Sunday, June 21, 2009

Portable Video Alternatives to the Ipod

This is s simple guide to help the first time buyers of portable PVR hand-held media player/recorders. Apple's introduction of their video IPOD players has accelerated the new product introductions of portable video media players that use high capacity hard drives. The four most popular manufacturers of these units are Archos, Creative, Samsung and Cowon. There are numerous other manufacturers like Mustek, iRiver, etc. that originate from the far eastern countries that are also sold in the North American marketplace. The key purchasing criteria based on my past experience with these players is: 1) Size and Screen Resolution. How big is the screen. 2.2" diagonal should be a bare minimum and anything above 3.7" is probably optimum. Screens max out at 7" to 8.9" but you begin to sacrifice portability (heavier units) and battery life (shortens as you go to a larger screen) as you move to these larger screens. 2) Video File Format support. Does it support MPEG I, II MPEG 4, or DiVX as well as the Microsoft AVI format? Are the Sound CODECs compatible? Does it playback action scenes artifact free without blocky or blurred scenes. Does the soundtrack synchronize properly with the video? The CPU must be powerful enough to decode the video and audio files for smooth video playback performance but also be energy efficient for long run-times on batteries. Try before you buy to ensure that the videos are watchable on the small screen and that the sound is of a high enough quality for extended viewing periods. 3) Battery Life - Average for these units is 2-2 1/2 hours of continuous viewing. Some units like the Cowon claim up to 8-10 hours. Your mileage may vary based upon the brightness setting of the screen and the codec playback settings. Anything over 2 1/2 hours is exceptional battery life for a portable Video unit. 4) Does the unit feature full video/audio recording capability...that is can you use it as a PVR (Video Tape Recorder) to tape shows from your cable box or movies from a dvd or other video analog playback source? Can you plug in an optional video camera? Does it allow you set recording schedules for taping shows at different times, dates and channels un-attended? How flexible is the programming? Is there a break-out box/dock or can you do everything with a set of AV cables? 5) How complete is the documentation? Does the player support DRM? Can you copy copyrighted material? Does the player include a Video Conversion Utility?How easy is it to get customer support? Can you upgrade the hardware with BIOS upgrades to support new features or file formats and to extinguish bugs? What is the warranty period? How easy is it to get accessories? Is the battery fixed or removable. Can spare batteries be obtained easily? Can I get a 12 volt Car DC adapter for the unit? How hard/easy is it to obtain and connect an external third party extended life Battery Pack? 6) Durability and build quality - How solid is the player.What materials are used? Aluminum and/or plastic? Does it feel fragile when holding it? How easy do the controls move? Is there a hold/resume feature? Can it also be used as an external USB drive to store PC and multimedia files such as jpegs from digital cameras? It is also rumored that both Microsoft and Sony are working on a portable PVR Video media player. The Sony unit will most likely carry the Video Walkman moniker and the Microsoft unit will have tight integration with their Media XP PC software and XBOX 360 infotainment systems. Some other good manufacturer's websites to obtain additional information about these portable Video Players are listed below:,, I hope you found this guide helpful. I tried to be manufacturer agnostic and the usual disclaimers apply. Let the buyer beware and if the advertising claims seem too good to be true, they usually are. Also try to buy from a reseller that has a decent return policy so you can try before buying. Additional research is also a good thing. PC Magazine writes pretty objective reviews for these type of devices. Lastly, if you found this guide to be helpful, please vote and say you found this guide helpful. Thanks and happy viewing out there in the field!!!
June 21, 2009 Update:
Faster Processors have appeared in the Cowon A3 and Q5, the New Archos 5 and 7 Internet-enabled PVRs and the new Creative ZEN X-Fi and Creative Zen credit card sized MP3/Video players. Videos load much faster and support for other video file formats has expanded to include WMV, AVI, MP4 and MOV formats. The Cowon Q5 has built in Bluetooth support and the Archos 5 and & have built in WiFi and USB support for attaching USB peripherals like a memory card reader, mouse or external keyboard.

