Thursday, June 28, 2007

DVD Reviews - Bridge to Terabithia

This show was branded as a children's version of Lord of the Rings. OH MY GOD!!!, all those advertising shills should be drawn and quartered. This show is NOTHING like a children's version of Lord of the Rings.

In fact the fantasy portions of the movie only account for less than 20% of the movie. Even worse is that it’s not even a real fantasy world. All the magical creatures are actually the imaginations of 2 kids.

*** Spoilers ***

The show is about an average boy who's not too popular and gets bullied at school. Then comes along a girl who moved into the house next door to him and they befriend each other. The girl has a very lively imagination infects him with it as well. That's where the fantasy part comes in. They cross a small ravine into the nearby forest and their using their imagination they create a fantasy world called Terabithia.

More drama ensues with the boy bring a talented artist but coming from a very blue collar family he's misunderstood. Then one day his teacher seeing his potential takes him on a trip to a museum (something he's never done before). The girl decides to go to their fantasy kingdom alone and.... its been raining heavily. She does not make it across the ravine.

That's right folks, she dies. The boy comes back home from his museum trip and now feels guilt for not being with her. The remaining 20 mins of the show is all about him accepting her death.

Uh huh. That's right this is SOOOOOOOOO much like My Girl where Macaulay Culkin dies.
Some dumb ass in advertising decided that just because there's a few scenes with trolls and such that it should be labeled a children's version of Lord of the Rings. The result? This show was marketed to the wrong target audience. Even worse is that because what people were expecting was so dramatically different from what they actually got, it leave the viewer VERY unsatisfied.

All that said, it is well made and acted but because I was expecting a completely different kind of show, I was very pissed with the whole movie. I give this a 3/5.

DVD Reviews - Ghost Rider

I used to read Ghost Rider comics way back in my childhood, but he was never a favorite character of mine so this film didn't do much to fire my interest. Even worse was that Nicholas Cage was picked for the part of Ghost Rider, and while I do admit that he's a good actor, he's never struck me as an action hero.

The film itself was fair, but biggest problem I had with it was the pacing. Ghost Rider runs about 2 hours and should have been cut down to 90 mins because there were some scenes where you wished they would just hurry the story along.

Another issue with the film was Nicholas Cage. He's proven that he can act, hell he's even got an academy award for Leaving Las Vegas. Its just too bad that his acting on this show sucked! They should have gone with a much younger Ghost Rider and scripted a more action packed flick. If you're skeptical about his acting sucking on this film, just fast forward to the final showdown he has with Blackheart (the Devil's son). He gives a short speech just before he wastes Blackheart. The memory of the speech he gives is PAINFUL to even recall, I've seen many B grade actors give a more convincing speech.

My vote is if you're not terribly interested in this movie to skip it. And if you're only looking for a B grade action flick then this might be the rental for you. I give this movie a 3/5.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Beef Sukiyaki

I love buying this dish from the local Japanese Sushi shop in downtown Minneapolis. The beef is always so so so tender and its slightly sweet, so good with the sticky rice.

I used this recipe on Food Network with some modifications. I skipped the greens and noodles, I really only wanted the beef over rice. I also didn't use any sugar, instead I used more mirin sauce and let it reduce. For the rice, I find that a 50/50 mix of glutinous rice and jasmine rice works best. It retains the sticky-ness while absorbing all that delicious gravy.

The biggest problem with this recipe is slicing the beef. It has to be paper thin to retain that tenderness. I did my best and it turned out ok but getting the beef paper thin would make a whole world of difference.

Friday, June 22, 2007

10 Years in the WorkForce

Roughly 10 years ago (June 15 1997), I started my 1st day at work in my current profession, programming.

I had just graduated from college, and had spent the month after graduation on a tour of the US with my mother and sister. Incidentally, I believe that it was also the time when my sister was still single, part of the trip was looking for a wedding dress for her.

10 years (and some days) later, my sister now has 2 children, the oldest is now 9. I'm more financially stable and I'd like to believe more mature and confident. I own a house, I'm driving my second car (that I paid for all my own), and I have 2 pets (hamsters).

