Sunday, November 23, 2008

Garmin Nuvi 755t Review – 8.5 out of 10


When Garmin announced the updated Nuvi line a few months back, the Nuvi 755t really piqued my interest.  With my existing GPS unit (Sony NV-U70) showing its age, I decided to purchase this from unit for 439.99 from J&R Music World ($60 off MSRP). 

This is my first Garmin unit, so I was curious and hesitant to see if it would really suit my needs.  Apart from some quirks and some design flaws, this is a fantastic all around unit and I recommend it to anyone.

Garmin 755t 1

The Lineup:

Garmin has released a lot of new units in this line.  The 755t is the “entry” level unit, but this is a bit misleading as the 765t, 775t, and 785t don’t really offer much more, but cost an extra $100.00, respectively.

As you can see below, each unit is almost identical, but the higher end models have features like Bluetooth (which is useless for me because my car has Bluetooth) and things like an MSN Direct Receiver, which is an expensive subscription, based service that is basically useless for me because this unit has built in lifetime traffic for free.

Garmin _ CompareDon’t waste your money; buy what you need and save yourself a few hundred dollars for basically the same exact unit.

Unit Design:

The first thing I noticed about the 755t is that it is thin.  My previous Sony unit was a bit stubbier, but this is not only thing, it has a gorgeous 4.3” widescreen (480 x 272 resolution). 

In an attempt to look sleek and modern, the unit only has one power switch on the top.  However, Garmin missed out on a good opportunity here to include an extra physical button that was invaluable on the Sony.  For example, with the press of a button, I could always repeat the last/latest directions just in case I missed it.  I didn’t have to take my eyes off the road to fiddle with the unit to find a repeat command, which I have to do using the 755t.  Garmin – in trying to make its unit look ultra sleek -- misses a big opportunity to make its unit much more useful by paying attention to how everyday people use these devices.  This is a relatively small issue (or at least every major electronics maker today is equally horrible in this department – I call it the “form over function” curse of the iPod).

The power cable is not well designed at all.  The end of the power cable is small, delicate, and you can never tell which way it is supposed to fit.

And for reasons unknown, the unit itself does not connect directly to the power cable.  Instead, you have to connect the power cable to a plastic portion of the windshield mount.  And to make things more difficult, when the unit is snapped onto the mount, it is almost impossible to plug in the power adapter because there is almost no space there.


Once you get the unit plugged in, its physical design flaws quickly fade away.  First off, the unit turns on in a matter of seconds, which is a welcome change from my Sony.  It has the standard annoying warning message, which I am sure causes more accidents than it prevents.  Fortunately, the warning goes away after a few seconds.

Garmin 755t 4

The display is clear and legible, and the street names are easy to read (even for the ones passing by).  The bottom left corner features a small sign telling you what the speed limit is; this is a nice touch, but not a must-have feature. 

Entering in addresses is intuitive and effortless, and it gave me the strong impression that Garmin has spent a lot of time on this part of the user interface.  But like previous units, it is cumbersome to enter in a custom route.  For example, I take a specific route to work every morning and I had to manually plot about ten custom points just to get that set.  I wish there was a simple way to hit “Start Recording” and “Stop Recording” and save that as a custom route (maybe there is, but I can find it).

The 755t has great-looking maps and the GPS sensor is very sensitive.  The unit calculates routes (and calculates re-routes) quickly and the prompts to make turns are timely.  Saving and searching your favorite locations is a breeze.  Looking through local points of interest is a real strength as well.  I can easily find the nearest airports, restaurants, gas stations and other points of interest.  Although pretty cumbersome, it is possible to add custom locations as well.

I do not like how the two fields on the bottom of the screen aren’t fully customizable.  As you can see above, there is one field on the bottom left that tells you how fast you are going.  But the last I remember, EVERY SINGLE CAR IN AMERICA HAS A BUILT IN SPEEDOMETER – so I would much rather have the choice to change this to something like total distance to destination.  The other field does let you customize somewhat, but it is still limited.  Again, this seems like the result of Garmin assuming it knows best and overlooking the fact that everyday people might want have different needs than what their designers assume people need.  But because the rest of the interface is beautifully designed and pretty intelligent, this is a small quibble.

Other Features:

As you can see below, the top left corner tells you how far you have to go to the next turn and also gives you a hint at which lane(s) you need to be in.  This is a fantastic feature.  Garmin 755t 3

In fact, I think this makes the unit’s brand new “Lane Assist” feature pretty much pointless.  With that said, I can say that Lane Assist works perfectly and is timely and unobtrusive.  It’s a nice advance, but not a must have feature.

The websites also say that some cities are displayed in “3D”, but I have yet to drive in any major cities where 3D coverage is available.

Garmin 755t 8

I love the “Where am I?” feature.  My Sony supposedly had this feature and basically spit out a set of GPS coordinates, which are totally useless.  On the other hand, Garmin gives you a real-time readout of the closest street address, which you can imagine is invaluable.  Another must-have feature is the way the unit tells you on what side of the street your destination is, which is always useful when you’re looking for a restaurant in town.

