From Reviews

Smokey Chicken Skewers

I recently downloaded the Epicurious app for Droid and here’s the result of the first recipe we tried:

Smokey chicken skewers

8 wooden (or metal) skewers 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika 1 teaspoon brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders (about 16 tenders), cut crosswise into 1-inch chunks 4 tangelos (or small oranges), peeled and segmented 1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch chunks Heat broiler and move rack close to heat source. Soak wooden skewers in hot water. Combine oil, paprika, sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl. Thread chicken, tangelos and onion on skewers, alternating pieces and packing tightly. Place skewers on a large rimmed baking sheet and brush with oil mixture. Broil, turning once or twice and basting with pan drippings, until chicken is no longer pink inside and tangelos and onion are browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Want to see how other cooks rated and reviewed this recipe? Go to http:// www.epicurious.com//recipes/food/views/

Hey Chuck, not bad…

After some disastrous experiences with the local banks of rural NH, I ended up switching to Charles Schwab Bank a couple of years ago. There were several reasons, including the fact that Schwab refunds all ATM fees (saving me hundreds a year), and pays interest on checking accounts. When I signed up, I was admittedly a bit worried about how customer service would work, given that the nearest Schwab branch was an hour away, in Manchester. Two years later, I couldn’t be happier. The over-the-phone customer service is better than the in-person service I’ve gotten from branch managers at local banks around here, and somehow the vast distances between me and my bank don’t seem to get in the way (having a great Web site helps).

Here’s an example. On Friday morning, I put a check into the mail in Plymouth. On Monday at 1:30pm, the funds from that check were available to me. That’s about 1 business day by my estimate, and that includes sending the check to Orlando, FL. I’ve waited 5 days for a check for similar amounts to clear because they were ‘out of state’ (all the way from Massachusetts) and ‘a large amount’ (it wasn’t) even though I’ve personally dropped it off at the small, local banks I used to bank at. Obviously, Schwab was ready to provide online banking before they went into the online banking business, and it shows. In fact, it’s better than in-person banking. Thanks, Chuck.

Bing Cashback is awesome!

[simage=125,288,n,right,]If you haven’t yet, check out Bing Cashback, a shopping tool courtesy of Microsoft’s new search engine. Bing Cashback is a rebate system where vendors can offer a certain percentage rebate (usually between 2-10%, although I have seen higher occasionally) for all purchases made through a Cashback account. The account itself is tied into your Windows Live account, so it’s an instant signup if you already have one of those. The cashback appears almost instantly in your Bing account, and you can ask for a check for any amount over $5. Just be careful not to pay extra just to get ‘cashback,’ you could end up losing out in the end. From what I’ve seen, though, the prices are the same on some sites (at least newegg.com) regardless of whether you enter via a Bing Cashback link or not.

World’s most excellent spork

[simage=124,288,n,left,]A while back, I noticed that there was a fledgling industry emerging amongst camping enthusiasts for lightweight, durable titanium equipment. One of the products that caught my eye was Snow Peak’s Titanium Spork, which weighs in at almost nothing (.1 oz), yet seems to be at least as strong as any conventional metal utensil, if not stronger. Certainly, the spork is more rigid and inflexible than standard metal cutlery, and has up til now resisted any attempt I have made to bend or break it with my hands.

If you’re an avid hiker or climber, you’ve probably already seen the value of this spork. At a weight that comes in slightly under that of a single plastic spork, which can be no match for the banging and squishing that goes on in a backpack on a long hike, the Snow Peak’s spork can trim weight off your pack, and ensure that you won’t be literally stuffing that delicious rehydrated slop into your face after your plastic crap breaks.

I’d like to thank Snow Peak for sending me a free spork, and to apologize for taking 2 1/2 years to write this review of it.

Ok, but it’s still not a good idea

There’s been an inordinate amount of buzz surrounding the (potential) release of a new Apple tablet computer, which prompts me to ask, why is Apple building a tablet? PC manufacturers have been making tablets in one form or another for years, and they don’t sell. Is it because no one with the design ability and skill for marketing has created one until now? No, it’s because the concept is fundamentally flawed when deployed in the real world, and therefore has been rejected by consumers who, universally, live in that same world. Here’s why.

