Sunday, July 29, 2007

You're A Mean One Mr. Brooks!

The wife and I recently got a night out without the kids and decided to see an “adult” movie. No, not an XXX movie! I mean a movie that wouldn’t be appropriate for the kids to see. We settled on “Mr. Brooks” with Kevin Costner. It was a good choice. It was definitely different from our usual movie going these days.

The main character, Earl Brooks, is that most modern of monsters --- a thoroughly organized, very intelligent, highly functioning serial killer. He has a thriving business, a happy family, and a beautiful home. He is a modern day Jekyll and Hyde. Although most serial killers suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder, the organized serial killer is one of the two types of serial killers so Earl Brooks is not as improbable as I first thought. Mr. Brooks has a voice in his head named Marshall (portrayed by William Hurt) so he is probably schizophrenic, which makes his button downed facade more improbable. Mr. Brooks is sort of like Hannibal Lecter without the cannibalism. Mr. Brooks is chilling in the way that only someone who stalks and kills other people but is the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year can be. I won’t reveal too much of the plot because it is the plot twists and turns that make this movie worth watching.

Marg Helgenberger of “China Beach” and most recently, “CSI; Crime Scene Investigation” is her usually lovely self as Mrs. Brooks. I do question why such a loving wife never wonders where her husband is during his all night long adventures. The cover story is that he is in his pottery studio. But no one in the family ever comes to the studio to check on him, to chat, or to see his latest work. The studio is ridiculously clean and where do all those pieces that he must create go? Danielle Panabaker plays the beautiful college age daughter. She’s just a bit creepy when she hangs all over Daddy to get what she wants. Is she seducing her father or what? Costner’s reserve saves these scenes from being too creepy.

Speaking of reserve, at least one review I read complained that Costner slept walk through the role and didn’t portray enough emotional range. I think that’s the point. Underneath the cool, calm, reserved exterior of Earl Brooks lurks a homicidal maniac. A person fighting his homicidal urges and the encouraging voice in his head would probably be very reserved as he struggled to maintain his facade of normalcy. It is that thin veneer of calm competence that makes Costner’s portrayal of Brooks so chillingly believable. By the way, Mr. Brooks fights his “addiction” to killing by attending AA meetings. He repeats AA prayers often and calls himself an addict.

Demi Moore is the equally improbable homicide detective who hunts Brooks. What is so improbable about her character? She is a tough as nails, unstoppable homicide detective who is even wealthier than Brooks. It would be like Paris Hilton picking up a gun and a badge and going to work.

Dane Cook plays the serial killer fanboy, Mr. Smith who wheedles his way into the life of Earl Brooks so that he can vicariously feel the thrill of the kill. He manages to make his character even less sympathetic than Earl Brooks. He has never killed anyone and yet you find yourself rooting for Brooks against Smith. It can’t be easy to play a character that makes a serial killer look good. Mr. Smith's nervousness and lack of calm makes a good counterpoint to Earl Brooks.

It is frightening to think that there actually are seemingly normal people just like your next door neighbor who are capable of serial murder. In the end, that is what makes this movie a guilty pleasure. If you like low key “horror movies” that are more cerebral than visceral, I’d recommend this thriller as one you should see.

Announcing A New Blog

As I've mentioned before, I started this blog just for fun. I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who've read it. I never really expected anybody to read it. Furthermore, it proved that I like blogging and can sustain regular posts.

I've had a website for my law practice for years, but updating it has always been cumbersome. Updating a blog is, however, a snap and it is the perfect format for regular fresh contributions. Therefore, I've started a blog for my office at I call it the Harry Thomas Hackney, P.A. Florida Law Blawg. No, "blawg" is not a misspelling. It is a common play on words for law related blogs. If you have any interest in Florida law, especially estate planning, check it out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Of Goblins and DRM

I recently finished reading the seventh and final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows. A great read, but this is not a review. I just had to comment on a short exchange between Harry and Bill Weasley on the subject of goblin concepts of ownership. Griphook , the goblin, will help Harry with a task but only if Harry promises to give him a certain goblin-made weapon. Bill senses Harry has made a deal with the goblin and endeavours to explain to Harry goblin concepts of ownership. Bill explains that "To a goblin, the rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the purchaser. All goblin made objects are, in goblin eyes, rightfully theirs." When Harry protests "But it was bought ---", Bill goes on to explain that to a goblin the item is rented by the payor for life, but upon the death of that person it ought to return to goblin possession. The wizard habit of passing goblin-made items from wizard to wizard is viewed by the goblins as thievery.

