Monday, October 31, 2005

earCandy: Ween - Shinola Vol. 1 (2005) 4/5

So, first thing first, Ween is not for everyone - and I really, really mean this. Ween exists on the same line of evolution as Frank Zappa, Duckman, Family Guy, and all the other creative efforts put in place to push the boundaries of comedy and "artistic expression" (I use that term loosely, but they deserve it as much as most).

Shinola Vol. 1, as the name suggests, is the first in a series of albums. These albums collect various outtakes, oddities, and rarites from one of the most prolific "college" bands that has graced the airwaves of campus radio and the CD players of freaks everywhere. As bizarre and varied as Ween is, it's somewhat understandable how these tracks, as great as some of them are, did not fit on the band's other albums - though, strangely enough, they seem to fit well on an album with one another. I've been exposed to a few of these before (e.g. the Prince-inspired "Monique the Freak" which, frankly, is the only song on the album for which I enjoy the earlier version better than the more newly re-produced version - I just didn't need the Stephen Hawkings on crank version of the chorus) and I'm happy to hear these tunes given the production they deserve on a formal release. Then there are the tracks that I've never heard - the rockin' "Gabrielle", the tongue-in-cheek (actually, everything Ween does is tongue-in-cheek) flamingly flamboyant "Boy's Club", the Jewish-wedding jazz tune "Israel", and the Pink Floyd-ish "Did You See Me?".

Ween defines themselves with equal parts of eclecticism and offensiveness, and this may not be appealing to the general public. However, if you're the type that enjoys the irreverent, juxtaposed strangeness that is Ween, then by all means, haul out the Scotch-Guard and enjoy ;-) .

PS: This album is only available for order online from Ween's website, which is just fine. I got mine (in Canada!) within a couple of weeks and I like knowing that the $14 is going straight to the band - after 15 years of crazy albums, fantastic stage shows (they are just about the best band I have ever seen live), and endless self-abuse, Dean and Gene deserve it :-) .
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10/31/2005 10:01:00 PM  

Saturday, October 29, 2005

MacOnMacs: Screenshots on your Mac

I've used screenshots (i.e. capturing what's on the screen of your Mac as a picture or video) a lot. They are essential for doing some of my commandN segments, especially techTIPS, but I find them useful for a lot of other things too: performing website evaluations with my MGImedia.ca company often requires capturing the contents of browser windows, and captures are a great help when you're dealing with tech support issues (e.g. trying to describe what you see on your computer screen can be difficult over the phone, so just take a screenshot and email it to the person you're talking to - if they're tech support, chances are they're in front of a computer and will receive the file in moments ;-) ). But how do you do this? I'll outline two ways, a simple method that uses software that comes with your Mac, and a robust paid application that can help you record movement on your screen and a host of other things.

Grab: You may not know it, but if you look in your Applications/Utilities folder you'll find that the good people at Apple have included a screen capture application called Grab for free with your computer. To use Grab, launch the application and then choose to capture either a Selection, Window, Screen, or Timed Screen from under the Capture menu. Selection lets you drag over a portion of the screen you want to capture, Window lets you select any open window (e.g. your browser window), Screen lets you capture everything on your whole screen, and Timed Screen gives you a ten second countdown to when your screen will be captured. The resulting capture will pop up in a window and can be saved as a .tiff picture file (you may not recognize this format, but almost all image editors, including Preview, will recognize it and can convert it to a .jpg or .gif if you'd like). If you want to capture your whole screen with just a keystroke, and you haven't changed these settings, just press Command-Shift-3 to have a screen capture saved directly to your desktop (to see where this is set, just check out System Preferences->Keyboard & Mouse->Keyboard Shortcuts).

Snapz Pro X: Now if you need to capture video from your screen (e.g. you want to make a little movie to show your Mom graphically the steps to take to, say, capture her Mac's screen ;-) ) then you'll need something more powerful. The solution is the fantastic Snapz Pro X from Ambrosia Software. Snapz Pro lets you do everything Grab does, but also allows you to capture video (and audio simultaneously if you'd like to), include your mouse in the captures, select your frame rate and resolution for video captures, save to a variety of formats, etc. As they say on the website, think of it as a digital video camera for your screen. About the only complaint I have about Snapz Pro is that it's always on - it's sitting in the background and, by default, is activated by using the Command-Shift-3 shortcut that would have formerly been assigned as mentioned above. However, don't let that hold you back. The full video version costs $69, but there's a free demo available too (I believe this leaves a watermark on the capture). If you need to make training videos, produce simple product demos, archive streaming video, and more, then I don't think there's anything else out there that'll match this app!
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10/29/2005 09:53:00 PM  

Friday, October 28, 2005

mindCandy: Humans and Dinosaurs and Wheels, Oh My!

OK, it's a little late and I've found myself somewhat obsessed mentally by a book I've just perused - so much so that I've decided I need another category for my thoughts on this blog :-) .

My wife, Robin, asked me last night when dinosaurs roamed the Earth vs. when humans were around (do not ask this question to a creationist ;-) ). I spat out "several hundred million years ago" and then noted that I really had no idea and that that seemed like an awfully long time ago. Well it turns out that the age of dinosaurs actually was 248-65 million years ago.

At the same time I was thinking, after watching HBO's fantastic series "Rome", how much alike we are to the people that lived in that period, several thousand years ago. Well this just aroused my curiosity even more and, with a bit of research, I discovered that early man existed from 3 million to 3000 BC - which is astonishing. Even 400,000 years ago, we were making tools, using fire, and gathering grains, berries, and nuts. Circa 60,000 BC, Neanderthal man was caring for the aged and including flowers in their burial rites. The last Ice Age was around 50,000 years ago, dogs were domesticated about 14,000 years ago (there's a reason they are man's best friend ;-) ), and, in 36,000 BC, Homo Sapiens reached the Americas from Asia.

