Film Review: Beastie Boys Story

Growing up a child of the 80's in the NY/NJ/CT Tri-State Area, I remember when I first heard Beastie Boys License to Ill on the radio. I wasn't really a big fan of rap, but I couldn't get the sound of Beastie Boys out of my head. The whining shrill of Adam (Ad-Rock) Horovitz, the pounding drum beats of Mike Diamond (KMike D), and the thrumming of Adam (MCA) Yauch's bass guitar was irresistible enough. But the catchy rhymes sealed the deal for me. I was hooked. And so, when i learned a few weeks ago that Apple TV was going to release a full length, Spike Jonze directed feature chronicling the story of Beastie Boys ('the' is not part of the band's name), I made an appointment with my TV.

The movie isn't so much a movie or a documentary as it is a trip down memory lane, as told by the two surviving members of the band (Diamond and Horowitz) as they stand on stage at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn in front of a packed house of Beastie fans. Camera capture the on stage gags and the audience reactions as the hosts set-up each 'chapter' of their story.

Chapter 1 begins in lower Manhattan with the three founding band members meeting each other. One need not be a Beastie fan to know where they came from, just listen to the accents. I was shocked to learn how young these kids were when, influenced by the Clash and Run DMC, they formed their own punk bands and found places to play. Most were friend's dorm rooms or crappy apartments, but it was a real as their ambition. I wondered to myself where these kids parents were as Horovitz repeatedly tells the crown how often they skipped school to go hang out at record stores and friends' apartments. Soon, they are somehow befriending producer Rick Ruben and the head of upstart Def Jam records Russell Simmons, and the game is on. By chapter 4, still teenagers, they've fallen in with Simmons and have signed with Def Jam. This final part of what I would call Act 1 of the story, starts when the band gets tapped to open up for Madonna on her 1987 World Tour after, as Horovitz tells it, Madonna's first and second choices were either too expensive or unavailable. They go on tour with Madonna and begin what would become their License to Ill calling card: boozy party guy antics and more antics. The booze and idiotic behavior was part of the Beastie Boys brand, and while they ate it up and enjoyed the ride, it wasn't going to last. The old footage and images are wonderful and compelling, and serve as reminder on how committed the three band member were to documenting just about everything they did. The costumes alone are worth tuning in for. I won't spoil what happens next as the band migrates West to Los Angeles, but it is a fun ride.

In the end, this is a powerful, passionate, sad story of love, friendship, loss and music. You won't be able to contain your emotions as the story winds down with the passing of Yauch when he finally succumbed to cancer in 2012. Jonze, Diamond and Horovitz address it in the best way possible, with silence and imagery. This film is a beautiful story and instant must for music fans, even if rap and punk aren't your favorite genres.

How I made $22 in 9 minutes Driving for Lyft

On a pretty uneventful morning the other day in Los Angels, something quite unusual happened: for a brief moment it was worthwhile driving for Lyft. I know, pretty much everyone reading this post has either taken a shared ride, driven a shared ride, thought about driving for a rideshare company, or have read about it. And, if you have ever wondered if it is worth driving, take my word for it, it isn't. You can't make much more than $15.00 an hour (and that is on a good day), and overall hourly yield, net of gas, insurance and maintenance expenses will be closer to $9.00 or $10.00 per hour. Maybe less. Over the years as they prepared for their respective IPOs last month, both Lyft and Uber have tinkered with their app, bonus payouts, incentives and other promotional messaging for drivers to get to profitability. They both have bled red ink since the beginning to fund growth, and in their first few days of trading investors have send a clear message buy selling the stock down off their initial public trading prices. So, this means that Lyft and Uber are both going to have to figure a way to avoid legal challenges from states over the status of their drivers (and what benefits they are owed), satisfy demand, maintain supply (drivers), and make each ride profitable. As Amazon does with the constant testing of prices of their basic goods available online, the ride share providers are constantly testing pricing tolerance thresholds for riders. Most agree that fares will increase overall, and rate surges at peak travel times will spike. Indeed, the young people that I drive around in Santa Monica take Uber and Lyft because it is cheaper and less expensive than owning, insuring, parking and maintaining a car. And as long as a combination of ride share, scooters, Waive Cars and public transit come in under say, $600 a month, it is the better deal. Plus you'll have to deal with a valet, a favorite Los Angeles institution.

