December 13, 2010

Smart Girl

   Like many of you I have been following the Trial of Brian David Mitchell, the man notorious for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart. Her story is one of the greatest stories of survival I have ever read.
   Not many people I know think anything but highly of Elizabeth Smart. Her ability to survive the harshest of circumstances amazes me. It is especially amazing that she was only 14 years old at the time.
   Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of my free time reading any of the transcripts I could find. Many nights as I would ride home Stephanie would be stuck driving in silence as I finished reading the transcripts for the day.
   I found testimonies by Mitchell's father and wife to be rather interesting. They gave insight into the mind of a person who is unmistakably self-serving.
   Obviously the most insightful testimony of all was Elizabeth Smart's own. Only her testimony really relayed the information of what happened over the course of her 9 month abduction. I found myself at times crying at my computer as she mentioned again and again in what appeared to be a very matter of fact manner that "then he raped me," which was all too often followed up with a short statement followed up by "then he raped me again."
   Descriptions of the threats which she lived under appalled me. And yet she still managed to find a way to survive long enough to be found. All too tragic is the fact that so many times when a child is abducted they are only ever found postmortem.
   Elizabeth ultimately helped orchestrate her own rescue. When they were contemplating where to go after San Diego Elizabeth cunningly used Mitchell's own desires for more young girls to her own benefit and managed to convince him to return to Utah. A couple of weeks later and she was back in the arms of her family.
   I know that this story is oft repeated in the news. I just wanted to throw my two cents at it. Though I was not involved in any way this story effected me so much that I have to put it here.

