Monday, November 22, 2010

Turning Pro (Droid)

I just received a loaner of a Droid Pro (no, they're not available on Verizon's Global Loaner program yet, but I gots connections -- Thanks Alan!).  My 1st-gen Droid doesn't have a global roaming capability, and I head for Nice on Saturday.

Switching over was relatively simple: Just called Verizon up and gave them the new hardware ID's on the phone. Activation and logging into Google brought in almost all my apps (except those downloaded outside of the Android Market), and all my files came over on my MicroSD card.

High points: MotoBlur is a little spiffier than vanilla Android 2.2 (Froyo), with 7 home screens instead of 5, and a number of active widgets that put it close to on par with the active blocks in Win7Phone. If I cared more about social media, I'd probably be squee-ing, but, no.  The batteries are the same as the Droid, so I may take the other as a spare. There are a number of extra apps, which I haven't had a chance to play with yet: Camcorder, City ID, Dialer (slight changes from the standard Phone app), DLNA, Files (a real file browser built in), Verizon Account Manager, NFS Shift, Social Networking, Task Manager, VZ Navigator (bleah).  I was a little disappointed that I had to reconnect to all my other accounts, but that was managed very well by an Accounts tool.  Nice point: EasyTether still works (and they've got great support -- got me a new activation key within minutes), so I don't have to shell out $$$ to use Verizon's tethering. It would be nice to have the hotspot feature, but hey, for avoiding a $30 charge, I don't mind having a cable.

Low points: Form factor. It's a little thinner and lighter than the standard Droid (no slide keyboard), but the keyboard is smaller, and there's a BlackBerry-like keyboard at the bottom. Lose it, and I'll use Swype instead.  They also moved the order of the four main buttons (Menu, Home, Return, Search instead of Return, Menu, Home, Search) -- but apparently that varies on every phone: my son's EVO has yet a different layout. The case is also a much cheaper-feeling plastic, versus the heavier coated metal back of the Droid. While I didn't like the position of the USB cable in the Droid, it's worse on the Pro -- lower on the left, where I'd hold the phone.  The BB-like keyboard doesn't have the cursor keys that the Droid's slider does, and it's harder to click on a particular piece of text on the smaller screen.

Everything is a little different: the email program is significantly different, in the browser bookarks are a list versus a grid, notification icons are all different.   Nothing I can't get used to, but it hardly makes Android look like a "platform."

Most likely, I'll just be getting used to the differences around the time I hand it back.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Petty Grievances

Saw Tom Petty at Summerfest in Milwaukee (link above) Saturday night.  Awesome performance, if a little short (about an hour and a half), and shallow.  Shallow?  Yeah, while Petty may put everything up there on stage, heart on his sleeve, really one of the great rock and roll journeymen... this show was pretty much just the greatest hits.  I hadn't realized how many Petty songs were so darn easy to sing along to.

And yet, much of the audience failed at at that.  (New Lyrics to "Drunk Girls" lcd soundsystem: "Drunk Girls -- don't care if they're in tune, Drunk girls -- just shout it louder").  Y'know, I paid over $100 for the two of us to hear a professional musician (on the lawn -- Pavilion seats were about three times that), not 10,000 fans.  Shut the hell up.

So it was nice to hear the few items that weren't on Top 40 radio: "King's Highway"  was about the only deep track we got.  A very nice cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" -- which did get the singalong treatment -- showed off Mike Campbell's awesome guitar chops (he should have been at the Crossroads Festival). That song seemed a perfect Heartbreakers tune... and I realized why: "I Should Have Known Better" off the new album "Mojo" is pretty much the same sort of short-lyric-then-screaming-guitar song.  They should have put them up against each other, instead of about 20 minutes apart.

