30 May 2008

Air Travel Hassles Cost $26 Billion

I couldn't help but feel a little schadenfreude when I read this article. A survey found that frustrated travelers avoided taking flights 41 million times over the past 12 months, costing the economy $26 billion.
"NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The dysfunctional air travel system is causing many Americans to avoid air travel and the economy is suffering as a result, according to a survey released Friday. [...]

"Many travelers believe their time is not respected and it is leading them to avoid a significant number of trips," said Allan Rivlin, a partner at Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which interviewed 1,003 air travelers for the survey. [...]

"The air travel crisis has hit a tipping point, " said Roger Dow, president and CEO of TIA. "More than 100,000 travelers each day are voting with their wallets by choosing to avoid trips."

[...] inefficient security screening, flight cancellations and delays were the top frustration among air travelers surveyed.

[...] 60% of respondents think the air travel system is deteriorating. But travelers are most irritated with the air travel process, not the airlines. [...]"
The airline industry has been progressively putting out a poorer and poorer product, and they're now reaping what they sowed. The majority of survey respondents mostly blame the air travel process and not the airlines per se, but I don't think the airlines have been doing anything to help the situation. American Airlines is now charging $15 for the first check-in luggage -- how many more passengers are now going to board with multiple over-sized carry-ons? The overhead bins are already crowded enough. I have no doubt airlines will continue to pile fees upon fees.

Expensive, crowded, cramped, over-booked and delayed flights have been my recent experiences with air travel. I normally fly a single round-trip once a year, and during that one trip, 50% of my flights were canceled due to mechanical problems.

With that kind of record, no wonder people are avoiding air travel.

And don't get me started on the inefficiencies and hassles of airport security; that deserves another post all on its own.

29 May 2008

Star Trek: The Next Generation

I think of myself as a fairly big Star Trek fan -- but mostly Star Trek: The Next Generation. I watched Deep Space 9, Voyager, and Enterprise for a while, but none of them caught my attention like TNG did, and I never stuck with them to their end. I've seen the movies and episodes of the original Star Trek, but again, it didn't hold my attention.

TNG ran for 7 years, and there are many great episodes that I can remember even after all this time. Off the top of my head, what I liked about TNG was how it showed humanity's potential if everyone could just work together, it explored issues like racism, the limits of love, torture, free-will, the rationale for the Prime Directive and lots, lots more.

In no particular order, here are some, but not all, of my favourite episodes:
  1. Tapestry: Q sends Jean-Luc Picard back in time to his academy years, leading up to the time Picard was stabbed in the heart. Picard uses the opportunity to change something he'd regretted doing, only to discover that altering one thing in the past affected everything afterwards, altering the entire course of his life. Unraveling one thread unraveled the entire tapestry.
  2. The Inner Light: Picard is hit by an alien probe, resulting in Picard living an entire lifetime believing he is someone else, living on an alien planet with a family, and that his previous life was the imaginings of a fevered dream. Turns out it was all in Picard's mind, and only 20 minutes had passed in reality. The probe was a dying civilization's way to not be forgotten.
  3. The Measure of a Man: Data is put on trial to determine whether he can be ordered to go back to Starfleet for experimental testing, or if he possesses free will and/or sentience and hence can refuse. I thought the issues raised were interesting.
  4. Q Who?: This episode introduced the Borg - one of the greatest sci-fi villains. Picard tells Q that the Federation is ready to face whatever is out there. Oops. Q sends the Enterprise to the far cosmos where they meet the Borg - a biological/machine hybrid-hive mind that "assimilate" everything they come in contact with. Anywhoo, Picard admits to Q that he was wrong, and Q sends them back home. But the Borg now know of the existence of the Federation....
  5. The Best of Both Worlds I and II: A couple of the all-time top TNG episodes, the 3rd season finale and 4th season premiere, respectively. The Borg finally arrive in Federation space. These episodes introduce one of the most memorable TNG lines,
    "Resistance is futile" -- Locutus of Borg. :o)
  6. Family: Following Best of Both Worlds II, this episode was pretty darned good, too. Picard deals with the trauma of being assimilated by the Borg.
  7. The Drumhead: Another awesome episode. It's about an explosion, a spy, and the witch hunt that follows. At the end, Picard talks to Worf about the subtle, continual danger of people who spread fear and suspicion in the name of righteousness, and that we have to be continually vigilant against that threat. The path of limited freedom, I think Picard said. A particularly apt lesson in the current times.

