Lists of Bests gets better

My favorite shopping list Internet web application shopping list site, Lists of Bests, has been acquired by the Robot Co-Op. Lists of Bests allows you to mark off CDs, books, and videos that you have consumed that appear on various “best of” lists. I always thought it was a cool concept but the content didn’t update often (I would have loved to see the Village Voice’s Pazz’n’Jop list or the KEXP Top 90.3 lists, for instance) and the community features were weak. Since the Robot Co-Op have done 43 Things, 43 Places, and AllConsuming, I would expect that the revamped Lists of Bests would be much stronger in the community aspect.

Anyway, congrats to Bill Turner and here’s hoping Lists of Bests doesn’t stay offline too long while it is being overhauled.

Schoolhouse Rock on the iTMS

ABC and Apple have posted two volumes of Schoolhouse Rock videos on the iTunes Music Store for download. There’s interesting backlash in the reviews section about the pricing: no attempt was made to provide a volume discount, so each eleven-song video set is priced at $1.99 * 11 = $21.89, or $43.78 for the whole set. Since all 46 songs can be heard on the 30th anniversary DVD for $12.99 at Amazon, I can only assume that the assumption is that people will only be buying individual songs. Which is probably right—born a year before the series started in 1973, I only remember less than half of the ones on iTunes and would only pay money for “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” “Conjunction Junction,” and “I’m Just a Bill.” But those three alone would be half the price of the DVD.

Complaints about the business model aside, this is great stuff and would almost be reason by itself to buy a video iPod.

Doc: “Use your ass”

Doc Searls: Lesson for the day: Use your ass. He’s talking about snowboarding, as the summary by Dave Winer makes clear: “Doc Searls and son nail snowboarding. It has a lot to do with falling on your ass and annoying skiers.”


I took the day off in compensation for having to work last Monday, and Lisa and I were originally talking about skiing. But it’s maybe going to get to 20° here today, and the mountains will only be colder. Instead, I think we’ll go check out a museum.

GTD part 1: improving your archives

As mentioned last week, I’m trying to improve my workflow by looking at the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology and specifically thinking about how GTD applies to Outlook. One of the references I came across recommended some more general purpose solutions to improve Outlook that at first I couldn’t reconcile with GTD—what does a better search tool for Outlook have to do with GTD? Everything, it turns out.

I have long been a “filer” with my email. Both my home and work accounts have dozens of dedicated folders, some relating to projects, some to broad topics like “Company,” “Personal,” etc. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the problem is that of course most emails don’t fit neatly into one category, and it can be challenging to find something after I’ve filed it—which of course defeats the purpose of an organizational system.

The built in search in Outlook (I’m using Outlook XP, but I seem to recall the same problem when I used Outlook 2003 at Microsoft) doesn’t help matters much either. Searching just the content in a single folder is dog-slow, and if you want to search across all the folders in a mailbox you might as well go brew a fresh pot of coffee.

Enter Lookout, a dedicated plugin to Outlook that quickly, efficiently, and quietly indexes the contents of your Outlook mailbox and makes retrieval lightning fast. The software is so good that Microsoft bought the company a while back and uses the technology as the core of the MSN Toolbar Suite to index your whole computer. But the MSN Toolbar Suite (and Google Desktop) have always given me the willies for some reason. I don’t like running system wide utilities and I don’t necessarily see the utility of indexing everything on my hard drive when (a) most of my work is on Outlook and (b) the rest is in relational databases or on network drives. Lookout has just about the right scope for my comfort zone, and it works extremely well.

From a GTD perspective, Lookout increases my comfort with saving items for reference and getting them out of my inbox. It also makes me think critically about what I’m saving and whether I ought to be throwing some of it away (horrors!).

Friday Random 10: Truly Random Edition

Here we go again, with a journey down the twisty little roads of my iPod:

  1. Sloan E-52s, “Son of a Preacher Man” (2001-2002)
  2. Yo La Tengo, “Autumn Sweater (Remix by Kevin Shields)” (A Smattering of Outtakes and Rarities)
  3. Billy Bragg and Wilco, “Ingrid Bergman” (Mermaid Avenue)
  4. Steve Reich Ensemble, “City Life III ‘It’s been a honeymoon – Can’t take no mo’” (City Life)
  5. Tom Waits, “Lost in the Harbor” (Alice)
  6. Elvis Costello and the London Symphony Orchestra, “Tormentress” (Il Sogno)
  7. Pulp with the Swingle Singers, “My Body May Die” (Randall and Hopkirk Soundtrack)
  8. Early Music Ensemble of London, “Christe, Qui Lux Es” (Guilliame de Machaut), Music of the Gothic Era)
  9. Run-DMC, “My Adidas” (Raising Hell)
  10. Cat Power, “Back of Your Head” (Moon Pix)

This is why pressing Shuffle on any musical device I own is a little dangerous.

