Category Archives: Misc

The Martian

TLDR: Go see it! Then, go buy the book, and read it!

I’ve seen a couple of reviews compare the Martian to Cast Away, and although the premise may be similar, the comparison doesn’t really do the story justice.

Based on Andy Weir’s first novel, the movie tells the story of Mark Watney. Watney is part of a series of manned missions to Mars called Ares, but when a massive storm forces the team of astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet, Watney is struck by debris and tossed out of sight of the others. The electronics in his suit fail, making the others assume the worst. Because of the risk to their own lives, they have no other choice but to leave Mars, assuming that Watney died on the surface.

Only, (spoilers!), he didn’t die. Watney survived, but now he’s the only man on Mars, with no communications, 50 million miles away from Earth, and the next manned mission to the planet won’t arrive for another four years.

The movie is both a story of survival as Watney tries to solve the problems he’s facing on the desolate Martian landscape as well as the drama faced by both NASA and the other members of the Ares crew learn that Watney is alive and was left behind on Mars and struggle to find a way to rescue him.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney, and he does an amazing job in portraying both the humor and the emotional roller coaster Watney experiences as he fights to endure on Mars. The film balances everything well between both Mars and Earth, so viewers aren’t simply watching one man struggle to survive. They do a great job of handling the problem-solving scenes, setting up the problem, then watching as Watney or Watney and NASA work through the task at hand.

The cinematography of the vast, wide shots of the Martian landscape are gorgeous even though they serve to remind us of just how isolated Watney is.

Despite the smooth pacing of most of the movie, the film feels a bit rushed towards the end – as if someone was trying to keep the film from stretching out for three hours (which it may have if they didn’t speed things up). A couple of tense scenes from the end of the book are lost here, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story. As it is, the film clocks in at 2:14.

My only quibbles about the film are that the film ignores the fact that in the book Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. I always felt his expertise in both disciplines helped the character to survive. The film also leaves out some of the best lines from the book (which is why you should really read the book, too)

The movie is a very tense but enjoyable experience. Be forewarned, if you’re someone who gets emotional watching films, you may want to bring some tissues.

Back to Jurassic Park

A few weeks ago, one of my buddies had mentioned that he’d read Jurassic Park for the first time recently, and he was surprised at the number of differences between the book and the movie. I haven’t read the book since 1993 (around the time the movie came out), so it was a bit fuzzy. At this point I’ve seen the movie quite a few times, so it has kind of become “canon” in my memory. 

Last week, I was going through a slow purge of my existing books and stumbled across my paperback copies of both Jurassic Park and the Lost World. Inspired by my discussion with my friend, I decided to re-read both books. 

Here are some of the differences that I thought were interesting and/or was disappointed they left out of the movie. 

(Needless to say – uh, spoilers – for both the book and the movie. C’mon people you’ve had at least 20+ years to see the movie and/or read the book) 

1. The movie flips the ages and a couple of the personality traits of the kids. Lex is the older and the computer nerd, and Tim is the younger one and the dinosaur expert. In the book, Tim is still the dinosaur expert, but he’s the computer nerd and the oldest. Lex is the youngest and really doesn’t do much in the book (outside of petting and naming the dinosaurs they encounter. I prefer the movie switch, since it gives both kids something to do (Although I still cringe every time I hear “It’s a Unix system.” from that scene in the movie). The book also mentions the kids’ parents are divorcing, but it’s left out of the movie.

2. My favorite – and I chuckled at this as I read it – was that Alan Grant “loves kids” in the book. I didn’t mind that they made him uncomfortable around kids in the movie because it gave his character a chance to grow through the film, but it was a funny thing to read that line in the book.

3. The T-Rex is a much bigger antagonist in the book. All of the content about Grant and the kids taking a raft into the lagoon / river in the book are not in the movie. I’d completely forgotten about this, so I was disappointed (again) that they weren’t in the film. A couple of them – the scene where they learn the T-Rex can swim, and the waterfall scene where the raft is about to go over the falls to where the T-Rex is waiting below – would have been amazing on film.

4. I was happily surprised that a lot of the great lines from the movie came directly from the book.

5. The aviary and the opening scenes are left out of the book, but they are used in the other films. The opening scene of Jurassic Park becomes the opening scene for the Lost World movie. The aviary shows up in Jurassic Park III (you know, the one where you root for the dinosaurs to eat Tea Leoni’s character)

6. The main subplot of the book that’s completely left out of the movie is the concern about the dinosaurs getting off (and possibly already have gotten off) the island. It’s another point about “life finds a way” that the movie picks up when they discover that the dinosaurs are breeding, but the other, much greater concern, of dinosaurs getting off the island is left out. In fact, while the book describes the island being bombed to eradicate all life, the movie leaves the island intact, In fact, the end of the movies shows pterodactyls flying along side the helicopter as the survivors leave the island, and nobody is the least bit concerned. 

