Sunday, April 18, 2010

In the Long Run

As someone who grew up in the '70's, the songs of the Eagles are as familiar as my own memories. That's why I found it both thrilling and disorienting to hear those songs of heartbreak and hope, disillusionment and dissipation performed live on stage by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit (along with a boatload of supporting players, including a very nice horn section) at the Hollywood Bowl.

I'm pleased to say that the gentlement put on a great show. Even though we were up in the nosebleed seats (as the photos show), and some distance even from the huge screens along the sides of the venue, we still had plenty to see. Whoever put the tour together took full advantage of the screen at the back of the shell, along with modern hi-def computer projectors, and put on some dazzling graphics that filled the entire shell.

The most impressive use of graphics was for Don Henley's number, "Dirty Laundry." A montage of up-to-the-minute TV footage of Tiger Woods, Octomom, Fox News, Dr. Phil, and various tabloids demonstrated that Henley's 27-year-old attack on the media was as timely as ever.

The band itself was tight (except when circumstances called for them to be loose -- as in Joe Walsh's deliberately-sloppy vocals during "Life's Been Good"). In defiance of the traditional criticism of aging rockers -- that the voice is the first thing to go -- the band started the show with the nearly a capella "Seven Bridges Road"; then, later in the show, they did another a capella piece from their current album. Their harmonies sounded as tight and sweet as they did in the '70's. And while the band performed some songs sitting down, they did not lack for energy. Walsh, in particular, duck-walked and ran around the stage as he ripped his famous chords from his guitar.

The audience certainly showed the lasting appeal of the band's music; it ranged from sixty somethings (in the same age range as the band members) to teenagers. The kids did not appear to have been dragged along; they rocked out to "Witchy Woman," "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," and "In The City" just like their elders.

Some may decry "geezer rock" and say there comes a time to stop acting like an angry kid. But as long as older rockers put on shows like this, I won't be one of them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A week with my iPad

As promised, here are some thoughts on the iPad I bought last week (on which I'm writing this very post, using the onscreen keyboard).

Positives: The screen is gorgeous. Pictures and (non-flash) video are delightful on it. It's particularly useful for streaming video, such as the anime simulcasts on Crunchyroll using the Crunchyroll app (I hope the iPad optimized version of the app comes out soon) and ABC shows (again, using the ABC app).

Negatives: It won't replace a laptop or net book for creating content. The onscreen keyboard is nice and large, but still doesn't replace a physical one-- especially when you have to switch keyboards to pull up numbers or symbols, and when the device limits the keys available (such as when I type in the web browser window, and the device won't give me a spec bar). The limited multitasking and the Balkanization of the apps are also limiting -- each app has a different method for transferring data to and from the iPad and there's no guarantee that stuff pulled in through one app will be available for other apps. It's not as useful for book reading as my Nook; the Nook is lighter, easier to work while handheld, and has that e-ink display that can be read for a longer duration.

Overall, I'm happy with the iPad, and excited to see what app developers will come up with for this new platform.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Dragon Around

"How to Train Your Dragon" is an extremely entertaining 3-D computer animated feature from Dreamworks. The story structure is fairly familiar, but it works, mainly because the characters are, er, three-dimensional -- just what you'd expect from the folks who brought you LILO & STITCH. Plus, the dragon-flying sequences take full advantage of what 3-D at its best can offer.

The only downside: A ticket to the 3-D Imax presentation of the movie at AMC Century City will set you back $20.50 -- $3 more than a 3-D Imax ticket to Avatar. That's a fast way to earn your money back.

Bow a Deer,0,5729332.story

The L.A. Times travel section featured this story about the deer of Nara, Japan, who are considered sacred and are allowed to have their own way all the time. As a result, they're spoiled, and apparently mug visitors for food. They have learned, however, to bow.

My iPad Adventure

As I mentioned in a previous post, when iPads became available for reservation at Apple stores, I reserved one at the Century City Apple Store. The e-mail informed me that I had to pick it up between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. With the media whipping itself into a frenzy about the device, I decided to show up early if I woke up early Saturday morning. I did, and I did. I bicycled over and showed up at Century City around 7:15 a.m.

I headed to the Apple store, where an employee promptly showed up and informed me and the two other folks waiting outside that the actual line was elsewhere. She led us to the line, which was actually all the way across the shopping center plaza from the Apple store -- just west of the pedestrian bridge over Avenue of the Stars. She divided the people there into reserved and non-reserved lines. We in the reserved line had the advantage of a concrete curb (albeit a cold one) to sit on.

Almost immediately, there was a ruckus. Apparently a gentleman in a black sport coat took his place at the front of the unreserved line. Folks at the front of the reserved line stated that they had been there since 6:30 a.m., and this fellow was not there before those just behind him. I didn't listen to all that went on, but he purportedly said something to the effect of what are you going to do about it. The security guard who was present looked disinclined to step in unless blows were thrown, which seemed likely in light of the insults hurled by sleep-deprived, excited Apple fans. Eventually the man relented and went to the back of the line -- a mere seven people back.

A little after 8 a.m., Apple employees hauled out a table and some airpots with coffee, along with condiments, and invited line-folks to indulge. One fellow promptly filled his thermal mug, which earned him an admonishment from an employee.

During the wait, I read the novel BONESHAKER on my Nook. I had prepared myself for catcalls from the Apple faithful for bringing another tablet device to an iPad event. I had nothing to fear. The woman behind me was reading from her Kindle.

As we waited, a man and woman in front of me pulled out a stack of postcards and began distributing them to the crowd. The cards advertised a note-taking app to be released in the future for the iPad. Another fellow in line, who ran a tech blog, interviewed the app developer. Using postcards to advertise electronic apps seemed so, well, 20th Century.

As the 9 a.m. store opening neared, store employees stated they would take the reserved line up in groups of 10. At around 9:45, they would start admitting those in the non-reserved line. They said they had only a few non-reserved iPads, but would be getting a new shipment in mid-day.

I was #9 in line, so I ended up in the first group to be taken to the store. They marched us over. Several group members were taking videos with their iPhones as we walked. The employee charged with our group parked us in front of the store. The store windows, formerly blacked out, were now filled with demo iPads on pedestals, their displays spinning. As we waited, several people tried to join the back of our line; we had to gently tell them that the actual line was far to the east of us.

I joined the folks taking videos -- except that I was using a Droid. Once again, the feared catcalls failed to materialize.

As we waited, employees brought out a selection of cases, from Apple and third-party vendors. We passed these from hand to hand; the poor woman behind me ended up holding a stack of them, which she dutifully passed back to the employee.

Then, we were let in. (The Blogger version of this post has a video of our entrance, which I also posted on Facebook yesterday.)


They let us past a rope one by one. An employee found my name on the reserved list, and pressed me to order accessories. I picked an Apple-made flat case, and a VGA adaptor. She then handed me my iPad, and another employee set it up on an instore computer. The employees directed me to download the iBook app, which is free but for some reason isn't included on the device. I then became the guinea pig for a trainer who was giving iPad tours; he sat me down while he gave his Keynote presentation on the device (complete with canned notes he was reading for the first time). As he talked, I heard repeated rounds of applause for each group of ten customers. The applause was getting less and less enthusiastic as the employees' initial glee started wearing off.

Once I was out of the store, I felt a creeping sense of paranoia about my new acquisition -- and the possibility that an iPad-crazed shopper might swipe it. I stuck it in my backpack and biked home.

How do I like the iPad? Well, I've been using it since yesterday, and I'd like to use it a bit more before I give my opinion. My preliminary take: It's fantastic for consumption; not as useful for creation. After all, I'm typing this on my desktop computer.