lyft

 

And so, at about 7:30 in Brentwood a flipped on my Lyft app and saw the bonus fare window box open up. It is a new feature since Lyft went public in late April, and involves a pink square or rectangle, surrounded by a purple outer border with a lower bonus. Stay in the pink area and get a bonus, stay with the purple area and get a slightly lower bonus. I was in the pink area and the bonus was $19.09 (it is usually around $1.75). So, I pulled over, stared at my phone just to make sure I was seeing it correctly, and was pinged for a pick-up. I accepted, drove about 5 minutes to pick-up a very nice woman, and drove her to her office in Santa Monica. It was a 2.6 mile ride that took 8 minutes and 54 seconds, which usually earns the driver $3.23. But on this day, at this time, with a $19.09 bonus, I earned $22.32, which correlates to about $120/hour. Since drivers keep about 80% of the fare and the platform keeps 20%, that means the nice lady paid roughly $28.00 for her 9 minute ride. Obviously she needed to get to work so she paid the extra fee, but at what point will riders choose alternate ways of getting around?

In short, it is my opinion that in the the not too distant future, both Lyft and Uber will be forced to pay drivers a basic minimum hourly wage (in California that is $11.00 on it's way to $15.00 by 2022) and provide for some gas and maintenance. In exchange they'll ask their drivers to keep a predictable schedule so they can manage supply.

The Holiday Shopping Guide for Hard Times

Whether you’re unemployed, underemployed or self-employed -- or if you just haven’t gotten a raise in a while -- you’re probably feeling the effects of this economic downturn in one way or another. And yet the holidays are the holidays; you can’t just buy crappy gifts and tell people you’re broke. Well, you can, but wouldn’t you rather get great gifts that seem a lot more expensive than they are? Herewith, Andrea Woroch, a consumer-savings advisor for Kinoli, Inc. (owner of several money-saving websites, including freeshipping.org and giftcardgranny.com), reveals her top tips for shopping smart this holiday season.

1. Shop Online
Internet shopping over the holidays is expected to reach an all-time high as more consumers trust e-retailers and look to the Web to avoid massive crowds. The Internet also makes it easy to compare prices and find online coupons from sites like PromoCodes.us for additional savings.  Merchants are aware that e-commerce is on the rise, and are putting a lot of effort into it. Look for more online deals this season than ever before.

2. Download Apps
Smartphones can turn you into a smarter shopper. Before heading out to shop, download the following apps to help you detect deals and score discounts more easily:

  • Barcode scanning app RedLaser instantly provides price comparisons at online retailers and nearby stores           
  • CouponSherpa searches for digital coupons at stores near you
  • SalesLocator tells you what’s currently on sale in local stores

3. Socialize
Follow retailers on Twitter, like them on Facebook or check into their stores on FourSquare to stay on top of the latest deals and discounts. Many brands also release special offers exclusively to their social media fans.

4. Use Discount Gift Cards
Buy other shoppers’ unwanted gift cards for less than face value (some can be had at half price) from sites like GiftCardGranny.com. You can find discount gift cards for almost everything, from restaurants and department stores to travel services and movie theaters. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

5. Research Prices
Knowing how much a product costs before shopping any sale will help you determine the best values. Without this knowledge you could fall for a misleading promotion that really isn't much of a deal at all! So do your homework and compare prices. Try Google Shopping online or its smartphone app.

6. Price Match
Stores like Walmart and Best Buy have been offering price match guarantees for a long time. Sears and Home Depot are taking it a step further: The retailers will price match and offer an additional 10 percent off! You also want to watch out for price drops after you buy. Walmart recently announced that they will give credit to any shopper who found a better deal on a recent purchase from their store with a gift card worth the difference.

7. Buy from Flash Sale Sites
Flash sale sites typically offer high-end products at a huge discount. Gilt.com, for example, sells designer clothing for both sexes, as well as home and foodie items and travel discounts. If you have champagne taste on a beer budget, these sites can help satiate your designer craving without breaking the bank. However, it's easy to get caught up in the hype and urgency, and end up overspending on products you wouldn't otherwise buy. Patrons of these sites should have a list of what they really want and apply tunnel vision when searching for deals.

