The Story of the Lawson Family

lawson-portrait

Criminal, one of my favorite podcasts, did a recent episode on the 1929 Lawson family murders in Stokes County, NC.

Like many others of the era, the Lawson murders became the subject of a murder ballad, originally by the Carolina Buddies, and later covered by the Stanley Brothers.

They didn’t mention it on the podcast, but it turns out there was a documentary made about the murders.  I haven’t seen it, but the Amazon reviews, while few in number, seem reasonably positive.

Movie Review: Ex_Machina

Ex-machina-uk-poster

This morning, while on the treadmill, I watched Ex_Machina. Here’s my quick review.

Title: Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Genre: Sci-Fi

Why I Watched It:
It’s science fiction.  I love science fiction.

Interesting Fact:
It has similar plot elements to the (original) Star Trek Episode “Requiem for Methuselah.”

Review:
I wasn’t sure about this movie based on the reviews I read, but this is an excellent movie. I loved everything about it.  It’s great, topical science fiction, with a great story and some fine acting.

Best Thing About It:
Lots, but I’ll pick the actress that played Kyoto.

Worst Thing About It:
I can’t think of anything bad about it.

Rating: ★★★★★

More:
IMDB
Rotten Tomatos

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

madmaxfuryroad

I recently watched Mad Max: Fury Road on the treadmill.  Here’s my quick review.

Title: Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Genre: Sci-Fi

Why I Watched It:
I love post-apocalyptic science fiction, and the original Mad Max was pretty good.

Interesting Fact:
The filmmakers paid a lot of attention to the tools and weapons used by the actors.  With one giant exception, I thought the repurposing was nicely done.

Review:
I had really high hopes after reading some great reviews (it’s 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, for crying out loud), but this is the rare movie that has over-the-top action scenes and is still sort of boring.  For much of it, I felt like I was watching someone play a video game.  The last 30 minutes are better.

Best Thing About It:
Little bits of realism (art, repurposing whatever’s at hand) mixed in with the madness.

Worst Thing About It:
The guitar and guitarist standing on front of that car.

Rating: ★★

More:
IMDB
Rotten Tomatoes

What’s in My Podcast Player and Why

podcastslistento

I’ve abandoned traditional radio (too many ads and repetitive playlists) and am in the process of abandoning Sirius XM radio (repetitive playlists, poor sound quality, and insufferable disc jockeys on the alt. country (Outlaw Radio)  channel).  As a result, when I’m on the road I rely largely on Spotify for my music, and podcasts for other content.  Here is a list of the podcasts I currently subscribe to (I use Downcast as my podcast app; there are plenty of good options), and a brief description of why.

podcastlist

Mac Geek Gab.  This is part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts, and I listen to it without fail every week.  Along with Mac Power Users and select episodes of This American Life, it is a workout staple.  To use a book analogy, it’s hard sci-fi, as opposed to space opera, and I’ve probably learned more under the hood tech-related stuff from hosts Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun than anyone else.

Mac Power Users.  Another part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts.  Hosts David Sparks and Katie Floyd have captured lightning in a bottle with this format, and everyone benefits.  It’s not “hard sci-fi” like Mac Geek Gab, but it’s great “space opera,” which has broader appeal.  I feel like I’m discussing tech with friends every episode.  It is the number one resource for Mac and iOS users, from beginner to expert, seeking to increase their knowledge and skill set.

Clockwise.  The third part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts.  Jason Snell, Dan Moren and two guests discuss four tech topics each episode, in 30 minutes or less.  I find the topical matter to the pretty consistent with the things I am reading or thinking about, I like the fact that I can listen to an entire episode in 30 minutes, and I love the roundtable format.

Invisibilia.  It’s between seasons at the moment (I really wish podcasts wouldn’t have seasons), but when it was releasing new episodes, a new episode of this podcast about “the invisible forces that shape human behavior” was a moment of celebration.  It’s hard to succinctly describe, but this podcast is simply wonderful. Hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel are delightful.  There was a moment in the How to Become Batman episode, after they talked about some amazing things done by some amazing people who happen to be blind, when Alix Spiegel said this:

14x14tp

They should do an episode about why that line affected me so much.  I was in the middle of my workout, walking down a country road near the farm.  Without hesitation, I stopped, caught between the competing desires to dance and sob, and danced for a moment.  It was pure joy, and to this day I’m not sure why.

This American Life.   No discussion of podcasting and no subscription list can be complete without including the grandfather of all podcasts, hosted by Ira Glass.  If I were to compile a list of my 10 favorite podcast episodes ever, I’m reasonably certain 9 would be from This American Life (the 10th being the Batman episode of Invisibilia).  I listen to most, but not all, of the new episodes and I separately use the This American Life app to find and listen to older shows.  If you want an introduction to the wonder of podcasts, start with House on Loon Lake.

