Monday, September 29, 2008

Rest in Peace Paul Newman, Actor

and another...

Rest in Peace Paul Newman, Philanthropist

Burn After Reading Impressions

It's No Country for Old Men, but I thoroughly enjoyed Burn After Reading, the latest from Joel and Ethan Coen. I laughed a lot and enjoyed the intricately woven spy-comedy story. Pitt and McDormand were standouts in particular, but the film also featured great performances from Clooney, Malkovich, Simmons, and Swinton. I encourage you to check it out.

Vid of Week 2008-09-29: Register to Vote!

Be sure to register to vote!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fringe or Mainstream?

JJ Abrams is my hero. Lost is my favorite show, probably ever in my life. Alias was great for most of its run. As such, I expected to love his new show on Fox, Fringe. Where The X-Files dealt with the supernatural and paranormal, Fringe aspires to deal with fringe science.

What I love about Lost (and loved about Alias) is the deep mythology of the show. Each episode has a story arc, each season has a story arc, and the entire run of the show has a story arc. Not so with Fringe. After the first episode I already more or less know how the pieces will fall together in the end. The second episode played more like a procedural crime show like CSI or Law and Order than The X-Files or Lost, except with second rate characters, plots, and writing. It was formulaic and not engaging at all. Why should I care about an episode where at any point the borderline insane 'fringe scientist' can invent some ultra advanced method to, say, allow one person to read anothers mind, or enable them to recreate the last images they ever saw? It means that no crime is unsolvable. ZZZZ

So far I have endured two episodes. The third aired last night and sits waiting on my TiVo. Because it is JJ, I will give it one more shot. After that, on to bigger and better things. If I change my mind, I will post a follow-up.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Get Out and Vote!

Off topic, I know.... I am encouraging everyone to register & vote. Visit for registration, absentee & early vote info. Pass it along.

Goodbye HBO

I ordered up HBO in the heyday of The Sopranos and The Wire. They kept me subscribed through Sex and the City, Six Feet Under and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Now, only Entourage is left. Not enough to keep me subscribing. True Blood was the last great hope. I do like the show so far, but not enough to keep subscribing. HBO--you have until the series finale of Entourage to wow me with True Blood or something else. It seems like HBO senses this as a trend, with premieres of two new series this weekend--Little Britain USA, and The Life & Times of Tim. Premiering November 9 is a third new series, Summer Heights High. I'll give all of the new shows a test drive of course, but I suspect that the days of "groundbreaking, critically acclaimed, smash hits" original programming may be over for HBO, with competition from AMC, FX, and other upstart networks.

Incidentally, many of the links to the defunct shows are to the complete DVD sets for sale on Amazon, some newly released. Christmas/Chanukkah is coming up!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Vid of Week 2008-09-15: The International Trailer

Clive Owen and Naomi Watts in a thriller? I can't wait....

Friday, September 12, 2008

LG BD300 Blu Ray Netflix Player is Released! Whoops!

A couple of months ago, LG and Netflix announced the BD300, a Blu-Ray 2.0 Player that also streams content from Netflix. Well, it was momentarily listed on Amazon and then taken down (link broken as of posting date). Officially, LG says next month, but I'll keep checking that Amazon link eagerly anticipating its return.

Pandora versus Genius versus... Zune?

Wired is reporting that Microsoft will be releasing a music recommendation feature on September 16 that outshines Genius, though there is no mention of Pandora in the article. The approach that Microsoft is taking seems to be more robust in that it incorporates the artists, albums, and fans of that song into one recommendation algorithm. Of course, this could all be a marketing-driven smoke and mirrors show--the proof will be in the pudding. I'll eagerly be watching the accuracy ratings of Pandora vs. Apple/Genius vs. Microsoft/Zune in the coming weeks and months. For now, I prefer Pandora.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pandora versus Genius

Pandora is a great service that uses the Music Genome Project to essentially create a dynamic radio station for you based on songs and artists that you select. iTunes decided to try the same thing with its Genius feature in iTunes 8.0 and new iPods. As a big fan of Pandora and iTunes, I decided to take Genius for a test drive and compare it to Pandora.

Genius will allow you to select a song from your library and do two things--create a playlist of similar songs and suggest new songs to purchase from the store. Pandora does not have access to your music library, but it does allow you to include multiple artists/songs in your stations to refine the selections that it makes for you.

