Friday, December 30, 2005

Last Name First First Name Middle Name Last

Whose big idea was it to file all the music on the internet by first freakin' name? I don't know if it's Gracenote's fault, but they're the database that virtually everybody uses to fetch the data when you plug a CD into your computer.

I've just spent the last three days fixing the 60GB of music transfered from my CD collection to my in-house server, and I know I'm going to be continually frustrated by nearly every album I add.

You'd think some librarian's association would have had a fit over the Last Name/First Name crap, and for that matter, articles (A, An, The, Le, Los, Las, etc.) shouldn't be in front of titles and band names either (actually, I'm not so sure about some of those -- I still have Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys with the "Los" first).

At least give us a choice, please, perhaps add another set of tags, called "Album Artist The Right Way" or "Fileable Title."

My suggestion is, pick an album, and go to Gracenote (link above), and submit corrections. If everybody does a couple, we'll fix it all in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Spicoli gets some respect!

The national film registry listed its annual set of films to be preserved.
Some well-justified items (Cool Hand Luke - it rules!, Giant, Hoop Dreams, French Connection, Miracle on 34th Street, The Sting), but a few surprises.

Rocky Horror Picture Show?!? Yeah, it's a counter-culture icon, and gave us our current King Arthur, but worth preserving? I dunno.

Toy Story is only ten years old, and it's 100% digital. Does it really need preserving?

Fast Times at Ridgemont High - Sean Penn's major debut. Who'dathunk that he'd be Oscar bait, a director, considered this generation's De Niro? It's still shlock, and always will be. How many other films on the Library of Congress' film registry feature bouncing breasts, anyway?

What should be preserved? The 1977 version of Star Wars of course. Greedo didn't freakin' shoot first!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Rating the Personal Portals

I've been thinking about changing my home page, and it's traumatic.
For at least five years, My Yahoo! has been home to me, and served reasonably well.

But this Web 2.0 stuff is starting to grow on me, and there are three strong candidates for best DIY portal:

So what's wrong with good ol' My Yahoo!? It's gotten better. You're free to add RSS feeds, pages, it has lots and lots of content providers for things such as Weather, TV, Movies, more news feeds than you can shake a stick at... it's just old fashioned. It doesn't have that nifty flavor-of-the-day drag and drop stuff the new guys have. It's UI takes page after page of clicks to make a change. So time to look at the others:

Microsoft Live is the one to beat, so far as I can tell, and for one big reason: Gadgets. Microsoft has defined a simple way to place these gadgets on-screen, with minimal JavaScript, CSS and an XML wrapper. I'm trying to think of what I'd like it to show next, so I can start hacking one. They also are the only one that handles the back button nicely after popping up a feed. However, their feed-read screen doesn't show the history of a feed, you can't easily mark a whole feed as read, and you can't read more than one story. It's also very fond of finding ways to take you to the page rather than just opening a story.

Google's Personal Home Page has good news feeds, movies, but is very thin on gadget-y things. There's no way to collapse a feed, that I've seen, and it just looks like a quick hack to match the other guys. No OPML, no pop-up stories. Give them a few weeks, and it could be powerful.

Netvibes is sweet. Lots of nice UI, and a very responsive author, who I wish would just open up the source a bit, or at least a MS-Gadgets-like API. It doesn't have news feeds built in, so I may have to go find some. Collapseable feeds, a few nice gadgets (Writely, Google Mail) and the nicest search pane: includes Wikipedia among others. Control of the back button would be the #1 thing I'd add, and maybe multiple screens or panels of feeds. UI is very friendly, with lots of controls over refresh, collapse, etc. Its feed directory has more than Google and MS, although you quickly start adding your own.

Summary: Try out Netvibes. Hmm. It seems to be unresponsive right this minute, but I still love it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Opening acts are like ethnic appetizers

Saw The Ditty Bops last night opening for Nickel Creek.

And while the Bops don't rule the Vic with the rapture that is music (more below), they were an act that's tough to follow: Amanda and Abby are carried onstage like mannikins, "activated" by a stiltwalker's confetti. Part vaudeville, part skiffle, part bluegrass, with juggling, pantomime, and ironic humor, they were a lot of fun. In some ways, their album is sort of just the soundtrack to their performances -- see them live if you can. You've probably heard them in the background of Grey's Anatomy, they've been used there more than once, and their song Ooh la la is a bluegrass-rocker that will disappoint nobody that's gotten some airplay at XRT in Chicago.

