Taken 2 & Frankenweenie – Are they any good?

Friday, 5 October, 2012

taken 2 - Frankenweenie

Taken 2 and Frankenweenie are two of the movies opening in Calgary theatres today. So are they any good? In a weekly Fox LA hangout with Rotten Tomatoes’ Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity, I got some insight from Matt and will share with you here.

*** Taken 2 ***

Many people, this reporter included, LOVE the great action thriller Taken (2008) starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen. In the first Taken, “Neeson plays a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative who sets about tracking down his daughter after she is kidnapped by human traffickers while traveling in France.” To me, Liam Neeson is a great dramatic actor but I had never been him so ass-kicking and believable as a lean-mean-killing-machine before Taken. So naturally, I’ve been eagerly waiting for Taken 2 over the years since I watched Taken the DVD borrowed from Calgary Public Library. Unfortunately, I’m quite disappointed to see a 17% Rotten rating (88 Rotten out of 104 reviews so far) for Taken 2. Yikes! Rotten Tomatoes’ Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity described Taken 2 as weak. We all had a good laugh when Matt mentioned someone had fun with the title of Taken 2 and changing it to “Look Who’s Taken 2″, I presume, reference the unfunny comedy “Look Who’s Talking“.

So set your expectation of Taken 2 really really low if you have to watch it. And do share what you think about it. Leave a comment. Given what I heard and read now, I think I would rather re-watch Taken if I want to see Neeson kick-ass.

*** Frankenweenie ***

Frankenweenie has a 84% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating (76 fresh out of 91 reviews). The film is an extended version of a short film by Tim Burton years ago. Rotten Tomatoes’ Matt thinks the stop motion is really well done. While Matt really likes the film but he suggested may be the film isn’t for kids too young (younger than 8). It should be noted that Frankenweenie is written, directed & produced by Tim Burton himself whereas The Nightmare Before Christmas (a great film I love) was only written & produced by Burton but not directed by Burton.

This article cross-posted by me in examiner.com


Ricky Gervais’ jokes at Golden Globes 2012

Sunday, 15 January, 2012

Ricky Gervais hosting 2012 Golden Globes

Jan 18, 2012 update: Ricky Gervais on David Letterman 2012.01.17 talking about his Golden Globes performance, etc

Live Blogging/tweeting Golden Globes in reverse order of posting (latest posting first).

* Ricky linked to these two show reviews, New York Post “Irreverent Ricky keeps party zinging” and USA Today “For Globe openers, Gervais is up to his old quips”.

* THR, “TV Ratings: Golden Globes Steady in 2012

“Though most time zone adjusted numbers aren’t yet available, the 2012 Golden Globes look likely to retain much of its audience from last year’s show. Sunday’s Globes were broadcast live across the country, with a 8:00 p.m. encore in the Pacific Time Zone, so current stats on total viewers and adults 18-49 are subject to likely revision and are expected to go up.”

* Post-show comments: Check out, very good show reviews from

- UK Daily Mail, “Golden Globes 2012: He’s back and naughtier than ever! Beer-swilling Ricky Gervais drops the F-word, jokes about the size of his penis and Jodie Foster’s ‘Beaver’”

- The Atlantic, “The Insufferable Self-Seriousness of the Golden Globes”

- Macleans, “Oh, Ricky, You’ll Say Anything

And I think the best review is by THR Chief TV Critic Tim Goodman, “Golden Globes 2012 Review: Ricky Gervais a ‘Letdown,’ ‘Punk’d’ the Awards“. I like Tim’s “‘Punk’d’” theory but I don’t know if it is true and we will find out from Ricky soon. Here is an excerpt from Tim’s Review (emphasis added),

“The trouble with the Golden Globes telecast this year was simple — it was egregiously boring. The Oscars and Emmys can’t get here fast enough to erase this three-hour dud.
Does Gervais deserve some of the blame? Well, in so much that he led a lot of people to believe he was going to be a very naughty boy, then yes. Otherwise, he was funny enough. He did his bit. And let’s remember that the host at the Globes is often absent for vast stretches of time — last year’s running internet joke was that the Globes had fired Gervais mid-show and he’d never return. But it was just how the show has evolved. The host is, essentially, a minimal presence.
No, the Globes were boring all on their own.

“Ah, but there’s something clever afoot when you think about Gervais’ underwhelming performance. Think about it. Think still more. And now consider this: Ricky Gervais just Punk’d the Globes. He exacted revenge for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association making such a stink last year and taking the moral high ground, lambasting him for being cruel and petty, a bitter outcast comic among real actors and stars. It could be that Gervais’ skin really is that thick and he didn’t suffer their angry arrows. Or it could be that when the Globes realized it really did need Gervais because controversy breeds ratings and ratings keep you viable, that Gervais plotted his revenge.
And Sunday night he took it. He wasn’t merciless. He wasn’t outraged. Hell, he didn’t even seem very involved or even committed. It’s as if he said, “You hired me last year knowing what you’d get, then you fired me when you got it. Well, this year you get what you truly wanted. And you definitely get what you deserve.
Cheeky, that. Oh, you clever, clever bastard. Well played, Ricky Gervais. You got the Globes but good.

And some “ok” reviews from LA Times and Reuters, and see THR for “Golden Globes 2012: The Winners List

Golden Globes 2012 – Ricky Gervais Opening Monologue

* In answer to VanityFair’s Tweet question, “Who wants to guess what Ricky Gervais said that required a 4-second bleep at the #goldenglobes?Read the rest of this entry »


Drive Different – How Steve Jobs Legally Drove Without a License Plate

Thursday, 27 October, 2011

Mystery solved - Here's how Steve Jobs drove without licence plates

Love this Steve Jobs drove without License Plate story for a Friday. See CA DMV law section 4456 (c) (1) &(2) at the bottom of the page.

