Archive for January 2011

 
 

So it’s come to this

Now they’re spray-painting giant “H”es with arrows along the walls of snow on the highway to indicate where fire hydrants are:

photo-1

And, yes, there are spots where you CAN’T also see the fire hydrant. Craziness!

The Inbetweens for 28 Jan 2011

There are some topics that come to mind which are too long for Twitter and too short for a blog post. These are “The Inbetweens.”

  • I forgot to mention in my Milwaukee AI10 round-up that one of my favorite songs was used as a bed in the opening. It’s Marc Broussard’s “Home,” and it comes highly recommended. It’s available on Amazon MP3 and probably iTunes, though I don’t have a link for it there at the moment.

  • With any luck, the Nashville write-up will come this weekend, if anything interesting happened.

  • Who’s the guy who discovered Sea Salt? He must be making a fortune, because suddenly it’s all the rage. The latest is in Wendy’s French Fries. I hate it when the fries I like change recipes. Burger King never recovered from their change a decade ago. When Wendy’s made the switch, I was worried. But, I think it actually improved the fries. I love them.

But what’s up with Sea Salt? Cheaper? Latest health craze? Makes cooking quicker? What do you think it is? The cynic in me doubts that it’s in there because it just makes food taste better. That has to be an accidental side benefit.

  • Saw someone complaining the other day that Near Field Communications might change life as we know it if the next iPhone has one. Why the complaint? Because there’s an Android phone or two that have already had it for months now, and nobody got excited. This, the commenter said, was a sign of Apple Fanboyism in the press.

No, it’s a sign of reality. Android users don’t use their phone nearly as much as iPhone users do. Apps don’t fly out of the Android store the same way that they do with the App Store. And Apple has tens of millions of credit card numbers on file. Android — well, doesn’t. It’s the Apple infrastructure that makes the possibility of NFC so exciting. The pieces are in place if Apple wants to pounce on it.

“I’ve seen the NGP up close and the screen is the most beautiful gear I’ve ever seen in my hand. It punches the iPhone 4 screen in the junk,” said James Mielke, a producer at Tokyo game design studio Q Entertainment, on Twitter following the announcement.

The NGP is the “Next Generation Portable” that Sony plans to release for Christmas this year. It’s the next PSP. And the specs on it are so amazing that you know the battery life will be dwarfed by everything else in creation that runs on batteries. They claim it’ll run as long on a single charge as a Nintendo 3DS, but I’m not sure I believe those numbers either. Battery life is never up to the figures the manufacturers claim, after all.

  • “Strength to strength” is another one of those overused phrases I’d like to see banished from the internet. It used to be just Brits I heard use it, but now it seems to be a worldwide thing. Thanks for that import, UK!

AI10 – Milwaukee Try-Outs

Again, I’m only halfway through the two hour marathon of Idol greatness tonight, but some random thoughts from that:

  • Steven Tyler is filling the Ozzy Osbourne quotient of Crazed End of Career Whacked Out Ex-Druggie Who Might Say Anything Next on a Reality Show role. That said, I did laugh at the match/duck line that cracked up the entire staff in the studio. . .
  • The judges are still being pushovers. Randy’s initial instinct and Jennifer Lopez’s “no” vote were correct for Emma Henry, the girl who drove on a learner’s permit to the audition. She’s good for her age, but she’s not strong enough yet. She needs more training and more experience. She’ll be joining a large contingent of contestants in Hollywood who don’t stand a chance and will be easy cannon fodder. EASY. The only question is, will the judges toughen up on Hollywood Week? Or will they keep pushing people through until the last minute and then unleash the bloodbath?
  • The teenager who led the show with his deep singing voice, Scotty McCreery, won’t go far, either. He doesn’t have any range. He’d get boring after a couple of weeks in the top ten, except for the fact that the country viewers of Idol always vote for their own in strong numbers. He is good television as a novelty act, though. That voice is ridiculous, in a positive way.
  • Hey, Danny Gokey is alive!
  • Jerome Bell is overrated and screams too much. This, by the way, is a winning audition for Steven Tyler, contestants. Pay attention for the next set of auditions. Punctuate your audition with a high note into a scream (whether necessary or not) and you’ll go places.
  • And let’s start sucking it up, contestants. This is doubly true if you’re 15 or 16. Yes, “Idol” might change your life. (It has led to much more public stints in rehab for the likes of Jessica Sierra and Mikki McKibbin, for starters.) So stop year crying already. Come back next year. Just because you’ve been watching the show since you were a zygote doesn’t entitle you to winning it TODAY. A little crying today will save you lots of crying after the flight to Hollywood.

