Diary of a Network Geek

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

1/18/2010

Review: The Book of Eli

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:14 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent


BookOfEli

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw The Book of Eli Friday night.

Wow, this was not what I was expecting! I went in expecting this to be a straight-forward post-apocalyptic action movie, but it was a whole lot more than that.
The basic plot is pretty simple, actually.  A wanderer by the name of Eli, played by Denzel Washington, is traveling West.  He’s carrying a book, along with his sword, a bow and arrow, a gun and, in a master stroke of product placement, an iPod.  He’s a righteous man in a savage world of radiation, destruction and desperate people.  And, those most desperate of people come after him, to try and take whatever they can from him, perhaps even to take him for their stew pot.  After all, in a world where everything is scarce, meat is meat.

Eli meets several groups of people, from the barely organized savages who try to lure him in with a woman in distress to the much more dangerous roving gangs of bikers.  The savages he slices and dices, but the bike gangs turn out to be a “road crew”, of sorts, for  a much more organized nasty by the name of Carnegie, played by Gary Oldham.  Turns out, he’s looking for a book, a very special book, that he thinks can unite all the locals into a city-state of sorts.  A city-state he can franchise over and over and over again.
Eli wanders into this little dictator’s town looking to get his iPod charged up, because, you know, a war ravaged and devistated landscape is no place for a day hike without some portable tunes.  The local engineer sets him up, for a pretty good trade in pre-war goods, obviously salvaged, and sends him to the only bar in town for a drink while the iPod charges up.  That’s where things get a little dangerous and Eli takes out the road crew who he’d seen on the road.  That draws the attention of Carnegie, who “invites” Eli to stay on.  When Eli declines, Carnegie insists he stay the night to think about the offer, he sends in Solara, played by Mila Kunis, to try and convince Eli to stay.  Of course, in the end, she ends up convincing him to take her with when he leaves.

I won’t give away more of the plot, so as not to ruin the film, but you’ll quickly learn that the mysterious book that Eli carries and Carnegie wants is a Bible.  Seems after the war, they were all destroyed.  All save this one.  And Eli is the last righteous man on Earth, following God’s calling to take the book to the West where he’ll mysteriously know what to do with it and who to give it to.
And, yes, that is where the spirituality of the whole thing ties in.  Eli is the most just and upright man in a very savage and essentially Godless world, trying to follow the teachings in the Bible he carries, even as he fights for his own survival.  Carnegie represent all that is wrong and venal in a world ruled by baser politics and power and controlling the masses.  The dichotomy of these two men make most of the product placement shots rather more ironic than I think may have been intended, but, regardless, it’s a great morality story.  And, a great story for modern Christians to consider.
We, too, are in a world that is often far from “God centered” and ruled by baser ideals.  Are we going to keep God’s ways?  Are we even going to try?  Or is our religion just something we do once a week?  How faithful are we to what we believe is God’s way?  When we hear God’s voice, do we listen?
No, I don’t have the answers, nor does this movie, necessarily, but it does ask the right questions.  Or, at least, it provoked them in me.  And, yes, it was great to see a spiritual hero who was far from perfect and far from a pushover do his best in a particularly difficult place.  There comes a time, when the world is so banal and corrupt that no one else has anything more than base survival on their mind that even the smallest attempt as spirituality is huge.

In short, I loved this movie.
Sure it was pretty violent for the younger folks, but I’d encourage everyone to go see this one, even if you don’t like violence.  The themes, especially for Christians, that are brought up and snuck into your thoughts under the cover of an action film are well worth the price of admission.  Incidentally, the movie is based on a graphic novel with which I’m only vaguely familiar, and there are some fight scenes that really show the influence of that in their beauty and artistry and coreography. It’s a really well done film with top-shelf actors in it.
It’s a rarity for me, but I would see this again.  Hell, I’d even pay full price to see this one again.  It was that good.
Really, it may not have the visual impact of Avatar in IMAX 3D, but, I assure you, this is a fantastic film.

1/11/2010

Review: Daybreakers

Filed under: Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:44 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent


Daybreakers

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Daybreakers on Friday.

I’ve been looking forward to this one since I heard about it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a vampire movie, but for adults, not romance-starved, middle-aged women and their daughters. Secondly, because it seemed to deal with a problem I thought would have come up if vampirism actually existed, namely, an overabundance of blood-suckers and not enough blood to go around.

