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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Quick Review: Starbucks Christmas Blend

In Coffee, Food, Reviews on December 22, 2008 at 10:19:49 pm

Every year, apparently, Starbucks brings out a special Christmas blend. We got some as a gift, so I thought I’d do a quick review on it, now that we have an espresso machine that works properly and all that.

The beans were ground using a Rancilio Rocky grinder immediately before pouring the shot. I poured a double shot and made it into an Americano, because I’m a pompous Apple-using, New York Times-reading, Americano-drinking douchebag.

The initial taste of the coffee was rather mild for Starbucks, and also unusually lively and interesting. The beans were, as with almost all Starbucks blends, very over-roasted, but they still retained a little bit of decent body, which was nice. True to the marketing rhetoric, the coffee had a fairly spicy taste, and a short aftertaste, making it a very good evening coffee.

Overall, I’d give the blend a 6.5/10. It was clean and had some spice (and was one of Starbucks’ better efforts), but was bitter and over-roasted.

Quantum of Solace

In General, Movie Reviews, News, Reviews on November 16, 2008 at 12:59:08 am

Quantum review header

Disclaimer: I’m a lousy writer, and there may be spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.

I went to see the midnight Calgary premiere of Quantum on Thursday night (Friday morning, for those who actually care), and I must say, it was good. Not mindblowing, but good.

The film opens minutes after the ending of Casino Royale, with a spectacular car chase throughout the tunnels and a quarry in Italy, reminiscent of the foot chase opening in Royale through the construction site. It’s a rather short pre-titles sequence, which then cuts to one of the best title animation sequences I’ve seen in Bond history. Interestingly, the start of the film after the credit sequence takes place mere minutes after the pre-titles sequence ended, which is a rarity in the world of James Bond.

This rapid-fire pace barely lets up over the course of the entire film, which is both a blessing and a curse. It keeps you riveted to the screen unlike almost any other film that I can think of, however it also makes the already short film feel even shorter.

Things I Really Liked

If this entry in the franchise is nothing else, it’s the only Bond film to date that’s an art & design film. The set design is especially beautiful, with stark, modern furnishings that reflect Bond’s coldness. He’s learned his lesson in love and trust and is still feeling the pain of the loss of Vesper. All of the set design, from the black & white, modern hotel to the observatory seem to reflect this. The ESO Hotel, in particular, will go down as one of the greatest Bond sets in the series’ history.

As mentioned briefly (and linked) above, I felt that the title sequence (designed by newcomers MK12) was astonishing. It foreshadowed the film’s climax beautifully, and reintroduces those sexy title sequence girls (you know what I’m talking about). Since it doesn’t have the geometric “drawn” style of the Royale animation, it’s much, much better.

Most of the film is beautifully shot, with breathtaking imagery and gripping action sequences. Sadly, it does get claustrophobic at times, due to (presumably) short lenses, which make it feel less glamorous than it should be. Even the typography during location changes is stunning.

The chosen actors and actresses in this film are surprisingly excellent in their roles. When I first watched the behind-the-scenes footage, nobody really stood out as being a Bond actor. However, after seeing their performances on the big screen, I was impressed by the casting.

Other things I enjoyed were the continuation of the gritty, serious feel, the soundtrack, and the skilled direction of the film by Marc Forster.

Things I Didn’t Like

The major problem with this film is that it doesn’t feel like a classic Bond film any more. But maybe our expectations were wrong. If the producers kept churning out copies of old films, I wouldn’t be impressed. Therefore, I propose that we give the newest generation of Bond its own designation. Dr. No through Die Another Day are all very formulaic, and therefore are “classic” Bond films. Being a reboot, Casino Royale abandoned all sense of continuity, and therefore should be considered the “new” James Bond. But I digress…

The plot in this film is a bit thin. In some ways, that’s a good thing – the oft-most criticized part of Layer Cake (another Daniel Craig film) is the complex plot. But it didn’t have the immediate scariness of Thunderball, for example, with the villain holding countries hostage with atomic power. This film is more realistic, and with that, a certain fantastical magic that Bond films have traditionally had is lost.

The only other critique I could offer of this film is that it was far too short. I believe that they could have spent more time telling the story and it would be just as interesting (if not moreso) and nudge the 2:00 mark quite comfortably.

Final Rating

10 – Thunderball, Goldfinger and Casino Royale
9
8
7 – Quantum of Solace
6
5
4
3
2
1 – Die Another Day, Moonraker

Verdict: Action-packed and edgy, but somehow lacking Bondian magic.

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Leopard – Really Bloody Fast Review

In Apple, Reviews on January 25, 2008 at 12:36:47 am

So, I (finally) upgraded to Leopard yesterday. Quick walkthrough:

I upgraded from Tiger. Since I modded my system so much, I figured I’d back up any essentials, and do a clean install. I know it isn’t necessary, but having old bits of ShapeShifter, Silk, APE and God-knows what else on my system isn’t exactly appealing in terms of making stuff run faster. So, clean install it is.  The install itself took about half an hour. Not bad for clearing about 80 GB of stuff from a hard drive, and tossing another 12 or 13 on it. Then the intro video ran:

Then the setup… usual stuff.