Now in my mid 30's, I guess I've had thoughts of a mid-life crisis. Mostly related to my job. I don't enjoy my job, the best part about it is that because I move about every few months to a year, it helps keep things fresh, but I'm not truly motivated or interested in it. I've thought about changing careers but then reality hits me and ... I find myself unwilling to give up the financial stability I have. So I compensate by buying stuff.

Thankfully my interest runs to books, DVDs and games so its not much of a drain on my resources, but for the past year I've gotten into the habit of making at least one purchase from amazon - currently I average about 2 items a week, sometimes as much as 6 items. Worst part of all this buying is that I now have stacks of books that I've yet to read, DVD's that I've yet to watch and games which I've only played a handful of hours.

Other mid-life crisis thoughts include wanting to do some volunteer work, expanding my social circle which is really really right now and I've even thought about going back to school. None of which I've actually done because I'm a lazy bastard.

All in all, I'd say my 10 years since college have been, uneventful and ordinary, and my achievements modest. Mostly by choice. I might not be a captain of industry or become wildy famous or successful but.... it could have turned out a heck of a lot worse then being ... content.

And that's always been my goal from day 1. To be content.

Ah well, if anyone has any advice for me for the next 10 years, let me know. Till then, I'm marking my 10 year anniversary in the workforce by making yet another purchase on amazon and making a new 5 and 10 year life plan.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Microsoft Surface

Watch this video. It's Microsoft's hit against Apple, but you know what? I like this vision of Microsoft Table. It looks really fun and practical. $10k? Hmmmm, if it provides all the functions of a PC and interactive software and so much more, this might be the must have item of 2020.

Movie Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I liked the original Fantastic Four movie despite the terrible reviews for it. The only thing I found fault with the movie was that the final battle with Dr. Doom was way too short.

The sequel however did not disappoint. Its still getting bad reviews but this time round more people are liking the movie. For me I loved Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Come on, The Silver Surfer ? Even if you don't know who he is, he looks damn cool on screen.

Moreover the 4 heroes now have a closer bond and it shows on screen, they are more comfortable in their roles and the banter is fun. Make no mistake though, unlike other superhero films like Batman, Superman and Spiderman, the Fantastic Four series is not about realism or deep emotions. Its chock full of tongue in cheek humor, playful banter, awesome action scenes and is just plain fun to watch.
Think of it as appealing to the 12 year old child you were and reading Fantastic Four comics. I loved the movie and highly recommend it as 90 mins of brainless fun. I give this show a 4/5.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Costco Surf and Turf

Costco sells ready to eat food as well as the kind that only require some oven time. I got some mushroom steaks that only took 15 mins in the oven and chilled shrimp. A wonderful surf and turf with no fuss, costs about the same as any restaurant but with 3 times the food.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Movie Reviews - Ocean's Thirteen

I can't believe that its been about 4 months since I've watched a movie. The last movie I watched was "Because I said So" way back in February. But then again there really has not been all that much to watch at the theaters.

Still it looks like the summer is getting off to a good start. Eins watched Ocean's Thirteen and convinced me to give it a try. Boy was I happy I did. If you've never seen the other 2 shows in the series, do yourself a favor and rent them before watching Ocean's Thirteen, you just won't get the enjoyment of the show without the previous background story.

The whole cast aside from Zeta and Julia are back, and this time they have a score to settle with Al Pacino for backstabbing one of their own. And so the fun starts. Al Pacino's character is the dirty but very successful hotel CEO and of course is building a new hotel in Vegas. He screws Elliott Gould over and Elliott suffers a heart attack. The rest of the group band together and out of loyalty start planning and plotting Al Pacino's downfall Heck, even Andy Garcia get's back in the action. I won't spoil the detail of the heist but like the previous shows, its super great fun. And best of all its 2 hours of non stop action and you don't have time to worry about your butt hurting.