7. Speaking of survivors, the book makes it pretty clear that both Hammond and Malcolm die on the island. Both survive in the movie. The Lost World book has to quickly explain how Malcolm is now alive since he’s the main character in the story (turns out he was only “mostly” dead). 

Both the movie and the book are excellent, and it’d be worth your time to go and enjoy both again. Read the book first, then re-watch the movie.

For me, I’m moving on to reading the Lost World. 

Joy of Audiobooks

Audiobooks, for me, are the one thing that help me keep my sanity through my long commute in DFW traffic. Audible.com is a perfect solution for me. It gave me enough credits to burn on audiobooks, and I would go through about 2-3 books a month. 

After I quit my job in pursuit of the dream of “going indie,” I forgot to cancel my Audible account until five months after the fact. This meant I had built up a lot of credits to burn through. So, I went on a shopping spree before canceling my account. After finding books that I knew I wanted to listen to, I started going through the best-seller lists and tried to find a number of books with good reviews that sounded interesting.

Now, I’m working full-time again, and unfortunately, I’m back to my long commute. I’m finally able to work though my stockpile of audiobooks. The only thing is that for a lot of these books – I’m more or less surprised about the contents of the books. I picked them months ago, and since they’re basically just on playlists on my iPod in the car, I have no visual cues about what methodology I had gone through to pick the books.

Regardless, I thought I would start writing reviews about the books after I listen to them. I’m a few books behind, so I’ll have to get started quickly. The reviews won’t be in order, or most likely, they’ll be in order from most recent to not so recent.

The Dark Knight (Mostly) Rises

(Note: Although I was at one of the marathon Batman screenings on Thursday evening, I didn’t learn about the tragedy in Aurora until late Friday morning.  My deepest sympathies go out to the families of those who lost their lives.)

 

I went into The Dark Knight Rises with medium hopes. I’d hoped it would be a very good movie, and it would be a brilliant ending to a great movie trilogy. I really didn’t expect the movie to complete with The Dark Knight. 

Getting a chance to see The Dark Knight just before the midnight showing did nothing to change my mind. 

Is “Rises” a good movie? Yes, it’s a very good albeit very long movie. For me, though, it could have been better. 

I’m not going into a rant here about what I didn’t like about the story because I don’t want to give away aspects of the movie. Also, this would become a novel instead of a post.

What worked in the movie? 

Christian Bale is still great as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Michael Caine has some great moments as Alfred.

I was actually surprised by Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. I think she did a great job even though I’m not entirely sure why the character was in the movie.

Even with the voice cleanup, there were still moments where I wasn’t entirely sure what Tom Hardy’s Bane was saying. I was pretty “meh” about Bane in the movie. I understood why they picked him as the villain, but I also knew it was very unlikely anyone who played any villain in this movie would surpass Heath Ledger’s legendary Joker in the Dark Knight.

Ok. I will say this. I swear I’ve seen that mask of Bane’s from somewhere before.

Try to sit through the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes without wanting Bane to say “Luke, I am your father.” 

For me, there were more than a few holes in the story. There were a few “Wait, what?” moments as well, and I think they could have been more daring at the ending (but wasn’t surprised they didn’t go there).

There was also one name uttered near the very end that made me cringe. 

Then again, I’m a reader of the Batman comics and I’m more familiar with how things played out in the comics. There were some bad points in the comics, too, but overall, it was a very good series.

My verdict? Go see it. It’s a very good movie that wraps up the trilogy decently, just not brilliantly. 

 

RIP Steve Jobs

Well, fuck…

Steve Jobs is dead…

I can’t even begin to express how I feel about this. Numb, really. I know how much of an impact this man has had upon me, even though I have never met him or even had a chance to attend a live “Stevenote.”

If you don’t read beyond this point, please take a look at this video of Steve Jobs giving a commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. It’s one of the most compelling things I’ve seen in a long time.

Steve Jobs 2005 Commencement Speech

It’s so weird to be this distraught over the loss of someone I’ve never met. Yet, unlike so many people, I have at least some inkling of just how much Steve has made an impact on my life.

I know because I own many of the very products he created. I know firsthand that the iPhone is simply one of the best smartphones out there, and it has been and continues to leap ahead of its competition. I’ve experience the “magic” of the iPad. I’m typing this on one of the Macintosh computers I own.

Don’t believe it? There are several sites that have images of smartphones “Pre iPhone” and “Post iPhone”; look at those images and try to tell me that Apple and Steve Jobs have not had an impact on the market.

