Saturday, October 27, 2012

Windows 8

Here we have a review from Piaw Na's blog about his experiences upgrading to Windows 8 for only $40:

http://piaw.blogspot.com/2012/10/first-impressions-windows-8-pro.html

All in all, for $40, I feel like it's a decent deal. I wouldn't pay full price for the upgrade, especially if you don't have touch on your desktop. I wouldn't go out of my way to do an upgrade (I did, but I was also curious about the new UI), but it's nothing to run away from either. I certainly don't see it as the disaster some pundits have been saying. Mildly recommended."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2011

I wouldn't call 2011 a banner year in terms of personal growth and accomplishment, however:
  • No one in my immediate family died, which was a big improvement over 2010
  • Being between full-time jobs for a while turned out to be a win for me both personally (less stress) and financially (consulting engagements and a higher salary upon returning to conventional employment)
  • I didn't get to drive to Mongolia but I did take a vacation to Europe
  • For the first time since I moved out of my parents' house, I did not have to travel for either of Thanksgiving or Christmas
All in all, not a bad year but one that certainly fell well short of excellence.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Moving

Commonly known as the third most traumatic life event after death of a loved one and divorce. At certain phases in my life, relocating my residence annually and sometimes more often was a cakewalk, everything I owned fit into one small room and I didn't have to file for an address change with quite so many agencies, just parents, friends, school, and the DMV. Eventually that progressed to living without roommates, and friends were happy and available to help me move as long as I provided the truck, pizza, and beer.

That was a long time ago, the next stage of my life is when I live in the same place for years and years, accumulating and investing in stuff. My friends are older and I can no longer in good conscience accept their offers to help me move, knowing the impact it would have on their (and my) aging backs. In 2010, I finally graduated to the stage where I pay professionals to move my stuff. Not only that, renting plastic moving bins instead of collecting paper boxes.

Hiring Movers:
Pro - They are really fast.
Pro - They bring their own truck, dolly, and moving blankets.
Pro - They are really good at moving stuff, especially big stuff.
Pro - They are insured or at least will cover replacement cost if anything is damaged.
Pro - I'm not tired when I arrive with my stuff at the new place.
Con - $$$ (expect to pay $100 and up per hour for 3 movers, estimating 1 hour per 400 sq ft's worth of stuff)

Renting Plastic Bins:
Pro - No need to curate or dispose of them.
Pro - Movers love the bins, they can be securely carried 3-4 at a time, and stack well so they don't slide and fall over in the truck.
Pro - They are clean and sturdy.
Pro - It's easy to go in and out of a bin that's already been packed, the top is secured with zip ties prior to transport.
Pro - You're motivated to unpack quickly because you have to return the bins.
Con - You're restricted to how much time you have to pack up your old place.
Con - $$$ (expect to pay $2-3 per bin per week).

I did start the moving process by packing the less often used stuff in paper boxes before the plastic bins arrived. And guess what? 4 months later, they're still in the same boxes.

The other task I outsourced was cleaning. For a long time I thought it was extravagant to pay someone to clean my apartment. After living in the same place for a number of years and not having very good cleaning skills, it really shows. The amount I paid for professional deep cleaning pays for itself in the rental deposit return.

The most painful part was having to change my address with various vendors and work, and setting up/shutting down utilities. Even in the electronic age, records still take months to be updated for some reason.

Moving still sucks quite a lot when you outsource as much as possible, but really, it could suck a lot more.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tron: Legacy

They finally did it, they waited and waited until there's 3D before they did a sequel to Tron. I don't know who this "they" is, and I don't know if 3D was their criteria for making a sequel, but it seems like a good excuse to wait so long. Anyhow, this geek girl was excited and went to see Tron: Legacy at the IMAX in the nearest science museum. Because the trailers looked so awesome, and it's in 3D, I also expected to be let down like I was with Avatar.

