Archives for posts with tag: Writing

My friend Dave sent me the below video, which is great on a number of levels, not the least of which is, this is another piece of mythology in the life of Major Tom, the fictional astronaut created by David Bowie:

First, it’s an artifact from “Breaking Bad“, which has crept up to become the second best show of all time. Second, it features Gale Boedeker, the dorky would-be meth supercook, who is a lot like the interesting but mildly irritating fifth member of your trivia team with a weird breadth of knowledge. Third, the karaoke video has Thai subtitles.

So yes – it’s funny. The most important element of this song, however, is the content of the lyrics. The song is “Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Peter Schilling, from his 1983 album which also featured a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Odyssey”, where the Major Tom character was first introduced. This is interesting for a few reasons, but largely because a character created by one artist (Bowie) across three of his own songs, has had his mythology colored in by numerous other artists since. It’s like the story of Major Tom (which is itself not that interesting) has become part of modern rock folklore, like it’s an oral history being retold by subsequent generations, despite the fact that all of the songs are available currently.

So what does this mean? Let’s go through the chronology of Major Tom’s service record and see what we can learn, starting with the original song:

David Bowie – “Space Oddity” from the album “Space Oddity” (1969)

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

imageThe KLF are probably remembered as an early-90’s techno group that dressed in cult robes and did a duet with Tammy Wynette. They also were the #1 singles artist of 1991, adopted esoteric sci-fi novel philosophies, wrote an ironic book about how to have a #1 hit, defaced billboards, took out cryptic ads in music magazines, and videotaped themselves burning a million pounds sterling on a Scottish island. The KLF retired by performed at a music industry showcase concert which ended by fired machine-gun blanks into the unsuspecting audience (ok, over the audience) and left a dead sheep outside the door, after which they announced their retirement and deleted their entire back catalog. People don’t really understand what the hell they were about, but they were at least interesting.

You, on the other hand, are a coward who writes graffiti in bar bathrooms and have never accomplished anything. Please go back to scribbling fake website names with sharpies.

The other night, I was watching “Law and Order:SVU” with my wife, because I am a solidly accommodating husband. At least in this instance. For those unfamiliar with the show, SVU is a spinoff of the main Law and Order franchise which deals exclusively with horrible sexual violence criminal cases.

Okay, if I were to recommend a show to you by saying “You should check it out this awesome show. It’s about horrible sexual violence,” you would think I was a loon and ignore everything I said forever. Right? No. It’s routinely among the most popular shows on TV, not to mention the most popular show of the franchise. Viewers describe it as “really good” and “well written”. I watched about 10 minutes and was so disturbed that I went to go empty the dishwasher, something I hate doing more anything (oddly, loading it with dishes is fun for me).

What is it about this show that is so appealing? My first guess was the rest of the world was more numb to this sort of crime and it didn’t bother them as much, although that theory doesn’t hold up – I watch a reasonable amount of cinematic violence and it doesn’t really bother me.

My second theory might be the one that holds up. I think people are just as disturbed by the storylines as I am, however the eventual catching and facing-of-justice for the criminals is satisfying enough to make the show work. It’s like people get to watch terrible crimes and then feel better once the case is solved and the perp gets what’s coming to him. To me, it seems like an acted-out revenge fantasy.

Which turned my attention to another show I’ve gotten deeply into recently: Dexter. The premise of show is based around a serial killer whose targets/victims are murderers who slip through the justice system on technicalities. So you first meet this guy and are pretty disturbed by his lust for blood, but oddly, over time, you can’t help but feel like he’s on the right side of the law and cheer for him. The show is otherwise phenomenally written and acted, with most of the action taking place in Dexter’s workplace (the Miami Metro police station) which provides for a lot of fun tension where you think he’ll get caught.

It’s a weird feeling to root for the serial killer and it awakens a lot of anti-bureaucracy sentiment in the viewer. You are slowly convinced that the machinations of justice constantly let creeps out onto the street to commit more crimes, while a benevolent street-sweeper like Dexter is the only way to keep the city in line.

