Thursday, August 31, 2006

Traffic flow anomalies

At one intersection on the way to work this morning, a tiny woman on a bicycle decided to ignore the "don't walk" light and weave her way to the other side in cross traffic. There, she proceeded to wait in the street through the next light, so she could get to the corner opposite the one she started on. When I first arrived at that starting corner, the crosswalk going the other direction was available, which means that she could have just gone that way first and saved herself a near-death experience. People confuse me.

I thought that was a bit odd, but half a block later, I saw a man skateboarding through the street. I couldn't make out any particular direction he was heading; he was swerving and curving around, through one side, the turn lane, the other side of the road, and then the turn lane again. I kept looking back, and never did see him go in any specific direction.

So for this morning, I was the least strange one, riding my self-balancing electronic scootermajig down the sidewalk.

Entwined

Entwined

I thought this was an interesting formation: a living tree inexorably linked to a dead one.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Twitch

Every once in a while my left upper eyelid twitches, and I can't stop it. It's reeeeeeally distracting.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Gyro

I've done it... I've descended into madness. I've created my first World of Warcraft mod. It's called Gyro, short for Get Your Raid On. It sits lurking in the background, waiting until you join or leave a raid, and then it springs into action, executing a predefined macro of commands. I use it to switch my UI around depending on whether I'm in a raid or not. (I don't need to know my mana regeneration rate and my threat level when I'm walking around town.) But, I suppose you could customize it to just /yell "For the Horde!" every time you join a raid too.

All in all, I spent four or five hours on the project, going from no knowledge to a basically-completed mod. In that time, I was able to become competent in the scripting language (Lua—not sure why they couldn't have stuck with JavaScript or something more standard), learn the core ins and outs of a World of Warcraft mod, and use a smattering of the standard function library. There's a bit that Blizzard could have done way-back-when to streamline the process of starting out a little, but overall, I think they've done a pretty good job at creating an extensibility model, or an exemplary job considering it's "just a game."

Debugging sucks, though. It's the typical Neanderthal style of debugging—make changes, reload everything, try it out, observe problems, and repeat. Then again, I wasn't really expecting to be able to attach Visual Studio to the thing.

So, that was fun. I had a good time getting my feet wet, so I think that sometime in the future, I'll try my hand at something a little more complicated (and useful). I've already got the basic idea planned out...

Crack

Crack

Just a rock formation. At a larger size, this works decently for wallpaper.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Clutter

"Clutter" may not be a strong enough term.

Clutter, annotated

This is not a photo of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This photo was in no way staged. This is the way my parents' basement actually looks. My parents are sort of "anti-organization."

Friday, August 25, 2006

My first Verizon bill

My first bill from Verizon arrived. For a whopping 19 daytime minutes and 5 night and weekend minutes, one of my heaviest usage months ever, I paid $8.50 including all taxes.

It's an interesting plan, one I nicknamed the "Wacky Communism and Gambling Plan." I get 100 night and weekend minutes. Then, for each daytime minute used, I pay whatever it takes for Verizon to get an average of $30 per month from all of the subscribers on the plan. For this month, that was 31¢. If people talked less, each minute would cost more. There are no free text messages, or roaming, or anything. It's about as bare-bones as you can hope. And I like it. It's much better than the $36 or so I was paying each month before...

Cloyce

Cloyce

This one is one of my favorite photos ever. She's my grandmother, wife of Herbert, of whom I've already posted a picture. Both portraits were taken on the same night.

Infer a surprise

I love-hate these lyrics from Fort Minor, "Get Me Gone":
I only do email responses to print interviews because
these people love to put a twist to your words
to infer that you said something fucking absurd.

Oh, did I lose you at "infer?"
Not used to hearing a verse that uses over
first grade vocabulary words?
You mean... like "imply?"

Cross

Cross

Though I'm not really a black-and-white kind of guy for the most part, I really like this shot. It's simple: just a close-up shot of moss on wood... it was the back of a bench. I'm really happy with the texture, contrast, and focus.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Castle

Castle

A castle shot from Ireland. To a person who grew up in the United States, Nebraska specifically, ruins of an actual castle are a bizarre sight, something more of fantasy than reality.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Slut

I confirm friend requests on Facebook from people I don't think I've ever even met. I guess friends of my friends and brother just go through friends lists and add everyone there to their own. I figure that on the off chance that the person would be saddened by my rejection, I might as well just approve everyone since it doesn't really matter anyway. I guess that makes me a Facebook slut.

Burning crusade

Despite playing the game for coming up on two years now, I'm actually getting more excited about World of Warcraft. I try not to think that I've spent $350 on the game and that will be up to about $450 by the end of the year. Hey, it's still better than Magic: The Gathering.

I had gotten kind of tired of it until just a few weeks ago, only playing a couple hours a week. But, over my vacation, I had time to join in activities that I normally don't get to do... raiding the dragons of Blackwing Lair and the once-mighty Onyxia, driving back the insects of Ahn'Qiraj, dominating the trolls of Zul'Gurub, and defeating the armies of the fire lord Ragnaros. Most of those things I rarely do or had never done at all, because they take so much time, and have to be done when 39 other people in my guild can also attend. This usually means 5:00 on a weekday. So, it was all "new" content to me.

I finished with a renewed excitement for what makes World of Warcraft fun for me—visiting new places, fighting new enemies, and finding treasure and new equipment that's better than what I've already got. And that's why I'm excited that the expansion The Burning Crusade is coming out soon—because along with those things, I'll get to do it with a real life friend, and only have one person's annoying schedule to contend with. Back when we were "leveling up," it was some of the most fun I've had, and I'm anxious to get another shot at that.

Warcraft is a lesson in software engineering

World of Warcraft patch 1.12 arrived today. There are definitely some things that would be refreshing about being able to release a new version of your product every couple months, and being able to require your users to upgrade immediately. Of course, there's the service aspect of it—being on-call, constantly in crunch mode, and the like would all suck a lot. Neither the Office model of working a couple years on something, releasing it, and then barely ever touching it again, or the World of Warcraft model of having to constantly update the product are quite as nice as the independent freeware developer model, who gets to work on whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and doesn't have to care too much about the consequences. There are still perks to developing your own software...

