Monday, November 28, 2005

Steve Jobs discusses music labels, iPods and Intel Macs

Jobs also warned of the challenge of offering extra features just for the sake of it, saying "We are very careful about what features we add because we can't take them away."
Really? Because over the past few years, you've taken away the included carrying case/belt clip, wired remote, the Settings option on the main menu, FireWire cable, dynamically-updating smart playlists, the headphone connector, power adapter, and the ability to sync with iTunes via FireWire. So are you sure you can't take things away?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Jelly Belly Factory

Megan and I visited the Jelly Belly Visitor's CenterJelly Belly Candy Co. in Fairfield earlier this month. Because it was a weekend, they were not actually making candies at the time and all the machines were at rest. But we still got to go on a walking factory tour with a knowledgable guide and watch some videos about the Jelly Belly bean-making process. We also saw a number of the Jelly Belly artworks, some of which use as many 5,000 beans. We even saw the 1989 World Series piece that was not missing a single bean after being recovered after the earthquake. Neither photography nor videocameras were allowed, however.

Interesting facts from that tour include:

  • The only flavor of Jelly Belly's 50 flavors that is not included in its 49 Flavors bag is Jalapeño.
  • Jelly Belly beans that get stuck together or are irregularly-shaped are called Belly Flops
  • They also make more than 100 other types of candy, including Candy Corn and Jordan Almonds
After the factory tour, we got to sample Jelly Belly beans from the (free!) Sampling Bar. They had a number of rare flavors available including: Green Tea Ice Cream, Baked Beans, Garlic, Buttered Toast, Pomegranate, Mint Trio, some new JBz flavors and the (ugh!) Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. I recommend having a Strawberry Jam + a Peanut Butter + a Buttered Toast.

But why were there children crying? Hello?! "Like a kid in a candy store" does not refer to unhappiness! You're getting free candy! We bought a few bags of Belly Flops at the visitor store, among other things and also had lunch at the Jelly Belly Cafe where Megan had a Jelly Belly-shaped cheeseburger. All in all, a neat place.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

iTunes outsells traditional music stores

For its comparison, the company compared 12 separate song downloads at iTunes to a single album purchase at an ordinary retail store. Using that measure, iTunes scored higher than Tower, Borders and Sam Goody.
Impressive and unexpected

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Las Vegas, Man of La Mancha photos

In one of my quickest updates yet, I've posted photos from our Las Vegas mini-vacation that were just picked up this evening. There is still one more roll that will probably not get developed until after Christmas.

And in one of my slowest updates (yet), I've posted photos from the April/May 2005 production of Man of La Mancha. However, I did have literally hundreds of nearly identical images to comb through and most were not in chronological order.

Las Vegas November 2005
Man of La Mancha 1
Man of La Mancha 2

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Paris Hilton doesn't change facial expressions

Warning: May cause seizure. Oh, and the images flash really fast, too.

DRM Crippled CD: A bizarre tale in 4 parts

The key restriction of this particular DRM is that it renders a disc nontransferable to the iPod. Nor can you make a backup copy, or travel discs, or a copy for the weekend house, or use any of the songs on a mixed disc. Oh, and it won't work with my iTunes Music software (and that also means no shuffle play).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

U2 in Oakland on Tues., Nov. 8

We saw U2 perform in San Jose on the first leg of the Vertigo tour back in April [review]. When they returned to the Bay Area to perform in the Oakland Arena, we certainly had questions: Would the show be any different? Would it be worth seeing twice? The answer to both those questions is yes.

Although the selection of songs played on Tuesday night was surprisingly the same (more on that disappointment later) the performance of each was dramatically improved and the overall concert was miles ahead of April's.

Just like in San Jose, things kicked off with City of Blinding Lights. But instead of a confusing, bewildering lead-up, there was a joyful, celebratory feel. And the visuals, particularly the video screens composed of hanging "beads" were astonishingly better. The song is a great concert opener and I suspect it will show up as the beginning of an encore on a future tour (again, more on that later).

The set list remained unchanged for the next two tracks: Vertigo and Elevation, which sustained the high energy. Vertigo benefited from an extended coda -- a feature that has improved many U2 songs performed live, notably With or Without You, One and Mysterious Ways. It's also a great crowd response song (Hóla!), topped only by Elevation (Woo-ooo-Hoo!).

I was shocked to next hear the distinctive tones of Mysterious Ways, since last time they'd played The Electric Co. and The Ocean, a couple of tracks from their 1980 debut album Boy. They had sometimes mixed it up by playing different tracks from that album: An Cat Dubh or Out of Control, both of which I have never heard them perform live and was looking forward to (I would have settled for Electric Co. again). Unfortunately, I would not get my wish, as nothing prior to 1983 was played all evening.

Instead, Mysterious Ways was the first of five Achtung Baby performances that evening (if there's one other album to favor besides the newest one, I don't mind it being that one). It was a great performance, again marked by improved visuals. From our vantage point looking directly at the stage front, the video curtains were reminiscent of the PopMart tour and the video screens at the top were straight from the Elevation tour. Bono brought a girl from the audience (who was apparently from Kenya) up onto the stage and they danced a bit ("She moves in Mysterious Ways") before she jumped on his shoulders and he gave her a piggy-back ride around part of the catwalk. It lengthened the song considerably, but the other members soldiered on with the aforementioned excellent coda ("It's alright, it's alright, it's all right").

They then lit into Until the End of the World, one of those U2 songs that's 10x better live than on the album. They've probably played it at every concert I've been to, but it's still a killer track. At this point in the San Jose concert, everyone was sitting down while U2 plodded through The Ocean. But at this point in Oakland no one had even thought of sitting yet.

They did take a breather after that, giving Larry's arms a chance to rest while Bono thanked everyone for coming out and explained that while they're proud of what they've accomplished, they still feel they have a lot of work ahead of them (which met with much audience cheering). Thus it was appropriate they then played I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. It was one of their biggest U.S. hits and the crowd always laps it up. I've heard it too many times on the radio, but the live performance is still enjoyable and the strong lyrics still resonate. Added to the end was a snippet of In A Little While.

The similarly bittersweet Beautiful Day was next, followed by Miracle Drug. I noted that this song was surprisingly strong last time (and had a great lightshow) and it had only grown stronger. Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own was next and the flow of these four songs was a perfect Part 2 for the concert after the high-energy Part 1.

Part 3 began with the predictable trio of war-related songs: Love & Peace or Else, Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bullet the Blue Sky. The first has been a highlight of the tour, prompting a reevaluation of the album track I was previously unimpressed by. It was just as good here and it brings Larry out to the edge of the catwalk for some solo standup drumming. Sunday Bloody Sunday was incredibly powerful, partly because Bono noted "it's your song now." Disturbing to think that a song written about terrorism in Northern Ireland in the 1970s could hold such emotional resonance in the U.S. in 2005. "How long must we sing this song," indeed.

Bullet the Blue Sky, while one of their oft-performed and oft-recorded live songs, is not one of my musical favorites but it had a nice beat and you could dance to it... Mostly the crowd was silent once Bono put the bandana over his eyes and blindly felt his way to the microphone to finish the song. I'm sure the recent news about alleged secret CIA prisons didn't make that any more comfortable. He dedicated the song to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, though, and the crowd gave a surprisingly loud, positive response, considering the politics of the Bay Area. (Although says the show was in San Francisco, let's give the city of Oakland a little more credit)

The normal followup to that song (even on the album) is Running to Stand Still and the two are almost always performed together. But lately Miss Sarajevo has taken its place. I've never been a huge fan of this song, but I was glad to hear it live for the first time. And I was incredibly impressed that Bono sang the portions of the song that tenor Luciano Pavarotti performed for the original version, in Latin, no less. It's a perfect choice to segue out of the violent songs and led wonderfully into the declaration of human rights, which was very awkward and forced during the first leg of the tour.

And it segued perfectly into Pride, which I've heard so many times that I could live with never hearing in concert again. But I know by the reaction of the crowd that I was in the minority on that. And with the recent passing of Rosa Parks, it was fitting. Where the Streets Have No Name fit perfectly after and brought the audience to its highest point.