This is one movie where sequels are a pleasure, and I hope there are plans for an Ocean's Fourtheen. I rate this one a 5/5.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

DVD Reviews - The Fountain

Three stories - one each from the past, present, and future - about men in pursuit of eternal life. A conquistador in Mayan country searches for the tree of life to free his captive queen; a medical researcher, working with tree sap, looks for a cure that will save his dying wife; a space traveler, traveling with an aged tree within a bubble, moves toward a dying star that's wrapped in a nebula; he's seeks enlightenment. The stories intersect; the quests fail and succeed.

If you're unsure about renting this movie, I don't blame you. Reviews for it were either super amazing or simply terrible. The reason for this is the director Darren Aronofsky. If the name is unfamiliar to you, don't worry he's not 'that' famous. But he did direct a film called PI. The less said about that movie the better, at least in my opinion. Simply put, he's an arty kind of director. One of those non-mainstream people who makes critically acclaimed movies that us mere mortals sometimes just don't get.

The Fountain is actually a beautiful tale. I'll admit that I like the 2 main actors Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz which is why I like the movie. But in all fairness, the 3 storylines are told at the same time and weave themselves into each other. This is the arty part. It challenges the viewer to stretch their imaginations and take in the movie and to think, you can't take what you see at face value, hence the difference in opinions about the show.

Personally, I liked the movie but its not one which I would place in my DVD collection. And I'll be honest and say that my liking the 2 main actors, significantly increased my enjoyment of the movie.

I give this one a 3/5.


DVD Reviews - A Good Year

After years of no contact with his Uncle Henry, London banker and bond trader Max Skinner learns that Henry has died intestate, so Max inherits a château and vineyard in Provence. Max spent part of his childhood there, learning maxims and how to win and lose, and honing his killer instinct (at chess, which serves him well in finance). Max goes to France intent on selling the property. He spends a few days there, getting the property ready to show. Memories, a beautiful woman, and a young American who says she's Henry's illegitimate daughter interrupt his plans. Did Max the boy know things that Max the man has forgotten?

I'll be very to the point on this. Unless you absolutely love Russell Crowe, skip this show. As a romantic comedy it fails, the pacing of the show is very uneven, the comedic timing is way off, Russell's character make me want to whack him with a cast iron skillet until his skull is obliterated. Yep, not good when you want to whack the male lead in a romantic comedy. He's arrogant, egotistical and I feel absolutely zero attachment to this jerk except that ... he should be shot dead and forgotten.

That said, this show rates a 2/5. Possibly a 1/5 but that personal prejudice.


DVD Reviews - Primeval

When strange anomalies in time start to appear all over England, Professor Cutter and his team have to help track down and capture all sorts of dangerous prehistoric creatures from Earth's distant past.

There are only 2 ways I know off to watch this movie. Either buy the Season 1 DVD from or watch it online at I did the latter and loved it.

First off this the show's summary does not do it justice. The premise is that weird portals are opening up randomly in England, they are only temporary portals so they do disappear. But if you go through the portals you get transported to another time. Now it has yet to be proven that the portal links only to the past and in episode 6 its hinted that the portal also links to the future. Perhaps even an alternate reality. The bottom line is that where the portals lead to, dinosaurs exist, bugs of gigantic natures live and creatures that we've never encountered before spawn. The Professor leads a team to investigate and try to find out where and when these portals will appear and if it can be stopped all the whole the British Government (Home Office) is trying to hush everything up as much as possible and causing the Professor a lot of grief.

One thing to note, there will be a season 2 as BBC has picked up the series, But season 1 is only 6 episodes long, must be a British thing, American TV seasons tend to be 22-24 episodes long. Still with only 6 episodes, each episode is jam packed with action and character development which advance the main storyline, there are no filler episodes.

I would rate this as better than Lost but not as good as Heroes. Definitely worth a watch.

