Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises


The Homeless Nerd Reviews:
The Dark Knight Rises

At a glance- superhero action, drama and explosions, the final movie in a trilogy

What is it? This summer has seen a reboot to the Spider-Man franchise and also, with this movie, a closing of the Batman series. Batman is a complicated character. After witnessing his parents' death as a small boy Bruce Wayne becomes masked crime-fighter The Batman. The first Batman comic was in 1939, the first Batman TV show in the 1960s and the first Batman movie in 1989. That's a lot of stories for one character.
One reason for the proliferation of Batman-related media is that the character himself is very complex. He is dark and brooding, fighting crime because of personal drive – and yet he typically has Robin, his wise-cracking (though also capable) teenage sidekick. He is a great fighter, called “The Dark Knight” - and yet also brilliant, designing all his own weapons and also called “The Great Detective.” Like James Bond, Batman ends up falling in love with different women, yet most every relationship ends badly since his hometown of Gotham city is his first and truest love.

The acting- As the 6th actor to take on the role, Christian Bale is to me one of the best of the Batmen. He has the billionaire playboy good looks and yet moves like a dangerous athlete. He also pulls off the tortured and conflicted Batman well (not so much the driven intellectual, but nobody's perfect).
    Our villain is the masked Bane, played by Tom Hardy, a Russian master-criminal who has set his sights on Gotham city. I feel for any actor who has to play a part with a mask or dark glasses – one's face is vital to expressing emotions which in turn is vital to selling a role. You can take the easy way out like Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd and just take off the offending helmet/whatever; but it is far more difficult to act the role the way that it looks in the comics. Mr. Hardy does a good job of being physically imposing, but not like a mindless brute. My only complaint was that the distortion in his voice from the mask made it hard to hear some of his lines (though, it doesn't help that I'm partially deaf).
    Anne Hathaway takes on the role of part-villain / part-love interest Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. I was surprised at how much I liked her. While not physically imposing she still appears dangerous, and she carries the moral ambiguity and sex appeal of the comic character. Catwoman and Batman have had a long-term on-again off-again relationship, which is odd given that he is essentially a lawman and she a criminal. It's an 'opposites attract' thing.
    Speaking of lawmen, we also have Commissioner Gordon (played perfectly, again, by Gary Oldman) and the new character of Police Officer Blake (played by Joseph Gorden-Levitt). Gordan's world-weary leader and Blake's idealistic up-and-comer give some added dimensions to the script, and both men play their parts well.
    Rounding out the cast are the other love-interest, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), engineer and businessman Lucius Fox (the always fantastic Morgan Freeman) and loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine – the best of the Alfreds ever).

The story- There are several common themes in the superhero genre, on of which is “wishing for a normal life.” As our final act starts Harvey Dent's death has led to new legislation allowing the police to crack down on crime, and 8 years have passed with Bruce Wayne living as a hermit and having given up on being Batman. Losing his true love in the last film has shown him how high the price of being Batman is, and it's too much. “Gotham doesn't need the Batman,” he says. Until, of course, a new villain shows up – Bane. Incredibly strong and trained by the ruthless League of Shadows (a flashback to the first movie), Bane is out to destroy Gotham city. So once again Bruce Wayne has to face the cost of becoming the Batman and his desire to live a normal, happy life. The Dark Knight Rises does a good job of playing to its theme. Bruce has to face defeat and ultimately rise above his fears and struggles to save Gotham. Some parts are very unrealistic, like in most superhero movies, for example an improvised back surgery that takes place in a third-world prison (and would leave a real person crippled for life). Despite a few bumps the story unfolds nicely and there are lots of heroes and larger-than-life action. Judged by its theme, it is a good movie.
    Which is where this review goes a little sideways. I did not like this movie. That may come as a shock since it was generally well-reviewed and I just said it was a good movie. The problem is not the movie following its theme, the problem is with the theme itself. The “wishing for a normal life” is common to superheroes because so many of them acquired their powers involuntarily. Superman was born with his abilities, Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive (or now genetically-enhanced) spider. They didn't ask to become heroes, and so they often wonder what life would be like as normal people. That is not true for Batman. Bruce Wayne decided to become Batman, he spent an insane amount of time and training to make himself into a hero. He knew the job was dangerous when he took it (to quote Super Chicken). Comic book Batman has faced no end of pain and suffering and never given up on being Batman. In the comics when Bane appeared, called the 'Knightfall' story arc, when Bruce Wayne was too injured to go on he called another hero, Azreal, to take over. Then Bruce went on a trip to the best doctors, studied again under the master assassin who trained him originally, and came back to Gotham to beat up Azreal – who didn't have the willpower and emotional toughness necessary to be Batman. In the comics, other more powerful heroes were afraid of the Batman, because his will and his intelligence were so great that he could find a way to defeat any foe. Comic book Batman would not give it all up for 8 years and let the cops handle things. After all, the cops weren't able to save his mother and father from being killed.
    Ultimately that is why I didn't like this movie: it didn't feel like it was true to the source comic book material. Had it been another hero in the starring role I would have enjoyed it, it is a good superhero movie, it just didn't feel like a Batman movie. Several things, beyond just Bruce Wayne's character, are significantly altered from the comics. To me that's a deal-breaker. I understand a movie is different from a comic book, and heroes with decades of stories have to be reduced to 2 hours; however, the movie still has to respect and be true to the original comics and all the work that created the character in the first place. At least, that's what I think.

My recommendation-
    If you haven't read the comics: if you like superhero movies go see it, it's good.
    If you have read the comics: go see it, but know that it will be different from what you have read, so keep an open mind and no expectations.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Good Things Ahead

    Good news, I got a job!  I will be working for the Geek Squad starting next month.  Which is great, but also has me running in a few hundred different directions.  Getting, and keeping, a job while homeless is a hard thing to do.  I'm trying to make all my preperations, and so I'm afraid the blog has slowed down.  I'm still working on my computer class, and some other posts, but a lot of my time has been taken up going to appointments and planning.  So I'm sorry that I haven't posted anything new for a while, and I'm afraid that's likely to continue until I get settled in to my new routine.  I will add some new material as soon as I can.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Computer Basics - Part 2A - Windows XP

I am currently working on the next part of the Computer Basics class and I have discovered something - the next section is really big.  We are moving on to talking about Windows itself, which covers a lot of ground and a lot of screenshots.  So I am going to break up Part 2, The Operating System, into 2 posts.  Here is the first post (Part 2A) and the second (Part 2B) will follow soon.  To catch up, here are links to the previous 2 parts:

Part 0 - Introduction
Part 1 - Hardware


Part 2 – The Operating System – Windows XP

    The hardware that makes up your computer is the foundation of what you can do. But, it is not something you are going to regularly interact with. It is possible to add new hardware, or upgrade existing, but for the most part you buy it and forget about it. What you will be interacting with is software.
    Generally speaking I break software down into two groups: Programs and Operating Systems. If hardware is the beginning, the bottom of the chain, then Programs are the end of the chain. A program is simply any software that does a specific purpose. You use a web browser program to surf the Internet, a word processing program to type a letter, a music player program to listen to music, and so on. There are so many different kinds of programs that they have their own section.
    First, however, let's talk about the middle of the chain. While you will spend most of your time using different programs, then is another type of software in-between your programs and the hardware of your computer. This is called your Operating System (OS), which you may know by the name of Windows, which is an OS designed by the Microsoft corporation. Apple has its own Mac OS. And real computer geeks might have heard of the Linux OS. These are the big 3 that most people may have used.
    So what is an Operating System, you ask – good question. This is a special program designed to talk to the computer's hardware and manage other programs that run on that hardware. Think of it like the foreman of a factory, or the manager of an office. Workers do the specific jobs, but you need some kind of boss or manager to guide the workers, co-ordinate their efforts, and make sure they have the needed supplies. Programs are the workers, the Operating System is the manager. It's the boss. While you will not spend all your time directly working with your OS, it will influence everything you do on the computer, so you need to understand it. In this section we are going to talk about one OS in particular, Windows XP. All versions of Windows have similar features, and to a degree all OS's are similar as well – so what you learn here will help you to use any other computer.

Starting The Computer
    Let's start at the very beginning, with turning on your computer. Once the computer gets power it goes through what is called the POST, or Power-On Self Test. This is a quick check of the hardware on the computer to make sure that everything is working as expected. You should see the logo of the computer's manufacturer (like the word Dell in big blue letters, or Compaq in orange) for just a second and hear a beep. Most laptops don't beep, but the beep is there to tell you that everything is okay. If you don't see anything on the screen, or if you hear a long series of beeps, something has gone wrong. At this point, since you don't know much about computers (that's why you're reading this, right?) the best thing to do is turn the computer off and go get help.
    Assuming that all goes well, after the company logo the POST is finished. The program to run through the POST is in a chip inside your computer called the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). As the name says, the BIOS is basic, very basic, it pretty much talks in baby-speak. It is not smart enough to run the computer. So it looks for an operating system to hand off control to. Now, your OS, in our case Windows, is running the show. So you should next see the Windows logo – the word Windows with a 4-colored flag.

    At this point one of two things should happen. If you are the only person using the computer, you should go straight to your Desktop. If there are multiple people using the computer, or if you have a password to use your computer, then you should see the User Accounts screen.
    The user accounts screen has the name of each person using the computer (they pick the name so it might be “CoolKid” instead of Johnny), a small picture (randomly selected by Windows, but you can put up your own), and a box to type in a password (if the account has one). Users are good because while each person uses the same Windows program, each person can make changes that only they will see. It separates each account, allowing them to customize the computer without making changes everyone has to live with (after all, a daughter may want everything pink while Dad prefers more somber blue). It also gives them some privacy by letting them save information that the others cannot easily see.
    If you do have more than one user, after you click on your name and type in any password then you will be taken to your Desktop.

Using The Keyboard & Mouse
    Let me back up for a second here. Now that the computer is on and running, you are going to need some way to talk to it and tell it what to do. While it is possible to literally talk to your computer, commanding it with your voice, for the vast majority of us we use the keyboard and mouse. The mouse tends to get the most work, by pointing and clicking, while the keyboard writes letters and does searches. You only need one, most everything can be done with the keyboard one way and the mouse another way. So there are multiple ways to do the same thing. This is true for just about everything the computer can do. So let me talk about how to use the keyboard/mouse combo, and how I type out instructions.
    The mouse is what I use the most, I'm actually a lousy typist for someone who writes so much. Most people I know seem to be the same way, so we'll start with the mouse. The mouse shows up on your screen as a Pointer – in Windows this is a little white arrow by default. As you move the mouse, the pointer moves on the screen. The mouse, the physical one, has two buttons – called the left mouse button and the right mouse button (surprisingly). The left mouse button is usually written as a “click” (from the noise it makes). The right mouse button is written as a “right-click.” In-between the two you might have a mouse wheel, a small vertical wheel used to “scroll” or move the screen up-and-down. This is convenient when you are reading a long document or webpage.
    Using the left mouse button, the “click,” is for when you want to select things or make something happen. Sometimes you have to click twice, real fast, called a “double-click.” The right-click normally brings up a small menu of options, which options you see depends on what you right-click on. So, click or double-click to select/start and right-click to open a menu of options.

The keyboard is for typing, like a letter or an email, and for searching. I'm sure you know what to do with the numbers and letters, but there are some special keys to be aware of.


 
At the bottom-left and -right of the letter keys are two special keys to remember: the Control (Ctrl) and Alt keys. Instead of clicking with the mouse, you can use the keyboard's letter keys, usually along with either Ctrl or Alt to select an option or start something. This is written by using a plus sign, like: Ctrl + A is the keyboard command to “select all.” To do this, hold down the Ctrl key with one finger, then press the A key with another, then let go of both. It's a lot harder to write than it is to do. Sometimes you will see programs that have commands with underlined words, like a button that says Next. The underlined “N” means that you can press Alt + N to select that button, instead of clicking on it with the mouse. If you are really good at touch-typing, the keyboard may replace the mouse for you, since everything the mouse does the keyboard can also do. I'll mention noteworthy keyboard commands, and the ones I normally use, as we talk about Windows and other programs.
    Now, writing how to use the computer is a little complicated. Using a computer is very visual, you follow what's on the screen, so writing it in words is hard. There are a few common ways to write commands though, ways the I will use and you will see in other books. First, you often have to do several things to use a program or Windows itself – so when typing commands each step is separated by and arrow like this: →. Also, things you should do on the computer are usually written differently from things you need to remember or learn, so I will use this old-style of text (and different color) to write something you need to actually do from now on. So when I write this: click on the Start button → Control Panel → double-click System. That means to left-click, with the mouse, on the Start button (which we'll meet soon), then a menu will open and you will see where it says “Control Panel,” left click on that (if I don't specifically say what to do, left-click – it gets a little tedious typing it out a million times), then another window will open and look for “System” and double-click on that. Again, awkward to read and write, but after you do it or see it a few times it will make perfect sense.