Unfortunately, Creative has stopped producing the Creative Zen W which is the wide screen 4.3 inch wide PVR player that is extremely small and thin but has a decent sized bright and sharp color screen. They are only available used as 30 and 60 GB models and you can some times find upgraded 100 and 120 GB models on eBay. This player has proven very popular due to it's small pocket-able size and built in compact flash slot which makes it much easier to transfer video/audio/photo files into the unit. Digital photographers will find the Creative Zen Vision W as an excellent portable back-up device which allows for instant storage and viewing of their digital photos. The bundled software for converting videos to play on their devices has improved greatly with OEM deals arranged with vendors like Arcsoft to provide the codecs and software trans-coding engines to convert existing video files to play on their players. House Brand Insignia (Sold by Best Buy) and Philips Go Gear offer credit card sized Video Players with small 2.2-3" TFT Screens at the low end and also offer models with integrated Bluetooth. This is a very nice feature as it allows you to easily pair a set of Wireless Stereo Headphones with the video player. You can also buy set of decent wireless Bluetooth stereo headphones from vendors such as Sony, Motorola, Panasonic, Oakley, and Samsung that are perfect for bicycling, treadmills, running, etc as you can get high quality music on the go without worrying about tangled earphone cords. Battery life is excellent for most of these new stereo headphones with some averaging up to 4-5 hours of continuous usage time on a fully charged battery.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Moon - One of the best Sci Fi movies of the year

Moon is one of those movies that was written and directed by a true fan of science fiction. Duncan Jones, the director and writer of this excellent movie has paid tribute to some great science fiction movies made in to late sixties, seventies and eighties. We're talking about 2001 A Space Odyssey, Doug Trumbull's Silent Running, Blade Runner, Alien and even a little bit of Stephen King's The Shining. Filmed as a low budget independent movie, all of the money shows up on the big screen, money wisely spend on miniature models blended with state-of-the-art visual computer special effects. The set pieces look realistic enough and the shop-worn industrial designs are very reminiscent of the first Alien film. I will not give away any spoilers as this movie deserves to be seen fresh as the payoff is well worth the wait and is most satisfying. I believe the story is brilliantly crafted and told with spot-on pacing and editing. The main character is played by Sam Rockwell and he gives a bravura performance that is wide-ranging and sympathetic as the dedicated astronaut/worker that is facing the end of a 3 year long work assignment with hallucinations and deteriorating physical and mental health. His job is to repair anything that breaks down with the Helium 3 automated Harvesting Machines. Helium 3 is a powerful energy source that is found in the Moon's soil and needs to collected and processed to create concentrated amounts to satisfy the earth's energy requirements. Lunar Industries owns and operates this industrial moon base and appears to control most every aspect of the astronaut, Sam Bell's life. He is assisted by a robot (Voiced by Kevin Spacey) named GERTY and seems to be a first cousin of the 2001 robot HAL though not anywhere as sinister. This robot does in fact assist Sam to solve the dark mystery of the Lunar Industries Moon Base and their extreme (to the nth degree) contingency plans.
This 97 minute movie will keep you glued to your seats and will definitely challenge you to figure out what is really going on. It pretty much toys with your mind and opens up a ton of ethical questions regarding how far we've gone in pursuing technology and applying it with sinister motives to practical but morally questionable applications.

Kudos to the director and producer of this film as they were able to achieve a big-budget look with a pretty small budget. This movie is very similar to the movie Terminator in the way it got made. The director's vision translated directly to the screen. It was made on a shoestring budget. Buzz about the emerged early on and continues to spread (viral-marketing wise) in a grass-roots fashion. You are witnessing the very beginning of a what will become a long and successful movie directing career for Mr. Jones. In my opinion, Duncan Jones has achieved the same impressive debut that James Cameron achieved when he released Terminator in 1986. If you are a Science Fiction fan, you owe it to yourself to see this movie as it has earned immediate street cred as a classic must-see sci fi movie. In fact Moon is so impressive (as his very first commercial movie) that one can't help but wonder what his next movie project will be.

I also learned that Duncan Jones is David Bowie's son from reading another review of Moon. My review would have remained the exactly the same if I did not know that little piece of trivia.

Learning Guitar, Jazz Guitar Teacher Extraordinaire, & New Musical Passions


New Blog Entry Topics Covered:
Music Theory Study
Practice - Practice -Practice

Jazz Guitar Teacher Extraordinaire:
Dave Shroeder

The Perfect Travel Guitar:
Voyage-Air Travel Guitar OM6 Songwriter

The Best Steely Dan Cover Band:
Aja Vu
I just completed the first year of Jazz Guitar study with Dave Schroeder, Jazz Guitar Instructor extraordinaire. The year went by so quickly! If you're looking for an excellent guitar teacher in the SF Bay area, Dave Shroeder is the man! In addition to having an encyclopedic knowledge of Guitar Instruction and music, Dave makes learning fun and is incredibly patient and accommodating in terms of helping you reach your musical goals. He is also a most gifted Jazz Guitarist and Performer.

Check out his web site at

The first 6 months were a little painful as I went through a crash course on music theory which included but was not limited to reading music, notes, scales, finding the right key, dot method, music composition, etc. I am still struggling with finding notes on the fret board, memorizing the dot method and forming chords (major, minor, sevenths). I think I will be over the hump soon and can then move on to more exciting stuff like scales arpeggios, soloing, etc. practice has always been an issue for me in terms of staking out more practice time and maintaining a consistent practice schedule through vacations and overnight trips away from home.

