Reviews

Reviews of various things, marked up either in RDFa or microformats.

Review: Samsung Focus with Windows Phone 7

As part of WOMWorld Nokia, my friend and mobile technology aficionado Roland Tanglao offered to lend me a Samsung Focus with Microsoft's mobile operating system on it for a weekend. I took it around Vancouver, installed apps, took photos, tracked a walk on Commercial St., and, breaking with tradition, actually made a phone call.

Samsung Focus with the Flickr app

Over the course of four days, I installed the following apps through the Windows Phone Marketplace, listed here in alphabetical order: 1Password, Facebook, Flickr, Flux (Google Reader client), Foodspotting, Foursquare, Netflix, Public Transit (wrapper for Google Transit's website), Runkeeper, Shazam, Stacks for Instapaper, Twitter and YouTube. I resented having to install software to watch YouTube videos, and found the Flickr client incredibly slow. I was grateful that 1Password existed to access my 490 unique passwords, but was disappointed the app did not follow many Windows Mobile Phone 7 app conventions (tapping the hardware search button took me out of the app to Bing, for example). I was generally pleased with the other apps, especially the simplicity of the Twitter app and, compared with 3 years of iPhone experience, the completely different paradigms of Foursquare and Flux, to take only two examples.

I spent no money on apps, instead relying on either free or trial apps. Instapaper requires a $1/month subscription to its service in order to use 3rd party apps, so I bought the minimum 3-month subscription. I would have loved to try out the MLB At Bat™ app (since I'm a big fan and guaranteed buyer of the iPhone app; go on, Major League Baseball, keep raising the price, I'll happily keep paying), but a limited time with the phone didn't make a $11 purchase seem like a good idea. If I owned the phone, it would have been not only the first purchase but first app installed.

Insides of the Samsung SGH-I917 (Samsung Focus Windows Phone)

What I loved:

  • The pane paradigm on the home screen and in apps, with a bit of the discoverable parts showing on the side. Text size is generally big in apps, meaning that going back to the iPhone, everything felt tiny. Tapping on icons made them looked pressed down, and sliding away after pressed is a nice visual touch.
  • Trial mode apps. Theoretically iOS apps are trial mode with in-app purchase, but the WP7 marketplace made trial mode explicit.
  • Apps like Foursquare and Twitter with their big, comfortable-on-the-eyes typefaces, and WP7-native design approach.

What I merely liked:

  • Zune music player, though I wished album covers could be bigger, quicker access to the app from outside it. Swiping from side to side on an album cover switched back and forth between tracks, which doesn't make sense to this thirtysomething still used to pressing buttons to do the same.
  • A hardware camera button, with pressing down slightly to focus. I expected to be able to take a picture in lock mode, or at least get to the camera by pressing the button. No such luck.
VPL WIreless Network Captive Portal

I liked the camera, but found it hard to get a non-blurry shot a little too often. For my comparison shot, I went to Caffe Rustico on Main St. and took a photo of their couch area with my iPhone 4 and from the same spot with the Samsung Focus. Not a huge difference to these eyes. The iPhone 4 had a wider shot and, with the HDR setting on, shows more in the window than the Samsung Focus.

What I neither liked nor disliked, but found weird:

  • Every time I put the SIM card in, I had to reboot the phone. The iPhone spoiled me: put in a working SIM and you're good to go.
  • The phone indicated, incorrectly, that I was roaming. In order to get access to the Internet over 3G, I had to turn on data roaming. Random forums of destiny told me that I can safely expect to not receive a roaming bill because of this.
  • I stumbled on the FM radio receiver. Not a selling point, but if I were caught in a city-wide emergency which affected cell towers (say, an earthquake), I'd be grateful for it.

What I absolutely hated:

  • Vibrating on the capacitive buttons. There is no ability to turns it off. Random forums of destiny confirmed this.
  • A lot of mistaken taps on the capacitive buttons and mistaken hits on buttons, especially while in my pocket when only ever wanting to adjust the volume. Enlist me in the war against the capacitive button cult.
  • Slow charging, when at all. The iPhone wall charger was better than through the computer, but I expected faster recharge times. I expected to be able to charge at least somewhat reliably through my MacBook Air.
  • The default of the phone is to automatically save the screen and then lock, even while reading but not pressing any buttons. Maybe I could have turned it off, but I wanted to stick with the defaults as much as possible.

