I am the ghost of groovymother.com. Woooooo!

This is an old page from Rod Begbie's blog.

It only exists in an attempt to prevent linkrot. No new content will be added to this site, and links and images are liable to be broken. Check out begbie.com to find where I'm posting stuff these days.

Filed under 'review'

January 8, 2009

Amazon.com: Ari Brouillette's review of The Secret

I’ve often been sneery at the unmitigated hokum that is “The Secret”, but this review might have convinced me to open my mind to it.

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September 26, 2008

Spore: Turning Gold into Lead

Interesting decription of why Spore isn’t as good a game as hoped. My interest in it certainly waned between playing around with the Creature Creator through to the game’s release.

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September 14, 2008

Everybody's Wrong About Burn After Reading

Great post by Linda Holmes about the critics’ reaction to “Burn After Reading”.

June 17, 2008

The New Republic Movie Review: "The Happening"

“This film is so bad that I feel compelled to make a spoiler-laden list of its most laughably terrible parts rather than review it.”

June 2, 2008


In 2004, due to a job change, I switched from commuting to work via public transport to driving each day. The biggest change this made to me was the sudden loss of time I had previously largely used for reading (and, it should be said, playing Game Boy). My book consumption dropped significantly; my only other regular (how to put this delicately? “porcelain-based”) reading time given over to catching up with Entertainment Weekly and Private Eye.

But the pendulum is shifting back again now I’m in San Francisco. The route betwixt home and office is now more easily travelled by Bart and Muni than private automobile. Thus—hurrah!—I have time to consume the printed word once more.

Given that I’m a lazy unfit bastard, though, the thought of carting around weighty chunks of paper was less tempting than ever. I glanced at Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, but the idea of paying $400 for a device whose sole purpose was to get me to give more money to Amazon didn’t seem to make much sense, not matter how tempting and shiny the Kindle might be. But within a week, after unexpectedly earning a decent chunk of change from Amazon1, I decided to pull the trigger. I am nothing if not an irrational sucker for a shiny gadget.

A month later, I’ve finished reading three books2 on the device and the novelty has worn off, so here’s my experience so far.

First up, the things that I knew because every review mentions them: The screen is excellently clear and comfortable to read (the variable font size means you can switch to larger print when you're tired), and the page-change lag is negligible. The built-in wireless networking works just grand, meaning you can surf Amazon's bookstore and download new books wherever you are (within the US). And yes, the Next/Previous Page buttons are as annoyingly easy to hit as has been reported. It's not too bad when you're sitting down and reading, but when trying to get comfortable lying on your side I've usually had to page back and forward a bit to correct for accidental nudges.

That said, the ease of page-flipping illustrates an unexpected advantage of the Kindle beyond simple lightness: It’s much easier to read than a regular book when you’re standing on a train with one hand gripping a pole for support. You keep the Kindle in the other hand, your thumb poised over the “Next Page” button, and can flip without moving more than that one knucklemuscle. (The exception to this are books with footnotes, which require a somewhat frustrating hyperlinky jump to read.)

Amazon’s book selection is decent, if not comprehensive. Maybe half of the books I’ve searched for are available. Some areas are noticeably lacking—Computer textbooks, which would benefit massively from being searchable and lightweight, are missing due to the lack of a monospaced font on the Kindle. Interestingly, my reaction to books that are not available is that they are effectively dead to me. I’d love to read them, but now that I own a Kindle, I don’t think I’d want to buy deadtree again.

For me, the biggest surprise was something that seems to have been played down on Amazon’s site, but is a killer feature to me. For every book in the Amazon Kindle store, you can send a free sample to the Kindle. The sample usually includes the first chapter or two of the book—more than you might be able to skim in a regular bookshop—enabling you to better evaluate the title before purchasing, which Amazon has made characteristically seamless; at the end of each sample is a one-click link which will charge your credit card and download the book to the Kindle within a minute. As I type this, my backpack holds eleven samples of books I’m interested in, effectively acting as a queue so I need never be without reading material.

Perhaps surprisingly, given my EFF-loving copylefty fair-use tendencies, the DRM imposed by Amazon doesn’t bother me too much (summary: your purchases are tied to your account, so you cannot “gift” or “loan” books to others or read them on any device other than a Kindle). Unlike music, which I want to own so I can it enjoy over and over for the future, I tend to read a book once then stick it on a shelf, resulting in, as part of the moving process, the dumping of many boxes of once/never-read books at the local Goodwill. And given that Kindle ebooks are always cheaper than Amazon’s already heavily-discounted prices, I’m even less worried about the effectively ephemeral nature of the licensed ebook.

In summary, if you asked me if I recommended the device, I would offer a solidly warm yes with the following caveats: First, you should browse Amazon’s Kindle store first to work out what proportion of books you’re interested in are available. Secondly, you should be comfortable spending $360 on a device that will undoubtedly drop in price and/or be superseded by improved hardware within a year (also known as “being an iPod owner”). And finally, if you’re of a collectory bent, recognize that the satisfaction of a stuffed bookcase cannot be felt with e-ink and bits in flash memory.

But for me, the Kindle has reignited my love of reading, and I look forward to seeing where it takes me next.

1 My blog post about Programming Interviews Exposed got a shedload of traffic. The links in that post to Amazon had my referral ID attached, and some of that traffic bought the books, along with assorted other trinkets (including an engagement ring!), leading to me making a tidy sum in commission3. Thanks again to whoever submitted that post to Reddit!

2 Bad Monkeys (a recommendation from Keith, which in turn I recommend to all), Feeding the Monster and Faithful (which was a reassuring read during the Sox’s sweep by the A’s last weekend). It’s worth noting that I already owned hardback copies of the latter two, but they had languished unread on a shelf.