World of Warcraft also gives me an opportunity to observe what it would be like for customers if Microsoft weren't focused so hardcore on backward compatibility. World of Warcraft has an incredibly powerful extensibility platform, allowing enterprising individuals to write mods of surprising complexity, be they overhauls of the user interface, convenient new functionality, or even really complicated things like a calendaring system for groups of players to share plans with one another. But every patch breaks about half of them, because Blizzard changes the APIs (application programming interfaces). In the end, it's great for them, because at any point in time, they only have to worry about the way to do something now, not how you used to be able to do things in WoW 1.0. Besides the inconvenience of having to constantly update their mods, it works pretty well for those mod authors too, because they don't have to worry about their software running on older versions of WoW, since users can't play older versions of WoW. (I'd give just about anything to have the assurance that everyone using my software was all running the latest version of Windows at all times.)

But, it's pretty terrible for customers. Each patch brings bizarre errors, broken functionality, and messed-up UI for those mods. If Blizzard were committed to backwards compatibility, they'd support almost all of the mods ever written for World of Warcraft 1.0. This would mean a series of hacks that none of the developers want there, but they're basically obligated to have anyway. The code gets messier and messier, and it's harder and harder to change without breaking older things. This is the way I imagine that the Windows code is. (I don't look through it, so don't take my word on that.) They've got to support programs that people wrote back for Windows 1.0, not to mention DOS compatibility. They've got to make sure that crazy hacks that people wrote long ago still run on recent versions of Windows. If World of Warcraft made all of those old mods from version 1.0 work on the current version, it would take longer and longer for each subsequent version to be released...

Bloom

Bloom

Yet another flower picture... this one from Hawaii.

Jagged relief

Nothing's quite as nice as finally getting that chunk of glass out of your finger after it's been there for over 24 hours.

I got sprayed with glass when recycling some Snapple bottles yesterday. I initially thought that I had gotten it all out, but later on, once the first round of bleeding ended, I noticed that my finger started bleeding again whenever I touched it, which led me to believe that there was still a piece of glass somewhere in my finger. This persisted through tonight, so finally a few moments ago I decided to just reopen the wound with an X-acto knife and peroxide. After a little poking and wiggling, I was able to expose the glass shard and pull it out with my left hand's fingernails. Hooray for home surgery! It's amazing how much better it looks already after being cleaned up a bit.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Focus

Focus

One of my favorite photos that I ever took with my old camera. This one was from hiking Mt. Si in 2003. It's a pretty difficult hike, several miles long. This was pretty close to the top, but soon after, I screwed up my ankle, and then did it again a couple minutes later. I had to let the other guys go ahead while I rested for a while, and then I got a head start on the slow climb down.

Later I found a website that described it as a "strenuous hike" for "experienced hikers." Oh.

Dr. Spomer's Health Tip # 00071

Do not insert shards of glass into finger.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Snap judgment

It hasn't been long since my last post about music I've purchased, but I felt that this one deserved its own mini-review, as a public service announcement of sorts.

The short version:
Bubba Sparxxx—The Charm: 2/10


The latest Bubba Sparxxx CD, The Charm, is absolutely awful. Stay away at all costs. I've been lucky with my recent CD purchases... the worst I've dealt with in a while was an "average" CD. But this one is just hideous. Nothing on here is making it onto my main playlist, and I can't be that picky, because that playlist has 3197 songs on it, more than nine straight days of music.

Bubba Sparxxx is by no means some kind of musical genius, but I actually found his previous two CDs to be decent. And I know what happened here... Timbaland left. Timbaland produced his last two CDs, and they were overall pretty quirky, catchy, and interesting. But now he's gone, and what's left is a disgusting pile. Bubba Sparxxx was clearly not the talented part of the pair.

I don't recommend any tracks from this CD, but The Otherside (featuring Petey Pablo and Sleepy Brown) is probably the most listenable, mediocre at best. For a real taste of how horrid this album is, take a whiff of As the Rim Spins, and Ms. New Booty (featuring the Ying Yang Twins and Mr. Collipark).

I'm kind of ashamed to own this CD. But, I swear, it wasn't always so bad! Check out the much, much better track Nowhere (featuring Kiley Dean) from his last CD Deliverance, which is actually a good rap album, or Well Water from his first CD Dark Days, Bright Nights, which is at least decent.

Amazon mishap

Amazon mishap

Once upon a time, I ordered two Lewis Black CDs (hilarious, I might add) from Amazon. This is what they sent me. Only one of the things i received was an album, so I guess that makes it The White Album. That means that a VHS yoga tape is The End of the Universe.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Death Cab and Afrocelts

The short version:
Afrocelts—Sound Magic: 6/10
Death Cab for Cutie—Transatlanticism: 8/10

I tried out the first Afrocelts (or Afro Celt Sound System, depending on which name they're using at the moment) album, Sound Magic. It's pretty much like all of their other albums; that was the last one that I didn't already own. That's not a terrible thing, but most of the songs aren't memorable enough to warrant buying too many CDs, I think. That said, they make some cool world-ish music, mixing Celtic and African themes and electronica—the electronica influences here are pretty subtle, becoming more prevalent in their later albums. It's good background music, but it doesn't really maintain enough excitement to keep me interested for a long time. Anyway, it gets a "not bad" rating of 6 from me. Listen to Inion / Daughter, Sure-As-Not / Sure-As-Knot (Jungle Segue), and Dark Moon, High Tide / Farewell to Eireann.

Then I moved on to Death Cab for Cutie's album Transatlanticism... and I like it a lot. I think that most anyone who liked the recent CD by The Postal Service will enjoy it... it's got the same male vocalist, the same great writing, and the same quirkiness. In fact, I could probably mistake the Postal Service CD Give Up for a remix album of a Death Cab for Cutie CD. Death Cab is more rock-oriented and isn't nearly as absurdly electronic, but the style is still very much the same. I'll definitely be checking out more Death Cab in the future. For great examples, take a listen to The New Year (:30 sample), Title and Registration (full download), and Tiny Vessels (:30 sample). All of those sound great and have really interesting lyrics.