Discussing Football When You Just Don’t Know

The Big Game (NFL claims copyright on “Spr B*wl” and I can’t afford to pay that fine) is coming up in less than two weeks.  And, if you’re anything like me these days, you don’t give one flying fig.  Sadly, everyone around you does.  And the day after The Big Game, at work, you’re going to be the outcast if you can’t discuss the pertinent details of the game.  Here I’ll provide you with a list of short phrases and key ideas to put across at work to fake it.  They’re cliché enough that nobody will know you were fast forwarding through the game to get to the Marvel movie trailers: 

  • “Boy, they really came to play, didn’t they?”  (A completely meaningless thing to say.  The flip side of the coin is “Too bad they didn’t show up, eh?”  Use that one if you get blank stares on the first.)
  •  ”The game would have been completely different if it weren’t for that one play.”  (This is the best one, because the person you’re talking to will immediately fill in the blank and tell you which play that was.)
  •  ”It would have been a completely different game if the ref hadn’t blown that call.  Did you see that play?”  Follow that up immediately with this crowd-pleaser:
  •  ”But the refs are only human, not perfect.  You can’t let them beat you.  You have to work around that, just like the other team.”
  •  ”Special Teams is what it’s all about.”
  •  ”You have to hit your man and hit him hard.  A missed tackle is a game lost.”
  •  ”You could see the quarterback scanning the field, but he still missed his one opening.”
  •  ”Stupid coach. Overplayed it.”
  •  ”It’s all about clock management.”
  •  ”It was still a game for a long time.”
  •  ”Who knew they had that play?  It completely stunned the defense.  Wonderful!”
  •  ”They must have loved playing somewhere where it wasn’t 20 degrees out, eh?”

 With the help of these generic phrases and an over-enthusiastic colleague, you can fake your way through any football conversation.  For added credibility, go to ESPN.com first to see who won.  You might be able to tailor your phrases with the appropriate winning or losing team’s name. (Hint: It’s either The Steelers or The Packers.)

Good luck on February 7th.  Start practicing today!

AI10 – New Orleans Try-Outs

I’m not sure I have anything terribly specific to say here. I didn’t write down contestant names, so going one by one would be impossible. But some general thoughts after three hours of this new season:

  • Steven Tyler needs to pull back on the food analogies. Telling people they’re delicious or that they’re like desert after lunch is getting to be old hat.
  • The producers will soon be tapping the judges on the shoulders and telling them they don’t have the budget to send this many people to Hollywood.
  • And with all the teenagers going, that’s TWO plane tickets for their parents or legal guardians.
  • And the 15 year old rule needs to be thrown out the window. Yes, that one kid (Jaycee Badeaux — I looked his name up) could sing, but shouldn’t he wait for his voice to crack before embarking on a musical career? They can’t all be Bobby Brady. Seriously, though, the kid was good and sang a solid tune, but his voice is still weak and needs more experience. He’s going to get eaten alive in Hollywood.
  • Somewhere, Simon Cowell is sneaking a peak at these shows and rolling his eyes at all the fair-to-middling contestants they’re putting through. There’s a lot of people who could use another year before going to Hollywood that they’re just fast-tracking.
  • One other lesson these contestants need to learn: Getting a ticket to Hollywood is NOT a life-changing thing. It’s a free plane ticket and an overnight stay in a hotel in Los Angeles somewhere. That’s it. Half of them will be returning home within 48 hours of getting there a few months later, so don’t celebrate your family’s rise out of poverty yet.

AI10 – New Jersey Try-outs

American Idol logo It’s a bold new beginning for American Idol. At last, they’ve acknowledged that the Meadowlands is in New Jersey and not New York City. They referred to them as the “New Jersey Auditions” this year. Maybe Nigel Lythgoe’s influence involves bringing truth to the series?

So, the season starts off with a typically over-produced melodramatic Michael Bay movie trailer worthy tease for what happened in the “off-season” with signing on two new judges before we get to business. I kinda like that the show wallows in its campiness sometimes.

That Ford banner ad at the bottom of the screen that doesn’t stretch to the edges? Reminds me of ads on an iPhone. I don’t get why they don’t fill in the rest of the space to the left and right for the HD feed, though.

But here’s the part that made me happiest: The first contestant was Rachel Zevita. You may remember her from Season Six. Jennifer Lopez said she did. I know I did. And, guess what? I wrote about her four years ago:

Rachel Zebita[sic] is this year’s opera singer. We had one last year who was very entertaining in the auditions (you can hear her here), but stunk came Hollywood Hell Week. Rachel made it through, so we’ll see if she fares any better.

