Saturday, March 20, 2010

My new Theme Song

Every once in a while I come across something accidentally that gets me all giddy inside. This weekend, I came across my new theme song, along with the genius behind it.

While listening to Pandora yesterday, I heard something completely new. It was a song called "Shop Vac, but an artist named Jonathan Coulton. It seems back in 2006 Coulton produced a number of songs under the Creative Commons License, giving them away for free and thus becoming an internet sensation. Which makes me wonder why I never heard of the guy before yesterday. Especially because he grew up in Colchester, CT and was roommates with John Hodgeman. Anyway, the guy is a freaking genius and absolutely hysterical. Take some time and check this stuff out:

If you're an itunes user, click on this link to be taken to Coulton's collection of 52 songs he produced by releasing one each week for a year. The album, aptly named Thing A Week One, is available for free as a podcast. Make especially sure to listen to the songs below.

Now, to make the experience even more worthwhile, it turns out there's an entire Wiki site dedicated to Mr. Coulton, where you can read the lyrics to each of his songs. The song links below are to their lyric pages.

Shop Vac

Re: Your Brains

Mr. Fancy Pants

Code Monkey

The Town Crotch

After you've listened to the above selections, I dare you to not go about your day with "All we wanna do is eat your brains" running through your head endlessly.

Genius. Absolute genius.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My thoughts on the iPad, and more importantly on books

I came across a blogger's well-written post about Books in the age of the iPad through my friend's blog. I began writing a very long comment at the end of the article, but decided that, as long I was in the mood to pen a full diatribe, I might as well make a blog post about it. So go ahead and read the article. I'll wait. Then, come back.

Okay, so here's my thoughts. Much of the author's future vision of print seems dead on. In the coming age of the iPad, books will need to become more creative, more special, and more worthy of buying a paper copy as opposed to simply downloading it. However, I think that the points he makes about what won't be missed are simply untrue for a great many people.

As a result of focusing the last 20 years or so of my life on the printing industry and loving it, I got to have the last summer off when my company downsized. I hold no vision of a printing industry that isn't close to death's door. It has shrunk in size each and every year I've been in it, and I'm happy to be moving on to brighter pastures. But I will never stop loving print. It's just to special an industry.

Meanwhile, I watch the transition of print to digital by watching the habits of my lovely wife. She reads somewhere close to 100 books each year. She keeps a massive, color-coded list of books she has read each year, and looks forward to seeing it grow the way a triathlete in training looks forward to seeing his times shrink with each workout. Sometimes I think she skirts the fringes of insanity with this passion of hers, but I have the utmost respect for it. Frankly, it is kind of fun to watch her obsess over the latest issue of Bookmarks Magazine, or burn out a hair dryer (and a few hair follicles) after sitting in the bathroom for an hour lost in the pages of her latest novel. And of those 100 books each year, very, VERY few are purchased retail. They come second hand, they are borrowed from the library, they are purchased at used book sales, and they are even found tucked away in our house, obtained in years past by providers unknown.

My wife has told me over and over that she will NEVER read an electronic book. While I find the finality of that claim somewhat dubious, I cannot disagree that she, and many like her, are the reason the printed book may never go away, and I hope she's right. After all:

-You shouldn't have to spend $500 just to read a book.

-You can't give an iPad to your friend after you're done reading an ebook. Heck, you can't even conveniently give it to your spouse. And likewise, most households aren't going to buy an iPad for each member of the family. At least, mine ain't.

-As I mentioned above, very few books in our house were bought retail. I know, I know, this is one of the reasons why the printing industry is having such a hard time, and they need this new business model. Sure, that's true, but if my wife had to pay $15 for each and every book she read (now would probably be a good time to point out that she's actually purchased or obtained enough books that she hasn't read yet to keep her squirreled away in her reading chair for another couple of years without ever leaving the house), plus $500 for an iPad, well, the kids would be headed for technical school instead of Carnegie Mellon.

-Personally, one of my favorite times to read is during that period on an airplane when your tray tables must be placed in their full upright and locked position. The time when all electronics must be shut off is the best time to pull out that second-hand novel sitting in my backpack. And when your landing gets delayed such that you're circling for two hours without being able to use your ebook reader, well good luck not trying to light your sneakers on fire in frustration.

-Books don't break.

-You can't take an iPad to a book signing (which, by the way, is exactly where my wife is at this very moment).

-While I definitely agree that this new paradigm will force book manufacturers to get more creative with their printed products, I don't believe the same is true for childrens books. Be it toddler board books or young pre-teen Judy Blume novels, those products will be around for a long, long time. And believe me, after you've watched your nine-year-old waste an afternoon playing the Wii or on, it's incredibly uplifting to see her pull out a Nancy Drew Mystery (yeah, they're still around) and disappear into a cozy chair for an hour with it.

-Imagine how dull and drab the den will look with empty bookshelves. I will have none of that.

-Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the concept of an iPad is the distraction. My wife complains that I never read anymore. That's almost true. I have to make an effort to detach myself from the day-to-day, from my latest home project, from the TV, or from the computer, in order to sit down and read something. But when I do, it's a unique experience that cannot be compared to attempting to read a story when you can be so easily distracted by something completely unrelated without even looking up from the page. This morning, as my daughter was reading The Lightning Thief at the breakfast table (and mind you I would NEVER let those grubby, pineapple juice-ridden sandwich clamps touch my ipad at the breakfast table if I had one), she asked me what a "caduceus" was. Not recognizing the word, we headed for the computer and suddenly got lost in a half hour of surfing Wikipedia and related sites. On the one hand, it's great to have all that information at your fingertips. On the other hand, it's great to disconnect once in a while.

