Zipping up the Internet

Here’s the thing: I keep all my photos in Google’s Picasa. Picasa synchs and publishes to Blogger beautifully but I have been using WordPress and had wanted to switch to Tumblr, which plays beautifully with Twitter, but not with WordPress or Vox. I’m writing this on MacJournal, which publishes to Blogger and WordPress easily, but not to Tumblr, Twitter, or Vox. And getting photos from Picasa to MacJournal is a lot harder than it ought to be. Not to mention the fact that I like to put all my photos on the web using Flickr which is just a pain in the ass to get photos to anyway.

I like to play music in Songbird, which, while not without flaws, has a number of features that I really like. Like publishing to and Twitter. Doesn’t play as well with Blogger and WordPress, however.

These days, I surf the internet in Flock – great with Blogger, not so great with Vox, WordPress, and Tumblr. I’ve thought about switching to Chrome because it’s fast and small, but it doesn’t work very well with Diigo or StumbleUpon or Evernote. Evernote is great for keeping notes in, but not great for archiving and I prefer Yojimbo’s tag system anyway, with the result that half my notes are in Yojimbo, half in Evernote and none of them get to and from MacJournal, Picasa, or Songbird as easily as I like.

Let’s just not even mention trying to post to Facebook.

And this is all on a Mac, which makes the seams smaller, tighter, and more automated, and using Quicksilver, which strives to reduce the seams to nothingness. And does nothing to erase my frustration over knowing that there are several suites of software that work incredibly well together (Google, Mariner, BareBones) but also realizing that none of them play nearly as well with software from other companies as they do with their siblings.


What the internet needs now is zippers. If you have several pieces of cloth, cut into squares, and with zippers on all side, the possible combinations you can make are endless. And easy. And fast. I want my software to work like those pieces of cloth. I want to choose the programs I want to use and know that they are going to synch and integrate my data with a minimum of fuss and hassle.

To be fair, people are working on it. The emergence of frameworks (like Adobe Air) and the increasing number of open APIs is helping, but there is still a lot of work to be done. So get to it, internets. Get me some zippers and let me put it all together in the way that best suits me.

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Remember Me

A couple of years ago, a young man named Joe Murphy died from a rare and nasty form of cancer. I didn’t know Joe. Rather, I knew him only from the podcasts he co-hosted and I was a fan. During his illness and after his death, fans of his work made a wikipedia page for him. It was quickly nominated for deletion due to lack of appropriate citations for Joe’s noteworthy-ness. Fans rallied and added sources to the claims made in the article.


While researching this post, I did a quick check on Joe’s page and found that it had, in fact, been deleted:

Article was nominated once for deletion in 2007 and kept with the assertion that material added during that AFD satisfied notability concerns, However, a review of that sourcing indicates that it does not. One is an obituary in his hometown paper, one is to an XM Radio page that no longer exists (Joe Murphy is not found in a search of the XM site), one confirms his nomination for a podcasting award (he did not win) and one is a band’s blog (not a reliable source). There do not appear to be independent reliable sources that are substantively about this person, rather there are many blogs and podcasts that offer tributes following his untimely passing. Wikipedia is not a memorial and the gentleman does not pass WP:N or WP:BIO. Otto4711 (talk) 13:37, 10 May 2009 (UTC)”

Clicking on the link “not a memorial” brings up the following:

Memorials. Wikipedia is not the place to memorialize deceased friends, relatives, acquaintances, or others. Subjects of encyclopedia articles must satisfy Wikipedia’s notability requirements. Note that this policy does not apply outside of the main article space. Whilst using user space to create a memorial is generally not acceptable, limited exemption applies to the user space of established Wikipedians who have died. At a minimum it is expected that they were regular contributors, and that more than one tenured Wikipedian will have used the deceased user’s page (or an appropriate sub-page) to add comments in the event, and after verification of, their death.”

Ok. Fair enough. At the same time, it does seem like the barrier for entry for celebrity-hood is becoming transparently thin. The recent spate of celebrity deaths shows a distinct hierarchy of status, with Michael Jackson at the top and Billy Mays hitting close to the bottom, and yet there has been more than enough material written about both men to qualify for Wikipedia articles easily. The thing is, to take those two examples, Michael Jackson single handedly remade pop music and helped turn music videos into an art form. Billy Mays was a pitchman. He made commercials. (And please note that I am not disparaging Billy Mays at all, I’m merely using him as a recent example.) What Wikipedia’s “noteworthiness” really means is media appearances. Which seems terribly skewed away from people who are actually noteworthy towards people who are merely known to more people, publicly, than the rest of us.

Slate’s recent Culturefest (the Everybody’s Dead Edition, posted July 1, 2009) seems to be pondering related ideas. The three hosts spoke about the modern obituary and how the internet has changed the obituary pages. While they had a number of good points, throughout the whole episode, I found myself thinking about Joe Murphy and Wikipedia. I started to wonder why there was not a resource for the rest of us, why the “little people” should not be remembered as fondly, nor as publicly as celebrities, for whatever value of celebrity one happens to have.

A quick search revealed two sites: Wikiobits and Wikibios.

Wikiobits says of itself: “Wiki Obits has a one simple goal: We live to provide a one-stop site where you can find obituaries and biography information for every person on earth – dead or alive – famous or not, celebrity or not.” A great idea, but at the moment it is a piece of basic Wiki software with very little customization. There is very little to distinguish it as a service or directory. As a test, I ran a search on Michael Jackson and got a table full of biographical data much like I would expect from raw number search engines like Wolfram Alpha and Google Squared rather than an article collection like Wikipedia.


Wikibios, on the other hand states right on the front page: “Our belief is simple: you don’t have to be a famous celebrity to have a life worth documenting. That’s why we created WikiBios, a place where your friends become the storytellers of your life.” Which is an idea I can get behind. The problem is, is that for now at least, the majority of pages I came across (using the random bio button) seem to be yet to have been filled in by the person’s friends and families. It also illustrates another problem which is that wikis are, by definition, editable by the public at large and, here on the internet, the public is not always as kind and friendly as it might be.

So, while I applaud the efforts, it’s still not what I want. Aside from the issues of getting and maintaining an audience share not to mention the kind of brand recognition that would make these viable, long term solutions, I’m not sure if this is an area that is not better served by LiveJournal or FaceBook or Google Profile. it seems that those three brands have the audience and name recognition to be able to add obituaries / memorials as a valid part of their service; I know there are instances of both LJ and FB users being memorialized on their own pages after death, yet even those are not perfect – they don’t give friends and relatives and fans the chance to both eulogize and research the deaths of their friends in that if you were not connected to that person before their death, you may not be able to access their page on the social networks.

What I mean is, a few years ago, I lost another friend. He was someone I had known well in high school, but had not seen in several years. Then, at my sister’s wedding, we reconnected. A few months later, I read the obituary in our hometown newspaper and there were still so many questions I had that have never been answered. And I have no where to turn. Rob was not anywhere media-ized enough to show up on Wikipedia, nor was he, to my knowledge, on LJ or FB. So where do I go to write about and talk about my friend? Where do I go to read what others have written? If he did, in fact, have an LJ or FB, once he was gone there was no way for me to be added to his friends list so that I could see what others were saying and doing, in short, without a wikipedia page how will anyone know he existed?

Perhaps Google will step into the breach. Perhaps LJ or FB or WikiObits or WikiBios will do something that let’s us all eulogize and memorialize those who were like us and of us and who were never on t.v. long enough to get a Wikipedia page of our very own.

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Now We’re Cooking

cook |koŏk|


1 [ trans. ] prepare (food, a dish, or a meal) by combining and heating the ingredients in various ways.  • [ intrans. ] I told you I could cook | [as adj. ] ( cooked) a cooked breakfast.  • [ intrans. ] (of food) be heated so that the condition required for eating is reached .

2 something Joel is really, really bad at.

And yet I try. Last November, I bought a Brinkman’s 3-in-1 smoker, steamer, and bar-be-que. I have used it five times now, with various results. The first use was grilling a couple of steaks shortly after having bought (and cured) the grill. The second time was for the Christmas turkey. The third through fifth times were this past month, cooking for my family and a few friends.

