Saturday, December 25, 2010

Game Review: 5 Minutes to Kill (Yourself)

One of a series of game review videos I did that appeared in two different publications: TapTilt, an experimental magazine for the iPhone, and Sideways, an equally experimental magazine for the iPad. Both were produced by SIdeways LLC, which is doing still doing innovative stuff in e-publishing. Tags: ,,,

iPad Game Review: Predators

This is the last of a series of game review videos I did for Sideways, an experimental magazine published exclusively on the iPad. While the magazine only put out three issues, the company behind the magazine, Sideways LLC, is still very much alive, and doing some truly amazing stuff in the e-publishing realm.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Spicy With a Side of Deadly

Tabasco with SwordAmong my friends hot peppers are not so much a culinary matter as they are a gauge of manhood. While some guys go in for bungie jumping or skating down the sides of tall buildings, my buddies test their testosterone by eating things that other people use to repel muggers.

Let’s face it, hot peppers as a flavor enhancer are fine. But at the point where the cook is using life-threatening peppers, it’s gone beyond food. We’re into the realm of self-mutilation here. Why eat something that tastes good, but hurts really bad? If you’re going to do that you might as well just eat a good meal and then ask the waiter to drive staples into your forehead.

One friend is a pepper fanatic, known for his delicious home-made beef jerky (he marinates it for hours in napalm). He’ll often offer samples to his friends. These taste tests are a kind of sadomasochistic, male-bonding, pain-endurance ritual. “Try some of this,” he says. Then all the guys stand around chewing, making appreciative noises, watching each other to see who’s going to cry.

“Delicious,” I manage to say, while several of my major organs hand in their resignations.

I once saw a chart that described the wide variety of hot peppers and their relative heat. It turns out that the serial killer of hot peppers is the mighty habanero. NASA used habaneros to test the re-entry tiles on the Space Shuttles. Habanero farmers are required to register with Homeland Security. Special permits are necessary to ship habaneros through populated areas.

So naturally, somebody thought that cooking with habaneros would be fun. Probably someone who enjoys shaving with a belt sander.

I once had dinner with some friends in a Manhattan restaurant that specialized in spicy Southwestern cuisine. The menu featured a variety of dishes like “Eat This and Die Pork,” and “Flaming Ulcer Beef.” Right away, a challenge, a gauntlet thrown, a little, mocking voice saying, “What’s the matter, Mr. Pansy Basket?”

After a few Mexican beers my machismo-meter was in the red zone. I was no longer the middle-aged blonde guy from the midwest. I was Paunchy Villa! I ordered a dish called “Death by Chilies.”

Death does not frighten me, amigo.

The meal was a delicious chicken concoction, very potent, but within my range of tolerance. I became overconfident. Off to one side of my plate were two habanero peppers. I popped one into my mouth.

Really hot peppers don’t hit you right away, especially if you’re washing down your meal with beer. It took about a five-count before I stopped breathing. I was pretty sure that the pepper had eaten through my tongue and jaw, and was laying in my lap. I drank water, beer, wine, moist towelettes, anything cold and wet. I was perilously close to writhing. Writhing in a restaurant is frowned upon, even in New York. I sat very still, trying not to weep openly.

“Death By Chilies?” They should have named this stuff “Beg For A Bullet In The Head Chicken.”

After weeks of counseling by sensitive professionals I was able to talk about the experience. I’m a better man for it.

Months later I was sitting in a Cleveland bar when a couple sat next to me and ordered chicken wings. The bartender asked, “You want Mild, Spicy, or Deadly?”

The couple thought it over. The man was tentative. He said, “Could we have Spicy, with a side of Deadly?”

I finished my drink and left a buck on the bar. Amateurs, I thought. Wimps.

[This item was originally published in a slightly different form in 1996 in Howdy, what was then the AOL humor section.]

Friday, May 21, 2010

Books in the Cloud?

Reading E-Books Rewrite Bookselling in today’s Wall Street Journal got me thinking about how much the manner in which I consume media has changed of late.

Several months ago I cancelled all of my cable movie channels and re-activated my NetFlix account; I stream the movies more often watching via DVD.  Similarly, I also recently started using Rhapsody (love it!), a fantastic alternative to downloading and storing music -- and worrying about secure back-ups to protect my investment. I also cancelled my Sirius-XM account because my iPhone is a far more useful and flexible alternative (especially with the Rhapsody app.)

