2010 Movies

It’s been almost 18 months since my last post, which has to be the low point for this poor site. I’d like to write more, but even the simplest post takes me forever and I don’t have the time. I’m going to try to be better the second half of 2011.

Even though we’re almost halfway through the year, I thought I would post all of the movies I watched in 2010. I did this last year and was very surprised to get a response from the real life son of Robert “Flash of Genius” Kearns about my hastily written one paragraph movie review. So, in hopes of getting a response from Ricky Gervais, here are the movies I watched in 2010 in order. No comment on the movie means I can’t remember it, which I’m chalking up to either life with twins or too much Stone (or both).

  • Up – Had a very touching opening, don’t remember much after that.
  • Food, Inc. – I loved  The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, but didn’t find this film to be the ‘call to arms’ I was hoping it would be. I also liked the story about Polyface Farms, but was a little turned off in the film because he was so kooky.
  • Ghost Town – I had greater expectations for Gervais. This was amusing, but nothing has matched Liar, Liar in the gimmick comedy genre. That statement will probably forever turn you off on all future reviews.
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • American Psycho – The book was so much better, but there is no way you could ever match it. I’m impressed the film-makers even tried.
  • The Hangover – Saw this in the theatres, loved it, thought it was hilarious.
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • The Invention of Lying – Gervais disappoints again.
  • The Hurt Locker – Very good, even though my Navy friend refuses to see it and says there’s not much reality in it.
  • Love Actually
  • Marley & Me – Liked this so much more than I ever expected. Perfectly captured the passage of life with all the ups and downs.
  • Lost Boys of Sudan
  • The Assassination of Jesse James – Disliked this, found the soft focus and voice-overs too pretentious.
  • It Happened One Night – Part of my attempt to see all Oscar Best Picture films.
  • For All Mankind – Incredible footage of the Apollo missions.
  • Moon – Interesting mind bending film.
  • Weeds: Season 5
  • Californication: Season 1 – A perfect series in every way. Very strong performances from Duchovny.
  • The Blind Side – I passed this up on an airplane, only to watch it later. I was surprised by how much I liked this, but shouldn’t have been because I love everything Michael Lewis puts out.
  • The Informant!
  • Californication: Season 2 – Possibly even better than season one. I literally cried during one episode because of some of the dialog about life, love, and family.
  • When You’re Strange – Liked it; how can one man consume so many drugs in such a short lifespan?
  • Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire – I thought I hated this, but Netflix says three stars, so now I’m confused.
  • Going My Way – Another Oscar Best Picture film.
  • The Pillars of the Earth – We loved the book, and this miniseries was very true to it.
  • (500) Days of Summer – I liked the non-sequential story line.
  • Hot Tub Time Machine – I loved the concept, was expecting to be disappointed by the film, and ended up liking it overall.
  • District 9 – I don’t think any movie attempting to show a real depiction of aliens has ever been rated higher than two stars.
  • Up in the Air
  • Breaking Bad: Season 1 – We both really hated this, which was amazing because of how highly rated this series is. We could never sympathize with any of the characters. And I don’t know if I can ever forgive Cranston for Malcolm in the Middle.
  • The Machinist – Very dark and strange
  • Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon – Incredible documentary. After watching you’ll listen to the album in a whole new way.
  • The September Issue – Interesting, but still have a hard time taking the material seriously.
  • Kramer vs. Kramer – The breakfast making scene is something I remember often during “Daddy Daughter Days”.
  • Dexter: Season 4 – Lithgow was an awesome addition to this season, which was significantly better than Season 3.
  • Waiting for Guffman – I’ve tried Guest’s films a few times, but have never found them better than mildly amusing. Just not my type of humor I guess.
  • Beer Wars – Good film overall, was nice to see Stone a few times and really liked the Dogfish Head guys. The caffeinated beer woman was a little sad, especially knowing that a few years down the road “functional alcoholic beverages” would be banned.
  • The OH in Ohio – A Laura recommendation, good and went in a direction I didn’t expect with DeVito.
  • Coco Before Chanel
  • Entourage: Season 6 – More of the same, but I’ll keep watching.

2009 Books

My one sentence movie reviews for 2009 seems to have struck a chord, so let’s see if I get a response from someone (Dan Brown?) for my books of 2009.

