Review: Thermos Nissan

Several months ago, I was contacted by online kitchen tool retailer The Gourmet Kitchen. They offered me to choose any model Thermos from their online store, thermosonline.com, to test and then review here on my site. After some deliberation- there are a lot of different Thermos models, I will say that- I chose the Thermos Nissan.

The Thermos Nissan is a bullet-shaped, stainless steel travel mug that holds 25 ounces of cold or hot beverage. Since I take a standard-issue plastic travel mug of coffee to work each day (and frequently have one with me when I go anywhere else), I’ve been able to put the Thermos Nissan to some good real-world testing.

In addition, my family and I go on many outings and picnics during the summer, and the Nissan has been our beverage container of choice on these occasions, which are often hot days.

After significant usage, I can heartily recommend the Thermos Nissan as a sturdy, reliable beverage container. The Nissan keeps beverages unbelievable well at the temps they were sealed into, weather hot or cold.

Some movies we’ve enjoyed lately

We gave up on the summer of junky movies and turned to Blockbuster’s cheapest DVD rental plan instead. For just $8/month, we get two movies delivered and 2 more in-store rentals for free. Thankfully, we’ve uncovered some real gems using the service lately. Here’s a rundown:

Brick3 1/2 out of 5 – Joseph Gordon-Leavitt carries this bizarre, amazing, dark, comic, and inventive modern noir tale set against the backdrop of high school.

Lonesome Jim4 1/2 out of 5 – My pick for the most criminally under-rated film of 2005. Casey Affleck gives another great performance in this hilariously bittersweet tale of a small-town family. Liv Tyler is as good as always and some excellent supporting performances, crack writing, and wise pacing make this movie a rare, totally enjoyable and redeeming night in a pretend-land that is cringe-inducingly close to reality.

Pride & Prejudice4 out of 5 – The millionth re-telling of one of my favorite books, I hesitated to watch this really beautifully-shot period piece, thinking that the classic BBC mini-series was the final say on the material. I was really wrong, as this version stands on its own as a well-written interpretation. Possibly- possibly– better than the BBC mini-series.

Inside Man3 1/2 out of 5 – Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejiofor crackle in this engrossing, truly original caper. Forget the mediocre or pandering reviews and make this a double feature with my next recommendation.

Confidence3 1/2 out of 5 – A slick, intelligent thriller that will keep you guessing from the first scene to the very end. Plus some great performances from stellar actors like Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giammatti, Ed Burns, and Rachel Weisz.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic 3 1/2 out of 5 One of the filthiest comedy concert movies ever made, but one of the funniest in recent memory as well. Don’t watch this before familiarizing yourself with Siliverman first- then, watch it soon after.

This weekend

* We watched Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. My vote: *** out of 4 stars. Funny, hilarious in places, and slick overall. I am deepy disturbed that they cut my favorite line from the trailer – “I can’t lower my heart rate; I’ve got a cougar on me!” – from the feature film. But all-in-all, this was a direct hit for Ferrell/McKay/Apatow, and well worth checking out.

* I uploaded some photos from our personal archives to Flickr. Included: Shots from December 2004, a highway/mirror shot from fall 2005, and one of a giant tree completely split down the middle on I-95 here in Maine.

I can’t lower my heart rate! I’ve got a cougar on me!

The best movie I’ve seen so far this summer is Taladega Nights: The Ballad of Rick Bobby.

Wait, you say! That movie won’t even be in theaters until August 4th! How did a lowly commoner like me see it? Well, to be completely honest, I haven’t seen the whole movie…just some funny bits via the two different trailers I’ve seen.

As excited as I am about Ricky Bobby, it’s also a commentary on the sad state of cinema so far in summer 2006. I’ve seen more movies this summer than the past few combined, and yet I’ve been let down again and again with what I’ve seen.

I got hyped up for DaVinci Code, again for Pirates, and now I’m really looking forward to Ricky Bobby, especially after the latest trailer. We’ll see if Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow can save this summer with their third classic summer comedy in a row (Anchorman in 2004 and 40-Year-Old Virgin in 2005).

Some movies I’ve seen this summer, with brief comments:

MI:3 (Mission: Impossible 3) – *** out of 5 – Blazing action scenes, a sensible, borderline unique plot, and suspense without cheapness combined to make this movie an enjoyable distraction. I wish this was the first in the series; I’d like to see a couple more like this.

The DaVinci Code – ** out of 5 – The most disappointing film I’ve seen in quite some time (since 2003’s Collateral), DaVinci sums up my feeling about the summer movie season this year: It’s overwraught, it trys to hard, it’s lamely funny, and it doesn’t end well.

The Break-Up – ** 1/2 out of 5 – Notwithstanding the Old 97’s appearance, as well as the Annie Hall-esque ending, The Break-Up was not as funny, nor as poinant, as it tried to be. I still enjoyed it more than most critics across the country, who I feel are consistently (and unfairly) harsh to Jennifer Aniston.

Cars – **** out of 5 – My favorite movie of the summer so far. With spectacular animation and a thoroughly interesting plot geared more towards adults, Pixar did it again. I’m still mildly annoyed at their inability to present any type of humor besides lame, outdated pop culture references.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest – ** out of 5 – Another major let-down. A movie without the charm, humor, pacing, and excitement of first. To be fair, it also lacks the suprise of the first, but that’s not really a good excuse to spend two-and-a-half hours boring me.

