Monday
Feb082010

A new "PlugProfile" Android app

Ever since I got my Droid working properly, it is by far the best phone that I've ever had. However, one notable deficiency is the fact that it lacks a good way to change ring profiles. There are a lot of applications in the Android Market that can help with this, but none of them did exactly what I wanted, so I decided to write my own.

Several years ago, I got an LG V phone, and it had a really nice and sensible feature that made it possible for you to change how it behaved when a call came in based on whether or not it was plugged in, and I used that to configure the phone to vibrate when it was unplugged (and presumably in my pocket) but to ring at maximum volume when it was plugged in (and obviously not in my pocket).

A couple of years ago, I traded in my V phone for a Blackberry. It didn't directly support changing the ring profile based on whether it was plugged in or not, but it did support changing the profile based on whether it was in the holster. Since I carried the phone in my pocket and didn't use the holster, that was good enough because I could put it in the holster whenever I plugged it in to achieve the same effect.

Late last year when I upgraded from the Blackberry to the Droid, it was an upgrade in nearly every way except ring profile management. The phone itself comes with basically nothing for changing the way it rings under different conditions. There are a lot of apps in the Android Market that try to address this problem, and there are some pretty inventive solutions like using information about your location or based on the time of day. However, none of these were a very good fit for my needs. I ended up using "Quick Profiles", which just let you create different profiles and then manually switch between them, but that wasn't ideal because I found that I frequently forgot to change the profile when unplugging my phone and putting it in my pocket in the morning and taking it out and plugging it back in in the evening, so it was frequently configured to ring when I didn't want it to, or vibrate when I wasn't around to feel it.

The model exhibited by the V phone was just about perfect for me, so I decided to go ahead and write an app to do that for Android. It was a pretty quick and painless process, and the app is now available for free in the Android Market with the name "PlugProfile". It provides the ability to automatically set the phone to silent mode, vibrate-only mode, ring-only mode, or ring-and-vibrate mode based on whether it's on battery, on AC power, or on USB power, and if ringing is enabled, you can set the volume from anywhere between 10% and 100% of the maximum volume in 10% increments. I have my phone set to use vibrate-only mode when it's on battery, ring with 100% volume when it's plugged into AC power, and ring with 50% volume when it's plugged into USB (of a presumably nearby computer). It doesn't mess with your ringtone, so if you've got different rings for different people, then that should still be preserved.

Friday
Feb052010

LDAP Client now in Android Market

Ever since I started looking at Android a little over a year ago, I've had a simple LDAP client in one form or another. Since the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java works on Android, it wasn't too difficult to put a simple GUI on top of it that allows you to perform LDAP searches. However, until recently it wasn't in a state that I felt was suitable for publishing. Prompted by the Android Developer Labs (which I attended earlier tonight), I finally got around to making it presentable, and as of a few minutes ago, the app is now available for free in the Android Market. It's far from a masterpiece, but it can be pretty useful if you want to access LDAP content. Some of the features it has include:

  • It has support for multiple servers. Each server definition includes an address, port, security mechanism (none, SSL, or StartTLS), optional bind DN and password, and optional base DN.

  • You can customize the type of search to perform. It has a drop-down that allows you to select the type of search (last name, first name, full name, e-mail address, or user ID), or if you want you can enter your own LDAP search filter.

  • If multiple entries are returned, you can see a brief summary of each. Tapping on one of them will take you to a more complete view of the entry. Long-tapping will pop up a menu with options for the entry (view a formatted representation, view an LDIF representation, copy the DN to the clipboard, or copy the LDIF representation to the clipboard).

  • When viewing a single entry, clicking on the header for that entry will allow you to view the entry as LDIF, copy the DN to the clipboard, or copy the LDIF representation to the clipboard.

  • Clicking on a telephone number in an entry will allow you to dial or send an SMS message to that number, or copy the number to the clipboard.

  • Clicking on an e-mail address in an entry will allow you to send an e-mail to that address, or copy the address to the clipboard.

  • Clicking on a postal address or ZIP code in an entry will allow you to show a map of that location, navigate to that location, or copy the address to the clipboard.

  • Clicking on any other attribute in an entry will allow you to copy the value of that attribute to the clipboard.

