July 31, 2004

Dan Gillmor's Book Release Party

Somehow managed to make it to the book release party for Dan Gillmor's new We The Media at OSAF/CreativeCommons' very cool offices in downtown San Francisco this evening.

An amazing group of attendees, including, in no particular order, Dan Gillmor, Steve Gillmor, Scott Rosenberg, Marc Hedlund, Anil Dash, Allen Noren, Marc Canter, Larry Lessig, John Markoff, Florian Brody, Kim Polese, Craig Newmark, Tim O'Reilly, Andy Hertzfeld, JD Lasica, Kevin Kelly, Fred von Lohmann, Cindy Cohn, Howard Rheingold and family, Evan Williams, Dave Sifry fresh off the plane from the Boston convention, John Markoff, Mitch Kapor, Lisa Dusseault and numerous OSAF folks, and many others whose names I'm forgetting at the moment (sorry!).

Dan signed copies of his book, which were available for purchase (proceeds going to benefit Creative Commons).


Magazines on the table at OSAF...

Howard Rheingold speaks with Dan Gillmor

Posted by brian at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2004

JibJab v Linspire

If there's any justice in the world, the forces of reason will prevail in this case and come down hard on this one.

If there were ever a case of genuine parody providing social commentary, it's JibJab's "This Land" cartoon. And if there were ever a case of a lengthy commercial posing as a parody (in the hopes of not paying royalties, maybe?) it's Linspire's cheesy "Light My Fire" cartoon.

Posted by brian at 07:39 AM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2004

Becoming a Tiger

On Thursday night I went to attend Susan McCarthy's talk and book signing at Warwick's book store in La Jolla. McCarthy (daughter of MIT/Stanford AI pioneer John McCarthy) is a biologist and science writer.

Her new book is Becoming a Tiger, a collection of essays about how baby animals learn to live in the wild.

Instead of the author's reading beginning right at 730pm as expected, there was a surprise guest, an orphan owl and its keeper, a woman from "Project Wildlife" in San Diego. She spoke for about fifteen minutes (supposed to be five, but folks kept asking questions).

Random items gleaned about this owl and owls in general:

  • There's no shortage of owls in San Diego County, however they are threatened by reduction in habitat due to constant human encroachment. "As long as there are rodents, owls thrive."

  • At one point, the lady mentioned the huge San Diego County fire from last year (this owl almost died in the fire in Poway) and the owl immediately hooted as soon as the word "fire" was mentioned

  • Owls have the largest eardrums of any bird; the earlike things on the tops of owl heads are not ears but tufts of feather; the actual ears are located on the side of an owl's head, and they're not symmetrically placed (one is higher up than the other -- this aids in locating prey).

  • Not quite The Exorcist, but close: owls can rotate their heads 270 degrees.

  • Their flight is silent, thanks to supersoft feathers (once again, aids in stealthy predation)

  • Owls typically live 18 years; this one was 10; at some point in the past it had flown into a glass window and in the process lost vision in one eye.

When the Warwicks lady introduced author Susan McCarthy, she mentioned that McCarthy is a frequent contributor to Salon.com, which, the Warwicks lady mentioned, was her "favorite e-zine". She pronounced "e-zine" with a long I: ee-zIne. Never heard it pronounced that way before.

McCarthy (who has a remarkable head of multicolor hair) explained that whereas her previous book, Why Elephants Weep, was about animal emotions, her new book focuses on animal learning. From her introduction:

Learning is the ultimate combination of nature and nurture, in which a growing animal applies its powers of intelligence, curiosity, perception, and memory to the world around it, again and again, and ends up with knowledge and skills it did not have before. No newborn animal is a blank slate and no newborn animal has a complete instruction animal.

In Becoming a Tiger she provides a survey, from many different sources, of how different kinds of animals, from owls, ravens, and dolphins, to chimpanzees, bonobos, and, of course, tigers, learn from infancy in order to survive, thrive, and live to reproduce during their lifetimes.

A few random things from her talk:

  • Some baby birds practice singing their species' songs --- very quietly. (Perhaps to avoid detection by predators?)

