Company Announcements Press Releases

Nonprofit PR Grants Program for 2011 announced by Neotrope

LOS ANGELES, Calif., Jan. 7, 2011 — Neotrope(R), a brand identity, PR, and marketing firm established Jan. 1983, is donating $36,000 in free public relations and newswire services to worthy non-profit and charitable organizations to celebrate its 28th anniversary. Neotrope previously donated $25K worth of services in 2009, 2005 and 2000. In 2010, Neotrope “adopted” various charities in lieu of providing the PR Grant program, and has provided discounted or free services to various non-profits for almost 30 years. Organizations may apply for this program starting today.

“This PR Grant program is our way of supporting some of the numerous smaller organizations we feel need ongoing help to ‘get the word out’ about their worthwhile efforts,” said Neotrope CEO and co-founder, Christopher Simmons. “Many smaller non-profits have been suffering from lower revenues the past couple of years, due to the economy and less visibility than some of the larger charities with Fortune 500 sponsors; and it’s been harder than ever for these orgs to raise awareness. We’ve always taken corporate social responsibility very seriously, and we decided many years ago that it was better to use our expertise to help these causes versus simply writing them a small donation check.”

Neotrope, and its service division Send2Press Newswire (, have previously sponsored art benefits contributing to aid efforts for the homeless in Chicago, groups providing environmentally sustainable housing in areas of the world where disaster has left people without adequate shelter; and to orgs who raise money for AIDS orphans.

Non-profit organizations may apply for free services starting January 7th, through February 10th, 2011. Organizations will be selected as applications are received, and the amount donated to each selected non-profit will vary, but typically $3600 in services per recipient (this is not a cash grant). Three of the grants will be provided to California-based non-profits, who will receive additional promotional assistance through California Newswire(R). Additionally, all 501(c)(3) organizations automatically qualify for a 28% service discount.

The 2011 Neotrope PR Grant application can be found at .

Past recipients of the PR grant program include Children Awaiting Parents, Girls Write Now, Paws of Life Foundation, Special Equestrians, The Starlight Children’s Foundation, The Native Voices Foundation, World Savvy, and many others.

About Neotrope:
Since 1983, Neotrope ( has been helping small-to-medium businesses, non-profits, and entertainment companies establish their brand and grow revenue. Neotrope was an Inc. 5000 listed company in 2009. The Neotrope(R) marketing team includes Christopher Laird Simmons, who is an award-winning designer, photographer, musician and digital artist. He is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and ASCAP. Simmons has been widely interviewed by publications as diverse as Entrepreneur, Chicago Post Tribune, PCWorld,, and TrendWatch. Other team members include accredited public relations professionals, working journalists and broadcast veterans.

About Send2Press Newswire:
Send2Press(R) offers best-in-class affordable Direct-to-Editors(TM) news distribution and alternative placement of news content to improve its “persistence” versus the traditional one-shot approach. In addition to sending news directly to working journalists, print and broadcast media, Send2Press places news into social networks and deep into search engines using proprietary ContextEngine(TM) press release optimization technology developed in 1997. Originally launched as MindsetNetwire in 1997 exclusively for Neotrope’s corporate clients, the service became Send2Press in 2000. Send2Press is unique because it was the first wire service with staff entirely comprised of accredited public relations professionals, published authors, working journalists, and marketing experts.

2009 PR Grants Recipient announcement: .

2009 PR Grants announcement: .

2005 Grant announcement: .

2000 Grant announcement: .

Additional news about non-profit organizations, causes, and corporate social responsibility: .


Send2Press(R) Newswire ( is the originating wire service for this story, issued on behalf of the news source. Copr. (c) 2011 Send2Press and the Neotrope(R) News Network.

Company Announcements Press Releases

Neotrope Celebrates 28th Anniversary by Offering PR Grants and Discounts Program for U.S. Charitable Organizations

TORRANCE, Calif., Jan. 3, 2011 — Neotrope today announced it has, as part of the company’s 28th anniversary this year, expanded its discount program for U.S.-based non-profit organizations “doing good,” and also pre-announced the 2011 Neotrope PR Grants program. California-based Neotrope will provide discounts of 28% off to those charitable organizations needing assistance with public relations and online marketing. Neotrope’s Send2Press(R) Newswire service will be providing the discounts on targeted news distribution, press release writing, and online promotion solutions.

“Due to the economy the two last years we were unable to provide our PR Grants Program in 2010,” said Neotrope CEO Christopher Simmons. “Thankfully, things are picking up, so we will be able to offer the grant program again for 2011, but in the meanwhile we’re extending these substantial discounts on our services to help non-profits ‘get the word out’ about their activities. We will be announcing our 2011 PR Grants Program over the next week.”

For more information on the free discount program for non-profits, .

Information on the 2011 PR Grant Program will be posted to the above page on/about Jan. 6, 2011. The grants program will provide over $28,000 in value services to applicants chosen.

A list of the 2009 PR Grant Program recipients can be found at: .

About Neotrope:
Established in 1983 by creative guru Christopher Laird Simmons (a member of ASCAP and PRSA), and best-selling author J.L. Simmons, PhD, Neotrope(R) is a privately held company involved in brand marketing as well as entertainment publishing. Neotrope ( was an Inc. 5000 company in 2009, and is an accredited member of the BBB with an A+ rating. The company has provided discounted services for non-profits for more than two decades, sponsors numerous worthwhile causes, and offers a semi-annual (not every year) PR Grants program.

About Send2Press:
Celebrating its 11th anniversary in 2011, Send2Press (a service of Neotrope) offers best-in-class affordable Direct-to-Editors(TM) news distribution to working print and broadcast media, plus online media and social networks, and deep into search engines using proprietary ContextEngine(TM) technology. Send2Press is unique because it was the first wire service with staff entirely comprised of accredited public relations professionals, published authors, working journalists, and marketing experts.

For more information about Neotrope’s Send2Press services for non-profit orgs, and for small to medium business promotion, visit: . To view the Send2Press Newswire daily news portal for journalists, visit: .

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Send2Press(R) Newswire ( is the originating wire service for this story, issued on behalf of the news source. Copr. (c) 2010 Send2Press and the Neotrope(R) News Network.

Film and TV Reviews

DiscWatcher Blu-ray movie review: Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time

REVIEW: It’s always fun when all the summer movies start to hit Blu-ray, DVD, and pay-per-view earlier and earlier each year. Used to be, I would have to wait practically until Christmas to see the movies I skipped going to the big-screen theaters to see during “blockbuster” season. Last month the first crop hit the home market, and the rest rolled out right before or right after the calendar says we’ve moved into fall.

REVIEW: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Generally, one cannot expect too much from a film based on a computer video game, but to get to the heart of it: Prince of Persia isn’t too bad. It’s a rip-roaring adventure in a make believe place, with great special effects, great set pieces, locales, and a good looking cast. Once you get past the conceit of western movie makers using pasty white British actors for many of the leads, along with their “exotic” U.K. accents, it’s a fairly enjoyable film.

When I’d heard that Jake Gyllenhaal would play the male lead, I was skeptical as he will always be Donnie Darko to me, somehow. But, he buffed up nicely, and his diverse catalog of work the past decade allows him to believably play this kind of action character, even if almost everything in the film is unbelievable. He is likable, and carries the story in places where it verges into a bit more comic book than Arabian Nights territory. Since it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, one can generally presume high entertainment value, and this film doesn’t disappoint. If you want to compare it to any of Bruckheimer’s other recent projects, I have to say the script and story are better than the second Transformers movie, but take that statement however you wish.

The story: Gyllenhaal’s character is an orphan boy (Dastan) who is adopted by King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), and becomes part of the family along with two other sons and heirs, and the king is tricked into invading a neighbor for the purpose of acquiring an ancient dagger that can release the sands of time, a gift from the gods that can allow the possessor to reverse time. Dastan falls for the dagger’s guardian, Tamina, played by always lovely Gemma Arterton. Together they banter and flirt across the desert, avoiding the bad guys, ruffians, and the local equivalent to ninjas, while trying to reach the source of the sand in the dagger and stop the big baddie from hatching his evil plot of revenge and world domination. Sounds silly, but it actually works pretty well.

The $200 million budget really raises this above the typical “B” movie that this genre would have fallen into a few years ago and there is a lot of that money on-screen, and not just in CGI. It reminded me a little of the Jolie Lara Croft movies in tone. However, while it wants to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean, Gyllenhaal is not Johnny Depp although director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) does keep the story going and focused on the characters and not an overload of special effects creatures that made the last Mummy film a disappointment due to the disconnect with the live actors.