Drive/Think Different

See also my Steve Jobs biography review/”best of” series.

HT these articles which gave partial answers (without the legal reference).


Final Cut Pro X – Impulse purchase halted by negative reviews

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011

June 27 Update: Excellent reviews/comments here, here (dvcreators review, long but very insightful), here, here (MacWorld), and here (PC Magazine).

***

Final Cut Pro X - USA (avg 2.78 stars by 183 users)

I was hoping to simply buy Final Cut Pro X as an impulse item because it is relatively cheap ($299) given I expect a full suite of powerful features plus more! So it is unfortunate to read the really “mixed reviews” (less diplomatic wording: shitty reviews) of the buggy FCP X is getting since it came out yesterday. Check out the mixed FCPX articles/reviews by Philip Hodgetts and Larry Jordan. And App store comments like: “2 hours of use: 3 crashes” and then “As a new, more sophisticated version of iMovie? Sure. As a “pro” app marketed to professionals to replace aging FCP7? Not ready for prime-time.” )

If Final Cut Pro X had received universal glowing reviews, I would have bought it myself and playing with it now. Instead, my perfect little impulse item has turned into an item that needs to be justified. And a buggy/crashed prone (according to some users’ experiences) software doesn’t deserve three of my crisp $100 bills (paper or polymer)!

Update: Looks like FCP X can’t import Panasonic AVCHD MTS files directly. No good!

Quoting Larry, who works closely with Apple in creating FCP X training, has not surprisingly an overall positive review despite the following complains,

“There’s no multicam support.

[...] Worse, there’s no native way to export a project to send it to either Soundtrack Pro or ProTools for sound mixing.

I’ve already mentioned there is no native ability to layback to tape using timecode control.”

Final Cut Pro X - Canada (avg 2.72 stars by 50 users)

June 24 update: TechCrunch, “Conan Wastes No Time Lampooning “Final Cut Pro Ex”


iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese speech-to-speech translation app

Saturday, 5 March, 2011

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 2

What is Jibbigo?

Jibbigo is a “speech-to-speech translation app for your mobile device. You talk in one language, it talks back in the other. [...] No data charges required–just your voice. Jibbigo is available in eight different language pairs on iTunes and the Android Market.

Apple iPad app:  “Jibbigo ” (link to iTune)

Price: US$ 24.99

Star rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

*** Background ***

Machine translation is a very difficult problem even for desktop/large computers. I see translation in three levels of difficulties, beginning with the hard problem of text-to-text translation, then speech-to-text translation, and the toughest one is speech-to-speech translation (the one Jibbigo tries to do). Why? Because speech-to-speech translation requires,

1) the original (e.g. English/Chinese) human voice be recognized and converted correctly into (English/Chinese) text;

2) the translation of recognized text into target language text (Chinese/English) be performed correctly (very hard in itself); and

3) the translated target text being read out in the target language correctly (should be easier but not always as you will see here).

I’ve spent days and many hours testing and exploring the Jibbigo iPad app (feeling like testing software in one of my previous jobs). The following is my review plus an edited video highlighting some of the tests I’ve conducted.

*** The Good/OK ***

* Translation of simple greetings (“Good morning.”, “Good Afternoon.” etc) were done correctly most of the time.

* Some simple English sentences were picked up and translated to Chinese correctly.

(e.g. “How much?” ==> “多少钱?”; “How about two million five hundred thousand dollars?” was translated to “2500000美元怎样?” (note: ; 2500000 was read as 2 million, 500 thousands); “Do you have orange juice?” ==> “有橙汁吗?”; “I live in Canada.” ==> “我住在加拿大。”)

* Jibbigo allows user to enter names and their Chinese translations. For example, I entered my name Kempton and my name in Chinese. Jibbigo was able to recognize my name “Kempton” in English and translated it to Chinese. Unfortunately, Jibbigo failed to pronounce my Chinese name correctly. More on this in the next section.

* Some simple sentences were translated somewhat correctly.

(e.g. “What time do I need to get up in the morning?” was translated to “我想要什么时候起床?” The translation missed the word “morning” “早晨/早上” and confused “need to” with “想要” (the word for “wish to”).

“Where can I rent a car?” was translated to “我在哪能租车吗?” . This Chinese translation is understandable but a better one may be “我在哪里可以租到车?” since the “吗” at the end is not really necessary. And being the picky me, I think “哪里可以” is stylistically better than “哪能”.

* To “protect” the user :), Jibbigo won’t display or translate profanities. So if you said “F*ck off!”, the Jibbigo will show it detected/picked up “<beep> off.” and actually create a beep and display “<beep>.” instead of doing any Chinese translation!

*** The Bad/Not-so-good ***

* The simple sentence of “Do you have steak?” was translated to the non-sensical “你有排怎么做?” instead of the correct one of “你有牛排吗?”.

“I am having steak for dinner.” was incorrectly translated to “我的牛排吗。”, missing the word/idea of “dinner” and adding the question word “吗” for no good reason. A better translation may be “我的晚餐是牛排。” or  “我吃牛排晚餐。”

* “The machine part number is 123456789.” was translated to “这个机器号码是123456789分。” The last word “分” is not needed and indeed confusing and misleading.

* “How much is your machine?” was badly translated to “你是多少钱?” meaning “How much are YOU?” Jibbigo missed the important word of “machine”. A better translation is “你的机器是多少钱?”

