Saturday, February 20, 2010

Miracle Room

Ya gotter love the Internet. Twenty years one of my friends (hi CLA) played a single I really liked. There was no way of getting it (except recording), because he'd gotten it in NYC, and it was by a friend of his and this friend's very obscure band Miracle Room. The band is so obscure that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. But whaddaya know, somebody has now made a home page for it! And the song I wanted to hear again is These Are My Friends.


Masturbation is good for your health, All4Women article.
... That same release of hormones can also help to ease certain physical discomfort, including the cramping and irritability of PMS and even, in some cases, the symptoms of migraine headaches.

The price of success

Rowling is being sued for plagiarism, again.

The more I learn about it, the more I think that the best position to be in is to be successful, but in a moderate way, a relaxed way. If you become a huge hit, all kinds of idiotic problems come along with it. Treasure hunters will bring you frivolous law suits like the above, you'll have to deal with the press and with fans, most of whom will be nice but some of whom have no concept of the object of their admiration being a subject too. Anything you do "next" will be compared to your big hit, and invariably at least some of the comparisons will be negative, no matter if the Next Thing is very different or if it's same-y, no matter if it's bad or good. Everybody will think they have a right to an opinion of how you should run your life. In short, your life will not be your own anymore. OK, but the money, some say. OK, seductive for sure. But once you have a clean home, a comfortable bed, and enough not to worry about if the fridge is gonna break, will it really make you a lot happier to get the double of that?

And behold a hit the size of Harry Potter, my god. Even if Rowling never writes another book, she is so famous that she will never outlive it. That's gotta be a very strange position in life. No matter where you go or who you speak to, you'll never again be just Joanne and have a nice chat on a level playing field, you'll be The Author of Harry Potter!, and everybody will want something from you or expect certain things about you.

Cup warmer?

I was looking for a cup warmer, and the only ones I could find was USB ones. Most of them had lousy reviews, seems they simply don't keep the tea warm. One had no reviews, but it was claimed distinctly that it kept a cup at 50-60 degrees C. So I bought it. But it seems very ineffective.
(Maybe it's better with a steel mug, but the only one I have is too large for the plate.)

Has anybody tried a USB cup warmer which was effective? Or does USB simply not have enough power, and the whole biz is a semi-scam?

Alternatively, does anybody know a good cup-warmer of another kind? (Preferably for sale in Europe/UK.)

Update: Philocalist said...
Not too sure why you would want a cup holder? Stewed tea, reheated coffee? Yeuch!!! :-)
Soup might be an option I guess?
Never used one, but I'm guesssing that a steel mug might be a liability on a heating device ... even 'just' 60 degrees is gonna feel very hot on your lips, no?
Perhaps an insulated mug would be a better choice ... would keep things hotter without stewing them?

Eolake said...
A friend gave me a steel insulated mug of the camping kind. It didn't seem to work very well though. Maybe there are better kinds.

I don't want the tea/coffee stewing, of course, I just want to slow down the cooling process enough that it's hot for the 10 minutes it takes me to drink a cup.

I used to have a small tea-light holder which worked well, but it broke recently. (A tea light is the stubby candles in small silver cups, used under tea pots.)

Update: I've ordered a Thermos Travel Mug. Judging from reviews, it seems to be much more efficient than the one I have.

Now, what to do about my cappuccinos? They are made into a small cup, they are only just hot enough, and if I pour them into a thermos mug, all the heat will be gone in a moment.

Updated: With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don’t Need to Sell

With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don’t Need to Sell, NYT article.
More than half of the “best-selling” e-books on the Kindle,’s e-reader, are available at no charge.

Some publishers are giving away free Kindle books in the hopes of creating interest for the author or for later book in a series. Other publishers consider this to be self-cannibalism and harmful to the industry.

Somebody said "free is not a business model".
Playing the devil's advocate here, I'll say: that's true. "Free" is a word. You need a a lot more specifics to make a business model. For example, you need to specify what and how much you are giving away for free, and what if any path there is from that free sample to the customer buying something.
It's obvious that if you give everything away, then you'll go under fast. On the other hand, I don't expect to hear anybody arguing against the free copies which are sent out to respected reviewers. One great review is invaluable.

