Blog Archive for June 2007

Why Go See Ratatouille?

Ratatouille Movie PosterIf you had asked me in January what one movie I was looking forward to this year, I may have thought about it for a minute, but there's no doubt the answer would be Ratatouille. Some people have asked why that is, so here's my reasons:

  • It looks funny, exciting, and really tasty.
  • It's about a rat who becomes the greatest chef in Paris. I mean, how does that work?
  • It's a Pixar movie. Their track record of amazing (or at least very good) films includes Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars.
  • It's written and directed by Brad Bird, the guy who wrote and directed The Incredibles, one of the best movies of the last five years.
  • Even the critics like it, much like many Pixar movies before this one.
  • Finally, just watch this movie trailer. Use the one below or watch it in better quality:

    Doesn't it look beautiful (and even on YouTube)?

I'm a Pixar fanatic because I love quality animated movies, so that's all I really need to get me there. If you live in the neighborhood, I'm going to see it tonight (Saturday night), so give me a call if you want to join us. It should be a great time.


Duluth, Minnesota: The San Francisco of the Midwest

On Saturday morning I headed out the door about 8am and told the persons in the living room that I was headed with my family to Duluth. When one person asked, "What's Duluth?", I knew that a blog post had to be written. Duluth, MN is easily one of my favorite cities to visit in the world, and it's less than three hours away from home!

Duluth and the Great Lakes

Duluth is located at the far west end of Lake Superior, the largest and deepest of North America's Great Lakes. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the town was populated because of rich iron and copper deposits throughout the northern regions of Minnesota. The city quickly became a worldwide port as locks and dams connected the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. During the 20th century, Duluth was a major industrial port in the region, although that waned a bit in the late 1900s. Currently, the seaport is still used to ship out metals like iron ore and taconite around the world, but most of the city makes its living on tourism.

The Original Duluth Canal BridgeDuluth is built on a rather steep hill overlooking the western edge of the lake. stretching almost all of the seven miles across the lake is a sandbar that makes the western side into a nice, natural harbor. However, the city of Duluth built a canal to bring the boats directly into the harbor instead of rounding Minnesota Point, as the sand bar was called. However, some method of getting across the canal was needed, so in 1905 a large structure was put above the canal and a gondola was moved from side to side. It proved effective for a number of years until traffic became more and more demanding, so in 1930 a road that spanned the canal was built. In 55 seconds the Aerial Lift Bridge rises over 200 feet to let seaworthy boats pass underneath.

A Boat In The CanalOne thing not to miss is exactly that: the huge cargo ships that come from all over the world. This past weekend we did not see any up close, but I've had a couple times where a boat over 1,000 feet long fills up the whole canal and you're only 30-40 feet away from a hull towering above you. It's tons of fun and an amazing experience for this Minnesotan. (Get plenty of up-to-date news and photos at Apparently a German world-class cruise ship makes a stop in Duluth every fall as well.

The Duluth LakewalkWhat else is there to see in this town? Well, one of my family's favorite parts is the Lakewalk. The Downtown Lakewalk includes a bike path and boardwalk for the first mile east of the Aerial Lift Bridge, and then a combined bilke/walk path for the remaining 2.5 miles. Another senic area is Skyline Drive, a road that rides the edge of the hill and provides great scenic views of Duluth and the harbor. Along Skyline Drive is Inger Tower, an old cement watchtower that is another great overlook. Also, when coming into Duluth, don't miss the Thompson Hill Visitors Center, where you can see the best view of the city and the harbor just before the freeway descends into Duluth.

The Family Photo at the OverlookFor those looking to spend a bit of money, a number of the tourist attractions are worthwhile. The Vista Fleet gives guided tours of the harbor area throughout the summer and it's a great way to learn about the harbor, the big boats, and how things work in there. If you'd rather stay attached to the dock, The William A. Irvin is an old cargo ship that has been docked in Duluth for a couple decades and tours of the ship are given. This is another great way to find out what goes on these ships and just how big they are. Within the last couple years they've added a retired Coast Guard vessel to the tour as well.

The Floating Boat MuseumsThe city's old rail depot is now home to the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center, more commonly just known as The Depot. It's a nice museum of the area's history and culture, but my favorite part since when I was really young is the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in the back of The Depot. Here, you can find all kinds of old trains that you can actually walk through. I don't know if they still do, but they would still run one of the old streetcars out of the station about a half mile and come back, which was lots of fun to ride in. There are real trains, model trains, and lots of old train-related items from days gone by.

