August 12th, 2010

Netflix Epix deal

I don't own Netflix (altho I occasionally wonder if I should), but I do use Netflix, and a whole lot more since I figured out streaming a few months ago. The biggest bummer has been that so much of what I'd like to get via streaming I can't.

This will help. And I am OK with this model: theatrical, a year later pay services like HBO, then three months after that, it can go to streaming. I can live with that. The way it has been (years if ever before it is available streaming) means I just never see a lot of stuff that I probably would have enjoyed, because I've completely forgotten it existed.

the Tivoli showed up!

I still need to find the power cord and the external antenna, but the box is here and the other bits are commodity anyway.

This is a radio, for anyone who is wondering. It's the one that was in the kitchen in my condo. It cleaned up great, too; the dust-encrusted grease came right off the case and the maple wood matches my hutch perfectly.

I foresee a whole lot of NPR in my future.


The lid for the (mostly) indestructible le creuset wok has taken major damage: the paint has peeled and it has been dinged up and bent (I have the old metal lid, not the newer glass lid). Thus far, efforts to find a replacement have failed. Ideas welcome.

I also seem to be missing the lids for the rubbermaid mixing bowls and a frigoverre container. I'm guessing these disappeared during the huge destruction that happened when my sister was living in my condo. Compared to the really nice fans that went on permanent walkabout, this is incredibly minor.

I am now convinced I've opened every box. I have not, however, unwrapped everything. I determined that HGRM definitely accepts sets of glassware, so I'm going to be boxing a bunch up for them. I still have to get the laserdisc player and VCR out to Best Buy, but that's all the way out in Framingham, so I think I'll wait until I've collected all the stray electronic bits that are floating around.

I found the four Baccarat glasses today. I don't remember precisely what happened to the decanter, but I think it got broken somehow and I only have the stopper left. The glasses were wrapped in a single sheet of newsprint each, which was really hilariously funny, given how much extra wrapping there was around things that I picked up for fifty cents or thereabouts at garage sales.

_Blind Descent_, James Tabor

Subtitled: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth

First, a quibble. As near as I can tell, the book is about a competition to explore the deepest cave, which is defined in terms of the cave, rather than with respect to sea level. From one perspective, this is the opposite of mountaineering definitions, in that Everest is the tallest not because of its height from base to summit, but because of the height of its summit with respect to sea level. From another perspective, however, it shares with the mountaineering definition a sort of dodge from what someone unfamiliar with the field might expect: the tallest mountain isn't as tall as other mountains and similarly, the deepest place on Earth is above sea level.

Second, there were points in the book where I just could not get past confusion in the text. The most notable example of this is the description of one of the Bill Stone expeditions where they were digging around in a new sinkhole and simultaneously exploring related caves in the area. Upstream and downstream got reversed at least once. (I apologize for the lack of page numbers; I read a borrowed copy and returned it before writing the review.)

Third, and most important, I felt like some of the breathless "last frontier" stuff was utter crap. I'm sure that at least some of the cavers involved buy into this, but it is abundantly clear that most of this community isn't going to go take up some other hobby just because The Big One has been bagged. Also, there are so many other areas left to investigate that it's more than a little silly. Like, the _actual_ deepest places on Earth, which will surely be way, way, way below sea level.

Tabor treats the competition to identify the "deepest" cave (greatest vertical difference between top and bottom) as a race between an American team led by Bill Stone, exploring a variety of Mexican Supercaves, notably Cheve, and some Ukrainians led by Alexander Klimchouk, exploring caves on the Arabika Massif. The strategy in both cases was similar: find a tall bit of limestone and look for a cave that starts near the top and goes all the way to the bottom. Both did dye experiments (among other things) to justify further exploration of caves that previous explorers had dismissed.

Tabor provides some biographical detail on Stone, Klimchouk, and a variety of other cavers and divers. He spends a lot of time on the rebreather technology developed by Stone. There's some mildly juicy gossipy bits about people having sex in caves, some of which has some really moralistic overtones. Meh. I don't disagree with the moralizing for the most part.