The 755t features an audio out port and a built in FM modulator, so you can listen to your GPS through your car’s stereo speakers.  The unit speaks out street names and distances, but I generally keep the unit on mute, so that’s not a big deal for me.  I can report that the internal speaker is loud and clear.  I think the FM modulator is a useless feature because if you really wanted to listen to your GPS on your car stereo, you’d have to keep your car stereo constantly tuned to this station the whole time.  This means you can’t listen to music the whole time – which begs the question – if it is quiet in the car, why not just use the internal speaker?

“Integrated” Traffic Receiver:

The most anticipated feature of the 755t is the “Integrated” traffic receiver.  Unlike other units which are merely compatible with traffic subscriptions, the 755t includes a free lifetime FM traffic subscription through NavTeq.  As you can see, the subscription covers many major cities around the US, and at least for my purposes, it covers the areas I really need, including the Bay Area, New York, and Boston.

Garmin 755t 14

Garmin 755t 15

Garmin 755t 16

Garmin 755t 17

If you are in an area with FM traffic coverage, the 755t displays a green circle.  If you encounter traffic en route, the circle turns either yellow or red, and tells you how many minutes of delay to expect.
  Garmin 755t 11

  Garmin 755t 12

It would be nice if the unit could tell you what caused the delay.  Unfortunately, I’ve only driven through traffic once and it wasn’t exactly accurate.  All of a sudden there was a red zone and it said there was 20 minutes of delay, and over the next three minutes, that delay evaporated and I never saw any traffic until a half hour later.  Judging from other reviews, this may have just been a fluke and the traffic coverage is pretty accurate in general.

Even if you aren’t en route somewhere, you can quickly run a “Traffic Search” and review any nearby delays:

Garmin 755t 6

The real tradeoff for the free traffic coverage is that the unit is “Ad Supported.”  As you can see below, every once in awhile you can see a small, unobtrusive advertisement, but only when you are fully stopped.  I could care less if the unit was ad-supported, especially when a traffic subscription can cost around $15.00/month otherwise.  This is a fantastic way to make traffic coverage affordable.

Garmin 755t 13

But there is something misleading about the term “integrated” traffic receiver.  Garmin doesn’t mention at all on its website that the FM traffic receiver is actually integrated into the end of the cigarette lighter.  This means that you can’t get a regular replacement charger if you travel, but always need to keep the traffic receiver with you.  This was a huge pain in the ass for me because I like to hard-wire my unit to my car, not use the cigarette lighter.  After a few hours of work and cutting a cigarette lighter extension cord up, I was able to sneak the charger behind my dashboard, but it is still easily removable if I decide to travel.  The FM receiver is strong enough to receive the signal through my dashboard.

Garmin 755t 18

Nowhere on Garmin’s website does it tell you what the model number of this receiver is (after some research, I figured out it is the “GTM 20 Receiver”).  I think Garmin did this on purpose because the GTM 20 Receiver retails for over $200.00.  Of course, you can find it on eBay for much cheaper, but I think it is pretty shitty that Garmin doesn’t care to tell you that you have to bring that exact car adapter with you if you ever want traffic coverage.  Garmin here is trying to get away with some moderate sleight of hand. 

You’ll also notice Garmin doesn’t advertise any replacement accessories like a car charger because they don’t want to have to tell you that a replacement charger by itself doesn’t include a traffic receiver. 

Software Bundle:

This is a pretty simple section.  The 755t doesn’t come with any software, not even a driver CD.  The manual and installation instructions are also pretty lame and unhelpful. 

Garmin has a ton of different software titles, none of which are easy to access, download, and use.  In fact, it is even hard to tell if a particular piece of software is compatible with your particular unit.  I believe that the most important software is the Garmin POI Loader, which lets you upload custom points of interest that you can download from the web.  Next to that is Garmin Mobile PC (about $60), which lets you plug your unit into your laptop and use your laptop screen instead to navigate.

Garmin 755t 9

There is also something called MapSource, but that too is hard to locate, not well documented, and a little difficult to understand.  I think, however, with a little homework, I can figure out how to use it.

Garmin 755t 10


Although I’ve highlighted many of the quirks and annoying “features” of the 755t, the interface of the unit is extremely well-designed and well worth the investment.  This is the best GPS unit I have owned.

8.5 out of 10.

2007 Acura TL – Suspension Upgrade

After a few months of research online, I’ve ordered an upgraded suspension.  I really miss the way the sport suspension on my Mazda felt and I can’t wait to get everything installed.
For a sports sedan, the TL rides very soft.  In tight corners or at higher speeds, the car has a tendency to bob and weave.  And although I may be trading off ride comfort for a flatter, more responsive ride, the ride is so smooth right now that it feels a numb and detached from the road. 
My upgrades include the OEM lowering springs and struts, which are part of the A-Spec handling kit, as well as an aftermarket adjustable Rear Sway Bar from Progress Technologies. 

Progress Rear Sway Bar

Do not buy these parts from an Acura Dealer, however.  First off, they won’t sell you any aftermarket brands, so you’re not going to find the Rear Sway Bar there at all. 

Second, they only sell the suspension parts as part of the larger A-Spec “handling” kit, which costs a few thousand dollars more because it includes body spoilers, another set of mediocre tires, and a whole new set of rims – none of which I need.

Your best bet is finding the parts on eBay – and with a 25% off discount for accessing eBay through Microsoft Live, it’s a great deal.

Parts arrive in a week . . .

Monday, November 10, 2008

How Are "The Walkmen" Still Underrated?

