Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tales from Two Elizabeths

I enjoy reading, but I'm not the speediest reader on the planet, particularly compared to DW and my sister. Heh, compared to the two of them, I'm barely beyond the "see spot run" stage. Perhaps because of that, I usually stick to reading the work of only a handful of authors at a time. Unfortunately, I'd recently hit a sort of dead-end with my current stable of authors -- I'd either read everything they have out in paperback, or the quality of their newer work really didn't justify investing my time. Harsh, perhaps, but like I said, I'm not the swiftest reader.

Anyhoo, I was on the troll for a new author at the local Barnes & Noble when the cover of an Elizabeth Bear novel caught my eye. I know there's the whole "don't judge a book by its cover" colloquialism, but I've generally found that cheesy artwork graces the cover of cheesy fiction. So, I picked up Scardown and read the blurb on the back. Near future... semi apocalyptic... alien technology... tough-as-nails female lead. Sounded intriguing. It was the second book in the series, but Hammered wasn't on the shelf, I didn't know if I'd even like the author, so I decided to pick it up and see how it was. I barely got through the first chapter when I decided that I just had to start at the beginning. It's not that Bear's a particularly gifted writer -- there are times that I definitely stumble over her phrasing or find that I have to re-read a paragraph in order to make sense of it. I also found myself a bit annoyed that one of the antagonists is an AI based on the over-hyped, super sexist professor Richard Feynman. Nonetheless, Hammered and Scardown are fun novels and I tore through both of them with uncharacteristic speed. I just picked up the recently released WorldWired and hope that it continues the trend.

The other new author I picked up is Elizabeth Moon. Ages ago, I really enjoyed Sassinak, which she cowrote with Anne McCaffrey. Whether it was that memory or the nominal link to Elizabeth Bear that caused me to pick up Trading in Danger, I'm glad I did. Moon is a much stronger writer than Bear, but the story is just as compelling. Kylara Vatta, the main character of this series, is, on the surface at least, the polar opposite of Bear's Jenny Casey. She is young and inexperienced and her challenges stem from her powerful family and their limited view of her abilities. Marque and Reprisal is a strong sequel and I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the third book in the series, Engaging the Enemy; 'though the paperback probably won't be out 'til late next year at the earliest.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cool site for music fans

A coworker sent me a link to Pandora "a music discovery service designed to help you find and enjoy music that you'll love." The service is based on the work of the ambitious members of The Music Genome Project (MGP) who, according the website, spent the past five years listening to and analyzing the music of over 10,000 artists, quantifying "everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony."

I haven't found a new favorite band yet, and I definitely don't like all of the music they've suggested, but it has a lot to recommend it. First off, it's free! There's also a subscription if you want to avoid ads, but so far they're quite unobtrusive. Maybe if enough people buy music (from Amazon or iTunes) through the service, it'll stay that way. Also, their player uses Flash, so you don't have to download some proprietary media player or get stuck with something awful like... Real.
You start by creating a "station", seeding it with the name of a song or artist you like. The player then plays what it considers a "typical" song by that artist, followed by those it considers to be similar. You can click on a song to get various options. Why did you play this song? gives you insight into how the MGP catorized songs. If you like the song, you can add it to your Favorites list, which can be printed and also includes links for buying the song from iTunes or Amazon. Finally, you can give the song a thumbs up or thumbs down to govern whether Pandora should play it again in the future.
You can have up to 100 stations and you can share them with others by clicking on the down arrow at its right end and selecting e-mail this station to a friend. I haven't tested it yet, but presumably you can e-mail them to non-friends too. ;P
Check it out!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Firefox 1.5 Released

For all of you Firefox fans out there (who isn't?), Mozilla has released version 1.5. I've already installed it on my home computer and will be the guinea pig for anyone wanting to wait and see if there are any glaring problems with the release. As with a lot of Firefox upgrades, not all of the extensions have compatible versions yet -- but since they're developed gratis in someone's free time, I don't think we can really complain.