The movie spends quite a bit of time catching up on events since the first Tron, and how The Grid has grown and changed. Not the entire movie was filmed nor projected in 3D, but the 3D effects were very well used and immersive, without blatant abuse of "watch out for that thing flying at your face!" or "doesn't it seem like you can just reach out and grab it? Go on, try and grab it while it teases you with its slow spin." They made The Grid actually fairly minimalist during action sequences so it's not too jarring.

The other computer effect that you might have heard of is the Young Jeff Bridges acting against Now Jeff Bridges. It was the best utilization of the Uncanny Valley effect as I can think of, as Young Jeff Bridges looks sufficiently real to be believable, but just uncanny enough that you don't forget he's the antagonist.

The score is really pretty awesome. It was composed by the DJ duo Daft Punk whose work I often waver between feelings of ambivalence and hate.

Plot...just enough to keep the story going, it's very straight forward and everything is spelled out. The viewer is not required to infer anything.

Anyhow, the acting is very cheesy, Now Jeff Bridges is still playing The Dude.

It was satisfying to see in 3D, furthermore, I didn't get motion sick like I did at Avatar (where the plot was going in Avatar also helped in the decision to walk out). Overall, as long as you keep your expectations in check that it's mostly visual effects eye candy, then you're good.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pho Garden

There's three pho restaurants in downtown Mountain View, and two of them are generally among the cheapest restaurants you can go to, with correspondingly low grade food. I mean it's really low grade. You have a selection of meats, ranging from flank steak to intestines to tripe. I've never tried anything other than the highest grade of meat (i.e. flank), but basically even if you try a dish with the highest grade of meat, it's still a very low-grade meal. It costs like $5.

Today I went to the other pho restaurant, and having gone to the other two recently, I was expecting the worst. Surprisingly, it's a cut above the other two. I still didn't like my meal enough to finish it, but at least it wasn't disgusting. I write more about it here in the Sunfire lunch blog.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The DMV

I don't know anyone who doesn't cringe when making a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles, envisioning a purgatory of endless lines and surly employees. This afternoon I arrived at my local DMV at 4:50pm (they close at 5:00) without an appointment and saw a line out the door. I figured I'd be lucky to get in at all. Not only did I make it in to the queue, I got my driver's license renewal taken care of by 5:30pm. The chairs are still uncomfortable, another customer tried to beg money off me, and service isn't exactly provided with a smile-- but still, +1 to the San Diego Hillcrest DMV office for not putting me through the bureaucratic wringer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

The first Transformers movie was unexpectedly pleasant. We had all expected Michael Bay to shit all over our childhood dreams, but surprisingly the movie delivered a heartfelt story about A Boy And His Car, and the action wasn't too excessively over the top (it was, but the story made up for it).

I had heard since then that Transformers 2 was terrible so I'd never bothered to watch it, but recently I did and it's much better than expected. The action is still quite Michael Bay, though it is remarkably well-paced. Unlike many Michael Bay productions, none of the action sequences go on for three times as long as they should (as they typically do in his films), but instead they end after having resolved the conflict that precipitated them, then there is some more plot advancement, and then more action. It is interspersed very well throughout the movie and never becomes tedious.

Two other highlights of the movie:
- JetFire is in the movie, and he's pretty awesome.
- Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute) is in the movie, and he is awesome.

All in all, it definitely sucked a lot less than expected.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Twilight

I'd been studiously avoiding anything to do with the Twilight books or movies. I'm not into vampires, teen heartthrobs, or anything set in high school unless it's a parody of the experience. However, my lovely spouse has gotten into the series. I observed that a number of my friends have accompanied their partners to these movies and that maybe I should man up and do the same-- I'm not scared of sparkly vampires, right? I volunteered to go to a showing of New Moon.

"Squeee!" went my lovely spouse, "but you need to see Twilight first!"

I poured a stiff drink and settled onto the couch expecting to grit my teeth through an ordeal. Actually... well, actually it wasn't too bad. It's an innocuous movie, tolerably plotted and moderately well acted. The CGI was not so great-- in particular, speedy-vampire Edward earnestly trucking up the mountain made me laugh out loud-- but generally not so bad as to be distracting.