* “I need it next month.” was incorrectly translated to “我需要它。” missing the translation for “next month”. A better translation may be “我下个月需要它。”

* I think this one may be tough but important to crack. Jibbigo has problems with proper nouns. e.g. “China Airlines.” was translated to “中国航空公司。” when the proper Chinese name for this Taiwan-based airline is “中華航空公司”. Imagine, someone at the airport trying to fly “中国航空公司” and being told there is no such airline!

“How about two million Canadian dollars?” was badly translated to “加2500000美元吗?”, misplacing the word “加” (for Canada?) and missing the fact that it is “Canadian dollars” and not US dollars “美元”. The correct translation should be “2500000加元怎样?”

* When the Chinese tester said hello and her Chinese name (which was entered into Jibbigo), the app picked up, “你好。我交换怀孕。” and translated the words to, “Hello. I am exchange.” Jibbigo goofed badly because “交换” and “怀孕” are the words for “exchange” and “pregnant”, very far off from her name!

* “Bee” was translated as “啤酒”, the words for “beer”! The correct Chinese words for bee are “蜜蜂”.

* And for some strange reason, Jibbigo failed to translate the following list of words when they were said individually. “Talk, Speak, Speaking, Love, Month,

*** Software stability problems and errors ***

* When iPad went into sleep/auto-lock mode (I set my iPad to go to sleep in 5 minutes) while Jibbigo is running, it will crash and will fail to record voice/function properly when the iPad is woken up.

*** Concluding comments ***

As a computer geek and someone who wants to see Jibbigo‘s technology working, I am disappointed to find Jibbigo failed to work as advertised. Based on my extensive testing, I cannot recommend Jibbigo. And as one Jibbigo user commented in his review, “I wouldn’t dare use this on a trip for fear of getting laughed at or smacked!“. To be truthful, I don’t think he was being excessively harsh.

I think the Jibbigo English to Chinese translation app development team needs to spend some time in resolving the various translation and stability problems in the current version of the software (Jan 21, 2011, Version 1.12226). I wish the Jibbigo team the best of luck.

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 3

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 4

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 5

P.S. The user can choose one of two language pairs, “English International <==> Chinese” or “English USA/Canada <==> Chinese”, I picked Canadian English.

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation


iPad app review: Moving Tales’ Unwanted Guest

Thursday, 3 March, 2011

Moving Tales' Unwanted Guest - pix 1Moving Tales' Unwanted Guest - pix 2

Apple iPad app:  ”Unwanted Guest

Price: US$ 4.99

Star rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Unwanted Guest“ is great story and wonderfully designed app by the creative people at Moving Tales. The story about a poor old man, down on his luck and living in a tumbledown house, is visited by an unwelcome house guest was very engaging that I ended up finishing the app/book in one reading! The animations are beautifully imagined, stunningly designed and rendered. The English, French, and Spanish voice-over all sounded very engaging and worked great with the story. I can imagine some parents using the foreign languages option to teach their children one or more of the languages. I highly recommend you check out ”Unwanted Guest“.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Moving Tales‘s first story app ”The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross“, have a look of my 2010 August app review and you may want to get that app too. By now, I have seen and reviewed producer/director/animator Matthew Talbot-Kelly’s Moving Tales team of creative people’s last two out of three story apps and they are setting very high standard for the industry!

The following is a promotional clip of the app from Moving Tales.


Joe Weber FlyingWord CEO interview – “Treasure Island” iPad app

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 2

The following are video clips of my Skype video interview with Joe Weber, CEO and co-founder of FlyingWord, to talk about their Treasure Island iPad app based on the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (beautifully narrated for about 7 hours)

Also check out my FlyingWord “Treasure Island” iPad app review.

Here are part 1 of my interview with Joe.

Part 2

Part 3

Here is a promotional clip of FlyingWord’s Treasure Island,


iPad app review: FlyingWord’s “Treasure Island”

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 1

The following is a review of the pre-release version of FlyingWord Treasure Island iPad app. And I will post my video interview with Joe Weber, CEO and co-founder of FlyingWord, later.

***

Apple iPad app: “Treasure Island” by FlyingWord based on the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Price: $7.99

Launch date: Nov 13, 2010

Promotional clip of FlyingWord’s Treasure Island

Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Pros

- Lively and very engaging narration of the original full-length classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (beautifully narrated for about 7 hours)

- Excellent music and sound effects at the right places.

- Historical original Treasure Island illustrations by N. C. Wyeth and Walter Paget.

- Nicely rendered 2D illustrations into “3D projections”, camera angle controllable by readers. [Note: the 3D here is not real Avatar 3D, but closer to what Ken Burns does with his "layers" of photos in a scene.]

- Some of the pages have objects for readers to play with. For sure to check out the cannon. (These objects have “physics engines” behind them to allow users to move them around.)

Cons

- The initial version of the app has a few bugs that I’ve reported to FlyingWord.

-The app has problems waking up from “sleep” or “auto-lock” modes. Narration fails to restart gracefully. In a few instances, waking up after sleep actually tripped the narration and it got stuck in repeating a word/sound.

- If the reader flip to a page where part of the text in the paragraph is in the previous page, the narration will read from the text in the previous page. This result can be very confusing for the readers as they may not know this is the “expected behaviour”. To me, readers may expect when flipping to a new page, the narration will match the text she/he reads on the page.

- Many of the objects are a bit too small and difficult to control.
+ e.g. in the breakfast scene (bottle is ok, but the egg, plate, and sword are difficult to manipulate)
+ in the scene with the apple barrel, the barrel can be easily moved but the apples are not controllable even though the readers will likely spend time to try to move it. It may be more enjoyable if the apples are made bigger and controllable by readers like the barrel.

