Archive for 2008

Enjoying Avatar

Published on December 26, 2008

I am really enjoying the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. This cartoon, which was launched in 2005 and wrapped up earlier this year (for a total of 3 seasons), is outstanding. It appeals to all ages, and is a joy to watch. Here’s a brief premise, as taken from Wikipedia:

Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a fantasy world that is home to humans, fantastic animals, and spirits. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. Each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society. Within each nation exists an order called “Benders” who have the ability to manipulate the eponymous element of their nation. The show’s creators assigned each Bending art its own style of martial arts, causing it to inherit the advantages and weaknesses of the martial arts it was assigned. The Bending types are Waterbending, Earthbending, Firebending, and Airbending.

The Avatar is the one person who is able to bend all four elements. He (or she) serves to ensure that the nations all live together in peace. One hundred years before the starting point of the series, Aang, a young airbender, learns that he is the next incarnation of the Avatar (each generation yields one Avatar to preside over the nations). He disappears out of fear of his looming responsibility. With the Avatar gone, the Fire Nation attacks the others, and essentially takes complete control.

As the series begins, two water nation siblings, Sokka and Katara, happen to find the Avatar frozen in a block of ice. They remove him from the ice, along with his giant flying bison Appa, quickly become friends, and set out to help the Avatar master the four elements, so that he may restore balance and order to the world.

I’m currently half-way through the second season, and I’m greatly anticipating the rest. The overall story-arc is wonderful, and each episode also has a great side story. Action scenes are incredible, the animation is fantastic, and the dialogue is very funny. I highly recommend this series to anyone even remotely interested in animated series’ (or good television for that matter). I’m really looking forward to finishing out this season and the next!

Breadcrumbs Disabled

Published on December 23, 2008

I have had to turn off the breadcrumbs feature here at this site, due to an unfortunate bug causing my contact form to stop working. My contact form is not a part of WordPress (it’s a standalone package), and I’m sure that the root cause lies in that fact. I’ll work on fixing this issue after the holidays.

Many thanks to Ingo for pointing out this problem.

LOST Season 1

Published on December 19, 2008

Well, four years later I’m finally catching up on LOST (hat tip to Dustin). So far I’m enjoying the show: I gave the first season a 4-star rating (“I Really Like It”) at Netflix. There’s obviously a lot left for me to catch up on, but so far, so good. Mystery abounds, the characters are interesting, and the plot twists and turns all over the place. Hopefully things will start making a little more sense in season 2. Here’s a brief rundown of my current opinions of the main characters:

Read the rest of this entry »

Netflix Encoding

Published on December 18, 2008

I ran across a thoroughly engaging article at the Netflix blog that discusses the various encoding techniques they use for delivering “Watch Instantly” content. It sheds light on a number of the issues they face, and some of the decisions they are making. Silverlight is apparently their future player platform of choice, and the article discusses a little bit about why they chose this path. The technical details are appreciated, and it’s cool to see them being open like this. Maybe they’ll share similar information about other aspects of their business in the future.

DHTML Arkanoid

Published on December 16, 2008

I recently ran across an interesting implementation of the classic Arkanoid game. The game is coded completely in object-oriented JavaScript / DHTML. I’m really impressed with what the author was able to do. The game has all kinds of features: a level editor, power ups, decent sound effects, and more.

I found this via a handy list of other JavaScript Games. What a good way to waste some time!

WordPress 2.7

Published on December 11, 2008

I have just updated my various WordPress installations to the new 2.7 release. I really like the new admin interface. It’s sleek, simple, and doesn’t get in the way. The new dashboard is much cleaner as well, and provides some nice new options. I particularly like the ability to hide certain screen elements that you aren’t interested in (this is particularly useful on the “Write Post” page).

Version 2.7 now includes an auto-updating feature, which is interesting. I still think that updating via Subversion is super easy, though an auto-update feature is a great step forward for this platform. WordPress is becoming more and more robust, and I’m oh-so-glad I chose to use it.

How Do You Budget?

Published on December 6, 2008

When I moved into my new house at the end of September, I took on a lot of new financial responsibility that I’ve never dealt with before (mortgage, monthly utility payments, outstanding debt on large purchases, etc). As such, I’ve been a little overwhelmed in trying to keep up with what payments I’ve made and, more importantly, where my money is going each month. In short, I want to track my money.

There are a number of avenues I’ve briefly explored, some of which require a lot more effort than I think I’m willing to exert. looks really interesting, and looks a lot like what I want, but I’m leery of giving out my banking and credit card information to a third party. The same can be said for Quicken Online. Non-web software solutions are a possibility, but obviously restrict my ability to view the data from anywhere. They also often require more manual input than their online counterparts.

