2011 Films in Review

Here is my review of the films I which saw in 2011.  In a change from the past few years, this does NOT include movies released in 2011 which I saw in 2012.  Which is why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t feature prominently on this list.  I know that I am missing some great movies by adopting this strategy.  Furthermore, movies that were on last year’s “Best Of” list should also be included on this year’s list (using the new rules) but I decided to omit them than recognize them twice.

While I wouldn’t say that 2011 was a bad year for movies, it wasn’t particularly special.  Maybe I just chose poorly…  Where in years past I would have to whittle down my list of ‘best’ films, this year it felt like work to simply come up with 10.  It’s not that there is an abundance of lowlights, but there weren’t many highlights.


The Great CD Re-Rip

Back around 2002, I sat down and began ripping all of my CDs to MP3.  I worked on it during my downtime, on nights and weekends when nothing better was going on.  It took me about a month to plow through several hundred discs, but I eventually finished.  When I temporarily moved from Boston to NJ during my unemployment back in 2003, my CDs were boxed up for the move.  They stayed that way.  In fact, the boxes were in my parents basement until Corinna and I moved to our house in Watertown back in 2007.  Since then they have remained in boxes in our basement.

For many years I continued to buy physical discs, immediately ripping them and placing them on a shelf or in a box.  In the past year or two, I have effectively stopped buying CDs, instead opting to use download services such as iTunes, Bleep, Beatport and Amazon’s MP3 store (as well as directly from artists).

Back in 2002, MP3 files of 192Kbps seemed like a pretty reasonable compromise between audio quality and file size.  But fast forwarding ten years, hearing the muted high and low end of those 192Kbps files, especially when I have several terabytes of storage in my house, was frustrating.  I had thought about re-ripping all of my discs to a higher bit rate, but the task always seemed daunting.  My collection of physical discs had ballooned to ~500 discs and it simply felt like it would take forever.

Back in September I was at the All Tomorrow’s Parties “I’ll Be Your Mirror” festival at Asbury Park with some friends.  During some between-band chit-chat, I mentioned my regret of choosing 192Kbps and that I was considering finding a service that would re-rip all of them for me.  DQ mentioned TaskRabbit, a service which pairs up people willing to do odd jobs (a.k.a. “Rabbits”) with people looking for help.  This idea stuck in my head, and a few weekends ago when Corinna and I were doing some basement purging I decided that I would just do it.  Some of my CDs were more than 20 years old, and waiting would only increase the chances of bit rot.

I posted my task on TaskRabbit, being as specific as possible.  I decided to skip worrying about what the ‘right’ bitrate was and chose Apple Lossless format.  A lossless codec cuts the file size in about half without losing any fidelity at all.  I figured if I had 500 CDs each around 600MB, than the total size of the re-ripped CDs would be about 150GB, which really isn’t all that much these days.  My existing music archive (with my old 192K rips in addition to any music I’ve bought digitally) totaled around 205GB at the time I started this project.

The hardest part of posting this task was trying to pick an upper cost.  TaskRabbit asks you what your upper cost is, and then Rabbits bid on the task, TaskRabbit assigning you the one who came in lowest within some time constraints.  I figured a reasonable price was $300 plus a maximum of $100 for expenses (I was asking the rabbit to not only rip my CDs, but also discard jewel cases and place them in sleeves that would be purchased by the rabbit).

In almost no time, TaskRabbit mailed me saying that a rabbit successfully bid on my job, and they came in at $255 (+ expenses).  I was thrilled, as not only was someone interested in the job, but the whole shebang was going to cost me about 50 cents a disc!

Adam, the rabbit who won the bid, scheduled a time to come by my house to pick up the CDs.  He guessed he would be done in about 3 weeks, which seemed reasonable.  He swung by on 12/17 to pick everything up and was very professional.  After a day or two he sent me a sample ripped file to make sure I was happy with the rip, metadata and file naming.  Everything looked great, and so he started up full-steam.

