Friday, May 11, 2012

Dark Shadows: About What You'd Expect

My thoughts on Dark Shadows:

Was it worth the $36 that the local AMC charged for a pair of seats? No. Not by a long shot. That said, was I expecting it to be? No, not really.

I remember growing up with reruns of the original Dark Shadows running on one of the (very few) local broadcast TV stations. Frankly, I never really thought it was all that good. I really couldn't get past the production value and the, frankly awful story lines and dialog. Plus, I'm not really a fan of "all things vampires." Don't get me wrong, there've been some excellent vampire movies made, but they would have been excellent movies had they centered around vampires or not. But, maybe I was too young to understand it. Dunno.

I get that the original Dark Shadows had camp value. I get that a lot of people like that. My feelings tend to be that I need more than just camp and nostalgia to enjoy something. Something can be enjoyable and still be awful. I'm a fan of a lot of crap TV shows and movies.

At any rate, the Tim Burton version of Dark Shadows loses the camp associated with the original's shoddy production values. It replaces those shoddy production values with the, now, eminently predictable Tim Burton treatment: pancake makeup; pointlessly-blonded actresses; the presence of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Danny Elfman's music; the "color" palette of muted pastels and greys and high-contrast, "never found in nature" colors. Don't get me wrong, I like that aesthetic, it's just "predictable", even if very well executed.

For better or worse - likely worse - they left the original's quality of dialog in place. They even opted to set it in the time-frame of the original serial. Dunno that I would have done that. If I'm gonna resurrect something, I think I'd do more than just update the visual production value and ape the rest (insert a shrug, here).

Oh well - I assume that my wife, Donna, liked it - and, to be honest, she's the only reason why I went to see it. She seems to love all things Burton. I just found it to be "meh". On a scale of Beatlejuice to Cabin Boy, I'd rate it somewhat lower than Alice in Wonderland: AIW was a decent pure-style work that's story/dialogue isn't quite clunky enough to be distracting; Dark Shadows is high on style, but the preservation of the original serial's clunky dialogue was distracting.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Avenge Me

I would like to thank the local AMC theatre for screwing my day up.

We've got an after-hours maintenance event, tonight. So, I figured I'd use my late-start day to go see The Avengers. The earliest available showing was the 3D IMAX showing. Only reason I picked it was because it started the earliest.

We got our glasses, our concession and our seats and waited for the movie to start.

The local AMC likes to show "special features" and commercials before the previews. As we sat there, the "special features" and commercials were running but silently. Hmm... Fortunately, when the previews came on, so did the sound.

Midway through the previews, the thing pops up saying "put on your IMAX 3D glasses now". Did as instructed, only to find that the left eyepiece was oddly and distractingly dark. Took the glasses off and noticed that the screen was pretty much crystal clear. At first, I thought "ok, they played the 'put on your glasses' thing too early". Then, the movie started and still it was more watchable without the glasses than with. So, I began to wonder, "did they put the wrong disk into the projector?"

Just after Loki had tesseracted-in and was instructed to put his "spear" down, the screen froze. Apparently, one of the joys of "watching the future of movies, today" is that the projection system can crash.

I figured, "take an early bathroom break and maybe they'll have it sorted out by the time I get back". I get back and the screen's still black. Un-good. I walk back outside to ask the two theatre staffers what's going on. I'm told "we're hoping to get the projector back online in about ten minutes". I ask if the projector problems were related to why the 3D glasses weren't functioning as expected. They informed me that "yes: the projector had been miscalibrated but the glasses should work as expected once the movie restarts".

Fifteen minutes pass and still no movie. Just as I'm about to get up to ask how long the "ten minutes" is going to continue, a theatre employee comes in to tell us that, because the projector's taking so long to reboot, that they have to cancel this showing because it will cause delays to the next one. We're then offerred free passes and the thoice of either a refund or free tickets to the next screening.

Given that I'd chosen this one for its start time - it would have allowed me to see the movie and still make it to work in plenty of time tonight's maintenance window - waiting for the 14:30 showing of a 2.5 hour movie just wasn't an option. So, we got in line for our passes and our refunds: an hour of my day wasted; a movie not seen and $20 spent on "medium-sized" hoglegs of soda and a burnt hotdog - concessions not refundable.

