Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The deal with my Halloween (2009) costume, or I am good at keeping secrets

For Halloween, I dressed as follows:

If you know who I'm dressed as, I hereby award you with 500 Awesome Points. If you don't get/recognize it, try the following clues:

1) Have you see The Wire? (if you haven't seen The Wire, you can skip the rest of the clues, sigh. I mean christ, it's only the greatest television show ever made)

2) Indeed.

3) They were all out of Honey Nut.

4) You see, I woke up one morning, went for breakfast, but found that there were no Honey Nut Cheerios left. The next time Renaldo finishes up a box he's gotta holler on it, yo. So I went out to get some more, but they didn't have any Honey Nut left, which is why I have just the regular kind.

Still no? WTF, what kind of dedicated Wire viewer are you? Sigh.

Ok, fine, here's the answer:

So, for the non-Wire readers, I was dressed as the character "Omar Little" from the show. If you watched the clip above and you're confused, a little context helps- he is one of the most feared and renowned characters in the show's universe, as his primary method of generating income is robbing drug dealers by planning raids on their stash houses.

Ok, so I was a character from an HBO show. What's the big deal? Well, part of it certainly is that my Halloween costumes do tend to go for the "limited audience but intense appreciation" market, which I guess mirrors my taste in music, etc. I'll probably go into further detail on that subject in a future blog post.

But that's not the real reason why I went as Omar.

My friend Jeremy often shares similar tastes with me, and has been, for years now, insisting fervently that I check out The Wire. Although I do typically heed his advice, I took great enjoyment in frustrating him; explaining that I couldn't watch it as I still had to rewatch Elektra and Universal Soldier a few more times.

Although this provided an endless source of amusement on my part, I did fully intend to watch the show and finally watched the pilot episode with my friends Sarah and Michelle about a year ago. After watching it, I got them to swear not to tell anyone, especially Jeremy, that we had watched said pilot. About 6 months ago, I watched the entire series, and kept it a secret. 2 days before Halloween I told my parents my intentions, and 1 day before, when asked about costume plans, I told a friend only that it was a secret but divulged nothing further.

Of course, there were more than a few occasions during the past year/6 months that The Wire would come up in conversation, but I would simply show little interest, and pull out an excuse of the form "oh yeah, my friend told me to check it out but I haven't seen it yet". All the while, a burning desire to blurt out my love of the series would be bubbling under the surface. The absolute brilliance of the writing in the show and its ability to "slow burn" to an eventually tremendously satisfying payoff is quite amazing. But I held my tongue.

One of the reference pics I used for Omar. Yeah, somebody
made a 3D model of him. In fact I asked a hairdresser
friend of mine if she would be able to give me cornrows, but
apparently my hair is "too short and too asian".

Being that Jeremy is in Malaysia (or actually currently in Thailand for a friend's wedding), I decided to dress as Omar, get photos taken, and have him see the photos/tags once they appeared on Facebook. I specifically chose not to dress as Omar in his typical "working" attire of a trenchcoat, bulletproof vest, and shotgun as, with a costume like that, it would not be clear how much of the show I'd seen- it would be quite possible to imagine I'd only seen the 1st season. Instead, I picked this specific look, from this specific scene in season 4, one of the greatest scenes in television history, and a clear indication that I'd seen most if not all of the series. I was eagerly awaiting a "wtf... OMG YOU FUCKER YOU'VE SEEN THE WIRE" reaction.

So I dressed up. I went to parties. I had my picture taken. I waited. Eventually the first pics showed up on Facebook... buuuuuut unfortunately due to privacy settings they weren't visible to the general public. So I waited some more. Palms sweating. Finally, Hamza's pics showed up. The moment of truth! My plan, a year in the waiting! Finally! Coming! To! Fruition!

Jeremy:so ummm i don't get the joke
yeah i don't get your costume
Jeremy:was it some movie i didn't see?
me:are you serious
you can't be serious
Jeremy:dude i've seen like 2 movies in the last 3 years
and both were documentaries
me:i can't believe this
Jeremy:it's certainly not in the wire
i still don't know if you're serious or not
Jeremy:i'm serious!
me:read my caption [ed: the caption was "they were all out of honey-nut"]
or my comment
Jeremy:that rings no bells
when you finish the box you gotta pick up another
me:so off i go
in the morning
in my blue (satin) bathrobe
to get some honey nut cheerios
you suck
[ed: I post the link to the above video]
Jeremy:you're supposed to be omar?