I rate it a 4/5


DVD Reviews - Pan's Labyrinth

Got a slew of DVD reviews today so I'll try to keep them to the point.
"Pan's Labyrinth" is the story of a young girl who travels with her pregnant mother to live with her mother's new husband in a rural area up North in Spain, 1944, after Franco's victory. The girl lives in an imaginary world of her own creation and faces the real world with much chagrin. Fascist repression during the first years of Franco's dictatorship is at its height in rural Spain and the girl must come to terms with that through a fable of her own.

*** Minor Spoilers within ****
First off this is a Spanish film so if you hate reading subtitles, don't bother watching this film. This film won rave and numerous reviews for being ground breaking and etc. To be honest, it is good. Its not what I was expecting at all. The show is touted to be a fantasy and it is to an extent. The fantasy aspect and creations is equal to anything that Jim Henson and George Lukas have come up with and is beautiful. But the fantasy portion of the movie is only about 40% of the story, the rest of the story is set in 1944 and is pretty depressing. Now don't let that turn you off the show because although its depressing, its also exceptionally well done and the show draws you in.

Its one of those thought provoking movies that will spark vigorous debate, At the end, (I won't tell you what happens but its not happy), essentially the entire fantasy portion of the movie could easily have been one little girl's imagination, which is very intriguing because then the story becomes about how the girl created the entire fantasy to escape her reality.

All in all its a great movie although I hesitate to label it as fantasy just because its got some fantasy aspects to it. I don't recommend this for children under 13 because there is blood, violence, and torture. I'm also not sure I'd buy a copy for my collection because its too depressing to watch over and over. Get it as a rental.

I rate this show a 4/5.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Time to Depart WOW

I've been playing World of Warcraft (WOW) since (Nov 2004) when it first came out, and I've had a blast. Never before have I had a game that has held my attention for well over a year. But as was bound to happen, I finally cancelled my account 2 weeks ago.

For all of WOW's achievements, there are a few things that they do very wrong.

1. The first is Burning Crusade.
Now don't get me wrong, Burning Crusade is an excellent expansion and I'll be the first to admit that its awesome. But it got the end game completely wrong. In the original WOW, once you hit level 60, the end-game content was raiding. Molten Core, Black Wing Lair etc. Raiding is fun the first few time you try it, but after that it becomes something of a job. You can't raid alone, you need a guild of about 40 people (pre-BC). Also, you can't expect to complete an end game instance in 1 weekend. It takes guilds months of weekly raids to learn, gear up and eventually complete an end-game instance. But the benefits were worth it. You got bragging rights, and tons of very cool gear for everyone.

Post-BC, raiding is still the end-game. But now things are different. In order to even enter the end-game instance of The Black Temple, you literally have to complete countless raids in no less than about 8 instances to build up your reputation with over 6 different factions. I won't go into detail but they literally drew flow charts to show you the progression for The Black Temple. That's not fun, that's a 2nd job. Now this in itself should not have mattered since countless gamers had been doing this very thing pre-BC. But here the rules have changed yet again.

The number of persons in a raid dropped from 40 to 10/25. Now organizing a guild is no easy task, reorganization of a guild is a nightmare of significant proportions. The end result is many guilds were disbanded or went through very unpleasant reorganizations. An added unpleasantness was that the difficulty of the encounters increased fairly significantly. With fewer people, everyone now has to carry more of a burden. They have to be better prepared and the margin for error is reduced. The result here is higher repair costs, more time spent preparing for these raids, and more trips from the graveyard.

Finally, the worst transgression post-BC is the loot. Now if you have a good enough incentive, you can literally get anyone to do anything. Sadly the end-game loot post-BC is lacking. Sadly sadly lacking given the effort of raiding. Now, Blizzard did upgrade all end-game items 2 weeks ago in patch 2.10, but even after that I was left very unimpressed, at least from the perspective of a Priest.

2. Development of new content
I love that Blizzard's products are very polished. There is no other gaming company that get's how important this is and get's it right every time. Let's take for example Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest 2. I tried both these games recently and while I will admit that they have their strong points, They were not as polished. This word ... "Polish" is almost an X factor. Many people in the gaming industry have started spouting how important it is, but I'm not sure everyone understands what it is.

