Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Five Ways Sony Can Save Spider-Man

In the wake of the massive hacking attack suffered by Sony Pictures, there has been a lot of talk about the direction of Sony's Spider-Man franchise. The last two movies weren't exactly the pinnacle of cinematic excellence and Sony can't seem to figure out whether they should continue on with Amazing Spider-Man 3, start over again or reach out to Marvel for help. The thing is, as much as I hated The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the situation isn't as bleak as we've been led to believe. The franchise doesn't really need saving because there's not that much that's wrong with it. The last two movies were beautifully shot, well cast and well directed. The problem is with the writing and the pacing and the overall "big picture". We were given two films over-stuffed with plot threads (many of which went nowhere) topped with one-dimensional villains with dubious motivations.

As much as I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, tossing Spider-Man back over to them is probably a bad idea. While it will certainly result in better movies, it means that, due to all the characters in rotation, we'll be getting fewer Spider-Man movies. Sony can still pull this out of the fire. Here's how:

Five Ways Sony Can Save Spider-Man


  1. Dump Avi Arad. He's the head honcho of all things Spider-Man over at Sony and he's the main problem with this franchise. He has made a number of poor creative decisions regarding the direction of the franchise over the years, the most egregious being the way he forced Sam Raimi to use Venom in Spider-Man 3. Arad sees Spider-Man only as a money making asset and all of his creative decisions are built around that. 

  2. Keep Andrew Garfield. He did really well with what he was given in the last two movies. He looks the part of Peter Parker and acts the part as well despite Peter being written as a miserable douchebag. He has a real passion for playing Spider-Man and if he gets a decent script in his hands, he'd really make it fly off the page. 

  3. Bring in actual writers who are longtime fans and trust them to get the job done. The writers of the last two movies, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are hacks who write by stringing together various set pieces and sprinkling them with pop culture references. They shouldn't be allowed anywhere near Spider-Man. It's time to bring in someone who has respect for the character who can write a compelling, layered story with an exciting villain that is a character piece first, an action movie second, and a romance third (if at all). Whomever this writer turns out to be should have little studio interference as "too many cooks" is what has spoiled the last three Spider-Man movies. 

  4. Build the universe, but don't make it look like you're trying to build the universe. One of the main problems with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that it was trying to quickly shove a bunch of universe building references into it. Overall, it felt like a 90 minute advertisement for Sony's planned Sinister Six movie or maybe The Amazing Spider-Man 3. Either way, story elements took a back seat to introducing characters that may or may not be followed up on. They key here is to be subtle. Work slowly and methodically. Build the Sinister Six like it was built in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series. 

  5. Play nice with Marvel. I don't mean that they should give the reins back to Marvel. Sony doesn't have to collaborate with them on main Spider-Man movies, but they should encourage Marvel to "borrow" Spidey as a supporting character in their movies and maybe "borrow" Nick Fury or Coulson for their Spider-Man movies. The franchise has lost a lot of credibility lately and sucking up some Marvel cred would do it a lot of good.  .

Monday, November 10, 2014

Birdman: A Review

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) is a black comedy in limited release that tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed up actor who achieved fame by portraying an iconic superhero as he struggles to mount a Broadway play in a last ditch attempt for artistic relevance. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego as well as a upstaging costar (Edward Norton) while attempting to recover his family, his career, and himself. If you've seen the previews or the Television spots, you may be tempted to see the movie so that you can check out some of the cool special effects related to the Birdman character. Birdman is not germane to the plot, however, and serves only as the voice of Riggan's ego. So, don't expect much in the way of superhero action. What's important is that Keaton's character was a huge movie star at one point in his career and has fallen into near-obscurity. This movie is a backstage drama, not a comic book comeback.

The casting of Keaton can easily be seen as meta since he starred in the Batman franchise before walking away and fading into near-obscurity. Whether or not that was the intention, Keaton brings his full talent to the role and delivers a rich, layered, poignant and sometimes comedic performance. Riggan, determined to prove himself on Broadway by directing and starring in a self-financed adaptation of Raymond Carter’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” faces mounting adversity during previews of the show. Riggan must not only cope with his just-out-of-drug rehab daughter (Emma Stone) and embittered ex-wife (Amy Ryan) but also his harried lawyer/manager (Zach Galifianakis), actress girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), insecure leading lady (Naomi Watts), and her narcissistic actor/boyfriend (Edward Norton) who is bound and determined to steal Riggan's thunder for himself. Compounding Riggan's problems is the voice of Birdman, as his alter-ego, firmly lodged in his brain, seemingly enabling his mystical telekinetic powers. In the end, we end up asking ourselves what makes someone relevant, what the difference is between love and admiration and we are reminded that we may be too quick to dismiss art as crap if it does not suit our tastes.