For the supporting cast, Ben Kingsley is good, but he is so typecast now as the bad guy, that you immediately suspect him of being part of the conspiracy that causes Dastan to be accused of killing his adoptive father and then having to make a run for it along with Tamina. Alfred Molina is playing true to his past work, even if his character is an amalgam of similar characters we’ve seen many times before.

I was surprised to see Richard Coyle as one of the king’s sons, Tus, who takes over the throne upon the king’s murder. Coyle is a great actor, and he definitely brings some depth to his part.

The film does try to keep some of the elements of the computer games (I recall playing one version of the game on my Mac SE30 circa 1994) such as Dastan’s wall hopping and climbing, almost to the point of parkour. There were a few moments in the opening scenes where the juvenile version of Dastan steals some food and is running from the authorities over the roof-tops that I couldn’t help remembering the very similar opening from Disney’s Aladdin – but thankfully there was no singing or overly aware monkeys.

The story develops nicely, shifting from big screen action, to small scenes, then political machinations, then back to “on the road” with the main characters. There are some slow parts here and there, but relationships do develop, and evolve. So, if you like fantasy-adventure films, and can completely suspend your disbelief, it’s entertaining enough. Special effects are really nice, and – again – the story is much better than I was expecting, with a happy ending that utilizes the power of the dagger to resolve more than one story line. If you go in expecting nothing, you may be pleasantly surprised, especially if you enjoy genre films.

My only quibbles really stem from Arterton’s spray tan changing a bit from scene to scene, as she is really pale in most of her real life appearances, and the overall dearth of Middle Eastern actors in a film which resides in a part of the world which generally is not particularly happy with the western world at this time (Iran is the current incarnation of Persia, in case you are clueless about world history). It seems like an odd time to be making a film based in a place that really existed, but which has been fictionalized by western writers into something else. But, that would be Disney for you. To get my meaning, imagine if an Iranian filmmaker did a movie about Native Americans loosely based on a couple of mythic oral history stories.

I do feel this contributed to the lower box office than might be expected for this “big budget” film ($90 million domestic, as of Sept. 2010). Compare that to Clash of the Titans, which cost $125 million, but grossed $163 million in the US. But, regardless, I liked it.

On disc, the picture looks amazing, and the DTS sound is also good.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is rated PG-13; 116 minutes. Director Mike Newell. Writing credit: Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, screenwriters; Jordan Mechner, screen story.

Article is copr. © 2010 by Christopher Laird Simmons – all rights reserved. No fee or compenstaion was provided for composition of this information. Article originally appeared on

Articles Lifestyle

40 Something and Counting: Developing Cataracts at Age 45

I’m not laughing anymore. I was one of those guys that chortled a bit, but not in a mean way, when older friends and relatives would moan about a body ache from washing their car, or having to take some prescription pill for an unpronounceable aliment that everybody seemed to discover at once, or “my back hurts” from carrying in the groceries. It’s the unavoidable lament of middle age, that those of us in our thirties think will never happen to us.

40 Something - Cataracts at age 45
Strange thing is, when you hit your forties, some of that stuff isn’t so funny any longer. It seemingly creeps up on you like your cat playing on the end of your bed, where the bedclothes are a mini-jungle for feline imagination. And suddenly, real life pounces!

For me the first signs of middle age creeping up on me, gray whiskers and all, was the difficulty losing weight. I had a bit of a weight problem as a teen, cured in my twenties by becoming a major cycling aficionado. But then, at 42 it became really hard. The yo-yo dieting starts where you lose 10-15 lbs., then gain it back over the holidays. Eventually apathy kicks in, and 10 lbs. a year decide to take up residence in your butt, chest and belly. Ugh! I’m on a diet program with a nutritionist now, but that’s another story, for another day.

Murkier and fuzzier, and bears, oh my!
The most annoying, but not unexpected, event was hitting 45 and as the year progressed; my vision became murkier and fuzzier. I had always been able to read the smallest fine print on the back of a vitamin bottle, read a book comfortably, watch TV, and only wore driving glasses for distance vision; this is called being nearsighted (or myopia). Well, I noticed that I was having to “trombone” the bottle to read small print (always makes me think of Bing Crosby in “White Christmas”), and watching TV was way less sharp. Most notably, driving became a bit of a challenge: you know something is different when you’re suddenly using 100% of your brain to drive, instead of 50%, to focus on your surroundings and mentally process what you’re seeing through the windshield and in the rearview mirrors.

Initially, I hoped this was due to simply working too long on the computer (I have two 20-inch LCDs I work on all day long, and often worked weekends on various projects). Eye strain, yeah, that’s the ticket! But, to be sure I made an appointment with an optometrist to get a new prescription, and start wearing glasses while working, and hopefully for driving as well.

I made my appointment, showed up, walked around while waiting and perused the eyewear, picked out a couple of cool frames. Then it was time for the eye exam. I had a quick eye check on some machines with an assistant who also dilated my eyes (eye drops in both eyes, then back to the waiting area). Then after my eyes were dilated I went in to see the optometrist. I knew things were not going to be a bowl of catnip when he asked me if I had been around any radiation lately. Say what now?

Somewhat cautiously, he mentioned that I had “advanced cataracts” which are not common with people my age, and that it’s more often seen with older folks (meaning over age 55) or from things like using arc welders — or equipment or environmental settings with high radiation levels. It was also more common in people with diabetes, which I knew was not an issue for me, despite gaining some weight.

40 Something and CountingThe cataract is essentially “a medical condition in which the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, resulting in blurred vision.” (Concise Oxford.)

I was fairly calm at this point as it wasn’t entirely unexpected, and in the back of my mind I was really hoping this would not be the situation, but over the past few months I had a sneaking suspicion that it was a possibility. When you suddenly can’t read a magazine, or read the back of a toothpaste tube, the truth is unavoidable. The eye exam really just confirmed what I already knew deep down, but had been mentally avoiding.

So much for all that carrot juice
The simple fact is that family history, or genetics, can “pounce” at any moment. Hiding under the covers doesn’t seem to help. While I had no history of eye problems, my father and brother both had cataracts at birth, and I believe my paternal aunt did as well. They all wore bifocals, and had eye surgery as kids. On my mom’s side, folks got cataracts in their seventies. My grandma had cataract surgery in her seventies or eighties.

Somehow, I had hoped I had escaped, but it seemed to split the difference in age, and to quote a popular song: whoop there it is. Basically I was slowly going blind. So much for all the carrot juice I’d been drinking the past decade.

The optometrist told me he couldn’t even prescribe any glasses as “they wouldn’t help,” and that he was amazed I could function at all. He recommended an ophthalmologist to me as a referral and I got home and made that phone call immediately. It was a little traumatic, but I tend to put these things in the same box as having a flat tire, or a dead car battery. You can whine about it, but if you’re on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, there’s not much else you can do but get out the jack and spare tire from the trunk. You’re not going anywhere until you do.

I have to admit I felt a little sheepish about not having been to get an eye exam for about 7 years due to not having health insurance (due to my self-employed business taking a dive right after 9/11 I had to cancel the insurance, and never got it back).

Hello doctor, hello IOL
Visiting the ophthalmologist was a bit of a similar experience initially. Make an appointment; fill out the information form and medical history sheet while waiting in the lobby. Then, go in and see an assistant to do some basic eyeball tests, and then back to the lobby to let your eyes dilate.

While an optometrist and an ophthalmologist are similar in what they can do for most people needing eye care, the latter is a full M.D. with four or more years of medical school and at least a year of internship.

I was lucky to have been referred to a capable surgeon (in my case, Dr. Raj Dugel of Torrance, Calif.), and I felt entirely comfortable with his opinions, questions, diagnosis, and suggestions. I got a good feeling about the medical practice, the office staff: an overall good “vibe” if you will.

In my case, the solution would be to get intraocular lenses (IOLs) which, simply put, are a lot like having a contact lens in your eye, but it replaces the damaged lens in the eye which is broken up with a laser during surgery.

I rarely quote anything out of Wikipedia, but the following definition appears to be accurate as is the schematic diagram of the human eye: The lens is a transparent, biconvex structure in the eye that, along with the cornea, helps to refract light to be focused on the retina. The lens, by changing shape, functions to change the focal distance of the eye so that it can focus on objects at various distances, thus allowing a sharp real image of the object of interest to be formed on the retina.

So, thankfully this is a procedure where the trail has been well broken by the aging baby boomers ahead of my generation.