How do you keep track of your money? Do you have a tried and true means of seeing where you spend? How do you keep track of what bills have been paid? Any tips from you seasoned veterans would be helpful for a newbie like me.

Rating Movies on Netflix

Published on December 1, 2008

Netflix has a movie rating system designed to help them recommend titles that you might like. They present the user with six rating options:

  • 5 stars (Loved it)
  • 4 stars (Really liked it)
  • 3 stars (Liked it)
  • 2 stars (Didn’t like it)
  • 1 star (Hated it)
  • Not interested

When I first signed up, I went through the movies that I either owned or could remember well enough, and rated each one as carefully as I could. However, as time goes on, I find it more and more difficult to rate movies that I watch. I often find myself second guessing my initial rating, usually in the negative direction. For example, I’ve recently watched the first four Dirty Harry movies (out of the total five). Here’s what I gave each:

I feel pretty solid on my ratings for the first three movies. The first movie is an all-time classic and set the bar (and tone) for most subsequent police dramas. Magnum Force was nearly as good, but felt a little flat in parts, hence my four star rating. The Enforcer was weaker still, and felt like any generic action film might in the 1970s (the female partner story was particularly disappointing). But what about the fourth title? Towards the end of the movie, I found myself thinking that it was a solid four-star film. But the climax was so epic, that it vaulted the movie into five-star territory for me.

I later found myself second guessing my five-star rating, wondering whether or not it was truly “five-star worthy.” The movie had some flaws (what movie doesn’t?), but were they enough to lower the rating? Which leads me to the ultimate question: what makes a movie five-star worthy? I know I’m over-analyzing the matter, but it’s so hard to compare apples to oranges. Do you use Netflix? If so, how do you rate movies? Are there any rules you follow?

A Hand Held SNES

Published on November 29, 2008

Chrono Trigger, for the Nintendo DS, was just recently released and I am so excited! This game, originally released on the Super Nintendo platform, is incredibly hard to find as a SNES cartridge. I recall trolling eBay years ago trying to find it, only to see it get sold for hundreds of dollars, putting it well beyond my price range for a game. I am undoubtedly one of the few folks remaining who owned an original SNES system but failed to play this title. The Metacritic reviews are, so far, very positive.

It’s great to see old titles (especially ones I never played) getting some loving attention by means of a port to the Nintendo DS. Hopefully Secret of Mana and EarthBound will get the same treatment! If so, I’d have a lot of gaming goodness to be thankful for.

Christmas Jingles Go Away!

Published on November 28, 2008

Here it is, one day after Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas season, and I’m already sick of Christmas songs. Earlier this week, while shopping in a local Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I was treated (or was it tortured?) to the sounds of ‘contemporary’ Christmas tunes. You know, classics like the hip-hop version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or a techno-influenced rendition of “Deck the Halls.” I’ve never been ‘in’ to Christmas music per se, but I suppose I can consider myself ‘out’ of it at the moment. Apparently, everybody who’s anybody in the music industry has recorded an album of Christmas songs. And there exists an unwritten convention amongst retailers that these songs are to be crammed into shoppers’ ears. You know, so as to “get them in the spirit.”

I’m all for celebrating Christmas. In fact, it’s my favorite holiday of the year. But I think it’s time that we, as a society, take things down a notch. Christmas displays went up at stores as soon as Halloween was over, and in some cases, days before. Holiday commercials are being aired on TV and radio every 5 minutes, each one with its own variation (nay, perversion) of a beloved Christmas tune. Like Andy Rooney says:

It ought to be against the law to start Christmas before December.

Pushing Daisies Cancelled

Published on November 25, 2008

Damn ABC! Damn everyone that won’t damn ABC! Damn everyone that won’t put lights in his window and sit up all night damning ABC!

(Apologies to all my U.S. history professors. For those in the dark, here’s the cultural reference to the above joke.)

I simply don’t understand it. An incredibly clever, imaginative, and entertaining television show gets canceled because it’s not getting the ratings the executives want. This proves that creativity has no place anymore in Hollywood. In short, it’s not a crime drama, a medical drama, or a reality show, apparently making it the scourge of the land. Maybe the fact that the network didn’t advertise the show has something to do with it. Or perhaps we can blame the failing economy. Either way, I’m disappointed.

I have truly lost what little faith I had left in television. All the more reason not to watch it. My only hope is that Bryan Fuller will come through on his promise to finish out the story with either a movie or through comic books. What a dark day.

Human Sign Posts

Published on November 23, 2008

Last month, I blogged about the strange trend of sign twirling. Stranger still is a new twist that I’m seeing introduced by Linens ‘n Things, which just happens to be going out of business. Around their various stores in our area, they have apparently hired people to hold up a going out of business sign. The people doing this job don’t twirl the sign or anything fancy. They just stand there, holding the sign up for people to read. Are metal sign posts too good to do this job? I have to believe the company could save some money by investing in a few of them.