There's also the issue of what does it cost you to give away samples. If it's physical books, then it would cost a fortune to give away tens of thousands. If it's ebooks, then that cost is a few dollars. And if that does generate sales, then it might be worth it.
Then it might hang on: how good is the product? Or more accurately: how many people like the product and how badly do they want it? If nobody likes a book, it probably does not matter how much you give away for free. But if they want the next hit as badly as heroin addicts after the first free sample, then you're in clover.

We don't know about writing yet, but in some industries, the free-samples models has worked, for example in the shareware industry. And was it McAfee who was the first to give away the software for free, and then charge for upgrades? He's a billionaire now.

I think the jury will still be out for a while on whether the digital age is good or bad for artists/writers who want to be professionals. On the one hand, the barriers to getting published has been drastically lowered. On the other hand, the barriers to getting published has been drastically lowered also for your competition! And if it turns out that way too many of them are willing to work for free...I dunno.

Update: from the article:
In October, the most recent month for which she has statistics, Ms. Brashear said Samhain offered free digital versions of “Giving Chase,” a romance novel by Lauren Dane, leading to 26,897 downloads.
But paid purchases of some of Ms. Dane’s other novels jumped exponentially. Her earlier novel “Chased,” which sold 97 copies in September, sold 2,666 digital units in October, and another of her previous books, “Taking Chase,” which sold 119 copies in September, sold 3,279 in the month in which a free download was available.

Jeff Dunham

Jeff Dunham's "Dead Terrorist" act.
... I don't know, it does not actually seem all that funny to me. ?
Apart from being completely based on stereotypes (and normally I don't even care), the jokes are just not very remarkable, more like predictable.

Windows are insecure

Decades ago I read an anecdote in Readers' Digest about how secretaries in one of the first buildings with all-glass walls were nervous of walking near the walls/windows for fear of falling out. The firm called in an expert to consult. He asked that they all be present, then he came into the office, ran across the floor, threw himself at the window, bounced off, picked himself up, and left.

Maybe Mr. Hoy from the 2009 Darwin Awards had read that story.
"Police said a lawyer demonstrating the safety of windows in a downtown Toronto skyscraper crashed through a pane with his shoulder and plunged 24 floors to his death. A police spokesman said Garry Hoy, 39, fell into the courtyard of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower early Friday evening as he was explaining the strength of the buildings' windows to visiting law students. Hoy previously has conducted demonstrations of window strength according to police reports."

I'm sure it's true, I read it on the Internet.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tips for street photography (updated)

Tips for street photography, article.

He says many smart things, especially the friendliness angle.

I disagree with one thing though: the claim that using auto-exposure slows the camera down. I don't know what kinds of cameras he's been using, but I've never used an auto-exposure camera which slowed me down even for a split-second. The focusing is the bit that takes time. Only in the bigger and more professional cameras (over $600 or so) does this get under half a second and therefore negligible.

Update: Bruce reminds us of this article on Lum-Land, which confirms that automation is your friend when things go fast. I did read that article when it came out, and like usual from Lum-Land it's worthwhile.
I know this is going to get me kicked out of the fraternity, but set your camera on a high ISO (400) and set it in Program mode. The reason for this is that documentary photographs often happen in a split second. You don't want to be thinking about whether or not you have a fast enough shutter speed selected, or enough depth of field. Buy yourself some time by setting the camera so that you can swing from the sunny side of the street to a shadowed doorway in a split second, and still get the shot.

I would even say that unless there is too much light, ISO 800 might be an even better bet with modern camera. Hardly any camera which came out in the past year or two can't make nigh-perfect pictures at ISO 800. And the bigger of them (DSLRs) maybe at 1600 too. Test it.

tOP in big time

I would like to congratulate my friend Mike Johnston for getting an ad from Pentax on his justly famous blog The Online Photographer. This might signal that the blog now is in the Big Time, and rightly so, I don't know of any one better, or even roughly as good.

I also think Pentax will be pleased with the ad. The readership on tOP is very discerning, the very type of people who will appreciate the strengths of the Pentax system, such as their compact high-quality prime lenses (like the amazing 70-mm lens) and in-camera image stabilization, both features sadly missing from Canon and Nikon's cameras.