I don't think any other band better captures the last five years of indie music than The Walkmen. If you haven't checked out their latest album -- "You and Me" -- buy it right now.

It's that good; it's too good. I'm amazed how this New York-based band still manages to fly under the radar. Enjoy some gems from earlier albums:

Monday, November 03, 2008

10 Action Movie Lines I Consistently Quote Out of Context

  1. "There IS no tomorrow!" -Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky III
  2. "It's just been revoked." -Sgt. Murtaugh (Danny Glover), Lethal Weapon 2
  3. "They drew first blood, not me." -John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), First Blood
  4. "We're not gonna go see any fuckin' elephants, okay? And don't give me any of your SHIT!" -Lester Diamond (James Woods), Casino
  5. "Cause she's got a -- GREAT ASS!" -Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), Heat
  6. "Around -- I'll be around." -Det. Somerset (Morgan Freeman), Se7en
  7. "Clear the shingles!" -Cap. Miller (Tom Hanks), Saving Private Ryan
  8. "Hold!" -William Wallace (Mel Gibson), Braveheart
  9. "Put it away for now, just for now." -Yves Perret (Jack Palance), Tango & Cash
  10. "You hit me in the ear." -Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), Fight Club

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia - Who Pooped the Bed?

Season 4 of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is amazing. This is the best comedy writing I've seen in years. If you haven't seen this show yet, enjoy the video. New episodes are on FX, Thursday's at 10pm.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Black Keys @ The Fillmore, SF w/ Special Guest Dr. Dog (10/30/08)

I had high hopes the last time The Black Keys came to town. In April, this duo played The Warfield the day after Attack and Release debuted. I was underwhelmed; Dan Auerbach seemed sluggish and Patrick Carney's drumming seemed out of sync. They just didn't seem well prepared and went through the motions.

All is forgiven after their electric performance yesterday night.

They played a sold out show at the Fillmore (my first time there). The crowd was really into it and pretty chill. Auerbach's vocals and guitar work were crisp, but not to the point they were stilted or choreographed. He spent a lot of time improvising his solos, and Carney matched him every step of the way, just punishing his drum set. Carney's style reminds me a lot of the uber-aggressive drumming of Dave Grohl when he was drumming for Nirvana and again with Queens of the Stone Age.

Best $11 bucks I've ever spent.

As a side note, special guest Dr. Dog was forgettable. They spent so much time making it look like they are rocking out (see generally any commercial for Rock Band or Guitar Hero, or any post-grunge / alternative / hard rock music video in the last ten years) that they forgot about whether the music is any good. I'm not exaggerating either; they spent about 85% of their time jumping around, swinging their guitars from here to there -- but the music was just an afterthought.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

JetBlue Announces Terminal 5 at JFK

On October 22, JetBlue opened its brand new terminal at JFK. I got an e-mail from JetBlue today, tooting its own horn about "this brand new, state-of-the-art terminal with great features and amenities" which include:
  • Smooth & simple kiosk check-in
  • Up to 15 security lanes
  • 26 gates with seats aplenty

But here's the kicker: "Please allow yourself a little extra time when arriving or departing T5 for your JetBlue Airways flight[.]" Really?


Friday, October 24, 2008

Sunday, September 07, 2008

22 Listworthy Films

  1. Batman: Gotham Knight (Animated) (2008)
  2. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
  3. Born Into Brothels (Documentary) (2003)
  4. The Bourne Identity (2002)
  5. Cache (2005)
  6. Capturing the Friedmans (Documentary) (2003)
  7. The Dark Knight (2008)
  8. Eastern Promises (2007)
  9. In the Valley of Elah (2006)
  10. Junebug (2005)
  11. Juno (2007)
  12. Lust for Life (1956)
  13. Man on the Train (2002)
  14. Michael Clayton (2006)
  15. No Country for Old Men (2007)
  16. Northfork (2003)
  17. Perspolis (Animated) (2008)
  18. Ratatouille (Animated) (2007)
  19. The Savages (2007)
  20. Saved! (2004)
  21. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2007)
  22. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Food Loves French's - Ay-yay-yay-yai!

Brilliant randomness. To date, only outdone by the "El Pollo Loco" guy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Mazda, She Is No More. Long Live The Acura.

The time came.

For the last few months, my 2003 Mazda 6s was quickly showing its true GM roots. As it neared the 60,000 mile mark, there were a host of new creaks and knocks. Front suspension, radiator, minor oil leak, 60k-mile service, tires, and rear brakes were all going to need attention -- and the prospect of dumping about 3 grand into a car with 60,000 miles on it wasn't exactly appetizing. And assuming I did pay to get it fixed, I'd still be out of warranty.

Short story short -- the Mazda, she is no more. Long live the [certified pre-owned] 2007 Acura TL!

What can I say? I'm a sucker for the four door saloon. Apart from the fact that the TL has more interior headroom and a better looking rear-end, my taste in styling hasn't changed much. Notice the similarities?

And if you look at each photograph carefully, you'll notice that both pictures were taken in exactly the same location, which is really a freak occurrence because two weeks ago, I moved back to an apartment complex I had lived in years ago. It's like Groundhog Day!

