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Category Archives: better living

“Pop!” goes the weasel.

I am a huge fan of free music downloads. I regularly scour the web looking for undiscovered gems. My taste in music varies widely, and so there’s never a shortage of great music available for free (and legally!) as artists strive to make themselves known. A couple of great resources include bandcamp.com and noisetrade.com as well as makeuseof.com who puts out a list of 10 or so free downloads every Sunday.

Today, spurred by a discussion on Reddit, I decided to check bandcamp for classical music. Thats when I stumbled on this awesome orchestra. Their symphonic covers of current pop music actually makes me appreciate some songs that I wouldn’t otherwise give a second listen  I find them reminiscent of the 101 Strings Orchestra that always has a special place on my CD shelf.  I just felt the need to share.

Enjoy.

Aston

The new face of 101 Strings?

 

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in better living, cheap, free, internet, music

 

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A New Toy!


Brother Deluxe 750TR

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2011 in better living, quality

 

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My First Typecast

 

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Posted by on July 2, 2011 in better living, quality

 

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Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little BrotherLittle Brother by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always treated books much the same way I treat movies; the more popular it is, the less inclined I am to check it out. A couple of years ago, when Little Brother was still a new book, the hype was quite prominent, and I avoided reading it. Recently, I saw this nice hardbound copy at my local Goodwill, and figured it might be worth dropping $2 to check it out. I already had a free digital copy sitting on my e-reader taking up space until some unknown later date, but I thought a bound copy might be nice. Having the physical book in hand, I cracked it open to read a few paragraphs. Then I burned through the book, quickly (at least for me).

One of the blurbs on the dust jacket calls it an “important” book, and I’m inclined to agree. Somewhat familiar with Doctorow through sites like boingboing, I knew he was a tech savvy guy, but I was thoroughly impressed with his ability to readily break down some pretty complex technology into layman’s terms. His descriptions of how surveillance can be misused and applied as an invasion of privacy under the guise of protection was both frightening and all too familiar in a world that has trouble drawing the line between terror and freedom.

I’m recommending this book to everyone I know, not so much for it’s mostly believable plot, not for it’s fun and identifiable characters, or even for it’s great use of suspense. No, I’m recommending it because it’s a great reminder to remain vigilant when privacy and personal information is concerned.

I found the ending to be a bit rushed, and the characters to be a bit naive from time to time, but then I have to remember this is a YA novel and I might not totally identify with the protagonist on too many levels, being in my mid-30’s.

Any flaws in the book were really quite marginal, at best, and I heartily recommend everyone read this book–if just for the concepts presented within.

View all my reviews

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in better living, review

 

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Movie Challenge: #81-100 Conclusion


Before I begin this final installment of my 200 Movie Challenge, I’d like to talk a bit about the challenge itself. When I conceived of the idea, my original estimate was that I would be be able to comfortably squeeze in 100 movies in a year. TWGW suggested that 200 should be more of a challenge. Not one to back down easily, I decided she was right, and thus the 200 Movie Challenge was born.

As you may, or may not recall, my original reviews consisted of lengthy disscussions of the movies I had recently watched. In those long reviews, I included still shots from the films–which, most of you probably know, included a fair amount of digital editing to include some sort of relevant easter egg. That took scads of time, and I was reluctant to watch another movie until I had finished a review. This slowed me down considerably. Add to that the fact that I acquired high-speed internet at home for the first time ever, and got a copy of God of War 2 for the PS2, and it was a recipe for procrastination. A third of the way into the year, and I had only watched around 20 movies. I clearly was not on track to meet my goal of 200 by year’s end.

Then I switched to my super-short reviews, using the number scale you’ve grown to love and/or hate. Things really picked up then, and I started knocking out reviews quickly. It looked like I might just make it after all. This Summer, however, life had different plans for me. Work was such a demand, that I barely had the energy to watch movies with any kind of critical eye, but I perservered, and still made a respectable pass at staying on track. (A note on my number-scale: some have suggested that my scores are over-inflated as I tend to rate everything near a 10. Well, this means one of two things, either I don’t waste my time watching movies I won’t like and have refined my skills at picking a worthwile [to me] film–or, as is more likely the case, I’m able to find merit in almost any movie I endeavor to watch. Either way, I like movies of all sorts, and I stand behind my ratings. Your mileage may vary.)

Then came Netflix. Oh how I love Netflix.

