Tag: Review

I downloaded iOS 6 – My Thoughts and First Impressions

Thanks to various tech sites, I was able to determine that Sept 19th would be the download date for iOS 6, the newest Apple iPhone operating system.  Each upgrade makes upgrades, and this one claimed to make 200 tweaks, so I was ready.

The first snag was that I needed 2.5 gb free to do the upgrade.  I had to delete some HD videos on my phone, but was able to make the space free.  As I waited for the download, I read at Gizmodo.com about what was supposed to be in the package.  I was excited about Passbook, interested in the Phone app upgrade, and was not excited to lost Google maps – I use that quite frequently.  Now, I’ve used it for two days now, so this is my first impressions.

I’ll start with the bad:

(1) Apple’s Maps, powered by TomTom and their own in house mappers, is not ready for solid use.  I will be using Google Maps mobile application until the Apple Maps app matures a bit.  I’ve read a lot about how it took Google Maps to get as good as it is now.  Well, I need it good now, so I’ll have a button added for G.Maps through html until that day.

(2) Facetime is touted as being able to used over 3G/4G cellular data rather than wifi only.  I went to add this feature, and the phone told me that I have to call AT&T to determine if I am eligible.  This was a minor inconvenience, so I thought, until I called and found out that I’d have to hang up, turn off my cell, a signal would be sent to my phone, and then I’d be called back.  The service in my area went out for a few minutes at premium hours, and I received a message after AT&T’s call center hours that they’d tried to reach me and would call back.  They didn’t, and I haven’t either.   I’m sure this will be great – once I figure out how to wrangle AT&T into getting this set up.  It really shouldn’t be this complicated.

That’s all I’ve really disliked, there is much more Good than bad:

(1) Siri is faster and more intelligent.  I noticed right away that the wait times have been cut drastically in waiting for a response, and there is so much more information at Siri’s fingertips.  I never liked Siri before, but I’m going to start using it more and more now – its definitely become more fun with movie info, sports stats and scores, and the ability to determine what I’m looking for and give me a range of info.  I like it much better.

(2) The phone app has been upgraded, and now there are more options when multiple people are calling.  The dialing screen is now more crisp and bright – which makes it easier to put in a number without having to think and stare too much.  I appreciate that.  It seems to manage texts and other simultaneous notifications a bit better now.  There were odd times prior to ios6 where lots of activity would confuse the phone.  The order of operations seems to be a bit more worked out – as far as I can tell.

(3) Facebook integration is wonderful.  I pulled off my contacts and Facebook Friend profile pics, so when someone calls, I see a picture now.  I know that there are privacy concerns since Facebook has access to your contacts, but that’s always been true anyway – most of my friends and contacts are on Facebook.  I also like how Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and ios 6 seem to be so seamless.  I can update one and the others immediately start talking to each other.  Part of this is due to the new timeline robustness, and the ability for other apps to plug in – but I’m completely for more integration, despite the differences of all the platforms – its all the same to me (its internet communication with different modes).

(4) Panoramic Photo – I know this is simple, and really doesn’t need explanation, but the ability to take an incredibly long shot of really beautiful scenes is something I’ve wanted for a long time, also, especially for group shots on big trips.  I’m thankful this new feature has been made standard.

Lastly, the “Meh” stuff that really don’t seem to make a difference but could be developed a bit:

(1) Passbook – This is a great idea, and I would love to have a place where all my gift cards, plane tickets, movie tickets, etc are all in one place – unfortunately, there are only a few apps that actually support this service right now.  The best likely being Fandango, and I plan on trying this out eventually, but the others failed to excite.  I also didn’t expect it to require the downloading of the other apps.  I definitely assumed that it would be a one stop shop.  At the moment you have to have Passport, download Fandango (for example), and then purchase in that app and then it should appear in passbook.  I haven’t tested this but I plan to.

(2) VIP folder in Inbox – Basically you can choose certain VIP contacts in your mail and this creates a super box for your urgent clients. This could be useful, but everyone I allow to have my main email is a VIP.  I don’t see myself using this too often.  If you’re the type with lots more spam – this could be a great thing, but I thought that’s what the Junk Folder was for.

All in All – I like the rebuild.  Biggest gripe is the Maps change, and if you really like that app, don’t upgrade yet.  If you have the iPhone 5, you have the new app anyways.  Its all still sleek and works better than any other phone I’ve played with – so be merry and enjoy your life with a little bit of tech.

