Sunday, May 28, 2006

At Beware of the Blog, you can listen to an episode of The Simpsons described for the blind. I was aware of the technology, but was surprised how well the sight gags of a Simpsons episode can be rendered audibly.
Washed up at 27: Life of a Las Vegas cocktail waitress. I found it interesting to read that properties bypass Culinary Union rules by subcontracting out to nightclub operators, whose arrangements with the union allow them to hire based on appearances. The Union doesn't have a problem with the arrangement:
Casino attorneys say the Culinary Union won't balk when older workers don't get the new, lucrative serving jobs. It's the sacrifice for bringing more tourists to town - and keeping the vast majority of the union's 60,000 members happily employed making beds and washing dishes. Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said the union has prevented casinos from firing older workers, who can work as servers as long as they are able. And the union has at least gotten management to allow servers to wear lower heels and offer maternity uniforms for pregnant servers.
So the next time you're served a highball at your favorite Las Vegas nightspot by a sexy little thing in a maternity thong, be sure to look for the union label.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Orphan Works Copyright bill introduced in congress. Seems like a reasonable compromise to allow the 98% of copyrighted material not commercially available to be put to some use.
Another highly addictive internet time-waster. Visual instead of audio, this time.

It seems like there are all sorts of odd things on the internet that are as addictive as crack cocaine, which reminds me of something I only just this week noticed, reading Wil Weaton's account of E3. Wil Wheaton writes about many things, but video games are a major beat of his. And I thought it odd that he played Wesley Crusher, who in one canonical episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, saved the crew of the Enterprise after they had all been brainwashed by a high-tech futuristic video game (which actually looks primitive compared to the latest XBox 360 games). Could it be that the episode was not, in fact, fiction, but that Crusher actually succomed to the addictive Tetrisesque video game, was sent back in time, and now is trying to soften us up for the inevitable invasion by reminding us how fun Root Beer Tapper was to play as a kid? Don't say I didn't warn you.

And given that neither Wil Wheaton nor Star Trek has much of a web presence, I'm sure I'm the first person ever to think about this.

Oh, and I never did mention E3. I'm sure those who are interested in such things read the news coverage and don't need me pointing it out. I'll just say I was very excited to see Nintendo do so well and Sony so poorly. I will be buying a Wii, and definately not buying a P3. I am pseudo-boycotting Sony (I did buy the Dixie Chicks new album--not bad--and will be picking up the new Johnny Cash collection soon, I'm sure), so it is nice that they made such a mediocre product at such a ridiculously high price. I'm actually half-tempted to get an XBox 360, just because the online stuff looks tempting, but I'll wait to see what the Wii's online library will be like. And I really can't justify spending that kind of money. I'm hoping the Wii is $199, but if it does come in at $249, I could just barely justify that, but I couldn't justify that and another game system. Anyway, kudos to Nintendo for putting on a good show, and I hope their success carries over to the marketplace.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lloyd Bentsen, dead at 85.
Johnny Cash's new album, "Personal File," can be heard in its entirety on AOL. You might want to move fast, as I don't know how long it'll be up; T-Bone Burnett's album was up this weekend, but when I went to listen to it on Monday, it was gone.

Cash's new album sounds pretty okay. Nothing too spectacular. I was looking forward to hearing his version of "Paradise," but I like John Prine's better (Cash would have been better off covering "Sam Stone"). I'll probably pick it up eventually, even though I hate giving money to Sony. But I'm much more excited for the new American Recordings album, due out July 4th.

How best to warn future generations not to poke around our nuclear waste dumps?
The Scandanavians know how to make some catchy tunes. In Norway, the soundtrack to a frozen pizza commercial went on to top the pop charts for eight weeks. It's not hard to hear why; they really manage to put those deligtful Fanta girls to shame.

In Finnland, meanwhile, a group called Loituma had a hit with Ievan Polkka, which is deligtful on it's own, but became the internet equivalent of crack cocaine when 24 seconds of the intermezzo was paired with a few seconds of anime to create whatever the hell this is. After a few hours of watching this, I started thinking the leek-twirling girl was telling me to burn things.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Detailed presidential itinerary retrieved from garbage. I guess they're too busy monitoring my phone calls to bother keeping the whereabouts of the nuclear football secret.

