that you get a great view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks without fighting the crowds in the park.  The GF, particularly at Christmastime, has my favorite hotel lobby in the world.  Its beautiful and busy, with a piano player and sometimes an orchestra playing.  I just stayed at the Polynesian.  The rooms have been updated nicely, and it has an excellent beach view of the fireworks.  My daughter liked the pool and the volcano water slide.  The lobby, however, is nowhere near as cool to hang out in as the GF

  • Disney Dining has gotten a lot better.  There are a number of premium restaurants we really enjoy. These include California Grill (Contemporary Hotel), Flying Fish (Boardwalk), Shula's and Blue Zoo (Swan), Citricos (Grand Floridian).  Note these are all $30 entree type places, but there are plenty of other good choices.  Wolfgang Pucks and Bongos in Downtown Disney are both good.  The California Grill has a great view, and is a fabulous spot to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks.  We did the Polynesian dinner show this time.  The show and food was OK, but not great.  Really, the whole show was foreplay for the fire juggler/twirler, who was fantastic.  The place is much bigger than you might think, so there is a line and wait to get in.  Smaller kids will probably like the Hoop-de-doo review better.

Disney/MGM Hollywood Studios

This is probably the “hot” park at WDW because it has gotten more than its fair share of new attractions of late  (even more so now, see below) The two thrill rides (RRC and TofT) have huge lines, but to some extent Disney has imitated Seaworld at MGM.  Seaworld can handle huge crowds without queues because they just send people from show to show in big stadiums.  This is a bit how MGM works.

  • Rockin Roller Coaster:  In my mind, the best ride at WDW.  Great theme-ing plus fun and exciting ride.  Roller coaster in the dark, with a nice zero to 60 in a couple of seconds acceleration (via an electro-magnetic catapult) and a loop and corkscrew.  Has speakers in the seat that blast Aerosmith music while you ride.

  • Tower of Terror:  Also a very good ride, though short, with a nice theme and a random series of elevator free-fall drops.  Fastpasses for this and Rockin' Roller Coaster run out fast in the morning. 

  • Toy Story Ride:  This is the new hot ride at DisneyWorld.  A next generation of the Buzz Lightyear ride at the Magic Kingdom, this is a moving car with a 3D shooting gallery.  Really cool and fun.  BUT.  When the park opens, all several thousand poeple come right here.  There was a 20 minute wait just to get a FastPass.  This will dissipate some when the novelty wears off.  The good news is the lines for the Rockin Roller Coaster are way down in the morning.
  • Indiana Jones Stunt Show and Lights-Camera-Action Car Stunt Show:  Each of these are about 30 minutes long and are outstanding.  Really amazing shows, the best at Disney right now.  Get fastpasses for the roller coaster and tower of terror early and then hit these shows in their early shows – the late shows overfill.

  • Star Tours:  This is one of those simulator rides,, like BodyWars at Epcot, but themed Star Wars.  Used to be the big attraction at MGM but is now aging.  My kids still like it

  • Great Movie ride:  Classic Disney animatronic ride.  Adults like it, but kids are sometimes bored because they don't recognized a lot of the movies.  My kids liked it, and I always enjoy it.  Disney does not really build many animatronic rides like it used to (Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, etc.)

  • Beauty and the Beast show, Little Mermaid Ride:  These are good for the little ones.  I must admit the Beauty and the Beast show, which I dreaded, was pretty decent.

  • Muppet 3-D:  A fun show, but aging.  Not as good as newest Disney 4-D offerings

  • Backlot tour:  Pretty fun, though I would like to see more of the legitimate backstage stuff, rather than the one really brief view we get.  Has a special effects show in the middle the kids liked.

  • Fantasmic:  This is the evening fireworks / animatronic / live action / laser show at MGM.  I actually never saw it, but it gets great reviews.   I have seen people lining up hours before the start time. I just saw it this time and was wildly disapointed.  Mostly music and some movies projected on water curtains.  Not worth it, IMO

Animal Kingdom

Intended as a cross between a zoo and a theme park, I don't think they do either well.  I have yet to meet anyone who is really enthusiastic about this park.

  • Animals-  has animals, but if your kid wants to see the animals, its a long walk through big crowds for only a few. The safari ride is OK but the animals are in hiding a lot

  • Everest-  new roller coaster, themed as an Everest ride with visits from a Yeti.  Again, basically a pretty tame roller coaster except for a twist – the coaster goes backward in the dark for a stretch.  The theming is very good on this one.  The fastpasses run out really early in the day, at least right now while it is new.  If you are faced with a 90 minute wait in the standby line, as we were, you might try the single rider line, where we got on in 20 minutes. Now that the ride has been around of a while, the fastpasses last a lot longer.

  • Kali River Rapids – basically one of those 12 people in a boat going down the river and getting soaked rides.  Good theme-ing.  Be aware – you will get really, really wet, wetter than on similar rides I have been on.  By wet I mean the possibility of being totally soaked to the bone just short of having been thrown in a pool.

  • Bugs Life-  this is my least favorite Disney 4-D offering, and it can scare kids

  • Lion King show – a live action musical, this is a pretty good singing and dancing show

  • Dinosaur - I really hate this ride.  In a car that runs around a really bumpy road in the dark with some flashing lights and a glimpse once in a while of an animatronic dinosaur.

  • Primeval Whirl - For those that know roller coasters, this is what is called a "mouse" coaster.  There is no big drop, just lots of turning and spinning in a car.  Sort of the mad teacups go down a winding hill.


Really two parks in one, there are Science-themed rides in the front and country pavilions in the rear.

  • Soarin':  Right up there with Rockin' Roller Coaster as the best attraction at WDW.  Basically you are in a moving chair (like a ski lift chair with a seatbelt) that is put right up in front of an IMAX screen.  Very nice sense of flying with beautiful visuals without being scary or thrilling.  Just fun.  I would have said it was my favorite attraction but I found it to have a low repeat value – the second time was not nearly as cool as the first.  Lines are still long.

  • Test Track:  Another of the top attractions at WDW.  Possibly the most technically complicated ride, which also means that it breaks down the most.  Not to be missed, though.

  • Mission: Space: I have heard two schools of thought on this ride:  Some think it sucks, and some think it is OK.  The problem is that it is possibly too realistic. You are put into a really, really claustrophobic little vehicle and spun and thrown around.  Many people, even those with amusement park iron stomachs, get sick on this ride. Here is what is going on.  Most of the ride is just being thrown around in a simulator.  But to simulate the G-forces at takeoff, they actually spin you vertically rather fast.  If you stare forward at the screen, the visual clues generally tell your body "this is G-forces from takeoff."  If you look away from the screen, your body says "eek, I am spinning really fast." 

  • Spaceship Earth – another classic Disney animatronic ride, it's pretty good, sort of a time traveling Pirates of the Caribbean.  Its a good ride to save for later in the day – it typically has pretty short lines.  Lines are still short, but the last half has been updated with with a new interactive piece that my kids liked a lot.

