Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Using Ill Named Challenges to Force Myself To Write

I find it physically painful to say certain words, NaBloPoMo is one of these words. It's awkward and uncomfortable, I'm a little embarrassed for whomever made it up. I'm self conscious typing it.

Posting once a day seems like a recipe for boring posts so I've prepared for this month by cheating a little bit by keeping a list of possible topics to post on (way to get into the spirit Brianna!). A few things to look forward to:

1. The Mountain Goats who I am currently obsessed with (I'm about 3 years behind on the hip music.)
2. My awesome Halloween costume
3. Video games meet museums
4. My obsession with the JCrew online sale

Here's to quantity over quality.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

If you've ever wondered why bad pop songs get stuck in your head when you look at me here's the answer you've been waiting for.

That's right folks Clay Aiken AND the ugly dude from 'N Sync -- along with 2 people I've never heard of (probably this Nicolae guy is some super famouse old movie star that you're sure I would just LOVE if only I could learn to enjoy black and white movies) and three fairly hot actresses. Strangely the first time I tried this I used a much uglier picture of myself and got Grace Kelly (Who was somehow able to overcome the scourge of black and white film and make it into my pop culture consciousness). I don't think I look like any of these people and I would just call the software bunk but a coworker did it and she looks shockingly similar to three of her celebrity matches so I think I have to conclude that a face like mine rarely becomes famous.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Rocking My Computer

I may be a bit biased as someone who was recently in charge of a web 2.0 development effort but I am simply amazed that they can do all this fancy shit just using tubes!

My latest internet boyfriend is Pandora Radio (don’t worry del.icio.us we can still sleep together). Lately my interaction with the 2300 songs on my ipod has been the music equivalent of “I have nothing to wear!” Back when I was cool and went to lots of concerts I was always flush with new music but with the exception of picking up new releases by artists I already like my ears haven’t heard anything new in ages and they are very angry. Usually when this happens I fire up internet radio (I always liked indie pop rocks) at work and try to remember to jot down the names of songs I like. This week Time magazine (I believe I already established how uncool I am but if not… here ya go) recommended that I try out Pandora.

Here’s how it works:

You add artists that you like and it plays songs by those artists and other artists that the software has determined are similar (recommendations are determined via The Music Genome Project (speaking of neural networks) and are surprisingly accurate). As songs are playing you can vote for or against them further refining your recommendations (ala amazon or netflix). If you click on a song you can bookmark the song or the artist so you have an easily accessible list of songs that you like (the list links directly to the itunes store). Pandora also has an extensive music library (backstage) that allows you to easily research a song, artist or album. Another handy feature is the “on tour” link that takes you directly to a list of tour dates (I’ll be seeing Ben Folds on November 17th – Pandora may even bring back my cool.). In addition to being a great idea Pandora is expertly executed, everything I want to do is amazingly easy and the results always satisfying. The application is pretty without being fancy and the UI is intuitive.

My bookmarked songs from this week:

Amtrak is for Lovers
by Houston Calls

Now Come Home
by Bill Bryant

When U Love Somebody by Fruit Bats

One Green Hill by Oysterband

Me Just Purely by Brendan Benson

And much like del.icio.us if you join you can be my buddy and listen to my radio station. Just what you need, more ways to connect with me.

Final Thought: I am so impressed that this morning in the shower I became paranoid that Pandora must be illegal and will soon be taken away from me ala napster.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I am sorry for being a snob.

I have often said, "I hate Racheal Ray." She doesn't cook healthy food. She doesn't cook interesting food. Sometimes using the verb "to cook" in regards to what she does seems like a stretch. I have an aversion to pre chopped and packaged vegetables (how lazy! how wasteful! poor quality!). I find her giggling annoying. I think the idea that you can do what she does in 30mins is a sham. I think the main reason we have not discovered a cure for cancer is directly related to the phrase "EVOO -- Extra Virgin Olive Oil" (If you're going to tell us what the acronym means EVERY TIME YOU SAY IT you are not saving any time.).

This NYTimes article puts me in my place.

Racheal gets Americans to cook the same way Oprah gets Americans to read. The world is a better place even if no one is making 4 star meals or reading Joyce.

