Book of Mormon Musical

I saw the Book of Mormon Musical at the Smith Center in Las Vegas last night. My brother-in-law saw the musical in Seattle and he enjoyed it, so I decided to give it a chance.

I’m so glad I did because it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time. My ribs were sore for a few hours afterward from all the laughter. Chicago has been the musical I measure all others by, and the Book of Mormon is as good. I could relate to so many of the absurdities of mission life having served a mission myself in Germany from 1987-89. The few inaccuracies, such as how missionaries are assigned to a country or state, didn’t bother me at all.

This isn’t a musical for children as many of the themes are mature. After all, it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame. But it’s not all mature jokes, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. The musical follows two Mormon missionaries as they attempt to teach the people of Uganda, most of whom have AIDS.

The missionaries bring a message of hope, faith, and tales of Joseph Smith setting up a church in North America, and that message is often juxtaposed with the plight of the Ugandan people who are merely trying to survive to the next day.  The Mormons come off as goofy at times, but also dedicated and passionate about their faith. If this was a story of merely making fun of a group of people, it wouldn’t be as entertaining.  For example, Parker and Stone forgo the cheap jokes about polygamy and instead give us insight into how even these seemingly carefree and clean-cut young men also have doubts about their church.

It’s hard to pick a favorite musical number because they are all fantastic, but I loved “Turn it Off” because it hit home so strongly.

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head,
Don’t feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead
Turn it off, like a light switch
Just go click!
It’s a cool little Mormon trick!
We do it all the time
When your feeling certain feels that just don’t feel right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
And turn ’em off…

I like how the writers wove interesting bits of Mormon history throughout the musical, albeit often in a manner I’ve never heard at church. You’ll learn about Joseph Smith and how he came upon the plates of gold. Even Brigham Young makes a brief but hilarious appearance. It might help to understand Mormon history, but the musical provides enough backstory so that even if your understanding of Mormonism is topical, you’ll still enjoy the show.

I’ve probably seen 30 plays over the past 20 years. Until now Chicago was the only musical I would have paid to see again the next day. That I would drive to Vegas tomorrow to see the Book of Mormon again is the highest compliment I can give it.

I enjoyed every single minute of the Book of Mormon Musical.

Wireless Cable Modem Gateway Upgrade

After dealing with a number of problems with Qwest DSL service, we switched to Comcast cable internet about four years ago. Comcast has been a more reliable overall although they too occasionally suffer from services outages. But unlike Qwest, they seldom last longer than a few minutes.

When we switched to Comcast, I purchased my own modem and wireless gateway device. I was surprised how few combo unit were on the market, but found one from Motorola at Fry’s for about a hundred bucks. The admin interface was an absolute mess, but it allowed me to restrict wireless access to the network by MAC address which works well for me without slowing bandwidth.

Over the past four years, we’ve added at least a half dozen wireless devices to our home, most of which are made from Apple and support 802.11n. The older modem/gateway only supported b/g devices which wasn’t a big deal until we began streaming video to our iPads. Lately we noticed slow connection speeds from the rooms furthest away from our modem.

Our current Motorola device an older model that didn’t support the newer 802.11n speeds, so I decided to upgrade to the Motorola SBG6580 Wireless Cable Modem Gateway.

It took a few minutes to convince Comcast to update the modem’s MAC address, but it’s been a great investment so far. While the upload speeds have stayed the same, the download speed has increased on average from 12 Mb/s to over 20. But more importantly, the increased wireless coverage and speed allows everyone to stream video from anywhere in our home.

The only downside I can think of is that the admin panel is still a horrible mess that makes little sense to anyone who isn’t a technonerd.

If you’re still running a b/g wireless router with newer devices you may want to consider an upgrade. The Motorola I bought has a street price of about $125-$135 and is available at Fry’s, Amazon, and NewEgg.

Rdio: Streaming Music Done Right

I haven’t reviewed a product on this blog for some time time. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing about products, but I find other bloggers do it a lot better. But occasionally, I come across a product that I enjoy and want to tell you about it. That’s the case with rdio.

My short review is this: If you want access (web or iPhone/iPod Touch, Blackberry, and eventually Android) to a lot of music in a simple to understand and easy to use web service, then rdio is well worth the $5 or $10/month subscription fee. 