The whole idea is a little scary as anything to do with my eyes has always been a touchy subject, if you’ll pardon the pun. I’ve always hated anything in my eyes, like eye drops, and have always been too sensitive for contact lenses, and if my eyelashes brush against the inside of a pair of glasses it wigs me out. So, eye surgery has always been on my list of least favorite possible things to have happen. Up to this point I’d never had a root canal for a tooth, and so I generally would say things like “I’d rather have a root canal than anything touch my eyes.”

Since I have always worked in photography, video, graphic design, and the arts in general, the concept of anything wrong with my eyes has been akin to a pianist or guitarist losing a finger.

But, to use my spare tire in the trunk of the car analogy again: you do what you have to in order to get back on the road.

The doctor gave me several options, as to having one eye be optimized for distance, and the other for close-up, which some people like, but I thought might be unnerving (you can’t exactly “try it out” in advance). So, I opted to have each eye setup similarly to me pre-existing vision, which was pre-disposed for close-up sharpness and reading without glasses, and then having to wear glasses for driving to read street signs a block away.

I thought I would need the brand new IOLs for astigmatism, but it turns out I never really had that, just near-sightedness.

The cost would be approximately $4,000 per eye which included the IOL, the surgery, and the anesthesiologist. Like many medical doctors these days, they rent out “surgical suites” which have the equipment, nurses, and recovery areas on hand. Luckily for me, I live less than a mile away from the doctor, the major hospitals here in Torrance, Calif., and the surgical suite.

The next step was to pay the moola for the first procedure and setup a surgery day and time. I would also need to get a complete physical prior to surgery, to ensure I didn’t have any medical issues that might be affected by the procedure. Luckily other than packing on some pounds thanks to mom’s side of the family, I don’t really have any allergies, I don’t take any medication, and I eat pretty well and exercise regularly.

They can rebuild me, better, stronger…
The first surgery was set for end of January, about a month after I had first visited the optometrist. The second eye would be done 3 months or so after the first, to ensure I was okay from the first surgery both physically and visually.

The main thing I had to get used to initially, prior to surgery was taking a couple of eye-drops several times a day for the couple of weeks prior to surgery, and I would then need to take drops post-surgery as well. I got the prescription filled that same day, and started the regimen. I hadn’t had to buy any medicines for quite some time, so was a bit surprised how pricey the two little containers of eye medicine actually cost (about $150).

It was actually an eye watering experience, literally, to get in the habit of putting the drops in, as my general sensitivity made me either flinch or close my eyelids the micro-second before the drops hit. So, this was a learning experience: acclimating my eyeballs to get used to anything in them other than water.

As the surgery date came closer I also suffered the indignity of my driver license needing to be renewed and, as luck would have it, this would be the time I was required to go in for an exam and eye test at the DMV. Since I could not pass that, I was required to send a letter to the DMV notifying them that I was temporarily “legally blind” as far as operating a motor vehicle was concerned. I have to admit, this was likely a good idea for my fellow drivers, and I have a little more sympathy for the aged who are no longer able to drive due to visual impairment. Considering my father, brother and aunt never were able to drive a car at all, I think I did okay all these years.

I started to think of the upcoming procedure as a bit like having a bionic eye implant, just like Lee Majors’ “Six Million Dollar Man” character of the ’70s. It’s actually pretty amazing to be able to have this done, replacing a defective eye lens with a plastic bit that lets you see again. Kind of a “living in the future” moment for me, actually.

Poke in the eye
As the surgery day dawned, I had the normal anxiety of anything like traveling on an airplane, or visiting an ex-girlfriend for lunch. Unlike surgery where you are fully “knocked out,” which I had previously experienced for getting my wisdom teeth extracted, for eye surgery you are semi-conscious, and this is so you can keep your eye looking forward and not roll back in your head (among other reasons). So, I didn’t have the common worry of “not waking up.”

Still, I had my list of emergency phone numbers in my pocket, with the staff and my friend, and if anything went wrong the “real” hospital was a block away from the surgical center. I wasn’t so worried that I had to update my living will or anything, but there was definitely the sense of adventure in the air.

A friend of mine (thanks, Dave!) drove me over to the surgical center which was packed and seemed a bit more like an airport lounge than a medical practice, but really clean. It’s a reminder just how many people live around us these days. After a little while they took me into the pre-op area, and I stepped into booties over my sock-feet, instead of shoes, and they weighed me (necessary for the anesthetic drip) and then led me to a gurney-bed to lie down and put blankets over me to keep me warm. The nurse checked my blood pressure, and then got me started on an IV drip, eye drops, and a little while later the anesthesiologist introduced himself.

The doctor came to check on me, while also checking on another patient in post-op. This was about the point you realize you’re really going to have surgery and it’s not unlike standing at the altar getting married, going on stage to perform for the first time, or anything else that vaguely resembles jumping off a cliff emotionally. It’s one of those unique moments, while being wheeled into the surgical suite, where you are fully “there” in real-time and not living mentally one foot in the past and the other foot in the future. Here and now is all there is.

Thankfully I had a really good anesthesiologist and I was out of it, but not totally out of it. So I was aware of my surroundings, but was right on the tipping over point of almost being asleep, but not quite. I remember getting little clamps for my eyelids, and then a light in my eye, and a poke and then some surgical stuff and then it was over fairly quickly. Frankly, it was almost anti-climactic after the initial poke in the eye. With the drugs time seemed slightly compressed. It wasn’t long before I was being wheeled back to the pre/post-op area.

In the recovery area, you slowly come back awake and very slowly you start to feel like somebody poked you in the eye a bit, and you have an eye-patch on. A nurse checks on you, and as you get more awake she helps put your shoes on, offers you some water, and within about 20 minutes, you’re slowly back in the real world again. Frankly, speaking from later experience, it’s less painful and less time consuming than a root canal, after all.

Once my friend got me home, I spent a couple of hours just relaxing on the couch, dozing and letting things settle – both physically and emotionally. I took some ibuprofen, called my mom to let her know I was okay. And, being the workaholic that I am, I also checked my e-mail, which was a bit interesting with just one eye available (the stronger one, thankfully) and that one with a cataract. Imagine somebody sticking their nose up to the PC monitor screen, and that would be apt mental image.

I couldn’t do a lot, so listened to music, and put all my post-op stuff on my coffee table to be ready for new eye bandage, tape, eye drops. Luckily I heal fast and don’t generally need a lot of pain killers. Eye drops were tricky, but I managed to get stuff in the eye properly. I’d had 2 weeks of daily dosing to get used to that.

Post op in living color
Over the coming weeks I had several follow up appointments with my eye doc, and took more cabs that Spring and Summer than ever in my adult life. Things looked great and vision slowly improved and clarified. It was interesting to do an A-B comparison between each eye when looking at something. One of the most shocking things was seeing colors again properly. I truly had not realized just how bad things had gotten.

With a cataract it’s not just a loss of sharpness, it’s also color and contrast you lose. The two examples that really surprised me were a wristwatch I had bought which had a blue face, but had looked black to me when I got it. Now I could see the blue. A product image I had done for a client in Photoshop, with a piece of gold and silver jewelry had looked all silver prior to surgery, and now my left eye could see the gold but my right eye could not. Two different versions of reality, and a window into what those who are colorblind see or don’t.

After the first 10 days or so, watching TV on my 1080p DLP TV suddenly jumped out at me. I realized that the cataracts had started to develop about the same time I got my HDTV, and I’d never actually seen anything in high-def due to the loss of vision. Now my left eye was becoming bionic compared to what I had been seeing the past few years – watching LOST with all the colorful scenery in Hawaii, was like seeing for the first time all over again.

As time went on, I was able to stop using eye drops on the first eye, then start the pre-op sequence on the second eye. This time around, knowing what to expect, I was actually more anxious. It hurt a little bit the second time, as I was not quite as out of it. I’m not sure if this was due to a different anesthesiologist, or me being more “amped up” and adrenaline fighting the drugs. Post op for the second eye was about the same, and so too the follow up visits to the eye doc.

So, six months after the initial visit to the optometrist I was able to see again, was able to pass my eye exam at the DMV and get my driver’s license back. And I could see everything in amazing clarity, color, and much as I had in my thirties.

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that cataract surgery is not as bad as I had expected, and the results are amazing. My one year checkup was perfect.

Clouds on the horizon
Two years later I can still see wonderfully, although it looks like I may have developed a little cloudiness behind the first implant (which is quite common, apparently). I may need a follow up laser surgery to break up what’s called posterior capsular opacification (PCO). Each follow up visit the doctor had mentioned that “you don’t have the build-up that some people get,” but two years after the second eye was done, I began to notice a very minor change, but it seems to come and go with how tired I am, almost like a more opaque “floater” right where you want to focus.

