Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gotta Love Maureen

I can't say it any better than Ms. Dowd and her Op-Ed piece from yesterday. One of the best parts cited that Wall St. cretin, John Thain being interview by Maria Bartiromo of CNBC:

In an interview with Maria Bartiromo on CNBC, Thain used the specious, contemptible reasoning that other executives use to rationalize why they’re keeping their bonuses as profits are plunging.

“If you don’t pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise” and they’ll go elsewhere, he said.

Hello? They destroyed the franchise. Let’s call their bluff. Let’s see what a great job market it is for the geniuses of capitalism who lost $15 billion in three months and helped usher in socialism

You go, girl!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Enough to Kill the Habit

As someone who very much enjoys a good audiobook, sometimes it can get frustrating. Since actual reading is part of my work-life (as in the non-fiction-part-of-my-job-responsibilities-tech side) and time for the fun, escapist reading conflicts with your family schedule (once you have kids in your life), delighting in audiobooks gets me back to that enjoyment that I started way back when... I'll get it on to my iPod and listen to them when and wherever I can. However, the pursuit of it can be vexing, see below...

There is the special exasperation an audiobook listener feels toward a poor narrator of a great book. Nothing screws up the experience quite so thoroughly as when one winces due to someone's vocal reading. It just breaks the spell, and grates on your nerves... That's even more so when it's the author--I'm talking to youThomas Harris and Mark Bowden--conducting the butchery. Though an author's genius is plainly on view on the written page of the published hard-/softcover, it is a rare quality that they also have the vocal/delivery/acting skills to actually narrate their own works to audiobook form. Believe me, I've heard enough of them for my ears to bleed...

It's no more of a disappointment than when you find out that no audiobook exists for the book you seek, as well. The simple truth is, the audiobook format exists for only a small portion of the books that get published each year. Not all authors have the opportunity to have their work produced in the audio space. By way of Corey's Drowning Machine blog, I'd love to listen to Declan Burke's work, but I'll have to wait till he sells enough to become better known to attract the publishers to produce such a work :-| (I know this because Mr. Burke kindly responded to my email query awhile back).

Plus, if you find the audiobook, then there is the concern about whether it's in unabridged or abridged form. For some, unabridged vs. abridged audiobook can lead to a few arguments. I very much prefer unabridged because that is what I'd want to read (if I had the time). But, here's the thing that drove me to post this. Sometimes, it'll be some stupid thing like the cost of an audiobook that'll drive one crazy. Corey's latest review, Beat the Reaper, got me on such a tangent. Bazell's debut book is available on Audible--so, on it goes to my download list. Easy...I have a subscription. Next, when you search on Amazon for other reviews, you find that it has folk associating his work with the likes of author Charlie Huston. Okay, I'm ready to give him a whirl, too. He's got a couple of series...fine. The Hank Thompson one looks good (no, not the singer), and it is in audiobook. Great. Let's start at the beginning of that series...

Oops, 'Caught Stealing' is not available at Audible. No worries, it's on audio CD. What's that going for? Maybe I can pick it up used... Sound Library publishes it and Amazon has for...$74.95!?! Settle...down... Used is okay. $ the cheapest! From a newly just launched seller!?! Must...sit...down. Surely, this is an aberration. Right? Let's head over to Alibris and search out other used sellers. Let's put in the ISBN and...arghhh, that's worse!!! Perhaps, Corey has some leftover Scotch...

John Updike Has Died

Though I've never read any of his books, the Pulitzer Prize winning author will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

That Time of Year, Again

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has come out with their annual list of Oscar nominees. And, it's the usual bit of fodder for water cooler conversations--the stuff of expectations, surprises, and, "damn, what we they thinking?" Unfortunately, it's not the stuff that it should be. I'm not ever short on opinions, especially when it comes to movies (and the awards certain groups choose to bestow upon them). Since I'm not a voting member, it's all I have to give--meager as that is. So, I'll take a moment to look over the list and attempt a bit of analysis. Hmm.... Though the Academy always has the best of intentions in awarding its members, I'll let Jules Winnfield of Pulp Fiction say it for me:


Right off the bat, it would have been one of the bigger shocks if Heath Ledger wasn't nominated for his great performance in The Dark Knight, but he was (to no one's surprise). Same could be said for the nominations of Sean Penn and Frank Langella, Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep (God...again?) for the Best Actor/Actress categories. The Academy loves safe picks, especially for those in films that had the transparent ambition and studio guidance to win movie awards. Unfortunately, just like what happens in annual book awards, not all of the worthy get nominated. For Director, the safe bets were Gus Van Sant and Ron Howard. Luckily, for many of us, the great expectations for great film were realized: WALL-E was nominated for Animated Feature Film.  It was good enough to have gotten a Best Picture nomination, too, but the Academy is too stogy to give one to something animated. So, I have to give the Academy some credit for at least recognizing one of my favorites.