The results were, as I said, varied. During my first attempts with the grill, I stuck to tried and true recipes I gleaned from the internet and followed religiously. The more recent attempts, however, were more experimental.

We had some friends come over and I attempted two (huge) steaks and a bit of grilled shark. I abstained from the internet and instead went for a bit of a steak sauce marinade and lots of lemon and orange juice squeezed over the meat while it was cooking. The steak was really good. The fish was ok, without being stellar.

But that’s not really important now. What’s important is why I have been trying to cook.

I’ve always been a big guy. In the last two years though my weight has gotten absolutely out of control. Cite the usual reasons – a desk job, a long commute, eating fast food in the car, not taking enough time to exercise, etc. etc. I decided that maybe if I learned to cook, I would begin eating better, possibly less, and that the activity would be good for me as well.

Prior to this my cooking experiences were less than promising. Starting with the Intro to Cooking class I took as an elective in Jr. High where I learned very little that I retained save for how much I enjoy Waldorf Salad and that my friend CJ was kind of an idiot. (It’s a whole other story.) My cooking ineptness culminated in an incident where in I almost burned down the house of the girl I was dating while trying to make her pancakes for breakfast. My cooking, in other words, all the way through high school, college, and after was pretty much limited to things that came out of cans or boxes and involved less than three steps.

In fact, according to my college roommate Chuck, anything that involved less than three steps was not technically cooking. It was merely food preparation. He had a point.

Now, for full disclosure, a good part of my wanting to learn to cook was fueled by my addiction to Top Chef. I’m incapable of watching something I think is cool and not wanting to try it. I watch Miami Ink and I want to get a tattoo. I watch Deadliest Catch and want to take a year off to go work in the Bering Sea. And when I watch Top Chef, I want to be able to cook.

I began where I always begin, the internet. YouTube in this case, looking for cooking videos that I could follow. One of the videos I came across was Gordon Ramsay bar-be-queing buffalo meat as hamburgers. The idea seeemed simple enough, and even if I couldn’t get hold of any buffalo meat, the other things Ramsay incorporated (dicing a red onion into his mince, topping the burger with buffalo mozzarella cheese) seemed like things I could do by myself.

So, while I mainlined the first two seasons of Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word, I began shopping for a grill. My wife and I had bought a house the previous August so it seemed only natural to wait until we had gotten everything unpacked before buying anything new. As anyone who has ever moved can tell you, unpacking can take years and I eventually got tired of waiting and bought a charcoal grill.

While this brought me great acclaim and several dozens of “man points” from my friends, the somewhat cumbersome and wasteful nature of charcoal grills made itself apparent and the grill sat unused for months at a time. In the meantime, several cookbooks appeared on my Amazon wishlist and remained unpurchased. Especially as my job changed suddenly and the copious free time I had had vanished in the night.

Still, learning to cook and cooking for myself, remains a goal. The cookbook I have been reading about and most want to try is The Ratio. The idea behind the book is that the professional kitchen cook or chef uses certain ratios in their cooking, even if they’re not aware that they’re doing so. Therefore, by teaching the novice cook to use these same ratios, anyone can learn to cook. Personally, this concept fits fully into my idea of geek – that anyone can learn to do anything given enough time and patience.

Two weeks ago, I managed to cook some really nice chicken on the grill for my family for dinner and did so without specific aid from the internet, merely with some tips I half remembered from watching various cooking shows. My wife was quite pleased, both that she didn’t have to cook and that the expensive grill was seeing more than one use per year. So I’m planning on trying again soon.

However, there are things I have learned about myself in the attempts so far:

  1. The fun is in trying, most times I could care less about the final result. In fact, I’m usually planning the next assault while still enjoying the fruits of my labor.
  2. It may take me six months or a year to get around to it, but I will get to it and try it eventually. Whether this is cooking or learning javascript, it will happen someday.
  3. I have to do it myself. Give me all the advice you want, it won’t make sense until I have royally cocked it up all on my own. That’s when your advice will make sense, now that I know how not to do it.

Where I go from here, I’m not actually sure, but I’m looking forward to giving it a go.

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Essential iPhone Apps (‘Cause Everyone Else is Doing It)

It’s June. That means I’ve had my iPhone for about four months and it has already become extremely hard to live without. In fact, I have no intention of trying to live without it. Not only does it sit in my pocket for most of the day, it recharges right next to my bed every evening. In short, you can have my iPhone when you pry it out of my cold, internet deprived, hands.

On the other hand, one of the single best things about the iPhone is the Apple App Store. And what could be better than sharing out a list of my favorite apps?

So here’s my list of favorite apps, in no particular order. Rather, these are the ones that I use on a regular basis; these are the apps I go to as primary functions in my phone.

Bloom – Brian Eno’s ambient music maker is a fantastic bit of stress relief kit. The interface is simple, clean, and, if I may say so, pretty. When launched, the app gives the user a blank field of pastel color. Touching the screen will produce a chime or bell, whose pitch and tone vary with where on the screen the user has touched. Generally, the pitch is lower at the bottom of the screen and higher at the top, with tone density going from heavy to light when going from right to left on the screen. Once a sound is produced it repeats itself, along with any others produced in short loops creating ambient, atonal rhythms from the touches the user has made. And the loops can be quite beautiful, and totally relaxing in a very zen way. I find it works beautifully as stress relief during a hard day. If I can find just five minutes along to play with Bloom, things seem much more workable.

Tweetie – A very functional Twitter client, this is probably the one app I use more than any other. (Yes, I am a Twitter fiend.) What I like about this particular client as opposed to the dozens of others available is the interface. I found it very easy to become used to, almost to the point of preferring it to actually using my computer.

Google – How anyone can live without Google at this point is completely beyond me. In addition to gMail, I am a fervent devotee of both Google Reader and Google Docs and I can get all three of those services through the Google app.

Kanji – As anyone who has studied Japanese can tell you, Kanji are one of the hardest aspects of becoming proficient in the language. This app is quite simple, but brilliantly designed. The visual interface is based on Tuttle’s Kanji Cards, with each screen focusing on one kanji. Touching the screen brings up additional information, including the various readings and words that use that character. There is an option in the top right to mark wether or not the kanji has been memorized or not. (It is also uncheckable in case the user has forgotten a kanji or two.) The other great aspect of this app is the organization of the “cards” based on JLPT level or Japanese school grade level. This is just a must have app for anyone who’s studying the language.

Kotoba – Another app I use everyday for studying, Kotoba is, simply, a very good dictionary for Japanese to English and vice versa.

BBC NewsReader – The Beeb’s app is different from other news apps in that it keeps a running update of the stories already loaded into the phone. Everytime you start the app, it begins downloading both recent information and updates to previous downloads. This makes loading pictures and older stories much faster on slow networks. The app breaks the news into three broad categories – Magazine, UK, and Americas. Within that, the user can define what kind of news they’re most interested in. The one thing I’m not quite happy with, especially in comparison to the two other news apps on my list, is that tapping on a story takes you to a BBC page that has to be resized before it could be considered remotely readable. However, for quick access to news that has a perspective different from the U.S. one, this app is a must.

New York Times – The NY Times has received a lot of (deserved) praise for their iPhone app. It serves as a prime example of how newspapers can remake themselves for the web and, in this case, the mobile web. The home screen breaks the paper down into its familiar sections – World, U.S., Politics, etc. From there, users have the option to scroll through stories in a given section or to choose the Latest, Popular, or Saved stories. And it’s this last option that really sets the app apart. The ability to save stories for later reading (as well as being able to e-mai them) adds a necessary functionality that recognizes that being mobile does not mean always having all the time you’d like to read up on the news. Further, the stories are automatically formated for the iPhone screen so that resizing before reading is not necessary.

New York Times Crossword – This is easily the most expensive app on my list. At roughly 10 bucks you have to love crosswords to make this worth the money. What’s more, you have to love the NY Times Crossword as there are cheaper (lesser) apps available in the iTunes app store. However, on the plus side, this is the same puzzle that appears in the daily paper. Players can submit their answers to an online database and find out if they have gotten all the cells correct or not. The controls are intuitive and easy to use; the screen uses a keyboard to input characters, but allows finger gestures for resizing the puzzles and for moving around the puzzle area. The puzzles start at a relatively easy level on Monday and get progressively harder throughout the week. For myself, this is my favorite lunchtime application. I find that nothing wakes my brain up as taking thirty minutes to play through a puzzle before heading back into the classroom.

