Category Archives: Entertainment & Culture

Upcoming Changes to Facebook Look Really Promising

Note: I first posted this on my Facebook account, and decided it would be good to post to a larger (hmmm, do I really have more people reading this blog than I have friends ignoring my ramblings on FB?) audience…well, ok, potentially larger, anyway.

I watched parts of Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote at the F8 conference yesterday, and I liked what I saw.

So I’m not a Facebook developer, and as such I don’t yet have access to Timeline, but when I fired up Spotify this morning, it offered to connect with my Facebook account and add the things I’m listening to to my timeline (and I did it, but as I wasn’t sure what it would do, I’ve initially set it to show up for me only. (In a slightly ironic twist, I was just semi-deriding that option this morning!)).

Either Timeline’s coming very soon, or we’ll be able to have all these external data sources feeding into FB well in advance of the launch, which means it’ll come pre-populated, which is cool. It also means they’ve been thinking about this for a bit, and the recent changes have been more about the behind-the-scenes stuff needed to make this work than the up-front cosmetics.

I think that, especially as someone who’s been interested in the Memex/Gorden Bell-MyLifeBits-type projects for some time now, I’m really looking forward to see this. And if Facebook has a full export feature day one, we’re looking at a pretty useful thing.

Ironman 2: This Time, We Should Have Written the Story First

There are no spoilers in this review!

The (from what I can tell, substantiated) rumour from the first Ironman movie was that they didn’t really have a script; they made it up as they went along, and that worked out very well for them. Too well, because it appeared that they attempted to do the same again, and in the absence of a compelling origin story, just didn’t have enough plot to sustain the movie.

I do have to say that I enjoyed the movie overall – I don’t think I had any expectations beyond the shiny technological eye-candy and big summer-movie explosions, so I went in with my brain turned off. This was apparently the correct approach, because I looked over at my wife while the credits were rolling and we were waiting for the end scene (we are those few that actually stay and read the credits anyway, but if you’re in the other camp, you’ll want to hang out until the credits are done (remember the after-the-credits scene from the first one? (hmmm, is this review getting too parenthetical?))) and she had a slight frown on her face and she shook her head slightly…a clear indication of too much thinking during the movie – not always a bad thing, except in summer popcorn movies, and especially in sequels of said movies.

The main problem with the movie was that the plot complications were too easily solved – you never felt that there was anything big at stake – and the obligatory scenes of Tony Stark building something just didn’t come close to the original building of the suit in the first movie. I did feel that the ending of the first movie lacked something with the whole the-weakened-hero-wins-anyway, so I was glad to see they didn’t fall into any traps of repeating themselves here, but it did seem a little too easy. Oh, and three words: “convenient unmentioned upgrades”.

A quick word too about the tech: there was some seriously cool stuff in here (Tony’s PDA during the senate hearing scene), but in the first movie, JARVIS and the UI he had in his house for R&D, etc seemed believable: you could see some of that becoming reality sometime soon. The interface he used where his motions manipulated a 3D projection was pretty fantastical, but stuff like that is coming, and they helped it to be believable by limiting it to a particular work area. In this one, the projections filled the room but were still easily manipulated. And for me it wasn’t that something like that couldn’t ever exist, or that my suspension of disbelief just couldn’t deal, it was more as if they didn’t really put any thought beforehand into how the system worked. It was as though the director said what he wanted, the CG team came up with something cool, and then they told the actor what to do so it didn’t look completely silly (oh so close!).

Overall a fun ride, but definitely summer popcorn movie: turn your brain off and just go for the eye-candy. With that trip to the theater now costing $21 for two tickets, this was one for which I could have happily waited for the DVD.

My Thoughts on the New Star Trek Movie (Spoiler-free!)

“Come, come, now, Scotty. Young minds, fresh ideas.”
“Aye, and if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.”

Kirk, Scotty; Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
(line order reversed deliberately)

The new Star Trek movie by J.J. Abrams was always intended to be a so-called reboot of the franchise, an opportunity to take the Star Trek universe in a direction that would allow for new ideas in a familiar setting. I went into this movie really excited at the potential of this, but came out pretty disappointed: as a long-time, details-oriented fan, there were too many changes for me to accept, and for reasons I can’t yet put my finger on, it didn’t quite *feel* like a Trek movie.

