Movie Review : Underworld

Last year, I saw previews for a movie called Underworld that looked interesting. It looked like a mish-mash of The Matrix, any vampire film, and any werewolf film. I liked the style of the matrix, and I like sci-fi films, so I thought this would be right up my alley. I knew Jenn would have no interest in it, so I waited until she went to bed. My buddy Anthony came by, and we popped it in the DVD player. I knew it wasn't going to be great going in. After all, it had been pretty much panned by every major movie critic. Unphased by this warning, we pressed on.

Essentially, the film is a Romeo and Juliet remake, but this time we have vampires and werewolves where we had Montigues and Capulets before. Oh, and a few trillion bullets thrown in for sport. The first thirty minutes of the film are really confusing. We have a chase scene, guns, bullets, and one guy caught in the middle. All of the characters dress essentially the same, and it was really easy to become confused as to who was on whose side. The movie is full of over-the-top gun fights. The funny thing is, even with the thousands of rounds spent, these folks can't hit anything. Did the directors have any concept of a clip size? I'm willing to forgive a bit of artistic license with regard to that detail, but when our protagonist fires off several hundred rounds from an automatic pistol without changing magazines...well, you're stretching it. The movie is so full of gun battles that they get to be very monotonous by the end. The film is patterned after the matrix mold, but at least the directors of that film broke out into other battle types: martial arts, knives, guns, escapes. The directors of Underworld picked gun battles and made it a motif.

Another element that is a bit confusing is to the powers of the creatures. Based on the teller of the tale, vampires and werewolves (lycanthropes or lycans) are attributed with different super-natural abilities. For instance, Anne Rice has a very different type of vampire than Bram Stoker. Can the vampires move at heightened speeds? Not in this film, as the characters prefer to use a car. We do see that the werewolves have gained the ability to walk on walls and ceilings. The vampires can cling to a ceiling, but don't think to use that mobility in a fight.

The atmosphere of the film is very dark, and very wet. Every scene is filled with black skies, drab buildings, and dark costumes on every character. The only hint of color in the film is the red velvet found in the mansion of the vampire coven. There is a splash of occassional blue in the eyes of the creatures, but beyond those elements, the movie might as well have been in black and white.

I think the critics were right on this one. This movie was not good. We've all heard the Romeo & Juliet tale before, and adding vampires and werewolves to the mix did spice it up a bit. The movie just needed more variety in every aspect. My advice is to not bother with this one unless you are truly desperate for a sci-fi flick.

Movie Review : Bubba Ho-Tep

One of the movies we watched this weekend was Bubba Ho-Tep. I had heard some rumors that this might be a good film. Jenn and I were trying to decide on a movie to watch tonight, and I convinced her to give this one a try.

The story revolves around an aging Elvis Presley, alive and not so well in a retirement home. During his career, he became bored with the stardom, money, and fame, and decided to switch places with the best Elvis impersonator: Sebastian Haff. Elvis continues Sebastian's career, impersonating himself until, in the middle of some wild gyrations, his hip gives out. We find that Elvis is now in a retirement facility, looking back on life and finding no happiness. His life begins to have meaning again as he and another resident discover that something is killing the other patients. They take it upon themselves to track down the source, and get rid of it.

I won't ruin the rest of the plot for you, but suffice it to say that this film is way out there. Bruce Campbell, who you might know from the Evil Dead series of movies, plays the part of Elvis. He is accompanied by Ossie Davis plays the part of a fellow resident, who is convinced he is JFK. I can't think of another film I've seen that I can compare to this one. It is so wacky. The movie has a very slow pace, which will turn off anyone who is looking for a laugh a minute blockbuster. I liked it though. There are some one liners that are going to stick with me for a while.

I'm not going to suggest that everyone run out and see this film right away. It is campy and slow, and definitely not for everyone. Still, I liked it. The whole plot of the film is just so absurd, and some of the dialogue cracked me up. Jenn definitely won't give you the same review that I will though. So if you have a flair for the weird, and are looking for something to scratch that itch, this film is for you. If you are purely into the mainstream of films, steer clear.