I've had a really good track record for finding great opening acts for music shows. I discovered Nickel Creek opening for Lyle Lovett about five years ago, where they blew the roof off the Chicago Theater. Lovett's finely-crafted country-swing-pop seemed sterile after that. The next time I saw Nickel Creek, Glen Phillips opened for them. In past years, I've been lucky enough to see the Neville Brothers open for Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Clegg open for Tracy Chapman (boy was that a mismatch), and Katie Todd open for Pat MacDonald (who actually never showed up that night at the coffeehouse).

So I've got this theory: opening acts at a concert are the appetizers at ethnic restaurants, or bar-n-grills: the satay, spring rolls, beef negimaki, nachos, etc. have got more flavor, and more excitement than the pad thai, kung pao chicken, beef teriyaki or enchiladas suizas that follow. The difference? They don't break the budget, they're a gimme at the concert you're going to. So show up early, don't talk through the openers, you may catch something cool.

Oh yeah, I promised a review of Nickel Creek. As usual, they smoked. Chris Thile's mandolin playing is superhuman (he so tries to look cool, but playing a teeny weeny guitar-like instrument still looks geeky, sorry). Riffs that flow effortlessly with hands that really seemed to blur. The vocal combinations with Sarah Watkins and Sean Watkins meet and exceed the bar set by Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and their instrumental jams blow past the Grateful Dead's telepathic synchronicity.

Compared to past shows, Sean Watkins guitar and songwriting was not overshadowed by Chris' grandstanding. This Side and Somebody More Like You are great pop songs that are sometimes hidden behind the hits such as Smoothie Song.

Part of the fun of a NC show is what cool songs they'll cover. Past shows have included Taxman and a frenetic version of Subterranean Homesick Blues. This time, we were treated to a beautiful and faithful version of The Band's Cripple Creek, and a smoking, ironic interpretation of Britney Spears Toxic of all things.

I'll go see them every time I can -- an act not to be missed. For people who've been playing together for 2/3rds of their lives -- as big a fraction as the Rolling Stones in their scant 25 years of life -- there's nothing old or tired here. This is the future of music.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why the new iPod can't Fast Forward Video

When I read that the new iPod's video capabilities were limited so that you can only use a few formats, I yawned. What did you expect from the company that still only allows two music formats on its media players (their own and MP3)?

When I read that they had ABC-owned shows available for download but not burning to media I raised an eyebrow, and then yawned. I still have never paid for a download -- nor have I downloaded copyrighted songs illegally. I've got 45GB ripped from my own CD's ready for play in the living room on the GoVideo networked DVD player, on a plane on my Cowon iAudio M3, in my bedroom office on my laptop. The only downloads I have are mash-ups, copyright flaunters such as The Evolution Control Committee's Rocked by Rape and the ever-popular Grey Album, and permissible stuff from the Live archive such as those by Mutual Admiration Society. It's clever, and they'll make money off the "We're going to have to watch that again!" diehards of Lost, but I'm not shelling anything out for that.

When I read about the fact that you can't rewind or fast forward, I completely dismissed the device as reasonable for video (my better half is probably getting a Cowon M5 for XMas, but there's months of new products and price drops between now and then), and figured they're not going to pick up any of the video player market share. I put this up there with the level of idiocy that gets people to buy UMD media for their PSPs that they can only watch on a handheld screen.

But here's the catch: would you be willing to watch ads on your pocket video player if, instead of $1.99 for last night's Desperate Housewives, you could get it for $0.25? You have to watch the ads because you can't fast forward.

The link below talks how advertisers are worried that people will pony up $2 the morning after instead of watching through ads. Heck, I don't watch the ads now (see Creating Passionate Users' rant about paying attention to ads) because of TiVo (but I need another one because on average, if there's one good show on, that's when the other good show of the evening runs too), but if you downloaded an ad-laden show from iTunes, you'd have to.

I don't know if they've contracted for any media to be prepared that way, but I can just see it: "Download this 500MB file for $1.99 or Download this 600MB file with ads for $0.25".

Scary. And Halloween's still two weeks away.

Friday, October 14, 2005


Lost's numbers have been bugging me.
4 8 15 16 23 42

4 = 2**2
8 = 2**3
15 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 - an odd number
16 = 2**4
23 = Michael Jordan's number, considered mystical by erisians, Masons, etc.
42 = the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything
Total = 108 - the number of minutes for each reset

Hmm... maybe the differences between them... 3, 7, 1, 7, 19. Nah. No better.

Hmm some more... 108 minutes = 6480 seconds. Still not getting anywhere.

