Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Netflix, You've Won Me Back

As I posted earlier in the year, I used to be a Netflix subscriber. I was on-board from day one and enjoyed the early days of getting DVD's through the mail. After my kids were born I had to scale back and became a Redbox devotee. Well after receiving a Bluray player from my Mom for Christmas complete with Netflix streaming built-in, I decided to give my old friend one more chance.

So far, so great as I am very happy with my decision to return. I wanted to sign up again to take advantage of Bluray rentals, but in all honesty, the online streaming is what is winning me over. My Samsung player comes integrated with a Netflix button that allows me to view all of the titles I have in my online queue. Netflix now offers both a DVD (Bluray) queue for mail delivery and a Watch Instantly queue. Netflix has an online streaming catalog of thousands of titles from new releases to TV shows. I spent some time up in Jersey over the break downloading a few documentaries I had wanted to see and watched them instantly on my laptop. The buffering time is minimal (a minute for a movie to start-up depending on your connection) and it's easy to fast forward and rewind.

Even better than watching instant movies on my laptop is launching them through the Netflix player on my Samsung Bluray machine. The quality is VERY good and the interface is pretty slick. You can even rate your movie with the player's remote when you're done. A very cool feature is watching TV series on DVD. Rather than waiting for disc 2 of 4 of a television season to arrive in the mail, you can select one of all the episodes of the season instantly. I was able to catch up on some episodes of Man Vs Food that I hadn't watched before.

Unfortunately, not every TV series is available to stream (you CAN get most series through the DVD queue though). I seriously need to start watching The Wire sometime and online streaming would be the best way to do so. Netflix is really pushing their online capabilities and is facing a battle with some of the major studios to keep bringing new content to subscribers. I was considering going with Blockbuster as a rental option (the Samsung player also has Blockbuster Online built-in) but while Blockbuster offers a cheaper monthly rate ($8.99 for Bluray rentals instaed of $10.99 for Netflix), the Blockbuster online On Demand service is a pay-per-view model with movies costing $1.99 each to stream online. Netflix gives me their ENTIRE catalog for FREE (bundled with my base monthly charge of $10.99). Blockbuster really can't compete with this service.

Add the amazing streaming capabilities of Netflix to the lightning quick next-day Bluray disc processing through the mail and you have a perfect situation for someone who is just getting into the realm of Bluray. It's good to see my old friend Netflix again and it's great to see that the company seems to be better than ever.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Break is Over for the Rose Boys

We survived the 4 hour plus jaunt home from Jersey to Springfield yesterday (the highlight being the 20 straight minutes that Alex and Rebecca spent screaming and crying at the end of the trip). We all had a great Christmas up North and it was good to get away for a while. Now that we're trying to get used to normal life (IE. not lounging around the Gecik house all day), the kids need to go back to school (daycare for Alex). Despite Josh's random fever and slight sickness (which Motrin helped quell), the two got in my car this morning for the return to normalcy.

I fully expected Alex to have a major meltdown in returning to school for the first time in 12 days. He normally puts up a minor fight in being dropped off at school (it's been getting better and better though). When I was about to leave him today I could see him getting ready to start bawling as usual, but to the rescue came his classmate Sam W. (Alex has three Sams in his class so he's known as Sam W.) Sam ran up to Alex screaming "ALLLLEEEXX!!!" and gave him a big bear hug. Alex immediately started to smile and went off with Sam to do the arts and crafts activity that the other kids were doing. Alex's teacher Ms. Minnie said to me "well that's one way to keep from from crying in the morning." I agreed and hurriedly left the classroom, as we passed the room from the other side, Josh and I peeked in and saw Alex having fun without any morning tears.

It's good to see that Alex is making friends at his new school and hopefully he can eventually get into a cry-free routine in the morning. Josh was excited to go to school but a little disappointed to see that only two other kids (both girls) would be in school this week as the Kindergarten roster is severely cut for the holidays. Needless to say, both girls adore Josh and he'll be the big man at Kindergarten this abbreviated week.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Best Films of 2009 / Review: Up In The Air

I'd like to preface this year's list of my favorite films of 2009 by stating that I barely saw more than 10 movies altogether. Junk like Paranormal Activity and Bruno did not make the list, but my #10 movie was not very memorable for me at all. I do think it was a down year for movies overall but I just didn't have as much time (I'll call this the Becca factor) as in previous years to watch movies. Now that I have a Bluray player from my Mom, I plan on starting up the old Netflix queue again and will try to cut back on TV shows I follow to get in more movies watched in 2010. (I know I badmouthed Netflix a few months ago, but with the temptation of Bluray, I can't settle for low-def DVDs from Redbox anymore)

Without further ado, here is my personal 10-best for this year in reverse order as usual. This list may change (and I may end up revising my post) after I see some of the Oscar contenders over the next few months. These are all movies I have personally seen. Those of you who see holes in this list, keep in mind there are several critical faves that I haven't seen yet.

#10 - State Of Play - This flew under the radar all year and Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck weren't enough to drive the box office gross for this political thriller. It's a shame more people didn't see it as all who were involved gave great performances (including Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren). The entire movie is set in DC so it was even more appealing for me. I thought Affleck's performance may be the career rejuvenating role he needed. We'll see.

#9 - Up - Pixar's yearly offering once again makes my top 10 but just barely. Up is not "up" to par compared with the preceding Pixar classics like Wall-E, Ratatouille and Cars. The visuals are phenomenal but the great story of the first act unravels into a ludicrous and wacky chase movie in the second half. Still better than all other animated movies this year.

#8 - I Love You Man - My bromance with Paul Rudd continues in this above average comedy. Jason Siegel and Rudd play off each other well as they develop their own bromance on-screen. I feel as if I have to go see every movie Paul Rudd is in just on principle.

#7 - Adventureland - My financial advisor hates this film but I thought it was one of the freshest and most realistic takes on the 1980's I've ever seen. From the spot-on soundtrack to the hairstyles and clothing, this is the 80's I remember. The acting is great all around and the story is both touching and humorous throughout. Read my review if you want to know more and please add this to your Netflix queue immediately.

