Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn

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Three of the Best Rock Concert Movies of All Time

07/31/2014

I like using iTunes’ shuffle mode, and every now and then, it pops up something I hadn’t heard in a while, giving me an Aha! moment, reminding me to spin a (virtual) disc that hasn’t been heard recently. Today, the one that set me off was Born Under the Punches, by Talking Heads. Listening to this, I was reminded of their great concert film Stop Making Sense, and that made me think of a few of the greatest concert movies of all time.

81p94HdVNPL._SL1474_.jpgA great concert movie isn’t just a film of a great concert; it has to be more than that. Stop Making Sense (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is one of the best as much because of the innovative approach to the concert itself, as the way it’s filmed. And the music’s great too.

It starts with David Byrne coming on to a bare stage, alone, carrying a boom box and an acoustic guitar. He presses a button on the boom box which starts playing a rhythm track – it’s not really the boom box playing that track, but who cares? – then goes into an acoustic version of Psycho Killer. Another band member comes out for each of the next few songs, until the full complement is on stage. From then on, it’s a rocking show, with foot-tapping rhythms and powerful beats.

I remember seeing Talking Heads on this tour, at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, in Queens, New York, and it was an awesome show. It’s great to have some of that tour on film.

51JFQ6SRTCL._SY300_.jpgThe Last Waltz (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a film of The Band’s 1976 retirement gig at Winterland, in San Francisco. Held on Thanksgiving day, this epic concert featured the A-list musicians of the time: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Bobby Charles, The Staple Singers, Paul Butterfield, and Eric Clapton.

Filmed by Martin Scorcese, it features a few interviews, and a couple of songs shot on a soundstage, but the essential of the movie is (parts of) the live gig. The movie itself is only about two hours, but the concert lasted from evening until dawn; after it was over, promoter Bill Graham treated the audience to a Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast.

The Band’s music is great, but the movie shines because of all the guests who play some of their best songs. And there are great jams with a pantheon of rock musicians on stage at the same time.

91YuwZKlRRL._SL1500_.jpgEveryone knows about Woodstock. Maybe your parents told you stories about it… If you’re old enough to remember it – I was a bit too young to go, but I heard about it at the time – it was a major event, especially to those of us in New York City. When the movie and albums came out, it was a magical experience, seeing all those great musicians performing in such epic surroundings. The movie shows not only the music, but the creation of the event as well. Some of the interviews can be a bit boring, but they do set the scene, helping viewers realize the scale of the festival.

With the director’s cut released in 2010 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), we now have a lot more footage. At just under three hours, there are also two hours of songs that had never been shown before (including a huge 39-minute Turn On Your Love Light by the Grateful Dead) on a bonus disc.

Back in the 1970s, there was a cinema near where I lived that had midnight showings of concert films on weekends. I saw numerous great movies there: two of the three I mention above, and films such as Yessongs, The Grateful Dead Movie, The Song Remains the Same, Pink Floyd at Pompeii, Gimme Shelter, and lots of others. But the three above stand out as the best marriage of music and filming, and, in the case of The Last Waltz and Woodstock, huge events.

It’s commonplace now for bands to film their performances, and concert films are a dime a dozen. But none of them have improved on these three classic films. Woodstock is pretty old now, and The Last Waltz is from the 70s, but if you like that music, you’ll love the movies.

Stop Safari from Asking You if You Want Notifications from Websites

07/31/2014

Safari for OS X has a feature called Push Notifications, which lets you get notifications on your Mac – banners or alerts – when a web site wants to let you know about a great new article. I find these quite annoying, and I’ve turned them off, but I realized recently that a lot of people don’t know how to keep Safari from displaying the dialog.

When you go to a website that uses this feature, you’ll see a sheet in Safari like this:

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It’s annoying to have to click Don’t Allow each time you land on a website using Push Notifications, but you can turn these dialogs off in Safari’s preferences. Choose Safari > Preferences, then click on Notifications. Uncheck the option at the bottom, Allow websites to ask for permission to send push notifications.