A Future Car

I'm not trading my R for something new, but I have been musing upon what would be my hypothetical future vehicle. Amidst internal debate between stretching myself financially and getting my "premiere" automobile or living more comfortably within my means, I've come to the conclusion that whatever make it turns out to be... it won't be a Volkswagen or Audi.

Big shock, eh? Well, it's all due to ergonomics. VW and Audi dashboards place their navigation system too low. I'd have to take my eyes off the road in order to look at the navi screen. Extremely poor design on their part. The navigation system should definitely be on top of the dashboard and not below.

In the below picture you get an idea of where the navi is in VW and Audi cars -- in the same location as my radio/CD player. In all the pics I've seen, this inconvenient location is the same for all of their models.

28 May 2008

Yea or Nay

Currently I'm debating whether to go to the 28th Herndon Festival (29 May - 1 June) in Virginia. It's 30+ miles away, and supposed to draw around 90,000 people each year.

How did I hear about this festival, and why am I considering attending? Well, I received an e-mail informing VW Club members that VW is the title sponsor of the Festival (fyi VW recently moved their North American HQ from Michigan to... you guessed it... Herndon, VA) and will be handing out free goodie bags to anyone who shows them a VW key fob.

I have no idea what's in the goodie bag - I assume nothing extravagant - and monetarily I'm sure it won't even come close to the cost of gasoline, but nevertheless I'm still thinking about going.

What's making me hesitant is that I'm not fond of crowds, and to make it worse parking will be limited. To take the Festival shuttle bus, I'd have to park in some crowded, cramped lot just begging to be dinged.

Ugh. I guess I'll have to wait and see how I feel closer to the day, and see what the weather's like.

25 May 2008

More Summer Movies

Well, I guess September is more autumn than summer, but what the heck. One of the previews prior to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was for a thriller, Eagle Eye, starring Shia LeBeouff, that looks very good. LeBeouff looks on track to be one of the few child stars to enjoy professional success as an adult. Eagle Eye is another movie I'll probably see in the cinema; it opens 26 September 2008.

It's a little unexpected. I go through years of only seeing 1 or 2 movies at the cinemas, but this year there looks to be seven, including Eagle Eye, though presently I've lost my motivation to see Prince Caspian.

I might be more motivated to see Prince Caspian it there weren't already many other movies I want to see. I enjoyed the first, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but as I said, my current motivation is lacking.

After seeing it for the second time, I've sort of changed my mind about the The Dark Knight preview -- it might not be quite so love-triangley as I thought. That's a good thing.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Earlier today I broke my personal rule of not seeing movies on their opening weekend. I went to an early matinée so the theater wasn't too crowded and I was able to find a respectable seat. It was roughly 1/3 to 1/2 full, I'd say.

So which movie did I see? What, you can't tell by looking at the poster? :o)

Ha ha. Got that out of my system. Okay, end of stupid jokes, now.

The reason why I decided to break my rule was... c'mon... it's Indiana Jones. That's Indiana Jones, one of the all time best movie franchises, with the original trifecta of Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, both wonderful movies, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is more than fit to join their prestigious company.

Warning, SPOILERS follow:

Crystal Skull gave me exactly what I wanted -- a traditional Indiana Jones adventure. Plot, music, dialogue, action, humour, were all what I'd come to expect and want from Indiana Jones. Wonderful nostalgia. I'm already hoping they'll add ever more sequels to the series.

I've always marveled at Cate Blanchett's acting ability, and she did well enough with her two dimensional villain in this movie. I also enjoyed watching Shia LeBeouff -- for the first time after his Even Stevens days -- in his role as Mutt Williams. I have reservations of LeBeouff continuing the Indiana Jones franchise on his own (a completely, wishfully hypothetical situation) but I'd definitely give him a chance.

