Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Against the grain review of No Country for Old Men

Just when I thought I had a good handle on picking good movies to see at the theaters, I had the chance to see No Country for Old Men last week. All signs seemed to point that this would be a success--IMDb was rating it over 8.5/10 and Rotten Tomatoes, who I've been looking to more these days as a good judge of quality, had rated it 95% based on the professional movie critic reviews coming in. Furthermore, it was written and directed by the Coen brothers who I've really liked in the past with Fargo and the Big Lebowski and the script synopsis sounded very entertaining with a plot surrounding a drug deal gone bad, violence, mayhem and a $2 million stash. Finally, it even had a healthy looking cast list including Tommy Lee Jones and Woody Harrelson.

Alas, I found the film to be a bitter disappointment. Although the acting was great and I enjoyed all of the scenes with the film's villain, played superbly by Anton Chigurh, it simply was not an entertaining film. Tommy Lee Jones' character in particular was grating and boring as he played the extremely cliche old sheriff from a small town who imparts nuggets of wisdom through rural anecdotes. During his long-winded stories and monologues I actually found myself inadvertently daydreaming on more than one occasion! I cannot understand how a movie about a man on the run with $2 million of drug money from a vicious killer can actually result in a boring film!

The worst part (***spoilers here of course***) was the ending where the Coen brothers just come off as pretentious by taking the route of 'Hey I bet you never expected we'd kill the
main character surreptitiously off camera and then suddenly end the film 10 minutes later with a cut to black and no real conclusion to the plot! Aren't we hip and unpredictable?!'

As I see good reviews poor in, I can't help but accuse the film of being an Emperor with no clothes on, but perhaps this film just wasn't for me. Alas, I don't see any way I could have seen this coming unless perhaps I had seen more of the Coen brothers' films. Ah well, no system is perfect, bad luck I suppose.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Kindle: Flop or technological breakthrough?

Amazon has recently released its long-awaited (at least by some) e-Reader, the Kindle. When i first looked into it, it seemed like a very intriguing piece of new technology. Their video demonstration points out some key features that makes it deserving of some praise, notably:

  • Electronic paper design eliminates the need for a backlight, thus reducing eye strain, battery drainage, and allows it to be read outdoors in the sunglight.
  • Wirelessly connects to Amazon's store and various blogs and newspapers from most anywhere as you would with a cell phone, yet there is no subscription or data plan to pay as you do with cell phones, PDAs, certain laptop hotspots etc.
  • Relatively light and thin
  • Books are sold for a reduced price
  • Purchases are automatically backed up on Amazon's site which is always a worry for me with purchasing music online.
  • For the eco-friendly among us, the device could potentially significantly reduce paper usage.
However, once you dive into the Kindle a bit more, some of the detractions start to glare.
  • First and formost is the $399 price tag. When you compare it to the iPhone and remember its quick $200 price drop, its hard to pay that kind of money for a product that feels like it will be lowered in little time.
  • While the selection sounds big, 89,000, in reality it leaves out a huge amount of fiction books and for students, textbooks which they would love not to have to lug around campus are unavailable.
  • It completely takes you out of the used book market. Since there is so much DRM on the ebook files (as you would expect), you have no ability to purchase or sell the books second hand. Furthermore, the options which let you 'rent' the book cost a lot more than buying a book new and selling it on eBay or
  • iPods/iPhone comparisons can only go so far when you can't even fit it in your pocket. For those of us with Y chromosomes and no purses, this a fair issue. Furthermore, mp3 players filled a desire that that has been with us since walkmans and portable CD players while the desire for carrying around multiple books might not be as strong.
  • Speaking of the iPhone, comparing the two illuminates another problem with the device...
(it's kind of ugly)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Perils of Sitting

Some unfortunate news for those of us with jobs primarily spent sitting at a desk (seemingly the story of my life since graduating college): Prolonged Sitting Causes Disease. Now this wouldn't be so much of surprise were it not for their finding that even if one gets the recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day, what one spends the other 15.5 hours doing is just as important.

I remember at one of my previous jobs there was a huge emphasis on health at work including ensuring an ergonomic set-up at the desk, advising neck and wrist stretches, exercises while at the desk, full body stretches every 1-2 began to get a bit ridiculous. When you are up against a deadline, does it really reflect well on you when your boss comes over to see how the project is doing and you're staring off into space bobbing your head back and forth.

Furthermore, it isn't as if standing up at one's job the pinnacle of health either. When I was in high school and college working jobs standing at a counter, I would regularly leave work with a bit of an aching back, knees and /or feet. Still, that never stopped Donald Rumsfeld from working from a stand-up desk. Perhaps that is the way forward.
Likely, optimal solution is to get a job where you are moving around frequently, however not everyone can be P.E. teachers and forest rangers and few jobs like that seem to pay well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

For the Family's Computer Repairman (by default)

As Thanksgiving approaches, Lifehacker published a helpful article for anyone visiting friends/family this weekend for whom they are the 'go-to' computer fixer-upper: How to Fix Mom & Dad's computer (while the turkey is in the oven).

