Movie Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit (2012 film)
The Hobbit (2012 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My sister (Anne) had her birthday this past Saturday and as part of the celebration a few of us went out to see Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey. I was eager to celebrate my sister’s birthday, but not as eager to see the film. While I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy I thought The Hobbit would be slower and I had a sermon to prepare and so on – I was greatly and pleasantly surprised.

I haven’t read The Hobbit in around fifteen years – but the film stayed fairly close to the storyline as I recalled it and while some have complained that the humor in the film makes it too light-hearted and ruins its faithfulness, I felt that the film perfectly reflected the lighter tone of The Hobbit and the underlying humor that pops up at times in J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing.

The film is filled with beautiful landscapes, intense battles, and plenteous humor. It deserves its PG-13 rating for the intense violence, but otherwise contains no objectionable elements. Interestingly, it does include several rolling heads – as opposed to the one we saw in the first Lord of the Rings film, which seemed (at the time) to be pushing the PG-13 rating.

Martin Freeman really makes the movie with his portrayal of Bilbo and those who have seen the BBC’s Sherlock will recognize Bilbo as the affable Dr. James Watson and notice some similarities between the two characters.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, I highly recommend it…and then you can wait with eagerness like me for the sequel to come out next Christmas.

Ohh, and the extended time spent with Smeagol/Gollum was amazing and hilarious.

Some Humorous Entertainment.

Here are a few entertaining videos I’ve stumbled across recently. Enjoy!

First off is John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John reuniting for an interesting music video. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry while watching it and there is something almost magical about Travolta’s smile throughout. I’d say it is in Friday music video territory. There is a fascinating and heart-warming story behind this video, you can read about it here. (HT: Mashable).

Next is a fascinating and hilarious (and mean) prank video in which innocent individuals are scared by a zombie-in-the-elevator prank. How do they not get sued for this? (HT: Mashable)

This one seems to be done by the same folks as the last video…except this time it is a ghost that appears instead of a zombie. (HT: Mashable)

Hope you enjoy these as much as I did!

A Few Suggestions for Hulu.

Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Hulu is a pretty nifty service that I use in combination with Netflix and other free services to eliminate television / cable from our home. We use the internet or DVDs for anything we want to watch. That said, there are a number of relatively minor enhancements Hulu could make to improve their service…Here are my suggestions:

Skipping Ads

No one likes ads…but I’m usually willing to sit through them if I haven’t watched them before…but when it is the same ad for the hundredth time? Now I’m just frustrated and bored. So, what about letting folks deposit a small amount (say $5) into a Hulu “bank” and when they don’t want to watch an ad (b/c they’ve seen it before or b/c the show just left off at a cliffhanger they are eager to return to), allow them to choose to skip the ad – in exchange for a few cents. I don’t know how much each ad view is worth to Hulu – but say even $0.05 or $0.10 – there are many times when I’d be willing to pay this to skip over an annoying ad and get back a few seconds of my life.

Using this sort of methodology, they could partner with someone like Swagbucks to offer other ways of earning ad skips – e.g. by filling out surveys, accepting trial offers, and so on.

This might help Hulu better monetize their inventory while reducing their dependence on advertising revenue – which can be a fickle mistress at times.

Search History

Doggone it. I stopped watching x show six months ago and I can’t remember what episode I left off on. How can I find out? Well, I can page through my History on Hulu – but this can be quite extensive. What if Hulu added the ability to search through one’s history? Then you could easily type in the name of the show and see what episodes you’d already watched.

History Organization

Along similar lines as above, it’d be nice to be able to sort one’s history – e.g., do drill downs by show, group movie trailers together, etc.

Undo Delete History

I like to look through my history every once in a while and get rid of excerpts and trailers. I don’t really need to keep track of them. But sometimes I accidentally click on a TV show – which I do want to track, and there is no undelete option! I also remove items if I started watching it but didn’t finish it – that way I don’t think I did watch it if I come back later.

Multi-Delete

Sometimes I might want to delete a bunch of history items in a row, but there is no option for multiple selections. The page also does a full postback – it would be better to use AJAX – this would make the interface slicker and reduce the amount of bandwidth hulu uses.

What About You?

Are there features you’d like to see Hulu add? Fixes that need to be made?

Movie Review: Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen.

Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen
Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)

Today I watched one of those movies that I kept thinking, “I should watch that” but never quite felt in the mood. A foreign-language (German) biographical drama about a twelfth century nun, Hildegard von Bingen, it is one of those dramas that looks good but one wonders if it will be just another boring epic that drags on and on.