It's just astounding to think of the scale of time in all this. Here we are, with an average lifespan of roughly 75 years, and 186 generations ago (that's a lot of "great-great-great"'s), we were training dogs to be our friends! Incredible. The earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia were about 5000 BC and the first libraries in Egypt were about 2500 BC. Does it ever occur to you when you enter a library that these things have been around for over 4 millennia?

We have so much access to information nowadays, and the digital age has certainly accelerated our technological accomplishments greatly, but I think there are times when we need some perspective on where we are in history. I mean, the wheel was invented around 3480 BC by the Sumerians, who also invented writing around 3500 BC. The Egyptians were playing the harp in 2200 BC and the Gilgamesh epic was written by Sumer in 2000 BC. To put it simply, we've been doing a lot of "stuff" for an awfully long time :-) . Funny to think that the concept of "zero" as a number was only "discovered" in India in 600 AD.

We go along in our lives with a lot of thought invested in the moment, and there's nothing too wrong with that. But I think it might help us put some things in perspective when we realize we are where we are now after having thousands of years of fairly sophisticated civilization to build upon. If you're thinking about next year as a long time away, you might want to consider that astronomers believe that universe itself is 13-20 billion (that's 13,000-10,000 million to the Brits ;-) ) years old. So, if I were to have lived through all that, I would have lived 173,333,333 human lifetimes. Wow, and people feel old when they turn 40 :-) .

PS: For reasons dating back quite some time, a "billion" in Britain retains its original meaning as a million million (hence the prefix "bi"), whereas in North America it means, of course, a thousand million. As the old joke goes, if you want to be a billionaire, best to live in the US than the UK, as it's a thousand times easier ;-) .
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10/28/2005 11:55:00 PM  

Thursday, October 27, 2005

eyeCandy: A History of Violence (2005) 4/5

A History of Violence is based on a graphic novel (to the uninitiated, that's a big word for a long comic book ;-) ) by John Wagner and Vince Locke. It is the latest from Canadian director David Cronenberg, who has a history of bizarre movies (sort of a defining element for Canadian films, it would seem :-) ) including the Fly, Dead Ringers, Crash, Spider, and, my favorite of the bunch (although not for the faint hearted), Naked Lunch.

The film stars Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn from LOTR) as Tom Stall, a seemingly average coffee shop owner in small town USA. I don't want to give too much away but, suffice to say, there's more to Tom than meets the eye, which becomes apparent when he handily deals with some out of towners attempting to hold up his restaurant. The subsequent publicity brings the attention of some undesirable characters from Tom's past and threatens to dramatically upset the quiet life he has built for himself.

Despite a couple of violent scenes, this is pretty tame fare for Cronenberg, who does a wonderful job avoiding the excess that so many directors indulge in and, instead, brings us a powerful and concise movie. The story leaves the audience considering how we can become trapped by our past despite our best efforts to distance ourselves from it, and what obligations we might have to share this past with those in our "new" life.

Aside from a strangely abrubt (although not necessarily poor) ending, I think this movie is relatively flawless. It is entertaining and thought provoking and avoids, to good effect, the general cliches we've become so accustomed to from Hollywood. I think it's quite telling how the medium of comics, ridiculed by most for the longest time (and still to some degree), has brought us content that, in recent years, has been readily embraced by the public at large. Whether it be the classic superhero story (X-Men, Spiderman) or deeper, darker fare (From Hell and this movie), I find it very pleasing that the medium that I spent so much time with for many years has finally gotten some well-deserved recognition for its creativity and inventiveness. Now, please, someone do a good movie rendition of Neil Gaiman's Sandman for me. :-)
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10/27/2005 07:39:00 PM  

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

inPrint: Macworld (November 2005) 5/5

Well the guys at Macworld must feel a little silly when their magazine comes out with an opening editorial talking about "the Future of the iPod" and a full article on "Picking the Right iPod" without being able to mention the new video-capable iPods and new iTunes b/c Apple's "One More Thing" announcement and Macworld's press-time missed one another by a few days :-) . However, as usual, the rest of the magazine is great.

This issue has as its focus "Spinning a Better Web", which includes a ton of great tips for getting more out of the web, and supplements a review of all the major web browsers. Articles in this section include:

the Secrets of Safari 2.0: Some stand outs in this section include how to extend Safari using Saft, which adds more than 25 very useful features; PDF Browser Plugin to help those of us who need more robust PDF viewing in our browser; SafariSource, which adds sytax colouring to source views; AcidSearch, which adds a pulldown to choose a number of search engines in the standard Google search box; and more.

the Power User's Guide to Firefox: This article made me want to use Firefox more (if it weren't for that darn .Mac syching I like so much!), it just seems you can do almost anything with it. Extending Firefox is a very helpful section here - I used Tab X to put a close button on each tab (instead of only one at the end of the tab row - bad design); the Brushed Theme to get a more Mac-like look; miniT so that I could rearrange my tabs; Firefoxy to beautify web-page controls; and the fantastic SessionSaver, which saves the state of your browser on close and reopens it exactly how you left it (and I mean exactly: windows, tabs, contents of web forms, scroll bar positions, etc.).

the Best Blogging Tools for Mac: Tips on Blogging for Photographers, ratings and reviews for Blogger, Typepad, etc., and more.

the Web Pro's Tool Kit: Thank you Macworld for answering a request I had from a commentor on my blog who asked about exactly this. To preface the following and to more fully answer that visitor's question, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe GoLive are the two main professional Web design apps. Here, Macworld presents some lower cost options (the cross-platform open source NVU for web design), points us to some royalty-free images (e.g. MorgueFile), gives us a way to help pick colours for the web (Color Schemer Online and others), supplies us with an online measuring tape (MeasureIt), and much more.

If the above topics interest you then definitely pick up this issue, as I've just scratched the surface here - there are tons of great web tips and all the other usual outstanding content.
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10/26/2005 07:33:00 PM  

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

eyeCandy: Kingdom of Heaven (4/5)

Kingdom of Heaven is the latest of Gladiator director Ridley Scott's movies (and there are many more than that! :-) ). Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, it does drag in places, but all in all I found it quite enjoyable for several reasons.

