Down the Rabbit Hole…Again

March 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Saw Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland” last night. Still trying to come to terms with what I watch.  Having seen Cameron’s “Avatar” earlier this week is probably coloring my perception of “Alice”.

The visual effects are stunning. You can see all of the craziness of Wonderland.  But, Alice, apparently does not. Lucy’s response to first seeing Narnia was a joy and you felt the wonder she felt right along with her. Alice just sort of accepts Wonderland at face value, and that’s too bad, because Wonderland is absolutely insane. Burton and crew really captured the the feel of Tenniel’s art from the books.

I can praise the visual artistry all day. But that’s where my praise stops. I felt nothing for any character in this movie. No character did anything to evoke emotion. The story oscillated between a feminist treatise and an action movie. “Alice in Wonderland” should be a children’s story, albeit, a dark and twisted one.

I must be honest here, and note that I did at one point have a very long blink…maybe five or ten minutes long. And those who know me know that while watching a movie on TV know that this is not an uncommon occurrence. And it was a late showing. But, I just lost interest and nodded off.

At matinee prices, this is a movie worth seeing in the theater. At full price? The only thing worth it was being able to spend time with my daughter.

Advertisements
Categories: Silver Screened Tags:

He’s a Tweak(er). A SuperTweak(er)

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I purchased my first smartphone a few years ago. It was an HTC Mogul and I was very happy with the features that came with it. It was a solid phone as well as a place to organize contacts, memos and appointments. And, being a smartphone, or in this case — nearly a micro mobile PC, it came with lots of other productivity software that gave it even more functionality.

The preloaded software on the phone had Microsoft’s Mobile Office Suite (Word, Excel and Powerpoint), Sprint’s Telenav (GPS navigation app) and Windows Media Player Mobile (both video and music) plus a few games. The first application I downloaded and installed on it was Google Maps, which became near indispensable during my move.

There was nothing wrong with the out-of-the-box phone. It worked and worked well. But, I found that there were different ‘shells’ that could be installed on top of the OS to provide me with at-a-glance information that made the phone even more useful, And then it happened. While searching for a specific app I stumbled across the PocketPCGeeks’ Kitchen. And there was no going back.

Using the Kitchen, you are essentially creating the ‘recipe’ for the phone YOU want the way YOU want it and then ‘cooking’ it. I won’t get into all the intricacies here, but you can choose dialpad, contact tools, music players, calculators, and a host of other items that you set as default apps on the phone.

Why not just download and install a different contact application? The answer: I don’t WANT two different contact apps on my phone. Think of it this way: Imagine being able to go to a store pick out the PC you want and then pick out the apps you want “pre-installed” on the system. Don’t like Internet Explorer? Pick a different browser to be installed. Don’t like Windows Media Player? Pick a different media player. Your out-of-the-box experience is customizable. Sadly, with Microsoft, it isn’t.

A question was asked about why some geeks (myself, included) tweak their phones. They wanted to know if it was an issue of being unhappy with performance, if the base product was deficient and needed outside assistance to make it better, or was there some other reason. In trying to formulate an answer it dawned on my that how I tweak and play with my phone(s) is much the way my father used to soup up muscle cars.

There was nothing wrong with the stock ’66 Ford Mustang when it rolled off the lot. But folks have been tuning and tweaking them for decades in an attempt to make it ‘their’ car. I do the same with my phone. The out-out-of-the-box experience I had with the Mogul was great. But tweaking the phone to make it mine, that’s icing on the cake. It allows me to have something that is ultimately useful for myself and became an indispensable daily tool…until the Palm Pre came along. But, that’s another post.

Categories: Tech Talk Tags: ,

Kid Eats

June 21, 2009 1 comment

My daughter has taking up my baking bug. On the whole, most of the goods she turns out are pretty good. Especially her snickerdoodles. But, there’s a problem with consistency. The chocolate chip cookies she makes one day might turn out perfect, the next time we get hockey pucks (sorry kiddo)

The problem is that she comes to baking the same way I did when I started baking at her age. Open cookbook. Pick a recipe. Check on and grab ingredients. Start reading recipe and follow the instructions.

There are several problems with this method of baking. Not the least of which is producing an inconsistent product each time you bake. But how do you teach your child the foundations of good baking?

I’m a geek by trade. After I bake I tend to critique the outcome. If it’s not “just right” I start looking at where I failed. What did I do wrong, and where? I try to notate my cookbooks for zingers and gotchas. I like to pencil in thots such as tricks I’ve learned that might make something work better as well or even ideas to try out the next time.