So, right, on the first thing, here’s the deal. Vampires are monsters, right? Not walking sexual fantasies. They should be monsters, not the homo-erotic metro-sexuals that Anne Rice made them into. And, in this movie, they are, in fact, monsters. Really, in a way, they maybe more monstrous because they’ve become the mainstream. They’ve become the giant corporation literally bleeding people dry to make a profit! And, because of the rating, we see the blood. No sparkly chests here, just blood-suckers. In fact, since so many humans have turned and become vampires, they’re starving themselves to death, as a society. And, as vampires starve, they become even more horrible. In their hunger, they even turn on their own kind.

And, that’s the second part…
So, being a vampire is pretty attractive, right? I mean, virtually eternal life, strong, disease free and the ultimate predator. Pretty cool. Sure, there are some drawbacks, like bursting into flames in direct sunlight and having to drink human blood, but, still, pretty awesome. With all that going on, I always figured most people would want to be turned. So does this movie.
The problem is, in less than ten years, since the vampirism “disease” first showed up, almost all the humans have turned, and that means there’s not enough blood to go around.
Enter, Ethan Hawke’s character. He’s a hemotologist working for the company who farms the existing humans out for vampire food. And, he’s working on an artificial blood “substitute” so that vampires won’t have to feed on humans any more. He thinks he’s looking for a cure, but his boss, played by Sam Neil, figures he’s just looking for a product to sell to the poorer vampires who are starving.

Well, through a car accident, he meets some “free range” humans, who have been hiding from the vampire army out to find them and farm them. Because, he’s a reluctant vampire, he helps them hide from the vampire police. They get away, but come back to his house in a few days and try to get him to help them find a cure. When he agrees, he meets Wilem Defoe’s character who is a vampire that somehow, spontaneously cheats death by sunlight to become human again.
They work together and find a cure, of sorts, which allows Hawke’s character to revert to being human. Then, they go about changing the world.
But, to tell you more would ruin the film,so I’ll stop giving away any plot here.

Mostly, this was a good film.
It was a kind of ironic action film with a horror flavor to it, but not over-the-top gory. Yes, there were the exploding vampires, and, yes, it does start with what seems to be a teen-aged girl vampire committing suicide in the sun, but, really, for all that, it wasn’t all that gory. It was pretty non-stop, though, for at least the first two thirds of the movie. It picks up again near the end, but it ends really, really poorly.
Actually, if not for the incredibly weak-ass ending, I’d have given this a fantastic review, but, well, as it is, the ending damn near ruins the film. Unless you’re a huge fan of vampire movies, or someone in the film, I’d recommend waiting until this one was on DVD before seeing it. Really.

It was a clever premise and a pretty cool cast, but the ending was so weak that I just can’t suggest that you all see this movie in the theaters. It’s good, but, honestly, it’s only worth, maybe, seeing at a matinee. That really is how weak and disappointing the ending was for me. It’s sad, really, because until the ending, it really was a pretty clever little film.

11/3/2009

Review: Paranormal Activity

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:34 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


ParanormalActivities

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Paranormal Activity Friday.

So, you might have noticed that I haven’t reviewed many movies in the past couple weeks. Well, I’ve been busy. Stop laughing!
Anyway, I wanted to hit a movie and even though it’s not my kind of film normally, a friend convinced me to go see Paranormal Activity. Now, I didn’t find it scary. That’s not why I don’t generally care for these kinds of movies. No, rather, it’s because I’m generally two or three steps ahead in the plot. So, when most people are getting scared, I’m nodding, or adjusting my internal predictions of how things are going to go. And, yes, I do keep that all inside so that I’m not ruining the movie for anyone else with me. I’m not rude. But, I’m also not often wrong when it comes to the plots of movies like this.

I will say this, I actually liked this film.
I liked that it was made on a shoestring budget and still had some pretty decent effects that the actors sold really well. I liked the little tricks they did by filming with a single camera from the point of view of footage recorded by the participants in the film. Sure, it limited them in both scope and certain aspects of cinematography, but as a concept it worked well, especially in this particular scenario.
The basic plot is simple; a couple are being “haunted” and they try to get to the bottom of it with a video camera. As it turns out, she is the one being haunted, not the house or land. The “ghost” follows her and becomes more and more aggressive as she and her fiance try to capture it on film and then also try to enlist a medium to get rid of it. Those attempts fail, incidentally, but that’s only early on in the film. After that, things get much, much worse.