Doodle Jump – You know those games that take 10 seconds to learn but can eat up hours on end being played? Well, the iPhone has a lot of them and Doodle Jump is my favorite. The object is very simple. Maneuver your Doodle through a series of obstacles to see how high you can take him. The game functions by giving your character an automatic bounce off of platforms; the only control the player has is to move the Doodle from side to side by turning your wrist and taking advantage of the iPhone’s motion sensors. Great fun.

Brushes – This is the newest on my list of must have applications. I picked it up earlier this week after seeing the story where the cover of New Yorker magazine had been made with it. Not only was it a cool cover but the idea that this could be done on an iPhone was pretty spectacular.

CameraBag – While the iPhone camera is not the best cameraphone available, apps like CameraBag make it a lot of fun. I won’t say too much about it here as I have already written about it and posted photos I took using the app on this blog.

Text – I live in Japan. Japan is somewhat notorious for preferring phone based e-mail to text messaging. In fact, my last three phones did not have texting software on them at all. So having a phone that can finally text, combined with Softbank’s data plan which lets users text each other for free, is really, really, cool. Having texting available means I feel like I can finally keep up with services like Twitter and the now, sadly defunct, I Want Sandy, in the manner for which they were designed.

Stanza – People are still skeptical about the value of ebooks but this app should push at least a few people decidedly into the “for” column. Stanza works with several different online services to download books to the phone, where they can be read offline, one screen at a time. I’ve found that the small screen makes books feel longer than they are, but, on the other hand, that the rapid pace with which the screen changes makes them just fly by. In short, while this is not my favorite way to read, it is an acceptable and convenient way to read.

WordPress – Obviously, I’m a blogger. Not quite as heavy a blogger as I once was, but I do still enjoy keeping a blog up and running for those occasions when I want to say something that won’t fit into 140 characters. That’s where WordPress’ iPhone app comes in. It has a nice, clean design that makes it easy to log in and update any blogs you have hosted on WP. This is kind of a no brainer for anyone who has both an iPhone and a WP blog.

Wolfram Alpha – One of the best features of the iPhone / Safari combo, in my opinion, is the ability to put a bookmark on the home screen of the phone. What this means is that when I want to search for something on Wolfram Alpha, I do not need to open up Safari and scroll through my bookmarks. Rather I just touch one icon and there’s WA, ready for input. And while I’m not a heavy WA user (not yet anyway) I have been curious about the service and wanting to try it out. So, while the individual site may change, eventually, the capacity to keep it right on my homescreen won’t and that is something that I just love about the iPhone.’s At Bat – I’m not much of a sports fan. I enjoy watching the games but I don’t really keep up with the statistics or even the player rosters too much. But I love baseball. I love the romanticism and history associated with the game and I do try to keep up with at least the Padres every season. At Bat makes it much, much easier to do so. The app provides schedules, play by play, recaps, standings, stats, photos, live game coverage, and soon, live video streaming of games. The only downside is that those clever bastards at have decided to charge by the season, rather than a one time fee. Still, as a way to follow baseball that doesn’t require you to be in front of your t.v. at a set time or wading through tons of newsfeeds, this is the app to get.

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Wolfram Alpha

wolframalpha.pngWolfram Alpha has been around for a few weeks now, having debuted to a squawking chorus of voices. The initial reports from Mashable and Lifehacker sounded intriguing and promising but the talk on podcasts like TWiT and the virtual water cooler that is Twitter was more confused than relevatory. The single most coherent and reasoned explanation of / musings on was on Buildings and Food (a great site anyway).

The first question most people had was, what is Wolfram Alpha? The answer is that it is a knowledge computation engine, whatever that means. From the website:

“Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.”

Wolfram Alpha was designed by mathematician Stephen Wolfram; the database/search functions are based on the programing language Mathematica which he also designed, way back when.

Taking the play-with-it-until-it-breaks approach exemplified by Gina Trappiani’s original Lifehacker post, here are the things I learned via WA.

I am 33 years, 10 months, and 8 days old today.

I live 5663 miles from my mother’s house, which itself, is 243.4 miles from where I went to university.

My name, Joel, has some interesting data attached to it: there are currently 222,373 people sharing my name. It was most popular as a birth name during 1979 / 1980.


By comparing my first and middle names, we learn that my middle name is much more popular as a given name than is my first name.

Arizona became a state 97 years ago. Its highest point is Humphrey’s Peak at 3850 meters, while its lowest is the Colorado River at just 21 meters.

The average lifespan of American men vs. Japanese women is 75.92 years to 85.59 years, meaning that my wife is going to outlive me by ten years. But we already knew that.


There are also a number of things I couldn’t find. For example….

A search for the average rate of oxygen consumption used by SCUBA Divers at one atmosphere resulted in this:


Searching for the average lifespan of labrador retrievers brought back no results at all, only a suggestion to search on the word “dogs.”

Searching for “ the average number of e-mail addresses of teenagers” likewise brought back no meaningful results.

And finally, there are the Easter Eggs (which I found via this post, and this follow-up post on Mashable):

In the meantime, WA has released it’s first update, which has a few changes to the system, namely updating the linguistic structures recognized so that more queries will be returned. (Again, Mashable has the full list.)

In the meantime, Google has its new Google Squared, and Microsoft has launched Bing, both of which aim to change and modify how we search the web.

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I’ve never been one for lyricless music.  The words to a song are more important to me than the actual music.  Often the first thing I connect with when looking for new music is a phrase or word that seems to say something I like.  And I realize I’m not unique in this respect, I just put it out there as background so I can talk about The Octopus Project.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge eMusic fan; the fifteenth of every month is just a great day because that’s when I get to dig through eMusic and see what new albums and bands I can find.  Several months ago, on a friends recommendation, I downloaded The Octopus Project’s “One Ten Hundred Thousand Million” and it kinda sat in the background of my iPod for a few months.  In the meantime, my main job got downsized out from under me, I scrambled and ended up with a new job that gave me some free time and actively encouraged me to study.

What I find is that when I’m studying, I can’t have lyrics.  They just distract me.  And, no offense to any fans out there, but classical and most jazz puts me to sleep.  So I went back to dance music.  I dug up some old Groove Armada and club mixes I had laying around and they worked for a while.  But I wanted something new, something I hadn’t already heard a thousand times.  Which brings us back to TOP and their music.  I started somewhat slowly, adding the track “The Adjuster” to my study mix and letting it soak into my brain stem and it just hasn’t left yet.

Last month, when my eMusic account was refreshed, I picked up “Hello, Avalanche.”  If possible, I like it more than I do the previous album.  The track “Truck” especially is just infectious in its joyousness and I have been known to loop it so that it plays several times in a row.  I’ve set 2006’s “The House of Apples and Eyeballs” for this month’s downloads.  But that’s next month.

In the meantime, here’s the video for “Truck.”  Enjoy.

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Mario and His Stars

I am the proud creator / owner of a Super Mario Galaxy save-file in which the full complement of 241 stars have been collected. And when I say proud, I mean bring it up in conversations at cocktail parties and show strangers my photos of it because I’m so proud.

Now, as to why I am so proud, that’s a little trickier. I mean, sure, you could say it’s the innovative design of the game or the revolutionary way the Wii controller lets the player interact with an incredible physics engine. Or you could say that it’s the artwork, which retains the charm and lovableness that has been inherent in the Mario games from the start. Or maybe it’s just the cute story.

Whatever. The real reason is, one, I’m a completist, and two, it was an achievable goal.

Starting with the latter, I started playing the game during a short period where I felt like nothing else was getting done in my life. All projects were at standstills, my job was becoming routine, and there was no vacation on the horizon. Enter SMG. From the get-go, figuring out the puzzles and learning how to get the stars was a lot of fun. I won’t deny that. But it was also something I could do. Something I could achieve, no matter how small and pointless an accomplishment it was. So I did it.

