Miscellaneous Wednesday Evening Grab Bag

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Wrote this while on the plane and cut off from wireless, but a couple of random things that have been kicking around that don’t deserve their own posts.

  • Is TV Making a Creative Comeback?
    I should preface the question by saying that I watch very little TV generally, and sat in front of a TV maybe 4 or 5 times all summer (not counting watching ballgames at the Osprey – at home I mainly listened to them on the radio). But from my outsider’s perspective, it does seem as if there’s more variety these days. Sure, they’re still pumping out crime dramas [1], reality shows and family sitcoms out by the dozens, but while I’ve never seen them people that I talk to rave about shows like Lost and 24. Love them or hate them, at least they’re different. Same with another couple of shows that I don’t watch: Eureka and Prisonbreak.

    More than that, directors seem willing to take chances that would previously have been unthinkable. Last season’s final episode of Battlestar Gallactica, for example, pretty much threw the previous three seasons out the window to more or less start over. Again, love it or hate it, at least they’re not getting stale.

    If TV is getting more creative, the logical question would be why? My off the cuff answer would be the Long Tail. Watching the Colbert Report last night on my flight to Denver, Stephen Colbert featured a graphic depicting the rather decline in expected maximum audience share for shows over the past 50 or so years. I Love Lucy was watched by 62% of Americans, the Cosby Show 50 and change, and today’s shows are lucky if they do 20s and 30s. If studios learn to accept rather than fight this, and give a show the ability to target a specific demographic on the Long Tail rather than saddle them with the burden of trying to please all the people all the time, I’d expect the quality and variety to be somewhat better.

    But as I said, take all of this with a grain of salt since I haven’t seen most of the shows I’m arguing about. Maybe they’re on superficially diverse. Why don’t more people take this problem seriously?

  • Package Management:
    I’ve written on package management so many times now that I hesitate to revisit the topic, but I’ll just note that I find it interesting (and potentially troubling) that not only are tools building such functionality in these days (e.g. Eclipse), so too are web frameworks languages (Rails Ruby Gems *).

  • Emailing Flickr Photos:
    While I’ve known that you could do this with Flickr for a long time, it didn’t make any sense until I a.) had a phone with a halfway decent camera, and b.) the same phone had email capability. In my LG CU320 – which incidentally has been a terrific phone so far – I’ve got b and (sort of) a. The camera on the phone is a long way from terrific – or even good, but it’s more or less acceptable for simple stuff. As a result, I’m getting more into the mobile Flickr experience. I’ll probably try this over the next two days as I drive back to Denver, so if you’re terribly, terribly (borderline clinical) bored watch my Flickr stream for signs of my visual progression across the country.

  • Speaking of Cameras…:
    Let’s hear it for Membership Rewards. After not using the points which accumulate on my American Express cards for several years, I’ve got around a hundred thousand or so available, which apparently is the approximate cash equivalent of a thousand bucks. I’d been planning on using them to buy something I normally would not spend money on – e.g. a bed frame or a rug – but in browsing the AMEX site the other day it would seem that one of Nikon’s Digital SLR’s will be in reach within a month or so. Can’t tell if it’s the D50 or D70, but I’ve been in the market for a bigger, better camera for years now – I’ve just never been into photography enough to justify dropping a grand on one. My principal question is this: for those of you that have DSLR’s: is the size as much of a negative as some have told me it is? Or are the benefits of having lens interchangability worth it?

  • What’s My Most Valuable (Material) Possession?:
    Apart from the obvious bit ticket items like an apartment and car – which the bank owns more of than I do anyhow – my single most valuable material possession is easily my music collection. I hadn’t really considered it until I was headed east, bringing along the Maxtor drive upon which most of my music collection resides, and considered the possibility that an accident could destroy the collection that has taken me over a decade to compile. Weighing in just under a hundred gigs with 10K +/- 2K tracks it’s a decent amount of music, though I know people with terabyte plus size collections. Forget the actual dollar value it would take to replace the music itself; the sheer eclecticness of the collection would be virtually impossible to reassemble [2]. A music collection is the product of changing tastes, new discoveries, and random finds – serendipity, in other words. If this data was lost, I would not even know how to begin putting it back together. Thus it was that a second, backup hard drive was procured this summer to back up said data. And just like the President and Vice President, the two drives are not permitted to travel on the same flight. One made the trip back with me last night, while the other will be tucked carefully away in the Volvo accompanying me on the 2K mile drive.

    As an aside, I’m still somewhat surprised we haven’t seen more of a market for consumer focused local backup appliances. Yeah, it’s geeky, but the first time someone loses all those carefully bought iTunes tracks to a failed hard drive they’re going to be in for an unpleasant surprise.

With that, you’ve probably heard the last post from me for a few days unless a.) the hotels I stay at the next two nights have wireless and b.) I’m up to posting after a 12+ hours on the road. I will, however, be reachable on the cell (617.320.9757) if you need me.

* Update: Having encountered Gems first in the context of playing with Rails, I’d assumed – erroneously as it turns out – that the update facility was a feature of the web framework. As Tim pointed out in an email, however, and Wikipedia confirms – it is not. It’s a language function, not a framework function. The point isn’t really affected, but much appreciate the clarification.

[1] I think it was Family Guy that spoofed this with a “Law & Order: Elevator Inspectors Unit” bit. Comedy.

[2] As an example, a list of some of the discs I’ve burned for my return trip to Denver (the iPod being out of commission):

  • Best of Pearl Jam (Covers)
  • Best of Pearl Jam (Live)
  • Best of the Ramones
  • Best of Sigur Ros
  • Best of Van Morrison
  • Blues (Big Mama Thornton, Howlin Wolf, etc)
  • Buena Vista Social Club (w/ tracks from Celia Cruz, Perez Prado, etc)
  • Countryish Rock (Cash, Orbison, etc)
  • Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (don’t blame me: I took an opera course in college)
  • Female Punk (Horrorpops, Le Tigre, etc)
  • Jamaican Ska (Desmond Dekker, Joanne Dennis, etc)
  • Oldies (The Big Bopper, The McCoys, etc)
  • Modern (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Eels, etc)
  • Troubadours (Donovan, Dylan, etc)


  1. SLR: I love and treasure mine, but only because I got it along with a good bag (a combination laptop-SLR bag from Crumpler) so that I do carry it a lot. If you don’t get a good, comfy way to carry it, you won’t get value out of it.

    Package management: it *is* troubling that everyone and their sister has a system to install modules now. It makes for a maintenance nightmare.

  2. I’d recommend reading ‘Everything Bad is Good for You’ by Steven Johnson (I have a half written review waiting to add some quote and post on my blog).

    In it he argues that ‘popular culture’ (tv, computer games, internet) has had a steadily rising cognitive load, what he calls the Sleeper Curve (from the Woody Allen movie) – interesting factoid I remember, IQ scores have seen a steady rise since the 50’s in lockstep with the rising culture (except they renormalise them every year).

    And he does argue that long tail effects of cable TV, tivo, netflix, and the internet have all contributed over the years to the increasing complexity. He compares the story lines of Starsky and Hutch (required viewing when I was a kid) and 24 – S&H episodes were self contained, with only one or maybe two storylines, and can be watched in isolation, whereas you could watch a random 24 episode and still be entertained but the chances are you’ll have very little idea what’s going on in the 5+ threads.

    In fact for me this increasing complexity is becoming a turn off – watching something like 24 or Lost require a commitment that is starting to feel too heavy (even with a PVR). When a new series of 24 starts you know that’s you taken for an evening every week, or a large chunk of disk space, and the enevitable avoidance of office spoilers and involvement in speculation as to why’s and what’s next. And that I know that I have to concentrate and pay attention to every little thing, whereas watching something like Top Gear or The Office, or The IT Crowd (or even reruns of Starsky and Hutch) I can just kick back, relax, laugh and enjoy. Maybe it’s just me getting old 🙂

    Anyway it seems to me that the next evolution from 24 would be a story told out of order – perhaps randomly – so that not only are the n threads to keep in you head you have to piece together the timeline. Think Tarantino does 24.

  3. The number one advantage of DSLRs is not interchangeable lenses (although they are nice), but rather the fact that the sensor is larger than the sensor in point and shoots, and is thus able to take much clearer pictures in low light conditions. And by low light conditions, I mean indoors. Most point and shoots don’t perform well above ISO 100 — DSLRs perform well at ISO 800 and above.

  4. DSLRs are nice and you have many options now… Canon’s Rebel XT/i is smaller and that combined with their IS lenses drove me to pick Canon. Nikon and Canon have good lense selections and don’t discount the importance of the lense… they’re even more important than the sensor. In fact many who get hooked on this probably have invested more in lenses than their DSLR camera…

    I’d recommend trying them out in a store – don’t buy one of these on specs alone. There is a much different feel between Canon, Nikon, Sony, Lumix, etc.

    Also, don’t expect that the first picture you take looks as good as your point-and-shoot. Often the DSLRs will require post-processing with Photoshop (arg, the only reason I still have Windows…). While the GIMP is nice, for doing a lot of work with pictures, it’s just not there yet…

  5. Totally unrelated to the meat of your post, but reading through your music list and seeing Sigur Ros and Jamaican Ska on there made me think you might enjoy checking out Radiodread, a Reggae tribute to Radiohead’s OK Computer.

  6. Yes, a DSLR is worth every cent.
    If you want to take photographs and have artistic control, you’ll want the ability to interchange lenses to meet your needs, and the lower level of noise at higher ISOs means you’ve got the ability to play around a lot more.

    For example, while in a church in Provence last summer, I was able to take a non-flash photo of a painted wooden statue of Joan of Arc. This image would have been very noisy with a point-and-shoot. Plus, with some point-and-shoots, you can’t turn off the flash. Oops. That’s not acceptable some places and some situations.

    These days, there are some very nice back packs you can get to hold your camera equipment: much nicer than the over-the-shoulder old-fashioned type.

    I love my Canon Digital Rebel. In fact, I’ll probably buy the new one for myself as a Christmas gift. I’ll still be able to use the same lenses!

  7. Luis: interesting. the bag’s far more important than i’d realized.

    re: package management: just went through that with Rails/Ubuntu. Ubuntu’s install of Rails couldn’t be found by RadRails, so i had to back that out and install it via gems…you get the picture. not pretty.

    Coops: you’re actually the second person in a month to recommend that to me. going to have to snag that. interesting about the complexity; it’s obvious in retrospect, but i hadn’t really articulated it in that way.

    Rafe: thanks. i didn’t mean to imply that was the only advantage, but frankly i don’t know enough about them to know what some of the others would be. that helps. my point and shoot *sucks* taking pictures at night. i’ve looked forever for some time exposure feature, but nothing doing. night pictures = out.

    Mike: don’t know that i’ll be able to try them out; i think Membership Rewards only has either the Nikon’s or a Pentax so it might be the Nikon by default.

    but interesting note about the quality disparity. i’m not used to having to retouch pictures, and don’t own Photoshop so i’m not sure if i’m ready for that aspect of it yet.

    Joel: that’s awesome – i definitely will. it’s on emusic, which makes it easy. i always had a soft spot for Dread Zeppelin, so this should be interesting 😉

    Pat: very cool shot – it’s really not what i expected in a statue at all. seems like consensus is the DSLR is worth it.

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