8. Join the Club
Shopping clubs are a trend this year, with retailers like Toys R Us and Kohl's offering benefits for shoppers who join their exclusive programs. The danger: Shoppers often have to spend a certain amount in order to get worthwhile rewards, which may turn into overspending.  However, if you regularly shop with a retailer offering one of these programs, go for it!

And, ityou're in the market for a new car, check out this Top Ten Best Car Buys for 2019 List from DrivingToday.

 

 

The CD Solution

When was the last time you bought a compact disc? For many of us, that’s like asking your buddy about his latest VHS purchase. But what about all those shiny discs you bought before the advent of iTunes, peer-to-peer sharing, music streaming and cloud storage made it so easy to find music online and access it on the device of your choice? In other words, is Fatboy Slim still staring at you from a CD tower, its jewel case growing dustier with each passing year?

Antiquated though they may seem, CDs should not be consigned to the digital trash heap -- at least not until you’ve gotten what you need from them. For starters, the music quality is far superior to that in an MP3. The MP3 is a small file for a reason: It doesn’t contain anywhere near the amount of data (and thus fidelity) that a track on a CD does. Secondly, although the selections offered on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify are enough to keep your head banging for a lifetime, chances are you own some eclectic albums that you won’t find in any of those libraries.

So what’s a guy to do about all those CDs that haven’t seen the light of day since “Friends” was a staple of Thursday night TV? You’ve got two options: DIY and outsourcing.

The DIY Route

If you’re on a Mac and use iTunes to manage your music, you’ll find an option under “Preferences” (within the iTunes pull-down menu) to import songs automatically on insertion of a CD. Select that option. Also in this menu you’ll find your import settings. To import your music at the highest quality possible (provided that space isn’t an issue) select AIFF Encoder or Apple Lossless Encoder. If storage space is an issue, you can import your music as MP3s. As noted above, though, the MP3 format makes use of crafty (though some say undetectable) audio compromises to keep the files small.

If you’re on a PC and don’t use iTunes, there is software both free (e.g., Winamp) and paid (e.g., Nero and Winamp Pro) that can assist you with the music-importing process. These time-saving programs will also help you manage your music library once you’re done importing your CDs. On a PC (and again, providing storage space is not an issue), you’ll want to import the songs in either .WAV or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec).

The good news is that regardless of whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, the software will do most of the heavy lifting for you (including finding album artwork and ID’ing the tracks on your CDs automatically). But you’ll still be stuck with the mind-numbing task of popping the CDs in and out of the computer every several minutes -- with the time for ripping dependent on the format you select.

Once you’ve imported a few discs, test the extracted music by streaming it to your various devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone). Make sure the format you’ve selected will not prove problematic -- or acoustically unsatisfying -- on any of them. (Not all cloud services will accept the higher-resolution files, for example.) Once you’re pleased with the results, finish ripping the rest of your CDs. And when you’re finally done, back up! Save your music files on a large external drive (or two) and, for safekeeping, on a cloud-storage server as well.

Outsourcing

Find a service that will convert all of your CDs to digital files and put them onto a hard drive or music player for you. (Google “CD conversion” or use one of the services below.) Ship out your CDs in a box -- typically provided -- and expect to pay anywhere from 25 cents to more than $2.00 per disc, depending on the final format you select. Some companies will clean your discs prior to importing and even attempt to repair damaged ones. Firms such as Pickled Productions will give you a bound, printed inventory of your music collection. RipStyles can recycle your jewel case and return the CDs in a portfolio instead.

When selecting a company, compare included services as well as extras such as shipping costs and insurance. And to make sure you’ll see your precious music collection again, check the Better Business Bureau for complaints from other customers.

Once you’ve gotten your music back, if you’re an iTunes user, you can pay Apple $25 for a new service called iMatch, to which you can upload all of your ripped CD content. Once your files are in the cloud, that music -- along with any music you’ve purchased from the iTunes music store -- will automatically be placed in your music “locker,” accessible to you on all of your iOS devices via the Web.

Google’s Music Beta (free for up to 20,000 songs) and Amazon’s Music Cloud (MP3 and AAC only) offer cloud hosting of your music files too. But be prepared for a long initial upload that can take hours, if not days. This won’t tie up your computer entirely, but it will slow down your Internet connection.