I lose.

But no! I will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Best. Present. Ever.

About 2 years ago, my parents moved out of their house in NDG, which was my childhood home, to move into a condo located downtown. Part of this move included throwing out lots of "old junk" deemed no longer necessary. In fact, the cleaning process started years and years ago, even before they decided to get a condo. Those who know my parents know that they have a dark and quirky sense of practicality and uber-foreplanning- some say fatalistic others say realistic. My dad explained the cleanup: "We want to throw out all this junk now so that, after we die, you don't have to go through all of this".

Unfortunately, one of the items deemed "junk" was a Casio VL-1 VL-Tone, which was my first ever musical instrument, and whose demo song was the first piece of music I ever learnt how to play.

Not exactly the hippest thing ever, but back then I couldn't get enough. I mean, christ, I eventually got so good at playing the theme that I would play the melody while switching the rhythms and sounds around at the right spots.

If you've never heard of the VL-Tone, but hear something in it that sounds familiar, it may be because you've heard songs that have used it. The most famous is probably German band Trio's song "Da Da Da".


Anyway, so, like I said, my dad threw it away and I was shocked and horrified- partly nostalgia but also partly because I've had the idea in the last few years to start a project that would integrate retro electronic sounds, and the VL-1 was going to be absolutely integral to it.

Fast-forward to tonight, when I was over at my parents place for dinner. Due to age and my dad's illness, I've been helping out with various chores and repairs that would have previously been trivial, and so, after dinner, I headed downstairs to pick up the mail. There was a package waiting for us.

Suddenly I realized why my dad had been asking me questions about eBay for the last couple of weeks without the slightest idea it was for this. Best present ever.

Also, thankfully I did manage to stave the hand of junk-disposal before they got to my old Transformers toy collection.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Before Music Dies

I'd heard about this documentary about the current state of the popular music industry, that is to say, marketing-driven music, as opposed to music and musician-driven music, a while ago, but never got around to watching it. My loss. Contains some great insights although it comes off as a bit of a commercial spot for ATO Records at the end of it.

You can watch the entire movie here:

Features interviews with record industry execs, random music fans, and lots of famous and not-so-famous musicians such as Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Branford Marsalis, and ?uestlove. Also contains an amusing insta-popstar creation using the dude who wrote Jewel's big hit, a 17-yr-old model, and of course the wonders of autotune.

This also contains the famous quote from Branford Marsalis about the state of students today, that has been floating around the webtersphere.


I've seen Branford speaking out on various subjects a bit more recently, and he seems to have a similar combination fire, controversy, and intelligence that Wynton has, but I tend to agree with his opinions more. Kinda like my feeling on their music too, haha.

Here's a clip of him talking about race and the objectification of women:


One of the more bizarre/hypocritical parts of the documentary, though, is hearing Erykah Badu talk all about how the music-industry today is all about image over content, but she is doing this while wearing her very notable but very fake afro wig. Hrm.


Found via Zakari's post on Peter Hum's Facebook wall.

(updated on 2010/12/01 with link to video of Erykah Badu's comments, and updated link to movie)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bring Back the Old Facebook- wait, no, not the Old Old Facebook, but the Old New Facebook*

* title courtesy of Jeremy Tan

So now that the initial "I HATE ALL NEW THINGS" furor over the latest "new Facebook" has subsided somewhat, here's my beef with the most recent overhaul, in a nutshell. Facebook has upgraded to a social networking site that has killed the power of social networking. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's certainly true that they have stifled the very forces that make social networking spread like wildfire.

First of all, let's look at what the perceived problem was and what Facebook sought to resolve with the new iteration. As far as I can tell, the main issue was balancing overburdening people with every single item from their friends' minifeeds (the old real-time feed) vs the haphazard culling of pseudo-random items into a summary feed. Their solution was to decide that some kinds of content were more important than others and to present this subset of all generated friend content in their totality.

There's a number of big problems with this.
  1. One is that Facebook has decided what feed information is important to you (which may not be accurate). This is the "killing the power of social networking" part of things. A lot of seemingly innocuous or unimportant information that was previously the source of great amusement (such as one's changing of one's profile picture, or one being tagged in some content, or one joining a group) would flow down to one's friends and spread in that fashion- now that information is lost, except for friend-specific stalkers.
  2. A second problem is that for those who were used to the completeness of the old real-time feed, this is a step backwards. Admittedly, though, the overkill of the real-time feed is for the obsessive and not for everyone.
  3. Thirdly, because the only stream available is a "real-time", because no summary/randomized feed is available, and because not everyone is a 24hr/old posts-checking Facebook junkie, a real-time-only feed means casual users miss out on a lot of things, potentially. The "Highlights" are an attempt to address this sort of thing, but, again, only certain kinds of content qualify, which bring up the same sorts of problems as in (1) above. Also, folks in different timezones from one another are likely to miss each others' updates, given the time differential, unless one, again, goes through the trouble of scouring old posts.
  4. Fourthly, and this is a general problem that existed before "new" Facebook, blanket user feed filtering doesn't really work. Generally, some types of updates from some users are problematic- but not *all* their updates. Case in point, twitter-esque status updates from one friend might be annoying but you don't want to completely ignore their updates and miss out on their photo uploads, for example.
In my opinion, there are ways to address these issues and still address the issues that Facebook wants to improve on.

Here's my suggestion, in a nutshell, of how to fix Facebook.
  • First, we need the concept of "Publisher" settings (i.e.: for a user updating his/her status or posting a link, or otherwise creating anything that would create an entry in their feed) vs "Reader/Filter/Feed" settings (i.e.: for a user reading his friend's updates).
  • All of the things that qualify, i.e.: anything that can appear in a feed entry, should be atomic and treated equally, and should default everything on for writing (publishing) but, in the interests of backwards-compatibility with current Facebook, only the same items that currently show up in the feed should be enabled. Turning on everything from the reader-side would be equivalent to the old real-time feed and appeal to the hardcore/obsessive.
  • Instead of blanket per-user filtering, what we really want is per-user per-atomic newsfeed item filtering, same for publishing. In other words, anything that can be published can be filtered, on both a global or per-user setting basis.
  • Bring back some variant of the old feed, but call it something like the MishMash Feed or the Summary Feed. This is great for casual users. This could also be achieved by simply provided a Feed-like interface to Highlights, but with more "old" entries.
I'm pretty sure that this would do it. You'd satisfy the crazy Facebook junkies like me, giving us complete access to the information we used to have in the old Real-Time feed, but you'd still have the less overwhelming options for the general/casual user.

On a separate note, it's probably only a matter of time before this happens, but if one can re-arrange the positions of items in one's profile, why can't one have similar control over (at least some) of the options in one's home/feed page? I can understand not being able to move the position of the ads around, but I for one would much prefer having my Upcoming Events near the top, and my "Friends You May Know"/"Suggestions" near the bottom.

Yes, I may be a jazz musician, but I used to be a software developer in another life. Can you tell?

[2009/04/20] Addendum: The other problem with having a Real-Time feed and no Summary Feed is that an extremely active user (or anything that can publish to a feed, such as a Public Profile or an Application) can easily monopolize one's feed. Both selective filtering on the Reader side and Summary Feed as an option would address this problem.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Importance of Backups

Backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup.

Everyone says to backup one's data reguarly, but how many people actually do?  Besides, buying an extra hard drive, installing it, and setting up a system for regular backups- this can easily become a non-trivial task, especially for non-technically-minded folks.  There are a few one-stop-shop solutions, that offer some kind of do-it-all box to cover your backup needs, but these do tend to be expensive.  Apple's Time Capsule does try to bridge all these gaps, but no idea how it fares in the non-Mac world, though.

My friend Kevin pointed out a great solution called Mozy that provides network-based backups.  Basically you create an account, download a piece of software (for Mac or Windows), choose what you'd like to backup, and then your files are uploaded (encrypted) to a backup server using the Power of the Internet.  I just started using it and it seems pretty great so far.  Network-based backups just make so much sense to me, and from Mozy's business-case perspective, I would think it makes sense for them too, when considering the relative cheapness of hard drive space and bandwidth for the operations involved.

The free version offers 2GB of backup space, which is just barely enough for me, but I manage to offload the space a little considering that I have my photos backed up on Picasa Web Albums already, and I'm electing not to backup my mp3 collection for time being.  The pay version ($4.95/month) offers unlimited backup space.  Also, if you use my referral link to signup, we each get an additional 256MB.  Woohoo!  Signup here!

As it turns out, I know a couple of the folks who work for the company that bought Mozy, so I'm hoping that they'll alert me before Mozy starts snooping around in my backup data, and make millions taking my avant-garde atonal jazz charts and converting them into Top-40 hits.

