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:

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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.

Adventures in Interconnection

Back in February I ordered a pair of 15 foot 1/4″ cables from Monoprice to use for the radio programme as well as recording my guitar.  When I opened the box, the cables seemed a bit bulky, but I didn’t put much thought into them.  I used them for several weeks, bunching up the slack underneath the coffee table.  One night, after the radio show was over, Corinna and Rory started busting my balls about how long the cables were.  I had to admit they did seem just a touch longer than 15′.  So we busted out a tape measure and found that my 15′ cables were actually 50′.

Bank error in my favor?  I’d normally agree, but being I really only needed the cables to run the few feet from my mixer to the living room amplifier, it was a little ridiculous. Embarrassed that I didn’t realize this right away, I quickly resolved turn the two cables into four.  One pair of shorter patch cables (as I had originally ordered) and a long pair of extensions.  I also realized that my original estimate of 15′ was actually too long, so I decided on 10′ and 40′ lengths for the cables.

Fast forward several months to me actually getting off my ass to do this work.  A week or so ago I ordered all of the interconnects I actually needed, and a few days ago I measured and cut the cables to length, and began assembling them.  Or at least I had planned to.  It turned out that the insulation on the cable was too thick to fit through the jack housing.  Furthermore, my soldering iron was a piece of shit.  So I set everything aside until I could make a trip to the electronics shop.

This morning I made my pilgrimage “You-do-it” Electronics, home of everything a nerd needs for projects such as these. I picked up an alternate set of connectors, some sexy colored heat-shrink tubing to color code the cables and extensions, a nice Weller soldering iron, a new pair of dikes, and a bit of random stuff that has nothing to do with this project but which one is susceptible to buying at Nerd Mecca.  Once I got home with the right gear and parts, building the cables was a piece of cake.

My weekend project is done, I’ve acquired some new tools, breathed in some lead…  So far, so good!

grahams’ completely normal radio programme goes public!

For a bit more than 2 years I’ve been doing a mostly-weekly streaming internet radio show called “grahams’ completely normal radio programme“.  Since I kept it private amongst a small group of friends, while you may have heard me mention it on occasion, you most likely haven’t listened to it.  Starting this Monday at 10pm EDT, I’m taking the show public (and legit).  You can find the details to tune in over at (which will redirect you to LoudCity).

The format is a commercial-free mish-mash of music I’m into, which crosses quite a few genres.  I’m live on mic, and have been known to have guests in-studio or over Skype.  I try to briefly review movies I have seen with the film club. I have real equipment. I have run contests. I have world premiered music. I usually manage to keep technical screw-ups to a minimum.  I even have a terrible auto-tuned theme song that will get stuck in your head.

As you may be thinking, having all of this going on for an audience of fewer than a dozen people started to seem a little ludicrous.  So I decided to figure out a way to conform to the complicated streaming royalty system, and ultimately settled on using the LoudCity platform so I didn’t have to do any hard work.  The only catch is that in order to be covered under their royalty agreements, I need to have all of the links to the stream hosted on their domain.  Which is why the above link will redirect you from to their site.

Obviously the programme’s web presence is limited right now.  I’ve been mulling this decision for a few months but the decision to actually pull the trigger and get it done happened while floating on the Party Barge Regency Edition this weekend.  In addition to the (currently) terrible webpage, you can follow the show on Twitter at @radioprogramme.

The people who have been listening for the past few years have told me it’s a good show.  I hope you’ll think so too.  Tune in one of these upcoming Mondays and let me know what you think.  At a minimum you’ll be able to make fun of me for such a colossal waste of time.

Review: iPad

We’ve had a few iPads at work since April, and one of them is presently assigned to me as I optimize our web viewer for the WiFi iPad and iPhone. While I’ve taken it home a few times to give it a whirl, our Memorial Day trip to Michigan was my first real serious time using it.  I decided to bring it with me instead of my laptop, just to see what it was like using it regularly. My experience was very pleasant.  Here are some random observations:

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I was jack’s online journal

Back on June 25th, 2000 I posted my first entry over at LiveJournal.  10 years, 2,778 entries, and 6,347 comments later I’ve decided that it is time to move on.

Realistically, between sites like twitter, flickr, and my bookmarks over at delicious I simply don’t end up posting to my LJ as much anymore.  LJ used to really appeal to me due to the large community and the discussions it generated.  But now it feels more like just another abandoned alleyway on the Internet.  I suspect that most people who read my posts do so through RSS or Facebook anyway.

So i have moved everything over to my new blog at  For the time being I will leave a cross-posting script set up to post my entries over there to LJ, but I don’t know how long that will last.  I have disabled comments on my LJ, so if you want to discuss a posting of mine there will be a link at the bottom of each post to bring you back to my WordPress blog.

The edges are still rough at the new place, and while most of the content and comments have imported successfully, there were a few problems (100 or so anonymous comments seem to have been assigned to the wrong posts), but so it goes…  I have been manually going through and fixing these edge cases when I have the time.  The look of the new blog will probably change quite a bit in the near future.

So there it is.  Update your bookmarks, RSS readers, etc.  This is a perfect time to also start ignoring me.  I rarely have anything of value to say anyhow.  :)

HOWTO: Surviving IFFBoston (Updated for 2016)

The Independent Film Festival of Boston is one of the reasons I love living in Boston. In my opinion, if you are a film fan and you live in Boston, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t go all-in on the festival. This year, despite seeing a personal-record 20 films in 8 days, I found myself much less wiped out than previous years. This is mostly due to to the all-volunteer staff and crew of the festival tweaking things year-after-year, improving things for everyone. Many festivals are run strictly for the industry but IFFBoston also tries to cater just as much to the filmgoer.