- This one is technical. Currently, the space outside of the edges of the 2D to 3D projections are blank (set to black space). I think it will look nicer and gives a more immersive experience if the whole background are filled and readers won’t see black space around the edges of the original 2D frames.

Comments:

As discussed in the Pros section, the narration is lively and very engaging and I really love it. At the same time, the app may have been a bit ambitious in using the full-length original Treasure Island in its launch version. The good news is that an abridged free update will be released in a few weeks after the initial launch. To me, the abridged version with shorter audio (~1.5 hour long) and text will be a nicer fit for kids who will appreciate the physics engines games and 2D-to-3D effects more.

To write this review, I also found and checked out a LibriVox free audio book version of Treasure Island on the app store and it has the original text and the audio is reasonably good but definitely not as exciting/engaging as FlyingWord‘s version.

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 2

Coming Soon

FlyingWord‘s next book is ‘Twas the night before Christmas (tentative price: about $4.99).


One Big Hapa Family review & Jeff Chiba Stearns CIFF Film Talk

Monday, 11 October, 2010

One Big Hapa Family posterOne Big Hapa Family - Jeff & Grandpa

I interviewed Jeff Chiba Stearns in advance of the world premiere screening his first feature-length documentary One Big Hapa Family at the 2010 Calgary International Film Festival.

In Jeff’s live action and animated documentary One Big Hapa Family, he insightfully and in a fun way explores “why almost 100% of all Japanese-Canadians are marrying interracially, the highest out of any other ethnicity in Canada, and how their mixed children perceive their unique multiracial identities.” Jeff explored the subject with insightful interviews and observations.

One Big Hapa Family - Koga Reunion 2009

Jeff has also blended animation nicely into his documentary so the film can also reach the younger audiences and students easier. If you have a chance, I highly recommend you check out the film. Look out for the film as it will be coming to your local OMNI TV channel in 2011.

The following animated frames are examples of Jeff skillfully using animation to tell the story in a more fun and informative manner. Sushi may now be loved by many North Americans, but the first frame illustrates the younger Jeff having the unfortunate experience of his home-made sushi being unloved and rejected by his fellow classmates. The worst thing was even his teacher didn’t even break the ice by trying one piece!

One Big Hapa Family - Sushi

One Big Hapa Family - Ben

One Big Hapa Family - Chalk Hapas

Here is a movie trailer,

Here is a clip of Jeff talking about One Big Hapa Family at a post screening film chat.

Photo of Jeff at world premiere of One Big Hapa Family.

Jeff Chiba Stearns, One Big Hapa Family, 2010 CIFF Calgary International Film FestivalJeff Chiba Stearns, One Big Hapa Family, 2010 CIFF Calgary International Film Festival

Jeff giving a film talk and Q&A at Calgary Japanese Community Association.

Calgary Japanese Community AssociationJeff Chiba Stearns, "One Big Hapa Family" film talk at Calgary Japanese Community Association


Kings of Pastry – CIFF review

Monday, 11 October, 2010

2010 CIFF Picks: Kings of Pastry

Kings of Pastry is one of my 2010 Calgary International Film Festival Picks. The film was great to watch for food/pastry lovers as the pastry were all beautifully made , creatively inspiring, and made with all the attentions to the smallest details. On a deeper level, I also see Kings of Pastry as a film about the journeys for a group of people (pastry chefs in this case) who are willing to go really far (to the extreme) in their pursuits of excellence.

Kings of Pastry made me felt like one of the chefs, experiencing their ups and their downs with them. I highly recommend you check out Kings of Pastry when you can.

Here is a trailer of the film.

Here is a clip from the film.


“Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn” documentary review & film talk

Tuesday, 28 September, 2010

"Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn" documentary review

Good documentary is a great way to get to know someone. In the 2010 Calgary International Film Festival, the wonderfully made Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn introduced me to Michi Weglyn.

Here is an excerpt from Huffington Post’s detailed and insightful review of the film,

In Out of Infamy, Sharon and Nancy, using archival film footage and stills, tell the story of the camps by focusing on one particular detainee, Michi Nishiura Weglyn, who spent an impressionable part of her youth during World War II in the Gila River War Relocation Center near Phoenix, Arizona. Her story is especially interesting because she later became a successful fashion designer, probably best known for doing the costumes for The Perry Como Show on network TV during the 1960s. Several years after leaving the Como show, Weglyn took a bold turn in life and did extensive research on the concentration camps and wrote a definitive history called Years of Infamy that exposed this shameful stain on America’s recent past. The book’s road to publication was fraught with resistance from American publishers who didn’t want to touch the story. Weglyn should be known as a hero to all Americans for her tireless struggle to reveal such an unpopular truth.

Watching Michi in Out of Infamy reminded me of Audrey Hepburn as I think both ladies shared the same sense of grace and beauty and both did wonderful work for the greater good. If you have a chance, go watch Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn.

Here is Sharon Yamato, co-director of Out of Infamy, giving a film talk and doing Q&A in Calgary. Also check out the film synopsis and trailer.

Sharon Yamato, "Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn" and Jeff Chiba Stearns, "One Big Hapa Family" film talk at Calgary Japanese Community Association


Pedlar Lady is Apple iPad App of the week for US & Canada

Thursday, 19 August, 2010

Pedlar Lady - iPad App of the week for US & Canada (Aug 19, 2010)

I am excited to report the really cool Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross app is,

Apple iPad app of the week in US and Canada!

#1 on iTunes Canada Top Paid iPad Book Apps.