And once I did it, I really, really wanted to play some more. Rather, I really wanted to recapture that same feeling. Not so much of beating the game, as was the goal when my friends and I went to arcades, way back when. But more of completing something. Of finishing completely and being able to check something off the list.

So, a friend loaned me his copy of Super Mario Sunshine, the predecessor game that had been made for the Nintendo GameCube (and one I continue to hope will be revamped for the Wii). I started it and quickly got close to the maximum number of “Shines” but, over a year later, I have been unable to finish. And it’s driving me nuts.

Not in the same way that Mario Kart Wii is, because at least in that one I can show continual and steady progress. (I’m down to just a half dozen unlockables and most of those have to do with the ghost races and getting star level ranks on some courses.)

Because I really want to finish the game. I want to be able to add that save-file to my SD card, right next to Mario Galaxy and Pikmin and Lego Star Wars and the other (few, very few) games I’ve been able to play to completion. Because I’m a completist. I have to finish. Leaving a game unfinished feels like having an itch you just can’t quite reach. Something nagging at the back of my mind, something I should be doing, something I should be achieving.

My wife is the same way with jigsaw puzzles. She doesn’t start them because she will not stop unless she finishes. Or passes out.

But anyway. Last night I restarted Super Mario Sunshine from the very beginning. There are some glitches or something and where there should be purple coins to get, there is nothing. So I’m starting over and I’m looking forward to completing this game. Right after I finish all the other projects on my plate.

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Docile Whale

Here’s one of those little things that amuses me far more than it should: my wife gave me this notebook to use at work. She said, “It’s friendly. The children will like it.” And it is and they do.

But I like it because of its friendly and charming little poem. Across the top it says: “I’m feeling much better. I live as I please. I like the natural flow of time. How are you?”

Well, I’m just great, thanks for asking! You docile whale you.

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Filed under Learning From the Master, The Language We Speak, The Languages We Don't Speak So Well, True Thoughts on True Life

Resting Places

Trying another post from the iPhone, this time with photos.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to put flowers on her dad’s grave. He’s interred at a beautiful temple / cemetary near our house. We took a quiet walk around the grounds and I took a few photos, keeping others privacy foremost in mind and being respectful.

Anyway, here’s a photo of one of the small Buddah statues that surround the grounds and some of the flowering trees that are omnipresent.

I took the photo with my iPhone, using CameraBag and the Helga filter.

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Filed under Attack of the Robot Monsters, Captured Bits of Light, Left From Seattle


While it isn’t quite ready for prime time, Songbird is an excellent music player with the potential to be a one stop music application.

The biggest thing that differentiates Songbird from other library managers like iTunes is the built in browser. Based on the Mozilla engine, the browser works just like any other, only that when you surf to a music site, Songbird automatically searches the site for .mp3 files that can be downloaded and arranges them in a window at the bottom of the screen. This makes reading music blogs a whole lot cooler as you can immediately download the file you are reading about (if it has been posted to the site). Legal issues aside, it is a great way to find new music.

The initial download comes with a few bookmarks preloaded; there are a ton of music sites and blogs that are greatly enhanced by viewing them through Songbird. Some of my favorites are Muxtape, eMusic, and Gumdrop.

Songbird also recently added their own version of Coverflow, letting users scroll through their library by album cover, much like in iTunes. While this is very cool, there are still some issues – like getting all the album art – that need to be worked out.

Hopefully, too, future versions will add video support and better integration with the major music shopping sites as well as podcast management. For now though, Songbird is a decent player and library manager but it is not quite a replacement for iTunes. Yet.

*I’ve written about Songbird before, here.

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Testin Y’all Testin

Nevermind this post. Seriously. This is just a quick test of the WordPress application for the iPhone. We’ll have to see what this looks like and take it from there.

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A Little Bit More

Here’s another couple of shots done with Camera Bag:

This is the cinema filter:


This is the Holga filter:


I’m really digging the Holga filter.

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Toy Camera Phenom

A couple of weeks ago I went down to the park for the annual Hanami festivities. This year, for the first time in a long, long time, I didn’t take a camera with me. Instead I decided to put my iPhone’s camera through the paces. More specifically, I wanted to see what the applications CameraBag and ToyCamera would do with Hanami shots. Here are two results:

This first pic. was altered with ToyCamera’s XXXX filter. I really like the effect this app applies to images; it gives things a nice retro feel as well as warming up the colors.


The second pic. was altered with CameraBay’s 1974 filter which has an even better “back in the day” feel to it.


Generally speaking, I like CB just a bit better than TC. CB’s filters are based around older camera styles, while TC is based more around classic film stocks. On the other hand, TC has better menus and community features. They’re really both worth having for photogeeks and for iPhone users who want something a little different for their photos.

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Nirvana featuring…

Shortly after Freddie Mercury died musicians from all over the rock ‘n’ roll world gathered in the U.K. for a tribute concert. It was shown on t.v. around the world and the CD sales numbered in the millions. It was an awesome, awesome show.

Slash, Elton John, George Michael and the surviving members of Queen. They all performed Queen’s songs, Freddie’s songs, and showed what a genius Freddie was.

But my question is, where is the Nirvana tribute?

Ok, I know there have been a couple, but I want the really big, televised, spectacular, grandiose, laden with rock stars covering Nirvana songs, badass tribute.

But I don’t think we’re ever going to get it.

And it’s not just that Dave and Krist don’t get along with Courtney. I think it has a lot more to do with how Freddie died versus how Kurt died. Freddie died of AIDS at a time when people were just beginning to accept the idea of homosexuality as a mainstream culture. Freddie died a tragic, but heroic, death. He maintained a brave front, continuing to work and to spend time with family and friends, right up until the day he died.

Kurt, on the other hand, shot himself.

There is still such a phobia and lack of understanding about suicide that I feel like there would be protests should there ever be a massive tribute to Kurt Cobain. People have already claimed that his suicide encouraged kids to follow suite, and that his is an image that parents do not want their children to idolize.

Still, Nirvana is / was, arguably, the most influential band of the nineties. They broke a new style of music into the mainstream. They were the icons for the grunge lifestyle and their music is not only still being played, it is being covered by new bands all the time.

I would love to see a Nirvana reunion, the larger lineup, featuring Pat Smear, and a guest roster of lead vocalists, similar to the Queen tribute to Freddie Mercury. Get Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell and Thom Yorke to take the vocals and do the best live versions of Nirvana’s music since 1994.

This year was the 15th anniversary of Cobain’s death and I, for one, still miss him and his music.

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Crayon Physics Deluxe

Crayon Physics Deluxe is an innovative and charming game that uses the iPhone’s touch screen to demonstrate a new way to game.

The premise is simple: On each screen there is a ball and a few simple elements, like a box or a ledge drawn. The user must draw new elements and move the ball from the starting point until it can cross the star, completing the level. The graphics are deceptively simple, creating the look of simple crayon drawings on newsprint, like a child might create, but the physics engine that moves the ball around is fully developed and simultaneously beautiful and frustrating.

One of the most exciting and challenging aspects of this game is using your finger to draw new elements onto the screen. Exciting because it is novel and intuitive and fun, challenging because the iPhone’s screen just isn’t that big, and when you have big, sausage sized fingers like mine, achieving the necessarily delicate touch is sometimes difficult.

The iPhone version of the game has 50 levels to play, as well as a sandbox where users can create and save custom levels.

One of the few drawbacks to the game is the lack of save features. For example, if you stop playing on level 25, the next time you turn on the game, you’ll have to skip all the way to level 25 to resume where you left off. Other than that, the game is simple, beautiful, and a great way to spend a few dollars and a lot of time.

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Pocket Cocktails

Back in university, my roommates and I had a poster on the wall that gave the recipes for a few dozen different shooters. 44 Shooters or something like that. Dan’s favorite was one called Nutty Irishman. Anyway, in college, we made most of these things, as well as a lot of conventional cocktails and a few that we made up ourselves.

