Thursday, July 26, 2007

KOOKY: Meet Errol

Today I got my Crackberry, it's the Curve model. I named my Crackberry Errol, after the Weasley family's pet owl in the Harry Potter books. Hey, it delivers me my mail (okay, my email).

I've been realizing since starting this Team Lead position that I've been dragged into more and more meetings. This means that I'm not at my desk putting out fires, er, dealing with issues as they come in. This week alone, I had one all day meeting, and another day with about 5-6 back to back meetings. This is becoming a too-common occurrence for me. So in order to feel like I'm at least I tiny bit on top of things, I caved and got Errol.

Errol makes me accessible to my email and calendar. Errol also makes me accessible to other people 24/7/365. And while I am told otherwise, there will always be an unwritten expectation that I will be answering the phone when it rings at 3 am. Sigh.

Oh well, off to go figure Errol out. He's my new best friend.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

(For those of you reading this, the cover on the left is the UK version, which Canada gets, and not the US cover).

Warning, there be spoilers below!

I got home yesterday at about 2pm, and the new Harry Potter book was sitting on my doorstep. So I pretty much dumped all good intentions on doing homework (I'm already a week behind where I want to be), and had a 12-hour marathon read.

Here are my impressions. Things I didn't really like:
  • JKR (as some other book writers have complained), isn't a good writer. And she isn't. She's a very good story teller, but her scenes and chapters could have been tighter and better plotted out. Sure, she tied up her loose ends, but she also crammed in too many details. The whole looking-for-the-Horcruxes and the Battle at Hogwarts both could have been compressed plot-wise, and a lot of details could have been left out or combined.
  • When Harry et al found out about the Deathly Hallows, I was thinking, oh boy, JKR is once again is introducing another idea, and since this is the final book (so she says), she has to tie things up quickly. That annoyed me.
  • Convenient plot devices:
    • Harry seems to conveniently "forget" about things all the time. For someone whose always so curious, he tends to be non-curious at the right time, especially around Dumbledore. Of course, when he does ask the wrong questions (as opposed to the right questions), he gets non-answers from Dumbledore. That just makes Harry look stupid, and I don't buy the "Harry-regrets-the-questions -that-he-never-asked- Dumbledore-because- he-was-being-a-selfish -and-self-centred-git" reasoning. It's just too convenient for JKR.
    • Speaking of convenient amnesia, why didn't anyone point out that even before Harry got to Hogwarts, that they had a different DA teacher every year (well, before book 6 anyways)? The adults certainly should have mentioned it. Fred and George I believe would have mentioned it.
    • Snape's secret: Well, a lot of people had figured that he was in love with Lily, so it wasn't a huge surprise there for me. I agree with JKR's reasoning for killing him off, but unrequited love is one of the oldest plot devices in the world, and I couldn't stop myself from rolling my eyes during the reveal of Snape's secret. I really like Snape as a character, but I wished that there was a different reason for his reason to turn to Dumbledore. But even that aside, I wish Harry felt a little more empathy towards Snape, particularly since Harry represented to Snape the persons he loved and hated the most. I didn't feel that Snape was redeemed in my mind. When Snape asked to look at Harry's eyes before he died, that was sad, but at the same time, I thought it was pathetic of JKR to plot it out that way.
  • The last couple of chapters and the epilogue was too cheesy. Yes, I know that people died, but it was still cheesy. And over-the-top dramatics. I can't imagine it unfolding like how it did with all the dramatics.
Things that I did like:
  • The whole mood of the book. It was a depressing read, but it was meant to be depressing. Even the moments of levity didn't lift my mood. The themes that JKR brought out was very adult in nature. Yes, a lot of people died, but life isn't fair that way. This series stopped being a kid's book by book 4 in my opinion
  • I didn't get where Neville got the sword from until this morning. He got it from the Sorting Hat (duh!). I really like how JKR developed his character.
  • JKR had the balls to kill off good people as well as the baddies (and she let a lot of the baddies live). Life doesn't always work the way you want it to.
My other comments:
  • I get how when Lily sacrificed herself, she had inadvertently put a charm on Harry protecting him, so the Killing Curse bounced off of him the first time. I'm still a little fuzzy about how this affect Voldermort and the whole circular reasoning that Dumbledore was explaining to Harry, that was confusing (it was 1 AM, and I was tired!). Someone please explain this to me!
Overall, I give this book a 6.75 out of 10. JKR really had to tie up a lot of things and it was evident in the book. Probably my biggest complaint is that JKR tries to cram too much in the the overall plotline, and because she gave herself restricting parametres (7 books in combination with revealing bits of information over time), the books aren't as well written as they should be.