- #2 on U.S. iTunes store – top paid AND top grossing iPad books.

Check out my review of the Pedlar Lady iPad app. And my video interview with Matthew Talbot-Kelly, director and producer of the app, to talk about the app.

Congrats Matthew, really happy for you and your team!

Pedlar Lady - iPad App description

Cinematic iPad storytelling app review: “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross”


Matthew Talbot-Kelly “The Trembling Veil of Bones” interview

Tuesday, 10 August, 2010

Matthew Talbot-Kelly interviews (Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross iPad app & The Trembling Veil of Bones animation)

Matthew Talbot-Kelly (imdb), director & producer of the animated short film “The Trembling Veil of Bones” and creator of the “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross” iPad app, is an animator that was trained in architecture. In the following Skype video interview, I chatted with Matthew about how his knowledge of architecture influences his animations, why he decided to find an actor to play Bones, the story’s protagonist, the meanings of some of the images in the film, and more. Enjoy.

The following are clips produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

THE TREMBLING VEIL OF BONES (MAKING OF)

THE TREMBLING VElL OF BONES: INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR MATTHEW TALBOT-KELLY


iPad app interview: Matthew Talbot-Kelly “Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross”

Tuesday, 10 August, 2010

Matthew Talbot-Kelly interviews (Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross iPad app & The Trembling Veil of Bones animation)

Aug 19, 2010 update: Pedlar Lady is Apple iPad App of the week for US & Canada

***

It was a lot of fun chatting with Matthew Talbot-Kelly (imdb), director & producer of the Apple iPad app “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross” (see app review here).

Matthew got the idea to develop an iPad app right after watching Steve Jobs first demoed the iPad online (in late Jan 2010). After watching Jobs’ demo, Matthew concluded Jobs “didn’t really have the killer app” for iPad and demoed uses were things people could already do with their computers. Soon after the Jobs’ demo, Matthew took one of his animation projects (one previously pitched as a short film) and pitched it again, but this time as an iPad app. And Matthew was able to quickly find an interested Vancouver investor. A note to creative people out there: sometimes your prior creative ideas/efforts can generate result in unexpected places at a later time, you never know if you keep your eyes open.

Pedlar Lady is a story based on an 800 years old poem and this story has many variants around the world. Matthew turned to his partner Jacqueline Rogers and asked her to write and transform the story into a story telling text that is playful, magical, dynamic and alive at the same time. The time it took to create the iPad app is hard to determine because it included a long process of research & development to figure out what are possible or not possible in the current iOS software development kit 4. There are more technical discussions in the video interview.

The animation artists involved int app development are experienced 3D or 2D animators, so animated objects are 3 dimensional and are in prospective. Take a look of the included promotional clip to see what the animations in the app looks like.

The creation of the Pedlar Lady was the beautiful result of an international effort with Matthew and his partner based in Gibson, BC and other collaborators working from Ireland, New Brunswick, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, South Africa, London, Mexico, Peru, Finland, etc.

The following are the videos of my interesting Skype video chat with Matthew. Enjoy.

Here is a promotional clip of “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross” iPad app


Cinematic iPad storytelling app review: “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross”

Monday, 9 August, 2010

Cinematic iPad storytelling app review: “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross”

Aug 19, 2010 update: Pedlar Lady is Apple iPad App of the week for US & Canada

***
The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross” is a beautifully designed cinematic iPad storytelling app published by Moving Tales. Make sure you check out the enclosed promotional clip of the Pedlar Lady app so you can see some samples of the beautifully rendered images/animations.

Apple iPad app:  “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross

Price: US$ 4.99

Star rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Pros:

* Beautifully and cinematically 3D rendered moving images that go along well with an engaging story. Matthew Talbot-Kelly, producer and director of the iPad app, is also a very experienced animator and you can totally tell from the stunning animations. Even the “cover” of the story app contains a 3D fly through to the Pedlar Lady’s house. (see clip)

* Beautifully recorded sound effects and narration.

* Users can also select the Spanish text and Spanish narration option. And the Spanish narration also sounds great. Potentially a great tool to teach children Spanish.

* The narration can be turned off so the story can be read by a parent or grandparent out loud with the sound effects playing in the background.

Cons:

I subtracted 0.5 star for the following:

* At the moment, the app doesn’t have interactive elements. Some of the pages (e.g. one page has many bottles hanging on the tree) are perfect candidates for adding interactive elements for user to touch/move and make sound or interact. (According to Moving Tales, this combination is technically not possible yet.)

* As part of this review, I discovered and reported a bug that stops the animations. Restarting the app may fix the problem, and rebooting the iPad should fix it. I’ve reported the conditions that can trigger this bug to Matthew, he has promised a bug fix and possibly some additional enhancements in the next update. (see my Skype video interview with Matthew).

[latest update from Matthew: a bug fixed version (v 1.01) was submitted to the app store last week, they are now waiting for Apple to approve it.]

[Aug 16, 2010 Update: version v 1.01 has been approved by Apple. The above identified bug has been fixed. Added new sound effects. Improved application stability.]

Recommendation:

Highly recommended. Great experience for much less than the price of almost all children books. Moving Tales, a Gibson BC based Canadian company, has done a wonderful job in creating a Cinematic iPad storytelling app for all to enjoy. Of local interest, the iPad app programming for the Pedlar Lady is done by a Calgary based programmer.

The official site of Moving Tales says it well, “How does Moving Tales bring stories to life?