  • A button at the bottom of the panel for a user entry will allow you to add information about that user to your local contacts.

If you have an Android device, then you can find this application in the market just by searching for "LDAP" (it's currently the only match). The full name is "LDAP Client" and the author is "Neil Wilson". I hope to improve it further in the future, but I at least wanted to get this reasonably-functional version out there for people that have a use for it.

Tuesday
Jan122010

UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java 1.1.2

UnboundID has released version 1.1.2 of the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java. It primarily includes bug fixes and minor enhancements over the previous 1.1.1 release. The release notes for this version are available online, but the changes for this release are as follows:

  • We have made it easier to work with attribute type definitions in which the SYNTAX element includes an optional minimum upper bound element. New methods have been provided which make it possible to obtain the base OID and minimum upper bound components separately, and attempts to retrieve an attribute syntax with a specified OID will ignore any minimum upper bound component that may be included in the provided OID.

  • When identifying differences between two entries, you now have the option to indicate whether you want the resulting list of modifications to be reversible. If you indicate that the modifications should be reversible (which has always been the default behavior in the past), then the modifications will only use the ADD and DELETE modification types, and they could be applied in reverse to revert back to the original entry, although attempts to apply these modifications are more likely to fail if the entry has been altered since it was retrieved. If the modifications should not be reversible, then they will all contain the REPLACE modification type, which will not be reversible but are less likely to fail if the entry has been altered.

  • We have made improvements in the way that you can obtain the string representations of DNs and RDNs. When creating a DN from a set of RDNs (or from an RDN and a parent DN), then the string representations of the existing RDNs will be used rather than constructing them all from scratch. This will better preserve the original string representation, including any escaping for special characters. In addition, new toMinimallyEncodedString methods have been added to retrieve a string representation with escaping used only for the minimal set of special characters.

  • We have fixed a bug in the LDIF reader that prevented it from being used to read entries containing only a DN and no attributes (as might be the case when reading the LDIF representation of a search result entry for which no attributes were returned).

  • We fixed a bug in the code used to generate the string representation of an LDAP URL using the subordinate subtree search scope. Previously, it would use the value "subord" instead of the correct "subordinates". When parsing a string representation of a URL, it will still accept either form.

  • We have fixed a bug in the LDAPCommandLineTool class (including tools written using it like searchrate, modrate, and authrate) which prevented the "--bindPasswordFile" argument from being used to specify the password from a file in some cases.

Monday
Jan042010

LDAP SDK Persistence Updates

Over the Christmas break, I was able to spend some time working on the LDAP SDK persistence framework and I believe that it is now in a very usable state. I do plan on talking it over with a couple of people before merging it into the trunk (at which point it would be included in the next release), but if you're interested in possibly using it then I would strongly encourage you to try it for yourself. You can do that by checking the source code out of the public Subversion repository using the following command:

svn checkout \
     https://ldap-sdk.svn.sourceforge.net/svnroot/ldap-sdk/branches/persist \
     ldap-sdk-persist

Then, you can build the LDAP SDK using the command ./build-se.sh on UNIX-based systems, or build-se.bat on Windows. The resulting build/package directory will include zipped-up and extracted versions of the LDAP SDK.

Some of the most significant changes that I made to the LDAP SDK persistence framework over the break include:

  • I added a generate-source-from-schema tool that can be used to read a directory server schema and generate Java source code for a properly-annotated class that can be used to interact with entries of a specified type, based on the structural object class (and optionally auxiliary classes) contained in that entry. If you want to work with existing data in a directory, or data for which the LDAP schema is already defined, then this is a very easy way to get source code to interact with entries of that type.

  • I added a generate-schema-from-source tool that can be used to generate LDAP attribute type and object class definitions from a properly-annotated source file.

  • I updated the default LDAP field encoder so that it supports interacting with multivalued attributes using Java lists and sets. Previously, this was only possible using arrays, and that option is still available and is still the mechanism used by the generate-source-from-schema tool.

  • I added the initial set of documentation for the persistence framework, including schema and code examples.

