Category Archives: Reviews

Wii + Netflix = Bad Movie Marathon Madness

Nintendo Wii | La Ignorancia Mata | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

I’ve been a fan and owner of Nintendo’s Wii console for some time. When I heard a while back that Netflix was going to start allowing people to stream movies to the Wii; I got very excited. I signed up for the service the first chance I got and waited eagerly for the disc to arrive. Eventually it hit my mailbox and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.

The thing I hadn’t really thought about was how it would change what I watch. While usually I don’t have connection problems with the service; it does happen from time to time, so I watch more TV shows than movies. Also if I have a couple of hours with nothing better planed or if the weather doesn’t cooperate with what plans I do have, I can quickly choose to watch most anything from my queue. And usually what I choose to watch is one of those movies.

Echelon ConspiracyYou know what I mean. They’re that class of movie that looked interesting enough that you were kinda/sorta wanting to see it, but not interesting enough that you’d actually be willing to part with cold, hard cash to watch it at the theater. Tonight’s case in point, Echelon Conspiracy. Our main character of the film receives a mysterious cellphone that saves his life and starts to make him rich via well timed text messages. Only the casino he’s at notices and gets upset, worse the FBI gets involved (enough though said casino is in Prague, well outside their jurisdiction). Hijinks ensue, most of which appear to be either outright stolen from other movies or at the very least heavily inspired by them1.

Was this a good movie? Good lord, no. Was it an entertaining way to kill a warm summer night? Heck yeah. Does it make me wonder if the instant gratification of streaming movies via Wii+Netflix is ruining my already questionable test in good cinema? Hmm….

1 My best example of this is the ending, so I’ve changed the text color here to hide it, to avoid spoilers. If you want to see the example select all text on this page. The ending was very much playing off of War Games.

Al’s Back!

The floods which devastated Iowa in 2008 wiped out many business around Cedar Rapids, but one in particular which has been missed was Zindrick’s. It was a fine dining restaurant specializing in Czech food and which made the most wonderful cherry strudel ever conceived by man. This past Tuesday Zindrick’s at long last re-opened (under the new name of Al’s Blue Toad). My wife and I decided to go over to it for dinner to show our support for Al’s big reopening.

Mind you, the name isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Before the bar was a minor feature of the restaurant, now the restaurant feels to be a minor feature of the bar.  Pre-flood the walls were adorned with prints of Alphonse Mucha‘s artwork and photos from the Czech Republic. Now the walls abound with flat screen TVs displaying various sports channels. The menu has also changed adding newer, cheaper options. And while some old favourites remain (Chicken Paprika, Czech Goulash, etc..), some things are quite noticeably missing.

The first thing that caught my eye as missing from the menu was the dessert section. Yes, that’s right while Al is back, the Blue Toad does not currently offer his famous strudel. When we noticed this glaring omission from the menu, my wife asked our waitress about it and was told that they don’t offer desserts.

We were crushed. After waiting over a year and a half for our next slice of Al’s strudel, to find out they weren’t offering it any more was heartbreaking. But refusing to give up on it entirely, we caught Al as he was walking past our table and asked him about it. Al reassured us that he plans to bring back the strudel; he just didn’t want to burden his cooks any more than he already had with it being opening night.

Quite a bit later1 after we’d ordered and received our food; we realized there were a couple more changes to the menu than we’d noticed. One was all the Czech dinner options now come with a cup of soup instead of apple sauce. The night we were there, the soup was chilli and a rather tasty chilli at that. The other change we’d not noticed was they apparently don’t do potato dumplings any more and only have bread dumplings.

But these aren’t tiny, dried up bread dumplings. These dumplings were moist and roughly the size of a hockey puck. And they tasted quite good dipped into my Czech Goulash, though they were much better with the brown gravy served over them on my wife’s plate of Chicken Paprika.

The portions that we received were smaller than I remember them being on prior visits, but on the positive side they were still filling and the cost was down considerably2. And that lower price point for the meal will help to draw me back to Al’s in the future, even though the enlarged bar means it won’t be our “special” place anymore.