November 3, 2010


   I read a lot of reviews. I write some myself. Even though I hope that reviews are helpful and insightful recent event have reminded me that they are mostly useless.
   I read a lot of review written by Orson Scott Card on his website Uncle Orson Reviews Everything. I also read reviews of video games in Game Informer magazine that comes with my annual membership to Game Stop's rewards/discount program. Most of what I am going to say is in regards to these two publications but also applies to many others I read online.
   A few months ago I read a review posted by Card about the movie Avatar: The Last Airbender. The review was rather scathing. He talked about how things were added to the movie and other things were taken out that he thought were not valid decision. He talked about how it wasn't true to the cartoon. At the end of the article he then stated that he wasn't going to watch this particular movie as it wasn't worth his dollar.
   At this point I have to admit that when I started this blog I intentionally copied the style and form of Uncle Orson Reviews Everything. Being a fan I thought that I would copy a format that worked rather than reinvent the blog. I say this because I know that Card is a good writer and I know he knows better than this. Any writing class student knows that you cannot expect your writers to take you seriously if you are going to make statements about something which you don't know about first hand or have direct experience with.
   If Roger Ebert reviewed movies that he didn't actually watch his career as a writer would likely be flushed down the toilet. As a movie reviewer he would most definitely lose credibility.
   Now I can handle a scathing review now and then from writers I respect. I think the point of reading a review is simply so you can get some idea about whether or not to use or try one product or another. Luckily in this case I had already watched the movie and knew more or less what he may point at as the largest flaws in the movie. I was wrong.
   I thought he would spend time discussing the problem some of the actors had delivering dialog or how some parts of the story were rather rushed or possibly how the relationships of the main characters were not as well developed as they could be. Instead he spent most of his energy talking about parts that were left out and parts that were added.
   Right now I am watching the cartoon over from the beginning. As I am watching it I keep asking myself what I would change about the movie if I were to make it. Honestly, the only thing I would do is cut out all or most of the parts where the protagonist team are traveling to the North Pole. I would instead spend that time trying to build the relationships with the characters. Other than that the only thing I would have done is spend more time with the actors helping their dialog feel more natural.
   But I actually watched the movie and the cartoon. I find the two to be both different and compatible from a fan's point of view. I very much enjoy both for what they are. And what they are is kids shows with stories that are good.
   I still read Card's reviews. I still enjoy them. I just see how the value of them is far reduced in my mind.
Another review I read more recently was a scathing review of the video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. My wife got me the first one two years ago when it came out and I have enjoyed it very much. I am currently playing it through for the third time. My love of the first game gave me ample reason to be interested in the follow up.
   The review for this game was rather short and simple. It said that the game plays much the same as the first one and that was the most enjoyable part. The reviewer also made sure to insert the idea in there that some of the controls were still bad. He then talked about how poor the story is, how short the game is and how easy it is. That's all. I came away feeling rather uncertain about if I should get the second game or not.
   Then a few days later the demo for the game was released on PlayStation Network. I was rather surprised at how wrong the review was.
   The controls are basically the same. The targeting system is very close to the way it is in the first game. At the time that game came out there were a lot of complaints about the targeting system. I found the system rather intuitive personally. It took me less time to figure out than the system for highly praised Uncharted 2: Drake's Fortune, which I found to be rather tedious and unresponsive. Anyway, they didn't change this system much. They just made it easier to see what it is that you are targeting. But it was reviewed poorly.
   The story the writer was being negative about is pretty straight forward. It's about a man trying to rescue his love (at least to the point I have made it to). It's nothing new but it is moves the game forward. Remember this is video games not Shakespeare. How good does the story need to be? If it moves the action along is it not doing exactly the job it is there for?
   The game may be short. I am not sure because I have not finished it yet.