  • sophisticated 3D animation on every page
  • original music, voice over and sound effects
  • animate the text using the iPad’s accelerometer
  • Cover Flow-like navigation
  • page swipe or tap for page turning
  • auto page turning option
  • sound effects only sound option
  • compelling narrative
  • randomly selected alternate views and extras to ensure no two viewings alike
  • sophisticated and dynamic typographic layout
  • evocative poetic language
  • Spanish option—choose to hear and display the story in Spanish as well as English”

Sushi Kai Calgary – All you can taste buffet review

Friday, 16 July, 2010

P1280909

To attract people to its new Kensington area to try its food, Sushi Kai Calgary created an “All you can taste buffet” (note: it is still an “All you can eat buffet“). The food at Sushi Kai’s old Chinatown location were reasonably good so I decided to give the new location’s buffet a try and review them at the same time.

[July 29, 2011 Update: Check out "Macleod Sushi & BBQ – Food Review" which I have gone back to eat again a few times!]

Deep fried shrimp (3/10) & oyster (8/10):

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 1

The batter for the deep fried shrimp wasn’t the fluffy tempura batter I had expected so I was disappointed. But the deep fried oysters used a lighter tempura batter which I liked more and it was quite tasty. Unfortunately, when I ordered some more deep fried oysters later, the chef (or a different chef?) decided to use different batter which I didn’t like at all.

Second batch of deep fried oysters (3/10) (they looked and tasted different from the first batch):

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 13

Sushi (8/10):

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 2

The presentation and taste of the first dish of sushi were pretty good. I particularly like the Mackerel and BBQ Eel (which were warmed up by the chef).

Now, what I can’t understand is why the second batch looked and tasted different? You can’t see it but the BBQ Eel were cold (the chef should have warmed them up like the first batch) and the Mackerel didn’t have the cuts and burn-marks like the first batch (see following photo).

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 11

Consistent presentation and taste of food over different days (let alone on the same night) should be a minimum requirement of any self-respecting restaurant. Most customers won’t go back after a bad food experience at a new restaurant.

Hand cone & Sushi Rolls –

Toro hand cone (7/10), mango paradise (8.5/10):

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 12

Naraku roll (7/10):

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 9

Deep fried shrimp roll (Age sushi) (1/10):

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 8

The novelty factor of the deep fried shrimp roll ended badly after the first bite. Bad job in deep frying the shrimp roll. The Naraku roll was ok, not something I would order again. I enjoyed the Mango Paradise rolls and did order it again and still enjoyed it the second time. Other restaurant uses a thin slice of real mango but I found the mango sauce was an cheaper but still ok substitute. The Toro hand cone was ok, the distribution of the toro was a bit uneven as there were no fish left in the last bite.

Deep fried squid legs (6.5/10)

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 10

The two same sauces are used here. And the chef might have forgot to add a tiny little bit of salt to the dish.

Mixed veg tempura (7/10)

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 7

I’ve had better tempura, they were ok.

Steak & Chicken (1/10 & 3/10)

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 5

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 6

The steak was so tough and chewy, Sushi Kai needs to buy a slightly better cut of beef or prepare them better. The chicken was barely ok as I can cook better chicken than this.

Octopus balls (7/10)

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 3

For someone who likes octopus balls (essentially a ball of starch with a tiny bit of octopus in the middle), it was ok so I leave it as a 7/10. For me, I never like it and this one hasn’t changed my mind.

Grill squid (8/10)

Sushi Kai Calgary review - pix 4

Other than the sauces (more on this later), the grill squid was tasty.

Sauces

Sushi Kai seems to sprinkle the same two sauces on most of their dishes. Why? They should really spend a little bit of time to create appropriate sauces for each dish. There is no point in using the same sauces over and over and over again as it shows a serious lack of love of food.

Presentation & plates

Except the first dish, every other dishes were put on a cheap round glass plate. Why? Food presentation should be pleasing to the eyes and the big round plates do take up way too much space on the table. And have I said they look ugly?!

Final Comments

I want to give this restaurant another chance but given some of the poorly made dishes (simple stuff like beef, chicken) and the inconsistency of the food (the first vs the second batch of sushi), I don’t know if I will give it another chance.

P.S. Website

These days, every restaurant should have a proper website. And failing that, a simple basic site with basic information, including the hours of operation, should be posted. (note the word “Hours” is on the site but without the actual hours of operation).

Home page of SushiKaiCalgary.com

****

NOTE: All food review ratings are based on the initial date of review. Food quality may improve or deteriorate over time. Feel free to share your personal experience (respectfully) in the comments section.


WIND Mobile Calgary service review & Interview with WIND CEO Ken Campbell

Wednesday, 31 March, 2010

This is a review of my WIND Mobile experiences in Calgary since joining WIND 20 days ago on March 11th, 2010 plus a phone interview with WIND’s CEO Ken Campbell (see below) where Ken very candidly answered my questions.

Special thanks to Ken for talking to me after WIND launched in Ottawa last Friday.

***

The Switch

I was a Bell Mobility customer for over 10 years, but dropped calls/poor voice quality, non-responsive customer services, and expensive new plans (for the values) stopped me from signing another 3-year contract with Bell.

I also want to give WIND a try after having such a high hope for them when reporting of the news of the government overturning the CRTC decision (where I interviewed Tony) and the WIND launch in Calgary (where I interviewed Ken and Chris) in Dec 2009.

Join WIND (Calgary)

WIND Mobile Review Background

Keep this in mind when you read this review:

I do trust WIND is working hard to resolve the problems and issues. And as you will hear in my phone interview with Ken, WIND is now my only mobile service provider, so if WIND goes down, I go down with it. So I fully expect WIND to deliver on their promises (soon).