On the topic of Firefox extensions, here's a quick list of some of the ones I find indispensable:
Bug Me Not -– ever have someone e-mail you a link to an item at a site that wants you to register just to view it (e.g. NY Times)? This extension lets you fill in dummy login info from bugmenot with a simple right click.
Copy Plain Text -– This one isn't yet compatible with 1.5, but it lets you copy the selected text to the clipboard without all the formatting. Great if the app you want to paste into doesn't have a "Paste Special" option.
IE View -– Another not-yet-available-for-1.5 extension. This one lets you open the page you're currently viewing in Firefox in Internet Explorer. Great for those sites you have to access, but that were coded specifically for IE. |P
Plain Text Links - this extension is even more useful in Thunderbird, but if you've ever come across a URL that wasn't a hyperlink for some reason, this extension will let you follow it without have to copy/paste it to the address bar.
Target Alert - I'd actually just installed this one shortly before upgrading to 1.5. Unlike another, similar extension which placed an icon after ever link on the page causing some ugly formatting issues, this one waits to display the icon until you hover over the link. Oh, and for both extensions, the icons give you a visual clue as to what the link is targeting -- another page, a PDF document, a zip file, etc.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Let the 'Flix begin

As some of you may know, we do not subscribe to any televisions service (i.e. cable or satellite). In theory, we could pick up over-the-air broadcasts, but we really haven't missed TV that much. Or should I say, we haven't missed the ADS that much. For the past year or so, we've been renting a lot of TV shows on DVD. IMHO, it's the best thing since sliced... something or other. With something on the order of 35-70 hours in a season, a good TV show can bring you a lot more entertainment that a movie; you don't have to sit or FF through stupid advertising; you don't have to wait a whole week (or longer!) to find out what happened; and you can skip over any of the "dipisodes" (too silly) or "dripisodes" (too saccharine) that the producers all too often decide to throw in.
There are two down sides to watching TV on DVD, however. One is that, as with a good book, you can get sucked in and have a hard time preventing yourself from watching/reading one more episode/chapter, when what you really should be doing is going to bed! The second ish, is that your local video store can only carry so much, and their tastes don't always jibe with yours.
Ever since New Year's, I've been saying "we ought to sign up for NetFlix", "we ought to sign up for NetFlix", "we ought to sign up for NetFlix". So I finally got off my @$$ last weekend and signed us up for NetFlix.
Our first selections to arrive were Scrubs Season 1, the Battlestar Galactica miniseries, and Discworld: Wyrd Sisters. We watched Scrubs first. I liked Zach Braff in Garden State and had heard good things about the series. In general I dislike comedic movies and despise sitcoms; they are too often predicated on stupid person does something stupid and keeps @$#*ing up trying to avoid getting found out. Reminds me of the saying "hit rock bottom and kept digging." With this in mind, I have to say... I laughed my @$$ off. Great writing, great cast, great timing. I can't wait for Disc 2 to get here.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Four's a Fun Age

I'm finding four to be a fun age. Sure, there are a lot of times that Ki will stomp on my very last nerve, but that's the definition of "child" isn't it? Recently, however, he's really started to be interesting to talk with.
For one thing, he's trying out all sorts of new phrases. I guess it's the next logical step after vocabulary building. Some of these phrases are things he's picked up from his more-than-it-should-be-but-hopefully-still-not-too-bad movie watching. Several nights ago as I was drawing him a bath, I suggested that he pick out some toys; "I'm on it!" he replied. And yesterday he said to his Mom "Has anyone ever told you you have beautiful eyes?" Sure, it's really not a line you'd use on your mother, but still endearing that he's experimenting.
Other phrases he's been trying on are things he hears his mother or me saying. Aside from the things that you really wish he hadn't heard from you the first time, it's a real kicker to hear him utter not only the words, but use the exact intonation that you'd use too. It's particularly amusing when he mutters them to himself while he's playing. The hard thing is that all this is so charming that you want to laugh, and often do; but that only serves to annoy/confuse him and make him self-conscious. How do you express your joy at their attempts without making them think you're laughing at them?