Now, as per usual, I won’t give away too much of the plot here, but eventually we do see a ouija board, sleep walking, and footprints made by an invisible creature. Not to mention all the strange sounds and odd, little camera effects that go on. The director does a fantastic job building up the suspense until the final confrontation with the angry spirit.
There were, for me, few surprises. All I can say is go see the movie and pay close attention to all the hints and you’ll see most of this coming, too. But, I promise you’ll still get a surprise at the end, just like I did.

If you like scary movies, or even if you’re just not scared by them and want to check one out, hit this movie. This really is the sleeper hit of the season. It’s not gory and really not overly violent, though there is violence in the film. It does drag a little in the early stages, but once the momentum starts to build, it just keeps building until things explode!.
Well worth seeing before it gets squeezed out of the theaters by the more “feel good” holiday films. Paranormal Activity is certainly one of the best films of the year.
Go see it!

10/22/2009

Review: The Dip

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:34 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

No, not a movie review, but a book review.

So, I’ve been reading more lately, which is great.  And, I’ve been doing my best to read fiction and non-fiction.
Sadly, I haven’t been quite able to review it all, thanks to a brutal personal schedule that often has me out late several days in a row, just to try and squeeze in all the work and personal things to make me feel less alone.  So, while I intended to review this over the weekend, I’m just getting to it now.

In any case, I got The Dip by Seth Godin some time ago and read it just recently.  I got it because I wanted to read a book by the famous Seth Godin and, frankly, this one was the shortest.  No, seriously, I wanted to get one of his books, because I’d read about him, but I didn’t want a huge investment in either money or time.  This book fit the bill.
But, also, it turned out to be good timing for me.  In a way, The Dip is an inspirational book, a book about the power of positive thinking.  It’s certainly a motivational book and would fall under the broad category of “self-help books”, in my opinion.

The premise is simple, really.  Godin says that effort in any worth endeavor, espcially those in the business world, has a curve.  Sort of like a learning curve, but it goes deeper than that.  The curve, which he calls the Dip, is what separates those who are successful and those who aren’t.
When we start something new, whether it’s a new business or a new hobby, we throw a bit of effort into it and we see some small results.  At first, a very little effort produces significant improvements and results.  But, eventually every endeavor hits a point where added efforts produce fewer or no apparent changes in skill or improvement of any kind.  This is the Dip.  Many people quit here and don’t push through the Dip to get to the rest of the curve where additional efforts produce increasing results and result in mastery, eventually getting to a very high-level of performance.  The problem is, we start many, many things and can’t possibly pursue them all through the Dip and on to mastery.  Also, we don’t always have the skill, resources or simple ability to follow through sometimes, but we chase after these things anyway, thus wasting precious time and effort on things that won’t pan out, leaving us not enough time and resources to pour into the few things we might truly follow through the Dip into mastery.

On the one hand, it’s inspirational to realize that if I manage to stay faithful to the things I really find enjoyable and worth pursueing to their end, I might make it through that inevitable slump that everyone always hits.  If I can maintain my enthusiasm when things seem to be all working against me or keeping me from moving from dabbling hobbiest to skilled practitioner.  For instance, it gives me hope that my photography will hit that level where I suddenly start getting it and start seeing better and better photographs.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m on the cusp of that already.  An example of how the Dip works, for instance, is the 365 Days project on Flickr.  The goal is to take a self-portrait every day for one year.  Most people hit a creativity wall at three months or less.  Many bail out at that point, and, in fact, I almost did myself.  But some carry on through the slump, fighting the urge to just throw in the towel, waiting for the creativity to spark again.  Even then, some of us never get that creative spark back and our photographs never improve or we drop out later, midway into the Dip itself.  Quitting in the middle of the Dip, incidentally, is something Godin warns about.  Better to quit sooner, and not waste the resources to get further along only to quite later.  Or, better still, to perservere and make it through the Dip to the other side, thus achieving a new level of skill and competence.  I haven’t given up on my 365 Days Project yet, so I’m hoping I’m not the only one who’s seen improvements in my photographs.
And, The Dip also helped me realize that I need to waste less time on things that I know I won’t follow through on and drain my resources, thusly preventing me from pouring more effort into the things I really want to do well.  Now, I’m having to look at what I’m going to “quit” to make room for more effort for my photography and my writing.  I’m a little afraid that it will be sleep I give up to make room!  But, no matter, this book pointed out some deficiencies in how and where I spend my effort.
That needs to change.