For a movie lover, having Netflix is like a heroin addict having a live-in dope dealer. Movies delivered to my doorstep, and more importantly, movies on tap via the streaming feature. Who could ask for more? The problem came in when I discovered that I could stream not just movies, but television shows as well! I started soaking up shows that I haven’t seen in 20 years, shows I’ve only caught glimpses of when visiting family who had cable, and shows I’ve only recently discovered. Since getting Netflix, I’ve watched nearly 4 complete seasons of Futurama, 1 1/2 seasons of Miami Ink, the complete 4 seasons of Good Neighbors (aka The Good Life) series, all 8 seasons of Red Dwarf, the better part of a season of A-team, about 1/3 of a season of Babylon 5, and a good chunk of the Fawlty Towers series.

In short, I’ve watched a pantsload of Netflix. If you add up all those hours, it’s probably the equivalent of 100 movies. I loved every minute of it, and I’m not sorry for missing my goal of 200 movies. This challenge was about enjoying myself, and being entertained. Well, mission accomplished, as far as I’m concerned.

81. Batman: Under the Red Hood
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):8
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman Mask of the Phantasm
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to put on tights and run around Gotham after dark with it”) 10

82. Murder on the Orient Express
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):2
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of: And Then There Were None, House on Haunted Hill
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would help it hide a dead body”) 10

83. Paprika
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):6
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of: Memento, Tekkonenkrete, What Dreams May Come
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would share my dreams with it”) 8

84. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes–in fact, you should make your kids watch it.
Reminds me of: It stands alone, really. Maybe similar-ish to To Kill a Mockingbird
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would endorse it’s run for Senate”) 10

85. An Affair to Remember
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):5
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):5
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes–but some the themes will go over kid’s heads
Reminds me of:Don’t Eat the Daisies
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want book a cruise with it”) 10

86. Man, Woman and the Wall
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):3
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of: Sliver
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would spy on it regularly”) 8

87. The Fantastic Voyage
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes
Reminds me of:Westworld, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I’d put my life in danger to save its life”) 10

88. King of Kong
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):8
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):2
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes, but not “kid friendly”
Reminds me of:A Mighty Wind, Dogtown & Z-Boys
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would let it beat me at pac-man”) 10

89. Casablanca
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):5
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No, mature themes
Reminds me of:Ninotchka
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would take the fall so it could escape the Nazis”) 10

90. After The Thin Man
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):7
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):8
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No, excessive alcohol use
Reminds me of:Clue, Thin Man
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to team up with it and solve crimes”) 10

91. The Knack and How to Get It
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):8
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Not Really
Reminds me of:Lickerish Quartet
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to ride a bed around the city with it”)8

92. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):4
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):10
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Mostly–some mild swearing
Reminds me of:National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to book a month on the beach with it”) 10

93. The Colour of Magic
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):7
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):9
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Not really–scary moments and swearing
Reminds me of:Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Xena, Hercules the Legendary Journeys
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would gift it with magic luggage”) 10 <The books are definitely better, though>

94. Sex Drive
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):4
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):10
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Absolutely not
Reminds me of:American Pie, Road Trip
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would turn Amish for it”) A very surprising 10

95. Moog
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):10
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):2
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes
Reminds me of:King of Kong
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would hire it to play at my wedding”) 8

96. Park
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):8
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of:Twenty Bucks, SLC Punk
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would stop it from committing suicide”) 10

97. It’s A Very Muppet Christmas Movie
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):1
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):10
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes
Reminds me of:It’s a Wonderful Life
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would slap a Cusack on its behalf”) 4
Watch this instead:

98. Beowulf & Grendel
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of:Beowulf (The Chris Lambert version), 13th Warrior
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I would fight demons to the death for it”) 8

99. White Christmas
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):3
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):8
Kid safe? (Yes or No)Yes
Reminds me of:Holiday Inn, Guys and Dolls
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I’d put on a special benefit show to remind it of how much it’s loved”) 10

100. The Ωmega Man
Audience (1=Mainstream 10=”Cult”):7
Tone(1=Drama 10=Comedy):1
Kid safe? (Yes or No)No
Reminds me of:The Last Man on Earth, I Am Legend, Soylent Green
Did I like it? (0=”Not at all” 10=”I want to repopulate earth with it”) 8

Watch this instead, it’s much better:

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2010 in better living, Movie Challenge, review

 

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My New Dedicated EReader Device