If I had to choose my favourite scene, I'd have to choose two. The first involves Indy's fear of snakes, and the second is a fight/chase sequence racing through the Amazon jungle.

There were several nods to past Indiana Jones movies: Marcus Brody from Raiders and Last Crusade (Dernholm Elliot passed away in 1992), Henry Jones (Sean Connery)-- Indy's father in Last Crusade, and the Ark of the Covenant itself, from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

If Crystal Skull does turn out to be the last Indiana Jones, then I won't be too disappointed -- the series will have ended on a high note. Even the last scene ended well. I liked the last scene because it fooled me a little bit. Mutt with Indy's fedora, I was fully expecting him to put it on, as a passing of the torch, so to speak, but it didn't quite happen that way.

I normally stay seated until the end of final credits. The best thing about that with this movie? Getting to hear and focus on the Indiana Jones theme in its entirety-- not in partial bits within the film, taking a back seat to the dialogue or action on the screen. No distractions. Wonderful.

I rate this movie 4.5 out of 5 stars.

24 May 2008

Iron Man update

Oops. Amidst my rant regarding people playing themselves in movies, I noted that Hugh Hefner's cameo in Iron Man was okay since it was mercifully short and silent. Except... it wasn't Hugh Hefner. Embarrassing.

It was, in fact, Stan Lee --big honcho at Marvel-- being mistaken by Tony Stark to be Hefner. I can't believe I didn't recognize him. It's not like I haven't seen Stan Lee before; he's had cameos in previous Marvel superhero movies.

Oh well. They both have grey hair, okay? :o)

17 May 2008

Girl Scout sells 17,328 boxes of cookies

Wow! A Girl Scout in Michigan sold 17,328 boxes of cookies!!!
"DETROIT - A Girl Scout sold 17,328 of the group's signature cookies this year by setting up shop on a street corner, shattering her troop's old mark and probably setting a national record.

Jennifer Sharpe, a 15-year-old from Dearborn, plans to travel to Europe with her troop with the proceeds from her feat. "It's always been one of those goals I wanted to accomplish," Sharpe said Wednesday.

The two bakeries that make the cookies said Sharpe sold more than anyone this year, according to Dianne Thomas, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Metro Detroit.

Michelle Tompkins, spokeswoman for the New York-based national organization, called the figure "amazing" but said there's no national record on the books." --cbc.ca
Wow, again. I wonder if she could get into the Guiness Book of World Records. Kudos galore to Jennifer Sharpe!

14 May 2008

Justine Henin

Wow, what a shocker. Today world number one Justine Henin announced her retirement from women's tennis.

I don't think anyone saw this coming. Henin was having a relatively poor start this year, but retiring right before the French Open? She's won that four times and would have been the favourite going in. Henin is the current world number one, and still only 25 yrs. old.

Whenever I watch an Henin match, the commentators never fail to laud Henin's mental toughness, her complete game, speed and footwork, and her one-handed backhand.

Justine Henin, having won 41 WTA singles titles, 7 Major singles titles (4 French, 1 Australian, 2 US Open), and the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics, is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. It looks like Justine Henin is one of those rare athletes who choose to end their career while at the top.

Best wishes for Henin's future endeavors.

11 May 2008

Star Wars - COPS Parody

I was watching bonus material from one of my Star Wars DVDs, and came across this gem. It's a parody of Star Wars and COPS.

Originally Released: 1997

While being filmed for the hit Imperial TV show TROOPS, Stormtroopers from the infamous Black Sheep Squadron on patrol run into some very familiar characters.

Another Movie Moment

Another of my movie moments occurs in Episode IV, Star Wars: A New Hope. When I think about Star Wars, I prefer to think only about the original trilogy (Episodes IV - VI) and in their original theatrical releases. In the case of Episode IV, that was back in 1977.

Anywhoo, this movie moment is basically unchanged in all of its reiterations, so please excuse my minor rant.

The award ceremony where Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Luke Skywalker walk up to the stage, the triumphant music, the rebels turning and stomping in unison, the cheering, they all fit together to make the movie's final scene one of my Movie Moments.

