Thursday, July 28, 2011

If Facebook were Operated Like the Legal System: From Facebook to Legalbook

What if facebook were operated our civil legal system did.  In order for me to sign up for facebook, I would walk down to the local software engineer store front.  For a $150 an hour consulting fee, he would get me all signed up.  Since I wouldn’t be able to read all of the 1’s and 0’s, he would describe what he sees on the screen.  After I leave the office, I wouldn’t be able to view facebook on my own because I can’t read 1’s and 0’s.  I decide to put my software engineer on retainer so I can have more frequent access to my facebook.  Facebook is only as good as your access to friends.  I decide to friend several of my family members.  My software engineer then must meet with my friends software engineer to discuss the terms of the friendship.   6 months later, I’m free to have my software engineer tell me about my friends updates.  I also want to provide a couple of personal updates.  After I have a meeting with my engineer, he codes the message and assures me it will say what I wanted it to say.  I have to trust him because I can’t read it myself. 
Facebook could easily exist in such a fashion, but it would put its use out of the reach of the common user.  Facebook provides no vital use except to connect people.  The legal system serves a much more important function in our daily lives.  Facebook was designed so that the end user can navigate and use the product with no need to understand what goes on behind the scenes.  Our legal system has been designed to remove the end user from the equation.  A person solicits the help of a lawyer because they have no idea how to use the product.  Lawyers have been working for hundreds of years to create a system in which the end user must pay large portions of money to specialized people to engage in complex procedures to accomplish a substantive result.  Why can’t our legal system be as simple as facebook.  If I want to buy a house, why can’t I just walk up to a person and say I’ll buy their house for x amount of money as of such and such date, sign it and done.  Why do you have to spend an hour signing pieces of paper that you don’t understand at all.  When will Zuckerberg create Legalbook

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Robin Hood (2010) Movie Review

It should be no surprise to me that a movie called “Robin Hood” would have no surprises.  Everyone knows the basic plot, and with the exception of a few tweaks, this movie focuses on the genesis of Robin Hood, this movie stuck to formula.  Unfortunately, this movie is a shell of the movie they wanted to be.  They wanted to be Braveheart, but instead got Return of the Jedi meets Robin Hood.  If they decided to be a shell of Robin Hood, perhaps it could have been good.  Shooting for Braveheart is a high mark that they fell horribly short of.  As you follow the arc of the movie, Robin goes from being a common archer to the leader of the unified English army in just a couple of weeks.  A couple of problem’s with this.  You have no idea why Robin is really virtuous or why he is fighting the good fight.   You also have no idea why the men at the end of the main battle credited Robin as their leader.  King John was a weakly developed character.  The Sherriff of Notingham was a useless expenditure of dialogue and film.   The introduction of wild adolescent boys that had no value to the movie at all except to remind us of ewoks was a great blunder by an otherwise good director.   The climax of the movie was the attempt by the nobles to put restrictions on the power of the king, ala Magna Carta.  This element was not well developed and seemed to rushed.  Aside from it being Robin’s father’s idea, we don’t know why he latched on to the idea so much.   When King John backs out of his promise to sign the contract, he declares Robin an outlaw.  Robin goes off to live in the woods with Marion pursuing “Liberty” (they couldn’t use “freedom” since it was already taken)  living in a commune.  The difference between Hood’s liberty and Wallace’s freedom is that Wallace wanted his people to be free to pursue their own lives outside of the crown control, to pursue self-determination.  Hood simply wanted to the liberty to be free from the crown because without the crown, everyone would share and nobody would have more than another.  The problem with Hood’s version is that it always comes down to a person interpretation of what “fair” is.  Freedom removes the element of interpretation.  Is it liberty if one man is not free to become more prosperous than another man.  I give the movie two thumbs down.  My wife did like it, so there you go.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bridesmaids Movie Review

