21

Aug

by WhereIF

Five GuysI am still on my quest to find the best burger around. There are really three awards, Best Fast Food Burger, Best Restaurant Burger and Best Overall Burger. No, I am not including homemade burgers.

So far, on my quest I have sampled burgers from places like: Carl’s Jr., McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, Jack-in-the-Box, BJ’s Brewhouse, Rockbottom Brewery, The Britannia Arms, Johnny Rockets, Fuddruckers, Red Robin, Chili’s, and the list goes on. By the end of the year I will dedicate a podcast to my burger experience.

Yesterday I visited a new contender in the Bay Area: Five Guys. This is a chain that has been around in other parts of the country for a long time. They are new to the West Coast, however. The shocking and controversial news recently from Zagat’s is that Five Guys is the best fast food burger in America, ousting the home town favorite In-N-Out. Now, anyone who knows me at all, has listened to my podcast, read my blog, or follows my Titter feed, knows full well that I believe that In-N-Out is the most overrated burger in America! With a burger connoisseur buddy, @kevincrossman, I ventured into what some call a burger paradise.

The Environment

Your surroundings can have an impact on your burger experience. Should it? We can argue that later… Anyway, I thought that Five Guys reminded me of a mix of Johnny Rockets and In-N-Out. It has a fast food joint look from the 50s. Fairly stark, clean and full of potatoes! What? Potatoes? Yes, that is what I said. Apparently they are very proud of using Idaho potatoes. The lobby is filled with bags and bags of them! The bags are arranged in such a way that it marks the boundary between the line and cashiers and those just scoping out the menu.

There were far too many quotes of how great Five Guys is for my liking. Zagat reviews on the wall, quotes from national and local reviewers on the walls. Who are they trying to convince, me or themselves? I am hoping that this isn’t the typical decor and that it is only because they are brand new to this area. Still, it put me off.

They have a box of peanuts that you can freely partake of while you wait. I am not sure why this is a good idea. Peanuts in a burger place? I mean, unless there are arcade games around or they serve beer, what the heck are they thinking?

The Menu

The menu is simple, which is fine with me. No need to mess with your focus. Compared to In-N-Out, Five Guys does have a bit larger selection. They have hamburgers, cheese and bacon, so you can order a burger in any combination of those items. You can also order the burgers in little sizes, I assume for kids. They have a hot dog, cheese dog and bacon cheese dog. They have a grilled cheese sandwich and something veggie. I don’t know if it was a veggie wrap or veggie burger. Honestly, every time my eyes strayed to the veggie item, it burned my eyes and made my head hurt. Why have such an abomination in a burger joint? I mean, if you are a meatasaurus why would you drag your chlorophyll loving friends here? Seriously?!?!?

Anyway… I was impressed with the toping choices. Five Guys has all the classics: ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickles, onions and such. They also have grilled onions, jalapenos, A1, grilled mushrooms, hot sauce, BBQ Sauce and green peppers. Nice selection!

The fries come in two sizes which are basically big or bigger. They come in two styles: cajun and normal.

As for drinks, Five Guys has the normal assortment of fountain drinks. One addition, they did have caffeine free Diet Coke at the fountain. You don’t see that very often. Something shocking: They do NOT have shakes. This is, in my professional opinion, a HUGE miss. They have unneeded extras like a veggie sandwich and grilled cheese but no chocolate shake? I thought they were supposed to be serious?

This isn't my actual burger, but it could be its long lost twin!

My Order

I ordered the bacon cheese burger with ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickles, lettuce, tomato and grilled onions. I also got regular fries and a Diet Coke. Yeah, that’s right, a Diet Coke. Deal with it.

The Fries

I’ll start with the fries. Basically, they were good. Unlike those nasty, cardboard-like, denizens from potato hell that In-N-Out doles out, Five Guys fries are tasty. They are not the best fries in the world, but worthy of being categorized as Good Eats. They are thick, almost like steak fries, but just shy of crossing that line. My regular sized fries had tons! Way more than I should have eaten.

