Women in film

On the occasion of the Academy Awards, an interesting video montage featuring faces of famous actresses. via Instapundit 

I’ve noticed that over the past several years, I basically don’t see movies in theaters, except for kids movies. Everything else is either on airplanes, cable, DVD, or online.

Revisiting Pandora

I ran into Tom Conrad at Barcamp Block a few weeks ago, which reminded me to go check out Pandora again. I’d been an early adopter when they introduced it to the folks at the very first Barcamp, but accidentally stopped using it a while back when I changed out the computer in my office that I’d been running it on. I recently swapped in another system, and among other things I have it running Pandora again.

I like being able to launch a station with a single suggestion and get a few hours of “more stuff like that”, especially when it turns up something I haven’t heard before.

Here’s a sample “station” that I’m listening to at the moment, constructed starting with a track from Rick Braun, which has turned up selections from Larry Carlton, Jeff Golub, Joyce Cooling, and the Brecker Brothers on its own.

Spring soccer is over, so we go to the movies

This is the first weekend in quite a while that Emily and I haven’t had soccer committments. Her spring soccer team played at the Davis World Cup last weekend to wrap up their season. The team got knocked out in the elimination round in a very close match that was settled in a penalty shootout to break the 0-0 tie. Even the shootout was close, it went to 1-1 on the 5 kicks for each side, which brought the game to sudden death. Eventually it went to 10 kicks for each side (and U10 plays 9 on a side) before the winning goal for the other side (which went forward to the end of the tournament).

So this weekend has felt a little different, with no practice and no game. This afternoon we went to see Gracie, a soccer-themed movie which Emily saw a trailer for this spring. It’s about a teenaged girl who wants to try out for the boy’s soccer team after her brother (also a soccer player) dies in a car accident.

We enjoyed the soccer-related parts of the movie, but kind of wished there was a little less personal drama. There are two different movies that could have been made with the material here, one mostly about being a girl trying to play soccer in 1978 (before the rise of women’s sports programs), and one mostly about being a girl trying to deal with her family and find her way through high school after losing a sibling. Both fine topics, but today Emily and I were looking for the movie about a girl playing soccer and we could have used less of the teen drama. (Emily says that some of the drama parts are not quite appropriate for her age group (10ish), and I generally agree.)

In another couple of years perhaps she’ll be more interested in the non-soccer parts of the movie. As her dad, though, today I’m thankful that she’s mostly worried about not getting another chance at the Davis Arsenal.

The Bridge to Terabithia

My 10-year-old daughter and I went to see The Bridge to Terabithia yesterday. She read the book last year and wanted to see the movie, which has been advertised regularly over the past few months.

For movies that are based on a book, my general rule for my daughter is that you should try to read the book before you see the movie. In this case, I didn’t follow my own advice. Although this book is well known in children’s literature (winner of the 1978 Newberry Award), I never got around to reading it, and thus was utterly blindsided by the movie.

The movie advertisements make it look like mostly a fantasy and adventure story, kind of like Chronicles of Narnia or perhaps Neverending Story. It’s not. It’s mostly about friendship and pointless tragedy in middle school. I found it enormously disturbing. It pushed a lot of my emotional buttons, both as a parent today, and in recollection of being an odd kid out in a rural school system in the past.

I don’t think I was the only one who got caught off guard at the movie theater, either. I think this is actually a better-than-average family/kids story (for perhaps 4th-5th grade and up), it just isn’t what they marketed, and parents should be prepared for a conversation about death, which might not work for everyone.

When I was in high school, I used to enjoy (emotionally authentic, depressing) movies like this more. Now, I’d rather just see stylized fantasy or heroic death (Kill Bill, Lord of the Rings) or entertaining family cartoons (Cars, The Incredibles). There’s enough authentic tragedy in the world, I don’t need more of it from the movies, and I don’t find it enlightening or uplifting.