  • The Pump House Gang – I generally like Tom Wolfe; a few of these essays were excellent, like the La Jolla surfers and Hugh Hefner, but many others were incredibly boring.
  • Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old – Bought when we were desperate for the girls to sleep through the night.  This had much more practical real world advice than other sleep books we’ve read.
  • Childhood’s End – Revisiting a high school book.
  • Brave New World – Another high school book.  These two were paired together, probably because they offer two different views of a Utopian society.  I enjoyed them both the second time around.
  • Tesla: Man Out of Time – A long read, dry at times.  I found it hard to respect Tesla at times; he seemed to be a genius but had trouble following through on so many great ideas.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Hard to believe, but this was equal to Kite Runner in my opinion.  Not as much heartache in this one though.
  • Underworld – I really disliked this book; worst book of the year.  It was extremely popular when it came out (still is), but I just didn’t get it.  I was very disappointed by the end and am turned off Delillo now.  Tell me if there’s another one of his that I would like better.
  • Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know – Very good, but a little scary.  Am I remembering to follow through on all 10 secrets everyday?
  • Bringing Down the House – Excellent, a page turner.  Way better than the movie, naturally.
  • House to House: A Soldier’s Memoir – This was an amazing story.  It definitely got my heart racing at times and gave me a whole new level of respect for soldiers in Iraq.  It was a tough call between this and The Right Stuff, but I’m giving this best book of the year.
  • The Pillars of the Earth – Really good, fastest 1,000 pages I’ve ever read.
  • The Right Stuff – Two Wolfe books in a year.  This was one of my favorites for the year.  I loved the dialog and all the different personalities Wolfe developed.
  • The World Without Us – A big disappointment, although it was because my expectations were different.  I wanted a whole lot more detail about how things will fall apart, and less about how the natural world will evolve in our absence.
  • The Black Swan – I liked this book, but it was very dense at times.  He was quite funny in some parts, which was unexpected.
  • The Murder Book – Just so-so.  Something I read so we could get rid of it without guilt.
  • John Adams – Great book about an under-appreciated president.  Got a little misty at the end when he and Jefferson (SPOILER ALERT!) died.
  • Under the Banner of Heaven – Not a great effort from Krakauer.  There was probably too much to cover in just one book, although he did do a good job explaining a very bizarre faith.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – I thought this was good, but perhaps a bit overrated.  I still think I’ll read the next in the series.
  • The Lost Symbol – I’ll admit it – I like the Dan Brown books.  His style doesn’t really bother me; you know what you’re getting, kind of like a summer popcorn movie.  I thought this was a good follow up to one of the best selling books of all time, which is a tough act to follow.
  • Casino Royale – I was very surprised how much I liked this.  Bond has some issues with women, which doesn’t come out as much in the movies.  I’ll definitely pick up some others in this series.

2009 Movies

Inspired by my friend Jake’s post on the same topic, I’ve decided to run down my year in movies.

  • In Bruge – Very good, darker than I expected. Made me wish I visited Belgium during my Europe trips.
  • Dexter: Season 1 – My favorite series of the year.
  • La Dolce Vita – I came away not liking this one, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it all year.  This will require a second viewing.
  • Man on Wire – Very entertaining.  This is someone who loves life.
  • Burn After Reading – Good, not great.  Also darker than expected.
  • Dexter: Season 2 – Not quite as good as the first.
  • Blade Runner – It took me a long time to finally get around to this one.  It has been hyped too much and a bit too dated for my tastes.
  • I Am Legend – Disappointing.  Will Smith needs to stick to the thoughtful drama category.
  • The Edge of Heaven – I don’t remember this one very well, but know that I liked it a lot.  This lack of memory will be a recurring theme for the year (thanks to twins, I guess).
  • WALL-E – Much better than expected.  I don’t get the controversy that surrounded the message.
  • Brotherhood: Season 1 – Just OK.  We didn’t care about any of the characters.  Probably won’t pick up Season 2.
  • The Duchess – No memory of this at all.
  • Lust, Caution – Very good, beautiful film.  I picked it up for the NC-17 rating, and it turned out to be good for a whole bunch of other reasons.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera – Did not like this, although I didn’t much like the book either.
  • Slumdog Millionaire – Very good, but way over hyped.
  • Step Into Liquid – Good.  I am one step closer to seeing every surfing movie ever made.
  • Tsotsi – Pretty good, but I wanted to like the main character more.  Maybe that was the point.
  • Milk – Interesting story, thought Penn was pretty good.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Story was too much of a gimmick to ever make a great movie.
  • The Wrestler – Painfully good.  I can’t believe Rourke looks the way he does.
  • Frost/Nixon – Interesting, made me want to see the original footage.  The Nixon actor was excellent.
  • The Reader – Good, but forgettable.
  • Gran Torino – Great role for Eastwood.  Consistently loving his movies.
  • Lords of Dogtown – Can’t hold a candle to Dogtown and Z-Boys.
  • Weeds: Season 4 – This is holding up in the fourth season.  Nice twist at the end.
  • Changeling – Decent but not very memorable.
  • Mad Men: Season 2 – Very good, love that Roger Sterling.
  • Tell No One – Have it down as a highly rated movie, but don’t remember it that well.
  • 21 – Disappointing, book was so much better.
  • The Right Stuff – Exact opposite of 21, very true to the book and a great flick.
  • Superbad – Dumb, but was expected.
  • Deep Water – Interesting, depressing documentary about a sailor.
  • Flash of Genius – Pretty predictable. I think Kinnear has better roles in him.
  • Jeopardy: An Inside Look – The process of creating the questions/answers was very interesting.  Would have like more on Alex.
  • The Tao of Steve – Showing its age.  The main character was not at all redeeming.
  • Life After People – I was disappointed in this, and also in the book The World Without Us.  Can anyone do the “world post humans” concept well?
  • Revolutionary Road – Did not like this one either.  I wanted everyone to die in the end and I almost got my wish.
  • Vicky Christina Barcelona – Another beautiful film.  Decent story and acting.  All round good effort, but nothing like Match Point.
  • Entourage: Season 5 – I’ll keep sticking with this series even though it’s pretty predictable.
  • Following – Good for those wanting to see the Nolan body of work.  He’s just cutting his teeth here.
  • The Bourne Ultimatum – This has turned out to be a great series, even better than the Jack Ryan films or later Bond films.
  • John Adams – An amazing performance from Giamatti.  A good format for those wanting something faster than the book.
  • Dexter: Season 3 – It was a bit harder to get into this season, but it finished strong.
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – Interesting perspective of the Holocaust.  There are many others that are more powerful, The Pianist for example.
  • The Proposal – Predictable, but better than expected.
  • Julia – Hands down the worst movie of the year.  I could have watched this at 2x speed and it still would have been too long.
  • Valkyrie – I was prepared to hate this because the loon Tom Cruise was in it, but I ended up liking it.
  • Duplicity – Good, but I found myself needing an org chart at times.  The old brain isn’t what it used to be.
  • Angels & Demons – Much better than The Da Vinci Code.  Beautiful in the Blu-Ray format.
  • Tyson – A surprise, very poignant and made me feel bad for this nut job.
  • Yes Man – Blah, tried too hard for the laughs, about 45 minutes too long.