Memorable Movie Music

How do I define great movie music? In this case, I have to be able to recognize and remember its origin. It's worked out that the music is also original - if it's not then I don't associate it with the movie.

Anywhoo, for this post I have two memorable movie music themes. Actually, they're the only ones that currently come to mind and they both happen to star the same actor, Harrison Ford. They are the main themes from Star Wars and the Indiana Jones series. Whenever I hear either one I instantly recognize it for what it is. I guess what at least in part contributes to making them memorable is that they're part of great movies (as an aside, when I think of good Star Wars I think original Episodes IV - VI, only).

10 May 2008

Movie Previews

There were some interesting movie previews when I went to see Iron Man. In no particular order:

1) Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. The preview only increased my desire to see this one. I'm looking forward to it. I can't help but smile when I hear the theme song. :o)

2) The Love Guru. This one is either going to be either extremely stupid or very funny, or perhaps a mixture of both. This movie's type of humor looks set to be typical Mike Meyer's fare -- a la Austin Powers.

3) The Happening. Does anyone else thinks this title is stupid? Couldn't they think of anything better? The explanation of the movie's title makes it even more inane. In the preview, a character says,"I can't believe this is happening! (cue music) Dah DUM. The Happening, by M. Night Shyamalan." Eh? Sorry, you mean that wasn't supposed to be funny?

4) The Hulk. The preview actually looked interesting (unlike the previous Hulk incarnation), focusing more on character rather than on a gamma-irradiated giant breaking things. Of course, it was only a preview, so who knows. Anywhoo, as I said it looked interesting; too bad I'm not a Hulk fan - this one is relegated to television broadcast.

There may have been other previews, but I'm drawing a blank.


Ah hah! I remember now, there was another preview.

5) Batman: The Dark Knight. Ugh. Looks like this movie is featuring a love triangle. Double ugh. I had been looking forward to seeing this in the theaters, but now... not so much. I don't go to see a Batman movie to see kissy kissy love angst. Wangos. Wangos. Wangos. Wangos. I really hope the preview is not indicative of this film's focus. It's probably not. I'm probably worried over nothing. It's only a bad preview. But... wangos, wangos, wangos, wangos.

Iron Man

I saw Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., this morning, the first on my list of must see summer movies. There weren't any movie moments; this movie isn't great, but it's definitely good, and definitely worth my time and money. Downey in the title role was an amazingly apt casting choice. Jeff Bridges was also good, and I barely recognized him (I'm not saying that's why Bridges was good, it's just a well done transformation... heck with it, he's bald, okay? lol).

Minor spoilers may follow:

As I said, Downey did a fine job in his role, as did all the main characters (Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard). I will definitely make a point to see the sequel in the theaters which, I suppose, is the main point, what Marvel intended and what Marvel hopes for. The special effects were good. There was no point where I thought, that's obviously CGI, even though I knew it had to be. I'm not saying it was perfect, but in no way did it distract me from the film.

The movie starts pre-Iron Man, and we get to see Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) transformation from weapon maker to armored hero. It's interesting to see an adult hero for a change. Stark is in his thirties, steadfast in his belief that his weapons are benefiting America and mankind - bringing about peace with a big stick. Stark has a change of heart when he sees his weapons being used by terrorists, and when he learns his company, Stark Industries, is complicit. I find it novel to have a superhero who isn't a child or some pubescent teen. Stark is a middle-aged adult who decides to drastically change his life, and who refuses to have a secret identity.

Aside: does it mean I'm old if when Stark declared he was moving out of the weapons business, my first concern was, what's going to happen to all his employees, lay-offs? Perhaps it's more of a sign of the current state of the economy.

Iron Man was slightly predictable eg. I knew what was going to happen to Virginia "Pepper" Pott's (Paltrow) gift as soon as I saw it.

Is there anything I disliked about Iron Man? Two things are foremost in my mind. The first is a casting choice, and the second is something about movies in general and Iron Man in particular.