In reading the Wikipedia entry on the movie, I see that the issue with the marketing has come up before:

The filmmakers have disavowed the advertisement campaign for the movie saying that the advertising is deliberately misleading; making the movie seem like it was about or occurring in a fantasy world like that of Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia[3]. David L. Paterson in the SCI FI Wire article was surprised by the trailer but understood the marketing reasoning behind it saying:

“Although there is a generation that is very familiar with book, if you are over 40, then you probably haven’t, and we need to reach them. … Everyone who read the book and sees the trailer says, ‘What is this? This is nothing like the book. What are you doing, Dave?’ And I say, ‘You know what you’re seeing is 15 seconds of a 90-minute film. Give me a little leeway and respect. Go see it, and then tell me what you think.’”

I’m generally positive on the movie, but I wish I’d read the book first.

Three years in 3 minutes – a self portrait movie

This popped up on YouTube this afternoon – filmmaker Ahree Lee shot an image of her face every day for three years starting in November 2001, then concatenated them into a fascinating short movie called “Me”. The project is set to music by Nathan Melsted, which give it a hypnotic, X-file-ish feeling.

A slightly longer and sharper version is posted at AtomFilms. There’s also a short related project built on lots of different faces, called “Everyone”.

Movie night in Palo Alto

Movie night in Palo Alto
These guys have been shooting scenes for their movie at the house down the street for the past couple of days. I can see the lights from my home office on the second floor, and this evening we walked over to take a look.

Dan Engelhardt started making movies on his iMac as a seventh-grader in Menlo Park. Brad Leong put on a student film festival — which included his own work — when he was a junior at Palo Alto High.

This summer, these two precocious 20-year-olds are home from college to make their first full-length feature film, a coming-of-age movie they hope will be the next “American Graffiti.” It’s set in — where else? — Palo Alto.

A few days earlier they were around the corner over at a house on Bryant. Those scenes apparently involved hanging lots of toilet paper on the trees in the yard. They’ve gotten grants from Panavision, Kodak, and Apple, so they’re better equipped than the average videoblogging operation.

Update 08-16-2006 20:09 PDT: They have a web site for the movie now, complete with blog. Here’s one of their photos of setting up at the house down the street earlier in the day the photo up top was taken.

Google’s PageRank and Beyond – summer reading for search hackers

The past few evenings I’ve been working through a review copy of Google’s PageRank and Beyond, by Amy Langville and Carl Meyer. Unlike some recent books on Google, this isn’t exactly an easy and engaging summer read. However, if you have an interest in search algorithms, applied math, search engine optimization, or are considering building your own search engine, this is a book for you.

Students of search and information retrieval literature may recognize the authors, Langville and Meyer, from their review paper, Deeper Inside PageRank. Their new book expands on the technical subject material in the original paper, and adds many anecdotes and observations in numerous sidebars throughout the text. The side notes provide some practical, social, and recent historical context for the math being presented, including topics such as “PageRank and Link Spamming”, “How Do Search Engines Make Money?”, “SearchKing vs Google”, and a reference to Jeremy Zawodny’s PageRank is Dead post. There is also some sample Matlab code and pointers to web resources related to search engines, linear algebra, and crawler implementations. (The aspiring search engine builder will want to explore some of these resources and elsewhere to learn about web crawlers and large scale computation, which is not the focus here.)

This book could serve as an excellent introduction to search algorithms for someone with a programming or mathematics background, covering PageRank at length, along with some discussion of HITS, SALSA, and antispam approaches. Some current topics, such as clustering, personalization, and reputation (TrustRank/SpamRank) are not covered here, although they are mentioned briefly. The bibliography and web resources provide a comprehensive source list for further research (up through around 2004), which will help point motivated readers in the right direction. I’m sure it will be popular at Google and Yahoo, and perhaps at various SEO agencies as well.

Those with less interest in the innards of search technology may enjoy a more casual summer read about Google, try John Battelle’s The Search. Or get Langville and Meyers’ book, skip the math, and just read the sidebars.

See also: A Reading List on PageRank and Search Algorithms, my del.icio.us links on search algorithms

Curious George and Clueless Ted

We went to see Curious George at the movies this weekend. We were probably at the old end of the target demographic, but my 9-year-old and I have spent many hours reading Curious George stories together since before she could actually read, and we both enjoyed the movie. Unlike many current kids movies, this one doesn’t have a frantic, over-the-top feel to it, and the soundtrack by Jack Johnson is pleasantly calming.

