Friday, December 25, 2009

Review: Avatar

I finally got around to seeing Avatar this week. I saw it in 3d in a normal theater but the next time I see it, I'm going to try to see it in IMAX.

Avatar is set in the year 2150. Humans have gobbled up all of the resources on Earth and are mining a distant planet called Pandora for a substance far more valuable than oil or gold. The planet is inhabited by the N'Avi people, who are connected to the earth and not overly fond of having their planet destroyed. In order to connect with the N'Avi, the humans take on these "Avatars" in the form of a N'Avi that lets the humans interact with them. The idea is that if you get them to vacate their land freely, then the military won't have to roll in and destroy everything.

Obviously this movie carries the message that we have to be careful of this is where we will end up. I also believe it is a commentary on terrorism and the war on terror.

Yet I didn't really enjoy the movie for the story so much as I enjoyed it for the visual effects, which are stunning to say the least. I had always wondered when they were going to make a movie that was over 90% digital effects and I believe this movie is a huge step forward in that regard.

The 3D imagery is also stunning. There are lots of scenes in the forest that are simply amazing, especially at night when the forest lights up. You have to wear glasses for the entire movie and that may be annoying to some. My only other 3D complaint is that the movie maker decides what is going to be in focus. This means that you can't really look at details in the background or explore the "shot" too much. However this isn't a huge issue because there is so much to look at that is in focus.

Overall, I'd have to say this a movie you have to see in the theater and you should try your best to see it in 3D. It will look great at home but do yourself a favor and get to the theater.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review: It Might Get Loud

It Might Get Loud is a documentary feating Jack White, The Edge and Jimmy Page. They are some of the more influential guitarists alive and as I imagine, three people very hard to get into the same room... which is exactly what the filmmakers have done in this one and half hour film that includes archival footage, interviews and live performances. If you have ever played the guitar or been a fan of their music, then this movie is peek inside how they work the instrument to express themselves. Each of them comes from a different background but yet the movie works to show each of them as having gone through similar stages in their development.

Jack White likes to fight, literally, with cheap plastic guitars and vintage amps on the verge of breaking up. The Edge is famous for playing with effects until he gets exactly the sound that he hears in the head. Jimmy Page is simply put, is an absolute tone hound and responsible for many of the rock guitar sounds you hear today.

To see Jimmy Page stand in the hallway where the drums for "When the Levee Breaks" were recorded, clap his hands and hear the familiar reverb of the space after 30 years is simply awesome. We also see The Edge return to the school where the members of U2 first performed, which includes the classroom they practiced in, which is even more poignant considering they are playing stadiums on their current tour. The Edge also walks on a small schoolyard stage U2 first played on well over 20 years ago.

In fact the movie is just filled with incredible moments. In one scene, the Edge pulls out a box of four track tapes without any idea of what is really on the tapes. As it turns out, one of them is an early demo of "Where the Streets Have No Name". Jimmy Page rummages around in what could be best be described storage room for his gear, filled with more instruments than your local music shop. Perhaps one of my favorite scenes is when Jack White tells some 9 year old doppelganger to stomp on his #1 guitar like he's putting out a cigarette.

Then there is the scene where Jimmy Page plays the first distortion pedal ever made. That to me is quite magical when you consider everything that comes after that. There also some crazy moments where nothing is even said between these guitar gods. The look on Jack White's face as Jimmy Page plays "Whole Lotta Love" in front of him. The twinkle in Jimmy Page's eyes as he puts on Link Wray's "Rumble". It's almost like you are seeing what it must have been like to be there the first time they heard those recordings.

If these are the types of things that make you get shivers down the back of your neck, then this movie is going to blow your socks off. If you are a fan of any of these bands, then you are really going to enjoy this movie and if you are simply a fan of music, you'll enjoy this well narrated trip through the past, present and future of rock and roll.

It Might Get Loud is currently in limited release. Details here. And will be out on DVD December 22nd. I'm sure the bonus footage on the DVD is going to be KILLER.

Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My New iPhone: Week One

I purchased an iPhone 3GS last week.

The first thing about upgrading your phone is that it is expensive... and we here in North America have been so conditioned to getting discounts on the cost of the phone that we choke at the full price of a smartphone. At Telus, a 16GB iPhone 3GS is $700 and I believe the 32GB version is over $800.

Cost aside, I have to say that this in an impressive device. Not perfect by all means but very well thought out.

I used to have an HTC Touch Diamond... another device that was big on touch screen navigation and this phone really blows that phone away. I have big fingers and yet I don't really have any issues typing of navigating on the iPhone. Of course it helps that I can turn it sideways and access a larger typing area. Moving from Twitter (via Tweetdeck) to the web is fast and seamless.

The ability download lots of apps is also pretty nifty however I'd say most of the apps I have downloaded so far just make specific tasks faster... like finding out the weather forecast (WeatherEye) or nearest gas station (MyNearest). I am also finding Facebook really convenient and of course talking and texting are a breeze.

I really don't think these phones are for everyone. Thinking about it last night, you need to be a really connected individual to get the most out of an iPhone. You need to have lots of contacts that you talk to often. You need to be out and about and need to remain connected to information such Podcasts or RSS feeds. If you are the type of person who goes to the office and home each day, then an iPhone is probably going to be too much for you.

I have a love/hate relationship with Apple and I have to say that I love this phone. But more than that, I live what this phone represents to mobile handset designers: something to surpass. As I mentioned, this phone isn't perfect but I think that representing something to shoot for will ultimately make the experience you want to have while on-the-go closer to reality and for that I applaud Apple 100%.