Well -- almost. There are some important advantages to the TL. For starters, first and second gear are not absolutely useless like in the Mazda. At low speeds, the 6 was jerky, heavy, and just all around horrid in stop-and-go traffic (that it was brilliant on the highway is neither here nor there). The TL's extra 38 horsepower and 41 pounds of torque are a welcome addition over the 6's asthmatic and (amazingly inefficient) 6-cylinder engine. I'm actually amazed that the TL has much more power and still manages to get better miles to the gallon.

Other TL advantages include superior build quality and materials, like the leather and dash plastics. There is significantly less headroom noise on the highway too, which makes driving longer distances a lot more comfortable in the TL.

I didn't think I would, but I like the TL's handsfree phone system. The microphone is perfectly positioned and there is no need to talk louder than usual, and the other caller's voice comes through clearly through the stereo. Unfortunately, Acura insists on not reading your phone's phonebook, so it can be a little tricky.

I still think the Mazda's interior cockpit design is above-average in its class, but the lack of basic features like bluetooth, MP3-CD playback, AUX-in, or iPod integration (even in the 2008 model) were especially infuriating because their integrated dash system is very very (very) costly to replace.

What the 6 lacks in build quality and features, it definitely made up for in handling. The firm sports suspension, super-stiff chassis, and great steering wheel feedback made even a simple drive to the supermarket a thrill ride. The TL has a much smoother ride and is, unfortunately, a bit more numb overall. It doesn't bob and weave like a Caddy, but it doesn't feel as glued to the pavement as the 6 did. And no, I can't afford a TL Type-S, so forget it.

The only TL "feature" that bothers me is the advanced Grade Logic Control System and Shift Hold control. So when you are slowing down to stop at a signal, the transmission will automatically downshift for you -- and downshift hard. Although the engine-braking will help you slow down faster, these downshifts to 3rd and 2nd are quite harsh. This makes it very hard to slow down smoothly or just keep your foot off the gas and coast until the light changes. It is quite intrusive and makes every occasion you slow down at a light a real adventure.

Basically, what these features attempt to do is mimic a manual transmission. But the peculiar thing is that most manual drivers -- when stopping at a signal -- will keep it in 4th or 3rd and come to a full stop, then just shift to 1st to get going again. The only time they would really downshift sequentially like the TL is to slow down quickly to hit the apex on a tight curve and have enough low-end power to accelerate out of the turn. But seriously, I'm driving around in the 'burbs of the Bay Area -- I don't need hard engine-braking every time I slow down to get into the parking lot of the local Target! Fortunately, the TL's manual shift mode (tiptronic) doesn't downshift as aggressively, so I tend to just use that.

In terms of upgrades, I always try to keep them understated. I've added an amp and sub from my Mazda, which sound fantastic. Tint has also made a huge difference. With the dark exterior (Carbon Gray Pearl), untinted glass makes this car looked like a plain vanilla Camry you might borrow from your grandmother. But with matching 35s all around, the TL comes alive.

The one thing I have seen that I really like is these illuminated door sills. They are pretty elegant and understated.

I was thinking of getting a rear wing spoiler, but I don't like the way it would add bulk to an already muscular rear end.

Friday, August 01, 2008

On Truth in Advertising

Is it just me or is the name of the public TV program "New Tang Dynasty" incredibly misleading?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another Moment of Modernity

This afternoon, I was sitting at a signal when a guy with spiked up bleach-blonde hair pulled up in a Ford Focus blasting death metal (I believe Slayer). Normally I wouldn't have paid much attention, but the fact that he was casually wearing a bluetooth earpiece really depressed me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Did Lucifer Design LG's New Ad Campaign?

This afternoon, I finally put my finger on why LG's new adverts are evil. Each ad celebrates disposable consumer culture without the slightest realization how shallow the message actually is. You somtimes come across advertisers who poke fun at themselves -- but this isn't that kind of ad campaign. This is evil on multiple levels.

LG proudly proclaims that "all" that's standing between you and your wonderful new existence are your "old" appliances. And amazingly, each ad features working appliances being destroyed in rather lame fashion so that the consumer can justify her "need" to buy the latest, faux industrial offering from LG.

And don't think I'm reading too much into the meaning of the TV ads. The print ad campaign is even more atrocious. They feature tag lines like:

  • "The average lifespan of a washer and dryer is 13 years. Fortunately, there are ways of shortening it."
  • "What would drive you to sabotage your perfectly good dishwasher? Our dishwasher."
  • "Whoever said you have to wait for your refrigerator to break to get an LG?"
  • "The only thing standing between you and your new LG appliances are your old appliances."

Did it ever occur to LG that this commerical could have been spun into a brilliant public service announcement? Did it occur to them that instead of destroying all of the perfectly fine, working home appliances, that they could have just said "donate your old appliances to someone who can use them"?

And I'm not talking about altruism here -- I'm talking about a clever marketing campaign. Perhaps the easiest way to turn off consumers is to make them feel ashamed of their desire to purchase your product. And what has LG done here? It has taken that self-interested, polluting, materialism and made it the center of its campaign! Instead, why not play to the emerging faux-"green" civic virtue (or, if your target audience has none, why not give them the impression that making this purchase will succeed in creating that virtue)? I mean, how stupid can LG be to actually air this?