Apparently, according to the American Optometric Association, up to 50 percent of those who get the surgery can develop PCO, or a secondary cataract. The cloudiness is the result of cell growth on the back of the IOL capsule. This is fixed by undergoing a YAG laser capsulotomy that makes an opening in the clouded capsule to let light in. It’s a painless 5 minute procedure, with an hour of recovery time. However, one study I read from Kaiser Permanente stated that 1 in 50 can develop retinal detachment, leading to vision loss.

According to my doctor, he generally does the surgery when his patients begin to see halos around anything bright, or if it is impairing vision to the point of not being able to see. I’m going back in January (3 year anniversary of my original cataract diagnosis) to see if I really do need a follow up surgery, which I may not unless it gets worse.

Overall, it’s been a positive experience, and I would certainly be almost blind by now if I had not gotten the surgery with Dr. Dugel. My mother was not diagnosed with cataracts until she was 70, so I am a little bit early, but luckily technology has progressed very far in this area. I may not have a bionic eye, but it’s still pretty damn amazing.

Article is Copr. © 2010, 2011 Christopher Laird Simmons – all rights reserved. This story originally appeared on and a version appeared on before all versions being permanently moved here to

UPDATE Jan. 10, 2011: I had inadvertently left out the name of my eye doctor when I originally wrote this article in 2010. My doctor and surgeon is Dr. Raj Dugel, of Torrance, Calif., who did an excellent job. I will be writing a follow up story once I get the YAG done on my left eye for the PCO in late January. And for full disclosure: I have not been paid any fee or compensation for writing this article. This is a genuine first person account of my own life experiences and NOT paid content in any way, for the person who sent me a snarky comment after adding my doctor’s name back into the story.

Articles Reviews Technology

Stargazing on the iPad – a Window to Augmented Reality

ARTICLE: I’ve been a big fan of star gazing since I was very young. Living in places like Santa Barbara in the 1960s, and the “just built” Davis, California college town circa 1970, it was an amazing sight to sit outside at night and see the world spin against the sky of light. Anybody who still lives outside a major city, away from “light pollution,” can still marvel in this view that awed the ancients and gave rise to many of humanity’s myths, legends, and even elements of language still in popular use thousands of years later. When we moved into the city, my mom continued to get Astronomy magazine for most of my childhood, filled with amazing images of the galaxies and constellations. I got my first telescope as a tween, and sadly, it wasn’t as exciting as the NASA pictures you see in the magazines (or now on the Internet), since it wasn’t a top of the line Celestron, just a basic thin-tube model. The moon was big and bright, but anything else was a lumpy blob or threads in the wind.

About a month into owning my new Apple iPad 3G+WiFi model, I discovered a number of “apps” for stargazing (looking at the stars in the universe, not the latest celebrity fashion statement), and one of which just blew my mind, as it were. Seeing that Apple included one of these in their latest TV commercial, I thought I’d do a round-up of what apps are available, and what makes a couple of them so freakin’ amazing. In fact, my favorite, Vito Technology’s Star Walk, is one of the most dramatic examples of the future of augmented reality – which, for the layman, means adding to, or enhancing what you see in the real world. Heads-up displays in cars and aircraft are only an itsy bitsy example of this concept. Holding Star Walk on an iPad – with the use of GPS location technology, and gyroscope sensor data – is truly remarkable.

Star Walk with Me
So, let me just jump to my favorite, the aforementioned Star Walk. This 89MB, $4.99 app ($2.99 for iPhone) from Vito Technology (also: won an Apple Design Award for 2010. What it does: okay, here’s where it gets wild – take the iPad outside at night, hold it up in landscape mode (long way, side to side), and move it around to see the jaw-dropping “Star Spotter Function,” as they call it. The iPad screen becomes a “window” that shows the sky you’re actually looking at, and curves with the shape of the earth as you move the iPad; and when you point the iPad at a section of the sky with a particular constellation (group of stars), information about the constellation appears.

How cool is this? It’s like having a transparent sheet of glass that you point at the universe, and information about what you’re looking at is provided while enhancing your view. Try this in cloudy weather, where you can’t see the whole sky and it’s wicked cool. Move the iPad side to side, up and down, and the view changes to match where you’re pointing.

You can see just the basic info, such as lines connecting constellations (e.g., Ursa Major, etc.), or you can “drill down” (or “up”) for background information, scientific information, and much more. Portrait mode (long way, top-to-bottom) works also, but the sensor can flip/rotate the screen image if you start to go too far overhead.

If you ever wanted something that just made you suddenly realize you’re living in the future, this is one of those things. I can throw out adjectives here like amazing, stunning, or even “glorious,” and they would all be 100% true. This is simply a “must have” for anybody who loves astronomy, and this is one of those apps that can help you justify buying an iPad if you needed a reason beyond the hype and hoopla of the Mac faithful and gadget geeks. It’s also a compelling point to ensure you buy a version of any new Apple device (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) that includes the Digital Compass and GPS capability. There is a 3-D Earth View for selecting your location if you don’t have the GPS capability.

What’s more, the app offers a time machine mode to show what your sky view would look like at different points in time, moon phases, deep sky objects (Messier), and even meteor showers. The obligatory links to Wikipedia are also provided. It also has multi-tasking support for the updated iOS versions supporting things like listening to music while you stargaze.

Vito also makes a similar product for solar system gazing, called Solar Walk ($2.99), offering orbital views of the sun and planets, and information on each world in our system.

For Windows Mobile users, Vito also makes a bit different product called AstroNavigator ($19.95). It provides similar information 9,000 sky objects, but without the dramatic augmented reality features of the iPad app.

Pocket Sky Gazing
Some other notable apps worth trying out, include: “Pocket Universe: Virtual Sky Astronomy” ($2.99, 9MB; iPhone/iPad) from Craic Design. This is a similar product to Star Walk, but is a bit more informational than immersive (1/10th the file size of Star Walk). I found the design to be good for quick information about what I was looking at in the sky (see photo, this page).

Versions prior to 3.6 had some minor glitches, now fixed. I liked the “tonight’s sky” and “objects and events” information (these elements required 3G or WiFi). For kids there are Star Quiz games. Also plots the position of sun, moon and planets (including Pluto). This app is particularly nice on the iPhone, and the iPad version has a different interface, not simply “blown up.”

If you’re familiar with using an astrolabe in school, then you might like GoSoftWorks’ “GoSkyWatch Planetarium – the astronomy star guide” ($5.99 iPhone/iPad; 15MB). The “polar” view of the sky around the Earth is particularly nice (see photo, this page). It contains over 200 images of planets and deep sky objects. Neat features include time lapse animation by day, time, and sidereal day; finder to locate planet, star, DSOs. One neat feature, is constellation links to Ian Ridpath’s StarTales (Ridpath has numerous great books on the sky, stars, planets, and the universe).

This app also takes advantage of accelerometer and compass navigation capabilities of Apple devices. I actually got this for my iPod Touch after seeing it in Wired magazine last year. The new version is even better. There is also a free version as of this writing which lets you try this great app out.

There are now quite a few apps to choose from – this article covers just a few, obviously – and it’s worth exploring them all since your particular mindset may prefer one type of interface or “style” of information presentation.

Augmented Reality – Baby Steps
What makes the Vito app, in particular so amazing, is that it is a true forerunner of the kinds of information technology we will all have access to over the next couple of decades as we get more integrated personal data devices and better “cloud” data sources. Imagine going to an historical site like the Aztec ruins, and being able to hold up your iPad (or other tablet) and point it at the ruins and see a virtual window into what the locale looked like, generated from 3-D/CGI data. As you move your “window” around you, the view changes to show the civilization that used to be there. Perhaps it might happen with 3-D glasses with little built-in screens that opaque when activated, but that seems further off than what could be done “now” with something like this iPad app.

I have a wonderful book I bought back in 1991, called “Then and Now,” by Stefania Perring and Dominic Perring (Macmillan Publishing), that did something similar. The full color photo book would show a modern photograph of the Step Pyramid and then printed on clear plastic overlay, color artwork showing what it originally looked like. This was very cool as it showed sites like Nimrud, or the Temple of Karnak, “then and now” (hence the book’s title).

Being able to do something similar in real-time, on-site would be simply breathtaking – point your tablet at the world and travel back in time, while you’re actually there. And for those who didn’t want to travel, this would obviously be used for virtual immersive “distance based travel” to virtually visit a real world site, but also see the historical version in 360-degree surround view.