Tuesday
Nov242009

UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java 1.1.1

UnboundID has released version 1.1.1 of the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java. This release adds a number of enhancements and bug fixes over the previous 1.1.0 release. The release notes provide a more complete overview of the changes in this release, but some of the most significant changes include:

  • We have found and corrected a bug that could cause the LDAP SDK to encounter an error and terminate the client connection if the server returned a response message in multiple parts, where the first part did not contain at least the complete BER type and length and there was a delay before the next packet(s) containing the remainder of the length.

  • There have been a number of significant updates to the searchrate, modrate, and authrate tools. The accuracy of the recent rates has been improved, and they have been updated to provide information about any non-success results returned by the server. The searchrate and modrate tools have been updated to support the use of the proxied authorization v2 control to request that operations be processed using an alternate authorization identity.

  • The ValuePattern class has been updated so that it supports obtaining data from files (either on the local filesystem or remotely via HTTP) rather than using numeric values within a specified range.

  • The behavior that the LDAP SDK exhibits when attempting to interact with a completely unresponsive server (e.g., for a system that is powered off, has the network cable disconnected, or has the server process forcibly stopped). Previously, the connect timeout may not have always been honored, and it was not possible to define operation timeouts for bind or extended operations. Further, the error message included in the exception resulting from a client-side timeout has been updated to include the type of operation and the length of time the client had waited for a response to the operation.

  • Client-side support for matching rule evaluation has been improved. It is now possible to select a matching rule by OID, and it is possible to make use of a matching rule ID in a sort key used for client-side sorting.

  • Schema parsing code has been updated to trim any leading or trailing spaces that may be contained in schema definitions. Even though leading or trailing spaces are technically not allowed, some servers don't enforce this restriction, and the LDAP SDK has been updated to properly handle definitions containing them.

Saturday
Nov212009

Another week with the Droid

When I last posted, things weren't looking so good for my use of the Droid, and I had pretty much convinced myself that I was going to have to swap it out for the Eris. Fortunately, I didn't do that and instead decided to give it another shot. I did a factory reset to wipe everything and start fresh, and then I proceeded very slowly. Rather than installing the somewhere around 40 apps that I previously had all at once, I started to trickle them over a period of several days, and I also switched things up a bit by choosing alternatives to what I previously had when there was a feasible other option. I'm happy to report success this time, and I haven't had a crash or reboot all week.

Now that it's stable, my fanboi status is back in full force. I really love this phone. It's really fast, the display is incredible, the already-good browser is much improved over the G1, and I'm even starting to accept the crappy keyboard (and I actually typed much of this post on it while standing in line to see Lars von Trier's Antichrist). I've used the car mode and Google Maps Navigation a few times, and I'm very happy with it, and find it a significant improvement over the VZ Navigator app I was previously using on my Blackberry. The voice search has never misunderstood me, which is really impressive.

Last night, I finally got up the courage to try putting the UnboundID LDAP client on it to test it out and it works just as well as it did on the G1 (actually, quite a bit better because it's faster and on a better network). I hope to give it a much-needed update and make it available in the market in the near future.

Thursday
Nov122009

A Week with the Droid

At the beginning of the year, I got an Android Developer Phone 1 (basically an unlocked version of the T-Mobile G1) and was using it on T-Mobile's network. For the most part, I loved the phone but hated T-Mobile's network. If only I could have an Android phone on Verizon's network, things would be perfect. So I waited anxiously for any news to come and eventually the rumors started to trickle in. Finally, Verizon launched the Droid last Friday and I was there early before the store opened, second in line to get one. I was in love. It's a much faster phone than the G1, with a better display, better battery life, better camera, more memory, newer version of the operating system, better maps and navigation, better everything. Well, it didn't have a better keyboard (the G1 keyboard has five rows of buttons with one row dedicated to numbers, while the Droid's only has four and you have to use the alt key to hit the numbers which is kind of annoying, and also the G1 keys are more separated and feel better than those on the Droid).

My love for the Droid grew over the weekend. I saw four movies (two each on Friday and Saturday), and it kept me company while I was waiting for them to start. I downloaded and installed several apps from the Android market, most of them free but some of them purchased. However, that's when the problems started. On Sunday evening, I purchased the Better Terminal Emulator Pro application and instantly the phone rebooted, and as soon as it came back up, it rebooted again, before I could do anything at all. And it kept rebooting. There was nothing that I could do to stop it. I found that if you hold down the "s" key or the menu key (on the keyboard, not the one below the screen), then the phone boots into safe mode, but even that wasn't enough because it still rebooted. Trying to attach it to my computer over USB (from Linux or Windows) was unsuccessful, since it wasn't getting far enough to allow me to see the device or attach to it.