And did you happen to catch all of the imagery of nature being littered with bits of destroyed appliances? What genius thought that would be a good idea? Just seeing that "Life's Good" motto at the end of each advert just about sums it up. These ads represent a mentality that's about five years past its time. What a horrible, horrible ad campaign. It should put LG to shame.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Natural Born Litigators

It's a great feeling to work at a firm where you can to post a parody of a name partner. Everyone's such a good sport.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)

There's a highly-anticipated animated Batman film being released tomorrow. It is called "Batman: Gotham Knight", features six episodes done by different directors, and has a pretty interesting anime feel to it. Here's a pretty good preview:

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

I loved collecting comic books -- until my mom put an end to it a dozen years back. Luckily, three things happened since then: (1) great cartoons like X-Men and Batman: The Animated Series sustained my interest; (2) I held on to my comic book collection; and (3) I now earn my own salary.

A few weeks ago, I set foot in a comic-book store for the first time in more than a decade. I was like a kid in a comic-book store. I spent an hour in the highly-rated HiJinx Comics (San Jose, CA) shooting the breeze with a very helpful clerk. I can't describe how much more exhilarating the experience was compared to setting foot in a germ-free Barnes & Noble.

When I was in the store, a young kid came into the store with his mom. Both were equally out of their element. The mom had no idea what any of the comic books were about and was in a hurry for her son to just pick something and leave. The boy, now under pressure to hurry, was equally unsure of where to begin. And naturally, he gravitated toward the handful of comic book heroes he'd seen on TV. It hit me not only that I was the same way when I was his age, but that -- having been away from comic books for so long -- that most of the story lines I enjoy reflect what I had seen on TV too. I'm not sure why, but this made me curiously aware of my age.

I asked the clerk to give me the names of some well-regarded graphic novels/trade paperbacks in the last few decades. Some of the common ones came up, including "The Dark Knight Returns" (TDKR), which I had already ordered. He also recommended Alan Moore's "Watchmen" (which I am currently halfway through and loving). But given my bent towards the much darker, more cerebral, literary style, he highly recommended the "Sandman" series. I'm deliberating whether to buy it.

The only reason I recount my visit to HiJinx is because that scene will always remind me of the first time I read Frank Miller's TDKR, which incidentally I was able to buy using a gift certificate, a great coupon, and with free shipping online for just over 25 bucks. I bought this beautifully illustrated "Absolute Dark Knight" hard-cover edition.

I'm not going to go too much into the storyline, except to say that it was a pleasure to read. It is not only beautifully illustrated, it was also an engaging experience to consume the equivalent of a full-length feature film in a format I'm no longer used to. Every night before bed for about a week, I'd pick up the action right where I left off. And having focused lately on 20th century classics, this graphic novel forced me to use a different part of my brain to experience the story being told. It was a breath of fresh air.

Reading TDKR also made me aware of my age. Obviously this has something to do with the fact that Miller chronicles The Batman's return from a decade-long retirement following the death of Jason Todd. But the entire structure and tone of the work -- and how I approached the story -- is so different than what I imagined.

The publication of TDKR in 1986 was a watershed event. It redefined The Batman for a generation -- for my generation. TDKR represents a marked transformation from the campy, crime-solver to the grim, psychologically-deranged crusader. This Batman is personally tortured, vengeful, and aware of his own mortality. This Batman has a depth I yet to experience on the screen.

When I was younger, I was much more interested in piecing together the story lines like a soap opera. But TDKR is a fantastic stand-alone work; it uses the characters as a vehicle to tell us a tale and tell us much more about the author. Put simply, TDKR has made me much more aware of the mythology of The Batman. And as time goes on, new artists, be it writers, cartoonists, or film directors, have been able to put their own marks on one of the most successful franchises of all time (a big part of me wishes this was done for the Star Wars franchise, you know, so it stops sucking).

Christopher Nolan's latest Batman film is due to be released in a few weeks. I was a bit mad when they decided to do the Joker again because Jack Nicholson absolutely nailed that role in Tim Burton's film awhile back. But since then, and since reading TDKR, I'm much more cognizant of the way each generation creates its own Batman folklore. Now I am even more interested to see the late Heath Ledger's interpretation of the Joker.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Freshly-Cut: New Music!

(June 2008)

It's been a very good few months and I've stumbled across a lot of great music. Enjoy.

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008)
Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers (2008)
Andrew Bird - Soldier On (2008)
Sun Kill Moon - April (2008)
A.A. Bondy - American Hearts (2008)
Elton John - The Legendary Covers Album (2008)
Everest - Ghost Notes (2008)
Bob Marley - Trenchtown Rock (2008)
Sean Hayes - Flowering Spade (2008)
Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer (2008)

Friday, June 20, 2008

My Morning Jacket on Conan

Just in case you missed My Morning Jacket's fantastic performance of "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream, Part 2." This off of their album Evil Urges:

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Moment of Modernity

I was in the restroom at work today. While in the stall, I began to hear, to my left, the distinct tapping of someone typing an e-mail on a smartphone. Immediately thereafter, I began to hear, to my right, the sound of someone tapping away on another smartphone. About ten seconds later, from the far left, I heard yet another person typing. There I was, sitting in complete silence, and all I could hear is typing.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions

Discovery Channel has done it again. I'm addicted to its new six-part series, When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions. And while the imagery is absolutely haunting, unlike Discovery's previous series "Planet Earth," this series doesn't simply rest on its "Hi-Def" laurels. It isn't content at simply showing us some cool scenes, but combines fantastic interviews with above-average narration to create a compelling story of the personalities involved. It is epic.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)

When I think of Alexander Portnoy -- a 33-year old American Jew who grew up in Jersey City -- I imagine Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce rolled into one. Portnoy is the main character in Philip Roth's exquisitely vulgar 1969 novel "Portnoy's Complaint."

