Monthly Archives: February 2014

Movie Review: Robocop

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A not bad remake of a classic uber-violent 80’s revenge flick.

This may be a better movie than I think it is.  Nostalgia may be getting in the way.  The original “Robocop” was a much better story than this one.  It’s not that the stories were much different, it’s more that the telling of the story was much more compelling in the original.  The most glaring departure in the new film is the complete lack of black humor that made the original so memorable.  But enough about comparing the two.

Or not.  One place where the new “Robocop” shines over the old is with the fictional robotics company OmniCorp (OCP in the original if I remember correctly).  Michael Keaton plays the genius CEO and Gary Oldman plays the head robotics scientist.  The interaction between the two of them is top rate.  It is really the only acting in the movie worth talking about.  What they have to say is actually interesting as you have the struggle between the CEO wanting to make money with military contracts and the scientist wanting to use the robotics for more benign purposes.

There was a lot of the story that didn’t really make sense.  It wasn’t clear why they had to remove as much of his body as they did except for a really cool and creepy effect.  One of the main fighting scenes were completely avoidable by any criminal with even moderate intelligence. It was still a cool scene, though.  I also wish they used the hulking ED-209 robots to greater effect than they did.

“Robocop” was an ok movie.  It’s completely skippable, but if you have a special place in your heart for the first movie, it’s worth going to see this one if only for the enjoyment of discussing the difference between the two.

Book Review: Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

A quick note on translation.  Obviously, “Faust” is not originally an English text.  This means that someone has to take the German original and translate it into English for those of us too lazy to learn another language.  This version of “Faust” was translated by Bayard Taylor who did an outstanding job.  You can get it off of Project Gutenberg for free.  How in the world one takes a text written in verse in a different language and translates it into English while being able to keep the rhyme and the cadence AND hold true to the original meaning is beyond me.  I stand in awe.  Of course, I don’t have much to compare it to considering I’ve not read “Faust” before.  Maybe all are equally as good.

“Faust” is more a beautiful work of art than it is a good story.  In fact, the story is pretty crappy.  Man has almost everything.  Man wants more.  Man makes pact with devil.  Man wants girl.  Devil helps get girl.  Man destroys girl and her family.  Man lives happily ever after.  Poor Margaret.  A feminist book this is not.

Everything around the story is just phenomenal, though.  There is scene after scene of fascinating characters with entertaining dialogue.  Most of the time, it is quite easy to follow the unfolding of the story despite the verse.  Some of the free verse stuff can get a little thick and difficult to follow at times, but poetry’s not meant to be easy.  Those times were trying, but they were minimal.

It is clear why “Faust” is one of those books that has lasted 200 years.  It is a timeless tale woven into an artistic tapestry.  While reading, I couldn’t help but think how much more beautiful the original German version is.  I am sure that countless people were drawn to the German language just by the power of reading a translation of “Faust” alone.

Here’s an interesting “Faust” fact that I got from Wikipedia.  In the original version of “Faust”, while Margaret is rotting away in jail after accidentally killing her mom and drowning her baby, a chorus of angels cries out that Margaret is condemned – “Sie ist gerichtet!”.  Goethe quickly changed it to Margaret being saved – “Sie ist gerettet” – which makes much less sense to me, but was apparently a crowd pleaser.  What amazes me is how similar “gerichtet” and “gerrettet” are to each other.  You could probably easily mistake one for the other if not pronounced clearly.  Maybe for Germans being saved and being condemned are pretty much the same thing.

Oppressed Majority

Here is an interesting and well done video.  It takes the male dominated world and flips it on its head so women are dominant.  It’s slightly NSFW for some quick but very necessary breasts.


Mmm, Food Desserts…

Oh, wait, no, that’s food deserts.  My bad.

A food desert is an area of residential housing that is underserved by traditional grocery store but often over-served by fast food stores.  These tend to occur exactly where you’d think they’d occur; in poor neighborhoods.  Being poor and living in a food desert makes it almost impossible to make healthy food choices.  Now, you would think that a great solution would be to bring grocery stores to this area.  A few studies have recently been released that show when a grocery store finally comes to a food desert, the dietary habits of the residents don’t really change much.  What’s going on here?

