Friday, September 30, 2016

Fujifilm FinePix F10 6.3 MP Digital Camera - Silver

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

I remember a year or so ago wanting to get a better camera. I had the Fuji A205, which was pretty good, but not great. The A205 was 2 MP, which was good, but not excellent. I was looking at cameras like the A340 and the A345. Then, my mother got me the F10.

The F10 is a 6 MP camera, meaning that it records six million bits of information. Many people think that this refers to the quality of the picture, which is true to an extent. (The truth is that it refers to the size of the largest picture you can make without losing quality.) Fuji cameras have what they call a Super CCD, meaning that it’s larger than the average CCD and is capable of recording more.

I haven’t been able to compare pixel by pixel, but the Fuji does seem to get much better pictures. I’ve been able to make big enlargements with 20 by 30 being around the largest I could get. Having seen enlargements from other cameras, it’s not that bad.

You do have to use the screen to compose shots, which will drain the battery and will also leave you with more blurry pictures since you’ll have more trouble bracing the camera. (I really don’t like the trend in point-and-shoot cameras for that reason.) The size of the screen is good. You can look at it and generally tell which ones are good and which ones aren’t. I don’t usually know which will be best until I get to my computer, though, so I’m still in the habit of taking several shots.

Even though Fuji is good with macro shots, I’ve had trouble taking them with the F10. If I’m photographing something close to the camera, I can usually get it in under six shots. Sometimes, it will take me several dozen shots and I still may not get the shot.

Shooting in dark areas has proven hit or miss. When I tried to use the camera to take pictures of fireworks, I went through a few hundred shots and only got two or three that looked decent. However, I’ve also taken pictures in total darkness to see how the flash worked and I was able to get decent shots. I also took some pictures of bamboo in low light that came out well with the natural light mode. (It even worked better than with a flash.)

I found that focusing can take a while in dark areas. It has a green light that comes on and may take several seconds to actually take the shot. In daylight, I didn’t find any real shutter lag, even when using the flash. When I use continuous shooting, I can take usually one or two shots per second.

The 3 times zoom is pretty standard. (Don’t even pay attention to digital zoom, as it doesn’t really matter.) There have been cases where I’ve needed a wider angle or where more telephoto would have been nice, but that’s why I got a digital SLR. For a small pocket-sized camera, it does well.

The F10 uses a proprietary battery and is thus much smaller. I wasn’t sold on the lithium ion batteries before I got the F10, mostly because I didn’t want to make an investment in a proprietary battery. I will say that they do last a lot longer. I can go a few hundred shots per charge and it doesn’t go away overnight, like the AA batteries used to. Due to the smaller size, I was able to take the F10 to my cousin’s wedding and keep in in my pocket.

The one down side is that it uses this convoluted system of wires and adapters to charge the battery, which you also have to use to download pictures. I ended up getting a memory card reader installed in my computer and separate charger for the battery because I kept losing stuff. This was the one area that I felt Fuji dropped the ball.

You also have to use xD media cards with the F10. The newer Fuji cameras use both xD and SD, which is good. I am somewhat afraid that xD will go away, but I’m not particularly impressed with the new line of Fuji, so it might not even matter if I ever have to replace this camera. I used to use a camera that used Smart Media and now have a Nikon D50, so I already had to change formats twice.

6.3 mega pixels do well enough for 4x6 photos. If you have one or can find one on clearance somewhere and can handle the few disadvantages I’ve mentioned, then by all means go for it. The F10 is still a great camera. However, if you’re coming in from another brand like Nikon or Canon and already have the memory cards, the F40 or the A900 might be better choices.

In case you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the video mode, it’s because cameras like this aren’t really meant for video. In the year or two that I’ve had this camera, I’ve rarely used it. I don’t think I’ve even used it outside of my house. Yes, it uses sound, but you’re going to get better quality out of a video camera. Unless you’re using it for YouTube, don’t bother. As for menus, it’s like driving. You just have to get used to them. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016


It’s odd that Epinions would have Freecell available for review. It’s not like you really have much of a choice in acquiring this product. Either you get it or you don’t. Freecell usually comes with the more recent versions of Windows. (Older versions have the generic solitaire.) A lot of people either don’t know that Freecell is there or don’t really play the game that much.

For those that have never seen Freecell, some of the solitaire rules apply, but others don’t. For instance, all 52 cards are dealt out in eight columns. The first four columns have seven cards each and the remaining four have six each. Above the eight columns are eight spaces. The four on the left are your free cells, which is where the game gets its name. On the right are the four spaces where all of the cards are supposed to eventually end up. (I’ll go into greater detail later.)

The 52 cards are laid out randomly. The rules for moving them are like the solitaire you may be used to. If you want to move a card, you start with the bottom card. It can be moved to any card that’s one higher and of the opposite color. (Jack is like eleven, the queen is equivalent to twelve and the king is played as thirteen.) The two of hearts can either be moved to the three of clubs or the three of spades. The ten of spades can be put on either the jack of hearts or the jack of diamonds. If a column is empty, you can put any card there. If you need to get at a card, you can use the free cells to hold cards. (Each cell can hold only one at a time.) If you have an alternating series, you can move any part of the series that you have space for. That’s where the free cells come in. To move a series like that, you are theoretically moving one card at a time to the free cells and back down again or to free columns. You’re limited by the number of cells and columns you have available. I’d suggest keeping as many free cells open as possible. (If you’re good, you can find ways around this, but you’re still going to need either free cells or empty columns.)