I have to admit, I was skeptical about the hype associated with Seth Godin.  I mean, how good and brilliant can one man be, especially when it comes to sounding off about business and management?  But, this book really helped me see some of what’s been going wrong in my life much more clearly.
It’s already motivated me to workout more and more regularly, in an effort to improve my over-all health and appearance.  And, it’s provided considerable encouragement to keep working at my photography.  So, for those two things alone, it was worth getting.
I recommend The Dip for anyone who feels “stuck” or frustrated that they’re not moving ahead in their personal projects.  I’m sure it’s great for business, too, but I got plenty out of it for myself.
I think you will, too.  Trust me, it really is worth the read.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The spirit , the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur."
   --Vince Lombardi

10/21/2009

Review: Law Abiding Citizen

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:43 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent


LawAbidingCitizen

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Law Abiding Citizen Friday night.

This was a fantastic movie.
No, really, I think this may have been one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen.  I was actually surprised at several points in the movie, which, frankly, is unusual for me, especially when it comes to action-thrillers.  The movie stars Gerard Butler as a father who watches his wife raped and murdered in front of his face and hears his five or six-year-old daughter murdered, while he lies stunned, helpless and potentially bleeding to death.  Only, he survives and lives to see the Assistant District Attorney, played by Jamie Foxx, make a deal with the worst of the killers to plead to a lesser charge to testify against his partner, who gets the death penalty.  Obviously, Bulter’s character is less than pleased  about this deal and he vows revenge.

The movie flashes forward ten years, to the day of the execution.  What was supposed to be a painless, humane solution to a violent problem turns into a very violent solution, much to the surprise of the audience of witnesses which include the Assistant District Attorney team who put him there.
Then, while they’re still trying to figure out what happened and why, someone goes after the second killer, the one who made the deal and put the other killer on death row, even though he was, in fact, the more evil of the two men.  The vigilante turns out to be Butler’s character, who incapacitates the killer and dismembers him in the most gruesome ways imaginable, videoing the whole thing.
And that’s just the first thirty minutes or so of the movie.  Yeah.  That was kind of my reaction, too. Damn.

So, here’s the thing, if you can make it through the amazingly brutal, psychologically damaging first half-hour of this movie, the pay-offs are fantastic.  Explosions, high-level plotting and scheming, spies, remote-controled weaponized bomb disposal robots, you name it, it’s in this movie.
Butler’s character is a military genius, inventor, and engine of destruction who references Carl von Clausewitz, if you can wrap your head around that.  And, he’s in amazing physical condition, too.  He fights a war of brutally personal scope, announcing that he will take revenge for what he lost, who he lost, by destroying the system which allowed a deal to be made giving any kind of leniency to the killers of women and children.  He claims that he’s fighting “total war, like Clausewitz describes.  He’s unrelenting and you find yourself rooting for him, even though, at best, he’s the darkest of dark heroes.

And, of course, I’ll stop giving away the plot now, but trust me when I tell you; see this movie.
If you’re a fan of Gerard Butler or Jamie Foxx, they both play great parts in this movie.  Both play complicated, multi-layered characters with deep backgrounds and are finely detailed.  The scripting is good for everyone, but they have the best dialog between the two of them.
The cinematography is pretty impressive, too.  The close-up shots of a very intense Foxx and equally firey Butler fill the screen and capture your attention in a way that’s hard to describe.  It’s very well done and in a style unlike anything I recall seeing before.  The rest of the movie is just as visually stunning, each shot highlighting the action in that scene.  Brilliantly done.

I won’t tell you how it ends, or even if the ending is happy.  It is, I promise, satisfying.
And, I assure you, this is a movie well worth seeing.  Go.  Now.

10/7/2009

Full Disclosure

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — 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 Waning Gibbous

The FTC has some new rules for bloggers.

Okay, they haven’t taken effect yet, but, they will soon enough. The new rule is, basically, that bloggers now have to make any paid endorsements or reviews clear, or clearer, at any rate, so that people reading their review know that they got something for it, even if it’s just the product itself. Which, frankly, only seems fair.

Now, you all know I review stuff here all the time; movies, books, applications, and other stuff I use. But, know this, I have never, ever been paid to review anything here, nor would I accept payment for reviews unless it was the sale of an article to a magazine or newspaper. I certainly would never review something for someone who paid me to give their product a good review. Even if I happened to agree that their product was the best, accepting money for that review would bias me.