Models looking real

MP Smith's models and photos thereof are popular.
If I were him, I'd use something like Helicon software to combine exposure of different focus to make the depth of field greater, for improved realism. That would be the opposite of those making "fake miniature" pictures by using super-short DoF on real-world subjects.

... Ooh, maybe he does sometimes do that, look at the picture below. (I quite like that picture actually.)

I think one of the things which makes (some of) his photos work so well is that he is not afraid of uneven light. In film and advertising, everything is usually so over-lit that all real shadow is gone, but in real world, light is often very uneven.

... this picture also comes much closer to what would interest me about making models and photographing them: making art with it. Something unusual and interesting. Maybe actual fantasy scenes. Or may creating architecture which does not exist in the real world. Or vehicles which don't exist in the real world.
Of course to do that well, one has to be a good concept artist and a good model builder, and I'm sure not many people are both!

Shotgun handgun

This handgun fires shotgun shells. What a kick.
It is popular with Taiwanese gang members, despite costing, gasp, $7,000. That must surely be a price based on supply and demand, this thing does not look like it's costly to manufacture.

Speculation vs. investment

I've updated the money article with a note about the difference between investment and speculation. This is something which is not often made clear, and which made a big difference to me when I first heard about it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Apple’s Prices for E-Books May Be Lower Than Expected

Apple’s Prices for E-Books May Be Lower Than Expected, NYT article.
It turns out Apple has included provisions for lower prices than the indicated thirteen bucks, for bestsellers and books on sale.

School spies on students

[Thanks Neeraj]
School used student laptop webcams to spy on them at school and home, post.

Not only did they use the webcams to spy on the kids at home, but they used it as evidence to discipline a kid for "inappropriate behavior at home"!!! Are we in the twilight zone here? I don't know if that's more nasty, or more plain stupid.

Google's experimental fiber network

Broadband Speeds Increase Around the World - But Not in the U.S., article.
Akamai just announced that the average broadband speed in the U.S. declined by 2.4% in the third quarter of 2009 compared to the same quarter in 2008.



[Thanks Stephen]

Floating office. For fun or in case Al Gore was right.

Floating Office
For Business Users...
  • Your own floating office would be an inspirational place to work in and give you:
  • a compact design giving enough space for one or two people to work in comfort
  • a "private" working area (i.e. not overlooked by the neighbours!)
  • a "breakout" area (perhaps for small meetings, meals etc.)
  • an external sun deck
  • a kitchenette
  • a pull-out berth (for occasional overnight stays)
  • plenty of storage space

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The pink geek

David points out Barbie's 125th profession (by vote): computer engineer!
Though she does have glasses, her femininity is kept sternly in place by her pink laptop! :-)

The future inflation cloud (updated)

The future inflation cloud, does it have a silver lining?

Money printing in most countries (including digital numbers "money") has exploded in recent years due to the crisis. We are probably due for another very bad inflation decade, similar to the seventies. Which means your money in the retirement savings account may be losing value faster than the interest you're getting on them.

Various people, including reader Robb, has mentioned silver bullion as potentially an even better inflation hedge than gold. So I've started studying it a bit, and it does seem very interesting.
One thing I've found is this page, not the least the video clips lower on the page. Now obviously these people are biased, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, but unless the stats are made up then...
Electronics production is booming and using more and more silver... Silver prices have been depressed by governments/banks dumping their deposits, but these may be running out... Silver is used for money, but is also (unlike gold) being consumed industrially, in ways where you can't economically reclaim it.... The far East is booming and will expand these factors strongly...

And for myself I've noticed that while gold has doubled in the past couple of years, silver has stayed the same. This could mean it's a dead duck, but it could also mean that the popular market, like often, is just behind the times, and it's a great buying opportunity.
Also, just emotionally, "silver" is traditionally "the next best thing to gold", but currently it's sold at about 1/70th the price of gold! That just feels very cheap. And historically it is indeed lower than average, and this is without taking the factors above into consideration.
One downside to silver compared to gold here in the UK is that gold is excepted from the usual 17.5% VAT (sales tax) charge when buying, but other metals, including silver, are not. And individuals won't recover that expense when selling. I don't know how that stands in other countries.

Here's another perspective on silver, less breathless.

A good education costs money?