  • Living with the Land – our kids hate this ride (BORING) but my wife and I like it.  There are always some really cool things growing in the greenhouses you tour

  • Oceans – As a standalone aquarium, it would be weak, but its not a bad attraction to spend some time in, especially if the kids like sharks and such

  • Honey I shrunk the Audience – still a very good 4-D movie experience

  • Countries-  My wife and I love to walk around the lake and do the countries.  The rides in Mexico and Norway are very miss-able.  The two 360-degree movies at China and Canada are good, and the animatronic show at USA is very good and classic Disney.  We find the walk around the lake relaxing even without rides.  Try to find a schedule of performers.  Typically each country will have performers through the day (acrobats at China, drummers at Japan, story tellers at Italy, a Beatles impersonation band at UK, a rock band in kilts (!) at Canada).  We enjoy all of these.  I have eaten at all of the restaurants over time.  They are all weaker than Disney offerings outside of Epcot.  The show is fun in Germany, and the food is OK at Italy and France.  Japan is a good imitation Benihana's, complete with show by the chef at the table.  Morocco, which is the one restaurant no Disney visitor seems willing to try, is actually our favorite for dinner.  We actually had a Thanksgiving dinner there (everything else was full) and enjoyed that Pilgrim tradition of cous cous and belly dancing. I don't know if this was temporary for October or a new feature, but they had something called the International Food and Wine festival.  For this were added a lot of other little country buildings with 2-3 local foods and 3-4 different wines for sale.  The food choices were often good and typically far superior to typical food cart options.

Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom has the most attractions but can also be the most frustratingly crowded, particularly in the late afternoon during and after the parade and fireworks.

  • Space Mountain:  An aging ride, with a tame and jerky roller coaster made more fun by being in the dark.  People still flock to it, though, and my kids like it.  Most of my friends report their only fear on Space Mountain was either a) wrenching their neck or b) hitting their head on the ride scaffolding that seems to be whizzing by in the dark.  Lines get long here.  Rumors persist that an 18-month closure and refurb is in the works for the Florida Space Mountain.  Such a refurb was completed a while back in California.

  • Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin:  One of the hot newer rides, it combines a ride with a shooting gallery.  Simple and good fun.  Still fun, but less popular now with the much improved concept at Hollywood Studios.

  • Speedway:  Kids still love this ride, which consists of gasoline engine cars on a track, but the lines are long

  • Haunted Mansion:  Needs a facelift, but it's a Disney classic and still a must-do.  Disney must listen to me.  They have done an update to several parts of the ride.  Not wildly different but improved none-the-less.

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Usually a nice short-line ride to be saved for later in the day when the big attractions are full, but on my last visit it was mobbed.  Disney added four Johnny Depp models to the ride, and everyone wanted to see them.  This is probably still my favorite animatronic ride.  It is very well done.  For long-time visitors, even better than the Johhny Depps is the new fake waterfall effect they added at the beginning.  Lines back to being shorter.

  • Splash Mountain: Along with the two other “mountain” rides has the longest lines in the park. This is my family's overall favorite at the Magic Kingdom.  Nice long ride, good themes, animatronics, and a thrill at the end.

  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad:  A very tame roller coaster.  I think it's boring and painful to ride as it jerks around so much.  My kids only think it is OK

  • Tom Sawyer Island:   A free play area that my kids really liked.  A nice break from the traditional theme park rides.

  • Jungle Cruise:  Ridiculously long lines that move really slowly.  An original of the park, this is now a very weak ride.

  • Dumbo/Aladdin carpets:  Parents with small kids know these rides, and know that the lines are always horrible and slow moving

  • Pooh:  A nice ride for little kids, replaced the old Mister Toad's Wild Ride.  Very well done, but again the lines are crazy

  • Peter Pan:  Still a good ride for kids, but the lines are crazy

  • Philharmagic:  Excellent 4-D movie with a big theater so everyone in line usually gets in. 

  • Hall of the Presidents:  Closed at my last visit, I don't know if it is forever or just temporary.  Part of a general Disney trend away from their traditional pure-animatronic rides and attractions.  I am told current younger generations are bored by these.

  • Steam Railroad:  I actually love this – its relaxed and you can ride as long as you want.  Also, its the best way to get around the park when the parade has all the streets clogged

Water Parks

The two water parks right now are Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.  Typhoon Lagoon has a better wave pool but in all other respects Blizzard Beach is the better park.  Blizzard Beach has more, better, higher, and longer slides, and a better kids area.  We love the teamboat springs ride in particular, and the chairlift provides a nice alternative to stair climbing once in a while.  Beware that in winter, they always close one or the other of these parks, so check in advance.


DisneyQuest:  For years we never went to DisneyQuest (in downtown Disney) because we thought it was just a big arcade.  It actually is a mini-theme park on its own, with 10 or so virtual games or attractions.  My kids loved it, but beware, you can get lines here, but not as bad as in the theme parks.  My daughter and her cousins particularly loved the part where you can design your own roller coaster on a computer, and then go ride it in a simulator.

Pleasure Island:  The dance halls are kind of fun if you want to leave the kids behind for a night, but the most fun place is the Adventurers club, which has live and animatronic shows in a bar setting.  They let the kids stay until about 9PM, and had a lot of fun little skits and sing-alongs.  We all loved it.

Hoop-de-doo Review.  We have seen this probably five times as for years, until my kids grew older, it was a family favorite.  This is a fun dinner show, though the location is a little awkward to reach over in the Fort Wilderness campground.  The dinner is family style fried chicken and ribs, if I remember right.  I must look particularly goofy since I got picked out of the audience at least three times out of five to be highlighted for embarrassment by the players.

Posted on December 3, 2006 at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

I Want Hawaii 5-0 on DVD!

Glenn Reynolds had a post on TV series that are coming soon to DVD, and some that other bloggers would like to see.  My vote for most conspicuously missing DVD would be Hawaii 5-0  (Don't be confused by the knock-off on sale on the internet, there is no official release).  I know everyone has their opinion, but I think this was the all-around be TV crime drama ever.  Period.  Aloha.

Posted on October 31, 2006 at 09:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

If You Want To Watch A Documentary on 9/11

I don't know much about the ABC 9/11 special everyone is arguing about, except to say that I am always suspicious of dramatic reenactments.  If you want a quick answer to whose fault the attacks were, I will give it to you and save you time:  The terrorists.  And if you want to to know which party's president ignored terrorism the most, I will answer that as well:  It's a tie.  Clinton ignored it for longer**, while Bush ignored it closer to the event.  To be fair, no one really expected the type of attack on September 11, so the blame game is kind of silly.

If you want to watch a great documentary that focuses on the terrorists and their victims, and not the politicians, the National Geographic special Inside 9/11, in two 2-hour parts, is being replayed tonight.  It is fabulous.

** By the way, Clinton supporters could defend their man and his attentiveness to terrorism by pointing out that most of the Patriot Act was actually proposed by Clinton in the mid-1990's.   Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I haven't heard many Democrats making this particular argument.

Posted on September 11, 2006 at 10:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Worst Music Video of All Time

Thank God for YouTube.  Now, the worst music video of all time is available again online.