I grew up watching the original Star Trek series (in reruns: I’m not quite *that* old!), and from there, moved into the novels which fleshed out the characters, and especially their pasts (many of the novels in my collection deal with the time before the 5-year mission). From there came the first 4 movies (Star Trek V? I’m pretty sure they didn’t make that one…), and then it started: The Next Generation (TNG). At first I was skeptical: “that’s not really Star Trek”. But it grew on me, and they did a pretty good job of referencing things that had come before. I watched (and re-watched) every TNG episode. When Deep Space Nine started, I was watching, and liked what they did with it, but I don’t think I saw much of the last season. Then came Voyager, and I watched some episodes, mostly in the first season. While they had a great concept, the execution didn’t really hold up for me. I saw even fewer episodes of Enterprise (a show I really wanted to like), mostly because they started to take liberties with what had come before.

What has to be understood is that there isn’t just the shows, the movies and the novels. People invested into this universe in a big way (geek alert!): there were time-lines, technical manuals, and lots of meta-information that either pulled from canon (the accepted authoritative body of work), or became so. At that point, for the people who were paying attention, there was an enormously detailed universe available. Of course, that can be a curse too: there were inconsistencies, and it becomes increasingly difficult to write well in such a universe.

So while one might not blame Mr. Abrams for not wanting to bring along all this baggage, the trade-off is throwing out 40 years of world-building, and throw it out he did. Interestingly, the one thing that would have saved this movie for me (and I honestly sat through more than half the movie hoping this would happen) was if they had employed the classic Trek (and others!) device of a reset of the original time-line once the major plot-point was resolved. Of course, that would preclude sequels using the world that was built for this movie.

As for the film-making itself, I went in prepared for the shaky camera and the lens flares. The shaky camera I didn’t really notice, but the lens flares were way over-done, and became annoying after the first few minutes. I think they (overly-) contributed to portraying a bright, shiny future, but the movie failed to capture the traditional, idyllic Utopian setting which characterizes early Trek. (Oh, and Mr. Abrams? With all of those easter-eggs/references/in-jokes you put in there, to have *that* many pipes in engineering, and *not* label any of them “GNDN” was just a major oversight!)

One quick note about the characters: even accepting that this is a new Trek universe we’re dealing with, and there will be changes to the familiar characters, I really didn’t like the new histories of Kirk and Spock, especially Kirk – something just felt wrong, even if it did serve to explain later motivation, and trying to reconcile this with the fact that these were supposed to be familiar was … jarring.

This movie is an opportunity for a new generation of fans to experience Star Trek, and that’s not a bad thing. I do feel sorry for them if they then want to go back to experience the last 40 years: they’re going to be a little confused. For me, when they make the sequel (and that’s pretty inevitable), I won’t be going to see it, and I’m not at all happy about that. I wanted to like this movie, wanted to have an excuse to get back into Star Trek. But I can’t help wondering, was this movie really necessary? I think about all of the wonderful, unexplored science fiction material out there, begging to be transformed into other mediums, and wonder if the money put into this film wouldn’t have been better spent bringing something new.

Reverential in Nashville Followup: Amazing

Studio E of the Sound Kitchen

As I blogged earlier, Dan and I (collectively known as reverential) were off to the Nashville area for a whirlwind one day recording session. We got back late Tuesday night, and to say that the experience was amazing is really understating it: both Dan and I are really excited about the tracks that got recorded, and while there’s still a lot of work to do before we have finished songs people can listen to, we can’t wait to have people hear them!

I’ll skip mentioning the drive down and back (12+ hours of driving, which were scenic and fun, but tiring), and concentrate on the day that matters: Monday!

We were at the Sound Kitchen, just outside of Nashville, and we arrived at Studio E a little early for our 9:30 session to start. Our producer, Jerroll, was already there, setting up with Ben, our second engineer, who worked at the studio. Shortly after, our session drummer, Scott Williamson arrived, and started checking levels. Not long after that, Joeie Canaday, the bass player for the session came and set up. An interesting side note (which I learned on this trip): there exists an entire industry (collectively know in the business as “cartage”) which involves storing musicians’ gear, getting a call for a session for a studio and time, taking gear out of storage, delivering it and setting it up for the session. Afterward, they come tear it down, and bring it back to storage. Amazing.