A few thoughts upon reflection:

  • The books, being from a different era, have some problematic elements which are edited out for today’s audience:

    1. George is more or less kidnapped and stuffed in a bag by the man with the yellow hat at the beginning of his adventure. In the movie, George follows the man onto the ship by himself.
    2. The man with the yellow hat smokes a pipe. I think George might have had a smoke too, in the first book.
  • “George” has been redesigned for the movie. Perhaps to make him cuter? Call me reactionary, I like the original George better.
  • Although the movie is titled “Curious George”, the movie is mostly about the man with the yellow hat, and the museum that he works for. An alternate title could have been “Clueless Ted and the Legend of Zagara”. I don’t think George is called “Curious George” anywhere in the movie. In the book, he’s only called Curious George in the introduction to each story, which is absent in the movie.
  • Ted, the man in the yellow hat, is nice but somewhat geeky and is extraordinarily clueless, failing to notice Drew Barrymore’s character’s interest in him, as opposed to his museum lecture.
  • I enjoyed some of the randomness (“my cornea!”). The ship is named “H.A. Rey” after the book’s author. George does an accidental imitation of King Kong, with the aid of a special projector. The antagonist’s goal in life is to build a parking garage.
  • I found it vaguely disturbing that the man in the yellow hat disowns George and sends him away in a cage. The recurring theme in the books is that George, childlike, gets into trouble because of his curiosity, but the parent-like man in the yellow hat always turns up to rescue him. Sending George away for causing well-intentioned trouble is at odds with the entire body of work.

This is probably best viewed as a movie with some similar elements as the book, rather than actually being the same characters as the original Curious George books. I’m biased, of course, having read the original books when I was in elementary school.

The best investment might be to get the books and listen to the movie soundtrack while reading them (and looking at the original illustrations) with your kids.

(at Amazon)

The Return of Vinyl

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a working turntable at home. This evening I suddenly have lots of new old stuff to listen to.

There’s a divide in the music I’ve been listening to for the past ten years or so. I packed away the records and turntable around the time our daughter was born, thinking that I’d put it back together when she was old enough not to destroy the records. So, ten years later, I have a fairly large collection of digital music, and a large collection of analog recordings which don’t overlap much, but which have languishing in storage.

I’m happy to find that the turntable still works. Modern stereos don’t have phono inputs, so I ended up rummaging in the garage to dig up an old amplifier, which makes for a large but serviceable preamp. Right now I’m listening to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports.

Looking through the boxes I’ve hauled out so far is like receiving a musical time capsule from myself. There are a lot of albums I haven’t heard in a while and that Emily’s never heard at all. Tomorrow I think I’ll see how she likes J. Geils Live or The Roches. The plan is to gradually migrate the vinyl to digital and put it on the server with everything else, but this evening I’m just enjoying a bit of analog technology and album artwork the way it was meant to be.

I haven’t started researching the best solution for digitizing the albums and possibly cleaning up scratches, pops, clicks, and surface noise. Anyone have a favorite method they’d like to recommend?

Monty Python – And Now for Something Completely Different

Our family has enjoyed Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean in the past, so this weekend I thought I’d see how Monty Python went over with our daughter. I think British humor is partially an acquired taste, but the 4th graders around here seem to have a keen appreciation for the absurd, especially if it involves naked people and/or underwear. A bit of animation doesn’t hurt, either.

And Now For Something Completely Different isn’t really a movie so much as a collection of skits that can be watched (or skipped) separately without missing anything.

A few notes:

  • The Hungarian Tourist was a big hit. Hopefully we won’t end up with all the kids at school saying “My hovercraft is full of eels”.
  • The Man with a Tape Recorder Up His Nose was completely baffling to my daughter, who has never actually seen a tape recorder. We had to pause the DVD for a sidebar discussion.
  • How Not to Be Seen: “Why is everyone getting blown up?” People randomly getting shot, blown up, or having 16 ton weights dropped on them was vaguely confusing to her. We don’t generally watch a lot of PG-13 movies with her, although we will probably make an exception for the new Harry Potter movie.
  • The Dead Parrot, the Biker Grannies, and the Marriage Counselor all went over well. We had another sidebar discussion on what marriage counselors were and the various sorts of “inappropriateness” that were going on…
  • Cartoon naked people, the dancing Venus on the Half Shell, and men in bikinis all got the kid-stamp-of-approval

This is probably not a movie for kids of all ages, but might be entertaining for some. I think we’ll try Monty Python and the Holy Grail before too long.