I think that next I'll try out Bubba Sparxxx—The Charm and Shea Seger—The May Street Project.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Cast

Cast

I like this somewhat-abstract shot. It's from the UNL campus. Anyone who's gone to school there should instantly recognize it. :)

Nerds in a theatre

I'm in awe. I can't believe how much better Snakes on a Plane was than I was expecting. I don't even know why. It's some kind of magical mix of gory action and ridiculous hilarity that just clicks. You've got to see it in the theatre... don't wait until it's on DVD, and don't wait until the crowds die down. It's genuinely exciting in a way that I can't compare to any other movie that comes to mind.

Audience participation... Now I can sort of understand the Rocky Horror Picture Show cult phenomenon thing. I haven't seen that movie, but the energy during SoaP was just so weirdly great.

It's not the kind of "so bad it's good" thing I was expecting; I usually just find movies like that intolerably boring. I think it's actually just good in a non-traditional way.

You should go see it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bunny

Bunny

One of the first pictures I took with my current camera was this one. After my initial test shots of random crap, I took my new equipment to the Microsoft campus and looked for things to photograph. This was, I believe, the first use I found for my telephoto lens. I like the mildly irked expression on its face. He was watching me very carefully... when I stepped a couple feet closer, as rabbits are wont to do. So, I was very pleased with my new lens purchase at that moment, as I couldn't have gotten that without a telephoto.

It was also one of the first shots to show me how important proper focus is when photos have a narrow depth of field. I love the blurry, creamy look of the background when it's out of focus like that, but I have to be much more careful with this camera than my old one. If the picture were bigger, you'd see that the focus is actually on the grass in front of the rabbit, and thus the rabbit is not perfectly sharp. I've gotten a little better since then, and can occasionally use manual focus to my advantage too. But, it's something where I could definitely still use some work. It's hard to tell a poorly-focused shot from the LCD preview, and it's one image flaw that absolutely can't be corrected later in Photoshop, save shrinking the image down so it's not as noticeable. So, I am very motivated to develop a keen sense of focus and depth of field.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bleak

Bleak

Another lava picture from Hawaii... kind of like some sort of stony sea.

Second sibling

I often forget that I nearly got a second sibling when I was twelve or so. It seems strange to me now that one could really forget a thing like that.

My mother was pregnant, and pretty far along. Things were to the naming and furniture rearrangement planning trimester. She was still working at the time. She started having terrible pains, so she went to the doctor, and found out that the baby had died inside her. She was devastated, of course, and pretty depressed for quite some time. I think she blamed herself for a while; the doctor suggested that it was probably the physical stress from work that was responsible.

I guess my little sister would be starting middle school now.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wand

You know, given the current airline security news, one could say that the recent and hilarious Sierra Mist "wand" commercial was extremely prophetic.

Décor

Décor

I rearranged some things in my aunt and uncle's house and took this picture. Nearly everything in that room is white.

Blue

Blue

Purdy.

Monday, August 14, 2006

PayPal

I know someone named Payal. But, thanks to spam, the world has become quite skilled at recognizing misspelled forms of V1agra and PayPaI. So, everyone calls her PayPal.

A most astounding sight

This morning I saw something for the first time, something that I may never see again for as long as I live:

The supply of Fresca in the cooler was down to one can.

People drink the weirdest crap.

Leading zero

I dislike representing numbers between 0 and 1 with a leading zero, as in "0.05". I much prefer without the zero: ".05". But for some reason I keep finding myself putting the leading zero there, even though I don't like it. Sometimes I catch myself. Usually I don't. Curse you, environmental factors!

Media Center is not good for porn

My Videos screen in Media Center

A while back on a Thursday night, the conversation topic switched to Media Center and DVRs in general. It seems that most Microsoft employees use either Microsoft's own Media Center, or the local Comcast digital DVR box. Anyway, we were talking about various Media Center features while waiting for more people to show up for games, and someone mentioned the My Videos section on the Media Center main menu. Our consensus was that it's useful for really only three things: pirated TV, pirated movies, and porn, possibly pirated. We acknowledged that it could also be used for one's own home video recordings, but we were skeptical that that many people actually had home video on their computer; certainly far fewer than people who had at least one of those other three things.

But the UI for My Videos is very silly. When you select it from the menu, it immediately shows clips from the last three things you watched so that you can immediately watch them again. We couldn't see a purpose for this. If it's a home video, and you recently watched it, why would you want to watch it again right away? If it's pirated TV, you'd want to see the next episode, not the one you just finished. Same for pirated movies—why would you rewatch the same movie immediately after? Few people do that.

Now, this almost works for porn. It's far more conceivable to me that you'd want to rewatch it again soon, and we agreed on this. Except... this is really only useful to most people if you never have visitors. Since Media Center is designed to be used on the biggest TV in the house, having porn pop up as you scroll through the main menu is not particularly desirable in most scenarios.

So, the ability to scroll through the videos on your computer with the remote control is nice... but why does it show the last three things you watched right on the menu? I removed that menu item long ago with a hack, and just put it back to get a screenshot. The three things on there were that excellent clip from The Office, a video that you can find on the internet doing a search for "twangers and balls" (surprisingly non-pornographic) that I watched like a year ago, and a short stand-up segment named "Why Indian people can't buy from Chinese people" that I played back when I first got Media Center. Chance that I actually want to watch any of those things while scrolling through my Media Center menu: about .005%.

(I blacked them out to make the screenshot slightly more mysterious, but believe what you will. :)

Saggers

One fashion that I really hated in middle school was "sagging"—wearing your pants far below where one normally would—which was relatively new at the time, I suppose. It got particularly absurd for some people; I really don't know how some of them managed to keep the pants on at all, with the belt below the Frontal Fun Zone. The school's administration had strict rules against it, and students were punished for having their pants too low. Clearly, they thought, this was a sign of gang affiliation. Nearly every new fashion was seen as a new way for students to show gang affiliations.