At the suggestion of Dave, I started researching travel guitars that could be easily stowed in a car and in an airplane overhead compartment. The guitar would have to be playable and rugged enough to withstand the rigors of vacation and/or business travel. The usual cast of highly advertised, highly promoted guitars appeared when I did a google search for travel guitars. Martin Backpacker, Baby Taylor, Ovation Backpacker, etc. were the top three.
A few words about practice. Most if not all musical instrument instructors will say that the quickest and easiest way to gain proficiency on an instrument is to practice. I have read many articles about famous guitar players and they all have that burning desire to succeed and have spent countless hours of practice perfecting their technique. Guitar players like Chet Atkins, Larry Carlton, Django Reinhart, Pete Huttlinger, and Mark Knopfler come to mind. Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) recalls when he was a young boy looking at a Fender catalog with various Stratocaster guitars and he can remember smelling the pages. The object of lust for Mark when he was a teenager was a fiesta red Fender Stratocaster (The very first one imported into the UK) that belonged to Hank Marvin, the lead guitarist for the Shadows, a late 50s British Pop group which was very popular in the UK and later with Cliff Richard. Mark often fell asleep playing his guitar into the early hours of the morning when he was a teenager, in college and later as a schoolteacher and budding journalist (all day jobs). Mark would practice all hours of the day and night and considered Chet Atkins to be one of the all time greatest guitar players and learned Chet's songs by ear. Mark's solo career has taken him into country music territory and continues to explore many different styles of music above and beyond the rock songs he wrote when he had his group Dire Straits. Mark is an exquisite guitar player with impeccable taste with a most unique and unimitable finger-picking style.
You can't practice with out having your trusty guitar at the ready so a Travel Guitar should be the next best thing. The problem is that the Travel Guitar will never play nor feel like the one you keep at home to practice on. It will be at best, a compromise. An exciting new company based in Livermore, CA has come up with a very elegant solution called the Voyage-Air Travel Guitar. They figured out a way to manufacture a full sized bodied Acoustic Guitar that has a foldable neck. Better yet, you can break down the guitar by unscrewing a knurled nut in less than a minute. You can then re-assemble the guitar in less than a minute and get this......The strings stay in place and the Guitar strings stay in tune. It'd hard enough to practice and to take it all in (The guitar lessons and the music theory) I see the Voyage Air guitar as the enabler as you now have one big reason to practice your guitar lesson anywhere, any time at any place. When you buy a Voyage-Air guitar, you are really getting two guitars for the price of one. You are getting a superbly playable full sized acoustic guitar that has a terrific sound and tone. The playability is excellent as you can finger-pick, strum, basically do anything that you would with a normal acoustic guitar. Want to use a capo? No problem. It works and sounds great on a Voyage-Air. Intonation is just about perfect and there is an adjustable truss rod in the neck so that you can make neck adjustments to fine tune the distance between the strings and the fret board.
You are also getting a travel guitar that folds into a very small form factor so that the guitar with its custom case can fit in and airline overhead compartment. I can be carried back-pack style on a bicycle or motorcycle with no problems whatsoever. Most of the major airlines have approved it for in-cabin overhead storage.
If you want to see and play this fantastic guitar, check it out at this Livermore music store called Fine Fretted Friends which is located on Main Street Livermore, CA. The owner’s name is Michael Ferrucci and he is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about guitars and music and will take good care of your travel guitar needs. Their web site is You won't believe your eyes and ears when you see the guitar played for the first time and then broken down to fit in the custom case and then re-assembled and played without the guitar going out of tune. What a terrific engineering achievement. Kudos to Voyage-Air for figuring the folding hinge part and implementing it in a no compromise way making it a snap for the average person to fold and unfold the guitar to playing position in less than a minute. You really have to see it for yourself. It’s truly a marvel where FORM and FUNCTION happily coexist.
Voyage-Air Guitars

Fine Fretted Friends High End Guitar Store Livermore, CA

Steely Dan Tribute Bands
Aja Vu is the Best
I admit I have been a Steely Dan Fan ever since I heard their first single from their first commercially available album Can't Buy A Thrill. This was in 1972. when I was still in high school and I heard the single "Do It Again" as I was strolling through the Kings Plaza Shopping Mall in Brooklyn, NY. I bought that album the very next day at Crazy Eddie's and bought every subsequent album/CD by them to this very day. They (Walter Becker and Donald Fagen) were very insecure about touring and performing live and kept their heads down creating masterpiece albums in the studio with crack session musicians and Jazz artists from the Mid 1970s to the early 1980s. Reclusive is the best adjective to describe their behavior and contributed to a huge demand for live performances of their sizable catalog of songs. Availability of their albums on re-mastered CD's caused sales to surge even though Steely Dan was not making any new records and newer generations of listeners around the world were getting hip to Steely Dan music. With their collective CD sales reaching record sales levels (for the older releases incredibly enough) they started to tour again in 1993 after a long self-imposed 12 year hiatus with Walter Becker retiring to an Avocado Farm in Maui, Hawaii and Donald Fagen chilling out in New York City composing film scores and writing music commentary for Premiere Magazine. They hand-picked very competent musicians to go on the road with them and they performed the Steely Dan songs with their own interpretations of the original studio album instrumental solos, riffs and melodies. Some fans liked this. Others did not. After seeing Steely Dan at two live concerts, I was sitting on the fence. On the one hand I was happy to see them play live but I was a little disappointed that they wanted to distance themselves from the earlier Steely Dan songs from their earliest albums.
As their popularity increased in the nascent 1980s even as Becker and Fagen receded into a self-imposed hiatus/retirement/breather/sabbatical (whatever you want to call it) two phenomenons started to occur. The first one is the sampling of Steely Dan songs for Rap songs (eg. Uptown Baby Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz - Sampled Black Cow) and the second phenomenon is the emergence of Steely Dan Cover Bands. It was a supreme challenge for a guitar player to learn all of the tasty guitar parts from their most famous songs so this emergence did not happen overnight. Deconstructing the guitar solos originally played by Larry Carlton, Walter Becker, Denny Dias, Jeff Skunk Baxter, Jay Graydon, Rick Derringer, Steve Khan, and Elliott Randall was no easy task but a couple of guys became good enough to be hired as lead guitarists for the Steely Dan tours that began in the early 1990s. Jon Herrington, Wayne Krantz and Drew Zingg all come to mind.
At the time, I felt that a Steely Dan cover/tribute band would be a half-baked idea because their songs are so hard to play. Other fans did not and other fans were mixed on rating these live performances. About this time, the first Steely Dan cover bands started to emerge. Since there was a more devoted following internationally, I think the first tribute bands emerged from Europe. What all of these tribute bands had in common was that they tried to replicate the studio recordings of Steely Dan note for note. Some were successful at accomplishing this, some were not.
Fast Forward to 2009. This brings me to the subject of this post, a San Francisco Bay Area Steely Dan Tribute Band called Aja Vu. I heard them for the first time this past Sunday and I was blown away. These guys (and Gal) have really nailed it. They do Steely Dan songs better than Steely Dan. They have a terrific ensemble band with a Saxophone, Trumpet, Keyboard, Drummer, Bass Player, Lead Singer/Trombone Player, Lead Guitarist and Back-Up Singer Percussionist. Their sound is faithful to the Steely Dan album versions of the song and their live performances are not to be missed. It immediately becomes "Party Time" as they are having so much fun up on the stage playing the music of Steely Dan as Walter and Donald intended. I had a chance to chat with the band leader, Ron Jamison and discovered that he wanted to get the Steely Dan music right so he hand-picked musicians of a like mind who also loved Steely Dan and quickly got the band to a proficiency level where they quickly established themselves as one of the most popular SF bay area bands. They also won the "Last Band Standing" award sponsored by KFOX and Morning DJ Greg Kihn of the Greg Kihn Band.

This band is outstanding and every member is an extremely talented musician and performer but I was most impressed with the lead guitar work and the horn section. The Sax, Trombone and Trumpet players are simply outstanding.

Aja Vu Playing Black Cow in Capitola CA 2009

Check out Aja Vu at Their Calendar of upcoming appearances is on their website, Highly recommended. Two Thumbs-up.

Aja Vu


Other Bands and Musicians I've Come to
Admire and Have Stood the Test of Time:

Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street

Stealers Wheel - Stuck In The Middle With You

Seals & Crofts - Summer Breeze performed live

Todd Rundgren - I Saw The Light with Daryl Hall

Sara Smile - Daryl Hall and Smokey Robinson

Jeopardy! Greg Kihn Band - Weird Al Yankovic Video Parody

In the Summertime - Mungo Jerry


Hawaiian Sunset Honolulu HI 2003

Various topics will be covered along with miscellaneous thoughts and observations about certain subjects and activities that I participate in or follow closely. A lot will be written about technology, music and generic business topics as they relate to current events and general home grown philosophies and points of view. Comments and discussions are welcome with the intent of generating healthy debate, discussion and a generally positive tone.
The first few Blog posts will center around Music Guitar Study, Bicycling, and Computer Technology (On The Cheap for equipping the Road Warrior).

Read on and feedback is welcome and appreciated.