January 2010 Archives

Musical Service

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I'm trying out Napster as a music service. I just couldn't get MOG to play songs - their player window would just hang. I've been having some, sporadic, problems with the Napster player (man, I just hate Flash), but it works pretty well. US$60 for the year, with 60 MP3 downloads included, so not too bad a price. I used to really enjoy Rhapsody back in my Windows days (esp. with the free membership via Comcast), but it just doesn't work with Linux. blip.fm has become a YouTube search facility, pretty much ruining any usefulness it had, as much as I used to love using it. It has a great community and I learned of a bunch of great new sounds from it.

But the new Napster works pretty well. I'm still on my first day of a 7 day free trial, but it even has a couple of G.O.L. tracks, which is pretty amazing. I wish it had better community functions besides a forum - heck, it doesn't even have a "Twit This" button. But in the end it is the music that matters and right now I'm really digging listening to the Heartless Bastards and their pounding guitars, as found here:

Listen to this album on Napster: 
All This Time by Heartless Bastards

Supposedly there is some way to better share things, like Playlists, but I haven't quite figured it out.  But when I do, look for more sharing to go on here. It would be nice to have a "Friends" feature, where I could follow along what others are listening to, but not yet, I guess.

Book Review: Under Cover of Daylight

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My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

I was surprised to find that there was a "Florida mystery" series, a la Travis McGee (starting with The Deep Blue Goodbye) and even Carl Hiaasen's books, that I hadn't read or, in fact, even heard of before. This was poet James Hall's Thorn series, which opens with Under Cover of Daylight, written in 1987. Hall mines familiar territory but does it with some panache and flair.

Thorn is a lazy beach bum, with a reputation as a gifted fly maker. He sells the flies to local fishing guides, and manages to get by, living in a shack on an island near Key West in Florida. He's getting a little older and beginning to branch out a little bit, include a new romance with a local public defender. His dark past continues to haunt him, though.

As is often the case in these Florida thrillers, there are shady real estate deals, some mindless violence, passionate (and sometimes not) sex and, of course, drugs. These all begin to touch on Thorn in sometimes quite surprising ways and he is gradually dragged into a cycle of violence that almost literally explodes in the end. There are several wild coincidences and nearly implausibly far fetched connections, but somehow Hall manages to make it all seemed possible, or even likely.

The book is told in a omniscent third person, switching to the point of view of nearly all the main characters, which is normally something I don't really care for. I like my mysteries to be in first person, like Spenser (The Godwulf Manuscript) and McGee, where we get to play along in the mystery. But Hall doesn't really seem to be all that interested in mystery, as he tells plenty of the story from the villian's point of view. And yet it remained interesting and well written, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Some of the "boy, how awful has Florida gotten" whines can get a little tiring, but besides that, each point of view as its own distinctive voice, which makes the varying storytelling work.

I liked the book enough that I went to the library and got the second book in the series, Tropical Freeze. I'm curious to see how Thorn develops, because he doesn't really have the background for a mystery series. He's not a detective or even a freelance "fixer of broken things" like McGee. It'll be interesting to follow his growth. Glad I found out about the books!


Book Review: The Lost City Of Z

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My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Subtitled "A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazone", "The Lost City Of Z" gives us the real life story of world-reknowned Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett's 1925 quest for an ancient city deep in the heart of the Amazonian highlands. An expert and intrepid explorer, he brought along his oldest son and his son's best friend, and they were never heard from again. Their disappearance has sparked an endless stream of other explorers, hoping to find out what happened to them. By some estimates, upwards of 100 others have lost their lives in this quest.

Grann is a reporter who also became fascinated, almost obsessed  by Fawcett's story. The book is told with intertwining stories, of Fawcett's career in India and his many earlier Amazon explorations and with Grann's investigations and preparations for his own hike into the jungle. He also combines stories of other explorations into the deepest parts of the jungle with the history of the Royal Geographic Society. Fawcett, who was in the army, also became good friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Fawcett's descriptions of his explorations inspired Doyle's The Lost World.

But it is the colorful and creepy retelling of Fawcett's (and others) Amazon explorations that really drive the book. Never mind the awful biting bugs, with clouds of tiny gnats that cause the ankles and wrists to swell and itch. It's the ways the jungle can kill you that give you the creeps. Stories of the candiru, the "translucent, toothpick-like creature ... one of the few creatures in the world to survive strictly on a diet of blood." But more than that, is its habit of entering human orifices, like a vagina, anus or even in a penis, latching on with its spines. Or of "espundia", from a parasite transmitted by sand fleas, which destroys the flesh around the mouth, nose and limbs, "as if the person were slowly disolving." Ewww!

My only real complaint with the book was that it ended. I wasn't ready for the end of the book, as I didn't realize there were 60 pages of notes and an index. I would have like to have heard more of Gann's explorations, because even with the remarkable encroachment of "civilization", there's still plenty of wild areas out there. But a truly remarkable account of a remarkable time of history, back when there were still total voids in the area of knowledge. They just don't make'em like Percy Fawcett any more, for better or for worse. If you can get over the creepy and itchy descriptions of the jungle, you'll really enjoy this book!



A Televisual Feast

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I've actually been watching a few movies over the past couple of weeks, which is unusual lately. And not just that, but I've really enjoyed them too.

The Insider - some really great acting in this acclaimed, long and intense drama. Based on the real story of Jeffery Wigand, the tobacco industry exec turned whistle blower and how 60 Minutes warred over showing his expose. At a running time of nearly 2 1/2 hours, it's the longest movie I've watched in a while, but man, was it engrossing. Things turned real ugly for Wigand (brilliantly played by Russell Crowe), and Al Pacino actually underplayed his character, Lowell Bergman, a producer for 60 Minutes who fought for the story. Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace was also aces. Really loved this movie and highly recommend it. And the Blu-ray version is excellent, really bringing out the spectacular music from Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard. This is a great soundtrack.