And with regards to yesterday's post about the BBC mix-up, it turns out the guy wasn't a cabbie, but was there for a job interview that took a bizarre turn. I had started to wonder why a cabbie was dressed so well. It's still hilarious, though.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I attended the Padres game against the Brewers last Wednesday, as a guest of Valley View Casino. This was the second year they extended an invitation to watch a game from their deluxe skybox, and again I had a very good time. I'm not a big sports fan, but baseball is one of the few sports in which I do have at least a passing interest, so an opportunity to see a game in person, from one of the absolutely best seats in the house, with free food and booze, is one opportunity I won't miss.

I almost did miss out, though, because unlike last year, and other events I have attended at Valley View, they never called to confirm my attendance. So the day prior, I gave them a call to double-check that I was on the list, and I was not. After checking a few other dates (apparently this isn't computerized) and not finding me, they said there were a few tickets left, and I could still attend. So I went up the night before and picked up the tickets, and had the buffet and gambled. Their buffet is always a favorite of mine, but this time, in particular, it really shined. One of the first things to catch my eye was at the dessert counter, where they had added bananas foster (in a tray, not made-to-order, but that's fine). I tried the fried catfish, and was really impressed. There actually were quite a few good entrees, so for once I actually ate a fair amount of real food, rather then filling up on dessert. The bananas foster was pretty good, though they went a bit nuts with the cinnamon (there were whole sticks of the stuff thrown in the vat). I had some sort of amaretto cake dessert, which I just expected to taste like caramel, but actually had a very distinct amaretto taste (if that's a good thing or bad thing I'll leave to your judgment). And my old favorite, the various berries and cream, made me very happy, and the berries tasted particularly fresh (some of the best raspberries I've ever had). I've always liked the buffet, but it's always nice when it can go above and beyond enough that you get to rediscover just what a fantastic find it truly is.

While I'm on the topic of food, I should probably discuss the food at the skybox now, rather than later. The buffet at Valley View was better then the spread at the game. Not that it was bad. But it wasn't really that amazingly great. It seemed like they kept things slightly simpler than last year, with things like hot dogs and chicken strips and seven-layer dip. I actually forgot to have any dip, which is a shame because I remember from last year it was pretty good. I had a hot dog and some chicken strips; the hot dog was fine, the chicken strips were underwhelming. They had bags of Cracker Jacks, always a good thing. The presents have gotten chintzy; it was just some paper thing you unfolded to find out who the person pictured grew up to be (it looked like the little girl in the picture grew up to be Benjamin Franklin, but apparently it was supposed to be Susan B. Anthony). The desserts were good: Haagan-Daaz bars and some really good brownies. Overall, I certainly don't mean to complain about the food. It was good, and by ballpark prices, I easily consumed at least $50 worth (and we're not even talking about alcohol yet).

I took my mom this year; she had fun when I took her to the football game at Qualcomm Stadium, and had never been to the new Petco Park. Her arthritis has been bothering her, so she was very concerned about how to get there, and how much walking would be involved. I told her we'd take the trolley, and told her where it let off, but she was fretting that it would all be too much for her. A friend said you could buy parking spots online, so I just went ahead and bought a spot right by the stadium, so she could stop worrying. The tickets were free, so why not pay a bit to park? I ended up paying $27.50 for parking, including service fees for paying online (which is actually a bargain, considering that a basic parking spot at Qualcomm next football season will set you back $20). We parked in the Padres Parkade, which looked to be the closest on the map, but once we got down there, it looked like the tailgating lot is probably the best bet (at the same price). And I was able to show Mom how conveniently located the trolley is. We probably walked a bit more then we would have had we taken the trolley. But anyways, we were there, and after a few wrong turns found the suite and settled in to wait for the game. I fixed a plate of food and then found the liquor, where I was disappointed to learn they'd switched brands of vodka from Skyy to Absolute. I'm not picky, but Absolute is the one brand of vodka I really don't like. But I made do, and had a few screwdrivers, along with one of those Jack Daniel's brand bottled malt beverages (the fruit punch flavor), which was pretty good (though I'm rather partial to the watermelon flavor). Later, when it was time for dessert, I moved on to Bailey's, served on the rocks along with a couple of packets of half & half from the coffee area. I didn't get wasted or anything, but I rarely drink anymore, so it was a nice change to get a little buzz going while enjoying a sporting event.

The game was a good one. I'd like to tell you all about it, but the back of my ticket clearly states the following:

Holder agrees not to transmit or aid in transmitting any description, account, picture, reproduction, or other depiction in any media now or hereafter existing, of all or any part of the baseball game or related events to which this ticket admits the holder. Breach of the foregoing may result in legal action against the holder.
So I will refrain from commenting on the game. I hope my getting drunk is not considered a "related event," or I could already be in hot water for mentioning that.