One corollary to this new verbal stage --– and to those that preceded it --– is that his aural comprehension drops off a bit. I suspect that before now he'd just ignore the words or constructs that he didn't understand and assemble the meaning from what was left; now, however, he's trying to make sense of all of the words and how they fit together. The net result of this is that the most frequently word in his vocabulary is currently "what?", said so quickly it's almost "wht?"

The other fun thing about age four is his growing curiosity about the world around him. What things are, and why, and how does it work? As a science/engineering type, I love the challenge of trying to answer his questions truthfully but at a level that he might begin to understand. More intriguing than answering his questions is listening to him state his hypotheses. I'm sure there are many that would say I should use that opportunity to "correct" his assumptions, but my own curiosity into how his mind works (not to mention the fact that I thinking learning reasoning skills is more important than learning rote facts) causes me to ask him probing questions instead. Sometimes, probably most of the time, he finds me annoying and will simply ignore my questions. But other times, he'll answer. And I'll get a brief, treasured glimpse into the wonder that is the developing human mind.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Kids really do say the darnedest things

The whole family went for a drive this weekend to check out a piece of property (more on that later). It actually can be a rather enjoyable experience as long as no one is getting overly upset. When he was younger, I think Ki would feel left out from the conversations as he'd just interrupt for the sake of interrupting. He's pretty much outgrown that, however, and his contributions offer a fantastic glimpse into the world according to 4-year-olds. On this particular drive, two instances stood out in particular.

Ki's school is introducing letters by way of phonics -- in other words they call the letters by the (most common) sound they make, so "B" is "buh", etc. At one point during the drive*, Ki asked "What begins with 'Lake'?" Understanding his question and not wanting to diminish his curiosity, I ignored the logical/grammatical transposition and replied "Well, let's see if we can figure it out. Say the word very slowly." Without a pause, he followed my instructions (as understood by a pre-schooler) and said "very slowly".

Later in the trip, and in reference to an earlier conversation about barns, I pointed out a dilapidated structure and jokingly said to my wife "There's a barn for ya." From the back seat, Ki asked "What barn? Barn and Noble?" I think someone's got your number, Mom.

*More than seventeen years into our relationship, La and I frequently have conversations that hop all over the map and only rarely is the other person not able to follow the unspoken train of thought that links everything together. This was not always the case. Early on in our relationship, I would often be baffled by the speed and complexity of the connections that La would silently put together. I'd frequently stop the conversation to puzzle out exactly how she got from A to B. That said, I am completely befuddled by the links between the things uttered by our son. The inner workings of the four-year-old mind are apparently well beyond the capabilities of this tired old man to decipher. ;P

Thursday, April 28, 2005

TIWIW: Garden State

Technically, someone (i.e. Zach Braff) "wrote" this scene in Garden State, but it doesn't contain a single spoken word.

Andrew (Braff) parks his car, gets out, and spies a decapitated gas nozzle sticking out of the back. Without so much as a pause, he pulls out the nozzle and tosses it in a nearby dumpster.

It's perfect. You never see him being chased by an irate gas station attendant, or for that matter fueling the car. All you see is the aftermath and the character's non-challant reaction to it.

...Also, it doesn't hurt that the scene feeds into my own personal paranoia/OCD of repeatedly checking the side-view mirror to be absolutely, positively certain that I remembered to disconnect pump from car before trying to drive off.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Things I wish I'd written (TIWIW)

I have a real fondness for the well turned phrase. Perhaps it's because I have such a hard time expressing things with words. I stutter and stumble and struggle against the long pauses that occur as I try to come up with the words to convey whatever it is that my mind silently grasps.

