Movies, Books, Music, Etc

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

  07/31/14 10:30, by , Categories: Books

This book was interesting and kept me engaged the whole time I was reading it. I did tend to skim some sections, though. Sometimes it was because the ins and outs of furniture restoration were being described or periods of drug use resulted in stream-of-consciousness-type prose. Other times it was because the story was exciting and I couldn't wait to find out what happened. I have very mixed feelings about the book because I didn't like the main character, but the self-reflection at the end of the story may have been worth it. I'm not sure.

There were a few nitpicky things that bothered me in the writing. The author is very detail-oriented about so many things, but it took me out of the story when she tried to convey teenagers texting. Not only does no one text like that ("He only likes 2go 2 3mpty rstrnts where nobody goes"), but this story is supposed to be reconstructed by journal entries from the main character. Why would a teen transcribe the "txt-speak" instead of writing the gist of the conversation? Also, someone should let the author know that restarting your computer does not clear your browser history, no matter how many times you restart it.

I was really affected by this story. At a particularly low point in the main character's life, I found myself in a bad mood for most of the day. I laughed out loud pretty hard at a few things. I was shocked by some turns of events. The end of the book gave me a lot to think about.

Overall, I think I had a love/hate relationship with this book. There were things I really liked and things I really disliked. I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but I wouldn't say I didn't like it, either.

Noah

  04/05/14 03:12, by , Categories: Movies, Action, Drama

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

All right, let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. This movie is not Biblically accurate.

  • In the film, Noah's sons don't have wives. This is actually used as a major plot point. Ham is really worried about the fact that he won't have a wife after the flood.
  • God doesn't speak to Noah in words, but through visions.
  • The bad guy stows away on the ark. Which leads to Ham teaming up with him and someone getting killed.
  • After the flood, Noah does not make a sacrifice to the Creator.
  • Noah doesn't curse Ham for his actions while Noah was drunk.

When Noah recounts the story of how the Creator made everything, evolutionary creation is shown. There are many who feel strongly that the creation account in the Bible should be taken literally, so that scene will probably rub them the wrong way.

I've read some reviews that take exception with the movie's portrayal of Noah as a vegetarian. The truth is, the Bible does say that God didn't permit man to eat meat until after the flood. (Genesis 9:3)

Of course, there are liberties taken which we can't possibly know if they are accurate or not. Was Methuselah a man of God who guided Noah and performed miracles? Did Noah and his family use incense to put the animals to sleep while they were on the ark? Anyone making a movie based on this story would have to fill in some of the blanks to make it worth watching. I mean, Noah doesn't even have any dialog in the Biblical account.

The biggest thing people notice that the movie added to the story was the group of giant rock creatures called Watchers that help Noah build the ark and fight off bad guys. A Watcher is actually a type of angel mentioned in the book of Daniel chapter 4. It is a Watcher (sometimes translated Messenger) that appears to Nebuchadnezzar in a vision.

The books of Enoch (referenced by Jude and likely known by first century Jews) spend a lot of time talking about the Watchers. The movie presents an unlikely representation of them, though. The huge rock creatures might have been inspired by the line "place upon [them] rough and jagged rocks" in 1 Enoch 10:5. But the text says there were 200 of them and they produced offspring with human women. There are only about 10 Watchers in the movie and it seems impossible that they could mate with humans. The story of the Watchers isn't represented correctly according to the books of Enoch in many other ways, but those are the two initial glaring inaccuracies I noticed.

Overall, I feel that the writer did his research on the story of Noah, then picked the elements that he found most compelling and tweaked some facts to create his idea of a great cinematic experience. That being said, I think he preserved most of the themes of the Bible story. Man's betrayal of the Creator. The wickedness of all mankind. The judgment visited on the world because of man. Noah's trust in God. How God provides for his children. All of these themes are included in the movie. Not only are they there, but they are powerfully presented.

This movie portrays the horrors of the story that are often ignored. God wiped out all life on the Earth. It's one thing to acknowledge that and another to see people climbing on top of each other, trying to stay above the water as the land disappears beneath them. This wasn't just a story of cute animals and a kind, smiling man on a boat. Every kind of snake was on the ark and the flood was a distressing event for Noah and his family.

The film also examines the human struggle with God's will and character. Noah struggles with what he feels is a lack of guidance from God. It is not outside the limits of the human mind for Noah to come to the conclusion that God wants all humans dead. He sees the wickedness in the world outside, but he also recognizes the evil living within each of his family members. He knows that God desires righteousness. Mankind has failed and now deserves to be wiped out. Why should his family be spared that judgment? Noah looks for a sign from God that his family should be spared, but there isn't one. God leaves him to discover on his own that there is goodness within humanity worth saving. Just because the Creator isn't communicating directly with Noah, that doesn't mean he's not going to learn how to carry out His will.