Like the solitaire you may have played as a kid, the object of the game is to get all of the cards to those four spaces on the top right that I mentioned before. You start with the ace of each suit. There’s one space for each suit; the order doesn’t matter. Once an ace is placed in one of these spaces, you move on to the two of the same suit. (The aces are always automatically moved up once they become available. The rest of the cards are moved up once they serve no other purpose.) You can move the two up as soon as the ace is there, although it’s not always a good idea to move cards up as soon as they become available. Once all of the cards are in these four columns, you win. When the game is over, you can be dealt either a random hand or you can choose one by number.

It sounds easy, but it’s not. They say it’s possible to win every hand dealt to you, but it’s more than likely that you’ll lose, and that’s done when there are no possible moves left. There’s no actual scoring, so you either win or you lose. It will take you a while to get the feel of the game. You’ll find that there are certain strategies that work and some that don’t. I’ve found it’s best that you keep at least two of the free cells open at all times and try to keep at least one column open if possible. Also, don’t move a card just for the sake of moving a card. Make sure you know what you’re doing.

The game is very easy to learn and play on the computer. (I don’t know that I’d have the patience to do this with a real deck of cards. Moving the cards would be too difficult.) A big advantage of playing on the computer is that it keeps stats. After 641 games, I’ve one 55% of them. My longest winning streak was 9 games and the longest losing streak was 7. There’s no way to keep separate stats for different people except to clear the stats. (You’d have to write down your stats before someone else clears them.)

This is a great game only because of its simplicity. If you’re looking for a way to waste just a few minutes, play Freecell. You may find that you’ll be wasting several hours.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bepuzzled Murder Most Artful Jigsaw Murder Mystery with Story R. D. Zimmerman

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

Jigsaw puzzles tend to run along the same basic concept.  You have an image split up in to tiny pieces.  There are a lot of different images out there and the puzzles vary in size from 10 pieces up to the thousands.  You don’t see a lot of innovation.  Yes, they had 3-D puzzles, which I bought and tried.  But I’ve never seen a jigsaw puzzle and thought, “Wow!  Now that’s a lot more interesting than your average puzzle!”

Many years ago, someone got me the Murder Most Artful jigsaw puzzle.  You’re given a story and a puzzle.  First, you read the story about an art forger found dead near a painting.  When you’re done, you put the puzzle together to see the painting that he was working on.  You have to use the story and the painting to figure out who did it.  Once you’ve figured it out or given up, you can read the solution on the last page.  (The solution is printed backwards, so you’ll need a mirror.)

I did the puzzle many years ago.  Even then, it wasn’t overly difficult to figure out.  The puzzle is 500  pieces, which wasn’t that difficult for me to put together.  When I did put it together, I don’t remember it taking me that long to figure out who did it.  (In case you want to do the puzzle, I won’t ruin it for you.)

Since putting the puzzle together is the first step in figuring out who did it, you don’t get a preview image of the puzzle.  This wasn’t really an issue.  I’ve done puzzles without a preview.  I was able to finish the puzzle before figuring it out.  However, I have to admit that you don’t really need the entire puzzle to get it.  In fact, it’s entirely possible that you’ll figure it out before the puzzle is finished.

Since the puzzle was so easy for me, I never really checked to see if the puzzle was part of a series.  Now that I’m dong the review, I did look.  It was hard to find stuff because of the name, but I was able to find at least one other puzzle that had an Alfred Hitchcock theme.

I don’t know that I’d recommend it, but I don’t think I’d recommend against getting it.  For someone that’s used to 1000+ pieces, this will by no means be a challenge for you.   The only thing it will provide is a little distraction.  I don’t do jigsaw puzzles much any more, but I don’t know if I’d get the other puzzle if I was.  I just wish Epinions had an ‘indifferent’ button for the recommendation.

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 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 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 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 II 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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar

There are a few big names in candy that everyone knows. Jelly Belly is famous among jelly bean brands. M&M’s are known as the small round chocolate candies. Among candy bars, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar is well known enough that most people would associate Hershey’s with the thin bar.

For those that haven’t seen one up close, it’s a bar that’s maybe six inches by three inches and made of solid milk chocolate. In the traditional variety, there are no nuts, no caramel, no rice, no nothing. Just one bar that can be split up into twelve smaller pieces aligned in a four-by-three grid. They used to come wrapped in foil with a paper wrapper on the outside. Now, I think they use a plastic wrapper.

Back when I used to eat candy bars, I would occasionally get one of these. I’d break off a row or a column to eat. Sometimes, I’d eat one at a time. Usually, I’d just eat the entire thing right out of the wrapper. The only thing I noticed was that my teeth would feel funny. I can’t quite explain it. It wasn’t quite a soreness, but it would always happen with Hershey’s Bars and no other candy. I’ve never heard of anyone else having this problem, but I’ve never really asked anyone.

