Ratatouille is a wonderful film from the excellent Pixar Animation studios.  To confess, the first Pixar film I saw was Cars, an unfortunate choice since it really didn’t showcase Pixar’s real strengths though still better than most films cranked out by Hollywood.

The wonderful thing about Ratatouille is that despite targeting the children’s market, although I doubt this is really accurate regarding Pixar, the story doesn’t try to sugar coat things to the point of nauseam. 

This story revolves around a luckless klutz named Linguini who finally manages to land a job as a garbage boy at a Paris restaurant on the strength of a recommendation or more like plea from a deceased mother who also happens to be the secret child of an also deceased world renowned chef (who died from shock after a scathing review from a prestigious critic) and a rat who happens to be a truly talented chef trapped in a rat’s body.

Gusteau is the name of the dead chef and his philosophy of life is "anyone can cook."  The beauty of this film is that it doesn’t bastardise the message in an idealistic mush but clearly draws the line, preaching a true meritocracy.  The "anyone" clearly means "anyone with talent" should be given the opportunity to express their true calling.

The adventure starts when the rat and boy (who could not cook a microwave dish if his life depended on it) discover that the rat can control the boy by pulling on his hair.  Thus, the rat who can never possibly seek employment in his true calling can express himself by remotely controlling the genetic heir to the throne.  Of course, this arrangement was not meant to last.

Yet, throughout the twists and turns, Remy the rat is clearly the one with the talent and the boy is and always will be just a puppet as far as cooking is concerned.  Despite his pedigree and inheritance (finally claimed), he will never ever be cut out to live the life of a chef.  Any other garbage production would pursue a storyline where the boy suddenly"discovers" his hidden talent as a chef, causing friction with the rat or some other happy ending.  That is not the case with this film, yet there is a happy ending that doesn’t feel like you downed a gallon of sugar syrup.  Everybody has a calling, as Linguini eventually finds his true talent, and  each should be happy fulfilling it.

A wonderful storyline alone does not make a Pixar animation.  This feature not only showcases some beautifully captured landscapes of Paris (including a breathtaking night scape) but thrilling chase scenes filled with some masterful production.  The rats move like rats, yet they are very human in the expression of their emotions.  So much of it is realistic that it makes you wonder when we’ll have Hollywood live actor-quality "animation" films.

The geek appeal of Pixar films are the masterful storylines mixed with the truly amazing technical firepower that powers these feature productions.  A true Renaissance house.

Heart Rate Monitors to Rock Out Your Workout

Everything’s been great since I took a break from running and switching to jump rope.  Unfortunately, it’s gotten harder to set goals with regard to workout intensity.  The main difficulty is that as a beginner I can barely stay jumping for any more than 10 minutes.  The intervals get even shorter when I’m having a bad day or near the end of my workout.  To top it off I usually sneak in my workout first thing in the morning because I know there’s a slim chance in hell I’ll even workout after work.

All in all, I tend to slack off on workouts depending on the way I’m feeling at the time.  Running is good in the sense that I’ve been doing it a while and there are no stops or interruptions aside from traffic lights and small children getting in your way.  I have a general feel for my heart rate and can more or less ensure I get a good workout.  With jumping rope it’s hard to assess just how much work I put into it.

So, I put down $150 or so for a heart rate monitor from Polar.  I thought it sucked that I had to wet the little chest strap before working out but it’s not a big deal as much as people think.  While you’re jumping you get to keep track of your heart rate with beeps that tell you if you’re out of your zone (it doesn’t beep when your heart rate’s optimal).  I set my heart rate between 160-180 bpm.  That’s quite a workout.  I can stay in the zone roughly 15-20 minutes out of 40 minutes so far, allowing me to burn 500 kcal in one session.  Now there are no "off" days.  I can put out consistent work as long as I add a couple minutes to the workout if I need to.  These past couple of days have been a dream in terms of making the most of my limited time.  I guess the only thing I have to worry about is over-training.  My jump rope’s already improved greatly just this past week.

The other shocking revelation is how demoralizing the actual stats from exercise machines are.  Most exercise machines are equipped with heart rate monitor receivers.  Unfortunately, it means very little aside from displaying a more accurate heart rate than gripping the little metal bars since a lot of machines obviously calculate the amount of work put out based on weight and a predetermined rate pegged to the exertion level you set on the machine.  After a rigorous session on the stationary bike I found the calories burned as stated on the HRM more than a couple hundred kcal different!  I burned more than 900 kcal in a gruelling hour long session whereas I never topped 700 kcal on the same machine with the same conditions.

If you’re serious about fitness or getting the most out of your sessions I strongly recommend it.

No Country for Old Men

I must say that I didn’t quite expect the film No Country for Old Men to be a literary master piece in film form.  Like all good pieces that are faithful to the form, there are no happy endings, or no conclusions drawn, just a vague and distant look into the hopeful wasteland that is humanity.