But, it was a futile effort; as the months went by, more and more students started doing it, instead of fewer. By high school, it was no longer trendy to show twelve inches of underwear; all the cool kids were only showing two or three.

Capitol

Capitol

The Nebraska state capitol in Lincoln, the "Penis of the Plains." I first heard that from my mom. I think it's the only time that I've heard her say the word "penis." Our family peculiarly used the word "bottom" to refer to that area, as opposed to the rear. As in, "don't play with your bottom in the bathtub."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Post storm

I've been posting a ton recently. I really should have saved all of those "rainy day topics" that I've been saving up for months and used them when I wasn't on vacation.

Then again, I've got plenty more where those came from. Maybe I'll even write them someday.

Delicious puns

I made a bunch of brownies to take to Thursday game night, roughly 7000 calories and an amount of fat that one could reasonably measure in a fraction of a kilogram. (That's just two dozen. Brownies are even worse for you than I had previously realized.) I even had a clever name for my treats: Operation Dessert Storm.

But sadly, I didn't remember that until just now. Perhaps it's for the best... not everyone enjoys puns as much as I.

My junior prom

I never went to the prom in high school. I wasn't dating anyone, and the whole idea of the prom seemed terribly uninteresting. And unlike in Saved by the Bell or more "serious" teen dramas, the prom wasn't really a big deal, so I was even less motivated to attend.

Except I sort of went to my junior prom. You see, that year, it was at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student union, on the second floor. At the time, I was working at the Burger King in the food court, on the first floor. I bet you can see where this was going. I was working that night, and the manager had me mop the floors out front, a task I was almost never bothered with, being one of the better cashiers and cooks there, and also being often the only one there strong enough to perform certain other tasks. So, I mopped the floors at a food court Burger King as dozens of pairs of my classmates walked by in their formalwear to get to the prom, some stopping by to say hi.

I don't think back to that memory and feel sorry for myself. I think back to that memory and laugh my ass off.

Undressed

I've been recently reminded of the MTV show Undressed, which has been off the air now for four years. Oh my, it was a terrible show. And yet I watched so many episodes of it. It was entrancing. I know I wasn't alone. My college roommate couldn't stop watching, and neither could my brother. It was a wildly and confusingly entertaining train wreck of a show, which managed to show 222 episodes in six seasons in five years, roughly double the amount of show of a normal series.

The formula was simple. There were three plotlines in each show. One was about high school students, one was about college students, and one was about young adults post-college. All plotlines involved sex in some way. One was a straight couple, one was a gay or lesbian couple, and one was "other"—no couples at all, or a three-person relationship, or included a blind person, or some other plot element. They would dart back and forth through the different storylines during each episode, generally visiting each storyline between each commercial break, which means that one's attention span needed only be a minute or two, because after that, something else was happening entirely. Each show would showcase the music of one or two indie artists.

And oh, was the show awful. The acting was generally quite bad, and even if it wasn't, the lines were far from Shakespeare. It made the glacial love scenes in Star Wars Episode II seem like an erotic masterpiece in comparison. Endings were cliché and corny, and sometimes you could see how a story was going to end a few minutes after it was introduced. But in two minutes the show would be onto something else, and in a couple days, that storyline would have been over and something else started in its place. There certainly wasn't any nudity, and rarely was there anything even that risqué; despite the show's name, and the fact that the characters all wanted to have sex with each other, everyone kept their clothes on. There were about ten sets used over the entire run of a season—switch a couple posters around, and suddenly you've got a whole new dorm room, ready for a not-that-steamy, hilariously stupid sexual encounter.

There was a new episode each weeknight, and my roommate and I watched each and every one for at least a season or two. On Friday, they'd show a fifth new episode for the week, and then show all five episodes for the week again, so sometimes we'd stay for the recap and relive moments from a couple days ago.

I really think that the show intended to be a sexy drama, but it ended up being pure comedy. Take the softest of soft, almost-family-friendly, PG-rated porn, and cross it with Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and you've got Undressed.

Unsolved Mysteries

I've been watching The X-Files recently, about halfway through season one. I remembered that the show had a tendency to leave large plot holes open for years and years, with many things not even resolved by the end of the ninth and final season. But one thing that I had forgotten is how frequently the episodes' individual plot lines are never finished by the end of the show.

I just watched one episode in which many murders were committed. The suspect of the first several was killed during the episode, and the person found responsible killed himself. But it was never made known who killed the original suspect.

It's annoying, in an occasionally cute sort of way.

Email scorn

I'm very annoyed by people who don't respond to your emails because their inboxes have two thousand messages in them. If thirty messages come in after yours arrives, your email falls below the first screen, and is never seen again, because mail never leaves the inboxes of these people, and there shall be no follow-up.

I try to keep only three or four messages in my inbox at work. I use a color coding system to keep track of them. Unread mail is white and sorts to the top, unless it's from an important person, in which case it's black. Mail I need to respond to soon I flag red, mail waiting on other people is yellow, mail that I just have to deal with sometime is green, and everything else is either irrelevant to me and deleted, or has already been dealt with and is deleted or archived.

I never miss emails, I always respond quickly, and I essentially never forget an issue. The system is extremely easy to set up and maintain, and not once have I ever even considered that an extra click for each important email was not worth the time. I wish more people didn't suck at email. But most of these people don't really care about missing a few messages. It just annoys me when my email goes unanswered. It makes communications unreliable an inefficient, and I place a high value on communications. And yet I'm terrible at dealing with people who work this way. It's something I've been trying to work on for years now.

Friday, August 11, 2006

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

I really wish car alarms were illegal. I really wish they were illegal.

Blarney tree

Blarney tree

Another one from Ireland, this time from Blarney Castle, which had very lovely grounds.

Listen to my favorite 25 songs of all time

Well, I didn't expect to finish tonight, but I got really into it. I've now updated my top 25 songs of all time. Out of those 25, 6 are from the past year—a quarter of them. That's impressive.

And now, my new top 25 songs of all time, including links to the free full track on Napster.com except where otherwise noted. All of these are dear to my heart.