#6 - Up In The Air - I just saw this movie earlier today so I'll post my full review in this spot on the list.

Jason Reitman does a fantastic job of depicting the modern road warrior in the monotonous world of air travel. George Clooney is a solid lock to win Best Actor with his performance as Ryan Bingham, a frequent flier who works for a corporation that send out their workforce to fire employees for other companies. Both Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick play off of Clooney in supporting roles as his love interest and co-worker respectively.

The interplay of all the characters throughout the film is very engaging and Reitman worked in some witty dialogue into a smart screenplay. All the pieces come together to form one of the year's best movies that seems to fall apart slightly at the end. While I do like that the ending is a bit ambiguous, the main plot twist towards the end is a gut shot that the audience never gets a chance to recover from.

Many critics are putting Up In The Air at the top of their year-end lists but I just don't think it's THAT good of a film. It's on-par with Reitman's last effort (Juno) and he does have a real shot at winning Best Director this year, thrusting the young director towards the top of the list of great filmmakers working today.
As for Best Picture, it's still the odds-on favorite right now but similar to Slumdog Millionaire last year, I think there are other more deserving films that are being overlooked. All in all, I give Up In The Air 4 out of 5 JRs. This is THE role that Clooney was born to play. Anyone who has experienced the grind of work travel will appreciate this even more.

#5 - Avatar - The more time that passes since I saw this movie, the more I think I may have underrated it. I really need to see this again in 3D sometime (and not at Midnight) to fully appreciate the technical and artistic achievement. This movie earns this spot on the list primarily because of the visual spectacle it is. EVERYONE needs to see Avatar in the theaters and in 3D. If you miss it and attempt to rent it on Bluray or *gasp* DVD (I'm already a snob), you're not experiencing James Cameron's full vision. I hope the Academy nominates this movie for Best Picture.

#4 - The Hangover - Hands down the funniest film of 2009. The sleeper comedic hit took audiences by storm and I managed to finally see it on video a few weeks ago. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis play off each other so well that you really believe the predicament they put themselves in during their Vegas romp. It's not surprising that a sequel has already been green lit. This is right up there with Oceans Eleven as the quintessential Las Vegas movie.

#3 - Star Trek - The master entertainer of the past decade managed to make an aging franchise fun and hip again. The reboot of Star Trek surpassed all expectations and is by-far my favorite Star Trek film overall. The casting of Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock may be the best Hollywood production decision of the millennium (take a minute and think about this statement and try to find an argument against it). The entire crew seems to be having fun throughout the movie and the pacing and action is good enough to make Star Trek THE action film of the year, completely trumping overblown disasters like Transformers 2.

#2 - Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino gives us the best dialogue of the year in this atypical WWII movie. Over-the-top violence combined with numerous funny exchanges help pepper the well-written script that sets into motion a series of events centered on the Basterds and their Jew-killing goals. Brad Pitt in the lead role is hilarious and the rest of the talented cast pitch in with solid performances (led by Best Supporting Actor front-runner Christoph Waltz). Any Tarantino fan (or just a fan of witty dialogue) should rent this immediately.

#1 - District 9 - The only 5-JR film of 2009 (only Benjamin Button in 2008 has also received a 5 rating) is a refreshing NEW concept in Science Fiction. The story of a group of refugee aliens living in Johannesburg, South Africa and infiltrated by a government organization is gripping from start to finish. Weta Digital and their technical wizards help make CGI characters seem real and allow them to be integral pieces of the plot. The documentary style look of the film adds to the realism and lifts Neil Blomkamp's masterpiece to the upper echelon of Sci Fi classics. I've begged and pleaded on this blog for you to see this movie. There's nothing more I can do. By a wide margin, this is the Best Picture of 2009 (and holding strong at #97 all-time at IMDB). A film I fear the Academy will completely ignore.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DVD Review: Inglourious Basterds

Only Quentin Tarantino could take such a grizzly topic as the extermination of Jews in Nazi-occupied France during WWII and turn it into one of the funniest films of the year with a feel-good ending. Inglourious Basterds follows a group of American soldiers (the titular Basterds) led by Lt. Aldo Raine (played with a Tennessee drawl by the underrated Brad Pitt) who storm through the Third Reich, killing as many Nazis as possible. Pitt's character demands that his men get him 100 Nazi scalps each. The scalping process and other bursts of violence are classic Tarantino. If you've seen any of his earlier films (especially Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction), you'll know what to expect in the violence department.

What Tarantino adds to his trademark gore and over-the-top violence is a good dose of humor throughout. Christoph Waltz (portraying the main Nazi rival officer), Eli Roth (the director of Hostel and Cabin Fever) and Diane Kruger chip in to keep the film as light as a WWII movie could be. The film clocks in at just over 2.5 hours but the length gives Tarantino a chance to fully flesh out his scenes and utilize his talent for writing witty and engaging dialogue. The key scenes of the movie are played out in long takes that allow the main characters to interact and set up the scenes' climaxes well. In classic Tarantino style, the narrative is split throughout as the story passes between different moments in time and inter-connects amongst the key players of the film. The timeline allows Tarantino to explore a central story from multiple angles and the screenplay is extremely well written from top to bottom.

Tarantino gets some great performances out of his actors. Pitt is hilarious all the way through and turns in a funnier performance than Burn After Reading (especially nailing the scene near the end where he needs to go undercover as an Italian filmmaker). Weitz comes out of nowhere as a sharp adversary to the Basterds. His clever manner of interrogation and sleuthing as a Nazi officer dominates the scenes he's in.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The opening half hour or so is very slow and I do think QT could have made a few cuts to get this thing closer to two hours. That being said, this is one of the best films of the year and earns 4.5 out of 5 JRs. Weitz will deservedly be nominated for Best Supporting Actor and I wouldn't mind seeing Tarantino earn another directing nod. This is probably his best work overall since Pulp Fiction. It's good to see a young director stay relevant and consistent through his career unlike what we've seen happen to a certain Sixth Sense director. The story in Basterds is far more engaging than what I just saw in Avatar. Perhaps James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino could collaborate on a 3D sci-fi adventure that might possibly become the greatest film ever made.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Avatar

Halfway through James Cameron's 300 million dollar opus Avatar, two of the major questions I had coming into the film were answered for me.

