Friday, April 29, 2005

Simpler IS better! Amazon's New Look

Whoa! Clean version of amazon
Whoa! Clean version of amazon,
originally uploaded by mathowie.
I like the look of this, particularly since I'm on the site a couple of times a week, if only researching books or ordering gifts.

Now if they could only stay in business...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Amazon's Earnings Dilemma

Amazon announced earnings yesterday, and it's interesting to note that the full swing away from the dotcom era seems to be complete. Now if you aren't making enough profit you're in trouble.

Interesting to note that part of the problem seems to be the Amazon Prime program that I wrote about earlier, with the annual fee for 2-day shipping. They've been through the hard part, though, they've gotten their physical infrastructure in place.

Now if they would just buy Netflix, my worries would be over! Maybe.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

RSS: The New Crack

I've recently been introduced to the wide wonderful world of RSS -- I'm not an early adopter (see blog start date) -- and I'm finding that it's more addicting than email or the web.

What's new?! What headlines have been published in the past five minutes on the websites that I track?! MUST KNOW NOW.

I use RSS Bandit, an aggregator endorsed by some other bloggers, and I like it because it's straightforward. I can use it in addition to my tracking software to keep tabs on competitors, industry news, you name it.

And I'm even vain enough to subscribe to my own Atom feed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Review: Metropolis

HOLY COW! FIREFOX JUST EXPLODED SO I LOST THIS WHOLE POST! That can't be good. And all of my cleverness and wit was poured into the review I just lost. Crap.

/Saving as Draft
As they say in the Monty Python skits , "Start again".

Metropolis was one of those books that I found having praise lavished all over it by several different magazines. I put in a request for it at my local library -- see my previous post about already owning too many books -- and patiently waited my turn. As often happens, when I finally did get it, it was trapped in a flood of other books that I had requested that I also wanted to read. Unfortunately I was not as interested in it as I had been when I requested it, a problem that I also often have with Netflix.

Long story short, I ended up have to blaze through the book in order to finish it before it was due at the library. I couldn't renew it because someone else had requested it after me, and I refuse to be someone who thinks that paying fines for overdue library books is OK. Call it a thing.

In its defense, I did find myself getting sucked in. I started it in order to decide whether or not I really wanted to try to read it in two days, and I figured, "Why not?" (Some who read the book might think that's a pun but it's not.)

Some of the characters were interesting, but the central love story between Beatrice O'Gahmna and Frank Harris was just annoying. So annoying in fact that I ascribed it to the fact that the author was a woman and had to include some overweening passion to motivate her characters and keep readers interested. And I'm a woman! At least there weren't the gratuitous sex scenes that I had to sit through in Rise of Endymion. Ugh.

I did enjoy the picture it painted of life in New York City in the late 1860s, particularly the descriptions of the open spaces that had not yet been filled to overflowing on Manhattan Island and the surrounding boroughs. The author also had some playful spots where she injected herself into the story -- "Shall I end it here?" -- and talked about the nature of fate. She also succeeded in building a sense of dread because you knew that Frank's luck was such that he was going to end up a sucker for Undertoe again.

Would I recommend it? Eh. It was well researched, fairly well written, but I won't be running out to buy it.

Three Weeks + 2 Days...

to Episode III!

I'm half expecting to be disappointed when I finally see it, but I know it's going to be a hell of a ride on the big screen. Another clue in the D.O. chronology: I saw each film in the original Star Wars trilogy during their original theatrical releases.

And no sir, I don't really appreciate some of the changes that were incorporated into the "Special" editions. Even though I saw all of those in the theater, too. I'm sorry, Greedo didn't shoot first and Han didn't duck. Doesn't work for me.

Source: BBC News

Mr. McGregor is just tops -- he makes the '60s sex comedy satire Down With Love extremely watchable. Any DVD you can find of his films, be sure to watch the behind the scenes doc if they have one. High-larious.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Beauteous Spring in CA

Rancho San Antonio, April 2005
Rancho San Antonio, April 2005,
originally uploaded by domnivore.
This photo was taken at the top of the Wildcat Loop Trail at Rancho San Antonio in Cupertino.