Clearly, I couldn't do anything at all with the phone in that state, so my only option was to take it back to the Verizon store on Monday morning, and they replaced it for me. Because it was tied to my Google account, all of my contacts and apps synced down without any problems, so it wasn't too much of a hassle to get the second one configured like I had the first one. I did most of it in the car before leaving the Verizon store to head into work.

Surely it was just a bad phone and everything would be fine with the new one. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The battery in the new phone wasn't fully charged, and as soon as I plugged it in when I got into the office, it rebooted. Fortunately, it only rebooted once and didn't enter an infinite reboot loop like the last one, but I was nervous. One of the applications that had automatically synced was the Better Terminal Emulator Pro application that had seemingly triggered the problem on my first one, so I thought it would be safer to get it off the phone in case it did something to make things unstable. So I uninstalled and refunded the app, and instantly the phone rebooted, and it kept rebooting nonstop. Another trip to the Verizon store (a different store this time, mainly because it was closer to the office) over lunch and I got my third Droid. The problem app wasn't ever on this phone, and things generally seemed to be OK., although I still noticed occasional reboots, especially if I got a text message.

Earlier today, I was working and signed up for an online service that needed to activated over the phone. I entered my phone number and waited for it to call, but nothing happened. That was when I noticed that my phone was again stuck in a reboot loop. Once again to the Verizon store. This time, I was determined to not let it happen again. I made sure that it was completely new hardware (e.g., so they didn't move the memory card from my previous one to the new one) and I even used a completely separate Google account. I proceeded with extreme caution, and things were looking positive for a while. However, again since it was a new battery it wasn't fully charged so I plugged it in to charge it, and fortunately it didn't reboot. I sent it a text message and it didn't reboot then either. So things were finally fixed, right? Nope. A while later I looked at the phone and noticed that it was once again stuck in a reboot loop. Fortunately, when I unplugged it, it stopped rebooting, and it started back up when I plugged it in again. So I left it unplugged and let it come back up, and then I sent it a text message and it rebooted right away.

At this point, I'm stuck. I really want to love the Droid, and when it's not rebooting it's an extremely nice device. But if it crashes when I plug it in to charge it, or when I receive a text message or a phone call, then it's really not of any use to me. At this point, I think that my only recourse is to take it back and swap it out for the HTC Droid Eris (which is also on Verizon's network and also launched last Friday). It's not as nice a phone as the Motorola Droid pretty much all the way around (smaller screen with a lower resolution, less memory, no physical keyboard, not running Android 2.0), but HTC has more experience building Android devices than Motorola so hopefully it will be stable. So I'm off to the Verizon store again tomorrow, hopefully for the last time in quite a while.

Tuesday
Nov032009

Austin Film Festival 2009 part 2

Day 4 -- Sunday, October 25

Strigoi -- This is a very authentic Romanian vampire movie, by which I mean it is true to the Romanian vampire legends and not the more popular version that we typically see portrayed in movies. The Romanian vampires don't vaporize in the sunlight, and although the may not like eating garlic or going into churches, doing so won't do any significant damage. The writer/director has spent a lot of time in Romania, and her husband (who I think was a producer) is Romanian. The movie is in English rather than Romanian with English subtitles or dubbing.
      Overall, I liked the movie. It did feel a bit slow at times, but it was interesting to see how vampires are portrayed in their original culture. 7/10.

Shorts -- This is a series of short films (10-20 minutes each) shown back-to-back. They were:

  • Sugar Rush -- A Gremlins-type tale about a little girl who turns into an absolute monster when she is given sugar, and a babysitter and her boyfriend who ignore the advice of her parents. It was pretty fun, if not a bit cliche. 6/10.
  • A Little Mouth to Feed -- A religious woman who has repeatedly failed to have a baby prays to the devil instead and gets a demon child. 6/10.
  • Unawakening -- A story about a man who has a recurring nightmare of killing someone and burying the body, triggered by a past event that he has repressed. 6/10
  • Lambs -- A couple of guys stage a broken-down car so they can rob whoever comes to their aid, only to find the tables turned when a 50's style Ward Cleaver type turns hardcore. 8/10.
  • Survivors -- A man and woman hole up in a bar to try to stave of a zombie attack. 7/10.
  • Slasher -- A story about a rather outcast kid who stabs a fellow classmate in an altercation at a party. No obvious point, and very boring. 2/10.