The movie tells the story of Balian (Orlando Bloom), who joins his father (Liam Neeson) to journey from Europe to Jerusalem during the 12th century crusades. Scott deserves some credit for showing the range of manifestations of religious belief on both the Christian and Muslim sides (not all bad, but not all good), and there are some very admirable and very despicable characters that develop (and lots of epic battles too ;-) ). My biggest disappointment was at a pivotal instance (which I won't elaborate upon, but which is not historically accurate either) where one of the noble characters refuses to do some mild "evil" which would result in great good, and instead paves the way for great "evil" to occur - I'm sure you'll know what I'm talking about when you see the movie. Anyway, that black and white thinking always gets to me ;-) .

However, as can be seen through a couple of good special features (especially History vs. Hollywood and A&E Movie Real on Disc 2), Kingdom of Heaven actually contains a good deal of historical accuracy. Above and beyond using period costumes and weapons (which should be a given for any period piece), many of the characters are real (though with some dramatic license used) and many events are actual historical events (which, in some instances, have been rearranged or altered slightly). In fact, the general arc of the story is remarkably accurate considering how easily it might be dismissed as simple creative storytelling. I really value this in a movie and it probably was one element that pushed my rating to 4/5. Really, the reason I enjoy period pieces so much is how they have the potential to educate you as to what it was like to live in such a time and what types of events occurred (HBO's Rome is great for this too). In addition to this, I love witnessing the strategy employed in these large combat and diplomatic situations (another great aspect of HBO's Rome) and, aside from the typical Hollywood overuse of fire when there just shouldn't be that much fire, this film delivers on that account too.

Probably not for everyone (though it will certainly appeal to anyone with D&D sensibilities ;-) ), but certainly a worthwhile addition to the recent spate of medieval/ancient dramas.

PS: The music in it was pretty good too. I'm a real lover of ancient and medieval music and, although they certainly weren't spending a lot of time worrying about authentic period music, they at least have avoided overusing modern orchestral settings/styles and have incorporated some elements of the ethnic music in the area.
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10/25/2005 11:16:00 PM  

Monday, October 24, 2005

iRant: Traffic, Travelling, and Technology

I've lived in big cities for a good part of my life, but my recent trip to Toronto really made me appreciate living in Halifax. I find that I have most of the things I like about big cities here - good restaurants, stores for eveything, lots of nightlife - but it's on a scale that's more conducive to keeping human interaction a liitle more personal and civilized (not always the case in not-so-friendly Toronto ;-) ). For instance, I like to be out amongst the masses sometimes, for sure, but I also like the opportunity to get away from the crowds too. However, the thing that really drove me crazy was the number of times that it took 30 or 40 minutes to drive from point A to point B within the city without ever leaving the car.

Now comes the real catch-22: because housing prices are so expensive in Toronto (and most big cities), people are moving further and further into the burbs. Well this just makes the whole driving thing worse for everyone. In a hustle and bustle world, it's so unfortunate that, on top of working longer work weeks, people are put in the position where they spend an extra couple of hours a day just driving to and from work because of housing prices. I'd be interested in seeing some easy way to calculate just how much you would save in car upkeep, gas, parking, etc. (and sanity!) by spending more on a home closer to the heart of things.

At least as technology advances, it gets easier and easier to work remotely - heck, I shoot commandN segments for our Toronto-based show in Halifax, I do conference calls for web evaluation and other projects through Skype (and have recently had Skype calls to as distant a place as Sri Lanka), etc. With a computer, microphone headset, web cam, and some other tools, it's amazing how connected you can get with people thousands of miles away, even when you are on the road. Yet, there's still something about having physical, face-to-face meetings - I mean, it's why I was in Toronto in the first place (well, that and hosting our newly-branded episode 19 of commandN which will be out later tonight).

I sure got a lot of use out of my laptop on this trip - including on the plane and in those long car rides, which is great (aside from the awkwardness of having an unexpected nude scene flashing across my laptop in the midst of an otherwise quite tame movie I was watching :-) ). Of course, you're not online in those situations, but hopefully that'll change. But it's getting ridiculous the amount of equipment I take with me when I travel. I mean, you have to have your iPod, cell phone, camera, laptop, wires/plugs for everything, etc. - I'm just glad they let you carry a second bag on the plane for those quick trips (still pretty annoying not to be able to take a razor with me when I'm travelling with just carry-on, though).

Anyway, I had a great trip (and lots more coming in the future), but I am glad to be back home in Halifax. My multibutton mouse, my desktop and scanner, a nice big monitor, and a cozy place to work in comfort - oh, and my wife and dog too :-) . I guess there will come a time when travel will become pretty seamlessly practical for work, but a few things need to happen - wireless internet everywhere, no more cables and not as many plugs, and, oh yeah - teleporters - those long drives just eat into too much of my personal time ;-) .
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10/24/2005 11:13:00 PM  

Sunday, October 23, 2005

MacOnMacs: Quick Clean-up in iTunes

Another post at the end of a long day on the road :-) . Had a great live call in/interview session with Frank Linhares and friends on his techPhile podcast earlier this evening, which was a lot of fun. In any case, as I've been cleaning up/reinstalling everything on my sister Amber's Macs this week, I've come across a lot of little time-savers and procedures that I'm not sure everyone might always think of. One big problem I was having was with just clearing up some space on her hard drive to begin with.

For many people, the largest amount of data they have stored on their computer is their music library. However, in the process of adding songs and managing the library, you might have ended up with a considerable amount of doubles or different copies of the same song - this is just wasted space (unless you really need to keep duplicates songs from different albums aligned in groups, I guess). There are scripts you can download to do this sort of thing, but one way to approach this just using what comes with iTunes is as follows:

  • Open iTunes and highlight Library as the source

  • Select from the menu Edit -> Show Duplicate Songs (note: this is not the right place for them to put this as far as I'm concerned :-) )

  • Ordering the resulting list of songs by Name, you can see these are all pairs of the same song (although sometimes just a very similarly-named recording!). If you have duplicated songs through performing multiple imports, try ordering by Date Added and remove duplicates as a group (as long as the list is updating, there are only duplicate songs in this list, so you should be safe in deleting these, as there will be another similarly-named song elsewhere on the list ;-) ).

