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Fri, Aug 29th - 8:24AM

Obama Had Me At Langston Hughes
Barack Obama gave his candidacy acceptance speech a couple hours ago. As I shared my opinions of his speech with my wife, I wondered what the media would take from his speech. What would the headlines read?

Yahoo! posted an article from the Associated Press. The writers note that:
On a night 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a Dream Speech," Obama made no overt mention of his own race.
Pardon me? What is his race? Remember that he is half white, too. I feel that this statement reeks of the "one drop rule." I wonder if he struggled with checking boxes on forms, or if he just always checked African American without giving it a second thought.

It's interesting, too, to note that the Wikipedia page that the details the one drop rule opens references Langston Hughes response to the odd rule:
You see, unfortunately, I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word "Negro" is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. In Africa, the word is more pure. It means all Negro, therefore black. I am brown.

Why is this interesting in the context of the Obama speech? Well in it, he refers to "dreams deferred." This is classic Langston Hughes and it speaks miles to the overall sentiment of our country — regardless of race.

Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load
Or does it explode?
This poem spoke to me from the first time I read it. My life so often would feel like it was just one long string of dreams deferred until "it just sags / like a heavy load." I've moved past most of that now, but I immediately saw the connection he was drawing to the current state of our country.

I actually learned about "Dream Deferred" through a play by Lorraine Hansberry called "Raisin in the Sun." The (possibly unintended) reference to this play packed an extra wallop, as it continues to be a steady favorite in theater productions and represents some firsts. The play was the first Broadway play written by a black woman and with the first black director of a show on Broadway.
'
The nuance of this (un)intentional refererence invokes the spirits of two African Americans who left a legacy, as well as the beloved Langston Hughes. And that's where Obama had me... with Langston Hughes.

Now, I know that I've pussyfooted around the whole un/intentional thing. Well, I'll take a stance and say Obama intended to invoke "Raisin in the Sun." Why...?

While pursuing my English degree, my lit class read the play. As with any lit class, we had a theme around which we would discuss the book. In the case of this one, we discussed The American Dream!

That's right. Did you happen to hear any overt references to The American Dream throughout the rest of Obama's speech? I think I remember a few. The synchronicity of it all is slowly giving me chills. Here is a person who I relate to more than any other I can ever remember, because he was raised by his hard-working mother, his father was absent, he rose out of poverty, and he's been married about as long as me.

Yet despite all our similarities, Obama had me at Langston Hughes.

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Tue, Aug 26th - 10:00AM

Movie Review - No Country for Old Men (R)
Last night, after much fanfare, I sat down and watched "No Country for Old Men." What a disappointment.

I love the Cohen brothers, but they really should stick to what they do best — writing their own stories. The movie has many of the same elements we've come to expect from a Cohen Bros flick. From creative ways of killing people to gritty characters that you can't seem to stop watching.

In "No Country for Old Men," the antagonist, Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem, gets under my skin in a way I'm not sure if I welcome or shun. Chigurh is definitely the most compelling character, sort of creepy and boyish all at the same time.

"Barton Fink," "Big Lebowski," "Hudsucker Proxy," "Fargo"...
All movies written by Joel and Ethan Cohen, and all rich with deep storytelling. "No Country for Old Men," however, was a screenplay they wrote based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Their attempt at turning this bloody book into a compelling movie was a disaster fit to keep you sunk down in a pit of despair.

Here's the synopsis:
  • Man runs across the site of a drug deal gone awry.
  • Man takes the money left behind by the dealers and runs.
  • Man returns to the site to help one guy who was barely alive only to discover he's dead.
  • Man is spotted by the dealers' henchman and ends up running across South Texas from a psychopathic killer who wants the money back.
The movie starts out with a monologue, a signature move by the Cohen bros. I love this technique, as it is so rife with the oral tradition. But, that's about as exciting as it gets.

