“It’s not Citizen Kane, it’s Snakes on a Plane”

This jewel was uttered by a guy sitting near me at the midnight showing of Snakes on a Plane at AMC Loews Boston Common Theater yesterday. Fifteen minutes before showtime, he was on the phone trying to convince a friend to come to the theater. It’s a shame his friend didn’t show.

That little couplet serves as the perfect review of Snakes on a Plane. It is also a no-contest rebuttal to any criticism of the movie. Do the first fifteen minutes of the movie exist only to get everyone on Pacific Air Flight 121 as fast as possible? Yes, but even that was a little long for some in the audience. Are some of the characters shallow, and are some of the actors really bad? Of course! Do the effects pale in comparison to Pirates of the Caribbean? Damn straight!

It is a little cheesy, a little scary, and quite a bit funny, all in the right proportions. Most importantly, it does not take itself too seriously. “Snakes” is a good B-movie, something I feel like I haven’t seen in a while. When was the last time you saw a really bad police interrogation scene?

Should you see Snakes on a Plane? Yes, but if you weren’t in Theater 16 on Thursday night you’ve already missed the greatest showing there will ever be of this movie. I invited my friend Mike to the show, and he brought a printout of the Snakes on a Plane Participation Script. Well before showtime, he helped the audience learn the key lines: anytime the asian bad guy finishes a sentence, yell “…in bed!”; anytime a sentence ends in “snakes,” yell “motherfucking snakes!”; anytime Samuel L Jackson yells at someone, add “...bitch!” for emphasis; etc. It was a little like a Rocky Horror Screening, except that nobody had seen the movie yet. So when the entire theater found out that adding “in bed” actually works for damn near everything the asian guy says, it was hilarity topped with the joy of discovery.

I wouldn’t trust any reviewer who wasn’t in a theater with the electric atmosphere and audience participation I experienced last night. The story of SoaP’s development and production has been one of collaboration between the filmmakers, the fans, and especially Sam himself. For this movie to work that collaboration must extend to the screenings as well. Putting the burden of the entertainment on the film itself is a dereliction of duty by the audience. So print out the wiki, bring some rubber snakes, and do your part!

Bicycle GPS navigation on the cheap

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but being cheap is the mother of glorious hacks.

My friend Mike and I went bike riding two weeks ago using a route from a book. This was awkward because each of us could only retain three or four instructions at a time (“right? left? Mountain? Peach Orchard?”). We had to check the map so often that progress was slow and uncontinuous. Ah, but for a handlebar-mounted gps with mapping!

Vista -- pricy!

Ouch! Ok, nevermind.

So I did some googling, and discovered that someone had made some Garmin-specific files of Boston area bike rides. Char and I own the cheapest Garmin, the eTrex. No mapping, no magnetic compass, no altitude, just location data and route information. I got it at target thinking we might do some Geocaching, but we haven’t done any yet. The problem was, how to get the maps into the GPS?

serial cable

Cheap-ass serial cable! I learned that the data port on the Garmin is simply a serial port: Rx, Tx, Ground. Wire those terminals to a 9 pin serial connector (everyone has a 9 pin serial cable lying around in a drawer somewhere of course!), and you’ve saved yourself $38.00. My cable isn’t very well made and could use a little solder to improve the connections, but right now it works well enough.

While it’s nice to use other people’s maps, I really wanted to create my own. As you can see by my previous post, the solution was handed to me on a silver platter, as was the problem of format conversion and linux-based uploading. This weekend I created a short map on the website, uploaded it to the GPS, and Char and I followed the path around the neighborhood. The problems I noted after that walk led to the development of the python script I wrote.

The last problem was the one I had been avoiding thinking about: mounting the GPS on my thick handlebars. The sanctioned mounting kit fits handlebars of one-inch, but mine are larger. After some fiddling, it appeared that I might be able to attach the device to the stem of the bike. Maybe zip-ties could do it?