The performances are excellent and there's some great back-and-forths between Keaton and Norton. Yet, a discussion about Birdman cannot truly be had until one mentions the fluid cinematography, edited in such a way as to appear like one continuous take, and the percussion-based score which adds to Riggan's angst. This type of cinematic jazz will challenge your notions about narrative and will leave you richer for having experienced it. Still, at the end of the day, Birdman is a movie that you're either going to "get" or completely dismiss as a flaming pile of turd. Personally, I think this is the best movie of 2014.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos!

It was a pretty close race, but, in the end, Republican Bruce Rauner won the Governor's seat in Illinois. For me, the choice between Rauner and the incumbent Pat Quinn came down to a toss-up between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich and the close margin of the election seems to indicate that the rest of the state felt the same way. If we look at some of the other results, though, something very interesting is happening.


On the ballot in Illinois, all voters were asked to vote on various initiatives. These were non-binding votes intended to communicate the electorate's thoughts on what policies the Illinois legislature should vote in favor of during the next session. By a two-to-one margin the people of Illinois voted in favor of raising the minimum wage and voted in favor raising taxes on higher incomes. So, the people Illinois clearly want a higher minimum wage and higher taxes on rich incomes, and yet they elect a Governor who specifically said that he intends to do the opposite of those things?

In the end, I'd say that it didn't really matter who got voted into office. The end result here is that Illinois ousted a guy who got nothing done and replaced him with a guy who won't get anything done

Monday, November 3, 2014

Google Inbox

I'm one of the lucky bastards that got an invite to Google Inbox late last week. Google Inbox is the new email app that scans your email account for important and similar information. It then presents what it considers the most important parts of the email first and groups similar emails as "Bundles" that are named by type (e.g., "Travel" or "Updates" or any custom bundle you might decide to make). It also converts physical addresses into Google Maps links and airline confirmation numbers into a flight status update. Imagine if the cards Google Now had a baby with Gmail. That would pretty well sum up Google Inbox.

Currently, Google Inbox is invite-only. If you want to try it, you’ll either need to get an invite from a current user or you'll need to send an email to inbox@google.com from your Gmail account and they’ll send you an invite when it’s ready. Once you get invited, you’ll have to install the Google Inbox app on either Android or iOS (links are provided in the invite). You should also go all-in and try Inbox on the Web, currently only available using Chrome, for a fully integrated experience.

The Google Inbox Android app has a look that's in-line with Google’s design concepts for the upcoming Android Lollipop. E-mail groups are presented in a card-based format in the center, and you can slide out the left panel to access your labels and other particulars. All of your existing mail, labels, and organizational filters are still in place, so, if you use Google Inbox, you won’t have to start from scratch. Tapping on an email brings it up, just like in Gmail’s current e-mail app.

What makes Google Inbox so useful isn’t its updated UI, though. Google Inbox has so many innovative features that it'll make your digital life easier. For example, Google Inbox now gives you the ability to mark an email as “Done” instead of just “Read.” All messages have a check-mark symbol, and tapping that will send it to the “Done” label, completely removing it from your to-do list. It’s similar to archiving mail, but more intuitive. If there’s a set of e-mails you don’t really need to read, like Social, you can click the check-slide icon to mark them all as "Done" and you won't ever have to see those annoying Facebook social update emails again. Google Inbox also gives you the ability to snooze messages for a later time. Have you ever gotten an e-mail but were too busy doing something else to think up a reply? When that happens, tapping the clock icon at the top of an open email will let you choose a time, place, or combination of both when Inbox will remind you of the mail. Until then, it goes away to keep your inbox uncluttered.

After using Google Inbox for a few days, I personally think that it's a great tool for managing my mail and if you're even remotely interested, you should try it yourself. And there's no obligation to keep Google Inbox is you don't like it. You can just remove the app from your phone and keep using the regular Gmail app.You definitely have to put in a little effort in order to effectively manage your inbox, but, once you've set up your labels, etc, Google Inbox is well worth it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The PS4 Doesn't Support CD Playback

Call me primitive, but I've still got a lot of CDs in my collection and I still play them from time to time. While doing some reasearch on the PS4 vs XBoX One debate, I discovered that the PS4 does not play CDs. Why is that? Well, one might be inclined to think that Sony wants to push their music loving PS4 customers into a Music Unlimited subscription. However, I've heard it said that in order to get a Blu-Ray drive to play CDs, you'd have to use two lasers: one for Blu-Ray and one for CDs. So, it seems like a cost-saving decision to me I think it was a cost saving and space saving decision.

