Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Netflix Movie Review: Alive

"In 1972, an airplane carrying a team of rugby players came down in the Andes. Those who survived the crash then fended off starvation by eating the dead. Piers Paul Read told the story in his book "Alive," the basis of this movie. Judging by the audience reaction, most people know the story already; everyone began to titter with anticipation whenever one of the characters said he felt hungry. A helping of ghoulish bad taste would have slipped down nicely, in fact, but director Frank Marshall and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley solemnly wring a message of togetherness from the horror. Come closer to your friends than ever before, the movie says: have them for lunch. The crash itself is a knockout, with the fuselage tobogganing down snowy slopes, but from here on the plot grinds to a halt. The cannibalism seems rather gloomy and low-key, but then nobody enjoys frozen food every day. Ethan Hawke and Vincent Spano lead the worrying; a bearded, uncredited John Malkovich looks back on the whole experience and says that it took them spiritually onto a higher plane. Not the happiest choice of phrase to describe an air crash, perhaps, but there you are." ~Anthony Lane (Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker) 

General Movie Info:
Genre: Drama, Action, Adventure
Plot: Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash.
Rated: R

My thoughts:
The movie was good but the story itself was better.  The fact that this movie was based on actual events kept me interested from beginning to end.  While watching the movie I kept wondering how I would react if I was placed in that situation.  Hopefully I never have to find out!  Since this movie was made in 1993 it is not likely to be on top of your Netflix queue but I would definitely recommend watching it.

Check out the official trailer:

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Royal Wedding: William and Kate!

In case you've been living under a rock... On Friday April 29 England's Prince William will marry Kate Middleton.

Didn't get an invite?  Don't worry the wedding will be broadcasted live on YouTube (  The wedding is expected to be viewed by 2 billion people worldwide.

Who did get an invite?  In attendance will be Rowan Atkinson (aka Mr Bean), David and Victoria Beckham, Elton John, John Ritchie and Joss Stone. (...and the Queen.)

Random Stuff I find interesting about the wedding...  
  1. No Beer! - No Beer will be served at the reception because it would be considered rude to drink beer in the presence of the Queen.  
  2. No Dinner! - Instead of a formal meal, guests will be served only appetizers.  Some of the items will include: herbed crèpes, Cornish pastries, mini Yorkshire puddings, and smoked salmon.
  3. During the ceremony, royals will sit on the right while commoners sit on the left.
  4. While in Westminster Abby all women will wear hats to show respect.
  5. The couple already has a Lifetime movie about them titled, "William and Kate."
  6. Kate won't throw her bouquet of flowers to the single ladies in the crown.  Instead, to follow tradition, she will place them on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
  7. Kate removed the word "obey" from her wedding vows.  (Diana did the same when she married Prince Charles in 1981.)
  8. The couple will get their own stamp to commensurate the event.  (They should come in handy for all those thank-you cards!)
  9. It can take up to 50 hours to polish the boots worn by The Household Cavalry.
  10. The Wedding cake will be a multi-tiered fruit cake. 
  11. Britons are expected to use over 6 million garbage bags disposing of 4,000 tons of wedding related garbage.
  12. A local pizza has translated its menus into 20 different languages to cater to tourists in town for the wedding.
My thoughts...  If at my wedding I had no beer, no dinner and served fruit cake as dessert, there would have been riots in the aisles! 

Still want more Royal Wedding information?  Check out theses official sites:

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Netflix Movie Review: 127 Hours

"127 Hours is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston's remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah. Over the next five days Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover he has the courage and the wherewithal to extricate himself by any means necessary, scale a 65 foot wall and hike over eight miles before he can be rescued. Throughout his journey, Ralston recalls friends, lovers, family, and the two hikers he met before his accident. Will they be the last two people he ever had the chance to meet?" ~Fox Searchlight Pictures  
General Movie Info:
Genre: Biography, Drama, Adventure
Plot: While exploring a canyon a man's arm becomes trapped under a boulder and he needs to take desperate measure to save his life.  
Rated: R

My thoughts:
While it is not an instant classic, 127 Hours did not disappoint.  Since the movie was based on a true story, I was aware of the general plot, the climax, and the general conclusion prior to watching the movie.  However, this did not detract  me from enjoying the movie.  The acting was good, but the way the story was presented is what made it a worthwhile movie.  I would definitely recommend 127 Hours.