I have a rule against seeing comedies, especially rated R comedies.  The only exception I make are romantic comedies for my wife's sake.  Another rule I have is to know a lot about a lot of movies, especially before I see it.  I broke both of these rules this weekend and paid the price.   My wife and I were looking for a movie using my new smart phone.  We had two choices, Captain America, which I have no interest in seeing, but have grown warmer on the idea as it has received very positive reviews, or Bridesmaids, which was the only romantic comedy sounding movie playing.  I decided to go with brides maid because I thought it would be shorter and it started earlier, not for any other reason.  Next time I won't be so dumb.
The only thing I can say is that I have guilt for not having left the movie.  I allowed my desire to not waste my money to outweigh my desire to shelter my eyes and ears from garbage.  My mistake was not realizing that I wasted my money the second I paid my money.  The very first seconds of the movie were raunchy.  To make matters worse, the people behind me did just as poorly of a job screening the movie as I did because they brought their young kids to the late night showing of a rated R movie.   I quickly turned to my wife and asked her what the movie was rated because I thought it was PG-13.  Nope, she said it was R, so I knew it was going to be bad from there on out.  You see, an R rated comedy just means that there will be foul language and innuendo substituting for comedy, and that never makes me laugh.   I hated the movie.  Two thumbs down into the toilet.

Friday, July 22, 2011

National Review Calls for Minimum Wage Reform

In February 2009, I wrote a 10 point plan to economic recovery.  On many of these points, national media and analysts are now coming around and embracing most of these points.  Now, the national review has come out to speak against the ills of the minimum wage, calling for a training wage for teens.  Eliminating the minimum wage was my #1 point to economic recovery because of its trickle down effect on illegals, inflation, and employment.  A training wage for teens is a good start and I would vote for it, but the same principles that go into calling for a training wage should apply to everyone.  Let's just call it off altogether. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Debt Ceiling Compromise As Told Through A Matchbox Car Parable

I have twin sons and they have a bucket of matchbox cars.  Over the years, that bucket has become so full that it is overflowing and cracking.  They don’t have enough room in that one bucket for all of their cars.  They have approximately 20 cars too many to fit in the bucket without it splitting wide open.  I sat my sons down, Daniel on the right and Dennis on left.  I explained to them the gravity of the problem and that they must eliminate 20 cars or the bucket will split open and not be able to hold any of the cars.  Daniel on the right said that they need to identify the 20 cars to get rid of for the sake of the otheret cars.  Dennis on the left said he couldn’t imagine getting rid of any of the cars.  Dennis suggested that they buy some more cars as a way of fixing the bucket.   He went on to accuse Daniel of not caring for the old or cheap cars.  They debated with each other all afternoon.  Finally, they came to a compromise.  Dennis said they would work together to identify 20 cars to pull out of the bucket over the next 10 days.  Daniel agreed because he felt the pressure from his other siblings that he needed to compromise above all things.  As they worked out the details, Dennis’ older brother Max asked him  why he would be willing to give up some cars when he seemed so passionate against it.  Dennis said that while he did strike a deal with Daniel, he will actually take a look at the 20 cars they agreed to get rid of and pick out ones he will still plan on keeping.  Max didn’t understand.  “ But that isn’t what you agreed to” he said to Dennis.  Dennis said that compromising with Daniel was just a way of tricking Daniel into getting what he wanted.  Meanwhile, Daniel busily set about picking out cars despite hearing Dennis’ response to Max.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan Movie Review