It might have to do with the fact that the Hershey’s bars are more sugar than most other chocolates. If I eat a bar that’s more cocoa, I don’t get the same problem. I think that’s what’s going to differentiate the Hershey bar from other bars. Hershey’s has more of a mass-produced feel to it. True, most people like chocolate anyway. It’s more like eating a McDonald’s hamburger versus eating one at a better restaurant. McDonald’s still tastes pretty good and is more affordable, but wouldn’t you rather have something from Appleby’s or Chili’s?

If I ever go back to eating candy bars, I may look into buying one of these. It’s been a while, but I remember liking them despite the one drawback. Maybe I’ll just have to eat one piece at a time.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gourmet Jelly Belly Tropical Mix

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

Usually, when I get Jelly Belly, I get the bag with thirty flavors. Occasionally, the store that I go to is out of them. Rather than go all over town, I’ll just get another variety. I usually only see the Tropical Mix and Smoothie Blend bags, although they do occasionally have sours. Yes, there are other bagged varieties, but I’m not here to write about them. I’m here to write about what I get when my first choice is out, which is the Tropical Mix.

The Tropical Mix is what you’d expect. Jelly Belly has taken their tropical flavors and put them in one bag. I can identify most of the flavors, such as orange and lemon-lime. Banana and green apple are in there, as well. They also have tangerine and pink grapefruit, I believe. I could go on, but I fear it would be an obvious attempt to pad my review. (Come on… Not even the Jelly Belly site lists all the flavors in the bag.)

One thing that I do like about this bag is that it has a higher proportion of flavors I like to beans I don’t like. Lemon-lime is my favorite and lemon and orange are high on the list, as well. It’s kind of fun to not have to eat through flavors that I don’t like a much. There is also one flavor in this bag that I can’t get in the 30-flavor bag. You’re probably asking at this point why this isn’t my first choice. There are certain flavors you can only get in the bigger mix, like peanut butter and I don’t want to have to do without for too long.

They’re pretty easy to eat and tend to be true to the flavors that they’re supposed to be. These are flavors that you might associate with the tropics. So, maybe I won’t instantly be transported to a tropical island, but I don’t expect that. I want candy. (Specifically, I want sugar.) This gives me sugar in an easy-to-eat form. It is nice to have something different once in a while. Sometimes, I will get this one even if the 30-variety bag is available. I’ll sometimes even get one or two of each, just to mix it up.

Just like the other flavors, they’re four calories per bean and fat free. Yes, I’m sure my dentist doesn’t approve. (My parents certainly don’t, as I don‘t have the best dental history.) I give this mix four of five stars. The only thing I could really ask for is for them to come in a resealable bag.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Entenmann's Rich Frosted Donuts

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

I have a thing for sugar. Put me in front of a desert buffet and I'll probably try everything. When I saw that there were candies and deserts, like jelly beans and candy bars, on Epinions, I knew that I had something I could write about.

One product that I'm fond of is Entenmann's Rich Frosted Donuts. You're probably wondering why I'd buy these donuts out of all the donuts out there. After all, I've already said that I have a thing for Krispy Kreme. Dunkin' Donuts isn't that bad and I have one by where I work. So why buy a box of these?

Sometimes I don't want to go that far, so it helps to have a box handy. Yes, I could buy a box from the two aforementioned locations, but those are generally meant to be eaten right away. Their shelf life isn't always that long. (I realize that this isn't always a good thing, but who eats donuts for heath reasons?) Also, these donuts have chocolate frosting with a soft center. I can't get donuts like this at Krispy Kreme or Dunkin' Donuts. I like chocolate and I like soft food. Put the two together and you have something that I will at least try, if not probably like.

As I said, these donuts aren't meant to be health food, which is why I haven't eaten them in a while. Take a look at the nutritional information on a box or online and you'll notice that they have 31% of your total fat and 65% of your saturated fat for the day...per donut. That's not including the 17g of sugar.

That brings up my biggest complaint, which is that they come in a box of 8 full-sized donuts or in a box of 12 miniature donuts. Would it kill them to make a single-serving package? I don't want to buy a box and have it sitting around just waiting for me to eat another. Yes, I could share, but not everyone likes snacks like I do. They'd probably still sit there.

Despite the one big complaint, the donuts get four stars. I do like them, even if I don't always want to eat them. I'd definitely recommend them to anyone that's looking to bring a desert or snack to a meeting or just wants something for the kids. If you ever find them in single servings, please let me know.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Frankenweenie (2012)

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

When I looked to see if Frankenweenie was available to review on Epinions, I was surprised to find out that it wasn’t.  What I found was the original, 1984 version that Tim Burton also made.  Both movies are based on an idea of Burton’s.  The 1984 version was written by Leonard Ripps and ran for only 29 minutes.  In 2012, Burton decided to make a feature-length version, this time written by John August.  (Epinions has the 1984 version listed, which I think may have prevented the 2012 version from being automatically added.)  Anyway, I’ll be reviewing the 2012 version as I haven’t seen the original short yet.

