In re: Good movies – A perfect world?

Getting ready for a trip out west by cleaning up and doing some laundry, while watching the Cavs season opener and poking around the internet.  I came across a video movie review of A Perfect World, a Clint Eastwood movie from the early 90s.  I was surprised to see the review give it really high marks, I had seen it back then and didn’t give too much thought to it but the review made me want to go check it out again as maybe there was more there then when I saw it (I was young then too).  It was strange to see it well regarded by the film critic because I had grouped it in my mind with the movies you just don’t think about.  A link to the review here.  Also speaking of Clint Eastwood, watched Invictus kind of recently, a bit overly sentimental, but possibly the right direction for the movie, enjoyed it a lot (partially because I had just been in South Africa this year and was interested) but also the story wasn’t exactly all about the Rugby and had an interesting focus on the people around Mandela at the start of the post-apertheid South Africa.

In re: Blu-ray – what’s its future?

Article in Silcon Alley Insider talking about “An interesting argument by Paul Sweeting on Content Agenda: Blu-ray needs to stop pretending it’s a revolutionary new format like DVD and start acting like what it is…a minor quality improvement that consumers won’t pay any more for.

The first order of Blu-ray business for 2009 is an adjustment in strategic planning around the format, by both hardware makers and the studios, some of which will happen naturally but some of which will be forced on the industry.

via Blu-ray, Cut Prices Or You’re Toast.

The basic point I think is right, Blu-ray isn’t as mind blowing (too most people, as probably the jump from VHS to DVD (for a number of reasons).  Unlike DVD Blu-ray is also facing immediate competition not from just the previous format (who is still crushing it – upscaling DVDs are still good enough for most HDTV users) but also from streaming content and digital downloads.  If Blu-ray sits around too long it may lose its window.  (Not sure about you, but over 90% of my music purchases are digital downloads, I am now doing a lot of streaming from Netflix)  (“The quality of MP3 files doesn’t match the quality of CDs, let alone DVD-Audio or SACD. But it has become the dominant music format because it met other consumer needs more effectively than the optical disc alternatives.” the article in Content Agenda )

Disclosure – I am still a bit bitter from the content war – went with HD-DVD for several reasons and still think that it had a lot going for it…Oh well.  Gonna wait a while on the Blue.

In re: Late night confession

I might not have mentioned the Wire on here in a long time, probably haven’t thought about it as often as I used to.  So it came as a bit of a surprise a week or two ago I got a late night phone call from a friend of mine, who after having just a  few drinks, decided to call me up and confess that I was right about The Wire being a great TV show (after getting a lot of crap from them about it).  Now to this friends credit he came around and additionally I’ll admit that I did deserve some of the crap for having began a few too many sentenances over the years with ‘so this one time on the Wire’ but anyway at least now they know I wasn’t incrediblely crazy at my excitement over the show.  So my advice to all those who haven’t drank the Kool-Aid and gotten into the Wire, stop wasting time and crack it open… you won’t regret it.

In re: Good bye WOW, Hello TWC and DVR Expander Fun

So if you read the title you probably don’t have a clue what I am talking about here.  Two things, one is I recently changed my cable provider from Wide Open West (WOW) the budget competitor to Time Warner here in Columbus (and other Midwest cities) back to Time Warner Cable (TWC), who despite having had past problems with I decided to go back to due to their better HD lineup (and especially having two HD Olympic channels).  WOW has two tiers of HD and in order to get channels like the Nat’l Geo HD, Discovery Theatre HD and FoodTV HD you pay extra (including for HDNet)  TWC also has the higher tier but it is only for the HDNet type channels which have more of a ‘premium’ feel to them rather than Nat’l Geo which is in their base pack (also Espn2 HD is included which WOW still doesn’t have despite having told me a year ago it was coming ‘soon’).  Anyway, HD is pretty much the only issue I was thinking about, oh and the ability to have a DVR, TWC uses the same POS DVR the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD DVR (some of the major flaws have been upgraded over time) but they use different software (more on this later).

