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Hiccup’s Memoires Review

12/30/2014 Comments off

A Couch Potato’s review of How to Train Your Dragon and the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III Memoires. (2007)

This is another set of books that I had been curious about after seeing the movies How to Train Your Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon 2. I admit I had more than a little trepidation when it came to submerging myself once again into a child and/or young-adult book series. Most of the reason has to do with the vapid (and oftentimes bland) approach to world building that seems to be the trend of most books written in the last 30 years that have been aimed at children and young-adults and Hollywood is converting for the money-making monster that it is. Some of the reason is because the heroes of these books seem to rely too much on some magical quality that they’ve been blessed with to enable the development of the story as well as “heroic quality” of the protagonist. After all, we have Harry Potter and his being affected by Vordermort’s spell that killed his parents. Percy Jackson being the bastard son of the Greek god Zeus, Tris being a Divergent, Thomas being a telepath (Maze Runners), and so on. (And no, I’m not mentioning anything to do with that set of movies with Robert Pattinson in it. I agree with Jack Whitehall’s monologue on him and that movie franchise).

Instead of taking the traditional approach to such a book series in e-book format, I took to them instead as audio book format… Partially to pass the time during my daily 2.5 mile (4 kilometer) walks through the neighborhood, partially as my winding down as I want to fall asleep at night as a substitute to my listening to various radio plays I’ve picked up from Relic Radio.

Let me start by saying the books are practically nothing like the movies. While Hollywood maintained the nerdiness of Hiccup and some of the more basic elements of the books — like Hiccup being the son of the village chief Stoic the Vast. The rest? Well there are similar names, character references and some light similarities to some of the jobs they did, Hollywood as it would appear changed things around sufficiently to make the movies more a spectacle of its own choosing rather than the over-all lessons Cowell chose to tell in these books. The biggest surprise was discovering that Hiccup could speak to the dragons and the dragons did in fact spoke back. First there were no girls in the class… These were Vikings! And while when women were included and were just as hardy as the men — other than one tribe — were just filler for the stories (including Hiccup’s mother). None of Hollywood’s BS of equal opportunity and equal presence.

Gobber for example while being the trainer, wasn’t the peg-legged smithy of the town. He was the trainer of the young adults of Berk (known in the books as the Tribe of Hairy Hooligans) yes, but was a towering man at 6’5″ (almost 2 meters). And seems most of the adults were that tall (and taller), but I let it slide a bit because 1. I like my men that tall and 2. To a pre-teen everyone will seem to be that tall when they’re that short. Snoutlout was instead of the woman-chasing member of Hiccup’s class, but was in fact the class bully bucking for being the chief of the tribe. Fishlegs was more nerdy as Hiccup (and just as picked on) who had asthma and couldn’t swim (and for Vikings was unheard of). Although Fishlegs’ redeeming quality was in fact being a Berserker. Hiccup never lost his mother as hinted in the first movie and reunited in the second and was a minor character throughout the books also known as Valhallarama. Hiccup’s true arch-nemesis was Alvin the Treacherous who had an artificial hand, leg (much like what Gobber had in the movies) and was also missing an eye along the way. And finally most surprising at all was Hiccup’s dragon: Toothless. A smaller than usual dragon (of common variety) with no teeth and as conniving and wily as Gollum in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy without any hint of the treachery.

First positive mark was that Cressida Cowell didn’t try to make up her own world per se, but instead relied on the sketchy period of classical antiquity somewhere near the fall of the Roman Empire. The books didn’t really cover the Roman Empire but instead of the area far north where the Roman Empire really didn’t have all that much control over. The stories in fact seem to feel as though they’re happening around 300 AD when legends of wyrms and dragons were quite prevalent. Toward the fourth book — How to Beat a Dragon’s Curse — there’s reference to the Americas and Potatoes, but at the time I was too lazy to reference the information on when Vikings did make it to the Americas, but given I’ve been sufficiently entertained that I gave the book a free pass on this revelation. The next positive mark is converting the dragons collected by the Viking teens from being huge and ungainly (and definitely something one could ride) to about the size of medium-sized dogs with fire and wings. The truly massive dragons — like the Green Death — were aquatic and lived under the seas instead of living in volcanoes or in caves like their smaller and more land-born relatives. There’s also references to smaller dragons — Nano-Dragons — about the size of grasshoppers. Toward the later books, there’s references to riding dragons — dragons large enough to be ridden by adults and about the size of scaly horses. Seems that these dragons weren’t really as talkative as so many of the other dragons, so I just considered them animals more than selfish (and self-centered) pets.

Ms. Cowell approached the psychology of the dragons in a more classical sense — being selfish and self-centered — although I found it particularly amusing that when she got into details of many of the dragons that inhabited this world, she gave them a sort of arbitrary point system, like reading off stat cards in a Pokémon Deck. While it personally went over my head other than the basic statistics and characteristics, I’m sure children having these books read to them would have their minds wheeling as to how to use these cards in some game of their liking.

Another plus is actually for the performer chosen for the audio books: David Tennant. While it’s clear that he has a limited amount of voice characterizations (and most of them regional Scottish), I found myself amused (and more importantly entertained) that he tried them all, often together for the same scenes. I might have groaned a little when he tried his hand at the voice characterizations for the Romans (being akin to really bad Italian Commercials of the 60s), but overall it reminded me of the times in Fifth Grade (Primary School) where for the English Literature portion of the class, my teacher (Mrs. Tedeschi) used to read books to us like Charlotte’s Web, The Ransom of Red Chief and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The best part were the lessons that Ms. Cowell was trying to tell throughout all the books. Most of all was “Use your head” and “Do the Right Thing” over “might makes right”. There’s also elements of courage, truthfulness, problem-solving, observation and so on. There were serious moments, moments of humor, grim moments and even moments of wonder. The sort if bemused wondering that left me visualizing parts of Hiccup’s world and how he fit in. Overall, books that left me liking not only the morals of the story but also the delivery of those messages.

 

Bottom Line: While it makes many modern like references based on the settings of the story (like glowing reviews from newspapers like the Viking Times, or the Hooligan Hollerer), the game card references for the statistics for the dragons in the story, occasional technological usage that didn’t exist in that period of time) or even the British lingo that I readily recognize (and would leave many Americans confused and scrambling for Google or Urban Dictionary)… It’s the sort of stories I wished I had read to me when I was growing up. For they taught being smart will get you far in life, regardless of the fact of being the scrawny kid in class that was always picked on by the bullies. It allows for distractions and adventures to imaginary parts of the world never truly far and away (everything was near to Hiccup’s home area of Berk). It talked about pirates and dragons and secret buried treasures. About the only thing that was unusual about Hiccup was that he was the chieftain’s son… He isn’t some genetic anomaly, he doesn’t have telepathy, he isn’t made special by magic… He’s just a scrawny kid with red hair that sticks straight up with freckles dotting his face who was encouraged by his grandfather to do his own thing (learn languages, study dragons, etc.). It teaches being true to yourself will get you far in life… Something I recommend for those struggling through school or those that remember being bullied in school to remind them: being true to yourself is far more fulfilling than being what’s expected of you.

 

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A Couch Potato’s Review of The Anomaly (2014)

12/19/2014 Comments off

A Couch Potato’s Review of The Anomaly (2014)

When it came to this particular movie, I heard nothing about it. No previews, no reviews, nothing in the newspapers, not even word of mouth from friends or Usenetters into Science Fiction. And if it’s enough to pique my interest to pick it up, it usually means it’s some sort of bomb that would make even the most casual and easily entertained of movie-goers groan in horror and eye-roll themselves into an epileptic seizure. Think movies like Battle Beyond the Stars, or Starcrash, or even Mutant Chronicles bad.