  • Some baby monkeys already possess the ability to make a certain "alarm call" to signal to the family that there's an eagle overhead. Problem is, they tend to call it out no matter what they see in the sky, be it a dove flying by, or a leaf falling from a tree. Amusingly, the mother monkey will slap the child when it makes such cry-wolf errors...

  • I found it interesting that McCarthy was able to so seamlessly move from impromptu exposition to reading a selection from her book to continue to make a point. Some authors at book-signings/lectures are not as good at this, and slow down the talk while fumbling to find particular passages. McCarthy was prepared. Check out the post-it note bookmarks. She also had several pages of notes to refer to.

  • When authors read from their own material, I always find it interesting to see whether they paraphrase, insert new words here and there, or read verbatim. (I've talked about this before -- see the Simon Winchester blog entry.) McCarthy sometimes read verbatim, sometimes removed words or phrases here or there, and sometimes inserted words not in the text.

  • During the Q&A I asked her whether she owned any pets and had she observed any surprising behavior or learning on the part of the pets. She said she had two dogs, and then listed a long list of animals she's owned over the years, including "kidnapping animals from the wild" when she was a teenager (somethign she'd never do now, she said). She then recounted an anecdote about how at one point in high school she had rescued a bunch of baby possums, and that someone had made a special coat for her that had a bunch of pockets in them, one for each possum, which she took to school with her. (I am reminded of the guy on Star Trek who sold tribbles from his many pockets . . . ) "No teacher came up to me," McCarthy noted, "and asked me, 'Why are your pockets squirming?'" She also said, in response to another question about animal intelligence, "I loved my possums but they didn't really seem to be mental giants."

  • "The one animal that puzzles me," McCarthy mentioned at one point, "are octupuses." The mystery? Octopuses are good learners, and yet, they have short lives. Why bother being endowed with a good learning ability, she wondered, if the animal doesn't live very long? Her theory: octopuses have very sensitive, complicated bodies that go through major phases of change as they grow up. They start out as eggs, become plankton-feeding larvae, and if they survive, they grow quickly and change to feeding on crabs and clams and other prey at the ocean bottom.

Here's one passage from the book that I found very interesting:

Looking at the stories of animals learning -- and not learning, which can be even more illuminating -- I was struck by the way learning interlocks with animal feelings and personalities. Rivalry, shyness, impatience, the desire for freedom and control can be as influential in the learning process as simple brainpower.

Examples include the observations that birds learn song better if they get to push the buttons. Parrots learn better if they watch the competition, and apes learn more from watching someone else being taught than they do from being taught themselves. Animals prefer to try hard new things when no one is watching, whispering and mumbling the language skills they are mastering. You should learn language as young as possible; it may be more important to interpret the communications of others (such as alarm calls) than to learn to make communications yourself; and most animals aren't nearly as interested in communicating with us as they are with each other. When they do want to communicate, it's usually not about the curriculum we had in mind.

A shocking revelation: being tested is boring, and boring things are harder to learn. (Is it true that the smartest kids get bored the quickest?)

It's a great book. Go buy a copy.

[I wonder if McCarthy's interest in animal learning and emotion is related at all to her father's lifelong interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence? I also wonder if she's read Don Norman's book Emotional Design? Norman, who's spent a lifetime learning about learning, has lately gotten interested the mechanisms of emotion, how emotions influence our behavior, and even how adding emotions to robots will make them work better. ]

Posted by brian at 12:44 PM | Comments (2)

July 23, 2004

Fair, Balanced . . . and Unleaded?

Good grief. This was a first. Running on vapors after the SDVG meeting, I had to stop and get gas while downtown. Found an Exxon station. Pulled in and noticed as soon as I started pumping the gas, the hard-to-read color LCD monitor switched to showing . . . FOX News.

And sure enough, what did FOX have to say? Well, TERROR ALERT: ELEVATED was on the crawl, and the reporter was hysterically reading something about a bomb aboard a Turkish cargo vessel . . .

I noticed there was no TURN THE DAMN FOX CHANNEL OFF button anywhere. You're basically forced to at least listen if not watch while pumping. Oh wait: there was a way to turn it off. Stop pumping. And then make a mental note to never go to that Exxon again.

Posted by brian at 10:25 PM | Comments (7)

The View from the Top?

