Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.


Review: Tropic Thunder

Filed under: Art,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is late at night or 11:34 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Tropic Thunder this weekend.

Now, I’m not a huge Ben Stiller fan, but some of his stuff is pretty funny. Granted, sometimes, he goes a little too far, but, mostly, he’s just okay in my book. Well, with Tropic Thunder, even when he goes too far, he’s funny. Yes, in spite of what amounts to little more than a really big cameo part by Tom Cruise, who I truly find distasteful at best, Tropic Thunder was a winner for me.

So, here’s the premise… A group of over-paid, big-name Hollywood actors making a book, that none of them have read, into a war movie. But, the movie, the meta-movie, makes fun of these guys and the whole Hollywood machine. Frankly, it’s the perfect movie for Robert Downey, Jr., who’s been the ultimate outsider in movies and Hollywood for years. And, Ben Stiller must have really hit a nerve or two in LaLa Land with this on.
The movie opens with faux advertising and trailers from the characters in the movie. They start them seamlessly from the actual trailers before the real film. Then, they get into E! News, talking about the film the characters are making in the movie. Ben Stiller plays a fading action hero. Robert Downey, Jr. plays an Australian method actor who’s an Oscar winner, but a little crazy. He gets a “surgery” to make him look black so he can play a black man in the film the characters are making. Then, there’s Jack Black who plays a coked-up comedian who’s only skill seems to be wearing makeup and farting. He’s hilarious. And, of course, there’s the rookie and the rapper. Oh, and Nick Nolte who plays the handicapped Vietnam vet who wrote the book that only the rookie has read. In fact, it comes out that he’s the only one who read the entire script at one point!

So, add these guys all together in the jungle in Vietnam and mix in Matthew McConaughey as super agent Rick Peck aka “The Pecker” who’s trying to get Stiller’s character his Tivo from vile producer Les Grossman played by a frighteningly realistic Tom Cruise. (Honestly, I think we get to see Tom Cruise’s real, bald head in this movie! I guess Scientology can’t cure everything, eh?)
Well, when Hollywood, and actor’s egos, get in the way of making a good film, the director takes Vietnam vet Nolte’s advice and takes the movie out into the jungle, guerrilla style, things get a little out of control. Things start to go really wrong when the director steps on an old, French land mine and the guys just, well, they just don’t get it. They think it’s all to get them into character. As they stumble along, acting out their movie with real-live heroin manufacturers in the jungle, a lot of things are revealed to be somewhat other than they first seem. Those reveals are where the real hilarity ensue.

Look, I don’t want to spoil this movie for you and I really recommend that you see it. It’s funny in ways that I cannot capture with my description of it here. It is a great, but subtle, parody of every war film made since Apocalypse Now. More than that, though, it’s a very funny commentary on both Hollywood in particular and our consumer, entertainment oriented society in general.

Oh, one thing, it is very much NOT politically correct at all. There is gratuitous use of verbal slurs in regards to the mentally handicapped. Also, it won’t surprise me if the NAACP or someone very much like them gets all bent out of shape about the way Robert Downey, Jr. plays an actor playing a person of another race.
But, if you can get past those things, it’s a very funny movie. Honest.


Review: Iron Man

Filed under: Art,Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:15 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Iron Man Friday night.

I love comic books and used to read lots of them on a regular basis. Iron Man wasn’t one of those I followed, but he was such a big part of the Marvel Universe that he was more than a “blip” on the radar of comic fans. The movie was great.

First of all, what’s not to love about a millionaire-playboy who’s also an engineering geek? An early scene shows him blowing off an engineering awards ceremony to play craps in Vegas while flirting with hot chicks. Oh, and did I mention he’s a bit of an alcoholic? They don’t play this up much in the movie, but there’s enough of it there from the comic book to add an extra dimension to
Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark and makes him an interesting character. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Downey is a recovering addict himself.
And, as someone else pointed out in one of the many, many reviews of this movie, they actually show Stark doing engineering design work! How cool is that? I’m betting there were some geeks in the audience that would have really liked to have his customized CAD environment. True 3D? Voice activated with interactive, touch-based controls? It made me want to design something.

But, don’t forget, this was an action movie! Boy howdy was it! It starts off with Stark getting captured by terrorists in the desert, jumps to a flashback to show us how he got there, then switches back to the terrorists who are forcing him to build a missile for them, like he designed for the U.S. military. Instead, he builds the Iron Man v1.0 suit from scraps. Naturally, he uses it to break out of his desert cave prison and return to the “civilization” of the West Coast Hollywood military industrial complex. And, of course, he’s a changed man. He vows to stop building weapons and promises to use his amazing engineering powers for good, not evil. Sadly, his partner in the business has other ideas. So, while Tony is falling in love with his gorgeous assistant, Pepper Potts, played by the “ow-it’s-so-bright-it-hurts-my-eyes” beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow, Obidiah Stane, his erstwhile partner, played by Jeff Bridges, goes into the desert to recover the abandoned Iron Man v1.0 armor.
Naturally, an epic battle ensues, but I’ll leave the rest for you to see in the movie.