Review: Arab Strap, The Last Romance

I pressed play on the new Arab Strap and was immediately transported—to the standout track on the last Reindeer Section album, a song called “Whodunnit.” Surprising? Not really. The guest vocalist on that track, which was a prickly pear among the mannered (and wonderful) songs from Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody’s Scots supergroup, was Aidan Moffat, the vocalist for Scots band Arab Strap. And once you hear Moffat, you never forget.

As on that release, with The Last Romance it’s that voice that hits you first, that unmistakable Scots slur that lies somewhere between Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas after a bender. Moffat has one of the great distinct voices in indie music right now, on first listen a mix of mumble, weird Scots, and hangover-perfect enunciation. The great part is that in spite of the apparent defects, Moffat is a master of delivery, with impeccable phrasing, emotionally expressive diction, and a well-concealed melodic sense that leaves the songs stuck in your head long after they’ve stopped playing.

Of course, the other half of Arab Strap, multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton, has a lot to do with the memorableness of the songs. Songscapes as bleak as anything in Mogwai or 1980s-era The Cure drift around Moffat’s woozy vocals in the desperately driving “If There’s No Hope for Us,” the opening depressive waltz “Stink,” or the bitter rocker “Speed Date.”

But the record isn’t one-note simple. The cautious optimism of “Don’t Ask Me to Dance” has the scope of a Peter Gabriel uptempo ballad with lyrics that could be by Johnny Cash, while the acoustic “Confessions of a Big Brother” is positively tender even through the bitter confessions of the narrator’s failings. And “There Is No Ending” is a fine ending indeed, complete with major key, a horn section, and one of the greatest declarations of love ever: “If you can love my growing gut/My rotten teeth and greying hair/Then I can guarantee I’ll do/The same as long as you can bear.”

It’s early in 2006, but this is definitely one of the top releases of the year.

Also published on Blogcritics.

Getting Things Done and Outlook

Confession: I am a lapsed Franklin Covey user, a former Palm user, and otherwise the former user of more productivity methodologies than I can count. So I have read Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders, a blog on implementing productivity workflows on a Mac using the Getting Things Done methodology, with healthy skepticism for the last year or so. One big knock is that for some reason Merlin’s preferred tool, Quicksilver, has always run like a dog on my system. But I finally started reading the actual Getting Things Done book and am convinced that I ought at least to give it a whirl. The idea of ruthlessly keeping the mailbox and other sources of angst clean, immediately dealing with, deleting, incubating, or delegating incoming “stuff,” and totally outsourcing your worry center, all sounds really good to me.

Except, of course, the one really good source of tips I have for GTD, 43 Folders, is all about Mac based solutions. And in spite of my long standing Mac userdom, my work environment is still a Windows XP PC running Outlook.

So I’m going to give some Outlook based solutions a whirl and talk about how they work over the next few days. First off, a few pointers to existing resources, since I’d rather not reinvent the wheel:

  1. The 43 Folders wiki has a page on GTD in Outlook
  2. A great, if old, summary page on setting up GTD in Outlook
  3. The official ($10) resource from David Allen Company on GTD and Outlook
  4. Managing GTD projects in Outlook
  5. Tips, tricks, and other hints in Outlook
  6. An actual GTD add-in

Yet more new music: Black Angels live on KEXP podcast

Yes, there’s quite a backlog of music posts here today, but this one is a twofer. I hadn’t subscribed to KEXP’s Live In Studio podcast before this week, but the first show I downloaded, an instudio by Black Angels, makes me wish I had subscribed a long time ago. The music is raw, fierce, and urgent in all the right ways. (I previously wrote about Black Angels in January.)

The best indie radio station ever also has a podcast of individual song downloads from emerging artists, the Song of the Day podcast.