This review is just a guilty pleasure as Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan premiered 29 years ago.  While there may be other movies that have surpassed this movie as my favorite as I've gotten older, there is no movie I have seen more in my life, almost 300 times, and there is no other movie that holds the sentimental #1 spot.   Why is this such a great movie?  Because despite its almost 30 year age, the story and even the special effects are timeless.  As a child, I watched it because I loved the uniforms, the bridge, and the space battles.  For the longest time, when models were not available, I would make little USS Reliant and Enterprise spaceships out of bristle blocks and legos and re-enact the space battles.  As an adult, while I still love the cat and mouse of space, I love the story. 
Star Trek 2 saved the Star Trek franchise.  Star Trek's first venture onto the big screen was a great disappointment.  Aside from the cast and ship, the movie had very little similarity to the tv show.  Nicholas Meyer, the director, did his research.  He realized that a key component in the appeal of Star Trek was the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, as well as the insertion of humor.  Meyer's other contribution was to make the enterprise more like a navy vessel, with more militarism, such as the uniforms and more formality in ranking.  He also made the torpedo room similar to old sailors ramming in a shell into the barrel of a cannon, just in time for a broad side.  And we see this happen as the enterprise and reliant exchange their round of fire, with each passing each other side by side in traveling in opposite directions, shooting phasers along the side of the other ship.   You could almost imagine the ships out in the ocean.
Ultimately, ST2 is about revenge and coming to terms with age.  For Khan, he was driven by revenge alone, just as Ahab was in Moby Dick, to which Khan frequently quotes.  For Kirk, he was dealing with his mid life crisis as he looked back on his life and only saw regret and was unable to see the future.  Khan is destroyed, Kirk loses the part of himself, Spock, but through it all, finds his youth anew.  In the shadow of the birth of the genesis planet, Kirk is renewed.  This movie is not action, or science fiction.  It is a character movie set in the mid 23rd century.  I give it 3 thumbs up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Grandview Special Election Tax To Promote Tourism

Attention all GRANDVIEW RESIDENTS: Please vote no on the proposed "targeted" tax increase during the August special election. A 5% tax on hotels to promote tourism is wrong. First of all, isolating specific business types for tax increases is un-american and I say shame on the council for proposing such a thing.  Just because other cities have done it, to their detriment, doesn't mean we should. Second, let's be honest, what tourism is there to be had in Grandview, and why tax the only industry that is actually related to Grandview tourism.  What are the various places for people to tour.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Euthanizing Medic Wade: From Saving Private Ryan

One of the more touching moments in the movie Saving Private Ryan is when Wade is wounded during the assault on the machine gun site guarding a destroyed radar site.  This was pivotal in the movie because Captain Miller had to force the order on his mostly unwilling troops.  The one who ends up wounded is the person least deserving you might think, an unarmed medic.  After the assault, the men all try to frantically "fix" wade.  "Tell us how to fix you", says corporal Upham.   As Wade realizes the severity of his wounds, he says, "I could use some more morphine."  Now, they all know that having already given Wade one dose of morphine, to give him more will cause his heart rate to lower causing him to die.  The men of the squad look at one another and Captain Miller gives the wish his blessing by saying twice, "give it to him."  A distraught Sgt. Horvath sticks Wade in the leg with not one but two more doses of morphine.  Wade, shivering and calling for his mother, slips from panic to calm and then to death.
Would Wade have died on his own, it is likely, but after how much time and after how much pain.  The squad effectively euthanized their comrade.  Now, I'm against euthanization, but how would I have reacted if I were Captain Miller in the field of war.  Is war like a black hole, only instead of the laws of physics disappearing, the societal norms and morals disappear.  I don't know how God would judge me in such a circumstance, but I think I would give him the morphine.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Serious Man Movie Review

Coen Brother's movies are either hit or miss with me.  Unlike directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, or Darren Aronofsky, I don't enjoy their entire body of work.  I recently watched one of their good movies, True Grit and am about to watch again another of their great movies, No Country for Old Men.  A Serious Man falls into a category of its own.  I neither liked it, like Fargo, nor disliked it like, The Ladykillers.  I enjoyed the deep detail into suburban Jewish life and the attempted allegory of the biblical Job.  However, I didn't enjoy the lack of a conclusion or true story.  This is just a movie of happenings best seen in a TV drama format.  My wife asked me how the movie was with 15 minutes left.  I said that it all depended on how it ended.  What I meant by that was that all of the movie up to that point could be really good or bad depending on how relevant the conclusion was, which ended up being its biggest weakness.   This is a movie about perception on why things happen and how we react when bad things happen for no reason.  While this movie was a black comedy, you could still see some reality in how an essentially good nature guy might react when overwhelmed with the bad.  I would say that the best part of the movie was what issue finally pushed him over the top into making a wrong decision.  Not divorce or work, but a columbia records debt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Compromise In Washington In Debt Talks a Farce