This is a crazy line of thinking. The justice system is not perfect but it does a pretty reasonable job, based on what my lawyer friends tell me. It’s certainly overly complicated and people do skate through technicalities, but that tends to be the minority (apparently). So this is another example of a revenge fantasy come to life. People commit horrible murders and our visceral feeling is to exact revenge, so Dexter carries it out and it seems just.

If you haven’t seen “Inglorious Basterds”, you should, and without dropping spoil-bombs, let’s just say it fits this trend.

Fantasy in popular entertainment has a long history of us probing imagined worlds, laws of physics, and moral structures. It’s the great appeal of entertainment – that we get to mentally explore some “what-if” scenarios. And certainly, we’ve imagined justice exacted before, but maybe it just seems a lot more prevalent and satisfying than before. Or not. It’s just an idea.

I was called for jury duty this week in Boston, which means gathering early with the other potential jurors, hearing speeches about how important this civic obligation is, and drinking watery coffee from thick-accented Southie ladies.

Overall, the process was fairly well run, I would say. They were pretty organized and everything ran smoothly. I had a low number and they picked me for potential juror evaluation quickly, which was a lucky stroke.

When we got to the court room, the judge read out the case we would be hearing, and it was a barn-burner:

A Suffolk County grand jury today issued indictments against four people for allegedly kidnapping and torturing a Brighton man in an Allston apartment in an attempt to get drugs from him this past June.

Yeah. Turns out some hoppers decided to extort $5,000 from some guy who probably didn’t have it and in the process attempted to murder him, aggravatingly assaulted him, and committed arson and burned the guy later after they got the ransom money.

The courtroom had four defendants and they kept reading my name out loud when calling my juror name. These four defendants seemed like people I shouldn’t mess with and in some sense, I’m glad I didn’t get picked. But man, what a case.

I got the Google/Verizon Droid yesterday on launch day and here’s my review. It’s clearly not adding anything to the dozens of other review posted, but I hope it helps my friends decide if it’s worth a bunch of money and a 2-year commitment. Also, I haven’t heard anyone make the very obvious Star Wars nod, so there you go.

Background: I’ve been a Blackberry user for 5 years through three models (two through work), the last was the Curve. I’m a big fan of the devices and focus most of my time reading emails and rarely responding. The web experience was frustrating and generally used only to settle bar bets. My last Curve had 2 years on the clock and was much worse for the wear – missing side panels, failing to answer calls or unlock – it was ready to be put down like Old Yeller.

Further background: In addition to the dying phone, I was in need of some Gadget Therapy (an adaptation of my wife’s “Retail Therapy”, although I suppose gadgets are a subset of retail… look – buying stuff is fun). I’m a big user of all Google products since they’re free and work really well for me. It seemed to make sense to get an Android phone rather than just keep installing Google software built for other devices. Also, I’m a big nerd – I’m sure that factors in this decision somewhere.

Initial impressions

I picked this up at Best Buy for one two reasons. 1) It’s across the street from my apartment and 2) They process the rebate instantly rather than charging you $300+tax, having you apply for a rebate from VZW, getting a debit card, then trying fruitlessly to spend the last few dollars on that stupid piece of plastic. This was the right decision, in spite of the 1.5 hours it took to get set up – I’m chalking that up to launch-day nonsense.

I keep all of my numbers and contacts current on Gmail, so getting my numbers ported just meant logging in with my Google account and waiting about 10 minutes. It picked up my mail immediately and started telling me about new messages from the alert bar at the top. Most of my time is spent opening my phone, checking the messages, sometimes responding, and deleting emails – so this alert bar is doing great things for me so far.

This sound dumb, but it looks really good. The screen resolution is amazing, the design graphics are not flashy but look good, and the animations are simple and fun. I’ve never had an iPhone, but the wife has one and the design was the thing I enjoyed the most about it. A bunch of user-generated themes are available which are fun although I’m going to stick with the default for a while. Also, the touchscreen gives a little buzz when you hit buttons, so while there’s no physical give, you get the vibrate to tell you that the buttons’ been hit. Small but helpful and cool.

