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Software development, running, music & beer

Monthly Archives: February 2005

Night at the Movies – "Constantine"

Last night, I was out with friends and we decided to make an impromptu trip to the movies to see the new movie ‘Constantine‘. The movie, which stars Keanu Reeves & Rachel Weisz, is based on the little-known comic book ‘Hellblazer’. Reeves plays the main character, John Constantine, who is a supernatural detective of sorts. While I am not usually a fan of the comic book genre of movies, the trailer for this looked pretty interesting and not cheesy and contrived like most comic book movies these days (like the Spiderman movies).

Unfortunately, the movie did not quite meet up to my expectations. While it was much better than most comic book movies, which I believe was helped by the part that it was a lesser known one and therefore did not have legions of fans with preconceived notions of the characters, it was not a great movie. The basic premise is that there is an ever raging war between heaven and hell for the souls of the living (stay with my here), and there are certain spirits here on Earth who sometimes go to far in influencing where a person is going to end up. This is where Constantine steps in. When a spirit gets out of line and is no longer “fair and balanced”, he sends them back to where they belong. I know it sounds a little Ghostbuster-like, but it’s not. The movie has a very dark theme and some really interesting backdrops. The plot was interesting, but it did drag at points and took way too much explanation which the writers sort of did a decent job of bringing forward without resorting to having a narrator or characters talking to the camera. Reeves turned in a decent performance and was not limited to the one-word phrases many people associate him with. So overall, it was an entertaining movie, but did not quite live up to my expectations. I would rate it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Yes, some things really are free

Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, some things in life are in fact free. One of those things is your credit report. Thanks to the new Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act), everyone is entitled to a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the 3 nationwide consumer credit reporting companies. I heard about this late last year, but since they are doing it by region (four different regions of the U.S. spread out over 3 month periods), living in the Midwest, I’ve had to wait. You can access this convenient service by going to AnnualCreditReport.com For those of you in the “western states”, better hurry up because your time runs out March 1st, when those of us here in the Midwest get our crack. I know, this is sensitive information and you’re probably worried it’s just another scam, but I heard about it on the national news a number of times late last year, but go do your own research to ease your mind.

My new HBO series of the moment

As some of my readers know already, I am a big fan of TV shows on DVD, namely those from HBO since I do not have this channel. After exhausting all of the episodes of ‘The Wire’ that are available on DVD, I have now moved onto the newest HBO series, ‘Carnivale’. After a number of friends told me this was a must-see series, I finally watched the first disc of Season 1 from Netflix, which contained the first two episodes. And so far, my feelings are a little mixed. On one hand, it’s not bad. I was entertained for my two hours. But on the flipside, it was confusing, and slightly uncomfortable.

For those of you who have never heard of it, Carnivale is based on a traveling circus from the Great Depression era of the 1930s. The circus is complete with the strong man, bearded lady, lizard man, conjoined twins, strippers, and other old-time standards. The main character is a new “normal” guy named Ben that they pickup out of sympathy. He’s hesitant to become a “carny”, but slowly warms up to it. He has a mysterious past that the crew is trying to get out of him, and it seems to be building up to some confrontation with a priest who believes God speaks to him. I know it all sounds very weird, but it was entertaining, and I’m looking forward to the next disc in hopes that it will become a little more clearer. So if you’re fortunate enough to have HBO, I would recommend checking it out someday.

I done sold out

Yes, it’s true, I’ve gone and sold out. As you may have noticed, I have now placed advertisements on my page, courtesy of Google’s AdSense program in an effort to possibly make a few bucks to assist with the upkeep of this free site. So, if you feel compelled to support me and my quest to make a few dollars, please feel more than free to click on any or all of the ads each and every time you visit my webpage. They are supposed to be tailored to my content, so maybe something might actually seem interesting to you. I could see how a few of the ads came about, due to my references to ‘The Wire’ and Chipotle, but the top ad that was showing was for Fox’s “The O.C.“. What’s up with that? I’ve never mentioned that pathetic show, or anything related to it (well, at least until now). But I’m sure the AdSense software works in complex and mysterious ways which are well beyond the capability of my simple brain. Maybe it’s determined that my readers & I really would enjoy the show if we were to give it a chance. Oh Google, you so smart.

Southern Rock for this Yankee

Today, one of my favorite albums so far this year, “Aha Shake Heartbreak” was released by the Tennessee quartet Kings of Leon. This band was first described to me as the “southern Strokes”, and it’s one of the few comparisons that actually seems to fit in this case. Kings of Leon play a very catchy garage rock style, with a definite Southern flavor. While I am not typically a fan of anything described as “southern”, I really enjoy this record. The only complaint I have is it’s brevity, because 35 minutes hardly qualifies as an LP in my book. If you’re rich and have money to blow, you can check the band out when it open up for U2 on their tour in April & May, thought they will be in the Midwest during March (of course, Cleveland is not on the tour…what a surprise). So thanks goes out to James for telling me about this band.

If you’re interested, you can go here to preview the new album via VH1.

