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Thoughts from me.
Sunday, July 17, 2005 2:36 am
E-Ink and the sad ongoing tale of the Sony Librie
Currently the exciting (relatively) gadgets are
Other less exciting things:
And the reliable mainstays
Sony has been sitting on the the Librie for about a year now. This is a E-Ink powered black & white ebook reader. Apparently it looks gorgeous and functional. But it is crippled by copy protection. Copy protection done right is acceptable—but the Librie’s is ridiculous. Out of the box it can only display Broad Band eBook files; and not text, HTML or PDF files.

There is an active Yahoo! discussion group devoted to extending the capabilities of the Librie, translating the operating system to English, and allowing other forms of text to display on the screen. Essentially this group exists because Sony has crippled the hardware—for non-technological reasons.

The damn thing is also not widely available worldwide—definitely not off-the-shelf in Australia.

In simplest terms, it looks like Librie is made up of
This combination, in a 300 gram casing, is exciting. The most exquisite piece of hardware is undoubtedly the screen. Digital devices have included card readers, keypads etc. for decades; however the Librie’s screen is much praised and seems technologically unique.

So it is hard to say why Sony is being such a hard-ass about selling this product properly. Is it because:
I think that this is a device with incredible mass-appeal. Cameras and audio players have successfully gone digital. A light robust digital ebook reader is likely to have more mass-appeal that the video/media players that are currently being pushed. PDAs are too small, and Tablet PCs are physically and software-ically too heavy and complex. There is also a vast amount of text content available to users. Text is smaller to download and easier to manage than video is.

The electronics market being what it is, eventually some company will get smart and ebook readers will be ubiquitous. The eBook market may potentially even go the same way as the iTunes Music Store.

But it is a shame that Sony has chosen not to make a land-grab with the first promising device on the market.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005 12:34 am
Podcasting thumbs up (and iFill)
I’ve been using the iTunes podcasting feature daily. Downloading updates every few hours, and then streaming new stuff via Airport Express to the stereo just outside my study area. Very impressive. The podcasting feature is version 1.0 rough-round-the-edges, and I don’t have an iPod yet, but the whole experience is still excellent.

Griffin Technology has a software called iFill that records streams off the net, into files, and then automagically syncs them to an iPod. Nifty—although I do wonder if Apple will incorporate that feature into iTunes. iTunes already has a “Radio” section that is full-featured, but which seems to be ignored. It wouldn’t take much programming muscle to insert a “Record” button beside a radio stream name… 

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005 9:57 pm
Relook at Tom Cruise in The Color of Money
In an effort to forget Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds “performance”, I watched one of my favourite movies The Color of Money on DVD yesterday.

The Color of Money (TCOM) was released almost 20 years ago, and was a sequel to The Hustler which had been made 25 years prior (therefore 45 years ago, yikes). TCOM is not considered one of Martin Scorcese’s better movies. And I suspect the Oscar the Paul Newman won was due to sympathy from the Academy. However, since I watched TCOM at age 13, I always felt it was something special.

Tom Cruise plays one of his first adult “Tom Cruise character” roles—i.e. a cocky brash young man with one exception skill who needs some encouragement (in the form of a mentor, or reminder from a dead father, or a woman, or a war, or Jack Nicholson, or an autistic brother etc) to become someone exceptional by the end of the movie. In this movie, his exceptional skill is pool, or 9-ball.

TCOM was made when TC’s popularity was increasing exponentially—right after he had stripped off his Top Gun flight suit. At such an early part of his career, his acting was still fresh and inspiring; as was the “Tom Cruise character” and the famous smile. His role called for an irritating young prick, and he delivered in spades. And showed star quality far beyond the rest of the Brat Pack (see All The Right Moves, The Outsiders or Risky Business). He even holds his own as an effective foil opposite screen veteran Paul Newman.

I think TCOM shows TC in his element—right before he had to grow up and (fail to) mature. And I’m glad a director other than Tony Scott captured that time.

Just a point about the movie’s ending: TCOM is not the Rocky or Karate Kid of pool. Who wins the final game isn’t the point of the story. The movie is a character study that revolves around the behaviour, changes, manipulations and responses of the 2 lead characters. I’ve often wondered about the ending, and found it unsatisfying for a while. But after re-watching it 20 years later, it made sense that it be a mystery. I disagree that the movie was “building up” to a final confrontation. And I certainly would not want a Director’s Cut, to reveal any alternate ending. That would not make it more satisfying.

Although I am a fan of TC, I do wonder about whether overexposure of any actor makes it harder for him/her to deliver effective performances. I find Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Nicole Kidman, Keanu Reeves, Tom Hanks, Nicholas Cage, and even Kevin Spacey or Jack Nicholson to currently deliver very average performances, while their early work were surprisingly good. 3 of those actors were magnificent in Se7en many years ago, as was Brad Pitt in The River Runs Through It. Nicholas Cage became boring after the action hero era. Robert De Niro is a screen legend, but definitely not because of his recent movies.

Unfortunately the current method of “good acting” starts with the actor simply having a different haircut or a different accent. Or acting as a mental patient.

On the other hand actors who haven’t been bitten by the overexposed “bug”: e.g. Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Otto or Emma Watson—seem to be able to make their characters come alive.

It is possible that this overexposure is an inevitable result of the endless churn movie releases. Or maybe the result of having vast video libraries from which we can see any actor's past performances on crystal clear DVD. IMHO it is unfortunate phenomenon, because movies, and their actors are becoming more tedious and a bore.

[posted with ecto]

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Friday, July 08, 2005 11:32 am
War of the Worlds is not a comedy
War of the Worlds could not commit the first worst sin: “the trailer reveals the whole story”, since it is really a remake. And Independence Day from 9 years ago still lives on in DVD.

However, it does largely commit the 2nd worst sin: “the best parts of the movie are already in the trailers”.

I think Tom Cruise was the very definition of a Hollywood male star—oozing charisma for years on and off the screen since Top Gun. And his movies usually delivers some blockbuster entertainment. Despite the fact that most of his roles are derivatives of the “generic Tom Cruise character”, he fits that role like Arnie fits into the Terminator.

However, like Harrison Ford before him, the variations on the same character have worn out. In WOTW, he is simply Tom Cruise the generic action movie male lead. The start of the movie establishes his macho with a few seconds of crane driving with a joystick, a few seconds of male banter, and then fewer seconds of muscle car driving. After which he switches to a few minutes of caring but useless father role. And then the movie starts.

Unfortunately, even with the destruction of an entire world, the movie turns out to be another vanity project for Cruise. Obviously everything centres around him—he appears in just about every frame. His son and daughter are present simply there to be confronted/comforted by the Cruise-man. Focusing on 2–3 people worked in a movie like Titanic. But at least that movie spent its 3 hours on more than just the survival of 2–3 people. And Leonardo DiCaprio was not shown to be semi-heroic enough to slow the ship sinking.

The movie itself does little better. The script is stilted, and characters move drudgingly between (Cruise-laden) action set pieces. Some bits of action looked quite unique at times. And the special effects were few, but well done and effective.

While I think the choice to emphasise the heroic Cruise-man was a flaw, it was exacerbated by his extra-cinematic activities. With his larger-than-life shenanigans, it was hard to see the movie character as anything but “a TC character”. And usually serious action or scenes generated laughs from the audience. One scene where TC sings a lullaby was particularly painful.

I went into this movie thinking, “Let’s get this movie out of the way. Next please”. I suspect so did the film makers. The result: 5–10 years from now, when people think of alien-invasion movies, Will Smith’s will come to mind; rather than Tom Cruise’s.

[posted with ecto]

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