Javier Bardem plays a middle-aged emo psycho hitman with a longish mop.  He is out to retrieve money from a Mexican mafia drug transaction gone wrong.  Tommy Lee Jones is a sheriff on the verge of retiring and the man of the law on the case.  Josh Brolin is a simple man, a welder from Texas, who stumbles upon said scene and grabs cash, thereby setting off a chain of events.

Javier is the symbolic harbringer of fate and chance.  He being a psychopathic hitman, meaning the odds are not in your favor.  At one point he stakes a gas station owner’s life on the flip of the coin, unbeknownst to the man and eventually walking away.  Javier is far from the stereotypical hitman.  He is weird, violent, and random.  Yet he manages to draw you into his character and make you wonder what makes this psycho tick.  I was surprised to find out Javier is actually a Spanish actor who only started appearing in Hollywood productions very recently.

Josh is a man suddenly given the chance to leave the struggling life behind and make a new start with his loving wife.  Of course, he has to make it out alive.  Little does he know what he’s up to.

The film is unique in that it’s essentially the story of three men set against the desolate, yet majestic landscapes of Texas that metaphorically express man’s struggle against fate and nature.  Triumph is only fleeting while resignation so  easy.  The three men’s destiny becomes increasingly intertwined before silently unravelling.  There isn’t a single frame in the movie where the characters appear together or with each other.

It’s a movie with a plot you could summarize in a sentence yet not be able to really explain all the intricacies implicitly expressed in the plot if given days.  It’s a rare literary piece in film form.

Gratuitous Post on MySQL Acquisition

I sincerely hope that Sun is no longer the place that promising ideas and projects go to die. To be fair they’ve been innovating and open-sourcing some great stuff like zfs, solaris and java. Of course, having a pony-tailed CEO is not the same as having a coherent strategy. If you consider the potential of MySQL the acquisition price seems like a major bargain. They were also on the brink of making an IPO. I wonder why they bailed at the last minute?

As mentioned in the official posts, a lot of IT departments actually want to pay for open source offerings. It helps sooth the accounting department and it acts as a safety net for incompetent or inexperienced engineers to deploy technology. It hardly matters if they’re the exact same product. I had the recent pleasure of using Red Hat Enterprise Linux on a server. There’s really not much different from CentOS (its open source counterpart) and in fact you can upgrade/switch RHEL to CentOS seamlessly. The only difference is you can’t use RHEL’s up2date package management without registering an email address and having a valid support contract (this one ran out). I had to think for a minute, okay I need to register an email and pay for support or switch to the open source version where this just works out the box. I wonder.

I guess that’s the reality of enterprise software vending. I’m not saying engineers in large organizations are all third-rate. However, they do attract their share of people with all the right credentials and none of the required skills. There are brilliant hackers in any organization but a lot of the really brilliant engineers strike out on their own or are attracted to organizations with the most toys, intellectual stimulation, and freedom. Right now that’s Google. They’re also the least likely to let a vendor dictate the terms.

The reason I took this digression is that there’s not escaping the fact that IT will continue to grow and make inroads into the corporate even more than it is now. Unfortunately, engineering talent doesn’t grow on trees. This means that you have to adjust for the quality of recruits by other means and in many cases that might mean enterprise support. We’ll see how it all plays out. The people at MySQL certainly deserve the recognition and cash for all they’ve done. Of course, the community plays a major part in an open source project of this scale but sometimes we tend to forget the importance and difficulty of fostering such a community and this is where MySQL shines.

Categories: web

Is That an Oversized iPod Touch?

MacBook Air. I have a theory that Apple’s product naming scheme is getting inversely more crappier as the products become more amazing. So, we get an oversized iPod Touch for $1799 with a nice hardware keyboard and a hard disk drive with the capacity of a laptop from the early 1990s. Truly newsworthy. What’s more you get to carry around all the little things they carved out of that cardboard of a notebook like an optical drive, ethernet, and so on. Good luck cramming that into the generously allocated single USB port. Maybe you’ll find the rest of your computer “in the air”.

Haha. I’m not going to front. I want that baby. Only with a 100GB hard drive and for $800. Really. It would be a nice second laptop to carry around while I leave the main machine at home. Maybe it’s something to think about in the future but I still believe that hard drive capacity on the internal storage matters.

I wonder if all the wireless stuff will make the MacBook Air a success. Vaio did this in the mid 90s. I kid you not. They engineered out all the ports and drives to produce some really thin laptops back in the day but people got tired of having a “super small and light” laptop with all the peripherals dangling about like a desperate brood of bastard children clinching their anorexic mother.

I’ll let the fools stupid enough to buy this one and scoop the more improved version bound to come. Also, thanks for charging $20 to upgrade that crippled iPod Touch you sold me after Christmas. I got all that on the pod already minus the “wiggly” dock. Thanks for kicking your loyal customers in the nuts. I can’t wait for next years Mac World. I heard a rumor that Leopard will finally come out of beta.