The Desktop
    Now that you know how to use the keyboard and mouse, let's get back to starting your computer. The first place in Windows you will go to, automatically or after clicking on your user name, is called the Desktop. There are several different parts to the Desktop that you need to be familiar with:
    First there is the Wallpaper, this is the image that appears behind everything and takes up most of the screen. The Windows XP default wallpaper is a grassy field, but your company may have put its logo or something else there. The wallpaper is just for show, to give you something nice to look at. It doesn't actually do anything. You can change your wallpaper, putting up a picture of your children or significant other, or just something that looks neat – I'll talk about how later.
    On top of the wallpaper, by default along the left side of the screen, are Icons. An Icon is just a picture, usually with some text below it (it's name), that stands for a program or piece of data on the computer. By default you have icons for My Computer, My Documents and the Recycle Bin on the desktop. You can double-click on the icon to start the related program. An icon normally stands for something, delete the icon and you delete the program or file.







    But there are special icons called Shortcuts that do not stand for anything, instead they point to where something else is located at. A shortcut usually has a little white arrow on it's picture to tell you that this is not a thing, it is just a pointer. If you delete the shortcut, the original will still remain. (we'll talk more about deleting when we talk about files in a bit).






 

    At the bottom-left of the desktop is the Start button. This is a small button that has the word “Start” and the 4-colored Windows flag.

    Clicking on the Start button will open the Start Menu (who'd have guessed). The Start Menu is where you can find all the programs on the computer and search for things if you can't remember how to find them. You will likely get used to the Start Menu pretty quickly since you will go there often to find things to do. I'll talk more about the Start Menu later since it can do so much.

 









    Running along the bottom of the desktop, holding the Start button, is a bar called the Taskbar. The taskbar has a few different parts to it. Starting from the left it has the Start button, then...

    Next to that is the Quick Launch area, here are some icons of programs that you can click on once to start. This is good for programs that you use all the time, since they are visible and easy to get to. Odds are Windows put a few things there that you may or may not use very often.
    Next to the quick launch area is the Taskbar itself. Every program the you start should show up on this bar as a button with the name of the program. Since we just started the computer, you won't see anything here (in the picture above you can see I have the computer class I am working on as well as a screenshot/picture open). Keep an eye on it and watch how things show up and go away as you use them.
   On the right-most side is the System Tray, which has some very small icons and the clock. Programs that are “running in the background,” that is, they are doing work but not visible to you, put an icon in the system tray so that you know there are there. And it shows you the clock so you know what time it is.
    That is the desktop. It's pretty, but doesn't really do much. Mostly it is a way to organize things so you can see or find them easily and so you can work as quickly as possible. You don't really work with the desktop. It is used to find and start a program. And when you start a program, you create a window...

Anatomy Of A Window
    Windows is the name of your operating system. Is is also the name of what appears when you start a program. So a lower-case window is a program, while upper-case Windows is the OS. A little confusing I know.
    Most every window has a few common features, which you need to know to find your way around. So let's look at the window that pops-up when you double-click on
My Computer:




 
    I'll go over each important part, from the top-right counter-clockwise:

The Minimize button will hide the window, it will disappear from the screen. It is still there, and you can make it re-appear by clicking on the Task Bar icon.

The Maximize button will make the window bigger, it will take up the entire screen. This is good since you can see more of what's going on, so usually you will Maximize every window you open. After Maximizing this button will turn into the Restore button. Pressing the Restore button will return the window to it's previous size.

The Close button will close the window and exit the program. This shuts down whatever you were doing and is the usual way to stop working with a program.

The Menu bar is a series of text entries that runs along the top of the screen. The Menu bar has all the different things the program can do. Each program will have a slightly different Menu, but here is where you can find what a program is capable of.
    When you click on an entry in the menu bar it will open a sub-menu. This is a more detailed list of commands. It's hard to talk about a menu bar in general, when we talk about programs and actions I'll mention where in each Menu bar they are located. So if I tell you to go to: File → Open , I mean click on the word “File” in the menu bar and then click on the word “Open” in the sub-menu that pops up (like in the picture to the left).







 


The Toolbar is another list of commands, like the menu bar, but it has icons (pictures) and does not have every command, just the most common ones. The Toolbar is for convenience, a quick way to find common commands and something for people who think visually instead of in words. The red “x” in the toolbar picture above means Delete, which is the same as pushing the Delete or Backspace keys, same as going to File → Delete, and same as right-clicking and choosing Delete in the menu that pops up. So there are 4 different ways to do the same thing. This abundance of choices is to let you find the way you like (and drive writers and computer teachers like me crazy trying to cover them all).

The Address bar is meant to help you find your way around. It shows where you are either in your own computer or on the internet. Just a visual reminder of what you have open at the moment. Not every program has an Address bar.

The Sidebar is like the Toolbar, a collection of some common commands. You can do everything the Sidebar shows in other ways, it is just a convenience. Personally I find it to be pretty useless, but there is a way to make it better.









If you click on the Toolbar → Folders button , then the Sidebar turns into a tree showing you all the folders and drives and places on your computer. This can be a handy way of seeing where you are, and the view I recommend if you want to keep the Sidebar around.







    Now that you have seen the basic parts of a window, let's move on to talking about something more practical – how things are organized and saved on the computer. To start with, we'll go over Folders...


To be continued in Part 2B 

 


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review- Brave


The Homeless Nerd Reviews:
Brave

At a glance- animated, for kids but enjoyable for grown-ups too, all about family

What is it? I've seen every Pixar movie so far and I've enjoyed every one of them. So I was looking forward to seeing Brave and finding out if they could continue to make exceptional films. Set in a kind-of medieval Ireland / Scotland, Brave is one of the few Pixar movies that focuses on people (instead of monsters, cars, bugs, fish or robots). So I guess it's not surprising that the story is all about family, and the joys and trials that come with them.
     As a longtime fan of anime (japanese animation) I'm used to the idea that an animated film can have intelligent, mature storylines and not just be kid fluff. Pixar has done a great job of that, creating movies that may be animated but that adults can enjoy right along with the kids. I remember an interview once with one of the creators of Bugs Bunny (think it was Chuck Jones) where he said that they were not trying to make an kids cartoon, they just wanted to make things they (as adults) thought were funny. As a kid I loved that, since most kids cartoons felt like they were talking down to me (GI Joe loses some appeal when you realize that it is impossible to jump out of a helicopter with a parachute and not be killed or maimed). My digression is just to point out that even though this is an animated film, it is not just for kids. As a 30-something year old I enjoyed the movie.

The acting- The vast majority of how we communicate is by body language, so doing an animated film is hard for an actor. You have to sell the role by your mannerisms, inflection and style – and match the character's look and movements created by the animators. I felt that all the voices were superb. As the main character, Princess Merida, actress Kelly Macdonald has a great voice. She is full of fire and determination and youthful rebellion.
     Emma Thompson voices the mother, Queen Elinor, overflowing with prim and proper reserve. Meanwhile her husband, King Fergus, is voiced by Billy Connolly and he steals the show. His voice acting is perfect as the rough and tumble yet loving king/father. He was a joy to listen to. Lastly Julie Waters has a short role as The Witch granting Merida a wish that turns everyone's lives upside-down.
     And though they don't have any speaking parts, Merida's three little brothers are fun and funny to watch. A great job was done by the animators bringing them to life as little hellions.