Okay, fine, I can get behind that, I guess. CDs are a dying medium anyway. And, yet, the PS4 won't even support MP3 playback, so it's not like I can stick a bunch of songs onto a USB drive and play them from the PS4.  And forget about DLNA as well. Sony is supposedly going to add in support for these things eventually, but, as a guy who got a lot of uses out of his PS3, this is one issue that can tip the very shaky PS4 vs Xbox One debate squarely towards Microsoft.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Does Walmart's Savings Catcher Actually Work?

I'm sure you've seen the commercials for the Walmart “Savings Catcher” program. You basically use the program to scan your Wal-Mart receipts and have Walmart determine if you  could have paid less elsewhere. If Wal-Mart finds a lower advertised price in your area for any of the items you bought, they give you the difference goes on a gift Wal-Mart gift card (that can only be used at Walmart, of course). But does the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app actually work?

I've been using the app on my Samsung Galaxy S4 since October 1st and I've already gotten a little bit of money back. Out of six receipts, Wal-Mart has refunded back money to me on three of them for a total of $2.21 after about $250 spent. Eligible products are currently limited to only grocery and health & beauty items and receipts older than 7 days are ineligible.

So, based upon my own experience, I'd say that Walmart Savings Catcher is not a scam and might actually be worth trying. Look at this way: You’ve already spent the money; why not see if you can get any of it back? If you have any qualms about whether or not Wal-Mart is mining your data with the app, you might want to avoid using Savings Catcher, as I don't particularly know how they store your receipt data and how long they keep it.

Another thing worth mentioning is that American Express and Wal-Mart have entered into a partnership for the Savings Catcher app. American Express has a prepaid debit card called Bluebird which Walmart sells for $5. If you have a Bluebird card and choose to put your Savings Catcher reward onto it, American Express will match the refund Walmart gives you which, in effect, doubles your refund. You can connect your Bluebird card to the Wal-Mart app, which then creates a sub-account to your Bluebird called "Walmart Bucks." The next time you go to Walmart to make a purchase and use your Bluebird card, it'll automatically use whatever's in the sub-account first, and then use your main account for whatever's leftover. And before you run out to buy a Bluebird card, you need to know that if you already have an American Express Serve account, you won't be able to get a Bluebird card.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the Bluebird card, so I won't be using it. The American Express reward matching is good through February.

What do you think? Has the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app worked for you? Do you think it's a scam? Do you think it's just not worth it? Would you be willing to buy a Bluebird card so that you can double your rewards? Sound off below and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Some Pumpkin Flavor Ideas

It's Fall and everybody is going pumpkin crazy again. And who doesn't  love a good Pumpkin Spice Latte from the local coffee shop? If you're in the mood for something a little different, yet still want that pumpkin taste, then you might try some pumpkin cider. I happened upon a few bottles of Sparkling Spiced Pumpkin Cider from Nature's Nectar. It's bottled by the Aldi corporation and, as far as I can tell, it can only be bought in their stores. A bottle will run you about two dollars.

Sparkling Spiced Pumpkin Cider comes in a nifty flip top which makes the bottle great for re-use. It's also non-alcoholic, although I'm thinking it would taste even better with a shot of rum. Or, you might toss in a shot of Jack Daniels, heat the whole thing up a bit and call it a "Jack O'Lantern". Here's the real kicker: Nature's Nectar Sparking Spiced Pumpkin Cider isn't really pumpkin cider at all. No pumpkins were pressed into juice in order to make this delicious concoction. No, Aldi pumpkin cider is just sparkling apple cider with pumpkin spice added. Had I not read the label, I would have had no idea because you can really taste the pumpkin in it. It actually tastes a lot like sparkling pumpkin pie juice.

Pumpkin Pie Pudding

If you're still in the pumpkin mood, then you might try making a little pumpkin pie pudding. It's a really simple recipe. All you need to do is whip up a package (5 1/10 oz) of your favorite vanilla pudding, add in a can of pumpkin (15 oz) and then add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon also works). The kids and I made this last weekend and it went over really well. For some extra fun, buy some popsicle molds from your local dollar store and put the pumpkin pie pudding in them. Freeze them for a few hours and you've got pumpkin pie pudding pops.

