Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Zootopia (2016)

Judy Hopps lives in a world of anthropomorphic animals.  She likes to think that she can be whatever she wants.   If predator and prey can live side by side, then surely anything is possible.  She wants to be a police officer, which is something no rabbit has ever done.  (This despite Mayor Lionheart’s diversity agenda.)  So, she sets off to the police academy and does it.

She graduates top of her class only to be assigned to parking enforcement.  Not satisfied with being the token bunny, she offers to solve the case of a missing otter.  Before Captain Bogo can fire her, the wife of the missing otter thanks Judy with the assistant mayor not far behind.  The captain gives her 48 hours to solve the case.  If not, she resigns.

I remember hearing how the movie was an analogy to our own world   We like to think of ourselves as being evolved.  We have art and electricity and language.  We can use tools.  We’ve even been to the moon, even if it was for the briefest of visits.  What makes us different from the rest of the animal kingdom?  We claim we can get along, but that doesn’t always mean we do get along.

Many of these issues come up in the movie.  Zootopia seems to be a great city on the surface.  There are trains that can accommodate animals of all sizes.  There are different districts for different ecosystems, but animals have physical mobility.  They can go anywhere they want.  Things are different once you get to know the animals.  The assistant mayor is a sheep that the mayor pushes around.  Judy enlists the help of Nick Wilde, a red fox who doesn’t see the point in being anything other than a hustler.  Yes, it’s possible, in theory, to be whatever you want, but real life will beat you into submission.

The movie is able to walk a fine line, though.  Judy is enthusiastic, but not to the point of being annoying.  Nick is jaded, but not to the point of being a downer.  They make a perfect odd couple.  They work together and even might consider themselves friends, despite opposing viewpoints.  Some of the points the movie makes are pretty blunt.  (Judy points out that it’s only acceptable to call another rabbit cute if you’re a fellow rabbit.)  Some of it is more subtle.  Judy is told by the assistant mayor that prey have to stick together.

We need Judy to be enthusiastic.  We need her to hit the brick wall with full force.  Early in the movie, Judy defends a sheep against a fox that stole the sheep’s tickets from a fair.  Judy gets some scratches, but she also gets the tickets back.  On the other hand, she does need Nick to pull her back a little bit.  He brings her to a DMV office run by sloths.  (The scene was less annoying than it could have been.)  Judy’s energy is evenly matched by the sloths’ lethargy, which is something Nick is all too happy to make evident.

The movie was entertaining without being preachy.  It was on a level that most children would understand and that parents could enjoy and even use as reference when children are exposed to similar situations.  Judy is given fox repellant by her parents because, well, you know…foxes.  Even after Judy has known Nick for a while, she still reaches for the repellant.  I’d say that overall, the movie is safe for children.  There are a few potentially scary scenes.  However, you are probably going to have a conversation afterwards.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Eye-Fi Explore 2 GB Wireless SD Card

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

When I signed up for Flickr, I thought it was great I could put my stuff on a map. Then, I realized that I had to know where the picture was taken. In most cases, I know roughly where the picture is. I can at least get it to within a block or two. I wanted more, though.

I began looking at the Nikon D200 because it has the ability to place GPS coordinates in the file’s data, assuming you had the appropriate accessories. The thing was that I didn’t want to shell out $999.99 (plus tax) for the camera and then have to shell out a few more hundred dollars for the accessories. When I heard that Eye-Fi was coming out with a GPS-enabled card, I bought it instantly. I should have done my homework first.

First off, it’s not really GPS. The card uses waypoints to triangulate its position. This is basically any accessible network that the camera can pick up. (It’s supposed to have a range of 90 feet.) The card then saves the data to the file. When you get home, Eye-Fi’s server is supposed to be able to take the data and place the picture to within 20 meters of the exact location. This is important for several reasons.