The story- Teenage rebellion is the heart of the story, with Merida a wild tomboy princess who is constantly butting heads with her prim and proper mother. They have the archetypical mother/daughter conflict. Things come to a head when Merida learns that she is to be married – and she has no say over who her future husband will be. A contest is held with the sons of each clan participating and the winner getting the fair, and fiery, maiden's hand. Merida interferes in the contest, and things rapidly go downhill from there.
     You can't have a proper fantasy fairy-tale without a witch, and here the story takes a bit of an unexpected turn. Normally when dealing with witches/magic a character manages to change themselves, but here instead Merida's wish ends up changing others around her. It is a bit of a break from traditional storytelling, and it works wonderfully. By harming those around her, Merida has to face responsibility and guilt, thinking about other's lives instead of her own. It increases the dramatic tension nicely. Otherwise, there is the usual adventure, misunderstandings, scares, obligatory monster, and eventual reconciliation. Brave is not quite a radically new story, like Wall-E or Finding Nemo, but it is very enjoyable. I think Pixar did another good job, and I look forward to their next film.

My recommendation- I'm sure every mother and daughter will find at least one moment they can relate to, or if you just want some happy warm fuzzy feelings about family, go see this movie.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Updated Computer Class

    Hello all.  Well, both of you who've been following this blog.  I just got done updating the Computer Basics - Hardware section with some pictures.  Right now I'm trying to get the Operating System section done (Part 2) but I have to take a bunch of screenshots (pictures of what you see on the screen) to help illustrate everything.  This is a kinda slow process since I have to type, take the shots, then edit them, then put them into the text, and then go on to the next topic.  But it is coming along, so please stay tuned.  I try to update at least twice a week - though things have been surprisingly hectic recently.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man


I don't see many movies, but just for the heck of it thought I'd go ahead and review any I do make it to for this blog.  So, even though it's been out for a few weeks, here is my first review:


The Homeless Nerd Reviews:
The Amazing Spider-Man

At a glance- superhero action, special effects, comedy with some teen angst

What is it? There is a staple in the superhero comic book genera that no hero ever dies. Captain America, Superman, Batman, and so many others have died at one point only to be back in action a few issues later. There is something similar for the superhero movie genera as well, except in reverse. For movies, no hero is allowed to live. Should, heaven forbid, a hero last to two or even, dare they, three movies – well, then it is time for new actors, a new director and reboot the whole story, starting at the origin yet again. Thus, after having three Spider-Man movies, we now have the obligatory reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man.
    I liked the first three movies, and I thought Tobey Maguire was absolutely perfect as Peter Parker. So The Amazing Spider-Man was going to have to live up to its name to win me over. And surprisingly, it did. To be fair, writing a superhero movie is hard since you have the original comic book stories to be faithful to, yet retell in a modern way. Writing a superhero reboot is harder, since you add what the previous movies have done to the mix – so you need to be both the same and different from what was done before you. Pulling it off and making a good movie is quite the feat. The Amazing Spider-Man does a very good job of staying true to the original comics and also being different from the previous movies – while being a well made movie in its own right.

The acting- A big part of its success comes from its cast. We have Andrew Garfield as the lead, Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, and he does a good job. This version of Peter Parker is a little more skater / slacker while still being a genius scientist / inventor – a very hard combination to pull off, and Mr. Garfield does it well. While he may not have exactly the look from the comics, he has a great attitude and presence that more than compensates.
    Emma Stone is Gwen Stacy, and the first big change from the previous movies. There is no Mary-Jane Watson here, but that is okay. Gwen was actually Peter's first love in the comics. Mrs. Stone has a hard role to play, as “the girlfriend” she is given limited screen-time and mostly there to be put in danger. But she does a good job with the lines she's given, and the scene with her and Peter trying to make a first date is a hilarious bit of teen angst.
    Our villain is Dr. Curt Connors aka The Lizard played by Rhys Ifans. I liked Mr. Ifans look and style (different from the comics, but in a good way) however it was sad that his change from humanitarian scientist to evil reptile monster is played out in only 2 home movies. He really needed more time to let us see into his fall from grace. Still, he does a good enough job, and the CGI Lizard looks neat.
    Martin Sheen plays Uncle Ben and Sally Field plays Aunt May, two critical roles to the Spider-Man story. I liked Martin Sheen, he is a more cool, wise-cracking Uncle Ben to go with the new tone of this movie. Sally Field was a bit of a curve ball. Aunt May has always, always been white-haired and her jet-black dyed locks are just not how the character should look from reading the comics. She also gets relatively little time for being such an essential character. Both however are passable.
    The real hidden star is Denis Leary as Gwen's father Police Captain Stacey. I love how even with a serious role Mr. Leary can bring a nice contrasting comedic undertone. He has very few lines, but delivers them all perfectly. Wish we could have seen more of him.
    Fans of the comics/movies may notice the distinct lack of J. Jonah Jameson, as well and Mrs. Watson – but really they were better left out. Wisely I think the writers decided to start with a few core characters and introduce more later – which is a good idea. I think the last movie, Spider-Man 3, was not so great because it tried to deal with too many characters at once, and so did not do any of them justice. So we have something to look forward to in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

The story- If you're talking a Spider-Man origin story there is one key word to know: responsibility. More than any other superhero ever written, Spider-Man is all about the responsibility of being a superhero. Peter makes some key, and fatal (to others of course) mistakes when he first gets his powers – and that is what defines him. While he is a teen, his powers make him grow up very quickly, and he hides a deep maturity behind his wise-cracking crime fighting.
    This is where The Amazing Spider-Man really hit it out of the park for me. They did a great job of weaving that theme throughout the story. There's Peter and how he fails Uncle Ben. Peter contributes to The Lizard's rampage. And poor Peter even does a bad job protecting the city in his first outings as Spider-Man. He fails, a lot like you would expect a teenager suddenly dealing with super-powers to do. From it all though he learns, and becomes a better man for his difficulties. Which, in my opinion, is the best thing a superhero movie teaches – not how cool it is to have powers, but how much harder you have to grow to be worthy of them. This movie really feels like it is a proper Spider-Man story.
    Along with the drama we have some nice comedic moments. Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man has made a cameo appearance in every movie – and he has a funny scene as a librarian listening to music while a fight rages behind him. Peter also has his joking around while fighting for his life, something key to the character but not as well developed in the previous movies. And, of course, there's lots of action. The special effects all look good, movements are fluid and dynamic, just like the character is supposed to appear. The story mostly makes sense (hey, superhero movies are not exactly deep), nothing too glaring to distract from enjoying the show. Overall it is a very solid, well-done movie.