That's not to say I don't have my issues with it. Oh, the angst! Oh, the smouldering glances-- but based on what, exactly? Bella seems not to be especially smart, witty, friendly, talented, or even all that hot and yet all she has to do to achieve instant popularity at her new high school (and a free truck!) is show up. Edward-- well, we understand he's troubled by the literal blood lust and all, but-- "I like to break into your bedroom and watch you sleep"? Really? Stalkeriffic. One is left wonder what exactly these two see in each other.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

D-Fuzz-It Sweater Comb

I've started building a collection of sweaters, and some of the well loved sweaters end up with little balls of fuzz that can't be simply picked away. Being into gadgets, I never quite bought into the sweater shaver, namely because it seems like a bother and doesn't solve the pre-pill fuzz mat, and I don't really like the idea of taking all the fuzziness away. Plus I'm cheap.

After a couple of months of spending a lot of time at fabric/yarn shops, I came across a few products that claim to solve the problem, I went for the sweater comb because it is the cheapest and simplest. It feels simply like sand paper, or some kind of metal sanding screen encased in a fake tortoise shell handle.

And by gods, it works (or else I wouldn't be posting about it in this blog).

It gets rid of the little balls of fuzz, detangles/pulls out the pre-pill fuzz mat, and still fluffs and combs the fibers so the sweater gets a complete face lift. I've only tried it on one sweater, but sometimes I get the urge to start de-fuzzing other people's pilly sweaters now that I am armed with the sweater comb.

Pros: It works, compact, needs no batteries, travels well.
Cons: Not sure what yet, possibly shorter lifespan, but at less than $5, most of us can afford to buy a new one every couple of years. Possibly too rough for some sweaters.

Here's a link so you know what to look for:



Here be crappy cam phone photos:

Before After (see ball of fuzz in background)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Travelling For The Holidays

I expected the worst when booking my Christmas holiday flight this year. I haven't had great luck with air travel lately-- my last 1.5 hour flight was delayed by about 3 hours with no explanation. I figured the airport would be a zoo and it was, hundreds of grumbling people squashed into the terminal along with their luggage, smells, body heat, and germs. Mercifully, our flight was less than an hour late and we were beside ourselves with joy.

Think about that. A flight for which you paid a bunch of money and rushed to the airport to catch is "only" an hour late and you feel grateful for this.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Colt 45 Malt Liquor


Make no mistake, Colt 45 malt liquor sucks, but true to the blog it sucks less than expected. Colt 45 redeems itself from its dubious appearance by tasting of, well, not much really. I was afraid it would taste something like licking the floor of a bus after the evening commute, but mostly it tastes like heavily carbonated water with a few drops of artificial beer flavoring. Could be worse. Leaves a subtle aftertaste of mediocrity.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Makoto Ginger Dressing

I've always loved the ginger salad dressing often found at various Japanese restaurants. Found a recipe to replicate it but it's a lot of ingredients and a lot of work, it's just easier to buy it. I've looked high and low in fancy grocery stores and Asian markets for a dressing like it, but nothing even came close. Then I had dinner at a friend's house and they had the dressing that tastes just like what you'd find at Benihana. Behold, the Makoto Ginger Dressing *gong sound* *koto sound*



I've found it locally at Von's in the produce section. And it is good.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Safeway O Organics Organic Vanilla Creme Cookies

I will no longer eat many of my favorite supermarket cookies in any substantial quantity, particularly Oreos and Mother's frosted animal cookies, because they are chock full of partially hydrogenated gloop (and corn syrup. Damn you, corn lobby!). I tried a couple of the Newman's Own oreo knockoffs, but they didn't suck less than expected-- they just sucked. The mouthfeel of the filling was particularly off, the cookie part was bland... they tasted neither pleasingly healthy nor indulgently sweet.