Attended the San Diego Venture Group's View From The Top breakfast panel session on Thursday morning downtown at the Hyatt Manchester Grand (or is it Grand Hyatt Manchester . . . or Manchester Grant Hyatt?). I was amazed at the turnout: hundreds of people showed up, to hear David Ryan of Mission Ventures and Steve Domenik of Sevin Rosen share their secrets from inside venture firms.

The first question from the moderator reminded me of blogger's or social-software conferences where the big theme is, "What's a blog?" or "What is social software?", as if that really had to be discussed!

What was the moderator's first question? "What is venture capital?"

Talk about a FAQ . . . Think about it. This is the San Diego Venture Group. Most of the members are VCs, or attorneys or financial advisors who work closely with VCs. And the rest of the membership is entrepreneurs like yours truly, who if they've joined SDVG prolly have been there / done that enough to know what venture capital is.

And sure enough, they spent ten minutes talking about what venture capital is and what it isn't. If this were a plumbers panel session, it'd be like asking, "what is plumbing?"

I continue to be amazed at what I hear at some of these get-togethers that hundreds of people turn out for.

Happily, it got better as it went along. I was pleased to learn that Sevin Rosen will do seed and very early stage investments (he even mentioned they've done $50k and $100k level deals... geez, that's smaller than angel level!).

Some various tidbits I heard over the course of the hour (SD = Steve Domenik, DR = Dave Ryan):

  • SD spoke about how the venture capital "industry" is about $10billion in the U.S. That may seem like a lot, but it's a drop in the overall bucket. The huge corporate pensions, university endowments, and statewide pensions like CalPERS invest gazillions in more stable, lower-risk instruments, and just dip a toe in the higher-risk "private equity markets" such as VC.

  • Asked if Mission Ventures had an org chart, DR said no, they didn't. May be, but like any organization, there's certainly a pecking order.

  • SD described his role as "cat shepherd" --- making sure the other partners do their meetings and get stuff done each week. He admitted that Sevin Rosen had "a really broken management structure" that is a lot better now, since they "hired a shrink" to go around and inteview everyone

  • SD described Sevin Rosen as "for years we were 5 or 6 middle-aged white guys from the chip business", but it's become more diverse more recently

  • SD said there are about 30 companies in SevinRosen's portfolio, averaging $10M each in terms of investment (although some are way less and a few even more).

  • Of the 30 companies, SD described the breakdown as follows: "one third are dead", where the companies never really even took off; "about 15 percent are walking dead", providing a ROI of less than 2X; and the rest of the companies offer a "greater than 2X" ROI. "Very few really big winners," he added. "At the end of the day, it's a 'hits business.'"

  • Random SD quote: "Right now, in fundraising, grey hair is the flavor of the month."

  • The management fees average between 2% and 3% at a VC firm. SD: "You have a pretty tidy income if you don'e come to the office. I've tried to squander it as best I can!"

  • For the larger VCs with say $2B under management, "two percent of two billion dollars is a lot of money."

  • SD spoke of the "carry" --- at Sevin Rosen, "we get a piece of the action if we make a profit -- 20 to 35% of the profit we get to keep".

  • DR described Mission Ventures' carry: if the fund is X, and the fund returns 3X, the gain is 2X, and the carry is 20-30% of 2X, or .4 to .7X of the fund. At which point the moderator of the panel, John Otterson, said, "Sounds like a good business." DR's response: "It is."

  • DR had a funny anecdote about you never know who these limited partner investors are: one time he had a pension fund investor named Pennington he was trying to reach by phone. He reached him: Pennington answered as "Detective Pennington" --- turns out he was a cop, who on the side was managing the pension funds!

  • SD: "A good limited partner sends checks and you never hear from them"

  • SD: "Entrepreneurs by nature need to be hopelessly opportunistic."

Posted by brian at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2004

Jerry Goldsmith

One of my favorite film music composers has passed away. Love his "Planet of the Apes" soundtrack. And he pulled a miracle with "Chinatown" -- another score had been prepared for that, and with only a few days to go before release, the filmmakers decided to dump the score and they hired Jerry to come up with something essentially overnight -- which he did. And his music for "Basic Instinct" was also perfect for setting the right mood. And who can forget "Patton". His range was endless, and remains endlessly inspiring.