Hunger -- Five loners with varied pasts find themselves abducted and held hostage together in an underground bunker. They are given plenty of water, a crude toilet, a knife, and a clock to tick off the number of days they've been held. They aren't given any food, but it becomes clear that their captor expects them to eventually turn against each other.
      This was an excellent psychological thriller, that wasn't really scary or particularly intense but was a well-told story and well-acted movie. My only real complaint is that the characters' appearances didn't seem to reflect the duration accurately (e.g., guys weren't really amassing a lot of facial hair, and a girl's white shirt was still a pretty brilliant white after a couple of weeks). The director did mention that they had someone looking at continuity, and scenes were shot in sequential order and within a time frame that was about the same as that portrayed in the movie, so it's probably something that probably should have been handled a little better. Nevertheless, it was still a great movie so I'm willing to overlook the continuity. 8/10.

ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction -- A small island town off the coast of Washington finds itself in the midst of a zombie infestation. Like every other zombie comedy, a small group of people try to survive, while family, friends, and neighbors are overcome.
      There have been a lot of zomcom movies in the last few years, and this one isn't a serious contender against the top tier movies like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, but it can hold its own against most others. It was quite funny and had plenty of gore, so it was never slow or boring. The director said that they had recently gotten a distribution deal, so it may be making it to theaters early next year, and I think that it's worth seeing if you like this type of film. 7/10.

Day 5 -- Monday, October 26

Little Fish, Strange Pond -- Callum Blue plays a murderer named Sweet Stephen who's a bit off his rocker. He's accompanied by a man known only as "Mr. Jack" (Matthew Modine), who is kind of like a human embodiment of the voice in Stephen's head encouraging him and antagonizing others (more like Tim Roth/Amanda Plummer in Pulp Fiction than Edward Norton/Brad Pitt in Fight Club). It's a very fun dark comedy that also features Zach Galifianakis, Adam Baldwin, and Don McManus. I give it an 8/10.
      I really loved Callum Blue's performance in this, and it evoked a lot of fond memories of his role in Dead Like Me. A small grim reaper doll was prominently featured in one scene, and you could consider him playing a kind of reaper role to Matthew Modine's graveling. He also had a great "don't talk during the movie" scene that would be perfect for the Alamo Drafthouse to run before the trailers.

Happy Ending -- This is a Japanese movie (with Engrish subtitles) about a not-very-girly lead character who is very into movies and is beginning to see her life as a movie, much like Jamie Kennedy's character in Scream. She's generally more into horror movies than romantic comedies, but that starts to change when she happens across a guy who she wants to notice her. She enlists the help of her friends (including one who secretly likes her, ala Duckie in Pretty in Pink).
      I generally liked this movie, although it wasn't very original. It also seemed to develop a bit slowly toward the end. Nevertheless, I liked the humor and the self-referential nature. 7/10.

Day 6 -- Tuesday, October 27

Myna Se Va -- This is a movie about a woman living as an illegal alien in Spain, where she was a nanny for a young boy. His parents went out of town on a ski trip, and she was left to care for him. When he got injured, she had to find help for him while avoiding being found out and deported.
      The premise for this movie sounded interesting, but its execution fell flat. This was without question the worst movie I have ever seen. The subtitle translation was horrible. The camerawork was horrible, and there were minutes at a time with absolutely nothing happening on the screen (no people or objects of interest visible, and not particularly focused on anything, with only occasional sounds). The pacing was unbearably slow. It had more false endings than Return of the King. It had completely unnecessary flashbacks that didn't provide any useful information. And there was a 30-minute sequence in the middle of the movie that was so painful to watch that I can't even bring myself to describe it. I would say that at least half the audience walked out, and I would have if there hadn't been two other movies following it in the same theater that I wanted to see. I can't see any value whatsoever in this movie, and I give it a rating of zero out of ten.