(The snowball: Five parts milk, four parts vanilla ice cream, three parts vodka, two parts Kahlua, one part flavoring agent of choice [Frangelica and Bailey’s Irish Cream were popular] and ice. Blend everything except the flavoring agent, pour into frosted glasses, top with the flavoring agent. Serves five.)

These days I tend to stick to beer; maybe I’ll have the occasional scotch for a nightcap.

And then, sometimes, I just really want a cocktail. Enter Robert Maran and Deidra Jones’ Pocket Cocktails for the iPhone. The app is a little pricey at $5, but I got it for a sale price of $.99 and for that, it is beautiful.

Immediately after loading, the user is presented with an attractive, retro styled menu pages featuring options for Martinis, Classics, Summer (which I presume will change as the seasons progress, but maybe not), Wine and Beer, Creamy, Shooters, Warmers, and Mocktails, along with a row of buttons along the bottom for a random cocktail and the (surprisingly useful, but basic) sommelier.

Once inside, the options are presented in an easy list that makes good use of the iPhone’s touchscreen by letting users scroll through alphabetically. Tap on a cocktail and a picture of the cocktail comes up with options for just the picture, the recipe, or the ingredients necessary. Each cocktail also has the option to save it to a favorites menu.

One of my favorite features is the random button, which brings up a friendly red screen and the instructions “shake for a cocktail.” Which it does if you do.

But the real test of the application was getting it out into the store. I got vodka, checked the app, and bought the other necessary ingredients for a Bloody Mary. As I said before, I don’t know if I would have paid $5 for the app. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have. But for a dollar, or even two, this is a fun app to have in your pocket.

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The New York Times Crossword for iPhone / iPod Touch

There is something compelling, even obsessive about a good crossword puzzle. And the New York Times is one of the best crosswords around. So finding out that they had put together an app for the iPhone was fantastic news. However, the price tag, a hefty $10, left a me little cautious. After all, once bitten, twice shy and while the NY Times had yet to bite, plenty of other applications had.

A quick glance through the online reviews assuaged some of my fears and I purchased the app.

It has been worth every penny so far.

The first, and most important note is that this is the NY Times Crossword, just as it appears in the newspaper, delivered straight to your phone every day. The puzzles are generally easier at the beginning of the week and the weekend puzzles are slightly larger. The puzzles are difficult but doable, the clues are clever, and the app is easy to use.

Although it does take a second to load, once it’s up, users are given options to Play, Connect, Rankings, Extras, and Help.

The Play option, naturally enough, takes users right into the main area of the application. From there, players can continue they puzzle they had been working on, choose the newest (daily) puzzle, or browse through the archives. Once inside a puzzle, the options are useful and clearly defined without an distractions or unnecessary information cluttering up the onscreen real estate.

Players can check letters, words, or complete puzzles, with the option to fully unlock each puzzle 24 hours after it has been released. Some of the more useful features include using the iPhone’s multi-touch option to resize the screen, making it easier to highlight the correct space, and being able to circle letters for easy reference. Other, lesser features, include being able to “write” with a pen or pencil, although both allow the player to change their answers, and reading a list of clues.

The Connect feature adds a bit of sociabilty to the application by letting users compare themselves to other users via a “Legends” page as well as maintaining a profile. The profile area lets users track their daily stats and provide a bit of information about themselves. Related to the Connect menu is the Rankings menu, allowing users to view online scores and to (again) check their daily stats.

Under the Extras menu, users can view the front page of the New York Times and check the Magmic Social Network, etc.

The one negative is that at $9.99, the application is quite pricey. Especially when there are $.99 crossword puzzle applications available in the iTunes store. However, when you consider that a subscription to the print edition of the New York Times can run $50 a year, and even the online edition is $30, $10 for the crossword and the free NY Times news app seems like a bargain.

All told, the New York Times Crossword is a fantastic application for crossword lovers.

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The last time I went book shopping I didn’t actually buy anything. Instead I took pictures of the things I wanted then went back home and got online: Wikipedia to Amazon to iTunes and back around comparison shopping and information gathering until I found the best deal and best format for the book I wanted (David Sedaris’ “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.”)

While bouncing between these sites I came across a few refinements that I (as a loyal customer) want to see.

And the first thing is this – why doesn’t Amazon have a library function built into it?

Amazon should be able to let users make easily accessible library files that are searchable by Amazon’s robots to let readers know which books they’re missing or when new books come out. In other words, I don’t want to wade through the stacks and piles of books to see if I still have a copy of another Sedaris book while I’m online. I want to know, right then, if I have a copy or if I should take advantage of Amazon’s “buy together” deals. Amazon bought Shelfari a while ago, so I’m hoping that maybe they’ll add some more social functionality to their sites sometime soon.

Addtionally, Amazon should be able to host bookclubs and discussion groups fairly easily, shouldn’t they? Somewhere where users / readers can get together to discuss the books they’ve bought in something a little more organized that the current reviews system?

I’m also hoping they make something like the iTunes Genius sidebar, but for Amazon for better recommendations of new books.

Then again, speaking of iTunes, why is there no wishlist? One of the best parts of the Amazon shopping experience is being able to bookmark books one is interested in into either a shopping list or a wishlist. I’m getting frustrated by going into the iTunes store, finding something that I want to buy in the future and having to save the name in a file completely separate from my iTunes account. And how about gifts? It would be very nice to have the gift lists that Amazon has.

Basically, I want Amazon’s shopping functionality in iTunes and iTunes library management in Amazon and better social integreation
and user interaction in both.

And then there’s Wikipedia. I’m a bit of a completist, a bit of a collector. It’s pretty common for me to surf to Wikipedia to get a full bibliography on whichever author I’m interested in at the moment. But because of Wikipedia’s lack of built in bookmarking, I find that I end up searching for the same information over and over, or cluttering up my browswer bookmarks with Wikipedia links.

I want a tag cloud so I can bookmark my favorite articles and references within Wikipedia. I want to be able to build my own wiki of most referenced articles, and I want a way to pull that information into shopping sites / applications.

All of this may seem a little demanding, and it is. After all, I’m just a customer, with no knowledge of how difficult it would be to implement any of these ideas in any of these places. At the same time, I’m a customer, and a good one. I spend a fair portion of my disposable income in both Amazon and iTunes and Wikipedia is my go to source for information.

Which is to say that I am not entitled to these changes, but that it is in the best interest of all three services to continue to explore ways to make the experience better for the end user and this is just my two cents on how to please this particular shopper.

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World of Goo

For the past couple of months my default, “let’s kill 20 minutes” game has been 2D Boy’s World of Goo.

World of Goo

WoG, for the uninitiated, is a physics based puzzle game involving little blobs of goo.  The object is to get as many goo balls as possible into a feeder pipe that takes them all away.  Of course, getting the goo balls to these pipes is something of a challenge.  The player must use the goo balls to build bridges, towers, chains, etc. all while trying to get a minimum number of goo balls to the pipe in order to complete a level.

Along the way, new forms of goo balls are introduced including red, explosive ones, clear, water-like ones that always hang down in drips, and green, “connector” goo balls that can be re-used several times.  Many of the puzzles and challenges involve using a specific type of goo ball to reach the pipe.

There is a story too, but it is secondary to the main action of playing the game.  It mainly unfolds in the cut scenes at the end of a level or between stages, although there are signs left by “The Signpainter” in all the worlds that offer bits of philosophy, warnings, or just observations.

World of Goo is a beautiful game.  The design of the goo balls and the worlds they inhabit is just spectacular.  The artists and designers found the sweet spot between cartoonish and childish that brings back reminiscences of Saturday mornings and sugary cereal.  Further, the soundtrack is equally beautiful.  The designers at 2D Boy created several loops that blend together and play back in almost transcendent harmonies and pieces that are so good, the soundtrack by itself is almost as much fun as the game.

WoG is available for Mac, PC, Linux, and Wii and costs 15 to 20 bucks.  It's worth every penny.

Other reviews:




Rock Paper Shotgun

1 Up

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The previous, rather anemic, very tardy post was the last post in my attempt at NaBloPoMo for February, 2009.  I don't think I'll be participating in the March edition.  I think I'll be saving up my words for my attempt at Script Frenzy 2009 next month.