It's a great open space preserve, and SigO and I have taken to hiking there while training for the Bay to Breakers.

The view is good motivation, no?

For the record, we will not be wearing silly costumes or our birthday suits for the race. We are quite boring that way.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Earth Day 2005 - Google style

Google continues its lovely logos.

Get out of your car and sniff a flower today.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Review: Rise of Endymion

Well, I finally finished the Shrike (or Hyperion as I guess it's called) series. The last book, Rise of Endymion, does tie up some loose ends, but to a linear thinker like me there are still some questions to answer.

There are some loopy time-shifting things going on, and Simmons doesn't bother to go back and explain where the empathy part of the human UI has gone or fits into the narrative and why John Keats of all other poets is important... I think I'm even confusing myself trying to write about it. It does end on a bit of a happy note, albeit still confusing because of the time travel things as I think back over the story of all four books. Maybe I should just accept that I won't understand it and leave it at that.

Still left me feeling a bit unsatisfied, though. Simmons creates a slow-on-the-uptake narrator in Raul Endymion that keeps him from having to explain things. Serves his purposes, but not mine. Grumble grumble grumble.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I Demand a Recount!

Your Linguistic Profile:

50% General American English

25% Yankee

20% Dixie

5% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

Surely I can't have more Yankee than Dixie in my language make-up... surely. Ah sweah that ah am frum thu Sa-outh!

(Well, maybe not that far South.)

Review: Practical Demonkeeping

I would say that overall, I liked this book. It started out well, really funny and off-kilter in a Matt Ruff kind of way. The set up is hilarious, and it is not one of those books that takes its sweet time getting where it wants to go. After reading so much Dan Simmons (Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion), I can really appreciate that in an author.

I seem to keep coming back to the light and fluffy in my reading materials and the accompaying descriptions, and this qualifies as that definitely. Note: not recommended for those who might be overly dismayed by a main character demon whose main purpose seems to be eating people in three bites, starting at the head. The subtitle of this is "A Comedy of Horrors" for a reason.

TiVo + Search Engines = Yeah, what he said.

I could not agree more with this assessment. I understand that TiVo is looking at any and all ways to get its name out there and court potential consumer users and potential corporate acquirers, but I need some convincing before I can take a partnership between TiVo and Yahoo or Google seriously.

Caveat: the title of this blog isn't "The Discriminating Omniscience". I've been surprised more than once by how these things turn out.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Review: Riding Giants

If I took the time to review all the movies I watch, there wouldn't be time for much else, but this one really stands out so it gets special treatment.

I had wanted to see this because SigO and I each have a soft spot in our hearts for surf films, and I was not at all disappointed. I found myself wanting to buy a copy of this to share with my (as yet unborn) kids so that they could feel my awe and love of the beach and the ocean and understand how compelling it can be.

I haven't seen any other Stacy Peralta films, but now I really want to. The structure worked, the animation and 3-D shots they used to fill gaps in the history of surfing were fantastic... I felt the cynic thinking "Of course Laird Hamilton is portrayed as a god, he's an executive producer", but the visuals overwhelm that kind of thinking. I can only imagine what it must have been like on the big screen.

This all comes from a non-surfer, by the way, I don't actually count bodysurfing. Just a beach lover who's spent a week a year on the shores of North Carolina for most of her life. If everything goes well, I'll get to retire near the water somewhere.

NYY vs. BOS = Big Trouble

Turns out that the Italians don't have the market cornered on sports fans issues. All hell broke lose during the Yankees/Red Sox game in Boston last night when a drunken idiot brushed Gary Sheffield as he was trying to field a ball in play in right field.

I saw the slo-mo and it looked like the guy was off-balance and boozin' -- he wasn't even looking at Sheffield when his hand hit him. Imagine his surprise when Sheffield came up swinging and knocked the beer out of his hand. Not that you can blame the player, I don't think you'd find a more hostile place to play as a Yankee than Fenway.

