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( R.I.P. 1975-1998 )

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Recent Movies

American Sniper is the most representative movie yet made about the Iraq War—because, like the war, it's a pack of lies. It's based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy SEAL sniper who scored more than 160 kills during four combat tours. But director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall start hallucinating from the very first scene, when Kyle must decide whether to shoot a child carrying a grenade. (Never happened, according to Kyle's book.) They continue by fabricating additional characters ("The Butcher") and by building much of the drama around an enemy sniper who merits only passing mention in Kyle's book and whom Kyle never killed. Hollywood filmmakers always fictionalize true stories to some extent, but this film is shameless. As a final insult, Eastwood doesn't show us how Kyle died, probably because this genuine war hero didn't die heroically in combat. Instead, he died by foolishly thinking that a shooting range would be good therapy for a shell-shocked veteran—who abruptly lost control when a gun was placed in his hands. Although the movie is filled with graphic combat scenes, the climax of Kyle's life story was apparently too ironic and contradictory for Eastwood's target audience.

Wild stars Reese Witherspoon as a broken woman who seeks redemption by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone—a grueling trek through deserts and mountains for which she is wholly unprepared. Based on the bestselling autobiography by Cheryl Strayed, this is a rare movie in which the central character is an adult woman who isn't primarily concerned with romance. Witherspoon delivers a fine performance as Strayed, and Laura Dern makes the most of her flashback appearances as Strayed's mother. The female viewpoint runs so strong in this film that many of the male characters come across as unsettling, creepy, or downright dangerous, which is probably realistic for a lone woman on such a perilous journey. Gorgeous cinematography and acute sound editing complete the picture. This would be a great double feature with Into the Wild (2007), which tells a similar true story from a male viewpoint.

The Imitation Game is another misguided account of the British cryptographers who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma-machine cipher to help win World War II. This film focuses on math genius Alan Turing, who helped design the machine that defeated the machine—the world's first programmable electronic digital computer. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the brilliant but eccentric Turing. Kiera Knightly ably plays one of his assistants. But the screenplay, adapted by Graham Moore from a book by Andrew Hodges, commits the same sins as Enigma (2001), a previous film adaptation. It bastardizes a true story already dripping with drama by inventing things that never happened and needlessly altering things that actually did happen. A truer account would have been just as dramatic and more intelligent. Nevertheless, a thread of truth survives, and Cumberbatch's performance is not to be missed.

Big Eyes is a satisfying drama based on the true story of artist Margaret Keane, whose paintings of big-eyed children first became popular in the 1950s. Dismissed by art critics as kitsch, Keane's paintings nevertheless were a hit with middle-class buyers. But director Tim Burton focuses on Keane's tumultuous relationship with her second husband, who publicly claimed he painted the works, shoving Margaret into the background. Her story parallels the subservience of wives in the 1950s and the emergence of feminism in the 1960s—although this film attributes her awakening to a religious conversion, not a political movement. Amy Adams, as Margaret Keane, advances her growing reputation as a skilled actress. She is matched by the always-excellent Christoph Waltz, who plays Walter Keane, Margaret's domineering husband. Historical accuracy is always questionable in Hollywood movies, but I appreciated the balanced portrayal of Walter as a glib opportunist who slips into his sham somewhat reluctantly, not from premeditated malice.

>> See more mini-reviews, including Nightcrawler ... The Theory of Everything ... Interstellar ... Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) ... Before I Go to Sleep ... Fury ... Kill the Messenger ... The Giver ... Boyhood ... Lucy ... Magic in the Moonlight ... Begin Again ... Godzilla ... Edge of Tomorrow ... Maleficent ... Finding Vivian Maier ... The Grand Budapest Hotel ... The Monuments Men ... and many more!


 Tom's Inflation Calculator

Now there are two versions of Tom's Inflation Calculator—the original Java version and an all-new JavaScript version for wider compatibility with web browsers, smartphones, and tablets!

Tom's Inflation Calculator includes the latest U.S. government inflation data plus alternative data sets. Both calculators are free and should automatically run in your web browser after clicking on the links above. By using historical data and forecasts, they can adjust U.S. dollar amounts for retail price inflation either forward or backward in time for any years between 1665 and 2100. (The alternative data sets have narrower ranges.)