  • Select a song to delete by clicking on it, or select a group of songs by clicking on one then shift-clicking on one further up/down the list (and command-clicking to add or delete individual entries).

  • Now you need to understand that, if your iTunes library is set to how it likely should be (Preferences->Advanced->General-> Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized AND Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library) then just hitting "delete" will only delete the entry from your iTunes library - it will NOT delete the file from your computer. Not only is this not much of a space-saver, it also leaves files hidden away where you'll probably not think to look for them again. To delete the Library entry AND the file (an option mysteriously unavailable in any of the menus) just hit "control-delete" together - this will delete the song entry from your Library AND the song file from your computer.



Lots of other ways to do this and similar tasks, but I'm beat now, so hopefully that'll do ya ;-) .
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10/23/2005 11:30:00 PM  

Saturday, October 22, 2005

commandN: Live podcast Sunday, New graphics and music Monday

Sorry that I missed a post or two this week, but we're gearing up for commandN's new launch this coming Monday and have lots of other stuff on the go! We've shot our segments and are now laying down the new intro/outro and segment header graphics and music. It's gonna be great - check it out Monday at www.commandN.tv.

On top of that, I'm joining the rest of the commandN hosts (Amber and Mikey) on Techphile for a live web radio show/podcast this...

Time: 6:00 PM EST - 8:00 PM EST
Date: Sunday Oct. 23rd, 2005
Stream: http://sc6.spacialnet.com:13284/listen.pls
Phone: (508) 644-TECH
IM: netsurge on Skype
IRC: #techphile on irc.techphile.ca
Email: questions@techphile.ca

Call, email, IM, or ask your question in our irc chat room.

...tune in - it should be lots of fun!
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10/22/2005 11:57:00 PM  

Thursday, October 20, 2005

MacOnMacs: Restoring Applications with Pacifist

I've been visiting my sister, Amber, recently and I've been doing a lot of maintenance/optimization work on her computers. With all of the trial applications and settings she goes through using her PowerBook for home AND for hosting on G4TechTV's Call for Help with Leo Laporte, she manages to really gunk up her computer :-) .

One of the strange things that has happened in all this is that she lost the Apple Preview application - the default app for viewing PDFs, pics, etc. Preview is a fast and one stop way to handle these types of files before you need to open anything heavier (e.g. maybe Photoshop to deal with a .jpg) - I guess that's why it's called Preview. ;-) Anyway, she wasn't in the position to immediately do a clean reinstall (too many files she needed, nowhere to back them up quickly) and yet Preview is only available (as far as I could see) from the install disks that came with her computer. So here we were, unable to reinstall a program that came with her PowerBook for free. Enter Pacifist...

Pacifist is a shareware application (you can try it for free if you want to wait for the initial startup delay) that allows you to peak inside packages (.pkg files) and see their contents. Although there are other ways to do this (and Tiger itself increases your Mac's built in capacity in this respect), Pacifist also lets you REINSTALL specific packages from your Mac install disks. This is a fantastic benefit when something has gone totally wonky with a program that came with your Mac.

Pacifist lets you see inside the installer disks, select the packages you would like to install (in our case just Preview, but this is also good for things like OmniGraffle, which comes with newer PowerBooks), and then install them individually without installing the rest of the operating system, etc. This may not be a program you use all the time, but when the time comes that you need it, it can save you hours of effort and can make this potentially difficult task become as easy as pie.
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10/20/2005 11:24:00 PM  

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

inPrint: the Silmarillion by JRR Tolkein (1977) 4/5

I've had the Silmarillion sitting on my bookshelf since I was a kid - my grandmother gave it to me with the boxed set of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit that I devoured at an early age. Though I peaked into the great tome throughout the years, I was a little confounded that I couldn't find any of the characters that I had loved so much from the Lord of the Rings. However, I finally picked it up recently and, with the help of a couple of websites and some maps, began my journey in earnest.

The Silmarillion is essentially the creation story and history of the world in which the Lord of the Rings is set (though it extends beyond Middle Earth and takes place far before the events in those books). With limited dialog, it is more or less a collection of tales that describe what we would refer to as god, the angels, and the inhabitants (elves, dwarves, humans, etc.) of Tolkein's world, how they came to be, and how their history evolved.

I wasn't kdding when I said I read this book with map in hand, and that doesn't include how I've pretty much worn out the pages flipping to the appendices (which include a dictionary, geneologies, and maps) to keep track of all the different names and places that are mentioned. It is not an easy read! However, it is a highly rewarding read. It may be a bit geeky (okay, a LOT geeky), but it is fascinating to learn more about this world that I found so engaging through my reading of Tolkein's other books and, more recently, watching Peter Jackson's fantastic movies. The story is so rich and feels so real, it was no surprise to learn that the Silmarillion was essentially the first of these books Tolkein started and the last one he worked on before his death (it was collected and published posthumously by his son, Christopher Tolkein).

I was truly amazed at the amount of material available online to anyone interested in delving deeper into Tolkein's work
(e.g. the Encyclopedia of Arda) and, frankly, it is well deserved. I know of no other author who has created such a deeply detailed and compelling world. If this seems at all interesting to you, and you have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings books, then take the next step (although it's a big one) and pick up a copy of the Silmarillion, b/c this one ain't gonna be made into a movie in our lifetime, folks ;-) .

PS: Do yourself a favour and photocopy the appendices before you begin - you won't regret it. The flipping back and forth does get a little tiresome.
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10/18/2005 09:49:00 PM  

Monday, October 17, 2005

earCandy: Collective Soul (Halifax Concert - Oct. 16/05) 3/5

I won tickets to the Collective Soul concert at Dalhousie University last night (my wife is a big fan and scored some tix through their website). Personally, I never quite understood the "Soul" in "Collective Soul", as this is a pretty straight up rock band, which is not exactly my favourite genre. In any case, Collective Soul has been around since the early 90's and have a string of hits under their belt, the newest being "Better Now", a solid track (they even use horns, which is a relief for me) from their 2004 album, Youth.

