What I’ve been watching

Mirrors 2 – I liked the original better. This one is pretty standard fare – vengeful spirit haunts mirrors and kills people until the mystery is solved. Some rather gruesome death scenes in this one – I thought I was properly desensitized by now but I still found them a bit squicky.

Monsters – Wow, where did this come from and why didn’t I know about it? A pretty good character-driven story in an SF setting. It’s not an action-adventure at all – it’s just about two people trying to get from point A to point B while there’s a slowly developing alien-induced crisis going on. There’s little explanation and no resolution to the alien situation – they’re just part of the setting. I liked this one a lot.

Predators – A worthy sequel to the original, complete with some back-references. If you liked the first one, chances are you’ll like this one too.

The Beast of Hollow Mountain – Cowboys versus monsters isn’t an unheard-of genere, but cowboys versus dinosaurs is a bit more rare. An unusual property of this monster movie is that you don’t see the monster until very near the end, nor does it even make its presence known until about halfway through. It’s a character drama until then, and I was starting to wonder if I was really watching a monster movie – if not for the foreshadowing narration at the beginning, I would have been wondering if the “monster” of the title wasn’t referring to the human villain of the story.

Inception – I liked it a lot. A well-crafted story about a bunch of people who plan something impossible and then take it one step further, while fighting their own failings. Worth a look. I did spot one inconsistency (around the definition of the “kick” and the business with the elevator) and one disappointing loose end (the totem), but those weren’t bad enough to dent a thumbs-up rating.

APEX – This was actually better than I expected. A couple of decent performances and characterizations, and some nicely made props. That’s about all that distinguishes it though.

She-Demons – Let’s see. Escaped Nazi war criminals invent geothermal power and victimize a tribe of Amazons on an uncharted island near the U.S. in order to undo one woman’s volcanic beauty treatment, and are undone by a handful of yacht wreck survivors and the latest in a regular series of American bombing practice runs. Yeah, that about covers it.

Space Amoeba – Gotta love the old Toho SF/monster movies. It’s like every primitive-filled island near Japan has its resident monsters and scheming alien invaders. There’s always a token scientist character along to leap from completely insufficient evidence to totally unjustified conclusions about highly unscientific facts just in time to let everyone know what they’re up against so they can come up with a plan. Another thing I like about these movies is that they have a bit more imagination about the nature of aliens – they don’t have to be humanoid. Kinda surprising given the prevalence of rubber-suit monsters often found in the same flicks. Japanese SF and monster movies prove that a creature doesn’t have to look like a human with makeup on in order to get audience identification.

Piranha (2010 edition) – Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but this was actually a bit too gory for me. Or maybe it’s the combination of gore with sex that does this – if not for the monster movie aspect, a good chunk of this one could be mistaken for an updated 80s frat movie, only with even more nudity. All that aside, I’d say this is as worthy as the original version.

Barn of the Naked Dead – You would think with a title like this it would have some nudity and some zombies in it, or possibly even nude zombies, or else be a clever title for something philosophical, right?  Well, technically it does have the first two – perhaps a full fifteen seconds of partial nudity and as much as three minutes total screen time for the one token zombie-like creature.  The rest of it is about a disturbed young man with mommy and daddy issues treating kidnapped women like animals in a circus.  Not my sort of thing, despite what you might think.

The Power – Excellent, excellent movie! Good acting, believable characters, good cinematography and above all a story that keeps you guessing until the end.  I had actually seen this before but had forgotten the ending, and it did indeed surprise me again.  After seeing as many movies as we all have, it’s easy to think you’ve seen all the standard plot twists and think you have a movie pigeonholed by halfway through, and I thought I knew what the twist would be.  I was wrong, and happy to be so – it’s nice to get unjaded every now and then.

Fight Club – This movie did not interest me at all when it came out, but so many people have indicated it’s a must-see that I finally did. Not what I expected at all, and quite entertaining. Much truth is told. I’d definitely recommend this one.