   As for the game being easy I must again disagree. There are parts that are very difficult. I am currently stuck in one place that I have played about 7 times over without being able to figure out how to overcome the obstacles. In addition to this there are a number of parts where you have to not just fight your way through but puzzle out a way to do so, though usually with a bit of help in the form of non-specific advice.
   In all I have been very pleased with the game. It build upon the first one and has some aspects that are vast improvements and some that are minor improvements. In many ways it is just a continuation of the first game.
   What I find to be the biggest flaws of negative reviews is their lack of total insight into the product itself. So many people spend their written lines just pointing out the parts that are not perfect. Since when does something need to be perfect. A game like Force Unleashed 2 is not perfect but how amazing does something need to be in order for it to get a good review?
   I think reviewers should try to review products in a more positive light. Instead of telling us what an iPad is not good for why not help people understand how something like that might improve their lives. If you are going to point out the flaws of a video game help us know what audience it would appeal to (like me and the other Star Wars fans). I can think of two reviews of my own as examples. In my review on toothbrushes I put some toothbrushes down but before the end I give an example of a toothbrush that is worth using. In one of my movie reviews I compare two movies that are both good but explain why one is better than the other, which may not technically be a review.
   I would hope the few people that read my words find that when I talk about products I may lead you to think about trying one or at least opening your mind to one that you may not have thought about before.
   Also, I hope my blog is not only about reviewing products.
   Which reminds me, I have been thinking of starting a serial. Basically a short story that will be posted in segments on here. It may be too ambitious for my lazy inner writer. But what do you think?

October 5, 2010

"@#*k Yeah!"

   As many know it was recently my birfday. This year I turned 30. The wife decided that since this year is my "Golden" birfday she would take me to Vegas to see a show. For the last year or so I've been talking to her about seeing The Amazing Jonathan". It was meant to be a surprise but somehow I guessed it months ago.
   Skipping ahead, we saw the show on October 2nd and it was great. For those who are not familiar with the routine it involves a lot of participation by someone randomly picked from the crowd. On that night Jonathan walked to the edge of the stage and looked down at the man sitting right next to me. He called out, "I will need a volunteer from the audience. Any volunteer will do." He never lifted his gaze from the man he was looking at. The man seemed a bit nervous and started looking around. Suddenly his gave shifted to me and he said, "You there, come up on stage." Which I did.
   The next hour of my life I spent between laughing and wonderment. Mostly I was wondering if my wife had set this up ahead of time. It turns out that she didn't. It was in fact complete coincidence.
   I thought about trying to recount the many jokes and experiences I had on stage that night. I think that YouTube might be better than trying to describe it. Not that anyone put that performance up. The routine is pretty similar. As you watch you can just replace whoever the random middle aged dude is with me.
   I find that the show is exceptionally funny when you are on stage. Despite the fact that in many instances I was the butt of the joke I laughed so hard I eventually got a headache from it.
   Moving on a bit, I'm 30 now. It's strange to think that 10 years ago I was single and was living in West Africa. Life has really changed for me. They say that turning 30 feels like nothing. I'm still not sure. Aside from the trip to Las Vegas and all of the eating out I think I feel the same as I did before. But that feeling has got to be change.
   They say the only thing in life that is consistent is change. I suppose that is why I don't feel different because my life has been changing a lot over the last few years. I have a lot of goals on my list that have motivated me to keep moving and keep growing and keep trying new things. So much so that I feel like I'm quite a different person from that skinny young man with all the ideals about how life would be after Africa.
   Sure, some of those ideals have been achieved. Some however seem to have been forever cast aside as people in my life have made decisions that drastically alter the nature of our relationships. Other yet seem somewhat elusive and still just beyond my reach, though I still reach.
   It's times like this that lead us to reflect on who we are and where we have been. And yet perhaps it is times like this that we need to see some comic overreact to a failed magic trick and forget about everything but having a good time.