Posted on August 16, 2006 at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Pirates Review

I loved the original Pirates of the Caribbean, and so I was excited to go see the sequel.  I won't write a long review, except to say that this movie is to the original what Star Wars Episode 3 was to the original Star Wars.  It seems to have forgotten what made the original a success, and focused instead on elaborate special effects and a confused plot.  The effects are amazing, and may be alone worth the price of one viewing, but the movie itself was only so-so. 

The plot wandered around aimlessly at times, and key elements, such as exactly how Jack got crosswise with Davy Jones in the first place, get a very very short exposition, which seem odd in a 2-1/2 hour movie.  This is the same mistake many action movie sequels make - the Indiana Jones movies come to mind in particular.  The sequels go for action action action continuously on the screen, forgetting that the original had long stretches of quiet periods that actually moved the plot and characters along.

Of all the plot elements, the sudden introduction of the ex-commodore Norrington seems the most forced.  There feels like there are one two many characters in the movie, with Sparrow, Will, the governor, the east India guys, Norrington, Davy Jones, etc. all having independent agendas.  This is fine for a taught character drama, but for a light action movie it is overly complex, and feels like Mission Impossible 2 where the writers tried to outdo the original in twists and turns and betrayals.  The introduction of Norrington does set up an interesting 3-way fight (kind of reminiscent of the awesome final scene in God, Bad, and the Ugly).  Like much of the film, the fight is kindof fun but falls short somehow.  And looking back on the movie, I can't figure out why the whole first part of the movie with the cannibals was even in there.  Basically, it did nothing to advance the plot.

The worst offense of the movie in my mind is that it underutilized Johny Depp.  Depp, whose performance really made the first movie, is OK but is not really allowed to be great.  The writers have him reprising his best bits from the first movie, rather than doing anything new.  It all feels a bit stale.

Oh, and by the way, does every single Hollywood movie have to find a way to make a large corporation the villain?  I mean, is it a writers guild requirement or something?  Even this movie set in the 18th century has to seek out the one and only large corporation in the world and use it as a villain.

Posted on July 10, 2006 at 09:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Widescreen Abuse

I am kind of a video snob so you can take this rant with that in mind. 

I am getting tired of looking at five thousand dollar flatscreens with the picture distorted.  As most of you will know, the new generation of TV sets are wider than the old sets, with a ratio of length to width of 16:9 rather than the old 4:3.  Unfortunately, most current broadcasting and all legacy TV shows are filmed in 4:3.  To watch these programs without distortion on a new flatscreen HDTV, you will either have black bars on the sides or you will have to zoom it such that you lose the top and bottom of the picture. 

Instead of these two options, most people have their widescreen TV's set to stretch the picture horizontally to fit the wider screen.  What this results in is a picture that is distorted and stretched by 33% in width, giving you lots of fat faces.  Yuk!  Why would someone buy a $5000 (or more) TV set with state of the art high-definition picture and then set it up so most of the programming looks like it was viewed in a fun-house mirror?  Especially when you only have to press one button usually to cycle the setup between regular and widescreen programming. 

Anyway, the teli is always on here in the breakfast room of the hotel (one of the realities of modern travel is that you can't seem to escape the blaring TV in either hotels or airports) but I have no idea what the BBC announcers look like.  The way the TV is set up, it looks like they all are fat with cheek fulls of acorns.

Posted on July 3, 2006 at 01:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Airwolf Next?

Incredibly, there are still depths to be plumbed in bringing TV shows to the big screen, as apparently Knight Rider may soon be made into a movie.  Shows I would have expected to be made into movies before Knight Rider include:

  • 6-million dollar man
  • A-team
  • Hawaii 5-0

And by the way, what kind of world do we live in where I can't buy old Hawaii 5-0 reruns on DVD?

Hat Tip:  Reason's Hit and Run, with a nostalgic look at past efforts to discern KITT's sexual orientation.

Posted on May 10, 2006 at 10:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Some Shows You May Have Never Seen

One of the great things about working for myself is that when I have a lot of boring tasks, like arranging my new office or filling out sales tax reports, I can watch a movie and get away with it.  Over the last few weeks I have watched three movies or shows you may have never heard of but I thought were great:

  1. Firefly.  Probably the best known of the three, this canceled series is a libertarian favorite. 
  2. Wonderfalls.  Only lasted 4 episodes on Fox, but 13 were in the can when it was canceled.  I bought it solely based on the unbelievable Amazon reviews.  I am on episode 5 and its is great so far.
  3. Interstate 60:  A movie I completely missed when it was in theaters, it was a lot of fun.  Had some of my favorite characters I have seen in a movie in a long time.

Posted on May 4, 2006 at 05:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Just An Interesting Story

No political point here, just an interesting story about a subject I knew nothing about.  B-movie critic Joe Bob Briggs writes in Reason (from 2003) about the strange history and financial success of the venereal disease exploitation movie (really).

Posted on January 10, 2006 at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Inside 9/11 Documentary

Last night I watched the four hour Inside 9/11 documentary on the National Geographic channel.  I really enjoyed the show.  They took the plot step by step and at times day by day and minute by minute.  The final "zero hour" segment was tremendously emotional.  Highly recommended - I believe it will be replayed September 8.

Posted on August 23, 2005 at 01:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Han and Chewie: The Early Years

If George Lucas needs any more money, here is my movie idea for him:  Make a movie about Han Solo and Chewbacca in their early years.  How did a Wookie prince become a smuggler?  How did he meet Han?  How did Han win the Millennium Falcon from Lando?  In my imagination, the movie would be more in the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark rather than the most recent star wars movie, putting the emphasis on adventure and action over special effects, Republic politics, and endless light-saber fights.  The only real challenge would be casting the young Han Solo part -- who would be willing to try to replace Harrison Ford?

Does anyone doubt that this would make a fortune, particularly if you teamed Lucas with someone to do the writing?  The series would easily lend itself to a serial format, with multiple episodes, though in that format it might make a better TV show than movie.


PS-  I got started thinking about this because I saw Star Wars III again this weekend.  As an update to my review:  it did not wear very well.  The back third from the (attempted) arrest of Palpatine forward was still engaging, but the front half actually had me squirming in my seat. The dialog still sucks, the initial mission sequence still makes no sense, and the battle with General Grievous is still just one more gratuitous light saber battle and chase scene.

Posted on June 13, 2005 at 07:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

My Star Wars III Review

OK, it seems the everyone is a movie critic this week.  If you ever doubt that most bloggers are geeks at heart, just look at all the Star Wars III coverage in blogs this week.  Anyway, not to be outdone, here is my review.  I will give a general review up front, with more thoughts that include spoilers in the extended post.

Overall, the movie was visually stunning, with lots of eye candy.  The last third of the movie was emotionally engaging, though many of the actors' performances were sub-par.  The movie was better than the last two (duh) and tied the story arc together fairly well.