Whether it's a quote from a famous person, the lyric in a song, or a passage in a novel (usually by a British author, it seems), I really admire good writing. And there's a lot of it that originates right in my own "back yard", as it were. A few of the more recent gems:
"I feel like a UN translator for toddlers doing haiku narratives"

"While many admire the premise, it seems like [Woody] Allen's continuing his grim march into mediocrity"

"[She] involves her whole body in taking a poop: facial grimacing, guttural noises, legs scrunched up... If we adults did that, we'd be committed. Particularly if we did it in our pants, in public."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Window Media Player annoyances

Although my career is currently tied in quite strongly with the Microsoft universe, I consider myself neither a -phile nor a -phobe. There are some things that Microsoft does well – such as their developer tools! – and others that are downright rude. I place Windows Media Player in this latter category. There are a number of things that irritate me about this app, but today's beef is with how it [messes] up the context menu for audio files.

I have long thought that Media Player made a lousy audio player. I use iTunes almost exclusively for playing music and I use WinAmp for all other audio tasks (such as playing favorite movie clips). Nonetheless, Windows Media Player cluttered up the short cut menu for my audio files with its "Queue-It-Up", "Copy to CD or Device" and "Add to Playlist". Gah.

Now another area that MS totally missed the ball is by not providing a decent way to manage what gets added to the short cut menu of the different file types. Too busy focusing on other crap like Media Player instead of the core operating system, I guess. At any rate, I've long gotten used to manipulating the "Advanced" options of the File Types tab of the Folder Properties dialog in order to bend things to my will. For example, when I first installed WinAmp I used this technique to pare down the options to just two: "Play in WinAmp" and "Enque in WinAmp" (Notice too how WinAmp's options tell you which app is going to be involved?). So when I wanted to remove the Media Player options, that's where I headed. Only problem is that the Media Player actions don't show up in the Edit File Type dialog.

"Hah!" I thought, "I'll just search the registry for the [darn] things." No such luck; "Queue-It-Up", "Copy to CD or Device" and "Add to Playlist" don't show up anywhere in the registry. Thankfully, a Google search turned up this post at TweakXP to point me in the right direction.

The offending entries are located at:
Contrary to the advice of the post, I merely renamed the keys to "ContextMenuHandlerZ" and now, at long last, my audio context menus are Media Player free.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Giggle fest

Anyone who's met our dear daughter will know what a fantastic grin she has: wide and toothless, raising dimples in her cheeks, which in turn refashion her wide sparkling eyes into little quarter moons of joy. Often her smiles are accompanied by a coy little sidewards glance, as if she has some inborn knowledge of just how cute she really is. She willing bestows this gift upon almost anyone who meets her eyes.

This morning – as she sat nestled in my crossed legs, watching her big brother cavorting with our 5-pound Yorkshire terrier – she shared with us a new expression of joy: a full-on giggle fest. While not quite as infectious as that of her older brother, her laugh was so unrestrained and unforced, that her brother was compelled to continue his antics until he practically collapsed with exhaustion (something I was not even sure was possible!).

I feel so blessed to have shared that moment with the two of them.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wugum (?!)

This has happened at least three times during the past week. I do something for a complete stranger -- such as holding open the door behind me -- to which that person responds with a "thank you". As is dictated in such cases, I in turn reply... "wugum." Wugum? How is it that what my brain perceives as a clearly encoded directive to utter "you're welcome" comes out so garbled? Okay, repeat after me are-tick-yoo-lay-shun.

Friday, April 01, 2005


I had an April Fool's post all ready to go and was working on the graphics when the folks at thinkgeek beat me to it. Worse, I found out that a British company called Anatomicals actually markets one called Snoozers Are Losers!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Even worse than a Turkish Delight

In honor of the original holiday, we held an Ostara egg hunt for our son this afternoon. One of the treats delivered by the good bunnies was a "candy"-filled plastic Scooby-Doo egg (yeah, I know, kinda contradicts the whole Ostara angle). At any rate, the quotes are deliberate 'cause when we sampled the concoction, its flavor was rather reminiscent of...well... soap. As one, Ki and I rushed to the kitchen in search of anything to remove the vile taste from our mouths. It was an amusing moment of father-son bonding as we both clawed at our tongues and uttered "bleagh!"

