On a whim for something silly and fun, Prairie and I went out and saw Bubba Ho-Tep today. It was exactly what we were in the mood for.

Bruce Campbell as Elvis

Bruce Campbell plays an elderly Elvis, spending the last of his days in a retirement home under the name of Sebastian Half, an Elvis impersonator who he switched places with when he got tired of constantly being in the limelight. Along with his friend John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) — also in the retirement home, and now a black man (“They dyed me this color!”) — he has to battle a resurrected Egyptian mummy who is using the retirement home as his personal feeding grounds, sucking the souls out of people so close to death that no-one blinks an eye when they pass on.

BHT was done surprisingly well. While definitely an action/comedy, it did a remarkable job of not taking the camp too far, and instead, taking the time to create real characters that the audience could believe in and empathize with. It may be the best actual acting I’ve seen Campbell do, too. He’s a lot of fun as Ash in the Evil Dead series, but those are so over-the-top that they don’t really feature Campbell the actor, merely Campbell the comedian (not that that’s a bad thing at all, mind you).

Here we have an Elvis facing mortality — questioning leaving show business, losing contact with his wife and daughter, and watching his aging body fall apart. The battle with the mummy is the first thing in years to give him something to live for, and Campbell does a wonderful job of creating the character.

The setting for the movie is brilliant, too. One of the oddities of mummy movies is always that the mummy, as a desiccated corpse, really isn’t the most threatening of monsters, shuffling along after its prey, who never seem to be able to outrun it. By setting the movie in a retirement home, filled with potential victims in wheelchairs and using walkers, suddenly the threat becomes a lot more real.

All in all, well worth the time and money to see, and definitely recommended.

Phil and I got into a conversation this morning (which he’s already mentioned) about the iTunes Music Store and the metadata (ID3 tags such as Artist, Year, Track #, Composer, etc. that are included with each song in iTunes) that they provide.

While I’ve played with it a bit, I don’t see myself becoming a big user of the iTunes Music Store for one very simple reason — their metadata doesn’t meet my standards. Specifically, the “Year” field is often wrong (for instance, Meat Loaf‘s ‘Bat Out of Hell’ is tagged as 2003, when it was re-released, rather than 1977, when it was originally released), and for the majority of the tracks on the store, the “Composer” field is empty — the Classical genre is the only time the Composer field seems to be used consistently.

Now, I fully recognize that for 95% (at least) of the population, this isn’t going to be a major thing at all. As long as the Artist, Album, and Track Name are there and correct, we should be happy, right? Well, sure, for most people. I’m just in that 5% who are picky (ahem…anal) about this (and it’s certainly not limited to my music, as I tend to be quite meticulous about keeping my books and movies alphabetized, and sometimes broken down by genre).

Part of why I like having all that information available is just the amount of different searches that can be done when it’s all in and entered correctly — and when you’re dealing with a music library that is upwards of 80Gb, emcompassing over 10,000 different tracks from around 1,200 CDs, that can be important!

To use one of the examples I gave Phil, Al Jourgensen has been active in a ton of different industrial groups over the years, including Ministry, the Revolting Cocks, Lard, and many, many others. As long as I have the Composer field entered correctly, then I can do a quick search through my library for “Jourgensen” and instantly I’ve got a list of every track in my collection that he’s worked on.

Another example: Bob Dylan has written an incredible amount of music, much of which has been covered by many different artists over the years. Suppose I felt like listening to all the covers of Bob Dylan tracks I had in my collection. Without good metadata, it’s not happening — but with the metadata, I can set up a smart playlist using the terms “Arist does not include Dylan, Composer includes Dylan”, and I’ve got a list of Dylan songs performed by anyone but the man himself.

As far as the Year field goes, I like to keep smart playlists for each decade — I touched on this briefly earlier this month — or just be able to sort a listing of songs chronologically. Having the correct year in the metadata is necessary for this, and years that are off can be pretty jarring (for instance, listening to a modern music playlist and suddenly having 25-year old rock could be a little odd).

So that’s why I have some of the habits I do (well, ignoring the deep-seated childhood psychological trauma), and why I’m not likely to use the iTMS for much more than occasionally grabbing a track to replace a scratched section of one of my CDs. I may use it for expanding my classical collection — I just bought a great collection of Bach‘s Brandenburg Concertos last week — but that’s probably going to be the extent of it for now.

What to do to fix that (and send more of my money Apple’s way)? Well, Phil and I batted this one about for a couple minutes. I’ve looked into this a bit in the past, and it seems that Apple doesn’t really have a lot of control over what metadata is and isn’t present for the songs in their store. If I’m remembering correctly, all encoding and tagging is done by the studios themselves, then provided to Apple for inclusion in the iTMS. So sniping at Apple isn’t likely to do much good, and it would likely be a bit beyond my ken to start harassing each of the various studios to pay attention to these little details (especially when, as I stated before, most people couldn’t give a flying fig about things like this).

The best case scenario, I think, is one that Phil mentioned: if Apple treated the iTMS library’s metadata in a similar fashion to the Gracenote CDDB (this is the service that iTunes connects to in order to automatically discover album information when you put a CD into your computer). With the CDDB, all information in the database can be updated by the users — if you put a CD into your computer and notice that some of the information is incorrect, you can make the edits and then re-submit the updated information back to the CDDB, essentially creating a self-updating and self-correcting public service.