However, my impressions of the movie really differed front to back, so for review purposes I divide the movie into three parts:

  1. Initial action / rescue sequence  C+:  The effects are nice, but the mission itself doesn't make a lot of sense, at least from Palpatine's eyes, who clearly must have orchestrated it.  Movie-wise, it has two purposes.  First, it is supposed to be the last gasp of the Obi-Wan and Anakin ongoing buddy movie, but the dialog for this sucks.  They should have hired someone from the Lethal Weapon movies to do this right.  Second, and perhaps the most effective part, it really sets up a scene in Return of the Jedi, making more meaningful a contrast between Luke and Anakin.  Without this one sub-scene, this section of the movie would have just been an overly long action intro into the movie, kind of like the warm-up band to get everyone excited or the first 5 minutes before the credits in a James Bond movie.
  2. Dialog / exposition / Anakin turns  D:  Some people seem to like this section.  I found it PAINFUL.  The Anakin/Padme romance is never, ever very realistic.  I don't know if it is the acting or the script or just lack of spark between the actors, but I thought there was more sexual tension between Luke and his sister, for god sakes, than Anakin and Padme.  I will say the fear that drives Anakin to the dark side is a fairly good one.  It was set up well in the previous movies.  However, the execution sucked.  Under the right direction, this could have been really powerful, given the dark irony at the end of the movie of what was really behind this fear.  The final conversion seems to happen way too fast - he goes from "wait this is wrong" to "You are my master" in like 30 seconds. 
  3. Destruction of the Jedi / Putting everyone in place for Episode IV  B+:  There is nothing wrong with Lucas's ability to direct epic action and special effects and to use music and editing to build tension and emotion.  I thought it was well done.  The final fight scene takes place in amazing environment.  They do a good, but not perfect job, of establishing continuity with Episode IV.  Once everyone shuts up, the movie gets good.  Hayden Christianson really looks the part of dark Jedi at the end

Overall, I will give it a B but non-Star Wars fans would probably grade it lower.  My episode ranking now is V - IV - [III or VI] - II - I.  I will have to see it again and give it a bit of time to put it ahead or behind VI, but right now I have it ahead because its emotional impact walking out of it the first time was much higher than that of VI.


Here are some more specific thoughts that include spoilers:

  • I am sure their are many folks in the geekosphere who will come up with long lists of continuity problems.  They brute force solved the C3PO memory problem, and did a decent job backing up that obi-wan line about "if you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine".  Luke and Leia ended up where they should be.  However, they did not deal with the fact that Obi-Wan does not recognize C3PO or R2D2 in Episode IV.  Also, there is no way that Leia should be able to have memories of her mother in Episode VI.  Its not a real continuity issue, but given the events of episodes I-III, it seems like a really poor idea to "hide" Luke with Anakin's family with the name Skywalker.  This makes a little more sense if Anakin knows Padme had at least one baby, which he seems to know in Episode V but it is unclear if he knows at the end of this episode.  Anyway, most of the threads are tied up close enough for most people
  • Does it really make sense that Palpatine would orchestrate a kidnapping of himself (for that is clearly what he did) and rescue when the margin for his own escape was so thin?  Maybe he had a different plan, but barely surviving a crash landing on the planet seems kind of a thin margin to me. And why did he orchestrate the kidnapping, except maybe to force the Anakin-Dooku confrontation.  And why, once kidnapped, did they remain in near orbit to let themselves get pounded?
  • The Anakin-Dooku confrontation, in front of Palpatine, where he tells Anakin to kill him and take his place is nicely done, and lends more weight to the later parallel scene where Luke refuses to do what Anakin did.
  • I cry at the lost opportunity to do more with the dark irony of Anakin joining the dark side to save Padme, only to find that Padme's death he foresaw was due to his joining the dark side (not to mention his choking her).  This is classic fodder for a good tragedy, but I think the direction of it was fumbled.
  • Padme's acting was awful.  I cringed whenever she spoke.  Her best scene was in the end as a corpse.  I know that Natalie Portman (and all the other actors here) have done good work elsewhere, so I blame Lucas.

Basball Crank has a more positive review, and more thoughts on continuity.

Posted on May 20, 2005 at 08:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Store Wars

The Organic Foods Trade Association has this terrific spoof on Star Wars, aimed at warning consumers about the "dark side of the farm", which for them of course are non-organic foods.  Meet Obi Wan Cannoli and Chew-broccoli. 

I am kindof neutral on the whole organic foods thing - while happy about the range of new choices available to consumers, organic proponents tend to have statist tendencies and seem all too quick to welcome government intervention to aid their cause and regulate away consumer choices they don't agree with.  I have never really been terrified by genetic manipulation of foods and I tend to group those who oppose irradiation of foods to reduce diseases as roughly equivalent to Luddites who oppose vaccinations.


UPDATE:  You can tell that many bloggers are geeks like me, by the number of Star Wars previews I have read.  There is a good one here at the Knowlege Problem, and predictably from Will Collier at Vodka Pundit.  A Small Victory is hosting the Carnival of the Force, a roundup of Star Wars posts.

REVIEW: I say the movie last night, and my review is here.

Posted on May 17, 2005 at 10:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Review for Star Wars III

First, I must confess that I have been to opening day of every Star Wars movie, and I have tickets for opening day of this last one.  Yes, I am kindof a geek, but no, I am not a total geek:  I did not sit up all night in line or anything for these movies. 

This is actually a bit of an accomplishment, because I don't think many people saw the original Star Wars movie on the first day.  One thing that I think a lot of people don't remember, given all the Star Wars hype and success, is that the original movie opened without much hype or expectations.  I was with my family visiting LA, where we were staying in some hotel in Century City  (maybe the Century Plaza - I remember it seemed pretty nice).  Anyway, my dad was on business and my mom and sisters were shopping so I walked over that morning to see what was playing at the Century City movie theater.  It was in that way I accidently saw the first showing on the first day of the original Star Wars.  It was me and about 7 other people in that huge theater.   I was so blown away that I stayed for a second showing.

Anyway, time passes.  Empire Strikes Back was great.  I thought at the time that Return of the Jedi was pretty mediocre, but that was before I saw Clone Wars which I thought was visibly stunning but really bad.  I cringed every time there was any substantial dialogue, particularly  when Padme was on the screen.

Anyway, I take this review pretty seriously, because they seem to have had the same reactions I had to the previous movies.  The Good news:  visually even more stunning, cool fight scenes, and a better all around movie than the other prequels.  The Bad news:  the Padme dialog still sucks, maybe even worse.

I really enjoyed watching Revenge of the Sith. And yes, it is quite a good film. However, the scenes with Padmé alone are enough to give you flashbacks of the worst parts of the first 2 sequels, and thus lower your overall enjoyment ofthe movie.

Still... it is a strong film with a strong story, great effects and much improved dialog (with the exception of anything with Padmé in it). Star Wars fans should be quite happy... and non-Star Wars fans will enjoy as well.

Overall... I give Revenge of the Sith a solid 7 out of 10 (would have been a 9 if they just totally took out Padmé or re-wrote all her pathetic dialog).

It gets much worse treatment in other venues, but for roughly the same reasons.

UPDATE:  Here is my review

By the way, Darth Vader has a blog now.  We learn a lot from it about the daily trial and tribulations of being a dark jedi master (thanks to VodkaPundit for the link):

Due to the haste with which we are proceding through the latter phases of this battle-station's construction we have been forced to employ scores of civilian contractors from across the galaxy in addition to our own Imperial Corps of Engineers. This had led to a certain clash of working cultures.