I'm not the first, nor will I be the last to blog about compromise as related to politics.  Wikipedia defines compromise as to make a deal where one person gives up part of his or her demand.  Compromise does not mean both parties give up something.  Where compromise becomes a farce is that we have no idea what Obama's plan is that he would allegedly be compromising on.  All we know from the media is that he is trying to compromise with a bunch of republicans who won't compromise on raising taxes.  This is extremely poor leadership, but shrewd political maneuvering  on the part of Obama because it allows him to take any and all positions.  The bummer is that it doesn't allow the court of public opinion to debate the "Obama plan" the same way as they are with the Republican plan, like the Ryan budget.
For this reason, I'm so thankful for the debt ceiling debate and yes, I'm thankful for the republicans to not compromise on raising taxes. I'm thankful because this might be the first time principle stood against principle in government in my lifetime. We get to see the principles of obama contrasted with those of common sense and responsibility.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Larry Crowne Movie Review

I actually went to the theater with my wife this weekend and this was the closest thing available we would both watch.  First off, when you watch this movie, you realize that Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are both getting old, which then lets you know that you are also getting old.  Anyway, I suppose the best thing this movie had going for it were low expectations, which it exceeded, but that is to say that it is at the most, watchable.   The characters are cliched and over the top.  Larry Crowne is the ultra-do-gooder that gets downsized from a target like company  (he is fired by Dale Dye who is frequently a military combat consultant on movies, including saving private ryan and band of brothers, which is where the tom hanks connection comes in).  Being divorced and mid-life, he is faced with the very scary prospect of starting over.  He decides to go to college and take 3 classes, which doesn't even make him a full time student.  One of the classes takes him into the company of the speech teacher, Julia Roberts, who has lost interest in teaching and only her only hope is that the class size is less than 10 so she can cancel.  Larry Crowne ends up being student #10 of course.  While at college, Larry joins a motor scooter gang and comes into the friendship of an ultra free spirit that infuses some newness and life into Larry.  As Larry is moving up, Julia is moving down as her marriage with her porn loving husband falls apart.  And guess what, there ends up being a student teacher conference, and yada yada yada, they end up happily ever after.   The movie provided some laughs, especially in the beginning as you didn't really know which direction the movie was trying to go, so you just enjoyed it.  As director hanks began to run out of time, he had to start wrapping things up, which is when the laughs dissipated and he went into full on romantic formula mode.  The unfortunate part of this rushing for climax was that the introduction of formula made you look back at the silliness of the rest of the movie and think that it was more ridiculous than silly.  My overall review would be to say this movie was more ridiculous than silly.  I would only suggest watching this movie as a date movie.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Netflix to Raise Rates to Try to Squeeze Out Physical Media

I came upon this article that discussed Netflix's plan to unbundle their streaming and physical media packages, and at the same time raise the rates.  I love the idea of getting rid of physical DVD's.  I think they are as relevant as a CD is today.  Unfortunately,   Netflix's race to eliminate physical inventory is outpacing the speed with which they add new content to their streaming library.  In fact, I have seen very little progress in adding content that has come out in the last 2 to 5 years, and their content for 5-20 years is not much better.  I believe that this may be the move that busts Netflix's current hold on movie content.  People will look to get their physical media from other sources and stream from yet another.  It becomes more easy for the consumer to look at movies that way since the current giant is pricing it such.  This misstep can only be undone by an even bigger announce of some sort of new studio offerings online.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flags of our Fathers Movie Review