Star Wreck – In the Pirkinning

The cable guy actually did turn up last week, so we still have cable TV. In the meantime, there are many interesting, non-mass-media video projects online.
In The Pirkinning
A few days ago I got around to fixing Azureus on the house server so I could download Star Wreck – In the Pirkinning using BitTorrent. This is a Finnish-made take-off on Star Trek and Babylon 5, created by a group of motivated fans over a period of seven(!) years. (Wikipedia entry)

Digital video tools became drastically cheaper and better during the project, and the quality of the composited sets and special effects is impressive.

The movie is available (with English subtitles, too) free, under a Creative Common license.

See also: Rocketboom

Wallace & Gromit – Curse of the Were-Rabbit

It seems I only see kids movies in movie theaters for the past few years. Most of my personal movie watching happens on trans-pacific flights, which leads to occasional surprises when I get the DVD later to see what United Airlines sanitized away. (Singapore Airlines leaves the movies intact, though.)

This weekend we went to see Wallace & Gromit – Curse of the Were-Rabbit at the local Century Theaters megaplex.

Although I enjoyed the movie, I think it was upstaged by the short feature before the film, which was a Christmas-themed adventure featuring the four penguins from Madagascar. The smallest penguin, Private, heads off to the city to look for a Christmas gift when he sees that the polar bear is lonely on Christmas eve while the rest of the zoo animals are having festive parties. He ends up on his way to becoming a chew toy for a ferocious lap dog, and is rescued by the rest of the penguin squad. Rico, the incomprehensible one, eventually gets to put his dynamite to good use.

In Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Wallace and Gromit spend most of their time running their “humane pest control service”, Anti-Pesto, which specializes in protecting vegetable gardens from voracious rabbits. Their primary tool is a large rabbit vacuum cleaner which sucks the rabbits from their tunnels and deposits them unharmed in a large container. Wallace and Gromit are generally successful, which leads to a problem of where to keep the growing number of rabbits. In the days leading up to a prize vegetable-growing contest, the town villagers are plagued by visits from a giant Were-Rabbit.

Wallace & Gromit is produced using a clay animation technique which gives the film a very different, more organic visual feel. Unlike 3-d computer graphics, there are irregularities and tooling marks in the surfaces which move around and change as the clay is flexed. As kids movies go, it was OK, but I was reflecting to myself during the movie that I would probably be just as interested in seeing a film about the production process as the actual movie.

Complicating the future creation of such a film, Aardman Studios recently suffered a warehouse fire, which destroyed many of their sets and props.

Hemo the Magnificent

I found Hemo the Magnificentin the Netflix catalog a while back.

I remember watching these in elementary school, in the days before VHS videos, DVD players, or the internet. The classroom window shades would come down, a projector cart would be rolled into the back of the room, and we all got to watch film strips or slides, or occasionally, movies, which would be shown on an ancient 16mm projector with a built-in amplifier and detachable speaker built into the cover. Aside from the entertainment value of the film, it also meant a change from the usual class schedule, plus nap time for one or two in the back of the room.

I think I saw Hemo the Magnificent, Our Mister Sun, and Powers of Ten a couple of times in 4th and 5th grade or so, and hadn’t seen them since.

I just watched Hemo the Magnificent with my 4th grade daughter and her two friends. It wasn’t a big hit with them (“Too Educational!”), although the animated sections helped. I still like the explaination of the circulatory system, with the little musclemen and the brain on the telephone. The girls did make it all the way through the movie, but bailed out on the second half of the DVD, Unchained Goddess, which is about weather. They were probably wondering about the “magic screen”, the ancient telephone, and the reel-change prompts in the movie, too. I was thinking it needed the movie projector sprocket rattling and the random flutter, distortion, and midrange boominess to recreate the experience.