Buy a single, win the artist

The above is the logic behind a new contest sponsored on iTunes by Universal/Motown, who are distributing Prince’s forthcoming 3121. Everyone who buys Prince’s new single “Black Sweat” or its b-side “Beautiful, Loved, and Blessed” from iTunes—as I did yesterday—is entered in a sweepstakes. The winner gets an exclusive private concert by Prince at His Royal Badness’s home (“or other location selected by Sponsor”). Pretty badass prize, especially if Prince is as far atop his game as “Black Sweat” suggests. It’s funky without the self-consciousness that marred Musicology for me. (via Blogcritics)

State of the weblog tools market

A recent post on shows some interesting market share information about different blogging tools. The post shows that SixApart, between TypePad and LiveJournal, owns the market right now, though, each of those tools has a smaller market share individually than Blogger. Of interest to me as a longtime Manila user is the market map of Google Share vs. 6 mo growth rate, which shows that the number of pages on Manila appears to be shrinking (probably due to the shutdown of, while the number of pages on Radio blogs is growing at about a third the rate of speed of the overall growth of the blogosphere.

An interesting contender that emerges from that market map is b2evolution, which had the fastest growth rate but the smallest Google share.

Of course the usual quibbles about methodology apply, including the fact that many sites run by standalone software installations or using custom templates don’t point to their blog tool on their template. Like this one, for example, though I’m about to fix that.

Remote configure your Tiger Mac through the command line

I was trying to configure my Mac’s built in Remote Desktop sharing last night through the command line. The RDC client, which is built into every Tiger Mac, was prompting me for a password when I attempted to connect using an open source VNC (screen sharing) client from my PC. So I did some research and found some very interesting information about configuring Mac OS X’s Remote Desktop (ARD) client from the command line. The kickstart command line tool referenced in the Apple KB article is included in the Remote Desktop Client and is therefore in every 10.4 Mac as well as some earlier systems.

The cool thing about it is that kickstart enables you to remotely activate and deactivate ARD connections. So as long as you leave SSH enabled and you have administrative privileges, you can tunnel into an SSH command line session on your Mac, sudo kickstart with the appropriate settings, and turn ARD on, then get the screen of your Mac and do your thing. As the discussion thread points out, this works even for Macs that have no physical screen attached, like a PowerBook with a broken LCD or a headless Mac Mini.

You can do even more with two more command line utilities included in ARD, networksetup and systemsetup, which allow you to do things like configuring the network settings and other “control panel” level settings.

I like this so much that, in combination with a dynamic DNS solution, I might throw out the rapidly aging Timbuktu client we bought to help my mother in law troubleshoot her system.

Postscript on Las Vegas

Las Vegas is the negative shadow of Wall Street; gambling is the negative shadow of market capitalism. If the market is a benevolent “invisible hand” that levels prices and matches supply and demand, Vegas is a bejeweled invisible fist that flies out and punches you or stuffs chips in your pocket with a predictably unfair distribution.

Vegas today shows this shadow even more strongly. Going up and down Las Vegas Blvd, at right angles to the Strip, you pass through downscaled, totemic versions of western world capitals, as though invoking the ghosts of the place that rationally deal with money to encourage you to spend it. And the real shadow economy of Vegas—the immigrant service workers, the enormous flow of underreported cash tips, the dancers, the exotic entertainers—is everywhere just out of sight, like the escort service fliers and business cards that turn up everywhere, even on the bollards surrounding the lake at the Bellagio.

If capitalism is our collective western religion, a demanding protestant religion that preaches a cult of abstemious rational consumption, Vegas is the Carnival, the Festival of the Flesh—not just in its general party atmosphere but in the explicitly irrational exuberance toward money that is encouraged in the visitors. For once, one is supposed to think, I can cast off the shackles of predictable income and loss and take a chance. I can get lucky.

Of course, the odds are in favor of the house. Even in this most exuberant place, there is cold business at the bottom.

T Minus MacBook Pro: One month and counting

Following up on my earlier note, the elapsed time to delivery of my new MacBook Pro will be close to 5 weeks. Ordered on February 16, it’s currently scheduled to ship on March 17 and arrive on March 22, even with 2-day shipping. So we’re one month out. The only comfort is that the Apple Store seems to habitually pad delivery dates so as to deliver only positive surprises, so I’ll probably get it sooner.

Frustrating, especially since the battery isn’t getting better on my current PowerBook. It falls off a cliff and shuts down with 58-60% remaining now, meaning effective battery life is only 1-2 hours.

And that’s what really hurts: R&B Radiohead

Courtesy our good friend Mr. Greene, a pointer to an (unfortunately non-downloadable) goodie, a pointer to a cover of Radiohead’s “Just” (from The Bends) by DJ Mark Ronson that features an R&B horn line and some seriously funky guitar playing, together with a quite respectable vocal from Phantom Planet’s Alex Greenwald.

My only complaint: the cover loses something of the edgy vitriol of the original but doesn’t fully embrace the funk that the instrumental choice seems to want to bring. Otherwise one of the better Radiohead covers out there.