The movie is about a boy named Victor Frankenstein.  He loves science, making movies and above all else, his dog, Sparky.  His father wants him to find new things to love, as most parents would.  Victor keeps to himself, mostly, so his father gets him on to a baseball team.  This leads to a tragic accident that takes the life of Sparky.  Victor is devastated.  However, without this accident, we wouldn’t have a movie.  You see, it isn’t long before Victor’s favorite teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, inspires him with a demonstration of how an electric shock can make a frog’s leg move.  Victor gets the idea to reanimate Sparky.

This is one of those movies where everything goes right, making everything else go wrong.  The reanimation works, but Victor has to keep it a secret, even from his own family.  What would everyone think?  After all, people named Frankenstein don’t have the best track record with reanimated corpses.  This goes well until Sparky gets out and is seen by Edgar “E” Gore.  Pretty soon, many of Victor’s classmates want in on the action.  There’s a science fair coming up and a reanimated corpse would make for a great project.  Each of the classmates wants to reanimate various animals like sea monkeys.  It‘s up to Victor and Sparky to save the day.

This movie is not for everyone.  Tim Burton is one of those directors that is a bit unusual.  He’s directed Dark Shadows, Corpse Bride, Mars Attacks! and Edward Scissorhands to give you an idea.  (There’s also Big Fish and the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, which are a bit more mainstreamish.)  Also, the movie is stop motion.  This may turn off some people and interest others.  The movie is a bit dark for smaller children.  You don’t see Sparky killed, but there’s no doubt what happens.  It should be safe for teens and up.

I had gotten this movie through Redbox while my brother was in town.  We had both wanted to see it, so I took the opportunity to use a free code that I had gotten through Checkpoints.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I kind of knew what to expect.  I have no problem with animated features and I’ve liked a few of Tim Burton’s films.  I caught a few references to other pet- and horror-related things.  If you look in the pet cemetery, there’s a turtle named Shelly and a Goodbye Kitty, among other things.  (Not everyone will catch these, so pay attention.)  There are a few other characters, like an Elsa Van Helsing, as well.

The movie had been released in 3-D in theaters.  I would have liked to see the movie this way, but I don’t know if there’s any easy, convenient way of doing this for a video release.  I know you can get durable blue-red stereoscopic glasses for a few dollars, but I don’t know how many people are going to order them when relatively few movies are released in 3-D.  Maybe one day, I’ll get the chance.

Cheez - It Baked Snack Crackers

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

I love snacks. (Who doesn’t?) Sometimes, I go for the sugary stuff like donuts and jelly beans. I have been trying to cut back, so I usually get something like Cheez-Its. Normally, I don’t go for crunchy stuff, but there aren’t a lot of non-sugary snacks that aren’t crunchy. Cheez-Its are baked, which I think usually means that they’re lower in fat, although I’ve never done any sort of comparison.

In any event, I do like cheese and Cheez-Its are cheese flavored. As the back of the box once suggested, they’re big on cheese taste. For those that haven’t seen them, Cheez-Its are small, yellow squares that are lightly salted. They also have a small hole in the middle, which is about the size you’d make with a needle or something. They have different varieties, like spicy or sour cream, but I’m reviewing the classic version here. This is the kind that’s just cheese flavored.

They’re made by Kellogg's under the Sunshine label, which it acquired a few years ago. I like going with a major brand, although a major brand doesn’t always ensure a good product. I have noticed that Cheez-Its will vary on occasion. Some look like they’re a little burnt while others are saltier than normal. The box I’m working on now may have been a little overcooked.

Given the chance, I could probably go through a box in two or three sittings, even though I shouldn’t. Each serving is supposed to be 27 crackers, which works out to be 15 servings per box. I occasionally keep a box at work so that when I’m hungry and can’t go out for lunch, I can grab a few to eat. It cuts down on the hunger without my having to eat a lot.

Boxes usually go for $2.59 each. I usually get them when it’s buy one get one free since I know I’ll be eating them. If $2.59 is too much for you, you can get single-serving bags for 99?. This will at least give you the opportunity to see what they’re like without having to risk wasting an entire box. I have to warn you, though: If you like cheese, you will most likely like Cheez-Its. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Er ist wieder da/Look Who's Back (2015)

It would be interesting to see how various historical figures would react to today’s world.  Would Johannes Gutenberg be impressed by how easily words are printed?  How would Jonas Salk react to the anti-vaccine movement?  There’s a Doctor Who episode that has Vincent Van Gogh looking at an exhibition of his work.  Plenty of common people have been pulled out of time in movies.  Just ask Bill and Ted.  Look Who’s Back wonders what would happen if Adolf Hitler suddenly showed up in modern Germany.

It starts with Hitler on the ground wondering what happened.  Where are his trusted advisors?  How did he end up in a park?  Not to far away, Fabian Sawatzki filming some kids for a project he’s working on.  His boss, Christoph Sensebrink, doesn’t like it.  In fact, Sensebrink fires Sawatzki.  It isn’t until later that Sawatzki realizes that he has Hitler on tape.

Sawatzki is able to find Hitler, knowing that he has something that might get him his job back.  He assumes, along with everyone else, that what he has is actually some sort of actor performing satire.  It's like how we all know Borat is really Sacha Baron Cohen.  Hitler obviously must be someone trying to make a point, however distastefully he might be doing it.  Sawatzki has no problem becoming his unwitting accomplice, filming Hitler around the country.  (They decide to make a political documentary.)

