Sunday, March 19, 2006


A few months ago I received 50 free downloads from as part of a promotion. I at first assumed that, like most non-iTunes digital music download stores, the music available at the store would be in Windows Media Format and would be completely unplayable on my Mac and similarly un-transferrable to my iPod. Boy, was I wrong in the best way.

eMusic sells regular MP3 files that are not protected with Digital Rights Management (DRM). Because of this the songs can be played with ANY digital music software and used on ANY digital music device without restriction.

As expected, the major music labels don't want to sell unprotected music. Subsequently, eMusic doesn't have most major label music. It does, however, have a large selection of independent artists. I was easily able to find 50 tracks to download, between Aimee Mann, Badly Drawn Boy, Grandaddy, The Presidents of the United States of America, and some nifty compilations.

The recording industry is bemoaning the fact that Apple's proprietary copy-protection is hurting the digital music market (See Apple May Be Holding Back The Music Biz) but the reality is that ANY copy-protection is bad for consumers and makes everything incompatible. The labels want Apple to open up their system to their competitors, but if they would simply allow the music to be sold without copy protection, it would be compatible with everything and they wouldn't have this problem.

At least one person is paying attention:
Yahoo exec: Labels should sell music without DRM

And, of course, the CEO of eMusic agrees
eMusic's Pakman: Does he think the iPod is holding back overall music sales?

Pakman does emphasize a factor that is very much in keeping with the dominant theme in your comments: that the music industry would be far better off if it dropped its demands for DRM entirely

Urinetown The Musical

This year's musical production at the Delta Center for the Arts is Urinetown The Musical. It's being directed by John White, who starred as Walter Burns in last summer's production of "The Front Page" and won a Sacramento Area Regional Theatre Alliance Elly Award for Set Design for "Man of La Mancha."

I'll be playing Senator Fipp, a small but distinct role, with performances at 8 p.m. on May 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, and a 2 p.m. matinee on May 14.

Nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 2002, and winner for Best Book of a Musical, "Urinetown The Musical" is the satirical tale of greed, corruption, romance and revolution in a city where water is worth its weight in gold. The show celebrates and spoofs Broadway musical theatre traditions, "poking good-natured fun at everything from corporate greed and politics to boy-meets-girl romance to good-versus-evil."

It is not a happy musical, but it is a funny one.

Jessica Simpson snubs Bush
Yahoo! News

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said he was surprised at Simpson's position.

"It's never been a problem for Bono," he said, referring to the U2 rock star who has met regularly with political leaders of all stripes to promote various causes, including Third World debt relief.
That's a completely inaccurate comparison. To my knowledge Bono has never appeared at a Republican fund-raiser.

Describing Jessica Simpsons's current employment is the funniest part of this story.
Simpson is currently featured wearing cowboy boots and hot pants in a TV pizza ad.
Is this really who the Republicans want to invite to their gala? A divorced celebrity that is currently sexually tempting an underage boy in a pizza commercial? And you want to sit her next to Congressman Boehner?

TV Shows from the iTunes Music Store

Since we have a TV set and a cable subscription, purchasing TV shows from the iTunes Music Store has never appealed much. It didn't help that the episodes are sold in a small 320x240 pixel resolution. However, our neighborhood lost power for over an hour on Wednesday, Feb. 8 -- when a new episode of "Lost" aired. Even a TiVo can't record if it doesn't have power.

So the next day I purchased the episode (gift certificates are useful) from the iTunes Music Store (the name of which is increasingly inaccurate) and we watched it on our TV. The main point of this post is to note that the quality was shockingly not awful. Apple obviously has a good codec on their hands in H.264, as scaling the image up to full-screen showed little loss in quality. Neither of us could see a difference from the broadcast version.

The lack of commercials, teasers, and network watermark were actually quite refreshing. It also meant that we heard the closing credits 'music' for the first time.

The process wasn't entirely painless, however. For one, I used QuickTime Player instead of iTunes, as the latter is a very poor video player compared to the former. Second, I hooked up my iBook to our TV's RCA jacks. My original iBook required only one $19 adapter to do this. My new G4 iBook required three separate cables/adapters to accomplish the same feat. Finally, you aren't allowed to burn the episode to a DVD. Presumably this is to prevent piracy. If so, why not allow only one burn per episode in the same way iTunes only allows a limited amount of burns of purchased music (using a specific playlist).

Oh, and most importantly, the episode –– "The Long Con" –– was a good one.

The Vendetta Behind 'V for Vendetta'
Dave Itzkoff, New York Times

With ... a body of writing that spans nearly three decades, [Alan] Moore, a 52-year-old native of Northampton, England, distinguished himself as a darkly philosophical voice in the medium of comic books — a rare talent whose work can sell solely on the strength of his name

Saturday, March 18, 2006

WonderCon 2006

WonderCon moved from Oakland to San Francisco in 2002, was bought by Comic-Con International in 2004 (the first year I attended), changed its date from April to February in 2005, and moved to the new Moscone Center West location this year, marking its 20th anniversary. Unfortunately, I found this year to be pretty unimpressive.

The first difference this year was the massive line to get in. I don't know if the new building threw the organizers for a loop or if there were just too many people showing up at once, but the line extended around the block. Of course, it's not the first massive downtown San Francisco line I've waited in, but when the day's programming begins at 10:30 a.m. and you don't get let in until after 11:30 a.m. it's not a good start. Oh, and our tickets were pre-purchased.

Michael Chabon was scheduled to sign autographs at noon at the Dark Horse Booth, so we did a bit of scouting around the show floor before returning for that. We managed to be probably 2nd or 3rd in line, and were even given free copies of the latest edition of Dark Horse's Eisner Award-winning anthology Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist (try fitting that title on an order sheet!) for him to sign. Those issues cost $8.95 and I was missing that one, so it was especially fortuitous.

He was there with his young son, and signed both my comic books and my paperback copy of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay" (thank you again, Nicole). On questioning, he told us that the movie version of his book was closer than ever to happening. He seemed astounded when Megan told him she'd read the entire novel while waiting at the boring terminal of the Sacramento Airport.

The first programming session we attended was "Paramount Pictures Presents: J.J. Abrams/M:i:III." J.J. showed some lengthy scenes from the upcoming, unfortunately-titled film that were quite impressive. If the trailer doesn't excite you, it's because it stinks compared to the actual movie footage we saw. I was very impressed with his presentation, especially his admission that he didn't like the first two Mission: Impossible films as much because they didn't focus on the team aspect of the original TV series.

I figured he would get peppered with questions about "Lost," since he's a co-creator of the series, and maybe even "Alias." But, surprisingly, most of the Q&A session seemed to be about "Felicity." Surprising not only because the series ended years ago, but also because I don't think most people would equate comic book fans with Felicity fans.

We got a nice piece of swag from that session: a black cloth baseball cap with a red M:i:III logo. It's nice enough to wear and not geeky enough to get you beaten up. If anything, no one who sees it knows what it means. I've even had one person ask me if it was a Pacific University cap.

The next session we wanted to see was "Pixar's 20th Anniversary Tribute/Cars Preview," but because they were running horribly behind (45+ minutes), we had to wait through quite a bit of the Kevin Smith session. He was there to show some clips from "Clerks II," curse up a storm and tell stories I would generally describe as 'grosser than gross.' I will not recount them here. I wouldn't want the Internet to get inappropriate.

The Pixar session had its highs and its lows. It kicked off with a fun 20th anniversary video sequence edited together from all their films. Then some of the animators who worked on "Cars" talked, and talked, and talked, and it was surprisingly boring. They did show two lengthy scenes from the movie, however, which were very impressive. The first was the opening sequence of the film, featuring music by Sheryl Crow. The second was a scene showcasing the various supporting characters and was quite hilarious. Everytime there's a new Pixar movie I figure it will probably be the "bad one" simply due to the law of averages. But based on what we saw at WonderCon, this will be yet another great film. The final reward for sitting through the tedious commentary session was the presentation of the Oscar-nominated short film One Man Band, which I suspect will be shown before "Cars" in theatres.

The last session I was interested in attending was the "Warner Bros. Presents Superman Returns" featuring Director Bryan Singer "with a surprise to show." Of course, since the sessions were now 45-60 minutes behind schedule, I didn't return until 30 minutes after it was supposed to start (I was definitely not interested in waiting through the "Silent Hill" movie preview). And yet somehow when I returned Bryan Singer was already speaking with his "surprise" –– star Brandon Routh. And, unfortunately, they had already shown the footage. Oh, sure, every OTHER session makes you wait and then show the footage at the end. And after a couple of questions ("Why is the shield so small?") the duo left ... EARLY. To kill the remaining time, V masks were distributed.

For the most part, the exhibit hall was pretty boring. Art Adams was never at his table in Artist's Alley when I came by. And Hellboy author Mike Mignola was only signing on Friday. Noted Star Wars author Timothy Zahn was signing past his timeslot, but it looked like only his new book, Outbound Flight. I did get to have a nice chat with Erik Larsen, who's mostly back on track with Savage Dragon after becoming editor of Image Comics. I'd say he's done a pretty good job, since he oversaw the release of the 10th Anniversary Hardcover (it was originally solicited in 2003). And I managed to find the second collected volume of The Matrix Comics...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

macCompanion March reviews

  • WheresTheFreeSpace V0.1
    Even though the capacity of hard drives has increased dramatically in the last decade, that seemingly endless space can disappear quickly. If you want to know where all that space is going ... your best bet is an application designed for the task.