Check out the official trailer:

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Man Day!

My wife had a baby shower to attend, so today would be just me and the boy
The adventure begins...

We started off with a diaper change then headed down stairs for breakfast.  Before going down stairs we had to assemble the entourage.  I started with the basics: sheepy, elephant, Mater and McQueen.  I tried to add Tuck into the mix and was quickly shot down.  I don’t know what Tuck had done, but he was not a welcomed to join us for breakfast.
.Your children need your presence more than your presents.  ~Jesse Jackson
We had scrambled eggs and toast.  The boy had chocolate milk and I had coffee in front of the TV as we watched Olivia.  (Not the manliest show for man day but we take what we get.)
Parents are not interested in justice, they're interested in peace and quiet. ~Bill Cosby
After breakfast, the boy played with his toys while I cleaned up and packed his bag for the day.  Another diaper change and then we were off to Home Depot.  We got what I needed, then we took some time to walk around and smell the flowers.
Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing. ~Phyllis Diller
Next stop... Sam’s Club.  We grabbed what we needed and got out fairly quickly.  Unfortunately, they didn't have everything I was looking for so we had to head over to WalMart.  A couple laps around the store and I had everything we needed.
A child is a curly dimpled lunatic. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Once we got home, we had a quick lunch then nap time.  While he napped I cleaned the house (including the bathtub and a closet).  When he woke up we had a snack and then I realized I forgot to get milk.  
A two-year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don't have a top for it. ~Jerry Seinfeld
So we hit the road to get some milk.  When we got back, mamma was home and man day was over.  

Nothing like spending the day with the boy to make the day fly!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Single Best Exercise is...

As a man in my (early) thirties, for me to keep it all together I need to exercise.  If I go too long without doing something physical my body stops firing on all cylinders.  I get achy, sluggish, and begin to not sleep properly.  With the arrival of Spring, and the weather getting warmer and warmer, I’m feeling motivated to get outside and break a sweat.
Yesterday, I took a jog around the neighborhood.  I felt good most of the run, but as I was plodding up a hill, I began to wonder about my fitness.  Sure, I take my occasional run, and do a little of this and a little of that, but am I getting the best bang for my exercise buck each time I workout?  I decided that I should scour the Internet to find the single best fitness exercise.
After searching Google, I’ve come to the conclusion that many exercises are considered the best exercise.  It just depends on who you ask!  Many sites mentioned walking as the single best exercise.  (While walking does burn calories, my ego won’t allow me to consider walking a workout so I continued looking.)  Other top answers included biking, swimming, yoga, running, strength training, and Tai Chi.          
Over the years, I’ve tried each of the exercises listed above.  Some of them I enjoyed more than others, but regardless of enjoyment, I was able to experience the potential benefits of each exercise.  As I did the various exercises, at no point did I ever think that I was currently performing the single best possible exercise. Each of them strengthened me in some ways but neglected other areas. How could an exercise be the single best if it isn't perfect? It couldn't be... this is probably why there is no single best exercise!   
When it comes to exercise, the best exercise is simply the one you do.  It doesn't matter what it is, even if it is walking, as long as you exercise. Keep trying different exercises and your general fitness will keep improving. Maybe after mixing up my workouts I won't have to trot up that hill!
Stay active and stay healthy!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Internet Privacy: Who knows what?

The Internet has revolutionized the way we live our lives.  Everyday, more and more daily interactions are done online and this trend does not appear to have any end in sight.  We use the Internet to pay bills, purchase goods, meet people, communicate with friends and family, get medical advice, share pictures, write blogs, get the news, etc, etc, etc.  But how secure is our personal information on the Internet?