Well, first off, it’s only a couple of studies so there may be certain things not controlled for, but the studies certainly pass the smell test.  So why would poor people choose to still go to the fast food joint when there’s a much cheaper and healthier alternative right next door?  If you took $10 worth of groceries and $10 worth of McDonald’s stacked side by side the choice seems absolutely preposterous.  You can make many meals out of the groceries but only one from the McDonald’s.  Look closer, though.  See the problems?  That McDonald’s value meal is ready to eat right now.  No cutting vegetables or measuring out spices.  No stirring of sauces or browning of meat.  No washing of dishes or cleaning the kitchen.  It takes five minutes to get fast food while cooking and cleaning can take an hour or more.  And that’s just one out of three meals.  We are so used to having time that we don’t realize how much of a luxury time actually is.  And it’s a luxury that the working poor can not afford.  There are second jobs to get to and precious sleep to catch up on.  How are you going to throw fresh food into that mix?

So if grocery stores aren’t the answer, what is?  I’ve always been a fan of something along the lines of a slow food co-op.  The basic idea being that there is a kitchen somewhere that can cook very large portions of healthy meals and local residents can come in and pick up these meals for slightly less than what you’d pay at a fast food restaurant.  The kitchen is local, the workers are local, the patrons are local.  All that plus the locals can eat healthier and save slightly more than they had been with their fast food choices.

It’s a very simple idea.  Of course, how to implement something like that is well beyond my pay grade.  I wouldn’t even know where to start.  Churches would probably be a good bet.  It’s times like this when I wish I knew someone who actually knows something about these things.


I had an Amazon gift certificate and was annoyed at running a cable between my tablet and my TV (first world problems!) so I decided to pick up Google’s Chromecast.  After playing with it for just a little while, I have to say, it’s pretty awesome.

What you need: A television with an extra HDMI input.

Optional: A USB port on the television.  This is used to power the Chromecast dongle, but it also comes with a standard plug adapter.  Though you’ll probably need an extension cord as well unless your outlet is within six feet.

Why Google is awesome: I was in love with the thing before I even plugged it in.  Why?  Because Google included a velcro cable tie with the USB cable so you can easily secure the excess cable.  It’s a small little detail, but can you name another company that does this?  Secure, neat cabling is very important and leave it to a company with server farms the size of a warehouse to realize that this extends to the home as well.

The device itself is a paltry $35.  This may be a limited time offer to increase demand.  Setup is a breeze.  The device itself is a tiny 3″ or so dongle that plugs into the HDMI port.  You attach the micro USB side of the cable to the dongle and the standard USB side to either your TV or power outlet and you’re ready to rock.  Set your TV input to the HDMI port your Chromecast is attached to and it’ll start up and look for a device attempting to talk to it through a WiFi connection.  I used my phone to set it up.  I imagine the conversation goes something like this:

Chromecast: Hello, I’m here!  There are so many WiFi connections here, won’t anyone come and talk to me?

My phone: Psst!  Hey, over here. I’ll talk to you.

Chromecast: Um, I hear you, but I can’t seem to talk to you.  It says I need a password.

My phone:  Oh yeah, that.  Here you go.

Chromecast: Why thank you.  Well, look at that, I am hopelessly out of date.  I’m just going to download an update and you come talk to me again when I’m done.  Bye.

My phone: Hello!  You’re done!  Let’s watch a movie.

Chromecast:  You got it buddy!

I’m sure I’m somewhat wrong with the handshake protocols, but my way sounds cooler than any dry technical information.

Then, it’s just a matter of launching a Chromecast capable app on your phone and telling it to send the output to the TV instead of your phone.  Having Netflix, I used that.  There is a Chromecast icon that you touch and then choose your Chromecast ID from a list if there happens to be more than one.  The video goes to the television and you can then use your phone as a remote control.  Easy peasy.  The video and sound quality is superb, though it will take a while to get to the full 1080p HD as the video buffers.

The remote control functionality is still a bit wonky on my Galaxy S4.  After only playing with it for a little while, I have found that sometimes it works just fine and sometimes my phone seems to lose the connection to the Chromecast thus losing the ability to pause the action even though the TV still plays the show just fine.