A few days later I was on the train down to NJ for the holidays and wouldn’t be back until New Year’s Eve.  While I was off relaxing with my family, Adam was keeping me posted with status updates or questions every few days.  He asked what to do with the few live bootlegs that were in my collection.  I told him to just set them aside and that I would handle them myself (since no metadata was available for them on CDDB).  Soon after I returned to Boston, I heard from Adam that he was almost done and we scheduled a time on 1/8 for him to drop off the finished product.  I was thrilled that it only took him 3 weeks, and when he arrived I saw that he took excellent care of everything, and seemingly had no trouble with my pretty specific requirements.

I decided it would be a good idea to do a bit of an inventory, to make sure no discs/rips slipped through the cracks.  In doing so I found a 20 or so CDs that I couldn’t find rips for (even though they were organized and put into sleeves).  I talked with Adam and he wasn’t sure what happened, but he offered to swing by and pick them up (even though I had already closed out the task and paid him).

Overall, this was a great experience.  I now have all of my CDs ripped in a lossless format, and my CDs are organized and taking up much less space than they were before.  Surprisingly, only one track on one CD wouldn’t rip due to damage.  I guess I take pretty good care of my things.   My new music collection is approximately 345GB.  Furthermore, using TaskRabbit successfully on a huge task such as this one gives me confidence to use the service in the future for more odd jobs around the house.

Right now I’m trying to find a more permanent storage solution for my CDs, most of which are in sleeves but some of which are still in their original cases.  I tried Snap-N-Store cases but they were pretty lousy.  The compartments for discs weren’t wide enough, even for my discs with sleeves.  I’m currently in the market for a solution to this problem, so if you have any ideas please let me know.  I’m looking for something with a lid to keep the dust out.

Random Album Mixes

I have a big post coming up in the next week or so about the re-ripping of all 500 or so of my CDs, but I wanted to share something i found in the process.  Back towards the end of my college career I took two trips to the Hooray Area.  One was a business trip to NASA Ames’ Research for a team meeting on SOFIA. The other was for a job interview at Be, Inc.

At the time, I owned an early MP3 player which was a portable CD player which could read data CDs filled with MP3s (in addition to old-fashioned CDs).  I created two Album-Mix CDs for these trips, and I thought that some of you might get a kick out of the contents…

NASA Lovin’  (embarrassingly, this was actually the title of the mix)

Be Interview


The Movies I Saw in 2011

As regular readers know, I keep a list of all of the movies I see each year.  I saw more movies this year (160) than each of the past two (147)..  I did include a handful of shorts on the list this year, though.  This was also the first year I kept track of the date on which I saw each movie, which will allow me to see trends in years moving forward.

My “Best of 2011” list will hopefully be done in the next few days.  Unlike the past few years, I’ve decided to do the list now instead of waiting until the Oscars.  I found waiting to actually be more stressful, for some reason.  Anyway, all the gory details are after the jump…

Continue reading “The Movies I Saw in 2011”

Remembering James Izzo

My friend, James Izzo, took a nap yesterday from which he did not wake up. I met James at Hopatcong Middle School where we bonded early on via our love of computers. James was one of the few people I knew who also had an Amiga, and we would share software and knowledge regularly. As we grew into young adults and started discovering film and music, our friendship grew stronger.

James and I (along with other friends, of course) exhausted the local video store’s supply of horror films. Once we ran out of those we moved on to more “indie” and “foreign” films. If it wasn’t for my friendship with James there would have been no Fucked Up Movie Night. If it wasn’t for my friendship with James I don’t think I would have become involved with the Sunday Night Film Club. If it wasn’t for my friendship with James I doubt my interest in independent cinema would have been piqued enough to go full-degen at the Independent Film Festival of Boston every year.

James became an electronic musician, starting the band Thread as well as side projects such as The Boy Without Hands. He worked with musicians such as Neotropic and Jarboe. But before all of that James and I discovered electronic music together. My love for artists (electronic and otherwise) such as The Magnetic Fields, Coil, Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, Autechre and Squarepusher were all kindled in one way or another in his basement in Hopatcong. Some of those artists I discovered, some he discovered, but we were always very excited to share a ‘new find’ with each other.