July 23, 2010


   So I decided to talk about something simple today. Every day we stick a toothbrush in our mouth to try to clean the gunk away. Lately I have been trying a couple of different types of brush thanks to Costco sells.
   Let me start with a few from Oral B. I have used in the last year 3 different types that they make. Advantage, CrossAction and Pulsar.
   The Oral B Pulsar is by far the most expensive toothbrush I have ever used. I felt bad throwing it away actually. Basically it is a disposable powered toothbrush. The cleaning head is split in the middle and has some loose fitted rubber toothpick shaped things on it. When you turn it on they kind of jiggle a little bit. I used this line for about a year. I actually really enjoyed this brush for its ability to give your gums and teeth a nice massage. The split head made it work rather well at cleaning the hard to get to places. Basically what it did is put on cleaning surface on the front of your teeth and another on on the biting edge. It works rather well. The downside is that it is rather expensive. Without Costco or the coupon they are around $6 each. It's a lot of money to ask for a disposable brush. Perhaps the worst part about this was that the battery compartment is sealed. I found that I was normally using the brush long after the battery died simply because the battery didn't last as long as the cleaning head.
   Then there is the Advantage. A lot of the same features from the Pulsar are transplanted onto the Advantage. It has the rubber things on the side and a similar brush layout. It does not have the split head. It also doesn't have the massage power. I used this brush for about half a year. All in all it is a good brush. It's just not great. The bristles maintain a rather flat field. I noticed that it normally didn't reach into the areas between the teeth.
   After using the Advantage I got a coupon for the Colgate 360. It advertises that it cleans all the surfaces of your mouth. I bought a whole pack from Costco because the deal was killer. One new device that is becoming more popular is the tongue cleaner. The 360 employs this on the reverse side of the bristles. Basically it is a bunch of rubber nubs. The first thing I noticed about this device is that I haven't had a single sore in my mouth since then. Maybe it's because I have been cutting back on M&Ms. Still, usually I get some sores at the corner of my mouth and in my cheeks. Since brushing with the 360 I have not. It's been a couple of months at least. The other side is where the criticism comes in. The 360 basically doesn't clean my teeth. There is nothing reaching for your gums. All of the bristles are flat except for a few really tiny ones that poke out ever so slightly from the sides. They basically contribute nothing to the cleaning of your teeth. By the time I had been using one anywhere close to the point where it was wearing out I was tired of it. We went back to Costco and bought a pack of Oral B CrossAction brushes. I threw out the Colgate 360 the day we got the new ones. We now have a bag of unused Colgate toothbrushes you can have if you want.
   The Oral B CrossAction has a lot of the same features that the Colgate 360 has. It has a tongue cleaner on the back. What really makes it work for me is that instead of a flat surface of bristles it has layers of bristles that are angled and staggered in opposing directions. The staggering give the bristles gaps where there are no bristles. This gives them a large range of motion. The opposing directions and angles layout allows the brush to work to clean out deep areas between teeth and allow the brush to be very effective in both directions. One set cleans as you push and another cleans as you pull. This is unique to any toothbrushes I have used.
   My recommendation is clear. The Oral B CrossAction is by far the better toothbrush. It is less expensive than most of the others in this review yet cleans better than them.
   When it all comes down the way I really rate a toothbrush is that the one I prefer is the one that leaves me less gunk to floss out of my teeth after I'm done brushing. Because there is nothing like following one chore with another one.

