Saturday, May 06, 2006
I've been having a lot of fun these past few weeks with Pandora. It's free streaming radio that you design yourself.
Just go to www.pandora.com, and start typing in artists and/or songs that you like. You'll start hearing music. Give the thumbs up or thumbs down, keep refining the artist selections and winnowing Pandora's tastes to match your own, and you will discover a lot of new artists and songs. You can even send your station to your friends.
The taste-matching process is a lot more sophisticated than the TiVo or Amazon matrices, thanks to something called the Music Genome Project, which involves professional musicians grading each individual song on hundreds of different criteria each. The evaluation process takes from 30 to 40 minutes per song, and the results are impressive.
Give Pandora a try. You can stream music from the perfect radio station: yours.
Friday, May 05, 2006
So remember the great Simpsons episode where Homer is competing with Daryl Strawberry for a spot on the power plant baseball team? And he asks Strawberry, "Are you better than me?" And Strawberry says, "Well, I've never seen you play, but yes."
In the first half of American Inventor last night, a game called Word Ace vied against two other inventions for a spot in the final four. I still have no idea how Word Ace is played. Yet I was convinced from the start it had to win. That's how awful the other two inventions were.
One was an exercise belt with strings. The inventor was clever enough to do the old IBM thing of splitting the work between two competing design teams. But he was stupid enough to have them chase the same design. (D'oh!)
The second inventor was the woman with alopecia ("gentille alopecia") who stuck a dress shield in her wig ("and called it macaroni"). She gathered a focus group of apparently predominantly flamboyant gay men to suggest who else might like to put tampons in hatbands ("and whiskers on kittens").
"Policemen!" hissed one. "Firemen!" cooed another. "Army men!" lisped a third. "Indian Chiefs!" purred a fourth. (Okay, I may be exaggerating.)
Anyway, as much as we all love pulling strings from our belts or putting maxi-pads in our hats, they really can't compete with a game that actually teaches children to read. So the belt guy goes home to his hot girlfriend, and Alopecia McBeal goes home to Wisconsin, presumably to put dress shields in cheese-hats.
The second half is tougher, because all the inventions are good. There's a toilet seat that stops the spread of bacteria, which is awesome... but it's inventor is a loathsome magician, whose only redeeming feature is his unbelievably sweet, supportive (and can-tastic) wife.
There is a remarkably charming and capable woman who invented a multi-million dollar idea: a clip that keeps ladies' room doors closed. The judge tells her to turn it into a whole "bathroom kit." Then when one of the other judges complains that she went too big with the concept, judge #1 stays remarkably mum. Still, she should be very proud, she out of all the contestants on the show was the most professional, and I think she stands to make the most money.
But come on: the third invention saves childrens' lives. And as I said at the beginning, if this car seat is for real -- and so far, so good -- it should go all the way.
But still, kids should play Word Ace every day.
And one more thing: Remember in Airplane!, when Leslie Nielsen kept poking his head into the cockpit to wish them luck? I thought of that when, for each of the six inventors, someone would pull the string in the middle of Mary Lou's back and she would say, with the same inflection and the same zombified, silver-dollar eyes, "[inventor's name here]... Why you?"
If it's advice you've heard before, it's worth hearing again. If it's new advice, it's great advice:
Never click on links in emails from people you don't know.
If your bank (or eBay or Paypal) sends you an email that your account requires attention, it's probably a scam. If you want to be sure, open your browser and type in your bank's URL yourself. Anyone can make a fake link that takes you to a fake website that looks real. Don't be fooled.
Please, never open attachments in strange emails. Never download files in strange emails. Never download programs in emails, even if they come from your mother.
And never click on links in emails from people you don't know... really well.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
I briefly tried both ABC's and CBS's online offerings today, just to get the flavor of each.
The clear winner of the two was ABC.com. The dreamy interface made selecting Lost or Alias easy... although I was definitely aware I was streaming, and not in control. And I really wanted to go full-screen. Still, you can't beat the price: free.
CBS.com's new service, Innertube, crashed Firefox and Safari on my Mac, and Firefox and Opera on my PC, so I have no idea if it's any good. At crashing it's great. Still, they're very new, so we'll cut them some slack.
My favorite is still NBC and ABC on iTunes. I like the quality, the portability, the pause and rewind, and I don't mind paying for it.
I know, it feels so weird to say that. It is, after all, the very worst show on television. And I'm not even remotely a fan of Rosie's.
But there is something to be said for putting someone mentally unstable on that panel.
It is only a matter of time before she bitch-slaps Star Jones, or gets up out of that chair and slugs Elisabeth Whatsername right across her smug little chops, and I will be right in front of my TV when that happens.
If you live in the L.A. area, you can take your dog for a walk with a lot of his neighbors this Sunday.
It's the annual Walk for the Underdog, sponsored by Petco and Petsmart, and it raises money for dozens of charities that care for orphaned dogs. Registration starts at 10 am at the La Brea Tar Pits, and this year there will be a huge adoption fair to go with it, with hundreds of great dogs looking for homes. So if you don't have a dog, maybe now's the time to make a new friend.
There will be live music, a silent auction, and above all, lots of dogs!
(And gentlemen, if you're looking for a reason to go, I believe the picture above, from last year's Walk, speaks for itself. Remember, nothing impresses a lady like overpaying for something at a charity auction!)
If you would just like to make a donation, or want more details, you can go to www.walkfortheunderdog.com.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
She was just tracking Iran's nuclear weapons program. As reported by MSNBC's David Shuster on Hardball and elsewhere last night, and by Larisa Alexandrovna on RawStory.com earlier this year, when Plame and everyone she works with was outed by the White House, for political reasons, our ability to monitor nuclear proliferation was "significantly hampered." "The administration's ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged as well."
You know the drill. I love Katharine, hate Paris, on the fence about Elliott. All of their second songs were worlds better than their first, IMHO. Paris murdered one of my favorite songs, perhaps forever. Honey, I've heard Prince, Tom Jones and the Art of Noise. You ain't Prince, Tom Jones and the Art of Noise.
(Also, "to be my boy" doesn't rhymye with "world." Just grow up and sing "girl" ferchrissake.)
Chris sang "Renegade" which, coupled with his earlier Creed performance, proves he is the best singer with the worst CD collection in the world.
Simon's right. Taylor is, as always, like someone's drunk uncle got hold of the mike at a wedding. Plus someone should tell him there's a point at which paisley gets so big it becomes planaria.
If there is a Supreme Being, Paris will be taken out behind the barn tonight. But I have a feeling poor Elliott will instead feel the wrath of Cingular.
Monday, May 01, 2006
I am an avid gamer, but I long ago gave up on Nintendo. Fair or not, my perception was that the company was too focused on what my 10-year-old self would have called "baby games." I like to play games like Burnout and GTA, and I just don't see those blending into the Gamecube universe.
Nintendo's next-gen box, presumed to bring Nintendo into the 21st Century, has finally had its official name revealed. The name of the console that will take on the Xbox 360 and the PS3 is:
As in taking a wii wii.
Will the next Nintendo handheld be called "Poopypants"?
Sunday, April 30, 2006
There is a major metropolitan newspaper here in Los Angeles that will make your life a living hell if you cancel your subscription. They will call you morning, noon, and night for the rest of your life, doing whatever needs to be done to make you so miserable that you will beg them to let you pay them to drop a wet plastic bag on your driveway.
I've found another way.
I have subscribed to this newspaper for years without getting a paper or paying or getting a call or speaking to a human.
It's called Vacation Hold.
I discovered it two years ago, when I wanted to cancel, but found out I couldn't do it online. I needed to call them. I realized that meant I'd have to hear a sales pitch, and if I still cancelled I'd probably go onto a "CALL THIS GUY FOREVER" list.
So instead I just went to the Subscriber Services part of the website and put myself on a six-month vacation hold. The website asked if I wanted to hold my billing or donate my paper. I selfishly chose to hold my billing.
Six months later, the paper showed up, soggy, in the middle of the street in front of my house.
So I went back online and chose another six-month vacation hold.
Two years now. No calls. No paper. No charge. And when someone outside Vons asks me if I want to subscribe, I can honestly say, "No, thanks, I already do!"
Yes, that's right, if you managed to sit through the chewed-up-and-vomited-out first hour of American Inventor, you got to see the endless second hour. It's like getting hit in the face with a hammer so relentlessly you're grateful for herpes.
The centerpiece of the hour was the creation of the black female Chuckie doll. Its pleasing world rhythms are just the right mask for the evil killing spree to come.
This episode of American Inventor pitted two non-inventors against an inventor, and the suspense was whether the mentally unbalanced judge would select the deserving candidate or one of the other knuckleheads.
One "invented" a friggin' doll. Yes, that's right, a doll. (I know, you can't invent a doll, but play along.) The doll says, "Friends forever" over and over again, but it doesn't say it as nicely as Chuckie used to.
Also the doll is not as sinister as the inventor woman is, as she gapes at the panel of judges with a "Well? Well? Well?" look after each thing the doll does and says. For some reason this woman thinks the doll shits ice cream. It's just a doll.
The problem is she invented the first multicultural doll twenty-some-odd years ago, locked herself in her basement until she perfected it, then emerged, blinking at the sunlight, to unveil her masterpiece. Super. What if I locked myself in my basement twenty years ago to invent a machine the size of a deck of cards that holds a thousand songs? If I come out today, should a panel of judges indulge my fantasy, or break it to me gently that I've wasted my life?
The other guy -- who seems very nice -- has invented a portable exercise system that isn't very portable. It also isn't very safe, since it injured the first tester. But he's got a lot of heart and passion, which is all you need on American Inventor.
The third guy invented a new kind of bicycle! In a sane world, the contest would have been over in two minutes. But this dragged on forever, because the judge in charge was certifiably insane and there was no telling what she might do. There was about a ten percent chance she would select one of the walls as the winner... That's how crazy this bitch is.
But (SPOILER AHEAD if you care) she picked the only inventor in the bunch, and the inventor woman went home to be murdered by her doll, and the nice old guy went home to be crippled by his unsafe exercise system.
Next week, an "all-new" show. How many old clips will there be, I wonder?