Mixed in with the initial revulsion was a flashback to the trip my DW and I took to Ireland some twelve years ago. During our wanders, we found a shop that sold actual, honest to goodness "Turkish Delights". As childhood fans of the entire C. S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series, we couldn't wait to try the jellied candies that the Snow Queen had used to entice Edward to her cause. Ever had to sit in church behind a little old lady who has apparently bathed herself in gallons of rose-scented perfume? That's what Turkish Delights taste like; like some evil prankster had added a packet gelatin to a cheap bottle of drug store perfume and foisted it off on unsuspecting tourists. Apparently, some cultural boundaries aren't meant to be crossed.

Ever want to just slap someone?

This weekend, my birth-mom and her family came up to visit. It was great to see them and made me realize that we don't see them nearly as much as we should. Must work on that this year.

As part of their visit, they took us out for brunch at a local restaurant, Slates. Great food in a casually eccentric (if somewhat cramped) atmosphere. In all there were seven of us: four adults and three kids aged 12, 4 and 4 months. As we were filing in to our table, I happened to spy a fellow sitting at a nearby table. He was looking at our entourage as if he had just chomped down into a steaming pile of cow dung. Okay, I know that some folks just aren't "kid friendly", but really... we're talking about Sunday brunch in a bohemian restaurant, not dinner at the Russian Tea Room.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Just too fun!

I came across a link to South Park Studio when I was browsing for info on the next version of Windows Mobile. It lets you assemble parts to make your own South Park character. Be sure to read the instructions at the beginning for how to save your creations to disk, however. It's not exactly straight-forward.

Update Here's me, South Park'd:
Posted by Hello

Monday, March 07, 2005

No doubt about it, parenting is HARD

Two children is definitely more than twice the work of one and DW, gods bless her, has to deal with the lion's share of that work. Who am I kidding, I'm like the relief pitcher who takes over in the 9th with a 10 run lead. She does all the heavy lifting; I just bring in the cash.

Child-rearing, however, is more than just work; it's also a lot of worry. Ironically, the main source of worry these days is not our 3-month-old little amazon, but our just-about-4-year-old son. K1 is having trouble at school and most recently at swimming lessons. And I worry. Are his issues just part of normal development for him or something that warrants more concern? Would I even recognize the difference, or do a father's love & pride remove any chance of making an objective assessment? Have I pushed him too hard to grow up, or made it too easy for him not to? He's had sleep troubles for a couple of years now; do those play a role in his difficulties and if so, have I been neglectful by not pushing for finding a solution?

I'm supposed to have the answers or at least know where to find them – it's my role, it's where I fit – and yet when it comes to knowing what's right for my son, I am completely, utterly lost. I long to find a pediatrician who cares about finding the answers as much as I do. Someone I could have confidence in. Where are the Dr. Sheehans for our generation?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

I... have... HANDS!

Yes, that's right, K2 has discovered that those pink wiggly things that flit about and occasionally smack her in the face are, in fact, something over which she has a modicum of control. She is currently most fond of moving these "hands" up to her mouth where she can happily gum on the "fingers". It is a task that requires a brow-furrowing degree of concentration, and the "fingers" don't quite seem to enjoy the end results as much as she does, but it is a new skill and she is very proud of it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Call of the Child

The cries of an infant are impossible to ignore. This is not a sentimental statement – I fully believe that we are hardwired to react to the sound of infants crying. That particular waveform triggers a cascade of neurological signals culminating in the area of the brain known as "do something about it now you bleedin' tosser". All in all, this trait is an advantage to mammals everywhere... except maybe with humans.

