Archive for August, 2006

30
Aug
06

Hold Your Head Up, Cena

cena-with-belt.jpg John Cena will probably be one of those WWE Champions whose legacy will be tarnished a bit. He’s champion at a time when the entire climate of our country tends toward the cynic. And while he’s not the greatest talent that I’ve ever seen, the belt has been put on wrestlers that are far worse than Cena. But more than his talent and the cynicism that has made it’s way into wrestling fan’s minds, I think it’s the lack of a great rival that will either make or break Cena’s legacy. Ali had his Frazier. Hogan had his Andre the Giant. Shawn Michaels had Bret Hart. HHH, Rock, Austin and Foley all had each other to feud against. But it seems like right now the best feud that we’re seeing out of Cena is Edge. The book isn’t closed on Cena, but his legacy is certainly in question.

I’ve never been a ‘John Cena’ fan. He started on Smackdown when I had stopped watching. I had heard about his “white rapper” gimmick and I thought it was all kinda silly. When he made his debut on Raw, I was kinda excited to see what he was made of. And he was o.k. A solid talent. Good mic skills. But to me he lacked that extra something special. I didn’t hate him — but I wasn’t about to run out and buy a ‘Thuganomics’ t-shirt either.

I guess I wasn’t alone. At some point early this year, fans started to punk Cena out. Much like the Rock years before, Cena became the target of merciless boos. It wasn’t quite as bad as what the Rock got, but it’s getting there. I’ve never been in the squared circle, but I’d have to say that one of the most difficult things for a wrestler is to be labeled a babyface or fan favorite when the fans are adamantly opposed to you. The entire flow of the match becomes weird. And clearly you can see that it affects the way that guys are able to concentrate. But amidst “Cena Sucks” chants, I’ve been impressed with the way that Cena has handled this difficult situation. Continue reading ‘Hold Your Head Up, Cena’

30
Aug
06

Perhaps Idlewild is a Sign That Going Solo Is A Good Idea for OutKast?

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I must admit that I’ve never been a huge OutKast fan. SouthernPlayalisticCadillacMusic came out at a time when I wasn’t really into the whole “country-drawl” rap music thing. (And now it’s pretty much taken over.) Subsequent releases didn’t get much attention from me either. It wasn’t until I bought a bootleg copy of Stankonia that I sat up in my chair on the bus ride home and took notice. Like most others, I liked So Fresh, So Clean and Ms. Jackson, but my favorite tracks on the album were the title track, Stankonia (which is just about the freakiest track I’ve heard — and I mean that in a good way) and Toilet Tisha. The latter track was a double entendre of sorts, playing upon the the southern pronunciation of the phrase “toilet tissue”, but more appropriately unveiling the haunting story of a 14-year old girl named “Tisha” who was pregnant and having thoughts of suicide while sitting on the commode. Pretty difficult topic, but handled very well by the two cats that I had slept on for years. (Well, maybe I didn’t sleep on them, but perhaps it took six years for their development to mature to the point where they were kicking out stuff that I was ready to receive.

I saw OutKast live with my sister in 2001 after they released a Greatest Hits album with a few new tracks. I remember hearing them shout onstage claiming to be coming out with their new album “in the fawll ya’ll!”. “The Fawll” turned out to be more like the summer — only two years later. But it was well worth the wait. Well, half of the effort was. (More on that later.)

Amidst rumors of creative differences and conflicts with regard to which direction the album should take, Andre 3000 and Big Boi seemingly took the smart route, as compared to groups that came before them. While artists like A Tribe Called Quest, EPMD, NWA and many others probably saw less revenue than they might have had they stayed together a bit longer, OutKast understood that they might stand to be more successful as a group than two solo acts. After all, the name “OutKast” alone garners a certain amount of “top billing”.

I remember standing in front of the new album, Speakerboxx/The Love Below wondering exactly what I was looking at. The album looked as if it was cut in half — literally. On one half was Andre 3000 holding a pink gun under the title The Love Below and Big Boi was sitting in a chair with a mink on under the title Speakerboxx. Two CDs for $11.98. It was certainly a bargain for my money. Regardless of the bragain, with a certain degree of hesitation, I picked up the CD case and checked it out at the Best Buy in Bridgewater, NJ. All it took was one long interstate ride home from New Jersey to New York and I was hooked — on The Love Below, that is. Continue reading ‘Perhaps Idlewild is a Sign That Going Solo Is A Good Idea for OutKast?’

