Thursday, March 16, 2006

Audibly Dumb

Am I the only person who thinks Audible is stupid? I mean, I like the idea of audio books, and Audible is clearly the leader in this field, but I'm beginning to think that this is only because no one else has really offered them any relevant competition. First off, the whole proprietary .aa (AudCom) file thing has got to go. In spite of Audible's claim that many, many MP3 players work with these files, the real truth is that most of the popular MP3 players out there, aside from the iPods, do not. What's wrong with plain old MP3 files? I asked Audible about this and they said it was to ensure that copyright issues were respected. Since I use a Samsung player (which plays just about every format except Audible's) all this really did was force me to turn a third party piece of software to convert the files into a listenable format--so much for protecting copyright issues! The irony here is that I may, in the future, purchase files from Audible, but only because I can convert the files into a usable format. Had I not found a solution to the problem, I would have immedately cancelled my subscription and asked for my money back.

In the second place, the file I received was separated into two big unwieldy chunks. Using Audacity, I was able to separate the file into chapters but, Jeez, what a hassle. Now maybe this is not an issue with AudCom files on iPods, I do not know, but when will these companies stop working off of business models they borrowed from J. P. Morgan and move into the twenty-first century, and how much longer can we continue this brain-dead idiocy called DRM?

As for the book, I can see where listening to book instead of reading them has certain advantages, but not as many as one may think. Sure, you can listen to a book while driving, but you are missing huge chunks of the narrative everytime you have to negotiate a passing maneuver in heavy traffic. I'd like to see some comparative figures on listening vs. reading retention levels. For me, listening has the advantage of forcing me to pay attention. Since I seem to have a tendency to let my mind run rampant when people are talking to me, audio books are probably a good way to excercise my atrophied listening muscles. Audble is, by no means the only player in this game, and there are several sources for free audio books as well thanks to The Gutenberg Project and the Internet Archive. I can't speak for the quality of these. I suspect it is wildly uneven.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Living in a Bubble

Bubble, the latest film by Steven Soderbergh has garnered a lot of press lately. Unfortunately, most of the press has been about the pros and cons of the simultaneous DVD/Cable/Theater releasing scheme. Even the reviews of the film miss the most important aspect of this movie, which is the film's effective proof that there is no reason to pay Jennifer Lopez millions of dollars for her services. With the right director, a woman who has worked at a KFC for 24 years can turn in an effective and affecting performance. Bubble is the story of three people who work at a doll factory in Belpre, Ohio. The movie explores what happens when their lives intersect. Nothing earth-shattering here, but it is the first time that these people have ever acted. In some cases it shows, but even then it works somehow. In terms of acting, the closest thing I can compare it to is Monte Hellman's superb film, TWO LANE BLACKTOP, which featured singer James Taylor and dead Beach Boy, Dennis Wilson in the leads roles. But even there, Hellman hedged his bets, hiring some talented Hollywood regulars lest the film careen off into disaster. Soderbergh works without a net. The end result is a film that feels like a documentary, and yet we know it is not. A word has to be said here about Soderbergh's cinematography. This film is visually stunning. I'd say kudos to Director of Photography, but Soderbergh did it himself, as he often does, under the name Peter Andrews. If you can, I would recommed seeing this in a theater just because the visual deserve the largest format possible (unless you have a 50' screen at home, in which case, never mind).