Scott on Life

Ramblings and Other Blathering Ons

July 2005 - Posts

Words of Wisdom from My Wife

My wife got an iPod Mini a couple months ago and, while she uses it every day and really likes it's user interface, she's found more than a few things that annoy her.  From IM:

Seriously, iPods are cool, but they're retarded. You can't change the battery, the file system is proprietary, you have to use iTunes to view your iPod files, and then iTunes has its own bugs. The only reason why people buy it is because it looks sexy.

If nothing else this is a rather insightful analogy to the motivations for pubescent males - sex appeal trumps rationality!

I have a Creative MuVo as my MP3 player - I think it's this one - which was a free gift from the Microsoft MVP Program.  It's a Flash drive, so it only has 128 MB (versus the 4 GB found in an iPod Mini), but it is a cinch to drag and drop files from the desktop onto/from the device.  I do have iTunes installed on my machine, though, but pretty much just for downloading Podcasts.

(Non-Technical) Blogs I Like

I use RssBandit to grok about 50 or so blogs, most technical, but a number of non-technical sites that I find fun or interesting.  I thought I'd share a few of the non-technical blogs I enjoy here.  If you have any non-technical daily blog stops that you enjoy, feel free to mention them in the comments.

  • Waiter Rant - ever wonder what it's like to be a waiter, or the daily grind of waiterdom?  This blog is an interesting look inside one of the nation's most common jobs.
  • The Sneeze - some guy named Steve's ramblings about life, food, and family.  He's a pretty entertaining writer, especially his section titled Steve, Don't Eat It!, in which he takes requests from visitors and eats rather gross foods and comically writes about the experience.  I particularly enjoyed his bit on Cuitlacoche.  (Sadly he has not dined on any of the Asian treats my wife enjoys, but I find about as tasty as ass: squid cookies and shrimp crackers come to mind...)
  • Cartoons - get your daily dose of Dilbert and ExplodingDog and Spamusement.
  • The Long Tail - Chris Anderson, author of a very interesting piece on Wired titled The Long Tail, keeps this blog as he pens a book on the same topic.  The Long Tail talks about how while 'hits' greatly outsell non-hits, the sum of sales of non-hits in this digital, personalized age outsells the sum of hits.  That is, over on iTunes or Amazon.com, the most popular songs or books do far outsell the more obscure titles, but people are buying more obscure titles in total than they are the popular ones.  A very interesting look at niche markets and how online storefronts with peer recommendations can help interested consumers pick up obscure items that they find of interest.
  • Sports - I really enjoy Bill Simmons's articles, especially those on the NBA. Bill has a great way of tapping into the true essence of the sports fan, which involves a healthy mix of sports trivia, passion, and pop culture references and comparisons (i.e., writing 300 words comparing Robert Horry to Nate Dogg). I also enjoy Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban's blog, which gives an inner look at the thought processes of the NBA's most eccentric billionaire. And of course (shameless plug), I enjoy reading the blogs at NBAWebLog.com, which includes my own. (Yes, I read my own blog entries after writing them. I am that pathetic.)
  • Random Stuff - I find the (typically) depressing postcards over at PostSecret to be oddly addictive. I also recently found a nice little 'leagl advice/commentary' blog hosted by a local San Diegan titled a very boring, lawyer-like Legal Tips & Commentary. Being a wanna-be piano player - my education in the art stopped in fifth grade, but I still play for fun, although my wife might not call the noises I produce 'playing' - I also enjoy In The Hands, a blog by a gifted piano player who puts out a number of free recordings on his blog along with great commentary. Sadly it's been a couple months since his last post, but I'm hoping he'll pick back up soon.

Well, there's the short list of my favorite, non-technical blogs. Care to share any of your own?

Posted: Jul 21 2005, 01:36 PM by Scott Mitchell
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Playing Around with Google Video

Google Video provides an easy way to search for text in a wide variety of videos.  Sadly, until recently, none of these videos could be watched.  For the first time today, however, I found that when searching Google Video you can opt to view only videos that are 'playable videos.'  When watching a playable video you can start at a particular 'Highlight' point (which appears to be various 30 second intervals, like from the beginning, from 30 seconds in, from 1 minute in, and so on).  The video is streamed directly into the browser requiring a plugin that you must download.  What I found annoying, however, is that both in FireFox and Internet Explorer, if I was watching a movie and also doing a lot of 'Internet trafficking' - downloading a large file, sending an email with a large attachment, downloading podcasts through iTunes, etc. - the video would just stop.  There'd be no indication of whether it was buffering or just waiting out the packed connection to the 'Net.  Additionally, even when the extra traffic died down, the video did not continue along playing.  It's as if it got too flustered and stopped altogether.

The premise of Google Video is neat, and I imagine that the goal here is to expand Google Video to allow content providers to utilize Google's services to sell pay-per-view access, with Google taking a small percentage off the top of each transaction.  At this point in time I don't think there's any pay-per-view functionality built-in to Google Video, but I'd be surprised if we didn't see something akin to that in the near future.  But you don't need to be a big shot content provider to get your video added to Google Video - currently anyone can upload their videos to Google, enabling them to be viewed by the world.  This, of course, can be a good and bad thing, as your average videographer is probably about as talented at filming as I am at giving birth.