What exactly is Portnoy's "complaint"? Given that the entire novel is Portnoy's monologue with his psychoanalyst, Dr. Spielvogel, understandably the novel begins with a clinical definition:

Portnoy's Complaint n. A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature. Spielvogel says: 'Acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus are plentiful; as a consequence of the patient's "morality," however, neither fantasy nor act issues a genuine sexual gratification, but rather in overriding feelings of shame and the dread of retribution, particularly in the form of castration.' (Spielvogel, O. "The Puzzled Penis," Internationale Zeitschrift fur Psychoanalyse, Vol XXIV p.909). It is believed by Spielvogel that many of the symptoms can be traced to the bonds obtaining in the mother-child relationship.
So, to put it plainly, Portnoy's Complaint is that he is somehow prevented from enjoying any of his impulses and this -- at least he says -- forces him to the extremes.

I'm sure you can imagine that Portnoy, Assistant Commissioner of Human Opportunity for the City of New York, is not married and is not not particularly interested in getting married. He's terrified at the prospect of getting bored with his mate -- and considering his frank, mechanical, vulgar descriptions of sex, it isn't surprising why he's terrified of settling down.

Roth's novel has a real shock-and-awe feel to it. Roth is deliberately trying to unveil subject matter that would otherwise never see the light of day -- and amazingly, almost 40 years after its publication, the novel has more urgency, depth, and electricity than any of our sophomoric, campy, "Sex and the City"-ish counterparts.

I finished the novel about two months ago and I've had a hard time trying to mull it over. Obviously, there are some passages that are "shocking," but the excitement is as fleeting as -- well, you know. I find myself wishing now that Roth had spent more time exploring the most exciting themes in the book: guilt, family, and identity. Portnoy's description of his parents -- "These two are the outstanding producers and packagers of guilt in our time!" -- are brilliant. And the way in which Portnoy describes his peculiar sense of alienation when visiting the 'homeland' reminded me of my trips abroad.

"Portnoy's Complaint" is an exploration of guilt (of the middle-class, American-Jew variety). And in comparison to the fleeting impact of Portnoy's escapades, experiencing Roth's part-fictional caricatures of his upbringing and realizing that they were not that far off from my own is lasting.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Father's Day

Here is an ad that never gets enough airtime.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Legal / Industry News Index

When I started work in October 2007, I wasn't aware that my firm had subscriptions to several high-end legal news resources. I found out about each one accidentally -- and it often took a few days to figure out who had the login information to access the site. I came up with the brilliant idea of writing those resources down and distributing them to my colleagues, but it got me interested in tackling a broader problem.

I've noticed that the most effective attorneys are generally up to date on current events. Obviously this includes world news, politics, and sports, but they are also well-versed in what's going on in various tech sectors. They constantly use this information to inform their work. I really think this is a critical aspect of professional development, and I think I've been kind of lazy about not keeping up to date.

But it turns out that I have no idea what resources my colleages use to stay up to date. So I came up with the brilliant idea of asking them. I sent out a quick e-mail asking for feedback, and I was amazed to discover an array of fantastic resources I wouldn't have known existed otherwise. And in the spirit of sharing the wealth, here's the list.
Feel free to suggest others:

General IP
Intellectual property Owners Association:
IP Law360:
Managing IP:

Patent Law
271 Patent Blog:
E.D. Tex. Blog:
Hal Wegner's Newsletter (request via e-mail to
JurisNotes – Patent Extra:
Last Month at the Federal Circuit Newsletter:
Patent Docs:
Patent Lens:
PATNEWS Newsletter:
Promote The Progress:
The Patent Prospector:
The Prior Art:
USPTO BPAI Decisions:

BioTech Law / Industry
BioWorld Online:
FDA Law Blog:
Orange Book Blog:
Patent Baristas:
Patent Docs:
Wall Street Journal Health Blog:

Tech Law / Industry
Bay Area TechWire Newsletter:
BNA Internet Law News:
Chilling Effects Clearninghouse:
CNET News:
IT Wire:
Silicon Valley News:
Silicon Valley Wire:
The Dean’s List:

General Legal
ABA Section of Antitrust Law:
Adam Smith, Esq.:
American Lawyer:
Cal Law:
California Lawyer:
EvidenceProf Blog:
How Appealing:
New York Lawyer:
NY Times:
Wall Street Journal Law Blog:
Wall Street Journal:

Braina (Japan):
IN-Law Newsletter (Japan):
Patent Salon (Japan):
Potent Potions (India):
Spicy IP (India):

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (1961)

"What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is often overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life."

Winner of the National Book Award in 1961, Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer" revels in the space between the routine and alienation of the post-War era. I wasn't expecting it, but Binx Bolling, a successful stock broker living comfortably in the suburbs of New Orleans, reminded me of Ed Norton's character Jack in Fight Club.