And if she gets men to notice that regular female bodies are sexy as hell then she's a goddess.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The songs that make the whole world sing

I just read this article in The New Yorker about how neural networks are being user to analyze music and movies to predict whether or not they are commercially viable. Most of the article is about analyzing movie scripts to predict box office numbers but there's a bit at the beginning about a company that uses mathematical equations to analyze the hit potential of a song. Since music really can be broke down to waves which can be broken down to math (the company makes no effort to evaluate lyrics) this seems more doable than analyzing movies. And, to a former mathlete, this is pretty intriguing stuff.

The article barely touches on the potential controversy of trying to pin down art with science but I can't imagine that many people wouldn't find the idea that a "good" song could be constructed in such a callused manner fairly upsetting. Music is supposed to be about self expression and it may seem that the soul of a song is somehow lost if someone tweaks with the bass and the rhythm in an effort to hit the popularity sweet spot. My initial reaction to the idea of constructed music was to distance myself, thinking, "sure, they can do that with music for the masses but not to me! I have taste! I don't listen to the slop that's popular!" I even felt that if I did like one of these songs I was somehow being made into a fool.

It's fairly accepted that the human idea of what is physically attractive in a sexual partner is heavily influenced by our biology. We all subconsciously look for partners with good genes who will help us to successfully carry on our own genetic lines. We look for a partner with symmetrical features and no clear signs of disability. This does not diminish the idea of love. Knowing that some of my attraction to another person is animalistic does not make my feelings less real. It seems that the same logic would indicate that we find certain sounds pleasing because our ears have been programmed to seek them out. If my ears are waiting to hear a certain collection of notes I don't think it matters if that collection is created purposefully or by accident.

The more I think about this the more I really wish I had access to this software so I could run my cd collection through it. The variables that make up a song (ratio of high to low notes, pitch, etc) all boil down to a point on a graph, when you overlay the graphs for other well known songs you see that popular songs fall into one of a few "hit clusters." I'm dying to know what hit cluster my personal soundtrack falls into. Think of how a personal music analysis could revolutionize online dating for geeks like me? If they could create book, TV and video game versions and superimpose those graphs I would never need to read another long winded autobiography (more importantly I'd never have to write one). The only things techno hipsters care about anymore (besides uhhh symmetry) is pop culture, if we could create visually pleasing easy to read pop culture calling cards we could all stop wading through the sludge on myspace. That would be one the greatest scientific accomplishments ever.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

This is what asking for a favor gets you

A friend of mine needs this picture for some reason but he works for a governmental organization and thus has very limited access to the internets. So he asked me to upload it for him... let's speculate on what he might be thinking in this picture.

1. "Dude I have awesome biceps, look at those babies flex... mmmmm."
2. "Must... resist.... punching self.... in face..."
3. "The ladies at the preschool are going to think i'm so hot -- nothing gets young girls juices flowing like the groom look."
4. "A wedding ring?!!??! fuck! how did this happen?!?!"

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wishing and Hoping

Children are given lots of opportunities to wish for things: Birthday candles, first stars, hay trucks (possibly this one only exists in the country but we used to make a wish if a hay truck passed our car while driving). I don’t think that I was an extremely morbid child but at birthdays, dusk, or on the highway I only made one wish: “Please don’t let anyone I love die.” Wishing seemed like big business as a kid and I was very afraid of screwing it up. Wishes didn’t seem to come true very often and I was sure that this had something to do with the wishers not properly adhering to the rules.

I took time to construct my wishes before making them, I figured I had to be careful not to accidentally make more than one wish or give the powers that be (TPTB) a chance to scam me. Obviously influenced by cartoons in which the protagonist was tricked by an overly literal genie I felt an obligation to make my wishes very clear. I worried that the “anyone I love” qualifier was not precise enough and, if I had time, handed over a specific list of people with the wish. I was also afraid of wishing for something overly selfish in case there was some trade being made that I was not fully aware of. I could never let go of how awful I’d feel if TPTB brought me a bright shiny new bike and took away my mom.