So, you konw, when I tell you a movie sucks, I mean it!

10/6/2009

Review: Pandorum

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:38 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


Pandorum

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Pandorum Sunday morning.

It was okay, but nothing fantastic, frankly, or overly surprising.
The premise is simple enough; a flight crew wakes up from an extended hypersleep on an enormous spacecraft that seems to be either abandoned or damaged, but they don’t know what or why and no one is there to tell them what’s going on.

But, of course, it’s more complicated than just firing up the computer and reading the ship’s log.  The power is out, mostly, except for power surges that are almost more trouble than the lack of power that seems to be the rule.  The flight crew is missing one person and suffering from a kind of temporary amnesia caused by the extended hypersleep, but things start to come back to them quickly.  The officer of the team, a Leutenant played by Dennis Quaid, gets enough emergency power routed to the local workstation to discover that the ship’s reactor is going to overload, or rather, it’s going into emergency shutdown before it does actually overload.  The Corporal, played by Ben Foster, just happens to have remembered that he knows how to restart the reactor and save the ship and everyone on it.  All he needs to do is get to it, which means getting past a whole lot of bulkhead doors effectively locked due to the power fluctuations.  Naturally, that means he’s going to have to crawl through a whole lot of very strange, ooky ducts that lead to a lot of eerie, drippy, abandoned corridors.

The thing is, as huge as the ship is, most of the crew and passengers aren’t there or awake.  And, while wandering the corridors, looking for a way to the reactor, the Corporal remembers that they’re a colony ship, sent to create a new Earth on a very distant planet.  A one-way trip meant to off-load a significant portion of the population of an over-stressed, worn-out, abused Earth and give humanity a new start.  Which makes it even more confusing that they seem to be all alone.
Only, it turns out, they’re not alone.  Something else is there.  Something human-like, but more animal.  Something that hunts in packs and seems to know the ship quite well.  Something that’s hunted the other flight crews down for food.  And, at least some of the colonists, too, as it turns out.
The Corporal runs into two colonists, each involved in life-sciences of one kind or another, who have learned to live in the dark, corroded ship, hiding from the alien things who have made it their hunting ground.

Well, that’s the basics of the movie.
It’s not a bad premise for a story, actually.  In fact, in one form or another, it’s been used in science-fiction for many years.  It was even the basis of at least one sci-fi role-playing game.  This movie handles the topic quite well, I think.  It produces a fairly realistic set of circumstances, if it’s possible to create a “realistic” setting in a science-fiction setting.  Then, it puts reasonable people in that setting and applies pressure.  I think that is the essence of a good story, whether in a movie or a book.  People are at their most interesting when they’re under significant pressure, when they’re given a chance to show their true character.
The sets are very much like the sets we saw in Alien, and many, many times since.  It’s nothing particularly new anymore, but I think Pandorum does it better than I’ve seen since the Alien movies, so it was fine and not over-done at all.  It is a dark movie, in both the cinematography and the theme are dark.  The sets are mostly in shadow and odd emergency lighting, reinforcing the idea that no one knows what’s going on and what dangers might be lurking just off screen.  And, of course, the idea that an entire ship of people, an entire colony, might be lost at any moment and the possibility that something sinister already has happened to them are themes that are ever-present and weigh heavily on both the characters and the audience.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good science-fiction horror movie, but I have to say, Pandorum was that.  It wasn’t great, but it was good.  It’s hard not to compare it to Alien, since that was the first true sci-fi horror movie I ever saw.  But, it’s no where near as good as Alien.  Still, Pandorum is worth seeing on the big screen if you like scary, tense science-fiction films.  And, I did enjoy it.

10/4/2009

Review: FoodScanner and DailyBurn

Filed under: Adventures with iPods,By Bread Alone,Fun,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Review,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:47 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon
IMG_0088
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Yeah, so now I’m reviewing iPhone apps.

One aspect of my personal life that probably doesn’t come through that much on this blog is how concerned I am about health and, specifically, my weight. Now, some of this may come from having been married to a self-diagnosed anorexic, but, mostly, it goes further back than that.  In any case, weight and general health have always been a concern for me, but even more so since surviving cancer.  So, I know from all the health magazines I read that one of the greatest tools for weight loss is tracking caloric intake.  I had been doing this via a Moleskine, but I always had to look up the calories in a book or on a website or something.  It was just challenging enough to make me want to quit.  So, naturally, when I got an iPhone, I went looking for an app that let me do record my intake that way.  Enter FoodScanner.