Binx has been content to float along in life and subsist on material enjoyment, often noting his appreciation for his secretaries' backsides. He calls this life of routine the 'malaise.' And on the eve of his 30th birthday, Binx recalls a fleeting moment experienced during the Korean War. Wounded and lying on the ground, he recalls watching a beetle and experiencing a moment of clarity. When I think of this moment, I can easily imagine one of the many masterful scenes from a Terrence Malick film (like The Thin Red Line).

What made that moment so captivating for Binx was its profound immediacy. Binx notes the immediate again when he talks with his cousin Kate about a traumatic accident in which she was involved: “Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real? I remember at the time of the wreck — people were so kind and helpful and solid. Everyone pretended that our lives until that moment had been every bit as real as the moment itself and that the future must be real too, when the truth was that our reality had been purchased only by Lyell’s death. In another hour or so we had all faded out again and gone our dim ways.”

Kate, who is suicidal and unstable, seems to share Binx's fear of the ordinary. But unlike Binx, Kate can only deal with these moments of alienation with destruction and the manufacture of drama. Binx is more reserved, but is perhaps more afflicted -- and Kate can tell: "You're like me, but worse. Much worse."

And for Binx, the unreality of his modern life is only amplified by the movie screen. At one point during a movie, he realizes that the movie was shot locally and describes a phenomenon called certification: "Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More thank likely He will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.”

Percy's writing is unique and mesmerizing -- and is quite philosophically informed. Many critics have traced the existentialist influences of Kierkegaard and Sartre, but not having read too much of either, I'll take their word for it.

I'm sure you can guess that the storyline (if there is one at all) develops rather slowly. But the writing is just epic. Each sentence feels uncrowded, pure, reflective, and not weighed down by the responsibility of spoonfeeding the reader plot developments. Nor is Percy concerned with showing you how smart he is or run circles around you with how witty he can be. To me, Percy's style and tone match up perfectly with Binx and Kate.

It is a seamless work.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

10 Awesome Songs for TV Ads for Birth Control Pills

  1. The Avalanches - Since I Left You

  2. Salt N' Pepa - Push It

  3. The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

  4. 2 Live Crew - Me So Horny

  5. NIN - Closer

  6. Peaches - F**k the Pain Away

  7. Beck - Nobody's Fault But My Own

  8. Tool - Prison Sex

  9. Rick James - Give it to Me Baby

  10. Ben Folds Five - Brick

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Deadliest Catch - Season 4 (All New)

The fourth season of the Deadliest Catch premiered on the Discovery Channel tonight. Along with Ax Men on the History Channel, this is the closest thing to 'reality TV' that I'll watch.

Brilliant premise, real personalities. If you haven't seen it, give it a try.

Collective Soul (4/11 - At the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom)

Do you remember Collective Soul? Me too.

I found out just two weeks ago that Collective Soul -- most-known for their 1994 album "Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid" and their self-titled album in 1995 -- released an album called "Afterwords" last summer. I haven't listened to the album yet, but I've spent some time over the past week re-listening to their other albums. I am amazed by how many hits they have.

I recently saw them play at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom for a mere 25 bucks. The two opening bands, Josh Kelley and The Whitest Light, were pretty forgettable, though not terrible.

I really wasn't expecting a great performance from the band; I was expecting to see an aging band to play a handful of their hits, surrounded by a crowd attempting to relive their not so distant youth.

But man -- they were awesome! Ed Rolland really brought the energy and worked the crowd. There was a little something for everybody. Great guitar solos, good vocals, some semi-acoustic songs, some interactive songs, and a general feeling that this band not only enjoys touring together, but also likes playing for the crowd. The best way to describe the show is "balanced."

Collective Soul has largely been successful because of their straightforward, consistent, mainstream brand of rock and roll. At the same time, their lack of a niche musical style or a mystique has held them back. I'm not sure if it is by choice, but Collective Soul seems to have avoided the edgy, counter-culture brand of rock and, instead, embraced the world of adult-contemporary. It isn't a bad thing, but it has affected the band's perceived pedigree and snob-appeal.

At the same time, Collective Soul manages to never sound generic. The albums aren't empty, slavish attempts to emulate the least common denominator of the genre. Although slightly anachronistic, examples of bands like that seem to just mirror whatever the hell everyone else is doing would be Creed, Nickelback, or basically any band caught between post-grunge and pre-"Indie" revolution. And you know what, we've already got a whole boat load of so-called indie-pop bands who are beginning to flood that genre as well, making it even more difficult to figure out what is authentic and what is junk.

Although not unique, Collective Soul is authentic.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Black Keys (4/2 - At The Warfield, SF)

Last night I went to see The Black Keys play at The Warfield in San Francisco. I haven't been to a concert in awhile, so it was nice to get out. I had very high hopes for this concert because the band released its new album -- Attack and Release -- on April 1.

Apart from some technical difficulties, the show was kind of a letdown. It wasn't bad, just pretty average. And when you have high expectations, it feels even worse. I think my main gripe was that they played for just about an hour, which is kind of stingy, especially if you've just released a new album! More importantly, their timing in general was off. Or, something was off and it didn't quite sound right. This was especially true when Pat Carney's uncle, who is featured on the album, came on stage to play.

The one caveat here is that the new album is actually very good.

This brings me to a broader topic, one that began nagging at me mid-way through the show. Does it seem odd that compared to live music I prefer listening to music that is engineered and packaged in some studio and then reproduced on a lifeless machine for my personal enjoyment? Is that sacrilege? Am I a terrible person for preferring the lifeless reproduction to the real deal?