Regardless of whether you go for the DIY route or the outsourced one, you will love having all of your music at your fingertips all the time. Now your biggest dilemma won’t be where to keep your music, but what to do with the space where that CD tower used to be.

 

How to Use Facebook So It DoesnÂ’t Use You

Whether you call it a time-saver or a time-suck, Facebook has surpassed the almighty Google as the most trafficked website in the U.S. -- and the second most popular site in the world. Whatever you happen to think of it, if you’re not living in a cave in northern Pakistan (and maybe even if you are), you’re probably using it in some manner. Need someone’s contact info? Check. Birthday minders? Ditto. Photos and videos to share? Done and done. Random thoughts to send into the ether? Well, you know the drill.

But as quickly as Facebook has become an integral part of the way we communicate with friends (and “friends”), it has also raised concerns. How much sharing is too much sharing? What do Facebook and its marketing partners really know about you? And what are they doing with all of that juicy data? Men’s Life Today reached out to David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, for tips on getting the best out of Facebook while avoiding its potential dark side.

Don’t Be Daft
For starters, says Kirkpatrick, if there’s something with the potential to embarrass, don’t post it. Despite how secure you believe your privacy settings to be, modern society is littered with Internet roadkill, like jobs lost, scholarships rescinded and relationships shattered simply because a user didn’t think twice before posting. “This is a shockingly common-sense rule that many people disregard,” says Kirkpatrick. But don’t go too far in the opposite direction, he advises. “If you never post anything of interest, you’re less likely to have anything of interest come back to you.”

Friendly Fire
If your standards for accepting friends have been, shall we say, less than discerning, Kirkpatrick suggests it could be time to do some pruning. “One of the classic errors is to accept every friend request you receive,” he says. The problem with such loose standards? “You’re empowering these individuals over your information.”

It may also be time to shed people you do know, but who don’t reflect your sensibility or values (see “jobs lost,” above). “If you’re beginning to question their judgment, hide them from your news feed or unfriend them entirely.” If we were to discard all but those whom we consider true-blue buddies, says Kirkpatrick, many of us would wind up eliminating three-quarters of our so-called friends.

App Happy
Here’s a little heads-up: Third-party apps gain access to your personal information when you install them. (And yes, “Mafia Wars” and “Farmville” fans, that includes you.) So be picky. “Something that looks cool, but which I’ve never heard of and that only a couple of my friends are using? I’m not going to adopt it,” Kirkpatrick says flatly. If you already have an app installed but haven’t used it in a while, delete it. Why? Because even if you’re not doing anything with it, chances are its developers are still doing something with your data.

Fortunately, right before you install any app, Facebook will remind you that you’re about to hand over access to your info. The choice to “allow” is up to you. Pretty simple.

Privacy Protection
Although he concedes that navigating Facebook’s privacy settings can be like trying to solve a Chinese puzzle, Kirkpatrick says an investment of 45 minutes should be enough to establish settings you’re comfortable with. For advice on how to get started, he recommends the site AllFacebook.com. (Search for “privacy settings.”)

To be on the safe side, a good across-the-board option is “friends only.” If you have a burning desire to make your life an open book for exes, frenemies and strangers, go ahead and use “everyone.” If you’re particularly guarded about your information, there’s a custom setting called “only me” -- though if you choose this option, you might just want to delete your Facebook account altogether and go back to calling your friends on a landline. Tedious, yes, but no privacy worries!

Target: You
And what about those ads in the margin that seem to know a little too much about you? They don’t concern Kirkpatrick terribly. If Facebook is doing its job and serving ads that jibe with your interests, you might welcome seeing some of them. And if you don’t, “they’re easy to disregard,” Kirkpatrick points out, explaining that one of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s core tenets is that advertising should not disrupt the user experience.

Despite articles like this one, Kirkpatrick knows that many of you will continue to throw caution to the wind. “Facebook is loosening inhibitions about self-display,” he acknowledges, “and we’re becoming a more transparent people.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, he adds, but if you’re going to share, just be sure you do it wisely -- or be ready for your loony-tunes ex, nosy co-worker and the rest of the world to know your business.