For instance, this morning I critiqued a tragically sub-par piece of workmanship on a tractor-beam repulsolift inversion assembly by snapping the neck of the site supervisor and throwing his limp corpse down a disused elevator shaft.

Imperial engineers would have snapped to crisp attention, of course, but all these civilian contractors did was give me was grief. "Oy, you do that again and I'll have the union on you!" barked one red-faced buffoon.

"It is vital that you enhance the inter-departmental syngergies of your operation," I said. And then I killed him.

I can relate.

Posted on May 12, 2005 at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Conservatives and the Oscars

I really didn't want to go here again, but after some thought, I am really amazed at all the disdain for the Oscars coming out of the conservative blogs(CQ,Powerline,LaShawn Barber,LGF).  As I posted here, I thought Rock did an OK job, and for once all the awardees kept their speeches focused on movies rather than their own lame political views. 

However, conservative blogs have pointed out that most conservatives probably got turned off during Rock's monologue, particularly his jabs at GWB, and tuned out.  I am confused just what Rock said that was so horrible.  First, it is expected that monologues like this take some shots at whoever is in the White House.  And Rock certainly did so, but he also took shots at prominent liberals and Hollywood luminaries as well.

Second, just what did he make fun of?  He made fun of going to war and not finding WMD.  Now, I am certainly bright enough to know that the argument for war was more nuanced (heh heh) than just WMD's, but if I was a conservative, I would LOVE it if someone made fun of GWB every day for our WMD intelligence.  If such jokes at his expense occur frequently enough, maybe he will get mad enough to do the real thorough house cleaning of the CIA which is desperately overdue.

The other thing Rock poked fun at Bush for was the growing deficit.  Hey, conservatives out there, what's wrong with that?  Again, I am smart enough to understand there are valid reasons for deficits - wars and recessions are two of them.  Also, I understand that if you want to cut spending, you usually have to cut taxes first, drive the budget into deficit, and use that as a lever for getting spending cuts.  However, Bush has done NOTHING in four years to try to reign in domestic spending, and has done several things (e.g. prescription drug benefit) that greatly increase spending.  Reagan ended up with large deficits but only after putting up a valiant fight with a Democratic-controlled Congress to cut spending.  GWB has a Republican Congress and hasn't even tried.  So what's wrong, even for conservatives, with taking a poke at GWB on deficits?

Oh yes, the blogs have one other complaint - that he said "ass".  You know, whenever I hear this kind of complaint, it just reminds me of Beavis and Butthead going "heh, heh heh, heh -- he said ass -- heh, heh"

Posted on March 1, 2005 at 10:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Chris Rock and the Academy Awards

Maybe it was just having really low expectations, but I thought Rock was OK last night, though conservative bloggers seemed to have hated the broadcast.  Sure some of the stuff they did flopped (the skit with Adam Sandler comes to mind) but he was moderately funny and while he made fun of a number of people, he was pretty equal-opportunity about it.  And anyone who gets Sean Penn all huffy can't be all bad.  Sure the show may have less gravitas than when Carson hosted it, but compare it to where shows like the Grammy's have gone and it looks like Masterpiece Theater.  And if people want to talk about whether Rock was "serious" enough for the event, they should focus some attention on Al Pacino showing up looking like a homeless person or on Dustin Hoffman trying to present the Best Picture award drunk off his ass.

Other Notes:

  • Was the show producer sleeping with Beyoncé, or was she the only singer available?  Why did we see her three times?  And did all of the songs seem to be totally unmemorable or what?
  • The women's dresses were generally awsome, while their hair generally looked awful (or at least just dull, which is the same for a Hollywood-type).  I loved the return of those sort-of mermaid-shaped dresses.
  • Jamie Foxx was the highlight
  • Seeing Clint Eastwood with his young wife was an inspiration for all of us over-40 males.  Seeing his mom there was even more of an inspiration.

Posted on February 28, 2005 at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Top 100 Gadgets of all Time

Mobile PC has a great top 100 list of great gadgets of all time, from the swiss army knife to the pocket fisherman to the iPod.  Really cool idea for a list, and the authors range pretty far and wide for their selections.



Posted on February 20, 2005 at 10:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Rules of Alias

I just finished watching 3 seasons of Alias in about 2 weeks.  I love the show, except maybe in the early part of the third season, which I thought dragged a bit.  Given the way each show is structured with cliff hangers, this is a much better way to watch the show -- not to mention that each show is only about 41 minutes long which implies that I am missing a good 19 minutes of commercials every episode for a total of 1,254 minutes of commercials over the three seasons.

From watching these episodes, I have distilled certain "rules" of Alias:

  • There is always a next Rambaldi device, which are probably just part of a 500 year practical joke scavenger hunt (see the Amazon film tooth fairy to get the idea)
  • Your wife is probably an enemy agent
  • Satellites can do anything
  • Competing spies always show up at the same place and at the same time
  • There is always an arbitrary time limit set by the technology, usually under 4 minutes
  • Spies never run missions to Dayton or Bloomington.  Always to Berlin or Kazakstan.
  • The bad guys always shoot worse than Imperial Storm Troopers.
  • Marshall Rules.

Posted on January 25, 2005 at 08:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

If You Are Buying A Plasma TV...

I know that flat screen Plasma and LCD TV's are very popular right now, especially as prices are falling.  They provide a good platform for viewing HDTV and widescreen DVDs.  As a longtime fan of widescreen, even before DVD's and HDTV, I understand the attraction well (and yes, you could get widescreen format movies on VHS and Laserdisc, but it was a pain in the butt and DVD is great).

If you are looking at a plasma TV for your main viewing or home theater room, I would like to encourage you to look at front projection before you make a purchase.  No, I don't have any financial interest in the technology, and no, it is not right for everyone.  For some applications, though, front projection can offer a dramatically better movie experience than plasma for the same money.  Why?  Two words:  110" Diagonal  (OK, thats sort of more than two words when you say it rather than write it, but you get the idea).


A projection system can be almost as big as you have space for.  You have never, never experienced the Superbowl until you have seen it on a 95" wide widescreen in HDTV.  If you get one, do not tell the neighbors unless you want them in your house every Sunday.  We almost never go to theaters any more - we have a great experience in our own house.  I have practically paid for this installation just from birthday party savings, as my kids now prefer to have movie parties at home. 

The installation in the picture above is my 95" wide 16x9 screen, and I took the photo so you could also see the projector hanging on the ceiling (the photo overemphasises the projector - it is actually not so prominent).  The screen is actually a special acoustically perforated kind, and the speakers are behind it (this is more expensive and hides the speakers but is not at all required).

OK, there are some downsides to this installation, which is why you do not see them everywhere:

  • The wiring is tougher, since the projector usually is a long way from your video equipment - I had to get an electrician to run some wires for me
  • The room has to be dark -- either with few windows or, in my case, with blackout shades on all the windows -- to be able to watch during the day.  If you look carefully in the picture above you can see the shade above the windows.
  • They are harder to find -- Best Buy type stores do not sell these systems
  • They are different esthetically than you are used to.  They take up less space than a big box rear-projection, but more space than a plasma. Yes, you can put in mechanisms to roll up the screen into the ceiling or even pull the projector up out of site when not being used, but these add a lot to the cost.
  • Good systems are not at all cheap, and cost about as much as a good plasma - about $4000 for the projector and $1000 for the screen.  Really good systems go for crazy amounts of money - as much as $60,000 and more.  Don't be scared off - there are many good inexpensive projectors made today.