For me, it was fun and interesting to watch. The movie was made in the late 50′s, and has the titling, musical soundtrack, set decor, and character mannerisms that capture the sense of confidence, optimism, and vaguely happy goofiness that I remember. Elements of the visual style are recognizable to today’s kids from watching the Powerpuff Girls, and the friendly scientist-narrators could easily be swapped with The Professor.

In general, they just seem so pleased with things. You can practically see them thinking “We are Scientists! Isn’t that Great! We are Thinking Big Thoughts!”

At this point, these movies may be more fun for adults than kids, but I may give these another try when things are a little quieter around here. The Palo Alto school district is having a 5-day weekend, so the neighborhood kids are running around and I think their attention span may be too short for this sort of movie today.

In the meantime, I’ll be busy Thinking Big Thoughts.

Hogwarts and Security Issues in Harry Potter (mild spoilers)

Bruce Schneier, noted crypto and security guy, has an entertaining thread of comments on various security issues at Hogwarts in the latest installment of Harry Potter, starting with a post from Karl Lembke:

In the latest Harry Potter book, we see Hogwarts implementing security precautions in order to safeguard its students and faculty.
One step that was taken was that all the students were searched – wanded, in fact – to detect any harmful magic. In addition, all mail coming in or out was checked for harmful magic.
In spite of these precautions, two students are nearly killed by cursed items.

Brent Dax comments:

There are actually some very interesting bits of security in the Potter series. One of my favorites is the Fidelius Charm, a spell that can restrict the flow of information by ensuring that only one person can communicate a particular fact to others. (It’s used in the series to protect the addresses of sensitive locations, but there’s nothing to suggest it couldn’t be put to other uses.) This reminds me somewhat of a DRM system, although it’s certainly far more effective than anything programmers have written thus far. In the series, the Charm does its job perfectly–but the security it provides fails when the person trusted to keep the secret turns out to be less than trustworthy.

and many more comments. I actually haven’t had a chance to read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince yet, although I’ve come across much of the plot in reviews and comments by now.

Anyway, a little silly, but entertaining if you enjoy both Harry Potter and security technology.

Pandora launch, DRM, and media

Pandora officially launched this morning. It’s been over a week since I signed up for an account and I’m still using it. It’s specifically designed not to provide on-demand streams, but I’m getting the hang of steering Pandora into building playlists that have what I want, which is almost better than on-demand, since I don’t have to actually build the playlist myself.

What I really wish for is a sane way to make my personal digital media effectively (and legally) portable across my networked environment. Pandora will be providing $36/year streams of interesting-but-not-on-demand music, Rhapsody provides on-demand music subscriptions at $100/year, and iTunes Music Store provides downloadable purchases that may or may not work elsewhere on the network and won’t survive a computer transplant.

My general preference is to own the album. So I buy CDs, rip them onto the house server, then store the CD. This doesn’t work so well for iTMS. If I could get a reliable subscription service that provided the range of music that I’ve accumulated over the years and let me distribute content among the various client devices in our household, I’d be very interested.

With DRM and online distribution, I’m never sure I’m going to be able to put my music on some new device I get next year. Worse, I’m not even sure that the music I purchase will continue to work on the devices I already have. The short term future proofing is having a stack of physical CDs in a closet that can be re-ripped as needed. I also occasionally find myself looking to download a track that I have on vinyl LP that I haven’t ripped yet, since I’m generally unwilling to repurchase my entire collection on CD, (for those albums that are actually available in CD format). I’d be very happy for a subscription service that could effectively replace those albums.

Fred Wilson has a much nicer audio setup than most, and writes about his experience with iTunes and DRM.

We connected these servers to a multi-room audio system and we control them with a combination of crestron panels, java clients, and web browsers throughout our home

In the peer to peer world, with DRM working behind the scenes, we end up buying the music several times, and then can’t play it on every computer we own. That doesn’t make sense.

Peter Burrows wrote about his music purchasing experience with iTunes recently as well, and why he’s been using Rhapsody lately (reformatted computer, didn’t want to purchase music over again).