Mystery Show.  This is another fantastic new podcast.  The concept (finding random but interesting mini-mysteries and solving them in an online Scooby Doo fashion) is perfect, as is host Starlee Kine.  It has the best theme music ever, and every episode uses a mystery as a launching pad for all sorts of discovery. The episode about Jake Gyllenhaal’s height should win whatever the Emmy-equivalent is for podcasting.

Criminal.  Criminal is another “shorter” podcast, hosted by the aptly named Phoebe Judge, with episodes running in the 20 or so minute range.  It’s not a typical crime show; it’s more about people who have done something wrong, had something wrong done to them, or been caught up in between the two.  For example, a recent story about the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona was great, but not just for the obvious reasons.  I listened to the new episode on my morning workout today, about murder ballads.

Serial.  Like everyone else, I was blown away by this podcast and followed its unraveling of a 1999 murder with a cyber-microscope.  It was compelling stuff and Sarah Koenig, who also works on This American Life, is a great host.  If you haven’t heard it, you should start binge-listening right now and cancel all your plans for the next few days.  I hope season 2 will be as good, but it’s got some big shoes to fill.  For those wondering, I think Adnan probably did it, but there seem to be a lot of questions about exactly what happened and when.

Reply All.  Self-described as “a show about the internet,” this shortish  (20 to 30 minutes) podcast, hosted by Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogt, can be about almost anything.  Recent shows about a swindler turned good citizen and the battle over a boring Facebook group were both excellent.  I’m very interested in the new tech support stories feature they have started.

StoryCorps.  StoryCorps “travels the country collecting stories of everyday people.”  I don’t listen to every episode, but I listen to many of them, and some of them are excellent.  For example, a recent episode on the Americans with Disabilities Act was wonderful (the Grove Norwood/Ricky Boone story will make your day).

Note: Once my Sirius XM radio subscription expires (and it will not be renewed), I’ll add subscriptions to some of the NPR shows I still listen to via satellite radio (Diane Rehm,  Marketplace,  On Point, Radio Times, and others).

How to Find Great New Music, with Spotify

I keep hearing my fellow Mac enthusiasts raving about the “For You” tab in Apple Music, and how music discovery is so much better in Apple Music than in Spotify.  I get it, we’re Apple fans, we are supposed to be excited about new Apple hardware and apps.  And I suppose if someone forced me to speak kindly of the mishmash that is iTunes and is bolted on new addition, music discovery would be the second thing I’d mention (the first thing being the very real benefit of combining, on both the desktop and your mobile device, your streaming music and your owned music).  But I have to say, I hear a lot of people trying very hard to convince themselves that they like Apple Music.

Let’s take a look at music discovery within Apple Music and Spotify.  For this experiment, we’ll focus on discovering music I don’t know about already, as opposed to other similar music already in my library.

First, let’s take a look at the “For You” tab.  Here’s the top screen of mine.

Click for larger view
Click for larger view

There are only two records in there I haven’t heard (Hound Dog Taylor and Bob Mould), and no artists I’ve never heard of.  I like The Band, but bombastic and heartfelt classic rock ballads is most definitely not one of my genres.

Now, Spotify.

There are three primary ways to discover new music in Spotify.  First, the “Discover” tab under Browse.  Here’s the top of mine.

Click for larger view
Click for larger view

I’ve heard of all those artists too, but I’ve only heard two of the records listed (Otis Gibbs and The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash).  All of these are clearly within my preferred genres.

Second, there’s the new “Discover Weekly” playlist.  Here’s my current one.

 

Of those 30 songs, I’d previously heard only four of them.  That’s pretty amazing, and while I don’t love all of them, there’s a lot of good stuff to be mined from that list.  It’s closer to what I like than any “human curated” playlist I’ve come across while trying to work my way through the corn maze that is Apple Music.

Finally, there’s the most fun and rewarding way to find new music on Spotify. Surfing around the “Related Artists” links.

Click for larger vew
Click for larger view

I have spent hours surfing around looking for new music this way.  Most of the stuff in Rancho Radio, my “Kent curated” public playlist, was found that way.

Competition is great for consumers.  Apple Music will make Spotify better, and there’s room for both.  But don’t tell me it’s hard to find new music on Spotify, because I have a thousand or so tracks in my various playlists that say otherwise.

Maybe Apple Music will become the best music service out there.  But let’s be honest.  The announcement at WWDC was a disjointed disaster, and the app is confusing and hard to use.  I’m hoping it will get better (though I’ve been hoping iTunes will get better for years), but there’s a lot of work to be done.

In the meantime, I’m sticking with Spotify.