Category Archives: Reviews

iMovie for iPad2

Some time back, I wrote a review of iMovie on the iPhone 4. This was shortly after the app was first available and I didn’t give it a very good review. It was buggy, limited and difficult to control with precision.

Now, with the advent of the iPad 2, Apple has revamped iMovie to be a universal iPhone 4/iPad 2 app. I’ve recently had the opportunity to try out the iPad version in a real-world situation.

We recently had an employee appreciation event at my work and a co-worker and I used our iPhone 4′s to record video and pictures of the event. I then proceeded, at the event, to edit the video on my iPad.

Combined with editing my last vlog entry, I reel I have a good basic grasp of the new iPad iMovie experience.

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OSX Time Machine – Brilliant or Bust?

Aren’t backups a wonderful thing?

As an IT professional, I can tell you that most people never backup their computers.

Organizations are a bit different. Most recognize the need for backing up, but fewer actually test their backups.

In OSX Leopard, Apple recognized that people don’t backup their computers. Further, they recognized that, increasingly, our lives are recorded on our computers – from our personal documentation to our priceless photographic memories. In Leopard they introduced Time Machine, an automatic backup and recovery system designed to make the process painless and automatic.

I’ve used Time Machine since it first came out and, like most most people, I’ve had no real reason to need it.

Oh… I’ve restored the occasional file, but it’s never been critical… until now.

When we were burglarized two weeks ago, they took, amongst other things, my wife’s iMac. We know that the burglary occurred between 10:30 and 11:30AM because at 10:38, her iMac made one last Time Machine machine backup across the network. If there was any positive thing to take from this it was that we had a full and complete backup of her machine in Time Machine format. But how well would that work when we went to restore it onto a new computer?

For starters, we had some data that we needed immediately. Part of the Time Machine enhancements in OSX Snow Leopard is the ability to open other machine’s backups, so we were able to use my laptop to open and verify her backup, plus grab some important files right away.

Now that her replacement computer has arrived, it was time to put the backup to the real test: Restoring her entire old computer backup onto a new computer, with a completely different hardware configuration. The old computer was a 24″ iMac with 350Gb of disk – 200Gb used – the new one, a new model MacBook with 250Gb disk.

The first thing I did after the burglary was to backup her backup – before I started trying to restore files from it. Time Machine backups are stored in a single file and I copied that file from the network backup drive onto a spare external drive. I had hoped that I would be able to use the external drive to restore the backup as that would be faster than pushing the entire restore across the local network.

When the new MacBook arrived, I plugged in the external drive and fired up the machine per the instructions. When you setup a new Mac, it allows you to copy your data from another machine – a real timesaver if you’re migrating from one machine to another. One option is to copy from a Time Machine backup.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work. It simply failed to recognize the external drive as having a Time Machine backup.

My remaining option was to try to restore from the network. I joined the local network and the MacBook instantly spotted my Time Machine drive.

That’s when the next problem occurred. The drive I use is a terabyte drive, partitioned into 4 different drives, each containing the Time Machine backup for a different computer on my network. The MacBook spotted and reported all four drives. I selected the one associated with the iMac and it asked me to log in. It went into a never-ending wait, displaying simply the word “connecting…”

While that continued on for half an hour (before I gave up), one of the other drives almost immediately popped up stating “1 Time Machine Backup Found.” This was worrisome. Could it be that Time Machine was too confused by having four different drives? Certainly, I didn’t wish to restore the drive it was indicating was available. All the while, the “right” machine was failing to complete its connection.

I tried several times, using both my wireless connection and a hard-wired connection, with no difference in result.

Eventually, I decided that I’d see what happened if I selected the “wrong” Time Machine backup. Lo and behold, it presented a backup that was for the right computer. It somehow was showing me the backup for my wife’s computer on the Time Machine for my computer – probably because I had opened her Time Machine with my laptop to restore those files right after the burglary.

And so I began preparing for the restore. There was just enough room to restore everything and after it thought about the backup for about 10 minutes, I let me select everything at start the backup.

Estimated restore time over the gigabit LAN: 5 hours 10 minutes.

Here I am, six hours later and it has just finished.

And what’s the verdict? It was slow, a bit problematic to get going, not entirely intuitive, disappointing in that it couldn’t see the external drive with a copy on it but ultimately absolutely brilliant!

I am looking at an almost exact copy of my wife’s computer, intact and catching up on back e-mail and a few system updates.

Time Machine really saved our bacon on this one!

Sounds Like Doctor Who

I found this review I’d (nearly) completed back in 2000 of the early Big Finish audio adventures. I’d just discovered them at Forbidden Planet in London and purchased the first 10 before returning to the states.

For your amusement, and my archiving of writing projects, here’s my year 2000 take on Big Finish, in days long before anyone believed a Time Lord might be back on the BBC.