Rdio was created by the founders of Skype, and their desire to keep the UI clean and simple is apparent the first time you login. I’ve used Napster, Rhapsody, and Zune Pass before, and although each had a feature or two that caught my attention, none of them held my interest for more than a few months.

I’ve been a heavy Last.FM user for the past few years. It’s a great way to discover new music. But there are times when I want to listen to an entire album and Last.FM and Pandora are not able to do that.

My perfect service would combine the deep catalog of rdio and the serendipity of Last.FM and Pandora. But that’s for another post.

Rdio does allow me to follow friends who also subscribe to the service and listen to their playlists as well as leave comments on them. That helps me discover new music, but I hope one day they allow me to add stations based on my collection. For example, if Rdio knows I like Chris Botti, it might create a station of similar artists including Till Bronner. Rdio does show “similar artists” and “inspired by” which helps in discovering new music. For example, when I click on Pink Floyd, rdio suggests I might like The Moody Blues, Yes, Queen or Peter Gabriel. That sounds about right.

I should mention that rdio allows me to create a collaborative playlist. This didn’t sound very useful to me at first. But I recently came across a scenario where I believe this feature would be of great value: Say I like the song “Watercolors” by the Postmarks, yet I don’t know a lot about the group or its influences. I could create a playlist with one song and allow my friends to add their recommendations to that playlist.

When you first login to the service, rdio asks for your permission to scan your iTunes library whereby it will create a collection based on the music you own which can be found on rdio. My music tastes trend toward classic rock and jazz, and rdio was able to match over 90% of it.

To be clear, rdio does not take your collection of mp3s and upload it to their servers. It merely tells you which artists and albums of your current collection can be streamed from rdio. This is a helpful starting point until you’ve created new playlists from the rdio website.

The picture below shows how rdio allows me to see what’s popular among my collection, my friends or all subscribers.

RDIO_Mine

Or you can find an artist, such as the Clash, and play any song or album.

RDIO_Clash

Rdio makes it easy to create a playlist like I’ve done below. Or you can queue up songs to play as you navigate through the service.

 RDIO_Playlist

Again, the focus is on ease of use. Rdio does not include as many tracking metrics found at Zune or Last.FM. I’m sure many of the social features of rdio will be fleshed out over time as the service moves out of beta.

As of today, you’ll need an invite in order to use rdio. I was able to test drive the service for about 20 days before deciding to pay the $5/month subscription fee. Another $5/month allows you to stream to your mobile device.

The service is not perfect. I’d like to see better playlist management and it never hurts to add more artists. I’m certain their library will continue to grow with the service, but it’s already quite good.

But I’m absolutely hooked on rdio. I listen to it while working at the computer at home as well as at work. It’s decreased the amount of money I spend at the Amazon MP3 store and iTunes. Also, I find using iTunes an exercise in frustration, but necessary evil which accompanies my decision to own an iPhone. Yet rdio feels modern and is a lot of fun to use.

Pros:

  • Simple and elegant design
  • Instant access to most any song or album
  • Easy playlist creation
  • Most competitors charge $15/month. Rdio is $5/month for web streaming and $10/month for web + mobile devices.
  • Can scrobble to my Last.FM account

Cons:

  • Obscure music tastes may not be a good match until catalog grows.
  • Occasional service slow downs
  • No way to create “stations”

If you’ve made it this far and would like to test drive rdio, leave a comment and I’ll email an invite to the first three. If I can convince rdio to give me more invites, I’ll hand those out as well.

Update: @kgoyette showed me that rdio does allow one to create stations based on an specific artist. Click on any artist and off to the right you’ll see “Artist Radio” which plays songs from artists in the “similar artist” section. Awesome!

Quick Review of “Rework”

I just finished listening to an audiobook called “Rework” from Jason Friend and David Heinemeier Hansson. Jason and David are the founders of 37 Signals. rework

There is so much valuable advice packed into this book that it’s difficult to pick a couple of favorite topics. Jason and David provided reasons for hiring well-rounded people instead of those with few outside interests who spend every waking hour at work.

I enjoyed the section detailing how worthless most meetings have become, especially conference calls and how long projects kill enthusiasm, especially small companies. 

At 37 Signals, nobody works on a project for more than two weeks. Long projects allow meetings to creep in and milestones to get pushed out. Actual work gets sidelined. I’ve seen this happen over and over.