Thanks AMC: you really Mondayed things all up.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Adventures of the Cheap Geek

For starters, I'm a cheap bastard. Dunno if it's just upbringing or whether it's in my genes (since my family's more than half Scotish on both sides of the family and Scots are known for their thriftiness). I've also got geeky tendencies (I'm in IT, so that sorta follows, I suppose).

Having been a road-warrior for five years, I almost exclusively used my cell phone for my calling needs. For starters, I was gone five days out of seven, most weeks, and it just got to be habitual to use the cell phone, even when I was home. I was gonna straight up ditch the land line, but Donna wasn't comfortable with that notion (even though she almost exclusively used her cell for voice communications).

At any rate, after yet another price increase in my Verizon land-line service, I started to investigate other solutions. I'd finally switched off of DSL and moved to Cox's high-speed internet solution. Other than phone service, switching to cable internet utterly removed my need for a POTS line. Technically, I coulda gone VOIP when I still had ADSL, but, Verizon's "dry line" pricing for xDSL was, to say the least, "regressive". Freed of any compelling need for a land-line, I opted to cut the cord and go down the VOIP path.

Vonage was doing some kind of promotion, at the time, where the equipment and first two months of service were free on a 12 month commitment. So, I signed up. Things were ok for a couple of years. I even got my folks on Vonage because, they too, were tired of the continually increasing expense of POTS, even for the most basic of plans.

Still, I found myself just NEVER using my Vonage line. I did some research on options and discovered that, if I threatened to leave, I could get them to reduce my rates to about $10/month. So, I did that. Unfortunately, just like with POTS, miscellaneous "fees" started showing up. Still, it was cheaper than POTS.

In recent years, I'd started using Google Voice. So, even when using the Vonage line to make calls, I wasn't actually using any outbound minutes. I was going to see if I could get switched to a "no minutes" plan. At one point, Vonage used to offer such a plan, but had discontinued it in recent years. What's a cheap bastard like me to do?

Well, it turns out, that there's a company, ObiHai Technology, that makes a cheap and easy to setup VOIP TA. Even better, they occasionally team up with Amazon to run specials on the device, making an already cheap and easy solution even cheaper. I opted to buy an OBi100 during one of these promotions.

The nifty thing with the OBi100 and OBi110 (and, now, the OBi202!) is that they're configured to make leveraging your Google Voice account dead-easy. Basically, you plug the device into your home's IP network and let it sync up, go to the ObiTalk web page, create your account and follow the steps to locate and register your device. Then you go to your device's service configuration menu, plug in your Google Voice account information and you're able to make free outbound calls.

Unfortunately, Google Voice doesn't allow you to directly setup direct-to-SIP dialing (maybe that will change over time). That means, that, without some additional steps, the home line becomes and "outgoing only" type of thing. In and of itself, that's not awful - given that the only calls I seem to recevie on the home line seem to  be telemarketing. However, it means that using GV as a "follow me" number is negatively impacted.

That said, there is a way around that problem. It requires setting up two other services: 1) a free SIP provider (I chose CallCentric - since if keeping my Verizon/Vonage number is a priority, I can get it ported for a fee); and 2) use a free DID provider like IPKALL to provide a bridge from Google Voice to the SIP provider. I followed the steps at Acrobits to set it all up. Basically (in case that link ever dies):

  1. Open an account with the free SIP-service provider of your choice
  2. Configure that account into your OBi device
  3. Set up an IPKall account to get a free DID - if using CallCentric:
    1. Choose your account type: SIP
    2. Choose Area Code for your IPKall Number: your choice
    3. SIP username: callcentric number, starts with 1777
    4. Hostname or IP address:
    5. Email Address: any valid email address Password: Google Voice Email
  4. Set up Google voice to forward calls to that DID

Couple notes:

  1. Supposedly, Google is only continuing free calling through the end of 2012. However, they've previously announced they'd be discontinuing free calling but changed their minds before the prior deadlines. So, "who knows".
  2. I've also heard that CallCentric has some stability issues. There's other free SIP providers out there: a quick Google search will show you your options.

Thus far, works like a champ. The OBi devices also come with dialers for iPhone and Android that allow you use your data plan for your calls rather than using minutes. You just connect your smart-phone's OBi-dialer to your account and it leverages your OBi device as a call forwarding bridgehead.