Okay, going to get a bit more technical now so time to turn away for the uninitiated (if you want to understand DVR expansion via external hard drives a simple article in USA Today may help).  One of the reasons the SA 8300HD doesn’t suck is that it has an esata expansion slot that is active on most cable companies implementations these days that allows an external hard drive to expand the meager 160gb (funny that 160gb sounds tiny today…) anyway, when your recording HD you eat through Gigs pretty quickly (20 hours is approx what you’d get).  So I added a 500 gb western digital (My Dvr Expander (pictured)- supposedly optimized for DVR use, some people don’t like the price but it is now available for about the same price as comperable setups).

So I had the external drive setup and working with the Sara software that is running on the SA 8300HD box from WOW, but had read that it would also work with the in house software that Time Warner uses on their boxes these days called Navigator (on a side note, despite the flashy appearance of Navigator, people seem to universally despise the software and many people preferred the Passport software that was previously used by Time Warner (but that they had to pay licensing for).

There are too many reasons this DVR isn’t that great to go into, some of the flaws are the response time is slow (Navigator maybe the slowest software of the three), the features are paltry (Sara for example only can remember the position of the last played program, it is pretty unbelievable that they can’t add a bookmark of where you left off for multiple programs.  If you compare the features of desktop DVR software like SageTV (which I run, but only for basic cable) it is stunning that anyone would use the crap the cable companies push on us.  (Why do you ask don’t I grab a Tivo or a HD Sage box?  Well one thing is due to the crappy nature of Cable Cards and the future of Switched Video the Tivo might not last that long, secondly the cost of a $12 a month plus the cable card rental really adds up, I also would probably be switching to satellite (which Tivo doesn’t support) if I end up living somewhere I can fit a dish so I can get more HDs and more importantly more soccer channels.

Okay, so back to installing the external sata drive with my new TWC SA 8300HD box, like the instructions said, I powered down my DVR, unplugged got the HD connected and let it fly.  Great news, just like I had read on the many forums the Navigator software recognized the drive, but it didn’t ask to format it.  Uh-oh!

The problem seemed to be that my previous Sara SA 8300HD had formatted the drive such that my new DVR didn’t feel the need to format it, but also wouldn’t actually use the drive and so my storage filled up real quick.  I hit the internet pretty hard, searching for ways to reformat the external drive but came up empty, as the Navigator software doesn’t use all of the commands to reformat and reboot that the other software versions (Sara and Passport) do.  I tried all the various resets I could perform, soft reboots, hard reboots, unplugging the drive while running, but no luck.  I tried using my old box to reformat the drive but without a cable connection the old SA 8300HD wouldn’t allow all the reformat commands.

As of today my external hard drive is now working.  How you ask?  Well, some of it was luck, but through all the unplugging, attempting to reformat on the other machine and some hot pluging and disconnecting I think I corrupted the disk enough that my DVR decided it needed to reformat it.  Two minutes later it was done and my remaining space showed that I was now only using 10%.  So despite the flaws of the TWC software and the guide having very little information there are somethings it has that my previous doesn’t, it seems to remember the location of each show you watch.  So at this point, I can’t complain as I can fill my drive to my hearts content with Olympics coverage in HD.

In re: Why We Fight

We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jan. 17, 1961.

200px-why_we_fight.jpgSomehow I missed out on seeing this documentary for a long time, but a weekend spent shoveling (we had 20 inches of snow here hit us in Columbus as the ‘Blizzard of 2008’ swept in Friday afternoon sending half my office home around noon – I live close enough by that I didn’t have to head out to dodge the snow) Anyway, the movie documents the rise of the ‘military-industrial complex’ (a term coined by Eisenhower). While it might not be anything new for the people who watch it (mostly people I would assume who already believe that the major corporations ‘of war’ prop up politicians who in turn give them the wars they need to sell their products). Roger Ebert wasn’t too keen on the film as it didn’t bring anything new, but I still found it pretty compelling (I had thought it more balanced and probably shows my bias as he says that it is a preaching to the choir documentary – like most he suggest).