Anyway, it was a good game, one team emerged triumphant, and all was well. We slipped out in the eighth inning to beat the traffic, and were home in no time. I'm a bit of a Valley View booster, and events like this are exactly the reason why. Now obviously, I wagered quite a bit to get invited to such events, but we're not talking millions or anything. I can assure you, from personal experience, that giving pretty much any other local casino twice the action I've given Valley View wouldn't get you nearly the comps they have given me over the years. I just wish their table games were better (lose the 6:5 single deck and put in real double deck blackjack!), and there was a bit more room to move around. Hopefully, after their expansion, those dreams may come true. Huzzah and kudos, Valley View, for treating players right in San Diego.

BBC accidentally interviews cabbie instead of computer expert. It's funny as a wacky mix-up, but it's especially funny in that the interview goes so well. In fact, his answer to the first question is basically to explain that there's a mix-up, that this isn't what he thought he was there for, but she just lets it slide, and later their man on the street reporter says he made a good point. Hilarious stuff, and the look on his face when they identify him at the beginning of the clip is priceless.
A heart-warming tale of triumph over addiction. I don't know why this made me laugh so hard.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Stephin Merritt: racist? In case you're wondering, the answer is no. But the reaction to his mentioning "Zip-a-dee-do-dah" does not bode well for "Song of the South" coming to DVD anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Last Sunday, I saw Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan in concert. The Hot Jazz Caravan emerged from the ruins of the Hot Club of Cowtown, one of my all-time favorite groups, so I was eager to hear how they stacked up to their predecessor. I saw Elana James and the Continental Two a few months ago, and was very impressed, so I was also curious how Smith's new project would measure up to her.

The concert was put on by Dark Thirty Productions, a series of house concerts in Lakeside. The house wasn't huge, but had a large open living room, so that the crowd of 80 or so could just barely be accomodated. A bit cramped, but not terribly bad. The $20 admission included a pretty good food spread, and beer and wine. Parking was a bit tight, and I was parked in, and concerned how long it would take me to leave. But the person parking me in was the first to leave, so I was also one of the first out. I'd certainly go see a concert there again.

Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan took the stage (such that it was) prompty at 7:30, and did two sets. A lot of familiar stuff, either from the Hot Club of Cowtown days or off their iTunes LP, with just enough new covers to fill the evening (I think they performed every song they knew...and a few they didn't). They sounded great throughout, and had a lot of energy and charisma. They weren't up to the level of the Hot Club of Cowtown, but they're still getting their bearings as a band. It was hard not to compare them with Elana James' new band, which is unfair, but I gave up on that soon enough, as they both have their own style. Whit Smith's voice is more instantly appealing, while Elana James' vocals are not quite as strong as her fiddling skills (though she certainly has grown on me over the years as a vocalist). And both have kept their songs from the Hot Club of Cowtown days, so while James sings songs like "Forget-me-nots" and "You Took Advantage of Me," Smith can sing songs like "It Stops With Me." I would say that Elana James and the Continental Two move more seemlessly from western swing to hot jazz, while the Hot Jazz Caravan seems more comfortable in the cowtown setting (though they did an admirable job with some Hot Club of France material).

Do I have a favorite? Yeah, probably Elana James and the Continental Two. But luckily, I don't have to choose. If there is a silver lining to the Hot Club of Cowtown's break-up, now the talent of the group has been dissipated a bit, into at least two touring acts, and maybe some of the Hot Club of Cowtown magic will make it to town twice as often.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Apple Computers wins trademark challenge from Apple Corps. I must admit I'm surprised, I thought the Beatles had a strong case. Apparently, it all comes down to the use of the phrase "physical media" in their previous settlement. And Apple Corps argument that iTunes is functioning as a full-fledged music label seems a bit of a stretch.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I had some lousy luck Friday playing poker online, after a good week, but the good people at Paradise Poker gave me some relief, informing me that I was one of the top 500 players on their point board for their World Series of Poker promotion, and was entered into a tournament to win a World Series of Poker seat. A one-in-500 chance to make an ass of yourself on ESPN is pretty exciting, and I'd love to tell you how the tournament went. But Paradise Poker e-mailed me around 1:00 for a tournament that started at 2:00. And I'm at work, so even though I got the e-mail in time, there was nothing I could have done about it. Their software doesn't work on Macs, and in any event, I think my employer would frown on me installing gambling software on my work computer. I already qualified for another tournament next Sunday, with 5000 players and two seats up for grabs. There's also some minor prize money for the three runners-up. Not a bad deal for free, but not worth taking the day off work, when I've already got Wednesday off. So it looks like the actual odds for that tournament will be around 2-4999.
I saw Wendy Waldman in concert, with Stacy Earle and Mark Stuart. Good show all-around, with Waldman doing a strong hour-long set, and the Earle/Stuart performance being a nice bonus. Couldn't quite decide if I found Earle annoying or endearing, it went back and forth, but overall I enjoyed their set.