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If you’ve already allowed certain websites, you’ll still get notifications; you just won’t get asked any more. And you can remove any of the websites that have asked – whether you have allowed or denied these notifications – by selecting them in the same window, then clicking Remove, or nuke them all by clicking Remove All.

For Sale: One Slightly Used Box Set of Twin Peaks on Blu-Ray

07/31/2014

The other day, I pointed out that Twin Peaks had been released on Blu-Ray. Having never seen the series, but having heard so many good things about it, I bought it.

Well, I watched the pilot and the first two episodes, I realize this is not for me. From the hokey acting to the cheesy soundtrack, this type of sort-of-parody just doesn’t work for me.

So, if you’re in the UK, and want to buy my Twin Peaks box set, I’ll sell it for £40, postage included. If you’re elsewhere in the EU, I’ll sell it for the same price, if you pay shipping. (It’s £49.75 new on Amazon UK.) Contact me if you’re interested.

Book Review: Give My Regards to Eight Street, by Morton Feldman

07/31/2014

FeldmanComposer Morton Feldman was a voluble man, but he didn’t write much down. He taught and gave lectures, but his collected writings fit in this book, Give My Regards to Eight Street (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). At just over 200 pages, it contains articles about art and music, and liner notes and program notes for some of his works. While Feldman famously wrote many multi-hour works, in has later phase, his words are more concise. Unlike his friend John Cage, who wrote a number of books, Feldman never published any collection of his writings while alive.

As the publisher’s blurb for this book points out, “While his music is known for its extreme quiet and delicate beauty, Feldman himself was famously large and loud. [...] Feldman’s writings explore his music and his theories about music, but they also make clear how heavily Feldman was influenced by painting and by his friendships with the Abstract Expressionists.” Feldman discusses music, but more often he writes about art. He was strongly influenced by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg, all of whom were his friends.

Art was, to Feldman, a way of life. But, as he says:

Art in its relation to life is nothing more than a glove turned inside out. It seems to have the same shapes and contours, but it can never be used for the same purpose. Art teaches nothing about life, just as life teaches us nothing about art.

He writes a lot about art, and how it influenced his music, and, in one lecture given in Frankfurt in 1984, goes into some detail about his music and the way he composes. But this is not a treatise, and there is little real insight into why he composed the way he did, especially in the longer, late works that have been so influential. He didn’t seem to want to go into much detail about those works. He explains some of his processes, but lets the music speak for itself.

This book therefore isn’t a key to Feldman’s music, but it is an entertaining read to better understand his influences, especially those that came from painting. If you appreciate Morton Feldman’s music, you’ll want to read this book to get a better idea of what made the man tick.

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Indie App Developers Have It Rough: So What?

07/31/2014

Indie app developer Jared Sinclair released an RSS reader for iOS in January, 2014, and he recently wrote about his travails and the lack of income from the app. This article has been taken by many to show that the life of an indie app developer is rough. So what?

All due respect to Mr. Sinclair, but this type of article shows a lack of understanding of business in general; after all, selling an app is a business. And running a business isn’t easy; as Forbes points out, 80% of businesses fail within the first 18 months. So it’s no surprise that an app doesn’t meet the expectations of its developer.

In the case of Mr. Sinclair’s app Unread, I would say that, in spite of the excellent reviews and ratings the app has received, it is in a crowded market, that of RSS readers. And it’s a dying market; more and more people are abandoning RSS for other ways of getting news. If Mr. Sinclair had done some market research, he might have discovered that the number of users who want an RSS reader, divided by the number of RSS readers available, means that there’s a very small segment that he could hope to conquer.

I bought Unread when it was released, and I don’t use it any more. There’s nothing wrong with the app, but I found a better RSS reader for iPhone; and I don’t even check that often, because RSS is no longer essential to me. And, if there had been a demo version of the app – something that I really hope Apple will allow at some point soon – then I may not have even bought it. I might have tried it for, say, 30 days, and found that I just don’t need it.

Unread has generated $32,000 of income for Mr. Sinclair; after expenses and taxes, that translates to $21,000. Not much for what is now a year of work (he started working on it in July, 2013). But should he expect more? To be a successful developer, you need more than just one app. And you need to offer new features to get more users. Granted, there’s not a lot you can do with RSS (though if it could do this, I’d go back to using it).

