Friday, February 24, 2006

music: iTunes music store is not the end-all

This iTunes, One Billion Suckers Served rant is mostly on-target. As I wrote in my comments,
Soon every electronic device will play MP3/AAC files, but only Apple-branded ones will play iTunes-purchased songs. That just sucks for consumers who want to buy music downloads!!

The rant got picked up by slashdot, and the Apple fanboys just don't get it. "Shut up l0s3r, I like my iPod, the song price is reasonable". As if that makes locked-up music OK?! Somehow the musical output of the artists is less important than the coolness of your current hardware device? Lucky, lucky Steve Jobs. Hey, I want to be buried with my Rega Planar 3, but because it's the gateway to my vinyl collection.

I guess my $50 donation wasn't enough to get iTunes 6.0's DRM protection cracked :-) While waiting I could burn iTunes protected content to CD, but re-ripping unprotected just further degrades the quality. Mr. Hawk's idea to buy second-hand CD's, rip the tunes you like, then resell, is a better alternative, yet it gives nothing to the artists. (I'm one of the few people who ever contributed to the now-defunct Fairtunes system for directly compensating artists.)

I support a Collective Licensing system that these guys and the EFF suggest, except without the voluntary. $5 of your monthly ISP bill goes to a pool, and you can download as much as you want; the pool of money gets split up according to popularity. "Nearly every musician would stand to benefit immediately from this system: signed musicians would receive a much larger cut, and musicians could distribute their music at zero cost--and get paid--without even signing to a label." Such a system would cut out inefficiencies, give more to artists, eliminate DRM hassles, vastly reduce piracy, and it gives consumers a huge incentive to pay for broadband. As wise man John Gilmore wrote, right now the small content industry is the tail wagging the dog of the huge communication industry.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Snowboard: the chatter and the creamy

I rented a Burton LTR (Learn to Ride) 160W over the New Year because nothing else was available: good, nice length, easy turn. This has the LTR binding which lets you adjust the binding angles without tools, so I finally determined I like an 18/6 stance. Good stuff, but you can't buy it, it's only available as a rental board.

Next I demo'd a Custom X 158: stiff, responsive, significantly faster, but harder to nail toe-side carves, and it has a bit of wiggle on edge. A disappointment like the Custom. It seems everyone knows the Custom/Custom X are the best all-around boards except me.

Then a Burton Clash 158: excellent. Smooth creamy ride, wants to turn, gets on edge nicely, a real confidence-builder. Like the Bullet I liked, but narrower so faster edge-to-edge. Its only downside is it feels almost dainty and is a bit too soft between the feet.

I wanted to buy a Clash but no shop had one available. And telling store staff I preferred a Clash over a Custom X led to a "Well, sure if you're a beginner you won't like the Custom" vibe.

Burton's catalog and Web site don't help customers make sense of their demo experiences. The Custom X has a feel of 8 and a positive core profie, the Clash has a feel of 5, an even core profile, and a tapered shape. Nowhere does the 2006 catalog explain feel and profile!

I finally called Burton and the lady I spoke to suggested trying the Malolo: feel 7, negative core profile, tapered shape. I wanted to try this last season, but all the shops said it's a pure powder board and useless for anything else. I demo'd a Malolo 158 from Tahoe Dave's in Tahoe City and it was excellent: nice ride, still willing to carve, a perfect length, and reasonable on hardpack. Not quite as confidence-inspiring as the Clash, so maybe a Clash 162 would be a better fit. Aggh!

Asking for advice from Tahoe Dave's in Squaw Valley was comical. Buzz-cut manager: I mostly ski. Dreadlocked guy with trendy glasses: no, I ski. Tattoo'd soul patch guy: I ski the backcountry. Snowboarding is officially uncool, Olympic highlights notwithstanding!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

snow: NBC blind to world-class achievement

Bode Miller came fifth in the Olympic men's downhill. Fifth best skier in the world on the downhill. That is a fantastic achievement!! Instead that jerk Costas portentously intones about how his medal quest has got off to a bad start. Then when he missed a gate in the slalom, that jerk Costas portentously intoned "Ø for 2 in his medal quest". Bode Miller has every right to his attitude "I am so much better than the bozos in the media, I'll engage, ignore, or ridicule them as I see fit".

Then the American women snowboarders come first, second, fourth and sixth. That dominance of the field is staggering! But NBC only has Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler on air, Kelly Clark and and Elena Hight are nowhere to be seen. NBC's commentator was spot on, Kelly Clark threw down the biggest run ever by a woman for her final run, with insane airs that would be the envy of most of the male competitors. She fell on a huge 900 at the end of her run, where most snowboarders are happy just to get a 540. Yet because she has no metal around her neck, she gets no coverage. All four women should have been fêted.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

videogames: overrated Ico is like Tomb Raider

If I'm going to throw away 40+ hours of my life on a game it has to be superlative. I bought a PS2 solely to play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a gargantuan achievement. I got GTA III at the same time and finished that after GTA:SA. And then nothing for over a year. I got Tony Hawk Underground cheap, it's OK button mashing but barely an improvement on THPS2 for PSOne. I bought SSX: On Tour just to fill time over the Christmas tropical rains, it's nothing special.

Then I bought the Official Playstation Monthly for OPM's Essential 100: PS1, PS2, and PSP Games You Must Play Before You Die list, and Ico caught my eye since "for many, Ico was "the first videogame to be considered 'art'" and "if you have not at least tried this game, you are missing out on one of the most moving experiences in videogames". Tons of 5 star reviews on Amazon.