1 As near as I could tell, all of the wait staff was new. Add in that this was opening night and things moved slowly & chaotically.
2 Prior dinners with two entrees, 2 iced teas and 2 desserts usually came around $35-40 range. This visit with two entrees, 2 iced teas & 1 craft-brew beer was only $26.

Review: Bag of Holding

Bag of Holding

Bag of Holding

My employer for my day job provides me with a 17″ screen laptop and has provided a backpack style bag to haul it around in. Unfortunately my first bag shredded itself over the course of a year. The replacement bag I got was holding up better… until our cat had an unfortunate accident near it. Cleaning the bag took care of that. Or rather I thought cleaning it took care of it until the first time I got caught in a bit of rain and I was “treated” to a familiar order returning.

After that I worked harder to keep my work bag dry and put up with the occasional whiffiness. Then the other day, I noticed some money I’d forgotten about in my PayPal account and around the same time I heard ThinkGeek had their Bag of Holding in stock. It was the right size, looked sturdy and was within my budget. So I ordered it and have been using it as my daily bag for a little over a month now. Which brings us to the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  • My work laptop fits snuggly in the padded pocket.
  • The heavy canvas construction stands up well to brief exposures of heavy rain.
  • The bag has really great, front snaps. Rather than being just tacked directly to the outside of the main body of the bag, the snaps are on little strips of the same nylon webbing that makes up the shoulder strap. This is gives you a little more wiggle room to fasten the flap shut after packing stuff into the interior pockets.
  • The bag is big enough that I’ll wager I can carry my work laptop and my large 3 ring binder for gaming.

The Bad

  • The padded pocket for the laptop isn’t an interior pocket under the main flap of the bag. I would have prefered it to be under the flap, so that it would feel better protected.

The Ugly

  • Some of the stitching is coming loose from the seams in a couple of spots. It’s not much (a couple of millimeters of thread) but it is worrisome that it’s happening so soon.

Overall, I give the bag 4.5 stars out of 5 and would rate it as recommend buy.

Dannon Coffee Yogurt, Take 2

As I find it amazing that people are still commenting on this post, over 3 years after it was written, I decided to buy another cup of the yogurt to see if it had improved since I last tried it.

  • Appearance: No change. This yogurt still looks like something very, very nasty rather than food.
  • Scent: N/A. I made no comment on the scent of the yogurt in my previous review but today’s cup had a pleasant coffee fragrance.
  • Texture: Improved. This cup of yogurt mixed up properly and when eaten was smooth, not chalky.
  • Flavor: Improved but still unpleasant. Today’s cup tasted more like a bad, drip coffee combined with sour cream. Sadly, that actually is an improvement.

Overall today’s cup was significantly better than the previous cup I tried, but still not good enough to get me to eat it again.

Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Note: This review is based upon an uncorrected proof which I received via a giveway on GoodReads.

I don’t, as a rule, read True Crime; I do enjoy a good mystery. So when I saw this book being offered in a giveaway over at; I felt I just had to enter.  Then when I was home sick the other day, the book arrived in the mail. Given I hadn’t yet noticed I’d won a copy it was a very pleasant surprise.

I moved the book to the top of my to-read list and once I started on it was glad I had done so. It’s strange; there’s no quick paced action,  no tense drama yet I couldn’t put it down. Maybe it was the author’s fasincation with Gilkey (the theif)  & Sanders (the “bibliodick”) or maybe it was the author’s own fascination with this private world of rare book dealers. It certainly wasn’t the characters that drew me in. Gilkey was given the most “pagetime” but he wasn’t very interesting. Simply an unrepentant crook (all protestations to the contrary) who choose credit card fraud as his easy method of living the good life, which happens to involve owning rare books. Sanders was slightly better but seemed too angry/bitter for much of the book.

While I’m still not sure why I enjoyed this book, it’s safe to say it was an good read.

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