The other thing I was thinking about though, is that I just don't have the compulsion to blog that I did several years ago and a big reason behind that is that there are other outlets now.  I don't post fiction online anymore because I have gotten to a level where I am submitting it to magazines (although still getting rejected) rather than posting it online for feedback.  And I don't post the personal stuff too much anymore as I tend to vent through Twitter and keep people updated via Facebook.
So I don't think I'll be deleting my Vox account anytime soon, but I think I am going to back burner it.  When and if I have something to write about, I will, but I don't think I'm going to try to maintain a post a day or even a post a week.  
It doesn't help that I can't use Vox like I can Tumblr, reposting FB Status Updates and Twitter posts to it.  Anyway.  This is all a long way of saying, if you have been reading along with me, then thank you.  Thank you very much.

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The American Civil Liberties Union is another favorite organization.  They are dedicated to protecting and defending an individual's civil rights.  If you are American, they are an organization well worth belonging to.

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I'm pretty sure I've mentioned the Electronic Frontier Foundation many, many times on this blog. They're one of my favorite causes / organizations to support.  They provide legal representation and counsel in cases where freedom of speech, especially online, is being threatened.  Please check them out.

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The Smartest Orgs Online

I'm a big believer in giving to charities.  Maybe because I was raised in a church that placed a strong emphasis on tithing, maybe it's just because it has always upset me that the world is not fair.  At any rate, this is an older post but still has a lot of valuable info about which charities and non-profits are using the web to their best advantage.

I don't think it's entirely necessary for organizations to use the web these days but it makes a lot of sense and my own politics dictate that I support the ones who are using information technology to help themselves make the best use of resources so that they can help others.

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Robots and Monsters

Robots and Monsters is exactly the sort of charity I like to donate to.  From their website: is a charitable art project that matches goodwill and charitable giving with custom-made commissioned cartoon and pop art.

Although they don't seem to have anyone special on their Supported Cause list right now, last quarter, proceeds from sales / donations went to the EFF, one of my favorite causes.  They have supported several other worthy organizations in the past, but orders made in between support sessions go directly towards, which is worthwhile in and of itself.

They have also recently added a storefront and generally cleaned up the website a bit.  If you're of a giving frame of mind and have been looking for that perfect recipient for your hard won cash, let me suggest this group.  You'll get some quirky, quality art, and you'll be supporting something very worthwhile.

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I Want a Sequel to Master and Commander

I love this movie.  I love the books.  I want more movies.  That is all.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

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Improv Everywhere: Best Game Ever

The line between art and prank can sometimes be a really fine one, but when the outcome is as cool as this, who cares?

The geniuses behind the scenes at Improv Everywhere got together and turned one little league game into The Best Game Ever, complete with professional announcers, over-zealous fans, peanut sellers in the stands, and a jumbotron.
Things like this are what make life worthwhile.
Improv Everywhere: Best Game Ever

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Yesterday, I wrote about Pandora, and how they got screwed by the RIAA.  Today, I'm writing about t.v. and how the networks are screwing themselves.

Earlier this week, news came down the pipe that Hulu would no longer be available via Boxee, a free t.v. tuning setup available for many different varieties of computers including X-boxes and Linux machines.  The reasons and excuses given are varied, but it boils down to money.  The content providers are afraid that they'll be denied some revenue if users skip the Hulu website to get the content via other platforms.  As the commentary has said, the only winner here is Bit Torrent.
Not that it mattered to me because, even though I'm an American, I haven't been able to watch Hulu because my IP address is in Japan.  So, as I said yesterday, which is easier, spoofing an IP address or just going to a different service?
Just another example of how the irrational fear of piracy is making more law-breakers than it is preventing law-breaking.

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Pandora Radio

A couple of years ago I discovered a fantastic music service called "Pandora."  Pandora is an internet radio station, but with a twist.  It uses proprietary algorithms and a simple voting system to determine what songs to play next.  For example, I made a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers station.  By marking some tracks as well liked and others as not so loved, Pandora gave me songs by Wilco, The Flaming Lips, and Johnny Cash among others.

Unfortunately, right about the time the service was becoming indispensable to me, the RIAA came along and took the makers of Pandora to court.  The result being a new license which allowed Pandora to keep operating but restricting their operation to the U.S. only.
This isn't Pandora's fault.  No, the blame for this lies solely at the feet of the greedy corporate bastards so scared of piracy that they turn willing customers into default bad guys.  Because customers who want their music will take the easiest path.  And which is easier, spoofing an IP address to log into Pandora everytime I want to listen to music or just downloading songs via torrent software?
I'm looking forward to the day Pandora comes back, internationally, in all it's glory.

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Sun Jar

One of the stupider things my wife and I argue about is what color lightbulbs to buy.  She likes bright, white lights.  I prefer soft, yellow lights.  Naturally, we compromise but that means that, inevitably, one of us is complaining about the light in whichever room we're in.  Our bedroom has nice, soft, yellow lights, but our home office has bright, harsh, white lights.  Compromise.

So I want one of these.  On the one hand, it does seem a bit expensive for something that one should be able to make fairly easily, on the other, it has a certain degree of charm to it.  And I really like the nice, warm, yellow light shown in the photos on the site.  Should they actually be that bright in real life, it may provide a nice compromise for my wife and myself.  She can set the blue one up one her side of the room, while I light my half with the warm light of the sun.
From Suck Uk.

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Flip Camera

Somehow, these slipped totally under my radar.  Maybe because I don't actually shoot much video.  I always mean to, and I even bought a fairly high quality digital video camera a couple of years ago but it just never happens.  But if I had one of these, well, then I'd have too.  Because these cameras are just too cool not to be used.  

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My Life Story

I don't have kids yet.  But if and when I ever do, I want to get one of these for them.  Essentially, "My Life Story" is a journal, but it's big and heavy and has all the fill-in-the-blanks that one is supposed to be aware of when you have kids.  Part scrapbook, part diary, part info log, all awesome.  I found the thing at Suck UK.

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The Coolest Thing I’ve Ever Seen

Now, courtesy of FAO Schwartz, you can build your own muppet.  And, while you won't be making a replica of Kermit, or Piggy, or Grover, you can still make some really cool Whatnots.  Here's mine:


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Mucked up my back pretty good over the weekend so fell behind on posts.  Looks like I won't be making NaBloPoMo this month but, oh well, there's always next month.

In the meantime, go watch YouTube or something.  My back hurts.

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The Piano

This is cool; I want to learn to play this piece.

The Piano

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Valentine’s Day

Here's a make up post:

Whenever I need to buy chocolates I go to these guys, and Valentine's Day is just such an occasion.  This year, I got my wife a box of Pink Sparkling Pearls from the Geisha collection.  They're really good.

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The Complete New Yorker

One of the cooler things I've seen in recent years is the old media companies using modern, digital technologies to make their archives accessible to everyone.

One example of this is The New Yorker, which made their entire 83 year history available in two different digital formats:  A collection of DVDs and an external hard drive.
The DVD collection is currently on sale for about $20 on their website, which is just…cool.
At the same time, the archive is more or less irrelevant for subscribers to the magazine as they have also put the archive online.  Subscribers can read the current issue as well as any and all back issues just by logging into the New Yorker Online.
My thoughts on this are not too well formed, but I can say that I really like the idea of having an offline version of every issue of the magazine; I would love to see a few of my other favorite magazines, like Esquire and National Geographic provide services like this.  Rolling Stone and Mad Magazine have also made digital archives available.
DVDs are slow, clumsy, and loud compared to hard drives or online versions, but, for only $20 it's hard to not be tempted by this.
Hmm.  Where's my credit card?

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The Ambient Orb is "A glass lamp that uses color to show weather forecasts, trends in the market, or the traffic on your homeward commute."