  1. Tablets are kind of like laptops, except that you either a) flip open the screen and lay it flat or b) the screen is exposed all the time. With the first option, you basically get a laptop with a weak point, i.e. the swivel where the screen goes from laptop to tablet mode. With the second option, you get scratches on your screen unless you are very, very careful.
  2. We buy desktops because they are fast. We buy laptops because they are portable. We buy phones because we can carry them with us and get access to information quickly and easily. Why would we buy an oversized phone that won’t fit in our pocket, can’t make calls, and lacks the horsepower of a laptop or desktop?
  3. Except on Star Trek, people who carry a device in one hand and attempt to move their other hand around on it will drop that device. Repeatedly. That’s another reason the phone makes sense — you can hold it in your hand and use gestures with the other hand.

If you don’t agree, consider this: many experts predict smartphone sales will surpass laptop sales by 2012. Why? Because smartphones can do all that stuff we need to do on the fly, without weighing us down. If you just need to read an email or surf the Web, why take out your laptop/tablet when your pocket-sized device will do?

Sherlock Holmes: Semi-accurate and semi-boring

[simage=121,288,y,right,]My wife and I saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. this weekend. Based on the previews and the cast, I was hoping for a rough-and-tumble, roguish portrayal of the man described by Arthur Conan Doyle, rather than the prim and proper hat-wearing gentleman who somehow has crept into the various film portrayals of Holmes.

What transpired was a rather tepid combination of an admittedly rough-hewn Holmes fighting and scratching his way through the T.S Eliot-esque vision of everyday London life in the late 1800s with a relatively uninspiring plot cobbling together the most popular Holmes villains. This includes the shadowy presence of Professor Moriarty, who ultimately asserts himself only so far as to ensure a sequel, and Irene Adler, Holmes’ sometimes-adversary, sometimes-lover.

The story itself involves the exposition of a group using the appearance of the supernatural to try and “take over the world” (yes, Pinky and the Brain crossed my mind) by killing most of the British Parliament, but it takes two hours to play out, and I really wasn’t interested in whether they succeeded or failed by the end of the film. The last fifteen minutes, well after the denouement, seem to be there only to tie in Moriarty and set him up as a future villain, and by that point, it just made me angry that I was being forced to sit and watch.

On the plus side, the sets (although not the cinematography) are quite good, and really do a good job of portraying a London that is neither genteel nor quite sure of itself, yet still bustling with life and the raw nature of the human condition.

(2.5/5)

VEVO.com – Totally avoidable and useless, but somehow embedded in my YouTube

VEVO.com is the new, recording company-owned music video site, and it’s horrible. Of course, this is what we have come to expect from the recording industry, as it follows its classic formula of self-destruction in the face of new media. Here’s how the process works:

  1. Refuse to acknowledge the pervasive nature of the Internet in terms of its ability to disseminate content.
  2. Notce item (1), above, is a huge mistake costing millions in revenue as people who want online content, get it, for free.
  3. Begin round of legal threats and costly lawsuits attempting to somehow eliminate or diminish the power of the Internet to achieve item (1).
  4. Realizing that litigation is costly and ineffective because of item (1), create a company-owned portal on the Internet for dissemination of content in a highly restrictive, buggy, and often unusable manner.
  5. Charge the same price as for tangible assets like CDs and DVDs, but don’t include things like cover art or bonus features, and ensure DRM makes the process of purchase merely a euphemism for ‘lease.’
  6. Repeat item (1) for next emerging P2P technology.

In this context, you can see that it’s really no surprise the VEVO.com is terrible, and as such, will probably be a failure of epic magnitude. After all, this pattern of litigation and inferior offerings has not exactly endeared the populace to the RIAA’s membership, who apparently deluged VEVO’s mailboxes with enough complaints that a blog post was written on the (almost completely hidden) VEVO blog acknowledging that the site had been “totally slammed” by pretty much everyone, although the blame is placed on the exceptional amount of visitors (a comment on the post correctly points out that embedding content in YouTube would probably drive visitors to VEVO, a move that should have been anticipated). However, that post is dated the 9th of December, and as of today I am still unable to use Firefox to watch videos (and worse yet, there’s no acknowledgment on the site of this seemingly widespread issue). This means I will not be using the service, and I’ll probably try to avoid YouTube more than usual.