We have loved this system and have gotten more prolonged enjoyment out of it than anything else in our house.  It is not for everyone, and I don't expect everyone to choose to do the same thing I did, but I do think it is worth your time to take a peak at one when you are out shopping for that plasma TV.

Posted on January 23, 2005 at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Charlie's Grandpa Joe is Really Scum

We were watching the old Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on DVD the other day.  This movie choice was made by the kids in anticipation of the new Johnny Depp version coming soon (since Pirates of the Caribbean, my kids are huge Johnny Depp fans).

I guess I really never paid much attention,  but Charlie's Grandpa Joe (played by Jack Albertson) is a real schmuck.  This little boy and his mother slave away for pitiful wages all day to support their four grandparents who are infirm and stuck in bed.  Grandpa Joe has laid in that bed for years, maybe decades, and never once tried to get out and help his family.  But, given the chance to go on a special trip to the Chocolate Factory with Charlie, Joe soon bounces out of bed and dances around the room.  Where was this energy when the family needed a wage-earner?

I don't know if this was intentional or not.  My guess is that this might not have been intentional - the early 1970's were the height of welfare sensibilities, and it would probably have been unlikely that Hollywood would try to include any messages about a slacker dad who failed to support his family.

Update:  By the way, in response to one of the comments, I am mostly just having fun with this.  I love Willie Wonka and am not so much of a Scrooge to turn on the movie because of an issue like this - heck, if I only enjoyed movies I was in complete ideological agreement with, I would have a very small movie collection. 

But, I do beg to differ with the commenter who said that Grandpa Joe provided the best adult supervision of all the parents.   This is actually not true, at least in the factory itself.  When each child pursued their fatal screw-up, in most cases their parents were trying to stop them, however lamely:  Augustus's mom says to stop drinking from the river, etc.  Charlie's Grandpa Joe actually was the one parent (or I guess guardian) who took an active role in encouraging their child into breaking their host's rules (i.e. drinking the fizzy lifting drink). 

I sit here thinking - jeez, am I really arguing about this?  I feel silly, but it does beat arguing about 30-year-old events in the military service of presidential candidates.

Posted on January 14, 2005 at 11:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Will iTunes kill Albums?

Video killed the radio star (appropriately the first video shown on MTV) but will iTunes kill albums?

I was driving today listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, which I ripped in its entirety to my mini iPod.  I noticed the iPod staggered a little bit on the song transitions, which are seamless on the CD.

And oddly, this got me thinking about the revolution in digital music and what effect it might have on albums.  Back in the 50's and early 60's, the rock/pop music marketplace was dominated by singles.  A great visual demonstration of that era is the "what's on the flip side" scene in Diner between Kevin Bacon and Daniel Stern, a scene that makes no sense to later generations.  Albums, to the extent they were purchased, were merely collections of singles.

A revolution, at least in the world of rock & roll, began to occur in the mid-1960's.  Many folks point to Sgt Pepper by the Beatles as the first concept album, where the songs hang together in a way that the album was greater than the sum of the parts (note that this had always been true in jazz, and of course classical -- but it was new to the rock/pop world).  Over time, many rock albums were produced that were true albums.  Even when the songs don't follow a theme (as in the Moody Blues Days of Future Passed) or tell as story (as in the Who's Quadrophenia), there are many albums I think of as albums, where I can't seem to enjoy the single when it is taken out of context of the other songs (including Fleetwood Mac's Rumors and Genesis's Trick of the Tail)

Pink Floyd, however, probably pursued the album more than any other band.  Few songs from Pink Floyd albums like Wish You Were Here or Dark Side of the Moon or of course the Wall even make sense on their own, any more than a single chapter ripped from a book will be viable on its own.

Today, we may be on the front end of a trend where the market moves back to singles, as market models like iTunes gain traction and put emphasis back on individual songs that have to stand alone.  My son, for example, does not buy albums - he buys individual songs off iTunes.  The only difference from the 50's is that there are no flip sides.

Or, it may be that we are on the brink of still yet another medium, maybe of third parties mixing together tracks from multiple artists into custom collections, much like people have been doing for their friends for years, but with wide open new distribution channels.

Posted on January 10, 2005 at 06:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Doctored Han Solo Memos, errr, Evidence

This (Link courtesy Professor Bainbridge) is a pretty funny parody based on a scene from the original Star Wars movie that has famously been changed a couple of times by George Lucas in reissuing the movie.  It is especially funny in light of today's CBS memogate report.  If you don't know the story behind the changes to the movie, they are summarized in the intro page, or you can just dive into the comic by pressing "1".

Posted on January 10, 2005 at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

An Aerosmith Revival Here at Home

In the last couple of weeks, particularly after Santa brought one of my kids a new mini iPod, we have been having an Aerosmith revival.  It started with our recent trip to DisneyWorld, where my daughter and I discovered the job of Disney's "rockin roller coaster", which is an Aerosmith-themed roller coaster (no, really) with Aerosmith tunes blaring through the ride.

After standing in lines for a while listening to Aerosmith tunes (but not that long, Disney's Fastpass system really makes the waits much more manageable), my kids are now huge fans.

Posted on January 1, 2005 at 04:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Re-Discovering a Couple of My Favorite Writers

A while back, I went through my semi-annual cleaning and de-entropification of my bookshelves.  In doing so, I found several older books that I wanted to re-read.  In particular, books by John MacDonald and Alistair Maclean caught my eye.

As I have re-read these books, I have found that a number of my friends are not familiar with the authors, which is a shame.  Once an author dies and stops writing books, they kind of fall out of the public consciousness, unless you are Lawrence Sanders and have a post-humus "ghost" writer.

Now, I am not one to poopoo other people's choice of books.  In fact, I am very familiar with the look of disdain I get from time to time as I am reading Tom Clancy or Steven King or even Terry Pratchett from someone who is shocked I am not reading Sartre or some other Faulkner-esque book that is gravid with meaning.  However, I will tell you that not knowing these two authors is a lost joy, and an opportunity to have some real fun reading.

John MacDonald may not be known to most of the current generation, but he is to current writers.  More modern novelists than you can shake a stick at have grown up influenced by MacDonald's prose.  The place to begin is with his Travis McGee books, which are fabulously well written in addition to being fun to read and good mysteries to boot.  Any one will do, but if you have a choice, you might try the Long Lavender Look (all of the McGee books have a color in the title)., which is consistently rated as one of his best.  The Deep Blue Goodbye is the first of the series. I like Pale Grey for Guilt, because you see a little of MacDonald the Harvard MBA coming out, but other die hards don't like it as much.  MacDonald was very prolific, and has written a number of other great books you might know better from movies and TV, including Slam the Big Door, Cape Fear, and Condominium.

