Thursday, October 25, 2007

how to think REALLY big

I know I'm going to have to watch this animation about Imagining the Tenth Dimension again to fully comprehend it, but I'm posting the link here to share with my scientifically minded readers.

When I need to zoom up out of the weeds, this animation will be a most useful tool to think big.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

shirky nails it: arrogance and humility

Belatedly found a nugget by Clay Shirky about Arrogance and Humility in design. It's a quick read, but here's the punch line anyway:  

Arrogance without humility is a recipe for high-concept irrelevance; humility without arrogance guarantees unending mediocrity. Figuring out how to be arrogant and humble at once, figuring out when to watch users and when to ignore them for this particular problem, for these users, today, is the problem of the designer.

Here's to the designers who can solve the problem!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

my haloween costume idea courtesy CIA

Just in time, the CIA (yes, that one) publishes their new "Terrorist Buster" logo for all to see:

I knew if I waited long enough, inspiration would hit! Now if I can just find an International NO symbol big enough...

How much time actually went into creating this thing? I mean, sure, the fade/shadow is retro mid-1997, but did they have to try to emboss the thing? What's with those lines? If it weren't actually hosted on the CIA site, I'd really doubt its authenticity.

how many near-misses do we each get?

Today's Home Fires post on the NYTimes blog is inspiring both in style and substance. 

Lee Kelley employs a great storytelling technique to convey his message that Mortality Strikes all of us, likely when we're least expecting it. After a great setup, he drives home the lessons to be learned in his concluding paragraphs:

But believe it or not, I'm glad the accident happened. I must have needed the lesson because already, after a short 16 months of being home from Iraq, I had begun to take life for granted again even though that is the one thing I swore to myself I'd never do. I feel that I have truly moved on from the war, from divorce, and definitely from my life before the war in a healthy and positive way. I have embraced circumstance and now try to mold it into a respectable fate. I have been forced to reinvent myself as a single parent and I did it happily.

It's amazing how much we all try to get done in a given week, month or life. We're some busy creatures. And yet sometimes, even when we least expect it, mortality strikes our consciences like lightning electrocuting the endless Middle Eastern sky.

In this instance it was a boulder that brought the lesson to me. Two years ago mortars, rockets, and any number of other possible deaths were keeping me honest on a daily basis. I'm hoping that if I keep watching, and keep learning, someday I won't need these blatant wake-up calls. 

I appreciate Kelley's post as a reminder to keep me honest. No more blatant wake-up calls for me, thanks, I think I've already gone through my share.

Monday, October 22, 2007

mossberg says "free my phone"

Great to see Walt Mossberg weigh in on the wireless carrier ecosystem in his Free My Phone opinion piece today on (subscription still required, but is free today 10/22/07). And by "weigh in" I mean "skewer the carrier-run market." Required reading for anyone frustrated by their wireless carrier or equipment as a possible road map out of this hell we're in.

This hits a nerve for me, as I spent the weekend suffering through a nasty situation on my own Blackberry 8830 from Verizon Wireless thanks to a confluence of two "bugs": 1) VZW has crippled the 8830's built-in GPS (known issue) making the OEM mapping tool less than helpful and 2) Google Maps doesn't launch on my phone no matter how many ways I try to install it (anyone else with the same problem?). So, while I could get maps of choice and traffic data on demand on my Treo650 with no problems, I can't bring up useful maps on my 8830 (it thinks every address south of Redwood City is in San Jose) and there's no traffic data available, period.

If I knew I could enable the GPS on my 8830, I wouldn't be as displeased. I'd rather go all the way to be able to use Gmaps with my 8830's GPS, but I'll settle for baby steps at this point.

Perhaps there's hope for a resolution to this consumer-unfriendly situation, as Mossberg closes with the following observation:
Up until the 1970s, when the federal government intervened, you weren't allowed to buy your own landline phone, and companies weren't able to innovate, on price or features, in making and selling phones to the public. All Americans were forced to rent clumsy phones made by a subsidiary of the monopoly phone company, AT&T, which claimed that, unless it controlled what was connected to its network, the network might suffer.