Lightweight Camping & San Jacinto Inventory

I went backpacking again after a two year lull.  Twins will do that to you.  Over the years I’ve turned into one of those crazy ultra-light people, looking for any way to trim the pounds and ounces.  I’m trying to keep better track of what I bring, what was useful, and what I need to bring next time.  Here is the packing list for this trip (weight order) with a few comments.

  • Water: two full Nalgenes, one full 70 oz. (2L) bladder – 10 lbs, 8oz.  Fortunately we found water on the trail, otherwise this would have been far too little.  I forgot to bring a little extra water for cooking and cleaning.  One more Nalgene would have been good.
  • Sleeping gear: one Thermarest, sleeping bag (20F synthetic), and footprint – 4 lbs 14 oz.  The footprint was probably unnecessary and I could look into a 3/4 Thermarest to trim weight.  A mosquito cover for the sleeping bag would have been useful.
  • Backpack: 30L capacity – 3 lbs.  This was a new pack, smaller than my Gregory and much better for a one/two night trip.
  • Cooking equipment: one pot with handle and lid, Whisper-lite stove, fuel – 2 lbs 13 oz.  I could have trimmed the fuel by half, but wanted to be safe.  The salt shaker would have been useful for not much extra weight.  A one-cup measure would be good for the MREs.
  • Toys: GPS, camera, binoculars – 2 lbs 3 oz.  The GPS and camera are a must.  The binocs are frivolous but nice to have; I guarantee if you leave them at home, you’ll end up wanting them.
  • Survival: knife, headlamp, flashlight, compass, map, rope – 1 lb 7oz.  I used the knife, headlamp, and map.  The other stuff needs to come along every time.  A basic first aid kit would be good to have.
  • Food: one dinner and dessert, oatmeal packet, raisins, two bars, Ultima powder – 1 lb 6 oz.  .  This turned out to be the right amount of food for two days / one night, but I should bring more treats next time.  Nothing like some Skittles or gummy bears to raise the spirits during a long hike.  Mark had the right idea with some popcorn in salt and oil.
  • Water purification: filter and water drops – 1 lb 2 oz.  The drops are a must, even if there is well water.  We used the filter but turns out we didn’t need it.  If we didn’t find running water at Wellman Cienega, it would have been very useful.
  • Hiking poles – 1 lb 1oz.  Must have every time.
  • Personal items: toothbrush and paste, glasses, wallet, watch, bug spray / sunscreen, suds – 15 oz.  I don’t think there’s any way around bringing this stuff.  The next step is drilling holes in the toothbrush handle, but I don’t think I’m that crazy yet.  Bug spray / sunscreen combo was vital for keeping mosquitoes at bay.
  • Extra clothing: one long sleeve t-shirt and extra socks – 12 oz.  The t-shirt was invaluable.  Extra socks were unnecessary but nice to have.