Wow! Goblins invented digital rights management (DRM) and run the RIAA! Who knew? Considering that J. K. Rowling is a billionaire thanks to copyright, this position strikes me as odd. This exchange between Bill and Harry is not essential to the narrative. In fact, it ends up not really having much to do with the story at all. So I can only conclude that Rowling stuck it in as a commentary on copyright and DRM. Given that the wizards are the sympathetic characters and goblins are generally not sympathetically portrayed, it is difficult to see this as an endorsement of the goblin view of property rights. Rowling's publishers go to great lengths to protect her books from being leaked in advance, as they should. And Rowling has deservedly made a fortune from her books. All of this is made possible by copyright.

However, as an author, Rowling knows that once purchased her books will be lent by libraries and passed from reader to reader. My wife and I shared one book. We don't buy two books and no one would expect us to, but when I buy a recording subject to DRM the music industry does everything it can to make it difficult for me to share even within my own family. The easiest way for me to share music with my wife is to hand her my iPod. Despite the fact that books can be, and are, easily passed around, shared, and lent by libraries, Rowling and other authors still reap handsome rewards from their labors. Perhaps there are some lessons here for the RIAA and the music industry about making money without suing your fans.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Power of Blogging

I wrote earlier about how surprised I was that people actually can find and read my blog. I’ve been reading the book "What No One Ever Tells You About Blogging and Podcasting: Real-Life Advice from 101 People Who Successfully Leverage the Power of the Blogosphere" by Ted Demopoulos, which makes the point that search engines love blogs. Well, shortly thereafter I got a first hand lesson in just how much.

I got my weekly report about my site stats. The first thing I noticed was that over 100 people had read my blog. Now that’s probably no big deal for a celebrity blog with a focused subject, but this is a totally idiosyncratic personal blog a so-called “cat blog” that’s only been around a couple of months. I wasn’t sure anyone would ever read my blog. I’ve had a business website for years that is only just beginning to reach that level. Frankly, I rarely update the website because it is pain. It also seemed like there was a sudden jump in readership. Upon examining the referral pages, it seemed most of the jump was because I had reviewed the movie Live Free or Die Harder. In that review, I mentioned the F35 STOVL fighter jet. I guess a lot of people looked that up wondering if it really could hover. (It can.) TIP: If you want people to read your blog, write about a popular movie.

But the thing that really convinced me of the power of blogging and how much search engines love blogs was a referral page on which someone had searched for “ron john shops,” which is a misspelling of Ron Jon. In any event, my blog was number one on the page and ranked above Ron Jon’s own website! That’s nuts! That is when I decided that I had to add a blog to By the way, if you search for “ron jon shops”, which is the correct spelling, my blog comes in at number 10. That’s still pretty crazy. I cannot explain the difference, but apparently search engines love recency as well as links.

If you’ve got a website to promote your business, you might want to consider adding a blog.

Surf's Up For Family Fun

First, let me make it perfectly clear that I did NOT want to see this movie. My reaction when the trailer came on before other movies was “not another penguin movie!” Now that my children are 11 and 13 I’m looking forward to fewer animated children’s movies and more PG and even PG-13 fare. In fact, I had planned to take my son (the older child) to Live Free or Die Harder, but he invited along a friend who wanted to see Surf’s Up a second time rather than Die Harder. So I very reluctantly went to “another penguin movie!”

The three of us were the only people in the theatre for a 5:50 p.m. Wednesday evening showing. The kids got a real kick out of that. It was like a private showing. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. The only apparent reason for most of the characters to be penguins is a blatant appeal for the “cute factor.” Oddly there are Antarctic penguins, Australian penguins, and tropical island jungle penguins --- odd but entertaining. One major character is a chicken from Wisconsin. How a chicken from Wisconsin ends up on the back of a whale in the Southern Ocean is never explained. But then who cares? Another non-penguin is a badger (I think) surf promoter with a Don King hairdo. The chicken is daffy and way cool.