So a great deal of the media I consume lives in the Cloud, where I can access it via a variety of devices.  Is there a similar model on the horizon for the publishing industry?

While I often read newspaper and magazine articles on my iPhone, the idea of reading a book on that device never appealed to me. But the iPad offers an excellent book-reading experience, so much so that I doubt that I'll purchase another paper book (with the exception of library sales and the occasional irresistible remainder bargain.)

But rather than having to download and store digital copies of books, I'd love to see a model similar to Rhapsody or NetFlix, where I pay for 24/7, any-device access to the e-books I want to read.

Audible, the digital audiobook company, has a  sort of hybrid model. The audiobooks I've purchased are permanently stored on the site, where they can be streamed to my computer. The downside is that if I want to listen on my iPhone I have to download the file and then upload to my device. But unlike content I purchase from iTunes, if any of my Audible purchases are accidentally deleted, I can download another copy from the site. (An Audible iPhone app that allows me to stream titles in my library seems like a no-brainer, no?)

(At least as far as music is concerned, Apple's purchase of Lala may signal a move to a cloud-based model that will go head-to-head with Rhapsody. Time will tell.)
Audible also offers monthly membership deals that allow users to download a predetermined number of titles each month.

So as the new breed of ebook stores comes online, I hope someone offers a model similar to NetFlix, Rhapsody, and Audible.



Cross posted to Bob Rhubart’s Blog and Smallification

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Top 100s by Year by Bing

As iPhone music apps go, Top 100s by Year by Bing is pretty damn cool, especially if you’re a pop music fan of certain age. But after combing through some of the year-by-year lists, I have questions about the source of the data.

For the year 1962,  the BillBoard Top 100 list has many songs in common with the Bing list. But focusing on the top ten, there are significant differences…



    1. Green Onions -- Booker T and the MGs

    2. Bring It On Home To Me -- Sam Cooke

    3. You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me -- The Miracles

    4. The Loco-Motion -- Little Eva

    5. Sherry -- Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

    6. I Can’t Stop Loving You -- Ray Charles

    7. Up On The Roof -- The Drifters

    8. Twist and Shout -- The Isley Brothers

    9. These Arms of Mine -- Otis Reading

    10. Do You Love Me -- The Contours

    1. Roses Are Red (My Love) -- Bobby Vinton

    2. I Can't Stop Loving You -- Ray Charles

    3. Let's Twist Again -- Chubby Checker

    4. Stranger On The Shore -- Mr. Acker Bilk

    5. The Stripper -- David Rose

    6. Johnny Angel -- Shelley Fabares

    7. The Loco-Motion -- Little Eva

    8. Breaking Up Is Hard to Do -- Neil Sedaka

    9. Mashed Potato Time -- Dee Dee Sharp

    10. Soldier Boy -- Shirelles

For my money, the Bing list, being heavy on classic R&B, is far more listenable. But what’s the source of the data? And there are other issues that have me very suspicious of the Bing data.

For instance, the Bing app lists The Beatles “Love Me Do” at #15 for 1962. But according to Wikipedia, the Beatles are nowhere men on the ‘62 US charts; that song wasn’t released here until April 1964.  “Love Me Do” did show up on the UK charts in ‘62, but according to Wikipedia, it peaked at #17.

There are other issues. The Bing app lists Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” at #65 for 1963. According to Wikipedia, that song peaked on the Billboard Pop Singles chart for 1963 at #29.  Another issue is that the Bing app plays a live version of the song that I strongly suspect is from Orbison’s Black and White Night set from 1988. If I’m looking at the chart for ‘63, I want the version of the song that made it to that chart.

Yes, the Bing Top 100s app is free  -- for now, at least. And regardless of the data source it’s very cool to have access, however limited, to this amazing archive of pop hits. But I wish the people behind the app would share information on the source of the charts, and take pains to insure that the version of the song the app plays is the same version that hit the charts.

On the other side of the fence, I’ll take issue with some of the negative comments about the Bing ads that play periodically as you listen to the tunes. The app is free, fer cryin’ out loud,  and while you can’t control the playlist, you get to listen to the entire track for each song, rather than a sample. What’s not to like?

For me, this app takes me back to the days when I first heard these songs, over the radio, on AM not FM, and with commercials. Didn’t bug me then, doesn’t bug me now.

I’ll use this app a lot this summer, with my iPhone or Touch plugged into a set of speakers on my patio, sipping cool adult beverages and thinking back to an era that remains unsurpassed in pop music history.