Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

The Making of Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Everyone has their favorite album that never appears in any famous “Top 10 Albums of All Time” lists. That album, for me, is Blood Sugar Sex Magik, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. To me, Blood Sugar is the greatest rock album of the last 25 years or so, and it is by far the best album the Red Hots have ever released. Much like U2, their commercial success continued long after their seminal album, but they were never able to match the energy, originality, and overall “breakthroughness” of their early work.

I have a theory that everyone’s all-time favorite album is one they heard during their formative music listening years (usually between age 15 and 25) and Blood Sugar falls right in the middle of that zone for me. There’s just something about how your brain works when you are that age which you can never reproduce later in life. You enjoy music now, but you were shaped by it then.

I remember reading an article (in Rolling Stone, I believe) 10 years ago or so about how this fantastic album was produced. It turns out instead of recording it in a studio, the band camped out in Harry Houdini’s old mansion and laid down each track in low-fi fashion using tools like metal pipe and an empty oil drum. I was amazed to find out how sophisticated of a sound they were able to produce with such a higgledy piggledy setup. The only modern musician I can think of who succeeds at this breed of music production today is Jack White.

So tonight, when one of my favorite cellists, Nick Ogawa (a.k.a. Takenobu), tweeted that he was researching how his favorite bands of old recorded their music, I asked him if he had heard the story of Blood Sugar. He said he hadn’t. I pointed him to a 60 minute documentary on the making of the album which he then discovered existed on Google Video here:

It’s a great documentary to watch if you enjoy this album as much as I do. It’s even been listed in some Top 20 Music Documentaries of All Time lists. It’s a bit NSFW at times, but it’s a great look into how great albums are created: with volatile personalities, at volatile times, in volatile surroundings.

How to Permanently Prevent OS X 10.7 Lion from ever Re-Opening Apps After a Restart

While the latest version of Mac OS X, Lion, is generally wonderful, there is one “feature” that annoys thousands of people to no end: whenever your machine is restarted, every single application you happen to have open at the time is also relaunched and restored to the state it was in before you restarted. If you restart manually via the “Restart…” menu item, there is a checkbox you can uncheck which is supposed to shut off this behavior but it doesn’t always work. Additionally, if your computer restarts for any other reason — e.g. a power failure or a crash — you don’t even have the option of trying to prevent this behavior.

The downside of the behavior is obvious: it increases the time it takes to start up your machine into a steady state and it re-opens apps you may not be using anymore.

If you want to prevent this behavior entirely, there is now a foolproof, fully reversible way to do it. Simply:

  1. Quit all of your apps.
  2. Navigate to here: ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/com.apple.loginwindow.*.plist (whereby * is a bunch of characters)
  3. Click the file, do a File > Get Info (or command-I if you’re a pro), and lock it using the Locked checkbox.

Voila. You’ve now prevented Lion from saving what apps and windows are open. To reverse this setting, simply unlock the file!

Another helpful hint as well: Lion, by default, hides your ~/Library/ folder. To make it visible again without showing all of your other invisible files, simply open up Terminal and type:

chflags nohidden ~/Library/

Never Be Another

When someone dies, the phrase “there will never be another” gets used quite frequently. It’s one of those phrases that is both always true and yet almost always not true. It’s true that, yes, no other person will ever be exactly like any other person, but it’s usually false in the compliment it’s actually trying to pay.

In almost every case, when a public figure dies, there are plenty of his or her contemporaries ready to fill the void. A great guitarist died? Well we at least have hundreds of other world class guitarists to listen to. A basketball star died? Luckily we have plenty of those too.

The truth of the matter is that even best of the best in most fields, at any given time, is only a little better than the rest.

Counterexamples to this seem to happen only a handful of times per century. The number of times we lose someone whose impact was so dramatic and whose substitute seems so unfathomable is vanishingly small.

We lost that person yesterday in Steve Jobs, and we are only beginning to feel the impact of his absence.

What gets lost in all of these Steve Jobs tributes you read online is just how dark things were for personal technology only ten years ago. People forget that until the iPhone came out, “The Apple Way” was still largely on the sidelines. Windows PCs were unavoidable. Cell phones were unapproachable. There were even a few years around the turn of the century when many websites didn’t even work on Macs because developers only coded to PC Internet Explorer “standards” (airiest of air quotes there, of course).

It was just dark as hell out there; especially for those of us who wanted so badly for the story to end differently. The lesson that idealism and attention to detail could lose out to “good enough and a little cheaper” was not something we wanted to learn.

The long, but impeccably planned, turnaround that Steve Jobs has led over the last 14 years is impressive for thousands of reasons. None is more astounding to me than this one though: he was quite literally the one person on the face of the earth capable of pulling it off.

One. Out of 6,800,000,000 people.