Welcome to the Future
If you love stargazing, or want to teach your kids more about the universe, or just want to show off what your Apple device can do, then get to the App Store and check out these great apps. Personally, I would not use software like this on a regular Mac or Windows PC, as it’s not “right there” as with the iPad versions. Simply put, welcome to the future people – my love of stargazing has been rekindled, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Article is Copr. © 2010 Christopher Laird Simmons – all rights reserved. Story originally appeared on

Articles Film and TV Reviews

DiscWatcher – Watching Films at Home: New Movies on Disc August 2010

REVIEW: If you’re like me, you might be one of the growing ranks of folks who have given up going to the “big screen” movie theatres in favor of stay-at-home movie watching, replete with a Blu-ray player, full surround sound and a large 1080p DLP or other TV. These days I tend to watch some films “on-demand” now that many discs are time-delayed before hitting Netflix. With my home theatre PC (HTPC), a Sony PS3, and Time Warner cable, I have a lot of choices for how to stream films.

Each month I usually get to watch the films which came out at the traditional movie houses 3-6 months earlier. So, holidays films get seen in summer and “blockbusters” from the summer often get seen in fall or winter of the same year.

With this time-delay, it’s often an interesting experience to see something that others have already seen, commented on, reviewed, criticized, and/or loved. Watching the trailers (coming attractions) and talk shows really give little up as to whether the film is any good or not. I used to rely heavily on Ebert and Roeper (and prior to that Siskel and Ebert), and have only recently discovered Ebert’s “voice” again on the SunTimes website (

I make no claim to be a professional movie critic, but I have been writing about entertainment since the mid ’80s, and I’ve been going to the movies since a child of the ’60s. Nothing quite like seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barbarella, and The Fearless Vampire Killers at the age of 6, or The Wild Bunch, at age 8. I’m happy to say it didn’t warp my fragile widdle mind.

But back to “disc watching.” It turns out most of my friends and family members have also adopted this staycation school of film appreciation, and it’s become a weekly ritual to critique the films we’ve all seen, recommend things, and warn about others. It didn’t take long for someone to suggest I start a column on this topic, but over the past year I’ve had other responsibilities and “time suck” matters to deal with, and this is really the first stab at getting out of the garage and onto the race track. Hopefully you may find this of some little interest, particularly if you don’t like the highly inconsistent comments about films based on Netflix reviews, or the self-promotional rantings of many bloggers who have not disclosed their free tickets and goodie bag for coming to an early screening of said movie “they loved, a must see.” Um, yeah.

So, without further back story, here are my short takes on a number of films and discs I’ve watched in August, 2010 (warning: some spoilers ahead):

The title does it justice, and kicks-ass!

One film I was not expecting to like very much, based on the TV commercials, is the movie Kick-Ass, directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed another film I really enjoyed, Stardust (2007, with Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, and Charlie Cox). If I had known it was the same director up front, I might not have been surprised by how good Kick-Ass turned out to be. Vaughn also directed Layer Cake (2004, with Daniel Craig) which I also liked.

Based on the previews it looked to be some hideous mixture of Superbad and Watchman, without the originality of either. And in many ways, it started off as your typical teenage comic book geeks in school, into girls and not being very popular, and all of that we’ve seen a million times. It becomes more interesting when the central character (played by Aaron Johnson) decides to don a costume and fight crime after he’s bullied one too many times by the neighborhood creeps. The first time he goes to fight them, he gets beaten to a pulp and put in the hospital. But he doesn’t feel much pain anymore and his bones are now stronger, in an odd way, he’s had his own version of a very minor super hero upgrade, although in no way similar to the Stan Lee cannon of radioactive elements or cosmic rays.

In his next real outing he fights off a bunch of goons chasing a man, and the four goons keep knocking him down and he keeps getting back up, to their surprise. Not through any super power, but sheer force of will. As is likely in today’s high-tech world, a bunch of people in the nearby laundromat happen to video him, and he ends up on the news.

But this is just the intro, a very minor origin story, from a young masked hero, who can’t possibly take on a real force of nature if he came up against it. So, where this tale suddenly gets really interesting, is that the local crime boss and drug lord (played by the always good Mark Strong, even in bad films) is told that a masked crime fighter had taken out some of his gang. Naturally this leads to the mistaken assumption that it might be the new hero “Kick Ass” interfering with their business.

Cut to a father, and his young daughter, and he’s talking to her about how to stand up to a bullet in the chest. Nicholas Cage shoots his daughter (wearing a bullet proof vest), and this is the first time we meet Chloe Moretz’s character, who acts too old for her age (she looks someplace between 8 and 11). Moretz ends up stealing this movie, later on, totally and completely.

It turns out that Cage’s character is a masked vigilante, who looks a bit like Batman, and does a hilarious job of channeling Adam West’s style of stilted speaking. His daughter is his apprentice and side-kick (or side-kick-ass, if you will). Cage is the hero who has been chopping off the crime boss’ gang at the knees, and whose wife was killed by the drug lord. Cage turns in a great performance, with moments that reminded me that he can actually act, and also reminding me a little of the classic Raising Arizona (the old young Nick Cage).

But it’s really Moretz as “Hit Girl” that steals the show. From this point on the film turns into a real super hero movie, where the two “real” super heroes take things to the next level in wiping out numerous bad guys, and this eventually leads to interaction with the Kick Ass character. What is so surprising about this film is the action scenes end up looking like a cross between a Tarantino film and John Woo, both for the dialog, and the literal “kick ass” fighting. Any movie that makes me laugh one minute then go “holy shit” the next gets five stars in my book.

Without giving away any more than I have, suffice it to say this is a really good comic-book “inspired” movie, without seeming to slavishly follow any one style. The scenes with Cage and Moretz balance out the naivete of the Johnson character and his nerdy pals, and the girl he’s trying to impress. It provides an interesting A to B from reading about costumed heroes and wanting to be one, to the harsh reality of what it takes to be one, and what you might have to do to fight, and actually kill, the bad bad men. There’s a surprising amount of killing, which was not anything like the TV commercials, hence the “R” rating. But if you like your films a little more Sam Pekinpah and a little less Lonesome Dove, you’ll really dig this film!

2010; 117 minutes; R rating; Blu-ray, DVD, on-demand; Director Matthew Vaughn. Blu-ray: Widescreen 1:85:1, DTS 7.1 HD. Cast: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Lyndsy Fonseca, Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Michael Rispoli, Omari Hardwick, Xander Berkeley. Writer: Jane Goldsmith and Matthew Vaugn. Comic book: Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

Date Night makes it to first base

Although I’m a fairly big fan of both Tina Fey (not so much Baby Mama) and Steve Carell, I thought Date Night was a bit of a mixed bag. This may be due to seeing the “extended” version, which sometimes works with more material and sometimes does not. In this case, I think I might have liked the theatrical version better as some scenes like their unfunny pole dancing scene in the strip club was a bit pointless.

The film doesn’t make my eyes bleed, but it also didn’t make me laugh out loud very much. It’s amusing, and entertaining, but not something I’d likely want to re-watch any time soon. In a nutshell it’s another version of the fish out of water tale, with a stuck-in-a-rut married couple finding time for a night out, trying to get into a snooty downtown restaurant and taking the reservation of a no-show couple, who turn out to be in trouble with the baddies.

A case of mistaken identity ensues, and the frivolity goes on from there. Many of the elements are quite lazy, like the bad guy (Ray Liotta) eating pasta, and the lack of intelligent dialogue for the under-used William Fichter. Two of my favorite “babes” are in this, Leighton Meester and Olivia Munn, but don’t get to do much.

Mark Wahlberg gets to take his shirt off, and turns out to be some type of super spy. The police are in cahoots with the corrupt DA and the mob boss. Blah blah.

It all feels a little flat, which if you’ve seen some of director Shawn Levy’s other recent films like Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, or What Happens in Vegas, it’s about as tepid in the range of performances pulled out of the cast. I quite liked his work on the first Night at the Museum, but that film had a varied cast, and some tender moments that seemed to help it really work.

While it’s not awful, it’s not great either. For a date night in (no irony intended), or a time waster, it’s not painful to watch, and I had some moderate fun. If you have a choice, I’d recommend the shorter version.

2010; PG-13; 102 minutes (extended), or 88 minutes (theatrical); Widescreen 2:35:1. Blu-ray DTS HD Master Audio. Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Leighton Meester, Taraji P. Henson, Jimmi Simpson, Common, William Fichtner, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, Mila Kunis, Ray Liotta. Writer: Josh Klausner. Director: Shawn Levy.