Well, the government pried that market open, and the wired phone network not only didn't collapse, it became more useful and versatile, allowing, among other things, cheap connections to online data services.

I suspect that if the government, or some disruptive innovation, breaks the crippling power that the wireless carriers exert today, the free market will deliver a similar happy ending.
See his vlog about the topic here:

information r/evolution video from KSU

Those folks at the Media Cultures project at Kansas State University are at it again.

This video from Michael Wesch helps illustrate and explain how information is/could be/should be managed on the internet. Wish this video had been around to show folks when we were having our big "how to create a tagging system" debate in our online community.

You'll see the work of both Clay Shirky and David Weinberger highlighted in the video. Their work is required reading, but first, take a look at the video:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

clean solar panels means more clean power

As I've previously posted on Earth Day, we have a bank of twenty solar panels on the top of our home that has done wonders in reducing our electricity bill from $200 a month to less than $200 a year.

This past summer was a nice and sunny one (though mercifully not as hot as the summer of 2006), and we'd thought for sure we'd reap the benefits of our solar panels in banking a bunch of credits from producing more electricity than we used.

We were wrong.

While we did see a reduction in our electricity bills (July came in at a whopping $4), we didn't see the kinds of credits we'd expected. This flummoxed us to no end. We hadn't brought any big power suckers online since last summer (Plasma HDTV notwithstanding) yet our monthly bill showed we were drawing down more power than we were generating. Why?

Well, thanks to the innocent comment made by a fellow parent watching my daughter's soccer team, I think we know why. Our panels are filthy with dust and dirt!

We've never actually cleaned them (which means: rinsing with a hose) so all the dust and dirt and muck that's been kicked up and coated our cars in the last 15 months is just sitting there diminishing the generating power of our solar panels. How could I have not realized that as a cause for our rising energy bills?

You can bet I'll be cleaning the panels tomorrow, and I fully anticipate we'll see the impact on our bill this next billing cycle.

Keep 'em clean!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

my next physical challenge

While I have yet to post the tale that accompanies my Mt Whitney climbing video, I have been able to pick out my next physical challenge: a sprint-distance triathlon.

I found having a BIG GOAL (climbing Mt Whitney) was just the motivation I needed to modify my workout and eating habits. In the 75 days between saying, "yes I'll climb" and actually making it to the summit, I shed a total of 18 pounds from my 6'2" frame (from 218 down to 200). Even now, three weeks later, I've kept the weight off, and I'm in the best shape I've been since my first daughter was born five years ago.

Yet, since coming back from climbing Mt Whitney, I've found my motivation lagging to keep exercising regularly even while I've still kept to a healthy diet and eating schedule.

So, I've set my sights on finishing (with a smile!) the ICE Breaker Triathlon in Granite Bay, CA on April 13, 2008. It's a .5 mile swim – 13 mile bike – 4 mile run race. And while the bike and the run segments don't bother me too much, the swim is of greatest concern because my swimming skills consist of barely managing not to sink in the water. Lots of room to improve there.

I've also set my sights on launching a triathlon-specific blog to share my journey toward completing my first tri, including all advice analysis, training travails and gear getting along my way.

I'll post here on HVYTK the link once the new blog is launched. Wish me luck!

UPDATE: the link to my new triathlon-focused blog is so I'll keep the tri-related posts to a minimum here on HVYTK.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

pint, please (better be Guinness)

On lunch break, I discovered a great blog post over on Head Rambles with advice on how to survive your first Guinness (real Guinness, as in, ordering while in Ireland).

In retrospect, a lot of the same how-to advice applies to ordering a Guinness in the dart bars here around the Bay Area. While the taste doesn't compare, or so I've been told, you've been warned how to act.

teddy roosevelt says, "just do it"

In TechCrunch's post about Yossi Vardi, I found a surprising source of words of encouragement to just do it.