It’s a sensitive topic for Germany and the rest of Europe, so there is an inherent danger in doing this.  (Various movies have had problems filming Nazis, as they couldn’t show symbols of Nazi Germany.)  One person even approaches Sawatzki and Hitler to tell them how horrible they are for doing this.  This makes it all the more unnerving that Hitler never breaks character.  Then again, why would he?  He’s Hitler and he’s intent on getting back his former glory.

The movie does take a few liberties.  It is correct that Hitler didn’t do too well as an artist.  However, the movie shows him drawing poorly, whereas Hitler seems to have focused more on painting.  Also, Hitler is said to have possible suffered from Parkinson’s late in his life, with there being reports of his hand shaking.  In the movie, he seemed to be in relatively good health.  Hitler also seemed surprised in the movie that Germany had lost World War II.  He knew that things weren’t going well for Germany.  He eventually shot himself and his wife, Eva Braun, took a cyanide pill.

One statement that had me take to Google was where Hitler says that he was elected, implying that it’s the electorate’s fault.  I’ve heard that he wasn’t really elected, but this may stem from the fact that elections in Germany at the time weren’t what Americans would think of as an election.  His first few public offices seem to have been appointed.  He does seem to have gained office through elections, but it seems that in those instances, it had to do with the fact that his party had the most seats in the Reichstag.  Whichever party got a plurality/majority generally had their leader appointed chancellor.  (If someone can clarify, please leave a comment.)

This is not a movie for children due to the topic.  I’m not even sure it’s a movie for most adults.  This is one of those movies where context will carry a lot of weight and this is reflected in the movie.  In the movie, many Germans are shown interacting with Hitler, some of them saying that they might vote for him.  (I’m not sure if these are actors or actual people hoping to make the final cut.)  In one scene, an elderly Jewish woman recognizes Hitler and yells at him, as she knows exactly who he is and what he‘s done.

That, to me, is the irony of the movie.  There is a level of discomfort watching it.  Writers for a talk show are tasked with making racist jokes.  We feel uncomfortable as the writers go through a few of them.  We’re aware of the historical context, but someone who lived through it knows the context and will have an entirely different reaction.  It would be interesting to watch the movie with someone who lived through that era just to see what they thought of the movie.  (Again, I’d welcome comments.  I’m sure that a few things in the movie went over my head.)

I would say that those involved in the movie did well.   The political element wasn’t forced, but was used to show that Hitler could regain power.  If there’s one thing I’ve constantly heard about him is that he knew how to manipulate.  He came into power not by promising to kill people, but rather by promising a better life for people.  His tactics might be different, given that he didn’t have Google and YouTube in 1945, but his ambition would be the same.

Highlander (1986)

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

I remember first becoming aware of Highlander in high school. (It was right around the time that the TV series began.) There were a lot of other students that were fans of the movie and the series. It took a while, but I finally got into the show, and then the movie.

The movies are about an Immortal called Connor MacLeod. This movie, the first in the series, starts out with MacLeod in Madison Square Garden watching a professional wrestling match. He has to leave in the middle of the event because he senses another Immortal approaching. They meet in the parking garage and have at it with swords. You see, the only way that an Immortal can be killed is by having his head chopped off. An Immortal that isn’t good with swords is a dead Immortal. When an Immortal is killed by another Immortal, the victor gets the loser’s quickening. In a show of stunning pyrotechnics, the victor gets all of the loser’s memories, skills, and energy. In the end, there can be only one. This one will rule the Earth.

After the fight in the parking garage, which MacLeod wins, we go to a flashback. The movie is basically a series of flashbacks. In the flashbacks, we get to see how Connor MacLeod became an Immortal. Basically, Connor went into battle with his clan and was killed by this other Immortal that goes by Kurgan. This was his first death, apparently. (Once an Immortal initially dies, they stop aging.) After Connor is brought back to his clan and prepared for a funeral, he comes back to life. His clan freaks out and banishes him.

He’s destined to wander the Earth until he meets Juan Ramirez, a Spaniard from Egypt who talks with a familiar accent. (Sean Connery plays him.) Ramirez teaches MacLeod everything there is to being an Immortal. For instance, there are some basic rules. You can’t fight on holy ground. When you do fight another Immortal, it’s supposed to be one on one. For some reason, Immortals can’t have kids, even though they’re born as ‘normal’ humans. Also, don’t lose your head, and that’s meant in a literal sense. As I said, the only way for an Immortal to truly die is to be decapitated. (Otherwise, they keep coming back.)

The part of the story that takes place in the present has to do with Kurgan coming after MacLeod. (At first, Kurgan comes across as just wanting MacLeod for his quickening, but MacLeod ends up with good reason for wanting Kurgan dead.) Those that are into the swordfights, science fiction or the sound track (done by Queen) probably won’t mind the storyline. Other than that, the strong point of the story is setting up the other movies and the TV series. The movie offers no reason and little explanation as to why Immortals exist. Ramirez asks why the sun rises. Are the starts just holes in the night sky?