The Canal, The Lakewalk, and The BridgeIf free is more your style, I highly recommend looking around in the Lake Superior Maritime Visitors Center, right next to the Aerial Lift Bridge. This is a free, public museum that has tons of info on the geography of Lake Superior as well as the shipping industry of today and days gone by. Of course, there's plenty of history of the Aerial Lift Bridge too. We haven't really ventured into Downtown Duluth proper in probably a decade since the tourist scene right on the lake started picking up, but there's miles of Downtown connected by skyways, so even rainy days can be somewhat fun.

The Family at Gooseberry FallsAnd, finally, a trip further up the North Shore of Lake Superior is always a good day trip from Duluth. Almost every time I've been to Duluth, we spent at least an afternoon around Gooseberry Falls, a beautiful stop on Highway 61's stretch of scenic viewpoints. The upper and lower falls are beautiful and allow for great places to walk around and play in the water. I have pictures of me and family members sitting underneath this rock since I was 2 or 3, and this time my cousin's daughter got her first photo there. Just a little way up the shore is Split Rock Lighthouse, and a bit further is Temperance River, which is now cut very deeply through some stones and is a great scenic area as well.

Ice Cream at Tobe’sThe weather up there is often very nice, a bit cooler because of the lake. (Last weekend was definitely an exception though, with highs in the 90s.) No matter how hot it is, though, I'd recommend not swimming in the lake. Around this time of year, the water is about 45 degrees Farenheight. There is a nice beach on Minnesota point that is very shallow and gets a bit warmer, but expect to freeze some body parts if you go in the water. Also, on the way to and/or from Duluth, stop halfway at Tobie's in Hinkley, MN. We always go for the Ice Cream outside, but many stop for their baked goods. Still, the city of Duluth is one of the most beautiful and fun places to go in Minnesota, and some even say, in the world.

(Thanks to Lisa for the great photos and all for a fun weekend vacation.)


I Love Pixar and Marketing

Shrek vs. RemyMovie marketing and merchandising is a rather touchy subject for one. One of the reasons I really don't care for DreamWorks Animation is it's marketing. For example, every time a Shrek movie comes out, you see that annoying green ogre on every box of cereal, bag of chips, and box of candy for three months before. When it finally comes, you feel like you have to go just to get him out of your head.

Pixar and Disney do marketing, but it's much less a barrage of the senses from all sides. Also, it's tasteful. Today I was a the Mall of America, and a couple months ago they added large video screens to the tops of the mall directory stands in the middle of the halls. For a while they promoted the Phase II Expansion, but recently they've been running content from CBS Outdoor, including ads and some CBS network content. Impossible 2 vs. Jason BourneWell, anyways, today they were running almost non-stop the Ratatouille full trailer. I like that. It's not plastering the ads everywhere, but it's hitting you softly with actual real content that will show you what the movie is about.

Which is better? A movie that's desperate for your attention or a movie that just is offered for your viewing pleasure? Often, you'll find that the overhyped have little substance but the well-marketed actually are enjoyable and meaningful, I think.


Apple Stores And Lynch Mobs

I talked to an Apple employee at the local Apple store today. I was chatting with him about the Apple TV YouTube experience and how I was disappointed that I couldn't find the Mute Math "Typical" video on there. He said they were converting 10,000 videos every week to to the QuickTime format for use on Apple TV and iPhones, I think. What a waste, because we really want Flash on Safari anyways, you silly Apple idealists!

Anyways, he asked me if I was going to be there on Friday. I told him no, thinking about giving an excuse but deciding to leave it at that. I replied with, "Well, I suppose you - and all the other employees - are going to be here." He nodded in agreement and said he didn't yet completely know his work schedule for this weekend yet because they hadn't scheduled it yet. As he was walking away, I told him to have a fun time, to which he responded, "Yeah, well, watch the news and see if any of us get killed."

Well, at least they seem to be ready for the worst, I guess.


Apple iPhone Crazyness Continues

I wish I wasn't busy this Friday night so that I could watch the Apple fanboys go wild over at the Mall of America. Ohh, well, who cares about that. There's still a lot of new stuff to talk about:

  • Walt Mossberg gives the device a rather glowing review, but doesn't like the fact that it uses AT&T's rather slow data network.
  • Mossberg says that he had a tough couple first days with the iPhone's virtual keyboard, but after about 5 days he had the hang of it. To further alleviate your fears, Apple gave us a video of how it works.
  • The OS and all its programs take of 700 MB of the 4 GB (or 8 GB) on the phone. I bet that by the end of the year, it's going to be more like 1 GB. They should change the ads to 3 GB or 7 GB of storage now.
  • Service plans start at $59/month after a $36 activation fee. The cash gets you 450 minutes, 5000 night and weekend minutes, unlimited web and e-mail usage, and 200 text messages. For existing AT&T customers, they can just add $20/month to their current plan to gain unlimited data usage.
  • Apparently there's no way to cut, copy, or paste text around the phone. That'd sure be helpful for some of these applications....
  • Through iTunes, it can sync with Outlook on your Windows machine. Mossberg also claims that it does support IMAP and Exchange, although very little details are given.
  • You can view documents such as Word files, Excel files, and PDFs. But you can't edit them. And you can't view Flash webpages.
  • And yes, just what productivity persons didn't want: you can watch YouTube on your iPhone. Talk about a colossal waste of time.
  • Signup with AT&T and activation of the phone is done on your home computer inside iTunes. Now that's kinda slick, because who likes doing that on the phone?
  • Like iPods, after 300-400 charges your phone's battery will start crapping out. Sounds like you get to pay them a wad of cash to replace it. That sucks. Apparently the amount you can do on one charge is pretty spectacular, though.
  • The webiste already has dozens of little apps, although the iPhone doesn't come out for two days. Since they're browser-based applications, you can try them right there, so that's kinda fun.

Sure, the Apple iPhone is cool. I'm at least waiting until version 2, and that's about it. (Special thanks to Engadget and Apple Phone Show for the information.)


Review: eEye's Blink Security Suite

A couple weeks ago, I listened to an episode of Security Now! that was an interview with Mark Maiffret of eEye. In this show, he talked about his company, which specializes in security research. eEye is one of those handful of companies that work hard to find software vulnerabilities in software and often find and report security issues to Microsoft and other companies. eEye's clients include high-security areas of the government and many other security-conscious persons.

He talked about the functionality of their software, which includes not only an Internet Firewall, but a System Firewall and an Application Firewall. These increased levels of security make sure malware and spyware cannot do their job and that no applications can easily modify core Windows settings. Maiffret also talked about how their Internet-updated systems protect specifically against known vulnerabilities, including the ones they have found but have not yet fully released to the public. He also noted that the system is locked down with their software so well that almost any new vulnerability is blocked on a number of levels throughout the system.

Sounds great, but it's probably only available to high-paying users, right? Not true. eEye, in an effort to serve their enterprise customers a bit more, decided to give a personal, home version for free for a whole year. I've tried out their Blink product for a couple weeks, and it was nice. I did have some issues with installation and keeping Blink running, because a couple times I had to restart my computer. Overall, it notified you just as much as a firewall but protected you so much more.

In the end, I uninstalled it. Software such as Joost and GTA: San Andreas, apparently, have some compatibility problems with eEye's Blink. Plus, I found a bit of a performance slowdown when the software was running. Still, I think that if you're looking for a high-grade security implementation that includes firewall, anti-virus, and so much more, go get your free year for home users. (Even after that it's comparable to Symantec, I think.) It's great if you use the usual MS Office, Internet, and such applications, but will probably have some issues with games and other cutting-edge applications that want to do sneaky things in Windows to get better performance. This is the program for the ultimate security freak or just the cautious web user.


A Wireless Close Call

I was wondering things like, "Who's music library is that?" Somebody said, "Probably a neighbor's." I said, "But our Internet is supposed to be secured by an encrypted password."

To my horror, I found that the main wireless access point/router on the 2nd floor had been somehow reset. It was named "linksys" and available for all the world to use. What a shame! Even worse, it would've been easy for someone connected to it to wreak havoc over the network and lock us out for a while until we could reset everything.

I pretty quickly patched up the holes and got it working. Now, we can share our music among just us, we can be sure that no neighbors are using our bandwidth, and, if we wanted to, we could start networking the printers. That would rock.


Drupal To Save The World?

Jeff Robbins of Lullabot has a vision. He sees a world where anyone in the world has a tool to make websites. Here's his vision:

I can foresee a time when a small village in Nigeria will be able to open their $100 laptop, connect to the $100 server they have set up in their town hall, click "make a website" and effortlessly put the pieces together to communicate with the world and with each other. Or a third grade teacher in Indiana, working right in front of her students, will be able to plug Drupal modules into the school website that allow her class to exchange messages with a third grade class in India.

Of course, read the rest of his article to get the full story. I think it's a great idea but it will take a lot of work for everyone. And hey, if you're looking to getting into websites, jump in and learn a bit about Drupal and WordPress. If you feel you can't write some code to enhance the system, by all means, please contribute to documentation and managing of the Drupal systems in any way possible.