The movie is laugh out loud funny even in an empty theatre or maybe that’s especially in an empty theatre. The movie ultimately works because it is really a tale about following your dreams against all odds, friendship, loyalty and loving what you do. In this movie, winning isn’t everything. Everything is staying loose and having fun while doing your best. Winning is the byproduct of loving what you do and doing what you love. The win at all costs penguin surf champ who worships his trophies is a jerk. For the real winners, friends come first. In addition to being funny, the movie has a good moral for kids too. I recommend it. It has earned good reviews and they're well deserved.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard: The Implausibilities

Warning! Spoilers Follow! I don't want to ruin anybody's fun, but I just can't let some of the implausibilities of Live Free or Die Hard go without comment. Here's a list of just some of the implausibilities in the movie.

  • A raging gun battle goes on in a city for 15 minutes and not even one police car is seen or heard.
  • McClane seeks cover behind plaster and lathe walls that are shot to pieces but he's not even nicked.
  • Farrell's computer blows apart while McClane and he are in an adjoining room. We see similar explosions level homes earlier, but Farrell and McClane aren't scratched or even bleeding from their ears.
  • The bad guys crash the entire country from a moving truck, but never grab for a handhold or sway.
  • McClane brings down a helicopter with a police car. (Hint: If you're being shot at from a helicopter at very close range, shoot back at the rotors or motor.)
  • Standard cell phones are used to hack computer systems and tap into satellite communications.
  • An F35 Lightning hovers under an overpass. (Yes, an F35 can hover, but under a highway?)
  • McClane survives having missiles and cannons from the F35 shot at him.
  • Enough bullets are shot at McClane to keep the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq supplied for an entire month, but he is never hit. He, of course, dispatches the bad guys with a pistol.
  • The hackers tap away on keyboards at hyperspeed and the computers react instantly.
  • The bad guys fly over D.C. in an unmarked helicopter while brandishing assault rifles.
  • McClane flies a helicopter and finds the Warlocks house miles away without any trouble even though all utilities are out so he's flying through total darkness.
Now for the glaring errors --- McClane walks past an overturned Crown Victoria cab and you can clearly see there's no exhaust, transmission, drive shaft, or rear axle. Next to it is another car completely stripped of its interior.C'mon folks! You're making a mega budget Hollywood blockbuster! Is it too much to ask that you not completely strip the cars before burning them?

Still the pace, special effects, and fun of the action carries the movie through all the eye rolling implausibilities. In the end, isn't it all about the spectacle?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard: Implausibly Entertaining

If I judged movies based on plausibility, then Live Free or Die Hard would be one of the worst movies I've ever seen, but that's not how I judge movies. I judge movies based on whether I'm entertained and don't check my watch to see how much longer it is. You won't be checking your watch during this entertaining, fast paced, action flick. Even the critics give it a 78% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes . For once, they seem to recognize a movie for what it is --- mindlessly fun entertainment.

Bruce Willis still has what it takes to play the wisecracking, courageous, super tough cop John McClane. All of the elements of the Die Hard formula are there. Justin Long ,who plays "the Mac" in the Mac vs. PC commercials, is his reluctant good hacker sidekick. The plot involves a high tech scheme to "crash" the U.S. for nefarious purposes. Long's character, Matthew Farrell, is using an Apple computer for his hacking when we first meet him. I wonder if that was a requirement of his contract? For the rest of the movie, he does most of his hacking, including tapping into satellite communications, on a Nokia 9300 PDA phone. Just as implausibly the bad guys use Nokia N95s or similar phones for much of their hacking. Ironically the uberhacker known as "The Warlock" (super-geek director Kevin Smith) exclaims with amazement that the head evil hacker crashed NORAD with "just a laptop." He'll be really amazed to discover the same guy crashes the whole country with a few desktops and cell phones.