The Burger

First, let me start with the good. It was big. I almost had to unhinge my jaw and go all python on it. Also, the bacon was EXCELLENT! Crisp, thick enough and tasty! Best bacon in a fast food place ever, hands down. I was in awe over how they made the meat… instead of one patty, they made two smaller patties. In between these two mini-meat mines, they melted the cheese. Brilliant!!! Well, it seemed brilliant at the time…

My first bite, I was not in heaven, but I thought it was a good burger. My main focus on that first bite was the great bacon! As I eased out of my bacon bliss, I began to realize that the burger itself had some major flaws. Originally, I thought the two smaller patty idea was a good one. Turns out, not so much.

I know that fast food burger places will never have nice thick burgers like you make at home or get at a full service restaurant. I also know that due to health reasons and the fact that their patties are thin, fast food places cook their burgers well done. So, knowing this, making your burger patty smaller and thinner is not a good idea. It didn’t even seem like the meat was kneaded and massaged into a decent patty. They were barley smushed lumps of ground beef. Without my pile of condiments, the burger would have been dry.

That brings me to the bun. Just like at In-N-Out, they grill the inside of the bun. This is a good thing in my ratings book. That is the only good thing that I can say about the bun. I did not care for the taste of it. Now, a good bun can certainly enhance a burger and bring it to new heights. At the very least, you can get away with a substandard bun as long as it does its job, namely: HOLD THE CONTENTS OF THE BURGER TOGETHER! Why did I yell that? Because the flimsy, weak-ass bun that Five Guys gave me can’t even do that. Less than halfway through my meal it started falling apart. I have no problem with a good, messy burger, but that is only when things fall out of the sides. When it is messy because it falls apart, that is an entirely different story. Epic bun fail!

The Verdict and Rating

Five Guys hardly has the best fast food burger in America. As you already know, I do not worship at the altar of In-N-Out, so I have no hidden burger agenda when I say that Five Guys Burgers and Fries is not better than In-N-Out Burger. Although, even with its annoyances I did think it was a decent burger. It wasn’t an embarrassment, Five Guys is just not as good as its reputation. If I was with friends who wanted to go to Five Guys, I could deal with that. I just would not seek Five Guys out on my own.

To be fair to them, I will try Five Guys one more time before my big burger podcast. Thank goodness they have bacon, it really does make everything better!

WhereIF Rating: 3 sets of wings out of 5.

3 out of 5

2

Dec

by WhereIF

Neverwhere: A NovelThis is another stellar job by Neil Gaiman! American Gods was my fist serious foray into the world of Neil Gaiman. I fell in love and it was moved into the category of one of the best books that I had ever read. When it came to Neverwhere, I had already read a handful of Gaiman’s other works. Although I enjoyed everything I have read from him, I was not sure I would enjoy a book as much as I enjoyed American Gods.

Anansi Boys was also quite good, but Neverwhere had a different feel to it than the other works of his that I read. Oh, Neverwhere is distinctly Gaiman, but at the same time he takes you in a different direction. You can see the influences Neverwhere had on both American Gods and Anansi Boys. As much as I revere American Gods, for me, it is not a re-read novel. I’ll certainly return to it again one day. Neverwhere, however, is for me, a novel that will not get old.

I grew up enjoying roll playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons, Gamma World, Twilight 2000 and Call of Cthulhu. I thought that Neverwhere had a real RPG feel to it. I could easily see this as a much better RPG than Call of Cthulhu.  Hmmm, a new business opportunity. 😉

The Marquis de Carabas is an excellent character and has now become one of my favorite literary figures of all-time! The duo of Mr. Croup and Vandemar are also a treat. I’d love for Gaiman to explore more of the world of London Below. It would also be interesting to know what became of Richard Mayhew. Since reading I have heard rumor and conjecture that there will either be a sequel or a companion novel set in the world of London Below, although it will likely be in a different “Below” setting (meaning, not London but some other city’s Below world). I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

WhereIF Rating: 5 sets of wings out of 5, our highest possible rating!

