Friday, August 27, 2004

This is one of the coolest, most useful maps I've seen of NYC

The People's Guide to the Republican National Convention is a free downloadable map designed specifically for all the protesters coming to New York City for the RCN. It lists all sorts of useful info from cheap restaurants to wifi hotspots to accessible bathrooms. I wish I had this when I started exploring New York all so many years ago.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

DVD Bootlegs

I discovered ebay and Half.com recently. I’m pretty embarrassed about it actually. I’ve always known those sites were out there, I have often used them in the past to help me get more accurate prices on used items, but I never really used them before. I’ve never been a goddamn addict before.

Like I said, I’m a bit embarrassed about coming into the whole ebay/half thing so late in the game. I feel like everyone has been there done that already with those sites. But I was mentioning something I just picked up this morning to a coworker. I mentioned that I picked up a pre-release promo copy of the new Stereolab on half.com and he said “what’s that.” OK, so I’m not the last one on Earth here, but I still feel like ebay/half is like AOL. It’s what how your grandmother uses the Internet.

It takes a while to get in the groove of the whole thing and figure it all out. You have to snipe. You have to have lots of wish-lists and favorites. You have to keep checking completed items prices. You have to be patient, waiting for the exact item you are looking for to come up. Don’t jump at it the first time. Check for items that have few bids on it already. Keep bidding until you get it for the price you want.

I’ve been really filling out my collections. I’ve got some great Lego sets. (I’ve seen some great Lego sets go for some shockingly high prices.) I’ve got some more antique thread to add to my collection. There are still a few things I haven’t gotten yet. I’ve still waiting to get a copy of the Andromeda Strain hexagonal vinyl. I’m still looking for the perfect vintage desktop Nixie tube calculator. One thing that did surprise me were the large number of Criterion Collection DVDs for sale on ebay and Half. Most of ‘em were still sealed. Most were selling for prices higher than DDD. I keep checking closing prices, trying to figure out which Criterions I could pick up for relatively low prices. I’ve gotten my first selection of Criterions from DDD but I’m still trying to fill it out, getting those gems that are on my wish list but not a must-have.

I finally got my first two. They arrived via the slow boat of Media Mail. The first came in and I was immediately saw a few things wrong with it. The package printing looked a little off, the disk printing seemed to have a different texture, and there were some strange package printing indicating something about Canada. After extensive research I feel that this is probably not a bootleg. It must be some sort of subsidiary licensing to a Canadian distributor. I’m still not sure. I can’t really find confirmation that there is a Canadian version of Traffic CC. All I know is that it’s not an official US release. Does it play perfectly, does it have all the bonus features, is the picture perfect, does it have a lower resale value? Yes, yes, yes, yes.

The second Criterion that I picked up off the Internet is Life of Brian. Again I knew something was amiss right away. It had the telltale DVD-9 sticker right there on the front. It also had the subtle odd silk-screening on the disk. After inspecting the disk, the next thing I did was to check out the seller’s rating on ebay. Wow, all I can say is I feel lucky to have even received the damn thing. This guy has the worst seller feedback I’ve ever seen. If I had read the feedback first, I would have never have purchased it in the first place. Suffice it to say, 96% positive feedback is a not a positive attribute. If you see a 96% positive feedback rating, stay away! Reading what others have said about their DVDs that they received from this seller I feel very confident that I am the proud owner of a genuine bootleg DVD.

How do I feel? Bad? Will I leave negative feedback? Of course? Will I send it back? No. I doubt I would get my money back. I would be out a couple of shipping fees. I would be out the disk and then start the whole search, snipe, search, snipe process all over again.

Besides, It’s fuckin’ Life of Brian! Fuckin’ Criterion Collection! Fuckin’ $40 DVD I picked up for $16!

At this point I’ll probably stop buy Criterion DVDs from anywhere except fully reputable dealers. I’m not worried about risks. I doubt I would have any playback problems with these Criterion bootlegs. I just don’t think it’s right. I really appreciate the work that Criterion puts out. They are a tremendous company and done way more then simply raising the bar for DVD quality. I’m still going to buy DVDs on the Internet. Lots of folks are selling things from their personal collection. There are lots of titles that probably not worth bootlegging. You can tell the difference. There’s no reason to restrict you used DVD purchases to walk-in stores. If you are careful, you can get a good deal and not get burned.