First, if there are no waypoints, there’s no geotagging. From what I understand, some cities are better than others. If you’re going through an area where you’re never short of waypoints, then all of your pictures will be accurately tagged. If you’re in the middle of the Everglades and there’s no civilization for several miles, your out of luck.

Even in Miami, I’ve had mixed results. When I take a picture at my house, the pictures are put right in front of my house. (This may be because I have a wireless network.) If I leave my house and walk around my neighborhood, the results are less accurate. I’ve taken pictures of street signs (yes, the kind that show what street your on) and had them marked several streets off.

Another thing (and this is an advantage for all Eye-Fi cards) is that you can automatically upload to several file-sharing sites like RitzPix.com and Flickr. When you set up the card, you are given the choice of which site you want to upload to. You have to select one and only one. You can upload to RitzPix.com or Flickr, but not both at the same time. All selections are made though Eye-Fi’s Web site, including entering your username and password for the site you want to upload to.

I initially chose RitzPix.com because I wanted to be more selective about which ones I uploaded to Flickr. When I selected the ones I wanted to upload to Flickr and actually tried to upload them, I realized that there was no geotagging at all. I tried several different things and even asked around to see if anyone else had had this problem. I eventually thought that you have to upload to Flickr through Eye-Fi’s site. I found this odd, considering that the information was already in the metadata. (I have a program to check.) I’ve tried a picture or two since, only to find that it works. (Maybe it’s a software update. I don’t know.)

Of the ones that I do have posted, I’ve noticed that a lot of the locations aren’t that accurate. When I take pictures around where I work, there’s no geotagging at all. I’ve also taken pictures elsewhere and either found it not to work or start working around the fifteenth or twentieth picture. Even then, I’ve had pictures that were way off. Also, if you're taking stuff at a large location, like a park or a university, you may find the geotagging at one central location rather than the actual individual locations.

Other reviews I’ve seen online share similar results. This hasn’t been an issue so far because I usually know where the pictures are taken. However, I got the card for those times when I’m not so sure. I wanted the card to be able to place the picture for me. If I’m in a city I don’t know, I can’t place them as easily.

As I mentioned, you have to install some software. This is so that the camera knows that the card is yours and that it should download stuff to your computer should you have a wireless network and/or high-speed Internet. (Once again, this means entering a password and name, this time for the wireless network that you may or may not have.) It will also tell you how to adjust your power settings to better allow your camera to transmit pictures if it does find a wireless waypoint.

You can only transmit back to your house through public access points such as ones found at McDonalds. I’ve never had this actually work yet, probably because my D50 is too old. (There weren’t even any instructions on how to adjust my power settings. I had to figure this out later.) I also made the mistake of reformatting my card, then realizing that the software was on the card. This isn’t a big deal since you only need the software to set up the card. I can download the software from Eye-Fi’s site for free if I ever reformat or replace my computer.

Does it work? At first, I had to actually put the memory card into my computer’s internal USB reader to get them to automatically upload. (Yes, I can just copy them at this point, but then they wouldn’t be retagged on Flickr.) I eventually figured out how to get it to work. I’ve also had cases where I’ve been taking pictures around the house and part of one picture will load onto my computer. Again, this has to do with power settings. You have to be able to get the camera to supply enough constant power to the card for it to transmit everything.

You have the option of not uploading to your computer via waypoints at all, which may or may not be a good idea. You get free access to the waypoints for only one year. It‘s probably better to break the habit early, though. You also have the option of not uploading to any file-sharing site at all, but you have to make these decisions over the Web. This means that if you don’t want to transmit certain pictures, you either have to stop what your doing and log on to the Web or switch to another SD card that isn’t an Eye-Fi card. This can be difficult for people that travel a lot or are on vacation.

Sometimes, I forget that I have the Eye-Fi card in there. What I’ve been doing if there’s one or two pictures I don’t want to upload is to simply upload all the pictures and remove the ones I don’t want. If you upload all of your pictures before you can get home, though, you may have a lot of removing to do at once and it is possible that people will have seen them already.