Mozy (with referral code)

Why Twitter is doomed to failure, or what Facebook has to do to kill Twitter

So, added to my list of things that I believe are doomed to failure is Twitter.  Why?  It seems that all Twitter amounts to is a very limited featureset that is easily superceded by the featureset of other social-networking sites.  As far as I'm concerned, Twitter is essentially Facebook status updates with minor additional features.  And I'm guessing those additional features will be coming to Facebook soon, in a much more complete/all-encompassing fashion to boot.  Sooner still if Facebook wants to curb Twitter's growth.  Here's what Facebook needs to do to match Twitter:

  • Subscribing to Non-Friend Content: Provide the ability to "subscribe to"/follow people's status updates without being their friends.  People can elect to make their status updates "public" or "subscribable" to their non-friends in order to make this happen.  This is already possible with public videos and public notes, so this isn't much of a stretch.
  • Commenting on Non-Friend Content: Provide the ability for people to comment on public status updates.  Again, already possible with videos and notes, so not difficult.
  • More Control on Updates: Provide the ability to more finely control what friend updates one receives, and how one receives them, in particular with regard to cellphone integration.  I don't use Facebook Mobile (mainly due to the absolutely ridiculously exorbitant data rates up here in Canada) so I'm not sure how much control one has, but I would assume one does not have the option to receive a text message (or equivalent) for every friends' status update, currently.
Now, here's the additional features Facebook needs to kill Twitter, and other websites, entirely, or at least to aggressively compete against them:
  • Generic Publishing: Provide the ability for people to mark any content as public and "subscribable".  For example, a film-maker could make their status updates, notes, and videos public and "subscribable", thus competing with, respectively, Twitter, Blogger, and YouTube.
  • Generic Subscribing: Within Facebook, one only gets notifications on updates for items that one has been explicitly marked as participating in- this could be via a tag, a comment, and so forth.  This shouldn't be necessary, however.  If someone posts a really neat photo that I know will inspire a lot of comments (and I want to read the comments), I should have the option to subscribe to said photo whenever updates are posted to it, and thus opt-in to receive comments, etc on it.
  • Content Labeling: Provide the ability for people to mark their content with GMail-esque labels, and then set privacy settings, such as subscribability, on that.  This is slightly different from friend lists but perhaps the two could be merged.
  • Facebook Connect 2-Way Communication: Facebook Connect allows external websites to report a user's activities as Facebook newsfeed items.  In order to become more seamless, the reverse should occur as well.  Actions on Facebook should also be reflected on external sites.  Currently, for example, one can import blog entries into Facebook as notes.  When users within Facebook comment on the imported notes, those comments are not exported back to the source blog- but they could be, keeping one conversation thread across multiple reading interfaces.  Taking this a step further, why not have my Facebook-uploaded videos also appear on YouTube?
Now, to be fair, I don't actually have a Twitter account, so I may be missing out on some key features here, or mis-representing the featureset.  Still, I can't imagine that there is all that much more that would be hard to reproduce on the Facebook side.

Some of these features could perhaps be introduced via Facebook Pages, so that people could maintain a private account and a public persona as two separate entities, but I think the bulk of these features would be desired by general Facebook account holders.

So anyway, that's it!  Twitter, your time is up.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Adobe CS4 - even the installer is crap

I haven't yet blogged about it, but I had a pretty frickin' horrible time with Adobe Audition and Adobe Premiere CS3. To be fair, one of the issues I had with them- repetitive crashing- was probably due to system incompatibilities/bad drivers, but it's really the poor way in which the software handled the crashes that was the crux of the problem. Anyway that'll be the subject of a future blog post.

So, now, I've decided to upgrade to CS4 in hopes of addressing the problems I had. I fire up the installer. This seems to take a long time. When it finally comes up and I get the chance to choose some configuration options, I check the Task Manager, just for kicks.

250M of memory usage?!  For an installer?!  Nnngph.

The E: drive is the home of my Program Files installations.  Currently, my C: drive has 1.54GB free and E: has an ample 11.1GB free.  The full CS4 installation is supposed to take 8.7GB.  More than enough.  So I set my custom install location to the E: drive.

I...  what?

This...  this is just fucking great.  Really inspires confidence in the quality of the product.

PS, current price of Adobe CS4 Master Collection: US $2,499