Monday, December 8, 2008

Underrated Female Soul Singers by Vivrant Thang

Just found this great list: My Favorite Things: Underrated Female Soul Singers. Complete with links to check them out. Very handy. Much appreciated Vivrant.

Am now adding this to my "Things to do on the net when I have a few spare moments and some decent bandwidth."

Update: Already bought Pleasureville by Lizz Fields. Excellent listening. Good songs, creatively arranged, delivered with way more soul than most highly paid performers can seem to muster these days. Some of the arrangements are unexpected, but in good way. Now have "Daddy's Cadillace" and "The Road to Pleasureville" on my drive time CD.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Doctor Wooreddy Still One of the Best Novels Ever?

Just a quick reminder for anyone who has not read "Doctor Wooreddy's Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World" by Mudrooroo. It is still one of the ten best English language novels of the last one hundred years, IMHO.

You can still order it from Amazon and no, I'm not making any money off that link. I just think it's a pity more people don't know of this book. As one reviewer said: "I can think of no other [twentieth century novel] that tells a tale of such utter tragedy and suffering with such a coherent equanimity of feeling and purity of wit."

Okay, so that reviewer was me. But again, it's not like I have shares in this book.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hackers Are People Too Debuts to Cheers Not Boos

We're delighted to report that Ashley Schwartau's debut production, Hackers Are People Too, debuted to applause and standing ovation at the DefCon premiere.

Read Ashley's account of the evening here. She really had the whole indie experience with audio issues and first-time nerves, but it all came good by the closing credits. Like Ashley says, DefCon is a tough crowd. But she wowed them. And sold 600 copies of the DVD!

You can buy your copy here.

Way to go Ash!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dare Not Walk Alone Opening in New York: 24 days from today

That's right, the award-winning documentary that the Los Angeles Times called a "powerful slice of roiling American history" continues to build momentum with its New York opening at the Pioneer Theatre on August 22 for 7 nights (scroll down page for listing). The Pioneer is located at East 3rd Street in New York, between Avenues A and B (closer to A). Phone number is (212) 591-0434.

The film's director, Jeremy Dean, will be attending the opening night screenings. Why not read what the critics say about Dare Not Walk Alone, take a look at the trailer, and start making plans to attend?

Here's what Variety said: “Dean's ability to explore history through such a local nexus creates a uniquely intimate document.” And Film Journal observed: “The racial politics of the current presidential election make this film all the more significant...[Dare Not Walk Alone] more than just another civil-rights history lesson.”

The film critic for the leading weekly in Portland, Oregon, described the film as “A powerhouse of a picture...minutely attuned to disparities of class and race...a triumph of outrage and empathy” (Willamette Weekly). And Boxoffice Magazine declared this film “has great potential to do real good in the world.”

Read more at the official website and the film's blog.

~~posted by Stephen Cobb, Producer, Dare Not Walk Alone.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hackers Are People Too: Cool new doc sheds fresh light

Sometimes, just when your faith in "kids today" has been drained so bad your mind feels like a purple slurpee being rudely slurped by an obnoxious kid who is kicking the bottom of your airline seat as you ride the plane to nowhere in ever-widening circles, something comes along to renew your hopes for the future. A case in point? The debut documentary from a talented young director Ashley Schwartau: Hackers are People Too.

(A.k.a. H4CK3RS Are People Too for the folks who are 3Lit3 or HAPT for those who are into the whole brevity thing.)

The "hope renewed" impact of this documentary hit me on two levels. First and most importantly, HAPT delivers a fresh take on what it means to be a hacker. Schwartau eschews traditional media fear-mongering in favor of the classic definition of hacker: people who like to mess with technology, not to mess it up, but to tune it up, to deconstruct, understand, and re-animate everything from phones to computers to radios and doorlocks and robots. Sure, there are people who break computers and the law, but as one of the many articulate interviewees in HAPT asserts, it makes more sense to call those people computer criminals than to appropriate a word which champions of industry like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were once proud to own.

By taking a positive approach, Schwartau is able to give her audience a rare glimpse of the breadth and depth of talent that is part of the hacking community. We can plainly see that hackers come in all shapes and sizes although most seem to share two characteristics: above-average intelligence and above-average tolerance for people who are "different."

Sure, there are some snarky smart-ass remarks--the movie would have been unbelievable without a smattering of those--but on the whole we see hackers for what they are, relatively likable people. And if that observation sounds too simplistic to be a revelation I suggest you a. watch some traditional media portrayals of hackers and see just how distorted they are, b. hang out, as I have, at some hacker gatherings. As I argued many years ago in a debate at a major security conference, these kids are not amoral sociopaths, they have their own set of morals, some of which, such as tolerance, our society could use more of.