30
Aug
06

A Plea to The Rock (and All Other Wrestlers): Please Stop Making Token Movies

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I have a tremendous amount of respect for the former wrestler known to the world as “The Rock”. People know about Dwayne Johnson’s success as a wrestler, but many don’t realize some of the tall challenges he had to face. His plans of being a football player out of college didn’t quite pan out. He played in the Canadian Football League for awhile. And upon making the decision to start wrestling, he trained for a few years and then after spending time in one of the WWE’s minor league equivalents under the name Flex Kavana, he made his debut in the WWE in 1996.

Entering the WWE would have seemed to be an easy road. After all, Dwayne’s father was WWF favorite Rocky Johnson, his grandfather was WWF hero High Chief Peter Maivia. And more importantly, Dwayne grew up around wrestlers — it was common for him to spend time in the locker room of Madison Square Garden or The Philadelphia Spectrum watching Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and Pat Patterson suit up next to his dad. But unfortunately the road wasn’t quite so easy. When he was presented to WWF fans in 1996 as a babyface (or a “fan favorite”), his skills were still a bit raw and unfinished. And at that time, fans’ definition of what a “hero” was had been changing. People found more favor in rooting for the dark and mysterious Darth Vader than they did the once popular Luke Skywalker. And similarly, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Diesel and other WWE bad guys turned good were getting a lot of “shine”.

I was present for Survivor Series 1996 in Madison Square Garden when “Rocky Maivia” made his debut. Rocky’s first match had been hyped for a few weeks. He came out to a rousing reception and actually helped his team win the Survivor Series that year. But as time went on, people started growing tired of the “good guy” image. After a few weeks of tolerance, you could start to hear the boos intensify with each match. At one point it began to get really embarrassing — “Rocky Sucks” and “Die Rocky, Die” chants could be heard from the front row to the rafters. People just didn’t like the character.

Rocky’s saving grace came when the WWE wrote him out of the babyface role and had him become a heel (bad guy) and join the Black militant group, “The Nation of Domination”. It was at that time that his creativity was allowed to flow. Slowly fans began to find humor in Rocky’s interviews and charisma in his actions. Within a few years Rocky went to the top of the card and won the WWE Championship seven times. He became one of the biggest starts that the WWE ever saw. Quite a change from “Die Rocky, Die” and “Rocky Sucks” chants. Continue reading ‘A Plea to The Rock (and All Other Wrestlers): Please Stop Making Token Movies’

28
Aug
06

In Wrestling, Sometimes "Silence is Golden"

https://i2.wp.com/www.officialsabu.com/16.jpgGrowing up in the 70’s as a wrestling fan, the sport was very different from what we see today. Some of the changes were for the good, but many detracted from my enjoyment. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen over the years has been with regard to wrestlers doing interviews.

Back in the 70’s, very few wrestlers had great “mike skills”. I recall Jesse Ventura providing some entertaining interviews with Vince McMahon holding the microphone. However, the majority of the interviews were unscripted and poorly executed (as compared to the TV-time conscious efforts of today). Guys would repeat themselves and blank out in the middle of sentences. It was pretty bad. But the great thing about wrestling in those days is that you didn’t need to have great mike skills. There was a tool created to do all the talking for you. It was called your manager. Some of the greatest wrestlers said very few words while guys like Bobby Heenan, The Grand Wizard of Wrestling, Fred Blassie, Jimmy Hart and Lou Albano stood next to them and shouted for 3 minutes about how their guy was going to tear the challenger apart.

But thinking back to some of the most menacing wrestlers at that time…. guys who seemed ten times as scary as Kane or the Undertaker…. guys who you didn’t want to ever meet in a dark alley….. legitimate nut-jobs…. were the guys who didn’t say a word.

I remember a guy who was billed as “The Mongolian Giant”, Killer Khan. Killer Khan was about 6’8″, of Asian descent and bald. During interviews, Khan would look into the screen while his manager (I think it might have been Fred Blassie) would talk. The kicker was that during the interviews and the matches, Khan would scream occasionally and slap himself in the face. Hard. To this day, I would freak out if I saw Killer Khan. And to have him speak in fluent English would completely ruin the effect.