1. This film was going to indeed be a groundbreaking achievement
2. The story was not doing it for me and I was not feeling very attached at all to the main characters.

There was a lot of hype put into the buildup for this one. I am a huge James Cameron fan (Aliens is my 2nd favorite movie of all-time) and I'd put him on my top 5 list of film directors living today (look for my full top 10 list over the holidays). The first trailer threw me for a loop. I didn't expect the aliens in the movie to look like tall blue fawns with tails. Something about it all didn't seem right. Then I saw the second full trailer a month later. The full spectacle of that trailer left me wanting more and I no longer was affected by the blue creatures (the alien race called the Na'vi in the film). Then the early reviews came and the majority of them were VERY positive. I decided to see the movie as soon as possible, viewing it at 12:01 AM this morning with my friends Jono and Omar.

Overall I'd have to say the midnight screening and the theater experience was worth it. Avatar is an epic film that needs to be seen on the big screen and ONLY in 3D. The sheer depth and detail in the CGI and 3D visuals is literally mind-blowing. My brain and optical nerves hurt a bit on the drive home after the end credits. Cameron sucks you into the crazy world he has imagined and immerses your senses making you feel as if you really are on Pandora (the fictional planet the film takes place on). The characters are really secondary to the spectacle of the alien world. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana (who now stars in two of the best movies of 2009 - Star Trek being the other) and Sigourney Weaver are all game and give respectable performances but as a viewer, you simply find yourself gazing at the visual body of work put forth by the gods of cinema at Weta Digital. In my review of District 9 (the front runner for the JR Best Picture award of 2009), I mentioned how Weta has completely raised the bar in the visual effects department for all movies. With Avatar they set that bar even higher and manage to make a 3D-phobe (I'm not a big fan of the gimmick) actually enjoy and appreciate 3D technology. Weta makes a fictional planet come to life with a translucent gamma of color and imagery. The 3D is done very subtly too and does not fall victim to the tried and true technique of throwing objects out from the screen at the viewer for the shear shock value of doing so.

Is the film too long? Yes (I had slight moments of nodding off a bit around 2 AM despite downing a 5 Hour Energy). Have elements of the script been borrowed from other films? Sure. Are there cheesy moments throughout the "love story?" You bet. But all of that shouldn't detract from the technical achievement here. I recommend this to everyone who enjoys going to the movies in the theater.
This movie must be seen in 3D and the hook that the industry is going to love (until 3D TVs are mass produced) is that you HAVE to go out to your local theater to experience this type of movie in an optimal environment. Simply waiting for the DVD or Bluray will not cut it. This is not a perfect film and thus I have to give it 4 out of 5 JRs. Star Trek did not have the same whiz-bang effects but did have a very solid and engaging plot that puts it a notch above Avatar.

The mass amount of money that Cameron put into this film is actually justified in my book. He really did take movie making to a whole new level. Hopefully with the right screenplay he (or another capable director) can build upon this technical foundation that Weta Digital has provided and produce some awe inspiring motion pictures in the future. The sky really is the limit now in cinema and even though Avatar has some major flaws, James Cameron has done his job in changing the game once again.

One Year Anniversary

NOTE: I saw Avatar last night. Look for a full review post later tonight.

It was a cold day in Mclean, VA exactly one year ago today when I started this blog. Looking back on my early weeks of posting I would post 2-3 posts a day in a flurry of activity. Since Rebecca was born and my job became more demanding, things have slowed down considerably. I still very much enjoy having this avenue to be able to write on a regular basis and keep a running journal of my life in the process. 248 posts in and I still enjoy firing up a new one.

I know I have some loyal readers but I feel my overall reader base has shrunk over the past year. I suppose this is chiefly because my blog is too broad in subject matter. I don't focus on a specific them like some others blogs I follow.

A year into the blog, I'd like to ask my readers what they'd like to see more/less of from Blog! There it is...? I'm not saying I'll actually change to meet their requests but I am interested in hearing whether people are still following as closely as they used to in the beginning.

For those interested, here is a link back to my first post (which covers snow in Vegas, ahead of the snowstorm we're about to have in NOVA a year later).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Zoom In and Enhance

One of my pet peeves when it comes to television and film is how easily Hollywood makes it seem to magically improve image quality. How many times do you see a group of techies on a show or in a movie huddle around a computer and try to improve an already grainy piece of video. I'm sure there are some advanced software programs out there that can improve image quality but it's near-impossible to blow up and image and increase detail by adding magic pixels that didn't exist before.

All that being said, Hollywood is still fascinated with the concept and this terrific montage is a great example of much screenplays rely on this type of "technology." I guarantee we will be seeing this at least once or twice on the upcoming season of 24. Complete with Jack barking "enhance this Chloe, we're running OUT. OF. TIME!!!"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Google Text to Speech - Fun With Audio

Google's latest innovation (you can't help but love a company that seems to put out new services and features on a near-daily basis for FREE) is the text to speech component of Google Translate. The translate service has been around for a while and lets you quickly translate entire web pages between a number of languages. The new speech component is pretty cool in that it allows you to send a query directly to Google which will return a customized MP3 file that plays what you typed.

Of course when I first came across this and noticed the charming British voice that speaks your text, I immediately thought of throwing a few swear words in there to see what she did. The Google speech dame does not filter her voice and you get EXACTLY what you type. You can now send customized greetings directly to your friends using the query method. I put together a quick and dirty form that allows you to type in a name and hurl a random insult at the person. This only works in Google Chrome (seriously, if you're using any other browser you're just daft). See if you can hear all 8 random insults:

Type your full name here:

Warning, some of these clips are NSFW..

For more translation services (or to mess around with audio), visit Google's Translate page (if you choose English to English translation, you'll be able to click on the audio version below for small sentences).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Throwing in the Towel

Today I made a little trip to Washington Urology in Arlington to get "fixed" so Rebecca remains our youngest child for life. I'd heard from others I work with and some friends that getting a vasectomy was the way to go. Despite the occasional discomfort and swelling after the procedure, I was told that it was all very routine. This didn't stop me from worrying about it constantly after going for my consultation. We had to get it done before the end of the year for insurance reasons. I guess it's sort of am early Christmas present for my family in a way.