June 24, 2010


   I thought I might review something other than a movie today. I recently bought a new cell phone. In truth this is the only phone I have paid more than $20 for. I purchased a MyTouch Slide from HTC and T-Mobile.
   All told the phone cost me about $150 after mail in rebate. Honestly not that bad considering that only a few years ago $150 only bought you a cell phone with some limited music playback. A few years before that all it got you was a color screen. At the time I got my first cell phone (at least one that I didn't share with anyone else) $150 got you very little over what you could get in a free phone model.
   The Slide is a phone built around the Android operating system. It really is one of many similar phones. Android, for anyone who doesn't know, is a phone operating system that was designed from the ground up to provide users with something very capable of connecting you to the internet at any time and provide you with full web capability. It has done very well at this end up to date. The main competitor it has is the iPhone which should be familiar to everyone (even my mom).
   My particular phone was built around the idea of creating an "entry level" smartphone. I don't exactly know what makes one smartphone or another entry level. Perhaps the easiest tell is the price tag, though that is ever changing. In truth there is VERY little difference from one Android phone to another. For the most part they all operate very similar and can run very similar programs. For instance, my phone is very adept at running a program designed to turn the LED flash on a Motorola Droid into a flashlight. That being said, internally phones now resemble computers and as we are all familiar with these days some computers just have more power. The Slide falls pretty average on the power scale. It is roughly comparable to the iPhone 3GS or the Motorola Droid.
   Why did I get the slide when I could have got a Droid or an iPhone? Couple of reasons. First of all the Slide looks very nice. Honestly in aesthetics I give it an A. I purchased it in red. In my view it just looks nicer than a Droid. It has round edges. It has a large screen with a black frame that contrasts nicely with the red body.
   The Slide also has a slide out keyboard (thus the name). Now this is fairly important to me. Anyone who spends a lot of time using a phone knows that whatever the input device it needs to be comfortable. I spent a lot of time looking at many phones with many types of keyboards, including many with only a touch screen keyboard (like the iPhone). For the most part they all give me a lot of problems. They are uncomfortable to use or hard to figure out. This phone has large keys with excellent spacing. It has 2 shift keys. I have found it easy to use for long periods of time. I have already on at least one occasion held a lengthy chat session with a friend. I am unaware if he knew I was using my phone at all.
   The keyboard was not just a consideration for me. I also got one for Stephanie. I knew that whatever the new phone I got was going to be I needed to have a lot of accommodations for the wife. She is prone to typing a lot online and I figured it must have a good keyboard or she would not want it.
   In addition to the slide-out keyboard the phone also has a new technology for on screen typing called Swype. Swype is a simple keyboard that you drag your finger across letters to spell words. It uses recognized patterns to determine what you are typing. It was so intuitive I had it figured out in about 60 seconds.
   The Slide was also listed as one of the first devices to get the upgrade to Android 2.2. I would be lying if that didn't factor into my decision a lot. If they had not made that promise I would have waited until something came out that DID have 2.2. It may not mean anything but in short Android 2.2 is an operating system update that was more or less designed to make everything perform better and faster. With an entry level product I was concerned with life cycle. I didn't want to purchase something that would, in a year or so, become some slow that it would become unusable. You can probably relate. Have you ever bought a computer that seemed really great when you turned it on the first time but then after a year or so it started to seem sluggish? I want to avoid that with the phone since we won't be eligible for a discounted upgrade for 2 years from the time we buy the thing.
   So, if HTC does their job right then after we get used to our phones we'll get this fancy new upgrade for free that will increase the speed of the phones down the road a few months. It will suddenly feel as if we are getting a new phone.
   Now a lot of people may wonder if the speed increase will be that noticeable. From all accounts, both from the developers and outside testers, the average speed increase for Java based applications (the apps all run as Java apps) is something like 4.2 times faster that the current version. This type of speed increase typically never happens in software systems. Usually speed is increased in percentages not multiples.
   Another sales point to me is the wireless internet package from T-Mobile. I know there are a lot of T-Mobile haters around but it is hard to argue that they have reasonably priced internet access from mobile devices. $30 per month for unlimited access. Right around the market average. It's better than AT&T in that it is unlimited. Soon, it may be one of the leading wireless networks in the country as they roll out their new HSPA+ system. Once it is rolled out it will provide people like me speeds that other carriers can only achieve in 4th generation wireless telecommunications systems, which so far come with an additional price tag. Again, this fits my plan to have a phone that will get faster AFTER we have been using it for a while.
   In relation to the internet the web browser works great. It will load just about any page I have tried. It will even load Flash elements on pages.
   Probably the thing I like about this phone best is that it is customizable like my laptop. Like my laptop I can make it my own by adding a wallpaper and some shortcuts to folders and programs and such. It makes the whole system seem very much like it belongs to me. My previous phone was a Nokia. One of the things that impressed me most about it was how it allowed me to make the home screen whatever I wanted by adding shortcuts and small programs (like a countdown timer that I use almost every day) to it. I could put up a picture I took or put on the phone as a wallpaper. At one point I took a photo of my laptop's desktop picture so that both my phone and laptop had the same photo. I like that Android allows this kind of user configuration.
   Many will argue that an iPhone is better because of this or that. I won't argue with you. I have used an iPhone or 2. They are great phones. Seriously, they are great phones. I'm not saying my phone is better than an iPhone. In truth I get tired of people comparing them.
   One comparison I will make. Since iPhones are only available for AT&T I would just put in that the call quality is not good enough. If you have an iPhone I prefer you call me from a landline so I can hear more than half of what you say. iPhone or another phone I want to hear what you are saying and for some reason it is difficult for me to understand people on AT&T.
   So, if you are in the market for a new phone the message of todays writing is simply to say, I like the MyTouch Slide from T-Mobile. I recommend you look at one.