He wasn’t just the best choice. He was the only choice. And that’s why we’ll miss him so much.

When people die after suffering from prolonged illness or pain, my thoughts are almost always positive. Death is not something I fear, and when it’s ultimately the relief method for someone’s pain and suffering, I feel happy for their newfound peace. I felt this way when Kurt Cobain died, for instance.

With Steve Jobs, however, I don’t get the feeling death was any sort of relief at all. Yes he was obviously at peace with the concept, as he expressed beautifully in his Stanford commencement speech, but SJ put the pedal to the metal until his final breath.

What would you do if you knew you had a short time to live? Most of us would quit our jobs. Many of us would travel. Some of us would relax and keep our stress levels down. What did Steve do? He hit the gas. He released the iPhone, unveiled the iPad, and led Apple to its current and still unfathomable status as the most valuable company in the world.

Just as incredibly, he was able to lift his body out of Apple without also removing his soul; on a day when many once feared AAPL stock would dive precipitously, it’s comfortably unchanged from the day before.

He had his flaws and he may not be the greatest person to ever live, but no one has ever left this world more on top than Steve Jobs has just left it.

Thanks for everything.

Mind Your MeTweets

You know how when someone compliments you, the first thing you do is e-mail everyone you know to tell them about the compliment?

No, you probably don’t, because you have the good sense not to do something like that.

Why then do so many people feel no shame in rampantly retweeting compliments they receive on Twitter? Some examples, with names changed to protect the guilty:

“RT @joesmith I just heard the most wonderful speech from @lisafrench. That girl is a genius.” (retweeted by @lisafrench)

“RT @fred24 Just saw @jasongotham’s redesign. So good. So jealous!” (retweeted by @jasongotham)

“RT @cakester Scrummify’s sign-up process is a thing of beauty.” (retweeted by @scrummify or an employee of Scrummify)

Let’s count the number of things wrong with this practice:

  1. In real life, it’s considered impolite to brag. Unless you are authoring an anonymous satirical account on Twitter, this is your real life.
  2. If your intent is to spread a compliment your product received, you’re spreading it to people who are already believers, or at the very least, already aware of your product. You want other people to spread it. Oh wait, they already are.
  3. You’re filling your followers’ Twitter feeds not with your own thoughts, but with other people’s thoughts… thoughts about you. The practice of retweeting insults about you on Twitter can also be controversial, but that’s a different beast altogether; one that aims to dismantle trollery by elevating it ironically.

I know many people view Twitter as a medium that can be used by anyone in any manner they see fit — without regard to how other people use it or how other people think it should be used — but I’m not really talking about Twitter here. I’m talking about basic manners. Your mom taught you them when you were young. They haven’t changed that much.

Try not to forget them.

Reducing your DirecTV channels down to something reasonable

If you don’t have DirecTV, you can go ahead and skip this post. Just thought I’d post this list of non-shopping, non-religious, non-infomercial, non-stupid channels in the DirecTV channel lineup. When you sign up for DirecTV, you have somewhere between 200 and 900 channels and navigating through them via the guide takes 15 minutes per rotation.

To make your life a lot easier, you should delete all of these unnecessary channels off of your receiver as soon as you can. Since I’ve been through this process several times, I thought I’d publish my list of channels to keep, in order to give others a head start. Here they are:

4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 22, 28, 101, 202, 206-209, 212, 229, 231, 232, 235-237, 241, 242, 244, 245, 247-249, 251-254, 256, 258, 264-267, 271, 276-278, 280-286, 304, 306-308, 335, 337, 355, 356, 501-505, 507-509, 515-517, 525-531, 535-542, 545-552, 554-559, 603, 614, 687, 688-1

Note that this is from the Seattle channel lineup so your mileage under channel 100 may vary. Happy deleting!

A Train that Never Stops

I have been pitching this concept for at least seven years now to anyone who would listen: a train that never stops but instead uses accelerating and decelerating pods to shuttle passengers on and off at each approaching stop.

Normally, when I’ve drawn this out for people, the concept has been met with a reaction along the lines of “uhhh, good luck with that one!” The only difference in what I’ve been pitching and the concept in the video below (via kottke), is that my model uses individual pods instead of one big “group pod” in order to let people off and on at even more desirable locations, but it’s great to see someone finally put something like this into a video animation:

If I’ve thought of it, and now these people in Asia have thought of it, countless others have probably thought of it as well. Now it’s just time to make it happen. A great train ride is the most enjoyable way to travel, in my opinion.

What affects the taste of tap water?