Don't get me wrong. I want an iPad. I can't justify buying one right now, but I want an iPad just the same.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The REAL reason I haven't been blogging...

At long last, my latest workshop odyssey is complete. Well, at least complete enough to take a break for a while. I've finished constructing my entertainment unit. I still plan on building a piece over the TV and perhaps putting doors on the bottom of the bookshelves, but for now it's done enough that I can sit back, watch LOST, and enjoy the final product.

This was definitely a fun project. It was quite a challenge working with those old sycamore floorboards, as often times it was tough to get a piece of any decent length without huge knots or holes. Overall I didn't have any major disasters during the project, except for when I realized I incorrectly measured the space for the bottom drawers such that there's quite literally less than 1/16th of an inch of extra space for the DVDs to fit in them. Oh well, soon all video will be online anyways.

Hmmm, what's the next project gonna be? Well, my neighbor conned me into helping her build built-in cabinets around her fireplace, so that should keep me busy for a while. Plus I have a dining room to redo. Or maybe, just maybe, I'll spend a little time OUT of the basement for a while.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Coffee...a cup best brewed cold...

I'm baaack! And I'm seriously caffeinated. I'm also attempting to enjoy life a little more and, as a result, I'm working on getting my creative juices flowing again by reintroducing myself to my own blog. I hope the one or two remaining people with an RSS feed to this blog missed me as much as I missed myself.

While I refuse to blog about anythig related to work, I will say the past few months of my new job have been stressful and exhausting, and I will leave it at that. you want the full scoop? Buy me a beer. Or a cup of coffee. Hey speaking of which, that's quite the natural segue into the subject of today's blog post. Snow. No wait, I mean coffee, not snow. I'm sick of snow. and so are you. I'll just talk about coffee.

I'm somewhat of a coffee snob. I get all my coffee fresh roasted from Prestogeorge, my favorite place in Pittsburgh's Strip District, and tend to drink about three of four cups a day. I refuse to drink that standard office swill, and cringe any time someone tries to offer me skim milk to put in my cup. Recently my trusty-yet-raggedy DeLonghi coffeemaker decided it was time to give up the ghost. Well, not totally, but the timer button stopped working. Yeah, sure, it still makes coffee, just not at four in the morning while I'm still asleep. And that's annoying. So it was time for a new coffee maker.

My needs were simple. A steel carafe and a timer were really my only requirements. I wasn't interested in a machine that automatically grinds, as waking the dog at four in the morning would be a whole different annoyance. I also believe that those doohickies that take the single-serving plastic tubs of coffee are yet another example of how this planet is doomed, so I'm not going there either. And, unfortunately, I took the time to read all the comments on for each coffee maker I viewed, and noticed one common thread...they all sucked. Curse you, Amazon, and your Web 2.0 openness. It was so much easier to shop when I knew nothing about what I was buying.

Then I started to read about the concept of "cold brewing". The idea is that you take a pound of ground coffee, dump it in a plastic tub with about nine cups of water, let it sit for a day, then drain it through a filter. The end result is sort of a coffee "concentrate". Take a little bit of this concentrate (about a 1/4 cup) and mix in a cup of boiling water Yes folks, it's a trendy take on instant coffee! But the concentrate has none of the oils and acids left in typical brewed coffee, and therefore it tastes more "pure" and is less harsh on your stomach. One batch of concentrate apparently will last over a month in the fridge and makes about as many cups of coffee as the traditional process would, but with no waste because you make it a cup at a time. The gadget to do this cost about thirty bucks, so I decided to give it a shot.

The verdict? I'm still undecided, but I'm leaning toward excellent. They say that this process makes coffee that "tastes like a coffee shop smells" and they are absolutely right. It has a sweet, pleasant taste with no bitterness. You can make it as strong or as weak as you like simply by adding more or less concentrate. It's the first cup of coffee that I've ever enjoyed drinking black. While I'm still in the process of finishing my first batch, I'd say I'll stick with it for a while. Here's some other interesting things I've learned about this whole process:

Someone on a website commented that if you drain the "sludge" after it's done steeping for the day and immediately put new water into the old coffee grounds, you can get a second batch of concentrate that's just as good as the first, thus doubling what you get out of a pound of coffee. It appears to be the truth, because I can't taste the difference between batch 1 and batch 2.

The brewing process isn't exactly the cleanest in the world, but since you only do it about once a month, it's not so bad.

This stuff makes kickass iced mocha and iced coffee as well.

It's nice making coffee with boiling water. You end up with much hotter coffee that you do from a typical brewer.

If you invite friends over that drink decaf (god knows why), you might have a problem if you don't have a spare coffeemaker around, because this whole cold brewing process isn't exactly a spur-of-the-moment thing. You can, however, make an entire pitcher of coffee simply by measuring out enough concentrate to mix with the right amount of boiling water

The leftover sludge makes great compost for the yard. Just dump it around your plants to keep deer away. That is, if the snow ever thaws.