Friday, April 23, 2010

The Losers

Movie: The Losers

I was very disappointed by this film. I knew little about it and had never read the comic book, but the trailer had some cool moments and it looked like a fun action-comedy. Unfortunately, the film doesn't know what to be: it is deathly serious at times (starting off with the gruesome death of a bunch of children), and the so-called comedy is mostly wisecracks by certain characters that falls flat much of the time. The plot is very A-Team: a team of soldiers is ordered to blow up a town (with those children in it) and refuses to obey and go on the lam as renegades. The town's blown up anyway with the team framed for the murder, so the now they are on the run. A mysterious woman shows up with money and promises of assistance to help get them back into the USA where they can hunt down the bad guy who framed them. Speaking of him, he's probably the most interesting character in the film: a dandy in a suit who is gleefully ruthless. The team, along with the woman, are not so interesting. They bicker and betray each other, are stereotypes we don't get to know, and we really don't much care what happens to anyone. There's a lot of effort expended into making these guys "cool," in the way they talk and dress and pontificate, but even the somber, dramatic moments feel artificial and hollow, and we don't or care about the people. Take for example, the leader: he's gruff and tough and yet has a grumpy grin, and his supposedly serious moments with his love interest come across as melodrama, not characterization. We never do find out what makes him tick. All this wouldn't be the end of the world if the story was good or the action compelling. But the plot is so full of obvious holes and nonsense as to be ludicrous, and the action is too disjointed and cheesy (it's either too realistic or too comic booky). I also should criticize the directing and editing, which had severe flaws. There were several places in the film I found confusing simply because the film was so choppy, with scenes beginning right in the middle with you lost as to what was going on.

All that said, this is not a terrible movie. It's just inconsistent. There are moments that are fun, scenes that work, and people or action that are cool, but the pieces add up to less than the whole. I enjoyed it at times, and was annoyed, bored, or confused at others. But I wouldn't recommend it unless you're good at gleaning pleasure from slight events; a disappointment.


Friday, April 16, 2010


Movie: Kick-Ass

Unlike most movies, I had read some reviews about this one before seeing it. Thus I knew what I was getting into. Perhaps that tempered my reaction, but I don't understand the controversy. Sure, it's violent, but nothing more than Inglourious Basterds or Kill Bill. Yeah, much of that violence comes from a sweet-faced eleven-year-old girl who talks like a sailor, but is that so shocking these days? Besides, I enjoyed that character: I thought she was terrific. Bizarre and extreme, yes, but also entertaining. More important, her character made sense in her situation: her dad was a disgraced cop who'd been framed by the mob boss and sent to prison for years, so when he got out it was natural for him to train his daughter in his revenge-seeking footsteps. The bottom line is that this is a fun movie. It's stylishly done, sort of a blend between 300 and Watchmen and Kill Bill, but the story's realistic in the sense that nothing supernatural happens (there are no superheros, just regular people in costumes). The story's not as deep as Watchmen, but this is a comedy, not drama. It's fun. Don't take it or life so seriously. If you like this sort of film, you should enjoy it. If you didn't like the other films I mentioned, you probably should avoid this one. I liked it a lot, so I guess that tells you a lot about me!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Soccer: Knee

A month ago I was playing soccer at a local indoor league and I twisted my knee. It was still bothering me last week, so I went to see an orthopedic surgeon who had me get an MRI on Monday. Today I got the results: my ACL is completely torn. The only way to fix that is reconstructive surgery. It will never heal on its own. That means getting a tendon from a cadaver and inserting it into my knee to replace my ligament (they screw it in with screws that dissolve over time). The recovery time for such an operation is long: at least six months before I can be physically active again, with a few weeks on crutches and physical rehab during that time. After that, I'd probably have to wear a brace during athletics for the first year. Not the most fun.

The other bit of news was slightly more encouraging. ACL tears normally don't cause continuing pain, and are mainly an issue if you're wanting to be athletically active. The reason I've been having pain is that I have a bone bruise between the two leg bones. Such bruises take a long time to heal: one to three months. Though there is no actual fracture, they heal like one. Thus the pain I am feeling that is causing me to limp will hopefully fade as the bruise heals (it has been getting better, so I am hopeful).

Fortunately, there is no huge rush to get the surgery done. It doesn't sound like waiting a few months to see how my knee heals and feels will hurt anything. I could even choose to not repair the knee, though that would limit my mobility, increase my chances of problems later in life (arthritis, etc.), and set myself up to where I could accidentally turn wrong on my leg and re-injure myself (without an ACL my knee is less stable).

For now, I'm holding off making a decision. I will wait and see how I heal. There are many factors to consider, such as the cost (insurance won't cover a significant amount), healing time, and so on. I have a feeling it's something I'll need or want to do, but I'll see how feel as the bone bruise heals. Maybe if I wait long enough Ombamacare will kick in and pay for the surgery. Yeah, I'm dreaming. There ain't no free lunch.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More iPad Thoughts

I've had a few days to use this thing and think about it a bit more. As with anything new, experiences are mixed, but am learning more how to use the iPad and how it can fit into my life. What is most interesting is the way my perspective is changing. Things I had assumed before I got it, I'm not so sure about any more.

For instance, I never really considered the iPad as a "real" computer. For me, it would be more of a consumption device, not a laptop. But already that perspective is changing. First, this thing is so light and yet still functional, that I am finding it a joy to use. It is blazingly fast -- apps launch instantly and scrolling, zooming, and other functions feel so quick and responsive that I just love using this. There are still many areas where it cannot replace my laptop, but some of those are unique to my needs: for many people, an iPad is all the computer they need.

Another area is typing. Prior to trying the iPad, that was a minor concern. I am comfortable with my iPhone typing, so I wasn't too worried, but I also wasn't sure it would be that much better. My first tries at typing on iPad were a disaster: I struggled and made constant errors and the process felt painful. But today I decided to really try to type as though this was a real keyboard, with all hands on the home keys. To my shock and amazement, it works far better! It's not perfect, and I still make some errors, but I just need practice. I downloaded a typing app and with 10 minutes of practice I found I could type "The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog" at a rate of 60 words per minute without a single error! (More significantly, it felt comfortable and effortless, as typing without physical keys requires only the faintest touch.) That is impressive, and convinces me that with a little work I could do just fine without a real keyboard and probably be almost as fast. In fact, because my main problem seems to be carelessness on my part of using the wrong fingers (especially for keys like Q, where I'm used to a hard keyboard where I can feel the right key) and the iPad keyboard works much better when you use the correct fingers, getting good on iPad will probably improve my regular keyboarding.

The biggest obstacle is punctuation, as those characters are oddly placed, but practice will help with that. The auto-correction works much better when you use your hands in the right position. It must be optimized for that: when I used two fingers, like I prefer on iPhone, auto-correct didn't work most of the time. (And yes, in case you were wondering, this post was written entirely on my iPad. Compared to my previous post, which felt like I was running uphill with weights on my limbs, this time it feels like running on a level surface with no excess weight: far smoother. Ultimately still tiring, but not bad at all.) The biggest problem with iPad typing is that many won't give the glass keyboard a chance -- they'll give it the 30 second try and when it doesn't work they'll give up and connect a Bluetooth keyboard.

Another change is my attitude toward the 3G version. Originally I wasn't in the least bit interested in that model. I did not want another monthly fee, and I figured I already had mobile internet on my iPhone. Besides, I work from home and I'm usually there and so WiFi is all I need. That's all my laptop has and it's worked fine for me.

Now that I have an iPad, I'm am rethinking that. First, this thing is so light and useful, I can picture myself taking it with me everywhere. It really is like carrying a magazine. Where I only take a laptop when absolutely necessary, iPad I can take to the doctor's office to read books on in the waiting room or when meeting someone at a restaurant. That means that with iPad, I'm more likely to be away from home with it. Second, because iPad is based on the iPhone OS, most of the apps expect you to have an internet connection. It is surprising how many rely on that feature and don't work at all or  suffer from a major lack of functionality without internet. I had considered demoing it to someone and realized that the demo would be limited because so many of the coolest apps wouldn't even work without an Internet connection.

I had been planning on purchasing a new iPhone this summer. After all, I've got the original version and it will be three years old. But doing so undoubtedly means upgrading my cheap data plan to the new 3G plan that costs $15 more per month. Suddenly I am thinking, if I'm going to pay that anyway, maybe I'd be better off to just get an iPad data connection and keep my old phone. It works fine. I'd have the best of both worlds. (The best option of all would be a new iPhone that would give my iPad a mobile hot spot, but tethering still isn't available here thanks to ATT's greed/incompetence.)

I won't make a decision on this for a while: I'll wait and see what features the new iPhone this summer has, and what my costs might be, but it is interesting that I'm considering the 3G iPad when just a few days ago I was dead-set against it!

Apps I've had more time to play with various iPad apps and I can report on them now. First, let me say that after using native apps, running iPhone apps in double-size mode is painful. Apps that you run only occasionally or for a brief tasks aren't too bad, but you really want native apps on this thing. I have some apps that are merely displaying info from a website, and I find using those sites on Safari is easier than using the doubled iPhone app.

Fortunately many of my favorites have already been rewritten, and they are great. Words With Friends is excellent in full screen. One of my most important finds is a terrific PDF viewer called GoodReader that is only a dollar (I think that's a limited time offer). It gives you several ways of wirelessly transmitting your files to it, which is far better than Apple's approach which requires hooking your iPad to your computer via USB and using iTunes. I tested my magazine in the app and it worked great: all the links worked (it even displays web links right within the app so you don't have go into Safari) and you can add your own bookmarks. Recommended.

The new IMDB app is incredible on iPad. The interface features a lot more photos, quite large thumbnails, in fact, and the presentation of the information is different and excellent for the most part. (My main complaint is that the full casting info is now a popover window, so when you scroll down a long list and click on an actor to read about that person, when you come back, the popover is collapsed and now you have to scroll through the list again to find where you were. On the iPhone, leaving a list and coming back to it puts you right where you were on the list. I don't see the advantage of using a popover control for long lists like the cast. It's great for quotes or trivia, though.)

I bought a racing game just to try the feature of "steering" the entire screen to turn and it really was fun. I'm not much of an "action" gamer and I'm usually horrible at driving games, but I came in second in my first race which felt like an accomplishment. I put it down to the more natural controls -- I've never used a steering wheel controller and other controls have always felt awkward for driving. Though the iPad is light, it is solid, and I wonder how the weight feels after holding the thing up for hours while playing -- but perhaps that's good exercise!

I haven't been much of a news reader in the past decade: I overdosed during the "hanging chad" election and have boycotted all news since. I find news websites to be ridiculously cluttered and distracting, but I have downloaded several news apps for iPad and I must say, I am impressed. Some, like the USA Today app, are simple, but work well, with a multicolumn newspaper-like layout. (That app is clever: it shows two columns in portrait orientation and three in landscape. It also has a nifty navigation feature: scrolling vertically goes through the current article, but swiping left-right moves you to the previous or next story.) The BBC app had some bugs (stuff wasn't showing up), but showed promise and I think will always be free. With apps like these, I might start reading the news again! (Another interesting app I found is one called SkyGrid that is a sort of news aggregator. You put in a term, like "iPad" and it returns all sorts of web articles on that topic. It updates continuously, with trending topics toward the top. Tapping on a link brings it up within the built-in browser, so browsing through material is quick and convenient. Early days, but this could end up being one of my favorite apps.)

It is worth noting that many iPad apps are buggy. For instance, I downloaded a simple drawing app and it looks neat but I can't get the eraser to work. That makes the app rather useless until that's fixed. As an early adopter, I don't mind these problems -- most developers got their iPads on Saturday like me and are working frantically to fix bugs now that they can test their apps on a real machine.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

iPad Day

I pre-ordered my iPad weeks ago so I would be certain to have it today. At the time of ordering there was a warning about Saturday delivery not being available in all areas. I had been worried about that since I'm in a somewhat rural location, and I had been considering reserving an iPad at my local Apple store instead, but I didn't see that option on the website. But my order claimed April 3 delivery, so I decided to do that. Surely Apple would know the importance of on-time delivery to early adopters like me!