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Movie Review – Brave by Pixar Studios

Last weekend, my wife was out of town, so I did something I’ve never done before.  I saw a movie by myself.  The fact that I did this was a testament to the movie itself.  I’ve always been a big Pixar fan (all but Cars), so this had a huge draw for me.  I remember seeing Toy Story in theaters and being blown away.  Similar awe followed for the films The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Wall-E and Up.  These are all beautifully done films with points that you can take home and think about.  Toy Story was about feeling loved and finding hope in rejection as relationships change.  The Incredibles was similar, but had an action twist, and added the twist of finding your identity and holding to it even when others don’t want you to, Finding Nemo was about adventures love takes us on, Wall-E had environmental and societal warnings strewn throughout a robot love story.  Lastly, Up was brilliant, so much so that I had to keep from tears.  It was about dealing with loss and finding new dreams even when the world seems to have left you behind.  Very powerful. Squirrel!

So how was Brave?  Sitting in the front right, surrounded by well behaved children (a little awkward), I was melded into the screen immediately.  Visually, the views are big, and the lands are gorgeous and green.  I felt a bit like seeing a cute sequel to Avatar with the huge landscape shots, and the people were so small as you panned in.  It was beautiful and the whole movie remains beautiful.

The story surprised me.  I figured going in, that this was going to be an action adventure, with lots of battles and witty comments ala Kung Fu Panda.  It turned out to be something very different.  The beginning comes off with a seemingly feminist slant, with a girl fighting for the right to make her own decisions.  Seen that before.  An archery contest shows off the superb talents of an excellent young woman.  The middle, however, is the surprise (and I won’t spoil it for you, which will make me suddenly seem vague, but it is for your own good).  But I will say that the story slows down where you might expect action.  There is a magical component – it feels more Disney (which probably makes sense since Pixar is under their umbrella), and a fairy tale takes place.  There is even a musical montage in the woods. It was very interesting.  Then at the end, the action breaks loose again, characters who seemed subdued are unleashed.  Conflict moves towards resolution and the plot seems uncertain – and a new enemy erupts.

The overall theme that came through this, was “Family”.  There is a bumbling father (a common stereotype), lively and mischievous triplet boys, and a very proper mother.  The interactions of this family were heart warming at times and when they collided, the children in the theater were delighted.  There was plenty of laughter all around me.  No wiggling, I was surprised.

**SPOILER ALERT** For those with children, I will mention that there is a dark dark Bear that becomes an antagonist – a dark force for evil.  It reminded me of the Dragon in Sleeping Beauty from my own childhood, or the Wolf from The Never Ending Story.  Something a child will not forget, but is good for them to fight the fear of.  I think it is still a good film for small children.  I did notice that Fathers and Mothers immediately used the Bear at the end of the movie as a talking point with their children, perhaps worrying that it was a bit too scary.  The kids seemed fine.

If you are interested in seeing a beautifully and colorful animated film with lots of laughs, and a fight for the family orientation, I recommend this movie.  There is a relationship between mother and daughter in this film that could really teach young ladies to respect why mothers expect so much of them (or their mentors, in the absence of a mother figure).  Check it out and let me know what you think.

Culture Stuff: My Thoughts on The Avengers Movie

To begin, I will say that if you are excited about The Avengers movie, have seen all the previous Marvel Superhero movies, and are wondering if it lives up to all the hype and whether you should see it or not – It does, go see it.  But why does it have appeal?  And why does it seem to have something that everyone can enjoy?

First, there is a collection of such a diverse amount of strong characters, that it would be hard not to relate to one of the heroes/heroines.  From the Black Widow to The Incredible Hulk, from Nick Fury to Captain America, there is a plethora of different types of characters each with different strengths and flaws all interacting on screen, teaming or not teaming up, in ways that sometimes produce awe inducing moments, and sometimes, you have to laugh and say “Oh, Hulk…you’re so…you.”

Second, the enemy epitomizes what we do not like about ourselves, and so there is a universal appeal towards defeating him.  The enemy, Loki, sees himself as “entitled” as a God.  He lords himself, and merely wants to be seen as the Great Ruler who “frees” people from their own “freedom”.  It is a terribly flawed statement, which shows how little he has thought it through.  What he really means is: I think I am better than everyone else, so kneel to me.  There is a great moment when an old man (possibly a Holocaust survivor), stands up while everyone else kneels to Loki, rejecting his “godhood”.  The Avengers movie is a case study in tearing down the wanton destruction a callous dictator can create in civil society.  I think that we don’t like the entitled part of ourselves, so we gain a bit of spiritual discipline when we set our hearts against the antagonist in this film.