Today I don’t make as many wishes. Occasionally I do look up at the darkening sky and spotting the first twinkle get wistful for wishing, but the right request is harder to come by. People will die and while I often consider asking for long happy lives all around I’ve become a bit more able to accept that everyone’s time will ultimately be too short and that asking to change that is probably futile. Lately I’ve been feeling sad and am tempted to wish for the most
immediately obvious solutions but I don’t feel like I can trust my own judgment. I find myself wishing for vague concepts “help me find the right path to happiness,” “show me what the answers are.” On top of sounding like the target market for Dr. Phil I know I’m just asking for the genie to hand over a map of the most direct route to the store or a list of the correct replies to tomorrow night’s Jeopardy questions.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


So I know I’m a bit late to jump on this train. But I just started using del.icio.us yesterday and I am in love. I think this may completely change my web browsing experience. For those of you who have no del.icio.us experience here’s how it works:

  1. download pulgin for your web browser at http://del.icio.us/ . This will put two little buttons in your tool bar the “Delicious Home” button and the “Tag It” button.
  2. A friend sends you a link to something that is probably cool that you do not have time to read now but which you also don’t know well enough to bookmark (committing to bookmark status is a big step!). You hit the “tag it” button and type keywords into the resulting popup (some of my more popular tags: craft, game, recipe).
  3. Later when you have time to read that link you hit on your delicious home button and find the appropriate keyword and voila!

This is probably the most common usage but it doesn’t really convey how incredible the tool is.

I often (though not as often as I need to) come up with Christmas ideas for dad sometime in April but by the time December rolls around I’m at a loss. Bring of the “dadgift” tag.

People (and by people I mean Joe) send me fun web games that I can’t play at work (“game” “web”).

Recipe ideas flitter across my screen never to return when I’m hungry (“recipe” “”)

The travel bug grips me when work starts to seem unbearable but just as I’ve found the perfect villa in puerto rico my meeting reminder goes off (“escape” “puertorico”)

If you join you can be in my network. You know you want to.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Andy Rooney is either awesome or crazy -- discuss.

Evil evil football messed with TV schedules Sunday night and my attempts to record The Amazing Race (love the Win boys, hate the LA couple -- when will people learn that going on a reality TV show is NOT a good way to "test [your] relationship?) resulted in 50% 60 Minutes 50% TAR. Desperate for some TV time Amy and I watched the 30 minutes of 60 minutes which mostly focused on crazy teenagers killing Bums. It was horribly disturbing and I have no desire to write about it. But then... Andy Rooney on food:

Someone is always warning us not to eat something. We're warned about fast food all the time. Farm raised salmon is a threat because it may contain mercury. You could become a thermometer. Beef was suspect a few years ago because of the mad cow disease.

Recently it's been spinach. Consumers should not eat bagged fresh spinach at this time, we were warned.

For years mothers have been telling their kids to eat their spinach. Now, all of a sudden, they're telling them not to eat their spinach. No one is supposed to eat it because it may contain the E.coli bacteria. Supermarkets threw out bags of it.

Imagine being a simple, hard-working farmer who made a living growing spinach and then waking up one day to find that your fields with a couple of acres of spinach, representing your only income, are worthless?

I read where 17,000 farmers in India committed suicide a few years ago because their crops failed. 17,000 farmers! You can imagine a lot of spinach farmers doing that here, now.

I never liked spinach much. I like it okay raw in salad and, of course, they warn you that raw spinach is the worst kind.

There are only a couple of things I won't eat. I don't care much for Brussels sprouts, liver or custard desserts. I don't like anything that shakes - you know, gelatin or Jell-O. I hated carrots when I was a kid. I've gotten over hating them. Now I eat them but I don't like them much and I doubt very much if they're any better for you than a Hershey Bar.

I like steak, lamb and pork chops but you couldn't make me eat rabbit or horse. When I was in France during World War II, horses would often be killed in the fields by artillery fire and the French farmers would wait until the shooting stopped and then rush out to carve up the dead horses for dinner.

I don't know why anyone who eats beef finds the idea of eating a horse so repulsive but I'm one of them. Horses seem so friendly and I don't like to be reminded of the animal I'm eating. I often pass a farm with cows grazing in the field and I think to myself how terrible it is that human beings grow other animals just to kill them and eat them.

Most of us think of vegetarians as nuts and I'm not a vegetarian but I wouldn't be surprised if we came to a time in 50 or 100 years when civilized people everywhere refused to eat animals. I could be one of them.

Of course, I'd be pretty old by then.

You heard it here first:

1. Eating salmon will turn you into a thermometer
2. carrots and Hershey bars have the SAME nutritional content
3. Vegetarians are nuts.