Earthwork -- This is a documentary that tells the true story of a man who creates incredible artwork through landscaping. From the ground, they don't look like much, but from the air they turn into very intricate scenes depicting all kinds of things, like people and nature. He had been doing this all his life and had become a bit of a minor celebrity in his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas but he wanted a bigger audience, and jumped when he heard about an opportunity to create his artwork on land owned by Donald Trump shortly before it was to be used to erect skyscrapers. He undercut all of the other competitors by basically offering to do the work for free, and paying all of the expenses himself (effectively putting himself deep into debt by taking out a loan to cover the costs), and he enlisted several homeless men to help him out. He of course encountered a number of difficulties in the process, and it doesn't necessarily turn out as you might expect, but it's definitely worth a watch. 9/10.

The Vicious Kind -- Alex Frost plays a college student who brings his girlfriend (Brittany Snow) home for Thanksgiving. His father (J. K. Simmons) and brother (Adam Scott) aren't on speaking terms, nor can they even stand to be in the same place at the same time. They haven't spoken in several years, since the mother's death. Things got even more tense when the brother's treatment of the girlfriend alternated between hostile and obsessive.
      This was a very good movie, although at just over 90 minutes I felt that it could have been longer and a couple of story lines weren't pursued as well as they could have been. The line producer (who was in attendance) mentioned that a lot had been cut out in editing to prevent it from dragging on too much, but I think that perhaps too much had been cut. 8/10.

Day 7 -- Wednesday, October 28

Tenure -- Luke Wilson plays a literature professor named Charlie who is up for tenure at a small college, after two previous unsuccessful attempts at other schools. He loves teaching, and the students love him, but he's under pressure to focus more on other academic pursuits like getting published. Things get a little more anxious when another professor (played by Gretchen Mol) enters the picture and joins the tenure race. Even though she gets off to a rocky start as a teacher, she has more impressive credentials and has been published in a prestigious journal.
      This movie had two different personalities. I think that the primary story was well executed and generally enjoyable. However, it was awkwardly intertwined with some attempts at comedy which fell a bit short. The quest by a fellow professor (David Koechner) to find Bigfoot, a student's attempts at erotic comedy, and a fake double date (with Rosemarie DeWitt) felt out of place and in some cases were almost painful to watch. 6/10.

American Cowslip -- This is a very odd movie about a heroin addict named Ethan Inglebrink (played by Ronnie Gene Blevins) who hasn't left his house in years but is being evicted by his landlord/next-door neighbor (Rip Torn) because he's unable to pay the rent. About the only thing that he does well is tend to his garden, and he is the primary obstacle in the way of his landlord's victory in a home landscaping competition.
      Despite his addiction and agoraphobia, and in spite of his constant neediness and lack of personal responsibility, Ethan is very well-liked by most of his neighbors (a pretty noteworthy cast, including Diane Ladd, Cloris Leachman, Priscilla Barnes, and Hanna Hall), although his well-meaning but somewhat misguided brother (Val Kilmer) appears to be the only one trying to get him to really improve himself. The film has a pretty crazy climax, but I think that it took too long to get there and I just couldn't connect with the characters and get into the movie like I wanted to. 5/10.

Monday
Nov022009

Thank you, Don

This weekend, Don Bowen passed away, nearly two years after being diagnosed with brain cancer. His battle certainly had its ups and downs, but his faith in God remained strong and was truly an inspiration to me, and I'm sure to many others. He has long been one of the men I admire most, and although it was sad to see him go, we can take comfort in the knowledge that he is truly in a better place, free of pain and full of praise.

I first met Don about ten years ago when we both worked at Caterpillar. I was fresh out of college and inherited responsibility for the Corporate Web Security (CWS) system, a web-based single sign-on environment built from scratch using a collection of Perl scripts, a web server plugin, and (at the time) Netscape Directory Server 3.11. Don had previously overseen the CWS project, and someone suggested that I talk to him to learn more about how it was put together. He gave me a pretty good grilling, and actually I came out of it a little scared of him. I can't imagine what he must have done to the guys brave enough to try to date one of his daughters. Nevertheless, I must have done well enough because within a few months he asked me to join him at a startup in Baltimore (B2B Communications, later renamed to TidePoint Corporation), which I did.