My recommendation- Even if you are not a fan of the Spider-Man character, give this one a try. It has a good mix of drama, comedy and action. If you are a fan, you shouldn't be disappointed. Even though it is a new movie and cast, it feels like an old story, something that fits with the character.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Computer Basics - Part 1 - Hardware

Here is the next part of the Computer Basics class.  You can also read Part 0 - Introduction by clicking here.

Part 1 – Hardware

    There is a great saying I read once about advertisements, “The large print giveth, but the fine print taketh away.” There is a similar parallel with computers. Software giveth, it lets your computer do more and better things, but hardware is the fine print, it limits what software you can actually run. So you need to know what hardware makes up your computer, everything you want to do depends on it. And, hardware is how your computer really works, so it's good to know what is going on “under the hood” so to speak.

Desktops vs Laptops
    The first thing to know about hardware is what kind of computer you have: a desktop or laptop.
    Desktop computers are somewhat big and bulky and designed, as the name suggests, to sit on a desk. They tend to be the cheapest of the two, are the easiest to upgrade (add new hardware to), and the hardest to move around.






  Laptops are smaller and easy to carry around. They are more expensive for the same capabilities, since they have to be made lighter and smaller than desktops. Even though they are called laptops you should not, in fact, put them on your lap. They do get hot, possibly very, uncomfortably hot – and they have batteries, which have been known to leak, and battery acid on the lap is not a fun experience. So keep your laptop on a table or other surface.


    While desktops and laptops look different on the outside, they are made up of pretty much the same things on the inside. So the next few parts we talk about are the same for both types.

The CPU
    The Central Processing Unit (which everybody just calls CPU) is the part that does all the thinking. So how do computers think, you ask? Well, very simply. Computers use electricity to think. Inside the computer is a quartz crystal that resonates, forming a steady beat like a drummer. So this makes a series of peaks and troughs, highs (when the drummer is hitting the drum) and lows (when the drummer is not making any sounds), if you remember High School math, this is a sine wave.
    At every peak, or every drum-beat, the computer thinks. How? By looking for electricity. If there is a little spike of electricity during the beat, we call that the number 1. If there is no electricity during the beat, that is a 0. Since computers think using two numbers, that is called Binary (literally Latin for 'two numbers'). It is a somewhat strange and almost magical process that turns 01001000011010010010000001001101011011110110110100100001 into “Hi Mom!”
    In-between beats, during the silent phases, the computer doesn't do anything. So the faster that beat is, the faster the computer thinks. Well, we measure frequency in Hertz. Computers used to think pretty slow, in only millions of beats per second, or Mega-hertz (MHz). Now they think much faster, in billions of beats per second or Giga-hertz (GHz).
    But even a few billion thoughts per second (well, “processes” technically, but you might as well call it thinking for an analogy) is not fast enough. Computer users and designers wanted even faster. But making an even faster CPU is hard to do. We are talking about a chip smaller than a thumbnail after all. And more electricity means more heat, and heat is bad. The hotter something gets the harder it is to send electricity through it. A CPU can literally think so fast that it melts. In fact every CPU has something called a heat sink. This is a big piece of metal (about the size of a pack of cigarettes in a desktop, laptop ones are about a quarter the size) that is attached directly to the CPU. The larger metal draws heat away from the CPU quickly. Then a fan, or usually 2 or more fans, blow the heat out the back or side. The running fans account for the noise you hear while a computer is turned on (well, most of it).
    So if faster is bad since it means flames and confusion, what to do? Well, the cleaver guys who design CPUs came up with what's called a Multi-core CPU. Instead of one big, fast processor, a multi-core CPU has several smaller, slower processors that split up the work. So with a quad-core (that's 4 CPUs on one chip) each job is broken into 4 parts and each core handles one part, then combines them together. So for each beat instead of thinking once, the quad-core is thinking 4 times. Four times a few billion is fast!
So how fast is fast? Well, the Intel Core i5 is the current mid-range CPU. It is not the slowest, and not the fastest. It runs at about 2.3 to 3.4 GHz and has 2 or 4 cores. The fastest is the i7 Extreme which runs about 3.3 to 3.4 GHz, the same speed as a high-end i5 – but, the i7 has 4 to 6 cores and can “hyper-thread” them, that is, each core can do two things at once. So the i5 can do roughly 8,550,000,000 thoughts per second while the i7 Extreme does roughly 33,500,000,000 thoughts per second (averaging the cores and speeds). Both are incredibly fast.
    Now, while all this is fun to talk about, what does it mean for you? Your CPU is the absolute maximum amount of thinking, or work, that your computer can do. You can't get any faster. So if you want to do big complicated things, like playing 3D games, you need a very fast CPU. If you are just going to read your email, then stop and type a letter, and basically do just one thing at a time – you don't need a very fast CPU. Games are the real problem. Most every new game is 3-Dimensional (or 3D) which means the computer has to create every single inch of everything in the game. Stop and look around you, see just how many inches, how many different surfaces are in the room you are in. Then imagine a big game world the size of a small city. Now add the explosions, people and tanks flying through the air, gunshots and running and, well, I think you get the picture. There is a whole lot of stuff going on. So you need a very fast CPU to keep up with it all.
    What if you don't play games? Well, then you don't need much of a CPU really. Every program has a list of “system requirements.” This is the minimum CPU speed, minimum amount of memory and hard drive space (which we'll cover next) and other things your computer has to have to run the program. But, like I said, for most basic programs even the slowest CPU on the market today is more than fast enough. The biggest program for most people is probably Windows itself. Windows 7 needs just a 1 GHz single-core CPU – the mid-range Intel i5 CPU is 4 to 12 times faster than that!

Memory (RAM)
    While the CPU does all the thinking, it needs something to think about. It needs some kind of memory. There are two kinds of memory in a computer, just like people have two kinds of memory: short-term and long-term. Usually when we say “memory” we are talking about the sort-term kind, called RAM (which stands for Random Access Memory). RAM is memory that is filled only while the computer is running. Turn the computer off and all the RAM goes away. It's where the CPU stores the things it is thinking about at the moment. And just like CPU speed, the size of your RAM can limit the things you can do with your computer.
    So now we need to talk about size. One number, either a 0 or a 1, is called a Bit (b). Eight bits are called a Byte (B). Like with speed, we usually talk about millions (mega- or M) or billions (giga- or G) of bytes. Old computers had several MB of RAM, new computers have GB worth. Generally speaking 2 GB is about the lowest amount of RAM you want to have. 4 GB is a good, comfortable number. And 6 GB is a lot, more than you will likely need – unless you're playing games, which hog up RAM the same way they do CPU speed.
    Since this is all temporary memory used by the computer you almost never have to deal with or think about RAM, except to make sure you have enough to run your programs. If you don't have enough RAM the system will become slow, horribly, painfully, agonizingly slllloooowwwwww. Or, it will just freeze up and nothing will happen at all. So if you don't have enough RAM, you'll know it.