I had to wipe clean my PC and reinstall Windows upon my return (for totally unrelated reasons), but forgot to back-up my iTunes folder one last time before I did so. So when I got the PC back up and running and repopulated iTunes, I found that the album was no longer in my library. And since Apple only lets you download purchased music once, clicking on “Check for Purchased Music” didn’t do the trick, either.

…subscription services are another kind of user experience, that would appeal to many current customers and millions more.

At present, if you’re willing to live in an all-Apple or all-Microsoft universe, things can sort of work for now. I have a hard time accepting anyone’s DRM package as being the one true implementation, especially with some much interesting development going on around devices rather than desktops.

More on Pandora from Tom Conrad, TechCrunch, and my earlier post on Pandora.

For reference: Cory Doctorow’s talk on why DRM is broken (originally presented at Microsoft Research, June 17, 2004)

Barcamp – The Video

Dorrian Porter has assembled a wonderful video (55MB .mov) capturing the feel of the past weekend at Barcamp, hosted by Laughing Squid . A great job of compressing the idea of the weekend into under 4 minutes, using commodity video and computing tools. It’s still beyond the casual consumer, but this level of production would have been remarkable (and expensive) even a few years ago.

Dorrian’s post discussing the selection and use of the Creative Commons-licensed music (in this case, “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket) is also interesting.

Now, I am a lawyer and I have to say that it wasn’t as easy as the good folks at creative commons made it out to be to figure out my rights.

I am most hopeful that I am living up to at least the spirit of the license. The point is that as video comes scorching to the web, folks with no intention of commercializing their videos need better ways to insert a little jazz singing now and then. I want to encourage music artists to adopt creative commons type licenses that allow for easy access to and use of great tunes for non-commercial films. You will keep your copyright, but you will make this new age of media and distribution a little more fun.

It would be interesting if this particular batch of CC-licensed music helps get some visibility for My Morning Jacket. I’d never heard of them, and never got around to listening through the CD from the Wired issue that it came in, but thanks to their CC-licensing, now I have.

I’m still not sure how this turns into a sustainable economic model for My Morning Jacket, or for CC-licensed content publishers in the end, but part of the premise has to be that the content producer will benefit by wider exposure and finding an audience. I’d like this model to work, so I’m going out of my way to point to these guys. If you like the music, here’s their concert schedule. They’re playing in the Bay Area at the Fillmore on November 11 and 12.

See also: Notes from Barcamp


I’ve spent a few days now playing with the prerelease “friends and family” version of Pandora, the “music discovery service” demoed by Tom Conrad at Barcamp last weekend.

Some quirks, but overall really good, and easy to get going. Unlike some other services, I’ve been running it most of the time I’ve been at my desk for the past few days.

My personal taste in music is simultaneously eclectic and encyclopedic in some areas, yet with odd gaps. Using Pandora, I’ve been able to think of one or two songs, albums, or artists that’s representative of what I want to hear, and it will come up with a fairly decent playlist of similar tunes.

Although I’m finding that I could have theoretically constructed the playlists by hand, it’s really easy to try dialing in a tune or two until Pandora starts queuing up something like what I had in mind. The music discovery part seems to work reasonably well too, it’s turned up a couple of new artists for me to check out later.

On the Pandora blog, there’s a post with assorted user feedback, feature wish list, etc. Here’s some of what I’d like to see:


  • Playlist history (maybe with timestamps, like some of the radio stations provide), so I can go back and see what was playing a while ago.
  • Playlist lookahead (so I can see what Pandora is queuing, to help decide if I want to skip ahead)
  • Some mechanism for requeuing a past song in the future. I understand that at the moment, Pandora can’t provide a “backwards” function in the playlist, in order to avoid becoming an audio-on-demand service. On the other hand, having a method for indicating “I really liked this song and would like to hear it again” (or “I stepped away and mostly missed this song”) could be useful for the playlist queuing function. This may be handled by the “Guide Us” input form, not sure.
  • Music parameter template – since Pandora is building the playlist based on similarity to the starting tunes, I’d like to be able to see how it’s characterized the starting point.
  • Control over the parameter variation over time — I’ve let Pandora run for several hours at a time, and at times I’d like it to have wider variation over some aspect than others. For example, vary tempos gradually over several songs, but leave instrumentation and vocals more similar. Or vary instrumentation, but leave the tempo, echo, and bass / drums similar.
  • Some kind of clustering of characteristics for a given artist or album might be helpful. I get the impression that if you start with an album or artist, the starting “genome” is an average or perhaps a median of the entire collection. I get reasonable songs for a while if I enter something like “U2″ or “Lou Reed”, or “Lenny Kravitz”, but if I start off a channel with a specific song I will get very different results (as expected), but which never turn up otherwise (not entirely expected, since these all span a wide range of “sounds”).
  • Similarly, I might never want some combinations of characteristics to turn up on a given channel. So a way to specify the ranges or variances for a given “genome” parameter on a given channel would be handy.
  • A “time period” selector or bias might be helpful. This might not work well since there’s a lot of re-released material.
  • A progress bar and track info would be nice. Duration, artist, release info, link to iTunes, Amazon, etc
  • A way to stream the Pandora audio into devices on the local network, i.e. Roku and similar network players
  • A way to queue local audio data into the Pandora playlist, since I may have selections unavailable to Pandora
  • A community track rating function and/or message board, for promoting interesting discoveries among site users, and perhaps as data for improving the playlist generating function
  • Maybe a blacklisting function? Since the playlist is selected automatically by similarity, there can be interesting juxtapositions from a human listener’s point of view. I like that, but it might not work for everyone.

More data points:

  • A sample channel built using “Steely Dan” comes up with a reasonable start, but repeats tracks fairly regularly within an hour or so
  • A sample channel built using “Pat Metheny Group” is also reasonable, but repeats within an hour or so rather than moving to other albums.

These last points are easily fixed by using the “Guide Us” input form to select some additional starting points, but the playlist queuing function could probably use more latitude. I know the tracks are in the system, because I can use them as starting points as well, I just can’t get from “here” to “there” yet.

In addition to building playlists of music I know reasonably well, Pandora is turning out to be quite good at turning out electronica, techno, and club mixes, where I can throw in a couple of starting tracks and get back similar ones. I’ve already turned up a few tracks that I have heard, but didn’t know the artist or title. Since there’s often no artist, or the track is actually a DJ remix, Pandora provides a great way to find things. As a sample: starting with Gus Gus, Dirty Vegas, and Chemical Brothers turns up lots of similar, but different tracks.

Other early reviewers have mentioned Last.fm and Audioscrobbler. I ‘ve poked at these a little bit, but they’re geared more toward the social end and seem to require more upfront investment of effort. I think Pandora could ultimately benefit from the social functions, but it takes nearly zero time and effort to put together a very listenable channel or two. I’d probably find last.fm easier to use with something like Pandora spliced in as a selection filter, in addition to or instead of the user tags there.

Pandora is still in limited trial mode, but apparently I can invite 25 people from my trial account. Let me know if you’re interested!

If you’ve read this far, you should definitely check it out…

Update 08-26-2005 13:56 – In an e-mail to the prelaunch users, Pandora founder Tim Westergren announced that the service will be launched to the public next week. $36 for a full year of service, new users get a “short period” free, plus some changes based on user feedback. More at TechCrunch.

Update 11-10-2005 11:55 – Pandora is now free

Matrix Persona Quiz

You are Morpheus-
You are Morpheus, from “The Matrix.” You
have strong faith in yourself and those around
you. A true leader, you are relentless in your

What Matrix Persona Are You?

Mona Lisa at the Salle des Etats

Mona Lisa at the Salle des Etats

Vacation notes: Here’s a view of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. It was recently moved from its temporary location elsewhere in the museum to its new permanent home in the refurbished Salle des Etats , with non-reflective (and probably bulletproof) glass, climate controlled environment, and presumably, assorted security features. (In the past, it’s been stolen, as well as been attacked by acid and by stone throwing.)

Something like 90% of the Louvre’s 6 million annual visitors stop by to see the Mona Lisa, including Ron Howard and a crew filming a movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code who were there a couple of weeks before us. Visiting locations mentioned in The Da Vinci Code is apparently popular enough that there are tours for it.