So far as I know, the card only comes in the 2GB size. This is fine, considering that the D50 can’t take SDHC cards. Yes, this is a firmware problem, but I’m not expecting any updates any time soon. It also only comes in SD. If you use compact flash, you can use an adapter. If you use a Memory Stick or xD, you’re just out of luck.

Overall, it’s kind of easy for me to feel like I got taken for $130. After all, I wanted accurate GPS coordinates all of the time and I got something that promised 70% coverage in populated areas to within 20 meters. (And it didn’t even deliver on that.) I’m going to hold on to it because it does work most of the time and when it does work, it makes it a little easier to actually place a picture on a map.

The thing that drives me nuts is that I started out not knowing how to do a lot of things or thinking that I couldn’t do only to find out that I could. There are also a lot of things that I know I can do (like launch the software) but keep forgetting how to do or not being able to do occasionally. It’s enough to drive me crazy.

Knowing what I know now, I think I would have been better off putting the $130 towards a D200 or D300. At least I can warn others about it and put the money from this review towards a new body. If you know that you live in an area with accurate and reliable coverage, the money is worth it, especially if you’re already considering an Eye-Fi card. (I seem to recall the basic model being $99.)

On a side note, I’ve heard that the new Nikon D90 is supposed to work well with this card, even going so far as to have special menus. I can’t give any specifics since I haven’t actually seen any. You’d have to check the Nikon and Eye-Fi Web sites if you want to know more.

(Note: I just found out, after doing a search, that this card is apparently no longer supported.)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Coby CV320 Headband Headphones

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

A few months ago, I found myself looking for a new pair of headphones. Actually, I had been looking for a while, but it wasn’t until then that I had enough extra money to really consider buying one. Even then, I didn’t have much. I was thinking about spending about $20, but I saw two sets in a music store that were $10 each.

All I wanted was a set of headphones that would cover my ears. I didn’t need anything that was priced at $100 or more. I decided to go for the CV-320. At $10, I figured that I could afford to buy the other ten-dollar set or maybe even spring for a twenty-dollar set if I felt like it.

The set hasn’t broken (irreparably) yet. I’m still debating whether or not to replace them. The first major problem I had was adjusting the width of the headphones. They’re uncomfortable unless they’re fully expanded, and even then, they occasionally apply pressure to the top of my head. It’s not so bad if you’re willing to play around with it, but I can see a lot of people getting frustrated with it.

The sound quality is comparable to any other headphones that go for $20 or less. It’s not the best thing that I’ve ever heard, but it gets the job done without a lot of distortion or extra noise. In that sense, it was worth the money and I’ve gotten at least a few months out of it. That’s not to say that the unit is without problem or incident.

Each ear has separate volume control, which I can’t quite figure out. I usually keep each one at the maximum and adjust the iPod’s volume control as needed. I once took the headphones and iPod out to use once only to find that the volume had completely fallen off in one ear. At first, I thought that the headphones had broken already. (This is usually the problem that I have with headphones that indicates that they’re going in the garbage.) It turned out that the volume on that ear had been turned off.

Also, the cushion on one ear came off. It took a little work to get it back on. I suppose that I’m lucky that I got it back on. I don’t think I would have been able to use the headphones without the cushion.

I suppose that this is what I get for being too cheap to go for the $20 model. Sure, most headphones break, especially when you’re spending under $50. However, I can’t see spending that much money on a pair of headphones, especially considering that I don’t really need the best quality.

These headphones get three and a half stars, but I’m going to round up in this case. I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re in the recording industry, but if you’re listening to a portable CD or MP3 player, you’ll find them adequate.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Spies Like Us (1985)

The Defense Intelligence Agency has a problem.  They’ve been sending their best spies in to Soviet-controlled Asia, yet all of them are killed before reaching their target.  The DIA’s solution is to send in two of their worst spies as decoys.  Hopefully, this will throw off the enemy long enough for the actual spies to complete their mission.  This is where Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase come in.  They play Austin Millbarge and Emmett Fitz-Hume, respectively.