Come to think of it, I prolly own more Goldsmith soundtracks than any other composer save for Morricone. One of the greats. RIP, JG.

Posted by brian at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2004

IZtunes

I noticed Wired News has a story today about the resurgence of interest in Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (Bruddah IZ). The story says IZ weighed 1000 lbs when he passed away --- I'm pretty sure that is an exaggeration, although IZ was huge. For background info, read IZ's WikiPedia entry.

I originally learned about IZ in April 1996 when we visited Kauai, and the owner of the house we were renting told us about IZ. She played us some of his music and we were hooked, and went out and bought his CD's. E Ala E is one of my favorite IZ tunes.

I was fortunate to see IZ in Oct. 1996 when he made a rare concert appearance in San Rafael, CA, at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Marin County Civic Center (the buildings portrayed as an academy in the feature film GATTACA). The IZ concert was hands down the most extraordinary stage event I've ever experienced. Once all the warmup acts (and there were a bunch of them) were done, the curtains opened and sitting in the middle of the stage was this completely square shaped being (it took several moments to realize this was a human -- I simply could not recognize any features that made my brain say, "that's a human over there"). He had an oxygen tube going to his nostrils, and he never got up or moved. Only his arm moved, to strum a tiny ukelele. His voice, and his humor, were just amazing. He had incredible charisma. He owned that audience, and his enjoyment at being there and performing was palpable. I'll never forget it. After the concert, I splurged and bought a $25 baseball cap: all black, with a bright red "IZ" logo on the front. I wore that hat for years. RIP, brudda IZ...

Perhaps this iTunes-based resurgence in IZ will spread to other Hawaiian artists, such as Gabby Pahinui, to name but one of the greats.

Posted by brian at 03:52 PM | Comments (1)

July 16, 2004

More Fiction Becoming Fact

Ok this is weird. Yet another made-up Denounce story has become reality. This time, it's about eBay. News circulating all over the place that eBay is getting into the Digital Downloads business.

Gee, I coulda sworn I wrote about that oh, about a year ago, in a story called "eBay Launches Music Downloading Auction Site"....

Posted by brian at 07:19 AM | Comments (1)

July 13, 2004

In Search of the Republican Oath, Part 2

I still haven't found out who wrote the Oath originally. Out of curiosity I attended the monthly meeting of the San Diego County Republican Party last night. My hope was to understand the Republican mindset better: who attended these meetings? What were the talking points? How close to the spirit of the Oath were they? How much "liberal bashing" went on --- was it going to be like Fox News?

A Prayer and a Pledge
There were roughly 250 people in attendance, in a ballroom of the fancy Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego. At the entrance, a woman was handing out flyers. I took a set. Color printing, double-sided, nice clean design.

The meeting began with a prayer, asking God for guidance to watch over the proceedings and get Bush re-elected. Did I hear right? It sounded like the prayer ended with a mumbled "in Jesus' name" slipped in before the "Amen." Then everyone was asked to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and they all stood facing the gold-frilled flag which hung on its pole along the left end of the wall behind the podium.

Darrel Issa's in Da House!
This was a standard rules-of-order kind of meeting, with a banging gavel, and the party chairman Ron Nehring presiding (Nehring to date hasn't responded to any of my inquiries about the Republican Oath . . . nor has anyone else in the San Diego Republican machine). He asked the committee if there were any objections to the minutes of last month's meeting being introduced into the record. No objections. He then conducted a roll call to determine if there was a quorum. As he went down the list of elected officials, committee persons, and other GOP leaders, one name caught my attention: Darrel Issa. As Issa's name was announced, a "Here" could be heard somewhere else in the room. Issa is of course the guy associated with the Republican machine's successful effort that bought Schwartzenegger the seat of Governor of California last year.

The Clap
Then began an amazing thing: Nehring launched into a long recitation of the names of notable guests, VIPs, and other distinguished attendees, along with a brief title or organizational affiliation for each. But what made it remarkable was that he instructed the crowd (who appeared to need no instruction --- they all seemed to know what to do) to vigorously clap once after each name was read. And so down the list Nehring went, speaking as fast as an auctioneer. As each name and the person's affiliation was read off, Nehring would clap once, and the audience would clap exactly in time -- just once. Name and affiliation, CLAP! Name and affiliation, CLAP! Name and affiliation, CLAP! That went on for five minutes. At the end, there was a general applause for all, but I suspect the applause was also being shared for Nehring's performance as well as for the audience itself. As the applause died down, Nehring wiped sweat off his brow.