Amazon doesn’t have an app to use yet, but you can still stream their stuff using the Google Chrome browser with the Chromecast extension installed.  Setup is a bit of a pain since you have to make sure that Silverlight (what Amazon uses to stream videos) is disabled and then tell Amazon that you want to use the Flash player instead.  If you don’t do that, you don’t get sound.  Even with that, you still don’t get the high quality high definition like you do with apps that have native support for Chromecast.  Amazon promises to change that in the near future.

There are a bunch of other apps that currently support Chromecast, including HBO Go and Pandora with a bunch more promised in the future as the Chromecast development kit has just been released to the general public.  As far as I know, all smartphones and tablets can be used with Chromecast and your PC can as well but only using the Chrome browser as described above.

All in all, for just $35, the Google Chromecast is well worth the money if you want to stream Internet to your television.  It’s certainly more of an in between technology than a device of the future since we are quickly coming to the time when all televisions will be WiFi enabled.  But if you’re not in the market for a new television, this is a simple and cheap way to extend the lifetime of the television you currently own.

Pepsi Has Become The Official Drink Of Racists

I was listening to some unknown program on NPR the other day and these two people were talking about the infamous Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial that’s been the biggest topic of discussion to come out of the incredibly lackluster game.  It wa only like a 5 minute or so segment but it was both informative and hilarious.  The hilarious part came when they were talking about how brilliant the ad was and one said to the other something along the lines of, “With all the controversy over this ad, Pepsi has become the official drink of racists.”  If I were drinking Coke at the time, I would have snorted it out of my nose and that would have been painful.

The segment was very enlightening in other ways as well.  They also talked about how people use commercials like this to mostly feel better about themselves.  Kind of a “look at how not racist I am, I like this commercial” kind of thing.  Which, kudos to Coke for being able to tap into that.  It’s exactly what you want to do in a commercial; subliminally associate a product with feeling good about yourself.  They also mentioned that the racism surrounding the commercial is probably not as wide-spread as believed since almost every segment rehashed the same tweets, posts, Facebook updates, etc.  So the reality, in their minds, is more along the lines of this whole story being more of a feel good about ourselves circle jerk than a story worth talking about.

It was a cool segment.  I agree with everything they said except about the racism not being widely spread.  Using the same tweets is more along the lines of lazy journalism than a lack of evidence of wide-spread racism.  I don’t follow Twitter, but I certainly found a decent share of racist blog posts surrounding the ad.

I am also some sort of Racist Whisperer or something.  When the commercial came on, I jokingly yelled at the TV, “This is Murica, speak English!”  Of course, being racist is easy and that commercial was some really low hanging fruit.

A Brutal Commute

An affluent neighborhood. 7:30 in the morning. 5 degrees and sunny.

Public transportation is awesome.  Except when it’s not.  This morning, it wasn’t.  I get on to the train platform just as a train is leaving the station.  This is not a big deal.  The trains come every five minutes or so.  Not today.  The train immediately after the one I just missed broke down somewhere before my stop.  At first it was just a delay as they try to fix equipment problems.  This is not unusual for cold weather and the weather was a crisp 5 degrees this morning.  Then they announce that they’re emptying the defective train and have to move it out of the way.  Awesome.

From start to finish, it takes them about 45 minutes to accomplish this.  And soon, the defective train is rolling slowly past my station.  My feet are burning with cold at this point.  In the meantime, they take an outbound train and turn it around to try to get things back on schedule.  Only they choose the stop after mine to start.  Nice.  Finally, a train pulls into the station but it is jam-packed like you would expect a train to be after a 45 minute backup of people.  It then has to sit at my station for 5 minutes as the defective train gets out of the way somewhere up ahead.  Another train comes and there is just enough room for a few people to squeeze on and I make sure I am one of them.  Love your neighbor, people!  No time to be shy.

My connecting train pulls into the station the same time we do and I think the nightmare commute is finally over.  This train is also full, but I manage to squeeze on.  It should be smooth sailing from now on.  But wait, why have we stopped?  Equipment problems with the train directly ahead of us, you say?  Wonderful.  Add another 10 minutes to the already double time commute.  Ugh.

All told, a commute that normally takes 40 minutes door to door took just over an hour and a half.  The burning cold in my feet is only just now leaving my body.  Happy Monday!