Third, the last 30 minutes are explosive, but the setup is brilliantly maneuvered.  The film spends a good amount of time setting up the final battle royale.  There is something for everyone in this film (relationships, anger, self reflection, cool gadgets and toys, philosophy, etc.), and the characters spend a good amount of time realizing how they will not get played by the enemy, who has a plan, and how to defeat a seemingly invincible opponent at his own game.  I can’t give out too much away without this being a spoiler, but I will say that Captain America’s character impressed me even more, as he did a bit of theology (whether you agree with him or not), when he said, “There is only one God, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,” concerning the enemy.  I love it.  There is another even more humorous moment that I’ll let you experience on your own.  In the midst of the explosive energy, the conversations keep the film grounded and help us think through how we would act under stress.  It is a good study in what we feel we need, especially as all people across the globe face bigger challenges because the future continues to come.

All in all – this film had me engaged throughout.  It was the first film that I feel that 3D actually worked well (possibly because it blended so well, I only noticed it a few times, and when I did I realized how much it added to the High Def, rather than being a gimmick).  Kudos to the Costume Designers, who did not make the film feel like a cartoon, and to those who did endless calculations and renderings to make the computer graphics seem like reality.  The seamlessness of the film, with only a few slow moments, make this movie one of my all time favorites, at least in the genre of Semi-Philosophical Action Movie.  Well played.  Well played.

UMC Youth Rock at Revolution Retreat in Columbia, SC

Friday though Saturday March 16 – 18th, thousands of young people from across South Carolina came together at the Colonial Coliseum.  To describe it in a few words: “It was BIG.”  We worshipped with the Spark band, danced to hip hop with Humble T.I.P. (To Increase Praise), rocked with DecembeRadio, and were challenged to the core by Jennifer Dake concerning our discipleship and understanding our relationship with Jesus Christ.

We were created perfect, we became imperfect, we need to be perfect, Christ was perfect, Christ died to make us perfect, and we can have faith in an amazing God of grace.  The challenge to discipleship, to put away sin and walk forward with Christ was amazing.

Here is a bit of the worship from The Spark:

We also had an opportunity in mission to pack bags full of protein, vegetables and rice to send to East Timor, where some of the most impoverished conditions on the planet exist.  We put on hair nets and weighed 8,000 packets that were ready to ship out in the weeks from the Stop Hunger Now warehouse in North Carolina.  And we also learned the game Ninja while we chilled ;D

It was truly an amazing event packed with the funniest (and most fun) Intermission Dance (see below).  We had fun in Columbia getting to know each other at the hotel, while walking and driving around Columbia, and while seeing youth from last year’s Salkehatchie trip, and went deeper in devotions each evening.  God did some amazing works in us, and we can pray that our hearts remain passionate and on fire.  God is good.   

Here is what one of the youth wrote on Facebook: 

“Wow. Revolution was so amazing, The Spark was there, Demberadio, Humble T.I.P. and mrs. Jennifer. It was so amazing to see a HUGE group of teenagers get together and just praise God. Not even thinking about what the person beside them thought of them. There were tears of pure salvation and SO MANY hearts were opened to God and to letting him consume our bodies. Im never.ever. Going to forget this weekend. Even though I was sick and had NO voice, it’d come and go, it was a blast.”

Thank you Amanda and Tina for being amazing leaders, and thank you to our youth who went and soaked in God’s goodness all weekend long.  You made the retreat fun for everyone.

Personal Review of Google+

Google as a search engine is a fortress.  Bing and many others have not successfully dented the dominance of Google as the major search engine of the United States.  Our language reflects it.  I tend to tell people to just “google” something if I can’t remember the web address.  Good for them.  They dominate common internet.  But something has been growing up alongside the internet.  Basically the gated communities of the world cyber-sphere, and the main one is Facebook.  Google can see Facebook’s dominion behind the gate growing larger and larger.  Within Facebook, there is an ultrapersonal way of organizing data and searching it out which is to seek out actual people and their profiles.  Having friends that feed you data, and Facebook having users that give them data on interests, is a huge money maker.  So naturally, Google must compete, and thus Google+

My thoughts:

I’ve been using Google+ since I got invited about two weeks ago.  It started slow as there was no one on that I really cared for and there was a learning curve with many of the elements.  As more people have joined, there has been a trickle of items in the newsfeed, but people are basically cutting and pasting what they’ve already posted in Facebook.  That is definitely not a draw to start moving over.  Facebook already has the masses, so going over to do something that I’m already doing doesn’t make much sense.  The general rule is that people will do what is most convenient.  Not good for google.