Millbarge is a code breaker that’s stuck in a basement and will probably never be promoted.  Fitz-Hume is a legacy employee and will probably never be promoted.   Both want to take the foreign service exam, although for different reasons.  Millbarge is smart and driven enough that he might pass, but Fitz-Hume gets both of them kicked out for cheating.  The DIA realizes that they have their decoys.

Millbarge and Fitz-Hume are told just enough that they could believe that they’d be useful.  They’re rushed through basic training.  They’re given just enough details that they know where to go, but not enough to let them complete their given mission.  That much doesn’t even become apparent until they’re in the thick of things.  Hopefully, the Soviets will see the two of them bumbling around and capture them.

This was one of those movies that I sort of remembered watching at some point in the past.  There’s a good reason for this.  The movie was released in 1985 and is dated.  The Soviet Union has since dissolved.   Many of the computers look like something out of a history book.  Even the image of a spy is like something out of the 80s.  It’s a very goofy movie, as you might expect from Aykroyd and Chase.  There’s one scene where Millbarge and Fitz-Hume are talking to a group of doctors, posing as doctors themselves.  Everyone greets each other as doctor. It’s a minute of people just saying, “Doctor,” to each other.

I’ve always wondered what actual spies/operatives even would think of movies like this.  I know it’s supposed to be a comedy.  Accuracy often takes a back seat to comedy.  In that regard, you’re probably going to get some laughs out of the movie.  I’m not sure what those younger than me would think of the movie.  This is something I could see someone my age watching with their kids where the parents laugh and the kids don’t quite get it.  This movie was definitely a product of its time.

Friday, September 23, 2016

CyberHome CH-DVD 500 DVD Player

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I actually got this DVD player as a gift. My brothers and I wanted to get our parents a DVD player, so we went to Best Buy. There were expensive models and there were inexpensive ones. After some debate, we realized that our parents probably weren’t going to be in need of all sorts of bells and whistles. We eventually landed on this DVD player. It looked pretty good. It can not only play DVDs, but it can handle audio CDs and play MP3 and JPEG files burned to a CD. We figured that this would be enough. (It turns out we were right, so don’t expect some dramatic turn for the worse.)

The DVD player works well. It seems to be more tolerant of scratches on the DVD surface than my computer is. (My computer is a Dell Dimension 2400.) Fast forward and rewind work pretty well; If I recall, you can go up to 16x in fast forward. I don’t know what it is for rewind. (I usually use my computer for playing DVDs.) The remote is easy to use to navigate through the menus. Any problems are usually due to difficulties with the actual DVD.

The only problem I had was with the UHF disc. I was trying to play one of the features, but it kept freezing in the same spot. I had to turn the DVD player off in the back and turn it back on. This was much easier than having to unplug the unit. This is the only time I’ve had it happen and again, I thing the problem was with the DVD; I couldn’t get the same feature to work on my computer, either.

We’ve actually used it to play MP3 files and look at JPEG files a few times. The menu for accessing files is nothing special. You get simple text to move up and down for MP3 files; you press play to make the song play. With pictures, it was a little harder. We only had to use it once when my brother brought home some digital pictures for us to look at. The pictures were scattered throughout several directories, which made it difficult to find them. There were some directories that didn’t have any pictures and the pictures were also duplicated in several directories. So far as I know, there’s no way to simply see all of the pictures on a DVD. I found that it was much easier to view the pictures on the computer.

As for CDs, you’re going to be limited by your speakers. Depending on what kind of TV you have, you might want to consider a separate CD player. (If you already have one, don’t plan on getting rid of it.) Playing the CDs is easy; the DVD player basically works like any CD player.

