Blake Snow

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Tagged reviews

Generationals: The best $8 album I’ve purchased this year

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

With exception to the food, my brother, brother-in-law, and consummate friend can’t stand New Orleans. I suspect it has nothing to do with the Big Easy or its people and everything to do with an insolvent business they endured there together.

Whatever the case, I hope the new album by New Orleans duo Generationals might somehow change their mind. It’s as distinct, influential, and catchy as the city they hail from. Certainly not as old and in no way related to jazz, the genre invented there. But the synth-driven, upbeat music will make you want to dance and put a smile on your face, which is good enough for me.

After five listens, I don’t think it’s as moving as their last album, but it’s one of the freshest works I’ve listened to all year, especially “Black Lemon,” “Gold Silver Diamond,” “Now Look at Me,” “Welcome to the Fire,” and “Would you Want Me.” If you’re in the mood for something new, I highly recommend at least a stream.

Four stars out of five.

PS – This is the best $10 album I’ve bought all year

My review of Gravity: 4 stars out of 5

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Is it wise to make an audience feel physically disoriented, claustrophobic, and unsettled? I’m not so sure. In addition to immense stress and one-too-many suspense hangers, that’s exactly how Gravity will make you feel.

This is due to director Alfonso Cuarón’s excessive use of first-person and single-shots that are heavy on pans. The effect certainly made me empathize with the lost in space heroine. But I’ve seen a lot of other movies that make me empathize with characters, not because of cinematography tricks, but because of powerful acting.  Continue reading…

Attention, humans: How to influence more and be persuaded less

influence-the-psychology-of-persuasionHumans are usually influenced in one of six ways, argues Robert Cialdini in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I suspect there are a lot more subtle and intricate ways to influence, but I think Cialdini certainly covered the highlights in his popular book published in 1984. They are as follows:

  1. Reciprocity. Humans feel obligated to return favors and gifts, even unwelcome ones—which partially explains why their are so many free samples in life. Hence, giving away something for free is an effective way to influence. You can avoid this influence by distinguishing uninvited gifts from welcome ones. For example, “I didn’t want this free food sample to being with, so I won’t feel obligated in giving you anything in return if I take it. Another thing to beware of are unwelcome concessions; say a door-to-door salesman that asks you to donate a large sum to a cause you aren’t interested in, only to lower the donation amount in the hopes you’ll donate something. The takeaway: Don’t donate unless you want to, not because someone is seemingly compromising.  Continue reading…

How Children Succeed: 5 things to know

urlBuild character, not intelligence. That’s the gist of what parents, educators, and society should do to help children succeed, argues Paul Tough in his new book.

Many of Tough’s “findings” are obvious, mind you. More scientific validation of common sense than childrearing enlightenment, at least for balanced parents.

Nevertheless, Tough succeeds in synthesizing some important focal points for raising upstanding kids. Here they are, with my added commentary:

  1. Let children fail. It’s tempting to want to force a child to learn from yours and other’s mistakes. Life doesn’t work that way. You should certainly own up to your mistakes while showing them others’ and hope the child listens. But you must respect a child’s right to fail. It’s the only way they’ll feel the full experience of life. Let them own their failures as much as society lets them own (if not coddles) their victories. And let them know that failure is not who they are, it’s just something they do en route to winning.  Continue reading…

Book review: One Man’s Wilderness a simple pleasure

Screen shot 2012-12-01 at 11.42.12 AMI finished One Man’s Wilderness recently and enjoyed its simple prose and short stories. It’s a 200 page book about one man building a log cabin in an isolated part of Alaska and living alone for sixteen months.

It’s similar to Walden, although more adventurous. It’ll compel you to visit Alaska and encourage a new appreciation for hard work and minimalism. Three stars out of four. Some of my favorite passages were:

  • “Chores are easier if forethought is given to them and they are looked upon as little pleasures to perform instead of inconveniences that steal time and try patience.”—p. 30
  • After a hard day of work chopping wood: “The grand finale! Drive the ax into the block, look around, and contemplate the measure of what you have done.”—p. 33
  • “There’s no sleeping pill like a good day’s work.”—p. 39
  • “Needs: I guess that is what bothers so many folks. They keep expanding their needs until they are dependent on too many things and too many other people… I wonder how many things in the average American home could be eliminated if the question were asked, ‘Must I really have this?'”—p. 209

Would you pay $430 for a browser-only Macbook Air?

samsung-srs5_chrome-glamor-open-lg

Because that’s what you get when you buy a Samsung Wi-Fi Chromebook.