The tap from the Waitsburg cemetery. Even the dead people get to benefit. (photo by J.C. Westbrook)

I don’t drink a lot of water, mainly because I’ve never really loved the taste. That, and I’ve always thought the whole “8 glasses a day” thing is bullshit. On a trip to Walla Walla wine country a couple of weeks ago, however, we stopped in a quiet little town called Waitsburg that is a dead ringer for Radiator Springs (from the Pixar movie “Cars”). We had a delectable dinner at the phenomenal Jimgermanbar but perhaps the most amazing part of the meal for me was the tap water. It was the first time in my life I ever remember thinking to myself how great a glass of water tasted.

Pure, zero flavor wetness without even a hint of aftertaste. Even at room temperature.

I asked our waitress about it and she said people comment about it a lot so I had her pour me two magnum bottles full and I brought it home (well, Tiffehr brought it home). Upon arriving back in Seattle, I had a few co-workers taste it and they also had positive reviews. Then I did a blind taste-test at home and it won with flying colors.

I’m now reasonably sure this is the best water I’ve ever been in the presence of, so of course my curiosity continues to grow. In researching the peculiarities of water taste, I came across this great but suuuuuuper fugly article explaining how minerals and other things affect the taste of water. Hint: use this readability widget to decrappify the layout.

Lots of interesting stuff in there. I’m convinced this water is extremely pure and contains very little mineral content, and now I want to have it tested. Anybody know what the easiest way to do this is? Are there local labs that will charge you a few bucks to quench your obsessive curiosities? If so, I’m all over it… and will report the results back here of course.

The Snuggie

In mocking the Snuggie product/website/commercial with Freckles, I noticed that they actually took the time to put a “Share” link on their online demonstration video. In order to reward SnuggieCorp for their Web 2.0-ness, I thought I’d be the first person in the world to take the bait and embed the video on my own site! Enjoy:

By the way, why is it that the guys in the video look ten times as dorky wearing this thing than the girls do?

Also, why do I still totally want one?

Electoral Count Prediction: 378-160

Although I’m generally not one to post politically-oriented entries on this blog, I want to go on the record with a prediction of how today’s electoral votes will come down:

(R) Alabama – 9
(R) Alaska – 3
(R) Arizona – 10
(R) Arkansas – 6
(D) California – 55
(D) Colorado – 9
(D) Connecticut – 7
(D) Delaware – 3
(D) Florida – 27
(R) Georgia – 15
(D) Hawaii – 4
(R) Idaho – 4
(D) Illinois – 21
(D) Indiana – 11
(D) Iowa – 7
(R) Kansas – 6
(R) Kentucky – 8
(R) Louisiana – 9
(D) Maine – 4
(D) Maryland – 10
(D) Massachusetts – 12
(D) Michigan – 17
(D) Minnesota – 10
(R) Mississippi – 6
(D) Missouri – 11
(R) Montana – 3
(R) Nebraska – 5
(D) Nevada – 5
(D) New Hampshire – 4
(D) New Jersey – 15
(D) New Mexico – 5
(D) New York – 31
(D) North Carolina – 15
(D) North Dakota – 3
(D) Ohio – 20
(R) Oklahoma – 7
(D) Oregon – 7
(D) Pennsylvania – 21
(D) Rhode Island – 4
(R) South Carolina – 8
(R) South Dakota – 3
(R) Tennessee – 11
(R) Texas – 34
(R) Utah – 5
(D) Vermont – 3
(D) Virginia – 13
(D) Washington – 11
(D) Washington D.C. – 3
(R) West Virginia – 5
(D) Wisconsin – 10
(R) Wyoming – 3

Final Tally

Barack Obama: 378
John McCain: 160

I also think the race will be officially called by the networks within ten minutes of 10:15pm Eastern. This is just my opinion as an observer, of course. Best of luck to both candidates.

UPDATE: Ok, it looks like they just called North Carolina for Barry O., so the final tally is 364-173. Looks like I only got Missouri and North Dakota wrong. And honestly, the only reason I picked Missouri for Obama was that I bought into the hype about how Missouri has picked every single election except for one. Make that two now! :)

Fresh Bread vs. Good Bread

Mike Industries Poll

Which is a tastier bread, in general?


Mike Industries Poll

Which sub sandwich joint is tastier?


Today in the office, we had one of our recurring disagreements about what the most important element of bread is: freshness or “goodness”. In other words, would you rather eat bread that would be judged of Grade C based on ingredients and preparation but came out of the oven within the last hour or two, or bread that would be judged of Grade A based on ingredients and preparation but came out of the oven more like 24 hours ago?

The fresh vs. quality debate arose from another recurring office disagreement about Quiznos vs. Subway. Some have argued that Subway is better because its bread is fresher, while others have argued that Quiznos is better because its bread is of higher quality (both statements, you may of course disagree with).

To help settle these two arguments, please vote in the polls to the right, and leave any brilliant additional insights in the comments below.

Shared
Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away:

A great essay about how toxic everyday distractions can be.

Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.