The doc (a relatively young guy who seemed hip and used the term "shooting blanks" several times) did a great job today and the whole procedure only took about 15 minutes. I was awake for the whole thing and was numbed locally down below by two doses of Lidocane. I made a point of not looking at what he and the nurse were doing and the only pain I felt was the needle from the Lidocane treatments.

I've been told by others that the real swelling and discomfort happens tomorrow. Today has been relatively painless all around. I don't feel anything odd right now other than the occasional faint feeling of being kicked in the nuts slightly (my male readers will understand this type of pain). But so far, nothing significant at all (I did get Lori to fill my prescription for 40 Vicodin pills just in case I want to drug-out tomorrow). It's amazing how they can get that surgery done in such a short time frame and fix it all up as if almost nothing happened.

I plan on trying to avoid the kids as much as possible tomorrow as Alex and Josh especially are apt to leaping on my lap from time to time. The last thing I need is a flying elbow to my crotch. The doc said I should be good to go to return to work on Monday. (SIDE NOTE: My friend Doe starts work at my company that day. It will be good to work with him again.)

So barring some future tests to confirm the procedure worked, it looks like my baby-making career has come to an end. I think my work in that category is done and I've VERY pleased with the results. If you told me 10 years ago that in 2009 I would have three healthy, pleasant (hey Alex has his good days) beautiful kids I would have asked to have what you were smoking. The past decade has truly been a life changer for me (and for the best). Three is a perfect number and there's no way in hell we could deal with a 4th on any level.

For any future babies in the family I'll have to differ to my brother in hopes that some day I'll be an uncle.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday Wackiness - Jib Jab Style

Lori posted a very funny/cute video on Facebook yesterday of the kids dancing like elves (click here to watch it). The folks at Jib Jab have put together a very intuitive and dynamic way to embed photos into their crazy talking-head videos. The Flash-based system allows you to upload images or link to Facebook photos to paste your family and friends' heads into a pre-made video skit. I've seen these types of integrated Flash photo apps before but this is probably the most well developed one I've come across.

I decided to make my own using the Snow Fight video template. After fiddling with the heads a bit I think it came out pretty good (except for Rebecca's giant head). Enjoy my quick and dirty production below. My sister-in-law's boyfriend Ross makes a guest appearance here, teaming up with Alex.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Greatest MCs of All Time

I was listening to my West Coast Rap station on Pandora the other day and got to thinking about who the greatest rap lyricists of all-time would be. I grew up on hip hop music (especially west coast Death Row label artists) and while I don't listen to much Lil' Wayne or Young Jeezy these days, rap music (from the 90's in particular) will always be on my iPod playlists. The following list ranks the top ten MCs in terms of sheer lyrical ability. I'm not ranking them on who was most influential or who sold the most records. I'm looking solely at rapping ability, cadence of voice and overall delivery skills. Think of it as a giant rap battle.

10. Q-Tip

The best part of A Tribe Called Quest, Tip is one of the smoothest MCs of all time. His delivery was mellow (definitely the most laid-back rapper on this list) but he could string some solid rhymes together. Some of his solo hits stand the test of time as well.

9. Chuck D.

The front man for Public Enemy, Chuck has a killer low voice and comes through very powerfully when delivering his verses. Flavor Flav gets all the attention from P.E. but Chuck is the driving force behind that group.

8. Diddy aka Puff Daddy aka Sean Combs

Now a lot of people hate on Diddy saying he just samples other people's music and mashes it up to make it "his own." I've always thought that besides being a solid producer and business man, Diddy has a gift for rapping as well. Some of the tracks on No Way Out, Life After Death and other Bad Boy albums benefited from Sean's brash lyric delivery. He would be higher on this list if he didn't add so many "uh huh... yeahs" to his rhymes.

7. Tupac Shakur

Gunned down in the prime of his life, Tupac is probably the angriest MC on this list (well #3 may be angrier). Tupac excelled at cursing up a storm (mostly at the police) in his songs but also kept things a little mellow in some of his slower songs (Dear Mama, Changes). I bet he'd still be topping the charts if he was alive today.

6. Jay Z

I still remember going to the "Puff Daddy and the Family World Tour" concert at the MCI Center with my brother in 1998., One of the opening acts was Jay Z. Nate knew who he was, I did not. At that time I never thought he would blow up as much as he has. He's one of the legends of the rap game and is an outstanding lyricist who can make any track smooth. I just think there are 5 more talented artists in terms of delivering verses.

5. Dr. Dre

If Dr. Dre never put out The Chronic he would not be on this list. That album may be the best rap album of all time. Dre was the perfect compliment to Snoop Dogg on the Death Row tracks. His low register and powerful delivery made him stand out amongst the other members of NWA. I even thought The Aftermath is better than the dud that most people claim it is.

4. The Notorious B.I.G.

Biggie Smalls was another talent that was murdered in the prime of his career. Ready To Die was very good and allowed Biggie to burst onto the scene with a slightly lazy delivery that was cutthroat and bold at the same time. Life After Death is his masterpiece though and his guest appearances after his death on other records cemented his legacy. His distinct voice will always be the hallmark of a powerful rap song.

3. Eminem

Marshall Mathers is probably the most creative MC on this list. His songwriting ability is second to none. His delivery is usually blunt and ruthless as well. The only reason he is not #1 on the list is his recent decline in ability. After growing as an artist and reaching his peak with The Eminem Show, Slim Shady dropped two sub-par albums in Encore and Relapse. Both albums have a few hits, but overall Eminem's tone of his delivery has changed. He raps with a more goofy and juvenile tone that is too playful and ultimately ruins the track. At first I thought he was using that voice as a brief change of pace in Encore, but you can hear it throughout Relapse as well. It's annoying and does not evoke the lyrical brilliance of songs like White America, Lose Yourself and Til I Collapse. I'm hoping Relapse 2 (due in 2010) is a return to form for Eminem.