The most important video games ever made

My friend Will hooked me up with this link to 1UP.com’s top 50 list of The Most Important Games Ever Made. While a number of these are pretty unknown to me (since my console ownership was limited to Atari, N64 & Xbox, with a small amount of PC), it is cool to see a number of the old arcade favorites in there that I assuredly dumped hundreds of dollars of quarters into. One of the funniest is E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, which I had pretty much forgotten about until reading it, and seeing how terrible it was. And I remember Erving vs. Bird: One-on-One as one of my first PC game purchases, and how much fun it was at the time, only to be blown out of the water a few years later by Lakers vs. Celtics. It’s a pretty interesting list, and the only major complaint I have is Tetris at #23? That is a definite top 10 to me.

The Internet has saved radio

Well, the title is a little misleading, since the internet hasn’t saved the physical radio, just the idea of broadcasting sound to an audience. I rarely use the radio in my car these days since almost all of the stations are owned by one of a handful of mega-corporations who are paid to play the same songs over and over and over again until people give in and decide they like the song because they cannot get it out of their head. When I do listen to the radio, it is typically the local National Public Radio (NPR) station, which in the case of Cleveland is 90.3 WCPN. It is usually a safe bet since it is mostly not music and mostly interesting news. When I want to listen to music on the radio, I’m forced to go to the internet to get anything worth listening to.

Well, in the state of Minnesota, they seem to have found a new twist on public radio. At the end of January, Minnesota Public Radio launched a new station in Minneapolis, 89.3 KCMP, The Current. It is one of only a handful of public radio stations which features non-commerical, non-classical music. They are playing lots of independent, electronic, underground and local artists that there is a definite audience for, yet remain largely unplayed in the vast wasteland that is commercial radio since they do not pay-for-play. I just found out about this station today (thanks to a nice piece on Pitchfork Media, which can be found here) and have been listening to it all evening. Looks like it will be thrown into my curent rotation of internet radio stations, KEXP (Seattle’s version of cool public radio) and 97X WOXY (a long-time alternative internet favorite from my former college town of Oxford, OH, which recently was forced to go internet-only after the owners sold the frequency to a big corporation).

Unfortunately, nothing like this has cropped up in Northeast Ohio….yet. But I’m not exactly holding my breath since Cleveland is not a very open-minded, arts-friendly area. As much as some of us would like to pretend otherwise, it just isn’t so, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. And they wonder why the “brain drain” keeps occuring.

Nerd status….solidified

In an effort to further solidify my status as a nerd, this morning I signed up for a new program to donate my spare computer cycles to astrophysics. I signed up for the new Einstein@Home project. This project is using the same distributed computing platform as the popular extraterrestial search SETI@Home project. Except this time, the search is for gravitational waves instead of alien intelligence. In addition to actually using all that spare computer time to actually contribute to something, it serves as a pretty cool screensaver. There is a nice write-up on it here, as well as some national press here and here.

Another gadget

While on the subject of gadgets, I will give an endorsement to my latest purchase, the SanDisk 256 MB MP3 player (link). When my big, klunky Sony Walkman cassette player finally broke down, I needed something new to take with me to the gym when working out. My top requirement was an FM tuner as the TVs at the gym broadcast audio through FM frequencies so different people can watch different TVs and not try to crank the other person out of the room to hear their program. And my next requirement was size. I have a big, bulky hard drive based MP3 player that would be a workout in itself to wear to the gym.
So, looking at my options, I quickly settled on this little red gadget from SanDisk. It had what I was looking for, an FM tuner in a very small package. I found it on Amazon for (at the time) $35 cheaper than the local electronics stores, so I was sold. After it arrived (via Amazon’s “free shipping”, which basically means they wait an extra 5 days to ship it, hoping next time you’re impatient you’ll remember this exprience and actually pay to have it shipped in a timely manner), I was able to get it loaded up and take it for a test run that night. It has a simple USB interface, and all you need to do is drag-and-drop the MP3s onto the device, and you’re ready to go. No special software or compression or anything else. And it comes with a nice armband which works really well for runners. I cannot attest to the battery life yet, but it claims 15 hours on a single AAA, which I can live with. Obviously it is in competition with the new iPod Shuffle (link), but for me, I need the FM for the gym, I like having a display to navigate and change things, and the armband is included and doesn’t sell for another $30.

Cool invention for runners

While I was thumbing through the latest copy of “Runner’s World” magazine, I saw an ad for an item called the Garmin Forerunner 301 GPS with Heart Rate Monitor (link). Even if you’re not a runner, it’s hard not to be amazed by a gadget like this. Basically, it’s a wrist-mounted device you can wear while running (or cycling) that monitors your heart rate, and uses GPS to determine the distance you have run. Also, you can link it up to your computer, map out a running route which you then load onto the device so that it will guide you where to go when you’re running. And if that is too advanced for you, you can just turn it on when you start running, and it create an “electronic breadcrumb trail” which you can use to lead you back to your starting point in case you get lost.
I’m sort of in the beginner phase of becoming a runner. I’ve had a desire to run a marathon for quite some time, but I am nowhere close to being in condition for it, and have kept putting off doing so because it’s a large investment of time, which I don’t have. And it’s especially hard given the limited training season that the Cleveland climate provides. But when I do buckle down and get serious, this is definitely a cool little gadget I would seriously consider purchasing. It can help you monitor your pace, and it can learn your heart rate and let you know if you’re in your optimal training zone, or exerting too much.