If I had more time with the device, I'd happily buy some apps, starting with MLB At Bat™, then Flux, then Stacks for Instapaper. I'd be very happy with the software and very unhappy with the hardware. Can I have an iPhone with Windows Phone 7 on it?

Tragedy at Second Narrows: The Story of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge by Eric Jamieson

Tragedy at Second Narrows: The Story of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge by Eric Jamieson

Browsing the second floor of the Chapters on Granville and Broadway one winter evening, trying out the SnapTell consumer product image recognition iPhone app, I happened upon Tragedy at Second Narrows: The Story of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge by Eric Jamieson. Having seen it at another branch of the Canadian bookstore conglomerate, and not content to buy a hardcover, I reserved the book at the library then and there. A few weeks later, it arrived. Books borrowed from the local book repository must be more urgently read than those borrowed from friends, so I set about its 300 pages of Jamieson's history of the Burrard Inlet's second crossing.

The book details the political machinations to sell the idea of the bridge, fund it, select the company to build the bridge, its initial construction and what led to its collapse while only half-built. After explaining the engineering mistakes and subsequent errors that led to 18 deaths of ironworkers, painters, and later, a diver, Jamieson examines the royal commission to investigate the collapse and the ironworkers strike and legal wranglings resulting from that strike. Some details, he concedes, he can only leave to mystery, such as who made a crucial correction to one of the calculation sheets and when.

Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge

Books like these I can really dig into. It relates to a subject about which I know very little at the outset, in this case, bridge building, and the author takes the time to detail the context in which a singular event happened. The stories of all involved, from decision-makers to the planners to the engineers to the ironworkers to the rescue teams to the judges and lawyers and union officials, all serve to bundle the entire narrative of why Vancouver landmark fell down. Jamieson never condescends the non-engineers by explaining the physics involved thoroughly yet rewards those who have a technical background by teaching the lessons future generations can learn. Every chapter contains several photos of the bridge and participants in the story of its making and destruction and rebuilding. Especially compelling are the photos of the rescue and recovery operation, which show the massive scale of the destruction and the urgency to find survivors.

I can't recommend this book enough to fans of Vancouver and its history. The Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge figures daily in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Lower Mainlanders who need to cross the Burrard Inlet in their travel mode of choice. Jamieson has done the city and the bridge's builders a great service in recounting a terrible day for British Columbia in its then-unprecedented period of construction growth.

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Quinn Patton

When shopping for Christmas gifts at the Laughing Oyster bookstore in Courtenay, I came across a book whose subtitle, or rather, its very long and prominent description, spoke to me. Ever since befriending people who were able to project an attitude that they can change the world—or at least their world—for the better, I've started to believe the same thing. This belief came in direct conflict with my long-held attitude that I was just one person, that I neither had the energy nor the inclination to find the cause that I couldn't not join, the something so undeniably wrong that I couldn't not do something about. Everything seems taken care of. Global warming? Somebody's working on that. Sexism? A whole cadre of activists are on it. Hate, poverty, racism? All issues that I can outsource my conscience to someone else because these were so obviously problems that there were enough people on the job.

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Quinn Patton

Enter Getting To Maybe: How the World Is Changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton. The "subtitle", in text as big as the title, that grabbed my attention reads: “This book is for those who are not happy with the way things are and would like to make a difference. This book is for ordinary people who want to make connections that will create extraordinary outcomes. This is a book about making the impossible happen.” I showed the book to Karen, my agent of change, who knew my struggle with cynicism and with trying to find my passion. She offered to buy it for me. She thought this might be something to knock me into action, whatever that might be. She was right, but it won't knock me into action soon.