2. Method Man

This is probably the shocker of the list to most hip hop fans. I've always been a fan of Method Man. He has the ability to slice through any track with powerful bold rhymes that completely lift the quality of the music. A good example of this is The 36 Chambers album. On all the hit tracks from that album, as soon as Meth takes the stage he owns the song. His voice stands out the most amongst the other members of Wu Tang. His solo work is very good too as are his occasional dalliances with Redman. I wish he was utilized more by Wu Tang but for what we did hear, he definitely has the unique style to land him in this spot on the list. For evidence of Method's skills check out this guest appearance on Tupac's album (go to 3:11 to hear Meth's verse).

1. Snoop Dogg

D-O-Double-G is the top Dogg of the rap game as far as I'm concerned. Snoop's last few albums have been lackluster for sure but when you look at the entire body of work he really is the best rap lyricist of all-time. Doggystyle was the pinnacle of his excellence but he sustained his level of rhyming on several follow-up albums (including the underrated Tha Doggfather) and on guest spots for other artists. He had the perfect mix of laid back cool and bold bravado in his music. The extremely unique delivery he put into his verses allowed him to carry the Death Row label until it's ultimate demise. I can always cue up a Death Row Snoop song on my iPod for an instant jam. Snoop's music will continue to be timeless. 20 years from now the hip hop fans of my generation will still be putting tracks from Doggystyle into mixes.

There you have it. Those of my readers who are into hip hop may disagree with these rankings. Let me know what you would change and why? Some artists like Kanye, Nas and others are great musicians in their own right but their rhyme delivery skills just aren't good enough to make my list.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bing Maps - Silverlight and GeoTwitter

When Microsoft launched Bing a few months ago as a direct competitor to Google I laughed it off as another Microsoft ambition that would go the way of the Zune. Then the people at Bing tried to get creative with their visual search capabilities. I started seeing more and more advertising for Bing both on TV and on the radio (Bing is all over the ads during the breaks of the Sports Junkies radio show).

Bing is now taking on Google Maps directly with a revamped mapping experience. The Beta version of the new Bing Maps site launched today and is entirely powered by Microsoft Silverlight (Microsoft's answer to Adobe Flash). The interface is very slick and loads quickly. Since the application is now based on the Silverlight framework there are no image files to load and the transitions from place to place and zooming in and out are extremely smooth. The birds-eye view is much more detailed and clearer and Bing took a page directly out of Google Maps with the Streetside view (not nearly as detailed as Google's Street View).

What sets Bing Maps apart from Google Maps is the addition of Bing Map Apps. When browsing maps in Bing, the user is able to add in various application plugins such as Traffic, Restaurant Finders, News and other useful tools. The most impressive addition is geographical Twitter integration. By adding the Twitter Bing Map App, the user can instantly see real-time Tweets that have been geocoded to show location. Twitter recently enabled geolocation options into its API (you have to turn it on in your Twitter settings) and a few desktop and mobile Twitter applications support sending geolocation tweets. I tried sending a sample location tweet from my phone and it did show up on Bing within a few minutes.

I can totally see future full integration between Bing, Twitter and Foursquare to highlight real-time location-based information. Mobile Twitter applications give you the ability to turn off location encoding (which is good to do when you are tweeting from home). With these GPS-powered innovations and the improvements made in Google Lattitude, I'm sure we're only a year or two away from knowing exactly where everyone is at any moment of the day. Now some people are afraid of location tracking and posting your GPS coordinates but I welcome this type of social location growth. I've always embraced new technology and I've come around a bit on Bing. If anything, the features of the new beta Bing Maps will light a fire under the brilliant tech-heads at Google and I'm sure we'll see some Google Maps upgrades next year (a Flash-powered interface would be nice). On the internet, competition truly breeds innovation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

24: The New Batch

Tomorrow we have much to be thankful for including another season of Jack Bauer ass-kicking on 24. Hopefully Jack is all healed from his exposure to radiation in Season 7 and can resume his terrorist smackdown duties. SlashFilm has posted pictures of the new cast for Season 8 which takes place in New York City (NEW YORK CITY?!?!?). Of course Jack and Chloe are back along with Jack's main squeeze Renee Walker and meh President Taylor.

New to the show this season are the lovely Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica, Freddie Prinze Jr, Anil Kapoor (the host from Slumdog Millionaire) and Bubba Gump himself, Mykelti Williamson. Kapoor seems to fit right in from a casting stand point. Not sure about Prinze playing the role of Jack's sidekick but if Joshua Jackson can make the switch from teen fare like Dawson's Creek to Fringe then I suppose Prinze could do the same.

The photo of Sackhoff irks me a bit. She looks almost exactly as she did in the final season of Battlestar. It's going to be tough not thinking of her as Starbuck although she did a good job of playing against that character in her brief role on the doomed Bionic Woman NBC series. Her recent guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory was very funny so I'm thinking she should be able to switch gears into CTU mode.

The future is a bit cloudy for 24 as no one has committed to a 9th season just yet. I think the recession probably put the kibosh on the planned 24 big screen movie. Season 7 was pretty good but not great, hopefully the cast additions and the location change can liven things up for this edition of the show. Look for 24 to premiere on January 17th.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers! Hope you get to take time off and enjoy your family and friends.

The Lego Matrix

Someone with way too much free time put together a re-creation of the rooftop fight scene from The Matrix. This is the kind of stuff I tried to do as a kid. My brother and I actually filmed a stop-motion version of the Bud Bowl. I believe I still have that on tape somewhere. If only I were a kid living in this age of technology. We just didn't have the tools to match our imaginations growing up in the '80s.

You can find other a side-by-side comparison of the lego scene and the movie scene at Cinematical.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Tooth, the Whole Tooth and Nothing but the Tooth

I picked up Josh and Alex from school this afternoon as usual but was completely surprised to see what was missing from Josh when he turned around in his classroom. He had a missing tooth. I didn't think kids were supposed to lose their teeth this early so I immediately assumed he either got in a fight or knocked it out falling down on something. His teacher said he had just lost it about 15 minutes before I arrived and that it just fell out on his own.