Sounds Like Doctor Who

Do you remember the sound of a Dalek control room? The mechanical resonance of the Cybermen voices? The hiss of the Ice Warriors? The scream of a companion or the 6th Doctor’s pompous, over-the-top pronunciation of the word “I”? The electronic sparkles in the classic theme music?

If you’re like me, Doctor Who was more than the sum of its parts. The story, the actors, the visuals and the sounds all came together to produce something magical… something that has been missing for a long time, since the end of the 7th Doctor’s last series.

There’s no doubt that, since that time, the Doctor Who New Adventures books have been quite prolific, continuing the adventures of all the Doctors. Quite frankly, they leave me flat. Sure, they use the same old Doctors we know and love, but they just don’t do them justice do they? If the book cover didn’t have the face of the Doctor on it, would you always know which Doctor it was supposed to be?

There’s more to Doctor Who than just writing. It was the actors who brought the characters to life, and the technicians who realized whole new worlds for us week after week. While it can be argued that through a book your imagination is free to develop worlds beyond the limitations of television, that just isn’t really true with Doctor Who. That universe was fully developed on TV and the imagination just tries to recreate it.

I’m happy to report that last year, the BBC licensed Big Finish Productions to produce new episodes of Doctor Who, featuring the original actors and for the last year they have produced 11 new four-part Doctor Who stories starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.

What’s the catch you say? Well, they’re not television episodes, they’re audio dramas, and I must say, it is good to hear the Doctor again!

Big Finish productions has wisely decided to stick with the original actors for their stories. There will be no first, second or third Doctor stories, nor will they substitute other actors for the companions.

So far they have lined up stories featuring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann as (respectively) the 5th – 8th Doctors. While no promises have been made, they are also trying to secure the services of Tom Baker for a 4th Doctor story.

Companions and other regulars that they have enlisted include Nicolas Courtney (The Brigadier) Lala Ward (Romana II), Sara Sutton (Nyssa), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Bonnie Langford (Mel) and Sophie Aldred (Ace)

New adventures are published monthly and are available individually or through a 6 or 12 month subscription service through Big Finish’s web page at http://www.doctorwho.co.uk.

Reviews. (Rated from * to *****)

Episode 01 – The Sirens of Time **
Starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor
Written by Nicholas Briggs
4 episodes

Gallifrey is once again invaded by an overwhelming force. The Time Lords, once again rendered powerless, use their last bits of power to try to manipulate three incarnations of the Doctor to save themselves. But why are they trying to kill him?

It’s sad to say that the Doctor Who stories most eagerly anticipated — the multi-doctor stories — are usually some of the most poorly realized. The Sirens of Time is no exception and doesn’t succeed in breaking the curse. The problem with multi-Doctor stories is that it’s difficult to juggle more than one leading character, especially such strong leading characters. The Sirens of Time tries a new approach: each of the first three episodes focuses on a different Doctor, they only come together in the final episode.

While this is a novel approach to the problem, it doesn’t give enough time to the three story threads and instead of being integral to the plot, seem to be incidental to the final episode, which is, in turn, too hurried towards its conclusion.

What should have been a slam-bang opener to this new series of Doctor Who adventures is instead more of an appetizer plate for the adventures to come.

Episode 02 – Phantasmagoria ***
Starring Peter Davison as the Doctor and Mark Strickson as Turlough
Written by Mark Gatiss
4 episodes

London, 1702. The Doctor and Turlough arrive amidst a rash of disappearances of young men. What is their connection to the infamous Diabola Club and is Sir Nikolas Valentine the devil himself?

This episode is very much in the spirit of the 5th Doctor’s psuedo-historical episodes with the tried-and-true formula of an alien trapped on Earth using means to escape that do not sit well with the Doctor.

Peter Davison’s and Mark Strickson’s performances are spot-on with the TV adventures, but the supporting casts’ performances are a bit too camp. One can easily imagine them all wearing wigs, false moles on their faces with frilly shirts waving silk handkerchiefs around foppishly while speaking – but then, perhaps that’s the idea.

I’ve always considered the 5th Doctor to be one of the weaker Doctors, but in audio forms he holds up surprisingly well.

Episode 03 – Whispers of Terror ***½
Starring Colin Baker as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri
Also starring Peter Miles as Curator Gantman
Written by Justin Richards
4 episodes

The Doctor and Peri arrive at the Museum of Aural Antiquities, a museum for storing the sounds of history, just as an intruder is mysteriously murdered. Can the Doctor and Peri find a way to stop a creature made entirely of sound from escaping and unleashing havoc on the world?

During his tenure as the Doctor, Colin Baker got some pretty awful stories. Whispers of Terror is better than most of his original stories and leads me to hope that the 6th Doctor’s character will be give a chance to shine in the audio dramas in a way only hinted at in the original series.