Collective Soul were competent enough performers and most of the crowd seemed to really love the concert. I'll even admit to enjoying several tunes, but I find it's a bad sign when I'm more interested in watching the crowd behind me than the show in front of me. As a consequence, I have now (and it's been a long time coming) resolved not to go to any more rock concerts unless I can sing along to at least a half a dozen of the headliner's songs :-) . Being a musician myself, I also get a little exasperated (and bored) seeing three guitarists all up on stage strumming the same chords in unison (the opening band, Boy, had the same lineup) and, being that rock doesn't really "groove" per se, I can't even get that into dancing to distract myself :-) .

Maybe I'm getting old, but I either want to see great musicians perform (something like the Montreal Jazz Fest being an ideal setting for this) or see bands that I am already familiar with and enjoy from their CD releases. Let's face it, as time goes on, music is becoming less about performing live and more about the studio anyway, and concerts are really showing this (and it's certainly not just rock - don't even get me started about my disappointment with the Lloyd Banks concert earlier this year). Maybe I'm being a bit of a cynic, but I'd have a hard time being convinced that this isn't true (although there are certainly exceptions - Ween play a fantastic live show, U2 compensate by making it a broader event through extraordinary light shows, etc.).

It says something that my thoughts were on larger issues than the concert at hand, but to give props to Collective Soul, these guys have been making a living at this and have put out some good tunes, so keep on rockin' I guess would be the expression. ;-)
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10/17/2005 06:58:00 PM  

Sunday, October 16, 2005

eyeCandy: King Kong (1933) 4/5

In preparation for Peter Jackson's highly anticipated reinvisaging of the King Kong movie, coming this Christmas, I decided to go back and take a look at the original 1933 King Kong so as to truly appreciate how far we've come (Note: the one I watched was the colourized version, which includes several scenes subsequently removed from the original).

It's a fascinating film when viewed in the context of today's movies. The use of stop motion animation, miniature models, matte paintings, back projection, and more, all over 70 years ago, sets the stage for the evolution of special effects and shows how motion pictures could capture more than just what we do in everyday life - they could capture almost anything we can imagine.

The story itself is quite simplistic: a movie-maker finds a young woman to star in his next picture - a movie that is to be filmed on a far off jungle island. When ship and crew arrive on the island, they find it inhabited with prehistoric creatures and the great ape Kong. After a botched sacrificial offering (of the movie's starlet Fay Wray) by the island's natives, and several impressive fights between Kong and the island's inhabitants (creatures and humans alike), the ape is subdued and brought to New York to be shown to the public for great profit. Kong's subsequent escape, triggered by his desire to defend Ms. Wray, and legendary biplane fight from the Empire States Building follows.

One aspect of this movie that can't be ignored is how, although he is seen by many as a monster, Kong is actually depicted as a caring and protective guardian of his beloved Fay, despite his primitive nature. As the film progresses, there are many opportunities for the audience to actually sympathize with the plight of the great monster and consider the tragedy of his capture and demise. This theme is as poignant today, in our era of rampant commercialism, as it has ever been.

Much of the entertainment value of 1933's King Kong comes from knowing its historical context and place in movie history - its technical feats, though corse by today's standards, are remarkable for the time and are the ancestors of many of the techniques we use today. The story is simple, but the underlying message it evokes is a powerful one. I don't expect everyone to see this as a 4-star movie. In fact, some may not enjoy it at all. But if you are interested in the history of film, or film effects, I think you'll find it a rewarding 100 minutes.
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10/16/2005 06:50:00 PM  

Saturday, October 15, 2005

MacOnMacs: Password Management

I love the fact that my Mac takes the lead on asking me if I'd like it to keep track of my passwords for websites, applications, and more - with the number of great sites that insist you to "sign up" to access their full content (e.g. AllMusic.com), we all can use a little help in this area.

However, there are many people out there who find themselves having to enter a password for a site (or whatever) in some area that your Mac hasn't encountered before (and so it can't automatically fill in the password), or who need to get a password stored on their Mac for use on another computer, or who want to (heavens forbid! :-) ) share their password with a friend. Since your Mac will fill in passwords used routinely on your computer, it may be that you have no recollection whatsoever of what your password is for a given use and you don't really feel like cycling through all of your different passwords to find out which one you used here.

Well fear not - Apple's built-in Keychain Access application (Applications->Utilities->Keychain Access) will come to your rescue! Just open Keychain Access, select the category you're looking for (or just keep it on the default "All Items" category), and take a look through the list in the right hand pane. This should give you enough information (which is expanded upon in the top panel for currently selected items) to locate the correct entry that will contain your password. Entries include info on the type of password, where the password is used, the account name, if applicable, that uses this password, and when the password was last modified. Double-click on the entry you're looking for and a popup will appear. If you're not sure that this is the right entry, then try copying and pasting the "Where" field into your web browser to see where it takes you (you can also right- or control-click the original list entry and select "Go There"). When you've confirmed that this is the correct entry, check the "Show password" box at the bottom of the popup. From here, a "Confirm Access to Keychain" popup will appear asking for your Mac User Account's password (i.e. the one you log in to your computer with), and then just click, I would advise, "Allow Once", as you probably don't want others to be able to see this later on should they be using your account for something. La voila - your password appears!

So don't give up hope or sign up for a new account b/c you think you've totally forgotten your password info - just ask Keychain Access to give you a helping hand!