Hard Drives (HDD)
    RAM is temporary memory, it goes away when the power goes off. That's not very convenient. You really need a way to keep things more permanently on the computer (after all, one of the biggest uses of a computer is to have it remember all the stuff you can't). That kind of memory is located in your Hard Drive (or HDD which stands for Hard Disk Drive). The hard drive is a box.


    Inside this box are a couple of round metallic plates and a magnet on a swing-arm. The plates spin at very fast speeds, usually about 5,400 or 7,200 RPM (revolutions per minute, in the ballpark of 170 miles per hour). On each plate is a random scattering of metallic lines (microscopically small). This random pattern is considered 0. The magnet is used to read the lines, and also to write them, that is move them so they are all pointed in the same direction. This ordered set of lines is a 1. Because there are a nearly countless number of these metallic bits once data has been saved to the hard drive it is usually possible to get it back, even if it's been erased. If you really want to guarantee that no-one can see what you've saved you need to hit the hard drive repeatedly with a hammer and break the plates, or use special software that writes stuff over and over thousands of times to mix it all up again.
    Like RAM we measure hard drives in bytes, but you need a whole lot more hard drive space. A small hard drive is about 250 GB, 500 GB is a good size, and 1 TB (tera-byte, that's a trillion bytes) is a very large size. Now, odds are you won't fill even a small hard drive. Like with computer speed, hard drive size has been increasing faster than the average person uses. Remember that a 2-hour DVD movie is about 5 GB (on average), so a 250 GB hard drive could hold 50 movies or 100 hours! That's a lot. Music and pictures are even smaller, from 1-5 MB, so you could have 50,000 high-quality songs are about ten times that in pictures. Most people do not need the latest and largest hard drives.

Video Cards & Monitors
    Back in the day, when I first started using a computer, having 16 colors on the screen was pretty good. When the first 256 color screens came out everyone was amazed. Boy have things changed. Now even the slowest, most basic computer can display millions of colors. Video is another specialty area. Really, only people who play 3D games need to worry about their video cards. But since kids tend to play a lot of games, and also tend to use their parent's computers, I'm mentioning them here. The normal CPU and RAM the computer uses is just fine for anything 2D, like the Internet, Windows, and movies. But 3D graphics take up so much space computers now come with separate video cards. These are basically CPUs and RAM on a card that only handles the video/display. This is called “video memory” to distinguish it from the computer's RAM.
    When you buy a game it will have a list of system requirements, just like any other software. Usually it will mention the amount of video memory needed. Sometimes it will just list the types of video cards needed. There are really two big video card manufacturers, ATI and nVIDIA. They set the standards and features available. So your game might say it needs something like an “ATI 8800 or higher video card.” When you bought the computer it should say somewhere what kind of video card is installed.
    You might, however, have something called an “Integrated” video card, or video chip. Remember that most people do not use all of their CPU speed and RAM space. So, video manufacturers thought, why not use that extra power to run 3D stuff? An integrated video card does just that, it uses the computer's CPU/RAM. This is fine for very basic 3D software, and when the computer has more power than it needs. So older games tend to run just fine on an integrated card. Newer ones, not so much, usually they need a “dedicated” or separate video card. Laptops, to save space and since they are not usually game machines, often have integrated video cards – but so do a lot of low-cost desktops.
    There in one other thing about the video card – it needs something to show it's images on. That's called a Monitor. For desktops a monitor is a separate device that is like a small TV. For laptops the monitor is built into the laptop itself, but usually you can connect to an external monitor, like a projector.

Optical Drives
    Storing things on the computer, in the hard drive, is nice – but what if you want to move things to another computer? What if you want to make a separate copy in case of fire or damage to the computer? That's where the optical drive comes in. An optical drive is a storage device that uses light – which you probably know better as a CD, DVD or Blu-ray disc. All of these use the same basic principle: the disc is coated with a reflective surface (like a mirror), that counts as 1. But parts of that surface are burned, literally, making them black, that counts as 0. Then a laser is used to read the disc, while it is spinning.
    Optical discs are great. The smallest, a CD holds about 700 MB (or, say, 140 Mp3 songs). The mid-sized DVD holds from 4 to 9 GB (that's a 2-hour movie and extras, or over 800 songs). The largest, Blu-ray holds a whopping 50 GB (about 10 DVDs or 20 hours of movies or 50,000 songs). Right now DVDs are the standard, but Blu-ray players are becoming more common. Also, each type of drive can read the older types. So a DVD player can read CDs while a Blu-ray player can read DVDs and CDs both.
Aside from the type of disc, there are 3 other classes: Readable, Writable and Re-writable. All discs are Readable, and every optical drive is a Reader. Writable means that the drive can actually create its own discs. The laser used to read is also used to write, but at a much higher power (called “burning” a disc, which is what it literally does). A writable disc can be written to just once, and usually has a “-R” after its name (so, CR-R, DVD-R and BD-R). You can't erase it, not really, once something is there it is stuck there. Re-writable discs however can be “erased.” These kinds of drives have 3 different laser powers: read, write and erase. They usually have a “-RW” after their name (CD-RW, DVD-RW, BD-RW). Re-writable discs and drives cost the most, not a lot more but they are extra. Usually writing to a disc once is good enough (the -R series), discs are so cheap you can just throw one away and burn a new one. A blank CD costs about 50 cents.
    Optical discs need a bit of care and attention. They are stored outside the computer, and tend to move around, so they can get damaged. Extreme heat or cold can destroy them. They can also get scratched, which means the laser won't reflect off them and the whole disk looks like nothing but 0s to the computer. They can also get oil or other stuff on them. You can wipe off a disc, but you need to do it right. The data on the disc is in a spiral from the outside to the inside, like an old vinyl record (assuming you're young enough to have even seen a vinyl record). Because this spiral is basically a circle, scratches that move with the disc, in a circle, are the worst – they destroy big blocks of data. A scratch that goes perpendicular to the disc, from inside to outside, is the least damaging – since it only takes out a little piece here and there. If you wipe off a disc, go in a straight line from the inside to the outside – do not go in a circle like you were polishing the disc, that could cause even more damage. Discs are actually designed to take some abuse. A CD can really hold 1,400 MB of data – but you only get to use half that, 700 MB. The other half is reserved for “error correction code,” basically a backup of the data in case the disc gets scratched. DVDs and Blu-ray discs work the same way. Still, a little care goes a long way – so keep your discs in a protective sleeve of some kind, out of heat and cold, wipe from center to outside in a straight line, oh yeah, and don't touch the reflective surface – your fingerprints can make the disc hard to read. It's not too hard.