Next up was another great Blu-ray movie, District 9. This could be the best Blu-ray movie I have yet seen on my home theater setup. Incredibly crisp visual along with great music and blow-me-away sound effects made for a really nice evening on the couch. And the fact that the movie was suspenseful and gripping didn't hurt at all. This movie tells the story of a huge alien spaceship that hovers of Johannesburg, South Africa, disgorging hundreds of seemingly sick and malnourished "prawns" - ugly looking aliens with faces like shrimp.

Told in a quasi-documentary style (for some of it, anyway), it follows Wikus van der Merwe as he leads the MNU (Multi-National United) forces to relocate the aliens from their current slums just outside the side to somewhere much more comfortable, many miles away. But he gets exposed and starts to turn into a "prawn", with one very important power that leads him to be a pawn in the government power struggle. He then turns to the "prawns" and kind of goes native.

This movie is especially recommended if you like to see people exploded :) There are lots of gory deaths here. My biggest complaint was its constantly shifting styles. For a few minutes, it's told like a documentary film crew is following them. Then it is told thru interviews at some later time. Then it is told via an omniscent camera view. It's never really clear what its "point of view" is at all times, which is a little disconcerting. But the action never lets up long enough for it to really bother. I really liked this movie too, and recommend it.

Finally, last night, as I was heading off to bed, I made the mistake of flipping through the movie channels and there on Sundance was the German movie, The Lives Of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). Winner of the 2006 Foreign Language Film Oscar, it is set in East Germany, where a successful dramatist and his actress wife come under secret survellience. Their apartment is bugged and the listening begins, as they try to find some dirt on them. But the listener becomes wrapped up more and more in their private lives, which leads to him to stick his neck out, with some disastrous consequences.

A very intriguing look into the East German Communist state. Very touching, perhaps overly so. Sometimes things were just a little too pat and I would have been happy without the, essentially, epilogue. But a very nice movie.

First Friday Random 10 For 2010

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Wow, we're going olde time in this collection, with lots of music from the 80s New Wave period. We start off with Yet Another great track from the shortlived GOL, and flash way back to Dylans 2nd album. This Mortal Coil was the first of the 4AD "house" bands and this CD pretty much defined the wonderful and unique 4AD sound, which I fell into head over heals during the 80s. I've probably seen Loudon in person more than any other singer, and he never fails to entertain. This is a very funny tune. This Roy Rogers is the slide blues guitar player and I love the songs on this CD. The Dreaming came at the peak of my Kate Bush fascination, which continues to this day. We do jump into the very now, as my most recent purchase, Contra by Vampire Weekend (2 thumbs way up!), shows up. Then back to the 80s, early 90s, featuring a great collection of New Wave songs in the Never Mind the Main Stream retrospective. Remember when MTV played songs? I also really dug the goth sound of The Sisters of Mercy and this is a classic song from them. And then finish off with a sample from a solid collection of songs from one of my all time favorite songwriters.
As a bonus selection, I'd like to point you to a great free sampler from Amazon. The Palm Sampler is my favorite sampler from Amazon MP3 since the great Anti Sampler Fall 2009. Really nice reggae / pop songs. Check it out!
01 - Television
Baaba Maal

Book Review: The Strain

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My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Wow, what a scary book this was! I'm normally not much of a horror / vampire fan (most of my recently abandoned books have something to do with vampires), but this book by the amazing director Guillermo Del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") and a co-author, really glued me to my seat. It was believable, graphic and down right frightening in places!

After a short flash back, it jumps to now, where a jumbo jet lands at Kennedy Airport and then abruptedly goes dead. No lights, no comm, nothing. Various agencies are called and and the strangeness only just begins.

After a few survivors are found and the rest of the bodies are moved to the morgue, well, you can guess what happens, as these aren't really dead, just vampires. There are scary stories of the survivors as they slowly turn into vampires and while the main protagonists try to find the leader. An old Jew, who escape Treblinka, is along to help out, as these medical people gradually become believers.

The authors do a good job of "explaining" the medical theory behind vampirism, and it gets pretty gruesome. I'm looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy, as it should be quite a ride as they try to clean up vampirism before it takes over the world.


Book Review: The Bloomsday Dead

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My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

The final book in McKinty's "Dead" trilogy (Dead I May Well Be and The Dead Yard are the first two) is yet another rollicking action packed book. Michael Forsythe, the trilogy's protagonist, is a fast talking, literary quoting, violent man, prone to shooting first and asking questions later and in this book he heads back home to Belfast, Ireland to confront his main antagonist.

The book starts with Forsythe finally finding a comfortable hiding place in Peru, but of course this comes crashing down in a violent episode, which leads him running straight to danger as his old flame and now mortal enemy Bridget calls to him to help her out as her last hope. It seems far-fetched, but he has nothing better to do and hopes the resolution, however it should happen, might finally get her to stop chasing him.

So he flies into Ireland on Bloomsday, the celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses, on June 16, where all the "action" takes place. Like "Ulysses", "Bloomsday Dead" mostly takes place in a fast, crazy, violent 48 hours, where Forsyth kills and maims more "bad" guys, while reminiscing about his violent Northern Ireland past.

It's a really excellent action book, with a deeper darker edge than most mass market books of its ilk. The 3 "Dead" books are pretty interconnected, so you're best off starting with the first Dead I May Well Be (what a great title). But you won't regret it!



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This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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