PS: You can also use Keychain Access to change password Access Control (e.g. insisting that you type in your Mac User Account Password before your Mac fills in a password field, etc.) and do some other nifty stuff.
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10/15/2005 01:59:00 PM  

Friday, October 14, 2005

iRant: Widescreen vs. Pan and Scan (Fullscreen)

This post was going to be an eyeCandy segment about the Interpreter (2005, 4/5, taut political thriller revolving around a UN interpreter and the assassination of an African dictator - Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, both of whom are great here). However, when I watched the special features, I noticed that director Sydney Pollack had a five minute segment dedicated to his thoughts on widescreen vs. pan and scan. It was quite powerful and I was glad to hear someone speak out about this (beyond me ranting in my local video store :-) ).

First, let me explain for those of you who don't know, that pan and scan is the method used to format a movie filmed in widescreen so that it will play fullscreen on a regular television (which has a different aspect ration than widescreen). It involves some tech guy (basically) going through the movie, cutting off the edges of the widescreen and thereby focusing the camera where he thinks the action is. As the great Mr. Pollack explains, he has no issues with movies filmed in fullscreen. However, when he films in widescreen, he is telling the story through a different lens (literally). Each scene is carefully framed to contain a broader range of images (since it extends further out to the sides), and this is an integral part of achieving the director's vision of the movie. For someone else, someone who is typically, as I said, just some tech guy (i.e. not the director, not the cinematographer, not the editor), to come along and reinterpret this vision by reframing each and every scene so that it fits the fullscreen ratio (and thereby contains only a bit over half of the original image) is obscene. For them to then put the director's name back on the film, repackage it, and send it out for viewing is just wrong - it's no longer the director's vision, it's his vision interpreter through someone else.

I always look for widescreen versions of movies. Just watch for the panning and scanning in a fullscreen movie and you'll see why - a conversation framed between two still figures sitting on either side of the widescreen becomes a jolting back and forth of the camera in the pan and scan version. I want to see these movies how the director wanted me to see them - I want to see the whole picture (again, literally). Not only does it pay respect to the efforts of those directors filming in widescreen, as far as I'm concerned it is a much richer experience. Hopefully the increasingly common widescreen televisions will make this a thing of the past. And if you don't want the picture that small - buy a bigger TV ;-) .
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10/14/2005 08:44:00 PM  

Thursday, October 13, 2005

inPrint: Wired (October 2005)

The OTHER magazine I subscribe to is Wired. I went years without reading Wired, but when I decided to get take another look earlier this year, I really liked what I saw. Wired is no longer a magazine for the ubergeek - it is an award winning, genre-crossing magazine that touches on technology, culture, sociology, business, medicine, politics, and much more. I even catch my wife reading articles (and she's not exactly a techie) :-) .

This month continues on the movie cover theme that seems to be running strong over the past few issues (I've seen George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, and now Peter Jackson figuring prominently in the cover stories of several recent issues). So the big story for October is Peter Jackson's new King Kong movie (with the article title, "Return of the King", really appealing to my love of puns/double-entendres). But there's more than that: how robots can teach your kids, the evolution of bacteria, how to pimp your new Honda, tech trends from Tim O'Reilly, life of DVD pirate, and even a cool new (and more accurate) take on the periodic table of the elements.

Wired has evolved along with technology: from something that was of interest only to the pocket protector crowd to something that encompasses almost every aspect of modern day life. Get Wired - you won't regret it.
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10/13/2005 07:31:00 PM  

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

newsFlash: Apple Announces iPod Video and iMac iSight/Remote

In typical Apple fashion, a combination of awesome and annoying, today's much-anticipated news announcement was held at venue with neither cell reception or wireless access so as to avoid any leaks of what was being presented - too funny! :-) Thankfully, what was presented is awesome...

iPod Video: Well the rumours can now cease - Apple has finally announced a video-capable iPod. The new 30GB and 60GB iPod models feature a 2.5 inch colour display, 20 hours of battery life, and are even smaller than previous iPods. As I predicted, this release conincides with the iTunes store selling music videos and more (iTunes 6 is waiting for download in Software Update). Apple has inked a deal with ABC and Disney television, allowing you to download shows like Lost and Desperate Housewives for $1.99 a show (Pixar is also supplying its fantastic video shorts online as well). Think it might be annoying to try to watch these on your iPod? No worries, you can run an S-video cable from your iPod's video out to your telly to watch the goodness fullscreen. So we'll finally realize the podcast evolution and be able to get our commandN vidcast into your pocket!

iMac w/ built in iSight and Remote: But wait, there's more! The new iMac is not only slimmer than previous versions (I think I see a theme here :-) ), but it also comes with a built in iSight for video conferencing and photo taking (including the new PhotoBooth application, which allows you to take photos with your iMac, add some fun effects, and share with your friends). Even cooler, Apple has built in an iPod Shuffle-inspired remote control and FrontRow functionality which lets you browse videos, photos, and music from up to 10 feet away from your Mac!

I almost feel a little silly getting so excited about Apple announcements, but when they deliver such cool, quality products as these, I'll take the Mac geek hit and love it! ;-)
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10/12/2005 08:52:00 PM  

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

eyeCandy: Corpse Bride (2005) 4/5

Tim Burton is another one of my favourite directors - his work is almost always identifiable without even looking at the credits and Corpse Bride, which he co-directs with Mike Johnson (the PJs - director, James and the Giant Peach - animator), is no exception. Visually this is classic Burton, although interpreted through the fascinating lens of stop-motion claymation. Wherein a typical Burton film the sets and costumes evoke his peculiar vision, here this has been extended through every aspect of the presentation, including the physiology of the "cast" (which is a little more difficult to accomplish when using human actors ;-) ).

The story revolves around Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp, a popular Burton co-conspirator) who, on his way to his arranged marriage, accidentally weds a corpse in the forest (really :-) ). The story, which is actually quite heartfelt as it unfolds, isn't really the focus of this short (76 minute) feature, however. Moreso it is a tour through Burton's quirky imagination, though unfortunately laced with a few too many musical numbers for my taste.