What they are doing right:

(1) The circles option has developed into a great way to make a work flow for a creative group I’m in.  There are three of us and we have had a hard time utilizing FB and email to get us motivated to write and do comics for our webcomic group.  Google+ had us easily and instantly sharing information and having conversations and posting new content/planning new ventures.  It has been a boom for us creatively.  The best thing about this is that it is seperated from the masses of other people who have joined G+ and havent begun to use it.

(2) They integrate a lot including on their Mobile App.  I downloaded the app and noticed that they’ve also put some features like Foursquare in there with location service and GPS location capabilities.  Looking through the simplicity and functionality of the mobile app was the first aha other than business flow, I’d had for Google+.  I think if they gain active people, this will be a plus.

What doesn’t work:

(1) The quasi-contacts from Gmail that have no faces are freaking me out.  I’m not sure where Google is going with this because so many people haven’t made Google Profiles yet.  It think that I shouldn’t be allowed to place contacts in my circles until they are actually Google+ profile made members.  It feels like a ghost town in the larger realm.

(2) The branding and feel are a bit gaudy.  The refined shades of blue in Facebook feel more soft and easy to spend time on.  Google’s Blues Yellows and Greens clash and make the place feel cacophonous.  I’m hoping for it to be more refined in the future.

Conclusion:

Use Google+ if you are looking for another space to separate from the multitudes on Facebook.  G+ is a quiet place where you can make a small circle and use it for business/creative flows.  It works well that way.  The good news is that you can just have both tabs open and compare the experiences yourself.  Good luck.

The Complete Hunger Games Series Review (Author Suzanne Collins)

I just finished reading the three books in the Hunger Games series.  I have to admit that I was blown away by the first book and it compelled me to read this whole Young Adult book series.

Here are my summaries on the three books. Note: I may reveal things you don’t want to know if you want to read the books yourself.  I will conclude with my thoughts on the series and if you’re going to read the boos yourself, feel free to skip to the conclusion and make your own summaries later.

(1) The Hunger Games – The main character Katniss situates us in a world called Panem, in a world with 12 districts each providing the Capital city with a certain resource.  12 produced coal in mines.  It is clear that the districts are given only what they need to survive.  Each year, the districts have to send two youth to The Hunger Games.  A gladiatorial combat game where there can be only one survivor.  The Capital glories in the violence and it reminds the districts, who had been subdued by the capital in a past war, where they stand.  Under the Capital’s thumb.  Katniss and her friend Peeta end up in the games and it is action packed, bloody, and the end is a mind blower.  The theme is survival in the face of all odds.  The story is primarily about Katniss but also about how she doesn’t want to have to kill anyone.  The genetic mutations and the excesses of the Capital stand in a terrible contrast to life in the districts.  The large amount of time spent in District 12 felt good for this book.  You felt the culture, the lives, the ability to hold on despite terrible circumstance.  The depression and hardship was evident.  Haymitch, a drunken character, who had seen the contrast between wealth and poverty, emblemized the sadness in this book. But it is a book ultimately about victory against all odds by the underdogs. Because of a fake (or is it) relationship, the two (Katniss and Peeta) survive rather than the One in the Hunger games.  This book is a page turner all the way through.  The way the rules change to allow two to win, however, shows the sympathies of the people in the Capital for the relationship, and the Capital loses their iron propaganda grip on the people.  The end of this book leaves uncertainty in the air.  They won, but what will the Capital do to them next?

(2) Catching Fire – Katniss and Peeta are sent from District to district to be shown off as victors.  They see the conditions of each place and recognize the types of people who they had to kill from the different districts in the arena.  The Girl on Fire, as Katniss is called (because of her amazing costume designer Cinna), lights a flame of rebellion as she is seen by certain districts.  They are sent back to District 12, but things have gotten worse there.  Katniss, a hunter, can no longer get around the electric fence to the woods, the old peace keepers have been replaced by tougher more army like people, and a new head peacekeeper takes violent vengeance on everyone who breaks rules.  The black market is burned, Katniss’ love interest from 12 is whipped to near death, but it doesn’t matter because the year ends up being a Quarter Quell.  Victors from past Hunger Games are to reenter the Hunger Games, and fight to the death.  Peeta and Katniss are rounded up and placed again in the ring.  The President of the Capital shows his power and scares Katniss.  There is a lot of build up, but the Hunger games have  more personality this time around.  The victors are very unique and have reasons they had won the Hunger Games before.  It would be very intense.  Though the games never finish.  The rebellion is behind the scenes.  This book is about Rebellion – and stands up to the times we are in with Revolutions around the world.  It takes a long time to build the action, but the action is very creative.  Well written, and the end of the book again blows your mind.  The discovery of the hidden and forgotten district 13, with nuclear arms, promises hope for the rebellion. People die to fight the capital, then get bombed.  District 12 is wiped clean at the end of this book.