In this category, the surprises can be either positive or negative...and sometimes, both. Mickey Roarke (even though he won the Golden Globes) was a good surprise--and one I thought the conservative Academy would blow. He is extraordinary in the film (and his comeback). Although, the French have long admired him, for some reason... Same would go for his co-star Marisa Tomei. In Bruges did at least get a nod with its Writing (Original Screenplay), but little else. Long time character actor, Richard Jenkins, was recognized for his worthy actor role in The Visitor (a favorite among many critics who were among the few that took it in). Unfortunately, I feel that his nomination also took the slot that I hoped would have gone to Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino. To be upfront, I'll proudly stipulate that he's a favorite of mine, and a underrated actor (but no longer underrated as a director, though). And his movie could have picked up a Original Screenplay, but was totally snubbed. I knew I'd get to taking back whatever credit I gave the Academy! Anyway, at least Viola Davis was nominated. She had the least amount of screen time compared with the other nominees from the movie Doubt, but she's easily the best thing in it (and still shows up the vaunted Ms. Streep in the few screen minutes awarded her).

"What Were They Thinking?"

And, speaking about Doubt... It received way too many nominations (I'm just glad they didn't award it nods for Picture and Director--or sainthood). I hear it's a great play, but playwright John Patrick Shanley shouldn't have directed his own written work. It comes off too much as an adapted play and is way too stage-bound (negating the strengths of this medium). A good film director easily avoids this trap (see Ron Howard and his direction of the Frost/Nixon play). Next, we have The Curious Case of Benjamin Gump er...Button. I'm not the only one to slip and note this concerning the year's movie darling (13 frakking nominations for Forrest Button!). Way too many for this film--and one of the most blatant in its campaign for a Best Picture nomination. Too long, and too padded (criminy, the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story is only 32 pages in paperback!). That would have been bad enough except the blessed Academy choose to ignore one of the best films ever in crime fiction just because it had a comic superhero/villain as its protagonist/antagonist! Easily one of the most successful and realized (not just for its genre) films in movie history, The Dark Knight should have gotten Best Picture and Director nominations (the Producers and Directors were at least bright enough to note this for their award nods). Sheesh...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Edgars - Movie-Wise

The Edgars are out. And like any award nominations done early in the new year, they generate (book-wise) many opinions, comments and discussions. I'll defer to Jen's post of a couple of days ago regarding this. Her's and Corey's posts are always very insightful and interesting--as are those who follow their writings and comment on their posts (myself excluded). I've read none of those nominated, and I don't feel qualified to comment on the literary mystery/crime fiction listed specifically since I go all over the place in the items I read/listen to. Perhaps, this is the reason my mother once called me a social butterfly (and, of course, I never knew how to perceive that).

But, the Edgars do offer a Best Motion Picture Screenplay category. I'll flit over to that, though:
  1. The Bank Job - one of my two favorite films from last year's crop. I'm glad to see it up for something. Based upon a true heist gone wrong, it had a wonderful cast, script and British tone that Hollywood ignores.
  2. Burn After Reading - on my Netflix list of upcoming rentals. The Coen Brothers have a wonderful sense of the absurd in their noir.
  3. In Bruges - the other favorite mine is this charmer with its startling black comedic tale of Irish gangsters meeting their Heaven/Hell in Belgium--glad to see it picking up another award nomination.
  4. Tell No One - another one in my queue that I'm very interested in viewing. The French film adaptation of the (very American) Harlan Corben's novel--you know some unoriginal studio exec will want to do an American version of this successful European movie (sheesh!).
  5. Transsiberian - when I first saw the trailer for this one, it didn't draw me (probably because I'm not a Woody Harrelson fan). Now, it's probably worth a rental just out of curiosity to see why they nominated it.

Of Books and Leadership

I recall a post not that long ago by Jen at Jen's Book Thoughts which mentioned Obama's ardent book reading. Now, this article from the N.Y. Times detailing the scope of those readings. From fiction and poetry, to history and philosophy. It is very clear, as the writer cites biographer Fred Kaplan in comparing the two: like Mr. Obama, Lincoln "was a lifelong lover of books, indelibly shaped by his reading — most notably, in his case, the Bible and Shakespeare — which honed his poetic sense of language and his philosophical view of the world."

I find Obama's breadth in reading material very comforting. If it's any reflection upon the man, that capacity for learning, appreciation of knowledge, and self-examination (something his lame predecessor lacked in droves) offers us a sea change in leadership during a time we need it the most. We have not seen the bottom of this crisis yet--not in financial terms, nor do we know the extent of the damage in eight years of corrupt governance. When all of these are revealed, we're going to need the same calm direction and the skill Lincoln used to "galvanize a nation reeling from hard times with a new vision of reconciliation and hope."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ricardo Montalban 1920 - 2009

Man...I have to stop reading the news today. Ricardo Montalban has died. Another of my cherished character actors has left us. Few other actors had a career that spanned so many decades and roles in television, stage, and film--and for one of the few prominent Hispanic actors, that's saying something. And, he performed many of his roles plagued with pain from a spinal injury that originally occurred in 1951. He could sing, dance, and act. He was something of a legend for many in the Mexican-American community, especially here in the city that he lived in (though he remained a Mexican citizen from birth and never applied for U.S. citizenship). As well, he was also one of the best loved villains in the Star Trek franchise--Khan Noonien Singh. One of my favorite quotes (the five stages of the actor) that's cited by many is by him:

  1. Who is Ricardo Montalbán?
  2. Get me Ricardo Montalbán.
  3. Get me a Ricardo Montalbán type.
  4. Get me a young Ricardo Montalbán.
  5. Who is Ricardo Montalbán?

