Tuesday, November 30, 2010

United 93 (2006): Not an Ordinary Everyday Movie

United 93
United 93 is not a conventional Hollywood movie. And if you've already known the film is about the planes hijacked on 9/11, you might not be surprised so much that United 93 is not a usual motion picture. It is not a movie for everyone and it is not a "must see" film for cinema lovers. It is about a dreadful day in the lives of all people living in the United States, a day that has made actual a lot of important issues all over the World. But it is understandable if not everyone is interested in that day and a movie dedicated to its victims.

To start with, United 93 lacks any renowned actors. Obviously, this has been done on purpose. The director Paul Greengrass seems to have chosen less famous cast in order to present more trustworthily the tragic story of unprepared people and country. In addition, there are no leading actors or actresses and there are no characters standing out from the rest either.

We are not going to introduce the plot because United 93 seems in many ways closer to a documentary rather than being a standard feature film. The lack of celebrated actors easily helps this purpose but there is more to it than just the unknown cast. As we've already noted, there are no leads. There are no back stories of the characters. There is no character development. You pretty much know what will happen since you've already read or heard about it a thousand times. There is no finger pointing, no bad or good guys. It's like the director and you are just watching some events happening on the screen. In a way, they seem like they are really happening and sometimes like being in real time.

Speaking of United 93's quality in pure cinematic aspect, there are two directions we might take. If we take the "bad" one, we have to say that the plot is not so good. Sure, it is a real life story but that's why we rarely see movies based on such stories. Real life stories usually do not fit directly for the screen without some altering and polishing. When a film shows a strong documentary flavor, naturally the story lacks a lot in terms of a good plot. To go even further, if all those 9/11 tragic events had not actually happened, the movie would have been greatly criticized about its plot being a mess. Portraying events that everyone knows also makes a motion picture completely predictable. And that it is not the best film out there speaks also the fact United 93 has not shown any considerable box office success although depicting such important moments of the recent American history.

On the other hand, even if the plot is a mess and would have been quite inaccessible if being fictitious, knowing that it is about something real and well-known automatically clarifies what otherwise would have been rather obscure narrative. It's clear that Paul Greengrass has intentionally decided to make the movie this way, without adding some extra spice or surprises. He has directed the film quite well and cinematography work is just fine. And although the events are not surprising, United 93 is still interesting to watch.

So, in pure moviemaking aspect and not considering its documentary side, United 93 would have been just a well-executed film upon not such a good screenplay. But when the documentary value of the movie is considered, it gains some well-deserved credit with ease. And when it comes to the emotional side of United 93, the film wins an immediate advantage over regular feature films. If there has been an Academy Award for emotional impact, it surely would have gone to this movie in 2007. The film should have deeply touched almost every American citizen who has seen it along with many other people around the world while going once again through the tragic events of 9/11.

If you feel in a mood for watching intense portions of what has happened during that unfortunate day, United 93 is a film that may get your attention. If you think it has already been talked or written quite too much on that subject and you are not interested in those events (anymore), you may skip the movie without feeling unnecessary guilt.

Examine the Review Maze to find other movie articles.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Inception Ending Interpretations

Attention! Spoilers below!

So, if you've watched the Inception movie and if you're still trying to decipher the ending, you should have already noticed that you are not the only one in the world. There are a lot of discussions on the web about what exactly happened and there is a variety of possible endings.

While I think that the movie was entertaining to watch, there were still some issues with it. I do not intend to discuss them here except for the ending.

In my opinion an ending leading to a couple of possible interpretations is often considered original and interesting. The problem I see with the Inception's ending is that the possible interpretations are quite too many. There are also a couple of Inception's ending treatments coming to my mind that I haven't come across anywhere else that's why I'll try to list all of my interpretations here. And I think there are not substantial proofs in the movie sufficient to turn down any of those possible endings.

So, here is the list of all Inception endings coming to my mind (not ordered by any particular sign):

1. Cobb is still dreaming and he is in the limbo. Skilled Ariadne has designed a happy world for him and he continues his dreaming however he is not aware of this. I don't think this interpretation is quite probable but still, it is not impossible.