So I ordered it through Amazon Sellers and popped it in. Damn, how come nobody points out this thing is a rehash of "Tomb Raider"! Exactly the same "big operating knob poking out of wall". Exactly the same "big block to push and pull". Extremely similar "Gaze out on big vista as best you can using bad camera controls", except that this time you're looking around a vast castle in the mist, instead of vast underground tombs in shadow. Same lack of soundtrack. Ico is five years later but incredibly similar, despite some superficial differences (young boy instead of woman, the useless Princess you have to drag around). So far I prefer Tomb Raider because you scramble up or slide down surfaces in it, and Ico is very upright. I hope it improves.

And needless to say neither game is in the same league as Super Mario 64, the greatest videogame of all time.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

music: of course Cocteau Twins B-sides

While we were tossing lots o' songs onto the Sanyo MM-9000 phone/music player, "Watchlar" showed up. How could I have overlooked the Cocteau Twins' CD Single Box Set when discussing B-sides and hidden gems? Or their lovely Twinlights EP?

In an interview The Artist Who Was Then Known As Prince said he was listening to Cocteau Twins. I went out the next day and bought "Blue Bell Knoll", and soon most everything else they've recorded. Amazon's "Recommended for you" is pretty useless, I just want to know the music to which my heroes are listening.

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Friday, February 3, 2006

ideas: free expression losing out to murderously intolerant and pathetically insecure Islamists

I don't believe in Islam. So its belief that the Prophet Muhammad should not be depicted, is merely an idea to me, with no a priori greater legitimacy than, say, the ideas that the religion might bear some responsibility for a subculture of indiscriminate terrorist attacks or state-enforced awful treatment of women. And certainly all these ideas are far less important to me than the idea that the expression of such ideas is valuable and worthy of protection. So if a cartoonist has something to say that might ridicule and offend Islam, well, I'll see it for myself and decide if it justifies the offense.

Apparently with the Danish JP newspaper's political cartoons, one featuring Muhammad with a bomb turban, I don't get to decide. The otherwise excellent (and great on a cellphone or PDA, by the way) news.BBC.co.uk won't print the cartoons, just analysis and commentary on the controversy.

What's staggering is how Clinton and the Europeans are abjectly apologizing to Muslim leaders for any offense. Most Westerners just want to slap them and say "Grow up, you babies!"

What's pathetic are all the Muslim comments online to the effect "Yes, freedom of speech is important, but religion must be respected". I hate to break it to you folks, but a society that compels respect is not free! The use of passive voice by these apologists is very revealing, it leaves it unclear where or how this respect materializes. From fear of mob violence?

It's clear that the protesters have no understanding about a free society, where a cartoonist and an editor can print what they like within the law, and the government and everyone else is not involved.

I found the cartoon, and it's below (the Wikipedia article has the whole set that Jyllands-Posten printed). But first some other offensive representations:

South Park's God, completely crazy

God on South Park

Andres Serrano's fairly strong Piss Christ, an art piece chock full of ideas.

Piss Christ

And here's the Muhammad with a bomb turban. It's definitely shorthand for "A lot of bombing is going on in the name of this religion", which is factually true and worthy of debate. It's grimly comical that the reaction on the street to this is "How dare Westerners suggest Islam is not entirely a religion of peace. Burn embassies and slay people who insult Islam!"

Muhammad cartoon

Predictably, people are making more depictions, like this compendium of images through history, this blog of incendiary images or this site. It's like finding out the school bully "Nate" hates it if he's called "Nathaniel", guess what happens? (I think the piling on is largely childish, but it's inspiring to see people really standing up for freedom.)


Wednesday, February 1, 2006

skiing: get down, stay down in a pure carve

It's easy to finish a turn on skis in a pure carve. Traverse across the hill on edge with your hands in front and facing slightly downhill. Then just move your hips hard sideways up and into the hill. Hey presto, your skis turn up the hill and lay down two righteous grooves. By moving your hips you can vary the turn shape, making "garlands" across the hill.

But doing an entire turn in a carve is hella hard (well, after 30 years of Austrian ski instructors' "Bend ze knees!", French ski instructors' "Swivel zose hips!", and Americans ski instructors' "Anticipate, counter-rotate, plant, up-unweight, weight shift and ride the new outer ski").

I taught myself to do a pure carve by doing "pencil turns" at the end of Squaw Valley's Mountain Run. With feet apart, just pull up on one side of your feet to tip your skis onto edge and don't do anything else: no rotation, no turning, no skidding, no weight transfer. On modern shaped skis you'll start to turn. You lay down parallel tracks like drawing with two pencils in your fist. Once you get used to using sets of leg muscles you never knew you had, you can put some meat into it with side-to-side hip motions, and really load up the skis to feel the g-forces rocketing you across the hill. Eventually you're mach-ing down the Ramp Run next to East Broadway making "VRRRRRMMMM!!" jet engine noises and almost looking like a racer.

Until you hit a steeper slope and it all falls apart. Standing tall, tipping edges, then moving hips into the turn just doesn't work on a steep and/or chopped up slope. You're too far from the snow, your weight is in the wrong position, it takes too long. I really noticed this skiing Shirley Lake with a taught-by-racers local like Larry Lawrence. I fall back to skidding parallel turns and he's still ripping parallel carved tracks.

I've been working on it all season since I got schooled. Obviously you have to stay down all the time through the transition from one set of edges to the other, but just moving your hips downhill to change edges leads to your weight on the wrong ski and blown turns. The key seems to be keeping hard pressure on the tongues of your boots to make your skis work during the transitions. Just like the racers. It's hard and tiring. I'm practicing staying far forward, and drilling with "munchkin turns" (hold your poles halfway down the shaft to keep you down during pole plants).

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