Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Home Away

This post is mainly for Olga (my "big sister" in Germany). My brother and I were part of a Christmas drama entitled, "Home Away", this past year. It was set in a homeless shelter and centered around the lives of those living inside. I played young man resigned to being a lifer at the shelter, who offset the fact by never taking anything too seriously. Stephen played a young hoodlum.

A typical afternoon

In this first picture I attempt to convince Ted (left) and George (right) that "It's A Wonderful Life" is the greatest Christmas movie ever by pretending to be an angel and talking in a high pitched voice. Ted was the main character for the drama and George was the character I worked off of the most. We had a scripted love-hate relationship, which was really fun to do and provided a lot of the humour.

Stephen and my confrontation

Here I challenge Stephen using contradictory logic. "I'm not half as tough as I think you are." Stephen, not fully grasping what I said and not wanting to admit it, attempts to maintain his tough guy bravado through the encounter.

The defiant exit

Stephen and I had watched Scarface shortly before our rehearsals began and just for fun he used Pacino as a template for his swagger and gangster drawl in the role. It worked great and everybody loved it.

The Monopoly Scene

At the beginning of the Monopoly scene, I had a great little monologue as I set up the board. In this picture Carmen (far right) has just landed on B&O Railroad. George rejoices that he has B and O, leaving himself open to an obvious joke.

I've also put together a short collection of screen captures I took off of the DVD.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Revolution Will Have Rhythm

Last night I watched Good Night, and Good Luck. While set in the 50s, it is fairly clear that the movie is meant to invoke commentary on analogous current events. This message would have been harder hitting for me, if the 50s hadn't been such a cool era. My conclusion? What the world needs is more jazz.

As Ella would say,

Dictators would be better off
If they zoom zoom now and then
Today, you can see that the happiest men
All got rhythm

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Giving Back - Part 1

Day to day I use quite a bit of free software and services to make my life easier. In appreciation and as an opportunity for you to benefit as well, I've decided to give you a brief run down of some of the tools and services I use.

Making a blog

Firstly to make this blog, I obviously use Blogger, a free service run by Google. I host my photos using flickr, also free, but I've caved and gone for the Pro account. Then to bring it all together I use Flock, a variant of Firefox.

Using Flock to edit a blog entry

Flock is really nice at integrating web services into the browser and that bar of photos you see at the top are photos in my flickr account that I can just drag down into my blog entry. They have a clean source editor that doesn't insert line breaks when converting (a big selling point for me).

Browsing the web

For those of you still using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)or patiently awaiting version 7, there are three main reasons I would recommend you consider another browser. I'll go from the least convincing to most convincing reasons.

The first reason to switch is security. This isn't too big of a deal if you browse smart and keep up-to-date on the lastest issues, so I won't go into any real details.

The second, is the way the browser renders a webpage. IE is a 90s child, it's stuck in the past. Below is just a small example from a post on my blog.

IE rendering a blockquote

Firefox rendering the same blockquote

For standards compliant browsers (read everybody besides IE), I've added a simple stylesheet markup to add a little quotation mark for any blockquotes. I haven't bothered creating the work-around to do something like this in IE, because it isn't worth my effort for hobby website. Besides, if you're using IE and I hadn't just brought it to your attention, you wouldn't have known it was missing. It's just a little something extra for browsers that follow standards. There are quite a few more rendering setbacks that IE has, that are familiar to most people that build webpages, let's just say that upgrading from IE makes the web a better place.

The third and probably most compelling reason to switch is features. As an example, the aforementioned Flock browser is a pretty slick package, but I still don't use it, because it doesn't quite have all the features I have in Firefox. This might suprise people who are familiar with Flock, because Flock is essentially Firefox with more features. This would be true if I just used the normal Firefox, but the great thing about this browser (and Flock), is that you can add a plenty of extra features and customizations using something called extensions. I use quite a few and there are plenty more out there, however I'll share with you just two. They are pretty applicable to general web use and I couldn't do with out them, now that I've begun to use them.

My Sage Sidebar

The first one I will highlight is called Sage. Most regularly updating websites have something called an Atom or RSS feed associated with it. When I visit a website I would like to keep track of, I simply click the little "Search For Feed" button and it detects any available feeds. From there I add it to my list. Now here's where it comes in handy, if I ever want to check on the websites I'm interested in, I just click on the "Update Feed" button and any websites that have updated since I last visited them will show a little red star beside them. Then I just click on the red star and Sage will show me a summary of all the new content on the site. This saves me from checking twenty different sites when only two of them may have new content since I've last been there. There are other feed aggregators out there, but Sage nicely fits right into the side panel of my browser making it a very handy tool.