The odd casting choice was Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Having been introduced to Nick Fury in the comics, seeing Jackson, briefly, as Nick Fury was very strange, and abruptly pulled me out of the movie. I'm sure with time, i.e. in the upcoming sequel, Jackson will get more than a couple seconds of screen time and I'll get used to him in the role of Fury. But at least for now, weird.

The second thing is when the movie has "real" people playing themselves. Instead of contributing to the suspension of belief or to help place the movie's events in reality, I find it jarring, cringe-inducing, and a cheap gimmick I'd much rather they did without; all it does is jerk me out of the movie-verse, a stark and abrupt reminder (one that I don't need whilst immersed in a movie) that the movie is fake. So what brought this on? There were several cameos in Iron Man with people playing themselves. The most, and extremely annoying one was a CNN financial commentator. I hate his show to begin with (too much yelling); why in the world would I want to spend money to watch him?! Hugh Hefner's cameo wasn't as bad - his scene was mercifully short and he had no lines.

Cameos are fine per se, but they shouldn't speak, and for the love of all things good don't have the "celebrities" be themselves. Oh yeah, news people acting as themselves in movies? Three strikes. News people should report the news, not be the news (I'm thinking of you, Entertainment Tonight -- gag, barf).

Oh yeah, this is another of those movies where you want to stay until the credits finish rolling.

I give Iron Man 4 out of 5 stars.

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02 May 2008

Summer movies

I don't go to the cinema very often. I think the last time I went was to see Spiderman 3. Going to the theater is too expensive to risk seeing a movie I won't like. I generally only see a movie in the cinemas if I'm pretty sure I'm also going to buy the DVD. Although recently even that has changed -- I'm not buying any more DVDs and I don't have a Blue-ray player.

Food at cinemas are also way too expensive. The last time I bought cinema food was in grade school. Though I guess technically even that was a big fat "no" -- the food was purchased by the parents of the birthday boy.

Anywhoo, after having carped on how expensive cinemas are, I have to say that this spring/summer there are quite a few movies I'll most likely see in the theaters.

May 2nd: Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr.. I never read Iron Man comics like I did Spider-man and X-Men, but I do know the backstory. Why do I want to see this? Mostly because I'm a Marvel comic fan (with a few notable exceptions), the previews look good, and it's been a long while since I've seen anything with Downey in it.

May 16th: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. This movie is a maybe. I liked the first in this series, but I'm worried about whether the sequel will focus on the character of Prince Caspian or on the Pevensie children -- if the latter, good, if the former, bad. My worries are probably unfounded, but still significant enough to make me hesitant to see this one in the cinema.

May 22nd: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, starring Harrison Ford. This one is a definite YES. I'm a huge fan of the Indiana Jones movies, and I'm really looking forward to this latest (and last?) sequel. I was contemplating buying the DVD collection until Blue-ray/HD-DVD appeared.

June 20th: Get Smart, starring Steve Carell. I'm seeing this one for nostlagia. I liked the t.v. series with Don Adams in the title role -- my only regret is that I was never able to watch this show consistently. There are significantly fewer episodes I've seen than not.

July 18th: The Dark Knight, starring Christian Bale. Why am I seeing this one? Because the first of this series was great. I can't decide which is better, the first Batman movie starring Michael Keaton, or Bale's first outing as Bruce Wayne. Nevertheless, The Dark Knight gets my nod because of the quality of the first.

July 25th: The X-Files: I Want to Believe, starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Chalk this one as a movie that I thought would never materialize. I watched the first movie, Fight the Future, because I'm a HUGE fan of the X-Files t.v. series (maybe not so much after Duchovny left). It's been what, a decade since the series ended, but I'm still going to watch this one. Why? I guess nostalgia comes into play. I expect this movie to be average to above average, but not great.

There are other movies coming out this Spring/Summer that sound interesting, but they're more in the rental category rather than the spend my money at the cinema category.

Currently I'm debating whether to see Iron Man this weekend; if I do it would go against my rule of never watching films on opening weekends. Whenever I've decided to break this rule, I've always regretted it.

UPDATE: Whoops, the last movie I saw at the cinema was The Kingdom, October of last year, while Spider-man 3 was in May. Not really so long ago as I thought.