Category: Reviews

One Year with iPhone 3G

intro-iphone-everything-20090608At the dawn of the smart phone era, I considered purchasing a phone with Internet access, but quickly shied away from that idea when I realized how painful mobile web browsers were at the time. I made up my mind to wait until a smart phone with a true web browser was available.

Enter the first generation iPhone. Finally, a mobile phone with a true web browser—not to mention an amazing interface—and a standards compliant one at that! The downside was that the first iPhone was tied to the abysmally slow EDGE network and I swore I would never go back to dial-up speed again. Well that and the $600 price tag. The first iPhones hadn’t been unboxed yet and rumors were already swirling that Apple would release a better 3G capable iPhone in a year. So I (reluctantly) waited.

I stood in line at the Apple store the day after the new iPhone 3G was released—with all of the other nutJobs—to fork over $300 and sign a $85/month, two-year contract with AT&T. After using my phone for just under a year, I can say with conviction, it was totally worth every penny. (more…)

The Xbox Failure

Close-up of Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death

On Monday, my Xbox succumed to the Red Ring of Death. I managed to fix the DVD drive on my Xbox, but in doing so I voided any warranty that still remained on it. While I knew that Microsoft would no longer fix the Red Ring issue for free, I didn’t realize that Microsoft will not fix any Xbox that has been opened for any reason, for any price. Any Xbox that has been opened is considered “tampered with” and will not be fixed.

It’s bad enough that so many Xboxes fail, but to not offer a paid repair service is just foolish. I’m sure I’m not alone in being willing to pay to have my Xbox fixed. Fixing what amounted to a minor mechanical problem on my Xbox was frustrating and time-consuming. Fixing the Red Ring issue is considerably more involved and I just don’t have the time or patience to mess with the Xbox’s innards again.

So I just bought a new Xbox 360 Arcade: the easy, expensive way out. I’m planning on selling my old Red Ringed Xbox on eBay as is for somewhere in the $50 range, if possible. Why buy a product that’s already failed once? When it’s working, the Xbox 360 is a great game system. Xbox Live is excellent for online gaming. The Xbox 360 has more games and is much less expensive than the Playstation 3. Unfortunately, it also has painfully defective and unreliable hardware; I imagine it’s designed that way to remind users they’re dealing with Microsoft. Couldn’t make it flawless, could they now?

Cuil Needs Work

The Interwebs are buzzing with Cuil news today, a new search engine developed by a few Google expatriates. Cuil (pronounced “Cool”) aims to index all web pages, something which Google does not do. Considering the buzz and the potential, I gave it a quick test run, but I was not impressed. My first search, like most egomaniacs, was for my last name “mekosh”. This is what Cuil returned yesterday morning:

A screenshot of Cuil\'s results for \

Granted, when every major media organization points traffic at a new site there are bound to be problems handling that server strain. Even Apple suffers growing pains; see MobileMe. I know I’m not an Internet legend, but my name is on dozens of sites; I should be able to see results the first time.

The search for my surname appears to be returning results now, but they are not the results I’d expect from a Google-killer. On the first page of results for “stephen mekosh” is a proxy site stealing my content and inserting links into it. Not cool. Furthermore, the most obvious result for “mekosh” would be this website, but doesn’t even appear on the first page of results; it’s on page four. It’s hardly necessary to mention that Google does much better.

I would hope that even if the first page results aren’t that useful, they would at least be arranged in a helpful manner. This is not the case either. As my friend, Joe, mentioned, the multi-column layout makes scanning results an annoying and slower process. Furthermore, the images next to the results are rarely accurate. Several people and images were combined with results for my name, yet none of them were correct or applicable to the content.

Some websites are humble giants, all massive influence and little bravado; Cuil is neither. When you launch a site with the tagline of “The World’s Biggest Search Engine,” you had better bring your A-game. At this point, Cuil is nothing more than a reminder that Google search is still the best available.

James Joyce Pub

Annie and I ate dinner at the James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant on Saturday night; we’ve driven by it hundreds of times, and finally made a commitment to go there. The restaurant is located in Harbor East, Baltimore and walking distance from my apartment on a nice day. Saturday was hot and humid and therefore, not a nice day.

We both ordered the Baked Stuffed Chicken Breast which came with mashed potatoes, green beans, and carrots. At $18/each, it’s a tad expensive, but completely worth every penny. The chicken was perfectly done, the mushroom stuffing and vodka sauce were rich and creamy, the potatoes were amazingly good, and the vegetables were crisp and tasty.

I ordered a whiskey sour with Jameson Whiskey which was perfectly mixed and reasonably-priced at $5.75. Service was friendly and quick and the interior was intimate. My one and only complaint is that they didn’t play a note of Irish music, which I thought would be a given at a bar that prides itself on importing the interior directly from Ireland.

Spider-Man 3

The final chapter in the Spider-Man trilogy lived up to my expectations. Last Sunday, Annie and I saw Spider-Man 3 and thought it matched or surpassed its predecessors. A few minor plot spoilers follow. As pretty much everyone knows by now, the black Venom suit Spider-Man wears in this version lowers Peter Parker’s inhibitions. Willful power is a dangerous thing. But it makes for such compelling cinema.