Over the past decade I had grown distant from James for a number of reasons. We remained in contact, but it became much more infrequent. The impact of our friendship on my life, however, is immeasurable. I learned to think critically about film and music through discussing it with James. I learned to explore new artists with James. I learned to dig deeper with James. My world just got a little smaller…

Labeling Insanity in the Fenway Bleachers

The way rows are labeled at Fenway Park makes no sense.  Every game I attend in the bleachers, the first few innings are constantly interrupted by people who either mis-read the row number when they sat down and now need to move when the proper occupants arrive, or by people who think they are working their way down to their seat and find people sitting in them, only to find that they are in the wrong row.

This is always caused by the way the rows are labeled.  Look at the picture below.  As you can see, the side of the chair on the aisle is labeled “13”, but when people see the other “13” on the step riser, which is far more visible as you are walking up the aisle, they assume that the “13” refers to the level above it.


A much better way to label the rows is below:


As you can see, it is very clear which row is which.  This would eliminate so much confusion and reduce the number of interruptions for bleacher fans.  Please fix this.


2010 Films in Review

Even later than last year!
  • Top 10 Films of 2010 (in Alphabetical Order):
    • The Fighter
    • Inception
    • Jackass 3D
    • Kick-ass
    • The King’s Speech
    • Micmacs
    • Perrier’s Bounty
    • The Social Network
    • True Grit
    • Winter’s Bone
  • Bottom 6 films of 2010:
    • Clash of the Titans
    • The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
    • A Nightmare on Elm Street
    • Predators
    • Salt
    • Splice
  • Best Remake/Reworking: The Crazies
  • Most Unnecessary Remake/Reworking: A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Best Director: Christopher Nolan for Inception
  • Best Actress: Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
  • Best Actor: Colin Firth in The King’s Speech
  • Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo in The Fighter
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale n The Fighter
    • Honorable mention for John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone
  • Best Ensemble: Jackass 3D
  • Best Original Screenplay: Inception
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
  • Best Cinematography: Inception
  • Best Soundtrack: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
  • Best Score: Inception
  • Most Alarming Cinematic Trend: Second Year for both 3D and Fake IMAX
  • Most Memorable Lines:
    • Hot Tub Time Machine
      • Lou: Here’s a question. Was it morally wrong for me to exploit my knowledge of the future for personal financial gain? Perhaps. Here’s another question. Do I give a fuck?
    • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
      • Stacey Pilgrim: I mean, did you really see a future with this girl?
      • Scott Pilgrim: Like… with jetpacks?
    • Kick-Ass
      • Big Daddy: Good job. I’m so proud of you, baby doll. Are you okay?
      • Hit Girl: Mhmm… but getting shot, Daddy… it hurt a lot more than when you did it.
      • Big Daddy: That’s because I used low velocity rounds, child… he… he…
      • Hit Girl: You’re the kindest Daddy in the whole world.
      • Big Daddy: No, I just… I love you…
      • Hit Girl: I love you, too, Daddy… I love you, too, Daddy. Sleep tight.
    • Jackass 3D
      • Steve-O: How many stings do you think we can take?
      • Manny Puig: I think it takes about 100 to kill a man.
      • Dave England: Are you serious? Did you just make that number up? There’s 50,000 bees and it takes 100 to kill a man?
      • Manny Puig: I think it takes 100.
      • Loomis Fall: Then what are we doing here?
      • Manny Puig: Making a hit movie.
  • Best Documentary: Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • Guilty Pleasures:
    • MacGruber
    • Tron: Legacy
  • Films I feel guilty for missing:
    • OSS 117: Lost in Rio
  • Films I don’t feel guilty for missing:
    • Edge of Darkness
    • Repo Men
    • Babies
    • Robin Hood
    • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

My Movies of 2010

Here’s the list of movies I saw in 2010…  I saw 147 movies this year, exactly as many as the year before.  As I have done the past few years, my “Best of 2010” list will probably come closer to the Academy Awards, so I have the opportunity to see some of the well-regarded films of the year that I missed.

