Category Archives: True Thoughts on True Life

Essays, articles, random thoughts and quotations.

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 Last.fm 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.

So.

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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Filed under All the Baby's Linkage, Toad Web, True Thoughts on True Life

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.

joemurphy.png

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.png

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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Filed under All the Baby's Linkage, Left From Seattle, Toad Web, True Thoughts on True Life

Now We’re Cooking

cook |koŏk|

verb

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.

MLB.com’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 MLB.com 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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Filed under All the Baby's Linkage, Attack of the Robot Monsters, Learning From the Master, Toad Web, True Thoughts on True Life

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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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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