The style of Hackers Are People Too is direct and largely un-narrated, with Schwartau letting the subjects speak for themselves (which they sometimes do with considerable flair). She paired some interviewees in ways that prove effective and engaging, offering a break from solo talking heads. I also like that there are no fancy graphics grafted on to the interviews (after all, the world of hacking is historically one of monochrome command line text interfaces). There is a nice real world feel to the interviews and a refreshing lack of window dressing.

The occasional use of on-screen footnotes to explain some terminology was helpful without being condescending; if you're a geek you probably won't need them, but you shouldn't diss them--this is a film that could reach a lot of people who would ordinarily shun a subject as geeky as hackers. Who knows, some minds might even be changed, for the better.

The first public outing for Hackers Are People Too is a premiere event on August 8th at DefCon in Las Vegas. Look for it on DVD shortly thereafter. You can find the trailer on YouTube right here. You can also check the web site.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

There Should Be Blood: Oil deserves better

I finally got round to watching There Will Be Blood and I was terribly disappointed. While Upton Sinclair's Oil! painted a subtle picture of human motives and morals set against a detailed picture of the oil industry, the story told in this film just didn't make sense, at least to me.

It's not that I was expecting a true-to-the-book movie, or even the same basic story as the novel--we are given fair warning that the book merely inspired the film; but what I did expect was a coherent tale full of insights into the oil business.

Instead we get this incredibly intense character, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) driven by heaven-knows-what motives. We wait all movie to learn why he is so angry and bitter and violent. I never found out. It's like a Coen brothers' movie without the humor. Indeed, I would probably have been happier if the film had been introduced as a Coen brothers production set in the early years of the California oil boom and World War I (after all, they made O Brother Where Art Thou? about the Depression in Missippi).

What I don't understand is the need to hook the film to the novel. Elements are shared, like an oil developer with a son in tow and a quail hunt that finds oil and a charismatic preacher whose family sells its land to the oil man. But that's about where the similarities end.

The differences are even more telling. While we see some of the workings of the oil business in There Will Be Blood the film passes up a lot of opportunities to educate, which was part of Sinclair's genius. The difference between leasing land to drill and buying it outright was not made clear--something that a lot of people in today's gas-boom states like Pennsylvania and New York could stand to learn more about.

Also unaddressed were the conflicting emotions experienced by the boy, used by Sinclair to address the age-old conundrum of how well-intentioned acts can produce bad outcomes. Sinclair's oil man is seemingly well-intentioned. He was a simple shop-keeper whose wife left him. He happened into the oil business at 40, got lucky, and wanted to pass along his knowledge and wealth to his son. He is not cynical in his exploitation of resources and people, he believes he is doing the right thing and being fair. The film totally omits the unions, The War, Bolsheviks, and the rise of communism and this misses a great opportunity to highlight major parallels with the world today, and underline how easy it is for well-intentioned men who think they are fair to really screw up the world, politically, economically, and environmentally.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Radio Paradise Rocks (and soothes and cheers)

When times are tough (and I think we can all agree they are tough right now*) you sometimes need a way to escape, something to take your mind off things, or onto better things. I'm finding Radio Paradise does just that, and it's free as long as you have a broadband connection. Of course, donations are accepted I have been moved to give, it's just such a deliciously eclectic stream of good listening.

Sometimes they throw in some themed sets for fun and these can be quite amusing. Also, I recently found a cool gadget you can place on your Google home page that shows what is currently playing on Radio Paradise, along with album art (just search among the gadgets at Google/ig. You have to believe that this station is boosting CD sales for a lot of artists that people would otherwise not hear.

* Just for the record, on the "tough times" assertion:
  • Largest collapse of real estate values in recorded history
  • Real incomes falling, costs rising, budgets squeezed, jobs lost
  • Potential mega-flation fueled by soaring energy prices
  • World food shortages (again)
  • Middle East in crisis (again)
  • Oppression in far too many countries
  • Impending environmental disaster
  • Health care system in disarray

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Critical Acclaim? You be the judge

Wow, that was nerve-wracking, watching the reviews come in after your movie opens in LA. Personally, I took every critical remark personally. But more objective souls pointed out that the primary accomplishment was to open in LA, period. Second level, open without getting panned. Mission accomplished! Third level, garner some praise for the eventual DVD cover. Also a Mission Accomplished! So, here is the cream of the Los Angeles reviews for Dare Not Walk Alone.