2. Cobb is still dreaming and he is in the limbo. Saito is also in the limbo that's why Cobb decided to stay there and have a "happy" life with his children and probably with his wife too because if Saito stays in the limbo, Cobb could not reunite with his children in the real life. Cobb behaves like a dreaming man in the ending so it could be interpreted he is aware that what is happening is not real. I don't think this interpretation is quite probable either but again it is not impossible.

3. Cobb is still dreaming but on level 0. This should be the reality level but if we look at the spinning totem we could assume that the reality is also a dream. In this case either Cobb himself or somebody else is constructing this happy dream.

4. Cobb is still dreaming but on level 1. For some reason he couldn't save Saito that's why it is impossible to be happy in the real world. Thus, Ariadne creates a dream world for him on level 1 - not very probable but not impossible also.

5. Cobb is in the real world. Everything described in the movie has actually happen and Saito has made the phone call to secure the happy ending.

6. Cobb is in the real world. There is not any dream technology. Cobb does not know any of the other passengers on the plane and he has just been dreaming while flying on the plane. There is not any device related dreaming but rather just an ordinary crazy dream. He has never lost his children. It's possible that he has also never lost his wife and just having a nightmare dream. In fact, this probability is very hard to be ignored - the whole ending starting with Cobb's awakening on the plane does not offer a single clue to disprove this version. (Click on the link to read more about this Inception Ending Interpretation.)

If someone could offer other Inception ending interpretations or could point facts from the movie that make some of the listed possibilities infeasible, please feel free to leave a comment on the topic.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cheap International Phone Calls - Rebtel

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I've come across Rebtel service recently and it seems like something that is worth writing about. The company offers very cheap call prices and it has several million customers already - a good share of the international calling market.

Rebtel is a VoIP provider that offers cheap international phone calls via your mobile or landline phone. Compared to other long distance phone services it is up to 90% cheaper. Rebtel offers a good customer support although you may always want more from a company's support guys. Rebtel also provides a free first call for new customers - a good sign for any service in my opinion.

The Rebtel service offers a new technology on international phone calls market. It does not require any downloads or any computers in order to use it. The method works by using local numbers in both "caller" and "called" countries and realizing the international connection over VoIP. This means that the user pays only for the local part of the call and not for the international phone call. In addition, and this is where Rebtel is different from many other phone call services, you do not need any complementary software or hardware, any PINs or whatever. All that you need is your mobile or landline phone. This makes Rebtel service really great compared to calling cards or other VoIP services.

How does it work exactly?
You give your phone number to Rebtel so they know when you are calling. You also provide Rebtel with your international friend's phone number and Rebtel gives you a corresponding local number that is unique for each of your friends. You get these unique numbers only once so you can save the numbers to your mobile phone and use them as many times as you want in the future. Now, you just make a call from your regular phone to your friend's local number (the one Rebtel gave you) and the rest is done by Rebtel service which routes you directly to your friend's international number.

Rebtel also assigns a Rebtel number to your real phone number so other Rebtel users can make free calls to you. Of course, you can also call for free other Rebtel users.

The Rebtel website is user friendly and available in several language versions. The Rebtel service is available for calling in more than 50 countries (check them on the Rebtel website). It could be used with any carrier and you can make phone calls to any country in the world.

It seems Rebtel aims at cheapest international phone call prices so they offer promotions quite often and they regularly lower phone call prices down.

So, at the end you have quite a lot of pro's to choose Rebtel if you make international phone calls quite often - Rebtel offers cheap international calls; you can use Rebtel from any landline, VoIP or mobile phone in any Rebtel country where there is a phone connection; Rebtel users can call for free other Rebtel users; and you do not need anything in addition to your existing mobile or landline phone. Take also the "first phone call for free" offer and you have really a service worth stopping by in the face of Rebtel.

For more information about Rebtel's cheap international phone calls you can read these Rebtel highlights and our tips for making even cheaper international calls. If you are interested in avoiding high international roaming charges check this article. Otherwise, just look for another review in the Review Maze.