The movie is good versus bad. Kurgan is definitely bad. While MacLeod isn’t someone you’d necessarily someone you’d want your daughter to bring home, he is trying to fight evil and is good mostly by default. He does show other likable characteristics, some of which don’t appear in this movie, but measuring your age in centuries does take its toll. (Ramirez is over 2,000 years old when he first meets MacLeod.) For instance, MacLeod has to keep changing his name and leaving everything to himself. (One point I’d like to bring up is that while his name has changed over the years, his signature shows a great deal of similarity. While I’ve had the same name my whole life, no two of my signatures are the same.)

If you’re just seeing this movie for something to watch one night, I’d suggest you skip this movie. If you’re a fan of the show and are looking for the history, go for it. The main draw seems to be the swordfights and the science fiction aspects of the movies. If not for the fact that the flashbacks were 450 years ago and in another country, they would get a little confusing. Also, the movie shows the actual decapitations, which may be too much for some of people. (The TV series didn’t show the actual decapitations, partly to appease TV audiences and the network and partly to meet budget and production constraints.)

Basically, when deciding whether or not to watch this movie, I’d recommend using your head. 


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

When I started with instant messaging, ICQ was the first program that I was introduced to. (It’s supposed to be short for I Seek You.) I just recently started using the program again after a long absence and I have to admit that a lot has changed. (I’ve been using AOL IM recently, but I’ll elaborate on that later.)

Some things are the same. ICQ is still a free program that you have to download from the website, After downloading it and installing it, you’re assigned a number. (If you already have an account, you can still use that one by importing it.) You also select a screen name, which is displayed to others. (Since the number is unique to you, several people can use the same screen name.) If someone else you know uses ICQ, you can exchange numbers and put each other on a contact list, which is basically a list of all of the people that you want to communicate with.

It used to be that text messages were typed into a window and that window disappeared when the message was sent. At some point, ICQ became more like AOL IM in that the window stays open and the text goes into the top part of the window after being typed in the bottom. I think that this has to do with AOL’s acquisition of ICQ. I’ve noticed some other changes that may have come as a result of that. For instance, you couldn’t save your contact list. This meant that if you ever had to reinstall ICQ, you had to find and add all of your friends again. (Regaining your contact list could be especially annoying since you can make it so that you have to authorize people when they want to add you to their list.) Now, when you reinstall it and import your account, the list will be there. (Another benefit of the merger is that you can add AOL IM users to your ICQ contact list and AOL IM users can add you to their buddy list.)

The big draw at first was ease of use. It was very easy to send messages and links, which were done using separate functions. One of the downsides was that people would often forward links that were the equivalent of chain letters. (I stopped getting these after a while, but I don’t know if it was because they declined in popularity or if it was because people learned that I didn’t appreciate them. The same could be said of bad spelling.)
It was also very easy to find people. Everyone is listed in a directory. You can find people based on things like interests, location and languages spoken assuming that anyone bothered to fill in that information. You could also post a comment. Many people wouldn’t (and still don’t) respond to random requests to chat, but few ever post such a comment in their profile. Don’t expect to meet a lot of new people through ICQ.

ICQ shows who is online and who is offline by putting the online people on top and putting a green icon next to their screen name. Those that were offline were on the bottom and had a red icon next to their name. Among those that were on, some were listed as being N/A, or not available. Others were simply ‘away’. It was simply a matter of degree; both are used to indicate that you won’t be immediately available to chat with someone. One thing that used to annoy me was when my brother would leave ICQ on and simply go about his business. He wouldn’t put it on away of N/A mode. The idea was to let his friends know that he was on campus and was willing to do something.

If a person’s icon is green, there’s no way to tell if they’re there or not. (As if that’s not enough, if a person’s icon is red, it’s possible that they’re in invisible mode, which means that they want to make themselves known to only a few people.) If someone is offline (or online and invisible) you can still send them a message. If they truly are offline, they’ll get it as soon as they connect to the system. (If they’re online, they’ll get it immediately and decide whether or not to respond to it.)

The real deathblow for ICQ was when a lot of people switched to AOL IM. Had the acquisition occurred sooner or had my friends switched later, I might still be using ICQ. However, I’ve come to like AOL IM better now. The primary advantage is that I can save my conversations in HTML format. (To my knowledge, there’s no way to save ICQ conversations independently of the ICQ program, but it’s possible that that capability was recently added.)

I think that for most people, it’s going to come down to what your friends use. There’s also Yahoo! Messenger and I believe that Windows has its own IM program. (Yahoo! Messenger has its own set of advantages. I don’t know about Windows’s program, as I’ve never used it.) At one point, I might have given ICQ four or five stars, but now, I’d say that it only gets three. I’ve gotten used to AOL IM and the truth is that AOL IM is better. If you have to choose between the two, I’d recommend AOL IM.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Photo a la Carte Postcard Stickers

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.
Back when I worked at Wolf Camera, I came across this product.  The name is a little misleading.  For those wondering exactly what this is, the stickers are actually backing for pictures so you can turn your 4x6 photographs into postcards.  Lets say that you are on vacation or you just got back.  You wanted desperately to send someone a postcard, but you couldn’t see dropping a dollar on one of those professional deals.  That’s where this product might come in handy.