As I mentioned last year, in 2010 I gathered more data about the movies I see.  I also decided to no longer split up the list between “Theater” and “Home”, as the distinction doesn’t mean much to me anymore.  I did, however, gather statistics about how I watched a film, which you can view after the split:

Continue reading “My Movies of 2010”

My Backup Strategy

I recently read an article entitled Mac Software for Advanced OS X Users over at AppStorm, and one of the tools it tipped me off to was SMARTReporter. SMART stands for “Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology”, and it is a monitoring technology built into most hard disks.  SMARTReporter asks the drive for it’s status every once in awhile, and if there is trouble, it alerts you.  This seemed like a good idea, so I installed it.  Just a few weeks later, SMARTReporter began notifying me that OS X was reporting I/O Errors with the drive.  Soon after the first few warnings the computer started hanging.  I quickly attached one of my external backup drives, and while it took some time, I was able to update the backup to include any files that had changed since my last backup.

I took the computer to the Apple Store and while they were ready to replace the drive under warranty immediately, I had a non-standard drive. When I ordered my Macbook I chose the 7200RPM disk, which isn’t typically carried in the physical Apple Stores. They ordered the disk, and the next day they called me back to say it had arrived and to schedule a time to bring the machine in to have it replaced.  They replaced the drive in about 20 minutes, and when I got home I hooked up that aforementioned backup drive and had my computer restored to normal in no time.

Now this entire ordeal was annoying, but I never truly got angry.  The truth is that my fairly regimented backup strategy gave me the confidence to know that there was almost no chance of me losing any data.  In fact, in the 24 hours between my visits to the Apple Store, I was able to continue to use my laptop by booting off of that Firewire Backup disk.  I honestly didn’t expect the replacement to arrive in 24 hours, so I even went a bit overboard and MacGyver’ed a method of keeping my laptop portable while using the external disk.

In a few conversations I’ve had since all of this happened, some questions have come up about my backup methods, so I figured I would write them up here.

I love my MacBook Pro, but at the end of the day it is just a hunk of hardware that will go bad at some point.  The data stored on that computer is much more valuable (to me) than the hardware itself.  My computer contains email archives going back to the early 90s, photos going back even further, all of my music, documents, writing, code, and more.  Preventing the loss of this data is worth a bit of hassle, but I promise you that my methodology is only a bit of hassle.  In practice it isn’t anywhere near as painful as it seems.  I start with the low-hanging fruit and then get into the more involved practices.  The most important thing to take away from this is that no backup method is 100% reliable, so make sure you choose more than one way to backup your files.