Lots of folks remember Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka as the man who jumped off the top of a steel cage and pounced on top of Don Muraco. However, I recall the guy who made a splash on the scenes in the WWF in 1980 under the tutelage of Lou Albano. Back then, Snuka would contort his face and twitch his body every so often. He never spoke. Only looked strangely into the camera… as if he wasn’t quite sure whether his reflection was another guy on the inside of the lens. Of course we now know that Jimmy Snuka probably could talk, but he was so much more horrifying when he didn’t talk. Continue reading ‘In Wrestling, Sometimes "Silence is Golden"’

28
Aug
06

In Salute of Kurt Angle

I was rather shocked this week while perusing the Internet to find out that Kurt Angle had asked for his release from World Wrestling Entertainment (and equally as shocked to find out that it had been granted to him.) I had heard the rumors of Kurt making a few rumblings behind the scenes about wrestling for the ECW brand or that his body might have been under an unusual amount of stress. There were also a few rumors that he might have been having some marital trouble or other related trouble within his family. Whatever the reason, I was taken aback to hear the news and it made me reflect on what might be the close of a short but incredible career.

Unlike many other wrestlers, Kurt made the rather unusual decision early in his career to wrestle under his given name — Kurt Angle. I remember first hearing the name, “Kurt Angle” — I kinda thought it was a joke. An “angle” is wrestling insider talk for “a made up storyline”. (For instance, currently the WWE is playing up the angle that Vince McMahon’s spirit has been broken as a result of the actions of the faction, Degeneration X.) But Kurt was certainly no “angle” in that sense of the word. He was actually more “real”, if you will, than most of the other wrestlers on the roster. While “The Rock” was playing the superstar and “The Undertaker” was playing, well, an undertaker from the “dark side”, Kurt Angle was pretty much himself. Winner of a Gold Medal for Wrestling at the 1996 Olympic Games, Kurt wore the medals to the ring. (Initially he wore the actual medals from Atlanta, but after realizing the risk, duplicates were created.)

Kurt could have probably had a successful career on the strength of his Gold Medals alone. However, the “angle” that the WWE created for him was one of slight arrogance. Kurt was to play up the fact that he was so great that he’d become a hero to people all around the world. He would come out and shoot promos and give interviews to highlight his program for success: “the three ‘i’s” as he called them — “Intensity, Intelligence and Integrity”. Kurt would do interviews as if he were the guy on the Wheaties box speaking to kids who wanted to grow up to be like him. And while the promos were a bit obnoxious, you certainly couldn’t argue with success. Kurt had won the WWE Intercontinental Championship, the now-retired European Championship and finally the WWE Championship — all within the first year of joining the WWE. Continue reading ‘In Salute of Kurt Angle’

23
Aug
06

Biiible – A Great Resource for the Word

Biiible - Bible search for the Google freakWho says that Christian web sites aren’t hip? (Well, actually, I used to say that.) But not any more. I’ve seen some great uses of technology to spread the word of God. There are a few online Bibles that have been great resources for studying or researching, but probably the greatest example is Biiible.com. (That’s ‘Bible’ with three (3) “i”s.)

Biiible‘s tagline is, “Bible Search for the Google Freak”. (I hope Google lawyers don’t come after these folks). Just like Google, it has a very simple, uncluttered homepage. But don’t let the simple interface fool you. You can use the search window to find a verse of scripture in one of sixteen different translations, including the King James Spanish translation. This is an excellent resource for those times when you know the verse, but can’t recall where it’s found. For instance, I was looking for the scripture in an earlier post where Paul advises that we should “pray without ceasing”. And so I entered that text in the search window and came up with not only the verse, but links to other verses with similar sentiments. The search results will tell you the number of instances that a word appears. For instance, I typed in the word “love” and it came up with 546 hits. However, keep in mind that it finds all words with that root. So, words like “beloved” are included. (I’m sure there’s a way to search for a word alone.)

Searching is not limited to a word or a verse. If you enter “Acts 10”, the site will bring up the 10th chapter of the Book of Acts. And even better, you can click on the “Compare Two Versions” link and see a side-by-side comparison of two translations.

The site also has a dictionary/lexicon for most generic terms as they apply to the scripture.

Best of all, under the “Downloads” section of the page are PDF and even Microsoft Word copies of all sixteen of their translations! I downloaded the MS Word copy of the King James version — it looks great. Beautifully formatted (although the files are understandably large in size. The King James versions in MS Word and PDF formatting are 6.6 and 7 megabytes, respectively. That’s a pretty big size for a document, so be patient if it takes a few seconds to open.) If you have a laptop but no Internet connection, these folks even have a JavaScript version of the website that you can search without being connected.