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Most) Influential Rock Album: The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Velvet Underground & Nico
In the beginning of the 70s, a young man christened David Jones (and far more familiar as David Bowie) named a band as an influence. It was called The Velvet Underground and almost nobody had ever heard about it. Sometime later Bowie produced an album of Lou Reed's. A good album. Impressed by Bowie's statement and the successful album of Reed, people started to be interested in Lou Reed's former band recordings. Subsequently The Velvet Underground & Nico became a mandatory record for every music collector around the world and took its undeniable place among the most influential albums in the history of rock music.

But although often voted most influential album of all time (ahead of the Beatles' far more popular Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), The Velvet Underground & Nico is still relatively unknown to the broad audience. It's not so obscure as at the time when Brian Eno claimed that although almost nobody bought the album upon its initial release, everyone who did formed their own band, yet it will never be amongst the most famous records in regard to casual music fan. The reason? It was considerably shocking then, and it's shocking even today.

Even though all of the 4 Lou Reed featured Velvets' albums were very strong, the band's debut effort was the one that showed most of their innovative ideas and talent gathered at one place. Where the rest of the Velvets' releases were more narrowly oriented in terms of musical variety, their first record was a kaleidoscope of sonic concepts. There were the divine and dreamy Sunday Morning, the catching rhythm and blues of There She Goes Again, the troublesome beauty of All Tomorrow's Parties, the monotonous Venus in Furs, the loving I'll Be Your Mirror, the garage rock attack of I’m Waiting for the Man. There was hardly a weak track on the album and naturally the band never managed to create such an exceptionally strong album during their brief lifespan again.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was not only remarkable for its music. Except for droning vocals, scraping guitars and minimalistic drumming (influencing later dozens of styles including punk and new wave) the album was notable also for its lyrics. While other bands at the time were singing about love, peace and other hippie stuff, Lou Reed and the band were telling stories about the dark side of the contemporary hedonism. Their lyrics were about urban decadence, heroin addiction, sadomasochism, sexual experimentation, all of these hardly acceptable in movies or literature at the time, let alone in popular music. The Velvet Underground were as much unconventional in their lyrics as they were in their music.

A few bands in the history of rock music could claim to have broken so much new ground throughout their whole careers as the Velvet Underground broke with just a single album. The immense influence over performers like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Roxy Music, New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols, Television, Talking Heads, U2, Bauhaus, Joy Division, R.E.M., Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden, The Pixies, The Cars and many others, most of which praised as founders of new musical styles themselves, makes The Velvet Underground & Nico a rare gem in the rock music history. It's been considerably ahead of its time thus met with disrespect in the 60s but as it often happens with real masterpieces, in the succeeding decades, the album has been gradually acquiring the recognition it deserves among both musicians and music listeners.

Discover other rock music reviews in our Review Maze.

Friday, November 5, 2010

International Domain Names from EuroDNS Registrar

If you're looking for a place to register European domain names or even more broadly to make an international domain name registration, EuroDNS registrar is a good option to consider. The company is offering more than a hundred of domain name extensions and the list has been constantly growing in the last couple of years. The same is being valid for their additional services like Email Packages, Instant Mobilizer, etc. that we won't discuss here but you may always examine them yourself by visiting EuroDNS website. The main benefit anyway is that you have lots of international domain names gathered together at very competitive prices.

The registration process is fairly simple. You have to fill out a form not having too many mandatory fields and after doing that to activate your account following the link send to you by email.

The EuroDNS user interface is also pretty simple without too many unnecessary things you may find at other registries. There is a bulk search if you need it. There is a free DNS server and interface as well as free domain/URL forwarding and free DynDNS software. You may read more about all of their domain complimentary services directly at EuroDNS site.

Unlike some other domain name registrars, EuroDNS does not offer endless paid additional services and products in order to take more money away from you. Also, there are not any hidden taxes.

The prices may not be the best if you go and look directly at them. But in fact, EuroDNS does have so many promotional offers in shape of voucher codes that most of the time you'll register and renew your international domains at much better prices than the regular ones. To see the current list of discounts, follow the link and check the recent EuroDNS voucher codes. Here is the right place to stress that EuroDNS coupons are valid for both new domain registrations and renewals which is really a great advantage since it may happen that you've been using a domain name for years without paying the full regular annual price even once.