Team Building

A couple of weeks ago, we had a team building event at work. We had just completed our first mini-game (way ahead of schedule), so we had a cookout. After the cookout, the company president donned a huge hat and wig, and announced that we would be going on a "road rally". The objective was to find a couple of keys hidden throughout the county. We were each given some paints, markers, shirts, hats, and other accessories to decorate up, and then we hit the road. I decided to go all out with the red wig and face paint.

It's 3am and I'm sitting in front of the PC. Why? I couldn't sleep. I made my first attempt at sacking out at 1am. I layed there, tossing a bit, thinking about the paper I had to write for class. It is a two page paper on how we use data at work to make decisions. After an hour of that, I was still wide awake, and my sinuses had decided to drain and give me the pleasure of a stuffed nose. Rather than keep Jenn up with my tossing and sniffling, I hopped out of bed, downed an antihistimine, and headed to the basement. I managed to get my paper done. I won't have to do it later today, which is a bit of a relief, but I'd still rather be sleeping. I'm hoping the sedative portion of that antihistimine kicks in soon so I can get some quality shut eye. Stupid insomnia. Shut off, brain!

Oil Change

It seems that every time I take my car to the shop to have the oil changed, something else breaks. I'm really tired of the mechanics "finding" problems with my car, so I decided take action. I got all of the tools that I would need to change my oil. I stopped at the local Pep Boys and picked up some ramps, a drain pan, a funnel, 12 quarts of oil, a bucket (for containing the oil), and some shop rags. I also picked up some windshield wiper fluid with the Rain-X stuff in it. My coworker mentioned that the stuff was great for keeping the windshield clean.

The Tools

The Patient

The Mechanic

The Assistant

I started by reviewing my Haynes Repair Manual for the Alero. I got it earlier this year when I was having trouble with the Rack & Pinion. This is a great resource for anyone who wants to do simple maintenance on their own car. It has lots of pictures to help out, and the instructions are very clear. It helped me to understand the problem with my rack & pinion, and what the right solution was. It also has great instructions for doing regular maintenance. After reviewing the oil change section, I was ready to go to it.

The Patient is Prepped

Surgery begins

I got the car up on the ramps and popped open the hood. Every other time I did this was totally a bluff. I had no idea what was going on under the hood. I studied the Haynes pictures and noted where everything was: coolant, oil, brake fluid, battery, air filter, etc. I decided to start with something simple: the windshield wiper fluid. Nothing technical here, just had to flip open the cap and poor in the new fluid. The instructions on the fluid said that diluting it was unnecessary.

Topping off the windshield wiper fluid

Now it was time to get down to the dirty business of draining the oil. I had done this with my dad when I was younger, and the one memory I took away was that it was critical not to lose the oil plug in the drain pan. If you did, you bought yourself some filthy arms and some quality time mucking around in some warm oil. I grabbed my trusty ratcheting wrench set, and crawled underneath. To my dismay, the oil plug was a 5/8" head, and my biggest ratcheting wrench was a 9/16ths. Oh well, I switched over to my regular wrenches and tried the 5/8ths. This is where the first sign of trouble showed up. The wrench just wouldn't grip the head of the plug. The corners of the plug had been sheared a bit, and the wrench just couldn't find any purchase. Fortunately, my neighbor had an adjustable wrench which was able to tighten down to the right size. I successfully removed the plug (and didn't lose it in the pan, thank you very much), and allowed the oil to drain.

Wrestling with the oil plug

Successful drainage

The POS oil plug

Once I had the plug out and took a look, it was clear that it had taken some heavy damage. One edge had been crushed in, and all of the corners were heavily sheared. I'm not sure if I can find a replacement, but I'll definitely look into it. I'm not sure how the crushed edge could have happened. Possibly from a rock flying up underneath. The shearing was most likely from the torque guns the mechanics use at the shop. Those are pretty high powered guns that don't mess around.