When I came out, my car wouldn't start. Had to call AAA, and didn't get home until midnight, and had planned to do some schoolwork that evening. So that was annoying. Especially so considering I had borrowed my mom's car, as mine is way past due for an oil change, and I figured the Camry would be more reliable. But I think, being unfamiliar with it, I must have bumped something, and left the lights on. In any event, it's working fine now, but I'm driving my own car at the moment, as I'm going to a house concert in Lakeside, and would rather not break down in a neighborhood where I'm advised to bring a flashlight just to walk to and from my car.

Free concerts in El Cajon this summer. Johnny Cash cover band Cash'd Out and The Farmers look to be the most promising acts.

There was a Buddy Blue fundraiser at the Belly-Up Thursday. I wanted to go, but couldn't. Another concert is scheduled for June 18th at the Casbah.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

I'm listening to songs on Napster again, and realized in my previous post, I forgot to mention the sound quality. Rapsody has much higher-quality music, while free Napster users only hear a 32kbps stream. The difference is definately noticable. But again, it's free, so why bitch about it?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I've been holding off on buying a Nintendo DS, waiting for the announcement of the U.S. release of the Nintendo DS Lite. That announcement is here, and it seems waiting was the wise move, as the DS Lite will be the same price as the original DS, $129. The release date is June 11.

Of course, the question remains, do I need a DS? I hardly play my Game Boy now, and after breaking down and replacing my GameCube, I haven't really gotten much use out of it (I still play Animal Crossing on occasion, but the novelty has worn off). The nice thing about the wait for the Lite to arrive is, it's given me a chance to reflect on whether I need this. But I'll probably buy it when the Lite comes out; games like Meteos and Brain Age seem like things I would play, and then there's the odd games from Japan that make it here, like Feel the Magic, Trauma Center: Under the Knife and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. One reason why my interest in the system may have waned a bit is, the game I was most interested in, the continuation of the wonderful WarioWare series, is supposed to be pretty bad. But there's plenty of good games to counter any one dud.

Monday, May 01, 2006

As you may have heard, Napster now offers a free streaming audio service. And today was a very good day for them to debut the service, as I just finished reading through last month's copy of No Depression (I always seem to finish it right when the new issue comes in the mail), and was planning on looking up the music I noted in the issue. Usually, I use Rhapsody for the task (at least for artists not availabe on eMusic), but I instead went to Napster and signed up. Napster's website seems pretty well-designed, though the link to the terms of service on the sign-up page is broken (I eventually managed to find the terms they required me to agree to, though it took some clicking). And in general pages were slow to load, but this is understandable given the news coverage they received today. But in general, the service fuctions smoothly. The only usability issue I had was the inability to create playlists. You can choose to play an individual track, a complete album, or a Napster-produced playlist. But you cannot create a list of individual tracks to play. But Rhapsody isn't much better in this regard, in that it allows you to create playlists to share with people, but there is no simple process to just list tracks to play. And Rhapsody's web interface falls far behind Napster's (and if memory serves, required a plug-in to be installed).

As for the terms of the free service, Napster beats Rhapsody hands-down. Rhapsody only provides 25 free plays a month, while Napster purports to offer five free plays of every song in their library (more on that "purports" below). The inevitable trade-off is that Napster features advertising. Presently, in addition to banner ads on the web pages and on the pop-up player, the player automatically pops up from time to time and displays a five-second ad for Napster's other products. Their is no audio, and in my opinion the ads are reasonable given the value of the service offered. Of course, things could change, but at present the advertising does not hurt the service (in fact, the banner ads reminded me that I'd been meaning to check out Elvis Costello's new album).