"Powerful slice of roiling American history" -- LA Times

"Packs a punch" -- LA Weekly

"Mesmerizing and heart-rending" -- L.A. City Beat

"Dean's ability to explore history through such a local nexus creates a uniquely intimate document." -- Variety

"The racial politics of the current presidential election make this film all the more significant." -- Film Journal

"Clear-eyed look at the adversaries of Martin Luther King Jr.’s utopian “dream”...reminds us that, for far too many Americans of color, “free at last” has meant trading one sociological prison for another." -- LA Weekly

"Has great potential to do real good in the world" -- Boxoffice

"A very strong comment on the capacity of people to ascend from their suffering." -- Boxoffice

For more about the film, check out the official web site.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dare Not Walk Alone Opens in LA

Couldn't resist some shameless cross-posting to boost the civil rights doc I've been involved with. Check out the show times here. We open April 25. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April DVD Releases

Some interesting fare this month. I am keen to see how Juno treats the subject of teen pregnancy compared to Slam, the excellent book by Nick Hornby that I blogged about last year.

I am also keen to see if There Will Be Blood captures the spirit of Upton Sinclair's Oil, which I read many years ago when I was, briefly, at least on paper, an oil man myself. We all know Daniel Day Lewis can act, but what material has the filmmaker given him to work with.

As for Sweeney Todd, I am not a big fan of musicals, but I enjoyed Hairspray, so I will give it a whirl, if only to see Johnny Depp in action. Of greater import, probably, is Charlie Wilson's War and I am a big fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman who looks very impressive in the trailers.

So, if there are a lot of April showers, there are some good reasons to stay inside and watch movies.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Art and Science of Perception: Color me deficient

I have always enjoyed music and the visual arts but at times have felt excluded from these worlds.

First there was the music teacher who told me that should mime the words when singing in the school concert because "You're tone deaf." Some years later I found out that I am "color blind," more technically, "color deficient." That explains a lot about my art education.

You see this rectangle on the left? It looks green to me, a dark green, but green nonetheless. Of course, it is not green, it is gray (or grey). I know this because it is an RGB color, specifically equal parts of Red, Green, and Blue. The way that computers handle colors has been a revelation to me. I used to think other people were arbitrary when they talked about colors like violet or peach. Now I know there is a recipe for every color.

Computers also enables me to work on web pages and other computer graphics without creating a garish mess. For example, when I am building a web site I usually start with a template that someone else has designed. If I make any design changes I make sure, by checking with people who have normal color perception, that the thing still looks okay. Then I use the RGB coding to keep on track.

When my daughter first heard that I was color blind she was fascinated and kept asking me what things looked like. Well, I didn't have any good answers. But now, thanks to pages like this one, I can give her some idea. In fact, if you Google "what color blind people see" you will find some fascinating sites. There is even one that shows you what your web site will look like to people with different types of color blindness. You can also do some basic tests of your color perceptions.

I think my form of color deficiency is a red/green deficiency classified as Deuteranomalia. However, I have not yet met, or read about, anyone who shares my perception that this grey is green.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fab Feb Movie Watching: No faking

Just enjoyed a movie that you might not have come across before: Fakers. This is a small budget Brit movie that is a lot of fun, particularly if you like caper-style romantic comedy. There is a snappy sixties feel to the production and a treat for car fans: the first high speed chase in a Smart Car (as far as I know).

And there's plenty here for fans of Matthew Rhys, since he has the male lead (he's the guy we'll soon see playing Dylan Thomas in love with Keira Knightley in The Edge of Love and also seen in Virgin Territory and Love and Other Disasters). And must not forget the strong and amusing female lead, Kate Ashfield, seen in another, better known 2004 Brit comedy, Shaun of the Dead).

Fakers is distributed by Indican Pictures, an indie outfit that seems to be on the rise. Indican also distributes another under-exposed Brit gem, Pure, which, like Fakers, stars a very attractive British actress (although that is possibly a politically incorrect reference these days). Guess who? Keira Knightley.

(Full Disclosure: I'm the producer of Dare Not Walk Alone which is also distributed by Indican Pictures and yes, they gave me a complimentary copy of the film.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Natural Beauty

Sometimes I find nature more beautiful than any art.

This is the view down the trail from my house right now. Layla, our Springer Spaniel, is looking back at me, encouraging me to take a walk.

The snow on the branches of the birch trees and maples creates a sort of cathedral over the trail. The silence is wonderful and the air is fresh and clear.

A walk down this trail seldom fails to cheer me up. Layla ventures off to the left and the right, bouncing through snow cover, following deer tracks and turkey tracks, but looking back every fifty feet or so to get my nod to continue or return.

I now have a wider shot of this scene as the wallpaper on my laptop (1280x800). That way I can see it long after the snow melts. If you'd like to try it you can download it here (it is free, licensed under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0, attribute: Stephen Cobb).