The encouragement came in a 1910 speech Theodore Roosevelt made in Paris:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Even at a century old, the observations ring loudly. I wonder if I'd hold them in such high regard if they'd been uttered just a decade ago?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

more good music from iceland

Listening to my iPod on shuffle yesterday, I happened to hit on Emiliana Torrini's song "Sunny Road" (from her album, Fisherman's Woman) and was reminded, again, just how much Icelandic music I enjoy.

I've been a longtime fan of the The Sugar Cubes and all-things Bjork. Then I stumbled on the so-eerie-it's-cool sounds of Sigur Ros. And now, a little poppier with Emiliana Torrini's music.

I wonder what it is about that small island nation that cranks out so many good musicians?

Wonder what she sounds like? take a listen to Emiliana via this YouTube video for "Sunny Road":

Thursday, October 11, 2007

my new music drought is over

I downloaded my first free album just now, Radiohead's In Rainbows, and I'm listening to it as I type this post.

I've been a Radiohead fan since Pablo Honey dropped in 1993 and I've dutifully purchased every other album since, even defending my purchase of OK Computer to friends who thought the band had gone off the deep end.

So, getting In Rainbows, an entire album from one of my all-time favorite artists, for the price I chose to pay ($0.00) marks a seminal moment in my life. Yes, I could have paid the typical $9.99 for the album, as I've been conditioned to do so by my iTunes (and, now, Amazon) experience. Somehow, I didn't feel compelled to do so, as Radiohead's given me the chance to name my price, and my price at this time, in this format, is "free." When the physical CD is released later this year, I fully intend to purchase it then. But I won't pay for the music twice. Nor will I wait. Maybe I'm just hoping other bands follow suit and give folks a chance to sample the entire album, guilt-free, before spending money to buy the damn thing.

This is a big deal for me, as I've always eschewed the music stealing sites like Napster and Kazaa, and have only ever downloaded music I'd actually paid for or was authorized to download for free by the artist/distributer (at iTunes or direct from an artists' site). I appreciate the 30-second samples available at the music sites, but there's nothing compares to listening to an album straight through to know if you're dealing with a single solid tune, or an album of hidden gems that'll never make it to the charts, but you'll know by heart within the week.

Listening to music has always been a big part of my life, and I think a lot of this comes from having grown up in a small town (Los Alamos, NM. population: 15,000) where listening to the same album over and over and over provided some sense of escape from the day-to-day monotony that is the small-town way.

The radio was a gateway to another world, and I remember my first personal turntable: not the "good stereo" that was in the living room, but a turntable of my own to keep in my room to play whatever I wanted to play on it. I bought my 45s and LPs at the local record shop which meant my collection was limited to whatever was on the charts in the early 1980s.

My tastes, thankfully, swung from Heavy Metal (the official state genre in the 1980s) to New Wave/Punk around ninth grade thanks to a crush I had. When I discovered my crush's taste in music, my collection grew from Pink Floyd and the Scorpions and Def Leppard to include Depeche Mode and The Smiths and Black Flag as I got to know her better.

These were the years of the first Sony Walkman personal cassette players, and I'd go through cases of double-A batteries powering my trips through my own worlds of tones and lyrics and beats and moods created by artists who seemed to somehow know exactly what I was going through as a teen growing up in a small town. I was a member of Columbia House for years, spending my allowance on cassette tapes that each had the tell-tale double-pink stripe on the spine to indicate it was a Columbia House product. I still have most of the cassettes in a box downstairs in the garage, even though I don't even own a cassette player anymore (that's a topic to be explored in a future post, though).

And so I collected cassettes. Lots of them. And I created mix tapes with favorites songs, first by hooking two cassette decks together, then using the same dual-cassette deck once that technology became affordable. Yes, I was that kid in high school who constantly made and distributed mix tapes in quest of the perfect mix.

And when I started driving a car, I think enjoyed the ability to crank the stereo as much as I did to get from point A to point B while listening to the cranked stereo.