Westley, Zimmerman and Patton describe the people who are the forces behind social change as "social innovators". I see social innovators all around me, but I yet don't have the confidence to describe myself as one. (Yet: one person, who will remain nameless, has pointed out that I'm at the top of a pyramid, and whether or not I agree with the idea that I'm "over" people, I concede that there are people who listen to me and take me seriously during the times I want to be taken seriously, and that my influence with them is nonzero.) The authors challenge the mindset that problems have simple explanations and simple solutions, and argue that embracing complexity and, most difficult for me, ambiguity lead to the change that social innovators seek. They also challenge the notion that the best social innovators are the strong personalities, and argue that they are rather people from all dispositions that felt a calling. They could not not act. Even if the social innovators knew for a fact that they wouldn't solve the problems in their lifetime, or even ever if they lived forever, they could not stand idly by while it was happening. "Not on my watch", Ulysses Seal of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group said to himself. Write the authors: “that watch will last his lifetime, but by thinking about his mission in this way, he makes it human-scaled—manageable enough to carry without succumbing to despair.”

The authors recommend constant evaluation during implementation and finding moments to sit still, to see where social innovators are and to note changes in the social landscape and adjust. Citing the case of PLAN (Planned Lifetime Advocacy Networks) and their struggle to scale their network out, the authors suggest that not every movement can be replicable, or at least not quickly, despite pressures to do so. Other case studies offer more lessons. The case of Opportunities 2000 in Waterloo, Ontario suggested that even though the implementors believed they had only a small but measurable effect, theirs was the motivating force. Others found success through their failure: Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian hero if there ever was one, could not prevent a genocide in Rwanda, and lost everything after he retired. His current stature amongst Canadians has vindicated him, and he finds success in speaking tours around the country. (His stature amongst Belgians is another story.) MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), Bob Geldof, and other cases illustrate the calling, the struggles, the failures, and the changing landscapes social innovators face when making the change they must make.

The authors tend to repeat their stories for effect, and sometimes showcase overtly political motives (as opponents of the war in Iraq and President Bush), and their approach might be a tough sell in an age of one-liners and easy solutions. Despite that and not being able to identify with many of the cases presented, I found the book inspiring. Karen, unwittingly or not, bought this not for the current me, but rather the future me. The me who lets the ideas and stories in the book rattle around in his brain for a little while and waits for the forces that cause me to find my calling align. Or, as the chapter title has it, for hope and history to rhyme. They haven't yet, and they will. After having read this book, I'm better prepared for when they do.

The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford by John Robert Greene: A Review

Before the new year, the death of former United States President Gerald Ford took the sails out of former-Senator John Edwards' announcement that the latter would run for the highest office in the land. Press platitudes described Ford—the only in American history to be neither elected as Vice President nor as President—appointed by Nixon after Spiro Agnew resigned, ascending to the Presidency after Nixon resigned—as "decent" and "honorable", an image that despite press clichés, still has resonance. Ford appeared at the end of an episode of The Simpsons, asking Homer if he liked football and nachos, and whether the latter wanted to join him in watching the football game while eating nachos. Homer, the episode makes clear, identified with the former President, because both were a little dim and a little clumsy, but at the core, decent human beings unlike the episode's portrayal of a hateful George H.W. Bush.

The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford by John Robert Greene

John Robert Greene's book, The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford attempts to portray the President as a man leading an administration in search of an agenda, only to have it derailed by both his miscalculations and Congress' increased power after a nation appalled at the executive branch's excess. We are given a tour of Ford's domestic and foreign policies, as well as political intrigue involving Ronald Reagan's challenge to the incumbent's re-nomination (nominations of a sitting President these days being a done deal), as well as former Nixon administration officials who either disliked Ford personally or were bitter about their exit from the halls of power.

The Nixon pardon was—and remains—Ford's most controversial act as President. Anticipating neither the outcry nor its vociferousness, the pardon shattered Ford's image of humble, honest President who appealed for healing after Watergate. Ford was an angry, partisan, political president that sometimes acted on principle (school busing and desegregation) and out of political concerns (New York City's bailout). Greene does not judge Ford as harshly as Christopher Hitchens about the Mayaguez rescue mission, one of the few foreign policy crises Ford faced. Greene recounts the punitive air strikes matter-of-factly, almost as if Ford didn't care that the crew had been released already. (While both discuss the Solzhenitisyn snub, Hitchens covers Ford's turnaround against the Kurds in Iraq, while Greene does not cover it at all.) Greene devotes full chapters to Ronald Reagan's challenge to Ford for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination—Ford ultimately eked out a victory both in the primaries and at the convention—and another chapter to the presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter, to whom Ford lost.