And it was at that exact moment that I remembered I hadn’t backed up my 300 or 400 bookmarks. I hate formatting sometimes.

Initial Impressions:

Leopard is familiar, visually. I’ve seen the screenshots and knew what to expect. That still didn’t prevent the “wow” moment. One thing struck me as good looking, however, that I did not expect. I saw the screenshots and videos, but I now actually like the transparent title bar. The 3D dock is sweet too, especially the shiny-ness.

Time Machine

One of the reasons I bought Leopard was because of Time Machine. It’s a super easy way to back up, or so they say. Let’s find out…

I have a 250 GB hard drive which is in a FireWire 400 enclosure. It’s perfectly suited to the task. I plugged it in, and realized that it was FAT32 formatted. So, I pulled all the useful stuff off of it (all 150 GB worth… took absolutely forever), formatted it, then partitioned it. I created one partition that matches the 120 GB hard drive in my MacBook Pro, and the remainder just for me to dump my crap. That came out really wrong. If you’re reading this and suddenly got the impression that my hard drive was a toilet, my bad.

That 150 GB of stuff I managed to pare down to 80 GB, which was nice. I put that on the crap dump section (again, my bad). Then, I set up the rest of it to work with Time Machine. The initial backup (of three-quarters of a million files) took about two and a half hours, which isn’t bad, considering it was about 50 GB of data. Then, it was 1:30 AM, so I went to bed. I left my hard drive on, thinking it would be good to let it back stuff up at night.

Here’s my first problem with Time Machine: the hard drive whirring every 15 minutes is enough to drive you mad. All of the documentation said it would happen every hour. Which meant that, after the first whirr, I had 50-odd minutes to get to sleep. Then it would carry on throughout the night, whilst I lay asleep. Ah, but ’tis not the case. The hard drive kept waking up every 10-15 minutes. So I finally just got up, told Time Machine to shut up, and turned off the drive. And that settled that.

I woke up, and turned on the hard drive. It made a backup right then. And another an hour later. It worked really well in the background. But I hit upon another weird thing.

As it was doing my 11:28 AM backup (not that you needed to know that), my computer ground to a halt. I mean, spinning pinwheels in every application regardless of what it was doing. Heck, I just had Smultron (a really dead simple text editor) running alongside Time Machine, and no dice. So, I opened up System Preferences (took about 5 minutes, and I am not exaggerating) and attempted to stop the backup. It wouldn’t budge. So, I did what any angry user would do, and force-quit the backup, ejected the drive and turned it off. I then disabled a few folders (BitTorrent transfer folder being one of them) to stem the anger. It worked. Lesson: Never let Time Machine back up an active BitTorrent folder.

I’d just like to wrap this up now, because I’m lazy, tired, hungry, and can’t think of anything else to write.

The Good

+ Looks great

+ Runs faster (after some initial slowdowns)

+ Better battery life (!), despite fancy-shmancy visual effects. I used to get about 3.5 hours on Tiger, and I’m getting 4-4.5 on Leopard.

+ Lots more functionality that I’m too lazy to list

The Bad

– Time Machine has a few quirks

–  Some initial backup calamities (guess who forgot to backup bookmarks, old IM conversations, and some of their desktop pictures collection? I did)

– Runs HOT. I installed smcFanControl to monitor the temperature. At the moment, if I keep it on default fan speed, I’m getting low-to-mid 70˚C CPU temperatures. I’ve got it on high-speed at the moment, and temperatures have dropped to the low 60˚C range. But high-speed will kill battery life.

Review – Bawls Guarana Energy Drink

In Energy Drinks, Reviews on October 1, 2007 at 6:31:59 pm
Bawls

Well, I think I’ll start this. A review of different beverages. I’ll start with Bawls, which I just tried today.

I found this at my 7-11. I thought, for $2.50 (and in a glass bottle, with nearly 300 mL), it was a good deal, so I bought it.

The taste was like Sprite mixed with cream soda. In other words, great! It had 64 mg of caffeine in those 300 mL, which is more than Red Bull has (60 mg per 250 mL), but a lower concentration, and I noticed a bit of difference. But overall, same sort of buzz.

Rating: 8/10
The Good: Great taste, cool glass bottle, great value
The Bad: Low-ish concentration of caffeine when compared with other energy drinks

UPDATE – REVISION:

Just checked the back of an old Red Bull can, and did a cross-check on the internet. It has 80 milligrams of caffeine per 250 mL.

But… I’m not done yet. Its caffeine seems to be more potent than that of Red Bull et. al., so the buzz lasts a while longer. Updated ratings:

Rating: 8.5/10
The Good: Great taste, cool glass bottle, great value, more potent caffeine, so it keeps you buzzing all night long
The Bad: Really low concentration of caffeine when compared with just about any other energy drink, but that’s OK