April 23, 2010


   I think there are a lot of things in the popular culture that say that time spent with you family is wasted time. There is fighting and old scars. There are any number of things that they infer that time spent with family is. The one thing that seems overlooked is that it is usually very refreshing as well.
   As I write this I am on an airplane flying home from Iowa where the wife and I just spent a wonderful weekend with my sister. Before I left Orange County my coworkers asked me why I was going to Iowa. Every time I told them, “My sister lives there.” It is as if there is some kind of expectation that when someone takes vacation from work that it should be to go somewhere to party. The follow up question is always, “Other than your sister, what's in Iowa?”
   Contrast has been on my mind a lot over the last few months. This trip has definitely been one of contrast. We left from Los Angeles International Airport. The security was impersonal and in a hurry to get everyone through the security. There are something like 9 terminals at LAX. The drive to the airport was nothing but city.
   Landing at Des Moines International Airport was quite different as you can imagine. There is only basically one terminal/building. There was one other plane on the ground when we landed. The drive from the airport was wide open country in comparison. We could see the tall buildings of downtown Des Moines in the distance but the freeway we rode along had no city or buildings nearby. We saw a deer standing by the side of the road within a few miles of the airport. Security at the airport was also very simple and friendly.
   My sister lives in a small town about 40 minutes North of Des Moines. Small by my reckoning at least. They have a couple of grocery stores and a couple of other things that makes them reasonably large. I live in Anaheim, California. Orange County is like one large city with no clear demarcations for when one city ends and another begins, a fact that is further confused by the odd shapes of cities like Anaheim.
   I suppose the message is clear enough. We live in two wildly different places. I know that most of the people I associate with would not think of Iowa when they think of great destinations to spend that precious time away from the office.
   But we didn't go there to sight-see. We went because of family.
   Growing up in Northern California I had some really close friends. Perhaps my closest friend was my sister. She is a few years older than I am and was a bit more sociable than I ever was. When I became a teenager I didn't have too many friends yet. But because my sister and I had many years to build a close relationship I never had far to go to find something to do. My sister always took me along with her friends to movies and parties until I had a few close friends of my own after a couple of years. My friends easily became her friends as well.
   When you have a relationship like that it can be kind of hard to live so far apart. Over the last 10 years we have only been able to see each other once every year or so. In that time she has had basically 4 kids grow up and it has always been hard to not be a part of their lives except upon occasion.
   Now I have as many issues with members of my family as any stereotype. My sister and I have had enough fights over the years for me to lose count. But when it comes down to it we are family. When it comes time to have fun and leave the every day behind I can't think of a better place in the world to go. Las Vegas just can't compete no matter how many lights and shows they put up. Nothing can quite put that smile on your face like little Annika. I can laugh harder watching Animaniacs with the kids than any comedian can produce from my belly.
   I think it's very clear how Iowa has exactly the right things to make it the perfect vacation spot.