But it brought up images of the NBA melee in Detroit in November and other incidents that have happened in recent years. It's all ugly.

Leonardo da Google

Google is continuing its cool logo shifts for various things... who knew that Leonardo was born on tax day?

Amazon + Netflix??

Reading through the blogs I track this morning, I noticed this bit on Techdirt. It seems strange to me that Amazon is considering entering the DVD rental business... maybe some kind of advertising partnership or making Amazon the go-to place where you can buy the DVDs that you liked on Netflix would make sense, but not this, as far as I can tell.

According to the article, they like the idea:
It keeps Amazon from competing directly, and gives them access not only to Amazon's marketing reach, but also could allow them to better tie into Amazon's customer database and recommendation information -- which could strengthen Netflix's own recommendation offering.
I just really can't see why Amazon wouldn't just buy Netflix if it really wants to get into this market. What real motivation does Netflix have? I guess the marketing reach is tempting, but I honestly don't even know of any other online DVD rental service (I don't count Blockbuster) so to me that means that Netflix is top-of-mind.

We'll have to see how this pans out, I guess. The Netflix + Tivo combo makes much more sense to me, though, both as a business person and as a customer.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Mayhem in Milan

Source: AP

Pandemonium in Champions League Football Tuesday. Who can justify this level of violence? They hit Dida in the head with a burning flare for crying out loud!

It's just embarrassing for the international game. And apparently the culmination of several days of violent behavior from fans of Italian football teams around that nation. Fortunately the Liverpool/Juventus game went off without a hitch.

Unless you're a Juve fan.

Review: Murphy's Law (A Molly Murphy Mystery)

See, I told you had a lot of reviews to catch up on! When I get on a tear, I can really plow through some books. Shorter ones, anyway.

Saw another book in this series in the bookstore, and instead of buying it I exercised some control and decided to check it out at the library. Discovered that the book I had seen was not the first in the series and decided to start at the beginning, with Murphy's Law. Again, light and fluffy. Almost as insubstantial as cotton candy, actually.

The only thing that kept me reading this book is I wanted to see if Molly would be able to get off the boat and deliver the kids to their dad. That's really it. Then I was so much closer to the end and didn't have anything better to do so I finished it. I didn't really care who had committed the murder on Ellis Island or who would have something to hide worth killing for.

There were some elements that were romance-novel-esque that were a bit distracting and annoying... but if I were looking for something to fill up a trip cross-country by air, I might pick up another in the series.

And by "pick up" I mean check out of the library. I've already mentioned that I own too many books.

Review: Pride and Prescience

Light and fluffy, this book is nothing more than another addition to the genre that takes existing literary characters and plops them down in new situations. Books like Grendel, which retells the Beowulf legend from the point of view of the monster, or The Wide Sargasso Sea, which tells the story of Jane Eyre from the point of view of Rochester's mad wife, are good examples.

Pride and Prescience takes things in quite a different direction, however, as it starts after the wedding scene that ends Pride and Prejudice and takes the characters through a mysterious adventure. Probably only interesting to Jane Austen fans or fans of the original book, it is engrossing enough to keep you reading. I must say that for me the mystery was secondary to the byplay between the characters in the book.

At one point I did feel a little ill-used because the series obviously plays on the fascination that I and many others have for Jane Austen's characters. There are chinks where the modernity of the author peeks through, but if you're reading the book in earnest and wilfully suspending your disbelief like a good little audience, you'll be willing to ignore them.

I knocked this one out in less than a day and would recommend it to anyone else looking for some nice brain candy. I've already got its sequel, Suspense and Sensibility, in my reading queue.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Review: Endymion

The Shrike series continues with Endymion, the third book of four. It's a bit different from Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion in that it only has two characters that narrate, which leaves the character of Aenea even more mysterious because she is not one of the two so we don't know what's going on in her brain.

The first is Raul Endymion, an aimless denizen of post-Fall Hyperion who gets sucked into events that he doesn't understand by Martin Silenus, the randy poet figure from the first two books. The second is Captain Father - you know, I can't remember. I really must learn to read these things more slowly.