So, I was skeptical that any organic oreo clone could be tasty. A friend of mine left a box of O Organics cookies at my house and I dug into them one day for an after-work snack. They're actually pretty good. The texture of the creme filling is just about right. The cookie is crisp but not too dry. They might even be a little better than the current Oreo instantiation-- less lingering chemical aftertaste. They're not great cookies, but they're a good Oreo clone.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dr. Tung's Smart Floss

I hate to floss my teeth. All my life I've had a hate-hate relationship with dental floss. The old style waxed dental floss would either: 1) refuse to get between my tightly spaced teeth, or 2) shred in the jagged non-pearly parts in my tightly spaced teeth. Then came PTFE monofilament, a.k.a. Glide®, formerly known as plumber's teflon tape. The new style dental tape slides in much more easily and gets in the gums. But I still was lazy and paid a hefty price of hours in the dentist chair for root planing (extremely unpleasant) as well as money that flew out of my wallet to pay for this procedure. Great if you're a masochist, but not so great if you have better things to do with your money or prefer to get your rocks off some way that's not dentally related.

Even after starting a regular flossing routine, my dentist still commented that my teeth are tough to keep clean. After a thorough flossing and brushing, I can still feel that grittiness from plaque on my teeth. Thinking that maybe the teflon tape is just too smooth, I was at a loss on what to do.

Today, while at Henry's supermarket, I figured I should check out their dental care section. Full of "unwaxed", "natural fiber", and "biodegradable", the final decision was, "to hell with environmentally friendly, I don't want to get a root planing ever again". I finally settled on the fanciest looking floss:




After pulling some of the floss out, I was prepared to be disappointed. Freaking hippies want me to floss my teeth with yarn? This floss is loosely woven, with lots of nylon fibers that are just asking to be caught in the jaggaged parts. I flossed my teeth tonight with Smart Floss. So far so good! When you pull the floss taut, it is thin and slides between teeth. Then when you pull it against your teeth, it flattens out and the numerous crinkly fibers scrub your teeth clean. It performed admirably well on the jagged teeth too. No fibers stuck to my teeth whatsoever. When I run my tongue over my teeth, they feel like they were just cleaned by the dentist. And the floss was soft on my fingers, no purple fingers! I'm very impressed. The final test is at the dentist's in 5 months' time, judged by how much scraping occurs.

Dr. Tung's smart floss costs approximately $3.50 for 30 yards. It comes in a nifty disc container, the outside rotates around to protect the floss and requisite metal floss cutter. The floss is lightly waxed with an unusual but delicious cardamom flavor.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Transformers: The Movie

Transformers fans (pretty much all males my age) were greatly disappointed a year ago when we heard that Michael Bay would be directing this movie. But having just seen it, I was very pleasantly surprised. He didn't shit all over everything, and the adaptation is reasonably on-key for a live-action movie. In fact, the only problem was the classic Michael Bay problem of "the action sequence is three times longer than necessary." Luckily in this film, you're really interested in looking at the Transformers, so the problem is somewhat ameliorated (the final action sequence only feels about twice as long you think it should be).

The characterization of the Transformers is rather shallow ("This is Ironhide, my weapon's expert"), but given that the movie is about the exposition of the Transformers coming to Earth, it actually does a fairly good job of developing the character relationship between Sam Witwicky and Bumblebee, spending a rather un-Michael-Bay-like amount of time doing this. There is even an extended scene where Sam Witwicky returns to his house to look for something while the huge Transformers try to hide from his parents which appears to have been included solely for comic relief (it doesn't advance the action significantly and goes on for quite awhile). There are also a couple of nice "wink and nod" jokes. Shia LaBeouf does a really great job with his role, along with a couple of remarkably high-profile actors (Jon Voight and John Turturro, who is clearly having fun goofing off).

The live-action visual style is good. I read somewhere that the CG team had actually tried to recreate the original blockier style of the cartoons but it ended up "looking retarded," so they had to come up with the new style. Supposedly they actually went to auto shops and learned where all the parts were inside the vehicles, so that significant amounts of the parts that you see moving around correspond to real parts in the cars.

The well-known deal with GM (where all the cars are GM models) turns out not to be irritating at all. Some die-hards may take exception to this, but I feel that the concept's explanation of "they scan things in their environment to get models to transform into" is a sufficient one. It's a bit unrealistic that they would have all happened to GM models (statistically, they would be Honda Accords), but perhaps the field they crash landed in happened to be near a bunch of GM brand dealerships.