The most interesting feature of this story is the use of an audio-only creature and a twist ending which could only be realized in an audio play.

The voice of Peter Miles should be instantly recognizable to any Doctor Who fan as he has played many a notable character in the series over the years.

Episode 04 – Land of the Dead ****
Starring Peter Davison as the Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa
Written by Stephen Cole
4 episodes

Alaska, 1994. The Doctor and Nyssa arrive in the arctic wilderness. The only dwelling in the area is the residence of millionaire Shaun Brett and it’s under attack by monsters.

A few more stories like this and I could get to like the 5th Doctor. This story has the feel of a “classic” Pertwee/Baker era story, but has been well tailored to the 5th Doctor. The Alaskan wilderness provides a tight, claustrophobic backdrop for the attack of the Permians, a new race of monsters for the Doctor to battle.

The cast is quite good on this one, but their American accents wouldn’t fool anyone.

Episode 05 – The Fearmonger ***
Starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace
Also starring Jacqueline Pearce as Sherilyn Harper
Written by Jonathan Blum
4 episodes

The Fearmonger is an energy creature that lives inside others and fuels fear in others and then feeds on the emotions. What is its connection to the ultra right-wing nationalist New Britannia party and their candidate for president, Sharilyn Harper?

I’m of mixed emotions on this story. It is a textbook 7th Doctor storyline with all the annoying characteristics therein: It starts with the Doctor and Ace already hunting the creature; the story implies that the Doctor has dark secrets in his past and Ace’s insecurities are once against twisted like a radio-knob. None of these are characteristics that I liked from the 7th Doctor’s final season. The attempts to re-invent the character I think helped hasten his demise on TV.

That said, I must admire the writer’s skill at recreating that atmosphere for this 7th Doctor story. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about these audio dramas is that obvious care has been given towards re-creating the correct “feel” for each Doctor. You couldn’t drop any other Doctor into this story, it just wouldn’t work.

Jacqueline Pearce, probably best known as Servilan from Blakes 7, guest stars in this episode as (what else?) a power-mad politician seeking the Presidency. Nearly 20 years has passed since Blakes 7 was on the air, but she doesn’t sound a day older.

Episode 05 – The Marian Conspiracy ***½
Starring Colin Baker as the Doctor
Introducing Maggie Stables as Dr. Evelyn Smythe
Written by Jacqueline Rayner
4 episodes

Tracking a distortion in the fabric of time, the Doctor meets Dr. Evelyn Smythe, a historian, whose own history is vanishing, starting with her ancestor from the Tudor times, John Whiteside-Smith.

The Doctor takes her back to the time of Queen Mary to unravel the mystery, whilst conspiracies abound to remove Mary and replace her with her half-sister Elizabeth. When the queen decrees that the Doctor (going under his pseudonym Dr. John Smith) should marry Lady Sarah Whiteside, can it be that the Doctor destined to be the father of Evelyn’s time-distorting ancestor?

This story heralds the arrival of the Doctor’s first new companion for the audio dramas, Evelyn, an elderly professor of history with a penchant for chocolate.

This is a straight historical drama, with no aliens, monsters or time-hopping villains dealing with the conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants during Tudor times and the 6th Doctor fits in quite well, although one suspects that the Doctor’s clothing would gather more comments than Evelyn’s cardigan sweater. My biggest complaint is that no satisfactory explanation is ever given as to what upset the time stream in the first place.

Episode 07 – The Genocide Machine ***½
Starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace
Written by Mike Tucker
4 episodes

The library on Kar-Charrat contains all the published knowledge of the universe, but fortunately hardly anyone knows of its existence. The Doctor and Ace arrive just as the Daleks decide they need a library card.

Here’s another perfectly adequate Doctor Who story played out for the 7th Doctor marred only by the fact that Daleks are in this story.

The Daleks have always been a naff bunch of villains, with a stupid physical design and insipid lines to recite. In audio, only their grating, annoying voices remain – not an improvement, really. Nonetheless, as Dalek stories go, it’s better than most, thankfully avoiding bringing Davros into the story.

The Genocide Machine is the first in a super-series called The Dalek Empire. Future stories are planned.

Episode 08 – Red Dawn ***
Starring Peter Davison as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri
Written by Juston Richards
4 episodes

The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on Mars at the same time as Earth’s first manned mission does. And then they awaken the sleeping Ice Warriors. What happens when the human and Martian races meet for the first time?

This story spent too much time beating us over the head with philosophical arguments that were resolved for the Doctor in Curse of Peladon all those many years ago. Otherwise it’s a straightforward tale of interspecies misunderstanding.

Again, the American accents are almost comical.

Episode 09 – The Spectre of Lanyon Moor ****½
Starring Colin Baker as the Doctor, Nicolas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Maggie Stables as Dr. Evelyn Smythe
Written by Nicholas Pegg
4 episodes

The Doctor, the Brigadier, UNIT, a lonely moor and a malevolent alien lifeform trapped since before recorded history — can there be a more classic setting for a Doctor Who story?