The only thing I feel compelled to call a warning is about the cables. Like many other similar electronics, it has one of those cables that end in three color-coded heads on each side. (Two are for audio and one is for video.) You’re supposed to match the colors on the cable to the colors in the receivers for both the DVD player and the TV. Unfortunately, the colors don’t match up correctly, so that I ended up plugging one of the audio heads into the video plug. Whenever someone else tries to plug it in, we end up with mixed signals again and I have to correct it. (We have to unplug the DVD player so infrequently that no one seems to remember.)

This is a great DVD player for someone who’s just starting or doesn’t really want anything complicated. It’s inexpensive, so it won’t set you back too much if you decide to upgrade later. This DVD player is what allowed my parents to eventually sign up for NetFlix. It’s not great, but it pretty good. I give it four stars.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Finding Nemo (2003)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Marlin and Coral, two clownfish, are going to be parents. They have several hundred baby clownfish on the way and Marlin wants to name half Marlin Jr. and the other half Coral Jr. They’ve just moved into a great neighborhood and have great neighbors. Unfortunately, a big fish comes along and eats Coral and all but one of the eggs. Marlin names the one remaining fish Nemo, which is what Coral had wanted.

The next scene is Marlin getting Nemo ready for school. Marlin is understandably protective of Nemo. Nemo is his only child and has a lame fin, too. (Marlin tells Nemo that it’s his ‘lucky’ fin.) It’s a tense moment for Marlin having to let go, but Nemo’s excited. He can’t wait to get out and see things. The trouble is that Nemo’s going to a part of the ocean that Marlin considers dangerous. Marlin arrives just in time to see Nemo heading out towards a boat.

This is where the action begins. Nemo, in an act of defiance, goes all the way out to the boat to show everyone that he can do it. On the way back, he gets captured by a diver. Everyone else manages to get to safety, but Marlin has lost his son. He has to go and find him. Along the way, he meets a blue fish named Dory. (Yes, she’s a natural blue.) Dory’s a little forgetful. She thinks it runs in the family, but she can’t really remember that far back. Either way, Marlin and Dory have a long journey ahead of them. They find the dentist’s mask. Since Dory can read, they know where to go. Figuring out how to get there is a different story. They are able to ask directions and don’t waste too much time getting to where they have to go.

Nemo wakes up to find himself in a tank at a dentist’s office. (The dentist is also the diver that captured him.) He meets the dentist’s other fish, which were all bought. To make matters worse, Nemo isn’t staying for very long. Nemo is to be presented to the dentist’s niece as a birthday present at the end of the week. The girl has a reputation as a fish killer. The dentist props up a picture of the girl for the fish to see and in it, there’s the fish she got as last year’s gift – floating in the bag she got it in! Now, the pressure’s really on to get out. An angelfish by the name of Gil is the established leader of the fish tank. The others inhabiting the tank are Bloat, Peach, Bubbles, Deb, and Jacques. They all have to work to get Nemo out. (Hopefully, they can get out, too, but Nemo’s the one with the deadline.) Gil has a trick or two up his sleve, but getting out won’t be easy.

The movie’s rated G and 100 minutes in length. Despite the rating, you might want to consider before you take young children. As I mentioned, Coral and most of the eggs are eaten. You don’t actually see this happen, but you’ll probably have to explain why they’re gone. Marlin also faces some troubles on his way to find Nemo, including a shark that’s out to get him. (The shark is part of an AA-type support group for sharks who don’t want to eat fish.) I don’t know that it will necessarily scare or upset a child, but it’s something to consider.

It should be an enjoyable movie for children and the adults that take them. I’m an adult and enjoyed it on my own. (I rented it from Netflix.) My brother has also seen it and enjoyed the animation. (He has an interest in art and CG.) The animation alone will make watching this movie enjoyable. The DVD that I got from Netflix had a behind-the-scenes feature that you should watch. It shows how the movie was made and what went into the animation.