The previous year’s contestant did a “Phantom of the Opera” song, as you may recall. I can’t believe I still do…

In any case, checking further into the archives, I saw that I didn’t mention her brief appearance during Hollywood week, and off she went.

More links for Rachel:

I have a lot more of the premiere left to watch, but I wanted to get this part out there. I love it when I can use the VandS archives. =)

UPDATE #1: Just finished watching the first day of auditions from the episode. I haven’t laughed this hard from watching television in years.  Steven Tyler is the perfect addition to this show’s cast. He’s just unhinged enough that, with his background, he might just say anything and it can be easily dismissed as “he’s a rock star.”  So when he tells a sixteen and three-quarters year old girls that her skirt had “just the right amount showing,” I had to hit pause and wait to compose myself.

Also, “Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?” cracked me up.  I bet the writers on the show are just happy to have a different character to write for. ;-)

On the other side, yeah, they did the whole “Jersey Shore” thing.  Tying the show into MTV’s hit reality series is, in retrospect, likely the entire reason that they admitted which side of the Hudson River they were filming on.  Ah, well. . .

It’s that time of year again

American Idol Season 10 debuts with Wednesday and Thursday night episodes this week. New judgments, new format, the works. Hmmm, I might just need to write about it a little bit this season. . .

How Verizon Could Still Screw This All Up

So, the iPhone on Verizon is real and happening on February 10th. There was much rejoicing, but is it premature? Isn’t Verizon just as bad as every other wireless company? Aren’t they watching their bottom line just as closely as AT&T?

For the sake of argument and your initial elation, dear reader, let’s assume they aren’t. But let’s, then, keep an eye out for some of the things Verizon could do to screw this up:

  • They haven’t announced the pricing on their data plans and voice plans. It could be more expensive.

  • They haven’t announced pricing for the hotspot feature. AT&T got a lot of grief for charging an extra $20 a month for tethering. I bet Verizon puts up the same $20 charge, albeit for five connections at a time. It sounds great until you run into the data cap on the tenth of the month.

(This just in: Boy Genius Report is saying that the hotspot functionality is built into the next edition of the iOS software, due out possibly in March. So it’s possible that AT&T may match it in the near future.)

  • Will the iPhone 5 be released for Verizon at the same time as AT&T? We don’t know that at all. Maybe the deal is that Verizon’s iPhone is always six months behind AT&T’s. Maybe. Even if it isn’t, do you really want to rush out to buy an iPhone 4 today when the 5 is due out in five months? Or is it? You don’t know that it will be. Boy, that’s a tough decision, isn’t it? The only safe thing to do is to wait for the iPhone 5 announcement before switching to Verizon.

  • AT&T’s network is about to undergo a significant shrinkage of its user base. That’s a lot of more open bandwidth for you to use, particularly in the major cities. Meanwhile, we have no guarantees that the Verizon network will handle the new traffic load gracefully. And, if AT&T is right, it’s slower to begin with.

  • So far, this is all theory and Might Happens. This next part, though, is already announced: The “New Every Two” program has just been discontinued, though existing customers can use their credit. Also, early upgrades just went from 13 months to 20 months.

And, don’t forget, you can’t have data and a phone call at the same time. Your hotspot is useless when you’re on the phone, which will be particularly annoying to the other four people using your hotspot at that moment. I don’t usually look at my phone to search for something while on the phone, but the one or two times that I have, it was critical and important. I imagine if I were using the phone as a hotspot with any regularity, I’d hate the people calling me for causing that connection to die so I could talk to them.

For some of you, you’ll need a new case. One button is minorly different on the Verizon phone, and won’t fit into certain iPhone cases.

The long-mythical Verizon iPhone has always amused me. People have assume that it’ll be the solution to all their problems. I’ve never had the problems with AT&T that so many others seem to have. Yes, it drops calls sometimes, but always in basically the same exact spots on the drive home that other carriers have dropped calls on me. The 3G is reliable. It works at my house and at my work. That’s all I need. If AT&T happens to not have great coverage in your particular part of the world, then by all means switch. But don’t talk about how awful AT&T’s customer service is, because I’ve got news for you — all wireless providers are awful. I’ve been to the Verizon store more times than I care to count with my wife’s various phones and it’s been a nightmare scenario every time.