Clash of the Titans now 99% mechanical owl free!

First, let me say that growing up I was a huge fan of Ray Harryhausen, the master animator and special effects wizard who created the stop-motion effects for the original version of Clash of the Titans, as well as earlier films like Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C., and Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. I got to meet Harryhausen at a film festival in the ’70s, and still have an autographed photo of him on my wall, showing him standing in front of a display case of all his classic monsters.

However, I was less fond of some of his later works, which included Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), and Clash of the Titans (1981), which was notable at the time for having Laurence Olivier as Zeus, with Harry Hamlin (best known for L.A. Law, 1986-1991) as Perseus. While it was true to its genre, for mixing old-world quest legends with mythological monsters, it unfortunately also included a horrible mechanical owl, which apparently was intended for the kiddies (it seemed too much like Star Wars’ R2-D2 with its bleeps and bloops). Generally it was a passable ’70s era fantasy yarn, which was already seeming dated as the 1980s unfolded.

Fast forward to now, with the ability to create stunning CGI monsters, and giant sets existing in no real world of set construction. I wasn’t expecting a lot. Once again, Sam Worthington seems to have made a pact with the devil to get cast in every major sci-fi and fantasy film this past year (Avatar, Terminator: Salvation, Clash of the Titans), and he’s again likable although a bit too much like the soul-less machine in Terminator to really shine here. In Terminator, he was actually the most interesting (and least silly) male character in the film, and here he’s playing to type as the strong, bent on revenge against the gods, half-human son of Zeus.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed this re-make, and was happy to find it more than a re-imagining, of the prior film – in other words, it kept the good, left out the bad. It was true to its old-school fantasy genre, but the production values looked more like Lord of the Rings, with some pretty amazing giant scorpions and a breathtaking Kraken. The lovely cast has fairly light dialogue, true to most of the Harryhausen films, and doesn’t seek to provide long-winded moments of introspection or exposition. It’s a quest movie. Still, there are some sweet moments between Sam Worthington and the lovely Gemma Atherton, and Liam Neeson is almost always good no matter the material.

It’s interesting too, having also seen the lackluster Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Lightning Thief prior to the Clash remake, which is a very similar story, but somehow less believable even with modern real-world characters.

This new version of Clash, does a lot of things right, and in a funny (I thought) homage to the original movie, when Perseus finds the mechanical owl in a trunk, one of the others simply tells him to leave that behind.

Director Louis Leterrier does as well with this film as with some of his previous work, which for me has been a bit uneven. I liked his film Unleashed: Danny the Dog (2005 with Jet Li), which was quirky and odd. I was mightily disappointed with his version of The Incredible Hulk (2008), which suffered from quite boring and unconvincing special effects or action fight scenes. Transporter 2 (2005) was not as good as the original, but light years ahead of the disappointing Transporter 3. I would put Clash on the good side of his work, versus the bad.

Despite numerous writers involved, I thought the movie was a hoot, even if they left out the mechanical owl (thank you!). Two of the screenplay writers, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, actually did a film I quite liked in the sci-fi genre, the 2005 live action version of Aeon Flux.

If you like old-school fantasy films, with lots of monsters, ancient Greek legends, and good actors playing serious with some potentially childish material from the original film, you will probably also enjoy this version of Clash of the Titans.

2010; PG-13; 106 minutes. Blu-ray: widescreen 2:40:1 and DTS-HD Master Audio. Director: Louis Leterrier. Writers (screenplay): Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi. Cast: Cast: Sam Worthington, Alexa Davalos, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Tine Stapelfeldt, Mads Mikkelsen, Luke Evans, Izabella Miko.

Okay folks, that’s all for this installment. See you next time.

Article is Copr. 2010 by Christopher Simmons. Story originally appeared on

Film and TV Reviews

Summer TV: Getting Swamped by The Glades

REVIEW: I’m usually not too excited by the Summer crop of new cable TV programs but since this past season of network TV was perhaps one of the worst ever (thank god for “Chuck” and the limping along – pun intended – “House”), I’ve been more than mildly surprised by the new shows for Summer 2010, and in particular a cool new show on A&E called “The Glades.”

From the description is sounded like yet another chick show, mildly re-purposed to appeal to men who need to be able to sit on the couch while their significant other works on her notebook and half-listens to the “drama light” cable TV style of programming.

Imagine my surprise to find that “The Glades” has a little more of a Magnum P.I. vibe, sharing more in common with “Justified” than with the disappointing “Memphis Beat.”

The lead actor Matt Passmore is not somebody I’ve seen before, but he strolls through the stories with a bit of a smirk, playing detective Jim Longworth. This homicide detective has a fun back-story, having been accused of sleeping with his former boss’ wife in Chicago, but uses the payout from winning the case to live off of and moves to the small town of Palm Glade, Florida. Yep, thar’s gators in them there waters. Hurricanes, too.

Passmore is tall and has that leading man quality, and apparently was in a popular series my elderly mom watched called “McLeod’s Daughters,” but you can get his full bio all over the Web now that this show is taking off.

A good backing cast banters off the main character, and the first episode was pretty unusual (spoilers ahead) as his partner turned out to be the bad guy. The final scene between the two of them at the BBQ was very interesting, as Passmore’s body language is subtle, but not wooden, and again reminds me of Tom Selleck back in the Magnum days.

Kiele Sanchez plays the potential love interest as Callie Cargill, who happens to be a nurse, with a son, and husband in prison. Certainly a little bit of a plot device as a homicide detective will run into somebody at the hospital more often than the dry cleaner, but this gives you the smart and sexy character in one, and gives the main character a relationship to pursue, while also having a go-to gal for medical info, and he can play big brother to the son. I actually prefer this to the over-used device of the female interest being a reporter, or TV anchor (think “Moonlight” or a million other shows).

Certainly we’ll see that develop into something. The direction has been above average for this type of program, letting the characters play off each other and it feels surprisingly natural and not so contrived and staged as with “Memphis Beat.” Director Peter O’Fallon has worked on a number of shows I like from “House,” to the original “Eureka” pilot and more mainstream things in between. O’Fallon is also a writer, which shows his deft hand in pacing and Q&A between the actors.

The other cast includes the boss (played by Michelle Hurd) who’s tough but not seeking to belittle Longworth, the medical examiner (Carlos Gomez) who’s also smart and isn’t impressed by Longworth, the geeky intern (Jordan Wall) who is the glue to many situations as well as the minor comic relief (a bit like the “probies” on NCIS were originally); and of course, Cargill’s son (Uriah Shelton) who plays like a real kid, and not a fictional placeholder. Nicely chosen cast by Susan Edelman.

The first couple of episodes have been enjoyable, and not easily “guessed” at every turn as with many homicide procedural shows. I like “Bones,” but sometimes on that program a room full of smarty pants can be unbelievably dense about the obvious, which is pretty much bad writing no matter how you slice it.

While the show looks to be more than your typical cable TV “room full of dummies pitching story elements” brain-fart, it seems to be credited to writer and executive producer Clifton Campbell as the “creator” (apologies to all involved if I got that wrong). Campbell has also been a part of “White Collar” which I didn’t get into, as well as “Profiler.”

If you’ve been bored by network TV, the sad plethora of “reality” programming, the tabloid fawning and 24-hour news channel idiocy, then you might also find “The Glades” as charming, and engaging as I did.

Copyright © 2010 Christopher Simmons. This article originally appeared on

Articles Reviews Technology

Waking up to the iPad Wi-Fi+3G – Part Two

ARTICLE: It’s now day two as an iPad cult member and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. Today I managed to try out a lot of things, without delving too deeply in the nitty gritty of each. More of a whirlwind tour versus a museum excursion overseen by a docent. First off, as an ebook device I really really like it (saying things twice doesn’t make it more so, but it’s fun to say — much like 110%, when you can’t have anything be more than 100% unless you have one foot into the metaverse). Ahem, okay, the iBooks reader is nice and I truly love the interface where the pages fold over as you move your finger. The Kindle app for iPad works very similarly without the paper animation, and offers some very nice controls for font size, sepia paper (simulates “pulp” paper of a worn paperback), and has built-in help.

Winnie the Pooh iBooksBefore I get into the experience of buying some e-books, it’s worth noting that my initial complaint of “where’s the help button,” was answered this morning by a very nice “thanks for purchasing your iPad” e-mail from Apple, which included links to the “hey, that’s what I was looking for” video tutorials. For newbies, these should be essential viewing, and for casual lookie-loos pondering an iPad purchase without going to the store, these videos are wonderful and should be viewed before using the iPad (link: ). In looking through the iBooks store I didn’t see anything that made me want to plop down some cash, but I was being the impatient male zooming through the store and waiting for something to hit me over the head.