The big downer is the keyboard. Right away, you’ll notice that slider keyboards that are East-West like the Droids are less comfortable than North-South keyboards (like Blackberry or the Palm Pre). It’s hard to reach the keys with your thumbs from further out than a narrower lengthwise approach. Also, the keys are flat and don’t give you much give like a Blackberry does. The experience makes typing less than awesome, although when doing so, I still prefer to have a physical keyboard rather than the virtual one on the screen, maybe just because I’m not use to it. If you’re huge typer (I’m not) this would be the thing I believe should give you the most pause.

The camera is better than my portable at this point, and the video is supposedly HD quality, which is cool, although I cant see myself using it.

Android

I’m a big fan of the OS for a few reasons. First, I like that there isn’t too much control over the apps available by Google – I think it’ll lead to more (and better) free apps. Second, the open-source nature of the OS makes me believe more eyes will help spot bugs, fix user interface issues, and add new features on a more rapid development cycle. I generally feel better when my device software is updated more frequently. I realize that’s not rational, but it makes me feel like there are good things on the way. Finally, it’s pretty robust – the apps are responsive, there’s no discernible hangs or delays, and no app failures yet. I’ve seen iPhones look like useless bricks after they have some mileage on them so I’ll be curious to see how this wears over time.

As I mentioned, I use Google stuff pretty heavily (mail, calendar, IM, especially) and I have a good feeling about how Google Voice + Android will evolve over time. I think at some point, it’ll remove VZW from having to sell me minutes and charge me absurd fees (See below) and I’m working to see if I can use the phone with just a data plan (~$40) vs. with a voice+txt plan (another $40+). I like having to read my Gmail in one place rather than on the Blackberry where I had to mark emails as read twice (on the bberry messaging app and the gmail app). I also enjoy having all of my contacts in sync.

EDIT: I failed to mention this initially, but the turn-by-turn directions from Google Nav which comes installed is as good if not better than standalone GPS systems. A huge benefit that largely gets overlooked.

Without going on for too long about it, you can tell in the mobile world that devices are taking second stage to Operating Systems, in the same way your laptop OS became more critical than the manufacturer, I suspect it’ll go the same way with mobile phones.

Verizon

Here’s a big bummer for me. I switched from T-Mobile with a year on the contract, so I paid the penalty for early withdrawal. But I figured last time I was a Verizon customer, I loved the coverage and (comparably) fewer dropped calls, although that was 2003. So far, in my apartment (which I believe has a cell tower on the roof) I get 0-1 bars of service in the apartment. No big deal, since I usually connect through the WiFi at home to make sure I have a solid signal. However…

Calls made WiFi connections on T-Mobile are not charged against your minutes (This privilege cost me $5/month). This makes perfect sense since it costs them next to nothing to route calls over the internets. Verizon allows me to call with WiFi connections, but charges them against my minutes? Really? Irritating

Also I’m a medium-heavy texter, so the SMS plans seem outrageous to me ($5 for 250, $10 for 500, $20 for unlimited) especially since they cost carriers literally next-to-nothing. Seriously? This is an inane amount of money. This alone may push me to change my main number to the Google Voice to avoid the SMS charges. I’m pretty cheap and I’m looking to get my monthly bill down as far as I can. Maybe I’m just mad because I committed to almost $100/month for 2 years. That could be it.

EDIT: My other gripe with Verizon is that free night calling goes from 9pm-6am. This coupled with the expensive per-minute plans means I’ll have to keep an eye on my voice usage which will drive me crazy, especially since most calls are made from home.

Conclusions

Good times – I think at the least it heralds an upcoming era of more interesting and useful phones. I’m not sure it’s an iPhone-killer since this is built a little more for dorks who like to constantly customize stuff, while the iPhone is more for the normal public who has better things to do with their time. I’m glad for my purchase but I can’t say it’s for everyone.