Sure, most of the time a crying baby lets you know that you've missed or forgotten something and, after remedying said problem, the crying stops. But then there are the days when you really can't do anything for the baby – like, say, when she has a cold. Then you get to listen to the crying during her every waking hour and the wiring in your head screams... "do something about it, do something about it, why the #%@*& aren't you doing something about it!" Meanwhile, the rational... well, conscious... part of your brain is trying to calmly explain "I did everything I can for her, it's okay, stop going into overload." Which is, of course, right up there with trying to explain to the rain that now really isn't a good time and could it please come back tomorrow.

Makes you realize that three isn't such a bad age after all.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

iTunes New Music Sampler reviewed

"Blow It Out" by The Features
This one's like a cross between Weezer and The Cure. Despite the promising beginning, the song really doesn't go anywhere and the lead singer's squeaking voice quickly goes from quirky to just plain annoying.

"All At Sea" by Jamie Cullum
How this guy got a record contract is beyond me. He must be the song's writer. The tune itself isn't bad – something you might expect to hear from Michelle Branch. The down side is that this guy is about as good as I am when it comes to carrying a tune.

"Sunshine to the Rain" by Miri Ben-Ari
Yet another rap-over-sentimental-oldie tune. So unoriginal, you'll quickly hit the skip button to see what's next.

"Lonely" by Akon
What is this – the chipmunks? As a back up track for the kind of snoozy ballad that Motown is cranking out by the dozens these days. Makes you wonder how many of the R&B greats are spinning in their graves.

"Golden Touch" by Razorlight
A Beatles-esque beginning turns into a fun modern pop song. One of the best from the "album". I definitely will be adding it to my collection.

"Every Time You Go Away" by Brian McKnight
Remember those earlier comments about snoozy Motown ballads. Here's another one, 'though at least without the chipmunks track. Sample cheezy lyric: "I don't give a damn what my homies say." Puh-leeze.

"Bigtime" by The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Not a bad song, but another one that doesn't really go anywhere. It sounds so much like so many other rock bands today that I can't even come up with an appropriate archetype.

"Laura" by Scissor Sisters
It's sorta original, but once again it doesn't really go anywhere.

"She Said" by Brie Larson
Okay. Here's a song that you'd expect to hear on the soundtrack for the latest teen movie sensation. Far from original but, gods help, me I like it. Call it one of my guilty pleasures.

"Jus Anotha Shorty" by O'Ryan
O'Ryan? Should be "Oh, please". More Motown ballad crap.

"Sleeping with the Lights On" by Teitur
Teitur doesn't have Sting's voice, but this tune is very reminiscent of his more recent stuff (which is not necessarily a complement)

"Reach Out, I'll be There" by Michael McDonald
Wow. This cover may be a little too faithful to the original, but McDonald has a classic R&B voice that certainly does his predecessors proud.

"TKO" by Le Tigre
Girl punk à la Bif Naked or L7. Not the best of the genre, but still fun.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

My iSkin Arrived

The iSkin eVo2 I ordered for my iPod arrived today. I got the charcoal one with the set of five colored screen protectors. With shipping, that came to $45. Happy birthday, me!

I'm a little disappointed in the color; it's… duller… than it appears on the web site. Thankfully, I got the screen protectors to jazz things up a bit. My DW thought I should get the wasabi skin, but (as most of the members of my family will attest too) I'm not quite that daring in the color department. Also, the Wild Sides weren't yet available when I placed my order, but I did time it right to get one of the new click wheel covers.

In addition to protecting my iPod, I got the skin for it's additional "grippiness"; I was always afraid the iPod was going to slip out of my hand. As a lot of the forums indicated, the silicone does tend to pick up dust, however it comes off easily with a damp cloth and folks say that the tendency goes away with use.

The colored screen protectors make the screen a bit harder to read, so I may need to use the backlight more often than I currently do. I haven't had an issue with battery life so far; we'll have to see if this has an impact. On the plus side, the darker screen means more privacy for those times when your listening to guilty pleasures at work!