There is, however, one more thing that I might be picking up. There seem to be lots of box sets of Miyazaki/Ghibli films out there. These are some very cool items. Four-disk sets, seven-disk sets, with Totoro, Spirited Away, Kiki and all the others. These are great collections to own. Lots of his films are hard to find here in the States. Getting them all in one shot would be sweet. Buying a regular copy of Spirited will set you back about twenty bucks, (if you shop around). These sets go for as low as $35 and they stuffed with at least seven Miyazaki films. English, Japanese, dubbed, subtitled, pick a set, there seem to be a whole bunch to chose from on ebay. So why are my not jumping at one of these? Well for one thing they’re bootlegs. Yes, all of them. (It’s on the Internet, so it must be true.) Apparently these Miyazaki box sets are very popular items on the streets of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai. The packaging is very nice. I’m sure the quality is top notch. Good transfers and sound, high quality pressings.

The problem is of course I like Miyazaki. I think Totoro is the best kids movie ever made, period. I don’t like the idea of ripping him off. Ripping off the artist? From the same man with over 100 Gigs of MP3 (backup) music files? So, who really profits from the sale of DVDs? The filmmaker? The retailer? The distributor? I’m sure it follows the same general principle of music distro. I’m sure the studio/distributor gets the lion’s share of the cash and then they give out a few crumbs to the filmmaker. Yup, there’s no reason to think that whoever gets the US distribution rights to the Studio Ghibli films will make plenty of dough but funnel just a trickle back to Miyazani & Co.

See the problem get even more complex. Most of these films you can’t even buy on DVD here in the US yet. There are all kinds of crazy laws the MPAA and the WTO have set up keeping you from importing amine (and other foreign media) into the country. It’s not a censorship thing. It’s a copyright thing. What’s the difference? Very little.

However there is a rumor out there (on the Internet again) that a US distributor will be picking up all the Miyazaki/Ghibli films and giving them they premium treatment they deserve. We’re all very excited about that. Apparently Disney has done a very good job with Spirited Away.

Oh, so it’s Disney that owns the US rights to these films. So if I go on ebay, and I buy one of these Hong Kong box sets I’m ripping off Disney. Well, maybe I don’t feel so bad about it after all.

My Favorite “Easter Eggs”

I guess my list of favorite DVD easter eggs is pretty short. There are really only two. Sure, lots of the DVDs I own and have rented have had these so-called easter eggs, but for the most part they are pretty lame. Most of ‘em really shouldn’t be even called easter eggs as they are really just part of the main menu structure.

To me, an easter egg should be very well hidden. It should be hard enough to find that one wouldn’t normally come across it in the normal course of exploring the DVD content. To me, a true easter egg should be very difficult to find and needs to be completely undocumented, ie., should not be listed on the DVD box as a bonus feature.

Like I said, my list of favorite DVD easter eggs only includes two. The first one on the list is from Zoolander. That easter egg, like most true easter eggs, we would never have found if it were not for the Internet. That really should be another criterion to define a true easter egg. You must have found it on the Internet. It needs to be obscure enough so that no one would ever find it except for the truly obsessive compulsive DVD fan. That, or someone who can use Google.

The easter egg on Zoolander is very cool. If you don’t know the film, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson plays these dumb-ass male models. It’s a very funny, under appreciated film. The easter egg shows Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson practicing, trying desperately, to learn how to walk and move like a professional model. They do pretty good, considering. But they are very honest about their limitations and it is a true gem.

The other great easter egg may not necessarily be classified as a true easter egg. It may be viewed as a primary feature of the DVD package. The easter egg may be found on disk two of Memento Limited Edition. It is very difficult to find. To be honest everything on that DVD is hard to find. It comes with no instructions, no really documentation of any sort. And all the menus are essentially a series of bizarre multiple-choice psychological tests.

However I uncovered how to find this easter egg, I pretty much purchased this DVD just for this Easter Egg, on the Internet. And if you’ve ever seen Memento, once (or twice or three times) you’d probably wish, wow I’d love to see this film with everything in the correct order. Well, surprise, surprise, you can if you get the Memento Limited Edition. Look for the plain blue box that looks like a medial records file folder. If you look hard enough you will find the word Memento on the box but it won’t say anything anywhere about “see the film reedited with all the scenes in chronological order.”