While staying close to the story, Tabor does take the opportunity along the way to comment on the difference in leadership styles, expedition organization, and so forth. The topic lends itself to this well -- Tabor could have done a lot more, and it would be fairly easy to imagine a business or organizational psychology case study that compared and contrasted the two groups. The stylistic differences show up in every conceivable area (how the groups handled food, who led, number of accidents/fatalities, risks taken, percentage of women participants, and on and on and on). While it would be possible to chalk any one or a few of these differences up to random or arbitrary or unrelated causes, collectively they dovetail very nicely with the personalities of the principals as described by Tabor.

It's an interesting story, a quick read, and accessible on many levels. Not a waste of anyone's time.

Also, it's kind of fun to watch while Tabor kicks Outside magazine around (a tremendously worthy target).

ETA: Forgot to mention. The second fatality of the book was the scuba diver using the rebreather technology. A scuba diver with insulin dependent diabetes. I'm just not even sure where to start on that, but how about, who the hell let him in the _cave_ never mind doing half the diving exploration with the brand new technology? Followed up with some icing of am Ende diving with the rig the guy died using -- after lying about who was doing the diving because am Ende and Stone knew the sherpas would balk if they knew who was doing the diving. The list of Bad Decisions on Stone expeditions is basically endless.

kindle coverage, once more into the foolishness

And before you go, well, it must just be one idiot that slipped through, this is signed "By the Monitor's Editorial Board".

There's one egregious and inexcusable error:

"Amazon, founded as a way to sell paper books over the Internet, now sells more books as electronic files"

Just the other day, I was saying that in the past, people talked about ebooks vs. physical books by invoking smell and touch. I said, it requires effort to even find a blogger or commenter producing that any more. Boy, did the Monitor's Editorial Board prove me wrong.

Here are a few blasts from the past:

"But what about long-form reading – novels, biographies, college textbooks? Aren’t they better digested through the tactile experience of paper pages, bound together in a book, easy to drop, easy to share?"

"Print lovers say nothing compares with the delights of cracking open a new paper book, feeling it in one’s hands, riffing through the pages, noting your progress as the right side stack of pages shrinks and the left side grows thicker."

On the whole, it is actually a reasonable article. It's just a few sentences that trip up the unwary reader.

Over here:

It could have been great coverage, altho this sentence weakened it:

"With a host of low-end tablets soon to arrive on the market from HP, Acer, and others, it is hard to imagine any company (except for Apple) making a serious profit margin on a digital reader." RHI the low end tablets about to show up are truly awful. This would not surprise me. The iPad is cool, and as a travel toy may yet really justify its existence, but it is definitely a solution in search of a problem. Maybe if I buy a keyboard for it?

Ron Adner does observe that Amazon stands to win if content is where the money is made. But he ends on this note: "Now that other companies are entering the digital reader space, it would be a mark of success, not weakness, if Amazon can exit the hardware business entirely."

Some heavy irony, given that other big news about e-readers in the last day or so is that the heavily publicized (and preordered!) Plastic Logic reader, the Que, has finally been shelved.

Here's what the WSJ said:

"More than a dozen companies have marketed or were planning to market e-readers, but prices have fallen so quickly that they will have trouble recouping their costs and building brand image."

Overall, better coverage than previous forays into the foolishness.

trouble at Borders?

I don't know the relationship between Borders down under/Redgroup Retail and Borders Book Group.

But here's a weird bit of speculation:

"Which is why we're entertaining the notion that LeBow may pull a trick from his corporate raider playbook and put in a bid to buy Barnes & Noble. He used that very tactic in the mid-1980s when, as owner of computer company MAI, he tried to buy larger competitor Prime Computer in a hostile takeover bid. Things didn't end up so well for either company, as they both ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and LeBow was out of the computer business entirely by 1995."

I had completely forgotten about Prime Computer.