This is a by-the-numbers Doctor Who story, with all the old familiar plot twists and cliffhangers. What’s so surprising is how pleasant it is; like a favorite, old shoe that’s well broken in and still fits well. Colin Baker’s Doctor is at his pompous best meeting up for the first time with the Brigadier, while Evelyn plays the part like an old-time companion — falling into dangerous situations in a way that would make Sarah Jane Smith proud.

I only give this episode 4.5 out of 5 because I want to leave some room for improvement in the future!

Episode 10 – Winter for the Adept **½
Starring Peter Davison as the Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa
Also starring Peter Jurasik as Lt. Peter Sandoz
Written by Andrew Cartmel
4 episodes

The Doctor and Nyssa arrive in a haunted chalet in the Swiss Alps, blocked off from the outside world due to a killer blizzard.


And that’s where it ends…

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Doctor Who – Utopia – The Sound of Drums – Last of the Time Lords – Review (sort of)

Utopia, The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords was the three-part finale to the Tenth Doctor’s second season, and featured the resurrection of the Master, the Doctor’s greatest foe.

I’m not going to do my usual breakdown on these episodes, suffice to say that Utopia, even with its rather pathetic representation of the end of the known universe was a great episode. Derek Jacobi’s performance was amazing as both professor Yana (stupid, stupid name) and the Master.

His turn as the Master was all too brief, being replaced by John Simm, late of Life on Mars, as an absolutely bonkers Master – and I don’t mean that in a good way.

The story rapidly tanks throughout Sound of Drums and plumbs new depths in Last of the Time Lords. It’s the poorest ending I can think of in a long time – perhaps since the end of Life on Mars, so, not that long actually. A John Simm curse perhaps or just a stupid idea.

Although I like Simm, I did not like this portrayal as the Master just being nuts. I preferred him much more as a calculating, arrogant villain. It’s a sad crutch of writers these days that they cannot simply portray someone as “evil.” To be evil they seem to think, you have to be crazy. Crazy characters aren’t interesting.

So much promise, such a letdown.

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A pleasant surprise at SOGO

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One of the things I love about Taipei at the plethora of bakeries. Maybe it’s because ovens aren’t as common in homes here, but you’re never very far from fresh bread in Taipei.

Bakeries back home suck, to put it kindly. Most of them are just supermarket bakeries, the others make boring breads or worse, bagels and such, and their hours of operation are miniscule. I want to be able to buy fresh garlic bread on my way to work each morning.

But back to the story.

We were in the basement of the SOGO Fuxing store and I noticed the FlavorField bakery. Now, since bakeries are a dime a dozen in Taipei, I wouldn’t have given it a second look except they had a sandwich bin with several western looking sandwiches. Several looked promising, so I grabbed a “French Pastrami sandwich”, whatever that means exactly, to try when we got home. As we were buying something, we decided to grab some garlic french bread and some croissants, too.

The sandwich was really good. I’m really unsure if it’s supposed to be a “french pastrami” sandwich or a french “pastrami sandwich”, if you see my meaning. The meat wasn’t what I typically think of as pastrami, but it was a cured beef of some kind and quite tasty. If was on the freshest french roll I’ve had in years and topped with lettuce, onions, mayonnaise (or something similar) and some oily spices. (The spices might have been integral with the onions, which appeared to have been soaked in oil.)

It was the best sandwich I’ve ever had in Taiwan. (Taiwan is, to be sure, not a nation of great sandwiches, but this one was quite good.)

Coincidentally, the croissants and the garlic bread were excellent also. As bakeries go, this one is a notch above.

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Back to the Rose Garden

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Today was the day we celebrated Michelle’s birthday. In the morning, we gave her a present to tide her over, and took her out to the park to play.

By the time we got out, 10:00AM or so, it was swelteringly hot and humid. We lasted for the better part of an hour and headed out for lunch. (Dinner celebrations had been planned by my in-laws.)

We ended up back at the Rose Garden restaurant, which I reviewed earlier. Once again I had the curry katsu – this time at full hot and spicy – and it was delicious. I can’t recommend their curry sauce enough. This time I paid closer attention to their URL, which I had written down wrong before. Their URL is www.oisiiyo.com, and while the site is in Chinese only, I was able to get Irene to read up and get better information.

They are not a Japanese chain as I previously stated. Their story is that a Japanese citizen, living in Taiwan, missed his Japanese Ramen, and so went to Japan and convinced the winner of the best ramen in Japan award to share his recipe so that he could set up a shop in Taiwan. That was a success and later, he went back to Japan and got the recipe for curry from the winner of best curry in Japan.

Whatever the story, it’s good food!

There are about five locations around Taipei.

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