I browsing around the internets this morning and came across a few mentions of the movie Cloverfield. I vaguely remembered seeing the preview and thinking it looked interesting. But when I saw the Bad Astronomer (who seems to have a pretty good taste in movies) say it was (and I quote) AWESOME, that was enough for me. So I woke up Xiaofen and we headed off to the theater ($5 off if you go to the 10:15AM show).

After seeing it I have to agree, I really enjoyed it and I was on the edge of my seat through the whole thing. I definitely recommend Cloverfield (in the theater if possible). Just one caveat, it’s possible the camera work might disturb anyone with motion sickness although Xiaofen didn’t have any trouble and she gets car sick all the time. I had only seen the (cryptic) trailer and didn’t have any expectations going in and I think that helped so I’m going to leave it at that and follow Wil Wheaton’s example and leave my slightly more detailed analysis in the comments.

Oh if you’re like me and worry that the director is going to stick a little extra on after the credits, there is a little something but it’s not really worth waiting for (only a couple seconds of audio and I’ll link to it below).

Possible spoilers in the comments


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RCN Not Perfect – 404 Redirects

Redirected 404 Page Thanks to RCN

Well I wondered how long it would take before I hit a snag with RCN’s internet service after praising it. It turns out it only took a few days before I found out they redirect 404′s (incorrect addresses or webpages that are temporarily down) to their (spammy-looking) “help” page. Now perhaps I’m too picky but I’m quite happy with the way my browser handles things now and if I wanted something different I sure wouldn’t pick crappy search results mixed with ads for my solution. I suppose I could live with the useless page but it also rewrites the address so if I type I have retype the whole thing instead of just adding an ‘a’ to exmple (really a pain when developing websites). And mostly it just annoys me to suddenly be on a page that sets off my spam detectors. So I set out to figure out how to fix it.

On the bottom of the RCN page, there is an option to opt out but it actually then sends you to a buggy Internet Explorer error screen (and still rewrites your address). Since there’s no opt out that left working around them. RCN is inserting their page through their DNS servers so using a different server should fix the problem. I had been meaning to try out OpenDNS anyway so I figured I might as well make some lemonade out of lemons. But it turns out OpenDNS do the same redirection thing to their own page. So it was back to a google that turned up this helpful page of alternate DNS servers. I’m a little leary of using unknown servers (since you send them the address for every site you visit and they can send you wherever they want) but the servers through are all from Level 3 Communications Inc which seem pretty widely used and reputable. OpenDNS provides a handy guide to changing your DNS servers (if you don’t want to use theirs you can substitute any other IP address) for anyone with similar problems.


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Internet in Philadelphia

Map of (some) of the Internet by Matt Britt

I just moved to Philadelphia and had to find internet. I was having a pretty rough time so I googled around for advice but didn’t find any so I thought I’d put this up to help any other new Philadelphians. Anyway, it looks like there are three possible companies in Philadelphia: Comcast, Verizon, and RCN.

Comcast charges $62/month for basic internet if you don’t get some sort of bundle with phone and cable (which I didn’t really need or want). $62 seemed too much so I didn’t go any further with them although they do at least tell the truth about their prices on the internet (I think).

Verizon says they charge $30/month but once you get through the endless holds on their phone system, it turns out to be $45/month if you don’t get phone service from them. I can’t find any sign of this on their webpage. Did I mention you have to wait on hold more than half an hour to even talk to some one? I waited 45 minutes before their phone service dropped me, then waited another 30 minutes (this is when I still though their service was reasonably priced) before I got to talk to anyone (I had waited more than 10 minutes and given up a few times earlier so this isn’t an isolated event). Even better, once I finally got someone I couldn’t actually start my service because some other customer had their suspended account registered to my line. They would only allow me to use the line if my landlord called them personally (not very likely given the 30 minute holds). So in summary Verizon sucks. Oh also it would have taken at least a week to get my service started.

I was about to bite the bullet and go with Comcast when my girlfriend found RCN. They offer (1.5 mbps) internet for $17/month (or 5 mbps for $35). An actual human operator picked up the phone without any holding when I called. There wasn’t any bundling crap (they did have a $25 installation fee that didn’t appear on the internet but the operator said they were updating the webpage). And they had a cable guy at my house less than 24 hours after I called. After all the crap with Verizon, this was amazing.

So if you’re looking for internet in Philadelphia (or perhaps anywhere these companies operate) RCN seems like a much better company than Verizon (did I mention Verizon sucks?) and offers cheaper services than Comcast. I’ve been using the $17/month internet for a couple days now and it seems fine for normal usage (I don’t do much file sharing so I’m not sure how that would hold up).


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What from Iwo Jima?

Poster of Letters from Iwo Jima

I just watched Letters from Iwo Jima. I thought it was a really good movie. Quite a bit different than (and in my opinion better) than Flags of Our Fathers and definitely worth renting if you get the chance. It’s currently the 141st best movie on IMDB and there’s many reviews out there so I’ll leave the review at that but I did want to point out a couple things I found funny (one fishy, one comical).

One thing that bugged me was that the part of Saigo, the guy who just wants to go home, seemed to be written for an older man and the actor they picked looked quite young (in fact he’s currently only 24). In the special features, the commentators were even talking about how he was being drafted late in the war because he was old. In any case, he did do a good job acting so it’s only a minor nitpick.

Anyway, what I found amusing is that the title in Japanese is 硫黄島からの手紙 (you can see it in the poster to the left) with “硫黄島” meaning Iwo Jima (sulfur island) and “手紙” meaning letters. The word for letters is made up of hand (手 – kind of looks like a hand with the fingers to the right or maybe the 5 points are fingers) and paper (紙 – this ones not quite as clear, the left bit means thread and I suppose the right part could look like a sheet of paper). That kind of makes sense since letters are paper with hand writing on them. Anyway the funny part is that the complex characters of Japanese can also be read by Chinese speakers but sometimes with shifted meaning. In this case, Chinese has a quite different meaning for the combination of hand and paper: bathroom tissue. Somehow ‘Toilet Paper from Iwo Jima’ just doesn’t have the same ring.

Thanks to Xiaofen for the Chinese translation


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EasyPic4 First Impressions

As a biologist, I’ve often thought “I could really use an instrument that did X”. Logging temperatures, locations, depth, light levels and other variables, controlling devices like cameras or servos, and communicating with a computer seem like a task for microcontrollers. So it’s been in my head for a while to try and learn a bit about them.

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Electrical Engineer

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