The PDA Problem

I’ve blogged before about the inadequacies of the PDAs I’ve tried. Those comments still stand, but I now find myself with a specific problem I want a device to solve. I’ve got two likely candidates but so far no proof that either of them does what I want.

Plus, I find myself squeezed between two advocacy camps that remind me a bit of the good old Mac vs. PC war. Hence this post. Perhaps I can exploit some of that frothy energy to do some of my research for me.

The specific problem I want to solve is one of workflow surrounding shopping lists. I have a number of collections of things I’m actively building, and maintaining and displaying the lists of what I have and what I want has always been a headache. I need the data to display on my website, an easily editable copy on my PC at home, and a portable copy to consult when I’m in the field shopping (and possibly away from any form of network connectivity). Ideally these should all automatically reflect the latest edits.

Requirements, a little more formally:

  1. Representation: There are multiple documents. Each must exist both as part of my website and on my portable device (device to be chosen as a result of this evaluation).
  2. The website version must be in a format I find easy to parse, as I will be writing my own PHP code to display it nicely. I would prefer plaintext or CSV stored on my web server, or MySQL storage.
  3. The portable copy must be displayable compactly and succinctly on the portable device (ie, maximum information density and relevance within the limits of the display) and also be easily editable on that device. It doesn’t have to look pretty on the portable device, but columns are needed.
  4. When the portable device is online (preferably via wireless or phone service or both, though wired docking is acceptable), it should automatically pull down updated versions from my website and push local edits to my website. It does not need to handle the case of both versions having new edits – between syncs I will edit one or the other but not both. Acceptable transfer methods are MySQL connection, HTTP GET/PUT, FTP, SCP or SFTP.

I’ve tried a couple of Palm products before and been bitterly disappointed. They were capable of hosting portable, editable shopping lists but the syncing workflow was absolutely horrible; I had to use special proprietary software to sync, and it could not work automatically because this software had no concept of files – I had to cut and paste my content between these applications and the real files on my PC. And although my current cell phone can theoretically display web pages and store files, it’s a total joke. I’m not even going to try using it for this.

So now it has been suggested to me that the iPhone, iPod Touch and Android phones should be capable of doing what I want. I have seen demonstrations from both camps that show how similar workflows could happen, but they’re both imperfect; for one thing, they both involve online storage and document formats that would not be under my control.

I realize in both cases I could develop my own software to satisfy my particular use case, but I’d rather just use off-the-shelf components. I think it is much more likely I’ll be able to do that with an Android device because there’s Linux in there somewhere and much as I hate shell scripting, I’m willing to use it to automate stuff.  The ideal world on the portable end is an editor for the data, and two buttons to push and pull the data to and from my web server or MySQL server.

Cool apps and games are of secondary concern – I want this problem solved, and anything else is just icing on top.  So far the best workflow I have is taking paper printouts of my shopping lists with me when I go out, and that sucks – this is the Glorious Future already, so why can’t I find a Personal Digital Assistant that assists me digitally?

I will be doing more research, but it’s surprisingly hard to find out what these platforms are capable of before buying them.

My Halloween “costume”

A friend at work discovered this a few weeks ago, and thanks to a fortunate alignment of contacts and excitement, we were able to pull it off – although I didn’t get to show mine off until the day after Halloween.

It took a lot of effort – thankfully someone else handled most fo the 3D software end of things for me. But I still had to unroll the model in Pepakura and lay out the pages (fifteen 11×17″ pieces of paper), get them printed, and do all the cutting and gluing myself. Just the cutting and gluing took me ten hours, and that’s thanks to having a very good knife and very fast-drying glue. If I hadn’t bought special supplies it would have taken hours longer.

Here’s what it looked like on my work table when finished:

And here’s what it looks like on me (guess which picture is “before” and which is “after”):

It was a rewarding project and I’m glad I did it, but it was a lot more work than I expected.