Balligomingo and Jody Quine—Privilege
Basement Jaxx and Lisa Kekaula—Good Luck
Enigma—Gravity of Love
Enya—Anywhere Is
Fort Minor and John Legend—High Road
Frou Frou—Breathe In
Gorillaz and De La Soul—Feel Good Inc.
Hooverphonic—You Love Me to Death (clip from Hooverphonic.com)
Imogen Heap—Hide and Seek
Jerry Goldsmith—Ba'ku Village
Jurassic 5—Back 4 U (clip from Napster.com)
Linkin Park—Somewhere I Belong
Maroon 5—Harder to Breathe
Michelle Branch—'Til I Get Over You
Nelly Furtado and the Kronos Quartet—One-Trick Pony
Newsboys—Million Pieces (Kissin' Your Cares Goodbye)
Olive—Smile
The Postal Service—Nothing Better
The Roots and Cody ChesnuTT—The Seed 2.0
Scissor Sisters—Laura
Shakira and Alejandro Sanz—La Tortura (Shaketon remix)
Sneaker Pimps—Loretta Young Silks (clip from Napster.com)
Snow Patrol—Run
Vanessa Carlton—Paradise
Zack Hexum—How Many Times (MySpace site)


If, right now, I had to put together one mix CD and then never listen to another song again, those are the 25 songs that would make it. I hope you like them... because it took a long time to put together all of those links for you. :)

The 2006 Sleepless in the Seattle Metro Area Music Awards: 25 best tracks

I've narrowed all of the new music I've gotten over the past year to twenty-five favorite tracks, and let me tell you, it was extremely hard. There were some incredible songs that fell to the floor cutting down from my initial 77 picks to the best 25. One of the hardest cuts was the last of the Brazilian Girls CD—I loved that CD, but there were just 25 songs that I liked better. I also had to cut all of Enya's latest CD, and I still think that Enya is probably my favorite artist of all time. Her latest CD just wasn't good enough to make the list.

The next step is to integrate the new tracks with my existing lists of my 100 favorite songs and the even more elite top 25. And now, the most exceptional 25 songs that I heard over the past year:


Conjure One—I Believe
Fiona Apple—Extraordinary Machine
Fort Minor—Believe Me (featuring Bobo and Styles of Beyond)
Fort Minor—High Road (featuring John Legend)
Goldfrapp—Lovely 2 C U
Good Charlotte—In This World (Murder)
Gotan Project—Mi Confesión
Hooverphonic—Wake Up
Hooverphonic—You Love Me to Death
Imogen Heap—Goodnight and Go
Imogen Heap—Hide and Seek
Imogen Heap—The Walk
Jason Mraz—Plane
Jeremy Soule—Guild Wars Factions theme
Jurassic 5—Back 4 U
Kanye West—Gone (featuring Consequence and Cam'Ron)
Nelly Furtado—All Good Things (Come to an End)
Madonna—Push
Scissor Sisters—Laura
Scissor Sisters—Take Your Mama
Shakira—La Tortura (Shaketon remix featuring Alejandro Sanz)
Shakira—Timor
Snow Patrol—Make This Go On Forever
Snow Patrol—Set the Fire to the Third Bar (featuring Martha Wainwright)
Zero 7—This Fine Social Scene


Notable: There's only one instrumental track on the list, Jeremy Soule's Guild Wars Factions theme. There are a lot of peppy, dance-friendly tracks on here, but also a lot of sadder and soulful songs. I think it's a pretty good mix.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The 2006 Sleepless in the Seattle Metro Area Music Awards: albums

I've been going over all of the music that I've gotten in the past year... this is my third time doing this, and it's been a lot of fun. Next, I'll see what's worthy of making it onto my "top 25 / 100 tracks of all time" lists, but I haven't made it that far yet.

But what I have finished doing is to evaluate the past year's albums as a whole. So here we go: my personal awards for the best CDs of the past year.

Best Album
1. Imogen Heap, Speak for Yourself
2. Zero 7, The Garden
3. Fort Minor, The Rising Tied
4. Hooverphonic, More Sweet Music / No More Sweet Music
5. Conjure One, Extraordinary Ways
6. Gotan Project, Lunático

All of those albums are incredibly good, and I couldn't narrow the list down to just five, let alone three like I originally intended. Imogen Heap's CD Speak for Yourself is indeed my favorite CD of the past year, and Zero 7 should be second, but it's tough to rank the last four—Lunático, at the bottom of the list, is still incredibly good. I'd recommend all of them to just about anyone.

Biggest Surprise
1. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters
2. Fort Minor, The Rising Tied
3. Madonna, Confessions on a Dance Floor

The CD that surprised me the most over the last year was the Scissor Sisters debut. It's not quite worthy of being one of the best six, but it's far better than I expected. I bought it without having heard even a clip. And, had my brother not sent me the Fort Minor CD for Hanukkah (I dunno; it came with a Hanukkah gift card), I may not have even found out about the group's existence by now. Finally, I was very wary of the new Madonna CD, approaching any CD by Madonna with at least some trepidation, and extra trepidation given that this was her new "all disco dance CD." But, it's great... just different.

Most Confusing Pair of Albums with Identical Track Listings
1. Hooverphonic, More Sweet Music and No More Sweet Music

Hooverphonic gets special mention for confusing the heck out of me with their latest pair of albums, More Sweet Music and No More Sweet Music. You get both for the price of one... or at least like one and a half... and they both contain different versions of the same songs. No More Sweet Music contains darker remixes of the tracks from More Sweet Music.


Well, that's it for the album awards. I'm not done sorting through all of my favorite tracks of the past year. I've only been able to narrow it down to 77 songs so far.

Arch

Arch

This picture turned out merely okay, but I like what it was a picture of. It's another one from Hawaii. Two little clumps of bamboo had grown a little to the side, and ended up forming an arch of sorts.