(3) Mockingjay – This book begins in District 13.  Katniss is disoriented and spends a lot of time building up the nerve to be the “Mockingjay” of the people.  Basically a symbol of the rebellion – the Girl on fire.  Much of the book is about details of spreading rebel propaganda to the Capital which has closely secured television networks.  She visits the battlefield, you see her get to know her sister more.  They find a comfort from the family cat, though Katniss has a hate relationship with it.  District 13 is underground and has nuclear armaments.  The President of 13 is just as conniving and brilliant as the President of the Capital.  Coin is her name.  Snow is the name of the Capital’s president.  They are both power brokers with ruthless plans for their rule.  Katniss cares nothing for power, but eventually agrees to be the Mockingjay and goes into battle.  Much of this book is about medications, order in the community, fighting the Capital, but the end builds to a Real Life Hunger Games as the rebels move into the Capital after capturing all the districts and their resources.  Katniss promises to take the life of President Snow and so she pushes her military unit into the heat of battle and they end up in some tough spots.  They lose most of their team but in the end there is a shocker.  The rebels take the city, but it seems that Coin had it staged that many children would be bombed to make people hate President Snow.  Katniss can’t stand Coin or Snow in the end.  She gets knocked so bad by the end bombs that she has to be patched up, but the series really takes some interesting turns here.  I  won’t reveal the very end but I will say that I expected it to end as it did.

Conclusion – This series is perfect to be read in conjunction with what is happening in our world today.  The rebellions, the survival of people across the world, the huge amount of accumulated wealth in contrast to abject poverty in most of the nations of the earth and the feeling of being under the thumb of those who hold onto power in the midst of walls and money.  The people who live in the midst of the wealth have no clue how bad the world is as a whole, or if they feel it, it is more of a ghost of a feeling rather than an actual knowledge.  There are many who choose not to know that the world outside the walls are not as nice as within.  But the strength of this book really shows how those who are refined on the outside, without realizing it, are much stronger, and their wills eventually win out.  Those who live in complacency and within the walls of corruption and greed – eventually fall.  Why?  People build good nations on bonds of loyalty and trust.  Any nation ruled on the back of pure power and fear will eventually be superseded. Whether God intends this, or it is just a basic principle, I highly recommend all to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  A very worthy read and right up there (in the realm of ideas and worlds) as the Dune Series by the Hebert (though much smaller in scope as a universe). The movies will be coming out soon as well.  That will be interesting.  Read the books first!

Civilization Revolution Iphone App (Thoughts on the Game)

Recently played through an entire game of Civilization Revolution, which is an incredibly addicting game, and just wanted to mention a few strange things about the game that show up regularly:

(1) It’s 1940, and I’m still using a Catapult.

(2) Ghandi is the most warlike leader everytime I play.  His armies are purple, and I’m scared of him.

(3) I am Russian, and I win culturally, first by building Hollywood, and then by buiding the United Nations.

(4) The Chinese and Japanese send out space missions before I do.

(5) Rifleman can beat tanks.

I love it.  I always start slow because I build lots of cities and focus on growth.  The other nations think that I’m weak and so they start war talk.  I keep them at bay as I build units from my cities.  Half military, and half building temples and cathedrals for culture.  As I begin to beat them to a pulp I’m winning a cultural victory, and this time I almost won economically as well by getting to 20000 gold, and was about to build the bank (if you didn’t know you can win militarily – controlling the world and taking every city; technologically – by building and launching a ship to another world; economically – by collecting 20k gold and building the world bank; or culturally – by having 20 cultural acheivements and great people and then building the United Nations).

In the past I have held out the cultural victory to win militarily, but the Japanese and Chinese were about to launch their spaceship!

I love the sureality of it all! 😉 Great App – check it out.