Now, the ones I got were on clearance and I think are an older version of what’s on the web site.  First, mine are 6+3 free, or nine total.  Apparently, they come in packs of 15 now.   Also, the ones I had usually had some sort of message.  The ones I have now say either “I am a baby boy” or “We’ve moved”.  There were generic ones that simply had the lines for the address and the postage-here box.  Still, it’s a great product.

There are a few drawbacks.  First, it’s meant for a 4x6 picture.  If you have one of the newer formats that Wolf Camera offers, like 5x5 or 4½x6, you might have issues.  Yes, you could trim the picture and/or the backing, but who wants to be bothered?  (From what I can tell, this product only comes in 4x6, but you may be able to find other similar products that come in other sizes.)

Also, the backing can be tricky to line up with the photo.  You have to line it up perfectly or risk having someone else’s mail stuck to your postcard.  The ones I have use two pieces that you peel off, much like you’d dine on a self-adhesive bandage.  One is a small strip, maybe a ½ inch in height, which means that you could have the picture and the backing lined up easily before you press down on the adhesive.  From that point, it’s easy to apply the rest of the backing.

One big downside is that you have to get something developed.  This is not a huge problem in the digital age, granted.  The good news is that it will probably cost about the same as a postcard, but you get to select your own image.  If you have a choice, get matte finish, as this is more resistant to fingerprints.  The product comes with nothing to protect your picture at all.  Remember that it’s a postcard and anyone and everyone may be handling it.

The good news is that regular postcard rates still apply.  If you just want to send one picture to a person, but don’t want to have to pay more for the special envelope and the extra postage, you can send one with the postcard stickers.  I’ve used a few of these and I haven’t had much of a problem with them.  Just be sure to press down hard on the backing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Battery Charger, Universal (CH3450FUJ) for Fuji by Sakar International, INC.

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

I work at a camera store and one of the popular items we sell is battery chargers just like this one. For a year and a half, we’d sell these and wonder how people could lose their chargers. Many people come down to Miami on vacation and leave the chargers at home. (Or come back from vacation and realize that they’ve left the charger somewhere in California.) Others buy the just camera from a pawn shop or receive it as a hand-me-down and need to get accessories.

Either way, I found myself constantly “misplacing” the wires for my Fuji F10. This includes the wire to transfer the pictures to the computer and the wire to hook the camera up to an outlet so that the camera could charge. That’s why I got memory card readers built into my computer. It’s also why I eventually broke down and bought this charger.

To start, it normally retails for $30. It’s not bad considering that it’s a generic charger and charges several other Fuji batteries. This works out well if you have several other Fuji cameras that use the proprietary batteries. (We’ve had at least one customer that was able to take advantage of this with the Canon charger.)

Here comes the confusing part. There are several plates that fit into the body of the charger. You have to figure out which one goes with your battery, and then fit that one on to the base, which goes into the wall or hooks up to the car charger adapter. Your battery then comes out of the camera and fits into the plate.

Many customers don’t seem to get this. I don’t think it has to do with the customer. It’s just hard to explain while the unit is still inside the packaging. That’s why we will often set up the charger for the customer. We’ve had many people come back saying that it doesn’t work, only to finally get it when we set it up.

The charger works well, at least in the house. (Since I don’t have a car, I don’t really have an opportunity to use the car charger.) The only drawback is that, like I said, you have to take the battery out of the camera. This means that the camera will lose power and you’ll have to reset a lot of things.

This wasn’t a big deal for me. It meant resetting only the time and date. However, they make these for batteries that are used in dSLR cameras, which do have a lot of settings. (I’m not sure if that applies to this particular model, as we don’t carry a lot of the Fuji SLR cameras.)

It’s definitely handy to have. It’s too bad that there’s no one else in the house with a Fuji proprietary battery, as I’m willing to share. However, this is going to be useful when I go on a trip. This is much harder to lose than a cord.

Grand Theft Auto 3 (2001)

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

Let me start by saying that I love this game. Originally, it was fro the PlayStation 2, but it had crossed over to the PC realm by the time my brother brought his computer home for summer vacation. He had to take it back with him because, regrettably, the game is too good for my computer. (My computer can’t handle the system requirements.)

The game starts with a robbery gone wrong. Your first task is to find a place to hide and recover. This ends up being your base of operations while you do missions on the first of three islands. Most of the game consists of doing missions for various Mob people, although you can do other missions, which I’ll get to later. You’re stuck on the first island until you go through enough missions. That’s when the bridge opens and you’re allowed to drive across. The subway will also be closed until then. However, if you’re interested in mass transit, you can use the elevated rail to get around the first island.

There’s lots of sex and violence. To give you an example, you can have sex with a prostitute, and then kill her to get your money back. As you do these highly illegal and immoral things, your wanted level goes up. One star means that the police will only chase you if you cross their path. Two stars mean that they come after you. Three stars mean that a helicopter will come after. (IT goes up to six stars, but I won’t admit to being that wanted.) There are ways of getting rid of the police, such as having your car repainted. Should you get arrested, you’ll be fined some money (actually a pay-off) and released to do more harm to society. Should you do something to get yourself killed, you’ll be sent to the nearest hospital and fined a large quantity of money.