And so Part 4, the uplifting/take-action part of the show closed with One. The whole tour doubles as a recruitment tool for The ONE Campaign and it's prior to this song that members are asked to send their name in a text message to show their support (It's really hard to type Hargreaves on a cell phone keypad). The constellation of cell phones that light up the arena is beautiful in a modern way. I'm surprised the other members allow Bono to make such blatant plugs, but maybe I shouldn't be. This segment felt jarring during the first leg, like you'd just realized the vacation you got for free was actually designed to sell you a timeshare, but tonight it was pitch perfect. The song was backed by some impressive visual trickery involving still images of crowd members forming a video image of Bono.

The coda ("Hear me coming, Lord; Hear me call; Hear me knocking, scratching at your door") is as powerful as ever, but the last few notes drifted on at the end as Bono and The Edge conferred for a curiously long time. Bono then announced "this is for Axver" and proceeded to sing the first verse and chorus of One Tree Hill with minimal guitar backing. A live performance of that song is a rare occurrence, indeed, and one that I certainly appreciated. I had seen him take and read a slip of paper from an audience member much earlier in the show and I suspect it was the request of that song.

Although they left the stage at that time, it wasn't long before the four overhead video screens came to life, with full-color images spinning like a slot machine. For a brief moment, I felt like ZOO TV had returned. And when the Achtung Baby image appeared and started asking for 'Mommy,' I had high hopes for a Zooropa song (which have all been woefully underrepresented, in my opinion). Instead we got Zoo Station, which is one of my favorite tracks and one of their most overlooked songs, in my opinion. It was just as good as in San Jose and was similarly followed by The Fly. The difference was that the latter had an incredible new visual accompaniment, with words and phrases flying around like an insane(r) version of You Don't Know Jack. Also unlike San Jose, that first encore set ended with With or Without You, a welcome classic.

What was not so welcome to me was the final encore, which was composed of exactly the same three songs as the last show we saw: All Because of You, Yahweh and 40. All Because of You rocked, Yahweh didn't (due to an acoustic arrangement I wasn't particularly fond of) but had an extraordinary animated video. It feels a little wrong to complain about them, since they are all very spiritual (guess who the 'You' in All Because of You is...) but knowing that they have been performing songs I've never heard live before at other concerts on this leg made the final set disappointing. Sure enough, the very next night at Oakland they played Fast Cars, Gloria and The First Time.

Overall, the concert was great. It was much improved from the show we saw in San Jose from both a musical and visual standpoint. In addition, the sound quality in the Oakland Arena was far clearer than the HP Pavilion. Although I would've liked to hear a few different songs, the arc and flow of those chosen was nearly perfect. The Vertigo tour is an excellent blend of many of their former tours. Rather than putting together something completely original, they've picked bits and pieces of each to create a new tour that not only showcases the songs from their newest album, but also blends in two decades of other U2 songs. And after seven months, they've really got their act together.

Related: San Jose Mercury News Review | liveDaily Photo Gallery

More Than Meets the Eye: Star Wars Transformers

The power of the Force meets the power of the Allspark with a new assortment of Star Wars vehicles from Hasbro that are actually robots in disguise. Star Wars Transformers combine the classic characters and vehicles from a galaxy far, far away and transforms them into mighty mechs with seamless Star Wars alt-modes.

The official Superman Returns web site launched with a story synopsis, small collection of photos, downloadable items, etc.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Spider-Man 3 Villain Revealed

Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko

If you don't recognize him, follow this link.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Due to the special election here in California (another) we've been getting phone calls, knocks on the door, physical mail, and e-mail. When I requested to stop receiving e-mails from one group (two a day is too many) I was taken to a web page that told me:

Um, how did I get on either of these lists?

Disney Online Privacy Policy

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

macCompanion November 2005

After a long hiatus due to my performance schedule, I've got some new reviews for macCompanion's November issue. One book and one hardware/software product:

  • Spring Into HTML and CSS
    There are seemingly two types of computer books available: the giant, thick tomes for geniuses and the thinner books for 'dummies' and 'idiots.' The "Spring Into" series from Addison-Wesley is designed to fall into the middle of those extremes.

  • Instant Music for Mac
    Since the beginning of the digital music revolution, it has been simple to rip CDs into MP3s or other digital music formats. The more difficult task has been converting LPs, 45s and cassette tapes. That task became even more difficult when Apple removed audio-in ports from most Macs. The ADS Tech Instant Music product makes it easy -- almost fun -- to import cassette tapes and other non-digital audio into your Macintosh.