Happily, it was not such a dry and boring and epic and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I always enjoy biographical movies which inspire me an interest in the individual about whom the movie concerns. I find these films are useful both in arousing interest in myself and in others. How do we get someone to care about Martin Luther? Perhaps by showing them the film Luther. About Gandhi? Perhaps with the movie of the same name. Of Hildegard von Bingen? Perhaps with the film Vision.

Hildegard is not your run-of-the-mill medieval nun. Rather she experienced visions from God (whether true or false), was extremely intelligent, wrote on many topics including the sciences, was politically adept, and became a significant figure in a male-dominated society.

I didn’t find any ready articles addressing how historically accurate the film was – but the film was fascinating enough to elicit in me an interest to learn more about Hildegard…I think you will find it similarly fascinating.

But the film doesn’t rest solely upon the laurels of the story alone and its interaction with history. It is a visually lush film that depicts medieval architecture, clothing, and customs beautifully. At the same time, it avoids profanity, sex scenes, and while including some brief scenes around suffering, violence, suicide, and self-mutilation – these are not dwelt upon nor mined for perverse pleasure.

The film was written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta and stars several talented actors including Barbara Sukowa (Hildegard), Heino Ferch (Volmar), and Hannah Herzsprung (Richardis).

It is currently available for free streaming on Netflix.

Outcasts (TV Show).

Screen-shot of a public preview video.
Image via Wikipedia

The TV shows I really like always seem to get canceled. Does that mean I’m bad luck for those TV shows? Or that I have bad luck in choosing TV shows? Most likely it has to do with the limited interest in the shows I find most enjoyable. Unfortunately, especially when it comes to broadcast TV, the shows which can appeal to the widest demographics are the ones that succeed…but in attempting to appeal to such wide demographics much is often lost. I hope that as internet TV continues to evolve we will see an increase in niche TV shows – since there won’t be the scarcity of time which currently occurs with broadcast TV, and overhead should also be less in creating the shows.

In any case, Netflix recently added a British show from BBC One called Outcasts – and I love it. I’ve just finished watching the first (and only) season. The show has been canceled and while one could desire much more – the first season is still well worth watching, being a semi-contained story within itself.

I can’t tell you too much about the storyline without exposing some of the many fascinating plots that arise…but the basic concept is that earth is becoming (or has become) uninhabitable due to mankind’s warfare and a new colony is being established on a distant planet – Carpathia. The story centers around the colonization of this new planet and all the challenges inherent with such an endeavor.

The show is not particularly fast-paced, rather it maintains a steady (not plodding) gait. When I watched the first episode I felt as if it was plodding a bit – but as I continued to watch I saw the design and beauty in the pace. Every episode tackles a story of its own while at the same time undertaking a greater mythos. At the same time the show focuses deeply on character development and relationships and offers up probing questions about some of humanities greatest questions.

The show is fairly clean – including by American standards – with no sex scenes, minimal skin, and a spattering of profane language (mainly of the British variety).

The cast is quite talented including Hermione Norris, Liam Cunningham, Daniel Mays, Amy Manson, and Ashley Walters. A favorite quote comes from the last episode in which Cass Cromwell (Mays) says to Richard Tate (Cunningham):

“Stop being so bloody laid back about it. Make like you care for once, about people not just your stupid ideas, your grand plans. This isn’t about humanity, this isn’t about the future, it definitely isn’t about pieces on the chessboard, its about [excluded], it’s about now.”[1]

I think this is an interesting and true challenge for those who can dissociate themselves from the subjective emotions of an experience and hold fast onto objective fact While this ability to stand as an external and objective observer is useful, it can also be a downfall.

  1. [1]I excluded the name of what it is about, as it is important to the storyline.

O.C. Supertones – Little Man (Song)

It has been a few years now since ska was on the scene…longer for those who are younger than I, shorter for those who surpass me in years. In any case, today I was thinking about the Supertones song “Little Man.” I’d preached a sermon on Galatians 3 which reminds us of the greatness of God and the smallness of ourselves…so I came home this evening and stumbled upon the music video…thought I’d share.

Occupy Wall Street: A Visual Introduction.

Recently I posted a bit of a primer on Occupy Wall Street consisting of quotes, links, and summations. I’m a reader – so I prefer textual materials. I can’t stand watching non-fiction video (e.g. news, documentaries), feeling I can more rapidly consume text…but I know many are more visual-oriented learners than I am…so here I am including a few videos I used at a recent Calvary Community College & Career gathering to discuss Occupy Wall Street. I think they provide a fairly good overview of the topic.