Hot and not

[EXTREMELY SHALLOW POST WARNING]

Back during our freshman year in college, my roommate Daniel and I spent many hours at Hot or Not. We derived endless pleasure from looking at peoples' pictures, sharing our best and worst finds. It was terribly shallow and wonderfully amusing. He was always annoyed that I kept it on the default setting of showing both women and men, but the way I see it, he missed out on half the fun. Besides, you can only look at so many profiles of near-identical women making kissy faces in a row; it helps to splice in guys who look like jerks leaning against the hood of their car.

But one thing that always struck me is how different my ratings tended to be from the consensus, and this is still the case today. I'm even worse at rating guys than I am at rating girls. I spent about twenty minutes tonight playing around on the site, and I found a few examples to share:

Hot or Not photo

Now there's a solid 10, and it's one of the rare circumstances where I agree with the consensus.

Hot or Not photo

Here's a person who's trying way too hard. The obvious cleavage shot gets a 9.9 from the masses, but she's really not that attractive.

Hot or Not photo

Note to men: holding a can of beer can make the ugliest guys attractive to women.

Hot or Not photo

I don't know why this girl got a 6.6. She seems like a good 9 to me.

Hot or Not photo

It's really hard for a guy to get a score lower than 6.0.


I've come up with some handy rules for rating people on Hot or Not:

The average rating for women is about 6.5, dipping down to 4.0 for the hideous. The average rating for men is about 8.0, rarely dipping below about 5.5. I'm not sure how to interpret this: either the guys are more shallow and mean, dishing out the "low" ratings, or women just aren't discriminating enough. (I'm assuming, quite safely I think, that the majority of people rating women are men and vice-versa.) It could also just mean that some people are more likely to just keep clicking "10" over and over to see the next picture.

White people get much higher scores than minorities of seemingly equal attractiveness. This is even more true for men than women.

People are easily tricked by blurry, dark, and excessively grainy photos. If you are ugly, try to ensure that your photo is at least one of those things.

In addition to women showing cleavage getting unnaturally high scores, men in suits and uniforms are rated far too high. Tomboyish girls get awful scores, though personally I usually think they're fairly attractive, all else equal.

Girls unwilling to show a little boob can at least slather on the whorepaint to significantly boost their scores.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Implied smiley

This first paragraph was going to go into a previous post's comments, but I decided to make it its own post. If this blog ever gets a FAQ, this post should be in it.

My blog is not a consensus. You come here to learn marginally exciting facts about me, and what I think about things. I try not to let other peoples' opinions cloud the sunny wisdom that I shine down from on high. Try to keep that in mind when you decide what you think of me, if you don't already really know me in person. The real me lives in a world where other peoples' opinions about things really do matter, where I'm not so self-centered and cold. But Sleepless in the Seattle Metro Area is only tangentially connected to that world. It's a fun little place, at least for me.

I follow the Rule of Implied Smiley. After any given sentence, it's safe to read an implied smiley—either :), or ;)—your choice. If I added as many emoticons to my posts as they probably deserve, every post would be a jumble of mismatched parentheses. I try not to take things seriously, and my blog is no exception.

That said, I thrive on feedback. Please continue to leave comments. I need to know what kinds of posts keep you coming back. I also need to know when I suck, or at least when you think I do, so please continue to leave flames at your discretion too.

Fandom

I've noticed something: there are two types of media fans. One is the fan who has extremely high expectations of the next big thing. The last CD was great; this one's going to be even better. Or they're constantly harassing the local game store to preorder the expansion, reviews be damned. And then there's the fan who has extremely low expectations of the next big thing. The new CD can't possibly be as good as the last one; it was a masterpiece. They just don't make games like they used to.

I'm definitely the former. But it seems like there's little middle ground... perhaps just by definition of the word "fan." And, of course, there are other people who tend not to become fans of things at all.

Prime example

I don't usually feel terribly comfortable taking advantage of Microsoft employee discounts at local businesses. There are a lot of these, and employees and their spouses carry around a "Prime card" to identify themselves as such. I can get 10% off at the salon, or buy one entrée get one free at the restaurant. But it just feels weird. It's some physical reminder that I'm getting paid more than the person accepting the card, and that's unpleasant.

But in the end, it's just business. There are tens of thousands of Microsoft employees in the area. We talk, we email, and there's a lot of word of mouth that goes on. Any little thing to get more Microsoft employees to come to your establishment is very good for business.

Martha Spomer's household tip # 00073

If you ever get paint on your shirt, you may be able to remove most of it with packing tape. This works better if you have something else to watch while you're taping yourself, such as an X-Files episode.

Restaurant annoyance #2

Another thing that annoys me is when the party doesn't make the waiter split the check, and everyone has cash except one person, who puts it on their card. I always have this fear that the person paying with their card isn't going to tip much. Some people I know tip in the 12% range, and some tip around 20%. I always fear that the credit card guy is the 12% guy, but I just gave him 120-125% of my bill. Being the credit card guy is pretty much always a great deal; the other diners will generally tip you more than they would the waiter, especially if it's a waiter and not a waitress.

Separate checks

I personally find it ridiculous when waiters do not at least ask groups of four or more guys if they want separate checks in a restaurant. I'd certainly be fine if they didn't ask and did it anyway, but to present a full table of people a single check at the end of a meal is just dumb. It just serves to annoy everyone involved, especially since half the time they're going to make you go back and split it up anyway.

It wouldn't be a big deal if I could actually remember to ask when ordering, but it seems so absurd to me that the waiter would even consider a single check that it doesn't even come to mind most of the time. I'm more likely to remember if it's just one or two other people.

Bird

Bird

Nothing special about this picture; I just think it's pretty. It's from the Bloedel Reserve, a private... nature thing... I visited a little under a year ago, on Bainbridge Island here in Washington.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Bounce

Bounce

Never trust dryer sheets that warn you about not letting the dryer sheet directly contact fabrics.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Vacation

Today I start my vacation. It's been way too long since my last time off, back last Thanksgiving. I have no real plans, other than that I'm going to try to eliminate every last thing on my to-do list on my desktop, and try to sleep a little.