More than that, it is a device that embodies a new design philosophy, that idea being that information should be accessible to us without intruding on our consciousness.  When we want information, it requires a mental gear shift.  I have to stop whichever task I'm working on and open a new window, or open my phone, or pull up a widget, or any of a thousand other little motions (virtual or physical) that pull me out of my task and into a new one.
The Ambient Orb though, is just a glass lamp that changes color.  The user can set the lamp to glow orange when there are new e-mails or to to glow blue when your stock portfolio is down or any of a hundred other yes / no status indicators.  The brilliance of this is that it is not distracting.  It requires no stoppage other than a brief glance, even then, if the color change is slow enough, one might not notice at all until you had reached a natural stopping point in whatever it is you're working on.
While the Orb itself is a bit pricey and I don't like that it requires a power cord, rather than batteries, I love the idea behind it, the idea that information should be intuitive and understood, rather than invasive and demanding interpretation.

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Buddha Machine

Last month, Sasha Frere-Jones wrote a piece in the New Yorker called "Instant Karma," which introduced us to the Buddha Machine.

Designed by musicians collectively known as FM3, the Buddha Machine is a small, plastic box, which houses a speaker and other components that will play loops of nine different sounds in combinations decided on by the user.  Basically, it's a music box.  Only there's no dancing ballerina or fishing frog or anything.
The sounds are somewhat odd featuring chanting, pianos, and everything in between.
The Buddha Machine is not something I would normally be interested in but due to a severe ear infection last year, I have been having persistent tinnitus in my left ear.  The doctor prescribed listening therapy, or white noise to reduce the effects of tinnitus.  The trouble is, I hate white noise.  I watched some horror movie back in the day that was all about how dead people can be heard in the static of a t.v. station and I can never get past the idea that ghosts may be speaking to me through a white noise machine.  (Yeah, I know, I know.)
I have been listening to a lot of classical music in lieu of white noise, which is great, only, have you ever tried going to bed with a classical music CD playing?  Right when things have gotten nice and peaceful there's a fanfare or timpani solo or something.
So, I'm curious about the Buddha Machine. And at only $20 it seems one of those curiosities that can be indulged without damaging my wallet too much.  Before I order though, I'm going to spend some time playing the with wall of sound at Zendesk (a wall of several virtual Buddha Machines.)

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Ray Gun Pen

I love good pens.

The trouble is, good is a very relative concept.  Especially when it comes to something as individual as a writing tool. Anyone who picks up a pen or pencil is going to use it slightly differently.  The shape of our hands, the way we hold the instrument, the motions we make as we write down our darkest secrets and wittiest puns are all unique to ourselves.
Which means that what is good for me may not be good for you and vice versa.
So.  For me, good means that the pen should have a smooth barrel so that it doesn't irritate me as it rests between my thumb and index finger.  Good means that the ink should be in cartridges and come out of a nib (as opposed to a ball point) so that it is darker or lighter depending on how firmly I press into the paper.  And good means that it should have some style to it.
Then again, style is just as subjective as good.
All of which is a long preface to saying that this looks like a good pen.  Given that I have no idea how it would write or if I would even enjoy holding it, it does have quite a lot of style.
Designed by Ben Hall for ACME, the Ray Gun captures the era of classic science fiction perfectly.  It is something I want to have on my desk, more as a conversation piece than as a writing tool, but something I would write with from time to time.  Unfortunately, the price tag puts it beyond reach of mere wishlist items and into the realm of when-I'm-really-really-rich but, still, I want one.

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The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem – Drive

The link to this video was passed along to me recently and I became an instant fan of these guys.  Straight ahead rock with decent lyrics and a gruff voice – they're kinda like Social Distortion for the younger generation.  So, yeah, I dig them and fortunately for me, they're on eMusic.

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My dad is one of those guys who are just impossible to shop for.  Which is problematic because he has birthdays and whatnot just like everyone else.  But occasionally, I manage to find something I think is absolutely perfect for him.  Like last week, when I gave him a titanium spork as a birthday present.

This particular gift qualifies as perfect because it is simultaneously useful and useless.  I mean, sporks are convenient, especially for frequent travelers like my dad.  But titanium?  Overkill is too subtle a word to express the reality of an eating utensil made out of a near-indestructible metal.
Dad got a kick out of it; my wife wants one of her own, and my niece thinks it's the coolest ice cream spoon ever.
Like I said, perfect.
Oh, I got it at Think Geek if anyone needs to get one for themselves.  

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Bookworm, Bookmooch

I am a bookworm.  In high school, I was the kid in the back of the class reading a novel while the teacher was lecturing.  Which is why I still can't do high school math.  But anyway.  I love to read.  And, although I don't get quite the reading time I used to, I still manage to go through 50 to 60 books a year.

Which can be a problem, given that I live in Japan and English language paperbacks are not the easiest (read cheapest) things to get ahold of.
Last week, I signed up for
Although I had heard about the site quite some time ago, I was hesitant to sign up because I was worried about shipping costs between Japan and the rest of the world.  However, once I had done the math (and gotten a high school kid to check it) I discovered that by using the service to send out unwanted paperbacks and to request some that I had been wanting, I could lower the cost from about $9.00 US per book to closer to $5.00 US.  Which may not seem like much until you multiply $4.00 by 50. Keeping my shelves clear of unwanted paperbacks is just a bonus.
Since I signed up, I've sent five out and received one with two more coming soon.  Of course, the service isn't perfect; there's still a bit of trust required and there's no real way to control the quality of the books you receive, but it beats a two hour train ride to Tokyo. (Where the closest English-language used paperback store is located.)  The only other downside is that the most widely available books are older ones.  On the other hand, if you're not in a hurry, new books do appear, and fairly soon after paperback publication.
I've barely scratched the surface of what the service is and what it can do, but I'm looking forward to getting more into it over the next few weeks and if I get nothing more than a few good books, well, that will be just fine.

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Beanbag Chair, Sumo Sized

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Rollei Mini Digi

There is always, at any given time, at least three different cameras on my wish list.  But this one, this one is just a bit different.

Rollei is perhaps most well known for their signature Rolleiflex camera.  The Rolleiflex has a following among photography fans for its ability to capture fantastic portraits, even while being somewhat awkward for novice users.  The Rolleiflex is a TLR, or Twin Lens Reflex, meaning that the viewfinder is connected to a lens separate from the one that the shutter is connected to.  In other words, the photographer is looking through the top lens, while the film is being exposed through the bottom lens.  This, combined with the top-down viewfinder, can cause unwary photographers to take bizarrely framed pictures, sometimes even cutting the subject out completely.
However, the top-down viewfinder is a prized tool among portrait photographers as it can help recalcitrant or nervous subjects to relax; the viewfinder arrangement lets the photographer look at the the subject without the impediment of a camera, allowing for a closer connection and allowing the subject to feel more at home in the setting.  Further, the top-down viewfinder can be used for much more literal from-the-hip shooting, letting the photographer capture candid and natural exposures easily and simply.
Now, at long last, Rollei has made a digital, miniaturized version for the consumer market.

While some of the technical specs. do not seem to live up to other cameras on the market (only 5 megapixels, a 1.1 inch LCD), the unique shooting experience and relatively low price (around $300) should more than make up for what it lacks in the electronics department.
Having said that, I really wish they (Rollei) would put out a full-sized, pro-sumer version of their camera.  And soon.

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Superbowl XLIII

Monday morning (U.S. Sunday afternoon), I got up and searched through my t.v. settings to find a channel that was going to be showing the live broadcast of the Superbowl.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find one although I get several sports channels, but, no matter, I turned to the internet.

During the last election season, it was made very clear that I no longer need to rely on my t.v. to get live coverage of important events.  Anything Senator McCain or President Obama did was streamed live to one website or another.  So, while obviously not as important as a national election, surely the Superbowl would be streamed live somewhere online as well?
Well, yes and no.  The Superbowl was indeed streamed live to many different websites, but none of them were sanctioned, legal, webcasts.  None of the network websites, nor any NFL affiliated sites had a live stream up.  Instead, the sites hosting live feeds were setting theirs up through sites like that will let anyone set up their own live stream.
I selected one at random and the game began.  Midway through the third quarter the feed I was watching went dark.  I waited a few minutes, wondering if a cable had come loose somewhere, before going to the feed host and finding the message that the stream had been pulled due to copyright violations.  I was watching another feed within seconds.  This happened twice more, and both times I was able to find a new stream quickly and easily.
So, my question is, why did the NFL and / or NBC spend the time and money on lawyers to fight such an unwinable battle?
Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not suggesting that either the NFL nor NBC owe anybody anything or that they should have to suffer pirates.  I acknowledge that they were well within their legal rights to shut down those streams.  It just seems rather pointless.  Wouldn't it have made more sense for or to host a legitimate, legal stream complete with the same advertisements that ran on the broadcast?
I don't know.  What I do know is that faced without any legal option, I still watched the Superbowl, live and I don't feel the least bit guilty about it.  Am I wrong?

