Railstands At the Foreclosure!

Out in California, which has been pummeled by the meltdown in the housing market, skateboarders from far and wide are draining pools in foreclosed houses so they can rip a few half-pipes. The skaters are literally traveling in packs, with pool draining tools to empty the pools so they can have their skating parties:

In these boom times for skaters, Mr. Peacock travels with a gas-powered pump, five-gallon buckets, shovels and a push broom, risking trespassing charges in the pursuit of emptying forlorn pools and turning them into de facto skate parks…Skaters are coming to places like Fresno from as far as Germany and Australia. Mr. Peacock said his floor and couch were covered by sleeping bags of visiting skateboarders each weekend.

What’s most impressive is that the skaters are using sites like realtor.com and realquest.com to find foreclosed houses with pools.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Rating: R
Released: November 26, 2008
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji Henson, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond, Elias Koteas
Trailer / Official Site

I was a little underwhelmed with this movie. It was excruciatingly long. I think they could have easily cut an half hour off the movie. The story itself was interesting (based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name) and I did find the challenges of Button’s situation (getting younger as the years went on) one that you could have a ton of fun with. But through out the movie, I consistently felt that they were trying to make this an updated version of Forrest Gump, and it just never came close.

Update (1/19/09): Appears my observation about Forrest Gump was right on the money after all.

Milk

Rating: R
Released: November 26, 2008
Starring:Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna
Trailer / Official Site

I’ll come clean here. Before this movie, I’d never heard of Harvey Milk. I had no idea of his impact and importance in American Civil Rights, Politics or GLBT rights. But I know who he is now. The movie and story is one of passion, triumph, and sadness. This movie is brilliantly acted and directed and it did a great job of enveloping you in the San Francisco Gay scene of the mid 1970’s. After watching this movie, I did some research on Harvey Milk, which included listening to an audio clip of him speaking. Doing that reinforced what an amazing job Sean Penn did in depicting Harvey Milk. His acting was spot on. Just an amazing performance! Kudos also to Josh Brolin for a nice performance as Milk’s main enemy. This is definitely one of the better movies of the year.

Frost/Nixon

Rating: R
Released: December 5, 2008
Starring: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon
Trailer / Official Site

Watergate has always been a fascinating piece of American history. Watching Frost/Nixon was a great treat as these interviews were viewed by many as Nixon’s confession, even though he never fully grasped it or stated such. There were several interesting elements to the movie: the background that it provided about how Frost and his team scored the interview and their prep work before and during the interviews; the way Nixon was depicted, and how he turned “on” during the interviews and turned “off” when they were done revealed a great deal about Nixon himself; and most of all, the way Nixon was firmly convinced this was “his world” with “his rules” and we were just living in it. Langella’s overall performance as Nixon was fantastic and is definitely Oscar worthy. If you are a Watergate junkie, this is required viewing.

Random Thoughts

Wouldn’t it be funny if Bernard Madoff’s surname was as much a scam as his company – get it – he “made off” with billions…There would be no greater pleasure than for the Jets to miss the playoffs…2008 can’t end soon enough, but I fear 2009…Thank you, Mark Felt, for helping to expose the truth…I love watching football on my HDTV…America looks forward to January 20th…There is a big void with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on vacation…I’m still enjoying the Vampire Weekend album…I *really* want an iPhone but don’t want AT&T – maybe an iPod Touch will do…A Windsor knot, Jennifer?…Was 2008 a down year in movies or what?…Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger or Robert Downey, Jr?…Is Harry Potter over yet?

Google Flips Off Net Neutrality

Google wants its own HOV lane on the information superhighway so they can avoid doing more evil.

Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.

The contentious issue has wide ramifications for the Internet as a platform for new businesses. If companies like Google succeed in negotiating preferential treatment, the Internet could become a place where wealthy companies get faster and easier access to the Web than less affluent ones, according to advocates of network neutrality. That could choke off competition, they say.

The above quote is the critical one here. Providing preferential treatment to specific companies on the Internet completely flies in the face of the principles in which the Internet was created. The internet is a series of tubes…no, sorry…was created on the principle of open standards for communications. It’s the great equalizer. After all the opportunity that the Internet has created, and is still yet to create, giving preference to bigger organizations would be a monumental step backwards. Come on folks, let’s not screw this up.