GPS hack

Yes! And in the event of catastrophic zip-tie failure, the lanyard is secured to the stem so the GPS doesn’t go careening to the ground.

Had I gone the “legit” route, I would have paid:

Garmin Etrex GPS 100$
Data Cable 38$
Bicycle Mount 18$
Software 30$
Total 186$

And that’s not counting the price of windows! (:P)

If I had gotten the Vista, it would have been 250$ for the device plus the same 18$ and 38$ for the mount and cable, plus an optional 117$ for a national map (which, by the way, I can’t get for any price with my eTrex) for a total of $423. That’s a lot to pay for directions.

Instead I paid:

Garmin Etrex GPS 100$
Serial Cable free (from drawer or old mouse)
Out of Date Credit Card free
Zip Ties free (from work)
Total 100$

Which I think is a better deal, even if I have an ugly cable and worry-inducing mount. I bet the map-creation interface is better, though :). You could go even cheaper by getting a used eTrex on ebay or craigslist. I hope to take the whole contraption on the road this weekend. The one big feature I might miss is the “beep on upcoming waypoint,” but the screen is large and clear so that shouldn’t be an issue.

Happy Hacking!

A one-minute vacation

This is my own one-minute vacation, which is about the part of the vacation most people don’t focus on. I recorded this inside the gate at Las Vegas airport where you can hear not only the regular boring airline announcements, but also the soft, comforting plinking of slot machines.

Las Vegas airport.ogg

This is a binaural recording, and is best heard with headphones.


Jeff and Joe and I played a little poker yesterday. 5$ buy-in, nickel and dime blinds — nothing big. Toward the end I wasn’t doing so well, but then I caught a dumb-luck three twos after going all-in with T2o (badly trying to bluff a weak pot). I was doing better after a little while of heads-up with Joe, and it was starting to get late.

On what would be the last hand of the night, I said something about having caught my “lucking fuckin’ twos” — without which I would have been out of the game. Then I looked down at my cards: pair of twos. Omens don’t come stronger that that.

“All-in,” I said.

“Call,” he said.

Joe turned over a pair of threes. At this point, I lose unless I get a two. Jeff starts dealing the flop, and the very first card is a 2. Gasps all around. Jeff’s hand freezes, not believing I caught another lucky break. He deals the rest of the cards, 5,6 and then a 7. At this point Joe needs a 3 or a 4 to win. Jeff and Joe groan at my improbable luck.

And he gets his lucky fuckin’ 3 on the river. I ended up with 3 bucks out of my 5$ buy-in, so I give Joe his well-earned two dollars.

Hold ’em is a great game. Lots of psychology, lots of drama. We only played for a couple hours, and there were numerous hands with amazing turnarounds and stupendous pots. I have to say, it makes a huge difference when you’re betting real money, even just five bucks. The tendency to just throw money around and then demand more chips from the bank goes away (unless you want to rebuy!). I don’t plan to play for money regularly, I’m not the gambling type. But it’s still a fun game.

Beating the Heat

Mike MacHenry invited us to his house in Wakefield the other weekend, because his parents have a pool. We did spend time in the pool, but you wouldn’t know it from these photos. We also hung out at a park on what I think was Lake Quannapowitt.

Serra and Jeff in the other car on the way there

A bunch of fools on the way to playing frisbee!

at the park, we discovered that Jeff has been keeping a hidden talent from us

My he’s going awfully high

uh oh!

head trauma here we come!

But he sticks the landing!

Chillin’ cause it’s damn hot are: Joe, Jeff, Mike, Char, Serra

Mike and Char are very silly people

Grab Bag for June ’05

look! photos!

Char in Kendall Square

Fanueil Hall on a warm day

Char at a restaurant

Char and I went to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. They have this awesome chinese house there that was brought over plank by plank from a rural part of China, but they didn’t allow photos there. Bastards.

Char at Peabody Essex Museum. Lots of Char in this update!

On the train

Look, someone who’s not Char. Peter being helped putting on a tie.