The ‘Code’ movie is not for ‘DaVinci’ book lovers

Despite (or perhaps, due to) my high hopes, I thought The DaVinci Code movie was a long, boring, overwraught, and entirely lame screen incarnation of the book.

I love Audrey TatouAmeilie is on my Top 10 All-Time list- and I really like Tom Hanks, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, and Alfred Molina; but despite that stable of fine actors, not a single of their performances was where I hoped they would be. Perhaps that was due to the clunky, unsure script, which managed to drain the action from the book, dillute its theories, muddy its characters’ intentions, beliefs, and personality traits, and strip away some of the best scenes and turning points.

The most exciting thing about the entire trip was, alas, the previews. I’m happy to report that at least in preview land, all things are well. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (with Will Ferrell) looks hilarious, and Casino Royale (the new Bond flick) looks quite interesting.

The DaVinci Code: C

Book review: ‘An Army of Davids’ is already marching

“A return to some sort of balance, in which the world looks a bit more like the eighteenth century than the twentieth, is likely to be a good thing.”

So says Glenn Reynolds, perhaps better known as InstaPundit, in the conclusion of his new book, An Army of Davids (view it on Amazon.com).

While that may seem a strange statement to make, you’ll be hard-pressed to disagree with it after reading Reynolds’ brisk, yet thoroughly fascinating treatise on the future of life, from blogging to space colonization.

I’ve been a big admirer of Reynolds blog for a few years, yet I always got the sense that blogging was just one of the Tennessee Law professor’s many hobbies. I think I’ve been proven right, in that quite a few of them- from beer brewing, to music, to an interest in space, nanotechnology, and life extension- are on display in Davids, as Reynolds proves to be a likeable and intelligent guide through some pretty far reaches of technology.

Beginning with the tremendous impact that blogging has wrought on top-down institutions such as government and big media, Reynolds uses the “Army of Davids” metaphor repeatedly to advance his theory that loose, decentralized networks of individuals will be the diriving force behind a multitude of amazing changes taking place over the next 30-50 years. When I say “amazing”, there’s not much hyperbole there- the colonization of space (seriously!) is one such dramatic change that Reynolds hopes will be come about thanks to the power of the individual bypassing the beaurocracy of a government.

Reynolds also describes some trends that, rather than being powered by the “Army”, will instead benefit it: If scientists succeed in slowing or even reversing the aging process, Reynolds argues that the single individual will become even more empowered, leading to a dramatic increase in personal productivity, creativity, and the like. These are just two examples- the singularity, space elevators, and artificial intelligence are also discussed.

If you think the topics of the previous paragraphs are the stuff of science fiction, I might’ve agreed with you just a few days ago. But after finishing Army of Davids, I’m excited to learn more about some things I once thought of as fantasy that Reynolds argues are already well underway.

The book is a quick read- I digested it in just a couple hours- but that is far from an insult. Rather, I suspect Reynolds’ conversational, at times swift-moving prose and frequent long-form quotes are designed to assume the reader’s intelligence, rather than condescend to it. Supplementing the wide variety of subject matter are copious citations, especially helpful when Reynolds cuts broad strokes through his often unfamiliar (to many) subject matter.

On his blog, Reynolds has, on at least two occasions, referenced reviewers who met with confusion as the latter half of the book veered away from blog-related topics and moved into more scientific and even sci-fi-esque territory. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the book transitioning into trends of the near future. Because Reynolds is perhaps best known as a blogosphere celebrity, I’m guessing some readers expected the book to remain media-centric. However, I’m pleased that Reynolds guided his book away from a pleasing yet tiring re-hash of recent memory and instead took a risk by exposing readers to a some tip-of-the-iceberg stuff that I, for one, would likely have never learned of otherwise.

So if you’re expecting a light read about the impact of blogging, look elsewhere. But if you’re interested in the extension of trends that blogging is only a small part of, you’ll probably learn a great deal- and become pretty excited- about the future that An Army of Davids foretells.

Akismet will cure your comment spam blues

Yes, the time has come for me to publicly express my love for Akismet. It’s a relatively new plugin for WordPress that grabs comment spam and dumps it in a moderation queue.

Since I installed it, Akisment has blocked 100% of the droves of unprintable comment spam that streams into my site on a daily basis, effectively eliminating comment spam as a problem and hinderance to managing my blog.

Akisment is a production of Automattic labs, the newly-formed company behind WordPress. It’s a cinch to install and use on your WordPress blog- just grab the files, upload them to your /plugins/ folder inside your WordPress install, and then grab a free API key for the service by singing up for an account at WordPress.com (a free, hosted installation of the WordPress tool).

With Akismet activated on your blog, the service begins working right away. Each time a comment (or trackback) is submitted, the service reviews it according to a centralized list of spam parameters and then decides to pass it to you or hold it in your own queue. You can check your Akisment queue and remove false positives, or leave the service alone and let it delete the spam for you every 15 days.

I have a feeling that a big part of Akismet’s success rate is that it is powered by the collective experience of all its users. For example, when checking your particular blog for spam, it relies on an algorithm that is ehanced each time it is put into use. So the more people that use Akismet, the more it learns about blocking spam, and the more effective it becomes for all.

Akisment was built for WordPress, but the developers have released an API with the intent that anybody who accepts comments on their site- be it blog, news site, whatever- can take advantage of the service.

If comment spam has become an unmanageable task for you, I highly recommend you try Akismet today.