  1. The first line of my defense is Dropbox, which is where my “Documents” folder lives.  Dropbox gives every user a free 2GB virtual disk that lives “in the cloud” (in other words, online).  The Dropbox application which runs on your computer ensures that a copy of that virtual disk is also in a directory on your computer.  If you add, modify or delete a file in the Dropbox folder on your computer, it will (almost) instantly be copied up to “the cloud”.  If you are offline and modify files on your computer, the next time you are online it will copy any changes up.  Furthermore, you can run Dropbox on multiple computers and it will keep all of them in sync.  Want to get at your documents at work?  Easy.  This is one of those brain-dead simple tools that can be a lifesaver.
  2. The next step is Apple-specific.  Apple’s Time Machine is backup for everyone.  It requires almost no configuration and can totally save your bacon.  In a default configuration, you pick an external hard disk to use, and every time you connect it it will backup your computer automatically.  If you leave that external hard disk connected all the time (as in the case of a desktop computer) then Time Machine will perform a backup every hour.  One great side effect of this is that it keeps old versions of files it has backed up around, so if you accidentally deleted a file yesterday, or made a change which you want to “undo”, you can grab the file from last week’s backup.  They have made the configuration so simple that the act of simply attaching an external disk to your computer is enough;  Mac OS will ask you if you want to use it with Time Machine.  If you are a 100% laptop user like me, you may want to invest in Apple’s Time Capsule, which is a network device which Time Machine can backup to over the network, freeing you from having to connect disks to your computer.  As a bonus it is a Wireless-N router, so you can kill a few birds with one stone.
  3. As if Time Machine and Dropbox got mashed together, BackBlaze [referral link] backs up your hard disk to that pesky “cloud”. The service costs $50 a year, but for that you get a complete, off-site online backup of your computer.  That first backup takes several days, but it just plugs along in the background and you will most likely not even notice it is working.  Once it is all backed up, it will copy updated or changed files up to their servers on the fly to keep your backup current.  Note the emphasized words back there, off-site.  In the event of a real disaster (fire, flood, robbery or the like), any number of backups at your home might be destroyed.  That is why paying for one of these services is worth it.  BackBlaze has several competitors (Carbonite and Mozy,  among others), so take some time and figure out which one works best for you.  Note that BackBlaze won’t back up any files bigger than 9GB.  This is much bigger than only the largest video files, but it is good to note. (Update [20120331]: BackBlaze has removed the limitation on file size, though it is still restricted by default.  You can easily change the default in the BackBlaze preferences panel)
  4. One of the things that NONE of these previous methods will get you is a way to get RIGHT back on your feet after a hard disk crash.  If you want that you are going to need to keep a live copy of your hard disk, and the best way to do that (on a Mac) is with Carbon Copy Cloner (which is “donation-ware”, meaning it is free but the developer could use your support).  Get (another) external hard disk, particularly one that your computer can boot from (on most Mac’s this means a FireWire drive, but check to make sure).  Then use Carbon Copy Cloner to create a clone of your computers hard disk onto this external disk.  Once you’ve done this, try and boot your computer off of this external drive.  If you were successful, your computer should boot and look exactly the same as it normally does (although the external drives are often much slower, so everything may take a bit longer).  Repeat this ‘cloning’ on a regular basis so if the hard disk dies in your computer you have a quick way to get back on your feet. I have a calendar alarm every Saturday morning to remind me to connect my clone drive.
    1. Advanced Tip: If you want to make life a bit easier on yourself, investigate CCC’s “Scheduled Tasks” functionality.  You can cause a clone to happen automatically when you connect your external clone drive, and you can also cause it to only clone what has changed since your last clone (which should cause the clone to take much less time).
    2. Extra Credit: Once you get a CCC workflow that works for you, you may wish to consider duplicating your efforts with a second clone drive, and keep that second clone drive off site.  Keep it at your desk at work or even at a trusted friend’s house.  I personally keep my second drive in a safe deposit box at my bank.  So I am not going to the bank every week, I keep one clone drive at home, and I clone to it every Saturday.  Then once a month or so, I go to the bank and swap the clone drives.  This way I have a clone that is no more than a week old at home, and one that is no more than a month old off site.

That all looks complicated, but really only the 4th level requires any “manual” intervention.  Once Dropbox, Time Machine and BackBlaze are all set up, they don’t really require any work on your part.  And for those first three methods, the initial setup is really easy, even for the novice.

Please don’t let the apparent complexity of #4 scare you off easily, because having a clone to boot from can be a life-saver.  Because of this cloned drive, when the hard disk in my Mac started to fail last week, I simply ran CCC to update the clone before the drive completely died, then I rebooted my machine off the clone and was back to the races.  I then ran off of this backup until Apple got the replacement drive in, and when I got home from Apple I just used CCC to clone that external drive back onto the new disk from Apple.  Given that it only took Apple 24 hours to receive the replacement drive, this might seem like a bit of overkill, but what if it had been a few days?  Or a week?  I added #4 to my regimen after my last drive failure, I was out of commission for a few days because I didn’t have a clone to boot from.

The key thing to remember, especially about methods 2-4, is that unless you configure them otherwise, they will backup every file on your system.  Even files that you might not think are important will get backed up.  To me, this is a key feature of good backup strategy.  Unimportant files have a notorious way of becoming really important the moment after a hard disk crash.  Any backup method which requires you to manually select or copy files yourself is doomed to failure.