Now is the time to consider instituting a wealth tax

National, state, and local governments are seeing tremendous budgetary shortfalls that trickle down to local communities and resulting in massive cutbacks in all areas of public spending. These cutbacks affect police, fire, schools, parks, sanitation, healthcare, housing, arts, transit, water, and many other areas. We are essentially seeing our community and its infrastructure being slowly dismantled.

Look around you. Take a drive around our fine city. What do you see? In addition to crumbling schools, unsafe playgrounds, homelessness, and dirty streets, you also see thousands of luxury cars, fancy houses, and upscale restaurants. This city does not have a shortage of money. What is has is a faulty way of collecting and allocating its resources.

I think it’s time to look at a wealth tax for the city. This is not such an unusual idea. While the U.S. does not currently have a tax on wealth, many other countries do, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

A wealth tax is a highly progressive tax that applies to large holders of wealth, applied to things like stocks, bonds, trusts, business equity, and non-residence real estate (principle residence, life insurance, and bank deposits could be exempt).

The basic exclusion would begin at $100,000 -- only families with a net worth above $100,000 would be subject to the tax. The marginal tax structure would look as follows:

* $100,000 to $199,999: 0.03 percent
* $200,000 to $349,999: 0.07 percent
* $350,000 to $499,999: 0.11 percent
* $500,000 to $749,999: 0.15 percent
* $750,000 to $999,999: 0.20 percent
* $1,000,000 and above: 0.25 percent

I am not proposing a national wealth tax, although a national system was proposed by Edward N. Wolff in the Boston Review. What I am proposing is a strictly local system, paid for by San Francisco residents and directly benefiting the city of San Francisco.

The benefits would be tremendous. With this additional source of revenue, San Francisco would become even more of a world-class city. It could have the best parks, the best Symphony, the best opera, the best museums, the best schools, and the cleanest streets. By utilizing its personal wealth infrastructure we could enhance the city in unimaginable ways, greatly expanding its vital tourist trade.

Critics might scoff and say that a system like that is unworkable, that people could easily hide their wealth in tax shelters. Sure, that’s a possibility, but I feel that the wealthy residents of this city are also its biggest boosters. They love the city they live in. They love its culture, parks, and architecture. And they would be glad to pay their fair share in order to protect what they love. And everyone thinks this city is something worth protecting.

We're back from Gold Beach

Well, we’re back in from our vacation and have returned to cold, foggy San Francisco. We had a wonderful time and are very appreciative to all who joined us and helped make this trip even better. If you didn’t make it this time and have never been to the Southern Oregon Coast I highly recommend you make the trip. It’s really beautiful, relatively close to the Bay Area, and for the most part surprisingly unspoiled.

Here are a few photos I took. I hope you enjoy them. f you want a better quality version of any photo please let me know and I’ll send you one.

Miriam and Sage in the Redwoods


This is a nice shot of Miriam and Sage standing under two huge redwood trees. I believe this hiking trail is in the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.

Port Orford

port orford
Here is a photo of as extremely picturesque shot of one of the beaches at Port Orford. One of these days I want to move to the town of Port Orford. Not for this beach (there's a much better beach on the other side of these rocks) but because it's one of the best small towns I've ever visited.

Myer's Creek Beach


Here is another one of Myer's Creek. You can see the boulders much closer.

Night photo


Here is another night photo/self portrait. This one is highlighted by a flash to grab a shot of me bending down, then it's a 13 second exposure of my waving a burning log around. This is one of my favorites.

Night photo


Here is one of many experiments in night photography. It is also one of many experiments in self-portraiture. Shown here is Mark, myself, and Phil (I believe). I think it's a 10 second exposure. I ran into the shot after I opened the shutter (you can see the blur). Mark apparently likes to move around a bit while he talks.

Myer's Creek Beach


I believe those lovely rocks off in the distance is our favorite beach, Myer's Creek. This photo was taken from up top Cape Sebastian. It's a lovely hike around Cape Sebastian, which is unfortunately usually shrouded in fog. This was a particular clear day and I got this great shot.

Chow time


This is the picnic table outside our cabin.
Sabine, Phil, Miriam, Sage, Christine, Rose, Anna, and Mark

Here are a bunch of folks hanging out at our favorite swimming hole


There's Miriam, Sage, Jules, Grant, and Heather

Here is Sage, holding a snake that we caught together