Then my parents got me a CD player as a high school graduation gift (my first CD was Suzane Vega's Solitude Standing) and a whole new realm opened up for me. Gone were the days of playing a song then waiting while rewinding to replay the song, always guessing where the beginning of the song actually was, and wearing out the tape in the process. Now, at the click of a button, you could fast forward, start over or shuffle!

And so the next decade of my life was spent acquiring CDs, both through the mail (BMG this time) as well as at the funky record stores around college in San Diego County and then at places like Amoeba Music and Rasputin Records up in the Bay Area.

I had CD players everywhere I could get them (portable CD walkmen, CD/cassette player in the car, CD players around the apartment) and was listening to music just about non-stop. Mix tapes were much easier to make, and the quality of sound was much better. And I could dub multiple copies to give to friends so they'd be inspired to go buy the same CDs I had. I never once thought my mix tapes were taking money away from the artists, because all I ever saw was my friends going out to buy the albums of the artists I'd exposed them to via my mixes.

Then the digital music scene hit, and, while I was an early adopter of computers an online life, I never got into the song-swapping scene. I was too busy ripping my own CDs onto my PC in a format that could be read by my first-generation iPod (remember Rhapsody in those days before Windows-based iTunes?). I'd collected over 800 CDs, so it took a lot of time to rip, and I wasn't about to just give away all this music I'd spent so much time and money accumulating as my own to someone who was just acquiring for the sake of acquiring.

So, I never got caught up in the Napster scene, and after a while, it became a point of pride that I'd never swapped music that way. Sure, I'd still trade (and rip) CDs with friends, but that was on a one-to-one, in-the-flesh basis. But I haven't ever participated in large-scale anonymous music-swapping. Call me old fashioned, by I think this large-scale swapping is theft. And while I think the RIAA is going about the problem (suing folks) the wrong way, I do think these swappers are getting what's due.

So yes, I think the RIAA and the labels have completely blown the opportunity to embrace mass digital distribution as a way to revolutionize the industry and change up their business model. And they'll continue to fail, which will leave room for innovation and experimentation by the artists themselves. Innovations like Radiohead's pay-what-you-like to download the album before the physical CD drops (hell, even before they line up a label to distribute the physical CDs). Wilco and others have shown the free-to-download-digital, pay-for-physical-item model works. Why wouldn't it work this time with extra revenues coming from those who choose to pay twice (for whatever reason motivates them)?

So, legally downloading In Rainbows for free feels good to me. It feels right.

And it's a kickass album to boot. I can't wait to by the CD.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

last week's rubik's cube solving competition

Yes, I'm a geek about the Rubik's cube. My fastest solve ever was back in my prime (my teens) at 45 seconds.

In this year's competition, just held in Budapest, the fastest single solution was recorded at 10.18 seconds.

The overall winner was a 16-year-old japanese kid, Yu Nakajima, who averaged 12.46 seconds after solving it five times.

Not content with just the straight-forward solution (two hands, eyes open), competition categories included solving with one hand, blind-folded, with feet. See the Reuters Video for the visuals (while it's available).

I gotta work on my technique!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

mt whitney climbing video

Still trouble-shooting the dramatic pause at the 58 second mark, but here's video I shot at 13,300 feet on the way up to the summit of Mt Whitney.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bugatti Veyron 16.4 - a dream car

Apologies to the Bare Naked Ladies:

If I had a million Euros... ("if I had a million Euros")
I could not even afford this car! ("no he certainly could NOT!")

Why? the sticker price for the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is 1.1M Euros. And even if I could afford to buy it, I'd only drive it once, to get it up to it's top speed of 407 km/h.

And then I'd put it away in a showroom like the one it's in now with all the great hardwood and lighting and barriers and pay someone to keep the lint off it for the rest of my life.

It's just that beautiful a machine. (Click the photo to see the eight other pictures I took of this car)

Oh, and there was a new Audi R8 in a showroom around the corner that didn't even merit a photo after I'd spent time in the Bugatti showroom. Tough act to follow.