I've never seen this clap-one-time technique used before --- I suspect it comes from sales meetings or football team pep rallies or church groups or something. Don't know. But it was very powerful and effective at getting everyone focused, in sync, and charged up. Politics is about people, after all, and people like to hear their names mentioned. Nehring was very effective at mentioning as many names as possible. I got a sense that this is a group where every member feels they belong.

The Sit Room
Nehring then spent a few minutes chatting about his recent travel to Washington, D.C., boasting that he'd gotten a tour of the White House's Oval Office and West Wing. He mentioned that he went downstairs and and was shown an intimidatingly secured and bolted door next to which on the wall was a plaque which said "WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM". He asked the audience, when the country has its next crisis, who do you want in that Situation Room, George Bush, or "that liberal from Massachusetts?" "George Bush," he said, as did the audience in unison and amid rousing applause. I suddenly felt like I was in that banquet scene in the sci-fi film They Live. If only I'd brought my sunglasses. . . .

Nehring described the Kerry-Edwards ticket as an "axis of liberalism". Over the course of the evening, the word "liberal" was used more than "Democrat", and both were always used as a pejorative. (I continue to wonder though: much of the Oath is quite Liberal, is it not? The Quest continues....)

Invoking His Name
Nehring then reported on last Friday's bus trip to the Library of "one of America's greatest presidents" (I'll leave it to the reader to guess who). 105 people made the pilgrimage, it turns out, filling 2 buses. The event was open only to members of the Reagan Club ($250 annual donation), Chairman's Circle ($1,000), or Founder's Circle ($ who knows how much, but no doubt a lot).

Reagan's name would be invoked numerous times during the evening --- always in tones of admiration and respect. Whereas Bush's name was never really mentioned in terms of admiration and respect, it seemed more like just an automatic, party-loyalty thing kicking in, as in "We're going to re-elect George W Bush" (applause) or "four more years" (applause) or "when we win in November" (applause). I didn't get a sense that this is a group especially proud of Bush or his Administration, but only because they never indicated so.

Reagan's name was mentioned about the same number of times as Barbara Boxer. Of course, in different terms. With Boxer, the phrasing was usually along the lines of "send Boxer packing" or "send Boxer back to Brooklyn". Um, this is a group of people who do not like Barbara Boxer.

Pursuing His Dream
Nehring handed out some awards, including to one gentleman named Tony somethingorother, whose brief remarks at the microphone included the fact that he was "born and raised in Sweden under socialism" which he decided was not how he wanted to live his life so he came to America. Another guy, Alex Holstein, the Executive Director of the organization, was invited up to give some brief words regarding his stepping down from the position of Executive Director to pursue his dream of becoming a fulltime novelist.

That seemed awfully odd. Think about it. It's July. 2004. An election year. An election that will be one of the most important, maybe the most important, American presidential election in decades. California is still strongly Democratic, and will most likely give its electoral votes to Kerry in November. The Republicans in California have a huge amount of work to do. And this guy, the executive director of the Party, picks this time to go off and write a novel (called The Monaco Affair if I heard correctly)!?!?!?

Doesn't sound right. Maybe it's true, but I'm going to assume "follow dream of writing my novel" is SD Repub code for "wanted to spend time with his family" a la George Tenet.

There were numerous mentions of the fact that Holstein's replacement was going to be mentioned but I didn't catch it. Unless the guy they introduced as the new "Chief Operating Officer" of the San Diego County GOP, whose previous post was chairman of the Merced County Rep Party, was in fact the replacement. It wasn't clear.

Gimme Money (That's What I want)
The SDRP Treasurer spoke briefly, mentioning that there was good news and bad news: the good news was that the party was $30k in excess of where they thought they were, but the bad news was, they didn't know exactly where they were, because the accountant at the firm doing the books for the Party turns out to not have been doing the books, and so the books are in disarray. The Party has some $100k cash on hand, a far cry, it was mentioned, from the $50k in debt just three years ago.