Admittedly, it’s not a perfect analogy. The Macbook Air is skinnier in the front and capable of 1080p playback, whereas the Samsung Chromebook can only render 720p HD. The former is also made of industrial titanium, whereas the latter uses high-end Macbook-like plastic. And in terms of startup and resume times, the Chromebook is faster—near instantaneous. Continue reading…

My top 10 favorite passages from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

tom-sawyer-unabridgedIt took me a while, but I finally got around to reading Mark Twain, starting with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I finished this week.

I figured the author was good, given all the praise that’s continuously heaped on him. But I didn’t know he’d be this good. I had no idea he was as laugh-out-loud funny as Jerry Seinfeld (even more so, maybe).

More than that, Twain has the uncanny ability to turn even the most mundane occurrences into entertaining literature (i.e. a poodle playing with a beetle). He is a master of the English language and a joy to read. As a bonus, he’s a modern day Confucius, sharing wisdom and life hacks throughout this 184 page book.

Here are 10 of my favorite passages: Continue reading…

Review: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

Strong fathers, strong daughters

As the father of two girls, with another on the way, I’ll take all the help I can get concerning their well-being and development. And although it could have been written using fewer words, the 197-page Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters was an enlightening wake-up call to some of the challenges my daughters will likely face. After reading it, I felt empowered and reassured of the fathering techniques I already held to be true.

Written by Meg Meeker, a child psychiatrist and mother of four, the book is peppered with personal stories and alarming statistics. The stated “10 secrets” aren’t really secrets as much as their are good advice. To summarize, they are as follows: Continue reading…

Review: Nike Lunar Glides are unattractive but competent, light, and smart running shoes

Nike Lunarglides

Although the inventor of modern running shoes, Nike doesn’t have a reputation among distance runners these days. Said athletes usually wear one of five brands: Asics (which Nike first sold as a distributor in the ’60s), Mizuno, Brooks, Saucony or New Balance. You just can’t “do it” in Nikes anymore, at least without looking like a corporate shill.

Continue reading…

The Kite Runner falls flat, despite a killer twist and enthralling history of Afghan culture

the kite runnerI finished reading The Kite Runner a couple of weeks ago. Here are my postmortem thoughts:

  • The book starts slow, but quickly picks up once the story flashbacks to the protagonist growing up in late ’70s and early ’80s Afghanistan.
  • Khaled Hosseini is a great writer. You’ll enjoy reading his style.
  • The book has one of the best twists I’ve ever read. About a third of the way through, you will literally be shocked by a very grave revealing.
  • Published in 2004, there is no bloated author introduction to be found. Yay!
  • Continue reading…

Robinson Crusoe will help you appreciate the good things in life

Robinson CrusoeAt the recommendation of a long-time Smooth Harold reader (thanks, Nic), I finished Robinson Crusoe over the weekend. Regarded as the first novel written in English and first published in 1719, it’s a story about high-sea adventure, shipwrecks, castaways, gratitude, hard work, and international intrigue.

What I like most about the book is Defoe’s poetic commentary on human behavior. For example, after Robinson nearly drowned at sea for the first time, he quickly swore off his selfish ways and committed himself to God, before changing his mind after disaster had been averted: Continue reading…

My review of Old Man and the Sea, after reading it a second time

I was 15 the first time I read Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. I remember thinking when discovering it: “Really? A Pulitzer Prize book that’s only 127 pages? I can do that!” And I did.