WIND Mobile Calgary experiences review

Here are my WIND experiences in chronological order.

1) Pre-Signup

- The WIND website (see this price/value comparison chart) and the few WIND customer service reps I talked to were helpful.

- I signed up with WIND knowing fully their current limited coverage (Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton, and Ottawa was added last week). But I also know and believe WIND is working hard to add additional cities before end of 2010 (cities like Vancouver).

Overall comment & rating: The WIND reps were pleasant to talk to. Nice to see WIND’s openness in accepting customers’ ideas/comments and keep an active blog dialogue. So, overall, I say I received good services from WIND.

2) Signup Day

- The Blockbuster store kiosk was quite professional looking and it blended in well with the rest of the Blockbuster location.

- Would be nice if the salesperson had a bit more in-depth knowledge of the basic features of the phones (in my case, the Samsung Gravity 2).

- After I signed up, unfortunately, this WIND location, didn’t have the proper and up-to-date software to transfer phone numbers from my old cell phone to my new phone. The 15+ minutes wait didn’t do any good as the rep didn’t have the computer privilege to install the new software update.

- I asked WIND to port my existing phone number over. And that gave me my first taste of inconsistent information and services. You see, I was told previously on the phone by a WIND agent that porting of existing phone number will take less than 4 hours. At the store, I was told the porting process might take 24 to 48 hours even I bought my old phone bill so they could have the exact information need to do a smooth phone number porting.

- By the way, this may be a bit of a speculation but if Blockbuster was to go bankrupt as some in the business community were talking about, I don’t know how will WIND adjust and how quickly.

Overall comment & rating: I had expected more from WIND and was a bit disappointed.

3) Ongoing experiences

WIND was launched in Calgary over 3 months ago in mid-Dec 2009, so I thought all of the basic and key problems/issues should/would have been solved already. Unfortunately, there remain to be some key problems.

3a) Static/Noise

There were random static/noise during phone calls since day one. Looking at the bright side, the frequency of the static/noise seems to be dropping in the last few days, so I hope all the static will soon be gone completely. Good voice quality is so basic that it is disappointing to experience static/noise.

3b) Dropped Calls

Some local and long distance calls were dropped in the middle of a conversation. And these dropped calls have been very annoying and even more unacceptable than the static/noise.

3c) Unable to make calls

In two separate cases, once when driving and once when not moving, in both cases I were well-within the Calgary WIND covered area (i.e. not at the edge of the network), I was unable to make calls. In the case while I was driving, I kept redialling for 5 times within 3 minutes but got no connection even the screen said “WIND Home”.

3d) “Limited Service”

Well, it wasn’t nice when one night I saw my phone display turn from “WIND Home” to “Limited Service” out of the blue. Sure, it went back to “WIND Home” 5-10 minutes later, but that was a bad experience at 8:30pm.

Limited Service (WIND Calgary)

3e) The unlimited calling

To end on something positive, it was nice to have unlimited anytime minutes and also unlimited Canada-wide calling with no long-distance charge for the $45 plan that I have.

Overall comment & rating: I’ve downwardly adjusted my expectations of WIND’s service quality. Yes, I am disappointed of the problems I’ve faced so far but I am willing to give WIND a little bit of time to work out its problems and improve.

Here is a telling question I can ask myself:

Would I rather have WIND resolved all its technical issues before launching in Calgary? My answer will be, “Absolutely NOT!” You see, I would rather endure some short term service problems that will/should improve in time, instead of being locked-up in another 3-year contract with any of the existing service providers.

***

Phone Interview with WIND’s CEO Ken Campbell

After WIND launched in Ottawa last Friday, Ken was very helpful and gave me a chance to interview him to talk about some of the serious problems I have experienced with WIND. I want to thank Ken again for his time and his candid answers.

Here is my phone interview (mp3) with Ken (or you can stream the interview here) where I asked Ken about many of the problems I experienced in Calgary and also about WIND’s expansion plans, etc.

***

Concluding thoughts

On the day I signed up with WIND, I honestly felt and wanted to post the line,

Free at last! Free at last! I am free from Bell at last!

Sure, I wish WIND was perfect and I didn’t have any voice problems. But in the long run, I am very happy that I did not sign another contract and locked myself into another 3-year jail sentence with anyone.

Since WIND doesn’t use contract and penalties to lockup customers, it has to earn my business every month. And WIND has to show its customers that it is working hard to improve the services. Unless WIND improves its call qualities and its services quickly, it may not be able to keep its existing customers and recruit more customers.

If you are a WIND customer in Calgary or thinking of joining WIND in Calgary, please leave a comment to share your thoughts.


The Invention of Lying $1.79 DVD review

Sunday, 21 March, 2010

DVD Play - Invention of Lying

The comedy The Invention of Lying, directed and starred, by the talented Ricky Gervais is a film I have been waiting to come out on DVD for a while.

Now, this reporter is a big fan of Ricky because of his wonderful work in The Office and the subsequent series Extras. Plus the movie Ghost Town is actually quite lovely in its own quiet way. Unfortunately, unless you are a super fan of Ricky, I won’t recommend renting the film at your local Calgary DVD Play kiosk even at only $1.79. Yes, some of the jokes and sketches are funny in the first 30 minutes or so, but then the movie is ~90 minutes long and the rest of the movie just fell flat. If the DVD had a commentary track by Ricky, may be it would have added a bunch more fun to the second viewing, too bad the DVD doesn’t have a commentary track. (note: it is sad that the commentary track could be more fun than the movie.)

