Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Roots Rock UT

**UPDATE** The Daily Texan actually has a great article reviewing the concert as well that acts as a nice supplement to what I say below.

NOTE: below the embedded video, you'll see your dosage of tech news to cover the past 2 weeks.

I have to say that Austin has had a pretty fortunate Spring. The weather is still pretty nice outside, despite being April, Barack Obama has come to speak here at least 3 times, we hosted the latest Clinton-Obama debate, Bill Gates visited us, Bill and Hillary Clinton both spoke here, we're home to the current Turing Award winner, and The Roots blasted their incredible fusion of rock and hip hop from Main Mall throughout the lower half of campus.

They were the very definition of indie Austin rock, in my opinion: weird, intense, but always fun. I was disappointed that they didn't acknowledge The Roots at all, but I forgive them. If you looked close enough, you could spot Captain Kirk, Owen Biddle, and I think Tuba Gooding, Jr. Feel free to comment if you can spot more of them (it's like "Where's Waldo"):

I tried to keep track of the songs they played, so here's the best set list I could come up with, in roughly the order they were played:

Unknown song from Game Theory (I think)
Step Into the Realm
Act Too (Love of My Life)
1-minute covers: In a Gadda Da Vida (Iron Butterfly), Jump On It (Sugarhill Gang), Roc Boys (Jay-Z), Get By (Talib Kweli), Just a Friend (Biz Markie), a Wu-Tang song I didn't know, Who Am I (Snoop Dogg), This is Why I'm Hot (Mims), Snap Yo Fingers (Lil Jon and Sean Paul), Sexy Back (Justin Timberlake), Push It (Salt N Peppa)
Extended cover: Masters of War (Bob Dylan)
I Will Not Apologize (off of Rising Down)
You Got Me
Here I Come
cover of Jungle Boogie (Kool & The Gang)
Don't Feel Right
The Next Movement
Encore: The Seed and some song I didn't know (it sounded like the hook was "Men at Work", it was not Thought @ Work)

And again, that doesn't even cover all the songs they actually played, it's just the ones I knew. It made for a great set that covered over 2 hours. They came on stage one-by-one starting off with a song I didn't know, but as always The Roots crew started building up the crowd's energy until the crowd got wild and excited after the Masters of War cover. Speaking of which, you can see a video of it on YouTube from another concert. So picture that but with an insane guitar solo and a longer drum solo. It was seriously worth waiting 2 hours just to see that cover: it was absolutely incredible. The buildup in the show's energy was definitely noticeable though as Black Thought periodically introduced each member of the band giving them a short solo, especially as they went through that long slew of covers that the crowd went crazy over. I don't even like Jungle Boogie and I thought it was amazing when they played it.

What was interesting is that even though The Roots and Common are both hip hop, and have both blazed the stage that is Main Mall, there's something fundamentally different in their music that really fascinates. Common is more reflective, soulful, bare bones hip hop whereas The Roots is this rock-driven hip hop experience that revitalizes ever song they play as well as any covers they play. I had seen them live before back after the release of Phrenology, and so some of the band members have changed since then, but the show stayed true to being really high quality. Hell, they even put up these poles where the flag poles are that did something crazy with the sound echoing at some points. I've never seen so many white people go so nuts over 6 black dudes (+ a white guy) taking a stage; I thought it was interesting. I had no idea how cross-cultural The Roots' pull was. It's not hard to see why though when they put together a live show that you'd think was choreographed to the second with perfect harmonies but remixes of songs that most people there had never heard before. Anyhow, the concert was so mind-blowing that I pre-ordered Rising Down so I can give you guys the full review when I get that at the end of the month. In the meantime, here's a video that I took at the concert of the guys dancing on stage, which was started by F Knuckles:

The Roots Dance on Stage from Eptiger on Vimeo.

Ok, so it's time for some tech news! Amazingly, they flow pretty well into each other, so I'll start on the musical track since we started out talking about The Roots. PC World recently updated its list of top 10 Flash-based mp3 players, and I think the order is debatable but from my experience of shopping for one I'd agree that those are pretty much the top 10 out there right now except for the Cowon D2. My lesser known Clix2 (see yesterday's post) made the #5 spot just below the iPod Touch but above SanDisk or the Zune.

Where do you shop to load up these fine mp3 players though? USA Today had a refreshing article pointing out that Amazon's mp3 download service is now number 2 in digital music sales right behind iTunes. They're also tied for the number 4 spot in top U.S. music retailers with Target behind Best Buy, Wal-mart, and iTunes, which is number 1 now (on both charts). I'd say that given that Amazon MP3 was just a whisper a year ago, it's incredible that it has grown to be so popular and I'm excited to see if its greater selection of DRM-free music than iTunes will allow it to overtake Apple's FairPlay-controlled service. I personally have grown weary of iTunes and have switched to MediaMonkey for organizing my music and Amazon for digital downloads because it's just better overall.

(Note: I have no non-public knowledge of the AWS group,=; I did not work in that group.) Amazon also garnered a bit of negative press that I'm almost afraid to link to because I think it's kind of ridiculous. Basically, GigaOM put up a commentary on a thought from Dave Winer that gained popularity (probably more than the Winer original did). No doubt that both guys are smart and know what they're talking about in general, but I don't think there are enough companies that would want EC2 and S3 and such for free like this. Consumers are cheap and love free stuff, but enterprise-level software is all about support. So there's two ways Google could go about this: supporting it with ads or just hoping that one of the companies they back strike it big and Google can acquire them. For the former, I can't imagine that there are a lot of companies who would want to be forced to have big parts of their infrastructure supported by advertising. For the latter, I don't see how the fruits of this would be good enough to warrant providing these services. It's not like the AWS prices are insane anyway. I'm going to be bold enough to say that Google would be stupid to try to compete with AWS with a free model. AWS does pretty well as it is, and Google's style and past success are based in investing in growing markets without a clear leader.

Of course, a well-established leader is no obstacle to Microsoft who took on Sony in the console wars for the past couple of generations and is still trying to buy Yahoo in its war with Google. They've become so impatient that they're giving Yahoo 3 weeks to surrender before they take the fight directly to the stockholders. This could get real messy real fast. As I've mentioned before, Microsoft really does not want a proxy fight here because Yahoo's talent base is very important to them and a proxy fights typically result in casualties and lowered employee morale, but Ballmer has made it abundantly clear several times before that they will stop at nothing to takeover Yahoo, so I'm still appalled that Yahoo is still fighting this so irresponsibly. My opinion is that they told Microsoft they wanted more money because they wanted to stall for time from their shareholders because they knew that Microsoft wouldn't pay up. Either that, or they're delusional (which I also mentioned before).

I have a friend working on the Windows 7 team so I'm always excited to get news on that front because he's a smart guy and I think that he'll help guide Windows back on the right path. There's already rumors that Windows 7 will be modular, meaning that it'll come out in pieces so that it can be developed monolithically while providing the flexibility of a highly customizable OS (this is a similar idea to people who use Linux so that they can tinker with it). Also, Bill Gates let slip that Windows 7 will be out next year, but he didn't say much other than that. It's likely a beta that will be ready late next year since the release timeline for 2010 hasn't changed, but I hope that they are trying to pick up the pieces of Windows Vista and build something truer to what people really want.

Alas, I have one more piece of news from Redmond: the Microsoft Surface will be in AT&T stores in a few select cities to show off cell phone models by just placing them on the device to help sell the phones. It's an interesting application for the product, though I'm sure quite expensive. I wonder if AT&T bought them outright or if they're on loan? We have no idea whether it'll only work on the demo models or if your own phone could be placed on the Surface to be played around with, but it's launching April 17 so we'll know soon enough. Despite my initial skepticism, I think that the Surface could be really cool in retail stores and bars and restaurants.

The CEO of the Mozilla Foundation is leading the herds of people who are disgruntled that the Apple Software Update application, which PC users typically use to get updates to iTunes but Apple users use for other applications, automatically puts Safari on the list of updates it will provide to you and check the box by default so that if you just click "Install" whenever it bugs you about upgrading you'll have one more browser that you may not want (I certainly wouldn't want it). While I think it shouldn't be checked by default, I think that John Lilly is getting too worked about it. People shouldn't be clicking on things they haven't read or don't understand, anyway, because it could be a virus. That's why people should use ZoneAlarm and SpyBot. I personally think that anything that auto-updates is evil and should always ask you first, but nagging you can also be problematic. Still, it's the lesser of two evils, and so at least Safari doesn't actually install itself without asking you. Of course, what Lilly should keep in mind that if Safari is worse than Firefox (which it is) then he has nothing to worry about. The only helpful feature I ever found in it was the Activity window, which is like Down Them All but not as good. Oh, and Firefox 3 Beta 5 is out for all you hardcore nerds and developers out there.

Azureus, creators of the famed torrent application of the same name, have released a plug-in that will allow you to determine if your ISP is throttling your connection for using torrents. It may sound useless because you'd know if you were being throttled, but it will then send that information to Azureus to help compile a list of such terrible ISPs and I presume help your case in suing them.

Now, I have several high points I'd like to hit real quick because this post is taking way too long and I have other things to attend to. GigaOM put up something more enlightening than what I mentioned above: a guide to what makes a good mobile application great. Having dealt with horrible ones, I can attest to this list's validity. The New York Times had an excellent editorial about how Hillary Clinton is dragging along this battle because she feels like she politically deserves the nomination and will drag the party through the mud to get it. Clinton supporters: don't fight me here, there are field reporters attesting to shady tactics at conventions here in Texas alone. I'd vote for her if Obama loses, but I don't think it will come to that and she needs to start to realize that before we lose people to McCain and the arguably more decisive Republican Party. The SciFi channel put up a really neat recap of the first 3 seasons of Battlestar Galatica for those who want to get into the show but haven't been keeping up. It makes me want to go out and rent these first seasons, but unfortunately it's down momentarily. I'm sure it'll be back soon (it's called 'What the Frak is Going On?'). Lastly, in my hunt for Seattle apartment I came across HousingMaps, a Craigslist/Google Maps mashup that will map out housing ads in various big cities. I love it and am using it constantly so I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new place.

Hopefully I'll have another post up early next week, but until then I have much work ahead of me this week so wish me luck!

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