I liked it. It was an easy read. I felt for the man, and it was inspiring. Last week, I finished it for the second time, some 14 years after I first read it. My feelings haven’t changed much, but I appreciate Hemingway’s metaphors more so this time than the last. Some updated thoughts:

Continue reading…

Out of Africa is filled with complex sentences but dripping with culture

Out of AfricaBy recommendation, I finished reading Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen last month. Though hardly a page-turner, I have a stronger appreciation for Africa after reading this book than by reading or seeing any other material on the subject. It’s a true story about a Danish transplant and her experience running a farm in east Africa.

It’s not the easiest read. I lost interest from time to time for a page and a half. But a compelling short-story is always within reach, making the effort worth it. For example, consider this little gem of an observation:

“Native [Africans] dislike speed, as we dislike noise, it is to them, at the best, hard to bear. They are also on friendly terms with time, and the plan of beguiling or killing it does not come in to their heads. In fact the more time you can give them, the happier they are, and if you commission a Kikuyu [Kenya’s most populous ethnic group] to hold your horse while you make a visit, you can see by his face that he hopes you will be a long, long time about it. He does not try to pass the time, but sits down and lives it.”

Lovely reading. And a great book if you want to improve your writing.

Smooth Harold answers your burning Life of Pi questions

Life of PiI finished reading the popular Life of Pi last night. In sum, it’s a clever endorsement for zoos, storytelling, and the existence of God, either allegorically or literally.

Author Yann Martel’s use of metaphors is inspired and makes me feel inadequate as a writer when it comes to creatively describing objects, emotions, and experiences. For that, I was in awe — and laughing at times. Overall, I give the book four stars out of five for dragging a little in the first and second acts. Chapter 97 is my favorite.

If I were a disoriented high school or college student, and were forced to answer the following discussion guide questions for a homework assignment, these would be my answers:

Continue reading…

World of Goo is blowing my mind

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-A_JfkzPwww[/youtube]

I downloaded World of Goo yesterday on Wii, and it’s crazy good. Played for like four hours already. If you like clever writing, brilliant puzzles, Tim Burton visuals, or Danny Elfman music, you must get this game. Something special like this comes only once every 1-2 years — don’t miss it.

Amazingly, the game was created by only two people. It is available as a download on Wii for $15 or on PC for $20. A demo can be downloaded here.

GamePro: The trouble with review scores

Review scores are too complex. What began as a useful tool for players to compare and prioritize games has now become a confusing, lopsided, and political mess.

Consider score explanation guides, which often appear in magazines and review sites to interpret what should be easily understood: is a game any good? Furthermore, “average” games routinely score in the 80th percentile now, and the credibility of ratings are compromised when sly publishers allegedly work the system in exchange for favorable reviews (see also: Jeff Gerstmann).

So what’s a gamer to do? Should scores in reviews be thrown out altogether?

Continue reading at GamePro…

GamePro: Review, Xbox 360 a good deal at $199

Ever since launch, the Xbox 360 core model without hard drive has largely been written off by gamers — and rightfully so. It lacks many of the attractive advantages of its older brothers, not to mention value for what’s included in the box. (Most core models can’t even save games without separate purchase!)

But all that’s about to change with the upcoming $80 price cut of the latest Arcade bundle (September 7, according to retailers), which includes a matte white system, wireless controller, and a 256 MB memory card for saving games and playing online.

Continue reading at GamePro…

Review: The Dark Knight is undeniably complex; I like its style

The Joker, The Dark Knight (2008)

Lindsey and I saw The Dark Knight while attending Nerdtacular ’08 on Saturday. Here are my thoughts, bullet point style:

  • This is the darkest, dare I say most believable superhero movie I have ever seen. That’s a good thing.
  • Heath Ledger as the Joker plays the most disturbing supervillain ever caught on camera. There are a handful of moments that you wish he would just stop what he is doing to his opponents — he’s that abrasive; that tormented. It’s easily an Oscar-worthy (at least a nominee-worthy) performance, and one that solidifies the Joker as the most villainous villain of all time.
  • Batman is sorta weak in this movie, dealing with feelings of self-doubt, indecisiveness, and a propensity to invade the privacy of others (though he does the latter only once during desperate times, a decision I would support). In defense of his flaws here, Batman is human after all, not a true superhero (he’s merely a ninja with a lot of money to buy really cool anti-crime gadgets). Continue reading…

Review: Pixar’s Wall-E is booooring.