This plot wouldn't even have been possible when the first Die Hard was released in 1988. Every day technology has advanced that much. In this movie, computers, cell phones, and the latest STOVL jets are as essential to the plot as the curmudgeonly John McClane.

Timothy Olyphant portrays the chief evil hacker as the kind of villain you just love to hate. Maggie Q plays his girlfriend/accomplice, Mai. McClane describes her as "smokin' hot", as do many Internet commentators, and she is "smokin' hot", but you're not sorry to see her go.

A lot of the implausibilities are good for a chuckle or provide the thrills. There's a lot of bits that make you think "that would never work, but it sure is cool to watch!" After all, cartoonish escapes and the ability to keep going after being run over, shot, beaten, and falling 50 feet are all part of the Die Hard formula.

In the end, good triumphs over evil. McClane is implausibly still standing despite an army of bad guys focused on killing him. He takes a lickin' and keeps tickin', as one character says he's "a Timex watch in a digital world."

A good time was had by all. Even the implausible bits are good for a chuckle so put your brain in park and have a good time.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Old Timey Florida Vacations

Florida's beaches used to be lined with one story "mom and pop" type motels. Most of them have been replaced with impersonal, characterless multistory condominiums and resort hotels. The Sea-Aire is one "mom and pop" motel that survives in Cocoa Beach a mile or two south of Ron Jon's Surf Shop. It was built in 1950 and is still family owned. My family likes to go there for the occasional beach weekend. It sits directly on the Atlantic Ocean. You can see the rocket gantries at the Kennedy Space Center in the distance to the north. It would be the perfect spot to watch a shuttle launch. Every one of the 16 rooms is an efficiency with a kitchenette and the room rates average between $80.00 and $100.00 per night (as of July 2007 but rates may vary seasonally and change). All the rooms have tile floors, two twin beds, a window unit air conditioner, and ceiling fan.

As for those window units, window a/c's supplied the sound track to my youth. I dont' notice them and neither does my New England born and raised wife. We consider the sound "white noise." They're a non-issue. Some of the rooms have the air conditioners somewhat removed in an entrance alcove. Our room had it right in the room. When our friend, who was in one of the rooms where the a/c is slightly removed, asked us if the noise bothered us we said, "What noise?" However, after she brought it up, I realized what she meant. So if window unit a/c's keep you up, you might want to make sure you get one of the rooms facing the ocean where they're in an alcove.

Who would like the Sea-Aire? Anyone who ---
  • wants to stay directly on the ocean with direct access to the beach (no walking down the hall to the elevator, through the lobby, across the parking lot, around the pool...).

  • appreciates a bargain.

  • doesn't mind not having room service.
  • likes to sip a beer while grilling outdoors and enjoying a million dollar view.
  • doesn't want to worry about the furniture and the carpet when coming back from the beach.
  • likes to sit and listen to the waves come in.
  • won't miss a swimming pool when you're ocean front.
  • likes friendly service.
  • likes to cook their own meals in their room or an outdoor pavilion.
Who won't like the Sea Aire? Anyone who ---
  • insists on room service.
  • thinks waiting five minutes for a fresh mai tai is a hardship.
  • who goes to the beach to sit by a swimming pool.
  • enjoys schlepping their beach equipment 200 yards to the beach.
  • who expects the Ritz Carlton.
The Sea Aire doesn't advertise free wifi as far as I know, but there is a weak but usable wifi connection. It does advertise "flower gardens" and there are a few beds of flowers, but if you're expecting extensive lush gardens you'll be disappointed. The office keeps a supply of boogie boards and sand toys on hand for the kids to use. Because the floors are tiled and you'll be trekking in sand, dirt, and bits of grass, you may want to bring a Swiffer or a damp mop to keep the floors clean.

The Merritt Square Mall and a Cobb Theatre multiplex are just over the causeway about 10 minutes away. A number of restaurants are nearby, including Grills at Port Canaveral. Funntasia Fantasy Golf is straight up A1A. We had a great time there one evening thanks to the friendly staff. A little farther north is Traxx at Jungle Village, which features go cart tracks, batting cages, bumper cars, a climbing wall, and an arcade. The Kennedy Space Center, Police Hall of Fame, and Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum are also nearby. For adults only, there are a number of bars nearby, including some offering entertainment of an "exotic" nature, and a Fairvilla megastore [NSFW].