Unfortunately, this week I received notification that my iPad had shipped from China but that it would not arrive until Monday. I called Apple, but of course it was too late to do anything. I kept watching the UPS tracking info as my package went to Alaska and then Kentucky and finally to Portland, Oregon this morning. By eight a.m. it had reached the distribution center in Tualatin, but when I called UPS they told me that I wouldn't be receiving it and that the center was closed and I couldn't pick it up there. I tried that, since it was on the way to the Apple Store, but no go. There was only a security guard and no one to find my package. So I went on to the Apple Store and waited in line. Someone said that the initial shipment of 200 iPads was sold out, but another had just come in. At about 10:30 (90 minutes of waiting), I got my iPad. I drove home and just outside my town, I spotted a UPS truck.

"If he's this close to my house, why couldn't he stop by with my iPad?" I thought. When we reached my street, he turned and I followed, my jaw dropping. "No way," I'm thinking. Sure enough, he pulls into my driveway! I pull up beside him and hop out. It's my iPad, of course. Now I have two!

First Impressions
Physically, this thing is gorgeous. There is nothing cheap or cut-rate about it. The screen is amazing. Everything just gleams. The size and weight is perfect: heavy enough to feel solid and yet not too heavy. It's about the size and thickness of a magazine but with the weight of a hardback book. Not bad for holding even for long periods, though most likely you'll rest it on your lap or other places.

Setup was somewhat of a problem in a few minor ways. First, it was slow to copy over all my iPhone apps, photos, music, and other data. I blame that on slow USB. another annoyance was that it did not copy over the password to my home WiFi network, so I had to enter that manually before I could connect to the Internet. Another issue was that my email accounts didn't sync -- but that's because I don't have them activated on the desktop Mac I use for syncing (emails are on my laptop). I had to put in the setup details on the iPad myself, which was a minor delay. Once I'd done that, my emails showed up just like on my iPhone.

Another problem was that my iPhone apps did not move to the same position on the iPad, but alphabetical or random order. It took me a good hour to arrange all my apps in their proper locations (I did this in iTunes while it was copying everything to the iPad, so it wasn't too bad, but with 7 screens of apps this wasn't fun).

The virtual keyboard on the iPad will take time to learn. I am proficient on the iPhone, but some of the keys have been moved on iPad. The worst is the second Shift key on the right side, where the backspace key is on the iPhone.  I keep hitting that for delete, which doesn't work at all. As of yet, I don't use two hands in normal typing position on the iPad: the two-finger approach seems more comfortable at the moment, though I am making more mistakes than on iPhone and the auto-correction, which works well iPhone, doesn't seem to be as effective on iPad. I am writing this entire article on iPad (I'm using Pages), so perhaps with practice I'll get better.

My impression is that the virtual keyboard is great for small amounts of text and emails, but for a term paper or novel, get a physical keyboard. That doesn't surprise me. What does, is that I had dismissed the idea of needing an external Bluetooth keyboard as unnecessary, since I already have a laptop to use for "real" work, but this iPad is such a joy to use I am now -- just hours after my first use -- seriously considering using it for more work tasks. It is so small and lightweight and convenient, I wonder if I'll start resenting my beloved laptop!

Someone asked me if this feels like a bigger iPhone or a real computer, and it's definitely the latter. This might be based on a phone OS, but the bigger screen makes all the difference. Apps are larger with more vivid pictures and controls, more information is displayed, and you can accomplish more with them.

What shocks me is that after using iPad for just a few minutes, returning to the iPhone feels bizarre. The iPhone now seems like something absurdly miniature. I used to think it was a great size, but suddenly it is tiny!