Wall-E is boring
Pixar’s Wall-E and Stanly Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey share a lot in common. Both are set in space, feature little dialog, have robots taking over the world, are immensely artistic, won’t keep a 2 and ½ year-old engaged despite their G rating, and offer a handful of sophisticated moments in filmmaking. But both are really monotonous — an analogy proving that Wall-E is easily Pixar’s worst film to date, for both adults and children alike.

Continue reading…

Crispy Gamer: Boom Blox review (Wii)

When I first heard the news that Steven Spielberg was working on an exclusive Wii puzzle game, I was skeptical. What does he know about videogames, especially non-story ones like Boom Blox? On the subject of his pedigree: Sure he directed “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jaws” and “Saving Private Ryan,” but he also directed “A.I.,” “Temple of Doom” and “War of the Worlds.” I think you can appreciate where I’m coming from.

After playing the game, however, I’m happy to report that Boom Blox is not just a marketing ploy or a misguided idea by the venerable movie director. It’s an inspired, console-appropriate and rewarding game — particularly for single-player challenge-seekers — even if it appears to be something that Spielberg wouldn’t be involved with.

Continue reading at Crispy Gamer…

My jaded review of Coachella 2008

img12.jpgI had the opportunity to mix business with pleasure and attend Coachella in Palm Springs over the weekend. Here are my fragmented thoughts:

  • The facilities are top-notch. From condiment tables, cleanliness, artist murals, and precise sound systems, to the easy-going crowds made it an enjoyable experience. I was dreading Lollapalooza-like mayhem, but the polo grounds were a delight. Did I just mention the facilities as the most memorable part of the show? I think I did. Continue reading…

Crispy Gamer: Hot Shots Out of Bounds review (PS3)

Arcade golf games haven’t changed much. You mash a button to start a swing, hit it a second time to mark your power, and press it third time to dictate shot accuracy. The fifth version of the long-running Hot Shots Golf series for PlayStation 3 closely follows this formula, and that’s not a bad thing — after all these years, the simple gameplay continues to satisfy, and a fresh coat of HD paint is just gravy.

Continue reading at Crispy Gamer…

Review: The Mutt is a compelling autobiography and page turner

The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill YourselfAfter a quick and entertaining three days, I finished reading The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself by Rodney Mullen, the most influential skater in history. No, it’s not a how-to book, as my wife first believed

Written in 2004 with the help of author Sean Mortimer, The Mutt has less to do with skateboarding and more to do with lifehacks, storytelling, business, relationships, and trying to please an impossible father. Mullen is obviously neurotic, but he comes off being genuine and likable in the book. And it’s easy to see how he became the greatest in his field, arguably more so than Tony Hawk, due to his insane work ethic. Just reading about his stingy regime makes me feel lazy, but it’s also motivating.

Continue reading…

Review: The King of Kong is twisting with conflict and loaded with nerds

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbqJm2birME[/youtube]
Lindsey and I watched The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters on Wednesday, a hilariously funny “documentary” that follows Steve Wiebe as he attempts to overtake the world’s highest score in a game of Donkey Kong from reigning champion Billy Mitchell.

Not only is the movie entertaining, but it’s cleverly presented in “good vs. evil” fashion, boasts an awesome soundtrack, and features some very creative transition effects. Oh, and it stars lots of socially inept individuals who are fun to watch.

Continue reading…

Infendo: Gamers don’t want honest reviews, they want fanfare

I spent the last hour reading allegations that Eidos dangled a six-digit advertising deal over GameSpot’s head in order to have long-time editor Jeff Gerstmann fired for the critical tone of his now-pulled 6/10 video review of Kane and Lynch (a text-only review remains). Whatever the real story, Gerstmann is currently out of a job.Truth be told, game makers have long since pressured gaming media to publish favorable game reviews as a higher score equates to greater sales. And while most publications will tell you otherwise (even self-serving at times), my sources confirm that several outlets have delt with the dilemma and even succumbed to filthy lucre.