Aside from all of the things the staff does to make things run smoothly, there are many tips and tricks I’ve developed myself. I realize that sharing these after the 2010 festival isn’t very helpful, but I wanted to get these written down for next year. This is mostly to augment my own memory, but hopefully you can find something useful here.

  • If you’re going to be seeing a bunch of films, buy a pass. This year, the “Film” pass was $180 (Update 2016The concepts of “passes” and “memberships” have been merged. Supporter Passes are $350 this year, and now include a membership for year-round benefits. You can buy badges here). Even if you are seeing fewer than 18 films, you have to remember all of the fringe benefits of the pass:
    1. Passholders get to enter the theater first, approximately 15 minutes before showtime. So you usually can sit wherever you’d like.
    2. Sometimes you’ll hear buzz about a particular film while talking to other festival goers, and the pass gives you the flexibility to rejigger your schedule once the festival is going.
    3. Along the same lines, even as well run as IFFBoston is, schedules can slip and Q&A sessions are sometimes too riveting to leave. Being able to decide to leave when you want to as opposed to what your tickets dictate is very nice.
    4. Passes help support the festival.
  • Simply accept that not only will you not be able to see all the films in the festival, but you likely won’t even be able to see all of the ones you are interested in. This year, there were more than 60 films available, but the most any one person can see was 20, as there were sometimes 6 screens running simultaneously.
  • There are two ways to go about scheduling. You can either
    1. Look at the list of films, going through them all and prioritizing films based on your interest. I did this in 2009, and while it worked, it was a little frustrating, as I would get hooked on the idea of seeing a film just to find out it conflicted with another film, or was logistically unrealistic (not enough time to get from the Somerville to the Brattle, for instance).
    2. What I did in 2010, and which was much less frustrating, was to use the grid view of “Festival Genius”. Going day-by-day, look at the first time-slot and pick a set of movies which you are both interested in and which work logistically for that day. You’ll still certainly have some sticky scheduling, but I found it far less frustrating. (Update 2014: RIP Festival Genius)
  • When developing your schedule, try to remember to leave slack for Q&A sessions, schedule slippage, and traveling between theatres or venues.
  • Also remember to leave a bit of slack for you to get a bite to eat!  Most years I’ve found some natural gaps between movies which gave me enough time to grab a quick bite, but review your schedule and make sure you have at least 30 minutes for some fast food (or an hour for real food, which is what I try to do).  Another strategy I’ve fallen into is to plan longer dinners (i.e. my yearly meal at Redbones) during days like Friday or Monday, where you can get the food in before the movies even start.  Save up quicker blasts (Anna’s, Spike’s, etc) for the weekend marathons.
  • After discussing things with several other fest-degens, we all seem to agree that the magic number is 5.  That is 5 films in one day, 6 is just too many.  By the 6th film you will probably be tired, somewhat dreading going into it, and largely incoherent afterwards.  This year the schedule bound Saturday to 5 films and I felt great afterwards.  That said, if I can squeeze 6 into a day next year I probably would.
  • You’ll need to decide whether or not going to the parties is important to you. For me, I want to see as many movies as possible during the festival. Since many of the parties occur while movies are being shown, I almost never go to the parties.
  • Pack, pack, pack. I am a bit obsessive in this department (doctors may say in ALL departments), but I find that a well-stocked backpack makes a crowded day of movies much more bearable. Here are some of the things I stock in my backpack:
    • Reading Material: You’ll likely need less of it than you may think, but a good magazine or small book can be clutch if you have an hour or so between movies.
    • Granola/Clif Bars: As much as I love theater refreshments, sometimes you don’t have time to wait on line between films.
    • Water: Again, my love of refreshments aside, I try to bring one or two bottles of water on the long days.
    • Face wipes: I love being able to freshen up when time doesn’t allow a quick trip to the bathroom.
    • Emergency Power: I tend to grind on my iPhone a lot during downtime between shows, so it never hurts to have a way to give it a boost if the battery starts getting low.
    • Medications: If you take any meds, don’t forget to bring them with you.
    • Layers: Late april weather is insane, so be sure to pack a sweatshirt or leave room in there to stash it later.
    • Small Umbrella: Most lines are outside.  Don’t get wet.
    • Air-activated Handwarmers: I started bringing these this year, but didn’t need them.  A few miserably cold Fenway trips this year convinced me to order a big box of these things.  Might be good ‘last resort’ on a strange cold snap or unexpected wait on line.
  • It’s not the end of the world, but this year I tried to remember to check my wallet before leaving each day and reloading it if necessary. If you’re trying to squeeze in some concessions or a meal into a tight schedule it can be frustrating to need to find an ATM.  If you want to buy merch (supports the festival!) or even a DVD or other swag from a filmmaker, plan accordingly.
  • Thank all the volunteers profusely. They are devoting tons of time to make the whole thing go off, so make sure they know they are appreciated.  And don’t gripe at them if a schedule slips, or if you are waiting on line longer than you want to.  None of them are getting paid, and i don’t believe any of them are crowd control professionals.  Also, often many of the delays are somewhat out of their hands. Imagine a local filmmaker with 100+ friends and family in the crowd, and all of them wanting to glad-hand him after the Q&A session.

That isn’t a complete list, and it is pretty random, but it should do for now…

2009 Films in Review

Better late than never, right?