Sequel Naming Conventions

Published on November 18, 2008

Every so often, I troll the Apple movie trailers page to see what’s in the pipeline (ironic, considering I almost never go to the theater). In browsing the page today, I noted a trailer for “The Pink Panther 2,” which will undoubtedly be an embarrassment to the good name of Peter Sellers. This got me thinking, however, about how sequel titles have gotten dumber over the years. Here are the original Pink Panther movie titles:

  • The Pink Panther
  • A Shot in the Dark
  • The Return of the Pink Panther
  • The Pink Panther Strikes Again
  • etc…

Note the clever new names for each movie. The upcoming film, starring Steve Martin (who can’t seem to make any good movies anymore), has simply appended the number 2 to the end of the title. Many movies these days resort to this cop-out tactic, which seems to me to be an excellent indication of the lack of imagination and creativity left in the entertainment industry. I can think of only a few recent exceptions to this trend: the Lord of the Rings movies (whose titles come from books anyway), and the Jason Bourne movies (again, which come from book titles). Everyone else just tags a number on the end: Pink Panther 2, High School Musical 3, and Star Trek 12: So Very Tired. Do movie executives really believe that the public is stupid enough to not know a sequel when they see it? Apparently so.

Television Reception Woes

Published on November 17, 2008

A while back, I noted how I was planning on watching my television over the air. I recently bought the Antennas Direct DB2 Multi Directional HDTV Antenna. I started out by placed the antenna next to the TV, pointed in the direction indicated by Reception was OK, but could have been better.

Thanks to the fact that my house is prewired for cable, I was able to move the antenna to an upstairs bedroom, and wire it directly to my television in the family room downstairs. This helped, but didn’t fix things. My dad helped me mount the antenna outside on an old satellite dish mount. Again, the hope was that this would help my reception. And again, I’ve been disappointed.

Unfortunately, my antenna is ‘looking’ directly through a line of trees about 100 feet behind my house. When the weather is windy, my reception is really bad (and it’s been very windy here recently). As such, I’ve been disappointed with the antenna.

Does anyone here get TV over the air? If so, how do you maximize your signal strength? I’m getting frustrated with my current setup, and I’m not sure how to proceed. Cable television is ridiculously expensive, and I like having stations in HD. But my options seem so limited. Anyone got any tips?

Frustration Free Packaging

Published on November 3, 2008 has announced a new plan to begin converting products to a new line of frustration free packaging. This means that Amazon customers can begin to say goodbye to those horrible clam-shell packages that you need a chain-saw to get into. Another giant plus is the fact that the new packaging is recyclable, making things way greener than before. As Jeff Bezos mentioned, this transition will take years to fully implement. But I think it’s a giant step in the right direction.

End of The Office?

Published on October 31, 2008

I’m not sure how many of you here follow the television series The Office, but it seems to be headed downhill. Last night’s episode, Employee Transfer, was the first to be directed by Stephen Merchant, one of the original minds behind the British version of the show. I recently had the opportunity to watch all of the episodes of the British version, and I really liked it. Some episodes were full of uncomfortable situations and were painful to watch (a testament to the actors’ strength), but sadly, the characters were more one-dimensional than their American counterparts. Mr. Merchant’s involvement in last night’s episode had me looking forward to it; perhaps it would recall some of the extremely awkward and uncomfortable situations that made the British version so fun (and difficult) to watch.

Frankly, I was disappointed. Last night’s episode was the second misstep in a row, following the previous Crime Aid episode, which was just as weak. Laughs were few and far between, and the episode simply seemed as a vehicle of (presumably) writing Michael’s latest love interest off of the show. Not only is this disappointing from a character development standpoint (Michael has been maturing rather well this season), but it’s a shame to lose such a great actress in Amy Ryan. She played so well with Steve Carell, which was a nice return to form, seeing as we’ve seemingly lost Dwight to this ridiculous Angela/Andy marriage business.

I’m a giant fan of the show, and I’ll definitely keep watching (especially now that I can watch it in HD). But I’m afraid that the show has peaked, and the best times are now behind us. Perhaps the writers will prove us wrong; I certainly hope they do. Do you watch the show? If so, what do you think?

Now if only more people would start watching Pushing Daisies

We Miss You, Mister Rogers

Published on October 29, 2008

In six minutes of testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Fred Rogers was able to persuade John O. Pastore, head of the subcommittee and a man known for his impatience, to increase funding for public television by $20 million. This short video is a recording of those proceedings, and illustrate just what a great man Mr. Rogers was. The song he recites at the end of this video is particularly compelling.

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