Monday, October 6, 2014

How I Fixed My HP 110 Mini

I bought my My HP 110 Mini back in 2009 and it has been a pretty solid netbook computer for several years now. I initially upgraded it from 1gb of memory to 2gb which made it seem to run Windows 7 quite a bit faster. About a year ago, I accidentally cracked the screen which meant that I could no longer use the display at all. I resorted to using the VGA output on the HP 110 Mini to plug into my TV so that I could use the free version of Hulu on it. Recently, however, I was able to find a replacement screen fairly cheap and decided to fix it. It was an easier process than I could have hoped.

There are a few video tutorials out there that will help you replace your cracked HP Mini 110 screen and they range from overly talky to completely useless. Personally, I think that, if you intend to replace your HP 110 Mini screen yourself, then using the official maintenance and service guide is the best way to go. Using the guide from HP, I was able to replace my screen in about 10 minutes. Before you begin, though, you'll want to make sure you have a set of precision screwdrivers because you'll be working with really tiny screws.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Visiting Oak Ridge Cemetery

I traveled to Springfield recently to give a lecture on virtual desktop systems. While I was in town, I decided to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery which is famous for being the burial site of Abraham Lincoln. Oak Ridge Cemetery also boasts an impressive World War II memorial and is also home to several ornate tombs belonging to a number of former Illinois governors.

I've uploaded an album of photos to Sharalike. The album includes some pictures of Lincoln's Tomb and the World War II memorial. Have a look at them:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Double Letters In The Chrome Address Bar

A very weird thing happened in the advent of my Samsung Galaxy S4 getting Android 4.4.2. Whenever I would try to type a URL address into the Chrome address bar, the letters would be repeated. So, I would type "m" and end up getting "mm". Sometimes, I could type "msn" and then I'd get "msnmsn". The letter and phrase repeating never happened anywhere else but in the Chrome address bar. I had thought that it was an issue with autocomplete or predictive text, but that's not the case.

I had two keyboard inputs enabled. Using both the Samsung keyboard input and the Swipe keyboard and having them both using predictive text seems to be the culprit . Turning off the predictive text option on Swipe solved the problem.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

An Audience With The Mayor

I met the Mayor of my town last night. I had finally cleared away enough time to get my hair cut and moseyed on over across the street to my local barber shop. Upon walking into the one-chair shop, I saw that the Mayor himself was in the chair getting a trim. I was impressed, not only because the Mayor was hanging out just like any other regular Joe at the barber shop, but also because His Honor seemed to have lost a considerable amount of weight from how he looked in his campaign photo.

I took my seat and waited my turn. While I was waiting, I talked with the other folks there about the state of the local economy, the weather and other fairly mundane things. Another customer entered and the conversation among the group lulled. A little uncomfortable with the silence, I looked at the newcomer and said "What do you think about the Mayor?". I had thought that my tone indicated that I was asking the guy what he thought about having the Mayor in the barber shop. However, the customer thought I was asking for his opinion on the Mayor and went into an expletive-laden rant about the Mayor.

The barber silenced his clippers for a moment and asked the customer if he knew what the Mayor looked like. The customer seemed a little incredulous and indicated that he did. The barber shook his head while the Mayor just smirked. A few moments later, the barber finished the haircut and the Mayor strolled out of the shop without saying a word to the customer. The moment the door closed, the rest of us erupted in laughter.

I felt like a Kennedy.

Monday, June 2, 2014

White Sox

I'm not a huge fan of sports. To me, a sport is something one does, not something one watches. But, I do have to admit that there's something appealing about the atmosphere that encompasses a day at the ballpark. So, on Friday night, I put on my Spider-Man Jersey (#62), slipped on my vintage White Sox cap and set out to watch the White Sox get clobbered by the Padres at U.S. Cellular Field. My oldest brother and my sister were both in attendance, because, after all, watching a game isn't any fun unless you've got someone to watch it with. The general air of excitement made me forget that I was paying $8 for a beer and $7 for a bratwurst. I didn't even mind dropping $50 on some over-priced White Sox apparel.