So if you were the fan of the original (or you just like a good action movie with machanical things - cars, robots), here's your recommendation - go see it. You won't feel like you wasted your time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wil Wheaton

Wil Wheaton was first noticed by most people as the main character in Stand By Me, but he’s much better known as the much maligned character Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Unlike other people however, I was smitten with him since he was the only character my age on the show. Then he went off to college to study Literature at UCLA, then switching to Computer Science or something more Wesley Crusher-like, which didn’t do him many favors in terms of PR.

Then came the explosion of world wide web. Wil Wheaton became known as one of the few celebrities who create and maintain their own websites. But it really didn’t matter, his site was lame and he wasn’t doing anything interesting with his life. In the last few years, blogs became the thing, everybody had a blog or was starting one, that’s when he finally got back on my radar. I recently started reading his blog, he’s a funny guy especially when it comes to relaying his experience as a teen celebrity and opinions of ST:TNG. He maintains his personal blog at WilWheaton.Typepad.com, but he’s also very prolific, contributing to several other sites such as Onion AV’s video game column Games of Our Lives, a review of ST:TNG episodes on TV Squad, Suicide Girls, and Threadless. In his spare time he plays online poker, goes to auditions, and raises two kids with his wife.

He’s basically a totally normal nerdy guy with some pretty interesting things to say, except we don’t hate his guts as much anymore.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Will Farrell

In every movie I've ever seen him in, you keep expecting him to take the joke too far to where it becomes stupid, like Adam Sandler or worse, Pauly Shore. But he never does. He always knows when to stop, when to pass off to the straight man.

And he consistently does this, movie after movie. Anchorman was better than expected. Bewitched was better than expected. Talladega Nights was better than expected (far better, in fact). After noting the string of movies that "looks like it'll be so dumb" when we saw the trailers and then subsequently enjoyed upon viewing, my wife and I concluded that Will Farrell himself sucks less than expected.

I greatly look forward to Stranger Than Fiction, which I believe shall be the crowning achievement of his career.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mrs. Rice's Teriyaki Grill & Gourmet Wraps

I don't have very high expectations for fast food er, "quick service" teriyaki restaurants. Sometimes you get a reasonably tasty and balanced meal, and sometimes you get dubious meat with sticky sauce and clumpy rice. Anyway, the oddly named Mrs. Rice's advertises quality meats and house-made sauces. It's a short walk from my office and I wanted a quick and reasonably healthy lunch, so off I went.

I ordered a steak bowl and had barely stepped away from the counter when they handed me my finished order. Pickled ginger and hot sauce are available for decoration. The sticky rice was very good, obviously made fresh and cooked just right. The steak was definitely a step above dubious but also not especially high quality and was somewhat overcooked. The vegetables (mostly broccoli) were all right, slightly but not egregiously overcooked. The sauce was only so-so, having a slightly odd undertone I couldn't identify and lacking the balance of sweet and saltiness that makes for a good teriyaki sauce.

All in all, it was a decent but unmemorable meal. It's perfectly edible, indeed pretty good for quick teriyaki, but not something I would ever get a craving for or actively seek out except to fill the need for a fast and fairly healthy lunch.


--

And in the Sucks More Than Expected department:

The felafel pita from Extreme Pita is terrible. The felafel was served in pucks, mushy and almost entirely free of flavor. The also bland tzatziki sauce (no tahini available) did little to perk it up. Very sad.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Suit Shopping

I hate shopping for clothes. More specifically, I hate directed shopping for clothes, where I go in with a specific goal in mind and aim to fulfill it in short order. Maybe some people can go into a store needing pants and come out again half an hour later with a few well-fitted pairs-- I am not such a person, and attempting such a thing is becomes a trial by ordeal. In any case, I needed a new suit for this weekend so off my lovely girlfriend and I went to the snooty outlet mall. Yes, I voluntarily went to an outlet mall on a weekend. I braced myself for pushy shoppers and screaming kids.