Take a look at the projects at your company. How many of them have been going on for months yet making essentially no progress? I’ll bet most of them died months ago. Long projects are great for people who enjoy appearing busy.

But the section that made me think the most covered hiring practices. For years, I’ve thought how misleading resumes have become. They tell you very little about how a person will perform or will fit in with your team.

According to Fried and Hansson, if you find two qualified applicants for a job, hire the one possessing better writing skills.

But don’t look to the résumé for help in determining this. Look at the cover letter. Or the applicant’s blog. Ask for an in-person writing sample if you must. Employees who can write well are the creative life-blood of your organization. They can take various thoughts and ideas and organize them into solvable problems and compelling projects.

I’ve hired applicants with impressive resumes only to find out later, they struggled to communicate with clients and colleagues over email. I won’t let that happen again.

I highly recommend “Rework”. It’s available at Amazon or iTunes.

InstaPaper for the iPhone and iTouch

InstaPaper is an app for the iPhone and iTouch that flies under the radar. Occasionally I’ll read a review about it online but few of my friends mention it among their favorite apps. 

But this is one fantastic app, and one of only a handful I use half a dozen times each day or more. If you’re a news junkie, just download it right now. You’ll love it.

 instapaper

In short, InstaPaper allows you to save web pages to your iPhone and iTouch for offline or later viewing. Say you come across an article on Techmeme that looks interesting, but you don’t have time to read it. Just click one button on your browser’s toolbar and, the next time you launch the app on your iPhone, the entire article will be there for you, neatly formatted.

InstaPaper comes in two versions: a free version with a few ads and a Pro version without ads for $4.99. I’m using the free version for now, but plan to purchase the Pro version soon.

InstaPaper doesn’t replace a good RSS reader on the iPhone like Feeds which syncs with Google Reader. InstaPaper is best for those article you find while browsing around the web. Maybe you’re interested in the article but don’t necessarily want to add the site to Google Reader. InstaPaper is perfect for capturing the content you want at the moment you find it with no hassle.

Give it a try.

The $40 Dockers Jacket

I picked up the jacket on a whim while looking for Levi’s at Mervyn’s about 4 years ago. It’s a lightweight Dockers jacket that cost $40. And it’s black which everyone knows is the only color a jacket should be. I wear this thing everywhere. It’s perfect for our mild Seattle climate.

I’ve worn it so much that it’s starting to show its age. I should have the zipper replaced as well as professionally cleaned. It has the lowest CPW (cost per wear) of any item in my closet. Easily. image

But I’m bummed I’ve not been able to find a duplicate jacket. I’ve looked everywhere. I found one with a cotton lining, but that’s too heavy. It must be lightweight. And it must have a pocket on the inside for my cell phone. Next to the pocket is a small logo of a brick phone from the 80’s. Somehow that’s fitting.

It’s the perfect jacket. It can’t be improved upon. I’ll continue to check eBay. I’ve stopped by every Dockers outlet we’ve come across hoping to snag one. I have Ralph Lauren, Nautica and Helly Hansen jackets costing much more that hang in the closet, season after season.

I’ve never spent a better $40.

Lenovo Thinkpad X61

This past week I received a new work laptop: Lenovo Thinkpad X61. The first thing that struck me as I opened the box is how small and lightweight this thing is. I project the screen to a large LCD monitor so I don’t mind the small display since I only use it as a 2nd screen. That means it displays iTunes and Twitter at work.

 image

Thinkpads have always included some of the best keyboards and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s not mushy like the Dell keyboards I’ve used. I’m moving from a Toshiba M5 that includes a larger display, but I don’t miss carrying around all that weight.

Pros:

  1. Very thin and lightweight
  2. Very fast, even with Vista
  3. Runs very cool
  4. Very quiet
  5. Lenovo driver utility works well
  6. Fantastic keyboard

Cons:

  1. No finger input pad
  2. No on board DVD (dock or external only)
  3. Price ($3000 fully loaded with 4 GB RAM)
  4. Biometric finger reader awkwardly located

I’ve never been a big fan of laptops till this one. It’s super fast and I’m surprised how well it runs Vista. It flips around so I can run it in tablet mode which I’ve only done a few times. I’m more a keyboard person, but there may be times when it would be helpful to draw a diagram.

But above all I love the size! It’s so thin and lightweight that I can take it anywhere without killing my back. Overall this is a great little machine.