Additionally, VEVO has asked the site Muziic to discontinue using the API provided by VEVO, as it turns out that the API does not deliver the ads it is supposed to. In other words, VEVO wrote bad code, someone is using it because it has been provided, and VEVO is demanding that they stop. Awesome.

Hopefully YouTube is seeing a pattern of people discontinuing their YouTube sessions upon finding VEVO content, and this will cause them to apply pressure on VEVO to get their act in gear. As it is now, the site is just shameful, and another sad failure in a line of such failures for the record companies. I am reminded of a line in the NOFX song ‘Dinosaurs Will Die,’ that applies here:

Prehistoric music industry
Three feet in La Brea tar
Extinction never felt so good

(0/5)

NB: VEVO logo not included because I don’t have the means to defend myself against the inevitable lawsuit.

Canadians making fun of Americans? What’s that, eh?

Now, Canada is most popularly known for its friendly, if sparse, populace and its amazing ability to build major cities out of igloos. However, if you dig deep enough, there is some comedy there too. In fact, there’s a great political satire show called ‘This Hour Has 22 Minutes’ that includes an occasional segment called ‘Talking to Americans.’ Basically, the host interviews people ‘down South’ about things like the mayor of Toronto’s insistence on perpetuating the clubbing of Ontario’s seal population to see just how riled up they can get about things that are ludicrously untrue (you might think they pick on the weak, but one of the people horrified by the murder of land-locked seals was, in all honesty, a Harvard graduate student in marine biology). They did a one-hour special once the segment started to take off, and I’ve included the first part here. You can look for the rest on YouTube if you’re interested.

Platoon of the Dead: a zombie movie?

[simage=118,288,n,left]One of the Netflix reviews for Platoon of the Dead bemoans the senseless killing of innocent bandwidth for the purpose of streaming this movie. They might have a point.

Platoon of the Dead purports to be a zombie movie (or at least the poor bastard at Netflix charged with finding this crapfest a genre thought so), but it might also be a witchcraft movie. The one thing that’s certain is that it’s a terrible movie. I mean it. Normally, I love campy horror–so much so in fact that Netflix shows me a ‘Campy Horror’ section based on my previous tastes. This movie, though, isn’t camp–it’s kindergarten. Everything is badly done, from the lack of any acting skills (it looks like 4 friends with a video camera), to the terrible sets (ground zero for the whole zombie infestation is a small, summer cottage with birdfeeders still hanging from the trees). Apparently, the zombie attack was swift and devastating, as there was no time for either undead or living to damage anything whatsoever. This could be forgiven if the story wasn’t so bad, but it is.

See, we follow three soldiers who decide to hide out in the aforementioned house until their pickup at 0700 hours. They meet three women (at this point, it really seems like it’s gonna be porn. I’m not being mean, but the acting is that bad). Long story short, one of the women is the person that unleashed Satan on the earth to enslave the undead (by mistake), and one of the others is Satan. The girl who unleashed Satan is critically important to the battle between good and evil, at least until she dies and it turns out that she may or may not be critically important. We don’t really find out, but that doesn’t mean it’s the good kind of ambiguous ending, y’know, the kind that makes you think. Nope, this is just the kind of ending that you make because you could only afford one DV tape and it’s running out of room.

(1/5)

The Machine Girl: Eat your heart out, Tarantino.

[simage=116,288,n,right]The Machine Girl is a Japanese B-movie slasher-thriller that operates on a very simple premise. That premise is that Sam Raimi would’ve had the perfect movie with Army of Darkness if he were only willing to include enough gore and utilize enough fake blood.

Basically, with no explanation why, we’re transported into a weird suburban-Japanese, Lord of the Flies-style abandoned overpass where we discover that a couple of kids owe a bunch of money to some kid whose dad is yakuza. Obviously, this kid is somewhat of a jerk and kills them, and eventually one of the victim’s sisters has to avenge him by killing every last member of the yakuza with a combination of a homemade Gatling gun and a chainsaw, but not before going through the requisite struggles necessary to become a bad-ass hero (no spoilers, but there is a montage). This is the movie Quentin Tarantino tried to make with Grindhouse, but it’s no-holds-barred, and it doesn’t stop to poke fun at itself because it’s pure, unspoiled, stupid fun. And of course, like any other movie I review, it’s on Netflix instant viewing right now.

(3.7/5)