Network Cards
    Optical discs let you move information from one computer to another, but there is an even better way: networking. Networking means directly connecting 2 or more computers. This is done in one of two ways: Wired or Wireless.
    In the old days the only way to network computers was to run cables, called Wired Networking. Each cable went from a computer to another device, usually a Router. The Router's job was to keep track of which computer was talking to which computer. Kind of like the Postman. Routers delivered the mail between each computer on the network. Pretty much every house that has an Internet connection has a wire from the wall to a Router.
    Now, however, many computers (and virtually every laptop) is Wireless. A Wireless Network uses radio waves, like the ones cell phones and baby monitors use. Since all the data is broadcast through the air, you can walk around with a wireless connection and not have to worry about tripping over a cable. However, wireless connections tend to have more troubles than wired ones (you have to pay for that convenience) – after all, lot and lots of things use radio waves now, and lots of things can block radio waves. Cell phones, baby monitors, radios, microwaves, air conditioning, the weather – there are so many ways that a wireless signal can be disrupted. But for the most part it is very useful, and I'd wager the majority of computers networked right this moment are wireless.
    Making a network does one thing, it connects what's on one computer to what's on another computer. That's really useful if you want to share quickly and easily between computers. There are 2 kinds of networks. A Local Area Network (or LAN) is made up of computers that are all near each other, like in the same house or building. Lots of businesses use a LAN, not so many homes. The type of network you're likely most familiar with is the Wide Area Network (WAN), where computers are very far apart, like the Internet. The Internet is a very big topic, and one that has its own chapter later in this class.
To make a network you need the right hardware. I don't think I've ever seen a computer (in the last 20 years at least) that didn't have a wired network port (looks like a bigger phone jack). And some desktops and virtually all laptops come with a wireless networking card (which may or may not have an antenna you can see).

USB
    So far we've talked about the 6 major pieces of hardware in your computer. I haven't covered everything inside the computer, but those 6 are the most important for you to know something about. However, there is also a lot of hardware on the outside of the computer. Most external hardware connects the same way, by USB (short for Universal Serial Bus). USB is a wonderful thing, simple and easy to use.
    A USB connector has two types, called A and B. The A connector is a flat rectangle that is “keyed” - which means it only goes in one way. Try to put it in upside-down and it won't fit. Which is rule number 1 when connecting hardware – don't force anything! If something does not want to connect then try turning the connector upside-down and see if that works. Occasionally you might need to use a little force to plug something in, but that is unusual. The USB A connector goes into your computer. Usually the device your are plugging in will have a USB-B connector. The B side looks like a small house, it's square at the bottom and has a sloped roof on top. The two different connectors mean you can't accidentally plug something in the wrong way, they only fit one way, the right way.
    So what might you connect to your computer with USB? Well, odds are you have a mouse and keyboard. Now, you have to have a keyboard, most computers won't even turn on without one plugged in. And everything can be done with a keyboard. The mouse is optional. It is good for clicking on things, but the keyboard can also do that. So if you are really, really good at touch-typing you might use your keyboard almost all of the time. If, like me, your typing skills are not so great, you'll love your mouse. Other common devices you can connect include cell phones, mp3 players and printers. Printers let you print stuff, very handy. Cell phones and Mp3 players can hold music and information on them, and share that with your computer. This is called “synchronizing” or “sync” for short. If you sync your mp3 player to your computer then every time you add new music to your computer your mp3 player will add it too – just plug it in. That's convenient. Or you could sync your cell phone's calendar to your computer, and see appointments you make on either.
    Using other devices is a little beyond what we're looking at in this class, so I'm not going to cover anything in detail. But it is good to know that you can add new abilities and features to your computer by plugging in new hardware.

The Important Computer Information Sheet
    At the end of this class, in Appendix A, is the Important Computer Information Sheet. This is a very handy page to print and fill out. It is a place to record details about your computer that you might need later.
The first section is for general details. Your computer's manufacturer (like Dell or HP or Gateway) and model number (like Optiplex 550) and serial number (which is usually a lot of letters and numbers). This is so you can identify your computer, in case you have to call for technical support, look up information about it, or if it gets stolen. Then there's a section for warranty info. Do you have a warranty, when does it expire and what number do you call all go here. This is in case you need technical support from the manufacturer – which is free (well, odds are you paid something for it, but each call and replacement parts are free). If your computer doesn't have a warranty then you might want to record a local computer shop here, just so you know who to call if things go wrong.
    The second section is for hardware details. How fast is your CPU, how much RAM and HDD space, what kind of video card and optical drive. This is so when you go to buy a new program you can tell if you meet the “system requirements.”
    Lastly is your Operating System (OS), the OS Product Key and any other Product Keys you have. We'll talk about product keys later, but let me mention something right now. If you have Windows, like the majority of computers, then you have a sticker on your computer (top or back for desktops and bottom for laptops) with the product key. It is 25 numbers and letters long and in really small type. This is a very important sticker. Each Windows disc is identical, what makes your copy of Windows legally yours is that product key sticker. So make a copy of it, it's worth about $200. If something gets spilled on it, or the kids decide to draw on it, or the cat scratches it – you are going to lose about $200 when you have to buy a new sticker. For laptops I recommend putting a piece of clear packing tape over the sticker, to help protect it.
So, the Important Computer Information Sheet is a handy tool for you to remember what all is in your computer. You might need it when buying new software, and it is handy to have when you call or take your computer to be repaired – a technician can find out all that information on their own, but it is more convenient to have it up front (plus, you'll look like you really know your stuff).

This finishes our look at hardware, in the next section we'll start on the most important piece of software on your computer, your Operating System.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Computer Basics - Part 0 - Introduction


Here is the first part of my computer basics class, it's jsut the general introduction but I wanted to get it posed as quickly as possible.