The good news is the current publicity surrounding the issue will end up benefiting our favorite hobby in terms of its integrity, or lack thereof. Sadly, I’m not sure my fellow gamers want honest reviews, at least from the critics.

Continue reading at Infendo…

My thoughts on consumer product reviews

I was interviewed by GameDaily for my thoughts on video game reviews today and here’s what I told ’em. For context, video game review scores are perhaps the most influencial consumer product reviews I know. For instance, something like 8/10 best selling games last year were in the 90th percentile, so you can see how important (and political) a good review score can be to a game publisher. My comment:

“As much as I criticize review scores, I still use them to gauge lemon games and think scores should stay. Unless a game receives an average of less than 50%, I will still buy or at least give it a renting chance if it has sufficient appeal. That said, I find any system above a 10-point scale (think decimal points) to be superfluous in that it takes the subjective review process way too seriously. Kudos to GameSpot for recently dropping their 100-point scale down to 20. Now they just need to drop it to a clean 10-point system.”

My ideal product review system already exists in the movie industry. They use a 10-point scale by way of a five star system, such as 4/5 stars, 3.5/5 stars. I like this methodology for two reasons. First, five stars (though a perfect score in its own system), doesn’t hold the same meaning as a perfect 10 score. For some reason, a 10 implies more perfection than 5/5 stars while both metrics tell that something is very, very good. I say the less presumption, the better.

Second, the star system on a 10-point scale doesn’t take the subjective nature of reviews too seriously as noted above. Round up the average review scores, go read Meta Critic to catch any outliers, and you’re well on your way to dodging repellent products.

Transformers is most awesome


I had the pleasure of seeing Transformers last night with a friend. I stress the word pleasure because it was exactly that. I wasn’t expecting good acting only going for the special effects, but Shia LeBouf was the movie standout. His comedic delivery and believability are top notch.

Michael Bay, the director, did an excellent job despite being largely criticized for his past big, over-the-top movies. Granted, there are several plot holes in the movie, but remember you’re watching a film about big giant robots once catered to 5-year old boys as I once was. Indulge yourself, and you’ll come away watching one of the most visually impressive, entertaining, and freshest movies (at least in terms of cadence and visuals) in a long time. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, though it’s not Oscar material (like I know what is).

Oh, and I also saw Ratatouille over the weekend. Different kind of movie than the above, but Pixar’s animation is the best I’ve seen and this is easily my favorite film they’ve made due to its sophistication and compelling story. Both films highly recommended.

Book review: The 4-Hour Work Week

Wow. Just wow. The 4-Hour Work Week is the most influential book I’ve read in years. Author Timothy Ferris, though a self-proclaimed extremist, dishes on slowing down your life, getting out of the rat race, outsourcing menial tasks, ditching your RSS feeds, batch processing email instead of checking it every 15 minutes (if not more), reducing unnecessary information consumption in favor of productivity and real learning, how effectiveness trumps efficiency, and how the idea of “retirement” is grossly flawed. In short as the book description tells, “Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.”

Ferriss defines the new rich as those who favor mobility, experience, and service in favor of materialism. He counsels in great detail how to setup an automated online company for newbies (easier said than done, though possible) and how to focus your daily work efforts without letting fluff work get in the way. Best of all, Ferriss delivers it all in a very grounded, balanced, and hilarious way despite what his sensational title and clever tagline suggest. Overall, the book is unthinkably smart and of value to any person over the age of 18. I resolve from here on out to work smarter while striving to do what I love further still. That and more world travel, of course. 🙂

On that note, I’m planning my attempt to ditch the Internet for an entire year. I don’t have all the kinks figured out, and twice weekly email use will have to stay, but I will triumph within the next five years. Just you watch.

Five reasons Spider Man 3 is the best in the series (and the best comic book movie ever)

Spiderman 3 is the best comic book movie ever* followed closely by Batman Begins. Interestingly, however, this movie is getting slammed in reviews with most people saying it tries to do too much. I, on the other hand, loved this movie. And while it is a tad long, I thought Columbia Pictures did a great job pulling all the stories and subplots together in a clever Seinfeld fashion. And yes, the movie is hilarious.