What makes the iPad great, of course, are the apps that transform the slab of glass into just about anything you can imagine, from a television to a musical instrument. Almost all iPhone apps work just fine, though they don't fill the entire iPad screen without jagged edges on graphics. Apps rewritten for iPad really shine, however, and they show off the core difference between iPhone and iPad.  iPad apps seem to be so much more powerful and easier to use. Stuff that takes several screens on iPhone are just one on iPad, so you can accomplish tasks in less steps.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many apps specific to iPad are already available. Several of my favorites, like Words With Friends and IMDB, are ready and work beautifully. They take advantage of the larger space and are not simply enlarged.

There are also some brand new apps. I have yet to try a full-screen action game, but I did get the new Netflix app which lets you stream your Netflix movies right to your iPad! It is amazing. The quality of the picture is excellent, and the interface for finding movies, checking your instant queue, and even controlling movies is extremely well done. I can imagine myself actually using this app.

A similar app is ABC's video player which lets you browse through the video content on and watch it for free (there are commercials embedded). The video quality wasn't great, but just being able to catch shows you missed makes this one valuable.

I am writing this within Apple's $10 Pages app, which is remarkably powerful and similar to the Mac version. It's a real word processor with page layout capabilities, stylesheets, templates, spelling checking, and more. It has nice features like the ability to look up the selected word in a dictionary and show you the full definition. The look of the page as you write is impressive: it's fully WYSIWYG, and it's fast and responsive. Color me impressed!

There are also the native apps, such as Mail, Safari, Calendar, Contacts, etc., which have all been rewritten to take advantage of the iPad's bigger screen. In landscape view Mail shows you a list of emails in your inbox with the current message fully displayed on the right. Calendar looks like a traditional datebook and is gorgeous. But Safari is a killer app for this device: with its fast processor, web pages appear almost instantly, and zooming is magical it is so fast. It makes this the best web device in the world, better than any desktop. You actually touch the web and it's so intuitive and natural, everything other computer and browser feels clunky and old-fashioned.

Another killer app is book reading. An avid reader, I have been dreaming of something like this all my life. Apple's free iBooks app makes reading feel so close to a real book you can practically smell the paper. The pages turn with your finger, and they turn with real world lighting and physics. But that pretty stuff is useless if the books aren't readable, and I must say books are a joy to read in this format. It's too early for me to have read much, but considering I have read several books on my tiny iPhone screen, I feel safe in predicting that I will read a lot more on the iPad.

The Bottom Line
Despite the jokes, the supposed limitations (like not supporting Adobe's horrible Flash content), the iPad is going to change everything. Apple has not just hit a home run, they've knocked the ball out of the park and into the next county! This is an extremely well-thoughtout device. Out of the box it does tons of useful stuff right away, and it does them better than any other device, but the future's in fantastic apps that will be written that will turn this thing into just about anything. This thing will be used in kitchens and living rooms, by photographers and muscians, by executives, travelers, by doctors and hospitals, and so many fields. It's a blank slate.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Clash of the Titans

Movie: Clash of the Titans

First let me advise you to avoid the 3D version of this film. The 3D effect is so subtle as to not be noticeable. In fact, several times during the film I looked at the screen without my glasses and I couldn't see much difference except that it was brighter without the glasses. Basically, it's not worth even 50 cents more, let alone several dollars for 3D.

As for the movie itself, it was about what I expected: myth and action, with a slight story. The biggest problem I had was that the action scenes go so fast you can't see anything or figure out what's happening. I found them to be boring. The special effects in this film are impressive and the only reason to see it. The story's about conflict between mankind and the gods and I found it troubling that somehow we're supposed to see the arrogant humans who challenge their gods as the heroes. What's heroic about insulting your gods? Is that a good thing to do? Basically the humans slap the gods and then are puzzled and terrified when the gods attack back, yet our demigod hero comes to save the day and he's going to rescue the humans from getting what they should get for poking a hornets' nest. I don't get much of that. But that isn't to see that film isn't interesting. The scenery and effects are worth seeing, and there are a few good moments. Mostly the film comes across as somewhat pretentious, as though every dramatic scene is world-shaking. The bottom line: it's just an average film with an average plot and some neat visuals. If that interests you, go for it!