I did make one modification to the stock skin: it comes with "an integrated docking port cover to keep dust, dirt and liquids out of your iPod's docking port, preventing permanent damage." It does seal well enough that it probably would keep out liquids; however, I'm not quite that casual in my treatment of the iPod and I plug in often enough that I could tell the flap would be a major source of frustration, so… snip!

Speaking of plugging in, the extra thickness of the skin means that I can't use my iPod dock at this point. Don't know if I'll try modding it, or if I'll just stick with the cables.

Update: I ended up chucking the click wheel protector that came with the iSkin -- it was constantly interfering with the "hold" commands (backlight & off). I know they added it 'cause a lot of reviewers lamented its absence, but for me I really didn't add much other than annoyance!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

An iPod Update

I've been living with my iPod for a while now and I continue to be impressed. I frequently think "it'd be really useful if it could…" only to find out that it can. The latest of these was when I wanted to rate the songs I was listening to; lo and behold, you click the select button twice and rate the song by using the scroll wheel to select 1 to 5 stars.

Nonetheless, there are some things that Apple could do to make the iPod even better – most of which could be accomplished by an update to the iPod software.
  • The main non-software update I'd like to see would be to the case. Yes, the shiny chrome looks really cool with the iPod's white front, but it picks up fingerprints and tiny scratches like crazy. Apple should either go with a matte finish or apply some sort of clear veneer to fend off smudges. I recently ordered an iSkin, so this is soon to be less of an issue for me.
  • iTunes has an option to "Group compilations when browsing" that Apple should really carry over to the iPod. I noticed that a lot of CD's are incorrectly identified as compilations by CDDB, so you may have to edit your library for this to work correctly. As an alternative, Apple could provide a setting that lets you specify the minimum number of songs for an artist to show up in the list.
  • The scroll wheel is way to sensitive for effective input of song ratings. Trying to dial in a three requires a lot more time and attention that it should.
  • I'd really like some way to specify an MPAA-style rating for songs, particularly if iTunes had a master list and was able to assign those ratings to your songs. As a parent of young kids, I'd like to be able to screen out some of the more "colorful" songs in our collection when we're all riding together in the car.
  • Lastly, I'd like to see Apple come up with some way of allowing you to shuffle playlists – either by invoking something from the playlist itself, or by extending the "Shuffle Songs" option to allow you to select "all" or one of your playlists.
My final beef is not really for Apple, but a plea to the Mozilla community. I would really like something that could sync my contacts & calendar from Thunderbird to my iPod. Maybe if I weren't spending 2½ hours a day on the road I could take the time to learn XUL and write one myself, but for now...

Update: My Apple-hip bro-in-law pointed out that you can actually shuffle playlists by setting the "Shuffle" setting to songs and then playing the playlist; my sis then came up with an excellent replacement: being able to access a "more from this artist/album" option when playing back songs -- particularly during shuffle mode! I've also sent these suggestions to Apple via their feedback page.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Why? Do I look tired?

The other day, after another long ride home from the office, DS asked me:
"Daddy, why do you have red cracks in your eyes?"

Try explaining that to an almost-four-year-old!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Love love love my iPod

It all started three months ago, when my favorite brother in law brought his iPod with him to my parents' house. At that point, I had read many reviews of the various MP3 players out there and thought it would be neat to be able to tote our entire CD collection around with me, but I couldn't quite justify the cost. When I was finally confronted with how small the 40GB iPod really is and with how cool the click wheel is in practice, however... the true lusting began. I told everyone that what I really wanted for Christmas was cash towards purchasing one of my own. Add to that a very generous birthday advance from my parents, and I was finally able to lay out the necessary $400. I did have a moment of hesitation over the price tag (am I really going to spend $400 on a music player?) but my technopile id won out and soon the little white & chrome gadget was mine.