Keith Carlson, who has some larger role in the California GOP, then spoke some more about finances. It was a recurring theme throughout the evening. Money. Money. Money. He said that June statistics in San Diego County showed a .4% drop in registered Democrats, while there was a 2.65% increase in Republicans. That brought a cheer to the audience. He spoke about GOP county-level financial support and how it's been increasing in the past few election seasons. While he skirted "mentioning numbers", instead indicating how many quarter-million-dollar houses you could buy, he described a dramatic rise in monies for San Diego County, from around $100k for 2000, to $750k for 2002, and already $750k with only 6 months of 2004 elapsed, and more money to come before the end of the year.

A Serious Performance
Next there was a guy (Carl DeMaio, if I heard correctly) from an organization called The Performance Institute, which describes itself as a "private, non-partisan think tank based in San Diego." It may be private, it may be a think tank, and I'll stipulate that it's in San Diego, but I'm not sure about "non-partisan." The speaker clearly was in favor of the Republican agenda, and at one point used the word "fortunately" to describe the fact that there are not just one, but two, GOP candidates for San Diego Mayor in the 2004 election, which he hopes will go to the GOP.

The Performance Institute guy forcefully read off (at times I thought a little too angrily read off) a list of ten recommendations (see the list here at their own site). Most of them got warm, if not loud and immediate, applause. The recommendations reminded me of the Republican Oath. The emphasis was on fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, and cutting wasteful spending. All fairly reasonable at first glance. I was surprised to hear the ninth recommendation: "Reduce Corporate Welfare and Subsidies to Special Interests." Wouldn't such a recommendation be fightin' words to a Republican organization? I mean, the tax breaks that American corporations get are astounding. From the gathered audience there was no applause after he read that recommendation. The room was so quiet, you could hear a cricket chirp, if indeed there'd been any crickets present (I guess all San Diego crickets are liberals because I didn't hear any).

Securing the Homeland
After all this, the meeting reached the main part of the agenda (this was a long meeting --- nearly 2 hours): a report on local efforts for homeland security. Four people on the panel: Bonnie Dumanis (the San Diego District Attorney), a guy from the SD Police Dept, a guy named Serge from the Dept of Homeland Security, and an FBI agent named Chris Meyer.

They spoke earnestly of the many "task forces" and programs in place since 9/11 to prevent terrorist attacks in San Diego. Dumanis spoke about how the unparalleled-anywhere-in-the-world American spirit was not diminished after 9/11, and she encouraged the audience to "show it again when we re-elect George Bush". The audience applauded.

Chris Meyer of the FBI alluded to the single-clap phenomenon I mentioned earlier when he got up to speak. I guess it was a first for him as well. He quipped something about that was one more clap than he got from the Democratic Central Committee when he'd met with them.

He spent a lot of his talk expressing frustration at the alleged misinformation being printed and publicised about the PATRIOT Act. First, he said, this ignorance was coming from the secondary or lesser-known papers, but now it was happening in "reputable papers like the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post." Before he'd finished his sentence, the audience was howling. One person yelled out "Reputable!?" He didn't mention Fox, I noticed.

He challenged the audience to find a single example of a violation of civil liberties in the PATRIOT Act, and if anyone did, "have them call me," he said.

Wrapup
Politics aside, this was a well-run, well-executed meeting. Nehring is a powerhouse: very effective and passionate. A mover and shaker. I was really impressed with how he ran the show. I suspect one day he's going to be graduating from San Diego to a higher position elsewhere.

Tonight, July 13th, it turns out, is the monthly meeting of the San Diego Democratic Party's central committee. I was hoping to go, to compare and contrast how things work with this GOP meeting. But it's not open to the public. "It's a business meeting," I was told when I called the party headquarters in San Diego. I asked if there were any monthly all-hands meetings for Democrats or people curious about the Democratic Party in San Diego. There are none. You've got Meetups and local Clubs and that's about it.

No single-clap all-hands group sessions for the Dems I guess.

Maybe they ought to start one?

Posted by brian at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2004

Nanoshells

The word of the day has got to be nanoshells. Fascinating science, with incredible potential in medicine.