An Apple Without Jobs?

Article from the Wall Street Journal speculating about how Apple will evolve in the post Steve Jobs era:

For every design project in the pipeline, Mr. Jobs will hold meetings of two or three hours every week or two with key members of the product team. At those meetings, Mr. Jobs will critique the work in progress and also suggest adding or cutting features. Glenn Reid, a software developer during Apple’s early years who had another stint at the company that ended in 2003, recalls one such meeting just days before a photo-editing program was to go into production. Mr. Jobs decided at the last minute that an index feature on the software made the system unnecessarily complex, and decided to eliminate it, even though documentation for the product had already been printed. It was frustrating to Mr. Reid and his software team, “but it made the product better,” Mr. Reid says.

Mr. Jobs’s unwillingness to accept compromises “and the unquestioned authority that lets him issue last-minute edicts” have become a key to Apple’s success in developing new products, Mr. Reid says. George Crow, an Apple engineer in the 1980s and again from 1998 to 2005, noted that the company struggled during the years when Mr. Jobs was not running Apple.

On the other hand, certain of Mr. Jobs’s uncompromising principles with computers, such as wanting “to make the inside beautiful”, ran counter to more practical impulses. On the original Macintosh PC, Mr. Crow says, Mr. Jobs wanted the internal wiring to be in the colors of Apple’s early rainbow logo (Mr. Crow says he eventually convinced Mr. Jobs it was an unnecessary expense). On another machine that Mr. Crow worked on for NeXT, the computer maker Mr. Jobs founded between Apple stints, he says Mr. Jobs insisted that the internal power supply be nickel plated, an expensive ornamentation that was eventually discontinued.

His most recent run at Apple has been nothing short of spectacular. He is going to be a tough act to follow, but they are going to have to face reality soon.

2008

If 2008 was a marathon, then I’m crawling at about mile 25.9.

This has just been a long year on a multitude of fronts.

I am so looking forward to taking some time off for the holidays to enjoy some rest and look into 2009 with a positive and enthusiastic perspective. Even though many are saying it’s going to be a harder year than 2008.

The Pink Panther Heists

The venerable Harry Winston’s in Paris was robbed earlier this month. The robbers are said to be part of a worldwide network, nicknamed The Pink Panthers in honor of the movie and character of the same name:

As the second hand ticked, four men “three disguised as women with long blond tresses, sunglasses and winter scarves” stood in front of an intercom and demurely requested to enter the fabled Harry Winston jewelry store on Avenue Montaigne. It was just before closing time on a chilly evening along this golden triangle of boutiques that includes Dior, Chanel and Gucci, the ornate facades and trees resplendent with Christmas lights.

Buzzed in, the men rolled a small valise on wheels into the hushed inner refuge. Then they pulled out a hand grenade and a .357 Magnum. As Parisians strolled unawares past the store’s wrought-iron gates, the robbers smashed display cases and barked out orders and the names of some of the Harry Winston employees. They spoke French with strong Slavic accents.

There was no time for the police from a nearby station in the luxury district to rush over. In less than 15 minutes the diamond thieves were gone, roaring away in a waiting car through the 5:30 p.m. twilight on Dec. 4 with sacks of emeralds, rubies and chunky diamonds the size of tiny bird eggs valued at more than 80 million euros, or $105 million.

The robbers may not have been as suave as celluloid jewels thieves with the charm of David Niven (a k a the debonair phantom bandit, Sir Charles Litton) but the meticulous planning, swift execution and creative style raised suspicion that the Harry Winston heist was the handiwork of a loose global network of battle-hardened, ex-soldiers and their relatives from the former Yugoslavia.

Investigators, marveling at the gang’s ingenuity, have dubbed this unlikely network the Pink Panthers. The parallels between film and reality are perhaps best summed up in zee accent and words of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, himself from the original 1963 “The Pink Panther”.

Its stories like these that just fascinate me…real life events that parallel scenes from the big screen. The planning, ingenuity, and innovation that these crooks demonstrate is nothing short of impressive.