What can I say? One of the habits I picked up from my step-father is the ability to home in on the worst possible movies to watch while I idle away a few hours between the various other virtues (and vices) I have. The only difference between my step-father and I is I don’t try to entice others by saying things like “…I heard this was a good movie…” and hope they’re going to come along for the ride. No, these stinkers are only for me as I only subject myself to these sort of celluloid nightmares.

Surprisingly though, this wasn’t quite a stinker as I was expecting. Quite the opposite really. It was good. It was entertaining. While there were some glitches with the story telling, they were minor enough for me to ignore as I continued to figure out what was going on with the story

The story opens up with Ryan (played by Noel Clarke) as he finds himself unconscious on the floor in the back of an armoured car and wondering where he was and what was going on. In the back of this armoured car is also a young boy, chained up against the wall with his head covered with some sort of fabric bag. Ryan looks at his watch and realizes that he’s lost time, he’s not where he’s supposed to be and the boy’s name is Alex (played by Art Parkinson). The two of them escape from the armoured car and after a chase end up in a cemetery where Alex twists his ankle, the two of them hide from their captors. The driver of the truck catches up with them and after a surprising fight (to the audience as it’s not entirely leaked that Ryan’s ex-military), Noel beats his captor to the ground and returns to Alex hiding behind a tombstone. The boy explains that he had been abducted from his mother (who had been killed) by men in red masks and didn’t know where he was going. While Noel and Alex are trying to sort out what happened and why they were there to each of them, another of the accomplices (played by Ian Somerhalder) shows up near to them and dialing a mobile phone (this movie is clearly in the future as the phone looks like a simple piece of clear plastic), calls Noel and asks him where he is. After hanging up and putting the phone away, he begins picking through his coat pockets, first pulling out a pistol from one side, and then a red mask from the other. Alex realizes that he’s talking to one of his abductors and begins screaming blue murder. Noel begins pressing against the area just behind the ears and he (through the use of special effects) blacks out.

The story pretty much goes like this from beginning to end. You learn that Ryan is ex-military — which clearly explains his fighting prowess in certain scenes. You learn that he was being treated for PTSD for some reason (that unfolds later on in the movie). You learn that this movie is in some undisclosed future based on the buildings, the Blade Runner-esque billboard advertising floating up in the story along with the general technology used by the characters. You learn that there the villains are a father (played by Brian Cox) and son (Somerhalder) team. You learn that Ryan gets help from one of the unlikeliest places (although typical of Hollywood and only moderately typical of UK Production Companies) — a prostitute that he rescues during his “lucid” moments named Dana (played by Alexis Knapp). Finally you learn how he overcomes these black-outs which ties the story up rather nicely. And Ryan does this all within the 10 minutes each time he recovers his personality.

It’s pretty amazing all the things he learns within those 10 minutes and how much of it he remembers again when he regains lucidity. It’s also pretty amazing in the time between these moments, he finds himself in various places in the world: London, New York City, even Shanghai I think, some unspecified building with its windows boarded up, a secret lab, a secret location where he confronts who’s causing him these problems, out in the middle of a field in what feels like the middle of nowhere, a brothel with peep windows, and on and on. Even finding himself in an interrogation room on an airplane. It’s the sort of scenery choosing that lends an air of confusion when the protagonist is suddenly recovering his memory.

A sort of downside I found watching this is that while it’s good that there’s compressed time through editing, the impact of how much time that passes between these lucid moments is pretty much lessened by everything else going on. It took me a second run through of the movie for me to put together the amount of days and weeks that passed between the first occurrence and the last. There were even times you didn’t know when it was. While this isn’t too much of a detractor, it’s enough for me to pause a few moments to put it together in my head for without that timeline, it felt like a jumble between time and location.

The fight choreography in this movie is certainly better than its Hollywood counterparts (this movie was produced in the UK). None of this shaky-cam or CGI nonsense covering up the movements of the actors. And though I understand how such fight choreography works in the Western World — I really got the impression that the blows exchanged by the actors were connecting a lot harder than they actually were. There were a couple of scenes where the camera moved to odd angles in order to cover up the choreography (to maintain the illusion of realism), these change of camera angles weren’t bad enough to detract from the enjoyment of certain people getting the snot beaten out of them for being the assorted minor villains in the story (like the pimp Sergio (played by Michael Bisping) or his henchmen).

Storytelling was solid and flowed from scene to scene making it believable enough to keep me entertained without breaking the suspension of disbelief needed to make this story believable, Although I did find myself surfacing (back to reality) toward the end when I realized that the diabolical plan launched by the father and son team was a little too far-fetched for just one person to control the world in the way that they were proposing, at least the plot didn’t get far enough along for this aspect to detract from the story. I remembered when I started questioning my ability to suspend my disbelief it’s not as though the science for this diabolical plan hadn’t been introduced in the past — I remember stories dating back to the 60s that introduced something similar, so that didn’t completely distract me from the entertainment value of this film.

Looking at the credits and information on IMDB, I realized I caught that one of the piece of trivia: the picture of Ryan and his wife (shown later in the film) were of Clarke and Freema Agyeman which was used as a prop in an episode of Doctor Who where his character from that series was married to her character in an alternative timeline. No doubt Mr. Clarke was given that as a gift for the work he had done in Doctor Who and contributed it to this movie.

Bottom Line: Seeing that it had been released to US theaters, this had to have been a sleeper. One that I highly recommend to watch if you’re into science fiction and world-engulfing conspiracies. It’s entertaining, albeit a bit trite in some places (like the ending), but at least it’s not the typical insipid nonsense Hollywood grinds out ad nausea. And leaves the audience wondering, “What would you do if you were in the protagonist’s place?”

After the Humidity Madness

06/20/2014 Comments off

Entry 06/19/2014 09:35:12 AM – Mentat 704

Finally!!!! After several days of warmer than average weather and unbearable amounts of humidity; it’s finally started raining here this morning. While the humidity is still up there (more than 80% the last time I checked a couple of hours ago), at least it’s not the oppressive BS that I’ve put up the last couple of days. Good thing too, given that I’m getting rather tired of being completely drained out come sundown then the temperatures drop to where I expect them for this time of year… Well that and I don’t have to suffer through one sinus or the other shutting down and blocking up when I move my head one way or the other. So, hopefully over the next couple of days it’ll be more bearable than it has been and I can enjoy Emancipation Day without it feeling quite so like August here in the Tundras of New England.

Of course the amusing thing in all this is that I’m currently over my mother’s house watching her Monster Child — Jack. The amusing thing was that my mother sent up to my Aunt’s house to wash her car in spite of it raining even up there in Woonsocket. She went up there out of sheer stubbornness because she canceled out last week for washing the car on threat of rain. Last week we almost brought Jack along so that he could get a bath (he’s smelling particularly dog at the moment), but the more my mother thought about it — the more she decided it was best he stayed at home and went to a groomer for a washing instead. Not that I blame my mother in her decision — Jack is too easily riled by other dogs, and my aunt’s little hyper mutt would set him off… So while my mother’s off; I’m treated to looks (and attitude) like this:

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I get looks like that because I’m not my mother and I’m not one to give him treats whenever he wants or needs. Yeah, she spoils him rotten and because I’m not high on the pecking order/pack order in the house, he often mopes when I’m over making sure he doesn’t wreck the house during any abandonment issues he might go through. At least he’s not begging to go out in his boredom before his usual walk time.