That all said, there’s a chance I’ll switch to the Verizon iPhone in June, too. If Verizon’s network is still standing after a few months of the iPhone being on it, and if Verizon gets the iPhone 5 at the same time as AT&T, I’ll likely do it. This way, my wife and I will at last be on the same network and we’ll save minutes that way. (Unless, of course, Verizon decides that Verizon-to-Verizon minutes count against you with the iPhone now…)

Whose Line Returns! Sorta

The new Drew Carey-hosted improv show is going to be five days a week on the Game Show Network and feature most of the same gang that you’ll remember from his sit-com and the American edition of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Includes Kathy Kinney, Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood, Ryan Stiles, all familiar from previous Carey improvs; Heather Anne Campbell, Chip Esten, Jonathan Mangum, Sean Masterson.

The official word: GSN (Game Show Network) and Drew Carey introduced today the line-up of talented actors and comedians who will join Carey in DREW CAREY’S IMPROV-A-GANZA, his new original, primetime daily strip show for GSN. Carey and his fellow cast members will create a lively, unpredictable and hilarious half-hour of improvised sketch comedy, complete with audience participation. DREW CAREY’S IMPROV-A-GANZA will premiere March 28, 2011 on GSN.

How to Improve the iPhone Camera

Posted today at AugieShoots.com is my essay on ways that Apple could improve the camera experience on the next iPhone.  Some of these would be relatively easy, others might be more difficult, but I hope it’s food for thought. . .

Why is my Wi-Fi so slow?

Exactly what is the distance limit for an 802.11N router, do you figure? I took my handy dandy iPhone around the house tonight to figure out why the internet felt so sluggish around the house sometimes. What I found is probably not surprising, but does raise some annoying problems.

I used the SpeedTest app for the iPhone, which also has a web counterpart.

My cable modem and router are plugged in upstairs, in the “home office.” I live in a townhouse, so there’s also below that a main level and a basement that’s the “home theater”/play room for my daughter.

My computer is plugged directly into the router, so let’s start with that as a baseline:

  • PING: 29ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 1.76 Mb/s
  • UPLOAD: 2.07 Mb/s

Uploads are faster than downloads? Isn’t it usually the other way around?

That established, let’s now go on wi-fi and move just outside the room with the router set up in it:

  • PING: 89ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 347.7 kB/s
  • UPLOAD: 255.5kB/s

Please note that the download and upload speeds are now in KILO and not MEGA, which is why the numbers look higher, but aren’t.

Now, one floor below:

  • PING: 84ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 316.5 kB/s
  • UPLOAD: 276 kB/s

We’re slowing down a tad, but no big deal. Heck, uploads are faster!

Then, we go to the basement:

  • PING: 181 ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 53.2 kB/s
  • UPLOAD: 3.8 kB/s

Things got bad in a hurry. Latency is twice as bad. Download speed is cut by something like 80%. Ditto the Upload speed.

So I tried turning off Wi-Fi and going to 3G and found this:

  • PING: 473ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 84.1 kB/s
  • UPLOAD: 11.5 kB/S

Latency shoots up drastically, but once the connection is made, uploads and downloads are faster than with the wi-fi 802.11N router.

So, what’s the solution? Is this just a matter of being stuck too far away from the router? Of being underground? Or do I need a new router that’s better at pointing directionally down? The current router doesn’t have antennae on it like the old LinkSys did, so I can’t point things in the right direction.

Christina Perri

I don’t listen to music anymore, and the only real exposure I have to it is what I accidentally hear on store radios or on my car radio while I’m swapping around CDs. (Someday, I’ll outline the process by which I’m forced to listen to podcasts by burning them to CDs.)

So when I heard a song that grabbed my attention in the car a week back, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think to pull out my iPhone and use the Shazam app to identify it at the time. Silly me thought that just maybe the radio station would backtrack and tell me who sang it after it was done. No, they don’t do that anymore. I could have looked up the lyrics on-line, but by the time that thought came to me, I had forgotten the lyrics.

But then I heard the song again on the radio last night and instantly grabbed the cell phone and started up Shazam. (The newest update is amazing — takes half the time to identify a song, if that.)

The song is “Jar of Hearts” by Christina Perri. I imagine it’s getting a lot of airplay these days.

Never heard of her before this. Turns out, there’s a good reason for that. She’s recording her first album now. This is her sole single. When I went to iTunes, I had a choice of downloading that single or an EP made up of five songs performed live. I downloaded the EP instantly.

And I like it. I like it a whole lot. While the single isn’t easily confused with the other songs, it also isn’t completely unlike the other songs. Too many artists have hit singles that work well on their own but sound absolutely nothing like the rest of the album. I suspect that’s the hand of the record company at work there, picking the “hit” song from an album or forcing a hit song onto the album where it doesn’t belong. And, really, don’t we ALL like to villify record companies at any chance?