I wanted something in summer material so I wouldn't die of overheating. Brooks Brothers had a seersucker suit-- didn't think they made those any more, and perfect for hot weather-- one size too large. So off we went to other stores, where we found suits for winter, suits in colors reminiscent of baby poop, suits too large, and suits too small. Lucky me, my jacket size is one that some stores simply skip right over, like I should simply grow or shrink a little on demand. Exhausted and frustrated, I was ready to go way over budget, buy something that didn't fit well, or embrace nudity as the new formalwear.


I observed that Brooks at least carries my actual size. My lovely girlfriend, wise woman that she is, herded me back in their direction. I pulled a grey wool suit with a subtle plaid off the rack, tried it on, and to my great surprise even the pants fit (this is a miracle). Some while later I exited with the suit, a dress shirt, a tie (I now have all of two), and a black belt that is actually black. I had the very helpful salesman all to myself. There were no shrieking kids or fellow shoppers driven to psychotic acts in pursuit of the best bargain. The suit was a good price.

It still tried to cook me to death, but such, I gather, is the price of being well dressed.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Snakes On A Plane

This was actually a much better movie than most people expected. I notice a few people trying to be too cool about it, like it's some sort of clever marketing ploy or manipulation of pop culture, but that's not what happened at all. The studio never truly understood what happened, and they didn't actually do anything smart about it. What really went on is simple: some details got leaked, and the studio desperately tried to cash in on "the internet hype." I don't think they succeeded at all, because they have no idea how grassroots viral phenomena on the internet really work, so it's more accurate to call this a cult film that just happened to achieve cult status before it got released.

What the studio did do though, was go on and do a pretty good job making a film (which is, I suppose, what studios are supposed to know what to do). The pacing is very good, and the story structure is rather well done. The expository sequences are a little long, because they have to do just enough to show each character (so that we know what unique circumstances are at play when the snakes kill each of them), but in general the film is very consistent, and very funny. I'll admit that I went in expecting the film to be "a bad comedy with a lot of hype," but it turns out that it's actually a good comedy with a lot of hype. My wife and I are both disappointed that the film only got an initial opening weekend pop, because it's actually a pretty good comedy on its own merits and deserves praise beyond mere cult fandom.

I also enjoyed the product placement (there was some Red Bull and "praise to the Playstation"). I think I have a different opinion than most regarding movie product placement. I think it's weird when someone is drinking an unidentifiable brand of beverage in a scene. I want to see a brand, because that's what you'd see in real life.

In fact, the only real bad scene was the after-the-fact re-shot of Samuel L. Jackson delivering his "muthafuckin' snakes" line. It was shot in response to fan requests after primary shooting had wrapped up, and it really shows. The visual quality of the film actually changes, and they do an extreme close-up because they had apparently torn down the sets - the background is just a fuzzy orange resembling the color of plane's interior. Also, the audience cheers at that point, so you don't get to hear him deliver the line so well.

So if you avoided this film because you thought it was just a bunch of hype, you should go see it. It's actually a pretty good comedy, as good as say, Wedding Crashers, and definitely deserves more success than it's been getting.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lady In The Water

I was just reminded the other day that M. Night Shyamalan's latest film Lady In The Water definitely sucked less than expected.

After Signs and The Village made sure everyone and their brother knew Night's "oh, there's gonna be a crazy twist at the end" formula of movie-making, I dreaded what great "insight" this movie's ending was going to foist upon me.

Well, it doesn't do that. It's not a great movie, and it's supposedly set in Philadelphia despite the fact that it is very clearly set in a Los Angeles apartment complex with characters who look just like Los Angeles residents. Also, Night himself doesn't just have a cameo, he has the second most important male role. He pulls it off okay, but you can clearly see the ego there. Still, the movie has its good moments, including a guy who only works out the right half of his body.