I do have two main complaints about Napster. First, it seems to fall behind Rhapsody as far as artist selection. There were several artists unavailable on Napster who were represented on Rhapsody. To be fair, we're talking about fairly obscure acts, and also, I did not check Rhapsody for artists I was able to find on Napster, so their could be some gaps there. But my personal experience has been that most any artists I have looked for on Rhapsody have been present, and the few that weren't on Rhapsody, were unlikely to have been there (for instance, I was not surprised when my search for the Jody Grind proved fruitless). Beyond that, my main complaint is a matter of bait-and-switch. According to Napster's advertising, with their service, "you can listen to every track in our 2,000,000 song catalog." So imagine my surprise when I made my very first search, for The Sadies, and all I could hear were thirty-second samples. For quite awhile, I assumed I was doing something wrong, but eventually I realized these tracks were not available with the free service (or the paid service, for that matter, as the tracks are only available for purchase). Quite a few of my searches were met with similar results. Most of the artists I looked for were fully streamable, but given the hype Napster's putting out today about every track being available, the fact that a small but significant number of songs I looked for were not availabe, was irritating.

So Napster's advertising isn't fully accurate, and some songs aren't avaible. But still, for free, Napster is a useful service, and as long as the advertising doesn't get out of hand, I doubt I'll have much use for Rhapsody anymore.

I never did mention the Adams Avenue Roots & Folk Festival, which is now well over a week past. I had a pretty good time, enjoying some of the carnival food and hearing some good music. The line-up overall wasn't really that impressive, and no one band really made the festival. But I still enjoyed most of the acts I caught, especially on Saturday. I found myself following around mandolin players the first half of Saturday, enjoying sets by both the San Diego Mandolin Orchestra Ensemble and the Portugese Mandolin Duo (which borrowed a player from the Mandolin Orchestra Ensemble). Between the Sicilian sound of the Ensemble and the fados of the Portugese Mandolin Duo, the festival took on a continental feel. Other highlights of Saturday were anti-folkie Cindy Lee Berryhill and Hillcrest Farmer's Market regulars the 7th Day Buskers. There were some evening performances I wanted to see, but was too worn out to stay.

I went back on Sunday, but didn't stay as long as I planned, as I was tired, and still not feeling completely well. The only performance worth noting was Anne Feeney, singing old union songs as well as her own compositions. I picked up one of her CDs, which I didn't care for as much as her live performance, but it's still not bad. I took off not too long after that, and so I missed a few acts I would have liked to see, like Trails & Rails and Los Califorios. But I still heard some good music, and am now anxiously awaiting this fall's Street Fair, as well as next year's Roots Festival.

In addition to the bands I heard at the festival, there was one other musical bonus that came out of my presence at the Roots Festival. The April issue of the San Diego Troubadour doubled as the Roots Festival official program, and in flipping through the program between sets (the beer garden was full to capacity, so I couldn't give up my seat), I came across the monthly calendar of events. And though the bulk of April was past, and I have a tendency to discover great shows days after they occured, it turned out the act I was most interested in was not until the following Wednesday, and at my school, no less. Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster was going to perform as part of Art Power, a performing arts series at UCSD I was unaware existed. I'd seen Natalie MacMaster about five years ago or so, at Humphrey's, performing with Mark O'Connor. This time, it was her and her band, including a bagpiper. I think I enjoyed her a bit more at Humphrey's, when she was just playing solo or with O'Conoor, with the focus on the fiddle. But this was a great show, too, with a good variety of tunes, but focused more on upbeat numbers, lots of jigs and reels. When I first saw her, I remembered our reaction to her at the Humphrey's show, remarking on how scrawny she is (no surprise, given the amount of calories she must burn jumping around on stage as much as she does), and thinking how it's just as true now. So when she added early on that she'd just had a baby, you can bet I was a bit surprised (she had the kid with her, and he made a brief appearance on-stage). Anyway, the important thing to note is, it was a great show, and she is an amazing fiddler in the Cape Breton tradition. And for myself, as a UCSD student, it was only $15. Not a bad deal. Though I was a bit miffed that I was unaware of the Art Power series, as I would have considered a subscription had I known of the series in advance. I've considered driving to Los Angeles in the past to see Art Spiegelman, and he was part of this series. I had considered going to individual shows in the series, but decided ultimately to pass on the Kronos Quartet for some reason, and John Cleese sold out before I could get tickets. But I look forward to the announcement of next year's series.

This weekend, I saw Peter Case, another great artist brought to our town by Acoustic Music San Diego. He didn't draw much of a crowd, unfortunately, but those of us who were there had a great time, and Case tried out quite a few new songs. If you ever have the opportunity, don't miss him.

And that gets me up-to-date, I suppose, on my recent music outings. It was a pretty good week for music in San Diego, I'd have to say.