The 2 1/2 hour runtime could easily have been reduced to 1 1/2 hours. Most of the movie seems to rely on the long drawn-out sequences of people staring or walking. If you watch many foreign films, you know the technique. Sometimes the long draw works beautifully, but not in "No Country for Old Men." This movie focuses on bloodshed. The long draw only makes it look as though the Cohen bros are feebly trying to make art out of violence.

I know the tagline for "No Country for Old Men" is "There Are No Clean Getaways," but this movie was a sheer disappointment. Why? SPOILER ALERT AHEAD!!!

Some of the best characters, like Woody Harrelson's Carson Wells, are never quite allowed to live up to their potential. Chigurh kills him off quickly, with no fight, just a simple click of the trigger.

Then there's the protagonist, Llewelyn Moss played by Josh Brolin. For most of the movie, we focus on his escape, his outrage, his attempt at revenge. Then, after watching him in intensely violent scene after violent scene. He's just dead and floating in a hotel pool. It was a bit like watching a movie about the shootout at the OK corral, watching the build up to the famous showdown only to have the camera pan away then return after the fight is over.

With the protagonist dead, you would think the movie's over, right? Nope. Llewelyn's wife, Carla Jean played by Kelly Macdonald, talks to Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, played by the fabulous Tommy Lee Jones, after her husband's death. She says one line that sums up my sentiments toward the remainder of the movie: "When will it be over?" Then she is killed by Chigurh.

Slowly, Chigurh makes his way out to a car, drives away down a quiet neighborhood street, is T-boned by another car, pays a kid for his shirt to use as a sling, then waddles off down the road.

Cut away to a retired Sheriff Bell, sitting bored at his table and asking his wife if she wants any help with her horses. End movie. WTF!

So, this movie shows no character development, no resolution, no payoff - just a bored retired sheriff who doesn't know what to do with his time and a psychopath wandering free.

Now, I could blame the Cohen bros for poor storytelling, but I know they can do better. I could blame Cormac McCarthy, but I haven't read the novel so I'm not sure if the lame storytelling is his fault or not.

For all the fanfare "No Country for Old Men" received, it is a nearly complete pile of s$%#! If long drawn out scenes and gratuitous violence bother you, don't waste your time on "No Country for Old Men."

My Rating for "No Country for Old Men": 2 out of 5 stars
(Extra points for including the little extra touches in the movie, like naming an auto shop after one of the producers.)

Don't fret, Cohen Bros fans. Joel and Ethan have completed their latest story: "Burn After Reading." It looks like a much better story.
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Thu, Aug 7th - 12:50PM

Searchme.com Assessment — Addendum Stacks
In my assessment of searchme.com's use as a search engine, I completely overlooked one of the most innovative aspects of their site... Stacks! Instead of trying to explain what stacks are and how to use them, I refer you to their information page about stacks. Make sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to watch the video. To check out the stack info page, click here. Here's the "Rogue Writers" stack I created while testing out the stack feature.


Also, a bit thanks to the folks at Searchme.com for taking note of my assessment.
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Wed, Aug 6th - 9:49AM

Searchme.com Assessment — Part IV Conclusion
The following is the fourth and final part of my searchme.com assessment, a distinctly different search engine.

As someone with the right hard/software, I absolutely love searchme.com. The presentation of screenshots, embedded videos, and images in a rolodex style makes for a truly unique searching experience.

Site Screenshots Rock!
In particular, I enjoy seeing screenshots of sites before I visit them. This is a feature I’ve always wanted in a search engine. How often have you Googled a site, the details seem right, but when you visit the site, it’s crap or spam? The downside I see to this feature is that the screenshots work best for sites with less-frequent updates. Blogs might not serve up the most accurate screenshots. Which raises my next concern…

Blogs Rank Low
Very few, if any blogs appear in searchme.com’s results. Perhaps this is part of their approval policy. Blogs change so frequently that their authority is questionable. Google used to prefer static pages, taking the tack that sites that have been around for awhile with no updates and are linked to constitute authoritative sites. Whatever the case, bloggers of all types will probably not run to promote searchme.com, as we are the ugly stepchildren.