Recently, law makers have been urging technology leaders to help establish ways to keep the public’s information more secure.  The White House just released their “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace”, outlining their overall plan to protect the consumer. In general, the legislators feel that web users should be able to decide if they want their Internet actions tracked.  Popular companies, such as Google and Facebook, track your searches and other activities so they can provide you with advertisements that correspond with your online actions.  
Google currently places ads next to email messages received in their popular Gmail service.  The ads provide revenue for Google, which allows them to provide the Gmail service for free to the consumer.  According to Google, “Ad targeting in Gmail is automated, and no humans read your email in order to target advertisements or related information. This type of automated scanning is how many email services, not just Gmail, provide features like spam filtering and 
spell checking.”

Facebook attempts to make ads more relevant to its users through several ways.  One popular way is through the “Like” button feature.  When a user clicks on a “Like” button a connection is made with the item being liked.  Stories about the product, service, celebrity, or blog begin to appear on the user's Wall.  If the item runs ads on Facebook, your name may be shown to your friends as liking the item.  So, if one night you “Like” Jack Daniels Whiskey, your Facebook friends may start to receive notices that you like Jack Daniels hoping that they will, in turn, “Like” Jack Daniels too.  
Both Facebook and Google claim to not sell personal information.  I personally believe them because they both have too much to risk.  If the public felt used or violated by either company they could simply stop using their product.  Currently, both Google and Facebook know a lot about us.  They know our searches, the sites we visit, when we search, and with the help of mobile apps, they even know where we are!  What will happen to all of these data if either company goes out of business? Sure the companies don't currently sell the information, but what would happen to the collected data if either company ceased to exist? Who would get access to that information, and would it stay private or go to the the largest bidder?
Since avoiding the Internet is no longer a feasible option, we need to make sure that we familiarize ourselves with the privacy features of the products we use.  It is our responsibility to 
keep our information safe, not Google nor Facebook.
So how do we stay safe?  Below are 5 tips to help keep your personal information safe:
  1. Don't share anything online that you don't want others to know.
  2. If you do share information, become aware of the site's privacy settings.
  3. Only use sites that allow you to limit who sees the information you share and limit it to family and friends.  If you share to a wider audience, be aware that the information could be used against you!
  4. Use hard to guess passwords and change them from time to time.
  5. Don't share information that is commonly used as security questions to sites.
Stay Safe!


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Saturday, April 16, 2011

What's going on...

I was very busy this week and I'm happy it's the weekend! This past week was fairly balanced. Here's what's been going on...

Week one of my work detail is in the books.  While I’m still not sure how long the detail will last, I’m confident that the overall experience will be positive.  I now have a better idea of the type of work I'll be doing and think that my skill sets will be well suited for the challenges that lie ahead. During this first week I worked on a variety of different projects. Some my activities included: meeting with community partners, drafting emails, preparing meeting briefing documents, designing invitations and buttons.  

The most exciting part of the week was learning how to use Adobe PhotoShop.  I used the program to design buttons for an event next week. PhotoShop will allow me to become very creative with some photos. My future professional and personal projects will never be the same!
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." ~ Michael Jordan
For the first time, I gave my son a haircut!  The process went fairly well. First, I strapped him
into a booster seat - so he couldn't run away. Then I put the computer in front of him so he could play the ABC song, his favorite YouTube video, over and over. Then I just kept giving him popsicles until I was done. (Never underestimate the power of bribery!)
My wife purchased Norelco hair clippers designed to cut kid's hair and they worked great! His hair looks nice and even. If you are going to give a kid a haircut, I highly recommend getting this clipper. (Click here to learn more about the clipper.)
"Be nice to your children, for they choose your rest home." ~Phyllis Diller
I finally finished my taxes!  
I also entered two limit orders in my personal investment account. (I first mentioned this account in my "Greed is Good!" post.)  I placed an order for XLF and XLU.  For both orders, I entered a buy price that was a few percentage points lower than the current price.  Hoping that something would push the stock lower within the next month or so.   XLF has been declining and I'm getting closer to my buy point.  XLU has been rising steadily so I may need to reconsider my buy point or reconsider the trade.
"Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it." ~ Warren Buffett 
I hope all of you are staying balanced!  
Keep on keepin' on!