Alistair Maclean is a different kind of writer.  While his prose may not be as beautiful as MacDonald's, before there was Clancy or Crichton or even Ian Flemming there was Alistair Maclean.  Maclean is best described as a writer of great adventure stories.  My favorite is Where Eagles Dare, which actually is an awesome movie as well.  A close second is Ice Station Zebra.  Both of these share in common a lot of action and a ton of twists and turns - those who were confused by Mission Impossible need not apply.  Other great books include Guns of Navaronne, Breakheart Pass , Puppet on a Chain, HMS Ulysses, and Fear is the Key.  Breakheart Pass was particularly good, with a great story set in the old west, and Puppet on a Chain is perhaps his very best taut suspense novel, though it is about the only one on the list that was not made into a movie.

Posted on December 23, 2004 at 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

My Favorite Howard Hughes Story

Given the recent fascination with the upcoming Howard Hughes biopic, as well as any number of other articles on his life (this article covers some of the more eccentric parts left out of the movie)  I remembered my favorite Hughes story. 

Howard Hughes loved watching movies at night.  Now, this won't seem too odd to most of us, since many people, myself included, have spent a few late nights watching an old movie on cable or on the DVD player.  However, Hughes had a problem.  He liked to watch movies of his choosing in his own room on top of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas before anyone had dreamed up HBO or the VCR. 

Hughes was not daunted by this small problem.  This is the man that bought the Desert Inn when they threatened to evict him.  So, Hughes bought a local TV station.  Each week, the TV station would publish its weekly schedule, including the movies it planned to show each evening;  however, it seldom followed this schedule, because each evening Howard Hughes would call his station and tell them what movie he wanted to see, and that would be what they broadcast.  So, in a sense, Howard Hughes invented pay per view TV, though his version was kind of expensive.  Also, the TV station apparently got a lot of complaints for never showing the movie listed in the TV guide.

Posted on December 23, 2004 at 12:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

July? Who Can Wait Until July?

Via Instapundit:

THE NEXT HARRY POTTER BOOK, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is finished, and will be out in July.

Posted on December 21, 2004 at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review - Michael Crichton's "State of Fear"

My post here and here remind me that I should review the book I just finished --Michael Crichton's State of Fear.  In this book, a group of environmental activists are trying to help mother nature along by creating some natural disasters to draw media attention for the global warming crusade.

I really wanted to like this book.  For once, the villain was not some greedy dastardly businessman trying to increase profits of his corporation at the expense of people's lives.  I have always felt that novels with a political ax to grind were tedious, particularly when they got to the preachy parts.  Clive Cussler, for example, has gotten bad about this in his later books like Shock Wave.  In this book, like in most, the crime is usually so over the top that it is just illogical that anyone would go about business that way - the same time and money spent on less villainous activities would yield far more profit.  It's like those James Bond movie villains who create a $100 million laser satellite and underground control facility only to extort $10 million.

I had thought that the reason I did not like these books was that I disagreed with most of political polemic in them.   However, "State of Fear" has taught be a valuable lesson - I hated the polemic in this novel too, even when I agreed with it.  Crichton makes the same mistake I have railed on Cussler and others for - the cost and elaborate planning that go into most of the planned terrorist attacks make no sense in proportion to benefits.  While I might agree that too many people are mindlessly marching to the global warming drummer without any real thought or consideration of the facts, I thinking blowing some of these folks up into out of control monsters does not help make that point - it just makes you look like you have an ax to grind.  Its also unfair to give the global warming point of view such a poor advocate, the sum total of whose analytical arsenal consists of saying "well, everyone believes it".

<rant>  By the way, a quick word to all you statists, socialists, liberals, and environmental freaks who seem so worked up all over the web about the above admittedly poor literary techniques:  Get over it!  First, global warming is seldom represented by its advocates as the messy, unclear, chaotic, hard to predict thing it really is.  You advocates of global warming have constantly exagerated your case, so get over it when someone does it in the other direction.  Second, I have probably read over a hundred novels where the advocates of capitalism, markets, business, and individual responsibility are just as incompetant as the advocates for global warming are in this book.  Let me see you complain about a book with polemic that you agree with, as I have done, and then I will listen to you. </rant>

So I rank the book as OK, with some pretty good scenes and plot marred by some tedious expositions and diatribes (and remember, this is coming from someone who agrees with the diatribes!)  Tom Clancy does a much better job of evenhandedly dealing with eco-terrorists in Rainbow Six, probably his last good novel. 

By the way, if I wanted to novelize a rant against global warming's bad science, I would choose about anyone except for Crichton, whose middle name is "bad science".  I enjoy his novels, but did you ever ask yourself why all the doctors had to go through all that decontamination in Andromeda Strain, when they were never going to come in contact with the objects under study anyway?  Or, in Timeline, if they are really traveling to parallel but out of sync alternate universes, then how do changes they make in the other universes (such as the dropped glasses) propagate to our universe?  And don't get me started on the science of Prey or the use of chaos theory in Jurrasic Park.


Well, the emails are already coming in.  Since this is getting a lot of hits already off search engines by people who do not normally read this site, and to save writing a number of individual responses, I will give the elevator version of where I am on global warming:

  • The world has probably warmed over the last several decades due to man-made CO2 production, but less than is generally reported because
    • Global warming advocates, out of several available data sets, always pick the one that shows the most warming, while other data sets show less.  The data set they choose (ground temperatures) is not without issues.
    • Advocates tend to ignore other influences that might be raising temperatures in addition to man-made CO2, including natural climatic cycles, increased solar activity, and urban heat island effects.  These effects were apparently substantial in the first half of the century.  To argue that they are not part of the story in the second half of the century, you have to argue that they stopped at the same time that CO2 began having an effect.
  • The world will warm further due to man-made CO2, but the models for future warming are almost certainly overstated, for at least two reasons:
    • While I can't judge the science, I sure as heck can evaluate an economic model and the models for the amount of CO2 produced in the next century are basically economic models.  And they are hugely flawed.  The models have made assumptions that grossly overstate CO2 production in the future.  As just one example, the models assume that many of the least energy efficient nations have huge growth booms over the next 50 years, so that their economies grow larger than that of the US (for example, South Africa is shown to have a larger economy in the future than the US).  These models also assume that these countries do not get much more efficient, so you end up with models showing enormous, absurdly energy efficient economies in the future -- which of course grossly overstates CO2 production
    • As I said, I don't have the science to dispute the models in depth, but one has to be concerned when the models do not match history, and in fact predict historically a much higher temperature rise than we have seen to date.  Advocates will argue that this is fixed, but it was fixed with fudge factors, not science.  People have tried doing this with financial models as well, fudging theoretical models that aren't working to match history, and have gone broke doing so.
  • When and where warming occurs does matter.  Crichton was dead wrong about this - things do not warm evenly.  Models show most warming is in the coldest areas in winter at night.  Since having warming night-time winter temperatures in Siberia does not really panic anyone, this does not get much coverage.
  • The Kyoto treaty is hugely flawed, leaves out the countries causing the most CO2 production increases, is ridiculously anti-American, will cost economies a ton, and will have little affect on future warming, even by advocate's models.
  • I worry that the science being done on global warming is not as good as it could be, as the field has become so politicized.  Any scientist who dares to even introduce data that might soften the global warming catastrophe message is marginalized.
  • Those who report on global warming, including the media and the administration of large projects like the UN climate change project distort scientific findings, substituting complexity and questions with certainty

This is just a summary, without dueling citations.  I covered the same points, but marshaling evidence and citations here.