I can't really recommend this movie for anyone who wouldn't typically be interested in animated (or "clay"-mated) fare - there's just not quite enough to hold your interest if you don't find this stuff visually compelling. But for those who like this type of production, it is certainly another welcome addition to the genre.
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10/11/2005 10:18:00 PM  

Sunday, October 09, 2005

MacOnMacs: Tracking Your Time For Free

I'll have to do a short post today, but that doesn't mean that I can't share some quick and useful Mac insights ;-) .

Being a freelance web and management consultant, I constantly need to keep track of my time across a multitude of tasks/projects. Although I have yet to delve into the vast array of paid software out there for this purpose, I have located a free and functional application that does just fine by me - Crew of the Undead's Khronos.

Khronos isn't hugely sophisticated, but that doesn't mean it isn't tremendously useful. You can keep track of any number of tasks, specify descriptions, client names, and rates for these, and see time listings by task and session. It can also calculate your billable time and charges by task, as well as being able to archive data and export it to Excel.

You may not be dazzled by the interface, and the menu bar controls could look a little nicer, but this free download (donations are happily accepted!) can give you a totally functional way to keep track of your valuable time without breaking the bank. ;-)
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10/09/2005 07:21:00 PM  

Saturday, October 08, 2005

earCandy: N.E.R.D. - Fly or Die (2004) 5/5

N.E.R.D. (which stands for Nobody Ever Really Dies) is one of the most genre-defying bands in existence today. Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the incredibly successful production duo behind the Neptunes, partner with childhood friend Shay to bring us the second strangely compelling and very listenable N.E.R.D album. With solid hip-hop credentials combined with a driving rock sound, the best of these tracks are tunes you could play in any crowd. No one has a better grasp of hooks than Pharrell, and they are plentiful here, but combined with that are some meaningful lyrical moments and intricate arrangements that are all too rare in today's popular music.

First, let me tell you that I have very eclectic tastes in music and I like bands that cross a lot of sounds (Beck, Ween, Frank Zappa, etc.). From the chart-topping single, "She Wants to Move", the group diverges into the teen anthem titular track, "Fly or Die", and then settles into more laid-back tunes like "Wonderful Place". Then out of nowhere comes my favorite song on the album (which is buried at the 4.20 mark in the "Wonderful Place" track), the beautiful, string-laden "Waiting for You" which chronicles a family's fishing trip where their baby falls from the boat, narrowly escaping drowning as its mother comes to the rescue - the song can bring tears to your eyes. Indeed, my only real complaint about the album is that there are too many of these songs buried in other song's track numbers - a little annoying when you really want to hear a specific tune. Despite this, Fly or Die has grown on me with each listening to the point where it is one of my favourite albums of the past few years.

Thankfully the rumours of N.E.R.D.'s breakup are untrue - the result of some offhand remarks of dissatisfaction from the band with their label. I've combined the best tracks on this album with the best tracks on their debut, In Search Of..., and the result is an hour and twenty minute CD that you can put on for almost anyone to enjoy (I can post the track listing, if anyone is interested). If you like your music to expand past the narrowly defined boundaries that music label marketers would like you to think in, then you'll like N.E.R.D. - I really don't think there's another band like them.
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10/08/2005 09:05:00 PM  

Friday, October 07, 2005

iRant: Downloading Movies Ad

OK, I don't want to get in a big discussion about how bad media downloading is, and I'll probably regret posting this, but it grinds my gears (thank you, Peter Griffin ;-) ) to see those ads before movies in the theatres that feature, in the one I saw, a Hollywood stuntman telling you how downloading movies is endangering his livelihood.

The impact of downloading on that man's career is far less than the impact of inflated actor and director salaries for movies nowadays. If they think this type of ad is such a good incentive against illegal downloading then why don't they put George Lucas (or whoever) up there? "Hi, I'm George Lucas, and stealing movies is making it so that I can barely afford to buy a new jet to fly to the new home that I just bought on my own private island" - you get the drift :-) .

I watch that ad and it just seems so crassly manipulative to me. It's like the studios are trying to make us believe that some poor, hardworking Hollywood pions really need US, the people who have actually paid $10 to go into the theatre to watch the increasingly mediocre movies that the big studios put out, to change. Oh, no, nothing wrong with the system whereby the headlining actor gets several thousand times more pay for work that need not be as dangerous, challenging, or even very difficult - nope, the problem is that there's people out there downloading movies. Come on guys - we know it's an issue, but why are you targeting those who have obviously paid to see this movie - in fact, people who have ended up paying with their time and money to watch this ridiculous commercial. Give me a break.

PS: BTW, it's not like everyone in this situation is a problem. I was quite pleased to learn that Keanu Reeves, of all people, gave almost $90 million of his Matrix-related profits to the costume and special effects teams who played an enormous role in making those movies what they were (he also bought his crew of stuntmen each $10,000 Harleys). Maybe that won't change things all that much, but at least it shows he has some perspective!
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10/07/2005 10:07:00 PM  

Thursday, October 06, 2005

eyeCandy: the Brothers Grimm (2005) 3/5

Terry Gilliam is one of my favourite directors. He is one of the few directors that is as big or a bigger draw than the actors in his movies, i.e. you go see a Terry Gilliam movie b/c Terry Gilliam directed it, not just because it has big stars playing the parts. From his roots as the lone American in the Monty Python troupe, Gilliam has brought us such unique visions as Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Although Gilliam's rich touch and visual artistry are certainly apparent in the Brothers Grimm, they are, unfortunately, one of the few real highlights of the movie. It's not that the Brothers Grimm is that bad, it's just that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be as a movie. Even though Matt Damon and Heath Ledger give it their best as the titular Brothers, the movie is more satisfying to just sit back and look at than it is to pay much attention to. Gilliam's trademark larger than life sets are here in all their glory, but someone seems to have forgotten to pay some much needed attention to that oft-ignored element of movies today - the story.

In a radical reinvisaging of the historical Grimms, here the Brothers are actually con men, dispelling supernatural oddities of their own creation for profit until it seems that some stories have actually come to life. The movie's concept, although inspired, never seems to be fully realized.