3 And yes, the links in this post are similarly referalified. Given that Amazon offers me $35 for every Kindle they sell through such a link, it is left as an exercise for the reader to judge how this affects the impartiality of what I’m writing.

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August 10, 2007

One Laptop Per Child, Reviewed by 12-Year-Old

Well-written (for a 12-year-old) review of the OLPC XO laptop. The main concern about how slow it is seems moot to me for the target audience for whom this is their first computer: I accepted three-minute loading times on my ZX Spectrum at that age. (And is this a vindication of the original Speccy’s rubber keyboard?)

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October 3, 2006

Jet: Shine On: Pitchfork Record Review

Normally, I can’t be arsed with Pitchfork’s reviews — too pseudy by half. But this one is short, witty, incisive, and pretty danged accurate.

August 26, 2006

Fringe Review: The Phone Book Live!

future historians Aug 21, 2006 by Rod Begbie

A dumb idea, but one that's certainly in keeping with the traditions of the Fringe, The Phone Book Live is a daily fifteen-minute show which asks a different Fringe performer each day to prove that they are talented enough to achieve the old adage: To read a page from the phone book, and make it entertaining.

The night we went, it was Tony Robinson from off-of Blackadder, Maid Marian and Time Team. His historical experiences from Time Team paid off, as he spent the first five minutes excitedly telling the audience about this historical significance of the phone book -- That instead of one census every ten years, now there's a new phone book every year giving the names and addresses of people, so future historians will be better able to research us. After this excited ramble (which the host of the show was happy to let go on, since in his own words, "I only had some questions with bad puns based on Time Team and Blackadder"), Tony read names and addresses from the "P" section of the Plymouth phone book, asking audience members to imagine who these people were, and to describe the history, career and life of the phonebook members of Plymouth.

It was a great show for a fiver, but of course, varied greatly depending on who was performing. Other nights, I'm told, performers read the phone book in the voice of Mavis Riley (that'd be Les Dennis), or sang them (Mitch Benn).

A fun experience, for a great cause (the phone books are auctioned off each night in support of Childline), and a perfectly-Fringey way to start the night, ★★★★☆

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August 21, 2006

Fringe Review: Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv

Fantastic puppeteering, so-so improv Aug 20, 2006 by Rod Begbie

I was a huge Muppets fan as a kid, and possibly even more so as a teenager, once I got to appreciate the tremendous skill involved in the puppeteering, and Jim Henson's incredible vision.

I'm also, as a result of watching so much great improv comedy in Boston and at the Chicago and Toronto improv festivals, greatly pained by bad improv. Literally. I curl up in my chair, cringe and groan, and squeeze Joy's hand tight as I watch some half-assed troupe miss offers, fuck up structures and spiral round helplessly on stage, unable to find an ending.

Which meant I had an interesting time at this show!

The structure of the show was a straight-forward short-form improv show. Hosted by The Groundlings' Patrick Bristow, he'd call out the names of the puppeteers to play each structure, get a suggestion from the audience, then away the puppeteers would go.

It was fantastic to see the Henson crew in action. On either side of the stage were two large screens, and above head height at the front of the stage was a camera. The performers worked as if they were creating a TV show -- Puppets held overhead, watching themselves on monitors. While it was great fun to watch the performance on stage, the real magic was the way they used that 4:3 video "stage". Characters ran off-screen and on. Came forward to the camera to mug to the audience, and in one memorable scene when hotdogs attended a "Magicians Anonymous" meeting, "appeared" and "levitated", by using and abusing the limitations of the fixed camera.

In short, all the great stuff that Henson, Oz et al pioneered back in the sixties, when they broke down the proscenium arch and explored the strengths of the cathode ray tube.

On the other hand, the improvisation was weak. Some of this was down the the cast being puppeteers who'd had a little improv training. But it was also hurt by the audience suggestions, which a better host would have been able to filter.

The best example of this was when the audience was asked for the title of a new game show. The loudest idiot in the crowd called for "Show Us Your Tits!", and that's what we got. The improvisation was dull: the "host" puppet didn't do much other than introduce the "contestants", then ask them to show their tits. However, the puppetry was sublime, as a beaver, an insect, and by divine intervention, a goat puppet with _udders_, gave their stripteases. (Stripteasi?)

As Joy pointed out afterwards, if there hadn't been puppets, it would have been a pretty crappy improv show. But for me, the delight of seeing the Muppet performers in action, cracking each other up, demonstrating their skill, and giving you some idea just how much fun they have making their movies and TV shows, it was completely worth it. ★★★★☆

Fringe Review: Rich Hall

Disappointing Aug 20, 2006 by Rod Begbie

I've been a big fan of Rich Hall for years, but his show can be hit or miss depending on the night, his mood, the audience, or the weather. Sadly last night's show wasn't great.

While his interaction with the 11-year-old in the front row (and his father, but not mother) was entertaining, the show sagged towards the end when Rich seemed to be desparately reaching into the audience to find any inspiration to cap the night.

In the end, while there were some great gags, it just felt a bit like watching any American stand-up. No panache, no great wisdom... just disappointing. ★★★☆☆

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May 15, 2006

Tabblo: Poster Child | Boston WTF

glenn’s written an excellent review of new photo-sharing site Tabblo for BostonWTF.

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September 12, 2005

ArsTechnica iPod Nano review

ArsTechnica try their damndest to break apart an iPod nano — it’s reassuringly resilient!

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About This Site

This is an archive of groovmother.com, the old blog run by Rod Begbie — A Scottish geek who lives in San Francisco, CA.

I'm the co-founder of Sōsh, your handy-dandy guide for things to do in San Francisco this weekend.