But she has a great voice — it’s gravelly and forceful and powerful, while still capable of being more tender and soft. She can span the two in the same song. And it’s consistent throughout. Sure, it doesn’t quite hit and hold all the notes as in the radio version of “Jar of Hearts,” but she comes close enough. There’s some tricky vocal parts of that song after all. But I do think the best parts of her songs come in the power parts.

If you can only download one other song besides “Jar of Hearts,” I’d go with “Bang Bang Bang,” which really swings.

In some ways, she reminds me of a little more powerful version of Nellie McKay, though played a little straighter and stronger .

Plus, she’s a piano player, which I’m always partial to.

So count me in as a fan. Download all her stuff. Look forward to the album. Follow her on Twitter. Check out her website. And her Tumblr page.

I’ll put her on my bucket list of musicians I’d like to photograph someday, but that’s a post for AugieShoots.com. ;-)

Now, here’s the punchline: I wrote all this up, then went to the web to get more links, details, etc. It turns out I had heard and loved this song back in JULY! Perri was on “So You Think You Can Dance.” I liked the song back then and even think I remember looking her up on-line, but not finding much. Seven months later, here we are. Crazy world, eh? And it looks like SYTYCD was her big break. I remember that performance, too. Sheesh

I just wish I was blogging SYTYCD regularly this past summer, so I could really laugh at myself for forgetting her. The crazier thing: I didn’t hear the song for six months after it hit the Billboard charts, then I hear it twice in a week? Weird.

Here’s the SYTYCD performance. Embedding of the video isn’t allowed, so you’ll have to click through the link. Ugh.

So here’s the video for Jar of Hearts instead:

Note at least one SYTCD dancer in there, and it appears to have been choreographed by Stacey Tookey of SYTYCD, too.

So, yeah, now I’m caught up on the hot music scene of Summer 2010.

Applescript Needed? Automate Copying Link and Text

I think I need an Applescript for this.  I have a problem, and I’m hoping someone knows of a solution for it.  Let me know if you do.

Given a document — whether it’s a Word Doc or an HTML page — I want to right-click on a link and be able to cut-and-paste both the text that’s being linked and the surrounding A HREF HTML code that creates that link.  This needs to work with DOC files, DOCX files, web sites.  It seems crazy that all I can do is right click on the link and copy the URL.  I want to copy the link AND the text that’s underlined to form that link.

I imagine the easiest solution to this is some chunk of Applescript code somewhere, but I’ve never dabbled in that particular form of programming.  Has anyone ever seen something like what I’m describing?  Help!  And thanks.

Hollywood Loves Lost

Busy news cycle for divorces in La La Land:

  • Sebastian Bach (18 years)
  • Macauley Culkin (8 years)
  • John Mellencamp (20 years)
  • Joe Francis (7 weeks)

That last one is not a typ0. He’s the Girls Gone Wild guy. Did you expect his marriage to last longer than seven weeks?!?

On the other hand, Shania Twain just got married. And Hugh Hefner is engaged, in another well-meaning and no doubt long-lasting marriage.

Oh, and Elton John has a new baby: Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John. Better than “Apple” or “Rumor,” I suppose, but he loses points for giving his kid a name of one of his songs.  I suppose we should be happy he didn’t go with “Daniel Levon Furnish-John.”

My Obvious Prediction for 2011

BORDERS_LOGO

My preferred bookstore, Borders, is not long for this world and will close down well before December 2011. The writing has been on the wall for a while now (pulling out of the UK, closing stores in the US), but two events this weekend sealed the company’s fate for me:

  1. Borders announced recently that they won’t be paying some publishers.

That’s bad enough, but then:

  1. Borders Reward members got a two day 50% off coupon good for this weekend, right after that announcements.

Sounds to me like they’re trying to bring in a fast infusion of cash to make some payments, at any price. Doesn’t matter if they lose money on each sale; They only need to bring in a lot of cash in a short time period. This is a great short-term fix, but does nothing for the long-term problems.

The optimist would say that they’re hoping to get customers in the door, and more people will buy more than just that 50% off book.

I think the optimist is deluded, if such a person exists.

2011 will be the year that leaves us only Barnes and Noble for a nationwide bookstore chain. And how long will B&N last in a world where Amazon sells everything for 30%+ off with free shipping and without the need to pay for an annual membership?

I love bookstores, but I don’t spend money in them anymore, unless I have a big fat coupon. I don’t think I’m alone.