The JavaScript version includes a new data set—the Social Security Wage Index. In addition to using the U.S. government's official inflation data, both Inflation Calculators offer an alternative data set from ShadowStats, a private company. These are the best inflation calculators on the Internet.


Computer Dictionary
Common Terms Defined

Are you baffled by a technical term or acronym you've never seen before? Or just curious about the latest techie slang? Tom's Computer Dictionary may have the answer. From "AAC" to "zoo virus," it defines more than 800 terms in plain language.


[ FUJI X20 IMAGE ] Fuji X20 Review

Read my in-depth review of the new Fujifilm X20 compact digital camera on the Maximum PC magazine website. Access is free!


Guitar Cheat Sheet

Do you want to learn the most common major and minor guitar chords? Instantly transpose songs from one major key to another? Find out which major and minor chords go together? Play scales in any major key? Learn the notes on the fretboard? It's easy! And it's free! Just download and print Tom's Guitar Cheat Sheet.


Index to Tom's Articles  


Here's an index to more than 380 of Tom's articles in Microprocessor Report and Networking Report, the insider's guides to microprocessors and networking semiconductors. Learn about embedded processors, microcontrollers, digital-signal processors, and other chip-related topics. (Subscription required for most articles.)


Test Your Java Security

How safe is your system from hostile Java applets? Find out with JSecure, one of Tom's free applets. JSecure harmlessly tests the security manager of your Web browser or applet viewer by trying to access information from your computer's operating system and hard disk. Try it today!


Scramble Text With ROTator

ROTator is a Java applet that lets you encode and decode text in the popular Internet format known as "ROT 13." Lots of other programs do that, too, but Tom's ROTator applet goes further by allowing you to encode and decode text in any rotational letter-substitution format. With ROTator, you can shift the letters left or right, and you can shift them by any number of letters from ROT 1 to ROT 26.


[ BYTE JUNE 1998 ] BYTE Articles

Here is an index to more than 180 of Tom's computer articles from BYTE Magazine published from 1992 to 1998. (BYTE ceased publication in June 1998.) Most articles are still available online and include the original photographs, figures, and screen shots.


And more stuff...
  • Tom's Mini Movie Reviews. Snappy reviews of recent movies, like those in the blue column on the left. Reviews that scroll off the column end up on the Mini Movie Reviews page.

  • Shutterbug Articles. More than a dozen of Tom's photography articles from Shutterbug magazine are now online. Learn how to personalize your film speed, banish dust from your darkroom, make professional-looking postcards, find the best deals on used cameras, create special effects with open flash, and more.

  • Tom's Oscar Contest. An annual tradition for 25 years, Tom's Oscar Contest is both entertaining and challenging. Hundreds of people have tried to guess who will win an Oscar in each Academy Award category. Competing against them is the computer brain of Tom's famed OscarCalc program, which sometimes wins the contest and always places near the top.

  • The Death of BYTE Magazine. In 1998, after 23 years of operation, BYTE Magazine was shut down by its new owner, CMP Media. A year later, CMP launched BYTE.com as a very different web-only publication. To learn the inside story about what happened to the world's second personal computer magazine, see Tom's Unofficial BYTE FAQ: The Death of BYTE Magazine.

  • Tom's Favorite Web Links. Find information about personal computers, microprocessors, Java, and other technologies. There are quite a few photography-related sites, plus some offbeat places you've never been. Lots of new links!

  • Tools for Web Builders. The hardware, software, programming tools, and books used to build this web site might be useful to you, too. Most of these tools are linked to their vendors' web sites so you can find more information.

Cool hobbies:   Phil's Old Radios
Buy hardware:   OsoSoft Mineral Collection
My guitar teacher:   Dave Creamer
Almost-forgotten history:   Commodore Computer
Nutrition adviser for family health:   Marsha Kunz, M.S., Give Me Five
World's foremost CPU authority:   Microprocessor Report
Kick-ass info about PCs:   Maximum PC Magazine
Online archive of tech articles:   BYTE Magazine
Practical photography:   Shutterbug
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