Unfortunately, TidePoint fared about as well as many of the other startups around that time, and when it came to an end we separated for a bit when he went to the Burton Group and I joined Netscape Communications. However, we were reunited after only a few months when we both came to Sun Microsystems at about the same time (he actually called me and told me he was probably going to be joining Sun while I was there for my interview). And most recently, we helped to found UnboundID Corp., where despite his diagnosis days after forming the company, he was a tremendous asset to the company in many ways and I know we certainly wouldn't be where we are today without him. Even after he was no longer able to work, he continued to stay involved and the last time I was able to have a meaningful conversation with him (about two weeks ago), he wanted to know what I was working on so he could continue to pray for me.

Please pray for Don's wife, their four daughters, his parents, and their myriad friends. I can't imagine how exhausting things must have been for them, especially within the last couple of weeks, but it is a blessing to see and to experience the strong support network they have. We will miss his presence, but his memory will live on, and his eternity is secure.

Friday
Oct232009

Austin Film Festival 2009 part 1

The 16th annual Austin Film Festival started last Thursday, and I'm attending this year for the first time. Even though I watch a lot of movies, I've shied away from most film festivals in the past because I was under the impression that they would be mostly a combination of artsy and preachy. While there are some of both, most of the movies I've seen so far are neither, which was also my experience with Fantastic Fest last month.

The Austin Film Festival lasts eight days (Thursday through Thursday), although I won't be able to attend anything on the last day. Nevertheless, I'm on pace for eighteen movies over the seven days I can attend, with two every evening during the week and four each on Saturday and Sunday. Below, you can find a brief summary of the films that I saw on the first three days.

Day 1 -- Thursday, October 22

Serious Moonlight -- Meg Ryan plays a self-assured lawyer who doesn't take it well when her husband (Timothy Hutton) tells her he's leaving her for a younger woman (Kristin Bell). She ties him up and threatens to hold him hostage until he sees the error of his ways. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and humor of the movie and the not-quite-predictable manner in which it arrives at its resolution. I give it an 8/10.
      This movie was written by Adrienne Shelly around the same time that she wrote Waitress. It was directed by Cheryl Hines, who was in attendance to introduce the movie and do a Q&A afterwards.

Youth in Revolt -- Michael Cera plays a bright but awkward 16-year-old who falls for a girl who likes him as well. However, fate seems to have it out for them and keeps putting up roadblocks in their relationship. Michael develops a "bad boy" alter ego who wreaks quite a bit of havoc and gets into more trouble than he bargained for.
      I thought that the trailer for this movie was pretty funny, but didn't hold out a lot of hope that the movie would be able to match it. Fortunately, I was wrong and it was able to hang onto its humor for the duration. It doesn't have the hilarity of Zombieland or Superbad, but it's worth seeing when it comes out early next year. 7/10.

Day 2 -- Friday, October 23

31 Minutes -- This is a very unique movie, based on a Chilean TV show of the same name. It features a team of puppets that work together produce a parody news show. The producer is a rare type of animal that an evil millionaire needs to finish her collection in an island zoo, so she arranges to have him kidnapped and taken to the island. When the rest of the crew find out, they set off on a rescue mission.
      The story itself was fine, but the real draw for this movie is the comedy. It was extremely funny. It was in Spanish with English subtitles, but they were very well done (no obvious spelling or grammatical errors, and they generally captured the meaning and not a literal word-for-word translation) and didn't detract from the experience. On top of that, the film print of the movie didn't arrive in time for the showing, so they had to show the DVD they provided for screening the movie, and it featured a pretty prominent watermark in the middle of the picture, but it got pretty easy to ignore that. The experience could have been a little bit better, but the movie itself was excellent. 8/10.