(oh, before I forget: Petty's stage has awesome pillars of plasma screens which show graphics or the band at various times.  just terrific)

But really, I liked the peformance.  What I want to whine about today is the venue: sound is OK (a little echo-y out on the lawn), sight lines aren't bad... but two major issues: The Marcus Amphitheater is praised for its steep hillside allowing clear view.  That's fine except that (a) nobody sits, and standing at a 40-degree angle for several hours isn't much fun, and (b) if you do sit, you're going sledding on your blanket down the hill.  The capper to the annoyances though, is that Wisconsin isn't as much of a nanny state as Illinois: you can smoke there.  And people do. Constantly. I'm really just about ready to test if spitting on people is just as legal as the actions of those who pour their smoke over me.

My run of great opening acts ran short that night:  ZZ Top was pretty unexiting.  Just before the performance began, the PA was playing a live ZZ Top performance... I couldn't tell the difference in sound.  No spontenaity, no extended jams.  The songs were synched to clips from movies and their '80s videos, so there's no room for hanging loose.  Except for really bluesing up "Jesus Left Chicago", it was pretty dull.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Swype me one of those!

Wow, somebody got it right!  Swype, in beta for Android phones, is such a quantum leap beyond the Android keyboard -- physical or "soft" -- such a huge step over Blackberry keyboards, worlds better than my old Palm's learn-a-new-alphabet letter recognition.

Rather than typing out letters one at a time, swype has you trace a finger around the soft keyboard to spell out the word. It uses continuous dictionary lookup to figure out what word you're really typing.  Something the soft keyboard on Android should do -- and almost does, by showing possible words on the top, none of which are what I'm actually using.

Is it perfect?  No.  It occasionally comes up with the wrong word, or gives me a choice of eight words none of which are right, but it's accurate much more frequently than the standard soft keyboard, and much, much faster.  It may be sucking battery power more than my already-thirsty phone does (something likely to improve with the release version, I'd hope).  But I swyped several emails yesterday while waiting for my plane, things I'd only have done with the slider keyboard on my Moto Droid previously.

It looks like support for it within apps depends partly on the app: most of the Android apps integrate with it beautifully.  A couple times, I couldn't get it to appear in landscape mode, but I haven't put my finger on it yet.  The one app it doesn't seem to support at all is "Twisty" -- an interactive fiction interpreter for playing "Adventure" and the old Infocom-type text adventures.

But this is an app that's staying on my phone, and I'll probably pay for it if I have to when the beta is up.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

America Pulled In Its Welcome Mats

Welcome to Ohio - Really? So where's the welcome center?
Pennsylvania?  You too.
Maryland?  Nope.
Delaware? Sad, just sad.
West Virginia? Closed, Visitor Info "store" closed at 5PM, Interstate tunnel closed and alternate route down to one lane.
Indiana seems to be the only state between here and DC that's still got its welcome mat out on the turnpikes and interstates.  Everywhere else, it was a closed rest area and a sign saying it's 48 miles to the next one.

It's not just for the lack of a pee break, although that's annoying too.  A chance to stand and stretch, a little caffeine, and a coupon book for cheap motels is what I need.

And you all (except for the Hoosier state) let me down.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why I hate autotune

I am not a gleek.

Yes, I watch the show, but I wouldn't if Sue didn't want to.
Yes, they do a nice job at arrangements -- "One" on tonight's episode was terrific, as was Kurt's solo, but it was forgettable enough that I don't remember it just an hour after hearing it off the DVR.

But get rid of the autotune.
I mean, I love music.  I'm actually reading non-fiction to understand what it's all about.
And autotune is exactly what music isn't. 
It's turning singing into video-game chiptunes.
It's turning some pretty good voices into robots.
It's eliminating any humanity and variation from the voices, which is where all the emotion and expression is.
A few of the songs they let the real voices come through (Kurt's song, in particular), and it makes it worthwhile, but when they were autotuning Mercedes earlier in the show, it was a tragedy.  She's got the pipes, let it out.  Odds are the actress playing Santana can't sing -- why did they hire her?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Stocking Up

The freezer was getting empty, and I had to have more veal stock.

The link above goes to the recipe I use: Michael Ruhlman's "Elements of Cooking". It's not a cookbook, it's not a pictorial... it's a freakin' glossary. In reality, it's a food-nerd's book, an overview of the main components of cooking, and a big fat glossary of cooking terms. It's sort of a crib sheet of the ultimate food-nerd's book, Harold McGee's "Food and Cooking," which I've barely flipped through.