April 16, 2010

Dragon vs the Avatar

   About a year ago I wrote about my favorite movie of the year so far. That movie was I Love You Man and it ended up being my favorite movie of the entire year. I think I will be so bold to say that this year I will say that How to Train Your Dragon is probably going to take the same place for this year for me. I will go ahead and set the time frame back even to Avatar and Sherlock Holmes that were technically last year.
   Avatar was a really good show. I have to openly admit that it was and is a really great movie. It is to me kind of like the iPhone. That is to say that it is a very good product but it really missed the mark in so many ways.
   I saw both Dragon and Avatar in 3D. I have been avoiding any 3D movies for quite some time because I mostly think the whole idea is silly. I think Orson Scott Card put it best on his own blog as to why 3D is just not necessary. However, I felt that since Avatar was allegedly filmed with 3D in mind from the outset I thought I would give it a try. I mean from what I've heard James Cameron actually invented a new camera just to film this movie.
   In the end I was kind of surprised at how good looking the 3D was. The truth is that the movie was really beautiful. But the 3D was actually more distracting than it was helpful to the movie for me at least. I found there were a lot of times where I wanted to look at something other than the main actors face but because the focus removed all the other objects behind him I was not allowed to. This was mostly done towards the beginning of the film. The second half seemed to be less focused on the fact that they were showing you a 3D film and so they started to let you look at what you wanted to. That's really the fun of seeing a show in 3D, looking around at things. By the end I had a lot of eye strain and a slight headache starting. Nothing too bad but noticeable enough for a couple ibuprofen.
   The first thought I had after stepping out of Avatar was simply, I would like to see that again on a regular screen. I have yet to see it a second time. It's okay you and your friends have probably seen it a few extra times for me. If you have not seen it my recommendation is that you try to see a Blu-Ray copy. The imagery is worth the extra resolution you get from Blu-Ray over DVD. However, if you are waiting to see that soon to come 3D version then I say don't bother. There is nothing added to it in that format.
   I thought that Avatar was as good as the new 3D could do. I was surprised at how wrong I was once I saw Dragon. In the first 5 minutes I was shocked at just how good 3D could be. I heard in an advertisement that Dragon's action scenes rivaled Avatar in 3D. I think the truth is that the whoever wrote that sound bite was trying to not offend the millions (thousands?) of Avatar fans. Dragon does better 3D in every scene than Avatar does in its best scenes.
   Now let me move past the 3D. One other way that Dragon bests Avatar is in, well, everything except scenery.
   The story of Dragon is, while predictable, original. It is a rather cute story about a viking teen who is roped into dragon school where he is to learn about surviving the ceaseless attacks of the dragon hoards. I'll leave it at that because you no doubt can figure much of the rest of the story out beyond that from the advertisements. I'll just say that while the story is kind of predictable it is very entertaining. It will appeal to adults and the kids will be watching the DVD endlessly.
   In comparison Avatar's story is more or less a rip of a short story called Call Me Joe. I read this story in college in my science fiction class. It is more or less almost exactly the story of Avatar. The six legged animal idea I believe was probably extrapolated from the avatars in Call Me Joe. On film two legged humanoids tend to have more appeal and help audiences connect better. Don't get me wrong, I think the story is pretty cool. When I saw the first ad for Avatar I was excited someone decided to make a movie from Call Me Joe. It is a really good science fiction story and James Cameron did a really great job bringing it to the main stream. But in the end it is not an original story.
   One more area I would like to compare is animation. I would just like to say that Dragon is at least on par with Avatar in the department of animation as well. Though in some sense I realize it is like comparing apples to oranges. Avatar is designed for realism and Dragon is an animated family movie. I think in 2 areas we can make some simple comparisons. First, the creatures and second, the textures.
   The creatures of Avatar are typically 6 legged animals. There are also the pterodactyl like flying creatures. Dragon has only dragons. The 6 legged creatures were perhaps to me the most difficult thing to buy into. The problem I have with them is a little silly perhaps but it is just that there is no reason for those animals to have 6 legs. The extra set of legs would not assist with their ability to survive. This is the very reason scientists believe that most of the six legged creatures on Earth are lower life forms. The believe that higher life forms use 2 or more common 4 legs because it is a more efficient configuration. The extra limbs need calories to exist but do not add a significant advantage to hunting or foraging. It's a small gripe but there you have it. I think they animated too many legs on the creatures.
   In Dragon the creatures are as beautiful as any in Avatar. My argument is that the way they moved both on the ground and in the air seemed to be more natural to my eyes.
   Though all the creatures in both shows are faked up for our entertainment I found that at the end of Dragon I couldn't help but really wish I had my own dragon. I didn't think much about riding any of the creatures from Avatar. Perhaps it is because in Avatar only a select few could ride the animals which created an elite that I was in no way a part of and which even in my imagination I didn't ever really think about becoming an alien. But I always want to be a viking!
   Finally textures. I think the textures of Avatar were as real as anything fake could probably be. Dragon matched this in every way possible for a cartoon. I think the main dragon's skin was probably the thing that impressed me most. I still think about it from time to time. It looked like something that you would want to touch. It was beautiful.
   Now, what makes me think How to Train Your Dragon is going to be my favorite movie of the year? None of the things I have said. Because more or less all I've done so far is to tell you why I think it is better than Avatar. Let me set that aside now.
   Dragon is a very fun movie. It has everything from humor to friendship (which were two of my favorite things about I Love You Man). There is action and adventure and a sense of wonder from early on.  I even enjoyed how they described all of the dragon types early on. It was reminiscent of Zombieland and the rules of survival (double tap). It set the stage quickly and at the same time helps the audience become familiar with the main character very quickly.
   All in all I would just like to say that if you plan on seeing a movie any time soon I recommend How to Train Your Dragon. In 3D it was easy on the eyes. It has all the qualities of a good time for the whole family, something that last year's pick didn't have.