Once I had the oil drained, I transferred it from the pan to the bucket and set it in the garage. I need to find a lid for the bucket for when I take it to the shop for recycling. Otherwise, I might end up with a horrible mess. After replacing the oil plug, I added the required 4 quarts of oil. I let the engine run for a little bit, and topped it up.

Gulp, gulp, gulp

Corbin ponders 16 years of waiting for the keys

Changing the oil was a pretty easy excerise. The oil was just under $2 a quart, so it is a little bit of a savings over taking it to a quick-change place that usually runs around $20. Of couse, that's forgetting the $60 I spent on the ramps, rags, bucket, drain pan, funnel, and other stuff. Plus, I'm getting more familiar with the different parts of my car. The more I know, the more comfortable I'll feel doing simple maintenance like this. I'll also be better prepared for when I really do need to see a mechanic. At least I'll have a foggy idea of what he is talking about.

Music Mix

I have a Sirius satellite radio that I listen to quite a bit. I listen to it most while I am at work. Normally I wear a set of headphones so I don't disturb my coworkers with my music. Unfortunately, I can't listen to the radio and my laptop at the same time. Some of the alerts on my laptop have useful audio, and I'd like to hear those. My Dell Inspiron 8500 has a flaw: it does not have a line-in jack. I was kind of bewildered by this when I first noticed that it was gone. Nearly all sound cards have three or four jacks: headphone out, mic in, line-in, line-out. If I had those jacks, I could simply route the radio to the line-in and listen to both. Unfortunately, my laptop only has a mic in. The mic in is a mono (as opposed to stereo) line. It doesn't work very well either. I really don't want to ruin the quality of my music, so I was looking for another way to combine these two sources

Last night, I was browsing through Best Buy, when I saw a minijack Y-adapter. It was intended to allow two sets of headphones to listen to a single radio. I thought, "Hey, this should work the other way too, right?" My electrical engineering knowledge piped up with a little reservation though: using it the other way will result in two sources driving current on a line at the same time. This is a bad thing, but hopefully the smart folks at Dell and Altec Lansing (the makers of my speakers) were smart enough to foresee some foolish person mangling their equipment in this way. Plus, the Y-adapter was only five bucks, which is much less than the hundreds of dollars for a studio mixer.

I got into work today, and to my dismay, my worries were affirmed. Neither the radio nor the laptop have a line conditioned output with enough impedence. The result is that I have to turn the volume way up on the radio to hear it at all. Doing this is bad, as it is driving too much power on the line against the laptop sound card. I don't have much faith in the quality of the laptop sound card, so I'm not going to stress it out like that. I suppose I could grab a couple of connectors and resistors and fashion my own, simple mixer. That might be a fun weekend project.

So, for now, I just leave the laptop volume turned up enough that I can hear it over my headphones. It only dings every once in a while, so I'm not aggravating my cube-mates too much. And I can still listen to the radio in full, high quality, stereo sound.

Cell Phone Games

Cell phones get more complex with each new generation that gets released. Mobile makers are packing an incredible amount of technology into these devices. The latest generation is poised to destroy the PDA market, as all of the calendaring and address book features that PDA users need are now available on the phone. Mobiles have integrated cameras for the quick snapshot. One feature that I find particularly interesting is the game feature. Most mobiles come packed with at least a couple of simple games to help you pass the time. Lately, wireless service providers are attempting to cash in by providing downloadable games. The games are getting a graphical upgrade with increased colors, improved speed, and better controls. Is this all a good thing though?

When I consider games on a cell phone, I have to think about when, where, and why I would play. If I know I'm going to be in a position to play games for a long time, I'll pack my GameBoy, some batteries, and a couple of games to keep me busy. If I'm at home, I've got plenty of consoles and a PC to keep me busy. So where and when would a cell phone game be appropriate? I certainly couldn't play them in a meeting, as I would need to give my attention to the speaker. Same goes for class. I do play games on my cell phone though.