The only thing that I didn’t like about the DVD was that in order to see the deleted scenes, you had to go through the audio commentary. I didn’t see any way to watch them separately. One of the great things about DVD is the ability to add such features. I still liked it. I have to give this movie five stars.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Men in Black II (2002)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Sequels are difficult.  If a movie is successful, there’s pressure to do another one in hopes of making more money.  When the first Men in Black did well, a second MIB was released.  In this installment, we have Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) returning.  For those that didn’t see the first, K had ‘retired’ by having J erase his memories.  K is now Kevin Brown, a Postal worker.  J has gone through a few partners since the end of the last movie.

J has been successful in helping the MIB to defend Earth against aliens and the like.  One day, though, Serleena shows up.  She’s looking for The Light of Zartha.  She finds someone that may know something.  When information isn’t forthcoming, she kills him in front of a hidden witness, Laura Vasquez.  Serleena eventually takes over MIB headquarters looking for answers.  The problem is that only K knows exactly what and where The Light is.  J has to restore K’s memories and fast.

Once done, K reveals that The Light isn’t even supposed to be on Earth.  The Zarthaians came to Earth hoping that the MIB would protect The Light, but it was too dangerous and they refused.  Serleena isn’t willing to accept this.  She’s intent on getting The Light.  If you’ve seen the coming attractions for Men in Black 3, you can assume that J and K save the day.

I’ll admit that Men in Black 2 does fall into some of the traps common to sequels.  It did seem to rely heavily on characters from the previous movies.  Frank the Pug has an expanded role in this movie, delivering a few funny lines.  Instead of K being the senior officer bringing J into the organization, J is the one telling K what’s what and hoping that he accepts it.

There are new characters, but there is a sense of familiarity.  It was a big action movie with comedic elements.  You have an alien demanding something that the MIB are at a loss to find.  I didn’t mind.  There was enough original material that it seemed new, overall.  Also, you have Rosario Dawson as Laura.  I can’t say I can complain about that.

Men in Black and Men in Black 2 should be watched in order.  You could probably watch this movie first, but you may miss a few things.  It will also ruin certain elements of the first movie that will be ruined if you watch this one first.  They were meant to be watched in order.  (Men in Black 3 doesn’t seem to rely as heavily on these two movies, although I would still recommend watching in order.)  If you liked the first movie, I’d recommend watching this one.

Junior Mints

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I’ve had this pressing question on my mind for a while now. If there’s such a thing as Junior Mints, shouldn’t there be a candy called Senior Mints? Or how about just Mints? I hadn’t even thought of it until I saw a review for Junior Mints a while ago and decided to write my own review.

For those that haven’t had them before, they’re basically small, roundish candies with mint in the inside and a chocolate coating. They’re the same taste and basic consistency as a Peppermint Patty, but the size and shape of a peanut M&M. You can get three or four per bite, depending on how quickly you want to eat them.

I’m not too big on mint-based candies, mostly because the mint is usually so overpowering, as is the case with Junior Mints. If it was Chocolate with a hint of mint, it wouldn’t be so bad. Instead, the mint is so overpowering that you get mint with a hint of chocolate. I got bored with it pretty quickly. I wouldn’t say no to a free box, but I haven’t actually bought one for myself in a long time.

Another problem that I had was that the Junior Mints would often melt or become fused to each other and the box. This makes them nearly impossible to get out without tearing the box apart. It’s not even a matter of getting the last one out. There were times when I’d open a box and I’d have to peel the box off to get this one huge mess of half-melted Junior Mints. Of course, I’d want to eat it. (I didn’t want to waste my 50 cents.) It wasn’t pretty.

Overall, it’s a two-star candy. Chocolate and mint don’t go well together when the mint is that strong. I’ve had other candies, like Three Musketeers and Hershey Bars that have had a little mint and those have worked fine. Not Junior Mints. There were so many other candy bars that I remember enjoying.