Anyway, as I was reading, I was trying to piece together the rest of the pieces of the puzzle including Moneta, the Shrike -- who has a MUCH different role in this one -- the quicksilver suits, the Time Tombs, and how all this fits into the metasphere thing (That sentence would make sense if you've read the first two books.).

Unfortunately, none of these questions were really answered. As I believe I've mentioned before, I'm an American, which means that I have to have things spelled out for me a lot. Not that I'm stupid, just that I don't always make the connections that the author/artist/director might think are obvious.

I'm hoping that the final book, The Rise of Endymion, might finally answer some of these questions. Somehow, I doubt it, since even in this penultimate book in the series the author brings in a new (short-lived) character with 10 chapters to go that introduces all kinds of new plot questions that Simmons doesn't really take time to address. But hope springs eternal, yadda yadda yadda.

Review: The Power of Now

Oohhhmmmm.... ooohhhhmmmm.... this book purports to combine philosophies from around the world into a single, simple way to drive the anxiety out of everyday life. It also claims to make it clear for those reading it how they might accomplish this kind of zen balance in their own lives.

It sure didn't do a good job of it. However, if I were interested in their line of supplementary materials, it probably would have made a whole lot more sense.

Question: Is it ironic that I had so much trouble staying focused enough on a book called The Power of Now that I had a hard time getting through it?

The author would say that it is my thinking mind that it is interfering with my ability to absorb his teachings and experience the Real Me that just Is (paraphrasing). Although it is interesting to note that he points out that words are not actual meanings in themselves but just signposts to the meaning underneath. I wrote a paper about that very topic for my Honors class on India back in college during our segment on Buddhism. Hooray.

Review: Inside Intuit

SigO works there so I was able to get my hands on a free copy of this book. I was pointed to it by a friend of mine who is running a startup and aspiring to the same level of market penetration. I thought it would be a good case study.

It's a good general overview of the genesis of the company at Scott Cook's kitchen table and its metamorphosis into the ginormous organization that it is today. It is not, however, a scientific dissection of the business practices and processes that supported its growth, although they do address some of that. Mostly it's a rah-rah-sis-boom-bah book that is disturbingly detailed in some areas and annoyingly shallow in others.

It begins with fairly intricate descriptions of the opening staff, and as it moves through the company timeline devolves into name-dropping people and assuming that the reader knows who they are. The inconsistency is frustrating, but I guess if they stayed at the same level of detail the book would be 600 pages long.

Bottom line: Great idea - right time, right team. Whether or not the model can be replicated is questionable. They sure aren't going to tell you how to do it in this book, but I guess that would be giving away their competitive advantage.

Catching Up...

The massive technology conspiracy continues. I barely got the Germans Love Him! post done last week because of problems with Blogger, then my Comcast connection at home went kaput. Still down as of last night.

Thank goodness for the "service upgrade". I've got tons of review and updates to post so bear with me... if I can get them up even now. Trying to surreptitiously hack away at them while I'm still at work.

Fingers crossed that this goes up.

My Birfday

I recently had a birthday, which was unfortunately shared with the funeral rites for one Pope John Paul II. Better that than Camilla and Charles, I say.

I guess it is only fitting since my folks were in Rome and had visited the Vatican the day he died. We were also visiting the day Ling-Ling died at the National Zoo. Not that the Pope compares to a giant panda, but when does a coincidence become a pattern?

SigO came through for me with roses, champagne, and a ManU jersey from my favorite player. He's feisty, Irish, and a Jerk to Play Against.


Photo source: Manchester United

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Germans Love Him!

(Hat tip to Norm MacDonald)

I recently came upon a treasure trove of Hasselhoff-related materials that are just too amusing to be described. Thanks to the Manolo for posting a link to the first, many thanks to TonyT for adding the others in the comments.

My oh my.

Tidal Dave

Prepare to Lose Your Mind

Monday, April 04, 2005

DST - Damn Silly Thing

This whole changing around of the clock thing is really tiresome.