Now, after giving The Invention of Lying such a bad review, I still hope to interview Ricky at the Banff World TV Festival this June, 2010. (Note to Ricky: Dear Ricky, if you are reading this, I hope you will still let me interview you at Banff. After all, you won’t want to me lie when reviewing The Invention of Lying, right? P.S. I did rent the movie! :)


Up in the Air $1.79 DVD review

Sunday, 21 March, 2010

DVD Play - pix 2

I expected to enjoy Up in the Air but I had not expected to enjoy it this much. And it is definitely worth the $1.79 fee at the local Calgary DVD Play kiosk to rent it to watch instead of waiting for my turn at the Calgary Public Library.

To me, Up in the Air is a very good film. Plot: “With a job that has him [Clooney] traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.” The lead actors George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick have done very convincing jobs in playing their roles and you feel for them. What surprised me was the very enjoyable director’s commentaries that add the back stories. For example, many of the extras, who played people being fired by George, in the film were actually recently fired in their own jobs! And audiences can appreciate the additional touches the Canadian-born director Jason Reitman put into the film to make it more real.

Up in the Air is a lovely film. Go watch it. And by the way, if you haven’t watched Jason‘s Thank You for Smoking (2006) and Juno (2007), go watch them as well. Great films.


“Last Train Home” Review – 130 million Chinese migrant workers making inexpensive “Made in China” goods possible

Thursday, 18 March, 2010

"Last Train Home" Review - pix 1

The 2010 Sundance & SXSW screened and award-winning documentary “Last Train Home” is starting its screenings at Calgary Globe theatre tomorrow Friday March 19, 2010. The film will also be screened in the HKIFF on March 26th & 29th.

To me, Last Train Home indirectly exposed to us the heart, soul & meaning of those inexpensive “Made in China” goods and the human cost/impact of these goods through the eyes of one Chinese migrant family. Last Train Home is a film that I greatly enjoyed and found extremely touching and insightful.

In the beginning of the film, the viewers are informed that,

There are over 130 million migrant workers in China. They go home only once a year, during Chinese New Year. This is the world’s largest human migration.

Last Train Home is the debut film by Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan and he has done a wonderful job in telling an emotionally engaging story and the film was beautifully shot. As a documentary filmmaker myself, I watched the film three times over different days before I write this review. And I enjoyed the film more as I watched it.

I came away with the intense feeling that it is the Chinese migrant workers’ rights to improve their living standards, no matter how harsh it may seem to us Westerners. Yes, it came with a price, sometimes the prices can be very high. But, as I get older, I am reluctant to be judgemental and pronounce the western ways are the “best” for Chinese or other citizens of the world. There isn’t a single way to pursue a better life.

A great documentary makes us think and want to talk about the various issues discussed or not discussed in the film and it will make us care about the people in the film. Using these yardsticks, Last Train Home has succeeded and is definitely a great documentary. By chance, the film included one of the worst winters in recent Chinese New Years where train and bus services were seriously disrupted. And that added some urgency into the film.

There is one scene (when the parents had an argument with their child) in the film that shaken and touched me at the same time. As a documentary filmmaker, I kept asking myself, what would I have done if I were filming in the same situation? I finally came to the “uneasy” but “responsible” rationale that supported my instinct. I would have done the same thing and kept filming like Lixin. There was a story to be told and because of the trusting relationship that was built over months, it was ok to keep shooting.

By the way, please see the bottom of this blog entry where you can read an excerpted analysis/discussion by my economist friend Dr. Zhaofeng Xue (薛兆丰) about the problems associated with the Chinese New Year transportation nightmares (“春运综合症”).

Here is an excerpt from the synopsis of the film,

Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos, as all at once, a tidal wave of humanity attempts to return home by train. It is the Chinese New Year. The wave is made up of millions of migrant factory workers. The homes they seek are the rural villages and families they left behind to seek work in the booming coastal cities. It is an epic spectacle that tells us much about China, a country discarding traditional ways as it hurtles towards modernity and global economic dominance.

Last Train Home, an emotionally engaging and visually beautiful debut film from Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan, draws us into the fractured lives of a single migrant family caught up in this desperate annual migration.

Here is a trailer of the film for the famous SXSW,

***

Economics analysis/discussion re chaos with train transportations around the Chinese New Years (“春运综合症”)

My friend Dr. Zhaofeng Xue (薛兆丰) has written for more than 10 years about the problems associated with the Chinese New Year transportation nightmares. In Feb 2010, he wrote about this topic again in this Chinese blog entry, “火车票低价造成了举国浪费“. Very insightful stuff if you read Chinese. Here is an excerpt,

“[低票价造成举国浪费] 火车票价不够高,其经济之恶,是那些用于排长队、拨电话、托关系、找黄牛、扫黄牛所耗费的努力,数以千万人的精疲力竭的努力,从整个社会上看,是被白白消耗掉的。如果这些人这段时间的努力,是用于通过他们的专业技能来服务他人,然后再把赚到的钱用以竞争火车票,那么这些乘客在争得火车票的同时,其努力也造福了其他人,也转化成了社会的财富。但现在的情况是,火车票以低价销售,人们靠排队来竞争。这种分配方式,必然引发利己不利人的资源耗散,而这种资源耗散只有通过提高票价才能消除。应该认识到,讨论火车票价问题并非“你比较重视效率就赞成提价、我比较重视公平就反对提价”的主观问题,而是一个如何消除社会浪费的客观问题。”

Zhaofeng received his Phd from George Mason University and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Northwestern University School of Law. Here is a link to my congratulatory message to Zhaofeng when his book about antitrust was published in 2008.

"Last Train Home" Review - pix 2


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