After all the technical hurdles were taken care of (levels, patching, loading the first song up), we all assembled in the control room for a talk through of the first song, “What Else Can We Say”. We had provided “scratch” tracks to our producer (basically rough recordings of the essential parts of the song so the session musicians had something to play to), and he played these tracks for the guys, who commented on mix (including wanting to remove different tracks) and asked questions about style. They also went over the chart for the song, which Jerroll had produced for them from the stuff we’d provided. A listen or two, and they went into studio room, and played through part of the song to get a feel for it. This first one was interesting in that Jerroll had decided to raise the key. This changed the pitch of the vocal track, so in order to give the bassist and drummer a better feel for the vocal, they set Dan up in the vocal booth so he could sing on the track (not to be recorded: that would come later).

Once ready, they ran through the song 2 or 3 times, and did a few pick-ups (certain parts of the song where they felt they missed something). And that was pretty much all that was required for the song. Jerroll would rough-mix it from the takes, and we’d re-assemble in the control room to listen, and start talking about the next one.

This was the pattern for the rest of the songs: “Grace Like Rain”, “This is What it’s Like” and “We Will Never Fear”. We had been warned by Jerroll to have extra songs ready (the plan was to do a three song demo), and we used them, and are now looking toward having a 5-song demo.

Oh, and that was the technical description of how things went, which is amazing in and of itself, but what you only get a little bit of out of that description, was how professional these guys are, and how amazing they are at their jobs. Scott and Joeie had worked together before and that showed, but they had never worked with Jerroll, nor had Jerroll worked in that particular studio before, but everything went so smoothly, with no technical glitches and no wasted time. At the same time, things were relaxed and friendly, and Dan and I could completely enjoy and take in the experience. The quote of the morning came from Dan: “I’m having trouble singing, I’m smiling so big!” The only down-side (if there can be said to be one) is something Jerroll said: as studio experiences go, this is as good as it gets: a great studio and equipment to work with, top session musicians and a smooth day, which all allowed us to get everything we set out to get. Anything else can only be just as good. Which, overall, is fine with us.

Once the session guys were finished and had left, my turn came on the piano. For the next 30-45 minutes, I worked on four takes of “Send Your Mercy Down”, the 5th song we had prepared for this. This song, by the way, is just piano and vocals (with some strings to be added later), if you were wondering why it wasn’t mentioned above with the session guys. Dan sang again to help me out, and although the first two takes were shaky (I was having problems playing to the click track Jerroll wanted us to use – on stage we do the song pretty free-form), we got some good stuff in the next two. I think if I had done a fifth take I would have nailed it, but we had enough to put together what we needed. Ah, the magic of the studio.

During this, the cartage guys were busy in the main studio, setting up gear for someone else’s afternoon session, and once I was done (around 1:30), we had the rest of the afternoon off. We were to be back there at 5:30 for the evening vocal session, so Dan and I went to check out downtown Nashville.

We arrived back around 5:15, and while we were hoping to catch the tail end of the afternoon session, they were already finished and gone (man, professionals), and Jerroll and Ben were setting up for Dan’s vocal session. For the next 4 hours, Dan moved between the vocal booth and the control room, alternatively singing and listening to rough mixes of what he had just done. He came through that experience really well, still sounding strong at the end of the fifth song, and we got some great stuff.

As I finish writing this, the process is far from over. We’re about to get the first drum, bass and vocal mixes so we can record our parts, and get those back to Jerroll for final mixing and mastering. But this one day had us more excited about our music than ever before. This really was an amazing experience, and we have some top-notch pros to thank for that. So Jerroll, Ben, Scott and Joeie – if you happen to stumble on this – thanks for a great day!

reverential In Front of the Stage: Going to See David Crowder in Philly Thursday!

My friend and band-mate, Dan, just told me he got tickets for us to see David Crowder at the Electric Factory (they don’t seem to have a website of their own? What’s up with that!?!?). This is cool for a few reasons, the first of which is the band and their music, and the fact that both Dan and I are fans. Second, while we try to do our own thing musically, these guys are probably at the top of the list when it comes to influences, and it will be great to see them live (a first for me). Now I just have to listen to the new album a few more times before Thursday!

Update 1: the concert was great! More (probably) later!

Update 2: updated link for the Electric Factory’s website (turns out they do have one! Why I had to find it on Wikipedia and not Google, I’m not sure…).