Computer Basics Class

For Windows

What is a computer?
    Imagine if I gave you a rock. You probably wouldn't be very impressed. But, imagine if it was a magic rock. All you had to do was say a magic word, and that rock would turn into a hammer. Say another magic word, and it would turn into a pencil. Another magic word and it would become a washing machine. On and on, with thousands of magic words, each one turning that rock into a different tool. That would be one handy rock, right?
    Well, that rock is a computer.
    Every tool is built for a purpose. Hammers hammer nails (or hit things in general), pencils write, washing machines wash. A computer though is a very different type of tool. A computer was built for one purpose – to listen to you and do what you tell it to do. That's what makes a computer so special, that's why they can be found just about everywhere, because a computer does not have one specific purpose – instead it does anything it can that you tell it to do. This is a great power, the infinite possibility of doing anything you can think of, and a great responsibility, because you have to know how to speak your computer's language.
As someone who teaches computers, I often hear people say that they can't learn how to use a computer, or that it is too hard, or that they are computer illiterate. Well, so was I. I spent several years as a bread baker and pastry cook before I started working with computers. One day I went to work for WINN Ministries, and they didn't need a bread baker they needed a computer technician. So I started learning how computers work, and how to fix them, the hard way. Which made me realize something.
    Learning how to use a computer is exactly like learning a new language!
    Which makes sense. After all, a computer listens to what you tell it to do and then does that to the best of its ability. So what you need is to learn it's language. I learned that hardest and best way, by immersion. I went to an office full of computers every day and had to learn how to talk to them. It wasn't easy, but I soon got the feel of it. Most people don't learn that way however. Just like visiting a foreign country on a short vacation, most people struggle to understand their computer and get it to understand them. The younger generation has an easier time of it, because young people learn languages quickly and easily compared to adults. But in the same way that anyone can learn a new language, anyone can learn how to talk to and get the most out of their computer. Anyone. Take that from the bread baker who has been a certified computer technician for the last 9 years.

What this class is about
    My goal in this class is to start teaching you the language of computers. To get you more comfortable knowing what your computer is saying to you, and how you can talk to it. A computer is really the greatest tool, you can do thousands of different things with it, once you can talk to it properly. Like any language it is going to take time and work to get comfortable speaking to your computer, and at the beginning things will be unclear. Don't worry. Time and practice are all you need. I can fix computers because I've spent so much time around them. Once you've put in as many hours as I have, you'll be an expert at using your computer too. So just be patient and keep at it. I teach this class one-on-one, but I've also written it down so that you can come back to it, re-read it, and let it slowly sink in until it becomes a natural part of you.
    This is a Beginner's class, it is meant to start with the most basic concepts and give you a good foundation to build on. So there will be plenty of things I don't cover. Just like how you learn a language from the most basic words and concepts and then expand on that. I'm also writing Advanced and Expert classes to help you grow beyond what I'll talk about here. Likewise, I'm going to talk in very general terms about all the things a computer can do, but I also have more specific classes I'm working on. So think of this as just the beginning of your education, with many more new and fun things to learn about your computer and what it can do for you.

Hardware vs Software
    So let's start with a few new words then: Hardware and Software. Software is the language you use to speak to your computer. It is how you tell your computer what to do. Well, not you exactly. Odds are somebody else wrote the software you are using. Whoever wrote it, software is the instructions to make the computer do something (from send an email to play a song).
    But, while software tells your computer what to do, Hardware is what your computer is actually capable of doing. Hardware is all the physical “stuff” of your computer. The keyboard, mouse, box, all the things you can touch and feel (unlike software which is just bits of data your computer can read but you wouldn't understand). While software empowers your computer, letting it do new things, hardware limits your computer.
    The vast majority of the time you are using your computer will be with software. You will be using programs to do things. But even though hardware is something you don't really need to know a lot about (until it breaks, which is likely when you would call a technician like me) there are a few things you should know. So that is where we are going to begin, talking briefly about the hardware that makes up your computer.


To be continued in Part 1 - Hardware


TB- Hooks

    I am currently typing up my cmoputer class, so that is using most of my time.  But I wanted to post something, so here is another piece of Travellers Beyond.  The Intention Categories (last post) cover what sort of thing a character wants to do, Hooks cover what sort of power, ability or item is used to carry out that desire.  TB has 10 Hooks, and here's the section describing them in general:

Hooks

    So far the character sheet has been defining the average man, the things that virtually all people have in common. With the hooks however, now we get into what makes your character different from all the others. Hooks cover special abilities, powers and super-advanced skills, allies and equipment, things that not everyone has access to. But most characters are not common people, so most characters you make will have one or more Hooks.
    There are 10 Hooks total, divided into two sets of 5 – the Metaphysical Hooks cover things that are based on magic or special powers and abilities, as well as relationships, study and dedication. The Special Item Hooks cover equipment, things outside the character (though possibly implanted in them), and how the character uses outside items. Within each Hook there are several Types and Categories, which I'll describe later in the more detailed Hooks chapters. For now, here is an overview of the 10 Hooks:

The Metaphysical Hooks
Extraordinary Abilities (EA) – powers, super-human abilities, leaping tall buildings and out-running trains all fall under this Hook. You may have been born with these abilities, or perhaps some accident or experiment gave them to you. Regardless, they are now a part of you, as natural as breathing or moving.
Martial Arts (MA) – some are not born great, some make themselves great. The Martial Artist is one who has dedicated themselves to the pursuit of perfection – weather in combat or in their own development, perhaps in mastery of a skill. From bare-fisted warriors and master trackers to enlightened sages and trick-shooting circus performers; MA is all about improving oneself and one's abilities.
Pattern User (PU) – wizards, priests, those who have learned and studied how to bend reality fall under this Hook. This is part EA and part MA, it is a learned Hook, one of study and dedication, but also one of incredible semi-innate powers and abilities.
Split Being (SB) – EA is all about the powers and abilities that are added to your character – but what if your abilities come from the fact that you are no longer the same type of being you used to be? The Split Being Hook covers characters who have been changed: from vampires and werewolves to a fragmented psyche that turns you into an enormous green rage-monster.
Allies & Influence (AI) – having the right friends can be a power in itself. From companions who follow and assist you to super-secret spy organizations that outfit you in high-tech gadgets. With AI it is your relationship with someone or something else that gives you power.

The Special Item Hooks
Cybernetic Implants (CI) – with this Hook, something foreign has been implanted into your body. We have this Hook today, artificial hips allow people to move after injury. But it could also be a symbiotic organism or even a magically-grafted demon's arm.
Weapons & Equipment (WE) – having the right tool for the right job is a power as well. The WE Hook covers everything from bone clubs to supercomputers and even magical objects like flaming swords and crystal balls.
Vehicles & Constructs (VC) – vehicles from a sailboat to a starship sailing between the stars all go here. But so do houses, bases and other buildings – even pocket dimensions.
Fabrication & Harvesting (FH) – while the other Special Item Hooks are about having some item the FH Hook is about making your own items. With this Hook you can craft/create any of the others yourself.
Hacking/Cracking (HC) – lastly, the HC Hook is all about being able to manipulate other objects and even people and things. From the computer hacker to the time-traveller ('hacking' time/space), from master spies ('hacking' organizations) to psychological warfare ('hacking' people) – this Hook is all about taking something else, something not yours, and using it to your advantage.