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Push Up


What I want is to be thinner and healthier.  What I want is to get into better shape.  What I need is more discipline and more exercise.
To that end, I have begun following the program set out at One Hundred Push-ups.
The idea behind the site is to give people a guide they can follow to go from a few (0 – 5) push-ups to being able to rock out 100 push-ups over the course of six weeks.  The site provides an initial test, which assigns a skill level, and then lays out a plan for the user.
I took the initial test and the results are, frankly, embarrassing.  It's safe to say that I am firmly in the lowest skill level and that I have a lot of work to do.  But that's the point.
Based on the plan assigned to my level, I will do five sets of only two or three push-ups per set, with up to a minute of rest time between sets, on day one.  Then a day of rest.  Then, on day two there are three or four push-ups per set and ninety second rests.  Then, another day of rest, then the final sets for the week.  The final sets are up to four or five push-ups and rests are up to 120 seconds.
Now, as simple as that sounds, the fact that I can do that is encouraging.  It's simple, shows a clear build up of skill and fitness over time and doesn't tax the body in dangerous ways.  So I'm going to be trying it for the next few weeks and we'll see how it goes.
In the meantime, feel free to check out the site.  If you decide to try it, good luck, and, well, if you don't need it, good for you – maybe you should take a look at Two Hundred Sit-ups?
Tomorrow, my thoughts on the Superbowl.

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Saddle Up


So, I haven't updated this in over two months.  Mainly because Twitter has taken over as my primary form of "crap I need to get this thought out of my head and down somewhere I can read it again later" medium.  But also because I just haven't felt the urge as much as I used to and because I am terminally lazy.
As life has progressed over the past year or so I've been slowing down in other areas as well.  I stopped getting to the gym and the pool as often, and I stopped studying completely.  I haven't done much writing or painting either.  And all of this bothers me.
My solution was to get reacquainted with NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month.  Obviously inspired by NaNoWriMo (in which I have participated many times), NaBloPoMo's purpose is to get members to write a daily post, usually centered around a theme.
The theme for February is "want."
No problem.  For anybody else interested in joining, the rules are simple: make at least one post per day, every day.  Blogging on the theme is optional, as is just about everything else.  In fact, this post, short, kinda boring, and really meta as it is, counts as my first post for the month.
Tomorrow, I write about 100 Push-ups.  See you then.

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Two Sundays

This morning my wife walked into the office and said, "Let's get chicken and pork ramen for lunch."  I considered the case.  On the one hand, the ramen is really good.  On the other, it was cold and the restaurant was a bit of a journey to get to.  She threw a trip to the bookstore into the deal and off we went.

One train ride and thirty minutes of walking later, we got to the ramen shop to find it closed for cleaning.  We strolled around the area trying to find something else that would be as good as the ramen had been in our imaginations.  We passed by a small French place called Le Metro.  I had been there before, with a friend and found the food good.  M had not been and was not really keen on going, but I talked her into it.
We have been working on increasing the quality of the food we consume recently, in the hopes that that will help us (me) to consume less of it.  Increasing the quality often means finding bistros and small, locally owned places rather than chains.  Places like Le Metro.
Normally in Japan, when entering a restaurant the staff rush all around you, being brisk and polite and shouting "irrashaimase" and what have you.  Not today.  We walked into a silence that was almost shocking in its rarity.  One waiter nodded at us and we took a seat in the window, not at all sure that we were not supposed to wait to be seated.  
M took a look at the menu and then looked at me.  "I don't know what these things are."
I looked.  "Me neither."
Together, we looked over the French names and awkward Japanese translations before deciding it wasn't worth the effort and asking our waiter for her recommendations.  We ordered.
The food came and was very nice.  I had a sausage and roast chicken on a bed of beans and vegetables, while M had a roast chicken and potatoes.  They were both excellent dishes, authentically French as far as we could tell, and the portions left us both full without feeling stuffed.  The deserts we ordered after were perfectly prepared if a little mundane.
As we left, I asked M if she would be willing to go back another time to sample more things from the restaurant.  She said no.  The staff had been too rude and disinterested.  I allowed as that was so but that the food was good enough that I was willing to overlook the rudeness.  But M maintained that the lack of respect and service had put her off the quality of the dishes and that that restaurant is no longer on our list of nice places to go on a Sunday afternoon.
Last week we headed into Utsunomiya for the Hatsu-ichi festival, or festival of commerce.  We strolled up and down the aisles, pondering whether or not to buy a mikan tree and trying to avoid buying a snack from the various stalls.  We passed by all the usuals:  Okonomiyaki, tako-yaki, sausages, fried chicken, fried squid, yakisoba, etc. etc.  I was briefly tempted by the new stalls selling hamburgers, but declined after looking more closely at the examples set at the front of the portable grills.
After an hour or so, we left the festival area and climbed the stairs to our semi-local shrine to do a first prayer of the year, asking for good luck and good health.  We chose our fortune slips and, pleased with the results, started back towards the train station and home.  As we passed back by the festival area, we decided to stop in again and buy a Dharma figure for the house.  We negotiated a decent price and once again prepared to leave.  We passed by a booth selling obanyaki, small pancake like buns filled with a variety of pastes.  I gave in to temptation and decided to buy a cream filled one.
The old guy running the booth asked me if I wanted to try his new flavor.  I said sure.  He handed us an obanyaki filled with a soft, white, delicious cheese.  He called it Napoli cheese and told us that he was the only one at the festival who had that flavor.  I asked him how much for the one we had eaten and he said it was free.  So I bought an assortment of five more.
Later that night, as we ate more of the obanyakis, I asked my wife how her's was.  "It's good.  That nice old guy running the booth has a good thing here."
Service is everything I guess.

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Raiding the Vaults: .45s – Mix Tape 21

Since it’s the holiday season and I’ve had time off, I’ve been going through a few boxes that have been unopened for the past several moves and finding out what’s inside. In today’s box, I found a pile of mixtapes I made by copying my aunt’s 45 RPM record collection with my first stereo system, back when I was in fifth or sixth grade. Here’s the playlist:

Billy Joel – Laura
Billy Joel – Pressure
Genesis – That’s All
Genesis – Don’t Lose My Number
Def Leppard – Photograph
Def Leppard – Rock of Ages
Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams…
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – You Got Lucky
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
UB40 – Red Red Wine
Moving Pictures – What About Me
Moving Pictures – Joni and The Romeo
The Honeydrippers – Sea of Love
Madness – Our House
Adam Ant – Crackpot History
Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes
Fire Inc. – Nowhere Fast
Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem – Can You Picture That
Blondie – Heart of Glass
Prince – When Doves Cry
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – Crimson & Clover
Prince – Purple Rain

A few thoughts: I thought I was really clever for calling the mixtape “point 45” like a gun, even though the 45 in question (RPMs) was a whole number.

This is my aunt’s collection. Bear that in mind if you go looking for the dates of these songs. Then again, I was 10 in 1985 so maybe it’s not so disparate as all that.

I miss vinyl.

I miss making mixtapes. Playlists on my iPod just don’t have quite the same feeling.

Tomorrow, another box, possibly more tapes.

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QotD: Gifts from Relationships Past

Openly keep, store away, or toss completely? What do you think should be done with past gifts from old flames after you've broken up and are with someone new?
Submitted by miy6ko.

Back in the day I used to keep everything.  But things change.  Once I decided to marry my wife, a lot of the other letters and things just seemed like so much detritus inside a cardboard shoebox.  I just did not need to hold on to it anymore and so I let most of it go.

These days, all I've got are a few letters, a couple of favorite photos, and high school yearbooks.  And they're all still locked up in a box that rarely sees the light of day.

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