To me, its attention to every aspect of your game. For example, movement. I'm one of the 10-20% of the population that get's motion sickness after playing FPS's and sometimes MMORPG's. But I never had an issue with WOW. Not a single time. Playing Everquest2 however, I encountered this after playing extended periods (over an hour) and Lord of the Rings Online while slightly better still made me feel queasy. Other examples I can give are WOW's extremely customizable interface which is not reflected in either LotRO or EQ2.

Regardless, this polish that is delivered with every Blizzard game seems to be a hindrance in MMORPG's. I'm paying a monthly fee to play and support a game that gives a content update only once every 3-6 months? And only releases expansions once every 2 years? I know that Blizzard made mention of releasing a new expansion every year, but it is now June 2007. Do you truly believe that Blizzard will release the next expansion for WOW in Jan 2008? Especially since they have not even announced the name of the expansion. I think that June 2008 is a more likely release date for the expansion, possibly later.

To be fair to Blizzard, my gaming style is not typical. I leveled to 70 in the first 8-9 days of the release of Burning Crusade. And it took me 3 months to reach level 60 in Jan 2005, this was before the days of hitting level 60 in a week guides were released. So my constant search for new content works against me, but I think that waiting over 3 months for new content and 2 years for an expansion is simply too long.

3. Replay ability
There are many individuals out there who have 2 or even 6 alts and all of them are at the level cap. I envy these individuals their ability to grind alts. Personally I've have 2 characters in outlands at 70 and 65, a Priest and a Mage respectively. My other alts are stuck at 30's - 50's.

The reason being that from level 25-55, you are forced to grind/quest the same zones over and over. Eastern and Western Plaguelands, Burning Steppes, Blasted Lands, Un'Goro Crater, Winterspring, Silithus, and Tanaris to name a few. Is anyone sick of these zones? I know I am.

Despite all of Blizzard's faults, and WOW's current age of 2 3/4 years, it still has an appeal that no MMORPG released recently can touch. And I'm sure I'll fire WOW up again eventually and certainly when the next expansion is released. But till then I've been signing up for the numerous beta's currently flooding the web for the next big MMO. And till then, I'm dusting off my PS2 and playing Disgaea 2.

Thanks for listening to me rant, and happy gaming.

PS. I should also mention that the straw that broke the camel's back for me was my guild which existed since WOW's beta imploded leaving me flapping in the wind. On the bright side, I now seem to have loads of time in the evenings to read the 20 or more books that have piled up in the past 2 years.

PPS. Here's another Game blogger who shares similar feelings about WOW. His post in entitled Why TBC Killed End-Game WoW for Me and a Plea to Blizzard. Its a good read.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Blast from the Past - Speak and Spell

Came across this photo and I had to share. I remember this educational toy from my childhood. The Speak and Spell. It had a tinny robotic voice and say "Correct" or "Incorrect" after you had spelled a word.

But don't take my word for it. Try it out yourself! This site has put up the speak and spell for everyone to try. To start,
  • click on this Link
  • click on Play
  • Click on 'ON'

    Man have we progressed, I remember when the Speak and Spell came out, it was among the first interactive toys and considered groundbreaking. Now we can simulate it in a web application.

  • Saturday, June 02, 2007

    Fun Facts: Sushi

    I love sushi. Just found a new site loaded with interesting facts about sushi. Sushifaq. Below are some fun facts about Sushi.
    * Not long ago, a sushi chef (itamae) had to undergo ten years of training before working in a restaurant. Today, demand for these skilled food artists is so high that many start work after only two years of training.

    * Approximately 80% of the world's bluefin tuna catch is used for sushi.

    * Sushi dates back to at least the second century A.D., beginning as a method of preserving fish in China. See our History of Sushi page for more details about sushi history.

    * Nearly half the fish consumed as food worldwide are raised on fish farms rather than caught in the wild, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    * Japan's Agriculture Ministry has set up a panel to discuss a certification system for Japanese restaurants abroad. Possible gastronomic crimes include slicing fish too thick, using too little or too much wasabi and over-boiling rice. Japanese tourists have also been known to complain about greasy tempura, floppy, lifeless noodles and seaweed that is not crispy enough. The ministry said its aim was to "spread correct Japanese gastronomic culture" and "improve the reliability of our country's food" in foreign countries.