Apparently he complained of it being loose around naptime and I assume he just kept pushing at it with his tongue until it came out. Of course as we were driving home I had to explain the rules of the tooth fairy to him. Not knowing that Lori had a tooth box to put the tooth in, I told him he had to leave it under his pillow tonight. Just before bed, Lori explained the real tooth procedure and he put his tooth in the box up on his dresser. I assume we will be taking the box out just before bed and putting some sort of monetary contribution inside. Since he's just 5 we can probably get away with a quarter for now. He said he cried some at school when it happened but he seems to be taking it in stride overall. I can't imagine how Alex would react if he was in the same situation. He asked me this evening if Mom was going to put the tooth back in Josh's mouth.

So 1 down, 19 more to go for Josh. As a special treat for this post, here's Rebecca having fun during the boys' bath time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rebecca at Work

We had our health insurance benefits meeting at work today. (Damn Cigna and their rate hikes!) Lori wanted to go to the meeting first-hand so she came to the office and I watched Rebecca for an hour during the meeting. Unfortunately the office was pretty bare and I could not show her off to all my co-workers. She was a total angel though and smiled and laughed and had a great time hanging out in my office (pictures of which appear in this post). In the midst of her overall joyful nature, she started into her yelling and squealing spells forcing me to close the door so others could get work done. She never cried or whimpered once and has cemented the status of most well behaved Rose baby.

I'm continually amazed at how calm and good natured she is. She takes after her dad:)

And in case you missed it on Facebook (seriously... everyone should be on Facebook and this includes YOU, Geciks!)... Here's Rebecca's first experience with food from last night:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Game Review: New Super Mario Brothers

While most of the country is busy buying Modern Warfare 2 (and setting all sorts of records in the process), the Rose household went a little old-school yesterday as we bought the latest adventure in the Mario saga, New Super Mario Bros Wii. Unlike the last Mario game to be released on the Wii (Super Mario Galaxy), this game is a nod to the classic side-scrolling gems of Super Mario 1 through Super Mario World. The twist that makes this game "New" is the inclusion of same-screen multi-player gameplay. 1 to 4 people can trek through any of the game's 8 worlds at the same time.

This is the perfect game for the Rose Family as Josh and I can now team up and play Mario together. We spent some time yesterday afternoon working our way through world one. The world map screen is very much like the old map view from Super Mario 3 as you can take different paths that lead you to the two castles (and awaiting Bowser Jr's) on each world. You can earn items and power-ups along the way. New to this version of Mario are two additional power-ups. A helicopter helmet and a penguin suit. We have yet to get the penguin suit (which supposedly makes you swim better) but the helicopter suit is a fantastic addition. With the suit equipped you can shake the Wii remote to propel yourself high into the air. Several other platforms and gadgets incorporate the tilting of the remote. This game was definitely designed to be a hybrid of classic controller play (holding the Wii remote sideways and using the D pad) and gyroscope control (through the tilting functionality).

The co-op same-screen play is perfect for Josh and I as once he loses his man (which happens often) I can pop a bubble to bring him back to life. Basically I can go through the tough parts of the game while he tags along and contributes during the easier parts. It's actually a great way for kids to improve their Mario skills. I'm looking forward to trying this out with more than two players although I'm not sure if Lori would be interested in playing with us. I may have to wait for Christmas and have my sister-in-law's boyfriend Ross team up with Josh and I. All in all, this new Mario title is a worthy addition to the Mario legacy and the overall difficulty of the game will keep us busy for a while.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Guys Weekend Recap

Lori and Rebecca got back this afternoon from a long weekend trip up North to visit Lori's Boston-area friends. Unfortunately her friend Kristin had to leave the country on business unexpectedly but Lori was able to visit with Kristin's husband Aaron, their two cute kids and her friend Jaime and Jaime's daughters. Apparently Rebecca was adored by all (as she should be). Their absence set into motion another whirlwind Guys Weekend.

Things started off slow on Friday as I was still feeling the effects of my battle with pseudo-Swine Flu. I never had the flu according to the doctor but it sure felt like it. Alex was easy to handle on Friday as I worked from home (Josh was in school). I mixed some rest with some work then took Alex with me to pickup Josh. We scraped together veggie burgers for dinner and I took in a DVD screening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I missed this one in the theaters and unfortunately my DVD player was working fine. I sat through the 2.5 noisy hours of nonsense punctuated by Michael Bay's love for moving his camera in circle after circle around his actors. Seriously Bay... that shit was cool in Bad Boys when Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett were getting up off the pavement but stop doing it all the time in EVERY OTHER MOVIE YOU MAKE. 2 JR's for me as I can't deny the pretty kick-ass visual effects in the film. The movie left me feeling more sickly and I went to bed prepping for the events of...

Saturday. The kids woke me up early as usual and we had some quick breakfast and headed out to Josh's final soccer game of the season. Alex enjoyed himself as usual and we watched Josh run the pitch to a tune of 4 goals and 1 nice assist. He was on the far side of the field and I screamed "pass it to Ryan!" He did and kicked a long laser pass right to the front of the goal which Ryan "drilled" home. We had a team bagel/donut party afterwards and Josh got a participatory trophy for his first season. Stay tuned for Spring 2010 when Josh Rose joins WSLL (West Springfield Little League) in the teeball division. I'm hoping they put him on the Nationals (the teams are named after real MLB teams).

After soccer we went home for lunch and following the kids' naps the three of us went out to the local Bowl America to get our strike on. This was Josh's third time bowling (he had gone a few years ago with me and went with his class on a field trip once) and Alex's first effort. I failed to anticipate the fact that Alex would protest putting on bowling shoes. I should have known as he resists pretty much any new article of clothing. After only a few minutes of whining, I managed to get him to keep them on. They were small velcro shoes and the velcro kept flying off but overall it worked and he didn't have a major issue with them. We bowled two games and Alex actually had a better score than Josh (93 to 85). He did have an advantage though as I decided to use the handicapped ramp for his bowls after seeing that his velocity didn't get the ball all the way to the pins on its own. I think two year olds get a pass when it comes to the bowling ramp. Josh put his fingers in the holes and used the bumpers well. Both kids had a great time and I can see a return to the lanes in the future for sure. I bowled a 189 and am hoping to get back into league bowling again one of these years (if my deadbeat friends ever have interest).