I've had my iPod for about two weeks now and I can definitely say that it is the best extravagance I have ever fallen for. Thanks to the Monster iCarPlay adapter my sis and her hubby got me for Christmas, I can enjoy my purchase during my 1¼ hour commutes to & from work. Once I get to work, I put on my headphones and can listen to music all day on a single charge. Several small scratches have started to appear on my iPod, so I'm thinking about getting a case for it, probably an iSkin evo², 'though I can't quite decide on the color.

The iPod has a very bright backlight, so I could still select albums during my (dark) commute home. Instead, I have been putting the iPod in Shuffle mode, where it randomly selects from the 1800+ songs currently loaded on it. Some interesting observations:
  • I'm much better at identifying the artist than the song title – largely a symptom of having traditionally listened to entire albums rather than individual songs.
  • You can actually listen to Billy Joel followed by Kittie followed by Garth Brooks followed by Bif Naked without having your brain explode.
  • Songs stand out much more when they're not played in the context of an album. It seems fairly evenly split between whether this is a good thing vs. pointing out that the song was really just cr@p filler.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

[www] Les Chronicles du Shrek

Three of the more recent videos we've rented:

Le Pacte du Silence - Yes, this one's in French. And I suppose it might be intended as a suspense-thriller, but I didn't find it very much of either. Just an overwhelming feeling of ambivalence. If you're a Depardieu fan or want to exercise your comprehension Français... no, on second thought, you're still better off renting Jean de Florette and forgetting this one even exists.

Chronicles of Riddick - Okay, I really wasn't expecting much from this one and yet, still I was disappointed. There was the foundation for a classic sci-fi movie and yet it seemed to stumble at every turn. Don't get me started on the fact that this sequel contains another fire & ice planet with a breathable atmosphere. I've long enjoyed seeing Karl Urban extend his career, but the flat character of Vaako can't have helped him much. And Judi Dench? She apparently needed the paycheck. The "King Conan" ending screams that we haven't seen the last Riddick movie but, much like the second installment of Highlander, I'm not sure anything could rescue this franchise.

Shrek 2 - Funny movie, but Dreamworks is no Pixar. My first beef with Shrek is that it has no style, no soul. The animation is technically impressive, but it tries too hard to look "realistic"; the result is that you are continuously jarred by the bits that they don't quite get right -- particularly the facial expressions and lip movements. It's animation, stupid! The second failure of this movie was its plot, or rather lack thereof. Shrek 2 is really just a string of jokes loosely glued together; rather than injecting humor into the story, the writers injected story into the humor. And, as my dear bro-in-law* noted, the humor is very culturally centered; many of the jokes will be lost even just a few decades from now. My final beef is with the scene where pinocchio is revealed to be wearing women's underwear, a thong, in fact. This was simply not appropriate for the target audience, particularly given the duration and prominance that the joke was given.

* who can turn a phrase much more adeptly than I

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?

Given some of the heavyweights who responded to this question, I am (for once) not going to add my own 2 ¢. There are, however, a lot of interesting contributions to mull over. Some of those that stood out for me were:
  • Oliver Morton's statement "as far as knowledge goes I'm a consumer, and sometimes a distributor, not a producer" rings very true for me.
  • Paul Steinhardt comments about some physicists embracing artifacts of the mathematical models they use to descibe the universe as "fact".
  • Fellow atheist Tor Nørretrander's statements about the importance of having faith (and his use of the word ineradicable!)
  • Charles Simonyi's discussion on the "complexity inflation" prevelant in software development (a topic close to my heart).
  • Margaret Wertheim's statement "that there will always be things we do not know".
  • Esther Dyson on modern life: "It used to be that machines automated work, giving us more time to do other things. But now machines automate the production of attention-consuming information, which takes our time."
  • Lee Smolin's comments on quantum theory (another topic close to my heart).
  • Kai Krause's assertion that "It is about the anticipation of the moment and the memory of the moment, but not the moment."
  • The number of conjectures about the nature of consciousness including Daniel Dennet's belief that acquiring language is a "necessary precondition for consciousness".