But Ruhlman's right about stock: It's important. It's umami. It's body to sauces, and the base of soups. If a recipe calls for a half-cup of stock, and all you've got is a can, use water instead. I do use some of the boxed stocks (Wolfgang Puck's or Emeril's when they're on sale, Kitchen Basics other times, although it's pretty flavorless). But I don't use their veal -- in fact I don't think I've seen veal stock from Kitchen Basics or Emeril.

I've loved what veal stock -- neutral flavor, gelatine body -- has done for my sauces, especially Chinese cooking. It's worth the time, and really, time is all it takes. Veal bones are pretty cheap, even if they're more than pork or beef.

What takes the most time? Finding the darn bones!
Forget the supermarkets: Jewel and Dominicks' have got nothing that doesn't come out of a box and sell by the dozens. Even my trusty local Garden Fresh let me down -- and they've got a real butcher that actually cuts up meat... but they don't do much veal. So I went to the place I got it from last time: Fresh Farms in Wheeling.

And just like before... they've got 3-4 pounds wrapped up, some "Veal Soup Bones" and some "Veal Neck Bones". So I throw them in the freezer, and next time I'm in the neighborhood, time to get some more... and a third time and I've got the 10 pounds I need, finally.

So I picked a day I was going to be doing a lot of cooking anyway, got up early and started roasting bones before I finish breakfast. Oil some baking sheets, roast the bones at 450F until they're brown and toasty. Drop them in a pot, deglaze the pans with some water to go into the pot, and more water to cover. Simmer in a 200F oven for 8 hours, then add carrots, onions, celery and tomato paste, fresh parsley, thyme and pepper, and a couple more hours.

Ruhlman's book says that it should be down to about two quarts from the original 10-12. No way. I don't know if that's because the oven is sealed too well, and the steam doesn't evaporate? Maybe it's a little cool? I have no idea. So I strained out the bones and veg, put it back in the oven, and left it overnight. Still lots more than 2 quarts, but I can live with that. Chilled overnight so I can skim the little bit of fat off, and I've got about 5 quarts in the freezer of jiggly, tasty stock, apportioned from quarts down to ice cubes.

Mmm... what to make next? Tracks, apparently, I'm off on a business trip for the rest of the week... but when I get back, Sue will be off on a trip, so I'm planning on the Taiwanese steamed fish with black beans and scallions from the latest Sauveur.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Easter Counter-Programming

Sue was hoping that Netflix had "Jesus Christ Superstar" on their streaming plan -- no dice. I could show "Life of Brian" for her family... but I get the feeling the language and full-frontal nudity may be out of the question for some of my nieces and nephews.

But what I really wanted to talk about is the alternative to Easter food. What's with ham, anyway? Jesus certainly didn't have any. Not at the last supper, nor the one before that.

I've always hated ham (jamon iberico and prosciutto are another thing altogether, but as Alton Brown says, "That's another show."). So since we've started hosting Sue's family Easter, I've come up with alternatives. Last year was an Indian chicken pilaf (made with Kosher chicken for my future daughter-in-law, an no butter *sigh*). This year, it's b'stella, from one of our favorite cookbooks, "Cooking Under Wraps" By Nicole Routhier (ISBN 0688108679, currently out of print, but you find a used copy, snatch it up!). I've made this dish before, and it's one of the most fragrant, rich dishes in the world. Chicken poached with cinnamon and black pepper, then mixed with sauteed onions, garlic, ginger and spices, cream, cilantro and mint; scrambled eggs made with some of the poaching liquid; all enclosed in phyllo with almonds, sugar and cinnamon. Sweet, spicy, wow. But it's a kitchen-killer: I'm on about four pots and pans so far, and I haven't melted butter for the phyllo yet.