Don’t believe it? When was the last time you bought a music CD? How long before you ripped said CD to MP3 or some other audio format in order drop onto an iPod, iPhone, or other device?

Don’t believe it? Look at the success that Apple has had with the iPad in 18 months. Apple used this quote in yesterday’s press conference from someone (I forgot who) ” There’s no such thing as a tablet market, only an iPad market.” Look at all of the companies trying to jump on that bandwagon.

I’ve seen how Steve’s influence on others, both meeting people who have worked at Apple and who have gone “indie” and have abandoned the “safe, secure” jobs in order to develop software for these products.

It’s hard to describe. I guess the best way to experience it would be to spend a week at Microsoft’s Tech Ed visiting with people, then go to Apple’s WWDC. Hell, just go to any one of several iOS or Mac developer conferences that have been springing up outside of WWDC.

People at TechEd are there largely because their respective employers paid to send them there. WWDC attendees are people spending their own money, their own vacation time in order to be there. Others are already indie developers, and attending is part of the business, but it’s also a chance to spend time with other like-minded developers both during the conference and after-hours.

Spend thirty minutes talking with these indie developers. Spend thirty minutes talking to developer Mike Lee about Appsterdam. All of these guys have been “touched” by Steve. They don’t want to just make software, they want to make GREAT software. They aspire to make products that live up to the high standards that Apple sets, both through its guidance to developers in documentation, but more importantly, through the amazing applications that they build in-house.

The iOS/MacOS developer community is a great community of people always willing to help others with their problems as well as help encourage others on their own trek to indiehood.

Losing Steve Jobs so suddenly and at such a young age ( or, more relevant, an age that is a lot closer to my own age than I’d care for) makes you wonder what it is that you’re doing with your own life.

I want to follow my heart, but as much as it is easy for someone (even Steve) to say it, it’s not so easy to do. Maybe part of it is simply not knowing. For me, maybe the problem is that I’m not taking the time to stop and listen to what my heart truly wants. Whose dream am I following? Mine? Or someone else’s?

To an extent, I am so deep into this rut professionally that I’ve been digging for myself for longer than I care to admit, it’s hard to see above the rim.

But… I want to get out. I need to get out.

Why? Because that’s what Steve would do.

Thank you, Steve, for everything you’ve done. You’ve found a way to capture the future and put it into our hands.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

 

Fear of Failure

I’ve seen this before, but I just stumbled across this again.

Milton Glaser is one of the big names in moden graphic design. Have you seen the “I (heart) NY” logo? Yeah, that was him.

http://www.clusterflock.org/2011/07/milton-glaser-on-the-fear-of-failure.html

 

Happy 30th MTV!!!

Now that’s a scary thought…

MTV is older than the last girl I dated… :  )

It’s hard to imagine the 80s without Music Television – you know, back in the days when the station played music videos.

We had heard about MTV, but growing up in West Texas meant we were at least a year or so late to the game. We had to beg our parents to add the channel to our cable subscription (and probably had to beg our parents to even get cable).

But, once we had it, especially during the summer, when we were home and anywhere in the proximity of the living room television, MTV was on. That was assuming, of course, Dad wasn’t watching anything else.

Instead fo just heairng the bands, we could see them. Before long, everyone was trying to do something different with their videos. Some would just be weird, some were artistic. Others would wisk us off to exotic locals or simply push the limits of sexuality on television. A few would push the limits of technology (remember Money For Nothing?)

I was trying to think of a list of things that were so cool about MTV:

1) The videos, obviously. How many 80s bands kicked off their careers or were propelled to superstardom through MTV? Duran Duran, Madonna, U2, Howard Jones, Def Leppard, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Dire Straits, The Fixx, Billy Idol, Men at Work, etc etc. How big would Michael Jackson be without his videos on MTV?

2) The original VJs. They all had distinct personalities, and every guy had a crush on Martha Quinn.

3) The crazy contests where if you were lucky you might appear in a video or have your favorite band play at your house.

4) World premiere videos. Depending on the artist, you had to be there to catch the “premiere” of the latest and greatest video. Of course, if you missed it, chances were pretty good you could catch it again in a couple of hours. How many people remember catching the 20 minute premiere of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”?

5) The impact of adding pop/rock songs to movie soundtracks. I think “Footloose” had a major impact on this as well, but think about how many 80s movies had a pop/rock soundrack (and of course, related music videos) to go with it? Imagine “Top Gun” without the corresponding “Highway to the Dangerzone,” or “Ghostbusters” without its themesong. Hell, imagine any John Hughes movie without the soundrack. How many proms in the 80s just had to play “If You Leave” by OMD? Would Prince have made “Purple Rain”? Would Madonna be an actress?