Just finished setting up my dedicated e-reader device. I’ve been working on it since 4:30. I finally got it working. Pic related: It’s my ereader

I set mobipocket reader up on my old palm and on my netbook. Now, I can just sync my public domain and creative commons books from the netbook to the palm, and I can carry my e-library with me! Added silkdimmer so that I can drop the screen brightness down to “squinty dark” so as to make the battery last just a little longer. It’s not an e-ink display. The battery doesn’t last for weeks at a time. The font is pretty tiny, and it doesn’t have near the “wow” factor of say a Kindle or a Nook, but it’s something to tide me over until I can afford one or some generous soul takes pity on me and gives me an ereader. I call it “Schmindle.”

Thoughts? Suggestions?

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2010 in better living

 

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In Defense of Ebooks

Let me begin by saying one thing.  I love books. I don’t love books on quite the same level my wife does, but I love them, none the less.  The tactile experiences of holding a bound tome in hand, feeling the texture of the paper pages, smelling the aging ink, and enjoying the way light plays on the imperfections in the paper are all things that will always ensure that phsyical books are welcome in my home. Looking at a shelf full of books is a pleasant thing, and few things in life are as exciting as opening a book and finding  a long forgotten, pressed four-leaf clover.  All that said, there are plenty of reasons for taking advantage of electronic versions of books.

Ebooks are easier to carry than paper books, I can literally carry over 100 books in my pocket in the form of a memory card.  I can easily switch titles without getting up, walking across the room, and figuring out which shelf I stored that particular book on.  I can change the format of the written word on the fly to ensure that the font is of a comfortable size.  Think, too, of the cost (monetary and environmental) and energy that goes into printing books vs. making digital copies available.  I know, ereaders aren’t exactly zero-carbon, but when you consider the number of books you can read on one, it doesn’t take long to reach an equilibrium.   What I really enjoy, though, is the freedom of having such a wide variety of books available for little or no cost at the touch of a button; try browsing your local library or books-a-million in your underwear and see how far you make it before they throw you out.

Lately, I’ve found myself enamored with older, public domain classics.  There’s scads of wisdom and entertainment to be found in the works of some of those long past authors, and there’s a plentiful supply of their writings available for free.  As a gentleman beggar, it’s that last word that really grabs my attention–“free”.  With programs like Project Gutenberg in action, an ever expanding catalog of history’s knowledge is available at no more than the cost of a few seconds of browsing online and downloading a file.  With devices like the Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, the Kobo, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, there’s little reason not to take advantage of public domain works.

If you are reading this, you obviously have access to a computer.  If the current high price of a dedicated ereading device seems a tad daunting, there’s always software for the pc (mac, iPad, smartphone, too!) that will let you take advantage of pretty much any format ebook you can download.  Amazon offers a desktop version of their Kindle software, as does Barnes & Noble.  Fbreader is another great option, along with Mobipocket reader, and others.  If you find that you need to convert between ebook formats, there’s always programs like Calibre available.  The best thing about all these programs?  They don’t cost you a dime.  My personal favorite right now is Mobipocket reader; it works a treat on my netbook and its two-page at a time view evokes the feeling of an open paperback without the struggle of keeping it open.

If you’re looking for some good ebooks, I can’t recommend the site Manybooks.net enough.  It is an awesome online library of public domain and creative commons works, all free of charge.  You can search the books by genre, author, title, and in various other ways as well.  There’s a special collections section that groups books by theme, and they even have the books organized by Library of Congress categories for those of you who find that convenient.  One great feature of the site is the shelf system.  Once you register (for free), you can start creating multiple shelves for keeping up with books you’ve found on the site.  You can choose to make your shelves available to others, too, if you think others might enjoy your collection.  Since finding the site, I’ve downloaded a stack of books that will likely keep me busy reading for a couple of years–all at no cost. Manybooks also links to audio copies of their books, usually recorded by the Librivox project, when available, to those of you who prefer to listen to a good book.  Probably the best feature of Manybooks is the plethora of options you have for file formats.  They have the books available in most of the major formats including Kindle and Sony eReader compatible files.  One really impressive option includes the custom pdf format.  You can choose the size you want your pages to be so that the pdf will display properly on the reader of your choice.

So, if you feel like a little reading this evening, get yourself a good ereader program or device, check out manybooks.net and settle in for a grand adventure.  Here’s a link to my ever growing shelf to get you started.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2010 in better living, internet, review

 

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