I tried throwing Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here for More Food” at her (no, not literally). That book is the quintessential textbook for the beginning baker. And I do mean “textbook”. It’s not the most friendly recipe book, but, if you want to understand the hows and whys of baking, this is my go-to book. It’s chock full of science and  technique and all around food geekery.  The problem is, most of the information is aimed at the adult baker.

I’m all for cooking and baking with your kids. But a teenager does not need quite the same amount of supervision (if any at all). Baking allows for self-expression and provides some autonomy for them. But, how do you teach the foundational skills for producing consistent baked goods when they “just want to bake” and don’t want to get into all that “geek” stuff?

As mentioned above, I LOVE Alton Brown’s book, “I’m Just Here for More Food” as well as his TV show on the Food Network, “Good Eats”. I’m also a big fan of Shirley Corriher’s “Cookwise” and “Bakewise” books, as well as Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” and Baking Illustrated. Tons of science and knowledge for the baker.

So, my thought is to create a brand-new blog dedicated to boiling down all that knowledge to the teen level. Start out by explaining the fundamentals of the KITCHEN, PANTRY, UTENSIL DRAWER and BOOKSHELF (yup, see, planning tags already). While I haven’t discussed it with her, yet, I’d love to bring my daughter on board as well. Like, me, she loves to write. Getting her perspective would be great.

I haven’t quite decided on a format. Perhaps me writing and her asking questions where she might not understand an analogy or explanation? A work in progress? I just don’t know. And, I’m not even sure if it’s worth it. Would anyone be interested in something like this?

Categories: Good Eats Tags: ,

You are only limited by your imagination…and other such nonsense.

May 9, 2009 2 comments

Yes. Nonsense.

I cannot STAND motivational sayings. They bother me. A lot. They are meant for the masses who are easily swayed into action and in dire need for a scooby snack. But at their core they are just a mass of nonsense and gibberish. Let me give you some examples:

“Positive attitudes = positive results”. Give me a pile of horse manure and a shovel.  If I start at the top and dig down to the bottom, no matter how positive I am that at the bottom there will be a pony, the results will be somewhat less than positive.

“Life is not how many breaths you take, but how many moments take your breath away.” I understand the sentiment behind this. But, by definition life IS how many breaths you take.  You stop breathing, you stop living.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Put down the crack pipe and step away from the keyboard. Folks, this is why drugs are bad. I am at a loss of words to describe how incredibly stupid and nonsensical this statement is.

“There is no ‘I’ in team.” Wow.  Glad you can spell. There are two “I’s” in “individual”, tho, making that two times better.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” Um…if you were aiming for the moon and missed, you’ll be floating adrift in space…until your oxygen runs out.

“To climb steep hills requires a slow pace at first.” Or a really fast running start.

“Limitations live only in our minds. But, if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.” No. Limitations are often imposed by physical, natural or other laws. No matter your imagination, somethings are still not possible. One can still not break the speed of light, no matter how imaginative we may be. Einstein’s theory of relativity, expressed as E=mc^2, basically states that, as an object’s velocity moves closer to the speed of light, it acquires more mass.  This, in turn, requires more energy to keep it moving. There comes a point where the energy required to keep an object accelerating towards light speed… oh hang it all. Just accept that somethings, no matter how much we imagine them to be possible, are not possible. Period. Deal with it.

“Fate is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not something to be waiting for, it is something to be achieved.” The dictionary defines fate as: that which is inevitably predetermined. Therefore, it is, in fact, a matter of chance or happenstance and not of choice. 

Basically, most of these little pithy sayings are matters of mixed metaphors and pie-in-the-sky-type thinking that energizes and rouses the rabble. But, if one ponders these little “gems”, they are just plain stupid.

Yes, I realize this posting is somewhat disjointed.  It’s just a pet peeve of mine.  These little sayings irritate me.  And I’m confronted with them daily, so I just needed to get them off my chest.

Categories: Pet Peeves, Random Thots Tags:

Unbeerlievable.

April 25, 2009 Leave a comment

First off, let me note that I am new to beer drinking. Probably traces back to the time I was 4 or 5. My folks took me and my sister on a trip around the western states. While in Colorado, we stopped by the Coors brewing facilities. That smell of rotting (okay, fermenting) hops stayed with me for a very, very long time.

Fast forward to 19 and working at a pizza chain in my hometown. I’d work bar on occasion and one night decided to down a half pitcher of American-brewed pisswater. I found out a few things. I have a very low tolerance for alcohol. Certain things should not be attempted while under the influence of said alcohol. And, I still thought beer tasted pretty rank.