An excellent trend in the last few years is the further socialization of high end education via the Internet. One prominent such channel is iTunes University.
Another is many big universities putting a ton of material online for free. An example is this photography education from MIT.
Alex Doonesbury goes there, so I'm sure it's a good place.

(Alex is the girl on the left.)
Here's more story and comics about Alex at MIT. Alex is one of my favorite Doonesbury characters. As a kid, she was scary precocious and one of the main forces in making her father (Mike, the title character) successful in the Net age. One of her early successes just after the Dot-Bomb was to build a company called, which bought up stuff from failed companies dead cheap...

Woa: a 2009 US Department of Education study revealed that on average, online students outperformed those receiving face-to-face instruction!
That's from this video about the super-boom of Social Media. (Has loud and irrelevant music.)


Talking about free education, Tommy found this shortish Macintosh Manual. Seems you have to register, but it's free. I'm guessing it's from new to medium-weight users, as it were.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Apple "Pro Pad" in two years?

An Apple "Pro Pad" in two years? A TidBITS article speculates about larger pad devices running future versions of the iPhone OS, taking over more tasks and activities hereto done with laptops.
Me, I can see it. Once you have a tight and secure, easy to use device like iPad, it's not hard to imagine stretching it at the corners, literally and figuratively, to become more powerful. After all, the platform has to develop and expand, and we hardly need a device smaller than the iPhone. And also the geeks are foaming at the mouth about the limited capabilities of the iPad, it's not unthinkable they could expand a bit into that market while staying true to the spirit of the system.

I must admit I have been quite lukewarm on the idea of the iPad being used for production, but TidBITS visits this issue too.
I'm still wondering a little why you'd choose an iPad over an iMac for serious content creation. But this article, and particularly the comments under it, has some interesting thoughts, like this one by Ian Turner:
For me, the iPad is all about freeing up content creation. A much wider spectrum of users will be able to use it. Children will take to it even more naturally than writing because they just have to touch it. Other people who just are not currently comfortable with the computer will suddenly have so much more confidence because there is so little to learn. But it is even more than freeing up who can create content, it is also about where you create content. If you get a creative urge whilst watching the TV, you can just doodle away on your lap, putting it down and taking it up whenever you feel like it. Reading and writing become much closer to the same experience because you can just flick from your ebook to your note taker and back again all in a form factor you can use whilst standing on the train. Even more importantly for me, it really does free up people working in the field to be much more spontaneous. Imagine a geologist working in the field. They don’t have to sit down and open up laptop, you can just take it out of your bag, download a quick picture, type a quick blog post and send it over 3G. The work becomes much more free and spontaneous for everyone working in the field like scientists, engineers, journalists, teachers, and even relief workers. Something so light and so useable really will change the way that we create things in response to the world around us. For me, I think the iPad will change the world even more than the iPhone.

And here's an article about how software company The Omni Group feels about the iPad platform. (Hint: enthusiastic!)

Burnt iMac survives

[Thanks TTL]
Burnt iMac survives.
Looks like an 'orror show, but still works perfectly.

Year of the Tiger

Seems it's just been Chinese new year, it's the year of the Tiger, and my lovely Chinese neighbor made this lovely thing.


Dang, I imported my pink camera from Japan, and now, one week after I got it, it's announced that it'll now be sold in Europe also! There goes my monopoly on being the Cute Photographer! Durn durn durn! :-)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Up with balls

Just watching Up.
Pretty entertaining flick. It has some dogs with voice-synthesizing collars. These dogs are quite intelligent and purposeful. Except when somebody waves a tennis ball and throws it, then they forget everything and bolt after it. That reminds me of something... oh yes: men and titties.

Unusual lenses

Unusual lenses, article. Fun little article on a web site which is centered on making video with still cameras. I was caught by one line in particular:
Camera bodies are a tool built on shifting sands, ever improving. But a lens is what most determines the look and style of your film. Whilst people understandably are willing to spend £1500 on a camera body like the 5DMkII which will be obsolete in a few years, generally people are much less willing to spend that kind of money on a lens.

Well said. While I myself have actually bought some fine and expensive lenses, I've noticed that feel more guilty about it than when buying cameras. This is stupid, because like the article says, a lens is even more influential on the image than the camera, and it can be used for decades, whereas digital cameras are outdated in a couple of years.