To top off our Saturday, we headed to Ledo Pizza for the tradition of Guys Weekend, a large pepperoni and cheese pizza. At home after the delicious dinner and a quick bath, the kids went to bed and I passed out early watching SNL resting up for...

Sunday. Earlier in the week I had decided to make Muenster Cheese Bread over the weekend and bought ingredients on Saturday. I was going to make it in the morning but the weather was so nice outside I took the kids out to Gravely Point Park for another repeat Guys Weekend activity of watching planes take off from National Airport. Perfect weather for plane watching but Alex was even more "afraid" of the planes. He kept his hands over his ears practically the entire time we were there. He wanted to leave the "AirplanePort" as soon as possible. After kicking around the soccer ball a bit in the field at the park we got in the car and headed back home. On the way back we made a pit stop at the Air Force Memorial near the Pentagon. This is a relatively new memorial in the DC area and I've driven by it numerous times. It's a unique metal sculpture of three curved spires all reaching upwards at different heights. It really is a cool looking memorial and the kids enjoyed walking up close to it. They also enjoyed running and chasing each other across the memorial grounds.

After the morning activities and naps we spent the afternoon watching football (AKA witnessing another lifeless performance from the Washington Redskins) and cooking. I completed my cheese bread effort just in time for dinner. Josh "helped" by throwing some stuff away for me during the preparation process. The bread turned out good and is almost gone as I write this (we all had some for dinner tonight). Alex and Josh still call it "Monster" Cheese Bread. Perhaps I should put green food coloring in the cheese mixture next time. Another session of bath and stories put an end to Guys Weekend 2009. We all missed Lori and Rebecca during their trip but it was enjoyable to have a few days to hang with just the boys. As Josh and Alex get older these types of weekends will become more adventurous as we'll be able to go out and do more.

As I continue to chug along with this blog (less frequently lately I know due to a phenomenon I have dubbed "The Rebecca Factor"), I feel it is starting to serve as a virtual scrapbook that the kids can look back on when they get older making Blog! There it is... into a multi-faceted medium of communication. Ah... the Internet... is there anything it can't do?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What are Best Friends For?

So while I think I have the Swine Flu, Lori assures me that it's just a fever. I don't think I'm going into work tomorrow as a result of my fever and overall aching body. If this keeps up perhaps I'll go to the doctor tomorrow afternoon to make sure I'm not battling H1N1. Wikipedia lists the following symptoms of Swine Flu: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. I actually have all of those. We'll see.

Josh was extra nice to me tonight and seemed really sad that I'm sick. He took time to write the note you see below (asking mom for spelling assistance). Note that he threw in a comma within the last word as I was just teaching him about commas today (apparently two years too early).

He sure has a lot of caring in him for a 5-year-old. I know he's hoping I can get better so we can enjoy the upcoming Guys Weekend. More on that later this weekend as Becca and Lori head north to visit Kristin in Massachusetts.

Oscar's Odd Couple

As if 10 Best Picture nominees wasn't enough, the 2010 Oscars just got even weirder. The producers of the Academy Awards telecast have been frantically searching for a host to fill in for Hugh Jackman. Jackman did a good job on last year's show but declined the invite to return as host. Yesterday, news broke that Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin have been picked to co-host the event.

I assume this pairing was made due to both actors' association with Saturday Night Live (Martin and Baldwin have hosted the show individually a record 15 and 14 times respectively). Although going with co-hosts is a risky idea (the last time it was attempted was in 1987 with Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan - yes, Crocodile Dundee himself), I think it could work. I'm a bit curious about the Baldwin decision though. Martin has hosted the Oscars twice before on his own and I think he was a solid host both times. I'm not sure why the Academy didn't want to go with solo Steve.

Baldwin is definitely a funny guy and will probably fill the role well but is he really a movie star these days? Baldwin's best work in his long career in Hollywood has come in the last 10 years on TV. Between 30 Rock and his SNL stints, he's resurrected a fading career by coming one of the best television comedic actors working today. I could see Baldwin as host of the Emmys but something doesn't fit with him and the Oscars.

It's possible that the Academy wanted two hosts because of the expanded Best Picture format change. Martin and Baldwin could split up the duties of announcing the 10 nominees. All in all I think the Academy could have done worse with their selection. Isn't it time for Billy Crystal to make a return appearance? As long as Whoopi isn't hosting I'm OK with it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trick or Treat

Halloween was a big success for the boys as I took them around the neighborhood for a short but fruitful candy hunt. Josh kept wavering over the past few weeks on whether he wanted to be Batman or Robin for Halloween. Thankfully he settled on Batman and Lori found a costume for him. It was a little big for him and the cape was a tad long but overall it did the trick. I tried to get him to talk like Christian Bale does in The Dark Knight but he was having none of that.

Alex is very particular about what he wears (he has already shunned the new red Crocs that Lori bought him). Because of this we didn't get a costume for him in advance. As the witching hour approached on Saturday night, we told him he had to dress up to go trick or treating with Josh. Lori suggested that he go as a Redskin (that may be the scariest costume of all this season), but Alex replied "I want to be a Baxketball playor." So Lori dug out the old Michael Jordan Wizards kids jersey and some basketball shorts. It barely fit Alex but he looked the part and "Wizards" does have some Halloween connotations.

The three of us set out to some nearby houses. At first there was a slight drizzle but the kids didn't seem to mind. This was Alex's first trick or treating effort and I had to give him a quick crash course on what to do. He initially wanted me to come up with him and hold his hand. But he quickly got the hang of it on his own and actually enjoyed saying "Trick or Treat!" The only assistance I had to provide was to hold his bag between houses.