While I haven't spent too much time purusing Google Video, I have, in the short time, found a couple of cool videos that I have watched in part or plan to watch at a later date, one such one being free throw instructions by Rick Barry.  Rick Barry was the second best free throw shooter in the history of the NBA, along with being a pretty talented player in most other respects, too.  What makes Rick particularly interesting is that his free throw shooting style is absolutely unique - he shoots his shots from the charity stripe underhanded, and he wonders why others don't do the same today.  (Rick, here's why: they don't want to look silly.  Yes, appearance is more important than winning.  See White Men Can't Jump for a more eloquent expression of this sentiment.)

Podcasts

My wife works about two miles from home and walks to and from most every day.  On the trek she usually listens to her iPod Mini, but quickly has grown tired of the same ol' music selection.  She'd ideally like to listen to KPBS, the public radio station serving San Diego, but our walkman gets pretty poor reception from KPBS, especially the closer we are to the oceanfront.

Fortunately this podcasting craze has really taken off, thanks in large part to Apple integrating podcasting directly in the latest version of iTunes.  Previously you needed to download additional programs like iPodder or, if you were a geek like me, you needed to write a small script using wget.exe and schedule it to run once a night to download the latest and greatest podcasts.

I tend to stick only to radio station quality podcasts.  I've not found any “independent“ podcasts yet that have piqued my interest.  Let's face it: being on air and being entertaining and interesting is not a trivial job.

Unfortunately only a handful of public radio programs are podcasted, most usually the local ones.  I've found, though, that bumming around various public radio websites you can amass a nice collection of non-local news programs on podcasts.  Here are a few that my wife and I subscribe to:

  • KPBS Podcasts - there are currently just three shows, two of them local.  The non-local one is A Way With Words, which is an entertaining examination of the English language.  These Days is usually pretty good, but typically is focused on events, people, etc. happening in San Diego.
  • KQED Podcasts - there's only two podcasts here, KQED Forum and KQED Perspectives.  I've listened to a Perspectives piece that was talking with Nobel Prize Laureates in the San Francisco area, pretty interesting, looking forward to more good stuff.
  • In Our Time - I've yet to have a chance to listen to this BBC Radio programme (look, English spelling!), but it sounds very interesting: “The big ideas which form the intellectual agenda of our age are illuminated by some of the best minds. Melvyn Bragg and three guests investigate the history of ideas and debate their application in modern life.“
  • The Dave Ramsey Show - my financial talk show of choice.  Only one hour is podcasted and the commercials are left in, but that's why there's the fast forward button, I guess.  I wish my other favorite talk show host - Dr. Lauara - would podcast, but she's too busy selling access to her program over the Internet through her StreamLink program.

What I'm really hoping for is to find a podcast for This American Life.  That show rocks.  I know you can buy episodes from Audible.com, but I'd like to be able to just subscribe to a podcast.

What I'm Reading...

I am currently in the midst of reading Douglas Hofstadter's tome, Godel, Escher, and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.  I'm currently about 1/3 of the way through the book's 777 pages.  I've really enjoyed the book so far, but part of me thinks that the book - at least the first quarter - is something that those without a background in computer science or mathematics would find hard to digest.  It's not that the topic matter is terribly complex, it's just that Hofstadter kind of blows through the mathematic fundamentals of formal logic with the assumption that the reader has at least a cursory background in this area.  If you've not learned about formal logic systems in past college classes I'd wager you'd find the first quarter of the book to take quite a while to work through and would, no doubt, test your resolve as to whether or not to even finish the book.

After the first quarter, though, the book lightens up a bit and explores topics that enlist a sense of wonder - how can a complex system be built up from simple automatons following some inherent algorithm?  Extending this view, how can conscious thought be the byproduct of nothing but simple neurons that do nothing but fire ions when certain conditions are met?  These topics are much more fun to think about, and make this portion of the book a more enjoyable read.  (I also really enjoyed the chapters discussing Zen Buddhism.)

I'm also reading a short biography about Bach, coincidentally, as I started the Bach biography a week before GEB arrived.  On nights where I feel like a lighter read, I've also been glancing through a book aimed at basketball coaches, providing suggested workouts and drills.  I also enjoy financial advice books, the latest one I've been working through, and which I've almost finished, is Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Revisited.  I was turned onto Ramsey through the podcast of his radio show, which I listen to while at the gym and walking the dog.

As you can probably guess, I don't read much non-fiction, although I did read through both The Life of Pi and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time earlier this year.  I also have read many of Chuck Palahniuk's novels and enjoyed them thoroughly.

So... what are you reading?  Also, do you find yourself reading many books at once, or do you focus on a single book and plow through that before starting another?  I usually find myself reading multiple books, but only one book in each genre at a time.

Posted: Jul 02 2005, 02:31 PM by Scott Mitchell
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