Let me add, though, that the special effects were fabulous. The technology was spot on and absolutely believable. Robert Downey, Jr. was a totally believable Tony Stark and, frankly, was the perfect choice for this film. He was brilliant. Rumor has it that there’s already talks of an Iron Man 2. I hope so!
Also, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, stay all the way through the credits. There’s a cameo at the end which sets up both Iron Man 2 and the long rumored Avengers movie. I think it happens to be a crossover from the latest Hulk movie, too, though I’m not positive about that. Yet.
Oh, and look for a very funny cameo by Stan Lee playing a Hugh Hefner-like character! Go Stan! Excelsior!

In short, if you’re a comic book fan or a science-fiction fan, you absolutely need to see this movie!


Waxing Philisophical

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:15 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Don’t laugh, it happens sometimes!
Lately, I’ve had a lot of externally generated chaos in my life. People doing things that they can morally justify in their own, strange view of the world. Imagined “crimes” I’ve committed against them making their own bad behavior somehow “justice”. It’s an interesting thought, really. But, I’m reminded of a quote:

“Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.”
-H.G. Wells

Interesting that a science-fiction author would come up with that one, isn’t it?
So, I find myself looking at my own behavior in light of that statement. What am I jealous of? What makes me angry and cry out for justice? Frankly, nothing that I should expect justice from as the end result. Why should I expect justice? Am I somehow so morally upright, or worse, superior, that I should expect justice when others recieve none?

“Who told you life was fair?”
-William F. Hoffman, Jr. (my father)

Funny, that now, Dad should tell me that I’m about due for something good to happen to me. And, that I should be the one to remind him that, just because I’m “due” doesn’t mean that it will happen. Hey, sometimes, life just isn’t “fair”. I don’t get my way. Sometimes, I lose. Things and people are taken away from me. I’m punished for things other people did. But, none of that is an excuse for me to behave badly.

“There is no merit in discipline under ideal circumstances. I’ll have it in the face of death, or it’s useless.”
-Issac Asimov

In the end, it is my moral duty to behave in a manner consistent with my personal belief system, no matter the circumstances. It is often painful and fills my life with uncomfortable situations, but that is no excuse. I cannot change my moral compass because I hit rough seas. A new compass will still point the way and if it doesn’t, then I’m lost.

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him:
but I will maintain mine own ways before him.”
-Job 13:15

I’ve often identified with poor, old Job. The guy got pounded at God’s acquiesence. The Enemy, which is how Satan translates from Hebrew, was given the opportunity to turn Job from God. He hit Job with everything under the Sun, but he never denounced God. Oh, just like me, he shook his fist at God and asked “Why me?!”, but he never renounced his belief. God abides, whether I choose to believe in His power or not. I only cheat myself to deny him. He sustains me through the hard times when all humans may desert me. Prayer realigns me to His presence and His purpose for me.

” From one thing, know ten thousand things. ”
-Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

So, from each “problem” I try to learn something new. About myself, about the world, or about God and His path for me. It’s not always easy and I often need help to see the lesson. That’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to my health insurance kicking back in so I can get back to seeing my therapist. We’d just gotten to a point where I was starting to learn some really interesting things about myself and then… Pop! Ah, well, from what I understand, those deep, dark secrets will still be there when I get back to seeing him. I never thought I’d feel so good about going to a therapist. Really. Of course, part of that is I’m learning how tough I am on myself. For years, I held myself to a higher standard than those around me, much to my own detriment. So, for me, learning to be gentle with myself and “ease up” on myself has been a challenge.

“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again – and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”
-Mark Twain

I try to keep that in mind as I learn to trust again. And, as I learn to be more honest, with myself and others. Honesty works both ways. First, I have to stop lying to myself, then I have to keep from lying to others. Not everyone is up to the task, and I know I wasn’t always either. But, the truth is easier than keeping track of so many lies. Much easier.

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
John 8:32


Magstripe Reading Fun

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,News and Current Events,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:13 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Ever wonder what’s on that magnetic stripe on your credit card?
Well, there are ways of finding out. Or, as they say in Wilwauke, “we have ways of making you talk”! (That’s an old joke from Boy Scout camp in Pierson, Wisconson.) Interestingly enough, a gentleman with the prestigious name “Billy Hoffman” has developed a little project called StripeSnoop that is all about getting at the information. The link first came to my attention via an article at Slashdot, so if his site is down, give it a couple of days for the “new” to wear off and the Slashdotters to get over it, then go back. Mr. Hoffman’s site has information on everything you’ll need from the software to building the hardware reader. Pretty cool!
Now, some of you may be asking, “Uh, isn’t this illegal or something?” Well, as far as I know, no, it’s not. Reproducing what you read off these magstripes would definately be illegal, but just read ing it shouldn’t be a problem. Of course, the credit card companies might not want you to know what they encode on their cards, but I doubt that it’s illegal. And, what is encoded on those cards is pretty interesting. For instance, did you know that your ATM card has your PIN encoded on it? That’s why you have to go get a new card and reassign it a PIN when you lose your old one. Now, that may have changed recently, but I doubt it since banks generally fear change. And, I have to admit, I’ve always wanted to know just what that magstripe on the back of my driver’s license has on it.
In any case, it’s an interesting project and I thought I’d post it. Oh, by the way, this project is not connected with either my father, William F. Hoffman, Jr., my brother, William F. Hoffman, III, or my eldest nephew, William Thomas Hoffman. Just thought I’d clear that up. Though, you can see why the name caught my attention!

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