(ok, forget about that last one)

It wasn’t all good – after all, MTV helped advocate the concept that “image is everything” where the music/talent eventually didn’t matter as much so long as the video worked (see – Brittney Spears)

Plus, MTV somewhat pioneered “reallity television” that now dominates most of the channels today.

Of course, these days, with the internet and access to video software, it’s easy for just about anyone, not just the bands, to come up with their own interpretations of videos for their favorite songs. It’s not MTV, it’s YouTube.

One of the other cool things is that XM satellite radio has brought the original MTV VJ’s back, and they can be heard on the 80s channel (and a couple of others).

So, MTV may not be what it used to be, but there are still ways to get a taste of MTV back in the “good ol’ days”

“I want my, I want my, I want my M… T… V…”

In Transition…

Please excuse the mess for the next few days or so – I’m in the process of moving my site over to another host.

With a new host also comes the task of getting around to picking a new theme that will last for the next year… or three…

Anyway, things will be back to more or less normal here in the next few days.

Tempted by the Fruit of Another (iPhone)

Yeah, I’ll admit it. I was going to buy an iPhone 3G today.

I was going to buy one at first. But, then, when it turned out AT&T decided to up the rates to compensate for the cheaper phone, I had second thoughts. Plus, what I really wanted was a phone with 32GB of storage like the largest iPod Touch.

So, I’ve gone back and forth for a few weeks now about whether or not to buy one. I was leaning towards not getting one, and had just about decided not to after spending yesterday playing with the 2.0 software and downloading/buying my first iPhone apps.

But, then, this morning, I thought, “what the hell.” I can offset the new AT&T rates with my corporate discount. If the lines aren’t too bad, maybe I’ll stop by and pick one up.

How bad could the lines be, after all? Many of the naysayers have been saying the new iPHone won’t sell. Don’t buy one. It’s missing the same lame features that only a few pundits are desperate to have (which they bitched about last year). Everyone that wanted an iPhone in the US already has one. No one will upgrade. It’s still to expensive. And so on…

So, I thought, I’ll drive by the local AT&T store and see how bad the line is. If it’s not too bad, maybe I’ll stop and pick one up.

Heh…

There were at least 50-100 people standing outside the local AT&T store in McKinney at just after 8 am. On the way to downtown Dallas, I could see at least 100 folks outside another AT&T store in Allen.

So, okay, maybe some people wanted the phone after all. But, Apple & AT&T have their act together, so it should be smooth sailing for everyone to buy a phone. Maybe I’ll just swing by an Apple store on the way home from work and pick one up then.

Right?

During the day at work, I saw the initial reports of people having major problems with getting their phones activated. In fact, if you were unlucky enough to try to update your original iPhone to 2.0, you were now equally screwed. The Apple/AT&T system that iTunes used to activate phones couldn’t handle the load.

But, by mid-afternoon, things were looking up. One of my co-workers who bricked his phone before lunch was back in business, and another who spent the morning in line was able to activate hers. So, I thought, I’ll hit an Apple store on the way home and pick one up.

I walk into Willow Bend and saw people walking out the door with their new iPhones, and didn’t think anything of it. Once I got closer, I was not surprised to see a line in front of the Apple store. But, the line didn’t stop there. It wound around the elevator/stairwell couch area like it did last year. So, now there are several hundred people in line just like last years launch. The problem was, this line wasn’t moving.

So, I thought, let’s see how long the line takes to move…

Thirty minutes later, I had moved less than ten feet from where I started. An Apple store guy finally made an appearance, so I asked him how long the wait was. He said to order some pizza and get comfortable. I pressed him, and his best guess was that it would take at least two hours to get into the store from my place in line.

Thanks, but no thanks, I said. I stood in the lines last year, and although it might be nice to have the 3G and the GPS goodness of the new phone, I was not about to spend the night standing in line for it.

So, now I’m home a little disappointed that I came home empty handed without a nice shiny new toy to play with.

I don’t really “need” the phone. My iPhone has all of the 2.0 goodness of the new one. The GPS and 3G are “nice to haves,” I told myself. And, there are a lot of other things I would probably be better off using the money on instead of another new gadget.

Does that mean I won’t be in line first thing tomorrow? Maybe…

One MMORPG To Rule Them All…

Yes, for those of you who didn’t know it, I play World of Warcraft from time to time.

MMOGchart.com from time to time attempts to chart the number of subscribers for the various MMORPG’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) out there. It’s kinda cool to check out.

Here’s the one with WoW on it: MMOChart

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