But that doesn't stop me from being a fan. I'm waiting for the soft cover book box set to come out so I can buy it =D

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I sold my car

Sigh. Today I sold my car. Well, to be exact, Hubby sold my car, and I was only there because the car is was in my name, and I had to sign some papers. Big kudos for Hubby for setting everything up, going through the process of responding to people and completing the sale.

I would love to get another car, but we've found that 95% of the time, we're using only one car at at time, so there was no point keeping and paying for two cars. I will miss my car a bit cause it drove very well and was a fun car to drive. Ah well, life goes on. The money certainly will go towards a good cause: paying down debt!

My car was a 1998 model, and I was quite surprised that it retained such a high value when we checked the black book value. We managed to get $300 below asking, which was awesome, I was expecting to get way less. More money is always good, so I'm not complaining.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Seattle to Portland Mania

As I type this, Hubby is biking his way from Seattle to Portland in the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. The length of the trip is about 200 miles, and while he will be doing it over a two-day period, some will cover the distance in one day.

I think he's nuts to do something like this, but it does sound like fun. He went down with a group of guys that he normally road bikes with and there will be about 9,000 people! Good times.

Movie: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

(I went to go see Harry Potter late last night and didn't get home until 1 am. This is a brain dump of my impressions, before I forget it all. I also may have some details mixed up from the book, I'm only halfway finished reading it again. Those of you from H! who read my comments there, what is typed below is pretty much the same)

Warning: Lots of spoilers below, and even if you've read the book but not have seen the movie, there's a lot that was changed around and/or left out in the movie, so at least watch the movie first if you don't want to know what happens.

I think David Yates did a good job, especially setting the tone of the movie. There were a few laughs, but overall the book was quite dark, and the movie reflected that. Because the book is sooooo long and full of detail, the script writers had to make adjustments and either gloss over certain plot points, change them around or eliminate them completely. All in all, the script itself was mostly plausible, but things will never truly make sense unless you've read the book at least once.

However, I really wished they did a two-parter or made the movie a bit longer, as there was so much detail that I would have liked to seen. As much as David Yates tried to restrain the pace, there still was a feeling that there was so much going on that the movie felt a bit rushed.

Things I liked:
  • Dorlorus Umbridge was really well casted. Imedla Staunton had her "hem hem"s down to T, and I felt like punching her from the beginning. I also loved her pink cat room.
  • I think they did a pretty good job with Luna Lovegood. She's always described as talking with a dreamy-like, sing-song voice, and I always felt that Luna never was quite there mentally. That came through well for me.
  • Bellatrix, also well casted. She's one nasty piece of work
  • How they portray the Extensible Ears, much better than how I imagined it
  • I'm glad the fight scene was short; it was well played out in the movie. That part was particularly tedious to read in the book and I always felt that JKR should have taken some details out of this section of the book.
  • The Department of Mystery was how I imagined it to be. The Ministry of Magic set was better than how I had imagined it
  • I liked how they made Cho the snitch, it does help show their relationship fizzle (I also was never a very big Cho fan, so didn't see what Harry ever saw in her besides a pretty face)
  • We saw hints of Ginny's true magical power capabilities. I think we'll be seeing way more of that from her in Book 7.
  • Dudley's costume, that was hilarious! Harry Melling looked like he was having way too much fun playing the role, even after he was kissed by a Dementor
  • Even in the brief flashback, I thought Young Snape was hot! and not a greaseball at all
  • I'm glad they decided to develop Neville's character more in the movie. I also think he will have a large part to play in Book 7
  • I was really impressed with the special effects in the Ministry fight scene. Kudos to those people.