Posted by brian at 11:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 09, 2004

Call Off the Enthusiasm

I've been remiss in not contributing material over at BlogCritics.org, and after they were kind enough to send me a promo copy of a new CD, I figured I owed them a review. Here it is:

The floor is sticky in spots. The seats you wanted are taken, but the second best are available, so you take them and sit down. The smell of other people's popcorn is strong and unpleasant. The auditorium is still lit as more people come in and sit down.

The screen is showing advertisements, still images from a slide projector. Now it's an ad for refreshing Coca-Cola. Now it's an ad for Lenscrafters. Now it's an ad for some greasy bar-b-q restaurant. You haven't been paying attention to the music coming over the speakers --- it's that typical AMC Movie Tunes dreck. Songs that appear to be beautiful but lack any beauty or genuine feeling. Songs with a squeaky model's voice, a voice that does not do the songs justice, if the songs had any redeeming value to begin with, juxtaposed to Lenscrafters and Coca-Cola.

This is supposed to be a review of Katie Melua's new CD Call off the Search, but I'm finding it difficult to write anything positive. I did not like this CD.

In a nutshell, Kate Melua has chosen material that she has no credibility singing. These are not the tunes she's looking for. These are not the tunes people are going to find her with.

Her voice is thin and weak, all style but no substance. There's no energy, no experience, no emotion that sounds real or heartfelt. And there's the problem of her age (19): singing songs that older people can relate to, but when sung by her, sound like some slightly creepy appearance of a teenage kid on American Idol or Star Search singing the blues or some kind of subject matter that only makes sense when the singer's swung a few more times around the sun.

For instance, one song, called The Closest Thing to Crazy, she sings, "how can you treat me like a child?" Well, I can imagine a few reasons. She sings, "feeling 22, acting 17..." How about we split the difference: 19. I sound like an old coot but hell, go listen if you have to. Close your eyes. Lenscrafters.

The music is well-produced, well-recorded, don't get me wrong. It's just that the songs are tedious. The voice is completely phony, rendering the listening experience an ordeal, not a moment of joy.

But all is not lost. I have the perfect antidote to Call Off the Search: it's listening to K.D. Lang stunning performance of Crying off of her LIVE BY REQUEST album. Now there is a woman with a voice, and passion, and dramatic delivery. That is a performance that inspires awe. A performance that is so incredibly powerful, by the end you'll have to immediately play the song over again for a closer listen. You'll be wondering, did you really hear what you thought you heard? And are those tears in your eyes?

Try it. Run, go find a copy of Lang's performance. Listen closely. Turn the volume WAY UP. I guarantee you'll have completely forgotten about Melua's CD like I have.

Posted by brian at 04:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 08, 2004

When Fiction Becomes Fact: BitTorrenting F9/11

Back on May 24th I wrote a Denounce called BitTorrent To Release Michael Moore's New Film Free of Charge --- Movie Industry Stunned By Latest Moore Move. It was not quite done as a parody, but more as a sort of report of "plausible inevitability".

The posting trigged a massive amount of traffic, more than even a Slashdotting had ever done. Many took the posting for real, and then were disappointed when they found out it wasn't, and then labeled it a "hoax", which it was never intended to be (Denounce has more disclaimers than bungee-jumping business).

It got so bad that I broke with tradition and issued a huge, red-ink disclaimer all over the Denounce page. That cut traffic in half, but it has stayed heavy since then.

Imagine my surprise when the other day Michael Moore says he's fine with Fahrenheit 9/11 being made available for free over the peer-to-peer networks.

Topping that, imagine my surprise when I visited BoingBoing this morning, and saw a posting entitled "How to BitTorrent Fahrenheit 9/11" complete with detailed instructions on exactly how to download the movie from the Internet.

I guess the only thing I'm really surprised at is that it took this long.

Posted by brian at 10:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 07, 2004

When They're Sixty-Four

Ringo turns sixty-four today, and Paul will be sixty-four in two years. Let's hope they both make eleventy-four.

Posted by brian at 07:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 03, 2004

Back Next Week

Whoops, look at that, three days have gone by and no blog. I'm taking the holiday off. Back next week with more. Enjoy what's left of the weekend.

Posted by brian at 11:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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