Why The Apple iPhone Needs Native Applications

Samsung i500For the past three years, I've had a Samsung i500. I love it. It packs most of the Palm functionality of those Treo smartphones into a usable phone form factor. In other words, it looks like a phone, but it has everything a smartphone has: Palm OS, internet connection, a stylus, etc. I've always had a flip phone, and I can't figure out why anyone would want something that is otherwise.

The best features on my Palm are the applications I have purchased for it. The Palm OS 4.1 software comes with a program that will sync your Outlook mail, but I wanted something that would pull your mail from the server over the phone's built-in Internet connection. So, I got SnapperMail, one of the nicest applications I've ever seen on a Palm. The program even has a mode for browsing e-mail without a stylus because you don't want to pull it out. It's a great time saver.

I also have MyBible, a great Palm application that turns your phone into a bible study device. You can load in numerous translations of the scriptures, highlight and take notes on verses, etc. Pick a book with the stylus, and then you can type in the chapter and verse via the phone's built-in keypad. Plus, there's no big book to carry around.

A few times, people have called me while on the road saying something is wrong with my website. Most of the management of the site is best done with SSH, but what if I'm nowhere near a computer? I found a free, open-source program called TuSSH which will allow you to get into your full SSH session if needed. I don't recommend doing major administration on such a small screen without a keyboard, but in a pinch, it'll do.

My absolute favorite, though,, is Pocket Quicken. For years, I've been keeping track of how much money I have via the ubiquitous Quicken software, and this is the perfect add-on. Whenever I purchase something or go to the bank/ATM, I pull out my phone and quickly enter the payment into Pocket Quicken. It does a great job at autocompleting the company you're paying as well as the category this transaction goes in. Most of the time, it only takes a second or two to enter the transaction. Plus, I always have that main screen there to tell me what the balance of my accounts are. When I am going to update my desktop quicken, I just HotSync my phone with my computer and it all gets transferred over.

Apple iPhoneSo... what does this all have to do with the Apple iPhone? Well, it has to do with Steve's WWDC Keynote where he announced that you could make web applications for the iPhone. Only one of these programs can be done on the iPhone, and that's using their built-in mail client. I doubt their mail client will have all the features that SnapperMail offers me, either, especially since in January Steve talked about working with Yahoo! Mail and I use my own mail server.

For the Bible, I could log on to BibleGateway and read it there. Who knows, it might look good on an iPhone. But, how long does it take to connect to AT&T's wireless internet? 10 seconds? 20 seconds? No matter what, it's longer than it is on my Samsung smartphone. It's gotta take longer to search via the webform too.

SSH? Well, a quick search on Google shows that you can do it if the iPhone supports Java. But, who knows if it will? Apparently someone is already working on getting an iPhone SSH client working, but I have to imagine it's going to be much harder to do just with the default Safari install than if you actually had a full development environment for the iPhone.

And Pocket Quicken? Fat chance of something that cool and useful coming to the iPhone until they release a large SDK. Sure, I could probably use a account to do the same thing. But, how long would it take to enter a transaction? 10 seconds to connect to Internet, another 15 seconds at the least to login and navigate to the entry page, and then at least 15 seconds to enter it. That's easily 3-4 times as long! Even if it can autologin to over a web SSL connection, it'll still take a bunch longer.

And, what if I'm out of a high-speed data area for whatever reason? I'm dead in the water. I can't use any of my custom applications. One decent solution that was mentioned on this week's TWiT was that it could work if the iPhone was outfitted with something like Google Gears. Applications with Gears or its cousin, Adobe Apollo, could possibly give users such as myself the functionality we need with their ability to work offline and synchronize when they are back online.

So, for now, I'm looking for a phone to replace my Samsung i500. It looks like I'll have to go with one of those bulky Palm Treos.


Taste In Movies

UPDATE: Well, apprently nobody got this post, so I'm going to try again with a bit more context. It's probably still not as fun if you have to explain it. First of all, my boss seems to love almost every action movie (except maybe the ones I like the most). He often asks me what I think of the new movie that came out the past weekend because, undoubtedly, he's already seen it. So, when he came up to me this morning, I wasn't too surprised he had seen Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the latest action-superhero B-list movie. As you may be able to tell from the conversation below, he was rather surprised that I was not excited about the movie, and maybe even a bit more surprised that I unashamedly gave him a hard time for even thinking I'd like the movie. See, I told you it'd be boring if I had to explain it.

My Boss: So, Dan, did you see the Fantastic Four movie?
Me: (indignantly) No!
My Boss: Dan, I'm surprised you'd respond in that way.
Me: (somewhat condescendingly) That's too bad.
My Boss: Haha, nice.

My Boss: (as I was walking away) Yeah, well, it was mediocre.