Did you know that Stan Kubrick filmed Barry Lyndon without any artificial light? With the amazing and rare super-fast (sensitive) Zeiss/NASA 50mm F0.7 lens.
I admire that. I've noticed that modern film makers don't even film outdoors in good light without flooding everything in artificial light. Which of course makes for an artificial look.

Alex wrote:
I was just noticing in "Cat Ballou" yesterday, there was an outdoor shot where Cat (Fonda) was in partial shadow. It looked like a home movie, and it took me a moment to think that that is how things seem outside.
It's strange how when you are out and about the contrast is not as obvious as it is in photos. Does film really deepen shadow, or does our perception filter efficiently?

This is a very interesting question. I think the mind compensates a whole lot. Also, the mind is always busy with significances of things, rather than observing how things look. This is why it's so hard for people to learn how to draw, they keep drawing things how they think they look, instead of how they actually look.

By the way, there's a famous book/method for getting around this, Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain by Betty Edwards.

Earplug tip

Occasionally when the neighborhood is noisy, I like to sleep with earplugs. And it was only last year that I found out that these days there is a wealth of different kinds of earplugs. Even within one brand there may be 20 different kinds, and it's very hard to tell exactly what the differences are, because as is typical in marketing, they all seem brilliant at everything!

So here's my tip: get a Variety Pack, and try whole pack before deciding. I found some last year which were much better than anything I'd tried before, so I stuck with them. It was just last week I noticed that there were still a couple of types left in the pack I hadn't tried, so I did, and whaddayaknow, one type was even better than the first one, it was much softer and so did not become irritating as soon, I can wear them hours longer.

I also tried the included "slightly better" type (same name only with "Ultra" in front) with slightly more noise protection, but it turned out that they were so soft they broke when I pulled them out again, and they are slightly smaller and tend to be hard to get hold of, since I have a very large skull. So the Variety Pack helped me find which type was best for me.

Thinking long term

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Rap parody

[Thanks to Illustro]
I guess this song is best described as a dumb white dude trying to do the Gangsta Rap thing, only he is even dumber than those songs. And yes, it's extremely sexist and stupid, but it's a parody. I'm not sure it's all that funny, but it may have some kind of point.

He's made some good songs (also parodies) too:

[Thanks to Illustro]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why defend freedom of icky speech?

Why defend freedom of icky speech?, Neil Gaiman article.
If you accept -- and I do -- that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible.

It started with a man sentenced to jail for a comic book.

Gaiman also discusses our recent topic, "what is pornography".
You can now get De Sade in the UK. The arrival of internet porn in the UK meant that the police stopped chasing things like that.
I loved coming to the US in 1992, mostly because I loved the idea that freedom of speech was paramount. I still do. With all its faults, the US has Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment states that you can't be arrested for saying things the government doesn't like. [...]
So when Mike Diana was prosecuted -- and, in 1996, found guilty -- of obscenity for the comics in his Zine "Boiled Angel", and sentenced to a host of things, including (if memory serves) a three year suspended prison sentence, a three thousand dollar fine, not being allowed to be in the same room as anyone under eighteen, over a thousand hours of community service, and was forbidden to draw anything else that anyone might consider obscene, with the local police ordered to make 24 hour unannounced spot checks to make sure Mike wasn't secretly committing Art in the small hours of the morning... that was the point I decided that I knew what was Obscene, and it was prosecuting artists for having ideas and making lines on paper, and that I was henceforth going to do everything I could to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Amanda on the Oscars

Read Amanda Palmer's cutely snarky description of how it was to go to the Oscars, including being shunted off by a woman journalist who said they were only talking to "the real talent".
political wars going on to our left and right as the tables were filled with industry brass and agents who were all pulling for their shows to win. it was like a giant, well-organized junior high school cafeteria, with the super-popular kids sitting in the tables closest to the stage.

I hear that. I like many Hollywood movies, but the huge, intensive popularity contest mentality of the whole place is childish and sick. And probably incredibly seductive if you live there, and even more if you work in the industry.

Cheeky software

Valentine's problem

[Thanks to Carter]

Roses are #D20202
Violets are #6666D2
My dreams are hexadecimal
And so too are you

Regards from Carter