If Apple could implement something like this for the iTMS, I’d be thrilled. Logistically, it’s a bit of a quandry, though, as it would likely need to include some sort of moderation to prevent someone submitting information for an album with every track titled “tHIz ALBum SuXX0Rzz!!!!!” or something equally intelligent. That extra added overhead creates more work for Apple, and as the iTMS is currently running in the red, Apple probably isn’t going to be anxiously looking for ways to put more money in for a feature that only 5% or less of its users are going to care about.

My suggestion, then, would be to create something akin to an “iTMS Pro” service. For, oh, \$5 a month (billed directly to the credit card already registered with the iTMS), an “iTMS Pro” subscriber could edit and submit information on tracks in the iTMS library, correcting information that might have been entered badly the first time (I’ve already noticed the occasional dropped space or inconsistent naming conventions), or adding information that wasn’t included, such as the Composer field. The information would still probably need to go through some sort of moderation process at Apple, but limiting the editing ability to people who were willing to pay the slight extra bit of money would weed out casual pranksters, and provide a few extra dollars to Apple to pay for that moderation process.

Is this going to happen? Oh, I seriously doubt it. But if it did, I’d be sure to sign up.

I like my metadata.

iSight screencapture

So I went and got myself a new toy today — Apple’s iSight webcam. I haven’t done a ton of playing with it so far, but from what I have done, it’s quite the nifty little addition to my arsenal of toys.

The packaging is up to Apple’s usual standards of excellence. The box unfolds in half to reveal all the pieces: the iSight itself, a plastic carrying case, and three types of stands (one for sticking to the top of a CRT, one for sticking to the back of an LCD screen, and one for clipping to the top of a PowerBook). A FireWire cable is included, packaged underneath the camera.

Setting it up is incredibly simple — plug it in. Instantly, iChat recognizes it, and you’re ready to go!

I didn’t have anyone online who I could test a two-way video chat with, but I was able to test a one-way video chat (me broadcasting, them receiving) with audio going both directions, and it worked fine. The iSight has a microphone built in, so no extra cables or pieces are required to get the audio portion of the chat working.

After playing with iChat for a bit, I bounced into Yahoo! Messenger for a few moments. While Y!M doesn’t have anywhere near the speed or quality that iChat does, and doesn’t support voice chat on the Mac, it was able to recognize the iSight and allow for video/text chatting with other Y!M users without a hitch.

All in all, I’m quite impressed. It may not be the most practical toy that I could have picked up — especially with so few other iChat/iSight users in my sphere of influence at the moment — but it’ll be quite handy to have around at those times when I can take advantage of it.

UPDATE: Please take the time to read my followup post, Fifteen Minutes of Fame, for my thoughts on what happened after I posted this picture, why it happened — and most importantly, why I don’t blame Microsoft for their actions. Thanks!


It looks like somebody over in Microsoft land is getting some new toys…

Microsoft's shipment of G5s come in

I took this shot on the way into work on the loading dock (MSCopy, the print shop I work in, is in the same building as MS’s shipping and receiving). Three palettes of Dual 2.0Ghz G5’s on their way in to somewhere deep in the bowels of Redmond. Hopefully they’re all in good condition when they arrive — the boxes are slick enough that a few of them took a bit of a tumble (you can see them back in the truck)!

Apple Panther paw

There’s a glowing review of Apple’s new version of OS X (10.3, or ‘Panther’) in the New York Times today by David Pogue. A few things in the article jumped out at me.

First off, I love the logo they came up with to illustrate the story.

Then, in the first paragraph: “Hackers and academics have uncovered one Windows security hole after another, turning Microsoft into a frantic little Dutch boy at the dike without enough fingers.”

About the new ‘sidebar’ in the Finder, Pogue says that, “In effect, the Sidebar lets you fold up your desktop so that any two icons appear side-by-side, no matter how far apart they actually are in your folder hierarchy.” All of a sudden, I really want to rename the Finder ‘tesseract’.

And lastly, one of the last paragraphs comparing Apple’s OS philosophy to Microsoft’s sums it all up wonderfully.

Finally, surely there’s value in using an operating system that, well, isn’t Windows. Mac OS X isn’t just free of viruses; it’s also free from copy protection, “activation” (a Windows XP feature that transmits information about your PC back to Microsoft), and pop-up messages that nag you to sign up for some Microsoft database or clean up your icons. When you use Mac OS X, you feel like it’s yours; when you use Windows, you feel as though you’re using someone else’s toys, and Mrs. Microsoft keeps peeking in on you.

I’d never heard this before, but it turns out that Dr. Seuss spent a couple years as a political cartoonist — and there’s a website that collects all of his published political cartoons.

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991) was a life-long cartoonist: in high school in Springfield, Massachusetts; in college at Dartmouth (Class of 1925); as an adman in New York City before World War II; in his many children’s books, beginning with To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937). Because of the fame of his children’s books (and because we often misunderstand these books) and because his political cartoons have remained largely unknown, we do not think of Dr. Seuss as a political cartoonist. But for two years, 1941-1943, he was the chief editorial cartoonist for the New York newspaper PM (1940-1948), and for that journal he drew over 400 editorial cartoons.

Looking through them, it’s fascinating how dated some of the cartoons are, while others seem just as relevant today. Neat stuff.

(via Mike Wedland)