Rest in peace, Mr. Roarke.

Patrick McGoohan 1928 - 2009

Sadly, another one of my favorite actor/writer/director died yesterday at a local hospital. Patrick McGoohan was 80 years old and created one of the most iconic and influential TV series ever, The Prisoner.  As a child in the 60's, I became a fan of his watching Secret Agent and Disney's The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. He would go on to play a number of characters in television, stage and movies, and in some he would write, produce, and/or direct. Even with him playing various adversary villains in Columbo, Silver Streak, and his gleefully sadistic turn as King Edward "Longshanks" in Braveheart, he'll always be No. 6 to me. May he rest in peace.

A Most Interesting Graphic

Timothy Lavin's article in The Atlantic, Then and Now, has one of the most interesting graphics within it:

It details the nation Barack Obama inherits from Bush, and the changes that have occurred from 2000 to near present. You can see the entire graphic, here. Unfortunately, most changes are not for the better. We're heavier, poorer, pay more for health insurance (for those fewer that have it), but watch more TV and video games (probably because less of us are employed). Great...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Complete & Utter Failure (as President)

Dan Froomkin, Columnist for the Washington Post, pretty much covers it all, Bush's legacy and that stinking last news conference of his, in today's White House Watch:
George Bush, and all of his co-conspirators, can't leave office fast enough by me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Most Fun Here at Macworld 2009

This is my second Macworld conference that I've ever attended--meaning that I take in the technical talks given as part of the Conference and Expo. Although, I've attended the Expo for some years now (along with my bosses) in up-and-back one-day trips, I do the MacIT segment of the conference. In general, this is an interesting and good learning experience, at least for those who support the Mac in the enterprise.

Also part of the Macworld event, the current N.Y. Times Tech Columnist, David Pogue presents his Macworld Live with David Pogue show. I've been following him for years (before he got famous and was merely a lonely Mac pundit in the 80's). You can check out his NYT column in my blog links. This morning's show was the best so far. It included Ge Wang, creator of the Ocarina iPhone app, and those crazy guys who put on the hilarious You Suck at Photoshop tutorials/soap opera.

But, for me, the highlight remained his first guest, Matt Harding, the creator of the Dancing Matt 2008 video:

I guess I don't watch enough YouTube and missed this phenomenon. But, I found the video (and music) an entralling piece of humanity. I can't quite nail it in words, but the breath and scope of the people and cultures on display gave me a nice bit of hope among our current mix of crises and violence (that we never seem to tire of as human beings). That, and the translation of the words in the song (titled Praan) being sung in the video (copied from the FAQ page on Matt's web site):

The English version of the poem is called "Stream of Life." Here it is:

The same stream of life 
that runs through my veins night and day 
runs through the world 
and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life 
that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth 
in numberless blades of grass 
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life 
that is rocked in the ocean-cradle 
of birth and of death, 
in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious 
by the touch of this world of life. 
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages 
dancing in my blood this moment.

To fit the song, we had to chop things up a bit; turning one verse into a repeating chorus and omitting other sections. Here are the lyrics as they ended up in the song, translated in a more direct way from the original Bengali:

I will not easily forget 
The life that stirs in my soul 
Hidden amidst Death 
That infinite Life

I hear you in the thunder 
A simple tune 
A tune to which I will arise (3x)

And in that storm of happiness 
As your music plays in your mind 
The whole wide world 
Dances to your rhythm

I hear you in the thunder 
A simple tune 
A tune to which I will arise (3x)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Wharf Sightseeing

After yesterday's raining day, we all got out of the hotel and headed to Fisherman's Wharf. Even though it was low 50's, it was a great day for us tourists. None brought more smiles than stopping at Ghiraradelli Square for the chocoholics in the family. Of course, this excludes my daughter--who my wife swears cannot have any of her genes since she does not like chocolate! Still, we all had a good time.

p.s., one can't see it too well, but that's Alcatraz Island in the bay (top picture).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year in Another City

After flying up, grabbing BART, walking to the downtown hotel my wife booked, and eating room service, I can finally post this. The family and I are here in San Francisco. I'm here for work (Macworld Conference and Expo, which starts on the 5th), but my wife wanted us to come up early and greet the new year in the city by the bay.

It's nice to come back up to this NoCal area. They are talking about rain tomorrow here, but the rest of weekend looks good, weather-wise (though really cool). The family will stay with me until Monday, then I'm on my own with the conference. Anyway, it's nice being here and into a new year--really looking forward to January 20th. I really want to see the end of the Bush-Cheney era and the start of Obama's presidency.

Here's wishing everyone a Happy New Year.