Probably Milo Rambaldi's birthday is 4/8/1516 or something like that, eh? Nope, according to this he was born in 1444, died 1496. Woulda' been nice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Velvet Salmon and Nikko

As long as I was on the Lou Reed quoting kick, I figured I'd pay homage some more with tonight's title.

A very late night at the office (telecon with the far east until 9PM) had dinner with my boss at Nikko on Rt 10 in Parsipanny. At least there's a restaurant in NJ that doesn't tick me off to no end (but the radio stations still suck).

Fuyu roll is salmon, scallion and ginger paste (didn't taste much ginger, but didn't need to either). Wonderful fish -- salmon is the world's perfect food, good cooked any way or not at all. And ooh, I should get more on Thursday, smoked at the family Yom Kippur meal. Note to readers: I'm born into the culture, but haven't a religious bone in my body -- hey I just ate pork!

Tonkatsu was crisp and hot, lots of hot mustard in the bowl of tonkatsu sauce (which has always struck me as thick Worcestershire). Miso soup was fragrant. My boss's Yose Nage looked good, but I wasn't in the mood for cooked fish.

At least (at last) I go home tomorrow.

No this won't always be about food, but between eating at restaurants while I'm traveling for business, reading Julie & Julia and watching Iron Chef... yeah, I'm a little obsessed.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Iced tea

Iced tea. Just about the cheapest soft drink in the world - usually cheaper than bottled water.
Just about the only drink that was traditionally refilled.

So tonight I'm steamed over iced tea. Three 8oz. glasses. $2.00 each (plus tax and tip).

This was at a nice restaurant in Parsippany, NJ. I didn't expect them to continuously refill a 32oz. tumbler of Mountain Dew for me, but this is iced freakin' tea. In a little bitty glass.

At a buck twenty-five, I probably would have grumbled, but not complained. For $2.00, I was upset. The line the waitress used was, "Can I get you another iced tea?" Which of course gets a nod. Then she disappeared and I had to ask one of the busboys. Same line the next time, with a quicker return, at least.

I'll try to be less whiny in the future. The spaghetti bolognese was tasty, if oversauced, and Julie & Julia continues to entertain. She had lobster while I ate pasta.

Books: Julie & Julia, Lunar Park

He's gone soft! He's reading mainstream fiction again.

Actually, since i've only been blogging for a short time, nobody's ssaying that at all, but I'm sure thinking that. In the last month, the books I've read on business trips are:

  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  • Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis
  • Bridge of Ashes by Roger Zelazny
  • Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Note: No Amazon links here -- my wife owns a children's bookstore, and she'd kill me to link to the competition.

So 50% of my recent reading isn't genre fiction. A case can be made for Anansi Boys to be mainstream, since it is selling like it's mainstream. The Zelazny hardly counts since it's under 150 pages.

But let's examine those other two:

I picked up Lunar Park, an Advance Reading Copy of which had been sitting in the stack since the beginning of June when we brought it back from BookExpoAmerica. I picked it up for the title, not remembering who Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero) is. But Stephen King recommended it in Entertainment Weekly, and Ellis has said that he was inspired by King. And it is a horror storry in the King-ian mode, with what appears to be characters from his own books haunting him. It's a fun read, and perhaps I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd read LTZ or AS but it's a page-turner, and not too self-indulgent, I'd say, since the "self" the book describes is not the real Bret Easton Ellis. But why Lunar Park? The phrase only is mentioned in the book, what, 3 times? And those are all in reference to the book itself. I did think that he lost a bit of opportunity to speak to some of the father/son issues, especially the sort of "I'm becoming my father" dread that new parents go through. But since he isn't really a father, perhaps those things didn't occur to him. I'll ask him, if I ever get the chance (hey, it could happen at a future BookExpo).

Julie & Julia is different for me. Though I own hundreds of cookbooks, this isn't one, but it is about cooking (although not as much as her blog, linked below, is). And though she isn't a computer expert, she certainly fits in the society. She geeks out over Buffy the Vampire Slayer, considers an alternate universe where French cooking is still relevant to the US, and comes across as a cross between, say, Candace Bushnell (I've got her book on the stack too, but it's not likely to get read anytime soon) and, oh, Xeni Jardin on BoingBoing. The fact that the book is full of sex, food porn (no, not food as sex -- food as an object of desire in itself), and loads of sarcastic humor makes it worthwhile. I'm not done with it yet, but I thought I'd get this mini-review out of the way. Go read it, it's a lot of fun.