Calvin Marshall -- Alex Frost plays Calvin Marshall, a junior college student who loves baseball and wants to go pro but he's having a hard time making the college team. No one works harder than he does, and the coach (who used to be a minor league player himself, played by Steve Zahn) appreciates the effort and really doesn't want to cut him. Calvin is also a sportscaster for the school's TV station and is an announcer for sports events, like women's volleyball. It is there that he meets and instantly falls for Tori Jensen (played by Michelle Lombardo). Over the course of the movie, Calvin tries to play the game he loves and woo the girl he likes. Andrew Wilson, Diedrich Bader, and Abraham Benrubi also played supporting roles. Like most baseball movies, there was a lot going on besides just baseball, but it came together well to create a very enjoyable movie. 8/10.
      This was the movie's world premiere, and several of the cast and crew were present. This included the director (Gary Lundgren), actors Diedrich Bader and Michelle Lombardo (among others), producers, and other crew. The director introduced the film, and several of them answered questions afterwards.

Day 3 -- Saturday, October 24

Missy and the Maxinator -- From the description, this sounded like it could be a fun movie. Max is a geeky high school kid who wants to upgrade his current "best friends" status with Missy, the girl next door, to something more. However, he finds that something unusual is happening, and he's starting to acquire super powers like super strength and hearing and the ability to see through walls. That's extremely lucky for the rest of us, because two of his teachers are working on a plot to go back in time and change the outcome of World War II so they could take over the world.
      I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, but was hoping for something fun. I was pretty disappointed all the way around. The digital video was shot at worse than DVD resolution and was very grainy, and there were several breaks in the soundtrack where the sound would end too early before a scene change. The acting was horrible (even more so from the adults than the kids), and there were lots of mistakes and continuity errors. But the biggest problem was the weak story, which was weak and not well thought out. Unfortunately, it didn't make it into the "so bad it's good" category (I'm not sure if it went too far or not far enough), so I'll give it a 3/10 rating. I can see how it might have some appeal to the preteen crowd (which is fitting, since the director, who was in attendance, works for Nickelodeon), but I can usually get at least some enjoyment out of those kinds of movies, and in this case there was too much that I couldn't overlook to get to that point.

Straight to the Bone -- This is a very Austin-centric movie about a woman (Shannon) in a long relationship with a guy (Jay) who doesn't want to get married. When she's dealing with dealing with a particular bout of frustration from that, she has a couple of chance encounters with another guy (Blake) and they hit it off. When Jay decides that he needs to get away for a couple of days, Shannon finds herself on a date with Blake.
      In general, I thought that this was a pretty good movie. It had a good basic story, and was pretty well acted. There were some video problems with a lot of digital artifacting around cuts, but I think that the film festival itself is to blame for that, since this is the first year they're going digital and there are some bugs to be worked out in the conversion process as I saw similar problems (although not to the same extent) in a couple of other movies. I do think that it captured a bit too much of the Austin hippie culture, and it was a little too slowly-paced (which probably comes from the fact that the cast and crew wrote the movie as they went along over more than a year of filming when they could get everyone together), but I think that both of those are things that could be improved with a bit of editing. I give it a 6/10.

Hockey Night in Texas -- This is a documentary that follows a few teams over a season of an amateur adult hockey league in Austin. I really don't like hockey, and you couldn't drag me to see a game or even watch one on TV, and the only reason that I decided to see it was that it happened to be sandwiched between two other movies that I wanted to see and I decided that it wasn't worth going home for an hour and a half. I'm glad that I stayed because I loved this movie. It was very funny, and very fast-paced, complete with 50's-style how-to clips interspersed ala Dodge Ball. The guys (and at least one woman) are pretty bad and at least most of them acknowledge and embrace that to have a really good time, and that translates well to the screen. I still have no desire to watch hockey, but I would watch this again. 8/10.
      The director was there to introduce it and do a Q&A, and he said that there were hundreds of hours of footage that had been shot, but that didn't show at all in the 83 minutes that actually made it in. A large percentage of the audience was comprised of players from the league, which helped to further enhance the experience.

Lo -- Lo is the story of a guy who summons a demon to help him get a girl who he had fallen in love with but had herself been kidnapped by another demon. It was heavily-inspired by Faust, which is directly acknowledged in the movie. It was billed as being funny, but didn't really succeed at that. It ultimately felt like we were watching a tape of a musical theater production, and the director said that although he wrote it as a movie they were exploring the possibility of running it as a play. The story was interesting, but the movie was a little too experimental and artistic for my taste. 5/10.