Another benefit you get at EuroDNS is that you could have dozens of different international domain name extensions at one location. You may register generic extensions like .com, .net, etc. You may register the majority of the European domain extensions (like .co.uk, .de, .fr, .nl and even many less popular like .li, .lu, etc.) and you may also perform other international domain name registrations like .jp, .sg, .in, .vn, .com.br, .co and so on. It's very likely that you find better prices for some particular extensions if you make a good search but if you want a single destination to keep a variety of international domain suffixes, EuroDNS is a great place to do it with a very decent prices (and as already mentioned with continuous promotional offers).

To be objective, there are a couple of downsides. When you want to transfer a domain name out they do not react fast enough and sometimes you may get frustrated along the process. The other (more personal) issue was losing a domain name due to some misunderstanding between EuroDNS and the Swedish registry some time ago and probably not sufficient efforts from all of the sides.

Apparently, we continue to use EuroDNS mainly due to the convenience of having hundreds of various international domain extensions at one place, the decent prices and the simple usage. If you are into international domain names or you want just to register a couple of Asian, American or European domain names, pay EuroDNS a visit and see if it's your kind of domain registrar.

Search for other domain registration reviews in our Review Maze.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Top-Posting vs. Bottom-Posting

If you've been using the Web for quite some time, you've probably come across discussions concerning top-posting style. In brief, top-posting is to write your message above the original text when responding to an email, forum or newsgroup post. In addition, bottom posters support the idea that you should not include the whole message you're answering to in your response rather than just some relevant parts of it.

If you've already read something on the topic, it has most probably been some flaming of top-posting approach. It's called bad, annoying, evil and whatnot. While I'm not a devoted follower to top-posting or bottom-posting style, I find the attempts of bottom-posting intercessors to convict the rest of the world in some kind of crime to be pretty much ridiculous.

You will rarely see a top-posting user to defend his style passionately. While bottom-posting followers are quite fanatic, the top-posting users are just users. Now, someone may say that being "just a user" is the root of the problem itself. Let's say Microsoft has made top-posting a default preference in its applications and "users" just followed it. But in fact, I don't see any problem, let alone an evil one. For me, it doesn't matter which posting style is used as far as the response (and the whole correspondence/thread) is easily understandable. I don't think a particular notation could be universal painkiller. I would say that each of the both approaches might have a good usage.

Now, bottom posting devotees apparently think it's very cool to support that posting style. It's something like being a UNIX user instead of a Windows user. But in reality, their arguments are very weak and often out of context. They say:

- In natural conversations you don't reply to something you haven't heard yet. Well, it's true but obviously online communication is not a standard conversation. It's even not a real-time conversation.

- A book is read from top to bottom. This is fine too as far as we are talking about books. Obviously, emails and forums are not books. The main reason to read a book from top to bottom is because you're usually reading it for the first time. Once you've read a book, you may go directly to any of its pages and read it without re-reading everything from the beginning.

- When answering a message, you should remove all unnecessary parts of it and quote only the relevant parts. It’s a little bit strange. It practically means that when you answer a message you should decide which parts of the original one your recipient would like to read. And this is quite annoying because I might want to read also the rest of the context but I'm already devoid of this option by bottom-posters.

- Top-posting makes it harder for bottom-posters to include just relevant parts of the message, while bottom-posting is not a problem for top-posters. Well, this can't be serious. What about if a top-poster wants to read the whole previous message instead of just a part of it?

There are many other "cool" reasons that a bottom-poster could provide but we are not going to cover them all.

What's my opinion? I think it largely depends... If you're posting on some message board that has established rules about top or bottom-posting then it's naturally to follow them. If there are not such rules and we talk about forums, it's more appropriate to use bottom-posting. Why? Because, usually, when somebody arrives to a forum thread for a first time, the whole content will be new for him, so it will be easier to read everything from top to bottom, just like a book.

Well, when emails are concerned, I think top-posting is better. Emailing is far different from forum posting. First, when we talk about email messages, in most cases, all of the recipients have already read the previous ones. Even if they've forgotten the content of a previous mail, it's not a problem to read it again when every message is included below. Second, if somebody is added to the recipients in the middle of a correspondence what will happen if only parts of the original messages are included? In fact bottom-posters usually include only parts of the last message. This means that a new recipient will be completely unable to follow the whole previous correspondence. Third, including only portions of the last message is also very inconvenient if you want to have everything archived. In the case of bottom-posting, you should keep all of the previous messages. In the case of top-posting, you could keep only one. Indeed, it will be a very long email but also it will be far easier for you to find it and use it at some future point of time.