Greene's book, while short at 193 pages (this excludes the endnotes, bibliographic essay and index), comes very detailed, outlining Ford's rise from Congress to the vice presidency to the presidency. The book also features tidbits on major contemporary political players, like the aforementioned Reagan but also Richard Cheney (currently George W. Bush's Vice President) and Donald Rumsfeld (up until recently Bush's Defense Secretary). Greene has written another book about a one-term president, George. H.W. Bush, and that book is next on my reading list about U.S. Presidents. One-termers have necessarily less written about them than two-timers. While they seem a little more mysterious because of that, they still have enough primary resources to draw upon for book-length studies. The George H.W. Bush book no doubts talks about players in that Presidency that will make up a future Republican presidential administration.

Ford's brief experience offers lessons for future presidents—and decision-makers in general who are thrust to the top of an organization with not a lot of preparation, and that is what makes Greene's study of Gerald Ford so interesting. The writing is accessible, not bogged down in interpretation or policy details, but written as a story about a football-playing midwestern President with a public image of sometimes having a few sandwiches short of a picnic, whom the American people judged still too close to Nixon and the perceived moral failings of the Republican Party in the 1970s. A President, in Greene's mind, who nevertheless set out to heal the nation and succeeded.

Nokia N80: An Initial Review

A forwarded email and a phone call later, I'm the owner—or rather lendee for about a week—of a Nokia N80. Since June when I lost my 7610 in Seattle, I've been using the Nokia N70, which has a really great camera for both stills and video, and a soft, friendly keypad. (I do a lot of text messaging these days.) Initial impressions of the N80 are:

  • the keypad is nice, and the slider protects from accidental phone calls (the phone, when sliding closed, asks whether to lock the keypad), but I'm used to the layout feel of the N70, so I don't like the N80's as much
  • S60 3rd edition looks nicer than 2nd edition, which runs on my N70
  • the ringtones—I only have two, both of which are MP3s: Aaliyah's "(Outro) Came to Give Love" and Cut Copy's "Future"—sound great, possibly better than my N70, but that may just be the honeymoon one grants when using a new product
  • the blue blinking light is annoying when the phone is sitting next to my computer, acting almost like a beacon, reminding me that the phone is still there
  • the photos I've taken with the N80 so far aren't as good as I thought they'd be with a 3 megapixel camera, but I like the camera button when holding the phone in "landscape", and maybe I just need to fiddle with some settings

The wifi is pretty neat, as I spent about an hour surfing around while laying in bed, using Opera Mini which this site looks okay in, but the mobile version looks just about right in. Wifi on my phone is pointless other than to upload photos using Shozu, since if I'm at a place that has wifi I probably already have my laptop with me. The ease with which I can upload photos and, potentially, stream live video makes me wish for an inexpensive unlimited mobile data plan even more.

See also: a long review by Zack Smith of the N80 with photos of the phone and photos taken by the phone; who should and shouldn't get an N80.

Logitech R-20 Speakers and Subwoofer: A Review

After work yesterday, I popped by the local shady computer store to ask about a couple of things, one of them speakers, which I needed for my Powerbook. My laptop's speakers are really not that great, and it's a little mortifying that I relied on them for so long. Connecting the laptop to my stereo isn't really feasible anymore, it being 10 years old, the volume control effectively broken, the CD tray literally broken. So I bought the Logitech R-20. ($30 Canadian, and they were one of few types of speakers there, so I didn't do a lot of comparison shopping either. Or any research for that matter. Also, I distance myself from any accusation of my being an audiophile.) As for placement, I sought Chun-shek's wisdom, and he suggested that the subwoofer can go anywhere since bass doesn't travel in a straight line, but the right and left speakers should be at ear level while sitting down. That might not be possible with my current setup, so I'll have to hope the angle of the two speakers will make up for being below my head while at my desk.

After a few hours of use, which consisted of listening to KEXP streaming over the web and an episode of Open Source about the limits of the wisdom of crowds (while ironing, of course), I'm pretty happy with them, so much so that I'll reproduce Franklin Villalobos's review from Amazon.com since it nicely reflects how I feel.

Pros:

  • Headphone jack and POWER button in the left speaker
  • No "wired remote" (which adds more clutter to your desktop)
  • Nice design for the price
  • Even cheaper than Creative's SBS 350

Cons:

  • Small sub-woofer
  • No "wired remote" which means you have to keep one of the speakers close.
  • No bass control (which usually means too much bass if your audio source has no equalization control)

The cons aren't really an issue for me: I almost considered not getting a subwoofer at all, don't want another remote, wired or otherwise, and I'm happy with software equalization.

Now to find somewhere, other than leaning against my dresser, at a 45 degrees angle, to put the subwoofer.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow: A Review

In Someone Leaves Town, Someone Comes to Town by Cory Doctorow we follow Alan, whose name changes (see below), around the city of Toronto helping his new friend Kurt install wireless Internet access points using equipment found in dumpsters, fall in love with Mimi a young woman with wings, and fight off an evil brother while trying to protect his other siblings. Since having spent some time in Toronto this year, I recognized a lot of the areas Doctorow describes, like Kensington Market, in which I spent a week at a hostel. I started reading the book while spending a week at my girlfriend's apartment downtown, which prompted me to post a long quote from the book about Toronto's smells. I even recognized, if distantly, Kapuskasing, one of my favourite Canadian place names, because my dad once had a conference there.

Of the main characters in the book, only the names of Mimi, Krishna and Kurt—the only three main characters who can be reasonably assumed to be human, Mimi's appendages aside, and there's even reasonable doubt that's her real name to begin with—stay the same. The names of the not-quite-humans (Alan and his five brothers) switch frequently, each character's name's first letter remains the same. While most of the time the protagonist, Alan, remains mostly Alan, he changes from Abel to Arthur to Albert to many others, all starting with A. Mimi's, Krishna's and Kurt's names never change. Kurt and Krishna are the closest to what we would consider human, neither having wings nor lacking navels nor being altogether evil, with Krishna being the only one that displays an ability for figuring out who is not-quite-human (Kurt never really catching on). Why have the not-so-humans' names change while humans' remain the same? Not clear: I've never seen this device used, but it at least forced me to pay attention to the narrative and not skim a paragraph as I sometimes do.

There are two scenes that stick out as memorable, neither having a lot to do with the plot, but which came across to me as refreshing and interesting, at least considering the source is Cory Doctorow, who some might have the impression of someone who automatically resists anything that a large corporation would want to support. This is particularly the case when Kurt and Alan meet executives and techs from Bell, one of Canada's largest telecom companies, which gets this soliloquy from one of the executives:

Think a second about the scale of a telco. Of this telco. The thousands of kilometers of wire in the ground. Switching stations. Skilled linesmen and cable-pullers. Coders. Switches. Backhaul. Peering arrangements. We've got it all. Ever get on a highway and hit a flat patch where you can't see anything to the horizon except the road and the telephone poles and the wires? Those are *our wires*. It's a lot of goodness, especially for a big, evil phone company.

So we've got a lot of smart hackers. A lot of cool toys. A gigantic budget. The biggest network any of us could ever hope to manage -- like a model train set the size of a city.

That said, we're hardly nimble. Moving a Bell is like shifting a battleship by tapping it on the nose with a toothpick. It can be done, but you can spend ten years doing it and still not be sure if you've made any progress. From the outside, it's easy to mistake 'slow' for 'evil.' It's easy to make that mistake from the inside, too.

But I don't let it get me down. It's *good* for a Bell to be slow and plodding, most of the time. You don't want to go home and discover that we've dispatched the progress-ninjas to upgrade all your phones with video screens and a hush mode that reads your thoughts. Most of our customers still can't figure out voice mail. Some of them can't figure out touch-tone dialing. So we're slow. Conservative. But we can do lots of killer R&D, we can roll out really hot upgrades on the back end, and we can provide this essential service to the world that underpins its ability to communicate. We're not just cool, we're essential.

So you come in and you show us your really swell and interesting meshing wireless data boxes, and I say, 'That is damned cool.' I think of ways that it could be part of a Bell's business plan in a couple decades' time.

Another memorable scene, near the end, has a reporter from NOW magazing coming over to interview Kurt and Alan about their wireless network, with the young reporter not buying the line that freer access to the Internet will lead to freer expression:

"You old people, you turn up your noses whenever someone ten years younger than you points out that cell phones are actually a pretty good way for people to communicate with each other -- even subversively. I wrote a term paper last year on this stuff: In Kenya, electoral scrutineers follow the ballot boxes from the polling place to the counting house and use their cell phones to sound the alarm when someone tries to screw with them. In the Philippines, twenty thousand people were mobilized in 15 minutes in front of the presidential palace when they tried to shut down the broadcast of the corruption hearings.

"And yet every time someone from my generation talks about how important phones are to democracy, there's always some old pecksniff primly telling us that our phones don't give us *real* democracy. It's so much bullshit."

He fell silent and they all stared at each other for a moment. Kurt's mouth hung open.

"I'm not old," he said finally.

"You're older than me," the kid said. His tone softened. "Look, I'm not trying to be cruel here, but you're generation-blind. The Internet is great, but it's not the last great thing we'll ever invent. My pops was a mainframe guy, he thought PCs were toys. You're a PC guy, so you think my phone is a toy. [...] I'm talking about practical, nonabstract, nontheoretical stuff over here. The real world. I can get a phone for *free*. I can talk to *everyone* with it. I can say *anything* I want. I can use it *anywhere*. Sure, the phone company is a giant conspiracy by The Man to keep us down. But can you really tell me with a straight face that because I can't invent the Web for my phone or make free long distance calls I'm being censored?"

The reporter is later mollified by a more nuanced argument, that it's not an either or proposition.

Aside from the above scenes, and the running theme of producing freely-available wireless Internet access, there does not seem to be any overt social commentary happening in Someone Leaves Home. The best science fiction I've read—not that the novel is heavy by any means on science or even futurism, but rather more so on fantasy elements—has political or social commentary as its basis for existence. This novel clearly aims to entertain, but of his three (I've read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and Eastern Standard Tribe), this is the least entertaining. That's not to say it isn't entertaining, but that there's no interesting take on scarcity like in Down and Out and no IRC chatlogs for me to identify with like in EST.

Best Software Writing I by Joel Spolsky

Finished reading Best Software Writing I, selected and introduced by Joel Spolsky.

A good if not great book collecting essays exclusively from the Web about software and its users. The best essays—like "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" by Clay Shirky; "EA: The Human Story" by ea_spouse; "Autistic Social Software" by danah boyd (already covered in this weblog)—deal with the human element (so much phenomena we think software makes new to us has already been covered by economics, sociology, psychology, etc.) or are useful in a business setting. The latter include but are not limited to "Team Compensation" [PDF] by Mary Poppendieck and "Hazards of Hiring" by Eric Sink, which both deal in the practical aspects of managing the development of software. (In fact, I submit that Eric Sink has more—and more interesting—things to say about the software startups than Paul Graham does.) While interesting for their use of cartooning, essays like "Excel as Database" by Rory Blyth and "A Quick (and Hopefully Painless) Ride Through Ruby (with Cartoon Foxes)" seem overly cute, especially the former, the cartoons not really adding much to the text.

Pointing out the obvious—this is computer software we're talking about—only 3 of the 29 essays were written by women, and all 29 essays were written in the past year or so. To Spolsky's credit, he gave the first book a number and not a year, so there's nothing preventing him or a future editor from including classic essays written about the subject as well as those from the year previous to publication. Also to Spolsky's credit, all essays are selected from texts freely available on the web (a good chunk from weblogs) so that people can forward the writing they've read in dead trees form to their those who might be interested in the articles via IM, email or weblog.