For all of the great information that’s available on Biiible.com, understand that there is no substitute for cuddling up with a well-thumbed, leather-bound copy of the scripture. However, for those times when we are doing research or studying in front of our computers, this is an excellent alternative.

God bless the good folks at Biiible.com. They’ve done a great job in making the Word of God available and accessible to everyone on the web. Check out the site — it’s a great resource.

23
Aug
06

Assignment: Prepare for Disaster

Over the past two days, like many others I’ve been watching parts of the Spike Lee documentary, When the Levees Broke, on HBO detailing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Initially I didn’t have a strong desire to see it — not because I was disinterested. Rather, it was because I had a strong indication about what I might see….and I knew it wouldn’t be good.

Well, I was wrong. It was much worse than I could have imagined. Often we see so many of the same images that we’re desensitized to the actual event. The film brought new images to my eyes. And even worse, the film began to put more detailed images of people’s last Earthly moments in my mind. Families trapped in attics thinking that the water wouldn’t reach that high…. as they gasp for their final breath. Bed-ridden and wheelchair bound people who couldn’t have created a mock-raft even if their life depended on it (and sadly, in this case, it did.) Children floating face down with backpacks. It was a depressing look at a dark period in American history. (This is the one time when I wish I didn’t have a high-definition television.)

Rather than focus on the emotions that the film stirred up (and I could easily go on), I think we should use the Katrina example as an opportunity to prepare for disaster near our own homes. This week in church one of my friends gave a great presentation on things that we should be doing to prepare for disaster. It’s true, we don’t plan to fail — but often we fail to plan. And everything she said was key. Designate a meeting place where you and your family agree to meet, if separated. Identify a family member out of state who everyone should contact and who would serve as the central point of information. Keep water and canned foods in the house…. just in case. All great precautions.
Since this is a tech-focused, site, I thought it might be a good opportunity to share another strategy. In the event that tragedy strikes my home (either via fire, flood, hurricane…. or worse) I can live without all of the “stuff” that’s in the house. Everything is replaceable. Every DVD, gadget, computer, mobile phone….heck, even my MacBook Pro is replaceable. However, there are some things that you can’t just go to EBay or Amazon and buy new versions of. The pictures of a deceased loved one. The photos of your son’s first birthday party. Death certificates. Identity cards. Tax returns. Banking information. Property deeds. In the time of disaster, I can’t take my file cabinet along with me. But there is an alternative. Continue reading ‘Assignment: Prepare for Disaster’

23
Aug
06

Great Firefox Add-Ons (Including Saving YouTube Video Locally!)

title-firefox.gif It seems as if overnight everyone jumped on the Mozilla Firefox bandwagon. (It still amazes me — I would have bet the farm that the Internet Explorer reign was firmly in place. Guess I was wrong.)

One of the things that makes Firefox so great are all of the customizations that the development community have created. And for me to recognize “customizations” in a product is saying a lot. I’m a rather creative bloke, but I’ve never been one to do a lot of “wild customizations”. No iPod interface hacks for me. No weird XP setups where the toolbar is on the side of the screen (or God forbid, at the top!) I’ll pass on tricking out a BMW with big shiny rims. (To me, it’s sacrilegious and just about the most tacky thing you can do to a classy car.) But for some reason these Firefox extensions are just what the doctor ordered.

There are some really silly extensions that add clocks and images that, to me, clutter up your browsing experience. However, there are some really cool ones. There are several “themes” that simply change the look and feel of the toolbar and icons. (A refreshing way to update the interface.) However, I’m going to focus on the “add-ons” — the life savers that do things like recover all closed windows after a system or browser crash.

Here are five of my favorites. (Feel free to share others in the comments section.)

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VideoDownloader 1.0, by Javi Moya – When I first read the description of this add-on claiming that you could “save most videos that you see while browsing”, I kinda chuckled. Yeah, right. This programmer-dude thinks he can do with an add-on what folks have been trying to do in other stand-alone efforts for years. Well, I was wrong again. (I seem to be admitting my poor foresight often in this post.) VideoDownloader sits on the toolbar and is almost unnoticeable. However, it works like a charm. I saved a few videos that I have been regularly visiting YouTube to see. Some of them, like…..every day. I’m sure YouTube doesn’t like this, but I figure I’m saving them a few bucks on their bandwidth bill.