I have a sensitivity for the overlooked emotional baggage our servicemen suffer from as the return home from combat.  The horrors they witness, the friends that the lose, the things they must do to survive is difficult for me to fathom second hand.  No combat arena in our nations history has proved to be more horrific than that of the Pacific during World War II.  When you read combat statistics, one stat that is most frequently absent is the number of POW's on either side as the Japanese often didn't take prisoners alive, nor did they offer themselves for capture.  So each battle in the pacific resulted in either a total defeat for the US or a total loss. 
The movie "Flags of Our Fathers" is an attempt to tell both the story of the hardships 3 special soldiers faced upon returning home for public relations duty before the wars end, and that of the last battle they fought in, Iwo Jima, the first battle in which US casualties exceeded Japanese, despite a US victory.   Unfortunately, the movie fails to do either.  It is ineffectively jumpy and disorganized, which is disappointing coming from veteran filmmaker Clint Eastwood.  Casting was poorly done for one of the principle characters, Ira Hayes, the Native American survivor of the flag raisers of Iwo Jima.  I was so mad every time some person would disrespect him using Indian slang, but the actor was so bad, I was distracted.  The height of the disorganization came towards the end when the movie switched over to a veteran son narration with a father-son healing.  Problem is, these elements were never introduced so you as the viewer couldn't care as much.  I give this movie two thumbs down.  I bought it for $5.00 at Wal-Mart and am now using the disc as a cup saucer.  I also will not watch Letters From Iwo Jima.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Crazy Heart Movie Review

I decided to view this movie because it was so well reviewed and I do think Jeff Bridges is a good actor.  I was a bit skeptical because I don't enjoy country music and didn't want to watch 2 hours of it.  To make a long story short, I finished this movie wanting to own several of the songs featured in the movie.  It is a movie about how it is never too late for redemption and how redemption in this world isn't always full of roses.  In fact, redemption might involve us making the right choices even if those around us offer no forgiveness.   Jeff Bridges does a good job acting and singing and Collin Farrell makes an unlikely cameo as Bridges successful protege, also performing his own songs, despite his Irish accent.  The film also does a good job depicting the functionally disfunctional alcoholic.  One of the craftiest parts of the film involved the low point for the rejuvenated Bridges whereby, while he isn't drunk, his alcoholism is partly to blame for a near tragedy.  The easy thing would have been to show him raging drunk and then have him make his mistake.  Instead, his mistake is made during the process of consuming one drink.  Well done.  I give this movie two thumbs up.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Pinnacle of Hollywood Special Effects: Humans Not Wanted