Not only does this fantastic app have seemingly endless lists of food, including many popular restaurant menus, but you can scan the barcode on the package and it will automagically find the food and all the nutrition information for it.  But, wait!  If that’s not in the database yet, you can add it in manually and link the barcode yourself!  How cool is that!  Seriously, I love this thing.  It’s made it so much easier to track my calories I can’t believe I ever lived without it.  And, at $0.99 it’s a real bargain, especially if you want to work on consuming less to lose weight.  Fantastic!

IMG_0089
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Now, as cool as FoodScanner is, what’s even cooler is the free app that goes with it called DailyBurn.  To get the full functionality, it does require that you setup a free account with their service, but, trust me, it’s totally worth it.  Once you’ve setup your free account, DailyBurn will get the calorie and nutrition information you put in with FoodScanner and use that, so you don’t have to enter it twice.

Now, as you’ll notice from the screen shot to the right, the default screen on DailyBurn shows you your caloric intake, what you’ve burned via work outs, and your current and goal weight.  There’s also a tracker to show if you’ve met your workout and nutritional goals, which I’ll mention later.  This page, as you might have guessed from the title “Today’s Stats”, is updated daily, which they define as 12:00AM to 12:00AM.

Notice, though, that the Nutrition indicator only shows when you’ve met all your “goals”, which, frankly, aren’t quite my actual goals.  For one thing, I want to keep my calorie consumption below what they have as a goal, so as to lose weight.  Also, notice the “Upgrade to Pro” link.  That takes you to a sign-up screen for a monthly membership, which I didn’t want to get roped into paying.  Not sure what the upgrades are, actually, but one presumes additional control over goals and additional exercises and other options.

IMG_0090
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

On the screenshot to the left, of this paragraph, you can see the “Body Tracker” page.  Here you can track any number of physical characteristics including weight, waist size, body fat, resting heart rate, arm size and many more.  Frankly, it’s got all the recording features of any big program that you could want.  Also, if you upgrade your free account, which I have not done, to a “Pro” account, there are even more things you can track, like sleep levels.

I like having the chart to see how well, or poorly, I’ve been doing over time.  Sure, maybe it’s a little bit over-kill, but, I’ll be honest, I love charts and graphs and stats.  My favorite page on my Flickr account is the stats page.  It’s true; I’m a stat whore.  So, yes, this feature appeals to me.  Your mileage may vary.

Also, like I mentioned, I didn’t want to get started paying a monthly fee for something I may not continue to use in the long-term, so there may be additional features here that are worth having.  Not sure.   Right now, I’m just a rookie fitness nut, so my health isn’t worth a monthly fee for those kind of intangibles.  Heck, I don’t even pay for a gym membership yet!  So, that may be something worth checking out for you super-hyper fitness nuts.

IMG_0091
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

The next page I seem to hit a lot is the “Workouts” page. Granted, I’ve probably worked out more since I got this app than I have in the past month, but, still, if it’s working, then that’s all that matters.

Now, one of the things I don’t like is that the exercises it DailyBurn measures are somewhat limited.  And, you can’t enter anything new.  So, if, for instance, you were to get exercises out of Men’s Health and knew the caloric expenditure, there’s no way to enter that in.  Now, I assume that buying the “pro” version of this, which is actually a membership and not a one-time payment, you might be able to add more exercises or have a larger selection, but, frankly, I get close enough that it’s not worth it to me to pay a monthly fee for that kind of “upgrade”.

I should also note, however, that I haven’t looked into the “My Workouts” section too much, but it looked like it had promise.  It gave you workouts to achieve certain goals, like Fat Loss and Strength Building and so on.  Under each section, there are several workouts designed to help you with that particular goal.  Kind of like a personal trainer in an iPhone app.  (Though, I prefer the Men’s Health app for those kind of things to the ones I saw in DailyBurn.)  The last section is essentially a workout log that shows all the sets you’ve done and how much weight you lifted on each set.  The only problem is, it only shows today’s workout, not any previous day.  It like this to show a chart of progress, not unlike the body goals charts shown above.  But, again, I’m sort of a stat whore, so take that for what you will.

IMG_0092
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Now, what I think is the best thing about DailyBurn, next to showing me how little I burn off with my wimpy home workout, is the “Nutrition” screen.  I specifically chose the screen at the left because it showed several things I want to highlight.  This is not what I hope a “typical” day is for me.  Or, at least, not what I hope a typical day will be for me going forward.