I've found that my time on the loo is a perfect opportunity to get in some quality solitaire play. Jenn has caught me on a couple of occassions snatching my cell prior to going to the head. My phone (a Sony Ericsson t68i) has a selection of solitaire variants to keep things interesting. This "personal time" is just right for getting in a game. It only takes one hand to play, which leaves my other arm free for support as I bear down. Plus, if I'm in for an unusually long delivery, it keeps me from getting bored or frustrated. This is not an area where you want to try to rush anything, as that can lead to total disaster.

Not too long ago, AT&T Wireless sent me a new phone (Sony Ericsson t226). I tried the phone for a couple of weeks, but it just didn't cut it "in the game room". It only had three games: black jack, a side scrolling action game, and an othello / go strategy game. I've never found blackjack to be a game that you can just sit down and play for fun. The side scrolling action game was simply too difficult to play in that setting. Timing, coordination, and accurate control were all necessary to play it well. A quick move to jump in the game just might lead to an embarassing oops, so I didn't play that one for too long. The strategy game required entirely too much of my concentration. I quickly abandoned that phone and returned to my trusty t68i.

I'm very satisfied with the games on my phone. I find that they are perfect for the situations where I use them. I don't think 3-D graphics, more colors, or increased speed would add anything. I certainly don't need a camera. I'm currently selling the t226 on eBay. I've refrained from including the details about the "brief usage" of the phone. Hopefully the buyer won't mind. And if you ask to borrow my phone, well, consider yourself warned.

Yahoogle Mail

I checked my Yahoo mail this morning to find that I now have 100MB of storage space. This is up from the 6MB I had before. It still doesn't match the 1GB that Google offers in their GMail service, but it is a big step up. I've been using my Yahoo mail account for so long that I don't really feel like changing to a new one. The interface is changed a little, but nothing dramatic. Looks like competition is a good thing!

Jenn and I had our night out last weekend at the Rathskeller. We both thought the food tasted great, and my Orval Trappist Ale was excellent. It was certainly an expensive beer, though, at $10.50 a bottle! It was really nice for the two of us to be able to get out and have a night together to enjoy each other's company. After dinner, we went out to the Biergarten and enjoyed some people watching. Jenn had a particularly good time trying to figure out how the blind date / setup at the table next to us was going. It was a really fun night out together, and we really appreciate that Jenn's mom could come down and watch Corbin for us so we could go out. Also, thanks to both of Corbin's grandparents for giving us a little cash for dinner!

Netgear WG602 Wireless Access Point

Last week I posted that the Netgear WG602 had a backdoor password, and that everyone should upgrade to the firmware version 1.7.14. Unfortunately, that firmware revision didn't get rid of tha backdoor, it just changed the username and password. Netgear has released a new firmware revision, 1.7.15, which eliminates the backdoor.

If you use this product at home, I recommend that you download the firmware upgrade and install it.

How could the backdoor affect me?

Anyone who can connect to your access point would be able to change the settings for your access point. If you have enabled security and filtered the list of MAC addresses that can connect, this backdoor will have very little affect on you. However, I would still recommend that you patch this backdoor.

What models have the bug?

Only the Netgear WG602 version 1.0 product is known to exhibit this bug. It is based off of a z-com chipset. The WG602 version 2.0 product does not have this vulnerability.

What else can I do to protect my wireless network?

At the very least, change the default admin password and enable WEP security. Unfortunately, nearly all networking equipment intended for home use is shipped in an unsecured state by default. This provides the least confusion when setting up the network, but also leaves you open to attack. By changing the default password and enabling WEP, you are preventing the casual and curious wireless surfer from hopping on your network.

I've enabled WEP and changed the password, now what?