Questionable Ethics of Site Reviews
As mentioned in my first post, searchme.com employs a human-review process for all sites submitted to their list of available sites. Although I like that this removes the possibility of bots tricking the system, this raises some ethical concerns for me:

1. What are the criteria for “quality”?
You can spot spam and scams easily enough, but what about sites that offer quality information that is chockfull of typos. A curmudgeon would oust it immediately. But just because an author offers info written in text message format doesn’t mean the info is wrong or not quality. Then there’s the web design aspect. Do all the sites accepted by searchme.com have to adhere to a modern design, dumping any pages created with, say, the lackluster GeoCities software?

2. Where does this leave “adult” sites?
This question has plagued every search engine or social network since they became popular. Filters help in the acceptance of adult sites that don’t violate the more intensely illegal forms of pornography like pedophilia or bestiality sites. But, what of those sites that walk the line? Who makes the call?

3. Do the “giants” automatically get ranked higher?
I know that searchme.com is just getting started. Of course, they would opt to fill their search results with images from the ever-popular Flickr, YouTube, and Wikipedia. But, will searchme.com create an algorithm that produces organic search results that account for other sites besides the giants?

Overall, I give searchme.com highest marks and look forward to seeing how they progress over the next couple years. Check them out!
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Tue, Aug 5th - 10:13AM

Searchme.com Assessment — Part III Image Search
The following is Part III of my searchme.com assessment, a distinctly different search engine.

Users of mid-1990’s computers or those on phone modems might not appreciate the presentation of images on searchme.com, but it’s pretty awesome. You get a browsing experience not unlike that of an iPhone.

The images are stacked in previous and next word in a fashion that resembles a rolodex. Depending on your screen resolution, you can go straight to the fifth picture to come.

Information related to each image is much more accessible to the layperson than Google. When you want to read the information, you can hover over the bottom portion of the image and an info block will rise to the occasion… literally. I didn’t try out the different screen resolution, so I can’t attest for the larger character version.

Instead of numbers, searchme uses a scale. I wonder if this will turn out to be such a good idea for once they become huge. They do, however, review all sites submitted. So unlike Google, they’ve taken a Mahalo.com approach of using humans to review sites.

The only downside with searchme.com image search is that nearly all the images are from flickr.com. The shots are great, but I want more sources. They do state that they’re just getting started, so I’m sure it will get better over time.

Check out the searchme.com Image Search tool and let me know what you think.
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Mon, Aug 4th - 9:29AM

Searchme.com Assessment — Part II Video Search
The following is Part II of my searchme.com assessment, a distinctly different search engine.

Without ever having to visit the site where the video is hosted, you can watch the videos you are searching for right from searchme.com’s rolodex style display. The site is set to automatically play each video as you click on it.

If you don’t like that arrangement, you can set the “preferences” to just display the static screenshot. This way of displaying videos really rocks, but would probably infuriate those with older software that is easily bogged down by multimedia.

The only downside right now is that every video I saw was from YouTube. Although the leader, YouTube is definitely not the only video sharing site out there. Give searchme.com some time though, they’re just getting started.

Check out searchme.com’s video search, then let me know what you think.
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Sun, Aug 3rd - 1:28PM

Searchme.com Assessment — Part I Web Search
The following is Part I of my searchme.com assessment, a distinctly different search engine.

searchme.com is definitely an amazing way to search the web. Anyone using an old dial-up modem or some software from the Nineties might not have a good time with this search engine, but the presentation is awesome.

Instead of a list of links, you get a pretty nice size shot of the website. No more wondering what you’ll get when you hit the link — you see the site!

Each word of your search query is circled in its own color. When you move your cursor, the info pops up from the bottom of the block.

As for the results details… well, talk about “distinctly different.” searchme.com clearly states the source and the topic (ex. City of Los Angeles, California – Sunset Blvd), the first few lines of the page’s content, and lastly, the URL.

This is truly a new web search experience, that I think I might just like. Check out searchme.com and let me know what you think.
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