In any case, you can see that it shows you your consumption levels and whether or not you’ve met your “goals” for the day.  Goals not met are shown in blue.  Goals that are in the “good” range, or met, but not exceeded are in green.  And, finally, goals that have been exceeded are in red.  You can see that I was a bad, bad boy on the day used as an example.  Also, since I’m trying to lose weight, I’m doing my best to keep my caloric intake between 1500 and 1900 calories.  My goal here is to burn more calories than I actually need so as to shed some poundage.

Now, again, I’m a total stat geek when it comes to this stuff, so I love see all this.  Also, in just the few weeks that I’ve been using these two programs, I’ve learned some very valuable lessons.  For one thing, I need to work out more.  My little, tiny workout in the morning doesn’t even burn off breakfast most days!  Not acceptable!  So, I need to adjust that.  Also, I noticed that I’m not getting anywhere near enough protein while consuming way too many carbs and, obviously, more than enough fat, too.  So, I need to adjust my diet as well as step up my exercise program.  But, it took getting good information to do it.

For the couple of bucks it cost me to get FoodScanner and the free version of DailyBurn, I’ve gotten a lot of valuable information and awareness of what I need to change and improve in my personal health and nutrition plan.  Well worth the small change I paid.

9/30/2009

Review: Surrogates

Filed under: Fun,Movies,News and Current Events,Personal,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 9:13 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous


Surrogates

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I know, I’m late with my review of this and I didn’t post anything at all on Monday.

What can I tell you? It’s just been that kind of week! I suppose that I should be grateful that I have my iPhone to so I can, uh, “phone this one in” via the WordPress beta app.
Anyway, I saw Surrogates this past Friday. I liked this movie a lot. Now, I doubt it will be lauded as a great movie, nor will it do fantastically well at the box office, but I liked this movie better than Gamer, which covers some of the same intellectual ground. Surrogates is an action flick, too, but not to the same degree and, more importantly to me, Surrogates focused more on the social implications of the technology and less on the tawdry, flashy sex.

Surrogates stars Bruce Willis as an FBI agent in a world where virtually everyone has a “surrogate”, or remote-controlled robot, with which they interact with the world. The idea behind that is that the surrogate can’t die or be permanently damaged the way a human, or “user”, can. The problem is someone has found a weapon that can send some kind of feedback signal through the surrogate that will killthe user. Willis’ character is called in to investigate just such a crime and what might be the first murder since the invention of surrogates. The bigger problem is that the murder victim is the son of the man who invented surrogates.
The chief suspect is a “meat bag”, as people without surrogates are known. And, he was apparently used by an anti-surrogate extremist group called the “Dreads”, who are led by a dreadlocked Ving Rhames. So, now, not only does Willis’ character have to solve the first murder since the invention of surrogates, but has to figure out who made this “impossible” weapon, how, and, most importantly of all, why.  Add to this the fact that Willis’ character isn’t overly fond of surrogates to begin with, since his wife is using it as a way to hide from him emotionally as she tries to forget that they had a child who died.

But, like I said, this is an action film, so there is plenty of action.  A car chase with a helicopter that ends poorly and results in Willis’ character not being able to use his surrogate.  Being forced into the real world has some strange effects on people not used to it, or so it would seem from the level of anxiety he displays.  And, who can blame them for wanting to be in their surrogates all the time?  The surrogates are perfect.  Perfect bodies, perfect faces and, all but Willis’ have perfect hair.  And, these things are virtually indestructable.  So, that’s why it’s so important that they find out who’s killing people through their surrogates.
Willis’ character does find out, incidentally, but that’s far from the end of the story.  You’ll have to see it to understand and I’m not going to ruin it.

One thing to know, though, is that the action isn’t quite as good as Gamer, but the nasty, shock-value-only sex is virtually not present.  Also, I think they explored some of the social relevance of the surrogate phenomina better than those same aspects were explored in Gamer.
Definitely worth seeing this movie, but if you’re not a fan of science-fiction, you’d better hit this in a matinee.  Still worth seeing, though.

9/25/2009

Review: The Informant, Nine and Extract

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 12:35 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon


TheInformantAndNineAndExtract

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw a bunch of movies in the past two weeks.

I know I see a lot of movies, but, until I got behind on my reviews, I didn’t realize just how many!
So, these will be three short, quick reviews to help me catch up, also they’re being written on the WordPress iPhone app, which encourages brevity. I’ll review them in the order I saw them.