I decided to try looking for some classic hard-SF (science fiction), and was unable to locate the things I had in mind, such as Greg Bear’s epic “EON.” So, I read a bunch of the Winnie the Pooh book and just kept smiling as I viewed the illustrations in glowing full color. Certainly, the “video” screen makes anything in color really “pop” as it would if printed on glossy paper, and so the Pooh artwork looks really gorgeous on the iPad.

In using the Kindle app, I was impressed by how nice it looks, and how easy it was to go to the Amazon store and shop for books. I couldn’t find the aforementioned Greg Bear book in the Kindle store either (of course, they had Bear’s book in the Star Trek universe, but not my cup of tea). So, I bought the Orson Scott Card book “Ender’s Game.” This looks really nice in the Kindle app for iPad and, as noted earlier, the Kindle app lets you change the font (lettering) size, for larger text, and also to change the page/paper color to sepia, which is a nice touch.

Ender's Game on Kindle for iPadOddly, in starting to read the Kindle book version of “Ender’s Game,” I noticed a glaring typo in the first sentence of the introduction, where the name of the book is mis-spelled. This leads one to believe this was scanned via OCR, and not converted from a digital file. Not sure if that is Amazon’s fault or the publisher (or author?), but bizarre that a spell-check wasn’t even done on that. Considering I can find “free” copies of many SF books online, scanned in by a volunteer army of archivists, it’s unfortunate that a paid version has such mistakes. But, I’ll comment on the rest of the book once I read more. The Kindle version does have jump links for the TOC, and overall I am much happier with the Kindle book on the iPad than on the actual Kindle Rev1.

Very nice e-reader for books. I was curious about opening a PDF of a reference book I have, and found the quite usable GoodReader app, which has built-in help and has clear instructions on how to open PDF, TXT, pictures, etc., and how to transfer files via USB or Wi-Fi.

Also, one of the tips found in the welcome e-mail from Apple this morning was a tip on how to highlight and bookmark passages in the iBooks reader, which goes like this: Keep track of your favorite book passages. To create a bookmark in iBooks, double-tap and drag to highlight a passage, then tap Bookmark. At the top of the Table of Contents, Bookmarks lists all saved passages.

Of the other more mainstream apps, I am really fond of all of those I played with, including the Netflix app, which let me load and play a movie from my queue, but very unlike the PS3 player — which only lets you play from your queue, not actually choose films — the iPad app lets you do both. In fact, I can search for films, add to my playlist, and then on my PS3 they are there to watch. Nice.

The Weather Channel app worked very well for me, although earlier versions seem to have had problems according to feedback in the iTunes app store. Worked brilliantly for me. If you wanted “real weather” information versus the little thing on your iTouch, this is the real deal.

I had never used Pandora before, since I have over 1,200 legal albums in my iTunes library and have been using the Napster to go service the last couple of years since my brother turned my on to that. Still, it only took a second to create an account, type in Thomas Dolby, and I was instantly listening to Dolby followed by Talk Talk. I miss the ’80s.

So far, the iPad is everything I had hoped for. I have not yet delved too much into the productivity apps like Apple Pages, or played the pinball game I purchased, but even now I can see this is going to be a great relationship. Another home run for Apple, all the way around the field.

Article is Copr. © 2010 by Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Article originally appeared on

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Waking up to the iPad Wi-Fi+3G – Part One

ARTICLE: I pre-ordered my new Apple iPad 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G, and so it arrived yesterday afternoon (Friday). But, being busy this morning was my first opportunity to connect and sync to my iTunes PC, explore some Apps, and setup the general capabilities of this nifty new gizmo. Wow, very cool. I have zero buyer’s remorse. My hope is this will be the perfect ebook reader, portable video device, “new toy,” and also useful in case my Verizon FIOS connections die (it happens), and for things like controlling my Playstation 3 (“there’s an app for that”). The additional 3G connection is something I decided to wait for, over the standard Wi-Fi model.

First off, let me back up and admit I have been a Mac (Apple) fan since the days of the Apple II as a kid (I could only afford an Atari 800, then later a Commodore 64), when the first Macs came out I was doing graphic design and photography and lusted after the pricey Macintosh. When the Atari 1040ST came out, it was the best I could afford since a color capable Mac was very expensive. When I started working for a Apple retailer (Creative Computers) in California, I was first on the block to have a Powerbook 100, later moving to a Mac SE30, and then discovered the “factory refurb” models which made last year’s Macs super affordable. Soon that led to a Quadra 840AV, then a 9500, then a Blue/White PowerPC, then a G4. When I moved to Windows XP, I still always had a Mac, first the “Wallstreet” Mac notebook (the same one you see in Sex in the City and Independence Day, and the first Mission Impossible movie); then when the first 17-inch aluminum Intel Core2 OSX notebook came out, I got that and still use it today.

Christopher Simmons iPad 3G 64GB

I was using iTunes before it was called iTunes back when I had it running on a spare Mac 7200 which wasn’t good for much else, and had a paltry 500MB (not GB) hard drive. When the iPod came out, I was one of the first to own the 15GB white model, and when the iPod touch came out, I got it the day after Apple shipped the pre-orders. So, as you see I’m a bit of a computer guy, and Macs have helped me earn a living, compose music, publish a book, build hundreds of Web sites, and until about 2005 when I moved primarily to Windows for my daily work (typing on one now), Mac was my computing platform of choice. Apple has always provided a superb “out of box” experience, although it’s clear the company continues to evolve into a price conscious consumer products company and lifestyle brand, and less and less “the Mac company.”

This is even clear when opening up the box for the iPad. Gone are all the wonderful accouterments from the early days like the iPod 15GB, which had a dock, plastic rain case, instruction booklet, belt holster, earphones, and more. As the years have gone by when you now buy an iPod you pretty much get the device and the warranty card, a power connector, and not much else (I currently have four, including the white 15GB which needed a new battery a couple of years back, the little metallic square nano model, and the black 60GB color screen model — and the iTouch first generation). Similarly, the iPad is just the iPad in the box (still nicely wrapped in plastic as all Apple products have come for years now), a quickstart sheet, the warranty info, a power adapter and the now standard Apple USB cable. And, true to “classic Apple,” you still get the Apple stickers.

I had to buy a case, the normal dock, the keyboard dock, and pre-ordered the new Griffin horizontal dock (more on that next time). I had a cleaning shammy for the screen I had already bought for the iPod touch that has microfibers so as to not scratch screen (this should have been included with the iPad, frankly).

While this is all fairly normal for an Apple devotee, a new user might be confused as to what to do in setting up with iTunes (as is now typical no CD is included with software, so you have to understand how to go to Apple’s Web site, and download the software and install it, and then connect the iPad via USB cable to your PC, then iTunes will “see” the iPad and sync it).

Similarly there are no printed instructions describing how to enable your AT&T connection or Wi-Fi, although tech savvy folks will be able to simply go to “settings” on the main iPad screen, go to connections, and enter the security key for your local Wi-Fi router. If you don’t have a local Wi-Fi connection, the iPad is smart enough to popup a note about setting up your account with AT&T for the 3G connection. Since I had a strong Wi-Fi local network, mine didn’t even make me that offer. Smart.

To Apple’s credit, if you go down to your local Apple store, they will help walk you through anything you need to do to get started, and this is also why so many people were waiting in line at the nearby store this morning to buy theirs. So, I’m not the only one this morning syncing my iPad to my iTunes account, checking out the “apps” and seeing how it works.

First thoughts: Wow. Very cool. For those of us who have been wanting a “bigger iTouch,” this is it. On the nose. Built in speaker means you don’t have to use earbuds (unlike my iPod touch) and it fits comfortably in the hand like a magazine. The black rim around the edges of the screen gives you a perfect place for putting your thumbs when using it (lots of fingerprints already, wipe it again with my cleaning cloth). Video looks amazing, supporting 720p HD video. And normal video looks good, too. I had a purchased copy of the South Park Movie, and I had a couple of 720p movie trailers and they look gorgeous.

Since I had an old MobileMe account I hadn’t used lately, I went ahead and set that up, and it only took a moment. Cool, instant email without conflicting with my Gmail, and I don’t need to worry with connecting to my company mail server (I’m self-employed, own my own Web servers, so have lots of email options to choose from). I kind of miss the old “” email accounts, but the “” is fine, too. Apple is not just Mac anymore, welcome to the second decade of the 21st Century.