Now that it’s getting into summer, I’m trying to discipline Jack a little bit more and not be completely spazzed out during this walks. Also trying to curb his hyper attitude at barking at faeries. It seems that I’ve come to learn that he’s pretty myopic (near-sighted) as he’s gone crazy barking at smaller people (children and in one case a rather short Latino mowing the lawn at the apartment complex on the path we normally walk). Even at inanimate objects like lawn bags on the sidewalk if they’re the right distance from him. When he gets closer, Jack stops when he realizes what he’s barking at is not a dog at all.

Surprisingly, Jack does really well when he’s short leashed: he walks at the same speed I do, doesn’t do a lot of doubling back to check various scents from other dog-owners that walk the same path. Even maintains a sense of calm when dealing with Starlings, and faeries… But the instant he’s given more leash — off he goes spazzing out more. I suspect it’s going to take months for him to calm down given I don’t think the Summer Heat’s going to calm him down any.

On the flip side, Moe’s even more sedate with the summer heat and humidity. While he might not get up on me at the desk when the ambient temperature’s over 75 F/23 C, he’s still just as determined to lay on me when I take an afternoon cat nap. Which in itself is “fun” because it’s like having more than 101.5 F/38.6 C laying down on my crotch area. Worse when he’s happy and sprawls out like a napping toddler. He doesn’t seem to have much issue hanging off me head upside and purring to his heart’s content as he sleep as well.

In fact, today was the first day he was in the front window and didn’t freak out and hide when said “hello” when she walked by. Unlike the last time when she did that and he hid under the covers in the bedroom for hours. Of course, he’ll still hide whenever anyone else is over… but at least I think he’s figured out if whoever it is that talks to him is on the street, then he’s safe.

The level of stupidity is going up now that the weather’s getting warmer. For example, my neighbors across the street now rent the whole house, one of them made the “brilliant” decision of putting their two little dogs on the first floor… While this might not sound like a fail as I imply, it is when you realize these two dogs are easily stressed out and start barking at anything and everything that walks by or barks in the neighborhood. Worse, when someone walks by — they fly to the front windows wrecking the blinds in the process. I walked by, and one of their two dogs, just flew at the window and through the blinds. Heard them a couple of more times after that when I was in my kitchen and cooking my lunch. It hasn’t happened today as I didn’t see them in the window, so hopefully they’ve learned their lesson.

Then there’s the second floor neighbors in the house across the parking lot (in the back of my house). Seems that they went away on vacation or something and one of their two cats ended up on the fire escape of their apartment for the last three days according to one eye-witness that was waiting by the house. When I talked with the witness, I told them someone would come home in a couple of hours (late morning/early afternoon) and I’ll let them know… but he wouldn’t have anything of the sort. Not only did he continue to wait and watch but also called Animal Rescue about the cat. Sure enough, the third floor tenants came back and were able to rescue the cat from the fire escape, but the witness didn’t stick around to catch Animal Rescue to tell them that the cat’s all right.

That was left to me when I came out of my mother’s house and saw them there looking about the wrong side of the street. So after 10 minutes of explaining to the woman what happened and who had done the good deed, she was off.

Then yesterday, the neighbors across the street had a friend over in some monster pick up truck that I didn’t think twice about, until that friend decided to leave and it sounded like the transmission on the truck was about to fall out. Did that warning screech stop them? Well sort of. They stopped their truck in the middle of the intersection to the side road (Adams St) where they left it there blocking (non-existent) traffic for about an hour. Oh they moved it. In fact, the owner started his truck and apparently drove away with it sounding like the transmission would drop out at any time. It was a hell of a din given that the owner drove away at no more than 5 MPH even onto Atwells Avenue.

Thanks to that, my ears were ringing about 5 minutes after they had gone. Not to mention gave Moe quite the fright too as he couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from.

Then there was the din a couple of days ago in the parking lot with someone that sounded like was setting off some sort of fireworks. Either that or had to break into their car as it sounded more like a window being broken the more I think about it. My cat completely freaked out with that and tried his best to hide under the bureau in the process. When I checked in the morning, there was broken glass, or any sort of fireworks refuse in the parking lot either.

And finally the highlight of the week had to be my neighbor downstairs. Now keep in mind this woman rarely if ever opens up her windows even with the impending summer weather. She’s rarely seen other than perhaps in glimpses when she throws her trash or recycles. My mother says during July and August she has an air conditioner in her bedroom window, but her windows are never opened otherwise.

She opened her windows the other day. For what appeared to be “spring cleaning”. Windows were opened and it looked like she had her curtains out on the fence drying. Since then though? Closed again. 89 F/32 C with 95% humidity and the windows have remained closed.

How she can do that is beyond me.

As for me…

I’m sore. Not entirely sure why. Old age, probably. Well that and the amount of humidity in the air. Sleep as once again swung back to “normal”. So much so that I seem to be making up with bizarre dreams in overtime. While I can’t remember them as much as I should, I remember enough to know that it’s been a sort of powder keg dredging up memories old and not so from my past. Some of these recurrences I know I caused by thinking about them at the right time before I fell asleep. Other seems to be off-shoots of those memories.

[Last Edited: 6/20/2014 6:26:42 PM]

To continue…

I’m finding myself modestly cautious about what I remember and when given that I’m finding myself highly self-suggestible because of it. It’s not just being the right frame of tired for this suggestible state to happen, but also just being… well, impressionable on the whole. I found one of the dreams that I had last night had been triggered by a set of thoughts that I had while re-watching an episode of Heroic Age yesterday afternoon.

For entertainment, I’ve given up (again) on Andromeda at near precisely the same place I did before (when it was first run too). Why? Well because by season 3 this show was seriously, seriously dumbed down when they ejected Robert Hewitt Wolfe from the production team and gave [Kevin] Sorbo more authority. I tried also to get back into the remake of Battlestar Galactica and realized it’s too depressive for the summer. So it’s back to anime for me for the time being. Namely Samurai 7 and Heroic Age for the time being. I might go digging for others, but these two work for the time being.

Finally I would like to throw a great big, screw you to the team at FourSquare. Seems that for the last couple of weeks they had left their app alone but was pushing a new social app called “Swarm”. Didn’t like the looks of Swarm and it wasn’t really in the queue for loading it up on the phone. Then today when I was out doing a bit of shopping with my mother, tried to check in using FourSquare only to find it disabled until I installed and downloaded the new Swarm app to my phone….

So checking out the reviews on the store and see people are not happy with it at all. A quick download and install I found out why… What made the Foursquare app fun (and sort of unique) was all the features that it used to have had been disables. Gone was the ability to maintain and gaining “Mayorships” at locations. Gone were the point tally acquired during a week of check-ins. In it’s place is a buggy program that leaves the GPS portion of the phone always on and draining power, and organizing through text and messaging — friends to join you here or there.

It’s a good idea if you’re a social butterfly or collect friends like tchotchke.. but for me? Not really. With the exclusion of one acquaintance in the Rhode Island area, most of my friends and acquaintances are nation and world wide. So that organizing feature Swarm offers is very useless to me. Add to the fact that you can’t check in with just Foursquare, I wrote some disparaging reviews for both apps, and deleted my account with FourSquare in the process with the same note that when they remove Swarm, I might come back. Probably not, I’m not a fan of any company that makes draconian decisions that demand their user base install more apps to test out their new ideas by destroying what’s already working.

So bye-bye and screw you FourSquare for betraying a loyal fan and destroying a fun app.

That’s about it for the time being. Until the next time.