Whenever I go to a show, I look out at the crowd rocking out. And I have a very good hunch that they would rock out to just about anything just as long as it was loud. Frankly, it doesn't even have to resemble a song. And this seems so odd to me because I'm sure most of these people would be quite discerning if they were listening to the song in the car or at home. They would be candid whether a song sucked or not. But for some reason, the collective music IQ takes a sharp nosedive when you are at a live show.

It's not about the music. It has more to do with being there, at a show -- it feels, collectively, more alive to know you are at a place, a gathering, where it is. And you know what, I'm done with that. It is fool's gold and I'm not interested.

I think this observation of the crowd, and its collective dumbness, poisons my experience of live music in general. I have been to only a handful of shows where the performer's musical skill and talent were on display and transformed an otherwise great recorded track into a completely new emotional experience. But that is more the exception than the rule.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

As I continue my two-decade quest to complete the Modern Library's 100 greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, I'm already trying to keep track of the wildly different characters I have come across, and can only imagine those who I will meet in the years to come. Captain John Yossarian is one of those characters that will endure in my memory. He's not particularly heroic. What draws me to him his sanity of weakness and fear.

I finished Heller's scathing, ironic, humorous attack on bureaucracy a few weeks back. In fact, in the interim period between finishing Catch 22 and writing this short review, I have completed The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and begun Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth. The reason I've been waiting to write about Catch 22 is because I hadn't made up my mind about it -- well, I don't think I've really ever made my mind "up" about any book. I just needed time to digest the material and work through how I felt about the book. I find the act of reading less satisfactory than the two-week period after finishing a novel where I can try to understand it in its entirety.

Yossarian is a WW2 bombardier stationed in Pianosa, Italy. He not particularly interested in fighting in the War. We are told that his job, as a soldier, is not to win the war, but to survive. And more importantly, anybody who stands in the way of his mission to stay alive -- is his enemy: "The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, . . . And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live." He's not ashamed of this statement either. In fact, he's afraid to die.

At first, this might seem cowardly, unpatriotic, or self-interested -- especially in a novel set during WW2, where everyone, according to modern folklore, served in the company of heroes. But Yoassarian gave me a jolt of consciousness. Who wouldn't be afraid to die? And especially when surrounded by equally mad commanding officers hell bent on making a name for themselves by sacrificing their squadron?

I think the hallmark of Catch 22 is its mastery of the paradox. Yossarian won't have to fly more missions if he's declared insane; but not wanting to fly more missions is totally sane. And, well, off he has to go to fly some more missions. Catch 22 is full of these paradoxes and, although repetitive and a bit tired in some passages, the overall effect of this repetition pays off. After the first 1/3 of the book, the peculiar, hilariously unique logic starts to make sense. The bureaucracy itself is mad, and the only way to deal with it is with even more madness.

Curiously, I had difficulty picturing the characters in my head while reading the novel and after finishing it as well. For instance, if you were to ask me how I picture the story of Catch 22 being told in film, I can't really think of any I've seen that would be appropriate. I can see WW2 in color, but not in the grainy, muted colors of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. Nor would the faded, 70's-greenish color palette of M*A*S*H really work for me. The world of Catch 22 only exists between the covers.

And now comes my dilemma. By virtue of picking a "Top 100" list as my syllabus, at times I wonder whether I should feel compelled to prove why each book belongs on the list -- which would be my way of justifying canon I've chosen. But where's would be the fun in that? What good is experiencing something if you can't even trust your own instincts?

Even a cursory review of the criticism of Catch 22 reveals that it wasn't universally well-received when published. In fact, the New York Times panned it while others foreshadowed its complete irrelevance.

But here's an opportunity for a knee-jerk reaction that I hate. Usually when someone finds out that a critic disliked a book that eventually becomes a "classic," you'll get the standard line about how dumb these critics must have been at the time not to appreciate the book as a masterpiece. I really can't stand that hindsight bias because the later-acquired fame seems to blind people into justifying why something is great as opposed to just giving their honest opinion about the book and letting the chips fall where they may.

In fact, I have no real qualms about saying that the first 1/3 of the book doesn't appear to be cohesively written and offers little by way of character development; the chapters are so episodic that the book loses whatever momentum it gains the previous chapter, which is pretty frustrating and makes the book hard to get into. The middle 1/3 of the book does a lot of that legwork and begins to build a framework in terms of a plot line, but for the reader, the array of characters and different story lines still don't quite gel together in any meaningful way.

But the last 1/3 of the book makes up for all of this -- and then some. It is stunningly good literature. While reading those last set of chapters, I kept wishing that the earlier portions of the book were as gripping. The sentences tighten up, the paradoxes deepen in meaning by leaps and bounds, and the book gains traction as it embraces a more linear timeline. But the real key for me was that, towards the end of the book, I could actually identify some motivating forces behind Yossarian's attempted rebellion.

With that said, I think over the last two weeks I have been able to think more about the earlier chapters and their extensive use of flashbacks to disrupt time. I'm starting to appreciate that aspect of Heller's writing, especially when he doubles back to describe certain aspects of the same event, which ends up giving the reader an explanation as to why a joke, partially explained earlier in the book, was funny or not. It takes a lot of patience to create something like that. And more importantly, it shows that Heller trusted his readers to do the work to get to the humour.