Fast forward another twenty years. Yes, twenty. I’m pushing forty. We’re having a family get together and my brother-in-law has ordered a Widmere Hefeweizen. I tried a taste. WOW! What is this stuff? It actually is consumable. Real good stuff. The wife likes it, too.

We decide to pick some up the next time we go shopping. We enjoyed the six pack we got, so we decide we’d pick up a big case the next time we’re at Costco. Except, Costco does not sell the widmere. They do, however, have some Weinhards. We pick up a case. Note: Not all hefes are the same. HW was rather bitter. Too much bite. Did not like.

I noted my findings to some coworkers. They suggested I try a Blue Moon. Not a true hefeweizen, but is a Belgian wheat beer. The flavour of the  Blue Moon made the Widmere taste like a Weinhards. The Blue Moon was refreshing and without a bite. And now I’m finding that I may have a taste for beer.

This all brings me to the title of this post. The wife and I are in Costco. I see that Costco has their own line of beer under the Kirkland name. After making fun of the concepts, I actually check out the case. It has 4 types: A German Lager, an Amber Ale, a Pale Ale, and a Hefeweizen. At about $18.50 for 24 bottles and Costco’s return policy, I figure I can’t really go wrong here. And I was right. At least, so far. I popped the top to the German Lager. WOW. Really liked that one. And now I’m looking forward to trying the other three kinds of beer in the case.

Scoots

Categories: Good Eats, Random Thots Tags:

MCP(C)

February 26, 2009 1 comment

No, not the MCP from Tron. I am in the process of building a Media Center PC. I have most all that I need to do so, but to make it a truly useful tool there are going to need to be a few minor upgrades. As is stands, my current hardware setup is this:


HARDWARE
CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3.20Ghz (hyperthreaded)
RAM: 2Gig
Video: ATI Radeon X300 128MB
Monitor: Dell 1905FP
Tuner: Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 150 single tuner
HDD: 70Gig internal SATA and a 500Gig External MyBook
ODD: Toshiba DVD/CD ROM and a Phillips DVD +/- RW

The CPU is fine for my needs. No need to spend money there. I’ve got enough RAM to slug thru what I need it to do, though who couldn’t use a bit more RAM? Video is adequate at 128MB RAM but needs to be updated to support HiDef

For this to truly function as a Media Center PC I’m going to need to upgrade some hardware.

Monitor: This is the first place I’ll be upgrading. We’ve been looking at the Vizio 47″ 1080p LCD. It supports PC input (tho VGA and not DVI, which is a shame)

Tuner: WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual Tuner PCI Express TV tuner. It’s a dual analog/digital tuner that will record up to 1080i. That, too, is a shame. But I haven’t really seen a good tuner that currently records 1080p, and I trust Hauppauge.

HDD: Looking at getting a terabyte drive. At least one. This will allow for storage of music, recorded TV and DVD ISOs (more on this when i discuss software)

ODD: I’d like, at bare minimum, to add a dual-layer DVD ROM RW drive to the system. A BluRay drive would be optimal, but spendy. So, if all goes according to plan, by the end of the year the new hardware setup will look like this:

CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3.20Ghz (hyperthreaded)
RAM: 2Gig
Video: ATI Radeon X300 128MB
Monitor: Vizio 47″ 1080p LCD
Tuner: Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Dual Tuner
HDD: 70Gig internal SATA and a 1T External MyBook
ODD: Toshiba DVD/CD ROM and a Dual-layer DVD +/- RW

SOFTWARE
I have found no better software, free or otherwise, that acts as a complete media suite like Windows 7 Media Center Edition.

One of my main concerns is ease of use. I want something easy enough for my kids or a guest to use. MCE meets this major criteria. I’m open to suggestions for other programs but, If they don’t have the ease of use the MCE does, I’m not interested.

MCE allows me to watch live TV as well as to record and watch TV at a later date. Unfortunately Micro$oft’s native dvr-ms file (which really is nothing more than an MPEG file with M$’s wrapper) take up a lot of HDD real estate. Now, this is not a big deal if you’re in a watch and delete mode. But if you want to keep a beloved series around for repeated viewings, you’re gonna need to come up with some other means of archiving, or you’re going to run out of disk space rapidly.

I was using DVRMSToolbox with ShowAnalyzer. If you plan on keeping your dvr-ms files around, this app really shines because it will strip the commercials from the show and then repackage it with the same filename. But, again, too much diskspace is taken up with this method.