I really wanted to love this movie, and I can enjoy watching it, but it doesn't come close to what I've come to expect from Gilliam - a sad fact given that his somewhat indulgent and obsessive filmmaking style prohibits him from producing movies at the rate that they'd be happily consumed.
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10/06/2005 07:00:00 PM  

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

MacOnMacs: Recording Your Video iChats

I just did the first of a series of MacOnMac interviews (more on this in a future post) via iSight tonight, so I thought I'd share how you can easily record your Video iChats.

My first attempts were using SnapzPro X, which, although it's a great program for still and movie screen captures, simply wasn't functional for recording a video iChat. It seemed like there was just too much processing going on, and it was impossible to get high quality sound and video even after fooling around with the settings for a while.

I then turned to eCamm's ConferenceRecorder ($14.95US, but there's a free trial). eCamm has a lot of great software and this is no exception. At the highest quality settings, I recorded an 8 minute 2-way video chat with an end file size of less than 50MB and the results were impressive. Conference Recorder captured the audio and video pretty much as I experienced it in the chat, and did so with just the push of a button. Although I'm not crazy about the faux-VCR interface, the functionality is all there. You can specify Image Size, Frame Rate, Video Quality, and Audio Quality in the settings, and it can also record Audio Only if you're looking to save an audio chat. It even lets you record yourself in your "preview" window, in case you want a simple way to capture video directly from your iSight (or other USB web cam using eCamm's iChatUSBCam, which I have yet to try - BTW, QuickTime Pro also gives video capture functionality by selecting File->New Movie Recording).

If you want to record your video iChats, I would look no further than Conference Recorder - great quality and well worth the $15 price tag!
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10/05/2005 10:51:00 PM  

Monday, October 03, 2005

earCandy: Blackalicious - the Craft (2005) 4/5

The Craft is the third album from the San Francisco-based duo of positivity and awareness that is Blackalicious. Although I don't think it's quite as strong an outing as their earlier albums (Nia and Blazing Arrow), it's a welcome respite from a lot of the vacuous rap out there today. Mostly absent from this album are rapper Gift of Gab's mind boggling verbal gymnastics like Blazing Arrow's "Chemical Calisthenics" (which builds up to what is the fastest coherent rapping I've ever heard) or concept pieces such as Nia's "A to G" (where the rap progresses through each of the first seven letters of the alphabet), but that's not to say it's not entertaining - it just sounds like it's a bit more geared towards radio play. Cuts like "Give It To You" and "Black Diamonds and Pearls" are fantastic tunes in their own right, and the duo reaches out into a rock-ier sound for the catchy "Powers". Even though it's the weakest of their albums, the Craft still stands out against the bulk of today's rap offerings.
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10/03/2005 08:19:00 PM  

Sunday, October 02, 2005

MacOnMacs: Maintaining your Mac with Onyx

OS X does a great job of maintaining itself by executing daily, weekly, and monthly scripts to keep everything running smoothly. The only problem is that these scripts are set to execute in the middle of the night, which is no good for those of us who turn our Macs off at night. To get around this problem, and to accomplish a slew of other tasks, I use Titanium Software's free OnyX application.

Not only does OnyX let you run your Mac's maintenance and optimization scripts at any time without resorting to the command line, it also enables you to quickly and easily perform a wide range of other useful feats, such as:

- Cleaning out caches and logs (great if you find yourself getting short on disk space);
- Verifying and repairing permissions (which can also been done using Apple's built in Disk Utility);
- Accessing hidden parameters for the Finder, Safari, the Dock, Dashboard, Expose, and more;
- Running Unix utilities and accessing their man pages;
- Quickly viewing system and user info and logs at a glance (some of which can be accessed through Apple's System Profiler);
- Automating many of the above tasks.

There are specific versions available on Titanium's website for Tiger, Panther, and Jaguar. Check out OnyX's Help menu (Help->OnyX Help->Discover OnyX) to learn more about its features, and make sure not to do anything that you don't understand (you're fine just using the presets in the Maintenance section, though)! When used properly, Onyx is an indispensable part of any Mac user's arsenal of programs - it can keep your Mac running smoothly AND let it get some sleep at night ;-) .
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10/02/2005 10:02:00 PM  

Saturday, October 01, 2005

newsFlash: Microsoft Windows Officially Broken

I was reading some news at Noyzz.com when I came across a very interesting article entitled Microsoft Windows Officially Broken - Microsoft has admitted it!!! (this links to the full article at SmartOffice News).

It's nice to finally have something I can show my Windoze friends that gives third-party confirmation that I'm not a quack for saying that Windows is, uh, what's the polite term, crap built on more crap :-) . There's good and bad news here for Apple, though, b/c if Microsoft is seriously undergoing the kind of changes outlined in this article then they're on the road (although a long way behind) to actually producing a non-crap operating system.

In short, the article outlines how Microsoft VP, Jim Allchin, finally convinced Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer that they were not going to be able to build a functionally competitive Longhorn on top of a pile of shoddy XP code. Perhaps this reinvisioning is part of why Longhorn is now Vista? Here's a quote from the article:

"Windows was broken and Microsoft has admitted it. In an unprecedented attempt to explain its Longhorn problems and how it abandoned its traditional way of working, the normally secretive software giant has given unparalleled access to The Wall Street Journal, even revealing how Vice President Jim Allchin, personally broke the bad news to Bill Gates.

Allchin is co-head of the Platform Products and Services Division. "It's not going to work," he told Gates in the chairman's office mid-2004, the paper reports. "[Longhorn] is so complex its writers will never be able to make it run properly." The reason: Microsoft engineers were building it just as they had always built software. Thousands of programmers each produced their own piece of computer code, to be stitched together into one sprawling program. But Longhorn/Vista was too complex: Microsoft needed to begin again, Allchin told Gates. Allchin's warning recognized a growing threat from Google, Apple Computer, makers of Linux, and corporate buyers - the latter horrified about security problems. Allchin and a small team demanded a revolution in how Microsoft works."


And the plot thickens... :-)
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10/01/2005 06:32:00 PM