More blog reviews, both positive and nevative, linked here.  Other folks who are skeptical about global warming seem to have liked the book a lot.  I still think that this is more of a reaction to finally having a novel that is skeptical of progressive causes rather than a reaction to a quality adventure book.  I continue to maintain that it is better for action books to just stick to the action.  I will be very upset if this starts an arms race among writers to get more and more heavy handed with their politics in their novels.

Posted on December 15, 2004 at 11:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Incredibles and Atlas Shrugged

Cool article in Reason about the similarities between the Incredibles and Any Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Now I definitely have to see this movie.  As a side note, I actually met Mr. Incredible today at Disney World (OK, I "met" a twenty-something underpaid college student in an uncomfortable costume today).  Disney World trip roundup coming soon...

Posted on November 26, 2004 at 08:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Help Choose Dan Rather's Replacement!

Dan Rather will be leaving his anchor position at CBS Evening News.  I haven't really gloated about this online, despite my dislike for what CBS News has become, mainly because I don't see any evidence that CBS is really going to fix anything.  I mean, one clue that they are not really serious about change is that Dan Rather will be refocusing his time on 60 Minutes, the very forum that caused many of his most recent troubles in the first place.

Anyway, who should replace Dan?  My gut feel is that they will choose some stiff who has put in his time for decades at CBS, but I don't think that will do much to improve ratings.  What would?  How about these suggestions:

Improve ratings approach #1:  Finally get rid of the pretense that anchors are journalists rather than pretty talking heads.  Hire Nicollette Sheridan, or maybe Terri Hatcher.  Or, if you feel CBS News deserves more gravitas, in the Murrow tradition, how about Meryl Streep?

Improve ratings approach #2:  Go with comedy.  Bring in David Letterman from the Late Show to anchor the evening news.  "Tonight, we start with the growing UN oil for food scandal.  Uma - Anann.  Anann - Uma."  Or, if you want to segment the market differently, how about Tim Allen and the CBS News for Guys.  Or, if CBS wants to keep hitting the older demographic - what about Chevy Chase - certainly he already has anchor experience from SNL.

Improving Credibility Choice:  No one in the MSM really has much credibility left after the last election, but there is one man who would bring instant credibility to CBS News -- Bob Costas.  CBS should hire him away from NBC, like they did with Letterman.  Make him the evening news anchor.  Heck, if Bryant Gumbell can make the transition to the news division, certainly Costas can.

Become the acknowledged liberal counterpoint to Fox:  Hire Bill Clinton as anchor.  Nothing would generate more buzz than that hire, and he is at loose ends anyway (and think about all those wonderful business trips away from home...)  If Bill is not available, try James Carville.  I might even have to watch that.

Let the public decide:  Forget making a decision, and just create a new reality show like ESPN's Dream Job to choose the next anchor.  Each week the 12 finalists can be given a new task.  In week one, they have to pick up incriminating evidence about the President at a rodeo.  In week 2, they have to forge a believable set of documents from the early 70's, and survive criticism from about 10,000 bloggers.  They can kick one off the island each week based on the viewers votes.

Leave your own ideas in the comments section!


I want to expand on the idea in the comment below.  I think it would be a great idea to just run "best of" news broadcasts when Dan is out, like they did during Carson's frequent nights off late in his tenure.  The interesting part would be to see if anyone noticed.


Welcome Carnival of the Vanities.  If your missed our Carnival of the Capitalists posts on reverse auctions and why Priceline really succeeded, see here.  Or just browse around our most recent posts hereAnd, don't forget to vote in the 2004 Weblog Awards!


For a more serious handicapping of replacements, check out Rathergate.com and at RatherBiased.

Posted on November 26, 2004 at 03:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

LA Confidential is Terrific

I am sitting here this evening watching LA Confidential on the big screen.  This is a fabulous movie, and its incredible to me that it didn't get more play at the time.  The acting performances are awesome -- ironically I think Kim Bassinger's is the weakest, but she is the only one to get an Oscar for it. The music and mood are fabulous.  It is even more incredible that the nearly unwatchable Titanic could beat it out for best picture Oscar.  If you have never seen it, give it a rent.

Posted on November 14, 2004 at 09:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Demolition Man: Movie Ahead of its Time?

OK, the 1993 movie Demolition Man was not that great of a movie, though Wesley Snipes was pretty cool and Stallone was a lot less stiff than usual.  And the shell gag was pretty funny.  The highlight, however, was the debut (I think) of Sandra Bullock in a major picture.

For a number of years, Stallone and Governor Arnold, the two major action movie stars of the time, traded barbs with each other in their flicks.  For example, in the 1993's Last Action Hero, Arnold makes a joke about Stallone in a video rental store.  In 1994's True Lies (an awesome movie) Jamie Lee Curtis, Arnold's movie wife, says "I married Rambo". 

In Demolition Man, it was Stallone's turn.  Driving through future-era LA, Stallone is trying to adjust to waking up in the future after being frozen for a fifty years or so.  He has this conversation after seeing a large building out his window:

Stallone: "Hold it! The Schwarzenegger Library?"
Bullock: "Yes, the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn't he an actor?"
Stallone: "Stop! He was President?"
Bullock: "Yes. Even though he was not born in this country, his popularity at the time caused the 61st Amendment…"

After which Stallone looks like he is going to puke.  At the time, in 1993, this was a ridiculous joke, the stupidest thing you could imagine.  Now, ?

PS, how did I ever leave True Lies off this list?  Gotta add it.

Posted on November 9, 2004 at 11:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Digital Images and Turing Tests

One of my favorite blogs, Marginal Revolution, pointed to a digital beauty contest here.  The imagery is pretty amazing - this, for example, can hardly be discerned from a photo of a real person.

This imagery reminded me of the old Turing test.  I don't hear much about Turing tests nowadays, which is odd, because we are so close to having systems that will pass it.  (Jerry Pournelle, in the old Chaos Manner columns in Byte, use to write a lot about Turing tests).    In a Turing test, a person is connected in some blind manner to another entity, and they have to determine if it is a machine or a live human.  Having a computer pass a Turing test means that a human, in interacting with it blindly, could not discern that it was not another human.  In the same way, one could propose a Turing test for digital imagery like the one above, ie is it Live or is it Memorex?

By the way, no one asked me, but in my mind the reigning beauty queen of digital imagery is still Aki from the otherwise forgettable computer-animated movie Final Fantasy


Posted on November 8, 2004 at 11:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

I have seen 43

This is a pretty good list of the 50 best "guy" films of all time.

Films I would add:

  • Where Eagles Dare
  • Kelley's Heroes
  • Deliverance
  • Patton


And True Lies, how could I leave that off?  Also, I might tend to add Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Not a classic guy movie in the action sense, but there are sure dang few women who seem to get into it like guys do.  Nee.

Posted on November 5, 2004 at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)