In 1979, Disney released “The Black Hole”.  The opening credits of that movie involved a computer generated image of a 3 dimensional green line grid black hole, which was the longest computer generated image in a movie to date.  Now, 32 years later, we see that the range of special effects has no boundary.  Anything imaginable can be created for the screen.  Many movies made today involve actors wearing motion capture suits so that their digital image can be computer animated, such as in “Avatar”.  In fact, we are on the verge of rendering human actors irrelevant.  Over the next 5 to 10 years, the ability to create a human face with the realism of a true human will be achieved.  We can suspend our disbelief now when humans are animated into an alien species where we don’t know what a real alien would look like, except for what we see on screen.   The thousands of subtle movements in a human face, including coloration and eye dilation, are still unrealized, but the day will come. 
The obvious effect will be the end of the superstar and red carpets.   Because in the movie making of the future, the actors we see on screen will be the accumulation of multiple sources.  The face might come from a model.  A person’s ability to act will not matter, but their appearance alone will be what is important.   Long dead actors could be brought back in a digital form.   Next, take a person that can act physically and strap a motion capture suit on them.  And to finish things up, you need a voice actor.  But what happens if people love the artificial person that was created for a movie and they want to see them in another movie.  Which of those three pieces will be needed?  I’ll leave that to another blog post.
Rendering humans irrelevant is a future state of movies.  There is a current change I see happening in movies as a result of the limitlessness of special effects.  Back to my black hole analogy, a movie like that brought in audiences to see what for the day was amazing special effects.   The original “Clash of the Titans” was the last movie made by the legendary stop motion animator, Ray Harryhausen.   At the time, the special effects were the best of a long career.   However, when viewed today, the special effects do not stand the test of time, but the story does and is still worth watching.  Hollywood decided that the original material was good enough to remake the movie with timeless state of the art special effects.  The problem with their remake was that while they did make a movie in which the special effects leave very little to be improved upon, they totally forgot the story.  The remake was a stinker that I hope to never watch again.    
As a result of the special effects reaching a climax, #1 the number of movies to remake just to update the special effects will decline precipitously.  #2, the ability to make a movie that draws in crowds because of the special effects alone will decline precipitously.   Both of these are good points in that it will force studios to focus more on stories than imagery.  They will be able to create any story with no worry about how they can make it come to life, just so long as the story itself has life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Fighter Movie Review

Boxing movies have been done time and again.  The last good one was called Cinderella Man.  What made that movie great was how the struggles out of the ring were more important than the ones in the ring.  You wanted success in the ring so that there would be success out of the ring.  The Fighter is just as good, but in a much different way.  Here, what happens in the ring is a reflection of what is going on out of the ring.  Whether there was a boxing match or not, you are watching for the boxing.  The Fighter is based on the true story of boxer Micky Ward and his struggle to step out of the dark shadow of his half brother, former boxer and current crack addict, Dickey Ecklund, the pride of Lowell Mass.  Mark Wahlberg does a sufficient job, but the movies scene stealer is always the convincing acting of Christian Bale as the washed out crack addict brother with delusions of a boxing comeback.  Also good is the acting of the woman, with Melissa Leo as the mother of both Micky and Dickey that can't quite realize that her enthusiasm is placed with the wrong brother, and with Amy Adams as the tough girlfriend of Micky that must square off against the more scary opponents that those seen in the ring, Micky's family.    Good acting and a good story made strong by its reality make this a great movie.  I watched it twice within one month.  I give this two thumbs up.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Movie Review

I don't care much for action movies.  Action movies simply are a method of showcasing special effects by tying together a lose story by stringing along a series of chase scenes.  They are predictable, and now that the realm of special effects is limitless, they are visually boring as well.  Why am I spending so much time talking about action movies during my review of a drama?  I realized that many drama's can be much the same.  Take a lose plot and string it along with a series of dramatic interactions with the conclusion being equally predictable.  I call these type of movies, dramactions.  The original Wall Street was an exciting look into the world of the late 80's bull market where greed was good.  Now that we have learned that greed was immoral, flash forward 20 years to the financial crisis of 2008.  Now we mix greed with green and too big to fail as the backdrop.  This could be a really good movie.  Also insert a Gordon Gecco that is crying foul about the current practices on Wall Street.  Unfortunately, insert a tale of a young man and woman about to be married.  Make that woman Gordon Gecco's daughter and also make her the benefactor of a 150 million dollar trust that her wall street fiance doesn't know about.  Plot twist and dramatic chase scenes and you have a dramaction that ties everything all pretty.  Unlike the original Wall Street that saw Bud Fox being escorted away in tears in handcuffs, this sequel sees everyone crying for joy.  Two thumbs down

Friday, July 1, 2011

Steven Ratner Reads Zulubuff for Reasons to get Rid of Ethanol

In this 6 minute interview, former car czar, Steven Ratner, mentions just about every single thing I said years ago on this very blog.  He talks about how it takes in more energy to produce than to put out and high food prices.  I'm glad to see that so many people are finally seeing how horrible this policy is.