Archive for December 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. Mint.com 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?

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