The one thing I found missing from the iPad, and perhaps the most definitive indication that “it’s not a Mac, dummy,” is that the number of included applications is very small. Perhaps less than a normal iPhone or touch. For those of us who have grown used to the wealth of applications for imaging, music, writing, and video included with any Mac (it’s one of the things that helps justify the higher cost of a new Mac vs. the usual cheapo Windows-based PC — real software not bloatware), it seems somehow a cheat to not see a whole slew of “ready to go” applications.

Even the book reader requires you first sync to your iTunes account, then download the iBooks reader from the app store. Certainly this forces you to learn how to drink the Apple kool-aid, but if you are used to an Amazon Kindle, it’s a few extra steps before you can get to scouting the book shelf. It is worth mentioning that the impending OS 4 update for the touch-capable Apple devices will likely include the basic applications at the get-go.

On the plus side it does force you to first have an account in the iTunes store, and perhaps it’s better to manage your credit card data there from your Mac/PC than entering that data on your iPad over a phone network. Anyway… once you launch the iBooks app, you have access to Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, complete with illustrations, to test out the reading capability. Nice.

So, how does it play as an e-book reader? Simple answer: I love it. I’ve been writing about the future of e-books for many years now, and I bought the Amazon Kindle when it first arrived, and I sent it back as the latency when going from page to page was awful for me since I have a pseudo-eidetic memory, which basically means every latent image gets burned into my brain and sticks there and I see it in my mind and that conflicts with visualizing a faraway place in the story I’m reading. Couldn’t deal with it. The e-ink page was lovely, but the latent negative image for each page turn was something I couldn’t get past. I looked at a newer model, and it was better but not perfect. A friend tells me his “Nook” from Barnes&Noble doesn’t have that issue, but I haven’t seen it. I haven’t looked at the Sony readers the past couple of years either. I’ve been waiting on the iPad. And it’s here. I’m holding it. Yeehah!

As I was saying, or typing, I’m looking at the Pooh book while I’m typing this. I love the page turning interface, simply being able to drag my finger across is just right. I also like the fact that after you sit with it a little bit, the screen dims just slightly so that the brightness level isn’t on full as with the menu screens. Nice.

In checking out the iBooks store, there are many new books and the NY Times list, but we’re still a long way off from being able to find and buy the books we want, much like the early days of the iTunes store (which should be due for a renaming next year since movies, rentals, audiobooks, and books are not exactly “tunes”). The iBooks store is separate from the main iTunes store right now which can be either annoying or a good idea for now, depending on your point of view. Frankly, the iTunes store used to be easier to shop when it was just music and the front page was all about the new music, but now it’s getting to be a bit like the old AOL (America Online) launch screens, with so many choices, and not the easiest to engage with just one genre. The movie/TV area is actually simpler to use than the music area. And, the “App store” area is a bit cumbersome. Searching for things takes into account the entire space and not just the section you’re in, which can be a bit annoying.

Tonight and tomorrow I’ll spend more time playing with the apps. To start with, I got the following from the app store (all are free, except a couple):
1) iBooks – free
2) ABC Player (to play ABC TV content) – free
3) Amazon Kindle app – free
4) Netflix app – free (requires Netflix account, obviously)
5) Pandora music player – free
6) pocket BLU (for my PS3, haven’t tried it yet) – free
7) Pinball HD (pinball game) $cost
8) IMDb app – free
9) iELECTRIBE – virtual drum machine $cost
10) Weather Channel weather app – free.

I also changed my background to one of the built-in leafy backdrops. My one gripe is not having a “horizontal dock” included with the iPad, as that would be nifty for watching a movie on your desk. You notice this immediately when you start a movie, while it sits upright on the basic Apple dock (which I happen to like, since it will also be nice for my iPod touch). Griffin has announced a nifty horizontal dock, and I pre-ordered one.

So far, so good. I’ll post an update tomorrow once I’ve watched some video, bought and read a book a little bit, watched something from Netflix, and played some Pinball. What a cool little device.

Update: in my email box this morning (Sunday) I got a nice email from Apple thanking me for my purchase with links to guided tours on how to use the iPad. This is the “how to” that I was expecting to find on the front page of the iPad itself, but these are all great tutorials. See: .

Article is Copr. © 2010 by Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Story originally appeared on

Articles Technology

Apple Unveils the new iPad – the 21st Century Mac, iBook Reader, and Portable Playground

ARTICLE: Well, it’s finally here. I can stop holding my breath, crossing my toes, and praying to the mighty Mr. Jobs that we’ve finally have something like an iPod, only, er, bigger. It’s here, it’s real, and now the Apple fan(atics) all over the Web can stop “guessing” as to what it will be and what it will cost. Surprise, starting at $499, this thing will rock. Consider I paid over $300 for my original white iPod (10GB?) back at end of 2001 (early 2002, I forget). Consider I paid almost $1,000 for my first Apple notebook in the early ’90s. And being the first on the block to own an iPod Touch wasn’t that much less than the iPad’s entry point. And it’s so much more. Bigger screen, real CPU power to do things that were, perhaps, less than they could be on the iPhone/iTouch (like multi-track audio/MIDI, or video). Games. And, yes, books!

First impressions. My credit card is out of my wallet, and I typed in my email for Apple to “let me know” when I can order one on their website. More specs below, but you can find all of that at – so you don’t need me to spell out every goodie in detail when Apple can do a better job themselves (um, pun intended). Yes, it’s basically a big iPod/iPhone, but with much more power (a custom 1GHz processor, from one of the tech firms Apple acquired over the past couple of years to develop just such tech without having to go to AMD or Intel, or even IBM who provided most of Apple’s 20th century silicon).

From the presentations and videos I’ve seen, the ebook store to buy books, and the new iBook application (not to be confused with the notebooks called iBooks) look really beautiful, and I’m excited to try the iPad for this purpose, as I sent back my original firt generation Amazon Kindle due to the form factor, but primarily the refresh lag on the display when switching pages — my brain is pseudo-idetic, and for every page turn, my brain would take a little snapshot of the reversed out page before the new one could appear. Simply couldn’t deal with it. I know the latest generation is much better, but I have been waiting for Apple to try its hand at this.

Back in 2004 I did a roundtable interview/article on “the future of e-books” where I posited that what the e-book (or ebook) industry really needed was a great reading application to take off and succeed. Amazon has done that with Kindle, because they followed Apple’s model with the iPod of making sure you had “food” for your device at a reasonable price, and with relative ease in acquisition (unless you’re totally clueless and still can’t cook popcorn in your microwave). What make this the right time for Apple is a no-brainer: they have the design and usability skills, they have a whole generation of users “in pocket” who are familiar with the iPod/iTouch/iPhone, and many of those are second generation folk who first fell in love with the Mac/Apple culture with the iMac as kids.

Us older folks who had SE30s, Quadras and PowerPCs (but, ahem, who use Windows PCs daily now), were early adopters of the iPod as it originally only worked on Mac. Many of us who came from that space of trust jumped on the iPhone when the entire business and tech, and telecom, communities expected it to fail (or “epic fail” if you will pardon what is the most loathsome phrase in social media right now). But, no, the iPhone took off and has become the most recognized, and perhaps the only “loved” multimedia portable, outside of the Blackberry (crackberry) cadre, who are mostly business-oriented folks and not the average joe, or the right brained sort (pardon me if I’m mis-labeling you). But, I’m getting off topic. Point is … it’s happening again right now, with the media saying Apple can’t succeed with the iPad, there’s too many others bringing tablets to market, and what about the Kindle, blah blah, blah, woof. So what. Apple has the chops to make the hardware, do the software, and they have the user base, the ecommerce system in place, and they can deliver what others like Microsoft and Sony have failed to follow through with.

Basic pricing:
16GB 32GB 64GB
Wi-Fi $499 $599 $699
Wi-Fi + 3G $629 $729 $829

Basic specs:
Size and weight
9.56 inches (242.8 mm)
7.47 inches (189.7 mm)
0.5 inch (13.4 mm)
1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) Wi-Fi model;
1.6 pounds (0.73 kg) Wi-Fi + 3G model

* 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
* 1024-by-768-pixel resolution at 132 pixels per inch (ppi).


iPad Keyboard Dock: The Keyboard Dock combines a dock for charging your iPad with a full-size keyboard. The dock has a rear 30-pin connector, which lets you connect to an electrical outlet using the USB Power Adapter, sync to your computer, and use accessories like the Camera Connection Kit. An audio jack lets you connect to a stereo or powered speakers.

Brilliant. Look for a review in 2-4 months when I have one!

Article is Copr. © 2010 by Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Originally appeard on