So a developer needs to branch out and work on new apps. Expecting to make a living on a single app seems naive; imagine if, say, writers had that expectation, that the first novel one publishes is a hit, and it’s all easy after that. It’s no surprise that most writers of fiction have other jobs, often as teachers; with advances often in the four figures for first novels, which may take years to write, the per-hour income is so low that it’s better to not calculate it. And what about indie musicians, who spend years practicing, composing music, and recording it? There’s no guarantee that they’ll sell their albums either.

Back in the early days of the App Store, people made money selling fart apps; that period is gone, and those who enter the market now have to innovate or fail. If the market simply isn’t there for the type of app they’re selling, they need to move on and create something new.

I wish Mr. Sinclair luck in his future ventures, and I hope he’s working on a new app by now to maintain his income. But there’s a lot of competition out there, and it’s tough to run a small business. One should never expect success when starting a business; you hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Twin Peaks Now Available on Blu-Ray

07/30/2014

A1mz9EsWNPL._SL1500_Somehow, I missed Twin Peaks. It was on TV at a time when I wasn’t watching much TV. I was living in France, and, as a rule, I didn’t watch TV series dubbed in French (which was the case for most of them in the 90s, before TV by satellite and ADSL). When I heard about it some years ago, I avoided buying it on disc because of all the comments I saw on Amazon about the set being incomplete.

Well, apparently that has changed now with the release of Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery on Blu-Ray.(Amazon.com, Amazon UK) So I pre-ordered it from Amazon, and received it yesterday. I’ve only watched the pilot so far, and I won’t make any comments about it yet.

But if you’re a fan of the series, this Blu-Ray transfer is very good, and, I’m told, contains everything from the series, including deleted scenes. If you’re new to Twin Peaks, as I am, this is a good time to check it out.

New York Times Tinfoil Hat Squad Accuses Apple of Intentionally Slowing Down iPhones; and Why They’re Wrong

07/29/2014

There’s a lot of stupid at the New York Times, but an article today wins the stupid of the month award. Under the innocuous headline Hold the Phone: A Big-Data Conundrum, Times author Sendhil Mullainthan claims that “every time a new iPhone comes out, my existing iPhone seems to slow down,” and shows evidence that this is a huge conspiracy led by the evil masters of Cupertino.

You see, the author has a chart; based on research by a PhD student, who looked at Google Trends to see how many people searched for “iPhone slow,” the author concludes that somehow slows down your iPhone when a new model is released:

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In Apple’s case, the company sells the device and makes the operating system. In principle, this creates the motive (to sell more devices) and the means (control over the operating systems) to slow down the old phone.

Yet this doesn’t happen with Samsung Galaxy phones; that curve is constantly ascending with little variation:

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The author points out that “This data reveals only correlations, not conclusions.” Indeed. And the reason for this search – “iPhone slow” – is obvious, and the author of the article even explains it. But rather then ending with that explanation, he finishes the article with the statement “And if those correlations allow conspiracy theorists to become that much more smug, that’s a small price to pay.”

But go up a few paragraphs to the point where the author tells why this happens:

Every major iPhone release coincides with a major new operating system release. Though Apple would not comment on the matter, one could speculate — and many have — that a new operating system, optimized for new phones, would slow down older phones. This could also explain the Samsung-iPhone difference: Because only 18 percent of Android users have the latest operating systems on their phones, whereas 90 percent of iPhone users do, any slowdown from a new operating system would be naturally bigger for iPhones.

Yea, that’s exactly what’s happening. iPhone users get free updates to iOS, whereas Android phones mostly do not get updates at all; or, if they do, they are staggered over a long period of time. And iOS has a high uptake rate, with more than 50% of users upgrading in the first week of the availability of a new version of iOS. So why dress this article up in conspiracy theories?

Yes, this is a good article for click bait, and all that “big data” ballyhoo is just a mistake in basic assumptions. Not only does correlation not equal causation, but one needs to know what one is looking for. In this case, the PhD student who played around with Google Trends clearly did not understand the issue.

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