If you're looking for a beachfront spot and you're primary focus is family fun and hanging out at the beach, then the Sea Aire is for you.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Thank You Ron Jon's Surf Shop

This is my first July 4th at Cocoa Beach. It is common for fireworks to be shot off on the beaches of Florida during the 4th. You can often see several fireworks displays at a time up and down the coast as each municipality launches its fireworks show. The world famous Ron Jon's Surf Shop apparently provides the display here. It was a very good display that was much appreciated by all. It was a fitting end to a beautiful Central Florida day. Thank you Ron Jon's for brightening everyone's July 4th. A good time was had by all.

Happy Fourth of July 2007: 231 Years of Independence

The Fourth of July has long been my favorite holiday. Perhaps it relates to the summer of '78 when I got my first "real" job out of high school. I started on July 3rd and on July 4th I was floating in a pool eating barbecued chicken and drinking beer while pulling in $3.00 an hour. Life was good! My first paid holiday. Maybe it relates to the summer of '76 (1976) when I sat on Fort Lauderdale beach right to next to the fireworks pit and watched the fireworks. We were so close that bits of fireworks fell on us.

But what we should all remember on July 4th is the summer of 1776 when the Founding Fathers took that momentous step and declared our independence from England. In an age when royalty was believed to be ordained by God to rule over the populous, they had the temerity, the unmitigated gall, the nerve to declare themselves no longer bound by the edicts of their King and his parliament. These were for the most part wealthy men with much to lose. George Washington was one of the richest men in America. His home was a grand palace in a nation of rough hewn log cabins and shacks. And yet he and the others risked it all to establish a grand experiment in republican government. They established a nation ruled by the people and for the people. A nation not of men, but of laws where the rights of the individual are acknowledged and respected over the rights of the state. Where individual rights could be protected from majority rule and not taken away by the vote of others. A country where no man or woman ruled over any other by divine edict.* We take it for granted today, but in the 18th century this was unheard of. Democratic republics didn't exist. Men with power never gave it up willingly. No one went to war so that all might be free.

There is no better example of the selflessness of the Founding Fathers than George Washington. How many modern power hungry politicians would pass up a golden opportunity to be king? George Washington could have been king, but instead he followed the example of Cincinnatus. George Washington's example set the tradition that presidents would only serve two terms and then return to private life. There would be no dynasties. Compare that to the spectacle of the privileges that public officials grant themselves and the way that Congressional delegates and Senators view themselves as elected for life. They rarely give up power willingly even in their dotage. Make no mistake about it, the Founding Fathers were extraordinary men who came together in an extraordinary time. Many of them were self-made and not born to privilege. Alexander Hamilton was a poor lad from the Caribbean islands, and yet rose to become the first Secretary of the Treasury and to establish the foundations of the banking system we still use today. All that mattered was brains and talent. Birthright was irrelevant.

So take a minute today while you're enjoying your barbecued chicken, or hot dog, or hamburger and reflect on the extraordinary men who made this holiday possible. Ask yourself would you do the same? Would you risk a comfortable life to make the world a freer place not only for yourself but for all men and women?* And while you're at it, reflect also on the extraordinary men and women who have defended our country in the past and who are serving abroad now in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, and around the world on the land and seas and in the air. Our military has volunteered to serve. Think about that --- they've volunteered to leave their comfortable lives to get shot at. They deserve our thanks. Thank you servicemen and women around the world.

* Yes, I am fully aware of the contradiction that many of these same men subjugated others and kept slaves, including Jefferson and Washington. I know it is popular to focus on the foibles of the Founding Fathers and to hold them to the same standards that we follow 231 years later. They are easy targets in our politically correct world because they were all white men and that is very unfashionable today. However, they were men of their times and not of ours. Their flaws don't make their accomplishments any less extraordinary. Make no mistake about it, what they did created the U.S. and all of us of every race, creed and color enjoy a better life today because of it whether you realize it or not.