So when this comes out on DVD, I'd say it would be okay to go to a party where someone might have this playing on their television.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Stealth

Remember this movie? It came out about a year ago, in 2005. It stars Jamie Foxx - he received top billing since he'd just won an Academy Award, but since he had won it after the movie was shot, it turns out he only has a bit part - a supporting role to the poor man's Matthew McConaughy, Josh Lucas.

When the film came out, the user reviews on Yahoo savaged it with reviews ranging from D to F. User reviews are usually pretty charitable (it's usually the critics who go in for the kill), so I was pretty reluctant to see this movie. By some twist of ironic circumstance and cajoling, I was persuaded, and then I was in for a treat.

I basically sat through the movie waiting for it to get to "the really bad part," but it never got there. It wasn't a good movie by any measure, with choice scenes like where the pilots explain the definition of a prime number, but somehow it never hit the level of awfulness the reviews primed me (har) to expect. Instead, it was a solid medium-grade flick about the classic story of a robot who comes to life and just needs to be understood.

I wouldn't recommend that you pay money to see it, but if a computer glitch were to accidentally place it in your Netflix queue, it wouldn't be worth the effort to remove.

Svedka - good for mixing

I first discovered Svedka at Trader Joe's years ago. It came with a tag that said it received a 93 rating from Wine Enthusiast. I didn't know Wine Enthusiast rated hard liquor, so if they bothered, it couldn't be too bad. And at <$15 per 750 ml bottle, the price was right. A friend came over and tested it with me by making Cape Cods with only a splash of cranberry juice, and boy, was it good! We polished off that bottke of vodka in no time. A couple of weekends ago I purchased another bottle of Svedka and made a martini-eque cocktail with lychee liquor and syrup from canned mandarin wedges. We could still barely taste the alcohol.

Due to the quintuple distillation process which removes character from the vodka, Svedka is neither offensive nor delectable. You might not want to sip it because it doesn't taste like anything, but it sure is good for mixing cocktails. Svedka is currently priced at $12.99 for 750 ml and $19.99 for 1.75 liter at Beverages & More.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Baja Fish Burrito at La Salsa

La Salsa is harmless. Spicephobes have nothing at all to fear from their cooking when it comes out of the kitchen, although as the name implies there is a large selection of salsas that can be added later on. The chicken or steak burritos with rice and beans are bland and solid, appealing every so often as a sort of comfort food. This is not a destination eatery in a city well-equiped with good taquerias.

However, I found myself at La Salsa recently in a rush to grab a snack before going to the airport. I expected to get the usual flavorless food pellet, but to my surprise the Baja Fish Burrito really wasn't bad. The fish was moist with a good flavor and the Baja sauce showed evidence of actual spices, moistening the fish without being glorpy or overwhelming. The mango salsa from the bar is a nice addition, blending nicely with the fish.

2007 Pontiac G6

When my car was in the body shop recently I had a 2006 Pontiac G6 as a rental for the week. An ex-manager once not unfairly described me as a German car bigot and many of the American vehicles I've ridden in have reminded me of the flimsy plastic remote-control cars I played with as a kid, so I was wary. The rental agent assured me that it was a very hip car.

Mine, in white, didn't look all that hip. It was neither stylishly innovative nor weird. The interior was dark grey and black. The front end didn't look like a vacuum (like the 1990s Grand Prix). It presents an average family sedan with some sporty aspirations. Visiblity is okay.

I had the 200hp V6 model which has two cylinders and 50hp on my own car. The engine (obligatory rental automatic, yuck) is responsive and pretty aggressive-- this is a fun car for going fast in a straight line. The transmission had an annoying habit of waffling between two gears when climbing hills on the freeway. I was less confident in the car's ability to go fast in a curvy line. While the suspension was stiffer than expected, it still did not feel as solid taking curves as I like. That may be partly a product of me being accustomed to driving a smaller car.

I could not find an autoscan button on the radio. The speakers, at least where the radio is concerned, are poor. Yes, I know I'm one of the last people in the US to listen to the radio at work. There is a computer that tracks things like average gas mileage, average speed, and expected range, and a nice touch of two power plugs on the console.

Conclusion: wouldn't trade my car for it, but not bad for a rental.