I'm betting this will be gone... and the ham will have lots of leftovers. I'd rather it were the other way 'round, though.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Imagine there's no heaven -- at least we've got Terry Gilliam

We saw The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus last night, and there's no doubt it's a Terry Gilliam film: shattering landscapes, floating hands, and nods to Bodicelli's venus are sure signs that something from that particular mind has made its way to your eyeballs.

It's certainly the most visually stunning film Gilliam's done: the fantasies from Brazil and the storytelling of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen merely hint at what's behind the good doctor's mirror here. And not only is the scenery fabulous, but we've got a stellar cast to chew on it: Christopher Plummer as the doctor, Lily Cole as Valentina (who bears more than a little resemblence to the 9-year-old Sarah Polley of Munchausen), Verne Troyer in a role that should help people think of him as more than just Mini-Me, and especially Tom Waits as Mr. Nick: a devil not so much interested in turning people to evil as the game itself. Did I forget somebody? Heath Ledger you say? It's nice to have a last performance, but it's no Joker. His character is something of a cypher through much of the movie: how much does he remember, how much does he want to forget? Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell do a good job as Fake Shemps, but I would have really liked to have seen what happens when Ledger himself steps behind the mirror.

The core of the movie is all about the wagers between Parnassus and Mr. Nick -- I've never seen Waits having so much fun on screen, even as Renfield in Coppola's Dracula. But it's also the weakest part. What exactly is the bet, the choice that each soul must make? It's really not clear. It's not really good versus evil, it's something more like imagination versus base instincts. There was one mumbled line about it early on, and I'd really like another go at the movie to hear it again. But the choices people make behind the mirror, especially Ledger/Farrell's Tony, are kind of vague.

There's also an interesting twist: the typical "Devil Take Your Soul" plot is a putting off of a eternal torment for a little pleasure now. The Doctor's mirror seems to give that immediate pleasure to those who choose "good" while the sinners get their hell instantly.

Trying to figure out the morals of a filmmaker from his visions is probably a fruitless task anyway. The movie isn't about the choices of good and evil -- it's the playing of games, the quest for immortality and the eternal chance to return from dereliction. It's a fantastic ride, don't miss it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A pair of punks -- cyber, that is

Over a recent business trip, I read two books that fit the post-cyberpunk model well, and perhaps even good ol' cyberpunk:

It's interesting to see how many themes crop up in both books -- I'll try not to give too much away, but definitely put both of these on your short list to read.

Radio Freefall is a first (and only) novel, and it's quite well polished for a first outing. It falls squarely post-cyberpunk if only because it's not a dystopian society, but it carries some important CP items: emergent AI and world-spanning AI, and the ethics of AI ownership, and hackers of computers, societies, brains and bodies... plus good ol' rock 'n' roll! Following the band "Snake Vendor," the book features excerpts of lyrics from that band, plus "Sex Lethal" and a couple others. Jarpe gets rock music and lyrics, the way few bands seem to today. I want to hear some of those songs. There's an interesting McGuffin: A virus so prevalent in every computer (cough) that the world economy depends on its side effects.

Implied Spaces is a bit less groundbreaking, more of an SF comfy old shoe. It opens reading like a heroic fantasy, except the protag is aware he's in a fantasy, making me think perhaps it's a Dream Park-like setting, and it is and it isn't. Where Radio Freefall was more of a Neuromancer-like near future, this is more of a far-future superscience story. Again, we've got AI rights, violation of mind, self and computer, but at a different scale. Worlds held in the balance kind of thing... and a talking cat and a magic sword. Could be trite but ends up far from it. Probably more nods to folks like Lieber than I'm picking up on.

Bottom line? Good to see old-fashioned Cyberpunk still being written. With folks like Bear (Quantico), Sterling (Zenith Angle), and Gibson (Pattern Recognition) getting out of the future and into maybe next week, there's a new guard picking up where the old left off a while ago.

And that applies to music too: Airborne Toxic Event sounds like Psychadelic Furs (if the Furs had clearer singing voices); MGMT's Electric Feel sounds a bit like The Clash's Hitsville UK.

Is everything old new again? Or am I just getting old?