My Netflix Movie Review: The Next Three Days

"It's damn hard to enjoy a thriller when you don't, won't, can't believe a word of it. Russell Crowe stars as a mild-mannered teacher (huh?) whose wife (Elizabeth Banks) is suicidal about doing a life sentence for killing her boss. So he decides to break her out of prison. For ideas, he watches YouTube. Handy. Writer-director Paul Haggis (Crash) has the actors, including Ty Simpkins as the couple's nine-year-old son, race preposterously all over Pittsburgh with the cops in hot pursuit. In case you want to try this at home, wearing different-colored jackets really throws the law off your trail. Say what? Credulity isn't just strained, it practically crawls into your lap and cries for mercy." Paul Haggis, Rolling Stone
General Movie Info:
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
Plot: A family struggles after the wife is accused of murder.
Rated: PG-13

My thoughts:
This was not Russel Crowe's best movie... by far.  While the plot-line had potential, this movie did not deliver.  The Next Three Days felt like three days,  it was slow moving and not very believable.  I would not recommend wasting your time with this film.

Check out the official trailer:

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wet Wednesday!

I'm now two days into my temporary detail, and so far so good.  I've kept busy familiarizing myself with the ins-and-outs of the position.  We are currently very busy arraigning several events.  I'm still far from establishing my groove, but I'm sure I'll find my niche soon enough! It will just take some time...

My prior position entailed budget projections and regulations, this new position is more about feelings and protocol.  Basically, my my new job is to make sure that our big shots come across like big shots.

After the past two days, my mind is way too tired to try to be clever. 
So tonight is......Wet Wednesday!

Grab a glass and join me... 
it's a long wait till Friday!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Easter Planning with Google Docs!

Easter, like all Holidays, offers an opportunity to get together with family and friends.  While having a get together is fun, they typically require a lot of planning and organizing.  

Who’s coming and who’s bringing what?  

Typically, to answer those questions requires several phone calls and/or a bunch of emails, but with the use of Google Docs I’ve been able to streamline this process!
I first used Google Docs to plan an event at work. I needed to get a large group of people to sign up for a training that was being offered at varied times. Instead of passing around a paper copy or saving a copy to a shared drive (where only one person can access the document at a time), I decided to give Google Docs a whirl. This was a slight risk because I work with some dim bulbs (if you know what I mean). I provided them no special instructions, and still, everyone was able to use the document without incident.
This past Thanksgiving was the first family gathering that I used Google Docs to help organize. The family responded positively so I brought it back for Easter. It is fun fun way to plan!

I posted my Easter Dinner template to the Google Doc Gallery so it should soon be available for everyone.

For those of you who haven’t used Google Docs yet, I highly recommend it!  Google Docs allows you to create documents and easily share them online with whomever you would like.  Since the documents are stored online, several people can access and edit the document at the same time. Collaboration has never been easier! Click here to: Try Google Docs Now!)  

Balanced Day!

My stated intention for this blog is to discuss the balancing of my competing priorities and whatever else is on my mind.  Well... Today I did a great job of balancing my priorities.  Below is a quick breakdown of my day.  
Family & Recreation:  My wife, son and I went to a local county park and had a blast!  The best part, aside from the weather and company, was our lunch.  We had a picnic by the lake!  (This goose wanted lunch too!)

Personal & Career:  I got my hair cut.  Sure this isn't the greatest personal or career accomplishment but it assisted me in preparing for the upcoming work week.  I start a temporary detail at work tomorrow so the new hair-do represents my new start.  (Wish me luck!)
"Looking the part helps get the chance to fill in. But if you fill the part, it matters not if you look it." ~Malcolm Forbes
Health and Fitness:  I went for a run.  This run didn’t go as well as planned.  I guess my body wasn’t ready for the warm weather, so instead of a steady jog I did sprints. But... at least I got out there!  
“A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”  ~Steve Prefontaine
Finance:  I Finally finished my taxes!  
"The politicians say "we" can't afford a tax cut.  Maybe we can't afford the politicians."  ~Steve Forbes
What else is on my mind: 
I hope you all have a balanced day!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Tax Man Cometh!