This is a very powerful video (00:01:31) attempting to explain what OWS is about using visual representations of disparities and injustices from an OWS perspective.

This is a short advertisement (0:00:33) created by some proponents for OWS. It provides brief blips from a few different individuals on what OWS means for them. It is professionally done.

This slightly longer video (00:04:25) features Elizabeth Warren prominently and is another view on the causes of the recent economic recession and explains the complaints of OWS proponents.

This video (00:02:21) provides a first-hand video account of riot police pushing Occupy Oakland demonstrators out. There is some brief strong profanity in this video along with some blood due to someone being hit by a rubber bullet in the face. Remember that the police have a difficult job to do. I do not want to defend their every action, but I also think it is important to recognize that they are sometimes being attacked violently as well, and are called to maintain a balance between swift and effective peace-keeping with reasonable methods.

The final video here (00:02:21) is from Eric W. Dolan on The Raw Story. He provides a brief clip of Pat Robertson, a conservative Christian personage, in which Robertson criticizes the OWS movement. Dolan couches this clip in criticism of Robertson and his position.

I hope these videos provide a brief yet effective guide to OWS and some of the issues surrounding it. If you have other videos you found particularly informative or powerful – I’d love to see them. Also, I am having a hard time finding good videos (of limited length) from an opposition perspective on OWS. Assistance in finding such videos would be appreciated…I do not mean to under-represent the opposition, but the results I find via searches, etc. whether in text or video are generally pro-OWS.

Safari InformIT – For the IT Crowd.

Safari Books Online
Image by iogi via Flickr

One of my long-term favorite services that I’ve subscribed to as a paying member on-again, off-again is Safari Books Online. Safari offers access to a vast library of hundreds of IT related books for online reading.

If you work in the IT realm, its well worth the subscription cost – especially if you can get your employer to foot the bill for you. IT books are such a niche volume and oftentimes so massive in size that they frequently run $50-$100 for a single volume. Safari offers a relatively inexpensive alternative – while also preventing the proliferation of the dreaded stacks of outdated IT books that seem to crop up around us as technology changes at a blistering pace.

The price used to be $10/mo. for their basic subscription – but that was years ago and it is now a much steeper $23/mo. – but still well worth the price.

Oftentimes when we find online subscription services the best and the brightest are not among the selection – this is not the case with Safari. You’ll find numerous volumes from a variety of the best technical publishers including O’Reilly Media, Microsoft Press, Sams, Apress, Cisco Press, Packt Publishing, Que, and McGraw-Hill.

Perhaps a little insiders peek at what I’ve been reading (or at least perusing) over the last year or two on Safari will help provide some idea of the range and depth of the collection:

  • Martin WP Reid’s Pro Access 2007.
  • Ross Mistry and co.’s Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Management and Administration.
  • Michele E. Davis and Jon A. Phillips’ Learning PHP and MySQL 2nd Edition.
  • Luke Welling and Laura Thomson’s PHP and MySQL Web Development.
  • Andrew and Paul Hudson’s Ubuntu Unleashed 2008 Edition.
  • Karen S. Fredricks’ SugarCRM for Dummies.
  • John Paul Mueller LINQ for Dummies.
  • Dino Esposito’s Programming Microsoft ASP.NET 3.5.
  • Scott Driza’s Word 2007 Document Automation with VBA and VSTO.
  • Kirk Haselden’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Integration Services Unleashed.
  • Larry Tenny and Zeeshan Hirani’s Entity Framework 4.0 Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach.
  • Alex Mackey’s Introducing .NET 4.0: with Visual Studio 2010.
  • Michael Lisin and co.’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services Unleashed.
  • Brian Larson’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Reporting Services.
  • Laurent Bugnion’s Silverlight 4 Unleashed.
  • Michael W. Picher’s Building Enterprise-Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0.

Along with extensive collections of books on development (web, java, .net, php), database (mssql, mysql, oracle), server/workstation administration (windows/linux), and network administration there are titles on digital media, engineering, math and science, personal and professional development, and so on.

Did I mention you get discounts on books (significant ones) if you purchase them while having a subscription? Sweet.

No, I’m not getting paid by Safari for this post. 😛

Hulu – Watching Video Online.

Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

I grew up in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have a television for a number of years. Cable was not available. Satellite was the only (and expensive option). Local TV channels were sparse. We learned to live with VHS.

When I moved to college I didn’t have a TV. I never bought one. We watched movies on our laptops or in the lounge. When Charity and I married and moved into an apartment our TV didn’t get a single channel – even the local ones. When we purchased our house, our home still didn’t get any channels. More recently they’ve changed everything over to digital and we never bothered to get a converter box – so now we definitely don’t get any channels.

We have a huge old TV some friends gave to us. No, I’m not too worried about mentioning this on the internet – b/c it’d take two or three people to move it and has a street value of $25-$50…but, hey, it works great for us – even if those little flat-screens look really pretty.

I still use the ClearPlay DVD player I was given years ago for allowing myself to be interviewed by a Philadelphia reporter for an article on the DVD player. It is starting to break down a little bit – but its been what, eight years?

So, Charity and I have learned to live without real TV (gasp). That’s not to say that we don’t watch anything – we do – but 95% of it is on the computer. The only time we turn on the TV/DVD player is for her exercise videos (no, I never watch / do them…people in leotards is disturbing to me) and when we have friends over and want to watch something as a group.

How do we watch anything? Hulu and Netflix. I began going largely internet based long before most people knew what internet video was. In those days there were a number of small vendors offering a small selection of movies and tv shows – many of these has since folded or been acquired. I envisioned a day when there’d be one site I could visit to watch tv shows – and not just the old stuff from the sixties no one cared about…then one day, a company began delivering on that promise – Hulu.

Hulu offers a wide range of television shows and movies online and for free. It is a pretty great deal. Yeah, if you watch them on TiVo you can skip the commercials, but Hulu is pretty close – with only 30-60 seconds of commercials on each break. The video is high quality, the buffering ensures the video doesn’t crack up even on reasonably slow lines, and the queue features allow you to track when new episodes are released for your favorite shows.

Hulu now has Hulu Plus for $9.95 – I received an invite to the beta but never joined. They wanted us to pay up-front. What? How about at least 30 days free? Especially since its a beta? Plus we already have Netflix – and I’m not going to spend more than $15 or $20 a month for video entertainment – I have too few dollars in the first place and better things to utilize them on.

But I’m still relatively happy with Hulu. I’ve been disappointed that they are now oftentimes stacking two videos – one right after the other. This is annoying.

They have gotten better at not showing you the same commercial over and over again in a single episode. For example, I can remember having four or five commercial breaks in an episode and seeing the same commercial each time! I wanted to shoot myself! Ach! One of those commercials was for the Adam Sandler movie Click – the first few times my wife and I thought it looked funny – then we became so sick of seeing the commercial over and over again we vowed to never see the movie and never have…it still makes me feel ill thinking about it. Overexposure – bleck.

Still, Hulu has a bit of a problem with this – which is funny – b/c part of the beauty of online video is its promise to offer better value (imho) to advertisers than normal video. Why? Well…

  1. When you keep the ads short people don’t have time to leave the room. I sit through the commercial breaks on Hulu when they are thirty seconds – but when they get longer than that I can run to the bathroom, grab a drink from the fridge, or browse a website. Advertisers get my devoted attention when they are the only advertiser.
  2. Hulu needs to learn how to spread the ads better. Yeah, yeah, I know we don’t buy it till the 20th time we’ve seen it – but I’m not that sort of guy….or if I am, you need to spread it out over a year…otherwise I just become annoyed.
  3. Ideally, ads will eventually become part of the show itself. Did you notice how the hero is using a Dell and the villains are all using Macs? Okay, I made that one up…but I’d cast the villains as Mac users. 😉 Point is, you can advertise without even making it obvious…Cisco has done a good job of ensuring product placement in various shows demonstrating their video conferencing technology.

So, anyways, Hulu is pretty great. I made the switch to internet video years and years ago – now the trend seems to be hitting a tipping point, but its very possible you are still doing it the old-fashioned way…which is fine, unless you are paying out the nose for it – which many people are…in that case, try Hulu…I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

P.S. I’m hopeful that internet alternatives to traditional broadcast channels will offer better life to those shows that I love that are continually being canceled b/c they don’t appeal to a wide enough audience. Using Hulu you don’t have to pick between two shows showing at 8:00 p.m. – b/c now they are available anytime…and b/c this competition isn’t as furious you can see shows produced for smaller audiences. This hasn’t happened too much yet, but I expect it to be part of the trend of the future.