Kodo

Kodo

This is a fun photo of my parents' cat Kodo. She's very lazy, and despite not eating much, is quite fat. It's not a very good picture, but it amuses me. The way that I framed the photo makes it look kind of like she's stuck in a box. She sometimes likes to sit like that, with her back hunched over and her belly sticking out. There's a reason that my dad started calling her Jabba.

She's too fat to clean herself for the most part, but she spends the same amount of time cleaning herself as if she could. So, she just licks her stomach over and over, to the point that it just feels like a peach now, having removed all of the hair. Their other cat helps groom her, and she still has a nice, soft fur coat. She's a very loving animal, just... slow.

My brother named her Kodo after one of the two ferrets in the movie Beastmaster, his favorite movie at the time. Unlike that Kodo, though, this cat won't be fitting into tight spaces or doing anybody's bidding.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Dive

Dive

This is another photo from Hawaii, and it's one of my all-time favorites. We were at a park, and there was a group of Hawaiian teenagers diving off of a small cliff into shallow-seeming water with rocks all around. All but one of them dove down into the dangerous waters, except this guy. He stood there, a couple inches from the edge, contemplating the jump. Eventually, he did dive down, and as far as I could tell, nobody died due to any kind of skull-rock impact.

I love this photo for several reasons... first of all, the framing, and the fact that he was leaning forward suggest motion—it pulls you in. There's a great contrast between his skin color and the greys and greens of the surrounding landscape. The sky's not perfect—it was white skies all day—but I still love the way that it turned out.

The framing was actually mostly accidental. I didn't want the fact that they were being photographed to change the way that they were acting, so I was subtle about it. I didn't hold the camera up to my face, and only gave the LCD screen a sideways glance. My old camera was silent, so that helped a lot. I took several shots from different angles, hoping that one would turn out well. And exactly one did.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Heavy snow

Heavy snow

This is something that I'll never see up here in Washington—a heavy snow. This is a winter view from the University of Nebraska campus, I believe from the front of Westbrook.

I bet snow seems pretty nice to some of you right now...

Friday, August 4, 2006

Tunes

Despite the awesomeness of so much of the music I've been trying out recently (such as these and this), I've moved ahead through the queue a little. Here's what I've been listening to recently.

The short version:
Thievery Corporation—Versions: 5/10
Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy—Immortal Memory: 7/10
David Arkenstone—Spirit Wind: 6/10
Jurassic 5—Feedback: 8/10

After Lunático I moved on to the new Thievery Corporation compilation, Versions. These guys release more compilations of remixes of other peoples' music more than they do albums, and I'm not as big of a fan of the compilation CDs. But, they're still nice background music... it's just unfortunate that they sound so similar. I'm beginning to ask myself if there's really any reason for a person to have more than a couple Thievery Corporation CDs. I already can only recognize and name a couple of their tracks, and going through this CD I'm getting a strong feeling of déjà vu. So, while it's a perfectly decent CD, it's definitely no great CD. It's exactly like all of their others.

One thing really did hit me this time. The tracks that they remix tend to be jazz, lounge, or chillout. I've never heard of any of them. But I knew one of the tracks being remixed on Versions: Ben Folds (Fear of Pop) and William Shatner—In Love. And holy crap! The lovely original version is a hundred times better than the butchered remix. Is this really what they're doing to the other tracks? Are they simply turning great music that I'd like into more generic versions of the originals? I sure hope not.

I normally like to link to the standout tracks of albums that I try out. It's almost futile here; they all sound so similar. But, I suppose my favorites are the remixes of Ustad Sultan Khan—Tarana, The Januaries—The Girl's Insane, and Sarah McLachlan—Dirty Little Secret. You can pick up clips on the Thievery Corporation website.

Immortal Memory by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy is the album for anyone who bought the exquisite Gladiator soundtrack, and thought to themselves, "hey, it would be great if there was a whole album of that woman moaning." Just replace the usual Hans Zimmerism of Gladiator with the more ambient stylings of Patrick Cassidy and you've got this album. That's not to knock it; it's actually pretty decent. From another angle, it's probably what Enya's music would sound with if Enya were clinically depressed and had a hermaphroditic voice. Parts of it also remind me of the Diablo II soundtrack (which I love) a little bit. If those depictions of the music haven't totally turned you off yet, you should definitely give it a chance.

Check out Sailing to Byzantium, which absolutely could have been on the Gladiator soundtrack if one of the characters had needed to sail to Byzantium. Also try The Song of Amergin. Not all of the other tracks are quite so instrumented as those two.

David Arkenstone's Spirit Wind is another new age-ish album. It's not bad, not great. Actually, you could probably tell pretty much exactly what it would sound like just based on the name "Spirit Wind," and you'd probably be right. I wasn't terribly familiar with his music, but I had heard it before in a few games. He worked with Frank Klepacki (Command and Conquer, Nox, and other Westwood games) to make the soundtrack for Lands of Lore II: Guardians of Destiny, which I never played, but I bought the soundtrack because Klepacki was involved. It's good fantasy RPG music. He also did all of the Darkmoon Faire music for World of Warcraft. Finally, he also composed all of the music you hear when playing the Harkonnen in the woefully underrated but very tasty Emperor: Battle for Dune. The Harkonnen themes are not really like the rest of his music; they're dark, electronic, and full of electric guitars. It's kind of neat that he's at least versatile. It's hard to imagine too many composers that have like a dozen albums full of new age-y meditation music and one full of hard-rocking electric guitars and electronic beats.

Anyway, it's fine; it's not something that I'm going to reach for when I need anything besides background music. Perhaps for board games. It's the kind of CD that makes you want to light scented candles, go decorate the living room, and then take a bubble bath. Check out Wind in the Trees for an example. It's got rain sticks!

Finally, the best thing I've listened to in the past month or so is the new Jurassic 5 album Feedback. They've lost member Cut Chemist (bringing them down to five members, oddly), but they still sound great. If you don't know J5, it's clever, light, friendly, melodic, laid-back rap.