I am in that position somewhat for my family, though only in a limited capacity due to their unwillingness to listen to my suggestion of 'buy a PC otherwise I don't know how to help you'. Still, this list is just as handy for one's own computer, if for nothing more than as a checklist to go through when you feel like your computer is slowing down.

However, in my experience, I'd say that the real solution is more likely to be reinstalling of Windows after which the computer always runs noticeably faster. Unfortunately that usually runs into two major obstacles: 1) "Now where did I put that windows install disc...." and 2) "Where did I put all the other install discs I'll need once I format the drive". Still, all the Spybots and CCleaners won't be able to acccomplish what a fresh reinstall will do.

In the meantime my personal checklist for PCs is:
1. Install and run Spybot S&D
2. Install and run Ad-Aware
3. Install Firefox + Adblock Plus
4. Defragment drives
5. Create a system restore point, then install Easycleaner and use the add/remove programs to uninstall any unnecessary programs, registry cleaner and delete any suspicious entries in the 'startup' section after double-checking with a Google search.
6. Restart!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Google's OpenSocial vs. Facebook: The Battle Begins

Recent developments have seen the surge of Facebook as it strives to compete with MySpace. As someone who has made this switch I assume it has been due to the prevelance of spam and profiles that often end up rather intrusive both visually and audibly. However, I must admit that I am not sure why Facebook appears to continue to not fall prey to the spam problem since opening their network to the public after previously only allowing accounts linked to college email addresses. Certainly their move this year to allow 3rd party applications to be developed has helped their popularity a great deal.

While Google has been involved in the social networking part of the web since January of 2005 with Orkut, it has been one of the few arenas Google has entered that has been largely a failure (with the anomalous exception of Brazil for some reason). Recently, however, Google has announced their OpenSocial project which, while combining forces with the declining MySpace looks to undermine Facebook whose application platform is open in the sense that anyone can develop for it, but is closed in the sense that it forces developers to use a specific markup language exclusive to Facebook.

What makes this develop even more interesting is the rumors of Google's overall project for social networking code named 'Maka Maka". Purportedly the strategy is to create a social network that can beat out Facebook with an 'outside-in' approach. Theoretically developers will be able to connect together gmail contacts, emails, calendar, picasa, etc. and all other google products that many of us use and virtually eliminate the need or desire for an external web platform like Facebook.

Of course, in the end, perhaps Facebook will simply cave into joining OpenSocial but manage to cement itself as the King of social networking platforms. Or perhaps its recent surge will be enough momentum propel itself in front of Google and MySpace for the forseeable future?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gas Prices: Not so high afterall?

While everyone continues to complain about the rise of gas prices, the New York Times produced an intriguing visualization of gas prices over the last century (adjusted for inflation of course).
[click for big]

at the time of this printing (in May), gases still hadn't even reached the previous high! This seems very odd when there is plenty of talk about diminishing oil reserves and 'peak oil'--surely the lack of supply should result in a higher price? I assume the technology involved in oil drilling has improved ,driving costs down, but there is also the increased difficulty in finding new oil reserves to account for.

Furthermore, why do people complain about the price while simultaneously there is so much talk about climate change and energy dependency? Increasing the cost of oil will have ramifications on everything from consumer choice of cars to the economic viability of the energy industry investing into renewable resources. It just seems odd to me that this issue receives so much political attention while government-regulated oligopolies like cell phones, internet and cable tv total nearly $200 a month in many areas. For instance, in this day and age, why I am I still forced to pay for channels I have no intention of watching?

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Often-Overlooked Downside to Education

Well this past week has been a bit tough for my wife as she inevitably caught the bug that was going around her class. It's never fun to watch classmates go through all the symptoms of sore throat, coughing, etc while knowing in the back of your mind that in all likelihood you will be having the same experiences shorty. Unfortunately now that Kym is home sick, it is my turn to do the same...

When it comes to cold season, I try to strike a balance somewhere between eating other people's food off the floor and acting like one of my co-workers last year who refused to touch anything communal in the office, even putting her hand inside her sweater in order to open doors like the schizophrenic Bill Murray in What About Bob. My happy compromise tends to involve frequent dollops of Purell Hand Sanitizer, most especially before eating and trying to remember not to rub my eyes (though of course having two cats in the home does not help this).

Seeing all this going on makes me start to think that an online business school would be a good idea to avoid this annual ordeal.