NOTE: You’ll be saving files in an “flv” format. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with VLC Media Player already, please, run….don’t walk…. to http://www.videolan.org and download a copy. This thing will play just about any video you can throw at it. Continue reading ‘Great Firefox Add-Ons (Including Saving YouTube Video Locally!)’

15
Aug
06

Review: Windows Live Writer

Being a Mac supporter, I’ve been accused a few times of not showing any “love” to Windows. And from where I stood, hey, when they “innovate”, I’ll “celebrate.” These days it seems as if something major is going on inside the House that Redmond built. With Bill Gates moving on to do incredibly noble philanthropic work, there have been a few management changes. Steve Ballmer is still CEO, but now that Ray Ozzie (creator of Lotus Notes) has taken over Gates’ former Chief Software Architect role as he transitions out, I’m starting to see signs of positive change. For one, they’re doing away with the MSN-labeled services and moving over to the “Windows Live” branding. And in what I consider to be completely unlike previous Microsoft releases, a lot of great, thought-driven products are starting to emerge.

Last month Microsoft released Private Folder — a tiny app that places an encrypted folder on your desktop and allows you to password protect items dragged inside. (This functionality was standard in XP, but my guess is that most didn’t make use of it.) Private Folder was small, unobtrusive and it just worked. (NOTE: I had some problems, but I think it might have been my fault. I installed Private Folder and it was working, but after I attempted to change the password, the system locked up and now every time I try to open it, or even reinstall it locks up. But I think it was something I did. Nobody else seems to be having problems.) Sadly, the IT community was outraged that Microsoft was allowing users to encrypt data on machines that they needed to support and Microsoft pulled the beta after only about two weeks in release. (If you’re crafty, you can still find it.) But then again, after the problems that I had, you may elect to use a different app that Leo Laporte recommends called TrueCrypt (although I can’t vouch for it yet — I haven’t had a chance to put it through it’s paces.) From the website alone, TrueCrypt looks significantly more complex. And that was the beauty of Private Folder — it was really simple.

Also, Windows Live Messenger looks great. I actually wish more folks would use it instead of AOL Instant Messenger. In some parts of the world, like the European Market, the former MSN Messenger actually is the more popular messaging app — not AOL IM. Windows Live Spaces looks significantly cleaner and more attractive than MySpace (but I think that’s a losing battle — the kids seem to like MySpace and now they’re doing tie ins with YouTube and SideKick phones.) To check out these and other Windows Live apps, head over to the Windows Live product page. Continue reading ‘Review: Windows Live Writer’

14
Aug
06

Metaphilm – My New Film Professor

metaphilm-logo-v3.pngFilm has always been an integral part of my life. That two hour escape is sometimes all of the inspiration I’ll need to get through a rough period in life. Yeah, I enjoy the mindless action, adventure, and horror movies just like everyone else. (That is, when well executed.) But as you grow older, you begin to look for films that contain a bit more substance. You want a bit more from your cinema experience than an expanded version of the trailer. (At least I do.) Documentaries often bring me to points of clarity where the was confusion. Independent filmmakers often inspire me when they create masterpieces with few resources that often serve as a more compelling experience than many big budget films. And while some may turn to the New York Times crossword puzzle or spend time with a Sudoku book to “sharpen their minds”, I’d much rather take in a challenging film to give my brain a workout.

Prior to my last year of college, films were an enjoyable, care-free and mindless medium. I could just kick back, grab a pack of Sour Patch Kids and “rest my conscious mind on the mantle” for a few hours. That was until I took a film class in college. Probably the best (and worst) thing I could have ever done. Scott MacDonald forever changed the way that I watch film.

My introduction to Scott consisted of him showing our class of about twenty students a film called “Fog Line”. “Fog Line” was about a ten minute movie of — you guessed it — fog. Yes — 10 minutes of dense, thick, occasionally shape-shifting (but nothing notable not enough to hold my attention), white and gray — fog.

After the lights went up, I recall feeling a sense of disappointment. After all, I’d heard a lot of good things about this guy. If I signed up for a semester of fog, perhaps I’d better get out the course book and make a change while there was still time. As Scott began to survey the class of twentysomethings, he tried his best to contain a smile and offered his innocent plea in the form of the question, “Well, what did ya see?” Most were like me.

“Nothing.”

“I saw fog moving.” Continue reading ‘Metaphilm – My New Film Professor’