Things I didn't like:
  • They took out Mrs. Black's shrieking portrait. That's one of the things I did want to see
  • I'm hoping that they do something with Ginny dating life in Movie 6, she shouldn't have been shown still pining for Harry, but should be "over him" already. And her characterization in the book was much stronger, but that wasn't shown at all in the movie. I particularly wished that they kept the Dungbomb scene in.
  • They did a poor job of not explaining why Harry was able to see thing through the eyes of the snake when it attacked Mr. Weasley
  • Not showing that Petunia got that Howler from Dumbledore. There's more going on with her than meets the eye, I think, and will probably be reveled in book 7
  • That they didn't show Harry not building up his anger at the beginning because he felt left out of the loop and was kept wondering why no one did anything about Voldermort (he didn't know what they were saying about him in the Daily Prophet until they he got to Grimmauld Place)
  • They cut out Quiddich completely from the movie
  • The scene where Hargid was explaining his trip to go see the giants was weak, not how it was scripted, but how it played out
  • Snape was totally out of character when Umbridge was questioning his teach abilities. What happened with the snarl? I get what David Yates was trying to show, but I wished Snape stayed in character for that scene.

Other comments:
  • I think that changing the scene in the movie where Voldermort does enter Harry's brain, the script is trying to gloss over the fact that Voldermort doesn't understand love, and hence covers in the book the whole speech that Dumbledore gave at the end to Harry
  • I did catch one continuity error. Hermonie had no trouble saying Voldermort's name at the beginning of the movie, yet at Hog's Head, she had to force herself to say it. (She should have been saying You-know-who up to this point)
  • No mention of how Kretcher went to Bellatrix and Narcissa to tell them abou the OoTP. Not a big sticking point IMO. How they ended up working around it was plausible.
  • I'm a loser. I love London, and loved recognizing the city in the movie. I like Westminster Station's look (it's one of the nicer Tube stations that I've seen), and was wondering what scene they were filming there when I heard that they did film there. I actually passed through London a month before they filmed that scene.

Well, that's all I remember for now. I'm certain that more will come to me later. All in all, a good movie, and probably the best one so far.

Movie rating: 8 out of 10

Sunday, July 08, 2007

KOOKY: Leadership Training

Last Friday, I went to a professional development workshop on leadership that's put on by HR. It was aptly titled "Moving From Peer to Supervisor to Leader". The moment I was promoted, I wanted to take a leadership workshop to help train me to be a better leader. I already heard about this workshop, so I promptly asked my manager if I could sign up.

I've always felt that being a leader in the workplace isn't always an intuitive thing for many people. I got the promotion through my hard work as an IT person, but I understand computers, not people. Hence, understanding how to positively communicate, supervise and motivate people can be an elusive notion to many. I thought it would be a good idea to try to get some training before I made too many mistakes or started going down incorrect paths. After all, how many of us has complained, griped or resented decisions or actions that management makes? I know I have in the past.

One thing I was looking for was how to motivate people who were under me. I know that everyone has a different way of doing things that are not my way. However, I didn't know how to move beyond that point. I didn't know how to motivate people properly. What may motivate me may not motivate others in the same way. And I certainly didn't want to be a nagging mother to those whom I supervise.

Two ideas were presented to me:
1) Personal Coaching Styles Inventory - This is "a self-inventory where people designate how they want to give and receive feedback and advice". Basically, it's a tool that tells you what your communication style is. While I don't think any one person fits in to one particular style, most of us tend towards one or two particular styles more so than the others. We did a self-assessment to determine what our styles were, and did a presentation of each one (there are four).