The Louvre is immense, so it takes a bit of walking around and following signs before you get to the right section of the Denon wing, which houses the Italian painting collection.

Musee Louvre

The painting itself is not very big (21 x 30 inches), and a rope barrier prevents you from getting close enough for a good look. It’s quite possible they’re not even exhibiting the actual painting, in the interest of security. Hard to tell from a distance, behind all the protective apparatus. Given its iconic status, however, going to see the Mona Lisa isn’t really about seeing the painting. To me, the exhibit and its visitors seem like its own piece of performance art, and I enjoyed my visit in the Salle des Etats looking at almost everything except the Mona Lisa. There was a recurring forest of digicams at the far end of the room, sprouting up on outstretched arms, wobbling around for a few moments, then coming down, over and over. There were kids playing GameBoy. There were people coming into the room and having trouble finding the Mona Lisa, poring over tour books in every language to determine whether they were in the right room. As you can see from the photo, it’s not immediately apparent when you walk in.

If you want a good look, they have excellent larger-than-life-size poster prints at the Louvre gift shop.

According to my sister, an art historian, I’m sort of an art barbarian — my taste runs more to the bourgeois (I really enjoy the Impressionists gallery at the Orsay, and tend to judge art by whether I personally like it), and our 8-year-old has a predictable level of interest in Renaissance art, i.e. not much. We kept her moderately engaged for a while by having her count naked people as we walked through the galleries. For a lot of people, including us, I suspect that going to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa is sort of a scavenger hunt in search of Art or Culture or Must-See Places.

In a clever bit of curating, the opposite wall from the Mona Lisa holds the Louvre’s largest painting, Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana, which is 22 feet high x 32 feet wide. So you don’t see it when you walk in, but when you turn around after viewing the Mona Lisa on the far end of the room, you’re just about far enough away to view the whole painting. I’d heard about the installation before going, so I walked all the way up for a quick look at the Mona Lisa without turning around, to get the full experience. Highly recommended. Think of an HDTV display bigger than some movie multiplex screens, in a room full of normal-sized displays. After looking at the small, dark, distant, and heavily shielded Mona Lisa, the effect of the sheer scale and vibrant colors is stunning.

I spent most of my time looking at the Veronese, walking forward and backward and sideways, “zooming and panning” on the painting. I found myself wishing for some rope scaffolding or something to “pan up” in addition to side to side. Not being much of an art student, I’d never heard of the painting before, but it was my personal Art highlight for our visit to the Louvre, and I may need to go back to the Salle des Etats next time just to look at it again. Ridiculously detailed. Great fun. Unless you’re 8.

Final count: 1 cool new art experience. 230-something naked people.

Italian Sculpture Gallery at the Louvre

Potter Puppet Pals

It’s Friday, and I’ve come across a brilliantly funny pair of Harry Potter flash animations. Not quite G rated, but generally work safe. You’ll need the sound turned on, though. (link, link)

Quotes: “Let’s bother Snape!”, “Botherbotherbother”, “Naked Time!”, and “Ronicus Explodicus!”

    The Potter Puppet Pals present
    “Bothering Snape”
    animated by Neil Cicierega

    and the sequel,

    “Trouble at Hogwarts”
    animated by Neil Cicierega
    with help from Alora Lanzillotta and Emmy Cicierega

The second animation has a hidden bonus feature which should not be missed. To view it, use the button at the lower left corner to pause when Snape gets zapped, and move step by step until you see the green star, which you can click to view the bonus animation.

You may also like PotterPotterPotter.

Update 09-24-2005 21:52 PDT: People seem to be finding this post lately, looking for Potter Puppet Pals 3. There isn’t one yet, as far as I know. In the meantime, you may enjoy Snape’s rendition of I’m Too Sexy (Flash). The Potter Puppet Pals site is frequently out of bandwidth quota, but the content is mirrored here.

There’s also a do-it-yourself Potter Puppet Pals scene maker (in Flash) there, which lets you drag and drop the puppet parts onto the scene and put a text caption on it.

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