5 of 5

Einstein: His Life and UniverseI had put off reading this for a long time. Einstein is someone I am interested in, but enough to read an entire biography? WOW was I surprised how good this book was! If you think this book is all about physics and relativity, you are wrong.

Einstein was a complex, loving, flawed, amazing individual. From his boyhood in Germany through his struggles in Switzerland back to Germany to his eventual residence in America at Princeton University, Walter Isaacson brings us on an incredible journey into the life and mind of a seminal character in our human evolution. We learn of his politics, faith, cultural impact, philosophy of science, lustrous affairs, powers of abstraction, secret daughter and how he helped shape science for the rest of human history. All while dealing with rockstar fame in the second half of his life!

Seriously, I really didn’t think I would get drawn into this book as much as I did. Einstein’s personal life was fascinating. Did you know he was asked to be President of Israel? For those who are interested in his science and theories, that is in the book as well. The book takes us through Einstein’s major thought experiments, his Theory of GEneral Relativity, Theory of Special Relativity and more. Isaacson has the ability to give us Einstein’s science in a manageable and understandable way. You will not get lost in Physics while reading this book.

Einstein: His Life and Universe should not be missed. Learning about the humanity of one of the foremost minds the Earth has produced is worth the time.

WhereIF Rating: 5 sets of wings out of 5, our highest possible rating.

5 of 5

16

Nov

by WhereIF

Twilight PosterAs we approach the release of the next movie in the Twilight saga, let me post a review I wrote and posted on Facebook back in August after I finally watched the Twilight movie with my wife. I have updated and added some content to my original review.

First let me start by stating three things:

  • I have not read the books, remember this is just a review of the movie, not the books
  • I understand I am not the target audience
  • The book is normally better than the movie (not always, just read the abysmal Chronicles of Narnia series and you’ll see how much better the movies have been)

This was a horrible movie from start to finish. I am not interested in hearing about how much better the books were. I will concede that the books are probably really good. One day I’ll take a stab at them, but I have other books on my list first.

Given #3 above, there have been movies that have been pretty darn good based on really good books. Where did Twilight go wrong? I think we could spend all day picking the movie apart, so here is my list of the big problems with this movie:

1. The Cast

I did not like he casting at all. Bella (Kristen Stewart) was awful. I will say that over the course of the movie she grew on me. By the end she was not annoying me as much as in the beginning.

Edward (Robert Pattinson) was abysmal. Not only was he an awful actor, but he is not good looking. He had some kind of Johnny Depp 21 Jumpstreet wannabe kind of look going on. I don’t have a problem going with no-name actors, but he was the best they could find?

The rest of the cast was mainly just as bad. James (Cam Gigandet) cold have been a great character in the movie, but he was wasted (he was Twilight’s Darth Maul). Jessica (Anna Kendrick) was the only other character in the movie I liked. She played her part well, although that is not saying much.

2. The Acting (see the cast, above)

3. The Screenplay/Directing/Editing

The books may be great, but the writing for the movie was terrible. The plot didn’t move along it was just pushed along by various scene cuts. This Perfect Storm of bad Screenplay/Directing/Editing is probably to blame for a lot of the poor acting, let’s face it, the actors didn’t have much to work with. That being said, it was still poor casting (Edward).

I understand that it is all but impossible to capture the book completely without making a 6 hour opus, but the screenplay really missed the mark. How do I know this without reading the book? My wife made sure to tell me while we were watching the movie! Every 10-15 minutes she gave a groan and said something like, “That is not how it happened” or “They messed that part up.” This was the 3rd time my wife watched the movie and she has read the complete series of books three times as well (including the version of Twilight written from Edward’s point of view).

A good comparison to give us some context: Look at the DaVinci Code. For my money, a decent movie. Did it do the book justice? No. The first 15 minutes of the movie took 20+ chapters to tell in the book. Harry Potter & Lord of the Rings are some recent examples of really good book adaptations for the silver screen. It can be done.

4. The Romance

So, I was told the romance should have carried the story. Due to #1, #2 and #3 above, there was no believable romance for me. I am a sappy, romance movie liker. It wasn’t there. My wife told me that the scene in the movie where they lie down in the field was a huge, awesome part of the book. In the move it just plain missed. Bella and Edward did not connect on screen. EVER!