Total weight this time was 30 lbs 1 oz.  Next time I can probably drop the extra socks, binoculars, some of the fuel, the water filter if there is running water, and decrease the size of my personal care items.  Must haves for next time are better snacks, a small pillow, one extra Nalgene, one-cup measure, salt shaker, and a first aid kit.

Cash for Clunkers

Is the program almost out of money?

I briefly considered participating in this, but I’m too cheap to spend more than $10k on a new car. Seeing news on how popular this program is got me thinking about unintended consequences, though. Conventional wisdom says that the most economical car is the one sitting in your driveway. How many folks out there just took on a car payment that they can’t really afford? The MPG improvement with the new car is likely canceled out by the environmental cost of the energy and raw materials used to create the new car.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people would use their down payment to maintain their existing car and plow the would-be car payment into the stock market as a contingency fund or for a future all-cash car purchase in a few years?

Bookmooch Update

Last year I published some thoughts on the future of Bookmooch and some graphs that seemed to support my experiences using the site. Almost another year has passed and I thought I would update the chart again.  I don’t have much time these days to analyze in more detail, so I’ll only give a few thoughts and comments about my latest experiences.

In the past six months I have consistently added more books to my wishlist, but have seen an abrupt decline in the number of wishlist books becoming available. This may have something to do with books being reserved for others without ever being available to the general public. It may also just be an indication that I desire popular books people aren’t willing to give away.  I did find my recent experiences with Bookmooch summed up nicely by this quote from the recent survey:

When I first joined Bookmooch a couple of years ago, wishlisted books were much more readily available and I was constantly mooching and sending. With all of the changes, I very rarely get notification for any books on my wishlist. Often when I do get a notification, the book is already reserved for someone else or it is no longer available.

The graph below is an update of the one I published on 9/24/08, showing points, inventory, # of wishlist books, and number of mooches over time.  All of these have been normalized to the number of members listing at least one book in inventory, with the last one per 100 users.

As expected, points and wishlist books are rising while inventory is falling. I suspect there is a lot of unsatisfied demand out there, or too many points chasing too few books. The mooches / 100 users trend is showing some interesting behavior.  I did expect this to level off somewhere below 100 mooches / 100 users.  There have been a couple of periods of declining activity recently and I’m not sure what to make of that. There was also a sudden spike – maybe a purging of bad accounts?

As I mentioned before, I love the Bookmooch concept. However, I’ve recently started donating books to the library again because I find myself sitting on a pile of points with nothing to mooch and I don’t want to spend money shipping books to accumulate points I probably won’t be able to use.  That mentality certainly isn’t helping increase the availability of books.

Helping People Win at Work

Last week I attended a local PMI chapter meeting. The speaker for the evening was Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Company, giving a talk on “Helping People Win at Work” and how he’s shaped the culture at WD-40 and inspired people to perform their very best. Garry was one of the best speakers I’ve heard in a long time; by the end I was ready to drop everything and go work for the guy, even if it meant pushing papers in the mail room.  During his talk you got the sense that you would never have a dull moment with Garry, and that he was loving life and wanted everyone around him to love theirs as well.

There were so many good sound bites out of the 60 minute talk, but I’ll try to share a few that I remember.  And I’ll completely butcher this, he was way more inspiring than I’ll be in my retelling.

Garry started off with an amusing anectode about an around-the-world trip capped off with what was suppose to be a quiet night in a London hotel room.  Alarm bells start going off, and after delaying for a bit,  Garry eventually finds himself in the cold night wearing only his underwear and slippers. The episode caused him to reevaluate his standing in the world; how many other ‘alarm bells’ were going off in his head that he was not paying attention to and that would leave him ill-prepared for the future?

I really liked his beliefs on mentoring and the proper context of the manager / subordinate relationship.  To paraphrase his analogy, the shepard is there on behalf the sheep; the sheep are not there on behalf of the shepard. The people you manage need your guidance and leadership to understand how to perform at a higher level, not your threats, criticism, and scorn. You are there to help them succeed; they are not there to do your bidding. This is also referred to as a Servant Leadership model.

There are no mistakes, only “learning moments”.   A learning moment occurs when you review an outcome, which may be positive or negative but never bad, and act on that to make yourself better. Of course, according to Garry, if you experience the same learning moment multiple times, “we’ll have to share you with a competitor”.

An organization needs a hierarchical set of values to drive behavior, otherwise people won’t know what to do when faced with difficult choices.

I haven’t had a chance to check out Garry’s book yet, but based on what I heard during the presentation, I’ll definitely pick it up soon.