The longer Parker wears the black suit, the more selfish he becomes, forgoing responsibility in favor of revenge. I completely disagree with my friend, Joe, when he states that the period where Peter wears the black suit is the worst part of the movie. Part of what makes some superheroes a little annoying is that they act so selflessly so often. When Parker destroys Eddie Brock’s career—the perfectly-cast, Topher Grace—and gets the full-time photography job, I felt a sense of victory for Peter, regardless of his cruelty. And the scenes with Parker walking down the sidewalk and attracting stares of all types, it’s nearly impossible not to smile and appreciate how great he must feel. Yes, his hair does look a little emo, but I think it perfectly suits Parker’s mind frame while wearing the Venom suit.

My only complaint is that Spider-Man 3 does get a little preachier than the first two in the series. It’s never blatant or completely overblown, but we’re reminded of the story’s morals a little too often. Other than that, the film is a well-paced and fitting close to Raimi’s trilogy.

Canon PowerShot SD800 IS

Canon PowerShot SD800 IS

It’s no secret to most of my friends and family that I’m very happy with my new camera. I think all of them are sick of hearing about it so I hope they see this. If you’re interested in why I purchased this camera, read the “Agenda: Digital Camera” post. I’m going to divide this review into three sections: image quality, ease of use, and features.

I’ll start with ease of use because that’s what I noticed first when I opened the box. The camera is nicely shaped—losing the hard corners of previous PowerShot models—and is easy enough to take photos one-handed. However, I definitely recommend using the wrist strap as it’s incredibly easy to drop considering its size and lack of non-slip grips.

The menus are exceptionally designed, making it just a click or two for common features, yet only three or four for advanced or rarely-used options. The buttons move nicely and choices are felt as well as heard/seen. And while all this is nice, the camera wouldn’t be much fun if the software lagged behind these clicks (I’m looking at you, Kodak CX4230). Thankfully, the results of clicks are almost instantaneous.

In terms of features, I knew what to expect so there weren’t many surprises. The manual settings (white balance, exposure length, light meter, but no aperture settings) work well when the full automatic or scene settings are not enough—not all that often. However, I really wish that the image stabilization worked for more than just full auto with auto flash. What I didn’t expect to use much at all but turned out to be an awesome addition is the video camera mode. It records in AVI and at 640×480 resolution so the files are gigantic and the quality is almost broadcast quality. Nice surprise.

Pros: Image quality, image stabilization, 3.8x optical zoom, size, battery capacity, video mode, manual mode, scene settings, optical viewfinder, screen size, and well-designed menus.

Cons: Image stabilization only available in full-auto mode.

Canon PowerShot SD800 IS on Amazon.

Borat Is Nice!

I finally got around to seeing Borat last night and it was glorious! I had heard good things about the film, but I didn’t expect to laugh that hard or as often as I did last night. What’s more amazing, is that it seemed everyone was laughing. It’s not for the easily offended, but the rest of us will love this movie. Believe everything you’ve heard about Borat—it’s probably all true.

Weezer’s Make Believe

Weezer - Make Believe

More than a decade has passed since I bought Weezer’s self-titled debut album, but I still haven’t grown tired of it. Two weeks ago on a mini-shopping spree, I bought Weezer’s newest album Make Believe to see what Weezer’s been up to these past 12 years.

Listening to the first track, “Beverly Hills,” I couldn’t help but smile; that song is rediculously catchy and reminiscent of “Buddy Holly” but with a more modern sound. Thinking that they hadn’t changed, the rest of the album came as a bit of a let-down. Perhaps my expectations were unreasonably high but I wanted something that rocked more than the Blue Album. Harder, catchier, better.

I’ve been listening to Make Believe a lot these past two weeks and my initial impressions were wrong. While this album is much more mellow than the 1994 Weezer album I’ve listened to hundreds of times over the years, it’s still an excellent record. The music is layered and the vocals are softer. Even on louder songs like “We Are All on Drugs” the edges are smoother than the sharp corners of Weezer’s debut, but like the Blue Album the songs reveal their brilliance with repeated plays. You might not love Make Believe at first, but give it a chance to really show it’s personality.


Last Friday, Annie and I watched Casablanca because it was available for free from Comcast OnDemand (as is Citizen Kane, which we’ll be watching soon). It’s one of those movies that everyone has seen or wants to see—you know, a Classic—so I always feel a sense of anticipation that what I’m about to see has been overrated. I’m cynical like that.

Casablanca pleasantly surprised me. Yes, there’s some archaic dialog that doesn’t sound “normal” to the 21st Century, American ear, but the actors’ tension and apprehension is palpable in an unspoken way. In particular, Humphrey Bogart plays Rick Blaine as an icy cool “cynic,” unnerved through the tensest situations, but there’s something subtle in his performance that belies his cold exterior.

While some declare Casablanca to be the most romantic film of all time—and I can see clearly why they would—I didn’t see the movie as especially romantic. There are grand romantic gestures, but the characters also are very cruel to each other when necessary. Regardless of whether you’ll think it’s romantic, it’s definitely a film worth playing again (Sam).

24 Season 5

Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer on 24 Season Five

For the past month, Fox has been airing commercials for the fifth season of 24 promising that everything will change in the first ten minutes. They were definitely telling the truth as I couldn’t believe that they were willing to sacrifice a few major characters.

The first four hours of the new day have been amazingly good. Jack has always been a bit of a rogue agent, but this season he’s outside CTU (at least for the moment). It’s always fun to see Bauer do his own thing, barely holding a few fraying threads to keep the world turning. And while the show has always had a rabid fan base of those in the know, it’s nice to see that the show is finally getting some much-deserved recognition for its weekly brilliance.

Oh. If Fox ever tries to let a football game run past the start time of 24 without warning me immediately that they won’t just start 24 ten minutes late to make up time, someone will pay. They will pay dearly. End rant.

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