Great, you've taken the first steps towards securing your network. Unfortunately, the WEP standard has a couple of flaws. It uses some common keys in the encryption process that can be easily discovered. Anyone with enough free time on their hands can sit outside your network and eventually determine the WEP key and get on your network. There are some additional steps you can take to protect yourself though.

- Disable SID broadcasting.

This feature is not available on all Wireless Access Points. Your access point broadcasts a beacon on a regular interval to tell wireless users that it is available. This beacon includes the name, or SID of your WAP. By turning this beacon off, wireless surfers will not know that your WAP exists unless they specifically look for it.

- Force a VPN for all wireless clients.

If you want to get really secure, connect your WAP to a dead pool on your network. By dead pool, I mean a network connection that has no access to the web, the company intranet, or any other resources on your network. It is completely isolated. From there, users must create a VPN connection to any resource on your intranet. There are many benefits to this type of setup. First, you can turn off MAC address filtering and WEP. People who connect can't do anything without the VPN, and this reduces the maintenance needed to updated WEP keys and MAC lists. Secondly, a VPN connection provides a much stronger encryption level, protecting any data you may transmit wirelessly.

Awesome Prank

This is a great prank. A guy was trying to seel his Apple Powerbook G4 laptop computer on eBay. He discovered that his buyer was trying to scam him. Rather than just drop it and try to find another seller, he decided to have a little fun with his would-be scammer. This site documents his work. Very funny stuff.

Netgear WG602 Wireless AP Security Problem

For anyone out there using a Netgear WG602 Wireless Access Point, be aware that a backdoor password was recently discovered that would allow anyone to hack your device. Be sure to go to the Netgear support page to download the latest firmware for your access point. The latest firmware revision removes the backdoor password.


Volleyball has been going well the last few weeks. I maintain a group site on Yahoo Groups if you are interested in joining up with us for a night of fellowship and volleyball. We are getting pretty steady numbers, and we are getting close to having enough players to open the other side of the gym up to play two courts at once. All skill levels are welcome, so if you want to come out and have some fun, feel free to drop in at the Fishers United Methodist Church Life Center on Tuesday nights from 7 - 9pm.

The Rathskeller

Jenn and I have a date night coming up at The Rathskeller. We dog-sat her parents' dog Dusty for a week so that they could go on vacation. As payback, Jenn's mom is going to come down and babysit Corbin for a night so that we can go out on a date. This will be really nice. Corbin has been fantastic lately, but I still like to get some alone time with my wife. We're going to have dinner at The Rathskeller, which is a German resaurant here in Indy. I've eaten there before. When I took my brother out for his Bachelor Party, we had dinner there. The food was fantastic, and the beer was good too. They have a huge list of imported beers from Germany and Belgium, as well as others throughout the world. I consulted with our local world traveller, Gilad, here at work to see which beers I should give a try. He made it clear that the English have no idea how to make a beer, and to stay away from those. He did suggest a Belgian ale called Orval Trappist Ale. He said that, while it is expensive, it is one of the best beers he has ever tried. I'll have to give it a shot. I'm looking forward to Jenn and I having an evening together. I'll be sure to post a followup to let you know how it went.

Google Rules!

Google gave me a couple of nice surprises today. Jenn mentioned over the weekend that she had heard that Blogger (which is owned by Google) was now hosting pictures. Sure enough, I check it out this morning and I can host pictures, unlimited pictures, for free, on Blogger. The other thing that I notice is that Google has offered me a GMail account. For those who haven't heard of the service, GMail is an e-mail service offered by Google. They provide 1GB of storage for your e-mail. That's about 2,000 times as much storage space as I had with my Yahoo! mail account. The idea is, you never delete an e-mail, ever. Instead, you leave everything in an archive. Google crawls through your archive of mail, and selects ads that you might be interested in based on the topics of your conversations. I think it is a pretty fair trade. So I'm going to play with my new toys for a little bit today. Thank you Google!

Jade Mason