NBA:
Pau and Marc Gasol
Brook and Robin Lopez
Willie and Shandon Anderson
Bernard and Albert King
Horace and Harvey Grant
Jason and Jaren Collins
Dominique and Gerald Wilkins
Jon and Brent Barry

NFL:
Tiki and Ronde Barber
Champ and Boss Bailey
Peyton and Eli Manning
Peter and Michael Boulware
Koy and Ty Detmer
Andre and Kevin Dyson
Bill and Martin Gramatica
Matt and Tim Hasselbeck
Brock and Damon Huard
Qadry and Raghib Ismail
Josh and Luke McCown
Sterling and Shannon Sharpe
Michael and Marcus Vick

MLB:
Roberto and Sandy Alomar
Vince, Joe, and Dom Dimaggio (all played in same outfield one year)
Felipe, Matty, and Jesus Alou
JD, Stephen, and Tim Drew
Erick and Willy Aybar
George and Juan Bell
Aaron and Bret Boone
Jason and Jeremy Giambi
Brian and Marcus Giles
Jose and Ozzie Canseco
Livan and Orlando Hernandez
Cal Jr. and Billy Ripken
Al and Mark Leiter
Greg and Mike Maddux
Pedro and Ramon Martinez
Mel Jr and Todd Stottlemyre
Bengie, Jose, and Yadier Molina
BJ and Justin Upton
Jose and Javier Valentin
Phil and Joe Niekro
Jered and Jeff Weaver
Delmon and Dmitri Young
Jim and Gaylord Perry

On the flight from home, I snagged the Exit row and sat next to a med student and Some White Guy. The med student broke out an exam practice test and got to work. This is a great start to the flight because it meant I didn’t have to talk to anyone. But then something ineffable (nod to “How I Met Your Mother” – solid new show in my lineup) happened. She broke out a can of tuna and a plastic fork to start digging in. Look, I’m all for health and whatnot, and I’ve definitely brought more than my share of food with me wherever I go, but tuna is a different story, because of The New Tuna Rule.

The New Tuna Rule is basically a rule I am inventing now, which just says that much like when smoking was legal in public places, it was polite to at least turn to people you were with and ask “do you mind if I smoke?”, The New Tuna Rule is that if you decide to break out a can of tuna, you have to ask everyone within 5 feet if its cool. No exceptions. Mandatory in confined spaces (e.g. airplanes)

She proceeded to wash this down with two Mountain Dews and pay for her snack pack out of a wad of cash which I’m guessing was at least $2000. These comprised strikes two and three and I began looking for another seat. The rest of the flight passed without event.

I recently had a look at ManyMoons – a light project management tool in the theme of Basecamp, Lighthouse, etc. My quick notes below.

So it looks good (built in Rails?) and is responsive and easy to learn like Basecamp. This is not trivial to accomplish. BUT ease of use/learning comes at the expense of complexity and features

It lacks time tracking functionality, which is critical for our (and most) businesses. Not just from an invoicing perspective but also moderating productivity.

Also, file-sharing is lacking which is the reason Basecamp does well also. Where they fall down is searching and categorization of files, so they get lost. But file-sharing is critical.

Also, lacks email input to complement the output, again, like Basecamp.

Finally, there’s no overview like a gant, a calendar of the next month, etc. It works well as a light task manager, but it doesn’t work well for someone who is *managing* other people.

It’s important to decide which niche you want to go after when designing productivity tools. Is it productivity? Time tracking? Communications? Bug tracking? Collaboration? Each of these has a different featureset to consider.

Ok. I love the Acela service service on the Eastern seaboard. I generally think train travel could do with a major upgrade in the US. For example, between Chicago and Detroit, there is one track. In both directions. So if two trains need to pass each other while going in different directions, they need to do so at the stations only. Really. This means the train takes 6+ hrs and is not worth the cost ($30)

The Acela on the other hand, is somewhat faster than the regional train (NY-BOS is 3:30 vs 4:15hrs), miles more comfortable with a cafe car, foot room, electrical outlets, and very few delays. You pay a little over $100 but you eliminate delay risk completely.

If I’m traveling between NY and Boston and there is even a hint of weather issues, I take the train despite it probably adding a half hour onto the door-to-door trip length.

It’s the best. Please build more speedy trains.