There were more changes to the story than I feel were necessary. Nevertheless, it was a thought-provoking film in the best possible way. The questions it raises, the themes it portrays, and the God it alludes to are not misleading.

Ignoring the Biblical aspect of it for a moment, this was a really great film. The acting, visual effects, and drama were all exceptional. It tugged at my emotions and made me care about the characters. It made me think about the motivations for their actions and relate to them. The concepts of love, confusion, dedication, and betrayal were explored with believability.

But there's no getting around the fact that it is supposed to be based on a Bible story. If you can ignore the factual inaccuracies and appreciate the conceptual veracity, I think you will enjoy this film. On the other hand, if it bothers you that the writer twisted some of the details, you won't be able to get past them. You would spend the whole movie thinking about how wrong they got so many things.

I can't fault anyone for skipping Noah, but if you are curious I encourage you to give it a go. It's quite a ride.

The problem(s) with MOG's catalog

  09/26/12 00:10, by , Categories: Music

If you’ll recall, back in April I decided to sign up with MOG as my music subscription service. It’s turned out to be a love/hate relationship (but mostly love).

Today, one aspect of their service finally bugged me enough that I decided I had to document how ridiculous it is: MOG cannot seem to get it’s catalog data straight.

Why Metadata Matters

Let me start by telling you a little about my music habits. I might seem a little OCD when it comes to music. My cd collection is in alphabetical order. Before I was a music service subscriber, I had about 50 GB of mp3s on my hard drive organized in almost 1,000 folders. The top level folders were named by artist and each subfolder was named according to date and album title. Whenever I acquired some new music, I would edit the metadata to be as correct as I could. I only listened to my music through programs that would log each listen to last.fm. I often check my last.fm page to examine the trends in my music. One of the features of MOG that drew me to it was it’s integrated logging to last.fm.

That’s an overview of what correct music metadata means to me.

What other purposes does MOG’s catalog accuracy serve? First, it allows listeners to find music. MOG may have a specific artist a user is looking for, but if the artist doesn’t turn up in the search results, it provides a negative experience for the user. Secondly, I assume it allows MOG to know who to pay for a user listening to the song. I think both of these should probably be high on their list of priorities.

Now that I’ve laid out both the personal and corporate importance of having an organized and correctly tagged catalog, let me present my experience with the catalog since signing up with MOG.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

MOG has an Editor’s Picks section on their app where I saw an old favorite of mine that I hadn’t listened to in a long while. I clicked on it and was not impressed to see this:

Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

The exclamation mark in the band’s name is supposed to follow the word “you", not the word “emperor.” This is easily verifiable. EDIT: Turns out the exclamation mark was originally at the end of the band name. It was moved to the middle for the release of their last album, which MOG does not have in their catalog.

The album and tracks are named incorrectly. This is easily verifiable by going to the band’s own website.

Track listing for the album

When I listen to the track which should be labelled “Storm” by the band called “Godspeed You! Black Emperor”, MOG is telling last.fm that I listened to a track called “Gathering Storm” by “Godspeed You Black Emperor!” This messes with my listening history and last.fm’s metrics.

I had an email exchange with MOG’s catalog team back in May where I asked them to fix the tags and about two weeks later they let me know that they would take care of it. This mislabeling still exists.

Shovels & Rope

This one is a bit of a success story.

On July 31, Shovels & Rope released a new album, but MOG had it listed under a band called The Shovels. When I added the tracks to my queue, some of the songs were attributed to The Shovels and others were attributed to Rope.

I emailed the catalog team about the issue and received a prompt response that they would work on getting that music. It would take about two weeks and depending on the circumstances they might not be able to get the music. I replied that they already had the music, they just needed to fix the data. I quickly received an response that included an apology about skimming over my initial email and a notice that the issue had been re-categorized for resolution.

Two weeks later, the data was corrected.

Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics

On September 5, Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics released a new album called “It’s About Time.” MOG had this listed under just Ruby Velle. It was still easy to find because the full artist name started with her name. But when I added the tracks to my queue, some of the tracks where attributed to Ruby Velle and others were attributed to The Soulphonics.

I shot off an email notifying MOG of the issue and they replied that they would investigate and update.

Now, when you search for Ruby Velle, you only see “Soulphonics & Ruby Velle” which is the name under which the group released some material in 2010. But the new album is nowhere to be found.

If you search for The Soulphonics, you get two albums by an unrelated band called simply The Soulphonics. But wait! What’s this? There are tracks listed at the bottom from “It’s About Time"!