I’ve switched to a new tool. MCEBuddy sits in the systray and runs in the background. You can set it to go into action as soon as a show finishes recording, or if you want to have it run late at night when you are sleeping or while you are at work, you can do that as well. It will convert your dvr-ms file into a multitude of formats including DivX, WMV, AVI and the new HD format. I currently use the WMV file format just because it’s easy to modify the metadata tag. But that’s just me geeking out there. There are far better formats but the only show I am CURRENTLY worried about archiving is Good Eats. The ComSkip program that is bundled with MCEBuddy is nigh flawless in commercial removal. Also, it’s does a great job of compressing the file without any real noticable video loss.

There’s not much good nor bad to say about the audio player portion of MCE. It does the job needed to hear tunes. MCE is merely a front end for Windows Media Player. And, I’m okay with that.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else but, I really don’t like having to wade thru previews, notifications/warnings and menus just to watch a flippin’ DVD. I’d like to just press “PLAY” and watch. So, I’ve employed the use of DVDFab (www.dvdfab.com) to rip my discs down to my harddrive as an ISO. This tool is incredible for making archives. You can just rip down your movie and not have to deal with all the special features and other crap that takes up space on the DVD that most people never even bother watching.

But, to play the ISO, you’ll need to have some way for your system to mount the ISO as a virtual CD/DVD ROM drive. CloneDrive (www.slysoft.com) will do the job just fine. And is actually needed for the next peice of software I use.

MyMovies (www.mymovies.dk) is a plug-in for MCE. Go into MyMovies, pick the movie you wish to view and it uses CloneDrive to mount the ISO and play your flik. This is powerful full-featured app that allows you to catalog and sort your movies and provides a lot of data and ways to sort and/or find your movies.

So, to sum up. I use the following software for my MCPC:

Windows 7 Media Center Edition
MCEBuddy: Commercial removal and file conversion app for recorded TV
DVDFab: Rippnig DVDs to harddrive
CloneDrive: mounting software for ISOs
MyMovies: MCE plug-in allowing for viewing ISOs in MCE.

‘Tis The Season ~ 2008

December 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Good things come in small packages. Don’t believe me? Just ask any woman who’s received jewelry as a gift. A tiny velvet box who’s contents say to her: “This is just a small token to show you what you are worth to me.”

Two thousand years ago, the GREATEST gift was given by a loving God who longed to bring reconciliation to His creation. “You are worth this much to Me”.

I think that Christians get so trapped in the tape and paper and the bows and cards and baking and the bustle. We put out our little Nativity scenes; carefully placing sweet little baby Jesus as the centerpeice. And then, when our carefully wrapped packages have been ripped opened. The goodies consumed. The Hugs given. After the celebrations are over, He’s carefully placed back in the box. We’ll bring Him out again next year.

I think we forget why He came in the first place. When we sing the Christmas carols, we usually only sing their first stanza– the one describing the majesty and miracle of His birth. But…if we read the lyrics to the rest of the verses we will be reminded why he came.

He came to destroy sin. To end death. To reconcile Man to God. The joy given to the world is that, somehow, God layed aside His majesty and enrobed Himself in flesh. It reminds me of this quote by Calvin Miller:

The heaviness of glory
Demands His gentle form come slowly
For Terra is an old woman now.
And spinning slow of age,
She wobbles in her palsied orbit.
Should all His vastness come to suddenly
On this uncertain world
His splendor would destroy it. 

Christ’s birth is a startling declaration of war.

“Live, Boy, til these old gates be shattered
and Eden opens again to hold the wedding
between mankind and God.
Live til every desert turns away from barren sands
and springs forth in living streams of water.
Then shall men lay down their swords
to gather holy rust.
Laughing mothers will hold their children
and be unafraid of disease.
Grow, Boy, till hate turns daggers into spoons
and feeds its enemies.
Til tyrants give their dungeon keys to preachers
and the bloodied soils
of battlefields turn into grain fields
to feed soldiers of a far better cause.
And as you grow older, Child,
the halls of death will change into healing rooms.
Clap, little hands, until when wounded
Your strong fingers strangle all the pointless
efforts of mankind that bring no hope.
Dance, little feet,
until Your injured footprints explode with
fire to burn the wounds of violence,
and every planet sings a better song!” 

————

No shot was ever heard around the world.
In fact, in all of human history
Only two sounds were ever heard around the entire world…
The first:
A newborn baby’s cry, saying, “It has begun.”
The second:
A young man’s dying cry, saying, “It is finished!” 

‘Tis the Season

Joy to the world….the Lord has come. For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God’s greatest gift sent in a tiny package. Worthy of our worship and awe. Let us not forget this. Let us not get so caught in the hustle and bustle of exchanging gifts that we forget God’s great gift.

Scott DeWolf
Lake City, ID
December 2008

%d bloggers like this: