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  • Archive for December, 2010

    Recycling–now you can be OCD about it too!


    2010 - 12.22

    Mindfulness– it’s half the battle

    I’d like to take a minute to articulate something my inner monologue spends a lot of time debating.  Recycling.  Today I was walking toward the garbage can with a small piece of plastic in my hand, about to toss it out.  Unfailingly, every time I find myself in this situation, there are two thoughts that go through my mind.  The first one is something along the lines of, “well, this piece of plastic is pretty small.  In the end, how significant is it?  I mean, the trash bag itself is made out of plastic, right?”  And then the second thought kicks in, often in a harsh, reprimanding tone; “man, what the fuck are you thinking?  You know that plastic is going to sit in a landfill for at least 500 years before it even STARTS decomposing.  Is that the legacy you want to leave behind?”

    Some sources say it takes 1,000 years before the decomposition of plastic begins.  There’s tons of other things in our lives that take long timescales to recede into the natural environment as well.  Disposable diapers take 550 years, aluminum cans 200-500 years, cigarette butts probably one to five years, and newspapers just two to four weeks.  Styrofoam, that notorious offender, seems to vary wildly in the estimated lifespans I find online.  Anything from a decade to 5,000 years. (Or more!)

    Yet there are other substances with even longer lives than my dreaded tiny plastic wrapper.  Trying to find an answer for how long glass takes to biodegrade is difficult.  Some people place the number at around a million years.  A million years!  That’s just… stupefying.  Suddenly the pressure is really on to enjoy this bottle of Snapple.  Made from the best stuff on Earth–silica and oxygen.  Sand grains.  How long does it take for a beach to biodegrade?

    I remember back home when I was a child, digging in the backyard and finding plenty of pieces of glass in the dirt.  Our house was built way back in the time when people used to bury their own trash in their backyards.  What a crazy idea that seems like today.  There’s so many ways it wouldn’t work–you’d run out of space in no time flat, you’d be worried about polluting the water table from the esoteric materials commonly used today, and it would just be a lot of work!  All that digging.  You’d need to be making some serious holes to dispose of just your kitchen trash alone.  Think of what you’d be doing differently.

    Of course there’d be a flip side: I don’t know about you, but my house is already cluttered with purposeless knick-knacks, and nostalgic mementos that really are just a waste of space.  At some point, I’ll wade through the junk and in a fit of cleansing say, ugh, just throw all this away.  And thusly some antique glass milk bottle that I had been saving for who knows why ends up in the landfill, sandwiched and smooshed under piles of other people’s stuff.  Maybe with the right items surrounding it, the milk bottle lives for a thousand, thousand years.  It’s a sobering thought.  Epochs away and eons from now, when the legacy of anything I ever did, and everyone I ever knew has been long since forgotten, this milk bottle will probably have outlasted it all, preserved underground for millenia, now an ancient artifact for future archeologists, paleontologists, anthropologists to scrutinize and ponder, now why do you think its owner had thrown this away?

    Here’s a nice handy list of items to be neurotic about throwing away:

    * Aluminum Can  200-500 years
    * Batteries – 100 years
    * Cardboard Box- 4 weeks
    * Cigarette Butt up to 10 years
    * Cotton Rag- 1-5 months
    * Disposable Diapers- 500-600 years
    * Glass Bottle  1 Million years
    * Leather- up to 50 years
    * Lumber- 10-15 years
    * Monofilament Fishing Line- 800 years
    * Milk Cartons (plastic coated) 5 years
    * Nylon Fabric- 30-40 years
    * Orange Peel- 2-5 weeks
    * Paper-2-5 months
    * Plastic Film Container- 20-30 years
    * Painted Wooden Stake- 13 years
    * Plastic 6 pack cover- 450 years
    * Plastic Bag- up to 500 years
    * Plastic Coated Paper- 5 years
    * Plastic Soda Bottles- Forever
    * Rope- 3-14 months
    * Rubber Boot sole- 50-80 years
    * Sanitary Pads- 500-800 years
    * Styrofoam- More than 5,000 years
    * Tin Cans- 50-100 years
    * Wool Clothing- 1-5 years

    source links:
    http://www.greenecoservices.com/how-long-does-it-take-for-trash-to-biodegrade/
    http://www.ehow.com/how-does_4928812_does-plastic-container-start-decomposing.html

    The awesome tablet no one is getting this holiday


    2010 - 12.21

    The book. It’s the oldest form factor for information. How much have you learned in your lifetime from reading pages in a textbook? How many hours have you spent leisurely flipping pages in your free time? Laughter, history, enlightenment, escape, understanding, introspection–we look to books for all these things. They will be revered in history as likely the most important invention we ever made.

    Modern computer technology is a very recent invention when compared to the book. Its own form factors are still being debated, switched, refined. For a long time the desktop model of computing has ruled. There are voices who say that it is dying, due for replacement. I’d disagree. Especially in the business world, nothing else can touch the desktop in terms of speed, flexibility, and widespread acceptance. And as long as it remains entrenched in business, it will retain at least a modest foothold in the consumer world. But there are other form factors which will definitely grow in popularity to offer some desktop functionality in a more couch-friendly format.

    Tablets are all the rage these days. I’m not particularly won over. When the iPad came out, I was very disappointed in it. There are a lot of reasons to dislike it, but maybe the worst aspect of it is that Apple tends to set the trend. So if they release a product whose form factor is a slab with exposed screen on one side and brushed metal on the other, you’re going to get 500 other companies making essentially the same device. And that’s what we’ve seen. The Blackberry Playbook, the uncountable Android tablets, the color Nook, the upcoming Motorola tablet; these are all the same form factor. One that leaves the screen wide open to scratches. Some people say it is tedious to hold for an extended period. I have only used one for a few minutes at a time, so I can’t say.

    It seems ironic to me that a laptop computer is often referred to as a “notebook”. How often does anyone use an actual notebook with the pages oriented vertically?

    There are a few different products out there now which blend a tablet, a book, and a smartphone. To me, this is the form factor that I want to see. Give me a leather-bound computer that looks like an old-fashioned ledger, just like the one above.  This type of design is referred to as a “booklet PC”. Toshiba’s Libretto W105 was probably the first commercial product to go down this avenue. However this product was more of an experiment or publicity stunt rather than a serious attempt at a booklet PC. The operating system was windows 7 and it ran on laptop hardware. That in itself tells a lot. Cramming desktop OS and laptop hardware into a tablet is a recipie for lousy battery life and poor UI. The software must be lightweight, and designed explicitly for touch/stylus. The hardware must be completely low-power-centric.

    Just this week, another device became available that intrigues me a lot. It’s called the Kno, and it’s intended for students, as a replacement for notebooks and textbooks both. It comes in dual and single screen versions (of course the former is what interests me) and it accepts input from a stylus, running on custom Linux software with webkit browsing. Now this is an eyebrow raising product. You can doodle on it, take notes, or surf the web, read books, play music, and watch video. Nice!

    It would appear that demand is high. On their website, you’ll be greeted by a notification saying that you need a special invite to be eligible to recieve one. The ultimate success of the Kno will probably hinge upon how widely it is accepted by textbook publishers and students. It is also surprisingly large. Those displays are 14″ each! I’m not sure if that’s huge to the point of unweildy or not. I’d love to get my hands on one and try it out!!

    As sweet as it is, the Kno is, in my mind, a shadow of the most incredible booklet PC that never was. The Microsoft Courier. When videos of the software interface first surfaced, it was shocking that a company as lumbering and overweight as Microsoft could have been the origin of something so fresh and ahead of the curve. Alas, Microsoft didn’t find the project worthy of pursuit, and it was cancelled. The very talented man who was Microsoft’s “Chief Experience Officer”, J Allard, resigned shortly after these events. Coincidence?

    J Allard sheparded the design of the Zune player, which, despite the impossibility of ever catching Apple in the PMP space, was an excellently-designed product. The interface of the Zune HD went on to form the basis of Microsoft’s nascent phone OS, Windows Phone 7. Allard also worked extensively on the XBOX 360, and presumably the earlier stages of their recently released Kinect system. Allard had been spearheading Courier.

    So what was so cool about Courier? Watch this:

    and this:

    In essence, it was a sketchbook. True, it also did the stuff that Kno does (doodling, handwriting, web surfing, music, video, books), but the Courier was centered around what they called the Infinite Journal. This was a space to paste clippings from webpages, jot ideas, scribble in the margins, and draw, using pencil, marker, or paint. There was no soft keyboard. Stylus only. The key concept of what made Courier exciting was that it was all about writing down ideas and making drawings. The interface pictured, conceptual as it may have been, was a brilliant structure revolving around your journaled ideas. There were lots of neat little touches too, like the 2 buttons on the stylus: one for undo, another to switch between marker and pen. Flipping the stylus 180 degrees turned it into an eraser. A device like this is an artist’s pipe dream.

    Wake me up when it’s real, tablet makers.

    kindle versus kindle


    2010 - 12.21

    Well the fish outnumber the birds, but those birds are sharp!

    Shown here is an original Kindle DX alongside a current-gen Kindle.  The screen on the little guy is supposed to have 50% better contrast.  The difference between the two is maybe a bit more apparent in person, but they’re both pretty awesome, really.  Amazon’s reading machine is an excellent travel companion and the battery life is outstanding.  About a week’s worth of use before it needs a charge.  I really dig the idea of E Ink.  It certainly is easy on the eyes for long durations, and it uses no power to maintain an image.  If this technology can be adapted to display color, I’ll bet it has a bright future to come.

    Apple a day


    2010 - 12.18

    I’m a big Apple fan.  I don’t really care too much about the iPad, I tend to prefer to build my own computer, and my phone is a Droid.  But I loves me some Apples.  As an exercise with the new Fifty Millimetre, I got myself 5 different kinds of apples at the grocery store today, which I’m gonna point my new lense at, eat, and briefly describe for any interested parties.  I’d like to think I know a thing or two about good apples, since I have eaten them nearly every weekday at lunch for, geez, I’m not sure how long now.  A few years now.   To get you pumped up, here’s a lead shot, with the DroidCAM, my most modest instrument:

    Homestar Strikes Back!


    2010 - 12.17

    I can’t believe it!  A new cartoon from Homestar Runner!  Merry X-Mas In Deed!  I’ve always been a huge homestar fan.  The last cartoon they made that was over a minute long was Nov. 10th 2009.  Guess havin a kid takes up a lot of time.  In any event, so happy to have a new slice of H*R!  I hope that this is a sign of things to come.

    Say hello to my little friend!


    2010 - 12.15

    Just got this new 50mm F/1.8. It’s pretty rad having so wide of an aperture. The focusing effects are simply… exquisite. There will be ongoing updates in the photos section as we get acquainted..!

    “I’m doing my part!”


    2010 - 12.10

    We all need to pitch in, you know, to help the nation.

    One billion trans-cosmic years in love


    2010 - 12.08

    Recently I’ve been watching the series “Cosmos” co-written by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan.  The fascinating concepts it conveys and thoughts it provokes are a whole wild series of tangets that I am not even going to be touching upon today.  Somehow I managed to avoid being exposed to Cosmos until I reached the age of 30.  In a way, I’m grateful for this circumstance; watching over the last months, Cosmos brought together all of these compartmentalized facts that I had already known into one coherent ‘big picture’, artfully told by a brilliant and inspiring man.  It’s intensely emotional and intellectual in the same breath.  Not having seen this series until my 30s, it has impacted me that much more dramatically.  Forcefully.  Profoundly.  I’m not certain there is a right word.  Let’s just say “Superlatively.”

    It is hard not to be swept up by Carl’s eloquence and enthusiasm, and the whole scope of Cosmos just feels so deeply meaningful.  Those words seem to fall short of conveying the emotions which this saga has elicited from within me.  It’s a bit like meeting a new person who you are so strikingly in agreement with that every syllable they speak just makes you want to say “Yes.  Yes; That.  Yes.”  You want them to keep going, and you concur so much that other words would just get in the way.

    After finishing the series, and wistfully wishing there were more, I went online and read about the stories of Ann and Carl, these fascinating new characters who’ve permeated my consciousness so resoundingly, as if they have always been a part but I had never known.  I was astonished to read the story on NPR of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project; particularly the portion of the story which explained how Ann had been involved in the creation of two gold records which were sent into space with the Voyager probes.  These records were meant to contain a representative sampling of the whole breadth of the human exerience.  The magnitude of this undertaking can scarcely be grasped.  The resultant records contained samples of music from many cultures, various spoken languages, greetings to potential space-faring civilizations who may someday intercept the probe, and perhaps most interestingly, a recording of brain waves.

    Ann Druyans’s brainwaves were recorded for the records, and what gives this whole story such an unbelievable spin is the context under which it happened.  In another interview recorded with Ann, she tells the story of how her and Carl fell in love.  Apparently the two had known each other and worked together professionally for some long time, but had been romantically involved with other people.  This pair harbored a deep admiration for one another and had what Ann describes as “wonderful, soaring conversations” but had never crossed the divide into romance.

    So much of love centers around timing.  Is this person available?  Are they emotionally available?  Do they have these big personal goals that are going to dominate their priorities and prevent a love from ever blooming?  Timing.  And one day toward the conclusion of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, it sounds like the time alignment of Ann and Carl magically snapped into place, over a phone call of all things.  That in itself is a chronicle of how major life events can strike at any time, in the most unexpected of ways.

    She doesn’t elaborate much about what exactly was said in that fateful telephone conversation, and indeed I’m certain a large part of it was a blur as soon as the reciever returned to the hook.  But by the end of that phone call the two were engaged.  When she hung up the phone Ann says she literally screamed out loud, in what felt like, “this great eureka moment, it was just like scientific discovery.”  (The fact that she would equate the fireworks of such a moment to one of scientific discovery, I find quite humorous, and heartwarming from someone with a noteworthy nerd-streak of my own.)  Moments later Carl called back to ask, “just want to make sure, that *really* happened?”  Of course the answer was yes, and so began the love affair of Ann and Carl.

    So just two short days after this momentous, powerful occurence, Ann traveled to Bellvue Hospital in New York to have the sounds of her brain waves recorded for the golden records which were to be sent off into space.  While she meditated and the ECG machine recorded the electrical impulses firing in her mind, she says part of what she was thinking was “about the wonder of love, and of *being* in love…”  Certainly two days after not only professing your love to someone new for the first time, but simultaneously becoming engaged to be married, any person’s mind would be fully awash with an overpowering elixir from that puppy-dog variety of freshly bursting affection.  In the song “The Real Thing”, arist EMO muses “there’s nothing like the real thing, when love is increasing.  There’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to you”.  Undoubtedly, experiencing this feeling is one of the most uncontrollably thrilling and gloriously consequential moments of the human experience.  Ann adds, “and to know it’s on those two spacecraft!  Now, whenever I’m down, I’m thinking: And still they move.  Thirty five thousand miles an hour, leaving our solar system, for the great, wide open sea of interstellar space.”

    As a message in a bottle, floating in that sea of interstallar space, what a romantic and grandiose moment to encapsulate for discovery epochs and epochs later by who knows who.  It gives me great joy to know that these two people, who seem not only so exceptionally intelligent but also so gifted with the ability to masterfully communicate nuanced truths about our universe as we see it, are serving as the trans-galactic ambassadors to whomever recovers the Voyager message.

    Meanwhile back on Earth, we’ve had buffoons like George W. Bush leading the free world, the uncultured dreck of reality television beaming through our bodies at every moment, and the painful missteps of so many religions polluting our collective minds–Yet still!–a capsule floats, out through the great beyond, carrying a snapshot of thoughts from one of our most brilliant minds, upon the marvel of that which is best within us; our emotion of love.  Binding us together and inducing us to cherish the value of our mutual existences.

    It give me joy.  And hope that our most articulate, clairvoyant voices shall be the ones which rise to prominence.  When these two probes fly out to the vast unknown, it would be irresponsible to put anyone but our best representatives on duty to greet those who they encounter.

    Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan are on the case.

    And.  Rightly.  So.


    Epilogue

    While daydreaming about this all, I’ve been listening to the song “The Reason” by Soulstice.  This piece of music conveys, for me, what it’s like to be so deeply in love with someone.  “You’re the reason/So beautiful and full of bliss/my little piece of happiness/You’re the reason” More than the lyrics though, it’s a lovely track instrumentally, and an inspired vocal performance.  I tend to be a harsh critic of vocalists, prefering instrumental music on the whole, but this track really captures something.

    I enjoy thinking about the love between Carl and Ann.  Especially because their delight in one another is the interstellar sample of human affection, captured in Ann’s brainwaves on the Voyager spacecraft.  The shelf life of those gold records was designed to be one billion years.

    One billion years.

    That love will keep enduring for for a thousand, million years, out in the cold emptiness of space.  And in every second of that time it will be just as fresh as it was when it was two days young.  I hope that some intelligent species happens upon it, with the technology to decode Ann’s thoughts.  What will they think when they read her mind?  Maybe they will be moved to the extra-terrestrial equivalent of tears.  Maybe they will find it naive and judge our species ripe for subjugation.

    Or perhaps humankind will be long, long extinct, and that battered voyager spacecraft with its gold record will be the only remaining fraction of a fraction that’s left behind from our collective plight.  They’ll place it in a galactic museum with a set of headphones far better than humans ever built, for the citizens of future advanced civilizations to stop, stand, and spend a small moment listening to the love story of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan; two creatures from an obscure planet destroyed eons ago that somehow, by complex forces of nature or random happenstance, managed to transmit this poetic instant out across the cosmos; a beautiful ballad of love that defied the slow decay of millenia, and returned some miniscule portion of their beings to the stars for which they held such wonderment.  If this is all that remains behind when we’re gone, I think that’s a pretty good note to go out on.

    There be some irony a-brewin!


    2010 - 12.06

    In the news today, I read an article about software piracy and how this company started tracking the use of a registration key which had been spread through bittorrent sites. The same key was used almost a million times.  That’s a lot of piracy! Must of been a cool program, or at least one that appeals to the pirate demographic. What kind of program appeals so strongly to the pirate demographic you ask? Easy. One called “Avast”.

    It’s so perfect. I’m still laughing. Yarrrr.

    loungin’ by the pool in the winter


    2010 - 12.05

    I’ve got a whole new lease on December, since I moved from northern latitudes to southern ones. Specifically, this one: