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I guess that’s the official spelling … Google Plus looks too prosaic. And Google+ is anything but prosaic, by Google standards. Their famous insistence on speed over style has given way to something positively goofy, compared to the basic sites Google has given us in the past. This is attributable to the presence of Andy Hertzfeld, who goes back to the development of the Macintosh, and who was given free rein to make Google+ appealing.

So, what is Google+ and why should you want it? It’s a suite of applications that runs in your browser … the specifics of my descriptions might not be exact, hey, I’m not a techie writer and I’ve only been playing with + for a day. The key feature is Circles. You can create as many circles as you want … for instance, I have three family-related circles, one for the immediate family, one that adds my siblings and their families to the mix, and a third that adds my extended family. I also have circles for friends, really good friends, people from school … you get the idea. Why bother with circles? Because circles allow you to target the audience for your contributions. When you update your status on Facebook, or post a video, or write a note, every one of your “friends” can see it. You can create groups to manage this problem, but it’s clunky to do so. With circles, you just drag and drop. I don’t suppose it took me half an hour to sort all of my contacts into groups. Then, when I want to post something relevant only to my family, I’ll only give access to the Family circle. If it involves close friends, give them access. If it’s something appropriate for everyone, make it public. This kind of targeted posting seems like a v.good idea to me.

You get a Stream which is like your Facebook news feed. There is something called Sparks which needs work … it’s basically a search engine for a specific subject, so you can call one “Bruce Springsteen” and whenever you check it, you’ll get recent net posts about him.

The killer app, the one that inspired more than one person to say Google+ isn’t a Facebook Killer, but a Skype Killer, is Hangouts. Hangouts allows up to ten people to participate in a video chat. You can open up a Hangout and wait for friends to stop by, you can invite specific people, or you can join someone else’s Hangout. You can watch YouTube videos together. I’m sure this will have some kinks … so far, I’ve only tried a one-on-one chat … but it’s like Chatroulette, only selective instead of random.

There is an Android app that allows for group texting, so if four of you are going to lunch, you can use “Huddle” and save time. You can do some but not all of the web-based stuff on your Android phone (iOS to follow).

Google+ is enough fun, and is easy enough to use from the start, that I imagine most people will like it once they start using it. The question is whether it will retain value over the long term. Social networking requires people (duh). Facebook has the people; new attempts to conquer the social arena have to deal with that fact. Until Google+ gets enough users, it will remain a cult item. Still, despite the numbers, I feel like a lot of the Facebook users I know are always complaining about the thing. Maybe they’re ready for something new.

Google is also up against their recent past. Simply put, they have failed big time in their previous attempts at social networking. Google Wave was potent but inscrutable; Google Buzz debuted by making one of the biggest privacy-invasion blunders in web history. Both products had their fans, but there weren’t nearly enough of them to build a large network. In the last couple of days, I’ve seen and heard a lot of “experts” who have fallen instantly in love with Google+, but are wary of admitting it because they fear another Wave/Buzz.

Anything can happen when a product is only a couple of days old. Problems will arise that haven’t been anticipated. But my first take on Google+ is that it is delightful. To become more than just a fun toy, though, it needs people. So anyone reading this who is intrigued, get Google+ as soon as you can. (It is currently invitation only, and invitations have been temporarily shut down because Google is trying a slow buildup, and they’ve gotten LOTS of attention and requests. In other words, no, I don’t have any invites at this time.)

google maps as madeleine

Go to Google Maps and search for the place where you spent your childhood. It won’t look like your memories of the place, but you’ll find yourself thinking about when you lived there, and the changes between then and now will lead to reflections on the difference between you-then and you-now.

Here is what my childhood home looks like today:

2113 biglow google 1

The house is as old as I am, a tract home built when my mother was pregnant with me. All of the houses on the block looked the same, with the exception of the mirror effect, where some homes had the driveway on the right, like ours, and others had it on the left, which meant the floor plan was flipped. On walking through the front door, you’d be confronted with a living room, with dining room attached and kitchen off of the dining room. In the opposite direction from the kitchen, off of the living room, was a short hallway, off of which were three bedrooms and one bathroom. Eventually, families would remodel; in our case, we extended out the back, with a family room connected to the kitchen, and an extra bedroom and bathroom.

I can’t tell from the above picture what has been done to that back area, of course, and the size of the tree (and the shade) makes it difficult to see, anyway. You can see the front door, and I know where the windows are, but that’s memory speaking. The lawn seemed v.long when I was a kid (I can’t remember for sure, but a part of it might have been paved over later to make the driveway bigger). There was a rose bush in front of the door; when my grandmother was watching us and we did something wrong, we’d have to get a “switch” off the bush for a spanking.

I look at this picture, and I can see street football, and I can remember the neighbors who lived on either side, and I can see the floor plan, and which bedrooms I slept in at which times in my life, and where the TV was … if I were Proust, I could turn that photo into seven volumes of memories.

Here’s a picture of the above house from sometime in the mid-50s. I’m just guessing … my brother was six years older than I, and he doesn’t look all that old, so maybe 1956?


true blood, season four premiere

I can keep this one short, because I don’t have a lot to add to previous posts on the topic over the years. I don’t believe in the concept of “guilty pleasures,” and True Blood is a guilty pleasure that I like quite a lot. OK, I contradict myself. I’ll quote two critics, and then I’m out of here. Tim Goodman:

This just in: anecdotal Twitter poll finds most people don’t think True Blood should be considered among the heavy hitters of TV dramas. It’s a guilty pleasure, period. Sounds about right to me.

And Mo Ryan:

But 'True Blood's' signature move has to do with power: One character will have power over another, and then kabam! That dynamic will be reversed, or it won't, or a new person will come on the scene and seize power. The show is often just a round-robin of those power exchanges, but Ball seems uninterested in saying anything about power, and that can be frustrating. Again and again, we see people holding each other emotionally or physically hostage, and sometimes even going to war, but then the dynamic shifts and the whole thing starts over again with slightly different combination of characters.

what i watched last week

Whistling in Brooklyn (S. Sylvan Simon, 1943). Watched this one on a whim, since it was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. Red Skelton made three B-movies as “The Fox”, a radio detective who finds himself embroiled in hijinks. This is the final one of the series, and features a long sequence at Ebbets Field (among the Dodgers who make appearances: Dolph Camilli, Leo Durocher, Ray Hayworth, Billy Herman, Ducky Medwick, Bobo Newsom, Mickey Owen, Arky Vaughan, even super-fan Hilda Chester). Skelton is fun, and the film moves at a lightning pace. Rags Ragland steals the movie … Ragland is forgotten now, but he was a regular presence in MGM movies in the 40s, friends with everyone from Welles to Sinatra. It was nice to revisit my childhood, and I’ve seen worse movies.

Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958). #23 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #21 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of top 1000 films of all time.

The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946). #22 on my Faves list, #282 on the TSPDT list.

soccer weekend: gold cup, women’s world cup

Yesterday, 93,000 fans filled the Rose Bowl for the Gold Cup final between the United States and Mexico. It was no surprise that these two made the final; they are clearly the class of CONCACAF, and in the 11 times the tournament has been run under its current structure, one of the two has been the champion 10 times. Mexico triumphed, 4-2 (coincidentally, earlier the Giants had won their game 1-0 … when it comes to scoring, the World Series champs tend to have the kinds of scores people associate with soccer), and the Americans have no need to hang their heads … this Mexican squad is one of their best in a long time. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is the most exciting player to come out of the region since, I don’t know, Landon Donovan? The current team is based on speed, and it was appropriate that the final mind-boggling goal came from Giovani dos Santos. Gio was kinda the Chicharito of his day, except he’s a year younger than Hernandez so that doesn’t really make sense. When he first emerged on the world stage, I was extremely impressed, and yet for some reason I felt like he’d disappointed since then, even though he’s had a reasonable start to his European club career, and played well in the last World Cup. Yesterday, his speed was impossible to stop, and while I was rooting for the U.S., it was hard not to admire Gio’s play, as well as that of his teammates. The match was excellent, and got attention around the globe.

Today, the Women’s World Cup began. I think the last time that many people showed up at the Rose Bowl for a soccer match was for the Women’s World Cup final in 1999. It’s easy to forget how long ago that was. The U.S. players who captured the fancy of American fans have moved on, many to commentary roles on broadcasts for the current tourney. I don’t think many Americans realize that the U.S. is not the favorite this time around … they haven’t won it since that magical 1999. The Germans are the titans of women’s soccer now, and they are also the hosts for the 2011 Cup, which makes them the favorites. In the second of today’s opening matches, Germany defeated a surprisingly tough Canadian team, 2-1. While the women’s game isn’t as fast as the men’s, there is perhaps room for more tactical play as a result, and there is no denying the skills of the world’s best players. But it’s hard to find out any of this … women’s sports in general are largely ignored, and outside of some hubbub if the U.S. manages to win it all, I doubt this will change.

Still, ESPN is showing every match in one format or another, which is another step in the remarkable surge of soccer availability in this country since the days when all we got were highlights of a week-old German match on public television. The tournament also gives me an excuse to tout the work of Jennifer Doyle. Doyle, an English professor at UC Riverside, has a must-read blog, From a Left Wing, that is best described by its subtitle, “Soccer & Sports Polemics.” She also has a gig for the World Cup writing for the Fox Soccer web site, and she is pulling no punches (her most recent piece, “FIFA treats women’s game as a burden” is right on target). I look forward to following Doyle as the Cup progresses.

music friday: the rolling stones, “paint it black”

The development of The Rolling Stones from their beginnings to mid-1966, when “Paint It Black” was released, was remarkable. Their first single, “Come On” in June of 1963, was a Chuck Berry song. Their next four singles were covers of songs by the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Arthur Alexander, and Berry again (“Carol” in June of 1964). June of 1965 saw “Satisfaction” and there was no stopping the band. Two years from covering their idols to creating “Satisfaction.”

“Paint It Black” came along in 1966. It was inventive musically (Brian Jones’ sitar marked the first time that instrument had appeared on a #1 single), but the lyrics were more startling. When it hit #1, it replaced “When a Man Loves a Woman” in the States and “Pretty Flamingo” in the UK … it was bumped from the top spot by “Paperback Writer” (US) and “Strangers in the Night” (UK). Fine songs, all, and indicative of the kind of things you heard on pop radio in 1966: a soul tune, arty British pop, the Beatles, and Frank Sinatra. Appearing in the middle of this, “Paint It Black” was like a missive from some Bizarro version of Pop. Sinatra and Percy Sledge and Manfred Mann sang about love, the Beatles famously did not sing about love but created a pop masterpiece Paul’s auntie could love. “Paint It Black” was different:

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

Charlie Watts’ drumming was propulsive, but you pretty much had to ignore those lyrics if you wanted the song to give you a good time. And it didn’t get better as the song worked its way to the conclusion, where you hear Mick Jagger shouting, “I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky.”

They had come a long way from “Come On.”

Here’s the original:

Eric Burdon and the Animals were one of the acts at my very first rock concert. They performed “Paint It Black” that night. A couple of weeks earlier, they had played it at Monterey, and a truncated version made it into the movie of that event:

Finally, here’s a version performed on American Idol … nah … this is Penelope Houston and the Avengers:

my spanish grandfather

The following picture has been making the rounds of the family for a few days. It was sent to my brother by a woman who knew our grandmother because her grandparents were friends of our grandparents. I post it here without much in the way of commentary … we know very little about the photo, when it was taken, where it was taken. The man who is seated is our grandfather … the men who are standing are the grandfather of the woman who sent us the picture, and his brother. My grandfather died long before I was born, and there are only a couple of pictures of him that I have seen, one of which is on his tombstone. So this is a real find:


united states of tara series finale

United States of Tara finished its run last Monday night. Three seasons isn’t a lot, but Showtime has a history of letting series go long past their sell-by date, and since in this case, Season Three was as good or better than the other two, Tara goes out on a high note. This is very rare for Showtime (see Queer as Folk, L Word, Nurse Jackie, Weeds, Dexter).

Tara was never a great show, and it was often annoying. But even more often, it was a very good show. This, perhaps, is a boilerplate for describing the work of Diablo Cody: not great, often annoying, but also very good. The B-storylines were, for the most part, nicely integrated, although they never really figured out what to do with Brie Larson as the daughter (Larson was fine, but the part wasn’t much). Keir Gilchrist (who made his debut in a bit part on an episode of Queer as Folk) was particularly fine as the gay son. John Corbett, Rosemarie DeWitt, Patton Oswalt … all good actors, and they all did well, as did Eddie Izzard in the third season.

But since this was a show about a woman with multiple personalities (dissociative identity disorder), it was going to stand or fall on the shoulders of the actress who played Tara. Toni Collette hit it out of the park each week, picking up at least one Emmy in the process. Of course, multiple personalities are made for awards, but Collette overcame that obstacle. Each of her “alters” had a distinct personality, and Collette managed to show the switches from one alter to another without seeming fake about it. In the first season, it felt at times like Tara was partly there for comic relief, but by the third season, the burden (on Tara, and on her family) was darker. (Not that there weren’t funny parts even in the last season, as when the most destructive of her alters, Bryce Craine, repeatedly stabs the poncho of a fellow alter … not funny, I know, except that all the while, Bryce is wearing a pumpkin that had been carved as a jack-o-lantern.)

United States of Tara was too erratic to rank with the best series, yet in an odd way it was also comfortably consistent, in that you always knew Collette and company would deliver. The finale was nicely played … it was made before they knew the show was being cancelled, but it worked as a last episode, just the same. And while I would have happily watched another season, 36 episodes is enough. Grade for finale: A-. Grade for series: B+.

falling skies series premiere

Took me a couple of days to say anything about this one, and even now, I’m just posting filler. Sunday saw the terrific season finale of Game of Thrones, which has already risen to the top level of current series; another very good episode of Treme, which never lets me down even when it’s breaking my heart; and the gawdawful season finale of The Killing, which serves as a warning to any of us inclined to rave about a show after one episode.

Meanwhile, Falling Skies, the new Spielberg-connected alien invasion drama, debuted on TNT. It was OK … I’m not sure I’ve ever watched a TNT series, to be honest (oh yeah, I watched Saving Grace for awhile), so maybe I’ll develop a fondness for the network. Falling Skies delivered just enough FX to be dazzling for a TV show, included some characters that have room to grow on us, and didn’t bore me. How long I stay with it is another question. It doesn’t seem to have ambitions towards being a great show, and that’s OK, but I usually start ignoring those shows after awhile. It doesn’t look to have the scuzzy grandeur of Battlestar Galactica, or the goofy implausibility of, say, Damages. It just looks like a decent show that won’t bore you. My wife watches tons of these kinds of shows, the ones that appear on USA and TNT, or broadcast network shows like Bones or Castle. She likes them, and I can tell they’re better than average … I might like Burn Notice just for Bruce Campbell. But the truth is, when there are series like Treme and Justified, something like Falling Skies seems to lack something. Like I say, I’ll give it a chance, but I think I prefer The Walking Dead.