Regardless of what you may have heard, here are five reasons why Spiderman 3 is the best movie in the series not to mention the best comic book film to date: Continue reading…

Movie Review: Rocky Balboa

When I first saw the trailer for Rocky Balboa (read: Rocky VI), I thought, “Oh man, is Stallone out of his mind?” Maybe a little, but that’s the whole point of the film. People can’t believe Rocky would fight one last time, and people couldn’t believe Stallone would make yet another movie in the series at age sixty. That incredulity plays, however, right into the movie’s central conflict and stretch of a plot. Rocky Balboa is an inspiring, albeit, very fictional story. Keep that fiction part in mind when seeing this film, and you’ll leave having watched a very good movie.

The premise of the story is that the current heavyweight champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon, is too dominant for his own good. He can’t find a decent challenger to save his life. Enter an ESPN “computer fight” simulating a win over Dixon by the Italian Stallion. With that, Balboa eventually decides to come out of retirement to fight the champ in an exhibition match, well, because “fighter’s fight.” “When life beats down on you, you take it and keep moving forward.” That’s the essence of the movie’s story and it works very well. It’s got a lot of heart.

Sure, Stallone’s botox ridden face bothered me a bit at the start, but I found myself never growing tired of the engaging dialog and willing the movie to continue. The lines aren’t perfect, but they’re engaging, funny at times, and surprisingly impressive none-the-less. Watching this film made me realize that Rocky serves up a hefty piece of Americana: Classic music, a fighting spirit, and the idea that it ain’t over until it’s over. 4/5 stars from this here blogger, and that’s even excluding the nostalgic factor.

Movie Review: March of the Penguin’s

This documentary was a surprise to me. It is extremely well done and the cinematography is fantastic. It’s a heart-felt story of how Empire Penguins migrate and breed during the cold winter months in Antarctica. You will be amazed and impressed upon seeing what it takes to give birth to a baby chick and how family oriented Penguins can be. Very good story and it helps to have Morgan Freeman narrate.

Overall: B+

See trailer

Why Good to Great Isn’t

Because it’s written for already good companies. A majority of US businesses being run by entrepreneurs have yet to prove themselves. Therefore, I would like to see From Nothing to Good. Then I’ll focus on taking my company the rest of the way.

I only got through half his book, but plan on finishing it once I’m good.

Batman Begins Review

I’m gonna come right out and say it… A-. That’s what I give the recent Warner Bros release based on excellent character development, captivating story, truthfulness to the overall comic genre, and shear entertainment. It must be noted, however, that of all the comics I liked as a kid, Batman was my favorite. He is the only super hero that doesn’t have any super powers. Well, unless you count the earnest desire to combat evil and a plethora of money to build nice toys.

Do or do not. There is no try.

I just finished watching Star Wars 3. While it showcases John Lucas’ talent as a movie maker, it still lacks the funny overtones and great acting of the first three films. I was really excited because some critics have said it’s as good as the originals. Sadly, I feel this one was a little over-the-top and really had some dry acting.

It’s an entertaining film though, and sheds new light on the series. The ending is done especially well so you should enjoy that. Overall, I give it a flat B.

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Keane Concert Review

I have been very excited to see Keane live in concert. Their CD Hopes & Fears has been one of my favorites over the past year. Their is a certain freshness to the album, even given that some of their songs do sound similar. But how do the they sound live? How are they as performers?

First off, for those of you comparing Keane to Coldplay, their is no comparison. Keane has outplayed them with only one record to Coldplay’s three. Haven seen both in concert, I must say Keane brought so much more energy, enjoyment and freshness to their live sound. The lead singer’s voice is one of the prettiest, melodic voices I’ve ever heard. It’s that good. The piano player rocks. He constantly was on the verge of knocking over his piano. The drummer is tight and ads the perfect rhythm section san bass (bass is sequenced on a laptop). The two sure do bring a lot of energy and sound for only having two musicians playing . The light and video was something I didn’t expect, but brought an additional level of ambiance to the already full sound at the lovely Abravanel Hall in downtown SLC. One of the nicest venues I’ve ever been to.

The evening was a blast! The music was even better. Very good show! A+