One story line that is pretty interesting even to Ebert (and I now quote him):

There is one story thread that stands apart, and is compelling. It involves a retired New York cop named Wilton Sekzer. His son died in the 9/11 attacks, and he successfully lobbied the government to put his son’s name on one of the first bombs that was dropped in Iraq. He wanted revenge, and to a degree, he felt like he got it. That was before President Bush observed (some felt rather belatedly) that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had no direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Now Sekzer is bitter: He feels that Bush lied to him, and that his patriotism was manipulated and misused. The story of Sekzer is new, and suited to film. Much of the rest of “Why We Fight” says things that can be said as well or better in print, and have been. This doesn’t need to be a film…(Read his review here)

For someone who didn’t know about Eisenhower’s warnings and wasn’t clear that we always had bases around the world and that it isn’t really normal to spend so much on one’s military I recommend it (and you can catch it right now on Starz on demand if you have it).

In re: Wired in on the Media

The new and final season of The Wire (its fifth) is in full swing already (one episode down, nine to go – although you can watch a week early on HBO inDemand so I am two weeks in). Much has been written on the new season (for those who follow the show that is) by now many find criticism for their favorite characters aren’t getting enough face time (tough to squeeze everyone in when they are adding the newsroom characters as well).

Each season of The Wire has had a focus (street level drug dealing, port workers, politics, schools) and this season finishes up looking at the media (David Simon the shows creator worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun for a long time). Simon brings plenty of his own experiences and gripes with the paper to the show, but it is an interesting subject to deal with in our day and age where new media such as the internet, blogging and 24 hours news channels are eroding the role (and profitability) of print media and especially daily newspapers. Of course new media are providing all kinds of great additions to the mix, but I feel it is important to look carefully at what is being lost as well as more and more local papers close up shop and editorial voices are lost. I do not believe that inherently professional newspaper voices are more important, better informed or more useful then lay journalists who blog, but there is something to be said that the indepth time and resources that journalists and investigative journalists in particular could devote to a subject and the role they have played in our ‘open’ society.

If you haven’t heard of the Wire, you gotta come out of your cave, its an amazing HBO series essentially about Baltimore and the decline of the American inner city – scene through a complex cast that is never clearly right or wrong, almost everyone is a conflicted character – something that TV just doesn’t seem to attempt on most networks (FX has taken the cue and hypes the fact they deal in similar mixed hues in recent ads).

In re: Vendetta

I had not heard of V for Vendetta until recently, but since first hearing about it, it seems to be coming up in multiple contexts, first as coming from the Matrix creators, second I heard it mentioned in my IP class for an actor leaving during filming and being replaced by Hugo Weaving, and most recently in today’s NY Times an article — “The Vendetta Behind ‘V’ for Vendetta” discussing Alan Moore, the British author of the graphic novel the book is based on. Mr. Moore has disassociated himself from the movie, and the comic company who owns the rights and the article is interesting.

While after all of this I still don’t know what to expect, whether it be a matrixesque movie that has both popular appeal, but underlying themes that one wouldn’t expect to find in mass market movies. In the case of V for Vendetta, Mr. Moore’s character is portrayed as both a freedom fighter and a terrorist. It is for this reason I am excited about the movie, in that I feel in our current world where we are dealing with terrorism around the globe, we need to be able to examine that not all terrorism might be as black and white as we like to think. While many don’t want to discuss it, we need to remember that the label of terrorist or freedom fighter is often one of perception. America’s revolutionaries fought using tactics that could have been labeled terrorism for the time, when battle was considered lining up and fighting, in what today would be considered a ridiculous ritual. One would wonder what they would have done if they had bombs and could bring havoc and fright to the streets of London.

So I think addressing the issue is important, which was one reason I thought Paradise Now (see earlier post) was an important movie, despite criticism for ‘humanizing terrorism’ which I felt it did not do. I still think that killing innocent people is unjustifiable, but it can be more complex then just that, in at least understanding motivations, religious indoctrinations and living life under oppression.