The rain came down a little stronger towards the end and we had to cut our journey a little short. Alex had a great time though and even though he was soaked (in a jersey without any jacket) he had a lot of fun. He became very chatty towards the end too. At a couple of houses after getting candy put into his bag he would ask "what are you guys doing in there?" Alex is on a big "what does this and that do" kick right now. Yesterday I brought home ketchup to use for dinner and Alex interrogated me:

Alex: "What's that?"
Dad: "It's ketchup Alex, you eat it all the time"
Alex: "What does it do?"
What Dad wanted to say: "It manages several high yield mutual funds."

Josh of course had a great time getting candy as well even if his Bat Cape got soaked. The two of them had quite a haul for only being out on the street for 20 minutes. Of course the majority of their candy will be consumed by me but we did let them eat a few choice pieces Saturday night (and will distribute more for special treats). Josh even tried a box of red hots and claimed that he liked them even though they were spicy. The success of the night made up for the disaster that was pumpkin carving during the day. I brought home a pumpkin and carving tools from work (left over from our Oktoberween party). Josh and I tried to carve a particularly intricate design (similar to this) but I botched the ghost's hands and eventually punched the entire design through accidentally while trying to carve the eyes and mouth. We were left with a big circle and I decided to trash the evidence before Lori got home. I'll stick to designing on computers.

Bonus shot of Ms. Rebecca as a flower! So cute.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Amazing Rubik's Cube Art

As I recover from a long but fun golf weekend at the MD shore, I'll try to get back to blogging later this week. For now, check out this video that features an incredible replication of The Last Supper made entirely out of Rubik's Cubes. Georges Seurat would be proud.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's Basketball Season!

The Washington Redskins just spent the first 6 games of the 2009 NFL season playing 6 teams who did not have a win coming into the game. Monday night will be the first game the Skins have played against a team with more than a zero in the win column (The Eagles at 3-2). If I was told before the season that the Skins would be playing this schedule and wouldn't face a team with a win until Week 7, I would have thought we would be 3-3 at the worst and probably 4-2 or 5-1.

Reality has set in and the Skins sit at 2-4 on the heels of a vomit-inducing snooze-fest against the Chiefs. I've already ranted about Dan Snyder and the travesty that is my hometown football franchise. Jim Zorn will be fired after the Monday night game and we'll get a completely new coach and personnel core over the off-season. Nothing will change until Snyder steps down or sells the team though. I'm tired of discussing this so I'll leave it at that.

Football season is over earlier than usual and in a week from today, basketball season will be upon us. A hometown franchise with a history of bad luck and injury issues looks to rebound from a dreadful season in '08-'09 (wait, another BAD DC sports season?). The Washington Wizards now have a proven dynamic coach in Flip Saunders, a cast of new additions led by Mike Miller and Randy Foye and a supposedly healthy Gilbert Arenas. Hope is back in the Verizon Center as this team really does have a good chance of making the playoffs if the injury bug can be dodged. I'm excited about the depth the Wizards have this year and think Saunders will be able to cycle quality talent on and off the court leaving everyone on the roster fresher and more resilient to avoid injury issues.

As the Capitals have started slow in the NHL, Washington D.C. is in dire need of some good sports vibes. I'm looking forward to attending a few games over the season, piggybacking on some of my brother's excellent season ticket seats. Here's hoping that the Wizards can bring some positive buzz to the Nation's Capital. With the way the Redskins have crapped all over their fan base, a DC sports healing process is in order.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Review: Paranormal Activity

I have to admit, I bought the hype. I've heard reviews across the country touting Paranormal Activity as the scariest movie since The Exorcist. The little movie that could, made for 10-15 K in 2007 in a raw documentary style invented by The Blair Witch Project. This movie made 7 million last weekend showing on a very limited number of screens. I'm a fan of scary movies and usually end up watching them alone since Lori wants nothing to do with them. I took a long lunch break today and went to see a matinée.

I had heard that people who see this film are haunted by it for days and have trouble sleeping. All the build-up had me eagerly anticipating this movie as a tense horror classic. Unlike District 9 which actually exceeded my expectations (I know, some of you are saying "why don't you just rename this blog as 'Blog! There's District 9...'?"), Paranormal Activity was a complete let down. The movie isn't all that bad but it does nothing revolutionary and fails to haunt the viewer to the core as advertised. The premise of the film revolves around a couple in San Diego who have been dating for three years. The woman (Katie, played by someone named Katie) has been experiencing a little poltergeist action off and on since she was a little girl. Her boyfriend Micah (played by someone named Micah) is a technophile who decides to try to capture the hauntings on film to study them further.

The entire movie takes place in their house and most of the action occurs at night. The filmmakers do a good job of presenting time lapsed events through the night and some of them are scary for sure. The use of sound is well done to heighten the overall effect. There is a good amount of tension throughout, but after a while I was thinking to myself "is this all there is?" Maybe I'm desensitized and can handle creepy noises and implied paranormal experiences more than the average person, but I just never got to the point where I was terrified by what I was witnessing. The final 10 minutes of the movie take the story a bit too far and I no longer felt like I was watching "real footage" of an actual event. I don't want to give the plot away, but the last few scenes just didn't seem very authentic.

The Blair Witch Project, Event Horizon, The Hills Have Eyes, The Ring, The Descent, hell even The Ruins were all scarier movies than Paranormal Activity (and that's just off the top of my head). If you are a fan of the horror genre, I would recommend renting this when it comes out on video. It's worth a viewing at low expectations but don't spend $10 seeing in on the big screen. I give this one a 2.5 out of 5 JR's. In hindsight, I should have gone into the theater showing Zombieland instead.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Teeing It Up in 2016

For years I have been an advocate of golf being introduced as a Summer Olympic sport. It made too much sense for a number of reasons. A four-round tournament is perfect for scheduling purposes and an international field is already present at all PGA Tour events. For whatever reason though, the IOC prevented golf from being an official sport until a few days ago.

Starting in 2016 (and confirmed for 2020 as well), the Olympics will include a 60-person four-day tournament to award Gold Silver and Bronze. This gives Tiger Woods a chance to add a gold medal to his arsenal of trophy hardware. Both a Mens and Womens tournament will be held. Look for a possible USA sweep for the Mens medals as Americans currently hold the top three spots in the world golf rankings.