A Wishlist for Steve Jobs

Now that the Macworld Expo is looming, I thought I would put out some wishes for Uncle Steve. I really don’t want anything big or fancy. Here we go.

Fix Those Damn Leopard Issues Good

I was all chuckling and smug at the little jokes made at Windows users and Vista victims at their expense. It was all nice and funny until Leopard came and bit me hard. Why wasn’t I told this was a release candidate? I can’t even get multilingual keyboard input working with an external keyboard on a macbook. The bluetooth mouse goes AWOL. Plus, if you password protect your sleep mode or screen saver, well sweet dreams good luck raising it from the dead. Why oh why was this even released? I really should have stayed with Tiger. In fact I’m typing this on Tiger. How sad is it that I have a dual boot system for Tiger and Leopard. I’m rooting for you Steve. Call those phone people back and embrace them with open arms because this cat needs all the help it can get.

Release Thy Phone and iPod with Touch

I know that this iPhone/iPod Touch is your precious baby. I love the touch too. I love it so much that I’ve hacked it to death and I’m tired of playing a tug of war with your engineers. Why must firmware updates be the kiss of death for all the nice little third party applications and data. It’s just not cool. I paid for this device and I’d like to put whatever data or application on it as I please. Yes, I’m sure you’re concerned about all the nasty crackers out to take iPhone/Touch users for a ride along with all their precious data but there has to be a better way.

Might as Well as Call a Spade a Spade

On a related note, we might as well as let the secret out in the open. That iPhone/Touch is none other than a OSX. A very stripped down but very functional one. Of course, good luck if you want all the BSD goodies or UNIX tools you’ve come to love. No luck to you unless your hack it using third party offerings. This is unfortunate because we’re treating a brilliant little nano computer as a mere music/video player with phone capabilities when it is so much more.

Wifi Syncing for iPod Touch

Yeah, I’ve been spending just a little too much time with the iPod touch but one of the things I wish I could do is sync my iPod Touch using available wifi connections. There really isn’t a need to tether the Touch or iPhone to a mac unless it’s to give it some juice. It would be so much more convenient. Maybe even .mac syncing for the Touch/iPhone while we’re at it.

About the only new product I’m rooting for is the subnotebook and there is no way in hell I’m buying that first generation product. I really want Apple to focus on the line up they have and hire enough brilliant engineers without spreading them thin like they did this past couple of years.

Developing Web Apps on Windows

I finally got my windows environment up to par though I still have some ways to go. In a sense I’m not really developing on windows since I log in to a regular UNIX server where I check out code and run vim remotely to write the web app. As long as I’m using putty, GNU screen and the Osaka font (which is a nice clone of mac’s Monaco font for the windows platform) it’s really hard to even think I’m even on windows. I guess in a sense a blessing that I don’t have any of my shiny mac apps since it would cut into productivity.

Right now I’m basically writing code on the server via GNU screen (so I can resume coding when I cut my internet connection) and running a test server that connects with the windows Apache to test code. Of course, I could be doing a lot of this out of the box with the mac but once you get a development environment going none of it really matters. I’m just happy that it wasn’t as much of a royal pain as I initially thought.

Spiderman 3

Finally got a chance to see Spiderman 3. I’ve read quite a few reviews about it not being up to par with the other Spiderman movies, particularly the second. The curse of sequels is not always that continuations rarely live up to the original but also that critics endlessly compare them to other installments in the series rather than seeing the movie as an independent film that stands on its own. Of course, one of the major obstacles is the fact that there are so many intertwining story lines, especially when drawing from a universe as rich as the Spiderman universe.

To be honest, I could never get used to the idea of Toby as Spiderman. The sequence where Parker gets overtaken by some kind of intergalactic black glob and goes emo had me cringing hard. He’s a really good actor and the series plays the “nerd given super powers” angle really good but I kinda wish James Franco got the part. I digress. Spiderman really amazed me for the breadth that it covers without really losing its focus. It could have easily be split up and developed as Spiderman 3, 4, and 5 but Sam Raimi put it all together in a beautiful package.

Rosemary Harris does a brilliant turn as Aunt May, preaching forgiveness while still coping with the loss of her husband. I was moved to the brink of tears when she recounted her courtship with Peter’s deceased uncle as she gave her wedding ring for him to propose to Mary Jane.

The Spiderman series works because of the conflict inherent in the film. Peter’s struggle with his private self, still the nerdy kid at college struggling to make ends meet, and public self as Spiderman the selfless yet anonymous hero out to make New York and the world a better place. The black suit brings out Peter’s darker side and we see him hurt all the people he loves the most except Aunt May, even disfiguring his best friend Harry. This movie brings all these conflicts to their climax and conclusion.

Don’t want to spoil it for anyone so here’s my vague review. All I can say is that it was a touching and fitting conclusion to the trilogy and I hope some bastard executive doesn’t try to bring this one back and let’s the damn thing go.