Income tax season, the yearly game of write-offs and deductions, is once again here.  Unfortunately, like many others, I typically pay very little attention to how much money I actually pay in taxes.  The government takes their share and I use what is left.  I very rarely consider how much money I make, instead I just concentrate on how much money I bring home. In many ways, I’m the perfect pig for the government’s taxation slaughter!   
If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets, and all that don't get wet you can keep.  ~Will Rogers 
As I prepared my tax return this year, I realized that I pay a hefty chunk to Uncle Sam.  In the US we currently pay between 10-35% of our salaries, as an income tax, to support the government.  The tax rate varies depending on the individual’s particular income level.  The more money a person makes, the higher percentage they have to pay.    
I'm proud to pay taxes in the United States; the only thing is, I could be just as proud for half the money.  ~Arthur Godfrey
(I strongly feel that progressive tax rates are unfair and that the nation should adopt a flat tax, but that topic can be saved for a later post.)
The taxpayer - that's someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take the civil service examination.  ~Ronald Reagan
The current budget battles occurring in Washington have opened many eyes, mine included, to how our tax dollars are being spent.  I’m comfortable with my tax dollars supporting our nation’s defense and promoting the general welfare of our citizens, as it's stated in the Constitution.  However, the “general welfare” portion is where the slope gets slippery... real slippery!  Should our tax dollars be going to Planned Parenthood (a leading provider of abortions), National Public Radio (a media outlet that tends to favor one political view over others), foreign governments, etc, etc, etc?  Regardless of what causes you consider worthy of our tax dollars, everyone should want and expect the tax dollars to be spent efficiently.  
So how exactly are our tax dollars being spent?
Wondering where was my money really going, I visited the What We Pay For website to find out.  The amount that goes towards debt repayment is shocking.  In 2010, we spent $187.8 billion in interest alone!  I find it mind boggling that the most advanced nation in the history of the world could owe so much money.  Why don’t we have trillions in surplus?  I really hope the government gets their act together and reduces the federal deficit.  If they don’t, we are all in BIG TROUBLE!
Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.  ~Franklin D. Roosevelt
The average American home makes $46,326 and pays $9679 in income tax.  Here’s a breakdown of where that money actually goes:
  • Social Security: $1944.91
  • National Defense: $1941.24
  • Income Security: $1786.45
  • Medicare: $1242.17
  • Health: $1038.81
  • Net Interest: $504.77
  • Veterans Benefits and Services: $336.03
  • Transportation: $251.80
  • Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services: $247.10
  • International Affairs: $181.15
  • Allowances: $162.63
  • Administration of Justice: $143.72
  • Natural Resources and Environment: $106.24
  • General Science, Space, and Technology: $83.40
  • General Government: $77.98
  • Agriculture: $68.33
  • Community and Regional Development: $53.45
  • Energy: $23.68
  • Undistributed Offsetting Receipts: -$214.33
  • Commerce and Housing Credit: -$300.54
(For a more detailed look at these costs please visit the What We Pay For website.  The site allows you to enter in your actual annual salary to receive a custom report.)
The United States has a system of taxation by confession.  ~Hugo Black
Knowledge is power!  Every penny that the government collects from taxes is OUR money. We need to make sure that politicians are acting in our best interests.  Politicians that don't do this need to be held responsible for their actions. 2012 is the next National election.  Get informed and cast your vote!
Did you ever notice that when you put the words "The" and "IRS" together, it spells "THEIRS?"  ~Author Unknown
I hope this post gets you thinking about what you pay the government and what you receive for your money!

If you haven't filed your taxes yet this year... 
For the past few years, I've been doing my taxes online with the help of H&R Block.  The site is very user-friendly and helpful because it walks you through the process step by step.   I really appreciate the tips and tax law explanations along the way.  If you haven’t done your taxes yet, I highly recommend using H&R Block’s services.