And what of the stack? Is there any SF in there at all? Sadly, not much, no big-name authors, those were read as soon as they came out (one of the hazards/benefits of owning a bookstore -- buying at wholesale). What happens to all those books, then? A lot of them get read by Sue, they're kids books for her to review for the site, and what's left gets given out at our annual holiday party. I'll let you know if you're invited, or even if it happens this year. The Remodeling Project is probably one of the next entries here.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Rock & Roll

Whatever happened to the decent rock radio station? I don't want death metal, I don't want bubblegum pop, I can tolerate an alt-country (Ryan Adams, Nickel Creek), or the occasional venture in the better rap/hip-hop (Outkast, but Citizen Cope is a current fave)... but the classic rock format leaves me cold, the lite stations make me nauseated (just left a chinese place in Parsippany, NJ -- first song on the station they were playing was the Phil Collins version of "Can't Hurry Love" -- not even the Supremes, or the very retro-cool Stray Cats version (isn't there some other 80's Brit who did it too?). They did redeem themselves with "Let's get it on" later though).

My home town station is WXRT, 93.1 FM in Chicago. The Bay Area has KFOG with a very similar theme to it. It used to be called "Progressive Rock" or "Album-Oriented Rock" but they'll play almost anything good, outside of the abovementioned bubblegum and death metal. I've been able to find stations in Philadelphia with little trouble, but NYC/NJ area I seem to be wearing out the SCAN buttons on my rentacar looking for something I can listen to even one song on (I'm on WPLJ for now, but I can't say I'm sticking there).

I mean, what ever happened to,

Then, one fine mornin', she puts on a New York station

You know, she couldn't believe what she heard at all

She started shakin' to that fine, fine music

You know, her life was saved by rock'n'roll

(Velvet Underground, Rock & Roll Lyrics)

Really, now, why does NY area radio suck? It's supposed to be this cultural mecca (and I have dined and been entertained there at the highest heights), but I still haven't found a decent radio station or had a decent chinese meal in Jersey.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Serenity Now!... or rather last Friday

You haven't seen Serenity yet? What are you doing reading this blog? Get out in the big blue room with the evil day star (heh - been meaning to insert those trite little things somewhere) and go blow a few bucks on celluloid. It's big action, romance, comedy, political, science fiction.

It's certainly not a summer big-n-stupid opens-before-memorial-day blockbuster such as Deep Impact (Flight Plan beat it in the weekend box office, for Jeebus' sake), but it's not a make-you-think science fictioner such as Gattaca or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Now mind you, I occasionally enjoy them big and stupid. Matrix almost fell out of that category until you saw the sequels and realized they had no idea what they were doing. The Core is very, very, very stupid, but very, very, very, very fun and never takes itself seriously. Stanley Tucci's pompousness alone makes it worth a watch. Unobtanium? Sure, why not.

If you've seen Joss Whedon's other recent works, Angel and Buffy, you know he likes to do nasty things to his characters, and they certainly don't have an easy time of it here. Far too little is used of characters outside of Mal and River. The best lines by Jayne and Wash are in the previews ("I don't want to explode" and "Define interesting." - "Oh god, oh god, we're all gonna die?" respectively) but certainly not all the funny stuff, and certainly not all the action.

Reavers! Reavers and more Reavers! Mr. Universe (no, not Ahnuld).
If you don't believe me, read Orson Scot Card's review.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Beaches in October

Illinois Beach State Park in Zion is my escape. Over 6 miles of beaches, many of them empty even on a summer weekend, and definitely peaceful on a rare 80+ degree day in October.

Check the place out, and if you like it, tell your Illinois representative about how lousy they're maintaining the place. I'm willing to pay to get in, if that would spruce things up. The north unit of the park has been mostly closed for 2 years because of repaving, and now a broken water pipe supplying the drinking fountains -- of all the lame excuses.

It's a wildflower wonderland, including prickly pear cactus, yes cactus in Illinois.

Today was only OK, as it was much cooler by the lake, and the water was too chilly for a swim. The sun kept ducking behind thin clouds.

Plus, cheap gas in Lake County (about 17 cents cheaper than near home), and some good food in the area including Captain Porky's, with excellent fried fish, BBQ pork and homemade goat cheese.

Everybody's got one

It's about time I start blogging, darn it!

What you will find here is what I care about in pop culture, not-so-pop culture, occasional forays into gadgets, anime models, cooking and eating.

Nothing cute, probably nothing pornographic, although I can't promise it won't be offensive.