The three islands are very detailed. There are a dozen or so “people” (actually templates) that walk around the city, any of which you can beat up or kill, and several dozen cars models, any of which you can steal. This includes taxis and police vehicles. If you steal a taxi, you can actually pick up cab fares for extra money. If you steal a law-enforcement vehicle, like a police car or tank, you can go on Vigilante Missions. (Yes, I said tank.) These missions aren’t necessary to complete the game. You’ll have plenty of game play without them, although I found them useful on the second island. Many of the missions there were extremely difficult without cheat codes. There are also hidden packages to find and insane stunts to perform for bonuses. There are 100 hidden packages; each set of ten you find will get you a new weapon, which can be found near your hideout.

Speaking of weapons, there are about a dozen, including a baseball bat and a flamethrower. I loved the grenade launcher and the sniper rifle, mostly because both of them allow you to aim first. I found the handgun to be extremely difficult to kill someone with. Either my aim wasn’t good or it didn’t do much damage. You have to be careful with the flamethrower because when you set someone on fire, there’s a risk of the fire jumping back on you. Controls for the guns, and for the game in general, are very easy. The only thing I had difficulty with was the drive-by shootings. I guess if I had stuck to the keyboard, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but I got used to using the mouse. Regrettably, there’s no multiplayer. I’d love to be able to go head-to-head over the Internet or a LAN or something.

I spent a lot of time just driving around in a car listening to the radio stations. Each station consists of a loop, each consisting of a different theme. There’s an 80’s station, a rock station, and so on. You can even use your own mp3 files as another station. I’d have liked to be able to have several mp3 folders so that my brother and I could have each had our own station. It was a nice feature anyway.

This game will provide hours of fun for any adult. I do not, under any circumstances, recommend this game for children. There’s way too much to explain to them and even then, they probably wouldn’t understand or comprehend all of it. If you’re a responsible adult, I’m sure you’ll love this game as much as I do.

IMDb page

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Daredevil (2003)

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

Movies and TV series based on comic books are nothing new.  There have been all sorts of animated features throughout the years.  It seems like over the past decade, there have been a few live-action big-budget movies made starring big names.  Many were good.  Some, not so much.

In 2003, Ben Affleck stared as Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil.  Matt’s story starts early; as a child, he was blinded by toxic waste.  The up side is that his other senses are heightened.   He can use his other senses to ‘see’ the world in a Matrix-style way.  He’s also able to leap off of tall buildings and land safely on the ground.  As an adult, Murdock serves as a defense lawyer during the day, helping those that need it most.  Daredevil comes out at night to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen.  (He seems to pick criminals that the court system lets go.)

In the movie, Daredevil is trying to work against The Kingpin, who runs the area’s organized crime.  Enter Elektra Natchios, the daughter of Nikolas Natchios.  Unbeknownst to Matt, Nikolas has ties to The Kingpin.  Unbeknownst to Elektra, Matt is Daredevil.  Things get complicated when Nikolas wants out.  Enter Bullseye, who is hired by The Kingpin to kill Nikolas.

I don’t want to ruin the entire movie for you, so I’ll stop here.  I did have a few problems, all of which don’t require me to give anything else away.  First, it seemed like the movie went slow, then was rushed.  There were three main story lines to the movie.  One was Daredevil vs. The Kingpin.  Two was Daredevil vs. Bullseye.  Three was Matt becoming romantically involved with Elektra.

Daredevil vs. The Kingpin didn’t really seem that developed, mostly because Daredevil was fighting with Bullseye most of the time.  Both of these relationships seemed like something you’d use over the course of a TV series.  If there is a sequel, Kingpin will most likely be back.

However, Bullseye definitely seemed rushed.  Even though the pacing seemed appropriate, it seemed like Bullseye was used too much too quickly.  He seems like someone that would make a good archenemy.  Even the relationship between Daredevil and Elektra was rushed.  It’s almost like they weren’t planning on a sequel.

Overall, the movie was very dark.  Not only was much of it action, but much of it took place at night.  It seemed like the movie was driven by the fight scenes with the dialogue there only to string the fights together or give them context.  I think one of the overriding themes in the movie was revenge, which really adds to the darkness of the movie.  It’s definitely not something for small children to watch.  I don’t think they’d understand most of the themes.

I don’t read comic books, so I don’t know how the movie holds up to the source material.  However, it seemed like the movie relied on a superhero formula.  Give a hero strength (or at least ability) and give him a weakness.  Fill in the history as needed and you have a superhero.  In this case, Daredevil had most of his senses heightened, but was blind and could be incapacitated by loud noises.  Even Superman had his kryptonite.

What I remember, the coming attractions were a little misleading.  I thought that Elektra’s story would turn out much differently than it did.  It would be interesting to see how they pull one out of this, as most of Daredevil’s relationships in this movie could very well have come to an end.  (Actually, a few did.)  Overall, I really didn’t like Daredevil.  I think if this had been the first comic-book based movie I had seen, I probably wouldn’t have seen many others.