February 12, 2010


   It's strange how some lessons in life stay with you for years. Some of which you continue to adapt new information and new lessons to over time. I learned a lot about ladders from my older brother Brent a long time ago.
   In 1997 or 1998 I was working for Brent. Well the way this went down was actually slightly different than that. I worked for him many times in my life. I started around the age of 14 and continued until I was about 25. Brent was a painter. Perhaps he will be again someday, though I thinks he has hopes that it is now behind him. Still, once you learn a trade it is kind of a part of you no matter where you go or what you do.
   So, round about 1998 I was talking to my friend Jamie. He and I thought it would be a pretty cool idea if I were to move out to Vallejo, CA and live with him for a while. I had a lot of independence in my late teenage years. We decided that it was going to happen. All I needed was some cash to get there. My mom called Brent and asked if he had something I could work on to earn some quick gas money. A day later I was in Orem, UT dressed to paint houses.
   Up until this point in my life Brent had really only ever allowed me to do prep work for him. You know, sanding and caulking and the like. It's rigorous work and there is no fun in it. However this time was different. I showed up and Brent handed me 3 things: a ladder, a bucket and a brush. He pointed out some windows sills and told me to get up the ladder and get painting. Then he got in his truck and left.
   For the next 6 hours I was more or less all alone. I thought the work in front of me was daunting. I was to paint trim around 4 or 5 windows in an almost peanut butter color. All of the windows were on the second story. There were only 2 that forced me to stand on the ladder to paint. The others were gables and so I could sit on the roof nearby and paint them. I remember starting with the harder ones.
   First I had to get the ladder up to the windows. It was an extension ladder and as I recall was rather heavy. Setting it up was one of the hardest things I had to do that day. I almost put it through a window. Luckily it bounced off. Once I got it up on the left side of the first window I only needed to climb it and start painting.
   So, I got my bucket and brush and started climbing the ladder. The first time up an extension ladder is kind of a defining moment in my opinion. Basically from that point on one of two things can happen. Either you will never climb one again or you will force yourself to be okay with it and never care about it again. I suppose we could have a nice conversation about that alone. Another time perhaps.
   I climbed that ladder with bucket in hand. I realized as I took each step that I was going to have to decide if this was frightening. Once I got to the top I realized that I could see above and over the houses in the neighborhood. My decision was easy. I wasn't afraid. I should note that since that day I have fallen off a ladder twice with no injury yet, just to pat myself on the back a little.
   The rest of the day I spent a lot of time going up and down the ladder. I had to move it a lot to reach different areas of the windows. I had to refill the pain bucket. After a while the thought of fear left and I started feeling like the ladder was a chore more than anything else. It was really hard to move and really hard to climb up and down with a bucket of paint.
   Some hours passed and Brent returned. He was appalled at how little I had finished. He took me aside and asked me what I thought at the time to be a stupid question. He asked, "Do you know what takes the most time out of your day when you are painting?" My instant answer was, "climbing up and down the ladder." He paused only momentarily thinking I was giving him a smart-alec response. However, I was serious. From my limited view of painting the ladder climbing was what took me the most time. However, Brent had a larger perspective and was trying to share that with me. He continued and said, "No, the thing that takes the most time painting is dipping the brush. If you do it wrong you can lose up to 40% of your work time just dipping the brush." He then taught me how to dip my brush fast and effective.
   About a year later I realized that he was completely right. I realized that much of painting is done without a ladder or with a step stool that is easy to ascend and descend. But when it is time to put paint on the wall you have to be quick about it. I realized that the technique he taught me that day was actually a vital tool for painting, not just for painting that one day. Brent saw the big picture when he taught me that lesson. He was standing on top of a different ladder that day and was calling down to me below with advice.
   As it turns out I have learned a lot of lessons based on this simple one. I learned the value of efficiency. Over the years efficiency has proven to be a valuable tool in all my employment. I was able to directly use that lesson for many years as I painted homes, mostly for Brent and some short time with Dennis. I adapted that as a lab technician and taught myself how to accomplish all of the mundane tasks that lab workers do as quickly and efficiently as possible. This left me open in the past for taking part in some extra projects with talented engineers where I learned many more valuable lessons.
   The idea of a ladder is prevalent in the business world. Many people talk about climbing the corporate ladder. I think for a while I got caught up in that myself. I wanted to become someone important. I worked very hard to be considered for positions of great responsibility. Ultimately I did receive some of those coveted positions. I realized much later that climbing that ladder, though it did have its advantages, made me into a strange kind of person. A lot of people didn't like that version of me. Looking back there are some things that I don't like about that version of me.
   I think that is why, as I now see people heedlessly trying to climb their business ladders, I desire to stop them from their silly games. I want to show people that their ego wants power but their social well being doesn't. I realize this is something I could never have known let alone taught had I not reached what is essentially the top of one of these ladders, from which I now look down and say try climbing a different ladder, one that is more rewarding.