First up is Extract, which is a Mike Judge film. He’s the guy who did Office Space and if you liked that you’ll like this one, too. This time, the “hardluck hero” isn’t a front-line worker, but management. In fact, he’s the owner of a small factory that creates extracts, like almond extract and other flavorings. Now, this might not seem like a funny setup, but, trust me, it is. Judge manages to find the hilarity in an over-worked, under-sexed small-business owner, trapped in an unhappy marriage and disenchanted with his own creation, played by Jason Bateman. He struggles with all the problems attendant to an entreprenuerial business, but manages well enough. Until, that is, there’s a freak accident in the factory that partially emasculates one of his star employees. That alone wouldn’t be a problem, actually, but it draws the attention of a sexy grifter played by Mila Kunis. She conivces the “victim” to sue, setting off a chain of events that are not only tragic and hilarious, but also so incredibly believable that you never question how outrageous they are or the reactions to them.
Trust me when I tell you this will be a cult hit just like Office Space was. I laughed out loud so often my sides hurt by the end of the movie. Oh, and Gene Simmons as the ambulance-chasing, shyster lawyer is too funny for words! Watch for his ad in the background because when he does it in Spanish you’ll have a hard time controlling you bladder. Very funny film and, if it’s not too late, a must see.

Last week Friday, I saw The Informant, starring Matt Damon. Now, you might not expect that an action star like him could do comedy, but he really pulls it off.
Now, this movie is an entirely different kind of funny than Extract. It’s still funny, but as much in that over-the-top sort of way. It’s a dryer sort of comedy, almost British in where it gets its laughs. I doubt it will do as well as other comedies this season for that reason, but I found it very funny. Also, this movie is based on a book which is in turn based on actual events. In. nutshell, Damon stars as an exec at ADM, a corn conglomerate, who gets into a tight spot and does some lying to get out of it. The only problem is, those lies bring in the FBI who need to be distracted. So, in an effort to save his own skin, he rats out the company on a huge price-fixing scheme and ends up being an FBI under cover informant for almost three years. Of course, during that time he also embezzeled more than 9 million dollars and never seemed to tell anyone the while truth, not even his wife, not even himself.
Damon is clever and likeable, in a kind of nerdy way, as the obviously not quite right Mark Whitmore, who still thinks he can steal from the company, become the next president after the old management team is out, and inform for the government at the same time. The really funny thing is that he manages to pull it off for three years before things really start to unravel. And, this movie is more than just laughs. You see a guy under incredible stress trying to maintain his sanity, world-view and family image while betraying those very same things. Near the end, Damon has some truly poignant moments where the frayed edges of his assorted lives and realities begin to show through. I really liked this film, but I doubt most people would. I honestly don’t see it doing well in the theaters or in rental, but I really enjoyed the surprsing subtlties in this movie. Damon turns in a fantastic performance that I suspect will go largely unnoticed by the public. If you’re a Matt Damon fan, definitely rent this one.

The last film I saw last weekend was Nine. Nine is a pretty adult animation film. The story follows Nine, a magically created living puppet in a post-apocalyptic world. He wakes not knowing who he is or why he was made and not even having a voice. Nine quickly explores his world, however, and meets more of his kind, one of whom helps him find a voice, literally. When that other “person” is taken by some malevolent machine, Nine tries to convice his newly found brethren that they need to go and rescue their missing member. Much of the film is spent in that sort of activity, either convincing older “people” who are afraid of losing thei power to change, or off fighting technology that has no soul.
And, that is one of the major themes of this movie; fighting the soul-less technological world. In a sense, this movie is all about heart, but it’s also an action film of sorts. And it was animated. Actually, it was animated very well, so that’s a point in its favor.
I’d recommend this film for anyone who’s either a sci-fi fan or an animation fan, but it’s not for the kids. Way more grown up than that. But, even though I liked it quite a bit, I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea.

So, to sum up, go see Extract quickly, rent The Informant, and see Nine if you love sci-fi or animation or both, otherwise just rent this one, too. But, for the record, I enjoyed all three films.

Oh, and just so you know, this was meant to be posted yesterday morning and would have been the fifth consecutive post written primarily with the WordPress iPhone app beta. Outside of a problem uploading pictures, the beta app is working very well.
More movies this weekend, so, more reviews coming, though, they may not all be via the iPhone.

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