    * The highest price ever paid for a sushi grade Bluefin Tuna was $173,600 for a 444 pound fish ($391/lb) on January 5th, 2001 in Tokyo.

    * The Food and Drug Administration stipulates that all fish to be eaten raw (with the exception of tuna) must be frozen first, in order to kill parasites.

    Friday, June 01, 2007


    I got a great gift for Christmas 2007 from a close friend. She gave me an iPod nano. Now the gift in and of itself was nice, and having a small device that allows you to listen to about 20 CD's is great, except I'm not too big on music. I listen to music cd's but I only buy a couple a year so an iPod isn't all that important to me.

    However, there is something called podcasts that I've been introduced to that has changed my life and has made the iPod a necessary device in my daily life. Podcasts are recordings (think of them as radio show) made by individuals who are just like you or me about subjects that interest them. These are not one off shows, but regular shows (weekly or biweekly) that you can download everyweek to listen to.

    I'm essentially a programmer and I find that to allieve the bordom and tediousness of my job, I listen to podcasts while I'm programming and driving to and from work. Its better than listening to the radio because its about a subject that interests you and there are no commercials. Some people work better in total silence, but I find that while coding, I need some noise that distracts me from anything except what I'm working on. One method I used was to rip DVD sitcoms like Friends, burn them to CD's and listen to them at work. I've even done it with a few movies. But now thanks to Podcasts, I don't need to spend hours doing this anymore.
    Although these recordings are called Podcasts, you don't need an iPod to listen to them. Many make their podcasts available on the internet so you can listen to them from their homepage, and other competing devices like the Zune can also play them. But the advantage of the iPod is Sony's iTunes which allows you to subscribe to all these shows and download them automatically to your iPod. This convenience is what sold me and has made me an iPod convert.

    So when my iPod's battery finally fails, instead of replacing the battery (instructions are readily available online), I think I'll be getting a better iPod, one that plays videos and holds more storage.

    Like radio shows, not everyone can make a podcast. The hosts of the show must have a soothing voice and of course content and style are important. Its not always easy to find podcasts what appeal to you. Here are some podcasts which I always download.

    - Slice of Scifi (Scifi News)
    - VirginWorlds (Gaming News)
    - MOG (Gaming News)
    - Feast of Fools (Gay Lifestyle)

    So if you listen to a podcast regularly, please share. I'm always on the lookout for good podcasts. And if you've never heard of podcasts, give them a try.


    I decided to go a little Irish today. I love meat and potatoes sometimes make it more as a comfort food. Not too often because... well its probably not the best thing in the world for me. I watch a lot of cooking shows and Colcannon struck my fancy. Its very close to the meat and potatoes dish I make but they add cabbage and use ham. So I decided to give it a try.

    Here's the recipe I used.

    3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
    2 sticks butter
    1 1/4 cups hot milk
    Freshly ground black pepper
    1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
    1 (1-pound) piece ham or bacon, cooked the day before
    4 scallions, finely chopped
    Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish

    Of course I substituted somewhat. Used only 3/4 stick of unsalted butter, only 1/4 of 2% milk and instead of ham, I used ground turkey stir fried with onions.

    Overall I'm pretty happy with the dish. I love meat and potatoes. Adding the cabbage isn't hard and it lends something to the dish. Making it more refreshing if that makes any sense. A more substantial dish.

    Things I would do different the next time. I would have more potatoes. I don't think I have the right proportions. My dish was heavy on the cabbage and meat but a little lighter on potatoes than I would like. Also I'd cook the cabbage till it was a little softer. This might be personal preference but I prefer my cabbage to not have any crunch to it.

    Overall I enjoyed this dish. Below is a picture of Colcannon on Food Network. Fairly close to my dish I'd say. What do you think?