Now, this CD is great. It's the same formula as their previous albums, and that's a good thing. I can't really think of any rap group in the same vein as these guys, and there's talent to spare. In fact, I guess I can't think of too many other rap groups at all besides The Roots; the genre seems to be mostly solo artists. Jurassic 5 was one of the groups that turned me into a rap fan from someone who wasn't really impressed with it previously. It's probably worth your while to give them a try even if you don't normally listen to any rap. I recommend Back 4 U, Work it Out featuring Dave Matthews Band, and Get It Together.


I'm going to spend more time with the new Jurassic 5 CD, and then I'll probably try out the two I've got on order, one from Bubba Sparxxx and one from Sheá Seger.


Update (August 9): After further consideration, I've decided that a 9 is too high for Feedback. An 8 is still a great album, and more what Feedback deserves.

Twins

Twins are just fascinating. I imagine that people who aren't twins really can't comprehend what it's like to have a twin sibling. Perhaps people with a sibling differing only nine months in age have a vague idea, but I bet it's really pretty surreal, and everyone without a twin will never really "get it."

I haven't known too many twins in my life. Just about every lunchtime during high school I hung out with two twin sisters. They were certainly a strange pair. They were identical twins; after all that time eating with them I still couldn't tell them apart. They were both reasonably smart, both were interested in music and the theatre, and they never left each other's sight. I also know a pair of twins both working as engineers at Microsoft, though at least I can tell them apart.

That's just got to be so strange. While you can generally tell that I'm related to my brother, we certainly have wildly different interests, and we're three years apart, and there have been many points in our lives where we wanted nothing to do with each other. He's very extroverted, and I'm very introverted. He's buff, and I'm tubby. He likes to shoot things, and I like to code things. I can't quite imagine what it would be like if we were the same age, looked alike, and had mostly the same interests.

Would I be able to stand spending significant amounts of time with another me? I think that's an interesting question for anyone to ask themselves. I think I could... probably... most of the time. But I don't want to kid myself into thinking that I really have any clue what having a twin would be like.

I wonder if having a twin sort of automatically "fixes" personality flaws. If you and your twin both have the same annoying characteristic, it would seem that you'd notice it and constantly be reminded of it, and be much more motivated to correct the problem.

Hinge

Hinge

Sometimes I am fascinated by fairly abstract things, and this is one of those photos. It's just a simple little bit of contrast—a red hinge nailed to a white board on a red barn. I like the way that I framed this one, and I love the texture of the wood. It's been my desktop wallpaper more than once.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Island

Ireland coast

This picture is from my trip to Ireland during spring break of my senior year in college. Where better to go for spring break than a cold and rainy island off the coast of Europe?

There's nothing really special about it. But, growing up in Nebraska, I am not accustomed to seeing oceans. In Seattle I can visit the Puget Sound coast (is "coast" even an appropriate word?) whenever I like. But it's very different. Here, wherever I see water, there's a big city around it. But there I was, on the coast of Ireland, not a city in sight. Just flat water as far as the eye can see, just feet (er, meters) away from where I was standing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Herbert

Herbert, portrait

Today's picture is a portrait of my grandfather on my mom's side, Herbert. He's the source of my little bit of Choctaw native American blood. I love observing people and taking portraits, so when I returned home for Thanksgiving in 2004, I took a lot of them. I was just getting used to my new camera at that point. I like this shot because it's completely natural—it's not posed, and there's no artificial light. I don't mind posed shots, but I dislike the unnatural kinds of poses you see in most portraits—family pictures on the wall, wedding pictures, yearbook pictures, et cetera.

Human

Excellent song that I had nearly forgotten about:

Goldfrapp—Human, from the album Felt Mountain.

Allison Goldfrapp's strong, saucy voice, strings, and a catchy rhythm, with all of the weird little twists that make it Goldfrapp. All Music Guide calls it a "sci-fi/spy hybrid," whatever that's supposed to mean, but it definitely has a Bond-esque feel to it.

My other car

There's an interesting rental car service called MyOtherCar that rents only expensive vehicles, like a Porsche for $350 for a weekend, or a Lotus for $500. They even throw in $75 for dinner. Intriguing business.

Power Grid

I just remembered that several of my readers play the excellent game Power Grid, and may not know that when it first came out, I developed some extremely handy little reference sheets for the game. Like many board games, there are several little details that are different depending on how many people are playing, and it's hard to keep them all straight. That is, without the handy-dandy Power Grid Reference Sheets! Just pull the right one out of the box and set it off to the side, and you'll never have to crack open the manual to set up the game.

Power Grid reference sheets, example

I vow that if I ever publish a game, such necessary things will come with the game, or be printed right on the back of the manual. (In fairness to the game, a harder-to-read version of the chart at the bottom is on the back of the Power Grid manual, but the other information is scattered and buried all over the booklet.)

Anyway, you can get them at BoardGameGeek. Be sure to vote for them if you think they're handy. :)

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Lava

Lava

I took this photo in 2004 in Hawaii, and it's one of my all-time favorites. I got as close as I could stand to the lava, and even several feet back the heat emanating from the lava burned my face. But, I manned up and refused to let that get in the way of a cool picture. (I probably should have been more worried about damage to the camera than the discomfort.) It moved slowly... fast enough to make it nearly unbelievable that it was live, molten rock, but slow enough that I could get close and take a picture.

The sight of molten rock oozing forth from the earth just feet away from where I was standing was one of the most amazing experiences I've had on a vacation.

I often wonder how much better pictures like this would have turned out had I a better camera at the time. One of the reasons that I bought nice camera equipment is so that I'd have no excuse other than my own incompetence and lack of experience whenever a shot turned out poorly. In this case, I imagine that it would have turned out sharper, with smoother colors. But, it's still a great shot.

A photo a day

I'd like to post a photo that I've taken at some point in the past roughly once a day for a while. Usually it will be something pretty. Sometimes it will be interesting. Sometimes it will be sentimental. Sometimes it will be silly. I'll start with the latter.

Introducing... the Schneiderslide.



Friends' dorm room in college, turned into a makeshift slip-and-slide with 1360 free magazines.

Amazing

I found myself surfing Flickr tonight for a while after stumbling across this incredible photo gallery of various artists' works:

1000 views + 100 favorites

Just about every image in the collection is excellent.