So, instead of being some fanatic follower of a particular posting style, it's better to decide each case depending on the circumstances. Such approach will help much more for easier and pleasant communication than just being a die-hard fan of anything.

Find other articles in our Review Maze.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fatcow.com Affiliate Program Experience

While I cannot state that the FatCow's affiliate program is a scam I have still had quite unpleasant experience with it. This article does not concern the hosting service provided by FatCow.com (which still could be OK), it's just about the affiliate program they are offering via Commission Junction to partners promoting the web hosting.

Some time ago I decided to become FatCow's affiliate partner and promote their hosting services. As always I didn't put much money and efforts in a new partnership but after a couple of days I had my first sale and it did seem like a good ROI. Unfortunately, that was everything good in this relationship.

I had 3 more sales the following month but all of them were cancelled later. Of course, I asked FatCow affiliate team about the reason and I received the following answer:
"After reviewing your sales, I discovered that 2 of them had been canceled shortly after being signed up and one of the sales tracked was in fact not a sale at all, but an affiliate signup. Unfortunately these track the same as sales and must be reversed at the end of the month."
I started to feel uncomfortable immediately after this mail because it was very strange to confuse a sale with an affiliate sign up - if this was true, there should be something definitely wrong with the tracking system. So, I expressed my concerns and I got another mail with some nice bla-bla-bla and also containing the following sentence:
"After looking into the sales further, it would appear the one that I previously mentioned was an affiliate sign up was actually a sale, but was flagged by our fraud team and deferred."
It was strange that the FatCow's affiliate manager should "look into the sales further" in order to find that a sale was really a sale rather than an affiliate sign up and for whatever reason it was flagged as fraud. I asked about the "fraud" reason and the answer did not contain any explanation about it so, after all of these suspicious emails with many nice words along the strange and contradictory information, I just stopped promoting FatCow's hosting.

But there was a sequel... After several months FatCow "spammed" me with some promotional offers that coincided with a friend of mine asking about a web hosting service. So, we've decided that he could try the FatCow's promo offer and thus I could also see what would happen with the sale from affiliate point of view. Initially it was OK - the sale was tracked and it appeared into my CJ's account. But at the end of the month it was cancelled like the ones before. I contacted again the affiliate support team and the response was:
"We apologize for the inconvenience, unfortunately there appears to be an issue with tracking. We currently are working to resolve the issue, we apologize once again for the inconvenience you are experiencing in this matter."
I asked for more information and receive another "informative" email:
"We apologize for the inconvenience, there have been some system errors with tracking the sale. We are currently reviewing the sale and if deemed qualified we will then payout the commission in the next payout cycle (around the end of June)."
So, I decided to wait... After waiting long enough and of course, after nothing happening from FatCow's side I asked them again about that last sale. To be honest, at this point I was almost convinced that they were scamming. For my surprise I received the following:
"We apologize but the sales are not able to be tracked, we will credit you for the sale due to the fact that the issue is clearly a system tracking error. We highly apologize for the inconvenience and we appreciate your efforts in promoting us. I was unable to add the actual sale so I have added the commission balance as a bonus, we appreciate your patience in this matter."
They really added a bonus in an amount of one sale's commission. I did not escalate the case to Commission Junction's staff or any further but I decided to describe it here because it was quite disturbing. Yes, I was credited for the sale that I knew did happen and thus it was actual for sure but still 3 other sales was cancelled for very vague reasons.

In the end, the FatCow's affiliate program is probably not a scam but their tracking system appears to be awful (The web hosting itself seems decent for the money but this is another story). The affiliate service does not seem professional and I suppose even their affiliate partners that are making good money in fact get just a portion of the real amount they should get. So, that's all... You've been warned! :)

Read about HostGator and BlueHost web hosting affiliate program experience here or check our other reviews and articles in the Review Maze.