Could it be?

When you click on one of those tracks, it takes you to the album you were looking for. And the artist shows as Ruby Velle, the name that produced zero results in an earlier search. Now get this: when you queue the songs up, they are attributed to The Soulphonics.

Ellie Goulding

This is the straw that broke the camel’s back and led me to write this post.

When you go to Ellie Goulding’s artist page in MOG, it has “Anything Could Happen", her new single listed. When you add it to your queue, it attributes the song to The London Community Gospel Choir. There is no discernible relation between this song and this artist!

MOG isn’t the only one with this particular problem, though. A Google search for the London Choir and Ellie Goulding provides many websites that attribute “Anything Could Happen” to the wrong artist.

Spotify

I tried creating a playlist on Spotify out of all of these same tracks to see what their data looked like.

No godspeed, ruby velle has screwed up tags

Spotify doesn’t even have the Godspeed You! Black Emperor album that I wanted, so MOG definitely has that going for it. Ellie Goulding and Shovels & Rope are both correct. “It’s About Time” was easy to find, but the artist data is duplicated for some reason.

Conclusion

I love MOG, but sometimes the ones we love drive us bonkers. If this post accomplishes nothing else, I hope it spurns the MOG catalog team to be more pro-active about correcting bad data.

1 comment »

Music Subscription Services

  04/10/12 13:11, by , Categories: Music

I decided to go legit with my excessive music consumption habit. No longer downloading willy-nilly with disregard for the pockets of musicians, I set out to find a streaming service to fit my needs. I wanted access to a large collection of high quality music from wherever: work, home, car, friend’s house, etc. I also wanted Last.fm integration, so I could still keep track of my listening habits/history.

I tried three different services for about a week and a half. These are my findings.

Rhapsody

Pros:

  • No software download required. (Download available for PCs.)
  • Gapless playback.
  • Has all but the first Project 86 album.
  • New releases are available earlier.
  • Allows storage on PC.

Cons:

  • Limits your mobile devices to 1 or 3 (based on service tier).
  • No Last.fm support, though there are 3rd party apps for scrobbling from the Rhapsody RSS feed.
  • Can’t download music to microSD card, must use internal phone storage.

MOG

Pros:

  • No software download required. (Download available for PCs/Macs.)
  • Integrates with Last.fm.
  • 320 kbps streaming and downloads.
  • Unlimited number of mobile devices.
  • Extremely easy to build a library of downloaded music on mobile devices.

Cons:

  • Streams are not pre-cached, so there is no gapless playback for web or PC and returning from a paused state isn’t instantaneous in the web player.
  • Doesn’t display time remaining for currently playing song.
  • Android app is not optimized for tablets. Cannot rotate display to landscape mode.
  • Doesn’t have first three Project 86 albums.
  • Can’t download music to microSD card, must use internal phone storage.
  • Can’t download music to PC.

Spotify

Pros:

  • Really slick Last.fm integration.
  • Gapless playback.
  • Has all but the first Project 86 album.
  • Allows storage on microSD card.
  • Allows storage on PC.

Cons:

  • Requires software download.
  • Wants to put itself on your Facebook timeline. Two options: Grant Access or Log Out. I clicked the X.
  • Started playing a song, then clicked “Play Queue” and it crashed. Might be related to not granting access to Facebook.
  • To make music available offline, you have to create a playlist and then edit the playlist to be available in offline mode. In MOG, you can just select a song, album or artist and add it to your download library.
  • 160 kbps streaming.

The Winner

I ended up going with MOG. Rhapsody’s lack of Last.fm support and device limit dissuaded me from using their service. Spotify’s playlist-centric functionality made them unpalatable for me. I like listening to full albums straight through; I only create playlists when I want to share a variety of music with others.

MOG gives me high-quality music that I can manage and track. There are a host of things I would like to change about the service, but the development team seems to be active and always looking to improve. It fits my needs the best and, hopefully, it will only get better.

Zhena's Gypsy Tea - Ambrosia White Plum

  11/24/09 10:26, by , Categories: Food

Ambrosia White Plum

Just finished off a tin of this stuff. I went through it faster than most and I now realize it’s because I chose this tea over the others in my collection more often than not.

The mixture of the green and white teas puts it at the right level of strength. The plum and strawberry flavors are a nice compliment. I usuallt don’t add any sugar or artificial sweeteners to my tea, so it’s possible that a large factor in the overall taste of this tea is the inclusion of stevia leaf. Stevia is a natural sweetener with zero calories. Another excellent aspect of this tea is that it is 100% organic. I’m a sucker for organic products.

I highly recommend picking up a tin of Ambrosia White Plum next time you are looking for a new tea to try out. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

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