I like the longer days of summer and can't understand why we have to switch them back in the fall. Mostly because it gives me a case of the mean reds that even Tiffany's wouldn't be able to snap me out of.

Also because at the moment, like most of the rest of the poor saps who have to go through this government-mandated hoohah, I am groggy and cranky.

Review: Snobs

I got interested in this book because I really enjoyed the film Gosford Park, for which Julian Fellowes wrote the screenplay. It took me a while to get through it, even though it isn't that long, simply because I had a bad feeling about where it was going. I don't like to see people make fools of themselves or get hurt.

It's fairly amusing in its skewering of the still-extant social castes in modern England, but the story focuses on the ascension of Edith Lavery to the haughty Broughton clan and the not-so-hilarious hijinks that ensue. Which is not to say that it's a total downer, but it does have its rough bits.

Overall a fair bit of light reading, but nothing that I would gush about and then recommend to everyone within earshot.

Review: Cat's Eyewitness

I am a fan of the Mrs. Murphy mysteries for two reasons. 1) I love animals, and the series features several recurring animal characters who are usually key to moving the plot along; and 2) they're set in Crozet, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains and make me homesick as heck. There are several thousand miles and several gradients of environmental climate between here and there, and the setting for these books really brings it home. To the point where I was almost in tears while reading this one. Autumn leaves and snow. I remember those!

The series in general is silly, with a closed-town atmosphere that means that any new given character introduced is most likely going to bump off another new character. Exceptions appear in the series, of course, but you know that the big 8-10 characters will stick around.

Cat's Eyewitness, the latest in the series, sticks to the formula well and throws in a few red herrings here and there to keep you guessing, but it's never really mysterious who of the three possibilities is the culprit. The main focus, however, is on some surprising character developments for a character that has been around since the beginning of the series. It also follows the continuing story of Harry and her progress toward reconciling with her ex-husband, Fair.

For series fans, definitely, but I mostly recommend it for the descriptions of the weather in the Blue Ridge and as a light read for a plane trip. I'm from near there, and I really miss it sometimes.

Friday, April 01, 2005

You're Very Smart. Now Shut Up.

I have a sense of humor, I swear that I do, but people have just got to get over this April Fool's thing. Seeing as how I have a job which requires that a large portion of my time be spent poring over websites to keep up on industry and competitive news, today's redundant headlines and snickering are really a bit much.

It also makes it more difficult to cull the signal from the noise, but some of the jokes are a bit more obvious than others. I hope.

Or maybe I just need to get in a good nap this afternoon because I'm cranky.

Review: The Fall of Hyperion

As I mentioned earlier, I carried on straight through to the sequel to Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion. More of the story threads were tied up, but much room was left open for more books. Of which, of course, there are a few. To which I say: Bah Humbug.

To be fair, I did feel myself propelled through this one to find out more about the Shrike and what the characters had to do with one another, but it didn't resolve enough for me with respect to the overarching conflict between the humans and the AIs. As mentioned by Gavril in the comments on the last review, it's easy to lose patience with the whole thing.

It also made me wonder how differently I would have viewed the book if I weren't so familiar with Frank Herbert, who is the master of building characters and universes and then setting them on their ears. He was the first author I read (1st book: Dune at age 11 thanks to the David Lynch movie on cable and a crush on Kyle MacLachlan) who actually killed off characters that you didn't expect to see die and orchestrated "plans within plans" that really kept you off-kilter.

Or maybe I just put him at the pinnacle because I was 11 and hadn't yet read a book where people died who weren't technically the bad guys. Anyway, the result was that the twists of Fall were not as twisty because I have been schooled in the Herbert Method of Reader Bewilderment.

Simmons also throws in some religious and political elements for good measure. I'm not saying that he was mimicking Herbert by any means -- there are still enough unusual and inventive elements in the story to make it stand out -- but there are some definite similarities in the effort to be ponderous and deep.

All of that being said, I still have Endymion, the next book in the series, in my rather-large-and-growing pile of books to read next.