Hot Days, Cool Days, Scares and Contemplations

05/30/2014 Comments off

Entry 05/30/2014 09:59:56 AM – Mentat 701

So it’s hit my attention this week that the program that I had originally thought of showing the douchebag landlord on better organizing the work that he needed to dole out to his “employees” is closing in less than a month. Springpad — a program that I had only modestly attempted to use — is set to close 25, June (which on my calendar is coincidentally Emancipation Day). Of course, the folk at Springpad are suggesting I move my data to Evernote, which I’m having issues at the thought for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with the fact that the icon for it, the elephant, while it symbolizes the memory of an elephant never forgetting, instead gives me the feeling of being huge and bulky… The second (and more importantly), shortly after considering the migration, I was met with problems. You see, I never set up an account with Springpad — having opted to use my Google+ account login instead. Then, I was mat with problems migrating. And finally after thinking, “oh not a problem, I’ll go through the export and decided to import it into Evernote instead.” That’s all well and good, but what I was greeted with once I finished the e-mail verification was advertising to “Go Premium”.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate when a company that offers a good product is looking for money from their user-base (to expand the use). If their product is good, then yeah, I’ll throw money in their direction. What I don’t like seeing is the advertisement for that money on every screen that I’m on when I’m trying to use their product. That’s way too invasive (not to mention desperate) for my taste. So, three minutes after creating the account and seeing the costs for use and ‘Go Premium’, there I went deleting the account. Screw them and screw that. I only need it for an organized (and mobile) to-do list or six. I didn’t really use Springpad for picture and recipes, etc. What won out for what I have been looking for was Google’s Keep.

I might have considered using OneNote instead (and still do when it comes to the desktop), but the problem is that since transferring to an iPhone instead of a WM or another Droid, the manner for which synching information between phone and desktop is… well, messy. Not to mention relies entirely too much on SkyDrive: a product a lot of multi-platform users have had issues (security, taste and synching concerns) with the product on the Mac Forums. So in the end, Keep was precisely what I was looking for without all the hipster bullshit associated to sites like *dry heave* Pinterest or Evernote.

Still… it’s sad that Springpad’s being discontinued, although stumbling across an article while looking for the replacement for Springpad’s service I found a posting that talks about a sort of planned obsolescence scheme to such cloud-based services. A planned obsolescence scheme that definitely raises an eyebrow (as well as several speculative concerns) to present and future services of similar nature. An approach that I strongly believe has its roots in the dot.com crash of the early 21st century and will continue to generate continued distrust to products offered “in the cloud” for free or with no visible catches for use of their service.

Another thing that hit my attention a couple of days ago was the Ransonware exploit aimed primarily at iPhone users in Australia and New Zealand; though I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before it makes its way to the States (and the rest of the world). Lifehacker (via Gizmodo) has a detailed article covering this rather annoying (and for some, frightening) exploit including on how to overcome it. Fortunately for me, while it might be moderately easy to hack my KeePass master password, all the other passwords that I use on the Internet are 16 – 22 character alpha-numeric-special character monstrosities and unique for each and every service that I have; with only a handful of them being interconnected.

Further, I just did a quick check after re-reviewing the information I passed on here and it seems that I forgot to log in my phone to iCloud. Which means that until I log in my phone to it — it’s pretty safe from being exploited. So it’s one less thing to be worried about until such time as the perpetrator of this exploit is removed from the system (read: arrested).

I don’t understand Moe’s patterns at all. Up until the one day where it was warmer than usual — Moe was slowly changing over from cloying and clingy to completely standoffish and aloof. He didn’t want to be touched, picked up, petted, given attention (other than his usual chasing the little red laser dot around the kitchen). Then when it hit the low 80s F/26+ C, he wanted positively nothing to do with playing or me. Then the day after when the temperatures turned raw and colder than usual (52 F/11 C was the high for that day), it wasn’t until I simply held up so that he could straddle over my shoulder did is personality change to being cuddly. Now that the days are once again Spring-like and comfortable has he become completely clingy, cloying and wanting. Through most of the morning he’s been crying for attention and only until I took my quick little power nap shortly after lunch (and him sleeping on me) have I gotten a moment’s rest from his neediness. What’s worse is I’m sure that when it warms up again in the week (or so) to come it’ll be back to his being standoffish and aloof.

I can only attribute his patterns of personality to my being like the third owner in a chain of them. That the first owner was the person that he completely imprinted on, and everyone since are just the consolation prize (so to speak) for his needs. Sure, the plus side is that he rarely if ever hides from me and is beginning to run to the door when I come home. But everyone else? Gone in three seconds to becoming a lump under the covers in the bedroom. And anything else? Well it’s all dependent on what he needs and when. If he doesn’t need anything, off he goes to sleep on the bed, or some cubby away from the noise and occasional chaos of the neighborhood.

Overall though — he’s good and eating his fair share for the spring and summer; drinking where he can. I gave up trying to break him of licking the bathtub faucet for his water. If it’s complete shut off, he’ll drink from his bowl, if not — I can see his ass sticking out from the rim of the tub and the gentle cat-like licking of the faucet. He’s more stubborn than Cricket ever was (and she was a Japanese Bobtail) and nothing will break him of what he’d rather do.

As for me, I spent yesterday helping my aunt with her laptop problem.. And by problem I mean non-issue for me. Seems that she wanted to use her laptop in peace and quiet somewhere in her house and thought that the Internet connectivity was broken. But sitting there yesterday while she had my mother helping her with filling out this incredibly long medical form, she handed me her case and said, “take this home and fix it when you can…” Which translates in my speak as, “fix it immediately”, I plugged it in, turned it on, got to desktop and saw immediately what the problem was: with long periods of being unplugged and the battery losing all charge — she didn’t realize that the Wireless Controls were shut off. Showing her how to turn if on (and changing the icon from orange to blue), that problem was fixed. Well that and a quick explanation of how laptops work.

I’ve had more than a few rage-like flare-ups/episodes since the last journal entry; of which I’m not sure whether it’s from the weird and sometimes troubling dreams that I’ve had (and fortunately for me, I’ve tried not to remember them when I reached full consciousness)… Whether it’s because I’ve been suppressing some of my anger on other things (like the douchey people on the Hill during the warmer parts of the day, Tammany Hall at closing time)… Or whether it’s all of the above. It hasn’t reached a point where I had the shakes from the rage; I was able to cool it off quickly enough when I realized what was happening — but it was enough for me to realize I wasn’t letting go again.

Sure, I know… two steps forward and one step back. I know it happens when something has been ingrained for as long as it had been with me. And two years of this sort of bullshit happening practically every day is more than long enough for it to be ingrained with me. I’m not scolding myself, at all in this. I’m not holding myself in guilt because it happened. I had a moment of guilt that it happened, sure… Though I worked through that peacefully. Right now, reflecting back on it, I just wonder why and what the causes of that were…

More on that the next time it’ll happen (and I’m sure it will).

Since my last journal entry, I’ve also watched Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, The Lego Movie and RoboCop. The Lego Movie was a combination of commercialism and camp… of things children would love and humour also aimed at adults. While I felt the overpowering need to ignore Will Ferrell when his ugly mug showed up on the screen during the last portions of the film, at least he wasn’t the complete ass-hat that I loathed from his raping Land of the Lost or his pedantic and asinine attempts at humour in movies like Elf and Step Brothers. Had he turned into that sort of comic, I guarantee I wouldn’t have watched that movie to the end.

RoboCop on the other hand, while I was entertained by the movie on the whole, the jury’s still out as to whether or not I ultimately enjoyed the film. For one, I found the angstiness of the Murphy’s plot to be too… heavy handed. Heavy handed to the point where I was muttering on more than one occasion, “enough of this, already…” along with making the usual gestures of wanting to slit my wrists at how angsty it was. Once the movie shook itself off of the angst and started focusing on the action, it moved along at a decent clip. Michael Keaton out-douched Ronny Cox from the original movie and reminded me of the “shit don’t stick to me” attitude that the late Steve Jobs had during many of this press conferences when defending Apple/Mac products. Gary Oldman was almost Knight in Shining Armour as he was in the revamped Batman franchise and was a welcome sight being goody-goody about the morals surrounding the creation of Murphy-come-RoboCop. And finally, Joel Kinnaman… There’s something oddly familiar about his looks that makes me think of another actor. Looking through his filmography, I realize that I’ve seen none of the works he’s been in… But that lingering déjà vu feeling I get seeing him in the Robo-suit keeps haunting me. On the whole though, the black armour that RoboCop/Murphy was given, Jay Baruchel as an PR-executive and the vigilantism of the three corrupt cops that had turned Murphy into RoboCop was enough to keep me from fully immersing.

And finally… worst than last week’s watching The Legend of Hercules with crayon-chewing Kellan Lutz, goes to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Man the awful things I had to say to family and friends on that atrocity and celluloid abomination!!! Since watching that awful piece of work, I’ve come to the conclusion that Kenneth Branagh should either direct or star in a film; but not both. Branagh should also not be allowed to make action film because he simply sucks the life out of them. In the first forty minutes there was entirely too much blah and not enough action followed by my ability to suspend disbelief was completely shattered and destroyed because everything established within the CIA between analyst and operative was completely thrown out the window.

“But he had Marine training…” naysayers would say.

“Analysts have desk jobs. Operative are like James Bond. They are trained that way for many more months than analysts are in order to work in the field. What Ryan did transitioning between the two doesn’t work for this particular story….”

Further the terrorist against the whole country message is tired. It’s been overplayed. Beaten to death and like a dead horse continues to be beaten… Give it up… Patriotism on this level is two-dimensional. There are bigger issues with the world, and the USA being saved constantly and is the bastion of Freedom sounded as badly as the soundtrack picked for this film.

Did I watch it to the end? Absolutely? Did I take a million breaks when the story took another leap into the unbelievable? You betcha. Do I want the time I wasted watching this film back? Absolutely.

Well that’s it for the time being. I’m off to have the rest of my coffee; iced. And perhaps contemplate something to eat for supper. Until the next time.

A Couch Potato’s Review of Warframe

07/16/2013 Comments off

A Couch Potato’s Review of Warframe

As I’ve said in the past, while I am not much of an MMO player, the games that I tend to find within the MMO/MMORPG realm are few and far between and rely on a number of elements that make for my wanting to stay with them:

  1. It’s a theme that I readily relate to as a long-time sci-fi and fantasy geek and nerd.
  2. It has replay value.
  3. It’s challenging but not punishing.
  4. End-Game while being grind-like isn’t so mind-numbingly bad or poorly executed I feel like it’s a job working on an assembly line (I remember those 20+ years ago, this is why I got an education and degree to get away from that).
  5. That I can play these games alone or with the friends I have or make in the game and I can do so on my whim and impulse and is not a requirement of the game.
  6. The community playing it is fun, mature, Can take criticism against what they don’t like and negotiate it into what they like.
  7. (and in the last couple of years), as a Free-to-Play Game it doesn’t feel as though the developers or distribution company has put on so many restrictions that to unlock the ransom demand(s) put on my character(s) to play them for the fullest extent and I have to pull the credit card out of my wallet.
  8. And finally (as well as something that’s developed in the last couple of years), the distributor(s) and/or developers will listen to the community and adjust according to the input within the community for the bugs encountered, content requested and keep to the ever fine line between placating the loudest in the herd with the vision originally deigned for the game they produced.

This shouldn’t be surprisingly why I have stayed with some games after two years and why others while still being on the gaming partition of my PC haven’t been touched in an equal amount of time. Warframe seems to be rapidly becoming one of the latter and less of the former.

At first I thought that it was a great game. It had the elements that I like in real time shooters: challenge, enemies that seemed to follow the rules, and while this game is extremely light on story-based RPGs, it had the sort of missions that could keep me entertained enough from beginning to end. But then three things began to niggle at me… The first is that the farther you get through the solar system, the more it felt as though the game is punishing and not challenging (with the usual caveats, but I’ll get to that in a minute). The second is that for an open beta, the amount of changes that had been going on since it went open was more like an alpha test instead. And the third is that I’m not too keen on the community at large.

Now, I’ve been working in the IT industry for more than 20 years (granted the majority of it has been in networking and telecomm, but there’s a healthy amount of beta & alpha testing in there as well) and when something has been marked/advertised as a beta (be it open or closed), this usually means that the majority of the program has been ironed out and that it’s on its way to being distributed for the general market. Admittedly I haven’t been too keen on the whole, “Alpha testing is the new beta” mentality of programmers, developers and most importantly software distributors in the last decade however, regardless of my personal opinion on the difference between the two: this game is clearly in alpha testing.

Too much seems to be crammed into the game update to update to update and not enough of this game seems to be nailed down for production and distribution. To make matters worse, unless it’s something that makes the game impossible to play, bug tracking and fixing is either done internally making it near impossible for we the testers to get an idea of what’s been reported, what’s been reported repeatedly (or what’s considered still an “open issue”) and what is in the queue for repair with the next distributed patch. What we — the volunteer beta testers — should be seeing is something like this. What we’re getting is a standard discussion forum layout instead which comes standard in PHP website design. This leads to the next problem…

The community at large.

The problem with this is both a lesson in the good, the bad and of course the ugly of crowd-sourcing troubleshooting and development of any program that caters to the gaming community. Criticism of the game is often met with the same sort of mindset as posting a comment on 4Chan: Some people in agreement, some in conscientious disagreement with the remainder of the conversations/discussions/comments teetering between the lowest common denominator of the trolling community through the obdurate contrarians that discourage any sort of criticism to what they themselves appreciate and finally the hoards of sycophants that sing the praises that the developers can do no wrong.

This has been creating a problem with the development of this game because it’s from a small percentage of (the loudest) players that have been with the game early on (or better are able to master the game quickly) that complain on how this game does not have much “challenge”. And instead of tiering the difficulty levels of this game — say, a beginner, a medium, a hard and perhaps even a hardcore level to this game — has been doing it as one level only.

While I have been fortunate in the few times that I have posted on the forums has been met with intelligent discourse and disagreement — I have meandered through the forums and seen the sort of discussions, trollings and outright derision toward posting that I experienced in the first years of being on Usenet. Don’t get me wrong, I have years of history at being the worst possible troll people could ever face. I did it with intelligence, a sharp wit and a sharper tongue. This is gaming though, and gaming is something I like to do casually. Something I like challenge with and coming out at the end feeling a bit better for thinking something through. It’s not the sort of thing I want to have to put on the fire-resistant skivvies on to wade through comments and negativity when I find something that should be considered enjoyable and met with the feeling as though I’m dealing with the “neck beards of 4Chan”. This is most certainly not the sort of thing I want to deal with when reporting and checking on bugs that I’m assisting in making a good game better.

Finally the game itself. When I dealt with the beginning planet (Mercury), I couldn’t sing the praises enough to friends about it. It’s a shooter, it’s challenging, it’s the sort of thing that can be played alone and in groups and seemed to follow a set of rules that I was beginning to understand. Enemies were tough, but only challenging if I tried to go head to head with. It wasn’t the sort of infuriating punishment that came from programmers that played the game for hundreds of hours at a time and artificially inflated numbers (enemies, etc) and situations to make it more challenging. The farther out I got (at the time, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Earth and Uranus), the more difficult to impossible it was to play these missions alone. Two of the bosses (Saturn and Venus) for example cannot be done alone at all. It takes a team to play it. I began having trepidations as to the direction this game was beginning to take. That was for update 7.

Update 8 introduced me to completely punishing and something that I found myself rapidly disgusted with. Levels were insanely redesigned where the problem wasn’t so much for trying to get through the tile set alive, it was trying to stay alive when being bum-rushed by insane amounts in enemy hoards that in some cases of team play — players were barely able to make it through without being practically killed. I had also noticed that enemy factions changed the rules they had been following the farther you get out from the beginning worlds… Where the factions are able to shake off elemental damages (fire and electricity) and still be able to shoot at the player with lethal and infallible accuracy. Confused enemies for special player moves? Nope, that stopped rather quickly. Further examples of punishment to me the player, came from enemy factions being able to stun lock into immobility and death. What’s called “the lazy man’s method” of making a game difficult.

Update 9 continued on the bad trend of adding nightmare levels. While I can appreciate that some players want that sort of challenge that comes from harder difficulties, I am not one of these sort of players. Seeing the nightmare levels showing up on maps and on some missions that I definitely appreciated playing solo (like Exterminate missions) and doing so in a draconian — you have no choice other than skipping the level — is not my idea of “fun”. When I want to play Elite mode in Star Trek Online for example, I do so from the options menu. It’s not something that I’m forced to do but can volunteer to do at my own discretion.

And bugs? God, there are still bugs in play from Update 7 when I first came into the game that continue to plague this game at the time of this review. Sometimes it feels as though for every bug that’s been fixed, three other bugs crop up in its place. And I really don’t like playing games that continue to maintain bugs as part of play. That’s a good part of the reason why I stopped playing Star Wars: The Old Republic too.

Believe me when I say, I’m not trying to be intentionally negative in this review of the game. I understand that the developers is a small group of people making this game for some years now. I understand that they have dreams and aspirations for making the next best MMO. I understand that they also have a big list of bugs and issues that need to be fixed (and have gone onto a couple of live-streams to reinforce this). I applaud them for their ingenuity and their dedication for making this game. And I find myself giving them an attaboy for the ingenious way they’re trying to get people to buy things for the game.

However at the same time — I think they’re being too ambitious too quickly. I don’t think they understand that they should be worried not on the content of the game, but making the game more smooth. Work out the bugs first before going hog wild with the new content. That they don’t have a clear vision that needs to cater to a wide array of players from the casual to the hardcore and rely too much on hardcore player input to solve the replay value of the game. Finally in the last two live streams from the developers I’ve watched, conveyed too much on their concern about being cheated out of money rather than making the game fun. Because let’s face it — cheating happens in all games — from MMO to single-player. We as a gaming community don’t like it when we’re being honest and despise it when we see it happening. But talking about it to their viewing public? Well, it’s admirable — but talking about it more than once or twice sends up side messages that give me the impression a clear vision of the game doesn’t seem to exist.

Bottom Line: This game while being promising, I say with reservation it is not ready for prime time. It’s in my personal (read: Armchair) opinion that their ambitions to entering the console world this Fall, 2013 is going to end somewhere between lack luster and poorly. The game is definitely not for the solo MMO player and even joining it with friends will end up finding themselves punished by poorly (and very lazily) designed situations. I might be wrong.. At least I hope so…

Up for air and a bit of writing

09/10/2012 1 comment

Entry 09/10/2012 08:37:26 AM – Mentat 663

"Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory." – Albert Schweitzer

I know that it’s been more than a couple of weeks since the last time I’ve sat down and written (there’s plenty of excuses, though none of them are really worth trying to use). The thing is that whenever I tried to sit down and write anything — I felt like there really wasn’t all that much to actually talk about. Just the frivolousness of day-to-day living, the banal of the insane weather that continued to cut through the are (thanks to the hurricanes and tropical storms that have been kicking up south and east of here), and things that I really wasn’t in the mood to talk about because they would either leave me feeling annoyed, impatient, anxious and occasionally yes even a bit nervous when trying to face them. Denial is a wonderful tool when it comes to avoiding anxiousness as it allows me to focus on a million and one other things than the issues that were cropping up in the time between now and the last entry. But the fact of the matter is that things are just things… Life is just the usual challenges I’ve been experiencing in the last couple of months, with the usual slow crawl it takes between confrontation (to those issues) to their conclusion.

As I’m sitting here with my brains going at lightning speed thinking about the differences between journal entries of the stress that I go through at work and the stress that I go through on the home front — I realize that there’s no real difference between the two — in spite of the fact that home issues tend to make me face a hell of a lot more anger, impatience and the occasional supernova flare-ups of fury. It’s the illusion that the home issues are worse than the work-related (that I’ve gone through over the years) because of the fact that I feel as though I have nowhere to escape from them, because home has been (and will most probably be) the one place I use to escape them.

Sure, I’ve got the solitude of the walls of this apartment and the silence that is created by plugging in my earbuds… But is there peace? Out the door of the apartment and across the hall, I feel as though the deadbeat in my old apartment is not unlike a festering wound that hasn’t healed itself because the deadbeat refuses to acknowledge the debts that he owes me — be it by promissory note or even partial payment… Yet, watching him come in and out of the house as I’ve occasionally done — I see that he seems to have enough money to get himself cigarettes and beer.

Family members might continue to tell me that, "he’s not worth it…" but the fact remains that I despise being tied to someone either in debt or monetary obligation that doesn’t resolve itself quickly and efficiently. And theft never sits quietly in my head or heart.

That in my head and heart is not peace or solace at all. Nope, it’s a roiling mess that feels as though it’s washing up against the door of my sanctuary; not unlike the sound of a beating heart in Poe’s story A Telltale Heart.

I will admit however that I’ve done really well in the last couple of weeks in that I haven’t had any overwhelming bouts of anger or fury. Sure the anger and a bit of the fury is still there… Sure it still bothers me on occasion, but I’ve been lucky on the whole that I’ve been able to get through the day to day on many occasions without so much as a thought of the deadbeat or the money that he owes me. I’ve had other things to think about — and not all of them having to deal with my survival or whether or not I’m teetering on the brink of homelessness. Heck, I’ve even be able to have a couple of thoughts on theosophy and metaphysics thanks largely to an acquaintance I hadn’t realized had been walking a path (through enlightenment) that I hadn’t actually suspected (Hi, J… Yes, that’s you I’m talking about). But I’ll get into that in a few…

In that time I’ve actually worked up the stomach to watch a few movies… Battleship, John Carter, Shut Up & Kiss Me, Sommersturm (Summer Storm). Oh! And the live action film of Space Battleship Yamato. For the most part, it’s been lackluster collection of movies. Battleship is an abomination of unbelievable proportion. I skipped through the first 35 minutes because it was nothing but dialog and bullshit. The next 90 minutes were… Well, let’s just say that after the experience I will never get those 90 minutes back and I swear that I find myself drooling and gape-mouthed more because I’ve lost IQ points for surviving through. I think what’s worse is the fact that you don’t see any battleship until the last 15 minutes of it — not to mention that they completely FUBAR’d the fact that the USS Missouri was reactivated and retrofitted with more advanced electronics and weaponry. But then again that’s never stopped Hollywood from bastardizing a story for their own smug self-serving interests. Anyone reading this — avoid this piece at all cost. Insanely stupid doesn’t remotely cover how bad this abomination of a movie is.

As for John Carter. Well let me just say as a start Disney Pictures is synonymous with "bastardization". I’ve had quite a lot of contempt when it comes to Disney and what they do with stories.. This movie is no different. From what I’ve been able to tell, the movie incorporates elements from A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars though I thought that I caught some elements from The Warlord of Mars as well. Not only is it a hodgepodge mess of epic proportions, Disney Pictures is completely unhinged by turning a dedicated and honorably discharges military man — our hero John Carter — into a rebel without a clue, bad-ass. Blah. I mean I can understand how they would write out the threat of the Apaches at the beginning of the book — given how politically correct the world has turned… But this whole rebel without a clue paraded on my last gay nerve in record time. After that though it was a jumbled mess… If you read the books, avoid it — you’ll only end up pissed off. Those that hadn’t, watch it with your brains shut off. It’ll be better that way.

Space Battleship Yamato brought back all sorts of fond memories of my childhood when I used to watch the Star Blazers cartoon on one of the UHF channels in my hometown. I was rather surprised how close Toho Studios kept to the original series, although the ending changed a few things that left me feeling a shade uneasy about how they made Iscandar and Gamilon the same place. I mean it’s not that much of a stretch when you think about it — even in the cartoon they were sister planets sharing the same orbit. But there was just something about it that I couldn’t swallow in the movie. Like any movie produced in the world in the 21st century, there was more than its fair share of politically correct — particularly with Yuki Mori (Nova Forrester in the Americanized Cartoon) turning from pink-collar Radar Operator into a fighter pilot. On the whole though… Good special effects, b-rated story. I might review this one in the future when I’ve got more want to writing a review.

Sommersturm and Shut Up & Kiss Me are LGBT stories.. The former a coming out story with a bit of the usual heartache that things don’t always turn out for the best, the latter… Well, the latter is a rough mess with a message that was convoluted throughout the amateurish filming. Truth be told, the only reason why I wanted to watch it was to see whether or not Ronnie Kerr had any more dramatic range than when I saw him in Regarding Billy. While he doesn’t as I had hoped, I did like enough of his performance that I could find myself relating to his character enough to sympathize with his plight. But it was bad, no matter how much the moral of the story was — and could have been done better.

Unfortunately for me, there isn’t all that much else out there that would appeal to my wanting to watch. Most of them are either bad remakes, or cheesier reboots. I might go looking for something, I might not.. Depends on whether or not I get tired of the re-TV that I’ve been watching the last couple of weeks as well.. Things like Brothers & Sisters (what a soap opera that is), Doctor Who (from the beginning — of which I’m up to the Tennant seasons), my continuing watching things like Smallville (though I’m seriously sick of how much Tom Welling’s characterization of Superman is utterly useless), Supernatural (though there’s only so much demonic nonsense I can put up with in my conscious brain). After that — well it’s a crap shoot of old and older things I might watch to pass the time. Although Spartacus and Game of Thrones are on the burned list. Both are soap operas for men, and I’m just not in the mood for that sort of crap. If I want to want men doing men things — well, I’ll watch Top Gear before those two.

Finally… Heh, a subject I rarely touch upon. Well at least one that I haven’t touched upon in my journal entry in any length for a least a decade: Philosophy and Metaphysics. Most of the reason has to do with the fact that I’ve finally been able to puzzle through the teachings that I had read from Alice A Bailey over the "formative years" just prior to my epiphany at 25 and incorporate them into my every day activities. Some of the reason is because I rarely have met anyone from the Arcane Schools to talk about the various things that I’ve learned, experienced and puzzled out in that time. Not surprising though given that the Northeast and the Tundras of New England really don’t have all that many people that have read AAB, and the few that I did encounter were more than 25 years ago and not exactly the sanest or the most stable of people.

While the person I’m speaking with isn’t of the Arcane School either — I get the impression he’s an esotericist or occultist (at best) or a theosophist (at worst). I can’t be sure of which though as he’s at the point in his spiritual evolution where he’s coming out of what I call the "dark time" where one feels the pull of the Soul to wanting to help/enlighten others to the truths that he has discovered and yet feels alone because one cannot find peers or others (of like mind or like spirit) to discuss, share and expand on that Calling. Tough time that… I remember that time in my life as I was studying AAB where I really, really needed to find someone to relate to when it came to what I was reading and trying to comprehend (particularly when I reached the point in Esoteric Psychology – Volumes 1 & 2). I was fortunate in that I had met Darin (who believed as I did, but never wanted to put to word what I would say in detail) and coupled with the epiphany that I had when I was 25.

Personally I find it an almost frightening proposition. While I’ve put my fair share of folk onto the Path of Spiritual Enlightenment (and Spiritual Evolution), he’s the first that I’ve met coming out of the dark time. To make matters worse, my instincts kick in hardcore because I get the impression that he’s holding back for some reason. I’ve caught him a couple of times showing the sort of concern that he’s going to say the wrong thing and will be received poorly — in spite of the fact that I’ve assured him there’s little that I would find offensive enough to be received badly. Couple the usual caution that comes when dealing with folk meeting other folk on the internet (and never being truly sure what the person on the other side of the pixels is like (sane, stalker, insane, and so on).

*nods* I know, I know… Time and tide… Everything in its place and time… Each of us moves at the speed we’re comfortable with… I know all the sayings… Yet as a creature of Leap of Faith that I am and can be, find this… Well, moderately frustrating.

*shrugs* I’ll just have to wait it out.

Well that’s about it for the time being. Until the next time.

A First Impressions Review of Firefox 4

03/24/2011 Comments off

Let’s face it… When it comes to software upgrades, there are some that I’m rather hesitant about and others that I rush out the instant that they’ve been announced. There are others that it’s a mixed bag of love and hate when it comes to upgrading as the way it behaves between versions can come off feeling arbitrary or draconian and the hoops I feel I have to jump through both to getting used to the “improved” interface as well as the changes of what’s working and what’s not working. The newest version of Firefox is a prime example of the sort of upgrade I have a love/hate relationship with since I started playing with it back in version 2.0

Released a day before the anticipated announced release date and after almost a year delay in the beta testing process, 4.0 is the most recent release of this popular web browser currently available for download. While I haven’t actually put the program through it’s routine tests, there have been some niggling issues that I would like to talk about as the impression I’m getting from this is, “why did it take so bleeding long to get released?” as there is nothing about this particular product truly new or revolutionary.

Pros:

A good majority of the add-ons that I have installed on Firefox 3.6.x seemed to have transitioned smoothly to 4.0. AdBlock Plus, NoScript, Echofon (for Twitter), IE Tabs 2 all continued working without notification of them being “incompatible with the current version”. This is a good way of sorting out the add-ons that developers have stopped supporting as well as nudging other developers it’s time to recheck the code for their add-ons for the current version.

This is a way for me to delete the old/obsolete add-ons and replace with the new. Or in at least one case, phase out . Of which I found myself actually mostly happy about with only one exclusion (below).

The Gecko engine has only gone through some more tweaking, pages render much faster thanks to access/controls involving hardware acceleration. Blink and a page will be rendered. Blink again and you’re off to a new page. While not as fast as Chrome (in my uninformed and untested opinion only), it’s certainly faster than my experience with Firefox 3.x and IE 8.

The memory footprint that Firefox 4 takes up when it loads is a bit less than it did in the past, as at the time of writing this review — my currently running 1 tab for dAmn Chat currently showing ~183,000 K memory for firefox.exe and another 6,600 K for plugin-container.exe. However it’s still more than a bit large when compared to IE 8 (keep in mind I haven’t loaded up 9 yet) at 25,628 K and Chrome at 45,394 K between 4 separate chrome.exe executables and 2 Console Host Emulations (conhost.exe). While granted Internet Explorer doesn’t have any add-ons, Chrome has the same (now) of which I’m left puzzling out why Firefox continues to remain the heaviest when it comes to memory.

Fixed — finally — is the ability to print to PDF and it actually looking like a page printed in English. Bug 454532 indicates just how long this problem had been in Mozilla’s bug tracker and while I had done everything in my power to follow the various fixes work-arounds and what not — Firefox continued to print garbage text to PDF. I recall reading sometime in the past, several news sources reported several times that Mozilla simply gave up trying to fix it in 3.x with the no promise of resolution any time in the near future. Seems with 4.0 it had been fixed and printing to PDF is showing English (or in the case of my machine, Japanese, Simplified Chinese and Korean as well) instead of garbage. This means I don’t have to rely Internet Explorer for invoice/receipt printing.

Cons:

While I understand the need that some add-ons might use code that is optimized for a specific version of the program, Mozilla seems to be both arbitrary and draconian when it comes to whether they’ll allow an add-on to continue working. Case in point: ISOC’s Policy Audit Plugin. The coding on this one simply relies on a accessing a gateway to check a URL and notify the user of whether or not the privacy policy for that particular site had changed or not.

This add-on was a boon when dealing with Gmail and Google, as I’ve noticed since the add-on was installed, they had changed their privacy policies at least three times; and while twice have been a simple issue of semantics, there was one where the policy did in fact change, and glad to have caught it with the use of this tool. Sure it’s a tool in progress, though I suspect that it will always have a niche for folk concerned about changes in privacy since the debacles with Facebook occurring.

I’ve noticed that if you have proxy set to follow the default System Proxy settings, resolving the IP for a URL is much slower than I had expected. I had seen/experienced up to a 1 – 2 second delay between hitting the <enter> key once I had finished typing in the URL and the web browser actually begin rendering the page. Seems that this speed is significantly improved by going into Tools –> Options –> selecting the Advanced tab –> clicking the Advanced button setting, changing the Configure Proxies to Access the Internet to No Proxy. I’m sure this might be resolved in a future release, although seeing this happening was rather surprising given that all three browsers have been touting “speed” for some months now. Particularly given that when I checked the proxy settings for Chrome, Chrome opened up Internet Explorer’s Proxy Settings tab and window.

Neutral/Annoyances:

More of the same interface as I’ve seen from Chrome, Opera and even Internet Explorer transforming their old browsers to something new, and completely unimpressed with the fact that it took this long for them to transform. I admit that I had been a bit snarky about it on Twitter, commenting that it seems that Mozilla and Firefox seem to be following everyone else on the interface of which I had received a @mention from @limi (as it seems he was trending Firefox comments):

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No one remembers who came in last, least of all in a competition for faster, lighter and easier to use software/web browsing with a slick interface. Those that do remember often use this to sow the seeds of discontent, disappointment, doubt and perhaps even doom for a corporation or brand.

While I am no power user by any stretch of the imagination — when it comes to browsing the web the most amount of tabs I have had opened was at maximum of 10. And in those 10, I have noticed on more than one occasion that the memory footprint in previous versions of Firefox reach upward to 750,000+ K. On my system and a couple of systems I’ve used for work have more than enough memory for such leaks, the fact is that leaks shouldn’t be happening at all. Blaming it on add-ons doesn’t really address the problem as it’s been demonstrated that clean installations (of Firefox) have the same problems.

As of the Firefox 4 release candidate forum posts indicate that the memory leak still continues to plague this web browser and while I haven’t personally seen anything too out of the ordinary so far (knock on wood), I did at one point see memory get up to about the same amount of KB as I would working 10 hours at a job with those 10 tabs open. And this occurred yesterday while I was in about 6 tabs. This does in fact raise quite a bit of question, given that the same 6 tabs in Chrome and IE continue to show a seriously small RAM footprints. I will continue to monitor this, and see if it’s actually been addressed or continues to plague some of the users of Firefox.

Bing was put into my customized Search Engines Drop-Down. While it was good that it didn’t mess with my customized list as I have a rather eclectic array of them; seeing Bing at the bottom I felt more than a little dirty… As though Mozilla was saying “Hi! Thank you for the upgrade. Here’s Bing. We want you to know we’re in bed with them!”

A rather large annoyance that I had to track down was something that caught my attention and left me with this uneasy feeling that something was just not quite right. So after about 5 minutes of research was able to spot. You see, one of the joys of running Aero on Windows 7 is the way that I can sort my windows one on top of the other (along with overlapping them around the screens) and if something flashes underneath another window, the visual queue will get me to swap to it to see what’s going on. The thing is, with Firefox 4, I caught arbitrary changes in the aero-window frame as I clicked on drop-downs within the web page I was viewing at the time as well as on clicking menus within Firefox itself. This changing of lights/darks on the UI window frame gave me the impression that the window underneath it had momentarily changed focus/blinked and I needed to see what was going on.

While this can be a quirk of code that can easily be rectified, people oriented to visual cues of changed states of windows can find that a distraction when trying to work as efficiently as possible when they’re multitasking. And while I was able to accommodate/adjust against that quirk, the fact that Firefox was the only one that I caught that happening with is enough for me to want to avoid using it until it’s been rectified.

Font display on web pages is annoyingly different from 3.x to 4.0, enough so that I find off-putting. While none of my font settings have changed (including Windows Clear Type text for the display) rendering on the pages is enough to be a put off for using Firefox. Following is a screen cap of Firefox 4.0

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With what it used to look like in 3.6.x

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I’m sure that there’s a setting somewhere that controls this within about:config but at the moment I admit to being too lazy to do more than a cursory inspection between the two versions of the program. Particularly given that when Chrome went from 9 to 10 on my system, I hadn’t even realized it had been updated until I had to look under the hood. Further, I’m finding my eyes strained more looking at the web pages in 4.0 than in 3.x, IE and even Chrome.

Another of the niggling annoyances that has come to my attention has been the way that Firefox is now showing up in the Windows Menu under most common used program in spite of the fact that it’s also in my taskbar.

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I rather liked the fact that it had never recorded itself as recently opened in version 3.x. I put it there in the taskbar for a reason and don’t need it telling me I opened it recently. This one’s really minor, though as you can tell, I’m not a fan of seeing many programs in that recently used list especially if it’s something I use a lot.

Finally, the last niggling point that I have for the update is that they had removed the Add-On Bar from the bottom of the screen. Unlike previous versions which can be turned off and on, with the same key-command (CTRL+/), with this one, it adds an x to remove it. Further, when the Add-On Bar is active, mouse over on links won’t show in it (like they used to) and are relegate to still showing Chrome-style in the window thereby taking up more screen landscape. Granted it’s 10 pixels (or so) tall, and however long, I would think if the add-on bar is active, I don’t need them showing up where they used to have a place to go instead.

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Bottom Line: While the pros in this case outweigh the cons, I fear it’s going to be the petty annoyances that do in my long-standing loyalty to Firefox. If anything since the upgrade I’ve been finding myself using Chrome more because of it’s speed, lightness and the fact that upgrades went transparently and without any such attention to the changes.

While the jury’s still out on a handful of features I’ve yet to see/experience improvement on I believe in about a month, I’ll have made the cut away from Firefox.