So how smart is Genius? I selected the Zero 7 song "In the Waiting Line" which, if you are not familiar, is a very mellow electronica tune with a sultry female vocalist. Genius' suggested a playlist from my library that included Tone Loc's "Wild Thing", Fatboy Slim's "Wonderful Night", and Eric Prydz "Call on Me," all of which, while heavy on electronic instrumentals, are decidedly not mellow and none feature female vocalists. Genius did suggest some Bjork songs, but none of those were mellow either! At this point, Genius didn't seem that smart. On the other hand, it was limited to the contents of my iTunes library, which (as you can surmise by the tracks that I just listed) is not all that expansive. *** note to readers--please forget the songs that I just listed and do not use them against me in any way. I admit that my music library is lame. I was trying to illustrate a point.*** Anyway, even if I had a huge collection, it would pale in comparison to the songs that Pandora and iTunes have in their libraries.

A fairer comparison between Genius and Pandora would be to compare their suggestions based on their expansive libraries, not my piddling one. So I selected the same Zero 7 song "In the Waiting Line" to seed a Pandora station and to get iTunes Store recommendations.

Genius suggested 15 songs that I should buy from the iTunes Store, including "Lebanese Blonde" from Thievery Corporation, "Glory Box" from Portishead, "Teardrop" from Massive Attack, and "Such Great Heights" from Iron and Wine. Strangely, Genius also suggested another song called "Such Great Heights" from The Postal Service. The first few recommendations were spot on, but then the closeness of the styles of the songs declined considerably.

Pandora played for me "Don't Panic" by Coldplay, "I Know" by G Spliff, "Dirty Laundry" by Bitter:Sweet, "Final Home" by DJ Crush, and "My Friend" by Groove Armada. All of these tracks match the style of the Zero 7 tune pretty closely. Also, instead of just 15 songs, this Pandora "station" will play indefinitely and adjust itself on how I rate the songs that have been played and other artists/albums I add to the station.

In case you are not familiar with any or all of these songs, essentially the quality of the recommendations between Pandora and iTunes Genius are close, but personally I preferred the Pandora selections. Genius having two songs with the same title where one isn't a cover of the other is suspect to me. And actually, neither song was such a great match to the song that seeded the recommendation to begin with.

Overall, I think that Genius is cool to create interesting (albeit sometimes strange) playlists, and it has the benefit of being embedded on the newest iPods, but I'll keep Pandora, thank you very much. I encourage you to try the same test yourself!

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Scientific American Podcast

Tom Friedman's New Book--Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Scientific American Podcast

I love the quote, "Change your leaders, not your light bulbs."

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Brothers Bloom

I am jazzed for this film. Why? Because it is the follow-up from Rian Johnson, the writer-director of my favorite film from 2005, Brick. My crush on Rachel Weisz has nothing to do with it....

Impressions on Yesterday's Apple Event

Well, Wired was wrong about an iTunes subscription service. Kevin Rose was shockingly accurate, down to a mockup of the new iTunes 8.0 user interface and Genius feature. Though I like the new Genius feature in iTunes, I don't really care about it on my iPod as long as I can save my iTunes-generated playlists to my iPod which I can do with my existing iPod. I myself was holding out for an iPod Touch with more capacity and GPS, which did not come about. The "funnest iPod ever" iPod Touch 2G just doesn't grab me enough to compel me to give up my iPod Classic. If my iPod dies, I'll go out and buy one of these. Otherwise, maybe next time.

I was excited by the addition of HD content to the iTunes Store. May make an Apple TV more interesting in the future...

Does anyone else think that Apple should scale back these ultra-hyped events in the future? There's only so many times Steve Jobs can trot out on stage to tout marginal updates before it starts to get stale, right? Right? Am I right people? Hello?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Apple Surprise Coming Tomorrow. Wired Says...

Wired thinks that iTunes will be offering a subscription service. Could be. I'm betting on new devices (nano and touch) plus the holy grail for me--HD downloads....

Vid of Week 2008-09-08: Comedy Duo

Abbott and Costello? I wish. Cheech and Chong? Not quite as high. No, its Seinfeld/Gates!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

TiVo Resurgence

Just one reason and another why we shouldn't count TiVo out yet. The DirectTV TiVo in the first link is coming soon, the supercharged TiVo XL in the second link is already available.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

PC World - 10 Amazing Google Earth Add-Ons

I love Google Earth. And this is why.

The Story of Google Chrome

Google New Web Browser (now in beta) is pretty awesome, except that it doesn't work on a Mac yet. Read the story of how it was developed, by noted comic book writer/artist Scott McCloud.

The Baddest Baldies

Being an aspiring cue ball bad boy myself, I had a special fondness for this list of 17 Baddest Baldies from Entertainment Weekly.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Vid of Week 2008-09-01: Origin of Darth Maul

Very well produced back story on Darth Maul. 90% fighting, so what's to complain about?