Mighty Mouse Experience

After about a year using a two-button-plus-scrollwheel PC mouse on my Powerbook, bought for 12 bucks from the crazy Chinese computer store around the block from my apartment (there is now another crazy Chinese computer store across the street from it), I've been using Apple's Mighty Mouse, and I gotta say, I like it. It's a lot better with with the software installed than not, as you can program the mouse buttons, of which there are deceptively two (i.e. clicking on the right and left 'sides' of the what looks on the outside to be one big button as per the mice previous from Apple), to do common Mac OS X functions. I just have them set to what most people are used to in a two-button mouse, regular clicking for the left 'side' and a context menu for the right 'side'. The scroll nipple, which acts as a third button—but only, as far as I care, in Firefox—is smooth and cute. I like the mouse's look, I like that it reminds me of my first experiences with a Mac using the one-buttoned variety (which is back at SFU when people would stand in line for PCs when perfectly fine and pretty Macs were still available), and is uncomfortable enough so that it makes me consider each click but comfortable enough that I don't complain too loudly about being locked in a trunk.

Other reviews:

I don't actually read those weblogs, they just happened to be the highest results for 'mighty mouse back firefox'.

Which leads me to what I don't like about it, all not dealbreakers: I had to disable the back button when using the Mighty Mouse with Firefox and the squeeze buttons for Exposé (or whatever you have it programmed to) is awkward. Those are muscles that I a) don't have, b) don't need, and c) don't want.

A Hundred Dollars and a T-Shirt: A Documentary About Zines In the Northwest US

Watched A Hundred Dollars and a T-Shirt DVD: A Documentary About Zines in the Northwest DVD.

I found the DVD at the Portland Zine Symposium a couple of months ago. Produced by Microcosm Publishing, the documentary mostly covers DIY publishers mostly in Portland, Oregon, but also around the Pacific Northwest. It discusses the reasons why people either handwrite or print out stories and articles they've typed, cut and paste them on to an 'original', and then photocopy then staple the copies and distribute them either at local shows or independent bookstores. The documentary features mostly interviews without any narration, and some "re-enactments" while the interviewees were telling stories, like the one about a girl breaking into her dad's office to use the copier. There was more disdain for the Internet—which some think encourages writing without considering the effects—than I expected, and the only reference to weblogs was to "webzines" (which are so 1998" and LiveJournal. I point that out because the way they describe zine culture is very similar to the way bloggers define theirs: started by nerds who don't any respect for The Man and did it without having a business model in mind with a 'do-it-yourself' attitude. Also, there is no real "big picture" interview by an academic, and the history of how zines started seems to depend on who you ask. That said, it's a good introduction to zines and the people and places behind them.

American Splendor

Watched American Splendor DVD.

My second viewing of the movie, I again loved how it mixed documentary interviews with acted scenes (the bulk of the movie), frames from Harvey Pekar's comics, on which the movie is based, the comics being based on his daily life. As with most second viewings, I noticed a little more, and this time had the ability to pause and read the comics that went by too fast the first time. I won't pretend to understand the graphic novel scene, only having flipped through a few and read through one, but I've liked what I've seen, particularly of the stuff that's a little more real than superhero or crime-fighting stuff.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Finished reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Really great book, which I bought at Powell's Books late at night and started reading at the Portland Coffee House that night. Bought it because late one night the month previous I saw the made-for-TV special based on the book, but only the second half, so I wanted to know how it started. The second half of the book differs enough from the series—the principle example being the back-story about the French doctor and the denouement of that thread—to make that part of the book worthwhile too. Really great insight into immigrant British culture caught between their two "homes" as well biraciality (if that's a real word) of Irie, one of the principal characters of the novel.

I've already quoted from the book twice: once about the twentieth century, and another about teenage smokers, and I'm keeping track of the author's mentions in weblogs.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Watched Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard at Bard on the Beach.

Of the three Shakespeare plays I've read, Hamlet is my favourite, and after having watched Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead the movie, I decided to see it performed in the legitimate theatre. It was really great, really funny, my favourite part coming at the very end, where Rosencrantz says "here must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said ... no." Hopefully I didn't ruin it by blurring out the last word before the actor did.

For those who don't know, the play centers around two minor characters of Hamlet who, obviously, get starring roles in this one, and find themselves meeting The Players, and then all of them finding themselves with the play Hamlet (without really knowing it). It's your basic recursive play, also touching on so many subjects it's hard to fit them in a paragraph, much less a sentence, but they include the nature of chance, reality, memory, acting, sanity, and, overall, death. The actors from the Bard on the Beach production of Hamlet played their scenes in this play (the actors who play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play, respectively, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz in Hamlet), and the only significant part that was "missing" from my experience having seen the movie was the puppet show.

They announced during the play that tickets were sold out, but the couple whom I sold my second ticket to was able to get in (meaning that they were able to themselves get a second ticket from someone), so I understand there's still a chance to see it this year. If not, hope that they put on a production next year, and if they do, I imagine I'll attend again.

Milan has an excellent review of the play, performed earlier at Bard on the Beach this year.

Let It Die

Purchased Feist's Let It Die on iTunes Music Service.

Pinder is still months ahead of me: he commented a Coolfer article about Feist, calling her "very Smiths / Belle and Sebastian". I heard "Mushaboom" on KEXP and one thing—looking at the del.icio.us tag for 'feist'—led to another—finding an article on CBC Radio 3 about her which has three live tracks (as much as I like the studio version of "Mushaboom", the live version of "Intuition" with the siren in the background as she signs "uh oh" is most poignant)—and then finally to buying her album on iTunes Music Service.

The album art for iTunes Music Service Canada is different from that of the American release, shown both in the Amazon and Coolfer links below. You can see the album cover I have in my iTunes the 'import' release page on Amazon.com.

Getting Things Done

Finished reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.

The phrases "open loop" and "next action" are now ingrained in my head, but even after reading the book and various articles on both the book and the system, I don't feel motivated to make collection baskets (real or virtual) or 43 folders. The ideas are interesting, though, and has got me thinking about the things I worry about that could be settled if I write down what they are and what I can do about them.

City of God

Watched City of God DVD.

The obsessions with everything Brazilian continues. (See my article on Brazilian woman, a brief review of a compilation of Brazilian music for more on the obsession.) City of God is an excellent movie, beautifully shot, with plot twists some of which were obvious (like who killed the people in the motel) and some not. It was not as violent as I expected it, at least in terms of what they showed. There are certainly moments of horrific violence which occur just off-camera, and justifiably so, since the story is told from the point of view of Rocket, who is an outsider to almost everything that happens in it, except, of course, at the very end. If you get a hold of the DVD, stick around for the hour-long documentary on the favelas, which are characterized as a war-zone. I've never been to one, and never will be to one, but it makes me wonder if people like Diplo, who includes the word "favela" in his baile funk compilations—see the Pitchfork review for Favela Strikes Back to see what I mean—have ever been to one. The scene in the documentary of the policement escorting a subject up a favela, with the women of the neighbourhood following them (so that the police won't execute the suspect), then back down, is easily the documentary's most haunting. City of God, the second half starring Seu Jorge as Knockout Ned, is a beautiful, complex, sometimes scary film about the poorest areas of a poor country.

Endtroducing

Received DJ Shadow's Endtroducing... (Deluxe Edition) double-CD in the mail.

Mutual Slump seems more subdued, and features the Star Wars related quote at the beginning instead of in the middle. (It's longer too. Woman: "Do you feel like Darth Vader?" Man: "Yes." Woman: [laughs] "Then I'm Princess Leia, five feet under.") It's weird hearing that and "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt" without the overdubs, because I kept expecting the scratches and vocal samples, like the quote about the music flowing through him (in BSWAGOS) and the Xanadu quote in "Mutual Slump". The alternate beats are far too shorts: they are rough cuts, but really great rough cuts. A note about this: I bought this online from djshadow.com, and even though I got a t-shirt and a poster and a sticker with it, $50 USD seems like a bit much, and that's not even considering I had to pay $12 Canadian for customs. That said, the remixes included are required for DJ Shadow completists, and the album contains much more detailed liner notes than the original. That said, I've been meaning to buy this, my favourite album of all time, again, because the copy I have has so many scratches from the hundreds of times I played it, combined with my customary mis-handling of CDs.

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