Conclusion

So, all-in-all, it was a pretty poor movie. Given that it has vampires in it, it should be inherently cool. If the books had not been a phenomenon this movie would have flopped and no talk of a second one would be out there. I am also not a tweener or a Gen X mom, so this movie was not targeting me, so it wasn’t likely to resonate well with me anyway.

Another possibility I still have to keep in mind… When I finally do ready the books someday, I may find that they really weren’t that good either. That is a review for another time. Until then , I will go with the assumption that they were as good as people (the Gen X moms I know) say.

Now, I noticed they canned the director of the first movie and hired someone else for New Moon, which comes out this weekend. I have to say, the previews seem decent. New Moon has the potential to shed the stink of Twilight. I’ll let my wife watch it two or three times before I give it a go. 🙂

Twilight did give me the opportunity to insert a new phrase into my repertoire, “Wow, that was Twilight bad!”

Where Icarus Flies Review: 1/2 of a set of wings out of 5 (our lowest rating possible)

angel-wings-half

V RebootIt has almost been a week since ABC broadcast the reboot pilot for V (for those not in the know, that is an uppercase letter V not the roman numeral 5). This has given me time to digest the pilot episode and give a fair review. Before I get there, let me give some very brief background on the various V series. I do not intend to write plot summaries, except a brief one for the first mini-series, in order to set the stage.

The Original Mini-Series

In 1983, NBC release a two night mini-series, V (for simplicity, I will call this V:The Original for the remainder of this post). V:The Original was the brainchild of writer, producer and director Kenneth Johnson. It is about an alien race, which call themselves “The Visitors,” who come to Earth pretending to be our friends and who need our help to revive their ailing homeworld, but who ultimately want to enslave humanity and take over the planet. Humans are mostly a food source for The Visitors. A news journalist camera man, Mike Donovan (who is played by none other than The Beastmaster himself, Marc Singer) discovers The Visitor’s secret and with others, tries to warn the world. In the meantime, The Visitors turn the world into a Nazi Germany type place, turing family against family and using the children to start a Nazi like Visitor Youth squad.

Were the special effects cheese? Yes (by our current standards, anyway). Was it more like a Soap Opera? Yes. Was it wonderful? Hell yes!

The Final Battle

V:The Original was very popular. According to Joe Flint and the Los Angeles Times, V:The Original posted a 25.4 Nielsen Rating. Although that does not crack the top 100 ratings of all time, it is still a very good rating. To put that into perspective, TV’s current #1 Show, NCIS, generally gets a 10-12 Nielsen rating each week. Due to this popularity, Kenneth Johnson produced V:The Final Battle in 1984. It was set a few months after V:The Original and had all the main stars back in their roles for the three night event. After searching hi and low, I could not find information on ratings for this, but I remember it to have not been awesome but also not embarrassing. In my memory it was decent and most folks thought the same.

The TV Series

Due to the popularity of V:The Original and V:The Final Battle, NBC decided to make a TV series in 1984-1985. Although I personally enjoyed the series, I will admit it was ill-concieved and was ultimately cancelled. Kenneth Johnson was not involved with the weekly series and it was a shock to the producers that the show was cancelled. Instead of trying to wrap-up the show quickly for the fan’s sake, the season ended in a cliff hanger, which was never resolved.

On a side note, in 2008 Kenneth Johnson released the novel V:The Second Generation. Set 20 years after V:The Original, it disregards both V:The Final Battle and the original V:The Series.

ABC’s Reboot

Although some reboots have been successful, the new Battlestar Galactica and J.J. Abrhams’ Star Trek come to mind as recent examples. Far more remakes and reboots have been awful, The Bionic Woman and Knight Rider jump out as present-day failures. I won’t get started on the parade of horrific movies made from old TV series.

So, what about ABC’s offering (which I will call V:The Reboot)? Let me start with a couple of quotes from friends of mine. Chris Shannon says, “I’m not sure how I’m going to scrub the stink off my TV. Sooooo bad. If you missed it, don’t worry, just watch last week’s commercial and I think you got everything of importance, except the bad pacing.” While Brian Olsen adds, “It was rapid-fire plot point to plot point, with no depth. It felt like an hour-long ‘Last week on V…'” My own feelings echo theirs. Watching V:The Reboot made my television bleed Velveeta!

I think both Chris and Brian nailed it. The entire episode was running from plot point to plot point with no story in between. It was like they were told that they had to get to a certain point by the end of the pilot, plot be damned! The cinematography was bad and I do not like the casting choices that they made. I don’t mind them rewriting the story a bit and making the main character a woman FBI agent instead of a male TV cameraman (among other changes). I just don’t think that Elizabeth Mitchel (from ABC’s Lost) can pull of that character. Joel Gretsch (USA’s The 4400) could not sell the role of Father Jack Landry, a Catholic Priest who does not believe in The Visitor’s motives. For some reason I just can’t take Scott Wolf (ABC’s Party of Five) seriously as a TV news anchor. As Anna, leader of The Visitors, Morena Baccarin (Firefly, but who I remember more as Adria from Stargate: SG-1), lacks the charm crossed sinister with an added dash of sultry that Jane Badler had as the original Diana, leader of The Visitors.

A friend asked me if I was just trying to compare the new series with my childhood memory of the original. Although that may be true to some extent, I was open to liking this new telling. As I stated above, I really WANTED to like the new version. As a corollary, I really WANTED to hate the new Battlestar Galactica, but I couldn’t. It was blow-you-away awesome from the get-go. So it wasn’t that V:The Reboot could not compare to the old. It just isn’t well done. The writing, acting and visuals were very sub-par. The new V pilot was just not good. At one point I thought that they may have hired the ABC After-School Special writers!

Is there hope?

There were a few spots that made me think there *could* be hope. A former student of mine pointed out that a great many times the pilot is much worse than the rest of the series. Thinking about it, there have been many times I cringe when watching the pilot, but the series turned out okay. Also, some series just need time to develop. Star Trek:The Next Generation is an excellent example. Most of season 1 is trash. Regurgitated TOS plots (Star Trek:The Original Series, for those not in the know), poor writing, embarrassing sets and more. Oh, I’ll get hate mail for saying that, but you know that I am right! I am a HUGE Star Trek fan. Some of the TNG episodes are examples of Science Fiction at its best, so I don’t dump on the first season lightly. Although, I never questioned the casting in TNG, like I do for V:The Reboot.

Final Rating

I will keep watching, because I have hope that things will gel and a better product will emerge. The ratings for the pilot were decent, but there was also a lot of buzz around the reboot. I am predicting a huge drop-off this week. Unless they find their groove and raise the bar for quality, it won’t finish the season. So for now, I can only give V:The Reboot 1.5 sets of wings out of 5.

1.5 sets of wings out of 5— Bill


1

Nov

by WhereIF

Wordpress LogoI just installed WordPress for iPhone 2 and have used it to write this post. It is a pretty simple interface. It let’s you manage posts, comments and pages. The functionality is pretty light, but it is a good start.

Cons so far: I have only been using it for a very short time on my iPhone 3GS and it has crashed 3 times. Not a very good track record. I would also like to have more control over pictures that I want to add to posts. It looks like pictures can only be inserted at the end of your post. I would also like to see a little more from the text editor. The ability to bold and add lists would also be nice.

When you open your WordPress blog from the app, you are connected to your blog’s comments. I’d like to be able to change this default behavior. I guess they assume most folks will want to use the app to manage their comments more than working on posts.

I don’t know how much posting that I will do from my iPhone, but it could be useful. Of course, I can use mobile Safari to edit my blog, but managing it through an iPhone app just seems more sophisticated!

Note: I moved the WordPress image to the top of my post via the browser-based editor after posting the article. I also added the ratings image using the browser editor.

Final rating on the initial release? I give it 2.5 sets of wings out of 5. I’ll stick with it to see how it improves.

2.5 out of 5 sets of wings