The second extension is EasyGestures. EasyGestures is hard to explain but incrediably easy to use. Basically it provides a menu wheel of customizable actions every time you click your middle mouse button. Moving your mouse in that direction then activates the command. It seems simple and it is. In fact it is so simple that I've noticed I now use the commands on a subconcious level. If I have to navigate backwards or forwards using a browser that doesn't carry the feature, I will often find myself wondering why the page hasn't change seconds before my brain realizes that I've already attempted to use an EasyGesture more than once.

I think I'll wrap up here. I've purposefully tried to keep this very high level and not go into too many technical details. If you need help trying to use any of the stuff I've described, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Re-Post: Potsdam/Berlin Summary

Original posted on: June 18th, 2004

After our stay in Bielefeld, we drove to Potsdam with Karl's cousin Nicki to meet up with Oli, another cousin of theirs. Upon arriving, it was immediately arranged that we grab some Döner (apparently the best in Germany and though I have yet to disprove this, as long as actively trying to disprove this involves eating more Döner, I am by no means through).

We were then given a drive-by tour of Potsdam. Once the home of the Prussian court, most likely due to it's beautiful lakes and nearness to the capitol, Berlin, it is now the home to many German celebraties. Kate Moss, to name one of many we did not meet.

Where Kate Moss doesn't live

Cruising through Potsdam

After our tour, we returned to Oli's place, where we ate a true a German meal (a suprisingly unsual occurance during our stay in Germany) on the patio. Then it was off to an old Russian army barracks turned disco to party the night away.

Hier stept der Bär

The next day we went to Berlin and whisked by all the neccesary tourist attractions, I imagine because it was quite everday for Karl's cousin's. We walked past the many embassies and into the political center of Germany. Here it became very clear the kind of global stability the "War on Terror" was actually generating. Both American and British embassy set themselves apart by completely cordoning of the block in front of their buildings with concrete barriers and patrolling police officers.

Brandenburg Tor

The next day we awoke late as always and saw the palace and gardens in Potsdam. The palace was created to show off Prussia's might and wealth, and it achieved that quite well. It was an awe inspiring sight, even for our day and age, but to think that they created it all with so much less technology than us is amazing (guess that's the engineer inside me thinking). Around the palace, approximately every meter, was a large and unique statue. The time that must have went in to carving each one is mind boggling. It must have been quite a contract, but even then the amount of money they recieved would have been nothing compared to the vast amounts the Kaiser would have had. After eating some more döner, we returned home for another excellant supper. We then "got ready", and headed off to an even bigger disco for the night.

Sans Souci
In the summer house

I awoke the next morning fairly early and took the train into Berlin to meet up with Don and Rosemarie, distant relatives of mine that had been to Canada to visit. We caught up a bit on each others lives, predictably ate Döner, and all around had an enjoyable time. It was only a brief visit, but later in the trip I would have the chance to have a much longer visit.

Digging in to some Döner

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Re-Post: Bielefeld Summary

Original posted on: June 16th, 2004

Coming out of Denmark and back into Germany was an immense relief. We could understand the prices, and liked the way we understood them. We could speak the language passably, which made us feel a lot more in control. (Travelling in a country where you don't know the language, at least for me, always makes me feel slightly out of place). Ed: I can't really agree with that sentiment anymore. Two months later, navigating Greece which featured a Cyrillic alphabet, everything felt quite normal. In fact when, at the end of our trip, we arrived in Scotland, heard everybody speaking English and used their oddly familiar looking money, it end up being discouraging, a reminder that we would have to head home soon and what that would be like. I can say though that being in Germany feels great, in that while everything is foreign you have the ability to pass as a native (which gives you a unique perspective).

At any rate, it felt good to be in Germany. So good in fact, that we decided to start making lots of impulse purchases. Here I get the "Sausage of the day" from a very commercialized looking food vendor, mostly for the picture and the surety that such an enterprise would be sued out of existence in America. I'm loving it, especially the upside down "M".

Mäc Würstchen Walk-Thru

Arriving in Bielefeld, we were greeted warmly by Karl's family in Bielefeld, had a late night snack and then headed for bed. The next morning (it should be noted for our stay with Karl's family this usually refers to what most people would consider afternoon.... ahhh, sleeping in), we took care of business before pleasure and got some drinks. The store pictured here is like a Costco for beverages (especially the German kind, if you catch my drift). We then explored Bielefeld for awhile.

Stocking up for the night

Later that night we decided to go kart racing. As they say, this isn't your grandmothers kart racing, or more accurately this isn't your North American kart racing. It's a whole lot faster and a whole lot more intense. In flash back I realized why, when taking the German exchange students kart racing in Canada, as their first activity here, they were quite obviously underwhelmed. On our tracks you can hold the gas pedal to the floor around the entire circuit, here that would send you flying into a wall at dangerously high speeds.

Don't mess with Karl's cousins

Oli, the exchange student that had lived at our place and who had politely been put through our version of kart racing, joined us, since he lived in the area. As you can tell, this takes a lot out of you. It should be noted that at these speeds, kart racing takes a lot of skill, which I decidedly don't have. Regardless it was a blast.

Oli and me

Afterwards we returned to the Zehn family residence (Karl's relatives) and chilled out on the terrace and took part in a bit of German culture courtesy of Jagermeister.

The next morning (see above definition for morning) we met up with Oli again and went to see Hermann's Denkmal. This statue roughly marks the farthest advance of the Romans before being forced back by Hermann and his like.

Look like any other statues you know?

We also checked out the Externsteine, which are weirdly shaped really tall rocks in the middle of nowhere. Some legends have it that they were thrown down by God when Lucifer was banished from heaven. At any rate it's been used for various cultish practices throughout the centuries.

The stones

After our sight seeing we stopped by in Oerlinghausen, where Oli (und die feinsten chicas) live, for some Turkish food. Turkish food is a mainstay for the Germans and that's just fine by me. Sitting on a bench, in what couldn't have been a more classic German village, we ate lahmacun (a rolled pizza style dish) and ayran (a slightly sour yogurt drink). These are the moments I love the most, relaxing on a beautiful day, watching people go about their business, enjoying a wonderful meal at my leisure. Later I got to see Oli's house and enjoy some excellent Russian Mennonite cooking.

The next morning (morning for real this time) we headed out on the Autobahn for Bremen. Despite going up to 220 km/h it felt like nothing. Probably due to how well the car was designed as well as the fact that everybody else was travelling that fast as well.

Bremen just happens to be the brewing location for Beck's beer, the beer favoured by the all the young people we hung out with. Never ones to turn away a learning experience, we decided to take the tour. Here we are at the mandatory end of every brewery tour. The part where you sample the product line. With us is Nicki's friend who studies in Bremen.

Who saw this coming?

Here the famous statue in the city center. Karl and I rub the legs for good luck.

The statue
Der Stadt Musikant

After lunch we visited a concentration camp. Not a fun visit, but definitely something that should be seen once. Perhaps the most startling thing about the whole affair was the size, how mind numbingly vast the camp's layout was, for what was supposedly only a small camp. Coming from a German background, there is also no room to point fingers, just a sickening realization that humanity did this.


After returning home and in stark contrast, we enjoyed yet another fabulous meal and went out to a reggae party thrown by the local youth.

Nicki and the DJs

The next morning we said our farewells. It was a great time. Thanks again family Zehn.

Familie Zehn und Karl

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Mass Producing Uniqueness

Josh Davis may not be the one to move the idea to mass market, but it will happen. The modern consumer seeks clothing which will set them apart from the crowd and at the same time, perhaps ironically, fit within a certain range of acceptablity. Hence, the market for mass produced uniqueness. Clothing retailers already push wares that give the illusion of uniqueness or personalization, yet each "unique" item is one of thousands (American Eagle, as a particularily strong example). Which is why Josh Davis' dream is the future.

Davis creates what he calls generative composition machines: applications written with his collaborator Branden Hall, using open source code and Flash to automate his sketches. He plugs in multiple options - say, five different drawings of a tree trunk, 10 types of leaves, seven branches, 15 critters that can live in the foliage, and 12 background colors. Then his code morphs the image from pastoral scenescape into any number of moving visuals - a time-lapse sequence of continental drift, a single frame of anime burning in front of a projector lens, or a Japanese landscape painting rendered as spin art.

Wired 14.03: The Chaos of Joshua Davis

However, if you think scaled social networks will always be better than machines, there is always Threadless.

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