The one thing I do regret is sharing a nacho helmet with my brother. That greasy mix of seasoned beef, chips, gooey cheese and sour cream made my stomach cry.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Taming Of The Shrew

I spent the last month working on a production of Taming of the Shrew with one of the local community theaters. Under normal circumstances, tackling Shakespeare is a difficult process, but we had less than four weeks to become familiar with the play and get our lines and direction down. This made it nearly impossible to get the show running smoothly before opening night. But, as we always do, we pulled together a troop of newbies, casuals and veterans to make it work.

Taming of the Shrew tells the tale of the courtship between Petruchio, who comes to town hoping to marry a wealthy woman, and Katherine, a scolding, headstrong shrew. Petruchio uses psychological torments to tame Katherine while a sub-plot develops between Katherine's sister, Bianca and the numerous suitors using devious means to woo Bianca. The whole thing is introduced via a framing device where a mischievous nobleman tricks a drunkard into believing that he is a lord and that his life as a drunkard was nothing more than a long fever dream. The nobleman then has the play put on for the drunkard's diversion. Basically, it's the inspiration behind that Julia Stiles film "Ten Things I Hate About You". So, imagine "Ten Things" set in the 16 century.

I played Grumio, servant to Petruchio. Grumio is a sarcastic man with a quick wit who interprets his master's orders in the most literal sense possible. There's a lot of comedic moments with Grumio, and it's important to play him as foolish yet wise.

Throughout the play, there were a number of issues that cropped up, most often due to cast members who had to pull out of the production for one reason or another. I was often looked to in order to help iron out issues with replacing absent actors or helping present ones with their methods. After 8 shows at this theater alone, I'm seen as a "veteran". I find that immensely gratifying, as I never thought I would ever be considered a veteran of anything. It's yet another sign that I've been putting down deep roots in the community.

We've got one more weekend of shows to do, and, after a rocky start, it seems that the cast is finally ready to meet this show head on and deliver an amazing performance.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kit Kat Finally Comes To Verizon And The Samsung Galaxy S4

The KitKat 4.4.2 Android update has been making its way around various versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 for weeks now. As a Verizon customer, I'm used to having to wait at the back of the line for an important OS update, but the wait for KitKat has been particularly long. My phone finally received it this afternoon.

New Features In KitKat


  • Better Memory Management - Google has made some improvements under the hood that results in better memory management and smoother mulit-tasking.
  • Improved Google Now - You can now activate Google Now by simply saying "OK Google". The contextual cards feature have also been upgraded. Google Now cards will try to predict information you need based on your location, favorite sites or TV programs.
  • Hangouts Upgrade - Google Hangouts now supports SMS and MMS and promises better video and voice calling along with location based sharing and animated gif support. 
  • Better Caller ID - The phone app itself appears to have been redesigned as it now has a Google Now integrated search bar. Google Maps will also be used to search for names behind numbers that have not been identified in your contacts. 

As usual, this update from Verizon comes with a significant amount of bloatware including:

  • Verizon Cloud - With Verizon's "More Everything" plan, you get 25GB of cloud storage. Use this app to access it. Or, do what I do, and disable it.
  • Isis Wallet - It's an app where you put in your credit card numbers and loyalty card numbers so that you can pay via the app at any physical location that takes contactless payments. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Overflowing My Data Cap

I got my replacement phone in the mail last week and quickly went about re-installing all of my old apps. I also made sure to pluck my old SD card out of the old phone and put it into the new one. I had still been using the damaged phone to take pictures and videos, especially of cast rehearsals, even though my Google Photos backup could not connect to the network. It was when I re-installed Google Photos that I made a huge mistake.

Google Photos Auto Backup will automatically backup all photos and videos you take by uploading them to your allocated cloud space. It gives you the option of always using your cell network or waiting for a Wi-Fi connection instead. In my haste to get everything done, I selected the option to always use the cell network. Several hours later, while I was sleeping and while my phone was uploading the pictures and video I had taken during my offline time, Verizon notified me via txt message that I had exceeded my data cap. Not only that, but I was informed that I was going to be automatically billed $15 for another gig of data. Four hours later, just before I woke up, I got another txt informing me that I had exceeded the 1gig extra cap and that I'd be charged $15 for yet another gig of data.

My exceeding the cap is totally my fault for not completely reading the notifications on Google Photos, but, wouldn't you think that any additional data expense should be authorized by me before Verizon adds it? I'm sure there's language in the contract that allows Verizon to add a data charge to my bill without my authorization, but, still, it's a pretty shitty thing to do.