The main style that I fell in, describes about 80% of how I communicate and think. And going through the other styles, I can definitely see where my manager falls as well as one of my subordinates. What was really nice was that there were people in the workshop who fell into each category. I got to see how they approach things, and learned to appreciate better their good points instead of just focusing on their weaknesses (which is something I tend to do, according to this tool). This definitely gave me a lot to think about.

2) Legacy Leadership - The image at the top is a basic summary of of the model. Our instructor said that most leadership/management books/models/theories out there will fall underneath at least one of the five Best Practices. You basically need all five to have a balanced leadership. There were discussions around these principles to illustrate how we can action each one out.

All in all, I felt that it was a very worthwhile workshop. Unfortunately, Friday was a bad time to take off from work (but when is it ever a good time to take off from work?). There is a part two to the workshop, which is in a couple of week. I'll let you know how that goes.

Bad Food Weekend

Well, it was really good food, but having all that good food at once can be kinda gross. Plus, I've must've gained 10 pounds or so.

Saturday for lunch, we went to Saffron for their lunch buffet. They have a $10.95 all you can eat lunch buffet every day. I hear during the weekdays, the place is absolutely packed with office workers and you normally need a reservation. Very yummy Indian food, definitely one of the better places that I've tried so far.

Saturday night, we had people over for dinner, so Hubby decides to pick up Memphis Blues' sampler platter. There's enough food for about 5-6 people. We had 3 adults and 1 kid. Needless to say, we will be eating leftover pork for a bit. They have the best tasting ribs around.

After that, we went to La Casa Gelato for ice cream. Yum! And yes, they really have 212 flavours at any one time. I had Chocolate Chocolate Chip.

Sunday lunch - Memphis Blues leftovers

Sunday Dinner - It was my best friend N's birthday dinner. We went to the Cannary Seafood Restaurant. I really like this place because the food's always consistently good, and they've been around for years, so they know what they're doing. I had the Free Range Chicken (picture at top). What can I say, I'm not a seafood person. But if I did ever feel like fish, I would definitely go there. Hubby and N both had the Chef Special, which was a halibut and salmon combo with shrimp on the side.

Then it was back to La Casa Gelato again. Strawberry Fudge this time around.

Monday lunch will consist of Cannary leftovers. I couldn't stuff any more food into me tonight. For dinner, we will finish off the rest of the pork. See what I mean by a bad food weekend?

For those of you who have never been to any of the above places, or find yourself in Lotusland, GO! You won't be disappointed!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

I've been itching to watch a movie for a while now. All these movies have been coming out, and I haven't seen a single one.

So anyways, we decided to go see the new Die Hard movie. It wasn't too bad. Here's what I thought:

The Good:
  • The action was really good
  • Timothy Olyphant played an awesome bad guy. It's a shame he's not in bigger roles.
  • Typical cheesy lines you've learn to love from the Die Hard movies
  • Tim Russ made an appearance (although I can't say that this was his best performance, or even good).
The Not-So-Good:
  • Typical cheesy lines you've learn to love from the Die Hard movies
  • Really, the plot was a bit thin and the script not the best written
  • The acting was so-so
Hubby's biggest complaint about the movie was that we didn't find out what they real reason behind the whole "firesale" disaster, not until near the end. I felt that a lot of the plot, up until they reveled the reason behind everything, was just an excuse for all the great action, and entertaining as it was, made me wonder if there was anything more to the story. But everything did tie together in the end, just not very well. In short, I blame the script for mediocre plot-line development.

My verdict: 7 out of 10.

New time!

Whoo hoo! My new time up the Grouse Grind is now 1 hour, 5 mins!

Hubby thinks I could shave off a couple minutes still, as I had more than once had to fix my sock or retie my shoelaces.

Hopefully next time I can do it under an hour (and not swallow bugs en route, I think I must have swallowed at least 3-4 today alone. Yum, protein).