Cheers. Danny

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Social Media and Job Search Strategies

I recently had a conversation with somebody about how important social media has been to my job search and I figured that this information would be useful to others.

First, some background: I relocated to Ottawa from Vancouver in August and have been looking for my next opportunity since that time.

I believe that social media is invaluable when it comes to researching potential job opportunities. One of the main reasons for this is that you can often get unfiltered/unedited information about a company, job openings and interviewers before you even step foot in an interview room. Given the popularity of social media these days, there is also a wealth of information available that is often free and easy to find. You just have to know where to look!

Looking for Job Postings
Even though I am going to talk about searching on-line for information about jobs, I should point out that networking is always one of the best ways to find out possible job openings. If you have a large, active network behind you then I would suggest that is the single best place to start.

That said, there are lots of great places on the web to find jobs. Lately, I have been using a site called Indeed. Sign up and create searches that can be set up to send you a daily alert message with the results of the search. I also find that LinkedIn is a popular place for job postings and if the company isn't posting directly on LinkedIn, you can also use LinkedIn's search engine to search the web. Here is where that is done:

Twitter is also becoming a popular place for job postings. Most cities have business directories that will have lists of companies you might want to work for. In Ottawa, there is the Ottawa Business Journal's annual Book of Lists. You should use that list to search and see if a company is on Twitter and if they are, you can follow them. I also recommend looking at Twitter accounts on to see who the company/contact is following and who is following them to expand the list of companies/people you are following. Twitter now has a nifty list feature so you can also see who is on a contact's lists and follow them. I also recommend trying to find people that are well connected in your city and following them. Connected people often post openings on Twitter that come from their network. Ideally you can get out to meet these people face to face, but meeting on Twitter isn't bad either! I also suggest searching to see if there is a an Twitter account like OttawaJobs or something similar in your city that posts openings.

I rarely use to interact with Twitter. Instead I use an API called TweetDeck. One of the best features in TweetDeck is the ability to have searches permanently saved in columns that continually update. I recommend setting up searches for the types of positions you are interested in for your city as something might come up there as well. More on using TweetDeck below.

Corporate blogging was all the rage a few years ago and they can be a wealth of information about companies and job openings. Most often, a company will blog about needing talent and if you subscribe to the RSS feed (if available) you don't even have to go to the blog... you just need to watch your RSS feeds. Side note: If you aren't using RSS feeds yet then I recommend signing up for Google Reader and subscribing the RSS feeds of blogs that you read. That way you can keep updated on new posts as they are published.

Researching Companies and Interviewers
Research is absolutely crucial when searching for jobs. Because I am focusing on social media in this post I won't go into detail but it is critical that you keep you finger on the pulse of what is happening in the city or cities you want to work in. At the very least, I like to read the business section of the paper daily but other useful sources of information include business associations, trade journals and trade associations. Most of these are now served by websites and those will often have a section for job postings. Examples of things to look for are: Business Association, Technology Industry or Association. Every city likes to promote itself as a great place to do business and you can really use this information to your advantage!

If you find an opening or have an interview scheduled then you must do research on the company, the industry and the person or people you might be interviewing with. Obviously, LinkedIn is invaluable when it comes to this. Find the company in LinkedIn and review the list of popular profiles at the company to see who is active and see what type of experience they have and if they are connected to you in some way. You can also see if the job you are interviewing opened because somebody left, however I should mention that you will only see this if that person has updated their LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn can also give you an indication of the turnover rate at the company... is there lots of activity in terms of hires and promotions? You can also find out about people you might be working with and/or interviewing with. I like to see if we have anything in common as this information might be useful for helping to create some rapport with the interviewer. Best case, you might know somebody in common who can serve as a reference for you.

I deactivated my Facebook account earlier this year but reactivated it when I started by job search. I am finding that Facebook is also a great place to find information about companies you might want to work for. See if they have a company profile and see what information is being shared. In fact you should also see if they have a Twitter account and what type of information they are tweeting about and you can also set up a search in TweetDeck for the company name to see what people are saying about them. All of this information should help you get a feel for what type of company they are... are they fun? serious? do customers appreciate their product/service?

I spoke about corporate blogs earlier and I should point out here that they invaluablel in the research phase. Look to see what the company is blogging about for indication of what they are thinking about. I like to say that corporate blogs are often the most honest peek into a company and its culture you are going to get before you step foot in the office. Whitepapers and product pages are going to be written by the marketing folks but blog posts usually come directly from the employees and while most are edited, they are usually more transparent.

Lots of firms have set up Flickr accounts and they will often have photos. I usually search to see if the company looks like a fun place to work. I have seen companies that post pictures of the office and the staff and they are great for understanding what the culture is like. You should also check to see if they have a Youtube channel and what content is being shared on Youtube about the company. One company I was researching had a corporate video on Youtube about what a great place it would be to work at! (HR professionals take note...)

After Your Interview
What happens if you go for an interview and you never hear back from the company? Unfortunately, it seems to be standard procedure for companies to NOT tell you that you aren't being considered for a job. While I don't know why this is the case, I always suggest you contact them to ask before doing anything else. If that doesn't work, then you can actually use LinkedIn, Twitter or the company's blog to figure out if somebody else was hired and see if anybody tweets about signing an offer or if there is a post on the blog about a new team member.

Stay Positive
No matter what you do, stay positive. The job market is really tough right now and it is most likely going to take lots of effort to get something. I read recently that it will take about 150 contacts to get a job offer... and I have to say that this sounds about right to me. Looking for work is never easy so I always suggest that people try to enjoy it... afterall, when else do you get to meet so many interesting people that work at interesting companies!

Good luck!